Reliance-Funded Facebook Ads Gave BJP Unfair Edge; Kashmir Media in Chokehold Says Press Council Report
Gold imports surge, growth remains weak, LIC sale delayed, India close to new Russia payment route, UGC lowers bar for teachers, RSS warns about ‘fanaticism’ and in MP, sadhvi brickbats Old Monks
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
March 14, 2022
Democracy is premised firmly on a level playing field, but it transpires that “Facebook has allowed a company funded by Reliance Jio to promote the BJP in several elections through divisive surrogate ads”. A BJP leader’s nephew runs the firm for the Reliance Group, finds the Reporters’ Collective. Over the past year, the non-profit media organisation based in India, and ad.watch, a research project studying political ads on social media, analysed data of all 536,070 political ads placed on Facebook and Instagram from February 2019 through November 2020 to assess the influence of Facebook’s political advertising on elections. They found that “Facebook’s advertising platform systematically undercut the political competition in the world’s largest electoral democracy, giving an unfair advantage to the BJP.”
This morning, the Delimitation Commission submitted its draft proposal for J&K. It will be open for public comments until March 21.
The Wholesale Price Index inflation, which has been in double digits for 11 months, spurted to 13.11% in February due to a general rise in prices, partly fuelled by the Ukraine crisis, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Vegetable prices rose 23.96%. The staple potato rose 14.78%.
Last week we reported how India “accidentally” launched a missile into Pakistan. With three nuclear powers in the neighbourhood, that’s frightening. Pakistan has demanded a joint probe. Prime Minister Modi held a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security yesterday, four days after the missile was shot off. The official note says the meeting was on Ukraine and other matters but the errant missile must surely have figured. Sushant Singh, a contributor to The India Cable, writes on serious questions raised by the lapse, and the risks accompanying such accidents in nuclear South Asia. The New York Times writes that “the episode is bound to raise concerns about the safety of India’s weapons systems, and about the government’s credibility on that subject.” Hear Manoj Joshi and Singh on “the case of the runaway missile”.
The Financial Times’ editorial board takes a dim view of India’s efforts to walk the tightrope between the Ukrainian and Russian camps. “In its dealings with Moscow and Washington, India has hoped to run with the hare and hunt with the hound. In the new, post-invasion world, such an approach no longer looks viable.” The daily terms India’s silence as “disappointing”.
R Sainikhesh, the 21-year-old aerospace engineering student who joined the Georgian National Legion last month and was fighting against Russian troops, is willing to return home to Coimbatore. The Georgian National Legion is a paramilitary unit consisting mostly of ethnic Georgian volunteers fighting for Ukraine.
India is temporarily relocating its embassy from Lviv in Ukraine to Poland as the security situation degrades. Russian troops are closing in on key Ukrainian cities and towns, including the capital, Kyiv.
Hit hard by the West’s sanctions on Russia, India is closer to setting up an alternative payments system to maintain its trade with Russia by identifying a potential bank. The panel examining the issue recommended prioritising edible oil and fertiliser imports, and payments owed to India. The panel is led by Economic Affairs Secretary Ajay Seth and includes representation from the ministries of Food and Consumer affairs, Fertilisers, Commerce, External Affairs and Petroleum. The payment mechanism will be like the one India set up to import oil from Iran under US sanctions, anchored by UCO Bank’s vostro account. In this case, Russia will use rupees earned from Indian importers to buy goods from India, while Indian exporters will use rubles from Russia to pay for imports from Russia.
Implementation of a deal for 6.1 lakh AK203 assault rifles signed with Russia last July has been delayed by months, reports The Hindu. With repeated delays in procurement, India has bought 70,000 AK203 rifles off the shelf. Moreover, a repeat order for 72,400 SIG716 assault riﬂes from Sig Sauer is delayed, and is likely to be dropped.
Another round of talks between senior military commanders of China and India for disengagement at Hot Springs in Ladakh concluded without any progress. After 23 months and 15 rounds of talks, the Chinese ingress remains in place.
