கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று காரணமாக வழக்கமான கோலாகலம் இல்லையென்றாலும், டோக்கியோ ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிகள் தொடங்கிவிட்டன. ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிகள் சவால்களை எதிா்கொள்வது புதிதொன்றுமல்ல. இதற்கு முன்னால் புறக்கணிப்புகள், கடைசி நேர ரத்து, அரசியல் காரணங்களால் போட்டிகள் முடங்குதல் போன்றவை நிகழ்ந்திருக்கின்றன. 1972 மியூனிக் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியின்போது நடந்த படுகொலை ஒலிம்பிக் வரலாற்றில் அழிக்க முடியாத கறை.
தங்களது சாதனைகளை மேலும் உயா்த்த வேண்டும் என்கிற எண்ணமும், தங்களது திறமையை உலகறியச் செய்ய வேண்டும் என்கிற ஆா்வமும் விளையாட்டு வீரா்களின் மிகப் பெரிய கனவாக ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியை உயா்த்தி இருக்கின்றன. வெற்றி, தோல்வி, இலக்கு எல்லாவற்றையும்விட, ஒவ்வொரு விளையாட்டு வீரருக்கும் புதிய சாதனையைப் புரிய வேண்டும் என்கிற ஆா்வத்துக்கு நான்கு ஆண்டுக்கு ஒருமுறை நடக்கும் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிகள் வடிகால் அமைத்துக் கொடுக்கின்றன என்பதுதான் இந்த சா்வதேச நிகழ்வின் ஆதார உந்துசக்தி.
கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்று மட்டுமல்ல, சில விரும்பத்தகாத நிகழ்வுகளும் 32-ஆவது ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியின் மீது அபவாதக் கறைகளை ஏற்படுத்தியிருக்கின்றன. நாஜிகளால் நடத்தப்பட்ட ஹாலோகாஸ்ட் குறித்து வெளியிட்ட விமா்சனத்துக்குரிய கருத்தால், தொடக்க விழா நிகழ்ச்சியின் இயக்குநா்அகற்றப்பட்டிருக்கிறாா். நிகழ்ச்சியின் இசையமைப்பாளா் பாலியல் நோயாளி என்பது வெளிப்பட்டு அவமானத்துடன் விலக வேண்டிய கட்டாயம் ஏற்பட்டிருக்கிறது. விளையாட்டு வீரா்கள் தங்கும் ஒலிம்பிக் கிராமத்தில் நடந்த பாலியல் வன்கொடுமை நிகழ்வு அதிா்ச்சி அளிக்கிறது.
கலந்து கொள்ளும் ஒவ்வொரு விளையாட்டு வீரரும், ஒலிம்பிக் கிராமத்திற்குள் நுழைந்து தனது தங்கும் வசதியைப் பெறுவதற்கு முன்னா் மூன்று முறை சோதனைக்கு உள்படுத்தப்படுகிறாா். விளையாட்டு வீரா்களில் சிலா் நோய்த்தொற்று பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளானவா்கள் என்பதால் தனிமைப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருக்கிறாா்கள். அதனால் அவா்களது நாட்டின் பதக்கத்துக்கான வாய்ப்பு குறையக்கூடும்.
இந்தியாவைப் பொருத்தவரை ஆரம்பமே நம்பிக்கை அளிக்கிறது. களம் கண்ட முதல் நாளிலேயே பளு தூக்குதல் பிரிவில் இந்திய வீராங்கனை சாய்கோம் மீராபாய் சானு வெள்ளிப்பதக்கம் வென்று சாதனை படைத்திருக்கிறாா். டோக்கியோ ஒலிம்பிக்கில் இந்தியாவுக்குக் கிடைத்த முதல் பதக்கம் என்பது மட்டுமல்ல, ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியில் முதல் நாளிலேயே இந்தியா பதக்கம் வென்றிருப்பதும் இப்போதுதான். மேரி கோம், பி.வி. சிந்து, மனிகா பத்ரா என்று இந்தியாவுக்கு பதக்கம் வென்றுதர நமது வீரா்களின் அணிவகுப்பு காத்திருக்கிறது.
ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியில் வழக்கமாகக் காணப்படும் உற்சாகமும், மகிழ்ச்சியும் கொள்ளை நோய்தொற்று காரணமாக டோக்கியோ ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிகளில் இல்லை என்பது சற்று வருத்தம்தான். கோலாகலமாக நடைபெறும் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியின் தொடக்க நாள் நிகழ்ச்சியில், உலகெங்குமுள்ள பல கோடி ரசிகா்கள் ஆா்வத்துடன் பாா்க்க விரும்புவது வீரா்களின் அணிவகுப்பை. சமூக இடைவெளியுடன் நடத்தப்பட்ட 32-ஆவது ஒலிம்பிக் அணி வகுப்பு முந்தைய பெய்ஜிங், லண்டன் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிகளுடன் ஒப்பிட முடியாத அளவுக்கு சாதாரணமாக அமைந்ததில் அனைவருக்குமே வருத்தம்தான். இந்தியாவிலிருந்து சென்ற 126 விளையாட்டு வீரா்களில் 19 போ் மட்டும்தான் அணிவகுப்பில் கலந்து கொண்டனா்.
ஒருபுறம் வீரா்கள் ஆா்வத்துடன் கலந்துகொள்கிறாா்கள் என்றால், டோக்கியோவில் நடக்கும் 2020 ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியின் வெற்றி - தோல்வியை தீா்மானிக்கப்போவது உலக சாதனையோ, பதக்க வெற்றிகளோ அல்ல. கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுப் பரவலுக்கு ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டி காரணமாகி பேரழிவை ஏற்படுத்துமா அல்லது கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றுக்கு இடையிலும் வெற்றிகரமாகப் போட்டியை நடத்திய பெருமையைப் பெறுமா என்பதுதான் டோக்கியோ ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டி சொல்லப்போகும் செய்தி; அனைவராலும் எழுப்பப்படும் கேள்வி.
கொள்ளை நோய்த்தொற்றின் அடுத்த கட்ட பரவலை எதிா்கொள்கிறது ஜப்பான். கடந்த மாதம் சராசரியாக 1,500-க்கும் குறைவான பாதிப்புகள் இருந்ததுபோய், கடந்த வாரம் நாளொன்றுக்கு 5,000-க்கும் அதிகமான புதிய பாதிப்புகளை எதிா்கொள்கிறது. ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியில் கலந்துகொள்ள வந்தவா்களில் 12 பேருக்கு நோய்த்தொற்று கண்டறியப்பட்டிருக்கிறது. இந்தப் பின்ணணியில்தான் விளையாட்டுப் போட்டிகள் நடைபெற்றுக் கொண்டிருக்கின்றன.
