Hijab Schoolgirls Details Leaked, Threats Follow; Modi Campaigns Via Softball Interview, Upends Election Law
Rona Wilson’s laptop compromised by cyberspy, MHA has no idea how many detention centres exist, fuel prices to spurt after polls, saffron flag can fly over Red Fort ‘some day’, says Karnataka minister
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Snapshot of the day
February 10, 2022
Polling is on in western UP. Voters will not only choose the next government in Lucknow, but also play a decisive role in the election of the President of India scheduled for July this year. The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has granted bail to Ashish Mishra, son of Union minister Ajay Mishra, the prime accused for mowing down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. Main Opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav has asked the Election Commission to act in cases of EVM malfunction and booths deliberate slowing polling. The RBI has forecast inflation of 4.5% for 2022-23, stupefying analysts from Dalal Street to Wall Street. But what the hell, it’s election day in western UP, where the state’s fortunes are usually decided.
In early 2021, it was learned that incriminating evidence was planted on the laptop of human rights activist Rona Wilson before his arrest on terrorism charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. Now, reports The Washington Post, US experts say that Wilson was targeted by two separate groups, including one linked to widely documented cyberespionage campaigns against military targets in China and Pakistan, India’s top foreign adversaries. The other group, which planted documents on Wilson’s device, dubbed ModifiedElephant by California-based cybersecurity firm SentinelOne, shared hacking infrastructure with an attacker that researchers have long suspected of state-sanctioned political espionage.
Mumbai-based activist Shachi Nelli has written to the National Commission for Women seeking strict action against those who harassed hijab-clad women in Karnataka. Unsurprisingly, apex child rights body NCPCR and the Ministry for Women and Child Welfare have been absolutely silent, practically comatose.
The Hindu Jagarana Vedike in Udupi instigated students at MGM college to protest against their hijab-wearing classmates, and provided them with saffron shawls and turbans, the News Minute has found, so the protests were not spontaneous. At least two days earlier, a message was circulated among them.
Yesterday, the admission forms of all six hijab-wearing students were leaked from Udupi’s Government Pre-University College for Girls and they are getting abusive calls. The Quint says their names, photographs, details of household income (most are from poor families), their Class X results and admission forms scanned from the college’s ledger were leaked. The chairman of the College’s Development Committee is Udupi’s BJP MLA Raghupathi Bhat, who has maintained since December that Muslim students in hijab are not allowed in classrooms. The admission documents were submitted only to the college.
The Karnataka High Court has referred the batch of petitions filed by Muslim students against the hijab ban at colleges in Karnataka to a bigger bench headed by Chief Justice Awasthi, which will hear them today. Justice Krishna Dixit said that important aspects of constitutional and personal law are involved. In Delhi, senior advocate Kapil Sibal has appealed to the Supreme Court to take over the case since it has a religious element, but it is disinclined.
Asked by reporters whether the saffron flag can be hoisted on the Red Fort, Karnataka Minister KS Eshwarappa said, “Not today, some day in the future.” When a farmers’ demonstration in Delhi on January 26 last year raised the Nishan Sahib at Red Fort, the BJP and allied media had accused them of being separatists.
After a video went viral on social media of a student in a burqa being heckled by several male students in saffron shawls, the Karnataka Education Minister blamed the young woman for “provoking” the mob. Speaking to reporters, BC Nagesh said, “The girl was coming outside and the students were coming inside. They didn’t want to gherao that girl. When she was shouting “Allah-hu-Akbar” there was not a single student around her.” However, the video of the incident clearly shows that the provocation came from the male students.
In the last five years, 2017-2021, FCRA registration certificates of 1,898 NGOs or associations registered under the ‘social’ category have been cancelled, the government told Parliament.
The National Small Savings Fund — the public account which collects citizens’ money from post office savings, national savings certificates and public provident funds — has become critical to meeting expenditures of the Union government. While the government’s market borrowings have doubled in FY16-22, NSSF loans to finance the fiscal deficit have grown 11 times in the same period.
According to the Controller General of Accounts—the audit body under the expenditure department of the finance ministry—some of the highest unspent balances with ministries or departments concern the social sectors. About 33% of allocation for health and family welfare in FY21 was unspent. The situation was the same in the Agriculture Ministry.
