தலையங்கம் - 20-07-2021

தஜிகிஸ்தான் தலைநகா் துஷான்பேயில் நடைபெற்ற ஷாங்காய் கூட்டு நாடுகளின் (எஸ்இஓ) வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சா்கள் மாநாட்டில், இந்தியாவுக்கும் சீனாவுக்கும் இடையேயான எல்லைப் பிரச்னையை தனிப்பட்ட முறையில் விவாதித்துக்கொள்ள வாய்ப்பு ஏற்பட்டது. இந்திய வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சா் ஜெய்சங்கரும், சீன வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சா் வாங் யியும் நடத்திய தனிமை சந்திப்பில் எல்லைப் பிரச்னை குறித்து இருவரும் விவாதித்தது வரவேற்புக்குரிய திருப்பம்.

கடந்த ஓராண்டாக இந்தியாவுக்கும் சீனாவுக்கும் இடையே நிலவிய மௌனத்தை சுமாா் ஒரு மணி நேரத்திற்கும் மேல் நடந்த அந்தப் பேச்சுவாா்த்தை கலைத்திருக்கிறது. எல்லை கட்டுப்பாட்டுக் கோட்டில் இரு நாடுகளுக்கும் இடையே நிலவும் பிரச்னை முடிவுக்கு வராமல் ஓராண்டுக்கும் மேலாக தொடரும் நிலையில், பேச்சுவாா்த்தைக்கான தொடக்கம் எதிா்பாா்ப்பை உருவாக்கியிருக்கிறது.

கடந்த ஆண்டு செப்டம்பா் மாதம் மாஸ்கோவில் ஜெய்சங்கரும் வாங் யியும் சந்தித்தபோது ஏற்பட்ட உடன்படிக்கையின் விளைவாகத்தான், கல்வான் பள்ளத்தாக்கில் காணப்பட்ட பதற்றம் தணிந்தது. அப்போது கல்வான் பள்ளத்தாக்கில் எல்லையின் இருபுறத்திலும் ஆயிரக்கணக்கான வீரா்கள் போருக்கு ஆயத்தமாக அணிவகுத்து நின்றனா். பாங்காங் ஏரிக்கு தென்புறத்திலும் கைலாஷ் மலைத்தொடரின் சிகரங்களிலும் எப்போது வேண்டுமானாலும் மோதல் நிகழலாம் என்கிற நிலைமை காணப்பட்டது.

அதைத் தொடா்ந்து பிப்ரவரி மாதம் நடைபெற்ற பேச்சுவாா்த்தையின் விளைவாக எல்லையில் காணப்பட்ட பதற்றத்துக்கு இடைக்காலத் தீா்வு காணப்பட்டது. அதன்படி கல்வான் பள்ளத்தாக்கிலும் பாங்காங் ஏரி பகுதியிலும் இரு நாட்டு படைகளும் ரோந்து போவதை நிறுத்தி பதற்றச்சூழலுக்கு முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைத்தன. அதே நேரத்தில் டெப்ஸாங், டெம்சோக், கோக்ரா, ஹாட்ஸ்பிரிங்ஸ் பகுதிகளில் இந்திய - சீனப் படைகள் இப்போதும்கூட மோதலுக்குத் தயாரான நிலையில்தான் அணிவகுத்து நிற்கின்றன என்கிற உண்மையை நாம் மறந்துவிடக் கூடாது.

கடந்த ஆண்டு மே மாதம் முதல் இந்தியாவுக்கும் சீனாவுக்கும் இடையே எல்லைக் கட்டுப்பாடு கோடு குறித்த பிரச்னை தீா்க்கப்படாமல் தொடா்கிறது. பதற்றம் தணிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறதே தவிர, பிரச்னைக்குத் தீா்வு காணப்படவில்லை. இரு நாட்டு ராணுவ உயரதிகாரிகளும் 11 சுற்றுப் பேச்சுவாா்த்தை நடத்திய பிறகும்கூட தீா்வு காணப்படாமல் தொடா்கிறது எல்லைப் பிரச்னை.

மாஸ்கோ சந்திப்பு ஏற்படுத்திய இடைக்கால நல்லுறவு போல, அமைச்சா் ஜெய்சங்கருக்கும், அவரது சீன சகா வாங் யிக்கும் இடையே துஷான்பேயில் நடைபெற்றிருக்கும் சந்திப்பு எல்லைப் பிரச்னைக்கு தீா்வு காணும் முயற்சியில் உதவுமா என்கிற எதிா்பாா்ப்பு அதிகரித்திருக்கிறது. இரு தரப்பு அறிக்கைகளும் அதற்கான நம்பிக்கையை ஏற்படுத்தவில்லை என்பதை உணர முடிகிறது.

1988 முதல் இரு நாட்டு உறவையும் உறுதிப்படுத்துவது எல்லையில் காணப்படும் அமைதியும் நல்லுறவும்தான் என்பதை வலியுறுத்திய இந்திய வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சா் ஜெய்சங்கா், 1993-லும், 1996-லும் இரு நாடுகளுக்கு இடையே ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்பட்ட ஒப்பந்தங்களை, கடந்த ஆண்டு சீனா மீறியதால்தான் உறவு பாதிக்கப்பட்டிருக்கிறது என்று தனது சுட்டுரையில் குறிப்பிட்டிருக்கிறாா்.