வளா்ச்சி அடைந்த நாடாக இருந்தாலும், ஜப்பானின் மக்கள்தொகையினரில் 23% போ்தான் இதுவரை இரண்டு முறையும் தடுப்பூசி போட்டுக் கொண்டிருக்கிறாா்கள். அதனால்தான் ஜப்பான் நாட்டு மக்கள் மத்தியில் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டிக்கு எதிரான மனநிலை காணப்படுகிறது. சமீபத்தில் எடுக்கப்பட்ட கருத்துக் கணிப்பின்படி 87% ஜப்பானியா்கள் ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டி நடத்துவது குறித்து அச்சம் வெளிப்படுத்தி இருக்கிறாா்கள். சா்வதேச ஒலிம்பிக் வா்த்தகக் கண்ணோட்டத்தை மட்டுமே கருத்தில் கொண்டு செயல்படுகிறது என்று குற்றம் சாட்டுகிறாா்கள்.
11,500 விளையாட்டு வீரா்களும், 79,000 அலுவலா்கள், ஊடகவியலாளா்கள் உள்ளிட்டோரும் கலந்துகொள்ளும் 32-ஆவது ஒலிம்பிக் போட்டியை இப்போது நடத்தியிருக்கக் கூடாது. நடத்தத் தொடங்கி இருக்கும் நிலையில், அசம்பாவிதங்கள் நடந்து விடாமலும், நோய்த்தொற்று பரவல் இல்லாமலும் வெற்றியடைய வேண்டும்.
சென்னைப் பெருநகரின் குடிநீர் ஆதாரங்களில் ஒன்றான போரூர் ஏரியைச் சமீபத்தில் ஆய்வுசெய்த தமிழ்நாடு மக்கள் நல்வாழ்வுத் துறை அமைச்சர் மா.சுப்பிரமணியன், ஏரியிலிருந்து மருத்துவக் கழிவுகள், கருவேல மரங்கள், குப்பைகள் அகற்றப்பட்டு, சுற்றுச்சுவர் எழுப்பப்படும் என்று அறிவித்திருப்பது பாராட்டுக்குரியது. மேலும், ஏரியில் குப்பைகளையும் மருத்துவக் கழிவுகளையும் கொட்டுவோர் மீது நடவடிக்கைகள் எடுக்கப்படும் என்றும் அவர் எச்சரித்துள்ளார். 252 ஏக்கர் கொண்ட போரூர் ஏரியில், தற்போது 50 ஏக்கர் அளவுக்கு மட்டுமே நீர்நிலை உள்ளது. ஏறக்குறைய 200 ஏக்கர் அளவுக்கு அந்த ஏரியில் கருவேல மரங்களும் குப்பைகளுமே ஆக்கிரமித்துள்ளன. போரூர் ஏரியில் மருத்துவக் கழிவுகள் கொட்டப்படுவதாக அதிமுக ஒருங்கிணைப்பாளர் ஓ.பன்னீர்செல்வம் தெரிவித்ததையடுத்து, அரசு மேற்கொண்டுள்ள இந்தத் துரித நடவடிக்கையானது சென்னையின் போரூர் ஏரிக்கானதாக மட்டும் முடிந்துவிடாமல், தமிழ்நாட்டில் உள்ள அனைத்து நீர்நிலைகளின் பாதுகாப்பையும் உறுதிசெய்யும் வகையில் விரிவுபெற வேண்டும்.
ஏரி, குளங்களில் மட்டுமின்றிப் புறநகர்ப் பகுதிகளில் உள்ள பாசனக் கால்வாய்களிலும் பிளாஸ்டிக் மற்றும் மருத்துவக் கழிவுகள் கொட்டப்படுவதைப் பார்க்க முடிகிறது. பாசனத்துக்காகத் தண்ணீர் திறந்துவிடப்படும்போது அந்தக் கழிவுகளும் தண்ணீரோடு சேர்ந்துவிடுகின்றன. இதனால், விளைநிலங்களுக்குப் பாதிப்பு உருவாகும் சூழலும் அதிகரித்துவருகிறது. எனவே, நீர்நிலைகள் பாதுகாப்பு என்பது பாசன வாய்க்கால்களையும் உள்ளடக்கியதாக அமைய வேண்டும். இதே வேளையில், நீர்நிலையை ஆக்கிரமித்துக் கட்டப்பட்ட செம்மஞ்சேரி காவல் நிலையம், தொடர்ந்து அங்கு செயல்படுவதற்குத் தடைவிதித்து சென்னை உயர் நீதிமன்றம் சமீபத்தில் உத்தரவிட்டுள்ளதோடு, அப்பகுதியில் நடந்துவரும் புதிய கட்டுமானப் பணிகளுக்குத் தடைவிதித்துள்ளதும் கருத்தில் கொள்ளப்பட வேண்டும். ஒருபக்கம் நீர்நிலைகளைச் சூழலியல் மாசுபாட்டிலிருந்து பாதுகாக்க வேண்டியிருக்கையில், இன்னொரு பக்கம் அவற்றை ஆக்கிரமிப்புகளிலிருந்தும் காப்பாற்ற வேண்டியிருக்கிறது.
It is not a coincidence that the United States is exiting Afghanistan at the same time that the focus of its foreign policy is shifting to East Asia. There is growing consensus in Washington DC that the U.S., instead of staying engaged in the lost wars, which adds little value to American power, should now urgently prepare itself for the unfolding geopolitical contest with China. America’s strategic response to China’s rise is its Indo-Pacific strategy, which seeks to build a bloc of Indian and Pacific Ocean democracies aimed at containing China’s rise and challenging its high-functioning single party dictatorship. The U.S. wants India to play a key role in this bloc, which along with Australia and Japan, make up the so-called Quad grouping.
But there is one problem. India, unlike the other members, is the only continental Asian power in the Quad, which shares a contested land border with China and is vulnerable to the geopolitical changes in the Eurasian landmass. The U.S. may have retreated from Afghanistan as part of a grand strategy to take on China in maritime Asia, in which it needs India’s involvement, and India might find it tempting to join the ranks, especially after China’s aggression on the Line of Actual Control last year. But the irony is that the American withdrawal and the vacuum it leaves in Afghanistan and continental Asia in general — which is being filled by China and Russia — is reinforcing India’s identity as a continental Asian power.
