THE most important item of news to come out of the last 24 hours is this: China, yet again, stalled India’s move to get the UN Security Council to list Masood Azhar and his terrorist outfit.
“We are disappointed by this outcome,” an MEA statement said. “This has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a proscribed and active terrorist organization which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February 2019.”
Disappointed, perhaps, but the MEA could hardly be surprised. Despite at least four meetings between Xi and Modi in 2018 including the “agenda-less” meeting in Wuhan in April last year (puffed up by the PM, much ballyhooed in India as a masterstroke of diplomacy, and almost entirely ignored in China whose press did not even bother to showcase the visit on its front pages), China has consistently taken Pakistan’s side on the issue of terrorism in general, and the Pulwama attacks and the Balakot retaliation in particular.
What merits focus — by those with bone-deep understanding of how foreign policy ramifies, in which group I don’t belong — is how the hunger for photo-ops and propaganda wins has led to a situation where India’s diplomatic relations are a shambles. Two tweets by Shekhar Gupta and Sonali Ranade throw some light on the basic problem; I’m hoping that foreign policy wonks with cred and expertise will weigh in soon with more detailed analysis, for the issue is simply too important, and its ramifications extend well beyond the question of Masood Azhar’s status.
In passing, a note: Chest-thumping rhetoric works on the campaign trail, particularly with easily-aroused believers. Governance, however, is a whole other ball game. Just one instance among many:
In this context, a thread by journalist/commentator Kanchan Gupta is worth reading. Also, related, what is India’s current policy vis a vis Pakistan? No contact at all? Contact limited to maintaining pressure on Pakistan to act against terrorism? Total contact (with the exception of cricket and Bollywood)? Asking, because delegations from the two countries are currently meeting to discuss modalities related to the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor. We’ve seen this kind of thing before, across various governments: We kick up a fuss about Pakistan and terrorism, declaim before all sorts of international bodies, and then Pakistan turns around and says what tensions is India talking about, everything is normal, see, we are even discussing whatever-it-is.
TODAY, the Supreme Court resumes consideration of a petition to review its own ruling that no probe was required in the Rafale scam. Very briefly, the SC ruling was based on papers the government submitted in a sealed cover; subsequent to the judgment, it was found that key portions of the government submission were false.
The petitions now being heard were filed by BJP apostates and former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and advocate/activist Prashant Bhushan, who contend that the government lied when it said details of the Rafale pricing had been submitted to MP Sanjay Singh – contend that the court should to re-consider its judgment, which relies on a “non-existent” CAG report to uphold the Rafale deal.
A story dating back to December 2018, a Wire round-up of the main issues, the full text of the review petition that sets out the central issues, and this piece in the Deccan Herald today provide most of the background you need to follow the play in the Supreme Court today. And it is an important hearing, because the government has been claiming a “clean chit” on the Rafale issue — if the SC now takes issue with the government for misleading it, and reverses its earlier judgment in part or in full, the chowkidar chor hai war-cry will resume, and the Rafale issue will become front and centre of the Opposition campaign.
UPDATE 5.15 PM: The SC has reserved judgment on the objections raised by the government about the maintainability of the review petition. This is a good resource for a snapshot view of what happened in court today.
WHAT happens south of the Vindhyas remains south of the Vindhyas, at least as far as mainstream media is concerned. The Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, sexual abuse case is the latest instance in point. While the case is still unravelling, even preliminary investigations confirm that four men, over a period of two years, abused in excess of 50 women — including teachers and students from schools and colleges, as also housewives — who they befriended through social media. These are the bare bones details. More women have been coming forward in the wake of the abuse coming to light.
What followed was almost predictable: Area students took to the streets in protest, and the police responded with force. Protests snowballed, with schools and colleges across the state joining in; civil society joined in as well and last evening, Chennai saw a large turnout of people demanding justice.
Amidst rumours that the four alleged perpetrators had ties to the ruling AIADMK, the political opposition entered the fray, with DMK leaders MK Stalin and M Kanimozhi at the forefront.
Slamming the Superintendent of Police Pandiarajan for revealing the name of the survivor in the case during a press-meet, Kanimozhi said that the law strictly prohibits revealing the identity of the affected child or woman. “The name of the survivor in this case was revealed only to silence the other women and prevent them from coming out in the open and complaining,” she said.
The rally organised by the district DMK unit in Pollachi, saw massive participation from DMK cadres from in and around the town and also from cadres of its allies like the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Communist Party of India (CPI), Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), Congress etc.
