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Editorials - 11-03-2021

The power vacuum in Tamil Nadu has opened up its politics to an opportunity for change, which voters must examine

Though every State (and one Union Territory) of India that will have Assembly elections this year represents a uniquely eclectic matrix of power across the contesting parties and challenges tostatus quo, nowhere has a sea change in ground realities swept across the political landscape more than in Tamil Nadu. For the first time in half a century, the land of the Dravidian movement is joining the democratic fray sans the towering personalities of leaders in both the major parties that have historically ruled it — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). The passing of M. Karunanidhi (DMK) and Jayalalithaa (AIADMK), respectively, the heads of these two parties, who had delivered multiple victories at the hustings and set the template in terms of an autocratic style of managing the cadres, has created a power vacuum that has opened up the politics of the State to a historic opportunity for change. To better understand this opportunity, it is instructive to examine the vectors of change.

Inheritance of leadership

First, retaining our focus on the DMK and the AIADMK, there has been a dramatic shift in the fundamental nature of leadership. It is true that the DMK has had a more successful ‘business continuity plan.’ Its current president, M.K. Stalin, was the duly anointed successor to step into his father’s shoes after Karunanidhi’s passing. Karunanidhi’s final gift to his party, the orderly transition of the mantle of leadership to his son, helped swiftly see off an early challenge to Mr. Stalin from older sibling and southern-region strongman, M.K. Alagiri. However, despite Mr. Stalin’s many years of experience in Tamil Nadu as the Mayor of Chennai, MLA, Minister for Rural Development and Local Administration, Deputy Chief Minister, Leader of the Opposition and, since August 2018, the President of his party, he is yet to deliver a single State Assembly election victory.

Karunanidhi led the DMK to victory in elections no fewer than 10 times. By comparison, there remain unanswered questions about whether Mr. Stalin could rise to the formidable standards of his father in terms of organisational shrewdness and personal charisma — at least in the realm of State politics. It augurs well for Mr. Stalin that he presided over the DMK’s thumping victory in the parliamentary election in 2019, with the DMK and its allies capturing 38 out of 39 seats in play. But will voters be convinced by Mr. Stalin’s promise of leadership to the extent that they will vote the same way in 2021 as they did two years ago?

Contrarily, the AIADMK, as it remained after the passing of Jayalalithaa, was a pale shadow of its former self. The responsibility for that rests squarely on the shoulders of the late leader herself, for it was Jayalalithaa who systematically degraded at least four rungs of potential future leaders beneath her within the party organisation. It was Jayalalithaa who institutionalised a culture of abject servility and compulsory public displays of fealty and subservience to her persona, among every member of her party, high or low. More than that, she formalised an unapologetically dictatorial style of decision-making within the party, and within the government when the AIADMK was in power, making a mockery of whatever party and administrative structures were in place.

However, the past four years of leadership under the AIADMK have seen the survivors of this unipolar period in their party’s politics pull themselves together and deliver a measure of what could genuinely be described as ‘good governance’ to the people of the State, whether in terms of flood management, negotiating with the Centre regarding funds to fight the COVID-19 pandemic or allowing industries more space to operate rather than extorting them out of business. That they did so despite the rumblings of dissatisfaction and dissent within their ranks in the early post-Jayalalithaa days is nothing short of remarkable. What was considered a fragile peace between Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam at the start has turned out to be surprisingly robust.

The looming question that this analysis begs is this: will Tamil Nadu voters recognise and reward good governance of this sort, or will other factors determine their election preferences?

Reading the voter

Voters in this State have periodically proved that they have a penchant for putting into power at the State level a different party to the one that swept up a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections. A close review of this split in voting preferences suggests that a pattern may have emerged: since the start of the 21st century, the DMK and the AIADMK have, respectively, cornered a majority of seats in the parliamentary and State Assembly elections for 15 years each.

It would not be unreasonable to surmise that this points to a collective belief on the part of voters in the State that the AIADMK is a party with strong governance credentials at the State level, whereas the DMK has proven its mettle as a bulwark against a heavy-handed central government. Yet, given the dramatic change in the balance of power and prevailing political ideologies in Tamil Nadu over the past few years, even this assumption now stands on wobbly ground. A signpost hinting at potential election outcomes this time is the C-Voter survey, which has most recently indicated a sweep by the DMK.

