The India Cable: Unusually, Modi Wants to Discuss ‘Facts'; As Usual, Adityanath Promotes Vigilantes

Plus: Fake encounter and real deaths, the anxieties behind ‘love jihad’ popaanda, Woman, 21, is Thiruvananthapuram mayor, outrage over Mollem sanctuary, AIADMK tells ally BJP where it gets off

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 28, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

In its first poll rally in Chennai, the ruling All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on Sunday bluntly told its ally BJP that it is the big brother in Tamil Nadu, and asked the BJP to fall in line or rework its 2021 poll options. It ruled out accommodating the saffron party in the government if it won the assembly elections due next year. Another ally, the JD(U), also expressed anguish over mass defection of its MLAs to the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh, saying it is “not a good sign of alliance politics”. It pitched for the “coalition dharma” followed during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure. In Rajasthan, Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party quit the NDA and joined the farmers’ protests against the Modi government.

Goa’s Mollem wildlife park, one of the world’s eight biodiversity hotspots, will be endangered by the developments of railways, roads and electricity lines. Thousands are protesting in the state, suspecting that the coal lobby is behind the plans. 

More than 1,500 vehicles on the 270-km long Jammu-Srinagar national highway remained stranded for 10 hours on Sunday following a landslide in Ramban district. The landslide which blocked the road at 9.30 am was cleared only at 7.30 pm.

Easily traded stock and cheap money have created a burst of speculation and a stock market bubble. Prices of LED TVs and white goods are expected to go up by around 10% from January on account of rising costs of key input materials like copper, aluminium and steel, and higher freight charges.

Dr Mahinder Watsa, an obstetrician and gynaecologist who wrote his famous ‘Ask the Sexpert’ column in Mumbai Mirror for more than 10 years and became an urban legend, has died aged 96. He responded to the anxious queries of thousands of Indians, advising them with wit and clarity.

While the BJP government in India tries to invent new festivals to overshadow Christmas, Queen Elizabeth II referenced all major festivals, such as Passover, Easter, Eid and Vaisakhi, spent in lockdown this year, as part of her traditional Christmas Day speech. “Last month, fireworks lit up the sky around Windsor as Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights, providing joyous moments of hope and unity, despite social distancing,” she said. 

The winter session of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, which was scheduled to begin on December 28, has been postponed in view of the Covid-19 situation, an official said on Sunday, hours after the pro-tem speaker disclosed that 61 employees and officials of the Assembly secretariat and five MLAs have tested positive. Polling was peaceful with 67% turnout in elections to municipal bodies in Haryana on Sunday, which were held amid tight security and pandemic restrictions. The results will be out on December 30.

Literary giantPadma Shri Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was buried in Allahabad on Christmas Day. Padma Shri dance historian and critic Sunil Kothari passed away Sunday morning. The Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneshwar reopened for devotees on Sunday, nine months after it was closed due to the pandemic. How quaintly Indian ― the temples of democracy remain shut while the houses of the gods fling their doors wide open.

And echoing the BJP’s charge in India that its critics are ‘anti-national’, Pakistan PM Imran Khan accuses the Opposition of mouthing statements that are “similar to Indian propaganda”, Dawn says. 

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CJRAzPkhWt3/?utm_source=ig_embed


In Kerala, Left puts youth ahead

After making 21-year-old college student Arya Rajendran Thiruvananthapuram city mayor, the CPI(M) is making another 21-year-old girl a panchayat president. Reshma Mariam Roy, who was the youngest candidate in the local body election in Kerala, will be president of Aruvappulam panchayat near Konni in Pathanamthitta district. Reshma received attention earlier as she turned 21, the minimum age for contesting election, just a day ahead of the closing of nominations.


