The India Cable: India is TS Eliot at G7, Ice-T at Home; Indians Bank on the Swiss

Plus: Third wave may be 2-4 weeks away, India links vax passports to vax equity, Gujarat’s literary revolt, saffronised Thiruvalluvar brought down, Ramdev booked for fibbing about Covid medicines

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 18, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The third wave of Covid-19 could hit as early as in two to four weeks, says Maharashtra’s Covid-19 task force, going by crowding in the last three days. The Delta Plus variant might affect Maharashtra more than the first and the second wave had, it fears.

India has said the ongoing global debate about ‘vaccine passports’ for international travel needs to be linked to the issue of vaccine equity, as many developing countries have not been able to vaccinate a large percentage of their population against Covid-19. The assertion by India comes after Tokyo announced that it will make ‘vaccine passports’ available from next month for Japanese travellers.  

The Indian Railways converted 5,601 coaches into coronavirus treatment centres at a cost of Rs 47.38 crore during 2020-21. With about 16 beds being made available in each coach, that amounted to over 89,600 isolation beds. However, data seems to indicate that barely 4% of these beds were utilised for isolating Covid patients during the first wave, but conversion of coaches was happening even in April 2021.

While the Delhi High Court has released Asif Iqbal Tanha, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal on bail in a series of reasoned orders that have been hailed by legal analysts as pathbreaking, the Supreme Court heard Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on behalf of  the Delhi Police on Friday and decided that pending disposal of the state’s appeal, the high court’s orders would not operate as a precedent in other cases. This means the three students will remain enlarged on bail but others booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act under the same sort of flinsy evidence will not be entitled to similar relief for now.

The News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) imposed a Rs 1 lakh fine on News18 Kannada and Rs 50,000 on Suvarna News for their reporting of the Tablighi Jamaat incident of March 2020. The NBSA also censured English news channel Times Now for the same incident.

Following the government’s controversial new rules for digital platforms, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has amended the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, to set up a three-tier mechanism for redressal of viewers’ grievances about broadcast content which contravenes the Programme Code or the Advertising Code. The three layers of regulation are self-regulation by broadcasters, self-regulation by self-regulating bodies of broadcasters, and finally, an ‘oversight mechanism’ of the Union government. This leaves newspapers as the only media still free of a sarkari last say on what is acceptable journalism and what is not.

The Editors Guild, Mumbai Press Club, Digipub News India Foundation, the Press Club of India and the Indian Women’s Press Corps have condemned the FIR filed by the UP Police for the reporting of violence against an elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad, and say that ‘reporting hate crimes is not a crime’. They have demanded the immediate withdrawal of FIRs against journalists. The Committee for Protection of Journalists and RSF have also issued strongly worded statements.

Yoga televangelist and businessman Ramdev has been booked in Chhattisgarh for spreading false information about Covid-19 medicines. The FIR was lodged on a complaint filed by the state unit of the Indian Medical Association.

The Indian government is actively engaged with Dominica to seek early deportation of fugitive diamond merchant Mehul Choksi to India, the Ministry of External Affairs has said. A Dominican magistrate’s court adjourned till June 25 the hearing into the alleged illegal entry of Choksi. On Monday, the magistrate’s court was to start hearing the case but Choksi was a “no show”, media website Natureislenews had reported.

At least 403 members of the Lok Sabha, nearly three-fourth of its current strength of 540, have received both doses of Covid-19 vaccines ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament.

Potato prices have dropped below the cost of production of the cash crop due to lockdowns. Now, the Economic Times suspects another factor at work ― as edible oil prices soar, people are going off fries.

Bengaluru is the latest city to see petrol prices in three figures after another price hike today, while in Mumbai, petrol is now priced at a record Rs 103.08 and diesel at 95.14, according to Indian Oil Corporation. In Delhi, petrol stood at Rs 96.93 and diesel Rs 87.69 per litre. In Chennai, petrol is at Rs 98.14 and diesel at Rs 92.31 and in Kolkata people now have to pay Rs 96.84 for petrol and Rs 90.54 for diesel.

English Heritage, which puts up Delft Blue plaques on the homes of the isles’ notables, has red-flagged Rudyard Kipling and Enid Blyton on its website. Kipling’s downgrade was expected ― his admiration of British colonialism has caused discomfort from George Orwell’s time to the present. But the denunciation of Blyton has Indian fans complaining that their childhood is being cancelled over a trifle. Everyone remembers the hot buttered scones. Not many care enough about her use of terms with racist connotations.  


Stalin in Delhi with list of demands

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin is in the capital. He met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and handed him a memorandum of 25 major demands, including 33% reservation of electoral seats for women, scrapping of the three farm laws, exempting his state from NEET-based medical admissions and scrapping entrance exams for admissions into other professional courses. He sought additional allocation of Covid-19 vaccines and drugs for treating patients; establishment of an All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Coimbatore and reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the All India quota in medical colleges. In an interview, Stalin said that the Covid-19 inoculation drive can’t be transparent if the Union government keeps telling states to not “even mention the term ‘vaccine shortage’”. He met Left leaders in the evening and today, he met Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. 


