Chinese Checkers and other stories

AP photo by Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via Outlook magazine

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:

Deja view: Modi the tub-thumping campaigner

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.

WTFJH: The October 14 weekend edition

#1. It takes just one news story to meet, and exceed, the weekend’s whatthefuckery quotient:

Over two years after Mohammed Akhlaq was beaten to death on suspicion of consuming beef, the accused in the case, all of whom are out on bail, may soon secure jobs.

Moreover, the family of Ravin Sisodia, one of the murder accused who had died in jail of multiple organ failure, is soon likely to get Rs 8 lakh compensation.

Continue reading

WTFJH: The BHU edition

Back in 1998, in course of covering the national elections of that year, I ended up in Baramati. The object was to find out why Sharad Pawar has such a hold on that constituency that he does not even campaign, and yet in every single election anyone who opposes him loses his deposit.

Pawar is known to reach Baramati late night on the penultimate day of campaigning. On the last day, he drives to a few select areas where he holds public meetings; just before campaigning officially ends, he holds a large meeting in Baramati town.

I spent three days traveling around Baramati, talking to people, trying to find out the reasons behind his political success. And very early in the morning of the last day, I went to Pawar’s home hoping to get time to ask him a couple of questions. Talk of early birds and worms — he had just finished breakfast and was about to drive to his first meeting; he told me to get in the car, and to travel with him through the day, and ask whatever I liked.

The entire transcript would fill a decent-sized book — Pawar was in a loquacious mood that day. The interview that was finally published is sizeable enough and covers a wide area of politics.

Among the many themes he spoke to that day one, in particular, has resonated a lot in recent times as serial unrests roiled educational institutions ranging from the FTII to JNU, Delhi University, AMU, Hyderabad, and most recently Benaras Hindu University. Here is that portion, in full:

Continue reading

WTF Just Happened: Sept 25

“The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day,’” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know”

The Financial Times lit up British PM Theresa May in a scorching editorial. Inter alia:

It is a well-established rhetorical technique that, presented with a sticking point in the present, you shift your focus to the future. So again and again, Mrs May spoke not of how agreement would be reached, but of aspiring to agreement: “I hope . . . we want . . . it is our ambition . . . ” Jam tomorrow, then — but what jam!

It sums up government rhetoric to perfection. And it reminded me of some of Modi’s stump speeches during the 2014 election. For instance, during the recent controversies surrounding the Rohingaya refugees, a section of the media has been banging the drum for getting rid of all refugees. I trawled through my clippings file and found this speech in Darjeeling, where Modi spoke of how Bangladeshi refugees are the children of ‘Mother India’, and it is a national responsibility to care for them. It is a speech the noise machines on TV, who now clamor for all of them to be deported, appear to have forgotten — an amnesia shared by the government of the day. I was also struck by this trope, frequently used during that election campaign:

“I have come to make a special request to the people of West Bengal today. My brothers and sisters of West Bengal, you have chosen rulers for 60 years. Now, give a chance to a servant once. You have given 60 years to the Congress, try giving me 60 months,” he said.

That goalpost has now decisively shifted. India’s 100 most backward districts will be developed by 2022. 33 percent of IIT students will be women by 2022. Work culture and tax administration will improve by 2022. Child malnutrition will be eliminated by 2022. Farmers’ income will double by 2022. (That is to say, the Center says it will double by then; it also says it is up to the states to make their own plans to achieve this).

India will achieve a 10 percent cut in oil imports by 2022. Every citizen will have his/her own home by 2022. (Getting reliable figures on any government scheme is a frustrating exercise, but judging by the little evidence available, it isn’t going too swimmingly. In Rajasthan, for instance, 4.73 lakh homes needed to be built over the last two years to achieve the larger target. A grand total of 5974 homes have been actually built. Other states, same story.)

Every house will have electricity by 2022. The bullet train will fly India into a new era in 2022.  The Naxal menace in Chattisgarh will be ended by 2022 (that is Raman Singh borrowing from big brother’s playbook). There will be a ‘New India’ by 2022 (This last, by the way, was resolved at the BJP national executive today).

So, jam yesterday, when we knew the secrets of plastic surgery, and Durga was the Union defense minister and Laxmi held the portfolio Arun Jaitley now adorns, and we had aeroplanes that even flew from one planet to another, and pushpaka vimanas flew thick and fast…

And jam tomorrow, when a new India will come into being at the stroke of the midnight hour on the 75 anniversary of Independence. But no jam today…

In other news, the BHU protests have snowballed, in predictable ways. As inevitably happens when there is a problem in one of our universities, several worthies have started the victim-shaming process. Vide BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who says the protest over molestation is a “Naxalite movement“. Or a Yashwant Deshmukh, BHU alum, who is saddened by the “negative coverage“. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister, who is reported to be ‘unhappy’, spoke to the UP chief minister. Lo, an FIR has been registered, for arson, against 1000 students.

See why I have ‘WTF’ right there in the headline?

In passing, remember Farooq Ahmed Dar? The chief of a gang of Kashmiri goons who pelted stones at our armed forces? And was then tied to the front of an army jeep as a human shield, to the delight of some of our more battle-hardened TV anchors? And how the army officer responsible was commended by the government? Well, guess what? He wasn’t.

Also, remember Narayan Rane? Who recently quit the Congress party because, in his own words, the party had not given him the promised chief ministership? (I’d mentioned him in the Sept 22 edition). He will meet Amit Shah in Delhi today. (I wonder which chief ministership he will be promised, leading to a ‘momentous’ announcement?)

PS: The blog is on a break from now till Wednesday, while I attend to some stuff offline. Be well, all.

 

 

 

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

“Times Impact!”

Yesterday:

TERI Executive Vice Chairman R.K. Pachauri has approached the Delhi High Court, seeking action against certain media houses, for “fragrant and willful disobedience” of the court’s earlier orders restricting them from publishing the claims against him.

This order, it claims, has been violated by seven media houses. It has been contended that Ms. Rhythm Anand Bharadwaj had conducted Complainant’s interview and discussed in detail the allegations which have been leveled against him. This interview was aired at the time when the hearing of the matter was listed before the Sessions Court. The interview, the petition claims, was aired after permission of the Editor-in-Chief Mr. Arnab Goswami who, despite being aware of the orders passed by the Court, permitted its telecast.

Today:

Police file charge-sheet against Pachauri under IPC sections 354, 354-A, 354-D, 506 and 509.

I can feel a ‘Times Impact’ coming on.