Showing posts with label The Times of India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Times of India. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

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


Monday, November 30, 2020

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


Saturday, November 28, 2020

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 


Friday, November 27, 2020

Federal spirit: Centre and states, especially opposition ruled ones, have much distance to bridge (TOI)

Union government’s unhappiness with some states not cooperating with central schemes underscores the importance of better Centre-state relations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have flagged Maharashtra’s slow progress on the bullet train project and the failure of some states to enrol street vendors for the PM-SVANidhi microfinance scheme. Differences of opinion have always persisted between Centre’s developmental vision which is generally holistic, and state governments having their own local imperatives and funding priorities. Politics also plays its part, with states governed by parties different from the Centre more likely to voice objections.

The bullet train impasse stems from the Maha Vikas Aghadi government unwilling to expend political capital on the project, over which the alliance partners had expressed misgivings while in opposition. Frequent run-ins between BJP and MVA constituents aren’t helping either. An extensive network of bullet trains enabled China to speed up its growth. Unfortunately, India is failing here and blame lies with the politics of demonisation, which no side is immune from. The enviable bullet train network across China’s length and breadth and India’s snail paced progress on Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor and Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor could be used as metaphors for the development trajectory of the two countries.

A revival act depends on the Centre conjuring up the original spirit of cooperative federalism, that saw such steps as the 2015 approval of the 14th Finance Commission recommendation devolving 42% of tax receipts to states. But non-shareable cesses and surcharges in the central kitty have remained beyond the pale of this 42% devolution. Meanwhile, public debt of states as percentage of GDP spiked between 2014-15 and 2019-20 while Centre’s declined during this period. States must take the onus for fiscal responsibility, but they are just as likely to blame inadequate tax devolution and GST compensation for their plight.

Now the recession is forcing states to cut expenditure with development spending taking large hits. Greater Centre-state coordination is needed now. Besides funds, it requires mitigating political mistrust, at its peak with central agencies actively pursuing only non-BJP leaders and opposition governments fearing for their stability. Brinkmanship over cornering credit for schemes hurts too: Andhra CM Jagan Reddy has renamed the PM-SVANidhi after himself. BJP’s domination of the political and economic narrative, evident from the Bihar results, should put the party at ease. Cordial Centre-state relations can elevate economy and development instead of culture wars and partisan politics as national obsessions.

Courtesy - TOI


In the picture: When verbal communication comes to a dead end, emoticons can come to the rescue (TOI)

I recently got into an upsetting misunderstanding on the phone with someone I care for very much. We discontinued our phone conversation, but the disagreement continued in a series of WhatsApp messages.

As each tried to clear the air and make peace with the other, we got more and more entangled in verbal miscommunication, which made things worse instead of better.

Finally, Bunny suggested that instead of trying to explain what I meant in words I should send an emoticon, one of those graphic symbols conveying a range of feelings, from joy to sorrow, from affection to anger. So, I sent off an emoticon namaste, the universally understood sign of goodwill, and immediately received a WhatsApped namaste in return, the unintended dispute put to an end.

The incident illustrated, quite literally, the old saying that a picture can be worth a thousand words.

Language – our ability to express our thoughts and feelings to each other through spoken sounds and written alphabets which we call words – makes humans a unique species.

But while words, spoken and written, have created the infinite wealth of what we call literature, given voice to a Shakespeare and a Tagore, a Kalidas and a Keats, language can at times inadvertently build barriers when what we mean to build are bridges.

Words, spoken or written, sometimes seem to acquire a will and a life of their own, which is very different, indeed the polar opposite, of what we want to express. It is as though language becomes a sieve which strains out the meaning we wish to convey and allows through only a dilute, or even a contrary, message.

This is when emoticons, or emojis as they’re also called, come to our salvation. Starting with the simple smiley, and its opposite, the frowny, respectively expressing approval and disapproval, emoticons have evolved into a pictorical Esperanto vaulting over linguistic hurdles with the ease of a cross-cultural acrobat.

Someone is said to have written – devised? – an entire novel using only emoticons, a work which ensures that it can never be lost in translation and truly deserves a 


Courtesy - TOI


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Our sentinel: Constitution entrusts the protection of our rights to the judiciary. It must stay vigilant

With maximalist governments hell-bent on victimising their critics, judiciary’s responsibility to ensure speedy justice becomes of paramount importance. Last week, Supreme Court struck a powerful blow for free speech after freeing Arnab Goswami following a habeas corpus petition, though his bail application was pending before a trial court. Now Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan, jailed since October 5 on sedition and UAPA charges while travelling to report from Hathras, has also approached SC with a habeas corpus plea.

