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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Will bitcoin follow the mania, panic and crash trajectory? (Hindustan Times)

By Amol Agrawal


On March 11, 2020, bitcoin was valued at around $8,000. By the end of December, it had risen nearly four times to touch $29,000. And by mid-March 2021, it had further doubled to $60,000 levels. To understand this surge, let us return to the basics.


In October 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto released a research article, Bitcoin: A peer to peer electronic cash system, on the internet. This was after the failure of Lehman Brothers, which, in turn, led to the global financial crisis. The 2008 crisis led to a complete breakdown of trust and raised questions about the cultural norms of the financial firms.


As the existing system of fiat currencies and banking was seen as corrupt and manipulated by a few, Satoshi’s vision was the creation of a new digital currency, named bitcoin, which would enable peer-to-peer payments using cryptography and blockchains. The bitcoin system was radical as it did away with the existing central bank-banking system.


Technologists may have contributed to this idea of creating a denationalised currency, but it has economic foundations. Economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek had written about denationalising currency by allowing banks to issue their own currency, returning to the era before central banks. The bitcoin project was more radical as the idea was to decentralise the currency creation and management to people.


Bitcoin did become reality and also led to multiple players offering their own variant of private cryptocurrencies. However, in this frenzy, the original objective of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies of being a currency and form of payment were soon lost.


Money serves three broad functions — as a medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. These cryptocurrencies hardly serve any of the three functions. Instead, cryptocurrencies became cryptoassets and started trading like any other security, but without any business model. In this phase, they hardly posed any challenge to existing currencies and were mostly ignored by central banks. But some of the cryptos were also used for criminal purposes, and some countries, including India, banned cryptocurrencies.


In 2018, Facebook proposed a new digital currency named Libra, which could be used for payments and transfers by Facebook’s large subscriber base. Libra’s value would be more stable as it was to be backed by a reserve of fiat currencies. This new proposition suddenly woke the central bankers up. The central banks started working towards their own digital currencies, called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). Satoshi would be disappointed, not just seeing cryptocurrencies become cryptoassets but to learn how his initiative eventually led to the creation of CBDCs.



Bitcoin’s current surge is difficult to decipher. If the world was preferring bitcoin as a currency, one could still understand this frenzy. But bitcoin’s user base is still insignificant. The likes of Elon Musk have tweeted in support of bitcoin and suggested Tesla would accept payments in Bitcoin. But these are rare exceptions. Bitcoiners forget Hyman Minsky’s words on money: “Everyone can create money; the problem is to get it accepted”.


The State plays a critical role in making money acceptable. The State either asks citizens to pay taxes in only State money/currency, driving other currencies out or simply bans them. Bitcoin and other digital currencies never really had a chance unless a country declared them as legal tender.


The frenzy reminds one of Charles Kindleberger’s iconic book, Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. Most manias are fuelled by easy money/credit, which, in turn, is invested in new investment fads. Eventually, a policy change or firm failure turns the mania into first a panic and finally a crash. Since the 2008 crisis and more so after the 2020 pandemic, the financial markets have been flush with liquidity. This has also been a period where prices of not just bitcoin but most other asset classes have also risen beyond expectations. The big question is how and when this mania will unravel.



While it is tempting for investors to be part of this mania, they should remember the words of John Maynard Keynes: “The markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”.


Amol Agrawal is a faculty member at Ahmedabad University. He writes the Mostly Economics blog


The views expressed are personal.

Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Monday, April 5, 2021

Home and the world (The Indian Express)

Written by Neetha N.  

At a time when four states and the UT of Puducherry are heading for elections, housework and recognising those who do it have become topics of public discourse. In the poll-bound states in south India, housework has figured in manifestos. In Kerala, the ruling Left government has promised pensions for people who do housework. Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP from Kerala, has supported the idea of paying home workers, an idea which was first floated by the actor-politician Kamal Hassan in December 2020. In Tamil Nadu, apart from Kamal’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), housework figures in the manifestos of all major political parties, though the amount of payment promised varies from party to party.


The need to recognise the burden of housework on women has been an issue for long, limited to women’s and progressive movements. But how does one read the sudden recognition of housework by political parties? Many may think that it was Hassan’s promise that triggered its inclusion. Political parties do compete in terms of their promises. But wages for housework as an electoral promise needs to be understood in the larger context of its timing.


During the lockdown, when many families were homebound without help or the option of eating out, the burden of housework became striking. Men, who usually do not participate in much housework, were partially forced to share the work. This helped in busting the myth of housework being easy. For many middle-class families, housework is more than basic cooking and cleaning. There is also care work such as educating or overseeing children’s overall development and taking care of the elderly, which has increased with online schooling and reduced options of hospitalisation. For the poor, while these were not the concerns, the struggle to keep everyone fed with little or reduced income and caring for the ill were the challenges.


The acknowledgement of housework by political parties is surely the beginning of a welcome realisation of the need to reorient society to women’s contribution to housework. But how does one explain the apathy of political parties to women’s employment questions — their reluctance to address women’s exclusion in employment?


Workforce participation rates of women have been declining even before the pandemic. The data and field reports during the pandemic indicate a worsening of women’s employment with the participation rates falling to 11 per cent, against 71 per cent for men as per CMIE data. The decline is biased towards urban areas with the rate falling to 6.9 per cent. This fall in female employment is a matter of critical concern but has not received the required attention from political parties. Volunteer workers (ASHAs, Anganwadi volunteers and other scheme workers), though a part of the state machinery, are not even acknowledged as workers and are denied all labour rights. Paid domestic work is another sector which has for long been neglected from the perspective of labour laws and policies. In India as per PLFS 2018-19 data, there are considerable wage differentials between male and female workers, be it casual or regular wage work. It is true that women are never free from housework even when they are engaged as paid workers and primary breadwinners, and unpaid housework impacts women’s participation and nature of paid work. But how paying for housework would help in addressing the larger issues is debatable, especially from the perspective of women’s equality.


Addressing exclusionary and discriminatory tendencies in the labour market is surely a way to redefine the labour of women and this also needs to be given the required attention. The current indifference around women’s employment can only be seen as an acceptance of a larger economic reality, with state after state competing to ensure cheap and flexible labour. In the given economic context, providing wages for housework may prove advantageous to employers, since a part of household expenses of ill-paid workers would be now taken care of by “state-paid” homemakers. This essentially frees the former from the onus of paying a wage that provides for the social reproduction of the next generation of workers.


  Neetha N is professor at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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Why the Pratap Bhanu Mehta episode is not about academic freedom (The Indian Express)

Written by SHREEKANT SAMBRANI 

A dear friend, whose sharp intellect and matching outspokenness I admire in equal measure, recently sent me a comment he called “Rejoinder to Pratap Bhanu Mehta”. My friend contended that in his earlier newspaper columns and television interviews, Mehta did not substantiate his arguments using academic rigour. The friend defined basic rigour as “requiring collection of verifiable data-evidence, and its rational or scientific analysis to come to academically justified conclusions”. With all due deference to my friend, I must strongly disagree.


My friend is hardly alone in using the term academic freedom while commenting on Mehta’s dramatic exit from Ashoka University. Virtually every comment on l’affaire Ashoka is centred on academic freedom. That is where the discussion gets muddied.


Mehta clearly wore two hats while he was at Ashoka or earlier at the Centre for Policy Research. He was an academic at his institution, conducting research and disseminating its findings, as well as teaching students as part of an academic syllabus. But he was and continues to be a widely-read columnist in a general broadsheet newspaper, writing on a wide diversity of topics of interest to him. In this latter role, he may draw upon his own research, but he clearly uses a variety of sources that shape his judgements and opinions.



It is incorrect to use academic freedom interchangeably with freedom of expression. The two concepts are not the same. Academic freedom implies an absence of restrictions on what one may research on one’s own or as part of an agency or teacher in an institution. This freedom is, however, bound by the rigour implied by my friend. Researchers are obligated to state clearly their objectives, sources of data, and methods of analysis. Moreover, the process of analysis must be replicable. This means that anyone else using the same dataset and method must be able to come to the same conclusions as the researcher. That is what the peer-review process emphasises. In the case of non-data-based conceptual or theoretical research, internal consistency embedded in inductive logic is the criterion to be used. But the theme of research or intellectual discourse through lectures, seminars or publication is entirely, and at all times, a matter of choice for the scholar.


