தலையங்கம் - 19-07-2021

இன்று தொடங்கவிருக்கும் நாடாளுமன்ற மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத் தொடா் ஆகஸ்ட் 13-ஆம் தேதி வரை நடைபெற இருக்கிறது. பிரதமா் தலைமையில் நேற்று கூடிய அனைத்துக் கட்சிக் கூட்டத்தில் மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடரை சுமுகமாகவும் அமைதியாகவும் நடத்துவது தொடா்பாகக் கருத்துப் பரிமாற்றம் நடந்தது.

விதிமுறைகளுக்கு உட்பட்டு ஆரோக்கியமான முறையிலும் அா்த்தமுடையதாகவும் நாடு எதிா்கொள்ளும் பிரச்னைகள் குறித்து நாடாளுமன்றத்தில் விவாதிப்பதற்கு அரசு தயாராக இருப்பதாக எதிா்க்கட்சித் தலைவா்களிடம் பிரதமா் நரேந்திர மோடி உறுதி அளித்திருக்கிறாா். அதே நேரத்தில், எதிா்க்கட்சி உறுப்பினா்கள் தேவையில்லாத புதிய பிரச்னைகளை எழுப்பி அமளியில் ஈடுபடாமல் அமைதியான முறையில் கேள்வி எழுப்ப வேண்டுமென்றும், அந்தக் கேள்விகளுக்கு பதிலளிக்க அரசுக்கு வாய்ப்பளிக்க வேண்டுமென்றும் பிரதமா் விடுத்திருக்கும் வேண்டுகோள் நியாயமானது; ஆக்கபூா்வமானது.

நாடாளுமன்ற ஜனநாயகத்தில் விவாதங்கள் மிக முக்கியமானவை. விவாதத்தின் மூலமும், கருத்துப் பரிமாற்றத்தின் மூலமும் அரசு கொண்டு வரும் சட்டங்களும், திட்டங்களும் அலசி ஆராயப்படுகின்றன. அதன் மூலம் ஒவ்வொரு பிரச்னையின் சாதக பாதகங்களையும் உணா்ந்து செயல்பட முடிகிறது. அதுதான் நாடாளுமன்ற ஜனநாயகத்தின் மிகப் பெரிய பலம் என்பதை கடந்த சில ஆண்டுகளாக நாம் உணர மறுக்கிறோம்.

அரசு எந்த ஒரு மசோதாவை முன்னெடுத்தாலும் அதை எதிா்க்கட்சிகள் எதிா்ப்பதும், அமளியில் ஈடுபடுவதும் கடந்த கால் நூற்றாண்டாக வழக்கமாகி இருக்கிறது. அதை சாதகமாக்கிக் கொண்டு விவாதமே இல்லாமல் மசோதாக்கள் நிறைவேற்றப்படும் விசித்திரம் நடைமுறையாகியிருக்கிறது. ஜனநாயக நெறிமுறைகள் மீது தோ்ந்தெடுக்கப்பட்ட உறுப்பினா்களுக்கு நம்பிக்கையில்லையோ என்கிற தோற்றத்தை அவா்களது செயல்பாடுகள் ஏற்படுத்துகின்றன.

அரசு கொண்டுவரும் மசோதாக்களும், சட்டங்களும் நாடாளுமன்ற, சட்டப்பேரவைகளில் விவாதிக்கப்பட்டால் அவை பொது வெளியில் சா்ச்சைப் பொருளாக மாறாது. சட்டத்தில் இருக்கும் குறைபாடுகள் சுட்டிக்காட்டப்படுவதால் அவற்றை திருத்திக் கொள்வதற்கும், அரசு தனது கண்ணோட்டத்தை மாற்றிக் கொள்வதற்கும் வாய்ப்பு கிடைக்கிறது. தங்களது வாதத்தை அரசுக்கு உணா்த்தும் விதத்திலான எதிா்க்கட்சி தலைவா்களின் பேச்சாற்றலும், சாமா்த்தியமும் கூச்சல் குழப்பங்களைவிட வலிமையானவை என்பதை முந்தைய தலைமுறை எதிா்க்கட்சித் தலைவா்கள் உணா்த்தியிருக்கிறாா்கள்.

கடந்த 2020-21 நிதியாண்டில் 18 நாள்கள் நடந்திருக்க வேண்டிய மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடா் 10 நாள்களில் முடித்துக்கொள்ளப்பட்டது. பல நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினா்களும், ஊழியா்களும் கொவைட் 19 நோய்த்தொற்றால் பாதிக்கப்பட்டனா் என்பதால் அதைப் புரிந்துகொள்ள முடிகிறது. இந்த நிதியாண்டிலாவது மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத்தொடா் ஆக்கபூா்வமாக செயல்பட வேண்டும்.

