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Editorials - 17-03-2022

The hijab judgment has struck a blow against each of these principles — liberty, equality, and fraternity

Our social contract is built on an edifice that grants pre-eminence to individual choice. The Constitution’s Preamble recognises this when it places an onus on the state to secure to all citizens, among other things, liberty, equality and fraternity. The last of those values is fortified by a further commitment. The state, the Preamble says, will guarantee “fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation”.

The chief architect of the Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar, saw the standards contained in these words as forming a triumvirate of values. Liberty, equality, and fraternity, he said, were principles of life, “a union of trinity”. Divorce one from the other and the very purpose of democracy will be defeated. The Constituent Assembly believed that it was only a deep commitment to these principles that can help usher in a social revolution in the country. The structures of India’s democracy — the various minutiae of administration that the Constitution spells out — were each built on the idea that securing individual happiness required the state to foreground these standards.

Enforcing popular morality

In that picture, independent courts, the framers thought, would stand as a guardrail against any effort to undermine social democracy. But far from acting as “sentinels on thequi vive ” — as a former Chief Justice of India once described the Supreme Court of India’s role — the judiciary has time and again enforced the popular morality of the day, treating values of individual freedom as dispensable trifles. Tuesday’s judgment by the Karnataka High Court, inResham vs State of Karnataka , is the newest addition to this litany. It upholds a ban imposed on the use of hijabs by students in classrooms across the State (Karnataka), and, in doing so, strikes a blow against each of the principles contained in B.R. Ambedkar’s union of trinity.

Court’s use of precedent

The judgment is premised on three broad conclusions. First, the court holds that the wearing of a hijab is not essential to the practice of Islam, and, therefore, the petitioners’ right to freedom of religion is not impinged; second, it finds that there is no substantive right to free expression and privacy that can be claimed within the confines of a classroom; and, third, according to it, since the Government’s order does not by itself ban the use of a hijab and since it is otherwise neutral, there is no discrimination aimed at Muslim women students.

These conclusions suffer from one flaw or another. In rejecting the plea that the wearing of a hijab is a legitimate exercise of religious freedom, the court refers to a plethora of precedent that points to only “essential religious practices” enjoying constitutional protection. According to the court, the petitioners failed to produce any evidence to show that the use of a hijab was essential to Islam. Yet, despite this, it proceeds to perform a theological study — which one would think it is ill-equipped to do, especially without conducting a full-fledged trial — and concludes that Islam does not make the wearing of a hijab mandatory.

This is an extraordinary finding for a secular court to make. No doubt, similar leaps of judgment have been made by the judiciary in the past — for example, in 2004, the Supreme Court concluded that the performance of the Tandava dance was not indispensable to the Ananda Margis faith, even though the followers of that religion believed it to be so. But if the Karnataka High Court’s inference is partly based on flawed doctrine, it must take the blame for posing to itself the question of whether at all a hijab was essential to religion.

Free choice and state action

Unlike many of the cases in which the doctrine of essential practice is invoked, this was not a case where individual freedom was at odds with group rights. On the contrary, this was a case where exercise of free choice was curtailed by state action. The petitioners had contended that they wore the hijab as a matter of conscience. Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees to all persons not only an equal right to profess, practise and propagate religion but also a “freedom of conscience.” Counsel pointed to the Supreme Court’s judgment inBijoe Emmanuel (1986), where the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to partake in the singing of the national anthem was protected. There, the Court ruled that so long as students conscientiously believed that they must not participate in the recital, their rights could be abridged only in the interests of public order, morality or health.

InResham , the Karnataka High Court draws a facile distinction fromBijoe Emmanuel . The judgment holds that there is no evidence in this case that the petitioners conscientiously believed in the necessity of the hijab — this is anomalous given that once a pleading is made on affidavit, the onus ought to have been on the state to establish that the petitioners were not, in fact, wearing the hijab out of a sense of conscience.

The court then proceeds to make an even more astonishing assertion: all cases where a right of conscience is pleaded, according to it, areipso facto cases of religious freedom, and, therefore, ought to be subject to the test of essentiality. This conclusion ignores the fact thatBijoe Emmanuel was explicitly decided based on conscience and that conscience need have no direct relation to religious faith. It is possible, for example, that the hijab might not be essential to Islam, and yet that Muslim women choose to wear it as an exercise of their own individual beliefs.

On the classroom space

That the court was simply unprepared to grapple with this difference is even more evident in its rejection of claims based on free expression. The petitioners argued that in choosing to wear the hijab, they were merely exercising a form of identity relatable to their rights to freedom of speech and privacy. The court counters this by holding that classrooms are “qualified public spaces”, where individual rights cannot be asserted to “the detriment” of “general discipline and decorum”. In spaces such as these — and the court draws a remarkable analogy with prisons — substantive rights, the judgment holds, metamorphose into derivative rights. It is unclear what the ruling means by all this, except that these apparently derivative rights are incapable of being invoked in protected environments.

In all of this, the court ignores the classic test for determining when and how the right to free expression can be legitimately limited: that is, the test of proportionality. There is, according to the judgment, no need to dwell on legal doctrine, because “the petitions we are treating do not involve the right to freedom of speech & expression or right to privacy, to such an extent as to warrant the employment of these tests for evaluation of argued restrictions, in the form of school dress code”. In this manner, the court also brushes aside requests for “reasonable accommodation”.

Many accommodations

Kendriya Vidyalayas, for example, as the petitioners claimed, allow for hijabs within the contours of the prescribed uniforms. But the judgment holds that to make such an accommodation would defeat the very purpose of uniforms. This finding fails to recognise that even within the existing dress code, many accommodations are, in fact, made. For instance, religious and cultural marks on the forehead and accessories on other parts of the body are not disallowed. If the purpose of the uniform is to allow for no differences, surely every exhibition of faith in the classroom must be stamped out. Therefore, we can only see the failure to provide for a reasonable accommodation for the hijab as deliberate discrimination wrought on Muslim women.

The judgment makes repeated references to constitutional secularism. But secularism, properly understood, demands precisely what the petitioners here were pleading for: the rights to agency, choice, and equal treatment, and, more than anything else, a guarantee of fraternity undergirded, as the Preamble says, with dignity to every individual.

Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate practising in the Madras High Court

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Delegations do not vote for or against other countries; they vote for themselves

The green, red and yellow buttons at the desks of delegates at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and related conferences indicate only some of the options available when resolutions are put to vote. Over the years, the voting options have gone beyond ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Abstention’. It is possible to be ‘present and not participating’ or ‘absent at the time of the vote’. This makes it possible for member states to nuance their positions to suit their needs. The history of the UN shows that innovative use has been made by member states on several occasions. Some diplomats have often used these provisions to diverge slightly from their instructions to do a favour to some friendly delegations.

Voting system

The voting system in the UN Security Council is rigid. Every vote counts because the resolutions adopted by the Security Council are mandatory for all members of the UN. The resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, ‘Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression’, are even more significant as they involve even war, as it happened in the case of Iraq.

In fact, the provisions of the UN Charter on voting have already been ‘tweaked’. The Charter provision requires the “concurring votes of the permanent members; provided that, in decisions under Chapter VI [Pacific Settlement of Disputes], and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting”. It would seem, therefore, that an abstention by a permanent member would amount to a veto. But it is now agreed that if a permanent member does not fully agree with a proposed resolution, but does not wish to cast a veto, it may choose to abstain, thus allowing the resolution to be adopted, if it obtains the required number of nine favourable votes.

An additional provision to add conditionalities to the vote is the explanation of vote before and after the vote. The explanation of the vote before the vote acts as canvassing for votes of others and the explanation of the vote after the vote can even amount to taking with the left hand what has been given with the right, as it happened in the case of India’s abstention on the Russian invasion. All the principles were stated in the explanation of the vote, but the vote itself was prompted by political expediency.

India’s vote

In the recent vote on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the impression is that China and India voted together to indicate neutrality. But the impact of the vote of China is more nuanced than India’s. If China had voted against the resolution, it would have amounted to a veto, which would not be in keeping with the cultivated image of China as a country which opposes foreign intervention in sovereign states. But the Chinese abstention reflected the new understanding between Russia and China. Intriguingly, the requirement of compulsory abstention by the affected parties in cases relating to Chapter VI does not apply to other resolutions and thus permanent members can veto resolutions against them even under Chapter VII.

The Indian abstention in cases relating to the Soviet Union at the UN was institutionalised by Indira Gandhi in 1979, when India became the only country outside the Soviet bloc to abstain in the UN General Assembly after the Soviet Union had vetoed a Security Council resolution against its intervention in Afghanistan. The world and India have changed since then, but the compulsions for India to abstain today are as valid as they were in 1979, regardless of the emergence of the Quad. Technically, India could have abstained only in the substantive vote in the UN General Assembly, as the resolution contained references to invasion and other strong words, but it also abstained in the UN Security Council on an earlier procedural vote to refer the matter to the General Assembly. The same applied in the case of the Human Rights Council.

The U.S. criticism of India’s vote was as expected in the context of the Quad. But it should be remembered that its criticism was even more severe in 1979, when India’s relations with the U.S. were not so close. The U.S. took stern actions like denying Tarapore fuel and supporting the jihadis in Afghanistan at that time.

The carefully crafted voting regulations in the UN General Assembly have created comic situations. Once the Chinese delegate went out of the hall when a vote was in progress. When he returned, he realised that he could not follow the instructions given on that particular resolution. He took the floor to say that, instead of his being marked absent, it should be recorded that he would not have participated in the vote if he was present. In roll-call votes, some delegates often vote wrongly, but the Secretariat, which knows better, records a vote as it should have been cast. On one occasion, a senior politician, who came from India as a delegate, wanted to change India’s vote on Afghanistan. When India’s name was called out, he said ‘Yes’ and I had to shout from behind, ‘Abstention!’ Fortunately, the delegate did not hear the correction. Such events are legion at the UN.

The UN regulations and practices on voting are designed to enable the delegations to express their national opinions, taking into account their vital national interests. In the ultimate analysis, delegations do not vote for or against other countries; they vote for themselves. In the case of India, votes in the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council reflect its current national concerns in the light of the situation in Ladakh, Afghanistan, the increasing ties between Russia and China, and its membership of the Quad. Without naming or blaming anyone, India has expressed its fundamental position that war is not a solution and diplomacy should be the only option to prevent war. It may have caused ripples in some countries, but it shall remain relevant in the emerging global order by keeping its options open.

T.P. Sreenivasan has represented India at the ambassadorial level at the UN in New York, Vienna and Nairobi and served as the Head of the UN Division in the Ministry of External Affairs

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An efficient waste management ecosystem is crucial to manage the huge waste generated in India’s new energy push

In the Budget speech this year, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, emphasised the role of cleaner technologies such as solar energy and batteries in India’s future economic growth. In addition, she mentioned the importance of transitioning to a circular economy from the existing linear one.

Market estimates

The call for a creation of a circular economy is significant since an efficient waste management ecosystem would be necessary to manage the enormous waste generated by renewable energy projects in the coming decades. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) — an intergovernmental organisation that supports countries in their transition to a sustainable energy future — the cumulative waste generated by India’s total installed solar capacity could be as high as 325 kilotonnes by 2030. A consulting firm, JMK Research and Analytics, estimates that the market for battery recycling will be around 23 Gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2030. The prevalence of a circular economy could also partially insulate these industries from potential supply chain shocks triggered by extraneous developments.

A study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) has estimated that India would need over 5,630 GW of solar and 1,792 GW of wind energy to achieve its net-zero target in the year 2070. A robust renewables waste management and recycling ecosystem could help people and India reduce environmental harm, provide energy security, and also create new jobs. So, here are six steps to nurture a circular economy in the Indian renewable energy industry.

A clear framework

First, policymakers should revise existing electronic waste management rules to bring various clean energy components under their ambit. These rules are based on extended producer responsibility that identifies component producers as responsible entities to manage their waste products. The Indian renewable energy industry has a complex structure that comprises various manufacturers, assemblers, importers and distributors. Hence, the revised regulations should clearly define the responsibilities of various stakeholders involved in the renewable energy value chain and provide annual targets for the collection and the recycling of waste.

Second, dumping and burning of different components should be banned. Currently, in the absence of any regulation, landfilling is the cheapest and most common practice to manage renewable energy waste. However, it is not environmentally sustainable. All clean energy technologies thrive on metals and non-metals with different levels of toxicity. If the waste equipment is dumped in the open, then these elements could leach into the environment and enter the food chain. Studies show that the leaching of heavy metals such as lead and cadmium from solar photovoltaic modules could increase by 90% and 40%, respectively, under acidic conditions. Further, burning the polymeric encapsulant layer in solar photovoltaic modules releases toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide and some volatile organic compounds.

R&D is essential

Third, the renewable energy industry should invest in the research and development of recycling technologies. Recycling is a multistep process that includes dismantling, disassembly, and extraction. Dismantling is largely a manual process that is sometimes automated. Disassembly can be done mechanically, thermally or chemically. Besides these traditional methods, investments in research and development could help discover new ways of recycling that result in higher efficiency and a less environmentally damaging footprint. Industries should also explore technology transfers with global recycling firms for establishing domestic waste recycling facilities. For instance, efficient metal recovery from waste provides a resilient supply of raw material for the renewable energy manufacturing industry.

Focus on finance, quality

Fourth, there has to be a creation of innovative financing routes for waste management. Access to finance is a major roadblock for players in the recycling ecosystem. The central government should nudge public and private sector banks to charge lower interest rates on loans disbursed for setting up renewable energy waste recycling facilities. Assurance of a minimum waste quantum to run these facilities and issuing performance-based green certificates to recyclers that could be traded to raise money for waste management would also help ease the financial burden. A market for recycled materials could also be created through mandatory procurement by the renewable energy and other relevant manufacturing industries.