Barring a brief interregnum in the 1990s, India has historically enjoyed good ties with Afghanistan, which go back to the 1950 Treaty of Friendship. Indian interests and influence suffered when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, captured Kabul in 1996. But India was back in action as soon as the Taliban were ousted from power after the U.S. invasion in 2001. It has made huge investments and commitments ever since, which run into over $3 billion, and cultivated strong economic and defence ties with the Afghan government. Now, it is again staring at uncertainty with the U.S. pullback having effectively changed the balance of power in Afghanistan and the Taliban making rapid territorial gains.
The U.S.’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan were limited, as U.S. President Joe Biden himself pointed out earlier this month — killing Osama bin Laden and disrupting al-Qaeda networks. Defeating the Taliban and nation-building were part of the neoconservative ideological project, which has evidently failed. This means, the U.S., having met its realist objectives, can abandon the Afghan government and exit the theatre — which is what Mr. Biden is doing. But India cannot. It has to protect its investments, prevent Afghanistan from becoming another safe haven for anti-India terrorist groups, and also check Pakistan deepening its influence in Kabul.
Talking with the Taliban
So what should India do? One option, as many commentators have already pointed out, is to hold talks with the Taliban. India has already established contacts with the Taliban in Doha. Talking to them would allow New Delhi to seek security guarantees from the insurgents in return for continued development assistance or other pledges (in the 1990s, India had backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance) as well as explore the possibility of the Taliban’s autonomy from Pakistan. At this point, talking to the Taliban looks inevitable. But India should not overlook the deep ties between Pakistan’s security establishment and the Haqqani Network, a major faction within the Taliban that’s driving the successful campaigns on the battlefield. The U.S. overlooked it while fighting the Taliban along with Pakistan, and it paid a heavy price for it. There is no guarantee that India’s quest for engagement with the Taliban would produce a desirable outcome. So India should broad-base its options. While talking to the Taliban to protect its interests, New Delhi should also enhance aid to Afghanistan’s legitimate government and security forces and work with other regional powers for long-term stability in the country.
Kabul versus the Taliban
True, the Taliban now control or contest most of Afghanistan’s countryside. But still, it is not a foregone conclusion that they could take Kabul easily. The Afghan military has some 200,000 battle-hardened soldiers, including the highly trained special forces. In the cities, which saw relative freedoms and rights compared to the dark period of the Taliban regime, the government, despite its infighting, corruption and incompetence, still commands support. There is no Northern Alliance this time. The Taliban have already taken northern districts, including Badakhshan and Takhar. The only force that is standing up to the Taliban is the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. India should urgently step up training Afghan forces and provide military hardware, intelligence and logistical and financial support so that Kabul can continue to defend the cities. New Delhi should also coordinate with other regional powers to support the Afghan government because if the government forces crumble before the Taliban, the prospects for a political settlement would be narrowed. Why should a winning Taliban make concessions?
There is a convergence of interests between India and three key regional players — China, Russia and Iran — in seeing a political settlement in Afghanistan. These three countries have already opened public, direct talks with the Taliban. But these contacts are largely tactical in nature. For China, whose restive Xinjiang province shares a border with Afghanistan, a jihadist-oriented Taliban regime would not serve its internal interests. Russia, which fears that instability would spill over into the former Soviet Republics, has already moved to secure its Central Asian perimeter. For the Shia theocratic Iran, a Sunni Deobandi Taliban with which it had almost gone to war in 1998, will continue to remain an ideological, sectarian and strategic challenge. None of these countries would like to see the Taliban taking over Kabul militarily, which means there would be an isolated Sunni Islamist regime in a country with fractured ethnic equations. There would neither be legitimacy for a Taliban regime nor peace in Afghanistan.
India, to break this impasse, should take a layered approach. Its immediate goal should be the safety and security of its personnel and investments. The long-term goal should be finding a political solution to the crisis. And if a political solution is not achieved, it should seek non-conventional methods, like what it did in the 1990s, to offer support to its allies within Afghanistan and retain some influence. None of this can be achieved unless it works together with the regional powers.
Russia has cultivated links with the Taliban in recent years. India would need Russia’s support in any form of direct engagement with the Taliban. When it comes to Afghanistan, Iran is an irreplaceable country. It shares a long border with Afghanistan and has built contacts through several stakeholders in the country, especially the ethnic minorities. The original objective of India’s Chabahar project in Iran was to create a direct access to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. This direct access is critical for India in all different scenarios — move supplies to Kabul in larger quantities, retain its presence in the event of a civil war or carry out covert operations if the Taliban take power by force. But India, under pressure from the U.S., slowed down on the Chabahar connectivity projects, which finally prompted Iran to drop India and go ahead. Building strategic ties with Iran, irrespective of the U.S.’s policy towards the Islamic Republic, is essential for India’s Afghan bets. Finally, India should talk with China, with the objective of finding a political settlement and lasting stability in Afghanistan.
Central to this approach is India striking the right balance between its continental realities and the U.S.’s pivot to maritime Asia. The U.S., and the West in general, are done with Afghanistan. India, as one of the countries that would be impacted by the consequences of American withdrawal, has to work with Eurasian powers to protect its interests and stabilise Afghanistan.
Why was it so difficult, but necessary, for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to retire an old warhorse such as B.S. Yediyurappa? After all, he clearly defied all that the party publicly stands for. He shows no distaste for engaging in old-style corruption, and has even paid the price for it. He makes no bones about extending his ‘rule by next-of-kin’ in promoting thede factopower of B.Y. Vijayendra. But above all, he showed a degree of fairness to the Muslim population of the State (approximately 13%) when he categorically stated, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, that ‘no one should say a word against Muslims; this is a warning’. Such fairness is quite alien to many other members of the party, which obliges its members to foster a hatred of Muslims. His warning flew against the successful ethnic profiling of Muslims following the Tablighi meeting at Nizamuddin Markaz in March 2020. Naturally, it only earned him greater displeasure.
He has symbolically ended two years of a troubled time as Karnataka’s Chief Minister in a blaze of advertisements recounting his achievements. As he counts his days to theMargdarshak Mandal, or to a safe sinecure elsewhere, Mr. Yediyurappa has revealed his capacity to rally support from the local men in orange – themathadishas(head of mutts) of several Lingayat (and a few other) mutts, of which Karnataka has a dense and active network. Small groups meeting in his support coalesced into a gathering of about 450 who convened at Bengaluru’s Palace Grounds on Sunday.
