India Clear Loser in Afghanistan; One Law to Rule All Media Planned

Plus: HC advocates CBI autonomy, Assam-Mizoram firing again, police rapped for grilling kids on sedition, Tripura-Bangla rail link in Dec, RBI connects with ‘inner stillness’

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 18, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The Taliban held a press conference. Even the Taliban held a press conference. 

However, John Simpson suggests that it may not be the whole picture

The gender balance in the Supreme Court could improve as an impasse is broken, but at the cost of the government having its way on ensuring that Justice Akil Kureshi is not elevated. The Collegium has recommended the elevation of nine judges, including three women, to the apex court ― Justice BV Nagarathna of the Karnataka High Court, Justice Hima Kohli, Chief Justice of the Telangana High Court and Justice Bela Trivedi of the Gujarat High Court. Justice Nagarathna could become the first woman chief justice of India. For the past year, no names were cleared as Justice Rohinton Nariman, who retired last week, had insisted on the elevation of Kureshi, currently chief justice of the Tripura high court. The highly regarded judge is believed to have been sent to a relative judicial backwater because some of his earlier judgments had gone against BJP leader Amit Shah.

Fresh violence is reported in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong during curfew yesterday when unidentified miscreants attacked the motorcade of Governor Satya Pal Malik with stones on its return from Assam, after dropping him at an airport there. 

Three weeks after a violent clash between police forces of Assam and Mizoram, firing yesterday again escalated tension on the disputed inter-state border. While Mizoram alleged that the Assam police fired on its civilians, injuring one, Assam claimed that its men returned fire after being fired upon. Seven people including six Assam police personnel were killed and over 50 injured in the clash between forces of the two North-eastern states on July 26.

The Delhi High Court yesterday sought a report from the police on the investigation into the alleged rape and murder of a nine-year-old Dalit girl in the capital. Justice Yogesh Khanna was hearing a plea by her parents for constituting an SIT for a court-monitored probe. Told that a special investigation team (SIT) has been set up by the DCP, Crime, he directed the police to file a status report. 

Following deadly clashes in Galwan between Indian and Chinese soldiers last year, the business climate had rapidly deteriorated for Chinese phone manufacturers in India. But they are quietly going about their business, investing in sales and local assembly and negotiating with state governments. 

A surge in commodity prices is aiding the exchequer by boosting GST receipts. Official data showed that wholesale price index (WPI) inflation has been in double digits for three months upto July for manufactured goods, and around 29% for metals. The Economic Times reports that ahead of the festive season, uncertainty about Afghanistan is pushing up prices. Afghanistan supplies about a third of India’s dry fruits demand.

“While Covid-19 cases and deaths have plunged, according to official figures, the virus is continuing to spread in some areas. A low vaccination rate and other factors have left India vulnerable to variants like Delta, the strain that helped power India’s second wave this past spring,” reports the New York Times.

Shashi Tharoor lost his wife, Sunanda Pushkara, seven years ago to a likely overdose of medication but his legal ordeal ended only Wednesday when a local court ruled that he could not be held responsible for her death in anyway. In the intervening years, the police, egged on by the BJP and a section of the media, had seen the Congress MP as a murder suspect and an abettor of suicide.


Madras HC wants parrot uncaged

The Madras High Court has said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be an autonomous body reporting only to Parliament. According to the Opposition, it has become a political tool in the hands of the BJP-led Union government. The court said: “The CBI should have autonomy like that of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, who is only accountable to Parliament.” In its 12-point instructions overhauling the current system, the court said, “This order is an attempt to release the ‘Caged Parrot’.” While in the Opposition, the BJP had had a field day in 2013 when the Supreme Court used the phrase “caged parrot” to describe the apex investigating agency. But in office, the BJP has had a dodgy record of the use of this agency and has attempted to control it more than its officers deemed acceptable.

The court’s view is, of course, its view. Structural changes in the CBI’s functioning will have to come from the legislature, which is unlikely, since the caged parrot’s master is firmly in control there.


India reorients Afghanistan policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to discuss developments in Afghanistan. Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman attended, besides senior officials. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla were also present, besides India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon, who returned yesterday. The CCS took stock of the situation and received a ground report from Ambassador Tandon. The Taliban today issued a general amnesty and invited women to join the government. The CCS is taking stock of Indian assets in Afghanistan and fine-tuning plans to evacuate Indians.

