Editorials - 02-08-2021

நாடாளுமன்ற மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடா் தொடங்கி 12 நாள்கள் கடந்து விட்டன. ஆளுங்கட்சியும், எதிா்க்கட்சிகளும் நடத்திய பேச்சுவாா்த்தைகளும் கூட்டத்தொடா் அமைதியாக நடக்க வேண்டுமென்பது குறித்து தெரிவித்த ஒருமித்த கருத்துகளும் எழுப்பிய எதிா்பாா்ப்புகள் பொய்த்து விட்டன.

மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடா் தொடங்குவதற்கு முன்பு, மசோதாக்களை நிறைவேற்றிக் கொள்வது மட்டுமல்லாமல், கொவைட் 19 நோய்த்தொற்றின் இரண்டாவது அலையை எதிா்கொண்டது தொடா்பான பிரச்னைகளை விவாதிக்கவும் அரசு தயாராகவே இருந்தது. எதிா்க்கட்சிகளும் தேசியப் பாதுகாப்பு, விலைவாசி உயா்வு, நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவலை அரசு எதிா்கொண்ட விதம் ஆகியவற்றில் காணப்பட்ட பலவீனங்களை முன்வைத்து அரசை பொறுப்பேற்க வைப்பதற்கு வாய்ப்பாக மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடரைக் கருதியிருந்தன. எல்லாமே பொய்த்து விட்டன.

பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு பிரச்னை இரு அவைகளிலும் முழுமையாக விவாதிக்கப்படுவதும், அதுகுறித்த விசாரணை நடத்தப்படுவதும் அரசால் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்படாத வரையில் நாடாளுமன்றத்தை நடத்த விடுவதில்லை என்று எதிா்க்கட்சிகள் தீா்மானமாக இருக்கின்றன. அரசுத் தரப்பும் இரண்டு அறிக்கைகளை வெளியிட்டிருக்கிறதே தவிர, முழுமையான விவாதத்திற்கோ பெகாஸஸ் குறித்த விசாரணைக்கோ தயாராக இல்லை. பெகாஸஸ் என்பது பொய்யான குற்றச்சாட்டு என்றும், கட்டமைக்கப்பட்டது என்றும் கூறி அறிக்கையுடன் முடித்துக்கொள்ள நினைக்கிறது.

இந்திய நாடாளுமன்ற ஜனநாயகம் நிலைதடுமாறாமல் இருக்க இப்போது காணப்படும் குழப்பம் அகன்றாக வேண்டும். நாடாளுமன்றம் அமளிக் கலாசாரத்திலிருந்து மீண்டும் விவாதக் கலாசாரத்துக்குத் திரும்பியாக வேண்டும். அதற்கு அரசு தனது பிடிவாதத்தை தளா்த்திக் கொள்வதுதான் சரியான அணுகுமுறையாக இருக்க முடியும்.

நாடாளுமன்றம் முறையாக நடைபெறுவதை உறுதிப்படுத்தும் பொறுப்பு ஆளுங்கட்சியுடையதே தவிர, எதிா்க்கட்சிகளுடையது அல்ல. எதிா்க்கட்சிகளை அரவணைத்துச் சென்று, விவாதிக்க அனுமதித்து, வாக்கெடுப்பில் வெற்றி பெற்று, மசோதாக்களை நிறைவேற்றி சட்டமாக்குவது என்பதுதான் நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் ஆளுங்கட்சியின் கடமை. அதை பலமுறை பலரும் எடுத்தியம்பியும்கூட, அது பாஜகவோ, காங்கிரஸோ, மாநிலக் கட்சிகளோ எதுவாக இருந்தாலும் உணா்வதாகத் தெரியவில்லை.

நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்புப் பிரச்னை விவாதிக்கப்பட வேண்டும் என்கிற எதிா்க்கட்சிகளின் கோரிக்கையில் நியாயம் இருக்கிறது. முக்கியமான அரசியல் தலைவா்கள், தொழிலதிபா்கள், உயரதிகாரிகள், சமூக ஆா்வலா்கள், ஊடகவியலாளா்கள் என்று பரவலாகப் பலரும் கண்காணிப்பு வளையத்தில் இருப்பதாக பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு குறித்த தகவல் வெளிப்படுத்துகிறது. அவா்களில் பலருடைய செல்லிடப்பேசிகளும் பெகாஸஸ் மென்பொருளால் தாக்கப்பட்டிருப்பது தெரியவந்திருக்கும் நிலையில், அதுகுறித்த கேள்விகளை எழுப்பும் கடமை எதிா்க்கட்சிகளுக்கு நிச்சயமாக உண்டு.

பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு என்பது ராணுவ ஒற்றாடல் தொடா்பான மென்பொருள் என்பதால் அதை சாதாரண ஒட்டுக்கேட்பாகப் புறந்தள்ள முடியவில்லை. இதன் பின்னணியில் யாா் யாா் இருக்கிறாா்கள், தன்மறைப்பு நிலைக்கான உரிமை, கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம் உள்ளிட்ட பல கேள்விகள் எழுகின்றன. ஜனநாயகத்தின் அடிப்படையை பாதிக்கும் ஒரு செயல்பாடு என்பதால், இதை விவாதிப்பதற்கான இடம் நாடாளுமன்றமாகத்தான் இருக்க முடியும். தகவல் தொழில் நுட்ப அமைச்சரின் விளக்கத்துடன் ஒதுக்கித் தள்ளக்கூடிய பிரச்னை அல்ல இது.

இந்தியாவைப் போலவே பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு மென்பொருள் விவகாரம் பிரான்ஸ் நாட்டையும் உலுக்கியிருக்கிறது. பிரான்ஸ் அரசு இது குறித்து இஸ்ரேலுக்கு சில கேள்விகளை எழுப்பியிருக்கிறது. இந்த ஒற்றாடல் மென்பொருளை உருவாக்கிய என்எஸ்ஓ என்கிற நிறுவனம், பிரான்ஸ் நாட்டின் கண்காணிப்பு வளையத்துக்குள் கொண்டுவரப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. அப்படியிருக்கும்போது, இந்தியாவில் இந்தப் பிரச்னை குறித்து நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் விவாதிக்கவும், உறுப்பினா்கள் எழுப்பும் கேள்விக்கு பதிலளிக்கவும் அரசு முன்வராமல் இருப்பது தவறு.

எதிா்க்கட்சிகளின் நடவடிக்கைகள் அரசின் செயல்பாடுகளைத் தடுப்பதாகவும், அவையை நடக்கவிடாமல் செய்வதில் பிடிவாதம் பிடிப்பதாகவும் கூறுவதை ஏற்றுக்கொள்ள முடியவில்லை. ஜனநாயகம், விவாதம் என்று வந்தால் ஆட்சியாளா்கள் பதிலளிக்க வேண்டும் என்பதுதான் நடைமுறை.

அரசின் தா்மசங்கடம் புரிகிறது. இந்தியாவில் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு என்பது சட்டவிரோதம் என்கிற நிலையில், பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு மென்பொருளை வாங்கியதாகவும், பயன்படுத்தியதாகவும் ஒப்புக்கொள்ள முடியாது. ஒப்புக்கொண்டால் அரசின் ஜனநாயக மீறலை வெளிப்படுத்துவதாக இருக்கும். பெகாஸஸ் ஒட்டுக்கேட்புடன் தனக்குத் தொடா்பில்லை என்று மறுத்தால், இந்திய குடிமக்களுக்கு எதிராக ஒரு வெளிநாட்டு அரசு ஒட்டுக்கேட்பு முயற்சியில் இறங்கியிருக்கிறது என்று பொருள். அது அதைவிடப் பெரிய பிரச்னை.

அரசு இறங்கி வந்து எதிா்க்கட்சிகளின் கோரிக்கைகளை ஏற்று விவாதத்துக்கு தயாராவதைத் தவிர வேறுவழியில்லை. ஏற்கெனவே இந்தப் பிரச்னை நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு எடுத்துச் செல்லப்பட்டு விட்டது. அவையில் விவாதிக்காமல் போனாலும், நீதிமன்றத்தில் விரிவான பதிலை தாக்கல் செய்தாக வேண்டும். நீதிமன்றம் தனது மேற்பாா்வையில் விசாரணைக்கு உத்தரவிடுவதைவிட, நாடாளுமன்ற விவாதமும், நாடாளுமன்றக் குழுவின் விசாரணையும் அரசால் ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்படுவதுதான் இதற்குத் தீா்வாக இருக்கும்.

செயின்ட் ஜார்ஜ் கோட்டையின் சட்டமன்றக் கட்டிடம், பிரிட்டிஷ் ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்ட பகுதிப் பொறுப்பாட்சி, மாகாண சுயாட்சி முறைகளுக்கும் சுதந்திர இந்தியாவின் புதிய அரசமைப்பின்படி உருவாக்கப்பட்ட மாநிலங்களின் கூட்டாட்சிக்கும் அடையாளமாக நின்றுகொண்டிருக்கிறது. பேரவை, மேலவை என்னும் இரு அவைகளை உள்ளடக்கிய சட்டமன்றமாகச் செயல்பட்ட அனுபவங்களையும் இது பெற்றுள்ளது. தவிர, மாநிலங்களின் சுயாட்சிக் குரல்களுக்கான முன்னோடி மேடையாகவும் விளங்கிக்கொண்டிருக்கிறது. இந்திய அரசமைப்பின் ஏழாம் அட்டவணையின்படி, மாநிலங்களுக்கு வகுத்துரைக்கப்பட்ட இனங்களில் சட்டமியற்றுவதுடன் மட்டுமின்றி, இந்தியக் கூட்டாட்சியில் மாநிலங்களின் அதிகாரங்கள் குறித்து தீவிரமான விவாதங்களும் இந்தச் சட்டமன்றத்தில் தொடர்ந்து நடந்துவருகின்றன.

பிரிட்டிஷ் நாடாளுமன்ற முறையையும் அதன் மரபுகளையும் இந்திய நாடாளுமன்றத்தைப் போலவே மாநிலச் சட்டமன்றங்களும் பின்பற்றுகின்றன. அனுமதிக்கப்பட்ட வகையினங்களில் சட்டமியற்றுவது மட்டுமின்றிப் பொது நிதி மேலாண்மையும் சட்டமன்றத்தாலேயே முடிவுசெய்யப்படுகிறது. ஆண்டுதோறும் அரசின் வரவு - செலவுத் திட்டங்கள் சட்டமன்றத்தின் முன்னால் விவாதிக்கப்பட்டு, துறைவாரியாக ஒவ்வொரு செலவினமும் பெரும்பான்மையுடன் தீர்மானிக்கப்படுகிறது. கூட்டாட்சியையும் மக்களாட்சியையும் வலுப்படுத்தும் இந்தச் சட்டமன்ற நடவடிக்கைகளிலும் தமிழ்நாடு தனது முன்னோடித் தடங்களைப் பதித்துள்ளது. பிரிட்டிஷ் ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் ஆங்கிலேயர்களின் பங்கேற்போடு தொடங்கிய சென்னை மாகாணச் சட்டமன்ற அனுபவங்கள், தமிழ்நாட்டுக்கு அரசியல் துறையில் இன்றும் வழிகாட்டுகின்றன. உள்ளாட்சி நிர்வாகத்தில் ஏற்கெனவே தமிழ்நாடு பெற்றிருந்த வரலாற்றுச் சிறப்புகள், பிரிட்டிஷ் ஆட்சிக் காலத்தின் உள்ளாட்சி நிர்வாகத்திலும் முத்திரை பதிக்க உதவி, பின்பு சட்டமன்றச் சாதனைகளுக்கும் வித்திட்டன. சுதந்திர இந்தியாவிலும் மாநிலத்தின் பெயர்மாற்றத் தீர்மானம், மாநில சுயாட்சிக்கான தீர்மானம் என்று குறிப்பிடத்தக்க விவாதங்களைத் தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றம் நடத்தி, நாட்டின் கவனத்தைத் தன் மீது ஈர்த்துள்ளது.

