Modi Government Declares War on Soros; After Holding the Line During Farmers’ Movement, Why Has Twitter Become Pliant?
SC backs AAP stand on mayor vote, CJI rebuffs govt's sealed cover on Adani probe, Iran FM scraps India visit, India attracts EU lawmakers on expenses-paid trips, ace forward Tulsidas Balaram dead
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
February 17, 2023
George Soros devoted a couple of minutes of a 50 minute talk in Munich to the Gautam Adani matter and said he expected the crisis triggered by the “close ally” of Narendra Modi would lead to institutional reforms and “democratic revival in India”. The Modi government has declared war on the billionaire, accusing him of seeking to instigate regime change.
His comments on India are at 20’12’’-20’58’’ and 24’12’’ to 25’16:
“India is an interesting case. It's a democracy, but its leader, Narendra Modi, is no Democrat. Inciting violence against Muslims was an important factor in his meteoric rise. Modi maintains close relations with both open and closed societies. India is meant a member of the quad, which also includes Australia, the US and Japan, but it buys a lot of Russian oil at a steep discount and makes a lot of money out of it…
“Modi and business tycoon Adani are close allies. Their fate is intertwined. Adani Enterprises tried to raise funds in the stock market, but failed. Adani is accused of stock manipulation and his stock collapsed like a house of cards. Modi is silent on the subject but he will have to answer questions from foreign investors and in parliament. This will significantly weaken Modi's stranglehold on India's federal government and opened the door to push for much needed institutional reforms. I may be naive, but I expect a democratic revival in India.”
The Supreme Court wants to decide on its own how the Adani-Hindenburg matter is to be probed and turned down the Modi government’s suggestions – made in a sealed envelope – on how to proceed. "We will not accept the sealed cover suggestion by you because we want to maintain full transparency and if we accept suggestions in sealed cover it is like we have kept it away from other side as people will think it is a government appointed committee," said CJI DY Chandrachud. His predecessors, especially Ranjan Gogoi, never met a sealed cover from the government that they did not accept.
In a setback to the BJP which sought to control the New Delhi Municipal Corporation through the backdoor after losing the last December’s election to the Aam Aadmi Party, the Supreme Court has ruled that nominated aldermen cannot take part in the vote for choosing a mayor.
Another case of cow vigilantism in Haryana’s Mewat, just 100 km from the national capital, recalls the lynching of Father Graham Staines and his two sons, who were burnt alive in their car in Odisha. Two Muslim men from Rajasthan were allegedly attacked by a mob that later set them ablaze in their car. They were accused of cow smuggling. The dead have been identified as Junaid and Nasir, residents of Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district. The Haryana unit of the Bajrang Dal has been named in the FIR, though its head Monu Manesar has denied the charge. The police say they are still investigating the possibility that it was an accident. Manesar was incidentally the subject of an AltNews investigation, which made it clear that he enjoys a massive following online and uploads photos of supposed cow smugglers, often in violation of social media guidelines.
Editors of eight international media outlets have called for the release of Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah, who was arrested by Indian authorities a year ago for publishing so-called “anti-national content”. He has been granted bail repeatedly, only to be immediately rearrested.
“Some wonder whether Mr Modi might have crossed a line by going after the august BBC, especially in a year when India will be in the spotlight as host of the G20. They underestimate how important fighting shadowy enemies is to his political appeal. After the PM’s many victories against his domestic critics, going after foreign ones is the logical next step,” writes Banyan in The Economist: “The doubters also underestimate the limpness of Mr Modi’s Western allies. America, Britain and the rest may express some small concerns, from time to time, about minority rights and press freedoms in India. But what matters to them is the vast economic potential of the Indian market and their longing for an Indian bulwark in the West’s struggle for supremacy with China.”