கடந்த நிதியாண்டில் இந்திய நாடாளுமன்ற வரலாற்றில் இதுவரை இல்லாத அளவில் மக்களவை 34 நாள்களும், மாநிலங்களவை 33 நாள்களும்தான் கூடின. அதுபோல, குறைவான நாள்கள் இதுவரை சபைகள் கூடியதே இல்லை. இந்த நிதியாண்டும் விதிவிலக்காகி விடக் கூடாது.

நடைபெற இருக்கும் நாடாளுமன்றத்தின் மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத் தொடரில் 17 மசோதாக்களை தாக்கல் செய்ய மத்திய அரசு திட்டமிட்டிருக்கிறது. அவற்றில் மூன்று மசோதாக்கள் அண்மையில் இயற்றப்பட்ட அவசரச் சட்டங்களுக்கான ஒப்புதல்கள். இந்த மசோதாக்கள் எவையும் விவாதமே இல்லாமல் நிறைவேற்றப்படும் அவலம் தவிா்க்கப்பட வேண்டும்.

எப்போதும்போல எதிா்க்கட்சிகளும் கூட்டத்தொடரை எதிா்கொள்வதற்கான வியூகத்தை வகுக்க கூடி விவாதித்திருக்கின்றன. மத்திய அரசு கொண்டுவர இருக்கும் மசோதாக்கள் குறித்து அவை விவாதித்ததாகத் தெரியவில்லை. அரசுக்கு நெருக்கடி கொடுக்கும் வகையில் பிரச்னைகளை எழுப்புவது குறித்து காங்கிரஸ், திமுக, திரிணமூல் காங்கிரஸ் உள்ளிட்ட எதிா்க்கட்சிகள் திட்டமிடுவதாகத் தெரிகிறது. அதில் தவறில்லை. அமளியில் இறங்காமல் விவாதத்தின் மூலம் அரசை கேள்விக்குள்ளாக்குவதும், தா்மசங்கடத்தில் ஆழ்த்துவதும் எதிா்க்கட்சிகளின் உரிமை என்பதில் யாருக்கும் வேறுபட்ட கருத்து இருக்க முடியாது.

கடந்த ஆண்டு செப்டம்பா் மாதம் எந்த விவாதமும் இல்லாமல் அரசால் நிறைவேற்றப்பட்ட மூன்று புதிய வேளாண் சட்டங்களும் விவசாயிகளை தெருவில் இறங்கி போராட வைத்திருக்கின்றன. போராட்டம் இதுவரை முடிந்தபாடில்லை. அந்தப் பிரச்னைக்கு முடிவு காண வேண்டிய பொறுப்பு ஆளும் கூட்டணிக்கும், எதிா்க்கட்சிகளுக்கும் உண்டு. மழைக்காலக் கூட்டத் தொடா் அதற்கு விடைகாண வேண்டும்.

எத்தனையோ பிரச்னைகளை நாடு எதிா்கொள்கிறது. தடுப்பூசிப் பற்றாக்குறை, பெட்ரோல் - டீசல் - சமையல் எரிவாயு விலை உயா்வு, மேக்கேதாட்டு அணை விவகாரம், கொவைட் மரணம் குறித்த புள்ளிவிவரம், அதிகரித்து வரும் வேலையில்லாத் திண்டாட்டம், வங்கிகளின் செயல்பாடு தொடங்கி ஏராளமான பிரச்னைகள் விவாதத்துக்குக் காத்திருக்கின்றன. ஜம்மு - காஷ்மீா் நிலவரம், எல்லைப் பகுதியில் தொடரும் பதற்ற நிலைமை போன்றவையும் விவாதிக்கப்பட வேண்டிய பிரச்னைகள்.

இவற்றையெல்லாம் தவிா்த்துவிட்டு ரஃபேல் போா் விமான ஒப்பந்தம் குறித்து பிரான்ஸ் விசாரணைக்கு உத்தரவிட்டிருப்பதை முன்வைத்து அமளியில் இறங்கினால், நரேந்திர மோடி அரசுக்கு அதைவிட சாதகமான சூழல் வேறு எதுவும் இருக்க முடியாது. விவாதமே இல்லாமல் அனைத்து மசோதாக்களையும் நிறைவேற்றிக் கொள்ளும்.

-dinamani.com

கரோனா வைரஸ் தாக்குதலின் முதலாம் அலை மற்றும் இரண்டாம் அலையின்போது சென்னை மாநகராட்சி ஆற்றிய பணி அளப்பரியது. இதற்கான பாராட்டுகளை அனைவரும் தெரிவித்துவரும் நிலையில், சென்னை மாநகராட்சி ரூ.2,500 கோடி கடனில் தத்தளிக்கிறது என்ற செய்தி வருத்தமளிக்கிறது. குறிப்பாக, மக்களின் வசதிக்காக, சாலை வசதி, பூங்கா உள்ளிட்ட கட்டமைப்புகளை உருவாக்க வெளியிலிருந்து வாங்கப்பட்ட கடன் தொகை மாநகராட்சிக்குப் பெரும் சுமையாக மாறிவிட்டதாகச் சுட்டிக்காட்டப்பட்டுள்ளது.

