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INDIA Grouping Will Fight the Lok Sabha Elections Together; The Importance of Being Mallikarjun Kharge
Aditya-L1 countdown on, Adani down $4.2 billion after OCCRP report, August monsoon lowest in 100 years and growth is uncertain, HC judge calls Vigilance chameleon-like, folklore of mushroom-picking
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 and Anirudh SK | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
September 1, 2023
“We, the INDIA parties, hereby resolve to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections together as far as possible. Seat-sharing arrangements in different states will be initiated immediately and concluded at the earliest in a collaborative spirit of give-and-take.” This resolution, read out by Uddha Thackeray at the second day of the INDIA conclave in Mumbai, suggests the hard work of translating opposition unity on the ground has begun.
A committee headed by former president Ram Nath Kovind will examine the feasibility of the PM’s notion of “one nation, one election”. Since the examination may be cursory ― he had supported the idea as president ― there is speculation that the general election may be advanced to this year to coincide with state polls. The Parliamentary Standing Committee, Law Commission and Niti Aayog have already examined ‘one nation, one election’ and have submitted three reports since 2016. But it is not clear under what authority the PM or Parliament – where Modi calls the shots – can dissolve state assemblies before their terms end so as to ensure simultaneous polls.
Upendra Kumar Sinha, former chief of market regulator SEBI, is now non-executive chairman of NDTV, which has been acquired by Adani. Rahul Gandhi drew attention to the fact that during his term, SEBI was informed about Adani companies increasing their valuations by round-tripping. Sinha failed to find the evidence which the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project has now uncovered quite easily. Worse, he misled the public about the matter when Karan Thapar asked him in February 2023 why SEBI had not bothered to look into Adani’s share prices earlier. Sinha said that he was not aware of any complaints of “round-tripping” involving Adani companies and that these allegations surfaced only after the Hindenburg report in 2023. Gandhi, who has persistently questioned Modi about his relationship with the Adani Group, has asked the PM to come clean about his relationship, and to order a “full-scale investigation”, or at the very least a JPC probe to clear his name. He said that India’s reputation as a country with a level playing field is at stake. The latest allegation of crony capitalism, which names names, precedes the arrival of the G20 heads of government in Delhi.
The Financial Times reports that “the value of the [Adani] group’s 10 listed companies dropped by $4.2bn, or 3.3%, on Thursday after the FT and Guardian exposed opaque offshore structures that shielded some of the group’s largest shareholders, and their connections to the Adani family, from public sight.”
US short-sellers Hindenburg Research, which had originally opened the can of Adani worms, told the Financial Times: “The independent evidence corroborating our work is overwhelming. All eyes are on Indian regulators to see if they will act on that which is now completely obvious.” The Adani group has rejected what it calls the “recycled allegations” of the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and stories in the Indian press blame the fracas on one of its funders, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Soros is a favourite voodoo doll of the right wing everywhere.
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reveals that Anil Agarwal had lobbied to turn the setback of the pandemic into a business opportunity. He had written to environment minister Prakash Javadekar to accelerate economic recovery by allowing 50% capacity expansion without prior clearances in oil and mining. In early 2022, he got what he had wanted.
ISRO’s solar probe Aditya-L1 is scheduled for launch at 11:50 am IST tomorrow. It will reach an earth-sun Lagrangian Point in 125 days where the gravitational fields of the two bodies are at equilibrium, and the craft will be able to hover in a ‘halo orbit’. Also, Indian Express reports from Hingoli, Maharashtra, the site of India’s next major science project ― a facility that will join the LIGO ( Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) to study gravitational waves.
Oncologist R Ravi Kannan has won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his work in Assam to make quality cancer care affordable for the masses.
Monsoon rainfall in August was the lowest in a century, 36% below the average. The Northeastern, parts of Tamil Nadu and the Himalayan foothills have been spared, but in the case of the last, excessive rainfall has triggered disasters. Similar deficits were seen in 2005 and in 2009, a deficit of 24% accompanied the worst drought in 50 years.
The biggest chunk of trials for sexual assault are the result of parental criminalisation of consensual relationships, says Rukmini S, and the second largest is the old faithful ― breach of promise to marry.
The ancestral Delhi home of independent journalist Khushboo Akhtar, who runs the ‘Pal Pal News’ YouTube channel, has suffered an arson attack. Akhtar is accustomed to receiving threats for her work. “‘Pal Pal News’ has 2.17 million subscribers on YouTube. Akhtar describes it as a Muslim women-run brand focused on Muslim, Dalit, tribal, children and women’s rights, and on farmers,” reports The Wire.
Sixteen people have been arrested on the US east coast for conspiring to commit armed robberies in Indian-American jewellery stores.
The India-China war of perceptions continues. The perception is that China is winning, says Sushant Singh.
Eight killed in ongoing Manipur gun-battle
A gunfight along the Churachandpur-Bishnupur border in Manipur, which divides ethnic communities, began on August 29 and was still in progress yesterday evening. The toll had risen to eight, says Scroll. Coincidentally, the same day in Jammu, BL Verma, Union minister of state for the Development of the North Eastern Region, said that Manipur is “firmly under control”, and apart from the ethnic violence seen there, the region has been at peace since 2014. He appears to be unfamiliar with the news from Assam.
