|Tuesday 03rd of December 2019
Top Chefs Pick Favorite Cities Around the World for Great Restaurants @luxury @Richardvines
Everyone knows you can enjoy wonderful meals in cities such as Paris,
New York, London and Tokyo. But what of other dining destinations,
with fabulous dishes that are more likely to be found in casual bars
or bistros than in fancy restaurants?
We asked some of the world’s leading chefs about their favorite food
cities, from the markets of Ghana in West Africa through the crowded
and noisy streets of Kolkata to a tiny island off Auckland, in New
Carlos Cruz-Diez appreciate color as "a reality which acts on the human being with the same intensity as cold, heat, sound, and so on," he wrote in 1975
“chromosaturations,” plunge participants into a series of intense,
stimulating and sometimes destabilizing “chromatic situations,” as he
“So intense is the light that the colors seem to be felt rather than
seen, like heat,” Holland Cotter of The New York Times wrote in
reviewing “Carlos Cruz-Diez: (In)formed by Color,” a 2008
retrospective at the Americas Society in New York.
“The sensation is slightly disorienting, dizzying, as if gravity had
been tampered with.”
In a biographical video on his foundation’s website, Cruz-Diez said:
“I don’t make paintings, nor sculptures. I make platforms for
occurrences. They are platforms where color is being produced,
dissolved, generated in a perpetual instant. In it there’s no notion
of past nor future. In it is the notion of the present moment, just
Blood and Soil in @narendramodi's India @NewYorker
Law & Politics
On August 11th, two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent
soldiers in to pacify the Indian state of Kashmir, a reporter appeared
on the news channel Republic TV, riding a motor scooter through the
city of Srinagar. She was there to assure viewers that, whatever else
they might be hearing, the situation was remarkably calm. “You can see
banks here and commercial complexes,” the reporter, Sweta Srivastava,
said, as she wound her way past local landmarks. “The situation makes
you feel good, because the situation is returning to normal, and the
locals are ready to live their lives normally again.” She conducted no
interviews; there was no one on the streets to talk to. Other coverage
on Republic TV showed people dancing ecstatically, along with the
words “Jubilant Indians celebrate Modi’s Kashmir masterstroke.” A week
earlier, Modi’s government had announced that it was suspending
Article 370 of the constitution, which grants autonomy to Kashmir,
India’s only Muslim-majority state. The provision, written to help
preserve the state’s religious and ethnic identity, largely prohibits
members of India’s Hindu majority from settling there. Modi, who rose
to power trailed by allegations of encouraging anti-Muslim bigotry,
said that the decision would help Kashmiris, by spurring development
and discouraging a long-standing guerrilla insurgency. To insure a
smooth reception, Modi had flooded Kashmir with troops and detained
hundreds of prominent Muslims—a move that Republic TV described by
saying that “the leaders who would have created trouble” had been
placed in “government guesthouses.” The change in Kashmir upended more
than half a century of careful politics, but the Indian press reacted
with nearly uniform approval. Ever since Modi was first elected Prime
Minister, in 2014, he has been recasting the story of India, from that
of a secular democracy accommodating a uniquely diverse population to
that of a Hindu nation that dominates its minorities, especially the
country’s two hundred million Muslims. Modi and his allies have
squeezed, bullied, and smothered the press into endorsing what they
call the “New India.” Kashmiris greeted Modi’s decision with protests,
claiming that his real goal was to inundate the state with Hindu
settlers. After the initial tumult subsided, though, the Times of
India and other major newspapers began claiming that a majority of
Kashmiris quietly supported Modi—they were just too frightened of
militants to say so aloud. Television reporters, newly arrived from
Delhi, set up cameras on the picturesque shoreline of Dal Lake and
dutifully repeated the government’s line. As the reports cycled
through the news, the journalist Rana Ayyub told me over the phone
that she was heading to Kashmir. Ayyub, thirty-six years old, is one
of India’s best-known investigative reporters, famous for relentlessly
pursuing Modi and his aides. As a Muslim from Mumbai, she has lived on
the country’s sectarian divide her whole life. She suspected that the
government’s story about Kashmir was self-serving propaganda. “I think
the repression is probably worse than it’s ever been,” she said. She
didn’t know what she might find, but, she told me, “I want to speak to
those unheard voices.” In both Hindi and English, Ayyub speaks with
disorienting speed and infectious warmth; it is difficult to resist
answering her questions, but she might have another one before you
finish responding to the first. On the phone, she invited me to meet
her in Mumbai and try to get into Kashmir, even though foreign
correspondents were banned there during the crackdown. When I arrived,
she handed me a pair of scarves and told me to buy a kurta, the
typical Indian tunic. “I am ninety-nine per cent sure you will be
caught, but you should come anyway,” she said, laughing. “Just don’t
open your mouth.” Ayyub and I landed at the Srinagar airport two weeks
after Modi’s decree. In the terminal was a desk labelled “Registration
for Foreigners,” which she hustled me past, making sure I kept my head
down. The crowd was filled with police and soldiers, but we made it to
the curb without being spotted, climbed into a taxi, and sped off into
Srinagar. Even from a moving car, it was clear that the reality in
Kashmir veered starkly from the picture in the mainstream Indian
press. Soldiers stood on every street corner. Machine-gun nests
guarded intersections, and shops were shuttered on each block. Apart
from the military presence, the streets were lifeless. At
Khanqah-e-Moula, the city’s magnificent eighteenth-century mosque,
Friday prayers were banned. Schools were closed. Cell-phone and
Internet service was cut off. Indian intelligence agents are widely
understood to monitor the rosters of local hotels, so Ayyub and I,
along with an Indian photographer named Avani Rai, had arranged to
stay with a friend. When we got there, a Kashmiri doctor who was
visiting the house told us to check the main hospital, where young men
were being treated after security forces fired on them. The police and
soldiers were using small-gauge shotguns—called pellet guns by the
locals—and some of the victims had been blinded. “Go to the
ophthalmology ward,” the doctor said. At the hospital, we found a
scene of barely restrained chaos, with security officers standing
guard and families mixing with the sick in corridors. While I stood in
a corner, trying to make myself inconspicuous, Ayyub ran to the fourth
floor to speak to an eye doctor. After a few minutes, she returned and
motioned for me and Rai to follow. “Ward eight,” she said. Thirty
gunshot victims were inside. As the three of us approached, a smartly
dressed man with a close-cropped beard stepped into our path and
placed his hand on Ayyub’s shoulder. “What are you doing here?” he
said. Rai looked at me and quietly said, “Run.” I turned and dashed
into the crowd. The bearded man took Ayyub and Rai by the arm and led
them away. Ayyub grew up in Sahar, a middle-class neighborhood of
Mumbai. Her father, Waquif, wrote for a left-wing newspaper called
Blitz; later, he was a high-school principal and a scholar of Urdu,
the language of north India’s Muslims. Rana remembers midnight poetry
readings, when her father’s friends crowded into the living room to
recite their verses. The Ayyubs were the only Muslim family on the
block, but they weren’t isolated. They went into the streets with
their neighbors to celebrate Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali, and
twice a year they opened their home for Muslim feasts. “The sectarian
issue was always there, but we were insulated from all that,” Ayyub
said. “All of my friends growing up were Hindu.”
Muslim-Hindu harmony was central to the vision of India’s founders,
Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who laid the foundation for a
secular state. India is home to all the world’s major religions;
Muslims constitute about fourteen per cent of the population. As the
British Empire prepared to withdraw, in 1947, Muslims were so fearful
of Hindu domination that they clamored for a separate state, which
became Pakistan. The division of the subcontinent, known as Partition,
inspired the largest migration in history, with tens of millions of
Hindus and Muslims crossing the new borders. In the accompanying
violence, as many as two million people died. Afterward, both
Pakistanis and Indians harbored enduring grievances over the killings
and the loss of ancestral land. Kashmir, on the border, became the
site of a long-running proxy war. India’s remaining Muslims protected
themselves by forging an alliance with the Congress Party—Gandhi and
Nehru’s group, which monopolized national politics for fifty years.
But the founders’ vision of the secular state was not universally
shared. In 1925, K. B. Hedgewar, a physician from central India,
founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an organization dedicated to
the idea that India was a Hindu nation, and that Hinduism’s followers
were entitled to reign over minorities. Members of the R.S.S. believed
that many Muslims were descended from Hindus who had been converted by
force, and so their faith was of questionable authenticity. (The same
thinking applied to Christians, who make up about two per cent of
India’s population. Other major religions, including Buddhism and
Sikhism, were considered more authentically Indian.) Hedgewar was
convinced that Hindu men had been emasculated by colonial domination,
and he prescribed paramilitary training as an antidote. An admirer of
European fascists, he borrowed their predilection for khaki uniforms,
and, more important, their conviction that a group of highly
disciplined men could transform a nation. He thought that Gandhi and
Nehru, who had made efforts to protect the Muslim minority, were
dangerous appeasers; the R.S.S. largely sat out the freedom struggle.
In January, 1948, soon after independence, Gandhi was assassinated by
Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a former R.S.S. member and an avowed Hindu
nationalist. The R.S.S. was temporarily banned and shunted to the
fringes of public life, but the group gradually reëstablished itself.
In 1975, amid civic disorder and economic stagnation, Prime Minister
Indira Gandhi suspended parliament and imposed emergency rule. The
R.S.S. vigorously opposed her and her Congress Party allies. Many of
its members were arrested, which helped legitimize the group as it
reëntered the political mainstream. The R.S.S.’s original base was
higher-caste men, but, in order to grow, it had to widen its
membership. Among the lower-caste recruits was an eight-year-old named
Narendra Modi, from Vadnagar, a town in the state of Gujarat. Modi
belonged to the low-ranking Ghanchi caste, whose members traditionally
sell vegetable oil; Modi’s father ran a small tea shop near the train
station, where his young son helped. When Modi was thirteen, his
parents arranged for him to marry a local girl, but they cohabited
only briefly, and he did not publicly acknowledge the relationship for
many years. Modi soon left the marriage entirely and dedicated himself
to the R.S.S. As a pracharak—the group’s term for its young, chaste
foot soldiers—Modi started by cleaning the living quarters of senior
members, but he rose quickly. In 1987, he moved to the R.S.S.’s
political branch, the Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. When Modi
joined, the Party had only two seats in parliament. It needed an issue
to attract sympathizers, and it found one in an obscure religious
dispute. In the northern city of Ayodhya was a mosque, called Babri
Masjid, built by the Mughal emperor Babur in 1528. After independence,
locals placed Hindu idols inside the mosque and became convinced that
it had been built on the former site of a Hindu temple. A legend grew
that the god Ram—an avatar of Vishnu, often depicted with blue
skin—had been born there. In September, 1990, a senior B.J.P. member
named L. K. Advani began calling for Babri Masjid to be destroyed and
for a Hindu temple to take its place. To build support for the idea,
he undertook a two-month pilgrimage, called the Ram Rath Yatra, across
the Indian heartland. Travelling aboard a Nissan jeep refitted to look
like a chariot, he sometimes gave several speeches a day, inflaming
crowds about what he saw as the government’s favoritism toward
Muslims; sectarian riots followed in his wake, leaving hundreds dead.
Advani was arrested before he reached Ayodhya, but other B.J.P.
members carried on, gathering supporters and donations along the way.
On December 6, 1992, a crowd led by R.S.S. partisans swarmed Babri
Masjid and, using axes and hammers, began tearing the building down.
By nightfall, it had been completely razed. The destruction of the
mosque incited Hindu-Muslim riots across the country, with the biggest
and bloodiest of them in Mumbai. At first, Ayyub’s family felt safe;
they were surrounded by friends. But, after several days of mayhem, a
Sikh friend, whom the family called Uncle Bagga, came to tell Waquif
that a group of neighborhood men were coming for his daughters. Waquif
was frightened; Rana, who was then nine years old, had been stricken
by polio and, though she was largely recovered, the illness had
weakened the left side of her body. That night, she and her older
sister Iffat fled with Bagga. They stayed with some relatives of his
for three months, before the family reunited in Deonar, a Muslim
ghetto a few miles away. “I felt helpless,” Rana told me. “We were
like toys, moved from one place to another by someone else.” Deonar is
an impoverished neighborhood of fetid sewers and tin shacks. The
Ayyubs, accustomed to a middle-class existence, found their lives
transformed. “We were living in a very small place, very dirty, on a
very crowded and dirty street,” Rana said. Mumbai had been
transformed, too. When she enrolled in a predominantly Hindu school
nearby, her classmates called her landya, an anti-Muslim slur. “That
is the first time I ever really thought about my identity,” she said.
“Our entire neighborhood—our friends—were going to kill us.”
For the R.S.S., the initiative in Ayodhya paid off spectacularly.
Membership soared, and by 1996 the B.J.P. had become the largest party
in parliament. During the dispute over Babri Masjid, Ashis Nandy, a
prominent Indian intellectual, began a series of interviews with
R.S.S. members. A trained psychologist, he wanted to study the
mentality of the rising Hindu nationalists. One of those he met was
Narendra Modi, who was then a little-known B.J.P. functionary. Nandy
interviewed Modi for several hours, and came away shaken. His subject,
Nandy told me, exhibited all the traits of an authoritarian
personality: puritanical rigidity, a constricted emotional life, fear
of his own passions, and an enormous ego that protected a gnawing
insecurity. During the interview, Modi elaborated a fantastical theory
of how India was the target of a global conspiracy, in which every
Muslim in the country was likely complicit. “Modi was a fascist in
every sense,” Nandy said. “I don’t mean this as a term of abuse. It’s
a diagnostic category.” On February 27, 2002, a passenger train
stopped in Godhra, a city in Gujarat. It was coming from Ayodhya,
where many of the passengers had gone to visit the site where Babri
Masjid was destroyed, ten years earlier, and to advocate for building
a temple there. Most of them belonged to the religious wing of the
R.S.S., called the V.H.P. While the train sat at the station, Hindu
travellers and Muslims on the platform began to heckle one another. As
the train pulled away, it stalled, and the taunting escalated. At some
point, someone—possibly a Muslim vender with a stove—threw something
on fire into one of the cars. The flame spread, and the passengers
were trapped inside; when the door was finally pushed open, the rush
of oxygen sparked a fireball. Some fifty-eight people suffocated or
burned to death. As word of the disaster spread, the state government
allowed members of the V.H.P. to parade the burned corpses through
Ahmedabad, the state’s largest city. Hindus, enraged by the display,
began rampaging and attacking Muslims across the state. Mobs of Hindus
prowled the streets, yelling, “Take revenge and slaughter the
Muslims!” According to eyewitnesses, rioters cut open the bellies of
pregnant women and killed their babies; others gang-raped women and
girls. In at least one instance, a Muslim boy was forced to drink
kerosene and swallow a lighted match. Ehsan Jafri, an elderly Congress
Party politician, was paraded naked and then dismembered and burned.
