The India Cable: Modi and Shah’s Humiliating Walk Back on Kashmir

Plus: Stalin recruits economic advisors globally, BL Santhosh firefights BJP revolts, ‘fauji’ families are in decline, government hopes to be cinema super-censor, pile of dung stolen in Chhattisgarh

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 21, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Bihar is the latest state for which unaccounted death data has emerged, adding 75,000 more to the toll of the second wave and pushing India’s ‘excess’ death count ever higher. In Ghazipur district, UP, where corpses were seen floating in the Ganga last month, mortality data for nine months up to March 31 reveals 18,000 extra deaths over the same period in 2019-20.

India’s Covid vaccine doses administered stands at 271 million – an impressive number but that’s just 20 per 100 people. India’s rate is just a whisker ahead of that of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. For perspective, China, the world’s most populous country, has administered 1 billion doses of two-dose vaccine, or 72 per 100 people, using incentives which include free eggs. The world has administered 2.62 billion shots, or 34 per 100 people.

The Central European University Open Society Prize for 2021 has been awarded to KK Shailaja Teacher, former health minister of Kerala, in recognition of her determined leadership and community-based public health work during the pandemic. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin is constituting an economic advisory council which will include former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, Nobel-winning economist Esther Duflo, former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian, development economist Jean Dreze and former Union finance secretary Dr S Narayan.

The Modi government has sought public comments on its draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which proposes to bring back its “revisionary powers” over the Central Board of Film Certification. This would empower the Centre to order “re-examination” of an already certified film, if it attracts complaints. In November 2000, the Supreme Court had upheld a Karnataka High Court order striking down the Centre’s “revisional powers in respect of films that are already certified by the Board”. But if this bill becomes law, the Union government would become the super-censor.

Natasha Sarin, an Indian origin millennial economist and a protégé of Larry Summers, is taking a leading role in developing tax policy at the US Treasury Department, something progressive Democrats are not too happy about, says The New York Times. Her work focuses on securing tax compliance to bring down the fiscal gap, but the process could draw almost all taxpayers into a “surveillance dragnet”.

While the Americans pursue tax money, the Chhattisgarh Police are hot on the trail of the messiest heist ever: 800 kg of cow dung has been stolen. Someone plans immersive dung therapy against Covid-19?


Doval and his Pak counterpart may meet at SCO 

NSA Ajit Doval and his Pakistani counterpart Moeed Yusuf will be at the same forum next week, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting of the ‘Secretaries of the Security Council’ in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Memorably, he had walked out of the meet in 2020 to protest the wrong depiction of India on a map. So far, no meeting had been scheduled between the two NSAs, but this opportunity comes months after India and Pakistan embarked on a series of decisions to defuse tensions, through a back-channel dialogue mediated by the UAE. It began with the announcement of a ceasefire agreement at the Line of Control. The presence of senior security officials from India and China will also be watched closely, given the continuing standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh between the Indian Army and the PLA.

Meanwhile, in another confidence building measure, the Pakistani web series Dhoop Ki Deewar recently released its trailer on YouTube. The series is about a romance between an Indian and a Pakistani whose fathers were soldiers in the rival armies, and were ‘martyred’ in Kashmir. Pakistanis have launched a preemptive strike on it and some have even called for a ban, reports Dawn, though writer Umera Ahmed said that the script was given the green light by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media and PR wing of the Pakistan army.


PM cares, but Modi govt can’t afford 4 lakh for each Covid dead

The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that it cannot pay Rs 4 lakh in compensation for all who have died of Covid-19 because it would exhaust disaster relief funds and impact the response to future waves. It was responding to a petition by advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal referring to Section 12 of the Disaster Management Act 2005, which requires the national authority to recommend guidelines for minimum standards of relief. The government contended that the act was for dealing with acute crises, not chronic pandemics. 


Canadian school education experiences Indian interference

Justice Mahmud Jamal will be the first person of Indian origin to be a justice of the Canadian Supreme Court. PM Justin Trudeau termed him a valuable asset. Also, three Punjabis were appointed as Ministers in a cabinet reshuffle in Ontario province. Moga-born Parm Gill, 47, was on Friday appointed as the province’s Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. Prabmeet Sakaria, who in 2019 became the first turban-wearing minister in Ontario when he was appointed Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, now gets full cabinet rank as President of the Treasury Board. 

The Consulate General of India in Toronto has attempted to infiltrate Canada’s school syllabus by suggesting that teaching materials in use in some jurisdictions make “factually incorrect claims about current developments in India” (the farmers’ protests) to influence “impressionable minds with the ulterior intent of creating hatred”. It goes on to say that this could “poison the bilateral relations between India and Ontario”. Earlier, Trudeau had come out strongly in favour of the farmers’ right to be heard.


