The India Cable: Supreme Court Wants ‘Committee’ to Settle Farmers’ Issue, Embassies Marketed PM CARES

Plus: Amnesty account unfrozen, Mamata calls Owaisi BJP’s B-team, Pranab Mukherjee’s children squabble over his book, Zuck was inspired by Mukesh, and Meghan Markle invests in ashwagandha

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
December 16, 2020

Pratik Kanjilal

The Maharashtra Assembly has resolved not to respond to notices from the Supreme Court in the Arnab Goswami privilege case, citing the Basic Structure of the Constitution, and arguing that it would amount to admitting that the judiciary has complete oversight over the legislature. Prayers have begun for Lalu Prasad Yadav’s recovery, as the RJD chief’s health worsens in a Ranchi hospital. He has Stage 4 kidney disease, and his condition is unlikely to improve. 

In Jalpaiguri, it was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s turn to call Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM party names: “To divide the Muslim votes, the BJP is spending crores to bring in a party from Hyderabad. The plan is that BJP will eat into Hindu votes, and this Hyderabad party will eat into Muslim votes… In recent Bihar elections, they did the same thing. This party is a B-team of the BJP,” she said. Amit Shah is to visit the state this weekend, and may bag Trinamool Congress leader Suvendu Adhikari at a rally in East Medinipur. Adhikari has resigned from cabinet and party posts, as if in preparation for moving home, but has bunked earlier appointments to join the BJP.   

Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal is increasingly acerbic about his party’s former ally of many decades. He has now dubbed the BJP the “real tukde tukde gang” and accused it of setting Hindus against Sikhs in Punjab.

The Enforcement Directorate had a setback on Wednesday with the Karnataka High Court accepting Amnesty International’s plea that it be allowed to withdraw salary and tax money from the bank accounts the ED froze as part of its ‘money laundering’ allegation against the reputed human rights organisation.

Nurses in India’s most prestigious public hospital, AIIMS, ended their strike after the Delhi High Court ruled it was illegal. They were demanding parity of pay under the Sixth Pay Commission. In Gujarat, Bhavnagar teachers who opted out of vaccine survey duties on medical grounds will be urged to take voluntary retirement. Of 650 teachers, about 30 had sought exemption on medical grounds. The municipal school board argues that retaining “unfit teachers” would affect the education of students.   

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have caused a loss of Rs 2,300 crore per day to the automobile industry and job losses in the sector were estimated to be about 3.45 lakh, said a parliamentary panel report on Tuesday. In the economy, the wave of easy foreign money entering the Indian markets, driven by a weakening dollar, is causing a liquidity glut. It may cause the Reserve Bank of India to loosen its grip on the rupee, Asia’s worst performing currency, by early 2021, with economy-wide impact. But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is incoming too, as chief guest at the Republic Day parade, making the UK the country sending the most chief guests to the celebrations ― it’s a sixer. 

The most senior submariner of the Navy, Vice Admiral Srikant, died on Tuesday morning of Covid-related complications. He was Director General of Project Seabird, the new port in Karwar which will become the biggest naval base east of Suez. He was due to retire on December 31.

Chief Justice of India Sharad A Bobde began hearing a public interest case filed by a law student seeking the removal of protesting farmers from Delhi’s borders. His exchanges with lawyers suggest he favours dialogue between the government and the farmers, which is precisely what the government says it is doing. Tomorrow, the apex court will hear the contempt case against Kunal Kamra. 

Mark Zuckerberg was inspired by Mukesh Ambani, for realising his father Dhirubhai’s dream of making phone calls as cheap as postcards. He appeared to be in earnest ― as earnest as the $5.7 billion he sank in Jio platforms in April.


Farmers resolve to keep protest going, apex court floats ‘committee’ idea

CJI S.A. Bobde says a committee comprising government representatives and all the farmers unions should be set up to resolve the demands that have led to widespread protests around Delhi but also in other parts of India. At least 22 protesters have died during the farmers’ agitation at Delhi’s borders over the past 20 days, said the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, which is spearheading the agitation against the agricultural reforms. The unions have also decided to hold a shraddhanjali (memorial service) to the 20 protesters who have died since their protests began. This shraddhanjali will be offered in every village across the country on December 20. 

Farmers’ unions have said they would send their written response to the government’s latest proposal on Monday ― days after their fifth round of talks with the central government remained inconclusive. Delhi is in the grip of a cold wave, with minimum temperatures at 4.1 degrees Celsius, and the mercury could dip in the next couple of days. Nevertheless, farmers camping out of doors are standing their ground.

