On 30th January, Sharjeel Usmani, a 24-year-old activist and alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), delivered a speech at the Elgar Parishad event, organized by the ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan’, to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon-Bhima at GanesalaKridaRangmanch, Swargate, Pune. The speakers at the event comprised various academics, activists, and many others from across the country’s length and breadth. The event was attended by notable figures such as Arundhati Roy, Prashant Kanojia, Justice BG Kolse-Patil, and SM Mushrif.
The date of the event marked the birthday of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student of Hyderabad Central University whose suicide in 2016 created an uproar within the Dalit community against the institutionalized casteism in educational institutions. The second edition of the event – the first, held in December 2017 at Shaniwar Wada – was also organized as a tribute to the 16 activists and intellectuals – many of whom have are still awaiting bail – arrested following allegations of inciting caste-based violence at Bhima Koregaon in 2018.
Usmani, accused by the police of being one of the architects of the Anti-CAA demonstrations at AMU, had been previously charged with an attempt to murder, rioting and promoting communal disharmony. Following the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at AMU, he was jailed for two months last year after being picked up by the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) from his residence Azamgarh.
Following his release on bail in September last year, Usmani said that he was “compared to AjmalKasab in jail” and condemned the state for resorting to draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in dealing with student protestors.
Usmani was unflinching in his sentiment as he delivered his speech at Elgar Parishad earlier this year.
Sharjeel Usmani’s Speech
In the following hours after the conclave at Pune, Usmani received several vitriolic responses from those who did not take his view well. Before the event, Usmani’s father expressed his disquiet about Sharjeel being invited to speak at the event, in a statement to The Quint, in February. “Due to the externment order, he has not been home for three odd months. Which means I have not spoken to him face-to-face. On a personal level, I do not want all this. If he was in front of me, main usko sahi kar data(I’d fix him), just like a father does to his child. But I was unable to do that as a father.”
Before he began his speech, Usmani apologized to the audience, stating that he was nervous about speaking and that the people listening to him weren’t his primary audience. “Ever since I was invited here, I have been worried. This is the first time I am speaking in front of a non-Muslim audience like this. So in case I do make a mistake, please forgive me if you feel bad. Secondly, I’d like you to tell me if you have a problem and only then go”. He further asserted the need to have uncomfortable conversations with allies, such as the Dalit-Muslim community, without which he believes none will move ahead in society.
The event did not end in a controversy, with many attendees complimenting him on the speech. But, in the following hours of the event, Usmani could sense a controversy building up. “On Twitter, calls were being made for my arrest by a few, soon it started expanding, and then days later I heard of the FIR against me,” he said.
“Aajka Hindu samaj sadh gaya hai” (Today’s Hindu society is rotten) was the controversial observation that stoked furore amongst those that objected to Usmani’s comment. In the aftermath of the statement, two states have lodged FIR’s against Usmani, booking him under several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including one sedition charge.
Following the charges against Usmani, the organizing body of the event issued an 11-page statement, declaring their support for him. The organizers accused the right-wing of targeting him by distorting and misrepresenting the facts of his speech. Addressing the controversial observation, the statement said, “this bit constitutes not even 10 secs of the 26-minute long speech given by Sharjeel. RSS-BJP and other Brahminical organizations have cherry-picked just this tiny bit from Sharjeel’s speech to spread hatred amongst us. If we focus only on certain cherry-picked words without considering the context and dishonestly ignore the “Truth and Facts” of the matter at hand, then we aren’t worthy of being conscious citizens anymore.
On 2nd February, the Swargate police station in Pune registered a First Information Report (FIR) against Usmani. The FIR, registered by Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha secretary Pradeep Gawde, alleged that Usmani made provocative statements against the Hindu community, the Parliament and the Indian Judiciary. The FIR was registered under section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the furthering of enmity within different groups.
The FIR filed at Pune quotes, “Today’s Hindu society is rotten. These people who lynch, who murder, what would they do with themselves after murdering someone and returning to their homes? Would they wash their hands differently? Would they add some medicine to the water and take a bath? What do these people do, that after it they come back and eat amidst us, spend time with us, go and watch movies and then again, the next day, they catch someone, kill them and continue to live normally? They are also falling in love with people at their home. They touch their father’s feet too, go to the temple and offer prayers, then again come out and do this.”
