Why Rich Indians Are in Love with State Surveillance; Modi Govt’s ‘Sengol’ Claim Lacks Evidence, Undermines Constitution
Sidda tells cops to stop saffronising the force, Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC ‘not paying dues’, 3 cheetah cubs died in Kuno this week, travel ban on Imran, Sangh parivar pracharaks are DU chief guests
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Snapshot of the day
May 26, 2023
Rich Indians are more likely to support the use of surveillance technologies by the state compared with the poor, religious minorities, tribals and farmers, reports Scroll, quoting a recent study by Common Cause and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. the study found higher approval for the use of drones, CCTVs, biometric data collection and facial-recognition technology from people who belonged to higher income groups. For instance, half of the 9,779 respondents from 12 states strongly supported and justified drone surveillance by the state, compared with 39% of the poor and 40%-45% of the middle class. Asked about the use of security cameras to control protests, 70% of the respondents living in slums supported the measure compared with 82% of people from higher-income neighbourhoods.
Evidence is thin on the Modi government’s claim that the presenting of a gold sceptre to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was treated by the leaders and the-then government as representing the symbolic transfer of power from the British to India. None of the “documentary proofs” presented by the government said the sceptre was first symbolically given to Lord Mountbatten, and taken back before being presented to Nehru, symbolising the transfer. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to receive the same “sengol”, or sceptre, from a priest when he inaugurates the new parliament building on May 28. It seems a new chapter of history has been invented to confer regal glory on Modi. Home Minister Amit Shah claimed the suggestion of symbolically representing the transfer of power was made by Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari. But Rajagopalachari’s grandson, the scholar and writer Rajmohan Gandhi, has said this is the first time he has ever heard about the ‘sengol’:
“If I am allowed a personal comment… let me, as Rajaji's grandson and biographer, state that before the reports of Home Minister Shah's press conference appeared in the media, I had never heard of Rajaji's purported role in the Sengol story. Since the 1947 story is new to many, and not just to me, I hope that documents that confirm the roles in the story ascribed to Mountbatten, Nehru and Rajaji are made public as soon as possible. It would be good for the government's credibility.”
Historian Madhavan Palat is equally skeptical. But RSS-BJP ideologue Ram Madhav says the historicity of the Sengol is not as important “as its real significance as the Dharma Dand — the Indian civilisational tradition of ethical-spiritual authority over mere political authority.” He then speaks of the role of sceptres in the European monarchical tradition, forgetting that India is a republic where the constitution is the actual embodiment of political authority. Which is why Rajmohan Gandhi asks: “Would giving this Sengol a permanent place inside the Lok Sabha chamber be true to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution?
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday rejected the petition seeking directions to the Lok Sabha secretariat to have the new parliament building inaugurated by President Droupadi Murmu.
The Supreme Court has granted six weeks’ interim bail on medical grounds to former Delhi minister Satyendar Jain. The order came a day after Jain was admitted to the ICU at Lok Nayak Hospital as he slipped inside the bathroom of Tihar jail. A former Delhi health minister, Jain has been in jail since May last year after his arrest on money laundering charges.
I-PAC, the political consultancy firm set up by poll strategist Prashant Kishor, has not paid dues to several of its former staffers and vendors, with delays ranging from a few months to years, reports the Morning Context. They say that instead of addressing their concerns, the I-PAC management has gone incommunicado. This month, the firm received legal notices from four former staffers who claim that their dues have not been cleared since they quit last year. Kishor has no direct stake in I-PAC and calls himself only its “mentor”. But the reality seems different. “Not a leaf moves at I-PAC without Prashant’s instructions,” says a former staffer.
In the first review meeting with police officers after coming to power, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and deputy chief minister DK Shivakumar issued a strict warning to those officers who were perceived to be close to the previous BJP establishment. Severely reprimanding the officers for allowing the force to be “saffronised”, the chief minister sarcastically asked them why they hadn’t turned up in saffron for the meeting, reports the News Minute.
