Editorials - 30-03-2021

It is democratic struggle within Sri Lanka, rather than advocacy in Geneva, that will put an end to this dangerous trajectory

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva has passed another resolution on Sri Lanka, as war-time accountability continues to haunt the state for over a decade. Sri Lanka’s prospects in Geneva swing according to geopolitical interests at any given time — reflecting a vote this time with 22 in favour, 11 against and 14 abstaining. Yet, Sri Lanka could not have tried harder to shoot itself in the foot by repressing minorities domestically and actively alienating external powers.

In 2015, a resolution was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and unanimously adopted with overwhelming international support. Indeed, Sri Lanka in the following years was even considered an exception by some for its attempts at reconciliation when the world at large was getting increasingly polarised, as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump would show us. However, instead of building on that experience, the Rajapaksa government withdrew from that resolution, soon after rising to power, in a show of unilateral arrogance.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s increasing economic dependence on China has offended India and many Western countries, with the latter pushing for greater scrutiny of the deteriorating human rights situation. The Tamil and Muslim minorities have also turned to Geneva as the space to engage the government has shrunk with growing authoritarian rule. As geopolitical rivalries exacerbate external relations, what will come of the recent moves in Geneva for the long-suffering people, and particularly the minority communities under constant attack by the state and its majoritarian allies?

Mounting Islamophobia

The tremendous physical destruction, economic setbacks and the abominable loss of human life and suffering of Tamils during the protracted war have not got the necessary reckoning within the country. Rather, the nationalists across the ethnic divide play with heightened rhetoric of “war heroes” and “war victims” as sound bites for international consumption. Year after year, in the lead up to and during the sessions in Geneva, the Sinhala and Tamil nationalists either claim to save war heroes from international prosecution or find justice for war victims.

Replaying the rhetoric of the war and its legacy has been paralleled by mounting Islamophobic attacks over the last decade. The Easter terror attacks in April 2019 by an Islamist radical group and the backlash that followed, including violent attacks on Muslims, culminated in the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November that year. While the minorities voted overwhelmingly against Mr. Rajapaksa, a tremendous swing in the Sinhala constituencies ensured his thumping victory. During the parliamentary elections in August 2020, the minorities were subdued as fear had eclipsed the communities, and the minority vote was fragmented, with some even supporting coalition partners of the majoritarian regime. The rulers consolidated further power by passing the 20th Amendment, with a comfortable two-thirds in Parliament, and giving unfettered powers to the executive.

The regime’s show of force soon after was apparent in blatantly discriminatory measures such as the forced cremation of COVID-19 victims, which was a blow to Muslims’ burial rights. However, heaping power has not translated to clear or coherent policymaking as evident from the government’s thoughtless economic policies, the awful dilly-dallying before permitting burials of pandemic victims and more recently with the burqa ban proposal. The all-powerful government may have the numbers in the legislature but stands exposed for its instability and weakness.

Economic woes

Underneath the heightened rhetoric in Sri Lanka about Geneva in recent weeks is a devastating economic crisis that has been ravaging the everyday lives of the people. Sri Lanka’s woes are a consequence of liberalising trade and capital flows over four decades ago. Its dependence on imports, and looming external debt payments, both without adequate foreign earnings, have pushed the economy over the cliff into a depression. Keeping Sri Lanka at boiling point, particularly with talk of external and internal enemies, has been one strategy to deflect the people’s attention from their economic distress. Those in power forget how the citizenry has time and again galvanised resistance when bread and butter concerns hit the roof. Furthermore, time is ticking, where the country is for the first time in danger of defaulting on its external debt, even as the grandstanding chauvinist ideologues in government are in denial.

In this context, with escalating attacks on the land rights of minorities, an unprecedented protest march from Pottuvil in the south-east to Polihandy in the north mobilised sections of the minorities in early February. The Tamil nationalist mobilisation was joined by Muslim communities in the east, and drew support from up-country Tamils centred in the plantations. This six-day-long march amidst the COVID-19 situation reflected the desperation of the minority communities.

