Read The Hindu Important Articles 06 December 2018
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Citizens may soon be able to leave Aadhaar
Government is finalising a proposal to amend the Act
The government is in the last stages of finalising a proposal to amend the Aadhaar Act to give all citizens an option to withdraw their Aadhaar number, including biometrics and the data.
This follows the Supreme Court judgment in September that upheld the validity of Aadhaar, however, with certain riders.
A Constitution Bench had struck down Section 57 of the Act that allows private entities to use the unique number for verification. The Bench also declared that seeking to link it with bank accounts and SIM cards was unconstitutional.
“The initial proposal was prepared by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). It submitted that once a child turns 18, he/she will be given six months to decide if he/she wants to withdraw,” a senior official said.
This proposal was sent to the Law Ministry to be vetted. “The Ministry further recommended that the option to withdraw be made available to all citizens, and not be limited to a particular group,” the official added.
However, the proposal, which will now be sent to the Cabinet, is likely to benefit only those who do not have a PAN card or do not require one, as the court had upheld the linkage of PAN with Aadhaar.
Over 37.50 crore PANs have been issued till March 12, 2018. Of these, the number of PANs issued to individuals stood at more than 36.54 crore, of which about 16.84 crore PANs have been linked with Aadhaar.
In line with the court order, the proposal seeks to appoint an adjudicating officer to decide whether a person’s Aadhaar-related data need to be disclosed in the interest of national security.
The court had also struck down Section 33(2), which allowed disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below Joint Secretary. It had said an officer above Joint Secretary should consult a judicial officer and together take a call.
‘CO2 levels poised for record high’
India, the third-highest contributor, is projected to see emissions rise by 6.3% from 2017: study
Global carbon emissions are set to hit an all-time high of 37.1 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2018, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Global Carbon Project.
India, the third-highest contributor, is projected to see emissions rise by 6.3% from 2017.
The 2.7% projected global rise in 2018 has been driven by appreciable growth in coal use for the second year in a row, and sustained growth in oil and gas use, according to the study that was published simultaneously on Wednesday in several leading scientific journals.
This week, representatives from more than 190 countries have begun discussions at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland, on ways to equitably cut carbon emissions.
Second year in a row
CO2 emissions have now risen for a second year, the study’s authors say, after three years of little to no growth from 2014 to 2016. The rise in 2017 was 1.6%.
The 10 biggest emitters in 2018 are China, U.S., India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Canada. The EU as a region of countries ranks third. China’s emissions accounted for 27% of the global total, having grown an estimated 4.7% in 2018 and reaching a new all-time high. Emissions in the U.S., which has withdrawn from its commitment to the Paris Agreement, account for 15% of the global total, and look set to have grown about 2.5% in 2018 after several years of decline.
Lead researcher Corinne Le Quéré, Professor of Climate Change Science and Policy at UEA, said in a statement: “We are seeing a strong growth of global CO2 emissions once again. Emissions need to peak and rapidly decrease to address climate change. With this year’s growth in emissions, it looks like the peak is not yet in sight.”
Limiting global warming to the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature increase this century to well below 2°C, would need carbon dioxide emissions to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach net zero by about 2050.
Though coal use contributed to the rise in 2018 from last year, it still remains below its historical high in 2013 but may exceed that if current growth continues, the study’s authors note.
‘Big bird’ to take Internet to villages
GSAT-11, launched from Guiana, will take satellite-based Internet to remote areas
India’s first six-tonne-class ‘big bird’ in space, advanced communication satellite GSAT-11, was put into orbit in the early hours of Wednesday from the European spaceport in Guiana in South America.
Its mission is to enable high-speed satellite-based Internet services to users in rural and remote areas and to businesses down home over the next 15 years.
The heaviest ever to be built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the 5,854 kg satellite was launched from the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou at 2.07 a.m. IST on Wednesday, December 5. The local time at the launch centre was 5.37 p.m. on December 4.
The satellite and the launch fee have cost ISRO Rs. 1,200 crore.
The liftoff of GSAT-11 and a South Korean co-passenger satellite on European space vehicle Ariane 5 VA246 was watched and cheered by ISRO Chairman K. Sivan.
In his post-launch remarks, Dr. Sivan said, “It will meet most of the requirements of providing broadband connectivity to rural and inaccessible village panchayats under Bharat Net, which is part of the Digital India initiative.”
Launched in October 2011, Bharat Net (earlier called the National Optical Fibre Network) aims to provide 2.5 lakh village panchayats with e-banking, e-education, e-health and e-governance, among others, through reliable broadband connectivity.
This, along with GSAT-29 and GSAT-19, smaller satellites already launched from within India, will herald a new era of satellite-driven reliable high-throughput data services. Villages, remote locations and VSAT operators, who drive private and public sector data services, will be the main gainers.
Enabling in-flight Internet and village web services are the government’s other goals: the latter promises to bridge the urban-rural digital divide.
GSAT-11 carries eight transponders for the first time in the complex and efficient Ka frequency band, and 38 transponders in the Ku band. The Ka band enables smart coverage of places with multiple and reusable spot beams.
