Students’ Stir May Swell to Large-Scale Unemployment Protests; 89% Back Covid Tax On Rich
BJP harried by UP voters, Chinese missiles give Pak edge, quick-change regulators harming rule of law, Rahul says his Twitter handle throttled, ’71 war brochure crops out Indira Gandhi, Jagjivan Ram
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
There was no issue of The India Cable on January 27, 2022
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Snapshot of the day
January 28, 2022
Amid desperate efforts by the top BJP leadership ― including Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh ― to placate the electorally influential Jat community ahead of the first phase of polling in western UP on February 10, BJP leaders and party nominees have been facing protests from the people, mainly farmers, in several districts. They blame the rival Samajwadi Party and its alliance partner Rashtriya Lok Dal. There have been protests against Vikram Saini, BJP candidate for the Khatauli Assembly seat in Muzaffarnagar, state BJP president Swatantra Dev Singh, Harendra Singh Rinku, BJP candidate for the Asmauli Assembly seat in Sambhal, and BJP nominee for the Siwalkhas Assembly seat Maninder Pal Singh. UP Deputy Chief Minister KP Maurya also faced protests on his home turf of Sirathu. Satirists are having a ball.
The New York Times reports that the prolonged closure of schools and colleges because of Covid is scuppering the fabled ‘demographic dividend’. A large proportion of working-age people, once seen as a “demographic advantage, could turn into a burden if many of them are undereducated and underemployed.” Hundreds of millions of students across India have received little to no in-person instruction, since schools are often the first to close due to pandemic restrictions, and the last to reopen. The repercussions can be especially dire in South Asia. Girls are entering into child marriages, and boys have abandoned their education to work.
Extremely unsurprising news ― there have been virtually zero TV debates by star anchors over the stormy students’ agitation in UP and Bihar. NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar’s show yesterday focused on the issue. The Opposition Mahagathbandhan now stands with students. All India action is proposed on January 31. The Hindustan Times postulates that we may be looking at the beginning of large-scale unemployment stirs. “India has among the worst labour market outcomes for young people”, it concludes. Indeed, the numbers are heartbreaking.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian yesterday hit out at recent comments by US White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who had said earlier this month that China “can be destabilising” the region and that the US is “concerned by China’s attempt to intimidate its neighbours”. Wu told reporters that the border dispute with India is a bilateral matter. “China … is firmly opposed to the US engaging in ‘coercive diplomacy’ … and China will continue to work together with the Indian side … through negotiations and consultations”. Russia selling the S-400 missile defence system to India “shines a spotlight on the destabilising role” of Moscow, the US has also said. “Whether it is India, whether it is any other country, we continue to urge all countries to avoid major new transactions for Russian weapon systems.”
The Hindustan Times reports that the supply of DF-17 mobile, solid fuel medium range ballistic missile by China to Pakistan increases Rawalpindi’s capabilities as the hypersonic missile is not easily tracked by most radars and difficult to engage with surface to air missile systems, including the S-400. In 2019, Pakistan sought 236 SH-15 155 mm vehicle mounted howitzers and AR-1 heavy rocket launchers from Chinese arms major NORINCO. The contract includes supply and technology transfer for ammunition, including extended range artillery shells and guided artillery shells with a range of 53 km.
In Delhi, a 20-year old woman, a rape survivor, was tonsured and paraded with a blackened face and made to wear a garland of shoes by cheering women in Shahdara. The Delhi Commission of Women took note and the Delhi Police is said to have arrested four women. But there’s no statement from a national leader of the ruling party. The silence of the Women and Child Affairs Minister is deafening.
Muslim students of the Government Girls’ College, Udupi, Karnataka, have refused to take off the hijab and attend classes until the report of a so-called high-level committee set up by the state government is submitted. They have also refused to attend classes online, as the local BJP MLA suggested. The MLA, Raghupathy Bhat, and Education Minister BC Nagesh, termed it an “international conspiracy”.
Unlike China, the government may not immediately regulate the ed-tech sector. It will see if self-regulation can uphold standards and address grievances.
Nearly 500 workers lose fingers or a hand in accidents at auto parts units in Gurgaon and Faridabad every year because employers make them operate dangerous machines without training. Of the victims, 90% are vulnerable migrant labour, says ‘Crushed 2021 Edition,’ a report by the NGO Safe in India Foundation.
