The India Cable: In Arunachal, Beijing Asserts, Delhi Acquiesces; Biden Keeps Out RSS Sympathisers, For Now

Plus: Farmers nix proposal to put farm laws on ice, CBI files case against Cambridge Analytica, Facebook eludes Delhi government committee, healthcare workers elude vaccine, Bihar plans censorship

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 22, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

India’s GDP is within striking distance of positive growth, the Reserve Bank said in its report, observing that the letter ‘V’ in ‘V-shaped recovery’ stands for ‘vaccine’. The Uttar Pradesh government’s Public Works Department has opened a bank account for its employees to deposit donations for the Ram temple in Ayodhya. They have been told to voluntarily contribute a day’s salary.

The Congress Working Committee met on Friday and set June 2021 as the date for elections to the post of party president, currently held in ‘acting’ capacity by Sonia Gandhi. The party also wants a joint parliamentary committee probe into pro-government TV anchor Arnab Goswami’s controversial WhatsApp chats.

The workers’ union of the Sri Lankan Port Authority has alleged that the government of India headed by PM Narendra Modi is putting undue pressure on the island nation to hand over the development and operation of a major Colombo port terminal to the Adani Group. 

The Pakistan Army committed an unprovoked ceasefire violation on the Line of Control (LoC) in Krishna Ghati Sector in Poonch district on Thursday. Indian troops responded strongly to enemy fire. In the incident, Havaldar Nirmal Singh of 10 JAK RIF was critically injured and later succumbed to his injuries.

A suburban train which allows Bengalureans to travel between the city and the Kempegowda International Airport was launched amid fanfare and social media buzz on January 4, but two weeks on, it has abysmally low ridership. Though a ticket costs just Rs 10, the train ran empty on more than 25 rides since the service started.

BJP members of a parliamentary committee on Thursday raised the issue of Twitter temporarily locking the account of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in 2020, as well as a misrepresentation of the Indian map, showing Ladakh in China. When some members asked the basis on which Twitter was removing content and blocking accounts, the company representatives said they want to create a “healthy platform”. 

Bihar has plans to criminalise social media criticism of the government, ministers and government officials, according to an official communication from its police headquarters.

Zomato is readying for an IPO at a valuation of $5.5 billion, expected by June, with fresh investments of $500 million. The Enforcement Directorate and the CID in the states are launching probes against over two dozen fintech apps with Chinese backing. Payment gateways like Razorpay and PayTM are to stop processing transactions via such apps. 


Farmers hold the line

The protesting farmers’ unions Thursday rejected the central government’s proposal to suspend the three contentious agriculture laws for 18 months and set up a joint committee to address grievances. In a general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of 40 protesting farmers’ unions, the members reiterated that full repeal of the three laws and enacting legislation for remunerative MSP remain the pending demands of the peasants’ movement.

The press statement from the three-member committee established by the Supreme Court after its first day of interaction with some fringe farmer groups makes it amply clear that it is only looking at “suggestions to improve the implementation of Acts”. In simple language, the committee is toeing the government line, and the persistence of the laws is a given. At the time of publication, the latest round of talks between farmers’ unions and the government was continuing.


Biden keeps out RSS sympathisers, for now at least

As analysts parse the nearly 20 Indian-Americans appointed in the Biden administration, it is seen that those with RSS-BJP links have not found a berth. Over a dozen secular Indian-American organisations have maintained pressure on the Biden-Harris transition team to keep such individuals on the sidelines. Nineteen Indian-American organisations have written to Biden pointing out that many South Asian-American individuals with ties to far right Hindu organisations in India are affiliated with the Democratic Party.

Unless they are accommodated in a second round of appointments, Obama administration staffer Sonal Shah and Amit Jani, who worked on the Biden campaign team, have been excluded, allegedly after their RSS-BJP links were pointed out. Biden’s team has people like senior diplomat Uzra Zeya, who had played a role in the Devyani Khobargade case, and Samira Fazili, who had joined protest rallies in the US against the CAA, NRC and the Kashmir lockdown. 


Vaccine hesitancy among healthcare workers

The Modi government is not open to releasing vaccines commercially due to limited stocks and the global urgency to inoculate priority groups. Over 1 million healthcare workers had received vaccine shots by 6 pm on Thursday. In the first three days of India’s ambitious goal to inoculate over a billion people, tens of thousands of health workers ducked the shot. Healthcare workers whose names were not on the list of beneficiaries at Delhi’s vaccination centres, but were registered on the Co-Win platform, are now being vaccinated. In the UK, only 56% of British Indians agreed to take the vaccine, and women are significantly less likely to be open to the jab over fertility concerns, according to a new survey by a think tank led by Oxford University experts.

South Africa, which was left scrambling to source Covid-19 vaccines after failing to place orders in time, is to pay a massive premium on the shots it has secured directly from the Serum Institute of India.

Elected representatives aged 50 and up are likely to be vaccinated in the second round of the ongoing drive, after over three crore healthcare and frontline workers have been vaccinated. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, most of his Cabinet ministers including Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Nitin Gadkari, a majority of chief ministers and top-rung leaders of all political parties, besides MPs and MLAs, fall in this category. It will be interesting to see whether they get Covishield or the more controversial Covaxin.


