'Good Governance' Goes AWOL as Key Jobs Left Unfilled; Supreme Court Frowns On Routine Arrest

Plus: Assam detention centres now ‘transit camps’, most Indians worried about environment, PM-Jay not miracle cure, Vietnam, India lead crypto adoption, and why Muslims remain total losers on screen

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
August 20, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Keeping the ‘opposition unity’ momentum going, Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has convened a virtual meeting of key state leaders today – including West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu’s MK Stalin and Maharashtra’s Uddhav Thackeray – to discuss a joint approach against the Narendra Modi government. In prosaic remarks remarks that have raised eyebrows only because it is rare to have anyone in government strike a reasonable tone these days, transport minister Nitin Gadkari has said a “strong opposition” is “necessary in a successful democracy”. “Nehru always respected Vajpayee ji and said the Opposition was also necessary,” he said, calling on all parties to “introspect” over the recent disruptions in parliament.

And its not just the opposition which is opposing. Farmers affiliated to the RSS and the BJP will stage a nationwide agitation on September 8 to demand guaranteed remunerative prices for their produce. The three farm laws are hemming in a government that hates to back off. 

Examining the mortality data of 12 Indian states from April 2020 to May 2021, Aashish Gupta and Murad Banaji find 1.7 million excess deaths. Extrapolating to the national population, they estimate 2.8 million excess deaths in the pandemic period ― 8.5 times the official death toll of 3,32,000.

The Assam government will now call detention centres ‘transit camps’, but it won’t change the fact that Indians are being stripped of citizenship and detained, says the lawyer Aman Wadud, because in the last eight years, the number of ‘declared foreigners’ deported remains in single digits.

The CBI has set up four Special Investigation Units to probe post-poll violence in West Bengal, with 25 officers. Each unit is headed by a joint director. For comparison, the UP block panchayat elections resulted in firing and violence recorded on camera. There was mayhem despite thousands of preventive detentions.

Good Governance Day has been forgotten and governance, too, it seems. Six central agencies and paramilitary forces are headless, some for months. With the ITBP DG retiring at the end of August, there will be just two DGs among five central armed police forces. The NIA has been functioning without a regular chief for almost three months. The preference for officers of proven loyalty has also led to the highly unusual – and some say improper – decision to extend the tenure of the Union home secretary and the Enforcement Directorate chief.

Hopes of an India-US trade pact are off the table for now, with the Biden administration showing disinterest in a free trade agreement, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said yesterday. 

In a report by blockchain data platform Chainalysis, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and Ukraine emerge as the fastest crypto adopters, amidst the 881% global bull run this year, leaving the US and EU far behind. The analysis is weighted by purchasing power parity.   

About 70% of Indians are worried about the environment and over 90% feel that they should do more to protect it, says a new survey conducted across G-20 countries. The survey comes shortly after the alarming report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which predicted an unprecedented rise in global temperatures, and particularly dire effects in South Asia.

OM Nambiar, the athletics coach who saw the promise of PT Usha and propelled her to fame, has died in Kannur aged 89. And the story of the dosa king who wouldn’t take no for an answer, even if it meant murder.

Days after BJP worker Mayur Munde, built a Rs  1.6 lakh temple for Narendra Modi in Pune, the PM’s bust has been removed from it. NCP workers yesterday staged a mock protest outside the temple. “There is optimism that now, fuel prices would come down, inflation would dip and people will get Rs 15 lakh in their accounts. But we came here and saw that the ‘god’ is missing from the temple,” NCP city unit president Prashant Jagtap said. 


Delhi’s ‘Little Kabul’ sombre

The Hindu reports that with perhaps 450 Indians stranded in Afghanistan, the government is coordinating with the US and other embassies to assist in their return, as transport to the airport as well as flights from Kabul to Delhi are proving to be a challenge. Four days after Taliban militia took over, there was no formal government in place, making it harder for those who don’t have all the necessary documents. After being stranded in Kabul, journalist Sonia Sarkar managed to leave on an Indian Air Force plane, but with no luggage. She describes in the South China Morning Posthow her taxi driver negotiated to get her to the Indian embassy, and reports seeing hundreds of desperate Afghans near the airport, waiting to flee the country.