“There has been no full-throated backing in London or Washington for the BBC, let alone for Mr Modi’s far more vulnerable Indian victims. Fair enough, you might say; geopolitics is a rough game. But next time Banyan hears a Western leader congratulating Mr Modi on their countries’ “shared democratic values”, his stomach will turn,” it concludes.
The ‘survey’ of the BBC India offices ended late last night when tax officers finally left their premises, in what must be one of the most egregious and brazen assaults on press freedom in the national capital.
A new report reveals that India was the second most favoured destination for EU legislators who accepted paid-for trips. Israel topped the list, and India was followed by the UAE. Following the first arrest in the Qatargate scandal in December, there was a sudden rush of diligent reporting by EU politicians of trips and events paid for by third countries, according to Transparency International.
A two-second shot of Iranian women cutting their hair in protest, juxtaposed with an image of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, has upset Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Minister has cancelled his visit to India next month to attend the Raisina Dialogue, the flagship think tank event organised by the Observer Research Foundation in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs.
The Congress seeks a probe into whether Israel’s ‘Team Jorge’, which had offered to influence elections worldwide and has been exposed by The Guardian, has a footprint in India. Congress social media head Supriya Shrinate yesterday said that an online tactic to defame Rahul by showing him to be sympathetic to a beheading in Rajasthan, appeared to be the “mirror image” of the Israeli firm’s global campaign.
Gautam Adani’s empire embraced cheap debt, but with yields spiking and access to overseas financing in question, heavy borrowing has made it all the more vulnerable, reports Bloomberg. The conglomerate raised over $8 billion international bond buyers and at least as much in foreign currency loans, Bloomberg says. Adani’s more highly-leveraged companies may not be able to take higher cost of borrowing after the Hindenburg report. The Financial Times has a useful explainer on the mechanics of Hindenburg’s bet that Adani’s scrip would fall:
"Investors who want to bet against an Indian company can do so using India’s main stock index, the Nifty 50, in which Adani Enterprises is one of the largest constituents… Banks with operations in Singapore, which is among the jurisdictions in which short sellers can do these types of trades, can create a product called a single stock future. These equity derivatives allow investors to get exposure to price movements on the underlying shares. In Hindenburg’s case, it would receive the value of Adani Enterprises’ weighting in the index and the rest would be sold in the market.”
The Modi government is planning to tap a section of mom-and-pop stores, a top tax official said, to widen the tax net. “We may adopt a sectoral approach in some sectors where we feel the taxpayer base is too slim compared to the size of the market,” Vivek Johri, chairman of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, told Reuters. The B2C space looks promising, he said, and the government would tap government and private databases to target possible taxpayers.
This year’s current account deficit will be a record high, easily surpassing the peak of $88.2 billion in 2012-13. Rahul Bajoria, chief India economist at Barclays, has cut his forecast for the year to $95 billion from $105 billion. QuantEco Research has maintained its current account deficit forecast of $106 billion for 2022-23, although it sees a chance of it being undershot by revisions in data. India's current account deficit in 2021-22 stood at $38.8 billion.
There is increasing concern that the stand-off between EU and Indian regulators will not be resolved ahead of an April 30 deadline, preventing EU lenders from trading in India until a workaround is found. The dispute originated with an announcement by the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) last October that it would no longer legally recognise India’s six main clearing houses (CCPs) because, it said, its accord with local authorities was inadequate. A clearing house stands between two parties in a trade, insulating the market from contagion if there is default. Esma deferred action for six months to resolve the impasse. Trade bodies wrote to EU officials last week, pressing for urgent action. India’s stock and government bond markets are worth $3tn and $1tn respectively, and its derivatives market is among the world’s most active.
Voting across 60 constituencies in Tripura concluded yesterday, drawing the polls to a close in a triangular contest. The Election Commission of India pegged the provisional turnout at nearly 80% voter turnout till 7 pm.
Chetan Sharma has resigned as chairman of selectors for senior men’s cricket team following a TV sting operation. His resignation was accepted by BCCI Secretary Jay Shah.
