Alarm Raised Over Botswana Covid Variant; MGNREGA Still In The Red Despite Bailout

Opposition avoids govt’s Constitution Day celebration, first privately developed cryogenic engine tested, NHAI had eight chairmen in six years and by staring down the govt, farmers have created hope

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

November 26, 2021    

Pratik Kanjilal

India’s 20 most profitable companies accounted for nearly 65% of all corporate profits in the first half of 2021-22 (FY22), as against a 62.4% share in FY21 and 52% a decade ago in FY12. The record profit concentration was 72% in FY20. Large corporates have profited from the pandemic, while smaller firms and the public sector struggle.

Startup Skyroot Aerospace has tested Dhawan-1, India’s first privately developed cryogenic rocket engine, running on liquid fuel. Yesterday’s 20 second burn will be followed by longer tests. It may be recalled that the development of indigenous cryogenic engines was a turning point in India’s space programme, which was denied foreign technology.  

Days after authorities in Kashmir exhumed the bodies of a doctor and a businessman killed in a ‘routine’ military operation in Srinagar, several families whose kin were gunned down and buried miles from home are demanding their mortal remains for decent burial. Eighty-three “extrajudicial killings” have been reported in Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Where did the dead go? The Kashmir Walla found some in Wudder Payeen village of north Kashmir’s Handwara — 90 km from Srinagar. As the silence of the graveyard takes over Kashmir, broken by recurring tales of inhumanity, residents of Wudder Payeen village have become guardians of the dead. 

The authorities yesterday snapped the Internet in parts of Srinagar after an impromptu shutdown and clashes with security personnel, against the killing of three “militants” near the city centre on Wednesday evening.

China’s military said it has lodged “solemn representations” (that means a formal complaint) with India, and expressed its “firm opposition” to Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat’s comments earlier this month. He had said that China is the biggest security threat to India, and that mutual suspicions are rising. People’s Liberation Army Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, described Gen Rawat’s comments as “irresponsible and dangerous” at the Ministry’s monthly press conference in Beijing.

Amidst the hype about indigenous naval platforms built in and operated by India, here’s a sobering reality check: India has just 10 destroyers against China’s 42, 13 frigates against China’s 44, 28 corvettes against China’s 71, one aircraft carrier against China’s two, 17 diesel-electric submarines compared to China’s 57, and only one SSN (nuclear-powered submarine) and one SSBN (nuclear-powered ballistic submarine) against China’s six each. Bridging the gap was easy in the case of the new airport in Noida ― government handles and BJP ministers passed off images of Beijing International Airport as the Jewar project! Now, how do you fake a frigate?    

At the SCO council of heads of government, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar focused on Pakistan and tried to stymie its attempts to raise bilateral issues (that means Kashmir). China and Russia are also members. During a virtual meeting of national security advisers of SCO states in September 2020, NSA Ajit Doval had walked out after Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf projected a map that inaccurately depicted the borders and included Indian territory within Pakistan.

The Centre has issued a fresh advisory on Covid-19 and asked all states and Union territories to screen and test all travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, where a new Covid-19 variant of serious concern has been reported.

Fourteen Opposition parties are giving the Constitution Day celebrations in Parliament and Vigyan Bhavan a miss today. The Congress decided against sending any representative to the Central Hall, where the president reads the Preamble. The Opposition says the government does not respect the Constitution.  

Production at India’s top two-wheeler makers Hero MotoCorp and Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India slumped to a seven-year low in October and November. Sales flagged even during the festive months, piling up unsold stocks. The two firms account for close to 60% of the domestic market.

The Madras High Court has cancelled the former AIADMK government’s acquisition of its late chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s Veda Nilayam bungalow in Chennai’s Poes Garden, reports The News Minute. The court has transferred it to Jayalalithaa’s niece J Deepa and nephew J Deepak. The AIADMK government acquired the property last year to convert it into a public memorial.

Newslaundry has a six-part analysis of the chargesheet filed against journalist Siddique Kappan by UP Police. Press releases on Kappan’s phone apparently prove that he was “receiving instructions” on behalf of the Popular Front of India.

The Preamble of the Indian Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on this day in 1949. Textual analysis of the debates by Shivkumar Jolad and Yugank Goyal shows that ‘rights’ was the most invoked word. ‘Gandhi’ featured in the discussions more than ‘God’, and words like ‘secular’ were used a lot more than ‘dharma’ or ‘morality’.