The number of inmates in prisons across India grew 1.5% from 4,81,387 to 4,88,511 in 2020, the pandemic year, according to the second edition of the India Justice Report. Crowding violated distancing norms and the number of visits to courts and health facilities fell.
The Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Rajya Sabha yesterday that it does not have data on the total number of detention centres in the country, as powers have been delegated to state governments “to make necessary arrangements for detention centres/camps as per their requirement.”
Nearly two years after it was first recommended, the Ministry of Home Affairs has given the go-ahead for restructuring the Intelligence Bureau cadre, to help increase promotions within the cadre and streamline operations. Entry-level posts will be reduced and others, including those of special assistants, will be increased.
BJP worker Rajesh Tomar and his wife attempted suicide in Baghpat, western UP, live on Facebook after facing financial ruin: “I am not anti-national. Modiji, if you’ve slightest shame, change yourself… you are no well-wisher of small shopkeepers and farmers.” The wife died and the husband is in a critical condition.
Thieves stole the brass gnomon of a 150-year-old antique sundial right from under the nose of the police in Dehri-on-Sone in Bihar on Tuesday night, leading to a public outcry. The sundial was built at the famous Dehri workshop in 1871, and was a tourist attraction.
Fuel prices may jump after polls
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India expects fuel retailers to sharply raise pump prices of petrol and diesel by Rs 8-9 per litre after Assembly elections end next month, forcing the government and the central bank to take steps to contain inflation. Despite a surge in international prices, these companies have frozen rates for over three months, coinciding with elections in five states. They are supposed to align prices with global rates daily, but they often freeze rates in the run-up to polls, perhaps at the Modi government’s instruction, to insulate the ruling party from public ire.
Stalin ticks off PM Modi for being patronising
Addressing a virtual rally for local body elections, Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin launched a frontal attack on Narendra Modi and asked him not to “hand out” certificates of patriotism to Tamils, whose contribution to the freedom struggle has been “documented very well”. “Modi thinks criticising BJP is criticising India. But who refused to allow a tableau from Tamil Nadu that featured freedom fighters like Velu Nachiyar, Subramania Bharati, Marudhu Brothers and VO Chidambaranar? … What is the problem in allowing Bharati’s statue when the PM himself quotes his poems in his speeches?” Stalin asked.
Stalin was responding to Modi’s speech in Parliament in which he spoke of the emotional farewell Tamils gave to Gen Bipin Rawat following his death in a chopper crash. “Tamil Nadu has always respected and praised the contributions of those who fought for the nation. The Prime Minister does not have to hand out certificates to Tamils in this regard. History is proof of this fact. The only problem between them and us is what constitutes a nation. They think the nation is just territory, but we say the nation is because of the people living in it,” Stalin added.
MediaOne TV in appeal today
Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd, which operates MediaOne TV, some of its employees and a journalists’ union have moved separate appeals against the Kerala High Court order upholding the Union government’s decision to bar telecast of the Malayalam news channel on security grounds, on the strength of evidence submitted in a sealed cover. The three appeals were mentioned yesterday morning before a bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly, who will hear the matter today.
MediaOne TV, along with Asianet, was suspended for 48 hours in 2020 over its coverage of communal violence in Delhi. The order said it “highlighted the attack on places of worship and sided towards a particular community.” That police data itself established that places of worship “of a particular community” had been disproportionately targeted is a different matter.
The Long Cable
Modi campaigns via softball interview, election law be damned
On the face of it, the interview Narendra Modi gave to ANI on the eve of the first phase of polling for the Uttar Pradesh assembly election was a clear violation of India’s election law, which prohibits the display of election matter in any form in the 48 hours preceding the closing of polls.
“Election matter,” Section 126 (3) of the Representation of the People Act says, “means any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election.” Which Modi’s interview – both the questions asked, and the answers given – was clearly calculated to do. This was not an interview with the Prime Minister about the state of the nation. It was explicitly about the BJP’s approach to the UP and other state elections, and Modi’s answers made it clear that he was doing his best influence the results.
