The India Cable: Kashmir's Thumbs Down for BJP's Article 370 Move, UK Regulator Fines Republic TV

Plus: India loses Cairn arbitration, almost one in five Indians die of air pollution, former bureaucrats and cops question Central Vista, Sugathakumari has died today, and do we really need governors?

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
December 23, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

The Indian government has lost an arbitration case with energy giant Cairn under the retrospective tax amendment to the law. India has been asked to pay damages of Rs 8,000 crore to the UK oil major. The order has taken note of arguments and statements by BJP leaders, in the Opposition at the time, over retrospective tax amendments and international disputes, with senior leaders like Arun Jaitley calling it “tax terrorism”. The verdict comes three months after India lost an arbitration case to Vodafone over retrospective legislation.

“We are stuck because of the Chinese, but in some ways we are also stuck because of the weather and the terrain,” said a retired Lieutenant General who commanded the corps in Ladakh where the border crisis with China shows no sign of ending. The Indian Army has identified 20 sensitive spots from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh along the Line of Actual Control which are likely to witness incursions by the People’s Liberation Army after the winter.

US president-elect Joe Biden has named two more Indian-Americans to plum appointments in the post-Trump world: Gautam Raghavan will join as Deputy Director in the Office of Presidential Personnel and Vinay Reddy will be Director of Speechwriting. 

The Supreme Court’s handling of cases relating to personal freedom came in for severe criticism on Tuesday from former Supreme Court Judge Madan B Lokur, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, former law minister Kapil Sibal and activist Medha Patkar, who questioned the apex court’s priorities in handling issues of human rights and personal liberty. 

The Constitutional Conduct Group of 69 former bureaucrats wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to review the Central Vista revamp plan, and asked why this “wasteful and unnecessary project must take precedence over social priorities like health and education.” Signatories included former IAS officers Jawhar Sircar, Jawed Usmani, NC Saxena, Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander and Rahul Khullar, and former IPS officers AS Dulat, Amitabh Mathur and Julio Ribeiro.

The Central Information Commission, which implements the Right to Information Act, has ruled that disclosure of the identity of electoral bond donors would not serve any larger public interest and would violate provisions of the Act itself. The Centre has delayed announcing the schedule of school board exams

Image: ‘Peaceful Farmers Protest’, word collage by Srini Swaminathan

Potato prices have crashed in Haryana and the state agriculture minister admits that the new agriculture laws offer no mechanism to control fluctuating prices. He says prices could dip further and that there is no “instant” remedy. The government decision to recover money paid to some beneficiaries under the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana over the past two years has farmers fuming. 

The poet and activist Sugathakumari, Padma Shri and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, died this morning. Apart from the numerous fans of her literary work, many more will remember her for her role in the movement to save Silent Valley, an early victory for the green movement in India. 

Prime Minister Modi’s virtual and controversial attendance at the centenary of Aligarh Muslim University evoked a mixed response on campus. Rajasthan Congress president Govind Singh Dotasara has hit out at the Modi government and claimed that “all Union ministers are comedians.” It is an insult to comedians, whom this government fears.

Harpreet Singh, a farmer whose photograph was used by the Punjab BJP to drum up support for the contentious farm laws, has actually been with the protesting farmers on Delhi’s Singhu border since the first week of December. The poster used on the Punjab BJP’s Facebook page was removed after an uproar. 

Kashmir votes for Article 370

The Gupkar Alliance, formed with the specific objective of restoring the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, will form councils in 13 of 20 districts if the Congress offers it support, the BJP in six, while one is dominated by independents. The elections to 280 District Development Council seats, 14 in each of the 20 districts, were held in eight phases in the Union Territory from November 28 to December 19, with barely a week’s notice. 

The Gupkar Alliance’s victory is seen as a rebuff to the Modi government, which has called the axis a “gang” and its leaders “anti-nationals” and “looters”. It faced a hostile administration that denied its leaders the chance to campaign freely. Its candidates were “locked up” in the name of their security and some of its leaders were named in alleged scams in the midst of elections, arrested or put under house arrest on various pretexts. 

If the polls were projected as a referendum on the scrapping of J&K’s autonomy, the results must be seen as the first public expression of anger against the move and a snub to the BJP’s “all is well” narrative. The results show that the National Conference and the Congress were the only parties with a presence in all the regions of the Union Territory, with the NC providing the strongest opposition to the BJP even in the Jammu-Udhampur region. As pollster Neelanjan Sircar notes, “BJP has lost ground in J&K. In 2014, there were 83 assembly constituencies (46 in Kashmir/37 in Jammu), and the BJP won 25 (30.1%). In the 2019 DDC elections, these were tilted against Kashmir (with 140 seats each for Jammu and for Kashmir (i.e. 280 total), the BJP has won 75 (26.7%). Lacklustre performance in Jammu.”

