India May Not Accept G7 Cap on Russian Oil Prices; Twitter Pushback: Control Freak State Forcing Companies to Stand for Freedoms
SC to hear Zubair’s plea tomorrow, Kaali filmmaker defiant, Ilaiyaraaja’s Modi praise earns RS seat, Sanskrit Don Quixote discovered in Harvard, protesters party in MP road crater
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
July 7, 2022
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the plea of AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair against the Allahabad High Court, which refused to quash an FIR filed against him for calling Hindu seers ‘hate mongers’. His counsel Colin Gonsalves says there is a threat to his life. Meanwhile, the AltNews newsroom is pulling ahead despite the pressure of the cofounder’s arrest, legal action and hate campaigns, reports Newslaundry.
Deeply concerned, Germany has said that it is “monitoring very closely” the arrest of Zubair and is also “in contact” with its “EU partners on the ground”. In a video posted by Richard Walker, chief international editor of Deutsche Welle, the German foreign ministry said it is “committed to freedom of expression and freedom of the press all over the world… and that also applies to India… Free reporting is beneficial to any society and restrictions are cause for concern. Journalists should not be persecuted and imprisoned for what they say and write… India describes itself as the world’s largest democracy. So, one can expect democratic values like freedom of expression and freedom of the press to be given the necessary space there.”
Raipur Police yesterday declared Zee TV anchor Rohit Ranjan an absconder after failing to find him at his residence in Ghaziabad, UP, in a case pertaining to the telecast of an allegedly doctored video of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. They are trying to trace him. His counsel has sought an urgent hearing by the Supreme Court, but ANI reports that the case was not listed today as the files are with the Chief Justice of India.
Indian armed forces posted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are facing radio communication problems as China rolls out its 5G network along its side of the border. The New Indian Express reports that a strange booming sound is heard in communications due to the 5G waves. The Indian authorities are scrambling to find a solution.
In Nagaland, Sukanya Shantha reports that an Army officer 'wilfully suppressed' information that could have prevented the ‘encounter’ killing of 13 civilians at Oting in December 2021.
Speculation has begun in Delhi that Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Modi’s minister for minorities who resigned yesterday as his term as a Rajya Sabha MP came to an end, may be the government’s pick for Vice President. “The names of Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan and former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh as BJP candidates are also doing the rounds on social media,” TV18 reports.
The Chinese embassy in Delhi has spoken up on the raids on the offices of Chinese-owned Vivo, and issued a statement calling for a “truly just, fair and non-discriminatory approach… We hope the Indian side will abide by laws as they carry out investigation and enforcement activities and provide a truly fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies investing and operating in India.” ANI reported shortly afterwards that Vivo directors Zhengshen Ou and Zhang Jie have “fled from India as the Enforcement Directorate intensified inquiry into the money laundering case against the Chinese firm.”. The ED had conducted searches at 44 places across India in what it termed “a money-laundering probe” against Vivo and related firms the day before yesterday.
There were more raids yesterday on the makers of the Dolo 650 tablet, which entered millions of Indian homes during the pandemic. The taxman yesterday conducted searches at the premises of Bengaluru-based pharmaceutical company Micro Labs Ltd, the manufacturers of Dolo, on charges of alleged tax evasion. Officials said the department is looking at financial documents, balance sheets and business distributor networks of the company as part of the searches.
A priest at the Hanumangarhi temple, Ayodhya, has publicly threatened to “behead” filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, who is embroiled in a controversy over the depiction of Kali in her documentary. In a video statement addressed to the Toronto-based director, Mahant Raju Das asked, “Do you want that your head be separated from your body?” A Hindutva leader in Tamil Nadu who issued a death threat against her has been arrested by the police. But in UP, the authorities have yet to act.
On the first anniversary of the death of Father Stan Swamy, the Jesuit priest accused in the Bhima Koregaon/ Elgar Parishad case who died in custody, a long-serving US Congressman has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives commemorating Swamy’s life and demanding that the government of India set up an independent investigation into his “arrest, incarceration and death”. In a statement, California Democrat Juan Vargas said that he was proud to introduce a resolution to commemorate Swamy. Two other Congressmen – James McGovern of Massachusetts and Andre Carson of Indiana – have co-sponsored the resolution. India has, in the past, rejected international criticism about Swamy’s arrest. The introduction of a resolution does not mean that it will be taken up or passed.
