Election Commissioners to Be Appointed By Bipartisan Panel From Now; Hathras Accused Acquitted of Gang-Rape, Murder Charges
Women’s domestic work 7.5% of GDP, no G20 family photos, the DC desi rises, Indians going off milk as prices soar, like Vitalstatistix, UP Power Corp employees fear the sky may fall on their heads
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
March 2, 2023
Today, the Supreme Court ended the practice of the government appointing election commissioners. Now, commissioners will be selected by a bipartisan panel including the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha (or the leader of the largest Opposition party) and the chief justice of India. This arrangement will hold until Parliament legislates on the matter. The credibility of the Election Commission of India has been eroded in recent elections, with the Opposition accusing it of favouring the ruling BJP.
The 2020 rape and murder of a young Dalit woman in Hathras – which saw the Uttar Pradesh trying to hush up the crime – has ended in the accused ‘upper’ caste persons being acquitted of the most serious charges. One of the men was convicted of manslaughter. The victim’s family intends to appeal the acquittals.
This morning, the Supreme Court directed SEBI to complete its investigation of the Adani-Hindenburg affair in two months, specifically examining if transactions with related entities were not declared, and if stock prices were manipulated. The court also appointed a committee to be headed by Justice AM Sapre, formerly of the Supreme Court, and comprising former SBI chairman OP Bhat, Justice (retd) JP Devdatt, KV Kamath, Nandan Nilekani and Somasekharan Sundaresan, to evaluate the current regulatory mechanism. Earlier, the court had turned down names proffered by the government under sealed cover.
The Adani Group yesterday denied a report that the overstretched conglomerate has secured a $3 billion loan from a sovereign wealth fund. It was hours after Reuters reported that the loan had been secured from a Middle East-based sovereign wealth fund. Bloomberg reported that the company dismissed the Reuters report.
As votes are counted in Assembly elections in the Northeast, the BJP appears to have consolidated its position in Tripura, a Left stronghold until 2018. In Meghalaya, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma seems to be heading for another term, with his National People’s Party leading in 26 of 59 seats. The NDDP-BJP combine is comfortably ahead in Nagaland.
Indian PM Narendra Modi has told the G20 foreign ministers meet now underway in Delhi that issues “we cannot resolve together” should not “come in the way of those we can.” India wants the focus to be on the economic effect of the Ukraine crisis, especially on food and energy security, in developing countries.
The G20 FMs’ meeting in Bengaluru last week ended without a joint statement because of opposition from China and Russia to the inclusion of two paragraphs condemning the war and criticising Moscow’s actions. Anonymously, several G20 diplomats admitted it is unlikely the foreign ministers will agree on a joint communique, given sharp divisions between the G7 and the China-Russia combine. India has so far refrained from publicly criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and it has abstained during voting on Ukraine-related resolutions at UN bodies, including the General Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution that again called on Russia to immediately withdraw forces from Ukraine.
There won’t be family pictures in G20, because G7 does not wish to be clicked with the Russian representative. This is a huge irritant for India, which relies on pictures of foreign policy successes to bolster the ruling party’s image in domestic politics. So there is only this Caravan image of the foreign minister, which is going viral on social media.
Amid continuing military tensions at the LAC, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will hold bilateral talks with his new Chinese counterpart Qin Gang on the sidelines of the G20 meet, reports ThePrint. This would be the first bilateral interaction since Qin took over as Foreign Minister of China in December, but it’s not a breakthrough moment for the border crisis. Beijing painted a grim picture of the country’s external challenges on Tuesday at a meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which Qin attended.
Deliveries of five regiments of S-400 air defence systems under a $5.43 billion deal with Russia are expected to be completed by year-end or early 2024. In July 2019, the Union government told Parliament that S-400 deliveries were “likely to be made by April 2023”. However, delayed payments, insurance and reinsurance remain major stumbling blocks, and would be in focus during Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s talks with Jaishankar on the sidelines of the G-20 Foreign Ministers meeting. Delivery of the third S-400 regiment has been completed, Russia’s Ambassador to India Denis Alipov has acknowledged. The second and third regiments saw delays of a few months, due to problems with “milestone payments”.