அதற்கு நோ்மாறாக சீன வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சா் வாங் யி, எல்லைப் பிரச்னைக்கான தீா்வு இந்தியாவிடம் இருக்கிறதே தவிர, சீனாவுடையதல்ல என்று தெரிவித்திருக்கும் கருத்து கவனத்துக்குரியது. ‘இரு தரப்புக்கும் ஏற்புடைய தீா்வு ஏற்படுவதை சீனா விரும்புகிறது. அவசரகாலத் தீா்வுகளுக்கு பேச்சுவாா்த்தையும் கலந்தாலோசனையும் மேற்கொள்ளத் தயாராகவும் இருக்கிறது. இருந்தும்கூட, பிப்ரவரி மாதம் முதல் இருதரப்பு ராணுவ உயரதிகாரிகளாலும் தீா்வு காண முடியவில்லை’ என்பது அவரது அறிக்கையின் முக்கிய அம்சம்.

ஜெய்சங்கரின் அறிக்கைபடி, பாங்காங் ஏரிப் பகுதியில் வெற்றிகரமாக மேற்கொள்ளப்பட்டிருக்கும் தீா்வின் அடிப்படையில் ஏனைய பகுதிகளிலும் தீா்வு காணப்பட வேண்டும் என்பது இந்தியாவின் கருத்து. ஆனால் வாங் யியோ, எல்லைப் பகுதியில் பதற்றம் தணிந்துவிட்டதாகவும், கல்வான் பள்ளத்தாக்கும் பாங்காங் ஏரிப்பகுதியும் அமைதியாக இருப்பதாகவும் கூறுகிறாரே தவிர, ஏனைய பகுதிகளில் காணப்படும் பதற்றம் குறித்து எதுவுமே தெரிவிக்காமல் இருப்பது வியப்பை ஏற்படுத்துகிறது.

இந்தியாவைப் போல எல்லைப் பிரச்னை குறித்து சீன அரசு கவலைப்படுவதாகவே தெரியவில்லை. இரு நாடுகளுக்கு இடையிலும் நட்புறவு ஏற்பட வேண்டுமானால், எல்லையில் அமைதியும், தீா்வும் ஏற்பட வேண்டும் என்றும் அது ஏற்படாத வரையில், சீன முதலீடுகள் கண்காணிக்கப்படும் என்கிற இந்தியாவின் வாதத்தின் பின்னால் ஒரு பலவீனம் காணப்படுகிறது. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக்கு முற்பட்ட நிலையைவிட அதிக அளவில் சீன இறக்குமதிகள் வந்து கொண்டிருக்கின்றன என்பதை நாம் மறந்துவிடக் கூடாது. குறிப்பாக, மருந்துத் தயாரிப்பின் மூலக்கூறுகளையும், மருத்துவ உபகரணங்களையும் சீனாவிலிருந்துதான் அதிக அளவில் இறக்குமதி செய்துகொண்டிருக்கிறோம்.

ஜெய்சங்கரும், வாங் யியும் நோ்கோட்டில் சந்திக்கும் ஓா் இடம் எதுவென்றால், இரு நாட்டு உறவும் சீா்படாமல் தொடா்வது, இந்தியாவுக்கும் சீனாவுக்கும் நல்லதல்ல என்பது. அதற்கான தீா்வு எல்லையில்தான் இருக்கிறது என்பது தெரிந்தும் இரு நாடுகளும் கண்ணாமூச்சி ஆடிக் கொண்டிருப்பதில் அா்த்தமில்லை. எல்லை கட்டுப்பாட்டு கோடு என்பது மாறி, தெளிவான எல்லைக் கோடு ஏற்பட்டாலொழிய நல்லுறவு மேம்பட வழியில்லை.

dinamani.com

தெற்காசியப் பிராந்தியத்தில் கடந்த காலத்தில் எப்போதும் இல்லாத அளவுக்கு இந்தியாவின் வெளியுறவு வியூகங்களுக்கான தேவை எழுந்திருக்கிறது. கடந்த வாரம் கூடிய ஷாங்காய் கூட்டுறவு அமைப்பில் (எஸ்சிஓ) இணைந்துள்ள நாடுகளின் வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சர்கள் ஆப்கானிஸ்தானில் நடந்துவரும் வன்முறைகளுக்கும் பயங்கரவாதத் தாக்குதல்களுக்கும் உடனடியாக முடிவுகட்டப்பட வேண்டும் என்று கூட்டறிக்கை வெளியிட்டுள்ளனர். பயங்கரவாதத் தாக்குதல்கள், போர் அபாயம், போதைப் பொருட்களின் ஆதிக்கத்திலிருந்து ஆப்கானிஸ்தானை விடுவிக்க வேண்டும் என்று அந்தக் கூட்டறிக்கை கேட்டுக்கொண்டுள்ளது.