Following the FIR registration at Pune, the Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that the former AMU alumni should be arrested from “whichever state he is in”. Deshmukh tweeted, “Police have investigated the video clippings of the Elgar event held on 30th in Pune, and a case has been registered against SharjeelUsmani for his offensive remarks. He is currently not in Maharashtra, but we will arrest him from whichever state he is in, be it Bihar, UP, Gujarat, or elsewhere.”
As of 5th March, Usmani has moved to the Bombay High Court, seeking to quash the FIR registered at the police station in Pune. In a petition filed through his advocate Aditi Saxena, Usmani has stated that the FIR against him is ‘frivolous and baseless’ adding that the complaint filed at the behest of the YuvaMorcha secretary is for ‘political gain’ and is no more than a ‘political gimmick’ aimed at cheap publicity.
Usmani’s plea underlines the importance of differentiating between free speech and hate speech. The plea states, “The speech is mostly based on facts available in the public domain or academic literature. The speech prima facie does not have any intention to cause disorder or incite people to violence. However, it does demand combat against the hate in the society and not against any particular community.”
Further, it stated that the FIR comprises of isolated statements from the entire speech and that Usmani had identified an issue within the social construct and, in his speech, concluded with a solution to the problem.
Usmani has raised a demand to quash the FIR and has asked a stay on any investigations arising out of it. He also sought protection from coercive action. The Bombay High Court will hear the plea next week.
On 4th February, the Hazratganj police station in Lucknow filed another FIR to connect Usmani’s speech at the event. Anuraj Singh, who said that he had found a video of the speech on the internet and accused Usmani of “creating hate” against the Yogi Adityanath Government, wrote a complaint to the police which the FIR was registered.
The FIR has charged Usmani under four sections of the IPC and several sections of the IT Act. Usmani has been booked for sedition, promoting enmity within different groups, deliberate acts intended at outraging religious feelings, and uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings.
The FIR filed by the UP Police includes sedition charges despite the apex court observing on multiple occasions that sedition is constituted by written or spoken words which “have the effect of bringing contempt or dissatisfaction or the idea of subverting government by violent means”.
Usmani has not been home since November and says that his fight is enduring. Speaking to The Quint, he says, “Yes, I am mentally prepared to go back to jail. If it starts another debate on radicalization and free speech, then why not,”
All You Need To Know About National Institute Of Food Technology Entrepreneurship And Management Bill 2021
On July 26, 2021, Lok Sabha passed a bill under the ministry of Food Processing Industry. The bill is titled as National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management Bill, 2021. The main motive of this bill is to address issues with the Food Processing Industry, Entrepreneurship and one Institution for National Importance. With the passing of this bill, the Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT) and National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) is now merged as Institutions of National Importance, and it aims at providing various research and advancement in learning about the Food Industry and its associated branches. The bill was first introduced in the house in February 2019 but was pending due to protest by the opposition.
Significance of Institutions of National Importance (INI)
With the passing of this bill, the institutions enjoy greater autonomy through which they can carry out various courses, research attracting skilled faculties and students from all over the country and overseas. Good standards in education will be adopted to improve the present and future of education in this branch and sector, overcoming the technological gap in the country. This law aims to improve and introduce new changes in food, bio-nanotechnology, cold chain technology etc. The desired efforts will be taken in terms of human resources and infrastructure developments, labs for research etc. Liberty to open centres anywhere in India is also granted to INI and include courses regarding food technology certification and improving the workforce of the country.
Some other important features of this act are the Institution has been authorized with the Board of Government, Senate and other acting Authorities. The Council of Board will include 16 members from different branches from the same field. The Head will be Chairperson, who will be a skilled person from the Food Industry, the Director, Dean and Registrar. Members appointed from Centre and State Governments, Members from FSSAI and Council of Agriculture Research, as mentioned in the bill. The 16 members of the board will carry out work of taking administrative decisions, creating annual budgets and paths for institution progress as an organization, establishing departments, their appointment terms of services, faculties etc. The Board of Council also holds power to grant Honorary Degrees and Diplomas. The Senate shall be the principal academic body of the Institute, consisting of the people such as Director as the Chairperson; Registrar; Full-time skilled level Professor; and Three academically skilled Individuals nominated by the board from the field.
