Editorials - 26-04-2021

The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating Bangladesh is that today, it is a relatively prosperous country

Bangladesh and India both celebrated the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence recently, alongside the birth centenary of ‘Banghabandu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There was a predictable outburst of warm sentiments witnessed in Bangladesh on this occasion, but celebrations in India were on an extremely low key. The creation of Bangladesh — from the ashes of East Pakistan — is presumably India’s finest foreign policy triumph till date, and it defies imagination why India has been so reticent in acknowledging this fact.

The architect, India’s stand

A plausible reason put forward in certain quarters is that it possibly meant acknowledging the role of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in this seminal event, as she is widely acknowledged to be the real architect of this triumph, notwithstanding claims put forward by many a swashbuckling General and others in uniform. Hopefully this canard is not true, though she is currently being demonised for her so-called sins of commission and omission. It would amount to ignoring historical facts, for without Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it is difficult to conceive of India pulling off such a triumph.

This may sound like exaggerated praise, but anyone who had an opportunity to witness Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s steely resolve during that period — as for instance when it was communicated to her during a meeting of the War Cabinet, that the U.S. Seventh Fleet (which included the nuclear powered aircraft carrier,Enterprise) was steaming up the Bay of Bengal, will hardly dispute this fact. Displaying no signs of diffidence, she made it clear that it made little difference to the cause that they had embarked upon.

Few nations across the world can possibly boast of an achievement of this nature. What is even more noteworthy is that while accomplishing this task, India did not claim any ‘spoils of victory’. After Pakistan’s defeat in East Pakistan, India voluntarily and unconditionally, handed over power to the elected representatives of the newly established nation. Such magnanimity is seldom seen in the annals of world politics.

A year of significance

Not too many among the current generation would remember that 1971 was a signal year for India. It was in 1971 that India had extended all out support to the Government in Sri Lanka to defeat the group, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in that country. And, 1971 was again the year in which India contributed to the establishment of a new nation, Bangladesh, which was carved out of East Pakistan following a pogrom launched by the military rulers in Islamabad, that was unmatched in modern times. Half-a-century later, India would have done well to highlight and remind the world of these two events, to further embellish its democratic credentials.

While India was busy scripting a new destiny for the people of East Pakistan, millions of refugees from East Pakistan were streaming into India. What was especially striking was that despite such a calamitous situation, and the strain on its resources, the Government of the day acted with extreme circumspection and did not give in to the rising clamour for any kind of premature military intervention in East Pakistan. It was to adhere to this position till Pakistan declared war on India in December 1971.

Meantime, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and flown to West Pakistan. Tajuddin Ahmad had been secretly sworn in as the Prime Minister of an independent Bangladesh and installed in Mujibnagar, from where the new government-in-exile operated till the liberation of East Pakistan. India well recognised that before India could legitimately intervene in East Pakistan, the new government-in-exile had to acquire legitimacy, both within East Pakistan and also internationally. All this demonstrated political finesse of the highest order. It was not easy with over five million refugees coming into the country, conveying gruesome tales of untold atrocities.

Coordination and the goal

At the diplomatic level, India did not act entirely alone. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s carefully crafted diplomatic dispatches to world leaders had helped create a groundswell of support for the persecuted Bengalis of East Pakistan. The signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty in August 1971 came as a shot-in-the-arm for India, encouraging it to stay the course. Russia’s action was in marked contrast to the stand of western nations such as the United States which displayed hostility to India’s efforts, viewing it as an encouragement to the forces seeking to dismember the state of Pakistan. Within the country, regular meetings and the constant dialogue with Opposition leaders ensured that India acted in a united manner, notwithstanding the public clamour for immediate action.

India sought to intervene in East Pakistan, only after Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971. Three days later on December 6, India made the formal announcement of recognising the new state of Bangladesh, almost nine months after the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh had been proclaimed by Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Still later in March 1972, India and Bangladesh signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship (https://bit.ly/3aCCNPr).

The events spread over several months that culminated in the emergence of a new nation, became possible only because of close coordination among the various limbs of the Government, which acted in concert to achieve the cardinal objective,viz., that the struggle of the people of East Pakistan should not go in vain. The West, however, erroneously believed the humanitarian disaster notwithstanding, that it could not let down its ally Pakistan, which was a member of several western-led military alliances. Quite a few other nations, while sympathetic to the plight of the beleaguered population of East Pakistan, were unwilling to extend support fearing the wrath of the U.S.

