The India Cable: Refugees Return to Pakistan, ‘Land Jihad’ Theory Collapses

Plus: No Dilli chalo for farmers, Constitution Day blues, India still leads Asia in bribery, J&K internet shutdown too sensitive to discuss, BJP obsesses on civic polls, not pandemic

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 26, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan awaiting notification of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to settle in India have given up and will be returning home through Wagah today. Their proposed inclusion had provided the rationale for deeply contested changes in citizenship law. At the All India Presiding Officers’ Conference in Gujarat, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu accused the judiciary of overreach in banning Diwali fireworks. The court was the last resort, since the executive had failed to do its duty as air quality plummeted. 

BJP leaders Amit Shah and JP Nadda will fly down to Hyderabad this weekend in election mode. They were preceded by Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar. Yogi Adityanath will follow on to rouse the rabble, and earlier, the Prime Minister was expected to campaign, too. At stake are some municipal seats, and while the pandemic surges yet again, health and civic infrastructure have not featured in poll slogans, which are all about Osama bin Laden and Jinnah, and threats of a surgical strike to root out alleged Pakistanis and Rohingyas from the old city. Covid-19 doesn’t figure in this municipal campaign. 

In UP, the police are diligently filing FIRs under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, to the irritation of the Allahabad High Court. They seem to be unaware of the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case half a decade ago, in which it struck down the section as unconstitutional. Perhaps the news hasn’t reached some police stations yet.   

On the 12th anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, India and Pakistan are trading terrorism charges in a war of dossiers. While Pakistan has petitioned the UN to ask India to stop “terror activities”, India issued a dossier to diplomats of important countries, exposing Pakistan’s plot to sabotage local polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

Farmers doused with water cannon. Photo: Twitter/@JaiveerShergill

In the run up to today’s farmers’ protest march to Delhi against the Centre’s farm laws, Haryana on Wednesday heavily barricaded its borders with Punjab and suspended bus services to the neighboring state. The Haryana police also used water cannons against the state’s farmers on the national highway in Ambala and Kurukshetra to prevent them from moving towards Delhi. The Delhi Metro will be firewalled from the National Capital Region today. Ten central trade unions have gone on a nationwide strike, and over 25 crore workers are protesting against various policies of the central government. The BJP-aligned Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is staying clear of the strike. This afternoon, the farmers camped at the Delhi border, have made several attempts to march in. 

The language movement is back and the people of Tamil Nadu have spoken. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) is being slammed for tweeting updates about Cyclone Nivar in Hindi, and #StopHindiImposition is trending on the social media platform. Meanwhile, Dr Gaurav Sharma, a newly-elected MP in New Zealand ― and one of the youngest in the House ― who hails from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh, took the oath in Sanskrit in the country’s Parliament. He represents Hamilton West for the Labour Party. On Monday, a Congress legislator elected to the Bihar Assembly had also taken the oath in Sanskrit. 

Google has clarified that users in India will not have to pay any fee for money transfers on its payment platform, and that the charges stated are for users in the US. The government has imposed a penalty of Rs 25,000 on e-commerce major Amazon for not displaying mandatory information, including the country of origin, of products sold on its platform.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday on his first official visit to Nepal, during which he will hold talks with his Nepalese counterpart and top leaders. His visit comes after bilateral ties were strained by a bitter border row. Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe is also scheduled to visit Nepal for four days, starting Sunday, shortly after Shringla returns home. 

The Indian Navy has leased two Sea Predator drones from US company General Atomics under an ‘emergency procurement’ clause and has deployed them at a base in Tamil Nadu. They carry multi-mode radar for surveillance, which includes the Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) mode, allowing them to track multiple targets. 

The Malayalam feature Jallikattu, directed by Lijo Jose Pellissery, is India’s official entry for the International Feature Film category at the 93rd Academy Awards

Punjabi by stature

In India, streets and public spaces are renamed to erase history. In the US and UK, they do the very same thing to commemorate underappreciated elements of history. Honouring the contribution of the South Asian community to the Richmond Hill area of Queens, a New York City street has been officially named Punjab Avenue. The area was nicknamed ‘Little Punjab’ because it was a hub of businesses run by Punjabis and has two gurudwaras.

