India Newsletter

28 Oct 2020



As India and the United States announced Tuesday signing of the crucial

military pact, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), visiting US

Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo recalled the Galwan valley incident in

June and said that the US would "stand with the people of India to confront

threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty".

From the Hyderabad House lawns and with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar by their side, the visiting US

ministers, Pompei and Defence Secretary Mark T Esper, launched a sharply

worded attack on China. The four of them were addressing the media after

meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While Pompeo said that Indian and US leaders and citizens see with

"increasing clarity" that the Communist Party of China is "no friend to

democracy and rule of law", Esper set his sights at Beijing as he flagged

the "increasing aggression and destabilising activities by China".

Singh and Jaishankar, however, did not name China, but talked about

"respecting" and "upholding" the "territorial integrity and sovereignty" of

all states - a not-so veiled reference to Beijing's belligerence along the


BECA will help New Delhi get real-time access to US geospatial intelligence

that will enhance accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles

and armed drones. It will also help access topographical and aeronautical

data and advanced products which will aid navigation and targeting. This

could be key to Air Force-to-Air Force cooperation between India and the US.

Besides BECA, four more pacts were signed on earth sciences, nuclear energy,

Customs data, Ayurveda and cancer research.





In a decision that mainstream political parties in Kashmir said stokes fears

of demographic change, the Centre on Monday amended and notified land laws

for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and explicitly omitted the

protection earlier available to its 'permanent residents'.

The amended laws open up urban or non-agricultural land for purchase by

outsiders, permit contract farming on agricultural lands, provide for

setting up of an industrial development corporation, and also insulate zones

identified for development from application of various laws that earlier

ensured ownership remained with 'permanent residents'.

The laws, as amended, do not place any restrictions on purchase of farm land

by non-J&K agriculturists, and also do not impose limits on the quantum of

area for building a residence or a shop, as it exists in certain hilly

states including Himachal Pradesh.

These new amendments are, however, not applicable to the Union Territory of


National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah said, "J&K has been put up

for sale and left bereft of any basic protections. The amendments add to the

fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this


The People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (an alliance of political

parties including National Conference, PDP, CPI, CPM and People's

Conference) described the Centre's action as a "huge betrayal". "It is a

massive assault on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and is

grossly unconstitutional," said the alliance's spokesperson Sajad Lone, who

is also the President of People's Conference.





As Bihar begins voting today, the figure of Nitish Kumar looms, bruised and

diminished - and alone.

In 2010, Nitish was alone, too, but as the conquering bijli-sadak-paani

hero, the centre of the NDA campaign, with the BJP taking a quiescent second

place. "Kaam kiye hain", was the approving refrain, as voters counted out

the list of public goods and subsidies his government delivered, most

spectacularly cycles for schoolgirls.

In 2015, he shared the stage with rival-turned-friend Lalu Prasad Yadav with

the BJP his aggressive challenger.

This time Nitish looks alone and embattled in the Election 2020 frame, as

voters ask: "Road aur bijli se pet bhar jaayega (is road and electricity


That the three-term Chief Minister looks alone with the people's anger

points to a formless opponent, and an ally receding from the stage.

In this election amid a full-blown pandemic of distress, disillusion, and

coronavirus, in that order, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav draws crowds, and his

promise of 10 lakh jobs is commanding attention. Being his father's son

brings him a large part of the traditional RJD Muslim-Yadav base, but also

stokes spectres of "jungle raj" for the upper castes, and of "Yadav raj" for

sections of the non-Yadav backward castes. In an intensely politically

self-conscious state, how many will be driven to cast a purely negative vote

- that is the question.









Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative appeals court judge, was confirmed

on Monday to the Supreme Court, capping a lightningfast Senate approval that

handed President Donald Trump a victory before the election and promised to

tip the court to the right for years to come.

Barrett, 48, was formally sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts for the

lifetime job in a private ceremony at the court on Tuesday. Barrett joins

the court with two poll issues already awaiting her from hotly contested

battleground states North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Both concern the date

by which absentee ballots may be accepted. The court would be expected to

act on both before Election Day with Barrett as part of its expanded 6-3

conservative majority.

At the White House ceremony on Monday night in which conservative Supreme

Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered to her one of the two oaths of

office that justices must take, Barrett pledged her independence from

politics. "This separation of duty from political preference is what makes

the judiciary distinct," she said.

A blatant Trump has however said he wanted Barrett to be confirmed before

Election Day so she could cast a decisive vote in any poll-related dispute,

potentially in his favour.

Meanwhile, Trump's exhortation to voters who have already cast their ballots

in early voting to revise their choice - an option some states offer - in

his favour is adding to growing apprehensions of a messy, and possibly

inconclusive and violent finale to the November 3 election.