Operating from the shadows

A great deal has been written about the military exploits in connection with the formation of Bangladesh — of the IndianArmy, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. Very little has, however, been mentioned about the role of the intelligence agencies. Understandably so, since the intelligence agencies do not publicise their exploits and operate behind an iron curtain. Fifty years after Bangladesh gained Independence, it may, however, be time to give a pat on the back of the two principal intelligence agencies at the time — the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW/RAW). A vast network of agents had been created by the IB well before the organisation was bifurcated in 1968 into the IB and the R&AW, and the latter built on these assets. These agents played a critical role behind the scenes, preparing the ground for the eventual collapse of Pakistani Army resistance in East Bengal. At the risk of violating a cardinal rule of intelligence, it might also be the opportune moment to pay a silent tribute to one of the most outstanding secret agents of recent times, whose name and pseudonym will, however, have to remain a secret, but whose exploits were no less than that of the most celebrated spy of World War II, Richard Sorge. The time has also come to acknowledge the role of the Mukti Bahini — the Army of Bangladeshi irregulars — fashioned by the intelligence agencies which played a key role during the conflict. This seldom happens, but is worth a mention, at least in a newspaper article.

The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating a new nation is that Bangladesh is today a relatively prosperous country, having made steady progress from the category of a Least Developed Country to a Developing country. Bangladesh “will get time up to 2026 to prepare for the transition to the status of a developing country” (https://bit.ly/3xp8tSc). Few countries across the world expected the new nation to survive, let alone thrive, given that the nascent Bangladesh Government was functioning under an untested leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; the country had been born amidst widespread and unprecedented violence and upheaval, possessed scarce resources, and was riven with internecine differences.

Bangladesh today

Today, Bangladesh is a shining example of what is possible through human endeavour and a wise leadership. It has not allowed itself to be drawn into the vortex of foreign influences, and maintains an independent foreign policy. Relations with India are excellent today, though there have been periods when relations were not all that cordial. Currently, Bangladesh’s annual GDP growth exceeds that of its erstwhile parent, Pakistan. Women empowerment has been a major catalyst in Bangladesh’s progress, and this is largely responsible for transforming the country.

India’s achievement in enabling the people of East Pakistan to carve out a separate destiny for themselves and achieve full freedom from Islamabad, well mirrors what can be achieved when the political, diplomatic, military, intelligence and civil segments act in a coordinated manner under a firm and far-sighted political leadership. This is the acid test for any future eventuality of this nature.

M.K. Narayanan is a former Director – Intelligence Bureau and Chairman – Joint Intelligence Committee, a former National Security Adviser and a former Governor of West Bengal

The need for a uniform judicial order across India is unwarranted in COVID-19-related cases

In comparison to the legislature and the executive, what the judiciary can deliver in the realm of socio-economic rights is limited. Courts cannot build better health infrastructure or directly supply oxygen; neither are they functionally bound to. Courts often lack the expertise and resources to decide social rights issues. What they can do is to ask tough questions to the executive, implement existing laws and regulations, and hold the executive accountable in various aspects of healthcare allocation. InParmanand Katara v. Union of India(1989), the Supreme Court underlined the value of human lives and said that the right to emergency medical treatment is part of the citizen’s fundamental rights. As such, constitutional courts owe a duty to protect this right.

In the face of a de facto COVID-19 health emergency, the High Courts of Delhi, Gujarat, Madras and Bombay, among others, have done exactly that. They considered the pleas of various hospitals for oxygen supply. The Gujarat High Court issued a series of directions, including for laboratory testing and procurement of oxygen. The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court was constrained to hold night sittings to consider the issue of oxygen supply. It directed immediate restoration of oxygen supply that had been reduced from the Bhilai steel plant in Chhattisgarh. The Delhi High Court directed the Central government to ensure adequate measures for the supply of oxygen. It cautioned that we might lose thousands of lives due to lack of oxygen.

