Ladakh Music Fest, ‘Strategic Patience’ ― On LAC Question, India Channels Woodstock; Ambition to ‘Feed the World’ is Vaccine Maitri Redux
Karnataka anti-conversion law harshest, Kashmiri journalists fleeing Valley, taxman froze $478 million of Xiaomi money, Kasturba’s lost diary being published and stuff you don’t know about the Mughals
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
May 13, 2022
A partnership that even death can’t break.
While the heatwave intensifies, the southwest monsoon will arrive early and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are expected to receive the first seasonal showers on Sunday.
“The Centre will send trade delegations to Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, Algeria and Lebanon for exploring possibilities of boosting wheat exports from India,” the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has said. But domestically, an atta crisis appears to be looming. Does the government have a handle on this basic food item, especially in the north and west? Its ambition to ‘feed the world’ has jacked up wheat prices at home. Analysts say higher diversion of wheat for exports is leading to domestic shortages. It’s like ‘vaccine maitri’ all over again.
Flour prices at a record high, food inflation zooming and at levels of May 2014. Industrial production down and sluggish. Soaring CNG prices have taken the gas out of Delhi’s auto drivers. The rupee plunged to a new historic low yesterday. The economist Kaushik Basu noted that with the dollar in trouble, the rupee should have strengthened, but it is falling. “This is causing a double whammy with inflation getting imported into India.” The Hindustan Times spells out the impact of inflation in four charts.
Aishwarya Iyer spent three months inside the hate-filled world of India’s Trads, who are plotting a Hindu Rashtra. In this grouping of Hindu men, even the BJP and the RSS are held in contempt for not pursuing the goal of Hindu supremacy seriously enough.
In the country’s radicalised Hindutva environment, right wing extremists are revelling in the targeted killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli security forces, thousands of miles away. Some feel that “India should learn from Israel.”
The New York Times reports on ‘perpetual violence’ ― a pattern of sustained attacks directed visibly at India’s Muslims. The Economist in its latest issue writes on Modi’s success in working towards an exclusionary Hindu India: “The government’s shrug of indifference to growing distress (experienced by Muslims) is deeply ominous. It does more than offer tacit approval to mob violence and mob justice. It suggests that in the emerging Hindu rashtra (state) envisioned by the sangh, some will always be more equal than others, with religious identity becoming a measure of citizenship.”
A photo being shared widely shows a man carrying an unconscious girl in a hijab, who is identified as Muskan, the burqa-clad girl in Mandya, Karnataka, who stood up to saffron-clad goons chanting “Jai Shri Ram” in February. “She is no more,” the post claims. Neither is the news correct nor is the photo that of Muskan. Also see a Facebook page which brands Bangladeshi tourists as “infiltrators”, and BJP leaders amplify the false claim.
After the court dismissed a petition calling for rooms in the Taj Mahal complex to be opened for inspection, Archaeological Survey of India officials said that the 22 rooms are not really rooms but cells and are opened occasionally ― in fact, they were opened recently. There are more than 100 such rooms. They do not contain idols.
Automaker Ford has dropped plans to manufacture electric vehicles in India and opted out of the Performance Linked Incentive or PLI scheme. It informed the government after “careful review”.
At The Quint, Mekhala Saran flags concerns about the Supreme Court’s order on sedition law. One, there is no blanket stay on its operation, which means that the state may continue to book people, who would have to seek relief in various courts. Two, the suspension of the law does not entail quashing of existing cases, or even acquittal. The order only says you can approach courts for bail, but a case does not cease to exist thereby. And three, only those charged with sedition may approach a court for bail. Those charged with sedition and any other cognisable offence may remain incarcerated on those counts. Besides, since fresh cases cannot be filed, governments may turn towards even more stringent laws to stifle dissent.
In a newsbreak, Reuters reports that Indian tax officials froze $478 million worth of deposits in the local bank accounts of China’s Xiaomi Corp in February in an investigation into alleged tax evasion, under a provision that allows officials to take such actions to protect India’s revenue interests. The Chinese smartphone giant is also involved in another legal tussle ― it has challenged, successfully so far, a block on $725 million of its funds by the Enforcement Directorate for allegedly illegal foreign remittances.