Mr. Yediyurappa had inaugurated his last victory in 2008 with generous grants to these mutts. Between 2008 and 2013, the BJP government had granted at least Rs. 152 crore to 20 named institutions. In his new, though illegitimately obtained, time in power, he steered Karnataka’s decades-long legacy of development in completely new directions through the creation of caste-based development corporations – one of which was the Veershaiva-Lingayat Development Corporation that was endowed with Rs. 500 crore last year. Mr. Yediyurappa made development all about caste.
But did the men in orange come out on the streets of Karnataka to express their gratitude for this largesse? The public engagements of the mutts, particularly in the world of education, have been about a century in the making, when Lingayat mutts first began to build institutions to serve those of their own caste, and later, a much larger community of Kannadigas. From the 1970s, they have expanded their educational engagements to set up professional colleges and related facilities. Today, for instance, the Jagadguru Sri Shivarathreeshwara (JSS) group of institutions number close to 350 educational institutions, while the Sree Siddaganga Mutt at Tumkur has an enviable 125.
To add to their institutional strength, there has been an increased involvement of mutts andmathadishasin all parts of Karnataka in the developmental works of their regions. This may range from building bridges and irrigation works. They are even involved in establishing a balance between new livelihoods and ecological sustainability. For example, making iron ore mining companies in Chitradurga more accountable to the communities that they have thoroughly ravaged.
The Karnataka mutts have been, as M.M. Kalburgi so well described it, an ‘unauthorised government’. Wielding a moral, rather than a legal authority,mathadishasof especially the Lingayat mutts have long established themselves as the arbiters of everyday life in Karnataka.
What of their engagement with the world of electoral politics? It could consist of nudging adherents towards a particular candidate. Former Karnataka Chief Minister S. Nijalingappa was a ‘victim’ of this process. Participating in public protests became common asmathadishasand political representatives together demanded Other Backward Class (OBC) reservation for the Vokkaligas and the Lingayats in the late 1980s. In 2017, they demanded separate religious status for the Lingayats.
This engagement has gone further today. Attempts are being made to reduce the cacophony and expense of electoral politics, particularly in local body elections, by urging electorates to ‘unanimously’ choose one or another candidate, who then wins without a contest. This does not bode well for a democracy, but reveals the mutt’s formidable local political power.
What of the current assertion by the men in orange in support of Mr. Yediyurappa or another Lingayat leader? Is it to enlarge the powers they already enjoy, free of the accountability of the elected representative?
Or has the promised ‘double-enginesarkara’, in fact, shown signs of disobediently pulling in a direction quite opposed to the Union government? Ironically, the power of themathadishas, strengthened no doubt by the wider political climate that privileges all men in orange, may precisely be that which undermines the homogenising Hindutva project. It was the dangerous threat to Hindu unity that was exposed in the 2017 campaign for the recognition of the Lingayats as belonging to a separate religion, a demand that was successfully beaten back — at least temporarily — by the Union government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister were able to get away with yoking ‘sanatana’ (eternal or absolute dharma) to ‘pragathipara’ (progressive) when inaugurating the renovations to Anubhava Mantapa at Basavakalyan in Bidar – a move that sent up a futile cry of protest among those who saw this as a contradiction of Basava’s ideals.
But again, it was the radical heterogeneity of the mutts that came into public display for three months after January 2021, when themathadishasof a sub-sect of the Lingayats, the Panchamasali Lingayats, marched towards Bengaluru, demanding a rearrangement of reservation categories to better represent their sub-caste.
Mr. Yediyurappa was himself besieged in this war that broke out between the castes and sub-castes. The second wave of COVID-19 arrived as a grotesque succour, but he still had to claw back the dangerous tilt in power towards the men in orange when he physically rapped the wrist of Vachananda Swami, after the latter publicly asked him to accommodate more Panchamasali Lingayats in his Cabinet.
We have, therefore, witnessed the contradictory process by which the unity that the Union government strives for is continually undermined by the fractious struggles of the region and its castes.
Karnataka’smathadishas– whom no political party can do without – are a mixed bunch. Some such as the then Nidumamidi Swami, and the current Nijagunananda Swami, have publicly campaigned against the BJP’s communal politics. Their commitment to their caste ironically staved off the precipitous plunge towards the Uttar Pradesh ‘model’, which other members of the party have eagerly embraced. For some time, Basava tattva’s orange may well run counter to Hindutva’s saffron.
Janaki Nair taught Modern Indian History at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
In early June 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs invited public inputs to the Emigration Bill 2021 (https://bit.ly/2VerwzX andhttps://bit.ly/2ULrNdS). The Bill could be introduced in Parliament soon and presents a long overdue opportunity to reform the recruitment process for nationals seeking employment abroad.
For years, independent investigations into migrant worker conditions have underlined serious exploitative practices which include large recruitment charges, contract substitution, deception, retention of passports, non-payment or underpayment of wages, poor living conditions, discrimination and other forms of ill-treatment. In recent months, media reports have highlighted how the majority of migrant worker deaths in the Arab Gulf States/West Asia are attributed to heart attacks and respiratory failures, whose causes are unexplained and poorly understood. Labour migration is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983 (https://bit.ly/3i4gfvd and https://bit.ly/2VcJm6s) which sets up a mechanism for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents — individuals or public or private agencies. It outlines obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers, sets up a cap on service fees, and establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances) to 18 countries mainly in West Asian states and South-East Asian countries (https://bit.ly/2WmmfHp).
The Emigration Bill 2021 is an improvement over the 1983 Act. It launches a new emigration policy division, establishes help desks and welfare committees, requires manpower agencies to conduct pre-departure briefings for migrants, and increases accountability of brokers and other intermediaries who are also involved in labour hiring. But the Bill does not go far enough.
First, the 2021 Bill’s purpose “to consolidate and amend the law relating to emigration of citizens of India”, lacks a human rights framework aimed at securing the rights of migrants and their families. Progressive labour regimes do so. For example, in a country such as the Philippines, it explicitly recognises the contributions of Filipino workers and “the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens”.
Another significant drawback is that the Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits. International labour standards such as International Labour Organization (ILO) Private Employment Agencies Convention No. 181 and the ILO general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment recognises that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments including the costs of their visas, air travel, medical exams, and service charges to recruiters. Large-scale surveys by the ILO and the World Bank show that Indian workers pay exorbitant charges for their jobs and that poorer workers pay progressively larger fees — Indians in Saudi Arabia paid on average $1,507 in recruitment charges; their counterparts in Qatar paid $1,156 (https://bit.ly/3zzxLxh).