Centre may bring back curbs in Andamans
The Restricted Area Permit regime was lifted this August from 29 islands, including North Sentinel, to promote tourism
The Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, Nand Kumar Sai, has said the Centre may like to revisit its decision to lift the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) system from 29 islands of Andaman and Nicobar, after the death of U.S. citizen John Allen Chau.
Mr. Sai, who is leading a delegation of the Commission to the islands, told The Hindu that the lifting of the regime proved problematic and the decision had “many pros and cons that needed to be re-looked”.
“I feel that the government should rethink its decision to open these 29 islands to foreigners as the presence of the Sentinelese and their desire to avoid [contacts with] outsiders demonstrate that these are sensitive zones,” he said.
However, the death of John Allen Chau could not be linked to the withdrawal of the regime. “The Commission will deliberate upon the issue once we return to Delhi and finalise our report on the incident.”
To develop tourism, the RAP regime, in place since 1963, was lifted around August this year from 29 islands, including the North Sentinel (where Chau was reportedly killed). Though the regime was withdrawn, a tourist is required to take permission from the Forest Department and the local administration as it is protected under two other Acts.
Mr. Sai said there might have been some carelessness in tracking the movements of Chau. “We have spoken to senior members of the administration, including Lt. Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Admiral (retired) D.K. Joshi,” he said.
“It is good that the administration is persisting in its efforts to recover Chau’s body; it should be done without further disturbing the Sentinelese,” he said.
“We also met representatives of NGOs working here, including those of the VHP and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (affiliated to the RSS)…,” he said.
“Our visits to the Nicobar islands have revealed that there has been much conversion activity by Christian missionaries, and our view is that further contact with tribal groups that have various degrees of exposure to other societies should be on their own terms, and nothing should be forced upon them,” he said.
The delegation will be in Chennai on Thursday and then return to Delhi.
Efforts being made to recover Chau’s body should not disturb the Sentinelese
Nand Kumar Sai
National Commission for Scheduled Tribes
India gets first witness protection scheme
It will come into effect immediately: SC
The Supreme Court on Wednesday brought in place a witness protection regime in the country noting that one of the main reasons for witnesses turning hostile is that they are not given security by the State.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and S. Abdul Nazeer said Witness Protection Scheme, 2018 will come into effect immediately across all States.
Under it, witness protection may be as simple as providing a police escort to the witness up to the courtroom or, in more complex cases involving an organised criminal group, taking extraordinary measures such as offering temporary residence in a safe house, giving a new identity, and relocation at an undisclosed place.
The top court said the scheme, which aimed to enable a witness to depose fearlessly and truthfully, would be the law of the land till Parliament enacted suitable legislation.
Asaram Bapu case
The issue came up when the Supreme Court was hearing a public interest litigation plea seeking protection for witnesses in rape cases involving self-styled preacher Asaram Bapu.
The Bench said witnesses feared serious consequences if they deposed against Asaram. “It is alleged that as many as 10 witnesses have already been attacked and three witnesses have been killed,” it noted.
There are four petitioners in the case before the top court. These include a witness, father of a murdered witness, father of the child rape victim and a journalist who escaped a murder attempt by goons of Asaram and his son Narayana Sai.
The apex court said that due to the lack of a scheme till now, witnesses neither had any legal remedy nor do they get suitably treated. “The present legal system takes witnesses completely for granted. They are summoned to court regardless of their financial and personal conditions,” it said. The court directed all States and Union Territories to set up witness deposition complexes in all the district courts in India within a period of one year.
Indian-origin woman appointed head of SAfrica’s prosecuting authority
Indian-origin lawyer to head S. African agency
Indian-origin lawyer Shamila Batohi has been appointed to head South Africa’s prosecuting authority, the first woman to head the agency. She will start her new role as the National Director of Public Prosecutions in February 2019.PTI
Yemen peace talks to open on Thursday
But no breakthrough is expected
Yemeni government representatives were expected to join a rebel delegation in Sweden on Wednesday for high-stakes peace talks aimed at ending four years of devastating war.
A 12-member team from the Saudi Arabia-backed government headed by Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani left Riyadh early on Wednesday, sources said, a day after rebel delegates landed in Stockholm accompanied by the UN envoy.
The first Yemen talks since 2016 are widely seen as the best chance yet for peace, as the international community throws its weight behind efforts to resolve a conflict that has pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine. The government delegation was carrying the “hopes of the Yemeni people to achieve sustainable peace”, the head of exiled President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s office, Abdullah al-Alimi, said in a tweet.
The delegation had delayed its departure until the rebels had arrived in Stockholm after they failed to show up for the last UN bid to convene peace talks in September, sources close to the government said. On that occasion, the rebels complained that they had received insufficient guarantees of safe passage through the blockade enforced by the Saudi-led coalition since March 2015.
