India Spied Shopping for Taint-Free Pegasus Rivals; Scotland's Yousaf Blazes a New Trail in Post-Colonial History
RSS links criterion for MP jobs, govt moves against 76 pharma firms, HC fines Kejriwal for wanting to see Modi's 'Entire Political Science' degree, Vaikom Satyagraha is 100, ‘Sprinter Dadi’ wins golds
A newsletter from The Wire | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia and Sushant Singh | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
March 31, 2023
India is hunting for new spyware with a lower profile than Pegasus, which is blacklisted by the US government. Rivals of its makers, the NSO Group, are preparing bids for lucrative deals being offered by Narendra Modi’s government, reports Financial Times. Indian defence and intelligence officials seek to spend up to $120 million through new spyware contracts. About a dozen competitors are expected to join the bidding process, says the report, stepping into the void created by pressure on NSO from human rights groups and the Joe Biden administration.
Officials are reportedly considering Greece-headquartered Intellexa, which has used veterans of the Israeli military to create a spyware called Predator. It is at the centre of a snooping scandal that has ensnared Greece’s spy chief and prime minister. According to Citizen Lab and Facebook, Predator is already operational in countries with a record of human rights abuses, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar and Oman.
India’s move shows how demand for this sophisticated — and largely unregulated — technology remains strong, despite growing evidence that governments worldwide have abused spyware to target dissidents and critics, says FT. India has never owned up to buying Pegasus, but it was found on the phones of journalists, progressive academics and Opposition leaders around India, sparking a political crisis. Pegasus can turn phones into surveillance devices and hoover up encrypted WhatsApp and Signal messages surreptitiously. Modi government officials have grown concerned about the “PR problem” caused by human rights groups forensically tracing Pegasus, and Apple and WhatsApp warning those who were targeted.
Remember when Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley had flashed copies of a BA degree certificate from Gujarat University in the improbably named subject of ‘Entire Political Science’ made out to Narendra Modi? On Friday, the Gujarat High Court has fined Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal Rs 25,000 for seeking the same certificate via the Right to Information route. This information is “not needed” the court declared.
Communal clashes were triggered in some places on Ram Navami. In Aurangabad, over 500 people attacked the police.There was stone-pelting in Vadodara and vehicles were set on fire in Howrah, West Bengal. In Delhi, the police denied permission for a Ram Navami Shobha Yatra and Ramzan celebrations in Jahangirpuri, where there were communal clashes last year on Hanuman Jayanti. Religious processions have been occasions for communal aggression from colonial times.
Hyderabad saw a new low: a photograph of Nathuram Godse was hailed after BJP’s ‘suspended’ MLA T Raja Singh joined the Ram Navami procession. How long before a ‘Nathuram Navami’ is declared?
The Economist reports that “the long-winded legal process that lies ahead of Mr Gandhi will benefit the BJP government. His case will continue to dominate the headlines, making it hard for the Congress or any other Opposition party to sustain a serious attack on its record. The only indisputable victim of this sorry farce will be India’s increasingly Modi-stressed democracy.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump has been indicted by the grand jury in Manhattan for paying hush money. He is the first US president to face a criminal charge, putting a crimp in his chances in the 2024 elections.
The Union government, which likes to sell India as the world’s pharmacy, has been in denial about WHO’s findings of serious quality issues in pharma. Now, it has finally been forced to cancel or suspend licences of some domestic drug companies, in action taken against 76 pharmaceutical firms this month for selling adulterated or fake products, reports Reuters. India’s pharma exports have more than doubled over the past decade to Rs 2 lakh crore ($24.5 billion). But its image has taken a beating from the death of at least 70 children in Gambia and 19 children in Uzbekistan last year, tragedies linked to drugs made in India.
According to Al Jazeera, Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina is in the “hot seat over Adani’s power deal.” The opposition there has jumped on the recent controversy over Gautam Adani to demand cancelling the power deal. Under the agreement, Dhaka will pay significantly higher prices – in comparison to what it pays for its other coal-based power – for lower-grade coal, argues the news portal.
