The India Cable: Trump Bows Out Amidst Violence, Modi Roots for Orderly Transfer; Record High Fuel Prices Fuel inflation

Plus: Farmers hold tractor rally, Delhi violence case stalled because police can’t afford to photocopy, India loses moral heft when it betrays its minorities, and swotting up for National Cow Exam

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
January 7, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

With completely false allegations of a stolen election, the American President has incited mobs to attack the seat of American democracy. On social media, pictures of rednecks swarming all over the Capitol are being paired with pictures of the Babri demolition, but it is a poor equivalence. Babri demonstrated that politicians can incite public violence to rise above the courts. If it were not for the newly elected US government’s determination to validate the election, Trump’s Capitol attack would have demonstrated that politicians can incite violence to ignore the electoral process and retain power. As an example to right-wing groups everywhere, that would have been much worse. 

Like many other world leaders, the Indian PM has thought it fit to comment on the internal affairs of another country. Ab ki baar, he is calling for the orderly transfer of power. But he did not tag his dear friend, Doland Trump. With Trump’s social media accounts on ice, it would have been an empty gesture. 

The vaccine is still not here in India, but the fake apps are. The Health Ministry has cautioned people against downloading and sharing personal information on apps “created by unscrupulous elements” named Co-WIN to sound like the forthcoming government platform for carrying out the Covid-19 vaccination process. Digital India is ahead of the government.  

Tomorrow will witness another dry run of vaccination, a simulation by the government everywhere except Delhi and Haryana. About 1.7 lakh vaccinators in teams of 3 lakh will be preparing for the real thing.

The Gauhati High Court has rejected the bail application of peasants’ rights activist Akhil Gogoi, who has been in jail since December 2019 following a National Investigation Agency case for his role in the anti-CAA protests in Assam. The Mumbai Police on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that it has found more evidence against Republic TV in the Television Rating Points (TRP) scam. In November, its Crime Branch had filed a 1,400-page chargesheet naming six channels, including those of Republic Media Network, which had played the numbers.

The Supreme Court has dismissed media reports about Chief Justice Sharad Bobde acting on allegations made by the Andhra chief minister Jagan Reddy against sitting Supreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana. “In-house procedure being totally and wholly confidential in nature, Supreme Court never releases information in matters incidental thereto”, the court said in a press release. However, it said nothing about the Andhra high court publicly criticising the transfer of the chief justices of AP and Telangana, a move seen as addressing some of Jagan;s concerns.

Currency in circulation went up by a record Rs 5 lakh crore in 2020 while the gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 7.5%. This means that the currency-to-GDP ratio could cross 15%. Demonetisation destroyed the economy, but cash has survived the experience.

A retired IAS officer who was going to meet the family of the woman who was brutally raped and murdered in Badaun in UP was detained at night in the state. A priest and two of his disciples have been charged in the case. 

The farmers who have laid siege to the central government are holding a tractor rally today, with the permission of the Haryana government. About 2,500 tractors will be on the road for five hours. As always, the farmers are considerate to commuters and will avoid rush hour. But travellers between Jaipur and Delhi are driving an extra 100 km after Haryana Police installed barricades at four locations to block the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway and prevent farmers from entering the national capital. 

In the forthcoming Tamil Nadu assembly elections, Udhayanidhi Stalin could contest from the Chepauk-Thiruvallikeni seat in Chennai, which his grandfather, the late DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi won in 1996, 2001 and 2006. 

“The cow is a useful animal. It has four legs, two horns and one tail. The cow gives milk.” That was the fabled answer to a question which mid-20th century Indian school students apparently faced in their tests. The Modi government is now elevating that question, which was possibly a black joke, into higher education, just as the Prime Minister once raised ordinary political science, such as the work of BR Ambedkar and Francis Fukuyama, to the commanding heights of ‘entire political science’. On February 25, it will hold a voluntary national examination in Gau Vigyan, or ‘Cow Science’. The Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog has uploaded 54 pages of study material on the properties of the cow, including the semiotics of the horns and the tail. School students who faced the fabled question were spared these details. There are also references to “Einsteinian Pain Waves” radiating from abattoirs and their relation to quakes, disasters and general mayhem.    

