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Government Trying To Checkmate Fact-checkers; Why Even Hanuman Is Keeping Away From ‘Adipurush’
BJP disparages Opposition meet, Modi visit divides, Byju’s auditor Deloitte quits, US regulators on Adani’s case, tribals losing more land than others, cricket gave Windrush generation a sense of home
A newsletter from The Wire | Founded by MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sushant Singh, Sidharth Bhatia and Tanweer Alam | With inputs from Kalrav Joshi | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
June 23, 2023
Amit Shah has called the Opposition Huddle in Patna a “photo session”. BJP President JP Nadda has disparaged it as an opportunistic union of 20th century foes. He found it laughable that Lalu Prasad Yadav (who has a daughter rebelliously named Misa, it may be recalled) is with the grandson of Indira Gandhi, who had put him behind bars. But there seems to be a wary edge to the sarcasm. The meet is discussing state-level issues, which is essential for a national union. For instance, Sharad Pawar has apparently stepped in to iron out differences between Arvind Kejriwal and Omar Abdullah over the Delhi ordinance and the abrogation of Article 370.
Even as Modi claims in the US that there is no oppression of minorities in India, Bajrang Dal leader and Gurugram cow vigilante Monu Manesar, most recently suspected to be behind the lynching of two Muslim men, is uploading violent videos of him attacking unidentified Muslims. And in Assam, the BJP chief minister is seeing Obamas everywhere.
In an interview with CNN, former US President Barack Obama said that when a US president meets with Modi, the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” is worth mentioning. “If I had a conversation with Mr Modi – whom I know well – part of my argument would be that if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities in India, then there is a strong possibility India at some point starts pulling apart. And we’ve seen what happens when you start getting those kinds of large internal conflicts.” A former US president saying on TV, during Modi’s first state visit, that his rule is paving the way to civil war, constitutes a strong public rebuke.
PM Modi’s address to the US Congress was carefully platitudinous. Instead of speaking of Chinese aggression in the Himalayas, which has affected India directly, he spoke of China’s plans for the Indo-Pacific. This is the theatre in which the US wants India as an ally. The US has little to say about Himalayan blunders. Among others, Representative Rashida Tlaib, Representative Ilhan Omar, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Kweisi Mfume had said they would boycott the address of the Indian PM, who “has a notorious and extensive record of human rights abuses”.
There’s bad news about the PM’s favourite Gujarati tycoon: the damage caused by a short-seller’s report on share price manipulation by the Adani Group isn’t over. The US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York, and the Securities and Exchange Commission are conducting probes and contacting big shareholders.
It’s been known for years in India, and now the Guardian has the inside dope: since 2021, the Modi government has held meetings and deployed officials to counter the fallout of reports by research organisations like V-Dem, the Economist Intelligence Unit and Freedom House, which documented the slide of democracy. While pooh-poohing their statistics, the Indian government has, in private, been in a tizzy. Now, the story is back, precisely when PM Modi is in the US, insisting at a joint press conference with President Joe Biden that India’s democratic credentials are intact (watch from the 10-minute mark). The people behind a puppet joint declaration say that their show was more real.
Trucks bearing video ads drove through Manhattan, drawing attention to rights violations in India. One said, “Hey Joe! Ask Modi why student activist Umar Khalid has been imprisoned for over 1,000 days without trial.” Another poster drew attention to the alarming rise in mob lynchings of the people of the minority communities, saying, “Did you know mob lynching of Muslims, Christians and Dalits have surged under Modi’s rule? With almost no accountability.”
Modi left Manipur eating his contrails, but two soldiers were injured yesterday when persons unknown opened fire in Imphal West. And 2,000 local women denied CBI officials entry to the armoury of the Manipur Police Training College, from which arms and ammunition has been looted. In New York, Modi was beleaguered by visual reminders of the enduring problem, which Home Minister Amit Shah will toy with in an all-party meet tomorrow.
The Huffington Post finds that even for people overseas, there could be a cost for criticising the Modi visit. Which is ironic, because the protesters tell The Quint that the problem is Modi, not India.