SC issued notice to UP government to respond, despite misgivings over many petitions coming before it under Article 32 seeking enforcement of fundamental rights bypassing the respective high court. Kappan’s lawyer claims he couldn’t file a bail application before the lower court or meet Kappan in jail because of uncooperative officials. This is a worrying allegation of denial of prisoner rights that merits ascertainment of ground realities by SC. Right to legal representation was among the fundamental directives in SC’s landmark DK Basu judgment.

In a third case, of Mumbai police arresting a man for tweets against Uddhav and Aditya Thackeray, SC directed the petitioners to approach Bombay HC but by then the trial court had granted bail. Most undertrial or pretrial prisoners don’t have resources to approach SC or HCs, condemning them to incarceration for months if not years. Lower courts become critical to timely justice in this situation. Kafeel Khan secured bail after seven months following SC’s 15-day ultimatum to Allahabad HC. While we can argue over the principle of uniformity in precedents going awry, the dictum of bail being the norm and jail the exception must be upheld, except in heinous offences and where custody is absolutely necessary. Judges must uphold this principle, at all levels from SC to trial courts, and prevent state authorities from turning the process itself into punishment of critics by abusing their powers of arrest.

Courtesy - TOI


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

When hype defeats hope: In politically manipulated prosecutions, often the innocent become the victims

A right process invariably leads to desired outcomes. However, a favourable outcome is predicated on the integrity of the process. Take for example, investigations to establish criminality. If the process of investigation is not only consistent with the law, but also adhered to without a whiff of taint, most often than not, it will lead to the accused being convicted.

But if the investigation is tainted and those investigating are either biased or allow the process to be corrupted by either lure of money or to help the accused or for that matter falsely implicate the innocent for ulterior motives, the outcome will never be just.

Of late, there has been a growing trend in India where many claim victory merely because the outcome of an investigation is to their satisfaction. The sad truth, however, is that investigations are often manipulated to achieve predetermined outcomes. Often, those who proclaim their innocence upon acquittal owe their false sense of déjà vu to a polluted process of investigation.

In politically manipulated prosecutions, often the innocent become the victims and the guilty are confident of their innocence. That is the bane of our investigation processes. Journalists, with a contrary view, are hounded through tainted processes and accused of being anti-national. Young students are charged with sedition for organising and participating in public protests allegedly conspiring to destabilise the government.

Attempts are made to vilify those who wish to be heard and who are sought to be ruthlessly silenced. Fake encounters take place and the state pats itself, proclaiming that anti-national criminals have been eliminated for the cause of public security. Dalits and minorities are often the victims of biased investigations. It is time for a democracy like India, which is presently quite fragile, to shun tainted processes for just outcomes.

Processes take time and require painstaking efforts to arrive at desired outcomes. But the state often has no patience. It occasionally wishes to proclaim that a vaccine to deal with coronavirus is around the corner, knowing fully well that the process requires several stages of trials, the results of which are not known till trials prove the vaccine to be efficacious and safe. ICMR’s proclamation that a vaccine will be ready for launch by August 15, 2020 was the result of such impatience.

For the same reason, the state makes unrealistic claims on several fronts about outcomes without adhering to procedural safeguards. We have heard the finance minister talk about sprouting green shoots, predicting an economic turnaround while indicators point to a continuing slump. Earlier, we heard the prime minister predict that the war against coronavirus will be won in 21 days, without being aware of what the virus has in store for us.

The government talks about fatal blows to Pakistani terrorists; a befitting response to Chinese infiltrators; when there are no signs of either abating Pakistan engineered terrorist activity or Chinese intent to withdraw from territories illegally occupied by them. Similarly, year after year we hear about how the following year pollution levels will be successfully reduced, without having a process in place to ensure such an outcome.

The less democracies rely on processes, the greater the likelihood of outcomes being driven by authoritarian diktats. Since 2014, parliamentary procedures and constitutional processes have been jettisoned for bypassing a vote in the Rajya Sabha when clearing ordinary Bills as Money Bills. This is done to prevent the possible rejection of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Yet, such a subversion of established procedures is projected as the ability of the government to act decisively.

We often witness discussions in Parliament being truncated depending on the possible outcome if the issue is somehow allowed to be debated. Several Bills are passed without discussion. Occasionally, MPs are required to discuss important legislative measures without Bills being circulated in time. The opposition is taken by surprise and its protestations go a begging. Topical issues which require immediate discussion are either not slotted or allotted too little time.

Government claims that the recently announced National Education Policy will bring about a sea change in the way we teach and assess our children.  However, if we don’t have trained and skilful teachers who are aligned to the policy framework, how will proclaimed outcomes come about? If examinations are not going to be the basis of evaluating the merit of the students, then what frameworks have been put in place for the kind of evaluation necessary in order to achieve the desired proclaimed outcomes? Sadly, none of the processes are in place.