The most sinister aspect of the riots was that they appeared to have
been largely planned and directed by the R.S.S. Teams of men, armed
with clubs, guns, and swords, fanned out across the state’s Muslim
enclaves, often carrying voter rolls and other official documents that
led them to Muslim homes and shops. The Chief Minister of the Gujarati
government was Narendra Modi, who had been appointed to the position
five months before. As the riots accelerated, Modi became invisible;
he summoned the Indian Army but held the soldiers in their barracks as
the violence spun out of control. In many areas of Gujarat, the police
not only stood by but, according to numerous human-rights groups, even
took part. When the riots began, Rahul Sharma was the senior police
officer in charge of Bhavnagar, a district with a Muslim population of
more than seventy thousand. In sworn testimony, Sharma later said that
he received no direction from his superiors about how to control the
riots. On the fourth day, a crowd of thousands gathered around the
Akwada Madrassa, a Muslim school, which had about four hundred
children inside. The vigilantes were brandishing swords and torches.
“They were acting in an organized way,” Sharma said. “They were going
to kill the children.” Sharma ordered his men to use lethal force to
prevent an attack; when warning shots had no effect, they fired,
killing two men and injuring several more. The crowd scattered, and
Sharma escorted the children to safety. In nearly every other
district, though, the violence carried on unchecked. Sharma, instead
of being celebrated as a hero, was transferred out of the district to
a make-work desk job. L. K. Advani—the advocate of destroying the
mosque in Ayodhya, who had risen to be India’s Home Minister—called
Sharma and suggested that he had let too many Hindus die. The riots
dragged on for nearly three months; when they were over, as many as
two thousand people were dead and nearly a hundred and fifty thousand
had been driven from their homes. The ethnic geography of Gujarat was
transformed, with most of its Muslims crowded into slums. One slum
formed inside the Ahmedabad dump, a vast landscape of trash and sewage
that towered hundreds of feet in the air. (That ghetto, dubbed
Citizens’ Village by its inhabitants, is still home to a thousand
people, who live in shacks and breathe the noxious air; when the
monsoons come, filth from the dump floods the streets and shanties.)
As the riots festered, Ayyub, who was then nineteen, decided to help.
After telling her mother that she was going trekking with a friend in
the Himalayas, she put herself on a train to the Gujarati city of
Vadodara. Because the unrest was still flaring, she disguised herself
with a bright-red bindi—the dot of paint that Hindu women wear on
their forehead. She spent three weeks in relief camps, helping rape
victims file police reports. The camps were surrounded by open-pit
latrines, and the smell of sewage was overpowering; children lay
around with flies on them. At times, mobs armed with swords and
Molotov cocktails came looking for Muslims. During one incursion,
Ayyub hid in a house and peered out as a crowd of some sixty men
jostled outside. “I was palpitating,” she said. “Gujarat made me
realize that what happened in Mumbai was not an aberration.” After the
riots, Modi’s government did almost nothing to provide for the tens of
thousands of Muslims forced from their homes; aid was supplied almost
entirely by volunteers. Asked about this, Modi said, “Relief camps are
actually child-making factories. Those who keep on multiplying the
population should be taught a lesson.” Although some Hindu rioters
were arrested, just a few dozen were ultimately convicted. Mayaben
Kodnani, a B.J.P. minister, was the only official to be punished
significantly; she was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and
conspiracy. When Modi’s government later came to power in Delhi, she
was cleared of all charges. In the following months, there were
indications of substantial government complicity. According to
independent investigations, the Hindu mobs had moved decisively,
following leaders who appeared to have received explicit instructions.
“These instructions were blatantly disseminated by the government, and
in most cases, barring a few sterling exceptions, methodically carried
out by the police and Indian Administrative Service,” concluded a
citizen-led inquiry that included former Supreme Court justices and a
former senior police official. During the violence, a senior federal
official named Harsh Mander travelled to Gujarat and was stunned by
the official negligence. Seeing that many of his colleagues were
colluding in the bloodbath, he retired early from his job to work in
the makeshift camps where Muslim refugees were gathering. He has
dedicated much of the rest of his life to reminding the public what
happened and who was responsible. “No sectarian riot ever happens in
India unless the government wants it to,” Mander told me. “This was a
state-sponsored massacre.” A few officials claimed that the decision
to encourage the riots came from Modi himself. Haren Pandya, a Modi
rival and Cabinet minister, gave sworn testimony about the riots, and
also spoke to the newsweekly Outlook. He said that, on the night the
unrest began, he had attended a meeting at Modi’s bungalow, at which
Modi ordered senior police officials to allow “people to vent their
frustration and not come in the way of the Hindu backlash.” A police
official named Sanjiv Bhatt recalled that, at another meeting that
night, Modi had expressed his hope that “the Muslims be taught a
lesson to ensure that such incidents do not recur.” But there was not
much political will to pursue the evidence against Modi, and his
accusers did not stay in the public eye for long. After Bhatt made his
accusation, he was charged in the death of a suspect in police
custody—a case that had sat dormant for more than two decades—and
sentenced to life in prison. In 2003, the Cabinet minister Haren
Pandya was found dead in his car in Ahmedabad. His wife left little
doubt about who she believed was behind it. “My husband’s
assassination was a political murder,” she said.
For Modi, the riots had a remarkable effect. The U.S. and the United
Kingdom banned him for nearly a decade, and he was shunned by senior
leaders of his party. (In 2004, the B.J.P. Prime Minister, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, was voted out. He blamed Modi for the loss.) In Gujarat,
though, his prestige grew. Rather than seeking reconciliation, Modi
led a defiant Hindu-pride march across the state, which was met with
an outpouring of support. Modi often spoke in barely coded language
that signalled to his followers that he shared their bigotry. In one
speech, during the march, he suggested that the state’s Muslims were a
hindrance to be overcome. “If we raise the self-respect and morale of
fifty million Gujaratis,” he said, “the schemes of Alis, Malis, and
Jamalis will not be able to do us any harm.” The crowd let out a
cheer. That December, after a campaign in which he made several
incendiary anti-Muslim speeches, he led the B.J.P. to a huge electoral
victory in Gujarat. Elsewhere in India, the B.J.P.’s fortunes were
sinking; as a result, Modi’s hard-line faction was able to seize the
Party leadership. He also began to build a national reputation as a
pro-business leader who presided over rapid economic development. “The
B.J.P. was a dead party,” Ayyub told me. “The only chance they had to
power was Modi, because he had all these followers—all these big
businessmen—and so the riots were all forgotten.” Eventually, a
Supreme Court investigative team declared that there was not enough
evidence to charge Modi in the riots—a finding that human-rights
groups dismissed as politically motivated. A few persistent advocates
tried to keep the issue alive.
In 2007, when Modi appeared on the Indian network CNN-IBN, the
journalist Karan Thapar asked him, “Why can’t you say that you regret
“What I have to say I have said at that time,” Modi replied, his face
hardening. As Thapar kept pressing, Modi grew agitated. “I have to
rest,” he said. “I need some water.” Then he removed his microphone
and walked away.
In 2013, when another reporter asked if he felt sorry about the deaths
of so many Muslims, he suggested that he had been a helpless
bystander. “If someone else is driving a car and we’re sitting
behind—even then, if a puppy comes under the wheel, will it be
painful?” Modi said. “Of course it is.”
To many observers, Modi’s success stemmed from his willingness to play
on profound resentments, which for decades had been considered
offensive to voice in polite society. Even though India’s Muslims were
typically poorer than their fellow-citizens, many Hindus felt that
they had been unjustly favored by the central government. In private,
Hindus sniped that the Muslims had too many children and that they
supported terrorism. The Gandhi-Nehru experiment had made Muslims feel
unusually secure in India, and partly as a result there has been very
little radicalization, outside Kashmir; still, many Hindus considered
them a constant threat. “Modi became a hero for all the Hindus of
India,” Nirjhari Sinha, a scientist in Gujarat who investigated the
riots, told me. “That is what people tell me, at parties, at dinners.
People genuinely feel that Muslims are terrorists—and it is because of
Modi that Muslims are finally under control.” In 1993, Ayyub’s father
wrote a book about the riots in Mumbai. He titled it “I Am Alive”—his
habitual response to friends who wrote to him during the unrest to see
how he was. When Rana Ayyub began considering a career in journalism,
she showed some of the same pugnacious self-assertion. “In my
childhood, everybody said, ‘She’s a weak child,’ ” she told me. “It’s
like you have to prove a point to everybody that, no, I’m not a weak
child.” At first, she wanted to effect change by joining the civil
service. But, she said, “people told me, ‘There’s no way you will be
able to do anything as a police officer, because you still have to be
answerable to cops and corrupt politicians.’ ” After graduating from
Sophia College in Mumbai with a degree in English literature, Ayyub
bounced around from Web sites to a television station before landing
at a magazine called Tehelka. Published in English, Tehelka had a
small circulation but an outsized reputation for tough investigations.
Ayyub took to the work, producing pieces on killings by the police and
a smuggling racket run by officials in Mumbai. “I was trying to help
people,” she told me. “I was trying to figure out what was happening,
and it made me feel better about myself.”
In 2010, in a series of cover stories for Tehelka, Ayyub tied Modi’s
closest adviser, Amit Shah, to a sensational crime. The scion of a
high-caste family, Shah had trained as a biochemist but excelled as a
political tactician. A onetime president of the Gujarat Chess
Association, he had twice helped engineer Modi’s election as the top
official in Gujarat; afterward, he was made the Minister of State for
Home Affairs. Ayyub was investigating a case that had begun five years
before, when police in Gujarat announced that they had fatally shot a
suspected terrorist dispatched by Pakistan to assassinate Modi. In
political and journalistic circles, the announcement inspired
skepticism; rumors had been circulating that the police killed
criminals and then pretended that they were Muslim assassins,
heroically thwarted just before they could get to Modi. Wised-up
Indians derided the police claims as “fake encounters,” but, among
Gujaratis who were alarmed by the riots, they helped boost Modi’s
reputation as a defender of Hindus. It turned out that the alleged
assassin, a local extortionist named Sohrabuddin Sheikh, had no
history of Islamist militancy. Before long, federal investigators
established that he had been murdered by the police. There were
witnesses, including Sheikh’s wife and a criminal associate of his.
But, a couple of days after the killing, his wife was murdered and her
body burned; the associate was killed in police custody a year later.
Ayyub didn’t believe that the ultimate responsibility lay with the
police. “I never looked at the arrests that were made, the people who
shoot,” she told me. “I looked for the kingpins.” One source, a police
officer, suggested that Amit Shah had been involved. Ayyub first met
the officer at a secluded house in the countryside. “He could see that
my hands were shaking,” she told me. “He said, ‘If you’re going to do
this story, then you have to stop shaking.’ ” The next time they
met—in a graveyard, at 3 a.m., with Ayyub disguised in a burqa—he gave
her a CD, hidden in a bouquet of flowers. It contained six years of
Shah’s telephone records, including the times and locations of his
calls. Using the records, Ayyub showed that Shah and the three
officers suspected of murdering Sheikh’s associate had been in
extensive contact, before and after the killing. Her reporting also
offered an explanation of Shah’s motive: a police official told her
that the murdered criminals “knew something that could have been
damning for the minister.” Ayyub was not the first journalist to
expose official misconduct in the case, but the evidence around Shah
was explosive. Federal agents asked her for a copy of Shah’s phone
records, and she obliged. Within weeks, Shah was arrested on charges
of murder and extortion; he had allegedly been involved in the same
illicit business as Sheikh. (A spokesman for Shah denied his
complicity, saying, “Shah was implicated in the said criminal offence
purely on political considerations.”) Federal police eventually
charged thirty-eight other people, including Gujarat’s top police
official, the former Home Minister for the state of Rajasthan, and
more than twenty officers suspected of being involved in the murders.
The morning of Shah’s arrest, Ayyub awoke to find that her reporting
was the top of the news. A popular television anchor read the entirety
of one of her pieces on the air. “I was just a twenty-six-year-old
Muslim girl,” she said. “I felt people would finally see what I can
do.” Her stories, along with others, set off a series of official
investigations into the Gujarati police, who were suspected of killing
more than twenty people in “fake encounters.” But, she thought, even
Shah was not the ultimate kingpin. Her source had told her that the
police were under intense pressure to stall the investigation and to
hide records from federal investigators—suggesting that someone
powerful was trying to squelch the case. The headline of one of her
stories was “so why is narendra modi protecting amit shah?” Despite
the evidence piling up around Modi, he only grew stronger.
Increasingly, he was mentioned as a candidate for national office. In
2007, while running for reëlection as Chief Minister, Modi taunted
members of the Congress Party to come after him. “Congress people say
that Modi is indulging in ‘encounters’—saying that Modi killed
Sohrabuddin,” he told a crowd of supporters. “You tell me—what should
I do with Sohrabuddin?” he asked.
“Kill him!” the crowd roared. “Kill him!”
Within a few weeks of Shah’s arrest, Ayyub hit on an idea for a new
article: “If I can go after Shah, why not Modi?” She told her editors
at Tehelka that she suspected Modi of far graver crimes than
previously reported. If she went undercover, she argued, she could
insinuate herself into his inner circle and learn the truth. In the
United States, it is a cardinal rule of journalism that reporters
shouldn’t lie about their identity; undercover operations tend to be
confined to the industry’s yellower margins. In India, the practice is
more common, if still controversial. In 2000, Tehelka sent a former
cricket player, wearing a hidden camera, to expose widespread
match-fixing and bribery in the sport. Later that year, two reporters
posing as representatives of a fake company offered to sell infrared
cameras to the Ministry of Defense. Thirty-six officials agreed to
take bribes; the Minister of Defense resigned.
Tarun Tejpal, Tehelka’s editor, told me that he authorized stings only
when there appeared to be no other way to get the story. In this case,
he said, “Modi and Shah were untouchable. The truth would never come
out.” He told Ayyub to go forward. As she began reporting, Ayyub
created an elaborate disguise, designed to appeal to the vanities of
Gujarat’s political establishment. “Indians have a weakness for being
recognized in America,” she said. “The idea that they would be famous
in the United States—it was irresistible to them.” She became Maithili
Tyagi, an Indian-American student at the American Film Institute
Conservatory in Los Angeles, visiting India to make a documentary. She
invented a story about her family, saying that her father was a
professor of Sanskrit and a devotee of Hindu-nationalist ideas. Ayyub,
who has distinctive curly hair, straightened it and tucked it into a
bun. She rehearsed an American accent, and, for added verisimilitude,
hired a French assistant, whom she called Mike. Only her parents knew
what she was doing; she stayed in touch on a separate phone. In the
fall of 2010, Ayyub rented a tiny room in Ahmedabad. For eight months,
she flattered her way into the local élite, claiming that her film
would focus on Gujaratis who were prospering under Modi’s tenure.
