India March 2021-

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C Uday Bhaskar: Taliban complicity impacts India’s Af policy
The terror attack by the IS-KP on the Karte Parwan gurdwara has resulted in Delhi putting on hold whatever initiatives had been envisaged by way of engaging with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, while reviewing the larger security implications of this revival of the terror footprint.
(The Tribune, India) The return of the Taliban to power in Kabul in August 2021 after the hasty US withdrawal has compelled many nations to review and rewire their Afghanistan policies and India is no exception.
Like many other nations, India has not accorded diplomatic recognition to the current Taliban regime in Kabul. But the potentially significant political overture by India in early June and the Islamic State terror attack on a local gurdwara that followed soon after merit review.

21 June
(The World) Dozens of people have died in Bangladesh and India from severe flooding, with some estimates putting the death toll above 100. Roads and highways have been submerged, with people experiencing landslides and lightning strikes. Some towns have also been cut off in northeastern India and northern Bangladesh from some of the worst flooding in the region in years. Authorities also say that millions of people have been stranded, with little access to food and drinking water after days of intense rain. Airdrops with essential commodities are being conducted in some districts. Schools have been converted into makeshift shelters and troops have been deployed to evacuate people from rising waters. Meanwhile, forecasters are predicting that the floods are expected to get worse over the next few days.

20 June
‘We have been cheated’: India’s youth reject new army jobs scheme
(Al Jazeera) PM Narendra Modi’s plan to hire soldiers on four-year contracts sparks violent protests, with thousands of young men demanding a rollback.
Anger against a new army recruitment scheme has intensified across India, with crowds of protesters burning trains, blocking roads and ransacking public property to demand that the plan be rolled back.

31 May
India’s Last Best Chance
Choosing the West Over Russia Could Make New Delhi a Great Power
By Lisa Curtis, Director of the Indo-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security
(Foreign Affairs) India’s neutrality over the war in Ukraine has exposed its vulnerability. New Delhi depends on Russia for military supplies, and so, even though Russia is blatantly violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty in an attempt to re-create its erstwhile empire, India has opted to stay silent. It has done so even though India, as a former colony, knows all too well what it’s like to be the victim of imperialism. It has done so even though its own territorial integrity is threatened by another authoritarian power—namely, China. India, it seems, feels caught in a vise grip by Moscow.
… Washington’s patience is not endless, and the longer Russia prosecutes its war without India changing its position, the more likely the United States will be to view India as an unreliable partner. It may not want to, but ultimately New Delhi will have to pick between Russia and the West.
It should choose the West. The United States and its allies can offer India more—diplomatically, financially, and militarily—than can Russia. They can better help New Delhi stand up to China. In the short term, this reorientation may make procurement difficult for India’s military, but Russia’s invasion has already weakened Moscow’s ability to provide India with supplies.

30 April
C Uday Bhaskar: A reality check about ‘freedom’ in India
(The Tribune) IN the run-up to the 75th anniversary of Independence in August that is being celebrated as ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ (nectar-filled grand celebration of freedom), an anguished letter (April 26) from 108 retired civil servants who have held the highest office, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, provides a reality check about India and ‘freedom’ that is very disconcerting.
The CCG’s letter makes a serious observation that the Constitution is on the ‘sacrificial altar’. The extrapolation is that the values enshrined in the sacred document are being mortgaged for electoral advantage and an even more alarming long-term objective: that of replacing the Constitution with one that prioritises the current socio-political orientation of the BJP and its supporting ecosystem.
Drawing attention to the pattern of hatred and mob violence that has targeted the minorities — particularly Muslim and Dalit citizens — the opening paragraph of the letter is candid and stark. It notes: “We are witnessing a frenzy of hate filled destruction in the country where at the sacrificial altar are not just Muslims and members of the other minority communities but the Constitution itself.”
From beef-lynching and love jihad, to bulldozers razing modest dwellings of impoverished Muslim suspects and a Dalit boy being forced to lick the feet of upper-caste peers, the more recent pattern of mob violence and State complicity makes a mockery of good governance and constitutional rectitude.

27 April
Modi’s Big Mistake
How Neutrality on Ukraine Weakens India
By Shashi Tharoor
(Foreign Affairs) In February, as Russian tanks rolled across the Ukrainian border and Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, India equivocated. Its representatives at the UN abstained on 12 resolutions condemning the invasion. Its initial statements at the Security Council were decidedly mealy-mouthed: its UN ambassador did not mention Russia by name, nor did he criticize the war. India’s foreign ministry expressed a curious evenhandedness, seeking “de-escalation,” as if both countries were belligerents, and pleading for a “return” to “the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue.” Despite the rhetorical care the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted to appear neutral, the time may have come for India, in its own interest, to rethink its stance.
Sharp criticism at home and abroad appears to have prompted India to take steps in that direction. It has toughened its language and reiterated the principles of international law it has traditionally upheld: respect for the UN Charter and the sovereignty of states, the inviolability of borders, and opposition to the use of force to resolve political issues. By hardening its tone while refraining from full-fledged repudiation, New Delhi is signaling to Moscow that even if it is unwilling to condemn its old friend, it does not exactly approve of its actions either. Thus a stance that began with equivocation has progressed to mild disappointment.