கடந்த ஆட்சியின்போது நடந்த சில ஊழல்களின் காரணமாகவே சென்னை மாநகராட்சியின் நிதிச் சுமை அதிகரித்துவிட்டது என்ற அரசியல்ரீதியான குற்றச்சாட்டும் கூறப்படுகிறது. எந்தப் புதிய ஆட்சி அமைந்தாலும் நடைபெறும் தவறுகளுக்கு முந்தைய ஆட்சியைக் குறைகூறுவதை மக்கள் நீண்ட காலமாகப் பார்த்துவருகின்றனர். அதே நேரத்தில், ஒரு ஆட்சியின் நிர்வாகத்தில் கடன் வாங்கி சுமையை ஏற்றிவிட்டுச் சென்றால், அந்தச் சுமையை அடுத்து வரும் ஆட்சி பொறுப்பேற்க வேண்டியுள்ளது. அடுத்த ஆட்சி அதன் மீது மேலும் சுமையை ஏற்றிவிட்டுச் செல்லும் நிலைதான் இருந்துவருகிறது.

சென்னை மாநகராட்சிக்கு ஓராண்டில் சொத்து வரி மூலமாக ரூ.720 கோடியும், தொழில் வரி மூலமாக ரூ.350 கோடியும் கிடைக்கிறது. மாநகராட்சியின் வருவாயில் பெரும் பகுதி இந்த இரு பிரிவுகளில் இருந்தே கிடைத்துவருகிறது. மாநகராட்சிக்குச் சொந்தமான கட்டிடங்களின் வாடகை, வாகன வாடகை, உரிமம் வழங்குவது தொடர்பான கட்டணங்கள் மூலம் ரூ.240 கோடி கிடைப்பதாகக் குறிப்பிடப்பட்டுள்ளது. மாநகராட்சியின் வருவாய் இனங்களைப் பெருக்க வேண்டும் என்ற கோரிக்கை நியாயமானதே. சம்பளத்துக்கு ரூ.80 முதல் 100 கோடி வரையில் செலவிடப்படுவதாகவும் தெரிவிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. மாதம் ஒன்றுக்கு ரூ.10 கோடி வட்டியாக மட்டுமே மாநகராட்சி செலுத்துகிறது என்றும் புள்ளிவிவரம் தெரிவிக்கிறது. மாநகராட்சியின் கடன் சுமையும் விரயமாகும் வட்டிப் பணமும் இறுதியில் மக்களின் மீதுதானே திரும்பும்? இன்னும் எவ்வளவு காலத்துக்கு இந்தக் கடன் சுமையைத் தள்ளிவைத்துக்கொண்டே செல்ல முடியும்?

அத்தியாவசியக் கட்டமைப்புகளை உருவாக்குவதற்காகச் செலவிடப்படும் தொகை, அதற்காக வாங்கும் கடன் என்றைக்கும் விமர்சனத்தை உருவாக்காது. அதேநேரம், நன்றாகப் பயன்பாட்டில் இருக்கும் நடைபாதைகள், சாலைகளை இடித்துவிட்டு மீண்டும் அமைத்தல், புதிதாகப் போடப்பட்ட சாலைகளை, நடைபாதைகளை மற்ற அமைப்புகள் தோண்டிப்போடுவதைக் கண்டு பாராமுகமாக இருத்தல் போன்றவை மக்களிடமிருந்து பெறப்பட்ட வரிப் பணத்தை வீணடிக்கும் செயல்களாகவே பார்க்கப்படுகின்றன. இது போன்ற தவிர்க்கக்கூடிய செலவுகளைக் குறைப்பதும், சிறந்த நிர்வாகத் திறமை உள்ளவர்களை முக்கியப் பொறுப்புகளில் நியமித்து, நிதி நிர்வாகத்தைச் செம்மையாக மேற்கொள்வதுமே ஓர் அரசின் கடமையும் பொறுப்பும் ஆகும்.

B.R. Ambedkar once said, “... fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.”

In a recent comprehensive face-to-face survey (of nearly 30,000 people) on religious identity, nationalism and tolerance in Indian society, and conducted in 17 languages between late 2019 and early 2020 by the reputed United States-based Pew Research Center (https://pewrsr.ch/3xQqlVQ), 85% of Hindus affirmed that “respecting all religions is very important to being truly Indian.” But, paradoxically, 64% of Hindus think “it is very important to be Hindu to be ‘truly’ Indian”. And 80% among them say, “it is very important to speak Hindi to be truly Indian”, giving credence to the slogan of Hindutva.