The Union Minister of Food Processing Industry, Mr Pashupati Kumar Paras, expressed his gratitude to PM Modi for this landmark step in this industry from his Twitter handle, indicating new opportunities in Food Technology Industries. Therefore, this Act looks promising on paper with new opportunities and in Educational Development. Amidst the Pegasus Spyware and repeal of the farm laws, this looks positive from the Modi Government.
लोकसभा में आज, राष्ट्रीय खाद्य प्रौद्योगिकी, उद्यमिता और प्रबंध संस्थान विधेयक, 2021 (निफ्टेम विधेयक, 2021) को पारित किया गया।
इस विधेयक के पारित होने पर इससे जुड़े हर व्यक्ति को बधाई देता हूँ और साथ ही खाद्य प्रसंस्करण से जुड़े छात्रों को भी बधाई देता हूँ। @MOFPI_GOI
— Pashupati Kumar Paras (@PashupatiParas) July 26, 2021
Curious Case Of Pegasus: Explained
Pegasus is a spyware that can hack the victims’ mobile phones and read their SMS messages and emails. The Pegasus spyware is owned by an Israeli software company named NSO Group. According to the various reports, this company has targeted more than 50,000 phone numbers at the Global level, of which 300 are in India for surveillance.
The news broke out after the 17 media partners investigated. This investigation brought into the picture information about a leaked database of mobile telephone numbers of Indian Ministers, Opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, business people, government officials, scientists, activists and many influential personalities of the nation.
Pegasus Spyware and India
According to the report by the agency, the Israeli company which sells Pegasus around the world says that its clients are confined to ‘vetted governments”, believed to number 36. The NSO Group also says that ‘the target list in India is not ours, never was.’ Their refusal of the leaked database has created a loophole in understanding this case.
This whole case has violated the integrity of democratic institutions. According to the report by the agencies, after the mobile phones of the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi and various other leaders were hacked under the Pegasus spyware surveillance. Multiple tweets were made against the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) government in India. This whole case has become one of the major threats in the political arena and the Indian Democracy.
Though at the start, it was used for national security purposes. The explosive expansion of surveillance technology vendors has become a vast human rights and a global security issue. If such surveillance technologies increase, it might cause a lot of problems to countries around the globe. Hence, as a precaution, all these countries need to work on regulating this technology.
According to the reports by the agency, one of the targeted phones by the Pegasus spyware was of the former election commissioner of India, Ashok Lavasa. Various such people and such opposition leaders were somehow against the BJP government having their phones hacked with the NSO-owned spyware. All these instances and the names in the leaked list have pointed figures towards the Modi Government.
The Modi government’s stand on this case was put forward in Lok Sabha by two serving ministers, Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel. These two leaders were also featured in the leaked database. The recent Information Technology Minister, Ashwini Vaishnaw defended the BJP government in the parliament by saying, “the expose was an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its well-established institutions.” She even said, ‘any form of illegal surveillance is not possible with the checks and balances in our laws and robust institutions.’
This case has adjourned the parliament proceedings due to the protests inside and outside the house of parliament by the opposition party.
Pegasus Spyware and World.
In the statement given to the agency, Access Now, an organisation defending the digital rights of global users, said it was outraged that products sold by NSO were allegedly “used to hack and invade the private communications” of thousands of people across the globe.
At a global level, France’s Emmanuel Macron was targeted in the Pegasus spyware case. As the phone of French President Emmanuel Macron was hacked, the investigation was carried out and later on was published which was directed by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden. After this case came in front of the whole world, the Pegasus spyware surveillance came into the picture.
If this continues for some more time, it will ruin India’s Democratic values at a global level. As well as this might become a huge technological threat between the different nations around the globe.