To some, recruitment charges might appear like a justified service fee, but the tens of thousands of rupees that workers pay far exceed the real cost of recruitment. When low wage migrants pick up the tab it makes them vulnerable to indebtedness and exploitation. Worker-paid recruitment fees eat into their savings, force them to take high-interest loans, live on shoe-string budgets, and in the worst cases of abuse, leave workers in situations of debt bondage — a form of forced labour.
But perhaps the Bill’s most glaring inclusion is that it permits government authorities to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to Rs. 50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions. When enforced, it can be used as a tool to crackdown on workers who migrate through unregistered brokers or via irregular arrangements such as on tourist visas. Criminalising the choices migrant workers make either because they are unaware of the law, under the influence of their recruiters, or simply desperate to find a decent job is deplorable, runs contradictory to the purpose of protecting migrants and their families, and violates international human rights standards. Recruiters and public officials could misuse the law to instil fear among workers and report or threaten to report them. Migrants in an irregular situation who fear that they could be fined or have their passports revoked, are also less likely to make complaints or pursue remedies for abuses faced.
Scant gender dimensions
This Bill does not also adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration where women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts and are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common. The Bill also provides limited space for worker representation or civil society engagement in the policy and welfare bodies that it sets up.
To ensure that labour recruitment works for the tens of thousands of Indian women and men who migrate outside our borders each year, the Ministry of External Affairs must start at the top, and draft a clearer purpose which explicitly recognises the contributions of Indian workers, the unique challenges they face, and uphold the dignity and human rights of migrants and their families. Then it must address the specific provisions that diverge from this purpose.
Nikhil Eapen is a freelance journalist and researcher at Equidem, a labour rights non-governmental organisation
As Turkey’s geopolitical and regional ambitions grow, its soft power influence through its most popular television export,Diriliş: Ertuğrul(Resurrection: Ertuğrul), does not seem to wane. Recently, its first publicly-owned floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage and regasification vessel — also namedErtuğrul Gazi— was inaugurated. Present at this event, which would enable the country to cover much of its energy needs, was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Returning to its Islamic roots and re-establishing the Ottoman glory have been a top priority for Mr. Erdoğan and his AK Party. Hence, last September, while commemorating the 739th death anniversary of Ertuğrul Ghazi, he reiterated the “goal of preserving Anatolia as a homeland”.Ertuğrulreflects that ambition for prestige and national assertion.
Produced by Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), the national broadcaster, this historical extravaganza, set in the 13th century, has been inspired by the life of Ertuğrul Ghazi, whose son, Sultan Osman, became the first Caliph of the Ottoman Empire. His heroic acts managed to capture the hearts of billions of viewers across 72 countries and became popularly known as the MuslimGame of Thrones.
Mr. Erdoğan, a great proponent of this show, has been playing an active leadership role in the Islamic world — whether it is in Afghanistan, supporting Bangladesh with regard to the Rohingya issue, aiding Azerbaijan against Armenia or extending its presence in North Africa. For someone who has been modelling himself as an Ottoman sultan, a drama series likeErtuğrulis an effective communication vehicle.
In 2019, Turkey, Pakistan and Malaysia had proposed setting up a television channel to promote Muslim heroes and counter Islamophobia. While that did not take off, the following Ramzan, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recommended the show to his youth. Soon, a quarter of the global audience were Pakistanis and by July 2021, Pakistan Television Corporation’s (PTV) YouTube channel gained 14.9 million subscribers.
Extending beyond its political leadership, the Turkey-Pakistan ‘brotherhood’ is witnessed across shops and hotels in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan, where the two flags fly together.
Recently, Bangladeshis turned fans after some Bengali-dubbed episodes became available. The Turkish Ambassador there, Mustafa Osman Turan, after visiting Deepto, the popular private TV channel, said such shows would help bring two fraternal countries together. Meanwhile, Deepto has planned to purchase the series. Incidentally, Bangladesh has become the fourth-largest arms buyer from Turkey, reportedly receiving weapons worth about $60 million in the first quarter of 2021.
The historical conquests of the hero have also resonated with Kashmiris in India. In May 2020, a TRT official tweeted that more Indians searched for these videos on YouTube than for Shah Rukh Khan. Many parents in Kashmir have even chosen to name their newborns Ertugrul, and a restaurant in downtown Srinagar is themed around it.
In August 2020, Azerbaijan became a major gas supplier in Turkey. A month later, the latter supported the former after intense fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia. During this time, it was also announced thatErtuğrulwould be dubbed in the Azeri language and aired on its state television channel, AZ TV.
However, not the entire Muslim world has taken to it. In a bid to curb Turkey’s soft power influence, some religious organisations in Egypt and Saudi Arabia called for a ban. Saudi Arabia, which holds a grudge against the Ottomans, launched a big budget production titledMamalik el-Nar(Kingdoms of Fire) that has not caused any ripple.
The popularity ofErtuğrulis in a way reflective of Turkey’s growing influence around the world, including Venezuela where Mr. Erdoğan shares a warm relationship with President Nicolas Maduro. Mr. Maduro not only endorsed the series but also visited the sets during his trip to Turkey in 2018. For now, it seems that wherever Mr. Erdoğan goes,Ertuğrulfollows.
With the christening of an LNG vessel, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume thatErtuğrul, which has become a symbol of Turkish power, has expanded beyond being a historical hero to other critical sectors of its society and economy. At the inauguration, Mr. Erdoğan said his government was “determined to ensure a more prosperous life” for each one of its 84 million citizens.
Nithya Subramanian is an Editor at the Institute of South Asia Studies (ISAS), an autonomous research institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
A recent event in Kerala, though far from the industrial centres of India, may hold a clue to understanding the malaise crippling the nation’s industry. This event took the form of one of the State’s major employers making a much publicised investment outside Kerala. What is unusual about this is that the company had earlier announced that it would make an even larger investment within the State itself.
The negative publicity given to its departure by the company was considered unnecessary by the State government and experts have pointed out that the original promise of investing this larger amount in the State is incredible, as its volume is several times the firm’s market capitalisation. The investor, however, announced that he had been hounded out by the regulatory authorities. Independently, journalists have confirmed that the company’s premises had been subjected to 11 inspections in one month by the concerned government departments, and its CEO had stated on public television that he had been charged with over 70 compliance failures following these.