1 April
Russia and India will find ways to trade despite sanctions, says Lavrov
Russian foreign minister meets Narendra Modi and praises India’s refusal to condemn Ukraine invasion
(The Guardian) The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has afforded Russia’s foreign minister the honour of a meeting as Sergei Lavrov praised India’s refusal to condemn the Ukraine invasion.
Lavrov, who is visiting the country, predicted Moscow and Delhi would find ways to circumvent “illegal” western sanctions and continue to trade.
Modi had not met the string of other foreign ministers to arrive in Delhi in recent days, including the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, and the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, so Lavrov looks to have been singled out for attention by the Indian leader.
India has abstained from successive United Nations resolutions censuring Moscow, calling only for an end to violence, and has increased its oil purchases from Russia, its biggest supplier of arms.

31 March
C Uday Bhaskar: Ukraine war & India’s dependency on Russia
Over the decades, the India-Russia relationship has become both symbiotic and synergistic. It is symbiotic in the sense that in the latter part of the Cold War, two very different political systems (communist and democratic) entered into a partnership to counter the US-China dyad. And it is synergistic by way of the outcomes it has enabled over the last four decades.
(Tribune India) India has acquired a visible relevance in the tragic Ukraine war that has entered its second month, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov scheduled to meet his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar in New Delhi on April 1. This follows the ‘unannounced’ visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week. It is instructive to note that the Lavrov visit will be preceded by that of US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Trus
India is cognisant that in the yet to emerge post-Ukraine world order, the moral compass must swing towards the global democratic cluster with all its warts, even as the China-Russia combine coheres around the authoritarian template. The geo-economic numbers are stark. Collectively, the combined GDP of the US-EU and allies is just under $50 trillion and the China-Russia combine is $18.5 trillion. And the per capita ranking of China, Russia and India is 64, 68 and 150, respectively.
Post the Lavrov visit, in early April, India will engage with the USA for the first 2 plus 2 dialogue (which brings foreign and defence ministers together) since President Joe Biden assumed office in Washington. The outcome of all these deliberations will define the composite framework for India to protect its core interests and advance its abiding aspirations.

25 March
Ukraine war: Why India abstained on UN vote against Russia
Behind India’s UN vote lies a combination of immediate economic and security concerns, and long-held assumptions about its geopolitical role and importance.
Dr Gareth Price
(Chatham House) Since the war in Ukraine began, India has abstained from various procedural votes relating to the conflict, along with the early March resolution censuring Russia for its military actions. India, along with China and 33 other countries abstained; five countries including Russia opposed the motion while 141 supported it. What lies behind India’s stance on Russia and its invasion of Ukraine?
As Russia invaded Ukraine, India’s immediate concern was the safety of the approximately 20,000 Indian students in Ukraine. This issue presented both political risk and opportunity. India has a long and commendable record of evacuating its citizens, and those of other countries.
Given the need for support in evacuating Indian nationals, abstaining was its best bet to avoid offending either side.
History also plays a part. The Soviet Union used its veto on several occasions to protect India against various resolutions brought by the West regarding Kashmir, India’s invasion of Goa and the 1971 war with Pakistan which led to the creation of Bangladesh. In turn, India abstained on votes condemning the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and of Afghanistan a decade later. In the 21st century, it actually voted against condemning Russian actions in Chechnya and Abkhazia. Behind this lies India’s long-standing position against Western imperialism – though admittedly, to be consistent it should equally oppose Russian imperialism.
The abstention also lays bare the reality that Western engagement with India reflects a changed Western perception of India rather than any fundamental shift within India itself. During the Cold War, Western eyes largely viewed India as a land of spiritualism, yoga, poverty and curry. Its non-alignment was distrusted, making it dependent on the Soviet Union for arms purchases, links which continue to this day.
From the late 1990s however, the West started viewing India as a potential trigger for nuclear conflict, an economic opportunity and a buffer or bulwark against China. But while India’s outlook has certainly shifted over the last two or three decades, its membership of the Quad should not be taken as evidence that it is on some linear path to become part of a Western axis.

6 March
Danger of rapid escalation of Ukraine war: India must speak out
The ‘unforeseen’ would become a frightening reality, recalling what the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had whispered piteously: “The living will envy the dead”, writes Cmde C. Uday Bhaskar (retd) (South Asia Monitor) Alarm bells rang globally when it was reported that Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant had been attacked in the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine.
… the former Soviet republics with nuclear weapon capability were persuaded to renounce this capability – and become non-nuclear weapon states. In return they were assured that their security and territorial integrity would be guaranteed by the US, Russia and UK – as detailed in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994.
Clearly, the sanctity of such an import-laden agreement has been violated and the Ukraine experience will have a long term bearing on how non-nuclear weapon states perceive the capability – and their inherent vulnerability.
The war in Ukraine will soon enter its third week (March 10) and the possibility of rapid escalation either by design or error cannot be ruled out with confidence. The nuclear taboo is looking wobbly and the attack on the Zaporizhzhia power plant is illustrative. Prudence and perspicacity are called for in arriving at a modus vivendi. India, which has long championed nuclear restraint, should consider making a persuasive statement to ensure that the post Nagasaki nuclear taboo is not broken.