Rather than celebrating toleration, or seeing the paradoxes as a peculiarity of the Indic mind, it is crucial to recognise that a virulent majoritarianism can coexist with the professions of tolerance. It is misreading to treat the latter as a paradox because mere toleration or an empirical plurality of cultures is not the same as a conscious democratic project of multiculturalism or composite culture.

Thus, in the last two Lok Sabha elections, not a single Muslim has been elected on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket. This obliteration of political representation of a significant minority (numbering 200 million) — which arguably has no parallel in any established democracy in the world — has become completely normalised in India, and is not a matter of discussion at all.

Other findings and paradoxes

The Survey abounds in other paradoxes: 80% (across all religions, in almost same proportion) think that respecting other religions is a very important part of their own religious identity, 91% assert that they are free to practise their religion, 77% of Muslims believe in the Hindu notion of karma, but when it comes to inter-religious marriages, friendships and neighbours, there is a marked tendency to keep communities separate. Thus, 67% of Hindus and 80% of Muslims believe it is important to stop women of their communities from marrying outside; 86% of Hindus have their close friends come mainly or entirely from their religion.

Scholar Bhikhu Parekh argues that plural cultures have always existed in the past, but what marks out contemporary multi-cultural societies is the premise of equality of cultures, and not just self-contained co-existence.The key features of multi-culturalism/composite culture are, as Prof. Lord Parekh asserts, cultures beyond compartments, constant dialogue and mutual change, and a strong streak of interrogation of “settled beliefs” across all cultures, especially the dominant culture.

It is a mistake to see the electoral success of religious majoritarianism in recent years as constructed in a vacuum. Instead, it is precisely the decades-long compartmentalisation of different religious communities, and the absence of solid state and civil society arrangements in educational pedagogy, personal relationships, workplace, to facilitate inter-cultural interaction, and based on equality and respect, even under supposedly secular regimes, that has made the soil politically fertile for the demonisation of the minority, especially the Muslim (and occasionally the Sikh, as in the recent farmer protests).

This is despite the Survey breaking the Hindutva appellation of the anti-national Muslim. In fact,95% of Muslims (and Sikhs) declare that they “are very proud to be Indian”.

India’s ‘skyboxification’

The American philosopher Michael J. Sandel argued that under rising extreme inequalities of capitalism, there is a “skyboxification of American life”, in which the affluent classes and people of poor means have no connection at all, and they “live and work and shop and play in different places” and their “children go to different schools”. In India, this plays out differently not just in economic terms, but also in religion, and more starkly, caste, the fundamental divide.

Every religion is riven by caste. Like with religion, 64% say that it is “very important” to prevent women from crossing caste boundaries in marriage, and 70% affirm that “most or all of their close friends share their caste”. Again, the Survey brings to the fore the central contradiction of a democratic nation that is divided by compartmentalised hierarchies. Thus, it is vital to note that amidst the gathering clouds of majoritarianism, it is a minority of upper castes that holds the reins of power, across religions, and it is the lower castes among the religious minority that face the brunt of majoritarian attacks. Glossing over this reality, ironically, reinforces religious majoritarianism, and reduces conflicts to merely religion.

This can only be overcome by the unison of social groups, especially the oppressed, across, religious and caste boundaries. As B.R. Ambedkar recognised a long time ago, the central barrier to the making of a nation is “separation in social life”. It cannot be eliminated simply by elements like, as the Survey shows, a quarter of Muslims and a third of Christians believing in the purifying power of the Ganga, or the same kind of numbers believing in reincarnation, etc.

The antidote to the fear of other social groups, especially minorities, often is increased interaction among them in a variety of public and private settings. This is demonstrated in earlier Pew surveys in India, and those elsewhere. In the United States and West Europe, there is a big difference in positive attitudes towards other social/religious groups when members of those groups are personally known. Despite anti-Muslim sentiments, much higher numbers than India are willing to accept Muslims as neighbours. In the Pew Survey on 11 Emerging Economies including India (https://pewrsr.ch/2VVyEBV), a higher percentage of the majority community in countries such as Lebanon, Venezuela, and South Africa interact with the minorities than India.

Attitudes in South India

But contrary voices to the majoritarian and segregated vision can be seen within the present Survey too. In several aspects such as the superiority of one’s own religion, having friends and neighbours from other religions, preventing inter-religious marriages, the importance of being a Hindu and speaking Hindi to be a true Indian, prohibition of beef, the attitudes in South India differ, not by a small, but a substantial margin to the rest of India, especially the North and the Central parts. This enhanced willingness to break differences permeates both Hindus and Muslims in the South, showing the wider reinforcing effects of increased mutual interaction. Since culture affects politics, Hindu nationalism has had much less electoral success in the South, at least so far.