Transfer of cases

On April 22, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the issue in ‘Re: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic’. It said, “Prima facie, we are inclined to take the view that the distribution of these essential services and supplies must be done in an even-handed manner according to the advice of the health authorities” and asked the Central government to present a national plan. In addition, it issued an order asking the State governments and the Union Territories to “show cause why uniform orders” should not be passed by the Supreme Court. The court thus indicated the possibility of transfer of cases to the Supreme Court, which it has done on various occasions before.

Under Article 139A of the Constitution, the Supreme Court does have the power to transfer cases from the High Courts to itself if cases involve the same questions of law. However, what make the court’s usurpation disturbing are two well-founded observations regarding its contemporary conduct. One, the court has been indifferent to the actions and inactions of the executive even in cases where interference was warranted, such as the Internet ban in Kashmir. Two, where effective remedies were sought, when activists and journalists were arrested and detained, the court categorically stayed aloof. It acted as if its hands were tied. Lawyers will find it difficult to recall a significant recent case of civil liberty from the court where tangible relief was granted against the executive, except for rhetorical statements on personal liberty.

These features, coupled with the unhealthy characteristics of an executive judiciary, makes the court’s indication for a takeover disturbing. On April 23, presumably due to widespread criticism of the court’s move, especially from a section of the legal fraternity, the court backtracked and simply adjourned the case.

The matter might be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming days. Significantly, the developments so far offer some crucial lessons for judicial federalism in India. The very fact that many from different High Court Bar Associations spoke up against the move to transfer the cases from the High Courts to the Supreme Court is a positive signal that underlines re-emergence of internal democracy within the Bar. Navroz Seervai, a noted lawyer from the Bombay High Court, critiqued the views of the top court saying that they reflected “arrogance of power” and “rank contempt for and disregard of the High Courts in the country, and the extremely important and vital role they play in the constitutional scheme”.

In the Supreme Court, the judges sit in Benches of two or more. The purpose of this practice is to encourage deliberation on the Bench to have a higher level of deliberative justice. This necessarily presupposes dissent. A characteristic feature of the apex court in the recent years is general lack of dissent in issues that have serious political ramifications. This deficit occurs not only in the formally pronounced judgments and orders; dissenting judges on the Bench are rare, and the hearing on the COVID-19 case was no exception.

According to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, public health and hospitals come under the State List as Item No. 6. There could be related subjects coming under the Union List or Concurrent List. Also, there may be areas of inter-State conflicts. But as of now, the respective High Courts have been dealing with specific challenges at the regional level, the resolution of which does not warrant the top court’s interference.

In addition to the geographical reasons, the constitutional scheme of the Indian judiciary is pertinent. InL. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India(1997), the Supreme Court itself said that the High Courts are “institutions endowed with glorious judicial traditions” since they “had been in existence since the 19th century and were possessed of a hoary past enabling them to win the confidence of the people”. Even otherwise, in a way, the power of the High Court under Article 226 is wider than the Supreme Court’s under Article 32, for in the former, a writ can be issued not only in cases of violation of fundamental rights but also “for any other purpose”. This position was reiterated by the court soon after its inception inState of Orissa v. Madan Gopal Rungta(1951).

Autonomy is the rule

Judicial federalism has intrinsic and instrumental benefits which are essentially political. The United States is an illustrative case. Scholar G. Alan Tarr of Rutgers University hinted, “Despite the existence of some endemic and periodical problems, the American system of judicial federalism has largely succeeded in promoting national uniformity and subnational diversity in the administration of justice”. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rightly said in a 1984 paper that the U.S. Supreme Court reviews “only a relative handful of cases from state courts” which ensures “a large measure of autonomy in the application of federal law” for the State courts.

This basic tenet of judicial democracy is well accepted across the courts in the modern federal systems. The need for a uniform judicial order across India is warranted only when it is unavoidable — for example, in cases of an apparent conflict of laws or judgments on legal interpretation. Otherwise, autonomy, not uniformity, is the rule. Decentralisation, not centrism, is the principle. In the COVID-19-related cases, High Courts across the country have acted with an immense sense of judicial responsibility. This is a legal landscape that deserves to be encouraged. To do this, the Supreme Court must simply stay away.

Kaleeswaram Raj and Thulasi K. Raj are lawyers at the Supreme Court of India

Flattening the COVID-19 curve eventually rests on judicious vaccination deployment plans and the pace of vaccination

India is presently battling an aggressive second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. India launched its vaccination drive in mid-January, starting with the vaccination of priority groups. The central government has announced a slew of policy measures to expand the eligibility bracket of vaccinees and to deploy more vaccines for domestic use. These policy interventions coupled with the availability of vaccines in the open market are expected to further intensify India’s anti-COVID-19 battle.