A West London council has approved the proposal to change the name of a road in Southall to Guru Nanak Road in honour of the founder of the Sikh faith, days before the community celebrates his 551th birth anniversary. The Ealing London Borough Council has confirmed that Havelock Road ― named after Major General Sir Henry Havelock, who played a crucial role in the Afghan and Sikh wars, as well as in suppressing the Indian rising of 1857 in Kanpur ― in the Punjabi-dominated area will be renamed after Guru Nanak. Sri Guru Singh Sabha, the biggest gurdwara outside India, stands on this road. The council mayor is Tejinder Dhami. 

Slow-mo eco

India is set to be the slowest-growing economy and its GDP could fall the most in a list of 24 countries, in the July-September quarter. This is according to data from various agencies for GDP in the second quarter of the financial year 2020-21. The National Statistical Organisation will reveal provisional figures tomorrow. Forecasts for the GDP range from -7.8% by the Bank of America to -12.7% by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), with the mean being a 10.3% fall in real GDP.

The Mint’s Macro Tracker of 16 high-frequency indicators, with half of them in the red in October, shows that the pace of recovery in the Indian economy is slowing. This puts paid to the hopes of those who expect India’s economic contraction to be narrower in the quarter ending in September than the -23.9% in the earlier quarter.

Exiting the RCEP trade deal may backfire and chances of a recovery may recede further, says this analysis, if India loses market share to the large trade bloc it has decided to keep out of. Among emerging markets, Indian equities are likely to under-perform in the next few months, say UBS and Credit Suisse. UBS estimates that the Indian economy would have lost about Rs 20 trillion ($265 billion) between April and September due to the pandemic and the lockdown.

Transparency International, a thorn in the side of Indian governments, finds that despite perceptions that the Centre is tackling corruption, India remains the leader in Asia with a 39% bribery rate. Cambodia and Indonesia are runners-up. Personal connections were used by 46% of Indian respondents to secure public services, and 50% of those who paid bribes had responded to an outright demand. 

Shhh! BJP MPs can’t discuss Kashmir internet shutdown

Can Indian parliamentarians discuss the internet ban imposed in Jammu and Kashmir, the erstwhile state “fully integrated” with India, as per the claims of the Modi government after revocation of Article 370 last August? The BJP’s answer seems to be ‘no’, going by the vehement objections citing national security concerns from its MPs in the parliamentary standing committee on information technology, headed by Shashi Tharoor. They don’t wish to discuss the suspension of telecom and internet services and its impact. 

Rather scared of the Kashmir internet ban being examined in detail, the BJP MPs demanded a vote on the subject in the meeting. Tharoor overruled them, stating that the panel had previously discussed this issue and by the rules of business, an issue that the committee was already evaluating need not be put to the vote again. Meanwhile, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, who was to depose before the committee, had informed the chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker that he would be unavailable due to important meetings. His ministry did not provide any concrete replies when some committee members asked about the status of the internet shutdown in Kashmir, and whether it had been extended since the expiry of the 15-day period. 

‘Land jihad’ theory falls flat

Lists of purported land encroachers released this week by the Jammu administration appear to demolish claims of a ‘land jihad’ campaign by some BJP politicians and Delhi-based TV channels, which gained steam ahead of the District Development Council elections beginning Saturday. According to the ‘land jihad’ theory, first propounded more than a year ago, Muslims have been encroaching on government land in the Hindu-majority Jammu region to try and change its demography.

However, a list the administration has released, naming 541 people in Jammu district whose encroachments were regularised under the controversial Roshni Act, has only three Muslim names. Another list of 1,237 whose alleged encroachments in Jammu district were not regularised contains only about three dozen Muslim names.

Akhilesh calls out ‘jihad’ mania

Former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has taken the battle to his successor Adityanath, attacking his government’s communal, majoritarian and anti-Muslim agenda. People are facing hardships due to the faltering economy, corruption, inflation and a bad law and order situation, but the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh has only “jihad” and “Ram Naam Satya” as solutions to offer, Yadav said. He said that Adityanath is trying to divert people’s attention with his ‘jihad’ frenzy. “To divide society by spreading hatred is an old tactic of the RSS. Every day, a new law is framed by the government to hide its failures. No law is strict or soft, but how it is implemented makes it effective or ineffective,” he said. 

iPhone delivery slowed by BIS

India’s tight control of quality clearances for electronic goods from China slowed the import of Apple’s new iPhone model last month and held up other products made by companies like Xiaomi. Applications to the quality control agency, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), were typically processed within 15 days, but some are now taking up to two months or longer.

