Editorials - 09-03-2021

The U.S.’s objective of a just and durable peace while ensuring Afghanistan’s unity is a tall order

The peace process in Afghanistan has reached a critical turning point. As when then U.S. President Barack Obama announced the exit of U.S. forces from Afghanistan (and the Taliban famously exulted – ‘you may have the watches, but we have the time’), and more recently, when the Doha Agreement was concluded a year ago between the U.S. Government and the Taliban. Now, a more decisive step is in store.

A U.S. review

Afghan social media and political circles are rife with details, corroborated by official sources in Afghanistan, that the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, has unveiled the initial conclusions of the review by the United States of its strategy in Afghanistan in a letter he has addressed simultaneously to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and the head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah. Mr. Ghani has been virtually read the riot act by Mr. Blinken, whose letter confirms the intention to fully withdraw all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as early as May 1, as specified in the Doha Agreement. Mr. Ghani has been warned that without them, the security situation will deteriorate and the Taliban could make rapid gains.

Despite the Doha Agreement, the Taliban has not ended its ties with the al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups. Nor have intra-Afghan negotiations progressed. The policy review ordered in Washington DC by U.S. President Joe Biden has been shrouded in secrecy. What appeared in the U.S. media indicates that some within the U.S. Administration are voicing the need to defend American values. Protagonists in the Pentagon are passionate about keeping a modicum of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden has long held, even as Vice-President, that Pakistan is strategically more important to the U.S. than Afghanistan, and that U.S. troops should be pulled out of the Afghan battlefield as soon as possible. Donald Trump was doing nothing different from his predecessor, only in his inimitable way, which Mr. Biden wishes to distance himself from and leave a narrative of orderly exit.

The ongoing review had raised hopes in Kabul of a turnaround in U.S. policy. That is not happening in substance. The U.S. is anxious to proceed to a final settlement rapidly on terms visible from the very outset of the peace process. The continuation of Zalmay Khalilzad as the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation at the State Department was an early sign that, in substance, U.S. policy is going to remain unaltered.

The U.S. maintains that its objective is to bring about a just and durable peace through political negotiations in a manner that Afghanistan remains united, sovereign, and democratic, and preserves the gains made over the past two decades. This is a tall order, as it contradicts the abiding U.S. priority, to cut its losses and be out of Afghanistan at the earliest.

The conundrum for the U.S. is that it cannot disengage from Afghanistan, if that is its priority, without accepting Pakistan’s terms. These would not be acceptable to Afghan patriots who want freedom for Afghanistan to choose its political direction.

If training, combat support, and the supply of weapons are stopped from Pakistan, the Taliban could be on its knees. The U.S. Government is wary but resigned about Pakistan’s negative role. Instead of pressuring Pakistan, it is seeking Afghan acquiescence for a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban, enabling the exit of U.S. soldiers.

The road map

The U.S. Government is advocating ‘a new, inclusive government’ in Afghanistan, which implies an immediate 50% share for the Taliban in an interim government, as aquid pro quofor a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. This will be without reference to a mandate from the people as elections will be held only in the future, after the principles guiding Afghanistan’s future constitutional and governing arrangements are worked out.

As a prelude to the ceasefire, the U.S. has proposed to the Taliban to reduce violence for three months, intended to head off the Taliban’s threatened spring offensive.

When the intra-Afghan negotiations envisaged under the Doha Agreement stalled, Russia offered Moscow as an alternate venue. Instead, the United Nations is being asked to convene, with Turkey being asked to host a meeting of foreign ministers or envoys from China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S. to discuss a unified approach to supporting peace in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ghani is being encouraged to work closely with a broad consultative group, for which the core leaders identified are Abdullah Abdullah, former President Karzai, and an important former Mujahideen commander, Professor Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. The objective of this exercise is to build consensus on specific goals and objectives for negotiations with the Taliban on power-sharing, governance, and essential supporting principles.

The implications for India

India remains fully committed to Afghanistan. Despite the policy flux there, bilateral relations are flourishing. There have been frequent and productive high-level exchanges between Indian and Afghan leaders. The Afghanistan acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Haneef Atmar, is visiting New Delhi on March 22.