Asked about discrimination and the unfreedom of the press in a rare and doubtless unnerving encounter with the press, Modi emoted amazement and dispensed platitudes. But as The Telegraph notes, he ducked the second part of the question: does he intend to do anything about it?
In honour of the visit, Penn Masala did a rendering of Gulzar’s ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’. The lyrics sound quite ironical:
Following his meeting with PM Modi, Elon Musk is eager to launch his Starlink satellite broadband in India. It would annihilate the persistent problem of last mile connectivity, but it faces strong resistance from Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio, Reuters reports. Following the international trend, Starlink seeks the licensing of spectrum, rather than the Indian custom of auction. Reliance has called for an auction in a public submission to the government. Licensing drops entry barriers and allows foreign entities to compete against the legacy advantage of locals, which is why Amazon is far ahead of Reliance’s retail enterprises.
Deloitte, Haskins and Sells have resigned as auditors of embattled education startup Byju’s, India’s highest valued startup at $22 billion. Three board members are also believed to have quit. Byju’s denies this and says there’s a “transition” of auditors, according to TechCrunch. It is already being sued by shareholders in the US for its inability to produce FY21-22 financial statements. Deloitte says that it has quit for the same reason.
Though he has granted bail to several accused in the Morbi bridge collapse case, Justice Samir Dave of the Gujarat High Court has now recused himself from hearing the matter.
The wreckage of the submersible Titan has been found on the seabed and its pilot and passengers have been declared dead. The accident has refocused attention on the safety features of the Matsya 6000 craft of the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai, which is to take a crew of three 6,000 metres deep in the Indian Ocean, 1,500 km off Kanyakumari, in late 2024.
Senior security representatives from the US, China, Japan, India, and Ukraine will gather in Copenhagen to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, bringing countries that have up until now remained neutral to the table, Nikkei Asia reports. At the G7 meeting last month in Hiroshima, which India and Brazil attended, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought a forum incorporating nonaligned countries to discuss the war with Russia.
The New York Times maps heavy traffic by Russian oil tankers into Kutch, including Adani’s Mundra port, to illustrate how India has profited from its neutrality in the Ukraine war.
Three Uyghur brothers who escaped persecution in Xinjiang and escaped into India a decade ago have been in custody ever since. Now, taking advantage of a Canadian offer, they may apply to be sent to Canada, reports Radio Free Asia.
Arunachal Pradesh has had its own UAPA since 2014. It allows the summary detention of suspects for six months and it was used in May to arrest 41 people trying to organise protests against a scam involving tests for the state public service commission. Earlier, too, the law has been used to round up people en masse.
In Bihar for the Opposition meet today, Mehbooba Mufti visited the graves in Kashmir Chak of Biswak village, Nalanda, of one of Kashmir’s last Muslim rulers, King Yusuf Shah Chak and his family. She laid a chadar, recited verses from the Quran and appealed to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to ensure the upkeep of the site, because “his resting place symbolises the ties between Kashmir and Bihar”. Kumar is from Nalanda.
Disproportionately more tribal land being alienated
Indigenous communities in Odisha have steadily lost control over their land, and political parties are vying to be seen as the champions of tribal causes. According to a draft CAG report, Scheduled Caste land in Odisha has grown while land owned by tribals has fallen 12%. Land under cultivation in the State decreased from 50.19 lakh hectares in 2005-06 to 46.19 lakh ha. The government may have taken more tribal land for public use, notwithstanding the Forest Right Act and restrictions on land sales to non-ST individuals.
Government trying to checkmate factcheckers
As part of the proposed Digital India Bill, the Union government may make it mandatory for online fact-checking platforms to register with the government, in the interest of accountability, The Indian Express reported. Initially, fact-checking units of “legacy and reputed” media companies must obtain registration. Efforts to regulate online fact-checking units have been in place for some time. In April 2023, the government notified Information Technology Rules, 2023, which led to the establishment of a government-backed fact-checking unit. The body has been empowered to label online content pertaining to the Union government as “fake” or “misleading”. Naturally, it has been criticised and a court case called for the repeal of the provisions.
