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HT_Ed Calling: Sedition, inflation, and Sea of Tranquility

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Saturday, 14 May 2022
Good morning!

Somewhere in a box that is somewhere in my house are a few iPods — an iPod Classic for sure (oh, that click wheel!), but also a Video iPod, a Nano, a Shuffle, and a Touch (all first generation, like the iPod Mini I lost). There must also be a translucent blue Diamond Rio PMP300 (with a generous 64 MB of storage). I haven't seen the box for a while, so I do not remember what else is in it (I did have a Sony Discman once, and do not remember throwing it away, so it is likely in the same box). The Mini was reserved for podcasts, and I used to listen to a lot of them on my morning runs back then. JamBase, Adam Curry, Morning Becomes Eclectic, Coverville…

     

The iPod, launched in 2001, revolutionised the way we buy, listen to, and store music (as did iTunes, which came two years after). But their time was always going to be limited once Apple launched the iPhone (which was the logical next step of all the functionality the company put into its family of iPods). As it turns out, they lasted almost 15 years after the first iPhone was launched — and I see one figuring in the Mad Max installment that comes out in 2040 when much of the world will likely look like a scene from Mad Max 2. Estimates released this Monday suggest we may not have to wait that long — for the world to look like a scene from the movie, that is.

The only iPod in Apple's portfolio until this week was the Touch, and the company announced on Tuesday that it is discontinuing that too.

But it wasn't a 21-year-old gadget that had India's attention this week. It was three 17th century buildings. The Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, the Taj Mahal in Agra, and the Shahi Idgah in Mathura (all three in the state of Uttar Pradesh). But more on this anon.

Almost all the action related to the three old buildings happened in the courts.

THINK

As did that related to the sedition law. Here's a quick summation of what happened: the court was hearing petitions seeking the writing down of this law (and writing it down would have been the high point of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana's term that comes to an end in late August). The government told the court earlier this week that it would reconsider the law, and told the court to defer the hearing. The government has done this before, when the court was examining the validity of the infamous section 66A of the IT Act that pretty much empowered the police (and therefore the State) to arrest people over posts critical of the government. Back then, the court ignored the government's stand that it would review the provision and wrote down the section. In this case, the court asked the government about pending and future cases under the sedition law. The Centre's response was that it would refine the requirements to file complaints under the law.

The court responded by keeping the law in abeyance pending the government review, which means no complaints can now be filed under it, and asked those arrested under the law to seek relief from courts.

It is now up to the government to review and scrap the law (which it may have always wanted to do), or review and reaffirm the law, in which case the matter will find its way to the apex court again.

For those interested in the history of the draconian law, here's a quick explainer from HT's legal editor Utkarsh Anand.

In the past 16 months, Anand points out, this is the second time the top court has stayed a central law.

THINK MORE

It may seem unkind to write about this on the cusp of what looks like yet another heatwave in Delhi and the northern plains, but there's bad news on the climate front — the World Meteorological Organization on Monday said that there is a 48% chance of global temperatures temporarily touching or exceeding, in one of the five years between 2002 and 2026, the 1.5 degree Celsius level over pre-industrial times that has remained one of the redlines of climate science for many decades. As the report's author said in a statement: "A single year of exceedance above 1.5°C does not mean we have breached the iconic threshold of the Paris Agreement, but it does reveal that we are edging ever closer to a situation where 1.5°C could be exceeded for an extended period."

The two things I have learnt from years of following climate science and the climate crisis are that there is no such thing as "temporarily" when it comes to change, and two, that such change is rarely linear.

KNOW

To return to the 17th century (or actually to events this week concerning that time), on Thursday a Varanasi court said the survey of the Gyanvapi Mosque would go on, and should be completed by May 17. The survey is aimed at collecting evidence of the existence of images or idols of Hindu deities inside the complex, and marks a significant turn in a decades-old religious dispute.

On the same day, the Allahabad high court asked a district court in Mathura to decide on two applications before it on the Krishna Janmabhoomi- Shahi Idgah dispute within four months.

And also on Thursday, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court rejected a plea to open 22 closed rooms in the Taj Mahal to see if they have idols of Hindu deities, calling the case a mockery of the Public Interest Litigation system.

The first two cases should, ideally, never have been because there is a law that prohibits any change in the character of a place of worship from how it stood in 1947. The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was the only one exempt from the law.

This law, introduced on July 11, 1991, placed a status quo retrospectively on the character of places of worship as existing on the date of Independence, i.e. August 15, 1947.

But in March 2021, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Union government on a challenge to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.

The Centre is yet to respond to this, and the court has not seemed keen to push for a response or to hear the case — and the ensuing vacuum has allowed both the Gyanvapi and the Shahi Idgah cases.

As F Scott Fitzgerald wrote in what is perhaps the most famous last line of a book: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It's a line that can be applied to many things — including stock market cycles, something Fitzgerald, no stranger to booms and busts, is likely to have been familiar with. The Sensex is down almost 12% over the past six months as I write these lines.

LEARN

Talking of booms and busts, inflation continues to rise, and factory output stutters, as the government faces what may well turn out to be its toughest economic challenge to date.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has thus far not faced any political headwinds on this account, although this is more a function of its ability to control the narrative and the Opposition's ability to make an issue of it. Indeed, back in the day, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, and its supporters across domains (including Bollywood celebrities and assorted Godmen) successfully linked both rising fuel prices and the falling rupee with the government-of-the-day's inability to manage the economy. Fuel prices are far higher now; the rupee far weaker; and the celebrities and the Godmen, better informed about economics.

There are three things of note behind the headline inflation reading as my colleague Roshan Kishore explained. Its momentum, the fact that it is widespread (and not restricted to fuel; it has also spread to cereals, for instance), and that policymakers may be lulled by the "nominal illusion" into ignoring the risks of stagflation.

ALSO READ

Why is it so cool in Bengaluru?

The Delhi HC's split verdict on marital rape.

A Page 2 special: the Gond medical student who spent 13 years in jail.

The US's pick-and-choose economic framework for the Indo-Pacific

OUTSIDE

In a week that many Indians were obsessed with the past, it perhaps makes sense to delve into even more ancient past. Ever since Jurassic Park, de-extinction has become a popular subject of discussion. But as a recent article in Quanta puts it, the objective of de-extinction researchers was not to recreate extinct species — but more to look at extinct functionalities that species may need to survive in tomorrow's world. "Make sure people don't think they're going to get a mammoth, because they're not," the article quotes a researcher involved in the woolly mammoth project as saying. Instead, it goes on to add, the result could be a hairy elephant that can live in the cold.

WHAT I'M READING

(Click to expand)

The best-written book on time-travel that I have read for many, many years, Emily St. John Mandel's Sea of Tranquility , which shows that everything and everyone, including the author and the past work, are all connected — and of how humanity has always moved on, from one end-of-the-world event to another. If Station Eleven, the author's 2011 book was prophetic (it's about a pandemic), then Sea of Tranquility is the perfect postscript to the past two years.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO

I may actually be repeating a listing — not because there isn't enough music in the world but because, for much of the past fortnight, I have been revisiting Europe 72, The Grateful Dead's tour of the continent in 1972. I do not have the 73-CD boxed set (someone I know does), but most streaming services do have all 22 shows, and it is some of the most glorious music published by the band, who were coming off two very successful albums. Sorry about the repeat (if it is that), but this one is truly deserving of a listen.

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Till next week. Send in your bouquets and brickbats to sukumar.ranganathan@hindustantimes.com

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