A quote by a labourer saying that he “can’t buy rice” has landed a Bangladesh journalist in jail. Samsuzzaman Shams of Prothom Alo, the leading daily of Bangladesh, has been denied bail. His story, which ran on 26 March, Bangladesh’s Independence Day, talked about food inflation, and the Awami government felt it had been “smeared”.
The ‘Big 5’ of Reliance Group, Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group, Adani Group and Bharti Telecom have grown at the expense of smaller local firms, says Viral Acharya (RBI deputy governor, 2017-2019). At the same time, the government’s “sky-high tariffs” have shielded these conglomerates from competition by foreign firms. Such conglomerates should be broken up to increase competition and reduce their pricing power. If that doesn’t work, “throw sand in the wheels by making it economically unattractive to remain a large conglomerate unless productivity gains are truly large,” Acharya writes in a paper to be presented at a Brookings Institute panel on emerging markets. Indian consumers could not fully benefit from input price reductions as the Big 5 control metals, coke, refined petroleum products, retail and telecom.
The edtech crisis continues. TechCrunch reports that Unacademy has laid off 12% of its workforce in more than 350 roles, in its latest round of layoffs — just over four months after cutting about 350 roles in November.
Twenty Opposition parties are likely to attend a meeting to deliberate on ‘Social Justice: The Road Ahead’ on Monday in Chennai. At least two state ruling parties with informal ties to the BJP (at least in parliament) will attend ― the YSR Congress from Andhra Pradesh and the Biju Janata Dal from Odisha. DMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin would be the main speaker at the event, which is being organised under the banner of All India Federation for Social Justice.
Stalin and Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan are to jointly inaugurate the centenary celebrations of the Vaikom Satyagraha, at a function to be held at Vaikom tomorrow. By asserting Dalits’ right to movement, the Satyagraha launched social reforms in the oppressively casteist Kingdom of Travancore.
When it was launched in 2011, the Anna Hazare campaign — with its key demand for a Jan Lokpal — caught the imagination of lakhs of Indians and drew people from all walks of life. Kejriwal is now the CM of Delhi and Sisodia is behind bars. Where are the others who were part of Team Hazare?
The Supreme Court has junked a plea filed by Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit seeking discharge in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. Purohit had moved the top court challenging the January 2 order of the Bombay High Court rejecting his appeal. Purohit and six others, including BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur, are facing trial in the case under terrorism charges. All the accused are out on bail.
The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former civil servants, has written an open letter in response to the comments of Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, saying that he is “confusing the government with the country, construing criticism of the government as disloyalty to the country”.
India has fallen headlong down the Passport Index to rank 144 out of 199 nations. The index ranks nations according to the freedom of mobility which its passport confers.
A film director has released the poster of ‘Leader Ramaiah’, a biopic on former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah. The poster was released on the occasion of Sri Rama Navami, apparently to highlight the fact that the film is about a person who is named after Rama – Sidda-Ramaiah.
Moving 70 so-called “cocaine hippos” from near Pablo Escobar’s former ranch in Colombia to sanctuaries abroad is set to cost the country millions of dollars. In fact, the whole operation should cost around US$3.5 million, according to Ernesto Zazueta, owner of the Ostok Sanctuary in northern Mexico where 10 of the hippos will be sent. Another 60 hippos are set to be transferred to a yet-to-be-named facility in India in the coming months.
Madhya Pradesh hires by RSS affiliation, not qualifications
Newslaundry reports that Madhya Pradesh hired people close to the RSS in government jobs, cutting out actual applicants. The established recruitment procedure was bypassed in hiring 88 block and district coordinators. Newslaundry independently verified that all 88 candidates have associations with the Sangh Parivar. Some confirmed this to be true, others cut the call, one even threatened the reporter.
Applicants who cleared the exam for a government job had their interview cancelled at the last minute.
