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

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The triumph and trial in Bihar (The Indian Express)

Elections are about winning or losing. There are few drawn matches in this game. But, over and above the actual outcome, elections are also part of a much larger game, known to students of constitutionalism as the “game on the rules of the game”. When seen through this particular lens, what lessons do we get from the recently concluded assembly elections in Bihar?

The first and foremost message we get is one of a resounding win for electoral democracy in India. The judicious decision of the Election Commission to hold the elections despite the pandemic and elaborate precautions with regard to polling and staggered counting in order to facilitate social distancing have drawn appropriate resonance from the electorate, which reciprocated with a high turnout of over 55 per cent, barely one per cent below the previous assembly elections of 2015. The smooth and seamless course of the election, the spirited but orderly campaign, the suspense of the last scene, which kept the audience riveted till the curtains came down, turned this election into an eloquent testimony of the resilience of India’s electoral democracy. The contrast with the presidential elections of the United States must give a feel of schadenfreude to the Indian voter, whose democratic credentials have always been treated with a touch of condescension by Western experts of democracy transition and consolidation.

The second point to note is the success of the electoral process in putting forces that matter on the ground — such as the radical Left, socialists, and the religious right — into the electoral fray, and, subsequently, into the legislature. The electrifying convergence of the opposition grand coalition and its strategic, coordinated manoeuvre showed the deep penetration of electoral culture. Equally significant was the induction of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) into the legislature of Bihar which opens up room for future expansion into the east and the north of India. Liberal democrats need not panic at the expansion of a party whose leader is often derided for his communal views. After all, politics is not only about roti, kapda aur makan; it is also about kursi, izzat and collective identity, not ignoring, also, the loaves and fishes of power. A national platform that can represent Muslim interests and compete for power within the framework of parliamentary politics, would be an effective countervailing force to Hindutva. This process of realignment is at work today, from “Kashmir to Kanyakumari”. In addition, the fact that these “anti-system” parties have become part of parliamentary process should silence the dire predictions of “democracy backsliding” in India.

There are two dissonant issues that also emerged from this election which need careful dissection. The display of open, unabashed, political promiscuity such as some see in Nitish Kumar’s serial change of partners, the coexistence of dynastic politics, and thinly disguised tactical coalitions based on caste arithmetic that underpin electoral politics in the state are anathema for true-blue liberal democrats.

The gap between normative categories of liberal democracy and cognition of the opportunities that the electoral process generates needs to be factored into the theory of democracy transition and its consolidation. At the ground level, campaign cash is an incentive for participation in the electoral process. It is seen as an opportunity for entitlement, empowerment and enfranchisement — the three core ideas of democracy. One needs to understand that the fine flowers of liberalism blossom from within the bosom of dark calculations of interest. To frame it the other way around would be to think of democracy in the mode of a top-down, civilising mission.

The second point that emerges from a close reading of the campaign poses a conundrum. The promise of “10 lakh jobs” which gave the Mahagathbandhan its firepower, was made with no indication of where these jobs were going to come from. Of course, one could always create jobs by getting people to dig holes and then fill them in and create a semblance of employment. But they add very little to overall productivity, generate a culture of dependency and create a false sense of security.

How does one combine the electoral pressure to create jobs and the hard logic of sustainable economic growth? This is going to be the acid test for the “twin-engine”, Modi in Delhi and Nitish in Patna. The post-election Union government scheme PIL — Production Linked Incentive Scheme — deserves careful consideration because it attempts to balance domestic productivity and employment creation through manufacture and infrastructure building, with global value chains. But, for states like Bihar and Odisha — ranked, respectively, 29 and 26 on the ease of doing business — this poses an even bigger hurdle. Ironically, both in job creation through the setting up of manufacturing units or cashing in on the infrastructure building bonanza, backward states face the same difficulty with regard to the whole of India, as India does with regard to China and, now, the RCEP. In open competition, the more advanced players get the upper hand. However, closing competition by fending competition off stymies creativity and generates inefficiency. As such, backward states like Bihar face a hard choice. They will need to look beyond harvesting the low-hanging fruit through schemes like the MGNREGA and have to come up with radically new ideas such as systematic organisation of manpower export. They will need to wean their people away from welfare dependency and lead them on the path of hard, structural change. Bihar’s, just like the rest of India’s, moment of “blood, sweat and tears” is now.

The writer is emeritus professor of political science, Heidelberg University, Germany. He is the author, with Harihar Bhattacharyya, of Politics and Governance in Indian States: Bihar, West Bengal and Tripura

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Rescuing agriculture: Farm reforms can’t be rolled back. But Centre needs to mitigate anxieties (TOI)

Farmers, mainly from northwest India, continued to blockade Delhi for the fifth day in a row. There is a significant trust deficit between the Centre and farmers’ representatives. It is time for wiser counsel to prevail before something snaps. The government shouldn’t back down from the farm legislations it passed in the last Parliament session. The legislation was hardly radical and promises to boost agriculture. Most states have headed in that direction over the last few years through legislative changes. Therefore, there can be no going back.

The discontent has coalesced into one primary demand, some sort of guarantee over the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism. The government has promised that MSP will continue. But it can do more. The MSP demand is really a symptom of deep rooted challenges Indian farmers face.

The biggest challenge confronting Indian agriculture is an increase in risks, both from extreme climatic conditions as well as sharp price fluctuations. MSP is a catchword for stability in income. Of the 22 crops where MSP is mandated, it works in merely two, paddy and wheat. Typically, about 36% of the production is procured under MSP. But it is geographically concentrated. Less than 12% of paddy growers benefit from MSP, and its concentration in Punjab has led to severe collateral damage. However, the instability in farming has meant that poorer states through local procurement agencies have joined the MSP bandwagon, creating newer distortions. To illustrate, in Madhya Pradesh MSP beneficiaries in wheat increased by 66% to 15.9 lakh in a single year. The Centre needs to curtail this trend for reforms to play out.

The Centre should hold talks with farmers and come out with some concrete proposals to mitigate their anxieties. It is possible for the Centre to smoothen the transition away from the paddy and wheat dominance by using its existing tools. The ongoing direct income support through PM-Kisan can be tweaked to hasten the shift to less resource intensive cereals such as millets. The existing Price Deficiency Payment Service needs to be improved to lessen the price risk of the transition. At the same time law and order must prevail, and farm agitators should not be allowed to blockade entry routes to Delhi. This is especially imperative at a time when the whole region has been gripped by a devastating pandemic.

Courtesy - TOI


BJP dares KCR: The audacious challenge to TRS in Hyderabad is in line with BJP’s long-term political goals (TOI)

Union home minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath campaigning in civic elections in a southern state where BJP was barely visible before 2019 tells its own story. Through its high decibel campaign for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections today, BJP has bared its ambition to end TRS’s long honeymoon with voters grateful for Telangana’s creation. The BJP playbook in Telangana isn’t different from Bengal where it emerged from the ruins of a Congress-Left eclipse that was accelerated by TMC’s ruthless authoritarian streak.

