On February 5, a mundan (ritual shaving of hair) ceremony was conducted for the daughter of mid-level bureaucrat Diwakar Nath Mishra, a joint secretary in the Ministry of Commerce. In attendance were President Ram Nath Kovind, PM Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other high-profile members of the government.
Diwakar Nath Mishra is the son-in-law of Supreme Court Judge Arun Kumar Mishra.
Yesterday, February 14, Justice Mishra heard a petition filed by Sarah Abdullah Pilot, sister of incarcerated Kashmir politician and former chief minister Omar Abdullah.
Abdullah, who was in preventive custody for a period of six months, was recently charged under the stringent provisions of the Public Safety Act. The dossier submitted by the J & K police in support of the detention makes claims that are so bizarre they defy belief.
Reviewing Sarah Pilot’s petition, Justice Arun Kumar Mishra postponed the hearing by three weeks, and then bargained it down to 15 days, setting the next hearing for March 2. He said – a Supreme Court judge actually said – this:
“If the sister could wait so long, then 15 days doesn’t make a difference.”
Read LiveLaw’s real time coverage of the proceedings in the highest court in the land – in tandem with the news report above on the mundan ceremony — to realize how, and how completely, justice has been subverted.
I need to clarify that none of this constitutes criticism of Justice Mishra – even though he has been in the crosshairs of controversy more times than you can count; in fact, it was Mishra who, on being named to hear the case of the death of Judge Loya, triggered four senior judges to take the unprecedented step of holding a press conference to express their angst.
But yeah, this is not a criticism. Aap chronology aur facts samjhiye, bas. And this clarification, which I make with all possible emphasis, is necessary because a day earlier, the Chief Justice of India and two of his colleagues were hearing a case relating to the distribution of child porn via online communications tools when, in a surprising non sequitur, the CJI observed:
“There are instances where institutions like Parliament and SC are defamed with derogatory comments. Why should it not be explored how to stop circulation of such comments?”
And this is not the first time, either – shortly before taking over as CJI, SA Bobde had talked about feeling bothered by criticisms of judges.
So there you have it. The CJI’s concern is not with whether the criticisms of the courts and of Parliament are genuine or not; his concern is, how do we silence criticism.
Yesterday was the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on a military convoy in the Pulwama district that killed 40 CRPF personnel. As recently as the just-concluded Delhi elections, several BJP campaigners including Ajay Singh Bisht were pointing to Modi’s retaliation for the attack while seeking votes (never mind that the only quantified, verifiable outcome was that India shot down one of its own helicopters, killing seven).
There were several commemorative pieces in the media yesterday, including some that pointed out that 12 months later, there is no official word on the inquiry into the massive intelligence lapses that resulted in the attack. The one that caught my attention was this piece in the Hindustan Times.
The crux: Families of those killed in the attack say that they are still waiting for the promises of compensation to be fulfilled. Which is sad, but hardly surprising – the armed forces are yet another prop for displays of hyper-nationalism, trotted out when convenient for propaganda purposes, ignored/forgotten the rest of the time.
Read, also, this excellent Polis Project report from the time, about the facts, and the obfuscation, surrounding the attack – and particularly on the role of the media in adding to the confusion. And this round up of questions that remain unanswered, twelve months on.
In Kashmir, the economy continues to unravel. The latest manifestation was an unusual advertisement in local papers, inserted by trade bodies, indicating their inability to pay back loans because business had been brought to a total standstill. The ad is worth reading in full; here is the money clip:
In the advertisement, the trade bodies, including Kashmir Chambers of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) and Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation, said that after August 2019, business community was completely devastated and exhausted.
“Our survival is under threat and our humble submissions to the banks is that at once stop calling us defaulters. We believe there may be two types of defaulters; willful defaulters, which we as community strongly protest to be called or named as; circumstantial defaulters, which we have been forced to be,” they said.
And while on that, more economic bad news: exports shrunk for the sixth straight month in January.
In Deoband, in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, the local administration is asking residents of Muslim-dominated colonies to remove the national flag flying on their terraces. Pause to let that sink in – a community that is constantly asked to prove its patriotism is being asked to remove the national flag they are flying.
