APRIL 24, Wednesday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Sri Lanka links Easter blasts to Christchurch mosque attacks





Sri Lanka links Easter blasts to Christchurch mosque attacks

Reports quote IS as claiming responsibility for the attacks that killed over 320

Meera Srinivasan

Shattered world: A man prays at the grave of a blast victim at a cemetery in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Wednesday.REUTERS

COLOMBO

The serial bomb attacks on Easter Sunday, which claimed over 320 lives in Sri Lanka, were meant as retaliation for the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene told Parliament on Tuesday, based on “initial evidence”.

Also on Tuesday, over 48 hours after the coordinated blasts, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, media reports said, citing the group’s AMAQ news agency. Sri Lanka had on Monday said a local Islamist radical organisation, the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), was responsible for the attacks but suspected it had links with international groups.

Even as the country tried to come to terms with the brutal killings, with mass funerals and special prayers, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe indicated that the threat of further attacks remained. The police and military remained on high alert after reports of an unidentified container truck and a van in Colombo, believed to be carrying explosives.

A few more suspects linked to the attacks, some of whom are believed to possess explosives, were “still on the run,” Mr. Wickremesinghe told mediapersons. “We have to anticipate [their moves] and we are working accordingly,” he said.

On whether Sri Lanka had evidence to corroborate IS involvement, Mr. Wickremesinghe said the Sri Lankan security apparatus suspected the NTJ had links with international groups, including the IS. “We are looking into it,” he added.

Indian hotel escapes

Further, The Hindu has learnt that the premises of an Indian hotel chain had also been a target on Sunday. But the suspected bomber who, according to sources familiar with the investigations, was spotted in the vicinity, reportedly left the area, where security had been tightened.

Later, investigators established that the same person had blown himself up at a small hotel in a Colombo suburb. The explosion was identified as the seventh that day, where two persons were reported dead.



Judges’ panel to hear charges against CJI





Judges’ panel to hear charges against CJI

Supreme Court Bench to deal with crisis for judiciary

Krishnadas Rajagopal

Justice S.A. Bobde

NEW DELHI

A three-member committee of Supreme Court judges led by Justice S.A. Bobde, the number two judge in the apex court, was formed on Tuesday to look into allegations of sexual harassment raised by a former employee against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

The other two members of the committee are Justice N.V. Ramana and Justice Indira Banerjee. Justice Ramana is the number three judge in the apex court.

Justice Bobde has taken a central role in dealing with the crisis, which erupted on April 20 when some websites published the woman’s allegations against the CJI.

Earlier in the day, he constituted a Special Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, Rohinton Nariman and Deepak Gupta to deal with, on the judicial side, the suo motu petition titled ‘In a matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary.’

The meeting on the formation of the committee went on till late on Tuesday.

The morning saw senior judges hold an intense closed-door discussion till noon before beginning their usual court work.


* Nation

‘City of brass’ rues lost shine post-demonetisation





‘City of brass’ rues lost shine post-demonetisation

Still reeling under effects of note ban and GST, voters in Moradabad say joblessness is the biggest issue this election

Anuj Kumar

Women at a sugarcane juice stall after casting their votes in Moradabad on Tuesday. Anuj Kumar

Moradabad

“Peetal Nagari has been reduced to mitti ki nagri (city of clay),” was the common refrain across polling booths in Moradabad, also known as the ‘city of brass’, which is still reeling under the effects of demonetisation and GST.

Some held the BJP responsible for it, others wanted to give the party another chance to redeem itself. “Joblessness is the biggest issue in this election,” said Mohd. Aslam, at the Girls Senior High School near the famed Peerazada Road, the hub of the brass industry. “I worked as a contractor in the brass industry, now I work as a labourer to make ends meet. There are many like me who were forced to leave the industry after demonetisation. Some are running autosrickshaws, some have put up vegetable stalls.”

Added Shehzade Alam, an artisan, “Now, the exporters are using us as bonded labourers and the police are looting us in the name of GST. You let the rich go scot-free but you want to make us, who deal only in thousands, to become completely honest.”

At the Sushila Kanya School, exporter Vineet Verma said people had high expectations from the BJP government, some of which were not fulfilled. “It was only the domestic market that was affected by demonetisation. There was cash crunch in the market for a long time and half-skilled workers went out of the system. Things are coming back to normal. There is no anger against the government but we think the government could have done more.”

In the Jama Masjid area, at the Hewett Muslim Inter College booth, Rubina Begum said the “loss in business” could be “forgotten” but the “divide” that the present government had created “between Hindus and Muslims” could not. “When the Wazir-e-Azam [Prime Minister] is talking on divisive lines, how could we complain about the BJP candidate who didn’t even have the decency to visit the Muslim areas. There is an atmosphere of fear.”

Triangular contest

In the ‘city of brass’, the alloy of Mahagathbandhan is on test as SP candidate Dr. S.T. Hasan is taking on sitting BJP MP Sarvesh Singh and Imran Pratapgarhi of the Congress. In 2014, the real estate magnate defeated the surgeon by a margin of over 87,000 votes. This time a poet, Mr. Pratapgarhi, has also joined the fray.

At Government Primary School, Manglupura, Parag Kaushik, who runs a shop of brass artefacts, said the election was not being fought on local issues. “Nationalism is the top priority which the Congress doesn’t believe in. Rahul Gandhi is playing the Brahmin card in Amethi and Christian card in Wayanad,” he alleged. At KCM school, teacher Ashwini Gupta said, “I can see development, but what Moradabad needs is a government university. The region lacks in education sector.”

