The India Cable: India-China Trade Booms But Indian Workers, Students Don’t Get Chinese Visas

Plus: Targeted cartoonist terminated by Reliance-owned media, TM Krishna challenges IT rules, Covaxin clearance delayed in US, new election commissioner was Yogi’s cow-boy

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 11, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Only 56% of the one crore healthcare workers in India have been fully vaccinated against Covid so far, nearly five months after a nationwide inoculation drive began in mid-January. About 82% have got the first dose. And only 47% of the frontline workers in the country ― numbering about 2 crore ― have been fully vaccinated so far, with 85% getting the first dose. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Covid-19 Delta variant first found in India is quickly spreading across the globe. It is believed to be 40% to 50% more transmissible than the variant that emerged in the UK, highlighting the need for rapid global vaccination.

WHO has expressed concern about the Delta variant and said that it is “poised to take hold” of Europe as many countries prepare to ease restrictions. Europe Director Hans Kluge said the continent was “by no means out of danger”, despite a steady decline in infection rates in recent weeks. He said the Delta variant was showing signs of evading some vaccines and that many vulnerable people, particularly those over 60, remained unprotected. “We have been here before. Over the course of last summer, cases gradually rose in younger age groups and then moved into older age groups, contributing to a devastating resurgence.” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Delta variant now accounted for 91% of all new cases in the country.

Detailed calculations by Murad Banaji, Aashish Gupta and Leena Kumarappan show that if current data from rural north and central India is anything to go by, low mortality reflects poor testing and recording rather than “natural protection” from severe disease in rural India. It is likely that the great majority of rural Covid-19 deaths in many parts of India have gone unrecorded.

A group of public health experts, including doctors from AIIMS and members of the national task force on COVID-19, have said in their report to PM Modi that mass, indiscriminate and incomplete vaccination can trigger the emergence of mutant strains, and that there is no need to inoculate those who have had documented coronavirus infection. “The present situation of the pandemic demands that we should be guided by the logistics and epidemiological data to prioritise vaccination rather than opening vaccination for all age groups.”

Kerala is setting an example in ensuring that no one goes hungry during the pandemic and resultant lockdowns. Not just the government, but also grassroots organisations, individuals and local groups irrespective of politics have started or joined initiatives to ensure food for all.

In yet another instance of state paranoia, the Kavarathi police (Lakshadweep) registered a case of sedition against actor and model Aisha Sultana for criticizing Lakshadweep’s controversial administrator Praful K Patel. The case is based on a complaint by Lakshadweep BJP president C Abdul Khader Haji.

Yoga businessman Ramdev, who had earlier dissed doctors and said he does not need the Covid-19 vaccine since he is armour-plated by yoga and ayurveda, yesterday did a backflip ― he said that he would soon get the jab, and described doctors as “God’s envoys on earth”. “Get both doses of the vaccine and the double protection of yoga and ayurveda. They will combine to give you such a robust shield of protection that not a single person will die of Covid,” he told reporters in Haridwar.

The GST Council will meet on Saturday to discuss the GoM report on tax cuts on Covid essentials, and to consider tax cuts on medication for black fungus. The Congress and Opposition-run states have been demanding a reduction in taxes but the central government and the BJP-run states have stalled the move. Currently, 5% GST is levied on domestically manufactured vaccines, and 12% on COVID drugs and oxygen concentrators.

Four days after popular political cartoonist Manjul received a notice from Twitter stating that the Indian authorities had instructed it to take action against his page, his contract was terminated with  “immediate effect” from Reliance-owned Network 18 on Tuesday. He had been working with Network 18 on a contract basis for the past six years. Eminent musician and activist TM Krishna has moved the Madras High Court challenging the new IT rules issued by the Union government. The Madras High Court heard his petition and sent a notice to the Union government and has asked for a response in three weeks. 

Shikhar Dhawan has been confirmed as captain, while pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar will be his deputy as India named a 20-member white ball cricket squad to tour Sri Lanka in July.


Covaxin clearance delayed in US

Bharat Biotech’s US partner Ocugen will now pursue full approval for Covaxin in the US instead of emergency authorisation, involving yet another delay. The US Food and Drug Administration rejected the company’s proposal for emergency use authorisation. 

“Although we were close to finalising our EUA application for submission, we received a recommendation from the FDA to pursue a BLA (full approval) path. While this will extend our timelines, we are committed to bringing Covaxin to the US,” said the company. Commentators cited a company statement from only a few weeks ago that said that the USFDA’s move to stop giving new EUAs for Covid vaccines would not affect its chances. It was not the case. Covaxin is being administered in India, while Bharat Biotech’s Phase 3 trials are still awaited.


