Variants of Concern Now Amount to 50% of Cases; For Gen Rawat, Sport Is Simulacrum Of War

Plus: Second wave had 40% more hospital deaths, in Bihar, just 19 patients used Ayushman Bharat, P Sainath wins Fukuoka Grand Prize, Remembering Mahalanobis, and Riemann Hypothesis solved?

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 29, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Amid the standoff between Twitter and the government of India over the new IT rules, the UP Police have booked India managing director Manish Maheshwari for hosting an incorrect map of India, on the complaint of a Bajrang Dal member. The map had shown Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as distinct from India, and was taken down on the weekend after a social media uproar. A BJP MP who committed the same offence last year was never charged, nor is it part of the complaint against Twitter even though the offending map is still up.

The Health Ministry says 40,845 cases of black fungus have been reported in India so far and 3,129 people have died of it. Al Jazeera’s feature on ‘Tales from an Indian Crematorium’ follows crematorium workers struggling to cope with the numbers of dead from Covid-19.

Bangladesh has extended the closure of borders with India for 14 days till July 14, amidst a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country. On April 26, Bangladesh first closed its border with India for two weeks to stem Covid-19 transmission. This is the latest of several extensions.

The army said a major threat was averted after two drones were seen on Sunday night near a military station in Jammu and fired upon by alert troops. This was hours after drones were used in a terror attack on the Jammu Air Force base. The drones “flew away” after the army fired at them, said an official statement by the Army. The drones were said to have been spotted near the Kaluchak military station in Jammu, the first at 11.30 pm and the second around 1.30 am on the night of 27-28 June.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has upped the ante against Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar by terming him a “corrupt man”. She said he was charged in the 1996 Jain hawala case, in which politicians who had allegedly received kickbacks were named. Many reputations were lost at the time. Dhankar termed it an “unfortunate allegation.”

Lakshadweep residents protested against the administration’s order to impose fines if coconut and palm leaves, shells or trunks are found in and around their homes. They urged the administration to come up with a proper waste management system instead of imposing fines. The residents of Lakshadweep have been up in arms against new draft laws being pushed by the new administrator.

Kasargod Collector Sajith Babu’s office and Manjeshwar MLA AKM Ashraf have denied claims that the Kerala government is planning to change the names of villages in Kasargod district from Kannada to Malayalam. This denial comes after politicians cutting across parties in Karnataka opposed changing the names of villages. Kerala maintains that it is fake news.

Moderna’s vaccine has received authorisation for ‘restricted emergency use’ in India, making it the fourth such Covid vaccine after Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik V. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin has written to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan asking the Union government to increase the allocation of vaccines to the state and also increase the sub-allocation of vaccines procured by the Union for the states to 90% from 75%. The Chennai Corporation had to pause vaccinations owing to a shortage. On Saturday, the Odisha government had written to the Union government to allocate Covid-19 vaccines in a 95:5 proportion between the state government and private hospitals, instead of the current 75:25 ratio.

The Riemann Hypothesis, perhaps the most important problem of pure mathematics, spelled out two years after the Indian Rising, may have been finally solved by a physicist in Hyderabad. It offers an insight concerning prime numbers, and the solution would confirm several other findings in number theory, discovered in the last 160 years. The Clay Mathematics Institute offers a $1 million bounty for a solution. In applied mathematics, primes are now valued because effective cryptography depends on the discovery of very large primes. 


Second wave was 40% more fatal

The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic witnessed a more than 40% higher level of hospital fatality in India, according to a study across nine Max hospitals, which found that the maximum death rate happened among those aged less than 45. “More patients had secondary bacterial and fungal infections in Wave-2. Mortality increased by almost 40%, particularly in the younger patients of age less than 45 years. Higher mortality was observed in those admitted in wards and ICUs, with or without ventilator support, and those who received convalescent plasma,” says the study. The hospital fatality rate in the first wave among 14,398 patients at these hospitals in five northern states was compared with that of 5,454 persons hospitalised in the second wave.


Virus variants on the rise

Covid-19 cases with variants of concern rose from 10.31% of total infections in May to 51% till June 20, top government officials told a parliamentary panel on Monday. While Covaxin and Covishield work against them, it is with slightly reduced potency. The panel was informed that the economic impact of the second wave was “asynchronous in its onset and wider in its spread particularly in rural hinterland,” PTIreports.

No wonder that epidemiologists are saying it’s no time to lower the guard. Dr Bhramar Mukherjee notes an upturn in the effective R trajectory, which “tells us there is absolutely no reason to feel safe… Exercise more caution than before.” But Niti Aayog’s Dr VK Paul said that there is no scientific data to establish that the new variant Delta Plus is highly transmissible or evades vaccines.


CJI urged to give bail, decongest prisons

The Forum for Medical Ethics Society and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan “on behalf of health care workers and public health professionals, in solidarity with inmates of prisons in India to safeguard their health and health rights during the Covid-19 pandemic, based upon public health and human rights principles” have initiated a letter to the Chief Justice of India to revise the criteria to release prisoners on bail and parole during the pandemic. Forty-five NGOs and 187 healthcare professionals wrote to the CJI, the chief justices of all High Courts and other legal authorities, urging them to decongest prisons.