The organisation of the march and its conclusion have triggered questions about its inclusivity and the attempts by hard-line Tamil diaspora groups to hijack it. But it has also compelled many to reflect on how and why minorities should forge an alliance. Furthermore, can such an alliance include sections of the Sinhala community to redirect the country on a plural and democratic path? Or will this initiative also end as mere theatrics for consumption in Geneva?

Tragic history

Sri Lanka’s tragic political history is in many ways a consequence of the failures of its political elite, and their rank opportunism and nationalist world view. They could have negotiated a solution long before Sri Lanka got embroiled in armed conflict. International engagement and solutions have only aggravated national crisis from the time of the Indian Peace Keeping debacle in the late 1980s to the failed Norwegian peace process of mid-2000s that eventually led to the cataclysmic end of the war in 2009. Moreover, the golden opportunity soon after the war to address the ethnic problem was squandered by the Rajapaksa regime due to its hubris, and eventually paid with regime change in 2015. The current Rajapaksa leadership and its core base are again polarising Sri Lanka, undermining possibilities for a plural and democratic future for the country.

In this context, India’s vote at the Council was closely watched, given New Delhi’s frustration with Colombo, particularly after it reneged on the East Container Terminal project at the Colombo Port, and the impending Tamil Nadu elections. India abstaining on the resolution was considered a betrayal by the narrow Tamil nationalist lobby, whose nonsensical campaign seeks to move Sri Lanka’s justice question from Geneva to the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, India in its oral intervention did insist that Provincial Council elections should be held and openly expressed its “support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace.” Sadly, India under the Modi regime can neither claim to be a beacon of devolution as it undermines the powers of its own States nor does it have the credibility to call out Sri Lanka on Muslim rights, given its own despicable attacks on Muslims.

The resolution has been forthright in highlighting the ongoing human rights abuses and places the spotlight on the state of democracy in Sri Lanka. With the economy in free fall, protests by indebted women, disgruntled farmers, and citizens aghast at the government’s destructive environment policy are beginning to question their rulers. Such resistance, from both working people and the minorities whom the regime repeatedly scapegoats, is invaluable in the face of authoritarian repression pregnant with fascist tendencies. It is democratic struggle within Sri Lanka, rather than advocacy in Geneva, that will put an end to this dangerous trajectory of polarisation and dispossession.

Ahilan Kadirgamar is a political economist and Senior Lecturer, University of Jaffna

The latest policy document on undergraduate education presents an incomplete and ill-judged view

The University Grants Commission (UGC) document on Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework (LOCF), 2021 for undergraduate education in history begins with the declaration: “History, as we all know, is a vital source to obtain knowledge about a nation’s soul”. The document seeks to create a student body that will compete globally and be aware of its glorious past — one that will reclaim its history as it takes its rightful place in the new global order. It argues that a “new narrative” about the nation needs to emerge through a dialogue between the past and the present.

The document is a policy directive to mould undergraduate history education to these ends. However, a critical examination of the curriculum reveals that it falls short of its own stated goals.

The idea of Bharat

The LOCF makes an argument for inculcating “national pride”. The first paper of the course is titled the ‘Idea of Bharat’ and seeks to study the “primitive life and cultural status of the people of ancient India”. The five units of the course cover the concept of Bharatvarsha; Indian knowledge traditions, art and culture; dharma, philosophy and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’; science, environment and medical sciences; and Indian economic traditions.

The course sits separate from the paper on ancient India (from the earliest time to 550 CE) while exploring ancient philosophical, cultural and material traditions under the umbrella of the term Bharat.

The course presents Bharatvarsha as an “eternal” concept, as an originary moment of the nation that lies in its ancient past. If one places this course within the entirety of the curriculum framework, it appears as a period untouched by invasions — be it Kushan or Sunga people of the early historical period, Timur and Babur of the medieval times, or the British in the modern period. It suggests an origin to the nation that is in a pristine ancient past.

In this schema, Bharat is an exclusionary concept with little space for land and people south of the Vindhyas, or from the east and the northeast. Further, it communicates no sense that this nation has a history as Bharat, Hindustan, or India, that as a nation it was crafted into being through the struggle of its people. Instead, it reads the nation into a deep past and renders it into a narrative stuck in the stasis of an autochthonous origin. Across the curriculum, changes in history are mapped through the rise and fall of empires, kings and royal dynasties and acts of violence and movement of armies. There is a preoccupation with violence as a motive force of change, whether it is through the examination of the Aryan invasions or the invasions by Timur and Babur.

