Editorials - 21-06-2021

Russia’s uncritical advocacy of China’s global vision is what seems to be leaving India quite confounded

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently asserted that both the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, are “responsible” enough to solve issues between their countries, while underlining the need to debar any “extra-regional power” to interfere in the process. The implications of Mr. Putin’s advice for India are numerous and far-reaching as Moscow expects New Delhi to ignominiously give up all efforts to reverse Beijing’s encroachment strategies. The Russians may have their reasons to remain blind to China’s growing aggressiveness, but the Indians have learned to expect at Chinese hands an unremitting effort to undermine India’s global position — to destroy their confidence in themselves and the confidence of others in them — and to reduce India to a state of isolation and impotence in global affairs.

The Quad factor

Mr. Putin’s remarks can only be seen as reinforcing China’s claim that the Quadrilateral or Quad (comprising India, the United States, Japan and Australia) is aimed at containing Beijing’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region. In fact, Mr. Putin’s assertion is the logical extension of views expressed by Russia’s Ambassador to India, Nikolay Kudashev. Sometime ago, he had advised New Delhi to take a “larger look at Chinese foreign policies”, while describing the Indo-Pacific strategy as an effort to revive the Cold War mentality (https://bit.ly/3gL0VBY). Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, has frequently, and quite acerbically, lashed out at the Quad.

Notwithstanding the cataclysmic changes in the global and regional politico-security environment, India has been able to maintain amicable ties with Russia. Yet, Russia’s continued criticism of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad give ample evidence of the divergent perspectives of New Delhi and Russia on how to deal with China’s rise to global prominence. Russia has rejected the Indo-Pacific construct in favour of the Asia-Pacific on the ground that the first is primarily an American initiative designed to contain both China and Russia.

Obviously, India thinks otherwise since Russia’s simplistic advice is not sagacious enough to solve its China problem. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, in a virtual discussion with his Australian and French counterparts, had recently asserted that no country can have a veto on India’s participation in the Quad (https://bit.ly/3cXDDaV). This assertion was an indirect counterpoise to what Mr. Lavrov had termed the Quad — as “Asian NATO”. In an unmistakable indication of India’s attempt to reimagine a new geostrategic maritime role for itself, Mr. Jaishankar had further observed that incorporation of the Indo-Pacific concept in Indian diplomacy means that India can no longer be confined between the Malacca Strait and Gulf of Aden.

Though the recent diplomatic romance between Russia and Pakistan has generated some unease in India, it is Russia’s uncritical advocacy of China’s global vision that seems to have left New Delhi overly confounded. For many policymakers and people in our country, the Russian attitude toward China’s growing power and influence will be the touchstone of Russia’s relations with India. While the Sino-Indian relationship has experienced a sharp downward trend since the Galwan clashes in June 2020, New Delhi has become particularly concerned with Moscow downplaying China’s display of coercive military pressure against India. With the catastrophic rise of populist nationalism amidst the bankruptcy of globalisation, the resolution of the Sino-Indian boundary dispute appears a hopeless dream in the absence of a miracle. India is confronted in Ladakh with a situation far uglier and more recalcitrant than is generally recognised.

Beginnings of looking West

It need not be necessary to remind us again that the decade following the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a period of great turbulence in global politics. A bewildered India soon realised Russia was much weaker than the erstwhile USSR and incapable of helping New Delhi balance potential threats from Beijing. This does not mean that India completely abandoned external balancing strategies; it began to diversify its sources of external balancing. On the other hand, Russia began to cast Moscow as the leader of a supposed trilateral grouping of Russia-India-China against a U.S.-led unipolar world.

Leaving behind the bitterness and mistrust between Moscow and Beijing during the Cold War, Russia became an early proponent of the ‘strategic triangle’ to bring together the three major powers. Aware of the emerging international system as an expression of western expansion, India’s fear of the unipolar moment too made it easier for New Delhi to become part of this initiative. But China’s dismissive attitude toward Indian capabilities, coupled with an emerging China-Pakistan nexus, prevented the success of this trilateral. India, instead, invested its diplomatic energies in rapprochement with the United States.

