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After Agnipath Ignites Protests, Scheme No Longer PM’s Big Idea; Marketing Job Destruction as Job Creation
Govt ignored NFHS5 to cut Covid toll, Indian money in Swiss banks surging, problem central deputation scheme shelved, India needs $10 trillion to meet net zero commitment and domicide in UP, via Gaza
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
June 17, 2022
Wired magazine has an explosive revelation: new clues in the Bhima Koregaon case connect a police officer in Pune directly to a hacking campaign that went “an appalling step further: planting false incriminating files on targets’ computers that the same police then used as grounds to arrest and jail them.” Forensic analysts revealed that unidentified hackers planted fabricated evidence on the computers of at least two activists arrested in Pune in 2018. They are in jail along with 13 others, facing terrorism charges.
SentinelOne’s researchers reveal ties between the hackers and “the very same Indian police agency in the city of Pune that arrested multiple activists based on the fabricated evidence.” Rona Wilson has petitioned the courts but the National Investigation Agency has made no substantive enquiry into his claims. Father Stan Swamy, one of the 16 arrested in the case, died in custody last year.
The PM is in retreat from the Tour of Duty front. Young men have taken to the streets in protest in Varanasi, his constituency. A police station has been burned down in Aligarh. So far, there has been no word of bulldozers being deployed against protesting youths. In Rohtak, a father says that a young man apparently traumatised by Agnipath committed suicide. On the streets, the violence continues. After protests boiled over, the government’s ‘briefings’ say it was the Department of Military Affairs’ idea. Earlier, as usual, it was sold as Dear Leader’s idea.
KP Sanjeev Kumar, a veteran, asks: “Think about this: the only two civilian components of a warship — the ship’s barber and/or civilian bearer — would spend more time at sea than a ToD sailor. On a flight deck, a ToD sailor would man the chocks and lashings and nothing more. How would he/she be employable the rest of the time, all the while gaining full access to the Navy’s deepest secrets?” Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) says that “the national security needs of this country require a certain economic strength which this government is unable to provide ― that is the fundamental point, whichever way you couch it.” He also discusses with Lt Gen (retd) Satish Dua whether Agnipath is a solution or a whole new problem.
The protest is causing disarray in government ranks. Gen VK Singh, a minister and a former Army chief, said he was not consulted. MP Varun Gandhi vocally opposes it and the JD(U) is also one with the Opposition. “The Centre should immediately reconsider the scheme because this is linked to the defence and security of the country,” said Lallan Singh (Rajeev Ranjan), a close confidante of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The crisis is escalating faster than the farm laws row. The Congress, CPI(M), SP and BSP have all issued strong statements.
The government seeks to give jobs to 1 million people in 18 months, but the record of its flagship skill development programme has been poor. Of the 14.2 million enrolled since 2015, three-fourths have been certified. Among those, a little over a fifth (2.4 million) have been placed. Performance varies across three iterations of the scheme. First off, the government enrolled 2 million candidates but it could certify only 1.5 million and place 0.3 million. The second set did better ― of 11.5 million enrolments, 80% (9.1 million) were trained and a fourth of them placed. Following the pandemic and economic slowdown, the government achieved its target of enrolling nearly 800,000, but could certify just 40%, and less than a tenth found placement.
A protest in Colombo opposed “the favouring of Indian industrialist Gautam Adani's group” in the award of an energy project in Mannar district, as part of a “dubious” deal between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. “Modi and Gotabaya worked out a deal that is non-transparent and illegal, so that Adani did not have to go through a competitive bidding process,” said a procurement engineer working in Mannar.
The selloff in the markets continues. Yesterday, the Nifty closed at its lowest level in 13 months. Selling by FPIs has exceeded Rs 2 trillion ($25 billion) this year, the steepest ever in absolute terms and otherwise the second-worst, after the 2008 global financial crisis.
Chinese state media marked the second anniversary of the deadly Galwan Valley clash with India on Wednesday, ahead of the next round of disengagement talks. A video of comrades in arms tearfully sharing memories of Chen Xiangrong, 18, one of four Chinese soldiers officially acknowledged to have been killed, was published by the military channel of state broadcaster CCTV on its Weibo microblog. It was excerpted from a five-episode documentary, Motherland Engraved, released in February.