The Long Cable

Constitution Day: The fault, dear Brutus, lies in our judges

Siddharth Varadarajan

Chutzpah, as Leo Rosten put it in The Joys of Yiddish, is when a man who kills his parents “throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan. The variation of this ‘definition’ in New India is when Prime Minister Narendra Modi locks up as seditionists all those who led protests against the anti-constitutional Citizenship (Amendment) Act with a reading of the Constitution’s preamble ― and then proceeds to himself read aloud the same preamble on Constitution Day to the applause of the faithful.

India’s Constituent Assembly adopted the final text of the Constitution of India on November 26, 1949 and the day has been celebrated ever since as Samvidhan Divas, or Constitution Day. The document was overly long and borrowed much of its bulk from colonial era statutes, but it broke important new ground in four fundamental respects. 

First, it established a parliamentary system based on universal adult franchise. Second, it guaranteed citizens, including religious minorities, tribals and the historically oppressed castes a broad set of justiciable fundamental rights. Third, it crafted a federal system based on the idea that the strength of the Indian Union lay in a harmonious relationship between the Centre and the states. And finally, it established the principle of judicial independence and oversight, to ensure that the Constitution delivers on its promises regardless of what the government of the day may wish. 

Over the decades, India’s superior courts have played that role reasonably well and have even managed to fill in some of the major blanks in the Constitution, especially on gender, privacy, sexuality, minorities and the environment. But over the past few years, a disturbing pattern has emerged. Whenever the executive has acted to undermine a cherished constitutional principle, the Supreme Court has either been a mute spectator or has actually gone along with the government.

The higher judiciary’s permissive attitude has further emboldened the Modi government at the Centre and various state governments to launch more and more serious attacks on the fundamental rights of citizens and to undertake policy measures that undermine the basic structure of the Constitution.

Over the past six years, Modi has played fast and loose with the integrity of India’s systems for ensuring:

  • Free elections, by introducing anonymous electoral bonds as a system of political financing and packing the Election Commission with loyalists who turn a blind eye to violations of campaign law by the ruling party; 

  • Responsible banking, by forcing the Reserve Bank of India to demonetise large denomination notes and making it easier for crony capitalists to accumulate debt;

  • Impartial investigations, by turning the Central Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies including the Delhi Police and other state police forces into a political sword arm of the ruling party;

  • Scientific decision making, by ad hoc announcements at moments of crisis like the pandemic or encouraging pseudo-scientific approaches;

  • Centre-state relations, by unilaterally abolishing Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status and statehood, robbing the states of their fiscal share, using the pandemic to further centralise decision-making;

  • Academic independence and excellence, by mounting attacks on centres of excellence and using apparatchiks as administrators to push the BJP’s agenda in higher education;

  • Media freedom, by finding multiple ways to ensure the compliance of media houses with the agenda of the government;

  • Equality of people before the law, by introducing openly discriminatory laws like the CAA or the Triple Talaq Act, which criminalises the abandonment of wives, but only by Muslim men;

  • Independent audit, by appointing loyalists to the post of Comptroller and Auditor General so that accounting can also be weaponised, even as questionable decisions by the Centre, like the Rafale acquisition, are glossed over;

  • Oversight by statutory commissions, by either keeping bodies like the Central Information Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Castes understaffed or unstaffed (the NCSC has been without a member for the past six months), or appointing only political hacks to bodies like the National Commission for Women or the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.

Add to this the use of arbitrary and illegal arrests, communication bans, travel bans and the like and it is not difficult to see why India today figures in the list of democracies that are well on their way to authoritarianism.

None of this would have been possible without a weak, ineffective and compromised judiciary that simply refuses to independently and objectively utilise its constitutional mandate. Back in 2014, the Supreme Court fended off an attempt by Modi to give the executive a greater and more decisive say over who could and could not become a judge. But ever since, the government has taken from the back door what it couldn’t from the front. Those who point this out politely are ignored. Those who speak this truth more animatedly are hauled up for contempt. And sadly, the Constitution offers us no insights or remedies for this disastrous state of affairs.

