Editorials - 03-03-2021

Different from the earlier routine assurances, the new India-Pakistan agreement also defuses an ugly two-front situation

In the wake of registering 5,130 ceasefire violations in 2020, guns on either side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) fell silent on the intervening night of February 24-25, 2021. The February ceasefire has triggered widespread speculation about its durability, significance and implication for bilateral relations in general.

The announcement by the two Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) came as a surprise to many, and yet, it underlined the simple fact that all statesmen/women recognise while in office: countries cannot be run by rhetoric alone. More so, this announcement is also a recognition in New Delhi and Islamabad that they cannot afford to let violence spiral out of control given its inherently escalatory nature as events in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack in February 2019 highlighted.

Peace feelers

Notwithstanding the surprise factor in the development, there have been some indications about a possible thaw in the relations between the traditional rivals. Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa stated in early February that “It is time to extend hand of peace in all directions”, and on the Indian side, the Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane said around the same time that “with our continuous engagement with Pakistan, we will be able to prevail over them (for border peace)... as unsettled borders help no one”. India allowed the use of its airspace by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special aircraft to fly to Sri Lanka and just a day before the ceasefire announcement, and upon his arrival in Colombo, Mr. Khan said, “Our only (sic) dispute is Kashmir and it can only be resolved through dialogue.” Clearly, the two sides were setting the stage for the announcement.

Significance of the ceasefire

What makes the February ceasefire significant is the fact that this agreement is different from the routine ceasefire assurances that the two sides made till January 2021. Twice in 2018, for instance, the two sides had agreed to uphold the ceasefire agreement when ceasefire violations were on the rise. But what makes the February 2021 ceasefire different is its two distinct features: one, this was a joint statement by the two DGsMO, and that unlike the previous declarations, the recent agreement mentions a specific date, i.e., the night of February 24-25, to begin the ceasefire. In that sense then, the February ceasefire is arguably one of the most significant military measures by India and Pakistan in over 18 years to reduce violence along the LoC in Kashmir. Coming in the wake of over 5,000 ceasefire violations in 2020 (the highest in 19 years since 2002) the agreement is path-breaking from a conflict management point of view. Interestingly, the November 2003 ceasefire agreement was also announced in the wake of a high level of violence through 2002 and 2003.

The ceasefire is also significant because this helps New Delhi to defuse what was becoming a growing concern for the decision makers in New Delhi: an ugly two-front situation and a feeling of being boxed in by an inimical Pakistan and an aggressive China. It is easy to talk about a two or ‘two-and-a-half’ front situation for domestic grandstanding, but dealing with it is neither easy nor practical. That the Indian Army had to redeploy forces from the western border with Pakistan to the northern border with China is indicative of the serious material challenges it could throw up. The best way to deal with the two front challenge then, New Delhi could have reasoned, was to defuse at least one front. The LoC was a natural candidate. Given that the back channel process started much before the recent India-China disengagement on the LAC, New Delhi must have decided to defuse the western challenge from Pakistan first. And it worked.

A brief history

The history of India Pakistan ceasefire pacts and war termination agreements is both complex and instructive. The Karachi agreement of 1949, which ended the first war between newly formed India and Pakistan, was the first ceasefire agreement between the two countries which, signed under the good offices of the United Nations, created the India Pakistan boundary in Kashmir called the Ceasefire Line or CFL. The United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was mandated to monitor the ceasefire along the CFL. The 1965 India-Pakistan war also ended in a ceasefire, but sincestatus quo ante bellumwas restored after the Tashkent Agreement, the CFL in Kashmir remained unaltered. However, the India-Pakistan war of 1971 would change that. The December ceasefire which ended the 1971 war was enshrined into the Simla Agreement the following year. But unlike 1965,status quo ante bellumwas not restored by the Simla Agreement, a decision that would have important implications for bilateral relations.

The Suchetgarh Agreement of 1972 delineated the ‘line of control’ in Jammu and Kashmir which resulted from the ceasefire of December 1971 thereby renaming the CFL as the LoC. By this smart move, Indian negotiators not only changed the nomenclature of the India-Pakistan dividing line in Kashmir and the physical alignment of the border in Jammu and Kashmir, but also made the UNMOGIP presence in Kashmir irrelevant. Recall that the UN force was mandated to ensure a ceasefire on the CFL, but there was no CFL after 1972, and, more so, the UN was not even a party to the Simla Agreement unlike the Karachi Agreement.