26 February
C Uday Bhaskar: Russia rewrites history
India’s choices over Ukraine will be long-lasting. An objective review of composite national security in the current geopolitical churn is imperative.
… The global community has responded in a predictable manner — the US and its allies condemning what has been described as a Russian invasion and a challenge to the global order; while some major nations, including India and China, have been more circumspect and have refrained from criticising Russia.
At the emergency UNSC meeting, India urged that ‘quiet and constructive diplomacy’ is the need of the hour and added that any steps that could escalate the tension should be avoided. China has been similarly reticent and this is reflective of the current geopolitical dilemmas and contradictions that characterise major power relations.
Two issues merit comment, even as the turmoil over Ukraine unfolds and a sense of déjà vu is kindled – in recalling similar actions by Moscow in relation to Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. The first issue is the use of military force in this manner by a major power to redraw borders and threaten the territorial integrity of a weaker state; and two, the Indian predicament, given that it is dealing with a similar exigency in relation to China, as evidenced in the Galwan ‘scuffle’ of June 2020 — which is still festering.
The Indian predicament in relation to Moscow’s military actions is not new. The Delhi dilemma in choosing high principle over political pragmatism, against the reality of a complex dependency on Moscow was faced by Nehru (Hungary) and Indira Gandhi (Afghanistan), and now a similar conundrum confronts PM Modi. The safety of Indian students stranded in Ukraine adds an immediacy that is palpable in social media and related platforms.
But as a non-permanent member of the UNSC and one that aspires to being a leading power globally — India has to navigate overlapping dilemmas in relation to Russia. The primary one is the territorial dispute with China and the Indian position on Ukraine will have an impact on the manner in which the US shapes its own orientation. The more complex dilemma is one that pits the commitment to freedom and the liberal democratic order in the face of a creeping pattern of authoritarianism and divisive nationalism. This is being advanced by a recourse to hard power to intimidate ideological and political opponents — both among and within states.

2021

21 November
A feeble opposition helps India’s humiliated government survive
Even a blatant flip-flop may not damage Narendra Modi
(The Economist) (IN A SHORT speech on November 19th Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, made a humiliating U-turn. Barely a year after rushing a trio of laws reforming agriculture through parliament, he announced their repeal. The shame was not only to have handed victory to the horde of tractor-mounted yokels doggedly protesting at the gates of India’s capital since last November. It was to have bungled the issue from the start.
Indian farming does indeed desperately need reform. Yet Mr Modi made no effort to build consensus for his three new laws last year, instead ramming them through parliament without debate. When north Indian farmers, many of whom happen to be Sikh, protested, he doubled their fury by tagging them thugs and traitors. The most powerful Indian leader in a generation then did nothing for months, as if the stand-off were someone else’s problem.

27 October
India Is Not Sitting on the Geopolitical Fence
Tanvi Madan
In early 2019, Gen. David Petraeus and S. Jaishankar, now India’s external affairs minister but then in his private capacity, appeared together on a panel. The former U.S. Central Command commander asserted that China was “the defining issue of our age” and, seemingly in frustration, added that countries such as India “have to decide.” Asked if India could indeed take a stand and choose a side, Jaishankar retorted, “India should take a stand and should take a side — our side.”
Petraeus’s comments were not unusual. They reflect a prevailing view — shaped by India’s stated non-alignment during the Cold War — that Delhi will walk a middle path and avoid taking sides in the geopolitical competition between China and the United States. They also flow from an assumption that India’s broader geopolitical approach involves maintaining equidistant relationships and not making difficult choices.
But this is a misunderstanding of India’s foreign policy strategy in general, and of its recent decisions in particular.

25 October
What Is Being Leaked in the Facebook Papers? A guide to the biggest revelations.
Facebook has been in over its head in India, where it has struggled to address misinformation, hate speech, and other toxic content
(New York) Facebook’s largest national user base is in India, where 340 million people use one of the company’s social-media platforms. But the New York Times reports that the leaked documents “provide stark evidence of one of the most serious criticisms levied by human rights activists and politicians against the world-spanning company: It moves into a country without fully understanding its potential impact on local culture and politics, and fails to deploy the resources to act on issues once they occur.” One leaked document indicated that only 13 percent of Facebook’s global budget for time spent classifying misinformation was set aside for markets beyond the U.S., despite the fact that 90 percent of Facebook’s user base is abroad. (Facebook told the Times those figures were incomplete.)
According to the documents, Facebook has struggled to address the spread of misinformation, hate speech (including anti-Muslim content), and celebrations of violence on the platform in India. The company’s efforts have been hampered by a lack of resources, a lack of expertise in the country’s numerous languages, and other problems like the use of bots linked to some of India’s political groups.

22 September
C Uday Bhaskar: Yet another US alliance
AUKUS indicates US-led resolve to raise ante and seek adherence to global consensus
(The Tribune) US President Joe Biden made his maiden appearance at the UN on September 21 and identified the Indo-Pacific as one of the most consequential regions in the world, and that under his leadership, Quad had been ‘elevated’ to a summit-level dialogue.
The first in-person summit of Quad (US, Japan, India and Australia) will be held on September 24 in Washington. The meeting of this dialogue forum comes in the wake of a radical announcement regarding the creation of a new trilateral security alliance — AUKUS — that brings together Australia, the UK and the US.
On September 21, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla clarified that in relation to Quad and AUKUS, the two are ‘not groupings of a similar nature’ and added that since India is not party to the trilateral AUKUS, the latter is ‘neither relevant nor will it have any impact on Quad.’
Quad remains a ‘plurilateral grouping of like-minded countries that have a shared vision of their attributes and values.’
While this elucidation of the Indian position is prudent and familiar — namely that Quad is not directed against any other country — the unstated allusion to China is evident. In the March virtual summit of Quad, there was no explicit reference to China and neither was there a post-event joint statement. Four different statements highlighted the priorities and concerns that each of the Quad members brought to the global table.
The emphasis was on the broad spectrum of regional and global challenges that included Covid and climate change, even while upholding the collective commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific predicated on international law as derived from the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary practice.