“Modi’s biggest support comes from Gujarati-Americans,” she told me.
“I said, I want to meet the most influential people who can tell me
the Gujarat story—who will tell me the secret sauce of what Mr. Modi
has done in the past fifteen years.” At first, Ayyub and Mike appeared
only at apolitical social events, to get locals used to seeing them
around. As she moved in closer, she began wearing hidden cameras and
microphones—in her watch, in her kurta, in her phone. (When she bought
the minicams, at a Spy Shop in New Delhi, she told the salesman that
she was trying to catch an adulterous husband.) Ayyub was welcomed
nearly everywhere. She made revealing recordings of senior Gujarati
officials, some of whom directly accused Modi and Shah of wrongdoing.
Even Modi agreed to see her for a brief chat in his office, where his
staff offered her biographies of him to read. Modi showed her copies
of Barack Obama’s books. “He said, ‘Maithili, look at this. I want to
be like him someday,’ ” she recalled. She was struck by his canniness.
“I thought Modi was either going to be Prime Minister or he was going
to jail.” Ayyub took her findings back to her editors. But, after
reviewing transcripts, Tejpal decided against publishing a story. The
conversations were mostly of officials implicating others—often Modi
and Shah. Tejpal told me that he needed people admitting their own
crimes. “The fundamental ethics of the sting is that a sting is no
good if a person doesn’t indict oneself,” he said. “If you come to me
and say, ‘I had a conversation with someone, and he told me that Tom,
Dick, and Harry are fuckers, and he knows that Tom is taking money
from So-and-So, and Harry really fucked So-and-So,’ it means nothing.
That’s just cheap gossip.” Ayyub was convinced that Tejpal had
succumbed to pressure from the B.J.P. “He caved in,” she told me. “I
was inside Modi’s and Shah’s inner circle, as close as you could get.”
(Tejpal denied this, and other editors spoke in support of him.)
Determined to get her story out, Ayyub wrote a draft of a book and
shopped it to English-language newspapers, magazines, and publishing
houses. All rejected her pitch. Some said that the book was too
partisan; most argued that her methods could expose them to lawsuits.
Several editors told me privately that they thought Ayyub’s work was
revelatory—but that it was impossible to publish. “We wanted to
excerpt the book on the cover of our magazine, but word got around,
and phone calls started coming in,” Krishna Prasad, who was then the
editor of Outlook, told me. “We simply couldn’t do it.”
By 2012, Modi had become the most recognizable B.J.P. leader in India,
and seemed likely to run for Prime Minister. “Everyone saw the writing
on the wall,” Ayyub said. “Modi was going to win, and no one wanted to
alienate him.” Ayyub kept trying to find a publisher, but nothing came
through. She told me that she fell into a profound funk, relying on
antidepressants for the next four years. In 2013, Tejpal, her editor
at Tehelka, was accused of sexual assault and spent seven months in
prison before being released on bail. (He maintains his innocence, and
the case is ongoing.) The magazine all but collapsed. “I thought that
was the end,” she said. As Modi began his run for Prime Minister, in
the fall of 2013, he sold himself not as a crusading nationalist but
as a master manager, the visionary who had presided over an economic
boom in Gujarat. His campaign’s slogan was “The good days are coming.”
A close look at the data showed that Gujarat’s economy had grown no
faster under his administration than under previous ones—the
accelerated growth was “a fantastically crafted fiction,” according to
Prasad, the former editor. Even so, many of India’s largest businesses
flooded his campaign with contributions. Modi was helped by an
overwhelming public perception that the Congress Party, which had been
in power for most of the past half century, had grown arrogant and
corrupt. Its complacency was personified by the Gandhi family, whose
members dominated the Party but appeared diffident and out of touch.
Rahul Gandhi, the head of the Party (and Nehru’s great-grandson), was
dubbed the “reluctant prince” by the Indian media. By contrast, Modi
and his team were disciplined, focussed, and responsive. “The Gandhis
would keep chief ministers, who had travelled across the country to
see them, waiting for days—they didn’t care,” an Indian political
commentator who has met the Gandhis as well as Modi told me. “With
Modi’s people, you got right in.” While the Congress leaders often
behaved as if they were entitled to rule, the B.J.P.’s leaders
presented themselves as ascetic, committed, and incorruptible. Modi,
who is said to do several hours of yoga every day, typically wore
simple kurtas, and members of his immediate family worked in modest
jobs and were conspicuously absent from senior government positions;
whatever other allegations floated around him, he could not be accused
of material greed. The B.J.P. won a plurality of the popular vote,
placing Modi at the head of a governing coalition. As Prime Minister,
he surprised many Indians by challenging people to confront problems
that had gone unaddressed. One was public defecation, a major cause of
disease throughout India. At an early speech in Delhi, he announced a
nationwide program to build public toilets in every school—a prosaic
improvement that gratified many Indians, even those who could afford
indoor plumbing. Modi also addressed a series of widely publicized
gang rapes by speaking in bracingly modern terms. “Parents ask their
daughters hundreds of questions,” he said. “But have any dared to ask
their sons where they are going?” The address set the tone for Modi’s
premiership, or at least for part of it. As a young pracharak, he had
taken a vow of celibacy, and he gave no public sign of breaking it.
Unburdened by family commitments, he worked constantly. People who saw
him said he exuded a vitality that seemed to compensate for his
otherwise solitary existence. “When you have that kind of power, that
kind of adoration, you don’t need romance,” the Indian political
commentator told me. In Gujarat, Modi had focussed on big-ticket
projects, wooing car manufacturers and bringing electricity to
villages; as Prime Minister, he introduced a sweeping reform of
bankruptcy laws and embarked on a multibillion-dollar campaign of road
Modi’s effort to transform his image succeeded in the West, as well.
In the United States, newspaper columnists welcomed his emphasis on
markets and efficiency. In addition, Modi called on a vast network of
Indian-Americans, who cheered his success at putting India on the
world stage. The Obama Administration quietly dropped the visa ban.
When Modi met Obama, not long after taking office, the two visited the
memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., a man Modi claimed to admire.
During his stay, Modi had a dinner meeting with Obama, but he
presented White House chefs with a dilemma: he was fasting for
Navaratri, a Hindu festival. At the meeting, he consumed only water.
The Indian political commentator, who met with Modi during his first
term, told me that in person he was intense and inquisitive but not
restless; he joked about the monkeys that were marauding his garden,
and happily discussed the arcana of projects that were occupying his
attention. The main one was water: India’s groundwater reserves were
declining quickly (they’ve gone down by sixty-one per cent in the past
decade), and Modi was trying to prepare for a future in which the
country could run dry. During the meeting, he also displayed a
detailed list of nations that were in need of various
professionals—lawyers, engineers, doctors—of the very kind that India,
with its huge population of graduates, could provide. “He is smart,
extremely focussed,” the commentator said. “And, yes, a bit
puritanical.” Not long after Modi took power, the Sohrabuddin Sheikh
case, in which his old friend Amit Shah was implicated, ground to a
halt. By 2014, Shah had essentially stopped showing up for hearings.
When the judge ordered Shah to appear, the case was taken away from
him, in defiance of the Supreme Court. The new judge, Brijgopal Loya,
also complained about Shah’s failure to show up in court. He told his
family and friends that he was under “great pressure” to dismiss the
case, and that the chief justice of the Bombay High Court had offered
him sixteen million dollars to scuttle it. (The chief justice could
not be reached for comment.) Loya died not long after, in mysterious
circumstances. The coroner’s report said that he had suffered a heart
attack, but, according to The Caravan, a leading Indian news magazine,
details in the report appeared to have been falsified. The
arrangements for Loya’s body to be returned to his family were made
not by government officials but by a member of the R.S.S.; it arrived
spattered in blood. Loya’s family asked for an official investigation
into his death but has not received one. Shah’s case was given to a
third judge, M. B. Gosavi, who after less than a month dismissed all
charges, saying that he found “no sufficient ground to proceed.”
Subsequent efforts to hold anyone accountable for Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s
death came to nothing. As the trial of the remaining defendants
approached, ninety-two witnesses turned against the prosecution, with
some saying they feared for their lives; the defendants were
acquitted. Rajnish Rai, the officer tasked with investigating Shah,
was transferred off the case. When he applied for early retirement, he
was suspended. By the time the charges were dropped, Modi had
Blood and Soil in @narendramodi's India @NewYorker B
Law & Politics
By the time the charges were dropped, Modi had
installed Shah as president of the B.J.P. and chairman of the
governing coalition—effectively making him the country’s second most
powerful man. In 2016, after four years of trying to find a publisher
for her book, Ayyub decided to publish it herself. To pay for it, she
sold the gold jewelry that her mother had been saving for her wedding.
“I wasn’t getting married anytime soon anyway,” she told me, laughing.
She found a printer willing to reproduce the manuscript without
reading it first, and cut a deal with a book distributor to share any
profits. She persuaded an artist friend to design an appropriately
ominous cover. Ayyub was protected by the fact that, as an
English-language book, it would be read only by India’s élite, too
small a group to concern the B.J.P. That May, the book went on sale on
Amazon and in bookstores around the country. She called it “Gujarat
Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.” “Gujarat Files” relates the highlights
of the discussions Ayyub had with senior officials as she tried to
figure out what happened during Modi’s and Shah’s time presiding over
the state. It is not a polished work; it reads like a pamphlet for
political insiders, rushed into publication by someone with no time to
check punctuation or spell out abbreviations or delve into the
historical background of the cases discussed. “I didn’t have the
resources to think about all that,” Ayyub told me. “I just wanted to
get the story out.” The virtue of the book is that it feels like being
present at a cocktail party of Hindu nationalists, speaking frankly
about long-suppressed secrets. “Here is the thing,” Ayyub said.
“Everybody has heard the truth—but you can’t be sure. With my book,
you can hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Among those whom Ayyub “stung” was Ashok Narayan, who had been
Gujarat’s Home Secretary during the riots. According to Ayyub, Narayan
said that Modi had decided to allow the Hindu nationalists to parade
the bodies of the victims of the train attack. Narayan said that he
had warned Modi, “Things will go out of hand,” but to no avail. When
he resisted, Modi went around him. “Bringing the bodies to Ahmedabad
flared up the whole thing, but he is the one who took the decision,”
he said. Narayan added that the V.H.P.—the religious arm of the
R.S.S.—had made preparations for large-scale attacks on the Muslim
community and was merely looking for a pretext. “It was all planned by
the V.H.P.—it was gruesome,” Narayan said, adding that he believed
Modi was in on the plan from the beginning. “He knew everything.” G.
C. Raigar, a senior police official, told Ayyub that the initial plan
was to allow the Hindus to take limited revenge for the attack. But,
he said, the violence spread so quickly that Modi’s government could
no longer stop it: “They didn’t want to use force against the
rioters—which is why things went out of control.” Raigar, among
others, told Ayyub that the decision to allow reprisals against
Muslims was communicated outside the normal chain of command, from
officials around Modi to police officers who were thought to harbor
sectarian animosities. “They would tell it to people they had obliged
in the past,” Raigar said of the officials. “They would know who would
help them.” Some of the officials spoke of the killings in a
remarkably casual way, as if the Muslims had deserved to be murdered.
“There were riots in ’85, ’87, ’89, ’92, and most of the times the
Hindus got a beating—and the Muslims got an upper hand,” P. C. Pande,
Ahmedabad’s former police commissioner, said. “So this time, in 2002,
it had to happen, it was the retaliation of Hindus.” Pande guided
Ayyub through his rationale: “Here is a group of Muslims going and
setting fire on a train—so what will be your reaction?” “You hit them
back?” she said. “Yes, you hit them back,” Pande said. “Here is the
chance, give it back to them. . . . Why should anybody mind?”
Conversations like that, Ayyub wrote, convinced her that the riots had
happened because people in power wanted them to: “It was as if the
missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were beginning to emerge.” Several
officers also said that Shah had presided over extrajudicial
killings—including those of the alleged assassin Sohrabuddin Sheikh
and the witnesses to his murder. The conversations about Shah
strengthened Ayyub’s conviction that many more criminal suspects had
been eliminated in a similar way. “It was clear that the encounters
were only the tip of the iceberg,” she wrote. Initially, the reaction
to Ayyub’s book was muted. There was a reception in New Delhi,
attended by most of the country’s major political writers and
editors—but Ayyub couldn’t find a word about it in any paper the next
day. Newspapers were slow to review the book. But it took off on its
own, especially on Amazon, helped by Ayyub’s reputation as a
journalist. The release of a Hindi edition, in 2017, opened up a huge
potential audience. To date, Ayyub says, “Gujarat Files” has sold six
hundred thousand copies and been translated into thirteen languages.
Ayyub has been invited to speak at the United Nations and at
journalism conferences around the world. “What makes it compelling is
knowing that these are the biggest players in what happened,” Hartosh
Singh Bal, the political editor of The Caravan, told me. “They are
speaking in unguarded moments, and they are confirming and adding to
the knowledge of what we have already from every other source so far.
But never from this much on the inside. And suddenly we put a speaker
right in the heart of the room with the people who know everything.”
Perhaps the main factor that made “Gujarat Files” a sensation was the
climate in which it appeared. By 2016, two years into Modi’s first
term, he was in the midst of a campaign to crush any voice that
challenged the new order. In April, 2018, Ayyub was sitting with a
friend in a Delhi restaurant when a source alerted her to a video that
was appearing in online chat groups maintained by B.J.P. supporters.