UN special rapporteurs lambast new IT rules

Three UN special rapporteurs have written to the Modi government saying that its IT Rules, 2021 do not conform to international human rights norms. They also “recalled” in a report that restrictions on the freedom of expression must never be invoked to justify the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights. The report also said consultations with stakeholders are essential to ensure the “final text is compatible with India’s international legal obligations”. The Modi government has dismissed the criticism in statements issued by India’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.


The Long Cable

Modi-Shah’s humiliating walk back on Kashmir

Sushant Singh

There has been no formal announcement, but it is now public knowledge that the Centre has called the mainstream Kashmiri political parties for talks in New Delhi on Thursday. According to reports, the all-party meeting on Kashmir will be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Though the agenda of the meeting has not been announced, it is expected that the Modi government will discuss the restoration of statehood to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and fresh Assembly elections.

Though these steps were anticipated as an outcome of the backchannel talks between India and Pakistan this year, it is a very significant move, after the Modi government read down Article 370 and bifurcated the erstwhile state on August 5, 2019. It also removed the demographic protection offered by Article 35A and imposed a harsh security and communications clampdown. All leaders of mainstream political parties were detained and concerted attacks were launched by Delhi’s BJP leaders against the leaders of the National Conference and PDP, arguing that they were corrupt, unpopular, supportive of terrorism and had no place in Modi’s vision of Kashmir.

That Modi and Shah’s plans for Kashmir had spectacularly failed was clear last year, as the Centre was unable to create an effective King’s Party to replace the two major Kashmiri parties. Top Kashmiri leaders were released and an attempt to bypass and marginalise these parties through hastily conjured up District Development Council elections failed. The parties chose to participate in the polls and performed creditably across all regions. There has been no progress on attracting the vast business investments that were promised, or ensuring the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. Militancy continues unabated. Internationally, China is back to espousing and raising the Kashmir issue at multilateral forums.

Hemmed in, the Modi government’s troubles in Kashmir were exacerbated by the pandemic and the Chinese ingress across the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Ostensibly under pressure from the newly elected Biden administration, the government lifted the communication clampdown on 4G mobile internet networks. Confronted by the spectre of a two-front collusive military threat from China and Pakistan, the Modi government opened backchannel talks with Pakistan in 2020, which resulted in a ceasefire on the Line of Control in March. It was soon evident that the UAE-brokered talks included some concessions from the Modi government on Kashmir, which were demanded by Pakistan to create an ‘enabling environment’.

According to Al Jazeera, these included: one, a permanent halt to demographic change in Kashmir; two, the release of political and other prisoners; three, the removal of blockades on communication and movement in Kashmir; four, the grant of full statehood rights to Jammu and Kashmir; and five, a reduction in Indian security forces’ deployment in Kashmir. Dawn offered more information in a report, which observers believed was based on a briefing by Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, that the backchannel talks were “being held between the intelligence leaderships of the two countries”. It said that Pakistan’s primary interest at this initial stage is that “Kashmir gets back its statehood and India agrees not to bring about any demographic changes”.

Meanwhile, US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Dean Thompson, during a Congressional hearing on democracy in the Indo-Pacific (watch at 1:34:02 here) last Wednesday, was explicit: “Kashmir is one area where we have urged them [the Modi government] to return to normalcy as quickly as possible. We’ve seen some steps taken: the release of prisoners, the restoration of 4G access, things of that nature. There are other electoral steps we’d like to see them take and that we have encouraged them to do and will continue to do so.”

There is a definite bilateral and humanitarian context to Modi’s invitation to Kashmiri political leaders, but it is also happening in a geopolitical context ― US forces exit Afghanistan in September. Negotiations between the US and Pakistan for American bases on its soil are still ongoing. India’s border crisis in Ladakh with China remains unresolved, as the country has been battered by the pandemic and a severe economic downturn. The BJP has suffered a humiliating electoral loss in West Bengal and is facing internal revolts in multiple states. Modi’s ratings have taken a hit and Shah’s bluster of 2019 is replaced by silence.

The ruling party claimed three major achievements after its re-election in 2019. The first was the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which was introduced with much fanfare by Shah but has been kept on the backburner, and rules have not been framed. The next was the Ram Temple, which was seen as Modi’s Hindutva trump card, but allegations of corruption have surfaced. The third was Kashmir, where the ground has now been laid for a U-turn by Modi – it will start by seeking engagement with the very leaders that Shah had christened the ‘Gupkar Gang’. That ‘Gang’ will decide on its participation only tomorrow. The spin unleashed by the BJP’s propaganda machinery apart, the public can clearly see that the “bold” steps taken by Modi – from demonetisation to surgical strikes to Kashmir – have only resulted in massively humiliating failures. And walkbacks.