Indian cricketer Prithvi Shaw’s car was attacked with a baseball bat by a social media influencer after an argument over taking selfies with him outside a luxury hotel at Santacruz in Mumbai. The police registered a case of rioting and extortion against eight persons, including a woman. The cricketer had gone to the hotel located near the domestic airport at Santacruz for dinner with his businessman friend.
In a possible solution to the Asia Cup logjam, Pakistan may remain the host and India could be offered to play its matches in the UAE. The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) met in Bahrain on February 4 at the behest of PCB chief Najam Sethi, after it released its itinerary and Pakistan wasn’t named host. Sethi said more discussions on the hosting of the Asia Cup ODI tournament will be held next month on the sidelines of an ICC meeting as the matter “remained unresolved”.
Legendary former India forward Tulsidas Balaram passed away in Kolkata yesterday at the age of 85. A prominent member of the golden generation of Indian football in the 1950 and 1960s, Balaram, who lived in Uttarpara, West Bengal, died in Kolkata. Balaram played a huge role in India’s historic gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games and several other memorable international victories.
Energy costs driving inflation
Between January 2021 and August 2022, fuel and power prices rose nearly five times faster than overall consumer prices in India, finds Cambridge Econometrics. Its analytical report, titled Fossil Fuel Prices and Inflation in India also found that in April and May 2022, fossil fuel-related items (transport and household energy) contributed to around 20% of India’s annual rate of inflation. Due to rising prices, households in Delhi currently spend at least 25% more on fuels and electricity than they did in 2021, and almost 50% more than they did in 2020, the report estimated. For rural households, this was even more pronounced given their higher spending on energy as a proportion of their income. And it’s only likely to get worse.
IIT students move against caste suicides
Student groups both on and off the IIT-M campus demand action against continuing suicides. The death by suicide of Stephen Sunny, a 27-year-old research scholar from Maharashtra, and attempted suicide by another student on the campus on Monday, triggered a new wave of protests on the IIT-M campus. While Sunny passed away, the student who attempted to die by suicide was rescued.
Sukhadeo Thorat, economist and former chairperson of the UGC, has said that higher educational institutions have not shown much initiative in addressing caste discrimination. In 2006, he led a three-member committee looking into allegations of differential treatment SC/ST students at AIIMS. In its 2007 report, it had urged AIIMS to improve student-student and student-teacher relations. Speaking to The Quint, Thorat stressed the need to introduce a compulsory course for first year students to sensitise them about caste, gender and ethnicity on the lines of the Civic Engagement or Civics 101 course in the US.
He said, “Students come to the campus with prejudices … which they may have learned at home or in society. Therefore, the universities need to introduce a compulsory course that talks about discrimination openly… there needs to be a frank discussion about it in the classroom so that they unlearn the prejudices they may have come with.” Along with the course, Thorat spoke about the need to organise workshops, seminars and other initiatives to discuss various forms of discrimination.
Royalty payments by Indian subsidiaries concern shareholders
Royalty payments by Indian companies to their international parents has been in focus ever since HUL hiked its fees to Unilever by 80 basis points (bps). HUL’s royalty fee is now 3.45%, which is still lower than Nestle India’s 4.5% to Nestle S.A. The street verdict is that royalty fees eat into shareholders earnings.
“We are not simply gifting away money to the parent. It is for operational support and manufacturing capabilities,” said Suresh Narayanan, CMD, Nestle India, in the Q4 earnings concall. In Nestle’s case, it’s access to 2,000 brands and related technology Investors will be keenly watching any hike in Nestle India’s service fee to Nestle S.A., which is up for renewal in 2024.
Army streamlines recruitment process
The Indian Army has announced a modification to its recruitment procedure for junior commissioned officers, Agniveers and other ranks. Applications will be accepted from February 16 to March 15 for a common entrance online exam run by 180 exam centres on April 17-30. Shortlisted candidates will appear for recruitment rallies organised by Army Recruitment Offices, where they will undergo physical fitness and measurement tests, followed by medical tests. The new procedure will reduce large crowds at recruiting rallies and bring down the number of candidates going for the medical examination.
