The India Cable: Modi's 'Make in India' Has Unmade India; Rashtra Manch Doesn’t Enthuse Yet

Plus: After ‘record’ vaccinations, it's Condition Delta, in India top 1% now own 40.5%, BJP-run states block internet more, Kumbh gets Hindu nationalists votes, ghost stonewalls RTI query

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 23, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

India passed the 3 crore (30 million) mark in the Covid-19 case count yesterday. It had hit 2 crore on May 3 and 1 crore on December 18, 2020. That’s the kind of acceleration that car salesmen dream of. US pharma giant Pfizer is close to reaching an agreement with India to supply anti-Covid-19 vaccines, CEO Dr Albert Bourla said, adding that Pfizer will supply at least 2 billion doses to the mid and low-income countries, including India.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday released a white paper on the pandemic accusing the government of having failed to prevent the second wave, in which 90% of deaths could have been prevented, and warning that the third wave is impending. Gandhi said this white paper had four pillars to help the government not repeat its mistakes. White papers are usually released by the government on issues of public interest. The comedian Kunal Kamra has a very serious video op-ed up at the New York Times on Modi’s mishandling of Covid. No holds barred, as you’d expect from him.

In a virtual press conference, Gandhi also supported compensation for families which had lost members to Covid-19. The government could not plead a lack of funds, he said, not after raking it in via crushing fuel taxes. Former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav believes that Adityanath’s mishandling of the pandemic will cost the BJP the state.

According to data submitted by Bharat Biotech after hemming and hawing for months, Covaxin has shown an efficacy of 77.8% in a trial conducted on 25,800 subjects. Covaxin had earlier received emergency approval, and is one of three vaccines approved in India. WHO has not approved it for emergency use, and nor has the US Food and Drug Administration.

The businessman at the centre of the fake Covid testing scam at the Kumbh Mela has links to top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders. The Hardwar collectorate had initially rejected his application to test pilgrims on the grounds that his firm, Max, had no qualifications but after Narendra Modi installed a new chief minister in Uttarakhand, Max promptly made the grade.

This is puzzling. Warning that the second wave of the pandemic would be disastrous for the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest those Filipinos who don't want to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and asked them to leave and "go to India if you want or somewhere, to America.” Why did he say India?

The Times Network has said that its news channel, Times Now, will not publish or air anything defamatory about the Hindi film industry. Last October, four film industry associations and 34 producers had sued Republic TV, Times Now and a few of their anchors, alleging “irresponsible reporting” which generated public hysteria about drugs. In a joint statement issued with The Producers Guild of India, which is one of the plaintiffs, Times Network said that they have settled the matter. 

The Kerala High Court has stayed two controversial orders passed by bothersome Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel, for closing down dairy farms run by the administration, and for removing meat from the midday meals for school children.

An RTI investigation into MBBS admissions at Gwalior’s Gajra Raja Medical College, in which false domicile status may have been claimed, has been stymied for three years by an argument from beyond the veil ― the records room is haunted by the spirit of a former clerk who had committed suicide there, and no one dares to go in to access the files.   


After ‘record’ vaccinations, it’s Condition Delta

The one-day record in vaccinations loudly claimed by the Modi government is nothing of the sort. After the central government opened up vaccination for all adults, 86.16 lakh were jabbed on January 21, the first day. Over the decades, India has vaccinated many more. The oral polio vaccine was administered to 13.4 crore children on a single day in 1998, and in the crores on at least five more days. In June, China administered 1.9 crore Covid jabs on June 15, 1.5 crore on June 14 and 1.4 crore on June 16. 

Moreover, certain BJP-governed states which registered big highs on Monday slowed down drastically yesterday, suggesting that it was just a headline-grabbing exercise. Madhya Pradesh, which led the field on Monday with 16,91,967 jabs, did just 4,813 yesterday. The status of the big shots, on Monday and yesterday, is available on CoWin. Karnataka, with 11.38 lakh vaccinations on Monday, administered 3.78 lakh shots the next day. Bihar (from 5.75 lakh to 2.62 lakhs) and Haryana (5.15 lakh to 75,000 plus) are among the states with a clear drop. 

