Editorials - 14-01-2021

In the event of further judicial intervention, there are grounds and an opportunity for the government to revisit the laws

With the Supreme Court of India staying the operation of the farm laws and setting up a committee of experts to negotiate with the government and the farmers, the agitation being carried on by the farmers is entering a new phase. The farmers’ unions have not reacted favourably to the formation of the experts’ committee. As it happens, the committee does not comprise entirely impartial experts. Most of them are well known and strong defenders of the farm laws, and are critical of the agitation.

The situation now

For conducting negotiations with both the government and the farmers, the members of the committee ought to and should be known to have an open mind on the core issues, which alone will create a necessary confidence in the parties concerned. The farmers have, however, made it clear that they will not agree to anything less than the repeal of these laws. This would mean that the present agitation is likely to continue indefinitely. It is not yet clear what impact the report of this committee will have on the final decision of the Supreme Court on the question of the constitutional validity of the farm laws. That is the real issue before the Supreme Court. So whatever the experts’ committee recommends, the question of the constitutional validity of the farm laws can be decided only after a proper hearing of the matter before the Court. The most curious thing about a decision on this issue by the Supreme Court is that if the Court upholds the validity of the laws, the agitation will not stop because the farmers’ demand is for the repeal of the laws.

But the government of India seems to have taken a maximalist approach, particularly on the question of a repeal of the farm laws. While the repeal of a law is a simple legislative act, having to repeal a law in which the government has invested a lot of its prestige is not so easy especially for a government which is extremely proud of its numerical majority in the Lok Sabha, which has generated a great deal of hubris. On the other hand, the farmers are unyielding on the demand for a repeal.

Not in accordance with rules

The constitutional validity of the farm laws has been challenged in the Supreme Court mainly on the ground that Parliament has no legislative competence to enact these laws, the subject matter of which is essentially in the State list. But there is a more fundamental reason to challenge these enactments which will be examined now.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that the voting on the Farm Bills in the Rajya Sabha was not done in accordance with the rules of the House. These rules require the Chair to order the recording of votes (division) by members even when one member demands it. The Deputy Chairman of the House, who was conducting the proceedings at that time, did not order division although a few members openly and loudly demanded it. It is true that there was disorder in the House but it could have been controlled and a proper voting could have been conducted. Disorder was not taking place for the first time in the House. Thus, there was a violation of the rules of the House in passing the Bills by voice vote when there was a demand for division.

Voice vote is unrecognised

But the matter goes beyond the violation of the House rules. It involves the violation of the Constitution itself. Article 100 says that all questions at any sitting of either House shall be determined by a majority of votes of the members present and voting. Majority can be determined only in terms of number, and therefore what this Article requires is that all questions in the House should be determined by recording the votes of the members present and voting. Majority cannot be determined through voice vote. In fact the Constitution does not recognise voice vote to determine majority in a legislature. However, deciding a question by voice vote is a practice prevailing in all legislatures. This was devised for the sake of convenience and there is always an assumption that since the government of the day has a majority, any proposal before the House has the support of the majority. But that assumption goes when a member demands voting in the House and the Chair has, then, no option but to order the actual voting. Since this was not done and the Bills were all passed by voice vote, there is a violation of the rules as well as the Constitution.

Options before the judiciary

It is true that Article 122 of the Constitution protects the proceedings of the House from judicial review. But this protection is available only when the proceedings are challenged on irregularity of procedure. Violation of the Constitution is not a mere irregularity of procedure. The Supreme Court in Raja Ram Pal’s case had clarified that the proceedings can be challenged on substantive grounds like violation of the Constitutional provisions. Therefore, the Farm Bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha in violation of Article 100 of the Constitution and can be challenged in the Supreme Court on that ground.