In Haryana, the BJP is facing direct headwinds. Haryana Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala of the JJP only faced social media ire for being away from the protests and out for coffee in Khan Market, the stamping ground of the dreaded ‘Khan Market Gang’. But BJP’s Nayab Singh Saini, MP from Kurukshetra, who was visiting Khurdi village in the district to lay the foundation stones of projects and inaugurate a community centre, came face to face with angry constituents. As soon as word spread that the MP would be visiting, a large group of farmers gathered and began protesting. They also threw black paint on the foundation stone before Saini’s arrival.

But the government gets a helping hand from Singapore, where the police said it is investigating social media posts showing people gathering without permission in support of protesting Indian farmers. It issued a “strong reminder” that it would not allow assemblies that advocate political causes of other countries.


PM CARES just doesn’t care

The Prime Minister’s Office repeatedly refuses to entertain RTI queries about PM CARES, arguing that it is not covered because it is not a public authority but a public charitable trust. However, when it comes to using the government machinery to collect funds for PM CARES, the PMO has left no stone unturned. A series of RTIs filed by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra (Retd), with Indian embassies and high commissions in 27 countries, reveals that all of them publicised PM CARES on their websites and social media platforms

This happened after the PM “advised Heads of Mission to suitably publicise PM CARES FUND, a public charitable trust, to mobilise donations from abroad” on March 30, as per a Ministry of External affairs release. PM CARES was shared by Indian embassies even via Chinese apps banned in India, such as WeChat and Weibo. Since requests came via an embassy, a Japanese company said that it sees its donation to PM CARES as a donation to the Government of India, and not to a charitable trust. 

Thanks to India’s embassies, PM CARES has received substantial foreign funding. Shouldn’t this be audited, and the report be made public? Will our Ministry of External Affairs ask our embassies abroad to give publicity to any other charitable trust? Surely not. PM CARES is the sole exception. 


All foreign Tablighi Jamaatis acquitted

A Delhi court acquitted 36 foreigners charge-sheeted for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in March and allegedly being negligent and disobeying government guidelines issued during the Covid-19 pandemic. Most media outlets and ruling party MPs and ministers pilloried the Tabligh and official categories such as ‘single source’ were created to define them. But foreigners from 14 countries have been acquitted of all charges. Read this story from August, on US nationals who were appalled at the propaganda levelled at them, accusing them of wilfully spreading the virus. They decided to clear their name in court. 


‘Virus trains’

Even as the Tablighi Jamaat narrative diverted attention in the early weeks of the pandemic, when an effective strategy could have been focussed upon, the sudden lockdown by PM Narendra Modi created its own set of serious problems. In a special report, the New York Times looks at how the lockdown chaos ended up spreading the virus in India.


Judge hustled out of Delhi is now Orissa CJ

Transferred in the dead of night to the Punjab and Haryana High Court in February from the Delhi High Court in the midst of hearings about the Delhi ‘riots’ in February, the reformist Justice S Muralidhar was on Tuesday elevated as Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court. The senior-most judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Justice Rajesh Bindal, was transferred to the Calcutta High Court, the country’s oldest. Currently Acting Chief Justice of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court, Justice Bindal joins as first puisne judge, the most senior after the Chief Justice. The transfers are yet to be notified.


Trade imbalance grows in impex crash

Exports fell 8.7% while imports contracted 13.3%, resulting in a 10 month high trade deficit of $9.9 billion, according to revised trade data released by the Commerce Ministry. In stark contrast, China’s exports rose 21.1% in November, the fastest growth since February 2018, while its imports grew 4.5%, leading to a record trade surplus of $75.4 billion. 


The worm in India’s Apple

After allegations of violation in wage payments and work hours surfaced following violence at Taiwanese manufacturing company Wistron’s facility in Kolar district in Karnataka, the state government on Tuesday issued a statement. It tried to limit possible damage to ‘Make in India’ by assuaging investor sentiment and supporting labour rights. Only three countries make Apple products ― China, Brazil and India. Nearly 156 people have been arrested of the over 7,000 unnamed perpetrators. Yesterday afternoon, a police van with security personnel and riot gear was parked outside Wistron’s Kolar plant.