India is to be part of the future consultation process on Afghanistan. Invites to prominent elders and senior Afghan leaders such as Abdullah Abdullah, Ustad Ata Muhammad Noor, and General Abdul Rashid Dostum over the past few months have helped India reconnect with the political spectrum in Afghanistan.

India has stayed the course with a long-term commitment to supporting state institutions in Afghanistan, expanding its development partnership, working with all communities across the country, and asking leaders of all Afghan ethnicities to remain together. That policy has been well-received by most of the Afghan people and government, it was well-suited to the time, and it has served India well.

The moment has now come to directly engage with those leaders on the ground who will determine the course that the peace process will take. The patriotic Afghan people admire their erstwhile leaders, President Najibullah and Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who were committed to building the nation. Prints and postcards of their portraits are still popular in the streets and bazaars of Kabul. Their photographs are displayed on the windscreens of many Kabul taxis. Such people look to India as a friend and expect solidarity.

If the American plan results only in a ‘reduction in violence’ and not its complete cessation, and U.S. forces are pulled out, India must step up to assist materially those who want to defend the Afghan republic. It should explore commonalities with key countries in dealing with the rapidly evolving situation. When in the late 1990s no country was willing to help the democratic forces in Afghanistan, India and Iran had scaled up their support. That time is again at hand.

Jayant Prasad is a former Ambassador of India in Afghanistan and a former Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses

It is critical that the Supreme Court immediately adjudicates on the electoral bonds scheme

The Election Commission of India has announced dates for elections to five Legislative Assemblies. It is a matter of grave concern that the petition challenging the electoral bonds scheme, which deals with the vexed issue of election funding, continues to languish in the Supreme Court. The delay in adjudicating on the case filed in September 2017 is inexplicable in light of the observation by the apex court that the matter gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country.”

No transparency

The political system in India has traditionally been hostile to the idea of transparency in electoral financing. Political parties have zealously opposed any examination of the linkages between their governments’ policies and decisions, and the interests of their major donors. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced the launch of a new instrument of political party funding to ostensibly ensure greater transparency and eliminate black money from the system, it was hoped that the issue of anonymous financing would be squarely dealt with. However, using the money bill route to bypass the Rajya Sabha, the government introduced regressive amendments to laws, including the Income Tax Act of 1961, the Companies Act of 2013, and the Representation of the People Act of 1951, to introduce electoral bonds which allow donors to anonymously donate unlimited amounts of funds to political parties.

Under the scheme, an electoral bond, issued in the nature of a promissory note, can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India. The scheme allows parties to receive these bonds without the public, the Election Commission or even the Income Tax Department knowing the identity of the donors. It has legitimised opacity and opened the floodgates for anonymous donations to parties, dealing a severe blow to voters’ right to know. People’s ability to track donations by big businesses and expose quid pro quo has been undermined. Expressing its opposition to electoral bonds in the Supreme Court, the Election Commission has contended that they will have an adverse impact on transparency in political party financing and would make it impossible for the constitutional body to ascertain whether donations received were in compliance with the statutory framework governing political parties.

In 2016 and 2017, amendments were made to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, with retrospective effect to bail out the BJP and Congress, which were found guilty by the Delhi High Court of having received contributions from foreign sources in violation of the FCRA. In conjunction with these amendments, which enabled Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies to make donations to political parties, electoral bonds allow anonymous financing by foreign entities opening Indian elections to the influence of foreign interests.

Money laundering

One of the stated objectives of introducing electoral bonds was to address the problem of black money and large cash donations. Proponents of electoral bonds have argued that since bonds can only be purchased via cheques, demand drafts, direct debit or electronic clearing, they will stem the flow of black money. The problem with this assertion, however, is that it completely overlooks the crux of the problem: the provision of the Income Tax Act under which political parties were exempted from disclosing sources of donations of less than Rs. 20,000. Most parties claimed that a majority of their income was received in denominations smaller than Rs. 20,000 thus doing away with the requirement to disclose the source of donation. It is an open secret that most of the anonymous donations received by parties were large cash contributions, which were ‘broken down’ and shown as multiple small donations. If the government was serious about addressing the malaise of black money, it should have done away with the provision of non-disclosure of sources. Instead, amendments to the Income Tax Act in 2017 only lowered the stipulated ceiling of anonymous contributions from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000. Creative accountants can easily neutralise the impact of a lowered ceiling by multiplying the number of unattributed cash donations by a factor of 10, enabling donors to continue to anonymously pump cash into the system.

