The India Cable: Ladakh Still Up in the Air; Cine Blitz on Hate TV; Pakistan Feels Chatty

Plus: No economic V-shape, only bad shape, Judges hamstrung by fast and loose families, and a dung chip against mobile phone radiation

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
October 13, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

After the witch-hunt, the blowback. Out on bail, Rhea Chakraborty demands CBI action against a neighbour whose bogus allegations misled investigators. Four film industry associations and 34 film producers, from Ajay Devgn to Reliance Big Entertainment, have moved the Delhi High Court, seeking to restrain the ‘news’ channels Republic TV and Times Now from smearing all of Bollywood with derogatory terms. Television actor Rishina Kadhari has voluntarily taken a drug test, and expects to hurl the results at trolls.

Not to be left behind, the Andhra Pradesh High Court has directed the CBI to probe objectionable comments made against it and its judges by those in high places. Offending accounts will be blocked, their posts expunged, and the possibility of a conspiracy probed. This follows the unprecedented letter, against a Supreme Court judge, sent by the Andhra Pradesh chief minister to the Chief Justice of India. The court observes that a “war” against it could create doubts about the judiciary and even “cripple” it in future. They got the tense wrong. 

As the festive season approaches, the Finance Minister has put pin money in the hands of 35 lakh central government employees. Nice to know that she finally realises that spending is important for recovery, but it’s too little, too late, too restricted and anyway, too many people want to replenish savings, rather than spend in an uncertain time.

Assam BJP leader Satya Ranjan Borah wishes to overturn the order of nature by denying beef to the tigers in the Guwahati Zoo. Inadvertently, he would also overturn the Wildlife Protection Act ― he says that the tigers can feed off the zoo’s surplus sambar deer, a protected species. 

And while Bajaj and Parle withdraw ads from hate-mongering TV news channels, trolls have forced Tanishq to withdraw its Hindu-Muslim ad. They had threatened social media handles of employees

Need to Know

Just bad shape, No ‘V’ shape

Indicators of  factory output and price rise released yesterday signalled that “post-lockdown sequential recovery is flattening and inflation is gathering momentum”. All of industry from mining, manufacturing and electricity to primary goods, capital goods, intermediate goods, infrastructure goods and consumer goods, is in recession, slumping 8%. Consumer non-durables, which rose in June and July, are contracting again. Price rise is up and a rise in food inflation is cause for graver concern, hitting the poorest sections the hardest. The Consumer Food Price Index (CFPI) crossed the double-digit mark and was 10.68% in September. 

With inflation rising, the central bank will find it very hard to reduce rates. The Centre, in line with its penchant for big announcements of tiny content, declared a spending boost ― a ‘largesse’ for government employees, and “front-loading of expenditure, or in other words, repurposing of government spending”. Analysts appreciated that the Centre had recognised the massive demand crisis, but restrictions on spending had dampened enthusiasm. The minuscule outlay (just 0.2% of GDP) was another downer.

Cine Blitz

File photo of Bollywood stars with Narendra Modi. Credit: PMO

The Bombay movie industry rarely displays solidarity on any issue, and a display of spine is even rarer. So industry watchers were surprised when four industry organisations and 34 production houses associated with top names sought legal curbs on Republic TV and Times Now, which have run smear campaigns. The plea in the Delhi High Court requires Republic TV, its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and reporter Pradeep Bhandari, Times Now, its editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and group editor Navika Kumar, and unknown defendants, to refrain from making or publishing irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against the film industry. 

Warring camps in the industry have come together ― Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar’s production houses are shoulder to shoulder with those of Aamir Khan and SRK. The TV anchors named made defiant statements, even though the petition does not seek a blanket gag. Actor Kangana Ranaut remained shrill under the cover of Y-class security. 

