Editorials - 26-01-2021

The protesting farmers have revitalised the democratic polity and the Republic now stands morally recharged

The January 26 ‘parade’ on the Rajpath in the nation’s capital is permanently lodged in the national imagination as the finest republican rite. The ritual is designed to underline the republican nature of our governing arrangement, by demonstrating to ourselves — and, to the world — that the armed forces formally offer salute and respect to the civilian authority, symbolised by the President of India. This theme will be re-affirmed this year also, notwithstanding that the traditional parade has over the years been used to ‘show-case’ India’s military might. There will be no dilution of this national celebration.

Yet, the capital will also witness another parade — a parallel march by the (protesting) farmers, all in their loose-fitting uniforms of insurrection. This tractor rally can only be showcased as a veritable carnival of defiance and a festival of protest. Never before has the Republic been presented with such a rival celebration of democracy.

A crisis by the functionaries

The contrast between the two celebrations brings the nation face to face with a crisis creeping upon us — a crisis of legitimacy of traditional politics. Ironically enough, the crisis has been precipitated by those very functionaries who are entrusted with the responsibility of upholding the Republic and nourishing its democratic sustainability.

As the farmers protest the three contentious “farm laws”, the government argues that it is merely trying to ‘reform’ the agriculture sector. The NITI Aayog managers and other corporate hired hands are entitled to chant the ‘reform’ mantra. But each and every ‘reform’ entails a certain social cost and economic pain, and it is the task of democratic politics to strive for a balance between pain and gain through a process of conciliation and compromise.

However, that traditional responsibility no longer finds favour with the rulers of the “new India”. Consequently, the farmers, too, have felt compelled to go beyond the traditional intermediaries of political parties and have confronted the Narendra Modi regime with a non-party upsurge. The farmers’ siege is not just against these three laws; they are challenging three crucial elements in Mr. Modi’s inexorable authoritarian project.

It is only one voice

First, the Modi project vehemently insists on denying authenticity to voices other than those from the Sangh Parivar. The ruling clique arrogates to itself not only the monopoly ofdesh bhaktibut also claims a total control over wisdom,gyaan, initiative and inspiration; correspondingly, it denies legitimacy to civil society and its voices. Not for it a contraption such as a National Advisory Council. All non-Parivar non-governmental organisations are suspect in its eyes, just as the very idea of a social movement is denied any validity.

Predictably, the ruling clique has vindictively used the agencies of the state — the Central Bureau of Investigation, the National Investigation Agency, the Enforcement Directorate, the intelligence agencies, the income-tax man, etc — to harass, coerce and eventually neutralise and silence dissent and dissenters. It continuously updates its blue book of tricks — how to disrupt, discredit and diffuse democratic dissent; and, it has perfected the standard operating procedure on how to use and manipulate the media to demonise democratic ideas, sentiments, grievances and anxieties.

Manipulate and marginalise

Second, the Modi project is pivoted on an unprecedented use of the state’s resources to manufacture consent for the ruling clique and to fabricate adulation for the Leader. In this quest, society’s inherent capacity for notions of nationalism, patriotism, xenophobia have been cynically exploited; the armed forces and their valour have been manipulated for the ruling clique’s narrow partisan ends.

Third, all these exertions and excesses have resulted in the marginalisation of the traditional political parties; the manufactured euphoria and exultation for the ruling clique have been used to devalue the most sacred site of traditional politics — Parliament. Conventional wisdom holds that in a parliamentary democracy, the Opposition must have its say while the government must have its way; now, the Opposition is not even allowed a say. Once Parliament got degraded, it was easy to browbeat the other constitutional institutions — the judiciary, the Election Commission of India, etc — into becoming the ruling clique’s enablers.

Cumulatively, parliamentary democracy stands debilitated as the effective instrument of compromise, conciliation and harmony. And the government reaps what it has sown. Unsurprisingly, the farmers see no merit in the three laws almost dubiously passed by Parliament; nor do they trust the government’s assurance, no trust in its word; and, even the Supreme Court was indirectly conveyed that its intervention was not going to make a difference.

