Dotting the ‘i’

#1. The censor board, after consulting with its specially constituted panel, has decided to clear Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film – after the makers carry out 26 cuts. Oh, and change the name of the film from Padmavati to Padmavat.

Does it occur to you that as a nation, our collective “sensibility” is extremely fragile, and also extremely malleable? That these “sensibilities” are easily offended and as easily appeased? What is an ‘i’, more or less, among friends anyway?

Don’t imagine for a moment, though, that this is the last you are going to hear of a tiresome movie by a tiresomely pretentious film-maker – once the release date is set, now-dormant sensibilities in Rajasthan and elsewhere will be duly aroused again, and much ruckus will duly follow.

#2. In the Supreme Court, the Central government has just submitted a written response which states, among other things, that the various stories about coercion by banks and telecom operators, of people starving to death because of problems with their Aadhar card, etc are all bunkum. You know, stories like this latest one, on the wife of a Kargil martyr who died because her son, who took her to the hospital, did not have his Aadhar card with him.

“Each of the above allegations is denied as incorrect and misleading,” says the government, in one sweeping statement. Ok, then.

Also read: Modi, The Mahabharata, and Hubris

Two whistleblowers have come forward to state that the subsidiary of French company Safran has been installing Russian spyware in software used by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Why do we care? Because Safran is one of the companies contracted to issue Aadhar cards. (More in this Outlook story).

The more I read, the more I am inclined to agree with people who said that (a) Aadhar violates the right to privacy; (b) that it is a fraud perpetrated on the people of this country; (c) That it can pose a security threat.

Those comments were made by, respectively, Smriti Irani, Meenakshi Lekhi and Narendra Modi.

#3. The defense ministry in a written response in Parliament says “IAF will have 32 Fighter Squadrons and 39 Helicopter Units by 2020.” So? This:

This means the IAF will have 2-3 fewer squadrons in 2020 than the 34-35 squadrons it fielded in 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the general election and formed the government. Its 2014 election manifesto had specifically expressed concern about the “loss of squadrons of combat aircraft by the air force” during the United Progressive Alliance term in office, noting that “these are indications of surrendering of India’s interest.” The manifesto stated: “This calls for a review and overhauling of the current system.”

Also read: Behind Narendra Modi: The growing influence of the India lobby

While on our armed forces under the control of this chesty, strong government, remember the surgical strike across the Line of Control on the night of September 28/29, 2016? The tough move aimed at sending a signal to Pakistan that India’s policy would be zero tolerance to terrorism in the Valley? Remember how the government went to town over the surgical strikes, pointing to it as an example of its toughness? How friendly TV channels, some featuring anchors dressed in faux military fatigues, amplified the storyline?

The South Asia Terrorism Portal’s Kashmir timeline for 2017 is an eye-opener. As are the charts in this Wire think piece, the key takeaways from which are that fatalities – particularly civilian – in the Valley in 2017 are the highest in a five-year period; correspondingly, the number of local youth turning to the gun is also increasing year on year. It all adds up to a troubling picture of increased turmoil; this despite the fact that the BJP, which holds power in the Center, is also an ally of the ruling PDP in the state. Incidentally, insurgency is also on the rise in the North East, as these government figures indicate.

This underlines where we have gotten to as a country: easily distracted, easily fooled into swallowing whatever narrative we are offered, not given to remembering, to questioning, to holding the government to account on the various issues that should concern us. But hey, we did have Surgical Strike V2. Sort of reminds you of this:

Also read: Wire & The Lotus Trifecta: Narendra Modi, Ajit Doval & Amit Shah

#4. I’ll give you this story exactly as I saw it; comment is superfluous:

A local BJP leader from Raichur is now behind bars for attempting to rape a 24-year-old woman inside his car on Thursday evening.The irony is, just two hours before the incident, the leader had organised and led a protest in Devadurga condemning the rape and murder of 15-year-old Dalit girl in Vijayapura.

#5. Subramanian Swamy is the gift that goes on giving. Back in 2012 he had predicted (and he repeated the prediction subsequently) that at the end of 2017 $1 would equal Re 1. Now there is this:

The last time Swamy contested (on his Janata Party ticket) from his TN constituency, Madurai, he came behind the CPM (the winner), the AIADMK, and the JD (U). Swamy polled a grand total of 12,009 votes, which is 1.62 percent of the total votes cast (739,937). He lost his deposit.

Also read: The Indian Political League

Always worth your while, following Swamy and his statements. Not so long ago, he trashed the government’s rosy projections in the wake of demonetisation. Though it is worth reading in full, here are a couple of gems from his statement:

“Speaking to a gathering of chartered accountants in Ahmedabad on Saturday, he said: “Please do not go by the quarterly (GDP) data; they are all bogus. I am telling you, because my father founded the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO)…. Recently, I went there with (Union) minister Sadananda Gowda… He called the CSO person, because there was pressure to put out data on demonetisation. So they put out the (GDP) data (saying) that there is no impact (of demonetisation).”

Swamy added, “Don’t believe in these Moody’s and Fitches. You can pay them money and get any report published.”

A month ago, Moody’s, a global credit rating agency, had upgraded India‘s sovereign rating after a period of 13 years. Later in December, another global rating firm, Fitch Ratings, had cut India’s GDP growth forecast to 6.7 per cent from it’s earlier projection of 6.9 percent in September.”

Also read: Demonetisation & The Indian Economy: A Policy Disaster

#6. One of the lesser-noticed scandals of the year is the blatant manner in which the saffron agenda has been superimposed on the country’s universities. Unqualified people have been appointed only because they tick the RSS box; this has in turn led to mismanagement, resulting in unrest across campuses all across the country. Remember the fracas in Banaras Hindu University from earlier this year? Another day, another university, and the story continues:

“The human resource development (HRD) ministry is set to launch a formal investigation against the vice-chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi Central University (MGCU) in Motihari, Bihar, Dr Arvind Kumar Agrawal, for suspected wrongdoing in appointing a teacher.”

From later on in the story:

“The President of India has already dismissed Jawahar Lal Kaul, vice-chancellor of Garhwal University, on the recommendation of the HRD ministry, while the recommendation for the dismissal of R.L. Hangloo, V-C of Allahabad University, is awaiting the President’s approval. In the case of the latter, the file is in the President’s office, and sources told ThePrint action could be taken in the next few weeks.

Both Kaul and Hangloo had been accused of administrative and financial irregularities by the fact-finding committee formed by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar, and were asked to respond to show-cause notices sent by the ministry.”

Also read: BHUkhe Vidyaarthi

#7. The end of a calendar year brings with it an array of lists of the ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ variety. The ones that over the last couple of days made me sit up and take notice?:

Oh, and for the compulsive readers among you: The best of narrative non-fiction curated by Longreads, here and Longform, here. For obvious reasons, there is considerable duplication between the two lists, but between them they round up the best examples of what has been a very good year for long-form narrative.

And that is it from me this year. 2017 has been more than usually turbulent; there is no indication that 2018 will be any better for us as a country. But I’ll still offer up the hope that for each of you, personally, the year about to begin brings the best that life has to offer. Be well, and enjoy the year-end festivities.


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The author, Prem Panicker, is a senior journalist and co-founder of Rediff.com. This post first appeared on his personal site.

Tweet at Prem: @prempanicker

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