Unlike Russia, which tried to build an alternative international economic architecture, India decided to get integrated in the economic order it once denounced. Economic liberalisation also allowed New Delhi to buy sophisticated weapons from a wider global market that included suppliers such as Israel and France. Both were keen to sell weapons technology to India, and this also boosted New Delhi’s bargaining capacity with Moscow. As the logic of intensive engagement with the West was effectively established, strategic partnership with the U.S. was a logical corollary.

India’s cooperation with the U.S. has strengthened still further, in part against the perceived terrorism threat, but also in light of China’s growing assertiveness whose undesirable impacts are now being felt across the world. However, Russia’s ability to influence the India-China relationship has become doubtful. India has been searching for other major powers to balance against China as it does not have the sufficient means for hard balancing. Adding options to its statecraft toolbox, India has deepened its ties with Japan and Australia in a way that is close to soft balancing. Nevertheless, among all of India’s balancing efforts, the stupendous growth in ties with the U.S. has been the greatest source of concern for China which views the India-U.S. rapprochement as containment.

While India needs Russia’s partnership for its defence needs, New Delhi cannot endorse the Russian perspective on the Indo-Pacific and the Quad. For New Delhi, it would be self-defeating to accept that the Indo-Pacific is an American construct. With the first-ever summit of the four leaders in the ‘Quadrilateral framework’ in March this year, the Quad is being formalised into a functional strategic alignment.

Maritime structures

The real ‘strategic triangle’ in the maritime domain will be that between New Delhi, Washington and Beijing. While other powers such as France, Australia, Japan and Russia will have an impact on the emerging maritime structures of the Indo-Pacific region, it is the triangular dynamic between India, China and the U.S. that is going to be the most consequential. Russia is yet to realise that it will gain immensely from the multilateralism that the Indo-Pacific seeks to promote, and being China’s junior partner only undermines Moscow’s great-power ambitions. But the Putin regime is making things unnecessarily hard for Russia as well as for India; and it is clear that those responsible for Russian policy have arrived at a flawed assessment of the current situation. As the Kremlin’s policymakers are obsessively preoccupied with Russia’s ‘status’ rivalry with the U.S., Russia’s view of India-China relations seems understandable. But there is an inherent danger in permitting it to harden into a permanent attitude as an increasingly pro-Beijing Russia might adopt more aggressive blocking of India’s policy agendas. That is why India is particularly interested in a normalisation of relations between Washington and Moscow as it will help it steer ties among the great powers. and also diminish Moscow’s propensity to closely coordinate its South Asian policies with Beijing.

India-China ties

There is no doubt that shared identities and beliefs in the principle of non-alignment, painful memories of colonial subjugation, opposition to great-power hegemony, and strong beliefs in sovereignty and strategic autonomy have been the key influencers in shaping India’s and China’s engagement with each other as well as the western world. But this has begun to change as Beijing is asserting its hegemony over Asia. In such circumstances, multilateral forums such as the Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have little practical value for Indian diplomacy. Without China’s reciprocity, options before India are limited. India’s concessions, whatever their form, must meet with some form of positive response from China. The response cannot be just symbolic or rhetorical. The absence of any material evidence of reciprocity is bound to doom an attempt at Sino-Indian rapprochement.

Beijing seems to be acting as though it is immune not only to the strategic consequences for its actions but also to all the conventional rules of international politics. China is undoubtedly the most powerful actor in its neighbourhood but it cannot simply have its way in shaping Asia’s new geopolitics. Beijing’s policies will still be constrained and altered in fundamental ways by India which cannot be expected to adopt a hopeless stance of remaining peripheral in its own strategic backyard.

Vinay Kaura is Assistant Professor in the Department of International Affairs and Security Studies, Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. He is also a Non-resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute, Washington DC

Mortality estimates, not officially reported deaths, have the potential to strengthen the pandemic response

In India, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, around 85% of all deaths were registered and only one-fourth of the registered deaths were medically certified for the causes of death. There have been wide variations among States and within them, in rural and urban areas. Understanding the causes of death is essential for health sector planning and optimal allocation of health resources. In the absence of robust data on the causes of death, governments rely on estimates.

Reporting COVID-19 deaths

The World Health Organization has estimated that world over, COVID-19 deaths could be two-three times the officially reported numbers. Public health experts, disease modellers, and research institutes which specialise in morbidity and mortality data have estimated that COVID-19 deaths in India could be in the range of three to 14 times the officially reported number of deaths.