பயங்கரவாதம் குறித்த இந்தியாவின் அக்கறையை இந்தக் கூட்டறிக்கை பிரதிபலிக்கிறது. இக்கூட்டத்தில் முன்னதாகக் கலந்துகொண்டு பேசிய இந்திய வெளியுறவுத் துறை அமைச்சர் எஸ்.ஜெய்சங்கர், பயங்கரவாதத்தாலும் பிரிவினைவாதங்களாலும் அண்டை நாடுகள் அச்சுறுத்தலுக்கு ஆளாகாமல் அவற்றின் பாதுகாப்பை உறுதிப்படுத்த வேண்டும் என்று கேட்டுக்கொண்டிருந்தார். குடிமக்கள், அரசு அதிகாரிகள் மீது நடத்தப்படும் வன்முறைகளுக்கும் பயங்கரவாதத் தாக்குதல்களுக்கும் முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைக்க வேண்டும் என்றும், அனைத்து விதமான கருத்துமோதல்களும் பேச்சுவார்த்தைகளின் மூலமே தீர்வுகாணப்பட வேண்டும், அனைத்து இனக் குழுக்களின் நலன்களுக்கும் மதிப்பளிக்கப்பட வேண்டும் என்றும் அவர் வலியுறுத்தினார். பயங்கரவாதம் குறித்த இந்தியாவின் கவலையானது, ஆப்கானிஸ்தானின் எல்லைகளையும் கடந்தது. பாகிஸ்தானிலிருந்து செயல்பட்டுவரும் ஐஎஸ்ஐ தீவிரவாதிகளுடனும் இந்தியாவுக்கு எதிராகச் செயல்பட்டுவரும் லஷ்கர்-இ-தொய்பா, ஜெய்ஷ்-இ-முஹம்மது அமைப்புகளுடனும் தாலிபான்களுக்கு உள்ள தொடர்புகளை இந்தியா தொடர்ந்து சுட்டிக்காட்டிவருகிறது.

ஆப்கானிஸ்தானில் பாதுகாப்புப் பணியில் ஈடுபட்டிருந்த அமெரிக்கப் படையினர், ஏறக்குறைய முழுமையாகத் திரும்பப் பெற்றுக்கொள்ளப்பட்டிருக்கும் நிலையில், அங்கு அமைதியும் நிலையான அரசும் தொடர்வதற்கான முயற்சிகளில் அருகமை நாடுகளின் கூட்டமைப்பான ஷாங்காய் கூட்டுறவு அமைப்பு முக்கியப் பங்கு வகிக்கும் என்று எதிர்பார்க்கப்படுகிறது. இவ்வமைப்பில் அங்கம் வகிக்கும் சீனாவின் எல்லை விரிவாக்க வேட்கையும் கவனத்தில் கொள்ளப்பட வேண்டும். குறிப்பாக, ஆப்கானிஸ்தான் தொடர்புக் குழுக்களுடன் கடந்த வாரம் ஷாங்காய் கூட்டுறவு அமைப்பு நடத்திய உரையாடலில் அமைப்பின் உறுப்பினர் என்றபோதும் இந்தியா பங்கெடுக்கவில்லை. அந்த அமைப்பின் மற்ற உறுப்பினர் நாடுகளான சீனா, ரஷ்யா, பாகிஸ்தான் ஆகியவை பங்கேற்றுள்ளன. ஜின்ஜியாங் மாகாணத்தில் உய்குர் முஸ்லிம்களின் பின்னணியில் இயங்கும் பயங்கரவாதக் குழுக்களுக்கு உதவுவதை நிறுத்திக்கொள்ளுமாறு சீனா கேட்டுக்கொண்டதாகத் தெரிகிறது.

ஆப்கானிஸ்தானைப் பொறுத்தவரை இதுவரையில் தேசிய அரசுக்கு ஆதரவாகவும் அந்த அரசு தாலிபான்களுடன் பேசி சில புரிந்துணர்வுகளை ஏற்படுத்திக்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்பதுமே இந்தியாவின் நிலைப்பாடாக இருந்துவந்தது. தற்போது, இந்தியா மேலும் சில முன்முயற்சிகளையும் எடுக்க வேண்டும் என்ற எதிர்பார்ப்புகளும் எழுந்துள்ளன. குறிப்பாக, ஆப்கானிஸ்தானில் நிலவும் அமைதியின்மைக்கு முற்றுப்புள்ளி வைப்பதில் இந்தியாவின் பங்கும் முதன்மையானதாக இருக்க வேண்டும்; வெவ்வேறு வழிகளில் ஈரான், பாகிஸ்தான் நாடுகளுடன் கைகோத்துச் செயல்படவும் தயாராக இருக்க வேண்டும்.

- hindutamil.in

Since school closure has led to a great loss of nutrition and schooling for the poorest sections of our society, there is some urgency in the calls we hear to reopen schools. However, the important question remains this: if schools were to reopen tomorrow, are we prepared for their resumption? Will it be merely business as usual?

The disruption

In what has been perhaps an educational disruption in history without parallel since the mass education system took root in India, schools have been closed for 16 months now, with no clarity on or a timeline for their resumption as yet. The country has promoted online classes and e-connectivity as the solution, perhaps inevitably so, since physical contact between teachers and children has not been possible. The focus has been on secondary and higher secondary education, with most States ensuring some form or other of online classes for this segment. However, due to a lack of connectivity as well as a lack of access to e-devices, only a fraction of children even in this age group has had online education of any kind. When it comes to children in the primary and upper primary classes, even such access has been limited to a minuscule fraction. Children of the poor, studying in government schools, have been especially disadvantaged in this regard.

Further aggravating the situation is the quality of online education — it is largely abysmal. As most studies show, the percentage of teachers in the country capable of handling digital platforms for pedagogic purposes is very small. The educational material provided by them has also been mere reproduction of what is used in a physical classroom. Hence, even where online classes have taken place regularly — as in the case of urban schools, with students largely from middle and high income groups — the teaching-learning processes have by and large been poor.

As has been well documented by now, all this has resulted in what commentators have termed nutrition loss and learning loss. Worldwide, many studies in the last year have documented a loss of learning in children. In the Netherlands, despite a short lockdown, equitable school funding, and excellent broadband access, researchers found that among eight to 11 year olds, “students made little or no progress while learning from home” and that “learning loss was most pronounced among students from disadvantaged homes” (https://bit.ly/3hORC5N). A large multi-State study in the United States records that the pandemic “has also prompted some students to leave the public school system altogether”.