Let us cut to the present. The 2003 agreement between the DGsMO, communicated through a telephone call between them, was a reiteration of the December 1971 war termination ceasefire; Technically, therefore, even the February 2021 ceasefire too is a reiteration of the 1971 ceasefire agreement.

A form of intent

And yet, a ceasefire does not observe itself — it requires a clearly articulated and mutually-agreed upon set of rules and norms for effective observance along with an intent to observe them. The February ceasefire is an expression of such an intent, but without the rules and norms to enforce it. The Simla Agreement or the Suchetgarh Agreement do not have those rules either. The Karachi Agreement, on the other hand, has clearly laid down provisions on how to manage the CFL which, of course, was overtaken by the LoC. Ironically, therefore, armed forces deployed on either side of the LoC in Kashmir often have to resort to the strictures enshrined in the long-defunct Karachi Agreement to observe the ceasefire mandated by the Simla Agreement. This needs to change. Now that the two DGsMO have declared a joint ceasefire, the next logical step is to arrive at a set of rules to govern that ceasefire. An unwritten ceasefire, experiences from conflict zones around the world show, tend to break down easily and trigger tensions in other domains.

Return to the back channel

What is also significant to note about the ceasefire agreement between the two DGsMO is that this was preceded by weeks, if not months of, high-level contacts through the back channel. For sure, major agreements of this kind cannot be finalised by army officers especially given the vitiated atmosphere surrounding India-Pakistan relations. More crucially, the fact that this ceasefire has political blessings makes it more durable.

Interestingly, the 2003 ceasefire was also preceded by discreet parleys between the heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of India. The 2003 CFA led to a sustained period of back channel talks on Kashmir which, by mid 2007, had almost finalised a deal to resolve the Kashmir conflict. My research on the 2004-2007 back channel talks shows how discreet conversations between high-level interlocutors appointed by the heads of governments were able to make unprecedented progress on the mother of all India Pakistan conflicts, Kashmir. What is also evident from that period is that one key reason why the CFA held at least till 2008 was because there were parallel talks, along with holding fire on the LoC, on other outstanding bilateral issues, principally Kashmir. While whether the 2021 CFA would prompt talks in other areas is unclear as of now, I doubt the ability of piecemeal agreements to create durable stability bilaterally unless followed by progress in other domains.

Happymon Jacob teaches at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and is the author of ‘Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics’

Educational institutions and students can’t be insulated from politics and they shouldn’t be

In 2020, following nationwide protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 and the proposed National Register of Citizens there was a chorus to keep students out of politics. In December 2019, at the height of the agitation, Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ said political parties should keep educational institutions out of their politics. This is despite the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s own student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, conducted rallies and meetings in support of the new law. The political elite of the Congress too advised students to depoliticise after independence, Professor Ghanshyam Shah writes inSocial Movements in India. Today, several colleges and universities in India have rules mandating that campuses be apolitical spaces where students should focus on studies. Students participating in protests on these campuses are liable to be suspended or dismissed.

Recently, following the arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi, this idea surfaced once again. Reports stated that parents are worried about their children’s social media posts on contentious issues and participation in protests. The concern possibly stems from a fear of the government and its frequent attempts to crack down on dissenters, a belief that the rough and tumble of politics is not suited for the young, the association of protests with lawlessness, and often a combination of these.

Idea of education

In India, 18-year-olds are allowed by law to drive cars, marry (if they are women), and in some States, drink. Most important, they are allowed to vote. Ironically, while campaigns are held before every election to increase voter turnout, especially among the youth, young adults are routinely advised to stay away from politics. How can they be expected to make an informed choice at the ballot box if they are not allowed to freely express their opinions on issues that concern them, or participate in protests, which is their democratic right?

Many see students who focus solely on academics as role models, achievers and good citizens, and student protesters as rebellious, unruly, and bringing their institutions into disrepute. Such convenient categorisation ignores the very purpose of education and the conceptualisation of a campus. In Tagore’s words, an educational institution should not be “a dead cage in which living minds are fed with food that’s artificially prepared”. Institutions are not merely spaces where knowledge is imparted to passive recipients; they are spaces where there is debate, discussion and contestation of ideas.