“Accelerating growth is the objective of every Budget. But this Budget should pay special attention to bridging widened inequality in the economy,” says former RBI governor DB Subbarao.
Six days after declaring its first list of 40 candidates for the Assembly polls in Manipur on February 3 and March 3, the Congress announced a pre-poll alliance with five parties ― the CPI, CPI(M), RSP, Janata Dal(S) and Forward Bloc.
And remember the allegations of “Thook Jihad”? Here’s Amit Shah sharing his spit with others.
Former civil servants oppose anti-federal cadre rules
A hundred and nine former civil servants of the Constitutional Conduct Group, have released a statement criticising amendments made by the Centre to the Indian Administrative Service (Cadre) Rules in January as “arbitrary, unreasonable and unconstitutional.”
The new rules are facing heavy weather from Opposition-run states as an affront to cooperative federalism, doing away with the consent of states for shuffling bureaucrats around. Another front is opening in the Centre-states conflict, a losing battle for Delhi.
Rahul Gandhi says his Twitter throttled
Rahul Gandhi has written to Twitter’s CEO alleging that he is the victim of a government campaign to limit his followers, throwing fresh light on how the Modi government polices US social media companies, reports the Wall Street Journal. Gandhi said Twitter is unknowingly complicit in the Modi government’s efforts to quash dissent. His Twitter account data shows that the number of followers, which stands at 19.5 million, had barely increased for months, following an eight-day suspension in August last year. Independently verified by the Wall Street Journal using analytics companies Emplifi and Social Blade, the data showed that Gandhi gained nearly 400,000 new followers a month in the first seven months of 2021, but fewer than 2,500 monthly thereafter.
Twitter’s latest transparency report says India is the biggest source of legal demands to remove content from the accounts of verified journalists and news outlets. The Modi government had threatened to jail employees of Twitter, Facebook and its WhatsApp unit, following their reluctance to comply with takedown requests related to the farmers’ protests. The government says that foreign companies must comply with local laws, including rules unveiled last year that give it increased control over online discourse. Last year, Indian authorities directed Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to block dozens of social media posts criticising the government’s handling of the pandemic, on the pretext of trying to stop misinformation.
PLA ‘abductee’ back in Arunachal
Miram Taron, the ‘missing’ teenager from Arunachal Pradesh, has been released after nine days by the Chinese PLA but there is still no clarity about how and where he was abducted. The government and the Army are silent about the claim of BJP MP Tapir Gao that the Chinese had constructed a road 3-4 km inside India in 2018 and abducted the teenager from there. Taron was found by Chinese border defence troops in Medog County of Xizang, China, Senior Colonel Long Shaohua of the PLA Western Theatre Command said in a statement released yesterday.
Regulators undermining rule of law
BloombergQuint reports that the frequency with which rules are notified and amended by regulators undermines the stability of the legal system. Since the enforcement of the Companies Act, 2013, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has notified 56 rules under it and issued 181 circulars. Some 225 amendments have been made to rules ― 24 of them in 2021. However, SEBI is way ahead, having notified nearly 80 amendments to its regulations in 2021. The market regulator also issued around 170 circulars, changing the law almost every other day, on average. Stability and consistency is an integral component of the rule of law, which is part of the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.
In the Ganga delta, it’s like Waterworld
Between 1991 and 2011, among 60 cities and towns in West Bengal, Nabadwip was the only town that witnessed negative population growth. The old, decrepit mansions told this story: crumbling brickwork held together by thick banyan roots, rotting wooden slats on balconies, gaping cast-iron railings… As the boat picked its way through the cavernous lanes, the splash of oars echoed in empty, boarded-up rooms…
“Did you observe the current, Kazi-da?” Raghab pointed to a trail of drifting hyacinths. ‘The Ganga is flowing directly over this area.’ The Ganga flows southeast across much of north India until it forks near Farakka in West Bengal. One arm flows into Bangladesh, the other, the one that turns south, becomes Bhagirathi-Hooghly, or the Hooghly. But the people in south Bengal still call this distributary the Ganga.
Nabadwip, the ‘new island’, was the seat of the last Hindu Sena kingdom before Bakhtiyar Khilji established the Bengal Sultanate. It was the birthplace of Sri Chaitanya, the
15th century mystic. The head office of ISKCON stands on the opposite bank at Mayapur… For decades, the Hooghly’s course had been shifting towards the town. Each year, the hungry river would nibble away at ancient terracotta ghats and temples, and inundate low-lying areas for a couple of days, or even a week, then return to its bed like an amenable drunkard.