The same is true of healthcare. If primary healthcare centres are not fully equipped and rural areas are not served by competent doctors, how will it ensure that the mechanisms put in place deliver effective healthcare to all? A strong structure cannot be built without its foundation being laid by skilful masons. Those at the helm of affairs, guiding and deciding our country’s future are not even skilled enough to understand democratic processes. That is the bane of Indian democracy.

China delivers outcomes because of its totalitarian regime. But in a democracy, in the absence of a culture of totalitarianism, these processes can only be put in place by reaching out, by dialogue, by listening and by taking all stakeholders into confidence to ensure the outcomes proclaimed are attained. That is missing. This is the reason most claims made by the state have come to haunt it. People of India are caught in the midst of a regime that believes only in outcomes. Democratic processes have fallen by the wayside.

Courtesy - TOI


Crown of thorns: Nitish Kumar may be chief minister but BJP holds the reins of new Bihar government

Loud signals of BJP’s plans for Nitish Kumar can be read in the exit of Sushil Modi, anchor of the long JD(U)-BJP partnership in Bihar. Nitish’s concern for his secular image required Sushil to keep local BJP leaders on a tight leash and ensure a constant channel of communication with the CM. Now that JD(U) has slipped to junior partner in the alliance, with just 43 seats against BJP’s 74, BJP’s easing out of Sushil is ample indication to Nitish that the equations have flipped. Henceforth, it will be BJP calling the shots and the CM’s post to Nitish may be among the few concessions on offer.
Honourably accommodated as CM, the gambit leaves Nitish with little legroom to exit NDA as he did in 2013 after failing to prevent Narendra Modi’s rise. Nitish would also recognise that his shifting loyalties to UPA in 2015 and back to NDA in 2017 have eroded his political credibility. Another flight to RJD’s side if BJP boxes him into a corner could be suicidal for JD(U) and may invite a rebellion within its ranks. Moreover, Nitish has no reason to assume that RJD will be any less covetous than BJP in the pursuit of power or a chunk of  EBC-Mahadalit votes that Nitish snatched away from Lalu Prasad.
The choice of OBC-EBC leaders Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, to replace Sushil, barely disguises BJP’s plans for 2025. If Nitish vacates the political field by then as he promised to voters on the last day of campaigning, BJP will need recognisable backward class faces in Bihar’s notoriously stratified caste society. So far, Nitish brought this section to NDA. A strong RJD eyeing the same vote implies that BJP must woo this social segment with or without JD(U) in tow.
JD(U)’s future has thus far been strongly aligned to Nitish after George Fernandes faded away and Nitish prevailed in two closely fought assembly elections in 2005. A weak Nitish could prompt demoralised JD(U) rank and file to start mulling about their political future. A symbiotic relationship of over two decades presages that BJP could be their obvious destination. But those JD(U) netas sworn to socialist-secular ideals may have other plans. Despite his reputation as a survivor, few will bet on Nitish serving out a full term this time.
Courtesy - TOI

Do other FTAs: After rejecting RCEP, India should conclude trade deals with the US and EU

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations have inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, slated to become the largest trade pact in the world. India, however, remains outside the pact as per its decision last year to pull out of negotiations over concerns of cheap Chinese imports flooding the Indian market. Those concerns have only been amplified this year with India and China locked in a border standoff in eastern Ladakh. There is welcome recognition in New Delhi that Beijing represents its biggest strategic security challenge today and economically decoupling from China is in India’s best interests.
After all, China plays by its own set of opaque trade rules and there are serious concerns about its influence in sensitive sectors such as telecom and 5G. China can use tech equipment here to carry out espionage and cyberattacks, a concern that even RCEP member Australia has raised. In fact, most RCEP members are concerned about China’s predatory practices and aggressive foreign policy. This means there are inherent tensions within the RCEP architecture.
But while India has done the right thing in walking away from RCEP, it should not close the door on free trade agreements altogether. We need them to boost trade, access markets and capital, import the latest technologies and increase our competitiveness. Else, India is doomed to low growth as in the pre-1991 years. With the incoming Joe Biden administration in the US likely to take a more strategic view of trade, concluding an FTA with Washington is possible. Similarly, we should conclude an FTA with the EU, and be prepared to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact if the US rejoins it. Countering China requires us to grow our economy quickly. This can’t be achieved without a liberal trade policy with the right partners.
Courtesy - TOI

At China seeks tactical respite with Ladakh proposal. On its long-term adversarial orientation, India can’t be complacent

After the eighth round of Corps Commander level talks on November 6 between India and China, reports emerged that the two countries have finalised a set of proposals to withdraw tanks, armoured vehicles and troops from Fingers 4 to 8 in the Pangong Tso area. The two governments are considering the proposals. These are an improvement upon the earlier proposals where China was insisting that India must first withdraw its troops from the mountainous heights of Rezang La and other areas or that both sides should meet each other half way.

