The India Cable: Chinese Forces Dramatically Strengthened; Ladakh Was Only Round One

Plus: Modi didn’t consult states before changing vax policy, 3 million IT jobs face robots’ axe, screen use damaging Indians’ eyesight, Karnataka excess deaths five times official Covid death toll

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
June 17, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Top satellite imagery analysts have concluded that China’s force posture and ability to sustain a major conflict along its western border is being dramatically enhanced in a breathtakingly short period of time. That, paired with China’s rapid advances in air combat capability, should make India very nervous, as the border crisis in Ladakh remains unresolved. 

UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor has said that she is disturbed by “reports that WHRDs (world human rights defenders) Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita have not been released after Delhi Police challenged yesterday’s Delhi High Court decision to grant them bail.” She also said she finds “their incarceration following anti-CAA protests in India deeply concerning.” This morning, two days after they were granted bail, Narwhal, Kalita and Asif Tanha petitioned the Delhi High Court for liberty, and got it, when the trial court, which had deferred their release yesterday, promptly set them free. Delhi Police had been playing for time, hoping to get the Supreme Court to stay their bail before release.

The Indian Medical Association said yesterday that 730 doctors have died during the second coronavirus wave. Bihar reported 115 deaths among doctors, the highest, followed by Delhi with 109 and Uttar Pradesh with 79.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was forced to come out and defend the controversial decision to double the interval between two doses of the Covishield vaccine. He said it was taken in a “transparent manner” and “based on scientific data”. However, three scientists of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation had said that they did not advise widening the gap. The minister provided no evidence of transparency or science.

Amid a social media debate on the constitution of the indigenous Covid shot Covaxin, Bharat Biotech have clarified that calf serum is not an ingredient of the final product. They said that newborn calf serum is used only for the preparation and growth of Vero cells. Questions about animal origins come a little too late ― animal serums have been used for decades in older vaccines for rabies, polio and flu. And the Vero line of culture cells, derived from African green monkeys, has been in use since the 1960s.. 

Indians have been glued to computer and phone screens through the pandemic as work, education, face to face communications and entertainment moved online. While the time spent on screens is still below that in many countries, the increase is substantial and almost one in five ― the world’s highest rate ― report weakened eyesight, a UK study has found. It is based on data from Lancet Global Health, WHO and screen-time tracker DataReportal. 

Exams for Class 12 were cancelled but the Central Board of Secondary Education told the Supreme Court today that it has a formula to give students a final grade based on their performance over three years, i.e. from Class 10.

A 12-year-old lion succumbed to coronavirus at Arignar Anna Zoological Park at Vandalur in Tamil Nadu yesterday, the second casualty at the zoo after the death of a lioness on June 3. The lion, named Pathbanathan, housed in the safari area, died at 10:15 am yesterday. Early in the pandemic in 2020, big cats were seen to be at risk from Covid-19 and there were proposals to close national parks.

Did Boris Johnson’s delay in closing borders to travel let the Delta variant, first discovered in India, into the UK? The question, which has become political, raised its head in the House of Commons again, where there was a sparring match between leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer and the beleaguered Prime Minister, who came out fighting, dismissing his opponent as “Captain Hindsight”. 

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has won the appeal against an arbitration award in favour of Deccan Chargers of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The BCCI had challenged the July 2020 award in the Bombay High Court, requiring it to pay Rs 4,814.67 crore. The BCCI was represented by Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta, among others. 


Modi never consulted states 

Representatives of southern state governments have confirmed to The News Minute that they were neither consulted nor informed before the Union government’s April 19 decision to pass them the responsibility of funding and procuring vaccines for the 18-44 age group. In its May 11 affidavit to the Supreme Court, the Union government had claimed that “several rounds of consultation and discussion with experts, state government and vaccine manufacturers” were held. 

The states did not ask for decentralisation in procurement or funding, but for decentralisation of the administration and implementation of vaccination, says Tamil Nadu Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiaga Rajan. “What states were asking is ― why should there be one central website where every single vaccine in the country should be registered? Why should that require documentation like Aadhaar when the SC has that Aadhaar is not required for services? Why should all those vaccine certificates be issued by the Union government? How do you mistake diversified distribution and freeing up implementation with diversified purchasing, which nobody asked for.” 


Karnataka excess deaths five times official Covid death toll

Karnataka has reported 1,02,429 excess deaths between January 1 and June 15 compared to the January 1 to June 30 period in 2019 ― five times the official Covid-19 death toll of 21,048 recorded for the period. The majority are likely to be due to Covid-19, but were not reflected in medical bulletins. This number will increase significantly since deaths can be notified up to 21 days after the event. 

