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Yogi Promised ‘80-20' Vote, What He Got Is '45-55', Against Him; FII Outflow More Than in 2008 Crisis
Internet shutdowns cost $582.8 million, Covid may have killed 4 million Indians, undertrials crowding prisons, women scientists lack support, and Pak takes offence at Indian ‘supersonic flying object’
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 11, 2022
The elections are over but the dust is yet to settle. Amidst the storm raised by the triumphant Hindutva rath comes another storm of post-hoc justifications and hectoring. Nalin Kohli offers the standard explanation: the BJP’s victory is due to the “appeal of PM Modi and CM Yogi”, whose social engineering and welfare delivery has done the trick. For the exceptions to the norm on yesterday’s poll results, read Ajaz Ashraf, Suhas Palshikar, Yamini Aiyar, Seema Chishti, Mihir Sharma and Asim Ali – who argue, inter alia, why the welfarist factor only works because it is bundled with communalism. Harish Khare sees the UP win as strengthening Narendra Modi’s dominance inside and outside the BJP and rounds up the reality check by warning of the bulldozer effect on the constitution now.
Predictably, Modi believes the BJP’s win in UP has settled the contest for the Lok Sabha in 2024. Not so fast, says the opposition poll strategist Prashant Kishor:
While the Indian side has been silent so far, the Pakistan military did a press conference yesterday evening and claimed that India launched a surface-to-surface missile from Sirsa on Wednesday evening. It was directed at the Mahajan field firing ranges in Rajasthan, but veered over 100 km into Pakistan. The Pakistan Air Force claimed that it was tracked by air defence right from the launch and its speed was Mach 3.0 before it impacted in Mian Channu in Punjab, Pakistan. Educated guesses from the debris indicate it’s a nuclear-capable Brahmos missile. The Pakistani press earlier reported it as the crash of a private training aircraft, and the site was cordoned off by the police and was accessible only to the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan government has summoned the Indian Charge d’Affaires and conveyed a strong protest over the unprovoked violation of its airspace by an Indian-origin ‘supersonic flying object’.
A top US Senate Republican, Chuck Grassley is seeking to delay Eric Garcetti’s nomination to serve as the new US ambassador to India, pending an investigation into whether the mayor of Los Angeles lied when he told a congressional panel he was unaware of sexual harassment and assault allegations against his closest advisor. According to a document obtained by POLITICO, Garssley’s office has asked US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to try and halt Garcetti’s nomination until their investigation is concluded.
Overseas investors have offloaded $2 billion worth of local shares in just two days this week, according to the latest exchange data compiled by Bloomberg, after a record withdrawal of $2.9 billion last week. With this, $19 billion has flowed out since September 30, about half of the foreign investment inflows since the pandemic lows in March 2020. That’s pushed down the rupee to an all-time low. The current exodus has hit a record, exceeding the foreign outflows seen during the 2008 global financial crisis.
The Lancet has published a new peer-reviewed paper which states that over 4 million people died of Covid-19 in India, as opposed to official reckoning of 500,000. It is based on excess deaths during the pandemic and offers a more accurate assessment.
The ongoing war in Ukraine has forced India to look for alternatives to Russian fertiliser, as Belarus and Russia supply the total requirement of 30 lakh tonnes of potash. A major crisis is afoot because of shortages and an unprecedented rise in prices. Its roots lie in bad policy in the last two decades that have undermined domestic production led by the public sector, and increased dependence on imports and the private sector. The government has looked away, used ad hoc measures and focused on managing headlines. While price controls and increased subsidies are needed to control fertiliser prices, strategic goals can only be achieved by putting the public sector in the driver’s seat of the fertiliser industry.
The Financial Times calls the dithering on the sale of LIC because of market volatility “India’s Aramco moment”. It says that “selling 5% of LIC’s shares was expected to raise up to $8bn, part of a government disinvestment strategy launched in early 2020. But two years on, with Russia’s war in Ukraine unleashing severe market turbulence, the LIC’s juggernaut public offering could be in danger.”
India sought a fresh autopsy of India’s Palestine envoy, Mukul Arya, who was found dead in the embassy. The deceased officer’s family wants light shed on the ‘suspicious’ circumstances of his death. The MEA said this week that Arya died of natural causes. “We urge that the tragic demise of a young diplomat be treated with decency and respect.”
According to top10vpn.com, in 2021, India lost $582.8 million to internet shutdowns of 1,157 hours, affecting 59.1 million users. While the damage was much less than in 2020, when $2.8 billion was lost due to shutdowns of 8,927 hours, the cost per hour in 2021 jumped 60.6% compared to 2020. The number of users affected also went up from 10.3 million to 59.1 million. The good news: an Indian court has given its first order against shutdowns. The Calcutta High Court has stayed the implementation of the March 3 order suspending internet services across specific districts in West Bengal.
