Health Minister Out as Modi Reshuffles Ministers' Pack; Dilip Kumar, Last Leading Man of Liberal Era

Plus: Stan Swamy’s funeral draws thousands, PDP spurns delimitation and gets ED notice, why US vaccines aren’t here, Devbhoomi priests have 'cursed BJP', tipsy buffaloes give away liquor stash

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
July 7, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Dilip Kumar has died of a lung ailment. He was 98.  

It took the death of 404,311 Indians for Narendra Modi to finally acknowledge he has messed up India’s handling of Covid. The Prime Minister drove the government’s pandemic policy from Day 1 but the man chosen to fall on the sword is health minister Harsh Vardhan. He has resigned pending Modi’s much awaited Cabinet reshuffle, as has the junior health minister, Ashwini Choubey. The world of healthcare and medicine will miss neither. HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal has also quit, as have a dozen other junior ministers. Speculation is rife about the new ministers being sworn in – Assam’s Sarbananda Sonowal is considered a sure shot and it is assumed the Congress defector, Jyotiraditya Scindia has also made the grade. The names will be out by 6 pm on Wednesday.

Ten Opposition party leaders have written to the President on the custodial death of Father Stan Swamy: “It is now incumbent that all those jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case and other detenus under politically motivated cases, misusing draconian laws like UAPA, Sedition etc be released forthwith.” As anguished and angry international comments poured in, the Ministry of External Affairs was forced to swear by “India’s democratic and constitutional polity, which is complemented by an independent judiciary, a range of national and state level Human Rights Commissions that monitor violations, a free media and a vibrant and vocal civil society.” In contrast to the government’s prickly and comical behaviour when farmer protests had attracted ire abroad, the Ministry said, “India remains committed to promotion and protection of human rights of all its citizens.” 

The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government in Maharashtra has introduced three bills related to agriculture, cooperation, food and civil supplies to counter the three farm laws brought by the Modi government, which have seen massive protests by farmers for the last seven months. 

Samanth Subramanian reports in Quartz: “Hundreds of Indian NGOs are in the midst of unprecedented audits by the government, triggering fears that PM Narendra Modi’s government — well-known for its antipathytowards the nonprofit sector — will eventually use its audit findings in actions or reprisals against specific organisations. At least since January, government auditors have been paying visits to NGO offices, staying 10-14 days on each occasion to comb through financial records. In several cases, according to interviews with executives and accountants in the sector, the visiting auditors also asked pointed questions about Muslim employees and beneficiaries, and about the political allegiances of NGO staff.”

The National Investigation Agency has filed two appeals in the Gauhati High Court challenging orders passed by the NIA Special Court releasing independent MLA Akhil Gogoi and six others. On June 22 and July 1, the NIA court cleared Gogoi of all charges in the two cases against him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 for his alleged role in violent protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam. 

In Mangalore, Hindutva groups use a network of informers to target interfaith friends. This year, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have recorded 51 communal incidents including 14 incidents of moral policing by Hindu vigilantes and 13 instances of hate speech.

The New York Times has a despatch on India reopening after a “traumatic spring”. It says “worries that another wave of infections may be looming have cast a pall over lives that feel stuck in limbo.”

About 600 journalists have died of Covid-19 in India in 2020-2021. About 76% of the deaths were recorded in non-metro areas. Four of the journalists on the One Free Press’ ‘10 Most Urgent List for July 2021’ are from India, the highest figure for a single country. 

The price of petrol in Delhi and Kolkata crossed Rs 100 today after an increase of 35 paise per litre. Diesel prices rose by 17 paise. This is the 36th time since May 4 that fuel prices have been hiked.

West Bengal is institutionalising a ‘Khela Hobe Divas’. It recalls Mamata Banerjee’s rallying cry during the crucial Assembly elections, but will actually popularise sport. 

Union MSME Minister Nitin Gadkari has said he would be the brand ambassador of Khadi Prakritik Paint and would promote it across the country to encourage young entrepreneurs to manufacture it. It is India’s first and only paint made from cow dung, his ministry said.


