The Wire’s Most Read Articles of 2016

Credit: darwin Bell/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Credit: darwin Bell/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

This is a list of ten articles that were read the most on The Wire in 2016. They were on topics as diverse as media ethics, agriculture, corporate corruption, gravitational waves and demonetisation. They were what riveted our readers the most, perhaps even provoked them the most. Ultimately, they were the biggest contributors from The Wire to the many conversations India, and the world, are engaged in at the moment. This is why they’re worth revisiting on this last day of the year: for a snapshot of what were  2016’s most popular preoccupations.

1. What is the Future of Agriculture in India?

In our most read article this year, Vishvajeet Choudhary and Gursharan Singh discuss the urgent need for reform in agricultural policy, shifting the focus from food security to farmers’ income security.

“…growth in agricultural productivity has been stagnant in recent years, resulting in a significant decline in the income of farmers. There have also been negative environmental effects in the form of depleting water table, emission of greenhouse gases, and the contamination of surface and ground water. Needless to say, the agriculture sector is in a state of distress, which is severely affecting peasants and marginal farmers, and urgent policy interventions are required to protect their interests.”

2. Pieces of Paper: Demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 Notes Explained

Next on the list is a staff explainer that went up the night of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation announcement laying out how demonetisation would affect the country in the days to come.

“Modi’s decision to decommission Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes should ideally not hurt most individuals in the long-term, although it will have a significant negative impact on the working class and small and rural businesses in the short-term. …

On the other hand, what needs to be noted is that there’s no good estimate for how much of India’s black money is in forms other than currency/physical notes such as gold, jewellery, land or any other form of wealth. Therefore, while banning Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes will tackle the black money that is in the form of hard cold cash, it won’t affect other forms of black money. On similar lines, this move will, obviously, have little effect on black money stashed away in foreign tax havens.

… Over the next month, there will undoubtedly be a significant shortage in cash supply: not just Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 bills, which are being taken out of circulation, but almost every other denomination as well.”

3. Times Now First Denies Airing Doctored Video, Then Concedes it Did

In February this year, The Wire‘s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan wrote about how Times Now (and Arnab Goswami) played a doctored video of then JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar chanting slogans about Kashmir’s azadi, then claimed they hadn’t played the video and finally (sort of) accepted that they did.

“In this official recording of The Newshour programme, Goswami can clearly be heard repeatedly asking Patra (from 22:50 onward) to “show the video, show the video”. When Patra shows it, Goswami orders the Times Now camera to zoom in on it. “Show the video close by,” he says. After the forgery is aired, Goswami declares triumphantly, “I could clearly hear him [Kanhaiya] say, if that is indeed him in the video, I can clearly hear him say ‘leke rahenge azadi’.” He then turns to a guest, Anand Kumar from JNU, and says, “You are the one who is defending him. If this video is correct, then what are you going to say now?””

4. Birla, Sahara Documents Link ‘Gujarat CM’, Other ‘CMs’ to Alleged Payments in 2012 and 2013-14

In a report on the Birla-Sahara diaries before Rahul Gandhi’s sensationalist claims on ‘shaking the earth’ with revelations from the documents, Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta and Anuj Srivas wrote about the alleged massive payouts given to political leaders across parties and states by the companies, based on NGO Common Cause’s petition in the Supreme Court.

“What do these cash transactions show? According to the application, the “logs suggest that cash was apparently transferred to several important public figures”.

Annexure 8 includes a set of three Excel sheets, the third of which is signed by income tax officer Ankita Pandey. As shown below, on September 23, 2013, a sum of “Rs. 10000000.00” is shown against the entry “CM Delhi”. On September 29, 2013,  a sum of Rs. “50000000.00” is shown against the entry  “CM MP (sh neeraj vashisht)”.

On October 1, 2013, a sum of Rs. “40000000.00” is shown against the entry “CM Chattisgarh (sh nandi ji)”. Finally, on October 30, 2013,  a sum of Rs. “250000000” is shown against the entry “CM GUJRAT”.”

5. Decision to Demonetise Currency Shows They Don’t Understand Capitalism: Prabhat Patnaik

In an interview with Jahnavi Sen, renowned economist Prabhat Patnaik talks about why demonetisaton is unlikely to do anything except create large-scale suffering. The move, according to him, highlights the government’s misunderstanding about both the nature of black money and how the capitalist market functions.