As per ground reports, there has been under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths during the second wave of infections in India. In April and May 2021, crematorium and burial grounds had long queues, dead bodies were floating in rivers, more cremations were being done following the COVID-19 protocols than the officially reported number of deaths, and everyone had a few people in their social circle who had succumbed to COVID-19. All of these have been captured in media reports from various settings, including major cities and a number of States. Each of these cities and States has reported excess deaths (comparing two similar periods in different years) that are twice to even 30-40 times higher than the officially reported COVID-19 numbers.

Rural India is known to have a weak death registration system; however, there is corroborative evidence of excess deaths. At an existing death rate of seven per 1,000 people, an average village of 1,000 people should report around one death every two months. But most Indian villages have experienced deaths at a far higher rate in the two months of the second COVID-19 wave.

The Union and State governments have always been quick to deny estimates. Their core argument has been that COVID-19 deaths cannot be hidden. However, the biggest counter to this position has come from the reconciliation of COVID-19 deaths in Bihar and Maharashtra. Following reviews and audits, these States showed a nearly 75% increase in COVID-19 deaths over the officially reported deaths for the specified periods. The reconciliation from Bihar and Maharashtra was attributed to under-reporting in private hospitals, in home isolation, in transit to the hospitals/facilities and those who died with post-COVID-19 complications. In some of the districts, the revision resulted in the increase being twice or thrice the number of reported deaths. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that if and when other States initiate similar exercises, they are likely to report an upward shift in COVID-19 deaths.

In fact, the majority of the current analyses of excess deaths has come from urban settings and large municipal corporations, known for a relatively better functioning death registration system. The challenges in death reporting in rural areas are very different and far bigger. During the second wave, access to COVID-19 testing services and treatment facilities was limited in rural India. Pandemic-related restrictions, lack of transport and the health-seeking behaviour of citizens indicate that many people from the villages did not come in contact with the formal health system, which is concentrated in urban settings. Very few rural health facilities were providing services for COVID-19 care. Many people were admitted in the healthcare facilities without a RT-PCR test, and on the basis of clinical symptoms. As many ground reports have shown, deaths in these sub-groups did not make it to officially reported COVID-19 deaths.

One of the core objectives of the pandemic response is to reduce mortality. Therefore, COVID-19 deaths are a good surrogate indicator of the health system’s performance at the State and district levels. This is a more focused indicator of the response of the health system compared to process-oriented indicators such as daily tests conducted or dedicated COVID-19 beds added. If realistic estimates of COVID-19 deaths by city, rural settings, districts and States are known, a more targeted response could be mounted to the pandemic. The death estimates could be very useful to plan for the next wave of the pandemic (in the short term) and to strengthen the Indian health care system (in the long run).

Refining estimates

There are at least four approaches which can help us refine the estimates: death audits; excess death analysis; death surveys followed by verbal autopsies; and decadal Census, which is due in India.

First, every State should get death audits done to correctly classify all the deaths that occurred during the pandemic. The audits should focus on all the health facilities, in the public and private sector, as well as deaths in homes. The process of death audits needs to be institutionalised. The experiences of Bihar and Maharashtra show that this can be done quickly.

Second, the excess deaths in the pandemic period should be analysed more systematically. For urban settings and those States which have a relatively high death registration, such analysis can be done in a short period of time.

Third, rural areas and smaller towns require additional data collection. The death registers at the village level can be utilised and panchayats can provide this data in real-time, which can be collated by the administration. The sample registration system teams functioning under the Registrar General and Census Commissioner in India and the booth-level officers used in elections can be mobilised to collect additional information on deaths reported in April and May 2021. This can help the government in getting more realistic death estimates in the next few months. The Jharkhand government completed one such survey, focused exclusively on rural areas, which found 43% excess deaths than the comparable period before the pandemic. The State surveyed two-third of its population with the help of the existing workforce, in 10 days. Such surveys should be planned by all States, followed by verbal autopsy, to assign the causes of deaths.

Fourth, there is an urgent need to initiate the decadal Census in India. The U.S. and China conducted their census in 2020 during the pandemic. India should urgently plan for the Census, which would provide useful data for all sectors. Inter-censal growth will provide an important insight into the excess mortality.

