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In the line of fire

Khashoggi’s killing threatens to upset the global order, in India the top news still concerns gender

Jamal Khashoggi, 60, who has not been seen since entering Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, is feared to have been killed inside the mission. Jamal Khashoggi, 60, who has not been seen since entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, is feared to have been killed inside the mission.

IT is reported that the US president has grasped the self-evident fact that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is dead. This is a small step towards acknowledging that Donald Trump’s entire Middle East policy, in which Saudi Arabia is a linchpin, needs urgent maintenance. Perhaps never before has the killing of one journalist threatened to upset the global order. Earlier this year, the execution-style killing of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak was followed by massive protests in his native Slovakia, which first brought down ministers and then got the scalp of Robert Fico, prime minister for three terms. But it took protests on a scale not seen since the dismantling of the Soviet Bloc to force that, and the effects did not extend beyond national borders.

The fallout of Khashoggi’s killing will travel much wider, and could end the honeymoon period of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has been lionised by the press a little too long. Jamal Khashoggi is, incidentally, the second cousin of Adnan Khashoggi, who died in London last month aged 82. The world remembers him as Princess Diana’s lover, but Indians may prefer to remember him for his arms dealing, his affair with the photojournalist and Miss India Pamela Bordes and his proximity to the godman Chandraswami, who got him access to two prime ministers, Chandra Shekhar and Rajiv Gandhi. When he visited India in 1991, he was met at the airport by Shekhar’s secretary and Dr JK Jain of the BJP — and of Jain TV. But that’s by the way: Jamal Kashoggi’s life seems to have been the polar opposite of his cousin’s.

The Washington Post has just published Khashoggi’s last column, filed by his translator to global opinions editor Karen Attiah the day after he disappeared. It is a plea for the freedom of expression, and especially for the freedom of the press in the kingdom. It begins with a reference to the 2018 Freedom in the World report, which declares Tunisia to be the only free Arab country. It goes on to mention the Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, who is behind bars for five years for being too outspoken, and describes how the entire print run of the al-Masry al Youm newspaper was seized by the government. It’s a grim picture.

In India, two weeks down, the top news still concerns gender. The Kerala model is under unprecedented stress following the vigilantism seen at Sabarimala. The state has not seen such unrest over a question of faith for ages, including the intimidation of the press. The bigger story concerns the government’s responsibility to enforce a Supreme Court order. Unable to reach Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who holds the home portfolio, anchors in Delhi interrogated people who are really not responsible, like Agriculture Minister Sunil Kumar. But at some point, this question has to be asked, both of the state government and the Centre. Take a parallel from the other big democracy, where racism sought support from religion and tradition. When schools were desegregated in the US and a little black girl named Ruby Bridges needed to go to a previously whites-only school in New Orleans and return home in one piece, President Dwight D Eisenhower sent federal marshals to escort her. And federal troops in Little Rock were told to prevent a breach of the peace by force of arms. Why did the Government of India or the Government of Kerala not show visible evidence of its commitment to the Supreme Court order?

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In Delhi, all the attention has been on MJ Akbar, who has had to leave the government to fight a court battle with his accusers. That has great symbolic value, but a long, messy and possibly inconclusive court battle lies ahead. A novel offer to crowdfund the case against him is out there, but has not got much coverage. But in case Rafale is forgotten in the hubbub over women’s rights, Anil Ambani has launched a Rs 10,000 crore SLAPP suit against NDTV, the very day that the Enforcement Directorate issued a fresh notice against it.
This week a year ago, the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China crystallised Xi Jinping’s “thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era”, and wrote it into the party’s constitution. People’s Daily has commemorated the event this year with a flowchart with 30 branches, displaying the flow of the thought in copious detail. It’s available on the paper’s app, the vehicle of choice for propaganda in a country in the throes of a smartphone boom. Jinping thought is set to be the official line for years to come, is taught at university, and the flowchart will be a ready reckoner for millions in China. To readers elsewhere, though, it looks like a tree of life going back to the Cambrian age. Or the neural network of an extremely sophisticated alien life form.

First published on: 20-10-2018 at 01:33:37 am
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