Interventions into action

The decision to open up vaccination for all individuals above 18 years of age and to make available vaccines in the open market and vaccines approved in other countries is a welcome move, especially when the country is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases. With more than 300,000 cases being reported across the country on a daily basis over the last three to four days, with health facilities getting overwhelmed, and with vaccine shortages, the new policy interventions for accelerating the vaccination drive need to be quickly translated into action.

India is presently vaccinating more than three million people per day and has administered more than 140 million doses of the vaccine as of April 25, 2021. What is important, however, is the vaccinated versus total population ratio. Only about 22.3 million people, which is roughly 1.63% of India’s population, have been fully vaccinated, against a requirement of 70%-75% for achieving herd immunity. The corresponding figures for the United States and the United Kingdom are 28% and 18%, respectively, while it is 55% for Israel (https://bit.ly/3aEPVDP). By realistic estimates, India may need to administer about two billion doses of vaccines to reach herd immunity levels. India’s current daily vaccination figure, although impressive in itself, may not be adequate to reach the target in the quickest possible time. The need of the hour is, therefore, an uninterrupted supply of vaccines for the proposed accelerated and augmented vaccination drive.

The import relaxations announced for COVID-19 vaccines and the recent guidelines issued by India’s drug regulatory authority for restricted use in emergency situation of vaccines which are already approved for restricted use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the European Medicines Agency, and the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency Japan have eased the introduction into India of the newer generation mRNA vaccines and other vaccines effective against the variants and mutant strains of the virus. Despite the regulatory nod, the full-fledged roll-out of these vaccines may be delayed in view of the time requirements for the mandatory bridging trials and safety assessments of the first 100 recipients of these vaccines. As time is of the essence, can some of these requirements be short-circuited, with weightage given to data from the trials conducted abroad? Would it not be possible to extrapolate data pertaining to Indian-origin recipients of the Pfizer or Moderna or other vaccines and determine the suitability of these vaccines for domestic use in India?

Issue of ethics

The ethics in prioritising target populations for vaccination were hotly debated globally, prior to the launch of the vaccination campaign. Prioritisation was done based on the number of infections that could be prevented, the number of lives that could be saved, the probability of survival, the length of survival and the ‘utility’ of the lives saved (in terms of life years gained and in quality of life improved). Top priority was assigned to health care and other front-line health workers, which satisfied the doctrine of benefit maximisation. While choosing 60-plus and those with co-morbidities as the third priority group, the guiding principle was the protection of the most vulnerable.

Relaxation of age-limit for deciding on the eligibility for vaccination has twin advantages, the first being the expansion of the vaccination net and the second being the freedom of the individual to exercise options for selecting the vaccine of her choice. The younger lot of the economically active population group and students attending college and university can get themselves vaccinated from May 1. This has the widest impact from the health economics point of view, as the Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) saved through vaccination of the 18-plus age-group would be the highest.

Allowing students of the outgoing and incoming Class XII into the vaccination net, sooner than later, seems prudent, although with DALY as the sole criterion, they may not qualify. Class XII is the gateway to higher education. These students have already had one academic year of online studies, which too had been dogged by equity and accessibility concerns, besides psychological stress and tensions. A comprehensive strategy to vaccinate students in the 16-plus age-group, in the next phase merits consideration, as has been approved by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vaccine pricing

The decision to keep the 18 to 44-year age-bracket under the ‘other than Government of India channel’ may discourage the socially and economically disadvantaged people such as labourers and daily wage workers from seeking vaccination, as they may not be able to procure the vaccines at determined prices.

The silver lining, nevertheless, is that State governments can take a call on providing the vaccine to this age-group free of cost. This may perhaps be a financial strain on cash-strapped State governments. Despite the financial burden, States such as Kerala have already committed to providing vaccines free of charge to all eligible people. The differential pricing regime announced by the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech for supply of their vaccines to the central government and State governments and the private sector is, however, a matter of concern. A rethink on the pricing strategies of these companies is called for. Furthermore, it would be equitable if those who can afford to pay for their own doses opt to do so.