18 September
Cleo Paskal: AUKUS is a big deal, for everyone
In India, the already entrenched and active French lobby in Delhi will likely use this to try drive a wedge between the US and India (something they already work on) in part to protect/promote their sales. The catastrophic US withdrawal from Afghanistan may also be used as an example of US ‘unreliability’.
And, as it happens, just after AUKUS was announced, the EU launched its “EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific”. The EU’s chairman, Charles Michel, said AUKUS “further demonstrates the need for a common EU approach in a region of strategic interest”. And the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, “We must survive on our own, as others do”.
The Union clearly wants a role in the most dynamic zone on the planet, and AUKUS seems to be spurring it on even more—the EU even raised the possibility of a trade deal with Taiwan.
At the same time, France, the Netherlands and Germany already published their own Indo-Pacific strategies, and it will be interesting to see how national and Union interests are balanced.
Whatever happens, a lot more countries are going to be serenading outside India’s window, looking to gain favour and elbow aside other suitors.
Bottom line: AUKUS has just been announced, and already Beijing must be scurrying to comprehend, contain and counter the cascading implications. And that alone is a good thing.
France to work with India to promote ‘truly multilateral’ order
Foreign ministers of two countries agree to deepen strategic partnership as they discuss developments in the Indo-Pacific and Afghanistan.
(Al Jazeera) France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defence ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The European Union unveiled this week its plan for the Indo-Pacific.
AUKUS roils the Indo-Pacific
The strategic implications of AUKUS for the geopolitics of the extended Indo-Pacific region in general, and the maritime domain in particular, are significant and multi-layered

11 September
Security Analysis: 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and Relevance for INDIA
In this episode of Security Analysis we review the US led global war on terror and the White House policy on terrorism with Ambassador Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary.
The conversation with our host Commodore C Uday Bhaskar will also examine current developments in Afghanistan and their likely implications for India.

16 August
A timeline of hate, intimidation and injustice in Modi’s India
By Rana Ayyub, Indian journalist and author of “Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up.” She was previously an editor with Tehelka, an investigative magazine in India. She has reported on religious violence, extrajudicial killings by the state and insurgency.
(WaPo Opinion) When Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India recently, he highlighted the Indian people’s “steadfast commitment” to “democracy, to pluralism, to human rights, to fundamental freedoms.” But nothing could have been further from the truth. Anyone paying attention knows that India is rapidly declining into an authoritarian cauldron of communal hate and polarization, where every sensible voice being systematically silenced and intimidated.
When journalists are not being intimidated on the streets of the capital, their TV stations and newspapers are raided by tax agents — all for daring to report the truth about the pandemic’s devastation in India. TV channel Bharat Samachar and newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, both critical of the Modi government, are now being investigated for tax evasion. The BBC reported that the homes of some employees have also been raided, and many have had their mobile phones seized.

3 August
Modi Took Control of Kashmir 2 Years Ago—and Got Away With It
When India revoked the disputed valley’s autonomous status, it sparked fears of diplomatic—even nuclear—war. It didn’t need to worry.
(Foreign Policy) When India first made its move, it startled the world and led to fears of a rise in violence in the valley and a potential open conflict with Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state that claims sovereignty over Kashmir in its entirety. New Delhi also worried about the diplomatic fallout with the West as Pakistan joined China in pressuring India through the United Nations Security Council.
But there has neither been a war with Pakistan nor eruption of large-scale violence in the valley. Even condemnation from the international community has been cautiously worded and limited. As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India last week, Kashmir was not a major issue even if spoken about behind closed doors.

27 July
Arundhati Roy This is no ordinary spying. Our most intimate selves are now exposed
The Pegasus project shows we could all soon be ruled by states that know everything about us, while we know less and less about them
As far as Modi’s government is concerned, any attempt to tabulate the true death toll [of the pandemic] is a conspiracy against India – as if the millions more who died were simply actors who lay down spitefully in the shallow, mass graves that you saw in aerial photos, or floated themselves into rivers disguised as corpses, or cremated themselves on city sidewalks, motivated solely by the desire to sully India’s international reputation.
This same charge has now been levelled by the Indian government and its embedded media against the international consortium of investigative journalists from 17 news organisations who worked with Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International to break an extraordinary story about global surveillance on a massive scale. India appears in these reports, alongside a group of countries whose governments appear to have bought Pegasus spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm. NSO, for its part, has said that it sells its technology only to governments that have been vetted for their human rights record and undertake to use it only for purposes of national security – to track terrorists and criminals.
Other than the exorbitant cost of the spyware, which runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars per phone, the NSO charges an annual system maintenance fee of 17% of the total cost of the program. There has to be something treasonous about a foreign corporation servicing and maintaining a spy network that is monitoring a country’s private citizens on behalf of that country’s government.

