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-Rajeev Kumar (Editor-in-chief)

Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label English Editorial. Show all posts

Friday, January 15, 2021

Privacy checks in: Special Marriage Act’s intrusive 30 day public notice provision could be on its last legs (TOI)

The Allahabad high court judgment holding the 30 day public notice under the Special Marriage Act (SMA) optional, promises to put an end to a regressive provision in a law often touted as a Uniform Civil Code template. Justice Vivek Chaudhary has held that a couple not willing to allow the publication of a 30 day notice requires the marriage officer to solemnise the marriage forthwith. The public notice provision has faced increasing flak over communal and caste vigilantes using it to foil marriages.


The court was hearing a habeas corpus petition by a Hindu man seeking out his wife, a Muslim who converted to Hinduism on marriage eve, detained by her father. It was moved to address this matter when the reunited couple bemoaned their preference to marry under SMA instead of religious personal law was frustrated by its onerous 30 day public notice, soliciting objections that violated their privacy and incentivised societal and family pressures. The court was also informed that many such interfaith couples were now trapped between this unhelpful public notice and the new, draconian UP law stricturing religious conversion for marriage.


Justice Chaudhary has ruled that the public notice violated the fundamental right to privacy recognised by the Supreme Court. He also flagged sweeping societal changes since SMA’s enactment in 1954 and that the very purpose of laws is to serve society as per its needs, which SC judgments have consistently satisfied through greater fulfilment of personal freedoms. Finally, the judge recognised the farcical situation where personal law marriages do not require such public notices. In a modern, secular society that recognises the right of consenting adults to marry, the SMA should entrust the marriage officer with no greater role than verifying identity, age and valid consent. The right to privacy promises more such resets in the power asymmetry between state and citizens in the coming days.


Through a series of interventions, Allahabad HC has struck some powerful blows for couples torn apart by society, state officers and mistaken laws. With this resounding HC verdict, SC must step in and examine the constitutionality of this SMA provision and the near-identical UP, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh laws targeting interfaith marriages and religious conversions. Unlike the farm laws with political and policy imperatives which have opposing and supporting farmers making adjudication dicey, threats to individual liberties and privacy lie squarely in SC’s domain and must occupy its utmost energies.

Courtesy - TOI

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Societal delusions: Trump bulldozed reality and aroused a mirror pathology at the national level (TOI)

Any accounting of how polarised his country will remain after US President Donald Trump exits office begins with his outsized contribution to various societal delusions. Indeed, throughout his term psychiatrists have questioned his mental health. Diagnoses have included emotional fragility, malignant narcissism, sociopathic characteristics, and a personal reality that’s a “patchwork of knowing falsehoods and sincerely believed fantasies.” Further, World Mental Health Coalition president Bandy X Lee points out, “when such wounded individuals are given positions of power they arouse similar pathology in the population,” inducing delusions at the national level. The treatment, she says, is removal of exposure.


Exacting socio-economic conditions have facilitated this shared psychosis. To take just a couple of big examples, beginning February last year Trump has unbendingly stuck to the line that Covid will simply go away and beginning November he has continuously claimed election victory. Such wild falsehoods put him in a league of his own, especially if he believes them too. As Mitt Romney has said, what happened in the US Capitol on January 6 was horrifyingly an insurrection incited by the president of the United States himself.


His exit will in itself bring a degree of healing. But many of the 73 million who voted for him will remain vulnerable to a shadow presidency or a 2024 candidacy. As Lee argues, the goal is to change the circumstances that led to their faulty beliefs. The social media cancellations which have already diluted his influence on the news cycle, indicate that muting his delusional narratives to grab back reality is certainly possible. But either through a Senate impeachment conviction during his presidency or criminal prosecution afterwards, he must be held to account. To protect Truth, begin there.

Courtesy - TOI

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India in US strategy: Declassification of Washington’s Indo-Pacific policy highlights New Delhi’s importance (TOI)

The declassification of the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific policy- that reveals a desire on Washington’s part to accelerate India’s rise to counter China- doesn’t really come as a surprise. The India-US strategic partnership has been growing in recent years in the face of an aggressive China. It is in fact no secret that India seeks active US support in the defence sector — from intelligence sharing to transfer of military technology and critical weapons platforms — to meet its national security needs.


And these needs have only increased in the wake of the border clashes with China last year. As matter of fact, given the geopolitical scenario, India must continue to boost ties with Western partners and like-minded democracies to counter China’s hegemonic designs in the Indo-Pacific. Beijing clearly believes that it is time to revive the Middle Kingdom whereby China will be at the centre of the global order and other countries will need to fall in line. This is clearly unacceptable and India and the US must coordinate to preserve a free and open order.


That said, while a strengthening of the India-US partnership based on shared values is welcome, New Delhi must not- and will not- become purely an instrument of Washington’s interests. Both sides anyway recognise mutual respect as the bedrock of the bilateral relationship and it should be kept that way. There will be disagreements on minor points like India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defence system. And Washington should expect New Delhi to follow its strategic interests on these. As long as the big picture of preserving a free and open order is clear, India-US ties are natural and beneficial for the world.

Courtesy - TOI

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Final blow: On U.S. policy reversal on Cuba (The Hindu)

The Trump administration’s decision to redesignate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, taken in its last days, appears to be a blatantly politicised move, bereft of any strategic or moral reasoning. In the announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited Cuba’s hosting of 10 Colombian rebels, a few American fugitives and its backing for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as evidence for its “support for acts of international terrorism”. The designation now puts the Caribbean country with Iran, North Korea and Syria, and would trigger fresh sanctions, making it more difficult for Cuba to do business. Havana has stated that returning the Colombian rebels would complicate the peace process in which it is a mediator. With regard to Venezuela, Cuba is following a foreign policy which it thinks serves its best interests, dealing with the country’s government, irrespective of Washington’s opinion. Not even the harshest critics of the single-party communist government in Havana, which faced domestic protests recently for freedom of expression, would allege its involvement in terrorist activities. As the Trump administration prepares to hand over power to a new President, it is taking a host of consequential foreign policy decisions that would make it difficult for Joe Biden to move quickly on his foreign policy agenda.

