Editorials - 01-02-2021

It is the supreme authority of Parliament which has the power to solve the issue despite the negotiations outside

The deadlock between protesting farmers and the government on the contentious farm laws have taken an ugly turn, with incidents of vandalism during the tractor parade by the protesting farmers on January 26. It is as yet unclear as to how the peaceful protest for the last two months was allowed to take a violent turn by the farmers’ union leadership as well as the police administration given that the police were aware of the plans and had approved the parade.

Shadow of mistrust

While responsibility must be fixed for the administrative lapses and action taken against erring antisocial elements, the events again point out to the growing mistrust and breakdown of any dialogue between the two sides. Attempts by a section of media and representatives of political parties to use the incidents of vandalism to vilify and malign the two-month-old peaceful agitation will only add to the mistrust between the government and the farmer unions. Such a situation is unlikely to lead to any meaningful outcome despite best intentions.

Even though thousands of farmers have been protesting peacefully for more than two months at different sites on the Delhi border, the issues raised by the farmer representatives are not just limited to the demand for guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the repeal of the three farm laws passed during the monsoon session of Parliament, in September last year. They are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

A resonance of anger

While an impression has been created that the agitating farmers only represent the interests of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, these issues have found resonance across several States in the country where large mobilisations of farmers have been protesting peacefully. There are large variations across States in the way the MSP-led procurement operations are conducted; but there are also variations in States in terms of the role and functions of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC).

Despite these differences, these mobilisations represent the anger against the political economy of agricultural reforms. The genuine fear of corporate takeover and withdrawal of the state go beyond the three Acts. It is essentially about the trust deficit between the state and the farmers who see the actions of the state as allowing greater control by the private sector which will ultimately dispossess them from the meagre resources and land that they have.

These impressions are not entirely unfounded if one is to go by the experience in different States such as Bihar in abolishing the APMC system. But these fears also gain strength at a time when the economy is slowing down and the agricultural sector has seen severe distress in the last six years, starting with the twin droughts of 2014 and 2015. With a decline in agricultural wages and falling farm gate prices and farm incomes in the last three years, these Acts represent a pattern of state withdrawal from support to the agricultural sector.

Flaws in legislating

This is precisely why any attempt by the government to resolve the deadlock has to go beyond the nitty-gritty of the three laws; it has to start from instilling trust in the government’s actions and rhetoric of reforms. With a hardening of positions by the farmers and the government’s representatives, any possibility of resolutions through a dialogue with the unions remains a distant possibility.

Even the attempt by the Supreme Court of India to appoint a committee has failed to elicit any positive response from the farmers. The failure of dialogue and mediation by government ministers and the Supreme Court committee is partly a result of the flawed understanding of the government that this issue is a regional issue concerning only a section of farmers. The attempt by both farmer unions as well as the government to exclude other political parties out of such dialogues and discussions is unlikely to resolve the issues which concern every State of the country ruled by different political parties.

But it also reflects the process of legislating on important issues without taking into account the concerns of various stakeholders. These pieces of legislation were announced as part of the COVID-19 pandemic relief package when the country was going through a period of severe economic disruption as a result of the lockdown.

Not only was the timing wrong, but even the attempt to force these pieces of legislation without any discussion in Parliament created an impression of stubbornness on the part of the government to deny any form of dialogue and consultation. The failure to consult State governments, which are important stakeholders, has also created the peculiar situation where six large States have now passed separate pieces of legislation in their State legislatures negating the three central Acts.

Budget session as opportunity

The commencement of the Budget session from January 29 presents another opportunity to bring back these pieces of legislation in Parliament. An Act of Parliament can only be repealed and amended through Parliament. It is this supreme authority which has the power to resolve this issue despite negotiations outside. While dialogues and negotiations at a time when Parliament was not in session made sense and proved useful in clarifying the concerns of various stakeholders, it is now time to let Parliament take a call. In any case, the Supreme Court has “suspended” the “implementation” of three farm laws for the time being and the government has also offered to put the laws in abeyance for one and half years. While the offer of putting the implementation of the Acts in abeyance for 18 months may have been a strategy to delay the implementation until the Uttar Pradesh legislative elections due in one and half years, it does offer the government the possibility to build larger consensus for the reforms in new form. That will imply repealing the Acts as have been passed in Parliament currently and starting the process afresh with the parliament standing committee steering such larger deliberations.