Moreover, it is fallacious to say that educational institutions are apolitical spaces when administrations and curricula, especially in the social sciences, are changed by the government of the day. We saw this in the case of Delhi University dropping A.K. Ramanujan’s celebrated essay,Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation,from the history syllabus in 2011 and in the more recent case of the CBSE removing 30% of the syllabus for students of Classes 9-12, including portions on federalism, citizenship and secularism. It is not participation in protests alone that politicise the youth; it is equally the education they are — or are not — imparted.

Being apolitical, according to the dictionary definition, means to not be interested in politics or connected with a political party. While many citizens fall into this category, it is impossible for us, even the youth, to not have political views. To illustrate: A child who has grown up near a river into which sewage and industrial waste were continuously dumped may grow up fighting for clean water and air. He may not be a supporter of the BJP or the Congress or the regional parties, his knowledge of their ideologies and policies may be limited, but he may still attend a protest against the government’s inability to tackle pollution.

Like him, many of us have views on how to tackle inequality, what model of development is appropriate and just, who should be taxed and by how much, food habits, rights and their restrictions, and so on. Much like sending WhatsApp forwards, expressing our views to family and friends, and posting on social media on politics, these views make us political. As Turkish-British writer Elif Shafak once said in an interview, “Wherever there’s power, there’s politics.”

However, only those privileged across the categories of gender, ethnicity, caste, class, religion and social status can afford to remain silent on many of these issues. The luxury for some of being “apolitical” comes from the fact that they are not the targets of contentious policies — they, their families and communities are unaffected by unfair citizenship laws, agricultural policies, caste discrimination on campuses, bans on certain food, displacement from their lands, and so on. Some studies such as Ross (1969) also note that privilege is the reason why some students also participate in agitations: they protestbecausethey are protected by wealth and influence. Social and economic privilege is why some may not have reason to protest; it is equally the reason why many can afford to speak out.

Result of sustained demands

Over the years, across nations, it is sustained demands by citizens that have earned us many of the precious rights we enjoy today, including the eight-hour workday, women’s right to vote, and equal pay. We also see around us the consequences of turning a blind eye to some of these protests. Reni village in Uttarakhand, which was the centre of the Chipko movement in the 1970s, bore the brunt of the landslide that killed 62 in the region recently. Many of the women who live in Reni now were children when they hugged the trees protesting against commercial logging. Scientists have time and again questioned the model of development in the region, including massive dam projects and rampant deforestation.

When a government passes laws with little deliberation and discussion with the stakeholders concerned, it is but natural that people, many of whom elected that government to power, will protest. From Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam in Hong Kong to Greta Thunberg in Sweden and Disha Ravi in India, it is the youth who seem fearless and outspoken, and willing to take risks. In the past, too, it is the youth who spearheaded many movements in India, such as the anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu.

In India, Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees us the right to free speech, the right to assemble peaceably without arms, and the right to form associations. The right to protest is a manifestation of these rights. For the youth, the stakes are even higher in speaking out: policies and laws concern not only the rights, lives and livelihoods of citizens today, but have far-reaching implications for the future of the nation too.


To say that growth and inequality converge in terms of their effects on socio-economic outcomes is outrageous

The Economic Survey 2021 (https://bit.ly/2OfqfVQ) does not seem to be a policy document derived straight from the empirical data of the economy or the social compulsions embedded in it. On the contrary, the Survey rings with policy postulates based on strong ideological overtones. Of interest would be Chapter 4, captioned ‘Inequality and Growth: Conflict or Convergence?’ which is ostensibly “an effort to identify the correct policy objective for India”.

Need for desirable outcomes

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, India has fallen into the vortex of a ‘once-in-a-century crisis’ as the Survey forcefully puts it. It projects a V-shaped growth of recovery and reiterates the call of the Economic Survey2019-20 for “ethical wealth creation by combining the invisible hand of markets with the hand of trust”. Given the great truth that trust is broken more in an unequal society, (on this, see Wilkinson and Pickett cited in the chapter), it is unrealistic to abstract from the crony capitalism and corruption that dominate the political society and proceed from there to ethical wealth production (which indeed is an important instrumental value). It is hoped that market-mediated growth will take the country to desirable socio-economic outcomes that include not only reducing poverty but also a wide spectrum, ranging from infant mortality to mental illness.

A silence on poverty

Even so, concerned scholars remain confused at the silence of the Survey on the nature and magnitude of poverty which is a multi-dimensional phenomena of deprivation, confounded much worse by the pandemic crisis. The graphic picture of migrant families trudging home hundreds of kilometres away from the cities in the wake of the lockdown seems forgotten. At the same time, Chapter 1 of the Survey documents elaborately the structural reforms (achievements include the controversial three farm laws) to take the economy and the people forward.