Track 4 diplomacy: India glowers at Germany via the press
“As the European country closest to China and Russia before the Ukraine war, Germany particularly has been trying to leverage with India on Jammu and Kashmir while funding Indian journalists’ visit to their country to write on issues like the 2002 Gujarat riots and other communally sensitive issues. Despite repeated requests, Germany has refused to take action against Punjab separatists, who are raising funds to polarise the Indian diaspora abroad,” writes Shishir Gupta in the Hindustan Times. “While India stays clear from commenting on internal affairs of third countries, the German spokesperson has paved a path for retaliation on similar grounds as the country has a dark past written in blood of innocents. Will the Indian spokesperson next time comment on the changing German stance on the Ukraine war?”
Court allows H1-B visa holders’ spouses to work
A US judge has ruled that spouses of H-1B visa holders, a significantly large number of whom are Indians, can work in the country. It’s a big relief to foreign workers in the American tech sector, which has seen massive retrenchments.
The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. Technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.
Kalakshetra downs portcullis as protest grows
Hours after several staff and students of Chennai’s Kalakshetra boycotted exams and staged a silent protest on campus yesterday, demanding action on allegations of sexual harassment against the institute, students were asked to vacate their hostels and leave the campus.
Kalakshetra released a circular stating that the Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts (RDCFA) will remain closed from March 30 to April 6. Signed by Principal Pakala Ramdas, it also postponed exams.
The Long Cable
A new trail in post-colonial history
South Asians across the world have been cheering the ascent of Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf. When Yousaf was elected leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) earlier this week, a new era of diversity entered British politics.
His victory is not just significant for Scotland. According to Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, he is the first Muslim politician to be chosen to serve as a national leader in a Western democracy. Moreover, Yousaf is the first-ever ethnic minority leader of a devolved government in the UK.
In his victory speech at Edinburg’s Murrayfield, the child of migrants remembered his grandparents, who migrated to Glasgow in the 1960s and were unable to speak English. “As immigrants to this country, who knew barely a word of English, they could not have imagined their grandson would one day be on the cusp of being the next first minister of Scotland,” Yousaf said. “They couldn’t have imagined, in their wildest dreams, that two generations later, their grandson would one day be Scotland’s first minister.”
Yousaf wore the kilt with a sherwani in 2016 as he took his oath of loyalty in the Scottish Parliament, in both English and Urdu. He has frequently remarked that his personal upbringing serves as an illustration of Scotland’s socially liberal and ethnically diverse terrain, even going so far as to describe himself as having a “bhangra and bagpipes” history.
Given that his triumph came so soon after the election of Rishi Sunak as Prime Minister of Britain last year and Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach of Ireland, the British, Scottish and Irish leaders are all of South Asian descent for the first time in history. Even the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is a child of migrants born in the UK.
It was once believed that the sun would never set on the British Empire, which at its peak included India and Pakistan as its crown jewels. What was once a seemingly historical fiction has become a reality of contemporary times.
“The empire strikes back,” tweeted Jelina Berlow-Rahman, a human rights lawyer in Glasgow, after Yousaf’s victory.
And yet, there are still good reasons to be cautious of such representation politics and optics. The term ‘migrant’ has become so divisive that it is harming support for the issues it is meant to highlight. And ironically, some of the politicians who are opposed to more immigration to the UK are also those who benefited from the system.
The ascent of South Asians in UK politics has been hailed as a turning point in British South Asian history, from the colonial era to leading figures of the empire’s metropolis. As has been a norm, the right-wing parties can climb up the ladder because of its representation optics, and it is very much likely to see more South Asian faces in UK politics. However, there is no doubt that the current political elite makes less effort to acknowledge ― yet merely understand ― the glaring disparities that continue to haunt the South Asian community. All at a time, when weaponising and building on fake identities is the new norm.
On Monday, Yousaf said, “We will be the team that brings independence to Scotland.”
