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Blinken Discussed Rights Issues With India But US Media Sees Biden Policy as 'Say Nothing'; Neo-Khalistanis, Cow Vigilantes Challenge Security Establishment
Albanese ducks query on rights issues, India & Italy mend fences, pandemic shutdowns beggared 56 mn, DD to make series on Ayodhya temple, campus film fest cancelled as rightists oppose Pather Panchali
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
March 3, 2023
“Over the course of the year, cities across India, all decorated in G20 and Modi paraphernalia, will host foreign delegates at some 200 meetings. The slogan of India’s presidency is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, or “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. And one leader, an Indian observer might add,” says The Economist. The leader was described today as a cricket captain by his star spinner and praised for being tough but fair.
India today hosted a meeting of Quad foreign ministers to focus on the Indo-Pacific. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi especially flew over for the meeting, after sending his deputy to the G20 meet. The four ministers – who have in common a shared suspicion of China – also appeared on a panel at the Raisina Dialogue, an MEA event conducted by the Observer Research Foundation and later issued a joint statement, again stressing that they are not “against” but “for”.
The foreign ministers of India and China met yesterday on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting which failed to issue a joint communique. In China’s readout of the Jaishankar-Qin meeting today, Beijing asked India to look at ties from the perspective of ‘the century of change’, and to put the border in an appropriate place. Jaishankar had yesterday said that India emphasised the abnormal state of ties and the need for peace on LAC.
A string of deaths in one jail speaks volumes about the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s prisons. Four undertrials have died in Kupwara district jail since 2021, turning the spotlight on overcrowding and lack of healthcare in the Union territory’s prisons, finds a Scroll investigation.
Gideon’s Bible, associated with the hotel industry rather than with churchiness, has been torn at the Delhi Book Fair. All sorts of religious groups and sects promote their literature at the fair, but the Gideons International were singled out by vandals chanting “Jai Shri Ram”.
Students of Ravenshaw University, Cuttack, yesterday staged a dharna protesting the last-minute cancellation of the Ravenshaw Film Festival. Right-wing supporters were allegedly protesting against two films, and “threat calls” led to the cancellation. One of them was Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali. Some students claimed their religious sentiments were hurt as Panchali is another name for Draupadi.
In Ahmedabad for the inaugural Jitendra Desai Memorial Lecture, Justice Rohinton Nariman slammed the BBC documentary ban and the IT raids that followed. “The unfortunate thing is the ban itself but what is even more unfortunate is the coercive action thereafter,” he said.
“Show us something which shows that the accused encouraged the students to pick up guns. Is there anything to indicate that they told students to procure arms or get a bomb or something like this?” the Supreme Court demanded to know yesterday from the National Investigation Agency, while hearing bail pleas of Bhima Koregaon accused Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had raised human rights issues and the banning of US NGOs in India during his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar yesterday. “We discussed upholding of human rights issues with India. We regularly engage and encourage our Indian counterparts from India to uphold their own commitment to democracy and human rights. We do the same thing. In most conversations with Jaishankar, this is an issue we discuss as we did today,” said Blinken when asked by a US correspondent whether there are rising concerns in Washington over India’s alleged democratic backsliding and persecution of religious minorities.
Blinken said as the world’s biggest democracies, “we have to work together to show that our democracies can deliver to people’s needs and uphold values that include respect for human rights and freedom of religious belief … We have had discussions about the importance of NGOs in civil society and that they be allowed to function effectively and freely here and in the US.” During his India visit last June, Blinken had alleged “a rise in human rights abuses” in India though during his 2021 India visit he had said “both of our democracies are works in progress”.
In the US, the Biden administration is seen to be treading too carefully when it comes to India, due to geopolitical concerns. Politico quotes a State Department official as saying “the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was well-known among diplomats for having ‘clientitus’ — meaning it tends to parrot a host country’s line or at least avoid looking at it through a critical lens.”
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The Australian government has refused to be drawn on human rights in India, prompting accusations it has shelved uncomfortable issues to boost trade and security ties. Human Rights Watch said the “quiet diplomacy” approach favoured by the West had failed to have any visible impact on India and urged Australian PM Anthony Albanese to raise human rights during his visit to the country next week. Ahead of his planned trip to India next week, he was asked about the Gujarat riots and whether he would raise contemporary human rights concerns with Modi. The prime minister evaded the issue, saying that he was determined to build a better relationship between Australia and India and he looked forward to “positive discussions” with Modi.
