August 03, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

In Chennai, a man has been locked in a legal tussle with a dead litigator. Meanwhile, in J&K, the lights are going out all over Dal Lake. Read this and much more in The Subcontinental Menu this week.

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
The Subcontinental Menu

Tears In The Sky

The warning signs were there. Captain Abid Sultan was extremely stressed, acting erratically, crying and smoking cigarettes in the cockpit, even as he made a series of mistakes. So goes the verdict of a Nepalese inquiry into the US-Bangla Airlines plane that crashed in Kathmandu on March 12, killing 51 of the 71 people on board when it lurched off the airport runway into a nearby football ground and caught fire. “When we analysed the conversation on the cockpit voice recorder, it was clear to us that the captain was harbouring severe mental stress. He also seemed to be fatigued due to lack of sleep...He was crying on several occasions,” says the report. The captain has an hour-long conversation with his co-pilot in the recording, and at one point tells someone, “I don’t f***ing care about safe flight, you f*** your duty.”


Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, is a flexible man. A recent UN report, which certified that the campaign against the Rohingya had crossed the threshold of genocide, also criticised Facebook—very popular, and indeed the gateway to the internet for many in Myanmar—for failing to act against a slew of anti-Rohingya and pro-crackdown posts. Prodded into action, FB banned the accounts of 20 people and orga­nisations, including Min’s verified account through which he had been expressing such sentiments as how dealing with the Rohingya is “an unfinished job”. Undeterred, he has merely made a Cold War-esque pivot to Russian social networking platform VKontakte, where his account boasts thousands of followers. But it pales before the 2.8 million he had on FB.

Ghost In The Dock

Exhuming and prosecuting a corpse does have precedent (it happened to a Pope, no less). But a dead person stubbornly filing appeals and petitions to drag out a case for years? S.N. Kulasekaran, 82, has been locked in a tussle with the late, litigious S. Rajeswari. He had filed a suit in Chennai alleging encroachment on his land in 1981. As the resulting cases went on interminably, some land passed to one Rajeswari, who filed appeals against Kula­sekaran in 1999, and has continued to fight it out since. But Kulasekaran recently discovered that Rajeswari has been dead since 2003, and submitted a criminal complaint against the people using her name. The Madras HC has directed the police to investigate, allowed the petitioner to continue with the criminal proceedings, and forwarded the pending civil appeals to the Supreme Court.

Diplomatic Boundaries

Imran Khan “hit many sixes” on the playing field, said Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina recently. Don’t worry, she’s leading into a figure of speech about politics: “It is time to see whether he can hit those sixes by remaining in power....We’ll be happy if he can do it,” she continued. In her statement, she appeared to extend the hand of cooperation to the new Pakistani premier, but did strike a note of caution, saying, “We will do it considering the welfare of the people of Pakistan, not the conspirators,” adding that there were still “Pakistan lovers” plotting in Bangladesh—perhaps a swipe at the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Copy Wrongs Done right

Subliminal is perhaps too modest a word for this. When you see medicine nicely packaged, with artwork, colour sch­eme...all similar to that of a familiar product, you might be deceived. That’s the idea that Galpha Laboratories had when they ripped (rather than riffed) off the appearance of a Glenmark Pharmaceuticals’ product—and sold about Rs 2.9 crore worth of it over 10 years. Glenmark has now successfully sued for trademark infringement, with the Bombay HC asking Galpha to pay Rs 1.5 crore into the Kerala Distress Relief Fund.

Democratic Decade

It has been ten years since Bhutan adopted democracy, and the country is set to go to the polls on September 15, with a second round on October 15 between the two most successful parties. The Constitution also disenfranchises “robed persons of any religion” and all can­di­­dates for the National Assembly must be graduates. Four parties are in the running, all promising self-reliance, good governance and an end to corruption—though jobs are the pressing issue. And what does the electorate have to say? “Of course I will vote, because the king has told us to,” one elderly citizen said.

The Dullest Lakeside Shine

The lights are going out all over Dal Lake—to be replaced by monstrosities mounted on iron rods. The 350 cemented lampposts dotting the lake’s sides, installed by Kashmir’s PM Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad in the 1950s, have seen a great deal of wear and tear, and the power development department has initiated a project, now 60 per cent complete, to instal a network of new lights. These will shine down from atop 16-foot-high cast iron poles, compared to the old posts’ modest nine feet. Further, they’ll be on high heels—two-foot-high parapets. Many are unhappy about the poles’ unaesthetic appeal. But a PDD official says, “We can’t produce lights of the same design.” Why not?

Bowing Deep And Low

Mohammed Ali Jinnah had appointed Zafarullah Khan, a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn and a prominent member of the Ahmadiyya community, as Pakistan’s first foreign minister to serve in Liaqat Ali’s cabinet. But, seven decades later, Pakistan’s current PM Imran Khan had to throw out ano­ther equally prominent Ahmadi from his Economic Advisory Council fearing backlash from religious hardliners.

The decision has put his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI)-led coalition government to face its first major controversy since coming to power last month.

Imran took the advice to dismiss Princeton economist Atif Mian, an Ahmadi, out of a fear of huge protests from Pakistani hardliners.

The Ahmadiyya is a global Islamist revival movement fou­nded in the 19th century in Punjab by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and now headquartered in London with over 20 million followers. Though Ahmadis are guided by the teachings of the Quran and follow most of the practices of the Islamic faith,  their belief that Mohammed was not the final ‘prophet’ has brought them in conflict with most Muslim sects. Pakistan, which has two to five million Ahm­adis, do not consider them to be Muslims. They are also prohibited from preaching and practising their faith in public and have been the target of violence and harassment from religious fundamentalists in the country.

The ongoing controversy is over Princeton economist Atif Mian’s appointment to the council and his withdrawal from it within days by Imran Khan. The widely reputed Mian belongs to the Ahmadiyya community.

Pakistani media reports suggest Imran was advised to withdraw Mian’s appointment to avoid a possible countrywide protest by hardliners. The likely protests were to coincide with two important official visits—one by the Chinese foreign minister and the other by the Saudi information minister—and cause a major embarrassment to the new government. But two other members, Asim Ijaz Khwaja from Harvard’s Kennedy School and Imran Rasul from University College, London, have also reigned from the high-profile council in protest against Mian’s removal.

Imran has come under serious criticism from different quarters over the decision, including from his former wife Jemima Goldsmith, that has raised serious questions of his progressive credentials.

Initially, the cricketing hero-turned-prime minister tried to resist the pressure from the religious hardliners defe­nding ‘minorities’ rights. But Pakistan seems not yet ready to ward off a serious challenge from the religious hardliners in the country.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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