Uttarakhand HC Warns Against Char Dham; the Fall and Rise of Article 1

Plus: Covishield excluded from EU Green Pass, Kerala installs airport labs, drone attack at Jammu, more troops sent to LAC, Aadhar, PAN data leaked, and Zoramthanga reveals his inner Bond

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 28, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

“We didn’t know Covaxin was so strong that it could get rid of Bolsonaro,” goes a joke current in Brazil, which has been caught up in a vaccine procurement scandal the past week. Matters intensified Friday, when officials alleged at a hearing that they blocked payment of an invoice for a shipment of Covaxin raised by a shell company in Singapore on behalf of Bharat Biotech, and had warned President Jair Bolsanaro of overpricing and improprieties in the deal. Bolsonaro has denied importing or paying for the vaccine. No thanks to him ― his officials had blocked it. 

The Financial Times reports on the crisis in India’s countryside, which is undermining economic recovery. “Analysts warn that the calamity weighs heavily,” dampening consumer demand. With economic contraction, India’s debt has soared to a 14-year high. It has risen to 58.8% of GDP in the past fiscal year, up from 51.6% last year, as the government has borrowed a record amount to meet the revenue shortfall.

Dharmendra Chatur, Twitter’s interim resident grievance officer for India, has stepped down, leaving the social media platform without a grievance official as mandated by the Modi government’s new IT rules. Twitter’s website displays the company’s name as “grievance officer for India”, with a US address and an email ID. It is no coincidence that US-based commentator Fareed Zakaria said last night: “Some of the world’s largest democracies are clamping down on free speech, and in an increasingly dynamic place — online.”

Senior Congress leader and former J&K chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad hopes that the Modi government would not reject the demand of mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir for restoration of statehood before the polls, stressing that the Union Territory status of the erstwhile state was “not acceptable” to anyone.

Bloomberg reports that India has redirected at least 50,000 additional troops to the Line of Actual Control in a historic shift toward an offensive military posture. The number of troops is so high that “any miscalculation could turn deadly”, it concludes.

A Tocilizumab scam is brewing in West Bengal. Is the Mamata Banerjee government trying to shield the accused TMC MLA? In April, injections worth Rs 10 lakh were ‘stolen’ from Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. TMC leader Nirmal Maji is the key accused.

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has written to the Union Minister for Law and IT, informing him that Digital India is stuttering at dialup speed in rural and remote areas. Since courts are virtual because of the pandemic, thousands of lawyers are unable to work and the delivery of justice is impeded. 

Parul Khokhar, the Gujarati homemaker poet who has been trolled, bullied and abused for her moving poem, Shav Vahini Ganga, on the horrors of the second wave of Covid, the apathy of the government and its bids to cover up, has made it clear that she will not stop writing.

“We orchestrated daring escapes from Indian custody, including one from the IB headquarters in James Bond style,” reveals Zoramthanga, former Mizo rebel and current chief minister of Mizoram, on the 35th anniversary of the peace accord. There are the makings of a Netflix serial in his reminiscences. 


Vaccine U-turn formalised 

The Union government has submitted an affidavit formalising the massive U-turn in its vaccine policy. It has said that the digital divide is not an issue as vaccinations are not dependent on online registrations, but inconsistencies and serious questions remain. 

The government says 1,350 million doses are coming between August and December, but the only credible number in the government’s projection pertains to supplies of Covishield. It is to supply 500 million doses out of a total of 1,350 million in the time frame, an average of 3.33 million doses per day. But Covaxin? Bharat Biotech had only supplied 28 million doses till June 12, 2021 and 18,36,840 doses are still pending against a March 12 order. A May 5 order, to have been supplied in May-July, is still pending, and they have supplied just 30 million doses in six months. How can they be presumed to achieve the target? 

In India, the Health Ministry has said that the possibility of a resurgence in Covid-19 infections is “speculative” and will depend on the “behaviour” of citizens and the virus. 


Covishield isn’t AstraZeneca?