Now what are the options before the Supreme Court if and when such a challenge is made? The Court can strike down the whole laws as the requirement of Article 107 has not been fulfilled. This Article says that a Bill shall not be deemed to have been passed unless it has been agreed to by both Houses. As has been explained above, the Bills have not in fact been passed by the Rajya Sabha because the majority had not been determined in accordance with Article 100. It would mean that the three Bills did not become laws.

The Court may also invalidate the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha and send the three ‘Acts’ back to that House for further proceedings in accordance with the constitutional provisions. If this happens, it may provide a good opportunity to the government to revisit these laws. These can then be referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha which can invite the farmers and all other stakeholders and finally produce better Bills. Such an opportunity is invaluable in the present circumstances when the government is facing virtually a no-win situation. If, on the other hand, the government decides to withdraw the Bills after these are sent back to the Rajya Sabha on the ground that it wants to bring fresh Bills with altered proposals, it will have that option too under the rules of the House. The possibility of these options can be creatively considered for finding a solution to this problem.

Centrality of Parliament

We may not forget that the issue that needs to be settled by the top court is only the constitutional validity of the laws. In resolving a problem like the agitation by farmers against the laws, the centrality of Parliament in the legislative process in all its dimensions should not be lost sight of. Once the Court decides the legality or constitutionality of a law, the political and legislative aspects of the issue will have to be dealt with only by Parliament. Parliament and its systems alone can produce a satisfactory solution. The only condition is that the government which is accountable to Parliament should genuinely demonstrate its faith in those systems.

P.D.T. Achary is a former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha

It has squandered its precious political and administrative heritage

My local bank has a framed picture of M. Visvesvaraya on its wall, a curious throwback to an era of optimistic belief that over time, Mysore, and later the enlarged State of Karnataka, would take its place among the most modernised and industrialised regions of India. Certainly, Visvesvaraya, as Chief Engineer and then Dewan and even in unofficial capacities, hoped that the State would enter into and reorganise nearly all aspects of economic, social and cultural life to make Mysore modern – in the absence of a social class before independence that could lead that transformation.

But his portrait in the bank is marked byvibhutiand vermillion markings, a sign of what Indians prefer to do to even the most ardent repudiators of tradition: worship them, rather than walk their path. ‘Industrialise or perish!’ was among his most well-known injunctions, but he left no stone unturned in proposing a developmental regime for everything, from the establishment of Sahitya Parishats and club cultures to social audits of government work — the State in effect compensating for an absent civil society. And he considered ‘tradition’ (naively but unwaveringly) as an ideological drag on the State’s development — almost unbelievable in these times.

Policies of inclusion

Karnataka was once known for its pioneering policies of inclusion — the Miller Committee Report of 1919 which proposed reservations for Backward Classes (though note, not those then referred to as ‘Panchamas’ and reservations were finally accepted only in May 1921), family planning and rights of women to property in 1934. It was heralded for the bold and creative post-independence measures of Chief Ministers like Devaraj Urs (1972-80), who has been justly acclaimed as among the most important non-communist Chief Ministers, fiercely committed to deepening democracy and social equality. The State has had upper caste Chief Ministers who balanced the two dominant castes as well as non-dominant caste Chief Ministers. All of them added to the State’s commitment to democracy and development in different ways. Whatever their quirks and failures, none of them made an agenda of peddling hate. The State’s splendid economic achievements evolved in ways that are too obvious to bear repetition.

Debates on anti-cow slaughter

Today we are in precipitous decline, thanks to the current leadership, which insists on taking its cues from the Indo-Gangetic regions of India, instead of looking to more recent peninsular achievements in managing natural disasters, pandemics, or in encouraging educational reform. In rushing through an anti-cow slaughter ordinance without a debate, the present government undoes more than a century of nuanced debate and policy on the matter.

For example, Mysore’s Dewan Seshadri Iyer refused those members of the Mysore Legislative Assembly demanding prohibition of cow slaughter not once but four times (in 1884, 1885, 1889, 1890), saying that the custom had been in existence for so long that it was impossible to ban it without the consent of all classes of people.