In Aurangabad, Bihar, police made several arrests following an anti-CAA protest that turned violent. The FIR and case diary submitted in court are farcical beyond belief – including, but not limited, to the arrest of the same person for violence at two different locations at the exact same time.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, 10 persons arrested by the police in connection with the incident of molestation at Gargi College have been let out on bail. They spent less than 24 hours in custody; the police say they have evidence that these persons broke down the college gate and trespassed, but no evidence that they molested anyone. Meanwhile, as I pointed out in my post yesterday, Dr Kafeel Khan, who after prolonged incarceration was finally given bail last week, was not only kept in jail in violation of the bail order, but now has draconian NSA charges filed against him.
In Karnataka, just the day before yesterday, the high court had ruled that slapping Section 144 to curtail protests in Bangalore was illegal. So the police have taken to giving permission only if those applying sign surety bonds of up to Rs 10 lakh. The police commissioner says it is to ensure that protests don’t turn violent, the same justification that was earlier used to impose 144. This, despite the fact that protests have been on in Bangalore since early December, and there has not been a single incidence of violence reported. Clearly, the BJP government in the state is hell bent on stopping protests by whatever means it can.
That determination extends to BJP’s vassal states, like Tamil Nadu where, last evening, police decided to use force to prevent a Shaheen Bagh-style sit-in from evolving. Several were injured, over 150 people were arrested, one 70-year-old man died in the panicky stampede that ensued.
In the age of social media news, even news the authorities would prefer wasn’t widely circulated, gets around at warp speed. And more than the news, it is the visuals – graphic, gory, incendiary – that spread with incredible rapidity, rousing people to anger and provoking a backlash. Before the night was out, the reverberations of Washermanpet began to manifest all across the state. This thread only partially captures the protests that erupted across the state – several in Chennai itself, others in Trichy, Coimbatore, Vellore, Madurai, Tenkasi, Pudukottai, Ooty, Thanjavur… — in the wake of the police action.
This is what the BJP and its allies don’t get – that the more force they use, the more determined people will be to resist. In the coming days, this will only intensify as political parties take up the cudgels – and for the AIADMK/BJP combine, which faces a crucial election next year, this is just another fatal misstep in a series of missteps they have been making in the last few months.
While on the BJP’s almost Pavlovian use of force in the face of resistance, Kanhaiyya Kumar was attacked last evening, on the 15th day of his 30-day yatra across Bihar. A bit from an eyewitness account is worth highlighting:
The air rattled with the incendiary cries of “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko”, a chant now associated with supporters of the government who feel opponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act or CAA, cleared by parliament in December, are anti-nationals.
There were seven attacks prior to this one, and the reason is not hard to seek: though the media continues to deny him oxygen, his Twitter stream is sufficient indication that on the ground, the response to his roadshow is nothing short of phenomenal. He belongs to arguably the poorest national party in India today, one without the resources to turn out crowds in large numbers, and yet every meeting of his is standing room only, and the timeline clips of his speeches are an indication of how effortlessly he connects with the crowds, wherever he goes.
The BJP was clearly caught on the wrong foot here – Kumar started his roadshow on January 30, just when the BJP was neck deep in the Delhi election campaign; now he is off and running in front, seeding the ground, and the BJP can’t afford to mount an extensive campaign just yet for – the election in Bihar is in October — fear of audience fatigue.
Staying with violence and the state for a moment longer, the Delhi police has decided not to make any arrests in the February 5 attacks on JNU. Despite the plentiful evidence, the police will merely file a chargesheet and leave it to the courts to decide whether arrests are needed – this, in a case where masked thugs armed with iron rods, hammers and bottles of acid entered a university campus to cause mayhem, and there is plentiful evidence of both the acts and the identity of the perpetrators.
In Uttar Pradesh, there are now 34 lakh unemployed persons according to government figures; this is 12.5 lakh more than there were just two years ago. Ajay Singh Bisht has been promising employment, and the Central government has been trying, through various events, to entice investors to set up operations in the state.
“No new investment has come despite lot of talk from the CM. All investment came under Akhilesh Yadav’s regime. The rising law and order disturbances in UP have now added to the crisis. The economic slowdown reflects in these unemployment figures of UP,” Singh said. The National Statistical Office (NSO) had earlier said UP had the highest unemployment rate in urban areas, at nearly 16 in the quarter ended December 2018, compared to the all-India urban unemployment rate of 9.9%.
The implications, for a state with a population the size of the United States, is mind-boggling. And this situation has come about almost entirely because Modi and Shah, in yet another of their “masterstrokes”, decided to install Bisht as CM on the theory that he would consolidate the Hindutva vote and convert the state, which sends the largest number of MPs to Parliament, into a Hindutva fortress. To channel Bill Clinton, “It is the economy, stupid”; when people have no jobs, no way to put food on the table, they will turn against you sooner than later.