The third cricket test match versus Australia got underway today in Sydney. The BBC has a delightful special report on Jasprit Bumrah’s radical bowling style.  


China, not Pakistan, main military threat

In an attempt to demonstrate that India is tackling China as the main military threat, the Army is now devoting more resources towards the Line of Actual Control and “is looking to keep two strike corps for the mountains facing China as part of a larger restructuring plan”. Does the infrastructure on the LAC support their application? What happens to the promise of a decisive military victory against Pakistan? Will India be left worse off on both fronts after this hasty scrambling? Many questions, few answers.


Economically, China pulls ahead

Government officials did not give any specific details about the current economic state of India, despite repeated prodding at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance headed by BJP MP Jayant Sinha to discuss the long-term impact of the pandemic on the global economy, trade and financial markets. But Niti Aayog officials told MPs that China continued to surge ahead, outstripping India and narrowing the gap with the US. 


Highest ever fuel prices

After a month-long break, yesterday, the price of fuel was raised again in India to the highest ever. Taxes and cesses remain higher than the base price, though the international price of oil has been at its lowest. Overpriced fuel feeds inflation, which is not good news for the economy at this time.


Supreme Court: “No improvement in the situation”

Noting that there was no improvement in the situation between agitating farmers and the government, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would take up petitions against farm laws and farmers’ protests on January 11. On Thursday, the apex court said that there could be COVID-19 outbreak at the farmers protest sites near Delhi borders and asked the central government to apprise it of the steps being taken to ensure that the Health Ministry guidelines are followed at the protest site.

Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal has slammed the Modi government for holding back the state’s Rural Development Fund amounting to Rs 1,200 crore, dubbing it as “an arm-twisting tactic” amid the farmers’ protest. Punjab charges 3% of the Minimum Support Price of wheat and paddy from buyers as the RDF. The Centre last year had allegedly put Punjab’s RDF on hold on the pretext of scrutinising its utilisation. Badal said that GST compensation of Rs 8,500 crore is also pending.


UT administration fails (again) in Kashmir

The Union Territory administration in Kashmir led by Manoj Sinha came under fire from Srinagar residents for incompetence in clearing roads and restoring normal power supply amid heavy snowfall since Sunday. People in the summer capital Srinagar were aghast as the main roads were not cleared properly even after three days. Roads in many parts of Srinagar, including to the major hospitals, were still under snow, making travel difficult even for emergency purposes.


Ladakh protests, gets a committee

The Modi government will form a committee headed by Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy to resolve thorny issues related to the protection of Ladakhi land, jobs and the participation of locals in development projects, which were compromised by the revocation of Article 35A, following Ladakh’s creation from J&K as a separate Union Territory. The committee was formed after Home Minister Amit Shah met a 10-member delegation from Ladakh which sought special protection against job losses and demographic change, given the difficult geographical conditions and strategic importance of Ladakh. The region saw protests before the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections last year.


No stay on ‘love jihad’ law

The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stay the provisions of an Uttar Pradesh Ordinance and an Uttarakhand law aimed at checking religious conversions for the purpose of inter-faith marriage. A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, however, issued notice to the two states asking them to respond in four weeks to petitions filed by Vishal Thakre and others. The CJI had initially asked them to approach the High Court, but agreed to issue notices after senior advocate CU Singh and other lawyers pointed out that the petitioners have challenged laws of two states, and more BJP-ruled states are in the process of enacting similar laws.


The Long Cable

Of Mosques and Mandirs, India and Pakistan

Seema Chishti

The end of 2020 brought some unpleasant truths home. Pakistan saw a dastardly attack on a historic temple in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was burned down. India coincidentally witnessed mobs in Madhya Pradesh out seeking funds for the proposed Ram temple, raising provocative slogans and threatening people outside at least two mosques. A video was shared on social media of a crowd with saffron flags removing the green flag on the mosque and hoisting a saffron flag in its place. “Hindutva goons took down mosque flags in Mandsaur,” the video was tagged.