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Advancing a long-pending move, India is close to approving a deal to buy 18-24 MQ-9B high-altitude armed drones from the US ― down from 30 planned earlier. Armed for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare as well as land attack, they would also boost naval surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The country’s security forces have operated two basic MQ-9B drones leased in 2020. The leased drones have clocked a total of 10,000 hours in the past two years, flying as far as the Gulf of Aden and the South China Sea. If India signs off on the purchase, the deal would need US approval and signing an agreement between the governments could take months. Such an agreement would make India the first country that isn’t a US treaty ally to buy the armed version of the drones.
Rishi Sunak and the UK Foreign Office appear to be scaling back support for Jagtar Singh Johal, the British Sikh activist held in an Indian jail for five years, his family and Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer have said. Sunak’s government has refused to echo Boris Johnson’s claim that India has arbitrarily detained Johal. Sunak and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) say only they note the view of the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention, which said in May last year that Johal was arbitrarily detained. Early in February, Starmer wrote to Sunak, saying Johnson’s acceptance of the arbitrary detention in June was “an important step”.
Rahul Gandhi yesterday said the quantum of damage caused to retail investors and the country by forcing LIC and SBI to invest in the Adani Group would be known later. In a video released by the party, Gandhi, whose statements on the issue were expunged in Parliament, said: “On whose order have the SBI and the LIC continued to invest in the Adani group despite huge losses?”
The carbon border adjustment mechanism being implemented by the European Union will harm India’s exports of iron, steel and aluminium products to the EU. CBAM will come into effect on October 1 and translate into a 20-35% tax on select imports starting January 1, 2026, when the EU will start collecting the carbon tax on each consignment of steel, aluminium, cement, fertiliser, hydrogen and electricity. In 2022, 27% of India’s exports of iron, steel, and aluminium products worth $8.2 billion went to the EU.
“We believe India’s growth cycle has peaked and will be significantly lower than consensus expectations. High-frequency data for January suggests the investment and industrial sectors are flat from December levels, consumption is slightly higher, while weakness in export and import volumes signals weaker trade and domestic activity,” Nomura said in a research note. India’s revenue growth prospects are in question. The government is doubling down on public capex to catalyse economic growth but India must maintain buoyant revenues, which could be a challenge this year, says Nomura.
There is a furore in Bangladesh over the Adani deal. The Daily Star has a two-parter on how the numbers don’t add up, and that the deal was allegedly pushed by the Modi government. Meanwhile, in another two-parter, Al Jazeera reports that while claiming to clean up the coal scam which helped to end the tenure of the UPA, the Modi government left open the option of state governments opaquely subcontracting operations to private entities, allowing Adani to strengthen his position in the coal business.
The anti-defection law applies even if a faction splits from a political party and manages to gather a majority within the party itself, the Supreme Court observed yesterday in the political dispute between former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and breakaway leader and present Chief Minister Eknath Shinde. “A split does not postulate that people who are party to the split leave the party… The Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) also operates when a group of persons, whether minority or majority, claim they belong to the same party,” Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud said. Significantly, he added that whether a faction was the majority or minority makes no difference under the Tenth Schedule.
Many Indians have stopped buying milk, according to a survey of 10,000 households in 300 urban and rural districts by LocalCircles. “Four in 10 households are feeling the pinch of multiple increases in milk prices over the last 12 months.” It soared 8.8% year-on-year in January, its fastest pace since April 2020. Retail prices have jumped by up to Rs 12 a litre in a year.
India is not discussing the Census, which was meant to have been held in 2021. But Pakistan’s first digital census aims to provide a more accurate picture.
Prof Jayati Ghosh has been awarded the Galbraith Award for agricultural economists.
We referenced the Indian government’s enthusiasm for shutting down the internet earlier this week, but here’s a striking comparison: In 2022, India cut the internet to its own people more times than the Russians did in Ukraine.
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