Flattening the COVID-19-curve and its downward trajectory eventually rest on judicious vaccination deployment plans and the pace of vaccination. The proposed augmented and fast-tracked vaccination drive with a wider population base and a bigger basket of vaccines should facilitate the health system in this ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Dr. Sharmila Mary Joseph is an IAS officer of the Kerala cadre. The views expressed are personal

Journalists have to not only provide credible information but also enjoy the trust of the population

It has been an emotionally draining week. I lost two of my brightest students — Ashish Yechury and Shaoli Rudra — to COVID-19. Vivek Bendre, a very valuable colleague whose photographer’s eye captured both the glories and the pitfalls of post-liberalised India without a voyeuristic gaze, also lost his battle against COVID-19. There are reports from across the country about the lack of availability of oxygen in hospitals. When countless patients are literally gasping for air, why am I spending my time talking about trust in the media?

Undermining democracy

Last week, I flagged off one of the conundrums before journalists — the difference between what they perceive as legitimate work and the perception of a section of readers. A really powerful section uses seemingly benign language to silence the spirit of inquiry and notions of accountability. This narrative undermines the wellspring of democracy. For instance, they ask media to refrain from reporting anything that is negative. I get mails from this section often asking me what prevents journalism from concentrating on positive developments.

We are living at a time when there seems to be a convergence of interest between different institutions to undermine constitutionally guaranteed rights. Constitutional lawyer, Gautam Bhatia, who looks at the legal framework from a philosophical outlook, wrote a blog about the tenure of the recently retired Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, titled “Evasion, Hypocrisy, and Duplicity: The Legacy of Chief Justice Bobde”. Paraphrasing Francis Bacon’s wish that judges must be ‘lions under the throne’, Mr. Bhatia explained the new low we have reached today: “Think of a mouse under the throne, who sometimes squeaks, and sometimes ventures out to bite the toes of anyone coming before the ruler... a judiciary on its way to becoming a mouse under the throne is a sad sight indeed.” I am not venturing to comment on the acts of omission and commission of the Election Commission of India over the last decade, as it has been documented elsewhere.

When the rules of modern journalism evolved from the days of Benjamin Franklin, journalists took his wise words seriously: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. If the idea of journalism is to function as an integral estate of democracy, and if its mandate is to empower citizens, then it not just needs to provide credible information but also needs to enjoy the trust of the population. Citizens should direct questions towards influential voices such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale who said that by using the present COVID-19 emergency, “destructive and anti-Bharat forces” could create an atmosphere of negativity and distrust. Mr. Hosabale must realise that endorsement is neither journalism nor is it in public interest. Isn’t it obvious that we are in the midst of a terrible second wave because we failed to prepare? History will not be kind to the judiciary and to a section of the media for their complacency that led to perpetuating this misery.

While political scientists expect the judiciary to be “lions under the throne”, they expect a much more modest role from responsible news media: to be a watchdog. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared May 3 as the World Press Freedom Day when the Windhoek Declaration on “promoting an independent and pluralistic African press” was unanimously adopted at Windhoek, Namibia, on May 3, 1991. It is rather disturbing that journalists need to reiterate the principles once again after 30 years.

On April 22, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its latest report that confirmed the divergence in the world view between those who are in the news business and those who consume news. It revealed that editorial standards and journalistic practices may be less important for trust in news than audience impressions about brand reputations and the look and feel of how information is presented. The study urges news organisations to realise that it may not be enough for brands to establish trust merely on the basis of their journalism or the transparency of their methods. When a majority of the citizens, as the study points out, are either unaware or uninterested in what makes one news source distinct from their many competitors, foregrounding media literacy is the only way to establish trust.


It is determined to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region

Ten years since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seems to have won the civil war. If in 2015, before the Russian intervention, Mr. Assad’s area of influence had shrunken to the largely Alawite-populated region stretching from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, his troops now control most of Syria — except Idlib and the Kurdish territories. The Kurds enjoy autonomy in the border region with Turkey, but have bought a delicate peace with Damascus. In effect, Idlib, controlled by jihadists and rebels, and some towns on the border that are held by pro-Turkey militias are the only parts of the country that lie outside the sovereignty of the Syrian government. Mr. Assad’s victory, however, seems to have locked Syria in a prolonged geopolitical contest. The Syrian army turned around the war with help from Russia, Iran and several Iran-backed Shia militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah. They are all still in Syria, which shares a border with Israel. This means the civil war has intensified the Iran-Israel conflict.

