Strangely, Indians Stand With Putin; How the Government Weaponised National Security
Adityanath’s poll rhetoric about hate & polarisation, poll code violated in Manipur, US State Department upset with India, caste gap comparable to Black-White gap, McAdams enjoying 15 hrs of fame
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
March 4, 2022
An international incident involving a case of mistaken identity and relentless shouting ― if you haven’t seen this video, you have missed the acme of what passes for news television in India. No satirist could have scripted it better.
Meanwhile, the real Mr McAdams is enjoying his 15 hours of fame in India.
Leaders of the Quad grouping met for a virtual summit yesterday, which was first announced by the Indian government. The Indian statement said that it was to exchange “views and assessments” about important developments in the Indo-Pacific, while the US statement was specific: the leaders would discuss “the war against Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific.” The Indian statement after the meeting acknowledged that “developments in Ukraine were discussed during the Quad meeting, including its humanitarian implications.” The Japanese PM said that “unilateral changes to the status quo by force or coercion like the recent Russian aggression against Ukraine are also unacceptable in the Indo-Pacific region. It is critically important for us to bring about a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The US President said that the meeting was “about Russia’s ongoing attack on Ukraine and our commitment to sovereignty and territorial integrity around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific.” The joint statement issued after the virtual summit did not condemn Russia, apparently because of objections made by India. Evidently, New Delhi resisted the Biden administration’s move to get the coalition to collectively denounce Putin. Japan and Australia, however, echoed the US and slammed Russia.
Another multilateral vote on Russia in Ukraine, and another abstention by India. This time at the IAEA, following the UNSC, the UNGA and the UNHRC. It is not going down very smoothly in Western capitals. The US State Department sent a strongly-worded diplomatic cable to US embassies in the nearly 50 countries represented at the UNHRC on Monday. The cable, rated sensitive but unclassified, suggested that US diplomats should use some plain talking to persuade India and the UAE to change their position, reports Axios.
“Continuing to call for dialogue, as you have been doing in the Security Council, is not a stance of neutrality; it places you in Russia’s camp, the aggressor in this conflict,” said draft talking points in the cable, a template for conversations with Indian and Emirati diplomats. “We strongly encourage you to take the opportunity to support Ukraine in the HRC, an opportunity you failed to seize in the UNSC.” The cable was withdrawn a day later. The State Department said that “the language in question was never intended for clearance and the cable was released in error, which is why it was recalled.”
People of colour fleeing Ukraine, including Indians, have been attacked by Polish nationalists. Non-white refugees face violence and racist abuse in Przemyśl, as police warn of fake reports of ‘migrants committing crimes’ to create hatred, reports The Guardian. Attackers dressed in black sought out groups of non-white refugees, mainly students who had just arrived in Poland at Przemyśl train station from cities in Ukraine. According to the police, three Indians were beaten up by a group of five men, leaving one of them hospitalised. The News Minute explains why scores of Indian students couldn’t leave Ukraine in time, despite advisories. Meanwhile, Scroll.in is tracking 19-year-old Pralay Kumar Nayak and his friends who are trying to escape eastern Ukraine amid Russian bombardment.
On bringing back Karnataka student Naveen’s body from Ukraine, state BJP MLA Arvind Bellad raised hackles with his insensitive remark: “…more space is needed to bring a dead body on the flight. In the place required for a dead body, eight persons could be accommodated and brought back.”
R Priya, a 28-year-old postgraduate and a councillor from Mangalapuram, is to be the next mayor of Chennai. She will be the first Dalit mayor of Chennai Corporation, after the state government passed an order in January reserving the post for Dalit women. Ka Saravanan, an auto driver from a humble background, has been declared the mayoral candidate for Kumbakonam on behalf of the Congress party.
NDTV reports that Meghalaya is the ninth state to withdraw general consent for CBI. The CBI, established under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act of 1946, must obtain the consent of state governments before investigating crimes in their territory. Traditionally, the states grant general consent and the agency is not required to seek permission for every individual case. While the seven states that have withdrawn general consent to the CBI since 2018 — Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal — have non-BJP governments, the BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Meghalaya, led by the National People’s Party’s Conrad Sangma.
Today, Aman Lekhi resigned from the post of Additional Solicitor General of India. Former Army chief and Punjab governor Gen Sunith Francis Rodrigues passed away today.