கிழக்கிந்திய கம்பெனியின் அடித்தளமாக 1640-ல் கட்டப்பட்ட செயின்ட் ஜார்ஜ் கோட்டை, பிரிட்டிஷ் சாம்ராஜ்ஜியத்தின் நினைவுச்சின்னம் மட்டுமல்ல... அங்கு அமைந்திருக்கும் சட்டமன்றக் கட்டிடத்தின் காரணமாக இந்தியாவின் ஜனநாயக வரலாற்றைச் சொல்லும் சின்னமாகவும் விளங்கிவருகிறது. பிரிட்டிஷ் காலத்தில் ஒரு படைத்தளமாக வெற்றி தோல்விகளைச் சந்தித்த செயின்ட் ஜார்ஜ் கோட்டை, இந்தியாவின் ஜனநாயகப் பயணத்தை வெற்றிகளுடன் தொடர்ந்துகொண்டிருக்கிறது. பிறப்பின் அடிப்படையில் கற்பிக்கப்பட்ட பேதங்களால், ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட பிரிவினரும் தங்களுக்கான பிரதிநிதித்துவத்தை இந்த அவையில் பெறும் வாய்ப்பு கிடைத்திருக்கிறது. தேசிய உணர்வின் தோற்றுவாயான தமிழ்நாடு, மாநில உரிமைகளுக்கும் அதே முக்கியத்துவத்தைக் கொடுத்துவருகிறது. மாநில நலன்கள் குறித்த விஷயங்களில் அனைத்துக் கட்சிகளும் கருத்தொன்றி தங்களது நிலைப்பாட்டைச் சட்டமன்றத் தீர்மானங்களாக்கி மத்திய அரசின் கவனத்தை ஈர்க்கின்றன. சட்டமன்றப் பணிகள் மாநில அரசின் நிர்வாகத்தைச் செம்மைப்படுத்துவதோடு, சீரிய விவாதங்களின் வழியே மத்திய - மாநில அரசுகளின் உறவையும் வலுப்படுத்திவருகின்றன. கூட்டாட்சி அமைப்பில் நாடாளுமன்றம்போலவே மாநிலங்களின் சட்டமன்றங்களுக்கும் சமபங்கு இருக்கிறது. முன்னோடியாக விளங்கிவரும் தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றத்தின் பணிகள் மென்மேலும் சிறக்கட்டும்!

பேரவைத் தலைவரின் இருக்கை

தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றப் பேரவையின் பொலிவுக்கு அணிசெய்யும் பேரவைத் தலைவரின் இருக்கை, இங்கிலாந்து நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் உள்ள பேரவைத் தலைவரின் இருக்கையின் வடிவமைப்பு போன்றது. இங்கிலாந்து நாடாளுமன்ற அவைத்தலைவராக இருந்தவர் ‘ஸ்பீக்கர்’ பிராண்ட். அவருடைய பேரனான லார்டு வில்லிங்டன் சென்னை மாகாண கவர்னராக இருந்தார். அவரும், அவரது மனைவியும் தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றப் பேரவைக்கு அளித்த அன்புப் பரிசே இந்த இருக்கையாகும். 1922, மார்ச் மாதம் அவ்வாறு பரிசளிக்கப்பட்ட அழகான கலை நுணுக்கம் மிக்க இருக்கைதான் பேரவைத் தலைவரின் இருக்கையாகும்.

அதிமுகவின் ஆதிக்கம்

சுதந்திரத்துக்கு முன்னும் பின்னும் சேர்த்துக் கணக்கிட்டால், தமிழ்நாட்டை அதிக காலம் ஆண்ட கட்சி அதிமுகதான். காபந்து அரசாங்கத்தையும் சேர்த்து 11,117 நாட்கள், அதாவது 30 ஆண்டுகளுக்கும் சற்று அதிகம். அடுத்த இடத்தில் காங்கிரஸ் இருக்கிறது. 1937-லிருந்து 1967 வரை மொத்தம் 10,827 நாட்கள், கிட்டத்தட்ட 30 ஆண்டுகள், காங்கிரஸ் ஆண்டிருக்கிறது.

முதல்வர் நாவலர்

மிகக் குறைவான நாட்கள் முதல்வர் பதவியில் இருந்தவர் இரா.நெடுஞ்செழியன். இரண்டு முறையும் சேர்த்து மொத்தம் 21 நாட்களே அவர் முதல்வராக இருந்திருக்கிறார்.

அவைத்தலைவர் கட்சி சார்பற்றவர்

அண்ணா முதலமைச்சராக இருந்த நேரத்தில் சி.பா.ஆதித்தனார் 5 மாதக் காலம்தான் பேரவைத் தலைவராக இருந்தார். தென்காசி இடைத்தேர்தலில் - பேரவைத் தலைவராக இருக்கும்போதே - தேர்தல் பணிகளிலே ஈடுபட்டார் என்ற காரணத்துக்காக அன்றைய முதலமைச்சர் அண்ணா, ஆதித்தனாரைப் பதவியிலிருந்து விலகச் சொன்னார்.

கணவன் - மனைவி

பத்தாவது பேரவையில் பொன்னேரி தொகுதி உறுப்பினராக இருந்த ரவிக்குமாரும் திண்டுக்கல் தொகுதி உறுப்பினராக இருந்த நிர்மலாவும் தங்கள் பதவிக்காலத்திலேயே திருமணம் செய்துகொண்டனர். ஒரே பேரவையில் கணவன் - மனைவி இருவரும் உறுப்பினர்களாக இருந்தது இதுவே முதல் முறையாகும்.

பேரவைத் தலைவரை ஆளுநரே தேர்ந்தெடுத்தார்

1921-ல் மாகாணங்களில் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட அரசு உருவானாலும், அமைச்சர்களை ஆளுநரே நியமித்தார். முதல் நான்கு ஆண்டுகளுக்கு சட்டமன்றத்தின் தலைவரையும் ஆளுநரே நியமித்தார். அதன் பிறகே, சட்டமன்றமே தன் தலைவரைத் தேர்ந்தெடுத்துக்கொள்ளலாம் என்று ஆயிற்று

கருணாநிதி – ஜெயலலிதா சாதனைகள்

அதிக முறை முதல்வராக இருந்தவர் ஜெயலலிதா, மொத்தம் ஆறு முறை அவர் முதல்வராக இருந்திருக்கிறார். ஆனால், அதிக நாட்கள் முதல்வராக இருந்த சாதனை கருணாநிதியுடையது. அவர் 6,864 நாட்கள் முதல்வராக இருந்திருக்கிறார். அடுத்த இடத்தில் ஜெயலலிதா இருக்கிறார். அவர் 5,267 நாட்கள் முதல்வராக இருந்திருக்கிறார்.

இதுவரை…

சுப்பராயலு ரெட்டியாரில் ஆரம்பித்து, தற்போது மு.க.ஸ்டாலின் வரை 22 முதல்வர்களைத் தமிழ்நாடு கண்டிருக்கிறது.

காலி மைதானத்தில் சிலம்பம்

நாணயத்தின் ஒரு பக்கம் சேதமடைந்திருந்தாலும் அது செல்லாது. அது போன்றே எதிர்க்கட்சி இல்லாவிட்டாலும் ஜனநாயகம் இருக்காது. காலி மைதானத்தில் சிலம்பம் ஆடுவதற்கு ஒப்பாகிவிடும். முதலமைச்சருக்கு எந்த அளவுக்குப் பொறுப்பும் முக்கியத்துவமும் இருக்கிறதோ, அதைப் போன்றே எதிர்க்கட்சித் தலைவருக்கும் இருக்கிறது.

- எஸ்.ஆர்.பாலசுப்பிரமணியன்

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நானும் அண்ணாவும்

அண்ணாதுரை சிறந்த பேச்சாளர். சிறந்த கருத்துகளை எடுத்துவைக்கும் ஆற்றல் படைத்தவர். எதிர்க்கட்சித் தலைவர் என்கிற முறையில், காங்கிரஸ் கட்சியையும் அதன் கொள்கைகளையும் தாக்கிப் பேசுவார். அதையும் பண்புள்ள முறையில் விளக்குவார்… இவ்வாறு விவாதங்கள் நடத்தினாலும், நானும் அண்ணாதுரையும் நெருங்கிய சினேகிதர்களாகவே இருந்துவந்தோம். அண்ணா உயிருள்ள வரையில், அந்த உறவு நீடித்தது. ஆகவே, அமைச்சரவை - நிர்வாகம் செயல்பட்ட விதமும், பேரவையில் நடந்த விவாதங்களும் இன்றைய சமுதாயத்துக்குச் சிறந்த எடுத்துக்காட்டுகளாக விளங்குகின்றன.

- சி.சுப்பிரமணியம்

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கண்ணியம் காத்த தலைவர்கள்

எவ்வளவுதான் கருத்து வேறுபாடு இருந்தாலும் புரட்சித் தலைவரும் கலைஞரும் சட்டமன்றத்தின் கண்ணியத்தைக் காப்பதில் ஒரே கருத்துடையவர்களாக இருந்தனர். என்னுடைய பணிக்காலத்தில் ஒரு உதாரணம் சொல்ல வேண்டுமானால், ஒருமுறை சட்டமன்றத்தில் சுப்பு, துரைமுருகன், இரகுமான்கான் மூவரும் எனக்கு அடங்காமல் குரல் எழுப்பிக்கொண்டிருந்தனர். நான் உடனே, ‘உங்களை ஆண்டவன்தான் காப்பாற்ற வேண்டும்’ என்று சலிப்புடன் கூறினேன். உடனே கலைஞர் எழுந்து, ‘ஆண்டவன் நான் இருக்கிறேன், உங்களைக் காப்பாற்றுகிறேன்’ என்று கூறி அவர்களைக் கண்டித்தார். அவர் ஆண்டவன் என்று சொன்னது அவர் தமிழகத்தை ஆண்டதை, இதேபோல ஆளுங்கட்சியில் அமைச்சராக இருந்த திரு.சவுந்திரபாண்டியன் ஒரு பிரச்சினையில் தலைவருக்கு அடங்காமல் பேசிக்கொண்டே போனார். அவரை நான் கடுமையாக விமர்சித்து அமரவைத்தேன். இதற்காக புரட்சித்தலைவர் அவர்கள் என்னைப் பாராட்டினார். அந்த அளவிற்கு புரட்சித் தலைவரும் கலைஞரும் சபை கண்ணியத்தைக் காப்பதில் ஒற்றுமையாயிருந்தனர்.

சட்டமன்றம் சார்ந்து விழாக்களைக் கொண்டாடுவதில் திமுகவுக்கு எப்போதுமே தனியார்வம் உண்டு. 1937-ஐ முதலாகக் கொண்டு 1989-ல் தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றப் பேரவையின் பொன்விழாவைக் கொண்டாடினார் அப்போதைய முதல்வர் மு.கருணாநிதி. அதை உறுதிப்படுத்தும் வகையில் பத்தாண்டுகள் கழித்து சட்டமன்றத்தின் (Legislative council) பவள விழாவையும் சட்டமன்றப் பேரவையின் (Legisaltive assembly) வைர விழாவையும் ஒருசேர 1997-ல் கொண்டாடினார். இப்போது நடத்தப்படும் விழா, நீதிக் கட்சி ஆட்சிப் பொறுப்பேற்ற 1921-ம் ஆண்டை தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றத்தின் தொடக்கமாகக் கொண்டிருக்கிறது. தமிழ்நாடு சட்டமன்றத்தின் தொடக்கத்தை எந்த ஆண்டிலிருந்து கணக்கிடுவது என்று விவாதங்களும் தற்போது எழுந்துள்ளன. 1937-ஐச் சட்டமன்றப் பேரவையின் தொடக்கமாகக் கொள்வதற்கான காரணங்களைப் போலவே 1921-ஐ சட்டமன்றத்தின் தொடக்கமாகக் கொள்வதற்கான காரணங்களும் முக்கியமானவையே.