No, Guv

The Governor of Kerala has denied permission for a special assembly session against farm laws which the state government planned to convene today. Commentators have pointed out that the Supreme Court’s decision on Arunachal Pradesh is clear ― the governor has to act on the advice of the council of ministers, and doesn’t enjoy any discretion. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to Governor Arif Md Khan. Others say that the office of governor allowing excesses by powerful executives is the problem. Of colonial provenance, it is redundant. 

Business activity slows down

Key indicators point to slowing business  activity, contrary to the hype about economic recovery. The tally of newly incorporated companies fell by 19.5%, and electronic permits raised for transporting goods declined by 10% on a sequential basis in November for the first time since April. Data issued by RBI showed that the number of real-time online payments through UPI fell 5.3% to 1.51 billion transactions in December 1-21, compared to the same period in November.

Farmers organise debate on laws

Two days after the Centre invited protesting farmers’ unions for the next round of talks on a date of their choice, farmers have said that this was not a step forward but a “way to trick farmers” and avoid reversing the laws. Alleging that they were being targeted for supporting the farmers’ agitation, arhtiyas across Punjab went on a four-day strike from Tuesday in protest against recent income tax raids.

Farmer unions will address queries on agri laws via a webinar and have invited actors Kangana Ranaut, Mukesh Khanna and Payal Rohatgi to participate. A group of farmers showed black flags to Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar when his convoy was passing through Ambala city. Some tried to block Khattar’s motorcade but police cleared a safe passage for him.

It is Kisan Diwas or Farmer’s Day today, commemorating the birthday of Chaudhary Charan Singh, but his family and the Rashtriya Lok Dal have been denied permission to visit Kisan Ghat, his samadhi in Delhi, to pay tribute.

British media regulator: Republic of Bharat spews hate speech

Worldview Media Network Ltd, which broadcasts Republic Bharat, Arnab Goswami’s Hindi news channel in the UK, has been fined ₤20,000 by the British broadcasting regulator OfCom for airing “hate speech” directed at Pakistanis in an episode. The broadcaster has required Republic TV to pay the fine if it is to remain on air. The seriousness with which Ofcom views the breach is clear in its order, from para 27 onwards. It’s a pity that Sudarshan News doesn’t have a UK presence. 

Republic gets away with hysterical hate speech on the Indian airwaves, and has become a model for less partisan channels, and even for print media probing the limits of the possible but unspeakable. The goal of self-regulation, which was embraced by the industry, has not served it well, but state regulation would be worse, of course.  

Congress challenges Modi to ban beef export 

“Even if beef is not available, we can still bring in live animals with permissions (for slaughter in Goa),” Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told reporters, adding that the government would work closely with beef traders to make bovine meat available in the state during the festive season. 

Karnataka Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao challenged the Narendra Modi government to ban the export of beef to stop cow-slaughter. The MLA, who is also Goa incharge of the Congress, was speaking of the shortage of beef in the coastal state due to a supply crunch from neighbouring Karnataka. “Let Prime Minister Narendra Modi ban the export of beef. If that happens, cows will not be slaughtered,” he told reporters in Panaji.

Possession of a dead animal’s skin does not amount to an offence under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has observed while quashing an FIR against a man for possession of cow skins. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act (MAPA), 1976 prohibits the slaughter, purchase, sale, import, export and possession of beef.

Covid chaos continues

Nearly 44% of rural Indians are willing to pay for the Covid-19 vaccine. The developer of the country’s main homegrown coronavirus vaccine is already producing millions of doses of its candidate, which is yet to be authorised, but supplying enough shots for half of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people is daunting. Bharat Biotech has already produced about 10 million doses of its Covaxin shot, which is still in trials, ahead of an anticipated rollout by the middle of next year. It has a current annual capacity of 300 million shots and expects the first 100 million to be deployed by the government, which has partly financed its development.

A new variant of the coronavirus that originated in the UK sometime in September is likely to have already reached India, experts said, calling for increased whole genome sequencing based surveillance to detect the new mutation and prevent further spread. VUI–202012/01, which accounted for nearly 60% of all cases in London by mid-December, is thought to be 70% more transmissible than earlier versions of the coronavirus. Scientists are still researching the effects, virulence and severity of the new strain. The government believes that the strain has not reached India yet.

