Supreme Court to Take Up Pegasus Petition; France Confirms Amnesty Findings

Plus: CEA reopens Game of Shapes, ‘love jihad’ law challenged, Omar exposes Kashmir contradictions, Tamil Nadu defamation cases nixed, and the ‘Bihari goonda’ who, like Macavity, wasn’t there

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
July 30, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that fully vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant of Covid-19 can have a high viral payload in the upper respiratory tract, meaning that masks may remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

After being raided by the Israeli Defence Ministry, NSO Group has suspended the use of its Pegasus spyware by several government agencies. It is not yet known if Indian agencies are on the list. NSO refuses to confirm if India is a client so it is unlikely to confirm it is suspending India.

No one engaged in manual scavenging has died in the last five years. This extraordinary fact, which attempts to turn media reports of numerous deaths into fiction, is in the Modi government’s answer to unstarred question number 1017 in the Rajya Sabha on July 28. For the truth, see here.

The Union government has been forced to reserve 27% seats for OBCs and 10% for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) in the All India Quota (AIQ) Scheme for undergraduate and postgraduate medical/dental courses from the current academic year. Centrally funded institutions like AIIMS, JIPMER already have the provision, but not state colleges. Pressure from Tamil Nadu and Bihar, especially from the DMK and allies and the RJD, has forced the Centre’s hand. The Centre does not want a caste census, though. Maybe because if it reveals how minuscule upper caste numbers are and how disproportionate upper caste privilege is, the politics of caste equity would find resonance and hurt Hindutva.

After having the lowest R-value, which signals how rapidly Covid is spreading, from mid-May to late-June since the pandemic began, India’s Covid-19 situation has started to look “not so rosy from end-June with experts maintaining that the next few days are crucial to determine whether India tips over” into the next wave. 

The Game of Shapes is back. Chief Economic Advisor KV Subramanian says growth has been “V-shaped” and in the last four quarters, India is the only country with two quarters of growth. The economy is down, unemployment and inflation are zooming, the IMF has downgraded India and even the Finance Minister has stopped talking shapes. But the CEA says this “will be a decade for really high growth for India.”

All 23 members of poll strategist Prashant Kishor's IPAC (Indian Political Action Committee), in Tripura on assignment for Mamata Banerjee, have been granted bail without conditions. Some of them face allegations of violating Covid rules. A few were called in by the police on August 1. They have been served notice and remain vulnerable to arrest. Tripura Police had detained them in their hotel on Tuesday.

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has drawn outrage for urging parents of minor rape victims to think about why children are out late. On Sunday, four men posing as policemen gang-raped two minor girls after beating up the boys they were with at a Goa beach. Sawant holds the Home portfolio.

The External Affairs Ministry yesterday rejected elections held in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as an attempt to camouflage Pakistan’s “illegal occupation”. It also dismissed a reference to Kashmir in a joint statement issued by the Pakistani and Chinese foreign ministers on July 24, saying that the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are integral parts of India.

Vythiri in Wayanad district becomes the first fully vaccinated tourism destination in Kerala, in the state government’s campaign to make all destinations safe for visitors. “Kerala has done an outstanding job of controlling the spread of Covid and could act as a model for the rest of India; rising cases are a very small part of the overall picture,” virologist Gagandeep Kang told Karan Thapar.

The outrageous standoff between Assam and Mizoram continues. Mizoram has complained of a blockade and says trucks are stranded on the highway. The Assamese have been advised by their state government to not travel to Mizoram. The Print has a ground report. This affair has crossed the line.

SC to take up Snoopgate petition

Today, the Supreme Court confirmed that it will hear pleas seeking a probe into the Pegasus scandal next week. Over 500 individuals and groups had written to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana seeking immediate intervention of the Supreme Court in the Pegasus snooping matter. They have also sought a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of the Israeli spyware in India.

The signatories have requested the top court to adopt a gender-neutral policy on sexual harassment, data protection and privacy. They also referred to alleged snooping on the apex court official who had accused former chief justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment. They include activists Aruna Roy, Anjali Bhardwaj and Harsh Mander, and lawyers and scholars like Vrinda Grover and Jhuma Sen.

The world is taking the issue seriously, and the Indian government may fail to brazen it out. The phones of investigative portal Mediapart’s journalists were tested by the French national cybersecurity authorities (ANSSI) and for the first time, a government agency has confirmed Amnesty’s technical findings.

‘Book every good Samaritan’

“Go and book very gurudwara, every temple or church… prosecute every good Samaritan giving oxygen,” a Delhi High Court bench led by Justice Vipin Sanghi told the Delhi Drug Controller, which is prosecuting MLAs who sourced and distributed oxygen cylinders during the second wave of the pandemic. It expressed its displeasure about booking people who helped, using technical interpretations of the law. “You can always withdraw the prosecution,” it told the Drug Controller, which has prosecuted AAP MLA Praveen Kumar.

The court made a distinction with the case of BJP MP Gautam Gambhir’s foundation, which had procured, stocked and distributed huge quantities of Fabiflu medicine, denying market access to many patients: “He was very irresponsibly holding the Covid-19 medicines in huge quantities. He may have had the best of intentions but this is not allowed.” 