The WHO hasn’t yet recognised Covaxin, which means that recipients cannot cross international borders as easily as others. Now, the European Union has declared that it recognises AstraZeneca, but not Covishield, it’s Indian version, for the ‘Green Pass’ for unfettered movement in the EU. The Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield under license from AstraZeneca, didn’t apply for approval by the European Medicines Agency. CEO Adar Poonawala said this morning that he has “taken this up at the highest levels… both with regulators and at a diplomatic level with countries.” About time!

Not having a recognised vaccine doesn’t mean a person can’t travel to, say, France. European countries have two layers of restriction: the first applies to the country where the traveller comes from (Red, Orange and Green zones) and the second to the traveller’s individual vaccination status. In a worse case scenario, an unvaccinated person from a Red Zone like India or Brazil can still enter Europe if she has a compelling reason and is willing to quarantine.


Drone attack on Jammu air force base, killing in Pulwama

A former special police officer, his wife and daughter have been shot dead in Awantipora, Pulwama, apparently by terrorists. 

On Thursday at Dushanbe, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval underlined the need to monitor new technologies used by terrorists, including drones, at a meeting with his counterparts at the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organisation group. As if on cue, the Indian Air Force (IAF) base in Jammu was hit on Sunday with two low-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were allegedly dropped from two drones. There was no damage to equipment, and an investigation is in progress along with civilian agencies, the IAF said. Investigators are trying to ascertain the flight path of the two drones. They did not rule out the possibility of a terrorist attack.

It’s 14 km as the crow flies from Jammu Airport, a civilian facility with the runway and air traffic control under the IAF, to the international border. The IAF station at Jammu is an important base for helicopters operating along the Western Front and in the Himalayas. 


Now, right-wing in Delhi raises bogey of ‘street vendor jihad’

The Hindutva groups appear to be on a voyage to discover new kinds of ‘jihadi conspiracies’ by Indian Muslims. After land jihad, love jihad, corona jihad and civil services jihad, their focus in Delhi is on “redi jihad” (street vendor jihad). This is no fringe movement. Local BJP leaders are involved in what is essentially a campaign for the economic boycott of Muslims.


HC warns against Char Dham Yatra

Calling the BJP state government’s decision to start the Char Dham Yatra “impractical if not foolhardy” as “such a scenario would not only endanger the lives of the local population but could also spread the virus,” the Uttarakhand High Court has directed the government to review its decision to commence the Yatra from July 1. “Perhaps the yatra needs to be postponed or canceled, as in the case of the Amarnath Yatra,” said the order.

The court also referred to infections caused by large gatherings like the Mahakumbh in May, where lakhs of people were allowed to congregate at Har-ki-Pauri in Haridwar for a dip in the Ganga without caring about consequences. “The court is of the firm opinion that a catastrophe like Covid should not be re-invited by allowing the Char Dham Yatra,” read the order.


The Long Cable

“India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States” ― Article 1 is new rallying ground

Seema Chishti

The centralising impulse of the BJP under PM Modi, despite the slogan of “cooperative federalism”, is painfully visible. Analysts have watched the hollowing out of federalism over the years but now the BJP is in office, and the evisceration is fundamental to what the party stands for, and the ideological project of the right in India. The RSS vision for India is clear ― no autonomy to regions and their many diversities ― and the ‘unity’ that it has historically aspired to is actually uniformity. 

The Jan Sangh “rejected the state-nation arrangement and pushed for the nation-state model where “people of a country become a nation only when they are united by one common culture” (Bharatiya Jana Sangh, 1973). ‘Indianness’ was to be ensured through uniformity of language, religion, culture and eventually, of political choice. Article 1 deliberately termed India “a Union of states”, setting the stage for the inclusive nationalism of its many people, steering away from the exclusivist ethnic or linguistic European nationalism of the 1930s.

Developments this summer have further drilled home the point that the Centre is no friend of the states.

  • Financially: It has been possible, with the chaotic implementation of GST, to not have a GST Council meeting for seven months ― and when it was held, to get away with denying states an opportunity to speak their mind. The Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu graphically exposed the skew in the sharing of taxes between the Centre and the states, which almost completely denies the latter. The numbers on fuel are telling. The central tax in the past seven years has gone up by 216%. The non-divisible taxes on petrol, i.e. those that do not need to be distributed to the states, are 96%, up from 0% in 2014. Consequently, all states get just 4% of the taxes! The diesel story is similar.