In fact, electoral bonds are likely to abet money laundering since the amendments to the Companies Act in 2017 removed the cap of 7.5% on political contributions by a company as a percentage of its average net profits of the preceding three years. This allows for black money to be easily routed through shell companies to purchase electoral bonds, an apprehension also expressed by the Election Commission. Even the Reserve Bank of India flagged serious concerns about the electoral bonds.

Big money in electoral politics

The rationale given by the government for providing anonymity to donors of electoral bonds is to allow donors to use legitimate funds to support political parties by protecting them against the wrath of rival parties, especially the party in power. But as bonds are issued only through the State Bank of India, it would not be difficult for the party in power to access information about the identity of purchasers and details of bonds sold to them, and match those to deposits in political party accounts. It is no surprise, therefore, that the lion’s share of donations through bonds have been cornered by the BJP – it bagged 95% of bonds issued in the first tranche in March 2018 and approximately 60% of bonds sold till March 2019.

Bonds worth nearly Rs. 6,500 crore have been sold so far. They have consolidated the role of big money in electoral politics. Information obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act shows that bonds with the highest denomination value of Rs. 1 crore are the most preferred by donors and constitute 92% of the total value of bonds sold till October 2020.

Electoral bonds militate against every known principle of transparency and lend themselves to use by special interest groups, corporate lobbyists and foreign entities to acquire a stranglehold on the electoral process and governance at the expense of citizens. To ensure public trust in the electoral process, it is critical that the Supreme Court immediately adjudicates on the matter. If bonds are to be retained as an instrument for contributing to political parties, donations must be made transparent and parties should be obligated to file reports with the Election Commission and other oversight bodies disclosing the names of donors and amounts received. This information must also be placed in the public domain. These steps are necessary to safeguard democracy and ensure that elections do not become a mere formality.

Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri are associated with the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information

U.S. immigration is unlikely to change soon, but those hoping to access opportunities could still have a new choice

For companies and workers facing woes dealing with United States immigration, there is good news and a practical solution. Work-from-anywhere.

For years, high-skilled economic migrants seeking to relocate to the U.S. have faced uncertainty due to lack of clarity and flexibility in the H-1B visa programme. This uncertainty grew even worse under the Trump administration, with visa denial rates rising significantly. In addition to the negative effects this had on individual migrants and their families, restrictions on the H-1B policy led to economic costs. In recent research with coauthors Dany Bahar and Britta Glennon, we find that (former) U.S. President Donald Trump’s June 2020 Executive Order limiting entry of migrants to the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an estimated loss of around $100 billion in valuation for publicly traded Fortune 500 companies.

As the U.S. adjusts to a new administration, there are signs that the immigration climate might improve. U.S. President Joe Biden has made reforming the immigration system a priority in his coming term.

However, with the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis, uncertainty remains. In the meantime, high-skilled workers facing immigration woes can take advantage of another emerging employment trend — companies offering their employees the ability to work-from-anywhere (WFA). I will first shed light on the Biden administration proposal to fix the H-1B programme and then describe how WFA can mitigate immigration woes.

U.S. immigration reform

In January 2020, Mr. Biden had floated a proposal to overhaul the U.S. immigration system, expanding pathways for legal immigration for both family-based and employment-based migrants. Crucially, for high-skilled migrants, Mr. Biden’s proposal would remove country-specific quotas for employment-based visas, and would exempt anyone with a STEM PhD from a U.S. institution from all quotas to receive a green card. In addition, current H-4 visa holders (i.e., spouses and children of H-1B visa holders) would become eligible for work permits.