UP Women’s Commission hits new low

In response to a question about rising rape cases in Uttar Pradesh, Meena Kumari, member of the UP Women’s Commission, has said: “Girls should not be given mobile phones as they talk with boys using cell-phones and later elope with them for marriage.” She blamed mothers, too: “First of all, mothers should keep close watch on daughters, as it was owing to their negligence that all such things (like rape) are happening to girls.”

Rekha Sharma, chair of the National Commission for Women, was also called out recently for regressive and controversial statements which run counter to the remit of the organisation. It spoke volumes for the ruling strategy in India: blame women to keep them down.


Thousands from Myanmar seek refuge in Northeast

Thousands of people fleeing the junta’s crackdown in Myanmar have crossed into India’s eastern states, worrying officials that the region could become a staging post for pro-democracy activists, and stoke instability. Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland are sheltering around 16,000 people from Myanmar, civil society groups and government officials estimate. The number is expected to rise, reports Reuters. 

In Mizoram, which has around 15,000 people from Myanmar, the authorities are keeping a close watch on pro-democracy fighters joining refugees moving across the unfenced, densely forested border marked by the Tiau river. They have sought the help of the Foreign Ministry to set up eight refugee camps. In Manipur, some of the 1,000 people who fled Myanmar are sheltering in makeshift camps in forested areas, even as intense monsoon rains begin, said human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.


India hits out at Pakistan on ‘uranium’ claim

India hit out at Pakistan for claiming that some material seized recently in Bokaro was uranium, and described it as an attempt to malign the country. The Ministry of External Affairs said that the material seized was not uranium and asserted that India maintains a stringent law-based regulatory system for internationally-controlled items, which is reflected in its “impeccable” non-proliferation credentials. Last week, Pakistan’s foreign ministry called for a probe into what it called the seizure of nuclear material. 

India is in contact with “various stakeholders” in Afghanistan, the ministry said, in response to specific questions about whether the government has opened direct talks with the Taliban. While the MEA did not confirm the talks, which would represent a major shift for Indian policy, it did not deny recent reports that indicated that Indian security officials have exchanged messages with several “nationalist” Taliban factions, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a member of the Rehbari Shura, or leadership council, that includes Pakistan-based Taliban accused of terrorism.


Facebook banned Sanatan Sanstha but didn’t remove pages linked to it

Facebook allowed the Hindu extremist group Sanatan Sanstha to operate openly on its platform for months, even after the company banned the group’s main pages for violating its policies. It was not until Time magazine pointed out a network of 32 pages linked to its sister organization, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti — with more than 2.7 million followers — that the social media giant purged them in April. The pages regularly shared hate speech and misinformation, largely targeting India’s Muslim minority.

Facebook addresses White supremacist content, but there has been no reckoning of Hindu extremist activity on its platform. That risks provoking retaliation from the Modi government, with which Facebook has a delicate relationship. Facebook’s safety team concluded that the Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities and should be designated a “dangerous organisation,” the Wall Street Journal reported in December. The quasi-independent Facebook Oversight Board criticised the company in January for its lack of transparency about the dangerous organisations list, and called on the company to make it public. Facebook has not complied.


Reportedly

Anup Chandra Pandey, a retired 1984-batch IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, who has been appointed election commissioner about nine months before Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are due, had aggressively implemented Chief Minister Adityanath’s Rs 613 crore cow welfare scheme as the state’s chief secretary. In December 2018, Pandey was working on a vision document for Agra’s development when he suddenly shelved the plan, realising Adityanath didn’t want such a programme for the city of the Taj Mahal, a Mughal monument. Pandey had met the Prime Minister several times in the past one year to discuss the Ganga development project in Varanasi, and also as a member of the National Green Tribunal’s monitoring committee for the UP chapter. 

The last chief secretary of a state to be appointed election commissioner was Gujarat’s Achal Kumar Joti in 2015. The 2017 Gujarat polls were conducted on his watch as chief election commissioner, and he faced allegations of ignoring complaints against BJP leaders. During this time, it emerged that he sought and received a favour from the government – of holding on to his official Ahmedabad bungalow. Joti retired in 2018. Pandey, whose term expires on February 15, 2024, is unlikely to become chief election commissioner.


Prime Number: -6.37%
This is the best rate of negative vaccine wastage in the country, reported by Kerala ― which means administering more vaccines than were supplied ― followed by West Bengal with -5.48%. Negative wastage refers to savings in vaccines by using the extra amount which vials contain to deliver extra doses. The national vaccine wastage rate is estimated to be around +6.5%, with the government guidelines permitting up to +10% programmatic wastage. 