Changing tactics

When the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011-12, Israel took a ‘wait and watch’ approach, primarily because it preferred a stable regime in Damascus to the post-revolutionary chaos — despite the absence of a formal peace treaty, the Israeli-Syrian border has been largely uneventful since the 1970s. But when Iran deployed militias and military assets in Syria in defence of Mr. Assad, it changed Israel’s calculus. Across Israel’s northern border, the Hezbollah has already established a formidable presence. Both Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and the 2006 war on Lebanon were resisted by Hezbollah. Israel would not like to have more Iran-backed Shia militias across the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and which has been the de facto border between the two countries ever since.

So, Israel changed its tactics. It first started helping anti-Assad rebels in the Golan region by reportedly providing cash and medical aid. The plan was to create a buffer between the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria so that the pro-Iran militias could be stopped from coming face-to-face with Israeli troops. Later, after the tides turned in the civil war and Iran deepened its presence in Syria, Israel started bombing Iranian positions inside Syria. Since September 2015, the Syrian air space has practically been controlled by the Russians. But Russia looked away when Israel stepped up its bombings and Israel has been careful not to hit Russian positions in the overcrowded Syrian battlefield.

Three goals

Israel had three key goals: disrupt Iranian supplies for Hezbollah and other Shia militias; stop the militias advancing towards the de facto border; and by continuously targeting them, weaken Iran’s presence in Syria. In the last three years, Israel has carried out dozens of aerial attacks in Syria. In retaliation, Syria has often fired anti-aircraft missiles. In February 2018, Syria shot down an Israeli war plane. Last week, an anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile, purportedly fired by the Syrian army, landed near Israel’s secretive nuclear facility in Dimona. In response, Israel carried out a round of bombing in Syria.

For the Syrian government, support from Iran was a lifeline. While Russia provided air power in the civil war, Iran supplied ground troops. So, Mr. Assad did nothing to prevent the sprawling Iranian influence in his country despite Israeli attacks. And Iran’s response to Israeli attacks has been only to deepen its footprints. As a result, Syria has emerged as a new theatre in the Israel-Iran geopolitical contest in West Asia, which could outlive the Syrian civil war. Already, the conflict has spilled from Syria into the Mediterranean and Red Sea waters where both sides target each other’s ships. With Israel determined to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region, at a time when the U.S. and other Western powers are reaching out to Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which could leave it more powerful economically, the Israel-Iran contest is set to intensify further.


Lockdowns can be used as a smart instrument that saves lives without killing livelihoods

Hovering around 3.5 lakh daily infections, India’s current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is still some distance from the peak. Some experts fear that it could hit a million daily infections in May, with daily deaths nearing 5,000. It is a different matter that the story these numbers tell is itself only a tiny fragment of the misery enveloping the country. The health-care infrastructure is stretched to breaking point in most parts of the country. Given this situation, more restrictions cannot be avoided. At the end of a week-long lockdown, Delhi extended it by another week on Sunday. After months, Chennai came under a complete Sunday lockdown with increased restrictions during the week; Kerala had the whole weekend in shutdown. A national lockdown was a sledgehammer approach last year and its memories still haunt. The Centre, once bitten and twice shy, has conveniently left any decision on lockdowns to the States. The learning from the first lockdown should not be that it is a political hot potato that is to be passed around; but that it could serve as a smart instrument in combating the outbreak.

It is meaningless to calculate the reduction in the spread of the virus attributable to lockdowns. In Delhi, the test positivity rate has reportedly come down from 36%-37% at the start of the lockdown to around 30% in a week, but that is besides the point. The challenge is in managing the pandemic with the least required and unavoidable disruption in economic activity. The lesson from the first lockdown that put the burden almost entirely on the poorest is that a better design for restrictions is essential. At the heart of managing any disaster is reliable information and trust in the government. Both seem to be deficient currently. The Centre appears to be eagerly watching and unhesitatingly intervening in some streams of information to deflect public attention from its own performance. However, there is little engagement with the States, the Opposition parties and the media. The Centre has viewed them with suspicion while the Opposition views the government as inept. All this is a replay of the responses last year, suggesting little learning. Lockdowns themselves cannot erase the pandemic, but they could give the government the breathing space to prepare. Ramping up of the health infrastructure must be taken up on a war footing. Going in for a shock and awe lockdown would cause more harm than good; but equally bad is the abdication of responsibility by the government. The Centre must work together with the States and the Opposition to design a flexible and phased scheme of restrictions that takes into account specific requirements and concerns of various places, and sectors of the economy.