The death of 27 pilgrims on the Char Dham Yatra since it started on May 3 has rattled not just the Uttarakhand government but the PMO as well, which has questioned the state government. Its health department has sought detailed reports from chief medical officers of Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts, where the four Hindu shrines are located. For Kedarnath and Badrinath, maximum registration has been capped at 2,000 pilgrims per day at Bhadrakali and Byasi, while for Gangotri and Yamunotri, it’s 1,000 pilgrims per day.
In Bulandshahr, UP, a sanitation worker died after inhaling toxic gases while cleaning a sewer on Wednesday evening, and two others are critical. Workers said they were not provided protective gear by the private company hired by the Jalkal Department of the municipal corporation to clean and maintain sewage treatment plants and pipelines across the city.
The journalist Deepak Sharma unearths some ground truths about the ‘Gujarat model’.
Take a look at India's largest hockey stadium in Odisha’s Sundargarh. In January 2023, the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium will be packed during the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup.
Rajiv Kumar will be Chief Election Commissioner from May 15 until after the 2024 general elections. This is not the former vice chairman of Niti Aayog. The press misreported that he was, until an irate EC spokesperson issued his photograph to clarify the point. Kumar was appointed election commissioner when the dissent-prone Ashok Lavasa stepped down to join the ADB. Corruption allegations and raids against his family miraculously vanished after his move.
Karnataka anti-conversion ordinance harsher than UP’s law
The Karnataka government yesterday decided to bring in the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, popularly known as the anti-conversion Bill, through an ordinance. The Bill was passed in the Assembly on December 23 but was not tabled in the Council because the BJP did not have the requisite votes in the house. The version of the Bill that was passed in the Karnataka Assembly will now be made into an ordinance and sent for the Governor’s assent.
The Opposition in Karnataka, activists, citizens and legal experts had voiced concerns about the proposed law, which prohibits “unlawful conversion” by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any fraudulent means. The new Karnataka law is worse than those introduced in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The minimum punishment is three to five years and a fine of Rs 25,000, compared to a one-year jail term and Rs 15,000 fine in UP. In addition to prohibiting conversion by or after marriage, the new Bill prohibits conversion by ‘promise of marriage’ as well. It also contains portions that were stayed by the Gujarat High Court last year for violating the right to freedom of religion, and one that presumes marriage to be a medium for unlawful conversion.
Stalin demands regional Supreme Court benches, Tamil in Madras HC
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin yesterday wrote to PM Modi and CJI NV Ramana with three demands. It includes making Tamil the official language of the Madras High Court, as is the case with the high courts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Hindi has been authorised as the official language in addition to English. His second demand was about ensuring diversity in the appointment of judges to high courts and the Supreme Court.
The third issue Stalin addressed was the setting up of permanent regional benches of the Supreme Court, a long-standing demand. Citing Article 32 of the Constitution, which says that all citizens, rich or poor, must have direct access to the apex court, Stalin said the “privilege has been eroded by economic constraints”.
In Kashmir, the press is an endangered species
Reporting in Kashmir has become so difficult that dozens of Kashmiri journalists have fled the Valley in recent months, fearing they will be the government’s next targets under the draconian Public Safety Act, reports Sonali Dhawan at CPJ Asia. After the BJP-led government’s unilateral revocation of J&K’s special autonomy status in August 2019, Kashmiri journalists faced significant obstacles when the authorities imposed an internet shutdown and communications blackout. 4G access was not officially restored until February 2021. Authorities have shut down the internet in various areas of Kashmir at least 25 times this year, according to digital blackout monitoring website InternetShutdown.in.
Legal harassment, threats, physical attacks and raids on the homes of journalists and their family members have become the new norm. In 2020, the government introduced a stringent media policy for press accreditation and empowered the government to determine what constitutes fake news. Online archives of local newspapers are disappearing. The use of the Public Safety Act to keep three journalists behind bars intensifies a disturbing trend.
