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Blinken Calls Out India For Attacks On Religious Minorities; Why India Is Snubbing The Myanmar Junta’s Foreign Minister At ASEAN Meet
Trade deficit at record $23.33 billion, PM Shri schools to be ‘laboratory’ of NEP, revised IT Rules heighten risks, Paul R Brass dead, Godse play receives high praise, and is Hindutva inside Google?
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
June 3, 2022
In a setback for the Modi government, which is anxious for India to be counted as a democracy resting on ‘shared values’ with the West, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has called it out for rising attacks on religious freedom at the release of the 2021 ‘Report on International Religious Freedom’. US officials criticised members of the Indian government for supporting attacks on religious minorities. The assessment of the state of religious freedom in almost 200 countries in 2021 is compiled by the Department’s International Religious Freedom (IRF) office, led by IRF Ambassador at Large Rashad Hussain. It is distinct from the IRF report released by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). In April, the Commission had recommended to the State Department, for the third year in a row, that India be classified as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’.
Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has announced the establishment of ‘PM Shri’ schools to prepare students for the future of India as a knowledge economy. He said that this project would be the “laboratory of the New Education Policy”. The fascination for laboratories continues.
Last night, a migrant labourer was shot dead and another was injured by militants in Budgam district of Jammu & Kashmir, the second targeted killing of the day in the Valley. Protests by Kashmiri Pandit employees working in the Valley gathered steam as their mass exodus from transit colonies to Jammu was prevented by the administration. The Lieutenant Governor’s administration has passed orders to post Pandit teachers in safer locations in the Valley. The insecurity of the erstwhile state’s minorities is proving to be very difficult for the Modi government to handle. Journalists report seeing Pandits leaving the valley.
After banning the export of most foodgrains last month, the government has allowed wheat shipments of 469,202 tonnes, but at least 1.7 million tonnes lie at ports and could be damaged by monsoon rains, Reuters reports. Moving the wheat back to interior markets is financially daunting, but rain is a bigger concern. “The government banned wheat exports to ensure food security, but if stocks get damaged by rains, then it will not serve any purpose,” a New Delhi-based dealer said.
A former Indian Navy chief has issued a press release on the letter veterans had written to the PM, expressing deep disappointment at the nonchalant silence of his office and colleagues. It expressed urgent concerns about “the events in Haridwar, Delhi and elsewhere, openly calling for a genocide of Indian Muslims and other minorities”. But, says Admiral Ramdas, “regrettably, the PMO took 117 days to provide a substantive reply, on May 31, 2022, on the RTI request dated February 04, 2022, with no response at all to the original letter itself. Alas! In fact, despite the media giving wide coverage to the said ‘Open Statement on National Security and Incitement to Violence’, there has been no acknowledgement from any of the honourable addressees to date.” He also points out that in the response, senior veterans have been referred to as ‘Shri’, and not by their rank, as is the norm.
In Punjab, rattled by the killing of singer Sidhu Moosewala, who was shot dead on Sunday, the day after the AAP state government withdrew his security cover, it has told the High Court that the security cover of 424 people will be restored on June 7.
Authorities in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka yesterday suspended six students of the Uppinangadi Government Pre University College for wearing a hijab.
Paul R Brass is no more. The respected political scientist did his best work on communal violence in India and wrote a magisterial biography of Charan Singh.
The fire lit by Hindutva claims on the Gyanvapi mosque is flaring up. Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati and his followers will offer prayers tomorrow at a putative ‘Shivling’ found during a court-monitored survey of the premises. He is Shankaracharya of Dwarka Sharada Peetham in Gujarat and the Badrinath Jyotir Math. The Supreme Court has left the matter hanging and Swami Avimukteshwaranand asserts that if the administration prevents prayers, he would follow the Shankaracharya’s instructions. It underlines who is calling the shots in India.
Al Jazeera looks at India’s new pop music of anti-Muslim aggression, feturing lyrics like: “India is for Hindus, Muslims go to Pakistan.” Some of the performers have also sung the praises of Adityanath, chief minister of UP.