“We will not allow any country or any group to use the soil of Afghanistan against anyone. This is clear. India has made projects, many reconstruction and infrastructure projects, and if they want, they can complete the incomplete projects because they are for the people,” Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen told a Pakistani news channel in Urdu. India recently withdrew all professionals working on development projects in 34 provinces of Afghanistan, and stated that after completion, Afghans must protect them. 


New law for all media planned

The controversy over the digital media rules remains unresolved, and now there is a plan to develop a single law to supervise all media — digital, electronic and print. It will draw elements from the Cable TV Network Act, Cinematograph Act, Press Council Act and the new IT rules, an official told The Hindustan Times

Facebook has asked Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to remove his Instagram post which revealed the identity of the family of a nine-year-old girl who was allegedly raped and murdered in southwest Delhi. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights shared with PTI copies of the letter that Facebook forwarded to it in response to its summons to the social media giant. In the letter to Gandhi, Facebook said his post “is unlawful under Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015; Section 23 of the POCSO Act, 2012; and Section 288A of the Indian Penal Code”, and asked him to remove it.


No national level security for judges

The Centre told the Supreme Court that it may not be “feasible” and “advisable” to have a national level security force like CISF guarding judges. The apex court, which was hearing a suo motu case relating to safety and security of judges and lawyers after a judge in Dhanbad was killed in a hit and run incident, was irked that many states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand have not filed their responses.


The Long Cable

In Afghanistan crisis, New Delhi is the clear loser

Sushant Singh

Among the clear winners from events of the last couple of weeks in Afghanistan are the Taliban and Pakistan. And India is a definite loser. The Modi government’s desperate hope that the Taliban would not gain full control of the country has been dashed. Likely to gain  international recognition from countries like Russia, China, Turkey and Iran, the Taliban are not even paying attention to India. 

At one point, the Modi government thought that it could talk about red lines for the Taliban. It then came down to opening some lines of communication with the Taliban, a fact confirmed by Qatar earlier this year. Whether due to Pakistan’s insistence or of its own volition, the Taliban have refused to grant any dignified audience to Indians, which made even the escape of the Indian ambassador and embassy officials from Taliban-controlled Kabul a rather tricky affair.

Many commentators would like to believe that once they are in power and internationally recognised, the Taliban would not really listen to Pakistan and that would leave an opening for India. Such optimism is not based on facts. It ignores the reality that the terrorist group was created, trained and controlled by Pakistan, and Rawalpindi guided it towards success in Afghanistan. The highest ranking body of the Taliban is the Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani town where they were based. The Taliban’s leadership may dislike Rawalpindi’s total control but they have deep roots, familial connections and business investments in Pakistan. They have no reason to turn against Pakistan, certainly not for a friendly handshake with New Delhi.

What are India’s concerns now? As important as they are, it really doesn’t matter what happens to the development projects executed by India in Afghanistan in the last two decades. The real worry is two-fold. 

First is the top leadership of the Taliban itself, which includes Sirajuddin Haqqani. His father, Jalaluddin Haqqani was a minister in the Taliban government when Indian Airlines flight IC814 was hijacked and taken to Kandahar. NSA Ajit Doval, then with the IB, was present when Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar and others were released by the Vajpayee government. The JeM was responsible for the 2001 Parliament attack and has also been charged with the 2019 Pulwama suicide bombing. 

Moreover, the Haqqani network itself was responsible for two attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, in 2008 and 2009. The 2008 suicide bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul killed 58 people and wounded 141. Even at that time, US intelligence had suggested that the Haqqani network and Pak’s ISI were behind the attack. The 2009 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul led to the death of 17 people, while 83 were wounded.

This is the threat confronting India again ― terror groups with a history of hurting India are in power. Then, there are groups supported and promoted by the Taliban, besides those which feel emboldened and motivated by its swift victory in Afghanistan. With the UAE-brokered backchannel talks with Pakistan virtually breaking down, the Modi government seems bereft of options.

Even if the Taliban or the Haqqanis were to suddenly change their colours, the regional instability created by the situation in Afghanistan is bound to affect India. Russia and China seem to be working rather closely on Afghanistan, excluding India from all serious deliberations. The Modi government’s willingness to be an enthusiastic partner of the US, as a counterweight to Beijing, has not helped. With China unwilling to relent, the situation on the border in Ladakh remains tense. The ceasefire on the Line of Control with Pakistan seems fragile with every passing day. If India’s northern and western borders looked bad, the rise of the Taliban following the US exit is going to make them worse. 

New Delhi seems encircled on its strategic frontiers at this moment, when its economy is in trouble, its society in turmoil and its political leadership more interested in photo opportunities than in securing India’s security interests. The crisis in Afghanistan is huge, and it has only further highlighted the problems bedevilling New Delhi.