SP candidate Azam Khan’s use of derogatory words against BJP’s Jaya Prada in neighbouring Rampur was on the mind of some voters. “He [Azam Khan] is an emotional person. But he should not have used such words. It is going to cut SP votes in the city,” said Shakeel Ur Rehman Shamsi, a Congress sympathiser.

In Valmiki colony in Katghar, first-time voter Vishesh Katarria said he didn’t want to vote but his family forced him to. “[BSP chief] Mayawati has deserted us and the BJP is only pushing us to express our Hindu identity. On the ground, our situation is the same. There is rampant joblessness and the police still use us to highlight that law and order is in control. Every time there is anti-Romeo campaign, we are slapped or rounded up for no reason.”

Missing local issues

Dr. Yogendra Singh, associate professor at KGK College, said this time the enthusiasm witnessed in voters in 2014 is missing. “Also, for the first time, I am observing that the local issues are being completely ignored. People are voting keeping in mind the national leaders.”



Voters brave summer heat to exercise franchise





Voters brave summer heat to exercise franchise

Kolhapur records highest turnout in all 14 constituencies at 65.7%, while Pune disappoints at 43.63%

Shoumojit Banerjee

Making their choice: (Clockwise from top left) A senior citizen leaves a polling station in Kudal, Sindhudurg, on Tuesday; Shraddha Bhagat shows her inked finger after casting her vote en route to her wedding at Narayan Peth in Pune; voters leave a ‘pink booth’ set up for women at Bicholim in Goa; and senior citizen Bhagvan Shevde, popularly know as Satara’s Bal Thackeray, is helped up a ramp at a polling station in Bhavani Peth, Satara. Rajendra GawankarMandar TannuAtish Pomburfekar Jignesh Mistry Jignesh Mistry

Pune

The blistering summer heat notwithstanding, voters queued up at polling stations in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra that went to polls in the third phase of the general elections on Tuesday. The 14 constituencies witnessed a 57.01% voter turnout till 5 p.m., according to the election authorities.

Ten of the seats are in western Maharashtra, with two crucial constituencies each in north Maharashtra (Jalgaon and Raver) and Marathwada region (Aurangabad and Jalna) respectively rounding out the rest.

Soaring mercury levels failed to dampen the enthusiasm of voters in Kolhapur and Hatkanangale, which registered the highest turnouts — 65.70% and 64.79% respectively — till 5 p.m.

In contrast, in urban Pune, only 43.63% of the registered electorate turned up to cast their votes. Pune’s lacklustre turnout was the lowest among the 14 constituencies, falling way below the 53.4% recorded in 2014. An early burst of enthusiasm, which saw several Punekars queuing outside polling booths well before the scheduled 7 a.m. start time, petered out rapidly.

Decent turnout in most

While EVM glitches in a few booths in Satara, Madha and Ahmednagar temporarily halted the process, the polling was largely peaceful.

Most seats witnessed a decent voter turnout, nearly matching, or in some cases surpassing, the 2014 figure. Baramati saw a voter turnout of 55.84%, while 55.40% of the electorate cast their votes in Satara, 59.39% in Sangli, 56.41% in Madha, 52.28% in Jalgaon, 56.18% in Raver, 58.82% in Aurangabad, 59.92% in Jalna, 57.75% in Ahmednagar, 56.14% in Raigad and 57.63% in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg.

This phase comprises of some of the most fiercely contested seats in Maharashtra, with the prestige of a number of big leaders and clans including the Pawars, Vikhe-Patils and Ranes, at stake. Many seats, like Baramati, Madha, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Kolhapur and Sangli, are expected to witness high-profile and wildly unpredictable contests.

Joshi confident

Speaking to The Hindu, after casting his vote, the Congress-NCP candidate for Pune, Mohan Joshi, predicted that the Congress would reclaim its erstwhile bastion. “It is quite clear that people have tired of the five-year misrule of the BJP. The party, led by Pune’s Guardian Minister Girish Bapat [the BJP-Sena’s candidate for Pune], has comprehensively failed to address the acute water scarcity and the garbage disposal issues,” Mr. Joshi said.

He alleged that Mr. Bapat and the BJP had misused their powers to deter Congress observers at several booths in the city.

The BJP-Sena’s candidate for the Madha seat, Ranjitsinh Naik-Nimbalkar levelled a similar allegation at his nemesis, the NCP’s Sanjay Shinde, claiming that Mr. Shinde’s agents had ‘driven away’ the BJP’s observers from certain booths.

Expressing satisfaction at the turnout in Kolhapur and Sangli, senior BJP leader Chandrakant Patil, the party’s strategist for western Maharashtra said, “Such enthusiasm only indicates that people wish to see Prime Minister Modi get a second-term again…I am confident that the BJP-Sena will sweep all 10 seats in western Maharashtra and win 45 of the 48 LS seats in the State.”



‘Myths being spread about Inter results’





‘Myths being spread about Inter results’

Telangana Education Minister says panel will submit report on the issue in a couple of days

Special correspondent

Burning issue: ABVP activists burning the effigy of Telangana government in Nalgonda on Tuesday.Singam Venkataramana

SURYAPET /hyderabad

Telangana Education Minister G. Jagadish Reddy said here on Tuesday that myths are being circulated about the Intermediate results announced by the Board of Intermediate Education (BIE) last week.

Responding to queries on the goof-ups by the BIE, Mr. Reddy assured both parents and students that a committee headed by Managing Director of Telangana State Technology Services Limited G.T. Venkateswar Rao was looking into the issue and would submit its report in a couple of days.

“There are more myths than mistakes in the results. We are looking into who created them as well as whether the errors are technical or human,” he said.

The Minister blamed Opposition leaders for “heightening the tension among students and parents”.