The final word ― a senior British journalist sent this to a friend in India: “The irony: a Pakistani Brit ― Yousaf― negotiating with an Indian Brit ― Sunak ― for the partition of Britain. Hope they do a better job than we did in India!”
(Kalrav Joshi is an independent journalist based in London. He writes on politics, culture, technology and climate.)
BJP MLA Jadab Lal Nath was caught watching pornography on his mobile phone in the Tripura Assembly. The Opposition demands strong action against him. A video clip of the incident, on the last day of the Budget Session, has gone viral. “I know well that using mobile phones is prohibited in the House. As repeated calls were coming, I picked up a call, and then obscene videos started appearing on my phone. Anyways, I then closed it,” BJP’s Nath told PTI. Never mind, seeing is believing.
Prime Number: 10%
Fundraising by Indian firms through overall markets instruments dipped by 10% to Rs 11.73 lakh crore in FY23, compared to Rs 12.98 crore raised in FY22, as per the Prime Database report.
A Bengali group’s attempt to blend the gamosa with the gamchha has caused an uproar in Assam. Many in the state believe it is a BJP ploy to propagate Hindutva.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
The reversal of decisions on UAPA made in a set of 2011 judgments is divorced from ground realities. A review petition should be filed, so that the wisdom of a larger bench considers restoring the previous decisions and the due process of law, writes Justice K Chandru.
The Vaikom temple street entry movement in Kerala, with a resonance in Tamil Nadu, is a struggle that set India on the path of equality and justice for all, writes Pazha Athiyaman.
The public perception of a Modi-Adani link cannot be countered by the BJP’s current strategy of painting Rahul Gandhi as anti-OBC. Everybody knows that neither the complainant in the defamation case nor the other two Modis mentioned in Gandhi’s speech — Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi — are OBCs, writes Bharat Bhushan.
Savarkar is problematic territory for Rahul Gandhi to be venturing into, because Opposition parties’ perceptions of the ‘nationalist’ differ, says Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
India’s gig economy recalls Modern Times — the worker as a cog in machines that enrich a few. Today, instead of the factory clock, algorithms set the rhythm of work, summoning workers in response to invisible taps on ‘order now’ buttons, writes Samir Patil.
India can’t rival China without better education, women’s participation in the workforce and more investment, writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times.
Lt Gen HS Panag (retd) writes that in Punjab, the time is for a pluralist agenda and not minority-bashing. This is the true test of nationalism.
A decisive defeat in Karnataka will begin BJP’s exit from south India, and decide the 2024 roadmap, writes Yogendra Yadav. The political contest in the state would set the tone and tenor of the battle to reclaim our republic.
Nikhil Inamdar asks if India should break up its big conglomerates.
Rudrangshu Mukherjee says that Ruth Harris’ biography of Vivekananda ignores the Bengali literature about him and is written for a small North American audience.
Rohan Venkat looks at what’s driving demands for a caste census ahead of the 2024 elections.
“Institutions of Eminence scheme is hobbled by the regulatory cholesterol from which it promised deliverance,” scolds The Indian Express editorial.
Disha Wadekar and Swati Kamble discuss the legal and historical perspectives on how the Mahad Satyagraha — grounded in the people’s struggle to access water — played a pivotal role in the framing of Articles 15 and 17 of the constitution.
Akshay Mangla talks about the importance of norms in driving policy implementation, the stark variation in education outcomes in North India, and the ways in which authoritarianism and deliberation can coexist. In conversation with Milan Vasihnav, the two also discuss the Modi government’s New Education Policy and the future of primary education in the country.
The trailer of Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan 2 is out:
Over and out
Haryana’s Bhagwani Devi Dagar (95) took three gold medals for India at the 2023 World Master Athletics Indoor Championship in Poland. Nicknamed ‘Sprinter Dadi’, Bhagwani Devi, whose athletic career began at 94, followed up on her one gold and two silver medals from last year’s competition in Finland with first place in the 60m sprint, shot put and discus throw categories. This was in the 95-99 years category.
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.