In the United States, Donald Trump’s decision to pull back from the brink has staved off the prospect of a coup that its Supreme Court might or might not have signed off on. In India, we are already past the brink. And sadly, it is no longer possible to be uncertain about what the Supreme Court’s stand is ― and will be, going forward. 

Prime number: $200 billion
Thats the quantum of risk to Indian GDP by 2030, as rising temperatures reduce the number of hours of outdoor work, according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute. The daytime hours during which outdoor work is unsafe will increase approximately 15% by 2030 over present levels. In 2017, heat-exposed work contributed nearly half of GDP, drove about 30% of GDP growth, and employed about 75% of the labour force, or some 380 million people. 

Deep Dive

In late 1979, the Delhi-based magazine Probe India published an open letter written by four law professors objecting to the decision of the Supreme Court in Tukaram vs State of Maharashtra. The matter was widely known as the Mathura Rape Case, after the minor Adivasi girl who complained that she had been raped by two constables in a police station in rural Maharashtra. Sarita Santoshini details the story of the open letter to the Supreme Court that changed the way many Indians thought about women’s rights

VC candidate? Take a written test

Senior professors shortlisted by search panels for the posts of vice-chancellors of six state universities in Odisha were made to take a written test at the Raj Bhavan. Candidates revealed that one question was: “If God appears before you and offers a boon, what would you like to ask for?” Sixteen shortlisted candidates were invited to the Raj Bhavan on Monday for an “interaction” with the governor ― the ex officio chancellor ― before the final selection, reports The Telegraph.

Nivar slackens after landfall

Powerful Cyclone Nivar, packing estimated wind speeds of 120 to 130 kmph, made landfall as a very severe cyclonic storm near the Puducherry coast in the wee hours of Thursday. The eye of the storm took three hours to cross the coast, as per the IMD. Travelling at a speed of 16 km per hour, it began making landfall at 11.30 pm on Wednesday and completed it at 2.30 am on Thursday. After landing, the very severe cyclonic storm weakened into a severe cyclonic storm.

In Kashmir, Ladishah no longer a male preserve

Syed Areej Safvi, 25, has become the first woman in Kashmir to write and perform Ladishah ― a form of satire in verse, commenting on social and political conditions. For centuries, Kashmir’s tradition of Ladishah folk ballads was dominated by men until modernity and militancy in the Valley triggered the decline of the form. 

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Christophe Jaffrelot on the fiction of ‘love jihad’, where the BJP has picked up the baton from vigilante groups with the police and judiciary in attendance, with the ultimate aim of making India an ethnic democracy like Israel, where mixed marriages are practically impossible.

  • Raja Sekhar Vunduru writes on the role of Ambedkar as a unifier before Sardar Patel ― after the 1946 Cabinet Mission concession to the princely states to retain independence, Ambedkar’s legal clarification set the ball rolling for complete unification, closing all doors to independent principalities. 

  • India needs to shed its exaggerated fears of trade agreements to create new jobs, the country’s biggest challenge, write Praveen Chakravarty and P Chidambaram on the trade pact link to jobs and exports.

  • Khalid Anis Ansari questions what Asaduddin Owaisi’s rise in Bihar could mean and posits that “if Muslim frustrations lead them to join the AIMIM bandwagon, then it will be advantage BJP out and out.”

  • KC Vijaya Kumar writes the obituary of the late Maradona, recalling his visit to Kerala when, along with Indian legend IM Vijayan at Kannur, “the maestro juggled a football with his legs, took it on his chest, headed it a few times and stayed in control. Time was frozen…”

Listen up

Evan Feigenbaum, former US deputy assistant secretary of State and an expert on the Asia region, discusses with Milan Vaishnav how US president-elect Joe Biden may deal with China, and how that relationship may have significant consequences for India. He talks about the Trump administration’s Asia legacy, India’s inward turn, and the strategic relevance of the Quad. 

Watch Out

To sample what football genius Maradona meant to the world, and India in particular, hear this song composed when he first visited Kolkata in 2008. 

Saved by the pandemic

Reshma Mariam Roy, 21, is the youngest candidate in the local body elections in Kerala. Contesting for a village panchayat ward in Pathanamthitta district, Reshma filed her nomination on November 19, a day after turning 21. She would not have been able to contest had elections not been postponed from October to December due to Covid-19. 

And the Magic Realism Bot has discovered Calcutta in its database:

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.