Why is there a sudden turnaround in China’s position? Reasons are both political and operational. The promptness of US allies such as Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and South Korea in welcoming the victory of Joe Biden in the recent US presidential election and their promise to join hands in meeting the China challenge has jolted Beijing from its misconceived assessment of divisions in the transatlantic alliance and spurred fears of its diplomatic isolation. Also, the advantage gained by China in occupying Fingers 4 to 8 was partly offset by the strategic heights captured by our troops which allowed India to overlook the Chinese positions below.

In addition to India, China is now displaying softness towards the Asean states as well by underlining that both sides should “take a flexible and pragmatic approach” to speed up negotiations to finalise the code of conduct to regulate mutual behaviour in the South China Sea; there wasn’t much progress on this issue since 2013. China wishes to demonstrate that it is not isolated and can still work with countries in Asia to resolve mutual disputes. China’s rhetoric towards Taiwan has softened as it makes contacts with the Biden team for backchannel talks.

What lessons must India draw from this six-month-old impasse at Ladakh? First, stand firm against Beijing’s dictates. Second, don’t allow yourself to be pushed into a weak position as China respects strength. Third, have some bargaining chips; China’s attitude in the negotiations started mellowing after our valiant soldiers occupied the advantageous heights on south banks of Pangong Tso. Fourth, cooperation with the US is critical as it helps in softening the Chinese rigidities. Fifth, wait patiently for a strategic opportunity and don’t be in a hurry to expect results.

In Ladakh negotiations, India should insist that Chinese troops must revert to the pre-April 20 positions in all sectors, ensure reliable verification measures and a sequence of disengagement that takes into account India’s advantages and vulnerabilities. Also, we must prepare adequately to monitor China’s behaviour in future, at all times, along the LAC to respond swiftly in case of such intrusions. We should be ready with a set of locations where Indian troops could easily advance into the strategic Chinese positions, so that India has some bargaining chips.

Given the vast differences in the strategic outlook of the two countries and current asymmetry in national power, India-China rivalry will continue for a long time, barring short periods of tactical respite. In its 14th Five Year Plan discussed recently at the Fifth Plenum, China has decided to seek military modernisation on a par with the US armed forces by 2027; therefore, future military engagements with China will be much tougher.

Chinese military planners will be undertaking suitable initiatives in developing AI (which is China’s forte), hypersonic, space warfare and other weapon systems such as sixth generation fighter and stealth aircraft, quantum radars, autonomous combat robots, biological weapons and others for each theatre to establish early superiority.

India must expedite modernisation of its armed forces with development of new generation of weapon systems with indigenous efforts and cooperation with our key partners such as the US, Japan and others. Also, the strengthening of our border infrastructure like broadband connectivity, airfields, roads, railways all along the LAC should proceed on priority basis. Similarly, the collective pushback of China’s influence should continue unabated in cooperation with Quad and other partners. Durable peace with China will only be possible if India is adequately prepared for combat with a resurgent economy.

Courtesy - TOI


Family first: Cadging an invitation to the White House for aunty and uncle

Dear Kamala,

You won’t remember me, but I am your grandfather’s third-removed cousin’s son’s neighbour. We are all very proud of you for becoming the vice-president of the USA. I knew from the very beginning that you will become something, morning shows the day, and also the apple does not fall far from the tree. Of course we didn’t say anything about your extraordinary promise when you were young, because we believe in nazar. But we knew in our heart of hearts that you will make bright the face of the nation. India that is. When we got the good news of Georgia and Pennsylvania, we celebrated with lights (crackers are now banned) and sweets-exchange, after all it is not every day that someone in your family becomes the vice-president of the America. This, I believe, is even better than getting into the IIT Kanpur. No?

Now, reason I am writing is for my son-in-law. He has been in the Green Card process for many years. He is doing this software engineering, and he is a very good boy, and we would be much grateful if you do the needful in making him an expedited citizen of your great and glorious nation, using your management quota. Please find attached his biodata for decision making purpose. He is very attached to the States, he is a fan of your baseball team the Red Socks, so much so he has stopped following cricket, because it is too commercialised now, he says.

Also me and my family are planning to visit the States once this coronavirus is over. I was wondering if we could stay at the White House while doing sight-seeing, I can see it is very close to all the monuments in Washington DC. If you could put in a testimonial for us to President Joe for accommodation, and also if you could send four-wheeler conveyance, that would be very kind, the cold makes my gout worse. I will remember to bring coconut chutney that you used to be so fond of. Tell me please size of President Joe, your aunty will sew a sweater for him.