First, the Union health secretary said yesterday that Delta plus is a variant of interest. Less than an hour later, a Health Ministry press release said that it is a variant of concern. Then it was clarified that it is a variant of interest, but that wasn’t the end of it. Another clarification followed, saying that the press release holds. If the Modi government’s aim was to baffle, it was achieved.


Make in India has unmade India 

Narendra Modi had stormed the national stage with grand promises ― more jobs, more prosperity, less red tape. His economic record, in the seven years he’s been prime minister, is lacklustre, with no glimpse of the much-hyped Achhe Din. And the pandemic battered that image some more. BBC reports on how the economy has fared under Modi, in seven charts. It’s the kind of report card that smart kids try to hide.

Mascoted by a metal lion made of wheels within wheels, the flagship initiative of Make in India was supposed to create a global manufacturing powerhouse by cutting red tape and attracting investment for export hubs. Manufacturing was to account for 25% of GDP. Seven years on, its share is stagnant at 15%. Worse, manufacturing jobs were halved in the last five years, according to the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis. And exports have been stuck at around $300bn for nearly a decade. Under Modi, India has steadily lost market share to smaller rivals like Bangladesh, whose remarkable growth has hinged on exports, largely fuelled by the labour-intensive garments industry.


BJP-run states 250% more likely to shut down internet

An analysis of data from 2012 to the first quarter of 2020 by Kris Ruijgrok, a political scientist at the University of Amsterdam, has found that the likelihood of internet shutdowns in BJP-ruled states is more than 250% higher than in others, and the trend is increasing. In any given month, the study found, the probability of an internet shutdown in a district administered by the BJP is 3%. The corresponding number in a non-BJP district is 0.8%. 

The findings, the study (full PDF) concludes, “fits the general pattern of observed democratic backsliding under the BJP that has occurred at the national level since the party’s rise to power”. India saw 115 internet shutdowns in 2020, the highest number for any country in the world. Yemen, which reported the second highest number, saw just five shutdowns. 


Now AltNews’s Zubair gets police summons, moves HC for bail

The Karnataka High Court has issued a notice on a petition filed by Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of fact-checking portal AltNews, seeking transit anticipatory bail in an FIR registered by UP Police over tweets on the Ghaziabad incident related to assault on an elderly Muslim man. 

UP Police, whose summons prompted Zubair to approach the court, stated that they did not intend to arrest Zubair, as the offences in the FIR are punishable with less than seven years’ imprisonment. Noting this, a single bench of Justice Mohammed Nawaz issued notice on the bail application. The matter will be heard next on June 29. Zubair’s lawyers informed the bench that co-accused journalist Rana Ayyub was granted four-week transit anticipatory bail by the Bombay High Court yesterday. 


The Long Cable

Rashtra Manch too tentative to be called a front, yet

Sidharth Bhatia

When is a meeting of Opposition parties, called to discuss a ‘credible alternative’ to the current regime, not a political front? When they meet under the banner of ‘Rashtra Manch’, talk about the many problems facing the country, but take pains to emphasise that it is ‘non-political’. Indeed, meeting host Yashwant Sinha, once in the BJP but now with the Trinamool Congress, did not even face the media. And Sharad Pawar, that canny old fox, whose house was the venue, retreated after the discussions were over.

‘Like-minded’ political parties were invited to the meet — the DMK, the Samajwadi Party, the NCP, the TMC, BLD, AAP, CPI, CPI(M) and JD(U), among others; some leaders like Omar Abdullah came themselves, others sent representatives. Missing in this alphabet soup was the Congress, though individuals such as Kapil Sibal and Manish Tiwari, both coincidently from the G-23 which has been writing letters to the party leadership, were invited. Both declined.

If this does not make the Manch a potential platform that will mount a challenge to the BJP, what does? Yet, the leaders present denied it is so. Why so coy?

One reason could be that the elections are still far away. No one wants to show their hand, and these are early explorations of the various possibilities that will emerge as the polls near. The parties may also want to keep their options wide open.