Freedom of expression is a much more tolerant concept. A person expresses one’s own opinions or judgements based on one’s own thinking. The only limitation is that this should not provoke others to physical violence and acts of destruction. We in India and in some other countries often stipulate that freedom of expression should not cause offence to accepted social mores or religious beliefs of others. But liberal democracies such as the United States and countries of Western Europe do not impose such restrictions. In fact, the judiciary in the US has repeatedly ruled that pornography is protected by the right to free speech, however repugnant it may be to public morality. Similar logic makes it extremely difficult to obtain convictions on charges of libel and defamation. Only the right of privacy prevails over freedom of expression in liberal societies.


Seen thus, Mehta’s newspaper columns or media interviews are a matter of his exercising his freedom of expression. One may disagree with him in part or in totality, but that is no ground whatsoever for denying him his right to express his views.


A public commentator is often a bit of a tub-thumper, a sceptic, an agnostic, a polemicist even, who could be a thorn in the side of the elites. History is replete with dissenters enriching a society’s intellectual life. Consider our own çarvakas, who defied Sanskritic puritans to advocate consumerism; Socrates, whose defiance cost him his life; Martin Luther, who founded Protestantism; Emil Zola, whose J’accuse became a war cry for generations rebelling against arbitrary injustice, among others. Closer to our times, Linus Pauling, who won a Nobel for chemistry, was also awarded another for his peace activism which challenged the nuclear weapons orthodoxy. Noam Chomsky is as much known for his championship of dissent as he is for his linguistic theories. Paul Krugman regularly fulminated against the Republicans and former President Donald Trump in the pages of The New York Times and it did no harm to his solid reputation as a Nobel-winning economist.


Societies everywhere and at all times have been notoriously thin-skinned about such critics. Yet, for the most part, history has recognised their signal contribution, recognising them as the ultimate sentinels of liberty. We need to recall that great French pamphleteer-polemicist of the 18th century, François-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire. He held the French aristocracy, church and the bourgeoisie all in contempt and suffered his critics as fools. Yet he said, “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”


Talking of the Mehta episode as a challenge to academic freedom has been a grievous error. Academic freedom is important, but no one has called Mehta’s academic output into question (I doubt if many are even aware of what it is). Freedom of expression is, however, a far greater asset of democratic people and needs to be zealously protected. It is not that Mehta’s views are always acceptable. Although his column is invariably the first thing I read in the mornings when it appears, quite often I find it difficult to agree with him. Yet his contribution invariably enriches our intellectual life.


That is the real issue, and not what happens to Ashoka University, its promoters, donors, faculty and students.


This column first appeared in the print edition on April 5, 2021 under the title ‘The real loss at Ashoka’. The writer taught at IIM, Ahmedabad and was the founder-director of the Institute of Rural Management, Anand.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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The modern beard decoded (TOI)

Santosh Desai

To be a man in today’s team, one needs to wear a beard. Or so it would seem going by the thorny visage of so many in all walks of life. From Narendra Modi to Virat Kohli, public life is rife with men sporting large quantities of hair on their face. For some it has been an enduring part of their identity, while there are many others who have a beard because everyone has a beard. Like all forms of personal affectations, the beard is essentially a form of communication that broadcasts a sense of who one is and who one wishes to be seen as.


The sage’s beard, that Mr Modi has started wearing makes its intention quite clear. Whether or not it is a nod to Rabindranath Tagore, given the Bengal elections, the intended message is quite clear. Over the years Mr Modi’s projected image has moved from being a hands-on man of action, to being a wise oracle who is above the fray. Creating a persona that reminds Bengal of a favourite son does his electoral prospects no harm.


The sage’s beard communicates profusely by its abundance. White and overflowing, it is as if the flood of wisdom that emanates from the oracle is being allowed to flow untrammelled. Two otherwise opposing codes sit together- that of age and abundance. Normally, age brings in its wake sparseness and diminution. Things thin out, shrivel up and shrink, except notably for the flowing beard. The lushness of sage’s beard becomes a sign of one of the few things that are seen to be become more abundant with age- wisdom. In the sage’s and the guru’s beard, age becomes synonymous with baked wisdom, representing an effortless spring well of deep understanding that gushes out without any deliberate effort.


On the other end of the spectrum is the beard most in vogue today, the kind worn by Virat. After years of aspiring to hard-jawed gleaming chins, the tide turned a few years ago and it became mandatory of men who had come of age to sport a more hirsute look. The beard in vogue is carefully groomed, fastidiously maintained and scrupulously displayed. It is a sign of fussy self-absorption, rather than careless


disinterest in one’s appearance. It speaks of a masculinity intent on a fetishising itself, a uniform to be worn to be in trend.


Along with the modern pre-occupation with sculpting the body, this is a way of enacting masculinity, a performance that is carefully orchestrated. Like the bell bottoms of the 70s, the beard today is merely a sign of the times. It is worn on the outside in every possible sense. It uses a device usually seen as a return to a more primitive idea of masculinity to make a more contemporary statement. The hipster beard in particular is the ultimate expression of the idea of beard as costume. Across the many forms it takes, this beard is part homage, part parody, as it grafts another identity from another time and place on to oneself.


It is in many ways an attempt to reclaim the glory of masculinity, in a time when the men feel under pressure from the increasing presence of women in public life, but simultaneously it is so transparently a costume that it undercuts itself. While all masculinity is an act of performance, the beard today is much more consciously so. By amplifying what is a specific sign of maleness, and yet according to it the kind of careful attention that was historically associated with the feminine, the modern beard is an act of self-aware bravado.


On the surface, the current look is the polar opposite of the metrosexual, but structurally, the difference is not vast. This is masculinity worn on the outside, putting on an exaggerated display while confessing to its inadequacy. The modern beard, in all its varied forms, represents the taming of the beard and its conversion into a processed cultural product. A whole regimen of grooming products has sprung around the beard, which once languished in commercial wilderness.


There are several other kinds of beards. The activist’s beard is a site of restlessness, of active dissatisfaction, It is unkempt and straggly, determined to resist order as befits a dissident fermenting ideas and fomenting trouble for the establishment. Of someone too caught up in the weighty issues of injustice and discrimination in the world to bother with appearances. The beard is a sign of individuality, of not caring enough about the things that don’t count while caring deeply for the things that do.


Of course, given that it has been the time-honoured look for intellectuals, there is conformity, merely of another kind.


The stubble is an interesting creature for it revels in its neither-here-nor-thereness. At one level it is a sign of a masculine overflow that could neither be tamed nor get fully realised. The unshaven, under-slept look is a sign of a mind in turmoil, lacking equilibrium. The majnu look made popular by Bollywood captures this state. The designer stubble on the other hand, is an artful declaration of underpreparedness. I The graininess of skin and the roughness of texture act as an advertisement for a masculinity that is perpetually a work-in-progress, not having come to rest. The designer stubble is the beard in its Calvin Klein underwear, balancing raw masculinity with chic sophistication.


The beard was the refuge of the weak-chinned. Today it is the pride of anyone with a chin. The beard wearer has a deep relationship with his own facial hair, and takes it extremely seriously. While at one level, it is an outward sign that aligns itself with the times, it is also a deep expression of an inner felt reality. The current prevalence of the beard (virtually every Indian cricketer for instance sports one) will fade as most grooming trends do, but as gender turns even more liquid, the beard will continue to be both an anchor and a site for experimentation.

Courtesy - TOI

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Here are a few fun games for TN politicians to unwind after poll campaign (TOI)

When polling for the 2021 assembly election in Tamil Nadu draws to a close tomorrow evening, as the journalistic cliché goes, the (electoral) fate of our contestants will be sealed. It will be almost a month before the result is known. So, what do they do till May 2? I am told both Edappadi K Palaniswami and M K Stalin are planning to work on a to-do list once they become chief minister. I suggest they drop those plans and just chill at home. This advice holds good for the less hopeful ones too. So, to relax those tense shoulders and rest those sore vocal cords, here are some fun activities our politicians can do indoors this April.

The two leaders of the AIADMK have had a tiring month ploughing through towns and villages, separately, to defend their fort in Chennai. Not only do they deserve some quiet fun, this one will also let them be together in a room to spend some quality time. Once here, forget about pulling the rug from under each other’s feet and instead pull each other’s leg, crack a joke and settle down for the game.


The game: Sit on the same side of a table (for once), keep two leaves on the table and, using a straw, blow each one’s leaf to the other end. The first leaf to cross the finishing line will be the winner. Since the chief ministership is already decided, the winner gets to keep the party leadership whether the party wins or loses the election.