According to a study by the Azim Premji Foundation (https://bit.ly/2UqW81h) in January 2021, covering more than 16,000 children in the age group six to 11 years, and across five States, 92% of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes; the figure is 82% when it comes to mathematical ability.

A question that looms large in the minds of teachers, parents and especially the children, is a basic one: will a child, who was in Class four in March 2020, and did not get to attend a single class during the academic year 2020-2021, be admitted into Class six now in (say) August 2021? In areas where this means admission to a different school, is this automatic? In some States this has already been addressed and answered this year. Age-appropriate enrolment, as guaranteed under the Right to Education Act, is being uniformly implemented. But this has not been ensured across India, with many States not taking up enrolment for this year as yet.

Even assuming that enrolment is not an issue, if we return to the child in the illustration above, as the child enrols into Class six, will she start with Class five textbooks, or Class six textbooks, or some new “bridge” material?

This is, of course, a decision to be taken by the State government, but what is the rationale to be used? And what are the implications?

International experience

‘One way of addressing the learning crisis might be to repeat the entire academic year. The government in Kenya has decided to do just this’. Some countries, such as the Philippines, allow extended time for classes on resumption, both in duration of school hours and more calendar days of interaction. ‘Another approach is to reduce and synthesize the curriculum so that students are able to focus on a few subjects and learn them well’. This is followed, for instance, by the State of Ontario in Canada.

One-to-one tutoring for the most disadvantaged learners has been taken up in many countries. Among the most prestigious such programmes is the National Tutoring Programme in the United Kingdom for which the government has announced funding to the tune of £350 million. Ghana has also announced a national programme of tutoring. There are several such programmes in different States in the U.S. In Italy, university students are volunteering to conduct one-one-one classes for middle school children from poor immigrant backgrounds.

Accelerated education programmes or “bridge courses”, which condense several months (or even years of schooling) into a few weeks or months, are another option. This concept has been taken up in several countries.

One strong voice emerging from all these experiences is: “Acceleration, not remediation”. The advice is to go with exposure to age-level grade-level content, and plug the holes where necessary. Many educators warn against a deficit model that starts with measuring “loss” and tries to “fill the void”, before returning to the “normal”. Such models tend to ignore the complexity of psychological preparedness in children, and reduce learning to a single dimension of achievement, which invariably works against children in low-resource contexts.

Some have even asserted that “... there is no such thing as learning loss”, and that students have learned a great deal about life, home economy, health and much else during the pandemic that cannot be measured by standardised tests; that learning should begin with acknowledging this and building on such informal learning.

In the words of Tony Cotton (https://bit.ly/3wRM0f0), a renowned mathematics educator from the U.K., “The curriculum should not be seen as a fixed list of content that must all be covered before the learner can leave school. If the curriculum can be seen as a map, as a landscape, there is always plenty of time to explore.”

The agenda ahead

Given the state of preparedness of our education system, and based on what we have seen during the last year, it is hard to see our schools taking up a curriculum based on where the children are, in terms of what they have learnt from life during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The most likely event is that schools will simply revert to business as usual, with a reduced syllabus, and no change whatsoever in the overall curriculum or pedagogy, and racing through the syllabus to “catch up”. Children who cannot keep up would simply be left behind. This would be a great disaster. It is very likely that children from the poorest sections will be the ones who are affected the most, by having to race in accelerated learning programmes with no support at home. Teachers, without preparation for handling such a new context, can only fall back on covering the syllabus, leading to the alienation of already marginalised students.

What we need now is nothing less than a national rejuvenation programme for elementary education. The school system cannot do what is needed by itself. We need a vast body of volunteers engaging in small groups with children from the most disadvantaged sections, working in tandem with schools, which will need to focus on safety measures and average performance. It is critical that we should not reduce education to foundational literacy and numeracy, but treat children as they are, study the experiences they bring, and address their nutritional, emotional and intellectual well-being as a whole. This requires a flexible curriculum rooted in local reality, working with physical material, and pedagogy based on sound principles of psychology of learning.

The country has already shown during the pandemic that it lacks the capability to re-imagine examinations, whether it be at the secondary school level, or at university. Now, with the education of small children, a similar lack of imagination in curriculum and pedagogy will be splendidly ironic: without ourselves learning any lesson from the pandemic, we would be demanding that the children learn their lessons.

R. Ramanujam was faculty at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, until recently. The views expressed are personal

It is worth asking why the government would need to hack phones and install spyware when existing laws already offer impunity for surveillance. This unsettling query arises on the basis of reports emerging from a collaborative investigation by journalists from around the world, including from India’sThe Wire, titled the ‘Pegasus Project’. Reports say that over “300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others”, were targeted using spyware made by the Israeli firm, NSO Group.

Threat to press freedom

Subsequent reporting showed that the Pegasus spyware had been used to target 37 phones, of which 10 belonged to Indians. Amnesty International’s Security Lab was then able to confirm that Pegasus was used to compromise the phones of former journalist ofThe Indian ExpressSushant Singh, former editor of theEconomic and Political WeeklyParanjoy Guha Thakurta, formerOutlookjournalist S.N.M. Abdi, andThe Wire’s two founding editors Siddharth Varadarajan and M.K. Venu.

These revelations highlight a disturbing trend with regard to the use of hacking software against dissidents and adversaries. In 2019, similar allegations were made about the use of Pegasus against journalists and human rights activists. Most of them were situated in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh as the hack targeted lawyers related to the Bhima Koregaon case and Dalit activists, respectively. However, despite repeated calls for investigations, the relevant State governments failed to do so.