Almost all these regional parties have done business in the past with the BJP, and also the Congress. Committing to a front at this early stage would put paid to their chances of doing so again. They may be monarchs of all they survey in their home states, but they are minnows at the national level and to keep their home bases intact, they may need to make adjustments in the future.

The almost anodyne nature of issues raised at the Tuesday meeting – the economy, geopolitics, the Covid pandemic – suggests a half-hearted, tentative approach, as if no one wanted to raise anything that would directly criticise the BJP or Narendra Modi.

Most important of all, some of the Opposition leaders harbour personal ambitions of their own. Mamata Banerjee and MK Stalin have posted handsome victories in their states. And Sharad Pawar is ever hopeful for the top post in the country, and he knows this is his last chance. Pawar has always thrived in a fluid situation – an euphemistic way of saying that he keeps many dialogues going, leveraging his seniority and his relationships with leaders across the country. Each leader would want to see how best they could emerge as a viable candidate to take on Modi. Modi and Amit Shah know this and would work towards stymieing it at every stage, before it becomes a threat.

This is hardly the first attempt at creating a non-Congress, non-BJP platform, a kind of non-aligned movement of neutral entities who want to carve out their own space, independent of the two hegemonic parties. Each of these efforts has come to grief.

In the old days, the Congress was the party to defeat and the Janata Party, formed hurriedly after the Emergency was withdrawn and elections announced, trounced Indira Gandhi. Many hopes were invested in this new arrangement, but fissures appeared even before the government was formed when some leaders expressed their displeasure at Morarji Desai being made prime minister. Desai’s government lasted barely three years.

Since then, VP Singh, Chandrasekhar, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral have led ‘non-Congress, non-BJP’ governments but not one lasted even a year.

Now, the BJP and Modi are the dominant political players and the Congress is a weak challenger, even though it has a national presence. Any Manch, Front, Platform, Forum, call it what you will, must create a viable alternative and so far, no one has a national presence the way Modi does. Old inhibitions about the Congress still endure, so that rules out one key element. The obstacles, therefore, are formidable.

The future of the Manch will depend on how the leaders want to take it forward. It could disappear as a one-day wonder, a mere talk shop, or it could be the beginning of a longer-term play, with a clearly defined strategy to present a cogent plan to the electorate. The first meeting was clearly a non-starter and the wishy-washy explanations by the representatives to the press are hardly encouraging. Not a single voter, even if she is desperately seeking an alternative to Narendra Modi, is likely to be enthused by what’s been seen and heard so far.  


Reportedly

There are rumblings in the Madhya Pradesh BJP where hectic closed-door meetings among the state's top BJP leaders, including general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Prahlad Patel, party vice president Prabhat Jha and number two in the Chouhan cabinet, Narottam Mishra took place recently. They also had secret parleys with state BJP leaders. Except for Narendra Tomar, all the other top leaders are known Chouhan detractors. 

Vijayvargiya is at a loose end these days, after losing the West Bengal elections. The BJP general secretary might not be fancying the chief minister’s post, but is reported to be keen to see that Mishra replaces Chouhan. Number two in the cabinet, Mishra played a key role under his mentor Amit Shah’s guidance in toppling the Kamal Nath government. All these leaders — Vijayvargiya, Mishra, Patel and Jha — had meetings among themselves and state-level BJP leaders in the first week of this month in Bhopal and Delhi. These confabulations have triggered speculation about their rallying together to oust Chouhan. 


Prime Number: 40.5%
The share of India’s wealth held by the richest 1%, up from 33.5% in 2000 and 39.5% in 2019. “The Gini coefficient, used to measure wealth inequality — increased from 74.7 in 2000 to 82.0 in 2019, and reached 82.3 at the end of 2020,” says a report by Credit Suisse Research Institute

Akhil Gogoi cleared in one UAPA case, one more pending

A National Investigation Agency court has cleared Sivasagar MLA Akhil Gogoi in one of the two cases against him under the UAPA for his alleged role in violent protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam. NIA Special Judge Pranjal Das did not frame charges against Gogoi, who was arrested in December 2019. The court also discharged his associates Jagatjit Gohain and Bhupen Gogoi of UAPA charges in the case.


