India's Vax Drive Runs On Half Steam; Kandahar Consulate Evacuated

Plus: Adityanath’s two-child norm is just politics, Twitter appoints grievance officer, more problems with Covaxin’s Brazil deal, and in break with recent past at Spelling Bee, Indian-Americans lose

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
July 12, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Economist Murad Banaji avers that new mortality data shows how badly India was hit even in the first wave of the pandemic. From 2020 data, it seems that his earlier median estimate, that actual Covid deaths were five times the official count, is on the low side. He has further postulated that a fatal cocktail of poor death surveillance and plain dishonesty means that India’s official Covid-19 fatality count ― at over 4 lakh now ― doesn't reflect the scale of the tragedy. In Bihar, for instance, it has probably resulted in massive undercounting. 

India is still a dangerous place. A detailed New York Times report notes that India continues to add tens of thousands of new infections and “close to 1,000 deaths each day, numbers that are almost certainly an undercounting. Resigned talk of a third wave is indicative of how virus fatigue, and the catastrophic toll of hundreds of thousands of people in the last wave, have resulted in a new definition of acceptable loss.”

The Indian National SARS-CoV-2 Genome Consortium, an initiative funded by the Union Science and Technology and Health ministries, hopes to expand sewage surveillance for Covid-19 all over the country, to get early warning about future surges and the emergence of variants. 

Covaxin remains in the news for the worst reasons. Bharat Biotech’s contract with Brazil, already suspended and under several investigations, is facing new scrutiny with the revelation that the company’s Brazil representative had signed an MoU with a Dubai firm, which is not traceable. The fact that the Dubai firm’s promoter may be the same person being probed for the fake Covid test scam during the Kumbh Mela has added to the whiff of scandal.

China has said it “cannot relax pandemic controls” to facilitate foreign travel, signalling that there are no immediate plans to let in over 4 lakh foreign students, including more than 23,000 Indians, mostly studying medicine in Chinese universities.

US President Joe Biden has nominated Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as the next US ambassador to India. A former intelligence officer, he spent a year studying Hindi and Urdu in college and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.

Fearing seizure of Air India’s assets overseas by Cairn Energy and Devas Multimedia following arbitration awards against the Indian government ― and the possible discovery of hidden liabilities ― the Tatas may seek an indemnity clause for its takeover of the national carrier. Negotiations could delay the deal until Q1 of 2022.  

Only 26% of funds sanctioned under three different verticals of the government’s flagship PM Awas Yojana (Urban) has been utilised in six years of implementation. Only 30% of the sanctioned houses could be constructed during the period.

Bloomberg reports that Indians are selling gold heirlooms to make ends meet as the second wave has deepened financial pain. Gross scrap supplies, which include old gold melted to make new designs, may exceed 215 tons, the highest in nine years.

Chinese nationals displayed banners in protest from across the Indus river near the Line of Actual Control, when Indian villagers were celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in Demchok in eastern Ladakh. They were seen across the Indus from Koyul, one of the last Indian settlements in the Demchok sector in eastern Ladakh. Meanwhile, apprehensions of a long haul in eastern Ladakh have started manifesting on the ground as Chinese forces have been creating permanent structures wherever the PLA troops are deployed. Earlier, the Indian Air Force chief had confirmed that the Chinese are improving their air infrastructure in the area. 

Of the 78 ministers in the Modi cabinet, 33 (42%) have declared criminal cases against them in their election affidavits, as per Association of Democratic Reforms. And 24 ministers (31%) of them have declared serious charges against them, including murder, attempt to murder and robbery.

The Corbett Tiger Reserve is being panned by wildlife experts and enthusiasts for preparing to hold a sound and light show. Discovery’s ‘Man Vs Wild’ show featuring PM Modi, which was controversially shot on the day that a CRPF bus was attacked in Pulwama in 2019, is included. The proposal was initiated after former Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat visited Corbett in March.

In his anxiety to appear more extreme than seasoned BJP hands, former Congressman and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma embarrassed himself and confounded all by saying; “Hindu boy lying to a Hindu girl is also jihad. We will bring a law against it.” As he flailed, he sank deeper into quicksand, stating that Hindutva is 5,000 years old and a way of life, and that most religions are descendants of Hindus. He could have gone the whole hog and claimed that Stonehenge is a Hindu temple. 

But there’s nothing to top the fantasy of Gajendra Chauhan, briefly a political appointee to the post of chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India. Months after it was announced that superstar Rajinikanth would be honoured with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award for 2019, Mahabharat actor Gajendra Chauhan has claimed that he has been given the prize for 2021! He has posted an image of himself holding onto something which looks like an award. But the nation wants to know, “Who is he???”