Book Extract

JNU’s secret ingredients for superhuman strength

Sukhadeo Thorat

A section from Sukhadeo Thorat’s chapter, ‘A Unique Experiment’ in ‘JNU Stories: The First 50 Years’, edited by Neeladri Bhattacharya, Kunal Chakrabarti, S. Gunasekaran, Janaki Nair and Joy L. K. Pachuau; Aleph Book Company, Rs 999, 467 pages.  

What accounts for the success of the JNU experiment? Reflecting on my 40 years at JNU (1975-2014), I would like to list some of the features that, in my opinion, have helped convert JNU into an outstanding centre of teaching and research. At the cost of some simplification, I would include the following in this list: the inclusive admission policy, the unique selection procedure for admissions, the decentralised, inclusive, and democratic process of governance, the unique academic programme with semester system, the freedom given to the faculty to devise courses and academic programmes, the excellence of the teaching faculty, the accessible residential system for teachers and students and above all, an unprecedented level of autonomy accorded to the faculty. Much of the credit for devising the overall framework goes to the first vice chancellor, G. Parthasarthi, the Rector cum Planning Officer, Professor Moonis Raza, and the faculty members that joined the university in the early 1970s. 

Even before the statutory reservation policy came into effect, JNU had introduced deprivation as a factor to be considered in admission, granting points for regional and economic backwardness. This was an admirable effort to provide space to those who were deprived and lacked access to quality education. While merit had its space, some weightage was given to those who were first generation learners, those coming from backward districts, those with relatively low incomes, and women. This provided opportunities to those who lag behind in higher education. This system brought in students who valued the opportunities of working hard to excel. JNU was quick to accept the policy relating to reservation as soon as it became a statutory ruling. The early acceptance of the policy of reservation for Dalits, adivasis, and later OBC students, consolidated the space for marginalised groups within the university.  

There is one more important aspect of the admission policy, namely the method of assessment for admission. In the early years, JNU had both written examinations and interviews for selecting students for undergraduate, master’s and MPhil/ PhD programmes. The decision of interviewing thousands of students for selection was a bold step as it extended the process of admission by weeks. But it provided the faculty an opportunity to meet the candidates face to face and evaluate their academic competence, social and economic background, and general interests. It was a laborious process and yet very useful: it helped in choosing the finest candidates, keeping in mind their merit, social location and experience of deprivation. The admission policy also sought to admit students from all parts of the country. After 1984, this was facilitated by the decision to conduct the entrance examination at various centres in the country, including many remote places. All-India representation with social diversity is the hallmark of JNU. Having visited many central universities as chairman of the UGC, I have seen how central universities tend to be regional universities serving primarily the students of their states. We are yet to see an admission system comparable to JNU’s, one which combines so well inclusiveness and diversity while maintaining quality and excellence.  

JNU also set up an Equal Opportunity Office. Initially, this was to help the students in improving their competence in the English language, but later, remedial assistance was extended to the core subjects. This capability enhancement programme is a hallmark of JNU, and was later adopted by UGC for the entire university system of the country.  

...The JNU experiment is unique. We should not allow anyone to undermine this experience which the academicians at JNU have evolved with great effort, step by step. If the institution is damaged, which seems to be happening now, it will be not just an enormous loss for the higher education system in the country: it will be a national calamity and a profound tragedy. 


Reportedly

Actor and politician Kamal Haasan reiterated that he would join hands with his contemporary Rajinikanth, if it benefits the people of Tamil Nadu. “If our ideologies match and if it helps the people of Tamil Nadu, we will shed our ego and cooperate. I’ve said this before,” Haasan told the media in Thoothukudi district for the upcoming 2021 elections in the state. But the Rajini Makkal Mandram has asked its members to wait for an official announcement on the name of the political party to be launched soon by Rajinikanth, and the symbol allotted by the Election Commission


Prime Number― 8:100
Christophe Jaffrelot and Vihang Jumle analysed 1,779 debates since Republic TV set up shop. Nearly 50% of the channel’s political debates criticised the Opposition, but it has not conducted even one debate that they could classify as being in the Opposition’s favour. Republic TV aired approximately eight anti-BJP debates for every 100 anti-Opposition debates. The channel amped up its anti-Opposition debates in the lead-up to the 2019 elections, increasing steadily from February to April, when elections began. Learn more about the sources which claim to bring you the news. 
(Courtesy: The Caravan)

Stop press

Former Indian President and Congress stalwart Pranab Mukherjee’s son, a former MP, does not want his father’s book to be published. His daughter, also in politics, disagrees. It could be a “fight for his legacy”. Sharmishtha, the daughter, makes it quite clear. The siblings have locked horns over what might have an impact on their careers, depending on what Dada has said about them.