The Election Commission in 2017 had invoked Section 126 and directed the police to take action against various TV channels for broadcasting an interview that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had given on the eve of the second phase of the Gujarat assembly elections that year. Curiously, however, it withdrew that notice four days later – perhaps because it was advised that Section 126 applies to candidates and their supporters and not to the media – and said it would look into proposing suitable amendments to the RP Act. Nothing has been seen or heard about this topic since then. In this set of elections too, the EC reiterated the bar on the display of election matter in the last 48 hours before polling ends but Narendra Modi appears to have been confident the EC would not act against him.
If the EC has conveniently forgotten its own rulebook – even though more than half of the interview, including the very first set of questions, were all about the UP elections – ANI too was more than eager to give Modi a free ride.
The hour-long interview was full of the usual softball questions we have come to expect. The two or three half-decent questions asked were phrased so shabbily and even apologetically that they might as well not have been asked.
The toughest observation ANI editor Smita Prakash managed to make was when she referred to the continuation of Ajay Teni as minister despite the alleged involvement of his son in the killing of farmers at Lakhimpur in UP. Except that she did not really ask it as a question, so Modi didn’t have to answer. And Prakash, expectedly, didn’t follow up. Modi spoke about the farmers’ opposition to his government’s farm laws and the importance of samvaad or dialogue but he was not asked about his failure to meet with and discuss the laws with the protestors or about the death of 700 farmers that he had so callously dismissed – according to one of his own party’s governors.
To give her credit, Prakash feebly brought up the allegation that Modi uses Central investigation agencies to harass the BJP’s political opponents at election time, but allowed him to get away with the absurd and easily refuted claim that the ED and CBI work independently of the government and that any raids at election time on opposition leaders and their family members were a coincidence since “there are always elections going on”.
Predictably, the fierce anti-Muslim and anti-Christian campaign being pursued by the BJP and its affiliates around the country – the recent calls for Muslim genocide, the attempted ban on public namaz or the hijab in school – found no explicit mention in the interview. Nor did the speeches Modi, Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath themselves have made in the election campaign, which make ample use of anti-Muslim dog-whistles. Instead, Prakash asked a roundabout question about how the media is full of reports of polarisation and of Muslims feeling insecure. Framing the question in this way allowed Modi to cast aspersions on the media – ‘Why the media does what it does and who directs and commands them is not something I wish to comment on’ – without forcing him to engage with the issue or address his own sins of commission and omission as prime minister.
Prakash reminded Modi of the criticism that his government is not respectful enough of India’s regional diversity, a question he parried by misrepresenting himself as a great champion of federalism. And his misrepresentations on the Covid lockdown –where he pinned the blame for the mass exodus of workers from urban centres on the opposition – also went unchallenged. A simple question – ‘Why didn’t you discuss the national lockdown with state governments, and plan and announce immediate relief measures so that the exodus could have been avoided?’ – was unasked.
His government’s biggest defence and foreign policy mess – China has occupied Indian land along the boundary in Ladakh that it had not done before – also went unasked. The fact that China did not figure in the prime minister’s last two interviews either – to OPEN magazine in October 2021 and Economic Times in October 2020 – tells us that key sections of the Indian media lack basic news or spine (or both), and that Modi himself is reluctant to be held to account for what has happened.
No opinion poll says the Congress will rake in the seats in UP. But putting women at the heart of the party’s campaign has forced the competition’s hand. BJP and SP have promised not only free transport for women but also free higher education. SP’s manifesto has promised 33% reservation for women in all government jobs, while the Congress had earlier promised 50%. Women make up 46.5% of the state’s voters and UP has witnessed the maximum rise in the number of women voters since 2017. But journalists say that “women for the first time are being treated as a segment of voters with their own issues and aspirations.”
Prime Number: 25,231
On average, 23 persons died by suicide per day in 2018-2020. Over 16,000 people took their lives due to bankruptcy or indebtedness and 9,140 due to unemployment, the Rajya Sabha was informed yesterday. The government said that 5,213 people tok their lives due to bankruptcy or indebtedness in 2020, 5,908 in 2019 and 4,970 in 2018. A total of 3,548 people died by suicide due to unemployment in 2020, 2,851 in 2019 and 2,741 in 2018.
Shark fins, made in India
A Scroll investigation finds that despite a ban, an illegal shark fin trade thrives across India. Shark fin is one of the most expensive fish products. India is the third-largest shark catcher in the world. With no domestic market for shark fins, almost all fins from India reach the international market, especially Hong Kong, and usually end up in a bowl of soup.