Old-timers would recall that in the 1980s, the entire industry stood as one against a tax proposal of the state government, went on a long strike and demonstrated on the streets of Mumbai, much like labour unions and students. From spot boys to top stars, everyone participated. In a press liaison office, big names briefed the media every day. It won them a lot of attention and sympathy for their cause. Will that happen again? Let’s see if the petitioners open up, or retreat into silence after this burst of protest.  

Political scientist Suhas Palshikar finds that the attack on Bombay cinema is part of a “war over culture”, while The Times of India group published only a small news about the case.

Pakistan claims India wants to talk

Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Advisor on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has revealed that India has sent a message seeking talks. “We have got a message for a desire for conversation,” he said, but refused to give further details. Speaking to Karan Thapar for The Wire (the programme will air later today), he however insisted that Kashmiris must be a third party at these talks – a demand India has never accepted in the past and is unlikely to do now. But he also made it clear that Pakistan is willing to discuss terrorism.


Family values in the upper judiciary

Extra-judicial factors have been compromising the delivery of justice in the upper judiciary, especially allegations of misconduct in the immediate family of top judges. Some of the CJIs over the past six years have faced serious allegations of familial impropriety, some of which were probed. This vulnerability is a handy lever for the executive to influence the allocation of critical cases, and thereby, verdicts. 

This saga continues with the next-in-line CJI, Justice NV Ramana of the Supreme Court. facing allegations of questionable land deals by his dependent daughters. A senior advocate and champion of constitutional rights tells the India Cable that the Centre is able to exploit a CJI better if his family’s doings are not known to the public, but only to a few in the corridors of power. The Centre might tread carefully in Ramana’s case, since the allegations are public. But the next CJI? Since this phenomenon has become endemic and affects the image of the whole judiciary, should future CJIs be morally ring-fenced? Should their families be screened, right down to the loopy great-uncle or the fast-living cousin, before the candidate is deemed to be fit for office? Would we have a CJI at all, in that case? Or does the problem lie with the executive’s desire to exploit weak links?

The Long Cable

Don’t rule out anything in Ladakh yet

Sushant Singh

Another round of talks between the Corps Commander of the Indian Army in Ladakh with his Chinese PLA counterpart, and another failure to achieve a breakthrough. Yawn! What’s new? Will it continue forever, like Mousetrap? Maybe it won’t, in the high Himalayas.

If the PLA had only come in and denied our soldiers access to 1,000 sq km of territory on the Indian side of the LAC, it would have been mighty pleased with the new status quo established in May. But the Indian Army moved in August-September to occupy seven strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso and the Chushul sector. The points of Chinese ingress in May were all to the north of Pangong Tso: Galwan, Hot Springs, Gogra and the north bank of the lake.

If earlier, the Indian side was asking the Chinese to vacate these areas to the north, the PLA is now insisting that India first vacate the peaks it has occupied on the southern bank. These are all on the Indian side of the LAC ― Beijing doesn’t agree to this ‘Indian’ LAC ― but the Chinese fret nevertheless because it gives India the advantage in Chushul, and it alters the status quo in the area, where neither side had occupied these peaks since 1962.

Senior Indian officials assess that the Chinese won’t accept the current situation for too long. They have tried to threaten Indian troops on these heights by firing in the air, attempted physical eviction and applied relentless diplomatic pressure. However, the Indian Army is determined to stay, as it believes that the PLA will occupy these heights the moment they are vacated, even though intelligence agencies have red-flagged the poor logistical support and living conditions at over 18,000 feet.

The situation is intractable ― there have been 18 rounds of talks at the political, diplomatic and military levels ― and winter is setting in. The PLA may have thermal shelters for its soldiers and superior support infrastructure, but it is not going to be easy for the Chinese soldiers either. The campaigning season is ending and if Indian soldiers hold on through the winter, the Chinese know that one summer would be enough for Indians to build habitat and infrastructure and settle in permanently.

There is an incentive for a quick military escalation by the Chinese to force the Indian soldiers out. Two bodies of heavily armed soldiers in close proximity could lead to an accidental or inadvertent military escalation, too, creating a new flashpoint. This would remain a constant fear through the winters, as the closure of mountain passes next month would make de-escalation and an Indian withdrawal impossible.