Stan Swamy’s funeral draws thousands online

A funeral service for the 84-year old tribal rights activist and Jesuit Father Stan Swamy, who died in judicial custody in the Elgar Parishad case without being chargesheeted, was held at St Peter’s church in Bandra, Mumbai. The priests thanked Swamy’s legal team, including senior advocate Mihir Desai, who represented the tribal rights activist before the High Court. They also thanked Swamy’s co-accused, activists Anand Teltumbde and Arun Ferreira, who were lodged in Navi Mumbai’s Taloja prison with Swamy and took care of him. Teltumbde and Ferreira helped Swamy bathe, change and eat, they said.

“May his martyrdom inspire all of us to take forward his work for the marginalised. We pray for Stan’s co-accused who are languishing in prison on fabricated charges. His spirit will live on as a living memory for justice and reconciliation and inspire others to walk this path fearlessly,” the priests at the service said.


India delaying American vaccines?

The US embassy has clarified why vaccines donated by the Biden administration are not available in India yet, though they are in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan. “In the case of India, the delay is not from the US side. India has determined that it needs further time to review legal provisions related to accepting vaccine donations,” the embassy told CNBC-TV18. “Once India works through its legal process, our donation of vaccines to India will proceed expeditiously. We refer you to the GoI for specifics on the status of its discussions with COVAX, which is helping to facilitate.” 


Phone tapping in Maharashtra

Maharashtra witnessed some action by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government that left the BJP smarting yesterday. A high-level probe was ordered into the alleged phone tapping of Maharashtra’s MPs and MLAs in 2016-17 under dubious pretexts. State Congress president and MLA Nana Patole raised the issue in the Assembly, and said his name was on the list of those whose phones were tapped, and that his name had been changed to Amjad Khan, part of a drug cartel. “Who allowed this? Who was the mastermind? Forget me, even the staff members of some BJP leaders were under similar surveillance. This government must probe the people behind this and bring them to justice.” 


Spurned Delimitation Commission? Field an ED notice 

Hours after the PDP declined to meet the visiting Delimitation Commission in Srinagar, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) summoned Gulshan Ara, mother of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, for questioning in a money laundering case. Ara, the wife of former Union home minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has been asked to appear before the central probe agency at its office in Srinagar on July 14. Tweeting the summons, Mehbooba said, “On the day PDP chose not to meet the Delimitation Commission, ED sent a summon to my mother to appear in person for unknown charges. In its attempts to intimidate political opponents, GoI doesn’t even spare senior citizens. Agencies like NIA & ED are now its tools to settle scores.”

Earlier, the ED had questioned Mehbooba for several hours at its Srinagar office on March 25. She had approached the Delhi High Court seeking relief after the first summons, but the court did not grant a stay. Later, on April 9, the ED had summoned Gulshan Ara for questioning. 


The Long Cable

Dilip Kumar: Last leading man of a lost secular, liberal era

Sidharth Bhatia

With the passing of Dilip Kumar, one of the last remaining links with the Golden Era of Hindi cinema, has gone. Born Mohammed Yousuf Khan in Peshawar in unpartitioned India, he was the great symbol of a secular, Nehruvian India, which was struggling to form its new identity in the aftermath of a bloody Partition. At a time when many Muslims in the film industry were leaving to move across the border, Yousuf and his family, newly arrived in Bombay barely a few years before, chose to stay back.

He was the last of a lost secular, liberal era, when legends did not wear their patriotism on the sleeve.

His wife, the actor Saira Banu, said in the foreword to his biography, The Substance and the Shadow, that he was as well-versed in the Quran as in the Bhagavad Gita. “His secular beliefs spring straight from his heart and from his respect for all religions, castes, communities and creeds,” she wrote.

In 1998, he got embroiled in an unseemly controversy when he was awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz; a year later came the Kargil war, and his friend Bal Thackeray demanded that he return it. Shiv Sena activists shouted slogans outside his home. Finally, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee intervened and called him a patriot.

The actor gained fame as Dilip Kumar, the name given to him by Devika Rani, the 1930s star who also ran Bombay Talkies, then the top film studio. She said it sounded more romantic than his original name, and more secular too. For decades, male Muslim film stars generally used Hindu screen names. It also applied to women, till Waheeda Rehman bucked the trend.