Global warming to dry Himalayan rivers
A report of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) says that like in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), rivers in eastern and northeastern India, including the Brahmaputra, Ganga and Teesta, will see a fast rise in stream flow followed by water shortage. Glaciers in the HKH region “can lose up to 80% of their current volume by the end of the century (with) Himalayan glaciers disappearing 65% faster in the 2010s than in the previous decade.” The region is undergoing “unprecedented and largely irreversible” changes triggered by global warming, the ICIMOD report said.
Teachers suspended for backing student agitation
Four teaching staff at Delhi’s South Asian University (SAU) have been suspended for extending support to the students’ agitation against the sudden stipend cut. They have been accused of “inciting students… against colleagues, the administration and against the interest of the University”, which the university claims constitutes misconduct. In September 2022, SAU students began their agitation against the university’s decision to reduce the monthly stipend for master’s students from Rs 5,000 to Rs 3,000. The students sought an increase in stipend to Rs 7,000 and also sought adequate student representation in statutory committees of the university, particularly those on gender sensitisation and sexual harassment.
Following which, the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association (FEDCUTA) called upon its administration to unconditionally roll back all “illegal moves” against them or face protests by teachers from all over the country.
The Long Cable
Why even Hanuman is keeping away from Adipurush
In every theatre showing Adipurush, said to be based on the Ramayana, one seat has been kept reserved for Hanuman. No news yet whether he has flown down and made an appearance at any of these cinemas, but the general audience certainly stayed away. By all accounts, the film, meant to be a grand spectacle, has flopped.
Adipurush is just one more of those films that aim to fit in with the Hindutva narrative. Saffron flags, invocation of ‘enemies of the nation’ and so on are common themes in such productions. Whether they tell contemporary stories (The Kashmir Files) or historical ones (Samrat Prithviraj, Tanhaji), some features are common — twisting the facts to victimise or valorise Hindus and show all Muslims as villainous. Some mangling of history is part of the mix. The Kerala Story shamelessly used a fictitious figure, stating that 32,000 women from the state were brainwashed into joining Islamic State, till the filmmaker was challenged, upon which he quietly reduced the number to three! The same tendency to be economical with the truth applies to the so-called ‘historical’ stories, where the vanquished become the victors, no matter what the history books say. They either do this out of conviction or, more likely, are exploiting what they see as a market trend.
While the film industry always likes to cash in on a trend, it really recognises only one metric to measure if a film works or not — box office results. Many of these Hindutva-oriented films have raked it in, which no doubt has prompted other filmmakers to jump in. But for every The Kashmir Files that scored big time, there are many more that just collapsed, leaving the public underwhelmed. Samrat Prithviraj was a complete disaster, adding to the string of flops delivered by Akshay Kumar, who has been trying to showcase his nationalistic chops.
And now, Adipurush, which should have been a hit in a country where everyone is familiar with the Ramayana, has proved to be a flop. Taran Adarsh, a box office analyst, tweeted that it was an “an EPIC DISAPPOINTMENT”. Turns out that while Indians know the epic and while the ruling dispensation has done its best to turn Rama into an all-India deity, filmgoers do not want to see tacky special effects, cheap dialogues and a story told badly.
Not only did word get out that it is a poorly made film, it also annoyed all manner of people. Nepal was angry that Sita was called a daughter of India, while they claim she hails from Nepal, and the film was banned in the country. The chief priest of Ayodhya demanded that it be banned because it did not represent Ram and others correctly. And audiences in general have found the dialogues cheesy. Barely one week into the film’s release, the writer Manoj Muntashir Shukla said he would change some lines. Clearly, far from pleasing Hindutva loyalists, it has annoyed not just viewers but also Hindu priests. It takes a special skill to put off exactly the target group you want to please.
Ironies apart, what this shows that joining the herd does not work for everyone. At some stage, the law of diminishing returns sets in. At the end of it all, audiences want an entertainer and they rush to see their favourite stars on the screen, whatever their religion. Shah Rukh Khan’s film Pathaan was subjected to all kinds of propaganda, subtle and blatant. Dipika Padukone’s saffron outfit, which she wore for sexy and provocative dances, was criticised for being an affront of Hindu tradition. The filmmakers stood their ground and the film went on to become the biggest commercial hit ever. Samrat Prithviraj was advertised as a saga of the last Hindu Samrat. What could be more in-your-face? It crashed and burned.