The US is playing a “long game” and not trying to coerce India into joining sanctions against Moscow, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said. The US is being “direct” with India about its perspective on Ukraine and “would encourage” India to change its perspective. Sullivan said there’s much more convergence on China but on the question of Russia, “obviously” the two countries had different historical perspectives and “different muscle memories”.
The central banks of India and Russia, and prominent commercial banks, concluded their third meeting towards a payment system. India has emerged as a major buyer of discounted Russian oil, and the trade cannot get tripped by sanctions on Moscow-based banks.
The Financial Times says that Indian refiners “including Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries are using cheap Russian crude to try to boost diesel exports, including to destinations with sanctions on Russian oil, such as the EU.” Russia in May replaced Saudi Arabia as India’s second-largest supplier of oil, behind Iraq. Russian crude exports to India are expected to increase to over 1 million barrels a day this month, according to commodities data and analytics firm Kpler. Back home, the UP Petroleum Traders’ Association has expressed concern over the ongoing fuel shortage in rural areas.
The Supreme Court has directed the Union government to make public the decision of the committee headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana on extending the three-year tenure of National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) members to five years. The Union claimed that the decision taken by the three-member committee comprising the CJI, Justice Surya Kant of the Supreme Court and the secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, is confidential. The NCLT Bar Association had petitioned the top court in March for revising tenure. “There can’t be so much secrecy over this document,” said a bench of justices JK Maheshwari and Hima Kohli.
The price of IPL shows that content costs are skyrocketing while revenues have not kept pace, warns Vanita Kohli-Khandekar. The end of 2021 saw the Indian media and entertainment business back at 2018 revenue levels. According to a FICCI-EY report, the sector will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 13%, but the cost of content is rising 40-50%. Where will the difference come from?
Government cherry-picked Covid death toll
In its data war with WHO over India’s Covid toll, the Union government conveniently used a flawed data set to paint a rosier picture and ignored a grim number thrown up by another survey of its own. First, the government tried to stall WHO’s efforts to count India’s real toll. Then it tried to rubbish WHO’s estimate of 8.30 lakh Covid-linked deaths among the 100.51 lakh people estimated to have died in 2020. It relied on official death data ― the Sample Registration Survey, which estimates total deaths every year, and the Civil Registration System that records deaths actually registered. The government claimed that 99.9% of 81.20 lakh deaths in 2020 were registered ― less than the number of people who died in the non-pandemic year of 2019.
The data diddle is outrageous: in some states, the actual registered deaths are four times the number of deaths the government claimed. It cherry-picked a number that looked favourable and ignored the more reliable estimates coming out of its own National Family Health Survey-5. Going by the NFHS death registration rate and the actual number of deaths in the Civil Registration System, 114.07 lakh people can be estimated to have died in 2020. These estimates would have shown that WHO was right and punched holes in the government’s claim of having handled the pandemic well. Shreegireesh Jalihal and Tapasya’s analysis, correcting for flaws in govt data, shows the truth behind the raw numbers.
Indian money in Swiss banks surging
Funds parked by Indians in Swiss banks jumped to a 14 year high of 3.83 billion Swiss francs (over Rs 30,500 crore) in 2021, on a sharp surge in holdings via securities and similar instruments. Customer deposits rose as well, annual data from Switzerland’s central bank shows. The rise in aggregate funds of Indian clients with Swiss banks, from 2.55 billion Swiss francs (Rs 20,700 crore) at the end of 2020, marks the second consecutive year of increase. These figures do not include money that Indians or NRIs might hold in Swiss banks in the names of third country entities.
Gorkhas outraged as Nepali song rejected
Gorkhas across India are outraged after the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) rejected a performance by artistes from the community on the ground that ‘Nepali’ is a “non-Indian” language. On June 9, AIWC executive member and head of events Chandra Prabha Pandey had sought participants for a regional language event coinciding with Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav.
Pandey rudely rebuffed artistes from Kalimpong in West Bengal, saying that “we cannot showcase performances in non-Indian languages”, the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh (BGP) alleged. AIWC’s Kalimpong secretary Aruna Pradhan intervened but Pandey insisted: “They cannot send the national anthem sung in the Nepali language as it is not a language of India”. In fact, Nepali is one of India’s 22 official languages.