The Telegraph reports that the dead include the Kuki songwriter LS Mangboi Lhungdim, 42, who “composed the song ‘I Gam Hilou Ham (Is this not our land)’ after violence broke out on May 3, which became a rallying cry for tribal unity.”
The persistence of armed violence is not surprising. A fortnight ago, Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi, who was visiting Manipur, had said that there cannot be peace in the state until the 6,000 weapons and six lakh rounds of ammunition looted from the security forces are recovered.
Growth uncertain in next fiscal year
“India’s economic trajectory reflects its successes in sports and space exploration, albeit moderately,” says the New Indian Express. The Q1 FY24 real GDP growth of 7.8%, revealed by the National Statistical Office, speaks of resilience, driven by the services sector, domestic demand, and higher private investments. The figure lags behind the RBI’s 8% projection, but is not unexpected. July had inflation steeply up at 7.44%, the highest in 15 months, with food inflation soaring to 11.51%, which was last seen in Oct 2020. Unemployment stayed elevated at 7.95% in July, according to CMIE. Despite the positive start, erratic monsoons, manufacturing decline and external imbalances will take their toll. Exports dropped 8% in Q1 FY24. In the next fiscal year, growth remains uncertain.
“There are several unfavourable elements like erratic monsoon, a decline in mining and manufacturing output, capex, private investments, and exports, besides external sector imbalances ― all of which are like the dreaded mother-in-law. One doesn't know when they will turn up and suppress growth in their wake,” says The New Indian Express.
Immigrant families victims of cultural differences across borders
The UK Home Office has blocked a three-year old Afghan toddler from joining his parents in the UK even though his father worked as a British army interpreter. His story is told in The Gardener of Lashkar Gah by Larisa Brown, defence editor of the London Times. In 2021, Brown had written an article on how Afghan translators had been abandoned by the British forces.
The death of an Indian-origin Australian mother separated from her teenage children by child services has focused attention on the predicament of first-generation immigrants with children. The children were not allowed to attend her funeral in India. Child rights lawyer Suranya Aiyar, said that these cases are part of a pattern where “Indians and Indian-origin newcomers to rich G-20 countries are persecuted by their child services,” due to cultural differences. She has organised a protest march in Delhi demanding that the government should take a more “proactive” role in such cases.
HC judge says Vigilance is chameleon mimicking ruling regime
Justice Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court has made scathing remarks against the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC), likening it to a “chameleon” that changes colours to align with the ruling regime. These comments were delivered in open court, where the judge was presiding over a revision petition in a disproportionate assets case involving former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam (OPS). Justice Venkatesh noted a troubling pattern in three revision petitions against sitting ministers, starting with OPS’s case. The judge expressed concern over the DVAC’s tendency to initiate charges against Opposition leaders, only to re-investigate and close cases when the same opposition gains power. Unprecedented in criminal justice, it erodes trust in the system, he said.
The judge also said that ordinary citizens and elected officials are treated differently, and called it a stain on the criminal justice system. He disclosed that his suo motu intervention in the decade-old case was motivated by a desire to rectify this alarming discrepancy.
UK Labour desis face turnover
Labour has suspended the Leicester East constituency Labour party (CLP) – which constituted the majority of Asians – amid allegations of rule breaches ahead of the upcoming general election, reports The Guardian. The party HQ initiated an internal investigation concerning the selection of the next parliamentary candidate. Previously represented by MPs Keith Vaz and Claudia Webbe, the CLP faces a shift in candidate selection, with Labour HQ likely to impose a shortlist. The suspension follows Labour’s underperformance in local elections, losing 22 council seats while Conservatives gained 17. Though Labour retained all three parliamentary seats in the city, Leicester East saw a significant decrease in its majority, prompting these actions. In Labour, desi politics has become a quagmire.
The Long Cable
The importance of being Mallikarjun Kharge
Of late, political observers have noticed the body language of Rahul Gandhi when he is in the company of Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge. Rahul visibly displays a lot of respect and reverence for the 81-year-old Congress veteran. A few days ago, Rahul made a public gesture at an event in Karnataka, where he sat beside the Congress president. Anticipating that he might be exhausted and thirsty, Rahul poured water into a glass and offered it to him. Some Congress spokespersons tweeted about this gesture. On another occasion, Rahul made it a point to personally drop off Kharge in his own car after a Congress party meeting.
One is citing these instances only to underline that a special relationship is being forged between Rahul Gandhi and Mallikarjun Kharge. Clearly, Rahul has not displayed such respect and affection in public towards any other veteran Congress leader. This has some serious political import in the context of the INDIA alliance, which has gathered considerable momentum over the past few months. As a veteran in Indian politics, the role that Kharge has played in softening the rough edges of the INDIA alliance is quite apparent.