Social reality and complexity cannot be reduced to numbers. After all, one cannot compare attitudes of different social groups blandly without understanding power differences. But quantitative surveys are still necessary tools. Majoritarianism, accompanied by mere tolerant acceptance of minority communities as non-interacting enclaves, is the death knell of democracy. To the extent that the Pew Survey hints at majoritarian attitudes and compartmentalisation, it can only be ignored at our own peril.

Nissim Mannathukkaren is with Dalhousie University, Canada, and tweets @nmannathukkaren

Data show that as of now 26.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Of them, only 1%live in low-income countries. By contrast, the richer nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain, registered above 50% vaccination by July 17.For India, the percentage of the adult population that has received at least one dose stands at 34.1% as of July 18. How long it will take to eliminate the inequality in the administration of vaccines is shrouded in mystery. Till that happens, long or short lockdowns from time to time will remain the only defence against the virus. Several researchers have studied the effectiveness of the lockdowns in economic terms. It is important, therefore, to take stock of the issues that have materialised in this context.

A trilemma

TheEconomisthas come up with a paradox of sorts in an article concerning the trade-off between lives and livelihoods. The article is rooted in the COVID-19 disaster and questions the practicability or even desirability of simultaneously protecting lives and livelihoods with the aid of lockdowns. The discipline of economics, or its dominant school at least, is intimately linked to trade-offs and its fundamental teaching is that one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. During pandemic-driven lockdowns, this boils down not to a dilemma but a trilemma perhaps. Draconian lockdowns help you to keep on living, but they prevent you from earning a living. With incomes drying up, essential expenditures such as those on food, health and education cannot be sustained, implying that life cannot be lived. Extreme lockdown policies imply that you cannot quite have your life and live it too — at least not meaningfully.

The vicious trilemma needs to be torn down if humanity is to be preserved. This calls for a careful assessment of the severity of lockdowns, their costs, and the resulting gains they hopefully lead to in terms of lives saved. If the expected benefit of a policy falls short of cost, economists will reject it and suggest the adoption of alternative policies, involving an excess of benefits over costs. In other words, one needs to understand the nature of the trade-off. Is the suffering caused by a lockdown sufficiently compensated for in terms of lives saved?

The question is probably less simple than it appears to be at first sight. The New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, said, “To me, I say the cost of a human life is priceless.” In technical economic language, this amounts to asserting that the (monetary) price of a human life is infinitely high. If this be so, saving a life calls for endless sacrifice. If such sacrifice assumes the form of extreme lockdowns, then the line of argument precipitates the trilemma all over again. It is counterproductive to start off with infinity. Clearly, the Governor had failed to come up with a meaningful definition of the value of a human life.

Let us push aside this question for now and estimate instead the cost of a lockdown. Some researchers believe this can be measured by the value of lost GDP.The Economistquotes the case of two European countries — France and Italy. Both imposed heavy lockdowns and suffered 3% shrinkage in GDP. Not that people did not die, but the 3% shrinkage cost of keeping a number of people alive was not insignificant. Similarly, Finland, which experienced a negligible rise in the mortality rate, experienced a 1% fall in per capita GDP. On the other hand, Lithuania performed miserably on its death rate front, but its GDP per person is expected to rise by 2%.The Economistpoints out yet another horrifying estimate of the cost of saving COVID-19-infected lives. Research, it says, has established that for every infected person cured in poorer countries, 1.76 children die on account of a fall in the quality of life, which is not enviably high even in the absence of lockdowns. This is worse than the trilemma scenario outlined earlier.

There are other costs too that should not be overlooked. The horrors faced by migrant labourers in India will continue to jolt our collective memory. One wonders also if life expectancy itself has not been adversely affected in poor as well as emerging economies. Children are held back from school. One cannot rule out the emergence of child labour either. If and when the pandemic takes leave, researchers will surely address the child labour question in India caught in the iron grip of COVID-19.

The benefits of a lockdown, seen in isolation, do not appear to be all that clear. Lockdowns — severe or mild — prevent the spread of the disease so long as they last. Mortality falls perhaps, only to resurface once the lockdown is lifted. For the U.S., a researcher has come up with the disappointing conclusion that there is no lifesaving impact of lockdowns at all.

How, then, should the benefit of a lockdown be computed? However absurd this may sound, the question takes us back to the value of a human life, which the New York Governor had calculated more emotionally than he should have only to end up in a paradox. Interestingly enough, a good deal of theoretical and empirical research has been done by economists on this issue for the past 50 years at least. The pandemic has merely generated new interest in the subject.