From a manifesto to a movement
How the Justice Party in Madras became the stepping stone for political empowerment of non-Brahmins
The author acknowledges in his new book, Modern South India: A History from the 17th Century to Our Times , that part of the pull to write a history of the region was the “South Indianness” of his mother, Lakshmi Devadas Gandhi. In his four-centuries-long story, from 1600 to modern times, he attempts to study “the people inhabiting this varying, intricate peninsula.” It is a story of four powerful cultures — Kannada, Malayali, Tamil and Telugu — and “yet more than that, for Kodagu, Konkani, Marathi, Oriya and Tulu cultures have also influenced it, as also other older and possibly more indigenous cultures.” Of the four principal cultures, which are “unsurprisingly competitive” and yet complementary, he finds the Tamil part the most Dravidian and possessing the oldest literature. An excerpt:
The 1911 census showed that Brahmins were slightly over 3 per cent of Madras Presidency’s population, and non-Brahmins 90 per cent. Yet in the ten years from 1901 to 1911, Madras University turned out 4,074 Brahmin graduates compared with only 1,035 non-Brahmin graduates. Numbers for other groups (revealing also how the Empire classified the population at this time) included ‘Indian Christian’, 306, ‘Mohammedan’, 69, and ‘European & Eurasian’, 225.
A little over 22 per cent of Tamil Brahmin males in the presidency were literate in English by 1911. The corresponding figure for Telugu Brahmins was 14.75, for Nairs in Malabar around 3, for Balija Naidus 2.6, and for Vellalas just over 2. Among Kammas, Nadars and Reddis, males literate in English were below half a per cent.
Many more had attained mother tongue literacy: 72 per cent of Tamil Brahmins, 68 per cent of Telugu Brahmins, 42 per cent of Nairs, 20 per cent of Indian Christians, and 18 per cent of Nadars.
The span from 1914 to 1918 — in Europe the World War I years — saw competition in Madras between nationalists and opponents of Brahmin domination. A small but significant advance for the latter was the opening in 1914 of ‘The Dravidian Home’ for non-Brahmin students. Financed by men like Panaganti Ramarayaningar (the Raja of Panagal), whose lands lay in the Telugu country to the north of Madras, this hostel was run by C. Natesa Mudaliar, a Vellala doctor in the city.
Demand for Home Rule
Leading the Madras nationalists was the Irishwoman Annie Besant (1847-1933), who had arrived in India in 1894 after tumultuous years in England where she announced that she was an atheist before embracing theosophy. Though also spending time in Varanasi, her political base was Madras, where in June 1914 she purchased a newspaper, renaming it New India .
Through the paper, she asked for Home Rule for India. That stand, plus Besant’s oft-expressed adoration for India’s scriptures, her impressive bearing, and her eloquence made her a force to reckon with. The British in Madras, official and civil, responded to Besant with dislike, and New India was frequently asked to furnish security, all of which added to her popularity.
On September 3, 1916, she launched the Home Rule League. District centres appeared, and one of Besant’s allies, the Congress leader P. Varadarajulu Naidu, an Ayurvedic doctor from a prominent Telugu-origin family near Salem, made speeches in Tamil about Home Rule. There was parallel activity on the other side. On November 20, 1916, around 30 or so eminent non-Brahmins met in Madras’s Victoria Public Hall to form the South Indian People’s Association (SIPA), a joint-stock company for publishing English, Telugu and Tamil newspapers which would voice non-Brahmin grievances.
A month later, on December 20, readers of The Hindu and of Besant’s New India were treated to SIPA’s ‘Non-Brahmin Manifesto’, which declared opposition to ‘the Indian Home Rule Movement’, portraying it as a Brahmin exercise for gaining control over Madras Presidency. It also announced the start of a new political party, the South Indian Liberal Federation (SILF).
Although the manifesto claimed to speak for all non-Brahmins, and its signatories included Telugu, Tamil, Malayali and Kannada names, SILF’s first aim was ‘not so much to attract a following as to influence the official policy of the British in Madras Presidency’. More places for non-Brahmins in government service and in colleges was the immediate goal.
SIPA’s daily newspaper in English, Justice, first came out on February 26, 1917. The Tamil daily Dravidan appeared in mid-1917. Published from 1885, the Telugu Andhra Prakasika was acquired.
Soon SILF became known as the Justice Party. Many of its members took the line that ‘Tamil’, ‘Dravidan’ or ‘Dravidian’, ‘non-Brahmin’ and ‘South Indian’ were synonymous terms, as were ‘Brahmin’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘North Indian’. Their wish was to ‘rouse all the non-Brahmanas to a recognition of their past glory with a view to put the haughty Brahmana who is the intruder from the North in his proper place’.
Although it attacked Brahmins, Aryans and the caste system, the Justice Party remained elitist. Moreover, its leaders quarrelled publicly, and the colonial establishment’s praise for the party became an embarrassment. Yet the future would identify SILF as the foundation for non-Brahmin political power in the South.
On August 20, 1917, Edwin Montagu, His Majesty’s Government’s Secretary for State in India, had announced in the House of Commons a new policy of ‘increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration’ and of developing ‘self-governing institutions’ towards the ‘progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire’.
The Montagu announcement triggered a range of claims. Pointing out that Muslims had received special treatment in 1909, the Justice Party said that non-Brahmins (comprising, it was asserted, 40 million of the presidency’s population of 41 million) should have something similar.