Dalits ride thanks to Operation Samanta
Riding a mare amid a shower of flower petals, 24-year-old Dalit groom Manoj Bairwa made history when he took out his wedding procession in Neem Ka Kheda village in Kota, breaking the social taboo under which Dalit grooms are not allowed to ride to their wedding. This was possible because of ‘Operation Samanta’, a movement for equality in the district. Over 30 years ago, Bairwa’s uncle was thrashed in the same village by upper caste men for daring to ride a horse on his wedding day.
Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal mine in northern Chhattisgarh was the launchpad for the Adani Group’s coal operations, when it was still a commodities and ports company. Nearly shut down twice for violating norms, it is currently the largest operational mine in the group, which runs it as a contractor for a Rajasthan government utility. This week, an expert panel of the Environment Ministry had recommended a 20% expansion of the mine. If it gets final approval (which is almost always the case), the PEKB mine would nearly double in capacity. The Morning Context delves into the details.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Gautam Bhatia writes that the hijab case presents the quintessentially “good case” before the courts: it is difficult to imagine another case where problems with the Essential Religious Practice test are so stark and clear, and where arguments for a more constitutional and just approach are so evident.
If what CBI submits to the apex court can be “false or wrong” in one case, as the Modi government claims in an instance of privatisation by the Vajpayee-led government, what is the guarantee that its submissions on other occasions are free from such flaws, asks Mint.
Jyoti Punwani asks what magnificent obsession drives Modi to constantly attack the Congress, dig out sins committed by it since its origin, and fantasise about an India without it? Was it just Rahul Gandhi’s speech in the Lok Sabha, or does the ghost of Jawaharlal haunt him?
Former Vajpayee aide Sudheendra Kulkarni says that PM Modi’s speech in the House reduced the dignity of his office.
In all elections in the past decade, the party which had done well in western UP has won the most politically significant state, writes Chetan Chauhan.
Maj Gen Ashok Mehta (retd) asks if the government is having second thoughts on the implementation of theaterisation at present, given that China-Pakistan collusion has become real and the IAF and the Navy are not happy with the Rawat blueprint?
Through an ongoing campaign under Modi and the BJP, Hindus are being made superstitious and a sense of false pride is being fashioned around myths of the past, writes Hari Shankar Vyas.
Ajit Ranade writes that India’s tax to GDP ratio is among the world’s lowest. It can be raised equitably by increasing the share of direct taxes like capital gains, hiking income tax on high earners and reducing the share of indirect taxes like GST.
The BJP is realising that governing India with a whip hand is not easy, writes Anup Sinha. Improving the open market for buying and selling of law-makers is not exactly what economists mean by productive economic reforms.
The fallout of the ban imposed by Karnataka’s anti-cattle slaughter law passed by the BJP-led government has been to upturn the lives of those in the beef trade, writes Shreehari Paliath.
Bharat Bhushan writes that Udupi is a long way from Lucknow, but the hijab controversy is just the kind of emotive issue that could help the BJP polarise voters in the UP election.
With Haider, Vishal Bhardwaj undoubtedly set the bar very high for the cinematic adaptation of a Shakespearean drama in a distinct milieu. The unmistakably Kashmiri soundtrack is the heart of the movie, conveying in its every note Haider’s tragedy, writes Nirupama Kotru.
Thomas Blom Hansen of Stanford University has been coming to India for decades and has written several books on the country’s political and social processes. He tells Sidharth Bhatia (a contributor to The India Cable) that violence against minorities has increased, “and impunity has grown; there is so little prosecution of the perpetrators.”
The big crisis India faces, as the pandemic drags on, is the absence of girls from school. In the light of recent events in Karnataka, of keeping girls out of school, this report is even more poignant. What must the Indian state’s priorities be today?
Over and Out
“If a girl like me is speaking out in public, she has already overcome the two most difficult challenges, of parivesh (environment) and parivaar (family). Random strangers can’t shut me up,” says Neha Singh Rathore, the Bhojpuri singer who first caught the public’s attention during the Bihar Assembly polls of 2020 with her song ‘Bihar mein ka ba’ (‘What’s up in Bihar?’), and is following on with the three-part ‘UP ma ka ba’.
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