A significant number of Indians reportedly affected by Pegasus this time are again journalists. This is not surprising since the World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders has ranked India 142 out of 180 countries in 2021. What is shocking, however, is that the press requires (and in democracies is afforded) greater protections on speech and privacy. Privacy and free speech are what enable good reporting. They protect journalists against threats of private and governmental reprisals against legitimate reporting. This has been recognised in Supreme Court decisions. In the absence of privacy, the safety of journalists, especially those whose work criticises the government, and the personal safety of their sources is jeopardised. Such a lack of privacy, therefore, creates an aura of distrust around these journalists and effectively buries their credibility.

Problematic provisions

The government, in its purported undated and unsigned response, relied on existing provisions of law under the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000. Even without the use of Pegasus or any other hacking software and surveillance, these provisions are problematic and offer the government total opacity in respect of its interception and monitoring activities. While the provisions of the Telegraph Act relate to telephone conversations, the IT Act relates to all communications undertaken using a computer resource. Section 69 of the IT Act and the Interception Rules of 2009 are even more opaque than the Telegraph Act, and offer even weaker protections to the surveilled. No provision, however, allows the government to hack the phones of any individual since hacking of computer resources, including mobile phones and apps, is a criminal offence under the IT Act. Nonetheless, surveillance itself, whether under a provision of law or without it, is a gross violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.

The very existence of a surveillance system impacts the right to privacy and the exercise of freedom of speech and personal liberty under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, respectively. It prevents people from reading and exchanging unorthodox, controversial or provocative ideas. Regardless of whether a citizen knows that their email is being read by the government, the perceived danger, founded on reasonable suspicion that this may happen, itself impacts their ability to express, receive and discuss such ideas.

There is also no scope for an individual subjected to surveillance to approach a court of law prior to or during or subsequent to acts of surveillance since the system itself is covert. In the absence of parliamentary or judicial oversight, electronic surveillance gives the executive the power to influence both the subject of surveillance and all classes of individuals, resulting in a chilling effect on free speech. Constitutional functionaries such as a sitting judge of the Supreme Court have reportedly been surveilled under Pegasus without any checks outside the executive wing of government. Vesting such disproportionate power with one wing of the government threatens the separation of powers of the government. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) request in 2013, the Central government had revealed that 7,500 to 9,000 orders for interception of telephones are issued by it every month. However, RTI requests for such information are now denied citing threats to national security and to the physical safety of persons.

The government, in its purported response, stated that any surveillance which takes place happens through a “due process of law”. However, the existing provisions are insufficient to protect against the spread of authoritarianism since they allow the executive to exercise a disproportionate amount of power. Such surveillance, when carried out entirely by the executive, curtails Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution (empowering the Supreme Court and High Courts, respectively, to issue certain writs) as it happens in secret. Thus, the affected person is unable to show a breach of their rights. This violates not only the ideals of due process and the separation of powers but also goes against the requirement of procedural safeguards as mandated inK.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) v. Union of India(2017).

Role of judiciary

Thus, in order to satisfy the ideal of “due process of law”, to maintain an effective separation of powers and to fulfill the requirements of procedural safeguards and natural justice, there needs to be oversight from another branch of the government. Only the judiciary can be competent to decide whether specific instances of surveillance are proportionate, whether less onerous alternatives are available, and to balance the necessity of the government’s objectives with the rights of the impacted individuals. The need for judicial oversight over surveillance systems in general, and judicial investigation into the Pegasus hacking in particular, is also essential because the leaked database of targeted numbers contained the phone number of a sitting Supreme Court judge, which further calls into question the independence of the judiciary in India.

Surveillance reform is the need of the hour in India. Not only are existing protections weak but the proposed legislation related to the personal data protection of Indian citizens fails to consider surveillance while also providing wide exemptions to government authorities. When spyware is expensive and interception is inefficient, the individuals surveilled will be shortlisted by priority and perceived threat level to the existing regime. But as spyware becomes more affordable and interception becomes more efficient, there will no longer be a need to shortlist individuals. Everyone will be potentially subject to state-sponsored mass surveillance. The only solution is immediate and far-reaching surveillance reform.

Anushka Jain is the Associate Counsel (Surveillance and Transparency) and Tanmay Singh is the Litigation Counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation

Most important developments in West Asia are increasingly revealing an Egyptian fingerprint. Egypt’s diplomats and intelligence officers recently negotiated the end of the 11-day Israel-Palestine conflict, with the new Israeli government looking to Egypt to manage the turbulent cauldron of Gaza. Turkey, which has been hostile to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the coup in July 2013, when he overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo headed by President Mohammed Morsi, is anxious to reopen relations.

Egypt, after long years of neglect, has now become active in re-engaging with its neighbours in Africa, with substantial economic and defence partnership agreements. Finally, Egypt, with Iraq and Jordan, announced in Baghdad at the end of June that a new tripartite grouping of these West Asian States had been set up, proclaiming the advent ofal-Sham al-Jadid, the “New Levant”.

Political, economic changes

Just a few years ago, after the overthrow of the country’s first democratically elected government, Egypt survived with a $12 billion aid package from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait. These West Asian deposits were supplemented by grants in 2013-14 for the import of petroleum products, valued at another $16 billion (https://bit.ly/3exXb6w).

West Asian politics was also largely influenced by the active role of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Egypt found itself a reluctant partner in these ventures, though it was low key in Yemen and maintained ties with the Assad government in Damascus. In Libya, it was pushed into a more active role to confront the Tripoli-based administration, but here, too, it refused to deploy troops in the country.