America’s acrimony towards Cuba has its roots in the Cold War period. As U.S. President Barack Obama noted when he opened up towards Cuba, their adverse relations were a relic of the past. He had taken a more realistic approach towards the Cubans than his predecessors. The U.S. has punished Cuba for decades with harsh sanctions, hoping that the Castro regime would eventually collapse. But the Cuban communists survived even the fall of the Soviet Union. With the Cold War memories fading and a new generation of Americans demanding a reset in foreign policy, Mr. Obama re-established ties, opened the American embassy and travelled to Havana, marking a new beginning. The logical approach of his successor should have been taking more confidence-building measures between the two countries and working towards a gradual normalisation of ties. But Donald Trump did just the opposite. It is strange that the U.S., the world’s largest military power that had cooperated with communist China since the early 1970s, still treats this tiny communist country that lies off the Florida coast as an enemy. Mr. Biden, during his campaign, had criticised the Trump administration’s Cuba policy and promised a more open approach. He could reverse the terror listing, but it would take time as the decision should follow a review process. Perhaps that is what Mr. Trump, who resisted the November election result till the Congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s victory, wants. Mr. Biden should not be deterred by these last-minute policy sabotages.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Terror trail: On Pakistan action against terrorists (The Hindu)

In his speech to the UN Security Council (UNSC) marking 20 years since the resolutions that announced a global commitment to the war against terror after the U.S. 9/11 attacks, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made a pitch for greater coordination between counter terrorism agencies worldwide. He highlighted the necessity to streamline the process of the UN’s top body in designating terrorists while strengthening coordination in the agencies that check their financial resources. First, the world must acknowledge that terrorist organisations use not only extortion and money laundering, drugs and wildlife trafficking to raise funds, but, in the present and future, will use loopholes in digital security and the “anonymity” provided by block chain technology to access finances. Second, in a clear reference to Pakistan, he spoke of the need to link actions between the UN and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and for countries that “wilfully provide financial assistance and safe havens” as well as “5 star” treatment to criminals and terrorists, to be held to account by them. His words are significant given that a FATF committee, the Asia Pacific Joint Group (APJG), is meeting this week to finalise recommendations for the FATF on whether to continue Pakistan’s ‘greylisting status’, downgrade it to a blacklist, or let it off, decisions that India is watching closely. Finally, he pointed to countries that allow their “political and religious” affinities to decide on issues of designation of terrorists, blocking and unblocking requests at the UNSC for such reasons rather than technically evaluate the evidence against these individuals. While the broad message here was for China, which has often blocked India’s efforts to designate individuals at the UNSC, this also includes Turkey and Malaysia which have helped Pakistan avoid stringent measures at the FATF thus far.


While Mr. Jaishankar’s words were meant for the global struggle with terrorism since 2001, their import is for India’s particular problems with Pakistan and cross-border terrorism in the present for the impending decision at the FATF plenary next month. Pakistan’s recent actions, including the sudden arrests and quick convictions of most wanted figures Zaki Ur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed, and the warrant for JeM chief Masood Azhar, all in cases of terror financing, indicate that Islamabad is aware of the importance of these decisions for its economic future; for the moment, the government is appearing to fall in line with the FATF’s 27-point action plan. By drawing the connection between the actions of the UNSC and the FATF together, Mr. Jaishankar is indicating that India is not only watching what Pakistan does but also how the international community “walks the talk” on “zero tolerance to terrorism”.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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The case of Afghanistan’s future (The Telegraph)

T.C.A. Raghavan  

The drama at the Capitol in Washington obscured the resumption of the intra-Afghan dialogue with the second round between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan beginning last week. The first round extended for some three months and ended in December with an agreement on the ‘Rules of Procedure’ and an exchange of issues that each side wanted the talks to focus on.


How the first round is evaluated in terms of success or failure depends largely on where you stand on what is happening in Afghanistan today. For some, the intra-Afghan process is no more than a sideshow to the main event — what the United States of America will do in the coming months given that it has to have closure on its longest-ever military intervention. For others, that warring Afghan parties are discussing and negotiating ways forward is a huge plus and significant in itself.


The differences between the two sides are vast. The Taliban is committed to an ‘Emirate’ as the only legitimate government of the future. This puts in jeopardy the entire Afghanistan project as constituted following the Taliban’s overthrow in 2001. Thus, from the outside, the difference between the two sides appears insurmountable — how do you reconcile an ‘Islamic Republic’ with an ‘Islamic Emirate’? Yet, Afghanistan from the outside is not the same as Afghanistan from the inside. Merely securing an end to the conflict seems to be to many enough of a common ground to smoothen the interface between these two rival, competing, and conflicting ideas of Afghanistan.  


The road ahead in the second round of negotiations could, therefore, be even bumpier. The area where progress is the least is on the cessation of hostilities and violence. For the government of Afghanistan, a ceasefire is an obvious accompaniment to the negotiations. For the Taliban, this is putting the cart before the horse: the ceasefire can only be the outcome of a successful negotiation. Terrorist attacks in Afghanistan continue and, increasingly, the targets are soft ones — the very institutions and personalities that have emerged as a result of the construction of a new State in Afghanistan over the past two decades.  


The ‘Rules of Procedure’ on which agreement was reached between the two sides in the first round of negotiations include formal protocol arrangements. It was agreed that discussions must begin with a recitation from the holy Quran and that meetings must have periodic breaks for the five daily prayers. Provisions such as these possibly would not have been the cause of any dispute.  More difficult was the issue of the legal framework that would be used to resolve disagreements during the process of negotiations. The Taliban demand was that this framework had to be based on Sunni jurisprudence. This would exclude the Shia minorities and was an obvious point of contention for the government side. What is significant perhaps is that a way out was found: a joint committee comprising members from both sides would resolve differences that came up. 


In the protracted negotiations that led to the agreed ‘Rules of Procedure’, what was at stake was more than the positions that each side took with respect to Afghan religious and political traditions. For those concerned about the steady deterioration in Afghanistan’s security and the gloomy forecasts that now invariably accompany most sober analysis of its future, these negotiations are a diversion. The stark reality that confronts the country today is that the Taliban insurgency with Pakistan’s support has gained an upper hand and that this position will progressively strengthen.  


What will happen in the next round of discussions? It is reasonable to expect some kind of zeroing-in on the principal issues highlighted by both sides — a ceasefire for the Afghan government and an ‘Islamic’ government for the Taliban. Already, there are reports accumulating of the US and others pushing for an interim government to take charge in Kabul to enable a ceasefire to be put in place. It remains to be seen how this works out but clearly some changes in the present architecture in Kabul were to be expected from the time the US and the Taliban reached an agreement on ‘bringing peace to Afghanistan’ in February last year. Alongside this is the concomitant increase in Pakistan’s influence. This is in large part because of the traditional role that Pakistan has played with the Taliban but it also arises from its role in bringing the Taliban and the US on converging tracks. How much this influence will be and how it will play out given the problems Pakistan is facing domestically with the visible alienation of, and protests emanating from, Pakistani Pashtuns are real issues. But these will only surface over a longer time span.  


