Kashmir Completes Two Years Without Political Rights; Supreme Court Wants Pegasus 'Truth'

Plus: Opposition muzzled in Rajya Sabha, food delivery executives take to social media to air grievances, services contract for 3rd month, Srinivasa Sastri remembered, how Indian media speaks to power

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 5, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The Supreme Court has asked the various petitioners seeking an inquiry into the revelations of surveillance by the Pegasus Project to serve copies of their petitions to the Union government so that counsel for the latter can be present in court to take the notice that will presumably be served on it. A bench comprising Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justice Surya Kant listed the matter for Tuesday. The bench also noted that the allegations were “serious” if the media reports were true and that the “truth has to come out”. 

The Indian government, unlike those of France and Israel, has refused to set up an inquiry into the snooping and has also not agreed for a discussion on the subject in Parliament, despite continued demands of the Opposition parties. Meanwhile, Ramana recused himself from hearing a plea from Andhra Pradesh after the state refused mediation in a dispute with Telangana over the sharing of Krishna river waters. 

Today is exactly two years since Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its statehood, bifurcated and Article 370 read down. The police in Srinagar are reported to have summoned traders and shopkeepers and directed them to keep their business establishments open and not observe a shutdown in protest. Today, photographs and footage has emerged of the police forcing open shops, including by breaking padlocks.

A total of 3,063 people have been arrested in J&K since 2019 under either the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or the Public Safety Act. A total of 1,384 are still in jail. BBC reports that “two years on, the valley continues to remain tense, with officials saying more local young people are being drawn toward militancy” and “the resistance is now becoming increasingly homegrown - a worrying trend for the geopolitically sensitive region”. 

Meanwhile, Union minister Meenakshi Lekhi kicked up a storm by suggesting that Kashmiri Pandits were to blame for their failure to return to the Valley, comparing their situation to migrant labourers who have returned to their places of work after having gone home during the first wave of pandemic. 

The railways has "dropped" a project to provide internet connection in trains because it was not cost effective, the government informed Parliament. Former railway minister Piyush Goyal had said in 2019 that the Centre is planning to provide WiFi services in trains in the next four to four-and-a-half years. 

It’s been raining injunctions in Karnataka. The News Minute has counted at least eight BJP leaders who have got injunctions against the media. How many CDs are there? Meanwhile, heartburn and protests marked the aftermath of the oath-taking ceremony of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai's Council of Ministers, reports Deccan Herald

The donations declared by the BJP are more than three times the aggregate declared by the Congress, NCP, CPI, CPM and TMC, for FY19-20 (Rs 785.77 crore against Rs 228.035 crore declared by the remaining parties), as per a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms. The report stated that the BJP also disclosed donations of Rs 4.80 lakh from the Amaravati Municipal Corporation, where both the mayor and the deputy mayor are from the saffron party. The party’s declarations also included land received from at least three donors.

About 280 districts in India have either one or no COVID testing labs, according to ICMR data. Central India and North East have very low coverage. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have labs that are adequate, that more or less, cover their populations.

Tushar Gandhi, peace activist and head of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation and Gandhi’s great grandson says that the bid to convert Gandhi's ashrams into “world class monuments” is a bid to erase his legacy of frugality and sparseness. Journalist, writer and editor Nireekshak, Prakash Shah, writer and cultural activist GN Devy, film-maker Anand Patwardhan, and writer Nayantara Sehgal, amongst a 100 other eminent citizens and Gandhians have written a letter collectively opposing any government takeover of Gandhian institutions. They say they want to ensure that the government continues to use public money for the proper maintenance and upkeep of such institutions, in consultation with eminent Gandhians, historians and archivists from India and around the world.

And true to the nature of events in “New India,” the doctor in Kanpur who complained about faulty PM-CARES ventilators has been suspended for “medical negligence”. The hospital that Dr Neha Agarwal works at has stood by her, and said she is not guilty of any such thing. She has been suspended by the state authorities

Satellite imagery has revealed that the global population exposed to floods has increased by 24% since the turn of the century—due to increasing floods and population. India has the largest population at the highest risk, followed by China, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

An important voice - noted author and Padma Shri - Padma Sachdev, the first modern woman poet of Dogri language, passed away yesterday. She has authored many books in Dogri and Hindi, and her poetry collections, including 'Meri Kavita Mere Geet', won her the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1971. See here for more.