Excerpted with permission from Aleph
United colours of the ‘yellow vests’
As the French state tries to withdraw, it faces an unprecedented backlash
The sight of flaming barricades and upturned cars in Paris usually sends journalists scurrying to their cliché cupboard. For historically literate commentators, current events in France evoke the storming of the Bastille and the Paris Commune. For the politically minded, they seem more akin to the Popular Front of 1936 or May 1968. And, for those aware of France’s difficult colonial past, the spectacle of the police confronting ordinary citizens brings back memories of the Battle of Algiers.
There is a kernel of truth to all these clichés. It is true that political violence in France follows well-worn patterns that have their roots in the country’s revolutionary past. This means that the mere erection of a barricade can turn a tedious protest march into a pseudo-revolutionary action with powerful political ramifications.
It is also true that some of the techniques used in the recent protests in France mirror those used by trade unions. Shutdowns and blockades have been the stock-in-trade of the French labour movement for more than 150 years.
And, yes, after the collapse of the French empire in the 1950s and 1960s, the French police did bring their peculiarly violent methods of control and interrogation back to metropolitan France, with sometimes devastating consequences.
The problem is that none of these clichés really gets to the heart of the so-called gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests that have rocked France for the past three weeks. This is because the protests do not fit the usual historic parallels.
For a start, the gilets jaunes movement is not led by any union or political party. No one can say that it is a structured ‘movement’. It also seems to combine elements of the right and left — and especially elements of the far-right and far-left — that make an ideological interpretation of the protests awkward.
Most importantly, the protesters’ demands are not clearly articulated: some want tax cuts (on fuel), some want tax rises (for the rich), some want more public services, some want more generous state benefits, some want to smash up symbols of capitalism, some want a stronger President, some think the current President is too strong, and some want all of these things at once.
Given this extraordinary dispersion of demands, it is hard to give a fixed reading of what the gilets jaunes represent. Instead, it is more useful to focus on the few things that unite them. There are two that stand out.
Double-bind of French state
The first is the obsessive focus on the French state. From the beginning, the gilets jaunes have targeted the French state as both villain and saviour. They have organised groups to protest outside government offices all over the country, especially in smaller provincial towns. This has frequently been accompanied by violence and vandalism. Almost all of the protesters agree that the state is not doing enough and has neglected their needs.
This belief has been exacerbated by the imperious attitude of French President Emmanuel Macron. His avowedly statist orientation, his embrace of the hyper-presidentialism of the Fifth Republic, and his fondness for monarchical symbolism have merely stoked the fire. Like an ill-fated king, Mr. Macron has turned anger at the state into anger at his person.
Yet, despite their ire, the gilets jaunes also demand redress from the very same state they abhor. They want the French government to lower fuel taxes, reinstate rural post offices, increase their ‘purchasing power’, cut property taxes, and hire more doctors for rural clinics. They firmly believe that the state can and should fix their problems. The fact that many of the issues at the heart of the protests relate to deep structural imbalances in the French economy makes no difference. The state is held as sole responsible and sole guarantor.
This paradox has a long pedigree in French history. Especially since 1945, the French state has expanded enormously, to a point that French people are comfortable with high levels of state interference in their social and economic lives. The massive subsidies put in place to soften the blow of deindustrialisation in the 1980s further increased this dependence.
Today’s demonstrations are a logical outcome of this double-bind: as the French state tries to withdraw, under pressure from European Union-wide austerity politics and its own budgetary overreach, it faces an unprecedented backlash.
Centre and periphery
The second common theme in the gilets jaunes protests is their very wide geographical dispersion. In this respect, the focus on Paris has been misleading. What is most interesting about recent events is how spread out they are across metropolitan France and even overseas.
While cars were burning on the Champs-Elysées, thousands of people in provincial France blocked roundabouts, staged sit-ins on town squares, and threw rocks at town halls. Meanwhile, in the overseas territory of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, the entire island has been brought to a standstill by targeted traffic blockades.
This geographical reach reflects another long-standing structural pathology of the French economy, namely the sharp division between centre and periphery. While urban areas in France have tended to develop better infrastructure and more integrated community structures, the withdrawal of state aid has had the opposite effect in peri-urban and rural areas, and in the highly unequal overseas territories.
In this respect, it is significant that the catalyst for the protests was rising fuel prices. Those most reliant on their cars are those who live farthest from urban areas and do not have access to regular public transport. In addition, there has been a complete policy reversal on diesel fuel. After almost half a century of subsidies, the French state has been taking away financial incentives on diesel since the early 2000s. This is a heavy blow for the 61% of French people whose cars run on diesel, and for the truckers and farmers who were used to getting their fuel on the cheap.
A bleak future
So what can be done? The answer is, probably not much. The most likely scenario is that the protests will peter out due to fatigue, demobilisation and a lack of leadership. It is not clear how, if at all, any political party can capitalise on them, except perhaps for the far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who sees herself as the voice for France’s peripheral squeezed middle.
The biggest danger is spiralling depoliticisation. Mr. Macron’s plunging approval ratings before and during the gilets jaunes protests indicates a crisis of leadership at least as acute as the one that marred former President François Hollande’s five years in office. Not for the first time, the most urgent task facing France’s elite is to elaborate a more inclusive political project that will begin to reduce the country’s well-documented inequalities.