Fake encounter, real deaths

The Shopian encounter against three civilians in July was staged by an Army captain and two civilians who were chargesheeted a day earlier, the Jammu and Kashmir Police said on Sunday. In a statement, the police noted that Captain Bhoopendra Singh of Rashtriya Rifles 62 battalion, Tabish Nazir Malik of Chowgam area in Shopian district, and Bilal Ahmed Lone from Pulwama conspired to abduct and stage the ‘encounter’ of three youths who had been reported missing by their families in Rajouri.

The accused allegedly planted illegal weapons and material on the corpses of the three youths — Ibrar Ahmed (16), Imtiyaz Ahmed (25) and Ibrar Ahmed (20) — to tag them as terrorists. The three young men had travelled from their homes to Shopian to find work in an apple orchard.

When news of the fakeness of the ‘encounter’ first broke, the army euphemistically conceded that “powers vested under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act were exceeded”. Two questions still remain: is it really possible for one army captain to stage an encounter? And will the army allow the law to take its own course this time, or block it, the way it did in the infamous Pathribal encounter of 2000 in which five civilians were abducted and killed.


Government sides with corporates, farmers feel

A day after protesting farmer unions proposed December 29 for the next round of talks but put forth four conditions for the agenda, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary hoped that a solution would be reached in the meeting. The farmer unions have proposed four specific talking points for the December 29 meeting ― the procedure for repealing three farm laws, the procedure to make minimum support price (MSP) for crops a legal right, the release of Punjab farmers arrested in pollution-related cases, and repeal of the Electricity Amendment Bill. 

The Modi government had earlier objected to the raising of issues not related to the three farm laws.There has been no breakthrough after five rounds of talks. “Any policy on agriculture should have the farmer at the centre, but the government is keeping the kisan on the periphery and bringing corporates to the centre of the policy. This policy of the government is targeted to totally remove the kisan from the narrative,” explains Hannan Mollah of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and All India Kisan Sabha. The Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) tells us that farm incomes have lagged under the NDA.

As PM Modi gave his monthly radio sermon this Sunday, protesters banged thalis to make the point that they were not being heard, and did not wish to hear monologues. 

Uttarakhand police has registered a case against over 1,000 farmers after they marched towards Delhi, breaking the barricades of Udham Singh Nagar district police. The police had tried to stop the farmers by force, and the latter defied the ban and went ahead. 


Even lawyers not immune, police raid advocate defending Delhi riot accused

Mehmood Pracha, who has been representing the accused in the February 2020 riots cases, was raided by the Delhi Police on December 24. The police claimed to be searching for “incriminating documents” and metadata in the outbox of the official email account of Pracha’s firm. A Delhi Court has directed the preservation of the entire video footage of the police raids at the advocate’s house. The Bar Council of Delhi on Sunday wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah terming the raid as “very serious”, and has demanded “immediate action”. Never heard of him before? Aparna Kalra has written a splendid profile.


Adityanath promotes vigilante group

The Allahabad High Court has observed that a 21-year-old woman married to a Muslim man “has the choice to live her life on her own terms” and man and wife have been reunited. In an order passed on December 18, a bench of Justices Pankaj Naqvi and Vivek Agarwal observed that since the woman, Shikha, has attained majority and has expressed that she wants to live with her husband, Salman alias Karan, “she is free to move as per her own choice without any restriction or hinderance being created by third parties.” 

The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Shikha, who was handed over by the chief judicial magistrate of Etah to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) on December 7. The committee gave custody to her parents the next day. According to the court, this was done “without any application of mind and against her wish”. The woman’s husband had been booked for kidnapping at Kotwali Dehat police station on September 27. The court has also quashed the FIR against him. 

Meanwhile, the Adityanath government in UP has revived an old and defunct law in order to  form a vigilante group of urban youth to be called the Prantiya Rakshak Dal. The gang has been established for the noble purpose of creating self-confidence and communal harmony among villagers to inculcate a feeling of self-reliance and discipline, and for self-protection and controlling crime. Sounds like Brownshirts in mufti. When on duty, the PRD’s members will be deemed to be policemen and its members cannot be prosecuted for acts they commit while on duty except with the government’s prior sanction.