Eric Garcetti is qualified to serve as US Ambassador to India, the White House has said after a Congressional panel vote on his nomination was postponed till March 8 following a hold placed by a top Republican Senator. Garcetti, 52, former Mayor of Los Angeles, was nominated by President Joe Biden in July 2021. His nomination was not brought to the Senate floor for a vote as the ruling Democratic Party did not have enough support. Republicans and some members of Garcetti’s own party were opposed to his nomination because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Though the hold on his nomination had been lifted, he could not be confirmed by the last Congress. Biden renominated Garcetti to the same position in January this year.
Shortly after the Supreme Court order appointed a committee to look into the Adani fiasco and set a deadline for SEBI’s investigation, Gautam Adani tweeted: “The Adani Group welcomes the order of the Hon'ble Supreme Court. It will bring finality in a time bound manner. Truth will prevail.”
“I was somewhat surprised to see the Supreme Court entertaining the petitions in the first place,” former SEBI chairman M Damodaran told ThePrint. “One petition was to ban short-selling, which is not something a court should be looking into. Short-selling is a common market practice and if any tweaking is required, it should be done by the regulator … The other petition was to prosecute (Hindenburg Research founder) Nathan Anderson, which is something SEBI should look at,” Damodaran added. Regarding the third petition, which was about protecting investors, Damodaran said the loss to investors was notional, since it would be incurred only when they sold their shares. “There is nobody forcing any investor to sell at this lower price,” he said. “… retail investors in Adani companies were a very small proportion, and the mutual funds did not invest at all. So, any ‘losses’ were to large investors.”
Meanwhile, SEBI has slapped a market ban on actor Arshad Warsi and his wife Maria Goretti for “misleading videos” on YouTube. Forty-four others have been taken off the street.
“The World Bank estimates [pandemic] shutdowns pushed 56m Indians into extreme poverty. Since then inflation has further eroded purchasing power: real wages in rural areas, where most of the poor live, have stagnated, and annual inflation jumped to 6.5% in January. Poor families, for whom food makes up 60% of household expenditure, have felt the strongest pinch. Rural food costs have risen by 28% since 2019; onion prices by an eye-watering 51%,” reports The Economist.
Congress candidate Ravindra Dhangekar beat the BJP’s Hemant Rasane by a margin of nearly 11,000 votes in Kasba Peth assembly seat in Pune, Maharashtra. The BJP has not lost the seat since 1995.
India’s coal production increased 15.10% to 784.41 million tonnes in April-February. It was 681.5 MT in the year-ago period, as per provisional figures of the Coal Ministry.
Ex-Chief Justice of India AM Ahmadi passed away yesterday. He was elevated to the Supreme Court in 1988.
State broadcaster Doordarshan is likely to make a series on the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Public faith in Ram and even the sheer volume of work being done in building the temple will be depicted. I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra visited Ayodhya yesterday to see the construction underway. He said work on the first floor of the temple (the ‘Garbh Griha of Ram Lalla’) will be completed by December.
India and neo-fascist Italy mend fences
There’s a neo-Fascist party ruling Italy, and Foreign Secretary Vinay M Kwatra says that “legacy issues” of frosty relations with India are now past, reports The Hindu. When the BJP was in the Opposition, Italy was disparaged because it’s Sonia Gandhi’s birthplace, and there was the issue of fishermen shot by Italian Marines. Now, India and Italy have announced the elevation of the bilateral relationship to the level of strategic partnership, and done an MoU on defence cooperation.
After bilateral talks with PM Narendra Modi, Italy’s controversial PM Giorgia Meloni hoped that India, with its G20 Presidency, could play a central role in “facilitating a negotiating process for the cessation of hostilities” in Ukraine. “Today, we are announcing the establishment of a ‘Startup Bridge’ between India and Italy. Another important area of our mutual cooperation is defence. We have also decided to organise joint military exercises and training courses on a regular basis,” Modi said in the joint press statement.