சுதந்திரம் பெறுவதற்கு முன்பான பிரிட்டிஷ் காலனிய ஆட்சி வரலாற்றிலேயே இன்றைய இந்திய ஜனநாயகத்தின் தொடக்கப் புள்ளிகளைக் காணலாம். 1861-லேயே மத்திய அரசாங்கத்திலும் மாகாணங்களிலும் ஆலோசனை மன்றங்கள் அமைக்கப்பட்டன. 1892, 1909 ஆண்டுகளில் அவையே விரிவுபடுத்தப்பட்டன. என்றாலும் இவற்றில் இடம்பெற்ற மக்கள் பிரதிநிதிகள் நேரடித் தேர்தலின் வாயிலாகத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்படாமல் பட்டதாரிகள், வணிகர்கள், உள்ளாட்சி அங்கத்தினர்கள் ஆகிய அமைப்புகளின் வழியாகத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்டனர். அதிகாரிகள் இல்லாத உறுப்பினர்கள் என்பதுதான் அதன் உண்மையான அர்த்தம். அதுவும்கூட மொத்த எண்ணிக்கையில் பாதியளவுக்கு மட்டும்தான். 1919 சீர்திருத்தங்கள்தான் சட்டமியற்றும் சபை என்ற அடிப்படையில், இந்தியர்களுக்கு ஆட்சி நிர்வாகத்தில் பகுதிப் பொறுப்பாட்சியை வழங்கியது. அதன் அடிப்படையில்தான் 1921-ல் ஒன்பது மாகாணங்களில் புதிய சட்டமன்றங்கள் உருவாக்கப்பட்டன.

1892-ல் பொருளாதாரத்தில் முன்னேறிய சாதிகள் மட்டுமே பயன்பெற்றன. 1909 சீர்திருத்தம் குறிப்பாக பிராமணரல்லாத உயர்சாதிகளுக்கும் மதச் சிறுபான்மையினருக்கும் அரசியல் வாய்ப்புகளை உருவாக்கியது. 1919 மாண்ட்போர்டு சீர்திருத்தங்கள் அதை இன்னும் விரிவுபடுத்தி ஆட்சிப் பொறுப்பையே அவர்களின் கையில் வழங்கியது. மாகாணங்களில் ஆட்சி நிர்வாகத்தின் தலைவராக ஆளுநரை ஏற்றுக்கொண்டு, சட்டமியற்றும் நடவடிக்கைகளை மக்களால் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட உறுப்பினர்களிடம் வழங்கியது. அதற்குக் காரணமாக இருந்த அன்றைய இந்தியச் செயலர் மாண்டேகு நன்றியோடு இன்றைய தினம் நினைத்துப்பார்க்க வேண்டியவராக இருக்கிறார். அவர் பரிந்துரைத்த சீர்திருத்தங்களை ஆங்கிலேயே அதிகார வர்க்கத்தினர் விரும்பவில்லை. முதலாவது உலகப் போரில் இங்கிலாந்தின் வெற்றிக்காக இந்தியர்கள் சிந்திய ரத்தமும்கூட இந்த ஜனநாயக வாய்ப்பை விரைவுபடுத்தியது எனினும் 1909-லேயே அதற்கு வித்திடப்பட்டுவிட்டது என்பதும் சேர்த்தெண்ணப்பட வேண்டும்.

மாண்ட்போர்டு சீர்திருத்தங்கள் அரசியல் பரிசோதனையாகத்தான் மேற்கொள்ளப்பட்டன. ஏனெனில், அதற்கு முன்பாக அப்படியொரு பொறுப்பாட்சி முறை இங்கு நடைமுறையில் இருந்ததில்லை. மத்திய அரசாங்கத்தின் முழுக் கட்டுப்பாட்டிலிருந்து மாகாண அரசாங்கங்கள் விடுபட்டுத் தமக்குப் பொறுப்புள்ள துறைகளில் சுயமாகச் செயல்பட அனுமதிக்கப்பட்டன. உள்ளாட்சி அமைப்புகளில் இந்தியர்கள் பெற்றிருந்த அனுபவங்களின் அடிப்படையிலேயே இந்த வாய்ப்பு வழங்கப்பட்டது. ஆனால், மாகாண அரசாங்கத்தின் முழுமையான அதிகாரங்களும் மக்களால் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட பிரதிநிதிகளிடம் ஒப்படைக்கப்படவில்லை. ஒரு பகுதி அமைச்சரவையிடமும் மற்றொரு பகுதி வழக்கம்போல ஆளுநர் தலைமையிலான நிர்வாக அவையிடமுமே இருந்தன. அமைச்சரவையின் பொறுப்பில் இருந்த துறைகள் மாற்றப்பட்ட துறைகள் எனவும் ஆளுநரின் பொறுப்பில் இருந்த துறைகள் ஒதுக்கப்பட்ட துறைகள் எனவும் வகைப்படுத்தப்பட்டன.

ஒதுக்கப்பட்ட துறைகளில் நிதி, நீதி, நீர்ப் பாசனம், தொழிற்சாலைகள் உள்ளிட்ட முக்கியத் துறைகள் இருந்தன. மாற்றப்பட்ட துறைகளில் கல்வி, நூலகம், உள்ளாட்சி, மக்கள் நல்வாழ்வு, சுகாதாரம், மத விவகாரங்கள், அறநிலையங்களைக் கட்டுப்படுத்துதல் ஆகிய துறைகள் இருந்தன. இரு வகைகளாகப் பிரிக்கப்பட்ட துறைகளுக்கு இடையே ஒருங்கிணைவு இல்லை என்பது ஒரு குறையாக இருந்தது. எனினும், இரண்டுக்கும் பொதுவாக ஒரே வரவு-செலவுத் திட்டம்தான் பின்பற்றப்பட்டுவந்தது. இந்த இரட்டையாட்சி வாய்ப்பின் வழியாக 1921-ல் சட்டமன்றங்களுக்குத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட உறுப்பினர்களும் அவர்களின் அமைச்சரவைகளும் ஆட்சி நிர்வாகத்தில் தங்களது திறமையை நிரூபித்து, அடுத்தடுத்த அரசியல் சீர்திருத்தங்களுக்கும் அடிகோலினர். குறிப்பாக, சென்னை மாகாணத்தில் ஆட்சிக்கு வந்த நீதிக் கட்சி கல்வி, சமய நிறுவனங்களைக் கட்டுப்படுத்துதல் இரண்டிலும் தனது கொள்கையை வலுவாக நிறுவியது.

மாண்ட்போர்டு சீர்திருத்தங்களின் காரணகர்த்தாக்களில் ஒருவரான செம்ஸ்போர்டு, ‘இந்திய அரசாங்கத்தில் தாங்கள் புகுத்தியுள்ள சீர்திருத்தக் கொள்கைகள், அரசியல் அடிப்படையில் மிகப் பெரும் மாற்றத்தை நாளடைவில் ஏற்படுத்துவதோடு, இந்திய சமுதாய அமைப்பிலும் பெரும் புரட்சியை ஏற்படுத்தும்’ என்று கூறியிருந்தார். அவரது வார்த்தைகள் உண்மையாகிவிட்டன என்பதை அன்றைய நீதிக் கட்சி தொடங்கி, இன்றைய திராவிடக் கட்சிகள் வரை தொடர்ந்து நிரூபித்துவருகின்றன.

1919 சீர்திருத்தத்தின்படி சென்னையில் அமைக்கப்பட்ட சட்டமன்றத்தில் 98 தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட உறுப்பினர்களும் 25 நியமன உறுப்பினர்களும் இருந்தனர். சட்டமன்றத்தின் பதவிக்காலம் மூன்றாண்டுகள். எனினும், ஆளுநர் சட்டமன்றத்தை முன்கூட்டியே கலைக்கவோ பதவிக்காலத்தை நீட்டிக்கவோ அதிகாரம் பெற்றிருந்தார். இன்று நடைமுறையில் இருக்கும் மாநில ஆளுநர்களின் அதிகாரங்களுக்கும் இரட்டையாட்சியே வித்திட்டது என்றும் கொள்ளலாம். மாகாணச் சட்டமன்றத்தில் இயற்றப்படுகிற சட்டங்களை கவர்னர் ஜெனரலின் ஒப்புதலுக்காக அனுப்பிவைக்கும் அதிகாரமும் ஆளுநரின் வசமிருந்தது. கவர்னர் ஜெனரலின் இடத்தில் இன்று குடியரசுத் தலைவர். இத்தனை நெருக்கடிகளுக்கு நடுவிலும் ஆளுநரின் நிர்வாக அவைக்கும் அமைச்சரவைக்குமான இணைப்புக் கூட்டங்களை இணக்கத்துடன் நடத்திய மாகாணமாக சென்னை பெருமைபெற்றது.

1921-ல் சென்னை மாகாணம் மட்டுமின்றி வங்காளம், பம்பாய், ஐக்கிய மாகாணங்கள், பஞ்சாப், பிஹார், ஒரிஸா, மத்திய மாகாணங்கள், அஸ்ஸாம் ஆகிய மாகாணங்களிலும் இரட்டையாட்சி நடைமுறைக்கு வந்தது. ஏறக்குறைய 16 ஆண்டு காலம் அது நடைமுறையில் இருந்தது. பின்பு,1935 சீர்திருத்தங்களின்படி மாகாண சுயாட்சி வழங்கப்பட்டு, அது 1937-ல் நடைமுறைக்கு வந்தது. எனவே, கருணாநிதியின் ஆட்சிக் காலங்களில் மாகாண சுயாட்சி கிடைத்து, சட்டமன்றப் பேரவை கூட்டப்பட்டதன் பொன்விழா, வைரவிழாக்கள் கொண்டாடப்பட்டன. ஸ்டாலின் தலைமையிலான ஆட்சிக் காலத்தில் இன்று கொண்டாடப்படுவது அன்றைய சென்னை மாகாணத்தில் மக்களால் முதன்முதலாகத் தேர்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட பிரதிநிதிகளைக் கொண்ட சட்டமன்றத்தின் நூற்றாண்டு விழா. ஒருவகையில், இது அரசு நிர்வாகத்தில் பிராமணர் அல்லாதாரின் பெரும் பிரவேசத்துக்கு எடுக்கப்படும் நூற்றாண்டு விழா. இன்னொரு வகையில், தமிழ்நாட்டுக்கு மட்டுமின்றி, ஒட்டுமொத்த இந்தியாவுக்கும் தேர்தலின் வாயிலாகவும் சட்டமன்றங்களின் வாயிலாகவும் ஜனநாயகக் கோட்பாடுகள் அறிமுகமான இரட்டையாட்சியின் நூற்றாண்டு விழாவும்கூட.

Reservation for students from Backward Classes in seats surrendered by States to an ‘All-India Quota’ (AIQ) in medical colleges run by State governments was long overdue. The Centre’s decision to extend its 27% reservation for ‘other backward classes’ to all seats under the AIQ is a belated, but welcome development, as Other Backward Class (OBC) candidates have been denied their due for years. And in concord with its keenness to balance OBC interests with those of the socially advanced sections, the Union government has also decided to provide 10% of the AIQ seats to those from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). This is almost entirely the outcome of a Madras High Court verdict and the efforts of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which approached the court with the demand. The AIQ is a category created by the Supreme Court to free up some seats from residential or domicile requirements in some States for admissions to their medical colleges. Introduced in 1986, the AIQ comprised 15% of undergraduate medical and dental seats and 50% of post-graduate seats surrendered by the States for admission through a central pool. There was no reservation in the AIQ, and, once in the past, the Supreme Court set aside a Madras High Court order directing the Centre to implement Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes quota in the category.

In 2007, the Supreme Court allowed 15% Scheduled Caste reservation and a 7.5% Scheduled Tribe quota under the AIQ. Meanwhile, based on a central law favouring Backward Class reservation in educational institutions, the Union’s 27% OBC quota was introduced in central educational institutions. There was no move to implement OBC reservation in the category. In the courts, the Medical Council of India argued against OBC reservation, but the Union government said it was not averse to the reservation, subject to an overall 50% limit. The omission of OBC reservation in the AIQ seats was obviously discriminatory. There were OBC seats in medical institutions run by the Centre, as well as State-specific quotas in those run by the States. It was incongruous that seats given up by the States to help the Centre redistribute medical education opportunities across the country were kept out of the ambit of affirmative action. There was even a case to argue that, as AIQ seats originally belonged to the States, the quota policy applicable to the respective States ought to be applied to them. The Madras High Court, in July 2020, held that there was no legal impediment to OBC reservation, but, given that the policy varied from State to State, it left it to the Centre to decide the modalities for quotas from this academic year. The Centre has now decided on the 27% OBC quota, but not before the High Court termed the delay in doing so “contumacious”.