BARC as bad as its bite

Renting Ferraris in Monaco, buying Rolex watches with company funds, and “changing” TRPs to get “desired outcomes”. These are just some of the unscrupulous practices followed by former top executives of the Broadcast Audience Research Council, according to a forensic audit of its operations. The audit was done by Acquisory Risk Consulting Pvt Ltd (ARCPL), a Mumbai-based risk management consultancy, after it was approached by the BARC board last March. The board had decided to audit and review its records after receiving multiple complaints about alleged malpractices, including inaccuracy in its ratings process for TV channels and the concentration of power in its former senior management. 

ARCPL submitted its forensic report to the BARC board in July 2020, but no action was taken. The report was buried and only saw the light of day in December, when the Mumbai Police began investigating the TRP scam.


For Facebook, only commerce matters 

Facebook India head Ajit Mohan appeared before the Ministry of Information Technology as a commercial necessity, since they are empowered to shut down Facebook. Since the committee constituted by the Delhi Assembly has no such powers, Facebook has chosen not to appear before it. India head Ajit Mohan told the Supreme Court that the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee, which is probing the riots of February 2020, was “politically motivated”.

Mohan, through Senior Advocate Harish Salve, claimed that the summons was based on reports in the Wall Street Journal, alleging that “Facebook favours the ruling party”. Salve also claimed that the inquiry by the committee will soon venture into the distinction between hate speech and permissible speech, which would be polarising. The matter will be heard on January 27. 

Meanwhile, social network executives have been grilled by British MPs in London on the role their platforms played in recent events in Washington, where a mob broke into the Capitol building. All said that they needed to do more to monitor extremist groups and content such as conspiracy theories, but had no new policies to offer.

The CBI has filed a case against UK-based Cambridge Analytica and Global Science Research Ltd for illegal harvesting of personal data from Facebook users in India. Facebook is not named as an accused. 


The Long Cable

A Chinese village in Arunachal: Beijing asserts, Delhi acquiesces

Sushant Singh

The NDTV story of a new Chinese village constructed last year well within Indian territory – as per official boundaries, at least – in the border state of Arunachal Pradesh is no longer making headlines, but that doesn’t diminish its importance. India is not the only country in whose borderlands the Chinese have established villages recently; they also did it in Bhutan, which flatly denied – despite the evidence of satellite images – that such a thing had happened. India has also resorted to euphemism, with the MEA at its diplomatic best, referring to the development as “reports on China undertaking construction work along the border areas with India.”

What does “along” the border areas mean? Are they within the official Indian boundaries, as per the Survey of India map, or not? The answer from the NDTV report is clear: they are a few kilometres inside Indian territory. That should lay to rest any doubts about whether India should officially object to the construction. In contrast to the official Indian non-statement is the official reaction of the Chinese foreign ministry on Thursday: “China’s position on the Zangnan region (South Tibet) is consistent and clear. We never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh.” The spokesperson also said that China’s development and construction activities “within our own territory is normal… this is beyond reproach as it is in our territory.” Acquiescing silently to the Chinese assertion – or renaming the dragon fruit as kamalam – would only embolden Beijing further, convincing it of the lack of political will in New Delhi to stand up to China.

It is true that this new village falls in one of the 23 disputed areas, identified by India, on the border with China. This area was identified as contested between the two countries during the meetings of the Joint Working Group in the 1990s. But so was Barahoti in Uttarakhand and Demchok in Ladakh, and this identification doesn’t diminish the Indian claim over those areas in any way. Otherwise, New Delhi would be surrendering its territorial claims over Pangong, Chumar, Depsang and Trig Heights as well, for they are all identified by the government as areas contested by India and China. Unlike Ladakh, which has no mutually agreed border, Arunachal Pradesh has the McMahon Line, adhered to by both sides, as the border.

When did India lose control of this particular area? Multiple reports citing unnamed defence sources claim that India lost it after its Assam Rifles post was overrun by the Chinese in 1959, but there is no official confirmation or record. Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for sports and an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, tweeted that these areas “have been under Chinese occupation since very-very long Congress regime in India,” carefully avoiding any mention of the date. But his colleague Tapir Gao, the other BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh, has said on the record that “Post the 1962 India-China war, areas that include Ashafila, Longzu, Bisa and Maza in present Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh [were] in Indian territory but now it is with China.” He also claimed Jaswant Singh, foreign, finance and defence minister in the Vajpayee government, was posted in this area from 1964 to 1966, when the Indian Army had camps there.

According to a news report based on satellite imagery, the Chinese military post in the area – where a village has now been constructed – came up in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It means that the area was unoccupied by either side till then. This was also the time when the Chinese constructed a road on the north bank of Pangong Tso and in the Depsang plains, while India was preoccupied in dealing with Pakistan.

This village is part of a Chinese plan put in place in 2017 to build “well-off villages in border areas” as part of rural revitalization. The plan, involving 624 villages in Tibet, was to be completed in 2020. It would be interesting to note the location of these new villages to ascertain if any more have sprung up in Indian territory.