The Adani Group has signed a deal for two major power projects in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. Six months ago, it took a majority stake in a strategic port terminal project in Colombo, which it is now executing. There is no official statement on the agreement to jointly execute renewables projects in Mannar and Pooneryn, south of the Jaffna Peninsula, from Sri Lanka, India or the Adani Group, causing uneasiness about lack of transparency in an international agreement, reports The Hindu.
LIC will be sold in April instead of March, Mint reports, quoting officials. “Ongoing market turbulence makes the government wary of rushing India’s largest initial public offering.”
The Krishna Janmabhoomi dispute at Mathura has a new lease of life. The Allahabad High Court has restored the plea, dismissed earlier, for the handover of Mathura’s Shahi Masjid to Hindus.
The Karnataka High Court has set aside criminal proceedings against former UP Chief Minister and BSP president Mayawati and former party national general secretary and MP Satish Chandra Mishra, based on an FIR registered by the state police during the 2013 Assembly elections. The Election Commission of India accepted the explanation offered by Mayawati and Mishra and besides, the FIR was registered on the basis of information received from a poll official, who did not put it in writing.
The RSS’s annual report speaks of growing “religious fanaticism” and “acts of communal hysteria” under cover of “the Constitution and religious freedom”. It cautions against “plans” by “a particular community” – code for Muslims – to enter the government machinery for furthering its “malicious” agenda. Speaking of which, the UGC is doing away with the mandatory PhD required to teach in many central universities, Chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar told The Times of India. The UGC is likely to bring in new positions like Professor of Practice and Associate Professor of Practice. Who will get in when the bar is lowered?
India’s growth story remains as weak as it was in 2013 and the Ukraine war will slow recovery, RBI deputy governor Michael Patra says. Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs), spooked by rising prices of commodities, especially crude oil, have withdrawn Rs 45,608 crore from Indian markets in the first fortnight of March. That’s higher than the Rs 38,068 crore outflows in February, which were the highest since March 2020, and marks the sixth straight month of selling by FPIs.
With Assembly elections over, fuel prices might rise any day now. This is the longest they have remained unchanged since revision began in June 2017. But many expect the price increase to be spread across small daily doses.
India’s gold imports, which affect the current account deficit, surged by 73% to $45.1 billion in April-February. The import bill was $26.11 billion in April-February 2021. The gold surge widened the trade deficit to $176 billion, against $89 billion in April-February 2021. India is the world’s second-biggest gold consumer after China, and most of the import demand comes from the jewellery industry.
At least five Army Aviation Corps pilots have died in crashes in six months, reports the Tribune. A helicopter crash on Friday in the Gurez sector of Kashmir, killing its pilot Major Sankalp Yadav and critically injuring the copilot, was the third fatal accident since September. Two involved single-engine Cheetah helicopters. Efforts to replace the fleet of ageing Cheetahs have failed.
This morning in Chhattisgarh, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police officer was killed and a jawan injured by an IED apparently planted by Naxals.
Several offices of the CPI(M) and its mass organisations were looted or burned in political violence in Tripura over the weekend. The CPI(M) has accused the ruling BJP of instigating the violence following victory celebrations, and has written to the chief minister.
The Congress Working Committee met yesterday and said that it “unanimously reaffirms its faith in the leadership of Smt. Sonia Gandhi”. It went on to request the Congress president “to lead from the front, address organisational weaknesses, effect necessary and comprehensive organisational changes in order to take on the political challenges.”
Read in restofworld.org how in just four years, Snapchat went from almost no traction to over 100 million users in India. “Its secret is localization.”
The stock of Domino’s franchise owner Jubilant FoodWorks, India’s biggest food service company, lost 15% to sink to a 52-week low in trading today, on news of the exit of its CEO.
Uma Bharti, former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, has been having a swinging time, smashing Old Monks and other alcoholic drinks at a licensed liquor store.
A major project to save owls in India has been launched. These ecologically significant birds are at risk from poachers and people trying to grab them for rituals and sacrifices.