In an interview to The Wire, one of India’s leading virologist, Shahid Jameel, said he believes the use of plasma therapy in which plasma from recovered and infected patients were mixed – regardless of the virulence of each person’s infection – may have helped the virus mutate in India, raising the prospect of more infectious ‘indigenous’ strains.

Inmates beat up anti-CAA activist in prison

The family of Ishrat Jahan, former Congress councillor and detained under the draconian UAPA in connection with the Delhi ‘riots’ case, alleges that she has been assaulted by fellow inmates in Mandoli Jail for the second time. Apparently, they want to extort food from her. 

The Long Cable

And then came Advani’s “blood yatra”

Aakar Patel

At each stop along the way Advani went about talking about why the Babri Masjid had to be taken down, using the vocabulary and metaphors of religion, in basic speeches that he said were no more than five minutes long. The reduction can only be imagined; the consequence was predictable. The scale of the violence unleashed by Advani’s decision to politicise a communal issue and mobilise on it was staggering in both the numbers killed and the geographical spread. 

B Rajeshwari of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, in her work Communal Riots in India: A Chronology 1947- 2003, writes: ‘The mobilisation campaign for kar sevaks to construct the proposed Ram Janmabhoomi Temple at Ayodhya on October 30, 1990, aggravated the communal atmosphere in the country. Communal riots occurred in the wake of LK Advani’s Rath Yatra wherever it went. These riots were led by RSS-BJP men to consolidate the “Hindu” vote bank. They were widespread over almost all the states from Assam to West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi’.

Between April 1989 and April 1990, Gujarat recorded 262 dead, mostly Muslims. In October 1990, days after Advani’s yatra began, 41 were killed in Ahmedabad. The same month, 52 were killed in Jaipur, 20 in Jodhpur, 33 in Lucknow, over 100 in Delhi, 37 in Assam, 18 in Patna and 165 in Hyderabad. Also in October, a pogrom against Muslims in Bhagalpur, Bihar, saw 960 killed, of whom about 900 were Muslim. In November, 31 were killed in Agra, again mostly Muslims, and 13 in Indore. In December, 60 were killed in Karnataka and 134 in Hyderabad. 

Many parts of India remained tense for long periods of time. Between April and May 1990, three riots in Kanpur killed 30; between May and November 1991 more than 50 were killed in Varanasi. In May 1991, 26 including 24 Muslims were killed in Vadodara. 

In October 1992, 44 were killed in Sitamarhi. On December 6 that year, immediately after the Babri Masjid was destroyed, pogroms against Muslims broke out in Surat where 200 died, of whom some 95% were Muslim. In Bhopal in December, 143 were killed. The Bombay riots that broke out at the same time saw more than 1,000 killed, mostly Muslim. Advani absolves himself of any responsibility here. He accepts there was violence around India but acquits himself by saying, “There were indeed riots in several parts of the country, but none at all along the yatra trail.”

He asks: “Was my campaign anti-Muslim?” And answers himself: “Not in the least.” When the mobs he gathered began to shout, “Jo Hindu hit ki baat karega wohi desh pe raj karega (only those speaking of Hindu interest will rule India),” Advani says he requested them to replace the phrase ‘Hindu hit’ with ‘rashtra hit’. He adds: “I was, therefore, pained to see a section of the media carry reports that had sensational titles like ‘Advani’s blood yatra’.” Other than this sympathy for himself, Advani has no comment on the killings in his book written 15 years later.

Many of the riots broke out after calculated provocation. Rath Yatras and associated processions were deliberately taken through Muslim neighbourhoods. Violence was good because it led to polarisation and that made voter choice easy. Advani successfully polarised India from north to south and east to west, pitting Indians against their fellow countrymen and women and children.

The reward was a doubling of the BJP’s vote share. In the general elections held in mid-1991, the BJP got 20% of the total vote and won 120 seats. In the first election held after the demolition, in 1996, the BJP won 161 seats. 

Over 3,400 Indians were killed in the violence triggered by Advani’s anti-Babri Masjid campaign and it brought the BJP to the doorstep of power. Advani’s success was built on the corpses of Indians and cemented with their blood.

[An extract from Aakar Patel’s new book, Our Hindu Rashtra: What it is. How we got here (Westland Publications). Reproduced with the permission of the author and publisher.]

Competitive exam treadmill stops

In India’s brutally competitive testing culture, students focus on exam prep for years. But despite their best intentions, the pandemic had other plans: the crazy treadmill stopped moving. As the education minister praised India’s education system for surmounting pandemic-related challenges, the livestream’s comment boxes were flooded with panicked students insisting that they were struggling to cope, and that exams must be postponed.