Emile Chabal is a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh and the author of ‘A Divided Republic: Nation, State and Citizenship in Contemporary France’
Hues of a new political landscape
The BJP’s electoral dominance is contributing to the saffronisation of other political parties
The president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Amit Shah, while addressing a national executive meet in New Delhi in September said that the party would continue to remain in power for the next 50 years if it won the 2019 general election. From ruling seven States in 2014, the party runs many States by itself or in an alliance. For a party that has earned such unprecedented electoral success, the feel of invincibility is natural, but Mr. Shah’s claim sounds pompous.
In 1984, the Congress party won 404 Lok Sabha seats but tasted inglorious defeat in 1989. Likewise, its leader Indira Gandhi, who was venerated in 1971, had to bite the dust in 1977. India’s electoral world is dangerously precarious. Moreover, the Indian voter’s mind is very difficult to read. Looking at various political trends, however, the BJP’s dominance as single largest party for some time regardless of the outcome of the 2019 election is a fact.
The BJP’s dominance partly hinges on what sort of political resistance it faces from the Opposition. The clue that we get from the history of resistance is this: the most organised resistance to the BJP took place in 1996, when the party led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee was isolated and restricted to running the government for not more than 13 days even though he was seen to be more moderate than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Such an event is not possible in 2019 or later for at least three reasons. First, having led the National Democratic Alliance coalition, the BJP has developed working relations with various regional parties who no longer see the national party as politically untouchable or are scared of its ideology; Second, the leaders of regional parties, most often dynastic in nature, have very limited stakes in the national polity and a limited interest in fighting a battle outside their turf. Third, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah leadership, which presented itself as one with a difference in elections held 2014 onwards is also accommodative of their opponents. For instance, the Congress’s Rita Bahuguna in Uttar Pradesh or Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam or the Janata Dal (United)’s Nitish Kumar were accommodated generously. So why is an ideological party so forgiving towards its opponents? Because its key objective is to drain the Opposition politics of vital resources so that any future consolidation against it is weak.
Another crucial factor is the emergence of anti-Congressism as an ideology — a major source of political dissent and resistance in Indian politics that acquired concrete shape during the anti-Emergency movement in the mid-1970s. Political formations owing their origins to anti-Congressism are deeply sceptical of going with the Congress or its coalition as an alternative even if broadly they pretend to champion secular politics. The ambivalence shown by parties led by the Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik, Mr. Nitish Kumar, and the Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu (though he has now warmed up to the Congress) can be traced to this. On the other hand, this has lead to some advantage for the BJP in seeking partners in the short and long term. Consequently, we are now witness to the rhetoric of the Opposition leaders being more about anti-Modi-ism than anti-BJPism or anti-Hindutva as such.
While the Modi-Shah leadership deserves credit for helping craft the electoral dominance of the BJP, the fact is that this team is not going to hold sway forever. On the other hand, political history shows that parties fragment for a variety of reasons such as ideological differences or a clash of personalities. Take, for example, the Left or the Congress party, both of which experienced fragmentation. The Janata Party, in the 1970s, imploded though it was more a coalition of various formations. Thus, the BJP’s fragmentation is inevitable. What is hard to predict, however, is when this will happen. Given the almost symbiotic relationship between the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP, some argue that the BJP would defy such a fate. But such an ideological grip could not stop B.S. Yeddyurappa, the former Karnataka Chief Minister, from abandoning the party to form the short-lived Karnataka Janata Paksha.
What must be highlighted is this: parties that had an umbilical link with the Congress party such as the Trinamool Congress or the Nationalist Congress Party have a secular thread in them. In the event that the BJP fragments, such parties could pursue an identical Hindutva line. The campaign and programmes of these parties could cause disruptions to minority and human rights.
The sharpening of these majoritarian tendencies would grow in both rhetoric and practice without bringing any change to the Constitution and the term secular remaining intact. Moreover, the BJP’s electoral dominance could contribute to the saffronisation of other parties, as they could emulate the BJP’s electoral strategies. This is evident in the workings of some of the non-Hindutva political parties. Such a development would also aggravate an already fragile secular polity.
Shaikh Mujibur Rehman is the editor of ‘Rise of Saffron Power’ and teaches at Jamia Millia Central University, New Delhi
India encounters a range of reactions in Sri Lanka: appreciation, support, suspicion and opposition
There are no winners in the political crisis in Sri Lanka. President Maithripala Sirisena, whose actions triggered the crisis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who as Prime Minister lost two confidence votes, and Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Prime Minister who enjoys majority support in Parliament, are locked in a draw.
A ringside view
Against this backdrop, what are the perceptions among the main political actors, which impact Sri Lanka-India relations? A delegation of eminent Indian scholars, former civil servants and a retired navy chief, led by Lalit Mansingh, former Foreign Secretary and chairman of the Kalinga Lanka Foundation (KLF), was in Colombo last month. The delegation’s candid discussions with four leading think tanks and numerous key players on different sides of the political divide provided a ringside view of the situation.