Decades later, M.K. Gandhi took the same stand when the Mysore Cow Protection Committee, an all-Hindu body constituted by the Maharaja to explore the prospect of a legislative ban, asked for his opinion in 1927. He too said that legislative bans were meaningless: Mysore had already led the way in creating a more positive programme. “It has,” he said, “from all accounts received by me, a popular prince, an enlightened public opinion, noHindu-Mussalmanquestion, and a sympathetic Dewan. Mysore has also the Imperial Institute of Dairying and Animal Husbandry… The state has, therefore,all the materials necessary for evolving a constructive policy” (emphasis mine). No wonder, as Dewan Mirza Ismail later recounted, “the committee expressed itself unanimously against any restriction in the matter of cow slaughter” unlike other States. “Their opinion,” he said, “was based mainly on economic grounds.” How remarkable that men separated by time and space – Seshadri Iyer, M.K.Gandhi, Mirza Ismail, and Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV – shared a different idea of India, which was economically independent and culturally inclusive.

Following the U.P. model

The current Karnataka government now flatters Uttar Pradesh’s ‘administrative genius’ by imitation, and proposes to protect ‘its’ women by passing a ‘love jihad’ law. It is as if Karnataka is mesmerised by U.P., which has seen child deaths in hospital, deadly crumbling infrastructure and steadily increasing violence against women. All this is compounded by the illegalities of the State, and its commitment to endangering its minority population.

Karnataka’s own men in saffron, the mathadhipatis, who number in the thousands, had for long kept a respectable distance from the hurly burly of representative politics (or had at least refrained from public pronouncements). They have now shown no hesitation in appearing in public to voice their demands, particularly on the heated debate on ‘reservations within reservations’ and on whether their sub-caste deserves more ministerships and administrative headships. Not a day passes without one or another Swamiji threatening padayatras, rallies or other protests on the question of how much more their micro-group deserves. Karnataka thus moves closer to ‘proportional representation’, far from the democratic impulse of the Communal Government Order.

The word ‘development’ sends shudders through the spines singled out for such effort, and equally those left out of it. Agrarian communities feared the arrival of ‘development’ in the form of the amendments to the Land Reforms Act of 2020 that permitted non-agriculturalists to buy land. In keeping with the penchant of the national government for ‘bigger and better’ even in the time of financial distress, the Chief Minister has announced a Rs. 500 crore ‘renovation’ of the Anubhava Mantapa at Basava Kalyan (formerly Hyderabad Karnataka), among the least developed regions of the State.

The work of Vivesvaraya and a legion of progressive administrators now stands tarnished.

Janaki Nair taught history at the Centre for Historical Studies, JNU, New Delhi

If the top court does find itself mandated by a higher public duty to intervene, then it must observe some essentials

For nearly half a hundred days, the farmers of North India protesting against the recent farm laws have been at the capital’s outskirts, braving the bitter cold, and growing in numbers. They have mostly kept the peace and their dignity, and their communities seem ready to support them for as long as need be. If the authorities had any hopes of the protest petering out by dissonant voices claiming to represent farmers, or labelling them as anti-national and fuelled by pro-Khalistan elements, these do not look like carrying much weight. New Delhi’s mandarins have a first class headache, brought on principally by the way in which they hustled through legislation which affects the lifeline of India’s agrarian sector.

Central issue is about trust

One thing stands out clearly, and that is the lack of trust the farmers have developed about the designs of the government; the laws, they say, will leave them at the mercy of corporates. Given the imputed closeness of the ruling elite with corporate houses which have ascended to commanding heights of the economy in multiple key sectors, this is not a charge easily to discount. The farmers’ focus is on retention of the MSP, the minimum support price mainly for wheat and rice, and the need to provide a statutory backing for this, in the absence of which a corporate with ready cash will tap into farms in need. And the necessity of continuing with themandisystem which provides the wherewithal for open trade. On its part, the government offers assurances but these fall short of binding legal mandates, in other words asking the farmer to accept on trust that all will be well — and that brings us back to the central problem of lack of trust in the central government.