India’s return to the international Hockey podium is big. The Men’s team defeated Germany 5-3 today to get the bronze. In case you missed it, read how Odisha’s support mattered when all others abandoned Indian hockey in 2018. However, the ugly head of regressive social norms keeps reminding us of the real enemy to be defeated. Hours after India lost to Argentina in the women’s semi-final, upper-caste men burst crackers and hurled caste abuses at Vandana Katariya’s family, saying that the women's hockey team had lost because it had “too many Dalit players.”


Court unquote

More stunning revelations from The Wire reveal that in the spring of 2019, the telephone numbers of two officers from the Supreme Court’s registry were entered onto a secret list that contained hundreds of numbers, including some which show clear evidence of being targeted with Pegasus spyware. NK Gandhi and TI Rajput both worked in the crucial ‘writ’ section of the Supreme Court’s registry when their numbers were added. More than 1,000 writ petitions are filed directly in the apex court in any given year, and these are of direct concern to the Union government. Some of them are considered politically sensitive.

The Wire has also confirmed that a Rajasthan mobile number formerly registered in the name of Justice Arun Mishra, who retired from the Supreme Court in September 2020, was added to the database in 2019. Fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi’s counsel, Vijay Agarwal, was added to the database in early 2018, after he signed on his controversial client, as was a number used by his wife. Another Delhi-based lawyer, Aljo P Joseph, added to the list in 2019, represents Christian Michel, the British ‘middleman’ extradited to India in December 2018 in connection with the AgustaWestland helicopter deal case. 

One of the numbers on the leaked database belongs to M Thangathurai, a junior lawyer working in the chambers of former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi. Thangathurai, who has worked with Rohatgi for several years, said that his telephone number is listed under his boss’s name in many places such as the bank and elsewhere so that the senior advocate is not disturbed by “routine” calls, OTPs etc when he is in court or otherwise busy. Rohatgi confirmed that this is indeed the practice. Rohatgi says that if indeed lawyers’ phones were surveilled, this would amount to breach of lawyer-client privilege.


Rajya Sabha - Opposition muzzle

The Rajya Sabha management has come under serious fire for not allowing the Opposition members their say both on camera or on the microphone. Rajya Sabha TV “was stalled” for three minutes, with reasons not known, reported journalists. TMC MP Derek O’Brien termed it “censorship”. There have been reports that microphones were abruptly cut off too, so opposition MPs could not be heard. Prof. Manoj Jha, RJD promises that he will only speak on Airport Economic Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2021, but is soon cut off, this cutting off trend continues with other opposition MPs also. Like Bikas Ranjan Bhattacharya, CPI(M) says that through his Bill, the government is selling national assets and using that money to buy Pegasus. He was cut off. Pratap Singh Bajwa calls to speak, states that the government is bringing laws for air, but farmers are dying on ground. He is cut off. 

Modi government tells court, Tamil Nadu it cannot give 50% to OBCs

The Madras High Court has observed that its order last year was clear that the reservation followed by the State concerned (which is 50% for OBCs in Tamil Nadu) has to be applied for the All India Quota (AIQ) seats surrendered by the States for admission to medical courses, and not 27% provided under the Central Act. The court directed the Central government to file a detailed report explaining why only 27% reservation was ordered and has to be followed. The court made the observation on a contempt petition filed by the DMK for non-implementation of 69% (50% OBC) reservation in State-contributed seats to the AIQ.

Additional Solicitor General R Shankaranarayanan, appearing for the Union government, said the total reservations cannot exceed 50%, and granting 50% reservation to OBCs alone would go against the order of the Supreme Court in the Maratha case. The bench pointed out that the Union government order dated July 29, which allegedly implemented the High Court order on reservation in AIQ, prescribes 27% reservation for OBCs, 15% for SCs, 7.5% for STs and 10% for EWS, which comes to 59.5%, and wondered whether the stand of the Central government is tenable.