One more thing. If you are visiting India in near future, can you please be bringing latest model iPhone 12? It is so expensive here, and so much cheaper in the foreign. Thank you in advance, and hope you didn’t mind us writing, because last thing we want is to be an imposition.

Love and ashirwaad

Courtesy - TOI


An eternal romantic can feel the difference

By Narayani Ganesh

When you have everything possible but lack romance, then, all that you think you have may end up being quite worthless. What infuses that spark and joie de vivre into life is the sense of romance – when you are in love with life and living, no matter what, and expect little or nothing in return. When you exude love, you too receive an abundance of love, no strings attached. And to feel romantic is to experience an exultation of spirit that will lead you closer to feeling the bliss that everyone yearns for.

Usually, the word ‘romance’ is associated with romantic love as in two individuals falling in love and feeling all lovey-dovey about it. Intimate dinners, soft music, close dancing, red roses, serenades, showering personal gifts, watching the moon light up the dark sky and remembering each other’s special days like birthdays and anniversaries – all of these are described as romantic activity. Yes, they are, in the very worldly and narrow sense.

An ad man romances his prospective clients; a writer romances his readers; a movie actor romances his co-stars and audience, too; a scientist romances his research, an aspiring neta his vote bank; a cosmologist romances celestial objects; a sculptor his sculptures; a teacher his students; and students their teacher. The list can go on in every sphere of life.

Expansive, eternal, romantic love is not only all of the above; it is so much more. And it is not restricted to the feelings between two or three or a few more constituents. It embraces every being, anything and everything in existence and beyond. Romantic love is alluring and endearing because the path of romance is one that is paved with much mystery and excitement. The anticipation, the adrenalin rush, the quickened pulse and the intoxication become heightened when it is all-embracing and leaves nothing and no one out of its warm embrace. That is why the love and longing of the jivatma, individual soul, for union with the Paramatma, Super Soul, is intensely romantic.

Suppose you were told that today was your last living day, for tomorrow you would be dead. Can you even imagine what kind of thoughts would rush into your mind? There is bound to be a massive traffic jam – good and bad thoughts, regrets, wishes, anxieties, worries, sadness, a sense of incompleteness … one could go on. On the other hand, if you are one of those rare evolved persons, you might take things in your stride, you might remain cool, even feel rested. An eternal romantic would likely start the process of romancing death, engaging with the thought and preparing to receive it with a smile, accepting it.

The question arises, how does one come to embrace unconditional love? It’s simple if you have an able, genuine guide; complicated if you have to learn from hits and misses.

Non-judgmental love, free of expectations, is a big part of the answer. When you stop being overly suspicious, jealous, negative and stop complaining and blaming others for anything that does not suit you, and you stop nursing grudges and living in the past, then, you will be free of clutter. Now there is space for love; you start experiencing that which is beyond mundane matters. As an eternal romantic, you will feel the energy that is ananda, bliss.

Courtesy - TOI


Monday, November 16, 2020

Children’s Day: Plans required to make them healthy, educated, employed adults

Take a recent example. In the recent Bihar elections, a promise of giving 10 lac jobs on the first day of joining, almost put the winning party on the backfoot, promising nineteen lac jobs, till they quickly resumed to a more reasoned approach. Even if the first figure quoted was unreasonable and the people knew it, it must be a sorry plight that the voters had to thrust a cap of delusion on their heads preferring to wait for a sunny day down the next five years. Simpler to survive on a pleasant lie, than be crushed under a bitter truth. They knew after seventy years of living in this Nation-State, promises have hardly been implemented.

Starting the story with “children”, most of us and public figures must have given flowers and chocolates for an opportunity to adorn our Facebook accounts. As population is classified, 13.2% of the population lies between the age group of 0-6 years. Yes, the chubby, innocent cuddles you carry in your arms, little knowing five to ten years from now, you shall be pushing them out of the Metro, or a Mumbai suburban to retain your own space. We never made space for them. You shall have frantic parents running from school to school, to find a seat, available only to the blessed ones, perhaps with a price tag! Let’s not get into the hardships of scoring at the boards, Eligibility exams as NEET etc, still requiring extra-coaching to settle reasonably. Jobs? Well, that is the issue we traced backwards!

To get a feel of the backlog, India’s population in 2020, is pegged at 1.38 bn. There has been an aggregate steady growth of 1.2%. Want to be extremely sceptic, chances are it may sum up to 1.23%, or a relieving 1.19%.

To simplify, considering the population at 1bn, 1% of that is 10 million. In Indian numerical terminology, this comes to 100 lakhs increase in population per year!

Another way of sifting through the morbid data.