Reportedly

The huge buzz that PM Modi’s favourite Gujarat cadre IAS officer, AK Sharma, would serve as deputy chief minister under Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh, has fizzled out. There was a flurry of visits by BJP’s national leaders to UP to placate dissenting voices in the ruling party, and all that Sharma ― who is a freshly elected BJP MLC ― got was the post of vice president of the UP state BJP. There are already 15 other vice presidents in the state units, none of any stature or significance. In this round between Adityanath and the BJP central leadership, the clear winner is the UP CM. But it won’t help him win the Assembly elections less than a year away, eventful PR and paid advertising in legacy media notwithstanding.  


Char Dham Yatra strictly local for now 

The Uttarakhand government has announced the resumption of the Char Dham Yatra from July 1 for local pilgrims of the three districts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi where the shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri are located. The yatra will be opened for pilgrims across the state from July 11.

On Wednesday, the Uttarakhand High Court had remarked that the Char Dham Yatra would not be allowed until it is convinced about Covid-19 safety measures. The government was asked to take a decision and file a detailed affidavit about arrangements made. The court, citing the example of Kumbh, observed that last-minute decisions do more harm than good.


Prime Number: 47%
A large-scale study by TISS in Mumbai’s M East Ward, one of the poorest in the financial capital, has found that the average income of its residents has decreased by as much as 47% due to the pandemic. The study also revealed that unemployment rose from 7% to 12% and self-employed people like vendors, drivers, shop owners, and daily wage earners were the hardest hit. At least 12.5% have not been able to find work even after the unlockdown last year.

Fuel tax more than income and corporate taxes

Continuous fuel price rises have burdened ordinary Indians and the economy during the pandemic. A Dainik Bhaskar analysis reveals that the Union government has made much more money off fuel price hikes than from corporate and income taxes. This amounts to burdening people who are least equipped to handle the strain. Regressive taxation also escalates prices and fuels inflation. Read this fact check too, on why Indian fuel prices are the highest in South Asia. 


Deep Dive

Voices of dissent are being heard within the BJP in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Goa and even Tripura, prompting troubleshooter and BJP General Secretary (Organisation) BL Santhosh to crisscross the country to smoothen ruffled feathers. He has spent the past few weeks in Dehradun, Lucknow, Panaji and Agartala to hear out the grievances of party workers, which have increased after the defeat in West Bengal. PM Modi’s iron grip on the BJP appears to be slipping, reports Deccan Herald.


Officers’ sons no longer don fatigues

Data collected by the office of the Chief of Defence Staff from the National Defence Academy shows that in the last six batches, children of military officers collectively form just 5.47% of the 1,862 cadets training to become officers. Children from non-military backgrounds are making the cut, with 1,409 cadets having joined the NDA in the same period. This is 75.67% of the 1,862 cadets. About 18.9% of the cadets at the NDA were from the families of Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) or jawans.


Naturopath who sold immunity against Covid dies of it

Controversial naturopath Cherthala Mohanan Nair, who marketed questionable products that claimed to provide full immunity against Covid, tested positive for Covid-19 following his death on Saturday. Nair, better known as Mohanan Vaidyar, had a fever and difficulty breathing for two days. He collapsed and was brought dead to Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hospital. Until recently, he promoted ‘immunity boosters’ for protection against Covid-19, which he considered better than taking vaccines. He used to offer treatment for several diseases including cancer and was arrested for falsely claiming to cure Covid-19 last year. The Kerala health department had barred him from practicing. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • To understand why South India has done so much better than the North in recent times, one has to take a long historical view, reaching back into past centuries, not merely past decades, argues Ramachandra Guha.

  • The New Delhi Central Vista is “regressive urban planning and outmoded architecture” writes William JR Curtis in Architectural Record.


Listen Up

“Are you relaxing?” “No, I’m Milkha Singh,” replied the shy athlete from India to an English girl, who has a permanent place in Indian lore and legend. For more facts and context, listen to Singh’s “audio autobiography” in this three-part series for All India Radio.


Watch Out

Mukul Kesavan looks at the symbiotic relationship between organised sport and nationalism, taking a quick historical look at the institutionalisation of this connection at the turn of the 19th century, the high noon of Western nationalism and, not coincidentally, the moment that modern sport became a formally international business. It concludes with a case study: the current confluence of sport and politics in contemporary Indian cricket. 


Over and Out

A monkey boarded the Delhi Metro’s Blue Line, got off at Indraprastha station and held onto a human fellow passenger for part of the short trip. It’s normal to be nervous on your first train journey alone.

Listen to a new album, Lifafa (envelope), packed with sharp takes on the state of affairs in India, and very snappy tunes, especially Wahin ka Wahin.

A Urdu Ramayana from Old Delhi recalls better times, when language was no bar.


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.