Editorials - 21-01-2021

The work women perform for the family should be valued equally with men’s work during the continuance of marriage

“The wife owes service and labor to her husband as much and as absolutely as the slave does to his master. This grates harshly upon the ears of Christendom; but it is made palpably and practically true all through our statute books, despite the poetic fancy which views woman as elevated in the social estate; but a little lower than the angels,” said Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman protestant minister of the United States.

We go a step ahead and glorify our women as goddesses but deny them equal rights, and under the latest Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Ordinances, even the right to choose their spouses. Veteran actor Kamal Haasan and his Makkal Needhi Maiam party who recently promised salaries for housewives as a part of the party’s election manifesto, has revived the debate on the recognition of domestic work as work. What is the history of recognition of work by wives as work in the West? What have the legislative initiatives and judicial responses been in this regard?

The burden on women

As in the 2011 Census, while 159.85 million women stated household work as their main occupation, a mere 5.79 men referred to it as their main occupation. Justice N.V. Ramana in his crisp and authoritative concurring judgment of January 5, 2021 inKirti and Another v. Oriental Insurance Company(https://bit.ly/35Yp3fD)has referred to the ‘Time Use in India-2019 Report’ of the National Statistical Office, Government of India (published in September 2020) which says that on an average, while Indian women spend 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members, men spend just 97 minutes. Women also spend 134 minutes in a day on unpaid caregiving services for household members. A French government’s Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress in 2009 that studied the situation in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and the U.S. drew similar conclusions. A report entitled ‘Women’s Economic Contribution through their Unpaid Work: A Case Study of India’ (2009) had estimated the economic value of services by women to be to the tune of a whopping $612.8 billion annually.

Justice Ramana not only listed the various activities women undertake but also referred to British economist Arthur Cecil Pigou who had lamented that the household work by wives is not taken into consideration in calculating national income.

Other judicial observations

InArun Kumar Agrawal v. National Insurance Company(2010), the Supreme Court not only acknowledged the contribution of the housewives as invaluable but also observed that it cannot be computed in terms of money. Her gratuitous services rendered with true love and affection cannot be equated with services rendered by others. Similar observations were recently made inRajendra Singh(2020). But then these cases dealt with a limited question of compensation under the Motor Vehicles Act to calculate the compensation for the death of homemakers, and not the recognition of a wife’s right in her husband’s income during the subsistence of marriage. Justice A.K. Ganguly inArun Kumar Agrawal(2010) referred to Census 2001 that is carried out under an Act of Parliament and had categorised those who perform household duties — i.e. about 36 crore women in India — as non-workers and clubbed them together with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners (who are not engaged in economically unproductive work).

A hierarchical structure

For centuries, the English common law of marital status was starkly hierarchical. Forget the recognition of a homemaker’s work as work; she had no right even in respect of her work outside home. In fact till 1851, no country had recognised a wife’s right in earnings of any sort. If a housewife worked for pay in or out of the home, it was her husband’s prerogative to collect her wages. Strangely, seventh century Islamic law clearly mandates husbands to pay wives if they decide to suckle their children and entitle them to spend certain portions of husband’s money without his consent.

By the middle of the 19th century, some American States started reforming the common law of marital status by enacting the “Married Women’s Property Acts”. Some of these statutes exempted the wives’ real property from their husband’s debts. By 1850, the era of “earning statutes” started which granted wives property rights in earnings from their “separate” or “personal” labour. But the Census measures of the economy that appeared in the aftermath of the American Civil War characterised household work as “unproductive”, and, consistent with this gendered valuation of family labour, excluded women engaged in income-producing work in the household from the count of those “gainfully employed”. It seems that the Indian Census referred above followed this regressive precedent.

Separate spheres

Home and market for centuries were considered as two distinct spheres. The market was a male sphere of selfish competitiveness, but the home was celebrated as a female sphere, a site of spiritual uplift that offered relief from the vicissitudes of market struggle. American feminist economist Nancy Folbre rightly remarked, “the moral elevation of the home was accompanied by the economic devaluation of the work performed there”. The tendency of a “separate spheres” reasoning was thus to reinforce the legal ordering of family life and justify a husband’s control of family assets.