Vaccinations running at half speed

The pace of vaccination is down to four million a day this month, after the artificial hike of 21 June. It’s so bad that a committed Modi man, former Niti Aayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya, has said that India’s current vaccination rate is simply not good enough. With yesterday's tally of 1.24 million, 7-day average vaccination rate has slipped to 3.37 million, the lowest in three weeks. The Modi government had claimed that supplies would increase from July, and the Finance Ministry had estimated 9.3 million daily jabs between June and September to cover 80% of the population and achieve herd immunity. But barely half of that projection has been met and India remains the only South Asian country which has not yet taken the surplus vaccines donated by the Biden administration. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has offered to share the CoWIN digital platform with other nations for free, because humanitarian needs outweigh commercial interests. There are no takers, though the technology is good to raise the dead with.

To make matters worse amidst the shortage, it seems India will need even more vaccine doses for a booster shot. An ongoing study at Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research suggests that 15-20% of people vaccinated with two doses would require a booster shot. But in effect, since everyone can’t be tested for antibodies, everyone would have to take the booster shot.


Kandahar consulate closed

About 50 diplomats and security personnel returned to Delhi from Kandahar on Saturday, with the Modi government evacuating all Indians at the Indian consulate there after the Taliban advanced into areas formerly held by the government. A special aircraft of the Indian Air Force brought back diplomats, officials and other staff including a group of Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel. Now, only the Indian embassy in Kabul and the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif remain open in Afghanistan. Facilities in Kandahar, Herat and Jalalabad are closed, the latter two due to Covid. On Tuesday, the Indian embassy in Kabul had said that there was no plan to close the embassy and the consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. 


Adityanath’s two-child norm is a political move

UP has announced that it will push for a two-child norm, and penalise people who cross the line. Violators will be barred from applying for or getting promotions in government jobs, receiving government subsidies and contesting local body elections, according to a draft of the proposed population control bill. The Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has said the provisions are part of the draft Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021. The public has until July 19 to respond with suggestions. 

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has opposed the move. Earlier, Hindutva votaries have repeatedly called for Hindus to have more children. Studies have established the ineffectiveness of coercive measures in population stabilisation. Indeed, they further distort the sex-ratio. In the latest National Health and Family Survey-5, India has shown a drastically reduced Total Fertility Rate. The Technical Group on Population Projections for 2011-2036, constituted by the National Commission on Population, has projected that UP will achieve a replacement level TFR by 2025. China has dropped its one-child norm, in the meantime.


New Uttarakhand CM faces demands on faith

Like his predecessors, the new Uttarakhand chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, the third one installed by the BJP in four months, is under pressure to put faith above public health. The BJP state government had on June 30 cancelled the Kanwar Yatra in view of the pandemic, but has been requested by the UP government to reconsider. 

The Uttarakhand High Court has already come down harshly on the state government for approving plans to go ahead with the Char Dham Yatra and refusing to do a web telecast of the prayers. 

So far, Dhami is holding firm in the face of UP’s pressure. “God would not want people to lose their lives for faith”, he said.  “Kanwar Yatra is a matter of faith but God would not want people to lose their lives for faith. Every life is precious.” 


Reportedly

The BJP, which won 67 of 75 district panchayat seats in UP amid large-scale violence, wants to present the victory as a foretaste of the 2022 Assembly elections, but the facts aren’t with them. The last two district panchayat polls in the state showed that ruling parties had won them comprehensively but in the Assembly elections, which were held a year later, they lost. In 2010 the BSP, which was in power, won the local body polls but lost the Assembly polls the next year. Similarly, in the 2016 Panchayat polls, the ruling SP took 63 of the 74 district panchayat seats. The BJP only managed five, but stormed to power in 2017. This time, the violence in 18 districts is of another order. Etawah witnessed stone-pelting and firing. There is a video of the Etawah assistant superintendent of police (City) saying BJP leaders had brought bombs and slapped him.


Twitter appoints grievance officer

Twitter, involved in a standoff with the Centre over the new IT rules, has appointed Vinay Prakash as the resident grievance officer for India. Paraphrasing Sir Humphrey of Yes Minister, a hack notes that he is “a courageous man”. CNN reports that “Twitter is going through an extraordinarily tough year in India. But the company’s response to the turmoil has left even some people who would like to be on its side baffled.”

In its report for May 25 to June 26, Twitter says it suspended 18,385 accounts in India for child sexual exploitation and 4,179 for promotion of terrorism. It also claims to have acted against 133 posts for reasons ranging from harassment to privacy infringement. “In addition to the above data, we processed 56 grievances which were appealing Twitter account suspensions. These were all resolved and the appropriate responses were sent. We overturned 7 of the account suspensions based on the specifics of the situation, but the other accounts remain suspended,” the report states. 