If in the past two decades Amar Akbar Anthony was portrayed as a tired cliché of secularism, then surelyTamas, that spectacular novel on Partition by Bhisham Sahni with its graphic accounts of what was happening in masjids and mandirs, should have become an equally cliched portrait of communal hatred, supposedly consigned to the past. Sadly, however, these incidents demonstrate that hate is very much alive ― rather, it has been revived.

These incidents in India and Pakistan should make us sit up for several reasons.

First of all, Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with a Constitution privileging Muslims, which is a foundational principle. Incidents like the temple vandalism, however horrible, do not exactly fail its Constitution. But India is a completely different project, a secular, socialist democracy that espouses the right to equality to all, irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender or colour. Unlike Pakistan, India fails its own Constitution and founding principles when such incidents occur.

Secondly, the institutional response in the two countries was a study in contrasts. In India, the police made some arrests a few days later but Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan called for a law “against stone-pelting”, suggesting that those who triggered the violence needed protection. Fourteen people were arrested in overnight raids following the temple attack in Pakistan and a police case was promptly filed. Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari condemned the attack and urged the provincial government to “ensure [the] culprits are brought to justice”.

The number of suo motu cases taken up by Indian courts in this case is zero. Pakistan’s judiciary took up the matter suo motu within hours of the temple arson, and the Chief Justice directed a one-man minority commission to visit the site and submit a report by January 4. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the Evacuee Property Trust Board to reconstruct the damaged temple. 

These steps should embarrass the Indian government. However, it has chosen to tick off the government of Pakistan over the attack. But it was not from the perch of principle, where New Delhi thinks it still has the moral advantage on minority issues. As the differential handling of the same phenomenon in Madhya Pradesh demonstrates, India wants to position itself as a Hindu homeland rather than a melting pot. The idea explains the appeal of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which fast-tracks citizenship for  non-Muslims from three countries, including Pakistan.

India is surrounded by nations steeped in religious majoritarian nationalism. It can exercise no clout regionally if it too continues its slide down the same slippery slope. Its strength lay in being able to produce a film likeGaram Hawa, whose Muslim protagonist finally decides to not make the journey to Pakistan after all. The narrative applauded the largest religious minority’s decision to participate in India’s vibrant though imperfect democracy as equal stakeholders. Without the premise of a values-based liberal democracy, no never-ending GDP stories, no yoga poses or meditations in mountain caverns can provide the moral and geopolitical heft that India seeks in the international arena.

By choosing the radically different path of the only secular republic in the region, India was a finger in the eye of Pakistan when it wrote inclusive nationhood into its Constitution. Those who want to convert India into a ‘Hindu Pakistan’ now do Pakistan a great favour ― and Indians, a huge disservice.


Reportedly

Millions of Indian users received an in-app notification from WhatsApp as part of an upcoming global roll-out for over 2 billion users, asking them to either accept changes in its Terms of Service and privacy policy, which share their data with Facebook, by February 8 or their accounts will be deleted. “For example, you cannot share your location with your contacts if you do not permit us to collect your location data from your device,” the Facebook-owned messaging app published on its website. 

A glance at this list tells you that Signal is clearly the most secure messaging app, followed by Telegram, and Facebook’s products are downright data-greedy. But any messaging application is only as safe as the device in your hand. Here is Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary on Pegasus, the sophisticated Israeli spyware used to hack smartphones in various countries, including India.


Prime Number: Rs 2.93 lakh
A possible expenditure of Rs 2.93 lakh is holding back the Delhi violence 2020 case from progressing. A back of the envelope calculation puts the cost of photocopying 18,325 sheets of paper 16 times (at Rs 1 per page) for each of the 16 accused at Rs 2.93 lakh. The chargesheet supposedly prepared by the Delhi Police in the violence seen in the capital in February 2020 is 52 times the size of India’s Constitution. The trial is delayed as the police can’t afford the cost of making photocopies of the bulky chargesheet available to the accused who, they claim, conspired to stoke the violence in order to defame India during Donald Trump’s visit.