In 2018, CM K Chandrashekar Rao called for snap polls, won a landslide victory trumping the Congress-TDP-Left alliance and then snared most of the winning Congress MLAs, a repeat of TDP’s implosion in the earlier assembly. BJP played up this opposition vacuum and allegations of nepotism, corruption and minority appeasement – winning four Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and then jolting TRS with a shock bypoll victory last month in a bellwether seat nestled between constituencies held by KCR, his son and nephew. In Hyderabad, the TRS-AIMIM bonhomie was a recurring theme in the speeches of top BJP leaders, allowing them to take a dip in the city’s history of communal divisions.

Even if TRS prevails, BJP could gain momentum. With revenues from Hyderabad no longer shared with Andhra Pradesh, TRS has many generous welfare schemes to boast of. But dynastic, regional parties defending themselves against anti-incumbency and nurtured on anti-Congressism have no answers to BJP’s twin success in wooing political talent with the equal opportunity promise and voters looking for a clear-eyed, national alternative to the fading Congress. KCR’s failed attempts to project himself at the vanguard of an anti-BJP, anti-Congress national front hasn’t helped his case. But will BJP’s traction on the GHMC campaign trail translate into votes?

Courtesy - TOI


Cashback vexation (Livemint)

That brick-and-mortar retail outlets have been badly hit by e-commerce is no secret, especially with covid-19 keeping us indoors. But have regular old shops been put at an unfair disadvantage? This is what the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has reportedly complained of to India’s finance minister, alleging that banks have colluded with e-com majors in offering cashback on purchases that aren’t available to offline shoppers.

The last time retailers were up in protest, some years ago, it was over what they saw as predatory pricing in the deep discounts offered by e-com websites. That issue was partially resolved, it seemed, by online outlets giving up on their game of burning cash for market penetration; they needed to stanch losses. The current dispute may prove harder to settle. Large companies always have an advantage in arranging finance deals and suchlike. Online outlets sell far larger volumes on a relatively small base of overheads. It’s hard for regular shops to compete with them on prices. But banks should consider reaching out to these shops via CAIT with proposals to help them try. Consumer finance deals should reach all.

Courtesy - Livemint.


Closer to punishment: On Tahawwur Rana's role in 26/11 attacks(The Hindu)

More than 12 years since the dastardly attacks across prominent locations in Mumbai, its key conspirators have continued to evade justice in India. While nine of the attackers were shot dead by the police between November 26-29, 2008, one of them, Ajmal Kasab, was apprehended and sentenced to death after a trial that revealed the conspiracy and planning by LeT operatives among others responsible for the attacks. One among the foreign collaborators is Tahawwur Rana, who conspired with former FBI agent David Headley to assist the LeT in the planning and execution. Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian citizen, was found guilty by a U.S. court in 2011 of providing material support to the LeT and planning an attack on the offices of the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, and was later sentenced to 14 years in prison. Unlike Headley, who escaped extradition after entering into a plea bargain with the U.S. prosecutors and was sentenced to 35 years in prison, Rana was acquitted in the U.S. of charges of involvement in the 2008 terror attacks. An Illinois court commuted his jail sentence that was scheduled to end in September 2021, after he tested positive for COVID-19; this has opened the window for his extradition to India. Rana, according to Headley, had helped him to open an immigration firm in Mumbai, which was used by Headley to survey targets chosen by the LeT. An extradition memorandum filed by U.S. prosecutors in a California district court has reaffirmed Rana’s role and provides more detail into the conspiracy and the knowledge shared with him by Headley about the attacks. This should provide the U.S. court enough reason for Rana’s extradition to India to face punishment.

The trial of Ajmal Kasab exposed the collusion of the Pakistan deep state with terrorist organisations. Arguably, this has helped in a dramatic reduction in terror targeting civilians in India. Groups such as the LeT and JeM have changed their modus operandi to target security forces since then. The scrutiny over Pakistan has been accentuated by the FATF’s decision to retain Pakistan on its greylist. Yet, Pakistan has done little to bring the culprits of the 26/11 attacks to book — a case in point being LeT chief Hafiz Saeed who has been sentenced to prison for terror financing but has eluded justice for his role in the 2008 attacks by never being charged despite being identified by Ajmal Kasab and Headley as a mentor with knowledge of the attacks. Rana’s extradition would go a long way in bringing justice to the nearly 160 victims of the Mumbai attacks and shed further light on cross-border terror.

Couresy - The Hindu.


Winter worries: On Home Ministry guidelines to check spread of COVID-19 (The Hindu)

New Home Ministry guidelines to check further spread of COVID-19 during the winter months starting with December reflect the government’s concern that the gradually reviving economic activity should remain unaffected by ongoing containment measures. The Centre has mandated that States declare containment zones online, identifying them with micro targeting to minimise the impact. It has also prohibited any lockdowns at State and city levels without prior consultation with the Ministry. Such advice might appear redundant, coming as it does after a long unlock phase that permitted the relaxation of restrictions on almost all public activities, barring regular flights and trains, and the onus having shifted to the citizen to avoid getting infected. Several States with a perceived decline in new infections have opened up even more; in Tamil Nadu, for instance, final year in-person college classes and medical courses except for fresh entrants are set to reopen on December 7. This is a time to reiterate proven safety norms, considering that India has about 4.48 lakh active cases out of a total of 94.31 lakh cases recorded thus far, and where almost three-fourths of new infections are concentrated in eight States and Union Territories including Delhi. Encouraging results from vaccine trials and the likelihood of early emergency use authorisation have weakened voluntary caution, and citizens are yielding to pandemic fatigue. Health authorities must reinforce the message that low-cost interventions such as masks, good ventilation and distancing norms cannot be abandoned.

Evidence from the lockdown in India shows that the reproductive number for COVID-19, representing the number of fresh infections caused by an individual, was indeed reduced by the severe curbs, although the outcome varied by location. At the end of April, as the lockdown rigour eased, India had over 30,000 cases and 1,153 deaths in all. But seven months later, there were 39,806 infections and 433 deaths in a single day, November 29, underscoring the continuing challenge. The prime task before health administrators is to convince the average citizen that there is much to be gained through inexpensive lifestyle modification. A study of 131 countries published in The Lancet estimated the benefits of restricting group gatherings to 10 people, and how reducing physical attendance at workplaces could bring down the reproductive number by 38% in one month. Universal masking, with 95% compliance, is projected to reduce deaths dramatically, in another University of Washington study. Evidently, the entire economy stands to benefit from such painless interventions, while sparing doctors and frontline health workers of deadly risk. The Central government has rightly prioritised targeted containment, but it should standardise testing protocols across States, and not dilute the message of safe behaviour by labouring over the point of recoveries and low per-million fatalities.