0ne fourth of the population falls in the 0-14 age group. In the next five years they will start facing the grind of not having space to educate, enlist, good food, health, and once again employment— the ability to contribute to the national GDP.

Sixty-seven per cent of the population is between 15-64 years of age. That means a large section near retirement, and actually on pensions. Tired, having contributed to the state for a lifetime. By US standards, this is Medicare time. It is also the time when major, complicated diseases strike, and insurances invariably pull -out of a “cashless” contract. They employ suitably ignorant doctors, who keep asking queries, which have no meaning. The government should have provisions for an instant medical insurance cell to take up “class action suits ”.

The other segment of the 15-65 year group, is the one that contributes to the economy if they can find a job, or work on a start-up. But this is also the baby boomer group. A two- child family works in steady populations in the west. Two added, and by nature’s law, two replaced over time.

With a hugely surplus population, a two -child family shall continue to bloat the population exponentially.

It is good as well as bad news. 50% of Indian population is below 25rs of age. This is the one, given an opportunity that shall carry the day- skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled. Not pointing against their rights, a two- child family can carry the population 100% upwards in this segment over the next 5-7 years.

Some cues, to start working on. There is a rural/ urban divide, from data available from the state of MP survey in 2011.

MP recorded an aggregate rural child population of 8,132,745, as against 2,415, 530 in urban areas. It did match with ratios from other states, though not exactly congruent. Don’t ask me if rural electrification was adequate!

By the present rate of growth, India may exceed Cinna’s population in the next three years. They have a steady population, because strict application of one, at the most two-child family rules were imposed in the 70’s. It is presently undergoing a national census.

India, being a democracy, shall have to work out its own method of convincing its population. Incentives or punitive action shall not work in a land of many communities and belief, including “an Act of God”. Can’t blame anyone’s belief, but it may come to publicize and promote a single child family. An extra child in such times and such a base, not only a liability to give him/her a free independent environment, employment, and a stable financial standing that shall be of help in their grey years.

The other is that an extra child is depriving another’s child of his needs as enshrined by the Constitution. We understand the idea of a single car parking in luxury apartments. An extra one is to be heavily charged for, and mostly is refused, because it is at the cost of other’s right to park his car.

A single child family campaign should be started, with due care of sensitivities of the population. The people should be made to understand that today’s celebration of multiple children, may lead to some being old depressed and rudderless when they reach a youthful age of 25.

People are generally averse to being suggested. They are twice as enthusiastic in copying ideas that work!

It’s not a dictate, not an enforcement by the government, it is the state we are in.

Sounds strange, crude, a bit inhuman. Progressive societies somewhat run on such lines.

Do we have a choice?

“ham aise mahv-e-nazara na the jo hosh aata

magar tumhare taghaful ne hoshyar kiya “ Daag

(I was not so out of my senses, that was unaware

But your total indifferences what made me aware)

Courtesy - TOI


‘Pattanam site’s importance isn’t confined to Kerala or India … it tells us the world was here 2,000 years ago’

Archaeological excavations at Pattanam, a small village an hour’s drive from Kochi, tell a fascinating story of a cosmopolitan people who traded with the Roman Empire around two millennia ago. The finds point to the fabled port town of Muziris mentioned in the Greek text Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and Muciripattanam in the Tamil Sangam literature. PJ Cherian, the project’s spearhead at inception, has resumed the dig this year on behalf of Pama, a transdisciplinary research collective, after it stalled in 2015. He spoke to Jiby J Kattakayam:

What led you to Pattanam?

Before a successful trial dig in 2004, we knew this could be an archaeological site with frequent reports of local people finding antiques. We visited the village and found the place was full of beads and potsherds. In 2001, a British museologist friend concluded after visiting the area that one pottery could be Italian because of its Vesuvius volcanic material. Many such factors, including ancient literary sources, prodded us to investigate further.

How do you conclude this village is Muziris?

There is clinching evidence. The only question is whether Muziris is confined to the 70 hectares identified as an archaeological mound or goes beyond it. Definitely it goes beyond. It will take generations to complete the excavations. DNA extract analysis of human skeletal fragments conveys a cosmopolitan society. Of 11 samples, four suggested South Asian, four West Asian and three Mediterranean origin. So an amazing mix of people were here. We found material from Gibraltar to Catalonia to Southern China; Pattanam artifacts were discovered at sites like Hepu in China and Khor Rori in Jordan. Pattanam has the Indian Ocean region’s largest cache of Meditteranean amphora jar sherds. Such culturally diverse material pointed to a port site. Then came the wharf discovery confirming a port. We have 38 radiocarbon dated materials dated between 0-400 AD. Stratigraphy offers clarity on the mound which is an elevated area with four metres of cultural deposits. It is a perfect mound though not easily discernible. Typology of materials like pottery, jewellery, points to extensive foreign contacts. Literary sources say the port was inland and it was a riverine island, 25 stades away from the sea (4.5 kms), nearly same as today. Though the site is now landlocked, its geomorphology matches with textual sources in many ways.