Fifth, there needs to be an improvement in product design and quality. Renewable energy component manufacturers should find substitutes for toxic metals such as cadmium and lead used in their products and simplify product designs to reduce recycling steps. Such improvements in process efficiencies could go a long way in curbing waste creation at the source and its subsequent impact on the environment.

Six, the Union and State governments should set stringent quality control standards for components used in their tenders. This will prevent premature end-of-life of components, and consequent waste creation. Substandard components generate considerable waste due to early life damage that is often irreplaceable, and the components often have to be discarded. Such quality enforcement could also position India’s renewable energy industry as a global supplier of quality products.

Largely in the informal sector

The renewable energy recycling ecosystem has a complex structure where there are multiple actors involved, but it would be an integral part of our journey toward a sustainable future. Beyond sustainability, it would also offer quality employment opportunities for the future generations as new jobs would be created across the entire value chain of waste management and recycling. Further, workers in the informal sector could access various socio-economic benefits and look forward to an improved quality of life. We ought to remember that the majority of India’s recycling sector is informal and workers have to work in unsafe environments without standardised wages. Therefore, developing an efficient renewable energy waste management and circular ecosystem is imperative rather than a choice. We can ignore this, but only at our own peril.

Akanksha Tyagi is a programme associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), an independent not-for-profit policy research institution. The views expressed are personal

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The accessibility guidelines for higher education institutions and universities require some modifications

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 guarantees to every disabled person a large bouquet of rights and entitlements. But the reality that disabled persons confront in their everyday lives is far removed from the law’s progressive vision. The Supreme Court judgment inAvni Prakash v. National Testing Agency(2021) is emblematic of this gap. As the appellant’s answer book during an exam was snatched away, due to the testing authority’s confusion and the centre’s callousness, she did not get an hour of extra time to which she was legally entitled. The Court had to remind the competent authorities about their duty to provide her reasonable accommodation and inclusive education. Against this backdrop, the draft accessibility guidelines and standards for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Universities released by the University Grants Commission (UGC) are a welcome intervention.

A procedural flaw

The way in which the guidelines were released, however, left much to be desired. The public notice preceding the guidelines was inaccessible to persons with visual disabilities. This was because the notice appears to have been printed and poorly scanned. If the document had been a digital document, authenticated by the digital signature of the competent authority, it would have been fully accessible. Worse still, the same problem was seen late last year in the public notice released by the Union Home Ministry with respect to its guidelines on creating disabled-friendly infrastructure and the guidelines released by the Civil Aviation Ministry on making air travel more disabled-friendly.

The suggestions in the guidelines are capacious in scope and breathtaking in ambition. What the guidelines ignore, however, is that disabled students are neglected and sidelined at worst or grudgingly accepted at best in universities. The guidelines have to be realistic. Crucially, each chapter of the guidelines should be followed by a checklist that distils the key action items contained in that chapter. Further, the checklist should divide these action items into those that must be immediately implemented (for example, accessibility to Information and Communication Technologies and making learning materials available in accessible formats) and those that must be implemented progressively (for example, accessibility to extracurricular activities). Further, the compliance of HEIs with this checklist must be monitored by the UGC, by requiring HEIs to submit a compliance report on an annual basis (instead of a self-certification mechanism). The UGC should also be empowered to take disciplinary action against HEIs not complying with the guidelines.

Assessment of disability-based needs

An assessment of the needs of persons with diverse disabilities should be conducted on an annual or biannual basis by the Equal Opportunity Cell/Enabling Unit to devise and thereafter revise the institutional plan for inclusion of students with disabilities. Such an assessment will equip the administration to undertake specific need-based interventions. The assessment must be in the form of hearings in which the plan’s content or implementation can be discussed.

Further, when a student with a disability joins an HEI, the HEI should conduct an assessment of their disability-based needs. On this basis, a plan should be drawn up to fulfil those needs. Each HEI must maintain data on students with disabilities, on the basis of parameters such as applications, enrolment, retention and participation of students in academic and non-academic activities.

Finally, the guidelines should provide for a redress mechanism along the lines of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules, 2017. The mechanism may be resorted to by aggrieved persons with disabilities in case the concerned HIE does not implement or violates the UGC guidelines. The District Education Officer referred to in Rule 7 of the Rules can be empowered to deal with any such infractions. Likewise, the UGC can consider instituting a mechanism for affected persons with disabilities to file complaints about the violation of these guidelines. Such complaints must be dealt with within a time-bound fashion. A separate chapter should be added to the guidelines which comprehensively outlines the modalities of the grievance redress mechanism.

In sum, for the disabled, high-quality education represents a unique pathway for empowerment and meaningful participation in society. If modified suitably, these guidelines can serve as a catalyst to unlock this transformative potential for every student with disability pursuing higher education.

Rahul Bajaj is Senior Resident Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy and Husain Aanis Khan is a lawyer and Research Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi

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Karnataka HC ruling on hijab fails to recognise the need for reasonable accommodation

The Karnataka High Court verdict upholding the ban on the wearing of headscarves by students in educational institutions is wrong on many levels. The manner in which it framed the questions arising from the controversy over Muslim girl students wearing the hijab undermines constitutional principles. The court failed to examine whether the wearing of the hijab, in addition to the prescribed uniform, but without any variation in colour, was a ground to refuse entry into a school or college. The Bench examined verses from theKoran to disagree with the students’ claim that wearing the hijab was an essential practice in Islam and that, therefore, it was entitled to constitutional protection as part of religious freedom under Article 25. But is that the real issue? The court rejected the argument in favour of ‘reasonable accommodation’, by which a pluralist society may allow the classroom to reflect social diversity without undermining the sense of equality among students. Apparel norms may be needed in “qualified public spaces” such as schools. But there is no reason to not accommodate the choice of an additional piece of clothing that does not interfere with the prescribed uniform.

In rejecting the argument based on ‘freedom of conscience’, the court cited the absence of elaboration in the pleadings. The judgment’s emphasis on the uniform as an inviolable symbol of equality and homogeneity seems to have overwhelmed any contention in favour of any sort of accommodation. Another question to raise is whether it was at all necessary to invoke the ‘essential practice’ test in this case. If something is egregiously religious, it is more likely to be kept out of the campus, if uniformity and eliminating any ‘sense of separateness’ are the hallowed goals. The matter could have been disposed of without entering the theological domain. The ‘essential religious practice’ test itself is a pointless exercise, as the Supreme Court has established a nearly unattainable standard to determine it. Something is an essential practice only if its absence or removal has the effect of destroying the religion itself. Save for a few fundamentals, no religious practice will actually survive such scrutiny. It would be far better if a claim for Article 25 protection is tested against constitutional values such as equality, dignity and privacy, subject, of course, to health and public order. In any case, the ‘essentiality’ test should be jettisoned forever if only because it theoretically allows some defining theological concepts to override all else. What is abhorrent to constitutional principles will remain so irrespective of what is considered essential to a religion. Freedom of religion is important because freedoms are important, and not because religions are important.

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A clear base of ideologically affiliated voters helped the BJP thwart anti-incumbency effects

As the dust settles after the State Assembly elections, in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, it is unmistakable that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has a firm sway now over politics in the country. A CSDS-Lokniti Survey in four States (not held in Manipur) shows a clear picture. Even when the net satisfaction levels of BJP-led State governments were either low (U.P., Uttarakhand) or negative (meaning more respondents were dissatisfied than satisfied, as in Goa), the party managed to win the elections handily. There are clear reasons. The BJP significantly consolidated sections of the electorate to build a formidable and durable coalition of base voters. Data from the Lokniti survey show that across four States, while the Opposition parties garnered votes largely among the religious minorities, a substantial section among Dalits, and a fraction among the Other Backward Classes, the BJP’s votes were across the upper castes, politically non-dominant OBCs and a growing section of Dalits. This solidification of the BJP’s voter base, in the Hindi heartland in particular, is in line with what political scientists call the new dominant party system akin to the “Congress system” of the 1950s and 1960s, albeit with a social core bound by a different binding factor — Hindutva. This social core has ensured that the dissatisfaction with the BJP governments did not translate directly into votes against the regimes and is expressed in how voters identified themselves with the party and its leadership, represented in the Union government.

The net satisfaction levels with the Union government were higher by 17 points in U.P., 46 points in Uttarakhand, 18 in Goa, and eight even in Punjab, where the mood was against both the Union and the State regimes. The battered economy, the public health crisis during the pandemic, the rising spectre of joblessness, the farm laws and other agrarian concerns specifically in rural areas, did weigh on voters’ minds. While welfare measures such as cash transfers to farmers and the ration scheme helped sway some of the poorest in support of the regimes, the solidified support for the BJP among the sections mentioned above reinforces the idea of an expanded base that has an ideological affinity towards the party. There were regional factors as well — the presence of a substantial vote-gathering party in an otherwise declining BSP in U.P., the rise of an alternative in AAP in Punjab, and the emasculation of the Congress. For the Opposition, the takeaways are stark. It is necessary for them to take on the BJP by constructing a clear message which declares that development and economic progress are best possible through social justice and amity among communities. But electoral success is not sufficiently guaranteed unless the message is delivered through a dedicated organisation that can at least contest the formidable apparatus of the Sangh.

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The CPI(M)’s plan could pave the way for a new development paradigm for the State

Nava Keralam’ (New Kerala) was the buzzword at the recent State conference of the CPI(M) in Ernakulam in which Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, a Polit Bureau member of the party, presented an alternative policy route to reinvigorate the ‘Kerala Model’ that was believed to have hit a stasis. According to the party honchos, a few factors made this road map imperative. While the State has ranked high on several social and sustainable development parameters, its inability to spur production, develop infrastructure and generate employment was telling. The recent turn of events including return migration and a change in its demographic added to the churn. But the last straw appeared to be the continuing jolt to fiscal federalism and the GST regime, which tightened the noose around the State’s finances.

The last time the party, the undivided CPI, embraced such a vision plan was in 1956, a year before the world’s first democratically elected Communist government came to power in Kerala. Successive governments thereafter prioritised welfare over growth with commendable outcomes. But what makes the present vision document, which has not been released in public pending discussions within the LDF, radically different is that it refocuses on accelerating production and growth with the aid of ‘private investment’, once anathema to the Left parties, while not forgoing the government’s commitment to welfarism or environment conservation.

This sparked a debate on whether the CPI(M) has relinquished its ideological adherence to socialism. The party idealogues pointed towards China and Cuba and said that the effort was to marry the ‘best practices’ in socialist economies and capitalist countries in order to evolve a model that would provide for growth and development while ensuring social justice and uplift of the poor. Therefore, when the party came under fire for making a pitched call in the document for setting up research-oriented higher educational institutions in “government, cooperative and private sectors and in the private-public-partnership model”, the defence was that this was critical for turning Kerala into a ‘knowledge economy’. While it welcomes private investment, the document also proposes the creation of a monitoring framework for ensuring social justice and maintaining the quality of higher education “in the private sector as well”.

A week after the CPI(M) State meet got over, the State Budget took a step further on ‘knowledge economy’ by announcing specific schemes with allocations. It sought private investment for industrial facilitation parks under public sector units to augment industrial growth and proposed to set up four science parks, at Rs. 1,000 crore, in three years for applied scientific research in highly specialised areas such as microbiomes and genomics. A skill infrastructure ecosystem was envisaged, with 14 skill parks to boot, under the Knowledge Economy Mission seeking to provide 20 lakh job opportunities. It said there would be translational research centres, startups and incubators on university campus, thereby dovetailing higher academic research and industry – a move intended to stimulate value-added production.

While the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) is still being relied on for infrastructure expansion, there’s a perception that it should not be a case of all eggs in a single basket, more so because the KIIFB has become an eyesore of sorts for the Centre. That puts the government in a quandary as it has lined up a slew of ambitious projects. Hence, the need to explore alternative sources of funding.

It’s a given that the ‘Kerala model’ is at a crossroads. The vision plan, however contested, could pave the way for a new development paradigm for Kerala, by plugging the loopholes in the existing one.


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New Delhi, March 16.: The Jan Sangh leader, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, commenting on the Union Budget said it was an “andhera badao” (spread darkness) budget and there was need for “deepak jalao” (spread light). He added: “There is no hope of price stability and accelerated economic growth and reduction in economic disparities. This is also a highly inflationary budget.” Mr. N. G. Goray (Socialist) said the levies on kerosene and fertilizers would hit the rural masses and hoped the Government would either remove them or reduce them. Mr. Bhupesh Gupta (CPI) said the impact of the popular mandate seemed to have somewhat restrained the usual budgetary onslaught on the common man. But it had not inspired the Finance Minister to hit monopoly capital and wealth. The “garibi hatao” slogan seemed to have been forgotten, he said.

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After a very long time, a government has the trust and support of the people. And for AAP, its performance in Punjab could arguably be a springboard for larger conquests.

A seething discontent with mainstream parties, and an overwhelming clamour for change has led the Aam Aadmi Party to a historic win in Punjab in only its second assembly election in the state — Bhagwant Mann was sworn in as chief minister on Wednesday. Despite the trappings and left-overs of abundance and prosperity, the land of the Green Revolution and border state has been in the throes of one crisis after another ever since it emerged from the dark decade of militancy in the early 1990s. Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal, alternating in power for the last 70 years, have failed to address the structural distortions and inadequacies that have contributed to the making of the state’s present predicament, preferring instead to paper over them with short-term gestures and interventions with an eye on the next election.

