US Cites Immunity Given To Modi While Justifying The Same For Mohammed Bin Salman

Consternation could be one of the reactions from New Delhi to a comment by State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel citing the reinstatement of Prime Minister Narendra’s Modi’s US visa in 2014 as part of an answer about granting sovereign immunity to Saudi crown prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Patel’s reference to Modi’s US visa reinstatement in 2014 came during a media briefing on November 18 in the context of the now controversial sovereign immunity for MBS.

Although the MBS immunity is consistent with the US policy of affording such immunity to heads of state who might be in some serious legal jeopardy on account of their transgressions in their respective countries, Patel’s juxtaposition of Modi with MBS could be diplomatically fraught.

This is what Patel said in reply to repeated questions about the MBS immunity: “It is a longstanding and consistent line of effort. It has been applied to a number of heads of state previously, some examples, President (Jean-Bertrand) Aristide in Haiti in 1993, President (Robert) Mugabe in Zimbabwe in 2001, Prime Minister Modi in India in 2014 and President (Joseph) Kabila in the DRC (the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 2018. This is a consistent practice we have afforded to heads of state.”

There is nothing objectionable about Patel’s comments on the sheer facts of what he is saying. These are just bare facts and as a spokesperson it is his duty to offer them unvarnished. However, international diplomacy, especially between Modi’s India and President Joe Biden’s America, is often fraught.

It is from that standpoint that the seeming bracketing of Modi with MBS and other strongmen could be problematic for its optics. Of course, no government, either here in America or that in India, should feel the need to finesse facts no matter how unedifying they may be.

India’s External Affairs Ministry may not necessarily respond to this merely because the assertion came in the context of MBS but Modi’s detractors, and it is a rapidly growing constituency, could cite this as yet another blot on him.

By itself sovereign immunity should be noncontroversial because countries offer it as part of the international law. In the specific context of MBS though, the immunity is rife with the prospects of being seen as the Biden administration going soft on the prime minister in a calibrated fashion at a time when the US-Saudi relations are perhaps at their most tense.

A particular sticking point has been the Saudi decision to slash oil production in an apparent alliance with Russia at a time gas prices are running so high in America. There were suggestions of the Saudis under MBS humiliating Washington by gouging oil prices.

With this as the backdrop, sovereign immunity for MBS looks at the very least curious notwithstanding the longstanding practice as cited by Patel. Of course, Patel was at pains to repeatedly insist that, “This Suggestion of Immunity does not reflect an assessment on the merits of the case. It speaks to nothing on broader policy or the state of relations. This was purely a legal determination.”

He kept saying again and again at the presser the MBS immunity was no reflection on the legal merits of the Khashoggi murder case and accusations. But it has caused a great deal of outrage among certain quarters, specifically the media.

In a statement on Twitter Fred Ryan, the Washington Post’s publisher and CEO, said yesterday that President Biden is “granting a license to kill to one of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers who is responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

The Biden administration made its declaration of immunity in a court filing in the lawsuit filed by  Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. In a tweet Cenzig said, “Jamal died again today.”

Despite the fact that immunity is a longstanding practice, affording it to MBS has opened the door for other prospective violators of human rights who might become heads of state. (Courtesy: iNdica News)

Hostile Takeover Bid On India’s Oldest Private TV Operation By Asia’s Richest Billionaire

When Asia’s richest man and that too an Indian with undisguisedly close ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boot, makes a predatory takeover move on one of the country’s most high-profile news channels, it is a matter of great interest and concern.

The richest Indian in question is Gautam Adani, with the latest net worth of $137.5 billion, and the media company he is making a hostile move on is New Delhi Television or NDTV, the country’s first private television news operation founded in 1988 by the husband-and-wife team of Radhika and Prannoy Roy.

Adani, who has been close to Prime Minister Modi since the latter’s days as both their home state Gujarat’s Chief Minister, has turbocharged his business empire in the last eight years. Since Modi’s rise as prime minister in 2014 Adani’s wealth of $2.8 billion has multiplied close to 50 times. The takeover of NDTV barely two years before India’s next general elections in 2024 is seen by many as part a strategy to overwhelmingly dominate the media discourse in favor of the prime minister.

