‘Centre’ Does Not Hold, Nor Does 'Central Government’; Pakistan Has No Confidence, But What Will Follow?
Wang Yi in Delhi, India abruptly cancels UK delegation’s trip, Osella’s deportation warning to academics, ‘bone scavengers’ working in Bengal and Vietnamese man rowing to India to see wife held
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
March 25, 2022
Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi arrived in New Delhi yesterday evening, flying from Kabul, where he had gone from Pakistan on an unannounced visit to meet the Taliban government. He met Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval for delegation-level meetings today. After meeting Doval, Indian ‘sources’ said that in the talks, the need for early and complete disengagement for the development of mutual trust was discussed. Positive interactions at diplomatic and military levels must persist for the restoration of peace, a prerequisite for normalising bilateral ties. Actions can’t violate the spirit of equal and mutual security, and quick resolution is essential. The Chinese readout has Wang saying China and India should work together in South Asia.
As per ‘sources’ (why can’t they be unnamed senior government officials, like they used to be?), the Chinese side invited NSA Ajit Doval to visit China to take forward the mandate of Special Representatives. Doval responded positively, stating that he could visit after immediate issues were resolved.
The Guardian reports that a high-powered cross-party UK delegation to India led by House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and his deputy has been called off at the last minute. The newspaper speculates that this signals a growing rift over India’s refusal to distance itself from Russia for the invasion of Ukraine but Indian and British officials have said privately that there was an impasse over the composition of the delegation. The group of 10 has been in discussion with India since January and planned to visit Delhi and Rajasthan, but the Indian High Commission in London is understood to have raised objections at the last minute. It was not clear if India took issue with individual members or there is a wider concern about British MPs being given a platform in India to urge Modi to step up to the crease.
Filippo Osella, widely-known anthropologist and sociologist at the University of Sussex, was deported on arrival at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport yesterday. Osella, who has engaged closely with the social and cultural transformation of Kerala society, and with South Asian societies in general, was to attend a conference at Thiruvananthapuram today. Osella said the authorities were very rude and short with him when he was in India. Renowned political scientist Suhas Palshikar said: “With this precedent, scholars critical of the regime are warned. India’s journey into a barricaded democracy takes the next step. Let’s now face it ― we are a sub-democratic country, at best.”
Axios reports that Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has placed a “hold” on Eric Garcetti’s nomination to be ambassador to India, demanding details about how the Los Angeles mayor handled allegations of sexual harassment by his staff — and whether he’s been honest explaining them to the Senate. This matters as India has tried to remain neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, frustrating the White House. The US sees India as a key ally and a ‘pivot’ in its efforts to contain China. Yet over a year into the Biden administration, the US has no ambassador here.
“The US this week designated what Myanmar did to its Rohingya minority as genocide. Though Myanmar, unlike Ukraine, is in India’s neighbourhood, Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, made only token protests. The fact that the Rohingya are Muslim undoubtedly influenced him. India took only a tiny fraction of the refugees. This is in spite of the fact that India, unlike China, is a democracy,” writes Edward Luce in the Financial Times.
In the same newspaper, Simon Kuper notes: “Putin is not a one-off but a harbinger. Several other strongmen are likewise trying to set themselves up as leaders for life — most notably China’s Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and next perhaps Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman or India’s Narendra Modi.”
The Ministry of External Affairs yesterday condemned the recent statements and resolutions adopted at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Jammu & Kashmir and India’s accidental missile launch into Pakistan, arguing that they demonstrated the irrelevance of the body and the role of Pakistan as its manipulator. The MEA said references made to India during the OIC meeting in Pakistan were based on falsehoods and misrepresentation.
India again abstained from voting on a second UN General Assembly resolution critical of Russia in Ukraine. In the explanation of its vote, it expressed more urgent concern about the humanitarian situation, but again refused to name the aggressor. It’s becoming a defining trait.