Couresy - The Hindu.


The second wave (The Telegraph)

Mehmal Sarfraz  

The second wave of Covid-19 has hit Pakistan. More than 3,000 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Saturday; the figure was a little less than 3,000 on Sunday. The numbers are alarming given that Pakistan was one of the few countries that had been successful in combating the global pandemic. Our numbers had decreased to quite an extent by August. An extensive lockdown in March and then smart lockdowns where needed led to a decrease in cases. Now, with the onset of winter, we are seeing an increase in coronavirus cases. Beds for Covid patients are not available in hospitals in several cities. People are not following standard operating procedures. We are seeing a kind of complacency that we had not seen before. Is this the corona fatigue or is it just our own careless attitude? Maybe both. But this is no time for complacency. The world may not get the vaccine for a few more months. Countries like Pakistan may have to wait even longer for the vaccine. 

When the first wave came, it took the world by surprise and we didn’t know what to do. We all knew someone who was infected, be it a friend or a family member. The second wave is no less dangerous. I lost a family member to post-Covid complications just two days ago. We were at the hospital every day for the last two weeks waiting for a miracle, but she did not survive. If you have been to a hospital’s ICU where patients with post-Covid complications are being treated, you wouldn’t wish anyone to ever catch this virus. It is scary and it can be deadly. Not to mention how emotionally and physically draining it can be both for the patient and his/her family. Our healthcare sector is not equipped to deal with the growing numbers of Covid patients. We, the people, have to be careful ourselves. As much as possible. And despite all precautions, someone can still catch it.

Pakistan’s cases are rising every day but public places like gyms, malls and so on are still open even though the government has shut down all educational institutions in view of the second wave. 

Pakistan’s Opposition parties’ alliance — the Pakistan Democratic Movement — is taking out rallies across the country. Given that the second wave is gaining momentum, the government has asked the PDM to stop the rallies. The PDM, on the other hand, is refusing to do so. When the Opposition alliance came together in September and then decided on the dates of the rallies, Pakistan’s Covid cases were under control. But now that we are seeing a gradual increase in cases, the Opposition should pause and rethink its strategy. Unfortunately, the Opposition thinks it will be a sign of weakness if it gives in to the government’s demand. The government, too, has held public ceremonies in recent days. The Opposition brings up those gatherings when questioned about its rallies. The chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, tested positive for Covid-19 after the PDM’s rally in Peshawar. He will address the PDM rally in Multan today via video link. His sister, Aseefa Bhutto, will represent him by participating in the rally at Multan. 

Just a few days ago, in a series of tweets, the prime minister, Imran Khan, stated: “In Pak, the PDM by continuing with jalsas is deliberately endangering lives & livelihoods bec if cases continue to rise at the rate we are seeing, we will be compelled to go into complete lockdown & PDM will be responsible for consequences”. Leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz keep saying that this government — they have dubbed it as Covid-18 referring to the 2018 elections — is a bigger threat than Covid-19. Now this is quite an absurd statement given the seriousness of the global pandemic. It seems that both the government and the Opposition are not willing to move back from their stated positions. At the end of the day, it endangers the public. 

As the senior journalist, Fahd Husain, put it in his latest column, “If the second wave of Covid-19 got worse, the government would find a handy scapegoat in the PDM. If the PDM, sensing the danger of continuing with the campaign, took a break it would halt their momentum and help the government tide over this threat.” 

The government should talk to the Opposition instead of giving statements or tweeting about it. The prime minister should call the PDM leadership and request them to stop their rallies for the greater good of the country. Our leadership needs to put aside their egos for the moment and think about dealing with a global pandemic. Instead of blaming each other for the rising cases and super-spreader events, it would be a good gesture on the part of both the government and the Opposition if they can reach a consensus. 

Political protests against the government may be a democratic right but it should not be done at the cost of putting people’s lives at risk. The government may not be performing due to a number of reasons but sending the government home — without any concrete plan — is also not a good option. Governments don’t go home due to protests as we saw a few years ago when Khan took out a dharna for over a hundred days in the country’s capital. It did put pressure on the Nawaz Sharif government but it did not send the government home. The current Opposition most likely thinks that it has to strike before the Senate elections in March 2021. But is this a solution to our problems? No is the simple answer.

Pakistan’s democracy can only be strengthened if all democratic dispensations are allowed to complete their five-year term and there is a smooth democratic transition. Pressure should be there on the governments to perform. The voting ballots should decide who gets to stay and who doesn’t. The Opposition can keep the pressure on the government inside Parliament but it should also postpone its public gatherings due to Covid. It will not be a victory for the government even if the Opposition thinks it is. We saw how the Opposition was in favour of lockdowns when the first wave hit Pakistan. At that time, the federal government was not in favour of lockdowns. Now we are seeing that the Opposition is downplaying the Covid crisis. 

Leadership has to set an example. The public will follow. We saw what happened in the United States of America with the Donald Trump administration’s mishandling of the pandemic. Both the government and the Opposition need to sit together and come up with a strategy to deal with the coronavirus rather than pointing fingers at each other and letting the public suffer as a result. Someone needs to take responsibility. And take it fast.

The author is a journalist based in Lahore

Courtesy - The Telegraph.


Dispense with the category of promoter (The Economic Times)

Sebi has come out with a discussion paper on reclassifying promoters as public shareholders in certain circumstances. In fact, it is desirable to dump the nomenclature promoter altogether. The real issue is control and who wields it. ‘Promoter’ is a relic from the specificity of India’s industrialising past. As the Sebi discussion paper points out, once a promoter, always a promoter, because the rules and regulations deem it so. People acting in concert to acquire and exercise control is a relevant category. Promoters are vestiges of vestigial glory that modern companies can dispense with.

The same goes for promoter group as well. People acting in concert constitute a more coherent and empirically verifiable grouping. That category would fully overlap with a promoter group exercising or trying to exercise control and extend to others not covered by the term promoter group but relevant in the context of gaining or exercising control. In a company that has grown, expanded and diluted its capital significantly, the badge of promoter simply serves to give some individuals the opportunity to wield control and access information in excess of what their shareholding warrants. That the promoter is more a cultural hangover than an economic category is evident, when we compare ‘founders’ of startups and their evolution in the companies they set up, as the companies grow and expand. They might wield considerable moral authority but cease to be material figures in the running of the company once they have ceded control to professional managers, after having, in many cases, moved on to founding other enterprises. Other providers of capital do not hold them in awe, nor do their family members expect exalted treatment from the company’s professional managers.

‘Promoter’ is inseparably mixed up with ‘personal guarantee’ of directors and the culture of eviscerating limited liability that has marred India’s credit practice. The one should follow the other into that place where stone tools, droit du seigneur and fax machines have disappeared.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.