Running out of options, India seems to have quietly accepted the new status quo. Since we don’t trust the Chinese anymore, we want a more permanent deployment on the LAC. That is the nub of the problem ― a complete breakdown of trust and confidence between the two sides, required for any agreement to hold on the ground. 

The gap between the two sides is palpable in official statements. After the last round of diplomatic talks on October 1, the Indian foreign ministry statement had said that China agrees “…to work towards early and complete disengagement of the troops… and fully restore peace and tranquillity”. But the corresponding Chinese foreign ministry statement said that it has agreed to “urgently handle the remaining issues on the ground and jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas”. One says ‘restore’, the other says ‘safeguard’!

If India can accept the new reality on the LAC, can’t the Chinese accept the new status quo? Beijing has achieved the aim of promulgating the 1959 claim line as the LAC, and asserted physical control. But China would have to accept the Indian positions in the heights in Chushul, which it finds hard to digest. On that acceptance rests the calculus of the evolving dynamics of tensions on the Ladakh border, where over 100,000 soldiers of the two armies are massed.

Even if the Chinese accept the new status quo, the ground reality, devoid of trust, is inherently unstable. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh criticised China in a public speech on Monday, saying it seemed to be collaborating with Pakistan “as if a border dispute is being created under a mission” ― the two-front military threat which Indian military planners dread as a nightmare.

Short Takes

Real estate: Surreal prices

The value of homes sold in seven markets — Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and Delhi NCR — fell by 43% in the first nine months of 2020, according to a survey. 

Hathras victim family in court 

The family of the 19-year old Dalit girl from Hathras who was raped and murdered told the Allahabad High Court that they wanted the case shifted out of UP, “to Delhi or Mumbai”, said their lawyer. The family told the court that the midnight cremation of the victim was held against their wishes, knocking the bottom out of the UP government’s claims earlier. “Would you have cremated your daughter this way?” the Court asked the Hathras ADG. Meanwhile, a BJP MP from Chhattisgarh, Mohan Mandavi, yesterday termed the Hathras incident as “fabricated”.

Dragon turns elephant

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun called China the “elephant in the room” during bilateral talks, and argued that India and the US have been “too cautious” about China’s concerns about their strategic ties. Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has warned of a collusive China-Pakistan agenda to make trouble on India’s borders, as reports suggest that China has started rotating troops on the north banks of Pangong Tso, obviously with no immediate plans of either disengagement or de-escalation in Ladakh.

Kerala schools going online

All public schools in Kerala will now be fully digital, as the state turns adversity into advantage. Kerala has one of India’s best public education systems, a major priority for the communist government, and when schools reopen, state-funded high-tech equipment will be available to teach at all levels. “Every school in our villages should have the same standards as the best school in any part of the world,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan says. 

Prime number: 127,000
The number of Indian lives who can be saved from Covid-19 by February 2021 by the universal use of masks, according to modelling done by researchers at the University of Washington.

Shot challenge

India is one of the world’s largest contract manufacturers of vaccines and has the administrative experience of running vaccination campaigns, but it still faces huge challenges in planning for a Covid-19 vaccination programme for its 1.35 billion population. From selecting a vaccine to allocating over $10 billion in the first year, it also must ready warehouses, cold chains, supply chains and the reverse logistics of disposing of syringes. It must mobilise human resources to administer the vaccine, train them, and floor the accelerator on mass awareness campaigns.

Judges vs Jagan

Expressing displeasure over the investigation by the state CID, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on Monday directed the CBI to probe alleged derogatory comments made by ruling YSR Congress leaders on social media against some judges and the judiciary. Meanwhile, a plea has been filed in the Supreme Court against Andhra Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy in the matter, arguing that he had crossed all constitutional limits by writing against a Supreme Court judge and organising a press conference.