In a swift move, Kerala’s Minister for Industries appeared on public television, where he opened himself to questioning. He stated categorically that the inspections had been in response to alleged violation of human rights and labour laws by the company, and that they had not been ordered by the Industries Ministry of the State. We have no reason to disbelieve him, but are left wondering about the legitimacy of a regulatory arrangement under which the elected government of the day has no say on inspections, even if some of them are related to court rulings.
The picture of an ungoverned bureaucracy that emerges from this incident is breathtaking in its implication for the kind of democracy that we are living in. But it is not difficult to see where this originates from. It was the governance model during colonial rule in India. In an insightful commentary on his compatriots of the East India Company, the economist Adam Smith had observed that their only concern was to build a fortune by any means and to get out of the country as fast as possible, no matter what the consequences for its inhabitants. However, even this understanding of the rationale of colonialism is not enough to appreciate its debilitating consequences for India. To hold India, the British invented an intermediary class standing between themselves and the natives. For the latter, there was no redress against the depredations of this class, whose excesses the colonial regime tolerated as a small price for retaining their colony.
The colonial administrative apparatus has been retained intact in Independent India. Of course, this was not inevitable. The toxic measures that enslaved Indians could have been removed forthwith, but for reasons that are not difficult to comprehend, India’s political class kept them. Now, it has the Supreme Court asking why stick with a sedition law that had been used to immobilise Indians. While many understand the absurdity of the sedition law today, and the more aware among them can see how it kills our democracy, the crippling effect of colonial practices that govern economic activity have gone unscrutinised. Random inspection of a company’s premises by State functionaries sits at their pinnacle, preventing India’s industry from achieving its potential.
On the 30th anniversary of the economic reforms, a puzzle that needs resolution is that while they have been focused on the manufacturing sector, the manufacturing sector has not expanded relative to the economy. Its share has remained quite the same. We may just have received a clue from Kerala to comprehend this outcome. While the elegantly crafted trade and industry reforms have addressed the policy regime, they have not addressed the conditions under which production takes place in this country. This may have held back investment, standing in the way of the expansion of the manufacturing sector as intended. India’s regulatory regime needs a radical overhaul.
Pulapre Balakrishnan teaches Economics at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana
By unseating B.S. Yediyurappa from the Chief Minister’s chair in Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set in motion a new strategy for its consolidation in the State. Considering that this change of guard has been in the making for a while, the party must have accounted for the ramifications. The BJP had to change its Chief Minister in Uttarakhand twice within a span of four months recently, pointing to the pitfalls in effecting changes even when they are premeditated. Mr. Yediyurappa is no pushover and remains agile and active even at the age of 78. He has already said he would remain active in politics. At least for now, he has no intention of crossing swords with the central leadership of the party, which gave him the marching orders. But the Lingayat community that he belongs to has left no opportunity to express its displeasure. Community leaders and seers have come out openly in support of the displaced Chief Minister. Lingayats form the axis of the BJP’s social base in Karnataka. Mr. Yediyurappa has been the mastermind of the party’s rise in Karnataka and became the party’s first Chief Minister in a southern State, in 2008. In 2018, the BJP did not win a majority, but a year later, he undermined the Congress-Janata Dal(S) coalition government by engineering defections. Two years later, he is handing over the baton, leaving the fate of the defectors in the hands of his successor.
The BJP high command has been wary of strong regional leaders, and Mr. Yediyurappa has given it no reason to relax. His cunning has been a double-edged sword for the party. On the one hand it helped the party’s rise, but on the other he used it to consolidate his own personal power. He parted ways with the party once and even went to jail on corruption charges. He has been brazen in promoting a son, B.Y. Vijayendra, in the BJP, and as the inheritor of the Lingayat mantle. The BJP’s game plan appears to be to hold the community within its tent, but loosen its grip over power, mimicking its approach to the Patels in Gujarat who had turned the party into a vehicle of their domination until Narendra Modi arrived on the scene. It took a while before the Patels reconciled to their changed status in the BJP. The high-command party that the BJP has become may like to promote a Lingayat leader, though not necessarily as the new Chief Minister, who will be more compliant to its wishes than Mr. Yediyurappa. A lot will also depend on Mr. Yediyurappa’s plans and his command over the Lingayats, once out of power. But the BJP’s new strategy should not involve communal polarisation and its new Chief Minister must refrain from playing competitive Hindutva with other Chief Ministers of the party.
The tragic death of nine tourists in a landslip in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is another pointer to the fragility of the ecology of the Himalayan States. Extraordinarily heavy rain pummelled the State recently, leaving the hill slopes unstable and causing floods in built-up areas including Dharamshala. The descending boulders from destabilised terrain, which crushed a bridge like a matchstick, are a source of worry even for cautious local residents, and for unwary visitors, such as the tourists travelling in a van, they can turn into sudden disaster. Himachal is famed for its scenic vistas and welcoming summer climate, and drew a few hundred thousand tourists in June this year as States began relaxing the controls for COVID-19. There was justified alarm at the prospect of a fresh surge in infections, prompting Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur to appeal for COVID-appropriate behaviour. Unfortunately, there was not enough vigil against travel to risky areas, in the wake of a disastrous year for tourism, resulting in the mishap in Kinnaur’s Basteri area. What should worry Himachal, and neighbouring Uttarakhand, is that the States may be entering a phase of irreversible decline because of losses to their ecology; frequent landslides may become inevitable. Bootstrapping an incompatible model of development in the hills, represented by big hydroelectric projects and large-scale construction activity involving destruction of forests and damming of rivers, is an invitation to harm.
Mega hydropower, which Himachal Pradesh is working to tap as a significant source of “green” power that substitutes energy from fossil fuels, could alter several aspects of ecology, rendering it vulnerable to the effects of extreme events such as cloudbursts, flash floods, landslides and earthquakes. The parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy during 2018-19 noted that the State could more than double its existing harnessed hydropower potential of 10,547 MW. Kinnaur is a focus point for such development, centred around the potential of the glacially-fed Sutlej valley, but one scientific estimate warns that avaricious tapping of the river through all planned projects would impound nearly a quarter of its waters in dams, and divert a staggering 72% through tunnels. Other researchers, studying the 2015 Nepal earthquake, point to high seismicity causing fatal landslides and severe damage to hydropower structures in the Himalayas; the cost of power produced was underestimated, while the potential was overestimated. Evidently, it is impossible to assign a real value to the costs to people and communities, together with the loss of pristine forests that weak afforestation programmes cannot replace. As catastrophic weather events inflict frequent, heavy losses, Himachal Pradesh and other Himalayan States can only watch their ecological base erode. Changing course may yet preserve a lot of their natural riches.
