Vivek Agnihotri No Leni Riefenstahl, But He’s BJP’s Own; Adani Is World’s Fastest Growing Fat Cat
Covid welfare extended poll by poll, RBI won’t disclose crypto stance, north-south divide in rail funding, Tamil Nadu wins NEET battle in Supreme Court, Partition origin of fish Koliwada
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
March 17, 2022
In the last part of the Reporters Collective’s investigation for Al Jazeera, previously unreported evidence shows that the advantage BJP’s advertisements get is potentially because Facebook’s algorithm is designed to keep users hooked to their newsfeeds, apart from occasional help from some people in Facebook’s Indian management moonlighting for the party. Facebook’s advertising policies suggest that its pricing algorithm favours large, polarising political groups which could increase stickiness and keep people on the site.
Parliament yesterday voted on the Demands for Grants for the Ministry of Railways. A Member raised concern over the large number of vacancies. The government informed the Lok Sabha that there are over 12.7 lakh employees in the Railways against about 15 lakh sanctioned posts, but there is a wide north-south disparity. “Only Rs 59 crore for southern railways and Rs 13,200 crore for northern railways,” said Tamil Nadu DMK MP Kanimozhi, criticising the Union government for “meagre” allocations for South India, and also hitting out at privatisation plans.
The Kerala Assembly has unanimously passed a resolution urging the Union government to scrap the LIC IPO and retain the insurance major in the public sector. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who moved the resolution, said that leaving LIC to private players would not be in the interest of the country. The resolution noted that LIC has assets of Rs 38,04,610 crore on March 31, 2021.
A proposal for Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to India is being considered by New Delhi. If the Modi government accepts, it would mark a shift in its stand articulated by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, that there can be no “business as usual” until there is complete disengagement and de-escalation of the massive troop buildup along the LAC, reports The Hindu.
RBI has told Indian lenders to conduct due diligence on smaller Russian banks spared by Western sanctions before it allows them to participate in the domestic fund clearing system and resume bilateral payments. Indian lenders have identified six small Russian banks, including Bank Zenit, which are clear of sanctions and can be used for business. The rupee-ruble trade being discussed is largely for defence payments to entities on the sanctions list.
Amid increasing geopolitical uncertainties and China’s attempts to target India’s critical infrastructure, such as power grids and transportation systems through malware attacks, the government is considering setting up a specialised computer security incident response team (CSIRT) to thwart attempts to cripple critical power infrastructure. The team, which will include private sector experts, will be formed under India’s apex power planning body, the Central Electricity Authority.
Young people spend years in Patna preparing for competitive entrance exams for government jobs. But the number of jobs is dropping and frustrations among the youth are boiling over.
A Delhi court yesterday rejected the bail pleas of Gulfisha Fatima and Tasleem Ahmed in connection with a case alleging conspiracy behind the Delhi riots of 2020. They are charged under the draconian UAPA, apart from the IPC. Fatima is an Urdu master’s student of Delhi University, an MBA and a radio jockey. Facing four cases, she has secured bail in all except the omnibus conspiracy charge contained in FIR 59 of 2020. Days ago, former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan was granted bail, in connection with that ‘conspiracy’. Jahan is also the first accused in this case to have been granted bail by a sessions court. The other five – Faizan Khan, Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita – had to seek relief from the Delhi High Court. Orders in the bail pleas moved by co-accused Umar Khalid has been deferred to March 21, and Saleem Malik and Sharjeel Imam’s to March 22.
The Kerala unit of the Indian Medical Association and the Tamil Nadu State Medical Council are seeking alternative solutions for students who have returned from Ukraine, instead of allowing them to transfer to Indian medical colleges. That would be unfair to candidates who qualified through NEET with better scores but couldn’t pursue a medical education, as well as Indian medical students studying in China and the Philippines who have been unable to return for over two years due to the pandemic.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has revised rules for admission to PhD programmes by including an entrance test, apart from qualification through the existing National Eligibility Test (NET)/JRF (Junior Research Fellowship). Now, 60% of seats for a PhD programme shall be filled by NET/JRF qualifying students. The remaining 40% shall be filled through the university/common entrance test. For those qualifying through NET/JRF, selection will be based on interview/viva voce. Candidates who have passed the entrance test shall be evaluated in the ratio 70 (written test) to 30 (interview). Universities shall evolve their own conditions and procedures to ensure that most seats are filled.
Police in Gurgaon have filed a case against Maria Sharapova and Michael Schumacher, among 11 others, for fraud and criminal conspiracy, following a court order. The FIR was registered on the complaint of a Delhi woman, Shafali Agarwal, who complained that she had booked an apartment in a project which was to be completed in 2016 but never took off. It was named after Sharapova and a tower was named after Schumacher, she said. Agarwal’s allegation is that the international celebrities were “part of the fraud through their association and promotion of it.”
The Slum Soccer you see in the movie Jhund? This is how it started out in 2001, says slum soccer mentor Vijay Barse. Kannada star actor Puneeth Rajkumar’s last film, James, which he shot just before his sudden and unexpected death, releases today.