Delhi puts off imperious central deputation scheme
The Union government’s proposal to depute IAS, IPS and IFoS officers to the Centre without the approval of their state governments has been shelved. In 2021, only 10% of mid-level IAS officers were posted with the Union government, a sharp dip from 19% in 2014. Of 23 joint secretary rank officers appointed recently in various ministries, only six were IAS officers and one was IPS. The majority were from other central services.
In response to an RTI query, the DoPT has stated that a final view on the proposal is yet to be taken, and it cannot disclose information held in a “fiduciary relationship”. In plainspeak, this means that the Centre has buckled. Odisha, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana have opposed the move.
Net zero cost exorbitant
India will need investments of over $10 trillion to achieve its net-zero emission target by 2070, the goal announced by PM Modi at COP-26. A joint white paper issued by GE-EY said that India would continue to rely on coal power in the near future. It needs to focus on and incentivise cleaner coal technology.
The Long Cable
Agnipath: Marketing Job Destruction as Job Creation
Though couched in the language of a patriotic employment scheme offering opportunities to the youth to serve Mother India, ‘Agnipath’ is a retrenchment scheme that hurts India’s jobless and compromises national security. The routine annual open recruitment of around 40,000 soldiers will henceforth take place under the Agnipath scheme. The major difference is that only 10,000 of the inductees will still have jobs after four years whereas the other 30,000 will be ruthlessly retrenched. Thus, it is a scheme where only 10,000 jobs are provided annually in place of the 40,000 jobs generated earlier. It also compromises with the nation’s security because the Army will gradually depend on a preponderance of poorly trained, contractually hired soldiers. Nevertheless, this employment reduction scheme is being dished out as great employment initiative. Even the partial fulfilment of clearing the long pending back-log of one million jobs in various government departments is being touted as the creation of new jobs. And both announcements have been declared simultaneously – as if the prime minister has declared war on unemployment, even though the war is on jobs
Even though the larger economic motives and social imperatives behind the Agnipath project have not been understood in its entirety by the larger public, the impact of the scheme which bars candidates above 21 years and renders 75% of recruits jobless after four years without pension benefits has triggered the anger of those who were desperately waiting for the call for recruitment. The government has responded to the rage on the streets by relaxing the age limit to 23 years for this year but this is not going to extinguish the fire that the scheme has lit, since it is not going to address the fundamental question of what happens to the new recruits four years later.
A major source of employment in states like Bihar, UP and Haryana – where unemployment riots have broken – is the Indian Army and Railways, apart from migration to work in the informal sectors of western and southern states. Thus, becoming a soldier is fundamentally a real and bare question of daily bread for the poor, unlike the romantic middle class notion of serving the country.
The Agnipath shock comes months after the Railway Recruitment Board changed its eligibility qualification, leaving lakhs of aspirants high and dry. With the agricultural and unorganised sectors, which provide employment to the stay-behinds, heavily hit by demonetisation, GST and later Covid-19 and Modi’s lockdowns, north Indian youth pinned all their hopes on army recruitment. But Agnipath has come as a bolt from the blue.
India is facing a great unemployment crisis and Modi has aggravated the problem by his disastrous economic policies and now his neoliberal recruitment policies. Even though this resentment is manipulated at the time of elections by communal polarisation and last minute ‘labharthi’ handouts, the BJP government has failed to address the underlying economic problems.
That is why the promises made by BJP state governments – after sensing the simmering resentment – about reserving and giving priorities to retired ‘agniveers’ in police recruitment and the assurance of skill certificates and even degrees at the end of commission have failed to convince jobseekers.
Compromising Indian security interests
The whole scheme fails to pass minimum scrutiny under any consideration, least of all national security. If the aim is to keep the army young, Agnipath does not answer how an army can be fit and professional when half of its troops will be on short ‘tours of duty’ by 2032, according to Lt Gen BS Raju. As another army veteran puts it, the Indian Army would become a ‘kindergarten’ force with most soldiers having no incentive to invest in learning or face risks.
On the other hand, how are these agniveers – armed only with a skill certificate which would be of no use in civilian life – expected to survive post retrenchmet? What would be the societal risk and the social cost of dealing with a militarily trained, desperate army of unemployed young men? What kind of social anarchy is Modi leading India into? These questions have been raised by even those military veterans sympathetic to the ruling regime.
