July 28, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

In this week's The Subcontinental Menu, read about the 'wall of kindness' along the Jhelum in Kashmir and Kerala police's social media team's fan following, among many other interesting snippets.

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Saahil
The Subcontinental Menu

Conceptual Cowgenics

Misandry has reared its bovine head in Uttar Pradesh. While few dispute the desirability of cows, their mercurial menfolk are quite another matter. Stray bulls, hooligans to a man, are known for the damage they inflict on crops, and the road accidents they cause. What’s to be done? Prevention is better than a cure, the state government has determined. Following a similar announcement in Punjab a while ago, the UP government has approved a ‘sex sorted semen’ scheme, which will reportedly ensure that cows will deliver female calves 90 to 95 per cent of the time. This scheme was first tested out in a pilot project in three districts, which resulted in 522 female calves out of 581, and now it’s being extended to the whole state. For a price—cattle breeders will have to pay Rs 300 per conception.

Colonial Chickens

Sadly, that doesn’t refer to a wonderfully named tribute act. Faced with a chicken-and-egg problem of his own making, Pakistan premier Imran Khan has decried the ‘colonised minds’ of his critics. At a ceremony to mark his government’s completion of 100 days in office, he had announced an initiative to provide eggs and chickens to underprivileged rural women to combat poverty and encourage them to start businesses. Opposition parties lambasted it as “serious comedy” and “another Google-it solution”. But Imran, no chicken himself (and no spring chicken, either) has struck back with a tweet: “For the colonised minds when desis talk about chickens combating poverty they get mocked, but when walaitis (foreigners like Bill Gates) talk about desi chicken and poverty it’s brilliance.”

Woollies On Wall

Walls symbolise many things, but rarely warmth and kindness...literal, bodily warmth in this case. As temperatures in Kashmir plunge below zero, people in Srinagar are donating winter clothing to those in need, but by hanging jerseys, pullovers, jackets etc on a wall along a boulevard on the Jhelum, labelled ‘wall of kindness’. This serves as an intermediate space where people can discreetly pick up clothes without the embarrassment of asking. Activists from ‘Who is Hussain’ is trying to popularise the practice, following the lead of other countries. One act­­ivist told a daily, “We have enough stock as donors are pouring in all day. Our next plan is to set up walls in areas where many needy people reside.”

The Meme Patrol

Equipped with a sharp wit and deploying top-notch memery, the Kerala police’s social media team has acquired a fan base of more than nine lakh followers in just over six months for the force’s official Facebook page. Encouraged by this success, they’re now focusing their efforts on the traffic police’s page, which has existed since 2014, but has been the main page’s poorer cousin, with only around 60,000 followers when the team took charge earlier this year. That number had more than doubled to 1.3 lakh by the end of November—and then, an adroitly self-deprecating meme in which the Kerala police page consoles a glum traffic police page over its meagre following, assuring it that people will start to realise its value, resulted in the figure shooting up to 1.6 lakh over a weekend, and 1.7 lakh now. Traffic, evidently, rules.

Godwin’s Colombo Holiday

An inviolate theorem of the internet, Godwin’s Law, propounded by American lawyer Mike Godwin in 1990, states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” While he was speaking to the press, Sri Lanka’s ousted PM Ranil Wickremesinghe became its latest invoker when he, referring to President Maithripala Sirisena, said he wasn’t afraid of snap elections, but, “don’t be like Hitler and other dictators who used referenda.” Adolf Hitler held a refe­rendum in 1934, with voter fraud and intimidation, to merge his office of chancellor with that of president.

Holy Oli! A Pew in Kathmandu

The Unification Church is having a disunifying effect in Nepal. PM K.P. Oli is under fire for accepting a ‘good governance award’ at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Summit 2018 from the South Korea-based Christian sect’s leader, Hak Ja Han ‘Mother’ Moon, with Hindu groups protesting and several former prime ministers refusing to attend. The church, founded by Moon’s late husband Sun Myung Moon in 1954, has a unique dualistic theology. The award comes with a $1,00,000 cheque that Oli said he would use for the welfare of Nepal’s children.

Rampaging Elephant Brings Birds

Cyclone Gaja has been a boon for birdwatchers. Its attendant rains have watered Pulicat lake on the Tamil Nadu-Andhra border—the country’s second-largest brackish water lagoon—attracting migratory birds who usually arrive in September, but had been giving it a miss until last month due to a long dry spell. But in total, only around 1,500 birds, including flamingos, storks and pelicans, have come this year, compared to over 8,000 avian visitors last year. Lack of rain is the culprit: the district rec­ei­ved 429.8 mm of rainfall this year, 47 per cent less than the average. The last time the birds arrived in impress­ive numbers was in 2016, when Cyclone Var­­dah ravaged the coast.

Confetti In Pindi

The issue of civil-military relations have bothered successive dispensations in Pakistan for decades. The fact that most elected governments had not been able to complete its full term, dismissed more often than not by the military, has kept it relevant. Under Imran Khan the focus on this issue seems to have got even sharper.

The new PM had been taking every opportunity to inform who cares to listen how the civilian leadership and the military are on the same page on most key issues. But sceptics question if this was desired in a functioning democracy.

“Security briefings for a newly elected PM may not be unp­recedented, but the excitement over Imran Khan’s intensive parleys at GHQ and the ISI headquarters certainly are,” obs­erves political commentator Zahid Hussain in Dawn. “Our hyper-animated information minister described how proud the prime minister and cabinet ministers were at the honour of meeting ‘the command of the world’s best army’,” adds Hussain.

The grand reception of Imran and his cabinet at GHQ shows generals like working with a government without past baggage, says Zahid Hussain.

According to Hussain, while it is critical for the civilian incumbent to build good relations with all stakeholders, such hyperbole over an event that should have been treated as routine, accentuates the existing imbalance between the two institutions of state.

He says that it is evident that the generals feel much more comfortable working with the new civilian dispensation that does not come with past baggage. The grand reception for the PM’s team at GHQ proves the point.

It appears obvious that a weak civilian dispensation could give greater space to the other two institutions of state, thus widening the imbalance in the power structure. That could lead to conflict among these institutions, hampering the democratic process, as we have witnessed in the past.

But many other commentators also agree that, undo­ubtedly, civil-military relations have remained a major source of political and economic instability, hampering the democratic process in Pakistan. There is no denying that civilian supremacy is essential to a democratic dispensation. Indeed, there is a need to change the balance of power in favour of the elected dispensation.

But Hussain also makes it clear that for civilian supremacy, it is essential the government not only improve governance but also strengthen civilian and democratic institutions.

Referring to some steps taken in that direction by the government, he says, “They are certainly important steps, but the real issue is of the prime minister’s ability to implement those plans from a weak political base.”

Illustrations by Saahil

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