Justice for the panel, not just an anchor (The Economic Times)

Last Friday, after stating that, prima facie, the preliminary evaluation of the FIR against Arnab Goswami didn’t establish any charge of abetment to suicide, the Supreme Court extended bail given to the TV anchor earlier. That the court had overruled the Bombay High Court denying bail in less than two days was reassuring. As was the larger point made that courts must ensure the State doesn’t use ‘criminal law as a tool to harass or jeopardise liberty’ of citizens. Now, what’s sauce for the Goswami must be sauce for the gander.

Siddique Kappan, a Kerala journalist, for instance, who had gone to cover the Hathras alleged rape and murder case in UP, was arrested in Mathura on October 5 — under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The Supreme Court deferred that case on October 16 stating there was a ‘spate of petitions’ under Article 32 — relief for human rights violations — pending before it, and that it was trying to ‘discourage’ them. This ‘discouragement rule’ was rightly swept aside for Goswami. Now, it should be removed for all. Prashant Kanojia, a Delhi journalist, was arrested in August by the UP Police for a Ayodhya-related tweet. He got bail only two months later. Kashmir reporter Aasif Sultan was arrested in August 2018 for reporting on insurgents. He has spent 800-odd days in jail while his trial drags on since June 2019.

Regular arrests, jail without bail and other forms of harassment faced by journalists attack a very basic notion of freedom in a democracy and is a severe reputational setback for India. And, high courts haven’t always been on the side of liberty either. The Supreme Court must step in, and clearly enunciate first principles that define a democracy.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.


Monday, November 30, 2020

Donald Trump’s last push in West Asia (Hindustan Times)

President Donald Trump has given up on foreign policy except in West Asia. His administration is presumed to have had a role in the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last week. His son-in-law has flown to the Persian Gulf for one last diplomatic roundabout. Mr Trump’s team is tying up the loose ends of what it sees as its great foreign policy moment — getting a slew of Gulf Arab nations to recognise Israel and concretise an anti-Iran coalition.

West Asia’s deepest geopolitical fault-line no longer runs between Israelis and Arabs but between Shia Persians and Sunni Arabs. It was the Gulf monarchies which applauded Mr Trump ending the Iran nuclear agreement, initiated the Israel outreach and are now working to ensure all this will be fait accompli for President-elect Joe Biden. Mr Biden’s foreign policy supports the Arab-Israeli rapprochement. But it may be frosty towards Saudi Arabia and includes plans to resurrect the Iran nuclear agreement. The last won’t be easy. Iran has 12 times more low-enriched uranium than the original agreement allowed while Washington has zero diplomatic credibility.

The stakes are high. The Arab Street has no love for Israel. Iran’s informal empire remains intact but broke. Outsiders must tread this minefield carefully. India has even more reason to avoid a regional role and continue to maintain a set of bilateral relationships. Pakistan is struggling. The United Arab Emirates banned visas for Pakistan and others who opposed normalisation of ties with Israel. As West Asian politics becomes ever more cut-throat, Islamabad may have to choose between ideological sanctity and economic stability. Either way will be to New Delhi’s advantage.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.


Justice on trial (The Indian Express)

The speed with which Arnab Goswami was recently granted bail has thrown into sharp relief the multitudes for whom such quick access to justice will never exist. According to the latest figures from 2019, an extraordinary 69 per cent of inmates in prison are undertrials – persons who have not yet been declared guilty of any crime. Depriving persons of their liberty without a conviction is meant to serve a narrow purpose: Ensure that they do not abscond or tamper with the evidence or influence witnesses. Under the existing bail regime, however, there is legitimate concern that people are being incarcerated unnecessarily and languishing in jails for far longer than justified.

The problem begins with arrest. For decades, government reports and court decisions have noted the prevalence of unlawful and unnecessary arrests. Recent Supreme Court decisions and changes in criminal law have sought to introduce safeguards—for instance, requiring the police to refrain from arrest in certain cases if the accused appears before the police whenever she is asked. But the difficulty of complaining against police officials and weak internal incentives to discipline officers means there is little accountability for arbitrary arrests.


After 24 hours, the police must produce the arrested in court for magistrates to decide whether remand to further custody is warranted. A catena of judgments emphasises that magistrates cannot merely accept the say-so of the police. But an equally vast jurisprudence underscores how remand is extended mechanically.

Once arrestees are entangled in the system, their release depends on their access to legal aid, woefully inadequate in India and determined entirely by privilege, which also determines their ability to appeal upwards, if a lower court denies them bail, and their ability to demand rights, such as the right to be released if they are in custody for a certain period without being chargesheeted. It is little surprise that Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis are incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their population.

Some laws make bail even harder. Statutes such as those penalising drug and terror offences impose special restrictions on bail, which effectively condemn arrestees to brutally long custody pending trials. Provisions under ordinary law that mandate release of undertrials if they have spent half of the maximum possible sentence in custody do not apply to prisoners under special laws. The gravity of drugs and terror-related crimes is used to justify such draconian restrictions. But letting the seriousness of the allegation become a primary consideration in bail means that prosecuting agencies can simply trump up charges to ensure years of punishment.

Opinion | Rekha Sharma writes: Lower courts must heed the apex court’s words on personal liberties and free speech

Finally, one major impediment remains even once a court has granted bail. Landmark judicial decisions have long deprecated the practice of courts demanding excessive surety or local sureties. If an arrestee cannot afford her surety condition, or does not know anyone locally willing to stand as surety for her, she must remain in jail. As reported to the high-powered committee set up to decongest prisons in Delhi during the lockdown earlier this year, hundreds of prisoners were in jail only because they could not meet their surety conditions. The HC passed a one-time order doing away with the surety conditions in light of the pandemic, though the problem will remain long after the pandemic.

One-time orders characterise the court’s response to many of these issues. In decisions on the drug-related offences law in 1994 and anti-terror law in 1996, the court recognised that where a speedy trial is not possible, bail restrictions equal unduly long confinement and infringe on Article 21 rights. In both cases, the court passed one-time orders directing certain undertrials to be released, while clarifying that the orders would not affect future cases. In another 1996 decision, the Delhi HC appointed court commissioners to investigate the background of prisoners unable to afford surety and passed one-time directions relaxing their bail conditions.

These orders evidence widespread recognition of fundamental issues with bail, yet refrain from systemic change. In the absence of large-scale reform, however, we will continue with a regime that in its daily reality both horrifies and numbs.

The writer is a lawyer based in Delhi

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

America’s common ground (The Indian Express)

That Trump was endorsed by nearly half of the American electorate  (showed, among other things, the success of a drive to inject victimhood in the country’s Whites, who form around 61 per cent of the population.
That America is not a centralised state was proved by the election. The declaration of Biden’s victory — the “call”, to use the American phrase — did not come from a Washington official or from any election commission (no such body exists in the US). It came from “decision desks” of TV networks.