The Constitutional Conduct Group, consisting of eminent former bureaucrats including former National Security Advisers, has issued an open statement urging the Supreme Court to suo motu review its order in the Zakia Jafri petition, which led to the arrest of Teesta Setalvad: “Every day of silence lowers the prestige of the Court and raises questions about its determination to uphold a core precept of the Constitution: safeguarding the basic right to life and liberty against questionable actions of the state.”
Land Conflict Watch reports that the Union government has devised new rules to let private developers cut down forests without the consent of forest dwellers. On June 28, the Environment, Forests and Climate Change Ministry notified the Forest Conservation Rules 2022 to shift onto state governments the Union’s responsibility of ensuring that the rights of tribals to their traditional forest lands are respected.
The Assam government has declared five Muslim sub-groups, Syed, Goriya, Moriya, Deshi and Jolha, as ‘indigenous’, as they speak Assamese, distinguishing them from Bengali-speaking Muslims which form the majority and fear further marginalisation after this move.
The Justice Rohini Commission, set up to examine the sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes and equitable distribution of benefits reserved for them, has got its 13th extension for another six months. The government had constituted the commission on October 2, 2017 under Article 340 of the Constitution. The extension runs till January 31, 2023. A month ago, Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry Secretary R Subrahmanyam had told reporters that the commission had not sought any more extensions and would submit its report when its term ends at the end of July.
With less than a year to go for the Karnataka Assembly elections, political strategists are carpet-bombing the state. Several political leaders have been hiring consultants to project themselves as the face of their parties and curate their public perception. Over the last few years, many political strategist firms which earlier operated behind the curtain have stepped up to the forefront. The News Minute has the details.
Today, at the end of the 50th session of the Human Rights Council, member countries will vote on whether to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This mandate was first established through a hard-fought vote in 2016 and narrowly renewed in 2019. Support for the mandate has come from Latin America, Europe and Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and from South Africa. The opposition was spearheaded by the African Group and the Organisation of Islamic Conference. India has generally abstained from the vote. Today, we will know whether the Indian government accepts the logic of the Navtej Johar and NALSA cases and votes in favour, or rejects it and abstains.
Just a day after Karnataka High Court judge HP Sandesh’s dramatic statement that he was threatened with a transfer for pushing a corruption probe, Karnataka ADGP Amrit Paul and former Bengaluru Urban deputy commissioner J Manjunath were arrested “on charges of being involved in a recruitment scam and for bribery respectively.”
On January 1, several Muslim women across India woke up and found themselves being “auctioned” on an app. The targets included Muslim women across age groups, including prominent journalists, activists and lawyers. VICE World News has met one of the victims for a short documentary.
A protest by the Youth Congress outside the home of Smriti Irani against rising prices of LPG cylinders ― she had led protests with cylinders herself in her time ― did not end with her meeting the protesters to receive their petition. The protesters were arrested and the cylinder seized.
It’s a life-altering day for Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, who is marrying Dr Gurpreet Kaur in a private ceremony in Chandigarh today.
India bearish on G-7 plan to cap price at which Russian oil can be sold
Bloomberg reports that Russia “has pocketed $24 billion from selling energy to China and India in just three months following its invasion of Ukraine.” The sanctions have spiked global prices and are hurting their originators rather than Russia. As the West scrambles to resolve this problem, India is not inclined to accept the G7 leaders’ plan capping the price of Russian oil to limit the country’s ability to fund the Ukraine war.
French President Emmanuel Macron released an edited video of his informal interactions at the recent G-7 summit where he can be heard asking Narendra Modi for his opinion on a price cap. Modi’s answer is not know.
MEA reporters tried unsucessfully to get the Ministry of External Affairs to reveal what Modi said but now, Business Line reports that India is wary because the proposed cap could hurt Delhi’s interests if Moscow refuses to sell at the capped price. Russia has been selling crude to countries like India and China at heavy discounts of $30-40 per barrel, against benchmark Brent crude prices of over $100 a barrel, following Western sanctions, allowing India to make a good profit. Though there are no sanctions yet on the sale of oil and gas, proponents of the price cap hope that Russia will refuse to sell its oil at a loss.
Campaign escalates against Kaali documentary
Twitter has pulled down filmmaker Leena Manimekalai’s tweet about her film Kaali, in response to a “legal demand”. The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto has said it “deeply regrets” causing offence to Hindus and other faiths and has removed its posters, after the Indian mission in Ottawa urged the Canadian authorities to take down all “provocative material” related to the film.