Vellore develops multidrug therapy for scrub typhus
Researchers have identified a better drug protocol for severe scrub typhus, a life-threatening bacterial infection transmitted to humans through tick bites. Agricultural labourers are most at risk due to exposure to shrubs where the ticks breed. A multi-centre clinical trial at CMC Vellore, involving 800 patients, found that an antibiotic cocktail is more effective than single-drug therapies. The study has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The trial demonstrated that treatment with intravenous doxycycline and azithromycin is more effective than using either drug on its own. The combination of the two drugs may have resulted in a more complete blockade of protein synthesis and consequently reduced bacterial growth and multiplication,” said Prof George M Varghese, Department of Infectious Diseases, Christian Medical College, Vellore.
First women MLAs in Nagaland
Social workers Hekani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse, both of the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, are the first women to be elected to the Nagaland Assembly. There were only four women among the 183 candidates. US-educated lawyer Jakhalu defeated Azheto Zhimomi of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) by 1,536 votes in the Dimapur III seat. Kruse won from the Western Angami seat in Kohima district. She defeated Keneizhakho Nakhro, an independent candidate, by only seven votes.
JNU withdraws draconian law against students
JNU yesterday withdrew rules fining students Rs 50,000 for physical violence, abuse and dharnas on campus. VC Santishree D Pandit claimed that she was not unaware of it ― after the 10-page document drew a sharp reaction from students and teachers, who called it draconian. Late last night, Chief Proctor Rajnish Kumar Mishra issued a notification withdrawing it, citing administrative reasons.
The Long Cable
Neo-Khalistanis & cow vigilantes challenge security establishment
Ajay K Mehra
Narendra Modi has projected his leadership on a neo-nationalism canvas that redefines public security in a new, robust perspective. But is the security establishment ready to meet emerging challenges? Let us look at two ― the recently held panchayat in Haryana that strongly defended the role of gau rakshaks (cow protectors), and the emergence of neo-Khalistani activists under the leadership of Amritpal Singh.
Vigilantism for Cow Protection
The clamour for a law against cow slaughter dates back to Independence. The concern was voiced in the Constituent Assembly, leading to the insertion of Article 48 in the Constitution, among the non-justiciable Directive Principles of State Policy. It said, “The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter of, cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” Putting it in the context of agriculture and animal husbandry, the framers of the Constitution attempted to take it out of the religious context, making it look secular and in the spirit of the Constitution.
Though cow protection laws in India have become harsher in recent years, it’s not universal. The Northeastern states and Kerala permit cow slaughter. Other southern states also allow slaughter, transport of cows and bullocks across states, inflict less punishment for illegal slaughter, do not prohibit (Puducherry is the exception) the sale of beef, do not reverse the burden of proof from the state to the accused, and protect buffaloes by their laws.
In such a confusing state of affairs, the northern states of the cow belt have harsher laws and chaotic enforcement. Aside from the police and other enforcement agencies, which are gripped by sectarian feelings, there are groups of vigilantes, who act first and ask questions afterwards. The police step in later and in most cases charge the victims with the harshest laws available. The courts also put the blame on the victims, who are usually Muslims.
The recent case in which two alleged cow smugglers from Rajasthan, Junaid and Naseer, were abducted and brutally killed by Bajrang Dal workers in Haryana, is raising a storm. The name of Monu Manesar, a leading vigilante with wide connections with the Haryana Police and other officials, has emerged prominently. As public opinion built up against him, a ‘panchayat’, a gathering of 400 persons from various Hindu outfits and gau raksha units, was held in Haryana’s Hathin in his support. The gathering not only insisted that the Haryana government learned from UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to use bulldozers against those involved in cow slaughter (read Muslims), it also warned the Rajasthan Police from taking any action against Monu Manesar and other gau rakshaks.
Such incidents strike at the principles of the rule of law and due process. A crowd protecting persons guilty of violence from the police and legal process is bad enough. The pressure it applied on the government to punish the victims without due process is worse. Further, the incident interfered with inter-state police cooperation in crime prevention. In an earlier incident some months ago, an avoidable spectacle was created involving the police of Delhi, Haryana and Punjab.
