The India Cable: Supreme Court Packs ‘Review Committee’ With Farm Law Advocates

Plus: Financial and real economy drawing apart, China prepares for LAC-wide ops, Nepal no kid brother, RSS’s population explosion mania, GRE cheating, Indian style, Chopper overshadows iconic Mermaid

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 12, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Today, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the farm laws which have attracted unprecedented protests, and formed a committee of four, all of whom support the government’s position that the laws need not be repealed. Anticipating rigging, the farmers had already declined to talk with a court-appointed committee, and insisted on repeal. In short, the laws are stayed, Modi and his supporters get to say they didn’t back down and the protesting farmers have not won, but the stalemate persists. 

The first consignment of Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield vaccine was dispatched early this morning to Pune airport in three refrigerated vehicles, to be flown out to 13 destinations all over the country. In his first interaction with chief ministers after deadlining the vaccine rollout, the Prime Minister said that 3 crore Indians would get the shot at the Centre’s expense. 

That would leave 132 crore citizens, or about 97%, unvaccinated. For herd immunity to work, at least 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated. It is not clear who would pay for the remaining shots. As in the India-China situation, half-baked government communications are contributing to uncertainty, and the damage done by the crisis.  

“The streets are full of soldiers. Military bunkers, removed years ago, are back, and at many places cleave the road. On highways, soldiers stop passenger vehicles and drag commuters out to check their identity cards. It’s a scene reminiscent of the 1990s when an armed insurgency erupted and the Indian government deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to crush it.” This is theNew York Times on Kashmir.

Due to the pandemic, the GRE examination for admission to North American colleges is now taken from home, and an organised industry to help students cheat from the comfort of their bedrooms has developed in India. Screenshots of questions are smuggled out and the time-honoured farra (a slip of paper with the answers) is smuggled back in. College students who solve them are paid well and treat it as a dummy run for their own GRE tests, in the future. 

A one-time Covid-19 relief cess of up to 2% to garner funds for post-pandemic reconstruction may be proposed in the forthcoming Budget, as the Centre scrambles to raise revenues. The price of cooking gas has gone up by Rs 100 in the last 30 days.

Another Opposition MLA, this time from Delhi, finds himself in prison in UP. Ink was hurled at Aam Aadmi Party MLA Somnath Bharti in Rae Bareli. He was arrested later for allegedly making “objectionable remarks” against the UP government and the state’s hospitals. Arrested comedian Munawar Faruqui’s friend Sadakat Khan, who is not even an accused, is to remain in custody in Indore. Bail was rejected on Monday on the ground that his release might lead to a “law and order situation”.  

Down Under, Australian cricket captain Tim Paine said he is bitterly disappointed at alleged racism and crowd abuse while Indian counterpart Ajinkya Rahane made it clear the tourists were “really upset” about a number of unsavoury incidents on and off the ground in Sydney. This is the same ground where the ‘Monkeygate’ incident – in which Harbhajan Singh was racist towards Andrew Symonds – had frayed tempers in 2008.


China beefs up for ops along LAC

The lack of official briefings has again led to the Modi government’s trademark confusion over the border situation in Ladakh, with different reports being aired, all attributed to ‘sources’. India Today and ABP were first off the block to report that China had pulled out 10,000 troops from border areas. Soon, others reported that ‘official sources’ said that this was not true, and the only pullback was from the rear areas and a similar exercise has also been conducted by Indian troops not deployed on the frontline.

China is building a major military logistics hub at Xigatse in Tibet, new satellite imagery shows. This is in line with Beijing’s efforts to prepare for operations all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). A report authored last year by Sim Tack for Stratfor had said that China began building at least 13 new military positions ― three airbases, five permanent air defence positions and five heliports ― near the LAC after the 2017 standoff at Doklam. Work on four heliports began after tensions erupted in the Ladakh sector in April-May 2020.


Farmers ‘deluded’, Centre repeats, but protests broaden

Apart from going along with the Supreme Court staying the implementation of its controversial farm laws and setting up a mediation committee that is ‘pro reform’ , the Centre has filed an urgent affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that a misconception ― that the government held no discussions or consultations before the farm acts were passed ― is being propagated. The Agriculture Ministry said that this was an “erroneous notion” being spread by the protesters and that most farming communities were happy with the laws.

Delhi Police have sought an injunction from the Supreme Court against tractor rallies by farmers on Republic Day. While the authorities have made a substantial investment in putting up barricades, water cannons and barbed wire, not much effort has been made for arranging basic amenities — drinking water, sanitation and garbage disposal — at various sites where farmers have been sitting in protest, according to a survey by Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

The argument that the protest is merely a Punjab-Haryana affair is looking shakier by the day ― from Rajasthan and Bihar to Maharashtra and Kerala, opposition to the agricultural laws passed in September is intensifying.


Bad loans may double

Bad loans of Indian banks may double from the current 7.5% by September this year ― the highest in 25 years ― despite a slight improvement in gross non-performing assets (GNPA) during the Covid era, according to a RBI report released on Monday. Four banks may fail to meet the minimum capital level by September 2021 if there is no resuscitation by stakeholders, it warned. Government-owned banks, which account for 70% of credit disbursal in the economy, may see loan defaults rise from 9.5% of outstanding loans in September 2020 to 16% by September 2021. The RBI Governor has also warned that the disconnect between the financial and real economy is growing and may affect the stability of the financial system.