Adani sets world’s fastest growth record
Gautam Adani, the Gujarati businessman whose rise in fortunes parallels Narendra Modi’s political rise, added $49 billion last year to his wealth, which surged 153% to $81 billion. The increase of Rs 6,000 crore every week in 2021, was the highest in the world and more than the net addition of wealth by the top three global billionaires, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bernard Arnault, the 2022 M3M Hurun Global Rich List finds. Mukesh Ambani remains the richest Indian with $103 billion, a 24% rise year on year. In the last 10 years, Ambani’s wealth has grown 400%, while Adani has seen a 1,830% increase.
India ranks third on the list based on its billionaire count and the number of billionaires who have added at least a billion to their wealth last year. While their fortunes rose, a record number of people, 230 million according to one study, slipped back into poverty.
Tamil Nadu wins on NEET in Supreme Court
In a major victory for Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court yesterday refused to stay its decision allocating 50% super-specialty seats in government medical colleges to NEET-qualified in-service candidates. The Tamil Nadu government had said the prescribing of quota for in-service candidates is a “separate source of entry and not a reservation” and makes special provisions for doctors who would be available for service in rural areas.
Taking away the power of the state to provide for sources of admission would violate the federal structure and lead to complete centralisation of policymaking in areas where the state is competent, it had said, adding that in the present case, “public health and hospitals are covered by Entry 6, List II (state list) in the Constitution.”
RBI refuses crypto query citing national interest
Disclosing the inputs it sent to the government on cryptocurrencies at this juncture could affect India’s economic interests, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said in its reply to an RTI query, amid calls by its leadership to ban private digital assets. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das has repeatedly warned the public about cryptos, and Deputy Governor T Rabi Sankar has likened them to a Ponzi scheme.
The government, while declaring it would tax digital assets, is yet to make its stand clear on their regulation. Crypto stakeholders welcomed the tax proposal, seeing it as a step toward legitimacy. However, the government later clarified that taxation does not mean cryptos are legal.
The Long Cable
Vivek Agnihotri BJP’s own director, though he’s no Leni Riefenstahl
Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will (1935), on the Nazi party congress in Nuremberg, is said to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made. It is a masterclass not just in cinema, but also in propaganda, as it shows the idealised version of German manhood — blonde, blue-eyed, fit — and the impeccable organisational skills of Nazi Germany. She was Hitler’s favourite filmmaker and chief propagandist for the Nazis.
Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri may fall far short of her filmmaking standards, but with The Kashmir Files, he has become the BJP’s favourite filmmaker. Its messaging and aesthetics are fully in tune with the party’s, which is borne out by the full-throated support of the PM and his party leaders.
When was the last time a PM spoke up so fulsomely about a film and lashed out against its critics? Chief ministers of many BJP-run states have given it tax exemptions and declared their intention to support it.
The film is about the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits when terrorists targeted the community after militancy broke out in 1989. Thousands left their homes and dispersed to other parts of India. The number of those killed varies according to research by different groups, with the Kashmir Pandit Sangharsh Samiti saying that 399 were killed in 1990-2011, 75% of them in 1990. Since then, the total has gone up to 655. Other estimates range from 700 to over 1,300.
Their pain has not lessened over the years and The Kashmir Files rips open the wounds. It has been described by critics as exploitative and one-sided, though many Pandits have also called it cathartic.
Agnihotri’s film blames the exodus on — not necessarily in this order — the Congress, liberals, human rights-wallas, Naxal sympathisers in academia, and of course Muslims — the usual suspects blamed for the ills of this country. JNU, according to him, is a hotbed of enemies of the nation. All this is said loudly and repeatedly, often ignoring the facts. Agnihotri blames Rajiv Gandhi but the truth is that the BJP supported the VP Singh government – which came to power in Delhi in December 1989 and failed to protect the KPs – and governor Jagmohan in Srinagar when there was no state government in place to question him. Jagmohan later joined the BJP in 1996.
Besides, the film provides no historical context. Hundreds of Muslims were also killed by the terrorists, including members of the National Conference, whose leader Farooq Abdullah Agnihotri berates. In between, the film also sneaks in a suggestion that had Article 370 been revoked earlier, the exodus and the killing wouldn’t have happened.
This clearly syncs well with the BJP’s own worldview and its list of enemies of the nation — anti-nationals who are nothing short of treasonous. No wonder it is assiduously supporting the film. Former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose father was Union home minister at the time, said the film was an attempt by the BJP to “weaponise the pain of Kashmiri Pandits.”
Agnihotri has been going all guns ablaze against those who he thinks have not acknowledged his film sufficiently — his own colleagues in the industry, the media and film critics specifically. The implication is that they have an inbuilt prejudice against him.
Agnihotri protests too much, because many critics have also said complimentary things, for example, that the film holds the viewers’ attention. These reviewers also point out flaws and some have said that facts have been falsified. Agnihotri had once said: “Who said facts are facts?” He may well wonder what the fuss is all about, but alas, the rest of us care about facts.
Yet, there is something to be said about the noise — some organic, some manufactured — that Agnihotri and his film have generated. He doesn’t let up, constantly doing something to keep The Kashmir Files in the public eye. He claimed recently that the US state of Rhode Island has “officially recognised Kashmir genocide” because of his film. Alas, this claim too is suspect.
