The India Cable: Government Blinks, Farmers Consider, CJI Upset as Committee Disparaged

Plus: From DC to Delhi, what Trump’s exit means, Sensex past 50,000, Chandrachud dissents on Aadhaar constitutionality, UP police AI to scan for women in distress, Lord Jagannath overcomes Covid fear

From the founding editors of The Wire—MK Venu, Siddharth Varadarajan and Sidharth Bhatia—and journalists-writers Seema Chishti, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam. Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
January 21, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Never before has the American polity witnessed a woman taking the oath as Vice President, and it’s a woman of colour, too. And it was entirely fitting that Kamala Harris was sworn in by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Justice of the Supreme Court. Biden was obviously the main focus of the ceremony, but Harris’s swearing-in carried a bigger symbolic payload than any of her predecessors’.

The Sensex punched through 50,000 today, for the first time ever. In a year marked by the pandemic and a bungled lockdown, which destroyed livelihoods and gutted the economy, the disconnect between the stock market and the real economy is stunning, as we have said before (see the Long Cable on December 7). The monthly average for rural wages and the BSE Sensex as a multiple of April 1998 levels shows how incomes of the richest and poorest have moved in the last two decades in India.

(via Roshan Kishore, @Roshanjnu)

The Supreme Court, which has been conducting a hearing through video-conferencing since March last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday said it wants to “come back to action”, but it will go by the opinion of health authorities.

With West Bengal headed for elections, the Modi government has decided to mark Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday celebrations on January 23 as an annual Parakram Diwas. ‘Parakram’ means courage. Earlier, the government had named the second anniversary of the surgical strikes as Parakram Diwas or Parakram Parv, and organised major events on Rajpath in Delhi, which were attended by the Prime Minister himself.

The names of 20 Indian Army personnel, including Colonel B Santosh Babu, who were killed fighting Chinese troops in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in June last year, have been inscribed on the National War Memorial ahead of Republic Day.

And in Kashmir, a nomadic family lost its children to the elements. They had decided against making the seasonal journey of transhumance to shield them from the risk of Covid-19, and were caught out by the bitter winter. 


Farmers’ protest: Government steps back, BJP leaders don’t

During the tenth round of discussions with farmers’ unions, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar said that the Modi government “is ready to put on hold the farm laws for one or one and half years.” It is a huge victory for the farmers, after being ignored, then demonised, apart from suffering police excesses and a bleak winter out in the open. Tomar further said, “I’m happy that farmers’ unions have taken this very seriously and said that they would consider it on Thursday and convey their decision on January 22.” A section of the farmers’ leaders still want complete repeal, but we must wait until tomorrow to learn of their consensus

The Supreme Court has issued a notice to the government seeking its opinion on demands to reconstitute the committee to talk to farmers (neither the Centre nor the farmers had sought a solution by committee). The Chief Justice of India on Wednesday expressed unhappiness about public criticism of the members of the committee and termed them “brilliant minds”. Lawyers of eight farm unions told the court that they do not want to discuss amendments to the law, and will not appear before the committee. Full repeal remains the demand. 

“Terrorists are sitting there and the terrorists have AK-47s with them. They have pitched the Khalistan flag.” In a video clip on social media, Jaskaur Meena, BJP MP from Dausa in Rajasthan, is heard purportedly referring to the new agri-marketing laws and the protest over them by farmers camping at Delhi’s border. The party’s state unit has justified her comments.


Post-vaccination deaths coincidental, ministry says

Nagaraju, a 43-year-old Group D employee from Sandur in Bellary district in Karnataka was administered a Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday and died on Monday morning. Karnataka also reported the death of a 58-year-old doctor in Shivamogga, who had received the  vaccine. The Union Health Ministry confirmed the death but claimed it had nothing to do with the vaccine.

A 42-year-old healthcare worker in Nirmal district of Telangana, who received a Covid-19 shot, died early Wednesday after complaining of chest pain, with preliminary findings suggesting that the death was unrelated to the vaccination. About 1.5 lakh doses of Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), and sent by the Indian government, have reached Bhutan, and 100,000 doses have reached the Maldives. After a gap of about 10 months, devotees can enter the Jagannath temple in Puri from today without having to show a Covid-19 negative report.


US residency prospects improve 

Hours after being sworn in as the 46th President of the US, Joe Biden sent a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress which, among other things, proposes to eliminate the per country cap for employment-based green cards. This would benefit thousands of Indian IT professionals in the US, whose current wait period for permanent residency runs into decades.

Villagers of Pothireddypeta in Karimnagar in Telangana were elated during the swearing-in because Cholleti Vinay Reddy, who has roots in the village, has been appointed director of speechwriting of the new US President. The first-ever Indian American to be appointed as a presidential speechwriter was raised in Dayton, Ohio and was Biden’s chief speechwriter during his second term as vice president from 2013 to 2017. Vinay’s father, Narayana Reddy, grew up in the village and moved to the US after taking his MBBS degree in 1970. But he still has close ties with Pothireddypeta, where the Reddy family owns 3 acres of land and a house. Narayana and his wife Vijaya visited the village in February 2020, just before the lockdown. 