Misreading the farmers

Having choked off all conventional avenues of negotiations and grievance -resolution, the Modi government found itself confronted in a losing stand-off with the farmers. With all the familiar arrogance of an authoritarian regime, the ruling clique failed to read the Punjab protesters. They represent an old tradition of defiance of the imperial imposition. For want of a better term, let us call it the Bhagat Singh constituency. The farmer-activists have re-discovered the old spirit of defiance and are happily prepared for consequences and sacrifices. For the first time in the last seven years, the ruling clique has not been able to win the moral argument.

Bad optics for government

On the contrary, for the first time, there is an Opposition that is not prepared to cede any kind of moral superiority to the Modi regime. The optics are all to the government’s disadvantage — small and marginal farmers fighting to safeguard themselves against the predatory corporate giants and the ruling clique has to position itself in this fight against the small man. Worse, the farmers have blunted the Modi regime’s standard operating procedure in dealing with Opposition voices and groups — unlike the Shaheen Bagh protest, the farmers could not be demonised as Pakistani agents, or as the Khalistani agents provocateurs; worse, a Hindu-Muslim divide could not be introduced. The onus was and remains on the Modi regime to fire the first shot.

The farmers have created their own imaginary Stalingrad, exhilarated in defiance, unyielding in defence of their land — and they have worked out a morally-uplifting narrative, with heroes, martyrs and joyful sacrifices. They have displayed discipline, solidarity and purpose in challenging the Modi regime and its authoritarian encroachments. In this insubordination, bordering on subversion, the protesting farmers have revitalised the democratic polity; and, because of their upsurge, the Republic stands morally recharged. No small achievement this.

Harish Khare is a senior journalist based in Delhi

The U.S. administration needs to do much more than just rejoining the Paris Agreement

After four years of egregious anti-environmental policies during the Trump years, climate change activists and the general public can breathe a sigh of relief now that the Biden-Harris team has taken office in the White House. The new administration has been quick to rejoin the Paris Agreement on its very first day in office. A return to the Obama era, however, would be tragic if that simply means a continuation of the U.S. bullying poor nations to impose harsh restrictions on their carbon emissions without financial and technical support, protecting corporate interests at the expense of the global commons, and failing to acknowledge its own massive contribution to the climate crisis.

Still, the U.S. was once at the forefront of generating widespread awareness on climate change. Its scientists and political leadership were keen to take ambitious strides to address the challenge. What changed in the intervening years?

A brief history

In 1957, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, chaired by MIT scientist Thomas F. Malone, launched its First General Report on Climatology addressed to the Chief of the Weather Bureau, stating: “In consuming our fossil fuels at a prodigious rate, our civilization is conducting a grandiose scientific experiment”. The next year, Charles Keeling, along with his mentors Harry Wexler and Roger Revelle, began the now famous measurements of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, producing reliable evidence of the relentless rise in anthropogenic greenhouse gases over subsequent decades.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee produced a report entitled “Restoring the Quality of our Environment”, which pointed to rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, attributed them principally to the burning of fossil fuels, and warned that these levels could increase further by 25% by 2000, leading to a 0.6oC to 4oC rise in average global temperature, depending on the role of other factors. Global average temperature was already about half a degree warmer than at the end of the 19th century and the evidence was clear that mining vast quantities of fossil fuels from the earth and burning them in engines was responsible.

By the 1970s, human-induced climate change was a widespread area of concern among weather and climate scientists. In 1979, a report of the National Research Council, commissioned by President Jimmy Carter and chaired by Jule Charney from the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 over pre-industrial levels could lead to global warming of about 3oC. A year earlier, the U.S. Congress passed the National Climate Program Act “to enable the United States and other nations to understand and respond to natural and man-induced climate processes and their implications”. Funding for the programme was ambitious, amounting to over $120 million for the first two years.

Corporate lobbies

The increased scientific and Congressional interest in addressing climate change was matched by mounting alarm within the fossil fuel industry. Recently exposed documents and internal memos show that major oil companies like Exxon and Shell organised themselves strategically to raise a concerted attack on climate science. The 1970s was characterised by the energy crisis, associated with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries oil embargo, but the roles played by American banks, oil companies and dollar hegemony in precipitating the crisis are only now being unravelled. That crisis resulted in “petro-dollars” consolidating the strength of the fossil fuel industry and financial institutions for at least the next two decades. Much of this clout was used to build a mammoth campaign against environmental action, particularly around climate change.