Having given the party a thumping mandate, the people of Punjab have extraordinarily high expectations from the new AAP government. The party must contend with this burden of hope. It cannot be politics as usual for the Mann government. But getting Punjab back on track is going to be an arduous and uphill task. The state needs a well thought out roadmap, not a hastily scribbled plan with easy or short-lived gains. While it will be tempting to take the populist route, the government will need to summon the resolve and the wisdom to sidestep it. With a leader who is seen to have a clean image at the helm, the party will need to use all the political capital and space it has achieved by its decisive victory to take the hard measures while taking the people into confidence.

The state needs course correction in a host of areas, from finance to agriculture, industry to education and health. The Green Revolution that brought widespread gains to its fields also sowed the seeds of future discontent as the rates of inputs spiraled, soil health deteriorated and the water table plunged. The farm agitation was born out of this despair. Successive governments spoke of solutions in the run-up to the polls only to dispense with them once they were in power. The government needs to show the way, lend a helping hand, and Punjab’s industrious farmers will do the rest. The state is also in poor fiscal health with a debt of around Rs 3 lakh crore. Economists have demonstrated how plugging revenue leaks across sectors can help address the financial challenge. The unabated flow of drugs is endangering the future and the Mann government will have to battle the powerful forces behind this scourge, set the state onto the path of recovery. It must also shore up education, industry and health infrastructure to stem the exodus of youth from the state. There are no easy solutions. But after a very long time, a government has the trust and support of the people. And for AAP, its performance in Punjab could arguably be a springboard for larger conquests.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘Burden of change’.

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In a democracy, only a small set of acts by public agencies must remain in the realm of secrecy – delicate international negotiations or those that relate to sensitive aspects of security, details about survivors of sexual assaults or child abuse.

On Tuesday, two separate benches of the Supreme Court did the right thing by red-flagging the disturbing practice of courts accepting information from government agencies in sealed envelopes. First, in a case involving the Bihar government, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana made it clear that it wanted all arguments to be presented in open court. “Please don’t give us a sealed cover, we don’t want it here,” CJI Ramana told the Patna High Court’s counsel in the case. The CJI’s displeasure was echoed later in the day by Justice D Y Chandrachud during the hearing on an appeal against the Centre’s ban on the Malayalam TV Channel, MediaOne. The channel had gone off air on February 8 after the Kerala High Court upheld the ban by relying on documents submitted by the Centre in a sealed envelope. But when the government repeated this practice before the apex court, it was pulled up by a three-judge bench led by Justice Chandrachud that stayed the ban.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the Supreme Court has itself played a role in perpetuating the tendency to seek public-interest related information in sealed envelopes. In the Rafale aircraft case, the Court accepted the government’s argument that the matter pertained to the Official Secrets Act. While refusing to stay the arrest of activists held in the Bhima-Koregaon case, it relied on “evidence” submitted by the Maharashtra police in a sealed envelope. In the NRC exercise in Assam — that led to about 19 lakh citizens being excluded from the list – the apex court sought details from the NRC coordinator in a sealed cover with neither the government nor the affected parties being allowed to look at them. And in the case involving corruption allegations against the CBI director, Alok Varma, the court insisted that the Central Vigilance Commission submit its report in a sealed cover, ostensibly to maintain public confidence in the agency.

In a democracy, only a small set of acts by public agencies must remain in the realm of secrecy – delicate international negotiations or those that relate to sensitive aspects of security, details about survivors of sexual assaults or child abuse. The principles of natural justice demand that all parties in litigation get a fair chance to scrutinise evidence. Citizens are entitled to know the reasons for court verdicts and subject them to scrutiny. Such transparency is also one of the sources of legitimacy of the institution of the judiciary. The three-judge bench in the MediaOne case has said that it will expand the ambit of the case to deal with sealed cover jurisprudence. It will be watched closely.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘In the light’.

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In a world beset by disease, war and prejudice, New Zealand appears to be a place in a fairytale — in fact, one of the greatest series of fantasy films, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was produced there.

If New Zealand was a person, they would be in the reckoning for winning most beauty contests: Physical charm, a liberal as prime minister who made international headlines by bringing her infant to the UN General Assembly, and a populace that is, by and large, pleasant and friendly. What’s not to admire? In a world beset by disease, war and prejudice, it appears to be a place in a fairytale — in fact, one of the greatest series of fantasy films, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, was produced there. Even the mafia has a social conscience in paradise — last year, gang leaders worked with the government to urge communities traditionally wary of the public health system to get vaccinated. Now, the goody-two-shoes of the global classroom has gone a step farther.

Earlier this month, during a national holiday, the electronic doors and automated book issuing software in one of the country’s finest libraries — Turanga in Christchurch — were left open and unattended. Did teenagers deface the books? Did petty criminals steal some of the pretty expensive artworks housed in there? Of course not. The bibliophiles went in, returned books and got new ones, barely noticing that they had a run of the place. Apart from one letter complaining about the lack of service at the CD-lending counter, people weren’t even that upset.

Now, the caveats. First, in an age of PR-driven narratives, if things appear too good to be true, they probably are. When the other shoe drops — cry the pessimists among us —it will hit us on the head all that much harder because New Zealand has been the “good news” country for so long. And then, there is much in the accusation that good, beautiful and pleasant often equals boring. But given divisive domestic politics, a brewing global conflict and the devastation of the pandemic, all of this may just be jealousy. Let us be bored for a bit, please.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘Goody-goody Kiwi’.

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Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev declared his government's decision to freeze the deployment of medium range nuclear armaments in the European part of USSR.

Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev declared his government’s decision to freeze the deployment of medium range nuclear armaments in the European part of USSR. Addressing the congress of the Soviet Union, Brezhnev, however warned of retaliatory steps failing western reciprocation to the Soviet decision.

“The leadership has taken a decision to introduce unilaterally a moratorium on the deployment of medium range nuclear armaments in the European part of the Soviet Union,” Brezhnev said. He said the moratorium would be in force either until an agreement was reached with the United States or until the time the US leaders undertook practical preparations to deploy Pershing-2 and Cruise missiles in europe.

UDF to quit

Kerala’s 79-day-old Congress (I)-led United Democratic Front government will resign, paving the way for the President’s rule in the state, according to indications available. The UDF co-ordination committee, at a 70-minute meeting, took stock of the situation arising from the defection of Lonappan Nambadan of the Kerala Congress (Mani group) to the Opposition, which reduced the ruling coalition to a minority in the 141-member state assembly.

PoK arrests

The military authorities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have rounded up more than 160 leaders and prominent activists of the opposition parties and lodged them in Dalai prison, a notorious interrogation centre near Muzzaffarabad. The arrests, coinciding with the recent crackdown by Pakistan military authorities on the opposition parties, followed a threat by four major opposition parties to resume their agitation to overthrow the regime of Brigadier Hayat Khan, the military ruler of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

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Sachchidanand Shukla writes: Diversification away from USD is meant to insulate economies from geopolitical risks

Much has been written on how the weaponisation of trade, the imposition of sanctions and the exclusion from SWIFT by the US could trigger a faster de-dollarisation as countries displaying diplomatic and economic autonomy will be wary of using US-dominated global banking systems. This school of thought avers that this can also trigger a shift in the overall global forex market framework as potential foreign policy coercion or sudden disruptions will not go down kindly with countries, which will start exploring how to build bulwarks. The US dollar, which is the world’s reserve currency, can see a steady fall in the current context as leading central banks may look to diversify their reserves away from it to other assets or currencies like the Euro, Renminbi or gold.

The “de-dollarisation” by several central banks is imminent, driven by the desire to insulate them from geopolitical risks, where the status of the US dollar as a reserve currency can be used as an offensive weapon. Thus, the war in Ukraine and the subsequent economic sanctions will trigger central banks to go back to their drawing boards to reassess their dependency on the greenback. Efforts are already underway for the possible introduction of a new Russia-China payment system, bypassing SWIFT and combining the Russian SPFS (System for Transfer of Financial Messages) with the Chinese CIPS (Cross-Border Interbank Payment System).

The notion of de-dollarisation sits well in the thought experiment of a multipolar world where each country will look to enjoy economic autonomy in the sphere of monetary policy. Leading geopolitical adversaries of the US — Russia and China — have already started this process of de-dollarisation. Other smaller powers are also joining the ranks. India has also had to work out alternative arrangements, including a barter arrangement, with certain sanctioned countries in the past.

Russia had started its three-pronged efforts towards de-dollarisation in 2014 when sanctions were imposed on it for the annexation of Crimea. First, Russia reduced its share of dollar-denominated assets to about 16 per cent in 2021. It had already announced that it would be cutting the USD from its $186 billion National Wealth Fund. Second, it reduced its share of trade conducted in USD by prioritising national currencies in bilateral trade. The use of USD in Russia’s exports to BRICS crashed from about 95 per cent in 2013 to less than 10 per cent in 2020. Third, Russia also developed a national electronic payments system called “Mir” in 2015 after several payment processing firms denied services to Russian banks.

However, these steps haven’t sufficed to effectively shield “fortress Russia”. China, on the other hand, aims to use trading platforms
and its digital currency to promote de-dollarisation. China has established RMB trading centres in Hong Kong, Singapore and Europe. In 2021, the People’s Bank of China submitted a “Global Sovereign Digital Currency Governance” proposal at the Bank for International Settlements to influence global financial rules via its digital currency, the e-Yuan. The IMF has already added Yuan to its SDR (Special Drawing Rights) basket in 2016. In 2017, the European Central Bank exchanged EUR 500 million worth of its forex reserves into Yuan-denominated securities. However, the lack of full RMB convertibility will hinder China’s de-dollarisation ambition.

Despite these efforts, the US dollar continues to reign, having sealed its position in the early 1970s with a deal with the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to conduct global energy trade in dollars. The status of the dollar was enhanced by the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, which essentially eliminated other developed market currencies from competing with the USD. This status of the reserve currency allows the US government to refinance its debt at low costs in addition to providing foreign policy leverage. Currently, about 60 per cent of foreign exchange reserves of central banks and about 70 per cent of global trade is conducted using USD. The association of the USD as a “safe-haven” asset also has a psychological angle to it and like old habits, people continue to view the currency as a relatively risk-free asset. Given this psychological bias, the world will continue to prefer the USD as a “store of value” and a “medium of exchange”, fulfilling the basic functions of money. Additionally, sudden dumping of dollar assets by adversarial central banks will also pose balance sheet risks to them as it will erode the value of their overall dollar-denominated holdings.

Thus, despite triggers to the move away from the dollar, in reality, it will be a protracted process. Apart from the Euro and gold, most other foreign currencies have some inherent risks associated with them. With the historically “neutral” Switzerland joining the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia, it eliminates the Swiss Franc from being an asset that can work as a hedge against economic sanctions.

Central banks are left with very few choices to diversify. Having said that, a drop in the dollar’s stature is inevitable as major economic powers like China and India rise. The western hegemony of the financial system was challenged when the 2008 global financial crisis exposed underlying cracks within the US economy. Moreover, demographic factors will continue to challenge Europe’s growth prospects. The rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse will raise the importance of currencies like the Yuan and the Indian rupee. But, while the frequent use of the US dollar as a potential weapon for achieving foreign policy objectives will no doubt accelerate the process of de-dollarisation, there is still a long road ahead.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘The notion of de-dollarisation’. The writer is group chief economist, Mahindra & Mahindra. With inputs from Sarbartho Mukherjee, Associate Economist, M&M. Views are personal

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Naman Pugalia writes: With the BJP’s efficient delivery of tangibles and the promise of good healthcare and education by AAP, role of caste-based networks as intermediaries for government services is waning

The results of the assembly elections point to seismic and under-discussed shifts in the voters’ consideration along two critical axes — the role of caste in determining voting choices and how it was strategically interwoven with the nature of benefits promised and delivered to the electorate.

The fading of caste-based considerations in voting decisions has been discussed through a narrow prism, that of a cross-caste coalition in the service of Hindu nationalism. This is a limited perspective. Further, it confuses the overarching theme of nationalism with a more complicated caste calculus at play.

Caste-based parties thrived in an age when their intermediation for availing benefits was essential. Beyond the pull of baradari (fraternity), caste politics was about reaching out to one’s caste network to get work done from the government. This meant that identification with the caste and deploying this identity for utilitarian purposes happened in unison. The rise of the digital delivery flywheel has significantly altered this equation. An array of benefits is now delivered via the JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity.

This mechanism does away with reliance on caste leaders as brokers for benefits. The maturity of the JAM “rails” and the relative diminution of caste-based voting considerations have been concomitant. This has translated into a political hegemony for incumbents who are capable of delivering benefits consistently. The labharthi varg (beneficiary segment) then is a multi-caste cluster, seen as endorsing the dole culture. Religious identity is best viewed as a catalyst, not a determinant, of voting choices. This dismantling of the caste-based patronage economy changes caste’s role from being a voting choice determinant to solely being a social identifier. The ramifications of this transformation are evident most glaringly in the diminishing of the BSP in UP.

It is not that the BJP doesn’t employ caste. The logic of caste politics in its grand scheme of things survives if Hindus feel secure. The party endorses caste politics as an intrinsic part of Hindu identity, but they appeal to all castes by portraying themselves as the custodian of religion and welfare which culminates in the idea of Ram Rajya. The welfare state is integrated as the nucleus of their strategy, making JAM vital.