Impending ideological clash

This brings us to the second major change in the political landscape — the growing national footprint of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its brand of muscular Hindutva politics, which is now attempting to storm the bastions of the southern States and West Bengal.

To understand the position that the BJP occupies in the pantheon of political parties in Tamil Nadu, it is necessary to go back to the very roots of the Dravidian movement. What began as an aggressively anti-Brahmin, anti-caste, anti-religion, anti-North Indian, anti-Hindi imposition policy orientation in the early days of the Dravida Kazhagam under Periyar E.V. Ramasamy and the DMK under C.N. Annadurai, was transformed through the 1970s and beyond, under the pressure of political competition from the rival AIADMK, into a far more inclusive, accommodationist bent of leadership.

As many additional lower- and middle-castes were integrated into the broad Dravidianist agenda as fronted by both the DMK and the AIADMK, the priorities shifted from the “assertive populism” capitalising on hostility toward the central government and its tenets to the entrenchment of “paternalistic populism” comprising a charismatic but self-enriching autocrat distributing mass welfare goods.

While some of the historical elements of assertive populism have faded away as the populace has adjusted to the socio-economic realities of post-liberalisation India, a persistent echo of Tamil exceptionalism remains deeply embedded within the collective psyche of the common woman and man of this State. Not only does this exceptionalism have to do with the uniqueness of the Tamil language, traditions, cinema, rural subcultures and the complexities of caste politics, but there is also a shared visceral aversion to the idea of the Tamil people genuflecting to the diktats of a distant, Hindi-speaking, upper caste- and Hindu-dominated government in New Delhi.

To an extent, the implied preference for ideologically committed leaders who are exceptionally skilled at managing the party organisation is inconsistent with the quality and tenor of leadership seen in the AIADMK recently. The concern over political arrangements that might dilute the prospects for realising the dream of Tamil exceptionalism is also inconsistent with the AIADMK’s election alliance with the BJP. The BJP has done itself few favours in terms of its own political positioning in the State, as it has tried to score points on issues relating to Hindutva politics rather than Dravidianism. If a majority of voters are fundamentally hostile to the Sangh Parivar ideology, why would they care?

Ultimately, the notion of perceived exceptionalism bolstered by a strong preference for regional politics capable of pushing back against overzealous, homogenising ideologies of national parties, could be the wind beneath the wings of the DMK at the hustings next month.


The myth of communist invincibility has exploded and led to fragmentation of the Left parties

Politics in Nepal took a dramatic turn following two significant decisions made by the Supreme Court on February 23 and March 7, 2021. The first verdict overturned Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve the House of Representatives (lower house). The second verdict invalidated the registration of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Challenge to Oli

The first verdict reinstating Parliament cast a slur on the Prime Minister who, without respecting the letter and spirit of the 2015 Constitution, dissolved the lower house and called for a general election to be held, which was an irony given the huge majority in his favour. Mr. Oli, in fact, wanted to marginalise his party detractors, especially Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and Madhav Kumar Nepal, as they were challenging him for his arrogance and flawed style of governance. This was also a conflict between the communist pattern of conducting party affairs, as Lenin did while maintaining democratic centralism, and a multi-party parliamentary system that stresses on accountability and tolerance.

Mr. Oli tried to run the show in his own way maintaining that the huge electoral mandate gained by the party in 2017 was due to his own popular image. Yet, pointing fingers at his party colleagues for not allowing him to function effectively, he opted to dissolve Parliament. There was overwhelming public opinion against this decision, including by former Chief Justices. Hectic political campaigns both for and against dissolution followed, as if the mid-term elections were around the corner. Mr. Oli claimed that the court could not enter into the political domain as this was not exclusively a constitutional issue that needed new interpretation. But to their credit, Mr. Oli and his followers accepted the court’s decision with grace.

One positive aspect of the episode was the broad national unity forged against Mr. Oli’s unconstitutional move. Nearly all the political parties, intellectuals, civil society leaders, legal professionals and sections of the media made this a common cause for democratic safeguard. Following a two-track policy towards dissolution, the Nepali Congress (NC), the main opposition party, passed a formal resolution against the dissolution but its President, Sher Bahadur Deuba, wasn’t as vocal against the dissolution as his senior colleagues. Mr. Deuba played the role of a reluctant opposition leader because the case was subjudice and also perhaps because he wanted to play an effective role during the elections in case the court ruled in favour of dissolution.

