Teesta Setalvad Freed, Lingayat Seer Jailed, and Ruination of the BJP’s Organisation in 10 Steps
States cold to Centre’s crime data platform, Meghalaya BJP VP arrested again, unemployment at 12-month high, 77% Bollywood releases flopped, Chola thalassocracy would have provided fitter naval ensign
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
September 2, 2022
In a setback to the Narendra Modi government, which was determined to prolong Teesta Setalvad’s time in jail as an accused in a jumped-up conspiracy and forgery case, the Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of the activist on interim bail. The bench headed by Chief Justice of India UU Lalit noted that she had already spent two months in jail and that “the investigative machinery has had the advantage of custodial interrogation for a period of 7 days.” The bench also said that the high court, which decided it could not take up her plea for bail until September 19, ought to have enlarged her on interim bail till then, considering “the circumstances on record.” Livelaw’s Tweet thread captures the adversarial drama of the courtroom well, with Kapil Sibal, representing Setalvad, besting solicitor general Tushar Mehta. The tide clearly against him, Mehta threw everything into the fight – including earlier cases filed against her for which courts had already granted her bail. Setalvad is one of the most prominent campaigners for justice for the riot victims of 2002.
To separate “the grain from the chaff”, rejecting the remonstrations of the Centre, the Supreme Court yesterday asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to call for reports from UP, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand about alleged attacks on the Christian community. While it believes that crime against individuals does not necessarily mean crimes against society, even if 10% of the cases alleged in a PIL are true, it warrants the court’s attention. The Centre had told the court not to entertain a PIL based on “self-serving reports” as it could have wider ramifications.
Pakistan will attend counter-terrorism drills hosted by India as an observer under the ambit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in October, said the Ministry of External Affairs. The two countries have taken part in counter-terrorism exercises before, but this is the first time on Indian soil. India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will participate.
An Indian Army contingent from 7/8 Gorkha Rifles and a PLA contingent are participating in Vostok-2022, the multilateral strategic and command exercise which commenced yesterday in Russia. The government responded to US criticism: “India has been regularly participating in multilateral exercises in Russia, along with a number of other countries.” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi stressed that the Vostok exercises were routine and restricted to armies.
India and China are considering the first meeting between PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in almost three years, amid the Ladakh standoff and increasingly sharp exchanges. It could happen at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan in mid-September, or the G20 meet in mid-November in Indonesia. A meeting bears risks for New Delhi ― China attempts to portray ties as “normal” despite the standoff, and a high-level meet could strengthen the perception. India has repeatedly said there can be be no ‘business as usual’ till the ongoing border standoff is resolved.
The consumption of diesel, the most widely used fuel in India, dropped 4.9% to 6.11 million tonnes from 6.42 million tonnes in July. The demand for cooking gas also slipped 1% from July but petrol sales, which had dipped 5% in July, increased 5.8% to 2.81 million tonnes in August.
Despite a windfall tax on crude production and export taxes on fuel, the Centre’s excise duty collections contracted by 26% in July. Customs duty collections also declined by 12% in July due to the suspension of duty on cotton and concessional duty on edible oil. The decline comes despite the fact that merchandise imports are at a record high level of over $60bn for the past four months.
Rs 1.43 lakh crore was collected in GST in August, lower than the Rs 1.49 lakh crore figure for July, mostly due to high inflation and imports. Rs 42,067 crore of IGST was collected (on import of goods) and cess collected was Rs 10,168 crore (including Rs 1,018 crore collected on import of goods).
A day after the National Statistical Office released April-June Q1 GDP data for FY23, a number of banks and financial institutions slashed their growth estimates for the year. These included SBI, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and ratings agency Moody’s, which has cut India’s growth projection for 2022 to 7.7% ― it was 8.8% in May. Citigroup sharply cut its FY23 growth projection to 6.7% from 8%.
Finally, the prominent Karnataka Lingayat seer Shivamurthy Murugha Sharanaru, accused by two teenaged girls under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act of rape, was arrested last night. It took six days for the police to act. Newsminute shows how difficult it was to apprehend him. The din raised by activists and Dalit groups seems to have forced the BJP state government’s hand.
On singer Sidhu Moose Wala’s murder, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that one suspect each in Kenya and Azerbaijan had been taken into custody, and further steps are contemplated.
A Karnataka High Court ruling last month regarding a farmers’ protest has now led to a situation where if you want to exercise your constitutional right to protest in Bengaluru, you must get a police permit, sign a bond and restrict yourself to a corner of a single park, ironically called “Freedom Park”.
Reversing last week’s forecast of early withdrawal of the southwest monsoon, India Meteorological Department (IMD) Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra yesterday announced its extension. “A cyclonic circulation over west-central and adjoining northwest Bay of Bengal will shift the monsoon trough southwards around September 7. This will increase rainfall activity over central and north peninsular India,” Mohapatra said.