It is equally important to understand the nature of benefits being promised and delivered. The “double-engine” rhetoric solidifies the BJP’s claim and its efficiency as a sponsor of a class of benefits, which are simple (and tangible). Pensions, scholarships, subsidies, foodgrains, vaccinations etc. all belong to this category. The delivery of these benefits is also scalable thanks to the “India Stack” architecture (spanning identification, payments and connectivity) that is now coming to fruition. This trend also explains the prime minister’s claim that wherever women vote in greater numbers than men, the BJP tends to do well. Women are more likely to value the implications of benefits for the family and hence endorse the party that delivers them.

Known to not leave anything to chance, the BJP does not simply rely on the mathematics of delivery but sandwiches it between the chemistry of nationalism and culturalism. This serves another purpose: To neutralise the yearning for complex (and intangible) benefits such as jobs, education and healthcare which require greater and more systematic transformation.

The AAP, with its planks of mohalla (neighbourhood) clinics and school upgrades, seeks to occupy this very space of/for complex benefits. For its part, the party turned a handicap into an advantage, since the nature of Delhi’s circumscribed government model meant that, without the Centre’s “double-engine” backing, it could do little more than refurbish schools and healthcare for the poor. Its handsome win in Punjab signals that it is a viable alternative for voters who are seeking these intangible but long-term, consequential changes.

The short-term political contest between these models of instant gratification via simple benefits and long-term advantages through complex benefits is likely to heat up given that these two key and growing political forces have earned their stripes in different realms. To counter the AAP’s strategy, we may see the BJP double down on avenues like health insurance, unemployment benefits and school vouchers. These ploys will not, however, bolster capacities in these domains.

These trends give rise to at least three important questions. First, where does this change in the landscape leave young voters? Their participation in heartland states (vis-à-vis their turnout proportion in the last round) is decreasing. This signals hopelessness with the democratic process wherein the beneficiaries are more likely to be older voters. Second, where does this benefit-led strategy leave caste-based parties whose share of votes has been on a precipitous decline since the BJP’s rise to power? The need for the caste network to intervene has shrunk rapidly. The BJP’s efficient delivery of tangibles and the delivery of at least the promise of good and accessible education and healthcare by AAP, could unsettle the salience of caste politics even further. Third, where does this leave the long tail of parties — regional and national — without demonstrable success in benefits delivery? The Congress’ decline is particularly ironic since its rights-based framework for benefits has now been squeezed out by the command and control delivery apparatus of the BJP.

For all parties, there still exists a wide and important window of opportunity in the form of job creation, which requires imaginative lateral thinking — something none of the existing political players has demonstrated. Democratic contestation for young Indians will play out in that space and political agents who can find convincing narratives around employment can flourish. As the agrarian economy becomes less salient, and urbanism and urban aspirations spread, there has been no better time for renewed political entrepreneurship spurred by the objective of generating employment prospects. Not only is it a noble course of action, it is the surest shot at sustainable political supremacy.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘How JAM cut the caste vote’. The writer is founder, WalkIn. He previously co-founded, FourthLion Technologies, a political campaign planner

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Upendra Baxi writes: Further loss and widespread suffering must be prevented.

The famous Jewish theologian and eminent philosopher Emmanuel Levinas began his immortal book Totality and Infinity (1967) by describing war and hostilities as acts of ultimate moral “obscenity” of power, entailing the “suspension of the ethical”. He rightly said: “War is not only one of the ordeals — the greatest —of which morality lives; it renders morality derisory. The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means — politics — is henceforth enjoined as the very exercise of reason.”

However, one is not, as Levinas says in the very first sentence of the book, “duped by morality” when international law moves to the moral rearmament of the conduct of wars and hostilities. The ancient and modern doctrines of just war and the just means of pursuing these remain the cornerstones of the international regulation of armed conflict. Merely having a justification for armed conflict (for example, self-defence, individual or collective) is not enough. Even when such armed conflict is justified as self-defence, unjust means make it unlawful. The defence of the military necessity of hurting and harming civilian sites or persons is not permitted in war, although some unavoidable “damage” may be occasionally permitted, if so proved. However, non-combatant civilians have to always be respected, and wounded combatants and prisoners of war have healthcare rights. It is indubitable that, as we get to the 20th day of the Ukraine war, the Russian forces have violated the laws of armed conflict by massively shelling civilian sites — schools, hostels, and apartment buildings — in Ukraine.

Wars have several dimensions. Propaganda and media wars precede, and accompany, the real wars of devastation, damage, destruction and death. The shelling and tank fire have intensified the mass evacuations (the sight of children and senior citizens walking for miles will continue to haunt us). And the alleged genocide against Russians in the Donbas (between February 19 and February 20, 2022, by the so-called “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk) does not warrant the massive Russian invasion because, as Stanford law professor Allen S Weiner rightly says, “these entities do not have the right, under international law, to invite Russian military forces onto the territory of what, as an international law matter, remains the territory of Ukraine.”

And like all human actions, conflicts will have multiple intended and unintended consequences. Already nearly 2.7 million women, children and men have marched to Poland, Hungary, and Moldova and the EU estimates that the number of refugees could eventually be about 5 million. These residues of a colossal human tragedy will continue to accentuate our responsibilities to refugees, and experiences of world hunger will rise substantially.

The Russian forces will still occupy much of the newly-seized Ukrainian territory, especially in the country’s south along the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. They will continue to possess Crimea and claim the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. On the other hand, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will want to retake Ukrainian territory and restore the borders promised to it in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intentions to Ukraine and the world. A reversion to a form of the 19th century capitulation treaty (where state A was made to allow State B to exercise extraterritorial jurisdiction within state A’s boundaries) is no longer permitted by the law and jurisprudence of the UN Charter. Domestically, all Ukraine-related internal dissent in Russia is now legally banned. Despite ceasefires, humanitarian corridors and peace talks, Putin insists that the armed conflict will cease only when Ukraine undertakes to renounce all intentions of joining the EU or NATO. And the NATO alliance stands unequivocally threatened with nuclear action by the Kremlin in case of apprehension or breach of Russian security or strategic interests.

A slew of potent sanctions by Western states (as well as powerful multinational and global civil society groups) stands reinforced while the promised military armaments (especially the Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger missiles) enhance Ukraine’s determination to defend itself against the Russian invasion. More determined efforts such as the imposition of no-fly zones or even NATO boots on the ground could risk starting a major European, if not a world, war. One only hopes that a nuclear winter for the whole world will somehow be avoided.

Must the “open-door” NATO policy — or, put more forbiddingly, the “new security architecture for Europe” — remain beyond diplomacy? Is a chilling human future to be read into Putin’s lament about NATO’s eastward march being littered with the “broken promises” of peace? Mary Sarotte, a post-Cold War historian, has clarified in Not One Inch (2021), that the NATO expansion question did not arise so pugnaciously with the addition of “the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland; then seven more countries even farther east, including the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Albania and Croatia in 2009”. Why should Ukraine joining the EU or NATO, if it so wishes, be different, even granting that there exists between the two nations a “historical unity” constituted by a “single people, unified by language, culture and religion” (as Putin wrote in July 2021)? How does this justify war?

The precious beginnings of a quiet diplomacy are overrun by war propaganda. Recently, the Kremlin clarified that Putin had told the French president that his main goal was “the demilitarisation and neutral status of Ukraine.” Noam Chomsky rightly says that this statement would have been welcome “in a rational world” and would have been “headlined”. He says that “commentators would be calling on Washington to seize what may be an opportunity to end the invasion”. Instead, the media hawks helped create a situation that could end in “terminal war if Putin is not offered an escape hatch from the disaster he has created”.

A just end to the hostilities demands sane and swift creative diplomacy to avoid further social and moral loss and widespread suffering. India, given her close ties with Russia (which has notably helped in the repatriation of Indian students) and international prominence, stands uniquely poised to nudge both sides, through creative strokes of diplomacy, to an expeditious and equitable peace.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘A time for creative diplomacy’. The writer is professor of law Emeritus, University of Warwick, and former vice-chancellor of Universities of South Gujarat and Delhi

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Sudha Pai writes: UP results show the victory of Hindutva and the weakening of the radical promise of social justice parties.

While there has been much analysis of the BJP’s massive victory in UP, where it won 255 seats and 41.3 per cent votes, the improved performance of the Samajwadi Party has attracted less attention. The SP won 111 seats and 32 per cent of the vote, compared to 47 seats and 21.8 per cent vote in the 2017 assembly elections. In 2012, when it formed the government, it had 29 per cent votes. If the Congress and BSP had performed better, the gap between the BJP and SP would have been narrower than in a starkly bi-polar situation. In the end, the SP under Akhilesh Yadav failed to unseat the Yogi Adityanath government despite poor governance, a declining economy and anger on the ground against the BJP.

During the campaign, sensing an opportunity, Akhilesh Yadav aggressively highlighted the governance failures of the Adityanath government and formulated strategies that helped improve the SP’s tally. Taking advantage of the farmers’ protest, which helped shift the electoral discourse from purely communal rhetoric to economic issues, Akhilesh formed the SP-RLD alliance to mount a strong campaign in western UP, making it a major theatre of the battle. It was believed that Jats, Yadavs and Muslims would vote for the alliance, following reports of improved Jat-Muslim relationships, which had broken down following the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots.

With the existential crisis facing the BSP, and a perceived unravelling of the subaltern social coalition of the lower backwards — as some leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya moved to the SP — Akhilesh made efforts to shed the image of a Muslim-Yadav party by creating an anti-BJP front of smaller OBC and Dalit parties: The Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal in western UP, Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party in eastern UP, Keshav Dev Maurya’s Mahan Dal in central UP, the Apna Dal (K) in eastern UP, and Sanjay Chauhan’s Janwadi Party (Socialist). He also formed the Baba Saheb Vahini to attract Dalit votes. By positioning himself as the leader of the pichhade or backward, he shifted the election discourse to a battle between Hindutva and social justice.

These strategies dented the western UP citadel of the BJP. SP-RLD candidates defeated BJP leaders such as Suresh Rana, Sangeet Som and Umesh Malik, who had been active in the Muzaffarnagar riots. The RLD won Shamli and three Jat-dominated seats in Muzaffarnagar district — Purqazi (SC), Budhana and Meerapur. The SP-RLD alliance benefited from Muslim support; 36 Muslim candidates were victorious, up from 24 in 2017. The farmers’ movement was primarily concentrated in four Jat-dominated districts — Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpat and Meerut. Of the 19 seats in these districts, the BJP won six, all largely urban ones; in Baghpat, the BJP beat the RLD by a narrow margin.

CSDS data points to sharp competition between the BJP and the SP for the votes of the politically ambitious and upwardly mobile Kurmi, Koeri, Maurya, Kushwaha, Saini and other OBCs, with other parties receiving hardly any. From the Kewat, Kashyap, Mallah and Nishad communities, the SP received a higher percentage of votes than the BJP. A similar competition for Dalit votes is visible, with the BJP and SP receiving a higher percentage of votes from not only the smaller Dalit groups, but also the Jatavs.

No matter which party won, there was a challenge to Hindutva by the forces of Mandal. However, both historical and immediate weaknesses did not allow the SP to defeat the BJP. In the early 1990s, both Mandal and the Ram Mandir projects were initiated and though the BJP gained a majority in 1991, it lost in 1993 to the SP-BSP combine. But by that time, the Rath Yatra had taken place and the base of the Hindu project was laid, particularly among the OBCs. The destruction of the Babri Masjid led to a decline of the BJP in UP. But the SP under Mulayam Singh failed to mobilise the backwards, as it favoured family concerns and the Yadavs and ignored the lower OBCs, leading to it being viewed as a Yadav-Muslim party. Akhilesh succeeded to some extent in 2012 in widening the party base by gaining support across castes. But under Modi’s leadership, using a heightened communal agenda combined with generous welfarism, the Hindutva forces succeeded in gaining support of large sections of the OBCs and Dalits. In fact, by 2022 there was little need for communal rhetoric. The election was fought on a Hindutva template constructed in 2014; there is much greater acceptance today of the BJP’s cultural agenda among the OBCs and Dalits.

Despite these tremendous challenges, the SP began its electoral campaign for 2022 only in October 2021, which was too late to take advantage of the palpable anger on the ground and the unhappiness among the OBCs and Dalits. SP leaders were not visible during the Covid-19 pandemic, nor were they active in the farmers’ movement. Also, efforts to mobilise farmers outside of western UP were made much too late, only after the  Lakhimpur Kheri incident on October 3, 2021.

The triumph of Hindutva over the forces of Mandal points to the BJP moving towards achieving its ambition of creating a Hindu nation, while the radical promise of the social justice parties, due to the failures of their leaders, seems to be gradually weakening. Defeating the BJP in the next electoral contest appears to be a herculean task for the opposition in UP.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘UP and down’. The writer is former professor, Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi

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Heena Gavit writes: From social ostracisation and lack of family support to the negative impact on marital prospects, women absorb the repercussions of tuberculosis beyond the clinical metrics.

As India steadily steers its way through the pandemic to safer shores, we must foreground a disease which has been impacting our country for years, and disproportionately affecting women –  tuberculosis.

Approximately 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020. In India, the TB case fatality ratio increased from 17 per cent in 2019 to 20 per cent in 2020. According to a joint report (2010-13) of the Registrar General of India and the Centre for Global Health Research, TB was the fifth-leading cause of death among women in the country, accounting for nearly 5 per cent of fatalities in women aged 30–69. While both men and women suffer the consequences of this debilitating disease, women patients pay a much steeper socio-economic price. From social ostracisation and lack of family support to the negative impact on marital prospects, women absorb the repercussions of TB beyond the clinical metrics. Stigma also acts as a strong deterrent when it comes to health-seeking behaviour. Fewer women, therefore, get included in the available cascade of care for TB.

