The India Cable: India Takes Brisbane, Covaxin and Co-Win Cause Rollout Stutters

Plus: Ayodhya still a recipe for Sangh violence, Mamata stakes herself out at Nandigram, new Chinese village fails to alarm,  noise about Tandav intensifies, and a Sikh scribe renders the Thirukkural

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 19, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Australia has lost at the Gabba in Brisbane for the first time in 32 years, as Rishabh Pant helped India to a three-wicket win in one of the most remarkable Tests of our times. Virat Kohli was back in India on paternity leave. With this, India wins the series, which did not look very likely when it began and especially after they were bowled out for a meagre 36 in the first innings in the Adelaide test. The tourists were an inexperienced eleven, but they gave it everything they had, and fans in this stadium and back home exploded in delight. Their exploit will become part of cricketing lore in the subcontinent. So, finally, is the Indian side really better off without Virat Kohli? Only time will tell, as leader writers like to sign off.

Hearing a public interest litigation against WhatsApp’s new terms of service, which have raised privacy concerns, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of the Delhi High Court has said that he doesn’t understand the problem ― if users are uncertain about an app, they should uninstall it. The hearing has been deferred till January 25, and equally prudently, WhatsApp has deferred the problematic terms of service for three months. WhatsApp rival Hike, promoted by Kavin Bharti Mittal, has taken a hike from app stores after a long and faltering innings.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has declared that she will contest the forthcoming assembly elections from Nandigram, where the CPI(M) lost West Bengal to the Trinamool Congress. Her TMC was in alliance with the BJP and the RSS in 2007, in the front against evictions from farmland for a chemicals hub promoted by the Left Front government. Nandigram is doubly significant because key leader Suvendu Adhikari, who was the face of the Nandigram movement and stands for election from there, is now a valuable and voluble catch for the BJP. Adhikari has sworn to quit politics if he fails to defeat Banerjee with a margin of 50,000 votes. Yet another jumla. 

Following Banerjee’s rally in Nandigram, where she announced her candidacy and also called the BJP a “washing machine party” and “washing powder party” (referring to opaque funding which is turned from black to white), a BJP procession in a Kolkata suburb was attacked with stones and bottles by people bearing TMC flags. That wasn’t a jumla at all. The brickbats were solidly real. So was the manic charge of the balloon man, brandishing balloons in party colours.

Kerala has the lowest school dropout rate in the country at 0.11%, compared to the national average of 4.13%. Short of funds for outright purchase, the Indian Air Force has sought financial quotes from Boeing and Airbus for leasing tankers to overcome its critical shortage of midair refuelling capability.

US President-elect Joe Biden, whose term will be inaugurated on January 20, has named Rohit Chopra as director of the consumer protection bureau. Chopra is currently serving as a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.

Cancer care pioneer Dr C Shanta has passed away aged 93. She worked to make cancer treatment affordable for patients. A niece of the Nobel laureate CV Raman, she was a legend, the force steering the Adyar Cancer Institute to its present glory.

And well after the people behind the cameras of Tandav apologised for whatever they are imagined to have done, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan wants the web series banned


Poor lose more to pandemic

A nationally representative household survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) says that an average Indian household lost about Rs 25,000 in income (equivalent to slightly more than a month’s earnings) in the first six months of the pandemic, as compared to the previous year. Further, losses were disproportionately borne by the poorest — the bottom 10% of India’s households lost 30 percentage points more of their income than the top 10%. Even individuals with secure, salaried jobs — the cream of India’s workforce — saw their income decline by about 12% in 2020. The bottom rural decile lost 54% of their incomes in the Covid months, while the richest decile experienced a loss of 16% in rural areas. In urban areas, the corresponding numbers are 39% and 21%, respectively.


Amid Covaxin, Co-Win stutters, vaccines roll out

Fresh daily cases of Covid-19 as well as daily deaths are at their lowest in 200 days, as the pandemic continues to slow down, perhaps having run its course through the population. But the vaccination drive brings another reminder that Digital India is only a slogan, not a solution. Following repeated glitches which have slowed down the vaccination process, the Covid-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network (Co-WIN) platform and app will be updated. The platform stores granular information about the progress of the drive, but has been plagued by network lag, poor communications and total system failure. In the highly data-enabled National Capital region, recipients of the shot on Saturday got their appointments by SMS on Sunday, 24 hours later. Assam could meet less than a third of its target, and in Telangana, recipient details had to be entered by hand

Two persons who received Covid-19 vaccines have died – one in Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh and one in Bellary in Karnataka – but health officials claimed that the deaths were due to comorbid conditions and not due to vaccination. Of the 580 cases of ‘adverse event following immunisation’ reported so far, seven have required hospitalisation – two in Chitradurga in Karnataka, three in Delhi, and one each in Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh.