It’s not an ideal game for a dad-son duo, but then Udhayanidhi didn’t get to contest from the Chepauk constituency because he is his father’s son. As two grown-up politicians they can play the game. Udhayanidhi can ask Stalin the truth question: Did you really mean to deny me the seat when you interviewed me at Arivalayam? And if Stalin passes the question, Udhayanidhi can dare him: Make me the chief minister. Whoever wins in the end, the woman of the family will be happy.


Unlike the other two games, this one needs a few people — which Kamal Haasan definitely seems to have. With no worry over whether his Makkal Needhi Maiam will win a majority or be relegated to the second slot, Kamal should just grab that torch light and get a bunch of MNM friends in a dark room and play the song ‘ilamai idho idho …’ Shine the torch light and, when the beam hits a dancer, he/ she has to freeze. If the person moves, he/she gets the job of holding the torch light. At the end of the game, count if you got 5% or 10% of people moving.


This version of the game is designed strictly for a single player, especially when Seeman is the one. Get into that camouflage, commander, and wield the paint gun of your choice (what about an M16A2 look-alike?). Get dummies of just anyone you hate — and that is a lot of people — line them up and go bang, bang! Every time you hit one on the head, laugh that squeaky laugh. Loud! Use different colours for different points, so we can count the red, black and saffron hits on the dummies to know who your bete noire is.


For all the others, there are enough pallankuzhi boards for the next five years.

Courtesy - TOI

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A good start: On rare diseases and government support for treatment (The Hindu)

It is binding on a welfare state to take care of every single citizen. Securing the wellbeing of every one, particularly those unable to help themselves, irrespective of whether they constitute a critical mass or not, is important. The recent notification of the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021 after various interventions, including the court, is pegged on this principle of inclusion. A good start, it offers financial support for one-time treatment of up to ₹20 lakh, introduces a crowdfunding mechanism, creates a registry of rare diseases, and provides for early detection. In its final form, however, the policy has left the rare diseases lobby sorely disappointed on a crucial note. Rare diseases are broadly defined as diseases that infrequently occur in a population, and three markers are used — the total number of people with the disease, its prevalence, and the availability/non-availability of treatment options. WHO defines rare disease as having a frequency of less than 6.5-10 per 10,000 people. As per an estimate, there are 7,000 known rare diseases with an estimated 300 million patients in the world; 70 million are in India. According to the Organization for Rare Diseases India, these include inherited cancers, autoimmune disorders, congenital malformations, Hirschsprung’s disease, Gaucher disease, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophies and Lysosomal Storage Disorders (LSDs).


Much of the effort in the sector, from the medical side, has been to evolve formal definitions, in the hope that it would support the development of and commercialisation of drugs for treatment, and improve funding for research on rare diseases. Patient support groups have worked towards drumming up funding assistance for the treatment — one time or continual. The notification of the Policy comes as a logical conclusion to a long-fought battle, and yet, stops short of delivering the complete mandate. As per the Policy, diseases such as LSD for which definitive treatment is available, but costs are prohibitive, have been categorised as Group 3. However, no funding has been allocated for the immediate and lifelong treatment needs, for therapies already approved by the Drugs Controller General of India. Experts point out that the costs to help already-diagnosed patients might be in the range of ₹80-₹100 crore annually. If the Centre can extend the cost-sharing agreements that it has worked out with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with other States too, its share of the annual costs will be halved. The Centre can, however, still set aside a substantial corpus to fund life-saving treatments, even as it rolls out the policy. Doing so will not only complete a job well begun — even if not yet half done — but also cement its commitment towards the welfare of every single citizen in India.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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A walk-back: On the expiry of H-1B visa ban (The Hindu)

President Joe Biden allowed a ban on issuance of H-1B visas for skilled workers to lapse at the end of March 2021, a move signalling his intent — articulated as a campaign promise last year — to pull the U.S. back from harsh immigration rules imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump. Mr. Biden’s action will have a significant and favourable impact for Indian nationals seeking employment with U.S. tech firms, given that they were the largest demographic to benefit from this visa annually; they garnered approximately 70%.of the 65,000 H-1B visas annually made available to private sector applicants other than students. By some estimates, H-1B visa applications of up to 219,000 workers were likely blocked as a result of Mr. Trump’s proclamation last June, halting the processing and issuance of non-immigrant work visas of several types. The stated aim was to prevent foreign workers from cornering jobs in the context of the economic distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, this raised genuine questions about whether such rules would set back the U.S.-India relationship by impacting Indian IT services exported to the U.S. These totalled approximately $29.7 billion in 2019, 3.0% ($864 million) more than 2018, and 143% greater than 2009 levels. Not only did the CEOs of Silicon Valley tech titans protest the clampdown on a key source of skilled labour driving their core operations, but some universities also filed lawsuits challenging a subsequent student visa ban last year, leading to a partial walk-back on the rules for the latter.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Wolf Warrior’s day (The Telegraph)

Mukul Kesavan 

In 1962, the same year as the Sino-Indian war, Chalmers A. Johnson, an American scholar, wrote a great book — Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: The Emergence of Revolutionary China 1937-1945. The book set the agenda for Chinese studies for a decade and more and its central argument was succinctly summarized in its preface: “The object of this study is to establish a basis upon which contemporary Communism in China may be understood as a particularly virulent form of nationalism.” 


Johnson’s insight is a useful corrective to the current Western view, which maintains that Xi Jinping broke with his predecessors to lead China in a belligerently nationalistic direction. The Western narrative, which saw the path charted by Deng Xiaoping and his successors as a non-ideological pragmatism destined to assimilate China into a world order defined by the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, was based on a simple misreading of Deng’s policy choices. For China’s leadership, communism and capitalism weren’t ideological choices; they were alternative means to a single ideological end: the restoration of Chinese supremacy.


The ‘virulence’ that Johnson wrote about sixty years ago has been on display in recent times. China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy has flabbergasted its critics in Western foreign policy establishments. The Chinese ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, has described French critics of Chinese policy in Xinjiang and Taiwan as “mad dogs”, “crazed hyenas” and “ideological trolls”. Summoned by France’s foreign ministry for his comments, Lu Shaye didn’t turn up, saying he had a “scheduling conflict”.


It’s useful to remember that Lu Shaye’s previous posting was as ambassador to Canada when Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Canada at the behest of the United States of America. Lu Shaye had then achieved notoriety by accusing Canada of “Western egotism” and “white supremacy” for its extradition proceedings against Meng. 


Lu Shaye isn’t the only Chinese diplomat on a roll. The Chinese consul-general in Rio de Janeiro chose to address the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, in this way: “Boy, your greatest achievement is to have ruined the friendly relations between China and Canada, and have turned Canada into a running dog of the US.” Addressing a head of government as “boy’ isn’t normal, and the Western response to Wolf Warrior diplomacy is to see it as an outbreak of mad hubris sanctioned by Xi Jinping.


In fact, China’s position on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang has been remarkably consistent. All of these issues are ‘internal issues’ for China to sort out and foreign commentary and criticism are unacceptable interference. This is not just boilerplate about sovereignty: this is a viscerally felt, historically conditioned reflex: China was attacked, defeated, exploited, balkanized and pillaged by predatory colonial States, from the Opium War to the savage Japanese occupation of the 1930s and 1940s. The idea that a country like Great Britain can haul China over the coals for its treatment of dissent in Hong Kong, a port that it held as a colonial possession in living memory, is seen as an outrage. It’s how India might respond to Portuguese criticism of the integration of Goa into the rest of the country.


Outside the West, no one sees the arrest of Meng Wanzhou as anything but hostage-taking. The fact that John Bolton could press Canada into arresting her for Huawei’s alleged breach of US sanctions against Iran is generally understood as a bid by the US to both marginalize Huawei (and, by implication, China) in the 5G wars and to bring China to heel in America’s long-standing bid to isolate Iran.


America’s military power, its economic clout and its control over the global financial system have allowed it to legislate sanctions that bind the whole world. The Anglosphere’s intellectual achievement has been to pass off post-war American hegemony as a rules-based world order. China, rightly or wrongly, believes it now has the clout to call the West’s bluff. So China has done two things in response, one little, one large.


In a tit-for-tat move, it has taken hostages of its own: two Canadian businessmen who are perfunctorily accused of spying. It is China’s way of saying to America that it can send proxy messages too. For China, this is an invaluable opportunity to argue that the rule of law that the West sets such store by is an elaborate rationalization of ruthless realpolitik. The larger response to the Canadian contretemps is China’s recently unveiled deal with Iran where it has agreed to invest massively in that beleaguered and broken country in return for cheap oil. At a stroke, it declared its intention to systematically subvert American sanctions against Iran and announced its presence as a major player in West Asia, even declaring that it would try to host an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in Beijing.


