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The Big Story: Winter storm
The first session of Parliament after Narendra Modi won re-election earlier this year was momentous. The Monsoon session began with the passage of the controversial law to criminalise triple talaq and then went on to see resolutions passed in both houses altering the status of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union, after the government curtailed all civil liberties and communication within the state.
The Winter session, beginning Monday, could end up being as significant (and stormy). That’s because the government has listed the Citizenship Amendment Bill for passage. The Bill, which could not be passed earlier because of Opposition from the North East, is one of a number of proposed laws on the table that are important to pay attention to – even if they end up being passed with hardly any discussion.
We will look at just three today, but if you’d like the full list of business on the table in this session click here.
Plus, though there may not be specific laws to be discussed, expect the Opposition to bring up the situation in Kashmir (the Congress is already saying that Kashmir Member of Parliament Farooq Abdullah who has been detained by authorities should be allowed to attend Parliament) and the current condition of the economy. Of note also: The Shiv Sena MPs will be on the Opposition benches.
Three bills to pay attention to:
- The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019: This proposed law would allow India to fast track citizenship for migrants from neighbouring countries as long as they are not Muslim. It has been sold as a humanitarian move, to help protect minorities in India’s neighbourhood, but would not extend the same privileges to the Rohingya, for example, a persecuted Muslim community in Myanmar, or the Ahmadiyas of Pakistan.
In other words, this law expressly creates a religious criterion for those seeking to become an Indian citizen, a position that I believe is both bigoted and unconstitutional. Even if it’s actual on-ground impact for refugees may end up being limited, the effect of Indian laws blatantly discriminating against one religion will not be small. It also gives the government more powers to cancel the registration of Overseas Citizens of India, which has been in the news of late because of writer Aatish Taseer. Despite the controversies, though, the Opposition has hardly given any indication that it will stand in the way of the law.
- The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019: It has been several years since the government promised the Supreme Court that it would pass a data protection law, and more than a year since a committee tasked with looking into the matter came out with a draft Bill.
In the meantime, there have been further fears that the government is undermining the privacy of Indian citizens, through everything from Aadhaar to new facial recognition systems and even possibly malware meant to hack into phones, yet India doesn’t have a law yet. The proposed Bill has not been seen yet but whatever shape it takes could set a precedent not just for India but for many other countries looking to regulate this space.
- The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill: We do not even know if this will be introduced in this session. It was not on the list, but Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the government would be looking to increase the current insurance cover for bank deposits from the current Rs 1 lakh.
This law, however it comes, is interesting because it was first introduced by the government in 2018, but, quite unusually, had to be withdrawn after the Bharatiya Janata Party lost control of the narrative. WhatsApp groups were abuzz with details of the law that suggested banks could use depositor money as a “bail in”, to prevent themselves from collapsing, spreading fears about the safety of deposits. In the aftermath of the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank fracas, how the government sells these changes will be even more significant.
Expect more coverage of the Session on the Political Fix as we go forward, but before getting to the links and other news, it is worth looking back at just how the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill was bulldozed through Parliament, with Maansi Verma explaining how that process was like a guide in how not to pass a law.
Milan Vaishnav, Director of Carnegie South Asia and host of the Grand Tamasha podcast writes:
“Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have a new book out called The Narrow Corridor, and it’s a follow-up to their bestseller Why Nations Fail. The new book looks at a big question–why liberty thrives in some societies and fails in others–and the authors devote a central chapter to the Indian case. Their argument, in a nutshell, is that the ingrained caste system not only manufactured inequality in society, but it also distorted the nature of Indian politics. While India may have a stellar record of electoral politics, democracy has been besmirched by an absence of liberty thanks to the ‘cage’ of caste norms.”
Have a recommendation for a book, paper, report or podcast that would add to our understanding of Indian politics or policymaking? Send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org
Union Ministers are still claiming there is no slowdown. Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi said this week that “airports are full, trains are full, people are getting married” and those talking about a slowdown are simply doing it to malign Modi’s image.
Meanwhile, numerous institutions changed their estimation of India’s annual Gross Domestic Product growth number for 2019-’20 to around 5%, from the already lowered 6% range earlier.
Over the week, we had a few case studies from around India documenting the effects of the slowdown on ordinary people:
- This family in Delhi has not replaced its toothbrushes because of an income squeeze
- ‘No more fish and meat, we now eat dal-bhaat most of the time,’ says Guwahati shopkeeper.
- This chaat vendor in Mumbai has seen his income drop by half since demonetisation.
The government junked another economy report – presumably because it came with terrible news. Business Standard’s Somesh Jha reported that, according to the National Statistical Office’s survey, consumer spending in India had fallen for the first time in more than four decades. On the same day the newspaper report came out, the government promptly said that the survey had been scrapped because of “data quality.” The same thing happened last year with unemployment numbers.
Maharashtra might actually get a government? The state went into President’s Rule after none of the parties could stake claim, but then the Shiv Sena sat with the Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance to lay down a Common Minimum Programme, and this unlikely grand alliance might end up managing to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party – the single largest – out of power. How long it’ll last is another matter.
Supreme Court corner: Following the Ayodhya judgment (which we had more pieces about this week), outgoing Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi also dropped a number of other important verdicts.
- A 3-2 split sent the review of the controversial Sabarimala case to a larger bench. Sruthisagar Yamunan broke down just how this hands the BJP a political lever.
- The court dismissed the Rafale case review, and admonished former Congress president Rahul Gandhi for using it to attack Modi, but left the door open for the CBI to investigate the deal.
- The court struck down a bunch of changes to the way tribunals are appointed by the government and also opened up the question of what counts as a ‘Money Bill’, an important matter that I explain here.
A Rajapaksa is back in charge in Sri Lanka. The brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s electoral victory this weekend unsettles India’s neighbourhood plans.
Reports and Op-Eds
The Income Tax department wants a huge cut in target for direct tax collection. Business Standard’s Dilasha Seth lists out just how bad the revenue collections have been this year.
Loads and loads of economy pieces, here are a few:
- Puja Mehra in the Hindu says the government thinks it can fix the economy the same way it succeeds at politics: A personality cult.
- Bloomberg’s Andy Mukherjee says the main problem is that policymakers keep trying to do something about supply, ignoring demand altogether.
- Ira Dugal on BloombergQuint says India’s target should specifically be improving per capita income. That’s all.
“The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Babri Masjid title suit is dishonest and hypocritical.” So says Alok P Kumar on Firstpost. Read the rest.
Indian Muslims withdrew from the Ayodhya issue. So finds Rahul Verma in the Hindustan Times, saying the data tells us what this might mean for Indian politics going forwards.
India needs to be extremely careful while building a new GDP series. Considering all the questions about the last time the methodology was changed, this process can’t just happen without addressing doubts write R Nagaraj and Rajeswari Sen in the Hindu.
India should not be afraid of multilateral trade agreements. Former NITI Aayog chief Arvind Panagariya writes in the Times of India that Modi’s decision to turn away from the RCEP was a mistake.
Can’t miss this
Never mind that the Enforcement Directorate was caught copy pasting its arguments against bail for two very different Congress politicians. Or that the Delhi High Court, which called out the ED for seeming to copy paste portions, was itself found including sections from an unrelated case in its order rejecting bail to one of those politicians, P Chidambaram.
Today’s story comes from Hamirpur in Uttar Pradesh, where residents were for a year bowing their heads to a saffron-coloured building they thought was a temple. It turns out, it was a toilet. It’s now been painted pink.
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