Firmly separated from the channels’ popular and usually partisan anchors, these “decision desks” have remained independent over the decades. This has been true also of Fox, whose principal anchors are openly pro-Trump. When, much ahead of rival channels, the Fox “decision desk” named Biden the projected winner in toss-up Arizona, Trump was furious, as were Republicans across the country, but Fox continued to “call” Arizona for Biden.

America’s elections are organised by each county (the equivalent of an Indian district), not by the federal government or, directly, by a state. In each county, volunteering citizens also play a crucial part. In this and other critical areas, the country’s course is set by small independent groups and local communities, not by a leviathan. This is America’s strength.

After news networks “call” an election, counties certify their tallies, and then a state does. Once a state certifies, its Electoral College delegation is constituted. Due this year on December 14, physical voting by EC delegates in their state (or federal territory) will confirm the president-elect, but Joe Biden will not assume a president’s powers until his oath-taking on January 20.

In theory, Electoral College members can be bought, kidnapped, or prevented from voting, though laws exist in many (not all) states to make this hard. However, very few instances of delegates defying their state’s verdict have been recorded.

In reality, therefore, what creates change, joy, and grief in America is the news networks’ “call”, which this year was made on November 7. The rest is always a sequence of formalities, though there is scope for legal challenges, and, Trump being Trump, for some suspense. Losing or dropping many of his challenges, he has earned disgrace by threatening county or state-level officers, who in the US have political affiliations.

“Not a good day for those who’ve lost,” acknowledged Van Jones, CNN’s African-American commentator on November 7. A stirred Jones also said that with the announcement of Trump’s defeat many like him would once more “breathe freely”. Every viewer connected the remark to the dying George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” gasp earlier in the year. Now, added Jones on November 7, he can tell his young son, “See! Being good matters”.

More than 51 per cent of the US population seemed to equate Trump’s loss with a return of times when a president did not continually lie and bully. They celebrated the return to decency their votes had produced. But at least 47 per cent mourned the result. Many among them felt that “America” had lost, and “a hostile world” had won.

That Trump was endorsed by nearly half of the American electorate showed, among other things, the success of a drive to inject victimhood in the country’s Whites, who form around 61 per cent of the population. Latinos (termed “Hispanics” until recently) make up around 19 per cent, Blacks around 13 per cent, and Asians (possibly the fastest growing segment) around 6 per cent.

That America equals White America is what many Americans, and many non-Americans too, have tended to think. Others have equated diversity with America; they think of the country’s steadily altering racial mix. Much before Trump, American “nationalists” of a dozen hues (ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to naïve believers) had told their White compatriots that the world was exploiting the US.

Trump saw and seized his moment after globalisation enabled Asian economies with talented but cheaper workforces to capture a growing percentage of world trade. Inside the US, IT or “Tech” was outpacing manufacturing. Hundreds of thousands had lost jobs. Renewable energy was displacing coal. “You’re being cheated,” Trump told White American masses left behind by globalisation and “Tech”. Most lived in small towns in the country’s vast hinterland spaces, far from the coasts and the great cities. With Trump at the helm, the forgotten American, the hard-working, flag-waving, family-defending White Man, would take his country back! The message evoked wild enthusiasm.

I was asked, during a conversation about Trump’s adoring audiences, “Do they think he cares for them?” Don’t they recognise his plain falsehoods? My answer was, “They think he cares for what they care for.”

They love the flag, they love the White America that is sailing away, they love America’s dominance in the world, they love their traditional jobs. They love it when Trump implies that the flag, the gun, and the cross are three different words for the same thing. They love it when Trump signals that masks are for sissies. Forgetting that they themselves had once gained from a changing America, they resent fresh changes. And when Trump said, “No more endless wars in distant places!” he touched an old isolationist strain in the American psyche, a sentiment strengthened by continuing PTSD in soldiers who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq. And when Trump claimed that he was for stimulus money reaching unemployed Americans and those on the verge of eviction, he showed a populism which is the very opposite of the fiscal conservatism that Republicans used to stand for.

At the local level, as the election process proved, America possesses a remarkable sense of independence and also of community, even when the US is deeply and sharply divided at the national level.
 The writer teaches at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

‘Who’s afraid of Vivekananda? ( The Indian Express)

Swami Vivekananda will give JNU its nationalist spine. In his lecture on “Six Lessons on Raja Yoga,” he said: “Take care of the spine, everything happens along the spine.” Vivekananda was a spiritual generalissimo. In his lifetime, his visage and work evoked awe and reverence from university bigwigs, industry captains, top opera artists and an array of intellectuals. To an enslaved nation facing an imperial world order, he gave us our manliness.

It is therefore fitting that a Vivekananda statue in JNU has been installed at the entrance of the administrative block. As Swamiji had instructed, this statue will inspire to “tell the truth boldly, whether it hurts or not. Never pander to weakness. If the truth is too much for intelligent people and it sweeps them away, let them go; the sooner the better.”

Many in the JNU faculty could benefit from Vivekananda’s lectures on karma yoga. They are in dire need of it. Performance culture, tenacious hard work, selflessness, honesty, the emotional experience that is India — they are bereft of such realisations. Having converted their centres and schools into leftist swamps, they have survived on past regurgitations of stale theories. Many of them have routinely shirked their teaching responsibilities during the pandemic. Their indolent excuses citing capacity constraints would make the communications industry of India squirm. These faculty members have said that they teach big classes and are not able to accommodate the number of students. Truth be told, the university has conducted over a dozen webinars to teach faculty members how to use the latest online tools so that any number of students can be taught — not only for JNU faculty, the university has trained 5,000 teachers across the country in the use of online learning and evaluation methods.

The participation of the left-leaning faculty in such webinars has been extremely poor. Many are unaware that such webinars are held, despite the university posting these details regularly. The culture of non-performance in these left swamps is another contagion that the university has to grapple with. These faculty members hawk around in the name of the student community but in reality, they are the most malevolent anti-student force and relentlessly cause damage to the university system.

This behaviour was evident in the run up to the conduct of the JNU Entrance Exam (JNUEE) 2020-21. While many faculty members of different Schools and Centres went to the office of National Testing Agency (it conducts all important educational entrance tests like JEE-Mains, NEET, UGC-NET), to set the questions papers for JNUEE, some deans and chairpersons played saboteurs and refused to cooperate. The Academic Council in its latest meeting, 155 (B), took “serious note” and referred this to the Executive Council of JNU, (the highest decision-making body of the university) for suitable action.

The 290th Executive Council (EC) meeting held on November 25, has classified this as a grave misconduct of service rules. The EC has constituted a fact-finding committee to identify the recalcitrant faculty members so that suitable penalties may be meted out to them. The fact-finding committee is headed by Rajneesh Shukla, the Visitor’s nominee to the EC; deans of two schools who will be named shortly, will also be part of this committee.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while unveiling the Vivekananda statue narrated an episode from Swamiji’s life. During his travels to the West, Vivekananda was often ridiculed for his saffron robes. On one such occasion, an Englishman chided him and said, “why don’t you dress up as a gentleman?”. With his characteristic mirth, Swamiji responded, “in your culture, tailor maketh a gentleman, in ours character makes one a gentleman”. 