The U.S.-India climate pact has the potential to aid sustainable post-pandemic development

The U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership raises expectations that the coming decade will see sustained financial and technological cooperation between the two countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. At the Leaders Summit on Climate organised by U.S. President Joe Biden, the world’s attention was focused on countries responsible for the highest carbon emissions. India ranks third, behind the U.S. and China, although its per capita CO2 emissions are less than 60% of the global average, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out. There is little confidence in a pandemic-stricken world, however, that future growth pathways will be aligned away from fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency, in fact, expects a dramatic rise in emissions as countries race to shake off the impact of the coronavirus, as they did after the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, the years to 2030, as President Biden put it, are part of a “decisive decade”, and action to scale up funding and innovation can help all countries move closer to keeping global warming well below 2°C or even 1.5°C, as the Paris Agreement envisages. There are many aspects to the bilateral pact that could be transformative for energy-intensive sectors in India, starting with renewable power expansion to 450 GW. With open source technologies, India could incorporate innovative materials and processes to decarbonise industry, transport and buildings, the biggest emitters, apart from power.

Many developed countries tend to view India’s reluctance to commit to a net zero emissions target as recalcitrance, but the climate change crisis originated not here but in the industrialised world, which has used up much of the world’s carbon space. A forward-looking policy should, therefore, envision green development anew, providing funding and green technologies as compensation for the emissions space lost by poorer countries. This is a win-win game, since it would aid sustainable development, boost employment, clean up the environment and, crucially, help all countries emerge healthier from the pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who announced enhanced ambition at the summit for Britain to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 over 1990 levels, advanced the agenda by calling for climate funding by rich nations to exceed the decade-old goal of $100 billion. For the India-U.S. agreement to yield results, Mr. Biden would have to persuade industry and research institutions at home to share knowledge and subsidise transfer of technologies. He has won commendations for steering America around from the science-deprived Trump years and announcing enhanced ambition: cuts in emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 over 2005 levels. But much of his climate effort will rely on executive authority, rather than bipartisan support. With political will on both sides, the engagement with India can become a model.

Non-Co-operation is essentially a movement of the masses. Extensively, it seeks to spread far and wide over the country and carry to the humblest in every home and hamlet the Congress message of courage, hope and freedom. Intensively, it works to enlighten the people at large on the ultimate sovereignty of their collective will in the governance of the country, to create in them a sense of the supreme dangers involved in co-operating with a system repudiating this primary principle and to awaken in them the truly national outlook in the several aspects of their daily life. Thus the source of its greatest strength and difficulty lies in that its success depends upon the intelligent response of every individual, high and low, man and woman, to the nation’s call for self-reliance, self-sacrifice and self-emancipation. Swaraj, as has often been pointed out, is really born of the nation’s soul by a purging of the national psychology of all paralysing fear, helpless dependence and suicidal self-distrust.

New Delhi, April 25: The Indo-Pakistan diplomatic relations are getting so badly messed up in the wake of the East Bengal tragedy that it is becoming almost impossible to agree even on elementary issues like repatriation of the staff and custody of the premises of the two Deputy High Commissions in Calcutta and Dacca which are closing down to-morrow. The Pakistan Government is working itself up into such a masochistic mood that it is not prepared to respect even its basic obligations under the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations. The Government of India to-day demanded a categorical assurance from Pakistan that, in asking India to close down its mission in Dacca it will adhere to the provisions of the Vienna Convention and respect the diplomatic privileges and immunities of the Indian personnel until they leave Pakistan territory, provide adequate facilities for the transfer of the mission’s archives and documents, and allow India to entrust the custody of the premises of the mission to a third country acceptable to Pakistan. But Pakistan is in no mood to discharge its international obligations in this respect and is evidently determined to retaliate to the point of treating the personnel of the Indian Deputy High Commission in Dacca as hostages.