Faruqui’s arrest is a joke

After Hindu right wing groups complained, comic artiste Munawar Faruqui was arrested midway through his standup act in Indore. Six days later, he’s still in custody, two courts have rejected his bail applications and he faces multiple investigations and a four-year prison term if held guilty. But no one can say what his crime is, and he has been in jail for jokes he didn’t even crack.


Deep Dive

Over 200,000 farmers are camped in tented cities at Delhi’s doorsteps, at four points demarcating the capital’s border with Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Extraordinary and unlikely changes in outlook and alliances had to be wrought over the course of just a few weeks for the farmers’ movement to acquire such staying power. 

Many of the farmer leaders who are out on the streets have not seen eye to eye for years, if not decades. Yet, decisions are being taken jointly, brushing aside years of differences and acrimony. While the outcome of the agitation may become clear only with time, the pushback by the farmers is already a case study in the art of protest, in a social atmosphere where it is increasingly viewed with suspicion. A set of key events and people were instrumental in bringing the disquiet to Delhi’s doorstep


Real estate sales down in 2020

In its report India Real Estate ― Residential and Office Update H2 2020, property consultant Knight Frank India reported that sales of residential properties fell 37% to 1,54,534 units in calendar year 2020 across eight cities, as compared to 2,45,861 units in the previous year. Gross office space absorption declined 35% to 39.4 million sq ft from 60.6 million sq ft last year.


Coming out in Bollywood

It must take courage in tinseltown. Designer Swapnil Shinde, who has worked with many celebrated actors in the industry — Kiara Advani, Shraddha Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Deepika Padukone  — has come out as a transwoman. Shinde wrote a long Instagram post, in which they declared they may be addressed as ‘Saisha’, which means “a meaningful life”.

A post shared by S A I S H A S H I N D E (@officialswapnilshinde)

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • No self-respecting citizen should feel pride in the brand of patriotism being taught at Mohan Bhagwat’s school. In a world where patriotism is being linked with hatred, it’s time we lived by new values, exhorts Priya Ramani.

  • Doing away with the winter session of Parliament is a fraud on the Constitution, say Yogendra Pratap Singh and Lokendra Malik.

  • The decision to approve an incompletely studied vaccine, even under accelerated process and probably with good intentions, raises more questions than answers, avers KR Antony.

  • Will a transparent debate take place on the Data Protection Bill in the JPC and then in Parliament for promoting transparency, ask Christophe Jaffrelot and Aditya Sharma. Such a debate would make Parliament an important power centre again, after the cancellation of the winter session, and the cancellation of the question hours in the previous session.

  • Just as every quota today involves fierce competition among the eligible, every claim to merit is also built on structures of exclusionary access, or reservation-like arrangements, that allow merit to be acquired. For example, expensive private schools or coaching institutes are effectively reserved for the rich, writes Satish Deshpande.


Listen up

Did South Asia have a shared regional identity prior to the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th century? This is a subject of heated debate in scholarly circles and contemporary political discourse. Manan Ahmed Asif argues that Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Republic of India share a common political ancestry: they are all part of a region whose people understand themselves as Hindustani. Asif describes the idea of Hindustan, as reflected in the work of native historians from roughly 1000 CE to 1900 CE, and how that idea went missing in action.


Watch Out

An online exhibition of Nandalal Bose’s hand-painted postcards, along with similar postcards by his contemporaries, ends tomorrow. It is hosted jointly by Victoria Memorial Hall, Jadunath Bhavan Museum and Resource Centre, and DAG Museums.


Tailend

No-goody Thakur shoes and Like… 

In caste-happy UP, a trader is harassed for selling Thakur shoes.

The Daftary family, which owns Bharat Serums and Vaccines, has bought two apartments of 3,185 sq ft each on Carmichael Road in Mumbai for Rs 101 crore, at the rate of  Rs 1.62 lakh per square foot. As the real estate market sags, The Free Press Journal thinks it is the costliest deal during the pandemic.

And Facebook has removed the much discussed and analysed ‘Like’ button from public pages. We like that, we do.


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.