For many years, China’s attitude towards the wider world was seen to be pragmatically focused on markets and raw materials. Its Belt and Road Initiative was seen as an ambitious but charmless bid to expand its economic sphere of influence. The provocative aggression of its recent foreign policy, though, suggests that it plans to challenge America for the world hegemon championship and it believes it is a contender. 


It has chosen this moment for two reasons. One, the Trump administration’s bid to create a concert of anti-Chinese nations over the past four years forced China’s leadership to abandon a more calibrated assertion of China’s growing clout. Secondly, the Covid-19 pandemic illustrated for China, in the most dramatic way possible, the decline of the West. There is an unmistakable contempt built into Wolf Warrior diplomacy and this is, in large part, a contempt born of the ineptness and perceived decadence of Western countries, particularly the US, when confronted with the challenge of the coronavirus. The ongoing shambles in the US and Europe stand in such stark contrast to China’s success in taming the pandemic that this year of the plague has clearly been internalized in Chinese strategic thinking as a tipping point in the world’s balance of power.


To have this behemoth of a country flexing its muscles in the most provocative way possible is bad news for the world. China is unlikely to be as militarily adventurist as the West but the danger that its hegemony presents to the rest of the world is of a different sort. As Johnson saw years ago, China is the uber nationalist State. China’s subordination of Tibet and its ethnic cleansing of Xinjiang aren’t national socialism in the classic German sense; it is, however, a sinister kind of majoritarianism.


Chinese majoritarianism isn’t driven by a dominant religious community. It is, instead, fuelled by a suspicion of all religious identities as potential subverters of the only identity a Chinese citizen should have — a national identity. This is the French notion of laicité, taken to its logical and lunatic conclusion. Recently Macron’s government went to some lengths to limit the influence of foreign imams and Muslim organizations on French Muslims. China’s nationalism is similarly marked by a paranoia about extraterritorial loyalties. If Xi’s nation state is fascist, it is, ironically, a fascism with secular characteristics.


2021 marks a hundred years of the Chinese Communist Party. If the State it founded becomes the world’s hegemon, China will become, willy-nilly, a nation state model to be emulated. We should all pray that the Wolf Warriors don’t win.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Different departures (The Telegraph)

 A. Raghuramaraju 

One decision can sometimes be followed by another. The intervening time between the two can be short or extended, invariant or transformational. How important is this time and can it affect the final decision? This provides the framework for the following discussion. Dr B.R. Ambedkar was a modern liberal. Inspired by modern ideas of rationality, equality, freedom and liberty, he fought against inequality and untouchability in the caste system. His unique approach to modernity is examined here, in the context of the temporal framework.


Modernity in the West distanced itself from all that is pre-modern, including Greek metaphysics and Christian theology, both of which justified the practice of inequality. René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, lays down a clear-cut terrain of modernity in his Discourse on Method, by totally disinheriting everything from the pre-modern. This disinheriting included history, oratory, poetry (as it was considered a gift of the mind rather than the fruit of study), moral writings of pagans, customs and the evolutionary growth of societies. He rejects childhood as it is controlled not by reason but by appetite and teachers. Descartes also rejects classical logic and mathematics for their association with the pre-modern.


Like Descartes, Ambedkar, too, embraced modern ideals. He used modern liberal ideas to critique Hinduism. This led him to move away from Hinduism, distancing him from leaders like M.K. Gandhi. Ambedkar felt that Hindu society is “devoid of humanity”. It does not “recognise the importance of an individual” and specifically does not respect Dalits as individuals. Untouchability — which is “nothing but concrete inequality” — pervades Hinduism. The only alternative for Dalits, according to Ambedkar, is to leave Hinduism.



Thus there is an underlying thread connecting Descartes and Ambedkar — their desire to distance themselves from the societies that practice inequality in the pre-modern. This similarity is, however, confined to the domain of departure. There is a need to closely examine the other aspects involved in the process, especially the time between departure from the pre-modern and arrival at the destination, as also the nature of the place of arrival. Descartes, who finds nothing from the pre-modern to be acceptable, takes no time to decide between leaving the pre-modern and arriving in the modern. The modern that he wants to arrive at is governed by cognition which follows rationality, especially instrumental rationality, where there is a direct relationship between cause and effect.


 However, there are differences between Descartes and Ambedkar on two accounts. One is concerning Ambedkar’s choice of an alternative path from the past to ease the transition to modernity. The other is about the duration between their departure from the pre-modern and arrival at the modern. Interestingly, Ambedkar made the unique choice to consider alternatives from the pre-modern instead of toeing the Cartesian path of modernity. This was not acceptable to Descartes. Options from the pre-modern in any form are not permitted in modernity or to Descartes. This was also contested by B.K. Roy Burman. Here I would like to draw attention to the intervening time between Ambedkar’s decision to depart from Hinduism and his final arrival at Buddhism. A study of this interim period will throw a different light on how he arrived at this decision. 


There were about 21 long years — from 1935 to 1956 — between his decision to leave Hinduism and finally convert to Buddhism. During this time, he weighed various options — Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Buddhism. He finally settled on Buddhism as it rejected the deeply entrenched hierarchy and inequality in Hinduism. Though modernity was a readily available option, Ambedkar did not feel that an immediate move to modernity would be a suitable path for the Dalits. Here I would like to highlight the significance of the time taken by Ambedkar between these two decisions. This eluded the attention of those like Burman. The long process of weighing different options before he arrived at the decision to convert to Buddhism should not be ignored.


Ambedkar’s decision seems to have been governed more by the ethics of care than by radical politics. He felt that after being oppressed for so long, Dalits were not in a position to immediately embrace the ideals of abstract Cartesian individualism. This required long preparation, including education, literacy and learning to live a modern life. Ambedkar realized this and chose Buddhism as he felt that it provided both relief from oppression and opportunities for Dalits.


Ambedkar used the analogy of a sailor who plans and makes the necessary arrangements before embarking on a voyage to explain the process of conversion and the need for prior preparation. Descartes, on the other hand, used the metaphor of demolishing an old house and living in an interim place while the new home was built. He envisaged the transitory phase to be brief whereas Ambedkar rightly predicted that it could be quite long. Hence, his decision to first convert from Hinduism to Buddhism instead of embracing modernity right away.


The merits of the path taken by Ambedkar are apparent when compared with the activities of other Indian academics educated in the West. They, too, inherited the path of Descartes and modernity. However, unlike Ambedkar, they did not pay sufficient attention to calibrating their modern views for India. Not surprisingly, their attempts to forcibly fit modern ideas into Indian society remained unsuccessful. Ambedkar, on the other hand, turned his gaze away from the Cartesian path to critique Hinduism and liberate Dalits, and seriously deliberate on the suitability of modern ideas to the Indian situation. What distinguishes those like Ambedkar from Indian academics is turning towards or returning to India after learning political ideas from the West. This is reminiscent of the failed return of Pahom in Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” or Abhimanyu’s failure to return from padmavyuham.


In this context, the works of Ambedkar and other Indian thinkers will be an immense academic contribution in understanding different aspects of Indian society, particularly those that overlap with modern Western political ideas. A detailed reading of them will help us understand not only the similarities and differences with contemporary philosophers from the West but also enable us to appreciate the unique Indian approach to time and temporality.


The author teaches philosophy at the Indian Institute of Technology, Tirupati.

Courtesy - The Telegraph.

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Time to shift gears in the Covid battle (The Economic Times)

A second wave of Covid is washing across certain parts of the country. There is no cause for panic or knee-jerk lockdowns. But there is every reason to shift gears and change the strategy followed hitherto. Intensifying efforts to modulate everyday behaviour to Covid-appropriate conduct is just one part of the solution. Scaling up vaccination is another. However, changing the pattern of vaccination in the select few regions where new Covid infections are concentrated might be even more relevant. Focus the vaccination drive in the most vulnerable areas, and saturate the population, not just those of any age group, with inoculation.


This will mean diverting vaccines from allocations that correspond to an equitable distribution of vaccines among states. The reasons for this must be articulated, and communicated effectively to the relatively lightly affected regions, where people might need to wait a tad bit more to receive their vaccination. At the same time, the government should take appropriate steps to increase the supply of vaccines. Vaccines that have applied for authorization must be approved for emergency use, based on approvals granted in other jurisdictions, particularly the US, whose sizeable Indian diaspora has seen largescale vaccination without any indication that people of Indian origin are at any special risk from the vaccines already in use. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, of which a single shot suffices, and the Novavax vaccine, which can be stored in a normal fridge, are of special interest to India.