The Long Cable
After staying firm during farmers’ movement, why has Twitter become pliant?
In an unprecedented move last month, the I&B Ministry used its emergency powers under Rule 16(3) of the IT Rules, 2021 to direct Twitter to take down tweets that linked to the controversial BBC documentary ‘The Modi Question’, soon after it was aired last month. While the ministry’s actions have received justified criticism, Twitter’s immediate and unquestioning compliance has gone somewhat unnoticed.
Twitter’s promise to users about government blocking orders reads thus:
“In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid and properly scoped request from an authorised entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time.”
Implicit in this promise is that Twitter will make a studied determination of whether a request is (a) valid, (b) properly scoped and (c) whether it originated from an authorised entity. Another legitimate expectation that flows from this promise is that Twitter would take independent counsel on the legal (and indeed, constitutional) validity of a government request before acting on it. It is unclear if and how Twitter has made that determination in the BBC matter ― particularly when the ministry’s directions suffer from obvious legal infirmities.
First, the directions indicate they are issued under Section 69A of the IT Act and Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2021. Rule 16 allows an authorised officer of the I&B Ministry to issue blocking orders to intermediaries such as Twitter “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” if it deemed it “necessary or expedient” to do so. These grounds are mentioned in Section 69A and are incorporated by reference in Rule 16.
A pertinent point: directions under Rule 16 can be given by an authorised officer of the I&B Ministry, as opposed to directions under Section 69A and the Blocking Rules of 2009, which come under the purview of MeiTY and can be issued only by the designated officer under the 2009 Rules. Only noncompliance with the latter may result in criminal liability on the intermediary under Section 69A(3) of the Act.
Second, the blocking order does not indicate on what ground the emergency powers have been invoked. It is impossible for Twitter or any intermediary to make that determination or seek counsel as to the validity of the order if it does not exactly specify which of the 69A grounds is being engaged. Without this, an intermediary cannot really test and arbitrate on whether the demand to block the content in question is reasonable, proportionate and fits the judicially drawn contours for each of these categories. Moreover, although the text of the Rules provide for blocking orders for reasons of ‘expediency’, there are several judicial pronouncements beginning from Rangarajan v. Jagjivan Ram that have held necessity alone to be a ground for restricting fundamental rights and not the ‘quicksand of expediency’. It is all the more impossible for Twitter to make a determination of whether taking down the tweets was ‘necessary in the interests of _______’, if that blank has not been appositely filled up by the Government.
Third, one might expect Twitter to have been even more circumspect in scrutinising a blocking order that specifically relates to the ruling party, where a reasonable intermediary would have assumed overzealousness on the part of a government, if it is committed to free speech guaranteed and protected under the Constitution. Social media platforms have become a vital means by which people exercise their constitutionally protected right of political speech. In situations such as this order, it is essential that social media platforms push back against these unlawful blocking orders and uphold their commitment to freedom of expression. This is not only a moral imperative but also a legal obligation – under the Constitution, under international human rights law and consistent with the UNHRC-endorsed Guiding Principles on Business & Human Rights.
This author has in the past commended Twitter when it resisted the government’s request to block several accounts supporting the anti-farm law agitation. It is now surprising why in this case, it has completely suspended discretion and good judgement and demonstrated servile deference to an order that is quite palpably unlawful.
This line of reasoning is likely to provoke the familiar and insecurely nationalistic reaction that it exhorts a foreign corporation to wilfully disobey orders of the Indian government. The answer to that is rather simple. The seat of India’s sovereignty is not in the government, but in the Constitution, and the laws made under the Constitution and the constitutional reason that animates and permeates them. Shouldn’t a reasonable nationalist rather have a foreign corporation disobey Indian government orders and obey Indian law, rather than the other way round?