The mood among Afghan nationals in Delhi’s ‘Little Kabul’ was sombre yesterday on the 102nd anniversary of their independence. This independence day was not about the spirit of freedom but fear about the Taliban takeover. Afghans in Lajpat Nagar, Bhogal and Hazrat Nizamuddin are anxiously following events on social media and TV. In Kolkata, which has a very old Afghan community ― immortalised by Rabindranath Tagore in the much-filmed Kabuliwala (1892) ― the mood on independence day was one of protest, rather than celebration.

With the Taliban choking off trade with India via the integrated checkpost at Attari, the import of dry fruits, onions, and apples has stopped, leading to a surge in prices. Every year, India imports dry fruit worth at least Rs 2,000 crore from Afghanistan. ‘Frontier Gandhi’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s grand-daughter Yasmin Nigar Khan urges world leaders to ensure the safety of women under the Taliban. 


Arrest need not follow charge sheet, says Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has said it is not mandatory to take the accused in custody at the time of filing a charge sheet, as routine arrest can cause incalculable harm to reputation and self-esteem. “If the investigating officer has no reason to believe that the accused will abscond or disobey summons and has… cooperated with the investigation, we fail to appreciate why there should be a compulsion on the officer to arrest the accused,” a bench presided over by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said. 

The court said the word “custody” in Section 170 of the Criminal Procedure Code does not contemplate arrest, but merely connotes the presentation of the accused before the court while filing the charge sheet. It expressed concern about trial courts insisting on arrest as a prerequisite formality, saying that it is contrary to the very intent of Section 170. 


Nitish, Tejashwi to meet Modi for caste census

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will meet PM Narendra Modi on Monday to discuss the issue of conducting a caste-based census. Tejashwi Yadav, leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, will be a part of the delegation. Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) is an ally of the BJP in Bihar and favours a caste-based census. It is a sensitive issue for the Modi government in view of the Assembly elections due in seven states next year, when it could snowball into a poll issue. 

Not only have all the Opposition parties sought a caste census, but so have BJP allies like the JD-U, Apna Dal, Republican Party of India-Athawale and the Biju Janata Dal. During the recently-concluded monsoon session of Parliament, the Congress asked the government why it was “quiet” and “running away” from the issue. BJP leaders are raising the pitch for an ‘upper caste panel’, saying the ‘general category’ is “being neglected”.


Three Guwahati colleges seek students’ caste

Three Guwahati colleges are in the eye of a storm for seeking disclosure of caste in the online admission form for a degree course. Usually, students are asked to write if they belong to Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, Other Backward Class, or General Category, for awarding reservation and scholarships. However, the well-known institutes Handique Girls’ College, Karmashree Hiteswar Saikia College and Arya Vidyapeeth College asked the students to specify if they are Brahmin, Ganak, Kalita, Kayastha, Muslim, Sudra, Vaishya, or Other.

Special Secretary of the Education Department Preetom Saikia said caste specification is not a policy of the state government, and action will be taken. 


The Long Cable

In Bollywood’s playbook, Muslims are doomed to lose 

Sidharth Bhatia

Even by the low standards of loud, hyper-nationalistic propaganda, Bollywood’s Bhuj ― The Pride of India plumbs new depths. Starring Ajay Devgn, the standard-bearer of patriotism along with Akshay Kumar, it tells the story of how a Pakistani air force attack on the Bhuj airfield in 1971 was repulsed by brave (and Hindu) warriors on the ground.

The film is full of howlers, and has been panned for how the Indian Air Force works – this piece by a former IAF officer stationed at Bhuj is particularly illuminating. Then there is its constant valorisation of specific communities — Marathas, Sikhs, Nairs and Gujaratis. And, of course, dog-whistling about how Muslims and Pakistanis — same difference, the film implies — are an incompetent and treacherous bunch. 