“Political parties are behaving irresponsibly to gain political mileage. The aggrieved students and parents should understand this,” he said.

Students who were sure about their performance could apply for re-evaluation and recounting, he suggested.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s Telangana unit has demanded a probe by a sitting High Court judge into the imbroglio and called for punishment of the guilty.

One-time waiver

Party president K. Laxman on Tuesday also called upon the government to give a one-time fee waiver for requests for recounting, revaluation and copies of answer scripts. He said a special cell should be constituted to address the grievances of students and effect redressal on a war-footing.

Accusing the BIE officials of trying to “play-down” the magnitude of failures, and pin the blame on a “few evaluators”, Mr. Laxman objected to what he termed as attempts to “intimidate agitating parents and students”. The government should issue an unconditional apology for “traumatising scores of families”, he said.

The BJP president termed the Intermediate exam scam as one of the biggest in the newly formed Telangana State and wondered why Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao was maintaining silence over the issue.



Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way into sea





Olive Ridley hatchlings make their way into sea

Nature lovers join hands with forest personnel in releasing the tiny turtles

K.N. Murali Sankar

New beginning: Olive Ridley hatchlings on their new journey from the Moolapeta beach near Kakinada.

KAKINADA

As a cool breeze swept the beach near Uppada Kothapalli, Olive Ridley hatchlings began their new journey into the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday.

One of the six in situ conservation centres for the endangered species arranged by the district forest officials abutting the shore turned into a hub of activity, with a battery of officials and nature lovers turning up for the evening. Black and measuring just a few inches, the hatchlings made their way into the gushing waters after their release into the beach.

Personnel from the Forest Department brought hundreds of little ones in special trays and handed them over to the officials for the release. Having their origin in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Olive Ridley turtles come to the shores of the Bay of Bengal only to lay their eggs between December and April every year. Though Gahirmatha in Odisha is the preferred location for their nestling, many turtles stop by in the intermediate beaches, lay their eggs and return to their source location.

Each female digs a sandpit, lays 90 to 120 eggs and promptly closes the pit before leaving the shore. The turtles do not protect the eggs from predators such as dogs and jackals. This makes the role of the Forest Department important, and it has been taking care of the conservation part.

Conservation locations

“We have arranged six in situ conservation locations in the district, from where about 1.75 lakh hatchlings are expected to be released into the Bay of Bengal,” said Kartikeya Misra, District Collector.

“The Olive Ridley turtles come here by Christmas every year. Owing to the cyclone Phethai, there has been a three-week delay this year and the nesting began only after Pongal,” said Anant Shankar, while observing that the releases would be continued in May too.



‘Price controls hurting FDI in medical devices’





‘Price controls hurting FDI in medical devices’

Industry sources blame dip on government curbs

Bindu Shajan Perappadan
NEW DELHI

Blanket implementation of price controls has contributed to a drastic fall in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the medical device sector, say industry insiders, pointing to a reduction from $439 million in 2016 to $66 million in 2018.

“Data released by the Government Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade clearly show this decline which has happened even though FDI is allowed through automatic route,” said Mr. Pavan Choudary, heading the Medical Technology Association of India (MTaI). The Association represents leading global medical technology companies with a substantial footprint in India.

“We posit that this decline was the unintended consequence of the well meaning intention but the anomaly needs to be corrected,” Mr Choudary said.

Not specific to industry

Countering the argument, Pritam Datta, Fellow, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), and author of “Medical Devices Manufactering Industry-estimation of market size and import dependence in India”, said, “We are talking about a country which imports 70 % of its medical devices and it is only now that we have started manufacturing high-end medical devices. While there has been a fall in this sector, it cannot be attributed only to the price control in India. We have always seen that around the election year there is a fall in FDI in all sectors. This is also a growing sector.”

Meanwhile, in 2015 the Centre approved 100% FDI in the medical devices sector via automatic route. Previously medical devices, which came under the pharma sector, could take in 100% FDI through automatic route only in case of new ventures.

Further approval of Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was needed in case of acquisition of existing companies.

The break-through came after the industry urged approval for FDI through automatic route, pointing out that there were no big firms for medical devices in India, and hence no threat of merger or acquisition.



* Editorial 1

The permanence of Arab uprisings





The permanence of Arab uprisings

As protests hit Sudan and Algeria, it’s anybody’s guess if they will go the Tunisia or the Egypt way

REUTERSRAMZI BOUDINA

Arab politics remains defiant. Eight years after protests swept through the Arab street toppling several dictators, anti-government demonstrations erupted in Sudan and Algeria (picture) in recent months. Earlier this month, both Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had ruled Algeria for 20 years, and Omar al-Bashir, who had been at the helm in Sudan for three decades, quit amid public anger, reviving memories of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings earlier. When protests broke out in Tunisia in late 2010 and spread to other countries, there were hopes that the Arab world was in for massive changes. The expectation was that in countries where people rose, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and Syria, the old autocracies would be replaced with new democracies. But except Tunisia, the country-specific stories of the Arab uprising were tragic.

Arab Spring 2.0?

These tragedies, however, did not kill the revolutionary spirit of the Arab youth, as the protests in Sudan and Algeria show. Rather, there’s continuity from Tunis to Khartoum and Algiers. The Arab uprising was originally triggered by a combination of factors. The economic model based on patronage was crumbling in these countries. The rulers had been in power for decades, and there was popular longing for freedom from their repressive regimes. More important, the protests were transnational in nature, though the targets of the revolutionaries were their respective national governments. The driving force behind the protests was a pan-Arabist anger against the old system. That’s why it spread like wildfire from Tunis to Cairo, Benghazi and Manama. They may have failed to reshape the Arab political order, but the embers of the uprisings appear to have survived the tragedy of ‘Arab Spring’.

