Blinken Delivers Rare Rebuke to India for Human Rights Abuse; As Amit Shah Weaponises Hindi for 2024, Pardon Our French
Ram Navami enters calendar of violence, millions leaving job market, only 3-7% rural consumers use UPI, TN Assembly adopts resolution against CUET, and the West discovers the power of Moringa
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
April 12, 2022
This afternoon, in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the end of the colonial era, Sri Lanka ran out of foreign exchange and defaulted on its entire foreign tab of $51 billion. Its finance ministry said that it is an emergency measure to stem a fiscal disaster and creditors, including foreign governments, are free to capitalise interest payments due or seek payback in Sri Lankan rupees. Creditworthiness downgrades bar Sri Lanka from accessing overseas capital. The crisis in Sri Lanka is a result of putting politics before prudence, a problem which is sadly familiar in India.
The US is monitoring what Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as a rise in human rights abuses in India. It’s a rare direct rebuke of the Modi government: “We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials,” Blinken said in a joint press briefing with US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Singh and Jaishankar, who spoke after Blinken, did not try to refute him.
Blinken’s remarks came days after US Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the diffidence of the US: “What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?”
"Beijing is eroding the security of the Indo-Pacific region from its construction of dual use infrastructure along your border… we will continue to stand alongside you, as you defend your sovereignty,” US Defence Secretary Austin told Singh in their bilateral meeting. Blinken quoted Nehru: “PM Nehru said, and I quote: ‘I trust that these two republics of the Western world and the Eastern world will find many ways of working together in friendly and fruitful cooperation to our mutual advantage, and for the good of humanity.’”
Earlier, President Joe Biden told PM Narendra Modi in a virtual meeting that buying Russian oil was not in India’s interest. Biden stopped short of a “concrete ask”, an official said, noting India has concerns about deepening ties between Russia and China. Biden told Modi he looked forward to seeing him in Japan for a Quad meeting on May 24.
Blinken did not explicitly mention it, but violence against Muslims on Ram Navami is being forged into a new tradition of violence in Modi’s New India. The festival in Hyderabad concluded without incident, but the celebrations witnesses provocative Islamophobic statements and a song by T Raja Singh, problematic BJP legislator from Goshamahal. Slogans called for Hindu supremacy and song lyrics warned people against locking horns with Hindus. In Madhya Pradesh, tribal-dominated Khargone and Barwani districts, where the Congress is entrenched, have been witnessing communal incidents. Assembly polls are due next year. The Madhya Pradesh government is arbitrarily demolishing homes from which stones were allegedly hurled. No due process here. "If Muslims carry out such attacks then they should not expect justice," is the sweeping and shocking 'justification' offered by Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra.
A riot-like situation was created in West Bengal, bringing communities head to head, when the VHP steered Ramnavami processions through minority areas, raising anti-minority slogans. Widespread stone-pelting was reported from Bankura and Howrah, near Kolkata. Scroll reports that songs incited hate against Muslims at a Navratri rally in Karauli, Rajasthan. Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes that he dreads the next Navratras as the nine-day ritual is now about marking territory, and enforcing the will of the majority on ‘others’.
The Indian PM welcomed Shehbaz Sharif and congratulated him with alacrity “within minutes” of his election as Pakistan’s new PM. In his inaugural speech yesterday, Sharif spoke of the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir and alleged that the people in the Valley were “bleeding” and Pakistan would give them “diplomatic and moral support”, besides raising the matter in international fora.
Unemployment is growing, but more than 2 lakh technical and non-technical posts have been vacant in 68 divisions of Indian Railways for years. To be precise, 2,02,652 posts are ‘unfilled’ under the technical-safety and non-technical categories, reports the New Indian Express.
Mahesh Vyas of CMIE writes that the labour force shrank by 3.8 million in March 2022 to 428 million, the lowest in eight months. Employment shrank by 1.4 million to 396 million in March, the lowest level since June 2021. Numbers of the unemployed fell by 2.4 million in March. This caused the fall in the unemployment rate, but the fall in the absolute count of unemployed, or the unemployment rate, is not because more people got employment. Millions left the labour market — they even stopped looking for employment, disappointed and believing that no jobs were available.