Defending its decision to not allow discounts or concessions by retail licensees on the price of liquor, the Delhi Government told the High Court yesterday that the capital cannot become a city “promoting drunkenness through discounts”. Okay!
Poll code violated in Manipur
In a shocking violation of the Model Code of Conduct for elections, the Union Home Ministry and the BJP government in Manipur released Rs 15.7 crore on February 1 and another Rs 92.7 lakhs on March 1 to banned militant groups under the Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement. The Congress has complained about the mockery made of Assembly elections in four districts of the state but the Election Commission is, typically, unmoved. One of the signatories to the SoO, who benefited from the payments, had recently asked all Kukis to vote for the BJP.
Pattern of hate, polarisation in Adityanath’s poll speeches
A systematic analysis of 34 publicly available poll speeches made by Adityanath over three months (between the first week of November and the first week of February) has found a pattern of hate speech, religious polarisation and Hindutva supremacy. The Election Commission is missing in action.
The day-to-day anti-Muslim rhetoric of Adityanath’s campaign is becoming normalised and signals a dangerous shift “when seen in the context of the anti-Muslim violence perpetrated by fundamentalist groups like the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.” It signposts the state’s implicit support for violence against Muslims, says the report in The Wire.
The weaponisation of national security
Using the lens of the Bhima-Koregaon case, Article-14.com has analysed the manner in which the Modi government has leveraged the notion of national interest to misuse draconian security laws and justify the deployment of surveillance technology to attack inconvenient citizens. Related tactics like the suppression of NGOs and the definition of the ‘anti-national’ are covered, and the report notes that the accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case are united by a common thread ― they oppose the pro-corporate stance of the government. Equally of note is the ease with which someone can be prosecuted under Indian law, and the process becomes the punishment.
PM reprimanded for not preventing Gandhi statues’ vandalisation
The Gandhi Peace Foundation and the Bhartiya Gyan Vigyan Samiti are among organisations which have written an open letter to PM Modi on the numerous instances of Mahatma Gandhi’s statues being vandalised. The letter has reprimanded the PM for not not explicitly condemning these acts or promising action against the people committing these crimes.
The Long Cable
The curious phenomenon of Indians standing with Putin
The most surprising aspect of Indian interest in the invasion of Ukraine, as reflected in the media, is its narrowness. The overriding concerns are the economic pain right ahead and the plight of students left to the kindness of strangers, despite a history of successful evacuations. This is causing a series of unfortunate embarrassments like this:
These are reasonable immediate concerns, but for a country which has harboured ambitions of being an Asian superpower at least since the Pokhran-II nuclear tests of 1998, long-term geopolitical concerns should be equally compelling, since Putin has flourished the nuclear button to warn the Western powers off his conventional campaign.
But in India, the little public attention left over after addressing the domestic effect of the invasion concerns Putin himself. The hashtag #IStandWithPutin has gained surprising traction. It is being explained as an echo of old ties with the USSR, which held firm with India through modern history, especially during the crucial trial of strength of the Bangladesh Liberation War. Besides, despite the government’s alignment with the US, the people are not too keen to identify with the West. Denim and burgers are good, but we draw the line there.
But contemporary oligarchic Russia is not the USSR, though Putin is suspected to have reunification on his mind. And the man himself is not exactly of the status of USSR warhorses like Khrushchev and Brezhnev. He was a member of the Soviet security apparatus whom Boris Yeltsin agreed would succeed him, but he was largely unknown as a political figure, and needed a starring role in the Chechen conflict to gain an image. Assertive machismo consolidated it at home and overseas ― photo opportunities on the judo mat and in the wild, bare-chested while loaded for bear.
This assertive image appeals to the Indians who stand with Putin. They appreciate his constructed persona, not because of historical ties with the long-dead USSR, from whose detritus he sprang, but because he is butting his head into Ukraine to threaten a Western military alliance, ignoring world opinion. The same admiration for the unreasonable, unaccountable strongman, cut off from the people, keeps India’s present government in office.
Several countries are in the grip of a strongman cult, as the V-Dem Institute reported this week. It perplexes people who believe that the idea of progress is inevitable. Actually, counter-progressive narratives work better because they are easier to communicate.
It’s easier to say, and more satisfying to hear, that the king strapped on his sword and rode into battle, rather than to say that the republican council met and decided, following five days of animated discussion and a divided vote, to deploy the military. Ease of storytelling also explains why, while the world has abjured royalty and embraced equality, fairy tales remain popular, though they generally concern absolute rulers and their heirs.