Union Minister Jitendra Singh has announced India’s first indigenously developed vaccine, Cervavac, for the prevention of cervical cancer, the second most prevalent cancer in India, which accounts for nearly one-fourth of the world’s death toll though it is largely preventable. Adar C Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India, seeks more private-public collaboration for manufacturing vaccines and drugs.
The effects of poor Union-State relations are becoming visible. Seven states and one Union Territory are cold to the Union government’s online platform Cri-MAC, launched for sharing information about serious crimes, including human trafficking. West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Sikkim and Dadra, Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu have not uploaded a single alert since the portal was launched in March 2020.
Of the 26 Bollywood releases this year, 20 (i.e. 77%) have flopped, losing half or more of their investment, according to Koimoi, which tracks industry data. That’s about double the failure rate of 3% in 2019, before the pandemic forced hundreds of millions to wean themselves off cinemas.
Actor Aamir Khan yesterday shared a “loaded” post on the occasion of Micchami Dukkadam, the day of seeking forgiveness for wrongdoings, a Jain festival. On this day, Jains fast and greet each other by saying “Michhami Dukkadam”. The clip by Khan, who has been silent after Laal Singh Chaddha’s poor performance, began with the words “Michami Dukkadam”. “Hum sab insaan hain aur galtiyan humse hi hoti hain… Agar maine kisi bhi tarah se aapka dil dukahya ho...toh mann vachan kaya se kshama mangta hoon,” a voiceover in the post added. The post seeking forgiveness was soon deleted from all platforms.
Designated ‘fraudster’ Bashir Ahmed Gagloo has been arrested “for cheating and grabbing huge amounts in lakhs from some persons by promising them jobs,” according to the Srinagar Police. He is the Srinagar District Convener of Muslim Rashtriya Manch, the RSS’ Muslim wing.
Noted historian and former Vice Chancellor of Mangalore and Goa Universities Professor B Sheik Ali, leading expert on Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, passed away aged 97 in Mysuru yesterday after a brief illness. He was general president of the Indian History Congress at its 47th Session in 1986 and the founder president of the South India History Congress in 1985.
Modi loves concrete waterfronts but poor design and lack of knowledge of local hydraulics has led to waterlogging and flooding, including in Varanasi.
Unemployment at 12-month high
Unemployment rose to a one-year high in August as GDP growth failed to generate jobs. The jobless rate increased to 8.28% last month, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the highest since August 2021. It was 6.8% in July. The sharp jump owed to rural unemployment rising to 7.68% from 6.14%, and urban joblessness to 9.57% from 8.2%. CMIE Managing Director Mahesh Vyas told Bloomberg: “Four million more people came to the market but we couldn’t provide them jobs. Employment shrunk and the economy employed less people compared to July.”
No plan in Islamabad to import fresh produce from India
Pakistan’s Foreign Office yesterday said that there is no proposal to allow the import of vegetables from India to the inundated country, where prices of fresh produce have spiralled. “We are in touch with countries in the broader region to facilitate the earliest import of vegetables,” spokesman Asim Iftikhar Ahmad said. Business chambers are urging the Shehbaz Sharif government to import essentials like onions and tomatoes from India. The idea was floated by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail on Monday as prices rose. But on Wednesday, he said that the government would consult coalition partners and key stakeholders first. The Opposition has criticised the government for strained ties with India over Kashmir.
‘Provocative dress’ judge denied transfer back
The Kerala High Court has dismissed the plea moved by Sessions Judge S Krishnakumar against his transfer days after his controversial observations over a survivor’s “provocative dress” in the order granting bail to Civic Chandran, who has an accused in two sexual harassment cases. The Principal District and Sessions Judge of Kozhikode was transferred as Presiding officer of the Labour Court, and later moved the High Court against it. Justice Anu Sivaraman of the Kerala High Court said there was no reason to interfere with the transfer order because the posts are equivalent. The High Court said that Justice S Krishnakumar has not lost any legal rights, and that the transfer was normal procedure.
The force behind UNESCO recognition for Durga Puja
Art Historian Tapati Guha Thakurta is the force behind the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage tag for West Bengal’s Durga Puja. She is Director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata, and did the research, filed the application and drafted the dossier for the Ministry of Culture, after having studied the puja in Kolkata for decades and published a book in 2015, In the Name of the Goddess: The Durga Pujas of Contemporary Kolkata .
The Ministry of Culture wanted to portray Durga Puja as a religious festival but she and her colleagues convinced them not to. Then they wanted it to be the Durga Puja of India, but that idea too was quietly nudged out of the away.
The Long Cable
The ruination of the BJP’s organisation in 10 steps
This looks like a golden era for the BJP. It is enjoying a decade in power at the Centre, it governs numerous states, and the Opposition is fragmented. But a close look reveals serious degeneration that casts doubt on its long-term prospects. This has been happening since 2014, but it worsened over the last year.