However, it is important to note that this is still just a proposal. There is a long road ahead before the proposal becomes the law of the land, needing to pass through both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Given partisan divisions in the U.S. legislature, it is quite unlikely that the proposal in its current form will ever become law.

With U.S. immigration unlikely to change in the immediate future, those hoping to access U.S.-based opportunities do have an alternative: embrace work-from-anywhere.

The difference

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were beginning to explore remote work options. The pandemic accelerated this trend across all industries for millions of workers. Unlike a traditional work-from-home (WFH) model that allows workers to WFH a few days every week and from an office for the rest of the week, work-from-anywhere grants individuals the choice to live in their preferred locations. This gives them the flexibility to live in a town, city, or country, far away from where the company or its customers have a physical office.

As I discussed in a recentHarvard Business Reviewarticle (https://bit.ly/3sTwXjs), work-from-anywhere can benefit workers, organisations, and society at large. Workers can relocate to their hometown, be closer to family and friends, manage dual career situations and move somewhere where they can enjoy better weather or a better cultural and culinary fit. Workers can also benefit by moving to (or continuing to live in) a lower cost-of-living location. Organisations can benefit from work-from-anywhere as well, and research I conducted at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) found that worker productivity under a work-from-anywhere policy was 4.4% greater than when workers were in a traditional work-from-home environment (https://bit.ly/2OvrC2Y). As more of the workforce shifts to remote work, organisations can also reduce and reimagine the utility of the physical office, reducing real estate costs. Society, too, can benefit, as daily work commutes are a major source of carbon emissions; the USPTO estimated that shifting to remote work cut emissions by their employees by more than 44,000 tons. In another article, I argue that work-from-anywhere can help talent move back from congested large cities to smaller towns.

A case study

Companies of all sizes and in all kinds of industries are embracing work-from-anywhere. It is most popular among start-ups, where WFA allows new companies to access a global pool of talent with relatively low investment in office space. That said, larger, more established companies are beginning to explore work-from-anywhere and hybrid remote models as well. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) made headlines during the pandemic when it announced that its 400,000-plus employees will be 75% remote by 2025. TCS has rolled out a ‘25-25 remote-work model’: 25% of the workforce will be in a physical office at any one time, and workers will only be expected to work from an office for 25% of their working hours.

In a recent Harvard Business School case (https://bit.ly/2OB7Y5v), I explored the changes being implemented by TCS. In this 25-25 model, TCS workers are mostly ‘location independent’. This enables TCS clients to access the best talent within TCS, independent of the location of talent. The model also offers TCS employees an opportunity to simultaneously work on multiple projects around the globe, without relocating to the client site or worrying about immigration. The TCS Chief Operating Officer N.G. Subramaniam recently joined my Harvard class to share the internal debates on how to effectively implement this model. Current priorities include ensuring remote workers interact informally with peers and receive mentorship from senior managers. Thought also needs to be given on navigating through the regulatory changes needed to enable work-from-anywhere.

The TCS example shows how work-from-anywhere can help Indian companies and workers mitigate the challenges of immigration. While U.S. immigration policies may change for the better, high-skilled workers should view work-from-anywhere as a viable alternative to physical relocation, allowing them to work globally without queuing up for an H1-B visa.

Prithwiraj Choudhury is the Lumry Family Associate Professor at the Harvard Business School, where he studies the Future of Work. He can be reached at @prithwic

A theological denunciation of cow slaughter is an imperative for peace, and self-preservation of Muslims

It’s axiomatic that the right to life would include the right to livelihood which, in turn, would include the right to food and dietary preferences, circumscribed by reasonable restrictions of law, customs, care for the public order, morality, health, etc. Beyond this, the state has no business peeping into one’s kitchen. Food is a matter of cultural conditioning and individual choice. Therefore, one group’s taboos should not translate into another’s prohibition, as there would always be some to whom one or the other food would be an anathema.

On the question of beef, Gandhi said, “I have pledged to serve the cow, but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? It will mean coercion against those Indians who are not Hindus. How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed?” Thus, as it behoves a secular state, Article 48 of the Constitution seeks to prohibit the slaughter of cow, calves, milch and draught animals for preserving and improving the breeds in order to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.