He sent her the clip, and she pressed Play. What appeared on her
screen was a pornographic video purporting to show Ayyub engaging in
various sex acts. “I burst into tears and threw up,” she said. The
clip went viral, making its way from WhatsApp to Facebook to Twitter,
retweeted and shared countless times. Ayyub was inundated with angry
messages, often with the video attached. “Hello bitch,” a man named
Himanshu Verma wrote in a direct message on Facebook. “Plz suck my
penis too.” The video was the crudest salvo in a media campaign that
started soon after the publication of Ayyub’s book. A tweet with a
fake quote from her, asking for leniency for Muslims who had raped
children, went viral. Other falsified tweets followed, including one
in which she declared her hatred of India. In response, someone named
Vijay Singh Chauhan wrote, “Don’t ever let me see you, or we’ll tell
the whole world what we do to whores like you. Pack your bag and go to
back to Pakistan.” India’s female journalists are often subjected to
an especially ugly form of abuse. The threats that Ayyub received were
nearly identical to those sent to Gauri Lankesh, a journalist and book
publisher from the southern state of Karnataka. Like Ayyub, Lankesh
had reported aggressively on Hindu nationalism and on violence against
women and lower-caste people. She had also published Ayyub’s book in
Kannada, the predominant language in the state. “We were like
sisters,” Ayyub told me. In September, 2017, after Lankesh endured a
prolonged campaign of online attacks, two men shot her dead outside
her home and fled on a motorbike. Neha Dixit, who has done
groundbreaking reporting on the B.J.P., told me that she receives
death threats and sexual insults constantly: “Every day, I get three
hundred notifications, with dick pics, and with conversations about
how they should rape me with a steel rod or a rose thornbush or
something like that.” For Dixit and other targets of these campaigns,
it is especially galling that the abuse is apparently endorsed by
prominent Modi allies. Ayyub showed me a tweet about the porn video
from Vaibhav Aggarwal, a media personality who often speaks on behalf
of the B.J.P. It read, “U want to dance in the Rain, get all wet & not
want to then have pneumonia”—a suggestion that she deserved whatever
abuse she got. In June, the fake Ayyub quote about child rape was
retweeted by a prominent B.J.P. member named Ashoke Pandit. The quote,
which originated in English, was translated into Hindi on a Facebook
page for the so-called Army of Yogi Adityanath—admirers of the
B.J.P.’s Chief Minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Pratik Sinha, a
former software engineer and the founder of Alt News, which tracks
online disinformation, described a nimble social-media operation that
works on behalf of the B.J.P. In 2017, his group made a typical
discovery, when a pro-B.J.P. Web site called Hindutva.info released a
video of a gruesome stabbing, which was passed around on social media
as evidence that Muslims were killing Hindus in Kerala. Puneet Sharma,
an R.S.S. apparatchik whom Modi follows on Twitter, promoted the
video, saying that it should make Hindus’ “blood boil.” But, when Alt
News tracked the video to its source, it turned out to depict a gang
killing in Mexico. Sinha told me he believes that some of the most
aggressive social-media posts are instigated by an unofficial “I.T.
cell,” staffed and funded by B.J.P. loyalists. He said that people
affiliated with the B.J.P. maintain Web sites that push pro-Modi
propaganda and attack his enemies. “They are organized and quick,” he
said. “They got their act down a long time ago, in Gujarat.” As Modi
consolidated his hold on the government, he used its power to silence
mainstream outlets. In 2016, his administration began moving to crush
the television news network NDTV. Since it went on the air, in 1988,
the station has been one of the liveliest and most credible news
channels; this spring, as votes were tallied in the general election,
its Web site received 16.5 billion hits in a single day. According to
two people familiar with the situation, Modi’s administration has
pulled nearly all government advertising from the network—one of its
primary sources of revenue—and members of his Cabinet have pressured
private companies to stop buying ads. NDTV recently laid off some four
hundred employees, a quarter of its staff. The journalists who remain
say that they don’t know how long they can persist. “These are dark
times,” one told me. That year, Karan Thapar, the journalist who had
asked Modi whether he wanted to express remorse for the Gujarat riots,
found that no one from the B.J.P. would appear on his nightly show any
longer. Thapar, perhaps the country’s most prominent television
journalist, was suddenly unable to meaningfully cover politics. Then
he discovered that Modi’s Cabinet members were pushing his bosses to
take him off the air. “They make you toxic,” Thapar told me. “These
are not things that are put in writing. They’re conversations—‘We
think it’s not a good idea to have him around.’ ” (His network, India
Today, denies being influenced by “external pressures.”) In 2017, his
employers expressed reluctance to renew his contract, so he left the
network. Modi’s government has targeted enterprising editors as well.
Last year, Bobby Ghosh, the editor of the Hindustan Times, one of the
country’s most respected newspapers, ran a series tracking violence
against Muslims. Modi met privately with the Times’ owner, and the
next day Ghosh was asked to leave. In 2016, Outlook ran a disturbing
investigation by Neha Dixit, revealing that the R.S.S. had offered
schooling to dozens of disadvantaged children in the state of Assam,
and then sent them to be indoctrinated in Hindu-nationalist camps on
the other side of the country. According to a person with knowledge of
the situation, Outlook’s owners—one of India’s wealthiest families,
whose businesses depended on government approvals—came under pressure
from Modi’s administration. “They were going to ruin their empire,”
the person said. Not long after, Krishna Prasad, Outlook’s longtime
editor, resigned. Both Ayyub and Dixit said that no mainstream
publication would sponsor their work. “So many of the really good
reporters in India are freelance,” Ayyub told me. “There’s nowhere to
go.” Even news that ought to cause scandal has little effect. In June,
the Business Standard reported that Modi’s government had been
inflating G.D.P.-growth figures by a factor of nearly two. The report
prompted a public outcry, but Modi did not apologize, and no official
was forced to resign. Only a few small outfits regularly offer
aggressive coverage. The most prominent of them, The Caravan and a
news site called the Wire, employ a total of about seventy
journalists—barely enough to cover a large city, let alone a country
of more than a billion people. In 2017, after the Wire ran a story
examining questionable business dealings by Amit Shah’s son, Modi’s
ministers began pressuring donors who sustain the site to stop
providing funding. Shah’s son, who denied the allegations, also filed
a lawsuit, which has been costly to defend. Siddharth Varadarajan, the
site’s founding editor, told me that he is battling not only the
government but also the compliant media. “We reckon that people in
this country very much value their freedoms and democracy—and that
they will realize when their freedoms are being eroded,” he said. “But
a huge section of the media is busy telling them something entirely
different.” Modi’s supporters often get their news from Republic TV,
which features shouting matches, public shamings, and scathing insults
of all but the most slavish Modi partisans; next to it, Fox News
resembles the BBC’s “Newshour.” Founded in 2017 with B.J.P. support,
Republic TV stars Arnab Goswami, a floppy-haired Oxford graduate who
acts as a kind of public scourge for opponents of Modi’s initiatives.
In a typical program, from 2017, Goswami mentioned a law mandating
that movie theatres play the national anthem, and asked whether people
should be required to stand; his guest Waris Pathan, a Muslim
assemblyman, argued that it should be a matter of choice. “Why can’t
you stand up?” Goswami shouted at Pathan. Before Pathan could get out
an answer, he yelled again, “Why can’t you stand up? What’s your
problem with it?” Pathan kept trying, but Goswami, his hair flying,
shouted over him. “I’ll tell you why, because—I’ll tell you why. I’ll
tell you. I’ll tell you why. Can I tell you? Then why don’t you stop,
and I’ll tell you why? Don’t be an anti-national! Don’t be an
anti-national! Don’t be an anti-national!” The lack of journalistic
scrutiny has given Modi immense freedom to control the narrative.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the months leading up to his
reëlection, in 2019. Backed by his allies in business, Modi ran a
campaign that was said to cost some five billion dollars. (Its exact
cost is unknown, owing to weak campaign-finance laws.)
As the vote approached, though, Modi was losing momentum, hampered by
an underperforming economy. On February 14th, a suicide bomber crashed
a car laden with explosives into an Indian military convoy in Kashmir,
killing forty soldiers. The attack energized Modi: he gave a series of
bellicose speeches, insisting, “The blood of the people is boiling!”
He blamed the attack on Pakistan, India’s archrival, and sent
thousands of troops into Kashmir. The B.J.P.’s supporters launched a
social-media blitz, attacking Pakistan and hailing Modi as “a tiger.”
One viral social-media post contained a telephone recording of Modi
consoling a widow; it turned out that the recording had been made in
2013. On February 26th, Modi ordered air strikes against what he
claimed was a training camp for militants in the town of Balakot.
Sympathetic outlets described a momentous victory: they pumped out
images of a devastated landscape, and, citing official sources,
claimed that three hundred militants had been killed. But Western
reporters visiting the site found no evidence of any deaths; there
were only a handful of craters, a slightly damaged house, and some
fallen trees. Many of the pro-Modi posts turned out to be crude
fabrications. Pratik Sinha, of Alt News, pointed out that photos
claiming to depict dead Pakistani militants actually showed victims of
a heat wave; other images, ostensibly of the strikes, were cribbed
from a video game called Arma 2. But, in a country where hundreds of
millions of people are illiterate or nearly so, the big idea got
through. Modi rose in the polls and coasted to victory. The B.J.P. won
a majority in the lower house of parliament, making Modi the most
powerful Prime Minister in decades. Amit Shah, Modi’s deputy, told a
group of election workers that the Party’s social-media networks were
an unstoppable force. “Do you understand what I’m saying?” he said.
“We are capable of delivering any message we want to the
public—whether sweet or sour, true or fake.” For many, Modi’s
reëlection suggested that he had uncovered a terrible secret at the
heart of Indian society: by deploying vicious sectarian rhetoric, the
country’s leader could persuade Hindus to give him nearly unchecked
power. In the following months, Modi’s government introduced a series
of extraordinary initiatives meant to solidify Hindu dominance. The
most notable of them, along with revoking the special status of
Kashmir, was a measure designed to strip citizenship from as many as
two million residents of the state of Assam, many of whom had crossed
the border from the Muslim nation of Bangladesh decades before. In
September, the government began constructing detention centers for
residents who had become illegal overnight. A feeling of despair has
settled in among many Indians who remain committed to the secular,
inclusive vision of the country’s founders. “Gandhi and Nehru were
great, historic figures, but I think they were an aberration,” Prasad,
the former Outlook editor, told me. “It’s very different now. The
institutions have crumbled—universities, investigative agencies, the
courts, the media, the administrative agencies, public services. And I
think there is no rational answer for what has happened, except that
we pretended to be what we were for fifty, sixty years. But we are now
reverting to what we always wanted to be, which is to pummel
minorities, to push them into a corner, to show them their places, to
conquer Kashmir, to ruin the media, and to make corporations servants
of the state. And all of this under a heavy resurgence of Hinduism.
India is becoming the country it has always wanted to be.”
On March 31, 2017, a Muslim dairy farmer named Pehlu Khan drove to the
city of Jaipur with several relatives, to buy a pair of cows for his
business. On the way home, a line of men blocked the road, surrounded
his truck, and accused him of planning to sell the cows for meat. Cows
are considered sacred by Hindus, and most Indian states forbid killing
them. But it is generally legal to eat beef from cows that have died
naturally, and to make leather from their hide—jobs often performed by
Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, leaving them open to false
accusations. The men pulled Khan and his relatives from the truck and
began beating them and shouting anti-Muslim epithets. “We showed them
our papers for the cow purchase, but it did not matter,” Ajmat, a
nephew, said. Khan was taken to a hospital, where he died soon
afterward. Khan’s relatives identified nine attackers. Most of them
were members of Bajrang Dal, a branch of the R.S.S. Ostensibly a youth
group, Bajrang Dal often provides muscle and security for B.J.P.
members. It has also been implicated in a rash of murders of Muslims
throughout the country. In Jaipur, I met Ashok Singh, the head of the
Rajasthan chapter of Bajrang Dal. Singh told me that he and his men
were duty-bound to defend cows from an epidemic of theft and killing.
For several minutes, he spoke about the holiness of the cow. Each
animal, he said, contains three hundred and sixty million gods, and
even its dung has elixirs beneficial to humans. “They cut them, they
kill them,” Singh said of Muslims. “It’s a conspiracy.” He admitted
that Bajrang Dal members had taken part in stopping Khan, but he
insisted that other people had committed the murder. “There was a
mob,” he said. “We didn’t have control of it.” The attackers
identified by Khan’s relatives were arrested and charged, but local
sentiment ran strongly in their favor. After the prosecutor declined
to introduce any eyewitness testimony or cell-phone videos into
evidence, all the attackers were acquitted. “The case was rigged,”
Kasim Khan, a lawyer for the family, told me. “The outcome was decided
before the trial.” According to FactChecker, an organization that
tracks communal violence by surveying media reports, there have been
almost three hundred hate crimes motivated by religion in the past
decade—almost all of them since Modi became Prime Minister. Hindu mobs
have killed dozens of Muslim men. The murders, which are often
instigated by Bajrang Dal members, have become known as “lynchings,”
evoking the terror that swept the American South after Reconstruction.
The lynchings take place against a backdrop of hysteria created by the
R.S.S. and its allies—a paranoid narrative of a vast majority, nearly
a billion strong, being victimized by a much smaller minority. When
Muslims are lynched, Modi typically says nothing, and, since he rarely
holds press conferences, he is almost never asked about them. But his
supporters often salute the killers. In June, 2017, a Muslim man named
Alimuddin Ansari, who was accused of cow trafficking, was beaten to
death in the village of Ramgarh. Eleven men, including a local leader
of the B.J.P., were convicted of murder, but last July they were
freed, pending appeal. On their release, eight of them were met by
Jayant Sinha, the B.J.P. Minister for Civil Aviation. Sinha, a Harvard
graduate and a former consultant for McKinsey & Company, draped the
men in marigold garlands and presented them with sweets. “All I am
doing is honoring the due process of law,” he said at the time. In
northern India, Hindu nationalists have whipped up panic around the
idea that Muslim men are engaging in a secret campaign to seduce Hindu
women into marriage and prostitution. As with the hysteria over cow
killings, the furor takes form mostly on social media and platforms
like WhatsApp, where rumors spread indiscriminately. The idea—known as
“love jihad”—is rooted in an image of the oversexed Muslim male,
fortified by beef and preying on desirable Hindu women. In many areas,
any Muslim man seen with a Hindu woman risks being attacked. Two years
ago, Yogi Adityanath, the B.J.P. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, set
up “anti-Romeo squads,” which harassed Muslim men believed to be
trying to seduce Hindu women. The squads were abandoned after the
gangs mistakenly beat up several Hindu men. In a village in Haryana, I
spoke with a young Hindu woman named Ayesha. A year before, she had
met a Muslim man named Omar, a purveyor of spiritual medicine who had
been visiting her home to treat her mother. They fell in love, and
decided that Ayesha would convert to Islam and they would get married.
Her family was horrified, she said. One night, Ayesha ran off with
Omar to his village, a few miles away, where they got married in a
mosque, and moved in with his relatives. For several months, Ayesha
said, her family tried to persuade her to get a divorce; at one point,
her father brought her a pistol and a suicide note to sign. “I was so
sad, I almost agreed,” she said. One night, as Omar rode his bicycle,
two men followed on scooters. One of them pulled out a gun and shot
Omar dead. Ayesha remained with Omar’s family, saying she will never
go back to her own. “I am one hundred per cent certain that my family
is responsible for my husband’s death,” she said. When Ayyub was a
child, a group of men gathered every morning for prayer and martial
arts in a field down the street from her home. The men formed a local
chapter of the R.S.S., and sometimes chanted slogans celebrating Hindu
supremacy: “Hail, Mother India.” The men were friendly, she
recalled—eager to recruit Muslims. But she had learned in school that
an R.S.S. acolyte had killed Gandhi, so she and her brother, Aref,
kept their distance. “We would watch with fascination,’’ she said.
