As State Polls Begin, Voter Pessimism Holds the Key; Ramakrishna Mission Backs Lawyer Defending Muslim Girls
PPM-CARES kitty tops $1.4 billion, BJP thrashing about betrays adversity, Savarkar biographer accused of plagiarising, dematerialised Himalayan yogi ran NSE by remote control, Mumbai street art stuns
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
February 14, 2022
The Sensex and Nifty were deep fried today by oil prices, which are at a seven-year peak, chipping up to 4% off stocks. Apart from import costs, there are fears of consumption slumping if pump prices shoot up after the polls. Bellwether UP is in the second phase of polling today, and Uttarakhand and Goa are also voting, adding to market uncertainty. The proposed LIC IPO will have its own effect. FIIs have taken out over $10 billion since November, and foreign investment may be scarce in the months ahead.
Unable to create public demand for electric vehicles, the government has spent only Rs 1,400 crore out of the Rs 10,000 crore allocated for the second phase of the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME-II) scheme.
The UK requested the Union Home Ministry to reconsider its decision to deny Oxfam India’s registration renewal application under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). This was during a virtual meeting between UK Permanent Home Secretary Matthew Rycroft and Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, ahead of a possible visit by PM Boris Johnson later this year.
Contributions towards corporate social responsibility, mandated by law, slumped by 64.24% to Rs 8,828 crore in FY 20-21 from Rs 24,689 crore a year earlier. The number of companies engaged in CSR activities dropped by 93% on an annualised basis to 1,619 in 2020-21, compared to 22,531 a year ago.
In a deeply controversial move, LIC has filed for an IPO with SEBI, putting 316 million shares on offer, valuing LIC at Rs 13.5 lakh crore. The government hopes to raise Rs 65,000 crore by diluting 5% equity. The original offer was for 10% equity, but it was halved on account of volatile liquidity globally and doubts about the sustainability of the biggest IPO ever, after global portfolio funds encashed. The government is treading cautiously since LIC is loaded with sentiment. The divestment has been opposed by former top brass of bank unions and a bureaucrat who argue that “the government has bypassed several important rules … for the sake of meeting its disinvestment target, disregarding the social cause that the LIC serves for the marginalised sections.” While participating policyholders’ share of surplus is to be progressively reduced from 95% to 90% by 2025, their access to profits from non-participatory policies is now shut, heavily benefiting the shareholders. See Andy Mukherjee’s backgrounder in The Print.
Another sign of economic distress: in two years, gold loans have shot up over 2.5 times, from Rs 29,355 crore in January 2020 to Rs 70,871 crore in December 2021. Much of the gold is now up for auction, newspaper notices show. Loans are advanced for up to around 70% of the value of the jewellery and are usually taken by the bottom 60%.
The government has no immediate plans to allow Covid-19 booster vaccine doses to all adults and will also hold off immunising children between five and 15 years of age.
The Ramakrishna Mission in Karnataka has hit out at those attacking Devadatt Kamat, the senior advocate arguing for the girls in hijab. It calls the debate on the dress code for Muslim girls an “unnecessary discussion”, which is “not in good taste or in the interest of peace and harmony.” The lawyer, who makes a powerful case to let the girls be, is a devotee of the Ramakrishna Mission. The Mission denouncing Hindu communalists is significant. (See Hijab attack below)
South China Morning Post reports that the detention of Fahad Shah, head of Indian news portal Kashmir Walla, is the latest in a mounting media clampdown in Indian-administered Kashmir. Authorities have used intimidation – including arbitrary arrests – to instil fear in Kashmir’s shrinking community of journalists.
Srinagar has witnessed a rise in militant attacks, but the J&K administration has scaled down the security cover of former chief ministers by removing jammers and ambulances from their security detail. More than a month ago, the Centre withdrew the special security cover given to all former chief ministers.
The curious case of former NSE CEO Chitra Ramakrishna and the invisible hand of a dematerialised yogi who virtually ran India’s largest exchange has all aghast. Ramkrishna was guided by a yogi in the Himalayas in appointing Anand Subramanian, little-known in the industry, as chief operating officer in 2013. The appointment cost NSE Rs 5 crore. The revelations are part of SEBI’s final order on Friday in a probe against Ramakrishna, NSE, and four others. Businessline broke the story. How far can Yogi mumbo-jumbo take you? Quite far, but not for long.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman continues to mesmerise with statements like taxing crypto-currency doesn’t make it legal. Sadly, she is right: the tax code is blind to the legality of income. Its purpose is to tax it.
Times of India journalists reckon that PM-CARES’ corpus has crossed $1.4 billion (coincidentally, roughly what Qatar is ponying up for Murdoch’s India venture ― see below), with 53% from private companies and their employees ― led by Tata Trusts and Azim Premji ― and 42% from the public sector and its employees. Official figures have not been disclosed and would be higher.
Five scientists have written on the “bad science” choking India. They assert that while air pollution worsens each year, action is stymied because the government maintains that there is no correlation with death and disease. As India embarks on a decadal review of air quality standards, this distortion needs to be checked.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has written to PM Modi (in Tamil, naturally) to suggest bilateral talks with Sri Lanka about arrests of the state’s fishermen, and urged him to expedite the release of 41. Pakistan’s Dawn ran an editorial yesterday about “besieged fishermen on India’s western borders”. It says, “Whenever hostilities spike between India and Pakistan, fishermen belonging to both states often have to pay the price as they are scooped up by the authorities on either side for ‘violating’ the maritime boundary.”
“The situation [at the LAC in Ladakh] has arisen due to the disregard by China in 2020 of written agreements with us not to amass forces at the border,” said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at a press conference in Melbourne, alongside his Australian counterpart. He didn’t mention his emergency visit to Beijing to pacify China after the government’s action on Kashmir in August 2019, which made tensions inevitable. Even so, what he said in Melbourne is more than what the government has told the Indian Parliament since the crisis began 21 months ago. Poll promo interviews of Narendra Modi skirt the China crisis and the PM’s tirades conveniently ignore it.
And Gujarat has emerged as a major route for narcotics trafficking. Agencies seized drugs worth Rs 2,000 crore off the coast on Saturday. From January 2021 to February 12, 2022, drugs worth Rs 3,617 crore were confiscated in Gujarat. The total volume was 68,984 kg, which amounts to an average daily seizure of 169 kg. Notably, this does not include the whopping Rs 15,000 crore heroin haul from Adani’s Mundra port in Kutch.
Academics Rohit Chopra, Audrey Truschke and Ananya Chakravarty wrote to the Royal Historical Society three days ago, “drawing attention to a pervasive, long-standing pattern of plagiarism” in the work of its member Vikram Sampath, Savarkar’s biographer. Particularly damaging is the charge of lifting from deceased student Paul Schaffel, whose award-winning undergraduate thesis was submitted to Wesleyan University in 2012. Schaffel wrote it while struggling with lymphoma. The Wire has covered all aspects of the story, including the opinion of affected parties, and Sampath’s threats of legal action.