The Union had vowed to double farmers’ incomes between 2015 and 2022, but farms in at least four states had less income at the halfway point, finds a parliamentary committee. In Jharkhand, a farming family’s average income fell from Rs 7,068 to Rs 4,895. In Madhya Pradesh, it fell from Rs 9,740 to Rs 8,339, in Nagaland, from Rs 11,428 to Rs 9,877, and for Odisha, it dipped marginally from Rs 5,274 to Rs 5,112. Elsewhere, farm incomes rose 27%, which is well short of the trajectory needed to double incomes this year.
As many as 139 deaths have been reported in “encounters” between April 2021 and March 2022 with no prosecution of police personnel, Union minister Nityanand Rai told the Rajya Sabha. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 169 such incidents were reported, 155 in 2017-2018, and 156 in 2018- 2019. There was a marginal decrease during the pandemic with 112 reported in 2019-2020 and 82 in 2020-2021.
A joint study by the World Sanitation Workers’ Alliance, the South Asian Sanitation Labour Network (SASLN) and the Safai Karmachari Ekta Manch, West Bengal, reveals that 178 manual scavengers work as ‘bone scavengers’ in the graveyards of West Bengal’s Birbhum, Siliguri and Cooch Behar districts, illegally gathering and selling human bones to survive. The bones are sold to traders, who sell them to calcium manufacturing factories and small cosmetics makers. In some cases, the bone scavengers themselves trade directly with them.
When asked by the BJP in Delhi to make the propaganda film The Kashmir Files tax-free, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal bowled a googly. He said that the makers of the movie should release it on YouTube so that everyone can watch it for free.
Oil PSUs lost so that BJP could win
India’s top fuel retailers IOC, BPCL and HPCL have lost $2.25 billion (Rs 19,000 crore) in revenue between November and March, when they were forced to keep petrol and diesel prices unchanged for electoral reasons, despite a sharp rise in crude prices, says Moody’s Investors Service. Petrol and diesel prices were static between November 4, 2021, and March 21 despite crude prices averaging $111 per barrel in the first three weeks of March compared to around $82 in early November, because the ruling BJP did not wish to burden voters during Assembly elections.
Fuel prices are deregulated and refiners are supposed to pass on fluctuations to the consumer daily, the Modi government has taken direct control of pricing. Any reduction in losses of PSUs without burdening the consumer may involve a reduction in excise duties, which were increased by the Modi government. For now, for the third consecutive day, fuel prices have been hiked by 80 paise.
TB more widespread than believed
Tuberculosis is much more prevalent in India than previously thought, shows a national government survey released yesterday, on World TB Day. The prevalence is 312 per lakh of population, the National TB Prevalence Survey of India 2019-2021 found. About 5 lakh individuals participated in the survey, the first of its kind in more than 50 years. TB is the world’s deadliest infectious disease and India has been the biggest contributor to the increase in the global burden.
Indian seafarers on ‘poverty wages’
The 185-year-old P&O, one of the biggest passenger shipping lines plying from the UK to the east in the age of steam, is in the eye of a storm ― after summary sackings in the UK, it is paying its new Indian crew “poverty wages”. Shockingly, this may not be illegal. After firing 800 British workers on March 17 P&O, now a ferry operator, has been replacing them with cheap labour ― Indian seafarers paid $2.38 per hour. Union General Secretary Mick Lynch called this “shocking exploitation”, and “another gut-wrenching betrayal” of the sacked UK crew. P&O told the BBC that the figure was inaccurate but did not say how much workers are being paid.
The Long Cable
Pakistan has no confidence, but what will follow?