Indians looking forward to the Haj after a gap of two years face a shock: the cost of the annual Muslim pilgrimage has gone up by a staggering 50%. The Haj Committee of India (HCI), a government-run body that arranges the travel of about 70% of pilgrims, is charging Rs 3,99,500 per head, up from Rs 2,69,700 two years ago. India can send 79,237 pilgrims this year, far below the record 2 lakh in 2019, because Saudi Arabia will allow only 1 million pilgrims this time. In the last two years, it hadn’t allowed foreigners because of Covid-19. Before the pandemic, there were 2 million pilgrims.
The South China Morning Post asks if supply shocks from China’s zero-Covid policy will depress India’s already slowing economic growth.
The government says it will soon offer a legal framework to prevent restaurants from levying service charges, which is “unfair”, Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh has said. His department thinks it harms the rights of consumers and is an “unfair trade practice”. They will work on a legal framework because guidelines issued in 2017 have failed. “Guidelines are generally not enforced.”
Taking strong exception to “cyclostyled orders” passed by a judge of the Uttarakhand High Court, the Supreme Court has set aside his order quashing an FIR in a cheating case. A vacation bench led by Justice Ajay Rastogi sent the matter back to the High Court with a request to the chief justice to assign it to another judge. “Prima facie, we are of the view that while passing these orders, the learned Judge has not taken pains to look into the merits of the matter and has passed cyclostyled orders,” said the bench. The top court also restrained the Uttarakhand Police from taking coercive action against appellants Harsh R Kilachand and others for eight weeks and gave them liberty to approach the high court for interim protection.
Visuals from Dhindori district in Madhya Pradesh reveal the extent of the water crisis in the region and the dangerous lengths to which people go to get water.
Revised IT Rules even more problematic
The government yesterday deleted a notice on planned amendments to the controversial IT Rules. A new Grievance Appellate Committee (GAC) to appeal Grievance Officers’ decisions, requirements for intermediaries to respect citizens’ ‘constitutional’ rights, and ensuring user compliance were some of the additions proposed. Rather than curing defects highlighted by courts, these increase direct government control over social media platforms. Safe harbour protection is made contingent on determinations by a GAC appointed by the Union government, created without statutory support and reporting to a Union Ministry. That means zero independence. Censorship and hate speech will balloon.
MediaNama reports that the policy, released on June 1 for public consultation, may be re-released next week. The highly controversial IT Rules ― challenged in 19 cases ― were enacted in May 2021. Subsequently, multiple provisions were struck down or put on hold by courts ― mostly related to news media ― although platforms were also affected. ExpressVPN has become the first major global VPN provider to remove its servers from India following CERT-In’s cybersecurity rules, which require VPNs to store user data for five years. Industry leader NordVPN has also threatened to shut down servers.
Caste talk cancelled, has Hindutva breached Google?
Spreading through the diaspora, the Hindu nationalist movement has reached Google in the US, reports Washington Post. In April, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, founder and executive director of Equality Labs — a nonprofit that advocates for Dalits — was scheduled to address Google News employees for Dalit History Month. But Google employees began spreading disinformation, calling her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu” in emails to the company’s leaders and documents posted on Google’s intranet and mailing lists for thousands of employees.
Soundararajan appealed directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai but the talk was cancelled, and some employees concluded that Google was willfully ignoring caste bias. Tanuja Gupta, a senior manager at Google News who had invited Soundararajan, resigned. Soundararajan — who has given talks on caste at Microsoft, Salesforce, Airbnb, Netflix and Adobe — said Equality Labs began receiving speaking invitations from tech companies in the wake of the George Floyd protests.
Trade deficit at record high
India’s imports in May grew 56.14% to $60.62 billion, widening the trade deficit to a record $23.33 billion, even as merchandise exports rose by 15.46% to $37.29 billion. The deficit in May 2021 stood at $6.53 billion.
The Long Cable
Why India is snubbing the Myanmar junta’s foreign minister at ASEAN meet
The Hindu reports that India is “likely to not include” Myanmar’s junta-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin for the upcoming India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. New Delhi will instead invite the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, U Chan Aye.