Afghanistan’s best-case scenario is that the Taliban is actually negotiating in good faith and will play its part in a future power-sharing arrangement in that spirit. This case rests on the premise that large sections amongst the Taliban are as weary of the constant violence as everyone else and are, therefore, agreeable to reasonable compromises. Mullah Barader, the deputy leader of the Taliban and head of its political office, is seen as a moderate and as someone long regarded as being open to a political settlement on the basis of compromising with the government of Afghanistan. The arguments against are powerful and, primarily, allege that the intra-Afghan negotiations are the outcome of war weariness and exhaustion not so much of the warring Afghans as of the US. Afghanistan’s history is replete with illustrations of the fragility of externally determined agendas.


With a new administration on the anvil in the US, how one future milestone is approached may provide some clues. The February 2020 agreement between the US and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban) specified the withdrawal of all US forces by May 2021. How the new US administration will work with this commitment of its predecessor is also going to be a matter of some weight for what happens next in Afghanistan.


Details apart, what stands out also are older continuities from Afghanistan’s recent history. In 1988, Pakistan and the then government of Afghanistan had signed the Geneva Accord — a face-saving arrangement to enable the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops. The agreement was co-signed as guarantors by the US and the USSR. The US premised its signature on this with the condition that the signature did not mean recognition of the government of Afghanistan — one of the signatories. The 2020 agreement with the Taliban is similarly premised on the stipulation that the agreement does not imply recognition. In diplomatic practice, such ambiguities of engagement without recognition are not unusual. Yet, in Afghanistan’s case, they put an additional burden on the already troubled future ahead.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Digest the irony (The Telegraph)

Anup Sinha  

With no end to the pandemic in sight, people have now begun to worry about the different kinds of economic and social effects of Covid-19 more than about the disease itself. An impending food crisis is one major consequence that is causing concern across the globe. The World Food Programme of the United Nations has warned that there could be famines of biblical proportions in some parts of the world. India, too, will be affected since South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are two regions that house the world’s largest number of undernourished and malnourished people. It is ironic that there is no aggregate shortage of food in the world. The distribution and access to food, however, cause severe distress. In a terribly unequal world, increasing levels of wastage have been accompanied by food scarcity and hunger.


Hunger is something more than starvation. It is characterized by multiple features among which the shortage in the quantity of food is one dimension. A shortage implies a deficit in the minimum calories intake required by an average person. There are other dimensions as well. Health experts emphasize the need for a balanced diet in which there are optimum amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates along with minerals and vitamins. An absence of this balance causes malnutrition that can have adverse long-term consequences similar to undernutrition when there is a shortage in total availability. Experts also point to the importance of the human body to be able to absorb a food for proper nutrition of the body. Importance is placed on the micronutrients that the human body requires to absorb the food it ingests. Any of these inadequacies can cause long-term damage in terms of brain development, chronic diseases, stunting and wasting through poor bodily development like height and weight. These impacts persist throughout a person’s lifetime.


Hunger has remained familiar to the world despite the increased production of food, better agrarian technology, improvements in trade and communications, and a reduction in the number of people living in absolute poverty. There are growing concerns about the shortage of food induced by climate change given its effects on the productivity of land. Crop failures due to erratic weather like floods and droughts are another concern. There is wastage too. Rich countries of the world waste enormous amounts of food through large inventories in supermarkets and as a result of excessive purchase by consumers. The surplus food ends up in garbage dumps. In poor countries like India, there is also food wastage because the nation does not have enough storage facilities that can preserve perishable food like fruits and vegetables. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the global extent of food wastage annually is of the order of 1.3 billion tonnes, which is approximately 33 per cent of the total food produced for human consumption. This quantum is valued at USD 2.6 trillion, and is deemed sufficient to feed about 815 million hungry people. In India, the wastage, according to government sources, is estimated to be around 16-20 per cent of all produce, especially fruits and vegetables and oilseeds. Set against these kinds of wastage, there are parts of the world where many children go to sleep hungry because they get unbalanced or inadequate diets. This has been the crux of the story behind global hunger.



Then the pandemic arrived. Firstly, it seriously disrupted supply chains that reduced the flow of food from the farm and the dairy to the marketplace. Secondly, affluent people who could afford food started to buy in panic; this exacerbated shortages. Thirdly, all of a sudden, a large number of people found their jobs gone, or incomes slashed. This meant that their ability to access food was jeopardized. They had to cut back on quantity as well as quality. Finally, with supply-induced shortages, food prices have begun to rise across the globe. Food inflation is at abnormally high rates from China to the United States of America, from India to Brazil. Those who still have some income left started eating less; those with no income at all had to depend on private charity or on the government to provide food. As the pandemic gets prolonged, the ability of charities and governments to provide support will get weaker. International aid, already lower than last year, will begin to taper off rapidly. There might be a spike in hunger and starvation. According to some experts, the number of deaths from poverty and hunger could begin to surpass the deaths from Covid-19.


According to the World Bank, more than 100 million people have already slipped into extreme poverty since March 2020. The WFP estimates that half-a-billion people might slide back into poverty by the time the pandemic ends. International trade normally moves enough maize, wheat, rice and soybeans to feed 2.8 billion people every year. That supply chain is also broken. There is a shortage of migrant workers in certain geographies. The United Kingdom expects to throw out a third of its harvest because of the lack of workers during the harvesting season. The US, in spite of Donald Trump’s paranoia about immigration, has actually eased visa restrictions for temporary help during the harvesting season. Other countries have imposed export restrictions on food grains in an effort to ensure sufficient domestic availability. Out of the 20 worst-hit countries, 17 are in sub-Saharan Africa where the cost of a basic meal has increased to 186 per cent of an average worker’s daily wage. According to Oxfam, 55 million people in 7 countries are facing famine-like conditions. In India, there are now 38,000 relief camps where 16 million are fed on a daily basis. It is estimated that 196 million people in India suffer from food insecurity. In the US, for the first time since the Great Depression, there are food banks where many people are going for the first time in their lives. 2020 had been a remarkably bad year in many ways. The pandemic, the economic collapse, backtracking on climate-change policies, freak weather patterns, forest fires and pests like the locust swarm — all of these do not bode well for the near future. This year may turn out to be a slow-motion replay of 2020.


