The India Cable: Contrived Sushant Plot Collapses; UP Government in Panic Mode

From the founding editors of The Wire — MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia — and journalists-writers Seema Chishti, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam.Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Portrait of the Day
October 5, 2020 

Pratik Kanjilal

It was a drive-by weekend. While a clearly sickening Donald Trump brought out a motorcade from hospital to wave at his admirers outside, Narendra Modi inaugurated the Atal Tunnel by waving indefatigably at non-existent crowds. A Doordarshan handle admired the PM’s fitness, while posting a picture of him using the opportunity for a quick constitutional on the sidewalk. The image was noticeably portly, and was soon taken down. Well, whatever works, wherever, whenever.

A forensic report from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences ruled out the murder of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and found it to be a case of death by hanging. That scuppers the conspiracy theories started by Republic TV and amped up by WhatsApp, to the satisfaction of the Mumbai commissioner of police. But what began as a murder investigation had swerved into a absurd probe into favouritism in Bollywood, and then into a search for a drug ring ― which supplies marijuana, which is being legalised in more and more jurisdictions. It is an opportunity for people who have been smeared or are in custody to set a precedent, and seek reparation from the agencies. This group has the heft to carry it off, and a precedent would sharply reduce cases of wrongful confinement. 

While tensions at the LAC continued, an American warplane ― a P-8 Poseidon ― landed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands for the first time, to refuel. The islands are located near a sea lane strategically and logistically important for China. 

The Hindu reports a boom in bicycle sales in Bengaluru, ranging from 25% to 300% year on year in varying outlets, as the city chooses to pedal to work to stay safe from infection. High-end and electric models are partly driving the market. 

And Kolkata gets the world’s first tramcar library, which is plying through College Street, past the oldest educational institutions and the hub of a vast trade in second-hand books, small presses and ‘little magazines’. Elsewhere in the city, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led a march protesting against the Hathras horror, and declared the BJP to be “the biggest pandemic”. And in Uttar Pradesh, the administration broke ranks over the weekend, rattling the state government enough for it to open access to the victim’s family in Hathras. In retaliation, upper caste processions were taken out, former Hathras MLA Rajvir Singh Pahalwan held a meeting to declare that the rape was a myth, BJP MLA Surendra Singh preached better sanskar for girls to prevent rape and all over the state, the police continued to beat up everyone who was neither police nor BJP. 


Fabricated Sushant conspiracy in tatters, but who remembers?

With a medical team of the All India Institute of Medical Studies, the country’s premier public hospital, saying that actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide, the Mumbai police is feeling vindicated. In the immediate aftermath of the actor’s unfortunate death, a huge outcry by government-friendly television channels, fanned by members and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had suggested foul play in his death.

Every effort was also made to discredit the Mumbai police, which had reached that conclusion after investigations. Now, the city’s police commissioner has pointed out in a television interview that the AIIMS findings endorsed its early report. The allegations against the police were a campaign carried out by ‘vested interests’, says the commissioner, Parambir Singh.

That there was a sustained, planned attack on the police was visible to anyone who followed the news at the time. The political connection to this campaign became obvious when Sushant Singh Rajput’s images were used in the election campaigning in Bihar, where he had come from. Soon, however, the posters disappeared, because the phony controversy had no traction among local voters.

In the meantime, the late actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakarborty was in the custody of central investigating agencies and, in a neat trick, was accused of obtaining and supplying marijuana to the actor. That in turn led to other, well known actors being summoned for their alleged drug use. The original, fabricated controversy was completely forgotten.


Three-cornered match fixing in Bihar

More news from Bihar, where elections are due: the Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party has declared it will not fight under the JD(U) led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, yet campaign for the BJP in the 142 seats it intends to fight on its own, of the 243 seats in the state assembly elections. The possibility of a BJP-LJP government is now in the offing, after a complicated three-cornered contest. Party founder Ram Vilas Paswan has been in hospital for six weeks, and a generational shift is clearly in progress

The Chandigarh Tribune reports on allegations of a fixed match as the BJP will now end up contesting more seats in the state than the JD(U), as the regional party would need to accommodate new entrant Hindustani Awan Morcha (HAM). Dainik Jagran points out that the smaller parties are out of the game now. There is pressure on the NDA to conclude its seat-sharing tie up in Bihar for elections scheduled from October 28 in three phases, especially as the Opposition Mahagathbandhan has concluded its seat-sharing and declared a Chief Ministerial candidate, Tejashwi Yadav.