Over 66 million Americans - about 50% of the 2016 turnout - have already

voted; 44 million through mail-in ballots and 22 million in person. With

surveys indicating a big lead for Democrats in early voting, Trump opened a

can of worms on Tuesday by tweeting: "Strongly Trending (Google) since

immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers

changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most

important Election of your life!"

There are questionable assumptions and assertions in the tweet about a brief

trend from a week ago, including a shift in preference for him. But more

pertinently, only some states - including battlegrounds Wisconsin and

Michigan that Trump won narrowly in 2016 - allow a vote change, while some

others like Florida, Arizona, do not.





On October 16, when an 18-year-old Chechen refugee in France beheaded

schoolteacher Samuel Paty, 47, days after he had shown caricatures of

Prophet Mohammed to his students, President Emmanuel Macron said: "We will

continue. We will defend the freedom that you taught so well and we will

bring secularism." He said France would "not give up cartoons, drawings,

even if others back down".

Days before Paty's killing, Macron had made a controversial speech. He

declared that "Islam is a religion that is in crisis today all over the

world", "plagued by radical temptations and by a yearning for a reinvented

jihad which is the destruction of the other".

He spoke of an "Islamist separatism" within the country, and the need to

counter it through the rules and values of the Republic, to build a French

version of Islam, an "Islam of Enlightenment" that would integrate French

Muslim citizens better with the French way of life.

The speech, and Macron's pronouncements after the killing of Paty, have

infuriated many Islamic countries, with Turkey and Pakistan taking the lead

in denouncing the French President of Islamophobia. Turkish President Recep

Tayyip Erdogan, who has long-standing rows with France and Marcron - over

gas reserves off Cyprus, over Nagarno Karabakh, and over the wars in Libya

and Syria - questioned Macron's mental health after the speech.

French secularism, or laicite, sees no place for religion in the public

sphere. In this way, it is the opposite of how India has practised its


So even though there is a real constitutional basis to Macron's positioning

on Islam - as necessitated by laicite - it is also a political necessity. No

French politician at this point believes s/he can afford to ignore the

impact of these events on French national life.









Citing ensuing Bihar Assembly polls, Association for Democratic Reforms has

moved the Supreme Court seeking urgent hearing of its PIL challenging the

Electoral Bonds Scheme for funding political parties.

Right before the Bihar Legislative Assembly elections, the State Bank of

India, in the XIV Phase of sale, has been authorised to issue and encash

Electoral Bonds through its 29 authorised branches with effect from October

19 to October 28, 2020," stated the plea filed through advocate Prashant


The NGO's petition against the 2018 Electoral Bonds Scheme is already

pending before the top court which had earlier refused to stay it ahead of

Delhi Assembly polls earlier this year. However, it had asked the Centre and

the Election Commission to respond to the NGO's plea which has not been

listed for hearing since then.

Now, demanding urgent hearing, ADR said even though notification of January

2, 2018, stipulated the sale of electoral bonds in months of January, April,

July and October months of each year and the "window was not opened in April

and July but has been opened in October (this year) right before the Bihar

legislative election".

It said in view of the passing of more than nine months since the last date

of hearing of the PIL and new developments relating to Bihar legislative

election having taken place, the instant plea required an urgent hearing.





A group of Muslim intellectuals and activists has condemned the the recent

Paris beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, by an 18-year-old Muslim

fanatic, Abdullakh Anzorov. The teacher had shown cotroversial cartoon of

the Prophet to his pupils. At a webinar, activists demanded abolition of

apostasy and blasphemy laws.

Organised by Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy and moderated by its

convener, Javed Anand, the panellists said the abhorrent act must be

condemned strongly by all law-abiding citizens of the world. "We are here to

condemn in unequivocal terms, no ifs and buts, not only the man responsible

for this barbaric act but all those who had any role in the instigation of

the crime as also all those who seek to justify it. We are here not just to

condemn the slaying of Mr Paty, but also to demand the abolition of apostasy

and banishing of blasphemy anywhere and everywhere across the world," said


"The Paris beheading is a wakeup call to the ulema and leaders of the Muslim

world. It is time for both the clergy and parents to instruct children that

such acts of violence are not only detested and abhorred by Islam, but are

in total contradiction to Islam's reverence for peace, explicit recognition

of tolerance, compassion, social equality, high moral order and spiritual

depth," Ali added.

At the same time, some clerics in Mumbai met in Saki Naka in Monday and

condemned the French government for allowing the release of controversial

cartoons. Mufti Manzar Hasan Khan Misbahi also issued a fatwa against the

cartoonists and the French government.





A Delhi court on Tuesday refused bail to a 27-year-old university student,

saying "vociferous agitation in the guise of Citizen Amendment Bill coupled

with other activities of violence would show it was meant to cause or

intended to cause disaffection against India".