UP shenanigans

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been accused of rigging the elections for district panchayat chairpersons. They are to be elected from among the elected members of zila panchayats of various districts, whose elections were won by the Samajwadi Party. Former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has said: “The CM has crossed all limits in rigging the district panchayat chairperson elections. His undemocratic conduct has posed a threat to the constitutional institutions in the state.” Yadav says that by “hijacking the mandate, the state administration forcibly prevented candidates of Samajwadi Party and other Opposition parties from filing nominations.” 

Meanwhile, AAP MP Sanjay Singh has filed a complaint against nine people under Sections 34, 119, 120, 169, 202, 403, 405, 409, 420, 423, 466 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code at the Kotwali police station in Ayodhya on the alleged Temple Trust land deal scam. Ayodhya Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyay, trust members Anil Kumar Mishra, Champat Rai, Harish Pathak, Kusum Pathak, Sultan Ansari, SP Singh and Deep Narayan Upadhyay were among the nine accused named.


Book Extract

Guru Tegh Bahadur and the Sorceress

Samrat Choudhury

The town itself has been around a while, and it will endure. It is old, perhaps ancient. In India, and around, forms change but the essence remains. Dhubri today has no ancient archaeological remains, but its medieval past is very much around. It is there in the name of the town’s main arterial road which leads to a large gurdwara built on an elevation overlooking the Brahmaputra. Both the road and the gurdwara are named after Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth Guru of Sikhism who had set up camp at this site in 1669. A pamphlet published by the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib Gurdwara authorities explains the circumstances leading to his arrival:

While morning prayer was being enchanted as per daily routine, an envoy from Raja Ram Singh, son of Mirza Raja Jai Singh of Ambar (Jaipur) arrived and later made offerings to Gurujee. The envoy narrated the object: the Emperor Aurangzeb has ordered my master to invade Kamrup (Assam). Kindly extend your protection as the area is full of jadumantar black magic which plays disastrous role for human being. My master will soon arrive in person to offer homage at your lotus feet and solicit your mercy.

Aurangzeb’s brave Rajput General had developed cold feet at the prospect of invading Kamrup because of its reputation as a land of black magic and sorcery. Perhaps the contemporaneous account of Shihabuddin Talish, the writer who had accompanied Mir Jumla during his invasion only seven years earlier, frightened Ram Singh. Shihabuddin wrote:

Assam is a wild and dreadful country, abounding in danger … at a distance from the river, though the climate agrees with the natives, it is rank poison to foreigners … In short, every army that entered this country made its exit from the realm of life, every caravan that set foot on this land deposited its baggage of residence in the halting place of death … And as no one who entered this country ever returned, and the manners of its natives were never made known to any outsiders, the people of Hindustan used to call the inhabitants of Assam sorcerers and magicians and consider them as standing outside the human species. They say whoever enters this country is overcome by charms and never comes out of it.

All this would not be very encouraging to the potential invader, and considering Mir Jumla died of dysentery on his way back from Assam, Ram Singh may have considered it prudent to seek armour against the ‘jadumantar’ black magic that he probably blamed for his predecessor’s fate. He was greatly relieved when Guru Tegh Bahadur agreed to proceed to Assam to deal with the black magic. The gurdwara’s pamphlet says, ‘On hearing that his prayer was accepted, Raja Ram Singh, commander of Emperor Aurangzeb’s army, felt inspired that at the mercy of Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur his victory is sure and started preparations to march ahead on expedition to Assam.’ The Guru, who was then in Patna and on a tour eastwards, went to Malda in Bengal and then to Dhaka, where he blessed Ram Singh and ‘assured all protection against evil action of black magic jadumantar … the Guru then set out for Assam and after crossing River Brahmaputra reached Dam Dama Sahib (visiting place of Guru Nanak) on the river bank, which was named as Dhubri by the Guru Tegh Bahadur.’

The story goes that this was the spot where Guru Nanak had met Srimanta Sankardev around 1505. The first Sikh Guru is said to have arrived there via Dhanpur near Dhaka, where he had also had to battle ‘jadumantar’, or black magic. The gurdwara pamphlet also says, ‘At Dhanpur his companion Mardana felt hungry and went to the village in search of food but was enchanted and fell victim to witchcraft enacted by notorious women of that village. Guru could visualise with his divine power and dispelled the enchantment.’ The details of this enchantment dispel the mystery about the origins of a story that is whispered to this day. SK Bhuyan writes in his Background of Assamese Culture that:

… so late as 1500 AD Guru Nanak, the first Guru and founder of the valiant Sikh Nation, while reaching Dhanpur, on his worldwide tour, near Dacca, had a bitter anguish of finding his brave companion Mardana, a Punjabi musician accompanying him on his tour, converted into a lamb before his very eyes, by a woman of this country, who could reconvert the young man to his natural anatomical shape according to her personal and private needs of worldly desires.