Subsequently, women demanded a right to own themselves, their earnings, their genius. Accordingly, in 1851, at the Worcester Convention, it was resolved: “that since the economy of the household is generally as much the source of family wealth as the labor and enterprise of man, therefore the wife should, during life, have the same control over the joint earnings as per husband, and the right to dispose at her death of the same proportion of it as he”. They finally achieved success when the equal rights of wives in the matrimonial property were recognised. The Third National Women’s Liberation conference, in England in 1972, for the first time, explicitly demanded payment of wages for the household work.

In India, the debate on joint property rights of married women is not new though we still do not have joint matrimonial property law. Veena Verma did introduce a private member Bill in 1994 entitled The Married Women (Protection of Rights) Bill, 1994. Her Bill provided that a married woman shall be entitled to have an equal share in the property of her husband from the date of her marriage and shall also be entitled to dispose of her share in the property by way of sale, gift, mortgage, will or in any other manner whatsoever. But in 2010, even registration of the National Housewives Association as a trade union was denied as domestic work was treated as neither trade nor industry.

A step and suggestion

The United Progressive Alliance government, in 2012, had proposed to make it mandatory for husbands to pay a monthly ‘salary’ to their wives. One cartoon had depicted a husband saying to his wife, “here is your salary for the month. However, Rs. 3355 has been deducted as you were at your parent’s home for a week.” Mr. Haasan should understand that the term ‘salary’ as monthly payment is indeed problematic as it indicates an employer-employee relationship, i.e., a relationship of subordination with the employer having disciplinary control over the employee. Wives do not deserve a master-servant relationship.

The United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, in 1991, had recommended measurement and quantification of unremunerated domestic activities of women and their recognition in GDP so that the de facto economic contribution of women is highlighted. Matrimonial property laws do give women their share but only when the marital tie comes to an end. The time has come to insist that the work women perform for the family should be valued equally with men’s work during the continuance of marriage. If women become a little assertive, prenuptial marriage agreements can easily solve this problem with the insertion of the clause on wives’ right in husband’s earnings and properties being included in such agreements.

Faizan Mustafa is the Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal

Without strong accountability provisions, the consumer protection rules will not guarantee better power supply quality

Did electricity consumers truly get “empowered” this December? This was the claim of the Union Power Ministry as the “Electricity (Rights of Consumers) Rules, 2020 was promulgated in December, almost two years since the declaration of universal electrification.

Issue of supply quality

Many States have not been able to provide quality supply, especially to rural and small electricity consumers. The enactment of consumer-centric rules does spark public debate that brings the rights of consumers to the fore. In this vein, the Rules lay an emphasis on national minimum standards for the performance parameters of electricity distribution companies (DISCOMs), without urban-rural distinction, especially for new connections, metering and billing. They also reiterate the need for automatically compensating consumers. But will these rules really lead to better supply quality?

What are the limitations of the Rules? It needs to be recognised that providing quality supply is primarily the responsibility of States and DISCOMs. Similar (or better) provisions by various State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) already exist in the Standards of Performance (SoP) regulations. Such regulations have been in place for two decades in most States.

Lack of accountability

It is not because of a lack of rules or regulations that quality supply is not provided; rather, it is on account of a lack of accountability systems to enforce them. Unfortunately, neither these rules nor past efforts, be it through the draft National Tariff Policy, the proposed Electricity Act amendments, or various committee processes, address these accountability concerns.

Guarantee of round the clock supply is a provision that the Rules emphasise, which might be missing in State regulations. But there are doubts on the efficacy of automatic compensation payments towards such a guarantee. This is because the availability of power supply is inadequately monitored, even at 11 kV feeders, let alone at the consumer location. Hence, it is not clear how the failure of power supply is going to be recorded.

Moreover, such compensation will require serious commitment. For example, according to government reports, rural areas received about 20 hours of supply, in August 2020. Following existing regulations, this would entail compensation of hundreds of crores, but the actual amount paid adds up to just a few lakhs in each State for the entire year; even here it involves the resourceful few who could escalate their complaints to higher levels. This highlights not only the need for implementation of existing provisions in letter and spirit but also amending them with strong accountability provisions.

Weakening provisions

Further, the Rules, in few cases, dilute progressive mechanisms that exist in State regulations. Consider the case of electricity meter-related complaints. The Rules say that faulty meters should be tested within 30 days of receipt of a complaint. Compared to this, regulations that were published as early as 2004, 2007 and 2012 in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh, respectively, say that such testing needs to be conducted within seven days.

