SC Allows Gyanvapi Suit to Proceed But in District Court; Hindutva Being Dosed with Mughali Ghutti as Poll Preparation
Commission says Hyderabad cops murdered 4 rape suspects, fact check negates GOI carping on WHO data, Haryana has most jobless, Himachal least, Kashmir shopkeepers forced to pay for snoopcams
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 20, 2022
The Gyanvapi can of worms has been kicked down – and up – the road instead of being put to rest, with the Supreme Court ordering the matter transferred from the city court where it is currently – and controversially – being litigated to a district level court. “Having regards to complexities involved in [the] civil suit and the sensitivity we are of the view that the suit before the Judge, Varanasi should be tried before a senior and experienced judicial officer of UP Higher Judicial Service,” a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud ordered on Friday afternoon.
The Gyanvapi authorities had wanted the suit – which challenges the status of the mosque as a Muslim place of worship – declared void in light of the 1991 Places of Worship Act, which holds that the character of a place of worship as it existed at the time of India’s independence cannot be altered by the courts. Justice Chandrachud said this question should be raised, and decided, by the district court.
During the hearing today, Justice Chandrachud made an argument about the 1991 Act – whose sanctity he had upheld in 2019 as part of the Ayodhya matter bench – that will likely be seized upon by those keen to file similar suits against mosques elsewhere:
"The ascertainment of religious character is not barred... The ascertainment of religious character of a place as a processural instrument may not fall foul of Section 3 or 4. These are matters where we will not hazard an opinion in our order. We are in a dialogue… Suppose there is an agiari [a Parsi fire temple]. And there is a cross. Does the presence of cross not make the place an agiari? Does the presence of cross make it a Christian place? Such hybrid nature are not unknown in India." [emphasis added]
In Hyderabad, the judicial commission appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the December 2019 encounter killing of four young men has concluded that the police account was “concocted” and that ten officers must stand trial for murder. The Telangana police had said the four victims – charged with the gang rape of a young woman, Disha – were shot dead while escaping.
The rupee is setting an endurance record for deep dives. Every day brings a new low. Weighed down by losses in domestic equities and unabated foreign fund outflows, the rupee closed at a record low of 77.72 (provisional) against the US dollar yesterday. It touched the intra-day low of 77.76, while on Wednesday, it had closed at 77.62 to a dollar.
India is in talks with Russia to buy more discounted crude, the chairman of state-run Hindustan Petroleum said yesterday, while much of the West is shunning Russian crude due to the Ukraine invasion. HPCL Chairman Pushp Kumar Joshi’s comments signal that the government is directly involved: “There are discussions (happening) on a G-to-G (government to government) level.”
India hasn’t committed to joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which US President Joe Biden will launch in Tokyo next week while at the Quad summit, which PM Modi will also attend. Biden will be joined by leaders of US partners, “from Down Under to Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. Though the IPEF is not exactly a Free Trade Agreement, it is being projected as an instrument for the US to step up its economic engagement with Asia, particularly the Indo-Pacific, to counter China.
MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi yesterday said he is aware of reports that a bridge is coming up across the Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh, and added that he is not sure if it is the second bridge or an expansion of the existing one. He said China and India “remain engaged”. He also said the area is most likely occupied, showing how squeamish India is about straightforward statements on the Chinese occupation.
The government has asked the power regulator to allow generators to import up to 30% of the country’s coal requirement until March next year. It had earlier asked utilities to import 10% of total requirement, or about 38 million tonnes, to blend with local coal. The government’s demand reflects the severity of the domestic shortage, and the worst power cuts in six years.
AFP has a report on surveillance in Kashmir, where “shopkeepers are spending hundreds of dollars to install security cameras mandated by authorities in a move activists say is aimed at creating a surveillance state ― and outsourcing the cost.”
In an unprecedented move, Nagaland yesterday ordered that all “police check gates” shut to “curb illegal collection of money from vehicles on roads”. Armed groups including NSCN-IM collect “taxes” from traders and vehicles. The day before, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi and demanded the early conclusion of Naga peace talks. Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton, who is with the BJP, has demanded President’s Rule if the peace agreement is not signed soon. Discussion with the NSCN-IM is stalemated over the demand for a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas. Nagaland goes to the polls in February 2023.