The relevance of this message should be high priority for JNU.

Some self-styled intellectuals of the leftover variety are harried by the Vivekananda statue, more so by “tattered orange cloth” with which it was covered prior to his unveiling. Even when showered with global praise and a legion of renowned followers, the monk loved his tattered orange cloth. He taught us kingly values. These will permeate JNU now and make it grand.

 The writer is member, Executive Council, Jawaharlal Nehru University and editor, TelecomLive & InfraLive

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

Trump’s lasting legacy: Biden’s challenge is that he has to make his presidency Biden 1.0, not Obama 3.0 (TOI)

After US President Donald Trump finally agreed to allow the formal transition process to begin nearly three weeks after the presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden has managed to speak about the possible policy direction of his incoming presidency and has declared that his presidency would not be “a third Obama term.”

Trying to emerge from the shadows of his former boss, and after announcing a slew of cabinet nominees who are veterans from the Obama era including secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken, who served as deputy secretary of state, and secretary of homeland security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, who served as deputy chief of the department, Biden is trying to emphasise that the challenges facing him are unique.

In his own way, he has acknowledged the fact that Trumpism is alive and well by arguing that “President Trump has changed the landscape.” This despite Biden repeatedly emphasising his and his administration’s credentials as foils to Trump and Trump’s administration.

Biden underlined the credentials of his nominees in their fields during his announcement address, but he also promised they would “reimagine American foreign policy and national security for the next generation.” He is clearly aware of the challenges he faces as he shapes a foreign policy agenda post-Trump and the rapidly evolving domestic and global political context in which he will have to operate.

The Democratic Party’s internal challenges are the first ones he will have to navigate. The so-called Progressive Democrats seem unhappy with Biden’s initial picks, calling them “Clinton and Obama retreads,” and are openly voicing their criticism of Biden’s Obama connection as they feel cheated after helping Biden win but finding him reverting back to old establishment hands.

There are still a number of appointments yet to be made so perhaps they can be satisfied. But this fault line between the left wing of the party and the centrists will remain a major one for Biden to straddle. And then there is the Trump factor. Despite all the predictions of a Republican meltdown, the election results were not the kind of sweeping endorsement that Biden would have liked.

Instead, Trump managed to hold his own and with his plans for 2024 already shaping up has been successful in reshaping the Republican Party in his own image, with a seeming endorsement for populist nationalism which will continue to constrain Biden’s policy options both on domestic and international fronts.

As the debate on the future trajectory of American foreign policy gets underway, it is certainly clear to Biden that the world he confronts and the challenges he faces are going to be significantly different from the ones Obama administration faced, in which he served as vice-president. In many ways, it was Obama’s failures that paved the way for the rise of Trump and everything he represents. And Biden has sharp political instincts.

He understands that the Obama era template is no longer suited or perhaps needed in a world that has been transformed in the past four years, partly due to Trump and partly due to underlying structural shifts. For all the talk of America being back “at the head of the table once again,” it won’t be easy to restore the liberal international order to its original sheen.

Biden is right in his assessment that he faces “a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration” and so the choices he will have to make will be a function of this unique moment in American politics as well as the global order. The rise of China and its willingness to challenge the extant order is the single most important global reality that Biden will be confronting. Trump’s lasting legacy in this regard is the way he has managed to transform the discourse on China in the West in a relatively short period of time.

During his campaign Biden was playing catch up on China as Trump forced him to take a more robust stance on confronting China. Much in the mould of Trump’s ‘America First,’ Biden has talked of a foreign policy that works for the middle class and that means continuing with a China policy that challenges Beijing on trade and technology.

Certainly for Biden and his team, America’s allies will play an important role, even in managing the rise of China. And many allies of the US in the Indo-Pacific are already watching warily if Biden might be tempted to dial down Washington’s strong posturing vis-à-vis China. With western Europe already beginning to challenge China more robustly than before, America under Biden will have to follow suit if multilateralism and alliances are to once again gain traction.

Members of the Obama team might be back but neither the US nor the world they will have to engage with has stood still. As the Biden team comes to grips with real world policy issues, the challenges they face are quite substantive – from intra-Democratic Party contestation and a Republican Party increasingly being shaped by Trump to an external environment transformed with Covid-19, the rise of China and fragmented multilateral structures. How effectively they manage these challenges will determine if Biden 1.0 will be able to maintain its independent identity beyond just being assessed as Obama 3.0.

Courtesy - TOI


Demand deficiency: GDP data flags an urgent need to revitalise private consumption (TOI)

The GDP data for the second quarter of 2020-21 conveys a mixed picture. GDP shrank 7.5% to Rs 33.14 lakh crore. This is the first recession, or two successive quarters of contraction, since quarterly data became available. But the decline is lower than the 9.8% forecast by RBI in its monetary policy last month. To that extent, the silver lining is that the recovery from the first quarter’s contraction of 23.9% is a bit better than expected. Granular data however shows that the economy remains in a bad shape. This really calls for smart intervention by the Centre.

Strength of private consumption is an important economic indicator. It is the largest component of GDP and it fell in the second quarter by 11.3% to Rs 17.96 lakh crore. This is telling of what has happened to the purchasing power of consumers. There is little doubt that the pandemic induced economic collapse, coming of course on the heels of two successive years of an economic slowdown, has resulted in serious damage. It’s only agriculture which has largely escaped damage, which means it’s imperative the government address anxiety over agricultural reforms before this hurts the sector.

Since the lockdown was imposed in the last week of March, the government has also got cracking on pending reforms in factor markets such as labour and has designed packages to encourage manufacturing competitiveness. These reforms are largely aimed at removing bottlenecks which restrain the supply side of the economy. The implicit assumption is that reforms will catalyse private investment and set off a virtuous cycle. There is a catch here. A significant part of the private investment will be influenced by the strength of domestic demand. Hence, the Atmanirbhar Bharat idea spelt out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi included domestic demand as one of its pillars.

The immediate task is for the government to address weak domestic demand. Many of the supply side measures will fulfil their potential only if there are clear signs of a revival in domestic demand. This calls for shuffling of prioritisation, if necessary, to focus on revival of domestic demand. Even if the government does not want to expand its borrowing programme in the residual four months of the financial year, there are other ways to revive purchasing power. For example, hastening execution of its existing infrastructure projects needs top priority as this will address the current economic challenges.