Despite the energetic creation of booth-level party committees as elections approach, the Modi-Shah management style has severely disempowered BJP activists and the party organisation can no longer link citizens with the government.
Ten steps are leading to the destruction of the BJP’s organisation.
First, national leaders have fundamentally changed the way that they seek to meet people’s needs. Initially, new programmes tightly managed from the top were implemented through the bureaucracy, depriving MLAs and BJP activists of patronage to cultivate support for themselves and the party. MLAs were denied influence over transfers of local officials, undermining their ability to meet constituents’ needs.
In the last year, programmes controlled from the top used IT systems to distribute funds and provide services, bypassing MLAs, activists and the bureaucrats they can influence. The woeful record of Aadhaar, which has often excluded needy people, raises serious doubts about such programmes. They provide no feedback on people’s problems and preferences, as the BJP organisation used to do. It blinds the PM, but he remains enchanted by IT systems, presumably because they strengthen top-down control.
Second, intra-party democracy has been abandoned. Zoya Hasan and others have noted that before 2014, the BJP had more internal democracy than others. But since then, posts have been filled by appointment from above, not by election from below. Party office holders concentrate not on explaining citizens’ views, but on telling their superiors what they think they want to hear. This again blocks vitally important upward flows of information. There are striking similarities here with what happened to the Congress under Indira Gandhi – from which that party never recovered.
Third, when filling key posts – not least Chief Ministers’ – obedient people rather than capable people have been selected. That undermines the party’s capacity to govern well and to operate adroitly where it is in the Opposition.
Fourth, promising BJP politicians have been marginalised because they might become rivals to the supreme leader. LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi suffered this fate, and the practice has intensified, as we saw in changes to the party’s parliamentary board. The BJP’s most important body has not met in over two years and has become “dysfunctional” because the PM and Amit Shah impose key decisions on it. However, its revised membership is symbolically important, and three major figures ― Nitin Gadkari, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Yogi Adityanath ― were excluded in mid-2022.
Fifth, national leaders dominate state elections. They brush aside advice from state party leaders and dictate which issues to stress – even if local leaders warn that they have little popular appeal. Grave errors in candidate selection have led to humiliating defeats and losses in winnable elections. When national leaders’ bungling leads to defeats, they blame others – mainly the same state BJP leaders who had warned them. That sparks anger and disillusionment.
Sixth, when the BJP falls short in state elections, national leaders seek to seize power via ‘operation kamals’, inducing defections from ruling parties. The appetite for instant gratification damages the BJP’s reputation and organisation.
They create bitter faction fights between old loyalists and newly inducted turncoats, some of whom get prized ministerial posts. This has plagued the BJP in Karnataka for months, and has led to shocking reverses, as in recent civic polls in Madhya Pradesh.
These operations also undermine popular support among voters who feel betrayed by the BJP and the defectors for whom they voted. National leaders assume that voters will forget that the parties they elected were ousted by illicit, underhand means. But Indian voters are sophisticated enough to have thrown out roughly two-thirds of state governments since 1980. They are capable of reacting against ‘kamals’, like in Maharashtra in mid-2022. A C-Voter survey found that if a national election were held today, the BJP and its allies that had seized power via defections would win only 18 seats, with the remaining 30 going to the ousted victims.
Seventh, people in booth-level committees are given no roles on polling day and little or no attention afterwards. They feel jilted and drift away. The BJP has been unable to locate many of them for the next election.
Eighth, centralisation of fundraising has intensified Modi’s dominance, starving activists at lower levels of funds which would have given them some autonomy to use their local knowledge to benefit the party. This is intentional. Their local knowledge is not valued by the high command, and they are prevented from raising or possessing substantial funds of their own. Centralised fundraising has been hugely successful. In the 2019 election, the BJP had 18 times more money than all other parties combined. The concentration of funds at the apex has left party activists at lower levels feeling under-resourced, stripped of powers and (again) resentful.
Ninth, the relentless promotion of the leader’s personality cult has turned the organisation into an abject collection of Modi bhakts. As Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay writes, BJP leaders and activists compete in their adoration of the great man. Venkaiah Naidu described the PM as “God’s gift to India”. It cannot have displeased Modi because Naidu was then made Vice President. The Madhya Pradesh Agriculture Minister then announced that Modi was “an incarnation of god like Lord Ram and Lord Krishna”. More recently, BJP President JP Nadda went further by referring to Modi as “king of gods”. As a result, the party organisation – like everything else ― is made to feel marginalised.
Finally, over the last year, the relentless pursuit of religious polarisation has often caused events to slip out of control. This has damaged the authority of the government, its leaders and the BJP organisation. The PM’s customary silences when incendiaries call for heinous acts against minorities are interpreted by those extremists as endorsements. But those same extremists have lashed out at the forces of order, the government and the party when their wild demands are not met, or when their fellow firebrands have been attacked. Amid the mayhem, the party organisation suffers further.