According to the report, India did this to “follow the consensus of ASEAN countries” which had also boycotted the minister and instead, invited U Chan Aye ― a “non-political”, “non-military” representative ― to its ministerial meeting in Cambodia. In response, the junta had boycotted the ASEAN meeting. The Chindwin reported that India’s decision was influenced by “direct pressure from its Quad allies” at the recent Tokyo summit.
To be clear, U Chan Aye too is junta-appointed. So, India isn’t completely shutting out the military regime that grabbed power on February 1, 2021 and later installed the ‘State Administration Council (SAC)’.
But India, which had refused to take coercive or isolationist action, has shifted the needle just a bit. It followed ASEAN’s lead despite knowing that the junta hadn’t taken its past snub lightly. It’s not a wholly insignificant diplomatic downgrade.
It remains to be seen if the junta accepts the “non-political” invite or completely boycotts the meetings like it did with ASEAN. This is important, because the junta has received some degree of legitimacy from India.
Last December, New Delhi sent Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Naypyitaw to meet coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, among others. The Ministry of External Affairs had referred to Hlaing as “Chairman, State Administration Council”. I had earlier argued that this was tacit recognition of the regime. The junta had flashed images of Shringla meeting Hlaing on the front page of its propaganda mouthpiece.
In April, India’s newly-appointed ambassador to Myanmar, Vinay Kumar, presented his credentials to Hlaing, which was seen as recognition for the junta. Photographs of a smiling Kumar shaking hands with the coup leader received much flak on Burmese social media.
Amidst global criticism of the coup, Western sanctions and cold shoulders from ASEAN, “normal” diplomatic engagement with India is valuable currency, so the junta might feel the pinch of New Delhi’s downgrade more keenly.
But really, why did India suddenly change its tune, even if marginally?
As The Hindu and The Chindwin have speculated, ASEAN and Quad could have played a role. Since the coup, India has supported ASEAN’s attempts towards resolution, and over-relied on it to navigate a complex situation. It has outsourced its Myanmar diplomacy to the 10-member organisation, which struggled to deal with the issue coherently.
By inviting a “non-political” representative from the junta, it can simply say that it is following ASEAN’s suit. This also fits with “ASEAN Centrality”, a key element of New Delhi’s Indo-Pacific narrative.
Pressure from the Quad members, especially the US, is also likely. Two months ago, The Wire revealed that the US had issued a demarche to India after BIMSTEC invited the Myanmar junta’s foreign minister for its Colombo summit. The US had urged “the grouping to isolate the junta diplomatically and follow the ASEAN model of permitting only ‘non-political’ involvement.” At that time, India had defended BIMSTEC’s decision.
But now, it might be acquiescing to American pressure. What changed? India’s neutrality on Russia has created turbulence in the India-US relationship and by compromising on Myanmar, India might be offsetting it.
Pressure from Australia, which recently downgraded its diplomatic presence in Myanmar, is also possible. In India’s evolving foreign policy calculus amidst complex geopolitics, engaging with the junta might be important, but so is preserving its relationship with the Quad partners.
But, it may not be just about ASEAN and the Quad.
In an interview with me, published by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in February, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government (NUG), Daw Zin Mar Aung, sharply criticised India for not taking a harder stance against the junta. She had equally harsh words for New Delhi in an earlier interview with Deccan Herald: “The people of Myanmar will not forget where the Government of India stood in their trying times.”
India has political, strategic, commercial and developmental interests in Myanmar. New Delhi may realise that it cannot stand by the junta if it wants to protect them. Its recent downgrade might be a reconciliatory signal to the NUG.
The NUG foreign minister recently travelled to Washington DC during the US-ASEAN summit and met senior government officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. She also met the Malaysian foreign minister on the sidelines of the summit, which didn’t include any representative from the junta. These marked the NUG’s first major public engagement with an ASEAN country and the top rung of the Biden administration.
India might have taken a cue to make space for its own channels of communication with Myanmar’s shadow government. Whether New Delhi will actually do that anytime soon is another matter altogether.
The other reason behind the downgrade could be the junta’s underhand tactical alliance with Indian insurgent groups operating along the Northeastern borders, which makes New Delhi deeply uncomfortable. The ministerial snub could be India’s shot across the junta’s bows.