29 June
Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India
It is true that before British rule, India was starting to fall behind other parts of the world – but many of the arguments defending the Raj are based on serious misconceptions about India’s past, imperialism and history itself
(The Guardian) The British empire in India was in effect established at the Battle of Plassey on 23 June 1757. British rule ended nearly 200 years later with Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech on India’s “tryst with destiny” at midnight on 14 August 1947. Two hundred years is a long time. What did the British achieve in India, and what did they fail to accomplish?
…there are some limited questions that can be answered, which may contribute to an intelligent understanding of the role that British rule played in India. We can ask: what were the challenges that India faced at the time of the British conquest, and what happened in those critical areas during the British rule?

Tri-service commands: Use a strategy of persuasion
(Hindustan Times) The lack of “jointness”, integrated planning and synergy between the three armed forces, has been a distinctive feature of the Indian military. In particular, there here has been less-than-satisfactory utilisation of airpower, perhaps due to a degree of diffidence and lack of clarity in the use of trans-border military capability embedded in Indian strategic culture. India did not use its modest-but-credible airpower in October 1962 when China chose to teach Jawaharlal Nehru a lesson in realpolitik.
Thus the need for more effective jointness/synergy among India’s three armed forces was acknowledged post-Kargil and the report of the Group of Ministers (2000) recommended the creation of the post of a CDS and a VCDS as the “first major step in establishing synergy and ‘jointness’ among the Armed Forces”.
It was expected that, progressively, greater jointness/synergy would be nurtured and that India would move towards setting up such tri-service commands, wherein the sum of their individual assets under a single commander would be more effective than that of their individual verticals that were disparately located.

17 May
India’s coronavirus vaccination drive is faltering just when the country needs it most
(WaPo) As India confronts a devastating coronavirus outbreak where thousands are dying each day, the country desperately needs to vaccinate its population as soon as possible.
Yet the vaccine drive is stumbling just when it is most crucial.
Over the past six weeks, the number of vaccinations per day has fallen by about half, from a high of 4.2 million per day on April 2 to 2 million on Thursday.
Vaunted as the largest in the world, India’s vaccine program is being hobbled by supply shortages and an abrupt shift in procurement policy that appears to be without parallel. The woes of the inoculation drive are especially striking given India’s unique advantages, including a large vaccine industry and a record of mass immunization campaigns.

12 May
Fact-checking Modi’s India
As the pandemic rages across the country, one team of fact-checkers contends with a post-truth dystopia.
(Rest of World) Misinformation is a challenge globally, but in India, it’s practically baked into the ruling party’s communications. And while the platforms that are host to this misinformation, like Facebook and Twitter, have made attempts to curtail it, it hasn’t been enough to stem the tide. The average Indian media consumer is inundated with misinformation from the time they open the day’s paper to when they lie in bed scrolling on their smartphones at night, so much so that if they don’t make the effort to seek out facts for themselves, they risk responding to a fictional reality.
India’s Strict Rules on Foreign Aid Snarl Covid Donations
International donors are raising millions, but the Modi administration has erected hurdles for overseas organizations and guided money toward officially endorsed groups.
…a sweeping change to India’s decades-old law governing foreign donations is choking off foreign aid just when the country needs it desperately. The amendment, passed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September with little warning, limits international charities that donate to local nonprofits.
The effect is far-reaching. Almost overnight, the amendment gutted a reliable source of funding for tens of thousands of nongovernmental organizations, or N.G.O.s, that were already stretched thin by the pandemic.

9 May
The Politics Behind India’s COVID Crisis
The coronavirus thrives off of complacent leaders, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi—and has exacerbated the contours of global inequality.
(The New Yorker) The coronavirus thrives off of complacent politicians. At the time of that rally [on April 17th], new infections in India, by official counts, had exploded to two hundred and fifty thousand a day, a figure that last week reached four hundred thousand. Shortages of oxygen and hospital beds have driven desperate citizens—and even hospital directors—to beg for help on social media. State police have threatened or filed preliminary criminal charges against some of those seeking aid, because the “rumours” they generate may “spoil the atmosphere,” as Yogi Adityanath, a Modi ally and the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, put it. According to the Hindu, an English-language daily, he called for prosecutions under the National Security Act. On April 30th, India’s Supreme Court held that there should be no “clampdown” on those using social media to plead for oxygen or beds. Crematoriums are overwhelmed; photographs of makeshift funeral pyres have become iconic images of an unspeakable tragedy. Last week, at least a hundred and fifty people in India died of Covid every hour. The surge reflects many factors, including the fragility of the underfunded health system. But, as Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, wrote last week, Modi’s government “appears obsessed about managing the narrative” rather than addressing urgent needs.

8 May
In India’s surge, a religious gathering attended by millions helped the virus spread
As coronavirus cases in India shot upward last month, millions of people converged on the Ganges River to bathe at a holy spot offering a chance at salvation.
When the pilgrims returned to their homes across the country, some brought the virus with them.
The precise role of the Hindu religious festival — the Kumbh Mela — in India’s raging outbreak is impossible to know in the absence of contact tracing. But the event was one source of infections as cases skyrocketed, according to local officials, religious leaders and media reports.
More than 414,000 new cases were reported in India on Friday, a global record. About 4,000 people are dying a day, but such figures are an undercount. Experts believe the number of fatalities will rise in coming days, since deaths from covid-19 lag behind new cases.