“But I didn’t like being there.” Early one morning in Ahmedabad, on a
playground at Ellisbridge Municipal School No. 12, I looked on as a
dozen men raised the saffron flag of the R.S.S. They ranged in age
from eighteen to sixty-three, and were all trim and fit, many of them
wearing the group’s signature khaki shorts. They began with yoga poses
and calisthenics. Then they took out long wooden rods and began to
perform martial exercises. (An R.S.S. chief once said that the group’s
cadres could be assembled to fight more quickly than the Indian Army.)
The men moved together, stepping and striking in formation.
“One-two-three-four, one-two-three-four,” their leader cried. “Don’t
think you’re an expert—I’m seeing a lot of mistakes.” The men finished
in a semicircle on the ground, offering prayers to the Hindu sun god:
“O Surya, the shining one, the radiant one, dispeller of darkness,
source of life.” They ended by shouting, “Victory to India!”
Afterward, the men—who included an engineer, a lawyer, a garment
merchant, and a police officer—laughed and clapped one another on the
back. Together they made up the Paldi chapter of the R.S.S., one of
more than thirty thousand across India. Paldi is an overwhelmingly
Hindu neighborhood, but the nearest Muslim enclave, which came under
attack in 2002, is less than a mile away. On this morning, there
wasn’t much talk of politics. “I’m just here to stay fit,” Nehal
Burasin, a student, told me. For a fuller explanation of the R.S.S.’s
world view, I spoke to Sudhanshu Trivedi, a lifelong member who is now
the B.J.P.’s national spokesman. Over dinner at the Ambassador Hotel
in Delhi, Trivedi told me that the R.S.S. is dedicated to the
propagation of “Hindutva”: the idea that India is first and foremost a
nation for Hindus. It is, he said, by far the largest organization of
its kind in the world. In its ninety-four-year existence, the R.S.S.
has embedded itself in every aspect of Indian society. Between bites
of salad, Trivedi rattled off R.S.S. talking points. The organization
says that it runs some thirty thousand primary and secondary schools;
that it administers hospitals across India, especially in remote
areas; and that it maintains the second-largest network of trade
unions in the country, the largest network of farmers, the largest
social-welfare organization working in the slums. The B.J.P., India’s
dominant political party, came last in his litany. “So, you can see,
in the entire scheme of things, compared to what the R.S.S. is doing,
what the B.J.P. is doing is small,” he said. In fact, the R.S.S. was
rapidly becoming a state within a state—capturing India from within.
Over the summer, the organization announced that it was establishing a
school to train young people to become officers in the armed forces.
This year, more than a hundred and fifty former officers and enlisted
men signed a letter decrying the “completely unacceptable” use of the
military for political purposes. They referred to Modi’s taking credit
for the cross-border strikes in Pakistan, and to the boast by some
B.J.P. politicians that it was “Modi’s army.” The key to understanding
modern India, Trivedi told me, was accepting that “Hinduism is not
basically a religion—it is a way of life.” Anyone born in India is
part of Hinduism. Therefore, all the other religions found in India
thrive because of Hinduism, and are subordinate to it. “The culture of
Islam is preserved here because of Hindu civilization,” he said. As
part of the Hindutva project, B.J.P. leaders have been rewriting
school textbooks across the country, erasing much of its Islamic
history, including that of the Mughals, Muslim emperors who ruled
India for three centuries. The B.J.P. has changed Mughal place names
to ones that are Hindu-influenced. Last year, the Mughalsarai railway
station, built in central India a century and a half ago, was renamed
for Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, a right-wing Hindu-nationalist leader.
Allahabad, a city of more than a million people, is now called
Prayagraj, a Sanskrit word that denotes a place of sacrifice. In
November, the old story of Ayodhya was in the news again, when India’s
Supreme Court cleared the way for a Hindu temple to be constructed on
the former site of Babri Masjid. In a thousand-page decision, the
Court provided no evidence that a temple had been destroyed to build
the mosque, and acknowledged that the mosque had been torn down by an
angry mob. Nevertheless, it handed control of the land to a government
trust, effectively allowing the B.J.P. to proceed. Trivedi told me
that no one in the R.S.S. bore any animus toward Islam. But, he said,
it was important to understand just how far the faith had fallen. “In
India, the most educated community is the Parsis, which is a minority.
The second most educated is the Christians, which is a minority. The
most prosperous is the Jains, which is a minority. The most
entrepreneurial is Sikh, which is a minority. The first nuclear
scientist in India was a Parsi—a minority,” he said. “Then what is the
problem with Muslims? I will tell you. They have become captives of
the jihadi ideology.” When Ayyub and the photographer were detained at
the hospital in Srinagar, I found a hiding place across the street,
screened by a wall and a fruit vender; Ayyub would have faced serious
repercussions if she was found to have snuck in a foreigner. After
about an hour, they emerged. Ayyub said that an intelligence officer
had questioned them intently, then released them with an admonition:
“Don’t come back.” The next morning, we drove to the village of
Parigam, near the site of the suicide attack that prompted Modi’s air
strikes against Pakistan. We’d heard that Indian security forces had
swept through the town and detained several men. The insurgency has
broad support in the villages outside the capital, and the road to
Parigam was marked by the sandbags and razor wire of Indian Army
checkpoints. For most of the way, the roads were otherwise deserted.
In the village, Ayyub stopped the car to chat with locals. Within a
few minutes, she’d figured out whom we should talk to first: Shabbir
Ahmed, the proprietor of a local bakery. We found him sitting
cross-legged on his porch, shelling almonds into a huge pile. In
interviews, Ayyub slows down from her usual debate-team pace; she took
a spot on the porch as if she had dropped by for a visit. Ahmed, who
is fifty-five, told her that, during the sweeps, an armored vehicle
rumbled up to his home just past midnight one night. A dozen soldiers
from the Rashtriya Rifles, an élite counter-insurgency unit of the
Indian Army, rushed out and began smashing his windows. When Ahmed and
his two sons came outside, he said, the soldiers hauled the young men
into the street and began beating them. “I was screaming for help, but
nobody came out,” Ahmed said. “Everyone was too afraid.” Ahmed’s sons
joined us on the porch. One of them, Muzaffar, said that the soldiers
had been enraged by young people who throw rocks at their patrols.
They dragged Muzaffar down the street toward a mosque. “Throw stones
at the mosque like you throw stones at us,” one of the soldiers
commanded him. Muzaffar said that he and his brother, Ali, were taken
to a local base, where the soldiers shackled them to chairs and beat
them with bamboo rods. “They kept asking me, ‘Do you know any stone
throwers?’—and I kept saying I don’t know any, but they kept beating
me,” he said. When Muzaffar fainted, he said, a soldier attached
electrodes to his legs and stomach and jolted him with an electrical
current. Muzaffar rolled up his pants to reveal patches of burned skin
on the back of his leg. It went on like that for some time, he said:
he would pass out, and when he regained consciousness the beating
started again. “My body was going into spasms,” he said, and began to
cry. After Muzaffar and Ali were released, their father took them to
the local hospital. “They have broken my bones,” Muzaffar said. “I can
no longer prostrate myself before God.” It was impossible to verify
the brothers’ tale, but, as with many accounts that Ayyub and I heard
in the valley, the anguish was persuasive. “I am a slightly more
civilized version of these people,” Ayyub told me. “I see what’s
happening—with the propaganda, with the lies, what the government is
doing to people. Their issues are way more extensive—their lives. But
I have everything in common with these people. I feel their pain.” One
afternoon, Ayyub and I walked through Soura, a hardscrabble
neighborhood in Srinagar’s old city which has been the site of several
confrontations with security forces. By the time we got there, the
police and the Army had withdrawn, evidently deciding that the narrow
streets left their men too vulnerable. The locals told us that they
regarded Soura as liberated territory and vowed to attack anyone from
the government who tried to enter. Every wall seemed plastered with
graffiti. One bit of scrawl said, “Demographic change is not
acceptable!” The Kashmiris we met felt trapped, their voices stifled.
“The news that is true—they never show it,” Yunus, a shop owner, said
of the Indian media. Days before, his thirteen-year-old son, Ashiq,
had been arrested and beaten by security forces, just as he himself
had been thirty years before. “Nobody has ever asked the people of
Kashmir what they want—whether to stay with India or join Pakistan or
become independent,” he said. “We have heard so many promises. We have
lifted bodies with our hands, lifted heads that are separate, lifted
legs that are separate, and put them all together into graves.” Many
Kashmiris still refuse to accept Indian sovereignty, and some recall
the promise, made by the United Nations in 1948, that a plebiscite
would determine the future of the state. Kashmir was assigned special
status—enshrined in Article 370—and afforded significant powers of
self-rule. For the most part, those powers have never been realized.
Beginning in the late eighties, an armed insurgency, supported by
Pakistan, has turned the area into a battleground. The conflict in
Kashmir is largely a war of ambush and reprisal; the insurgents strike
the Indian security forces, and the security forces crack down. Groups
like Human Rights Watch have detailed abuses on both sides, but
especially by the Indian government.The R.S.S. and other Hindu
nationalists have claimed that the efforts to assuage the Kashmiris
created a self-defeating dynamic. The insurgency has stifled economic
development, they said; Article 370 was curtailing investment and
migration, dooming the place to backwardness. Modi’s decision to
revoke the article seemed the logical endpoint of the R.S.S. world
view: the Kashmiri deadlock would be broken by overwhelming Hindu
power. As Ayyub and I drove around Kashmir, it seemed unclear how the
Indian government intended to proceed. Economic activity had ground to
a halt. Schools were closed. Kashmiris were cut off from the outside
world and from one another. “We are overwhelmed by cases of
depression,” a physician in Srinagar told us. Many Kashmiris warned
that an explosion was likely the moment the security measures were
lifted. “Modi is doing what he did in Gujarat twenty years ago, when
he ran a tractor over the Muslims there,” a woman named Dushdaya said.
The newspaper columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta wrote that, in Kashmir,
“Indian democracy is failing.” He suggested that the country’s
Muslims, who have largely resisted radicalization, would conclude that
they had nothing else to turn to. “The B.J.P. thinks it is going to
Indianise Kashmir,” he wrote. “Instead, what we will see is
potentially the Kashmirisation of India: The story of Indian democracy
written in blood and betrayal.” In Srinagar, Ayyub and I visited the
neighborhood of Mehju Nagar, which many young men have left to join
the militants. The talk on the street was of a couple named Nazeer and
Fehmeeda, whose son, Momin, had been taken away in the crackdown.
Armed men from the Central Reserve Police Force came to the door late
one night. A masked civilian—evidently an informer—pointed at Momin.
The soldiers took him away. We found Fehmeeda at her house, kneeling
on the floor of an unadorned main room. The morning after the raid,
she told us, she went to a C.R.P.F. base, where her son was being
held. He told her that he’d been beaten. “I begged them to give him
back to me, but they wouldn’t consider it,” she said. When Fehmeeda
returned the following day, the police told her that Momin had been
transferred to the city’s central jail. But guards there said that
he’d been transferred to a prison in Uttar Pradesh, on the other side
of the country. “There’s no use crying, Auntie,” they told her.
Fehmeeda said that she was not told what charges had been filed
against Momin; Indian antiterrorism law allows the security forces to
detain any Kashmiri for any reason, or no reason, for up to two years.
In the three decades that Kashmir has been in open rebellion, tens of
thousands of men have disappeared, and many have not returned. “I must
accept that I will not see him again,” she said. At Fehmeeda’s house,
her friends had gathered around her, while men from the neighborhood
stood outside open windows. Ayyub sat facing her, their knees
touching. As Fehmeeda spoke, some of the men talked over her, and each
time Ayyub told them to shut up: “Don’t scold her, Uncle, she has
problems of her own.” Fehmeeda had begun stoically, but gradually she
lost her composure. Ayyub gripped her hands and said, “Your son will
return to you. God is very big.” Fehmeeda was not consoled. Momin, a
construction worker, had paid for the entire family’s needs, including
her medicine for a kidney ailment. Fehmeeda’s thoughts began to tumble
out in fragments: “I told him, don’t throw stones, somebody took him,
somebody was paid—” Then she started to sob and heave. Ayyub began to
cry, too. “I can’t take any more,” she said. “This is too much.” Ayyub
said goodbye to Fehmeeda, promising to return with medicine for her
kidneys. (A few weeks later, she did.) We were both gripped by a sense
of foreboding, that we were witnessing the start of something that
would last many years. “I feel this as a Muslim,” Ayyub said. “It’s
happening everywhere in India.”
We rode in silence for a while. I suggested that maybe it was time for
her to leave India—that Muslims didn’t have a future there. But Ayyub
was going through a notebook. “I’m not leaving,” she said. “I have to
stay. I’m going to write all this down and tell everyone what
02-DEC-2019 :: India’s Narendra Modi whose calling card was
economic growth in Gujarat notwithstanding his fondness for a good old
India’s Narendra Modi whose calling card was economic growth in
Gujarat notwithstanding his fondness for a good old fashioned pogrom
is clearly embarked on a ‘’West Bank’’’ level settlement project of
At a private event on Saturday in New York City, Sandeep Chakravorty,
India’s consul-general to the city, told Kashmiri Hindus and Indian
nationals that India will build settlements modelled after Israel for
the return of the Hindu population to Kashmir.
Three years ago, India was enjoying economic growth of about nine per
cent. Now the rate of expansion has slumped to just half that. The
coun- try’s gross domestic product grew by just 4.5 per cent in the
July to September quarter, the lowest level since early 2013.
GDP growth was at seven per cent in the same period last year, and
five per cent in the previous quarter.
Economic growth has now fallen for six consecutive quarters, a slide
that can be partially attributed to the recent weakness of India’s
The manufacturing sector shrank one per cent last quarter. The growth
rate for agriculture was more than cut in half.
The GDP figure is the weakest recorded under Prime Minister Narendra
Modi, who first swept to power five years ago promising to take
India’s economy to new heights and create millions of jobs every year.
19-AUG-2019 :: Essentially, Modi is seeking to flood the zone.
Law & Politics
The Point is that the Smart Phone is ubiquitous even in the furthest
corners of the World and we are all peering at a newsreel. Except, of
course, if you are in Kashmir which was described by Nehru as “the
snowy bosom of the Himalayas” and which is currently switched off
from the c21st. Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370,
which protected Kashmir’s demography by restricting residency to
Kashmiris alone and, under a sub-section known as Article 35A, forbade
the sale of property to non-Kashmiris. Essentially, Modi is seeking to
flood the zone. The Periphery is a Tinderbox in many parts of the
Xingkong-2: China's new missile threat? Gen. John Hyten: 'We don't have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us' @asiatimesonline
Law & Politics
The DF-17, China’s greatly feared hypersonic missile that was first
revealed at the National Day military parade on October 1, might not
be the only hypersonic aircraft program China possesses, a report by
the state broadcaster suggested.
