India Last Week: September 6-12, 2021
Political Vaccination in Gujarat, Ford Quits India
In a week in which India administered 62.3 million vaccine doses, the inoculation culture spread to the body politic. The BJP sent its incumbent Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani packing and replaced him with an experienced municipal corporator and first-term legislator, whose chief qualification is widely assessed to be his Patidar (Patel) caste. Bhupendra Patel is reportedly close to former chief minister Anandiben Patel, who, too, had been made to resign before her term ended, so as to present the electorate with a relatively fresh face. Mr Patel should send a Thank-You note to West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, who trounced the BJP in her state’s assembly elections, for injecting an extra dose of prudence into the BJP, even when the Congress is in disarray in the state and nationally.
The farmers’ protest continued against three farm bills that together lay the groundwork for dismantling the state-sponsored grain fetish among India’s farmers — grain stocks with the Food Corporation of India are 90 million tonnes, when buffer stocking norms are one-third that level, but without a guide path for farmers to move away from grain to other crops. Farmers gathered in large numbers in an effective show of strength in Western Uttar Pradesh’s Muzzafarnagar and Haryana’s Karnal. The Opposition felt empowered but showed no signs of coming together to contest the Uttar Pradesh elections slated for early next year.
In a show of a different kind of empowerment, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath delivered a new twist to the BJP’s stock campaign theme that before it took office, nothing good ever happened in the country. Before 2017 (when he took office as chief minister), only those who said Abba Jaan (that is, Muslims) got rations in Uttar Pradesh, he said.
People have focused on the attempt to communalise the discourse. The literal implication of the assertion has not received the attention it deserves. If only Muslims received subsidised rations in UP before 2017, then, the very large non-Muslim population of the state did not need the rations, because they have survived and even thrived. This would mean that after the change of government in 2017, Hindus suddenly suffered a fall in their incomes, and needed rations, which the Yogi government proceeded to provide. Is Yogi ji making an indirect reference to Demonetisation of late 2016?
Far to the South in Kerala, a Syrian Christian bishop raised hackles by talking of a narcotics jihad. That Muslim youths lure young girls of other faiths into conversion and jihadi service is the thesis the priest upheld in the process. That there have been a few such conversions that resulted in the brides ending up as jihadis in foreign lands is undeniable. Mainstream political parties’ opportunistic refusal to acknowledge such incidents has given fuel to propaganda taken up with zeal by the BJP and its affiliates. The silence of the lambs does not prevent their slaughter, we should add.
Mazrat Alam Bhat has been elected successor to former All Party Hurriyat Committee chief Geelani. Alam is in jail.
AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal made a different homage to secularism. He and his fellow ministers of the Delhi government performed Puja on Ganesh Chaturthi and broadcast their piety live.
The National Institutional Ranking Framework is an initiative by the Modi government to rank domestic educational institutions in terms of their academic excellence. The universities the BJP loves to hate, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jamia Milia Islamia, rank among the top six universities of excellence.
In another significant development, Ford followed the example of General Motors and Harley Davidson and quit India. Having invested $2.5 billion in India, it managed to secure a market share of less than 2% and ran up accumulated losses of $2 billion. Rather than a reflection on India as a market, Ford’s exit testifies to its inability to forge a strategy appropriate for India. They entered with a sedan when the mass market in India was for small hatchbacks. When they belatedly introduced a hatchback, it turned out to have quite an appetite for fuel. Frugal India was not amused. The only success Ford has had is with a sub-compact SUV it launched, the Ford Ecosport.
In another setback for American automakers, Tesla’s request for duty exemptions for importing Tesla cars was politely declined. The government told Elon Musk’s company to make its electric cars in India. In another development that would not have pleased Musk overmuch, OneWeb and Hughes Systems teamed up to launch satellite-based internet services in India, something that Musk’s SpaceX also is keen to.
For satellites to provide internet connectivity with minimal latency (delay between initiating an action and realising its effect), these satellites have to be at low altitudes, so that the signals do not have much distance to cover. Conventional communication satellites are in geostationary orbits far above Earth. In the so-called low-earth orbits, satellites have to zip around fast, which means you need a whole lot of satellites to bounce signals from one another and back to Earth at the desired location. Jeff Bezos, having made Amazon flow across the discovered landmasses, has turned his attention to outer space. His Blue Origin company also has a satellite internet business in the works. OneWeb has the British government, Eutelsat (an EU-sponsored satellite business) and Softbank holding a 19.3% stake each, but the biggest investor is Bharti, with a stake about to go up to 38.6%.