There is no aggregate shortage yet. It is all about reaching food to the right people at the right time and at the right price. However, policymakers across the world appear callous, turning more authoritarian and less democratic. They do not care too much about the weakest. Weakness is something to be abhorred and denounced. Yet hunger affects the weakest most severely. On the other side of food insecurity, one can see an added dose of food wastage by people who can afford food. There are new types of processed food being tried out. Additional food is stockpiled by online orders, new recipes are tried and exchanged, and many people in this economic class complain about putting on weight from eating too much during the pandemic-induced restrictions on physical movements. That is the story of roughly the top 10 per cent. The majority of the remaining 90 per cent remain on the edge of hunger. A few grow fat and rich even as millions of lives are wasted.


The author is former professor of Economics, IIM Calcutta.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Good riddance to an illiberal mandate (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


The Allahabad High Court has delivered a signal service to the cause of individual liberty by removing a dubious requirement under the Special Marriage Act 1954.


The court ruled that a provision that now stands as mandatory would be rendered optional. Section 5 of the Act requires a couple intending to tie the knot under the Act to give advance public notice of 30 days for anyone to raise whatever objections they have to the union.


The court has ruled that this violates the couple’s liberty and privacy, deemed fundamental rights, if interpreted as a mandatory requirement, but would not need to be removed from the law as it now stands, if interpreted as a voluntary option. This provision of the law gave mischief-makers, chiefly guardians of caste or religious community honour vigilant against a member forming a liaison with someone outside their group, plenty of room to raise many hurdles in the couple’s path to matrimony.


In the past, this used, predominantly, to be in the form of emotional blackmail by elder members of the immediate and extended family. More recently, in an atmosphere of heightened polarisation in society, the objection comes from right-wing groups that object to marriage across the religious divide.


The 30-day notice period can become a period of harassment and immense emotional stress for a couple who should be spending their time in happy expectancy of an important transition in their life. The Allahabad High Court ruling makes it clear that the socalled love jihad law that has been framed in Uttar Pradesh and its clones in other BJP-ruled states would be struck down. These laws violate the right to religious freedom as well, mandating the state’s permission for changing one’s faith. Such laws should go.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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A Global Ill Wind Of Inflation (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


The rising trend in commodity prices calls for greater efficiency in inflation management, and makes achieved real growth more important than ever, so that the additional liquidity created to support growth does not end up merely raising the prices of a static supply of goods and services.


Ironically, the spurt in global commodity prices comes just when inflation finally seems to be coming down in India, consumer price increase now being 4.59%. Global recourse to infrastructure building as a tool of bolstering growth pushes up demand for commodities. The need is for imaginative and proactive fiscal policy to boost growth, vigilant monetary policy management and concerted efforts to achieve optimal efficiency in resource use.


Energy commodities have spiked 15% in December alone. And there is double-digit price rise on the metals and minerals front. Further, the pandemic has also elevated precious metals. Note that in April last year, while prices of oil, the most traded commodity, collapsed, albeit temporarily, gold prices went past $2,000 per ounce for the first time ever, as a store of value.


Meanwhile, international commodity assets under management have reportedly gone up to a record $640 billion last month. A new commodity super-cycle seems well underway. The way forward is to purposefully stepup recycling and reusing, for instance, steel, metals and building materials generally. India has a 25 MT domestic scrap industry.


But as the steel scrap policy paper of 2019 makes clear, it is quite unorganised and in pressing need for policy support for much-needed modernisation. Aligning the import duty on scrap and virgin metal is the efficient way to boost recycling. Lowering excessive import duties is an option at our disposal to fight inflation. Besides, Section 35 AD of the Income-Tax Act, which provides deduction of expenditure of a capital nature, surely needs to be extended to scrap. In parallel, we require active futures and options products in the commodity derivatives market for better price discovery.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Bird Flu: Call to Arms, Not Panic (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


The avian influenza outbreak across 10 states is a reminder that there could be pandemics other than Covid. Zoonotic diseases — those originating from animals other than humans — account for 60% of known infectious diseases and 75% of emerging ones. While the bird flu outbreak should not cause panic, it should ensure a more serious engagement on zoonotic diseases and their prevention.


And that does not mean more personal hygiene but introspection of conduct, whether displacement of animal species from their natural habitats and hedonistic cravings for exotic meats or modes of waste disposal. Bird flu has the potential to affect animals and human beings, apart from birds. And, migratory birds globalised long before ‘globalisation’ took flight.


It is advisable to avoid uncooked or semi-cooked poultry and eggs, observe hand hygiene and use protective gear, especially if handling birds or bird faeces. It must be recognised that human activity has contributed to climate change, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss that increase the risk of zoonotic diseases. Land use and agriculture must change; humanity must shift to sustainable production and consumption patterns.


There are immediate measures that must be taken at the level of individual, community, local and state government to reduce risk: measures such as better waste management starting with segregation at the household level, improved sanitation, avoiding practices such as feeding birds outside designated areas, better handling of pets, reducing waste. Human, animal and planetary health are interconnected and cannot be separated. The bird flu outbreak is a reminder that the Covid pandemic is the worst zoonotic outbreak in the last 100 years, but not necessarily the last.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Growth Should be Top Budget Priority (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.

Former RBI governor C Rangarajan’s prescription to prioritise growth over fiscal consolidation in the coming budget is spot on. The economy is forecast to contract 7.7% in 2020-21, and if India is to grow at the same or higher rate in 2021-22, the government must hugely step up spending.

Investments, both State-funded and State-guaranteed, are needed to complete infrastructure projects that are ready to take off. India’s direct fiscal stimulus, at about 2.2% of the GDP this fiscal, is small. Globally, governments have provided a collective support of about $12 trillion, or almost 13% of the GDP, half of which is extra fiscal spending and the rest as liquidity support.

Failure by the government to spend more could trigger more loan defaults by companies with stressed finances, adding to the burden of bad loans for Indian banks. To spend more, the government must stop obsessing about the fiscal deficit. Rating agencies will look silly, if they downgrade an economy that borrows extra to invest more and spur growth.


Taking the economy to a higher growth trajectory will result in a falling debt-to-GDP ratio in the medium term. The ratio of government debt to GDP (the Centre and the states combined) of around 72% is lower than that of many other countries, and provides elbow room to borrow more. The extra investment needed to revive growth must also be catalysed through government policy and guarantees that will only add to the exchequer’s contingent liabilities.