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Given the way Bollywood films have been going — raucous, aggressively nationalistic and writing in Hindutva messaging wherever and however they can – it was inevitable that we would hit rick bottom. There is no subtlety in the content or the treatment, to say nothing of balance. In today’s ‘new’ India, the best way to go full Hindutva is to bash Muslims at every opportunity. 

Muslims in Hindi films are represented by any of the following — by suggesting that they are terrorists, by showing medieval invaders as crude and cruel, by setting the stories in Kashmir, and by using that old reliable point of reference, Pakistan. 

In contrast, the Hindu man (also woman) and occasionally Sikh too, is a warrior and fighter, or fiercely protective of their ‘honour’. Like Padmavati who, in the strictest ‘Rajput tradition’, ends her life to protect her honour, rather than succumb to the marauder Sultan Allauddin Khilji — shown as an uncouth man with homosexual tendencies — in Padmavat (2018).

Since then, we have had Panipat (2019), about the battle in North India in 1761 between the Marathas, the Afghans and the Rohillas, led by Ahmed Shah Abdali and Najib-ud-Daula. History tells us that the Afghans won. In Ashutosh Gowarikar’s retelling, that is debatable, and Marathas emerge with the honours.

In Kesari (2019), about the battle of Saraghari in 1897, a mere 21 Sikhs of the British Indian Army valiantly fought 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen. The Afghans were shown to be disdainful of the Sikh turban and the main antagonist was a maulana.

For decades, Muslims were shown by Bollywood as a community with quaint habits — saying ‘Yah Allah’ at every step and wearing sherwanis and shararas all the time — or as loyal friends and kindly old uncles of the Rahim Chacha variety. This began to change slowly from the 1990s, when they became identified with terror activities, and this has become full-blown in recent years, when ‘good’ Muslims are hard to find on the Hindi screen. At the same time, saffron flag-waving has become more rigorous, and the dialogues far more blatantly anti-minority. And the ‘Muslims’ always have to lose in any conflict, no matter how much history has to be distorted and bent.

Bhuj is perhaps the most crass example of this trend . Devgn has earlier acted in Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (2020) about a Maratha warrior who took on the might of Aurangzeb in the mid-17th century. That too was saffron-hued and historically inaccurate. But in Bhuj, the nationalism is on display even before the film begins, with “Salute to the Indian Armed Forces”, followed by “Jai Hind”. 

From there on, it only goes downhill, with cries of “Jai Bharat Mata” and “Jai Gujarat” taking the place of dialogue, while Air Force pilot Vijay Karnik (Devgn) goes about destroying the Pakistanis and emerges with just a scratched forehead. The film is one long rant, a high budget version of the WhatsApp video forward, an enactment of what goes on inside the mind of those mustachioed army officers seen nightly on television channels, threatening to obliterate Pakistan.

Will this trend continue, or is it just a blip to make a quick buck or a hundred million, while the nationalistic Hindutva fervour lasts? Money is always front and centre in the Hindi film producer’s mind, but at the same time, falling in step with the current political dispensation and keeping them pleased is also important. So Devgn, Akshay Kumar and, not to forget, Kangana Ranaut, will remain with us for a long time.


Reportedly

Shah Faesal, the IAS officer from Jammu & Kashmir who resigned in 2019 in protest against the Centre’s policies about the region, may rejoin the civil service. The Asian Age reports that the Centre has still not taken any decision on Faesal’s resignation, and the rules state that in such a scenario the resignation is considered withdrawn automatically! Officially, the resignation “is still under consideration”. 

Faesal controversially quit the IAS and formed the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement. He was a strident critic of the abrogation of Article 370, but his political career was uneventful and he wanted out. He was stopped from taking a flight to the US soon after the scrapping of Article 370 and then detained. he moved the high court only to withdraw his complaint when threatened with lengthy detention. There being no politics worth the name left in Jammu and Kashmir anymore, and his request to be allowed to settle in the US thwarted, rejoining the IAS may be Faesal’s best option.