Cutting across party lines, a clear bipartisan consensus emerged about Sri Lanka’s continuing need to nurture a positive engagement with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiatives to improve the relationship evoked appreciation. But given the asymmetries in size and power, Sri Lanka finds itself overwhelmed by India’s presence. Hence, resisting India’s overtures for closer cooperation may be seen as part of Sri Lanka’s assertion of its independent identity.
From the Sri Lankan perspective, cultivating China as a counter to India makes strategic sense. The country needs huge capital for its development. China seems to be the only source willing to provide it, albeit on increasingly tougher terms. Many Sri Lankan intellectuals and policymakers reject the notion of a Chinese ‘debt trap’ and criticism of the 99-year lease given to China for Hambantota Port as ‘neo-colonial’. They argue that they would accept Chinese money, but refuse to embrace China’s presence. Rather unconvincingly, they claim expertise in knowing and dealing with China.
On India-China rivalry, pro-Rajapaksa interlocutors sought a balance in Sri Lanka’s ties with the two Asian powers. A strong, though unrealistic, plea was made suggesting that China-Sri Lanka relations should not be seen from the narrow prism of the complex relations between India and China. They advanced two additional arguments: one, for most projects Colombo had approached India initially and turned to China only later; two, ‘China delivers, while Indian bureaucracy delays’ was a constant refrain.
It appears Sri Lanka may be turning away from its identity as a South Asian nation to assert its role as an Indian Ocean country, imbued with an ambition to connect better with ASEAN and Japan. Discontent over the impasse in SAARC and challenges in strengthening the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation are behind this shift. Economic opportunities that could result from better international maritime connectivity and the potential of the blue economy are other motivations. Concerning the Indian Ocean, Colombo clamours for India’s collaboration in its efforts to turn the region into one of peace and harmony. Some express support for reviving the trilateral maritime cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Others believe that India and China must cooperate for the region’s benefit.
On economic cooperation with India, Mr. Wikremesinghe has been more upbeat than the President or Mr. Rajapaksa. In retrospect, one of the triggers for the crisis was his insistence to move ahead with projects identified in the MoU signed with India in April 2017 that had Mr. Sirisena’s opposition. Mr. Wikremesinghe, on a recent visit to Delhi, sought to transfer Mr. Modi’s concern over delays in project implementation to Mr. Sirisena. Besides, Mr. Wikremesinghe’s apparent refusal to take seriously Mr. Sirisena’s anxiety over reports of an attempt on his life brought the two to the breaking point.
The KLF delegation heard how the Sri Lankan industry feared being flooded by Indian goods and professionals. The Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement is yet to reach finalisation. Assessment in Colombo is that Indian investors prefer to invest at home; hence Sri Lanka’s push to attract new investments from Southeast Asia and beyond. The point, however, is that all investors will be risk-averse when the country is unstable and politically fractured. The Sri Lankan Tamil view continues to be supportive of a proactive policy stance by India.
India encounters a range of reactions in Sri Lanka: appreciation, support, suspicion and opposition. Indian diplomacy plays on a sticky wicket. New Delhi is committed to refraining from interference in a neighbour’s internal affairs, but it will always defend its vital interests. While being fair to all sides, it is closely monitoring the unfolding crisis.
Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, and former Ambassador to Myanmar
A valid pause
While holding rates, the RBI has wisely stuck to its policy stance of ‘calibrated tightening’
The Reserve Bank of India’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged, given easing inflation and the slowdown in economic momentum, was both expected and reasonable. In fact, the RBI was prompted to sharply lower its projection for price gains after an unexpected softening in food inflation and a collapse in oil prices in a surprisingly short span of time — the price of India’s crude basket tumbled almost 30% to below $60 by end-November from $85 in early October. The monetary policy committee (MPC) now estimates retail inflation in the second half of the fiscal year to slow to 2.7%-3.2%, at least 120 basis points lower than its October forecast of 3.9%-4.5%. And it foresees the softness in prices enduring through the April-September half of next year, when headline inflation is projected to hover around its medium-term target of 4% and register in a 3.8%-4.2% range. The MPC’s decision to stand pat on rates must also have been bolstered by the findings in the RBI’s November survey of households’ inflation expectations: the outlook for price gains, three months ahead, softened by 40 basis points from September. On growth, the monetary authority has largely stuck with its prognosis from October, while flagging both external and domestic risks to momentum as well as the likely sources of tailwinds. Among the positives cited, beyond a likely boost to consumption demand and corporate earnings from softer fuel costs, are two key data points from the RBI’s own surveys. Capacity utilisation rose to 76.1% in Q2, higher than the long-term average of 74.9%. Also, industrial firms reported an improvement in the demand outlook for Q4. Still, the forecast for full-year GDP growth has been retained at 7.4%, on the back of an expected 7.2%-7.3% second-half expansion, with the risks weighted to the downside.