Omar exposes contradictions on J&K, LoC

In an interview to The Hindu, former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah has said, “There were specific demands made [before the PM], some political and some administrative in nature. I haven’t seen any evidence of any of them being met so far.” He also noted, “​​On one hand the L-G has said the situation has improved yet in Parliament, the MoS Home suggested that statehood will be restored when the situation normalises. There is a contradiction.”

On the spillover of violence into Kashmir as US forces leave Afghanistan, the National Conference leader said: “On one hand we take the credit that it is our defence system on the Line of Control, fencing and the proactive position that has reduced infiltration, yet we use Afghanistan as a reason for heightening fears. Either our fence is working, or it isn’t. If it is working, then why is it that it will work against Pakistanis and not Afghans? If it’s not working, then why are we taking credit for it?”

Minority bodies move against ‘love jihad’ law

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act or ‘love jihad’ law has been challenged in the High Court by the local Minority Coordination Committee and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. The public interest litigation filed on July 19 was to be heard on July 28 but was postponed to August 5-8. Under the Act, any religious conversion made or aided for the purpose of marriage is punishable with three to five years in jail, and a fine not less than Rs 2 lakh. 

“Everybody has the right to choose their partner irrespective of the religion and the state should not interfere in it. This amendment law also violates the freedom found in the Special Marriage Act of 1954. Choosing marriage to anyone, following any religion is a fundamental pillar of personal freedom,” one of the petitioners told NewsClick. Before the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act was amended, the judiciary had repeatedly come to the rescue of interfaith couples. In January, an interfaith couple from Banaskantha were released by police on the order of a division bench of the Gujarat High Court.

Book Extract

Whether in tennis or chess, families make champions

Binoo K John

When I looked at the bio-sketches of the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP’s) Top 100 ranked players of 2018, I realised that 60 of them were introduced to and/or taught the game by their parents or members of the family. All of them were taken to tennis clubs when they were young children by their parents or uncles. For example, Tracy Austin’s mother spent all her time in a neighbourhood tennis club, and so did her three daughters. Tracy, the former world number one professional tennis player of the US, became a champion at 14 but burned out by the age of 21 after winning three Grand Slam titles in a career that also included the women’s singles titles at the 1979 and 1981 US Open championships.

The onset of genius or the early promise of talent or qualities of being a champion have been closely studied. Dr K Anders Ericsson in his classic study of genius says: “From many interviews with international-level performers in several domains, Bloom (1985) [BS Bloom, educational psychologist] found that these individuals start out as children by engaging in playful activities in the domain. After a period of playful and enjoyable experience they reveal ‘talent’ or promise. At this point, parents typically suggest the start of instruction by a teacher and limited amounts of deliberate practice. The parents support their children in acquiring regular habits of practice and teach their children about the instrumental value of deliberate practice by noticing improvements in performance.”

The parental accomplishment is vicarious, but that is the way champions grow. There are scientists who believe that if you want to create a world champion or a prodigy, you can. Just follow a rigorous schedule from childhood. Professor Laszlo Polgar, Hungarian educational psychologist, is among them. To prove his belief that geniuses are made, not born, he groomed his daughters Judith and Susan to become grandmasters in chess, while Sofia, the third one, settled down to be an international master. He was obsessed with the art of creating geniuses and collected biographies of about 400 great ‘geniuses’. “When I looked at the life stories of geniuses, I found the same thing. They all started at a very young age and studied intensively,” he is quoted as saying. He also searched everywhere to find a wife who could help him with his experiment. Finally, he married Klare, who was from a Hungarian-speaking region in Ukraine. The Polgar experiment began in 1970 “with a simple premise that any child has the innate capacity to become a genius in any chosen field as long as education starts before their third birthday and they begin to specialize at six.” Judith was a perfect fit for her father’s ‘genius is made’ theory.

At the age of six, the now retired Grandmaster Judith could defeat her father. Judith is often described as the greatest woman chess player ever, having beaten Garry Kasparov. The fact that two of her siblings did not match up to her calibre could be used as indication for the other prevalent theory that geniuses are indeed born.

‘A Father’s Love of Sport Inspires a Daughter’s Career’ (New York Times, Nov 16, 2019) is the epic tale of Zbigniew Macur narrated by his daughter Juliet Macur, who herself worked as a reporter in the New York Times, and so got to write her own story. The parental role in the moulding of a child is brilliantly drawn out. 

She writes, “He was the rebounder when I shot basketballs, the pitcher when I took batting practice, the coach who measured my long jumps and taught me to throw a baseball like a rocket. On our epic road trip around the country when I was 10 — when we took in our old, red Volkswagen bus with an engine he had to rebuild along the route — he was the timekeeper for my runs in 22 states… He didn’t miss a single one of my high school basketball games… Every time I looked in the stands he was there, quiet and smiling. When I rowed for Columbia, he and my mother were at every regatta too… He never cared if I won. What mattered was that I tried my best and — what a concept — that I had fun. So I grew to love sports because of his love for sports.”