There needs to be a multi-pronged approach to removing these barriers and bring equitable access to TB care. The government must be commended for being prescient: In 2019, the Health Ministry-Central TB Division developed a national framework for a gender-responsive approach to TB in India. The document takes cognisance of the challenges faced by women in accessing treatment and offers actionable solutions. Conversations on this issue need to be further elevated at a national level. In December 2021, a parliamentary conference on ‘Women Winning Against TB’ was organised by the Ministry of Women and Child Development where gender-responsive policy interventions were discussed. The Vice-President of India urged states to take proactive steps such as ensuring nutritional support to women and children and the doorstep delivery of TB services, especially for women from socio-economically weaker backgrounds.

While policy mechanisms and political will exist, it’s a question of further refining our implementation strategies on the ground, as a collective. To this end, there are a few considerations. One, as elected representatives, we need to come together more to highlight the issue at all relevant forums and spaces. I, along with many of my respected colleagues, carry out reviews of the TB programme in our respective districts and communities. I hope these meetings see increased participation of women leaders from all walks of life in the community going forward.

Two, we need to strengthen counselling networks for women patients and their families. Irrespective of where the patient seeks care – public or private sector – build the capacity of healthcare workers to educate the patient’s family about the importance of providing her a supportive environment during the course of her treatment. Three, ensure that the nutritional needs of women are being met. Deep-seated patriarchal notions warp the place of a woman in the family: Women are often the last ones to eat, preferring to feed elders, husbands, and children first. Undernutrition is a serious risk factor for TB and research indicates such risks are higher for women. It is commendable that the government, through Nikshay Poshan Yojana, has effectively provided a monthly benefit of Rs 500 to enable a nutritious diet for TB patients in the last few years. For the 2020 cohort, the total amount paid under NPY via DBT has been over  Rs 200 crore. Additionally, we can look to further strengthen inter-departmental coordination, wherein the Public Distribution System can explore appropriate linkages with relevant departments of the MoHFW and even include a protein-rich diet for TB patients. This will ensure that patients, especially women, have access to a balanced diet.

Four, at a community level, we must amplify accurate TB messaging and showcase how gender plays a role in determining the course of action on the ground.

The world celebrates Women’s Day in March and spotlights women’s issues in society. However, it is time to revisit notions of what constitutes a “women’s issue” and confront such gender constructs. Especially in the context of public health, challenges faced by women aren’t challenges that only women have the obligation to resolve. These are universal problems that must transcend gender binaries. Only when equitable solutions are offered to vulnerable sections of society will we be able to realise the dream of TB-Mukt Bharat.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 17, 2022 under the title ‘The toll on women’. The writer is BJP national spokesperson, MP from Nandurbar, Maharashtra and member, Global Coalition Against TB

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With the dissident G-23 group of Congress leaders calling for “collective and inclusive leadership and decision making” at their meeting on Wednesday, the attempts of the Congress high command and Gandhi family loyalists to shield the family from responsibility for poll debacles is facing a determined pushback. Though Sonia Gandhi has reportedly reached out to Ghulam Nabi Azad, a detente had appeared unlikely after Kapil Sibal’s remarks suggesting that the family step aside. But by calling for collective leadership the dissidents appear to be worried that a maximalist position could end up isolating them.

Interestingly, the G-23 meeting saw some new faces like Shashi Tharoor, Mani Shankar Iyer, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, Shankarsinh Vaghela and Preneet Kaur in attendance. The presence of the high-profile Tharoor who has an audience among middle-class Congress supporters and Iyer, who has been close to the family for decades, could be a signal that the G-23’s views are getting more traction. That there were five former chief ministers at the meeting was also not lost on political watchers.

Sonia’s moves like demanding the resignation of the PCC presidents who helmed the party in the five states has also triggered questions of why the accountability doesn’t stretch to Rahul or Priyanka Gandhi who were responsible for a number of controversial decisions that ended up hurting the party. Going by Congress’s history till the 1990s leading to Sonia Gandhi’s takeover of the party, dissidence targeting the central leadership has culminated in acrimonious splits or ousting of incumbent presidents. The next moves of the Congress leadership and the G-23 will reveal how this new chapter in Congress’s internal intrigues end.

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Reports that India is close to clinching a deal with Russia for buying 3.5 million barrels of its crude at deep discounts appear to have divided opinions in the West. But crucially, the US has indicated that should India go ahead with the purchase, it may not violate American sanctions already in place against Russia. After all, despite the war in Ukraine, European nations are continuing to buy energy from Russia.

The European dependence on Russian energy is also why the US did not go for a complete ban on Russian oil exports and chose instead to just bar Russian energy imports into the US. In fact, the EU recently discussed new sanctions against Russian oil majors Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft but clarified that it will continue to buy oil from them. Hence, nobody has moral grounds to question India in case it goes ahead with the Russian oil deal. Besides, 3.5 million barrels don’t constitute a big volume for India given its daily consumption of 4.5 million barrels. In any case, Russian oil only accounts for 2% of total Indian imports. Therefore, the transaction is more symbolic in nature and will serve as a test case for New Delhi-Moscow trade in the new environment.

Of particular interest is the payment mechanism for the transaction with a rupee-rouble arrangement reportedly under consideration. Since most of the Russian banking system is under sanction, payment would also have to be routed through Indian banks that don’t have any business in Western nations. Actually, sanctions on Russia have once again provided impetus to calls for reviewing the dollar as a reserve currency and the primary currency of global trade. According to reports, Saudi Arabia is already in active talks with China to price some of its oil sales to the latter in yuan. True, Riyadh’s motives here are driven by its irritation with Washington over progress in talks to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Riyadh recently rebuffed Washington’s attempts to persuade it to produce more oil in the wake of the American ban on Russian imports.

Thus, the current state of geopolitical play should compel India to look at internationalising the rupee to firewall future strategic trade from Western sanctions. Both Trump – with Iran sanctions – and Biden administrations have now forced India to rejig its trading patterns. And while Russia has not made things easy with its unjustifiable Ukraine invasion, India shouldn’t be compromising its strategic autonomy in trade. The latter isn’t a matter of how India should view the Ukraine war. It is a geoeconomic strategy commensurate with India’s position in the global order today.

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Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s outburst against assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha is a dramatic demonstration of increasing problems in the BJP-JD(U) coalition. The proximate cause – complaints about policing in the speaker’s constituency – of Nitish’s ire against Sinha is less important than the root causes. Nitish’s frustration at being the junior partner in the governing alliance is not a secret, and neither is bigger partner BJP’s problems about what it sees as the CM’s stranglehold over the police and bureaucracy. Bihar is the one heartland state BJP hasn’t won on its own as yet. And given the party’s fierce ambitions, it stands to reason that a solo Bihar victory is somewhere in BJP’s to-do list. Nitish, on the other hand, as a canny politician may know his future will be about maintaining political relevance. Of course, neither partner can afford a divorce right now.

For Nitish, with just 45 legislators against BJP’s 74 and RJD’s 75, the RJD-Congress-Left alliance, which is only marginally behind NDA in numbers, is hardly a better choice than BJP. More so since BJP governs at the Centre and is better positioned to bring more projects and funds into the state. BJP is grooming caste leaders and wooing women in Bihar. But it will remember that breaking the JD(U)-RJD mahagathbandhan in 2017 paid rich rewards for it in 2019, with NDA bagging 39 of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. JD(U)’s EBC-Mahadalit axis against Yadav-dominated RJD and Paswan-dominated LJP is a valuable addition to BJP’s base.

With 2024 in sight, BJP’s central leadership may want to keep Nitish in good humour, despite grievances of local leaders miffed over not being consulted even on key policy issues like reviewing the liquor ban. Given the iron hand of BJP’s central leadership, the party’s Bihar unit can grumble but, unlike in Congress, will not be allowed to spoil a larger game plan.

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has kept its policy accommodative to nurse growth. But it will eventually have to align with the direction global capital is moving. That could be sooner than necessary for a nation so dependent on imported energy.

On Wednesday, the US Federal Reserve embarked on a well-communicated interest-rate tightening cycle that could turn out to be more aggressive than markets expected. Fed Chair Jerome Powell's commentary eliminated the prospects of a recession in the world's largest economy, where price stability is now the policy imperative. A multi-year series of hikes in the federal funds rate could see the US benchmark rise by around 3 percentage points, representing a fairly steep trajectory to tame the highest inflation the country has witnessed since the 1980s. In addition, the Fed signalled an end to its treasury bond purchase programme on account of the pandemic, which has swollen its balance sheet to $8.9 trillion. The Fed is putting the finishing touches to a drawdown schedule.

The markets have taken the Fed action in their stride, considering the dialling down of cheap credit has been orderly. Turbulence has more to do with the European conflict than with central bankers in advanced economies changing their policy stance. Wall Street indices and US treasury yields rose and dollar and safe-haven gold fell. Markets reacted in step. Oil prices, the wild card in commodities, cooled on hopes of conflict resolution and rise in US inventories. The financial markets are setting themselves on a structured course correction as capital flows reverse.

This is vital for emerging economies like India, which were whipsawed by a financial market rout the last time central banks reversed monetary policy in the aftermath of the global financial market meltdown. Foreign portfolio investors had begun pulling out money from Indian bourses well in advance of the scheduled Fed interest rate hike. So far, the Indian markets have held up, although the capital flight is on a much larger scale than a decade ago. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has kept its policy accommodative to nurse growth. But it will eventually have to align with the direction global capital is moving. That could be sooner than necessary for a nation so dependent on imported energy.


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Given the exceptional circumstances, GoI could consider asking institutions to charge these students no more than the fee charged by the Ukrainian institution.

India's Ukraine-returned medical students have moved the Supreme Court asking that they be allowed to complete their education in this country. It's a legitimate request. But to avoid a potential legal quagmire, the National Medical Commission (NMC) should devise a solution that minimises disruptions and is fair to the needs of all medical students.

The students are in two categories - final/internship year students and those in years 1-4. NMC has permitted final-year students to complete their internship in India after passing the Foreign Medical Graduates Examination (FMGE), which all foreign graduates are required to take to practise here. NMC can require internships be completed in rural district medical centres or hospitals. The second group is the one that poses a challenge. These students could be required to take an exam to determine their level of competence. This score, together with their National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) result, can help determine at which level the returning student should seek admission. Since 2016, all Indian students applying to study medicine abroad are required to take NEET. Given that the FMGE pass rate for Ukraine-educated medical graduates is about 20%, an equivalence or competence test is a must. To minimise disruption, they should be treated as foreign students.

Given the exceptional circumstances, GoI could consider asking institutions to charge these students no more than the fee charged by the Ukrainian institution. NMC could create an exception to the rule disallowing transfers. This could help Indian students to seek admission in other countries. NMC must think creatively and quickly to ensure a fair and just response that does not put too much pressure on the existing system.


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When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in 2020 and we all witnessed the humanitarian crisis that affected millions of our fellow citizens, I felt that we had failed as leaders. Could we take pride in being successful business leaders if we could not create value for those who add value to our businesses all along the supply chain? Could we even call ourselves leaders if we had allowed so many Indians to live on the brink?

According to a working paper by the International Labour Organization, India is home to more than 200 million non-agrarian informal workers such as temporary workers in the construction and manufacturing sector, security guards and household help who don’t have formal contracts of employment and workers who engage with industry as fixed-term, contractual or supply chain workers. They lack basic social security and have negligible legal protection.

Driven by the desire to never feel helpless again, immediately after the first lockdown, in May 2020, business leaders, including Forbes Marshall, Godrej Properties, Pradeep Bhargava (of Cummins India) and Thermax joined forces with non-governmental organisations such as the Aajeevika Bureau, the Centre for Social Justice, and Dasra to form a multi-stakeholder platform called social compact (SoCo) to ensure greater dignity and equity for informal workers, not through corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds, but through daily business practices in order to mainstream the idea that a responsible business is a successful one.

We chose the word “compact” and not “contract” because it implies collective will and support. The vulnerabilities of informal workers were addressed through six corrective outcomes that ensured access to living wages, adequate health care, adequate safety measures specific to the type of work, government entitlements such as e-SHRAM, Aadhaar, PAN, ration, local domicile proof, growth opportunities through upskilling as well as gender equity. The idea is to help companies progress on a reflection and a remedial action journey by helping them examine their practices for temporary, contractual and supply chain workers, and integrate recommendations into their businesses

At Thermax, as we went through the SoCo reflection journey, we realised that we are often unaware of the working conditions of our informal workers. In one case, it was noticed that women workers at the factories and sites do not have toilets available. While it was distressing to learn about this, it also gave us the opportunity to rectify it.

As more companies join SoCo, the initiative is moving towards forging industry-wide partnerships with bodies such as the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), to achieve a nationwide impact and mainstream the Compact’s aspiration that a responsible business is a successful one.

Most industries operate from a mindset that they need to bring down costs and become compliant with regulatory considerations. This is necessary, but not sufficient. Two years after the pandemic, industry leaders must think of building sustainable businesses and business chains rather than focus on rebuilding business ecosystems that are volatile and can implode in case of adversity or uncertainty, just like they did during the pandemic.

Let us remember the realisation that Covid-19 brought about the interdependence of businesses with their workers and supply chains. Those who looked after the most vulnerable workers in their system were able to restart work when the lockdown lifted, while the rest struggled and even had to pay higher wages to bring their workers back.

This synergy between a profitable business and the well-being of all workers is not altruism but a central component of the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) paradigm, which encourages businesses to make profits in a sustainable manner while also upholding their duty towards the environment, social inclusion and governance.