Disturbed Areas Act in Gujarat leads to ghettoisation

The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday restrained the state government from declaring any area as a “disturbed area” under Section 3(1)(ii) of the Gujarat Disturbed Areas Act, 1991, for “improper clustering of persons of one community”. The complaint was that the Disturbed Areas Act, enacted after 1991 to protect minority communities from being forced to sell land after riots and social disturbance, could perpetuate ghettos following recent amendments. The petitioner had submitted that Section 3, amended in 2020, permitted the state government to segregate persons on grounds of religion.

Watch the proceedings here:

(The hearing, from 00.42.00, and the order from 3.35.12)


Those excluded from Assam NRC can vote

People left out of the NRC in Assam can vote in the Assembly elections slated for April-May, unless they are proven to be foreigners in tribunals, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said in Guwahati on Wednesday, reading out a clarification issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs in August 2019. The final list of NRC released on August 31, 2019 had excluded over 19.06 lakh people in Assam, who could not prove that they or their forefathers lived in Assam on or before March 24, 1971. According to the guidelines, those left out of the NRC can approach foreigner tribunals to prove their Indian citizenship, and can also move the courts subsequently.

The draft list of the NRC that left out over 40 lakh applicants in 2018 was initially projected by the BJP as an achievement. But the saffron party declined to accept the final list, saying that many genuine citizens were left out while ineligible persons made it to the list. The BJP-led government in Assam now seeks re-verification of the final list.


The Long Cable

Good riddance to Donald Trump: What it means for those of us who could not vote

Seema Chishti

Trump’s departure from Washington is being celebrated outside the US, as well as domestically. Joe Biden’s inauguration had far fewer people in attendance than usual due to social distancing, thanks to the pandemic and the events of January 6. Yet, it’s a new world.

US commentators are best equipped to speak of what Trump meant for the country. But we too had watched in horror as our own Prime Minister helped to campaign for him, raising the slogan, “Ab ki baar, Trump Sarkar”. Later, during the pandemic, weeks after a Covid-19 death was reported in India, Modi flattered him by assembling the largest reception of cheering crowds in Ahmedabad that Trump got in the whole year. The exit of Trump from the White House is a really thick silver lining on the grey, pollution-laden clouds that loom over our heads.

The Modi government and its supporters continued to identify closely with Trump, including the two who went out to wave the tricolour at that shameful moment on January 6, when the Capitol was stormed. Trump’s ban on visitors from certain Muslim countries, and the gleeful and unabashedly Islamophobic thread running through his entire Presidency, were well received by the regime here, as India became increasingly and visibly hostile to its minorities, a process enabled by its institutions. The rich diversity of the US that Biden is celebrating, with 13 out of 20 in his administration being women, and three of them Indian-American Muslim women, should make other major democracies blush.

Trump’s tweeting in ALL CAPS, his public grandstanding and bizarre comments were not a Mad Hatter routine but focused on changing the game and vitiating the atmosphere, after electoral success had been achieved. The need to win and to insist that he had won even on his way out indicated the ruling sentiment: “I can never lose”. It affected other regimes that speak of their plans as monarchs used to ― nothing less than a 25-year or 50-year plan would do, and the Third Reich looked ahead for a thousand years. Troll armies keep temperatures permanently high on social media, so that the support base can never be at rest. Trump’s clash with systems in the US was much like the running down of due process here in India, making a virtue of the breakdown of procedure and standards (however droll and hypocritical those may have appeared in the past, they worked). Trump encouraged leaders cast in the same mould, outside the US, ensuring that democracy becomes the creation of new permanent majorities based on primordial identities, religion, ethnicity or colour. Scholars Jason Stanley, John Keane and Timothy Snyder, among others, attribute much of the sharp decline in democratic practices the world over to Trump. The inward-looking MAGA (Make America Great Again), encouraging vaccine nationalism, competitive tariff wars, the pullback from the WHO and climate pacts, and slogans against the “China virus” were huge setbacks to the global conversation.

And then there was the economy. The fact that the US, completely contrary to Trump’s policies, will be spending from a $1.9 trillion package for people in a virus-affected year, and will increase minimum wages substantially, has the power to change the direction of winds blowing outside the US, too. Europe has been doffing its hat to John Maynard Keynes and that will gain momentum, with Trump out of the way. India, displaying extreme hesitation in accepting that the economy is massively demand-constrained, may now be forced to be less confident about its flawed economics.

One of Trump’s loud convictions was a denial of the need to act to save the environment, and hence America’s abandonment of the Paris accord. Emission reductions and greening the planet are overriding imperatives today. Biden may not be able to push his ambitious green deal through – though chances are that he just may be able to accomplish something via the executive route alone – but the global discussion would no longer be exclusively about how loony the environmentalists are.

As presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said, with the American public on edge from the Capitol attack and after Trump spent weeks trying to throw the election’s outcome in doubt, Biden has accomplished much simply by being sworn into office. And Trump, by being thrown out. The impact will be felt from DC to Delhi.


Reportedly

Exactly a week before she is to walk out of Parappana Agrahara prison, former AIADMK leader VK Sasikala was on Wednesday admitted to Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital in Bengaluru after she complained of breathing trouble. Sasikala, 69, who was brought from prison by ambulance, was taken into the hospital in a wheelchair. The close confidante of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had surrendered to the jail authorities on February 15, 2017, days after her bid to occupy the Chief Minister’s chair failed.


Chandrachud dissents again on Aadhaar 

The Supreme Court’s five-judge bench, by a majority view, has dismissed a plea for reconsideration of the September 29, 2018 judgement which had upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar. Of the Constitution bench, Justices AM Khanwilkar, Ashok Bhushan, S Abdul Nazeer and BR Gavai said that no case for review of the judgement was made out. However, Justice DY Chandrachud, who had dissented in the 2018 judgement, disagreed with the majority view, saying this batch of review petitions should be kept pending due to “strong reasons and serious consequences of judicial discipline and ends of justice.” 

He pointed out that the 2018 decision of the Aadhaar Act being a Money Bill under Article 110 of the Constitution has been doubted by a coordinate bench (of five judges) in Rojer Mathew, and the issue has been referred to a larger bench. Justice Chandrachud said, “If these review petitions are to be dismissed and the larger bench’s reference in Rojer Mathew were to disagree with the analysis of the majority opinion in Puttaswamy (the Aadhaar case), it would have serious consequences not just for judicial discipline, but also for the ends of justice.” Justice Chandrachud also relied upon a nine-judge bench order in the Sabarimala case which had held on May 11, 2020 that it need not admit the review petitions before referring the questions of law to a larger bench.


Prime Number: 6
India remains at the 6th rank in Mint’s emerging markets tracker, very much in the bottom half. China is near the top of the league. The tracker, launched in September last year, takes into account seven high-frequency indicators across 10 large emerging markets to help make sense of India’s relative position in the emerging markets league table. More, here.

UP Police: Watching all women for facial signs

The Lucknow police is to equip public places with AI-enabled cameras that will click pictures of “women in distress” on the basis of their facial expressions and alert the nearest police station. Days ago, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister declared that the police would track working women when they step out of their homes. Facial recognition technology being used without a personal data protection law in place. But there is pushback, too. Controversial projects in UP and other states are being mapped by digital activists on this map here.


Deep Dive

What lies behind Modi’s ‘citizenship’ politics

In a paper for the South Atlantic Quarterly, Bharat Bhushan examines the political objective behind the Modi government passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA),  and planning to prepare a National Population Register (NPR) and a National Register of Citizens (NRC). He looks at the psychological impact of these moves on the minority community and why these moves were seen as precursors to their possible disenfranchisement. The paper examines the manner in which anti-CAA/NPR/NRC protest sites came up spontaneously across the country, how these protests were organized without an apical leadership. It also looks at the decision of mainstream Opposition parties to keep away from these protests, and the consequences of this decision.


IPL news

Sanju Samson replaced Steve Smith as Rajasthan Royals captain after the Australian batsman and some other under-performing stars were released by their respective IPL franchises, even as Chennai Super Kings retained veteran Suresh Raina for the upcoming IPL-14. Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga on Wednesday announced his retirement from franchise cricket after Mumbai Indians released him ahead of the upcoming Indian Premier League season.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Jyoti Gulati Balachandran writes on the late Dr Sunil Kumar, whose love and passion for teaching history, she says, was matched by exacting standards for his own scholarship and his boldness in asking new questions of historical materials.

  • Pallavi Aiyar writes that she would rather be born a woman in China than in India and the masculine vanity projects and military gadgets that are meant to signal India’s arrival on the global stage are doomed to sputter and die unless the country can end the systematic denial of agency to women.


Listen up

Tagore no pushover

With assembly elections due in West Bengal later, all parties are working full time to win over the electorate. The Trinamool Congress is facing a challenge from not just the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress but also an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party. The BJP has tried to appropriate Rabindranath Tagore, who is a revered icon, and tried to show him as a nationalist, using some of his writings selectively. Scholar Sibaji Pratim Basu tells Sidharth Bhatia (a contributor to The India Cable) that this is wrong, and will not have any impact.


Watch Out

The unmaking of OTT

The beefy hand of the censor descends on OTT cinema, as Tandav loses a couple of scenes. Watch its director and writer of Tandav, before he came under pressure. Ali Abbas Zafar speaks about how much he admires 1970s cinema, which fearlessly reflected the times and their politics, and yet transcended them. “I want my work to not be merely entertainment, but to also have some soul in it.”


Tailend

Pakistan celebrates India’s victory

India and Pakistan are now foes, and not just rivals on the cricket field, so it was a pleasant surprise to see so many Pakistan cricket stars gush over underdog India’s landmark series win against Australia.

And this:


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.