The time is past for India to keep waiting for the World Trade Organization to heed calls to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-related therapeutics and vaccines. India should issue compulsory licences to Indian vaccine makers who have or can build additional capacity to manufacture vaccines. It is vital to secure herd immunity for the global population to prevent virus mutations into strains that are ever more difficult to contain. Long Covid can maim lives even of those who manage to survive an infection.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Saturday, April 3, 2021

As Covid returns, India must not repeat the mistakes of 2020 (Hindustan Times)

Barkha Dutt

There is a familiar paranoia in the air as India confronts a sudden surge in Covid-19 cases. And we are in danger of making some of the same mistakes all over again — errors that much of the western world continues to make, and that we should have learnt better from, by now. The most colossal misstep is that we are being pulled back into thinking in the lexicon and language of lockdowns.

My extensive reporting travels across India through the year of the pandemic convinced me of one thing. Indefinite shutdowns — of housing societies, neighbourhoods, schools, cities and, finally, borders — is a counterproductive move that ravages the economy, punishes the poorest of citizens and offers no sustainable solution to the spread of the virus. It would be akin to believing you can get fitter by starving, instead of adopting a balanced diet. You may briefly shed kilos rapidly, only to put them all back on again and acquire a host of other ailments, physical, emotional and psychological, along the way.


Lockdowns have — or should have — a singular logic, which is to buy breathing space for the health care system. The 2020 national lockdown’s initial purpose was to allow for stadiums or other large spaces to be converted into makeshift hospitals, ancillary frontline staff to be mobilised, and enough oxygen to be procured. They were meant to be short and finite preparatory interventions, not repetitive, draconian, policed diktats that not just keep us further and further away from normalcy, and basically become ways of penalising those who can least afford it.

A year on, we also know more than we did previously. We know we should not go racing to the hospital in a panic if our pulse oximeter throws up favourable numbers; we know that we mostly need high-flow oxygen and not ventilators; and we know that all therapeutic medicine is by trial and error, mostly paracetamol meets steroids, the latter strictly when needed. And we know or should know that testing positive should not be spoken of as if it’s the end of the world — despite the surge, India’s recovery rate is still close to 95%.


The most dramatic difference between 2020 and 2021, of course, is that vaccines are now available. And this is where our urgent focus should be, rather than on an alarmist daily tabulation of how many people have tested positive. We should allow data to lead us towards a productive direction. For instance, we know that eight states account for nearly 85% of all new Covid-19 cases. Among these, we know that more than 60% are from Maharashtra. It’s a no-brainer that we need to universalise vaccination coverage for all adults in these hot zones.

Taking an aggregated, pan-India approach to the vaccine rollout, when some states clearly need this more than others, is short-sighted. We are wasting time debating whether India needs to halt its acclaimed vaccine maitri programme and focus inwards; the fact is we are inoculating well below production capacity. And a little over 6% of vaccines are being wasted nationally. This is nothing short of criminal.


While there may be two views on making a vaccine mandatory, the best way to address vaccine hesitancy is to link its requirements with economic and social activity, whether travel, dining in closed and crowded places, or catching a movie. Once enough people realise that the only way to reclaim our lives is to take the jab, self-indulgent drawing room debates by the elite will be forced to draw to a close. Sure, there have been instances when people have contracted the virus a few days after taking the shot. But the vaccine guarantees protection against severe disease and death. It prevents infections in a significant proportion of cases (70-80% for the vaccines in use in India) and ensures that you dont fall gravely ill or need hospitalisation.

Thus, if we inoculate enough of our population, especially in the cities, where Covid-19 is most prevalent, and target the 10 worst-hit Indian cities, the pressure on the hospital system will reduce by itself.


As the country that produces 60% of the world’s vaccines, and as a leader in mass immunisation programmes, this should be more than doable for us. But a conventional, bureaucratic mindset appears to be holding us back. The vaccination programme needs to be reset and targeted. At least three new global vaccines that have Indian partners need to be allowed in without the demand for bridging trials.


Virologists such as Dr Shahid Jameel have underlined the urgent need for unlocking Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik and Novovax from these regulatory hurdles, pointing out that it is wasteful to be lost in percentage point debates over efficacy. As long as the vaccines are safe and provide protection against mortality and serious illness, that’s all that counts.



This is where our Covid-19 conversation must be centred — in the future. Not in revisiting ideas like lockdowns that are detrimental to the health of nations.


Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and authorThe views expressed are personal.


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Most wanted: a makeover for the police (The Indian Express)

Written by Prakash Singh  

The scandalous chain of events in Maharashtra, that started with the placing of a Scorpio car carrying gelatin sticks in front of Mukesh Ambani’s mansion in Mumbai and continued with the deposed police commissioner’s explosive allegations against the state home minister, is taking strange twists and turns.


The Supreme Court, while disposing of the petition of the former commissioner of police, Param Bir Singh, conceded that “the matter is quite serious and affects the administration at large” but directed that the petition be preferred under Article 226 of the Constitution before the Bombay High Court as the powers thereunder are wider. Referring to its own judgment in the Prakash Singh case, the court observed that it was “only a mantra recited periodically, wherever the occasion so suits, and there has been no seriousness by all concerned to ever implement the directions enshrined in the judgment”. And now, the Bombay High Court has pulled up Param Bir Singh for not filing an FIR against the home minister. The state government has, meanwhile, ordered a judicial inquiry.


The directions of the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court are unexceptionable. The honourable judges, however, forgot that when existing institutions fail to deliver, the common man looks up to the judiciary to address a situation. Here, the state government was, in all likelihood, the principal beneficiary of the extortion racket. The bureaucracy was complicit and the police was in the dock. It was an extraordinary situation where an intervention by the Supreme Court was perhaps called for and would have been welcomed by the people of the country. With due respect, a great opportunity was missed.



The Bombay High Court is also technically correct when it says that an FIR should have been registered in respect of the allegations. But, considering that the police comes under the home minister, was it possible for any police functionary to lodge a report against him at a police station? We are not living in an ideal world and such an action has perhaps not been taken by police anywhere in the world. The court could have easily ordered the registration of an FIR on the basis of Param Bir’s letter to the chief minister and directed its investigation to be taken up by the CBI.


As things are, what would be the upshot? The prime movers in the nexus would get away. Lesser mortals would be held accountable and punished. People will, out of a feeling of helplessness, gradually forget the incident. Life would move on — until the country is jolted again by a similar scandal.


It may not be out of place to record that the unsavoury incidents which happened in Mumbai were building up over a period of about 25 years. The petition for police reforms was filed in the Supreme Court in 1996. Soon after, the government of Maharashtra filed an affidavit on November 2, 1996, stating that none of the recommendations was feasible or acceptable. The constitution of the State Security Commission, it said, would be “inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution of India”. The Supreme Court, notwithstanding opposition from several states, gave its historic judgment on September 22, 2006. The government of Maharashtra again filed an affidavit on January 9, 2007, stating that there were “compelling legal and practical reasons why the implementation of the directions is not feasible”. Subsequently, in 2014, it passed the Maharashtra Police (Amendment and Continuance) Act, which was not in consonance with the letter and spirit of the Court’s directions.


In 2012, Julio Ribeiro, in an article in a national daily, wrote that the home minister was virtually de facto police chief of the state and that the director-general of police “has been reduced to a non-entity and a figure head”. Contempt petitions were filed against the government of Maharashtra more than once, but the Supreme Court, for inexplicable reasons, never issued any notices.


On March 9, 2014, in Aamir Khan’s TV programme, Satyamev Jayate, Sanjay Pandey, a senior officer of Maharashtra Police, clearly said that there was organised corruption in the police where money was taken on a regular basis from restaurants, liquor shops and dance bars, and the same was shared by the police hierarchy and the politicians. The extortion racket has thus been there in Mumbai for quite some time.


In 2020, Rashmi Shukla, Commissioner Intelligence, reported to the DGP about a network of politically connected brokers who were taking bribes for manipulating lucrative assignments for officers, but no action was taken. The truth was much too inconvenient to be probed.


So, the picture that emerges — well before Param Bir Singh’s letter bomb — is that we have a state government which does not believe in police reforms, that the state has had home ministers interfering in the day-to-day functioning of police, that the bureaucracy has been complicit in the unholy transactions, that prestigious police posting was available for a price, and that there has been organised corruption in the department. All the ingredients for an explosion were already there. Not that similar malpractices are not taking place in other states. The overall picture is the same, only the shades are different.