The political leadership and health policymakers seem to be taking solace in the fact that India has not yet reported the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world. However, there is bigger merit in developing realistic COVID-19 death estimates, which could be more helpful in policy formulation, planning, resource allocation and health system strengthening. Therefore, the governments at all levels (Union, States and districts) should work to come up with the estimated number of COVID-19 deaths. That kind of granular data on deaths along with other health data will help India fight the pandemic and plan for the post-pandemic period more effectively.

Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist, is a public policy and health systems expert and co-author of ‘Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The COVID-19 Pandemic’

Beyond the pandemic, there are structural issues the State has to address concerning livelihoods and employment

Kerala, under duress from the novel coronavirus pandemic, is passing through a recessionary phase, shrinking by about 3.8% during 2019-20. Disease containment measures, including intermittent lockdowns, have stalled the livelihoods of many, probably the entire 66% of the workforce who are either self-employed or casual labourers. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) estimates Kerala’s unemployment rate at a high of 23.5% for May 2021. The extent of wage loss is uncertain, though primary surveys indicate substantial wage reduction.

The pandemic and welfare

Social priorities for financial planning under such a crisis must appear straightforward. The Budget of the newly elected government of Kerala presented by Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal weighed the priorities right, keeping the pandemic in focus. The free vaccination policy, despite a drastic decline in public revenue by 18%, positions the Government as one that prioritises its people. Unemployment and employability find mention early in the Budget reiterating its inclinations. Setting aside Rs. 8,900 crore for an income transfer scheme would be a rescue line for the poor and the vulnerable. Such an infusion will also stimulate the economy by boosting consumption demand.

High unemployment

Beyond the immediate crisis, Kerala is undergoing a transformation grappling with structural issues. For decades, the State has recorded one of the highest open unemployment rates in India — around 10%. Further, the labour force arguably suffers from the problem of ‘employability’, alluding to poor skills and incompetence.

With the youth bulge in Kerala’s age structure, a large share of the population entered the labour force. This coincided with the structural transformation of the economy, i.e., the share of output shifting from agriculture to service.

However, this large rise in the labour force could not be absorbed in the emerging sectors that were less labour intensive causing structural unemployment. The economy now needed to grow at faster rates to absorb the new entrants. Concurrently, high reservation wages owing to international remittances, institutional wage setting and the State’s welfare programmes implied that jobseekers sought jobs with decent wages as well. Low wage sectors are filled with inter-State migrant workers, remaining unattractive to the locals. Open unemployment is thus a problem of economic growth and distribution.

Knowledge economy

This Budget’s focus on tackling unemployment is through the knowledge economy mission, initiated by the outgoing Government. With Kerala’s reasonably high levels of an educated workforce, global exposure and its fragile ecosystem, a globally-linked knowledge-based economy has the potential for ecologically sustainable high economic growth. However, upon close reading, it seems that the mission addresses the wrong side of the problem. Instead of enhancing production in the knowledge-based economy, it envisages to increase the supply of skilled workers, through skilling programmes and matching demand and supply. The fundamental problem is not of labour market mismatch or supply of educated workforce, but that of poor labour demand.

The above view is often countered by the argument that poor labour demand is due to poor employability. Part of the knowledge economy frame is to improve ‘employability’ by improving skills and skill certification. Improved skills may enhance immediate employment chances. But the notion that skill is static and once acquired, the worker is employable is misplaced. Skill is dynamic, especially in the knowledge economy. The skill requirements are continuously being redefined. The knowledge economy is distinguished by its ability to innovate in short time spans.

As innovations take place, the skill requirements also evolve. For firms to remain competitive in the knowledge economy, they must recognise skill obsolescence and re-skill their workers. In fact, lifelong learning is a well-known feature of the knowledge economy. Under such circumstances, firms would want to reduce this complex phenomenon into a deficiency in workers, labelling it as poor ‘employability’ and arguing it as State failure in skilling. In fact, what labour market participants lack is the skill requirements that are ever changing in firms. Firms are best placed to know what skills are needed, and not the State. Firms are best placed to train the workers, not the State. Firms are the prime gainers in skill training, not the public. The Government could at best facilitate producers to undertake skill training. The innovative German programme on skilling can inform us.