Foreign capital should be drawn into infrastructure, instead of bloating asset prices, now that the world is awash with liquidity due to the quantitative easing by central banks. Offering providers of foreign capital a guaranteed rate of return will enhance its flow, and help complete projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor. The government should step up investments in healthcare, as also fulfil its promise to make large investments in farm-infrastructure. It must vastly improve its tax analytics and collections: December’s collections show the potential.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Outside Remit of Court and Law (The Economic Times)

Quick takes, analyses and macro-level views on all contemporary economic, financial and political events.


The Supreme Court has done no one a favour with its directives staying the operation of the three farm laws, setting up a committee to advise it on the propriety of the laws, and directing all farmer organisations to submit their views to the committee. It suffers from a number of flaws with the common characteristic of extrajudicial trespass into the areas of politics, policy and legislation.


And, curiously, the court refrained from taking up certain questions of constitutionality that have been raised in connection with the farm laws, namely, the propriety of the Centre legislating on trade in farm produce and the conflict with the fundamental right to judicial review implicit in the farm laws’ exclusion of disputes from the courts’ ambit.


It is the prerogative of the executive to formulate policy that advances the public good, and frame laws that enable execution of the policy. It is the job of Parliament to vet the policy and legislate the laws that enable it. Any expert or philosopher is entitled to give his or her opinion on the said policy and law, but no one can override the authority of the executive and the legislature to make policy and legislate.


The court, by setting up a committee to advise it on the viability and validity of the farm laws, has arrogated to itself the power to second-guess the government and the legislature, and to superimpose its opinion on the will of the people expressed through the government and Parliament. Parliament and the government can err, admittedly.


If the error is incompatible with the Constitution’s provisions and principles, it is the job of the court to check that. Disputes over the suitability of legally valid policy are to be settled in the arena of politics, mediated by parties, organisations and protests. Anyhow, the court-appointed committee is to submit its report in two months’ time. The government and the farmers should figure out a viable strategy of crop diversification away from unwanted grain, instead of wasting time in futile wrangling over the laws.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Price signals (The Indian Express)

With headline retail inflation having stayed above the upper limit of the monetary policy committee’s (MPC) inflation targeting framework for most of last year, the sharper-than-expected fall in inflation in December comes as a relief. Retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index moderated to 4.6 per cent in December, down from 6.93 per cent in November. Inflation in December was, in fact, the lowest in the last 14 months. As a consequence, retail inflation has averaged 6.4 per cent in the third quarter of the current financial year, lower than the RBI’s forecast of 6.8 per cent. With trends in prices so far indicating continuing moderation in inflation in January as well, the RBI’s forecast for inflation in the fourth quarter, currently at 5.8 per cent, is also likely to be revised downwards. This will provide much comfort to the MPC members, allowing them to continue with their accommodative stance till there is greater clarity over the durability of the economic recovery.


Much of the decline in headline inflation in December stemmed from a fall in food prices. As per the data from the National Statistical Office, consumer food price inflation eased greatly to 3.41 per cent in December, down from 9.5 per cent the month before, led largely by easing of vegetables prices. Vegetable prices inflation declined by 10.41 per cent in December, after rising by 15.6 per cent in the previous month. Food inflation also benefited from relatively muted price pressures in cereals and the protein basket (egg, fish and meat). And with current mandi prices also indicating a continuation of the trend in vegetable prices in January, overall inflation is likely to remain soft next month as well. However, price pressures do appear to be building up in other food categories. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Food Price Index also suggests the same. The index, which reflects international prices of a basket of commodities, averaged 107.5 points in December — the highest since November 2014. Additionally, the spread of bird flu could lead to demand-supply mismatches, injecting a degree of volatility in meat and egg prices.


Core inflation (inflation excluding food and fuel) eased marginally in December. However, it continues to remain sticky, and is unlikely to moderate greatly. It is possible that as household demand recovers to pre-COVID levels — a smooth rollout of the COVID vaccine will provide a fillip to demand, especially for high-contact services — inflation in services might see an uptick in the coming months. Add to that rising input costs, and a return of pricing power, core inflation may well remain high in the coming months.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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Lockdown fallacy: Delhi should attack bird flu not the chicken, egg businesses (TOI)

Even before bird flu was confirmed in Delhi the state government banned the import of live birds into the capital and shut down the Ghazipur wholesale poultry market for ten days. It went on to also restrict the supply of processed chicken from outside Delhi. The three municipal corporations have gone further: banning the sale of eggs besides live or raw chicken meat and processed or packed poultry products.

One big lesson of the pandemic was that some cures can be worse than the disease and that harsh lockdowns can cruelly destroy lives and livelihoods even as they fail to control virus spread. Far from having learnt this lesson there is a very real possibility that in India the opposite is true, and that governments will now resort to harsh bans of economic activity repeatedly, senselessly and destructively.

Bird flu spreads from migratory or wild birds to commercial poultry, basically infected feces and saliva carrying the disease from live birds to live birds, in the air as much as on land. It rarely jumps to humans but when it does, this is through infected live birds or contaminated surfaces. But so rare is such a jump that experts point out in the one and half decade history of bird flu in India, not a single instance has been reported when the infection was passed on to humans.

Rigorous inspections for bird flu and culling of all suspect birds would have taken a toll on the poultry industry anyway, which was unavoidable. But taking chicken and eggs off the menu has also struck a heavy blow to restaurants, small eateries, including dhabas, and roadside bakeries where eggs are almost a staple. Bakeries too may have to restrict their operations.

Note that many of these enterprises have anyway struggled to survive since the lockdown. Such a government offensive also spreads misinformation and panic among the public, even though well cooked eggs and chicken simply cannot carry the virus.

The need of the hour continues to be extensive surveillance, so that all birds suspected of infection can be culled. The wholesale markets also need heavy monitoring to ensure hygiene and safety. But pretending either that the virus can somehow be stopped by borders that are very much creatures of land rather than air or that processed or cooked eggs and chicken are an infection threat to humans, is bad science and worse economic policy.

Courtesy - TOI

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In data we trust: The case for allowing choice for the Covaxin vaccine, for now (TOI)

As millions of doses of Covishield and Covaxin get shipped to cities across India a proud moment full of hope and good tidings is somewhat marred by doubts about the regulatory process. The questioning is concentrated around Covaxin where Phase 3 trials are incomplete, and which got approval “in clinical trial mode”. Government spokespersons often rue “less than adequately informed discussion”. But the redress for this is very much with them: Provide the public information more generously and transparently.