India at the Olympics has always been about feverish hopes, bruising anguish and a few medals. Since its debut at the Games in 1900, the world’s second most populous nation has ended up with either a single-digit tally or none at all. That familiar tale is being repeated a week after the Tokyo Olympics commenced and India is currently assured of three medals. One, a silver claimed by weight-lifter Mirabai Chanu in the 49kg category. And second, a minimum of a bronze guaranteed as boxer Lovlina Borgohain qualified for the semifinal in the welter-weight segment. The bout will be held on Wednesday. Badminton star P.V. Sindhu too joined the party, seizing her bronze after defeating China’s He Bingjiao 21-13, 21-15 during Sunday’s third-place play-off. Through their exploits Mirabai and Lovlina, hailing from Manipur and Assam, respectively, have revealed the rich sporting ability shimmering in the North-eastern States linked to the mainland through the chicken’s neck above Bangladesh. Mirabai and Lovlina owe their triumphs to their innate strength and hard work besides the obvious support from family and the Sports Authority of India. With Sindhu, they have also reiterated women-power. Sindhu, who won the silver at the previous Olympics at Rio de Janeiro , had an exceptional run till she ran into Chinese Taipei’s Tai Tzu-Ying in the semifinal and then made amends with a bronze.

India had a moment to savour when its women’s hockey team entered the quarterfinals. While a strong Australian outfit awaits in the knockout on Monday, the women will add to India’s evergreen hockey-hopes that gained a fillip after the men defeated Great Britain 3-1 during Sunday’s quarterfinal. After the 1980 gold, the men’s quest to win another Olympic medal has gained impetus and the road ahead is tough but interesting. In the limited chronicle of good tidings, Kamalpreet Kaur’s excellent throw of 64 metres in the discus throw event was a spark. Kamalpreet qualified for Monday’s final and a lot is resting on her shoulders. While these stirring events kept India afloat, there is also the litany of heart-breaks that included Mary Kom’s loss in boxing , a fact the 38-year-old failed to initially admit following her adrenaline rush. The travails in shooting and archery did not add up to the original template of good form and resultant expectations. Shooters Saurabh Chaudhary and Manu Bhaker had their moments but they were not enough. The Games exert immense pressure as it is always about the athlete combining individual excellence with national pride. Tennis champion Novak Djokovic failed to even win a bronze while gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from events citing mental fatigue. It is never easy and the Indian contingent would vouch for that going into the second week.

Even as billionaire Jeff Bezos was preparing to blast off into space last month, another billionaire, Bill Gates, took an equally momentous decision to launch his own nuclear reactor with an eye on the possibility of exporting fast breeder reactors to power hungry nations (https://reut.rs/3ylFSgW). Both of them characterised their initiatives as essentially aimed at the environment to reverse climate change. Answering criticism on his expensive and wasteful adventure, Bezos insisted that he had an environmental vision: “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is,” he said. Mr. Gates stressed the importance of nuclear power as the clean energy required to meet the requirements of the world, even though the safety of nuclear reactors and the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons are a growing concern.

The future of atomic energy

Back in 2007-08, the then Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, had established a Committee of Eminent Persons to look at the future of nuclear power in 2020 and beyond. As an Executive Director of the Commission, I had helped to produce a report, which asserted that “the international community has both auspicious opportunities and significant challenges to tackle as the world moves into its seventh nuclear decade. Expanded use of nuclear technologies offered immense potential to meet important development needs. In fact, to satisfy energy demands and to mitigate the threat of climate change — two of the 21st century’s greatest challenges — there are major opportunities for expansion of nuclear energy”. The report predicted that a “nuclear renaissance” will solve not only the world’s energy problems, but also alleviate climate change.

Fukushima and after

But the expectation was short-lived because the Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan on March 11, 2011 completely transformed the nuclear power situation beyond recognition and dealt a blow to plans for swiftly scaling up nuclear power to address not only climate change but also energy poverty and economic development. An IAEA article, “Nuclear power 10 years after Fukushima: the long road back”, says, as the global community turned its attention to strengthening nuclear safety, several countries opted to phase out nuclear power. The nuclear industry was at a standstill except in Russia, China and India. Even in India, the expected installation of imported reactors did not materialise because of our liability law and the anti-nuclear protests in proposed locations. India had to go in for more indigenous reactors to increase the nuclear component of its energy mix. More than 50 nations, which were knocking at the door of the IAEA for nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, quietly withdrew their requests.

After intensive efforts to strengthen nuclear safety, as said in this article, and with global warming becoming ever more apparent, nuclear power is regaining a place in global debates as a climate-friendly energy option once again. Countries such as Japan and Germany reopened their reactors to produce energy. But even as organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognise the ability of nuclear power to address major global challenges, it remains uncertain whether the value of this clean, reliable and sustainable source of energy will achieve its full potential any time soon.

The Fukushima Daiichi accident, adds the article, continues to cast a shadow over the prospects of nuclear power. Furthermore, in some major markets, nuclear power lacks a favourable policy and financing framework that recognise its contributions to climate change mitigation and sustainable development. Without such a framework, nuclear power will struggle to deliver on its full potential, even as the world remains as dependent on fossil fuels as it was three decades ago.

The Gates plan

Even when the uncertainty continues and the anti-nuclear lobby is gaining momentum, TerraPower, the nuclear company founded by Mr. Gates, has just announced an agreement with private funders, including Warren Buffett, and the State of Wyoming, U.S. to site its Natrium fast reactor demonstration project there. Moreover, since it falls within the “advanced” small modular reactor project of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Department will subsidise the project of one of the richest men in the world to the extent of $80 million this year.

As an article by the non-proliferation sentinels in the U.S, Henry Sokolski and Victor Gilinsky, titled “Bill Gates’ Fast Nuclear Reactor: Will It Bomb?” (https://bit.ly/3fjM1Tc) says, Mr. Gates believes that the fast breeder reactors will replace the current reactors. The DOE and other nuclear enthusiasts also believe that small, factory-built, modular reactors will be cheaper and safer, and will be so attractive to foreign buyers that they will revive America’s nuclear industry and enable the United States to compete in an international market now dominated by China and Russia. Another benefit envisaged is that fast breeder reactors will provide a solid nuclear industrial base for meeting U.S. military nuclear requirements. DOE has found bipartisan Congressional support for funding the project.

Mr. Sokolski and Mr. Gilinsky have challenged the move on several grounds such as the failure of earlier efforts to develop such reactors, and the risk of the turning of inert uranium to plutonium, and then using the plutonium as fuel. They have argued in their article that it can even “breed” excess plutonium to fuel new fast reactors. What concerns them most is that plutonium is a nuclear explosive which can be used for developing a bomb. They are afraid that the availability of plutonium through commercial channels would be fraught with dangers.

As their article says, TerraPower announced in March that Natrium would be fuelled with uranium enriched to 20% U-235 rather than explosive plutonium. But the question being asked is if Natrium reactor takes off and is offered for export, will the same restraint apply. Currently, only a handful of nations can make 20% enriched uranium. The critics believe that there will be a rush to make 20% enriched uranium world wide. The main objection to nuclear enrichment beyond a point in Iran arises from the fact that it would lead to weapon grade uranium being available for them.

The other objection being raised against the Gates project, as cited in the article, is that the principal reason for preferring fast reactors is to gain the ability to breed plutonium. That is surely what foreign customers will want. The way it is configured, the reactor would make and reuse massive quantities of material that could also be used as nuclear explosives in warheads.

Focus on India and China

India’s fast breeder reactor, which is not subject to international inspections, is seen as capable of feeding the nuclear weapons capability of India. And the recent reports that China is building two more fast reactors have immediately provoked international concerns about China’s possible weapons plutonium production. The opponents of TerraPower believe that India and China will be encouraged in their efforts to develop fast breeder reactors and may even want to buy them from Mr. Gates. They also think that the characterisation of TerraPower as small is a gimmick and they will have to be made big to make them economical. The claim that fast reactors are safer than light water reactors has also been called into question.

It has been pointed out that U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter made it U.S. policy to discourage the commercialising of plutonium-fuelled reactors. President Ford had announced that the U.S. would not support reliance on plutonium fuel and associated reprocessing of spent fuel until “the world community can effectively overcome the associated risks of proliferation.” (https://bit.ly/3fii71N). The critics do not think that the world has reached such a stage.

No one can predict whether the space adventure of Mr. Bezos or the nuclear venture of Mr. Gates will benefit the U.S. and the wider world. But billionaires have the sixth sense to know how to multiply their own billions.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He is also Chairman, Academic Council, the Director, NSS Academy of Civil Services and the Director General, Kerala International Centre

Pegasus, the mythical winged horse from Greek mythology, is known to have allowed Bellerophon, the Corinthian hero, to ride him in order to defeat the monstrous Chimera before flying off to the heavens where he was turned by Zeus into an eponymous constellation. He has now returned to earth in the guise of a malware designed to fight terrorism, criminality and national insecurity. Though interpreted as an allegory of soul’s immortality in modern times, Pegasus becomes a symbol of poetic inspiration, only to be turned into a reprehensible cyber weapon in the hands of dictators and bigots with the purpose of putting down dissent and killing critical thought. The constellation still glows in the heavens, but no longer evokes the age-old mythical sensations for humanity.

Where science has brought us

How science has aided in the inadvertent political game of demolishing basic human rights has finally fructified in the production of a technology that infiltrates human privacy right up to the bedrooms of its targets. When C.P. Snow walked into the Senate House at Cambridge in 1959 to deliver his Rede lecture, ‘The Two Cultures’, he sparked a global debate that would put a nail in the coffin of humanities, giving a boost to the study of science for the advancement of humanity. The two distinct cultures that emerged led to the confrontation between the technocrats and ‘literary intellectuals’. While the former stood in favour of social reform and progress through technology and industry, the latter, who Snow disparagingly called “natural Luddites”, had insignificant consideration for progress through industrialisation. We now know where science has finally brought us. The shadowing of our every move in a cyber-savvy world has resulted in escalating military and police repression. Mounting security concerns have been met with mounting technological responses. It is a world ridden with tensions between security and freedom, secrecy and transparency. Democratic structures along with fundamental liberties stand eroded in the face of unrestrained free market economics that exists only to direct every facet of life. This is a system of the Panopticon, an architectural edifice where the warden in a central tower can monitor the prisoners in their cells without the prisoners seeing the warden.

The use of Pegasus, therefore, poses a stark danger to democracy and freedom, particularly in 10 governments believed to be the customers of NSO Group: Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Hungary, India and the UAE, all believed to have a dismal record in the protection of human rights. The obsession with power through surveillance has brought in its wake not just the blitzkrieg of information, but also given rise to political systems that aim at behaviour control, destroying the sanctity of the individual’s privacy and thereby threatening democracies with serious consequences. We are caught in a world where the harsh reality of power and its exercise takes predominance over the constitutionally guaranteed right of self-determination and freedom of expression. The central motive, however, remains political domination through the control of any dissent or ideological variance with the state.

The security agencies of democracies and dictatorships are engaged in gathering the phone ‘data’ of citizens who show any signs of opposition, heaping it all away for any contingency that might arise in the future. Working against all norms of jurisprudence, the national security state remains ‘legitimately’ above board, blatantly pursuing acts of social control through surveillance on the basis of national security. The new metamorphosised role of Pegasus has finally become the terror of a devastating hacking scandal, a means of punishing people and threatening to drown the world of freedom.

This is at the heart of the contemporary debate on the use of Pegasus, a battle between the totalitarian state and dissidence. In such circumstances, living in confrontation with the state apparatus is tantamount to being labelled as “anti-national”. There are many incarcerated without a trial for years. True to the concept of fascism, the interrogation of state policy becomes a betrayal in the Orwellian sense, where free thought and debate are an anathema.

The utopia promised by the government of Oceania in George Orwell’s1984is an illustration of the logic of totalitarianism. Such an over-organised system represents the purging of history and free human thought for the smooth and peaceful running of the state apparatus. Criticism is not permitted by a management that has at its disposal highly developed surveillance technology, the ‘thought police’ that incarcerates or eliminates any ‘thought criminal’.

