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New Telecom Bill Seeks To Intercept Encrypted Messengers; Why Absurd Pakodanomics Wins Over Rahul’s Compassionate Politics ― For Now
Stanford detects pro-Army covert op on Twitter, Adani bonds in trouble, govt leaning on Indian-origin journalists overseas, Sourav dismisses rumours of ICC chairmanship, rupee achieves whole new low
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
September 23, 2022
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Most Indians trust news received on WhatsApp, a study released yesterday by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has found. Some 70% of those who favour PM Narendra Modi said that they trust news on WhatsApp, as compared to 58% of those unfavourable to him. The study analysed India, Brazil, the UK and US for trust in news outlets and social media.
“You are seeing increasing signs of countries that did abstain, to include countries like India speaking out in a different way, including directly in front of Putin. And, you know, we’d like to see more than that, obviously, in the days ahead,” a senior White House Official said on Wednesday evening about fence-sitters on Ukraine. Quick reminder: it’s 610 days ― one year and eight months ― since India had a US ambassador. There’s been no one home in Chanakyapuri since the Joe Biden administration took charge in January 2021. It’s unprecedented.
The Supreme Court today agreed to hear matters concerning the constitutional validity of the abrogation of Article 370 after Dussehra. Yesterday, it reserved its judgement on a batch of petitions challenging the Karnataka High Court’s judgement upholding the ban on wearing the hijab in classrooms. The apex court concluded a marathon hearing spread over 10 days. A bench comprising Justice Hemant Gupta and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia heard arguments of the Karnataka government and a collective of college teachers. Justice Gupta is to retire on October 16, so a judgement should come before that.
Sedition cases have spiked in Andhra Pradesh. Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy seems to be taking a leaf out of UP CM Adityanath’s playbook for quelling critics by using the sedition law.
BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has said the ICC chairmanship is “not in my hands”, playing down strong speculation that the former India captain could head to Dubai. In July, the International Cricket Council (ICC) Board approved the process to elect the next chairman of the world body in November. With Greg Barclay stepping down this year, the election will be decided by a simple majority for a two-year term from December 1, 2022, to November 30, 2024. Ganguly’s name was doing the rounds since then.
The Stanford Internet Observatory detected a pro-Indian Army covert influence operation in Kashmir on Twitter. Twitter suspended a network of 1,198 accounts, which tweeted about India and Pakistan, for violating their Platform Manipulation and Spam Policy and said that the presumptive country of origin was India. Tweets praised the Indian Army’s military successes in Kashmir and criticised the forces of China and Pakistan. Two accounts targeted specific individuals who were perceived as enemies of the Indian government. The report also notes that the content of the Twitter network is consistent with the Chinar Corps’ objectives, and that the official Chinar Corps Twitter account is one of the most mentioned or retweeted accounts in the network.
India has reacted sharply to the “so-called Khalistan referendum” of 100,000 persons in Canada, saying that it is “deeply objectionable” that such a “politically motivated” activity by extremist elements was allowed to take place in a friendly country. External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said India had taken up the matter with the Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels.
The rupee tanked 90 paise to close at all-time low of 80.86 against US dollar. The rupee ranked among the worst performers amid emerging market currencies yesterday, faring worse than 14 others. In the debt market, India’s richest man is trailing behind the rest of the economy. Adani Ports’ dollar bonds have dropped more than Indian peers’ on concern about the group’s debt, and its notes due in August 2027 fell to an all-time low this week, Bloomberg-compiled prices show. Bonds of group companies including Adani Green Energy Ltd and Adani Transmission Step-One Ltd also mostly lagged behind the broader Indian market.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) says that illicit trade of commodities in five important sectors including the FMCG, mobile phone, cigarette and alcohol industries cost the exchequer Rs 58,521 crore in taxes in 2019-20. The size of the illicit markets was over Rs 2.60 lakh crore for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The FMCG sector accounts for 75% of illicit trade in the overall value of products in the five core industries.
While hearing the EWS reservation matter, Chief Justice of India UU Lalit observed that economic backwardness may be temporary and require affirmative action fixes rather than quotas. The hearing will continue. Follow here.
Government expenditure in India on education for children aged 3-6 is a mere 0.1% of GDP, and the average spend per child is at least a fourth of desired levels, according to a new study.
