Finally, Very Briefly, Rupee Turned Octogenarian; The Banality Of Stupidity, and the Evil that Follows the Fun and Memes
Bihar SSP compares PFI to RSS shakha, climate change spells hunger in India, 25 million kids missed routine jabs, Facebook whitewashes role in sectarian violence in India and when’s the halwa, anyway?
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
July 15, 2022
Abki baar, Assi paar. Finally, though briefly, the rupee was an octogenarian. The Modi government and its cheerleaders are playing dumb, but the fall of the rupee and the depletion of foreign reserves deployed to defend it are nothing to be blasé about. Azadi ka amrit mahotsav and amrit kaal in Achhe Din!
Vegetable prices are up 56.75% and wholesale fuel and power inflation has been 40.38%. Overall, wholesale inflation has been in double digits for 15 months. It was 15.18% in June, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Output of fresh produce, a key determinant of household budgets, is projected to rise a moderate 2.10% in 2021-22. The production of potatoes and tomatoes, whose prices are always volatile, has decreased, according to official estimates released yesterday.
Wheat stocks in the central pool on July 1 were precariously close to the minimum required to maintain buffer stock and strategic reserves, due to low procurement and fall in production in the 2021-22 crop marketing year. Stocks of wheat peak on July 1, following after the main procurement months of April, May, and June, but stocks on July 1 were around 28.51 million tonnes, as against the 27.58 million tonnes required as buffer and strategic reserves. Rice stocks are higher than the norm, but thanks to government policies, there may not be enough rice for welfare schemes and ethanol production. Without urgent action, rising temperatures and weather fluctuations may drive hunger and malnutrition in India, says The Third Pole.
India’s trade deficit ballooned to a record $26.18 billion in June – it was $9.60 billion in June 2021 – though merchandise exports grew smartly, according to the government data. Imports expanded by a whopping 57.55% to $66.31 billion in June compared to the month a year ago. The trade deficit in the first three months of this fiscal stands at $70.80 billion, up from $31.42 billion in the year-ago period.
Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair has been awarded bail by a Delhi court in a case filed against him on the basis of a complaint from anonymous Twitter account, for tweeting an image from a 1983 movie in 2018. Desperate investigators added charges under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act but the sessions judge questioned their validity and said they could not come in the way of bail. He won’t walk free yet as a Lakhimpur court sent him to custody earlier this week in a case filed by the Hindutva channel, Sudarshan TV.
UN data reveals that 25 million of the world’s children missed routine vaccinations due to Covid. The vast majority live in Ethiopia, and India is second on the list of the worst five, followed by Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.
Facebook, which now goes by the four-letter word Meta, has outraged digital rights observers globally by refusing to publish the Human Rights Impact Assessment on India. Instead “it has yesterday issued an inadequate ‘summary’, whitewashing the religious violence fomented in India across their platforms.”
The Supreme Court yesterday allowed the Centre’s request for two months’ time to file a reply to a petition seeking the enforcement of fundamental duties, including patriotism and national unity, through “comprehensive, and well-defined laws”. The court also allowed states to join in on September 26. “The need to enforce fundamental duties arises due to a new illegal trend of protest by protesters in the garb of freedom of speech and expression, by way of blocking of road and rail routes in order to compel the government to meet their demands,” the petition said.
Attorney General KK Venugopal has declined consent to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against a former Delhi High Court judge and two others who criticised observations made by the Supreme Court while turning down a plea by now-suspended BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma. In an interview, former Delhi HC judge SN Dhingra, former additional solicitor general Aman Lekhi and senior advocate K Rama Kumar had termed the observations “irresponsible” and “unfair”.
A BJP MLA in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh alleges that the party used the government machinery to secure a win in the civic body elections that concluded on Wednesday. Narayan Tripathi, four-time MLA from Maihar in Satna, said that in his constituency, officials were seen campaigning for the party.
In Jammu, the Dalai Lama refused to comment on China’s aggression in Ladakh. He said that “more and more Chinese are realising that the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, but within China, a meaningful autonomy (for the region) to preserve Tibetan Buddhist culture.”
Alarmed by the alleged influx of undocumented migrants from Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh, 19 tribal organisations of Manipur have urged the Union government to set up “centres of operation” for the immediate detection and deportation of “foreigners” by implementing the National Register of Citizens in the state. They said the immigrants had settled down “autonomously” since the abolition of the pass/permit system on November 18, 1950.
Why did India’s corporate-owned mainstream media ignore the Wired story on police planting evidence against Bhima Koregaon activists, asks Newslaundry. Good question!