Scholarly estimates on the increase in the extreme poverty under the pandemic in India have ranged from 400 million (a study by King’s College London) to 620 million (The Hindu, OpEd article, July 7, 2020). Oxfam’s study on the Virus and Inequality (https://bit.ly/3rcAF7p) points out that while it took nine months for the top 1,000 billionaires to return to pre-COVID-19 times, it will take over a decade for the poorest class to resume normalcy. Interestingly, India’s stock exchanges have scaled unprecedented heights in mocking disregard to the informal sector already in deep distress following the demonetisation episode.

Anyone familiar with the vast literature on economic growth and inequality will find the claims of the Economic Survey, that unlike in advanced countries, in India economic growth and inequality converge in terms of their effects on socio-economic outcomes, as simply outrageous. Because the 44 figures of correlations and regressions occupy more than two-thirds of the space of the chapter and form the ‘scientific’ base to substantiate the arguments, I may probe further into them. Correlation between two real scalar variables x and y does not measure any type of relationship between x and y. The measure of variance (square of standard deviation) in x is the square of a measure of scatter or dispersion or spread in x.

Faulty conclusions

Correspondingly, the joint dispersion or joint scatter in the couplet (x,y) is measured by covariance between x and y. A scale-free covariance is the correlation where degenerate variables are excluded. Hence, correlation can only measure joint scatter in (x,y) and it cannot measure any type of relationship between x and y. Also, correlation as a measure of joint scatter can make sense only when the variables involved have a joint distribution in the statistical sense. All the conclusions of the chapter by computing correlations are faulty.

Another set of analysis is based on fitting linear models, calling them as “linear regression”. In the regression models used, variables are selected according to convenience and linear models are fitted and t-statistics are computed without checking for the validity; all sorts of conclusions are made. Such misuse of statistical tools is a dangerous game, certainly in a democracy, which as J.S. Mill famously said is a government by discussions. Discussions are relevant and truthful only when they are well-informed and reliable.

Social justice is an intrinsic value of universal relevance. Box 1 of Chapter 4 that goes to justify the poverty and inequality trade-off in totalitarian China is obviously introduced to support the inegalitarian policy options. Thomas Piketty (2020), referred to in the chapter, tells us that inequality increased much more sharply after 1980 in India than in China. This is conveniently forgotten.

A sidelining

Although the works of great thinkers on justice and equality such as John Rawls, Piketty and Wilkinson and Pickett are mentioned, they are sidelined. It is concluded that “poverty alleviation through growth must be central to economic strategy”, rather than inequality because “in India, economic growth and inequality converge in terms of their effects on socio-economic indicators”. This is untenable. Rawls’A Theory of Justice(1971), treats justice as fairness which is the basic core of democratic traditions the world over. The chapter refers to the idea of “original position” of equality of Rawls but fails to note that it will have to be judged by the whole theory of justice. The book,The Spirit Level, by the two doctors Wilkinson and Pickett, based on 50 years of research has the meaningful subtitle, ‘Why equality is better for everyone’, ought to have been discussed further because they argue that inequality breeds mistrust, mental illness and many such outcomes, which needs to be reduced for human well-being.

Instead of dismissing it, a discussion on Piketty’sCapital and Ideologyis certainly warranted for three valid reasons: it is a well-documented historical study on inequality which comes to the striking conclusion that “inequality is neither economic or technological, but ideological and political”; India is elaborately studied; it discusses a wide range of policy issues relevant for a democratic society facing the COVID-19 pandemic like universal basic income, progressive taxation of income, carbon emission, property and inheritance, universal access to fundamental goods such as health, education and housing and so on.

The Economic Survey has all the right to suggest what it considers relevant. But democracy demands informed debate especially when it comes to economic inequality which has been admittedly growing exponentially in India. Legitimising it by policy think-tanks is indeed questionable.

M.A. Oommen is Honorary Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram

Post-conflict reconstruction work must go beyond meetingshort-term security and humanitarian needs

The cataclysm in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and the country’s humanitarian crisis give rise to concerns of long-term regional deterioration. Without a clear framework for peace-building, post-conflict reconstruction and transitional justice, the country is at risk of drastically postponing both political and economic recovery. This has implications not only for Ethiopia but also the entire Horn of Africa region which is already plagued by low-level conflicts, uneven economic development, border disputes, continued food insecurity, climate change, a precarious political situation, and a dire refugee crisis.