On Twitter and in interviews, Manimekalai is defiant. She has explained the context of the poster depicting Kaali with a cigarette:
“My Kaali is inspired from Tamil and Telugu village rituals where she comes on people as a spirit and eats meat, smokes ganja, drinks country arrack, urinates in the middle of the village, spits on filth and dances wild. I embodied her and chose to walk across the streets of downtown Toronto, the land of immigrants, to understand settler colonialism… My Kaali believes in love and sharing. She accepts the cigarette from a Black street dweller at a park around Kensington market in Toronto and listens to reggae.”
The controversy rages on as the TMC has washed its hands of FIRs against MP Mohua Mitra and the Congress too terms MP Shashi Tharoor’s defence of Moitra as his “personal opinion”. The TMC has told the BJP it has no business to call for action on Moitra till action is taken against Nupur Sharma, who insulted the Prophet.
Meanwhile IndiaTodayNE, part of the media group which helped turn Mahua Moitra’s comment on Kaali into a national controversy, has found that liquor is very much part of rituals associated with the worship of the Hindu goddess in ‘BJP-ruled Assam and Tripura’.
Distance between fuel pumps to be laid down
The National Green Tribunal asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to clarify the rules, within local laws, regarding the distance between fuel stations in areas that are not residential, or where there are non-planning areas. Fuel distributors could be taking advantage of the lacuna to defeat the very purpose of the norms. The Southern Bench of the NGT, headed by Justice K Ramakrishnan, passed this order after hearing three petitions on setting up fuel pumps in residential areas in Chennai and other areas in Tamil Nadu. The NGT order stated that the CPCB must notify fresh clarifications to the existing circular issued on January 7, 2020.
People party in highway pothole
To draw the attention of the authorities to the poor condition of roads, residents in Anuppur district in Madhya Pradesh shot a video showing them sitting in chairs in a big crater in the macadam, chilling with their feet in muddy rain-water. Disco lights, dance music and beach balls added to the ambience.
The video also shows saplings planted in the smaller potholes around the crater, as decoration. In a similar symbolic protest last year, the residents of Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district planted paddy on the muddy road leading up to their village to highlight its poor condition.
The Long Cable
Twitter’s pushback: Control freak government forcing companies to stand for freedoms
Twitter has approached the Karnataka High Court against the government seeking judicial intervention in takedown or blocking orders issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, and the kinds of speech that have been sought to be censored. Section 69A permits takedown orders “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to above.” Ordinarily, this would have restricted the scope for interference but in a world where the phrases ‘Honeymoon Hotel’ and ‘hate monger’ can have a person put behind bars, one can imagine the terror experienced by Twitter’s top brass in India. After all, non-compliance with a blocking order can lead to punishment with up to seven years in jail.
While the text of the petition is not publicly available, it is evident from news reports that Twitter is targeting governmental overreach. A private company, it is fueled by the profit motive, not a commitment to free speech. It is the easiest thing for any company to comply with the law, and its users be damned. If users are capable of defending themselves legally, they will do so and if they are not, deletion of their tweets or deactivation of their profiles likely would not even amount to the proverbial storm in the proverbial tea cup. It is clear that Twitter is trying to defend itself and its business model.
As per the NDTV report on the filing of this case, Twitter has even cited instances where tweets from official handles of political parties have been sought to be taken down. Twitter has also said that blocking orders are often not specific and do not provide cogent reasons. It seems that Twitter is caught in a bind. While compliance is the easiest path for any company, Twitter clearly also realises that its USP is, to put it politely, as a medium for the exchange of political dialogue. Should the word get around that only one side of the political aisle is being allowed on Twitter, it would likely mean the end to its popularity.
The fear of criminal prosecution and arrest can be debilitating. Especially for Twitter’s compliance officer, who is in constant threat of prosecution in case a blocking order is not obeyed. At the same time, this poor soul risks being pilloried by the other side for complying with these orders. There would also undoubtedly be pressure from the company itself to not give in to too many blocking orders, lest Twitter lose its signature sense of chaos masquerading as political argumentation. When the requirement of appointing a chief compliance officer and resident grievance officer was brought in last year, Twitter complied only after a couple of interventions from the Delhi High Court. They first appointed a lawyer and then a US-based employee as grievance officer. Only after a High Court ultimatum were regular employees appointed to the posts of chief compliance officer and interim resident grievance officer. Clearly, an employer as popular as Twitter was struggling to fill these posts with regular full-time employees, as was mandated by the 2021 IT intermediary rules.
This petition opens up the possibility of a new phase in India’s ongoing battle for the protection of civil liberties, where corporates take up the cudgels to protect their business models. WhatsApp has already challenged the 2021 intermediary rules to protect privacy and its business model.