Need for diverse opinions

A parliamentary standing committee with representations from different political parties will not only give it more legitimacy but will also allow diverse opinions from States and political parties to be represented. For the government, which is willing to suspend the implementation for one and half years, it will also allow it time, space and the political forum to convince the States and farmers about the benefits of such reforms. More than that, it will be an opportunity to bridge the trust deficit between the government and the protesting farmers. For a government which is serious about reforms in agricultural marketing, repealing the Acts in the current form and starting the process afresh will only reaffirm its seriousness and commitments to the agricultural sector and the farmers of this country.

Himanshu is Associate Professor, Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

With better governance, northern States can bring their health systems on a par with southern States

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been vociferous demands to strengthen the country’s public health system. Many erudite articles have stressed the need to revamp the system quickly so that we are better prepared to handle such emergencies in the future. Once the present crisis is over, however, public health will go into oblivion, as usual. Governments are already behaving as if things are fine and enough has been done on the health front.

Not surprisingly, the efficacy of the public health system varies widely across the country since it is a State subject. How good a public health system is can easily be judged just by looking at certain health parameters such as Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Ratio and Total Fertility Rate for which annual surveys are conducted through the Sample Registration System.

Poor health indicators

With the numbers given in the chart, it is doubtful whether India will be able to achieve Goal 3 (good health and well-being) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. India failed to achieve the earlier Millennium Development Goals because of the poor performance of the northern States. It is surprising that the Government of India does not hold them responsible and accountable for poor performance but is satisfied with the average. Equally surprising and disappointing is that these State governments themselves are indifferent to their poor performance.

Since health is a State subject, the primary onus lies with the State governments. Each State government must focus on public health and aim to improve the health indicators mentioned above. It is disappointing that some of the States have skewed priorities such as cow protection and ‘love jihad’. More mothers are perhaps dying for want of care than cows. Are these governments not concerned? Unless they give health the highest priority, rapid improvement is not possible. Instead of talking in generalities, they must start looking at numbers. To start with, the above parameters are good enough. Their close monitoring at the highest level may improve things.

These data are revealing. The northern States are performing very poorly in these vital health parameters. In Madhya Pradesh, the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births is as high as 48 compared to seven in Kerala. In U.P. the Maternal Mortality Ratio is 197 compared to Kerala’s 42 and Tamil Nadu’s 63. The percentage of deliveries by untrained personnel is very high in Bihar, 190 times that of Kerala.

Another vital parameter that has an impact on poverty, Total Fertility Rate, is very high in Bihar (3.2) against the stabilisation rate of 2.1. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have done so well that their population will decline over the years. This has been made possible thanks to the effective Maternal and Child Health and Family Welfare services provided by these States.

Some of these States are performing so poorly that they are comparable to the poorest countries in the world, pulling down the average for India. The Government of India is just looking at the averages which are somewhat reasonable thanks to the excellent performance of well-governed States. Unless all the States perform well, there will be no dramatic improvement in the health system . It is sad this is the outcome despite Finance Commissions pouring non-Plan funds into these States in addition to substantial Plan allocation from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for the Empowered Action Group States. More money does not and cannot produce results. Only clear focus and better governance can.