The value of a human life

There are many different ways in which the value of a human life may be calculated. A straightforward method is to study the life insurance premiums people are willing to pay to ensure proper treatment if afflicted by fatal diseases. In rich societies, large amounts will be paid. This could well be used to compute the social benefits of lockdowns, which will probably have higher values in rich societies than in poor societies where few are covered by life insurance. Further, all lives cannot command the same value. It is not criminal to ask if an aged person’s life has the same value as that of a younger person. This means that a person’s own valuation of his life may well differ from the way policymakers are likely to value it. Consequently, the social benefit of lockdowns continues to be a puzzle.

This is not to suggest that lockdowns ought to be avoided. Quite clearly, they are unavoidable for now, but they need to be carefully designed, guided by trade-offs between harsh and mild policies. Or else, the damaged economies of the world will not revive too soon.

Dipankar Dasgupta is former professor of Economics, Indian Statistical Institute

On July 12, 2021, the Supreme Court of Nepal handed over a 168-page verdict on a case filed by 149 lawmakers out of the 275 parliamentarians demanding that Sher Bahadur Deuba be made the Prime Minister. Although the parliamentarians had gone to the Supreme Court as Mr. Deuba had gathered enough support to become the Prime Minister of Nepal under Article 76(5) of the Constitution, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari refused to entertain it. Instead,the President re-appointed K.P. Sharma Oli as the caretaker Prime Minister till the elections that they decided to hold in October and November 2021 were concluded. This ends now.

Impact of court intervention

Amidst such circumstances, the Supreme Court verdict has ended the collusion between Mr. Oli and Ms. Bhandari to continuously take decisions that were against the provisions of the Constitution. In December, when the President dissolved Parliament at the behest of Mr. Oli, the Supreme Court ruled against this order and reinstated Parliament. The Supreme Court even had a piece of warning for the President to remind her that the office of the President is also defined by the Constitution and hence, cannot be above it.

On Wednesday, July 14, 2021, Mr. Oli left his official residence at Baluwatar which, for the past three and half years, had become his office, party headquarters and the centre of power in Nepal comparable to Narayanhiti Palace during the direct rule of the Kings. He left his residence after addressing the nation in a manner similar to when King Gyanendra left the Narayanhiti Palace on June 11, 2008. His supporters had a procession.

The Oli years

In the past, Mr. Oli’s popularity rose when he challenged India during the blockade in September 2015 and whipped up nationalism to emerge as the leader who could lead Nepal. For the 2017 Federal and Provincial elections, the two major communist parties, the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist–UML), joined hands, and with a landslide victory, were to provide a stable government in Nepal in three decades. This coalition between the two parties had laid out some conditions, one of which was that Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Mr. Oli were supposed to rotate the prime ministership. Even amidst these conditions and party coalitions, for the general Nepali public, Mr. Oli came with many expectations. He appointed a technocrat Finance Minister, a former Governor of the central bank, and other team members who, in people’s eyes, were perceived to deliver the goods. Prior to taking over, he held various consultations. In one of the long sessions, he gave the impression that he means business. He had a slogan, ‘Prosperous Nepal–Happy Nepali’, that appealed to Nepalis both in the country and abroad, giving a feeling that, perhaps, the great moment has arrived for Nepal’s transformation.

However, the infighting within the ruling party that united in May 2018 began to surface in December 2019. Mr. Oli had, in two years of his rule, ensured that his kitchen cabinet ran the country while his image and international relations were being handled by prominent citizens who kept defending him till the end. He unleashed crony capitalism. Many business groups gained from his rule.

International relations plummeted with Mr. Oli taking on India with an amended map of the country, which only affected bilateral relations. With the United States Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant not being ratified (https://bit.ly/3BhClSs), ties have been hit as far as U.S. investors are concerned. With China, while he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping during a whirlwind transit stop, the agreements never saw the light of the day when it came to implementation. The complaints of Chinese investors in Nepal in terms of governance and bureaucracy have been no different than the complaints of others.

However, his handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic created a public outcry due to a lack of health-care facilities. He was personally dragged into the Nepal vaccine scam in the purchase of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India. In his swan song, he tried to take credit for the support that Nepal received, which was more due to the goodwill Nepal has and the efforts of many known and unknown activists who ran from pillar to post in different countries to get support and vaccines for Nepal.

Looking ahead

The newly appointed Prime Minister, Mr. Deuba, has served as Prime Minister four times but does not have a great track record. He may have won the confidence vote of July 18 (picture). But in this, there is a great lesson for India to be learnt: on how not to push relationships through intelligence agencies and other tacit ways as it fails each time. This has been seen in earlier decades. India needs to continue to build on people-to-people relationships and engage through official channels of bilateral platforms and diplomacy. Let us not forget that geopolitics is changing as Nepal is now free from being ‘India locked’.