In another blow for federalism, the Tamil Nadu Assembly yesterday adopted a resolution urging the Centre to withdraw the proposal to conduct a Common University Entrance Test (CUET), saying that like NEET, it would sideline school education, undermine overall development-oriented learning in schools, cause students stress and promote coaching centres. The resolution piloted by Chief Minister MK Stalin was supported by all the allies of the ruling DMK including the Congress and Left parties, but the BJP walked out. BJP ally and the principal opposition AIADMK supported the move and asked the state government to halt the test.
The GST Council meeting may not happen this month as key issues like rate rationalisation couldn’t be taken up. Moreover, the Group of Ministers (GoM) is yet to take a view.
The Supreme Court has sought responses from the Union and Assam government on a plea seeking to stop the harassment of religious and linguistic minority communities on the pretext of detecting and deporting alleged foreigners. Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Asom Sankhyalaghu Sangram Parishad, said that there is a saying that people cross borders, but at times even borders have crossed people.
“India has signed a trade deal. This is not a drill. Repeat: India has signed a trade deal. This is not a drill. OK, so the deal with Australia is only an interim agreement.” That’s the Financial Times’ Alan Beattie, telling you about perceptions of India’s commitment to easing trade restrictions under Modi.
Nepal’s decision to ban the import of non-essentials due to falling forex reserves may hit exports from India. The central Nepal Rastra Bank last week instructed commercial banks not to open letters of credit (LCs) for importing non-essentials. Nepal is India’s ninth largest export destination, accounting for goods worth $9.6 billion in the calendar year 2021.
Indian exporters are worried that Indonesia’s suspension of Indian agri shipments for failing certification norms may lead other countries to tighten inspection and scrutiny for Indian produce. India is working through multiple diplomatic channels with the Indonesian authorities for a resolution, hopefully in 7-10 days. Indonesia suspended Indian agri shipments on March 25 because New Delhi failed to renew registration of its 26 food certification laboratories for peanuts and grapes. Several shipments in transit, including spices and cereals, are stuck.
The Union government yesterday said that the Supreme Court, in an order dated March 24, had fixed timelines to file claims for compensation of Covid-19 deaths. The deadlines for ex gratia claims are 60 days for deaths prior to March 20 and 90 days for future deaths. An earlier order to process claims and make payments within 30 days of their receipt remains in force. The court directed that in case of extreme hardship where deadlines are missed, any claimant could approach the Grievance Redressal Committee. Such claims have busted the myth of low Covid deaths in states like Gujarat.
India’s rank in gender equality in legal terms has declined to 124th among 190 countries in 2022. It was 123rd a year ago and 117th in 2020, according to an index compiled by a World Bank study, ‘Women, Business and the Law’. It has taken into account legal reforms from October 2, 2020, to October 1, 2021. Nepal was behind India in 2020 but overtook it in 2021 and 2022, improving its position a notch to 88th in the 2022 report from 89th in 2021.
A Mumbai court yesterday rejected the anticipatory bail application of BJP leader Kirit Somaiya in a case about alleged misappropriation of over Rs 57 crore collected to preserve aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. The judge said pictures showed that he collected money in the name of preventing the decommissioned aircraft carrier from being dismantled, but it was not deposited with the state governor’s office. The court will give its ruling on his son Neil Somaiya’s anticipatory bail application today. The case against them is based on the complaint of a 53-year-old former Army man.
The data of thousands who had registered online for the annual Chithirai festival of the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, was leaked in an email sent to them, with a link to the temple’s database. The leaked data includes the names, contact details, ID proofs (Aadhaar, Pan card, etc). Temple officials remained unaware of the incident, reports The News Minute.
An accident in Deoghar, Jharkhand, added to India’s depressing tally of ropeway tragedies. Three died, one of them in the course of the rescue operation.