This has gained even greater traction post-pandemic, as the global opinion and even national platforms like SEBI’s Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting, increasingly emphasise greater business accountability towards practices in one’s own sites as well as in one’s contractual and supply chain ecosystems.

As business leaders, we have the responsibility to build a society that is more equitable and humane, and creates a sustainable future for all. I also know that business leaders might find this worrisome: They have invested so much to build the reputation of their companies and what if the SoCo journey unearths something that might tarnish that reputation? Then, there’s the question of cost: What if taking corrective action results in a company falling behind its competition?

To this, I can only say, it is time to rise above fear and embrace the intent of finding a synergy between profit and the workers’ well-being. This is an opportunity to reimagine a future of business in India that is not myopic, but where profits and growth on the top of the business chain are not enhanced by compromising the basic rights and well-being of workers informally engaged all along these chains.

Anu Aga is former chairperson of Thermax whose philanthropic arm supports several causes pertaining to education and labour. She was an early funder of Dasra’s initiative on Informal Workers 

The views expressed are personal

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India’s national security challenges came into sharp, albeit disconcerting, focus in early March due to a series of unrelated developments that included the war in Ukraine and a missile fiasco related to Pakistan. The latter incident could have had serious consequences, but luckily, this did not happen. A brief review of the chronology of the events points to disturbing institutional lapses in the higher management of defence — lapses that merit preliminary scrutiny and objective deliberation in the months ahead, when more factual information is available in the public domain.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine entered its second week on March 10 and in this period, the reference to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by Moscow, ostensibly to warn the United States (US) and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies was a significant politico-military punctuation and has very corrosive implications for global strategic stability. Has the nuclear threshold been lowered 76 years after Hiroshima-Nagasaki and is it now kosher to invoke this capability in dealing with perceived threats to national sovereignty? The aspersions and allegations made by both the US and Russia about furtive chemical and biological weapon labs in Ukraine have only further muddied the nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) weapons spectrum that is still seeking answers to the Covid pandemic.

The Cold War experience of ensuring WMD stability after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis demonstrated the imperative for nuclear weapon capable adversaries to maintain a degree of trust in each other’s professionalism and institutional integrity, in relation to respecting the sanctity of agreements and protocols. This trust, alas, received a rude jolt in relation to the subcontinent on March 9, when an Indian missile malfunctioned and landed in Pakistan. For reasons that can only be speculated upon at this stage, India did not acknowledge this lapse when it occurred and the fact that March 10 was the day when major state election results were to be announced is pertinent.

Predictably, the next day, on March 11, Pakistan held a public briefing and protested at what it described as violation of its airspace by “irresponsible incidents” and added that this reflected India’s “disregard for air safety and callousness towards regional peace and stability”. Unsubstantiated media reports claimed that Pakistan was preparing to launch a similar missile to strike India in retaliation — but held back since the final assessment was that something was “amiss” about this Indian missile and its malfunction. What could have rapidly escalated into an India-Pakistan missile exchange in the run-up to the March 10 state election results in India was averted due to the restraint and prudence of Pakistan’s military.

In what can be described as a belated response, India put out a terse press release on the evening of March 11, stating that on March 9, “in the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile. The Government of India has taken a serious view and ordered a high-level Court of Enquiry. It is learnt that the missile landed in an area of Pakistan. While the incident is deeply regrettable, it is also a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident.”

On Sunday, March 13, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and some features that reflect the current texture of higher defence management warrant mention. The missile fiasco and its potentially grave consequences did not receive any explicit reference and the mishap was couched in a bland statement that the PM “was briefed on latest developments and different aspects of India’s security preparedness in the border areas as well as in the maritime and air domain.”

The CCS meeting was attended by the Cabinet ministers concerned and the National Security Adviser, as also the defence and foreign secretaries but since the government is yet to appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), national security challenges and inadequacies of a kinetic nature were deliberated on at the highest level without a military representative. It is understood that the PM met with the three service chiefs later that day, but there is no detail in the public domain, thereby suggesting that “all is well”.

While the court of inquiry will hopefully identify the reasons for this technical malfunction and accountability will be fixed, heads must roll. The delay in acknowledging the accidental launch of a missile and in not informing Pakistan through established channels of communication is inexplicable and merits a rigorous review (Was the hotline between the directors general of military operations used?). Given that India prides itself on a robust and responsible command-and-control infrastructure in relation to its WMD capability, the question is —did the absence of a CDS lead to this fiasco? When was the PM informed about this accident and who in the command ladder decided that the matter should be kept under wraps? Strategic communication and restrained signalling of political intent is integral to WMD stability among uneasy or adversarial interlocutors and India’s relations with both Pakistan and China are currently strained — to put it mildly.

While India and Pakistan demonstrated their ability to restrain their hyperactive audio-visual media from going ballistic over a cruise missile malfunction — regional WMD stability needs a restoration of trust and nurturing this with sincerity. Revisiting the 1999 Lahore Declaration — an agreement that pledged to reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons — may be a useful starting point after carrying out a rigorous internal review of India’s higher defence management and plugging the gaps.

Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar is director, Society for Policy Studies 

The views expressed are personal

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The law for child rights in India has evolved to strengthen and ensure the safety and well-being of children. For example, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act (JJA), 2015, was enacted to remove the ambiguities in its predecessor (2000) and introduce reformative, welfare-oriented and more stringent safeguards for children. After its implementation, JJA created facilities, structures, and systems that addressed children’s needs in the protection system.

The amendments to JJA, which were passed in 2021, have brought more clarity in the laws for the protection of child rights. The amendments reflect due consideration given by the government to issues that impact society and its correlation with some of the core provisions amended under JJA, which would otherwise have created unnecessary issues within the families, schools, and among custodians. The other reason behind these amendments is the growing evidence of cases involving couples in marital dispute, dragging their children into these fights, invoking provisions against a spouse for vindictive reasons, fraudulent First Information Reports (FIRs) against teachers, custodians of incapacitated parents, and overlapping or doubling of provisions with other laws.

Over the course of time, the juvenile justice system is becoming more integrated and dynamic, with various other laws playing their part to crack down on criminal offences committed against children. Redefining the role of district magistrates (DMs) in JJA implementation could lead to the participation of officers at the district-level in implementing the Act. Further, more responsibility to the district administration will make the process of review and accountability of the protection easier and more efficient.

While JJA is a special enactment for the care and protection of children, this Act’s provisions cannot be seen in isolation. The Act’s provisions have to be read with other relevant provisions of criminal law and the child protection system.

For instance, where Section 81 of JJA provides for rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years for selling or buying any child, Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code states that in the case of trafficking of a minor, the punishment shall be rigorous imprisonment of not less than 10 years.

There are critics who interpret the provisions of the amendments in silos, instead of seeing the juvenile justice system as an integral part of a larger canvas of the criminal justice system and other special laws related to children. They fail to understand the grounds for such amendments. Embedding child protection legislation in the criminal justice system is a sensitive area that needs effective interpretation on the ground. Sweeping remarks on such sensitive issues are detrimental to the welfare and protection of children.

The amendments in JJA have brought more clarity and a better understanding of the classification of offences while dealing with crimes against children. That is to say, offences where the punishment is imprisonment for more than seven years are cognisable and non-bailable, offences where the punishment is imprisonment for between three and seven years are non-cognisable and non-bailable and petty offences, where the punishment is imprisonment for less than three years or only a fine, are non-cognisable and available.

All such offences under this Act, after the 2021 amendment, have to be tried by a children’s court. This amendment, when understood correctly, makes it clear that while an offence may be non-cognisable, the person committing the crime will not get bail easily as the offence is non-bailable. The creation of a special jurisdiction for trial offences under the Act by a children’s court simplifies the ambiguities regarding trial of offences and provides for trial by a special court of law meant for crimes committed against children.

Swarupama Chaturvedi is advocate-on-record, Supreme Court of India, and formerly assistant professor, NLSIU, Bangalore 

The views expressed are personal

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Twenty-five years ago, Anuj Kumar and his wife, Sarita, came to Delhi to work as daily wage labourers at a construction site. They planned to work for a few months in the city and then move back to their village in Bihar. But they stayed on because the contractor gave them regular work. They earned 25,000 per month. But in the last couple of years, their income has dropped to x` 12,000 per month. The reason: The climate crisis.

“We knew that working at a construction site meant braving extreme weather conditions. But over the years, it has become unbearable to work during the day. We do not understand the science, but we are experiencing changing weather conditions. It is tremendously hot these days and the humidity from May onwards makes it impossible for us to work outdoors,” said Kumar. “Our productivity has declined and we fall sick more often now. Sarita has suffered two major attacks of heatstroke and we have lost count of dehydration episodes”.

Anuj and Sarita’s case is not an isolated one. A New Delhi-based contractor, Ramraj Mishra, told Climate Trends, a communications strategy initiative, that the productivity of labourers is declining due to increasing heat stress, and the construction window in the city is already shrinking.

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s AR6 Working Group 2 report on Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability warns that populations in developing countries (for example, Mexico City, New Delhi, and Jakarta) may be especially vulnerable because they lack the resources to adapt to heatwaves. According to a report cited by IPCC, all Indian states will have regions that experience wet-bulb temperatures up to 30°C or more. A wet-bulb temperature, which combines heat and humidity, of 31°C, is hazardous for humans.

High temperatures would also hurt economic growth. Last year, writing in Hindustan Times, Anant Sudarshan, South Asia director, Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, said that their research has found that high temperatures consistently hurt economic output by reducing the productivity of human labour. During hot spells, people were less productive at work and more likely to be absent. “At an individual level, this is not surprising but aggregated together, we found that factories produced about two per cent less revenue for every degree rise in annual temperature. It is probably not a coincidence that previous scientific work over the last decade has found that countries consistently show lower Gross Domestic Product output and growth in hot years. Unproductive labour may be a big part of the explanation,” he added.

Adaptation: Little progress

Adaptation plays a crucial role in reducing exposure and vulnerability to the climate crisis. The lack of adaptation measures hinders the immediate socio-economic goals of a nation and its efforts to meet the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

Unfortunately, as the IPCC report says, adaptation gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks (high confidence). Most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, designed to respond to current or near-term risks, and focused more on planning rather than implementation (high confidence). In addition, adaptation is unequally distributed across regions (high confidence), and gaps are partially driven by widening disparities between the estimated costs of adaptation and documented finance allocated to adaptation (high confidence).

The report adds that adaptation costs would go up to 300 billion per year within the decades, only to multiply further in the coming decades. But, unfortunately, a mere fraction of climate finance is spent on adaptation: 92% of global finance is used for mitigation and 8% for adaptation.

Bridging the funding gap

At a recent media roundtable, Professor Purnamita Dasgupta, Chair, Environmental Economics and Head, Environmental and Resource Economics Unit, Institute of Economic Growth, spoke on the finance conundrum.

“There are two ongoing parallel narratives. First, adaptation finance was pitched as a global dialogue earlier, acknowledging that $100 billion as climate finance is insufficient, especially to cover adaptation costs for developing countries. If the negotiations at recent COPs are indicators to go by, there is a shift in this narrative. Now the responsibility for raising adaptation finance is being imposed on developing countries,” she said.

Second, Dr Dasgupta added, that there is a need for a secondary narrative on internal finance with this shift. “We need our financial institutions, both public and private, to leverage their portfolios to bring returns from these investments and play a crucial role in this change. COP26 was a major disappointment to the scientific and climate community in terms of adaptation finance. This ever-widening gap for adaptation funding requires external finance, which in turn will help strengthen our internal frameworks. The trust deficit on this issue between the North and South needs to be bridged. Multilateral and bilateral financial institutions can play a unique role as catalysts for this change”.

To address the gap in capacities on climate finance, there is a need for a sound strategy and operationalising and execution of the plan. How can capacity be improved across multilateral, bilateral and domestic financial institutions? For example, she added, private institutions launching adaptation programmes will be packed with resources, but stakeholders who will be impacted by this need to be engaged.

While talking about solutions, Dr Dasgupta explained, there is a need to address critical questions: What’s in it for the business model; what kind of regulatory environment — compliance frameworks, and incentive structures — made available to support industry and sectors.

Localising climate science

Along with finance, there is a solid need to localise climate science and involve the communities. For example, while planning at the village panchayat level, how do you incorporate historical data, models, projections, vulnerabilities of the communities into planning, and do it systematically?

“To channelise climate information, develop simple structures of making climate information available to local communities that can guide the planning process. However, this needs to be systematised within the government process,” said Ashish Chaturvedi, head, environment, energy & resilience, UNDP.

There is a need to simplify vulnerability assessments that policymakers, as well as communities, can understand.

“Science has to be localised and simplified. You will have to find pathways to incorporate climate information at different levels of governance and planning. In the absence of this, development plans will overturn and lead to maladaptation,” added Chaturvedi.

The views expressed are personal

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Every few years, Pakistan’s politics is roiled by a crisis that has its roots in the longstanding civil-military imbalance. Ever since he assumed office in August 2018, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has battled accusations from the Opposition of being a “selected” premier, a leader foisted on the country by the powerful military establishment as part of its efforts to control politics without direct involvement in the field. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s electoral victory was preceded by numerous reports of politicians being pressured to join it or support it. In this unusual arrangement, which catapulted Mr Khan to the country’s top post, lies the genesis of the current political crisis that has had Islamabad on edge for the past few weeks, as people wait with bated breath to learn whether the premier will survive a no-confidence motion moved by the combined Opposition. The buzz in Pakistan’s political circles is that Mr Khan is on his way out as the combined Opposition has the required numbers to unseat him when the vote of confidence is held on March 28, thanks to a large number of dissidents within the premier’s own party.