In Ukraine, a Russian king has gone to war. Easy to understand but not at all easy to defend, in a global order which dislikes destabilisation. But this is a subaltern king, heir to a much-reduced kingdom, hemmed in by the world, which seems to justify it. Even liberals who should know better are divided by a contrast drawn between US heads of government and Putin. When the former project force, it’s all right, but the latter’s moves are illegitimate? Should American presidents have all the fun?
It’s a false equivalence, because no one in their right senses ever supported the projection of force by a Western alliance, except perhaps in the case of the Balkans. I was in Spain, a Nato member, the night the invasion of Iraq began, and every home bore the legend ‘No a la guerra’ (No to war), and students protested in the streets all night in Madrid, in the face of police action. And in the Clinton era, the American media used to correlate distracting bombing campaigns overseas with every appearance of a little blue dress in court, and declared it scandalous.
But the king remains an attractive figure, and therefore Indians who admire the divine right of kings can even stand with Putin, though his invasion has broken his political budget and may compromise him domestically as financial pain visits Russians.
The government, stung by students and administrators in Ukraine and neighbouring countries telling the truth a little too transparently, is arranging for the good news to be delivered. Seven Indian journalists, of which three are from the print media, have been ‘encouraged’ to cover Operation Ganga, with the promise of access to Indian ministers at airports and perhaps more,. What next? Will the PR agencies retained by ministries, over and above the Press Information Bureau, be deployed too? They are sometimes accused of exceeding the definition of PR.
Another manifestation of the government’s desperate PR on the evacuation fiasco? Ministers with identical tweets:
Prime number: Rs 13.84 crore
The Shiv Sena’s income dipped to Rs 13.84 crore in 2020-21 as compared to Rs 111.40 crore
in the year before that, which was an election year. The party has spent twice as much on the Maharashtra Assembly elections in 2019 as compared to the Lok Sabha polls the same year, reveals the Annual Audit Report for 2020-21, submitted by the Sena to the Election Commission.
According to a new study of social disadvantage, economic inequality and life expectancy in nine Indian states by Sangita Vyas, Payal Hathi and Ashish Gupta, the differences between the life expectancy of higher-caste Hindus and that of Adivasis and Dalits “are comparable to the Black-White gap in the US in absolute magnitude.” It cannot be explained by economic factors alone.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
During past evacuation missions, officials quietly did their work and the media was tolerated at best, writes Suhasini Haider.
MR Sivaraman and V Suryanarayan write about the lessons of the great airlift during the 1990 Kuwait crisis which can be applied to Ukraine today.
A long conflict in Ukraine will raise pressure on India to take a side, but geopolitical realities tie Delhi to all the parties in this war, writes PS Raghavan.
Rahul Bedi writes that a distant casualty of Moscow’s ongoing campaign, India faces a nightmarish situation that will necessitate replacing some 50 per cent of its Soviet-era and Russian-origin military platforms.
In its editorial, Deccan Herald says that a clear and early response would have eased the situation. Unfortunately, there was also a tendency to blame the students for their plight, and worse, to make electoral capital out of the situation during the UP elections.
The Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan has survived wars, but can it survive climate change, asks Ali Tauqeer Sheikh in Dawn.
For India to measure poverty and achieve development goals, it needs a multipronged approach, write Manjula M and Amalendu Jyotishi.
An active outreach window, perhaps in Niti Aayog, is needed to assist states unable to meet deadlines or process requirements to access funds, so that public services can be delivered uninterrupted, writes Indira Rajaraman.
Shyam Saran speaks to Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) about the impact of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on India, structural changes in the global order, China’s net gain, India’s options in the new geopolitics and the best outcome of this crisis.
Anurag Behar, CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, says that as schools reopen physically, 230 million children face the worst education crisis imaginable. He says they are returning to classrooms after two years and have probably forgotten most of what they were taught before the pandemic. Returning to school with a promotion or a double promotion will make the problem even worse.
Over and Out
Tuhina Chatterjee, 23, draws Kolkata’s classic facades to bring back the magic of the Old World.
Lucknow’s Sheroes Hangout Cafe puts the cause of acid attack survivors centrestage.
Beer collaborations are not a new idea, but this is different ― a beer made by Bengaluru’s women brewers. “We have done international collab brews before. This is our first ‘All Indian, All Women’ collaboration and this is the first time that this beer will be available in restaurants across Bengaluru and retail stores.”
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.