Tamil Nadu’s example

How did the southern States achieve this? It is because of enlightened political leadership which was interested in the health and well-being of the people. I vividly remember the family planning drives and innumerable camps organised to eradicate cataract in the 1970s. The district administration was spearheading these health initiatives because of the government’s focus and drive. The government encouraged a healthy competition among the districts by giving prizes to the well-performing ones. By the 1990s, family planning drives were no more necessary, and all that was needed was some fine-tuning of the Maternal and Child Health programme. The result is that the Total Fertility Rate of Tamil Nadu is among the lowest in the country (1.6) comparable to that of Germany (1.57) and Japan (1.43). In addition to a clear focus by the political executive, Tamil Nadu has the advantage of a public and preventive health structure. A good administrative structure could therefore deliver to the demands of the political executive, benefiting the people of the State.

The governments — both at the Centre and the Empowered Action Group States — should realise that public health and preventive care is a priority and take steps to bring these States on a par with the southern States. The Government of India has a vital role to play. With his huge mandate and popularity, the Prime Minister should get involved in this fundamental task of improving the health of the people. Public and preventive health should be his focus by holding the Empowered Action Group States accountable to the SDGs. They must be asked to reach the levels of the southern States within three to five years.

Volumes have been written and hundreds of studies have been conducted on what needs to be done in each of these States. One wonders whether they are even read. Instead of slogans and promises, hard work is needed. Perhaps what was started in Tamil Nadu as early as the 1970s needs to be done in these States now. When Chief Ministers are focused on health and the district health administrations are held accountable, performance is bound to improve.

An important measure that can make a difference is a public health set-up in these States that addresses primary and preventive health. Many studies have stressed its importance to deliver better with the given resources. Tamil Nadu manages its public health set-up with just about 150 public health professionals. Therefore, it cannot be difficult for other States to build a public health cadre quickly.

Giving health importance

Unless we invest in human capital, FDI will not help. It will only increase the wealth of the already wealthy and accentuate income disparity. Investing in health and education is the primary responsibility of any government. It is time the governments — both at the Centre and States — gave health its due importance.

Announcing piecemeal schemes may help to get publicity but will not make a lasting improvement. Improving health of such a large population requires concerted efforts over years. The southern States started early and are enjoying the benefits, but they can still do more to reach the level of developed countries. The Empowered Action Group States must start in earnest at least now. There are no short cuts; only persistent and focused efforts at the highest level of government will improve preventive care and primary healthcare.

R. Poornalingam is former Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu

Gandhiji’s idea is feasible only in a political community where people have the art of listening

Mahatma Gandhi’s death anniversary (January 30) may have just passed, but it is not just an occasion to celebrate his life and his message once more, or to simply add to the Gandhian biography, so to speak. We should think of Gandhi as a noble spirit who continues to be among us and who contributes to the betterment of our world.

Therefore, the task before us is how we, individually and collectively, can understand and take forward the Gandhian nobility of spirit in today’s world. If there is only one idea that Gandhi should be remembered for and identified with, it is the idea of empowerment of the other.

Different opinion as right

Undoubtedly, the essence of Gandhi’s political philosophy is the empowerment of the other, irrespective of gender, race, class or creed. That is why Gandhi understood democracy as a socio-political institution which seeks to empower the other by asserting its right to speak freely and to act differently. As such, Gandhi viewed the empowerment of the other as a right to express a different opinion than that of the majority and to be heard openly and transparently. One such idea is captured by Gandhi’s statement, that “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of the heart... The spirit of democracy requires the inculcation of the spirit of brotherhood... democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep. Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.... (https://bit.ly/39Ap5fY)”

In his quest to defend the otherness of the other, Gandhi invited individuals to rule themselves against their weaker natures by becoming self-governing agents. But he also looked for the creation and cultivation of a public culture of citizenship that guaranteed everyone the right to opinion and action. The empowerment of the other is a value which needs to be created and cherished. In other words, empowerment, for Gandhi, was an act of empathy and affinity, not a mode of social interconnectedness taken for granted. Therefore, as a transformative force, the empowerment of every citizen is an experience of conscience underpinning the harmony between ethics and politics.

