People Pay More Taxes Than Corporates; Opposition Plans ‘Parallel Parliament’

Plus: Nitish joins Pegasus probe clamour, Ladakh talks ‘constructive’, Reliance slides down Fortune Global 500, most illegal universities in UP, and well-seasoned ‘butter chicken Bong’ enters RS

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 3, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The Modi government has admitted in the Lok Sabha that income tax has exceeded corporate tax for the first time in five years. The individual taxpayer is being disproportionately squeezed and big corporates are being let off lightly. In addition, the states’ share of taxes has been the lowest in five years in 2020-2 ― when state finances were stretched by the pandemic. Rathin Roy, former member of the PM’s Economic Advisory Council, tells Karan Thapar that with jobs falling and wages down, profits were up. Hard to fight off charges of being a “suit-boot” government with these facts out there. 

The topmost Mandal leaders, former chief ministers of Bihar and UP, RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and UP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, met in Delhi yesterday after months, if not years. Congress leader and MP Rahul Gandhi hosted leaders of 15 Opposition parties for breakfast at Constitution Club. The Opposition, taking a leaf out of the farmers’ book, is proposing to have discussions and parliamentary deliberations outside the House ― a “parallel Parliament” ― to ensure that its views are heard. Leaders also cycled to Parliament to protest against the high fuel prices. Apart from around 100 Congress MPs, leaders of several Opposition parties including Trinamool Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, CPI-M, CPI, RJD and Samajwadi Party attended the breakfast meet. Leaders of JMM, JKNC besides IUML, RSP, KCM and RSP were also present. The Trinamool Congress, which had skipped the last meeting of Opposition leaders called by Gandhi, was also present at today’s breakfast meet.

The Supreme Court yesterday came down sharply on the Union government for dithering on granting equal status to men and women in the armed forces. The apex court refused to entertain a miscellaneous application filed by the Modi government seeking “clarifications” in the judgment making it legal for women to get permanent commission. The court asked the government to implement the order. Meanwhile, there is no end in sight to the Indian Army’s 30-year quest for a modern close-quarter battle carbine, sorely needed for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir.

Former Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has pointed out that in terms of the proportion of the population fully vaccinated, on June 1, 92 nations were ahead of India, but on July 19, 96 were ahead and yesterday, 101 were ahead. “Instead of vaccinating rapidly and opening the economy, the reverse is being done. We must put politics aside and do this right”, he said. 

At least 3.2 million salaried people lost their jobs in July despite the ebbing of the second wave and improved economic activity, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). About 76.49 million people had salaried jobs in July, significantly lower than the figure of 86 million a year ago.

The Modi government yesterday said that there is no proposal to waive the loans of farmers, including those from the Scheduled Caste and Tribes. Minister of State for Finance Bhagwat Karad confirmed that there had not been “any farm loan waiver scheme since the Agriculture Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, 2008.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has declared 24 “self-styled” institutes fake and found two more in violation of norms, with Uttar Pradesh revealed to have eight such fake universities,  the highest. Delhi has seven and Odisha and West Bengal have two each.

“Glass ceilings will disappear,” says the first policewoman to rise to the Director General level in Rajasthan. Nina Singh is now Director General of Civil Rights and the Anti-Human Trafficking Cell.

The Gujarat High Court has censured the state government for externing a citizen from eight districts for seeking an account of an MLA’s work: “We do not run kingdoms. We are a democratic republic.”

Film critic and quintessential Bombay man Rashid Irani is no more. “The lockdown took a toll on his equanimity,” say his friends. His mortal remains were discovered a few days after he passed on, it is believed. Watch him here.

The Indian men’s hockey team lost the semi-finals to world champions Belgium 5-2 this morning, but are still in the running for a bronze on Thursday. The Indian women’s hockey team will play Argentina tomorrow for a place in the finals. Indian woman discus thrower Kamaljit Kaur finished a creditable sixth in the finals at the Tokyo Olympics. And Mayank Agarwal was struck by a short delivery from teammate Mohammed Siraj during a net session at Trent Bridge and has been ruled out of the Test against England starting tomorrow.


BJP ally Nitish joins clamour for Pegasus probe

Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar and the oldest NDA partner left in the coalition after the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal took flight, has caused consternation in the BJP by joining a determined Opposition, constitutional authorities and the concerned public to seek an investigation into Pegasus. To add to the government’s woes, five more people said to have been hacked by the Israeli spyware have moved the Supreme Court to seek a judicial oversight mechanism to deal with complaints and punish government officials.