Most Arab economies are beset with economic woes. The rentier system Arab monarchs and dictators built is in a bad shape. Arab rulers for years bought loyalty of the masses in return for patronage, which was then buttressed by the fear factor. This model is no more viable. If Arab countries were shaken by the 2010-11 protests, they would be thrown into another crisis in 2014, with the fall in oil prices. Having touched $140 a barrel in 2008, the price of oil collapsed to $30 in 2016. This impacted both oil-producing and oil-importing countries. Producers, reeling under the price fall, had cut spending — both public spending and aid for other Arab countries. Non-oil-producing Arab economies such as Jordan and Egypt saw aid that they were dependent on drying up. In May 2018, there were massive protests in Jordan against a proposed tax law and rising fuel prices. Demonstrators left the streets only after Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned, his successor withdrew the legislation and King Abdullah II made an intervention to freeze the price hike.

Regime changers

In Sudan and Algeria, protesters have gone a step ahead, demanding regime change, like their comrades in Egypt and Tunisia did in late 2010 and early 2011. Algeria, whose economy is heavily dependent on the hydrocarbon sector, took a hit after the post-2014 commodity meltdown. While GDP growth slowed from 4% in 2014 to 1.6% in 2017, youth unemployment soared to 29%. This economic downturn was happening at a time when Mr. Bouteflika was missing from public engagement. A stroke had paralysed him in 2013. But when he announced candidacy for this year’s presidential election, seeking another five-year term, it infuriated the public. In a matter of days, protests spread across the country, which culminated in his resignation on April 2.

Sudan’s case is not different. The northeast African country is also battling a serious economic crisis. Mr. Bashir and his military clique ruled the country through fear for three decades. But the split of South Sudan in 2011, with three-fourths of the undivided country’s oil reserves, broke the back of the junta. Post-2014, Sudan fell into a deeper crisis, often seeking aid from richer Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and even Qatar, the Saudi bloc’s regional rival. Inflation is at 73%. Sudan is also grappling with fuel and cash shortages. Discontent first boiled over in the northeastern city Atbara in mid-December over the rising price of bread, and the protests soon spread into a nationwide movement. Mr. Bashir tried everything he could to calm the streets — from declaring a state of emergency to sacking his entire cabinet — but protesters demanded nothing less than regime change. Finally the army stepped in, removing him from power on April 11.

Counter-revolutionaries

Like in the case of 2010-11, the 2018-19 protests are also transnational — they spread from Amman to Khartoum and Algiers in a matter of months. The pan-Arabist anger against national governments remains the main driving force behind the protests, which should set alarm bells ringing across Arab capitals. But in all these countries, the counter-revolutionary forces are so strong that protesters often stop short of achieving their main goal — a clear break with the past. They manage to get rid of the dictators, but the system those dictators built survives somehow, and sometimes in a moral brutal fashion. There are two main counter-revolutionary forces in these countries. The first are the main guardians of the old system, either the monarchy or the army. Tunisia is the only country where the revolutionaries outwitted the counter-revolutionaries. They overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s dictatorship, and the country transitioned to a multi-party democracy. In Egypt, the army made a comeback and further tightened its grip on the state and society through violence and repression. In Jordan, the monarch always acts as a bulwark against revolutionary tendencies.

The second are geopolitical actors. In Libya, the foreign intervention removed Muammar Qaddafi, but the war destroyed the Libyan state and institutions, leaving the country in the hands of competing militias. Libya is yet to recover from the anarchy triggered by the intervention. In Syria, with foreign intervention, the protests first turned into an armed civil war and then the country itself became a theatre of wars for global players. In Yemen, protests turned into a sectarian civil conflict, with foreign powers taking different sides. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia made a direct military intervention, on behalf of its rulers, to violently end the protests in Manama’s Pearl Square.

The same could happen in Algeria and Sudan as well. In both countries, the army let the Presidents fall, but retained its grip on power, despite pressure from protesters. They don’t want regime change. They are dressing up the fall of the dictator as a revolution and selling it to the protesters, just as the Egyptian military did eight years ago. Sudan faces the heat of geopolitical intervention as well. As soon as the military council directly took power, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Egypt offered support to the military, at a time when protests continue in Khartoum demanding an immediate handover of power to a civilian government. The Saudis have also announced an aid package to the new junta, making it clear who they prefer.

This is the challenge before the Arab protesters. They are angry. They want the system to be changed. But they are the multitudes. There’s no vanguard of the revolution. While they keep rising up against the system, they are constantly being pushed back by the counter-revolutionaries.

stanly.johny@thehindu.co.in



The problem with cherry-picking data





The problem with cherry-picking data

If it’s the government’s case that NSSO figures are suspect, what has it based policy decisions on?

Arun Kumar

Getty ImagesSatish Patel/Getty Images

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said last week, “we definitely have a data crisis,” and blamed academics for creating a “false narrative”. Yet, at the heart of the data crisis in India is the Central government, which has been holding back important data. Most recently, it did not announce the data on employment created by the ‘Mudra’ scheme. Earlier, the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data on employment were withheld. Data on farm suicides have not been available since 2016. Data are being withheld precisely where experts have flagged problems, such as on employment, farmers’ crisis and economic growth.

Clashing with reality

The NSSO data (which have not been released officially) undermine the National Democratic Alliance government’s claims on job creation. In fact, they showed massive unemployment. Demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax, both of which undermined the unorganised sector which employs 94% of the workforce, have impacted employment. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) and others have confirmed the loss of jobs. The NSSO and CMIE data are based on household surveys which capture any additional employment created by Mudra loans, tax aggregators, e-commerce, etc. Basically, jobs are being lost so that the net effect is a decline in employment.