Kasturba’s lost diary being published
A damaged diary found in Indore’s Kasturba Ashram will soon be published as The Lost Diary of Kastur, My Ba. The 135-page volume is the diary of Kasturba Gandhi, full of jottings dated from January to September 1933. This ragged chronicle, found by the staff of Jalgaon-based Gandhi Research Foundation, was almost forgotten. Kasturba was considered to be uneducated. The journal is proof that she was literate in Gujarati, and that she was a person on her own, and not just the wife of Mahatma Gandhi. The book will be reproduced bilingually by HarperCollins India, with an English translation by her great-grandson Tushar Gandhi.
The Long Cable
Ladakh music fest, ‘strategic patience’ ― on the LAC question, India channels Woodstock
Last week, a four-day international music festival was organised in Ladakh. It concluded with the launch of the Rezang La Anthem at the Rezang La War Memorial, a special tribute to the soldiers who fell at Rezang La in the 1962 Sino-India War. This would have been a poignant moment in normal times. But these are not normal times. Since 2020, Chinese soldiers have prevented the Indian Army from exercising control over territory in Ladakh through regular patrolling. To have the Army involved in a music festival at this time is odd. As odd, if not as egregious, as the creation of a zoo by the Army in Leh during the Kargil incursions of 1999.
As the facts stand today, we still await disengagement at three locations on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh: Depsang, PP15 and Demchok. There has been no de-escalation or deinduction of forces – nearly 50,000-60,000 soldiers from both armies are deployed against each other. Disengagement means stepping back a couple of miles, while de-escalation is when you return to your own locations in the area, 50-100 miles away. Deinduction of additional forces out of Ladakh or Aksai Chin is thus out of the question.
The situation on the LAC was altered by the PLA two years ago and remains unfavourable to India. It was thus surprising to hear the Northern Army Commander tell journalists in Udhampur, “Earlier, we used to say the Chinese have strategic patience and they are ready to wait. Now, India has come up a long way and we also have strategic patience and we are also ready to wait. It means we are now negotiating from the position of strength with assertiveness and the law of fair play. Therefore, if we are ready for a negotiation. If it is prolonged, we are going to wait.”
If the music festival was odd, this statement is odder. What does he mean by “strategic patience”? That we are going to wait till the PLA decides to vacate the areas it has moved into? Will it be a few weeks, a few months or a few years? The Chinese could well follow Napoleon’s dictum to “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” It is equally quixotic that the commander believes that India is “now negotiating from the position of strength,” when it is the PLA which decides when to hold the next round of talks and remains comfortably ensconced in our territory.
His statement reveals three things. First, it is an attempt to underplay the unfavourable border situation in Ladakh, aligned with the domestic narrative pushed by the country’s top political leadership since 2020. Second, it is an implicit acknowledgement of our inability to reverse the PLA ingress into our areas, making a virtue out of weakness. And third, it carries the inherent danger of the altered reality in Ladakh becoming the new status quo. It, in effect, rules out a return to status quo ante of April 2020.
On Monday, new Army Chief General Manoj Pande also spoke on the matter and asserted that the “aim and intention, as far as the situation is concerned, is to restore the status quo ante prior to April 2020”. He said that through the dialogue between the military commanders of both sides, “many friction areas have been resolved after talking to each other.” Regarding the other areas, he said, “they can only be resolved through dialogue” and added, “it is good that we are talking to and engaging with each other.”
It’s framed better than his commander’s assertions, but General Pande essentially reiterated the same message. He was disingenuous in linking disengagement solely to talks when the first major disengagement – on both banks of Pangong Lake – took place only when Indians had occupied the Kailash Range in a quid pro quo operation. As of now, China has no incentive to make any further concessions in Ladakh, as was conveyed by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit to New Delhi.
The lack of options with India to reverse the Chinese ingress is galling. The status quo has already been altered by the PLA on the LAC, and preventing any further alteration is a minimum requirement, but it is not the same as reversing what has been done. In such a scenario, hoping for talks to deliver is not much of a strategy. To bank only on talks for further disengagement ― and we are not even talking of de-escalation ― points to a fear of escalation.