For now, India will most likely continue to engage with the Burmese junta bilaterally, and follow the ASEAN track in multilateral formats. Simultaneously, it might begin to diversify its relationships with other actors in Myanmar. Tightrope diplomacy will be sustained, but with new flavours.
(Angshuman Choudhury is senior research associate, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)
The Father and the Assassin, playing at London West End’s National Theatre, asks why Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, and has created a stir. Stella Kanu, Executive Director at LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) is reported to have said that it “is by far the best play I’ve seen in a long, long time.” A tweet from theatre critic Andrzej Łukowski: “Years if not centuries can go by with nothing good in the Olivier and then you get a play like The Father and the Assassin, which would probably actually justify building the Olivier purely to stage it in.” The Global Hindu Federation has called it “an anti-Hindu biased play” which “targets Hinduism, paints patriotic enslaved Hindus as savages… Hindu-phobic theatre now joins colonialist academia and supremacist religions”. That’s another way of saying that it’s a bloody good play.
Also in the UK, envelopes addressed by Lord Mountbatten to Mahatma Gandhi, on which he scribbled notes on the eve of Partition, are being exhibited by Mumbai artist Jitish Kallat at the University of Southampton.
Prime Number: 3 of 67
Out of 67 chapters in NCERT school textbooks (from classes 6 to 12), only three are devoted to Muslim rulers in India.
The findings of a multi-year research project on religion, citizenship and belonging in India have been published as essays in a special section of Studies in Indian Politics.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) writes that the Modi government must change course from the belligerence it has displayed and profited from with reference to Pakistan, in favour of proper diplomatic and political engagement.
Published by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Nisha Thapliyal and Priya Chacko write that Australia’s response to India’s deepening authoritarianism has been characterised by silence, pandering and obfuscation. It is time for Australia to speak up.
Every great leader attempted to free India not just from political enslavement by the colonisers but also from the intellectual, mental and spiritual enslavement that colonialism inflicted. Our national movement was not merely for political freedom, it was also a movement for freedom from social oppression by unjust indigenous traditions, writes Swara Bhasker.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes that Hindutva is spoken of sotto voce by the BJP leadership but in high decibels by supporters, which is emblematic of Modi’s rule.
That a show about the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi would open today in an international city demonstrates the transformation of a figure once reviled, if even remembered, into an ascendant avatar of Hindu nationalism, writes Yasmeen Serhan in The Atlantic.
Himanshu writes that the burden of fighting inflation cannot be passed on to the unorganised and rural sectors. A revival of our agrarian economy and informal sector is crucial for a full economic comeback, and for shielding vulnerable households from raging inflation.
While the Supreme Court’s Watali judgement is cited to deny bail in UAPA cases, a new interpretation in the Umar Khalid case could prevent its misuse and provide a ray of hope, writes Vakasha Sachdev.
Women tell stories, and stories are feminine in ways that are difficult to illustrate. There is a long tradition of women translating women. The recognition conferred upon Tomb of Sand is significant towards consolidating this phenomenon, writes Rita Kothari.
Artist Shazia Sikander is in conversation with Prof Faisal Devji. The New York-based Pakistani American artist works across media, including drawing, painting, printmaking, animation, installation, performance and video.
Watch The Miniaturist of Junagadh, a short film starring Naseeruddin Shah, a poignant take on Partition based on work by Stefan Zweig.
Over and out
After the death of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the world of santoor took another hit with the passing of Pandit Bhajan Sopori, 73, a performer, composer, musicologist, teacher, writer and poet. He was often called the cultural bridge of Jammu & Kashmir with the rest of the country, the ‘Saint of the Santoor’ and the ‘King of Strings’. See his website for more.
In a piece on the brilliant composer-musician Arthur Rusell who died in 1992, The Economist points out that as a youngster he had “ended up in a Buddhist commune in San Francisco. There he found peace for a while. He gave up drugs, enrolled in a community college to finish high school and took part in fire-walking rituals. At the commune, he also studied North Indian classical music.”
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.