Analysts stressed that China will not fall behind in related
technologies compared with the US and Russia, Global Times reported.
“From the test subjects that were made available to the public, the
Xingkong-2 (Starry Sky-2) might use a different flight pattern to the
DF-17,” said military expert Ma Jun on Military Time, a China Central
Television (CCTV) program on military affairs, on Saturday, without
According to Ma, the Xingkong-2 is still in the trial phase and more
tests are expected.
The Xingkong-2 Ma referred to is the first Chinese waverider
hypersonic vehicle unveiled by the country, dating a year earlier than
Designed by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics under the
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the Xingkong-2 was
successfully tested at a target range in Northwest China in August
2018, the academy announced then.
When the DF-17 missile made its debut at the National Day parade this
year, some thought it might be the final product of the Xingkong-2
One distinctive difference between the Xingkong-2 and the DF-17 is
that the former has a fairing and the latter does not, making the two
very different in appearance alone, analysts pointed out.
They noted that the time does not match either, as the Xingkong-2 was
only tested in 2018 and is not likely to enter Chinese military
service as early as 2019.
President Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian military had
tested its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle in order to “successfully
verify all of its technical parameters.”
The CCTV program introduced two genres of hypersonic aircraft: one is
a glide-boost, meaning the aircraft is propelled into the sky via a
rocket and glides in the air using shock waves generated by its own
hypersonic flight, while the other is air-breathing, meaning the
aircraft uses a scramjet engine to provide thrust.
The DF-17 is said to be a glide-boost vehicle, but it is not known
what type the Xingkong-2 might be, other than it could be different
from the DF-17, although it was also propelled by a rocket, according
According to The National Interest, the 16 DF-17s that featured in the
parade all were atop what appeared to be DF-16 medium-range ballistic
In actual use, the DF-16 would boost the DF-17 to Mach five or faster,
at which point the DF-17 would separate from the booster and angle
toward its target, maneuvering to correct its course or evade enemy
It’s unclear whether the DF-17 carries a warhead. “It is likely that
the DF-17 is configured as a conventional munition with its
destructive effect derived from the kinetic energy of the HGV,”
commented Andrew Tate, an expert with Jane’s.
With a range of potentially a thousand miles or more, the DF-17 could
threaten US forces and their allies across the Western Pacific.
Nozomu Yoshitomi, a retired Japanese army general who now is a
professor at Nihon University, said the DF-17 could render obsolete
“There is a possibility that if we do not acquire a more sophisticated
ballistic missile defense system, it will become impossible for both
the United States and Japan to respond,” Yoshitomi said.
“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a
weapon against us,” Gen. John Hyten, then the commander of US
Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March
Hypersonic weapons are proliferating. In late December 2018, Russian
President Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian military had
tested its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle in order to “successfully
verify all of its technical parameters,” state-owned TASS news agency
“On my instructions, the industrial enterprises and the defense
ministry have prepared for and carried out the final test of this
system,” Putin said, according to TASS. “The test was completely
successful: all technical parameters were verified.”
Meanwhile, the US is just beginning to acquire its first battery of
HGVs. The Pentagon in late 2018 awarded Dynetics and Lockheed Martin
contracts worth a combined US$700 million to build 20 “common”
hypersonic vehicles, fit eight with guidance systems and install them
on four launchers.
The US Army could form its first HGV-launching unit as early as 2023.
02-DEC-2019 :: A Global Economic Downturn
Law & Politics
In July of 64 A.D., a great fire ravaged Rome for six days, destroying
70 percent of the city and leaving half its population homeless.
According to a well-known expression, Rome’s Emperor at the time, the
decadent Nero, “fiddled while Rome burned.” In Shakespeare's Henry VI,
Henry proclaims:"Plataginet, I will; and like thee, Nero,Play on the
lute, beholding the towns burn."
The contemporary Indian Writer Jeet Thayil wrote in his buzzy Bombay
based book Narcopolis“The world is on fire; time is a bomb. Ten
thousand years are not enough When so much remains to be done” A
Polish Chef called “Luckasz” had the presence of mind to grab a
narwhal tusk and run after the 28-year-old British national Usman Khan
who had killed two people in a terror attack in central London.
President Macron's France experienced one of its worst losses of in
France’s military in more than three decades -- 13 dead soldiers
during an anti-terrorism mission in Mali -- Two Helicopters collided
in the dead of the Mali-an night. Salif Keita, one of Mali’s
best-loved musicians, released a video on his Facebook page in which
he tells President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to stop “subjecting yourself
to little Emmanuel Macron– he’s just a kid.” President Macron then
holds a Press Conference in which he pronounces that he is not
interested in Trump or in Europe’s strategic autonomy. He just thinks
that Nato has misidentified its enemy. He wants a Nato that works with
Russia and China and fights against political, militant Islam.
President Erdogan says "I am talking to France's President Emmanuel
Macron, and I will also say this at NATO. First of all, have your own
brain death checked. These statements are suitable only to people like
you who are in a state of brain death" If President Macron is
diagnosing Europe's preeminent Threat as Militant Islam then Fortress
Europe is already lost to the Geopolitical Grandmaster Vladimir and
his bestie Xi Jinping the Decimator of the Uighurs. The Fact of the
Matter is Militant Islam has been a Western Asset and a Spear for
Regime Change. It is a mind bending Macronian mis diagnosis.
Furthermore, The Global Economy is on its ''last leg'' to borrow
@Maryam_Rajavi's words about Iran who tweeted ‘’The whole issue is
that the Velayat-e Faqih regime is on its last leg'' Emerging markets
exports growth is now falling almost as much as they did in the Great
Recession and Tech Bust. Currencies from Latin America to Lebanon are
crashing. India's Narendra Modi whose calling card was economic growth
in Gujarat notwithstanding his fondness for a good old fashioned
pogrom is clearly embarked on a ''West Bank''' level settlement
project of Kashmir At a private event on Saturday in New York City,
Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s consul-general to the city, told Kashmiri
Hindus and Indian nationals that India will build settlements modelled
after Israel for the return of the Hindu population to Kashmir.Three
years ago, India was enjoying economic growth of about 9%. Now the
rate of expansion has slumped to just half that. The country's gross
domestic product grew by just 4.5% in the July to September quarter,
the lowest level since early 2013. GDP growth was at 7% in the same
period last year, and 5% in the previous quarter. Economic growth has
now fallen for six consecutive quarters, a slide that can be partially
attributed to the recent weakness of India's factories. The
manufacturing sector shrank 1% last quarter, The growth rate for
agriculture was more than cut in half. The GDP figure is the weakest
recorded under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who first swept to power
five years ago promising to take India's economy to new heights and
create millions of jobs every year.The Politics of ethnocratic
Nationalism are a Bust. There is no ''abracadabra'' and the Global
Economy feels like that moment when everyone was dancing in the
ballroom just before the iceberg hit.
Hong Kong Retail Sales Slump Again as Chaos Cripples Economy @business
Hong Kong’s retail sales suffered a record contraction in October, as
the city counts the cost of almost six months of political unrest.
Retail sales by value contracted by 24.3% in the month from a year
earlier, the fourth month of double-digit declines. By volume, sales
contracted by 26.2%, also a record, according to a government release.
Earlier Monday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan told lawmakers he
expected the first budget deficit since the early 2000s for the fiscal
year, and said that the ongoing turmoil has hurt economic growth by
some 2 percentage points this year.
The retail data indicate that the annual “Golden Week” holiday in
mainland China failed to translate into a tourist bump that could have
alleviated the domestic economic pain. Overall, visitors to Hong Kong
fell almost 44% in the month.
For retail businesses, that raises the stakes for coming months. Many
proprietors will have to make hard choices: whether to continue the
fight into next year or give up as leases come up for renewal and
employee bonuses must be paid.
Iris Pang, an economist with ING Bank NV in Hong Kong, sees a 70%
chance of a wave of store closures among retailers if spending
continues to be weak. The situation is especially dire for catering
companies, who typically enjoy brisk business at the holidays though
face the prospect of cancellations during periods of unrest.
“Make or break is the correct description for most catering businesses
in Hong Kong as some of them have continued in the business just
because their rental agreement has yet to be due,” Pang said.
“It is very likely that many catering businesses will close their
business if their revenue doesn’t make a comeback during this
holiday.”Hong Kong’s large retailers face a similar predicament.
Cosmetics retailer Sa Sa International Holdings Ltd. may close about
30 stores in the coming year depending on how the market shakes out
and “the results of discussions with the owners on rent reduction,”
the company said in an emailed statement.
Sa Sa shares have tumbled more than 40% this year.
Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd. will look to cut costs by seeking
bigger rent discounts, reducing advertising and reviewing store
networks in Hong Kong and Macau, the company said in a webcast after
reporting that first-half net income sank 21%.
The company has leases at more than 40 stores in Hong Kong and Macau
expiring in the next fiscal year.
Hong Kong has been one of the world’s largest centers for sales of
luxury watches, but it has taken a hammering this year. Swiss watch
exports to mainland China surpassed those to Hong Kong for the first
time in October.
“If the situation persists, by the end of the year many watch
companies will have to shut down business,” said Alain Lam, finance
director with Oriental Watch Holdings Ltd. “At the end of the year,
suppliers will ask for payment and employees will demand a one-month
bonus -- this may cut off the cash flow of some companies.”
Oriental Watch Holdings has managed to negotiate 8% to 10% discounts
in rent from some landlords and will attempt to arrange better deals
as leases come up, Lam said. But there’s no guarantee the company will
retain its significant presence in Hong Kong, as it has healthier
“If the numbers don’t work out, we will close stores,” he said. “We
are shifting our strategic focus to mainland China, aggressively.”
23-SEP-2019 :: Streaming Dreams Netflix
My Mind kept to an Article I read in 2012 ‘’Annals of Technology
Streaming Dreams’’ by John Seabrook January 16, 2012.
“This world of online video is the future, and for an artist you want
to be first in, to be a pioneer. With YouTube, I will have a very
small crew, and we are trying to keep focused on a single voice. There
aren’t any rules. There’s just the artist, the content, and the
“People went from broad to narrow,” he said, “and we think they will
continue to go that way—spend more and more time in the niches—
because now the distribution lands- cape allows for more narrowness’’.
And this brought me to Netflix. Netflix spearheaded a streaming
revolution that changed the way we watch TV and films. As cable TV
lost subscribers, Netflix gained them, putting it in a category with
Face- book, Amazon, and Google as one of the adored US tech stocks
that led a historic bull market [FT].
Netflix faces an onslaught of competition in the market it invented.
After years of false starts, Apple is planning to launch a streaming
service in November, as is Disney — with AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Com-
cast’s NBCUniversal to follow early next year.
Netflix has corrected brutally and lots of folks are bailing big time
especially after Netflix lost US subscribers in the last quarter.
Even after the loss of subscribers in the second quarter, Ben
Swinburne, head of media research at Morgan Stanley, says Netflix is
still on course for a record year of subscriber additions.
Optimists point to the group’s global reach. It is betting its future
on expansion outside the US, where it has already attracted 60m
subscribers. And this is an inflection point just like the one I am
signaling in the Oil markets.
Netflix is not a US business, it is a global business. The Majority of
Analysts are in the US and in my opinion, these same Analysts have an
international ‘’blind spot’’ Once Investors appreciate that the Story
is an international one and not a US one anymore, we will see the
price ramp to fresh all-time highs.
I, therefore, am putting out a ‘’conviction’’ Buy on Netflix at
Friday’s closing price of $270.75.
As South Sudan Seeks Funds for Peace, a Billion Dollar Spending Spree @OCCRP
As the sun sinks in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, a 29-year-old
policeman has just finished his shift. Out of view of a busy street,
he changes into civilian clothes before class at a nearby university.
Abraham Malual Akol Dhel, a father of two, says he’s hoping to retrain
into another career because the government hasn’t paid his salary in
months. The university, aware of his financial situation, enrolled him
in an environmental studies program without an upfront payment, he
But for now, he’s the only breadwinner for an extended family of 10
and he must wait for his wages. Sometimes his children go days without
“I’m suffering, but what can I do?” he asks, steadying his officer’s
cap. “Who will help me?”
South Sudan hasn’t paid its government employees, including doctors,
teachers and lawmakers, for several months. It says it simply can’t
The East African country has been ravaged by decades of conflict, and
most recently, a brutal six-year civil war that has claimed the lives
of at least 383,000 people.
The UN says more than 4 million – about one third of the population –
are displaced from their homes.
The conflict, and low oil prices, have battered the economy, which is
one of the world’s most oil-dependent.
South Sudan’s gross domestic product has plummeted from US$13 billion
at the start of the civil war to just $3 billion as of 2016.
Even a fragile peace deal, signed last year after several previous
agreements had failed, could be jeopardized by a lack of funding to
implement its ambitious provisions, including the reintegration of
opposition fighters into the armed forces, the government says.
Under the terms of the deal, the government and main opposition
parties are meant to form a transitional government — but its creation
was postponed for the second time just weeks ago.
When it is formed, that new government will have to service a massive
debt, much of which is secured against the country’s oil reserves.
Experts worry that ongoing peace-building efforts will be undermined
by corruption and financial mismanagement.
The agreement “takes a big tent approach, trying to bring everybody
in, but that requires money which isn’t there,” says one prominent
South Sudanese researcher, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of
reprisals from the government.
Yet Juba is spending well beyond its means. Earlier this year, the
country’s parliament recommended cutting 10 percent of its meager
peace fund to help pay for a new presidential jet and a $50,000
healthcare allowance for each lawmaker.
Significant funds are also flowing to the military, which the UN has
accused of a host of human rights abuses, including widespread rape,
arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances.
South Sudan’s dire financial situation appears to be, at least in
part, the result of efforts by the office of President Salva Kiir to
steer public finances and future oil revenue to three businessmen
connected to his office.
According to contracts, bank records, and government correspondence
obtained by OCCRP, the government awarded procurement contracts worth
$1.4 billion to supply food and vehicles to the government and the
national army between 2016 and 2018.
Just four companies received these contracts — all of which can be
traced to the three businessmen with close ties to the Office of the
🔗BRIBERY, KICKBACKS, AND PROCUREMENT FRAUD
Two of the businessmen involved in the contracts, Ashraf Seed Ahmed
Al-Cardinal and Kur Ajing Ater, were sanctioned by the United States
on Oct. 11 for their involvement in “bribery, kickbacks and
procurement fraud with senior government officials,” according to a
U.S. Treasury statement.
The contracts were intended to supply goods and services to the
national army and state security forces, among other agencies. They
$578 million to supply food to the government, awarded in 2018;
$539 million to supply food to the army, awarded in 2016;
$94 million to supply 1,000 vehicles to security forces, instructed by
the office of the president to be awarded in 2018;
Two contracts worth a combined $90 million to supply food to the
government, instructed by the office of the president to be awarded in
$81 million to supply vehicles, motor boats, and communications
equipment to security forces, awarded in 2018.