The Guardian reports that French intelligence investigators have confirmed that Pegasus spyware has been found on the phones of three journalists, including a senior staffer of the international television station France 24. This is the first time that an independent and official authority has corroborated the findings of the international Pegasus Project. France’s national agency for information systems security (Anssi) identified digital traces of Pegasus on the television journalist’s phone and relayed its findings to the Paris public prosecutor’s office, which is overseeing the investigation into possible hacking. Anssi also found Pegasus on cellphones belonging to Lénaïg Bredoux of the French investigative website Mediapart, and its director Edwy Plenel. Mediapart broke the story of the Rafale scam in India.

The smartphone of British activist and lawyer David Haigh, who was involved in the campaign to release the daughter of Dubai’s ruler and is consulting with the legal team of his estranged wife, was infected with Pegasus spyware last year, a new forensic investigation by the Pegasus Project has established. This is one of five new confirmed infections – which include one Indian case – detected after the international media consortium had reported on a database of 50,000 phone numbers linked to government clients of the Israeli firm, NSO Group. Haigh was not on that list. He was targeted in 2020. 


‘Constructive’ talks may create another buffer zone in Ladakh

The Indian and Chinese armies have described as “constructive” the 12th round of military talks on the eastern Ladakh border crisis, during which the two sides agreed to resolve pending issues in an “expeditious” manner, though no concrete outcome was achieved in the disengagement process at the remaining friction points. The Chandigarh Tribune reports that both the sides have agreed to pull back troops from PP 17-A (Gogra), which is expected to be implemented over the next 3-4 days by creating a “wider buffer zone”. The impasse over PP 15 (Hot Springs) would need further discussions as the LAC claims of both sides differ and overlap.

Unlike the 11th round of talks in April, a joint statement was issued this time but came relatively late, perhaps indicating that both sides still differ on specifics, Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times. Suyash Desai writes, “As witnessed from the ongoing standoff, PLA is much more capable of forcefully changing the status quo on the border with India. With force modernisation and improved connectivity, its ability to convert these standoffs into a protracted conflict, which suits its interest, has increased.” 


Varanasi devotees violate Covid regulations

In brazen violation of pandemic regulations, hundreds of devotees thronged the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi to pray and take a holy dip in the Ganga on the second Monday of the holy month of Sawan, despite being warned away by the authorities. Hindustan Times reports that few wore masks or maintained social distancing. 

“I am not afraid of anyone in Lord Shiva’s place. Lord Shiva will take care of everything,” Ravinder Kumar, an unmasked devotee, told ANI. A Ram Patel said he was happy to be present and not scared of Covid-19. Prahlad Panday, a priest, echoed the remarks of the devotees and said Covid-19 does not stand a chance in the face of Baba Bholenath. Familiar echoes of the bravado which had emanated from Haridwar earlier this year, before the Kumbh brought on the second wave. 


Covaxin felled by poor quality control

NK Arora, head of the government’s vaccine advisory panel, told NDTV that initial batches of Covaxin “were not of the right quality”.  This meant that the government was unable to meet its targets ― because of a quality shortfall in the first few batches, doses had to be shelved and were not administered. Poor quality control of Covaxin was flagged by Brazil’s drug regulatory authority, leading to the cancellation of the country’s order, which was also mired in allegations of corruption. The working group is considering allowing mixing and matching of two vaccines, but with one restriction — both doses would have to be from similar platforms. Covishield can be followed by Sputnik, both being of the Adenovirus type, and a Pfizer by a Moderna, as both are mRNA vaccines. Meanwhile, the approval for Zydus Cadila’s Covid-19 vaccine has been delayed because the expert group has asked for more trial data. 

Johnson & Johnson has withdrawn its proposal seeking accelerated approval of its Covid-19 vaccine in India. The company said, “Johnson & Johnson remains committed to bringing its single-dose Covid-19 vaccine to the people of India. Since the Drugs Controller General of India recently directed that there is no longer a requirement to conduct bridging clinical studies of Covid-19 vaccines in India, Johnson & Johnson withdrew its application to conduct these studies.” India is tackling legal challenges with manufacturers over indemnity issues. The junior health minister said last week that a team had been formed to engage with vaccine makers.


Reportedly

The Bihar government, a somewhat uneasy coalition between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the BJP and other smaller parties, is under a cloud as parties are wary about old RJD war-horse Lalu Prasad Yadav getting back into action after three and a half years away from the state due to a jail sentence, followed by illness. A first-time minister in the state’s NDA government is said to have remarked in exasperation and despair, according to The Telegraph: “Ab aur bardaasht nahi hota (I can’t take it any more). I have lost sleep and am worrying about the future of our government in the state. This suspense and fear is taking a toll on my mental and physical health. I also now want him to return as soon as possible. I will be very relieved.” The BJP has been worried after Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav met on Friday and agreed that India needs a caste census, which the BJP is desperate to avoid.