A black New York criminal court judge who returned from a visit to South Africa has said that he saw dozens of news graves of South African black infants and 62 open graves waiting for those expected to die of malnutrition. The Judges, Mr. William Booth, talked to U.N. committees inquiring into South Africa’s racial separation practices. He said he saw the new and expectant graves in a cemetery for blacks in the Dimbaza area. He also told of visiting a prison for blacks, which the authorities called one of the best, where he found “35 to 40 inmates crowded into a 30’ by 30’ cell, where they are expected to live for 10 to 15 years.” He said in Dimbaza, described as a settlement for 7,000 blacks in the southern part of the republic, 50 per cent of all children born there die of malnutrition before they are one year of age. Parents decorate their sorry little graves with milk bottles, rattles and toys so they will be happy in death as they were unhappy in life.
In the past 10 days, the skies have opened up to unleash extreme weather events in the mountains of north India and the coastal parts of western India. Landslides and flashfloods have claimed more than 150 lives and left a trail of destruction in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka. On July 22, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra’s Satara district received nearly 600 mm of rain — unprecedented in its recorded history. Ratnagiri district has broken a 40-year-old record for most rainfall in July. On July 18, Mumbai received 230 mm rainfall in just six hours. South of the city, in Raigad, Maharashtra’s hardest-hit district, at least 53 people lost their lives when a hillock came crashing down. Goa is experiencing its worst floods since 1982. Such chaotic behaviour of the elements is increasingly becoming the hallmark of the Indian monsoon. But the country’s weather forecasters, planners and policymakers are yet to come to terms with the challenge posed by climate change.
Long spells of dry weather are today interspersed with bouts of intense downpour. With their drainage systems remaining clogged at several points, most Indian cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, are ill-equipped to tackle such torrential rains. Urbanisation that is ill-informed by key precepts of hydrology compromises the defence of city-dwellers against weather vagaries. In most cities, for instance, aquifers that used to recharge groundwater and channelise rainfall to larger water bodies have been taken over by concrete. In 2019, the National Institute of Disaster Management’s Landslide Management Strategy flagged another area of concern. Planners in the Himalayan region and Western Ghats often use city plans of the plains as their template, “resulting in slope instability,” it pointed out. The construction boom has spread to rural agglomerations that are prone to mudslips. A deterioration in the soil’s integrity due to land-use changes puts people at high risk of rainfall-triggered hillock collapses.
Development studies scholars have been writing about these problems but the political costs of changing the dominant development paradigm in ecologically fragile regions are often high. The Gadgil committee report on the Western Ghats that called for regulating development activities, for instance, was resisted in the region and neglected by the mainstream political parties. It’s clear that building resilience of communities to climate vagaries will require building channels of communication between experts, conservationists, the political class and civil society at large.
Mirabai Chanu’s weightlifting silver medal in the 49 kg category at Tokyo 2020 was a rare Olympic triumph. Disregarding the weight of expectations on her shoulders, ignoring the chasing pack of champion lifters, Mirabai serenely soared to a height occupied by only a handful of Indians.
The gold medal winner, China’s Hou Zhihui, was a cut above the rest but Mirabai was the clear second. Unlike a majority of India’s other Tokyo 2020 medal prospects who froze close to the finish, Mirabai wasn’t just good on paper or among the favourites in the form book. She was great on the day it mattered the most. A day before the event, Mirabai’s coach Vijay Sharma had put in place a plan that would factor in his ward’s strength and the opposition.
The gloriously gifted lifter has always been talented, but had faced an enormous setback in her first Olympics followed by periods of debilitating depression, stage fright and self-doubt. After fluffing three lifts at the last Olympics in Rio, Mirabai endured five silent years of quietly putting together a technique which would get her the Tokyo medal. This involved putting her head down, clenching her fists around the lifting bar and seeking immaculate balance preparing for the spotlight. She would barely go home — spending months on end in training camps. And she would deny herself the pizza she loved. She would bring to the fore the Manipuri athlete’s determination to hold steady onto a sporting dream, without seeking constant validation for her capability. The soft-spoken lifter was rarely seen or heard in the lead-up to the Tokyo Games. She was sweating it out in the company of weights, preparing to do the heavy lifting for a nation on edge.
The government has made import of edible oil on private trade account almost uneconomical by steeply raising the customs levy on it. The measure, taken through an ordnance promulgated by the president on July 26, fixes the rate of duty at 150 per cent ad valorem. Only last week, the government, through a notification, had increased the import duty on edible oil imported on private trade account from 12.5 per cent to 42.5 per cent. The latest ordnance amends the First Schedule to Customs Tariff Act 1975 relating to the levy of basic customs duty on edible oils. Concessional duties applied as a result of international agreements will, however, continue.
Indira reaches out
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has said that the Centre was keen on a working arrangement with the governments of non-Congress (I) ruled states. Ending a three-day visit to Kashmir, she said that the Centre did not intend to topple non-Congress (I) governments. She said that the move for rapprochement with the National Conference had begun long ago. However, she denied that she had discussed any accord with Sheikh Abdullah.
Fifty-one villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district were inundated by the rising Ghagra river. The floods have affected nearly one million people. According to official reports, the Ghagra has already swept past four upstream districts in Azamgarh. At least 14 people have lost their lives and more than 5,000 villages have been affected.
Akali Dal’s demands
The Akali-Dal sponsored World Sikh Convention gave an ultimatum to the government to accept its demands by July 31 or face an agitation. Sant Harcharan Singh Longowal, president of the Akali Dal, said that Sikhs should be made partners into political, religious and social equality by changing the Constitution into a “real federal one”.
BS Yediyurappa’s resignation as Karnataka Chief Minister on Monday has brought an end to a chapter in the BJP ’s politics in the state. That he has been the party’s most prominent leader in Karnataka, and that the present state government was of his making, could not help him stay on in office, two years into his fourth term as chief minister. He could take solace in the fact that these are difficult times for chief ministers, many of whom seem to be battling centralising tendencies of their political parties, factional intrigue and the rebellion of ambitious colleagues — be it Amarinder Singh in Punjab, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, Adityanath in UP, Bhupesh Baghel in Chhattisgarh, or Biplab Kumar Deb in Tripura. Those who seem relatively more comfortable in office — Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, K Chandrashekar Rao in Telangana and M K Stalin in Tamil Nadu among them — head regional parties. It would appear that at a time when voters express a preference for strong leaders in office, the central leaderships of national parties seem increasingly wary of powerful state leaders.