Prohibition of cow slaughter

As far as Muslims are concerned, the sagacious have always been for the prohibition of cow slaughter. Babur was said to have left a testament instructing Humayun to forbid this practice in order to conciliate his Hindu subjects. Besides,Tazkiratul Waqiat, the memoirs of Jauhar Aftabchi, Humayun’s page, bears witness that Humayun had a principled aversion to beef, and he proscribed it by a royal proclamation. Akbar not only reinforced this prohibition but also encouraged a more vegetarian fare. Howsoever lax the enforcement, the prohibition of cow slaughter remained a state policy through the longevity of the Mughal empire.

In 1887, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the father of Islamic modernity, praised the people of riot-prone Meerut for abjuring cow sacrifice during Eid. In a recent biography of him, Shafey Kidwai writes, “The sacrifice of cow is a divisive practice destined to foster enmity, and Sir Syed exhorts the Muslims to abandon it for the sake of friendly relations with the majority community”. And during the Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement, prominent Muslim leaders made fervent appeals to their co-religionists to renounce cow slaughter in order to conciliate their compatriots.

However, despite the symbiosis between politicians and ulema, the sentiment against cow slaughter had no corresponding reflection in theological reformulation. Insofar as it had a religious sanction, for an argument to carry such conviction as to delegitimise it, the counter reasoning too had to be religious. Beef is just another permissible (halal) meat, sans any religious merit, for a Muslim. However, an egregious interpretation was devised which reasoned that since it was not forbidden in Islam, if the Muslims abjured it in deference to the religious sentiments of Hindus, it would be tantamount to unwittingly subscribing to a false faith. Such a convoluted argument contravenes the fundamental principles of Sharia which, though commonly considered divine, consists of legal derivations made byfuqaha(Islamic jurists) in the light of the Quran and the prophetic precedent known as Sunnah. The principles of Islamic jurisprudence have two methodological premises:Maqasid(objectives) andMaslaha(public welfare). Imam Abu Is’haq al Shatibi (d. 1388) defined theMaqasidas, “the attainment of good and welfare, and warding off evil, injury and loss of creatures.”Maslahadenotes the prohibition or permission of a thing according to the necessity and circumstances, on the basis of whether it serves the public interest.

Violating doctrine of Sharia

Evidently, the Indianfuqaha, conditioned as they were by imperial hubris, erred about the cow, for their position fomented enmity between the communities, and thus violatedMaqasidandMaslaha. Maulana Maududi, the chief ideologue of Islamism in India, said that if cow slaughter were to stop for appeasing Hindu sensibilities, there would be demands to stop theazaan(call to prayer) as well. Such truculence bred the animus which the Indian Muslims could ill afford.

Though Muslims are not the only ones to consume beef, if a mere suspicion of a Muslim doing so evokes a strong emotion, it is because of the historical memories of it being used as an instrument of power. No wonder it remains germane to the contemporary reshaping of the power matrix. A theological denunciation of cow slaughter is an imperative for peace, and self-preservation of Muslims. In 1891, when the British monopoly over tobacco in Iran threatened the country’s independence, the Grand Ayatollah declared tobacco antithetical to Islam. One wonders why the ulema and organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board haven’t campaigned to make cow slaughter repugnant to Muslims for their own sake, and for the sake of public welfare —Maslaha.

Najmul Hoda is an IPS officer. Views are personal

Chinese leaders often pronounce ambitious targets to seek greater attention from global investors

At the meeting of China’s National People’s Congress, the unicameral legislature, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a broad political advisory body, on March 5, Prime Minister Li Keqiang spoke of the U.S.’s attempt to contain China and of Beijing’s attempts to win the economic, technological and strategic competition against the U.S. He unveiled plans to transform China into a manufacturing superpower by 2025 by upgrading its global competitiveness in eight core areas: rare earth materials; robotics; aircraft engines; new energy vehicles; high-end medical devices; major equipment in shipbuilding, aviation and high-speed rail; agricultural machinery; and applications of BeiDou.

