Modi Govt Won't Confirm or Deny Using Pegasus; India Mum On Afghanistan

PM's I-Day speech parsed, Piyush Goyal attacks Tatas at CII, Modi & Ratan Tata mutual admiration at Assocham, why passing bills without debate is bad, curfew in Meghalaya, BJP MLA offers petrol bribe

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
August 16, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The Supreme Court heard a batch of petitions, including those filed by the Editors Guild of India and senior journalists N Ram and Sashi Kumar, seeking an independent probe into the Pegasus snooping matter. The bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Suryakant and Aniruddha Bose will continue hearing the matter, which was adjourned to tomorrow. Today, the Solicitor General told the court: “The issue here is sensitive, the attempt appears to be to make it sensational.” The court said, “The affidavit filed by you is not satisfactory. It’s not mentioned if the government used Pegasus.” However, significantly, the government’s affidavit does not deny its use. In essence, the government has announced a whitewash. It will set up an expert committee “to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests.” 

MP and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan has written to Attorney General of India KK Venugopal, seeking consent for contempt of court proceedings against directors of the Israeli NSO Group, Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and former home secretary Rajiv Gauba in the Pegasus snooping case.

The Reporters’ Collective finds that following the push to bring in private mining companies, Chhattisgarh will lose revenues of over Rs 900 crore per year in coal blocks auctioned by the Modi government ― potentially, Rs 24,065 crore over the lifetime of the mines.

“Dissent in democracy is vital. There can be no two opinions that a healthy democracy is one that has developed on criticism and acceptance of contra views. Opinion based on criticism reinforces its acceptance in a democratic society,” held a two-judge bench of the Bombay High Court on Saturday, as it stayed parts of the new Information Technology rules that the Modi government introduced earlier this year. The Bombay High Court opined that Rules 9 (1) and 9(3) do not conform to the Information Technology Act and are an intrusion into the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The High Court was hearing petitions filed by legal news portal The Leaflet and journalist Nikhil Wagle, challenging several provisions of the new IT Rules, claiming they are vague and likely to exert a “chilling effect” on free speech. 

Between August 1-10, vaccination rates slowed. Only 4.88 million daily doses were administered, on average. To vaccinate everyone by year-end, the Union government’s target, 9.52 million daily doses must be administered for the remaining days of the month! Here is India’s ranking versus the world average.

To avoid Opposition scrutiny when Parliament was in session, state-run oil marketing companies froze retail prices of diesel and petrol for over a month. Diesel in Delhi was frozen at Rs 89.87 per litre on July 15, and petrol at Rs 101.84 a litre on July 17. However, over the past month, internationally, Brent crude fell from $73.47 per barrel on July 15 to $68.62 on July 19, then jumped by 10.8% to $76.05 on 29 July. It fell over 9.2% to $69.04 on August 9 and bounced back to over $70 last week, and closed on Friday at $70.59. Like it was after the Assembly elections, companies may gradually resume daily price revisions now that the Parliament session is over.

Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal’s tirade against India Inc, particularly the Tata group, has triggered a controversy. His 19-minute speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), and uploaded on August 12. It was later pulled down, edited and re-uploaded on August 13, only to be pulled down again. At present, a public video is unavailable. According to The Hindu, Goyal called out a Tata Sons president present at the event, Banmali Agrawala, and expressed his disappointment that the conglomerate opposed rules to help consumers, which were drafted by his ministry. He conveyed the same sentiment to ‘Chandra’ ― Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekharan. To make up, over at Assocham, the Prime Minister and Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata traded the highest praise for each other

A Chennai man has been arrested by UP police for making “derogatory” remarks against PM Modi. Manmohan Mishra, 62, of Jaunpur in UP, has been living in Tamil Nadu for 35 years and runs a Hindi YouTube channel. All of his videos are still up on YouTube and it is not clear which one has triggered the arrest. UP Police are being scoffed at for swooping down on people everywhere to protect the PM’s image.

UNSC chair India mum on Afghanistan

Much was made of PM Modi ‘chairing’ the UN Security Council (UNSC) meet, though India holds the rotational chair for the eighth time. Dramatic events in Afghanistan were met with complete silence from the India-headed UNSC and India itself was absolutely mum. With an unfriendly Taliban government in Kabul, strategic options for India, already embattled on two fronts, will be complicated.

India is preparing to evacuate hundreds of its officials and citizens from Kabul with the Taliban in effective control after President Ashraf Ghani fled yesterday. PTI reports that an IAF fleet of C-17 Globemaster is on standby for evacuation missions.

Parliament’s lawmaking process broken, says CJI 

Observing that lawmaking in the country is in a “sorry state”, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana candidly said that laws being passed now suffer from a lack of clarity, which is creating a lot of litigation and inconvenience. At an Independence Day function of the Supreme Court Bar Association, he urged lawyers to consider social work. He fondly recalled lawyers Gandhi, Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and their role in nation-building, to the visible discomfort of Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. New Law Minister Kirin Rijiju did his best to spin it, interpreting the CJI’s anguish as a reaction to the Opposition blocking debates. He failed.