Modi Cabinet 2.0: Young and Dynamic Leadership or Otherwise
On the 7th of July, the union government announced the biggest cabinet expansion in the 7 years of NDA rule. The recent expansion increased the size of the Council of Ministers from 53 to 77. About 43 new ministers were sworn in, 15 of which were Cabinet Ministers and 28 Ministers of State (MoS). This is the first cabinet overhaul in the second term of NDA governance.
Experts however claim that the new cabinet expansion is a pre-emptive measure to balance electoral formulae in different states ahead of the 2022 State Assembly elections. It is also conjectured that the reshuffle comes as rectification of prolonged criticism about BJP’s governance in the past 2 years, including the Healthcare management during the Pandemic.
The Performance Paradox
This recent cabinet expansion is a report card of the BJP government’s performance in the last 2 years. Major ministerial changes, such as the resignation and replacement of Dr. Harshvardhan as the Health Minister indicate a confession of their mismanagement of the pandemic.
He has been replaced by Mansukh Mandaviya, a 2 time Rajya Sabha MP who has also been awarded by the UN for initiatives in Women’s healthcare in the past. His appointment as the Health Minister is one of hope for BJP, to change and streamline (a.) the COVID-19 Pandemic response and (b.) BJP’s image in the name of healthcare management.
On the contrary, Anurag Thakur’s promotion from MoS Finance to a Cabinet Minister defies all logical explanations for awarding performance. Not only has India’s economic condition worsened under his management, his controversial statements like “Desh ke Gadaaro ko…” do not present a strong case for him. His appointment is a political investment by BJP in Himachal Pradesh’s state elections next year which happens to be Thakur’s home state.
Similarly, Sitharaman’s finance ministry has remained untouched, after historical mismanagement of our Finance capabilities. All of this reflects a selective approach adopted by BJP, which is one of political hesitation and hyperopic ignorance.
BJP’s Political Calculator
Apart from the ‘punishment’ narrative, the new cabinet expansion has also given an insight into BJP’s political planning. This expansion has incorporated key leaders from several states that go to elections next year. Moreover, it has also been carefully planned to cover the losses BJP has incurred in the past two years.
As a reward for dismantling the elected Madhya Pradesh government and tipping scales in BJP’s favor, Jyotiraditya Scindia was appointed as the Cabinet Minister for Civil Aviation (a post held by his father as well in ’91) almost after 3 years.
On the contrary, Pashupati Kumar Paras got an early reward for breaking down Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) representation in Lok Sabha. He was appointed as the Union Minister for Food Processing, after the attempted coup on Chirag Paswan’s leadership.
Sarbananda Sonowal, who was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sharma as the Chief Minister of Assam after the fresh elections, was also awarded a berth in the Cabinet. It is conjectured that this development was in talks ever since Himanta Biswa Sharma was chosen as the CM.
As the Uttar Pradesh elections near, BJP also made sure to improve representation from the state. Major appointments such as Niranjan Jyoti (MoS Food Processing), Anupriya Patel (Mos Commerce and Industry), and Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma (MoS MSME) were made majorly because of their heavy support base in UP.
Following the same lead, Ajay Bhatt from Uttarakhand was appointed as MoS Defence and Tourism. As seen earlier, BJP has made major organizational changes in Uttarakhand which goes to elections next year.
In the mirage of calculated placements and image reconstruction, BJP has hit a few rights with this organizational change. The new cabinet includes a maximum number of women to have ever served in a Union Cabinet, a first in a nation with largely patriarchal tendencies.
The cabinet has also tried to focus on bringing people with commendable background experience and education on board. Ashwini Vaishnav, former IAS and an alumnus of Wharton School have been given major ministries such as Railways, Communications, and IT. Similarly, Anupriya Patel who has been given the Commerce and Industry as an MoS has also served as an educator at Amity University.
Moreover, the diffused reliance on regional strength has become the overarching theme in this cabinet reshuffle. Even though the ruling party intends to balance the voter dynamics, this regional unity has become something to watch out for.
Yet, the big story remains the ouster of major politicians who have served loyally and faithfully to this government. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Jaavedkar, and Dr. Harshvardhan are major losers in this dynamic reshuffle. While the current government has tried to modernize the leaders of this nation, it has set a new precedent that loyalty is not the most critical virtue anymore; Election Commission’s schedule is.
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