(Prasanna S is an Advocate on Record in the Supreme Court)
Nandini Chakravorty, IAS, principal secretary to West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose, was shifted to the Tourism Department on Wednesday – a transfer which was prompted not by the state government but by the governor and hidden hands behind him. The process of Chakravorty’s removal, however, hit a roadblock last week as the note relieving her was addressed directly to the bureaucrat, instead of the state chief secretary, as is the norm, and copies were sent to the Chief Minister’s Office as well as the chief secretary. Relying on the “technical glitch”, till Monday Nabanna, the state secretariat remained mum as news of the principal secretary’s removal spread.
The state BJP has been targeting the bureaucrat for good ties between the TMC government and the governor (relations with previous incumbent Jagdeep Dhankhar, who is now vice president, were embarrassingly fragile). The BJP has had its way, and another institution stands diminished in new India.
Prime Number: 12
Twelve cheetahs from South Africa will arrive at Gwalior on an Indian Air Force C-17 Globemaster III plane on Saturday, five months after eight big cats from Namibia were first introduced in the country.
Tejasi Panjiar and Prateek Waghre of IFF on the many concerns with giving PIB the ability to take down ‘fake’ news. Apart from executive overreach, the proposed amendments suffer from ambiguity in definitions and violate the Supreme Court’s Shreya Singhal judgement.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
In other democracies, the media rallies around journalists under attack. Here, coverage by the mainstream media and TV, is marked by an attack on the victim of the raid. In the absence of solidarity, the space to speak up reduces further and the urge to keep quiet intensifies, writes Aakar Patel.
Suhas Palshikar writes that empires built on othering, inflated images and propaganda are not easy to defend with repression and avoidance. Nor does political acumen insulate them from public scrutiny. In Modi’s desperation, one may read signs of a moment when the first cracks appear in his hegemonic empire.
In India of 2023, we are all equal in facing scorn, intimidation and the arrogance of those who think that history can be brought to a halt with no before and no after, writes GN Devy.
Julio Ribeiro is surprised that Justice Victoria Gowri had objected to Christian girls learning Bharatanatyam! The RSS and other Hindutva elements should rejoice.
The Constitution can survive only with the political and ideological support of institutions and the people. The basic structure is an institutional assertion against aggrandising majoritarianism, if we are prepared to learn from the errors of the past, writes Kaleeswaram Raj.
Vir Sanghvi writes that the Modi government could have acted against the BBC for one of three reasons. One: the BBC actually needs to answer. Two: there is so much anger in the BJP over the BBC documentary that the action was retaliation, pure and simple. And three: since the government has had some success in cowing the domestic press, it believes that the same approach will work with the foreign media as well. None of them make sense.
RBI’s secrecy over its failure on inflation control last year risks causing an information deficiency and making space for ‘common noise’ in ways that could complicate its own policy, says Mint.
The socialist movement in India is a saga of splits and differences, writes Qurban Ali.
Buddhism did not spread by the sword, but the empires that helped it grow did. Anirudh Kanisetti writes on Greater Gandhara, the forgotten superpower that shaped India, Central Asia and modern-day Buddhism.
Swara Bhasker just showed Indian lovers the way forward, writes Priya Ramani. It’s a notice to all young people that you can and should be in charge of your own love story.
Ritesh Kumar speaks about the status of wetlands in India, the new Amrit Dharohar scheme and how, as a society, we can help protect these natural resources.
PBS Newshour on the government’s crackdown on press freedom after a BBC documentary critical of PM Modi.
Over and out
The BBC has a film on the lost port of Muziris in Kerala, one of India’s most important ‘emporiums’.
Actor Swara Bhasker got married to Samajwadi Party’s UP youth head, Fahad Ahmad. Hindutva trolls have worked themselves up into a frenzy.
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.