Prison occupancy in India has been growing for five years and jails are overcrowded by the mass incarceration of undertrials. Three out of four people held in India’s prisons are undertrials, and the average district jail runs at 136% of capacity. A study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in December showed prison occupancy increased by 23% over the last two years, with over 900,000 more arrests made during the pandemic alone. Pratiksha Baxi, associate professor at JNU’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, who has worked on prison reforms, says that the death rate in custody increased by 7% in 2020. ‘Unnatural’ deaths ― suicides, accidents and murders in prisons ― increased by more than 18%. Many have now called on the Supreme Court to explore measures to release prisoners on regular bail to decongest jails, reports Newsclick.
In the past five years, some of the best-known web series — Sacred Games, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Leila — were adapted from books. Films like Gangubai Kathiawadi, Serious Men and Raazi, too, draw on books. Zoya Akhtar is making a film based on the Archie comics. Hansal Mehta’s upcoming web series Scoop is based on the real-life account of journalist Jigna Vora. Vishal Bharadwaj’s forthcoming film Khufiya, on the Indian intelligence agencies, is adapted from the book Escape to Nowhere. But all these Hindi films are based on English books, while the Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil film industries draw heavily on regional language literatures. What prevents Hindi filmmaker from doing the same, asks The Morning Context.
Geetanjali Shree’s novel Tomb of Sand, translated from the Hindi Ret Samadhi, the story of an 80-year-old woman depressed after her husband’s death, has been long-listed for the International Booker Prize 2022. It is the first Hindi novel in translation to make the long list. Tomb of Sand has been translated by Daisy Rockwell. The judges described the narrative as “loud and irresistible”. If it wins, the GBP 50,000 prize money will be split evenly between author and translator.
Friends of India in US Congress agitated about UN abstentions
During the Congressional hearing on the Indo-Pacific on Wednesday, several US lawmakers including Indian-American Ro Khanna strongly questioned the Pentagon leadership as to why India did not vote with the US and its allies at the UN. Khanna also asked why the Pentagon is supportive of India when it is still buying weapons from Russia. “I’m perplexed why ― and I say this as an Indian-American ― why India has abstained three times in the Security Council and is unwilling to condemn Putin’s unprovoked aggression into Ukraine. Do you have a view on this? And has this been raised at the highest levels with the Indian government?” Khanna asked. He asserted that the US supported India in its war against China in 1962 and again during the border conflict with China in 2020. “Did Russia do anything to protect India when China was violating the Line of Actual Control, to your knowledge?” Khanna asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” replied Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. Ratner told Congressman Bill Keating that the majority of Indian weapons purchases are from Russia. Congressman Joe Wilson, another friend of India in Congress, said he is shocked that “such a great country has abstained on the issues of the mass murder” in Ukraine.
MediaOne fighting channel ban
The Supreme Court yesterday sought a response by March 15 from the Union government on a plea by Malayalam news channel MediaOne TV against the Kerala High Court order upholding the Union’s decision to ban its telecast on security grounds. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath said that it would ask the Union to place on record the file relied on by the Kerala High Court. Mukul Rohatgi, Dushyant Dave and Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the channel, submitted that the ban on its telecast is “gross abuse of power.”
Women rarely consult finance professionals
A survey by SBI general insurance of over 1,000 women across Tier 2 cities has found that they rarely seek professional help for their finances, even those who consider themselves to be financially independent. Only 17% of women had consulted a financial planner, and around half feel they are not yet financially independent. About 33% find that cost of living is a barrier to becoming financially independent.
The Long Cable
Adityanath wanted ‘80-20’ vote in his favour, what he got was 45-55, against him
Analysts seeing in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh victory a vindication of its welfarist policies conveniently duck the question of why leaders who apparently had such a compelling reason for re-election still had to make use of high-octane communalism to fuel their campaign. Chief minister Adityanath himself made dozens and dozens of speeches in which he actively sought to polarise the electorate on Hindu-Muslim lines. The apotheosis of this messaging was his promise – or threat – that UP was facing an 80-20 election:
“The 80% supporters will be on one side while 20% will be on the other. I think 80% will move forward with positive energy whereas 20% have always opposed and will oppose further.”
Though he was careful not to associate these percentages with Hindus and Muslims, the BJP’s activists and leaders down the Sangh parivar food chain understood him and reinforced this baiting of Muslims in speeches at rallies and smaller gatherings up and down the state.
Unfortunately for Adityanath and Narendra Modi, the ‘80-20’ statement not only exposes the central role communal hatred plays for the BJP in elections but the actual election result has thrown up contrarian arithmetic. The party has won a majority of seats but the party’s vote share, even when we add the votes of its smaller allies, is only around 45%. Given the battle lines on which this election was fought, it is fair to say the remaining 55% was an anti-BJP vote. Even though Amit Shah and Mayawati may have reached some sort of understanding, only a third of former BSP supporters who shifted allegiance went over to the BJP. Mayawati’s campaign was lacklustre but her messaging was still anti-BJP.
