The India Cable: Driven By Ideology, Not Statecraft, Modi’s Kashmir Policy Is at a Dead-End

Plus: TN FM exposes Centre’s fuel tax diddle, NREGA as carbon sink, HC frowns on vax coercion, 40% hotels closed, Shillong’s historic trees felled, Varun Gandhi slams Twitter, embarrasses self, BJP

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 25, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries earned Rs 55,461 crore as profits in FY2021 but paid only Rs 1,722 crore as corporate income tax. The effective tax rate is 3.10%. Enough said.

A report in the Financial Times has looked at the rise in fortunes of a few corporates amidst growing misery and questioned India’s economic trajectory. It calls the purchase of a historic English golf club ― famously featured in James Bond films ― by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries for £57 million “a stark symbol”.

The editorial board of TheWashington Post has called out the Modi government on its internet abuses and asked the Biden administration to act: “India’s ongoing offensive against the free internet is a disgrace that the United States can’t afford to look away from — or it would be, if the United States appeared to be paying any attention in the first place. The cost of this complacency extends beyond the world’s largest democracy.” 

Unlike most nations, India has declined to offer tax breaks to drugs and apparatus for dealing with the pandemic. It has even failed to resolve an issue concerning hand sanitizers and their manufacturing inputs which has festered for a year ― should 12% GST apply, or 18%? The issue of whether it should be taxed as a medicament or a consumer product is back. The government has projected it like an essential commodity, but a tax cut has not been considered. 

Lakshadweep filmmaker and actor Aisha Sultana was allowed to leave the island by the Kavaratti Police after they quizzed her for three days in connection with a sedition case. Though she was not arrested and allowed to leave, she could be summoned again after her statements were verified, said sources. She was quizzed earlier on June 20 and June 23. The Lakshadweep Research Collective, a collective of scientists and citizens, along with 50 other signatories from the scientific community, has written to the President, requesting his intervention in the draft laws to restore, implement and monitor the recommendations of the Justice Raveendran Committee set up by the Supreme Court, and to establish a committee of scientists, policymakers, and local representatives to re-evaluate development plans.

The President has also been petitioned by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella network which has organised the farmers’ stir, to intervene and “save agriculture and democracy” by repealing the farm laws. The Morcha has said it would send a memorandum from all over India tomorrow to mark seven months of protests.

In UP’s Allahabad, as the waters of the Ganga rise with the monsoon and the sandbanks crumble, corpses are floating up. Niraj Kumar Singh, a local civic official, said he had cremated 40 such bodies in the last 24 hours.

India’s hope at Wimbledon, Ramkumar Ramanathan, went down last night but not without a fight in a gripping five-setter versus Marc Polmans.


Union govt taxes fuel much more, gives much less to states

The finance minister of Tamil Nadu has uploaded a set of slides from his presentation on taxes and prices of fuel which shows that the Modi government has undertaken a rampant increase in taxes on petrol and diesel, and simultaneously, severely reduced the states’ share of tax revenues. In 2014, the tax was Rs 9.48 per litre and the Union-State share ratio was 68:32, but in 2021, the Union’s tax burden shot up to Rs 32.9 per litre, out of which the Union retains Rs 32.33, making the Union-state ratio 98:02. Modi promised ‘Achhe Din’ in 2014, but is delivering a black joke instead.


NREGA could also serve as carbon sink

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the world’s largest poverty alleviation programme, may also help India achieve its target of creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent, through the generation of additional forest and tree cover, by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change. MGNREGS captured 102 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2017-18 through plantations and soil quality improvement, a recent study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, found. The scheme’s capacity to sequester carbon dioxide may rise to 249 million tonnes by 2030.

The researchers calculated carbon sequestration by assessing biomass in plantations and soil carbon at work sites in 158 villages spanning 18 agro-ecological zones. Eighteen zones, excluding the Western Himalayas, Ladakh Plateau and north Kashmir, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands, were selected.


No vaccination by coercion

The Meghalaya High Court has held that vaccination by force or through coercive methods vitiates the fundamental purpose of welfare. The observation followed multiple hearings of a PIL, filed suo motu, after the deputy commissioners (or district magistrates) in the state had said that shopkeepers, vendors, cabbies etc would be allowed to resume work only after vaccination.

The Assam government directed all heads of departments to ascertain the vaccination status of its employees before releasing their salaries, since many remained unvaccinated. “...Non-vaccination of such frontline government servants may give rise to the possibility of further spread of the virus which, in turn, may endanger the lives of common citizens, especially vulnerable groups like infants, pregnant women etc,” an order issued by Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua reads.