As Hannah Arendt argues, the state ensures not just the transformation of the outside world but also the very dysfunctionality of the unpredictable nature of human creativity and its spontaneity. In Orwell’s novel, O’Brien, an agent of the thought police, owing complete allegiance to the Party, explains to Winston, the central character, the unending process of persecution that can appease the ruling class so as to give it an assurance of its immortality. The state manipulates the rebirth of Winston, turning his rebellious old self into a faceless believer. Similarly, in his classic,Brave New World, Aldous Huxley envisages material progress all right, but with enormous dangers to human creativity. In such a world, no prodigies or rebels can be born. It is a world of the “hatchery” in which “hobbits” are “manufactured” at various stages of arrested physical and mental development whose strength lies only in falling into line.

The Pegasus upheaval finds a parallel in Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ symbolising the modern state and its authoritarian apparatus. Governments have lied about intelligence operations, illegally spied on millions of innocent people, and collected data from every conceivable electronic source to be potentially used to censor dissent, blackmail people or just intimidate those who struggle to make corporate and state power accountable. The post-Snowden years have seen new technologies like Pegasus enhancing surveillance to the point of exposing us to the danger of losing our very grip over our day-to-day private affairs.

Expansive interrogation

The ills of the modern state emerging from the culture of secrecy is therefore apparent. There would probably be a world of feasible peace and openness if there were no classified documents. One thing has become clear after the revelation of many governments illegitimately engaging in spying on their citizens: the hour has come to oppose all such excessive oppression through serious political action. Like Edward Snowden, we all live online and indeed, there really is no place to hide. However, the future is not foreclosed, and as long as there is critical inquiry, there is hope. As Howard Zinn, the historian, once said: “We are supposed to be thinking people. We are supposed to be able to question everything.”

A more expansive interrogation of the treachery inherent in the return of the Pegasus affair and its fallout for rights activists, investigative journalists and writers calls for a serious probe. Or else, the gradual diminishing of our individual right to free speech and the dismantling of democratic institutions would culminate in the return of Orwell’s Oceania.

Shelley Walia is Professor Emeritus at Panjab University, Chandigarh

In recent times, right-leaning economists have been arguing that the Government does not need to do anything with the economy and that it will revive by itself. They call those who disagree with them, doomsday merchants. These economists reason that, like after the Great Depression, the economy rebounded worldwide, and so will it with us. The argument is fallacious on four accounts:

The first factor, demand. In the case of the Great Depression, demand was created by the Second World War effort. Especially in the United States, which was largely spared of the destruction, its industrial capabilities could be used as a supply base for the entire Allied effort. In the current scenario, there is no war to create demand. On top of it, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in demand destruction. This is because many jobs have been lost, and even where jobs were retained, there have been pay cuts. Both of these trends were confirmed in the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy and other surveys. The only bright spot in this dismal scenario is that the western world has spent a lot of money stimulating the economy. From the point of view of the Indian exporter, rising freight costs and non-availability of containers is a significant impediment along with structural issues such as a strong rupee relative to major competitors. Only the Indian IT sector is placed well to capitalise on rising demand in the world markets.

Next is inflation. India is suffering from stagnant growth to low growth in the last two quarters. At best, any growth in the current quarter will be illusionary because it comes on top of substantial negative growth in the first quarter of last year, perpetuating a statistical phenomenon known as the “low base effect”. The base effect states that when measuring YoY, or year-over-year growth, we take the previous year’s numbers as the base and measure the growth as a percentage. As in the low initial base set by last year, almost any growth this year is seen as a significant growth percentage. In comparison, the absolute growth figure is negligible. This scenario is eerily similar to the early 1970s in the United Kingdom and the United States, where low growth was combined with rising inflation.

Causes in India

Inflation in India is being imported through a combination of high commodity prices and high asset price inflation caused by ultra-loose monetary policy followed across the globe. Foreign portfolio investors have directed a portion of the liquidity towards our markets. Compared to a developed capital market such as that of the U.S., India has a relatively low market capitalisation. It, therefore, cannot absorb the enormous capital inflow without asset prices inflating. This might be seen as a welcome move, but it is to be noted that most of India’s population do not own equity or bonds, which means that they cannot cash in on asset inflation. The wealthy upper class gets richer due to access to financial assets. The middle and lower-middle-class get destitute due to regressive indirect taxes and high inflation, with their wealth eroding due to said inflation. Especially in the case of the lower middle class, inflation is lethal as they do not have access to any hard assets, including the most fundamental hard asset, gold.

Fuel prices

Additionally, supply chain bottlenecks have contributed to the inflation we see in India today. Essential goods have increased in cost due to scarce supply because of these bottlenecks caused by COVID-19 and its reactionary measures enforced. India’s usurious taxation policy on fuel has made things worse. Rising fuel prices percolate into the economy by increasing costs for transport. Furthermore, the increase in fuel prices will also lead to a rise in wages demanded as the monthly expense of the general public increases. This leads to the dangerous cycle of inflation and depleting growth.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has chosen to look the other way, claiming that this inflation is transitory in nature while inflationary expenses are entrenched. Inflation is here to stay because the RBI is infusing massive liquidity into the system by following an expansionary monetary policy through the G-SAP, or Government Securities Acquisition Programme. This is designed to keep the interest rates of government bonds at 6.0% and thereabouts. An added threat of rising rates is the crowding out of the private sector, which corporates are threatening to do by deleveraging their balance sheets and not investing.

The third is interest rates. The only solution for any central banker once he realises that inflation is entrenched is tightening liquidity and further pushing the cost of money. If this does not dampen inflation, repo rates will need to go up later this year or early next year. Tightening the money supply is a painful act that will threaten to decimate what is left of our economy. Rising interest rates lead to a decrease in aggregate demand in a country, which affects the GDP. There is less spending by consumers and investments by corporates.

On NPAs

Finally, rising non performing assets, or NPAs. Rising interest rates, lack of liquidity, and offering credit to leveraged companies instead of direct subsidies to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to counter the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects will result in NPAs of public sector banks climbing faster. Our small and medium scale sector is facing a Minsky moment. The Minsky moment, coined by the economist Hyman Minsky, states that every credit cycle has three distinct stages. The first stage is that of cautious lending and risk aversion by the bankers. The second stage is lending to trustworthy debtors who can pay the principal and its interest. The third stage is a state of euphoria caused by rising asset prices where bankers lend to debtors regardless of their ability to pay back interest, let alone the principal.

Minsky moment

The Minsky moment marks the decline of asset prices, causing mass panic and the inability of debtors to pay their interest and principal. India has reached its Minsky moment. This means that the public sector unit and several other banks will need capital in copious amounts to make up for bad debt. Several banks and financial institutions have collapsed in the last 18 months in India. The Union government’s Budget is in no position to infuse large amounts of capital. At best, we can expect a piecemeal effort as in the past seven years. As a result of the above causes, credit growth is at a multi-year low of 5.6%. Banks do not want to risk any more loans on their books. This will further dampen demand for real estate and automobiles once the pent-up demand is over. The Indian economy is in a vicious cycle of low growth and higher inflation unless policy action ensures higher demand and growth. In the absence of policy interventions, India will continue on the path of a K-shaped recovery where large corporates with low debt will prosper at the cost of small and medium sectors. This means lower employment as most of the jobs are created by the latter.

Anand Srinivasan is a financial consultant

Among the multiple challenges a journalist has to confront is the quality of writing that sustains the readers’ interest. Elegant writing is neither a legal requirement nor a regulatory prescription. It is an earnest invitation for an exchange of ideas without taxing the reader. One of the instructions Vinod Mehta gave me when I became an editor 20 years ago was to ensure that my journalism is not boring. “Boredom kills journalism,” he asserted.

It is trite to say journalism is not fiction. Good, reliable journalism has to adhere to strict factual accuracy. The rules of attribution cannot be compromised. The act of verification is an integral element of journalism. In short reports, these three elements suffice. A talented desk will ensure that no meaning is lost and hence, no reader is lost. However, in long-form journalism, engaging writing matters.

Concerns in narrative journalism

The year I became an editor was the year the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University established a programme on Narrative Journalism. Nieman Curator Bob Giles said, “Narrative journalism builds a newspaper’s franchise for the long term. It plays to the strengths of print journalism — space and considered reporting — adding value that no other medium can duplicate.” The programme underscored that the values of journalism and creative approaches to prose can easily coexist without the core tenets of good reporting being eroded.

Russel Frank, who worked as a journalist for decades before becoming a journalism teacher, flagged a major concern of editors towards certain aspects of long-form journalism. He wrote: “When reporters write stories that read like good fiction they inevitably arouse suspicions. Reality is messy. Speech is messy. If a story is tidy — if the plot is too seamless or the quotes are too eloquent — the reporter probably juiced it a little. Reconstructed scenes are particularly suspect. Instead of relying on tape recordings or notes of their own observations, reporters rely on the memories of the people who were there.” Mr. Frank also pointed out that “the surge of interest in narrative journalism has coincided with a surge of scepticism among newspaper readers.” Journalists add notes for their print version and give hyperlinks for the web version to ensure that the rules of attribution are not lost in writing a report.

Fog everywhere

Literature teaches us how to work with words in a manner that the reader doesn’t get bored. Much has been written about the journalistic quality of Charles Dickens’s writing. What we learned from him is the art of description, which is different from the act of deception. For instance, inBleak House,he wrote: “Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck.”

This is a wonderful example of how fragments and extremely long sentences coexist to make reading a worthwhile experience. The fine editor, Harold Evans, in his book,Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters, refers to Dickens to explain the new language of obfuscation that is creeping into our public sphere. He wrote: “Fog everywhere. Fog online and in print, fog exhaled in television studios where time is anyway too short for truth. Fog in the Wall Street executive suites. Fog in the regulating agencies that couldn’t see the signals flashing danger in shadow banking.” His antidote was: “But never come there fog too thick, never come there mud and mire too deep, never come there bureaucratic waffle so gross as to withstand the clean invigorating wind of a sound English sentence.” This, indeed, shall be the governing creed of both the reporters and the desk as they put out their stories.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

UNICEF states that “breastfeeding is among the most effective ways to protect maternal and child health and promote healthy growth and optimal development in early childhood.” Infants should be breastfed within one hour of birth, breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives, and be breastfed after six months in combination with solid, semi-solid and soft food until they are about two years old.

Many advantages

Breastfeeding provides greater immunity for children against infection, allergies, cancers and obesity; and improves brain maturation. It is also beneficial for the mother: it promotes faster weight loss after birth, reduces postpartum bleeding, and protects her against breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis. Data fromThe Lancetshow that more investment in breastfeeding could add $300 billion to the global economy and prevent about 8,20,000 child deaths every year.

The advantages of breast milk are evidence-based, yet globally only 25%-40% of babies are breastfed. Breastfeeding and later wet nursing were the norm for millions of years. During the Renaissance period, breastfeeding came to be seen as unfashionable. Feeding bottles and formula milk were aggressively advertised leading to a reduction in breastfeeding between the 17th and 19th century. However, during the late 19th century, an increase in infant mortality rate and rise in noncommunicable diseases during adulthood were attributed to bottle feeding. This prompted experts and leaders everywhere to push for breastfeeding across the world.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) was established in 1991 to create awareness about the importance of breastfeeding. In 1992, WABA in coordination with UNICEF introduced World Breastfeeding Week during the first week of August every year. India enacted the Infant Milk Substitutes, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods Act in 1992 with stringent regulations. However, the National Family Health Survey-5 data show that there has been a decline in early breastfeeding in as many as 12 of the 22 surveyed States and Union Territories while the share of institutional births has increased.

Maternity and paternity leave

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has promised in its manifesto that maternity leave in Tamil Nadu would be extended to 12 months. This is essential as women are entering the workforce in large numbers while society has shifted to a nuclear family system. Such a move will ensure uninterrupted breastfeeding. Nevertheless, counselling and educating the parents, establishing breast milk banks, providing lactating mothers with subsidised breast milk pump equipment, and setting up exclusive facilities to breastfeed will prove to be beneficial for mothers to provide exclusive breastmilk for children up to six months.

The inclusion of husbands in this conversation is incumbent. Both the mother and newborn are vulnerable for the first 12 weeks. Getting used to breastfeeding takes at least 14 days. Therefore, assistance from the partner is indispensable during this time. However, Indian law only allows for 15 days of paternity leave. It is imperative to extend this to 12-16 weeks.