State of traditional industries

Meanwhile, industrial transformation has pushed many into frictional unemployment, due to their inability to move from one sector to another. Even while Kerala entered a high-growth trajectory in the 1990s driven by the services, the traditional industries and agriculture sectors remained stagnant. These traditional agro-based industries are now competing in the global markets with not only competitor firms but even substitute products — for instance, coir with its plastic variant. Many such industries, such as cashew, are either moving out from Kerala or are being out competed in export markets. Having joined these sectors at an early age and worked throughout their lives, workers in these sectors are trapped in these ‘sunset’ industries, surviving on subsistence incomes and welfare support. With shrinking incomes and no alternative employment, these households are being driven to penury. The State must devise mechanisms to survive their lives with dignity.

Small and marginal farmers, and petty service providers suffer from poor incomes despite their efforts, a form of underemployment. Effective interventions can encourage collectivisation to overcome size-related diseconomies. New forms of collectives such as Kudumbasree and the new initiative of the Cooperative Initiative for Agriculture Infrastructure in Kerala (CAIK), are encouraging. Nevertheless, history must guide us to steer clear of the cooperative failures in the past, marred by poor incentive structures, rent seeking and political intervention.

Vinoj Abraham is Professor, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram

The RE’s Office will host a virtual Open House on July 17

In 2012, when I was appointed the Readers’ Editor (RE) of this newspaper, I came up with different working methodologies to fulfil the various strands of the mandate under the binding Terms of Reference. One of the tasks assigned to the RE was “to look for ways of improving the paper’s work and performance, in the broadest sense, by collating and analysing readers’ concerns, ideas, and suggestions and identifying possible new or alternative courses of action and ways to develop the paper for the benefit of its readers and the paper itself”.

Reaching out to the newspaper

There are three conventional forums through which readers reach out to the newspaper: they write letters to the editor, letters to the RE, and express their opinion in the below-the-line comment section of the web edition of the newspaper. A careful analysis of these comments brought out a simple truth starkly: readers comment on specific news reports and not on the newspaper as a whole. A newspaper is a jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is tied to another in an organic manner. Editorial judgment is the suturing tool which brings these pieces together. The idea that a responsible newspaper is an interlocking public flows from this.

In 2013, we organised the first Open House forThe Hindu’s readers in Chennai. Even while inviting readers for this event, I made it clear that a newspaper is not a consumer product; it is a public institution, a common good, and a public sphere despite its private ownership. Over a period of time, I have argued that the legacy media, such asThe Hindu, can retain the space for the classical four ‘d’s’ of democracy — discussion, dissent, debate and, finally, informed decision. I have also written that digital platforms, despite all the possibilities they offer, often tend to become ideological silos, where common ground is elusive.

Based on this premise, I managed to host several Open House discussions across cities. These paved the way for a free and frank exchange of ideas between the editorial team, led by the Editor himself, and a vast cross-section of readers. These meetings brought together the various expectations that readers have of the the newspaper in different cities. It helped us realise that a one-size-fits-all approach is not only a bad policy for governance but also for a multi-edition newspaper. The last Open House was held on February 1, 2020, in Vijayawada. As I had mentioned in my column, ‘The language of grief’ (March 23, 2020), we had to call off the Open House that we had planned to celebrate 50 years of this newspaper in Bengaluru.

Virtual meetings

While the news cycle moved to being distinctly digital, with virtual meetings becoming the norm, I was still holding on to my belief that a physical meeting is more ideal for dialogue than the virtual space. I was desperately hoping that the pandemic would soon become endemic and we could meet each other for a hearty exchange of views and ideas. But I am not a Luddite to shun the possibilities afforded by science and technology. In fact, as early as in 2015, we hosted a virtual Open House to markThe Hindu’s digital presence. Though we gained a lot from our distant interactions with our readers, it certainly lacked the compact of a physical meeting.

However, the severity of the pandemic has changed the dynamics of conversation. More people are now comfortable talking to each other virtually. The lockdown-imposed reality has forced us to reach out to each other in the cyberworld. And so, we have decided to host a virtual Open House on July 17, a Saturday.

We solicit readers to write to us a brief note about themselves if they are interested in attending the virtual Open House. Though technology permits any number of participants, we would like to limit participation to 100 readers in order to have an effective conversation. Your personal note will help us invite people from different parts of India and ensure wider participation. We propose to have the session between 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

The objective of the Open House remains the same: to listen to readers closely to find out what they are interested in and to explain some salient features of the newspaper’s working.