Diplomatic consultations on China border issue

Amidst reports that a Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) meeting between India and China could be scheduled next week to discuss the Ladakh border crisis, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson yesterday said, “It is well recognised that it has been the Chinese actions over the last year, including amassing of a large number of troops close to border areas in the western sector and trying to unilaterally alter the status quo along the Line of Actual Control, which have seriously disturbed peace and tranquillity in the border areas.” 

This will be the 22nd round of consultation within the WMCC, which the two nations set up in 2012 as an institutional mechanism to deal with flashpoints along the disputed boundary. They activated it to resolve the stand-off along the LAC exactly a year ago, with a video conference on June 24, 2020. Diplomats of the two nations have since held seven such virtual consultations and the next one would be the eighth. In their talks, the military commanders could not make any headway over the past four months. They last met on April 9 and held the 11th round of consultation since the stand-off began.


The Long Cable

Driven by ideology, not statecraft, Modi’s Kashmir policy is at a dead-end

Siddharth Varadarajan 

Less than a day after the prime minister and his advisors met with a cross-section of political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, it is evident that the Modi government’s policy towards the former state has been an abject failure. Narendra Modi knows this, but he also knows he has backed himself into a corner from which he cannot emerge without massive loss of face.

The August 5, 2019 decision to terminate what little remained of Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and bifurcate the state into two Centrally-ruled Union territories was driven by his ideological belief that the problems of J&K were the product of too much democracy and too little Central control. And that the ‘solution’ lay in ensuring that people there, especially in the Valley, enjoy none of the democratic rights and civil liberties that Indians elsewhere do. 

The reality, of course, was exactly the opposite. Indeed, a major accomplishment of official Indian statecraft in the 72 years preceding 2019 was its use of the hollowed-out shell of autonomy as a shield for the denial of democracy. When Modi got rid of this shield, the ‘bare life’ (and death) to which Kashmiris had been subjected came fully out into the open.

His calculation was that the world, and the rest of India, would give him the time needed to repress and silence the Kashmiris, boost quiescent politicians and parties, and effect the kind of demographic changes the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had always dreamt about. While mainland India, influenced by misplaced hyper-nationalism and media propaganda, has cut him slack, the world has not. Washington has not held back its criticisms. And as the events in Ladakh have shown, the Chinese decided they would not hold back their army. 

The Modi-Shah plan, if ever there was one, was to use Central rule to prepare the ground for these changes and delay elections till a favourable outcome could be ensured. The DDC election results were the first indication that this is easier said than done. Modi has also found that untrammelled Central rule has not made it any easier to improve the security environment, and attract the investments he had promised, or the settlers. And with the US demanding ‘normalisation’ now – presumably as a precondition for the summit with President Biden that Modi wants – a rejigging of steps appears to have become inevitable. This, in brief, is the backstory to Thursday’s meeting with 14 leaders from Jammu and Kashmir.

The irony is that Modi’s August 2019 move meant that those Kashmiri leaders who had gone along with New Delhi’s strategy all these years also had to be stripped of their rights. 

Former chief ministers and scores of other ‘mainstream’ politicians were locked up without charge on fanciful claims for months. Modi’s ministers denounced them all as irrelevant, corrupt and anti-national. Now, the government wants their help.

When Modi told Omar Abdullah and others on Thursday that his government wanted elections and an elected government to “give strength to J&K’s development trajectory”, I suspect they would have been too polite to remind him of one of the absurder ‘arguments’ the Centre had cited to justify their detention under the Public Safety Act. The written order actually stated that the capacity of those detained to adversely affect public order “can be gauged from this fact that you were able to convince your electorates to come out and vote in huge numbers even during the peak of the militancy and poll boycotts.”

When elections are held, Modi now wants these leaders to exert the same sort of influence that led to their detention under the PSA. Can there be a more abject metric of failure than this?

Modi and Amit Shah reiterated their assurance that Jammu and Kashmir would get its statehood back but no one should be under any illusion about the statehood model they have in mind. This is the model that has been used to bind the Delhi government hand and foot to the whims and fancies of the Union home ministry. This is the only way to ensure the sinister plan of effecting demographic change can be implemented over the long haul. 