The Gandhian appeal to the ethical is in fact a way to civilise modern politics from within, by shortening the circuit of conquest, domination and violence. By addressing the question of the otherness of the other, Gandhi was trying to cultivate the individual’s capacity for ethical citizenship and empathetic friendship. From Gandhi’s perspective, non-violence encouraged an awareness, which moved the individual away from a monistic egocentricity and closer to a pluralistic shared suffering.

Moreover, this state of awareness called for a common horizon of humanity, which strengthened the process of thinking about the otherness of the other. What is so fascinating and relevant with the Gandhian approach to politics is that Gandhi understood the civilisational process of freedom-making as an inclusion of the other as the other.

His work as manifesto

As a matter of fact, we can read and understand Gandhi’s seminal work,Hind Swaraj, as a manifesto for the otherness of the other. Here, Gandhi introduces his readers to a new model of civilisation which takes humanity to a higher moral level. While pointing to utilitarianism as a false mode of existence which dismisses totally the otherness of the other, Gandhi suggests his own idea of moral interconnectedness and empathetic pluralism. For Gandhi, civilisation has to give primacy to moral progress of humanity, rather than just generate tendencies towards futility and violence. Truly, what is so relevant about Gandhi’s view of civilisation is the strong conviction that civilisation should help humanity realise the path of righteousness and compassion, by putting morality before materialism. Gandhi was aware of the importance of pluralism of ideas and values because of the dissimilarities and differences that exist.

A mode

Unsurprisingly, Gandhi’s idea of empowerment of the other is feasible only in a political community where people have the art of listening. In other words, the art of listening, as much as the freedom of speech, is a mode of laying emphasis on the otherness of the other against all forms of tyranny. Accordingly, we can consider as tyrannical an individual or a society which refuses to the other the right to speak and the time and space to listen. If tyranny is the enemy of empathy, then the project of caring for the otherness of the other would suggest a mode of sensibility that rejects the logic of domination and conquest of the other. Through his readings of human civilisation, Gandhi showed us that he was well aware of the dangers of the conquest of the other. That is why he refuses to reject the otherness of the other in the situation of intolerance and exclusion. Gandhi did not consider social, political or even religious marginality as a curse, but more as a constructive asset which helped the individual maintain critical distance from all traditions of thought while entering a dialogue with any form of otherness.

Shared humanity

Undeniably, Gandhi replaced the linear and monolithic discourse of reality with his dialogical vision of civilisation and political life. Thus, by bringing beauty out of the ugliness of modern civilisation, he forged a new form of solidarity — that of shared humanity — as a tool for the survival of the otherness of the other. As such, Gandhi’s experiments with truth made him conscious not only of his similarities but also of his dissimilarities and differences with others. Seventy-three years after his death, what Mahatma Gandhi continues to teach us is that all life is interconnected, and a human spirit which remains indifferent to the otherness of the others, including the natural world, has no nobility left in it.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is Professor and Vice Dean of Law School and the Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the O.P. Jindal Global University

The Hindu should consider providing references and citations in hyperlinks in its Internet edition

One of our readers, Deepesh Goel, posed a number of questions about the numbers that were cited in the article “The time for — not mass but targeted vaccination” (January 26). He was also not sure of the methodology used by the authors, M.S. Seshadri and T. Jacob John. The newspaper has a clear and considered position for commissioning articles on a range of subjects, and public health is no exception. While a newspaper does not opt for detailed footnotes and endnotes, as the emphasis is on the ease of reading, there are stringent measures to ensure accuracy. The act of verification is central to this endeavour.

State of endemicity

The first question Mr. Goel asked was about the reference to the daily new births across the country. The article contended that of the total daily new births, 54,000 infants survive. It further said that “we add 54,000 susceptible subjects daily to the pool”. Mr. Goel’s question was, if the article adds each new birth to the susceptible pool, shouldn’t it warrant the removal of non-COVID-19 daily deaths from the numbers? The authors, who are respected virologists, say that when there is a steady state of endemicity, there is more or less a constant number of daily infections. That is how 54,000 new births are added to the pool, which is a standard well-accepted epidemiological principle. They are not talking about percentages or proportions; hence, there is no need to look into the number of non-COVID-19 deaths.