7 May
India and Its Vaccine Maker Stumble Over Their Pandemic Promises
The Serum Institute vowed to protect the country from Covid-19 and inoculate the world’s poor, but India’s crisis has pushed it past its limits.
In January, when India launched its own vaccination program while also beginning exports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged its vaccines would “save humanity.”
Instead, the unfolding tragedy has made it clear that India — even with the world’s largest vaccine maker at its disposal — cannot save itself.
Serum won Mr. Modi’s favor in part because it fit the government’s narrative of a self-reliant India that was ready to take its place among the world’s major powers. Now both Mr. Modi’s government and Serum have been humbled, and their ambitions are being called into question.

5 May
A Seattle software engineer wanted to help her parents. She created a hub for Covid resources across India.
A software engineer in Seattle was worried about her parents in India, so she made them an emergency list of local ambulances and hospitals. She has since expanded the list into a site with Covid resources in 12 cities and nine regions across India.
One evening in late April, as the coronavirus was surging in India, Prarthana Sannamani, a Microsoft software engineer in Seattle, was growing increasingly worried about her parents, who live near the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Ms. Sannamani, who is in her 20s and has lived in the United States for four years, began scouring the internet and compiling a document with phone numbers for ambulances and hospitals for her parents, in case they fell ill.
Ms. Sannamani planned to share the list on Twitter, until she realized that only a small fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people used the social network, she said. One night, she came up with the idea of building a website. By the time she went to bed six hours later, at 4 a.m., Ms. Sannamani had created covidresourcesindia.com, with contact information for hospitals and emergency services in Bangalore.
Top court orders India’s government to present oxygen plan
By ASHOK SHARMA
(AP) — India’s government, facing calls for a strict lockdown to slow a devastating surge in coronavirus infections, was ordered by the Supreme Court on Wednesday to submit a plan to meet New Delhi hospitals’ oxygen needs within a day.
The court decided against immediately punishing officials for failing to end a 2-week-old erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals.
(AP) — India’s government, facing calls for a strict lockdown to slow a devastating surge in coronavirus infections, was ordered by the Supreme Court on Wednesday to submit a plan to meet New Delhi hospitals’ oxygen needs within a day.
The court decided against immediately punishing officials for failing to end a 2-week-old erratic supply of oxygen to overstretched hospitals.
“Ultimately putting officers in jail or hauling officers for contempt will not bring oxygen. Please tell us steps to solve this,” Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud said.
With 382,315 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, India’s tally has risen to more than 20.6 million since the pandemic began. The Health Ministry also reported 3,780 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 226,188. Experts believe both figures are an undercount.

4 May
Brahma Chellaney: The Lurid Orientalism of Western Media
By trafficking in images of death, suffering, and private acts of mourning, Western media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India has broken one of the first rules of journalism. And while a Western double standard is nothing new, applying it repeatedly does not make it more acceptable.
(Project Syndicate) When reporting on any mass tragedy, a basic rule of journalism is to be sensitive to the victims and those who are grieving. Western media, which double as the international media, usually observe this rule at home but discard it when reporting on disasters in non-Western societies.
The coverage of India’s devastating second wave of COVID-19 is a case in point. Western media have been filled with images of dead bodies and other graphic scenes that generally would not be shown following a similar disaster in a Western country. About half of global COVID-19 deaths have occurred in Europe and the United States alone, yet Western media have avoided presenting harrowing images from those settings.Even at the height of the pandemic in the US and Europe, it was unthinkable that television crews would barge into emergency rooms to show how overwhelmed the doctors and nurses were. Yet such scenes have been broadcast internationally from inside Indian hospitals, with little concern for how the intrusion could affect life-or-death decisions.
How India descended into Covid-19 chaos
By Vikas Pandey
(BBC) …experts say that the shortage of oxygen is just one of the problems which shows both federal and state governments were not prepared, having failed to do enough to stop or minimise the damage of the second wave.
– In November, a parliamentary standing committee on health said there was an inadequate supply of oxygen and “grossly inadequate” government hospital beds
– In February, several experts told the BBC they feared an impending ‘Covid tsunami’
– In early March, an expert group of scientists, set up by the government, warned officials about a more contagious variant of coronavirus spreading in the country – only for no significant containment measures to be taken, one scientist from the group told the BBC. The government has not made any comment on the allegations
Despite this, on 8 March, the country’s health minister announced that India was in the “endgame of the pandemic“.
In India’s Covid war, the role of the military
By C Uday Bhaskar
(Hindustan Times) The Covid-19 tsunami is expected to continue in India till at least the end of May, and remain an issue of concern for the rest of the year. Hence maximising the institutional capacity of the military in the war against Covid-19, without diluting its primary operational orientation, in the backdrop of a resource crunch, is the task ahead for the Indian political and defence leadership.
India’s Covid-19 crisis and the extraordinary surge in the second wave have become a matter of global concern. Public policy experts have offered professional advice based on their own national experiences. In a recent interview with The Indian Express, Anthony S Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, compared the current public health challenge to a war and referred to the Indian military. He noted: “What is the role of the (Indian) military? Can the military come in and help?” Fauci added: “You should think of this, in some respects, like a war. The enemy is the virus. It is almost like wartime because it’s an emergency.”