“So it’s not as if the (black) money is simply held. In fact, Marx had brought in a distinction between the miser and the capitalist. The miser believes that you become rich by hoarding money, while the capitalist rightly believes that you become rich by actually using the money, throwing it into circulation. Black money holders are not misers, they are capitalists. They are trying to expand their business much the way normal business is trying to expand. So they are forever throwing their money back into circulation. The amount they will be holding at any point in time will only be a fraction of their total transactions.”

6. Who Should Karnataka Blame in the Cauvery Dispute? History Has Some Answers

In this article on the history of the Cauvery river water dispute, Girish Nikam highlights how in normal years Karnataka has no trouble releasing water to Tamil Nadu – the problems arise in distress years.

“…it is time that both states get down to the task of improving water management techniques and crop patterns. Karnataka, in the meanwhile, would do well to start planning for an additional reservoir at Mekedatu to utilise the surplus water, generate power and ensure water supply to Bangalore and Greater Bangalore, without wasting time.”

7. Scientists Claim Sensational Detection of Gravitational Waves and Herald New Era in Astronomy

In February 2016, The Wire‘s science editor Vasudevan Mukunth wrote about the LIGO collaboration’s claim that it had detected energetic vibrations in the fabric of space and time, first predicted by Albert Einstein a 100 years ago.

“…a great part of the excitement now isn’t because the waves have finally been directly detected but because we now have an instrument that can probe deeper into the mysterious sources of the waves themselves.”

8. Indian Surgical Strikes Against Terrorists in Pakistan: What We Know, What We Don’t Know

After India’s cross-LoC ‘surgical strikes’ in September this year and the government’s scanty release of information on the issue, Siddharth Varadarajan laid out what we do and don’t know about the offensive.

“One indication that the ‘surgical strikes’ involved more – perhaps much more – than heavy shelling is the speed with which the United States got into the picture. The White House issued a statement Thursday morning (Indian Standard Time) using strong words to condemn the September 18 “cross-border attack” at Uri which precipitated the current downturn in India-Pakistan relations and stresses the need for Pakistan to take effective action against UN-designated “terrorist individuals and entities, including Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and their affiliates.” The statement came after Indian national security adviser Ajit Doval received a telephone call from his US counterpart, Susan Rice. While no details about what the two NSAs spoke about are available, Indian officials say the conversation took place before the Indian army acted.”

9. English Translation: Full Text of Kanhaiya Kumar’s Electrifying Speech at JNU

The speech Kanhaiya Kumar gave after being released from jail went viral on the internet. The Wire published Chitra Padmanabhan’s English translation of speech, and that’s our ninth most read article this year.

“Now let me talk about my prison experience. I got two bowls there – one was blue the other red.  I kept looking at the colours and thought to myself that although I am not a believer in destiny, nor do I know god, but surely something good is about to happen in this country now that these two colours are here together, side by side. The plate looked like our India, the blue was the blue of the Ambedkarite movement and the red bowl like [the red of socialism] . I thought if this unity were to be created in this country, then no more prevarication, we will send those who put everything on sale packing. Those who auction off everything we don’t want. We will put in power those who can ensure the protection of the law for everybody. We will make the slogan of sabka saath, sabka vikas a living reality….”

10. Demonetisation Scenarios: A Goa Mining Tycoon, a Dal Merchant And a Punjabi Politician Walk Into a Bank…

In this article, Anuj Srivas broke down how Modi’s so-called surgical strike on black money could play out for people with varying occupations and with various reasons for dealing with large cash transactions.

“Scenario: Anumeha Malkan, a 61-year old dowager, recently sold her home for a cool Rs 1.8 crore. Unfortunately, as with most deals conducted in Tier-3 cities, the sale was partly conducted by cash (roughly Rs 80 lakh) because the buyer of the property insisted that the purchase included a cash component. What does Anumeha do with that Rs 80 lakh – mostly in the form of 1000 rupee notes?

Outcome: Anumeha’s case, unfortunately, isn’t unique. There have been reports coming from across the country of people committing suicide after having recently conducted land transactions and now believing that their Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes are useless. Cash transactions for real-estate deals are frowned upon and as of 2015 attract significant penalties but are still carried out often because they contain black money components or, as is the case across rural India, because farmers and agricultural workers prefer to conduct these deals outside the formal financial system.

Anumeha’s case is tough, primarily because in many Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities land transactions always include a cash component; it’s difficult to sell without participating in the black economy to a certain extent. Unlikely to look at any laundering mechanisms, she will have to either burn the cash component (Rs 80 lakh) or declare her money and accept the crippling penalties.”

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