Prime Number: -18.8%
That is the decline in the volume consumption of diesel in June compared to June 2019. At 6.2 million tonnes, it is 1.5% less than the consumption during lockdown-affected June 2020. Diesel is the most widely used fuel in India and its price has risen to an all-time high on the back of taxes, duties and cesses levied by the Modi government in the last couple of years. 

Spelling Bee makes history: Indian-Americans lose

Zaila Avant Garde (14)  became the first African-American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition in the US, which has come to be dominated by Indian-American children. Zaila is not only a spelling whiz but an ace basketball player, too. She remembered a predecessor, MacNolia Cox from 85 years ago ― in the segregationist era, she was eliminated unfairly and denied her place as the champ. 


Deep Dive

A study by Milan Balaban, Jan Herman and Dalibor Savic presents a historical and sociological interpretation of the events that marked the gradual integration of the Bata Company into the Indian economy and society from the mid-1920s to the early 1960s. It pays particular attention to the everyday life of Indian and Czech workers in the company town of Batanagar, now one of the biggest satellite towns of Kolkata. The results of the research, entitled ‘The early decades of the Bata Shoe Company in India: From establishment to economic and social integration’, indicate that during this period, Bata was forced to adapt continuously to the cultural specifics of Indian society ― the process of its integration into the Indian economy and society had pronounced glocal characteristics.


Speculation about Mukesh’s succession 

As Mukesh Ambani’s youngest child takes a bigger role in the family business, it is fuelling discussions of how the 64-year-old tycoon would eventually carve up his conglomerate, spanning petrochemicals and telecom, among his three children, reports the South China Morning Post. Anant Ambani was recently appointed director of two companies, Reliance New Energy Solar and Reliance New Solar Energy. The billionaire’s two older children, 29-year-old twins Isha and Akash, have since 2014 been on the boards of Reliance Retail Ventures and Reliance Jio. 

Succession has particular significance for the Ambani clan, which was mired in an ugly wrestling match between Mukesh and Anil for years after their father Dhirubhai Ambani died without leaving behind a will. One of the most rancorous power struggles in Indian corporate history followed, and Mukesh would try to prevent an action repeat.


Banerjee, American, wins junior Wimbledon

Samir Banerjee yesterday lifted the Wimbledon boys singles title with a straight set win over Victor Lilov. Banerjee is a US citizen. His parents had moved to America in the 1980s, but that may not deter Indians from appropriating him.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • India’s headcount is set to stabilise on its own, as average births per woman are projected to dip soon to the replacement rate of 2.1. The demographic spectre being conjured up by Adityanath is a political ploy aiming to polarise ahead of state elections in 2022, writes Mint in its editorial.

  • An undefined India-China border, with large numbers of soldiers on both sides patrolling aggressively while border management protocols have broken down and power asymmetries are stark, is a recipe for disaster, writes Shashi Tharoor in the South China Morning Post.

  • The etiology of antagonism makes the majority community’s education a matter of the utmost importance in India, writes Sunanda K Datta-Ray. But it will remain a distant dream as long as universities are encouraged to teach astrology, politicians recommend cow dung and urine for treatment, and senior leaders boast of artificial insemination and plastic surgery in Vedic times.

  • Mahesh Bhatt’s personal farewell to Dilip Kumar: with his passing, he writes, “we have lost not just a great actor but also a man who remained a fighter for a pluralistic, liberal and secular idea of India.”


Listen Up

The slowdown of economic activity experienced due to the sudden lockdowns in the pandemic harmed the poorest. Yamini Aiyar and Maitreesh Ghatak discuss India’s inequality problem. How unequal is India? Are these inequalities because of Covid, or merely economic realities that Covid has now exposed? How do we bring India back to a more equitable growth path?


Watch Out

The feisty and talented actor Richa Chadha in a seriously no-holds barred interview discusses work, life, politics and everything she is asked.

A post shared by @t2telegraph

Over and Out

Kerala is truly global. Massive celebrations there marked the victory of Argentina over Brazil in the Copa America final over the weekend and made the news on global sports networks.

A sex coach for parents ― that is how Pallavi Barnwal describes herself. Indian parents are diffident about talking to their children about sex and relationships. Barnwal says, “Looking back, my conservative Indian upbringing was actually the perfect grounding for someone who would end up as a sex coach.”

Richard Branson came down to earth after a short time in space. Among his fellow-travellers was Guntur-born Sirisha Bandla. The 34-year-old aeronautical engineer became the third Indian-origin woman to head to space, after Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams.


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.