The New York Times reports on Alt News, which it says “has emerged as a leading debunker of misinformation in the nation, but highlighting hate speech against minorities has put it on a collision course with the government.”
The Union government is likely to stop funding the Childline India Foundation (CIF), which was set up as a partnership between the government and NGOs over two decades ago to manage and monitor children’s helpline 1098. “It has been decided that all the helplines will be run directly by the government, and not through an NGO,” a government official told The Hindu. He confirmed that the government plans to wind up the trust. The government would continue to support CIF until the interoperability of 1098 with the national emergency helpline 112 is accomplished.
In a nationwide crackdown, 109 leaders and activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI) were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the police during searches conducted across 15 states on Thursday. Most of the arrests have been made in Kerala (22), followed by Karnataka (20) and Maharashtra (20), Tamil Nadu (10), Assam (10) and Uttar Pradesh (8). The PFI has termed the arrests “unjust” and called a hartal in Kerala today.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has written a moving thread on what the communal violence in Leicester and Birmingham has made him think about.
In West Bengal, flamboyant Durga Pujas associated with Trinamool Congress leaders have turned low-key as they face heat for corruption. The change is most visible in the Puja at Naktala, Kolkata, which is backed by former cabinet minister Partha Chatterjee and promoted by Arpita Mukherjee, accused in the teacher recruitment scam. But other Pujas are carrying on, and one makes the point that the Puja is secular:
Govt leaning on Indian-origin journalists overseas
A few days ago, Angad Singh, an American journalist of Indian origin, was sent back from IGI Airport after landing in Delhi. His family apprehended that his journalism may have prompted the government to deport him. Singh covers South Asia for US organisation Vice News. He had made a documentary on the Shaheen Bagh protests and reported on the government’s shortcomings during the Covid-19 pandemic ― mass cremations during the second wave, the oxygen shortage, the toll in rural India. Last year, Singh wanted to visit India for a documentary on the farm movement, but was denied a visa.
His case shows that the Modi government not only puts pressure on Indian media and journalists, but its efforts cross borders. Numerous Indian-origin journalists settled overseas or working in foreign media outlets have been affected. Journalists associated with the NRI media accuse the Narendra Modi government of insisting, via its embassies, that media organisations overseas do not criticise the Indian government. Under pressure, media outlets have fired journalists who don’t comply. Newsclick has the details.
New railway cadre adds central jobs
After a decade of declining civil service examination (CSE) vacancies, UPSC has notified more than 1,000 vacancies this year, up from 861. This jump owes to jobs in the new Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS), a Group A central civil service cadre with nearly 150 personnel. The service has been created following metro expansion, connectivity plans and bullet train projects.
New telecom bill to intercept messengers
The government has proposed a law to bring under a legal framework the interception of encrypted OTT services like WhatsApp and Signal, in the new draft telecommunications bill uploaded late on Wednesday. The bill covers all electronically transmitted services, from broadcast to email, and may be expanded at the pleasure of the Union government. Interception will cover voice and video calls made over such applications, as the government defines messages to include “data stream or intelligence or information intended for telecommunication”. The bill is up for public comments.
J&K withholding pay of Pandit employees
The J&K administration has ordered withholding of salaries of migrant Kashmiri Pandit employees recruited under the PM’s job package for not joining work in the militancy-hit Valley and demanding relocation to Jammu since May 12. Striking Pandit employees call it pressure tactics and won’t join work until the security situation improves. Kashmir’s deputy labour commissioner has directed all Assistant Labour Commissioners to withhold their salary. About 5,500 Pandit employees recruited under the PM’s job package in J&K have not been attending official duties since May 12, when their colleague Rahul Bhat was shot dead by militants.
SRK family breaks silence on fake case against son
Shah Rukh Khan’s wife and film producer Gauri Khan spoke about their son’s arrest in the twelfth episode of Koffee With Karan Season 7. In October 2021, Aryan Khan was arrested on charges of consuming and possessing drugs. The charges were dropped in May, following an investigation. “I think nothing can be worse than what we’ve just been through, obviously, as a mother, as a parent… But today, I can say that we are in a great space where we feel loved by everyone,” Gauri said. She was referring to the film industry and fans.
