The India Cable: ‘Jai Sri Ram’ for Kashmir Leaders, ‘Cow Cabinet’ for MP

Plus: Census ‘chronology’ kaput, as is 'make in India', ‘UPSC jihad’ channel only cautioned, Sasikala buys freedom for Rs 10 crore, what jail and bail say about India

From the founding editors of The Wire—MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia—and journalists-writers Seema Chishti, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam. Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
November 19, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

The push to reopen schools is faltering in some states. Over 150 school students from three districts in Haryana have tested positive for coronavirus, prompting authorities to order the closure of educational institutions for a few days. A week ago, Tamil Nadu also rolled back its schedule for the reopening of schools. The Delhi High Court refused to entertain a plea against the Chhath Puja ban imposed by the Delhi government in view of the raging pandemic in the national capital, as the court put the right to health first.

In the dock for wrongly showing Ladakh in China, Twitter has written to the Joint Committee of Parliament looking into the Data Protection Bill, apologising for the erroneous geo-tagging of India’s map and promising to correct it by the end of the month. Amidst reports that India has made all-weather shelters for its soldiers deployed in Ladakh comes news that China is fortifying its defences and building infrastructure across the disputed border in the region, and is not preparing to disengage as suggested by numerous reports last week. And two Indian packages of frozen butterfish tested positive for Covid-19 in China. 

India has fallen several notches to the eighth spot among key emerging markets in October, its worst performance since June. It did not join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal because it would have had “negative consequences”, though the country is interested in a “fair and balanced” free trade pact with the European Union (EU), External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Wednesday.

BJP J&K chief Ravinder Raina. Photo: Twitter/@Imravinderraina

In a remarkable move signalling his party’s understanding of the integration of Kashmir with the rest of India, the J&K BJP chief wants to force former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and wear a tilak. Neither the BJP national chief nor the Prime Minister have contradicted the leader so far, but these days, silence must not be read as complicity. The Supreme Court has issued a notice to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Congress leader Gaurav Hemantbhai Pandya’s appeal challenging his Rajya Sabha election from Gujarat in July last year, on the ground that the Election Commission should not have held separate elections for the two seats vacated by Union ministers Amit Shah and Smriti Irani. 

And two Indian-Americans are among the potential cabinet picks in the Biden-Harris administration: former US surgeon-general Vivek Murthy for the post of secretary of health and human services and Stanford University Professor Arun Majumdar for the post of secretary of energy.

On the vaccine front, there is evidence that the Oxford vaccine is able to protect the most vulnerable – the elderly. 

Making in India: A 20-year low for manufacturing

Grim news about the economy does not seem to stop. The tamasha around the PM’s Make in India may have distracted us from the facts on the ground. Well before the pandemic, industry share in GDP hit a 20-year low in 2019. Its decline became worse in the last three years, according to data just in. A continued slowdown in industrial growth has made the Indian economy a laggard in Asia. India has the smallest manufacturing sector in Asia (as a share of national income), 27.5% ― only Pakistan’s and Nepal’s are smaller.

In the last three years, India’s nominal GDP in dollar terms grew at a CAGR of 7.7%, underperforming Bangladesh (11% CAGR), China (9.5%) and Vietnam (9.3%). This has serious implications for jobs, prosperity and prospects for India, as an investment destination.

An affidavit in bad taste

To avoid an adverse order from the apex court and following the spirit of its submissions in the Tableeghi Jamaat case, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the ‘Bindas Bol ― UPSC Jihad’ programme of  Sudarshan News is against good taste and decency, attacks religious communities and contains defamatory, deliberate and obscene half-truths. But, surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) the government has not taken any punitive action against the channel or barred the telecast of future episodes. This is in complete contrast to the treatment meted out to the Malayalam channels Asianet News and Media One, which were banned for two days for reporting on the Delhi riots, though no evidence of wrongdoing was found. 

The affidavit states that Sudarshan News has been “cautioned”, and if found in violation of the Programme Code in the future, “stricter penal action” would be taken. Future episodes of the Bindaas Bol show on ‘UPSC Jihad’ have not been barred. Guidelines issued by the I&B ministry will have to be complied with and the show will have to be toned down, for the remaining four episodes to be aired. The final arbiter is the Supreme Court, which had injuncted further telecasts, and will hear the matter on Thursday.

No chronology available on Census 

The office of the Registrar General of India has said that the schedule of the questionnaire of the controversial National Population Register (NPR) is “being finalised” and the date of commencement of the first phase of Census 2021 is “not available.” Census 2021 was expected to begin in April 2020 but was indefinitely postponed in March. At least 13 states have opposed holding the NPR along with the Census, due to its problematic link with the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act passed by Parliament last year. 