The already beleaguered police, facing ire for dragging their feet on the investigation, faced an additional problem caused by the identity of the officers leading the probe:
Her references were about an incident during a protest against TASMAC a few years ago, when SP Pandiarajan had slapped a women protester and the photos of the act went viral. The DSP in this case, R Jeyaram was also caught on camera, touching a woman colleague in uniform, during a NEET-related protest in Coimbatore.
With the protests escalating and the lead officers under fire, the TN government has transferred the case to the CBI. Meanwhile here is the bit that should give you pause:
The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Tuesday slammed the mainstream media for not covering the Pollachi sex scandal as they did with the case of Nirbhaya, who was brutally raped by a group of men on the streets of Delhi in 2012.
The judges said that national media houses do not pay enough attention to grievous crimes in rural areas. They also opined that the mainstream media “deliberately avoids” Tamil Nadu.
DATA is a theme I touched on in a post yesterday, am returning to now, and will likely be a constant theme over the next few weeks. For why? Because it is what informs — or should inform — our understanding of governmental functioning, of the state of the economy, of the wellbeing of the state. The more authentic the data we have, the more informed our decisions; the more opaque data becomes, the less informed we are. (And that is me stating the obvious.)
So adding on to yesterday, a few more stories worth your attention: 1.76 lakh employees of BSNL have not been paid salaries for the month of February. In January HAL, another state-run enterprise, had to borrow Rs 1000 crore to pay salaries. Air India, also state-owned, has been defaulting on salary payments in successive months. Security personnel, gardeners, cleaning staff, lift operators, ticket vendors and others working at the much-hyped Statue of Unity are on strike, protesting that their wages have not been paid for over three months.
Here’s the bit I don’t get: In the last week of each month, my wife lists the salaries we have to make (driver, the boy who maintains our home, the other gent who comes to cook, our contribution to the wages of the building’s security staff) and has me draw out the money from the bank. She provides for these payments when drawing up the monthly budget — it not as if she wakes up one morning and goes uh oh, we forgot we have payments to make; these are recurring, foreseeable expenses. So what beats me is this: how does the government repeatedly miss such bills? Aren’t such recurring payments provided for in budgets? If not, why not? If yes, what happened to all that money? As they say in the world of social media, #genuinequestion
UNEMPLOYMENT emerged as a critical election issue in several recent surveys. So: In January PC Mohanan, acting chairman of the National Statistical Commission, resigned in protest after the government suppressed the release of the latest unemployment survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office.
Business Standard scooped the blocked report, which showed that the unemployment rate of 6.1% was the highest in the last four decades. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy rang the alarm bells even louder: the unemployment rate had risen to 7.2% in February, CMIE reported, following on from a report it had released in January which said that an estimated 11 million people had lost their jobs in 2018 as a result of the continued fallout of the November 8, 2016 demonetisation and the launch of the GST regime in 2017.
Government ministers, party spokespersons and friendly media outlets either ignored these reports, or dismissed them as unapproved “drafts”. In March, the Confederation of Indian Industry produced its own report, which claimed that the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector created between 13.5 to 14.9 million new jobs over a four year period, and that the sector had registered a jobs growth rate of 13.9%.
Ministers, spokespersons and sections of the media used the report to claim that India was “surging”. Only, says this detailed report, maybe not.
To further compound the confusion, the government first instructed its spokespersons to confine all employment-related discussions to the Labour Ministry statistics collected under the Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency (MUDRA) scheme and now, in an abrupt u-turn, has announced that these figures will only be released after the elections as “anomalies” had been discovered. Which makes it the third employment-related report to be deep-sixed in this election year. What a tangled web we weave, Shakespeare once lamented…
Related, Indian Express reports that at 3.8% year on year, the rural wage growth is the lowest ever for the month of December. Further:
The country’s farm sector output may have grown by just 2.7 per cent year-on-year in October-December 2018, the lowest in 11 quarters. But what should worry the NDA government more than the low increase in “real” terms (i.e. at constant prices) is the growth in “nominal” terms (at current prices unadjusted for inflation).
The latter number, at 2.04 per cent, is the lowest for any quarter as per the Central Statistics Office’s new 2011-12 base year series and also the worst since the minus 1.1 per cent rate recorded way back in October-December 2004 (based on the then 1999-2000 GDP series).
PS: This is a post being updated through the day, so come on back.