Certain inferences could be drawn even today. One, Sachin Waze could not have been acting on his own in placing the Scorpio with explosives in front of Mukesh Ambani’s residence. He would have done this with the knowledge and approval of his senior officers whose plan, in turn, would have been approved by the political bosses. What that plan was is still a mystery. Two, the MVA government and commissioner of police got along famously and there may have been a quid pro quo — until the commissioner was thrown out. Three, the extortion racket was arguably running with the knowledge of the coalition government; their defence of the state home minister is altogether unconvincing.


What is the way ahead? A crisis can be converted into an opportunity. It is high time that the unholy nexus between the politicians, bureaucrats, police and criminals is broken, that we debar persons of criminal background from entering the assemblies and parliament, that we restructure our police, giving it functional autonomy, and build a robust criminal justice system. The stakes are very high. The democratic structure of the country itself may be hurt if we do not bring about systemic changes.


This column first appeared in the print edition on April 3, 2021 under the title ‘Police needs a makeover’. The writer, a retired Director General of Police, has been campaigning for police reforms.

Courtesy - The Indian Express.

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Beware of the urge to ignore the surge…(TOI)

I am writing this on April Fool’s Day — and feeling like the biggest fool myself! COVID-19 has fooled us all! We were trusting enough to believe the worst was behind us! But look — the second surge is here, folks! It’s official. Accept it! And start thinking of the best available options left — how do we hang on to a semblance of our freshly tattered sanity? Beating thalis from our balconies clearly didn’t scare off the deadly virus. Nor did lighting diyas, singing bhajans or chorusing ‘Go Corona Go!” We had dramatic flypasts honouring frontline workers, and the entire country saluted their heroic efforts. Then came the big announcement — we finally had the coveted vaccine! Hurrah! We rejoiced and cheered and felt reassured — take the shot and all will be well. Ummmm — not really, as this past week has shown. No amount of ringing ghantis is going to help this time. The numbers are escalating at an alarming rate, and we have no choice, but to wait this one out and hope Covid 3.0 isn’t waiting in the wings to make its demonic debut on the world stage.


Exactly this time last year, we were all coming to terms with unfamiliar concepts, wondering how we’d cope with lockdowns, social distancing, WFH, home schooling, no travel — you know the list. But human beings being as resilient as they are, rapidly found ways to keep themselves amused. Dalgona coffee and banana bread, anyone? But once again we are back to being paranoid after a welcome lull, during which everyone and his/ her chhacha rushed to the Maldives and posted hazaar beach pictures specifically designed to generate unbearable envy and longing. Every minor and major TV/ Bollywood star jumped on that Maldives flight ready to flaunt beachwear that nobody actually wears except on Insta.


The truly fortunate (read: woke) folks quietly slunk off to their private villas in Alibaug and stayed put. Most are still there, reluctant to come back to their city lives, having discovered a far superior existence less than 20 nautical miles away from Mumbai. The exceptionally efficient/ convenient RORO service has made it possible to enjoy the best of both worlds. Most of the clever Alibaughers make it to Mumbai only if they absolutely have to, and sensibly rush right back.


Since food delivery became the new restaurant experience, it was possible to stay home and eat your favourite cuisine without bothering to change out of comfy PJs or kaftans. COVID-19 freed us on multiple levels — I haven’t bought myself a thing during this past year, and frankly, what did it matter? I gave away a lot and that overdue exercise made me feel so much lighter. I certainly don’t need new clothes — in addition, so many of my friends say they don’t need new or old friends! They’re spending precious time with themselves — and delighting in the many unexpected joys of their own company. Ladies of a certain vintage (mine!) have actively embraced old passions — painting, writing, pottery, gardening, music, cooking.


Once all of us were done with binge watching shows online and treating ourselves to more wine than was good for us, we came to terms with so many unresolved issues we hadn’t invested sufficient time to figure out earlier. Slowing down the pace of life was far from the nightmare we dreaded — if anything, it was therapeutic and healing. Speaking for myself, I actively reached out to people I had not been in touch with for years, but who were once such an intrinsic part of my life. It felt great to reconnect and share precious memories like we once did.


Who knows what the ‘New ‘New’ Normal’ is going to be, now that we are once again facing a bleak future, with fresh Covid restrictions. I was surprised to hear a group of young people saying they preferred the total lockdown of last year to the present state of uncertainty. “We hate being caught in a limbo’, they lamented. My children urge me to watch documentaries and listen to ‘serious’ podcasts, participate in lofty webinars and random Zoom calls. Rubbish! I am so done! Give me mindless fluff any day — something breezy and beautiful, with fun music and lots of dancing. Seriously, it’s time to revisit all of Govinda’s past hits. There’s nobody like him! Male actors today focus so much on their abs, one hardly notices anything else. And female actors look like they have emerged from the same mould — totally indistinguishable. And yes — their abs are on permanent display, too. And emote far better than their faces. Bring back Govinda! He’s the only one who can see us through the surge.

Courtesy - TOI

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Who’s afraid of net zero target? This provides India an opportunity to pole vault to a green and just future (TOI)

A storm is brewing on the climate diplomacy front that India needs to navigate carefully to avoid becoming a fall guy. The issue at hand is the pledge by countries to achieve “net zero” emission by the mid-century. Over 120 countries have already announced their intention to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. China intends carbon neutrality before 2060, and the US is considering a 2050 pledge. Being the third-largest emitter, there is pressure on India to announce its commitment as well.


Net zero or carbon neutrality means that the amount of CO2 produced by a country is balanced by the amount removed from the atmosphere. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, global net CO2 emissions should decline by about 45% by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.


There is considerable scepticism around net zero in India. Many argue that net zero is not equitable and fair as it does not differentiate between developing and developed countries in sharing the burden of mitigation. Another argument is that it will limit India’s development potential. Some also criticise mid-century net zero as allowing uncontrolled emissions today while relying on uncertain technologies to offset emissions in the future. Finally, many net zero pledges are premised upon trading and offsetting emissions, allowing the rich to continue emitting and buying their way out.


There is some merit to the above scepticism. Historically, developed countries have shifted the goalposts on climate action and reneged on financial and technological promises to developing countries. However, we cannot shy away from net zero, as declaring a carbon neutrality target is inevitable for every country to meet the 1.5°C goals; the only question is when and how.


The first step for India to decide the contours of net zero is to stop reacting to terms set by developed countries. In three decades of climate negotiations, we have primarily been a reactive party, not a proactive one shaping the discussion. With net zero as well, we face a choice – either reject the idea citing equity and fairness or embrace and remould it to achieve climate goals and secure our developmental space. I strongly believe we have an opportunity to develop a fair, ambitious and effective consensus on net zero. Let me propose a five-point agenda that India can consider to set the terms for future global action.


First, net zero should be built on self-differentiation, a cornerstone of the Paris Agreement. It is a no-brainer that if the global net zero deadline is mid-century, then the developed countries’ deadline will be 2040. High-emitting emerging economies like China will have to follow soon and reach net zero before 2050. Countries like India with per capita emissions below the global average will get a little more time – until 2060.


Second, the net zero target has to be flexible. Newer disruptive technologies would allow us to decarbonise faster at a much lower cost than what can be envisioned today. Take, for example, India’s solar energy target. From a modest 20GW in 2010 (enhanced to 100GW in 2015), we are now targeting 450GW of renewables by 2030, largely from solar. That is a 15-fold ambition enhancement within a decade. Countries should therefore revisit their net zero targets every ten years to firm up their commitments.


Third, while net zero is the ultimate goal, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), due every five years, are the means to achieve the goal. IPCC is very clear; an ambitious 2030 target must accompany net zero. So, countries pledging net zero must also announce enhanced NDCs for 2030.


Fourth, net zero has to be legally binding. Less than ten countries have enacted domestic law on net zero; the rest have made pledges or policy statements. While policy pronouncement is important, compliance can only be assured through a law. This is especially necessary for the US, where climate ambition shifts quickly with change in the political landscape. If the Biden administration is serious about net zero, it should get a law through the US Congress.


Finally, and most importantly, setting a net zero target will not by itself guarantee positive and equitable social and economic outcomes. The rapid transition required in the next 2-3 decades will disrupt the economic and social fabric of fossil-fuel dependent regions. Hence, the net zero targets must be paralleled by an international framework on Just Transition.


