The India Cable: Khalsa Aid vilified in India, Admired Overseas; Only Rajini Can Quit Politics Before Joining It

Plus: Govt did not consult farmers before legislating, 104 retired civil servants resist ‘love jihad’ law, 5,100 LoC ceasefire violations in 2020 and Madame Tussauds Delhi melts down financially

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 30, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

Just hours after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency of the UK recommended emergency authorisation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the expert committee of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation met today to consider the application of the Serum Institute of India. In other UK news, a small, rusted metal bowl, two wooden spoons and a wooden fork, once used by Mahatma Gandhi, will be up for auction in Bristol on January 10. 

The Goa government is considering legislation to permit the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Earlier this month, India voted in favour of removing marijuana from the list of ‘most dangerous drugs’ at the United Nations. It went with the flow internationally, while the Narcotics Control Bureau was drumming up a moral panic over marijuana use in the film industry, in connection with the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case.

Nav Bhatia, the official Superfan of current NBA champions Toronto Raptors and the best-known Indo-Canadian face, has turned down the $50,000 Global Indian Award a day after accepting it. The Canada-India Foundation had conferred the award on Bhatia at its virtual gala here on Sunday. Accepting the award, Bhatia said in his pre-recorded speech that he was greatly honoured to join the company of previous awardees Ratan Tata, Deepak Chopra, NR Narayana Murthy, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. But the day after, Bhatia refused to accept the award, in support of the farmers’ agitation in India.  “My heart cannot accept this award, not while my brothers and sisters across India are in pain,” he said.

Terming Uttar Pradesh as the “epicentre of the politics of hate”, 104 senior retired civil servants have written to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, demanded that the discriminatory ‘love jihad’ ordinance issued by the UP government should be taken back, and police officers responsible for excesses in the recent action against the inter-faith couple of Rashid and Pinky, in which they may have “facilitated the death of an unborn infant” (as Pinky had miscarried), should be investigated instead.

Even as 1,000 sq kms of territory has been reportedly lost to the Chinese in Ladakh, the Defence Minister has time for conversions and marriage. In extraordinary comments unrelated to his ministerial domain, Rajnath Singh said he does “not approve of conversion for marriage.” Okay.

Four people were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly siphoning off Rs 6 lakh from the Ram Mandir Trust’s bank account in September, police said. The results of the Haryana municipal election are trickling in ― the Congress has taken Sonipat, the BJP has won Rewari and the JJP has lost Dharuhera to an independent. 

Tamil superstar Rajinikanth has announced that he will not launch a new political party to contest the 2021 assembly elections, citing his poor health and Covid-19 as reasons for going back on the promise he made on the last day of 2017. In a three-page statement posted on his verified Twitter page, Rajinikanth apologised to his fans, supporters and people who stood by him over the past three years for his decision. He also said he would continue working for the people of Tamil Nadu without launching a political party. 

The BJP hopes that Rajini will back the NDA in the assembly elections. The Rajini Makkal Mandram, his fan club in organised form, had swung into action at the booth level and is now trying to come to terms with the upset. There will be some heartburn, but fans should appreciate that this is the ultimate Rajinikanth fact: only Rajini can quit politics before joining it.

A six-term BJP MP and important tribal leader from Bharuch, Gujarat, Mansukh Vasava has quit the party over the BJP’s approach to tribal rights, especially in the eco-sensitive zone in the region, days after writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to oppose a government notification that would harm the interests of tribals and farmers in his constituency.

More journalists are being killed in countries considered to be at peace. In its 2020 roundup, Reporters Sans Frontieres says more than two-thirds of fatalities are in countries “at peace”. Mexico is on top and India second on that list.

Another development that should worry Indian editors and journalists is the opinion of the protesting farmers about the state of journalism in India. “There is no difference between the media, the government and the corporates,” they say, not unjustifiably, and speak of ‘Godi Media’. When journalists reach out to protesters, many of them prefer either not to speak or to ask why they are labelled as Khalistanis, terrorists or Maoists.  

“No record of talks” with farmers before laws were passed

Today, the Centre is to meet protesting farmers, who have hardened their stand and sent a four-point agenda to the government. Yesterday, Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Piyush Goyal met Home Minister Amit Shah in Delhi ahead of the crucial sixth round of talks with farmers. 

A special report by NDTV based on RTIs filed by its reporters establishes that there were no conversations with farmers at all before the three farm laws were passed. The Ministry of Agriculture has told them that they have no records of talks

The leaders have upped the ante. NCP chief and former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said that the government had bulldozed the farm laws through Parliament and no agriculture policy can be run while “sitting in Delhi”. Akhilesh Yadav, former chief minister of UP, said the farmers would bring the “arrogant BJP down to the street.” The jawan as kisan has become a theme: “Among the lakhs of peasants at Delhi’s gates is this group of six war heroes and veterans who have between them won over 50 medals in wars they’ve fought for India.” 