The siege of a police station in Ajnala, Punjab, by Amritpal Singh and his supporters on February 23, 2023 indicates the beginning of a turbulent time in Punjab. Little-known till now, Amritpal Singh dresses like Jarnail Singh Bhinderanwale. The 29-year-old has dramatically emerged on the Punjab scene with his supporters calling themselves Waris Punjab De, and forcefully demanded an independent Khalistan. They besieged the police station, using the Guru Granth Sahib as a shield to keep police at bay. In this unusual use of force, several police personnel were injured.
The reason for this show of strength is even more alarming. On February 18, a close associate of Amritpal Singh, Lovepreet Singh was arrested for allegedly kidnapping one Varinder Singh. Describing the case as politically motivated, Amritpal Singh warned the police of dire consequences unless his aide was released. His armed supporters mobilised on February 23 and police personnel were injured in the clash that followed.
Three aspects of this episode have serious implications for the law and order administration, as well as public security. First, the protesters used the Guru Granth Sahib as a shield, setting a precedent in protest politics for followers of other faiths. Second, the Punjab Police wilted in a couple of days and Lovepreet Singh was released on court orders a day later. Third, is the Khalistan movement reviving? Though a weakened Pakistan is unlikely to support any such movement, we must keep our fingers crossed.
(Ajay K Mehra is a political scientist, former principal of a Delhi college and Atal Bihari Vajpayee Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 2019-21)
Kevin Pietersen is an extraordinary cricketer but his fulsome praise for Home Minister Amit Shah was a googly. He met Shah, whose son is coincidentally the BCCI secretary, and called him, “Kind, caring and inspirational”. Nice!
Prime Number: 1
The Trinamool Congress received a jolt when it failed to retain the Sagardighi Assembly constituency in West Bengal, which the party had bagged three times in a row, and was defeated by Bayron Biswas of the Congress, backed by the Left Front, with a margin of 22,986 votes. Congress has got its first MLA in the West Bengal Assembly. It’s significant because the TMC has not lost the constituency since 2011. Visibly miffed, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said she would fight the 2024 polls alone.
Read the order passed by the Supreme Court yesterday, calling for a collegium for picking Election Commissioners, taking it out of the hands of the executive alone.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Only if practical measures to implement the Supreme Court order on election commissioners are put in place and can provide a level playing field, will we be able to usher in integrity and confidence in the umpire, writes MG Devasahayam.
BJP is making Indians indifferent to corruption, writes Vir Sanghvi. When Indians see Opposition leaders being raided and arrested, like Manish Sisodia was recently, they know this is just political warfare.
The advantages India enjoys in dealing with the Chinese are heavily dependent on the 14th Dalai Lama and his inspirational leadership, but there is no long-term strategy, writes Ajai Shukla.
Mani Shankar Aiyar remembers his closest friend, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, former ambassador to China and an advisor to the government on climate change. His most enduring accomplishments were his definitive accounts of the 1947-48 Kashmir crisis and the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971.
Alan Beattie writes that despite the Modi government’s professed outward-looking export policy, it’s still too allergic to two-way trade to take full advantage of the huge space in global supply networks opening up as China moves on.
Textile and apparel has traditionally been employment-intensive. As per Ministry of Textiles data, the sector is the largest employer after agriculture and employs 45 million directly and 60 million in allied sectors. But there is stagnation now.
The Adani saga must make people think how dangerous this can be for the national economy, even as they wonder – even if they are afraid to ask aloud ― who made money from the system, and why they got so much, writes Prasenjit Chowdhury.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, not Shah or Modi, made the difference for BJP, writes Subir Bhowmik.
Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava writes on the dangerous zone we are in when Alia Bhatt is being chased in her living room with a camera recording her secretly.
BBC veteran Satish Jacob tells Sidharth Bhatia that the Union government is going after the BBC due to the documentaries, and he is not surprised.
Your superfast online delivery is harming the environment. Is there a fix? India’s quick commerce market is expected to grow 15 times to $5.5 billion by 2025, at a cost.
Over and out
Sushmita Sen has revealed that she suffered a heart attack. She wrote, “My cardiologist reconfirmed: I do have a big heart.”
It’s been a good week for elephants.
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.