Reluctance to receive Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which has been rolled out prematurely, may be playing a role in the slowdown. Virtually no data has been made available and the Phase III trial is yet to be conducted. A statement has been uploaded on the Bharat Biotech website, telling recipients with a history of allergies, fever and bleeding disorder, those on blood thinners, and whose immunity is compromised by medication, not to take the vaccine. It is also contraindicated for pregnant and lactating women, those using other Covid-19 vaccines and people with any other serious health related issues as determined by the vaccinator or supervising officer. The vaccine has not been supplied to the states in the promised quantities, either. Former AIIMS Director MC Misra has said, “Government could have waited a month before clearing Covaxin to allay concerns; so far its efficacy has been cleared on trust but it is safe.” Which makes one wonder why he is part of 49 scientists who issued a statement dnenouncing those raising doubs about Covaxin as “vested interests”.


India calm about its Chinese model village

The NDTV story of a new Chinese village being constructed last year in Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh has got an official response from the MEA, which doesn’t deny its existence but says that it is “along the border”, which sounds harmless. Others claim, citing unnamed defence sources, that India lost control of this territory in 1959. But the local MP, Tapir Gao of the BJP, is on record that these areas were in Indian territory after the 1962 war but have subsequently become Chinese. Territorial dispute expert Taylor Fravel informs us that the 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.

A Chinese soldier who was returned to his side last week by India was suffering from “acute altitude sickness”. The soldier was apprehended by Indian troops at more than 4,200 metres (13,780 feet) above sea level, near the south bank of Pangong Tso.


Amaravati land scam case heard again

Former Andhra Pradesh High Court judge Justice (retd) V Eswaraiah has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that relatives of a “senior sitting” apex court judge were involved in “benami transactions” in the Amaravati land scam and he was trying to collect more evidence in this regard. The matter came up for hearing on Monday before a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, who posted the matter for hearing in the first week of February.


Manufactured Tandav brouhaha intensifies

As the OTT political thriller Tandav came under political fire and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting summoned Amazon India to convey the ‘complaints’ against it, director and writer Ali Abbas Zafar released a statement of apology in case sentiments had been hurt. A bitter flame war is in progress online, between those who claim to be hurt and those who understand that the incident distracts attention from the ministry’s, embarrassed by the Arnab Goswami chat transcript, and is a message to the film industry to stay in line. It has made international news, adding to India’s stellar reputation since 2014. And the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, always ready to plumb further depths, has entered the scene as well.


The Long Cable

Ayodhya, a ‘movement’ that keeps giving the gift of polarisation and violence

Siddharth Varadarajan

Conceived with violent intent, the Ram Janmaboomi agitation launched by the Sangh Parivar and taken up by the Bharatiya Janata Party was never about piety or spiritualism. Launched at the end of the 1980s, the move to liberate the supposed birthplace of the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya was a ploy to polarise the people of India on Hindu-Muslim lines, to the electoral benefit of the BJP. By then, the Congress’s communal anti-Sikh politics had run its course and the Rajiv Gandhi regime also imagined the Ayodhya issue could be turned to work in its favour. 

However, the politics of division admits no half measures and the Congress soon found itself outmanoeuvred. The opening of the Babri Masjid’s locked gates in 1987 led ineluctably to the demolition of the 450-year-old mosque in December 1992. And that monstrous crime was precisely what enabled the Supreme Court, 21 years later, to place its legal imprimatur upon the most brazen land-grab that independent India has ever witnessed. 

It is, thus, only fitting that the official trust overseeing the planned construction of a ‘grand Ram temple’ at the site of the demolished mosque is led by individuals who were arraigned and prosecuted by the Central Bureau of Investigation for their role in the crime. That they were acquitted, and that the CBI refuses officially to appeal their acquittal is testament to the manner in which institution after institution in a republic, that is meant to be governed by the rule of law,  have been suborned or ‘managed’.

But now that the decks have been cleared for the temple, a further opportunity to divide and rule the people of India has come up – this time in the form of a very public campaign to solicit donations for its construction.

Launched in the midst of not just the coronavirus pandemic but the historic farmers’ protest movement, the fundraising campaign is proceeding at multiple levels. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, makes a ‘personal’ donation, subliminally signalling the full backing of the Indian state for what is not just a religious project but a party political one. On cue, various high-profile BJP cheerleaders like the Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar have been wheeled out on social media to announce their support. But the real action is happening on the streets. In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and elsewhere, thugs from various Sangh Parivar outfits have fanned out in the name of conducting ‘processions’ to raise donations for the Ayodhya temple. These thugs are armed, shout abusive and provocative slogans and enjoy the backing of the police as they openly seek to provoke confrontations in Muslim or mixed residential areas.

In Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, the Muslim community was terrorised and their property vandalised. In Ujjain, the authorities acted Israeli-style – demolishing the home of a Muslim man who had opposed these violent provocations. Today comes news from Gujarat of clashes provoked by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

If the main aim of this fundraising drive is to foster hatred and division, a keen eye also needs to be kept on the money part. This is not the first time that Sangh Parivar organisations have raised money for the temple. They did so in the 1980s, the 1990s and again when there was an unsuccessful push to start construction when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister. Each time, there was a parallel push made amongst the Indian diaspora too. Once again, donations are being solicited without any transparency or accounting of what was collected in the past and how it was used.