No outcome of talks with China as well

Defence minister Rajnath Singh has acknowledged that there has been no meaningful outcome of talks with China on the LAC standoff, and the status quo remains: “Talks between India and China have been underway but no success [has been] achieved yet. The next round of talks will be at the military level, and can take place anytime. But no meaningful outcome has come and there is status quo. I don’t think [the] status quo is a positive development.” 

Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has listed out the possible Chinese objectives for its actions at the northern borders, which could include planned escalation and an attempt to establish border claim lines and start border talks on the new positions, military signalling, and domination efforts with escalation control to train Chinese Western Theatre forces in real war-like scenarios, wherein the Galwan Valley incident was an overreach. Bhadauria said China’s aim could also be to fine-tune strategy to enhance its military technologies and recognize and fill gaps.


Khalsa Aid vilified in India, admired abroad 

Several people were injured on Tuesday in a lathi charge at a busy crossing in the heart of Patna when police personnel tried to stop a procession against the farm laws from heading towards Raj Bhavan. Thousands of protesters, comprising members of various farmers’ organisations and pro-Left groups, marched down Frazer Road before they were stalled at the Dak Bungalow crossing.

The NGO Khalsa Aid India has said the “vilification” faced by the organisation for helping their “own people” during the ongoing farmers’ protest was “unprecedented”. Internationally, Khalsa Aid and the Gravesend Gurdwara earned admiration in Christmas week by serving hot meals of chhole chawal to trailer rig drivers stranded for days on end on the roads of Dover, as France sealed its border against the new Covid-19 strain in the UK.    

Food Corporation of India (FCI), the state grain procurement agency, buys rice and wheat from growers every season at guaranteed prices but farmers fear that those purchases may end under new agricultural laws. Farmers say the new laws would shut the regulated wholesale markets which take their produce. But FCI has racked up huge debts due to procurement, as the Modi government uses FCI funds to control its fiscal deficit while using the grain stocks to supply nutritional welfare schemes.


Trade unions join farmer protests

Workers affiliated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions will organise nationwide protests in more than one lakh workplaces on Wednesday, and conduct gherao of district collectorates and jail bharo (fill the jails) on January 7-8 in solidarity with farmers protesting against the contentious farms laws and demanding repeal of the four “anti-worker” labour codes, the three farm laws and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill.


Kerala shows the way

To bring the transgender community into the forefront of society, the Left Front government in Kerala has announced a slew of programmes, including scholarships for third gender students and financial aid for legally married transcouples.


The Long Cable

Can the historic art of our Constitution look to the future?

Naman Ahuja

The Constitution is a handwritten, illustrated document that bears a series of signatures at the end. As such, it is an artefact that belongs to a long historical tradition where the most precious manuscripts, farmaans and orders of any kingdom were written by hand and endorsed by the signature of its ruler. Embedded within are the signatures of the calligrapher and the artist. The Constitution carries the signatures of 284 members of the Constituent Assembly, the recurring name of the calligrapher ‘Prem’, the signatures of the chief artist Nandalal Bose and those who worked under his guidance at his atelier in Santiniketan. The calligraphy in the book was done by Prem Behari Narain Raizada, and several students of Santiniketan worked on the borders that frame each page.

The calligraphy was done on pages that were given to be framed in the hashi’a (border) in the traditional way, as used to be the case with Mughal and Sultanate manuscripts. There are two types of borders that have been used throughout the manuscript. While all pages have a simple, gold-speckled border, some at the opening of a Schedule and the page where every Schedule ends have a second, inner border of gold ornamentation.

There are two original illustrated copies of the Constitution. The principal one was handwritten in English, the second copy was handwritten in Hindi, and they were illuminated by different groups of artists. Both the original copies are kept sealed in a helium-filled case in Parliament House in Delhi. The team of artists who worked on them was led by Nandalal Bose, the principal of Santiniketan’s Kala Bhavana.

The facsimile of the Constitution has been reprinted with depreciating quality over the years by the Survey of India. My own copy is an awful edition from 2000 that was prepared at the behest of the Union Ministry of Culture by the Survey of India through a Delhi-based printer. Three years ago, it was agreed that the Constitution would be an important historical document to display at a major international exhibition I was co-curating at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai and the National Museum, Delhi, called India and the World. And since it was not disregard for the Constitution that I wished to showcase, I had to find an earlier imprint from the 1950s, when greater respect was shown by the Survey of India in its work.

In various articles and blogs over the past few years, Bose’s illustrations have posed a problem for modern viewers. Bose harnessed a variety of Indian art traditions and built a narrative in which characters and stories from myth are punctuated with those from actual history; the last three pictures are concerned only with the landscape of India. Taken together, the illustrations of the land of forest, desert, sea and mountain start with the seal of a Harappan bull, replete with power and dignity, heralded by the markings of an unknown language of yore. The illustrations reveal that civilisations have come and gone, and as we move between chapters some are located in places while others are set in nature.