India is a low-middle-income country with a meagre allocation of the GDP towards health. Communicable and non-communicable diseases hamper our economic growth. The theme for World Breastfeeding Week this year is ‘Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility’. With a change in social, cultural and environmental factors, breastfeeding is no longer mother-centric. Governments must allocate specific funds, rigorously implement the law, invest in educating parents and health workers and involve civil society organisations and the media in spreading awareness. Breastfeeding has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is important that the promotion of breastfeeding should be a continuous process, not an event restricted to a week.

Poongothai Aladi Aruna was Information and Technology Minister of Tamil Nadu under the DMK (2006-2011)

The Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. S.P. Sen Varma, said here yesterday that the bogus inclusion and wrongful exclusion of names would be eliminated altogether in the new electoral rolls to be finalised in October. He told newsmen that this was possible with the introduction of the electoral card system, unprecedented in the history of election anywhere in the world. He said that about 125 officers and employees of the Election Commission in 35 batches were checking and supervising the revision of electoral rolls in the Union Territory of Delhi. The two Deputy Election Commissioners and the three Secretaries were daily making random checks both in the rural and urban areas. The last date for completing the enumeration work originally fixed for July 31 had been extended to August 15. Supervision by the Election Commission staff had instilled great enthusiasm among the enumerators and the voters, especially in the rural areas. In a particular area which the Chief Election Commissioner did not want to disclose, there were 2,000 bogus names, and in another there was large-scale exclusion of names.

According to official reports, about 9.3 million people were in distress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar caused by heavy rains and floods which have destroyed crops, flattened or washed away houses and breached roads.

Floods in the major rivers of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had by the night of August 1 engulfed 37 districts in the two states, while in Assam the deluge compelled the authorities to seek the help of the army in Dibrugarh subdivision for relief and rescue work. According to official reports, about 9.3 million people were in distress in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar caused by heavy rains and floods which have destroyed crops, flattened or washed away houses and breached roads. The Army was called out to assist the civil authorities in Telpani area of the Dibrugarh subdivision. The surging waters of the Buridihing washed away 200 metres of the embankment on July 31.

Jaipur Doc Awarded

A 54-year-old doctor from Jaipur who has spent the past five years developing artificial legs for thousands of amputees has been selected to receive the 1981 Ramon Magsaysay award. The award established in honour of the third president of the Philippines cited Dr Pramod Karan Sethi for “applying his surgical genius” which enabled the crippled and limbless from Rajasthan to resume near-normal lives. The artificial leg Dr Sethi and his associates have devised is called Jaipur foot. “When a formerly legless man with his new Jaipur feet and limbs bicycles off to his village, he is a new man with an opportunity to become a productive member of the community,” the citation noted.

Cong (U) Accounts

The Reserve Bank of India has instructed all the banks in the country to freeze the accounts of Congress (U) following instructions from the Union government. A circular to this effect issued by the Agriculture and Credit Department of the RBI was sent to all state, central and primary cooperative banks on July 25. The circular stated: “The Election Commission has derecognised the Congress U and declared the Indian National Congress (I) as the real Congress. This decision of the Election Commission may please be taken note of with a view to ensuring that the deposits of the Indian National Congress are not allowed to be withdrawn or operated upon by the party which has been derecognised.”

State government must strategise vaccine delivery to most affected districts. Centre should ramp up vaccine supplies.

The nationwide serosurvey results indicate that less than 45 per cent of Kerala’s population has been exposed to the virus — way below the national average of 68 per cent.

After falling appreciably for most of May and June, India’s Covid graph plateaued last month. Kerala has been one of the notable outliers in the country’s second wave recovery. The state added more than 20,000 cases every day on five days last week — about half the country’s caseload — and its positivity rate is more than six times the national average. The BJP has ascribed the spike to the relaxation of curbs during Eid, while the Kerala government has blamed the rising caseload on vaccine shortage. Though there is truth to both these claims, it’s also apparent that Kerala’s situation is a complicated one, and resolving it will need the Centre and state government to put their heads together — a blame game is the last thing the state needs at this critical juncture. It’s, therefore, welcome that the Centre has dispatched a team of experts to study the situation in the state’s worst affected areas.

The nationwide serosurvey results indicate that less than 45 per cent of Kerala’s population has been exposed to the virus — way below the national average of 68 per cent. It seems that the state’s initial success in curbing the spread of the infection is now working against it: A majority of its population lacks antibodies against the more infectious variants driving the second wave. Kerala has done well to keep its case fatality rate low — at 0.87 per cent, it’s the lowest amongst the states that reported the most fatalities last week. But with the state’s RO figure — number of people to whom an infected person can transmit the disease — going past the danger threshold of 1, the state has lost about 100 people to Covid every day in the past 10 days. The Kerala government has attempted to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods with a weekly lockdown policy and by restricting the working hours at business centres. But with people crowding markets during the limited hours at their disposal, such restrictions could end up becoming counterproductive.

The serosurvey results offer more clues to solving the Kerala conundrum. Though the state’s vaccine coverage is much above the national figure, the survey indicates that a far larger section of its population will need vaccine-produced antibodies in the next few weeks to check the second wave. With vaccines continuing to be scarce, the state government will need to strategise their rollout — giving special attention to districts with high infection incidence. The expert team’s insights could prove invaluable in this respect, as well as in fine-tuning other containment measures. At the same time, the Centre must not waver from its commitment to increase vaccine supply from August onwards.

A year later, the national education policy remains a guide to the future, but there are challenges.

The tension between NEP’s ambition and facts on the ground is evident on other counts too.

It’s been a year since the National Education Policy 2020 laid out a map for a long-overdue re-imagination of Indian education. Twelve months is too short a time to evaluate a policy which proposes vital shifts in education — from creating a system in which “children not only learn, but more importantly learn how to learn”, to one in which “pedagogy must evolve to make education more experiential, inquiry-driven, flexible” and in which there is “no hard separation between arts and sciences”. The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed slowed down the implementation of this transition, but some proposals are poised to see light of day this academic year, including an academic credit bank for undergraduate students. In his speech marking a year of NEP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced that 14 engineering colleges across eight states will teach undergraduate programmes in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi from the new academic year. This has the potential to open up technical education to the vast majority of students for whom English remains a handicap. But it is important not to understate the challenge: The government will need to put in significant resources and work in creating such a knowledge ecosystem.

The tension between NEP’s ambition and facts on the ground is evident on other counts too. The call for greater autonomy to higher educational institutions is undercut by the fact that several universities continue to function without vice-chancellors. Last fortnight, the Centre appointed VCs to 12 universities after a delay of months — 10 central universities, including Delhi University and JNU, remain without full-time heads. The NEP asks for the highest priority to literacy and numeracy but the government has slashed the school education budget by almost Rs 5,000 crore; higher education has suffered a Rs 1,000 crore cut. Without financial resources and committed people to take ownership of institutions and policy, it will be hard to walk the talk. While the PM hailed the transition to online learning, the pandemic’s unkindest cut has been in deepening the inequality in access to education. Covid might have accelerated at least one aspect of change. The cancellation of the Class XII board examinations and subsequent challenges for institutes of higher education is a vindication of NEP’s prescription — it is time to let go of the old normal in examinations and university enrolment.

The NEP forcefully lends its weight to the idea of institutional autonomy. But critical thinking cannot be decreed into existence. It needs an enabling eco-system, which is sadly missing. The most recent instance of a Madhya Pradesh police superintendent, acting on the complaints of ABVP, forcing a university to exit a webinar because it disapproved of some of the speakers is an illustration of the shrinking of the campus as a space for ideas and creativity. As the Centre and other stakeholders embark on NEP’s implementation, the promise — and the challenges — are both evident.

Sanjib Baruah writes: If Afghanistan were to descend into civil war, he will have to share part of the blame, but only for his failure to master politics despite being dealt a bad hand

No one knows what the future holds for Afghanistan once US-led foreign troops fully withdraw from the country. But the swift battleground victories of the Taliban since the troops’ withdrawal began, have surprised many observers. While a return to Taliban rule is unlikely, few would rule out a descent into civil war.

There is a particular irony to this turn of events. It is happening under the watch of a cerebral head of state globally respected for his expertise on state failure and civil wars. President Ashraf Ghani is often described as a technocrat perhaps because of his stint at the World Bank. But Ghani is a humanistically oriented academic and a policy intellectual. An anthropologist by training, he is deeply knowledgeable of the history, politics, and economics of Afghanistan. “Afghanistan’s Theorist-in-Chief”, the appellation given by American writer George Packer, seems more apt.

Packer asks if President Ashraf Ghani, “an expert on failed states can save his country from collapse”. Ironically, Ghani’s ideas on how to fix failed states — to borrow the title of the book he co-authored with Clare Lockhart — provide the best explanation for the country’s current crisis. Ghani and Lockhart see the failed state not just as a localised problem of individual states. That “forty to sixty states, home to nearly two billion people, are either sliding backward and teetering on the brink of implosion or have already collapsed”, they argue, is “at the heart of a worldwide systematic crisis”.

Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Building a Fractured World is a critique of the international community’s piecemeal and incoherent response to the problem. Ghani and Lockhart offer a framework of coordinated action that could reorient the aid system “towards building capable states”.

If Ghani speaks relentlessly about the need for a state-building strategy, Americans like to talk of nation-building, though oddly, only to disavow it as a goal. “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build”, declares President Joe Biden. He is not the first US president to disavow nation-building. George W Bush said as a presidential candidate in 2000 that US troops should not be used for nation-building, but “to fight and win war”.Barack Obama and Donald Trump both promised not to get mired in nation-building.

But what do Americans mean by nation-building? It is not what most of us in India would understand by the term. It is a “false friend” — a word in a foreign language that seems familiar but has a different meaning. While the term has lost its saliency in Indian public discourse, it retains its old meaning — building national political communities.

Columnist Vir Sanghvi recently invoked the term in remembering Hindi cinema star Dilip Kumar. “In the 1950s, when the term nation-building was in vogue,” he writes, Jawaharlal Nehru enlisted Kumar “for the task of helping build up morale in the young nation”. Kumar promoted India’s new social welfare programmes, played leading roles in short patriotic films, appeared in events promoting national integration and raised money for the armed forces. And significantly, he did all this free of charge.

Contrast this to the use of the term in American public discourse. US diplomat and security expert James Dobbins defines nation-building as “the use of armed force in the aftermath of a conflict to promote enduring peace and establish a representative government”. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Dobbins declared that “no military in the world had more nation-building experience”.

The two meanings could not be more different. To most people in the global South, the idea of an invading force engaging in nation-building would seem suspect. Significantly, when many American civil and military officials disavow nation-building they often do it with a sense of wistfulness. The American general David Petraeus once told a reporter that he understands “the intellectual aversion to nation-building”, but he doesn’t “see how you avoid it”.

When commentators talk unfavourably about military personnel serving short tours of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq, the contrast is with British or other European imperial forces spending most of their careers in the colonies where they could learn the cultures and languages of the “natives”.

It is hard to miss the nostalgia for empires. American journalists reporting from Iraq or Afghanistan referred to a couple of the US ambassadors to those countries as Viceroys. While one can quarrel with this choice of words, there is little doubt that during that time the US ambassador was the most powerful person in that country, at least until the “formal handover of sovereignty” to “the host government”.

In Fixing Failed States, Ghani and his collaborator point out that in half the countries that emerge from conflict there is renewal of hostilities within a decade. If civil war returns to Afghanistan, it will be primarily because the US and its allies lacked the political capacity to target their assistance towards building a functioning state.