The headmistress of a school in Goalpara district of Assam was arrested and sent to jail for bringing cooked beef to school for her lunch. This was during ‘Gunotsav 2022’, an exercise to evaluate the performance of schools in the state on May 11-14. She was taken to the police station on May 16. The Assam Cattle Preservation Act, 2021 bans cattle slaughter and sale of beef in areas where Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are in a majority, or within a 5 km radius of a temple or satra (Vaishnavite monastery) or any other institution prescribed by the authorities, but the eating of beef is not illegal in Assam. So why she was arrested is not clear.
A study in Mumbai exposes increasing precarity among cab drivers, in stark contrast to the claims that tech companies are “formalising the taxi system,” instituting transparency and creating the new category of “driver-entrepreneur”.
Small and marginal farmers are hit worst by the heatwave, and farm unions have demanded a Rs 500 bonus per quintal for wheat. Extreme heat waves have caused major crop losses in all wheat-producing states: Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, UP and Bihar.
Rukmini S does a fact-check of every claim made by the Union government to dispute WHO’s estimate of India’s Covid-19 deaths. As expected, the government is trying to mislead the people on almost all counts to deny the grave crisis that most Indians faced.
Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren faces trouble in a mining lease case, and now the Congress wants a Rajya Sabha seat. The grand alliance had supported JMM chief Shibu Soren in the last Rajya Sabha elections, and now they want their own candidate in a quid pro quo. Hours after top Congress leaders met Hemant Soren, JMM General Secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya announced that it had been decided ahead of 2019 elections that JMM would field its candidates for Rajya Sabha seats falling vacant in 2019 and 2024.
In the 2019-20 National Family Health Survey or NFHS5, for the first time, the age range for measurement of blood pressure was expanded to all women and men 15 and up. The results were horrifying (see page 488).
Read Vihang Jumle and Vignesh Karthik KR on Twitter posts on the Jahangirpuri demolitions to understand how the right is trying to shift the Overton window further to the right, so that what used to be seen as right becomes the centre.
Indian football has suffered many lows, but the Supreme Court appointing a committee of administrators in the All India Football Federation to put an end to Praful Patel’s 14-year tenure as its president, is something else.
Variety magazine reports that renowned filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava will direct a film about Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani model and social media star who was murdered in an honor killing in 2016. Shrivastava has acquired the rights to the book The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch by Sanam Maher.
Ashoka University has acquired the private papers of Manmohan Singh, dating back to his days at Cambridge University. The set of about 30,000 documents and photographs, collated by his daughter Daman Singh, will be put online for scholars interested in the evolution of the Indian economy.
A man in full wedding finery cycled to the venue in Bhubaneswar in protest against high fuel prices. His family and friends followed on foot, and many praised it as the “ideal wedding”. The overwhelming support from the people for his novel protest surprised him, said Subhranshu Samal, the groom.
Haryana has most unemployed, Himachal the least
India’s unemployment rate shot up to 7.83% in April from 7.60% in March, finds the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), and is worse in the cities than in rural areas. Rural unemployment fell from 7.29% in March to 7.18% in April, while urban joblessness spiked to 9.22% in April from 8.28% a month ago.
Haryana leads the unemployed parade with 34.5%, followed by Rajasthan (28.8%). The tail end: Chhattisgarh at 0.6% and Himachal Pradesh at 0.2%. Frustrated by the lack of quality jobs, most of the 900 million workers of legal age have stopped looking for jobs altogether, a recent CMIE report had said. Cars24, a marketplace for used cars, has laid off about 600 people just five months after closing a $400 million financing round, the latest unicorn to slash staff.
EWS cutoff to be heard in July
The Supreme Court has said it will begin hearing in July a series of petitions challenging the criteria to identify Economically Weaker Sections for 10% reservation in education and jobs. A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud has primarily questioned the government’s decision to fix Rs 8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify the EWS category. Its validity had come into question in the context of EWS reservation in National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) admissions. The court had even wondered whether the Rs 8 lakh threshold was “largely based” on a criterion to identify the creamy layer in the Other Backward Class [OBC] quota. An expert committee headed by former Finance Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, formed by the government, maintained that it was not a “mechanical adoption” of the OBC creamy layer cutoff. “The review committee seems to be just trying to justify the Rs 8 lakh limit post facto,” Justice Chandrachud had remarked.