Dismissing the questions as politically motivated cannot suffice. When Chhattisgarh health minister TS Singh Deo says that his state will not allow Covaxin because it has not completed the mandatory three trials, this is also the reason why several countries haven’t cleared Chinese and Russian vaccines, where data is patchy and opacity rules. Covaxin developer and manufacturer Bharat Biotech, which enjoys an excellent international reputation, has now been forced into an unattractive defensiveness. In Bengal when Covaxin Phase 3 trials started, urban development minister Firhad Hakim became the first volunteer to get a shot, so, again, the chief minister asking about efficacy data ahead of mass vaccination need not be seen in just a political light.

In healthy democracies citizens robustly demand explanations from government, and overall it is this that safeguards their interests. The unprecedented speed of vaccine advances during the Covid pandemic has left regulators from the UK to Australia and the US scrambling to answer probing questions. In this, India is not unique. In moving forward, it needs to embrace global best practices. For example, in Germany the Chancellor has assured that nobody will be forced to be vaccinated. Because choice, alongside good information, builds trust. Covaxin is going to be administered “in clinical trial mode”, and this is by definition voluntary.

Courtesy - TOI

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

To truly become self-reliant, invest in research and development (Hindustan Times)

By Rahul Mazumdar


India has always been found lacking in terms of academia-industry linkages. This is a bedrock in developed economies.

India has long had a reputation about its ability to thrive on “jugaad technology” which can be loosely translated as innovative solutions which get around the rules. This needs to become a story of the past now. For India to evolve into a self-reliant economy, the importance of investment in research and development (R&D) is critical in this new decade.

Despite all efforts, the gross domestic expenditure on R&D as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined from 0.8% in 2010 to 0.6% in 2018. It has been hovering around this level for more than two decades. This pales in comparison to R&D investment in developed countries such as Japan (3.2%), Germany (3.0%), the United States (2.8%) and developing ones such as South Korea (4.8%) and China (2.2%) in 2018. Most R&D expenditure in India comes from the government and this is unfortunate.

A higher expenditure on R&D usually correlates with high technology exports. India’s share in high technology exports stands at 9.1%, while for China and South Korea, it is 31.4% and 36.3% respectively. To move up the manufacturing value chain and enhance competitiveness, there is a need to increase R&D expenditure in sectors which are import-dependent.

Though hundreds of international companies having set up R&D shops, utilising the talent pool at lower cost, Indian corporates have failed to keep pace.

The heightened need for R&D creates opportunities for financing its expansion. This will not only lead to augmenting exports but also reduce the country’s dependence on R&D-related product imports — something which can make the trade deficit more manageable. In fact, according to the government’s Invest India report, each $1 million invested in R&D in India per year by multinational corporations (MNCs) is likely to generate a demand for around eight to ten researchers.

In this context, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government may possibly consider setting up a credit facility solely for investments in R&D in industries in which India requires import substitution. The initiative would provide lending at rates lower than the prevailing repo rate, for 10 to 12 years, to finance investments that create technological and production capacity in R&D-intensive sectors.

To further ensure greater access for the R&D sector, the government can consider a sub-category under the priority sector lending (PSL) which will boost access to finance. However, there should be clarity on the list of industries to be covered in order to ensure that benefits are not skewed to select ones only.

India has always been found lacking in terms of academia-industry linkages. This is a bedrock in developed economies. In fact, private-public partnerships aligned with national innovation and industrial strategies such as China’s Industry-Research Strategic Alliances, Canada´s Strategic Network Grants, the Netherlands´ Top Sectors, Germany´s Innovation Alliances, Israel´s Magnet Consortium, and France´s Strategic Industrial Innovation Programme are all worth looking into.

The government should set up a mechanism wherein the grants received by Central Universities and technology and management institutes are linked to their collaboration with the public and private sectors and designed to produce concrete outcomes, not just cooperation agreements on paper.

Economies worldwide have graduated in the production chain from low and middle technology exports and have been focusing on R&D-related high technology exports which bring in greater foreign exchange earnings. In fact, Samsung’s global R&D spending in the first nine months of 2020 hit a record high of $14.3 billion and was equivalent to 9.1% of its sales amid the Covid-19 pandemic. This clearly demonstrates the importance such firms give to R&D.


India needs to show flexibility and offer differential treatment to Indian companies in the form of tax incentives, uninterrupted support, and stringent supervision. The upcoming Budget in 2021 could possibly be just the right moment to support R&D in the backdrop of the government’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative.


Rahul Mazumdar is an economist with EXIM Bank, India



The views expressed are personal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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The tangled balls of untruths that too many Indians harbour (Livemint)

Anurag Behar

The May heat had penetrated the thick stone walls and double-height ceiling, melting all restraint. The tale telling began with how his stone-studded rings, one on each finger, ensured that he was never transferred out of that one school. Another teacher followed, swelling with pride on his own ingenuity in averting the evil eye by shutting down his school on every eclipse. The heat glued my eyes shut.


I awoke to an assertion that Dalits and Muslims were in general bad people, with a few exceptions like the wonderful colleagues present, while the depravity of Christians was of another order, most evident in their drinking of blood, preferably cow blood, on Sundays in the darkness of their churches. The teacher sitting next to me challenged him, “How many Muslims do you know?" He responded, “Two families." Are they bad people? “Very honourable," he said. How many Christians did he know? None. Had he ever seen a church? No. He got the drift quickly and closed the conversation with, “This is the problem with all of you; silly argumentation to refute fundamental truths."

The identifiably Muslim teacher felt obliged to diffuse the tension. He was a master raconteur. The last leg of his journey to the Yogi’s cave, along with his brother, was an on-foot trudge of 13km. The Yogi had foreseen their quest and made the brother lie on a boulder. In one flowing movement, his hand went into the brother’s chest and took out his heart. He held the heart up for 9 minutes, uttering incantations. The hand went back in, inserting the heart in its rightful place. Since that day, all of the brothers’ multiple debilitating diseases have vanished. Even Gautam, my colleague and the instigator of this session of tale-telling to excavate the beliefs of teachers, was left nonplussed by the heart suspended in mid-air.



Since that scorching day 10 years ago, I have heard similar notions from countless teachers. At their core are untruths and falsehoods. Manifesting often in the form of prejudice, superstition, and discrimination. And also acting as a filter for judging other things to be true or untrue. Each untruth readily gathers a tangled ball of other untruths. Neither this phenomenon nor this bunch of common untruths is particular to teachers. Indians typically share them in equal measure. Equally, there are a notable number of teachers who are uninfected by these untruths, nor is their mental apparatus to judge truth corrupted, like many other Indians. These two things are entwined: the capacity to sift truth from untruth, and the truth of one’s beliefs. Let’s call them ‘epistemic capacity’ (‘epistemic’ is merely a fancy word for ‘relating to knowledge and its validation’).