Zbigniew spent some years of his childhood slaving in the Dachau concentration camp. The Allies rescued him when he thought he was about to die, and he went on to become a soccer star. Juliet became a journalist after she failed in sport, but many champions in all countries are created by the ambition of parents. The stories of how Richard Williams drove his daughters Serena and Venus to tennis fame, just like Juliet Murray drove her sons Andy and Jamie to become professional tennis players, are well known. 

(Excerpted with permission from Top Game by Binoo K John, Speaking Tiger Books, 260 pages, Rs 499)


BJP MP Nishikant Dubey (of fake Delhi University degree fame) claimed that TMC MP Mahua Moitra called him a ‘Bihari goonda’ at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Information Technology on Wednesday. On instructions from the top, BJP MPs had refused to sign their attendance, leading to a lack of quorum. Moitra and committee head Shashi Tharoor ask: If the BJP MPs were not present at the meeting, how could Dubey have been called names by anyone there?

Prime number: 454
That’s the shortfall of judges in the 25 high courts, against the sanctioned strength of 1,098 judges. The Supreme Court has eight vacancies in a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. 

TN to withdraw AIADMK’s defamation cases

Fulfilling its election promise, the DMK government in Tamil Nadu announced that 90 defamation cases against media houses and journalists filed by the previous AIADMK regime between 2012 and February 2021, would be withdrawn by the state government. It had filed a slew of defamation complaints on daily and weekly English and Tamil newspapers, magazines and news channels. However, the state government can only withdraw cases initiated by the government, through public prosecutors. Cases filed by ministers or bureaucrats on a personal basis will continue.

Deep Dive

The official-to-real gap in data on Covid-19 deaths continues to shock and awe. A small survey in Bihar found a huge surge in mortality during the second Covid-19 wave ― about 300,000 excess deaths. Here is the study by Apurva Bamezai, Murad Banaji et al, and this is a summary of the context.

Author Thomas Joseph dead

Malayalam novelist, short story writer and winner of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, Thomas Joseph passed away yesterday at 67. Joseph was ailing for the last three years at his home in Keezhmadu, Aluva, following a stroke. He has won numerous awards. His short story collection Marichavar Cinema Kanukayanu won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in 2013.

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • How did we go from the government promising that its liberalised policy would “ensure augmented vaccine production” and wider availability of doses, to ministers and officials berating the private sector for profiteering and failing to deliver what was promised, asks Rohan Venkat. “Will there be a real reckoning for those within the government who championed the changes or an honest examination of what went wrong?”

  • MK Venu (a contributor to The India Cable) writes that the Narendra Modi government now looks totally isolated among world democracies in its response to Pegasus. Even Israel, which has reason to sweep this under the rug, has gone through the motions of paying a visit to NSO’s offices. 

  • Julio Ribeiro writes that what really bothers him is that Pegasus could “be used to plant false evidence on the computers of pro-poor activists like Stan Swami and other Bhima-Koregaon accused? I do not know the answer. In the hands of the unscrupulous, Pegasus could change the colour of justice.”

  • MK Narayanan writes that “easy access to newer cyber espionage tools will add to the existing chaos”, and security in the era of ever-expanding cyberweapons could become a mirage. For the present, he says, Pegasus is “hiding behind a cloak of anonymity, and the unwillingness of those to whom it has been sold to to acknowledge its misuse, but the reprieve is likely to be only temporary.”

  • With agriculture in distress, amid falling farm incomes due to an unfavourable shift in the terms of trade, the sector is incapable of offering refuge to the unemployed. The labour force survey points to a structural crisis of employment in the country, writes Himanshu.

  • Jayadeva Ranade writes that Xi Jinping’s visit will give a major push to socio-economic changes planned for the Tibet Autonomous Region. India should assess its implications and be prepared for increased military activity on the LAC, including opposite Nyingchi and Shigatse.

Listen Up

Suhasini Haidar and Ananth Krishnan look at the takeaways of Anthony Blinken’s visit and ask where India-US relations are headed, as they deal with shared concerns on Afghanistan and China. They also ask how the Biden administration’s emphasis on promoting democratic values figured during the visit, how New Delhi views its approach to democracy and the contrast with the Trump era.

Watch Out

Technology has changed the ways in which people meet, connect and fall in love. This conversation explores the changing landscape of romance and intimacy in the digital age in India as a sociological phenomenon, examining the surge in usage of dating apps during the pandemic. Watch Ankit Vengurlakar (co-producer of the Love Aaj Kal podcast), Dhiren Borisa (a Dalit queer activist, poet and urban sexual geographer) and Bishakha Dutta (filmmaker, activist and co-founder and executive director of Point of View).

Over and Out

A study in the journal Biological Conservation examines how the massive shift of focus to Covid-related research and management has affected various scientific domains, including biodiversity conservation in India.

GQ has an informative read on India’s contingent of 127 athletes to the Tokyo Summer Olympics, which includes champions of games popular and lesser-known, like judo, rowing and equestrian sports. 

Pa Ranjith’s Tamil period film on boxing, Sarpatta Parambarai, is making waves. Co-writer and novelist Tamil Prabha speaks about the challenges of screenplay writing, the need for the complexity of characters, the North Madras dialect and the women in the film.

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.