Beating time

Thursday: Rahul Gandhi, MP, Congress. Friday: Derek O’Brien, MP, Trinamool Congress. Saturday: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, general secretary, Congress. Sunday: Jayant Chaudhary, former MP, RLD. The long list of actions where Adityanath’s law-enforcement machinery has run amok gains in heft every day. If it was earlier targeting minorities and weaker sections of society, the UP Police has now graduated to strong-arming elected representatives and other public figures in a brutal manner. These actions have met with silence from the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, although Noida police have now apologised to Ms Gandhi and promised an inquiry. But without a strong signal from the commanding heights, lashings of bashings will continue to be served up in UP. 


Puppet masters

Leading the farmers’ protests against the three farm laws brought in by the Centre, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday said PM Narendra Modi was a “puppet” in the hands of Adani-Ambani, reiterating his earlier jibe of ‘suit-boot ki sarkar’ against the BJP government. At multiple locations in Punjab, Gandhi said that the Modi government was working to safeguard the interests of big companies at the cost of farmers and small traders. He will continue his tractor rally on Monday but a confrontation is inevitable when he tries to enter Haryana as the BJP-ruled state has declared that Rahul won’t be allowed to violate Covid restrictions. 

Farmers’ anxieties about the three bills were not misplaced. Soyabean, ragi, maize and cotton are selling up to 30% below the minimum support price, shows data from Agmarknet, the Agriculture Ministry’s portal that tracks prices in mandis. Also, mills owe Rs 8,400 crore against cane harvested in UP. Politically, this is bad news for the Centre and governments in the northern states. 


Sedition rises and falls at the same time

Sedition is on the rise in India after the Modi government was re-elected in 2019, or that is what the government believes, going by the NCRB report which shows a 25% jump in sedition cases filed by the police. The authenticity of the cases can however be judged from the fact that the investigators could manage to get a conviction in just one out of the 30 cases whose trials were completed last year. The way out is to scrap the law itself but the government has ruled that out on the floor of Parliament, after having agreed, in 2016, to consider amending it.


General Jaw-Jaw holds the front

The saga of endless talks between India and China between senior military commanders in Ladakh will continue with the seventh round of talks at the Corps Commander level to be held on October 12. The first round of talks by Lt Generals, after talks at the brigade and division commander level, were held on June 6 and have failed to resolve the vexed impasse. But by engaging in talks, the two sides have shown an inclination to prevent tensions from escalating into a military conflict. Not an insignificant achievement, when you consider that two nuclear-armed neighbours are facing each other on the disputed border.


An old problem

While millions of Indians went hungry during the world’s strictest lockdown imposed by the Modi government to stop the spread of the pandemic, 1,550 tonnes of foodgrains rotted in Food Corporation of India godowns. For at least 15 years, welfare economists have been pointing to the volume of wastage in overstocked godowns, and calling for more humanity and less process control in the distribution of grain to the hungriest citizens. When people were suffering malnutrition across north India due to the economic disruption, wastage on such a scale looks like a crime. 


In Assam, both consolidation and fragmentation in run-up to 2021

How many parties are enough to contest an assembly election in a state like Assam? It seems no number is big enough to crowd the field in the northeastern state, which has borne the brunt of the CAA and NRC campaign since 2019. Peasant organisation Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti launched  a new party called the Raijor Dal on October 2,  joining the recently launched Assam Jatiya Parishad backed by leading youth organisations All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad (AJYCP), the Anchalik Gana Morcha and the United Regional Party, Assam. A few more are in the pipeline, including a party of tribal organisations. The situation is welcomed by the BJP, which will be fighting against a fragmented Opposition in 2021. Meanwhile, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal will contest the 2021 Assam Assembly election in alliance with the Congress party and the Left Front, presenting a formidable challenge to the BJP.


A relic of the empire

In her uncle’s backyard, a schoolchild in Ernakulam has discovered a signet ring of banded agate carved with a sphinx. Shards of gemstone were discovered at the same site, suggesting that 2,000 years ago, a lapidary factory located there had supplied jewelry and carvings destined for the Roman Empire. Yet another piece of evidence of the industry and trade of Muziris. 