With newspapers reel under the digital assault, a thread by Sidin Vadukut shows that after liberalisation, newspapers refused to face the challenge creatively, and are now left with neither the autonomy to do news, nor to generate revenues. 

From daily essentials to automobile fuels, rising prices are hammering the middle class. Steep tomato prices have prompted a wave of snarky videos. Will the tomato acquire political agency, as the onion once did? 


EWS criteria revisited

The Union government has taken a “considered decision” to revisit “criteria” for determining Economically Weaker Sections for reservation. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Supreme Court it would take four weeks. The court had grilled the government about the logical basis for setting Rs 8 lakh as the annual income limit to identify the EWS.


MGNREGA still in the red

The Finance Ministry claims to have allocated an additional Rs 10,000 crore as an interim measure for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme, after its budgetary allocation ran out. Despite the infusion, only Rs 76,340 crore is available, well below the Rs 86,229 crore already spent! MNREGA, memorably dismissed by PM Modi in 2015 as a “monument to UPA’s failures”, has been India’s lifeline since the economy tanked.


Rafales to be retrofitted

India will receive the remaining six Rafale multi-role jets with India-specific enhancements (ISEs) in the next two months. Once the ISEs are tested in Indian conditions, the existing fleet of 30 Rafales will be retrofitted with them in 2022 to make them fully operational. India had asked for 13 ISEs during negotiations to buy 126 fighters, but the fixed costs were transposed to only 36 aircraft, causing a huge spike in the price per aircraft. As per the CAG’s report, IAF had at one time sought the removal of some ISEs to reduce costs, but Dassault demurred.


Indian mixed up in Congo scam

Investigations by a global media and NGO consortium into a multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal involving former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president Joseph Kabila reveals the role allegedly played by a DRC-based businessman of Indian origin, Harish Jagtani. Paris-based Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa and the French publication Mediapart have over 3.5 million documents covering nearly 10 years of transactions at BGFI Bank Groupe SA, one of Africa’s largest banks.


The Long Cable

After victory, the farmers must not lose sight of the big picture

Avinash Mohananey

Credit should be given to the agitating farmers for taking the bull of neoliberal policy by the horns and blunting its debilitating impact. They have also unmasked the backers of big corporates in the political leadership, bureaucracy and media, not to speak of the agricultural “experts” and “economists”, of dubious competence and credentials, who support corporate agendas.

This success would not have come without a united struggle by farmers supported by disadvantaged sections of society like labour, students, unemployed youth, contractual workers etc, who have also suffered from the government’s neoliberal policies. The most significant outcome is the formation of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) platform, consisting of 32 farm unions backed by about 500 organisations nationally. Unity of people cutting across caste and religion is what India’s rulers fear most, as it can tear apart the polarising “us versus them” narrative necessary for perpetuating their exploitation.

Withdrawal of the controversial laws was a foregone conclusion. Every narrative spread through compliant and now discredited media fell apart as people shifted to alternative news platforms, social media and YouTube. After every trick to crush, divide and defame the movement had failed, PM Narendra Modi realised that it was time to cut losses and announced withdrawal of the three controversial laws. Meanwhile, farmers had to face every kind of repression and braved weather adversities in the year-long protests. More than 700 agitating farmers lost their lives, and millions suffered hardship.

In fact, before the announcement came, despondency had set in as all the enforcement agencies of the government were being used to suppress dissent and target those opposed to the BJP’s policies. The pall of gloom and helplessness that had engulfed this country after every institution was subverted, justice blatantly denied, and constitutional guarantees undermined with impunity is slowly lifting. In staring the government down, therefore, the farmers have created hope where none existed.

Another positive outcome of the protracted agitation has been the creation of unprecedented awareness among the masses about their political and economic rights, which can’t be addressed by those whose elections are bankrolled by the very corporates against whom they are pitted. The credibility of the political class is so low that farmers have refused to call off their agitation despite the PM’s promise of repeal.

They know well how every political party that assured them a proper minimum support price (MSP) for their crops has deceived them after getting their votes and coming to power. As the SKM demand for MSP takes centrestage, a campaign against it has already been unleashed in the media by the very people who had supported the controversial farm laws.

The repeal of the farm laws will not end the agrarian crisis or growing inequality and concentration of wealth. Granting MSP is the next logical step to boost the income of farmers, who constitute about 50% of Indian households. Rather than unleashing repression once again, it is in the broad interests of the nation for the government to initiate a dialogue with farmers to implement MSP.