Mr. Goel felt that it would have helped if the source of the assertion “Nowadays, we mostly test symptomatic individuals, who account for only about half of total infections” had been given, as there have been many studies during the pandemic with each giving a different fraction of the symptomatic. The authors relied on a recent meta-analysis in theAnnals of Internal Medicineon the proportion of patients who are asymptomatic. In cross-sectional studies, the proportion is 25% and in longitudinal studies, it is 75%. The authors used the average of 50%. The study they relied on is titled ‘The Proportion of SARS-CoV-2 Infections That Are Asymptomatic: A Systematic Review’, and its authors are Daniel P. Oran and Eric J. Topol.

Mr. Goel also felt that that it was erroneous to conclude that India is very close to reaching the endemic state when the article itself had pointed out that the daily infections may be 56,000. In the light of low mortality certification, which is only 20%, the reader felt that the authors had failed to take into account the under-reporting of COVID-19 cases. The authors argue that it is highly unlikely for symptomatic cases to go unreported in the context of widespread public knowledge about the seriousness of COVID-19 and the efforts put in by the government to identify every case by mass testing.

The reader was not sure how the authors concluded that our COVID-19 case fatality is 1%. He argued that fatality around 1% is the official figure based on reported COVID-19 deaths and that it should not be used in arithmetically adjusted data of reported deaths. The authors argue that we are close to or have already reached endemicity, which is endorsed by two sets of mortality numbers. The ratio between the arithmetically corrected value for the reported cases versus the numbers derived from mortality was 56,000 versus 40,750, which indicates the same trend.

Predicting the curve

It should also be kept in mind that the authors have a track record in predicting the curve that the pandemic took since March 2020. From recommending universal adoption of the practice of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the virus to interpreting sero-surveys and COVID-19 curves, their articles in the edit pages of this newspaper have been consistently prescient. In their article, “Imperatives after India’s September virus peak” (September 29, 2020), they clearly indicated that the virus would continue till March 2021 before turning endemic. Their recommendation for targeted vaccination in India has a context. Europe, Brazil, and the U.S. are opting for universal vaccination because of an ongoing epidemic spread.

Journalistically speaking we are in a hybrid phase, where news consumers get their information both from digital platforms and print platforms.The Hindushould consider providing references and citations in hyperlinks in its Internet edition.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

India’s ageing dams can threaten water security, affect farmers’ income, and increase flooding

Dams and reservoirs are believed to secure our water needs for the future. However, data and studies show that they can threaten our water security. Here is how.

It is not a secret anymore that India’s dams are now ageing and concomitantly, reservoir water is being replaced by soil, technically known as silt or sediment.

Becoming obsolete

India is ranked third in the world in terms of building large dams. Of the over 5,200 large dams built so far, about 1,100 large dams have already reached 50 years of age and some are older than 120 years. The number of such dams will increase to 4,400 by 2050. This means that 80% of the nation’s large dams face the prospect of becoming obsolete as they will be 50 years to over 150 years old.

The situation with hundreds of thousands of medium and minor dams is even more precarious as their shelf life is even lower than that of large dams. Krishna Raja Sagar dam was built in 1931 and is now 90 years old. Similarly, Mettur dam was constructed in 1934 and is now 87 years old. Both these reservoirs are located in the water-scarce Cauvery river basin.

As dams age, soil replaces the water in the reservoirs. Therefore, the storage capacity cannot be claimed to be the same as it was in the 1900s and 1950s.

To make matters worse, studies show that the design of many of our reservoirs is flawed. In a paper, ‘Supply-side Hydrology: Last gasp’, published in 2003 inEconomic & Political Weekly, Rohan D’Souza writes that the observed siltation rate in India’s iconic Bhakra dam is 139.86% higher than originally assumed. At this rate, he wrote, “the Bhakra dam is now expected to function for merely 47 years, virtually halved from the original estimate of 88 years”. Similarly, the actual siltation rate observed for the Hirakud, Maithan and Ghod dams are way higher at 141.67%, 808.64% and 426.59%, respectively. Studies in later years showed similar findings.

