The India Cable: As Delhi Police Plays Tag, Twitter Plans Next Moves; India Off FDI Map

Plus: 'White' book on Modi and jobs, new CJI cites rules to nix Modi favourites for CBI chief, SC asks why there are two sets of accused in Narada scam, National Covid Memorial is online

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 25, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The people are trolling the Prime Minister. “Every page insightful,” says a review of this very quick read, which consists of 56 blank pages and retails for Rs 56. Free with Kindle Unlimited. (Update May 25 evening: Amazon has killed the link but the archived page is available here).

The government has sent notices through the Delhi Police’s Special Cell to the offices of Twitter India, prompted by the social media company’s refusal to remove ‘Manipulated Media’ alerts from the tweets of senior leaders who were sharing an inauthentic and likely forged ‘toolkit’. Since Twitter won’t remove the tag on Sambit Patra’s tweet, the police will now put the company through the wringer to understand why it is not ‘cooperating’ – all in the name of ‘investigation’. Strangely, the Modi government’s ego-tripping is happening precisely when its minister for external affairs is negotiating with Washington to jump the vaccine queue, and thereby score a diplomatic coup. S Jaishankar is in the US for five days, but Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is off to West Asia for four. However, the twain shall meet.

The long-pending meeting to choose a new director for the Central Bureau of Investigation was held yesterday and three names have been shortlisted. “The way the procedure was followed was in conflict with the mandate of the committee. On 11th (May), I was given 109 names and today by 1 pm, 10 names were shortlisted and by 4 pm, six names were shortlisted. This casual approach of DoPT (Department of Personnel and Training) is highly objectionable,” Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Chowdhury said of the selection committee, which included PM Modi and CJI NV Ramana. It appears that Chief Justice Ramana, attending his first ever such meeting, held that those candidates with less than six months left in their tenure should not be considered for the job, as this was part of a Supreme Court Order on guidelines for appointments of police chiefs. This effectively ruled out two 1984-batch candidates who had been cited as front-runners – Rakesh Asthana and YC Modi, both having worked with, and considered close to the top two offices in the government. 

Jitan Ram Manjhi, chief of Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S), an NDA partner in Bihar, set off a political storm yesterday when he said that like vaccination certificates, death certificates of Covid-19 victims should also carry the photograph of PM Narendra Modi. He is not the first leader to suggest this, but the first from the ruling party’s stable. CNN also reminds us that local Indian media had gone easy on Modi but that’s changing because of the pandemic.

Reliable nostrums like gaumutra and bhabhijipapad aren’t working their magic any more. (Lest we forget, here’s a checklist of the myths propagated by BJP leaders and their supporters to ‘boost immunity’ against Covid-19.) Beleaguered prime ministers often shift the burden of unpopularity to cabinet colleagues. If reports are to be believed, Modi is about to do that now, and present new faces as he prepares for important Assembly elections next year, and the 2024 general elections. We are reminded of the old fable about the US President and three envelopes.

AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria has said that there is no indication that the third wave of Covid-19 will infect children severely. It is being seen as an unusual remark as the world over, there is concern about the virus jumping to new demographics, but let’s hope the good doctor is right. Dr Guleria is in receipt of an open letter from an Army doctor highlighting embarrassing flip-flops on guidelines for Covid management

India is the only one among the 10 countries worst-affected by Covid-19 not to ensure free vaccinations for all citizens. An ICMR study has found that 3.6% of hospitalised Covid-19 patients had fungal or bacterial infections. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has written to PM Narendra Modi, saying that the central government should float a global tender to procure vaccines and supply states free of cost, as it is a “public good.” The Financial Times expresses “surprise” at the failure of India to step up to the vaccine challenge: “The government seriously believed Covid-19 was going to go away in January, and it didn’t have a plan B.” The Centre has now begun direct talks with global vaccine makers. As someone said on Twitter, “It took a Moderna and a Pfizer to remind the Modi government of its responsibility.”

Experts have analysed mortality figures in Gujarat and found that in a little over two months, there were at least 40,000 “excess deaths” over the previous years’ data. This is around 10 times Gujarat’s official Covid-19 death count during this period ― around 4,200 deaths. 

Mindless policing of the outbreak continues. An Additional Collector, Manjusha Vikrant Rai, was found slapping a boy for opening his footwear shop during the lockdown in Shajapur, Madhya Pradesh. In Bengaluru, a viral video showed BBMP officials manhandling a young man who refused to undergo a randomtest near Nagarathpet. The Bangalore Commissioner regretted the incident. An enquiry will be conducted. And the 17 Muslims staffing a Bangalore Covid war room who were shunted out after BJP MP Tejasvi Surya publicly humiliated them? BBMP claims that they have been reinstated. But that’s not true.

Fugitive diamantaire Mehul Choksi has gone missing in the Caribbean, says local media in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. PM Modi had been panned for his references to ‘Mehul bhai’, with whom he was photographed at Davos. The Supreme Court says it disapproves of Mamata Banerjee’s recent dharna against the CBI in the Narada scam matter but has also asked why there are two sets of accused, “those charged and those not charged”. The latter group are all in the BJP now but the CBI can hardly be expected to offer that as an anwer.


