The India Cable: More Vaccines Ahead, But After The Peak; India is Rafalized

Plus: Migrants on the road again, Shahi Snan today, Tirumala to formalise claim to be Hanuman janmabhoomi tomorrow, Ladakh talks stagnate, Debbarma sweeps Tripura and IA Rehman dies in Lahore

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
April 12, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The Covid-19 surge continues, accompanied by an exodus of workers fleeing the cities. The Prime Minister’s immediate response is to hold election rallies at three locations in West Bengal today. The Economic Times reports that vaccine manufacturers Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech expect to ramp up production to 100 million doses and 12 million doses a month respectively, from June and July ― well after the expected peak. Other vaccine brands still await emergency use clearance, as the government seeks bridge studies. 

The Mahakumbh Shahi Snan is today, but yesterday, Haridwar reported over 300 new confirmed cases of infection as crowds were seen defying Covid-appropriate behaviour. The Gujarat High Court yesterday took suo motu cognizance of a spike in Covid-19 cases in the state along with a shortage in testing facilities, beds and medical infrastructure. Chief Justice Vikram Nath said that media reports suggested a “health emergency of sorts”. “Had it been stray news here and there, I could have ignored it but the volume of report in the leading newspapers having nationwide circulation cannot be ignored”, he added. The court had filed a similar PIL in 2020, which is still being heard. 

MIT economist and Nobel laureate Abjijit Banerjee has trashed the ideology that calls for limited government intervention towards uplifting the poor, on the ground that freebies make the poor lazy, saying that there is no evidence for it whatsoever.

The rupee opened on a weak note and fell below the 75 per US dollar level in early trade on Monday, ahead of the release of key macroeconomic data. Rising crude prices, foreign fund outflows, the Covid-19 spike and heavy selling in domestic equities weighed on the rupee.

The BJP has been forced to withdraw the candidature of Sangeeta Sengar, the wife of former MLA and Unnao rape convict Kuldeep Singh Sengar, from the ongoing Uttar Pradesh panchayat polls.

Tirumala, which houses the shrine of Lord Venkateswara is all set to stake its claim as the birthplace of Lord Hanuman and to authenticate it “with mythological, astrological, epigraphical and scientific evidence” on Ugadi, the Telugu New Year’s day, tomorrow. An ISRO scientist is part of the eight-member committee appointed by Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) in December for the purpose.

And IA Rehman, former editor of Pakistan Times, mentor of Asma Jahangir, a key figure in human rights work in Pakistan and South Asia, and winner of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, died this morning in Lahore. 

Covid: Grim slide continues

India is facing an escalating health crisis which is overwhelming hospitals around the country as inventories of intensive care beds and vital drugs come under pressure. A record daily high of 1,68,912 new coronavirus infections is reported, with total cases climbing to 1,35,27,717, while active cases breached the 12 lakh mark for the first time ever, according to the Union Health Ministry. The death toll increased to 1,70,179 with 904 fatalities every day, the highest this year. India has overtaken Brazil to become the second-most affected country.

ANI reports that India is to have five more vaccines by October. Sputnik V is expected to get emergency use nod in 10 days but will be available by June at the earliest, too late to affect the current wave. The Modi government has prohibited exports of injectable Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) till the pandemic situation in the country improves. Social media reports suggest that the drug is being sold illegally at 10 times the price.

Ladakh talks stalled

India and China held their 11th round of Corps Commander level talks on the Ladakh border crisis. They lasted 13 hours till late on Friday evening but to little avail. The Indian statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs politely hinted that there was no breakthrough. The Chinese response from its western military command was rather curt and did not register any of India’s concerns. It said that India should cherish the “current positive trend” of de-escalation and cooling down of tensions in the border area. 

The 10th round was held 50 days ago and there has been no progress in disengagement after the initial rearward movement on both banks of Pangong lake. The Chinese ingress in Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok remains as before. From the sixth to the tenth round, both sides issued joint statements but clearly, that process has broken down now. The two sides may be talking but progress has stalled. And Ladakh villagers have lost grazing grounds at Pangong Tso.

Migrant workers on the road again

Fear of lockdowns is gripping the country. “If there’s a lockdown again, I will have to borrow money to survive, and then spend all of next year paying it off. I can’t keep doing this, and so I am planning to go back home,” a worker tells Gaon Connection. Worried about the second wave of Covid, after their horrifying experience with Modi’s sudden lockdown, migrant workers are leaving cities for their homes again. With the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping across various parts of Tamil Nadu, some industrialists in the State are apprehensive of migrant workers leaving for their hometowns considering the health conditions. Industries recovered from the first wave when over one lakh migrant workers from Coimbatore and Tirupur rushed back to their home towns in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha by special trains. Fearing sales drops, FMCG companies, which were upbeat in March, are jittery about their prospects.  

