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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 29, New Delhi, July 4, 2020

LETTER TO THE READERS - COVID 19 Lockdown Edition No.15

Saturday 4 July 2020


Letter to the Readers – Mainstream, July 4, 2020

Consolidating National Solidarity: PM Narendra Modi’s speech at the frontier post at Nimo in Ladakh yesterday has been interpreted in various ways today. Several press analyses have pointed out that it was an unambiguous assertion of India’s territorial integrity violated by China; even if Modi refrained from using the word ‘China’ in his utterances the implication was clear. Only days ago the PM’s remark at an all-party meeting had stoked controversy, especially his assertion that none had intruded into Indian territory nor had any military post been captured. No such ambiguity was expressed in his clear cut assertions at Nimo. His reference to Vistaarvaad (Expansionism) and his stress on Vikasvaad (Developmentalism) struck the right tone in the present situation that elicited an immediate Chinese response but which was shorn of any sabre-rattling. The fact that the opposition parties did not speak out of turn and desisted from criticising or denouncing the PM’s speech showed that they too appreciated the PM’s unscheduled visit to and pronouncements in Ladakh. Overall this is a positive step which consolidated national solidarity at this crucial hour. However it must be mentioned while the Prime Minister messed up the meeting with the opposition parties with his thoughtless statements, which was exploited to the hilt by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, his performance at Nimo was solely intended for domestic electoral purposes.

Industrial accidents: We are witnessing with some regularity industrial accidents in India causing loss of life of workers and of people living in the vicinity of industrial areas. On May 27 there was a gas leak at the Tinsukhia oil well in Assam and that later became a major fire on June 9 leading to a giant evacuation of near 10000 villagers from the area. In the past week, there were two accidents causing loss of life: one in a Pharmaceutical factory in the port city of Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh (there was a similar accident in the city in May 2020) and the other in Thermal Power Station-ll, in Neyveli in Tamil Nadu. There is little hope that Industrial Safety will become an important public issue in India, where a culture of laxity and negligence prevails widely; the government has pretty much done away with labour inspectors checking on industrial safety and replaced it with self-certification; also the state is increasingly relaxing the Environmental norms to appear more business-friendly.

We are moving on a precipice, our cities are densely populated and we would pay a heavy price if we continue on the route to undoing industrial safety norms.
Police excesses: The Tamil Nadu Police have finally arrested a few policemen directly involved in a case of torture of two citizens Jayaraj and Bennicks who died as a result of severe brutal custodial violence inflicted on them by the Tuticorin police. We hope justice will be done and the matter not hushed up, as always happens. In times of the pandemic when a sort of emergency is in force under the Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Act in force, the police have come to acquire a greater sense of impunity and entitlement to bash up citizens. We have seen on TV public beatings of the thousands of migrant workers on the roads but to no avail.

Even in the best of times the police in India is known to extract confessions through torture and beatings also happen at times of arrest. These have come to be normalised. India is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Torture, its police and armed forces enjoy a high degree of protection under laws of exception such as – special anti-crime legislation in certain states, anti-terrorism provisions, and Armed Forces Special Powers Act. If we don’t feel revulsion towards routine police or military violence on our own citizens then we can hardly call ourselves a democratic society. June 26 was the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, but it went unnoticed in India as large sections of media were more interested in promoting ‘his masters noise’

Smartphone Apps ban amounts to censorship: On June 29 2020, the Government of India banned 59 mobile apps. The reasons given for this by the government are national security and user privacy. This type of censorship and restriction on what type of applications are installed on anyone’s phone is very intrusive and sets a worrying precedent. It is likely to impact a very large number of people in India. What is unsaid here is that the media and political leaders of the ruling party are referring to these as Chinese Apps; Yes, some of the companies that own the apps are of Chinese origin, but in this day and age it’s wrong and misplaced to impute a nationality to applications that run on a phone or a computer. These applications or programmes may be developed or distributed by a firm but the digital code on the which these programmes run are written by programmers around the world using languages common to all –- no such thing as Chinese or Indian code. Among the type of applications that are banned are TikTok and Cam Scanner; these are immensely popular among smartphone users in India. It’s odd to see the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) announcing a ban without necessarily having initiated a prior process of technical analysis against any specific application. There are concerns around the legality of the process. Also, this has major implications for the digital rights of citizens, who will no longer be able to use services they used.

We live in a globalised world. It is pretty shocking to imagine the state dictating to anyone which software they install or uninstall in their phone. Also this raises major questions on how this will be enforced, will people in possession of such Apps be acted upon by the state? Also what does this mean for the information ecosystem in India? Will there be a concomitant ban on websites of the firms that owned these Apps. This is a blatant act of censorship. Other countries including China can retaliate against services provided by Indian firms. China has apparently already put restrictions on access to Indian media sites.

Boycott of goods from China or import restrictions could be a risky proposition

About half of India’s electronics imports come from China, also two-thirds of the materials needed for making drugs by its generic pharmaceuticals industry. Practically half of all computer routers and networking switches or telecom transmission equipment sold in India comes from China. In both cases, the government might try to develop domestic production, but its a long haul and earlier efforts to achieve this goal have achieved scant little.

Delhi is apparently considering banning the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, too—but this could severely undermine Indian telecom companies that have come to rely on Chinese equipment; these firms are already cash-starved and could face a crisis while shifting to similar equipment from non-Chinese firms at higher costs.

India needs to be aware that if relations between the two nations worsen, then there is a real danger that China could in future limit exports of key pharmaceutical inputs. This could greatly endanger India’s Pharma majors. New Delhi needs to cost the measures it plans, at a time when India’s economy is already reeling from a slowdown.

Chinese companies have a very active presence in India’s vast consumer market selling all manner of consumer appliances (from Telephones to TVs, to Air-conditioners to Electric rickshaws); also India’s technology, infrastructure and Fin-tech sectors have all attracted considerable funding from China’s banking firms. It is no public secret that the giant statue of Sardar Patel so dear to the BJP was entirely built by the Chinese.

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We mourn the passing of Saroj Khan the celebrated dance choreographer of Bombay’s Hindi film industry, who died on July 3.

We pay our deep homage to Jolly Mohan Kaul, a lifelong communist well known in left circles of Calcutta and India even though he was no longer associated with any of the communist parties. Comrade Jolly Mohan Kaul died on June 29 in Calcutta. He was the last district secretary for Calcutta of the undivided Communist Party of India; He was also secretary of the Port Trust Employees’ Association, one of Calcutta’s biggest trade unions. This writer has a personal association with Jolly Mohan Kaul from 1951 when he first met him at a meeting in Calcutta, where looking at me he had blurted out: “When children like this boy will grow up to adulthood, they are definitely be living in a socialist India”. This is what I recalled at the meeting held in Delhi to release his memoirs. We invite all our readers to read his fascinating memoir ‘In Search of a Better World’ that was published in 2010.

Covid-19 has claimed another victim on July 1, Dr Hari Krishen Kaul, the former Chief Librarian of India International Centre and President of the Poetry Society of India, breathed his last at the age of 79. In his tribute NN Vohra the current President of the board of trustees of the IIC said: “… it was a library he built over 40 years as an institution of repute.” DelNet was his brain child, it was developed as a resource sharing platform, through the networking of many libraries in 1988, much before the internet revolution in India.

The Editor, July 4

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