Why absurd pakodanomics wins over Rahul’s compassionate politics ― for now
The Congress is no stranger to crises, but two of its worst defeats have raised concerns for its very survival, yet no leader has faced them head on. This lack of urgency is conspicuous in the post-election conduct of its central leadership, which has failed to draw up a roadmap for revival. After its loss in 2014, the Congress set up a committee chaired by former defence minister AK Antony, but did nothing with its report. After 2019, the party didn’t even bother to go through the motions.
The Congress has faced three major challenges in a political conjuncture defined by ‘the great moving Right show’, to borrow a phrase from cultural theorist Stuart Hall… As a party of consensus, the Congress had always come to power on a centrist platform reflecting its varied social base including, most notably, support from the lower sections. Centrism and consensual politics, which explained its early success, do not seem to work in a deeply divided polity. This occurred when cleavages based on caste (post-Mandal) and religion (related to Ayodhya) exacerbated… The Congress garnered 12 crore votes (BJP got 22 crore) and 20% of the vote share in the 2019 parliamentary elections and, therefore, cannot be underestimated, but its social base has shrunk and it lacks a core vote in key states.
Support for centrist parties has dwindled if not collapsed in many countries as they grappled with right-wing populism and nationalism. In India, the decline of the centre-left parties ― the CPI(M) and CPI, and state-based parties such as the RJD, SP and BSP ― is a conspicuous feature of the contemporary political landscape.
This is closely linked to the move of the centre of gravity to the right in the wake of the national community being redrawn on the basis of religious identity and communal polarisation. Caste does matter but religion and the politics surrounding it matters as much, if not more.
In the 2014 elections Modi’s victory was made possible by his slogan of ‘vikas’. He didn’t spell out how development would be achieved, only that it had suffered because of the Manmohan Singh government’s policy paralysis. Development received short shrift between 2014 and 2019. The aspirations of the middle and lower middle classes were not addressed, the BJP’s manifesto promise of 2 crore jobs did not materialise, but that didn’t matter. The frying pakoras solution for joblessness was the butt of jokes but this was forgotten in 2019. Even when he had actually done nothing, Modi still got the vote because he was seen as the only person capable of doing something.
The success of the BJP derives from its ability to redirect public discourse. The discourse they displaced had occupied centre stage of post-Independence politics and revolved around material life. The new discourse moved from material deprivation to issues that divide people through a systematic inculcation of false narratives. Modi was able to mould large sections of the majority community to think that they are victims deprived of their right. To achieve this, they must embrace Hindu identity. This idea has caught the imagination and offers the satisfaction that Muslims have been put in their place. In this view, the Congress provided Muslims an undeserved position of privilege, the silent majority supposedly suffering in consequence.
Two back-to-back defeats raised questions about the ability of the Congress, and the Nehru-Gandhis in particular, to win elections. This emboldened their critics to demand that the family relinquish control, exactly a century after Rahul Gandhi’s great-great-grandfather, Motilal Nehru, assumed presidency of the party in 1919. Rahul’s defeat in Amethi in 2019 underscored the dwindling relevance of India’s most famous political dynasty, alongside the decline of its pluralistic vision of India. This has however not diluted their relevance to the Congress. But the Congress is caught in a political bind: the prospect of the party falling apart without the Gandhis at the helm, holding together a loosely organised party, and the bleak chances to prosper with a Gandhi at the helm, an easy target.
Shocked by the electoral debacle, Rahul Gandhi resigned as party president in May 2019. It plunged the Congress into an even deeper crisis as the party was unable to agree to a non-Gandhi as his successor. This is partly because the challenge isn’t just about his ineffectual leadership or electoral strategy but something more profound. Essentially, accommodative politics, which held together a social coalition and fractious nation, is not capable of galvanising the imagination of new India. The Gujarat model of individual leadership, Hindu pride, a shift in popular attention to aggressive nationalist appeals regardless of reality or facts, and a complete rejection of the democratic past and superimposition of perception over performance appears to hold voters in thrall. Changes unleashed by liberalisation, globalisation and the information-communication revolution initiated by the Congress have undercut its political ethos and ideological architecture.