Reportedly

BJP MP Varun Gandhi has embarrassed himself and his party by trying to run down Twitter ― for letting him know that the Centre had called for his tweets to be taken down. By informing people of legal requests to pull down posts, when it decides to not comply, Twitter actually goes the extra mile for users, annoys the government and does a favour to transparency. So Gandhi’s attack on Twitter for restricting free speech was first puzzling, and then mighty funny. “Twitter has indulged in online bullying of our citizens for their diversity of political views to make us conform with their ‘woke’ propaganda. It should stay a platform, not an ostracizing tribunal. This harassment of Indians will not fly with the law of the land,” he wrote. That should teach Twitter to be helpful. 


No coercive action against Twitter MD, orders HC

The Karnataka High Court yesterday passed an interim order restraining the UP Police from taking coercive action against Twitter India’s Managing Director Manish Maheshwari in connection with an FIR registered over a viral video. The court said that police can record the petitioner’s statement virtually. UP Police first served a summons to Maheshwari under Section 160 of the CrPC to appear as a witness. He replied that he could not travel to Ghaziabad from Bengaluru and wished to record his statement online. Later, a notice under Section 41A CrPC was served on him, threatening arrest if he failed to show up at Loni Police Station, Ghaziabad.


Prime Number: More than 67%
The percentage of hotels that have shut since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to preliminary data from the Hotel Association of India. It means the tried-and-tested business model of small hotels came undone in a matter of months. 

ATM thieves were serial killers

On June 12, a few men tried to break open an ATM near Poranki Centre in Vijayawada. After interrogating a few men in the area with a history of crime, a few auto drivers and suspects linked to another recent theft in Tadigadapa, the Penamaluru police arrested five young men. Appalling details of the alleged serial murders of at least six senior citizens came to light. Elderly persons living alone had been deliberately targeted and gold ornaments were stolen, a statement from the Vijayawada City Police Commissioner’s office said. 


Deep Dive

Some insights about digital news consumption based on a YouGov survey of over 92,000 online news consumers in 46 markets including India appear in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report. India features on page 134.


The ship in the Suez that broke global trade

Those six days in the Suez canal, when MV Ever Given was stuck in the 200 metres wide channel ― Bloomberg has the inside story of the ship, captained by Captain Krishnan Kanthavel from Tamil Nadu, that broke global trade. 


Shillong’s historic trees cut down

There is public outrage in picturesque Shillong after hundreds of pine trees ― scores of them over a century old ― were cut down for a mega road project. After photos and videos of the outrage went viral and triggered protests, the state government stopped felling the remaining trees.

The vintage trees, considered Shillong’s heritage, stood by a road from Rilbong to Upper Shillong and added considerably to the beauty of the hill station, a popular tourists' destination. The road will be widened as a part of the Shillong-Dawki mega four-lane project. The Forest Department said it had received orders to cut down 4,447 trees in the locality. The Ministry of  Environment and Forests had cleared the 71 km, Rs 1,251 crore project.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • After the Modi government failed to combat the second wave of Covid-19, India is dismissed in the Western world, writes Bhim Burtel in Asia Times.

  • Vivek Menezes revisits mid-century Dharwad in Girish Karnad’s autobiography, interrogating the tug of nostalgia, and the “understanding of the college town as a place where India’s tryst with destiny was mined in an especially high-minded vein.”


Listen Up

When the coronavirus hit, the Pune-based Serum Institute of India seemed uniquely positioned to help. It is the world’s largest vaccine maker, producing 1.5 billion doses a year for diseases from polio to tetanus. Striking a deal with AstraZeneca, it promised to make and deliver a billion doses of vaccine to low and middle-income nations through the Covax scheme. Earlier this year, however, a second wave hit India hard and Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned all exports of vaccines. What has this ban meant for the nations that were promised millions of doses, and for the Serum Institute itself? Emily Schmall on the struggles of India’s vaccine giant, in the NYT Daily podcast.


Watch Out

Talk about Indian popular cinema is usually so dominated by Hindi that it’s boring. Mid-year in year two of the pandemic, Anupama Chopra rates the 10 best Indian films so far ― and none are in Hindi. 


Over and Out

Read in The Week about Bharatnatyam dancer Rukmini Vijayakumar, who “is unafraid to project the oldest classical dance tradition like an artfully arranged latte on Instagram.”

One of America’s most energetic private investors, RedBird Capital Partners, has been developing an appetite for sport. It is taking a 15% stake in the Indian Premier League’s Rajasthan Royals, valuing the cricket team at more than $250 million.

And then there is India’s opinionated feminist and her viral matrimonial ad seeking “a non-farting, non-burping, handsome, rich feminist” man for “an opinionated feminist with short hair and piercings”. May the twain meet. 


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.