Gogra Disengagement Raises Questions on India's Ladakh Border; Akhilesh Promises Caste Census

Oxygen committee does vanishing act, black coal law will be free ticket for private miners, India’s Olympians soar as others bask in glory, and Dara Shikoh declines to be discovered by Hindutva

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
August 9, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Prime Minister Modi has attended the monsoon session of Parliament just once. The Opposition is not letting it go unnoticed and Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien yesterday demanded that Modi must attend and listen to issues raised by the Opposition parties, which have been vocal about Pegasus and the farm laws. In a three-minute video, several Opposition leaders are seen challenging Modi to have a discussion in Parliament. 

This is significant, since Parliament’s media invariably neglects to cover Opposition MPs speaking.

All Opposition parties will support the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Amendment) Bill, 2021 being introduced in Parliament today, said Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha: “The amendment is to give back power to states to identify social and economic backward classes. The Supreme Court, in May 2021, had ruled that only the Centre can do so. A Constitutional Amendment Bill cannot be taken up unless the House is in order and needs to be passed by a division of votes.”

The Allahabad High Court has observed that a language cannot be connected with a specific religion, and Urdu can be taught even in areas where there are few Muslims. “In a secular state it would prima facie not be open to frame such policy and to discontinue an Urdu teacher only because the Muslim population is less,” Justice Ashwani Kumar Mishra observed while hearing a plea by an Urdu teacher who claimed that her services were discontinued because the local Muslim population fell below 20%.

In a move that will set the cat among the pigeons in the BJP, Samajwadi Party leader and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has said they would conduct a caste census within six months of coming to power in the state.

A study of the Indian Council of Medical Research involving 98 people, 18 of whom had, in error, received Covishield as the first dose and Covaxin as the second in Uttar Pradesh, has apparently shown that combining the Covid-19 vaccines elicited better immunogenicity than two doses of the same vaccine. The study is being used to argue that a combination of Covishield and Covaxin is safe. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has issued notice to the government on a plea seeking public disclosure of vaccine clinical trial data and post-vaccination data, with the petitioner claiming that it is mandatory by international medical norms.

The Modi government has denied the very existence of a committee set up to oversee medical oxygen supply during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Just two weeks ago, it argued strenuously before the Central Information Commission (CIC) against disclosing information about this committee on grounds of strategic interests, commercial confidence, intellectual property and Cabinet papers. 

Last week, the Chief Information Commissioner slammed the government’s rationale for a blanket denial of information as “far-fetched” and “unjustified”, and directed a response within 10 days. Now, the Central Public Information Officer of the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) says the committee does not even exist. On Friday, he claimed an “inadvertent error” due to an earlier “misreading” of the RTI application. However, The Hindu has seen the DPIIT’s order dated April 4, 2020, which indicates the committee, chaired by its then secretary Guruprasad Mohapatra, did exist.

Another farmer died by suicide in the farmers’ protest on Delhi’s borders which is over eight months old now. Activists say that over 600 farmers have sacrificed their lives during the protest. The Union government has said, predictably and controversially, that it has no information.

The perils of not reopening schools after prolonged closure due to the  pandemic are “too serious to be ignored”, according to a parliamentary panel. The committee has noted that closure has damaged families and increased involvement of children in household work. 

Vaccination would determine how safely schools can be reopened. Till yesterday, just 8.15% of Indians were fully vaccinated, against the world average of 15.38%. By criticising rural residents for Covid-19 ‘vaccine hesitancy’, the government is playing ‘blame the victim’ as rural regions, historically underserved, are easily cast into imagined ‘geographies of blame,’ says Nikhil Pandhi.

Bihar’s NDA government has asked district programme officers of the school midday meal scheme to ensure that schools sell the jute sacks in which food grains (rice and dal) was supplied. All empty sacks must be sold at Rs 10. School teachers and principals have been spotted in local markets trying to sell the 1.27 crore sacks, for which the government wants Rs 12.7 crore. Sacks are damaged by floods and rats and were used as durries to sit on, as school furniture has not been supplied.


Police station threat to human dignity

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said police stations pose the “highest threat” to human rights and dignity, which are “sacrosanct”. “The threat to human rights and bodily integrity is the highest in police stations… Going by recent reports, even the privileged are not spared third-degree treatment.” At a function in Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi, he said, “If the judiciary wants to garner the faith of the citizens, we have to make everyone feel assured that we exist for them. For the longest time, the vulnerable population has lived outside the system of justice.” 

On Friday, a Supreme Court bench candidly said that the Intelligence Bureau and the CBI were not doing much to help judges. ​​The bench said that judges are not a priority for the investigating agencies and their complaints are not heeded. Judges are getting maligned and threatened about “sensitive cases” they are hearing. Judge Anand in Jharkhand was allegedly murdered in a hit-and-run incident on July 28 while he was on his morning jog. Anand had been hearing the murder case of Ranjay Singh, a close aide of former BJP MLA Sanjiv Singh.