This is the second time that Asif Iqbal Tanha of Jamia Millia Islamia, who

has been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in

the Northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case, has been refused bail.

Police have accused Tanha of conspiring with former JNU student Umar Khalid

and JNU student Sharjeel Imam to "overthrow the Government" by setting up a

chakka jam (road blockade) in Muslim-dominated areas. Police have alleged

that Tanha used fake documents to buy a mobile phone SIM to use in the

riots. This SIM was subsequently provided to another Jamia student and

co-accused Safoora Zargar to organise further protests, police have said.





Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday said Kerala had become the first

state in the country to fix the floor price for vegetables. The floor price

will be 20 per cent above the production cost of the vegetable. Even if the

market price goes below the floor price, the produce will be procured at the

floor price from the farmers. He said this while launching the scheme

announcing the floor price for 16 varieties of vegetables, which would come

into effect from November 1, often referred to Kerala Formation Day.

"This is the first time in the country that the floor price is being fixed

for vegetables produced in the state. This is going to provide relief as

well as support for the farmers. The produce will be graded and the floor

price will be fixed based on the quality. Sixteen varieties of vegetables

would be covered in the first phase and there is a provision to revise the

floor price on a regular basis," said Vijayan.





Rhea Chakraborty -- who is facing multiple investigations over the death of

actor Sushant Rajput -- has asked the Bombay high Court not to dismiss the

case against his two sisters, who have been accused of getting a fake

medical prescription for him. The sisters had asked the court to dismiss the


The case against Priyanka Singh and Meetu Singh was filed following a

complaint by Rhea Chakraborty, whom Sushant Singh Rajput's family has

accused of exploiting him for money and having a role in his death.

In her petition, Rhea Chakraborty said the fabricated prescription was meant

to help Sushant Rajput procure medicines that are banned under the Narcotic

Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

Her complaint was based on WhatsApp texts between Sushant Rajput and his

sister on June 8 -- six days before the 34-year-old was found dead in his

Mumbai apartment. The chats, which surfaced in the media days before,

indicated that contrary to their claims, his family was aware of his mental

health problems.

Priyanka Singh had advised her brother to take three medicines -- Librium,

Mexito and Lonazep -- which are prescribed for depression and anxiety. She

had sent a prescription since these drugs were not sold over the counter and

said she could help him connect with the "best doctor in Mumbai, all






Facebook's policy director for India, South and Central Asia Ankhi Das is

leaving the firm, a statement issued by the company Tuesday said.

This comes four days after Das had appeared before Parliament's Joint

Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill which had questioned her on

Facebook's advertisement model, its targeting of audiences, earnings and

taxes and its models for data storage and transfer.

In August, The Wall Street Journal had reported that citing business

imperatives, Das had "opposed applying hate-speech rules" to at least four

individuals and groups linked with BJP despite the fact that they were

"flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence."

Following this report, the Parliamentary standing committee on information

technology, headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, sought an explanation

from the company.

Days later, Das filed a complaint to the Delhi Police Cyber Cell alleging

"relentless harassment," and "violent threats" against her including

"cyber-bullying and eve-teasing online." Demanding police protection, she

alleged that the WSJ article was published in a "mischaracterized and

distorted manner."

On September 1, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Facebook CEO Mark

Zuckerberg alleging political bias and raising "serious concerns" that

Facebook India management had deleted pages and "reduced" the reach of

"right-of-centre ideology" supporters before the 2019 general elections.





Wriddhiman Saha scored a 45-ball 87 before Rashid Khan dished out a clinical

bowling performance as Sunrisers Hyderabad kept themselves alive in the race

for the IPL playoffs with an 88-run win over Delhi Capital in Dubai


Splendid knocks by Saha (87) and skipper David Warner (66) powered Sunrisers

to 219/2.

Star spinner Rashid then led a fine bowling display to end with impressive

figures of 3/7, his best this season. The Afghan bowled 17 dot balls in his

quota of four overs, helping his side bowl out Delhi Capitals for 131 in 19



Delhi Capitals: Placed 3rd, Played 12, Won 7, Points 14, NRR 0.030

Sunrisers Hyderabad: Placed 6th, Played 12, Won 5, Points 10, NRR 0.396





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Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would

not miss. - Ralph Waldo Emerson





A little girl walks into a pet shop and asks in the sweetest little lisp:

"Excuthe me, mithter, do you keep wittle wabiths?"

And the shopkeeper gets down on his knees, so that he's on her level, and

asks: "Do you want a wittle white wabby or a soft and fuwwy bwack wabby?"

She in turn puts her hands on her knees, bends forward and says, "I don't

fink my pyfon cares a damn!"

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