Courtesy - TOI


Home safe home: Let’s do a better job of controlling infections among family members (TOI)

The better we understand how and where the SARS-CoV-2 transmission takes place the more effectively we can make targeted interventions to reduce its spread. In this context the meta analysis of various studies by the Imperial College London Covid-19 Response Team and its multiple partners has found that households show the highest transmission rates of all indoor settings. While uncomfortable, this is no surprise as it has earlier been flagged by data from countries like China, India and the UK. Comfort can however be found in that the chance of an asymptomatic person infecting a close contact is estimated at 3.5% as compared to 12.8% chance for a symptomatic person.

Actually the household was identified as a major site of infection very early on in the Covid outbreak. This is why Wuhan authorities ramped up institutional quarantine in mission mode, separating both confirmed and suspected cases from their families with dispatch. But for both cultural and material reasons, rather than take this totalitarian road most countries have embraced home quarantine as a sensible tool in the anti-pandemic arsenal. A good indicator of the effectiveness of the home quarantine protocols that have been devised is that the above study estimates the chance of passing on infection in households to be 21.1%, as compared to upto 85% of infections in Guangdong and Sichuan being reported from households in February.

In India self-isolation in homes with the requisite facilities will remain in big play in the foreseeable future. But better compliance with established protocols can make it much more effective. Governments’ role in this is to strengthen monitoring and also improve access to testing at home. Citizens for their part must follow guidelines, instead of indulging in rebellions that will hurt their family the most.

Courtesy - TOI


Right not rabid (The Telegraph)

Mukul Kesavan   

In these majoritarian times, some conservative pundits, embarrassed by the feral Right and keen to seem ideologically respectable, have found an all-purpose rhetorical manoeuvre which goes like this. Progressives are to blame for the enthronement of racist, communalist and majoritarian political parties because it is the left’s ‘wokeness’, its elitist disdain for the anxieties of ordinary people and their common sense, its infatuation with minority politics that prepared the ground for the rise of the ‘hard’ right. 

This was the burden of Chetan Bhagat’s arguments in the course of a long interview with Karan Thapar. In country after country, fastidious, hem-raising conservatives are making the same case. Bhagat’s American counterparts argue that the reason majorities of white men and women in America voted for Donald Trump in two successive presidential elections had more to do with the smugness of liberals than the sense of white grievance that the Republican Party has cultivated since Richard Nixon inaugurated its southern strategy in 1968. By harping on racism and minorities and police brutality, progressives had driven a politically orphaned rust belt into the arms of a racist president. Had Democrats and progressives mobilized in an inclusive way, had they attended to the material needs of an alienated white working class, had they been nicer to them, Trump might never have carried the day in 2016 or have come so close to winning again. 

It is notable how writers (righters?) embarrassed by brazen bigotry become materialists, reproaching progressives for being culture warriors, obsessed with race and identity politics instead of constructing a broad colour-blind liberalism focused on economic well-being and social welfare. This is, in fact, exactly what Barack Obama tried when he adapted for federal purposes a scheme for medical insurance first pioneered by a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, to extend healthcare to those Americans who couldn’t afford it. Much good it did him. All the familiar right-wing bogeys, from imminent socialism to lawless federal overreach in the service of the undeserving poor (read blacks), were invoked to stymie the Affordable Care Act, a modest measure that would have been unexceptionable in most first world democracies. 

Conservative American writers who have supported dog-whistling Republican leaders from Nixon through Reagan to George W. Bush, who have ridden every culture-war hobby horse — from the right to bear arms, to abortion, to Christianity in the public square, to the right of religious people to discriminate against homosexuals — are now even-handedly appalled by the wokeness of progressives and Trump’s brutish ascendancy. 

Take, by way of example, George Will, the best of the Never Trumpers. Will is a formidable conservative columnist, who, to his credit, was implacably hostile to Trump before Trump won the 2016 election. A long-standing Republican, Will enthusiastically supported Ronald Reagan’s candidacy and famously helped him with his debate preparation against Jimmy Carter. The real difference between Reagan and Trump in the matter of racism was that Reagan slagged off black people privately or by implication while Trump is franker. 


Reagan’s stump speech about welfare queens was a long dog-whistle about dishonest black women gaming the welfare system. Trump, in contrast, has never made a secret of his bigotry. His long racist résumé, ranging from his campaign to execute the so-called Central Park Five (a group of black men falsely accused by Trump of assaulting and raping a white jogger) to his anti-Obama ‘birtherism’, to his enthusiasm for white militias, embarrassed sections of a right-wing commentariat, historically comfortable with discreet — therefore deniable — prejudice. 

This is not to trivialize the difference between dog-whistling and open racism. Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue: when the Right casts off the need to dissemble and lets its bigotry show, you know a nation’s politics is in trouble. The difference between glowering men in mofussil shakhas muttering about ‘love jihad’ and the chief ministers of five states declaring their intention to pass a law against conversion and marriage is the difference between casual communalism and institutionalized bigotry. 

Reagan kept his racism under wraps so admirers like Will didn’t have to distance themselves. But racism will out. In 2019, the US National Archives revealed that in 1971, when Reagan was the governor of California, he told Nixon over the phone how angry he had been to see Tanzanian delegates to the United Nations celebrating China’s admission to that institution: “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did... to see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”

Even without such revelations, it is hard for Never Trumpers with buyer’s remorse to reckon with their past. It would mean acknowledging that their complicity in dog-whistling, voter suppression, gerrymandering and the covert racism of the modern Republican Party prepared the ground for Trumpism. That would be intellectual suicide; easier options beckon. One is to say that they held their nose in a higher cause: anti-Communism or economic growth or some other handy mantra. But even this compromises them. Much better to deflect the blame and argue that enthronement of the radical right was down to the perversity of the radical left. In the American version, it wasn’t the drip feed of Republican bigotry that encouraged majorities of America’s white citizens to vote for a racist in plain sight. No, it was the nagging shrillness of the Left and Obama’s patronizing remoteness that forced working class whites to vote for Trump. 

Will has a cutting counter to the argument that it was racism that drove Trump’s coalition to vote for him. He writes sardonically that “... sooner rather than later, even Democrats will come to suspect that denigrating people until they vote for you lacks a certain strategic plausibility.” This is the same conclusion that many anti-BJP politicians have arrived at in India. To bluntly argue that a vote for Narendra Modi is a vote for communalism might be to lose the chance of persuading some of his supporters to change their minds. But the fact that politicians are constrained from calling a spade a spade shouldn’t keep a writer from calling out bigotry by its name. Racism and communalism in politics is a choice, not a permanent condition. When people stop making racist choices, they stop being racist. The writer’s task is to clarify not fudge the nature of the choice voters made when they chose Trump or Modi. 

When commentators who cheered Modi on in 2014 now wring their hands about lynching and love jihad and claim that they gave Modi the benefit of the doubt only because he was an economic reformer, progressives should, without rolling their eyes, nod politely and move on. At best, these pundits were the feral Right’s useful idiots; at worst they knowingly boarded a dangerous bandwagon because they liked the buzz of being in the vanguard of the Hindu Turn. 