China continues to expand the network of model villages, or “Xiaokang” (moderately prosperous) villages, opposite the Line of Actual Control in the Middle and Eastern sectors. In addition, new posts are coming up 6-7km from the LAC in the Middle sector and the frequency of patrolling has gone up significantly, the Hindu reports, quoting official sources. Opposite Barahoti, which has seen face-offs in the past, the Chinese are building villages at a rapid pace, sometimes as many as 300-400 houses in multistorey blocks within 90-100 days, one source told the newspaper, citing intelligence inputs.
India lost three cheetah cubs in the Kuno National Park on Tuesday, Madhya Pradesh forest officials said on Thursday, attributing the deaths to heat, malnutrition and lack of response to treatment attempts by veterinarians. In all, India’s cheetah introduction project – for which Prime Minister Modi had himself released the first set of cheetahs in Kuno on his birthday last year, amid TV cameras and fanfare – has lost three adults and three cubs. Calling the cheetah programme a vanity project, experts have said that India does not have the habitat or prey species for African cheetahs and that the project may not fulfil its aim of grassland conservation.
A fresh letter from the education ministry to the Aligarh Muslim University seeking the university’s opinion again on the proposed review of the AMU Act of 1920, which governs the university, has set alarm bells ringing, reports the Telegraph. The ministry had sent a similar letter in November and the university had replied, disagreeing with the idea of a review. AMU teachers and alumni say the proposed review is meant to withdraw the university’s special powers through the legislative route at a time the government has opposed the continuance of the university’s minority status in a case being heard in the Supreme Court.
Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin has urged Union minister of cooperation Amit Shah to direct Gujarat-based dairy cooperative Amul to stop procuring milk from the southern state immediately. In a letter to Shah on Thursday, Stalin wrote “it has been a norm in India to let cooperatives thrive without infringing on each other’s milk-shed area”, urging the Union minister to intervene and protect the Tamil Nadu government’s milk cooperative Aavin. The development comes close on the heels of the controversy in Karnataka over Amul’s entry into Karnataka Milk Federation’s market and the implications for its iconic brand “Nandini”.
Wealthy countries are, by and large, moving away from coal, the single largest contributor to climate change. But even with considerable advances in renewable energy, India, now the world’s most populous country, still relies on the mineral for roughly three-quarters of power generation, and will need it for years to come. As a result, India is now the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, next only to China and the US, even though per-capita figures remain below the global average. According to Bloomberg, a vast, climate-vulnerable nation is making its own predicament worse, leaving hundreds of millions of its workers caught in a vicious heat cycle – with all the health and economic productivity costs that come with toiling in sweltering conditions. It’s not just about rising mercury. The combination of heat and humidity may make parts of India some of the world’s first uninhabitable places.
In the past one month or so, Delhi University has organised at least five academic programmes, presided over or patronised by its vice-chancellor, Yogesh Singh, where Sangh parivar office holders have been invited as chief guests. “In my 42 years of service in Delhi University I have never seen official platforms being consistently used to project spokespersons of a politically and ideologically partisan dispensation. Now, even the euphemism of ‘intellectual’ is being dropped and the so-called chief guests and guests of honour are being being described as what they are – pracharaks of the RSS, officebearers of the VHP and other non-state actors who are representatives of various illustrious subsects of the Sangh parivar. How low can a public-funded university sink!”, writes Professor Nandita Narain on her Facebook page.
The signs for the G20 intergovernmental forum held in Srinagar early this week proclaimed India as “The Mother of Democracy”, but this meeting for tourism took place in a heavily militarised region that has not seen elections for its legislature in almost a decade, reports Washington Post. “Having the delegates from the world’s 20 wealthiest nations meet to discuss tourism amid the majestic Himalayan beauty of India’s Kashmir showcases what India says is the return of peace and prosperity to the region. But the conversations touting a new normalcy came amid a heavy security presence and were in sharp contrast to the voices just outside the barricaded conference premises.”