Almost every scholarly study on reservoir sedimentation shows that Indian reservoirs are designed with a poor understanding of sedimentation science. The designs underestimate the rate of siltation and overestimate live storage capacity created.

Therefore, the storage space in Indian reservoirs is receding at a rate faster than anticipated. Reservoirs are poised to become extinct in less than a few decades with untold consequences already under way.

Consequences

When soil replaces the water in reservoirs, supply gets choked. The cropped area begins receiving less and less water as time progresses. The net sown water area either shrinks in size or depends on rains or groundwater, which is over-exploited. Crop yield gets affected severely and disrupts the farmer’s income. In fact, the farmer’s income may get reduced as water is one of the crucial factors for crop yield along with credit, crop insurance and investment. It is important to note that no plan on climate change adaptation will succeed with sediment-packed dams.

The flawed siltation rates demonstrated by a number of scholarly studies reinforce the argument that the designed flood cushion within several reservoirs across many river basins may have already depleted substantially due to which floods have become more frequent downstream of dams. The flooding of Bharuch in 2020, Kerala in 2018 and Chennai in 2015 are a few examples attributed to downstream releases from reservoirs. The nation will eventually be unable to find sufficient water in the 21st century to feed the rising population by 2050, grow abundant crops, create sustainable cities, or ensure growth. Therefore, it is imperative for all stakeholders to come together to address this situation urgently.

J. Harsha is Director, Central Water Commission, Government of India. Views are personal and not that of the Central Water Commission

The Economic Survey seems to privilege wealth creation over reduction of income disparity

The Economic Survey for 2020-21 is an expansive attempt at reviewing the developments in the Indian economy during the current financial year and providing an outlook for its near-term prospects. Spread over 700 pages, the survey opts for a self-congratulatory tone while highlighting the policy achievements of the government in steering the economy through the treacherous shoals of “the most unfathomable global health emergency experienced in modern history”. Citing an approach that used ‘graded public health measures to transform the short-term trade-off between lives and livelihoods into a win-win that would save both lives and livelihoods over the longer term’, the survey asserts that India established a globally unique model of strategic policymaking in containing the COVID-19 pandemic while helping the economy recover quickly from its deleterious impact. There is no denying that the country appears to have not only flattened the curve but also, crucially, so far avoided a bruising second wave of infections seen in much of Europe and the U.S. While it may be debatable as to how much of the turn in the pandemic’s progress could be attributed wholly to proactive policy measures, the survey’s contention that India has turned the crisis into an opportunity to strengthen its long-term growth potential through ‘seminal reforms’ sounds off-key, especially given the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws as well as the plight of the struggling small and medium-scale industries and informal sectors.

The survey goes on to forecast that the economy is currently experiencing a V-shaped recovery that would enable GDP to expand, even by a ‘conservative estimate’, by 11% in real terms in 2021-22. Still, to achieve that level of real growth, retail inflation must moderate substantially to average 4.4% or less over the 12-month period through March 2022, given that the survey has projected nominal growth at 15.4%. Also, while batting for a fiscal push to support the reviving economy, it posits an upside to the growth prognosis predicated on, among other factors, a rapid roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines and a recovery in demand in the battered services sector. However, the document fails in providing an honest assessment of the on-ground economic situation by overlooking key aspects including the extent of unemployment even as it hints at the level of rural joblessness, which followed the return of millions of urban casual workers in the wake of last year’s hastily implemented lockdown. This it does by taking credit for a record 311.92 crore person-days of work generated over the last 10 months under MGNREGA. And in contending that growth should be prioritised over inequality in tackling poverty, when the pandemic has exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor and the Finance Minister is set to present her Budget, the survey seems to privilege wealth creation over all else.