Interestingly, and justifiably so, the RBI has opted to keep the powder dry by sticking to its policy stance of ‘calibrated tightening’. Given that its primary remit is to achieve and preserve price stability, the central bank is wary of the uncertainties that cloud the inflation horizon. For one, with the prices of several food items at “unusually low levels”, the RBI reckons there is the clear and present danger of a sudden reversal, especially in prices of volatile perishable items. Also, the medium-term outlook for crude oil is still quite hazy, with the possibility of a flare-up in geopolitical tensions and any decision by OPEC both likely to impact supplies. Buttressing this reasoning, households’ one-year-ahead inflation expectations remain elevated and unchanged from September. Most significantly, the central bank has once again raised a cautionary signal to governments, both at the Centre and in the States. Fiscal slippages risk impacting the inflation outlook, heightening market volatility and crowding out private investment. Instead, this may be an opportune time to bolster macroeconomic fundamentals through fiscal prudence.
The Taiwan card
Taipei’s fine balance in its relationship with mainland China is coming under stress
The huge gains for the opposition Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party, in Taiwan’s local elections may help in gradually improving the island’s ties with mainland China. Equally, the adverse results in some of its strongholds could complicate matters for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party government ahead of the 2020 general elections. President Tsai Ing-wen has stepped down as the party chief, owning moral responsibility for the setback; her re-election bid is in doubt. The pro-independence stance of the DPP is at variance with Beijing’s repeated assertion of its sovereignty over Taiwan, which it insists it is prepared to defend through the use of force. All the same, the Taiwanese government has been equally concerned to not allow the long-standing dispute to escalate to a point of jeopardising the strong trade relations between the two territories. But this delicate balance has turned somewhat more precarious since Donald Trump became President of the United States. Ever since his election, he has sought to leverage Taiwan to pressure China in the U.S.’s ongoing trade war. A first indication was the congratulatory call he received from Ms. Tsai on his poll victory. The episode raised concerns over the status of U.S.-China diplomatic relations, established in 1979, and the consequent downgrading of the U.S.’s ties with Taipei to unofficial exchanges. The 2018 Taiwan Travel Act aims to promote greater engagement between Washington and Taipei. Similarly, the new headquarters of the American Institute in Taiwan in Taipei is symbolic of the shift. The Taiwanese President’s recent visits to the U.S. and interactions with several Congressmen have predictably angered Beijing.
Meanwhile, frictions between the two neighbours have also increased. Taipei has alleged that the recent mayoral elections were marred by Beijing’s meddling, with money funnelled illegally to fund opposition campaigns. Business corporations have come under pressure to take down references to Taiwan as a separate entity. Beijing is believed to be applying overt and covert pressure to stop countries from according diplomatic recognition to Taipei. In an echo of China’s increasing economic clout among developing countries, a number of African and Central American states have withdrawn formal ties with Taipei and established links with Beijing since Ms. Tsai became President. In a referendum coinciding with the polls, the people rejected a proposal to rename the country’s Olympic team as Taiwan, instead of the current Chinese Taipei. The verdict is an indication of the limited support for independence and a greater preference to maintain the status quo . Taiwan stands to gain by staying clear of big power rivalries.
Flying into losses
Why there is a crisis in the aviation industry
What is the crisis?
The three main publicly listed airlines in the country — IndiGo, SpiceJet and Jet Airways — slipped from profitability to steep losses in the first nine months of the current calendar year. These airlines together account for 70% of the domestic market share.
Why are they in trouble?
With crude oil prices having risen over the past year and a half, the cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel saw a 40% rise. Fuel accounts for the biggest expenditure for an airline — anywhere between 30 and 40% of the total expenditure incurred. At the same time, the rupee has seen a consistent fall and even breached 74 to a dollar in early October, though it has stabilised to a degree now. This meant that fuel costs apart, airlines were spending more on payments made in foreign currency for engine lease rentals, and maintenance and purchase of spare parts. Despite this rise in operational costs, the airlines have been unable to raise fares because of stiff competition among them. In fact, the lean months of July, August and September saw carriers wooing passengers with attractive offers in an attempt to fill up seats, as is the norm during this season every year.
As a result, by the end of September, market-leader IndiGo posted a loss of Rs. 6,52.1 crore — its first loss since being listed. The airline saw a nearly 60% rise in its expenses to Rs. 7,502.2 crore compared to the previous year. Of this, fuel expenses at Rs. 3,035.4 crore accounted for an almost 50% increase and the remainder was because of rupee depreciation and an inability to raise fares. Importantly, the cost incurred on fuel in the second quarter was double that in the same period last year.
To make matters worse, as airlines embark on a massive fleet expansion, there are more seats to fill than ever before, as many of these airplanes are pressed into service on the already popular routes. All domestic airlines have among them more than 570 airplanes as of now. IndiGo alone has climbed up from 77 aircraft in March 2014 to 198 until December 2018, growing 2.5 times in the past four years. A third of this capacity addition by IndiGo happened during the current calendar year. Altogether, domestic airlines will be adding over 1,000 planes in the next seven-eight years.
What does it mean for passengers?
An airline shutting down could impact connectivity and compress capacity on important routes and drive up airfares. Air travel is no more a luxury, but a necessity, and impacts the economy. So, possible airline failures will impact the public directly and indirectly.
However, experts say that an airline closing down is unlikely, though there could be a merger or a consolidation.
What lies ahead?