Adipurush is crude and tacky and its villain, Lankesh, a version of Ravan, happens to be played by a Muslim, Saif Ali Khan. And yet, the viewers haven’t bothered to see this crass symbolism and rejected it. Hindutva signalling has not saved the film, and nor has Hanuman.
In high-stakes diplomacy, the dining experience is carefully tailored to meet the guest’s preferences. The state dinner for PM Modi, the third of the Biden administration, is vegetarian. The state banquet for President S Radhakrishnan was also vegetarian. So were the menus for PM Manmohan Singh’s two state banquets, held in 2005 with President Bush and in 2009 with President Obama, and they too offered a seafood alternative “on request”. The “stunning vegetarian menu” with Modi’s name on it includes the millets that he has been pushing in India. However, reports The New York Times, “The mix of political adversaries created a dinner scene so dissonant that no amount of glass clinking could have drowned out the partisan undercurrents.”
Prime Number: 0
As the monsoon sets in in Gujarat, farmers are seeking economical, high-quality seeds. Not one farmer has benefited from the Union government’s Seed Village Programme or Beej Gram Yojana in the last two years. Perhaps, not a model to replicate pan India.
More than 380 guests were invited to the state dinner President Biden hosted for PM Narendra Modi yesterday evening. Here is the list of invitees provided by the White House. Silicon Valley sent its best Indian talent, but from literature, academia and the arts, only the D-team came to dine with the Divider-in-Chief.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Slowly, inexorably, Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker lets the air out of Fareed Zakaria as they talk of India, Modi and fanboi fevers.
When he was chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi complained that the UPA government was not federal enough. Now, in Delhi, Modi is centralising almost everything, at the cost of federalism, writes Christophe Jaffrelot.
In The Print, Lt Gen HS Panag (Retd) says that as China continues to propagandise the Galwan incident, the need is growing for India to institute an inquiry which can bring closure.
Over 90% of Indian psychiatric patients live with their families. Spare a thought for the caregivers, say Nisha Prakash, Parvathi Jayaprakash and Jikku Susan Kurian.
Read an excerpt from Ushinor Majumdar’s India’s Secret War: BSF and Nine Months to the Birth of Bangladesh on how APJ Abdul Kalam and Vikram Sarabhai helped develop the BSF’s first rocket.
Journalism is on the line in Manipur, says Vijaita Singh in a first person article. The local press has become partisan and the national press is under public pressure to follow suit. And anyway, it is not safe for journalists to go into the hills, where the fighting could be most intense.
Because the ecosystem of hate works, it is important to examine the black box and find ways to draw the silent majority away from its politics, writes Pushparaj Deshpande.
As violence in Manipur shows no sign of abating, Sneha Richhariya speaks to the Metei women-led group which questions PM Modi’s silence and inaction on Suno India.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeks a short diploma course for medical practitioners who can serve in primary health centres. The need for ‘barefoot doctors’ has been acutely felt for decades, but India, with nearly 1 lakh medical seats, remains short of feet on the ground.
At the Netflix event Tudum in Brazil, Anupama Chopra and Zoya Akhtar discuss how to update the cherished American comic book series The Archies for a contemporary audience. Akhtar discusses her distinctive narrative approach, her love of examining friendships, and the difficulties of putting a progressive perspective into a comic book that was originally published in 1942. In the middle of a contentious debate on nepotism, the director also offers her finest advice to the cast, which is about to make their acting debut.
Over and out
Cricket was a significant bridge between England and ‘home’ in the Caribbean, making the sport an important part of the black Atlantic cultural exchange. Read how cricket helped the Windrush generation build a sense of ‘home’ in Britain.
A brief account of the ‘breast-cloth agitation’ in Kerala:
And a timely curiosity, as the Gita Press is awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize by a jury headed by the PM: an article in Hindi from its journal Kalyan, eulogising Adolf Hitler and his mother.
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.