In a piece titled “India is once again making money a plaything”, Andy Mukherjee writes: “‘No questions asked,’ or NQA, is a vital property of money everywhere and at all times, according to MIT's [Bengt] Holmstrom and Yale University’s Gary Gorton. Thanks to India’s latest misstep, sovereign-issued cash, the one thing in a modern economy that should be NQA, is once again surrounded by suspicion. No amount of flirting with next-generation digital currencies can compensate for this basic disrespect of legal tender.”
The Indian rupee had over the years acquired the status of a regional US dollar in South Asia with many smaller countries accepting or tolerating it as legal tender. This greatly helped Indian tourists and travellers whose currency was readily accepted. The first jolt came in 2016 with Modi’s demonetisation announcement. However, as 2016 became a bad memory and tourism and trade continued. Indian currency, including ₹2,000 notes, was again accepted by business outlets. Now comes the mini-demonetisation announcement to exchange ₹2,000 notes in Indian banks by September 30. There are no Indian banks in Bhutan. For more, read this thread.
Imran posts a sarcastic tweet as Pak govt puts travel ban on him
Pakistan’s government has restricted former Prime Minister Imran Khan, his wife, Bushra Bibi, and hundreds of political aides from travelling abroad amid a stand-off with the country’s powerful military. “I have no plans to travel abroad, because I neither have any properties or businesses abroad nor even a bank account outside the country,” he tweeted in an apparent dig at politicians belonging to Pakistan’s ruling alliance who allegedly own homes abroad.
Khan, 70, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament last year and faces a number of legal challenges. His arrest on May 9 triggered a wave of violent protests in which at least nine people died. The protests subsided only after he was released on bail on a Supreme Court order three days later. The government said those who attacked the military installation during the protests would face summary trials at the country’s controversial military courts, a move criticised by national and global rights groups. An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Thursday handed 16 civilians to the military for trial over their suspected involvement in the protests.
Two more Australian univs ban Indian student enrolments
In the wake of the Australian government’s concerns about visa fraud, two more Australian universities – Federation University in Victoria and Western Sydney University of New South Wales – have banned enrolments by students from certain Indian states that include Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. It was only ironic that it was reported on the same day Prime Minister Modi arrived in Australia. Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese signed a new migration deal on Wednesday to “promote the exchange of students, graduates, researchers and businesspeople”.
The Australian department of education has said that it is aware of “unscrupulous behaviour” in the international education sector such as education agents allegedly offering inducements to students to move from universities to cheaper vocational education institutes. In the country, education agents are the major means through which international students join universities. Universities and colleges pay these agents commissions worth thousands of dollars for every student enrolment.
ASHA women, farmers, activists join wrestlers’ protest
Scores of Accredited Social Health Activists, or ASHA, and members of women, student and farmer organisations are thronging to Jantar Mantar in Delhi to demonstrate support for the wrestlers who have been protesting for over a month. They say it’s a fight for dignity. Some are even travelling from other states to lend support to the athletes at Jantar Mantar.
The wrestlers, who include Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia and Somvir Rathee, are pressing for the arrest of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and his removal as president of the Wrestling Federation of India. Singh is accused of sexual misconduct with at least seven female wrestlers, including a minor. FIRs were filed against him by the Delhi police last month after the Supreme Court’s intervention.
Petrol prices unchanged for more than a year
According to government data, fuel prices in India have now remained unchanged for more than a year. With all three Indian public sector oil marketing companies – Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited – being comfortably profitable, energy industry experts the Print spoke to believe it is time to return to the former system in which petrol prices were updated daily in reaction to international prices.
According to statistics from the petroleum ministry’s Planning & Analysis Cell, petrol and diesel prices were fixed at ₹96.72 and ₹89.62 per litre on May 22, 2022.
The Long Cable
In the land of ‘charity is virtue, cruelty is sin’, is Indianness in peril?
A hot morning in Jaipur. I was desperate to catch the flight to Delhi, for which I had not been able to do the web check-in. Thankfully, there was no crowd at the gate. The journalist Om Thanvi triumphantly waved from his car inviting me again to his city. I moved towards the gate. The CISF jawan extended his hand. I gave my ticket and identity card to him. After matching the two, he smiled and said, “Well, you teach Hindi!" "Yes," I replied. “It always gives me pleasure to meet someone like you,” the officer said. He meant a “Hindiwala”.