Daughter-in-law not liable under law for maintenance of elderly
The Bombay High Court has observed that a daughter-in-law cannot be directed to pay maintenance to her ailing mother-in-law, especially without any proof of the woman’s income. It noted that Section 2(a) of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 that defines ‘children’, includes the son, daughter, grandson and grand-daughter, but does not refer to the daughter-in-law. The bench of Justices SS Shinde and Revati Mohite Dere set aside a tribunal’s order, but upheld a direction to the woman’s son and daughter-in-law to vacate their plush Juhu bungalow. It directed the son to pay the award of Rs 25,000 a month to his mother. The daughter-in-law was relieved of monetary liability.
The Long Cable
Hindutva being dosed with Mughali Ghutti to prepare for elections
The Mughals have a special place in the bigoted minds of the Hindutva parivar. PM Narendra Modi has often talked about “1,200 years of servitude”. Soon after his government took over in 2014, a BJP MP from Delhi asked for Aurangzeb Road to be renamed to Abdul Kalam Road — a ‘cruel’ Muslim replaced by a patriotic one — and the municipal corporation was quick to oblige.
After that, the Mughals were put on the backburner and the party and its stormtroopers went after Muslim citizens. Mughals, of course, are a proxy for Indian Muslims, but in the last few years, going after the latter — economically, socially even physically — has been the top priority of not just stray mobs but also governments.
Now, the Mughals are back at centre stage. Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who happens to have a law degree, has proudly claimed that he was among those who brought down the Babri Masjid in 1992, a patently illegal act. This led to a verbal tussle between him and the Shiv Sena, with Uddhav Thackeray finally declaring that had the somewhat portly Fadnavis actually climbed the Masjid’s dome, it would have collapsed on its own.
A BJP worthy in Delhi has now asked the state government to change the names of ‘Mughal-era’ villages, ignoring the fact that many were often named after those who were given land grants. In UP, another wanted the courts to allow the opening of the sealed rooms in the Taj Mahal — built by Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal — to check for Hindu idols. Mercifully, the Allahabad High Court threw out his plea.
Now, Amish Tripathi, author of several mythology novels, has proclaimed that the Mughals were foreigners and that they “did not look Indian”, but Chinese. This ridiculous statement can be challenged on several grounds. Firstly, an ‘Indian look’ does not exist — that is the beauty of India’s diversity. He is merely feeding prejudices against people of the Northeast, who in any case face discrimination from fellow Indians. Second, after Humayun, all the Mughals were born in Hindustan and produced offspring from wives who were born in India. Most of all, this perverted logic would mean that the millions of people of Indian origin in other countries could be asked to return to India because they do not “look native enough”. Many of them, such as Leo Waradkar in Ireland and Rishi Sunak in Britain, have top political jobs and others, such as Satya Nadella and Sundar Pichai, head big tech companies.
Tripathi is no historian, but even he would know that the Mughals became fully Indian — whatever it meant at the time — and their contributions to culture, architecture and society have enriched us. He heads the Nehru Centre in London that is run by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, a government job. That NDTV, a prominent channel, should offer him a platform and allow his views to go unchallenged despite knowing his credentials, speaks a lot about the debasement of our public conversation.
The surround sound of the attacks on the Mughals indicates that there is a well thought out strategy to once again raise the communal temperature. A politician, sundry local BJP office bearers, an author who writes in English and thus can reach a different demographic, and not to forget, the TV channels that spread the hate-filled message far and wide; all this cannot be coincidence.
The forthcoming elections in Gujarat could explain it. Muslims in the state have already been marginalised, and Hindus are big supporters of Narendra Modi and the BJP. The legend goes that Mahmud of Ghazni destroyed the Somnath temple on the Gujarat coast and carted away a lot of booty. This saga, whatever its historical veracity, is embedded among not just the people of the state but elsewhere too. Mahmud of course was not a Mughal and his raids took place in the 11th century, much before Babar set foot in this land, but what’s a few centuries when it comes to vilifying Muslims?
‘Mughal’ has now become an all-encompassing term to denigrate and hit out at modern day-Muslims. It is they who must pay the price for the alleged sins and crimes of kings whom they have no connection with. The code is well understood and the BJP would like to hope that apart from the flock, the average Hindus would also pick up the connection, thus paying handsome electoral dividends.
But it goes far beyond mere electoral considerations ― it fits in well with the larger Hindu Rashtra project. For the BJP and its ideological front the RSS, the very presence of Muslims and their culture is anathema. All greatness lies in ‘Hindu culture’, whatever that means. It is imperative that the Mughals, and by extension, Muslims, are seen as interlopers and outsiders who interrupted the golden age of Hindu civilisation. History does not bear out this theory, but history is not a strong suit of the Hindutva mind. With the Mughals, the BJP has hit a rich vein of myth, legend and resentment that can keep it going for years.