The curriculum cleaves closely to the categories and modes of history-writing effectively utilised by colonial historians. Terms like the ‘Aryan Age’, ‘Hindu society’, and ‘Muslim rulers’ were deployed in colonial historiography to delineate periods as well as causation in Indian history. These were used to pose a contrast between the secular, modern Europe and the backward ‘oriental’ states, with their irrational adherence to religion. By bringing these terms back into use, the curriculum undoes the work of generations of historians to challenge colonial frames of history-writing and foreground socioeconomic and political processes.

The paper on medieval and early modern India (History of India, 1206-1707) best demonstrates the ideological bias in the LOCF. It treats the “Hindu society” and the “Muslim society” as discrete entities in the medieval past, replicating the understanding that these communities existed as separate nations, an understanding that last had valence in the run-up to the partition of India.

Further, it presents a history of only north India. In contrast, existing history syllabi currently followed in universities across India have been studying the processes of sociocultural, economic and political changes in different regions like Odisha, the peninsular India, and the Rajputana, Gujarat, Malwa, Bengal regions, among others. But this latest curriculum framework ignores the rich work in regional history and introduces some regions in the syllabus simply as political formations.

Pedagogical issues

Inherent in the LOCF is a pedagogical critique of current forms of history education. It forcefully argues that young minds are not “empty vessels” to be filled with “static narratives”. Young minds, it declaims, must be participants in knowledge production. This would make history an attractive area of study. However, the pedagogy suggested in the course outlines and recommended readings would achieve just the opposite.

The introduction of primary material in the classroom — parts of historical texts, archaeological artefacts, coins, visits to monuments and museums — bring the subject alive for students. Engagement with these allows students to parse historical analysis and make their own judgments. However, the readings prescribed in the curriculum do not contain a single reference to primary archives for history-writing. Further, the suggested readings are devoid of some of the most important works in different areas of history-writing. Readings in history, or any academic discipline for that matter, are central to building the discipline. We look at older writings and follow the evolution of historiographical understanding through critiques and the new questions posed. To develop critical thinking, students must be encouraged to read divergent opinions and engage with different ideological hues of historians. A curriculum framework that does not encourage this only provides faulty foundations for disciplinary education.

This curriculum framework, quite egregiously, omits some of the finest writings in Indian history. Instead, a bulk of suggested readings span from the 1900s to, at best, 1980s, with a heavy dependence on the work of Indologists. The omissions seem deliberate and ideologically motivated. Most importantly, rather than enabling students to critically engage with diverse schools of historiography and reaching their own conclusions, it seeks to curtail the resource base available to them.

What are the challenges facing a young student in the 21st century? Climate disaster, democracy, freedom of speech and movement, equity in rights and social justice are issues that must be considered. This curriculum, with its colonial underpinnings, is inadequate in preparing students of the 21st century. New modes of thinking about Big Data, digital mapping and visualisations, critical study of the environment, health and society are all missing from this curriculum.

Seen in its entirety, the LOCF is determined to project into the past majoritarian and divisive conceptions of contemporary Indian politics. It is limited and narrow in its understanding of processes of historical change, out of touch with the current state of research in the discipline of history, and dated in its pedagogy. In 2021, this curriculum framework seeks to make history education a space for passive rote-learning of ideas that had their heyday in 1921.

Anubhuti Maurya teaches history at the

Shiv Nadar University. Views are personal.

The extent to which new variants are circulating, and reinfections occurring, needs to be investigated urgently

Mumbai has recently seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, recording on average 5,500 new cases every day over the past week. The weekly total is, by far, the highest the city has ever seen. What does the data tell us about this surge?

First, cases have shot up, doubling every week or so. Such speeds were last seen in April 2020. Housing societies were hit first, but the surge rapidly spread to the slums too, where we know that for each infection found, many more are missed. Although the slums are still generating a minority of cases, active infections could well be at the same level as in housing societies, if not higher.