Deep Dive

Everything’s on sale

Inside India’s booming dark data economy, says this detailed report by Snigdha Poonam and Samarth Bansal, due to lax privacy laws and high consumer demand, details on everything from how you shop to who you date are all for sale. 

All for love

“It is a special moment for us; we want to show the world that there is only love between us, no jihad.” Under the skin of a match made in (the) hell (that is Uttar Pradesh), which survives nevertheless.  

Prime Number: 17.8%
In a stunning new report, The Lancet says that in 2019, deaths attributable to air pollution in India accounted for 17·8% of total deaths in the country. It also put a number to the economic loss this caused, estimating $36.8 billion or 1.36% of India’s GDP.
Courtesy: The Lancet Planet Health

Another prime: 75%

That’s the proportion of India’s districts vulnerable to extreme weather events like cyclones, droughts, floods, and cold waves, according to a new study by CEEW, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water. 

This first ever district-level analysis is important as these districts are home to 638 million Indians. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 has found India to be the fifth most vulnerable country in the world.

Kejriwal’s costly Diwali bomb

Lakshmi was not only worshipped, but also expended in the celebrations in Delhi. 

Pioneering lawyer who fought for women’s suffrage in India

A century ago in the UK, the first women law students were admitted to the Inns of Court. One of them at Lincoln’s Inn in London, Mithan Lam, was Indian. She was the pioneering lawyer who fought for women’s suffrage in India. In 1924, she became the first woman to be allowed to practise in the Bombay High Court, shattering one of the thickest glass ceilings for professional women in the country. But Lam’s influence extended well beyond the Bar: she left an indelible stamp on the suffragist movement and the struggle for gender equality in India. 

In 1923, she was the first woman ever to be called to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn, and the first Indian woman called to the Bar in Britain. In 1947, the year of Indian independence, Lam added another first to her credit. She was appointed sheriff of Bombay, the first woman sheriff in India. Years later, when she travelled the world as a representative of Indian women, this caused occasional puzzlement.

Nepotism, sycophancy not cricket, says Bedi

Straight and honest as ever, former Indian cricket captain Bishan Singh Bedi has written a letter to the Delhi cricket chief resigning his membership of the Delhi and District Cricket Association and requesting his name be removed from the stand in the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium. This was due to the decision by DDCA to install a statue of the late Arun Jaitley, senior BJP leader at the stadium. The DDCA is headed Arun Jaitley’s son, Rohan. Read the full text of Bedi's letter.

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Jawahar Sircar on the Election Commission’s sudden revelation that if the central government so desired, the facility of casting a postal ballot, which is presently reserved only for those who are on election or defence duty within India, can be extended to NRI (non-resident Indian) voters. The timing is interesting, he says ― three non-BJP ruled states go to the polls in the next few months.

  • Gautam Bhatia says that the future of reservation policy as a vehicle of achieving social justice will be significantly influenced by whether and to what extent the Supreme Court is willing to critically interrogate merit as a function of social privilege, which the Constitution is committed to equalising. Or will it continue to see merit and reservations locked in a war with each other, with its adjudicatory function being to balance the two?

Listen up

Aishe Ghosh is a Students’ Federation of India leader and President of the JNU Students’ Union. In December 2019, a masked mob barged into JNU and beat up students protesting against fee hikes. Ghosh was hospitalised but instead of filing an FIR based on her complaint, the authorities charged her with vandalism. One year later, nobody from the group of outsiders responsible for the violence has been arrested. Ghosh sees attacks on JNU and the effort to change its character as part of a greater plan to clamp down on dissent. 

“This government wants only homogenised thinking,” she says in a podcast interview with Sidharth Bhatia, a contributor to The India Cable. Some of the momentum of the protests has gone, she admits, but students all over India will now have “no option but to protest” to save education.

Watch Out

Canadian-Punjabi singer Jazzy B reached the Singhu border directly from Canada and made an impassioned speech. Watch a song he recorded a few days ago on the Kisan Andolan. 

What’s the Malayalam for Sanskrit?

The BJP in Kerala was boasting that their ward member Devika Antharjanam took the oath of office in Sanskrit in the Aymanam Grama Panchayat in Kottayam. There was a backlash about the BJP campaigning in Malayalam, but now valorising Sanskrit. But more than that, it transpires that the ‘Sanskrit’ was actually Malayalam.

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.