These amounts are so vast that it would have been impossible for the
government to pay them in full.
In his July 2018 budget speech, finance minister Salvatore Garang
Mabiordit estimated that only about $520 million dollars in revenue
was available to the government that year.
The contracts also appear to have violated several of South Sudan’s
procurement laws. One was awarded without a competitive bid,
undermining the government’s ability to secure the best possible
Several significantly exceeded budgeted spending limits. The value of
one of the smaller contracts exceeded South Sudan’s entire military
budget for goods and services for that year by a factor of ten.
Financing for others was secured through pre-sales of oil, a
widely-criticized practice that saddled the struggling country with
massive debts. These arrangements were also made without the required
approval and oversight.
In several cases, President Kiir personally intervened to facilitate
the awarding of these contracts to specific companies and businessmen,
even when oversight institutions or other senior officials raised
Mabiordit, the finance minister, has been candid about the reasons for
the government’s overspending. “We have weak procurement practices,”
he wrote in a prepared parliamentary speech.”Expenditures are not
But the president and his influential associates proved too powerful.
“How the core group around the presidency operates is murky and
subject to much intrigue,” says Alan Boswell, a senior analyst at the
International Crisis Group, a conflict prevention NGO.
“The number of winners within the elite has dwindled to a small group
of people – mostly from communities near the president’s home area –
who are receiving most of the benefits.”
Detailed requests for comment sent to the president’s office, the
defense ministry, and South Sudan’s Director General of Information,
Mustafa Biong Majak Koul, went unanswered.
However, in a recent public response to a UN monitoring group report,
the government acknowledged that it had made payments to Kur Ajing
Ater and his company, Lou for Trading and Investment Company Ltd., “to
meet contractual obligations.”
It is unknown how much of the $1.4 billion total was actually paid or
whether any of the deliveries were made in return.
A recent government report documents massive defense spending that
overlaps with the time period when several of the contracts were
awarded. Just nine months into the 2018/19 financial year, the budget
for the country’s armed forces had already been overspent by around
The report also identifies the Ministry of Defense, which negotiated
most of the contracts, as responsible for the vast majority of the
excess spending, attributing most of the unbudgeted expenses to the
procurement of goods and services.
There is also evidence that at least some of the contracts were
partially honored, netting substantial payments for the businessmen
connected to the president.
Central bank withdrawal slips obtained by OCCRP show that Kur Ajing
Ater, the owner of one of the companies that won at least two
contracts, received at least $23 million of public funds, mostly in
dollars withdrawn as cash, between June and October 2018.
Some of the slips note “vehicles” and “food for army” as reasons for
the withdrawals, indicating that these were probably related to the
In a separate document from November 2018, the finance ministry
authorized another transfer of $38 million to Ater, specifying it as a
payment for a contract to supply food to the army.
Ater received his contract to do so in 2016, with government payments
spread across three years. Ater did not respond to multiple requests
The subsequent contracts sought to procure still more food and
vehicles for South Sudan’s government. They can be traced to two
businessmen, Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal and Kiir Gai Thiep, both of
whom have close links to the president as well as commercial ties to
The Arms Embargo Race
The clearest violation of South Sudan’s procurement laws occurred in
mid-2018, when defense ministry officials tried to resurrect a
previously thwarted contract to supply vehicles and communications
equipment to the military as the prospect of an international arms
The contract, worth $81 million, included, among other items:
500 Toyota Land Cruisers;
10 motor boats;
650 short and long range radios;
15 video cameras with GPS.
Correspondence and other documents related to the contracts offer a
rare insight into South Sudan’s patronage politics and the influence
of the defense ministry over the country’s oversight bodies.
The ministry first awarded the $81 million contract to Ater’s Lou
Trading and Investment Co. in 2017, but the finance ministry refused
to approve it.
According to correspondence obtained by OCCRP, the ministry cited the
lack of a formal contract and the fact that the requested amount was
“much higher” than the approved budget.
Undeterred, the defense ministry spotted a second opportunity to get
the contract approved the following year — with the added pressure of
The spring of 2018 had seen heavy fighting between the national army
and opposition groups in South Sudan’s volatile Unity State, with both
sides committing widespread sexual violence and other “gross
violations and abuses of international human rights,” according to the
local UN mission.
The UN Security Council, which had previously imposed sanctions on
individual perpetrators, was divided on the best way to stop the
fighting. As an annual meeting to discuss the sanctions neared, the
U.S. delegation pressed for an arms embargo that would staunch the
flow of weapons into South Sudan. Ethiopia, which was hosting peace
talks, pushed for additional time to strike a peace deal.
In a May 30 vote, the council renewed existing sanctions, but stopped
short of imposing an arms embargo. Another vote was to be held in 45
days. If the country didn’t reach a “viable” agreement, another
opportunity to impose an embargo remained.
That prospect sent officials in Juba scrambling to revive the $81
million contract for vehicles and communications equipment.
Two days before the UN vote, the defense ministry invited Ater’s Lou
Trading to resubmit its previous bid, according to contracts and
correspondence obtained by OCCRP.
Ater responded by crossing out the contract’s old date of Feb. 2, 2017
and writing in May 29, 2018. It was the only bid.
The defense ministry established a negotiation committee on the same
day that Ater submitted his bid. The committee immediately announced
that it had settled on a price that exactly matched Ater’s offer.
As before, finance ministry officials raised several objections to the
deal, including the lack of adherence to procurement procedures.
Additionally, there was “no urgency to justify the single source
procedure,” Majok Dau Kout, the head of the ministry’s legal
administration, wrote in an internal legal opinion that June.
He also noted that the defense ministry’s designated budget couldn’t
cover the cost and that it had no plan to train soldiers to use the
He recommended the contract be denied.
In fact, South Sudan’s entire approved budget for military goods and
services that year was 1.4 billion SSP.
This single contract — worth around 12.5 billion SSP at the budgeted
exchange rate — would therefore exceed approved military spending by a
factor of ten, surpassing the government’s entire 9.3 billion SSP
budget for goods and services.
Nevertheless, for reasons that are not clear, on Aug. 24, the finance
ministry approved the contract. By then, Ater had already withdrawn
more than $10 million from the Central Bank.
OCCRP was not able to determine the extent to which the contract was
fulfilled. Any vehicles or equipment supplied to the army by Lou
Trading after July 13 would have been banned, as the UN Security
Council finally imposed an arms embargo on that date.
Food For The Army
President Kiir’s trademark cowboy hat shielded him from the scorching
sun as he watched a short military parade on Jan. 24, 2019.
Afterward, on the parade ground, he awarded medals to several senior
officers in recognition of their long-standing service.
One of the attendees, Lt. Gen. Gabriel Jok Riak, had recently been
promoted to the Army’s Chief of Staff, despite having been sanctioned
by the UN for “extending the conflict” and repeatedly violating
“When I went to the parade, I saw the health of the soldiers is really
too bad,” Kiir said in an address. “If the health of the soldier is
not good it is because you are not feeding them.”
Kiir then reportedly turned to the officers, their new medals gleaming
in the afternoon sun. “Starting from General Jok and going down to all
commanders of the units, I’m not happy with all of you, and I have to
say it,” he said.
“We do bring food, but when they get to your stores, you take it to the market.”
The president was accusing his most senior military officers of
stealing food intended for their soldiers and selling it for personal
In fact, he might as well have said the same about himself.
The most valuable contracts analyzed by OCCRP were related to food
supplies for the army and government. These contracts, too, violated
procurement laws and vastly exceeded budgeted amounts.
In several cases, even after oversight institutions raised concerns,
President Kiir personally intervened in favor of specific companies.
Some of these — which were awarded contracts totalling more than $1.1
billion — appear to be linked to the Office of the President.
“The legacy of food supply is deeply entrenched in corruption in South
Sudan,” says Stella Cooper, a senior analyst at C4ADS, an independent
Washington-based think tank.
Pounds, Dollars, and Exchange Rates
In October 2015, the government awarded a $539 million contract to Lou
Trading to supply more than 45,000 tons of basic food to the defense
But just two months later, the situation changed drastically. In
December, the government abandoned its fixed exchange rate of 3.16 SSP
to the dollar.
(The change was dramatic. For example, by the 2016/2017 financial
year, the government was using an exchange rate of 70 SSP to the
As the South Sudanese pound rapidly depreciated, and the cost of
dollars rose, so too did the cost of the food to be imported under the
contract — meaning that Lou Trading would lose money under the terms
of its recently-signed deal.
Given the country’s shortage of foreign currency, even contracts
denominated in dollars would likely have to be paid at least partially
in South Sudanese pounds. This made the new exchange rate an acute
On March 9, 2016, Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk gave a “green
light” to revise the agreement using new prices based on the current
That same month, in a letter to Juuk, the president’s office made
clear Kiir’s interest in ensuring Lou Trading’s contract would move
The letter included a document confirming that the company had been
awarded a contract to supply food to the army. “H.E. the President of
the Republic has directed that this document is for your necessary
action,” the letter read.
That November, the finance ministry approved the revised contract —
which now became even more colossally expensive.
An official procurement form filed by the defense ministry spreads the
cost of the revised contract over three years, with payments to be
made in installments of $180 million each year.
At the new exchange rate, each of these installments would have been
equivalent to about 12.6 billion SSP, making even one of the payments
considerably higher than the entire security sector’s budget for the
year. (The 2016/2017 budget was 11 billion SSP).
It is ultimately unclear whether any payments or deliveries relating
to this contract were made. But while Kur Ajing Ater’s cash
withdrawals and transfers from the central bank in 2018 provide
minimal information about their purpose, three of them specify that
they are payments for the supply of food to the South Sudanese army.
A legal document issued in October 2018 also describes an active
contract for Lou Trading to supply food to the South Sudanese army
during the 2018/19 financial year.
This suggests the original contract may have remained in effect, or
that Kur Ajing Ater and his company may have been awarded another. Lou
Trading did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a separate document dated Nov. 29, 2018, the finance ministry
authorized a payment of $38 million to Ater “to meet the cost of food
items supplied” to the army.
At the time, this amount was equivalent to 5.9 billion SSP – more than
twice the 2.2 billion the army and security services had budgeted for
goods and services.
According to the document, this sum was to be taken from an oil
prepayment the government had recently received from an international
Such arrangements allow the government to access quick cash by
receiving payments for oil deliveries that have not yet been made. But
they come at a significant cost.
Mortgaging the Future
South Sudan’s government is the most oil-dependent in the world. In
its budget for the current financial year, oil income accounts for
about 83 percent of estimated government revenues.
It also guarantees most of the government’s borrowing given its
limited access to international financial markets, experts say.
The country’s protracted conflict has made it difficult to boost oil
production, particularly in the oil-rich Unity State, where output has
only partially recovered after heavy fighting led to its suspension in
Selling future oil production is the government’s way of generating
revenue despite these obstacles. Under such arrangements, a small
number of commodity traders pay the government for oil it expects to
receive at a future date.
In return, since the payment is effectively a loan, the company
receives a discount on the oil and charges interest on the prepayment
“Commodity traders are not just trading. They are lending, and lending
on a vast scale,” says Natasha White, an oil researcher at Global
“They are increasingly assuming the role of banks in a largely
unregulated market, lending to governments which may have limited
access to more traditional financial institutions.”
But the practice has implications for transparency.
“These are by their very nature risky deals,” White says. “It’s
cyclical. The governments that make use of this form of borrowing do
so because they are strapped for cash … But as a consequence, large
amounts of cash are injected into economies where poor revenue
management makes them very difficult to monitor.”
Oil for Food
On Feb. 20, 2017, President Kiir hosted a meeting at his Juba
presidential compound, which still bore the scars of the fighting that
had erupted in the capital the previous summer.
Among the attendees was Mabiordit, the finance minister, and Thiep,
one of the businessmen linked to the president.
Thiep comes from Gogrial, a state in northern South Sudan that is also
the home of President Kiir. He owns several South Sudanese companies.
He also owns Kiir for Services and Construction Co. — which, during
the meeting, was promised a massive contract to supply food to the
military at the president’s personal behest.
A letter confirming the offer was sent by the president’s office two
days later. “His Excellency the President has reiterated this process
should be given due attention as soon as possible so that the looming
hunger in the country could be mitigated,” the letter reads.
According to the letter, the president issued “a verbal directive”
that the company would supply food to the government in exchange for
future deliveries of crude oil.
The contract for the deal, obtained by OCCRP, would ultimately be
worth $578 million, to be paid for by the allocation of fifteen
cargoes of oil.
The government was again seeking to finance a vast procurement deal,
awarded in contravention of normal procedures, by mortgaging future
By September 2017, Kiir For Services and Construction had accepted the
terms of the agreement and developed a memorandum of understanding
with the trade ministry.
On Oct. 5, however, the finance ministry intervened, noting that there
was not enough available oil to make such a commitment.
Instead, the ministry proposed a rolling allocation of one oil cargo
at a time – equivalent to 600,000 barrels – against the company’s food
A few days later, on Oct. 9, the Office of the President again wrote
to the finance minister. The letter repeated the president’s
directive: “I am writing on urgent directives of His Excellency the
President instructing your esteemed office to allocate crude oil
Cargos worth USD 578 million to Kiir Service Company [sic] as payment
guarantees for food imports in the country,” the letter reads.
Almost a year later, on Aug. 8, 2018, the oil allocation was made.
Later that same month, the contract was signed with finance ministry
While the finance ministry recorded significant unbudgeted spending on
military goods and contracts during the 2018/19 financial year, it has
not been possible to confirm whether payments or deliveries have been
made against this particular contract.
Far from moderating its spending to fund the peace process, the
government appears to have identified it as an opportunity for more.
Along with the peace agreement came extra funds to pay for its
implementation, including many aimed at reforming the security sector.
These funds were administered by a National Pre-Transitional Committee
(NPTC), tasked with preparing the parties for the formation of a new
On Nov. 5, 2018, just a few months after the peace agreement was
signed, the chairperson of the NPTC, who also works in the Office of
the President, asked the committee’s secretary to prepare a contract
to award Al Cardinal Investment Co. Ltd. a $47.7 million contract to
supply food to Juba and the Bahr el Gazal region.
A separate contract, ordered on the same day, awards his company an
additional $42.5 million to supply 50,000 tons of sorghum, also to
Juba and Bahr el Gazal.
The company is owned by Al-Cardinal, a Sudanese businessman recently
sanctioned by the U.S. government. He has been routinely implicated in
procurement controversies, including the supply of tractors, vehicles,
and grain to the government at inflated prices.
Also on Nov. 5, the same NPTC officials ordered the drafting of a
contract following an agreement with Green for Logistics, a company
based in the United Arab Emirates, to supply 1,000 vehicles to Juba
and Bahr el Gazal for $94.5 million.