Vaccines get price tags

Covaxin, the controversial Covid-19 vaccine developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech along with the Indian Council of Medical Research, will be sold at Rs 295 per dose after a price agreement was arrived at between the private firm and the government. It has an order to supply around 55 lakh doses at 12 centres before January 14. The government also placed a purchase order with Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII) for 11 million doses of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, Covishield, each costing Rs 210, including GST.


Book alert

Population Explosion: Hindutva’s Big Bang Theory 

Former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has written a new book, The Population Myth:  Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, published by HarperCollins in January 2021, that takes the Hindu Right’s demographic logic to the cleaners.

Quraishi collects the quotes of Narendra Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, – ‘“What should I do? Run relief camps for them? Do we want to have baby producing centres?”, he had said just after the anti-Muslim killings of 2002 – and numerous dodgy statements by RSS leaders over the years about Hindus becoming a minority in India.

He notes that what the Sangh’s fear mongering ignores is the steep decline in Muslim fertility rates over the years, as evidenced by National Family Health Survey data.


Reportedly

It turns out that reports of the President of Suriname coming to India were highly premature. The Hindustan Times says President Ram Nath Kovind will take the salute. This is the first time in 54 years that the Republic Day celebrations would not have a foreign dignitary as chief guest. The last no-show was when Indira Gandhi was sworn in as PM 15 days after Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death on January 11, 1966.

Boris Johnson had agreed to attend before the new virus variant in the UK scuppered his travel plans. “We did not want to put any foreign dignitary in an awkward situation,” an official has said. Last-minute acceptance of India’s invitation could be potentially embarrassing for the invitee, who would be seen as a spare tyre. Citing Covid-19, the Parliament session has been called off but the Central Vista, where the R-Day parade is held, is being pulled down right now and rebuilt ― no fear of Covid ― and the show has only been truncated, not called off. 


Prime Number: 10.1%
The rate of GDP growth in the next financial year, as per ICRA Ratings, after a contraction of 7.8% in the current financial year. But that number is deceptive: “On a sobering note, we project the aggregate value of Indian GDP in real terms in FY2022, to be only mildly higher than the level recorded in FY2020,” the report said.

Unions dismiss Labour Ministry as a “farce”

Ten national trade unions on Monday decided to keep away from a consultative video meeting convened by Union Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar today to finalise the rules under two labour codes, calling it a “farce”. They want a physical meet to put across their views effectively. Also, they are miffed about the ministry taking up two codes in one day ― the Code on Social Security, and Code on Occupational Health and Safety and Working Conditions ― which would preclude meaningful discussions.


Vogue disappoints with Kamala Harris cover 

The cover of Vogue with US Vice President-designate Kamala Harris has been panned. Several feel that the image was not befitting the highest-ranking woman politician in the US. The image of the cover shows Harris standing in front of glossy pink drapery in a plain black jacket and Converse sneakers. A number of online fans argue that the first woman, African American and Asian American to be vice president deserves a grander cover. Harris’ team was apparently “blindsided” when the cover was released. Others think that heartburn is unwarranted, given that “the nation is burning”.


Adityanath’s hate jihad continues

The Uttar Pradesh police are targeting entire Muslim families under the controversial anti-conversion ‘love jihad’ ordinance, and 79 out of 86 people booked under it are from the minority community. All have been accused of ‘enticing’ Hindu women and ‘forcing’ them to convert to Islam. Twenty-six family members of a Muslim man, including five women, were booked in Etah for allegedly forcing a 21-year-old Hindu woman to convert. In Mau, an FIR was lodged against 16 members of a family, while in Sitapur, 14 family members were booked.

An affidavit submitted by the Adityanath government in the Allahabad High Court last week said the ordinance, officially called the ‘Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020’, was not aimed against any particular religion, but was equally applicable to all forms of “forced conversions”.


Nepal no longer India’s kid brother, says Oli

Nepal’s PM, KP Oli has made it amply clear that Nepal will be dealing with all countries as equals. He says that Nepal is no chhota bhai (younger brother) or Laxman with India playing Ram. This is not the colonial era but the Asian age, he says, and it will help China and India establish peace and trust for regional development. He debunks the idea of Akhand Bharat, too. Watch from 11.13: 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • By infantilising protesting farmers, the Modi government is repeating an old colonial idea, writes Surinder Jodhka. The old rural-urban binary continues to dog a large section of India’s urban elite and hinders their capacity to make sense of the farmers’ assertions.


Listen up

Amitav Ghosh’s forthcoming book has singer Ali Sethi doing the music and narration for the audio of Jungle Nama. “Listen for the beautiful transition from Raga Bhairav to Ahir Bhairav,” says Ghosh.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CJ6RLpKJNie/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link


Watch Out

Who killed Shafiq, Harun and Abrar? A year after the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the kin of those killed in police firing in Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh await justice. Some claim that the police filed FIRs arbitrarily, while others allege that they are being pressured to close the case ― charges that the Firozabad Police denied.


Chopper overshadows Kunhiraman

Art lovers in Kerala and the state tourism department are on a collision course, months after the latter placed a helicopter installation next to the ‘Mermaid’ sculpture of famous artist Kanayi Kunhiraman on Shankumugham beach in the state capital.

They allege the Mi-18 helicopter was deliberately and maliciously installed near the sculpture to belittle art and “insult” the 100-foot sculpture, a major tourist attraction on the beach. Art lovers say tourists line up before the helicopter to take selfies and group photos these days, ignoring the sculpture. 


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.