Seeing my curious look he made it clear: “Nowadays, where are people who study in their own language Hindi? Hindi and Sanskrit are dying.” I was tempted to inform him that every session in Delhi University we admit approximately 800 students in our MA course alone. Out of an aspiring 3,000 candidates. Hardly any seat remains vacant in the Hindi course in any college. Leave aside BA and MA, we have admitted 220 scholars in our PhD programme this year. I see the Sanskrit department also flourishing, although my teacher friends from Rajasthan told me that the condition of Sanskrit in the state’s colleges is not very encouraging.
But this was not the only concern of the jawan manning the entrance to Jaipur airport. Our language is not just a language, it is the repository and carrier of our values and culture. “Where is moral education left now?” he asked. The worry was somewhat deep. In fact, it contained multiple worries. “In our time, there was punishment for not greeting people properly. We were sure to get caned if we failed to say ‘Ram Ram' to our elders. Now the children do not know all this at all. Sex education and what not is being taught now.” The officer clarified he was not against it but the neglect of “moral values” remained a concern. All this, according to him, is the result of what “Lord Macaulay had done 200 years ago”. According to him, we have not been able to undo the damage even after being independent for 75 years.
I was past the gate but after me the line of other passengers waiting to get their tickets and IDs checked was lengthening. I was also getting impatient as I had yet to get my boarding pass. I did not want to be told that all aisle seats were already taken. But the CISF officer’s concerns went far beyond the momentary and mundane. He had civilisational concerns to take care of. My identity as a Hindi teacher had made him feel I would be able to appreciate his disappointment with the decline of culture. He also hoped that being a teacher of Hindi, I would do something to arrest the decline.
The concern was real, not strategic. I could sense that from our conversation lasting barely 7-8 minutes, although my role was only that of a listener. But I kept wondering about the source of this concern. The undeserved respect I got for being a teacher of Hindi was in the hope that I would not only preserve lost Indian values and our crumbling Indian civilisation, but that I would also feel responsible for their promotion.
Hindi, Indianness, sanskar, all these get mixed up in an average Indian Hindu’s mind. One is necessarily linked to the other. The feeling of having lost something and the feeling of a historical cultural injustice, its sting does not let you sleep. But how did this happen?
If both of us had time, I might have shared with him my experiences in Jaipur from the day before. Something that could have eased the insecurity of my CISF friend. The Rajasthan Sahitya Akademi had awarded school and college students for poetry, stories and essays in its annual award ceremony. All these students wrote in Hindi only. Not in Mewari, Rajasthani, Dhundhari, Marwari, nor in any other language associated with Rajasthan. The youngest winner mentioned her pride in writing in Hindi as it is the national language and her mother tongue. The representative of the Akademi had informed us while praising her that “despite studying in an English-medium school, she writes in Hindi”.
Rajasthan has a government that believes in secularism, a much-condemned idea in India these days. The beginning of the programme was traditional but had a novelty to it. The custom of the lighting of the lamp was followed, but not before any Hindu deity. It was done before a set of books. I saw that everyone had taken off their shoes. It meant everyone was very careful about their sanskars. I remembered, many years ago, wearing slippers in a hurry, I had climbed on the stage where Kalapini Komkali was about to start her Kabir concert. The poet Ashok Vajpayee had lost his temper. He is not a religious person at all, but he could not compromise with the sanctity of the “manch”. That remained sacred for him.
Art and culture minister Bulaki Das Kalla of the Congress, a secular party, was present at the event. In his presidential remarks, he gave at least 10 quotations from the Gita, the Puranas and the Vedas – in unfaltering Sanskrit. All his examples and symbols came from these traditions even though he ended his speech with the lines of an Urdu poet. What I liked was that he said that if one cannot read the 18 Puranas, then just memorising this one stanza will suffice: “Ashtadasha puraneshu vyasasya vachanadvayam, परोपकार: पुण्याय पापाय परपीडनम” (The essence of the Puranas lies in these words, ‘charity is virtue and cruelty is sin’). This is what Minister Kalla saw as the essence of his Indian tradition. But what do the self-proclaimed defenders of this culture inherit from the Purana tradition? Kalla ended his speech with the wish of “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah” (May all be happy, may all be free from illness).