There is considerable anger within the ranks of the PTI and its allies for the shabby treatment meted out by Mr Khan and his inner circle to several leaders, and concern over the State’s shoddy performance in matters of governance. These factors have been exacerbated by Pakistan’s considerable strategic and economic problems, ranging from an economy in meltdown to the situation in Afghanistan. The military has apparently indicated that it will stay out of the mess, and short of some sort of miracle or tumultuous rearrangements, Pakistan may well have a new prime minister at the end of this month.

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The world appears to be facing another Covid-19 resurgence. The number of new infections has shot up in parts of Asia, Oceania, and several regions of Europe. Some regions, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, are reporting unprecedented fatality figures. Infection records too have been broken in some of these regions, although that has generally been the case where the Omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 takes hold.

There are three factors that could explain the surge. First, some of the regions where case numbers are tracking near vertical trajectories are those that are only now seeing an outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Among these are New Zealand and Australia, which had hitherto been more successful than others in keeping the virus out of their borders. But the newest variant of concern has demonstrated the ability to blow past the best of defences. Second, waning or suboptimal immunity: Several of the regions fared better than others in controlling past waves of infections. But that has meant much of the population immunity in these regions has been conferred only by vaccines. Dozens of robust studies have shown that the best immunity is among people who have recovered from Covid-19 and also been vaccinated. This explains why some regions with a zero-Covid policy, such as China, where the focus was on hard lockdowns to stamp out past outbreaks, are now recording surges in deaths as well as cases. Similarly, some European countries with early mass vaccinations avoided outbreaks in certain population groups (like the elderly) among whom waning immunity is now a growing concern. In such people, boosters, studies show, may be good for robust infection protection only for four months. Third, changing behaviour: Countries like the United Kingdom have dropped all restrictions (including mask mandates), which has led to a natural uptick in cases.

There is, however, an unknown that scientists are still tracking: Evolution. Recombination viruses of Omicron’s BA.1 and BA.2 lineages are under the scanner, as are versions that appear to be a mix of Delta and Omicron. These are, to be sure, a natural outcome of evolutionary trajectories. Nonetheless, tracking these will be crucial. Even minor genomic switches could confer on the virus the ability to spread faster, be more resistant or lead to worse sickness (or demonstrate a combination of any of these characteristics). It will now be crucial to keep an eye on these signals, globally as well as in India.

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Its economy in shambles, Sri Lanka is in dire straits. The island nation, largely dependent on tourism dollars, has suffered more than most from the two-year slowdown caused by the pandemic. Food and essentials are scarce on supermarket shelves, fuel is getting prohibitively expensive after unprecedented recent price hikes caused by the balance of payments problem leaving the country little wiggle room for importing all its requirements and even medicine is in short supply.

With demonstrators out on the streets of Colombo beginning to demand the resignation of President Gotobaya Rajapaksa for alleged mismanagement of the economy, which is facing a meltdown, the country has had to go back on its resolve not to go to the IMF for bridge loans for fear of being dictated to on its economic management.  With the Cabinet deciding to cross the Lakshman Rekha, the country is negotiating with the IMF now.

There is no threat to the government of the Rajapaksa brothers who came back with a thumping majority. But it is time that they buried once for all their ambivalent attitude to India brought about by an over reliance on China as an economic and infrastructure benefactor. In fact, it would make sense for India to offer to bail the island out from its current troubles with fuel, medicines, vaccines, etc. Surely a large bridge loan greater than the adjustments offered recently should be possible.

It would be in India’s geostrategic interests to get Sri Lanka on its side by lending a generous helping hand in this time of acute crisis. There have been pinpricks with regard to operating container terminals for the Colombo Port and other Indian public and private sector projects, including in healthcare and hospital sectors. The time to negotiate past them has come, towards which India may have to convince Sri Lanka that it is not for any blanket ban on Chinese investments.

In the light of the Hambantotta port experience in which there may have been a virtual surrender of sovereignty, Sri Lanka must be well aware of the hazards of accepting Chinese help. India’s aid is far more likely to come without throttling strings attached. Sri Lanka must also clear any residual doubts about its consent to projects in its northeast to China that may affect strategic interests in free flow of maritime traffic and possible eavesdropping from posts close to the Indian mainland.

The view from the capital New Delhi may be different to that of Chennai when it comes to handling the problem of Tamil Nadu fishermen frequently straying into Sri Lankan waters because the catch is better there. It should be possible for India to seek a humanitarian response on the part of the Sri Lankan navy and the setting up of a mechanism by which fishermen and their boats are returned. It may take diplomacy of greater transparency to halt the drift of years but the time is ripe for resetting of India-Sri Lanka ties. India would do well to remember the maxim that a friend in need is a friend indeed.

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India has made several interesting and pioneering moves to make a headway in the globally underway electric vehicle revolution, whose benefits are too obvious to bear a repetition.

With ten cars, 16 scooters, eight motorcycles, seven passenger auto-rickshaws, seven cargo three-wheelers, five mini-trucks, a heavy duty truck and a tractor, and three bus models available for customers, and several more lined up ahead for launch, the market is buzzing.

Towards the end of last year, India had over 7,96,000 electric vehicles registered across all segments, while the total number of EVs on Indian roads is a humongous 30 crore plus. With EVs presently constituting less than 0.3 per cent of the total vehicle pool in use on Indian roads, the scope for growth is huge.

EVs should be seen not only as an earth-friendly choice, but it is also beneficial to both environment and nation; besides having the potential to be a crucial sub-engine for economic growth, creating a large number of jobs as well as a right focal point for innovation.

However, the market is currently conditioned by the price of the vehicle, which matters despite the long term ownership cost being very low, and despite rising prices of petrol and diesel. With growing volumes, prices can and will come down.

Easy availability of charging infrastructure is another key issue that will decide the fate of the rate of growth of adoption of electric vehicles in India. There are currently only about 1,800 public charging stations in India, compared to the vast number of fossil fuel refilling stations. This should be seen as a good way to provide an additional income option for people, especially farmers and the poorer sections.

The Central government has presently laid down a condition that there should be at least one charging station in a grid of 3 kms by 3 kms in cities and one station for every 25 km on both sides of highways outside cities. It is a good start but the density of charging points has to be augmented on a war footing.

By 2030, India aims to have EV make up for nearly a third of all passenger vehicles sales, 70 per cent of commercial vehicles and nearly four-fifths of 2-wheelers and 3-wheelers, an audacious but possible goal.

The governmental policy of making public charging stations and EV charging businesses a de-licensed activity is the biggest cause of hope for the revolution to spread.

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To take in a modern phenomenon of actors becoming leaders, the axiom “cometh the hour, cometh the man”, might as well be reworked into “cometh the comedian”. He may share a first name with a great Russian leader of medieval history and, ironically, also with his arch-enemy Putin. But the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has, struck out a brave course from his moorings as a TV actor to star in the compellingly tragic real-life drama of his homeland Ukraine being blasted to smithereens. The invading force has been raining hell from the skies, killing women and children as well, including in a theatre of refuge with one word clearly stencilled — “Children” — to make reading from the air easy.

Mr Zelenskyy’s emotional appeal to the US Congress, invoking the horrors of 9/11 as well as the World War II bombing of Pearl Harbour to remind Americans of threats to democracy and his Churchillian words portraying defiance to the UK Parliament earlier may not have convinced anyone to join his war. None of Ukraine’s allies, including the US, would risk a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia by declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine or putting feet on the ground. But the West is rushing weapons — 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of ammunition and innumerable drones from the US alone — to bolster the heroic defence of Ukraine that has taken military strategists by surprise over the last three weeks.

Mr Zelenskyy’s speeches exhorting his troops and his fellow citizens to resist the invasion have made him a folk hero though it must be said that the war will continue to take its toll on people and places. All the tactical errors that his Army has made may not, however, convince Mr Putin of the futility of war as he eggs them on even as talks keep providing occasional glimmers of hope. Whatever be the denouement in this war in Europe, one thing is certain and that is history will judge Mr Zelenskyy as a heroic figure while Mr Putin will have to bear any judgements that come his way, including that of “war criminal”, to quote US President Joe Biden.

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With his swearing-in as chief minister of Punjab at Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village Khatkar Kalan, Aam Aadmi Party leader Bhagwant Mann has brought into being the AAP 2.0; a phenomenon sui generis in Indian politics and one which fuses idealism with hope, which nonetheless has a foundation more pragmatic in approach, more tuned to realpolitik.

As Mr Mann was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Punjab governor Banwarilal Purohit, in the presence of the party supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, following the AAP’s landslide win with 92 seats in the 117-seat Legislative Assembly in the recent elections, it simultaneously meant the end of the duopoly of the conventional parties, the Congress and the Akali Dal and the start of a new phase for the most ambitious of start-ups in our national politics.

The 48-year-old Mr Mann, who spoke of achieving a Punjab of Bhagat Singh’s dreams, and of turning around the situation of the state and shaping it like Delhi, has got off the new government to a good start. His appeal to his own newly-elected MLAs to abstain from the trap of arrogance and to respect those who did not vote for their government equally was both reconciliatory and put the focus where it belongs — good governance.

By reiterating the primal issues of education and healthcare, where the AAP has promised a turnaround and to solve the problems of unemployment and agricultural distress, new Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann has given us all a new bout of optimism, of how a party of several political amateurs and dilettantes, many of them very young, and a good number of them from disadvantaged classes, can be a good solution to the problems, of which they were themselves a victim.

There was an underlying urgency to get to work, when Mr Mann said “...we have no time to waste... we have wasted 70 years...” His government would, undoubtedly in times to come, be under tremendous pressure to deliver on its ambitious and even audacious promises. But AAP operates on such an audacious axis, which continues to be the reason it endears itself to people in places where the level of cynicism with conventional politics is high.

The venue was decked with yellow, the colour of the “basanti” revolution, a colour that many believe will be now the first among equals to challenge Mr Narendra Modi’s saffron.

The AAP, with two states under its belt, has in a way surpassed all other regional parties, several of whom are several decades old, which could not manage this feat. Even if the Lok Sabha seats of Delhi and Punjab combined are only 20, the AAP, not defined by a language or region like the southern regional parties like the DMK, AIADMK, YSRC, TRS or TDP, or West Bengal’s TMC or Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena, can spread and grow anywhere.

Any startup that survives its first seven years, statistics point out, has a life ahead. Its ideas are firmly accepted and its success is undeniable. Will it manage its growth plans ahead to become a unicorn? Either way, it would be India’s most fascinating political story to watch out for in the future.

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By chalking up a huge electoral victory, the Aam Aadmi Party has seized power in Punjab by the scruff of its neck. This is an extraordinary achievement as it comes barely eight years after the party emerged on the public stage in Delhi, which is not quite a state and is more in the nature of a very large municipal authority.

Therefore, for the AAP, the best that can be said is that its recent victory reflects a yearning of Punjab’s people for hope in a sea of wilderness, such is the legacy left behind by the established political parties. Basing any projections for the AAP’s future trajectory on this sparse basis -- as some are tempted to do -- can be premature.

Aside from the prevailing local factors, the AAP’s phenomenal Punjab victory is a tribute to its ambition, the dedication of its cadre and to the leadership of its founder-supremo Arvind Kejriwal. How the party proceeds from here will naturally be watched closely by the people of Punjab and the party’s supporters and its opponents alike.

The AAP’s reputation in Delhi was based principally on two elements -- the large subsidies the Kejriwal government provided on water and electricity, making these practically free for the lower economic strata and to some others; and running government schools and mohalla health clinics efficiently and making these easily accessible to the public. It's these that may have aroused hope in Punjab.

Are large subsidies sustainable on a long-term basis in a revenue deficit state where sources of tax collection are way more limited than in a megapolis like Delhi. Punjab primarily means agriculture, from which incomes aren’t taxed, and fertiliser and power consumed by farmers are already subsidised.

On the political side, Delhi voters have backed the AAP in a big way in order to extract relatively free water and electricity from the system, but while electing their MPs they have tended to show a marked preference for the BJP, powered by the saffron party’s religio-political appeal -- a larger-than-life communal feature projected strongly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership.

In Punjab, the majority communalism factor is hardly present in day-to- day life since the Muslim community factor is nearly wholly absent after Partition, which accompanied Independence. The “other”, around which the typical BJP election campaign is spun in practically every other state, is missing. That’s why the BJP hasn’t had an independent existence -- in electoral terms -- in Punjab, and has traditionally tagged along with the Akali Dal, though this was not so in the recent election.

In the absence of the communal factor in everyday life, which it is important to note has emerged as a key element of national politics as the BJP’s influence has gained hegemonic proportions in much of India, a party like the AAP -- with its emphasis on the efficient distribution of public goods and services, and little else -- has found traction with relative ease in Punjab.

In the last Assembly election (2017) too, the party had emerged as the principal Opposition, edging out the Akali Dal, which was dethroned by the Congress. The Akalis couldn’t get even to second place although they are a political behemoth possessing wide and deep-going social influence for historical reasons in a Sikh-majority state.

The AAP is thus not a newbie in Punjab. The Akalis had mired Punjab in controversies, many over corruption, high-handedness and the misuse of constitutionally-given authority for personal benefit of the powerful rather than public welfare. As for the Congress, which lost power in this election, it was mainly a story of the party shooting itself in the foot.