A severe spike in Covid-19 cases in Mumbai and persistent talk of a “complete lockdown” has, like last year, made National Highway 3 skirting past Madhya Pradesh's commercial hub Indore a prime route for wary migrants returning home to states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The number of motorcycles, black-and-yellow mini trucks and auto rickshaws, teeming with migrants, have been on the rise over the past few days on a bypass road connected to this route, popularly known as the Mumbai-Agra road. But Indian Railways’ Central Railway zone which is headquartered in Mumbai has said that there is no plan to run Shramik Special trains, despite rumours. 

DCP missing, court raps police in Tablighi case

Observing that “the court has not required his presence just for the sake of fun,” a Delhi court has pulled up the Deputy Commissioner of Delhi Police (Crime Branch) in a case related to unfreezing of a bank account related to the capital’s Nizamuddin Markaz after he failed to attend with case diaries. Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Arun Kumar Garg asked DCP Joy Tirkey to show cause within seven days why reference for contempt of court should not be made against him. The DCP had been trying to get an adjournment. CMM Garg said that DCP Tirkey “has failed to indicate any specific offence” in his reply submitted in a sealed envelope.

The Long Cable

The Rafalization of India

Sudhansu Mohanty

Every time the Rafale deal makes news and raises its ugly head, one thought surfaces in my own. Not the contents of the deal per se, which by itself was bad, but the larger picture — the spinoffs from this deal have cascaded across Indian institutions and breached their functional integrity. 

Many institutions failed the nation. The defence and civil bureaucracies of the ministry of defence (MoD) were at the forefront of activity, but there were others too: the Ministry of Law and Justice (MoL&J); the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), and Parliament; the highest law officer in the land, the Attorney General for India, and two other constitutional authorities, the Supreme Court (SC), and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG); and the independent media. 

Surprisingly, the two ministries, the MoD and MoL&J, normally subservient and despite being part of the executive, somewhat played their part, though the MoD could have done better. The CCS, as part of the executive, and Parliament, courtesy the brute majority of the government, didn’t whimper much. 

The onus lay upon the Attorney General for India, the SC, and the CAG to ensure the correct interpretation of procedure and processes laid down, and establish the rule of law in a constitutional democracy built on the architecture of separation of power, checks and balances, and an independent judiciary.

Sadly, all the three constitutional functionaries let the citizens down. The Attorney General for India morphed into the Attorney General for the government of India, equating the government with the nation. The Hon’ble SC, the apex court, went wrong on multiple counts — not least in a judgment that bristled with inconceivable wrongs (reproducing the government’s “sealed cover” note; pronouncing that pricing details had been shared with the CAG and that the report had been examined by the Public Accounts Committee with a redacted portion placed before Parliament); in ignoring such vital aspects as transfer of technology and indigenous licensed production in India, but in failing to uphold challenges posed to the sanctity of rules, procedures, and the rule of law, which forms the very basis of our constitutional democracy.    

The other constitutional institution, the CAG, made a mockery of its role in a theatre of disgrace, in failing to put under the microscope the egregious removal of an integrity/anti-corruption clause, and in giving selective attention to mask critical details and escape the public gaze. This shall forever remain amongst the creme de la creme of infractions perpetrated by the nation’s supreme audit institution. 

As a proud, ordinary citizen of this nation, I felt lacerated when I read the report and had highlighted it at the time:

As a citizen I feel distraught for these gloss-overs in a report based on documents I can’t access because it is off-limit now for me in the name of secrecy.

Isn’t this then the audit equivalent of the “sealed cover” submitted to the Supreme Court? The question that shall keep lurking in my mind and the minds of other citizens is: hasn’t the CAG erred on facts and analysis, much as the Hon’ble Supreme Court did in its judgment?”

Two years down the line, as an ordinary citizen, I am wrought up beyond relief. Not just by the Rafale deal but by the virus of smart management that’s morally problematic and gutted institutions and public offices. With manifest “wrongs” buried fathoms deep and “righted” by constitutional institutions by stomping down of the fundamental scaffolding, what pathogen has this process of Rafalization summoned up, as lesser institutions and lesser mortals emulate it?

Consider the long shadow that it’ll cast on national norms, acts and society:

  1. We’ve no rule of law governing us, and even the semblance of it is choking in its death throes, and can be whittled away piecemeal and replaced with new ones! 

  2. The basis of the New Society is: Show me the man and I’ll show you the rule, or if warranted, even rewrite the playbook! 

  3. The government can wilfully act its way, or show us the highway, untrammelled by any constitutional provisions to checkmate it! 

  4. The lesser institutions and the lesser mortals manning these institutions can imitate the higher institutions with impunity and disdain!

  5. The common man is easily trampled upon and crushed!

  6. If a citizen raises his democratic voice of dissent, he can be told to seek out another land, in another clime. to claim his place in the sun!