Egypt’s role in the blockade of Qatar from June 2017, initiated by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was also relatively lukewarm. Egypt allowed Qatari LNG to pass through the Suez Canal, while Qatar made no effort to dilute its investments in Egypt or order the repatriation of 2,50,000 Egyptian workers in the country.

The failure of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to achieve any success in their military interventions, or in the blockade of Qatar, has opened the space for Egypt to regain the influence it has traditionally enjoyed in Arab counsels. This has been greatly facilitated by the good management of its economy through difficult times. Economic reforms from 2015 finally provided foreign exchange reserves of $40 billion by 2018 and a growth rate of 5.6% in 2019 (https://bit.ly/3eAlfpb).

The instrument that Egypt is using to assert its diverse interests in a complex and conflictual region is not military force, but diplomacy.

Regional challenges

The principal challenge that Egypt presently faces relates to Ethiopia’s plan to construct the “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (GERD) on the Blue Nile. Egypt fears this project could restrict its access to the waters of the Nile, the source of 95% of its fresh water. Seeing the project as an “existential threat”, Egyptian officials have said that “all options” are on the table. However, Egypt has actually embarked on robust diplomatic engagements in its African neighbourhood, with defence agreements with the “ring countries” around Ethiopia — Sudan, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Kenya — to safeguard its interests.

Ethiopia has initiated its own diplomatic effort in the Horn of Africa by firming up ties with Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan. In response, Egypt has agreed to build a major dam and hydropower project in Tanzania, so that the latter will compete with Ethiopia in the export of power in the region. At the end of June, Egypt wrote to the UN Security Council seeking international intervention on the dam issue; it said that, with this effort, “we will have exhausted all the peaceful means”.

Egypt’s other challenge is relations with Turkey. The two countries met at the deputy Foreign Minister level in Cairo in early May and discussed the issues that divide them: Libya and the East Mediterranean. In Libya, Turkey has deployed about 500 soldiers and another 2,000 fighters from its militia in Syria in support of the Tripoli-based authority. Egypt and the UAE have so far backed the Tobruk-based administration and supported the rival Libyan force, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, with weaponry and mercenaries. In March 2021, an interim government of National Unity was formed that brings together the two rival administrations in one national order until elections are held in December this year. But this arrangement is still fragile, and competitions for power between the Tripoli and Tobruk-based rivals are ongoing.

Libya’s peace process demands that foreign troops leave the country. Though the Syrian militants have started leaving, Turkey asserts that its own soldiers have been invited by the government and is showing no signs of withdrawing them, while Russia insists that withdrawal of foreign troops will be a “step-by-step” process so that a power balance is maintained. In the East Mediterranean, Egypt, with other littoral partners, has delineated energy claims in the sea which conflict with Turkey’s claims. With neither side willing to compromise, there are serious fears of conflict. On July 3, Egypt affirmed its interest in Libya by inaugurating a new naval base close to the Libyan border.

Coalition for cooperation

The just-announced tripartite coalition of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan is clearly an attempt by the partners to broaden their regional engagements: Iraq would like to free itself from the Iranian grip and expand ties with its Arab neighbours. Jordan is unhappy with the recent Saudi role in trying to topple King Abdullah and replace him with a disgruntled half brother, Prince Hamza. Egypt views the partnership as an opportunity to move beyond its traditional dependence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and assert its own leadership in the region.

Together, the partners constitute a near-contiguous land mass, with a total population of 150 million (https://bit.ly/3kwy2g6) and considerable domestic agricultural and industrial capacity. They are looking at extensive cooperation in energy connectivity and reconstruction areas. Membership is open and, later, Syria and Lebanon could also join this group.

The outlook

While Egypt’s diplomacy has already placed it in the vanguard of regional affairs, it also faces serious challenges. As of now, Ethiopia is not budging on GERD, raising fears of a military confrontation.

At home, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, unemployment has increased, recovery has been slow, and the percentage of workers without adequate income has gone up from 55% to nearly 75%. The poverty rate is still 2% higher than in 2015, when reforms had started. Further deterioration in the economy could compel Egypt to seek assistance from the Gulf States, which would dilute its independent posture in regional affairs.

Again, under the country’s stringent counterterrorism laws, tens of thousands of government critics are in detention. During the election campaign, Joe Biden, now U.S. President, had promised that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’”, a reference to al-Sisi. However, it remains to be seen if the U.S. will actually go through with this.

As of now, Egypt is riding high. The Egyptian President recently revamped the museum of ancient history in Cairo and presided over parades of mummies of former Egyptian pharaohs as they moved to their new home. Perhaps, he feels a kinship with those old rulers who had brought Egypt so much glory all those centuries ago.

Talmiz Ahmad is a former Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, and Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University, Pune

Two econometricians, Bernard A.B. and Busse M.R., in a paper inThe Review of Economics and Statistics(February 2004) tried to establish that “total GDP is the best predictor of the national Olympic performance”. They also claimed that host countries are “likely to win an additional 1.8% of the medals beyond what would be predicted by their GDP alone”. Since then, many studies have attempted to understand the factors that influence most the ability of a nation to win medals at the Olympics. One such work after the Rio Olympics showed that medals per hundred billion of dollars (based on purchasing power parity data of 2015) are highest in some Caribbean nations and lowest in some Asian and African nations. These results negate to a considerable extent the hypothesis that total GDP is the best predictor of the performance of a nation at the Olympics.