A similar observation can be drawn from the suggested composition of the Consumer Grievance Redressal Forum. The Rules say that the forum — constituted to remedy complaints against DISCOMs as per existing laws and regulations — should be headed by a senior officer of the company. This is a regressive provision that would reduce the number of cases that are decided in favour of consumers, thereby eroding its credibility. State regulations in Delhi have different eligibility criteria, strictly mentioning that a DISCOM employee, who was in service in the last two years, cannot be appointed as a forum member. Maharashtra, Telangana and Bihar, among others, have the option of appointing a retired senior judicial officer or other independent members as the chairperson. It would be unfortunate if States now started amending their regulations to be in line with the Rules.

The Rules are not forward looking either, given the government’s intent to promote rooftop solar systems. They guarantee net metering for a solar rooftop unit less than 10 kW, but there is no clarity if those above 10 kW can also avail net metering. This could lead to a change in regulations in many States based on their own interpretations. Instead of providing clarity, it is likely that this provision will lead to more confusion. The possible litigation that follows would be detrimental to investments in rooftop solar units, and would discourage medium and large consumers to opt for an environment-friendly, cost-effective option.

Need for commitment

What can the central government do to ensure accountability? A useful way to protect consumers would be to nudge SERCs to assess the SoP reports of DISCOMs and revise their regulations more frequently. Also, SERCs should organise public processes to help consumers raise their concerns. DISCOMs could be directed to ensure automatic metering at least at the 11 kV feeder level, making this data available online.

The Forum of Regulators — a central collective of SERCs — could come up with updated model SoP regulations. The Central Electricity Authority of India could be directed to collect supply quality data from DISCOMs, publicly host them on online portals and prepare analysis reports. Such efforts need to go beyond the quality of information that is currently hosted on portals such as the National Power Portal. Central agencies have taken proactive efforts to ensure regular tariff revision. They could also support independent surveys and nudge State agencies to enforce existing SoP regulations. The central government could disburse funds for financial assistance programmes based on audited SoP reports.

With a focused one-time effort, electrification drives could provide connections across the country. But ensuring round the clock supply will require continuous efforts. We noted that without accountability, consumer compensation is meagre. The official response to this is the many ‘ifs and buts’ in the implementation of regulations. The enactment of the new Rules will not change thisstatus quo. Reducing the ‘ifs and buts’ that delay or deny justice is what governments, DISCOMs and regulators need to jointly work on. They should demonstrate the commitment and the will power to implement existing regulations. It is not yet late to recognise this and initiate concerted efforts to truly empower consumers.

Manabika Mandal and Sreekumar Nhalur are from Prayas (Energy Group). They acknowledge the inputs of group members, especially from Ann Josey

Biden faces an uphill task in manoeuvring through the legacy of Trump

As America prepares for the transition from the tumultuous era of Donald Trump to what many hope would be a more sedate and serious Presidency of Joe Biden, there is as much nervousness about the challenges in future as there is a sense of anticipation about impending changes. But while politicians often have the luxury of campaigning in poetry, they have to govern in prose and respond to policy issues of the day in real time.

Mr. Biden, as much as he would have liked, will neither have complete autonomy from his predecessor nor a clean slate from which his policy options might emerge. He will have to respond to an America which Donald Trump has transformed, for better or for worse, and he will have an international environment, which, too, has been changed in the last few years, partly by Mr. Trump’s policy choices and partly by the strategic realities evolving at an unprecedented speed.

Domestically, Mr. Biden has his task cut out to reach out to Mr. Trump’s supporters, a majority of whom still believe that the new President has not been elected by fair means. Such a continuing support base for Mr. Trump will constrain the ability to usher in the transformational agenda that Mr. Biden may like to effectuate in his initial days. And politically, this would make it all the more difficult to govern from the middle ground of American politics.

A different world

This will have grave implications for Mr. Biden’s foreign policy approach as well. In a number of his foreign policy statements, Mr. Biden has, not surprisingly, harked back to Obama-era policies. But the world has moved on and it is not readily evident if the Obama-era template can actually work in a world fundamentally disrupted by forces that post-dated Mr. Obama — Mr. Trump is only one of them.