The conflict

The breakdown in the already strained relations between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)’s leaders in Tigray has resulted in the national crisis. In 2018, anti-government protests by the marginalised Oromo population forced the TPLF to step down, resulting in the election of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his subsequent crackdown on Tigrayan politicians for corruption and human rights abuses. Internal conflict in Ethiopia has resulted in the death of 52,000 people and the displacement of over 2 million, over 60,000 of whom have taken refuge in Sudan’s eastern border. This has triggered an influx of Sudanese and Eritrean military personnel near Ethiopia’s northern frontier.

The complex process of developing a post-conflict reconstruction framework requires a comprehensive analysis, one that compels immediate coordination between the federal, regional and local governments, independent and partial adjudicators, civil society and victims’ and community groups. The various levels of government need to be responsible for two roles: first, the generation of effective regional security architecture for uncomplicated jurisdictions; and second, a narrowed scope and mandate for the Reconciliation Commission and its independent committee of facilitators. Independent mediators and adjudicators can further assist in framing post-conflict models.

Currently, Ethiopia is attempting to tackle its domestic emergency. This phase includes securing a military conflict-free environment, addressing increased displacement, allowing access to basic needs assistance for citizens at risk of famine, and strengthening humanitarian capacity in conflict-ridden areas. The part that requires more attention, given that it has been more than four months since the initiation of military conflict in Tigray, would be the medium- and long-term phases. This would mean examining how Ethiopia’s response in rebuilding trust and consensus in state institutions will impact its political, economic and security stability.

Internally, the federal government would be urged to consider steps in effectively building frameworks for accountability, transparency and power distribution for inclusive national systems of governance. This is particularly important for combating the contentious nature of Ethiopia’s ethnic federalist system and its lack of non-partisan platforms for political dialogue. This would help build an environment that promotes the establishment of trust and cooperation among its largest and historically conflicted Oromo, Amhara and Tigrayan groups, further preventing a relapse into a state of emergency.

Cities in the Northern Gondar Zone, such as Welkait, which have been under the contested control of TPLF forces for decades, will require socioeconomic transitional institutions for effective post-conflict recovery. In Welkait’s case, this includes initiating healing dialogue among Amhara and Tigrayan groups, establishing efforts to integrate the cities’ education, currently only taught in Tigrigna, and economy into the rest of the neighbouring Amharic-speaking region.

Taking a long-term view

A lack of transitional processes will result in a return to violence in not only the Tigray region but also in other regions where there are rising ethnic tensions. This threatens to derail the economic progress made over the last few decades. The best way to prevent the same chain of events that led to the 2010 post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire is to begin structuring a post-conflict environment that promotes a peaceful transition.

The focus of regional and international media has been heavily geared towards Ethiopia’s immediate alleviation of humanitarian strains. But meeting short-term security and humanitarian needs, although extremely important, should not be the sole focus of a sustainable recovery agenda. It is imperative to recognise a broader view and develop successful post-conflict reconstruction policies before stability is beyond reach.

Tefsi Golla is Researcher with the Institute for Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (INRSD) and Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies; and Hany Besada is Executive Director of INRSD and Research Professor at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies

Forging stronger ties with the region could help India strengthen manufacturing and revitalise exports

The Atmanirbhar Bharat programme and the Budget 2021-22 have set the tone and tenor to bolster supply chains and achieve self-reliance. A self-reliant India, however, cannot be economically insular. Realising the vision of a self-reliant India would entail localising an increasing share of value added along supply chains through investments and phase-wise reduction of import tariffs with strategic partners such as the European Union (EU).

Export potential

India has an untapped export potential of $39.9 billion in the EU and Western Europe. The top products with export potential include apparel, gems and jewellery, chemicals, machinery, automobile, pharmaceuticals and plastic. India benefits from tariff preferences under the EU’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for several of these products. In fact, India is among the major beneficiaries of the EU’s GSP, with exports under the GSP valued at nearly $19.4 billion in 2019, accounting for nearly 37% of India’s merchandise exports to the EU.

