News clips: Feb 13 edition

With the model code of conduct kicking in, attention turns to enforcement-related questions: Does the EC have the manpower to monitor the various parties and their proxies and detect violations? If it does detect something that is not kosher, what can it do about it if anything? On that note, the EC advised all political parties to desist from using images of serving army personnel in propaganda material; a day later, it has asked Facebook to delete two posts bearing images of Wing Commander Abhinandan posted by a BJP MLA from Delhi.

In order to make the process of spotting violations easier, the EC has launched a cVigil app that enables the lay citizen to report violations. ToI has a list of 15 types of violations that the citizen can report, and how; more details via The Hindu. So, since this service is now available, a hypothetical for you: Would you report this?

The Index of Industrial Production has bad news for the government just as it was beginning to talk up productivity and employment as major achievements of the last five years: Manufacturing plummeted from 8.7 in January 2018 to 1.3 in January 2019. The Telegraph story details those areas that are doing well, and those that are showing signs of being on life support.

The government’s attempts to suppress, or obfuscate, data that does not fit with its narrative will form the subject for a larger essay later. But for now, a few recent pieces are worth reading/re-visiting in context of the IIP figures: RTI Venkatesh Nayak, in HuffPost, talks of his efforts to use RTI to get behind the scenes of the key RBI board meeting where the demonetisation decision was supposedly taken (Hint: It wasn’t). The article links profusely to the actual minutes of the board meeting, and related stories.

While on demonetisation, here’s a link from the past: Modi’s smoke and mirrors act

Economic growth for the period October-December 2018 fell to its lowest mark across the last six quarters, and early indications are that the first quarter of 2019 continues to see decline. Author and commentator Vivek Kaul explains, via four charts, the key indicators that point at this slowdown. Elsewhere Scroll, also through charts, has more bad news: GDP is down, the government is unable to rein in the fiscal deficit, there is decline in investments in new projects, foreign investors are leaving the country and inevitably, as corollary to all of the above, the unemployment rate continues to climb. And to round it all off (for now), there’s this from HuffPost:

Desperate to show progress in the poorly defined, but much-ballyhooed, Digital India initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government inflated e-governance data by designating previously uncategorized services such as railway bookings, debit card and credit card transactions, NEFT, RTGS bank transfers, Aadhar authentication and e-KYC transactions with private vendors as “e-governance”.
 
The government also massively ramped up the weather and crop updates delivered over SMS to millions of farmers in a bid to show rural Indians were embracing so-called digital services.

In political news the AGP, which had earlier cut ties with the NDA over the issue of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016, has returned to the government fold. In Kerala, the Left Front has announced candidates for all 20 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress and the BJP are still sharpening their pencils.

Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, wants an alliance with the Congress in Haryana. The commentariat was all sneer-y when the Congress “contemptuously” turned down an alliance with AAP in Delhi — and I am not sure I get why. AAP came into being on the wings of the Anna Hazare/Kejriwal-led agitation against Congress corruption; that agitation in turn provided the BJP the talking points, and the oxygen, for the 2014 campaign. Why would the Congress go out of its way to ally with the AAP now? If it did, both parties would have their previous accusations about each other hanging around their neck. (Not that such considerations have stopped various parties allying with erstwhile enemies, but still.)

The LDF has named only two women, however, with its spokespersons arguing that the focus was on winnability rather than gender. The Front has made a big punt with CPM state executive member C Divakaran named for the Thiruvananthapuram seat against, in all likelihood, Shashi Tharoor for the Congress and whoever the BJP choses to name. Equally, it has named film actor and sitting MP Innocent to the Chalakudy  seat – which, as Scroll points out, is problematic.

NB: As elections kick into high gear, the clips will become more comprehensive and be updated more frequently. Meanwhile, readers, help: Ping links to interesting news stories/analysis via comments, please?

Addendum: One reason I like to collate links whenever I blog is that over time, isolated stories begin to add up, linkages become visible and bigger pictures emerge.

On that note, a story that caught my eye during a surf-break just now:

On March 8, the government approved a Bulk Data Sharing policy, enabling it to monetise a database of vehicle registration certificates, citing benefits to the “transport and automobile industry”, even as the issue of privacy and data protection looms large over such sharing.

Basically, the government here finds another way of making money off of your personal data, never mind consent.

The data shared will be the vehicle’s registration number and other details (including financing and insurance), and will not have the owner’s name. In all, 28 fields of data for each vehicle will be shared.

That’s all right, then — your name, and therefore details linked to your name, is not being sold. But then again:

However, the policy itself admits that “there is a possibility of triangulation” or matching the data with other publicly available databases to identify. That’s because the Vahan app, also run by the ministry, maps registration details against names.

I’ll leave this here for now and link it up in a subsequent post.

Elsewhere, the Times of India confidently says Twitter executives could face jail time, forcing the government to scramble to clarify.