Following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation the party witnessed discontent and disintegration in several states. Several prominent leaders resigned and joined the BJP. It remained leaderless for months and did not have a full-time president for nearly two years… It is clear that (for now) Rahul Gandhi, notwithstanding his humane, compassionate and progressive politics, doesn’t evoke the faith and trust of India’s electorate, when pitted against Narendra Modi’s ‘Hindutva plus neoliberal economics (development)’ pitch in increasingly presidential-style elections. Therefore his return to the top leadership position would not have helped the party’s electoral prospects; nonetheless, the decision on leadership should not have been postponed ad infinitum.
(Extracted with permission from Ideology and Organization in Indian Politics, OUP. Zoya Hasan is Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies, JNU)
The BJP government in Gujarat has transferred 20 IPS officers, including the additional director general of police (ADGP) RB Brahmbhatt. The Gujarat cadre officer has been named the new ADGP of state CID (Crime and Railways), relieving DGP Ashish Bhatia of the additional charge of CID. RT Susara has been appointed deputy commissioner of police for Zone 1 in Surat and Usha Radais appointed DCP, Zone-3, Surat city. Ajit Rajian, the superintendent of police for Anand, has been appointed DCP for cybercrime in Ahmedabad. He will be replaced by Praveen Kumar, currently DCP, Zone-1, Rajkot. This jerky movement, so close to the Assembly elections, by the long-ruling BJP, is awkward. Is it about fortifying the state administration or creating a suitable playing field for the party in a closely-fought election?
Prime Number: 1/101
While the Hyderabad Police state that BJP MLA Raja Singh has 101 cases against him, of which 18 are communal in nature, he has been convicted in only one, and has eluded conviction in all hate speech cases on ‘technical grounds’.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Seema Chishti writes that the missing Census is accompanied by a powerful desire to mine the data of citizens, not to benefit them but to heighten the power differential with the government.
Anybody seeking to modify the Army’s practices and customs is ignorant or worse, writes Manvendra Singh. The latter possibility signifies a deliberate attempt to undermine the ethos of the force.
Adani’s empire is deep under the skin of everyday life in India, and it deserves a closer look, says Andy Mukherjee.
Arif Mohammed Khan says that as governor, he has to defend the Constitution, but he is following the playbook of governors in other non-BJP states, who are working as political agents of the central government. He has no powers to interfere in governance, says Deccan Herald.
Except in Karnataka, power has eluded the BJP in the southern states. Even in Karnataka, it did not win a clear majority. The nature and structure of contests in the South are critical to explaining the challenges that the BJP faces in the region, writes Sandeep Shastri.
The “old elite”, of which Vallabhbhai Patel was a part, took an evolutionary approach to institutions of governance while quickly instilling in them the spirit of the independent republic. In many respects, the “new set of people” — for all the changes they want in public culture and modes of expression — have not shifted from the old approach, writes Vivek Katju.
Himanshu argues for a fiscal response on inflation. He writes that the wheat wholesale price inflation of 17.4%, the highest since 2012, confirms fears that inflation pressures are not transitory.
Patralekha Chatterjee says that India should desist from a “Jane Austen view” of rankings, stop obsessing emotionally about them and instead draw the right lessons.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra provides a sense of relief in a toxic and lawless atmosphere. Observing an alternative set of emotions and ethics is a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere ruled by a predatory state, writes Ajay Gudavarthy.
Biswajit Dhar writes that Bangladesh has highlighted its burgeoning trade deficit with India. It is an area of discord and India should work towards a greater Bangladesh presence in the Indian market.
Amol Karhadkar of The Hindu speaks on the recently approved amendments to the BCCI constitution, and examines if they are in line with the recommendations of the Justice Lodha committee.
Anupama Chopra asks actor Tabu about her process, and her working relationship with long-time collaborators like Vishal Bharadwaj, Mira Nair and Irrfan.
Over and out
A feature film on the Battle of Haifa, regarded as the “last great cavalry campaign in history”, is being developed by Indian production banners Golden Ratio Films (GRF), Yaelstar Films and Hundred Films.
The head of Wipro is getting hate mail after sacking 300 moonlighting employees. He was reportedly the first person to talk about moonlighting in the tech industry. He can’t have expected love letters.
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