However, there are several products where India has export potential in the EU, but these have “graduated” or are at the brink of “graduation” under EU GSP. Product graduation applies when average imports of a product from a beneficiary country exceed 17.5% of EU-GSP imports of the same product from all beneficiary countries over three years. India’s exports of products such as textiles, inorganic and organic chemicals, gems and jewellery, iron, steel and their articles, base metals and automotives are already out of the ambit of EU-GSP benefits.

There is also a likelihood of losing EU-GSP benefits in other categories such as apparel, rubber, electronic items, sports goods and toys due to product graduation. In apparel, India’s exports to the EU were valued at $7 billion in 2019, of which nearly 94% was under EU-GSP, indicative of the impact that the graduation may have on apparel exports. Meanwhile, India’s competitors in apparel exports such as Bangladesh would continue to receive tariff benefits in the EU under Everything but Arms Initiative. Another competitor, Vietnam, concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU in 2019. In light of the declining preferential access and the plausible erosion of competitiveness in the EU market, there is clearly a need to deepen trade and investment ties with the region.

Approach to FTAs

India’s negotiation for a Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement, which commenced in 2007, is yet to materialise due to lack of concurrence in areas like automotives and dairy and marine products. India’s cautious approach to FTAs derives from its past experience of an unequal exchange of benefits in several FTAs signed by the country. Therefore, a thorough assessment of the benefits from FTA for domestic producers is warranted, with due consideration to the impact on sensitive sectors, and possibility of inclusion of safeguards such as sunset clause on concessions for some items.

Further, there should also be provisions for aspects such as investment and non-tariff measures (NTMs). China has already negotiated a comprehensive agreement on investment. India also needs to negotiate on investment-related aspects with the EU to enhance bilateral investments and foster stronger value chains, especially in technology-intensive sectors in which the EU has a comparative advantage. As far as NTMs are concerned, India faces as many as 414 NTMs in the EU, in a wide array of sectors. FTAs have some institutional arrangements for NTMs. India should critically review the availability of such arrangements in its negotiations, as also their operationalisation and effectiveness.

Post-Brexit EU finds itself in the midst of a growing need for recalibrating ties with its partner countries. Forging stronger ties with the region through a mutually beneficial agreement could help strengthen Indian manufacturing and revitalise the flailing exports.

Jahanwi Singh and Neha Raman are economists with India Exim Bank. Views are personal

The economy may have emerged fromthe woods, but challenges loom

After two quarters of a sharp contraction, India’s economy is estimated to have rebounded out of a ‘technical recession’ to record feeble growth in the October-December 2020 period, with GDP rising by 0.4% and GVA by 1%. The overall numbers are not surprising. Just as the short-notice pandemic lockdown and the subsequent case surge took the wind out of mobility and economic activity in the first half of the fiscal year, the ‘unlocking phase’ that was largely complete by late September, brought back a semblance of normalcy, with pent-up and festival demand spurring spending, and helping reboot production lines. Agriculture remained the resilient bulwark in the third quarter as well, with farm GVA rising by 3.9% after being the sole sector to clock growth in the preceding two quarters. Manufacturing and construction resurfaced from a collapse to expand 1.2% and 6%, respectively. Both these sectors had been under stress even before the pandemic, posting contractions starting from the second and third quarters of 2019-20. Despite the Centre’s push on government spending, public administration, defence and other services contracted 1.5% last quarter. However, investment demand is estimated to have rebounded, with fixed capital formation posting positive momentum after several quarters, driven perhaps by public spending. Most worryingly, retail, trade, hotels, transport and communication contracted by 7.7%.

Despite the Q3 uptick, the second advance estimates of national income for the year project an 8% contraction in the GDP, wider than the – 7.7% estimated in January. This may partly be due to the NSO revising the first quarter’s GDP shrinkage to 24.4%, from the 23.9% calculated earlier. The latest numbers also may be taken as an indicator at best, with the NSO stressing that the estimates are likely to undergo ‘sharp revisions’ as the pandemic affected data collection. Like the growth rate for 2019-20 was revised from 4.2% to 4% in January, the real GDP growth for the third quarter of the last fiscal has been scaled down to 3.3%, from 4.1%. The base effect may well have helped nudge India’s growth into positive territory, but it is an important psychological barrier to cross. Growth numbers alone may still not be capturing the tumult faced by swathes of informal and micro-enterprises, nor do they reflect a recovery in the job market. The continuing stress in employment- and contact-intensive services sectors is a worry, and the government must consider support measures. The second wave of infections in industrial hotspots such as Maharashtra, and the risk of infections rising in poll-bound States, do not bode well either for services or the fragile recovery in manufacturing. A smooth and expeditious roll-out of the vaccine, with the private sector drafted in to achieve scale, is an imperative to help India navigate the bumps ahead more deftly.

