On Thursday, two months after its journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained in Myanmar, Reuters has published material from the story they were working on — the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingyas in Rakhine’s Inn Dinn village. A month after the journalists were arrested under the Official Secrets Act, the authorities released a statement admitting that security forces had played a role in the killing of “terrorists” in the village. That marked a rare departure from Yangon’s policy of vigorous denial of charges of systematic victimisation or genocide. Two months of global pressure has had no effect on the fate of the journalists, who face sentences of up to 14 years and have been denied bail. But their predicament, read as additional evidence of the perversity of Yangon, has refocused the international community’s concerns on the Rohingya crisis. And in the face of mounting evidence of state excesses — Reuters has released pictures of the executions at Inn Dinn — Yangon’s denials are looking increasingly absurd.
Here at home, since Parliament TV channels have been thrust into the realm of entertainment, they need better cameramen. The present crews appear to be refugees from the old-school Doordarshan talk shows, whose job was to train a camera on every speaker and just let them run. They would not move a muscle even if a rhino burst into the studio. And so, for want of a little camera-work, we saw only one side of a superb drama in the House. We saw the Prime Minister crack a joke about epic demonesses, and Venkaiah Naidu in the chair recommending medical intervention to Renuka Chowdhury and threatening action against “loose talk and unruly behaviour”. But we did not see Chowdhury belly-laughing at the wild claim that LK Advani had dreamed up Aadhaar, which had started it all. The cameras simply would not turn to the Opposition benches.
We must presume that the Chair censured both sides of the House, though. Since Chowdhury did not speak at all — laughter was her preferred mode of expression — the charge of “loose talk” couldn’t possibly apply to her. The Chair may be even-handed but the world is not. There was global outrage when Indra Nooyi threatened to fry up Doritos for women, which don’t embarrass them by going ‘crunch’. And days later, apart from a tiny minority, everyone thought it was good, clean fun to find female laughter demonic. Two completely different responses to women being noisy in public.
The campaign for 2019 has kicked off in Parliament, with fact-mukt speeches. The antidote, as Rajdeep Sardesai suggests, would be the prime minister’s “Jan-Man-Dhan ki Baat” in Parliament, to end all speculation on accusations of fiscal imprudence. Meanwhile, out of nowhere, Vinay Katiyar suggests that since Partition was based on religion, Muslims have no place in India and should slope off to Pakistan or Bangladesh. Now that the “go to Pakistan” attack has lost its edge by overuse — and may be outlawed if Asaduddin Owaisi’s suggestion is taken seriously — will we find people who don’t agree with the government being urged to “go to Bangladesh”? The Bangladeshis are not going to like this. They already have a population problem, and if global warming raises sea levels, they won’t have a leg to stand on.
Speaking of expulsions, it’s surprising how little attention the Indian press has paid to the crisis of African asylum-seekers being deported by Tel Aviv. The issue of what Benjamin Netanyahu’s government calls “infiltrators” has deeply divided Israel and is making headlines internationally. Al Jazeera reports a shocking story of a Sudanese asylum-seeker who accepted a deal for cash in hand and a one-way ticket to Uganda, but found his plane landing in Khartoum.
While the independent Indian media no longer expect to be able to interview the prime minister (friendly channels do not count as independent), Dubai’s Xpress, the sister paper to Gulf News, has had no trouble bagging an email interview with Narendra Modi. Some of the questions are bemusing, though: “Do you have a special butler who travels with you on your trips out of India? … What do you like for breakfast, lunch and dinner?” But a few others are revealing. In response to a technology question, the PM reveals that he is “personally active” on “Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube”, apart from his own app. Meanwhile, Vice News picked up a less inspiring story that swept Indian media some months ago. Its headline: ‘Modi might be the only world leader whose Twitter use is more problematic than Trump’s. Coincidence, just coincidence.