Major announcements

How will China do this? It will “fix weak links of components, software and fundamental systems” by boosting expenditure on basic research and raising investment in research and development over the next five years. It will try to attract more foreign talent and explore “science and technology immigration.” Value addition in the digital economy will be expanded to 10% by 2025.

Though China has made considerable advances in 5G, artificial intelligence, drones, bio and financial technologies, progress has been patchy in high-end technologies for manufacturing engines for its fifth-generation aircraft, miniaturisation of nuclear reactors for aircraft carriers or semiconductors and microchips.

Other major announcements included expansion of the Chinese military budget. China will continue to modernise its navy, missile and strategic forces to challenge the U.S.’s dominance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Disregarding external criticism, China will strengthen its grip on Hong Kong by overhauling its election laws to ensure that “patriots govern” it. Similarly, Beijing will push its efforts to assimilate China’s ethnic minorities such as Uighurs, Tibetans, Mongols and others. Public protests will be dealt like “fight on a battlefield,” it was added.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson reacted strongly saying the Biden administration would “harness collective action against Beijing for rights abuses”. The European Union (EU) urged Beijing to be careful in tinkering with Hong Kong’s electoral system saying that it was ready to take additional steps to prevent serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights.

China will make more efforts to augment its economic partnership with the EU, ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. It has already signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with a number of Asian countries and the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with the EU. It is working to sign free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea. China is hoping to lure these countries away from the U.S. by offering increased market access.

Mr. Li proposed an economic growth rate of 6% for 2021 to cut down on debt and disorderly investments. Domestic consumption will be increased by amending the hukou system providing residency permits in the cities to the rural migrants. China’s Five-Year Plan for 2021-25 calls for the construction of a Polar Silk Road aimed at extracting natural gas below the melting rice in the Arctic and establishing a faster shipping route to Europe via the North Arctic.

Meeting targets

Chinese leaders are accustomed to pronouncing ambitious targets at important meetings to maintain high national fervour and seek greater attention from global investors and business leaders. Often, the targets are imprecisely spelt out without any specific plans of implementation. No one is allowed to question if these targets have been missed. For instance, one target was to achieve a “moderately well-off society by 2021”. Mr. Li himself admitted that 600 million Chinese had an income of just 1,000 yuan. Whether these targets will be achieved is anybody’s guess, but according to Professor of Chinese Politics, Carlos Minzer, these pronouncements are likely to help President Xi Jinping secure a third term next year.

Yogesh Gupta is a former Ambassador

Disconcerting signs of violence are writ large in the electoral rhetoric in Bengal

Soaring political rhetoric has already set the tone for an intensely competitive Assembly election in West Bengal. The ferocity of the combat between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the challenger BJP is set to go further north. The BJP’s dramatic rise in 2019, when its vote tally crossed 40%, made its ambitions for power realistic, but also prompted drastic corrective measures by the Trinamool, which has been in power since 2011. The BJP has been trying to overcome its leadership deficiency by recruiting defectors, primarily from the TMC. It still cannot match the ground game of the Left Front that is in alliance with the Congress and the ISF under the new umbrella of the Sanjukta Morcha. The Morcha’s rally on February 28 was not surpassed by the BJP’s on March 7, which was addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is leading from the front. The absence of a recognisable chief ministerial candidate, and its patchy presence in much of the State are challenges to the BJP, but winning this election is within its reach. A large segment of the BJP voters remain silent and could mobilise themselves, if one goes by the 2019 experience. The dynamics of politics has changed since then, with new factors at play.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has rolled out new welfare schemes and reached out to regions and social groups that tilted towards the BJP. By declaring her candidacy from Nandigram, where she will take on former colleague Suvendu Adhikari who defected to the BJP, she has shown that she is on the offensive. The violence and corruption by her party cadres meanwhile continue to shadow her spirited fight, and that is going to be a focal point of the BJP offensive. Mr. Modi’s speech on Sunday called for a regime change. The second prong of the BJP strategy is communal polarisation, which seems to have been assigned to second-rung leaders who are frequently making not-so-veiled references and insinuations about dangers posed by Muslims. Ms. Banerjee’s appeal among Muslim voters could be unsettled by the mainstreaming of the Muslim outfit that goes by the misleading name of the Indian Secular Front by the Left Front. The Left has always accused the BJP and the TMC of competitive communalism but its new tactic has thrown open various possibilities. If the Morcha claims a segment of the anti-incumbency votes, it will weaken the BJP; if it splits TMC votes, it will help the BJP. And if a sharp communal polarisation emerges, it could benefit the TMC and the BJP. It was for drama effect that actor Mithun Chakraborty, who joined the BJP on Sunday, likened himself to a cobra that can kill in one strike, but disconcerting signs of violence are writ large in West Bengal. Violent language easily translates to violent action, as Bengal’s history has shown over the years.