On June 24, 1988, headlines onThe New York Timesfront page read, “Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate.” In his testimony, the Director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, said humans had transformed global climate for decades to come. The same year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations to provide the public scientific information on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to address climate change was signed at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

The Second Assessment Report of the IPCC (1995) reaffirmed a “discernible human influence on global climate”. Frederick Seitz, past President of the National Academy of Sciences, denounced the report publicly. Seitz was the founding chair of the George C. Marshall Institute, a tobacco industry consultant, and also a prominent “sceptic” on global warming. Other conservative organisations were simultaneously working to muddy the facts, pointing at red herrings in the science. All had direct or indirect links to the fossil fuel industry.

Under intense lobbying by the industry-sponsored Global Climate Information Project, which recruited labour unions of miners and automobile workers, the U.S. Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution unanimously in July 1997. The Senate resolved that the U.S. should not sign a climate treaty to limit its emissions without developing countries agreeing to the same limits. This effectively prohibited the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which placed limits on the growth of emissions from rich countries.

Various policies

In the subsequent two decades, the Koch Family Foundation alone spent $125 million to finance nearly 100 groups that attacked climate science and policies. Still, the momentum generated by the growing movement of scientists, activists and youth is beginning to have some effects. The urgency is compelling. Keeling curve emissions are more than 410 ppm in 2020, compared to 313 ppm when measurements began in 1958. The Green New Deal offers a framework that needs further strengthening. If John Kerry, Special Envoy for Climate, integrates U.S. foreign aid or other means of support with climate targets by other countries, including China and India, then the U.S. is merely going back to business as usual. While the U.S.’s re-entry into the Paris Agreement may be by the stroke of a pen, regaining political legitimacy on climate requires the government to take responsibility in causing and aggravating the global climate crisis; commit to technology and funds for poorer countries; take on bigger emission targets; not bend over for the fossil fuel lobby which funds Democrats and Republicans; clean up the role of lobbyists in climate regulatory and policy organisations within the U.S.; and recognise and break up elite networks that have benefited by sustaining climate myths.

Sujatha Byravan is a scientist who studies science, technology and development and Sudhir Chella Rajan is author of ‘A Social Theory of Corruption’

In the endemic phase, which India seems to be entering, the strategy should aim to prevent deaths, eradicate COVID-19

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on in the United States and the United Kingdom, the scene is very different in India with the peak having passed in mid-September 2020, and there now being a current sustained down-trend. In the last four weeks (December 24-January 21), the reported average daily infections were 22,263; 15,805; 15,541 and 13,956. The epidemic phase is coming to an end, and the endemic phase, imminent.

The dynamics

A person-to-person transmitted infection is endemic, when, on the average, each infection reproduces another, for ‘reproduction number’ R = 1. When R = > 1, daily infections increase, signalling rapid spread — the ascending limb of an epidemic curve. Post-peak, the curve declines, with R = <1. Finally, when R settles down to ~1, infection is endemic — daily number of new infections remains stable with minor fluctuations.

The transmission dynamics of ‘endemicity’ is interesting. During this steady state, the population is a pool of individuals wherein one infected person infects only one other person, the number of daily infections remaining constant. By our estimates of the daily new births in India, by age six, around 54,000 survive over time. Therefore, we add 54,000 susceptible subjects daily to the pool, disturbing this equilibrium. If, in spite of this addition, daily infections remain constant, it implies that new infections equal the susceptible subjects entering the pool. In India, during the COVID-19 endemic phase, average daily infections will be ~54,000 with minor fluctuations.

Only a fraction of total infections is detected by current testing strategy. To get the true numbers, we need to use arithmetic and the principle of triangulation.

The reported numbers can be used to compute the true number. During January 15-21, the reported daily number averaged 13,956. The currently popular rapid antigen test detects only 50% of infections; so, the actual number of new infections is double that number, about 28,000.