What if it wouldn’t this time?
This had happened before. Rivers in the Bengal delta had devoured the towns they themselves had spawned and nourished over the centuries; or had moved away and abandoned them forever. Five hundred years ago, during Sri Chaitanya’s time, the Ganga had
veered away from its old course, leaving Gaur, the capital of Bengal during the Middle Ages, to die a slow death.
After an hour’s wandering, the sun on the water and vapours rising from it wove a haze inside my head. I had a surreal vision of three bare-chested priests in a boat, cradling in their arms painted wooden images of Lord Jagannath and his siblings.
“What happened?” Kazi called out.
“The temple sanctum is flooded,” the elderly priest, his forehead smeared with sandalwood paste, said. “It is now chest-deep inside.” The plump, well-fed bodies of the three men were in contrast to the painted idols, faded and dressed in worm-eaten finery. After a century’s residence inside a temple’s dark womb, the idols were now contemplating the flooded town with startled, disc-shaped eyes.
We heard a shuffle of feet and prayers mumbled overhead. Five old women dressed in white saris leaned out from the first-floor balcony of a decayed two-storeyed house. They threw coins and touched their tonsured heads, dusted with grey like bur flowers, on the railing in obeisance. The priests fielded the coins and returned a grateful smile. The pious women, their faces luminous in the light reflected off the water, looked despondent. The gods were departing… We moored our boat below the staircase.
“Why are you still here?” Kazi demanded.
“Where shall we go? This is our ashram,” one of them replied. It was a hostel of 11 aged widows. They were living out their lives in this holy town, awaiting release from the cycle of rebirth…
“They have evacuated everyone in this neighbourhood. Aren’t you facing difficulties?”
Shrivelled faces cracked into toothless smiles. “No problem here, bachha. A servant boy brings drinking water every day. And we have our stock of dry food.”
“Hasn’t a relief team come this way?” Kazi asked.
“Yes, it did. They wanted to give us relief materials, but we refused. We have enough. What more do we need?”
“What else do we need? We are old people.”
“Yes, they also wanted to shift us to a relief camp. But where shall we go? We have been living here for so long. The gods are here.”
‘We don’t have many years left. Why should we go now? The gods are here.’
‘We have lived in this ashram for so long, seen so many floods. The gods are here, they’ll look after us.’
They were like chorus women in a play…
“The gods left just now,” Raghab quipped. “On a boat.”
“Don’t say that, bachha,” chided one.
“Never utter such unlucky words, son,” said another. “The gods live here.” She touched a garland of tulsi stems around her withered neck. “And there…”
“Did you stock up the dry food in anticipation of the flood?” I asked.
“How much do we eat? It’s like birdfeed.”
Ancient chorus women, well prepared to live out their twilight days, even in the middle of a calamity. We gave them biscuits and a phial of chlorine. Their faces beamed.
“How much do we need? But we’ll accept your gifts. The gods sent you here.”
“Yes, Lord Gouranga sent you here.”
They shuffled up to the head of the stairwell to bid us goodbye. The bony frames hunched forward, delicate and alert, necks craned. They resembled a flock of jacanas.
“Jai Gouranga Mahaprabhu!”
They raised their arms to bless us. The white saris flapped like wings.
“Jai Gouranga Mahaprabhu!”
(Excerpted from Field Notes from a Waterborne Land: Bengal Beyond the Bhadralok, HarperCollins India, 312 pages, Rs 399)
A brochure, apparently released ‘officially’ in October 2021 at an Indian Air Force conference to commemorate 50 years of the 1971 India-Pakistan War, betrays the insecurity of the current political leadership. Recalling the Cultural Revolution, prominent photographs have been cropped to exclude former prime minister Indira Gandhi and defence minister Jagjivan Ram. Popular military enthusiast website bharat-rakshak.com called out the makers of the brochure for the crop job.
Oil to stay elevated, polls provide consumer protection
Brent soared to $90.02 per barrel yesterday amid tensions between Ukraine and Russia, the world’s second-largest oil producer. Analysts expect weaker Omicron impact to keep prices elevated. But India’s domestic fuel prices ― which are directly linked to international oil prices and have been deregulated as per the Modi government ― have not been revised for 83 days now, beating the 82-day hiatus of 2020 ― holding down prices before state elections.