…If the invocation of history is merely to inspire national pride in great men who built a culture, then we will never realise a better future, for what was better was in the past. Why would we even need to change? Can one argue, therefore, that if Bose had paid a little heed to illustrating the atrocities that our culture has perpetuated or found hard to shake off, we would have been forced to remember why indeed we need this Constitution? In a time when battles are being fought all around us to define a future while we want to hold on to a perceived identity informed by our past, the tension presented by interpreting the spirit of the illustrations seems to mirror our present condition. Is this tension to be our fate? Calibrating the upholding of tradition while looking to modernity forces us to take a position on history and decide what it is that qualifies as tradition.

Recognising that tension, or that anxiety itself, then, is the productive lens through which we today can revitalise and find a way to salve our dashed hope in the nation: one which makes peace with the values of the past. Read, then, in the illustration, not the hero Arjun, but allow his lowered head to indicate his quandary. Read past the image of the hero Ashoka into the action of the division of the relics instead and why the atrocities of war led him to realise a need to spread the ashes of the paragon of ahimsa. It was the crises, the tensions or anxieties these characters found a way through that should be the titles or the message of the paintings, rather than an identification of the style or the name of the character. The role their anxiety played is enabling, it can keep us going. These, then, truly can emerge as paintings of a triumphant modernism, indicating the disturbances and failures that they gave direction to.

It is in the reading of the vulnerabilities of the circumstances and plots in which these heroes emerged that we today may find succour and hope.

(Extracted from The Constitution of India at 70: Celebrate, Illuminate, Rejuvenate, Defend, published by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, SAHMAT)


Reportedly

Some leaders in the RJD have offered to project Nitish Kumar as the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, provided he hands over the reins of Bihar to Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who was the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) chief ministerial candidate in the assembly election this year. JD(U), which contested five years ago in alliance with RJD-Congress before switching back to the BJP, has dismissed the idea as “rubbish.” Senior RJD leaders Uday Narain Chowdhary (a former Speaker) and Vijay Prakash, while floating this idea said, “Nitish Kumar will be projected as well as supported as PM candidate of Opposition parties.” The Bihar Congress has little appetite for humour at this point. “Is this the party’s official line? This is uncalled for and non-serious talk,” said Congress leader Premchandra Mishra. “The question of projecting Kumar as PM candidate does not arise.”  Now, Shyam Razak of the RJD has added to the tamasha by saying that 17 JD(U) MLAs are willing to join the RJD at short notice.


Prime number: 5,100
The number of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir this year, the highest in nearly 18 years, which claimed the lives of 36 Indians, including 24 security personnel, and left more than 130 people injured. There were 3,289 ceasefire violations by the Pakistan army along the Indo-Pak border in 2019, 2,936 violations in 2018 and 971 violations in 2017. Before the 2003 ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan, as many as 8,376 incidents of shelling and firing by Pakistani troops were reported in 2002. For three years ― 2004, 2005 and 2006 ― there was not a single violation on the border. 

States sink deeper into debt

Rs 5,55,900 crore in deficit, the states, whose finances have been ravaged by the pandemic have snapped up as much as 43.5% more debt from the market during the first nine months of the current fiscal with the conclusion of the last auction on Tuesday, when 13 of them borrowed Rs 18,900 crore. Over 65% of these have been lapped up by just five top debt-laden states with Maharashtra borrowing Rs 39,500 crore more, Karnataka Rs 25,900 crore more, Tamil Nadu Rs 16,600 crore more, Andhra Pradesh an additional Rs 15,300 crore and Telangana drawing down Rs 13,400 crore more during these months.


Watch your wallet

Here are five new rule changes and developments in personal finance this year, that will influence the health of your wallet.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Utsa Patnaik explores the global angle to the farmers’ protests, arguing that domestic firms are not the only potential beneficiaries of the new farm laws; foreign agri-businesses are also in the game.

  • Nepal getting caught up in Great Power confrontations between China and the US is not in India’s interest, says Shyam Saran,  and we should not encourage this for ephemeral gains.

  • As India strives to ensure good relations with the US and Russia, revive its economy and build indigenous capabilities, it is vital that it does not yield ground to China and assertively raises issues that impact its core national interests, argues Jayadeva Ranade.


Listen up

High-seas adventure, South Asian migrations and the 19th-century opium trade are the inspiration for Amitav Ghosh’s epic Ibis trilogy. He joined Eleanor Wachtel onstage in Toronto (in 2008) to discuss the first novel in the series.


Watch Out

Online abuse

Talsamayam, a short film in Malayalam on online abuse, was released yesterday. Directed by Mridul George, it’s a story about an actress, Arundhati, who does a live online show and is harassed by viewers with anonymous profiles. Subtitles included at: 


Madame Tussauds melts down

Madame Tussauds, which opened a branch in Delhi in 2017 with a commitment of 10 million Euros, will not reopen after the pandemic. Lack of custom has dogged it, though it is located in the central shopping area of Connaught Place. Merlin Entertainments India, which runs the show, blames multiple factors for the failure, including sticker shock ― a ticket costs Rs 760. Anyway, why would the fiscally prudent Indian pay even a rupee to visit a house of wax, when the whole country is becoming one? 


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.