The past week has seen a welcome rise in tests. While daily tests are higher than ever before, testing is struggling to keep pace with the rise in infections. Over the past week, test positivity (the ratio of cases to tests) averaged about 13%, a value not seen since October 2020. If we correct for the fact that rapid tests are less sensitive than RT-PCR tests, this number would be higher.

Not at herd immunity

What makes the current situation remarkable is that it comes when so many people have already had the disease. Seroprevalence surveys provide estimates of how many people have developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. Mumbai’s surveys, taken together with case and fatality data, suggest that at least half the population — quite likely more — has been infected at some point.

In theory, people who have already had the disease should act as a buffer, slowing down spread. This assumes, crucially, that after infection they become immune to the disease. The theory is simple: if half the population is immune, then one infected person typically infects only half the number they otherwise would. If a sufficient fraction of the population is immune, outbreaks naturally die out — at this point the population has reached ‘herd immunity’.

Clearly Mumbai is not at herd immunity, but some level of immunity should still slow new outbreaks. And here comes the catch: Mumbai’s current outbreak has grown more rapidly than basic calculations would suggest possible. It is not the absolute numbers, but rather the rate of increase which seems at odds with the theory. So, what could explain the rapid increase?

Possible explanations

First, simple arguments about immunity ignore the crucial fact that people interact with each other in networks, and not ‘randomly’. This means that spread can be uneven: some pockets of the city may have remained relatively unscathed earlier and vulnerable to rapid surges. It was widely expected that if the city returned to normality too quickly, there would be a rise in infections.

Uneven spread and opening up had a clear role in driving the city’s second surge and are likely playing some part in this one. However, in contrast with the second surge, recent ward-level data show quickly rising cases across the city’s wards. Something more is happening this time round.

This brings us to more speculative questions. Could it be that a SARS-CoV-2 variant which is more transmissible – which spreads from person to person more easily – is circulating in the city? In this case, a relatively small fraction of susceptible people could drive rapid growth, helping explain the rapid rise.

Also, could the city be seeing a significant number of reinfections? This might occur if immunity acquired through infection wanes over time or can be bypassed by a so-called ‘immune escape’ variant.

The high prevalence of the so-called ‘U.K. variant’ in Punjab (http://bitly.ws/coMQ), and the presence of a novel variant with a double mutation in Maharashtra (http://bitly.ws/coMU), indicate that we should not ignore the possibility of variants playing a part in Mumbai’s new surge. Hopefully increased genome sequencing will soon shed more light on their role in Mumbai.

Will the death toll rise?

In terms of mortality, Mumbai has already suffered badly. There have been 11,661 recorded COVID-19 deaths in the city so far (as of March 29). But data from the municipal corporation shows an even greater toll: the city saw a huge 24% increase in all-cause mortality in 2020, namely about 22,000 more deaths than expected from the previous five years’ data.

So, it is some relief that daily recorded COVID-19 deaths in the city remain well below values during previous waves. On the other hand, we expect delays between infections rising and deaths rising. On average, daily deaths have risen from around five at the beginning of March to around 13 today, and judging from a sharp and continuing increase in hospitalisations further rises are likely.

The hope is that mitigation and prior immunity, augmented by vaccination targeted at those most at risk of severe disease, could together reduce deaths during this wave. But counting on this when infection is spreading like wildfire would be dangerous.

In summary, it seems likely that multiple factors, including uneven spread and opening up of the city, are playing a part in Mumbai’s latest COVID-19 surge. The extent to which new variants are circulating, and reinfections occurring, needs to be investigated urgently.

It goes without saying that Mumbai-dwellers need to be extra careful at the moment – with an emphasis on masking up and avoiding unnecessary crowds and indoor gatherings. This surge still has a long way to go.

Murad Banaji, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the Department of Design Engineering and Maths at Middlesex University, London, has an interest in disease modelling

Fierce competition between major players in the State has stirred up political shifts and an ugly campaign

Ideological and political lines are being dizzyingly crossed in West Bengal in the midst of a gruelling eight-phase Assembly election. The Trinamool Congress, which has been at the helm for 10 years, is battling both deep anti-incumbency and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which sniffed power in the State after the 2019 Lok Sabha election and has thrown all its might into the fray. The tactics being used by all — competitive populism, engineering defections, polarisation, carrot-and-threat policy, personal attacks, hyper-nationalism and Bengali pride — have turned the election into an ugly campaign from which Bengal will not emerge unscathed.