Moreover, this is a Chinese village with civilian residents, which is different from the ramshackle military post that existed earlier. Military occupation of a disputed territory has completely different connotations from civilians settling in a village. It indicates a Chinese approach by which their claims on the border are not open to any negotiation, perhaps with an eye on the "both sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas" principle that the two Special Representatives had agreed to in 2005. Not that the Sino-Indian negotiations have made any progress, but such a signal from the Chinese doesn’t bode well for the immediate future of the relationship, which seems to be directly linked to the situation on the border.

These details, however, should not distract us from the larger point that irrespective of when this area was occupied by China, India must forcefully assert its official claim. If it became a precedent for Pakistan occupied Kashmir, and Indian claims were ignored or suppressed, it would negate the Indian parliamentary resolution of 1994 on J&K. That China has undertaken this construction when its forces are involved in a massive standoff with Indian troops in Ladakh should further rile Delhi, and strengthen the government’s resolve to press its official claim. Delhi’s silence is liable to be seen as weakness in Beijing.


Prime Number: 476
Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh witnessed 476 conflict-related casualties in 2020, against 368 in 2019 (a 30% increase). Among the casualties, 221 were militants (against 159 in 2019, a 39% increase), 180 Indian security forces personnel (against 129 in 2019, a 40% increase), 68 civilians (against 80 in 2019, a 15% decrease) and seven over-ground workers of militants, against none in 2019.

Reportedly

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may believe that he has scored over China with his ridiculous move to rename the dragon fruit as ‘Kamalam’, the name of the Gujarat BJP headquarters and the party’s election symbol. But all the memes, jokes and international mockery apart, the state’s social indicators need Rupani’s attention more than the fruit. The state, which Modi ruled for nearly 13 years to showcase the Gujarat Model, has a poor sex ratio, high infant mortality rate, very high rate of stunting among young children, and a huge population that still practises open defecation.


“City of goons” paves way to OTT censorship

The Supreme Court has sought responses from the Centre, Amazon Prime Video and Excel Entertainment Pvt Ltd on a plea alleging that web series Mirzapur has “completely tarnished” the historical and cultural image of the place by showing it as a “city of goons”. A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde issued notices on the plea which alleged that showing “shameless things” in the name of Mirzapur is an insult to the rich culture of the city. But the real motive is hidden in plain sight: the petition has sought a direction to the Centre to set up a pre-screening committee for web series, films or other programmes which are directly released on online platforms.


74 of 100 women employed lost work in Lockdown

Younger workers and women were hit most by Covid-19, and they’re still struggling to recover. For every 100 women employed in December 2019, 74 lost work during the lockdown and another 11 lost work subsequently, finds another survey.


Deep Dive

RAND games US options vis-a-vis India, China

“Advocates of restraint also should consider possible tensions between the goals of building a more cooperative relationship with China and building closer military ties with India. These questions are all the more pressing in light of the June 2020 high-altitude skirmish between India and China at Galwan ― the first fatal encounter since 1975. If tensions between India and China continue to increase, India might become more open to closer ties with the United States. With less reluctance from India, advocates of restraint might need to think more deeply about how far they would be prepared to go to develop the relationship. For example, if there were a larger conflict between India and China over disputed territory, should the United States provide any form of military support to India? Advocates of restraint also should indicate whether the United States should continue to engage in consultations with India, Japan, and Australia through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which may be seen as a threat by China.” This is the portion about India in the new RAND report Implementing Restraint: Changes in U.S. Regional Security Policies to Operationalize a Realist Grand Strategy of Restraint. For India, jump to Chapter 5. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Bishan Singh Bedi writes that the Gabba cricket win provokes the question: Does India need Virat Kohli the great batsman or Virat Kohli the mediocre captain? In the larger interest of Indian cricket, Rahane should lead in Tests.

  • Several of Biden’s appointees are instinctively ranged against illiberal and majoritarian tendencies, says an editorial in The Tribune on the reset anticipated in Indo-US ties. “Trump’s free pass to the Modi government on the CAA, lynchings and communal riots was facilitated by New Delhi’s enthusiastic over-identification with Washington’s China-baiting in the Indo-Pacific. With Kamala Harris as vice president, human rights issues will not be overlooked. The farmers’ agitation will be the latest on the list,” it opines.


Listen up

BBC World Service’s ‘The Enquiry’ shows why the Indian farm protests matter for India’s millions of farmers, for the future of the country’s crisis-ridden agriculture, and the leadership of PM Narendra Modi.


Watch Out

Shyam Benegal’s Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose:The Forgotten Hero, depicts his life. Get to see the story of the radical freedom fighter who named Mahatma Gandhi the ‘Father of the Nation’, as the scramble to appropriate his legacy gathers apace for his birthday tomorrow.

And here are a few original clips of Bose:


Teaching a lesson

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav called the district magistrate of Patna about permissions for a teachers’ demonstration. The tone of the DM before and after he disclosed his identity is a study in contrast. Yadav identifies himself at the 01:27 mark. 


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.