The recent appointment of Archana Goyal Gulati, former member of Niti Aayog and the Competition Commission of India (CCI), as head of public policy at Google, has revived the debate about bureaucrats taking up lucrative assignments shortly after leaving the civil service or retiring. At CCI, Gulati ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent. Gulati has, however, pointed out that she joined well after the end of the mandatory one year “cooling off” period. But the government can scarcely help her ― its foreign secretary moved to the Tatas immediately after retirement, and then returned to the government as foreign minister.
Prime Number: Fifth
Nikhat Zareen became only the fifth Indian boxer to be crowned world champion, after she won 5-0 against Thailand’s Jitpong Jutamas in the flyweight (52kg) final of the Women’s World Championships in Istanbul yesterday.
“It is not imperative that one of the federal units must always possess a higher share in the power for the federal units to make decisions. Indian federalism is a dialogue between cooperative and uncooperative federalism where the federal units are at liberty to use different means of persuasion ranging from collaboration to contestation,” says the Supreme Court judgement on the GST Council case. Read the full judgement.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Gautam Bhatia writes on the need for reforming the Foreigners’ Tribunal. The problems: state control over members, dubious use of evidence and declaring thousands of people foreigners ex parte.
The events in Kashi portend an action replay of Ayodhya 1992. The alacrity of the local administration, the helplessness of the Muslims, the reluctance of the Supreme Court— all of these are familiar, as is the lesson that the most effective tool for mass mobilisation in India is to march against minorities. We stand on the edge with no capacity to resist what is to come, writes Aakar Patel.
“If there is a deficit of democracy in India and if policies are followed which instigate communalism and a lack of social cohesion in the country, then it would become very difficult to run any kind of foreign policy,” says Shyam Saran. Srinath Raghavan says that “if religious majoritarianism under the name of electoral campaigns is given free licence in India, you can be almost sure that it will have negative consequences.”
Is Assam’s final NRC really final? “The jury is out on the matter”, writes Arunabh Saikia.
Are cow vigilantes actually motivated by hatred for the weak, including the already vulnerable tribal and dalit communities, asks Kush Ambedkarwadi.
Prannv Dhawan and Christophe Jaffrelot write that the decline of upper castes under the SP was precisely why they rallied around the BJP – over 70% voted for the party in 2022 – and why they supported Hindu nationalism: communal identity was clearly the best antidote to caste (and class) politics.
The wheat export policy flip-flops reflect a muddled government approach that could shake confidence in public policy. Farmers’ trust in government is at the nadir, writes Himanshu.
If flight, cab and train fares are dynamic, why can’t farm MSP also change anytime? Devinder Sharma says that commodity trading, massive speculation and unfair terms of trade are behind rising food prices.
Ajit Ranade writes that the Supreme Court judgement on GST underscores the importance of cooperative federalism but there other reforms are urgently needed, like setting up a GST appellate tribunal.
Whether the marital rape exception violates fundamental rights under the Constitution is a question that falls within the Supreme Court’s core competency. There is only one reasonable answer to that question, writes Chintan Chandrachud.
Things that lurk like shadows of our recollection of the turbulent past three decades are pushed into the light by Rakesh Kayasth’s Rambhakt Rambaaz – or dragged closer to the fire which is raging? It takes away all ambiguity, writes Seema Chishti (a contributor to The India Cable).
“The personal is being made political in a very perverse way. My existence itself is anathema to a rising, sizable force in Indian politics and that upsets me.” Seema Chishti (a contributor to The India Cable), author of Sumitra and Anees: Tales and Recipes from a Khichdi Family talks about her mother’s recipes, her parents’ inter-religious marriage, and about what India was and can be.
Five years ago, retired Pakistani Colonel Habib Zahir disappeared mysteriously from Lumbini in Nepal. The BBC’s Shakeel Akhtar walks in his footsteps. [In Hindustani]
Over and Out
The New York Times finds that after alcohol was banned in Bihar to tackle alcoholism and domestic violence, “a drinking scene has sprung up across the border in Nepal.”
Perfuming food has been an Indian obsession. Some cooks have gone to great lengths to get the right aroma on the plate, from cooking in leaves to massaging hens with musk.
That’s it for this week. 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.