Do the finds align with knowledge of that age?

The area that is Kerala today was part of the larger Thamizhagam (area inhabited by Tamil speakers) when Muziris existed. Sangam literature portrays Thamizhagam as a beautiful people in the humanist sense, as very rational, not too much into religion or warfare. They were open minded, believed in technology, welcomed foreign trade and contacts. Most of these elements are present in Pattanam’s finds. We are yet to find weapons meant to harm people, cause injuries. There is only slender evidence of religion. Pattanam society was very organised, there was urbanisation and adeptness in technology. Despite digging just 1% of the 70-hectare mound, we have retrieved 1.3 lakh artifacts made of precious stones and metals like gold, iron, copper, lead, around one lakh beads and 45 lakh potsherds, and numerous terracotta works like ornaments. The variety of pottery, burned bricks and structures resembling warehouses, tiled roofs, toilets, ring wells, besides the wharf implies a very urban, organised society. The site’s importance isn’t confined to Kerala or India. It is beyond our imagination that people from 30 cultures were coming and going with their goods, technology, ideas and languages. A port site cannot exist in isolation; it has networks, operations and interfaces with umpteen port sites and the hinterland. Pattanam tells us the world was here and we went out into the world. The Chera kingdom had surpluses to trade. As shipments increased, entire society had to be tuned into the production processes. The Muziris papyrus agreement between the Alexandria banker and local merchant reveals a sophisticated understanding of trade. The period till the Roman empire’s fall was critical, but trade continued even afterwards.

Can technology help speed up digs?

In the 2014 digging season, Oxford University researchers suggested LIDAR and came with hugely expensive gadgets. The site is very clayish. Like any Kerala village, there is dense vegetation and an intense web of roots running across. Oxford said these two factors aren’t helpful to electromagnetic study. Ground Penetrating Radar works in desert sites with sand and no clay. Unfortunately Indian agencies are behind the technological curve. Recently, Tamil Nadu  introduced new technologies at some sites and their success could help everyone. In Pattanam, we have dug 66 trenches so far but because the site is intensely populated progress will be slow. However, the local people are enthusiastic partners. We are inviting civil society participation and professionals from all walks to join us. Every year, college students across India join us on the digs.

How did the Pattanam settlement end?

We have no indications how the site declined and the port disappeared. Geomorphic studies indicate Pattanam 2000 years back was some sort of riverine island with water bodies crisscrossing it. The usual flood theory was propounded but is inconclusive. However, many water channels are incapable of surviving beyond a few centuries because of silting. Modern Kochi port survives on dredging. Annual flooding might have pushed silt away at Pattanam for a long period and then stopped around 5th century.

How different or similar were these people to us?

They were great agriculturalists, traders, metallurgists. The papyrus document from 2nd century AD is the ancient equivalent of a WTO document. The loan agreement between the Muziris merchant and Alexandria banker had all the elements of insurance and guarantee and ensuring security for maritime goods trade across high seas. They were highly advanced, accomplished people, just like we assume ourselves to be. There is only slender evidence of religion at Pattanam, a piece of writing in Brahmi script referring to an amana, from the sramana tradition of calling someone a teacher. I think they took religion for thought systems rather than rituals. Other finds like sphinx seal-ring and Goddess Fortuna engraving are not religious in today’s sense: they were “pagan” attempts to attribute huge power to living things, to do good things. I believe people were totally irreligious.  Modern society affected by historiography built on religion may want to re-evaluate their ancestors. We don’t yet know Mohenjodaro’s religion but a sculpture looking like a modern priest was given a religious garb. No weapons were found at Pattanam. I believe these were very sophisticated people about whom the world will know more as the excavations progress.

How has Pattanam upended Kerala historiography?

Kerala historiography doesn’t approve of a society as advanced as in Muziris. General notion is pre-ninth century is a dark age. We assumed the ancient people were primitive and couldn’t cross seas but fact is they went transoceanic. Tamil Nadu has no problem with the Pattanam evidence but it creates controversies in Kerala. Thamizhagam of the Sangam age that held sway over most of South has been neglected here. After Madras state became Tamil Nadu we dissociated with the cultural entity that existed before 900-1000AD.