2 May
Modi’s Party Loses a Key Election, Held Under the Cloud of Covid
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Hari Kumar
The prime minister’s party lost big in West Bengal amid criticism that his mishandling of the pandemic had fueled a catastrophic surge of cases in India.
Top parties had campaigned relentlessly in West Bengal, one of India’s most populous states and a stronghold of opposition to Mr. Modi, India’s most powerful prime minister in decades. Even with cases soaring and more and more people dying across India, Mr. Modi and other politicians held enormous rallies up and down the state, which critics said helped spread the virus.
By Sunday night, with nearly all the votes counted, Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was badly trailing despite its heavy investment in West Bengal, a prize it desperately wanted to win.
… Kerala, in the south, will remain under the control of the Left Democratic Front, an alliance of centrist and left-leaning parties.

26-30 April
India’s Covid Crisis Threatens the World’s Pandemic Recovery
(Bloomberg) India’s surging new wave brought its campaign of vaccine diplomacy to an abrupt halt, after the prime minister had dubbed the South Asian nation the “pharmacy to the world” and over-promised on its ability to send millions of shots abroad.
The country’s exports and donations were a critical part of Covax, the World Health Organization’s global program to provide inoculations to low-income countries. When they all but dried up, it left many countries scrambling to find alternatives.
In India’s devastating coronavirus surge, anger at Modi grows
(WaPo) For Modi, the most powerful Indian prime minister in five decades, it is a moment of reckoning. He is facing what appears to be the country’s biggest crisis since independence, a calamity that is challenging his vision of a proud, self-reliant nation.
Modi’s own lapses and missteps are an increasing source of anger. As coronavirus cases skyrocketed, Modi continued to hold huge election rallies and declined to cancel a Hindu religious festival that drew millions to the banks of the Ganges River, despite pleas from health experts.
U.S. coronavirus aid to begin arriving in India amid record surge of cases
(WaPo) U.S. flights carrying urgent coronavirus aid for India were en route Thursday, the White House said in a statement, as health officials reported another record number of new cases across the country.
The U.S. government will deliver more than $100 million worth of supplies for overstretched hospitals and front-line health-care workers in India, the White House said late Wednesday, including oxygen support, personal protective equipment, therapeutics and rapid diagnostic tests.

28 April
Biden’s Misstep in India
The Biden administration had put cooperation with India at the heart of its foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific, but by the weekend, U.S.-India relations were facing a crisis.
(The Atlantic) President Joe Biden’s foreign-policy team supports India and is unambiguously internationalist in its instincts, especially on matters of public health. … However, key elements of Biden’s domestic-policy team, including his political advisers and the coronavirus task force, favored achieving herd immunity in the United States before sending vaccines or related materials overseas.

‘We are witnessing a crime against humanity’: Arundhati Roy on India’s Covid catastrophe
(The Guardian) It’s hard to convey the full depth and range of the trauma, the chaos and the indignity that people are being subjected to. Meanwhile, Modi and his allies are telling us not to complain
Modi’s pandemic choice: Protect his image or protect India. He chose himself
Why did the prime minister make so many reckless decisions?
By Sumit Ganguly, a distinguished professor of political science at Indiana University at Bloomington, and  author of “The Oxford Handbook of India’s National Security.”
(WaPo) Policy goals, political dramaturgy and electoral prospects are more important than the well-being of the country’s population. Had Modi and his government felt concern for India’s citizenry, they could have used the rallies and the festival as occasions to vaccinate vast numbers. The hapless national inoculation drive is especially galling, because India, between its public and privately run facilities, is the largest producer of vaccines in the world. (It has ample experience with vaccination drives, too: It eliminated polio across the country though a massive campaign between 1995 and 2011.) And instead of prioritizing its vulnerable population, India chose to pursue “vaccine diplomacy,” offering supplies to neighboring countries and various nations in Africa. Only in mid-April did Modi’s government belatedly release $400 million in funding to the Serum Institute of India, a world-class vaccine manufacturing company that is producing the AstraZeneca shots.
COVID-19 is out of control in India, where most vaccines are made. How did that happen?
(PBS) The coronavirus thrives when humans let their guard down. Following months of relaxed restrictions on face masks and social distancing and amid emerging COVID-19 variants, India is suffering a record-breaking surge of new infections that has sickened millions of people, threatening the world’s largest democracy with a fractured health care system and harrowing death toll.
India tops 200,000 dead as virus surge breaks health system
(AP) — India crossed a grim milestone Wednesday of 200,000 people lost to the coronavirus as a devastating surge of new infections tears through dense cities and rural areas alike and overwhelms health care systems on the brink of collapse.
The health ministry reported a single-day record 3,293 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing India’s total fatalities to 201,187, as the world’s second most populous country endures its darkest chapter of the pandemic yet. … And as in many nations, experts believe the coronavirus infections and fatalities in India are severe undercounts.
Hospitalizations and deaths have reached record highs, overwhelming health care workers. Patients are suffocating because hospitals’ oxygen supplies have run out. Desperate family members are sending SOS messages on social media, hoping someone would help them find oxygen cylinders, empty hospital beds and critical drugs for their loved ones. Crematoriums have spilled over into parking lots, lighting up night skies in some cities.
As India battles a Covid-19 firestorm, the U.S. and European nations are coming to its aid with pledges of medical equipment and raw materials for more vaccines.
(Bloomberg Politics) While most of the public anger has centered on officials in India, the international response has also drawn scrutiny. That could perpetuate a narrative that big powers are too busy looking after themselves to help poorer countries where the virus is running rampant.
And it could undercut a key message from the U.S.-led grouping known as the Quad, which Biden is seeking to mobilize as a counter point to China. Biden pitches the Quad — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — as an outfit that can act collectively on the pandemic, delivering shots to other nations in Asia. Beijing says the Quad is about one thing – stymieing China, and that it has no road map for collaboration on vaccines and issues like climate change beyond rhetoric. China is also now offering its Indian neighbor, with whom it has tensions over territory and trade, support on the virus.
The risk is India’s terrible moment gets caught up in the broader game for pandemic soft power. And that it detracts from helping those desperately in need. — Rosalind Mathieson
Modi’s Sprawling Delhi Makeover Fuels Anger in Virus-Hit India
The government plans a new parliament and changes in central Delhi, but critics view project as wasteful expenditure amid pandemic
(Bloomberg CityLab) The planned changes will cement Modi’s legacy in one of the world’s oldest cities by reconstructing central Delhi, which houses the legislature and other historical buildings. The project covers an area as large as 50 football fields. India will get a new parliament building. The present 94-year-old structure, built during British colonial rule, will become a museum. Open spaces are poised to be repurposed for government offices. While many details haven’t been announced, media reports have said a new prime minister’s residence is likely to be built. All of it is to be readied for 2024, when Modi faces federal elections for a third term.
The massive project — which local media have estimated could cost about 200 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) — has grown more controversial as India’s coronavirus cases have exploded.