A storm had erupted over discriminatory citizenship amendments that fast-track citizenship for non-Muslim foreigners from six countries, and Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement on the “chronology” of the CAA being brought in to ensure that only non-Hindus would face possible exclusion in the NRC, forced the BJP to back off. Prime Minister Modi had to announce in a public rally in Delhi in December 2019 that there was no discussion yet on the NRC.

Mother serious ― MP gets a cabinet of cows, UP cows unwanted

Madhya Pradesh has a Cow Cabinet now. The new ‘gau cabinet’ will yoke together six departments under five ministers for the “conservation and welfare of cows”.

But with few takers for its cattle adoption project, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is grappling to address the stray animal problem. Under the scheme launched in September 2019, the government offered a monthly allowance of Rs 900 per animal to those who adopted cows, but it was financially unviable. After a decent response initially, the scheme had failed to encourage people to adopt stray cattle. In August 2020, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced that 1 lakh stray animals, mainly cows, would be adopted across the state in three months, but government figures suggest that in two and a half months, not even 10,000 cows have been adopted. The BJP state government is spending more on gaushalas and cattle protection measures than on improving infrastructure for primary school education. Under the state budget 2019-20, an allocation of Rs 600 crore was made towards cattle welfare.

Not the India her mother lived in

The Financial Times has run a scathing piece on developments in India by Marina Wheeler, British lawyer, author, commentator, Queen’s Counsel since 2016, and also British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ex-wife. She writes about every day ending in alarm as a “new outrage about the state of the rule of law” in India comes to light. The “secular foundations of the republic are being dismantled and the religious minorities, whom the Constitution declares equal in law, are losing their voice.”

Wheeler is the daughter of Charles Wheeler, BBC’s Europe correspondent, and she has recently written about her Punjabi Sikh mother Dip’s world, in The Lost Homestead: My Mother, the Partition and the Punjab. Her mother made a remarkable journey, growing up amid India’s Partition, then escaping her first marriage, going on to work at the Canadian Embassy in Delhi and then at Amnesty International in London, before becoming a homemaker after her marriage to Charles. 

The Long Cable

Jail and bail, and what it says about India

Tanweer Alam

The law, its power to jail, give bail, or to not give bail, has been in the news for a few days now. What does the working of justice in the Supreme Court tell us about the state of the republic? Tanweer Alam asked three questions of Tarunabh Khaitan, Professor of Public Law and Legal Theory at Wadham College, Oxford University, and a Vice Dean at the Faculty of Law.

Alam: The hearing of the extraordinary bail petition of Arnab Goswami and the grant of immediate relief offers a contrast to other cases, most recently that of the Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan. Isn’t it unusual and alarming?

Khaitan: The prompt hearing and grant of bail to Mr Goswami is welcome. This alacrity should be a template for how the judiciary should deal with all petitions where personal liberty is at stake. A day spent in prison by any person who does not deserve it is a day too long. Habeas corpus and bail petitions should take priority, and criminal accountability must be extracted from public servants, especially police officers, who wrongfully confine individuals on manufactured charges. 

Alam: Attorney General KK Venugopal has given sanction for a case of contempt against comedian Kunal Kamra. Your comments?

Khaitan: It is both unjust and unwise. Forget freedom of expression, even ancient and medieval rulers knew that they needed the wisdom of ‘fools’ and ‘jesters’ in courts, with the licence to speak their minds freely. The mockery of comedians is essential to remind the powerful that they too are human, and can err. Like Montaigne, they remind the rest of us that “kings and philosophers shit ― and so do ladies.” 

Alam: How do you see the state of the judiciary and its effect on Indian democracy and the republic? 

Khaitan: The judiciary has not defended constitutional guarantees consistently or adequately. Its tolerance of fundamental violations of constitutional norms and values seems to have increased significantly in recent years. There is much that is necessary in terms of judicial reform: the Court has to ring-fence its constitutional defence function and protect it from its huge special leave docket. It needs to take its role of defending personal liberty a lot more seriously. It must discharge its counter-majoritarian function routinely, rather than erratically. But courts alone cannot save a democracy. Other institutions, especially fourth branch institutions like the Election Commission, need to step up, too. Most importantly, for a democracy to function, its political Opposition and civil society need to be protected from persecution and law-fare.