As Delhi Police Plays Tag, Twitter Plans Next Moves

Yesterday evening, a team of officers from the Special Cell, an elite branch of the Delhi Police in charge of investigating terrorism and organized crime, descended on Twitter’s offices in the city to “serve a notice” to Twitter’s India head. It was accompanied by TV cameras and selected journalists who initially tweeted that it was a “raid”. The police later said that it had served a notice to Twitter. As one lawyer pointed out, replies from Twitter, even if ambiguous, are proof that ‘service’ (delivery of notice) stands completed. Once service is complete and post-service questions and answers begins, there is no need for ‘service’. Ergo, what was served was not a notice.

The ‘raid’ came three days after Twitter added a ‘Manipulated Media’ label on the tweet of a prominent BJP spokesman, Sambit Patra. He and other BJP leaders claimed that the Congress was giving medical favours to journalists affected by the pandemic, and circulating a ‘toolkit’. AltNews found the file they shared was forged. The Congress filed a police complaint against Patra, who first shared the file, and a host of top BJP leaders. On Friday, the IT Ministry sent a letter to the company asking it to remove the label. Twitter did not.

If the ‘raid’ was intended to intimidate, the police action may have had the opposite effect. Twitter has now added a tweet by former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh to its manipulated hall of shame.

As AltNews founder Pratik Sinha said, “BJP made the ‘toolkit’ allegations, and the burden of providing proof is on them. Delhi Police should start the investigation there. It has been six days since the screenshots of the ‘toolkit’ were released but those who made the allegations still haven’t produced any authentic evidence.” In an editorial, The Hindu writes that “the Centre’s directive to Twitter to remove the ‘manipulated media’ tag on posts is illegal.” After the government fled in the face of the pandemic, Twitter has been the refuge of patients seeking aid and information.  

The Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code Rules issued on February 25 come into effect tomorrow. The new rules call for appointment of officers for complaint resolution and active monitoring of harmful content. The atmanirbhar Koo is the only platform that has complied. The rest may lose their status as intermediaries and become vulnerable to criminal action. 

Delhi Police found Twitter’s offices closed and its ‘raid’ has now been taken up by Jim Baker, the platform’s global legal counsel and vice president. The Times of India reports that Twitter may approach the Biden administration.


Spectre of rural surge 

A surge of undocumented Covid-19 infections in India’s villages is killing thousands in Bihar, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha and UP, where 65% of Indians (about 800 million) live. Cases are several times higher than official figures, and patients have no access to urban medical care or aid on Twitter.

Thousands of unnamed and undocumented bodies buried on the banks of the Ganga fell victim to an official drive to yank off the saffron and yellow sheets their relatives had covered them with, which were easily picked up by cameras. Reports and videos from Prayag, Unnao and Buxar have come in.


Why can’t additional income from RBI be used to supply more vaccines?

The Kerala High Court has asked the Centre to consider using surplus funds recently declared by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to procure more Covid-19 vaccines. The RBI has approved the transfer of Rs 99,122 crore as surplus to the central government. Vaccine shortages are faced across states, and the Centre can procure vaccines at a lower price than that fixed for state procurement. The Centre can buy vaccines at Rs 150, while the states must pay Rs 400 for Covishield and Rs 600 for Covaxin. 

The Centre informed the bench that only 57% of Covid vaccines produced domestically were reaching the people. While 28.33 lakh doses of vaccines are being produced daily in India, only 12-13 lakh are being distributed, and no targets are fixed. On Friday, another bench of the Kerala High Court had asked the Centre for a time-frame to provide vaccines allocated for Kerala.


FDI continues no confidence motion

Like in 2020, India does not figure in the 2021 Kearney FDI Confidence Index because it “has been deliberating a data privacy bill with implications for data rules that investors are likely monitoring closely”. It has been a steady decline under the Modi regime, from second and third place under the UPA, down to 16th in 2019. The ranking was being actively promoted by the government in 2016 and 2017, but it has gone completely silent now. Kearney’s FDI Confidence Index is an annual survey of global business executives that ranks the top 25 markets likely to attract the most investment in the next three years.


Lakshadweep faces sweeping changes

Discontent and anger is brewing in the Lakshadweep islands over a bunch of regulations introduced by new administrator Praful Khoda Patel in the last five months, which also saw the islands descend from being a ‘Covid-free region’ for nearly a year into one with 6,847 cases until May 24. Covid arrived after he did away with the stipulation for mandatory quarantine of Dweep-bound travellers in Kochi. MPs have written to highlight the troubles being faced by locals in recent months, and demanded Patel’s recall.

On March 10, the Mumbai Police registered an FIR against former Gujarat minister Praful Kheda Patel and eight others for their alleged involvement in the suicide of Lok Sabha MP Mohan Delkar. The seven-time Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP was found dead in a hotel on Marine Drive on February 22.