The party controversially removed its chief minister just months before the polls at the behest of its national leadership, which sought to pander to an irresponsible and super-ambitious politician in its midst who was named state party chief, and then proceeded to belittle and destroy the party’s chances. The stage was thus set for the AAP’s victory. It’s the scale of its victory that is the real surprise, and may give us a sense of the Punjab voter being left bereft of even hope.

On most subjects other than service delivery -- which is of course very important and is generally missing in governance in most states -- the AAP’s political and ideological positions come closest to the BJP’s, while many of its slogans seek to mimic the Congress to buttress its so-called secular appeal.

For elections in Delhi, this has proved a plus so far. What happens outside the national capital is a question mark for now. Punjab is an important Indian state, and the AAP’s first test is to prove itself here. That said, Punjab is not a so-called “normal” state as the country’s biggest religious minority is nearly wholly absent in its demography and social and political consciousness.

It has been posited that since the Congress is in serious decline – as the recent elections showed -- and could be perilously close to organisational chaos and possible disintegration, the AAP is suited to take its place nationally. The basis of such an analysis hasn’t been made clear by its proponents, unless it is meant to be kite-flying! Do the claims made for the AAP take precedence over several other regional entities who may aspire similarly? This question is also not tackled. But these aspects aside, is the AAP best suited among India’s political parties to take on the BJP ideologically?

Unless a challenger threatens the BJP ideologically and offers a coherent and credible narrative on an all-India basis, there seems little hope for it, given the current scenario. If anything, the BJP’s spectacular results in the recent state elections show that its ideology has prevailed with voters across a swathe of the country -- and all its opponents, not just the Congress, have bitten the dust.

So, how should the AAP be judged on this matter? The party’s stance on the Shaheen Bagh movement of resistance against the law to threaten the citizenship of millions of people two years ago -- in sharp contrast with its fulsome support to the farmers’ agitation that gripped Punjab, Haryana and western UP -- and its stance on the Delhi riots that took place alongside the Shaheen Bagh mobilisations, shocked lakhs of AAP supporters in the national capital as it was practically indistinguishable from that of the BJP. With credentials such as these, can the AAP take on the BJP nationally? Does the alternative to the BJP have to be a “Chhota BJP”?

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It was a rare sight in recent years — more than 1,000 babus protesting outside the department of personnel and training (DoPT) at North Block over caste-based reservations in promotions. The officers from the Central Secretariat Service (CSS), who are the functionary staff in ministries, the Central Secretariat and other government offices, claim that the reservation issue has been dragging on in the Supreme Court for six years, and several babus had retired from service without getting their last promotions. Others have seen their careers stall due to the prolonged litigation

The DoPT secretary P. K Tripathi however has assured a delegation of CSS officers that the department is fast-tracking the issue of promotions. Those in the know say that it is a departmental conflict in which one faction of CSS babus claiming that the Constitution gives states the right to give reservation in promotion. But now the department has reportedly urged the attorney general to pursue the case urgently in the apex court. Whichever way it goes, it will affect some 12,000 CSS officials.

Will Foreign Secy Shringla get an extension?

There is a growing buzz in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) that in view of the international situation the government could give an extension to foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and India’s permanent secretary to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, both of whom are slated to retire in April. So even though the MEA officials are speculating about the likely successors to these diplomats, the view is growing that, for now, the government is quite likely to favour continuity in the current circumstances, than bring in new faces.

However, an extension to either or both diplomats would stymie the chances of at least half-a-dozen senior IFS officers who are in line for consideration to replace Shringla and Tirumurti.  But with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar is keeping his cards close, it’s hard to say what course he will choose.

Meanwhile, the MEA has announced the elevation of Ausaf Sayeed, ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to the rank of secretary. He will now look after the consular, passport and visa division, besides handling West Asia and North Africa. He will replace Sanjay Bhattacharya who now heads to Switzerland as India’s new ambassador.

Mayors to have their say in Haryana babus’ ACRs IAS officers in Haryana are unlikely to be pleased with the new move in which mayors and zila parishad chiefs can now have a say in writing the annual confidential reports (ACRs) of IAS and HCS officers.  It is certainly a major departure from the past.

Sources have informed DKB that reporting authorities for the CEOs of zila parishads and Commissioners of municipal corporations will consult mayors and zila parishad chairpersons for writing the ACRs of babus. Usually, junior IAS officers and mid-level and senior HCS officers are appointed commissioners of municipal corporations and CEOs of zila parishads.

Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, we are told, asserts that the new system of writing ACRs will lead to better accountability in the functioning of babus at the grassroots level. But knowing how sensitive babus are to any disruption in the way they function, such noble intentions may not have the desired outcome. Or will it?

Let us know your thoughts.

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The three-judge bench of the Karnataka high court has flatly rejected the petition of the six girls from the Pre-University Government College in Udupi and others from Kundapur and Bengaluru that the hijab is an “essential part” of Islam. The court had to limit itself to the narrow ambit of the words of the Quran and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Religious scholars and linguists can always argue that the words of the Holy Quran’s text mean more or less than what they stand for, and there are implicit meanings. The judges did what they could. The petitioners had perhaps posed the wrong question.

This entire controversy was not about what is essential or not essential to be a true Muslim. This is about the social practices of lower-middle-class conservative families in Mangaluru and many other places in India. Long-held social practice should be respected not on the grounds of what the religious texts say but on custom. In every type of law, from the Anglo-Saxon common law which we have adopted in India to other kinds of codified religious laws, the rules are partly based on written texts like the scriptures and often on unwritten social customs. But here we are not really discussing the finer points of scripture, law and custom. Things are more convoluted and confusing because we have this muddled definition of secularism, where we do not know whether all religions are to be kept out or all religions should be allowed. It is not surprising therefore that everyone grabs the aspect that serves their purpose best.

The Udupi-Mangaluru-Bengaluru question about the hijab is a political issue. And we must get at the facts as to why and when the issue became a contentious one. It is surprising that no one has asked as to what the practice has been all these years? Did the girls who wanted to wear the hijab wear it in the prescribed colour of the uniform, or did they start to wear it only recently? This does not mean that the girls involved in the matter cannot change their minds and choose to wear the hijab when they want to, and it would not be right to say that since they did not wear it earlier, they cannot wear it now. When they choose to change is the right of all individuals. Also, when did the school authorities decide that they would not allow the hijab as part of the uniform. Is there is a government circular about uniforms, with the specific indication that the hijab is prohibited. The political motives are such that no one seems ready to clarify these issues. It can only be conjectured that the Hindu communal elements in the school administration chose to act against the hijab, and the six students chose to defy the order. It is usually the case that Hindu communal elements praise the virtues of secularism when they want to pin down the Muslims, and the Muslims on their part ironically use secularism either to defend their religious identity and defy secularism when they feel that it intrudes upon their perceived religious identity. This political tussle between religious groups should not be a surprise because this is the stuff of social and political struggle for domination.

The Mangaluru belt has been witnessing communalism, and it would be futile to argue about who started it first. The Hindu communalists have been ranting about “love jihad” and the Muslims and Christians in the region have been complaining about discrimination as the hands of the Hindu authorities.

Given the basic hostility that has been foisted on the relations between the communities, every issue is turned into one of confrontation. So, a Muslim boy cannot love a Hindu girl, and a Hindu boy cannot love a Christian girl if the fanatics in all communities were to have their way. At the social level, families and elders in all the communities tend to be conservative, and there is also the general inter-generational conflict. But when the BJP, the Rama Sene, the ulema and the People’s Front of India get into the act, the poison of communalism is hugely amplified.

It is no secret that the BJP, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind would want to get involved and prescribe to their respective communities what the norms are. A large majority of Hindus and a large majority of Muslims may even want to follow the diktat of these organisations. The question then is how to resolve the confrontation. India has become a communalised country, thanks to the BJP, AIMPLB, et al. The challenge is how to defang them and restore sanity in inter-community ties. Many communal Hindus want to object to the hijab, and many communal Muslims would want to insist on the hijab to assert their identity in the face of communal Hinduism. Every side has its own set of arguments, however, poisoned, to defend their positions. From a libertarian point of view, it would be wrong to tell communal Hindus and communal Muslims to be rational and not hate each other.

It is possible for the Udupi PU Government College to let these six girls wear the hijab without being rigid about uniforms. As for the six Muslim girls, their parents and community elders can tell these girls that they are no less Muslim if they don’t wear the hijab inside the school and inside the classroom. The social practice in the Mangaluru region has been that some of the Muslim girls came in their hijab to the school and removed it once inside the school and before entering the classroom. Remember, this is a girls’ school. The Hindu communal elements in the school administration cannot insist that Muslim teachers, to whom the rule of the uniform does not apply, cannot wear the hijab as they see fit. The communal Muslim elements must recognise that the state government’s ban on the hijab which has now been upheld by the Karnataka high court is not a ban on the hijab in the country, but only in government schools where there is a prescribed uniform.

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What happened was for the good”, as Krishna said to Arjuna. Muslims, disheartened by the recent election results, are missing the big picture. Should they be content seeking protection from a caste party, or does the community’s larger salvation lie in a new regional architecture which a radically altered global situation is dictating.

These changes, which may come slowly, will bring harmony to the nation of which the Muslims are a part. Admittedly, 36 Muslims MLAs are a consolation, not long-term relief.

A stable Narendra Modi is better placed to cope with the consequences of the United States floundering from Afghanistan to Kazakhstan, and now Ukraine. The Western media painting Vladimir Putin in lurid colours doesn’t quite disguise Joe Biden’s isolation, an outcome exactly the opposite of what the US President wanted. War is always horrible; these horrors are being visited upon the people of Ukraine. Heart-rending stories are the Western media’s staple today. But where were they when 1,400 Russians were killed in Donbas by neo-Nazi militias since 2014? That was the ignition.

Since America’s debacle in Afghanistan, there’s a certain inevitability about an entente with our neighbours. And, towards that end, something is astir.

Have you of late seen our TV channels telecast a positive India-Pakistan story? Something extraordinary happened last month. For three days, the channels reported not a bullet was fired by either side for a year; the ceasefire signed by the armies had held. The back channels are meeting in Muscat and Dubai. There are signs of good sense on the Chinese front too.

Had Mr Modi done badly in these elections, the adjustments the region requires would have been seen as from a position of weakness. A buoyant Mr Modi is better placed to spell out alterations in foreign policy without any change in the key relationship.  

Akhilesh Yadav has established beyond doubt that he simply doesn’t have the “killer” instinct needed for big sport. He has now led the party to four defeats — two Assembly and two Parliament elections.

There is a difference between advisers and a coterie, which neither the Gandhi family nor Akhilesh understood. Akhilesh was advised to forge an alliance with Chandrashekhar Azad of the Azad Samaj Party. He happens to be an impressive dalit leader whose spell in Yogi Adityanath’s jails has imparted to him a certain aura.

Akhilesh must rue the day he said “no” to the proposal. Look how Mayawati is now a cipher as the dalit vote deserted her and fell for the BJP’s social engineering. How clever! Field hundreds of dalit candidates to lure dalit voters, secure in the knowledge that the candidate will win as the upper castes too will vote for him as he represents the BJP. What a cleverly contrived electoral confluence of castes otherwise opposed to each other.

Without this massive shift of dalit votes, the UP outcome may well have been different as the vulgar edge given to Hindutva at the street level appears not to have increased the BJP’s numbers. Compared to 2017, the party is down by 52 seats. What gave it winning numbers was its secular, economic measures — rations, cash, money for housing. Is this not some kind of welfarism?

Will the experience of recent electoral battles therefore tone down the BJP’s saffron, smoothen its craggy rough edges? The image of a moderate BJP is quite incompatible with Yogi’s habitual excesses? The optics of Modi and Yogi looming large may be covering up the shifts at the ground level. Nastier shades of Hindutva did not win it votes. Social welfare schemes, dalits and sundry other groups did. Does this evolution make the BJP into a semi-saffron Congress under Sardar Patel — minus Jawaharlal Nehru? Credit must be given to Mr Modi for having made shades of saffron the colour of Indian politics.  

Of the other dramatis personae in play, does the Gandhi family not have an iota of pride and self-respect the way their own partymen call them names, insult them? They still stay on, piling defeat upon defeat. How thick can a skin be?

The media, either on official signals or due to its own class preference, keeps the Gandhis in play. Will this last after these results?

That’s a matter of concern even for the BJP. The Congress had become its pliant “B” team which occasionally jousted with the BJP. Now the Congress can’t be set up even as a scarecrow. At this precise moment, the Aam Aadmi Party has set the cat among the pigeons by rearing its head in Punjab. The BJP, Left parties, Congress on the brink of expiry, will speak in one voice rubbishing Arvind Kejriwal for different reasons.

The Congress and the Left nurse a desire to revive, but don’t know where. The BJP sees in the AAP a real threat, not a fake one, it has so far cunningly kept in focus, namely the Congress.

Remember the AAP’s 67 seats out of 70 in 2015? Successive lieutenant-governors shackled him, lest he run away with the show. The media was arrayed against him. He was “soft saffron”, they said, a professional agitator. What the media didn’t play up was where he could be pinned down: Mr Kejriwal turned callously away from the 2020 Delhi riots.

Elsewhere in health, education, water, electricity, his team have been doers. The effort was palpable.

Now that the “doers” have arrived in Punjab, the Delhi establishment will throw every spanner in the works. To begin with, abruptly, Delhi’s municipal elections were cancelled for no rhyme or reason. Why? Mr Kejriwal may just trounce the BJP, the first face-to-face combat after Delhi was first conquered in 2015. The media, as it’s geared today, will be part of an anti-AAP campaign, egged on by the BJP and Congress.

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