In 2011, the Trinamool came to power with the slogan of ‘paribartan’(change). In 2021, the BJP is pledging‘asal paribartan’, or ‘real change’. The party says if voted to power, it will announce the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at its first Cabinet meeting. Silent about CAA in Assam, the BJP came under pressure in Bengal from the Matuas, Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who live mostly in the North 24 Parganas and Nadia districts, and can influence outcomes of 30-35 Assembly seats.

But will the Matuas agree to the provisions of the CAA which require an applicant for citizenship to disclose that he/she has been an illegal immigrant? There are whispers of discontent in the community. The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool government had passed a resolution against the CAA; the BJP has not specified how it plans to go about implementing the law. There is unease among the Muslim community in the State too, which forms almost 27% of the population. A year ago, the State BJP leadership had said there are one crore Bangladeshi-Muslims in Bengal and that the party was serious about driving them out.

Fickle loyalties

The Trinamool and BJP manifestos are competitive and similar. Both are “doling” out a bonanza, says Prof. Samir Das, who teaches Political Science at Calcutta University. Among other things, the BJP has promised 33% reservation for women in government jobs, free education for girls from kindergarten to postgraduation levels, free public transport for women, and an increase in widow pension from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 3,000, to counter Ms. Banerjee’s successful welfare schemes for girls and women.

The electorate watched helplessly as politicians hopped from party A to party B. Some jumped ship voluntarily from the Trinamool to the BJP, which won 18 out of 42 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and saw its vote share increase from 4% in the 2011 Assembly election to over 40%. Others, after being denied a ticket, changed colour, throwing questions of beliefs to the wind.

Towards the end of the Left Front regime, senior CPI(M) leaders would rue in private about not being able to control “local corruption” and “lumpen elements”. Riding on the wave of two violent anti-land acquisition movements at Nandigram and Singur, the Trinamool Congress stormed into power in 2011, ending three decades of Left rule. Even then, it was evident that the Trinamool, lacking in both ideology and organisation, had broken into Left and Congress ranks to increase its numbers.

Cut to 2021, in one of the most polarised elections in the State, the pattern is chillingly familiar. A “lateral shift” has been taking place both at the ground and leadership levels. Mukul Roy, once a right-hand man to Ms. Banerjee, and Suvendu Adhikari, one of the most well-known faces in the Trinamool, are now with the BJP.

Bengal is redefining the horse-trading phrase‘aaya ram gaya ram’of the 1960s, when an MLA from Haryana changed his party thrice in a day, which eventually led to the anti-defection law of 1985. But the law has not been able to stop such switchovers.

What are voters to make of all this? In his speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the Trinamool leadership for corruption and promoting family politics. The BJP has found it difficult to pick candidates from within its ranks, putting a question mark on its bench strength. If 30-35 of the candidates announced by the BJP are from its bitter rival Trinamool, what is changing?

The BJP has picked up the Trinamool poll sloganKhela hobe(game on) and raised a victory cry even before the election is over withKhela shesh(game over). The Left appears to have done a course correction, fielding young, feisty leaders like Meenakshi Mukherjee (Nandigram) and Aishe Ghosh (Jamuria) and using digital media with catchy songs and memes to reach out to the young. But the tie-up with Furfura cleric Abbas Siddique has raised eyebrows, with many fearing it may be counter-productive.

Overall, the campaign has been highly aggressive, and the viciousness ensures that whoever wins, democracy is the loser.

sudipta.datta@thehindu.co.in

IIM Bangalore’s policies offer key insights into providing equitable opportunities to all

India has a diverse population. Unfortunately, certain social structures have prevented thousands of individuals from realising their potential, and the country from benefiting from their skills and talent. The government has tried to remedy this situation through constitutional and statutory provisions for reservation quotas, but as organisations the world over have realised, such efforts to enhance equity and diversity need to be matched by a steely resolve to facilitate genuine inclusion.