The government had promised doubling of farm incomes by 2022. But, farmers’ incomes have come under pressure due to falling farm produce prices and rising input costs. This got aggravated by demonetisation, with cash shortages in rural areas compelling farmers to sell at lower prices to the traders to get cash. Data on farmer suicides have not been released on schedule even though the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) collects them annually.

The government has implicitly admitted that there is a crisis in the farming and unorganised sectors, and due to that in employment generation. That is why it announced an annual ₹6,000 support to farmers owning up to five acres of land and promised insurance to workers in the unorganised sector. It has also increased allocations for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) from ₹55,000 crore to ₹60,000 crore. This allocation is inadequate, but it does indicate that the government is forced to acknowledge the crisis facing the poor.

To counter the argument of a crisis facing large segments of the population, the government first tried to discredit alternative arguments and then changed its stance to say that data on the unorganised sector employment were bad. In the process, it discredited its own agency’s data.

But the data on employment put out by NSSO have been used for long. Was that all incorrect also? If so, policy formulation based on that faulty (or non-existent) data was also incorrect. It would render suspect not only the policies of past governments, but even this government’s.

Most critically, if data on unorganised sector employment are not reliable or are non-existent, then GDP data are also not credible. After all, such data must factor in the contribution of the unorganised sector. The implication is that the government is only estimating growth on the basis of the organised sector of the economy, a point repeatedly made by this writer in the last two years.

In brief, the government has tied itself up in knots by saying that no one has credible employment data. So, GDP data also become suspect and so does the claim of 7% rate of growth. If the GDP calculation is inaccurate, can the budget figures based on this data be relied upon? Using the organised sector growth to represent the unorganised sector growth is somewhat acceptable only if the two components are moving in the same direction. But that has not been true post-demonetisation, which decimated the unorganised sector. So, the official figures represent only the organised sector. If the alternative data on unorganised sector growth are included, then the rate of growth would turn out to be less than 1%. This would be consistent with the crisis of the unorganised sector, agriculture and employment. A 7% growth rate of the economy is not consistent with this crisis.

The situation becomes even worse when quarterly GDP growth figures are relied on. They are based only on the corporate sector data and not even the organised sector. Thus, they are even less representative of growth of the economy.

The government cites World Bank and International Monetary Fund figures in support of its contention of 7% growth. But these agencies do not collect independent data and only reiterate the official data. So, their figures are not independent endorsements of government data.

To be fair, all governments in the past have manipulated data. The budgetary figures — fiscal deficit, expenditures and revenues — are fudged. Critics point to creative accounting in the budget every year. Data on education and health are also manipulated to show better performance. Whenever the GDP base change has been announced, experts have pointed to flaws. Inflation measured by the wholesale price index has been criticised as not representing the services sector, hence understating inflation.

Risk of arbitrariness

What is new is the complete denial of data collected by official agencies. If the government wishes to revamp data collection, it cannot be done arbitrarily. Expert committees must be appointed to work on the modification of methodology and the database. Even this would not account for the substantial black economy.

In brief, the present government is denying the data of its own agencies or modifying data arbitrarily. This is opening the doors for future governments to do the same. Tomorrow when the inflation rate rises, a government can claim that data on prices are faulty. If so, the bottom falls out of the calculation of dearness allowance to the organised sector and the budget formulation gets impacted. Further, the calculations of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) also go wrong since it is supposed to target inflation. If both the data on growth and prices are denied, what would the RBI target? No one says that data cannot be improved but denying the existing official data only creates problems for policy and its credibility.

Arun Kumar is at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi and author of ‘Ground Scorching Tax’, 2019



In an oil slick





In an oil slick

India is testing its traditional ties with Iran by giving in to U.S. bullying

Faced with the U.S.’s intransigent demand that all countries put a full stop to oil imports from Iran or face sanctions, the Indian government has indicated it will ‘zero out’ oil imports after the May 2 deadline. Statements from the Petroleum and External Affairs Ministries suggest the government’s focus is now on finding alternative sources of energy, and minimising the impact on the Indian market. At last count, India was importing about 10% of its oil needs from Iran, although it had considerably reduced its intake over the last few months. The U.S. has made it clear that Indian companies that continue to import oil from Iran would face severe secondary sanctions, including being taken out of the SWIFT international banking system and a freeze on dollar transactions and U.S. assets. In response, Indian importers, including the oil PSUs, have decided that sourcing oil from Iran is unviable at present. As a result, the government is seeking to explain the decision as a pragmatic one, taken in India’s best interests. Officials point to the six-month reprieve, from November 2018 to May 2019, that they received from the U.S. in the form of sanctions waivers to import Iranian oil, and the exemption to continue developing the Chabahar port, as positive outcomes of the negotiations over the past year. Such arguments are, however, not very convincing. India has, in effect, now decided to cave in to U.S. pressure on the issue less than a year after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that India would recognise only UN sanctions, not “unilateral” ones. In fact, last February Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed in Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s presence in Delhi to increase India’s oil intake from Iran.

There are other real costs attached to the U.S. ultimatum that India may have to bear. The price of oil has already shot up above the $70 mark in April. In addition, Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a key channel for global oil shipments, which would further lead to inflationary trends, not just for oil but other commodities too. Any direct backlash from Iran for its decision will also jeopardise India’s other interests in the country, including its considerable investment in the Chabahar port, which India is building as an alternative route for trade to Central Asia. In the larger picture, India isn’t just testing its traditional ties with Iran, but also giving in to President Donald Trump’s blatant bullying after his administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Instead of engaging in what appear to have been fruitless negotiations with the U.S. over the past year, India, China, the EU and other affected entities could have spent their time more productively in building a counter with an alternative financial architecture, immune to the U.S.’s arbitrary moves.



