Newsmakers: When India went bonkers

January 01, 2020

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When India went bonkers

All images: Dawn/White Star Archives
All images: Dawn/White Star Archives

IT was a year when India, by its own standards, went bonkers. From revocation of Article 370 to Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NCR), the Indian Constitution was ripped apart by what is so pompously claimed as the biggest democracy in the world. And when the protests – indigenous and massive as they were and continued to be – gathered momentum, the Indian Army chief did something none of his predecessors had ever done; interfering in civil matters. His comments about ‘the essence of leadership’ and the necessity to be ‘on the right path’ were widely condemned by Indians across the land who warned the Modi-led government of the horrendous precedents it was setting one after the other. But the government had its own agenda and what came next was a show of force in the shape of baton-wielding RSS hordes getting themselves ready for something even more abominable. Within a sinking economy – with India Shining being a distant memory already – the state-led polarisation had its connotations that were not lost on anyone. The condemnation came widely and from both inside India and the world at large.

Successive Indian governments have failed to quell the call for the right of the Kashmiris to self-determination. And the current government is finding itself to be no different. Whipping up the frenzy ahead of the elections, BJP won a landslide, but in the process became a prisoner of its own rhetoric and made the moves it would have otherwise avoided.

The mountainous region was sealed off and placed under complete shutdown, lockdown and everything else … no internet, no telephone, nothing. But the valiant Kashmiris have shown enough fight to make the world realise they are not going to be cowed down like that.

When people of various faiths and political orientations are up against the government decisions, it is amazing what blatant right-wing mania can do to human beings.


Making it big

WITH cinema having been on the social fringe for a long time, it is no wonder that Pakistani movies are not much talked about, but when it comes to documentaries, the country has done itself proud more than once in the recent past, underlining the fact that individual creativity can never be curbed or snubbed. The latest piece of international recognition came when Armed with Faith was honoured with a win at the News and Documentary Emmy Awards ceremony. The documentary follows the men of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal Unit (KPK-BDU) to the front lines of the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan. The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – formerly known as the NWFP – is considered the gateway for terrorists from the neighbouring Afghanistan.

In his acceptance speech, co-director and cinematographer Asad Faruqi talked about his experiences in watching films about the war in Afghanistan, but rarely from a Pakistani perspective. The film, a non-commercial documentary, follows two bomb technicians and their commander. Living far from their families, struggling to make ends meet, and facing constant danger, the men are guided by faith and compassion for their fellow men, even those who mean to cause them harm.

Talking of Emmy’s, it was the Game of Thrones that scored the most. Its last season established a new record for most Emmy nominations received in the same year by any regular series with 32; breaking a 25-year record.


Awarded for being captured!

THE words uttered by the captured and disgraced Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman gave birth to a million memes. ‘The tea is fantastic, thank you!’ That even in captivity, he was able to enjoy tea reflected well on Pakistani hospitality, but not so well on the Indian captive. His words came to signify Pakistani air superiority and confidence that the nation can defend itself, no matter what the odds are. But the Indians were apparently so impressed by his ability to enjoy captivity that they honoured him with a war medal when he was released by Pakistani authorities to show to the world that the nation was not interested in war-mongering.

It all happened in February when a day after the Indians had dropped a payload in Azad Kashmir, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) not only pinged military targets in occupied Kashmir, but its warplanes trapped Indian MiGs into Pakistani airspace and, in the ensuing dogfight, shot down two Indian planes and captured Abhinandan.

What followed was a litany of lies by the Indian government and media which they could never prove in the face of all the evidence provided by Pakistan not only to the Indians but also to the world at large.

Later, in July, the Indians had to face another round of embarrassment when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected its plea for the acquittal and release of Kalbushan Jadhav, the Indian spy held by Pakistan.


Trump trumped

DONALD Trump remained in news across the year for several wrong reasons, but there was at least one spotlight that he himself would have preferred to avoid; the impeachment on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was found guilty as charged for dangling two things as bargaining chips to Ukraine: withholding $400m of military aid that had already been allocated by Congress, and a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. This was done to influence Ukraine to announce an investigation of Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, and to promote a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was behind interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Though legally the impeachment is symbolic in nature as the next step requires the Republican-controlled Senate to approve his ouster from office, which is not something many see happening. Trump is now an impeached President and an impeached President is now in office. Maybe the Democrats sought revenge for the Republicans impeaching Bill Clinton when they had the opportunity. But this is Trump we are talking about; it is never the end of the road for him. Or is it?


Free speech no more?

BEDRAGGLED and shackled, Julian Assange, the flag-bearer of truth, was finally arrested by British authorities and dragged him out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he had been holed up for the past seven years in order to avoid capture. At a court hearing he was immediately found guilty of jumping bail. Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, was arrested on a request from the United States, on charges that he tried to hack into a Pentagon computer network in 2010. The end would have come much earlier had it not been for legal obstacles and the worry to justify it from the American First Amendment point of view.

The arrest of Assange and whatever happens to him next has deeper implications on free media around the world. If highlighting the wrongdoings of a government, demanding greater accountability and transparency of public institutions is a crime, then what is to become of the concept of free speech and access to information?


Setting an example

IN a world seriously going rigid by the minute, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern set a worthy example of inclusivity for the world leaders to follow. The manner in which she conducted herself in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack that left over 50 worshipers dead during Friday prayers in March won her accolades from humanists around the world.

As the world was coming to terms with the massacre, many expected the usual jingoistic tweets we have so become accustomed to. However, PM Ardern immediately put to rest any fears when in her address to the nation, she called the incident what it was; a terrorist attack. She was the first to sign the international condolence book and pushed for technology companies to do more to combat extremist views. The very next day she was in Christchurch to meet the survivors and the families of victims. A photograph of her at the time was described by The Guardian as “an image of hope”. That, indeed, it was.