Kharge has much more going in his favour. He is a Dalit leader from the South and does not threaten caste-based leaders from the north Indian Hindi heartland, where identity politics still creates immense hostilities over turf. History does tell us that whenever there is the absence of a decisive mandate in the Lok Sabha, a non-threatening leader from the South emerges as a consensus candidate in a non-BJP coalition. Of course, this doesn’t apply to a BJP-led coalition, because it is a largely north Indian party.
PV Narasimha Rao emerged as the consensus PM candidate after the Congress fell short of a majority in 1991. Within the Congress, there were more powerful leaders from the North but the relatively low-profile Narasimha Rao emerged as a consensus candidate. The same could be said about dark horse Deve Gowda, whom both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav supported to lead the UF coalition. Neither of these leaders threatened cowbelt political equations in any manner.
It is in this context that Kharge’s importance must be underlined as the INDIA alliance goes into the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. If the Congress’ base case improves to above 100 seats, the 2024 Lok Sabha elections could throw up surprises.
But 2024 is not 2019 and PM Modi will surely be judged by the people on his 10-year performance, irrespective of whether the INDIA alliance has an alternative PM candidate. In 2019, the voter psychology was to give Modi another five years. But this time round, many Modi voters may also think that 10 years is a long time for a leader to show results. So results is what a large number of voters will look for, a noisy Hindutva campaign notwithstanding.
So with optimal seat-sharing across the country, the INDIA alliance can put up a fight if the election is purely a referendum on Modi’s 10 years in power, and what he has done for economic and social welfare, in concrete terms. There is clearly some nervousness in the BJP ― a desperate PM is publicly announcing unfilled government vacancies and internal promotions dressed up as new jobs!
Therefore the INDIA alliance need not project a PM candidate, but the message could be gently delivered that if the Congress emerges as the single largest party within the alliance, with about 110 -120 seats, then Kharge could emerge as a consensus candidate to lead a possible coalition. Rahul Gandhi seems to be mentally preparing for this possibility. By doing so, Rahul may also be signalling that he is firmly out of the race to lead the coalition.
The young Gandhi has always imagined building a credible Dalit leadership to impart some freshness and new energy to the grand old party. Kharge fits the bill perfectly. Besides, it will be very difficult for other INDIA alliance partners or even someone outside it like Mayawati, to oppose Kharge as a post-election leader of the coalition. The next seven months could throw up interesting possibilities. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible!
Prime Number: 0 or 1
An RTI query has revealed that one out of every four beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana either did not take any or took just one refill of cylinders in the last financial year. The significant increase in prices of LPG cylinders has made them a financial burden, even for households that receive subsidies. Prices have nearly doubled since 2018, reaching Rs 903 per cylinder by March 2023, despite the Rs 200 per cylinder subsidy provided to PMUY beneficiaries, says The Hindu.
“The unwritten law with mushrooms where I live is that they belong to the person who finds them, and a portion is often gifted to the owner of the land. The agency to gift a commodity belongs to its owner (here, the finder), and this gifting serves as a reciprocal gesture, expressing appreciation for the landowner’s hospitality in granting access to their property,” writes Abdul Basith in Ala, in an article about the culture and folklore of mushroom-picking in Kerala, and why the “thunder which causes mushrooms to sprout” no longer works its magic.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
As the Opposition brainstorms in Mumbai, Aditya Balasubramanian finds parallels with the Swatantra Party, which briefly provided opposition to the original one-party rule. It was conservative, but so is most of India, and since it was not sectarian, the principles it stuck up for are instructive for the present Opposition coalition.
Joseph E Stiglitz writes on the damage that authoritarianism and right-wing policies are doing to the lives of ordinary people while protecting the rich. And the urgent need to curb economic inequality. This indeed rings true across the world, especially in the Indian context.
“There is no self-awareness of why similar previous calls to ‘decolonise’ and produce an “Indian” science, or sociology or political science, often ended up producing things that were neither Indian nor science nor sociology nor political science,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
“What problem can nationalists have with institutions enforcing their own rules to protect investors, including domestic Indian financial institutions,” asks Andy Mukerjee in The Washington Post.
The expansion of BRICS by adding six new members only makes an already incoherent grouping even less coherent. The claim that BRICS can rival the G7 group of wealthy democracies is laughable, says Sadanand Dhume.
William Dalrymple reviews ‘Tree and Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 BCE–400 CE’, an exhibition on display at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
On Ideas of India, Shruti Rajagopalan speaks with Amit Ahuja and Devesh Kapur about trends in violence and order in India, capacity of security forces, the impact of liberalisation, communication blackouts, recent violence in Manipur and much more.
The Wire brings you a live stream from Mumbai, where INDIA is marshalling its divisions for the battle of 2024.
Over and out
In the Irish Times, Frank McNally looks back on Kipling’s Kim, Tagore’s Gora, Yeats’ mysticism and the ups and downs of Tagore’s stock in the West.
Vogue India covers an Instagram account dedicated to South Asian aesthetics, modern and historical. At the core of the account – which anchors a digital community – is representation and reclamation.
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.