Nowadays, we mostly test symptomatic individuals, who account for only about half of total infections. Hence, the daily new infections may be 56,000, only 2,000 more than 54,000 — India is very close to reaching endemic state.

Can we corroborate this with the most unequivocal numbers that we have, namely mortality statistics?

The average daily COVID-19 deaths were 163 last week. As mortality certification is only 20% in India, the estimated number of daily COVID-19 deaths (highest estimate) may be five-fold — 815. Our COVID-19 case-fatality is 1%, occurring approximately four weeks from the initial symptoms. Therefore, the number of infections four weeks ago (third week of December) was about 81,500. The epidemic, as per the mortality graph, is waning with a halving time of four weeks. By the third week of January, the daily infections would have declined from 81,500 to 40,750. In short, by the third week of January 2021, India could have already entered endemic phase.

The shape of the epidemic curve in India, a large monophasic wave, negates urban-rural delay in the spread of the novel coronavirus infection; presumably because of the ‘leaky lock-down’ — even the first sero-survey showed considerable rural spread. Therefore, another wave is unlikely.

When the epidemic enters the endemic phase, herd immunity threshold (for COVID-19 ~60% of population infected) is reached. Now is a critical moment in COVID-19 epidemiology — to design appropriate vaccination strategy for the current endemic phase.

Action after a missed chance

In Europe, the U.S. and Brazil, where there is on-going rapid epidemic spread, the appropriate strategic objective is mass vaccination to curtail spread. This window of opportunity to curtail the epidemic was missed in India — the emergency-use authorisation of vaccines was too late.

In the endemic phase, which India seems to be entering, the strategy should be carefully crafted to eliminate COVID-19 deaths and to eradicate the viral infection altogether from the country. Now is the time for targeted, instead of mass vaccination.

Vaccinating health-care staff is a humanitarian and public health imperative; we need a well-protected workforce to deliver care confidently to vulnerable patients without unwittingly transmitting the virus. The public health system need not be taxed — when the vaccine is supplied to health-care institutions, staff manage the rest.

Young people have gradually resumed normal day-to-day activities, transport services restored, educational institutions opening up, and movie theatres permitted to operate. The 60% of the population which got infected for reaching herd immunity threshold are predominantly healthy youngsters. The elderly and the vulnerable with comorbidity who remained cocooned are at risk of infection, severe disease and mortality.

What the priority should be

India’s first priority should be targeted vaccination to prevent deaths. Citizens above 55 years and those below 55 with diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic lung, heart and kidney diseases should be vaccinated first — through local governments (corporations, municipalities and panchayats), utilising already available data in the Aadhaar database. Enumeration, registration and vaccination by appointments need not be delayed any further.

As schools reopen, children could acquire infection at school and transmit it to parents and grandparents. Priority vaccination of teachers and ancillary staff would be an essential strategy, along with all protective measures — masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene — until vaccination is approved in children.

An opportune priority is to design an innovative approach for the elimination of the coronavirus infection from the country, in our self-interest and to encourage the resolve for global eradication. Now is the time to lay its foundation; delays may render the disease non-eradicable for two biological reasons.

Mutations, animal reservoirs

The virus is mutating and new ‘variants’ are emerging. If new ‘strains’ emerge, the present vaccines may not be protective and new vaccines may have to be designed. Eradication must pre-empt such eventuality.

Second, now the virus transmission is only human to human, there is no animal reservoir. Animals of the feline (cat, tiger, lion, leopard) and canine (dogs, raccoons) families are vulnerable to human-animal transmission, but not vice-versa.Mustelidae(mink, weasels, ferrets and badgers) andCervidae(farmed deer) are vulnerable and can transmit the virus to humans. They may form animal reservoirs, rendering eradication impossible.

Before these risks become real, COVID-19 must be eradicated.

Dr. M.S. Seshadri is Medical Director and consultant Physician, Thirumalai Mission Hospital, Ranipet, Vellore, Tamil Nadu. Dr. T. Jacob John is former Professor of Clinical Virology, CMC Hospital Vellore

Keynesian economics offers guidelines for preparing the Budget

The Great Depression wrecked the economies of the U.S. and Europe. In the words of Jonathan Alter, when Franklin Roosevelt became the American President in 1933, he was told: “Mr. President, if your programme succeeds you would be the greatest President in American history. If it fails, you will be the worst one”. Roosevelt replied: “If it fails, I will be the last one”.