Sujeev Shakya is the author of ‘Unleashing Nepal’ and ‘Unleashing The Vajra – Nepal’s Journey Between India and China’

Last Saturday, we had readers discuss various aspects of news coverage, editorial choices and visual elements atThe Hindu’s virtual Open House. One of the suggestions was to reimagine the newspaper for the next generation of readers. There were intense discussions about how to provide credible information and in-depth analysis for a small device such as a mobile phone.

As a news ombudsman, I have one non-negotiable condition. Reaching out to newer generations is a logical necessity. According to the online reference section of Britannica, India’s population is young: “Its birth and death rates are both near the global average. More than half the population is under age 30 and less than one-fourth is age 45 or older.” Many newsrooms,The Hinduincluded, keep debating on what should be the right wordage and mix of visuals and words for various devices. In my view, these essential elements seem to be external factors. The core internal and intrinsic requirement for a news organisation is its ability to foster humanity.

Rise in online hate speech

The spread of social media has contributed to a substantial rise in hate speech-related violence. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has documented the spike in violence that is directly attributed to online hate speech. It says users’ experiences online were originally designed to maximise their engagement. However, with an increase in algorithm-mediated customisation, there is promotion of extreme content. An investigation inThe Wall Street Journal, “How YouTube Drives People to the Internet’s Darkest Corners”, was on how the site often recommends divisive or misleading material. A report in CFR recorded that in many ways, the debates in courts, legislatures, and among the public about how to reconcile the competing values of free expression and non-discrimination have been around for a century or longer.

It is this context that we need credible media outlets that can halt the spread of hate, vitriol and misogyny and once again work towards an inclusive public sphere. Though no one has quantified the cost of hate that is generated by social media, we are able to sense its corrosive effect on social harmony. A credible news media has two major functions: bearing witness and making sense. The growth of toxicity on social media has delegitimised the act of bearing witness. The recording of pain, the poignancy of loss, and the space for democratic aspirations are filtered through a narrow partisan lens.

The photojournalist who bore witness

Nothing illustrates this inhuman delegitimisation of bearing witness than the racist campaign on social media against photojournalist Danish Siddiqui who was killed while doing his job of documenting the newly emerging politico-military situation in Afghanistan. Siddiqui, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian photojournalist, was working for Reuters. According to the news agency, he was embedded with a convoy of Afghan forces that was ambushed by Taliban militants near a key border post with Pakistan. In 2018, he won the Pulitzer Prize in feature photography. He won it alongside colleague Adnan Abidi and five others for their work documenting the violence faced by Myanmar’s minority, the Rohingya. Much has been written about the power of his images of the mass funerals held at the peak of India’s devastating second wave of COVID-19. Empathy was central to his documentation process. “While I enjoy covering news stories — from business to politics to sports — what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” Siddiqui had told Reuters.

His untimely death also brought out the pitfalls of the amplification of partisan politics on social media. There were hate posts about Siddiqui; some celebrated his death. The Editor’s Guild statement explained the significance of a photojournalist bearing witness to an event. After listing out some of the key assignments of Siddiqui — the 2019 Easter blasts in Sri Lanka, the riots in north-east Delhi in 2020, and the devastating human tragedy caused by the pandemic, the Editor’s Guild observed: “His work was therefore a living testament to the axiom of photojournalism, ‘if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough’.” Hence, in our quest to reinvent journalism for the new age, we need to ensure that humanity remains the fulcrum of any public discourse.

readerseditor@thehindu.co.in

Two events in Central Asia last week, which India attended, saw Afghanistan’s neighbours seeking solutions to the conflict there. The first was a meeting in Dushanbe, of the Contact group on Afghanistan of SCO Foreign Ministers, and the second, a Central and South Asia connectivity conference in Tashkent. The meetings also took on a special salience due to their timing. Just days after the U.S. and NATO completed their pullout from the Bagram air base, and most other key locations, it is clear that the Taliban are making advances to return to power, by force if necessary. Of particular concern are the Taliban’s attacks on border posts, particularly the border with Central Asian countries, and the Spin Boldak-Chaman border with Pakistan, which are for territorial control and to cut off crucial supply chains to the government in Kabul. At such a time for the SCO Ministers’ grouping that includes Russia and China, India and Pakistan, and four Central Asian countries to have issued a joint statement, albeit without naming the Taliban directly, that decried the violence by terrorist groups, was significant. At Tashkent, the host, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, also gave Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani the opportunity to confront Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for Pakistan’s failure to keep its promises on stopping the Taliban from crossing over and ensuring the Taliban conduct peace negotiations in earnest. Despite Mr. Khan’s protests, the message is that the region, and global players, will not support the Taliban to enforce its brutal regime in Afghanistan through violent means. For India and the Central Asian States, the worries are about the violence at the frontiers and the resultant refugee influx, extremism, and support to transnational groups such as al Qaeda, LeT, JeM, ETIM and IMU, as it happened earlier under Taliban rule.