The insurgent mob that overran the Capitol in Washington DC capped eight weeks of a dramatic demonstration of how poor, fragile and corruptible is the epistemic capacity of large swathes of US citizenry. Millions of Americans are unable to grasp the simple truth that Donald Trump lost the election. The incendiary role of the President and his feckless cheerleaders, not just in the past few weeks, but over the past four years, cannot be overestimated. However, that doesn’t reduce the culpability of each individual involved in this crazy movement, nor explain the woeful failure of their epistemic capacity.


The institutional guardrails of US democracy are strong. Most other countries would not have survived such an assault from within. Indeed, both history and the present are strewn with the corpses of democracies felled by systematically unleashed untruths, or, withered to a charade of democracy only in name.



So, what of Indian teachers and their tangled balls of untruths?


Education is the only systematic way to develop the epistemic capacity of a people, of a country. Without doubt, along with the courts and media, the US education system has been central to its institutional guardrails—far from perfect, but delivering. But we are familiar with the state of Indian education—everything must improve.


Children learn from untruths in their teachers’ behaviour as well as from their pedagogical capacity for, and attention to, developing the ability of their students to parse inputs for truth. All three dimensions must grow: the teachers’ own epistemic capacity, her educational capacity, and the emphasis on developing the epistemic capacity of children as an aim of education. Also urgent is the firewalling of teachers’ behaviours based on untruths, which must stay outside school precincts.



From 2021, let us recommit ourselves to improving Indian education. Not with the narrow goals of literacy, numeracy, subject knowledge, or employability—all of which are necessary. But as a mechanism for guarding and nurturing democracy by enhancing our epistemic capacity as a people.


We should do this without the hubris that education can solve all, or is fail-proof. For it is not. Nor even with the illusion that epistemic capacity is sufficient. The senators in the US chamber defending the mob as it surged did not lack that. What they lacked is empathy and ethics. Education must be dedicated to what is true, what is right, and what is good. As also the wisdom to weigh the three before acting, and then the fortitude to live with those choices.



Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation.


Courtesy - Livemint.

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An abiding inspiration (The Indian Express)

Written by Prahlad Singh Patel  

Swami Vivekananda is the inspiration behind National Youth Day. In just 39 years, 14 of which were in public life, he filled the country with a thought whose energy is still felt today. Generations to come will continue to feel this energy.


One of India’s most important resources is the youth. Every fifth young person in the world is an Indian. It is due to this segment of the population that India’s growth rate has been the third-highest among the 13 major economies in the last five years. After the COVID-19 pandemic, India has emerged as a country that is full of possibilities in the race for development. Those among the youth who are associated with Swami Vivekananda’s ideas are preparing India for a leadership role on the world stage.


“Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.” This mantra of Vivekananda’s is as effective, relevant and inspiring today as it was in the days of colonialism. Now, India is ready to be a global leader. With the power of yoga and the energy that comes from spirituality, the youth of the country are impatient about giving direction to the world.



Swami Vivekananda’s lessons still inspire the youth: “Make a life’s aim and incorporate that idea into your life…. Think that thought over and over again. Dream it, Live it… that is the secret to being successful.”


His mantra for the youth is evergreen: “Until you can trust yourself, you cannot trust Allah or God.” If we are not able to see God in other humans and ourselves, then where can we go to find divinity?


Vivekananda caught the world’s attention with his ideas when he represented Sanatan Dharma in Chicago in 1893. A speech like the one he made then could not be made today. The themes in that speech included “Vishwabandhutva”, tolerance, cooperativeness, participation, religion, culture, nation, nationalism and the collective India-Indianness.


At the Parliament of World religions, Vivekananda said he is “from that Hindustan, which gives shelter to persecuted people from all religions and countries”. He also said that Sanatan Dharma is the mother of all religions. He was also proud that the land of India and the Sanatani religion had taught the world the lesson of tolerance and universal acceptance. It is the nature of the Indian soil to accept all religions as true. We were the first laboratory and protector of secularism.


He addressed the Parliament of World Religions as: “American brothers and sisters”. The eternal message of universal brotherhood was clear in his speech. The New York Herald wrote: “Hearing him (Swami Vivekananda) seems that sending a Christian missionary to a knowledgeable nation like India is foolish. Even if he only passes through the stage, the applause starts.”


Swami Vivekananda took forward the efforts made by other thinkers to reach the roots of Indian culture. This thinking makes him acceptable worldwide and establishes him as the spokesperson of Sanatan Dharma, a symbol of Hindustan and Hindustani culture. His inclusive thinking is reflected in the Narendra Modi government’s slogan “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.


Swami Vivekananda taught the world that it is our duty to encourage all those doing good so that they can make their dreams come true.


His vision also gave rise to the idea of Antyodaya. Until the upliftment of the last poor person in the country is ensured, development is meaningless, he said.


Swami Vivekananda’s belief about God is tied to every religion. His idea of charity is at the root of Sanatan Dharma. Charity was a way of life for him. For Vivekananda it was important to connect everyone with this way of life. He said, “The more we come to help and help others, the more pure our heart becomes. Such people are like God.”


Swami Vivekananda combined thinking of different religions, communities and traditions. His thoughts inspire liberation from inertia. This is the reason Swami Vivekananda has no opponent in this country. Everyone bows to his ideas. In the 19th century, the spokesperson of Sanatani religion, who was called the “Cyclonic Hindu” due to his views, is still standing firmly on the world stage with his positive thinking. His ideas remain fresh and relevant.

 

  The writer is Minister of State (Independent Charge) of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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Out of court (The Indian Express)

Out of courtForty-eight days of protest and eight rounds of Centre-farmers talks later, the Supreme Court has stepped in, and with all due respect, has overstepped the line.

Forty-eight days of protest and eight rounds of Centre-farmers talks later, the Supreme Court has stepped in, and with all due respect, has overstepped the line. It has taken into its hands a political problem that was, that still is, the government’s to negotiate and resolve. The apex court’s interim order on Tuesday — staying implementation of the Centre’s farm laws, and setting up an expert committee that will ostensibly listen to grievances of protesting farmers and views of government and frame recommendations — may be well-intentioned. But it sets a dubious precedent. One, by pronouncing not on the constitutionality of the law, but on its setting and specifically the protests against it, the court is encroaching into territory beyond its remit. Two, it is showing a clear double standard. Over the past few years, the SC has shown a marked lack of urgency and, in fact, distressing inattention to cases that have involved important constitutional questions and lined up at its door. Be it the constitutionality of electoral bonds or of the discriminatory amendments to the citizenship act, the court has kicked the can down the road. In many cases, by delaying and by turning away, it has allowed a fait accompli, created a new fact on the ground, and in effect, wrought a denial of justice. Now, its alacrity in taking into its own hands the ongoing impasse between government and farmers on the three farm laws, and its enthusiasm in playing arbiter, therefore, raises questions.