Short-term cyclical issues are unlikely to impact the long-term strategic outlook. India is the aviation market of the 21st century and experts see a profitable future for most Indian carriers, if infrastructure, policy and regulatory framework improve. According to the International Air Transport Association, the global aviation body, India will be the third biggest aviation market by 2024 after China and the U.S.
Naxalite ‘revolution’ crushed, claims police
Police sources here [Calicut] said to-day [December 5] that they could now state that the forest areas of Pulpalli, Tirunelly and Kottiyur had been cleared of most of the terrorists. Peace had been restored in the area and the so-called Naxalite ‘revolution’ had been crushed, they said. According to these sources, so far 25 persons, including Ajitha and her mother, Mandakini Narayanan, have been arrested in connection with the Pulpalli attack on November 24 and three others held under Section 151 Cr. P.C. (preventive custody), for having given shelter to the Naxalite terrorists. Police sources also stated that the original estimates regarding the number of attackers were “exaggerated” and it was now known that while in the Tellicherry incident less than 150 took part, in the latter – Pulpalli incident – the number was about 25 only.
#Reserve Bank stands pat on rates
Statutory liquidity ratio cut to 18% from 19.5% with a view to boosting credit
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has left the key interest rate or the repo rate unchanged at 6.5% during the fifth bimonthly monetary policy review on Wednesday — which was on expected lines — while maintaining the ‘calibrated tightening’ stance though it reduced the inflation projection sharply.
All the six members of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted in favour of status quo on repo rate while only one member R.H. Dholakia voted for change in the stance to neutral.
During the post-policy interaction, RBI Governor Urjit Patel said the central bank was ready to take policy action if upside risks to inflation did not materialise.
“If the upside risks we have flagged do not materialise or are muted in their impact as reflected in incoming data, there is a possibility of space opening up for commensurate policy actions by the MPC,” Dr. Patel said.
Consumer price index-based inflation is projected at 2.7-3.2% for the second half of the current financial year and 3.8-4.2% in the first half of the next financial year. In the previous policy review held in October, inflation was projected at 3.9-4.5% for the second half of FY19 and 4.8% in the first quarter of FY20.
Oil price decline
The sharp fall in inflation comes on the back of 30% decline in crude oil prices in November compared with October.
“We expect a formal stance change in early 2019 and a long pause, but rate cut risks are rising,” analysts at Nomura Holdings said.
Retains GDP growth rate
The RBI decided to retain GDP growth rate for 2018-19 at 7.4% and estimated growth at 7.5% for the first half of the next financial year.
“Given the downside risks to growth, we believe that some more members could tilt towards a change in stance by the next meeting in February,” said Abheek Barua, chief economist, HDFC Bank.
S.C. Garg, Secretary, Economic Affairs, while ‘welcoming’ the RBI assessment on growth and inflation outlook, however said, “The policy stance probably required calibration.”
In a move to boost credit flows, the central bank has decided to reduce the statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) requirement for banks to 18% of net demand and time liabilities from 19.5% over the next six quarters, by 25 bps each in every quarter.
The first reduction of 25 basis points will take effect in the quarter starting in January 2019.
“We believe that with global growth becoming uncertain and domestic growth considerations slowly taking centre stage, a depiction of uncertainty should form part of the policy statement,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, group chief economic adviser, SBI.
‘RBI ready to stand as lender of last resort’
‘No drastic steps needed for NBFCs’
Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor Viral Acharya assured that the central bank was ready to stand as the lender of last resort in the context of liquidity needs of the non-banking finance sector.
At the same time, Mr. Acharya said the present situation did not warrant any drastic steps given the health of the Indian economy.
The Deputy Governor’s comments come in the wake of sector facing a crisis of confidence.
“The Reserve Bank also stands ready to be the lender of last resort that is provided that kind of conditions warrant that sort of extreme measure,” Dr. Acharya said during the post-policy interaction with the media.
“In our assessment, there is no such necessity at the present given the sound health of our economy.
“As the Governor explained in detail, we are at a level of aggregate credit growth which is in excess of nominal GDP (gross domestic product)growth with a fairly robust distribution across various sectors,” he added.
The Reserve Bank said it had been watching the market developments on the issue since end August and was in ‘regular touch’ with Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to access the fallout of mutual fund redemption and the resulting rollover risks for NBFCs and housing finance companies.
Raising crops in arsenic contaminated soil
An Indian scientist in the U.K. is working on a way to grow crops in arsenic-contaminated soil, a study which is likely to have wide ranging impact for farmers in northeastern India.
Dr. Mohan T.C., from Dr. Alex Jones Laboratory at the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, conducted a pilot study in transgenic Barley and is now looking at doing it in rice plants following funding from the Medical and Life Sciences Research Fund, U.K.
The university made the announcement on Wednesday, to mark World Soil Day on December 5. “To stop the cancer-causing arsenic entry into the food chain, it is essential to develop safe crops, through restricting the translocation of arsenic to edible part,” he said.
“In our current project, we are trying to manipulate cytokinin hormone in rice plants through genetic engineering and we expect to increase the roots detoxification capacity of the transgenic rice,” he said.
Presence of arsenic in soil is a worldwide problem.