Farm bills: Centre gets month to reply

The Supreme Court has given the Centre four weeks to file a reply on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the three farm laws, which led to major protests in Punjab and Haryana. A day after the Centre’s offer for talks, six Punjab farmers’ unions on Monday gheraoed the BJP meeting venue at Maqsudan in Jalandhar for over six hours and clashed with the police. The six unions are split on accepting the Centre’s offer.

800: The movie

Sri Lankan ‘doosra’ superstar bowler Muttaiah Murlitharan will be portrayed in a biopic by Indian actor Vijay Sethupathi ― the dude from the runaway hit Super Deluxe ― and the off-spinner has approved of the selection. Murlitharan is hoping that Sethupathi will catch all his “bowling expressions”. The biopic 800 about the unorthodox bowler who rocked the cricket establishment is to be released at the end of next year, and has Sethupathi excited too. He said that Murali was “like a stamp, leaving his mark wherever he goes.” 

By the way

October 13 is both actor Ashok Kumar’s birthday and his younger brother Kishore Kumar’s death anniversary. Door ka Rahi is one of the rare films they both feature in. Read more about it.

Opeds you shouldn’t miss

In a stinging article on the UP CM’s vanishing legitimacy, Alok Rai contends that “Conspiracy” is “the oxygen that keeps bankrupt regimes alive. Minus that, what one confronts is a miscellany of horrors, lies and incompetence.” 

Former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar writes that TRP manipulation and TV channels propagating hate are separate problems. Both need to be addressed, but not in a way that gives the regime more power to regulate media it doesn’t like.

The activism of Father Stan Swamy ― the oldest person in India accused of “terrorism” ― took root during his time at the University of Manila, where he was inspired by the people’s movement to overthrow the Ferdinand Marcos regime. Soutik Biswas writes that as a postgraduate student in Brussels, he met the radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, an advocate of teaching critical thought in schools (his Pedagogy of the Oppressed used to be essential reading in India). After returning to India, “he kept in touch with people’s movements in Latin America and read voraciously.”

Manoj Joshi warns about important developments in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in recent months, which show that China’s challenge to India goes beyond Ladakh and spans the region. 

India must create 8 million jobs every year to maintain its current employment rate. It has not created even half as many in any year since 2016-17, as the growth rate slips. Mahesh Vyas of CMIE explores India’s bleak unemployment landscape.

Ruchir Joshi looks at the Hollywood film, Trumbo and finds lessons for India from a witch-hunt that engulfed the US in the late 1940s.

Listen up

Cinema Beyond Entertainment’ is a gem of a podcast. Hear this episode on sound design ― recording, editing and making it ready for the screen. 

Watch Out

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan Lokur delivered the annual BG Verghese Memorial Lecture yesterday. He spoke on ‘Freedom of Speech Mauled through Twisting and Turning the Law’. (Watch from 35:52) The full text is here.


Making in India, cowing the Chinese

The Rashtriya Kamadhenu Aayog or National Cow Commission has new ambitions. After innovating hand sanitisers made from cow urine, it has now launched a nationalist, bovine-based project to deny China its market share of Diwali diyas. It will forge 33 crore lamps out of cowdung, deploying excrement as a non-tariff barrier. Following on from hoary claims that dung protects against nuclear radiation, Commission chairman Vallabhbhai Kathiria, who is charged with the responsibility of protecting “the cow and its progeny” and marketing their biological products, has released a cowdung ‘chip’ which is claimed to reduce mobile phone radiation. 

Meanwhile, the name of Sonia Gandhi, whom Narendra Modi had once disparaged as an imported “Jersey cow”, is being erased in remote locations. After the PM’s triumphal inauguration of the Atal Tunnel under Rohtang, where he waved unstoppably to fictitious crowds, it transpires that the foundation plaque of the project, bearing the name of Congress President Sonia Gandhi, has gone AWOL. The Himachal Pradesh Congress chief has promised state CM Jairam Thakur (now Covid-stricken) of a stir in protest against the missing plaque

Let’s call it a day. We’ll be with you again 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.