Neo-liberal chakravyuha, hopeless Abhimanyus
The only end that this scheme will meet – which seems to be the sole goal intended to achieve, is buried in between sentences and promises.
Thanks to the neo-liberal fiscal conservatism driving official policy, the government is desperate to reduce expenditure on salary and pensions. In the defence budget of nearly Rs 5 lakh crore, more than 2.6 lakh crore is spent on salary and pensions. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM), 2003, enacted to show India’s creditworthiness to global investors, mandates the Union and State governments to adhere to fiscal discipline by bringing the revenue deficit down to zero, and hold the fiscal deficit at 3% of GDP. In practical terms, this means the government must cut revenue expenditure and increase revenues to finance pro-capital reforms and spend on infrastructure required by global capital.
Thought government expenditure is a major source of growth, development and survival in developing countries, the role of the state was recrafted as a facilitator and private capital was assigned the job of unleashing growth and creating jobs. Though it has failed in this task, neoliberal employment policies – contractualisation, fixed term employment, withdrawal of social benefits – are being implemented in all sectors. Government recruitment too has increasingly become contractual, tentative and without pension benefits.
The Agnipath scheme brings this neoliberal policy to the army but the government failed to calculate the attendant social and political costs. In all probability, India is looking at another Modi-made disaster – in line with demonetisation, GST and the zero-notice lockdown of 2020.
The author is a columnist and activist in Karnataka
The research director of Freedom House yesterday said: “We @freedomhouse have documented the deterioration of democracy and internet freedom in India for years. Bravo to @washingtonpost for joining in on calling for the US to prioritise the Indian government’s turn toward Hindu nationalism.” The row over remarks on the Prophet has sharply drawn international attention to India’s long democratic slide. And the firewall between India’s violent streets and the havens of corporate and diplomatic gobbledygook is slipping.
Read about domicide ― destroying homes as state retribution. The state can annihilate homes and kill, explain two Canadian academics. “India, like Israel, is guilty of the crime, in Prayagraj and elsewhere.”
Prime Number: 350 deaths
Deaths due to lightning strikes: Madhya Pradesh, which has registered the highest cloud-to-ground strikes, has recorded 350 deaths whereas UP, Bihar incur double the losses with half the strikes, according to the Annual Lightning Report 2021-22.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Zafar Agha writes that no government has ever tried to prevent political opponents from staging protests against the ruling party. That is how democracy functions.
Narendra Modi’s Agnipath scheme is motivated by financial constraints but will have a direct bearing on Indian society, writes Sushant Singh in Al Jazeera.
In today’s interpretation of the law in some states, the tempter’s provocation is overlooked and the tempted found guilty, Justice Madan Lokur writes on bulldozer justice that intends to ‘teach a lesson’.
Anirudh Kanisetti writes that it is absurd to replace modern mosques with temples — as absurd as Karnataka demanding reparations from Tamilians because the Cholas destroyed Kalyana in 1047.
The recent divisive speech by the Madurai Adheenam’s seer, Desigar Gnanasambandar, suggests that the sect, once dedicated to Tamil forms of worship, is making a shift towards the Sangh’s Hindutva agenda, writes Bharathy Singaravel.
The government’s engagement with the world has become coloured by what India is doing internally to its minorities. There is no advantage to be gained abroad through pushing Hindutva at home, writes Aakar Patel.
Christophe Jaffrelot and Trishali Chauhan write that inflation affects the poor the most and the government must ensure that inequalities do not deepen further.
While Gopi Chand Narang lived a rich life, amply studded with awards and encomiums, his real contribution lies in a life-long commitment to a scholarship that was dynamic, innovative and alive to changing social realities, writes Rakshanda Jalil.
Hear Jan Breman and Ghanshyam Shah on the history of communal politics in India, Gujarat’s role in its expansion, and whether it is changing the average India’s sense of nationhood.
Samdish spoke with Anurag Basu, director of Barfi, Ludo, Murder, Life In A Metro and Jagga Jasoos, about his family and children, how he battled blood cancer, his entry into TV and all things cinema.
Over and Out
Children’s film Madappally United is sweet, telling and entirely genuine, just by letting children be children, and subtly giving a wake-up call to a pressing issue.
How India helped build Brazil’s enormous beef industry: cows exported from Nellore and Gujarat rescued its cattle industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.