Working women lost most to pandemic

Around 1.5 crore Indians have been made redundant in India in an economic slowdown that has hit women disproportionately, reports Reuters. Most employed women in India are in low-skilled work, such as farm and factory labour and domestic help, sectors hit hard by the pandemic. Worse, slow economic recovery, the closure of thousands of factories and a sluggish vaccination rate, especially among women, is expected to undermine their attempts to return to the workforce. The Guardianreports that “Middle class India has pulled up the drawbridge. In a monumental lifestyle shift, the part-time cleaners, cooks and childminders who used to troop through their homes every day for generations are no longer welcome.”

The Consortium of Indian Industries, which represents over 1 million small firms, said women make up 60% of the job losses. A report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University found that 47% of women workers who lost their jobs between March and December ― before the second wave of the virus hit in April ― were made permanently redundant. That’s against 7% of male workers, many of whom were able to either return to their old jobs or take up independent work.


Prime number: 59
Reliance Industries Ltd slipped 59 places to rank 155th on the 2021 Fortune Global 500 list released yesterday, its lowest ranking since 2017.

NSCN bandh in Manipur

The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) called a 12-hour total shutdown in Naga areas of Manipur, from midnight last night to noon today, to protest against the “failure of the Centre” to fulfil the Framework Agreement signed with the Naga outfit in 2015. The NSCN-IM said “Six years down the line, there is no positive response yet from the GoI. The Nagas cannot be taken for a ride in this manner.” The United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur, also called for a “total shutdown” for 12 hours at the same time in all the “Naga areas” in Manipur in support of the Framework Agreement. 


Deep Dive

“From avid learner to sole earner of her family” ― how school closure changed a 13-year-old’s life. Read about her and others in a series on the impact of school closures for more than 500 days on India’s vulnerable school going population.


Frog named for Pental

A frog species has been named after former vice chancellor and renowned plant geneticist Deepak Pental. University of Delhi researchers Professor SD Biju and Dr Sonali Garg yesterday said they had discovered a new species of frog of the family Dicroglossidae from the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, and named it Minervarya pentali.


Chak de revisited

The victory of the Women’s hockey team against Australia, a formidable unit, invoked fond memories of Chak de, a popular Hindi film where Shah Rukh Khan played Kabir Khan, the coach who helps train a downbeat women’s hockey squad that strikes gold. The real and reel coach had some fun on social media yesterday. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • George Thomas writes on lessons from Covid-19 ― to “abandon unscientific medical practices, integrate what is useful in traditional medicine into a modern system, intelligently plan our health workforce and move towards a medical care delivery system financed by taxes.”

  • Instead of distant Afghanistan and Central Asia, India needs to focus sharply on its ability to shape, by coercion or economic attraction, the policies of its immediate South Asian neighbours, even if one excludes Pakistan, writes Manoj Joshi.

  • The PLFS survey 2019-20 has revealed deeply entrenched issues pertaining to the quality of employment being generated in India. More importantly, it has shown how current measures of capturing unemployment may be woefully inadequate in assessing the magnitude of the joblessness problem in India and the true extent of labour under-utilisation, writes Tulsi Jayakumar.

  • Vijay Swaroop writes that all is not well with the NDA in Bihar, as not a month has passed in the last eight months since the NDA government was formed in Bihar, when a constituent of the NDA — the BJP, HAM-S and the VIP — has not voiced their dissent against the JDU-led government. 


Listen Up

Tamil Nadu-born behavioural economist, a professor of computation and behavioral science at the University of Chicago, MacArthur ‘Genius Grant’ recipient, and author, Sendhil Mullainathan discusses a wide range of subjects and thinks messing around is the best possible use of your time.


Watch Out

‘7 Special People’ is set against the backdrop of the horrific riots that took place in Delhi last year, and is a tribute to the people of the city who stood against communal hatred. 


Over and Out

Here are excerpts from ‘I Am Not A Silent Spectator’, an anthology of writings by the late Father Stan Swamy, Jesuit sociologist and at 84 the oldest accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case, who died last month after nine months in custody. 

Read in the Jacobin, how, like so many of his fellow underground Asian anti-colonial compatriots like Ho Chi Minh and Tan Malaka, MN Roy’s quest for independence intersected with other major political developments of the 20th century — always reminding us of how truly global the anti-colonial freedom struggle was.

Jawhar Sircar, former CEO of Prasar Bharati, was elected unopposed to the Rajya Sabha today on a Trinamool Congress nomination. In an interview earlier with the Hindustan Times, the “probationer in politics” spoke of his experiences with the Congress and BJP leadership in Delhi, including the time his boss Arun Jaitley genially called him a “butter chicken Bong”, who could not choose between two subnational identities.


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.