Another thing that stands out clearly is the fact that the Prime Minister and the top leadership have been absent from dialogues with the farmers’ representatives, these being helmed by junior Ministers out of the decision-making range. The earnestness of the government in finding a fair solution would have been well demonstrated if its heads lent a willing ear to those who toil on the ground to keep us well fed. For the essence of a hearing is that it may well open out your mind and give you a better perspective. And it brings comfort and confidence to those who are agitating to have their concerns redressed.

Committee and its mandate

In the encrusted stalemate now comes pitchforked the appointment of a committee by the Supreme Court, before which were petitions calling for removal of protesters and challenging the farm laws, accompanied by a stay of implementation of the laws with observations to the effect that the protesters need not continue on site. This is problematic for several reasons. Staying a law on legal grounds ofprima facieforce in the constitutional challenge is one thing, holding it in abeyance to facilitate the committee’s work and dispersal of protesters is another. Another is the mandate itself — the committee is supposedly made up of experts to give its recommendations to the Court on the laws; where exactly does a court come into the picture in what seems to be a legislative and executive exercise? It is another matter for a court to undertake legal examination and on finding provisions to beultra vires, strike them down or declare the entire law void.

The body has not been termed a mediation committee nor formally tasked with conducting a mediation, but the Court does mention a role in assisting the negotiations between the farmers and the government, and in public discourse this is being talked about. A structured mediation would be approached differently. First, and this is of the essence, all necessary parties must consent to it; mediation’s strength lies in its voluntary aspect. Here, prominent farmer unions held back, perhaps because they perceive that growing public support dictates the choice of the political battleground rather than the mediation table; if so, the Court should be circumspect before entering the arena. The other reason for rejection has to do with the second basic requirement for mediation, that the mediators must be fair and neutral, and seen and perceived by all parties to be such. Appointing persons who have publicly taken strong stands on the merits of the matter is asking for a non-starter.

The pathway to take

It is a tricky situation and caution would forbear a Court from wading into a political minefield. However, it has repeatedly been said by the Chief Justice of India that the negotiations seem to be going nowhere, and something urgent needs to be done. In times gone by, the Court has utilised its reservoir of public trust to mandate and structure a mediation in public disputes. This is being occasioned because increasingly, current day politicians seem to have lost the willingness and capacity to reach out and build bridges and find solutions. But if the Court does find itself mandated by a higher public duty to intervene, then it must observe some essentials. The first is to offer a committee of such composition that its neutrality, calibre andgravitascommand respect and persuade doubters to give the process a try. There are some, but not many, former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of India who will qualify to serve. The second is to obtain from the government the assurance that its highest level will meet the committee and participate in the proceedings. With this on offer, the consent of all parties may be secured.

Once discussions start and are properly guided, solutions are possible. It may well be that once the important elements get focused upon and the key concerns expressed, approaches will open up which will secure legitimate interests to the maximum extent possible. Right now, parties are log jammed on the demand for immediate repeal, and the counter of focusing on amendments. The Supreme Court order may relegate this obstacle to the background. With all aspects on the table, it may be possible to get agreement and then put forward a law for repeal and reenactment, a known legislative device. All this is however possible if it is mediation on accepted principles and lines, which is not the case now. The Court needs to be careful about further continuance; its reservoir of public trust should not further be diminished.

Sriram Panchu is Senior Advocate and President, Mediators India. E-mail: srirampanchu@gmail.com

By being accountable and transparent and countering misinformation, the government can improve vaccine intake

Over the last year, as the novel coronavirus has plagued humanity killing thousands, the role of science and particularly vaccines has become critical. To millions, vaccines represent the possibility of a swift end to an uncontrollable pandemic. It is not surprising then that recent news of promising vaccines has been greeted with hope and faith.