The Centre’s move to engage with the political leadership in Kashmir is welcome

Signalling a revival of the political process in Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to meet 14 party leaders from the Union Territory on June 24. Mr. Modi’s outreach is taking place nearly two years after the State of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its special constitutional status and dismembered into two Union Territories through an unprecedented exercise of the Centre’s powers. This demonstrates a desirable flexibility in his approach towards resolving the Kashmir issue. Considering the absence of an agenda for the meeting and the prevailing sense of betrayal among Kashmiris, any hope of a quick resolution to the frozen political questions is not realistic. Discontinuing the special status of Kashmir was a core agenda of Hindutva nationalism for decades, which was achieved after the second parliamentary victory of Mr. Modi in 2019. There has been a concerted campaign to undermine political parties and leaders of the Valley by the BJP and the Centre. Since 2014, the BJP has worked under a premise that the PDP and NC were impediments, not facilitators, to a solution in Kashmir. The BJP’s short-lived alliance with PDP, far from building bridges, created more hostility between the parties and de-legitimised both in the eyes of the public. The leaders of mainstream parties, including former Chief Ministers, were jailed after 2019. The Centre’s idea to incubate a loyal political class made little progress.

The political environment has changed, meanwhile. The Joe Biden administration is eager to end the U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan and resist China’s attempts to dominate the world. India is in a stand-off with China on the border. The Biden administration is publicly disapproving of India’s Kashmir policy, while wanting to strategically embrace it. Pakistan is trying to reclaim its strategic advantage. The mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic has dented India’s global image and triggered new political challenges domestically. All these make rigidity less rewarding in India’s Kashmir policy. All the same, by creating an opportunity to explore a way forward, the Centre has acted wisely, regardless of its reasons. It must engage the political parties in good faith and with an open mind. Kashmir’s governance challenges are not managerial, and corruption investigations, legitimate as they may be, must not be used to debase politics itself. Efforts to tackle corruption and pilferage should not amount to furthering instability in J&K. The Centre appears to have done some groundwork, though it has not revealed any plans yet. The meeting must be a beginning towards a durable and democratic resolution of the Kashmir question and not an exercise in managing the Centre’s image.

The new President should use his clout to push for economic, political reforms in Iran

With the election of Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, as Iran’s President, the Islamic Republic’s ruling clergy have tightened their grip on all institutions of power — the military, Parliament, the judiciary, and the presidency. In Iran’s unique political system, effectively controlled by the Supreme Leader, Presidents, who run the day-to-day affairs, have an important role to play. In the past, the country had seen tensions between moderate/reformist Presidents and the Supreme Leader. While the reformists, a powerful constituency, have pushed for gradual reforms by rallying behind leaders like Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, the conservatives always pushed back. In this tussle for power, Mr. Raisi has been the popular face of the establishment for years. He had contested the 2017 presidential elections, but lost to Mr. Rouhani, who was seeking a second term. Believed to be close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Mr. Raisi was appointed the Chief Justice in 2019, which kept him in the top echelons of power till the presidential elections. There were allegations that the June 18 election was rigged in favour of Mr. Raisi even before the first ballot was cast. The Guardian Council, which vets potential candidates, had rejected almost all major reformists, leaving him the only prominent figure on the ballot. This led to opposition activists calling for an election boycott, which seems to have had an impact on the voting — the turnout was 48.8%, an all-time low. Mr. Raisi won 62% of the vote, while blank ballots came second at 14%.

Mr. Raisi is a controversial figure. The U.S. has accused him of serving in the “death commission” of 1989 that implemented Ayatollah Khomeini’s secret decree to execute thousands of political prisoners. At home, he has presided over a harsh campaign against “corruption”, which critics say had targeted political rivals. And he assumes the presidency at a time when Iran is facing daunting challenges. The revolution seems to be ageing — the country has seen protests in recent years; the push to reform the system from within, a long-time promise of the reformists, has not made much progress and the economy is in a shambles. When Mr. Rouhani won the presidency in 2013, he promised a new beginning. But his attempts to open a new chapter with the West through diplomacy were set back by Donald Trump, and his policies at home were resisted by the conservatives. Mr. Raisi, who has supported reviving the nuclear deal, might also bank on sanctions being removed to reboot the economy. And there is growing discontent in society and desperate calls for reforms and liberties. For now, Iran’s tactical response to these challenges is repression. Mr. Raisi, as President, should understand that repression will not solve any of Iran’s problems. A member of the clerical establishment, he should use his clout and the election victory to push for gradual economic and political reforms.