The political situation in Pakistan has gone into overdrive. So much has happened since February that it is hard to keep up with developments ― and with rumours and speculation. On February 5, the Pakistan People’s Party leadership went to Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Shahbaz Sharif’s residence for lunch. Then started a whirlwind of meetings between the Opposition parties and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leaders. The PML-Q is a government ally in both the Centre and Punjab. From Asif Zardari to Maula Fazlur Rehman to even Shahbaz Sharif, they went to the residence of the Chaudhrys of Gujarat after over a decade to see Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. N and Q share a bitter history as a result of Musharraf’s coup and PML-Q’s emergence as the King’s Party following the Sharifs’ exile. The PPP leadership also held meetings with Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, which is also a government ally.
After all this political activity, the government said the Opposition would not be able to bring a no trust motion, and when it finally did, the PM said he was glad the Opposition fell into his trap. On March 25, a session of the National Assembly was called — the first after the Opposition submitted a no-confidence resolution against PM Imran Khan. Though it was on the agenda today, the session was postponed till Monday after offering fateha (prayers) for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MNA Khial Zaman Orakzai, as well as former president Rafiq Tarar and others. Speaker Asad Qaiser said that it is a tradition that when a parliamentarian passes away, the session is postponed for a day.
The Opposition says it’s a delaying tactic, but the PM can’t escape the ‘inevitable’. It claims to have enough members of the ruling party in its camp to oust the premier. The magic number is 172. The government has 179 members, including allies, while the Opposition has 162. Last week, the Opposition showed some of its cards when at least 10 PTI MNAs went public and supported it. The Opposition claims to have more than 24 PTI members in its camp, but the number could be even higher.
If these members vote against PM Khan, they would eventually be de-seated by Article 63-A of the constitution, which deals with defection. The government has also filed a presidential reference in the Supreme Court asking it to interpret the article and decide if these dissident members should be allowed to vote. Would their vote be counted, would they be disqualified for life and what measures should be taken to prevent defection? According to legal experts, the defection clause only comes into play after the vote has been cast, and there is no lifetime disqualification, but the member loses his/her current seat.
This is why some Opposition members say they need the allies on their side so that the defection clause can be avoided altogether. So far the allies – PML-Q, MQM, BAP, GDA – have not announced what they will do. Some analysts believe that the PML-Q, MQM and BAP may formally join the Opposition in a few days, while others say that unless they are sure the government will fall, they will not quit the Treasury benches. The allied parties seem to be tilting towards the Opposition, and unhappy with the ruling party.
PM Imran Khan has called a public rally in Islamabad on March 27. The Opposition, too, will start its march to the capital tomorrow. There are concerns that these two rallies could lead to clashes in the capital.
What lies ahead? If the government stays, would it have to sacrifice its chief minister in Punjab? Will it go after the Opposition even more strongly than it has in the past three years, despite being a weak government, with members and allies unhappy about how the country is being governed?
On the other hand, if the no-confidence motion is successful, what will the Opposition do? Will the new government stay in power till the 2023 elections with a mixture of different political parties, or will they go for early elections themselves so that someone has a clear mandate? Will a hotchpotch government, which may turn out to be even weaker than the present government, be able to deliver on anything? Difficult decisions about the economy, structural changes and reforms have to be taken. There has been no clear answer from the Opposition ― they just want to dislodge the Imran government. Many wonder at the urgency, given how unpopular this government is, and the elections are just one and a half years away. All these events have led to political uncertainty which cannot continue indefinitely.
(Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan)
In his speech in the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s speech, senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi referred to India as ‘Union of India’, the term used by the Tamil Nadu government for the ‘Centre’ since the DMK assumed office. The BJP objected, saying that states are just administrative units and India has a central government.
But now, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, in its report on Demands for Grants tabled in the Parliament yesterday, has clarified that no ‘Centre’ or ‘central government’ exists. The committee, headed by BJP MP Sushil Modi, said that the term ‘central government’ should be “substituted” by “Union of India” and officials of the executive, legislature and judiciary should be called “officials of the Union of India”.
The personnel ministry “categorically” told the panel that this may be outside its purview, and earned a sharp retort: “The Committee is unhappy with this disrespectful and inconsiderate response of the Ministry. At this juncture, the Committee would like to draw the attention of the Ministry to Part V of the Constitution of India, entitled, ‘THE UNION’…” Will the BJP now disband the Union of India?