In India, however, lack of transparency and public information as well as the government’s seeming high-handedness have started creating a distrustful narrative around the two vaccine candidates. The accelerated approval of Covaxin without Phase III trials data puts forth several critical questions. Why are approvals shrouded in mystery? Has the scientific process and validation been followed rigorously before approval? Most importantly, why has there been no open discussion and comprehensive public education about the vaccines?

Fear and scepticism

The role of the vaccine in putting an end to this pandemic is critical. Yet public trust in such vaccines is indispensable. In short, a vaccine-led control effort will only be as effective as the public confidence and support it garners. However, as experts and politicians engage in public sparring, the general public’s fear and scepticism around these vaccines is only growing. This underscores the urgent need and critical importance of transparency as also public education and participation in this process.

For the public, there exist multiple concerns around any large-scale vaccination programme. A vast majority of these concerns are fuelled by a lack of trust in approval processes, insufficient information combined with limited health literacy and a poor understanding of the protection vaccines provide. These concerns are exacerbated when you couple them with the fact that trust in public institutions has been quite low, especially in the wake of the lockdowns and economic desperation. So, the expectation that populations will accept a vaccine blindly and flock to government programmes to take it is misguided.

How do we remedy this? The government and public institutions need to start by building open, participative frameworks for building trust, and engaging and informing all stakeholders, especially experts and communities, on these vaccines. This should have started months ago but even now it is not late.

For building trust, a national forum needs to be created. It should include representatives from all stakeholders, where both the scientific basis for approval and the roll-out strategy need to be discussed. Until this is done, public confidence will remain low.

Simultaneously, there needs to be public education and information through large-scale State- and local-level networks where people are informed, sensitised and their feedback taken. These efforts need to be guided by scientific experts, communication and community specialists and leaders. This is important because misinformation about the vaccines is rife. This is potentially damaging for any mass vaccination programme.

Participatory decision-making

The people who need to take this vaccine need to understand the programme, be assured of the vaccine’s efficacy but also be involved in decision-making. Local leaders from public figures to religious leaders need to be made Ambassadors in this process. Local networks from self-help to faith groups, the media and even educational institutions need to participate to help citizens understand its importance and build trust. It is important that the process is not just directive but participative with people being able to ask questions and offer suggestions.

It is instructive to note that this will be the largest immunisation exercise to be rolled out globally. Yet, in India we still have no idea what the roll-out and access strategy is. This is why an accountable, open, ground-up participative model needs to be implemented. This conversation should be led by experts, local and community leaders, not political leaders. In fact, using vaccines for political gains and image building, though not unexpected, will not only be unethical but counterproductive.

Governments everywhere need to understand that a simple, democratic, yet effective way of improving uptake while reducing costs is by creating participatory frameworks of engaging experts and communities and building effective and reliable public information, and transparency.

Science has done its job. Now it is time for the government’s to do what is expected in a democracy – be accountable, build trust and counter misinformation with openness and communication and not obfuscation.

Chapal Mehra isPublic Health Specialist and Director, Pi Consulting

While democracy was under siege in the U.S. last week, autocracy was under siege in Hong Kong in 2019

As a pro-Trump mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, the comparisons drawn to the storming of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) complex on July 1, 2019 were immediate. The two historic moments marked days when protest movements breached the hearts of their respective governments. But that is where the similarities ended. Beyond this superficial level, the differences between the two were numerous.

Stark differences

While those besieging the Capitol sought to overturn the results of an election to cement their strongman leader’s rule, those in Hong Kong sought to secure their right to elect their leader and govern themselves, as promised in their own constitutional document. While hordes supporting U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was in session, intending to hold their elected representatives hostage, LegCo was occupied late at night when it was empty. The target of the Hong Kong protesters was not any individual but a symbol: a building that, far from a centuries-old temple of democracy, was a barely eight-year-old steel-and-glass dolmen for a government they had never voted for, and which continued to ignore them even when two million Hong Kongers marched peacefully through the streets to demand the withdrawal of a bill allowing criminal suspects to be sent to Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China.