The basket of crude oil that India buys averaged $88.23 per barrel on January 26, according to the Oil Ministry's Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell. It was $74.85 in October 2021, $74.47 in November and $75.34 in December.
Prime number: 84%
That’s percentage of Indians, according to a survey of 3,231 from 24 states ahead of the Union Budget on the expectations of common people from the government, who want a 2% Covid surcharge on individuals earning over Rs 2 crore per annum. They want a temporary tax on companies making massive profits during the pandemic.
Contrary to claims of the new India State of Forest Report on forest cover increasing in India over two years, the quality of India’s forests has deteriorated across 15,183 sq km in 2019-2021, while 9,117 sq km turned into scrub and barren land, finds the Reporters’ Collective.
MP Police sent on bizarre quest
Madhya Pradesh’s controversial Home Minister Narottam Mishra has waded into casual comments made by an actor about her body. Mishra has directed the overworked state police to look into TV actor Shweta Tiwari’s statement that her bra size is “measured by God”. He said: “I have instructed Bhopal Police Commissioner to investigate and submit a report. Action will be taken after that.” A case was duly registered under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code at the Shyamla Hills Police Station in Bhopal.
The Madhya Pradesh police has other headaches. The National Crime Records Bureau data for last year shows that 45 women were violated there every week, and Indore was among the top three cities for drug peddlers. The state is in the top three for crimes against children and it is the worst state for the girl child.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Like the farmers’ stir provided a roadmap for all, voices gathering in UP may provide a grammar and vocabulary to resist the national discourse in place since 2014. That is the real significance of the UP elections writes Seema Chishti, a contributor to The India Cable.
Bharat Bhushan writes that the BJP is losing the narrative in UP, as the state’s voters are angry because of price rise, falling incomes, stray cattle menace ― economic issues that affect all communities.
Amidst the headscarf row, Maya Sharma hopes that women can peacefully wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing.
C Uday Bhaskar writes that the military remains relatively insulated from politicisation but encouraging unctuousness in the guise of civil supremacy goes against the spirit of a constitutional democracy and the institutional locus of the military.
Distinguishing between fallen soldiers strikes at the core values of the armed forces, writes Lt Gen HS Panag (retd).
Umang Poddar writes that the recent merit judgement is significant. Critics of reservation – and even the Supreme Court – have argued that it undermines the idea of merit.
For Live Law, Arvind Kumar and Shailesh Kumar write on the five messages that the Supreme Court’s NEET judgement has for anti-reservationists.
Will Muslim-bashing and the sowing of hate win state elections? Julio Ribeiro writes that Indians are keen to know.
Would Manipur’s protest culture have been any different if it was given full statehood with honour in 1949, when it joined the Indian Union, asks Pradip Phanjoubam.
The RSS lacks the courage and honesty to say that it did not participate in the freedom struggle because of its ideology. So it tries to give itself an indirect lineage deriving from Sardar Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose, writes Mohan Guruswamy.
We have a strong country only when our citizens have dignity. By muting talk of rights, we weaken the Republic of India, writes Patralekha Chatterjee.
Nilanjan Mukhopdhyay writes that the president and PM are pushing for ‘Duties over Rights’ because then accountability would not lie with the State and the blame for failure would lie with the citizenry.
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, there is a need to renew the urge to end oppression, which has taken on mammoth proportions, says eminent historian Tanika Sarkar.
Lawyer and ‘former untouchable’ Rajesh Chavda writes a powerful, personal piece taking The Economist on for a recent piece it which wrote that affirmative action in India has pushed Brahmins away to countries outside India.
Gilles Verniers speaks to Amit Baruah on what’s at stake in the Assembly elections in UP.
The government has ordered 553 internet shutdowns since 2012. In January 2022, India has already had its first shutdown. In J&K alone, of the dizzying 319 shutdowns in recent years, the longest lasted for 552 days. The Bastion makes a strong case against shutdowns.
Over and Out
Wisden’s February 2022 issue has a rare but undated picture of one of India’s early cricket captains, the only person to have played for both England and India ― Iftikhar Ali Pataudi. He is airborne as he pulls back to hit an incoming delivery.
Temsula Ao’s short stories talk of the people behind the headlines in Nagaland. An excerpt from Platform in The Tombstone in my Garden: Stories from Nagaland.
Many swear words in India, as elsewhere, target and shame women. Sunil Jaglan wants to empower women and end the culture of profanity.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, 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.