The report, as published, appears to be exaggerated, stemming from a misunderstanding of the established legal procedure.

Double, double, toil and trouble…

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

2018 is likely to be one long round of electioneering — besides the north-eastern states, assembly elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Rajasthan where the BJP is incumbent, and in Karnataka that the BJP is trying to wrest from the ruling Congress party. And it is all shaping up into the sort of witches’ brew that Shakespeare provided the recipe for.

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Beggars, losers

The image above is about a story dated October 2009. It could have been done today, about this story.

As Ivanka Trump’s visit to India nears, the south Indian city of Hyderabad is getting ready to dazzle its foreign guests — by locking its homeless and destitute people out of sight in prison rehabilitation centers.

I wrote this in October 2009. It could be written today.

That’s more thought and effort — and money — going into hiding poverty than ever went into alleviating it. While on which, I really really loved the ‘bushes’ idea. Take a leaf from Macbeth, do — get the slum dwellers and beggars to squat in front of the unsightly huts; Delhi turned Dunsinane. Solves two problems in one shot, by hiding the slums and their unsightly inhabitants in one shot.

The story of our life — governments come and go, but the sores on our social fabric continue to fester. Our poor are not human beings, they are merely an optics problem; their homes are to hidden from the august gaze, as happened earlier this year when Modi took Shinzo Abe to Ahmedabad for a road show, the poor themselves are to be locked out of sight when august personages come visiting, only to be freed and left to their own devices once the photo-op is over.

We live in a world where “looking poor” is a crime. These are the things that should shame us as a society. These are also the things we never speak of as a society.

 

“Minimum governance”

Khichdi, India’s ultimate comfort food, is set to be designated as the national food.

According to a Navbharat Times report, food ministry headed by Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had proposed khichdi’s name for national dish to the Centre, which was duly approved.

Such joy, to see a government that is so decisive and takes such swift action, on matters of national importance.

How naming khichdi the national dish will double the income of farmers is unclear at the time of going to press.

WTF just happened: Sept 24

Three days into this WTFJH series that I started as a means to find/reclaim my voice, and I find that the feedback alone has been worth it.

I’ve been getting mails suggesting what I should write about (and also what I should not); mails asking what prompted me to return to blogging at a time when the trend is to move away from the format, and – this is by far the majority – what have I to say, what am I prepared to disclose, about my own biases.

Taking these in order: first, why emails? This will work much better, for both of us, if the conversation surrounding my posts is appended to the posts themselves. I’ve not asked for sign-ins before you comment; I have placed no bar on your commenting anonymously, so there really is no reason to flood my mailbox rather than speak your piece right here. Or am I missing something?

Two: re the question of whether I will write about this or that. This is a work in progress and I am still trying to work out a system, a rhythm, that suits me. I don’t intend to write about every single thing that happens – I am an individual, not a news site, and I don’t have the resources for such blanket coverage. My focus for now (remember “work in progress”?) is to connect up the dots; to examine an issue that catches my eye and see if it is part of a larger pattern – in other words, to go beyond capturing the headlines du jour. (So yeah, you will find one incident highlighted and elaborated upon and other incidents, bearing at least a superficial similarity, ignored.) Continue reading

What rubbish!

Update“We are out here cleaning India Gate. Cleaning programmes are going on across the country. The message is we have to keep India clean. Everybody and not just government officials will have to participate in this. And it has to be an everyday operation, not just once in a year and not just for the camera.”

Alphons Kannanthanam, a recent inductee into the Union Cabinet, was doing his bit for the Swach Bharat cause — pity that he first arranged for cameras and the press, and then had volunteers litter the India Gate lawns so he could “clean it up”. That he then lectured about camera-ops is merely the ironical icing on the cake.

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Name games

“It seems that Buranda is what used to be called an Underdeveloped Country. However, this term has apparently become offensive, so they were called Developing Countries. This term was apparently patronising. Then they became Less Developed Countries — or LDC, for short.

It seems that the term LDC is not yet causing offense to anyone. When it does, we are immediately ready to replace it with HRRC. This is short for Human Resource-Rich Countries. In other words, they are grossly overpopulated and begging for money.”

— From the Conflict of Interest episode in Yes Minister.

Now read this clip from an actual news report:

“Beginning this season, for instance, if India’s monsoon rainfall were to dip below 10 per cent of the normal and span between 20 and 40 per cent of the country’s area, it would be called a “deficient” year instead of an “All India Drought Year” as the IMD’s older manuals would say. A more severe instance, where the deficit exceeds 40 per cent and would have been called an “All India Severe Drought Year,” will now be a “Large Deficient Year”.

So there you go: India will have no more droughts. By administrative fiat.

(We’ve had two successive Large Deficient Years, though. And if the rains play truant this monsoon, we might have a Totally Fucked Up Year coming up).

BTW, this is not the first time a name change has solved our problems. Remember this?