Jairam Ramesh, a prominent spokesperson of the opposition Congress Party, tweeted, “The news of a deeply over-leveraged company owned by the PM’s ‘khaas dost’ (special friend) making a hostile takeover bid of a well-known TV news network is nothing but the concentration of economic and political power, and a brazen move to control and stifle any semblance of an independent media.”

Notwithstanding its many weak moments over the years, NDTV has attempted to remain an independent media voice at a time when a vast majority of TV networks have just truckled into the often outrageous demands of the ruling dispensation.

Adani’s AMG Media Networks (AMNL), acquired Vishvapradhan Commercial for 1.14 billion rupees ($14.3 million). That gave the company a 29.2% stake in NDTV, according to a regulatory filing. Adani has said he intends to buy another 26% for 4.93 billion rupees, offering shareholders 294 rupees a share.

Sanjay Pugalia, CEO of AMG Media, was quoted as saying in a statement, “This acquisition is a significant milestone”  that will “pave the path of new age media across platforms.” AMG Media was founded in March and in less than six months it has made the biggest media takeover move in India.

That the Adani move was a hostile one became immediately clear yesterday after the Roys issued a statement that said it “was executed without any input from, conversation with, or consent of the NDTV founders.”

However, what jumps out in the statement is the following:

“VCPL has exercised its rights based on a loan agreement it entered with NDTV founders Radhika and Prannoy Roy in 2009-10.”

On its part, VCPL feels justified to do so because it has the rights to convert warrants of RRPR Holding Private Limited (RRPRH), the company owned by the Roys. At the heart of the hostile takeover is a reportedly interest-free loan amounting to 4.03 billion rupees dating back to 2009-10. That loan originally came from a company associated with Adani’s rival billionaire Mukesh Ambani, also a close ally of the prime minister.

VCPL came on the scene in 2012 when it acquired a 29.18 percent stake in the company that owns NDTV with the provision of converting the warrants into nearly complete ownership of RRPR. A decade hence Adani seems set to complete the takeover irrespective of the Roys’ protests. He has offered another 4.9 billion rupees to acquire an additional 26 percent stake in the media company making him the majority stakeholder.

Beyond the complex ownership restructuring necessitated by the 2009-10 loan there are larger issues of media independence at play. Of course, in a sense, the interest-free loan from some 12 years ago from an entity which had originally nothing to do with Adani, has come back to bite the Roys and NDTV in their behind.

While it is legitimate to debate what the NDTV takeover will do to the already disastrous media scene in India, it is equally important to remember that a great deal of money—4.03 billion to be precise—is behind the debacle for the Roys. Once people discover these complex facts, the Roys protestations related to media independence may lose much of its validity. The fact that an independent media company chose to take an interest-free loan from an entity they probably knew may not be eventually friendly towards them is problematic.

One can speculate that since at the time when the Roys took the loan, India was very much under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was broadly hands-off with media control and management unlike the current government, the turn of events may not have been obvious to them. The Roys may have felt it was a safe bet to build their enterprise under a benign gaze of a government generally amiable to the media.

That they let the loan be unpaid for so long as to mutate into a predatory takeover holds a lesson for the tiny sliver of independent Indian media. (Courtesy: Indica News)

Tamil Superstar Kamal Haasan Launches A New Fashion Line, His Favorite Khadi

Mohandas Gandhi, the original proponent of the fabric, once said, Khadi is not fashion it is a value. Tamil movie superstar Kamal Haasan, who is also someone with an unbridled passion for all things Gandhi, would seem to disagree in nuance because he believes precisely Khadi is a value it also ought to be fashion.

As the 66-year-old actor, now in his 62nd year as an artist, prepares to launch his own Khadi-based fashion line called House of Khaddar, he thinks it is more than time for this versatile all-weather fabric to be projected around the world through his fashion line and with it carry the story of Gandhi’s values.