The experience at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB) with respect to students with disability is instructive in this regard. The institute admitted students with disabilities even before the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 was introduced. But it soon realised that there is much more to inclusivity.

In a push towards greater inclusivity, in 2009, with generous support from Mphasis, IIMB set up a dedicated Office of Disability Services to act as a nodal support point for students with disability, in an effort to study the individual needs of each student and provide the required accommodations proactively.

Modified approach

Inclusivity also means rethinking the conventional notions of fairness in examinations. Giving a student with serious visual impairment an examination paper based on graphs is an unfair evaluation of her understanding of the fundamental concepts an institute may wish to impart. To that extent, sensitisation workshops with faculty (now a regular feature) have changed the approach to the entire evaluation process.

The IIMB’s efforts have been recognised by the prestigious NCPEDP-Mphasis Universal Design Award for pioneering work in promoting accessibility and universal design and ensuring a life of equality and dignity for students with disabilities.

But apart from just disability, the institute is committed to all forms of diversity and inclusivity — IIM Bangalore has a good record in both complying with government-mandated admission quotas for SC, ST, and OBC candidates to the flagship two-year postgraduate programme in management leading to an MBA degree, and in facilitating the placement of all graduates in good roles.

Other dimensions

Today, IIMB is applying the same integrated approach that it followed for students with disability to other dimensions of diversity. One such challenge — the recruitment of faculty within certain categories — was identified in recent reports ofThe Hindu. To this effect, the institute is balancing the addressal of two laws — the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act 2019 and the Indian Institutes of Management Act, 2017. The latter recognises IIMs as Institutions of National Importance which must aspire for global standards.

While the institute has been successful in hiring four excellent faculty members from the SC and ST categories over the last year, there is a serious shortage of qualified candidates from reserved categories in certain areas and disciplines, which impedes hiring efforts. While an obvious step is to focus on the admission of high-potential students from reserved categories to doctoral programmes, alumni discussions reveal that doctoral studies are often not the first preference for students of merit from these communities. Their priority is to rapidly ascend the ladder of economic stability, for which a reliable pathway is the MBA degree.

Given this insight, IIMB launched the N.S. Ramaswamy Pre-doctoral Programme in 2019. This internally-funded academic and mentoring initiative selects around 10 candidates from under-privileged categories every year and helps them prepare for admission to doctoral studies.

As a globally-ranked institution committed to excellence in management and entrepreneurship, IIMB continues to strive for a multi-dimensional and integrated approach to diversity and inclusion.

The author is the Director of IIM Bangalore

Despite a fierce contest, the first phase of the polls was spared of major violence

The first phase of polling in West Bengal and Assam on Saturday witnessed an impressive turnout. In some constituencies, the turnout was well above 80%. In Assam, 47 Assembly constituencies, and in West Bengal, 30 constituencies went to the polls, with turnouts of 79.97% and 84.63%, respectively. In 2016, the ruling Trinamool Congress won 26 of the 30 seats in West Bengal in the tribal regions of Jangalmahal. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP made significant inroads into the region. In Assam, the ruling BJP won 35 of the 47 seats in 2016, where tribal communities employed in tea estates shifted from the Congress to the BJP in large numbers. The BJP is pulling out all the stops to retain power in Assam and wrest it in West Bengal for the first time. The fierce nature of the contest in West Bengal is far too evident, but still there was no major violence in the first phase. The BJP has complained of violence by the TMC, while the latter has complained of partisanship by the Election Commission. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has claimed that the BJP is set to win 26 of the 30 seats in West Bengal and 37 of the 47 seats in Assam. The TMC has ridiculed the claim. In Assam, the Congress has claimed to have made major gains in the first phase. The claims and counterclaims can only be read as signalling for supporters and rivals alike by each side, but there are certain trends that are notable as the campaign for the second phase on April 1 peaks. Elections are being held in eight phases in West Bengal and three phases in Assam.