Rampur court refuses to stop two women from living together

Two adult women who said that they were in a relationship were allowed to live together by a court in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district. The parents of one, a resident of Suar, had lodged a missing person report. The girl was later found to be living with her girlfriend in the Shahabad area in the district. They informed the police that they had been in a live-in relationship and did not want to live with their families. 

“It was found that they had been living together for the past several days,” said a police official in Rampur. Their families tried to persuade the girls to break their relationship and return home. “Since both are adults, we could not have forced them to go back with their families,” the police said.


Prime number: 34 million and 4.6 million
That’s the total number of persons who got their first dose of Covishield and Covaxin respectively but did not get their second dose within the stipulated period, up to August 17, 2021.

P75I submarine project in choppy waters

The government’s plan to build six submarines in India under the P75I project for Rs 43,000 crore is in troubled waters. The German foreign technology partner TKMS finds tender requirements restrictive. That would leave a South Korean firm as the only eligible foreign partner. TKMS argues that the tender conditions ― indigenisation, liabilities, estimated budget ― are impossible to meet. Earlier, a Swedish company had also pulled out on similar grounds.


Deep Dive

Talking about the ‘trickery’ of DMK in Tamil Nadu, which has reduced the price of petrol and diesel by Rs 3, the Union Finance Minister spoke of how the Modi government should have released a white paper on the burden inherited from Dr Manmohan Singh’s government. Maheshwar Peri does the heavy lifting with a Twitter thread to help the minister in her endeavour. 


Why PM-JAY sputters

In the middle of a global pandemic, the central government had allocated Rs 6,400 crore in 2021-22 to the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana, but revised estimates of the budget reduced it to Rs 3,200 crore. In 2020-21, 31 states and UTs were allocated Rs 2,544.09 crore lower than the Rs 2992.93 crore in 2019-20, according to a Lok Sabha response in August 2021. Read why the PM-JAY, the public health insurance programme, is faltering.


Housing market won’t reach pre-pandemic levels

According to Anarock research, housing sales are expected to increase 30% year-on-year to 1,79,527 units across seven cities in 2021, from 1,38,344 units last year. But demand will still be lower than pre-Covid levels in 2019, when sales stood at 2,61,358 units across seven cities — Delhi-NCR, Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Being an Afghan refugee  in India is not easy. “It’s not like going to Europe or the US. Even after 10 years as an Afghan refugee in India, it can still be difficult to get formal employment or go to university,” Hamsa Vijayaraghavan, a former UNHCR representative and director of Migration and Asylum Project, tells NPR.

  • With the opium trade, the British were enabling the longest-running drug deal in the history of the world. They were knowingly getting millions addicted for profit, not just in China, but in India as well. Even as they passed laws against opium at home, they produced it in India and sold it in China. Excerpts from Opium Inc: How a Global Drug Trade Funded the British Empire, by Thomas Manuel.


Listen Up

Gautam Mukhopadhyay, former Ambassador to Afghanistan and Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable), unpack the crisis in Afghanistan with a uniquely Indian lens in this Centre for Policy Research podcast.


Watch Out

Former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan speaks to Raghav Behl about rising inequality, a generation lost to online teaching, the competition problem and more.

https://www.bloombergquint.com/in-the-news/raghuram-rajan-in-conversation-with-raghav-bahl


Over and Out

If you’re dead, you can’t own land. This fact has led to innumerable cases in India of people being registered dead and dispossessed of their property, writes BBC’s Chloe Hadjimatheou on ‘India’s living dead’.

Fifty years on the silver screen has not dimmed the glow of Malayalam superstar Mammootty, aka Muhammad Kutty Panaparambil Ismail.

And when a troupe of African American musicians sang at the Taj Mahal in 1889, drawing cheers from listeners and praise from critics.


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