Reportedly

With the Election Commission announcing polls to one of three vacant Rajya Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu, the Congress is likely to again witness an old versus young tussle, with the party having to choose between veteran leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, a member of the G23 letter writers, and Praveen Chakravarty, chief of the party’s data analytics cell. While Azad seems to have the support of the DMK, since the Congress has already brought in senior leader Mallikarjun Kharge to the Rajya Sabha as leader of the Opposition, the party leadership may not be keen on him. Will a dark horse emerge in Tamil Nadu? 


India claims immunity against Cairn in US

The Modi government has asked a federal court in Washington to dismiss Cairn Energy’s suit seeking enforcement of a $1.2 billion arbitration award, saying it has sovereign immunity under US law. Cairn had in May asked a US federal court to force Air India to pay a $1.26 billion arbitration award the firm had won in December.

The government on August 13 filed a ‘Motion to Dismiss’ petition in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, saying it lacked subject matter jurisdiction in the dispute between Cairn and the Indian tax authority. This comes a week after the government scrapped a rule that gave the taxman power to go back 50 years and slap capital gains levies wherever ownership had changed hands overseas, but business assets were in India. The government had earlier refused to return $1.2 billion, forcing Cairn to seek recovery through a seizure of Indian assets overseas.


Prime number: 2021
Sravana 2021, to be precise, which the Reserve Bank of India bulletin explains in purple prose in its conclusion, “is also a time of the year when the Reserve Bank connects with the transcendental calm within. Submersed in this inner stillness, it looked beyond the dilemmas and trade-offs in the here and now to contemplate the world of tomorrow.” Read here, page 57.

Police rapped for interrogating schoolchildren

The Karnataka High Court on Monday observed that the presence of armed policemen in uniform, while children were interrogated in connection with a sedition case for a play against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act staged at Shaheen Education Society in Bidar last year, was in violation of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 and the rights of children. The petitioners claimed that 85 students as young as nine years were made to sit through a police interrogation, affecting their psychology. “Why are children subjected to all this? This has to be corrected, this can’t go on like this,” the court said.


Deep Dive

Google, Facebook and Walmart have pushed Paytm off the fintech perch in India.

The payments giant pioneered digital wallets here, but has since lost out.


US, UK permit India travel

The US has eased its travel advisory for India, lowering it to Level 2: Moderate. Earlier this year, during the devastating second wave of Covid-19, the US had put India in Level 4, asking its citizens not to travel to India. However, the State Department urges Americans not to travel to Jammu and Kashmir (except Ladakh and its capital Leh) due to terrorism and civil unrest.

The UK government has also updated its official travel advisory for India and is no longer advising against “all but essential travel”. Travellers except UK nationals, vaccinated abroad or unvaccinated, are now required to self-isolate at a declared address. They are also required to get a pre-departure PCR test and more tests on day two and day eight following entry into the UK.


Tripura-Bangla rail link in December

The Rs 980 crore railway line project between Agartala in Tripura and Akhaura in Bangladesh will be completed by December. The 15.6 km railway link will connect Gangasagar in Bangladesh to Nischintapur in India, and on to Agartala railway station. The Ministry of Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER) is footing the bill for 5.46 km of track on the Indian side, and the cost of 10.6-km of track in Bangladesh is being borne by the Ministry of External Affairs.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Parliament and parliamentary norms have been undermined by the rise of adversarial politics (perceiving the Opposition as an adversary rather than a partner in lawmaking) and a domineering executive that has sidelined all other institutions, writes Zoya Hasan. Parliament was intended to function as a body that keeps the executive in check, but it seems to be working the other way now.


Listen Up

The hospitality sector is in crisis, and restaurants particularly need help with over one in four shut down, well-known restaurateur AD Singh tells Sidharth Bhatia (a contributor to The India Cable).


Watch Out

Prabir Purkayastha and Prabhat Patnaik discuss the state of the Indian economy in this in-depth interview. 


Over and Out

For half a century, a beloved radio show has been demystifying classical music for Indians. With its commentary, “easy banter and accessible filmi parallels, Sangeet Sarita is invaluable for legions of listeners”.

Indian scientists have discovered a new plant species in the Andaman archipelago, the first discovery of a species of algae in the islands in nearly four decades. Scientists from the Central University of Punjab have named the green algae they first found in 2019 Acetabularia jalakanyakae, after jalkanya, or mermaid.


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