While drones are not quite rocket science, and fly close to the ground, they can be useful in a great many ways. A vaccine delivery service was tested successfully in Telangana, last week, using drones that flew beyond the visual range of the operator. India had notified new norms for drones to operate recently. Drones can also be used to deliver terror, therefore, the many means to jam or bring down rogue drones that take off without permission are vital. It is not clear that India has deployed a sufficient quantity of such gear to permit largescale use of drones, which are becoming de rigueur for wedding photography, not to speak of film shoots.
The Supreme Court has given the central government one more week to revise its affidavit on Pegasus, the spy software that has turned up on the phones of journalists, opposition leaders, judges and court staff, civil servants, and even ministers. The Court has forced the government to come out with details of how it would determine if someone died of Covid — Covid victims are to be paid compensation.
Two weeks after a minister of the central government accused the Tatas of being antinational, it has been announced that the Tatas would make military transport planes in collaboration with Airbus. The Tatas already make assorted aircraft components, including the metallic scaffolding for the carbon fiber body of the Boeing 780 Dreamliner.
India’s two favourite businessmen, Ambani and Adani, made news, as usual, last week. Ambani has had to postpone the launch of Jio’s ultracheap smartphone being made in collaboration with Google. It is designed to wean low-income consumers off 2G services and migrate them to 4G data networks. Adani has been forced to remove his name from the Mangaluru International Airport, which he has taken over, after a popular protest. Adani has also been trying to recruit staff for its Carmichael coal mine in Australia, which that country’s environmental activists loath and its conservative government cossets.
Another kind of staff acquisition that made news last week was of very many Indian CXOs (C is for chief, O for officer and the X is variable, from executive, operations, information, human resources, diversity, sustainability, strategy, risk and security to the function favoured by the latest corporate fad) migrating from multinational companies to Indian ones, thanks to the latter’s growth prospects.
India has been witnessing unusually heavy rains in different parts, in further proof of climate disruption. It was not rain, however, that cancelled the fifth and final test between India and England taking place in that country, but a Covid scare.
In India, Covid is on the decline, with the active caseload coming down by nearly 20,000. The decline has been led by Kerala, just as increases in the recent past had been led by Kerala. The total number of vaccine doses delivered by the end of 12 September stood at 743.8 million.
The central bank enabled tokenisation of card-on-file. In place of your credit card details, a token (a set of proxy numbers) would be issued by the card-issuing bank, making it possible to make, even without storing actual card details, one-click payments on sites that previously used to store card information for that facility.
In a demonstration of how expensive renewable energy is, despite the falling costs of solar and wind power if you ignore their intermittency, the Delhi government has, with assistance from the German government, set up a microgrid, comprising a 100 kW solar power generation system and battery storage for 460 kWh, for Rs 5.5 crore. That is the cost of installing thermal generation capacity worth 10 times as much as the 100 kW set up in this case, minus the battery storage that is not required, because the power can be generated continuously.
The central government persisted with use of tax raids to intimidate its opponents. Two online media outlets, Newslaundry and News Click, saw Income Tax officials carry out what, in genteel parlance, is called tax assessment.
Illustrating the trust deficit between the ruling party at the Centre and the Opposition, non-BJP states have withdrawn their blanket permission for the Central Bureau of Investigation to operate in their jurisdictions, hampering the CBI’s ability to investigate bank fraud worth a possible Rs 50,000 crore.
The government announced minimum support prices for winter crops, tamping down the price rise for grain, of which India has more than what it needs, while raising it for oilseeds. However, the government also lowered the import duty on edible oils. In the absence of concerted moves to improve the yield of oilseeds, these twin moves erode the profitability of the edible oil manufacturers.
It is not just what happened that makes news. What did not happen is sometimes even more newsworthy. The government was supposed to decide on a package of financial relief for the telecom sector, but failed to, last week. The question is, will Vodafone-Idea survive, or collapse, leaving India’s telecom market a duopoly? Hope survives, at least for the next week.