Once MSP is granted, the nation would expect farmers themselves to come forward with a plan for improving farming methods so that income support, food security, better nutrition and environmental protection can all go hand in hand. The Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have held up a mirror to humanity. The pursuit of growth cannot be on the basis of ‘business as usual’ practices.

Besides, the platform of SKM should be widened to include other disadvantaged people who are also being pushed further down the economic ladder. The broader coalition of mass organisations should set a national agenda and require all political parties to work for the equitable distribution of wealth. SKM bears the responsibility to form this broad coalition and carry everyone along to secure for the people of India justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, which should not remain confined to the Preamble of our Constitution.

(The author is a retired police officer who worked in the Intelligence Bureau)


Reportedly

Such is the importance accorded to infrastructure and highway construction that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has seen eight persons occupy the post of Chairman in the six years since 2015. The last chairman was repatriated in July to his parent cadre in Uttarakhand as its chief secretary. Moreover, the post of Member (Finance) has been vacant for two years.


Prime Number: $1.5 billion

The Asian Development Bank yesterday approved a $1.5 billion (Rs 11,185 crore) loan to India for Covid-19 vaccine procurement. China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is expected to co-finance an additional $500 million.


India elected to UN World Heritage Committee

India has been elected to the World Heritage Committee of the UN’s cultural organisation for a four-year term. Twenty other countries are on the committee, which implements the World Heritage Convention, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from party states. It has the final say on the World Heritage List. 


Pointless halal row at Sabarimala

Do you even know the meaning of halal, the Kerala High Court asked a petitioner, a former state VHP president, while hearing his plea against the use of halal certified jaggery at Sabarimala. His plea claimed that religious scholars of Islam have said that saliva is a necessary ingredient for halal certification. “The concept of halal only says that certain things are prohibited; all other things are halal,” the court said, according to LiveLaw. On November 18, the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which manages the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala, told the court that the jaggery was labelled ‘halal’ because it is also exported to Arab countries by the supplier.


Deep Dive 

The biggest story in the National Family Health Survey 5 is the busting of the myth of population explosion. See this thread for several topical and timely reads. Here is the full survey, out yesterday.


NIPFP proposes wider GST hikes

A National Institute of Public Finance and Policy study concludes that the government can rationalise tax rates without losing revenue. It suggests rejigging the four major rates of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% with a three-rate framework of 8%, 15% and 30%. The findings of the NIPFP, an autonomous think tank backed by the Finance Ministry, are significant as the GST Council has asked a Group of Ministers headed by Karnataka CM BS Bommai to propose rationalising tax rates and merging slabs by next month to shore up revenues. For now, the GST has been jacked up by a whopping 7% on categories from footwear to fabrics, harming micro, medium and small enterprises.


Param Bir Singh manifests himself

Former Maharashtra top cop Param Bir Singh, who was AWOL, has materialised, and it’s now an international story. Singh has landed in a mess deeper than he had anticipated. Retired assistant police commissioner Samsher Khan Pathan has claimed that the former Mumbai police commissioner “destroyed” a mobile phone seized from 26/11 terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab. Pathan submitted a written complaint to the Mumbai Police Commissioner in July and asked him to investigate the matter and take action against Singh.


Opeds you don’t want to miss

  • On Verghese Kurien’s birth centenary, Harish Damodaran writes that while he is rightly credited for the White Revolution of Anand, its foundation was laid in the Kaira Cooperative in 1946 by Sardar Patel, Morarji Desai and Tribhuvandas Patel.   


Listen up

Neera Chandhoke speaks on her new book, The Violence in Our Bones: Mapping The Deadly Faultlines Within Indian Society.


Watch out

The Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Rakesh Tikait is reaching out well beyond north India. He addressed Telugu speakers at an All India Kisan Sabha meeting yesterday. He talked politics straight up (1:35:00).

 


Over and out

Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has tied up with Indianapolis-based DroneDek Corporation, which designs smart mailboxes for secure drone delivery. They will design, develop and produce smart mailbox units for distribution globally.

The Tamil song ‘Magizhini’ sung by Keerthana Vaidyanathan celebrates love between women.

And a Lalit Kala Akademi show leads off with a painting of the rajrishi. The present incumbent, not the ideal from the epics.  


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