It was much easier for US presidents to mobilise Congressional support for a form of assistance where US private contractors were the key agents. The result, to extend one of Ghani’s examples, was that out of each US dollar “generously allocated by the American citizen to support stability in Afghanistan” as much as 80 cents ended up in the US, and at least 10 cents of the rest pocketed by Afghan elites may have ended up in Dubai. Despite evidence that the emergence of a national construction industry could be a critical factor in fixing failed states, no such industry could come up under these circumstances. If Afghanistan were to descend into civil war, President Ghani, of course, will have to share part of the blame, but only for his failure to master politics as the art of the possible despite being dealt a bad hand.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 2, 2021 under the title ‘A failing state, a visionary president’. The writer is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, New York

Zameer Uddin Shah writes: It is time for the hardliners from both communities to weigh Mohan Bhagwat’s words carefully and carry forward the process of dialogue

I attended the launch, organised by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, of Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed’s book, The Meeting of Minds – A Bridging Initiative at the Mewar Institute, Ghaziabad on July 4. The author had assisted me, whilst I was Vice-Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University, in explaining to the RSS, the ethos of this institution of national importance. The function was presided over by Mohan Bhagwat and leading functionaries of the RSS and General VK Singh, MP.

I have been a leading proponent of Hindu-Muslim dialogue to foster amity between the two estranged communities. I was accused of angling for a gubernatorial appointment and a sprinkling of brother officers, lifelong friends, “advised” me and members of my family, who have been active on social media, saying what they believe is best for our country, to “Go to Pakistan”. I ignored these as the rantings of immature minds.

The author gave a lengthy, impassioned speech, spelling out the book’s contents, supported by references to the Holy Quran. Bhagwat took note and commented upon these in his 45-minute scholarly, impassioned appeal for amity.

He explained that he had agreed to the launch because continuous dialogue and amity between Hindus and Muslims is imperative for progress. In a democracy, religious groups cannot dominate one another. The demand that Muslims should not live in India is counter to the Hindu ethos and is rightly opposed by the majority. The Constitution guarantees the safety of minorities and their apprehension that “Islam is threatened in India” is unfounded. Religion and patriotism are not contradictory.

Bhagwat dwelt, at length, on the fact that the cow is sacred but condemned incidents of lynching by vigilantes as “anti-Hindutva”, warranting action by the law without partiality. He, however, cautioned against counter FIRs being registered. All have the right to protest in forums like the legislature, judiciary, NHRC etc.

I would like to stress that the police can easily ascertain facts and must not shield culprits. Also, why restrict protest to limited forums? Citizens have a right to publicly protest. Freedom of speech, essential for the preservation of democracy, is guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Indian Constitution with a limiting clause, under Article 19(2), that “reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes”. Do peaceful, non-violent protests warrant the imposition of restrictions?

Another contentious point was Bhagwat’s statement that “India is a Hindu Rashtra and all citizens are Hindu”, immediately clarified to mean “All citizens are Bharatiyas”. This latter position is acceptable to the minorities as the former has a religious connotation. As far as Hindu “Rashtra” is concerned, India was always one, in my opinion. It makes no difference. The majority in a democracy will always call the shots, even if, for the sake of nicety, “secular” is prefixed/suffixed.

The assertion that nationalism should be the basis of unity among all sections of people would be more acceptable if this unifying factor is substituted with patriotism. There is a danger of nationalism snowballing to hyper-nationalism — witness Nazi Germany, Japan and erstwhile Yugoslavia.

Bhagwat conveyed that he meant well for the minorities. Amity was at the top of his agenda. He acknowledged he would probably be criticised by some of his cadres, viewing it as Muslim appeasement.

Was it this compulsion that compelled him to backtrack somewhat in his later statement at Guwahati, on July 21, where he supported the CAA and NRC. He asserted that a communal narrative was being peddled for political mileage. Governments across the world document their respective country’s population through NRC-like exercises, essential to identify illegal immigrants. This stand cannot be contested but has a flip side. The NRC, completed in Assam in 2019 on the instructions of the Supreme Court, compiled a registry of citizens, a key charter of the Assam Accord. The roster excluded around 1.9 million of the nearly 33 million applicants from the NRC. The list was dubbed faulty by most people, citing the exclusion of genuine citizens and inclusion of persons with doubtful identity. Protesters in Assam alleged that the NRC violated the 1985 Assam Accord that provided for the deportation of all refugees and migrants, who entered Assam after March 25, 1971. If the result of the NRC in Assam, despite the time and expense, was dubious and inconclusive, one can imagine its fate at the national level.

The contentious CAA, which was passed in Parliament in 2019, fast-tracks Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Refugees from other neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmar have been left out, as are the Ahmadiyyas, Shias and Hazaras facing persecution in their home countries. This exclusion of Muslims is, therefore, viewed as discriminatory even by organs of the UN.

Sceptics remonstrated, “we told you so”. I, however, have profound hope in the well-intentioned efforts of Bhagwat. The only plausible explanation is that a person of his stature has to keep in mind the sensitivities of all constituencies to maintain a balance. It is time for the hardliners from both communities to weigh his words carefully and carry forward the process of dialogue. Amity, across all sections, is essential for India’s progress.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 2, 2021 under the title ‘Listening to Mohan Bhagwat’. The writer is a retired lieutenant general, educationist, and author of The Sarkari Mussalman

Manju Menon, Kanchi Kohli write: This is return to an era of green imperialism, wherein forests around the country are routinely handed over for capitalist profiteering while the landless poor are displaced in the name of restoring ecologies.

On July 23, the Supreme Court heard five petitions on the evictions of Khori Gaon, a large informal workers’ settlement at the foothills of the Aravallis on the Delhi-Haryana border. Four petitions arose after the SC ordered the petitioner in the lead case, the Municipal Corporation of Faridabad (MCF), to evict the basti in the middle of the pandemic in 2020. Following these orders, nearly a lakh people have been pushed into the throes of suffering as most of them have lost their only home in this world.

This judicial action has also been extended to “all unauthorised structures” in Haryana. This is demonstrative of the return to an era of green imperialism, wherein using “rule of law”, well-maintained forests around the country are routinely handed over for capitalist profiteering through private mines, dams and real estate development while the landless poor are displaced from public lands in the name of restoring ecologies.

The razing of Khori Gaon is a jarring example of forest conservation models that frame forests versus people. While our environmental institutions keep reestablishing this framing, projects done by ecologists and social activists have tried to break down the hard boundaries between these constituencies. The Forest Rights Act was enacted to restore the dignity and place-based rights of Adivasi communities and forest workers. Policies for the relocation of people even from protected areas and tiger reserves now eschew forced evictions and encourage voluntary rehabilitation. Yet, this middle ground of humane approaches to conservation keeps getting hijacked by top-down, coercive models the state is used to.

Through the MCF’s case, the Haryana state government and judiciary are aiming to create a tabula rasa by violently erasing a large settlement and restoring forest cover in the Aravallis using the colonial Punjab Land Presentation Act of 1900. The MCF has the ignominious success of vacating 150 acres of urban land with the most dense habitation of affordable homes of the working poor. The basti residents have been repeatedly vilified as “forest encroachers” even though most of them have some documentation to show that they were sold small plots of land. But no government agency has bothered to check the documents and trace under whose patronage an entire settlement of nearly 10,000 houses came up on public land. Such an investigation would probably point in politically inconvenient directions. This might explain the hurry to tear down the whole basti.

Environmentalists and housing rights activists are aghast that the orders of the highest court have been instrumentalised to unleash the worst form of violence against a community that already has its back to the wall due to the pandemic. The Municipal Corporation shut off electricity and water tankers to the basti in the middle of the summer. When the residents protested, many were beaten and arrested. The demolitions started the day the monsoons arrived in these parts and now many of them are homeless and sick.

The SC has expanded this case to cover all forest violations in Haryana. That is a long list because forest land under the PLPA covers 25 per cent of Haryana. It includes lands that are public and privately owned in rural and urban areas. The SC’s aim is ostensibly to treat all encroachers as equals. But they are all clearly not equal by class, by opportunity, by location or by nature of the violation. Ishita Chatterjee’s scholarly work on Khori Gaon shows that this basti should be seen as restorer of quarry land, because the residents turned these areas that were mined till the SC’s mining ban in 2002, into liveable habitats by using individual and community labour. This is no mean feat when governments around the world struggle to reuse mined areas after the earth has been polluted and exhausted of all its productivity.

Poor and migrant workers in cities have little choice but to make homes on public land because the state simply will not provide for them. The state governments that are ever willing to extract their labour loathe to spend on their housing and welfare. The people of Khori Gaon are acutely aware that they are unwanted by the political and bureaucratic establishment that gave them voter IDs, Aadhaar cards, ration cards and other identification. But it has come as a jolt to them that the Supreme Court of India has abandoned them.

This column first appeared in the print edition on August 2, 2021 under the title ‘The green warrant’. The authors are with the Centre for  Policy Research.

Vikram S Mehta writes: Hardeep Singh Puri should not, in the current context, see his responsibility through the siloed prism of oil and natural gas. He should broaden the aperture and become the progenitor of the energy transition.

The spread and speed of the destruction caused by climate change in recent weeks present our new Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas with a policy dilemma, if not a moral one: How to redefine the supply-side priorities of his Ministry in the face of the imperatives of atmanirbharta with the starkest evidence yet of the consequences of continued dependence on fossil fuels. This article offers five suggestions to help crack the conundrum.

The events of the past month have caught even the most alarmist of climate scientists by surprise. In China, 1.2 million people were displaced in the province of Henan by what was reported as a “once in a 1,000-year downpour”. In Russia, the Siberian city of Yakutsk, better known for its subzero winter temperatures faced the “worst-ever air pollution” because of smoke from 200 nearby wildfires. In Europe, flash floods killed approximately 200 people in Germany and Belgium. And in North America, city after city was scorched by unprecedentedly high temperatures.

These events brought into sharp relief the reality that there was no ducking the consequential implications of the “fossil fuels as usual” scenario. This reality offers, however, cold comfort to the Minister of Petroleum. This is because the Indian economy is dependent on fossil fuels and there is no discernible end in sight to this dependence. Further, India imports approximately 85 per cent of its crude oil requirements and is exposed to the volatility of the international oil market. There is good reason, therefore, for the Minister to rank the harnessing of India’s indigenous petroleum resources by intensifying exploration as a top policy priority.

My first suggestion is that he should review this ranking and that the government should scale back its emphasis on domestic exploration. I make this suggestion because I believe the resources earmarked for exploration can be deployed more productively elsewhere. A review of the public sector’s exploration and production (EP) track record suggests that whilst India may well be sitting on substantial hydrocarbon reserves, as is claimed by our petroleum scientists, these reserves are not easy to locate and, even when located, difficult to develop and produce on a commercial basis. There have been few substantive commercial discoveries in recent years, in large part because the bulk of the reserves are in complex geological structures and harsh terrain (Himalayan foothills or deep waters offshore). They are difficult to find but even when found, the costs incurred are often so high that except in market conditions of high prices, the discovery is not commercially viable. The government has often compounded this economic challenge by placing administrative limits on marketing by companies and their pricing freedom. The fundamental point is that EP in India is a high-risk activity, and this risk is even greater today because of the longer-term structural softness of the petroleum market. There is good reason to question the expending of public resources on wildcat exploration.

Flowing from this contrarian thought, my second suggestion is that ONGC allocate increasing resources to improving the productivity of its producing fields. Years ago, when I was part of the petroleum industry, the average oil recovery rate in India was around 28 per cent. That is, for every 100 molecules discovered, only 28 were monetised. This number did not compare well with the global average of around 45 per cent for fields of comparable geology. The recovery rate may be better today but if there is still a wide gap, the application of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology offers a relatively low-risk avenue for increasing domestic production. ONGC might have to shed a part of its equity in its ageing crown jewel, Mumbai High, to get the best technology service partner.

The consequential increment in production from EOR will not materially reduce our vulnerability to unexpected supply disruptions. Pre-Covid, we imported approximately 4.5 million barrels of oil, of which 50 per cent or so came from the Middle East, predominantly Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. This region faces deep political and social fault lines and there is no knowing when our supply lines might get ruptured. We would, therefore, be well-advised to build contingency safeguards. We hold currently strategic reserves equivalent to 12 days of imports. The government has approved plans to increase this buffer to 25 days. By comparison, China, the EU, South Korea and Japan hold between 70-100 days of reserves. We do not need to create such a large buffer, but I would suggest we increase it to around 35 days equivalent. This should be done by constructing a cavern in Jamnagar, the entrepôt that receives approximately 60 per cent of our crude oil imports and is well connected through tanks and pipelines to the hinterland refineries.

