Opposition Picks Yashwant for President But Maharashtra Citadel Turns Shaky; Service Chiefs Help Modi Reinvent Agnipath as 'Pilot Project'
Cycle of wider deficits, weaker rupee feared, Freedom House notes India’s cross-border repression, no China gear means no 5G, Assam tea sold for Rs 1 lakh per kg, Modi's Abbas says India not the same
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
June 21, 2022
Yashwant Sinha, the former finance and external affairs minister under Atal Bihari Vajpayee who quit the BJP to become a vocal opponent of Narendra Modi’s government, will be the joint opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. The numbers in the electoral college – essentially comprising all elected MPs and MLAs in the country – favour the government’s candidate. Sinha joined the Trinamool Congress last year but resigned from the party today.
In Maharashtra, the possibility of dissident Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde walking out of the party with 22 MLAs has put a question mark over the future of the Sena-NCP-Congress coalition government known as the MVA, or Maha Vikas Aghadi. If the MLAs resign, the MVA may no longer have a majority among the remaining legislators.
Donation cheques worth Rs 22 crore have bounced from the corpus of the trust of the Ram Temple, being built on the ruins of the demolished Babri Masjid, according to a report. The donation drive was spearheaded by the Shree Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and the trust’s coffers are bursting with Rs 5,457.94 crore.
Yesterday, we reported how PM Modi’s blogpost on his mother’s 100th birthday mentioned Abbas, the son of his father’s friend, who lived with them after the death of Abbas’ father. Coincidentally, the PM remembered him soon after several Muslim-majority countries savaged the BJP for its anti-Islam stance. Abbas, who has been traced to Sydney, Australia, confirmed Modi’s story but also noted how the atmosphere in India today is worse than what it was when he was a child.
As of March 1, 2020, the Union government had about 3.18 million employees against a sanctioned strength of about 4 million. The government aims to fill some one-fifth of its sanctioned strength in 18 months. Its track record is shaky. Last year, the government told Parliament it had inducted 444,813 new employees between 2016-17 and 2020-21. At that rate, adding 1 million new employees would take about 11 years, and the Union is trying to do it in 18 months. These vacancies are spread across 77 ministries and departments. Staffing is not uniform. Just five ministries and departments account for 92% of sanctioned posts as well as employees: Railways, Home Affairs, Civil Defence, Posts and Revenue.
The staff count in March 2020 was 11% below that of March 2003. However, in this period, the government’s wage bill and pension payout grew at a compounded annual rate of 16%, roughly doubling every four and a half years. The share of expenditure under these heads will have increased from 7.1% in 2003-04 to 12.1% in 2022-23. If the head count increases by 23% in one go, it would also add to the Union’s wage bill.
Food prices are still climbing, accentuating a severe crisis, especially in rural India. According to the government’s labour statistics, retail inflation for farm workers increased to 6.67% and for rural workers to 7% in May, mainly because certain foods are dearer.
In its ‘Monthly Economic Review’ report for May, the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) has noted that government revenues are down following cuts in high excise duties on diesel and petrol. The fiscal deficit could rise and the current account deficit widen, compounding the effect of costlier imports and a weak rupee, creating the risk of a cycle of wider deficits and a weaker currency. The department said that India faces near-term challenges in managing fiscal deficit, sustaining economic growth, reining in inflation and the CAD while holding up the rupee.
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A new Freedom House report on action by repressive governments on dissent overseas refers to India. Defending Democracy in Exile says that “India was rated Free when it rendered and detained exiles abroad in 2015, making it the only Free country to have engaged in transnational repression. India has since been downgraded to Partly Free.” It mentions that Kashmiri activists are aware of “social media being fully surveilled” and the cost to family at home for statements or any activity in the defence of democracy abroad. India features in the list of “19 member states on the NGO Committee (which) engage in physical transnational repression”. The others on the list are Bahrain, Burundi, China, Libya, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, and Sudan.
Some 207 incidents of violent crimes targeting the Christian community have been registered in India this year, according to a report of the United Christian Forum. The rights protection body recorded 40 incidents in January, 35 in February, 33 in March, 40 in April, and 57 — the highest this year — in May. Like last year, UP has the dubious distinction of being at the head of the list with 48 incidents, followed by Chhattisgarh (44). Jharkhand recorded 23 incidents and Madhya Pradesh, 14.
UP Police trotted out bulldozers for a march in Aligarh yesterday, after angry young men burned down a police station during the protests against the Agnipath scheme. But a senior police official denied the JCBs were part of the flag march: “We did not bring them… they were already there.” Incidentally, the Supreme Court gave the UP government three days to establish that mowing down Muslim homes is legal. We are counting.
Telcos and non-Chinese network equipment vendors are in a fix ― the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) has not extended a waiver allowing OEMs to import network equipment from China. Given last year, it expired on June 15 and without it, the 5G rollout would be difficult. Top European and American vendors would not be able to use Chinese 5G gear. While non-Chinese vendors have got the requisite “trusted sources” and “trusted products” tags needed to conduct future business with Indian operators, almost 50% of network equipment is imported from China, according to the Department of Commerce. No Chinese equipment, no 5G.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi was released from hospital last evening and has been advised rest at home. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi is appearing before the Enforcement Directorate for the fifth day today.
After Qatar led protests from Islamic nations against BJP spokespersons insulting the Prophet, Indian trolls had called for a ridiculous boycott of Qatar Airways. Boycott calls made by “misled” individuals do not worry the airline, CEO Akbar Al Baker told The Hindu yesterday.
Twenty Indian fishermen released by the Pakistani government in a goodwill gesture crossed the Wagah border last evening as they were repatriated to their homeland. The 20 fishermen from Gujarat, who languished in a Karachi jail for the last five years for allegedly fishing illegally in Pakistan’s waters, were released on Sunday.
Pabhojan Gold Tea, a rare organic tea from Golaghat district in Assam, was sold for Rs 1 lakh per kilogram, the highest this year, by an auction centre in Jorhat.