The Janata Samajvadi Party (JSP) also followed a wait-and-watch policy as the NCP was still not legally split into two parties: one led by Mr. Oli and the other by Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Nepal. Thus, when the NC and JSP were approached by Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Nepal for devising a joint strategy against Mr. Oli or for forming a government after reinstatement of the lower House, the leaders of the two parties asked Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Nepal which party they belonged to as the legal status of the NCP would remain unchanged after restoration of Parliament. The Election Commission did not make any decision to determine the status of the NCP in either Mr. Oli’s favour or in Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Nepal’s favour, despite the fact that the Prachanda-Nepal group submitted a list of the 40% of central committee members required to split the NCP. According to the two leaders, the Commission didn’t take any decision due to pressure from Mr. Oli.

Muddied political scenario

What was more surprising was the court’s second decision rejecting the existence of the NCP which was formed when the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) came together. The court said the two parties would return to the pre-merger stage with separate identities and symbols. The timing and content of the decision were significant. The verdict, which came on the day the reinstated Parliament was meeting, added confusion and complexity to the already muddied constitutional politics.

Now, Mr. Oli is the chairman of the CPN (UML) and Mr. Prachanda heads the CPN (Maoist Centre). Since many leaders and members of different organs of the integrated party were elected as NCP members, what will be their new party identity? Will Mr. Nepal or any other person belonging to the previous CPN (UML) join Mr. Oli or can the present ministers belonging to the former CPN (Maoist Centre) continue in government when both parties have legally, if not politically, parted ways?

The alternative is to split the CPN (UML) in order to integrate with the Maoist Centre under a new party name.

Possible scenarios

The new developments have offered a few possibilities for coalition politics. First, the CPN (UML) led by Mr. Oli is incapable of forming a government on its own strength of 120 members, which includes members of the Madhav Nepal group. If the NC decides to side with Mr. Oli’s CPN (UML), then he or the NC can form the government. Many NC members are not well disposed towards Mr. Oli because of his authoritarian style and past deeds. Although the Madhav group will be under pressure to obey the whip, it seems unlikely that it will support Mr. Oli even under pressure.

An option could be for the NC to form a coalition government with the JSP and the Prachanda group without Mr. Nepal in case the latter continues to be a member of CPN (UML).

Another scenario would be for the NC (60+), CPN (Maoist Centre) (53), JSP (34) and four members of other smaller parties and individuals to form the government with the NC heading it.

If Mr. Oli steps down from the prime minister’s post or from the party chairmanship, another senior leader, probably Mr. Nepal, may form the government with the support of the previous Maoist Centre. If this course is followed, it may help the process of reintegration of both parties. However, Mr. Oli’s obduracy may stand in the way as Mr. Nepal continues to be Mr. Oli’s bête noire.

Nepali politics is always full of surprises and uncertainty. The myth of communist invincibility and stability has exploded in less than three years. This has led to fragmentation of the Left parties. Some other parties also suffer from this malaise but not to the extent of the Left parties. The conflict of political cultures inherited by the various Left groups have contributed to political instability to a great extent. The recent political crises are also the fallout of intolerance and Mr. Oli’s failure to manage his own party.

Lok Raj Baral is Professor of Political Science and former Ambassador of Nepal to India

There should be political will to take this step, which would reduce the subsidy bill and the scope for leakages

The Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament in January, rightly flagged the issue of a growing food subsidy bill, which, in the words of the government, “is becoming unmanageably large.”

The reason is not far to seek. Food subsidy, coupled with the drawal of food grains by States from the central pool under various schemes, has been on a perpetual growth trajectory. During 2016-17 to 2019-20, the subsidy amount, clubbed with loans taken by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) under the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) towards food subsidy, was in the range of Rs. 1.65-lakh crore to Rs. 2.2-lakh crore. In future, the annual subsidy bill of the Centre is expected to be about Rs. 2.5-lakh crore.