The video of Ramesh Mishra, MLA from Badlapur, UP, doing a violent can-can at a gate inauguration ceremony because he was not invited to the event and his name was not on the plaque, is a vivid testament to the state of UP under Adityanath. Adityanath himself is making news globally, and has earned a centrespread in Paris. 


Privatising anganwadis?

The Anil Agarwal Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have announced a partnership with the Centre to upgrade 500 anganwadi centres in UP, raising concerns about the fate of the key welfare programme. Anganwadis provide supplementary nutrition and several health services to children aged three to six and their mothers, apart from informal pre-school education.

The Anil Agarwal Foundation is the philanthropic arm of controversial mining company Vedanta Ltd, and the government’s general desire to privatise heightens suspicions. 


The Long Cable

Logic tormented, facts tortured by farm laws

MK Venu

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a fresh offer to negotiate with the farmers’ unions, based on “issues, logic and facts”. Since the PM himself has made the latest offer on behalf of his government, farm leaders have agreed to return to the table after several rounds of failed negotiations during their month-long protest at the Delhi borders.

The farmers’ unions have taken seriously the PM’s reference to “issues, logic and facts” as the basis for fresh talks. At the centre of the farmers’ agenda is the implementation of remunerative prices as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers headed by MS Swaminathan. This was promised explicitly in the BJP election manifesto in 2014 and repeated ad nauseam by Modi in public speeches. The farmers feel betrayed mainly on this count, which will remain the most contentious issue in fresh negotiations. On this, needless to say, the facts are on the side of the farmers.

The Modi government has been openly distorting the “logic and facts” put forward by Prof Swaminathan relating to some of his key suggestions, especially the one linked to a guaranteed 50% return over the comprehensive costs incurred by farmers. The Centre has wilfully misrepresented the commission’s calculations of costs, thus shortchanging farmers. Swaminathan’s own public statements clarifying the commission’s position have embarrassed the government, since they are part of the public record. So when the PM talks about “logic and facts”, he is skating on very thin ice. This has led to the Modi regime losing the farmers’ trust over the years. Last week, addressing farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Modi had again reiterated his total commitment to implementing the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.

The farm leaders are likely to insist on working into the new legislation guaranteed returns for all farmers, based on the Swaminathan formula. The issue of minimum guaranteed returns would not remain confined to wheat and rice grown in Punjab, Haryana and Western UP. If implemented properly, the Swaminathan recommendations can unite big and smaller farmers across India and make farm policy less Punjab-centric. 

The PM likes to pitch the issue as a radical reform to enhance farm productivity by connecting farmers to the organised private sector. The farmers, from their own experience, suggest there is enough freedom for farmers to produce and sell directly to organised players. Their core issue is guaranteed minimum returns for their produce. Precisely at this point, the discussion loops back to the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, which the PM has fully endorsed, but  his bureaucrats cleverly distort its estimate of minimum returns to farmers. Both logic and facts are tortured here. For instance, the commission wants the imputed rental value of land, interest cost and lease rentals on capital equipment to be included to determine the farmer’s returns. The Agriculture Ministry has excluded these costs and publicly claimed that 50% returns over total cost, as suggested by the commission, have already been delivered in recent years. This is a bogus claim. The Centre will be hard put to present facts to support it.

Working the letter and spirit of the Swaminathan recommendations into the new farm laws will remain the main agenda of the farm leaders. Everything else would follow automatically. The government has already conceded some important amendments. The notion of two agri markets ― one regulated and another totally unregulated ― is unheard of in free market economies, and the government concedes that it is illogical. So states may be allowed to regulate non-APMC markets, which will be in keeping with Constitutional provisions. It is also agreed informally that farmers would have access to civil courts in the event of disputes in contract farming agreements with corporates. Farmers have sought the waiver of penal provisions in the draft electricity law amendments. This may also be addressed.