Two parliamentary committees to discuss Covid-related issues

Covid-19 concerns and the impact on employment and livelihoods will echo in the meetings of two Parliamentary Committees next week after a failed attempt by the Public Accounts Committee to discuss the Union government’s vaccination policy. On June 23, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change headed by Jairam Ramesh of the Congress will hear the views of Principal Scientific Advisor Prof K VijayaRaghavan, Dr VK Paul of the NITI Aayog and chair of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC), and the Departments of Biotechnology and Scientific and Industrial Research, on vaccine development and genetic sequencing of the virus.

On the same day, the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Lok Sabha on Labour headed by B Mahtab of the BJD will be briefed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment on the impact of Covid-19 on the loss of jobs and livelihoods in both the organised and unorganised sectors. 


In Gujarat, the literary revolution continues

The Gujarat literary scene remains in ferment. Now, 169 intellectuals of the state have issued a statement demanding withdrawal of the editorial by Gujarat Sahitya Akademi president Vishnu Pandya, that had demonised as “literary Naxals” those who had praised the poem ‘Shav Vahini Ganga’ by Parul Khakhar. They include cultural figures Gulammohammed Sheikh, Mallika Sarabhai, MLA Jignesh Mevani, the sociologist Ghanshyam Shah, the economist Indira Hirway, filmmaker Mehul Devkala and activist Nirjhari Sinha. Meanwhile, Khakhar has published ‘Taarey bolvanu nahin’ (You should not speak) in the liberal journal Nireekshak, founded by Prakash N Shah, activist, writer, Divya Bhaskar columnist and president of the Gujarat Sahitya Parishad. Nearly half of the 16 contributions in the journal, authored by Salil Tripathi, Ramesh Savani, Manishi Jani, Yogesh Joshi and Pravin Darzi, among others, are literary works protesting against the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi’s stand against Khakhar.


The Long Cable

India’s two-face act: TS Eliot at G7, Ice-T at home

Aakar Patel

The British satirical magazine Private Eye used to run a series called ‘Split Personalities’. The gag fused together the common first name and last name of two dissimilar and usually contradictory characters in a single panel, often with a speech bubble. A memorable one blended an American rapper and a British poet into ‘Ice-TS Eliot’. The image on the panel was of the Nobel Prize winner in a hoodie saying: “This is the Waste Land muthafucka.”

The two personalities of India in our time produce a similar amusing dissonance. We have seen since 2014 what the reality of human rights and civil liberties is here. The constant demonisation and slandering by the government and its agents of protestors. The isolation of civil society from the rest of the private sector and the passing of laws squeezing, restricting and criminalising their work. The jailing under anti-terror laws of academics, octogenarian poets, priests who worked for Adivasi rights, lawyers who gave up their US passports and students standing up for the rights of others. The locking up of people for no reason other than malice, viciousness and the need to terrorise potential dissenters. The vengeful delaying of justice and appealing of orders giving even the slightest relief to those being oppressed by the State.

And along with the malice, we also see a bumbling incompetence. Insisting that the students the Union government has locked up are terrorists, while at the same time not knowing for sure where they lived. Being quick to unleash the National Intelligence Agency and UAPA against any sort of protest, but then not caring about the process of justice once people are in jail. On Thursday, 115 Muslims jailed under UAPA in Bangalore 10 months ago were given automatic bail because the NIA wanted another 90 days to complete its investigation. On Tuesday, two Muslim men, now 33 and 38, were acquitted by a UAPA court in Maharashtra after nine years in jail. The stories of Asif Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are the latest to illustrate the reality of human rights in India under Modi. This is our Mr Hyde. 

Dr Jekyll was on display at the G7 last weekend, where India was a guest invitee along with South Korea, Australia and South Africa. The G7 are the advanced economies which are also liberal democracies: the US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada, along with the European Union. The group (including the guest invitees) released a document called the Open Societies Statement. In it, they pledged to promote offline and online human rights, civil liberties, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of expression, social inclusion, gender equality, rule of law and diverse and plural civic spaces. In short, everything that the Modi government, as Mr Hyde,  has sought to constrict, restrict and criminalise. 

The government put out the statement and instructed the media to focus on a narrow part of it. This was a line saying that the world faces threats from various things including internet shutdowns. India inserted the words “politically motivated” before the words “internet shutdowns”. This is because India is the world leader by far in internet shutdowns. More than half of all global shutdowns happen in our democracy. So much for human rights online and freedom of expression and association. The rest of the text is also in full dissonance with the actual behaviour of our government. Indeed, the whole of the Open Societies charter appears to have been written with the Indian state’s abuse of its citizenry’s rights in mind. 

The phrase ‘open society’ was popularised by Karl Popper in a two-part work that promoted liberal democracies and attacked authoritarianism and totalitarianism. The billionaire philanthropist George Soros has sought to spread Popper’s ideas through his Open Society Foundation. Last year, it moved the Delhi High Court because the Modi government put restrictions on its ability to operate in India. If it weren’t so damaging, it would be laughable. 