High drawal rate

During the three years, the quantity of food grains drawn by States (annually) hovered around 60 million tonnes to 66 million tonnes. Compared to the allocation, the rate of drawal was 91% to 95%. As the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which came into force in July 2013, enhanced entitlements (covering two-thirds of the country’s population), this naturally pushed up the States’ drawal. Based on an improved version of the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS), the law requires the authorities to provide to each beneficiary 5 kg of rice or wheat per month.

For this financial year (2020-21) which is an extraordinary year on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the revised estimate of the subsidy has been put at about Rs. 4.23-lakh crore, excluding the extra budgetary resource allocation of Rs. 84,636 crore. Till December 2020, the Centre set apart 94.35 million tonnes to the States under different schemes including the NFSA and additional allocation, meant for distribution among the poor free of cost.

Importantly, the government has decided to abandon the practice of extra budgetary resource allocation and include in the food subsidy amount itself, arrears in loans outstanding of the FCI drawn through the NSSF. Even in the figure of revised estimates for 2020-21, the arrears constitute a portion.

Issue prices and politics

It is against this backdrop that the Survey has hinted at an increase in the Central Issue Price (CIP), which has remained at Rs. 2 per kg for wheat and Rs. 3 per kg for rice for years, though the NFSA, even in 2013, envisaged a price revision after three years.

What makes the subject more complex is the variation in the retail issue prices of rice and wheat, from nil in States such as Karnataka and West Bengal for Priority Households (PHH) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card holders, Rs. 1 in Odisha for both categories of beneficiaries to Rs. 3 and Rs. 2 in Bihar for the two categories, according to an official document. Needless to say, in Tamil Nadu, rice is given free of cost for all categories; this includes non-PHH.

The Centre, by stating through the Survey that it is difficult to reduce “the economic cost of food management in view of rising commitment” towards food security, does not want the NFSA norms to be disturbed. But, a mere increase in the CIPs of rice and wheat without a corresponding rise in the issue prices by the State governments would only increase the burden of States, which are even otherwise reeling under the problem of a resource crunch. Political compulsions are perceived to be coming in the way of the Centre and the States increasing the prices. The politics of rice has been an integral feature of the political discourse. Promises by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the 1967 Assembly election in Tamil Nadu — three measures (approximately 4.5 kg) at Rs. 1 — and the Telugu Desam Party during the 1983 poll in Andhra Pradesh — Rs. 2 per kg — captured the imagination of the voter. One should ponder over the advisability of keeping so low the retail prices of food grains at fair price shops, even after the passage of nearly 50 years and achieving substantial poverty reduction in the country. As per the Rangarajan group’s estimate in 2014, the share of people living below the poverty line (BPL) in the 2011 population was 29.5% (about 36 crore).

Recast the system

In this context, it is time the Centre had a relook at the overall food subsidy system including the pricing mechanism.

It should revisit NFSA norms and coverage. An official committee in January 2015 called for decreasing the quantum of coverage under the law, from the present 67% to around 40%. For all ration cardholders drawing food grains, a “give-up” option, as done in the case of cooking gas cylinders, can be made available. Even though States have been allowed to frame criteria for the identification of PHH cardholders, the Centre can nudge them into pruning the number of such beneficiaries.

As for the prices, the existing arrangement of flat rates should be replaced with a slab system. Barring the needy, other beneficiaries can be made to pay a little more for a higher quantum of food grains. The rates at which these beneficiaries have to be charged can be arrived at by the Centre and the States through consultations. These measures, if properly implemented, can have a salutary effect on retail prices in the open market. There are no two opinions about reforms implemented in the PDS through various steps, including end-to-end computerisation of operations, digitisation of data of ration cardholders, seeding of Aadhaar, and automation of fair price shops.

Yet, diversion of food grains and other chronic problems do exist. It is nobody’s case that the PDS should be dismantled or in-kind provision of food subsidy be discontinued. After all, the Centre itself did not see any great virtue in the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode at the time of giving additional food grains free of cost to the States during April-November last year (as part of relief measures during the pandemic). A revamped, need-based PDS is required not just for cutting down the subsidy bill but also for reducing the scope for leakages. Political will should not be found wanting.


India’s new policy of proactive diplomacy together with strong ground posturing is working

Things seem to be looking up for India in the neighbourhood. China has withdrawn its troops in eastern Ladakh across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Pakistan has voluntarily come forward for a ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC). The new U.S. administration has been issuing positive statements.