Food delivery executives take to social media

Many food delivery executives have stood in protest against practices of food aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato, which, among others, they say have led to a steep drop in earnings. Now, some of these delivery workers are taking their fight to social media to demand their fair share, reports The NewsMinute. The most popular among them goes by the Twitter handle @SwiggyDEHyd, and is bringing attention to the decrease in wages by food aggregators. Gig economy workers are not employees of the company that they sign up with, and are paid per task. In the case of Swiggy and Zomato, paid per delivery, they are required to have their own bike and bear their own petrol expenses and vehicle maintenance charges. 

In Mumbai, restaurant owners will take out a silent march on Tuesday to demand that restrictions on eating and drinking establishments be loosened. Mumbai’s restaurants are allowed to remain open only till 4 p.m., unlike in cities like Bengaluru and Delhi where they can open till 10 p.m.


The Long Cable

Kashmir: Two years on, judiciary watches a bonfire of constitutionalism

Manoj Joshi

On the second anniversary of the end of Article 370 of the Constitution giving special rights to Jammu and Kashmir, and the demotion of the state to a Union Territory, all we have is a bonfire of vanities. Expectations that militancy will be defeated in quick order have been belied by events on the ground. Almost every day we hear of  encounters in one or the other part of the region. Worse, the militancy, once dependent on Pakistani jihadis and weapons, has become stubbornly local. In 2020, an estimated 163 locals were recruited into the insurgency, this year so far the estimate is 82.

Investment from other parts of the country has yet to flood into the Valley. Indeed, no person from outside the state has bought land in the UT according to information provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs in March this year. As for the return of Kashmiri Pandits, the Union government keeps putting out dodgy figures of those who have returned, but the reality is that in the present conditions few are likely to do so.

The conversion of the state to a Union Territory and the removal of Article 370 were dubious decisions. The Constitution has provision for promoting Union Territories to a state, but whether it can demote a constituent state of the Indian Union is questionable.  As has been argued, if one state can be demoted to a Union Territory, so by the same logic can the other states.  This would lead to the absurdity of an India as a Union of Union Territories, rather than a Union of States, which is basic to the structure of the Indian Constitution.

As for the scrapping of Article 370, this was done through a clear sleight of hand. Under the Constitution it could have been done by the J&K Constituent Assembly before it was dissolved in 1957, but it wasn’t. The  option was to do it by the concurrence of  the state legislature. But the legislature was dissolved in November 2018. The Modi government took the specious plea that approval could be granted by the Governor who, as is well known, is a creature of the Union Government. Just how much legitimacy the action has became evident when large-scale repression was unleashed right after these decisions. Former chief ministers, ministers and party leaders were kept under detention for more than a year. Tens of hundreds were incarcerated to prevent protests and more than a thousand people still remain behind bars.

What the Union government did on August 5, 2019 was part of a political project. Removing  Article 370 was aimed at fulfilling the BJP’s long-time political demand, but the demotion of the state to a Union Territory was an exercise in malicious politics. Neither has basis in law or the Constitution and it is surprising that a 5-judge bench of the Supreme Court Bench has yet to rule on some two dozen petitions challenging the validity of the J&K Reorganisation Act of 2019 that demoted the state two Union Territories, the Presidential Order nullifying Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution.  

The apex court seems to feel that time is not of the essence and has gone on record as saying that “the Supreme Court can always turn the clock back.” But in the meantime, the UT Administration is busy creating facts on the ground through administrative decisions to undermine any future court decision. More germane is that the people of the region are having to make do with the authority of unelected officials when, under the Indian Constitution, they are entitled to a government that they have elected.

The Union government initiated some kind of a political process by inviting the top Kashmiri leaders for a meeting in New Delhi in June. There are few signs of any follow up. This is not surprising. It is usually difficult to square a circle, but that is exactly what the Union government is attempting to do after trashing the Constitution and the legitimate rights of the Kashmiri people. 


Reportedly

It has been several outings for the old socialists, so we must discuss it - is something up with the Janata Parivar that we do not fully realise now? Or are leaders just wary of phones post-Pegasus and taking the long route? First, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar travelled down from Patna and met Om Prakash Chautala. Then Lalu Prasad met Mulayam Singh Yadav. Then Sharad Yadav met Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh (Akhilesh Yadav was present too). HD Deve Gowda too went down to meet Sharad Yadav. Jayant Chaudhury met them too. The renewed factor in the mix is Lalu Prasad, the BJP’s bete noire. He has been sharply critical of the Modi government’s reluctance to conduct a caste census and insists that castes should be counted, and the real numbers of suppressed and discriminated castes known.