A day later, the CBI said it had arrested five people for allegedly posting defamatory content against judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and the apex court on social media.


India’s Olympians soar while others try and bask in their glory

The Tokyo Olympics closed yesterday evening, and India clocked its best ever medals haul of seven, exceeding the London 2012 tally by one. A gold in athletics, for Neeraj Chopra in javelin throw, is a first for India. The hockey teams did brilliantly, with women scaling new heights and the men’s team securing a bronze, ending the medal drought since 1980. 

Indians, especially PM Modi, were happy to claim credit and tried to get the sheen to rub off on themselves. Memes ruled. Shameful casteist slurs were also used at the house of Olympian Vandana Kataria. But while the British PM and others had strongly and publicly denounced the use of racist slurs against England’s Black players when they lost the Euro final, no one in authority in India said anything audible about this renewed expression of our oldest and darkest scourge. But Kataria’s captain Rani Rampal spoke up.  Bronze medal winner Bajrang Punia and gold medallist Neeraj Chopra have another deep bond in common. Both are sons of farmers and had supported protests calling for scrapping the three laws and fair prices for farmers.


Tharoor seeks action against absconding officials

Chairman of the parliamentary panel on Information Technology Shashi Tharoor has written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to take action against ministry officials for not attending the panel meet. He asserted that the three officials making “last minute excuses” were a “grievous assault” on such panels’ prerogative to summon witnesses. He told PTI that the BJP members “disrupted” the committee’s meeting on July 28 as they did not want the Pegasus allegations to be discussed, and “appear to have been instructed not to attend.”. 

Tharoor said that for two years, the IT committee has been conducting discussions on “citizens’ data privacy and security and cyber security”, topics that also featured in its agenda under the previous chairman, BJP’s Anurag Thakur. The Pegasus issue therefore clearly falls within the purview of the IT committee and its members will ask questions when these topics arise.


EVM reliability data withheld ― for commercial reasons

The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the disclosure of the total number of EVMs and VVPATs that showed defects and errors during testing and evaluation of their firmware by the Standardization, Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate. The CIC was responding to the petition of activist Venkatesh Nayak, who had approached the STQC Directorate under the Ministry of Electronics and IT, seeking information on audit and testing of firmware of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of M3 and M2 generation and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units manufactured by ECIL and BEL, which were used in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.

He also sought to know the total number of M3 and M2 EVMs and VVPATs whose firmware was tested and evaluated by the STQC team, the total number of machines whose software was found not to be a perfect match with the reference software provided by ECIL and BEL, and the number of machines that revealed other firmware defects or errors. The information was denied to him citing Section 8 (1)(d) of the RTI Act, which allows exemption of information pertaining to commercial confidence from disclosure.


The Long Cable

Gogra disengagement raises more questions about the situation in Ladakh

Sushant Singh

Last Friday, the government announced through a press release ― a welcome change from the usual information, misinformation and disinformation  attributed to “sources” ― that disengagement was carried out by Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra (Patrol Point 17A). The release stated that “both sides have ceased forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner. The disengagement process was carried out over two days i.e. 04 and 05 August 2021. The troops of both sides are now in their respective permanent bases.”

However, satellite imagery after the disengagement shows that the Chinese PLA’s semi-permanent bases in Gogra remain where they were earlier, though one administrative area along the Changlung river has been cleared. Does this mean that India has accepted the PLA’s semi-permanent bases as permanent ones on the Indian side of the LAC? The other concern is about the creation of a buffer zone as part of the disengagement. If the PLA had intruded into the Indian side of the LAC, and has now decided to step back from the point of intrusion by forcing India to move back an equal distance, the whole of the buffer zone is evidently on the Indian side of the LAC. In other words, the Chinese have de facto shifted the LAC further westwards into Indian territory, as per this agreement.

The press release raises another question about the sanctity of information that is put out about the situation on the LAC. “The troops in this area [Gogra] have been in a faceoff situation since May last year,” it states. But this is a fact which has never been acknowledged earlier, even in the defence minister’s parliamentary statement ― where no questions were taken or clarifications given ― after the disengagement at Pangong Tso and Kailash range in February. How many other such face-off situations currently exist on the LAC in Ladakh? 

The use of phrases like “friction points” was meant to obfuscate the gravity of the crisis, which meant that the country was shocked when the situation erupted with the death of 20 Indian soldiers and many more taken captive by the PLA in Galwan last June. We still don’t know how the soldiers, including three officers, were treated when they were in PLA captivity and what actions the Modi government took to protest that treatment.

This obfuscation and denial of information was visible during the Doklam crisis in 2017, when “disengagement” was announced by India. While Indian soldiers came back to their permanent post, the PLA soldiers stepped back by only 150 metres and created a full-fledged permanent military base in the Doklam area. Are we witnessing a repeat of the same in eastern Ladakh now? 