Shift in strategy

This is the second time in the last few years that China has been forced to make a reassessment of its ground strategy. Earlier in 2017, at Doklam where there was a 72-day stand-off, mobilisation of Indian forces led to the withdrawal of Chinese equipment and troops from the disputed area. It took almost 10 months for this to happen in Ladakh. It began at Pangong Tso; Depsang Plains and Hot Springs are yet to see the withdrawal.

This can be attributed to a conspicuous shift in India’s strategy. Prior to 2014, India used to engage in diplomacy and close matters through a quiet give and take in such conflicts along the LAC. In 2013, India was allegedly forced to dismantle some military structures as a part of the resolution process when China encroached into Depsang Valley. Indian troops used to generally avoid a face-off. That was the kind of peace we managed to maintain along the LAC.

But under the new policy, the Indian forces practice active engagement on the ground while their leadership engages in negotiations with their counterparts. This revised strategy of ‘proactive diplomacy together with strong ground posturing’ seems to be working well with our northern neighbour. Long ago, Chairman Mao Zedong had conveyed an important message to India through his Premier, Zhou Enlai. In August 1962, Mao had asked his army commanders to prepare for war with India. Zhou, a good friend of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, reminded Mao about the Panchsheel Treaty signed by the two countries, which mandated ‘peaceful coexistence’ as the core principle. Mao told Zhou to convey to Nehru that India and China should practice ‘armed coexistence’. This must always be remembered in dealings across the LAC.

The LoC too has seen some pleasant manoeuvres. In a sudden development, the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) of India and Pakistan decided on February 22 to strictly implement the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Coming after one of the worst years of ceasefire violations across the LoC (more than 5,000) and just before summer, this decision must be a greatly reassuring one for peace. On its part, India has always demonstrated its commitment to peace. A similar agreement was reached between the two DGsMO in 2018 too. However, there were violations by Pakistan, including the Pulwama attack. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted that there would be no engagement with India until the status quo was restored in Jammu and Kashmir. All that seems passe now. There seems to be equal enthusiasm in Pakistan over the ceasefire.

Just as China’s withdrawal cannot be second-guessed, Pakistan’s climbdown too cannot be explained conclusively. The FATF sword is still hanging over Pakistan’s head, the economy is in precarious condition, COVID-19 has impacted exports, and there is a repayment crisis. China is helping its friend, but it looks unhappy about the uncertainty over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Political pundits predict that when besieged from all sides, Pakistan has a propensity to spread terror and violence in India. India has enough experiences to appreciate Pakistan’s potential for mischief. That is why India has reiterated that there will be no let-up in counter-terror operations. But there is discernible change in General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tone and tenor. Moeed Yusuf, Special Adviser on National Security in Pakistan, cryptically told journalists: “Do you think this could happen without pressure?”

Biden administration’s approach

Pakistan must be under pressure from India, the new U.S. administration as well as China. There are indications that the Biden administration will adopt a nuanced approach with China. In its own economic and strategic interest, China would prefer to give that a chance. It probably wants Pakistan also to fall in line. Contrary to fears, the Biden administration seems to be largely siding with India in its South Asia policy. “We are concerned by Beijing’s pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbours. As always, we will stand with friends, we will stand with partners, we will stand with allies,” a State Department official stated recently on the border stand-off. In another statement, the U.S. State Department said it “welcomes” the steps taken to return Jammu and Kashmir to “full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values”. India should seize this opportune moment. Taking a leaf out of Vajpayee’s statesmanship in 2003 may not be a bad idea.

Ram Madhav is Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

There is low awareness among the public and low capacity for testing and providing care

Diabetes is a major public health problem in India with an estimated 7 crore adults with diabetes and half as many with prediabetes. Unfortunately, over half remain undiagnosed till late complications set in. The consequences of this for the health system, economic productivity and the individual’s life and family are well documented and well known. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, is primarily preventable among those at risk through proper lifestyle changes.