India asks China to issue visas

India has asked China to consider issuing visas and permit travel to China for Indians who have taken Chinese vaccines, following the guidelines of the Chinese embassy, and work or study in the neighbouring country. Indians have been unable to travel to China since last November, whereas Chinese nationals and travelers have been visiting India. A large number of Indian students in other foreign universities, especially those in the US, are also stuck, because these countries are not permitting students who have taken India’s Covaxin or Russia’s Sputnik, which await approval for emergency use from the WHO.


PSU bank loans fall, suggesting backdoor privatisation of banking

An analysis establishes backdoor bank privatisation. Public sector banks (PSBs) have continued to lose market share to private banks over the years, in terms of both deposits and loans. In the last 15 years, the share of PSBs in the overall lending carried out by scheduled commercial banks in India peaked at 75.1% in March 2010. As of March 2021, it had fallen to 56.5%. In the same period, the share of PSBs in the total deposits raised by scheduled commercial banks peaked at 74.8% in March 2012. As of March 2021, it had fallen to 61.3%. Nationalised banks gave out just 6% of banking loans in 2020-21.


Deep Dive

Gender bias, social bias and representation: 70 years of Bollywood ― via a substantial corpus of movie dialogues spanning a horizon of seven decades, three scholars from Carnegie Mellon University “seek to understand the portrayal of women, in a broader context studying subtle social signals, and analyze the evolving trends in geographic and religious representation in India”. 


Amidst border tensions and atmanirbhar slogan, India-China trade shoots up

Calls in New Delhi to boycott Chinese imports, the atmanirbharta campaign, a global pandemic and tensions along a disputed border have not hit the trade between India and China. Reversing a trend in which trade between the two countries has shrunk every year since 2017, the latest figures from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry show that bilateral trade grew in the financial year 2020-2021 by more than 5%. Not only that, China replaced the US as India’s largest trading partner. Trade between the two Asian economies hit $86.4 billion in 2020-21, up from $81.9 billion the year before, compared to $80.5 billion between India and the US. 

As India’s global imports shrank by over 17%, imports from China held. Indeed, if anything, India’s trade dependence on China grew – trade with Beijing in 2020-21 made up nearly 13% of India’s total trade compared to 10.4% the year before. Meanwhile, Chinese imports made up 16.6% of India’s total imports, compared to 13.7% the year before. This dependence on Chinese trade grew while India’s overall global trade shrunk by over 13%, in the same period. 


Thanks, but no thanks to Modi

Screenshots of instructions from the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan office instructing schools to upload video clips of students thanking the PM for scrapping exams went viral, embarrassing handlers who want to continuously orchestrate praise for Modi. So after directing school principals to express their ‘gratitude’ to Modi, KVS authorities in the Bengaluru region have reportedly asked them to delete tweets and video clips with the hashtag ‘Thank You Modi Sir’ for cancelling the CBSE board exams. Thanks for nothing.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Can Bollywood survive Modi, asks Aatish Taseer in The Atlantic, as Hindi films have always celebrated a pluralistic India, making the industry — and its Muslim elite — a target of Hindu nationalists.

  • Vir Sanghvi writes that we have effortlessly sunk to a level where even the media regards defections as no more than a game. Each change of party is reported with the breathless excitement normally reserved for an IPL match. Nobody even talks about the betrayal of values, of ideology, that each defection represents. 


Listen Up

Hear this conversation in The Edges and Sledges with Nishad Pai Vaidya and Sachin Bajaj, who take us through India’s fairytale wins in 1971 in the West Indies and England. Fifty years on, they discuss the drama, the protagonists and the turning points of a dramatic year. 


Watch Out

Acclaimed filmmaker and poet Buddhadeb Dasgupta (77) died yesterday at his home in Kolkata from ailments related to kidney disease. Dasgupta’s films, filled with evocative imagery and philosophical questions, won wide acclaim and awards globally, and articulated the stories of people who are rarely heard. His works include Bagh Bahadur, Tahader Katha, Charachar, Lal Darja, Mondo Meyer Upakhyan, Swapner Din, Kaalpurush and Tope. His Hindi feature Anwar Ka Ajab Kissa, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, was released in 2020 on a streaming platform, seven years after it was filmed. Watch an interview with him in 2016:


Over and Out

The Indian family isn’t as closely-knit as it used to be. A man in Kerala kept his partner ― from another faith ― in a room in his house for ten years, apparently without either family getting to know. They had opposed their relationship. 


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.