Quad Brings Global Focus Back to Indo-Pacific, China; RTI-Free Zone Set for Forces, Cybersecurity, Tax Data Agencies
ASHA workers win WHO award, FPI exodus continues, as demolition politics reaches Assam the bulldozer is capturing national imagination, India to have most cardiac deaths by 2030, who was Gama Pehalwan
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
May 23, 2022
The WHO announced six awards yesterday “to recognise outstanding contributions to advancing global health [which] demonstrated leadership and commitment to regional health issues.” India’s one million harassed, poorly furbished and very poorly paid Accredited Social Health Activists, the ASHA workers, are amongst the six awardees.
Pakistani singer Abrar Ul Haq accuses filmmaker Karan Johar of copying his song ‘Nach Punjaban’, and suggests that a person of his stature should not filch.
At a right-wing media conclave in Delhi last night, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said that temples damaged by the Portuguese should be rebuilt, and tourists weaned away from beaches to the said temples.
“For India to emerge as one of the respected global powers, it has to realise the dreams of the founding fathers as enunciated in the Constitution,” Bangladesh Education Minister Dipu Moni on Saturday said at a RSS-linked conclave in Bangalore. “Protection of interests of all minorities, including those with a distinct language and culture, can “help deter tension and avoid sectarian violence.”
Ahead of the Quad Summit, on board Air Force One, a journalist asked US NSA Jake Sullivan: “I’m wondering how you balance trying to engage economically with someone like Prime Minister Modi, who himself has been accused, under the guise of democracy, of human rights abuses and maligning Muslim minorities. How do you balance accountability, approaching a bilateral like that, [against] the desire to have an economic collaboration?”
“President Biden has been clear from the beginning of this administration that we’ll speak out when we see any form of departure from or deviation from basic principles, fundamental freedoms, human rights, the values of democratic institutions, and the rule of law. That’s true for a range of countries. And you know, we don’t single India out. And we have found a way to pursue practical cooperation with countries that are democratic and non-democratic, while at the same time being clear and consistent of where our values lie.”
He also said that India’s export ban on wheat and its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be discussed. Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra’s response to questions about the Quad Vaccine Initiative hitting a logjam is a classic demonstration of beating around the bush.
Ahead of the Quad summit, India, the US and 10 other ‘Indo-Pacific’ countries set up the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, Washington’s latest vehicle to decouple the region from China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hit out at the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the Biden administration on Sunday, ahead of the Quad summit: “Try to mess up other regions and then mess up the Asia-Pacific region as well. Facts will prove that the so-called ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ is in essence a strategy of creating division, inciting confrontation and undermining peace.” In Tokyo today, President Biden abandoned “strategic ambiguity” to declare that the US would defend Taiwan militarily if it were attacked by China. The Chinese responded immediately: “No one should underestimate the firm resolve, staunch will and strong ability of the Chinese people in defending national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A recent survey in China showed that India is the second most negatively perceived country, after the US and before Japan. Russia was the most positively perceived country, followed by Pakistan, Singapore and North Korea.
The exodus of foreign money from the Indian equity markets continues unabated with Foreign Portfolio Investors pulling out over Rs 35,000 crore so far this month. Net outflow by FPIs from equities reached Rs 1.63 lakh crore so far in 2022, and Rs 6,133 crore from debt.
Central excise duty was finally reduced by Rs 8 per litre on petrol and Rs 6 per litre on diesel, cutting pump prices by Rs 9.5 and Rs 7 per litre. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the cut would cost the government Rs 1 lakh crore a year. But a reality check established that excise on fuel went up 307% in 2016-2021. Clearly, record 15% wholesale inflation is biting Indians hard enough to unsettle the Modi government. As ministers lined up to do the ‘Thank you, Modiji’ number, a former member of the Economic Advisory Council sarcastically asked a thankful minister: “Presumably this was a cabinet decision, so why are you thanking them?” A few states, including Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala have decreased VAT on petrol and diesel after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s call to provide further relief.
But others like Tamil Nadu’s Finance Minister P Thiaga Rajan asked why states were not consulted when the Centre raised excise and cornered more and more of the price paid by consumers: “The exorbitant increase in taxes by the Union government has been only partially reduced through their cuts and the taxes continue to be high as compared to the 2014 rates. Therefore, it is neither fair nor reasonable to expect states to reduce their taxes.”
Speaking of fuel, in a London seminar, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that socially, the Modi government’s policies are like pouring kerosene all over the country.
What the Supreme Court says or does not say in the Gyanvapi case matters. Encouraged by the debate reopening on the Varanasi mosque and Shahi Idgah, saffron outfits have staked their claim to the historic Teele Wali Masjid in Lucknow, stating that it was in fact ‘Laxman Tila’. They vowed to march to the Masjid to recite the Hanuman chalisa. The police banned the proposed march yesterday and detained Rishi Trivedi, president of the Hindu Mahasabha’s state unit, late on Saturday night after the imam of the Masjid Syed Fazlul Mannan warned that Muslims would protest against the march.
In Assam, the administration in Nagaon has demolished the homes of those who had set a police station on fire a day earlier, incensed about a report of custodial death. The house of the person who died in custody, Safiqul Islam, was also demolished.
Aligarh Muslim University’s literature festival was cancelled on its third and last day, with the baffled organisers locked out of the venue. AMU authorities said it was done to prevent incidents due to the unprecedented crowds. All events were going ahead without any trouble, attracting full houses, but on the morning of May 21, the university authorities abruptly cancelled the event due to “law and order” concerns.
With judicial orders coming out against opaque Look Out Circulars or LOCs ― recall the matter of Amnesty India head and journalist Aakar Patel and journalist Rana Ayyub ― the government has moved the Supreme Court to preserve their secrecy. Secrecy is sacred for the Modi government. The Right to Information lifts the veil, so several exceptions are being sought to be extended to the Armed Forces, RAW and other arms of the state which should be open to scrutiny. The “stage is set for RTI exemption for forces, cybersecurity and tax data agencies,” says the Economic Times.
The floods in Assam have affected nearly 7.20 lakh people across 22 districts. At least 24 people have died in the deluge and landslides, according to the Assam State Disaster Management Authority.
The Economist has written an elegy to “India’s once-vaunted statistical infrastructure”, emphasising that it “is crumbling”.
Crypto payments continue to gain in popularity in Dubai. Law firm Ashish Mehta & Associates, Solicitors and Legal Consultants, reveal plans to start accepting crypto.
The Indian government raised export tariffs yesterday, hiking tax on iron ore and concentrates from 30% to 50%, and 45% on iron pellets.
The case for haldi or turmeric as the next big wellness item is complicated. “The proportion of curcumin in turmeric is just 3% by weight. Scientific studies finding positive health associations use either pure curcumin or turmeric extract that has been designed to contain mostly curcumin. The doses of curcumin required to give benefit are very high – typically about 1,000 mg a day.”
The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium or INSACOG has confirmed the presence of BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Covid-19 in India. Both are sub-variants of Omicron, which had spread rapidly in India earlier this year.
By 2030, India will earn the dubious distinction of recording the most cardiac deaths in the world, says renowned cardiologist Dr CN Manjunath. Almost every fourth death will owe to cardiovascular disease, he said at HAL Medicon 2022, the National Conference for doctors of HAL.
“Is your name Mohammed?”
A 65-year-old man in Madhya Pradesh was beaten to death by a BJP functionary
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