Reportedly

The war of words between feisty Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiagarajan or ‘PTR’ and the Isha Foundation of ‘godman’ Jaggi Vasudev is refocusing public attention on the core issue. The minister, an investment banker from an illustrious family dedicated to public service, had been vocal against Vasudev for his campaign ‘Free TN Temples’, even when his party, the DMK, was in the Opposition. The DMK also opposes the campaign. 

Vasudev’s campaign is supported by the BJP, which wants temples to be ‘freed’ of government control. Over 44,000 temples in Tamil Nadu are managed by the government through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department. PTR says he has documents concerning Vasudev’s controversial organisation, which he will make available to the authorities. “Unlike what is being peddled, the laws put the control of the temples back in the people’s hands as in a representative democracy, it is the government that represents the people,” PTR said. Here’s what is at stake.


Atrocities on Dalits continue in Gujarat

A 22-year-old Dalit youth in Ahmedabad was assaulted at home by a group of people for sporting a moustache. There have been similar attacks on Scheduled Caste youths in recent past at various places in the state for reportedly sporting moustaches, attire and even traditional shoes, which are deemed to be above their station.


Mariners marooned by Covid

Indian seafarers, making up 240,000 of the 1.7 million people crewing the world’s 50,000 cargo vessels, have been left in limbo as coronavirus restrictions create chaos in shipping.  Difficulties in securing vaccines mean that they face job losses as well as obstacles to returning home after finishing contracts. Overworked crew members have been forced to stay on board even after their contracts expired, due to a lack of relieving crew.


Prime Number: 17.4%
The urban unemployment rate for the week ending May 23, compared with 14.7% in the previous week. The rural unemployment rate eased to 13.5% from 14.3% during the period, and the overall unemployment rate rose to 14.73%, the highest in nearly a year.

Deep Dive

With so much under-reporting, denial and even subterfuge about the Covid dead in India, a group of citizens from diverse backgrounds have set up a National Covid Memorial to record the lives of Indian Covid victims, to remember who they were. 


Muslim meat seller assaulted in UP, police file case against him

Mohammaed Shakir was allegedly assaulted by a group of men led by a person calling himself a gau rakshak (cow vigilante) in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh, but the police filed a criminal case against him for ‘mischief by killing an animal’, ‘committing an act likely to spread infection’, and ‘violation of Covid lockdown guidelines’. Shakir was arrested but not jailed as the sections invoked are bailable.

The victim is in the business of transporting and selling meat. Based on a complaint lodged by his brother, police have registered a case against the men who led the assault. Manoj Thakur, the gau rakshak, has not been arrested yet.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Louise Tillin writes that Indian federalism was designed to enable the central government to coordinate policy in areas of social and economic life in which leaving the initiative to states would risk a damaging “race to the bottom.” Tackling the second Covid-19 wave and building resilience to face future spikes will require a rediscovery of this constitutional spirit.

  • PM Modi’s BJP is perceived to be characterised by muscular nationalism, Hindutva, and over-the-top-theatrics. Actually, the defining trait of the government is incompetence, writes Manoj Joshi.

  • Photos of India’s mass cremations are not inherently offensive. They’re an act of resistance and must be seen by the world, writes Kamayani Sharma. 

  • Samir Nazareth writes in The South China Morning Post on how India’s efforts to put a positive spin on its Covid-19 crisis lie at the heart of the disaster.

  • Vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon, and has surfaced at various points in history. Charles Dickens played a very important role in advocating the smallpox vaccine in the 19th century and India can learn from him, writes Vivek Kaul.

  • The UGC’s New Framework for Indian History amounts to a simplistic evocation of religious differences. Official promotion adds weight to the project of misreading the past to fuel divisive passions, writes Somok Roy.


Listen Up

Between the 12th and 16th centuries, a distinct form of Islamic thought and practice developed among Muslim trading communities of the Indian Ocean. Sebastian R Prange, economic historian and author of Monsoon Islam: Trade and Faith on the Medieval Malabar Coast and art historian and researcher Ayesha Matthan explore the argument presented in Sebastian’s book – that this ‘Monsoon Islam’ was shaped by merchants not sultans, forged by commercial imperatives rather than in battle, and defined by the reality of Muslims living within non-Muslim societies. Focusing on India’s Malabar Coast, the fabled ‘land of pepper’, Prange speaks of how Monsoon Islam developed in response to concrete economic, socio-religious and political challenges.


Watch Out

Riveting television, Indian style. In which a real doctor tears into the quackery of Baba Ramdev.


Over and Out

To dodge Covid-19 restrictions on the ground, Rakesh and Dakshina from Madurai rented a plane for two hours and got married in mid-air. The wedding party flew from Madurai to Bangalore, and after the marriage in a SpiceJet flight, back from Bangalore. The airline said it had no prior information and DGCA, the regulator, has said it would launch an investigation. 

An Indian-origin man has been asked to move his house by one metre or pay Rs 1.6 crore in damages in Auckland for building his house “in the wrong place”. Deepak Lal has built his home right on the neighbour's boundary. The one-metre difference between the boundary of his and his neighbour’s house has become a nightmare for Lal. The mistake was reportedly committed by the builder, but Lal must pay. 


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.