Achieving net zero over the next 3-4 decades is very much possible for India. We are developing at a time in history when low/ no-carbon technologies will grow exponentially. A well-designed net zero plan will be an opportunity for us to pole vault to a green future. While there will be an extra cost, studies indicate that these will be modest and compensated by lower adaptation costs and reduced loss from extreme weather events. Besides, it will have enormous co-benefits in reducing air and water pollution and improving forest and soil quality, contributing to overall environmental improvement and human well-being. By announcing our net zero commitment, we will also send a clear signal that we are open to global finance and technology support for a green and just transition.


The bottom line is we are one of the most vulnerable countries to climatic disruptions. It is, therefore, in our interest that a serious effort is made globally to meet the 1.5°C goals. In this endeavour, we can either be a bystander or a leader.

Courtesy - TOI

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Better late: On announcement of Phalke award to Rajinikanth (The Hindu)

Rajinikanth, the reigning demigod of Tamil filmdom, richly deserves the Dadasaheb Phalke award, Indian cinema’s highest recognition, bestowed by the jury this year. The film world has few parallels to his success story. His transition from Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, a Marathi-born struggling bus conductor in Bengaluru, to a worshipped superstar in the Dravidian heartland, was made possible only by his undimmed passion and sustained hard work. From early on, he introduced novelty to his screen characters. He has kept innovating on his unique styles of tossing a cigarette or a mint, twirling his sunglasses and walking with a swagger. While style remains his hallmark, it would be an injustice to dismiss him as just a mass hero. He had excelled as an actor with sensitive portrayals in films such as Mullum Malarum and Aarilirindhu Arubadhu Varai before getting trapped in superstardom with Billa and donning larger than life roles. He is among the rare heroes who handle comedy scenes with ease, his dual roles in Thillu Mullu being an example. His charisma has attracted three generations of fans, with a following even in Japan where he is lovingly called ‘Odori Maharaja’ (The Dancing Maharaja). He is also the only Indian actor to have featured in black and white, colour, 3D and motion capture films.


But despite Rajinikanth’s demonstrable body of work, given his active inclination for a foray into “spiritual politics” until last year, inevitable questions are being raised if the award is a calculated choice to influence poll-bound Tamil Nadu. While Rajinikanth lent support during elections to the DMK-TMC (1996, 1998) and AIADMK-BJP (2004), in recent years he has made no secret of his admiration for BJP leaders. Not only did he hail Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah as ‘Lord Krishna and Arjuna’ — after the scrapping of special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 — he targeted Dravidian icon Periyar E.V. Ramasamy while recalling the alleged attacks on Hindu deities during a 1971 anti-superstition rally. He backed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. To be fair, since his ‘no show’ in politics, the actor has remained politically withdrawn, though previously he indirectly targeted the DMK and the AIADMK. He has not responded to appeals from ‘neutral’ observers to lend his support for “honest, dynasty-free politics”. Whether the award’s timing would influence the voting choice of his legion of fans is difficult to say as he remains an untested electoral force. However, had the jury put off the announcement of the award by just a week till polling was over, everyone would have unconditionally welcomed the choice. The giver has done the recipient a disservice through the timing of the announcement.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Prudence prevails: on speculation about inflation (The Hindu)

The Finance Ministry has put to rest all speculation about the inflation targeting framework that will guide the interest rate decisions of the RBI’s Monetary Policy Committee over the five-year period starting on April 1. In a terse notification, the Department of Economic Affairs announced that the inflation target for the quinquennium ending on March 31, 2026, will be 4%, with an upper tolerance level of 6% and a lower tolerance level of 2%. Economic Affairs Secretary Tarun Bajaj said that the framework’s parameters would remain unchanged from what had prevailed in the five years that ended on March 31. The government’s announcement is a welcome step in reiterating that inflation targeting remains the centrepiece of the monetary policy framework and signals that the fiscal and monetary authorities are in lockstep in ensuring the primacy of price stability as the bedrock for all macro-economic development. This is particularly apposite at a time when inflation pressures are mounting in an economy that is still struggling to regain its footing from the devastating contraction in the just-ended fiscal year, when the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic measures to curb its spread resulted in widespread precarity. The latest Consumer Price Index data show retail inflation accelerated by almost 100 basis points to a three-month high of 5.03% in February, with food and fuel costs continuing to remain volatile. Also, with the prices of multiple raw materials on an upward trajectory, an IHS Markit India Business Outlook survey last month showed companies were planning to raise selling prices over the coming 12 months to cope with rising costs.


The RBI’s officials have in recent months maintained an unwavering focus on emphasising the need to retain the flexible inflation targeting framework. In a December working paper titled ‘Measuring Trend Inflation in India’, the Deputy Governor overseeing monetary policy, Michael Debabrata Patra, and a colleague underscored the importance of ensuring the appropriateness of the inflation target. Observing that there had been a steady decline in trend inflation to a 4.1%-4.3% band since 2014, they said a target far lower than the trend ran the risk of imparting a ‘deflationary bias’ that would dampen economic momentum, while a goal much above the trend could engender expansionary monetary conditions that would likely lead to inflation shocks. And in February, the RBI’s researchers authoring its Report on Currency and Finance — themed ‘Reviewing the Monetary Policy Framework’ — made clear that the framework had served the economy well, attested by a decline in inflation volatility and more credible anchoring of inflation expectations. That the government’s economic officials have heeded these calls will certainly reassure investors and savers that inflation remains a central concern for all policymakers.

Courtesy - The Hindu.

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Against senseless e-commerce terms (The Economic Times)

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


Certain proposals for a new ecommerce policy, backed by lobby groups, are currently doing the rounds. The government would do well to reject them in the interest of systemic efficiency, promoting small and medium enterprises and defending their interests against the domineering influence of big retailers, and fairness in the treatment of foreign investment in the country. Some of the proposals conflict with the government’s desire to modernise the logistics of agricultural produce, for which it has brought in new farm laws at a significant political cost.


One proposal is to bar companies in which foreign companies that operate ecommerce marketplaces have any economic interest from selling on these marketplaces. Already, the rules cap, at 25% of total sales on the ecommerce platform, the volume of a seller in which a foreign ecommerce platform has a stake. The proposed change would defeat the essential gain for the economy from bringing in organised retail: to enable investment in the facilities and processes of modern logistics. If a foreign retailer is barred altogether from owning any stake in a company that invests in modern logistics to procure, process and sell on the ecommerce platform, that would rule out the possibility of realising the core efficiency that modern retail brings to the table. Unless, of course, retail is understood by policymakers as the science and art of attractive display of merchandise in the store, electronic or physical.


Another proposal is to permit foreign ecommerce firms to invest in logistics operations and to make their services available to one and all at fair and undifferentiated prices. This suffers from two deficiencies. Trade offers different rates to different customers, based on scale and regularity of custom, to begin with. Further, certain activities are too complex to be contracted out without loss of efficiency, and have to be internalised within a firm. This insight was awarded a Nobel prize in economics, and so, perhaps, is too highfalutin to inform government policy.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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The clean water and fuel opportunity (The Economic Times)

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


Budget 2021 talks of Swachh Bharat Mission (Urban) 2.0, and allocates Rs 1,41,000 crore for wastewater treatment and solid waste management (SWM). The Mihir Shah committee report on water reforms had brought out the startling fact that only 2% of our urban areas have both sewerage systems and sewage treatment plants. The government must draw up multi-year projects for sewage treatment via public-private partnerships (PPP), and also to boost municipal capacity to that end.


India ranks 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index, one significant reason being that we have given short shrift to investments in modern sewage systems for decades. A holistic, integrated approach is clearly required. Take, for instance, SWM. India generated 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in 2019, but the vast bulk of it was simply dumped at landfills without any scientific processing and treatment. Worse, given the hugely inadequate capacity in sewage treatment plants, it is par for the course for urban wastewater to simply flow into local water bodies. True, in recent years, there has, indeed, been sharp increases in budgetary outlays for the urban sector both at the Centre and in the states. But there appears to be little or no commensurate improvement in the institutional and financial capacity of local bodies that can purposefully equip them to discharge urban services in an effective and business-like manner.


Hence the need to step up investment in SWM and sewage treatment plants in the PPP mode, to tide over the inefficiencies of urban local bodies, including by way of innovative financing mechanisms such as value capture finance, so as to boost public health. Sewage treatment has synergies with plans to produce biogas and cut methane emission at scale, too.

Courtesy - The Economic Times.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

In Afghanistan, India must embrace the role of peacemaker (Hindustan Times)

By Syed Akbaruddin

Some say, it is a place where conflict is endemic and peace will remain elusive. Others say, these are times of great power rivalry, and hence, the prospects of those engaged in the new great game cooperating are dim. Yet, peacemaking is in the air in the heart of Asia. In other words, there is a surge of diplomacy, to address the dilemmas that Afghanistan is confronting.