Modi displaces Bengal freedom fighter, defers ‘new India’

PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech had political parties in Bengal criticising him for having scant knowledge of history and demanding an apology for incorrectly stating that Bengal freedom fighter Matangini Hazra hailed from Assam. Hazra (1869-1942), who lived in Tamluk in present-day Purba Medinipur district, was shot dead by the British Indian Police while leading a procession in Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India movement in 1942. She is a respected figure across West Bengal and there is a statue of her in the Maidan, in the heart of Kolkata.

Modi announced a Rs 100 lakh crore Gati Shakti infrastructure plan with great fanfare, though the same scheme featured in his last two Independence Day speeches. Several initiatives announced yesterday are rehashes. It was noted caustically earlier: “Modi renamed schemes of Manmohan Singh’s government, while during his second tenure, Modi is renaming schemes of his own government.”

Deccan Herald reports on the art of moving goalposts practised by Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speeches. On August 15, 2017, in his fourth speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, he spoke of building a “new India” by 2022, the 75th anniversary of Independence. Today, on August 15, 2021, as India celebrated the 74th anniversary and entered the 75th year of Independence, the PM spoke of building a “new India” by the hundredth Independence Day in 2047. Four years ago, Modi had promised in 2022 that each Indian family would have a pucca house with an electricity connection. Farmers’ income would double, the country would be cleaner, healthier, and free of terrorism, communalism, casteism, corruption, and nepotism. The report card on them was missing in yesterday’s speech.

Curfew in Meghalaya

Curfew was indefinitely clamped in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong and internet services were suspended for 48 hours in four districts after a bout of violence by mobs protesting against the killing of former insurgent leader Cheristerfield Thangkhiew by the police two days ago. The state’s Home Department said mobile internet and data services had been suspended in East Khasi Hills, of which Shillong is the headquarters; West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi districts. Meghalaya Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui has resigned and called for a judicial probe into the killing of surrendered militants. 

Trouble was brewing since Saturday evening when a police vehicle was attacked. Thangkhiew, former general secretary of insurgent group Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), was killed by a joint team of the police of two districts and laid to rest yesterday. The protestors commandeered a police vehicle and drove around localities, brandishing hijacked police weapons, before setting the vehicle on fire.

The Long Cable

Passing bill without discussion recipe for bad laws, invites judicial intervention

PDT Achary

In the midst of noisy protests staged by the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament, the government introduces bills and gets them passed within minutes. In normal times, each important bill is discussed for a few hours before it is passed. In fact, most important bills used to be scrutinised by standing committees before they were brought back to the House to be passed. 

Detailed scrutiny by the committees always improves bills, because the process is rigorous and exhaustive. All stakeholders are afforded ample opportunities to present their views. Experts’ opinions are sought. Committee members deliberate among themselves. Finally, the committee recommends improvements, which are invariably accepted by the government. Experience shows that the government is immensely benefited by this detailed scrutiny. A much-refined bill results in a better law. The people need better laws, and Parliament owes it to them.

Now, think about the alternative scenario ― a bill introduced in the midst of din and passed within a few minutes. No one in the House knows what the bill is about. It is passed by a voice vote of the treasury benches. It is such a ridiculously mechanical exercise that all, including those who voted, must lose all respect for the sanctity of lawmaking. Law is made without the lawmakers knowing much about what law they have made. Lawmaking is too serious a business to be cavalierly handled by the uninitiated, who want quick passage without scrutiny. This is certainly going to affect citizens because an unscrutinised bill may retain harmful provisions.

Bills have been passed without discussion in the Indian Parliament during the past two decades or more. No one can give credit to the present government for this innovative procedure. The usual defence is that the government has no option. Important bills need to be urgently passed and in the din, it is not possible to hold discussions. So, the easiest way is to pass them in five minutes or so without any discussion.

This is a curious argument. No democratic parliament in the world passes bills without detailed discussion and scrutiny. If the House is not in order, no business can be transacted until order is restored. It is the responsibility of the government of the day to create conditions conducive to the smooth running of the House.

We must take a closer look at our Constitution and the rules of the House to see whether it can pass bills without discussion. Article 107 says that no bill shall be deemed to have been passed unless both Houses have agreed to it. The word “agreed” has been presumably used with intent. Normally, we agree to a proposal only after discussing it in detail. So this word presupposes discussion. What this Article makes clear is that bills shall be deemed to have been passed only when both Houses discuss them and then agree to them. The makers of the Constitution could have used the word “passed” in place of “agreed”. The word “passed” appropriately refers to the act of passing, namely, the voting etc. But they wanted the Houses to fully discuss legislative proposals before agreeing to them. Hence the word “agreed”. Discussion is implied in this word.