Today the U.S. is facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Like Roosevelt, President Joe Biden is launching the American Rescue Plan to revive the economy. His $1.9 trillion plan proposes $1,400 per-person payments, increased unemployment benefits, assistance to local governments, support for accelerated vaccine rollout, investments to get children back in school, and a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

In India, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Union Budget on February 1, 2021. The pandemic has severely affected growth. The government was quick to announce a package of Rs. 20 lakh crore. Fiscal deficit could overshoot the target set by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act. Spending more is going to be difficult. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, unemployment, both rural and urban, is surging, and health and infrastructure budgets are getting stretched. How much can the government afford to spend and in what direction? Can Keynesian economics offer guidelines?

The Paul Krugman principles

Noble Laureate Paul Krugman has offered advice against too much of caution in dealing with the economic mess. He has laid down the rules for budget-making. The first rule is to not doubt the power of the government to help. Government spending can be hugely beneficial. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, led to a decline in the number of Americans without health insurance, and gave people a sense of security. The second is to not be obsessed with debt. Economists agree that debt is far less a problem than conventional wisdom asserts. Interest rates are low by historical standards. The burden of servicing debt is low. The third rule is to not worry about inflation. We can run a ‘hot economy’ with low unemployment and large budget deficits, without runaway inflation. The fourth is to not count on bipartisan support.

The Indian context

India’s GDP is estimated at Rs. 200 lakh crore. The first priority for spending should be health and infrastructure. India has only five beds for 10,000 Indians and ranks 155th on bed availability in the Human Development Report of 2020. Experts opine that the government should increase healthcare spending from 1.5% of the GDP to 2.5%.

The National Infrastructure Pipeline aims to invest Rs. 111 lakh crore by 2025 in over 6,800 projects. The proposal to set up a Development Finance Institution is still on the anvil. The Chinese government has entered into building social housing projects. As pointed out by the economists inIndia Today, expenditure on infrastructure can have a large multiplier effect on economic output.

Suggestions have been made for the introduction of an urban employment guarantee scheme on the lines of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. This will be far better than direct cash transfers. The stumbling block to budgetary efforts to spend can be the resource crunch. Despite historic lows in fuel prices, the government chose to increase fuel prices to record levels. The Goods and Services Tax has been a big source of revenue. There is a strong case for reducing GST tariff. Cess or surcharge can be levied on the super-rich. Disinvestment must go on at high speed. The average tariff must come down to 10% from its current level of 14% by 2024, as suggested by Professor Arvind Panagariya. He wrote: “With several key reforms – new labour codes, new farm laws, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, low corporate profit tax, single nationwide GST and widespread digitisation – already in place, the addition of privatisation and trade liberalisation would nearly guarantee a double digit growth and millions of additional well-paid jobs for the masses in the post-Covid-19 decades.”

Ms. Sitharaman has left significant imprints in the Budgets she has presented. The lowering of corporate tax rates, the introduction of the option to choose the tax rate both for companies and for individuals up to fixed monetary limits, the introduction of the Vivad se Vishwas scheme without sacrificing revenue, and the structured infusion of fiscal stimulus without accelerating inflation all point to a right approach to Budget-making. We can expect a never-before Budget to be presented to meet the crisis created by COVID-19. The super-rich must co-operate without insisting on tax concessions.

T.C.A. Ramanujam is a former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax; T.C.A. Sangeetha is an Advocate, Madras High Court

Joe Biden will face a China that believes increasingly in taking the fight to the opposition

With a new administration taking over in the U.S., how can we expect China to deal with the legacy of hardline China policies left behind by former President Donald Trump?

One, Beijing may try deflection. It may talk about being misunderstood and of overriding “common interests”, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi did in December, or spout vague inanities such as “cooperative competition”, as former Chinese diplomat Fu Ying did in November 2020 inThe New York Times.