A leading Indian endocrinologist has cited a British health caution against Baba Ramdev’s advice about diabetes as it can cause harm. The caution is from 2021 but has continuing salience given the Baba’s recent advertising campaign in India.
Telangana is one of the most surveilled states in India. New Delhi has about 33 CCTV cameras for every 1,000 people. But Telangana’s capital Hyderabad has 36 CCTV cameras per 1,000 people, making it one of most surveilled cities in the world. Slate.com questions the surveillance.
More than 1.10 lakh privately owned apple, chinar, walnut and mulberry trees, among other species, valued at Rs 13.76 crore, have been cut down by the NHAI to lay the Srinagar Ring Road, an RTI reply has revealed. Over 1,200 more, part of the lush green cover of the Valley, will be cut down. The NHAI did not give any estimate of the cost of replanting, which will be carried out later.
More good times for Adani abroad. Adani Ports and Israel’s Gadot won a tender for privatising the port of Haifa, one of Israel’s largest, the country’s Finance Ministry said yesterday. The group will buy it for 4.1 billion shekels ($1.18 billion). As seen in Sri Lanka, when the PM attends a summit, Adani gets to float his ship. Yesterday, he attended the first summit meeting of the inclusively named I2U2 ― Israel, India, UAE and the US ― in Jerusalem.
The Economist contemplates Reliance after Mukesh Ambani. “Whenever he departs, there is little debate that Mr Ambani’s exit would constitute a huge loss for the company”.
Video streaming services are struggling to expand their paid subscriber base due to low conversion rates from free trials, according to media consulting firm Ormax. Out of the estimated 99.7 million Indian users on advertising-led video-on-demand (AVoD) platforms, only 18% are ready to turn to subscription-led video-on-demand (SVoD) services.
Renowned actor and filmmaker Pratap Pothen has died in Chennai.
Ripudaman Singh Malik, acquitted of the charge of involvement in the 1985 Air India Kanishka bombing, has been shot dead in Canada. Earlier, a Canada connection was seen in the killing of rapper and politician Sidhu Moose Wala on May 30.
IPL pioneer and noted London-based fugitive Lalit Modi caused a flutter on Indian Twitter by posting pictures with actor Sushmita Sen, terming her his better half and speaking of a new life. He got back to clarify they were “not married though that too will happen one day” . For the moment, they’re just dating.
The Sweet Kitchen: Tales and Recipes of India’s Favourite Desserts by Rajyasree Sen reveals that “the 13th century Arabic recipe collection Kitab al-Tabikh by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan Ibn al-Karim is the first known text to mention halwa.”
Bihar cop likens PFI recruitment plan to RSS shakha
“Their (the Popular Front of India’s) modus operandi was to act like an RSS shakha where lathi training is given… they would call them for physical training but also brainwash and radicalise them. They train the youth under the guise of physical education and spread propaganda and agenda. We got documents of camps teaching martial arts and training members to use sticks and swords under the guise of physical training. The document was being used to radicalise, brainwash and mobilise people,” said Patna SSP Manavjit Singh Dhillon at a press conference yesterday to give details about the arrest of PFI activists. The police headquarters has taken cognizance of the statement after the BJP demanded action against the police official.
BJP’s alliance partner HAM-S supported the SSP. “He is unnecessarily being dragged into the controversy. If talking of Islamic State is a crime then is it right to advocate for Hindu Rashtra?” asked HAM-S spokesperson Danish Rizwan. The JD(U) refused to comment, while the RJD backed the SSP. The party tweeted, “Patna’s SSP has rightly said about the modus operandi of the Sangh that these people spread their propaganda and hatred in the name of physical training! And in some areas, they carry out riots, mob lynching and other anti-social harmony activities.”
Indian ad market to grow fastest
Ad spends in India are projected to grow at 15.2% in 2023 and 15.7% in 2024, the highest for any market in the world. In 2022, Indian advertising will grow at 16%, said Dentsu’s report Global Ad Spend Forecasts. The Indian ad market will hit $11.1 billion in 2022, led by digital advertising growing at 31.6% and TV ads at 14.5%. Digital advertising will hold 33.4% of the market, TV will garner 41.8% in 2022, boosted by fresh content and sports events like the IPL. Significant growth is forecast in OTT platforms, connected TV, online gaming and e-commerce.
J&K polls look possible
A revision of electoral rolls, polling stations being rationalised and VVPAT machines reaching Jammu and Kashmir: the possibility of holding the much-awaited Assembly polls next year in the Union Territory have increased. While the Election Commission (EC) has directed that the revision exercise must be completed by October 31 with the publication of electoral rolls, polling stations are likely to be fixed by the end of this month. The EC will take a security review of the situation later this year before taking a final call on the polls. J&K has been without an elected government since June 2018, when the BJP broke its alliance with the PDP.