  • Administratively: The bullying of former chief secretary of West Bengal Alapan Bandopadhyay, following the BJP’s electoral loss in the state despite mass rallies during the pandemic, massive resources deployed, and the undivided attention of the BJP’s central leadership. The Centre’s unhealthy interest in the pension and other dues of the top IAS officer of an Opposition state is coercive and sends the signal beyond West Bengal that rules and protocols on effecting transfers can be overridden. The Niti Aayog has already created a pipeline, under the Aspirational Districts Programme, to talk directly to the district level, attempting to bypass the state machinery. But the PM talking directly to district magistrates has taken the matter to another level. And the PM ringing up the governor of West Bengal to express “concern about post-poll violence” is an ominous sign, reminiscent of the days when the Governor-General spoke to provincial governors.

  • Health matters: First, the government left it to the states under the garb of a ‘liberalised’ vaccine policy, arguing that public health is a state subject. That’s incorrect in the case of a pandemic, because the Union List deals with interstate migration and quarantine, and the Concurrent List deals with preventing the spread of infectious diseases across state borders. Thus, the management of the pandemic, control of its spread and vaccine policy, including pricing, are the central government’s remit. So, from expecting states to foot the bill and negotiate with unwilling global suppliers, all the way to the U-turn after the Supreme Court questioned the Centre’s wisdom, Delhi set up the states as its rivals, leaving the idea of federal cooperation far behind. States were expected to pay for the vaccines and the PM’s photograph was printed on vaccination certificates. Chief ministers were asked to issue thank-you advertisements to the PM, misleadingly presenting the vaccine drive as monarchical largesse, when in fact it runs on the people’s money, collected as tax by states!

The continuous attempt to suck power away from states corrodes one of plural India’s prime institutional strengths – its federal structure. Even after 46 years of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, the deep erosion of institutions has been impossible to reverse. The present centralising climate is having a similar impact on India’s federal arrangement, which has helped it institutionalise diversity, giving it the flexibility to absorb tensions and iron out wrinkles. Damaging this system will hurt India badly. It is no wonder that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has announced in the state Assembly that he would now use the most appropriate term for the government in Delhi – the ‘Union’(ondriya) and not the ‘Centre’ (madhiya). Supreme Court judges too quoted Article 1 of the Constitution on May 31, while picking holes in the Centre’s vaccine policy. The first Article of the Indian Constitution, quoted twice by judges and chief ministers, within weeks. It’s a sign.


Reportedly

When Opposition leaders managed to get hold of papers suggesting corruption in land procurement deals involving the Ram temple trust in Ayodhya, most observers were surprised that the Adityanath government had not hounded them or the media for reporting their charges. The obvious conclusion is that these documents were leaked with his tacit approval. A plausible theory doing the rounds, Deccan Chroniclereports, is that the UP chief minister wanted to get back at the central BJP leadership after he was pulled up by the party top brass for marginalising his colleagues. The temple construction committee of the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust is headed by Nripendra Misra, PM Modi’s former principal secretary, while Champat Rai, who is also close to Modi, is the Trust’s general secretary. It is for the Trust office-bearers to defend themselves against these allegations. Adityanath is silent and keeping away from the muckraking scene.


SC bogged down by “frivolous” matters

As physical hearings are set to resume, there are five matters of “national importance” before the Supreme Court that must be heard on priority, from electoral bonds to the constitutional validity of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. But 95% of the cases before the bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah are “frivolous”, Justice Chandrachud has said. “We are seized with matters of national importance, but still we have to read all this.” 