The Guru is said to have rescued his companion from his sheepish fate. The story of his success in rescuing Bhai Mardana, along with Shihabuddin’s account of the many horrors that lay in this area, probably drove Ram Singh to seek Guru Tegh Bahadur’s protection and blessings. Which invading general would feel secure knowing his army might be transformed by the local women into a flock of lambs reconvertible into anatomical men only for their ‘personal and private needs of worldly desires’?

His precautions came in handy, according to the Dhubri gurdwara pamphlet:

When Raja Chakradhar of Kamrup heard of Raja Ram Singh’s arrival to attack him he vowed to destroy him and his army. He ordered all women who were famous for their magical skills. One such woman was Netai Dhoban by name. On the other side Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur-jee alerted Raja Ram Singh to shift his army, camped alongside river bank, to higher place, as a created flood is likely at night. Thus the flood created at night with the power of black art had washed away those did not shift to higher altitude and those shifted were saved … when the magical attempt could not do much harm due to the presence of Guru Tegh Bahadur, she (Netai) became furious and hurled a ‘judge’ stone (several metres long) at Gurujee but with the spiritual power of Guru, the stone fell aside with such force that more than half of it was penetrated into the ground. Failing in her effort she uprooted a Pipal tree and riding on it, made another attack on Guru. The Pipal tree stopped in the air before it reached him. When Netai felt powerless and grew weary of her efforts, she was convinced of the divine power of Guru Tegh Bahadur and begged to be pardoned.

The name ‘Chakradhar’ in the account is probably a reference to king Chakradhwaj Singha, the Ahom monarch at the time. Having vanquished the sorceress, the Guru then brokered a peace between Ram Singh and the Kamrup king (meaning the Ahom king, who had recaptured Guwahati and the lands west of it two years earlier from the Mughals) according to the gurdwara account.

Excerpt from The Braided River: A Journey Along the Brahmaputra, HarperCollins, 424 pages, Rs  389.


Reportedly

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has been making controversial appearances on sports channels, in a promotional advertisement to boost the morale of Indian sportspersons participating in the Tokyo Olympics. The tone and language is odd and even farcical ― martial metaphors of sport as war do not sit well with the spirit of sport in the modern Olympics. Besides, we would hate to think that we lost the Battle of Southampton to New Zealand.


Unpacking the latest relief package numbers 

The Modi government has touted a relief package of Rs 6.29 lakh crore, but most of it consists of credit guarantees and capital infusion in certain areas over five years. The immediate fiscal cost of a credit guarantee would be difficult to ascertain but initial estimates of the total additional fiscal cost that the government is likely to incur due to relief measures announced vary from Rs 60,000 crore to 1.2 lakh crore


Prime Number: 19
That's the number of people in Bihar (yes, 19 in a state of more than 11 crore people) who could take advantage of Ayushman Bharat and pay for their treatment. India Today filed an RTI and has learnt that in Uttar Pradesh, the figure stands at 875.

Deep Dive

A sweeping, clear-eyed and magnificent account of what British rule meant for India, and why many arguments “defending the Raj are based on serious misconceptions about India’s past, imperialism and history itself”. In an essay adapted from his forthcoming Home in The World: A Memoir, Amartya Sen writes: “The distinction between the role of Britain and that of British imperialism could not have been clearer. As the Union Jack was being lowered across India, it was a distinction of which we were profoundly aware.”


T20 World Cup in UAE

It is official now that the Twenty20 World Cup will be moved to the United Arab Emirates from India due to the pandemic. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said it had told the International Cricket Council, the sport’s world body, of its decision to host the event in the UAE in October and November. “We were left with no option as the Covid-19 situation is not clear and the travel restrictions remain,” BCCI’s treasurer Arun Dhumal told reporters.


Sainath gets Fukuoka Grand Prize

Development journalist P Sainath has been awarded the Fukuoka Grand Prize for 2021. The award, established by Japan’s Fukuoka city and the Fukuoka City International Foundation, is given to individuals and organisations for their work in preserving Asian culture.


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • In Slate, Raghu Karnad writes about India’s vaccine policies dragging millions into the “Submerging Nation, a place of many declining numbers — wages, savings, meals — and dwindling hope.”

  • Tactical moves such as the LoC ceasefire and relaxation of political tensions in J&K may be useful but they do not add up to an effective long-term strategy to address the unprecedented, multiple and serious security challenges India is facing, writes Shyam Saran. 

  • PDT Achary writes that the law of sedition is unconstitutional and an urgent review of the Kedar Nath Singh judgment is necessary, as the charge violates the basic right of speech and expression.

  • The impoverishing of Indians and the wrecking of our economy is happening at the same time as when the concentration of our wealth is being skewed towards a few. The two richest men in Asia are not from China, whose economy is six times bigger than India’s, writes Aakar Patel.


Listen Up

Electoral Bonds: a case of collective institutional complicity ― a podcast by the election watchdog, Association of Democratic Reforms. 


Watch Out

It is the birth anniversary of PC Mahalanobis, the ‘Father of Indian Statistics’. On National Statistics Day, here’s hoping India gets back its reputation for fidelity to data and facts. Here is a short film on Mahalanobis’ life and work.


Over and Out

Only the truly brave wade into differences between pulao and biryani in India. Chef Kunal Kapur has done it, and ventured into tahiri, too.


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