Services sector contracts for third month

India's services sector remained entrenched in contraction for the third straight month in July, as business activity, new orders and employment declined further, with the seasonally adjusted India Services Business Activity Index rising from 41.2 in June to 45.4 in July, but remained in the red. In PMI parlance, a score above 50 means expansion, while a score below 50 denotes contraction. The Composite PMI Output Index, which measures combined services and manufacturing output, rose from 43.1 in June to 49.2 in July, but still remained in the contraction territory.


Prime number: No Data
Another thing on which the Modi government has no data, is the internet shutdowns ordered by states and UTs during the last three years. This was replied by the government o a question by Shashi Tharoor in Lok Sabha. Non-official records show that India shut down the internet for 8927 hours in 2020, which cost the country $2.8bn. 

Adityanath says zero deaths in 3 days, Centre says 7 dead

On August 2, The Hindustan Times reported that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath had claimed that no Covid-19 deaths had been reported in the state during the last three days. While data released by the state shows no deaths on July 31, August 1 and August 2, the numbers released by the Centre show seven deaths were reported during these days, reports Factchecker.in


Deep Dive

An important paper on linguistic evidence that the Harappans did speak an ancestral Dravidian language in Nature magazine. “Ultraconserved Dravidian tooth-word reveals deep linguistic ancestry and supports genetics.”


Anganwadi posts vacant all over India

Nearly 1.93 lakh posts are lying vacant in Anganwadis across the country at various levels. Out of these 1.29 lakh posts lying vacant in five states alone -- 50,670 are in Uttar Pradesh, 33,439 in West Bengal, 19,478 in Maharashtra, 15,720 in Tamil Nadu and 9,828 in Bihar. There have been no new appointments in UP since 2011, and about 10% of Anganwadi centres are completely vacant, and about 25% centres will become totally vacant due to the removal of 62-year-old workers.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi writes that while trying to enforce Covid protocols in Parliament and curbing fair reporting of what transpires in the corridors of power, freedom of the press is getting suppressed. This does not augur well for the health of the world’s largest democracy.

  • Jayadeva Ranade writes that India needs to be very wary as the excerpts of Xi Jinping’s speech telecast by China Central Television indicate no plans to lessen tension along the LAC. 

  • How (and why) the new nationalism is all about building a nation-brand for the global economy: An excerpt from ‘Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India’, by Ravinder Kaur.

  • K Jayakumar writes that the death of Stan Swamy in judicial custody, the ever-burgeoning cases booked under a draconian UAPA and sedition charges, and the various stringent and disproportionate actions initiated against legitimate dissent, all fuse in the national consciousness as a psychosis of fear created by Covid, loss of jobs, Pegasus and other markers of national mood.


Listen Up

A celebrated politician, scholar and diplomat in his lifetime, VS Srinivasa Sastri (1869-1946) is now a largely forgotten figure. Hailed as the ‘very voice of international conscience’, Sastri advocated for racial equality and securing the rights of Indians both at home and abroad. Hear Vineet Thakur and Ian Sanjay Patel.


Watch Out

“We've padded up for the third wave even before the second wave declared its innings. We are seeing a prolongation of the second wave in some states”, says Prof K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India [watch from 2:14].


Over and Out

Balkrishna Doshi’s 1983 campus for the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore is the only Indian one that makes it to a list of 25 most significant works of postwar Architecture. Three architects, three journalists and two designers gathered to pick for The New York Times. IIM, Bangalore, they conclude “synthesizes centuries of architectural history with rare subtlety. The campus’s elegant arrangement of passageways, courtyards and gardens — set on a little over 13 acres — glances toward the layout of the briefly inhabited 16th-century city of Fatehpur Sikri in India’s north, conceived by the Mughal emperor Akbar in part to encourage civic engagement and debate.”

Coffee at Airlines, flowers at KR Market: Sangeetha Alwar, 27, started making digital illustrations of Bengaluru scenes after lockdown prevented her from visiting her favourite parts of the city.

And the state of Indian journalism, speaking truth to power:


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.