Factors that determine performance

There are many factors which are important in determining the performance of a nation in various sports. Beyond a threshold level, the average standard of living in a nation and the country’s population size may be important determinants for its performance at the Olympics. The size of total GDP is hardly important in countries like India where a sizable segment is fighting hunger. A person of poor health can never be a good sportsperson. In countries where there are high levels of stunted growth, malnutrition and anaemia, we cannot expect good athletes. Thus, South Asian countries and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa don’t fit in the econometric models built on total GDP.

Genetic factors are also no less important. The U.S., Australia and the Netherlands are powerhouses in swimming, but not China. Perhaps, taller people have an advantage in swimming or basketball but height is not important in shooting or gymnastics. China excels in shooting along with the U.S. and Germany. East Asian nations do better at table tennis than Western nations. Russia, East European nations and Central Asian countries do well in amateur boxing whereas China and Central Asians countries do better in weightlifting and wrestling.

Mobilising resources in world-class training provides an edge to sportspersons. Such infrastructure makes the U.S. the superpower in athletics and gymnastics, Germany in equestrian, and the U.K. in diving, sailing and cycling. For poor nations, creating such infrastructure is a luxury.

During colonial rule, India got some exposure to international sporting events earlier than many Asian and African nations. The Calcutta Football League, for example, is the oldest football league in Asia. Durand Cup is the oldest existing football tournament in Asia. This exposure gave India an edge over other ‘Third World’ nations in the 1950s and early 1960s. Resources in India were spread thinly across sports disciplines. As more and more nations started coming into the international sports arena, India’s relative position started declining from the 1970s.

Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Singapore and Malaysia may stand below India in the medal’s tally at the Asian Games, but are ahead of it at the Olympics. This is primarily because India is moderately good at many sports but not good enough to be the best at any of them. In contrast, Jamaica does well at the Olympics in sprinting and Kenya gets medals in long-distance running. They perform better than India though they are not great sporting nations. In recent years, India has shown promise in shooting, amateur boxing, wrestling, gymnastics and badminton. We need to concentrate more on sports where the physical build of an average Indian will not stand as a disadvantage.

One State, one sport

States need to be integrated in a bigger way in India’s sports policy. Can we not develop different States as centres of excellence for different sports? People of different States have different food habits and build. It’s not impossible to develop training infrastructure for different sports in different parts of the country depending on the inclination of people of that area and their habits and build. Unless we start grooming our children, who show potential, for international sports, India can hardly succeed at the Olympics. Individual talent alone cannot take us ahead. The policy of “One State, One Sport” can be a game-changer in India.

India’s best performance at the Olympics was in London (2012) where it won two silver medals and four bronzes and ranked 56th in the medal’s tally. At the Rio Olympics (2016), with one silver and one bronze, India’s rank came down to 67. Whatever the predictions of the econometricians, if India can find a place in the top 50 sporting nations in the medal’s tally of the rescheduled Summer Olympics at Tokyo commencing on July 23, that will be good enough to boost the nation’s morale.

Gautam Bhattacharya is a former civil servant

While improvements in pay scale and promotions are necessary aspects of police reforms, little has been spoken about reforms needed at the psychological level. Why do citizens fear going to a police station or dealing with the lower ranks of the police force?

Custody-related deaths

The answer lies in numbers. Between April 1 and November 30, 2015, 25,357 cases were registered under police category which included 111 deaths in police custody, 330 cases of custodial torture and 24,916 in others. These numbers were shared by the former Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, in the Lok Sabha in response to a question. In comparison, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, from 1989-90 to 2010-11, the deaths in police custody and custody-related operations were 700. In the U.K., England and Wales, the total deaths in police custody or following contact with the police (1990 to 2015) was 1,542. In the U.S., according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of state prisoners’ deaths between 2001 and 2007 was 21,936 although one could argue that an unaccounted number of political prisoners from the U.S. disappear into privately maintained black holes called the supermax prisons both on and off U.S. soil. However, not considering the different time periods, an off-hand comparison would show that custody-related deaths in India are more than the sum total of the countries mentioned.

One question on the minds of the common people is: how can a human being inflict so much pain on another without the slightest remorse? Two famous experiments provide an explanation. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, people who had applied to be a part of the experiment were randomly divided into two groups: prison guards and prisoners. Under duress, the participants who played the role of prison guards started exploiting and torturing the participants playing the role of prisoners. Milgrim’s experiment on obedience to authority showed that people obey if they are coerced. A staggering 65% of the participants applied the maximum level of pain on the “victim” while the remaining 35% remained in a range. Only a minuscule number refused to inflict any pain even under coercion. The results of Milgrim’s experiment were shown to be true even in variations of the experiment.

Behaviour with the citizenry

In the Indian police force, the lower ranks of police personnel are often verbally abused by their superiors. Many are not considered as individuals, are not shown compassion by the senior ranks, and work in inhuman conditions. While the alleged excesses of the police cannot be justified, it is important to look at how the treatment meted to police constables has affected the interaction of the police with the public. Many policemen deal with citizens in the manner that they do only because their work environments are not harmonious. Their relationship with their superior officers is stressful and sycophantic. There is no concept of welfare and this manifests in their improper behaviour with the citizenry.

Several committees have made several recommendations on the issue of reforms for a healthy police system. The Supreme Court of India was forced to intervene as neither the Central government nor the State governments acted upon those recommendations. It is clear that the problem is with the political apparatus considering the history of the Police Act. The Police Act of 1861 was legislated by the British right after the revolt of 1857 to bring in efficient administration of police in the country and to prevent any future revolts. This meant that the police were to always comply with those in power. Considering the results of the privatisation of the prison system and militarisation of the police system in the U.S., it would be disastrous to even consider this as a solution in India. Thus, political will is seen as an essential component in bringing about any major reform in the Indian police force.