The other intractable issue is whether there should be a series of amendments in the existing laws, or should they be repealed and replaced by a new set of legislations. This is a matter of form, which obviously involves the ego of the state, which wants only amendments and not total repeal. Former finance minister P Chidambaram has suggested that the act of repeal and re-enactment of the law can be simultaneous, without hurting the ego of any party. Of course, this would require Modi to match the large-heartedness of the farming community.


Reportedly

At a recent meeting, BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh were specifically told that they should only display photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on banners and hoardings for programmes in their constituencies. This has obviously not gone down well with the lawmakers. Assembly elections in UP are due only in 2022 but these instructions are obviously aimed at sending out a clear message that the electorate is voting for Modi, who is synonymous with the BJP. Interestingly, even photographs of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath are not to be displayed. Adityanath has acquired a larger-than-life image and is even being talked about as the BJP’s future prime ministerial candidate.


‘Love jihad’ anxieties have old roots

The idea of ‘love jihad’ is not simply about the Hindu-Muslim divide but is intrinsically tied to the Indian caste system, with roots in the early 20th century, when some Muslim and Christian organisations were able to convert lower castes which self-identified at the time as sweepers, Chandals, Chamars, Doms, and Lai Begis in Uttar Pradesh. Publicists of the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha lamented these conversions as they felt that Hindu “numbers were declining” and launched a massive campaign against conversion to Islam (and Christianity). 

At the heart of the ‘love jihad’ myth is the upper-caste Hindu man’s fear of the supposedly lustful Dalit or Muslim man who is after the Hindu woman. The mythologised sexual potency of the Dalit or Muslim man makes the Hindu man feel insecure and inadequate. In this discourse, the Hindu man is framed as the victim. Similar characterisations have been seen in the US, where Black men have been projected as a threat, and in France, where Algerians have been cast in a similar role. Read this interview with historian Aparna Vaidik about the thinking of the RSS and the BJP on the matter.

Also read historian Audrey Truschke’s interview on ‘love jihad’ and the Mughals: how much of it is history and how much is propaganda? 


Prime number: 87%
The percentage decline in the railways’ passenger revenue this year, to just Rs 4,600 crore from Rs 53,000 crore last year. The government carrier has not restarted most trains even after restrictions were eased to cut its losses and keep its operating ratio at less than 100%. 

Deep Dive

Disagreement on India’s pasts, agreement on bleak present

Were the pro-market reforms of 1991 radical change-makers and drivers of social equality? From “a socialist and secular” point of view, Kiran Kumbhar thinks the period before market forces were unshackled was the real change-maker, when the state committed to deliver public goods like health and education to all. His article, which has gone viral, is in response to Andy Mukherjee’s, which appeared a few weeks ago. Despite differences about what was lost and gained, both Kumbhar and Mukherjee are most despondent about today. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss


Listen up

Venkatesh Parthasarathy talks to Karthik Venkatesh about his first book on the history of one of India’s most loved prayers, ‘Suprabhatam’. Prativadi Bhayankaram Anna, who composed it in the 15th century, was a saint, poet and ardent devotee of Vishnu. The poet’s devotion shines through, most unforgettably in MS Subbulakshmi’s rendition, which rings through many south Indian homes in the mornings.


Watch Out

Rajat Sain and Roohani’s Kisaan Andolan documents the revolution at Delhi’s borders in the winter of 2020 ― the story of farmers and their rights, winter days and nights, the sights and the sounds of protest at the Singhu border. 


A grave oversight

Brigadier Mohammad Usman, the national hero who saved Naushera in 1948, was decorated with the Mahavir Chakra posthumously and given a state funeral with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, President Dr Rajendra Prasad, Governor General C Rajagopalachari, Indira Gandhi and many other cabinet ministers present at the graveyard. The funeral prayer (Namaz-e-Janaza) was led by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. But now, his defaced grave speaks of public ingratitude.  


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.