Transitory form of diabetes

What is less well known is that pregnancy is a diabetogenic stress and as a consequence, some women develop a transitory form of diabetes during pregnancy called gestational diabetes. Women of Indian (South Asian) origin are considered to be at highest risk of gestational diabetes. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that up to 25% of pregnancies in South Asia may be affected by hyperglycemia in pregnancy. In India it varies from about 10% in rural areas to about 30% in urban areas. Given that there are approximately 2.7 crore to 3 crore pregnancies each year in India and assuming a modest gestational diabetes rate of 10%, this means that about 27 lakh to 30 lakh women develop it each year.

Gestational diabetes is associated with significantly increased risk of complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia (fits during pregnancy), prolonged and obstructed labour, need for assisted delivery, postpartum haemorrhage and sepsis, stillbirths, premature delivery, increased risk of neonatal deaths due to respiratory distress, neonatal hypoglycaemia and birth injuries. All these conditions contribute to high maternal and new born morbidity and mortality.

If a woman gets gestational diabetes, it is easier to identify her as being at risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Almost half the women with gestational diabetes go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within 10 years without preventive care. Children born to women with gestational diabetes are also at very high risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Thus, addressing gestational diabetes has an impact at three levels: it will help lower maternal and new born morbidity and mortality; reduce the risk of future diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in women with gestational diabetes; and possibly break the chain of ‘diabetes begetting diabetes’ by addressing the issue of trans-generational transmission.

Test procedure

However, there is lack of public awareness about gestational diabetes as well as low awareness and capacity within the health systems for testing and providing care. This is despite the availability of national guidelines and diagnosis and management of gestational diabetes by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. Professor Dr. V. Seshiah, a pioneer in the field of diabetes and pregnancy, along with the Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group of India, suggested a single test procedure which is economical and doable. The World Health Organization, the IDF and the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics have also approved this test procedure.

A recommendation

Being conceived by healthy parents and born to a mother in good health is the best gift a child can receive as this provides a health advantage. To build a healthy future for the nation, this becomes very important. Several academic associations such as the Diabetes Study Group of India, the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India and the South Asia Initiative for Diabetes In Pregnancy have recommended that we observe a National Gestational Diabetes Awareness Day on March 10, which is Dr. V. Seshiah’s birthday, in recognition of his service and contribution to the field of diabetes and pregnancy for more than 40 years.

V. Balaji is the founder secretary of Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Group of India and senior consultant Diabetologist

An environmental regulator can work onlyif governments see the value of nature

The Supreme Court’s notice to the Centre on a public interest plea to set up a national environmental regulator under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 revives an issue that successive governments have preferred to ignore, in spite of specific orders passed by the same court more than nine years ago. There is no consensus on what a new regulator can achieve, since official policy privileges ease of doing business. The draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020, which seeks to advance that goal, makes no effort to disguise the desire to virtually eliminate civil society’s role. It does not encourage the public to voice its views and report violations, while independent scrutiny of proposals is weakened. In fact, the EIA process, especially after the notification in 2006, has been heavily critiqued for conflicts of interest - the proponent of a project is responsible for producing the EIA report — while clearances under forest, wildlife, air and water quality laws are heavily weighted in favour of promoters. Rather than reform the system, in 2011 and 2014, the Centre rebuffed the apex court on the question of forming an independent regulator, contending that its orders in the Lafarge mining case were only in the nature of a suggestion, and later sought time but decided not to act. The current PIL is forcing the government to come up with a fresh explanation on why it has been sitting on its hands all along. Yet, for a national regulator to work, the government must recognise the limits to extractive growth, respect a neutral body and preserve the integrity of the environment.

A key issue raised by the PIL is the lack of credibility of the EIA process, leading to reports that are often produced with the help of dubious expertise and manipulated data. In most cases, the proponents also ignore the views of communities that would be displaced, and are ill-equipped to assess the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services such as clean air, water and farm productivity. The Centre and States must acknowledge the conflict arising from pressure on scarce land and ecosystems from polluting projects, which has already created clusters of industrial locations that are doing badly on the CPCB’s Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index. It is striking that this did not stop approvals for further polluting activity in some of these places, such as large coal-based power plants cleared in recent years in Kanpur, Cuddalore, and Angul in Odisha. What should concern the Centre is the laggardly pace at which multiple departments process project proposals, raising transaction costs and resulting in the clamour to dispense with regulation. The remedies lie in administrative reform. It is eminently feasible, for instance, to produce a whitelist of lands for industry, reclaiming polluted areas. What India cannot afford to do is further degrade its forests, rivers, wetlands and air, whose health is vital for its large population.