Mr. Biden has an ambitious restorationist agenda wherein he wants the U.S. to rejoin multilateral institutions, work closely with allies and partners, as well as build America’s domestic capacities. Whether he will have enough space to manage this remains to be seen.

In an interesting intervention recently, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned that the Biden administration should not return to the old Iranian nuclear deal of 2015 as it can spark an arms race in West Asia. His argument is simple: with Iran’s nuclear capabilities grown and a new window of opportunity with the Abraham Accords, today’s West Asia is not what it was in 2015. The convergence between Israel and Sunni Arab states against the perceived Iranian threat has led to the creation of a new axis with far-reaching implications for the region’s future. So, while Mr. Biden may like to revive the old Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), other stakeholders are signalling that they are not interested. Also warning against the revival of the JCPOA, the UAE’s ambassador in Washington has argued that the U.S. ignored the concerns of its West Asian partners in the 2015 pact.

A big votary of the Paris climate accord, one of the first priorities for Mr. Biden would be to bring the U.S. back to the agreement. But beyond that, his ability to bring about a significant shift in America’s environment policies will be restricted by the lack of a considerable majority in the U.S. Senate; there may also be a serious divide between progressive and moderate Democrats within his own party.

Mr. Biden has also expressed his desire to reform the World Trade Organization and appoint members to its Appellate Body, but that would be difficult to accomplish given the new power equations and the growing clout of non-western states. Greater multilateralism, however attractive, will not be easy to achieve in the new political environs of the U.S. and the world.

While there will be a lot of talk for a greater transatlantic partnership, to what extent the countries will be able to coordinate their actions on trade and technology vis-à-vis China remains an open question. Even as Mr. Biden’s team expressed its reservations about the EU’s investment pact with China, and his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called for “early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices”, the EU, in a seeming hurry, went ahead and concluded the agreement with China.

Mr. Trump’s tariff war against China would also be difficult to scale back, especially as China has made it clear that it is in no mood to initiate structural reforms demanded by Washington. Phase one of Mr. Trump’s trade deal with China has not really gotten off the ground, and the country’s lack of compliance with key aspects of the deal will confine the Biden administration to an arrangement where he may have to continue with most of the tariffs put in place by Mr. Trump. Recognising this challenge, Mr. Biden has already indicated that he does not intend to make any “immediate moves” regarding the Trump-era tariff structure.

Even in his last few days, Mr. Trump did not shy away from ratcheting up the pressure on China by continuing to blacklist Chinese companies from U.S. markets and by new policy moves on key issues such as Tibet and Taiwan. He passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020, which calls for establishing a U.S. consulate in Tibet and building an international coalition to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is appointed by the Tibetan Buddhist community without China’s interference. Days before departing, Mr. Trump also managed to challenge the decades-old U.S. policy on Taiwan, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that while U.S. relations with Taiwan would remain unofficial, they would no longer be shackled by “self-imposed restrictions”.

With his moves, Mr. Trump has severely restricted Mr. Biden’s space for manoeuvre — he can either continue with Trump-era policies or face political backlash for being soft on China. The Trump legacy will continue to haunt Mr. Biden long after his predecessor has left the White House. It is possible that for all of Mr. Biden’s rhetoric, his next four years would be spent trying to get out of Mr. Trump’s shadow, both at home and abroad.

The writer is director, Studies at the Observer Research Foundation, and Professor of International Relations at King’s College London

The anti-CAA stir of 2020 needed the universality that today’s farm protests have

After the long silence since 2014, India is now erupting with various collective mobilisations. Last winter, we saw a major movement against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in Shaheen Bagh, and this winter, we witnessed a mobilisation at Delhi’s borders. But though both are against unjust legislation, they have been received differently. What can this difference tell us about political mobilisation and the place of ethics and public morality in collective mobilisations?