These are mere illustrations of the dismay suffusing me. What about the abrasions caused to the society we live in? A nation with its governing prescriptions infracted, a society that’s been Rafalized? Much beyond the visible, shall be the cascading effect wrought on norms and the psyche of the people. Power is the bully-pulpit for shearing democratic norms, to force citizens to act “obediently” by gaslighting them. And then, in utter self-abased gratification, to seek post-retirement sinecures, to leapfrog into governorships or membership in Parliament’s elder chamber, or any such variant on offer, to be granted as a subtle reparative gesture by the Supreme Benefactor.

This, in short, is the rippling effect of Rafalization — creating a grasping human psyche that cares not what befalls the ordinary person. Like politics is the art of the possible, this too is a “noble” act of self-preservation in a kakistocracy that pulverizes established norms to build a society bereft of constitutional values and sans a moral compass. 

Mohanty is former Controller General of Defence Accounts and former Financial Adviser, Defence Services


Remdesevir in Gujarat

In the press conference on Saturday, the chief minister of Gujarat was asked about the state BJP chief CR Patil offering 5,000 Remdesevir injections, which are scarce in the state. How did he get his hands on this stash? The CM parried the question, saying that it should be directed to the state BJP chief. On Sunday, Divya Bhaskar decided to democratise the process. It published CR Patil’s mobile number in a front page lead headline you couldn’t miss, asking people seeking an injection to please call him up.

Prime Number: Rs 300 crore
That's the amount collected by State Bank of India between 2015 and 2020 by imposing excessive charges on certain services provided to poor persons having zero-balance or Basic Savings Bank Deposit Accounts (BSDBY). This has been brought out in a study by IIT Bombay professor Ashish Das, which states "We assess the dereliction in SBI’s duty towards the PMJDY when the BSBDA users were unduly (and against the extant regulations) forced to part with such high charges for their day-to-day (noncash) digital debit transactions that the bank allowed in a BSDBA.”

Gauhati HC quashes Assam FT order

The Gauhati High Court has set aside an order of a Foreigners’ Tribunal (FT) that declared Haidar Ali a “foreigner” even after he had established his linkage with his father and grandfather, whose names figured in the voters’ lists of 1965 and 1970. However, the FT Barpeta observed that he had failed to establish his linkage with his other projected relatives in the two voters’ lists and declared him a foreigner by an order passed on January 30, 2019, which was set aside by the Gauhati High Court on March 30. 

Debbarma sweeps Tripura polls

The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) Motha, led by former Tripura Congress president Pradyot Kishore Debbarma has swept the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) polls by winning 18 of 28 seats that went to polls to elect representatives for the 30-member council on April 6. The BJP finished second, winning nine seats and one seat was won by an independent candidate. It marks the emergence of Pradyot’s party as a new regional force, less than two years ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. 

Deep Dive

Modi and the coronavirus

A Twitter thread by Rajat Dutta meticulously records every step ― and misstep ― taken by the Modi government in handling the pandemic. 

The assault on democracy began online

How the Modi government deployed technology to destroy Indian democracy ― in a hard-hitting recount, Pranav Dixit connects the tech world with the relentless slide of Indian democracy. It’s an very interesting if depressing proposition. 

Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Jayati Ghosh writes that vaccine grabs, the refusal to relax patents to enable mass production, and the use of vaccines for diplomacy create the risk that poorer nations may not be protected against Covid-19 quickly enough. This will prolong the pandemic, even for the richer nations

Listen Up

The US Navy and India

In light of the recent kerfuffle over the Pentagon’s statement asserting the US 7th Fleet’s right to forcibly conduct freedom of navigation operations near Lakshadweep, Manoj Joshi and Ananth Krishnan discuss the international law of the sea UNCLOS, the significance of FONOPs and how they sit with India’s views of its maritime rights and interests, and the broader implications for ideas of building a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific.

Watch Out

The Casteless Collective is an ensemble music band that, its co-founder Tenma says, comes from the soil of north Madras. It has a voice — a voice that is made up of funeral musicians who learned to play their instruments in a graveyard, Gaana performers who sing about systematic oppression, rappers who talk about inequalities. In this show, they talk about how the goal of a casteless society cannot be achieved by “refusing to see caste”, but it can be achieved by acknowledging the divides that continue to exist and fragment Indian society, and then working towards eliminating them.

Over and Out

Fabulous Modi mimic Shyam Rangeela does a stinging Corona pe Charcha, exposing the gap between the PM’s Covid-19 messaging and the mask-less rallies being addressed by the top leadership. 

British writer Anita Sethi was on a journey through northern England in the Summer of 2019 when she became the victim of a racially motivated hate crime. The crime was a vicious attack on her right to exist in a place on account of her race. But determined to make something good out of it, she has written her memoirs.

Photographer Chirodeep Chaudhuri’s stunning black-and-white images of Mumbai’s public clocks recall a different era, before wristwatches or smartphones were ubiquitous. It also shows us how the city is changing over time.

Dancing Kerala medicos Naveen and Janaki are overnight sensations for a million reasons ― being doctors, having so much talent, and of course chutzpah, breathing new life into Rasputin and breezily defying the Hindutvawadis angry about Hindus and Muslims moving together.

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.