The halfway mark





The halfway mark

With a month to counting day, BJP has upped the Hindutva pitch in the Hindi heartland

Voting has taken place in 302 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in the first three phases of polling. The third phase of polling on Tuesday was spread across 14 States and Union Territories, in 115 constituencies. In addition, polling for the East Tripura seat, which was postponed from April 18 after the EC concluded that the law and order situation there was not conducive to holding free and fair polls, took place on Tuesday. With the third phase, more than half the constituencies have voted, including all in the southern States and Gujarat. Voting trends indicate that the turnout in general would hover around the 2014 levels. The massive turnout in Kerala and higher turnouts in the tribal regions of Gujarat are noteworthy in the third phase, and could influence the result. Through the second and third phases, the BJP tried to alter the beaten path of politics in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, while doubling down on its Hindutva agenda in the Hindi heartland and Gujarat. The BJP’s strategy to retain power at the Centre now clearly involves limiting the inevitable losses in its strongholds, promoting friendly regional parties where its presence is limited and opening some new territories for itself. The manifestation of this strategy was visible in the one-sided actions of the Income Tax department in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka that targeted only those from the Opposition parties. In the 16th Lok Sabha, the BJP had 21 of the 129 seats in the five southern States, 17 of them from Karnataka.

In Kerala, the BJP appears to have made significant inroads by mobilising protests against the entry of all women into the Sabarimala shrine. During his tour of the State, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the BJP was an “inclusive, and democratic party”, thus soft-pedalling the hyper-nationalism that continues to be the mainstay of his campaigning in general. This attempt to sound reasonable to the diverse Kerala society runs parallel to the most corrosive demonstration of Hindutva till date during this election season, in the candidacy of Pragya Singh Thakur, who is an accused in terrorist attacks. Ms. Singh, the BJP candidate from Bhopal, has over the last few days made several inflammatory statements. Overall, the shrillness of the BJP rhetoric has only risen as campaigning gains momentum for the fourth phase. For his part, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has sought to underscore the link between national security and unemployment, and terms his 2019 election as a fight for the survival of India as an inclusive and pluralistic country. Mr. Gandhi has kept the suspense alive on the possibility of his sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, contesting against Mr. Modi in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi constituency. If Ms. Vadra enters the fray as a candidate, it would doubtless alter some of the calculations about this election.


* Editorial 2

India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan





India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan

The hyper-nationalistic frenzy to ‘defeat’ Pakistan comes with huge human and material costs

FILE PHOTO/PTIPTI

Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.

Self-defeating goal

It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.

But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.

Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. Hussain Haqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.

In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.

More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).

Muscular policy

The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.

Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ₹6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.

Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?

Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.

Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)

Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as Amartya Sen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.

Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.

Skewed defence spends

Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.

The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.

Nissim Mannathukkaren is Chair, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada.



A natural next step





A natural next step

The deepening India-Australia security relationship must be seen against the backdrop of expanding bilateral ties

Harinder Sidhu

K.R. DEEPAKK_R_DEEPAK

This month was a historic moment in the India-Australia bilateral relationship. Under our joint naval exercise known as AUSINDEX, we saw the largest ever peacetime deployment of Australian defence assets and personnel to India.

The third iteration of our bilateral naval exercise, AUSINDEX, which has just concluded (April 2-16), builds on a fourfold increase in our defence engagement — from 11 defence exercises, meetings and activities in 2014 to 38 in 2018. The Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command hosted an impressive array of high-end Australian military hardware, including the Royal Australian Navy’s flagship, HMAS Canberra and the submarine, HMAS Collins. The Canberra is the size of a small aircraft carrier. She can carry over 1,000 troops and 16 helicopters. These vessels were joined by frigates, aircraft and around 1,200 sailors, soldiers and airmen and women.

As well as being Australia’s largest defence deployment to India, the exercise was the most complex ever carried out between our defence forces. For the first time, our navies undertook anti-submarine warfare exercises. And in a similar show of trust and cooperation, Indian and Australian maritime patrol P-8 aircraft flew coordinated missions over the Bay of Bengal.

Mark of greater alignment

The strategic trust on display during AUSINDEX is representative of a deepening strategic alignment between our countries. When Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, visited India earlier this year, in January, she emphasised our shared outlook as free, open and independent democracies, as champions of international law, as supporters of an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and as firm believers that ‘might is not right’. These shared values underline our deepening cooperation.

A key element of Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy is partnering with India in the vibrant Indian Ocean Region. India is a leader in this region and Australia is a natural partner for addressing shared challenges. We must continue to work together to combat transnational crime, terrorism, people smuggling, and illegal fishing, in order that we may all enjoy a peaceful and prosperous Indian Ocean Region.

As the nation with one of the longest Indian Ocean coastlines and with more than half of our goods trade departing Indian Ocean ports, Australia is committed to addressing humanitarian and environmental challenges in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood.

Australia is playing its part in the Indo-Pacific region through major new initiatives in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We are undertaking a substantial step up in our support for Pacific Island countries. In November 2018 we announced the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. This AU$2 billion initiative will boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries.

Our security relationships with Pacific Island countries have also been enhanced. We will establish a Pacific Fusion Centre to provide real-time surveillance data for countries across the region as well as enhancing policing and military training both bilaterally and through regional centres.

We are also building on our significant diplomatic and economic relationships with Southeast Asia to build resilience and prosperity in our region. Our recently announced Southeast Asia Economic Governance and Infrastructure Initiative, worth AU$121 million, will help unlock Southeast Asia’s next wave of economic growth.