Anti-CAA protests had begun over the question of citizenship for the dispossessed, but they got reduced to an issue of citizenship of Muslims. For the first time, we saw the movement being led and represented by Muslim women. They, too, suffered harsh winter nights in the open, just like the women and the elderly from Punjab and many other States during the ongoing farmer’s movement. While Yogi Adityanath took a jibe at Muslim men sitting at home while their women took to the streets, a judge this time offered unsolicited advice of taking women and elderly back to their homes. Muslim women as anti-CAA activists also raised a more universal concern that the protests were not just about citizenship for Muslims, but about saving democracy and the Constitution. Similarly, the farmers argue that their agitation is not just about Punjab or farmers, but also about food security and against the model of development and corporatisation of agriculture across India. Left-liberals and students had joined the anti-CAA protests to express solidarity with Shaheen Bagh agitators, and similarly, Left-affiliated farmer’s organisations, Khaps, women and farmers cutting across region and religion have joined the protests at Delhi’s borders this time.

On the part of the government, too, both the movements were treated with similar disdain initially. An entire election was fought on Shaheen Bagh with no success for the BJP; the agitation was stereotyped as ‘anti-national’, portrayed as an obstacle for daily commuters, and ended with riots and violence. For the farmers’ stir, the government resorted to similar dirty tricks — it called the farmers ‘Khalistanis’ and the movement as one being led by rich farmers, and finally, it peddled the idea that the contentious laws were being resisted only in Punjab and Haryana. However, the government of the day has been more cautious in dealing with the agitating farmers and has at least produced the optics of being willing to hold a dialogue.

Popular imagination

The differential treatment of the two movements should account for how popular consciousness and imagination work. In the farmers’ movement, the agitators remained steadfast in their ‘universal’ approach right from the beginning. Though the movement was spearheaded by the Sikh community, a religious minority, it was about being a farmer, not a Sikh or a Jat. The ethical advantage of the ‘social’ identity of a farmer over ethnic or religious identities of being a Jat or a Sikh produces a more universal appeal. This is an advantage that was denied to the anti-CAA protests. It becomes easier for the government to stoke prejudices against the anti-CAA protests as long as they remain, even if just symbolically, an agitation by a religious community.

One could ask how else should the Muslim community respond to a law that singles them out. Protests by Muslim women, and more importantly elderly women, made a perceptible difference in the way the movement was received. It carried a different moral weight. Acceptability and empathy are linked to the vulnerability of the minority and the anxiety of the majority. Absence of social conditions for ‘creating’ anxiety among dominant social groups makes it that much more difficult to create false narratives. The anti-CAA protests were limited by their religious stamp and enabled by the unfair vulnerability of elderly women and children. Something similar happened with the violence against students in Jamia Millia Islamia — they were students first and Muslims later.

Singular identity

It also vindicates what Amartya Sen argues in his book, The Idea of Justice,that any identity that is imagined in the singular will remain a source of violence. It is in multiplicity that dialogic conditions are created. The clear advantage that the farmers’ movement has is its multiplicity. It belongs to various regions, even if it is being spearheaded by the Jats or Sikhs of Punjab; it has women, Left-affiliated unions and even wage-workers and Dalits working for the rich peasantry extending their support. The future of the anti-CAA mobilisation will depend on what kind of multiplicity it can manage to find to counter the singularity imposed by the majoritarian imagination.

The question of belonging and trust also emerges.The popular image of Muslims as a community of rulers continues to be derived from the past, against the present reality of a group afflicted with great social disadvantage. And hence, empathy and compassion become difficult to achieve, because this translates into blatant prejudice and a source of anxiety. In addition, Muslims are also seen as a global community rather than a national one. With more than 40 Muslim nations across the globe and Islam being tipped as the fastest-growing religion, counter-mobilisations of the anti-CAA kind will have to find ways to penetrate the popular consciousness, stitch these disparate factors, and forge a more amicable imagination.

The growing indifference towards violence against Muslims can only be countered through a renewed sense of belonging. Islam, as a religion that has originated ‘outside’, will have to contend with religions such as Sikhism that have their roots here, and those without a demand for separate nations. Sikhs as Khalistanis can be put down with force, but not Sikhs as farmers. Could a debate on an Indic-Islam version create this sense of belonging? Sufism and the culture ofDargahs(mosques) as common places of worship could offer us clues about what this composite culture might look like. The challenge of building counter-mobilisations for self-representation ought not to be shaped by the majoritarian gaze.

Ajay Gudavarthy is Associate Professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU

Xi’s renewed aggression points to underlying issues

In the first week of the new year, Chinese President Xi Jinping instructed his armed forces to be “combat-ready to act at any second” as they began their new training exercises. Mr. Xi also issued new rules for the selection, training and promotion of military personnel. There were several reasons for this aggressive rhetoric.