Prime Number: 4.85 crore
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways informed the Lok Sabha that there have been
4.85 crore traffic violations after the implementation of the new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019
. It was only 1.39 crore between February 2017 and August 2019. Intriguingly, the rise occurred during the pandemic year, when traffic was sharply restricted.
The cost of passive smoking is huge ― more than half of India’s health budget, which is Rs 83,000 crore for 2022-23. The direct annual healthcare costs are Rs 56,700 crore, 0.33% of India’s GDP in 2017. The estimate — the first of its kind — is more than twice the estimated healthcare expenditure of Rs 25,700 crore on smokers.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Gautam Bhatia writes that denial of bail to Umar Khalid shows that courts are now adopting “a feather-light touch towards the prosecution when considering bail, and not looking too closely at what the state has placed before them.”
The Supreme Court’s order granting the Amrapali project priority sector status (normally available only to affordable housing projects) and disregarding its defaults would trigger the classical ‘slippery slope’ provision and have unintended consequences for banking, says Mint.
In the process of SARS CoV2 evolution, are we looking at the end, or the endemic, asks Dr Srinath Reddy.
Harish Khare welcomes Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav’s decision to resign from the Lok Sabha and concentrate his energies on Lucknow and not Delhi.
The cheetah relocation project would help conservationists understand their behaviour in a new habitat, writes Chetan Chauhan.
Jyoti Punwani writes that behind the AIMIM’s ‘secular’ offer lies the fact that Asaduddin Owaisi can taunt secular parties more forcefully, but it’s unlikely to sway Muslims against the MVA government, which has kept the BJP out of Maharashtra.
Ten years on, the Gujarat Solar Park in Charanka village of Patan district has still not provided locals jobs and free electricity, writes Ravleen Kaur.
The rural economy has been in distress for a long period amid declining agricultural profits and stagnant wages, writes Himanshu. Agrarian mobilisations will require a broadening of the movement for it to have any political impact.
Is the Centre exercising its pocket veto by not appointing Saurabh Kirpal as HC judge, even four months after the Supreme Court Collegium’s recommendation, asks Paras Nath Singh.
Daisy Rockwell says on translating Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, that “being on the Booker longlist is already a win.”
Sandip Roy shares the journey of Mahesh Vinayakram from Carnatic music to the world stage of Cirque du Soleil.
The Dravidian Professional Forum’s panel discussion yesterday evening on ‘The State of Indian Media’ featured Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan, journalists N Ram and Siddharth Varadarajan (a contributor to The India Cable), Prof Julia Cagé of Sciences Po and AS Panneerselvan, former reader’s editor of The Hindu.
Over and Out
Artist Ranadeep Bhowmick merged his interests in science, the arts and psychology in ‘The Phonebooth’, a public art installation outside Golf Green’s Central Park in Kolkata last week, from which people could make a ‘call to nowhere’. Bhowmick drew on the voids of the present: “…wanting to speak to someone but the call is unanswered, having something to say but no one to call, and wanting to speak to a deceased loved one, but being left only with their number.”
Retired diplomat and author Vikas Swarup speaks about his book Six Suspects being turned into a web series.
A 37-year-old Vietnamese man who tried to row 2,000 km from Thailand to India to see his wife is in custody after being rescued off the Thai coast. Ho Hoang Hung sailed from Phuket in an inflatable rubber dinghy, armed with drinking water and instant noodles but no navigation tools, and planned to cross the Bay of Bengal near the start of the cyclone season to meet his wife who works in Mumbai, whom he has not seen for two years due to the pandemic. He was found with no map, compass, GPS or change of clothes, and only a limited amount of water. He had initially flown to Bangkok but found that without a visa, he could not travel on to India, and so took a bus to Phuket, and set sail.
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.