Rules for passing bills have been framed under this Article. Rules require mandatory three-stage consideration of every bill. At the first stage, the general principles of the bill are considered; at the second stage, each clause, and amendments, are considered; at the third stage, there is a final round of observations, after which the bill is passed. The scheme of Article 107 and the rules of the House is to enable Parliament to discuss bills in detail before both Houses agree to them. The Constitution of India requires Parliament to consider legislative proposals in sufficient detail so that the laws which it passes do not adversely affect citizens due to negligence or lack of oversight. If Parliament passes a bill without discussion and scrutiny, it may end up as a bad law which would be detrimental to citizens.

Disruption of Parliament by Opposition MPs is no justification for passing bills without discussion. Disruption is a political action for which a political solution should be found. It cannot be used for undermining the constitutional process of lawmaking. The passing of bills without discussion in Parliament constitutes a violation of Article 107 and the rules of the House, and may necessitate judicial intervention.

(The author is former secretary general of the Lok Sabha)


Changing horses can be confusing. Mukul Roy, MLA and former key Trinamool Congress leader, who rejoined the Trinamool Congress days after winning an Assembly election seat on a BJP ticket, annoyed many by saying for the second time in a week that the saffron party would win a future by-election in his constituency. But mindful of the present, he also said that the TMC would do well in the 2023 Assembly elections in Tripura. TMC leaders are not commenting.

Prime number: <2019
For a considerable part of 2022, the Indian economy will be smaller than it was in 2019, University of Massachusetts professor Vamsi Vakulabharanam says. India’s decline is much steeper than that of other developing countries and the global economy.

Why China pulled ahead

The Chinese “made many compromises with policy and showed greater flexibility. We must acknowledge this and not pretend that it is simply because they have a dictatorial system, whereas we have a democratic one, that they have been able to achieve much more,” former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale tells Scroll.

Deep Dive

The last time the Taliban were in power and the BJP was in office, India’s national security and that of the region was set back by aeons. “Thereupon the hijackers insisted that Masood Azhar be released in exchange for 15 hostages and such of others as the hijackers may choose to release. This was again rejected by the government. Finally, a full package was worked out for the release of all the hostages. Government released three terrorists i.e. Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Zargar and Omar Shaikh,” said the BJP-led NDA government’s suo motu statement on March 1, 2000. 

Lalit Modi taken to court again

Controversial founder of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Lalit Modi is facing an approximately $7-million legal challenge in the High Court in England over allegations of misrepresentation by a former Indian model. The Sunday Times reports that Modi denies the allegations made by Gurpreet Gill Maag, now a Singapore-based venture capitalist, known in socialite circles as Blu. 

She alleges that Lalit Modi persuaded her to invest $2 million in a cancer treatment venture, Ion Care, “falsely” naming as patrons Prince Andrew, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE. The project is said to have flopped by early 2019.

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Modi’s Partition Horrors Remembrance Day announcement is driven entirely by a cynical political calculus, writes Harish Khare in a piece which questions the wisdom of trying to build a new India by reopening old India’s wounds.

  • Unemployment, the shock to the informal sector and persistently high demand for welfare present an alarming picture of our diminished economic future. Don’t be misled by revenue numbers and corporate profits, writes Yamini Aiyar.

  • In a review of Spy Stories, Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) writes that what authors Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark leave unsaid is as important as what they say in their new book on RAW versus ISI.

  • India faces stagflation, writes Rajrishi Singhal. Positive messaging can only work when it’s accompanied by ground-level action and astute timing. Unfortunately, both seem to be missing this time.

  • “The Right’s ideological ancestors sat out the anti-colonial struggle and some of its contemporary leaders repudiate the Lal Qila’s medieval past. Its netas would want the nation to peep into their Hindutvavadi looking glass and feel at home in the mirror image of  Pakistan,” writes Mukul Kesavan.

Listen Up

Writer, journalist and former managing editor of Rediff and Yahoo India Prem Panicker talks about his visit to Delhi in early 2020 when protests were erupting across the city against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, with the message of peace and constructive conversation. Panicker also talks about how digital media has evolved in India over two decades

Watch Out

As the Taliban complete their capture of Afghanistan, watch this from just months ago, in December 2020, when the Kabul Lajward National Film Festival ended.

Over and Out

Baba Wayil in Kashmir is two hours from the district capital, Ganderbal. The village rejects expensive weddings and has completely banned dowry.

Playback singer and wife of the legendary composer Khayyam, Jagjit Kaur (93) passed away yesterday morning. Tum apna ranj o ghum-apni pareshani was one of her classic numbers.

In Kaushambi, UP, a BJP MLA allegedly gave away bottles of petrol to lure crowds to a Tiranga Yatra, but chaos ensued as people stampeded at the sight of liquid gold. 

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