When the police wear formal clothes and conduct themselves professionally, they command respect

The Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, recently directed all officials in the agency to dress in formal clothes while on duty. This means that all the male officers should wear collared shirts, formal trousers and shoes and all the women officers should wear sarees, suits, or formal shirts and trousers. Casuals are a strict no-no.

Until a few decades back, there was no need to issue such an order. Police officers are normally trained to maintain decorum in office. But over the years, there has been more indiscipline, which has led to this situation. The enforcement of discipline originates from the top. The head of the organisation may himself be observing a proper dress code. But enforcement of discipline needs to flow down the line to the last man. Such enforcement builds up a culture and an ethos within the organisation.

When I joined the Central Reserve Police Force for my basic training in Neemuch, most of my batchmates who wore printed shirts were asked to pack them and never to be seen in them again. Only plain, striped, or checked shirts were to be worn. The barber turned us into easily recognisable trainees by giving us crew cuts. All this instilled a sense of pride in us.

Image of the police

Decorum isn’t about clothes alone. The Director General (DG) of Bihar Police, S.K. Singhal, issued instructions recently to all personnel to not use their mobile phones while on duty, except in exceptional cases, as it “affects the image of the police”. A strict enforcement of this order will not only enhance the image of the police but will go a long way in improving the efficiency of the force. Alertness, the hallmark of efficiency in a police force, will produce the desired results. When the police are seen chatting on mobile phones while on duty, it tends to tarnish the image of the police. They are seen as being negligent and inefficient in the performance of their duties. The responsibility largely devolves on the junior officers to check their subordinates from using mobiles.

A few years ago, the then DG of Bihar Police issued orders that police personnel should not sport any religious symbols on their uniforms or body that would indicate their religious leanings. The order was issued because many were sporting a ‘tilak’ on their foreheads while in uniform. As per regulations, policemen are debarred from wearing any religious marks on their face or uniform. Only Sikh personnel are permitted to wear turbans and grow a beard and moustache. There can be no compromise in projecting the secular nature of the police forces of the country.

The Police Commissioner of Delhi, S.N. Shrivastava, recently raised objections to civil defence volunteers donning the khaki, an exclusive preserve of the police. A civil defence volunteer was recently arrested for posing as a sub-Inspector and prosecuting those who were violating COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. The matter is being taken up by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

When the police are smartly dressed and conduct themselves in a professional manner, they command the respect of the general public. Pot-bellied policemen project a bad image of the force. The Central Armed Police Forces rightly introduced the concept of an annual medical examination in the late nineties for all the personnel. This has not only kept them trim and fit but has also ensured that they are always in good health. Any medical deficiency can result in their losing promotions.

Once the pandemic ends, it is hoped that the health sector shows drastic improvement. It would be a step in the right direction if medical examinations are introduced in all government departments. If this is done, health issues can be detected in the initial stages and treated early.

The Central and State governments should issue orders as part of the conduct rules that all employees must be in formal wear when attending office. When private companies can enforce a dress code, there is no reason why government services shouldn’t.

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF

The Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, said to-day [June 20] that “butchery in Bangla Desh” would have to stop first before India took part in any mediation efforts on the issue. She was answering questions on developments in Bangla Desh and the resultant problem of six million refugees on Indian soil at a 30-minute news conference here [Srinagar] at the conclusion of her visit to Kashmir valley. On recognition of Bangla Desh, the Prime Minister made it clear that the time for it “has not come yet.” It was for the Government to decide what was good for the country, she added, and not what some people said or demanded. India, said Mrs. Gandhi, would continue to watch the situation as it developed in Bangla Desh. Just now it had no specific solution to the problem. She went on: “I only know that we are not going to allow them (refugees) to stay on here — neither shall we allow them to be butchered there.” Asked what India planned to do if Pakistan failed to respond to Indian pleas, she replied: “We will see what the situation is” and went on to add in a lighter vein: “as I love the press, I do not think I shall tell them first.”