Modi’s popularity, boosted by a fawning propaganda machine, has so far ensured national election victories. But he will not be there forever. In his absence, the BJP will need a strong organisation, but it is being destroyed.
(James Manor is Emeritus Professor, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, UK)
Meghalaya BJP vice-president Bernard Marak, who was arrested in two cases including the one related to running a brothel, was rearrested on Wednesday for ‘forcibly’ hiking the prices of food items in Tura. The Tura chief judicial magistrate allowed Marak’s arrest for illegal activities carried out by the Meghalaya Chamber of Commerce at his behest. Later, Marak was remanded in police custody for five days. On August 23, the Meghalaya Police cited reports from the general public and in newspapers about the ‘price hike’ of snacks, fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, etc. “The prices were hiked a few months back based on the instigation of office bearers of an organisation which claims to be the ‘Meghalaya Chamber of Commerce’, being operated under the directions of one Bernard N Marak,” the statement read.
Prime Number: 16
A comparison of 35 disclosure statements in the Jahangirpuri communal violence case has found that those made by the five Hindu accused arrested are identical. Of the other 30 statements, made by Muslim accused, 16 too are almost identical.
In changing the naval ensign, the government has sought inspiration from Shivaji’s coastal navy. It should have looked further back to the Chola thalassocracy, which was bigger than the Greeks’, ruled the Bay of Bengal and invaded Indonesia, says Mohan Guruswamy.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Faizan Mustafa writes that ‘liberal Muslims’ should have offered the Eidgah ground in Bangalore for Ganesh Puja as part of a dialogue with Hindus, instead of going to court. Apoorvanand explains why this is a bad idea: “Faizan Mustafa knows that it is not Hindus that Muslims are dealing with. He asks Hindu organisations to find “liberal Muslims” for negotiation. Can he say the same thing to Muslims? Can they find ‘liberal’ Hindus to talk to, whose views the Hindutva groups would listen to?”
Hindus are in danger because a pregnant Muslim woman was gangraped and made to watch the massacre of her family. The logic may seem perverse to the uninitiated. But in a state where this ideological discourse has prevailed for over three decades, its electoral appeal cannot be ignored, writes Poornima Joshi.
Jagdeep Chokkar writes an open letter to the director of the Central Burau of Investigation on the Bilkis Bano case. Since it was the CBI which investigated and prosecuted the case, the grant of remission negates its work and thus “it is the duty of the CBI to challenge the grant of remission, and the manner in which it was done”.
Parul Chandra writes that the brewing Agnipath controversy in Nepal can derail bilateral ties with India and allow China to make deeper inroads.
The Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka’s actions should spur India to greater efforts to regain the Tamils’ support that Delhi lost when the Tigers were wiped out, writes R Bhagwan Singh.
While the nation can take pride in having successfully designed and built its first aircraft carrier, attaining combat-worthiness will be a work in progress for a few years, writes C Uday Bhaskar.
On the day the Indian Navy commissions its second aircraft carrier, there remains a worrying lack of clarity in New Delhi about the target of its meagre financial resources, writes Ajai Shukla.
Biswajit Dhar writes that more than ever before, India’s trade engagements depend on strategic choices.
Manish Kumar writes that many states are opposed to the Centre’s Electricity Amendment Bill because the legislation could boost privatisation and create a threat to the rights of states.
V Sridhar writes that GDP growth in percentages is misleading, particularly when underlying statistics are volatile, as in the pandemic years.
The Supreme Court’s redefinition of a family can be vital. The state continues to back antiquated ideas of ‘family’, while social values and the law have moved on to embrace individual liberty, says Mint.
Indian universities find their academic calendars are a mess, thanks to the poorly planned and implemented Central University Entrance Test (CUET), write Shreya K. Sugathan and Deepika M. “One of the purported aims of having the CUET is to reduce the burden on students of appearing for multiple entrance tests. However, it now seems the remedy is worse than the disease.”
Gideon Rachman’s guest this week on the Financial Times’ podcast is public intellectual and historian Ramachandra Guha.
Author Akshya Mukul talks to Naresh Fernandes on why Hindi modernist writer Agyeya is still relevant and controversial.
Over and Out
GQ has a list of seven Indian movies that were not allowed to be released in India, but you can watch them on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and more.
Ruby Lal tells Atlas Obscura that Orientalist art sexualised the Mughal harem. She speaks of extraordinary Mughal women like Gulbadan and Nur Jahan.
Radhika Singha reviews the extraordinary tale of Nariman Karkaria, a Parsi from Gujarat who travelled from China to London to enlist in the British army and fought in four different World War One theatres.
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