Prime number: More than Rs 8 in 55 days

Prime Number: More than Rs 8 in 55 days
That is the increase in fuel prices after the 31st hike since May 4, the day after results of five Assembly polls were declared. Petrol is costlier by Rs 8.06 per litre and diesel by Rs 8.17 per litre. Petrol has crossed the Rs 100 mark in cities in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Odisha, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
 
Though international oil prices saw volatility since May 4, pump rates in India moved ever upward. Brent crude plunged to $65.11 on May 20, the lowest in these 46 days, but petrol and diesel rates went up the next day by 19 paise per litre and 29 paise a litre, respectively.

Aadhar and PAN data leaked by regulator

In a case of data leak and violation of privacy, the country’s insolvency regulator has “inadvertently” put out on its website Aadhaar and PAN details of creditors, including workers of some companies in insolvency proceedings. The regulator is working on a beta project to host the information of creditors of companies in Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) and liquidation. Government agencies had previously issued public warnings against revealing details of Aadhaar or PAN publicly, for fear of identity theft.


Deep Dive

How deep is India’s economic inequality? Maitreesh Ghatak plumbs the depths for The India Forum and concludes that “greater taxation of wealth will make possible investments in education, health, and infrastructure which will improve opportunity and raise the growth potential.”


India’s gender gap wider than Pakistan’s

The increased pressure of childcare in the pandemic falls disproportionately on women. India is among the countries where women have had to do much more. The Centre for Global Development has found that India is only second-worst after Pakistan: men spent 33 additional hours and women spent 360 additional hours on childcare.


Kerala sets up airport labs, UAE bars India flights till July 21

The Kerala government has set up Covid molecular testing laboratories at all four airports in the state to provide rapid PCR test results four hours prior to departure by NRIs. It was meant to expedite the easy travel of persons from the state working in Gulf countries, but India’s overall failure to deal with the pandemic has led to the UAE civil aviation authority continuing the suspension of flights to and from 14 countries, including India, till July 21. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Caught in the geopolitical churn that has accentuated the contradiction between his external projection of liberal democracy and the domestic reality of majoritarianism and authoritarianism, PM Narendra Modi has been forced to dial back on Kashmir, writes Sushant Singh (a contributor to The India Cable).

  • Modi’s reckless in Jammu and Kashmir has led the Americans back in, says Sushil Aaron, calling the process ‘Holbooke’s revenge’.

  • AG Noorani writes that apart from Article 370, the BJP government’s real concern is with fresh delimitation of Assembly constituencies so that Jammu acquires a majority in the Assembly. This is Narendra Modi’s game, he writes in Dawn.

  • Mohammed Zeeshan in The South China Morning Post writes that Coronavirus and the China threat have resulted in overtures to Pakistan, Kashmir and the Taliban, a significant shift in Modi’s foreign and security policy and a marked departure from his political goals.

  • Sidharth Bhatia (a contributor to The India Cable) reviews Christophe Jaffrelot and Pratinav Anil’s India’s First Dictatorship, and finds lessons for today. “JP’s muddled politics” enabled the RSS to “craftily gain respectability”, the authors recall. 

  • Ajaz Ashraf writes that Himanta Biswa Sharma, Assam’s new chief minister, is “bigotry’s new poster boy”.

  • The path to political revival for the Congress does not lie in ideological clarity or confrontation, argues Asim Ali. It lies in establishing once more to voters that “it is indeed India’s natural party of governance.”


Listen Up

Author Moin Mir and historian Rana Safvi discuss ‘The Lost Fragrance of Infinity’, a historical novel by Mir that is about the essence of Sufism.


Watch Out

Prabir Purkayastha gets personal about the Emergency, and recalls being picked up at JNU and slapped with MISA because nothing else in the statute books would fit the charge of just being there. He says that the intent of the current wave of FIRs and incarcerations is new ― while political and media censorship served Mrs Gandhi’s purpose, social media now allows all to speak out, and they must be urged to censor themselves by making examples of a few.  

https://www.newsclick.in/emergency-declared-then-undeclared-now


Over and Out

At the Archery World Cup in Paris, Deepika Kumari struck gold.

Don’t miss the fascinating story of Dadabhai Naoroji’s granddaughter Khurshedben Naoroji, the soprano who flourished in Greece before returning to serve Gandhi’s movement, and preached nonviolence to the bandits of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.


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.