Deep Dive

Kumbh politics

Siddharta Baral, Gareth Nellis and Michael Weaver evaluate the electoral impact of the Kumbh Mela, considered the world’s biggest human assembly. They conclude that the Kumbh Mela “boosts Hindu nationalists’ vote share. Tests of mechanisms suggest it does so by fomenting identity change — evidenced by increases in communal violence and the adoption of orthodox dietary practices — and by bolstering party infrastructure.”


Women running cow shelters threatened in Mathura, charged in Bijnore

For 16 years, Friederike Irina Bruning, 63, a German woman who also goes by the name of Sudevi Dasi, has been running a cow shelter at Radha Kund in Mathura, tending to at least 2,500 abandoned, sick and injured cows and calves. Now, she alleged, she is being “threatened with death” by the caretaker’s son, who is attempting a land grab.

The Radha Surabhi Gaushala was set up on land registered in the name of the presiding deity of the Shri Thakur Gopinathji Maharaj Virajman Temple, and runs on donations and money Bruning receives from her parents in Germany. “Daily, we bring between eight and 15 injured cows in our gaushala ambulance,” she wrote in her complaint to the police. Bruning was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 for social work (animal welfare).

Elsewhere in UP, Alka Lahoti, who runs a gaushala in Bijnore, has been slapped with an FIR by the local police for objecting to local land grabbers who allegedly have ties to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Champat Rai. Rai is also secretary of the Ayodhya Ram temple trust, which is building a temple on a plot that Hindutva land grabbers invaded in 1992 before proceeding to demolish the Babri Masjid which stood there. Rai was among those charged by the CBI for involvement in the crime but was acquitted last year. The plot was given to the trust by the Supreme Court in 2018.


Only 14% wheat procured in UP

According to data collected by the UP government’s Food and Civil Supplies Department, 56 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of wheat had been procured at 5,678 procurement centres run by seven procurement agencies across the state till June 21 ― just 14.3% of the total estimated production of 391.46 LMT this year. Wheat has been procured from a total of 12.85 lakh farmers in the state, whereas 16.10 lakh farmers had applied for registration to sell wheat. 

Agrarian experts and farmers say that the amount of procurement is quite marginal. It will hurt farmers, who are forced to sell at throwaway prices. The farmers say that the state government has set no procurement target for wheat this year, fearing a backlash from farmers, who are agitating against the farm laws at Delhi’s borders.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • There is a new panel for fixing minimum wages and the national floor minimum wage. However, the draft rules do not appear to enhance clarity on the enumeration of minimum wages, says an EPW editorial.

  • Prem Chandavarkar says that the state as a patron of architecture is increasingly perceived as a source of mediocrity rather than inspirational talent. 


Listen Up

Do I talk into this thing?” These were the first words ever broadcast live, though inadvertently, by Mohandas Gandhi ahead of his speech to the USA. The year was 1931 and the location, London. Jawhar Sircar talks to historian Chandrika Kaul, on Gandhi and radio, the circumstances surrounding his broadcasts and the Mahatma’s use of the medium.

Yesterday’s recommendation, a conversation between Aakar Patel and Ayesha Jalal, should have been accompanied by this link. The error is regretted.


Watch Out

The documentary Moving Upstream: Ganga was filmed in six months over 3,000 kilometres. It was all done on foot between June 2016 and April 2017, from Ganga Sagar in West Bengal to Gangotri in Uttarakhand. It will be screened first at the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart 2021.

Over and Out

Parul Khakhar’s second poem in Gujarati is on being silenced. Salil Tripathi has translated ‘You Will Not Speak’ in English for The Indian Cultural Forum.

Done with his role in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, actor Kamal Hassan is all set to look very different in Indian 2. The film has a lot of special effects and his makeup artist Seema Tabassum said, “We have special effects makeup for the entire film.” Hassan’s Chachi 420 (1997) brought makeup makeovers to the Indian screen.  

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.