Modi’s problem is that he cannot tell the world what he has done and is doing to India. He cannot say what he regularly tells Indians through rhetoric and post-2014 laws like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and those on love jihad, beef ban and triple talaq: that India is a majoritarian state governed under the principles of Hindutva. It is a place where human rights activists are abused and jailed and the very freedoms that the G7 document intends to promote and cherish are throttled. At the G7, India operates under a secular carapace and claims it is still the Nehruvian state the world was familiar with. But it is not. And the world can see that we’re pretending to be TS Eliot abroad while being Ice-T at home. 


Reportedly

MRK Paneerselvam, Tamil Nadu minister for agriculture and farmer welfare, tweeted that he removed a contentious poster of the Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar in saffron robes from the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University’s library in Coimbatore. The poster shows the revered saint-poet with black hair and in saffron robes, with a verse from the Thirukural. After taking it down, the minister had it replaced with the state-approved representation of Ayyan Thiruvalluvar in white robes. The saffron representation of Thiruvalluvar under the previous AIADMK government has been controversial and earned the ire of the DMK, MDMK and AMMK even earlier.


Karnataka BJP infighting out in the open

BJP national general secretary Arun Singh’s attempt to hear out Karnataka party legislators opened a floodgate after senior MLC AH Vishwanath said he wanted Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s removal, and accused his government of corruption. Also, MLAs who are ministerial aspirants mounted pressure for a Cabinet reshuffle. Singh got a glimpse of the three factions within the party ― those in favour of Yediyurappa, those against him and those who seem to be neutral. 

After meeting Singh, Vishwanath levelled serious charges against the government, demanding Yediyurappa’s ouster. He said someone from the Panchamasali Lingayat community should become CM and named Murugesh Nirani, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal and Arvind Bellad as potential candidates. In response, Singh said Vishwanath is new to the BJP and not acquainted with the party’s principles. Chiding Vishwanath, BJP general secretary N Ravikumar said the state unit had recommended action against him.


Prime Number: Rs 2 lakh crore
The cost to the nation in terms of lost output due to the devastating second wave of the pandemic in April-May, according to an assessment of the Reserve Bank of India. 

Indian funds in Swiss banks increase

Funds parked by Indian individuals and firms in Swiss banks, including through India-based branches and other financial institutions, jumped to 2.55 billion Swiss francs (over Rs 20,700 crore) in 2020 on a sharp surge in holdings via securities and similar instruments, though deposits fell, as per annual data from Switzerland’s central bank. The increase in aggregate funds of Indian clients in Swiss banks, from 899 million Swiss francs (Rs 6,625 crore) at the end of 2019, reverses a two-year decline and has taken the figure to the highest level in 13 years. It stood at a record high of nearly 6.5 billion Swiss francs in 2006, after which it has been mostly on a downward path, except for a few years, like 2011, 2013 and 2017.


Deep Dive

Over the last few years, there has been growing recognition of, and calls for, decolonising ecological research and conservation programmes, in the context of researchers from the global north conducting research in the global south, and also of white researchers conducting research on indigenous lands. But this is an important conversation to have in the Indian context as well, where  casteist and anti-adivasi discrimination adds several layers of complexity to issues of field research. Five ecologists reflect on the practice of research in India.


Nadella is Microsoft chairman

Microsoft’s India-born CEO Satya Nadella has been named the company’s chairman, an additional role in which he will “lead the work to set the agenda for the board”. Microsoft on Wednesday announced that the board’s independent directors unanimously elected Nadella to the role of chair, where he will succeed John W Thompson. Nadella had succeeded Steve Ballmer to become Microsoft’s CEO in 2014.


100 historians write for safety of National Archives

More than 100 historians from India and across the world have written to the head of the National Archives, seeking clarity on how documents stored in the department’s annexe, which is proposed to be demolished and replaced with a new building as part of the Central Vista redevelopment project, will be kept safe. “Archives are the public repository of memory, the documentary evidence of the relationship between the government and its people. It is the official records of a policy, a social movement pertaining to any particular era. It is very important for the archives to be accessible to scholars and historians,” they have said, and asked for transparency about the process of moving documents and details of their destination. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that the High Court order in the UAPA bail case is an indictment of the Delhi Police and its masters in the Ministry of Home Affairs. In any civilised democracy, heads would have rolled. Instead, what we will get is an aggressive appeal by the state. We can only hope the Supreme Court will not let the cause of liberty down again.

  • The pathetic state of India’s news media ― particularly news TV ― is the “real disaster for the world’s largest democracy” writes Vanita Kohli-Khandikar. It leaves it at the mercy of international media and a few Indian brands that have the “courage, expertise and money” to cover a story like the pandemic.


Listen Up

India and China, one year after the Galwan clash: are New Delhi and Beijing in a new bilateral era? Ankit Panda and Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable) discuss various facets of the relationship in a new world.


Watch Out

The articulate and irrepressible Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu, P Thiagarajan (PTR), speaks on finance, politics and the state of India today in this interview with The News Minute.


Over and Out

A five-year-old girl who was stuck in India for 18 months while her parents were in Australia has finally been reunited with her mother. Johannah was visiting her grandparents in India when the pandemic struck and Australia closed its borders. She flew into Sydney and is now in quarantine with her mother, Drsya.


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.