No doubt the BJP will succeed in funding its temple and building it too. But for millions and millions of Indians and Hindus who know the ugly reality, the structure which is going to come up in Ayodhya will be a ‘disputed’ one – one where worship will have no true meaning.


Reportedly

Noor Inayat Khan, daughter of a Sufi music master, served as a British spy codenamed Madeleine in World War II. In occupied France, she was the first Allied woman wireless operator working with the Resistance. Betrayed, she was executed at Dachau. Now, an OTT series with Freida Pinto in the lead is planned, based on Shrabani Basu’s 2006 bestseller Spy Princess. Netflix already has a film out, A Call to Spy, starring Radhika Apte as Noor.


Prime Number: 57.5%
The percentage of protesters at various sites on the Delhi border demanding the repeal of three farm laws who are forced to resort to open defecation, because there aren’t enough mobile toilets. This is according to a survey by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Higher duties for Atmanirbharata 

Hoping to shore up its depleting revenues, the Modi government is considering hiking import duties by 5-10% on more than 50 items including smartphones, electronic components and appliances in the upcoming Budget. That’s how Atmanirbhar Bharat works.


Deep Dive

The Anglo-Indian community in India

Cliff Richard, Ben Kingsley, Engelbert Humperdinck, Roger Binny, Derek O’Brien, Pam Crain, Frank Anthony, Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon, Jim Corbett: The British Empire created a wide community of people of mixed race, or were perceived to fall between two stools by the standards of the time, and were referred to by the umbrella term ‘Anglo-Indian’. Adventurous people, great musicians, performers, sportspeople, railwaymen and fusion cuisine pioneers, their communities are slowly dispersing, says Kalpana Sunder. 


Ratings game at new low

The News Broadcasters Association said that WhatsApp messages between Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Patho Dasgupta showed that the two were colluding to manipulate ratings. The association has called for Republic TV to be expelled from the association.

The TRP or ratings scandal just got murkier ― the leaked chats suggest that Dasgupta wanted to hire a troll army to go after journalists. They were to harass journalists critical of the agency’s TV ratings.


Fear of flying

A 36-year-old Indian-origin man who was too scared to fly due to the coronavirus pandemic and lived undetected for nearly three months in a secure area of Chicago’s international airport has been arrested. Aditya Singh, who lives in Orange, California, was arrested on Saturday for living in a secure area at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport since October 19.  Singh has been charged with felony, criminal trespass in a restricted area of an airport, and misdemeanour theft. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • In Monthly Review, Chaman Lal takes the long view, referencing the agrarian and tribal risings of the colonial past ― those led by Birsa Munda, Sidho and Kanhu, the Titumir, the Kol and Indigo revolts, the Pagri Sambhal Jatha, and in recent times, the Tebhaga movement and the Telangana armed struggle. He quotes Bhagat Singh’s ‘Letter to Young Political Workers’, 1931, to explain why the Modi government is now at a loss: “The real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories, the peasantry and the labourers. But our bourgeois leaders do not and cannot dare to tackle them. The sleeping lion once awakened from its slumber shall become irresistible even after the achievement of what our leaders aim at.”   

  • Farmer unions have said that repealing the three new farm laws and giving a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Prices will enable India to give 15 instead of 5 kilos of food to households through the PDS and the Food Security Act. The unions have correctly linked the issue of food security to agricultural production through an incentivised MSP, writes Kaustav Banerjee.

  • Enhancing women’s employment is key to economic recovery, writes Sanjay Kathuria. Recovery efforts cannot be gender-blind, because, as the saying goes, “gender-blind is not gender-neutral.”

  • India is the biggest prize in tech. Meet crucial player Mukesh Ambani on CNN, who has spent years trying to turn his inherited oil business into a tech empire. In 2020, that pivot really kicked into overdrive.

  • By using officers of the law for political coercion and insisting on laws that discriminate between Indians, the government is playing with fire, writes Manoj Joshi.


Listen up

Aakar Patel speaks on his recent book Our Hindu Rashtra: What It Is. How We Got Here


Watch Out

Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009, is in conversation with Professor Patrick French, Dean, School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University.


Siraj strikes, and a Sikh scribe copies Thirukkural

Six years ago, today’s Indian bowling sensation Mohd Siraj struggled to make it to practice with just Rs 70 of pocket money. 

Kedayil vizhuchelvam kalvi oruvaruku, madalla matrai yavai” (Learning is the only imperishable wealth, others are not true riches) — 10 years ago, these words changed the life of 58-year-old civil engineer Jaswant Singh of Hoshiyarpur and he began learn the Thirukkural. During the lockdown, he has transcribed the entire work in the manner of the ancients, inscribing it on palm leaf with a metal stylus.


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