Just to be clear, the BJP will still rightfully form the government (just as others have done and will continue to do) under India’s first-past-the-post system. But any attempt to answer wider questions – what do UP’s voters think about the state government’s ‘bulldozer’ policies, Modi’s farm laws, the continuous polarisation of society on religious lines, the government’s handling of the pandemic – must use as a reference point the vote share metric which Adityanath had assumed would be 80-20 in his favour but which is actually 45-55 against him.
The point I am making is not an academic one because the BJP will now cite the plurality of seats it has won as a license to double down on the very policies which 55% of the electorate refused to back. This means the space for oppositional politics remains wide open, and the sooner the BJP’s opponents shed their despondency over the results, the better.
Seen against the BJP’s ‘80-20’ goal, the ‘45-55’ results also offer a few specific rays of hope. Yes, communalism was the real engine of the BJP’s campaign and victory, and it is alarming that as many as 41.3% of those who voted were either not put off – or actively were influenced – by hate-mongering. And yet, the fact that Adityanath and Modi have not been able to grow this figure by more 1.5% in five years suggests the limits of communal politics may have been reached. It is reasonable to assume that most of the 63 million who did not vote – that’s 40% of the electorate – oppose, or have not bought into this communalism and were deterred from voting by a host of factors. That several BJP leaders who engaged in the most blatant bigotry lost their individual seats is also a good indication of the sewers of hatred reaching saturation levels.
None of this should be taken to mean the danger posed by the BJP’s communal and fascist propaganda and policies can be underestimated. Anti-Muslim bigotry remains a potent weapon in the hands of the party and its use is going to grow, not diminish, in the run up to the next Lok Sabha election. This is the implicit message that Modi is trying to convey when he speaks of the BJP’s win in UP paving the way for his re-election as prime minister in 2024. But the UP result is proof that there is plenty of fight left in the people of India.
India’s balancing act on the Russia-Ukraine crisis continues, and sometimes falters. The deferral of DefExpo 2022 by the Ministry of Defence six days before its March 10 inauguration by PM Narendra Modi has “globally dented India’s credibility as a reliable defence equipment customer and vendor”. Embarrassingly, the Indian embassy in Cambodia – obviously unaware of the postponement – exuberantly “invited” locals to the biennial land, naval and homeland security systems exhibition at Gandhinagar in Gujarat. In a tweet on Wednesday, India’s mission in Phnom Penh called upon “interested participants from Cambodia” to register through the website of Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) in Mumbai. The tweet was later deleted.
Prime Number: 7
Seven chief ministers, two current and five former, lost their seats
in the recent elections.
Read about ‘Modi’s Doctors’ or “How four men botched India’s Covid response.” Vidya Krishnan offers a detailed account in The Caravan.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
With Karnataka’s hijab ban, the US stands at a crossroads in its relationship with the Modi regime, writes Mehmet Ali Schubel. While the BJP represents itself as a secular feminist vanguard in the hijab row discourse, its actions and rhetoric underline Islamophobia.
Like a band-aid that has been ripped off, the Ukraine crisis has laid bare all that the Indian economic landscape has been struggling with for many quarters now, writes Mitali Mukherjee.
Rural markets are showing no signs of easing stress and demand growth, writes Shuchi Bansal.
Kumkum Dasgupta writes that India needs a comprehensive policy on internal migration because sudden and large-scale displacements due to the climate crisis are likely to become frequent.
Narendra Modi walks the diplomacy tightrope with Vladimir Putin on Ukraine, writes Hannah Ellis-Petersen.
The data policy will have little relevance unless safeguards are built in to protect privacy and the data is reliable enough to hold the government accountable, writes Himanshu.
Vijay Prashad remembers Aijaz Ahmad, the great Marxist who died at home on Wednesday, surrounded by his books and papers, and by the warmth of his children and his friends.
Prabhat Patnaik writes that Aijaz Ahmad’s presence in India was an extraordinary stimulus for the intellectual and political life of the Left.
Rajib Dasgupta speaks on the regulatory frameworks required to set up medical colleges. Can India achieve its commitment of having a doctor for every 1,000 people, as recommended by WHO, later this decade?
Actor Aditi Rao Hydari talks about Hey Sinamika, her experience of working with Brinda and Dulquer Salmaan, working in romantic movies and more.
Over and Out
Annoyed by the lack of female representation, filmmaker Akanksha Sood Singh has set up an Instagram account to showcase “the untold stories of women working for science and nature”.
Whether in India or the US, women in science remain a minority for lack of support and encouragement, says Chandralekha Singh, who teaches physics at the University of Pittsburgh.
Femina looks at the most bizarre momo combinations, which are sweeping India like a manic wave.
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