I also noticed that the supreme council of the Sahitya Akademi is called Saraswati Sabha, of which Tasneem Khan is also a member. In one of the speeches it was mentioned that the earlier avatar of the academy was called Sangam as it contained many languages.
I kept reminiscing about all of this while waiting for my flight. I was still searching for the reason and the source of the CISF officer’s sense of loss. He feels that a great gulf divides our contemporary life from our real, authentic culture. He himself is aware of it and laments that others are oblivious of this hiatus. He perhaps hoped that the gap would be filled by Hindiwalas like us. While thinking about it, my mind went to Nirmal Verma, who was agonised by the chasm in the Indian consciousness – more precisely, Hindu consciousness.
Be it Nirmal Verma or our CISF officer, why are they not as confident about their culture as Minister Kalla? It should not be read as charging them with a lack of anything. And yet, I wonder why there is such a chasm between what I saw and heard for several hours the previous evening and the civilisational concern expressed by our CISF friend the next morning.
(Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University)
China’s plan to establish a 15-20km-long buffer zone on the Depsang Plains has raised concerns and sparked tension between the two nations. The crux of the issue lies in the interpretation of the November 7, 1959 line, which includes the presence of an ITBP post called Burste. While China refuses to allow India to patrol up to PP13, it is suggesting that the Line of Actual Control should extend to Burtse. This aggressive stance can be seen as a clear display of expansionism. The proposed buffer at Raki Nallah has been met with opposition from the Indian Army, as it is deemed unacceptable. Instead of taking appropriate measures in the face of China’s demands, the Modi-led BJP government engaging in endless debates.
Prime Number: 1
One person was killed and another injured in fresh violence between suspected militants and a group of people in an area bordering Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts in strife-torn Manipur.
Dive deeper to know Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the man who made Hindu nationalist politics acceptable. The popular narrative that LK Advani was responsible for mainstreaming Hindu nationalism “is an ideologically lazy, self-deceptive analysis that wholly bypasses an earlier trend”, argues Abhishek Choudhary, author of a new biography of Vajpayee.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
The Sengol issue – instead of placing symbols, Modi needs to restore Parliament’s legitimacy, writes Pushparaj Deshpande.
Quad summit at Hiroshima may have been low-key on China but the tension looms, writes C Uday Bhaskar.
For the BJP, rewriting history is part of a toolkit to brighten its political fortunes, writes S Irfan Habib
Arun Kumar says growing inequality and poverty have huge costs for society, including the well-off, but the ruling elite in India is increasingly short-term-ist.
Cinematic mischief – even those who love these divisive movies know that their support comes from a deep-seated hatred towards Muslims, something that has been embedded within our psyche, writes TM Krishna.
The Tamil queen who led an army of women against the East India Company – read an excerpt from Warrior Queen of Sivaganga: The Legend of Rani Velu Nachiyar by Shubendra.
The Congress’s triumph in Karnataka demonstrates that the propaganda against the party is false, says Congress leader Salman Khurshid. In a conversation with Sidharth Bhatia, he argues that the party’s recent performance was due to both the influence of the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the local unit of the party.
Rahul Ranjan works for the “Riverine Rights” project, which investigates the rights of rivers in Colombia, New Zealand and India. He discusses the political life of memory in contemporary India.
Over and out
Banojyotsna Lahiri, a friend of jailed activist Umar Khalid, penned a note for him on the “IndiaLoveProject”, describing the love and unbreakable bond they share.
The Titli director’s psychosexual drama premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Agra isn’t for the faint-hearted – and director Kanu Behl won’t have it any other way, he says in an interview.
That’s it for today. 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.