Religion, politics and pandemic does mix in Delhi

India’s national capital is in the grip of a major pandemic crisis which has led to 45 doctors and 160 paramedics from the Central Armed Police Forces being rushed to take charge of the DRDO-run hospital near the Delhi airport. DRDO is adding another 250 ICU beds to its facility. The Railways have also agreed to provide coaches with 800 additional isolation beds at Shakurbasti Station in the city. But the Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi has announced that there is no plan to impose another lockdown. The reason: politics. The BJP held demonstrations and slammed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for a ban on community celebrations of Chhath Puja in public places, accusing him of “hurting the sentiments of Purvanchalis”. The decision was upheld by the Delhi High Court, though Kejriwal is on a weak wicket after having organised a massive Diwali pooja on behalf of his government.

Separatist released, mainstream captive in Kashmir 

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court has quashed the detention order of separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat and directed the administration to release him forthwith if he is not required in any other case. Bhat, who is chairman of the separatist outfit Muslim League, had challenged the judgment of a single bench which had dismissed his plea against his 36th preventive detention order dated November 14, 2017, issued by the district magistrate of Kupwara.

Meanwhile, National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti alleged that candidates, except those of the BJP and the pro-BJP Jammu & Kashmir Apni Party, in the fray for the District Development Council polls beginning later this month in Jammu and Kashmir, were being prevented from campaigning in the name of security.

“Just wait and watch. You will see what more they have to do. They will have to wear a tilak and chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’,” said J&K BJP chief Ravinder Raina. He wants to force former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Ghulam Nabi Azad to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and wear a tilak. Raina had retreated into a shell recently, after the Centre changed the laws to allow outsiders to own land in Jammu and Kashmir. The decision has enraged many Jammu Hindus, who see it as an assault on their culture and targeting of their land.

Yatra vs yatra

In Tamil Nadu, where elections are due in six months, the BJP has launched a Vetrivel Yatra, invoking Lord Murugan to consolidate the Hindu vote. Vetrivel means ‘spear’, and the yatra has run into all kinds of trouble. The BJP is waiting for Amit Shah, who will travel south over the weekend, to bless it. The Congress plans to channel anger over the new farm laws with a ‘Plough Yatra’ in the state from Sunday. The party claims that it has 16 lakh farmers signed up who oppose the farm laws being pushed by the BJP. 

Sasikala buys Rs 10 crore ticket to freedom 

Jailed AIADMK leader VK Sasikala has initiated the process for her release from Parappana Agrahara prison in Bengaluru by depositing a fine of Rs 10 crore before the 34th city civil court in the Karnataka capital. It was paid by four members of her extended family through demand drafts drawn on various bank accounts.

Sasikala, a close friend of the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, is serving a four year sentence in a disproportionate assets case, and her jail term ends in February 2021. However, Sasikala’s legal team has been pushing for her early release, contending that she is entitled to ordinary remission if leave that she has not availed of is counted. The prison administration had also told an RTI applicant in September that Sasikala can walk out of prison on January 27, 2021 if she pays a fine of Rs 10 crore. If she had failed to remit the fine amount, her release would have been deferred till February 27, 2022. 

Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said that the release of VK Sasikala from Bengaluru prison will not change the AIADMK’s decision to keep her and her relatives away from the party and government affairs.

Deep Dive

Decoding labour

The three new labour codes passed by Parliament without discussion in the last session make sweeping changes to labour laws. The one thing they all do is disempower labour, as Atul Sood explains

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • In Bihar, research suggests that greater representation of upper castes leads to sharper focus on growth-oriented rather than redistributive policies. Caste and caste-based representation are useful not only for understanding the outcome of elections, but also steer policy. Who is in power in the state has a bearing on what the state does, writes Poulomi Chakrabarti.

  • The key to Mukesh Ambani’s soaring wealth is not innovation but monopoly and policies that suit his businesses, says V Venkateswara Rao, and the real losers are the Indian public and the Indian economy at large.

Listen up

Ellen Goldberg, Aditi Sen and Brian Collins, editors of Bollywood Horrors: Religion, Violence and Cinematic Fears in India speak about their book, a multi-faceted and wide-ranging collection that examines cinematic representations of real-life horror, the religious aspects of horror imagery and themes, and the ways in which Hindi films have projected “cinematic fears” onto the screen.

Watch Out

Fareed Zakaria speaks at the Tata Literature Festival, which is being held virtually, and says that India is fast tumbling down the very road that Erdogan’s Turkey took. Why exactly? See here:

Zomato to look into it

The public campaign to force companies to take responsibility for journalistic content they sponsor via advertisements got some teeth when food delivery company Zomato said they do not endorse hate on TV. They are at least “looking into this.” The company said this in response to a tweet which cited a Republic TV show on ‘love jihad’ as an example.

That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, 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.