UP: state of panic as Opposition energised by Hathras

MK Venu

Trouble for BJP’s poster boy, Yogi Adityanath, CM of UP, has mounted over the weekend as UP’s top bureaucracy (both the police and administrative wings) started an ugly blame game for their unconscionable, even criminal, conduct in dealing with the Dalit family in Hathras (western UP), whose 19-year-old daughter was raped and murdered.

Even as a nationwide political storm is brewing over the Hathras incident, the Adityanath government is in a state of panic, unable to explain why a massive cover-up was attempted by the police and bureaucracy of UP to hide basic facts of the case. Realising his administration had botched up badly, the UP CM, has invited the CBI to take over the case so that the heat is off him in the immediate future. This was after UP’s director-general of police blamed the district magistrate and local SP of Hathras for cremating the victim’s body in the dead of night without informing the family, and sparking nationwide outrage. Adityanath must have seen trouble coming his way as his own top bureaucracy was losing confidence in defending its actions. This would have reached the CM’s doorstep in no time, and he passed the parcel nimbly.

Meanwhile, new evidence suggests that the body was forensically examined a full 10 days after the rape, whereas it is required to be done within five days. Medical experts have declared that a delayed medical test is flawed and has little meaning. This would spell more trouble for the UP CM, whose police has so far claimed that no rape had happened. In the middle of all this, the media has accused the UP police of illegally tapping the phones of journalists covering the event.

The UP police had forcibly taken away the cell phones of the victim’s family and had leaked the data in them, which included messages from journalists. India Today plans to go to court against the UP government, alleging that their reporter’s phone was illegally tapped. Media outrage over this is growing.

This would spell further trouble for Adityanath, because the buck must stop with him even though he is trying to distance himself from the shocking behaviour of his administration. The police, which virtually kept the victim’s family under house arrest, not even letting media meet them, relented over the weekend as political pressure mounted. Media and Opposition leaders have been allowed to meet the victim’s family now.

The BJP leadership understands that the Hathras incident has become a national issue and that the Adityanath administration has failed to manage the incendiary caste politics in the state. There is also a general charge against the UP CM of running a police state with normal constitutional rights suspended. The UP administration proudly claims that it has eliminated over 117 “criminals” in police encounters after coming to power in 2017. Alleged criminals have not been afforded due process. Now, An FIR has been registered against Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and 400 others for violating Section 144 of CrPC in Hathras, while other local thugs making threats against Azad in the presence of the police and on camera have gone scot free. Impunity accorded to the police earlier is largely responsible for its shocking conduct in Hathras. 

If the Opposition parties get energised in UP over the next few months, all credit will be due to Adityanath’s handling of the Hathras incident.


Opeds

In the Indian Express, UC London professor Sanjay Srivastava argues that Indian policy has always been made with the common man in mind. But who exactly is this person today, and how has he made majoritarianism acceptable? 

The lead editorial of the Times of India reiterates that incidents like Hathras are the cost of delaying police reforms by about two decades. An obvious point, which obviously cannot be reiterated often enough. 


PRIME NUMBERS
A survey by the insurance arm of the State Bank of India reveals that following income uncertainties created by the pandemic, over 50% of Indians do not feel financially equal to the challenge of lifestyle disorders, and 75% feel that they would flounder in the event of critical illness

Books

Devaki Jain’s memoir The Brass Notebook is a racy account of her journey from Mysore to Oxford and back ― once across Europe and Asia by Land Rover, which she overturned in Central Asia. The accounts include all the names of planning and development economics of the period when the Delhi School of Economics became the launch pad for so many, from KN Raj to Isher Judge Ahluwalia, who died recently and continues to be mourned in the opinion pages. Also included is a very creepy story about a “Swedish economist” at Oxford who took her on for a three-volume project about Asia (that is enough to identify the person), subjected her to sexual harassment and sacked her when she refused to play along. Speaking Tiger Books launched the memoir in an online event with Romila Thapar. 

That’s it for today. We’ll be with you again tomorrow, on a device near you. If India Index was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) you can get up close and personal by SUBSCRIBING


From the founding editors of The Wire—MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia—and journalists-writers Seema Chishti, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam. Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

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