Young Yousuf grew up in a house in the busy Kissa Khwani Bazaar and traders’ market in Peshawar. He was one of the 12 children of Ayesha Begum and Lala Ghulam Sarwar Khan, a prosperous fruit seller. In the early 1940s, the family moved to Bombay to start a fruit business. He joined Khalsa College, where his childhood friend Raj Kapoor was with him.

In 1942, Yousuf was taken by a family friend, Dr Masani, to the suburb of Malad to meet Devika Rani, who offered him Rs 1,250 on the spot and signed him up. The newly minted actor was too scared to tell his father – who had earlier mocked Raj Kapoor and his father Prithviraj Kapoor as ‘mirasis’, a somewhat derogatory term for entertainers who sing and dance.

So it was with much pleasure that one day Raj Kapoor’s grandfather, Biseshwar Nath, took his friend Aghaji (Dilip Kumar’s father), outside his shop in Crawford Market and pointed to a hoarding of the film Jwar Bhata, in which his son – now called Dilip Kumar – figured prominently. Dilip Kumar was petrified, since his father had hoped the son would become a government official and “have the suffix OBE against his name.” Prithviraj Kapoor intervened and calmed his father down.

Jwar Bhata (1944) did not set the box office on fire, but Jugnu (1947), with Noorjehan, did. Then followed Nadiya ke Paar and Shaheed, back to back, and Dilip Kumar was on his way. His co-star in both was Kamini Kaushal and news of their romance was all over the gossip magazines. She was married to the widower of her sister, and the family was outraged. Eventually, they had to part ways.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Dilip Kumar came into his own. Mehboob Khan’s Andaz (1949), in which he starred with Nargis and Raj Kapoor as a man who misunderstands a modern girl’s friendliness as love – shaped his persona as a tragic hero. He perfected his understated style, often mumbling dialogues, giving the lines shades of meaning. It was the perfect foil to the exuberance of Kapoor and Nargis. By then, Dilip Kumar knew how to play up his best side to the camera. His cowlick, falling from his pomaded hair, became his signature style, much copied by actors ever after.

The tragic hero reached his zenith with Devdas (1955), based on Sarat Chandra’s novel. As the man wallowing in self-pity and drink, Dilip Kumar made the role his own, blurring the distinction between the man and the star, and also set the template for how tragedy was interpreted on the screen. At the time, Dilip Kumar was feeling somewhat depressed because of the intensity of the roles he was doing. He met a psychiatrist, Dr Nichols, in London who told him that he was “bringing his work home” and advised him to switch to another genre.

In Azaad, he played a swashbuckling bandit, a light hearted role. He also played in the costume drama Insaaniyat with Dev Anand, but the main attraction of the film was Zippy the chimp, imported from the US. The film, though thoroughly atrocious and campy, was nonetheless a hit.

Dilip Kumar reached the apogee of his career in the early 1960s with K Asif’s magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam, in which he was the young, impetuous Jehangir, taking on his father Emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) to claim his right to love (and presumably marry), Anarkali, played by Madhubala.

By this time the two were estranged, but still their love scenes had a tenderness rarely seen on the screen. He writes that he wanted to marry her but the greed of his father, who saw great potential in the onscreen pair, was the hindrance. Gunga Jumna (1961) inspired Deewar many years later ― one of Amitabh Bachchan’s most compelling performances. 

After that, it was mostly downhill, barring Ram aur Shyam (1967) and the bilingual Sagina Mahato, set in the tea plantations of the Northeast. In the 1980s, his last memorable film was Shakti, where Amitabh Bachchan was pitted against him. Many viewers were sure that Bachchan lost the match.


Reportedly

Kripashankar Singh, Congress MLA and former minister of state for home in Maharashtra, is expected to join the BJP. This is ahead of the Bombay Municipal Corporation elections due early in 2022. Singh wields considerable influence among the north Indian population in Mumbai. Rumours that he would join the BJP have been in the air since 2019, when he left the Congress, but the current speculation is that he is part of the catch being reeled in using the Enforcement Directorate. One thought the BJP would be more circumspect, given the experience with inductees in West Bengal who were dogged by the ED, Mukul Roy being Exhibit A. But then, politics is also about the triumph of hope over experience. 