A snap election will be a serious setbackin the effort to contain the pandemic

The resignation of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, amid infighting in the ruling coalition, has pushed the country, one of the worst-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, into another phase of political instability. Mr. Conte, a former law professor who first formed the government in 2018, resigned after a small coalition partner, Italia Viva, led by former PM Matteo Renzi, left after differences over the way the government was tackling the outbreak and its plans to spend the $243 billion EU virus fund. Italy, which has seen more than 65 governments in the last 70-odd years, is no stranger to political instability. But the difference now is the unfolding of the crisis amid the struggle to contain the virus infection that has claimed over 85,000 Italians; hundreds of people are dying every day. The vaccination programme, which the government rolled out in recent weeks, has been criticised for being too slow (the government has blamed drugmaker Pfizer for poor supply). Parts of Italy are still under lockdown. The economy, which was battling multiple crises even before COVID-19 struck, is estimated to have contracted by 8.9% last year. All these point to an unprecedented crisis which demands a bold response plan from the country’s leaders. But its politicians, as the fall of the government shows, are busy fighting one other.

Mr. Conte, who has retained over 50% approval ratings as PM despite the health-care and economic crises, often struggled to navigate the treacherous waters of coalition politics. He was picked by the populist Five Star Movement in 2018 to head the government which it formed with the far-right Lega Nord. After the Lega Nord exited the coalition in 2019 in the wake of a corruption scandal, Mr. Renzi, who was then leading the centre-left Democratic Party, supported Mr. Conte to form another government. Since then, Mr. Renzi, who left the Democratic Party and formed Viva Italia, grew critical of Mr. Conte’s leadership. Their differences have led to the fall of Mr. Conte’s second government in less than three years. The current crisis could be as much about Mr. Conte’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis as it is about their power struggle. The ball is now in President Sergio Mattarella’s court. He could ask Mr. Conte to form another government or entrust some other leader with enough support with the job. If no party manages to win a majority in Parliament, the President could call snap elections. That is the last thing Italy wants now, and its politicians should realise that their first priority should be to arrest the infection wave, step up the vaccination programme and lift the economy out of the deep contraction it is in. For that, the country needs a stable government with a plan of action.

There is a tradition among scientific men that they should affect a pose of superiority over laymen, that they should not engage in any conversation with them on scientific subjects, much less enter into a controversy over such subjects. The duly initiated alone, under this tradition, ought to be taken into account as though they form a special universe unto themselves. Fools undoubtedly rush in where the angels fear to tread; and, if the tradition of exclusiveness so long inculcated among scientists is intended merely to be a safeguard against the intrusion of folly, we must say it has done perhaps more harm than good. The tendency on the part of scientists to hide their light under a bushel, consequent on this spirit of exclusiveness which may easily degenerate into a sort of intellectual snobbishness, is calculated, not only to protect them from the obtrusion of fools, but also to diminish their light and check progress. The scientist and the observant layman do not move in altogether mutually exclusive regions. There are many spheres of contact between them which they ought to explore together or, at any rate, compare the results of their separate exploration thereof. Such joint activities are sure to prove fruitful fields of activity for both. That, we take it, is the meaning of the new spirit which animates the modern man of science in the West, which makes him take the fullest advantage of the non-technical as well as the technical Press and which makes him lecture to lay audiences on the results of his learning and of his research.

Mr. C. Rajagopalachari has warned that if the Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, insisted on holding on to the cow and calf symbol for Congress-R, the Supreme Court “will be compelled to set aside any election which is fouled by the exploitation of that religious symbol.” In a press statement issued here to-day, Mr. Rajagopalachari said: “The cow symbol by itself is a silent and effective religious appeal. Gandhiji has more than once emphatically declared that cow worship is an essential and distinguishing feature of Hinduism. The calf, even if it is made big enough to help the two-bullocks simulation, really emphasises the Hindu feeling of sacredness of the mother cow and makes the objection to that symbol even stronger,” he added.