The BJP in Assam is not as defensive as the TMC is in West Bengal. The shenanigans of its leaders have resulted in an unmistakable anti-incumbency against the TMC, which has been in power for 10 years now. The party is trying to recover lost ground with new promises and by riding on the personal popularity that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to command. Though it has no leader of any consequence in the State, and its campaign is being spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Shah, the BJP hopes to harvest anti-TMC sentiments and win power. The BJP has not announced a chief ministerial candidate in West Bengal; and in Assam, the paradox is that its machinery is dependent more on the powerful minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, than Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Mr. Modi’s visit to Bangladesh in the midst of the election has triggered communal tensions there. The Hindu minority in Bangladesh is coming under attack by Islamists, and the ripple effects of this will be felt in the next phase in both States. The danger of communal polarisation is ever-present, but it might be too much to expect the BJP and the TMC to keep the campaign free of hateful rhetoric in the phases ahead. The Election Commission might need to step in.

India tried out new players and new methods against England in limited-overs cricket

India’s thrill-a-minute seven-run victory over England in the third and final ODI in Pune on Sunday completed a clean sweep for the home nation across formats. It’s an achievement India should be proud of, for England, despite losing the Tests comprehensively (1-3), proved that it was a formidable limited-overs side, as reflected in its status as the world’s top-ranked outfit in both ODIs and T20Is and in the fact that both series required deciders. England is the reigning ICC Men’s World champion, and had lost just one of its last 14 bilateral ODI series and none of its last six in T20Is. But India triumphed, thanks to some smart play at crunch moments, made possible by an astonishing array of made-to-order cricketers. The wicket-taking exploits of Shardul Thakur (eight in T20Is and seven in ODIs to top the lists), successful debuts for Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav in T20Is, and Prasidh Krishna and Krunal Pandya in ODIs, and Hardik Pandya’s full-fledged return to bowling duties were big positives. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s dream comeback from injury was a huge plus. The 31-year-old’s economy rate of 6.38 across 18 overs in five T20Is was the best for any bowler. More astounding was his rate of 4.65 across 29 overs in three ODIs, where five of the six innings played saw scores in excess of 315.

The limited-overs leg also provided India the opportunity to try and adopt a different approach in white-ball cricket, ahead of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup at home later this year. It started with skipper Virat Kohli wanting to play “baggage-free” cricket, perhaps alluding to India’s formulaic style that had prioritised crafty build-ups, slow reveals and end-over flourishes over the current-era template of power-hitting from start to finish. The setting was just about right; played across just two venues — Ahmedabad (T20Is) and Pune (ODIs) — pitch and conditions, two of cricket’s biggest variables, were all but taken out of the equation. The roles that Ishan and Suryakumar — part of the Mumbai Indians set-up which epitomises the all-out attacking approach — played in the T20I series win cannot be understated. The relentless hitting from Rishabh Pant and Hardik in the ODI series-decider, despite India having lost four of the best batsmen before the half-way stage, was indicative of similar thinking. This is a method England has patented, through the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Jos Buttler. If Ben Stokes’ stunning 52-ball 99 coming in at No.3 in the second ODI was its acme, Sam Curran’s gallant 95 not out at No.8 in the final match was most typical of this attitude. For India’s heroes, the impending Indian Premier League, and a few bilateral series which are set to follow, will provide enough chances to fine-tune these skills.

Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Liberation Army to-day [March 29] all but took over the capital city of Dacca after five days of bloody fighting in East Pakistan, according to Free Bangla Radio. Fighting was on to-night [March 29] for the airport and cantonment areas of the city after the Dacca radio station once again went back into the hands of Sheikh’s men, the radio claimed. Bangla Desh freedom-fighters were to-day in complete control of two of the three Army cantonments in the land, the radio said. These were identified as the Jessore and Comilla cantonments. Both had been seized from the Pakistani Amy, it said. For the first time to-day, Martial Law authorities, now under a new administrator, Lt. Gen. Irshad Ali Khan, dropped paratroopers at several places to capture five other transmitters operated by the Bangla Radio, reports said. Fighting unparalleled in its bitterness and savage brutality was to-night [March 29] raging in Dacca, according to reliable reports reaching Shillong. In a last ditch bid to stem the tide of nationalism the West Pakistani forces pressed into service sabre jets, tanks and heavy artillery against the ill-equipped liberation army. Bitter fighting was also going on in Khulna, Sylhet and Rangpur.