Ukraine medical students still in limbo
Uncertainty dogs the future of 20,000 Indian students who fled war-torn Ukraine in March, jettisoning their studies, as the authorities delay a decision about their future. For three decades, Ukraine has been a popular destination because 30 Ukrainian medical colleges offer courses at a fraction of the fees charged by private colleges in India. The six-year MBBS course costs US$25,000-$30,000, a third of the cost in India. Parents have financed their children’s education by mortgaging their homes or selling their jewellery and are unable to bear further costs. They have repeatedly petitioned ministers and officials but have received no satisfactory response.
In May, the Supreme Court directed the National Medical Council to take steps within two months. As per the existing law, graduates must enrol and take their degree in the same university to be allowed to practise. Five states have agreed to take some students but this hurdle remains. The NMC has suggested that students complete their education in other European countries.
The Long Cable
The banality of stupidity, and the evil that follows the fun and memes
What a ridiculous people we have become. Here is a sample of some of the absurdities around us.
A TV channel claims a breach in a dam that caused floods in Assam was caused by Muslim terrorists engineering a ‘Flood Jihad’; other mediapersons tweeted it and Rahul Nagar, who runs a BJP social media account, endorsed it.
The government arrested four men, all Muslims, in connection with the alleged breach.
The Karnataka government has proposed that Newton’s discovery of gravity and Pythagoras’ theorem be dropped from school curricula, because both were written about in the Vedas — the Hindus got ’em first. This information was found on Quora, so naturally it must be 100% true. WhatsApp degree holders calmly say they got a forward that proves these ‘historical claims’ are true.
The Lok Sabha secretariat has banned words such as ‘betrayed’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘hypocrisy’ as unparliamentary. What’s more shocking is that many people agree with it.
All this, just in the last few days. The barrage of banality, stated or endorsed by government or party officials, goes back much further — Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a gathering of scientists and doctors in 2014 that the elephant head on Ganesha and Karna’s birth proved that cosmetic surgery and genetic engineering were being done in India centuries ago. BJP MP Satyapal Singh, former police commissioner of Mumbai, dismissed Darwin’s theory and said he was not a child of the apes. Urine therapy and cowdung for treating diseases is of course a perennial subject for the Sangh parivar and a Manipur journalist who mocked this on social media spent weeks in jail under the National Security Act. And a BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh said earlier this year that Narendra Modi was the incarnation of Lord Ram.
Idiotic, one might say, and laugh. A thousand memes have been made about these claims. But many of these statements become policy. And what sounds ridiculous soon becomes sinister. The standup comic Munnawar Faruqui was arrested for a joke he didn’t crack, based on a complaint by the son of a BJP minister in Madhya Pradesh. And the continued communal rhetoric against Muslims has tragic consequences, sometimes beyond the community. Calls for economic boycott are accompanied by threats to “repeat Gujarat”.
In the 1930s, the American writer Clara Leiser visited Germany several times to talk to family members of political prisoners. Along with the articles based on those talks, she also published a book, Lunacy Becomes Us, a compendium of silly and stupid statements by Nazi leaders, followers and supporters, including journalists.
The book opens with a quotation we may find familiar: “The Grace of God attends our Fuhrer”, attributed to Julius Streicher, a member of the Reichstag and publisher of an anti-Semitic newspaper. Inside, there are gems on subjects ranging from women’s duties to the creation of the master race. “Round up a thousand German girls of the purest stock. Isolate them in a camp. Then let them be joined by a hundred German men equally of the purest stock. If a hundred such camps were set up, you would have a hundred thousand thoroughbred children at one stroke,” advises Dr Willibald Henschel. “Jesus was Aryan on both parents’ side,” says a pamphlet. “Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character,” said the notorious Dr Goebbels.
As we know now, all this led to one of the most horrific periods of human history. The constant deification of Hitler and the demonisation of Jews, intellectuals and others led to the Holocaust. India is not anywhere near gassing Muslims, as the Nazis did to Jews, but long before that happened a systematic campaign against them — shutting down their businesses and enacting anti-Jew laws — had ensured that when the concentration camps were set up and the emaciated victims were taken to the gas chambers, they had been turned into villains for whom ordinary Germans had no sympathy.