Two, since the paramount concerns for American leaders have usually been economic ones – jobs, exports and competitiveness, among other things – there could be a degree of appeasement in the form of limited or selective access for American agricultural produce and private enterprises.

Three, since climate change is a priority for the Democrats – as the appointment of John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy For Climate suggests – there will be plenty of Chinese ‘concessions’ on this front too. But these will inevitably be linked to American concessions on other fronts potentially driving a wedge between the principal actors in the U.S. national security establishment on China policy.

Four, ideological competition is now a feature of Chinese foreign policy and it will be impossible for the Communist Party to not also attack the U.S. directly for faults both real and imagined. On the eve of the Biden inauguration, the Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated the allegation that the U.S. was the source of the novel coronavirus. The announcement of sanctions against senior Trump administration officials later was another sign of an increasingly no-holds-barred approach to the U.S.

Five, and related, we can expect China to continue to highlight and exaggerate domestic dynamics in the U.S. as a way of explaining away U.S.-China tensions as well as other American problems around the world. The attempt is to showcase China’s own political system in a positive light while criticising American-style democracy as somehow flawed or in decline. As Yuan Peng, head of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, declared, “The United States is sick, China has stabilized, and the world has changed”.

Six, as China has increasingly done in recent years – from New Zealand to Nepal – it will more confidently interfere in U.S. domestic politics. Last year, U.S. officials claimed that China had attempted to interfere in elections.

Seven, China will sustain pressure against American allies and partners everywhere – note, for instance, Beijing’s provocations against Japan in the East China Sea and economic coercion against Australia.

Elsewhere, China’s conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty with the European Union on the eve of the Biden presidency is a classic divide-and-rule tactic against the West. Beijing has been helped along by the unilateralism and walking out of multilateral regimes of the Trump administration, all of which President Joe Biden will be hard pressed to repair.

Finally, China will continue to suborn foreign private enterprises to do its will. The inability of American and other foreign enterprises to acknowledge, let alone take a stand against, the oppression of China’s Uyghur minority should be a concern for the Biden administration as too the reality that most Western and Japanese enterprises remain reluctant to leave China despite their governments asking them to.

Under Mr. Biden, American pressure on China’s domestic political and economic system and on its external policies is not going to be particularly unexpected for the Chinese leadership. But he will also face a China that believes increasingly in taking the fight to the opposition.

Jabin T. Jacob is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh. He tweets @jabinjacobt

Bihar police circular on social media posts reveals low tolerance for criticism

The warning by the Bihar police of legal action being taken against users of social media for “offensive” posts targeting the government, its Ministers and officials, betrays both hypersensitivity and ignorance of the law. It represents an unacceptable combination of low tolerance for criticism and a zeal to cow down the public. The Economic Offences Wing, which also deals with cyber-crime, has sent a circular to the department secretaries that they could inform the wing about such “offensive posts” so that it could act against them, terming such actions as “against prescribed law”. Presumably, the action contemplated is for an alleged cyber-crime. Even though the letter from the Inspector General of Police concerned makes no mention of any specific penal provision, it is a possible reference to Section 66A of the IT Act, as there is no other section that deals with “offensive” remarks. Section 66A, which dealt with “Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc.” was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, as being too broadly defined. The Act’s remaining penal provisions pertain only to other offences — sending obscene or prurient messages, hacking, stealing computer resources, identity theft, personation, and violation of privacy. There is nothing specific in the law that would render strong, even offensive and intemperate, criticism of the government a cyber-offence.

The tenor of the warning suggests that the cyber-crime wing may initiate proceedings against those who post offensive messages. However, it ought to be remembered that the police cannot register FIRs for defamation, as the offence can only be dealt with by way of criminal complaints before magistrates, and cannot be the subject of a police investigation. The government, indeed, has the power to institute criminal defamation cases through public prosecutors, if the alleged defamation is in respect of the official duties of public servants, but such measures do not exactly shore up a regime’s popularity. In response to criticism, the State government has clarified that the proposed action would only be against rumour-mongering and insulting language. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has reacted by daring the government to jail him for exposing its wrongdoing. CM Nitish Kumar has not helped his cause by claiming that the government’s good work is not reaching the people because of criticism on social media. There is much on social media that can be seen as crimes (hate speech, inflammatory and insulting remarks or defamation), but it ill-behoves an elected government to take note of these, unless the offenders are influential enough to cause major social divisions and foment violence. The government would do well not to act on the police circular, lest it be seen as an attempt to suppress its critics and those who make allegations of corruption.