Vikram Vincent holds a PhD from IIT Bombay

It does not require any higher wisdom to know that there is considerable risk to public health during massive religious gatherings in the midst of a pandemic. Yet, it took some prodding by the Supreme Court for Uttar Pradesh to cancel the annual Kanwar Yatra. The yatra, in which Kanwarias, devotees of Shiva, make a pilgrimage to collect water from the Ganga, was not held last year due to COVID-19. This year, it was scheduled to start on July 25. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath appeared keen that the pilgrimage be held this year, and had convened a meeting on July 9 to discuss preparations and security arrangements, along with putting measures in place to avoid the spread of COVID-19 infection. However, the Court was perturbed by reports of the plan to conduct the yatra, resulting in the initiation ofsuo motuproceedings. Disagreeing with even the idea of a ‘symbolic yatra’ in deference to religious sentiment, the Court had reiterated a principle that is being observed in most places: the idea that the health of the public and their right to life are paramount. “All other sentiments, albeit religious, are subservient to this most basic fundamental right,” the Court had observed on July 16, while giving the State government time till July 19 to call off the gatherings on its own. The Uttarakhand government had earlier cancelled the yatra in its territory, rightly heeding warnings by experts that such large gatherings posed a major risk, amidst fears and expectations of a third wave. Uttar Pradesh was helped by the various Kanwar Sanghs that offered to avoid taking out the yatra this year too.

Despite the fact that the organisation of the Kumbh Mela earlier this year was seen as responsible for a surge in infections in the run-up to the disastrous second wave that overpowered the country’s health system for weeks, there are sections that believe that rituals and gatherings associated with religious faith must be allowed with some restrictions. There may be a case for relaxations aimed at economic revival and restoration of normality in most parts of the country, but there really is none when it comes to choosing between religious rights and the right to life and safety. The easing of lockdown restrictions for three days in Kerala to help people celebrate Bakrid is a case in point. It has attracted justified criticism, as any relaxation after a long spell of severe curbs will have to be based on a scientific assessment of the number of daily infections, the rate of positivity and signs of abatement. Kerala is one of the States whose daily numbers are causing concern, and the easing of restrictions defies logic and flies in the face of science. The State government will be hard pressed to explain its decision to the top court, which will quite rightly demand much more than a routine clarification that the relaxations were accompanied by instructions for maintaining the COVID-19 protocol.

Deciphering the political calculus of the Congress can be a tough task. The latest example is the appointment of Navjot Sidhu as the President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. After mounting a relentless public attack against CM Amarinder Singh and publicly praising other parties, Mr. Sidhu is now tasked with leading the Congress. He spent 13 years in the BJP, five in the Congress, while flirting with the idea of joining the AAP in between. He joined the Congress ahead of the 2017 Assembly election which the party won mostly on account of Mr. Singh’s skills. Mr. Sidhu got a cabinet berth but fell out with the CM soon enough. Mr. Singh opposed Mr. Sidhu’s visits to Pakistan, and a ticket for his wife in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The Congress won eight of the 13 Lok Sabha seats from Punjab. Punjab constitutes 15% of the Congress’s total Lok Sabha strength of 52. Mr. Sidhu had little support among MPs, MLAs or party workers until the Gandhis — Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka — tilted the scales in his favour. On the one hand there is strong evidence of his opportunism, lack of maturity, unprincipled greed for power that includes claiming a Lok Sabha seat for his wife within two years of defecting to the Congress, and inability to work as part of a team. On the other hand, he has absolutely no track record of any political activism, public service or being ideologically aligned to the Congress in any manner.

Opportunists without any convictions might be used for particular roles in a party’s strategy, but handing over the command to such a turncoat shows the complete bankruptcy of the Congress and an insult to those who fight the long battle. The misplaced assertion of authority by the Gandhis in riding roughshod over the CM and MPs, is a repeat of the old mistakes that pushed regional satraps out of its fold. Mamata Banerjee, Himanta Biswa Sarma, and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy are outstanding political minds who command power in their respective States as CMs of West Bengal, Assam and Andhra Pradesh. They felt suffocated in the durbar politics of the Congress, in which Mr. Sidhu has flourished. Strong regional leaders deliver results but also behave in an assertive and even authoritarian manner, as it appears to be the case with Mr. Singh. But then, humiliating them is no way to rein them in. Now that the deed has been done, perhaps the Gandhis will explain to the party workers what their rationale is, and what they expect Mr. Sidhu to deliver. In the absence of a convincing explanation, the only message is that the high command would stoop low to promote any court jester to undercut a leader who builds any independent standing. If Mr. Sidhu is the future of the Congress, that future appears bleak at this point.

The two years since the nationalisation of 14 major banks have certainly been the most eventful in the history of Indian banking. They have brought about hectic branch banking and a distinct change in the pattern of lending. In the first 18 months, 2,900 new branches were opened, most of them in rural and semi-urban centres. Deposits with the 14 banks have increased by Rs. 882 crores to about Rs. 3,408 crores. There was also an increase in the number of accounts of small borrowers to 11.7 lakhs by March this year from only 2.8 lakhs in June 1969. These developments have no doubt great significance, especially as 30 to 40 per cent of fresh credit extended by all banks has been in favour of borrowers in the priority sectors. The pace of deposit growth has obviously been stimulated by the strengthening of the infrastructure and by a new class of people taking seriously to the banking habit.