The artist whose name means a smiling lotus, as in Kamal for lotus and Haasan for smile, plans to launch ‘House of Khaddar’ out of Chicago soon. He is also launching a fragrance along with it.

“I was born under Khadi, literally on Khadi in the sense that my father held me in his lap for the first time and he never wore anything but Khadi till he died. He was a great Gandhi admirer,” Haasan said in an interview as part of the upcoming launch.

Saying that “the idea of khadi was always with me” Haasan said his commitment to Gandhi and his values came from his father.

Asked whether he was trying to bring about an awareness among the younger generation how intrinsic Khadi was to India’s freedom movement before 1947, Haasan said, “My intention is to say that we made history, now we will do business. That is what Britain was doing with calico, with our cotton or Egyptian cotton. Cotton has a great history of so many unjust and just things that happened. There were slaves created because of cotton. I was born to a history where freedom was created because of cotton. The civil disobedience movement also had the Khadi thread running through the weave. Gandhi is the biggest weaver I have known in my life.”

It was a measure of Haasan’s devotion to Gandhi that he even said, “All my metaphors I learned from Mr. Gandhi and my father. Our tagline is ‘Fashion is being civil yet disobedient’.” Asked who wrote that tagline, he said “I did. I am an understudy of Mr. Gandhi.” He added that he wished he had Gandhi to write all his copy because he regarded him as the greatest Indian writer.

On why global fashion labels never chose Khadi as a fabric despite its obvious versatility, Haasan said he was thankful that they did not since it left the field open for him to explore.

Gandhi first introduced the idea of Khadi in 1918 as a way to help the impoverished Indians by giving them a means to earn a livelihood. Writing about Gandhi and Khadi for mkgandhi.org, Divya Joshi says in her introduction, “But one finds a change in his emphasis from 1934, more especially from 1935, when he began on insisting on khadi for the villager’s own use, rather than merely for sale to others. His imprisonment in 1942 and 1943 gave him time to ponder further over his khadi movement, and when he came out of jail he came with a determination to give a new turn to khadi work in order to make khadi serve the needs of villagers themselves first and foremost. He poured out his soul to his fellow-workers in 1944, and urged them to effect the change.”

It is a measure of Gandhi’s steadfast commitment to the handwoven fabric that he wrote in the Navjivan newspaper on April 5, 1922, “Like swaraj, khadi is our birth-right, and it is our life-long duty to use that only. Anyone who does not fulfil that duty is totally ignorant of what swaraj is.”

In the same newspaper, he wrote on December 12, 1922, “We cannot claim to have understood the meaning of swaraj till khadi becomes as universal as currency.”

In an interview published in Navjivan on March 19, 1922, Gandhi said something even more remarkable about Khadi: “I have only one message to give and that concerns khadi. Place khadi in my hands and I shall place swaraj in yours. The uplift of the Antyajas is also covered by khadi and even Hindu- Muslim unity will live through it. It is also a great instrument of peace. This does not mean that I do not favour boycott of Councils and law-courts, but in order that people may not have a grievance against those who go to them, I desire that the people should carry on work concerning khadi even with the help of lawyers and members of legislatures. Keep the Moderates highly pleased, cultivate love and friendship for them. Once they become fearless, that very moment they will become one with us. The same holds good also for Englishmen.”

Gandhi’s emphasis on Khadi was also a part of his broader political doctrine. “Ever since the commencement of our present struggle, we have been feeling the necessity of boycotting foreign cloth. I venture to suggest that, when khaddar comes universally in use, the boycott of foreign cloth will automatically follow. Speaking for myself, charkha and khaddar have a special religious significance to me because they are a symbol of kinship between the members of both the communities and the hunger- and disease- stricken poor. It is by virtue of the fact that our movement can today be described as moral and economic as well as political,” he said in a letter he wrote from the Sabarmati jail on December 12, 1922 to a certain Abdul Bari.

Kamal Haasan’s launch of ‘House of Khaddar’ almost a century after those pronouncements may be fortuitous but given his superstardom, there are expectations that Khadi just might cross from being a coarse and lowly fabric to the level couture.

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