Whether called “friction points” or “sensitive areas of faceoff”, there are other places where the PLA has ingressed onto the Indian side of the LAC in Ladakh: Demchok, Hot Springs and Depsang. As per media reports, the Chinese have refused to discuss these three areas. The Indian statement hopes that both sides will “resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in the Western Sector'' which will be on test in the future, particularly on the thorny and strategically important issue of Depsang

It must be remembered that at no place in eastern Ladakh has the status quo ante prior to May 2020 been restored. Notwithstanding the buoyant and optimistic tone of the official press release, one fears that the new status quo is a fait accompli thrust upon New Delhi. This is the new reality in Ladakh. India had better be prepared for the long haul.


Reportedly

The ‘Bommai judgment’ may be the enduring legacy of former chief minister, socialist and Janata parivar member SR Bommai. But after his son’s ascension as the BJP’s chief minister in Karnataka post-Yeddyurappa, this ‘socialist’ label has created tremendous discomfort in the hardline section of the BJP state unit. There is already talk of “rebellion”Turbulence may continue in the BJP’s already bumpy ride in Karnataka. This report also speaks of the massive damage to governance caused by the BJP’s infighting.


Facing uncertainty, more women freeze eggs

Indian fertility clinics have seen a 25% rise in the number of women freezing their eggs in the last year, to keep their childbearing options open. A Delhi banker was never keen to marry or have children. But after witnessing the deaths of two relatives during India’s Covid-19 second wave in April, the 37-year-old became anxious about growing old with no close family around. So she decided to freeze her eggs. But reasons vary, says this report: “Some are career-focused or haven’t found partners, while the pandemic has also reduced dating opportunities and made them question their future.”


Black coal law free ticket for private miners 

The Modi government is ready with an amendment bill which, as per corporate giants who had successfully bid for coal blocks after the sector was opened up for commercial mining by private players last year, can bypass rules that assure a fair deal to the local population whenever land is acquired for mining or industrialisation. The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition & Development) Amendment Bill, 2021, is set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament. When passed, it will exempt private companies from conducting social impact assessments, obtaining the consent of the majority and paying adequate compensation. 


Deep Dive

Sharda Ugra on Neeraj Chopra, and on how hockey’s betiyaan morphed into badasses. Essential background reading after a stirring Olympics.


Prime number: 48.6
RBI’s survey numbers on consumer sentiment in India stayed near a record low in July, weighed down by lower income and higher cost of living. It was at 48.6 in July, up from 48.5 in May, showed the survey of 5,384 households across 13 cities. A number less than 100 suggests pessimism, while anything above that denotes an optimistic view.

Railways to compensate for theft

A district consumer commission in Hyderabad has directed the Railways to pay nearly Rs 17.5 lakh in compensation to a passenger who had her gold and cash stolen while travelling from Hyderabad to Bengaluru in August 2017.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Debashish Roy Chowdhury writes in The South China Morning Post that the true test of a democracy’s mettle – the depth of its commitment to rights and freedoms – is how it treats its minorities and protects diversity. Modi’s India is failing that test every day.

  • Covid ranks low in media priority, outranked topics from Pegasus to Shilpa Shetty’s husband, and there is no outcry that the political leadership remains almost invisible. This suggests that media management is superior to Covid management, writes Krishnan Srinivasan.


Listen Up

Stalking Art is a series about pairing and conversing with art thinkers and makers on how they ponder. Through this anecdote-filled episode remembering the artist Mehlli Gobhai, Jerry Pinto candidly speaks of how Mehlli did not have time for the art market or critics but cared deeply about how his work did its magic.


Watch Out

In an interview with Sidharth Bhatia (a contributor to The India Cable), cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai is optimistic as he discusses right-wing populism in India in a global context and its collision with what he terms “subaltern democracy”.


Over and Out

From the breakout Slumdog Millionaire’s quick-witted hero to a medieval warrior in The Green Knight, Indian-origin actor Dev Patel has always sought to be Everyman. Read this interview where he has been described as “excessively humble” despite being in the “middle of a very good career”.

India’s printing history is five centuries old and it needs printing museums to preserve this heritage. The “print practitioners of yesteryears” need to be celebrated.

A committee tasked to find the grave of Dara Shikoh has failed in its task, much to the chagrin of the BJP-RSS leadership which wishes to appropriate the Mughal prince as a Hindu icon.

In Surat, you can now have Fanta Fry for Rs 250. It is the latest street food, served with pav (bread). Eggs are paired with a gravy made with masala and fried with Fanta, the orange soda drink. Served with potatoes and green chillies.

Khel khele khiladi aur credit lete anadi, says comedian Rajeev Nigam:


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, 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.