There is a petition filed in the Supreme Court for the ‘banning’ of halal products. Will companies contest such moves to protect their markets? As the Twitter example shows, that would be very likely. Companies, morally agnostic though they tend to be, will fight to protect their market and their business models. It’s clear that the government has now entered a phase of obvious and pervasive censorship, overruling lobbying efforts by these social media companies. They would otherwise have been loath to publicly go against the government. The government’s insistence on complete control is forcing these agnostics to take a stand, and a firm one at that.
(Sarim Naved is a lawyer practising in Delhi)
South Indian music maestro Ilaiyaraaja is a Rajya Sabha MP. All April, statements from Ilaiyaraaja comparing Modi with Dr Ambedkar, especially in his foreword to the propaganda book Ambedkar and Modi: Reformer’s Ideas, Performer’s Implementation had seriously annoyed Ambedkarites and there was talk of a quid pro quo. The controversial remarks had forced his son to come out and say he was “Dark Dravidian, proud Tamizhan”. Life isn’t always a song.
Prime Number: 4,200%
The Delhi government’s ad spend increased over 4,200% from 2012 to 2022, as per RTI replies published by The Hindu.
The BBC assesses Sidhu Moosewala, and the “unsettling legacy of the rapper’s protest music.”
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
The loss of jobs is not just an economic mishap but also signals the destruction of India’s future, writes Seema Chishti (a contributor to The India Cable).
While the Modi government has shown little interest in NAM or Nehruvian thought, it may be necessary to reconsider Nehru’s words in a fraught world nearly 70 years later. This is the time to rethink India’s role in “growing the unaligned area” and bringing Nehru’s “objective and balanced” outlook to the fore of strategy, says Suhasini Haidar.
Admiral Arun Prakash says that the “objectives of Agnipath are more political than military.”
Sensible GST reform would weaken Modi’s near-monopolistic grip on the electoral potential of welfare projects. That’s why the prospects of another big-bang reform of indirect taxes are practically nonexistent, writes Andy Mukherjee.
Satinder Lambah was a quintessential backchannel interlocutor and a ready reckoner on Pakistan. He completed his memoirs spanning six PMs while fighting cancer, writes Vinod Sharma.
While Twitter’s case may be painted as a Silicon Valley platform’s defiance of the Government of India, at the core of the legal issue is the freedom of speech and the future of Digital India, writes Apar Gupta.
Mohammad Sajjad and Ms Zeeshan Ahmed write on “the peril of fighting blasphemy with bigotry.”
The Eknath Shinde faction may make dents in certain pockets, but it will not be able to decimate the party headed by Uddhav Thackeray, writes Raju Vernekar.
China is at the same time a key economic trade partner and a serious threat to the country’s territorial integrity. The policymakers’ challenge is to go beyond this inherent conflict to create a stable policy ecosystem for businesses and investors, says Mint.
After living in India for seven years in the 1770s, Bartholomew Burges wrote a book to help American merchants explore trade opportunities here. Anu Kumar on the observations of the first American to write a book on India.
“India’s fourth-innings fumble”: what has gone wrong? They have failed to defend targets in three successive overseas Tests, writes Karthik Krishnaswamy.
Ravish Kumar asks why Zee News, which promoted the hashtag #SupportRohitRanjan when the Chhatisgarh Police sought to arrest him, filed a criminal complaint against its anchor in a Noida police station? [Hindi]
On The Filter Koffee podcast, hear Rahul Thappa, a watchmaker who builds ‘Frankenwatches’. He talks about the craft of watchmaking and how to really appreciate a watch.
What can the individual do to push back against authoritarianism and threats to pluralism in India? Aakar Patel weighs in with the New Socialist Initiative India.
Over and Out
A Sanskrit translation of Don Quixote has been rescued from oblivion. It was executed by two Kashmiri pandits from an 18th century English translation in the 1930s, and lay forgotten in a Harvard University library.
Navakarnataka Publications, Gandhinagar, has sold about 850 copies of Devanur Mahadeva’s RSS: Aala Mattu Agala since the stock of 1,000 arrived on Saturday. The Gauri Media Trust, named for assassinated journalist Gauri Lankesh, has sold out its print run. The new Kannada book critical of the RSS is flying off the shelves in Bengaluru even before its formal launch, without pre-booking. It is an instance of decentralised publishing ― one manuscript went out simultaneously to six publishers.
Fawad Khan made a grand entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with yesterday’s episode of Ms Marvel. The Pakistani actor played lead Kamala Khan’s great-grandfather on the show.
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.