UAE company ownership records show that Green for Logistics is
part-owned by Al-Cardinal. This same company had previously supplied
South Sudan’s army with amphibious military vehicles. Green for
Logistics did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
According to documents obtained by OCCRP, Al Cardinal has also enjoyed
a close business relationship with Thiep. The two businessmen and
procurement moguls have jointly owned at least three South Sudanese
companies, Al Cardinal Technologies Company Ltd., Junib Technologies
Company Ltd., and Southern Al Cardinal for Building and Construction
Multiple phone calls to Thiep and Kiir For Services and Construction
Co. went unanswered. OCCRP was unable to reach Al-Cardinal or his
company, Al Cardinal Investment.
Counting the Cost
The same secrecy and informality that have shielded the procurement
process from proper scrutiny in the past has made it almost impossible
to monitor current contracts, experts say.
“There is a staggering lack of transparency around government
contracts in South Sudan, including basic information about quantities
allocated and the companies receiving those contracts,” says Cooper of
the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.
The South Sudanese people have paid the greatest price for conflict
and economic mismanagement. The debt accumulated as a consequence of
unaccountable government spending detailed in these contracts will
trouble South Sudan for some time.
“The government has long been an extractive enterprise in South
Sudan,” says a prominent South Sudanese researcher, who asked to
remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from the government.
“A basic understanding of the relationship between the government and
the people is lacking. The role of government is not to sit on your
neck; it is to bring some kind of public good and service to the
Seated in a dimly lit room in a school in Juba, a 38-year-old teacher,
who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from his employer,
hangs his head.
In September he received his salary, which was meant for May. Yet he
is still owed months of back pay and the money he received isn’t
enough to feed his family.
“You feel depressed because when we got our independence the ambition
we had, to have a prosperous South Sudan we’d be living happily,” he
“But unfortunately, our leaders chose to fight among themselves and
now the whole [country] is paying.”
Russia's growing influence in Africa @asiatimesonline
While many have been obsessing about Russia’s alleged involvement in
American politics and its growing power in the Middle East, Moscow has
been quietly making significant inroads across Africa.
Acting as a counterbalance to China’s outsized influence and America’s
retreating presence on the continent, Russia has been forging new
military partnerships aided by private mercenaries to re-establish
itself as a major power in Africa.
Not since the Cold War has Moscow exerted so much influence from
Angola to Zanzibar.
As with Syria, Russia’s maneuvering would not have been possible had
the United States not created a vacuum for someone to fill. Starting
with former president Barack Obama and his “pivot to Asia” and
continuing under President Donald Trump’s refusal to “over-extend”
American power and influence across the world, the US has visibly
downgraded its economic, cultural and military positions on the
Many US embassies have been left with no ambassador or core staff. The
US ambassador to South Africa, one of the most important diplomatic
positions on the continent, only arrived in October, more than three
Trump barely conceals his contempt for Africa. After referring to some
African nations as “shithole countries,” the president struggled to
name even some of the major African states.
During a speech at the United Nations in 2017, Trump referred to the
non-existent African country of “Nambia” … twice.
With the US on the back foot, Russia has taken advantage of the chance
to challenge China’s power in Africa. Under the Belt and Road
Initiative (BRI), an ambitious project designed to reorient trade
flows from the West to China, Beijing has extended credit and
influence across the continent.
By financing public infrastructure projects in poorer nations, China
has brought several African countries into its economic orbit through
debt. This debt-trap diplomacy is compounded by China’s technological
By flooding the continent with cheap smartphones and Chinese
applications such as WeChat, Beijing has established itself as a
With little focus on technology and infrastructure, Russia extends its
influence primarily through military assistance, private mercenaries
and the media.
According to the Daily Maverick, a South African newspaper, Russia is
now the largest supplier of weapons to Africa, having signed military
agreements with 21 African states.
As well as the military deals and training partnerships with almost
half of Africa’s nations, there are the nuclear-energy partnerships
with Egypt, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia.
As South Africa struggles to kickstart its economy, it too could soon
fall into the Russian orbit.
Many of these military partnerships are strengthened by Russia’s
growing private mercenary industry. Similar to American contractors
operating in Iraq post-Saddam Hussein, Russian companies have built
businesses using veterans of the Chechen and Ukrainian conflicts.
The most successful and important of these outfits is the Wagner
Group, run by St Petersburg–based oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, also
known as “Putin’s chef” because of his ownership of restaurants and
The importance of the Wagner Group became clear in October after seven
of its contractors were gunned down in northern Mozambique, where they
were fighting militants linked to Islamic State (ISIS).
The incident revealed the extent to which Mozambique is using Russian
assistance to quell a growing counterinsurgency in the country.
Instead of turning to neighboring South Africa or even the African
Union for help, Mozambique is relying on Russian forces.
The same story is unfolding everywhere you look. Tanzania recently
signed a cooperation agreement in which Russian forces provide
military training in exchange for permission to develop and test
weapons in the country.
Other deals have been signed in Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Mali,
Madagascar and Eritrea. The result of all these deals is impressive
growth in Russia’s trade with Africa, from US$17.4 billion in 2017 to
$20.4 billion in 2018.
In October, President Vladimir Putin organized the first Russia-Africa
summit in Sochi to showcase the fruits of Moscow’s efforts in the
continent; 43 of Africa’s 55 heads of state attended.
Having woken up to the fact that Russia is embedding itself in one of
the fastest-developing parts of the world, the American press is now
covering all aspects of Moscow’s geopolitical scramble for Africa.
For example, in a rather breathless article, The New York Times
reported that Russia was deploying its “international propaganda arms”
in the form of the state-owned RT television channel and the Sputnik
news wire agency to various countries to spread the message that
“While Western Europe and the United States are continuing a
centuries-old tradition of exploiting Africa, Moscow is ready to
engage with Africa on mutually beneficial terms.”
The reality is, of course, very different. Like Beijing and Washington
before, Moscow sees Africa as a valuable asset in its new geopolitical
Russia has succeeded in penetrating the Middle East. Now its eyes are
on what is arguably more fertile ground for growth and natural
But this shift is happening less as a result of Russian statecraft and
more because of America’s reticence in maintaining its position as a
The stakes in the game of geopolitics are high. Africa was left
hanging by its former colonizers, and a new power has stepped in to
fill the void.
28-OCT-2019 :: From Russia with Love
But, he said, Russia was going to be a different kind of superpower,
one that does not engage in “pressure, in- timidation and blackmail”
to “exploit” sovereign African governments.
“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally
with someone against someone else, and we strongly oppose any
geopolitical games involving Africa.”
Russia is now Africa’s leading supplier of arms. According to the
Swedish think tank SIPRI, between 2012 and 2016 Russia had become the
largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35 percent of arms
exports to the region, way ahead of China (17 per cent), the United
States (9.6 per cent), and France (6.9 per cent).
Exports of Russian-made weapons and military hardware to Africa amount
currently to $4.6 billion annually, with a contract portfolio worth
over $50 billion. The Russian arms trade with Africa doubled compared
Andrew Korybko writes Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of
providing its partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other
words, the cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to
thwart colour revolutions and resolve unconventional Wars
(collectively referred to as Hybrid War).
To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have reportedly
devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and ongoing color
revolutions, just like its private military contractors (PMCs) have
supposedly done the same when it comes to ending insurgencies.
Once we look through the Optics of two nuclear-capable supersonic
bombers belonging to the Russian Air Force landing in Pretoria for the
aircraft’s first-ever landing on the African continent and, according
to an embassy official, only the second country in which it has made a
public appearance outside of Russia.
The first was Venezuela. Then we need to see this move for what it is.
It is meaningful.
Where Xi is fed up and speaks about the ‘’The End of Vanity’’ because
the ROI [outside commodities and telecoms for China] is negative,
Putin has created a hybrid model with an exponential ROI. I would
imagine he is on speed dial.
Borrowing makes sense if it is done wisely, if it finances projects that can help boost productivity and living standards - such as roads, schools, and hospitals. @IMFNews @KGeorgieva
I am honored to speak before such a distinguished audience. And I want
to thank the people of Senegal for welcoming all of us in the spirit
By improving policies and by strengthening institutions, countries in
sub-Saharan Africa have made fundamental progress.
Over the past two decades, extreme poverty levels have declined by one
third; life expectancy has increased by a fifth, and real per capita
income has grown by about 50 percent on average.[ii]
Right now, sub-Saharan Africa is only half-way to meeting the SDGs. In
order to get there, all stakeholders will need to raise their game.
Of course, there are many ways to mobilize financing—and debt is one
of them. Borrowing makes sense if it is done wisely, if it finances
projects that can help boost productivity and living standards—such as
roads, schools, and hospitals.
But room for borrowing has become more limited in this region. Why?
Because public debt levels increased rapidly between 2011 and
2016—they have since stabilized at around 55 percent of GDP on
A major driver of this buildup is commercial borrowing—both domestic
and foreign—which currently makes up two-thirds of the region’s public
It means that countries rely more heavily on bond investors, domestic
commercial banks, and other non-traditional lenders.
This shift to non-concessional financing means more spending on debt
service, and less on social public investment.
It is therefore clear to all of us that countries will not be able to
“borrow their way” to the SDGs—which brings me to the balanced
One is to generate higher public revenue. This is an area where
sub-Saharan Africa lags other regions. We estimate that revenue
collection is 3-5 percentage points of GDP below revenue
This is a major opportunity for all countries. A good example is
Uganda, where the IMF has supported efforts to streamline the
value-added tax and harmonize administrative procedures.
These reforms helped raise the revenue-to-GDP ratio from 11 percent in
2012 to almost 15 percent last year.
The second tactic is to make investment spending more efficient. The
reality is that only about 60 percent of the region’s infrastructure
spending translates into public capital stock.[vii] For every dollar
spent, you are getting only about 60 cents worth of assets.
The third tactic is to strengthen public debt management. A key
objective is to boost debt transparency by providing accurate,
comprehensive, and timely data. This in turn can help build trust with
investors, support domestic capital markets, and reduce debt service
14-OCT-2019 :: Ozymandias
this turns Ozymandias
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands
stretch far away
Ethiopia to Keep Control of Its Banks as Other Sectors Open Up @bpolitics
Ethiopia is shaking up its economy by opening many industries to
foreign investors. Just don’t expect the government to loosen its grip
on banks yet.
“Banking, insurance, micro-credit and micro-saving services” will be
reserved only for domestic investors, according to draft regulations
released by the Ethiopian Investment Authority. International
aviation, where state-controlled Ethiopian Airlines dominates, power,
postal services and weaponry will be done by, or in partnership, with
the government, the document shows.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is seeking to privatize state-owned
companies in a bid to reform the economy of Africa’s second-most
His administration still intends on keeping un-starred hotels, gaming
and trading, except for high-capital items like petroleum imports, for
Several foreign banks have representative offices in the Horn of
Africa country, including Kenya’s Equity Group Holdings Plc.
Lease companies, such as a unit of New York-based Africa Asset Finance
Co., which pledged to bring in equipment worth $600 million after
being licensed in August, can also operate there.
Telecommunication, where international carriers including Orange SA,
MTN Group Ltd. and Vodacom Group Ltd. have expressed interest to
invest in the market of 108 million people, will be open to foreign
The state has already announced plans to partly liberalize state-owned
monopoly Ethiopia Telecommunications Corp. and license two other
operators next year.
Abiy’s administration wants foreigners to invest in capital-intensive
projects while leaving small and some strategic businesses to
nationals, according to the state’s investments-promotion agency.
The drafts propose that external ownership of businesses like domestic
air and certain transport and logistics services be capped at 75%,
with the rest held by domestic partners.
Enterprises like media and so-called grade-two construction services
should take only as much as 49% foreign ownership.
14-OCT-2019 :: @PMEthiopia @EliudKipchoge @WorldBank #AfricasPulse Ecclesiastes and Ozymandias
In July 2018, I wrote: ‘’These 90 or so days represent the most
consequential arrival of an African politician on the African stage
since Mandela walked out of prison blinking in the sunlight and
constructed his ‘’rainbow nation’’’’
And whilst he faces a fiendishly complicated task fending off the
centripetal forces which are tearing Ethiopia apart, the Prime
Minister who has a singular self-belief in his destiny is a Virilian
figure and a c21st African Leader which is a scarce commodity.
“Whoever controls the territory possesses it. Possession of terri-
tory is not primarily about laws and contracts, but first and foremost
a matter of movement and circulation.”
One-month at-the-money options volatility for the rand versus the dollar has plunged to the lowest since November 2014 and its 373 basis points drop since the beginning of last month @business @markets
But the spread of six-month implied volatility over the one-month
measure widened by almost three percentage points in the same period,
and is now the most in two years, indicating that investors are adding
protection against currency moves further out along the curve.
The next six months are crucial for South Africa’s economy, with the
government fighting crises at state-owned companies including the
national airline and power producer. The budget in February will be
watched for signs of further fiscal slippage as Moody’s Investors
Service prepares to review the country’s credit rating in March.
All the while, investors will have to weigh monetary policy in the
U.S. and Europe, as well as the state of trade negotiations between
the world’s two biggest economies and how that will affect global
growth. Those risk factors could move the rand either way.
“We expect a very strong move once the market has made up its mind
whether the global economy will recover or not,” said Neels Heyneke, a
strategist at Nedbank Group Ltd. in Johannesburg. He suggests now is
the time to hedge against price swings.
“The direction is always important, but with volatilities this low, we
think it is not worth the risk to put all your eggs in one basket, as
hedging is cheap.”
The rand gained 0.1% to 14.5324 per dollar by 6:54 a.m. in
Johannesburg, paring its decline this quarter to 4.6%.
Commercial International Bank SAE, Egypt's largest private lender, wants to buy Kenya's Mayfair Bank Ltd @business.
CIB has applied for a portion of Mayfair Bank Ltd., according to the
Competition Authority of Kenya. It follows four other banking tie-ups
in the nation this year.
“The Authority is currently analyzing the application,” the antitrust
agency said in an emailed response to questions.
Mayfair is Kenya’s fourth-smallest lender with a market size index of
0.16%, according to central bank data.
It was licensed in June 2017 and doubled its half-year loss in the six
months to June 2019 to 161.4 million shillings ($1.57 million).
If approved, CIB will become the first Egyptian bank to set up shop in Kenya.
This year, NIC Group Plc merged with Commercial Bank of Africa Ltd.,
while KCB Group Ltd.’s bought National Bank of Kenya Ltd. Equity Group
Holdings Plc agreed to give Atlas Mara Ltd. some shareholding in
exchange of four African operations, while Access Bank Plc, Nigeria’s
biggest lender, also received the greenlight last month to acquire
Transnational Bank Ltd.