Oli’s authoritarian style bodes ill forthe fledgling democracy in Nepal

The political crisis triggered by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve Nepal’s Parliament and call fresh elections led to a vertical split in the ruling party, with the rival faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ sacking Mr. Oli from its general membership. The Prachanda faction of the Nepal Communist Party had removed Mr. Oli as the party’s chairman earlier. It had issued a notice to him seeking an explanation for his decision to recommend Parliament’s dissolution, to which he did not respond. Following this, the central committee of the Prachanda bloc met on Sunday and decided to expel Mr. Oli. His aides have rejected this, saying their leader remains the PM. This puts Nepal and its fractious communist movement in limbo. Mr. Oli has claimed that he represents the party, while Mr. Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal, a former PM and leader of Mr. Oli’s erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (UML), have ruled out any future compromise with the PM. The constitutional validity of the decision to dissolve Parliament is being reviewed by the Supreme Court. Also, the Election Commission will decide which faction could retain the party’s name and symbol, the Sun. These decisions will have a lasting impact on which side would emerge stronger.

Mr. Oli was elected PM in February 2018 after his CPN-UML fought the 2017 general election in an alliance with the Maoists. Within months of coming to power, the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre of Prachanda merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which gave him nearly two-thirds majority in Parliament. But the pre-election unity did not last long. When the government was formed, the tacit understanding between the CPN-UML and the Maoists was that Mr. Oli and Mr. Prachanda would share the five-year term. But Mr. Oli refused to step down after two and a half years, pushing the NCP into a bitter intra-party feud. The widening rift was not along the former UML-Maoist ideological lines. Rather, Mr. Oli’s authoritarian style of governance and refusal to share power led to an erosion of support for the PM in the top echelons of the ruling party. To overcome his own weakness within the party and deny his rivals power, he dissolved Parliament. It is a typical case of greed for power and personality clashes trumping over the greater interests of a party, a government or a nation. When they formed a united front, it was a historic opportunity for Nepal’s otherwise divided communists to script a brighter future for the fledgling republican democracy. But in three years, Nepal is in chaos — Parliament has been dissolved, the PM has been sacked from the ruling party, and the party is split down the middle. Mr. Oli cannot escape responsibility for the crisis Nepal is in today.

The Lieutenant Governor has received the following telegram from the British Home Relief Committee, Peking: - “Appalling famine in China. Millions facing death and starvation. Available funds are totally inadequate. Position now desperate. Money urgently needed. One pound saves a life. Expenditure is under closest supervision. Kindly use best endeavours... Burma to contribute liberally to the fund opened by the Viceroy.” The message is published with the hope that the appeal will meet with immediate and generous response. The Lieutenant Governor’s Private-Secretary will receive donations.

The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam election manifesto issued in Madras on Sunday [January 24] shows that the party continues to treat the regional language as its trump card with the electorate. It declares that whatever be the opposition there will be no change in the two-language policy and no place whatsoever for Hindi. There are, of course, few advocates of Hindi in Tamil Nadu but it still remains true that it would be useful to know that language if one has to go beyond the confines of the State or seek employment in the Central Services. But the burning issue to-day does not concern Hindi; it is all about the study of English in higher educational institutions. If past experience is any guide, it seems that the D.M.K. is not very anxious to promote the study of English even where it is an indispensable tool of learning.

The manifesto also reveals that the D.M.K. retains its provincial outlook in regard to economic planning. The Indian peninsula with its vast population forms a ready-made common market where free movement of capital, labour and goods could bring dividends to all corners of the country. Resources being limited, there is need for careful planning and location of major projects. This does not suit the book of the D.M.K. which has mounted an attack on the Planning Commission and demanded greater provincial autonomy. It seems to believe that the Centre should be left only with the responsibility for defence and foreign affairs and that the States should do the rest. In fact, the historical tendency in other federal systems has been just the reverse.