What migrant workers need

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has focused once again on the precarity of lives of migrant workers in a new report, ‘Road map for Developing a Policy Framework for the Inclusion of Internal Migrant Workers in India’, prepared jointly by the ILO Decent Work Technical Support team for South Asia and the Country Office for India, Aajeevika Bureau and the Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID). The report finds that addressing informality, universal and portable access to social protection, safe living and working conditions, access to justice and enabling workers’ collectivization are essential for a fundamental change in the conditions of migrant workers.


Covid-19 stresses Indians in UK disproportionately

In the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), people identifying as Indian reported poor sleep due to worry between 2019 and the initial period of the lockdown until April this year, and also scored higher than other groups on a measure of self-reported mental health difficulties. Black and minority ethnic groups suffered a “triple whammy of threats” to their mental health, incomes and life expectancy that left them more vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic.


Deepening divides

Urban India has witnessed a boom in online education this year. In sharp contrast, on the other side of the digital divide, students in Bharat are suffering.


Deep Dive

‘Hindutva’s Dangerous Rewriting of History’

There is plenty to read in the current issue of SAMAJ – the South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal – whose theme is ‘The Hindutva Turn: Authoritarianism and Resistance in India’. Hindutva is distinct from Hinduism, a broad-based religious tradition, although Hindutva ideologues seek to constrict and flatten Hindu traditions. Audrey Truschke describes some of the contours of the Hindutva investment in remaking the past as a means of advancing a modern political project. Why do Hindu nationalists care so much about history, and what does the obsession portend?


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Nikita Khaitan writes that the police assault on Jamia Millia Islamia on December 15, 2019, was documented in depth and yet, mandatory procedures for investigating police brutality have not been followed. The official narrative has succeeded in shielding police impunity with a haze of paltry excuses – not entirely unexpected, when the police are investigating themselves.

  • Anger directed at all those who hold divergent views and contempt for constitutional norms have been enduring features of the present regime. GN Devy hopes that the epic agitation by India’s farmers urges the regime to think of constitutional norms and Bharat does not have to go through a Mahabharata-like destruction to defend democracy.

  • Pradeep Mathur on the phenomenon of the television anchor as cult figure, a living threat to the very culture of news media.

  • Former RAW officer Ravi Joshi asks of Uttar Pradesh’s new law on interfaith marriages, “Did we elect politicians or ‘Dharma gurus’? By what authority vested in them can they tell me who our daughters shall marry or what religion my family believes in. And how can anybody be punished for choosing a partner or religion?”. He says there is “a more insidious social engineering in this project. That is to remove the centrality of the ‘individual’ with all her ‘free will’ and ‘autonomy’ and replace it with ‘family’ as the ultimate unit of society.”


Listen Up

Exactly six months ago, on the night of June 15-16 this year, 20 Indian soldiers were killed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Ladakh and 10 were taken captive. Over 1,000 sq km of Indian territory, the size of Delhi, has been lost to Chinese control since May. Sushant Singh, former Indian Army officer, Deputy Editor of The Indian Express and now Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (and a contributor to The India Cableraises some sharp questions and unpacks the media coverage around the incident and beyond with Krishna Prasad at J-Pod.


Watch Out

A rare television news report from Bangladesh of the day 93,000 Pakistani soldiers and civilian officials surrendered to Indian and Mukti Bahini soldiers on December 16, 1971.


Relax, have some Kali Phos

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that homeopaths can prescribe medicines for prophylaxis, amelioration and mitigation of Covid-19, so long as they are institutionally qualified. The top court tried to mix ― sorry, balance ― the order by ruling that when statutory regulations prohibit them from advertising, there is no occasion for homeopaths to advertise that they are competent to cure the disease.


Or have some ashwagandha instead

Oprah Winfrey put up a video of making a superlatte, a vegan drink or “posh instant coffee” that Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle had delivered to her and is known to have invested in. The ingredients include the Indian herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, prescribed as a soporific). Claims about the drink are being both hyped and panned in the British press. No reliable clinical evidence for or against the herb exists.

And Salman Rushdie starts his masterclass on storytelling and writing. 

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.