The confrontation over the Centre’s farm laws is about more than just the laws. There is distrust between the farmers and the government, which began with the latter’s bid to push through the legislation amid a pandemic and an economic downturn without any consultation in or outside Parliament. That distrust has only deepened and flared because of the government’s subsequent attempts to talk down to the protesters and to call them names. Indeed, the Attorney General told the court Tuesday that Khalistanis have infiltrated the protests — days after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, no less, said it was wrong to question the farmers’ commitment to the nation. If the government’s reform was seen to be arrogant and top-down, the court’s efforts lend themselves to being viewed as presumptuous and opaque. What were the criteria for selection of experts on the committee it has set up? What happens after this committee submits a report, within two months from the date of its first sitting 10 days from now? Why should farmers who are demanding a respectful hearing as they huddle at Delhi’s borders in the winter chill repose more trust in a remote committee of experts, than in a government that is, at the end of the day, accountable to them?


The court is also setting itself up for a fall. At the end of this stay on the laws, that isn’t really a stay on the laws themselves but only on their implementation, its own authority will be on the line if protesting farmers reject its committee. In a time when institutions seem fragile, and lines between them are blurring disturbingly, the court’s order on the farm laws seems to lead to another dead-end.


Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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US, India: Stop the uncivil wars: When a nation forgets it’s one people and institutions weaken, we’re at the abyss (TOI)

Gurcharan Das

Indians didn’t know what to think. They woke up last Thursday in disbelief to shocking scenes of President Donald Trump’s supporters overrunning the US Capitol. The deliberate assault on democracy by a sitting president, attempting to overturn a fair election, was an ominous moment in American history.

The reaction in India was divided. Some worried that a weakened America would be unable to help India to contain aggressive China breathing down our borders. A few were smug, seeing an America at odds with itself, getting a taste of its own medicine after lecturing the world for decades about democracy. The WhatsApp brigade was busy forwarding gags: “Owing to Covid travel restrictions, this year’s US backed coup will take place at home.” Most thoughtful Indians were fearful, however: If the oldest and longest existing democracy had seen the edge of an abyss, what if it happened in India with much weaker institutions?

Chad Crowe

Instead of fear, I had the opposite reaction. Trump’s supporters had failed to subvert the constitutional order. It’s because democracies entrust power in institutions, not in rulers. US Congress went on to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Even Trump in the end wasn’t above the law. It was a victory for America’s democracy, which had proven its resilience. Liberal democracies are only as robust as their institutions are independent and their officers are honest. The lesson for India is to strengthen our weak institutions.

More worrisome is the tragic divide in America and India which has brought about an ‘Age of Hatred’. The storming of the Capitol wasn’t a one-off occurrence instigated by an unhinged leader. It’s a symptom of a deeper disease that President Biden will have to live with.

In India we must worry about our own uncivil polarisation. Our BJP and Congress parties resemble America’s Republicans and Democrats, behaving like prehistoric tribes that live in wholly different realities determined to annihilate each other. They have forgotten that they are one people, one nation, and part of a common humanity with a conscience.

This tribalism endangers the existence of the world’s two largest democracies. Democracy accepts differences and dislikes, allows room for protest and disagreement, but always under the basic rules of cooperation.

The lesson for India’s divisive politics is that the insurrection in America wasn’t limited to a lunatic fringe. A survey by YouGov reported that 45% Republicans approved of the storming of the Capitol. According to a Reuters/ Ipsos poll, 68% of Republicans believe that the recent US election was ‘rigged’, and 52% believe that Trump had ‘rightfully won’. Since 73 million people voted for Trump, this means that nearly 50 million people in the US doubt the election’s legitimacy. It also explains why 78% of Democrats called the mob on Capitol Hill ‘domestic terrorists’ but 50% of Republicans said they were ‘protesters’ and a third called them ‘patriots’. America is in the middle of an uncivil war.

I too became a small victim of our own uncivil polarisation in the past two weeks. On January 4, I was called vile names by trolls while I was defending the recent sensible reforms in agriculture. Unfortunately, the TV channel headlined only the first part of my statement: “It’s difficult to do reforms in a democracy.” The trolls accused me of supporting dictatorship. What I said, in fact, was: “It’s difficult to do reforms in a democracy; hence, smart reformers spend 20% of their time doing reforms, 80% selling them, carrying people along. Mr Modi failed to do this and he’s got farmer protests.”

The second incident happened at IIT Jammu on January 9, where I was giving the convocation address. I was asked to remove a lovely black cap given to me by the organisers to wear on this festive occasion. Hindu nationalists thought it resembled a Kashmiri Muslim cap and found it offensive. Both incidents left a bad taste in my mouth and are the outcome of the unhappy divide between those who love and those who hate Modi.

There’s no room for the aam admi in the middle, the average Indian who is neither a Modi bhakt nor a Congressia – someone who judges issues on their own merit, not through the lens of those who’d divide us.

America must now impeach Trump to confirm that it holds its president accountable for going rogue. India should take this as a cautionary tale and strengthen its institutions, especially checks on arbitrary power. Some of our institutions have delivered such as our Election Commission, which conducts impeccably much larger elections than the US with few complaints from the losers.

But our judiciary, our police, our bureaucracy and Parliament are in crying need of reform. Why do one in four lawmakers in India have a criminal record? Why should it take 15 years to get justice in the courts? Why is the Indian police the handmaiden of the chief minister, and why does an innocent man fear entering a police station? During the siege of the US Capitol, some bewildered law makers had asked, ‘Where are the police?’

Covid has given both America and India a chance to heal the wounds of divisive politics, an opportunity to show that its citizens are one people. This dastardly deed in America proves that the old hatreds are alive and well. India, at least, has slowed the mad rush towards CAA/ NRC, but that doesn’t mean the old revulsions won’t return. The animosities are extracting too heavy a price in both nations, consuming the energy that should go to restoring the economies after the pandemic. Both nations must stop their uncivil wars!

Coursty - TOI.

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