Growing links

All this activity is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding India-Australia relationship. Our people-to-people and economic links are on the rise. The Indian diaspora in Australia is both strong and growing. One in 50 Australians today was born in India; almost 90,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year; and over 350,000 tourists visited Australia from India in 2018. We are working together to see India become a top three trading partner for Australia by 2035.

So, on the one hand, we should welcome the successful AUSINDEX exercise as a step up in our strategic partnership. At the same time, we should recognise it also as the natural next step in a friendship between Australia and India that is marked by growing trust, understanding and camaraderie. That is really something to celebrate.

Harinder Sidhu is the Australian High Commissioner to India



Outer space lessons
Outer space lessons
In furthering its outer space ambitions, India must study the experiences of other space powers
Martand Jha
As scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) work toward ‘Mission Gaganyaan’, to send three Indian astronauts into space, one can’t but make comparisons with the U.S.’s lunar mission in the 1960s. At the time, U.S. President John F. Kennedy made a public statement about his administration’s determination to place an American on the moon by the end of that decade. His speech was against the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s progress as the foremost power in space, and after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s feat of becoming the first human being in space (April 1961).
The U.S.’s objective, therefore, was to have a definite public-relations edge over the U.S.S.R. in the space race, which was marked then by intense rivalry between two Cold War powers. A breakthrough in space was thus a matter of prestige. In the context of ISRO’s plan, the prestige value of ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ is sky-high, possibly in the same league as the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Apollo Mission to the moon.
A key lesson for India from NASA’s lunar mission is that a programme of that scale and magnitude often comes at a steep cost, monetary and non-monetary. More than the monetary loss, it is the non-monetary loss that matters more, as it can lend currency to the idea that such a failure indicates a waste of time and resources. A failed mission deeply hurts the image of the country in the eyes of the outside world. It raises doubts about the capability of the nation-state in question. No nation-state ever wants to such face such a dilemma. This is because such a development would play to the advantage of adversaries, politically and diplomatically. Politically, a failed mission of such magnitude could give voices in the opposition an opportunity to level criticism, perhaps weakening the incumbent domestically. The diplomatic costs arise from the fact that losses in space missions can seriously impact the future of cooperation between space powers.
For instance, during the Cold War, both the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R. exaggerated each other’s failures in space missions considerably in order to influence the overall mood among and inclinations of other nations in their favour. This was most easily achieved by making the rival look as weak as possible. Historically, the media played an active role in participating in such an agenda-driven propaganda.
Outer space is often referred to as the ‘final frontier’ by major world powers, with the prize for conquering it being even more greatness on the world stage. While India’s credentials were bolstered after the successful anti-satellite mission recently, significant success in ‘Mission Gaganyaan’ might provide India with that stamp of authority in outer space that it so keenly desires. For that to happen, the lessons from the experiences of other space powers must be heeded.
The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

* Foreign

Sri Lanka’s Muslim community fears backlash





Sri Lanka’s Muslim community fears backlash

The sudden, heightened scrutiny has caused concerns among members

Meera Srinivasan

Last respects: Coffins of victims being carried to graves during a mass funeral at St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday.Getty ImagesCarl Court

Colombo

The Easter day attacks in Sri Lanka and the subsequent naming of a local Islamist radical organisation as the perpetrator have left the island’s Muslim community in fear and panic.

Amid reports of a few stray incidents of attacks on Muslim-owned property in the last two days, the sudden, heightened scrutiny of localities where Muslim families reside have sparked serious concerns, according to leaders and members of the community.

“The Muslim community is equally outraged [by the blasts],” said Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and Cabinet Minister Rauff Hakeem. In his view, the “warped ideology” of the radical group cannot get “even an iota of support” from within the community.

Belief in moderation

Muslims, and in fewer instances Christians, have been at the “receiving end” of violence in Sri Lanka in the last few years, he said, pointing to the spate of targeted, violent attacks unleashed by hard-line Sinhala Buddhist groups.

“But the [Muslim] community has always believed in moderation,” he said, at the same time calling for introspection within the community on new cultural practices and foreign ideas.

But the space for conversations within the community may now shrink, fears Mareena Thaha Reffai, founder-president of Al Muslim Aath, a 28-year-old organisation of Muslim Women. “Despite holding diverse views, we were trying to talk about reforming our personal laws, reflect on our changing practices. It may become harder to have those discussions because something so big has hit us,” she said.

Community leaders also fear that the recent jihadist killings might taint the overall image of Sri Lankan Muslims. “Even when we were targeted by the BBS (hard-line Buddhist organisation Bodu Bala Sena) we did not retaliate even once,” Ms. Reffai said.

Constituting about 10% of the island’s population, Muslims in Sri Lanka are widely perceived to be an enterprising community, successful in trade and as professionals. Though Tamil-speaking, they identify themselves as a separate ethnic group. Many of them are trilingual, speaking Sinhala, Tamil and English with equal ease.

“We have never had even an oral disagreement with Christians. What the bombers believed in and did was completely contradictory to the values of Islam,” Ms. Reffai said.

In addition to grappling with how a few members of the community were veering towards a radical path, Muslims worry about a possible backlash, particularly in Kattankudy town, in the eastern Batticaloa district that is home to a sizeable population of Muslims and Tamils.

Base of Islamist group

Batticaloa, which witnessed one of the eight explosions, has also been identified as the base of the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), said to be behind the bombings. Its leader Mohammed Zaharan was a resident there. “We feel a sense of inexplicable guilt. I don’t know how to look into the eyes of my Christian neighbours with whom we have enjoyed cordial relations for so long. There is a lot of fear and panic that some may think we are also culpable,” said A.L.M. Sabeel, a member of the Kattankudy Mosques Federation.