Gupta brothers earn red notice from Interpol

Two of the three Indian-origin Gupta brothers, who fled South Africa, are now officially wanted fugitives after Interpol issued red notices against them. A red notice is an alert to Interpol member states that an individual is a wanted fugitive, but it is not equivalent to an arrest warrant. The move would help the prosecution to bring Atul, Rajesh and their elder brother Ajay Gupta to South Africa to stand trial for fraud and laundering of 25 million rand, linked to the failed Estina Dairy Farm project in Free State province. 

The wives and several associates of the brothers are also on the Interpol list. The Gupta family went to South Africa from Saharanpur in the 1990s, after the release of Nelson Mandela. Starting with a shoe store, they created a vast empire spanning IT, mining and media. 


Prime Number: Rs 92,849 crore
That’s the GST collection in June, the lowest in 10 months since August 2020. It has slipped below Rs 1 lakh crore for the first time in eight months.  

Need for cinema super-censor unexplained 

The Standing Committee on Information and Technology headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor grilled the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the “super censorship” clause introduced in the draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The committee members, according to sources, asked the Ministry to explain the “reasons” and “motivation” for introducing the provision which allows the government to order recertification for a film cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification. 

Reports say that Ministry officials were caught in a bind. “They claimed that the bill has been misunderstood and that the Ministry itself will have no powers to censor any film. The bill only allows the Ministry to return the film for recertification,” one of the members said on condition of anonymity.


Deep Dive

The Markup editor Julia Angwin focuses on India, fast emerging as the killing field of the freedom of expression. She speaks to Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at Yale Law School who founded the Centre for Communication Governance at the National Law University, Delhi. Attacks on freedom of expression are coming fast and furious, “particularly in India, the world’s largest democracy,” she writes. According to the British human rights group Article 19, freedom of expression in India has plummeted in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019 — a decline surpassed only by Brazil.” 


Devbhoomi priests have cursed BJP

The BJP apparently had to replace its chief minister in Uttarakhand twice in quick succession due to the priests’ “curse”. This was because it had failed to dissolve the Devasthanam Board, said the Gangotri Mandir Samiti. Rajesh Semwal, joint secretary of the temple body, said the BJP wouldn’t be able to retain power in the state next year unless it dissolved the board. Constituted during former chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat’s term, the Devasthanam Board is mandated to run 51 temples in Uttarakhand. The priests of the Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines have been on a relay fast for weeks, demanding the dissolution of the board, which they see as an encroachment upon their rights.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • On the death of Father Stan Swamy, Arundhati Roy says, “The UAPA is not being misused. It has been drafted for exactly this.”

  • Jennifer Szalai’s book review of scholar Jan Müller’s latest book on populism in The New York Times notes that “his definition also offers the benefit of a clarifying specificity. Viktor Orban of Hungary, Narendra Modi of India and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela are all populists in Müller’s cosmology; Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are decidedly not.”


Listen Up

Yashica Dutt, journalist and author, and Ashif Shaikh, Dalit activist and leader of Jan Sahas, have a conversation about caste-based violence and oppression, manual scavenging, dignity, and what it means to be an ally in the fight against caste hierarchy.


Watch Out

Screen legend Dilip Kumar died today. Some of his extraordinary interviews are in Urdu or Hindi (fans comfortable with Hindustani should go here, for a show with the BBC in 1970). Here is a rare interview in English, in which he talks about how much actors should open up to their audience:


Over and Out

Divij Sharan and his wife Samantha Murray Sharan’s dream of playing together at Wimbledon came true after seven years. They became the only husband and wife duo to play at Wimbledon in 30 years. They are out now, but they won their first round mixed doubles match on Friday.

Drunk buffaloes in Gujarat’s Gandhinagar have exposed a prohibition violation. A ‘drinks party’, where three buffaloes’ got tipsy after drinking water from a trough, blew the lid off an alcohol stash hidden there by owners of the cattle shed. Police seized 101 bottles hidden in the water, and under mounds of fodder.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, 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.