That they see the light now is welcome. But when they claim that it wasn’t fellow travellers like them who helped deliver us into evil but bleeding heart liberals who warned against the predictable disaster of endorsing Modi, it is time to stop listening. At that point, it becomes evident that for some angsty conservatives, it was about the optics. They were put off by the full frontal barbarism of the feral Right. Had Trump or Modi walked sideways into Amerika or Hindu rashtra, they would have done the soft-shoe shuffle right alongside them.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.


Yes, What the Doctor Ordered, Gov Das (The Economic Times)

RBI governor Shaktikanta Das spoke last week on the need for accelerating financial market reforms. It is imperative to do so, to bring about better allocation of resources, mitigate financial risks, and boost transparency across the board. And the way forward is to policy-induce a vibrant corporate bond market, and also put in place a thriving fintech ecosystem. Fintech should be seen as an integral part of financial reform, not just to broaden access but also to improve the quality of mediation. As the governor noted, domestic financial market reforms have traversed a long distance since the pathbreaking 1990s.

The market for government securities has become broad-based, deep and liquid. Yet, while corporate bond issuance has significantly increased in recent years, the vast bulk of it remains privately placed and simply held to maturity. Hence the pressing need for an active and liquid corporate bond market, to shore up transparency in the allocation of funds for big-ticket, long-gestation projects, and also for routine market oversight of the assets. In tandem, what’s required is to complete the markets for better management of currency, interest rate and credit risks.

Banks can now deal in the offshore rupee derivatives market. Norms for foreign portfolio investors have been eased. But financial reforms remain wanting. For instance, while the interest rate derivative market has grown, it remains confined to one product, the Overnight Index Swap, and to a small set of participants.

The recent passing of the Bilateral Netting of Financial Contracts Act, 2020 should rationalise capital exposure for derivative contracts. It could boost the market for Credit Default Swaps, and provide insurance for corporate bonds.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Phew! Second quarter GDP wasn't as bad as we feared (Livemint)

India’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 7.5% in the July-September quarter, which is not as bad as the 8.6% contraction predicted by our central bank’s “nowcast" model, and much less worrisome than the double-digit shrinkage some global analysts had projected. This decline comes on the back of a nearly 24% scrunch-in officially recorded in the first quarter of 2020-21, the period that bore the brunt of India's covid lockdown. With two successive quarters of shrinking output, it's now official that our economy was in a technical recession during the first half of this fiscal year.

Yet, output figures for the first and second quarters offer a sharp enough contrast for some of our gloom to lift. At this rate of recovery from the depths plumbed earlier, hopes have strengthened that our economy will exit its contraction mode in the current quarter. Consumer demand has been observed to be showing signs of revival in recent months. Supply chains, snapped off by covid curbs, have been restored to a large extent. High-frequency indicators, such such as fuel and electricity consumption, apart from rail freight and mobility, have looked up. And festive season sales were buoyant, though much of the shopping could be attributed to a spring back of pent-up demand.

Order books in the manufacturing and service sectors have also made for optimism that the third quarter might mark an end to the recession. But it would be too early to conclude that the economy is well on its way back. As RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das observed on Thursday, we must be watchful of demand. There's reason to fear that it may slump after the festive season is over. Economists have also warned of second-order effects of our recession. Households reeling under its impact would naturally compress expenditure, even as a precautionary cash preference goes up across the country. This would make it harder to achieve normalcy. Another risk is that of a second wave of corona infections arising, as has happened in the US, before a vaccination drive can squash the virus's spread. But for now, it would seem that the government's gradual recalibration of its clamps-versus-commerce trade-off was reasonably well calculated.

Courtesy - Livemint.


The Biden Calculus: India will have to work much harder to get Washington’s attention (TOI)

Will Joe Biden be “good” for India? It is too early to tell, but we can reasonably conclude that international life will be more predictable with him. India-US relations will not unravel, but there are significant challenges ahead.

For India, the key issues with the US are China, terrorism/ Pakistan, arms sales, trade, visas and human rights. Ideally, Biden would push back against China both geopolitically and economically. He would partner India against terrorism regionally, which means against Pakistani support of trans-border attacks against Indian targets. And he would continue to sell high-tech weapons to India.

On trade, he would roll back US tariffs on Indian products and quickly sign a trade deal (there is one waiting to be signed). With respect to visas, ideally, he would raise the limits on H-1B visas. And on human rights, he would leave India alone on Kashmir, treatment of minorities, and the decline of democratic checks and balances.

Is this likely? Biden will definitely adopt a softer tone with China even though the Democrats are far more stiff-necked about Beijing than they used to be. The US will inevitably rebalance between India and China somewhat. While Biden won’t sell India out, his team favours more liberal approaches to security even with China.

More positive for India is that Biden will be tougher with China on economic issues than on security issues since the economy affects Americans directly. Also, having the US back in international institutions will be a gain for Delhi: Beijing’s global influence will be checked more effectively than during the Donald Trump era. Will Biden sell India high-tech weapons as the US does to allies? Probably yes, as arms sales create jobs and profits and help build India into more of a balance against China.

Trump had a mixed record on terrorism and Pakistan. He called Pakistan out on terrorism and cut some bilateral aid. On the other hand, he stayed engaged with Islamabad so that he could cut a deal with the Afghan Taliban on a US exit from Afghanistan. Like other presidents, Biden will find himself deeply ambivalent towards Pakistan but unable to take strong action against it. He is also likely to continue Trump’s policy of looking for an exit from Afghanistan, though his timetable will be slower. Worth adding here is that Biden will ease the pressures on Iran, which will help India.

On trade and visas, Biden will find his hands tied by Congress. Democrats and Republicans will be pretty tough on trade. Both political parties have to keep an eye on working-class and middle-class Americans and their jobs and salaries. China benefited from two decades of a wide-open US economy, and it thrived on it. India, as always, came to the party too late. It will never see that kind of openness. There is simply no return to the halcyon days of globalisation.

So also on liberalising visas, Biden will encounter stiff opposition from his own constituencies and a Republican-dominated Senate. Trump’s controls on immigrants probably raised the incomes of many Americans who voted for Biden. They will not want Biden to loosen controls too much. As for human rights and democracy, Biden will certainly be more watchful of India’s record. The new administration will not break with India over the issues, but Delhi will not get a blank cheque politically.

Delhi cannot be complacent on relations with the US, for at least two other reasons. One, India will have to work much harder to get Washington’s attention. Biden will pay more attention to European and East Asian allies, and to climate change than Trump did. As a result, India may not figure as high as it did for Trump. Two, Biden is likely to be a one-term president, and Trump could return to power in four years. How fulsome should India be with Biden given those possibilities?

Courtesy - TOI 

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