But not all comparisons between Washington and Hong Kong are unwarranted. Days after the LegCo siege, another watershed event took place that bears far more of a resemblance to the events on Capitol Hill: the infamous attack at Yuen Long station, launched by pro-government thugs viciously and indiscriminately targeting returning protesters, journalists and everyday commuters. The venue — a metro station far from the city centre in the northwest New Territories — was different, but the motivations and actions of the Yuen Long mob share far more in common with the one on Capitol Hill: manipulated by establishment figures to exact revenge against those desperately seeking to make their voices heard, and the “fake news” media deemed complicit in helping to project these voices. Like the pro-Trump mob — and unlike the LegCo protesters — they were largely unmasked, confident in their impunity as defenders of the existing order.

When they struck, the police patrolling the station at the time walked away. Citizens ran to the nearest police station to report what was happening only to find its doors shuttered. When a sizeable number of anti-riot officers finally arrived 40 minutes later, they were filmed gently escorting the armed men away from their bloodied victims — a far cry from the tear gas and rubber bullets fired at pro-democracy protesters earlier in the day. No arrests were made on the scene, and it later emerged that police had received warnings about the impending attack and had observed the throng of men wielding wooden sticks, poles, rattan canes, steel rods, and even knives as they amassed outside the station.

Not unlike Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, Hong Kong pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho turned up to show his support for the armed mob, hailing them as “heroes.”

Misrepresentative equivalence

It can be tempting to draw parallels between two events that present similar images: the surging crowd, the makeshift battering rams, the shattered glass, and a legislative chamber briefly occupied by an uninvited crowd. But before making those comparisons one ought to consider what motivated that crowd, what led the protesters there, and what that legislative body and its composition tell us about its significance and the political climate surrounding it. One should also ask whether it is responsible to make an equivalence between an incident in which democracy was under siege and one in which autocracy was under siege. By all means, draw parallels between the events in Washington and those in Hong Kong in 2019, but be sure that you are making the right one.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is a journalist from Hong Kong

Pakistan’s action against terroristsis welcome, but nowhere near enough

In his speech to the UN Security Council (UNSC) marking 20 years since the resolutions that announced a global commitment to the war against terror after the U.S. 9/11 attacks, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar made a pitch for greater coordination between counter terrorism agencies worldwide. He highlighted the necessity to streamline the process of the UN’s top body in designating terrorists while strengthening coordination in the agencies that check their financial resources. First, the world must acknowledge that terrorist organisations use not only extortion and money laundering, drugs and wildlife trafficking to raise funds, but, in the present and future, will use loopholes in digital security and the “anonymity” provided by block chain technology to access finances. Second, in a clear reference to Pakistan, he spoke of the need to link actions between the UN and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and for countries that “wilfully provide financial assistance and safe havens” as well as “5 star” treatment to criminals and terrorists, to be held to account by them. His words are significant given that a FATF committee, the Asia Pacific Joint Group (APJG), is meeting this week to finalise recommendations for the FATF on whether to continue Pakistan’s ‘greylisting status’, downgrade it to a blacklist, or let it off, decisions that India is watching closely. Finally, he pointed to countries that allow their “political and religious” affinities to decide on issues of designation of terrorists, blocking and unblocking requests at the UNSC for such reasons rather than technically evaluate the evidence against these individuals. While the broad message here was for China, which has often blocked India’s efforts to designate individuals at the UNSC, this also includes Turkey and Malaysia which have helped Pakistan avoid stringent measures at the FATF thus far.