Firstly, with Joe Biden assuming the U.S. Presidency on January 20, Mr. Xi wants to signal confidence and military preparedness in responding to new U.S. policies on the freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and Taiwan straits. Secondly, Mr. Xi’s aggressive pursuit of disputed territories in the South China Sea, Taiwan and across borders with India has increased the chances of military conflicts. Thirdly, the performance of China’s Western Theatre Command (WTC) in Ladakh last year was below par. It suffered a high number of casualties in the June 15 Galwan valley clash. The Indian Army also captured the strategic mountainous heights at Rezang La and other passes.

The performance of the WTC in Ladakh last year was poor for a number of reasons. Chinese troops had seen combat after 41 years and were hence not prepared. They have also been suffering from low morale as the force’s senior officers have not got promotions in time due to doubts about their loyalty to Mr. Xi. Many of them were close to Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, both Vice-Chairmen of the Central Military Commission, who were ousted by Mr. Xi in his anti-corruption campaign, according to reports in the Chinese media. While Xu died in custody under investigation in 2015, Guo got a life sentence in 2016.

The WTC has been facing problems in acclimatisation of its soldiers. Recently, 10,000 troops from the WTC were moved to lower locations for recuperation. The force has been struggling with managing the joint training of its army, strategic support and air force units, with the arrival of new fighter and stealth aircraft, rockets, artificial intelligence-based drones and other equipment.

Recently, Mr. Xi replaced Gen. Zhao Zongqi, the retiring commander of the WTC, with Gen. Zhao Xidong, who had served at Doklam in 2017 and is close to him. Mr. Xi reportedly assured the new commander that his men would be given the same promotions and benefits as those in the other theatres, with special perks for combat troops stationed in “tough and remote bordering locations”.

Ambitious vision

In the past, promotions in the Chinese armed forces were based on the political loyalty of officers, their connections with the Chinese Communist Party leadership and personal background, with merit bagging low priority. Now, the forces are required to display their loyalty to Mr. Xi. The President has also changed the posture of the Chinese armed forces from defensive to offensive.

Borrowing from American military doctrines, Mr. Xi has unveiled an ambitious vision for the restructuring of the Chinese armed forces, by introducing the Joint Theatre Command concept to align with various regional threats. The armed forces are also being infused with new technologies like artificial intelligence and new concepts of “intelligentised” warfare. However, the training of the Chinese armed forces to adapt to these American concepts would not be easy given the lack of cross-fertilisation with other forces, which have successfully incorporated these doctrines.

The country’s armed forces also suffer from a number of other structural issues: they are a political and not a professional force, and the personnel are mostly conscripts with low levels of education and low motivation (mostly from one-child families). They lack a tough mindset and battlefield experience, and face a serious problem of ‘brain drain’. These limitations will certainly affect the performance of the Chinese armed forces in a war with any professional army, as was seen in Ladakh.

Yogesh Gupta is a former Ambassador

The government must investigate and publicise the reasons for vaccine hesitancy

Nearly a fortnight after it won approval for Covaxin under ‘restricted emergency use’ conditions, Bharat Biotech has formally informed, via its website, that the vaccine is inadvisable in those with a history of allergies, fever and bleeding disorders. Those on medication or blood thinners and whose immunity has been compromised have also been told not to take the vaccine. This is along with a recommendation that the vaccine is not to be given to the pregnant or the lactating. A similar set of restrictions has been given to prospective recipients of Covishield too, the vaccine now available in greater numbers and developed by the Serum Institute of India. Ordinarily, a fact sheet as well as product insert — a note that accompanies every vial of a vaccine — is a mandatory formality. However, the context in which the two vaccines are being administered in India imbues them with magnified significance. Covaxin has been rolled out with insufficient evidence of its efficacy, or whether it is actually protective. The vaccines have been so far made available to health-care and sanitation workers and other frontline staff, who do not have a choice in the vaccine being administered, but can decide not to be inoculated. Nine States, according to data provided by the Health Ministry, have rates of over 70%, and three States, less than 40%. More than half the States fall somewhere in the middle. While India has given jabs to nearly 786,000 of those eligible, it is far short of the target of 1.4 million.