The BJP hierarchy, meanwhile, is busy walking back the damage it did to itself in Delhi. There was Shah at the TimesNow summit the other day, which I had pointed to in an earlier blogpost; now here is Prakash Javadekar saying he never called Arvind Kejriwal a terrorist. And here is Javadekar saying it:
But then, who are you going to believe — a Union minister, or your own lying eyes and ears?
It is not that they lie – politicians lie, all the time. It is just that they are brazen about it; that they will lie about something even when there is videographic evidence to the contrary – I mean, Shah has repeatedly lied that there was no plan for a nationwide NRC despite the fact that it was he who talked of the plan on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, so I suppose Javadekar’s latest is merely par for the course.
Speaking of walking back, the BJP’s post mortem of its defeat has concluded that hate speech has nothing to do with it – the fault lies with the Congress, which ran a tactically weak campaign, and the fact that too many star campaigners hit the ground, with the result that the candidates were busy making arrangements for them and had no time for their own campaigning.
Well, duh! Ignoring the fact that fielding all members of the Cabinet, over 270 MPs, seven chief ministers etc was a decision of that political Chanakya Amit Shah, there is the inconvenient fact that star campaigners only go where the local candidate requests their presence. But it is not the illogical conclusion that should worry you – it is the swift repudiation of the impact of hate speech on the results, which basically means we are going to get more of the same in the elections to follow.
Meanwhile, at the TimesNow summit I had touched on in yesterday’s post, Amit Shah said:
I have full faith that on basis of 3 million ton, we can achieve an economy of 5 million ton.
Trying googling to see how many media houses covered that gaffe. Then google the word ‘pappu’, and see how many media houses did not gleefully latch on to instances where Rahul Gandhi misspoke, and even how many distorted what he did say to suggest that he misspoke (remember the infamous “potato factory”, for instance?). Rahul Gandhi is also supposed to have said Modi was to blame for unemployment among eagles (He did not).
Shah, however, appears to have learned something from his recent defeat. After a campaign where the BJP mocked those who would sell their nation for Rs 200 worth of free electricity/water, Shah says now that if the BJP comes to power in Bihar his government will provide Rs 200 worth of free electricity to every family.
In Ahmedabad, the local administration is laying in orders for Rs 3.7 crore worth of flowers to beautify the road Modi and Trump will drive along – just one more line item in a massive beautification drive being undertaken so two narcissists who don’t like each other very much (see yesterday’s post) can indulge in an extended photo-op.
India hopes to get some sort of trade deal out of this, but for reasons I’d mentioned in my previous post, that is unlikely. Not that the GoI is not pulling out all stops to try and get something, anything out of this to wave around in triumph – in fact, the government is so desperate for a deal, it has reportedly told the US this:
India has offered to allow imports of U.S. chicken legs, turkey and produce such as blueberries and cherries, Indian government sources said, and has offered to cut tariffs on chicken legs from 100% to 25%. U.S. negotiators want that tariff cut to 10%.
The Modi government is also offering to allow some access to India’s dairy market, but with a 5% tariff and quotas, the sources said. But dairy imports would need a certificate they are not derived from animals that have consumed feeds that include internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants.
There is more. And all of this will hurt India’s agrarian industries at a time when it is already under enormous distress, besides hurting both the poultry and dairy industries. But hey, anything for the sake of a “win” to boast of, even if that win is Pyrrhic. Here is the story, in a nutshell, via cartoonist Satish Acharya (who you should follow):
Elsewhere in Gujarat, in a college in Bhuj, 68 college girls were forced to remove their underwear to prove that they were not menstruating. Just another waypoint in the ongoing Talibanisation of the country and its education systems. It all happened, says the school principal, a woman herself, with the permission of the girls.
In the midst of all this gloom and doom (and there is lots more, but I’ll spare you), the Maharashtra government has decided to build homes for Mumbai’s famed dabbawallahs, the efficiency of whose meal delivery system has been studied by Harvard Business School, eulogized by the BBC, been held up as a model of Six Sigma, and formed the subject of an extended presentation at the Indian Summer Festival in Vancouver, among other honors.
A photographer bought barren farmland near Ranthambore and let it grow back into a forest. Now it is home to tigers and other wild fauna.
PS: There will be no post tomorrow. Have a nice weekend all.