There are reports of aggressive slogan-shouting in theatres. Viewers are certainly engaging with the film ― a film without any of the Khans. Of course the backing of the PM and chief ministers helps, but even if that hadn’t been forthcoming, Agnihotri would still have managed to build up attention.
The BJP will milk The Kashmir Files. It will drown out legitimate questions about why even BJP-led Union governments and long bouts of central rule in Kashmir failed to help the beleaguered Pandits get justice, or return home. Most KPs have made successful lives elsewhere, but may yet want some form of justice and closure. No government, not even the present one, has shown any inclination to provide either.
These nuances are not for Agnihotri. His intention is to hammer in the few points and many prejudices he holds. And he is succeeding. With the official support he has, there is no doubt his best work is yet to come. Other filmmakers have made hyper-nationalistic films, but this is the real thing. From now on, it is Agnihotri all the way, the BJP’s own Leni Riefenstahl.
Covid food welfare extended poll by poll
After disparaging freebie culture and stating that NREGA was a monument to Congress’ failures, BJP is likely to extend the Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana for 15 crore people from the economically weaker sections in Uttar Pradesh till the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The scheme was started by the BJP government in UP during the second wave of Covid-19 and was supposed to end in November 2021. It was then extended upto the Assembly elections in March 2022. Does another extension till 2024 make the scheme a monument to Modi’s failures?
Prime number: 0
No death has been reported for engaging in manual scavenging,
but 325 people have lost their lives in accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewers and septic tanks in the last five years, the government said this week. The highest number of deaths, 52, were recorded in UP. With 42, Delhi is in the
A constitutional assessment on prohibiting the hijab at educational institutions by Farrah Ahmed, Mohsin Alam Bhat, Aparna Chandra, Raunaq Jaiswal, Gauri Pillai, Faiza Rahman, Rishika Sahgal, John Sebastian and Anup Surendranath, finds that the ruling is administratively unlawful and violates multiple rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
As India’s Navy slides in the opposite direction of China’s, India’s political influence in its neighbourhood has also wobbled. Within a decade, India may not even be able to protect its own backyard against Chinese military coercion at sea, just as it is on land, writes Sameer Lalwani in Politico.
The biggest democracy had to abstain on Ukraine because of historical and strategic reasons, writes Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan in The Atlantic. But with Russia becoming a liability as well as a partner, India is exploring other options, too.
Manvendra Singh writes that the Indian Air Force has a lot to answer for: who and why did one of their own press the launch button of a supersonic cruise missile? It has dented India’s image of being a responsible power, technologically in control.
Harish Khare says that if Congress leaders fail to save Nehruvian ideas and ideals from the pronounced infirmities of Nehru’s family, it’s curtains for their party.
Treating values of individual freedom as triﬂes, the hijab judgement has struck a blow against each of these principles — liberty, equality, and fraternity, writes Suhrith Parthasarathy.
Shalini Dixit writes that International Women’s Day is definitely a time to celebrate the progress we have made but if we look back, we know it is about reflecting, questioning and protesting in-built hierarchies and injustice, which are now celebrated.
The numbers for women’s workforce participation are troubling. This issue cannot and will not be solved at an individual level, writes Varsha Adusumilli.
No matter what happens in Ukraine, writes Pankaj Mishra, the following trends can only intensify: opportunistic non-alignment, de-democratization, de-dollarization of the international financial system and general de-Americanization of the globe.
We think that the path to all progress and development is through education, but we continue to treat education and educators poorly, writes Anurag Behar.
Asim Ali writes that The Kashmir Files is not a refutation of majoritarian politics and its consequences on minorities, but its justification – a Schindler’s List made with the moral compass of Nazi propagandists.
In the first of a two-part series on the Indian elections, Ronojoy Sen discusses the UP Assembly election results with Neelanjan Sircar, “including electoral behaviour, the question of caste politics, religious polarisation, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the implications of the results for the upcoming general elections in 2024.”
Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar and Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin witness radically changing political landscapes in Pakistan and India. They speak with political figures and ordinary people, examining the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. As they despair at the decline of secular thought in both nations, they also uncover the shared humanity in both countries. Their documentary Azmaish is available all of March.
Over and Out
Rolling Stone magazine reports on Indian-American electronica musician Aasheesh Paliwal or ShiShi, who is mixing genre with mindfulness and the Metaverse in his second album, Chrysalis. He calls it “shadow work for the dancefloor”, for a world peopled by listeners bruised by the pandemic.
SB Divya’s Machinehood has been nominated a finalist for the Nebula Award, which recognises science fiction. The backdrop: life-prolonged humans compete with Turings in a highly aggressive gig economy. The question: “if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?” Divya worked as an engineer in AI. The book has earned high praise from Ray Kurzweil and Ken Liu, among others.
And a Partition story from the Paperclip that’s uncharacteristically cheerful: the cross-border Punjabi origins of Mumbai’s fish Koliwada.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow is Holi so The India Cable will be on break for the day. We’ll be back with you on Monday, 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. Happy Holi! Have a great weekend.