It is certainly early days, and presumably there will be acceleration in the days ahead. However, the government is yet to explain, based on feedback from the States, why the vaccine — the single most awaited product of 2021 — has not seen more enthusiastic queues. This, in spite of Health Ministry officials underlining that adverse events following vaccination have been negligibly low, accentuating the safety of the product. Hospitals have begun internal campaigns exhorting senior doctors to get a shot to “build confidence” and officials in the highest government offices say that not opting for a vaccine, when one is available, amounts to dereliction “in duty”. The adoption trend is unsurprising. The medically literate, as many recipients are, realise the difference between a vaccine being ‘safe’ and ‘efficacious’. Moreover, the declining trend in new cases as well as the knowledge that an array of vaccines will be available in the months ahead further contribute to the temporary ‘hesitancy’ pervading hospitals now. A way forward for the government to inspire confidence is to monitor, report and be forthright with the challenges it is facing. There should also be greater coordination between the Centre and the States on sharing, investigating and publicising reasons for hesitancy.

Uganda under Museveni needs to reinforce the people’s faith in democratic processes

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s 76-year-old leader who has been in power since 1986, won another five-year term in the January 14 presidential election, but the contested result has pushed the country into its worst political crisis in decades. According to Uganda’s Electoral Commission, he won nearly 59% of the vote, while his main rival, Robert Kyagulanyi, a pop musician better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, secured 34%. Mr. Wine has alleged voter fraud, which the government was quick to dismiss, while putting him and several other leaders of his National Unity Platform under house arrest. The government cracking down on the opposition is not new, but this time, there were widespread reports of state repression of Mr. Wine’s movement in the run-up to the election. He was detained several times, his rallies broken up by security personnel, and the Internet shut down and social networks blocked before the election. Mr. Museveni’s government refused to accredit election monitors from the West, saying the U.S., after its election crisis, did not have the authority to monitor the elections. Observers from Africa have documented irregularities, including illegal opening of ballot boxes and arrests of members of civil society groups observing elections.

According to Ugandan law, Mr. Wine has 15 days to prove election irregularities, which is unlikely to happen as he is under house arrest and party offices have been raided by security personnel. The Internet was restored almost a week after the shutdown, but social media platforms, which his campaign used to connect with the public, are still blocked. It appears that Mr. Museveni, whose National Resistance Movement came to power by waging a guerrilla war in the 1980s, seems determined to prevent Mr. Wine even coming close to power. Uganda has long been torn by coups and violence before Mr. Museveni’s rise. Even after Idi Amin, the infamous dictator, was overthrown in 1979, politics remained volatile and violent. Mr. Museveni, when he captured power, promised reforms and stability. Consolidating power rather quickly, he offered a stable government and made Uganda an ally of the West in the fight against radicalism in East Africa. But his grip on power tightened and he forcefully kept the opposition below the radar. In 2005, Mr. Museveni amended the Constitution to remove the presidential term limits and in 2017, signed a law scrapping the age limit of 75 for presidential candidates. He might continue in office, but his greed for power and disregard for a fair electoral process and rights, coupled with economic woes, have already left cracks in his support base. Mr. Wine, in a short span, has emerged as the President’s most potent political rival. Mr. Museveni must realise that short-circuiting the democratic process might force Uganda to repeat its history of violent transfer of power.

The Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (R) President, Mr. R. V. Swaminathan, warned that the newspapers “blacking out” the Prime Minister’s speeches would be “crushed”(norukkuvom)after the elections. Speaking at Tuesday’s [January 19] public meeting (a report of which was published in THE HINDU yesterday [January 20] addressed by the Prime Minister here [MADRAS], the TNCC (R) President said “capitalist newspapers” in Tamil Nadu had “blacked out” Mrs. Gandhi’s speeches at Madurai and Coimbatore on Monday [January 18]. He named the newspapers as THE HINDU, the Indian Express and the Dinamani. He said THE HINDU which supported the freedom struggle undaunted by the threats from the then British Government, was now shutting out the Prime Minister’s speeches. He said the Indian Express and Dinamani were started by Mr. Sadanand, a great patriot, to help the Indian National Congress in its fight for freedom. These papers were also blacking out the Prime Minister’s speeches, defeating the very purpose for which they were started, he said.