The top change in Uttarakhand is indicative of the limits of running a State from New Delhi

Four days short of four years after he was sworn in, Trivendra Singh Rawat was asked by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) central leadership to make way for Tirath Singh Rawat as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand. The new CM was sworn in on Wednesday. The outgoing Mr. Rawat failed to keep the house in order; party workers and MLAs had distanced themselves from him. In fact, his very selection as CM in 2017 had less to do with his popularity or leadership skills than the central leadership’s liking for him. He was seen as an imposition from above. Far from building bridges with the BJP workers and MLAs, his style of functioning further alienated him from the party ecosystem. Party leaders felt ignored in decision making, and power was increasingly concentrated. While party functionaries were sidelined, governance fell more into the hands of bureaucrats. The BJP has 57 MLAs in the 70-member Assembly and at least half of them had turned against the outgoing CM. Allegations of corruption hastened his downfall, but the determining factor was his singular failure to hold the party flock together. The State goes to elections next year and the BJP could not have afforded to let him lead it. Success or failure will now be in the kitty of the incoming Mr. Rawat.

The change of guard in a State, giving up on its handpicked person, is uncharacteristic of the BJP leadership, and hence marks discontinuity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity continues to be the key driver of BJP politics, and he has held tight control over the party, including on State units and Chief Ministers. Leaders with an autonomous political base have been seen as rivals, at best tolerated and rarely encouraged or promoted. But this model has proven costly in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, where the party’s setbacks were attributed to the style of functioning of former CMs. Therein lies the paradox and dilemma of the BJP’s approach to leadership. The party’s rise as a behemoth has been advanced in significant measure by regional satraps and Mr. Modi himself was one. Since 2014, the BJP and Mr. Modi became synonymous, and the party’s national profile is now built on the notion of a strong leader. In States where leaders project strength without corresponding skills and popularity, the disenchantment brews in the ranks. On the other hand, leaders with limited mass appeal have helped the party maintain balance among rival social groups within its camp. Uttar Pradesh, where CM Yogi Adityanath is building his own style of strong leadership, is a notable exception. The change in leadership in Uttarakhand is indicative of the limits of running a State from Delhi.

Our Cochin Correspondent writes to us that a public enquiry into the recent disturbances at Trichur has not yet been taken up in earnest. The Durbar, we are told, has not instituted any investigation apart from that of the Police Department. The accounts of the outbreak that have found their way to the Press trace its origin to causes which, while they vary and conflict, implicate some of the high officials of the State as being of the fray. The Hindus and Muhammadans appear to hold that the Christians started the aggression and had the connivance of the police and magistracy, these being under Christian officers. The Christians in their turn pose as victims of Non-Co-operation and caste. The Diwan is reported to have attributed the whole thing to the tyranny of caste exclusivism and there are people who say that official attempts at hasty social reform must be held responsible. There is yet another reading of the occurrence which interprets it as but one incident of a general upsurge that has been gathering for some time throughout Malabar and has evidenced itself in the series of recent temple-burnings in Travancore and Cochin. Perhaps the Trichur outbreak is innocent of these alleged deeper connections and may be purely a local madness.

Mr. John Gorton was replaced to-day [March 10] as Prime Minister of Australia by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr. William McMahon, after a crisis meeting of the party here [Canberra]. Mr. Gorton’s Press Secretary, Mr. Tony Eggleton, told reporters that Mr. McMahon had been elected leader of the Liberal Party in the Government. He said Mr. Gorton was defeated in a confidence motion at the Liberal Party meeting. Mr. Gorton is the new Deputy Leader. The bombshell decision rocked Parliament House after almost three hours of tension. Mr. McMahon was sworn in as Prime Minister later in the afternoon. Mr. Gorton was elected leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister on January 9, 1968, after former Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming. Mr. Gorton faced a confidence motion moved by Victorian Liberal, Mr. A. Jarman. A secret ballot resulted in a tie with 33-all without Mr. Gorton’s vote. He then declared he no longer had the support of the party and cast his vote against himself to make it 34-33.