Following Sunday’s attacks, there is heavy security all around the town and the police have been conducting frequent search operations in the area, he said. “[I] actually appreciate it. We will offer all cooperation to authorities,” he said. The scrutiny, he said, might help the community identify and eliminate “such forces”.

Not that they did not try purging radical elements earlier. For at least two years now, locals have tried to draw the security services’ attention to the NTJ and some “50-60 people” attached to it. “We reported their activities to the authorities, but sadly, no action was taken,” said Mr. Sabeel.

According to Mr. Sabeel, Zahran left Kattankudy after a fallout with the mawlawi (religious scholar) two years ago, due to differences of opinion in the practice of Islam, and had been “in hiding”.

The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka too made several complaints to authorities, pointing to Zahran and his attempts to spread radical ideas, the Council’s President N.M. Ameen said.

With hard questions about their future and the recent memory of facing attacks, many in the community are disillusioned, leaders said. “To think that there was sufficient prior warning and yet no preventive action is baffling,” Minister Hakeem said. The attacks, which had a massive human cost, could be used by some for their political gains, he cautioned.

“It is not enough to see who the perpetrators are, we must also be mindful of who stands to gain…” he added. “A terrorist attack is a threat not to some of us but all of us. We need a collective, national response to this.”



Wealthy Sri Lankan brothers carried out 2 blasts





Wealthy Sri Lankan brothers carried out 2 blasts

Agence France-Presse
Colombo

Brothers from a wealthy Sri Lankan Muslim family plotted and carried out two of the Easter suicide blasts in Colombo, police sources said on Tuesday, amid growing questions on whether the attackers received foreign help.

The two sons of a Colombo spice trader were among suicide bombers who hit three churches and three luxury hotels, investigators said. An attack on a fourth hotel failed and helped lead police to the Islamist group now blamed for the assault, they added in comments later confirmed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The brothers, whose names have not been revealed, were in their late twenties and operated their own “family cell”, an investigation officer said.

The pair were members of the Islamist National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) group, which the government has blamed for the attacks.

One brother checked into the Cinnamon Grand hotel and the other the Shangri-La on Saturday.

The next morning, at virtually the same time, they went to the hotels’ Easter Sunday breakfast buffets and blew up explosives-laden backpacks, the officer said.

Another would-be suicide bomber was in a fourth hotel in Colombo, said an official source. “This man had also checked into the hotel the previous day,” the source said.

But after the Shangri-la blast, staff became suspicious and the man was tracked to a residence near the capital. He blew himself up when confronted by police, the source said. Two bystanders were also killed.



Congress subpoenas ex-White House counsel Don McGahn





Congress subpoenas ex-White House counsel Don McGahn

Attorney was a key witness in Robert Mueller’s investigation

Sriram Lakshman

Former White House counsel Don McGahnAPSaul Loeb

Washington

Former White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II has been ordered to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21 and to submit documents to it by May 7. The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to this effect on Monday, as political tensions in escalate in the aftermath of the (redacted) Mueller report’s release last Thursday.

Mr. McGahn was a star witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, with his name appearing 157 times in the 448-page report. Mr. McGahn’s testimony has been especially key to the part of the investigation that dealt with whether President Donald Trump engaged in the obstruction of justice by trying to derail the investigation. In June 2017, Mr. Trump called Mr. McGahn and asked him to tell the acting Attorney-General at the time to fire Mr. Mueller as he had “conflicts of interest”, the report said. Mr. McGahn says he did not acquiesce to the President’s request.

The former White House Counsel was described as “a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Special Counsel’s report” in a statement released by Committee Chair Jerry Nadler.

Substantial evidence

“The Special Counsel’s report, even in redacted form, outlines substantial evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction and other abuses. It now falls to Congress to determine for itself the full scope of the misconduct,” Mr. Nadler said.

The ranking Republican on the Committee, Doug Collins, said the subpoena was premature.

“Instead of looking at material that Attorney-General William Barr has already made available, Democrats prefer to demand additional materials they know are subject to constitutional and common-law privileges and cannot be produced,” a statement from Mr. Collins read.

The House Judiciary Committee has the power to start impeachment proceedings against the President. Mr. Barr will testify before it on May 2. Mr. Mueller has also been invited to meet the Committee in May.

Democrats divided

On Monday, evening House Democrats convened via conference call — their first huddle to discuss the Mueller report.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her colleagues, according to reports, to focus on committee hearings on the Mueller report rather than taking the impeachment route right now.

The appetite for impeachment varies across Democrats. Some have called for a cautious approach while others, including Democratic presidential candidates and Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, want to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President.



Kim to meet Putin in Vladivostok this week





Kim to meet Putin in Vladivostok this week

Talks to focus on nuclear stand-off

Reuters

Flags of North Korea and Russia in Vladivostok.APAnton Iankovski

Seoul/Moscow

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on Thursday in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok to discuss the international stand-off over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, a Kremlin official said. The visit is part of Mr. Kim’s effort to build foreign support, analysts said, after the breakdown of a second U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam in February meant no relief on sanctions for North Korea.

The details of the summit were confirmed by Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy aide. The main item on the agenda would be international efforts to end the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear programme, Mr. Ushakov told reporters.

“In the last few months the situation around the peninsula has stabilised somewhat, thanks in large part to North Korea’s initiatives of stopping rocket testing and closing its nuclear test site,” he said. “Russia intends to help in any way possible to cement that positive trend.”

The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Tuesday the visit would happen soon, but did not elaborate on a time or location. Mr. Kim’s chief aide, Kim Chang Son, was seen in Vladivostok on Sunday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.


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