My fourth suggestion is to restructure and reorganise the public sector petroleum companies. In the first instance, the upstream assets should be consolidated under ONGC (the upstream assets of BPCL, IOC, HPCL, and GAIL should pass onto ONGC) and GAIL should be unbundled into a public utility gas pipeline company (its non-pipeline assets should be allocated to the upstream company and/or one of the downstream entities). Thereafter, these companies should be encouraged to look beyond hydrocarbons to build an “energy” enterprise. I believe this restructuring will help cut back the “avoidable” costs of intra public sector competition, reduce the inefficiencies of “sub scale” operations and provide a focused platform for balancing the shorter-term need to provide secure and affordable hydrocarbons with the medium and longer-term imperative of developing clean energy.

My final thought: The petroleum minister should not, in the current context, see his responsibility through the siloed prism of oil and natural gas. He should broaden the aperture and become the progenitor of the energy transition. The dilemma referred to in the opening sentence will be easier to resolve if he develops his priorities within the framework of clean energy and in collaboration with his cabinet colleagues.

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This column first appeared in the print edition on August 2, 2021 under the title ‘No fossil fuels as usual’. The writer is chairman, Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP)

While India remains in contention for other medals, there is a lesson in Ms Chanu and Ms Borgohain’s success

With weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal, India got its first win in the Tokyo Olympics. PV Sindhu’s bronze has given India a second medal. And boxer Lovlina Borgohain’s success assured India of a third medal. And while India remains in contention for other medals, there is a lesson in Ms Chanu and Ms Borgohain’s success. The former is from Manipur (as is Mary Kom, a previous Olympic winner who lost out narrowly this time around) and Ms Borgohain is from Assam. The lesson is not just how the Northeast is a potential hub for sporting excellence — it is indeed and must be developed — but how diversity and inclusion helps.

To be sure, the primary identity that matters in the case of Ms Chanu, Ms Kom and Ms Borgohain is that they are all champions. It would also be inaccurate, as is often done, to group all those from different states of the Northeast into one category when they come from distinct political, social, ethnic, linguistic and cultural traditions. But there is little doubt that identity has been a basis of discrimination and exclusion for those from the Northeast, reflected in dismal representation across all professional spheres. This has not just deprived people of opportunities and perpetuated structural injustice, but also left those spheres poorer.

Diversity and inclusion are sources of strength. Having individuals from distinct regions (and castes, tribes, religions) across the distinct worlds of, say, business, media, entertainment, allows a country to not just give a sense of belonging to all, but actually leverage talent. Aviation and hospitality are just two small examples of areas where many from the Northeast have made a mark. But ensuring opportunities in all other spheres for those who have been on the margins is not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. Sport has shown the way.

Covid-19 vaccines work magnificently. In the face of a lot of noise about breakthrough infections, and against the backdrop of an irrational fear of so-called variants of concern (we should fear them, but rationally), this merits repetition — vaccines are working better than they were expected to. According to a July 30 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of breakthrough infections in 24 states in the United States (US), only between 0.01% and 0.90% of those fully vaccinated were infected by the Sars-CoV-2 virus. Data on hospitalisations and deaths, from 19 of 24 states, gets even better. Among the vaccinated, a range of 0.00% (eight of the states) to 0.06% were hospitalised; and a range of 0.00% (in 17 of the states) to 0.01% died. The tabulation of deaths includes those from all causes. These numbers are far better than the efficacy of the vaccines used in the US. They are also better than what the study of the efficacy of one of the vaccines in preventing serious infections and hospitalisations in the case of the Delta variant suggested. In sum, the field efficacy of the vaccines has actually turned out to be better than that measured in clinical studies and trials — even against the variants.

There is no comparable information available for the United Kingdom (UK) — almost all data on breakthrough infections is anecdotal or based on clinical studies — just as there is none available for India. Among the four vaccines approved for use in the UK is AstraZeneca/Oxford. Most Indians, so far, have received its locally-made version, Covishield. According to the latest clinical studies, two doses of this vaccine are 67% effective against the Delta variant and 74.5% effective against the Alpha strain of the virus. It is likely that the field data ends up showing a better efficacy, just as it does in the case of the mRNA vaccines that account for much of the vaccinations in the US.

The catch is that all this data, both on efficacy and breakthrough infections, are for fully vaccinated people. One dose of Covishield, for instance, is only 30% effective in preventing serious infections. Till Saturday night, India had fully vaccinated only 10.8% of its adult population. But August is expected to see a sharp increase in this number as many in the 18-45 years age group — this cohort started receiving vaccines on May 1 — become eligible for their second shots. The sooner India improves that proportion, the better its chances of mitigating or avoiding a third wave.

While she did not officially declare her ambitions (few politicians do) Ms Banerjee believes that she has the ability to pull together diverse strands of the Opposition together, and therefore views herself as a possible prime ministerial candidate

Emboldened by both her electoral victory against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the persistent disarray in the Congress, West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, visited Delhi this week. The timing of her visit (during the monsoon session of Parliament), political meetings (including with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi), public statements, and the role of her party in the House (as the most belligerent anti-government force) add up to a simple political conclusion. Ms Banerjee sees a vacuum in the national Opposition space in the run-up to 2024. And while she did not officially declare her ambitions (few politicians do) Ms Banerjee believes that she has the ability to pull together diverse strands of the Opposition together, and therefore views herself as a possible prime ministerial candidate.

This plan seems to be based on two tactics. One, ensure a broad understanding among all non-BJP forces in a way that the dominant force in a state — be it the Congress, or in many cases, a regional party — is projected as the sole challenger to the BJP in that state. Two, Ms Banerjee is hoping to build her stature as well as relationships in a way where she is seen as the obvious candidate who has the track record, network and credibility to emerge as the face of such an alliance, either before or after polls.

This plan has four challenges. One, it relies on arithmetic. And even if coordination between Opposition forces is better than it was in 2014 or 2019, it does not tackle the obvious question of chemistry. That can happen only through a common, acceptable leader so that citizens have an answer to that perennial question — Modi versus who? Two, Ms Banerjee may have her admirers, but she is a polarising figure and has increasingly been projected as “pro-Muslim” by the BJP ecosystem. Projecting her, or even the prospect of her as PM, may help her in Bengal but may alienate urban middle classes elsewhere who see her as a maverick, and also lead to Hindu consolidation. Three, unlike the Gujarat model, which ended up getting popular traction, the West Bengal model is not really an electorally resonant platform, yet. And finally, the Opposition’s performance hinges on how the Congress does in states where it is in direct bipolar competition with the BJP. The prospects of an improved Congress performance are dim. But if they do improve, the grand old party is not going to cede leadership. Ms Banerjee has a tough climb ahead.

There is a lesson from the ongoing failure of the monsoon session of Parliament. Till there is a clear link between how one performs in Parliament and the votes one gets in elections, politicians will not change the way they approach their role as legislators. It has been 11 working days and both Houses remain disrupted. There are another nine working days to go, and given the impasse, an immediate resolution doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. There is a possibility that the session — the first full session since March 2020 — will not see Parliament perform its core role of deliberative lawmaking, holding the executive accountable and articulating citizen-centric issues.

The immediate trigger for the impasse is the Opposition’s demand for a discussion and enquiry on Pegasus, and the government’s reluctance to do so. This newspaper has argued that it would be productive to have a discussion on Pegasus — the issue goes to the heart of Indian democracy — and then pursue other legislative business. There could well be other mechanisms to resolve the impasse too. But the question is why the government and the Opposition have not invested enough energy in resolving what is really not an intractable issue? And that goes to the question of incentives.

For a government that enjoys a majority and can get its legislative agenda through even amidst a din, the functioning of the House does not make a material difference to its objectives. Non-functioning allows it to evade hard questions. For the Opposition, the ability to disrupt, make a noise, even snatch papers from ministers (as a Trinamool parliamentarian did) seems more politically advantageous. They think this allows them to come across as belligerent and aggressive. For members of Parliament (MPs), on both sides, who would like the House to function, there is little room to generate pressure because their incentive lies in proving loyalty to the party line. But at the core of it, MPs know that what they do — and do not do — in Parliament will not affect their electoral prospects. Attendance, questions asked, interventions in key debates hardly figure in the heat and dust of electoral battles. And therefore, till parliamentary performance becomes a parameter in how citizens judge their representatives, India’s parliament will continue to see bursts of productivity interspersed with bouts of disruption. Democracy is the loser.

The Indian women’s hockey team’s accomplishment of reaching the Olympic semifinal for the first time by defeating Australia 1-0 this morning is an important one in their journey. Women’s hockey in India has been relegated to the margins. When it comes to hockey, the focus has been on the performance of the men’s team, which in the last few decades has found it impossible to match the heights attained by the national team between 1930s and 1960s. Given this backdrop, the performance of the women is noteworthy and made special by the fact that they beat one of the pre-tournament favourites to reach the semifinal.

The next match is scheduled to be played on Wednesday against Argentina, a powerhouse in women’s hockey.

Hopefully, this performance will catalyse greater interest from both administrators and fans in women’s hockey.

Japan is faced with an unusual situation. The Olympics continue without a break. But the country has been forced to impose a state of emergency in some regions to cope with an unprecedented surge in Covid cases. China is in the middle of a new surge centred around Nanjing. Southeast Asia and the Middle East are also battling new infection waves. So is the US, and to an extent, Europe. Common to these surges everywhere is the Delta variant of the virus, the most transmissible one till date. According to WHO, at least 132 countries have recorded the presence of the Delta variant.

India better watch out. The primary protection against Covid remains vaccination. And August is a critical month in India’s vaccination programme. GoI estimates the adult population is 940 million and it expects to vaccinate this demographic by the year-end. By the end of last week, 11% of the adult population, or about 103 million, had been fully vaccinated. This level of protection leaves the country vulnerable to another wave of Covid. Remember, even the US, where nearly 50% of the total population is vaccinated, is seeing a rise in infections. And those taking comfort from the recent sero survey should know that even if the sample reflects the real picture, it still means 400 million people don’t have antibodies.

A vaccine supply ramp up is expected in August. In mid-July, GoI placed an order for 660 million doses, the largest so far. Last month, the average jab rate was about 3.84 million doses a day. This has to be scaled up to close to 9.2 million doses a day if GoI hopes to meet its year-end target. However, we need to remember that while expanding the coverage of vaccination is the primary defence against Covid, it cannot be the only one. The spread of the virus is also influenced by variants.

Therefore, the vaccination drive needs to be backed by behaviour that arrests the spread of infection. Universal masking and banning unnecessary gatherings are unavoidable .Both messaging and enforcement by authorities need to be consistent. India needs to learn from experiences elsewhere. The most important takeaway here is that opening up of the economy will come with risks. Those risks however can be minimised if a country gets both its vaccination and behavioural strategies in place. Everyone has both a stake and a role in preventing another surge.

It’s a familiar story every monsoon. A few hours of rainfall and our metros are inundated. This annual urban horror story is made worse by the fact that huge amounts of money are spent on desilting city drains every year. In fact, with Covid-related restrictions in place this year, there was hope that municipal corporations would be able to do a better job of preparing for rains. But in Delhi where monsoon showers arrived only on July 13 – delayed by around 16 days – streets, underpasses and busy intersections were flooded after a few spells of heavy rain. In Delhi multiple agencies – municipalities, PWD, irrigation – between them spend an impressive amount on desilting drains every year. But there’s little improvement in the flooding situation each monsoon.

A similar story unfolded in Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation claimed carrying out more than targeted desilting this year. But that boast was washed away with the first showers. BMC, the richest municipal body in the country, spends around Rs 70-100 crore every year just on cleaning drains. In Kolkata, waterlogging during the rains has become part and parcel of the city’s identity. Again, this isn’t for the want of funds – the Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s estimate of expenditure on sewerage and drainage for 2019-20 was Rs 273.58 crore.

Many blame unplanned urbanisation and construction on wetlands for water-logging. That’s true but it’s not a problem that can be fixed in a few months. Some improvement is possible by upgrading storm water drain designs. Current design standards take into account only one- or two-year flood levels. This must change so that drains can cater to greater volumes of run-off from heavier showers in short bursts. Plus, it makes sense to make urban storm water management a part of larger infrastructure development policies such as the Smart Cities mission. Leaving this only to municipalities, which often lack the institutional dynamism to take on new ideas, is clearly not working.