Assam also reported 77,845 deaths, or 55% higher than usual, in four months of 2020 during the first wave of Covid-19 in the state, government data shows. The excess mortality was 30 times the official Covid-19 death toll.


3 million IT jobs to be axed by 2022

With process automation accelerating, domestic software firms TCS, Infosys, Wipro, HCL, Tech Mahindra, Cognizant and others appear to be planning to retrench 3 million in low-skilled roles by 2022. The sector employs around 16 million, of whom 9 million are employed in low-skilled services and BPO roles, according to Nasscom. Of these, one-third or 3 million jobs will be lost by 2022 as their roles are replaced by robotic process automation, according to a Bank of America report.


Chandorkar, ‘private person’, appointed to WTO

The government yesterday appointed one Aashish Chandorkar, described as “a private person”, as director-level counsellor in India’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Geneva, for three years. The unprecedented appointment of a private person comes ahead of a crucial ministerial conference of the WTO later this year. Chandorkar has authored a book, his social media bio states: The Fadnavis Years: The Game Changer.


The Long Cable

India vs China: Why we have seen only Round One

Kanti Bajpai

The India-China crisis in the summer of 2020 occurred in Ladakh, in the western sector of the border between the two countries. It was preceded by a series of prior standoffs in the west – in Depsang in 2013, in Chumar in 2014, and in Burtse in 2015.  Yet, it is the eastern sector that could be the next theatre of open conflict, for several reasons.

The first reason is that from the 1980s, Beijing has made clear that its ‘soft’ stand on the eastern border is a thing of the past. Until 1983, China had intermittently offered to swap its claims in the western sector, in Aksai Chin, for India’s claims along the McMahon Line, in Arunachal Pradesh. After the fourth round of border talks in the 1980s, and India’s continued rejection of the swap, Beijing changed tack. It has insisted since then that its claims in the east cover all of Arunachal Pradesh.

Why did China change its mind? India’s consistent dismissal of the swap is one reason. Two decades after the 1962 war, in 1981, foreign minister PV Narasimha Rao had claimed that China’s swap offer was no concession, given that both Aksai Chin in the west and Arunachal Pradesh in the east were India’s. This categorical rejection may have provoked Beijing. Since India insisted instead on a sector-by-sector negotiation on the border, it made sense for China to press for maximalist positions in every sector. 

A second likely reason for China’s hardening view was that any concessions to India in the east could cause India to press its claims even harder in the west. This is an explanation that one of the most seasoned China hands in the Indian Foreign Service, Ranjit Singh Kalha, has offered. The obverse may also animate Chinese thinking – a tougher stand in the east may eventually cause India to take a softer view in the west.

A third reason is economic. Ironically, as its economy took off in the 1980s, the rich natural resources of Arunachal Pradesh – timber, water, minerals and agricultural land – grew rather than diminished in importance. Aksai Chin is largely scrubland, but Arunachal Pradesh is an economic asset – why, in this view, should China abandon claims to a green and pleasant land twice the size of Taiwan?

Fourth, as China’s overall power grew, it increasingly saw little need to make concessions. In the late 1980s, India and China were neck-and-neck in GDP terms. By 2005, when the Chinese ambassador in Delhi publicly reminded India of China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh, the GDP gap between the two was $1.45 trillion. In 2021, the gap is nearly $12 trillion.

Fifth, Arunachal Pradesh is home to a symbolic-cultural prize, namely, the Tawang monastery, the second most important monastery in Tibetan Buddhism (after the Potala Palace in Lhasa). As the present Dalai Lama gets older, Beijing must confront the problem of installing a successor. Control of Tawang is consequential for Tibetan Buddhism and could become even more so during the transition to a new Dalai Lama.

Chinese sensitivities on Tawang are clear enough. When India allowed US ambassador Richard Verma in October 2016 and the Dalai Lama in April 2017 to visit Tawang, the Chinese were indignant. In 2020, Beijing suddenly raised a claim on Bhutan’s Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in its border talks with Thimphu. The sanctuary abuts Tawang district. Worryingly for India, in January 2021 news broke of China setting up villages 4.5 kilometres inside Arunachal Pradesh on India’s side of the de facto border, one district over from Tawang.

Finally, China’s main military command centre looking after Tibet and the border with India has most of its forces in the east – in Lhasa, Nyingchi, and around Chengdu, within striking distance of Arunachal Pradesh. In the west, China has only one major command centre, in Hotan, Xinjiang. In 1962, the Chinese attacked in much greater strength and ferocity in the east, with Mao Zedong insisting on challenging and punishing India most severely there. Strategically, that makes sense. If you had to fight a longer fight, you would play to your strengths.