General Pande also spoke of restoring the status quo ante of April 2020 but when journalist Suhasini Haidar asked Foreign Minister S Jaishankar this question in his press conference (at around 9:05 here) after meeting Wang Yi, he chose to ignore the question. That is the answer from the country’s political leadership, irrespective of the desire of the Army Chief. They will focus on winning the media narrative, while the territory remains lost to the Chinese.
Many expected to see the return of Bhaskar Khulbe to the PMO after his term ended in February but former petroleum secretary Tarun Kapoor was appointed advisor to PM Modi. Known to keep a low profile, Kapoor may be dealing with the high prices of petroleum but many believe that his appointment to the PMO may also have something to do with him being from Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due this year. Elections trump everything else for this chunavjeevi dispensation.
Prime number: 29.8 million
The number of Indians suffering from cancer is projected to increase to 29.8 million in 2025 from 26.7 million in 2021. According to a report by the Indian Council for Medical Research on the ‘Burden of Cancers in India’, seven cancers account for more than 40% of the total disease burden: lung (10.6%), breast (10.5%), oesophagus (5.8%), mouth (5.7%), stomach (5.2%), liver (4.6%) and cervix uteri (4.3%).
Caste, then Class: Redistribution & Representation in the Dravidian Model: Two scholars – Vignesh Karthik KR and Vishal Vasanthakumar – have published this informative paper on “state praxis of Dravidian politics, how approach to social justice, representation & redistribution was informed by Periyar’s thoughts.”
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Justice Deepak Gupta writes that if we attempt to stifle criticism of state institutions, we shall become a police state instead of a democracy, which would have been abhorrent to the founding fathers.
There is every likelihood of the delimitation report only compounding political issues for the former state of J&K, writes Radha Kumar.
Shikha Mukherjee writes that the Congress has habitually explained away its attachment to draconian laws as a necessary evil while the BJP does not believe that ever-harsher laws are evil at all.
We can say “wife refuses and the husband, nonetheless, has sex”, or just recognise it for what it is – marital rape, writes Mythreyee Ramesh.
Shyel Trehan writes that the marital rape exception rule must go, since the right to exercise agency over your own body is paramount. The right is well recognised in law, whether it be to consent to medical treatment, vaccine mandates, or even the right to travel freely.
India’s bulldozer raj springs from the very opposite impulse of nation building, writes Nikita Sud, and neither a new politics nor a vibrant economy can flourish in this morass.
Nupur Basu writes on the women journalists trolled and targeted in India.
Luv Puri writes that the suggestion of reservation in the post-delimitation J&K Assembly for two migrant groups requires an understanding of the targeted groups, the granular aspects of subcontinental political history, humanitarian law and representative democracy.
China is keen to choose a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India ever since he fled Tibet in 1959. India needs to be alert and play the Tibet-Dalai Lama card adroitly if required, writes Parul Chandra.
Rising temperatures will hurt the poor the most, and we need to start intervening now to meet future challenges, writes Tikender Singh Panwar.
NPR’s podcast on the so-called hijab controversy, where Muslim women students were denied education for wearing a headscarf. How the Supreme Court sees this may mark a signature moment in India’s journey as a secular nation.
In 1946, as Independence was approaching, a group of naval sailors in Mumbai rose in revolt. The uprising, argues Pramod Kapoor in his new book 1946: Last War of Independence, Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, wasn’t just a protest against service conditions or racism. It was a crucial event in the freedom struggle and hastened Independence.
Over and Out
Nenjuku Needhi is the Tamil remake of Anubhav Sinha’s Article 15. The cast includes Udhayanidhi Stalin. The film will be released in cinemas on May 20.
Rocketry ― The Nambi Effect will premiere at the Cannes film festival. Several Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam, Mishing, and Hindi films will also be screened, according to the PIB.
The New York Times reviews The Village House, “Achal Mishra’s feature debut, set in Madhopur, a village in east India’s Bihar state, unfolds as a kind of autobiography — a decades-spanning portrait of the director’s family, drawn from childhood memories — and also a biography, of the abode that came before him and whose legacy will outlast him.”
“Forget the Taj Mahal. Do you know these things about the Mughals?” asks the satirist Urvish Kothari on his channel, Gujarati Funda.
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.