Today, in India, the perception that Muslims are anti-nationals and traitors is being spread far and wide. Not just hardcore Sangh followers, who have been brainwashed for years, but also neo-converts — urban, educated and privileged — have bought into it. Their communal itch has been scratched and they are never going to raise their voices; they are ready to shrug at the fake historical claims of the Sangh parivar because their darkest prejudices, long hidden, are now being given free expression.
In any democracy, purveyors of hate and suspected killers would be swiftly arrested; here, they are given a free hand and even felicitated. This impunity is not accidental; they are tacitly supported because they say the unsayable, however illegal and shocking it may be. Adityanath has gone far beyond Modi in this regard, but there are many things that even he cannot say or do. That is left to the ‘fringe elements’. Occasionally, they go too far and the state steps in just to show it won’t tolerate it, as when Yati Narasinganand called for a genocide of Muslims. For the most part, it looks away.
Rhetoric and violence against the minorities is accompanied by the laws the state enacts against them. Once independent institutions offer legal backing, the genuflecting media ensure that the wider public gets the message that Muslims are Public Enemy No 1. The line between ridiculous and evil then becomes very thin and eventually vanishes. And naysayers then become the enemy.
The Centre has terminated the services of Satish Agnihotri, MD of the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Ltd, the company implementing the BJP government’s prestigious bullet train project. No reason offered, but it is believed that his position had become untenable because of serious allegations of corruption. His appointment had been as dramatic as his ouster. In 2018 Agnihotri, an Indian Railway Service officer of the 1982 batch, was summoned from retirement to head NHSRCL. He was appointed over other eligible candidates, though he did not meet the age criteria. His fall, like his rise, has been inexplicable and swift. But what about the Bullet Train, which was supposed to be even swifter?
Prime Number: Minus 20.5%
In the first quarter of this financial year, new investment projects fell by 20.5%, finds a survey.
Kalathmika Natarajan has a paper on ‘The privilege of the Indian passport (1947–1967): Caste, class, and the afterlives of indenture in Indian diplomacy’ on the discretionary issuing of passports in the first two decades of independent India.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) writes that Agnipath tells India’s adversaries that the current dispensation India is unable to provide for the strategic aims of India.
Aakar Patel writes that public-spirited individuals and citizens’ associations must launch a sort of freedom struggle: the first one gave us political rights, this one will secure our civil liberties.
Charu Sudan Kasturi says that India won’t stop buying Russian oil as it is profitable. Moreover, investments Indian and Russian PSUs have made in each other’s oil sectors have created an umbilical cord between their energy industries.
The developments on the LAC are a recognition that China sees at Pangong Tso and Doklam vulnerabilities that it can exploit to India’s strategic detriment, writes John Pollock.
TCA Ragahavan writes that those who believe that the long impasse since 2016 in Indo-Pak relations is a new normal are clearly mistaken because permanence here or, for that matter anywhere else, is an imaginary construct.
Sukumar Murlidharan says “the vision of ‘One Nation’ suppresses alternative voices.”
Proceedings at the Supreme Court about the spate of home demolitions by municipal authorities across the country present a striking example of how judges can continuously reject the evidence of their senses, writes Gautam Bhatia.
Kunal Purohit writes in South China Morning Post that Nepal’s China-India balancing act has caused it to ditch the US-run SPP security initiative.
Going ahead with the disqualification petitions against Digambar Kamat and Michael Lobo, the Congress seems to signal that leniency with truant legislators is a thing of the past, sending a warning to its other MLAs that retaining credibility and voter trust is its priority, writes Pamela D’Mello.
Since 2000, anaemia in India has been a serious concern. Two decades later, in 2022, anaemia is much more prevalent, making India anaemic, writes Ashok Bharti.
Reena Gupta writes that the Haryana government’s attempt to reclassify a conservation zone to enable real estate projects would destroy the Aravallis.
Nesrine Mallik on diversity and the PM race in the UK. It is positive to see more politicians of colour, but if the result is Sunak’s austerity or Badenoch’s culture war, how have things changed?
Thanks to Faisal Farooqui’s book, Dilip Kumar fans now have a chance to ‘meet’ their favourite actor once more, writes Priya Ramani.
Jean Drèze says the nationwide results of the 2021 National Achievement Survey show a dismal drop. Covid-19 lockdowns are only part of the back story.
Check out The Wire’s Instagram handle for powerful illustrations and political art.
Over and Out
Listen to Dastan LIVE sing Kabir and Raidas, bringing edgy complex notes together with their sparkling poetry.
In the run-up to 75 years of the Independence of India and Pakistan, BBC Hindi and Urdu kick off a cross-border conversation, and music too. The podcast series starts today.
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.