India’s eyes are fixed on Ladakh, but this is only Round One of our sharpening conflict. The next flashpoint could likely be in the east – and sooner than we imagine. The message for Indian strategists ahead: cave hic dragones, which is Latin for “beware, here be dragons”.

Kanti Bajpai is Director, Centre on Asia and Globalisation and Wilmar Professor of Asian Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. His new book, India Versus China: Why They Are Not Friends (Juggernaut Books), will be released tomorrow.


Reportedly

The disinvestment of Air India, which has been in the air for decades, is again delayed by the pandemic. Perhaps the Modi government was too confident about closing this long and high-strung chapter. Now, the Civil Aviation Ministry also faces the possible seizure of Air India’s assets overseas by Cairn Energy, to which India has lost an arbitration case. India has challenged it, but Cairn is approaching various jurisdictions to act upon the order, and seize Indian government properties in their territory.  


Ordnance Factory Board R.I.P. 

The Ministry of Defence’s Ordnance Factory Board, which traces its origins to the East India Company’s army at Fort William, Calcutta, in 1775, will cease to exist. Seven separate companies are planned, each performing a specific manufacturing role, and the 41 factories under the OFB will be subsumed under these new companies, all 100% government-owned defence public sector undertakings (DPSU).  


Prime Number: Minus -5 million
The government said it is keen on vaccinating all adults by the end of 2021. But as per RTIs filed by the data team at The Hindu, the DDRR (daily dose required rate) to meet the target would be 8 million. India’s DDRR is now 3 million ― a 5 million shortfall every day.

Second bribery case against Kerala BJP Chief

A Kerala court has ordered that a case be filed against BJP state president K Surendran over an alleged bribe of Rs 50 lakh to CK Janu, a tribal leader and president of Janadhipathya Rashtriya Party (JRP), an ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), during the 2021 Kerala assembly elections. Surendran has already been booked under Sections 171(B) (bribery) and (E) (punishment for bribery) of the IPC by Badiadka police in Kasaragod following the allegation by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate K Sundara that he was given Rs 2.5 lakh and a smartphone to withdraw his nomination.

On Tuesday, the investigation team probing the Kodakara highway robbery told the trial court in Thrissur that the confiscated amount of nearly Rs 3.5 crore is ‘hawala money’. It was being transported for the BJP in Kerala from Karnataka, ahead of the Assembly elections on April 6. 


Deep Dive

In Politics as Negotiation: Changing Caste Norms in Rural India, Diego Maiorano, Suruchi Thapar-Björkert and Hans Blomkvist take a close look at UP and Andhra Pradesh. They find that “the processes of democratisation, the erosion of patron-client relations, the spread of education, an enduring agrarian crisis aggravated by climate change and the availability of alternative employment opportunities for the poor are chipping away at the dominance of India’s rural elite.”


Petrol to score century in Bengaluru

Last month, Bhopal became the first state capital where the price of petrol hit the three-figure mark, followed by Jaipur and Mumbai. On Monday, Hyderabad joined this list and Bengaluru is inching towards the landmark with petrol retailing at Rs 99.89.


Indian students in UK to benefit from work visa

Indian students, who constitute one of the largest groups of international students enrolling at UK universities over the past year, will benefit from an extension to the entry deadline to qualify for the new post-study work (PSW) visa. It allows eligible overseas students to work, or look for work, for two years after completing their courses. 

Students undertaking their courses long-distance due to Covid-19 restrictions were expected to be present in the UK by June 21 to qualify for this graduate route. However, the Home Office amended its guidance last week to extend the deadline to September 27. Indian students arriving in the UK in the coming months can also access Covid-19 vaccinations by registering with a local doctor on arrival.


Op Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Everyone outside the upper middle class and the salaried class of large private-sector organisations and public institutions are in various degrees of distress, and it is impossible to continue with harsh lockdowns — our only method of controlling the pandemic, writes Anurag Behar.


Listen Up

81 All Out podcast talks about India’s historic triumphs against the West Indies and England 50 years ago. Cricket writer and author Nishad Pai Vaidya and veteran sports journalist Clayton Murzello relive the heady moments ― and not just cricket. 


Watch Out

Dr Parkala Prabhakar speaks on the grave threats to Indian citizens from the Union government and big tech. Watch ‘Egocracy, Digital Freedom & Data Privacy’. 


Over and Out

Kashmir has scored its maiden climb to the summit of Mt Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Mahfooz Illahe, 26, from Kulgam in south Kashmir, did it.

Actor Divya Dutta says she is pleased with the recognition her film Sheer Qorma is getting especially as it is Pride month. It won the Grand Jury award at the Gasparilla International Film Festival, Florida. If you haven’t seen it, the trailer is here.


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.