While Mr. Jaishankar’s words were meant for the global struggle with terrorism since 2001, their import is for India’s particular problems with Pakistan and cross-border terrorism in the present for the impending decision at the FATF plenary next month. Pakistan’s recent actions, including the sudden arrests and quick convictions of most wanted figures Zaki Ur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed, and the warrant for JeM chief Masood Azhar, all in cases of terror financing, indicate that Islamabad is aware of the importance of these decisions for its economic future; for the moment, the government is appearing to fall in line with the FATF’s 27-point action plan. By drawing the connection between the actions of the UNSC and the FATF together, Mr. Jaishankar is indicating that India is not only watching what Pakistan does but also how the international community “walks the talk” on “zero tolerance to terrorism”.

Biden shouldn’t be deterred by the policy reversal on Cuba by the Trump administration

The Trump administration’s decision to redesignate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, taken in its last days, appears to be a blatantly politicised move, bereft of any strategic or moral reasoning. In the announcement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited Cuba’s hosting of 10 Colombian rebels, a few American fugitives and its backing for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as evidence for its “support for acts of international terrorism”. The designation now puts the Caribbean country with Iran, North Korea and Syria, and would trigger fresh sanctions, making it more difficult for Cuba to do business. Havana has stated that returning the Colombian rebels would complicate the peace process in which it is a mediator. With regard to Venezuela, Cuba is following a foreign policy which it thinks serves its best interests, dealing with the country’s government, irrespective of Washington’s opinion. Not even the harshest critics of the single-party communist government in Havana, which faced domestic protests recently for freedom of expression, would allege its involvement in terrorist activities. As the Trump administration prepares to hand over power to a new President, it is taking a host of consequential foreign policy decisions that would make it difficult for Joe Biden to move quickly on his foreign policy agenda.

America’s acrimony towards Cuba has its roots in the Cold War period. As U.S. President Barack Obama noted when he opened up towards Cuba, their adverse relations were a relic of the past. He had taken a more realistic approach towards the Cubans than his predecessors. The U.S. has punished Cuba for decades with harsh sanctions, hoping that the Castro regime would eventually collapse. But the Cuban communists survived even the fall of the Soviet Union. With the Cold War memories fading and a new generation of Americans demanding a reset in foreign policy, Mr. Obama re-established ties, opened the American embassy and travelled to Havana, marking a new beginning. The logical approach of his successor should have been taking more confidence-building measures between the two countries and working towards a gradual normalisation of ties. But Donald Trump did just the opposite. It is strange that the U.S., the world’s largest military power that had cooperated with communist China since the early 1970s, still treats this tiny communist country that lies off the Florida coast as an enemy. Mr. Biden, during his campaign, had criticised the Trump administration’s Cuba policy and promised a more open approach. He could reverse the terror listing, but it would take time as the decision should follow a review process. Perhaps that is what Mr. Trump, who resisted the November election result till the Congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s victory, wants. Mr. Biden should not be deterred by these last-minute policy sabotages.

The national workshop on functional literacy inaugurated recently in New Delhi by Dr. V.K.R. V. Rao, Union Education Minister, marks the commencement of the mass literacy programme intended to make 100 million adult illiterates literate by the end of 1980.

Since the Fourth Plan coverage is expected to benefit only 10 millions of them the target for the decade requires that the annual coverage in the six years after 1974 is higher than what is to be achieved on the aggregate over the current quinquennium. This is not going to be easy.

The country’s experience in adult education is such as to make it clear that there is, on the one side, the reluctance of adults to enlist themselves for this purpose and, on the other, shortages of teachers as well as of financial and other resources. The reluctance of the adult is due to his preference for rest as against mental activity of any kind, because he has toiled all day for a mere pittance with his stomach half-empty.

This situation represents both the challenge and the need for social education in the country. Since the need is ingrained in the fact that there can be no progress social or economic, without work, the challenge has to be taken and the people put through a scheme of functional literacy which will infuse in them a better sense of values and social exertion.