Haryana’s new ‘75% jobs for locals’ lawis a harbinger of doom

Haryana Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya’s assent to a law regulating private sector hiring portends a potentially perilous slide in India’s investment climate and its socio-economic framework. The Haryana State Employment of Local Candidates Act of 2020 seeks to ensure that 75% of all jobs with gross monthly salaries of up to Rs. 50,000 are provided to the State’s own residents. The clamour for preserving economic activity for ‘sons of the soil’ is a recurrent theme now — Andhra Pradesh (AP) had passed a similar law in 2019, and the Madhya Pradesh CM has promised one to reserve 70% private sector jobs. Haryana’s law could face legal challenges like AP’s did, as it ostensibly flies in the face of the Constitution, especially Article 19(1)(g) and Article 16(2). Operationally, the law imposes onerous and contentious responsibilities on key personnel of firms in the State, including those with as few as 10 employees. There are three critical action points for businesses, attached to severe monetary penalties for perceived non-compliance. They need to register every employee earning Rs. 50,000 on an official portal and employing 75% of locals in such jobs (presumably by removing existing non-Haryanvi employees beyond the 25% limit). Most preposterous is seeking exemptions to the law — firms can hire outsiders by proving that local candidates for a desired skill are not available.

Apart from the power to enter firms’ premises for inspections, officials will decide if a firm can hire an outsider or should train local candidates instead, till they become proficient enough. Even if this harks back to an ‘Inspector Raj’ system, the process would dissuade employers from operating in the State, thus defeating the idea of boosting local jobs when unemployment is running high. But this is not just about ‘Happening Haryana’ becoming a difficult place to do business. A single disruption in the Gurgaon back office operations of a global firm or the supplies of auto components, on account of the new law, would be damaging to India’s already fragile reputation as a stable, trustworthy investment destination with a talented workforce. A possible investor exodus aside, this runs counter to the Prime Minister’s ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ and ‘One Nation One Market’ slogans. Rising unemployment could spur more States to follow suit, and the logic could be extended to internal capital flows next. Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has already pointed out that Bihar’s deposits into the banking system are not matched by credit disbursals into the State. It is time the Centre dissuades such legislation which threatens to not only unleash a sort of ‘work visa’ regime for Indians within the country but also damage crucial workplace diversity. Immobilising a much-vaunted young workforce and rupturing the social fabric with this push for insularity would be the start of an unstoppable slide.

The Chinese Prime Minister, Mr. Chou En-lai, left Hanoi today [March 8] after an unannounced four-day visit officially described as a “severe warning to the American aggressors.” Mr. Chou said during a speech while here that “the Chinese people will not be afraid to make the greatest sacrifice to aid the Indo-Chinese people until final victory.” Mr. Chou arrived here last Friday at the head of a communist party and government delegation including the top-ranking military officials, the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. For security reasons, an embargo was placed on the news of his arrival. Speaking before several thousand residents of Hanoi, Mr. Chou declared: “the Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodian peoples are brothers-in-arms united in life and death. We shall fight together, we shall win together. The United States will be defeated.” Mr. Chou said his country had made “adequate preparations” to meet the continued U.S. war efforts in Indo-China. The U.S. Government must be responsible for all the “serious consequences” arising from such military action, he warned. He did not specify the preparations China has made.