More specifically, Yediyurappa’s unceremonious resignation points to the trend towards centralisation in the BJP. The party is yet to give a public reason or rationale for the change of guard in Bengaluru. Is it that Yediyurappa has crossed 75, the unofficial retirement age in BJP? Or did corruption allegations against him cost him his job? But none of these considerations are recent or new — Yediyurappa is 79, and he was seen to be more embroiled in controversy in his earlier stints in office. By all accounts, the BJP high command’s problem lay elsewhere. Even as he was seen as the builder of the BJP base in Karnataka, Yediyurappa has been his own man, preferring to draw support from a regional and communitarian base instead of leaning solely on the cadre network of the RSS and the polarising Hindutva agendas. This helped him galvanise support for the BJP from beyond its traditional base and make up the numbers when the party was short of a majority in the assembly. In 2012, when he founded his own party, Yediyurappa established that he had a political base independent of the Sangh Parivar network. Ironically, Yediyurappa’s strength as a regional leader may have contributed to his undoing: The BJP’s central leadership was compelled to accept his pre-eminence in Karnataka, but it was biding its time to cut him down to size.
Who the BJP anoints as Yediyurappa’s successor will shape the party’s future in Karnataka, the only southern state where it is a force to reckon with. The party has several leaders representing different regional and communal constituencies who want to be CM. Much depends on how the BJP negotiates these rival claims and manages the transition, and the space its high command allows to Yediyurappa’s successor. But for a party that wants to conquer new territories even as it consolidates its hold on the Centre, the manner of the regional leader’s exit is not a good augury.
History is repeating with BS Yediyurappa – resigning again before completing his term in office. His “sacking” in 2011 had plunged BJP into chaos and a disastrous split from which, arguably, it hasn’t fully recovered. A decade later Yediyurappa’s clout has waned; younger rivals have constantly baited him, despite the ex-CM bringing the party the spoils of power by inducing 17 defections from Congress and JD(S). Ambitious leaders who had risen during Yediyurappa’s spell in the wilderness between 2011 and his appointment as state BJP president in 2016 have little patience with his indulgence for defectors, family members, and even opposition leaders. But still, BJP’s powerful national leadership, with the benefit of hindsight, was cautious while dealing with the southern stalwart.
One big problem for BJP’s leadership is caste. Even if one assumes Yediyurappa would have been a poor choice for 2023 Karnataka polls, as he would have faced the burden of personal anti-incumbency, there are costs to be paid for his departure. BJP will have to contend with the show of strength by Lingayat seers in the ex-CM’s favour. Lingayats have been Yediyurappa’s bedrock, giving him pre-eminence ever since BJP’s stunning rise to single largest party status in 2004. Recall that Karnataka’s complex caste calculus led Yediyurappa to fashion himself as a social coalition builder rather than a Hindutva hotshot.
Post-2014 BJP showed a marked preference for new faces, generational shifts and unconventional choices, which pitchforked Devendra Fadnavis, ML Khattar, Raghubar Das and Pushkar Singh Dhami ahead of more fancied names in states. The complication here is that there are too many contenders for the Karnataka top post. And relatedly, if factional troubles in the Karnataka unit continue, appointing a political lightweight as CM will be fraught with risks. The party leadership wants politically talented leaders but doesn’t seem to want too powerful provincial satraps. That’s a delicate balance to achieve in Karnataka. Complications of Indian politics are perhaps showing to BJP, too, that one set of preferences won’t work everywhere.
With 20 months left for assembly polls, and another 10 months after that for the 2024 general election, Karnataka is currently next only to UP in BJP’s electoral priorities. The state’s next CM will have an unusually tough job, which will begin with managing those who wanted his job but didn’t get it. Also worth watching is whether the next CM will be in the Yeddy mode, managing various social groups, or in the Yogi mode, a Hindutva emissary.
In a significant escalation of the Assam-Mizoram border dispute, Monday saw at least six persons of the Assam Police killed and around 60 officials and civilians with bullet injuries rushed to hospitals. Afterwards CRPF took over the border posts manned by police of both states.
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma as well as Mizoram CM Zoramthanga took to Twitter, to say that the other side was to blame for the violent escalation of a dispute that in a sense goes back to Mizoram being carved out of Assam in 1972, but in another sense goes back to 1875 when the British drew a boundary that the Mizo leaders want effected even today.
An unsettled boundary dispute is the key cause of India’s troubles with China and Pakistan. But the failure to reach amicable settlements within the country is entirely a failure of domestic leadership, at both the state and central levels.
Last winter saw a long blockade at the border cause hefty economic losses and inconvenience, even as Zoramthanga talked about procuring supplies through Bangladesh and Myanmar instead — a reminder that volatility in states with international borders carries extra risks.
Both CMs must calm tensions instead of stoking them. Twitter is no place to parlay high governmental stakes. Home minister Amit Shah should help broker a permanent peace.
On the 161st Income Tax Day, FM Nirmala Sitharaman singled out individual taxpayers for praise. She lauded honest taxpayers for their contribution to nation building and said that it needs to be recognised. Indeed, they have been the bulwark of the direct tax system. Last fiscal, when corporate tax collections collapsed, the personal income tax collection level held firm. At Rs 4.71 lakh crore it exceeded corporate tax collections, the first time this century. Honest taxpayers will be best rewarded if those evading taxes are caught and made to pay their fair share.
India has a personal income tax base heavily dependent on the salaried class. Last year, 65.4 million income tax returns were filed, less than 10% of India’s adult population. Not all who file returns pay income tax. Evidence suggests that income tax data is not in sync with the pattern of consumption. For example, in 2018-19, only 5.5 million individuals declared an income of over Rs 10 lakh. In the same year, 3.47 million new cars were sold. Other consumption data tell the same tale. Salaried individuals bear a disproportionate burden of nation building.
I-T authorities make plenty of noises about catching well-heeled non-salaried individuals in the tax net. But results have been disappointing. Under-declaration of income and over-declaration of expenses are widespread and, somehow, I-T seems unable to consistently track hidden personal income via consumption expenditure. Now that large cash transactions are supposedly considerably fewer than before, this seems even more surprising.
The bigger reform is to scrap an income tax code that is a patchwork of incremental changes and lacks overall coherence. Almost two years ago, a task force appointed by GoI submitted its report on a new code to replace the existing law. That needs to be unveiled and acted upon soon.