Biden needs to seal the nuclear deal before hardliners gain the upper hand in Iran

U.S. President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, have not seen any breakthrough with both sides waiting for the other to blink. The Biden administration says it would return to the deal if Iran starts complying with its terms. Tehran, on the other side, asks the U.S., which unilaterally quit the deal under the Donald Trump administration in May 2018, to return to the agreement first and lift sanctions on Iran. The EU’s efforts to organise direct U.S.-Iran talks were also unsuccessful as Tehran reportedly rejected the offer. Iran has also accelerated its nuclear programme. This game of chicken continues as the clock is ticking. Iran will elect a new President in June. Hassan Rouhani, who bet his presidency on the deal — only to be repudiated by Mr. Trump — cannot stand in a third consecutive election. There is no guarantee that a moderate like Mr. Rouhani would be elected this time. And it is not a secret that there is considerable opposition among the hardliners, a powerful constituency, towards any kind of engagement with the U.S. Mr. Biden’s best bet is to get the nuclear agreement back on track before Mr. Rouhani leaves office.

To be sure, Mr. Biden has moved with a sense of urgency after assuming power. He appointed a special envoy for Iran, showed signs of rebalancing ties with Saudi Arabia, and sent clear signals to Tehran about America’s desire to get back to the deal. But these actions do not seem to be enough to rebuild the trust after the acrimonious Trump years. Some of Iran’s concerns are genuine. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Iran had cooperated with the U.S. in the war against the Taliban. But once the Taliban were driven out of power, the Bush administration branded Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil” along with Iraq and North Korea. As President Barack Obama offered diplomacy, the Iranians grabbed the opportunity, leading to the signing of the JCPOA in 2015. And Iran was fully compliant with the agreement when Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of it. So Iran would seek some consistency in U.S. policy. But Iran is also in a tough spot. Hit by sanctions and a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, its economy is bleeding. It had violently cracked down on protests in 2019-20, the embers of which are still burning. Its regional operations took a hit after Qasem Soleimani was assassinated by the U.S. in January 2020. Its assets in Syria are under repeated air strikes by Israel. Last week, the U.S. had also bombed pro-Iranian militants in Syria. Both sides are under pressure. Both sides need the deal — the U.S. wants to scuttle Iran’s nuclear programme and Iran wants relief from sanctions. They should stick to the diplomatic path for a breakthrough.

London, February 27: A large gathering of Indian students this evening cordially welcomed Lord Reading at the Indian Students Hostel of the Y.M.C.A. Principal Garvie lectured on “Political Idealism” after which, in response to the students’ calls, Lord Reading spoke. He declared, that the political idealists who had most influenced him were Gladstone, Morley, and Campbell-Bannerman. Political idealism found a modern expression in a re-interpretation of the French watchword, namely, “Liberty, Justice and Love”. There would be no justice without love. As Lord Chief Justice, justice appealed to him. Love meant power to put oneself in other sinners’ position. Lord Reading declared that to him, in political idealism, justice stood supreme (Cheers).

It is a wise saw that a bad workman blames his tools and a poor dancer the shape of the stage for their dismal performances. A striking parallel in the political sphere is the growing trend of parties in power to blame the Constitution for their own poor record of service to the people. Armed with all the vast powers vested in them by the Government and the enormous resources of the nation at their beck and call, these men and women at the helm dissipate both through either personal aggrandisement or pointless policy exercises during most of their tenure. And when the day of reckoning draws near, they raise a hue and cry that but for the fundamental rights or some other provision in the Constitution they would have ushered in a just social order to ensure the welfare of the people and equality of opportunity for all. To lend some credence to such a politically profitable stand, they assiduously bring about confrontations with the judiciary, so that it can be made out that the verdicts of the judiciary striking down some ill-conceived (and often undesirable) pieces of legislation or executive acts and the provisions of the Constitution on which the verdicts are based are the causes for their own dismal inadequacy. The people are by now familiar with the plans of some parties for amending the Constitution in the name of social justice and their cries for a “committed judiciary” as also of the dangerous consequences of such attempts to undermine these bedrocks of individual liberty and the democratic freedoms.