State-sponsored disinformation as a weapon

A court hearing earlier this month revealed that the evidence used by the police to file a case against Umar Khalid in connection with the February 2020 Delhi violence came from edited clips of a speech he gave that were played on TV news channels, who in turn, had pulled those bits from a snippet put out on social media by the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell.

Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar examines what this case tells us about the nature of disinformation in India, and how it is dangerous for democracy.

“In the Indian context, the sheer scale of government intrusions and control over the media emboldens it to strategically deploy misleading information — what is often called disinformation — to develop a national narrative supportive of the ruling BJP and Hindu nationalist ideology, as well as to harass government critic and the Muslim community in India.”

Read the piece here.

The Owaisi-Hindutva paradox

Asaduddin Owaisi is frequently accused of being the sort of firebrand Muslim political leader who reinforces the claims of the Hindutva Right, encouraging religious polarisation and ultimately helping out the Bharatiya Janata Party at the cost of communal harmony.

Yet, this simplistic reading ignores the complex nature of Owaisi’s politcs and how they fit into India’s current political environment.

“The relationship between the dominance of Hindutva and the scope of Owaisi’s politics is much more complex, even paradoxical, than a straightforward equation of mutual benefit. Hindutva politics has certainly facilitated the growth of Owaisi’s politics but it also tethers it in.”

Read Asim Ali’s piece here.

Damming the Cauvery

The Krishnarajasagar reservoir and dam, built over the Cauvery between 1911 and 1932 owes its existence to Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, a “larger-than-life” character who was chief engineer and later dewan, or prime minister, of the princely state of Mysore when he championed and later began the construction of the iconic project.

“What is truly intriguing about the KRS is not its design or execution: it is the fact that it exists at all. What possessed a princely state and its cadre of Indian engineers to undertake it? The answer is a complex one, but Visvesvaraya is at its centre. It took him well over a year of driving complex debates and negotiations just to get started on this ambitious—some contemporaries said reckless—project. He had to reckon with a wide variety of issues: technical, financial, and political. They may have played out over a century ago, but these backstories anticipated, to a stunning degree, some of the debates that surround large public works even today.”

Read Aparajith Ramnath’s piece.

Post-Nazi wonder doctors

How sccuessful was denazification, the efforts taken by the Allies after the end of World War II to root out former Nazi supporters and the ideas themselves from the German public? Scholars generally believe it to have been a failure.

Yet, the existence of a widespread, undiagnosed malaise in the German population afterwards may suggest something different.

Monica Black recounts the hallucinations and voices that seemed to follow many former Nazis in the years after the war, the toll it took on German civic life, and the emergence of wonder doctors who operated very differently from the instrumentalist, technocratic medicine of the Nazi years.

“If you have never heard of this aspect of postwar German history, that’s in part because there is no archive of spiritual malaise induced by catastrophic defeat or fears of your past coming back to haunt you, the way that there are archives for political parties and institutions of state...

Denazification may not have been entirely successful in its effort to drive former Nazis out of public life. But fears that their ghosts would catch up to them may have caused some—like Melchers—to lose not just their jobs, but their minds.”

Read the piece here.

A parting tragic mistake

The very last US drone strike in Afghanistan before American troops withdrew from the country turned out to be a tragic mistake, killing 10 civilians, underlining just how badly President Joe Biden’s withdrawal effort played out.

An investigation by the New York Times looked at the evidence put forward by the US government into the drone strike and concluded that the driver of the car who had been targeted was a longtime worker for a US aid group, with military analysts making “one mistake after another” in the eventual decision to carry out the attack on his vehicle that left 10 dead, including seven children.

“Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, and then days, and then weeks after the Aug. 29 drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white Toyota sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles, and a secondary explosion in the courtyard in a densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said.

In short, the car posed no threat at all, investigators concluded.”

Watch the video investigation here, and read the official acknowledgment from the US government here.