August 15, 2020
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Rice, Spice & Everything Nice

The august league of Darjeeling tea, Hyderabadi haleem and basmati rice is soon set to get a rather pedestrian entrant—Indori poha. The industrious sweetmeat sellers of Indore are trying to garner the coveted geographical indication (GI) tag for four gastronomical delights from the city­—poha, shikanji, laung sev and khatta-meetha namkeen. “We have traced Indori poha to 1949 and the others to the early 1930s,” gushes Anurag Pradhan, the sec­retary of the association of snack manufacturers. He has even marshalled photographic evidence of Jawaharlal Nehru and Amitabh Bachchan relishing the delicacies. We wish Pradhan and his peers the best of luck in their endeavours. Hopefully their bid won’t fall flat like Madhya Pradesh’s quest to get a basmati GI tag for its rice in 2018.

House Thy Neighbour

Four years after the ruthlessly persecuted Rohingya were forced to leave Myanmar’s Rakhine province, there are efforts to resettle them in their homeland. India, China, Japan and ASEAN countries are collaborating with the Myanmar government for the rehabilitation efforts. India has dispatched over 250 pre-fabricated houses to Rakhine and reportedly pressed upon Myanmar to send its foreign secretary to the overcrowded Rohingya relief camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar. There are 40,000 Rohingya refugees in India; 16 have been sent back to Myanmar in the past two years. India also plans to build schools, bridges and hospitals in Rakhine and has committed $25 million for these projects.

Puppet Or Governor? (38 Marks)

It was a question students taking the Bihar Public Service Commission exam were not anticipating: “Critically examine the role of governor in state politics in India, particularly in Bihar. Is he a mere puppet?” As it led to an uproar, the controller of examination debarred the examiner from setting papers in the future. But it’s hard not to sympathise with the examiner. Bihar governors have often ignited controversies—in 2000, B.C. Pandey invited the NDA to form the government even though the RJD was the single-largest party; in 2005, the SC criticised Buta Singh for recommending dissolution of the assembly.

Media Mayhem

Scribes across the world have been riding choppy waves. But for their Pakistani counterparts, things just got worse. Ranked 142 on the press freedom index in 2019, Pakistani media now has to contend with censorship by the military and a decline in government advertising budgets. Consequently, hundreds of journalists lost their jobs over the past few months. “Authorities control even minute details of media content these days and dictate who will be the face of print and electronic media,” said Afzal Butt, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. The union has fought back by taking out rallies and launching a nationwide protest against censorship.

Hidden Hands Wreak Havoc

A video released by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter has cost Pakistani judge Arshad Malik his job. Malik, who had indicted Sharif in a corruption case, claims in the video that “certain elements” and “hidden hands” had put tremendous pressure on him to deliver the verdict. Following the clip’s release, the Islamabad High Court asked the law minister to relieve the anti-corruption court judge from his post. Malik has decried the video as fake and is seeking an “impartial probe into the matter”.

Situation Vacant In Congress

An “exasperating farrago” of a race is being played out in the Lok Sabha; the trophy is the Congress president’s post—a vacancy that has elicited interest even of a Pune techie, not to mention high-profile MPs Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Shashi Tharoor. The sprint, though, is confined to Chowdhury, the Congress’s Lok Sabha leader, and Tharoor, who had publicly pitched his candidature for the leadership role when the opportunity arose (Rahul Gandhi quit). The contest is so fierce that Chowdhury has been heard telling journalists his views should be taken as the party line, while Tharoor’s interventions in the House are “his personal opinion”.

Laloo’s Godly Son

Tej Pratap Yadav strikes again—this time as god Shiva. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s elder son “dressed” up as the mendicant god (long hair, white dhoti, a faux tiger skin wrapped around his waist, wood ash on his torso, hands, forehead and chest, a rudraksha rosary around his neck) went to a temple in Patna with his bodyguards and offered prayers. This look is a repeat of sorts, as a poster in May 2018 outside Laloo’s home showed Tej Pratap and ex-wife Aishwarya as Shiva and Parvati. A year before, he turned up as Krishna.

Beware The Croc

Iran is not only facing off with the US; it is also eng­aged in a battle within—between reformist President Hassan Rouhani and the hardline Revolutionary Guards.

Tensions in the Persian Gulf over the past months following America’s crippling sanctions on Iran, with the possibility of an impending war, have grabbed the world’s focus. But people have started taking note of the fissures that have started to surface in the Iranian establishment following a fight between Rouhani’s supporters and the Revolutionary Guards. Much of the tension between rivals has begun to play out through a recently launched 30-part TV serial, Gando.

”The dramatic start to Gando, this year’s flagship drama series, is reminiscent of James Bond and other Hollywood blockbusters that are hugely popular in the Islamic Republic,” says The Financial Times Weekend.  But the show, inspired in part by the arrest and detention of Iranian-American journalist Jason Razian for espionage, has attracted attention for reasons other than its dramatic set pieces filmed in Iran, Turkey and China.

Iran’s TV serial Gando, financed by the Revolutionary Guards, eviscerates the moderate government, the foreign ministry and the elite.

Financed by a little-known cultural institute linked to the Guards and broadcast on hardline-backed television, the TV drama highlights the rivalry between the elite unit and the centrist government of Rouhani, with the latter portrayed as bureaucratic and corrupt.

“The Gando series badly treats a foreign ministry, which is currently at the forefront of the war against the enemy, as it does the intelligence ministry,” Mahmoud Vaezi, the president’s chief of staff, has said. Foreign minister Javad Zarif, Iran’s chief negotiator during the nuclear deal, said his ministry did not have enough funds for self-promotion. This was seen as a clear reference to the Guards corps’ extensive buisiness interest that enabled it to fund a production with some of Iran’s best actors.

“The series is clearly aimed at undermining the government of Rouhani,” says a reform-minded analyst.

But Javad Ashraf, Gando’s director, responded to the controversy by telling local media that “the good thing was that...the anti-Gando people also watched Gando.” The producer of the series, Mojtaba Amini, also dismissed concerns voiced by one of the president’s advisers about how the series was funded.

The plot lines in Gando, named after an Iranian crocodile that can distinguish between friend and foe, certainly offers a damning, even though fictional, portrayal of parts of the Iranian elite.

Illustrations by Saahil; Text curated by Puneet Nicholas Yadav and Alka Gupta

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