The United States (US) secretary of state Anthony Blinken’s missive to Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani laid out the Joe Biden administration’s wish-list for an accelerated peace process. It set off a rush for peace and reconciliation. In early March, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, launched a diplomatic offensive. He has engaged interlocutors in Kabul, Islamabad, Doha and Moscow in a renewed bid to end the US’s longest war. On March 17, United Nations (UN) secretary-general Antonio Guterres appointed Jean Arnault from France as his personal envoy on Afghanistan and regional issues. On March 18, the first meeting in 2021 of the extended troika of Russia, the US, China and Pakistan along with Afghan government and Taliban representatives was hosted in Moscow and endorsed the call that the Taliban not pursue its spring offensive.


On March 20, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin visited Kabul to, “listen and learn”. On March 23, Blinken shared Washington’s “initial thinking” about Afghanistan with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in Brussels. On March 30, the ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was convened in Dushanbe, bringing together 15 participating countries from the region, 17 supporting countries from beyond the region, and 12 regional and international organisations. More diplomacy is in store — including an intra-Afghan meeting in Turkey.


This frenetic activity is fanned by the timeline agreed to by the Donald Trump administration in Doha on February 29, 2020, for the withdrawal “from Afghanistan of all military forces of the United States, its allies, and coalition partners, including all non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel within fourteen months.” Biden has acknowledged that it would be “hard” to meet the May 1 deadline, but when asked if US troops will be in Afghanistan next year, he clarified, “I can’t picture that being the case.”



Notwithstanding the Taliban’s inability to meet key commitments made by them in the Doha Agreement — reducing violence, severing links with al-Qaeda and engaging in meaningful intra-Afghan negotiations — the US has proposed an ambitious endgame template. This includes a 90-day reduction in violence to create an environment conducive to reaching a negotiated political settlement; the establishment of an inclusive interim Afghan government with the Taliban for a transitional period, in exchange for a cease-fire; new institutional arrangements to be worked out with the present constitution serving as an initial basis for intra-Afghan negotiations.


The hectic efforts to not leave behind a wreckage after years of global investment in Afghanistan’s stability are understandable. India, too, has invested much in terms of peace-building in the post-2001 phase. While, previously, it has been part of large groups, for the first time, it has been invited to join a select group of six countries in peacemaking efforts. Ministers from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India along with the US — states that have the capacity to play important roles in Afghanistan — will meet on a UN platform. This concerted approach to peacemaking in Afghanistan is similar to the P5+1 format for Iran and six-party talks for North Korea.



In the classical peace continuum, spreading across the spectrum of activities from preventive diplomacy to peacemaking and from peacekeeping to peace-building, India has tended to be risk-averse and keep away from peacemaking roles in internal conflicts following its experience in Sri Lanka. Peacemaking, even of the collective variety, is never easy. It requires weighing in on difficult trade-offs relating to contentious issues among parties to the conflict. It can lead to deeper involvement in issues that India prefers not to get involved in.


Also it, willy-nilly, means engaging all key players. In this case, it will inevitably mean the Taliban also, something that India has steered away from, thus far. Successful peacemaking requires substantive engagement. India will have to reconcile to the new realities of such responsibilities. This does not mean jettisoning interests, friends or the values that India has stood for in Afghanistan. It, however, means that rather than only voicing support, Indian diplomacy needs to be nimble in forming partnerships on specific issues to support the Afghan people with those having similar interests. More of quiet diplomacy and less of public diplomacy.



Obviously, there are risks. The rush to peace can stoke concerns and result in responses similar to when there is a rush to war. Also, the chances of a successful outcome to a peacemaking endgame involving so many moving pieces are uncertain. Nevertheless, for India, turning away from Afghanistan is not an option. The alternative to trudging along the tortuous peacemaking road, in the company of fellow travellers and adversaries, is to inertly accept the subversion of Afghanistan, with all its consequences experienced in the 1990s.


As diplomats jocularly put it, “If you are not on the table, you are on the menu”. It is time for India to earnestly move in concert to support peacemaking in Afghanistan. Not for no reason is it said: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.



Syed Akbaruddin is a retired diplomat who served as India’s permanent representative to the United Nations


The views expressed are personal


Courtesy - Hindustan Times.

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Net zero and climate injustice (The Indian Express)

Written by R S Prasad  

The idea of net zero emissions by 2050 is being advocated as a panacea for the evil of climate change. While the feasibility and efficacy of such a strategy for all countries is questionable, it also strikes at the root of the basic tenets of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Simultaneously, it undermines the achievement of a climate-just world.


The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) based on historical responsibility have been the bedrock of climate actions under the UNFCCC ever since 1992. These are also the central pillars on which India’s call for climate justice is premised.


The Paris Agreement on climate change was a forward march for the global community in many ways. Developed countries promised to deliver higher finance commitment by 2025 and a more facilitative technology regime, apart from leading mitigation actions. Developing countries agreed to take legal obligation that entails undertaking domestic mitigation measures and reporting on their implementation as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).



Climate justice gained traction under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Paris COP. It was inscribed in the preamble of the Paris Agreement based on India’s articulation. PM Modi has led by example and motivated the Indian government to introduce climate sensitivity in domestic policies through interventions like energy for all, housing for all, health insurance and crop insurance, coupled with calls for action like the “Clean India” and “give it up” campaigns, popularising yoga and sustainable lifestyle practices. Together, these initiatives ensure climate justice to the vulnerable and poor sections that are worst hit by climate change. While the rich were cajoled to move towards sustainable living, the poor were provided with the safety nets to fight climate change. Nowhere else in the world has such an experiment been launched on such a large scale.


With India’s efforts, climate justice has now become an important part of the climate change discourse. However, few have been able to grasp the significance of this concept and the idea has been left open to interpretation. While people in all countries have a sense of justice, which is primarily guided by perceptions and social conditioning, addressing the moral values of justice and fairness in climate change negotiations has been anything but easy.


In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished three forms of justice, namely distributive, commutative and corrective. With the onset of the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, it would be useful to take stock of how well the global community is addressing these three aspects of justice.


Distributive justice pertains to how resources should be distributed in terms of principles of equality, equity and merit. For climate change, the most important resource is the global carbon space. It is important to note that even though industrialisation in the developed countries is responsible for a large part of the build-up in greenhouse gases which causes climate change, people of the developing countries are suffering disproportionately more from its impacts. The developed countries continue to corner a lion’s share of the carbon space for their luxurious consumption while they goad developing countries to cut their emissions emanating from even basic needs. The Climate Action Tracker reports that climate action of major developed countries is incompatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. It is only a few developing countries, including India, who are taking adequate climate action. Therefore, the focus should be on ensuring ambitious climate action by developed countries in the near-term to ensure distributive climate justice in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.


Commutative justice refers to agreements or commitments, and other kinds of social contracts. In the climate change discourse, it would refer to the honouring of past commitments in good faith. The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997 was a historic turning point with legally binding targets for industrialised countries to reduce overall GHG emissions. However, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that commits developed country parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 only entered into force in December 2020, just one day before its expiry. Not only were these targets unambitious and grossly inadequate to meet the principal objective of UNFCCC, but several developed countries backtracked and refused to take on any targets in the second commitment period. The developed country delivery of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building support to developing countries is also not up to the mark. They are not even close to meeting their climate finance goal of jointly mobilising at least $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries. The fulfilment of these past commitments would be a critical precursor to any enhancement of climate ambition by developing countries.


Finally, corrective justice pertains to the righting of wrongs. Climate justice demands that every individual who is born on this earth has a right to development and dignified living. For this, developed countries need to repay the climate debt by shouldering greater mitigation responsibilities and providing finance, technology and capacity building support to safeguard the interest of the poor and vulnerable people in developing countries.


India and other developing countries have struggled hard to ensure differentiation between the developed and the developing countries and enshrine the principles of equity and CBDR-RC in the Paris Agreement. So, while many herald the call for net zero by 2050 as a positive signal in avoiding runaway climate breakdown, in reality it delays climate action by developed countries and is being used to evade historical responsibility and transfer burdens to developing countries. It is now time that developed countries rose to the occasion and ensured climate justice by leading climate action responsibly.


 Ravi Shankar Prasad is an IAS officer. Till recently, he was additional secretary in the ministry of environment, forests and climate change. Views are personal.

ourtesy - The Indian Express.

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