Courtesy - TOI


Friday, November 13, 2020

Media: Regulate less, not more

The notification early this week bringing all online content – news and current affairs, films and OTT platforms – under the ambit of the Union information and broadcasting ministry, has raised concerns that it could be a prelude to more legislation and government control of these dynamic new media sectors at a time when we need less regulation. Registration of digital businesses and control over online content and free speech are both problematic. While the first is near impossible to implement given the many differing contours of digital content, and also puts Indian firms at a disadvantage to foreign entities, the second would be tantamount to censorship.

If that happens it would be a backward step in a democracy already slipping on media freedoms, with journalists being arrested for alleged sedition, while large numbers of websites are blocked and internet shutdowns imposed year after year. This is especially so because the online sectors covered in the notification are already regulated by laws including IPC, CrPC (which contain draconian provisions for defamation and sedition, among others) and 30-40 sector specific legislations. Additionally, news sites already follow, as relevant, print and TV norms/ rules, the IT Act, self-regulatory codes in newsrooms. OTT platforms have also put self-regulation into place. This is why the same ministry’s April 2018 circular, on a committee to frame rules to regulate website content, had to be quickly withdrawn after an outcry.

The I&B minister had, in fact, pointed out then that the PM saw media in India as one of the very important pillars of democracy, rightly adding that “in Indian media, self-regulation is done in various layers – first by a journalist and then by editors … the government believes in self-regulation by the media.” He later denied in Parliament any government effort to control websites, as law enforcement agencies already take action on posting of malicious content on a case-to-case basis.

That is, in fact, the nub of the issue. Many laws already apply to all content and are being implemented forcefully. That said, we must respect different opinions. Crackdowns on free speech will only impair this country’s efforts towards a digital revolution, as well as erode its soft power. Digital India still has a window to successfully compete with the best in the world. Government control and censorship of online content could stifle this particular Make in India dream.

Courtesy - TOI


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A lost cause: Bihar’s prohibition policy has failed. Time to consign it to the dustbin

According to the Election Commission, alcohol valued at about Rs 25 crore was seized in Bihar during the run-up to the assembly election. The value of the seized alcohol was greater than what enforcement officials nabbed in the 2015 and 2019 elections. Therein lies a tale about the efficacy of prohibition. Prohibition is a policy that is tried repeatedly, but fails every time. Moreover, prolonged prohibition creates a parallel economy with the attendant corruption. It costs the state in terms of potential revenue. Finally, it hurts the most vulnerable through the sale of toxic liquor, as well as large additions to the prison population.

Bihar’s administration had by the beginning of the lockdown booked about 2.6 lakh people for violating prohibition. The pendency of court cases saw new additions as about 40,000 bail pleas were stuck in the high court. There are people languishing in jail as they lack the resources to get bail. The collateral damage is in the form of further impoverishment for their families. All these factors are likely to influence the next government, which will have to deal with a severe resource constraint on account of the pandemic.

Habits such as drinking cannot be stamped out by regulatory diktats. Moral policing attempts by state governments end up creating a situation where criminals proliferate and the state exchequer loses. Even a relatively wealthy state like Gujarat asked the Finance Commission for compensation to offset the revenue foregone because of its prohibition policy. Given the long history of failure of this policy, state governments should discard it for good. An important cause of corruption and poverty in India is the proliferation of impractical and draconian laws. Laws imposing prohibition fall in this category.

Courtesy - TOI


Monday, November 9, 2020

It’s jobs, stupid: Bihar’s politics is moving away from identity to fulfilment of aspirations

Bihar is seen as a bellwether state to gauge political trends in north India. Three decades ago it was the crucible for the emergence of politics shaped around identities. Caste was the fulcrum of identity politics in the region. The campaigning and voting for Bihar’s assembly election, which concluded last week, suggests that politics here is once again in midst of a far-reaching transition. Political messaging around identity is giving way to one that promises fulfilment of aspirations. Employment opportunities, or their absence, was the hot button topic. This is a change for the better.

The numbers show why jobs were discussed widely. According to CMIE data, Bihar’s unemployment rate in October was 9.8%, about three percentage points higher than the national average. The state was amongst the worst hit by the lockdown as a large number of young people migrate out in search of jobs. While Bihar’s economy has done well in the last two years in terms of growth rates, the problem lies with its structure. Manufacturing in Bihar’s economy is less than half the size of its agricultural sector. Therefore, the state’s per capita income is the lowest and there’s pressure to migrate in search of opportunity.

Exit polls suggest that unemployment was the most important issue for voters, particularly the young. Clearly, political parties have grasped this as the rhetoric seemed to address this issue. What’s clear is that the alliance which forms the next government will have to prioritise the economy. As a corollary, it will have to instil confidence in industry that Bihar presents a good opportunity for investment. This transition in Bihar’s politics is the single biggest gain of the election. The bellwether state may well herald a larger shift.

Courtesy - TOI

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