17-23 April
Indian hospitals plead for oxygen, country sets virus record
(AP) — India put oxygen tankers on special express trains as major hospitals in New Delhi begged on social media on Friday for more supplies to save COVID-19 patients who are struggling to breathe. More than a dozen people died when an oxygen-fed fire ripped through a coronavirus ward in a populous western state.
India’s underfunded health system is tattering as the world’s worst coronavirus surge wears out the nation, which set a global record in daily infections for a second straight day with 332,730.
The situation is worsening by the day with hospitals taking to social media to plead with the government to replenish their oxygen supplies and threatening to stop admissions of new patients.
‘Big battle lies ahead’: India being overrun by huge COVID surge
Country overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of new cases daily, bringing pain, fear and agony amid lockdowns in New Delhi and other cities.
Many have blamed politicians for allowing superspreader events such as mass religious gatherings and election rallies to take place.
Religious leaders and hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus descended on the banks of the Ganges River in the northern Indian city of Haridwar last month for the Kumbh Mela (pitcher festival)…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah as well as opposition politicians took part in mass election rallies in five populous states, with tens of thousands of their supporters not wearing masks or social distancing.
Tens of thousands of farmers demanding repeal of new agricultural laws have been camping on the outskirts of the Indian capital in crowded tents and makeshift townships since November.
India’s devastating outbreak is driving the global coronavirus surge
Those on the country’s front lines say the wave is worse than anything they have seen before.
(WaPo)The coronavirus pandemic has left more than 3 million dead around the world. Cases are rising rapidly. In India this surge is not a wave, but a wall.
While infections are rising around the country, some places are bearing the brunt of the surge. Six states and Delhi, the nation’s capital, account for about two-thirds of new daily cases. Maharashtra, home to India’s financial hub, Mumbai, represents about a quarter of the nation’s total.
Delhi locks down as COVID chokes Indian health system
(Reuters) Fewer than 100 critical care beds were available in the city of New Delhi, with a population of more than 20 million people, Kejriwal had said on Sunday, as social media was flooded with complaints.
Daily COVID-19 cases in India jumped a record 273,810 on Monday. Deaths rose a record 1,619 to 178,769
C. Uday Bhaskar: How India’s coronavirus trauma is being made worse by vaccine challenges and feckless decisions
(SCMP) India is vaccinating at top speed and approving more vaccines but is still struggling with the challenge of its massive population, while also letting huge crowds gather
With hospitals already overwhelmed, experts expect the latest wave of infections to peak in May, or later
Even as India copes with multiple challenges such as the emergence of new and more infectious Covid-19 strains, the lack of hospital beds and the tragic rush on cremation facilities – two anomalies merit notice.
India has provided more than 60 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to as many as 80 needy countries and, while this is commendable, the prudence of denying its own citizens its limited stock is debatable. The pandemic is a global challenge and more affluent nations with far more abundant stocks need to step up and find a more equitable vaccine distribution policy.
More incongruously, India has continued to allow vast numbers of people to assemble for political and religious events. Crowds of thousands, possibly more, have gathered for state election rallies across the country. Alarmingly, millions of devotees congregated at Haridwar in the northern state of Uttarakhand to take a dip in the sacred Ganges River and celebrate the Kumbh Mela festival

14 April
India’s coronavirus cases hit record as Mumbai prepares for new lockdown
(Reuters) -India’s new coronavirus infections hit a record level on Wednesday with Mumbai set to be locked down at midnight, but hundreds of thousands of pilgrims still thronged to a religious festival in the north of the country.

What Is the ‘Quad’ and Should China Fear It?
(Bloomberg) The informal grouping brings together the U.S., Japan, India and Australia in an alliance of democracies with shared economic and security interests that span the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The point is to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” but the unstated priority is countering China’s growing power, which rankles the leadership in Beijing. The Quad has its critics, who point out that enthusiasm varies with the political winds in each capital, question the group’s sometimes-ambiguous goals and ask just how effective it will be, given some members are wary of provoking China too directly. (March 2021)

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