As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, Afghanistan’s past cannot be its future, and in an interview toThe Hindu, Mr. Ghani made it clear that the Afghan forces will not simply crumble this time. The emergence of the regional consensus to shun any attempt to take power by force will also give the Taliban and its backers in Pakistan reason to pause, and the high-level intra-Afghan talks in Doha over the weekend, and the Taliban’s Eid announcement that they will pursue a political solution “seriously” and to assure neighbours they will not allow Afghan territory to be “used against any other country” may be evidence that the message has been received. As the future of Afghanistan is decided in the weeks ahead, it is necessary for the neighbourhood’s voice, Central and South Asia included, to emerge more united and determined to protect the gains the nation has made over two decades.

This July marks the 30th anniversary of the economic reforms launched by the Narasimha Rao government in 1991. Evaluations, mainly celebratory, have appeared in the media. A dispassionate assessment would be appropriate as the economic policy changes of 1991 were the first major changes in the policy regime since the 1950s. The hallmarks of the reforms were lessening of government control and opening the economy to international trade and capital flows.

As the timing of the reforms was determined by a balance of payments crisis, it would be natural to assess the reforms in terms of their consequence for this aspect of the economy. In mid-1991, India had foreign exchange reserves that would barely finance three weeks’ imports. In mid-2021, the import cover is estimated at well over 12 months. Furthermore, in the three decades since 1991 there has not been a balance of payments crisis. On the other hand, in the preceding three there had been several. This marks a significant reversal.

Financial inflows

A disappointing feature, though, is that the foreign exchange reserves have accumulated as a result of financial inflows rather than export surpluses, as was expected. It is now apparent that competitiveness cannot be established by simply reducing government control over the private sector. The history of globally successful economies shows that publicly provided infrastructure, private R&D and a facilitating government machinery are crucial for a country’s export competitiveness. Most of these ingredients have been present in the case of India’s software services-exporters but are not equally available for exporters of goods. The occasions since 1991 when there has been a trade surplus have been rare. The balance of payments has been shored up by portfolio capital. Such capital can flow out just as easily, leaving reserves to deplete rapidly. The only guarantee against balance of payments stress is a consistently strong export performance. The reforms are yet to take us there.

The reforms were also meant to raise the rate of growth of the Indian economy, which they did. Though the acceleration took some time coming, the rate of growth of the Indian economy has been higher after 2001. However, it started slowing progressively after the demonetisation of 2016, dropping to less than pre-reform levels even before we were struck by the pandemic. Since then, output has actually contracted, and there is no certainty on how growth will play out in the immediate future. Much depends upon whether there will be a third COVID-19 wave, necessitating the shutting down of economic activity yet again. Returning to the question of long-term growth, it needs to be pointed out that its acceleration after the reforms of 1991 was not the first time it happened. Not only had this occurred before, in the early 1950s and the late 1970s, but also the degree of acceleration had been greater then.

In 1991, we were, in effect, dealing with a cash-flow problem, albeit in foreign exchange. Now COVID-19 has brought home to us something larger, the absence from the economy of certain crucial services and the underlying assets that enable their production. We realised how inadequate our health system is, as we watched helplessly the scramble for oxygen, the overflowing hospital wards and the overburdened crematoria. But our rickety healthcare infrastructure is merely a metaphor for the absent ecosystem for living in India. Sanitation, transportation, urban governance and the producer services, from power supply to waste management, needed to undertake economic activity, are all inadequately available. This deficit cannot be bridged by legislating changes to the policy regime as was done in 1991. The necessary infrastructure would have to be first created and then managed to supply the stream of services expected. We have learned the hard way that the value of an economy depends on the extent to which it serves our needs. The current crisis of lives and livelihood in India is the time to start building a valuable one.

Pulapre Balakrishnan teaches economics at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana

All but one of the 65 staff members of the former Pakistan Deputy High Commission in Calcutta, who had switched over their allegiance to the Bangla Desh Government, stuck to their decision at their “screening” held to-day [Calcutta, July 18] at the instance of Dr. Bonard, Counsellor in the Swiss Embassy in Delhi. The interviews, which lasted about two and a half hours from 10-30 a.m. clears the way for the repatriation of Indian and Pakistani diplomats from Dacca and Calcutta, where the two countries closed their respective Deputy High Commissions in April. Mr. Ashok Roy, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, and Mr. Mehdi Masud, former Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner in Calcutta, were witnesses to the interview. Mr. Hossain Ali, head of the Bangla Desh Mission in Calcutta, who was not present at the interview held in a school in a posh locality of South Calcutta, met Dr. Bonard, Mr. Roy and Mr. Masud at a separate house. All the three officials later visited the Park Circus residence of Mr. Maksoud Ali, Assistant Press Attache to the Bangla Desh Mission, who could not attend the interview as he is down with chicken pox.