May 1, Wednesday

Delhi Edition

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‘Progress’ in U.N. listing of Azhar, says China

 

‘Progress’ in U.N. listing of Azhar, says China

Consultations are under way; decision likely today

Sriram Lakshman, Suhasini Haidar

 

WASHINGTON/NEW DELHI

Citing “some progress” on the issue of listing of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist at the UN Security Council, China indicated on Tuesday that it was willing to change its decade-old stand opposing the move.

“The relevant consultations are going on within the committee and have achieved some progress,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, adding that he believed the issue of Azhar’s listing, which was put on hold by Beijing on March 13, “can be properly resolved”.

Diplomatic sources confirmed to The Hindu that Azhar could be placed on the UNSC’s 1267 Committee’s list of sanctioned individuals and entities as early as Wednesday, once China formally intimated its decision to lift the hold, which it placed on a proposal initiated by the U.S., the U.K, and France after the Pulwama attack in February.

May 1 deadline

A UN diplomat in New York told The Hindu that a silence period (during which objections may be raised), which kicked off on April 23, would end at 9 a.m. (New York time) on May 1.

The UNSC 1267 panel last met to discuss the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist on April 23, when China and the U.S. disagreed on when the listing would go through, the diplomat said.

While China wanted to hold off on the decision until mid-May, the U.S. did not want to wait beyond April 23 to wrap up the process to list Azhar.

Asked specifically about a newspaper report that the listing would be done on May 1, Mr. Geng said, “China is still working with the relevant parties and we are in contact with all relevant parties within the 1267 Committee and I believe with the efforts of all parties, this will be properly resolved.”

The Ministry of External Affairs did not comment on the report, as an official said the government would “wait for the decision” before making any statement.

The listing of Azhar, who’s organisation JeM was listed in 2001, has been pending for more than a decade.

This is the fourth attempt by countries at the UNSC and India to bring Azhar under UN sanctions. China had vetoed each of the previous proposals citing it had not received enough evidence against Azhar, who was released in 1999 during the IC-814 hijacking in exchange for hostages.

Diplomatic sources said China’s turnaround came after Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s visit to Beijing last week, where India shared details of all the evidence on Masood Azhar, including links to the February 14 Pulwama attack for which the JeM had claimed responsibility. American, British and French diplomats had been pursuing the case with China, even threatening to bring the listing proposal to the entire UNSC for a vote if China refused to relent.

 

 

Army claims climbers sight Yeti footprints

 

Army claims climbers sight Yeti footprints

Claim was based on “physical proofs” of “on-the-spot narration, photos and videos”

Special Correspondent

The footprints found near the Makalu Base Camp on April 9. TWITTER/PTITWITTER/PTI

NEW DELHI

The Indian Army has claimed that one of its mountaineering teams had sighted footprints of a Yeti, a mythical creature that is believed to reside in the Himalayas. The news was trending on social media, all day on Tuesday, with many Twitter users expressing scepticism over the Army’s claim.

“For the first time, an Indian Army mountaineering expedition team has sighted mysterious footprints of mythical beast ‘Yeti’ measuring 32×15 inches close to Makalu base camp on April 09, 2019. This elusive snowman has only been sighted at Makalu-Barun national park in the past,” the Army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information (ADG PI) said in a Monday night tweet, which included a couple of images of footprints on ice.

The claim was based on “physical proofs” of “on-the-spot narration, photos and videos,” an Army official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The tweet, the official said, was thought prudent to “excite scientific temper and rekindle interest” in the subject. The Army is expected to release some photos and videos in support of the claim, once its team gets data connectivity.

According to Nepali folklore, the Yeti is a giant ape-like creature that is believed to reside in the Himalayas, Central Asia and Siberia.

“We got the inputs about 10 days back and yet we held on to it,” the official said. “But then we decided that there are photographic evidences, which match with earlier theories.” Elaborating further, the official said that once the team noticed the footprint, the measurements were taken with a vernier callipers.

“Once the team returns all evidence will be handed over to subject matter experts,” the official added.

The Army’s first expedition to attempt to scale the 8,485-metrep Makalu comprises four officers, two junior commissioned officers (JCOs) and 11 other ranks (ORs) and was flagged off at the end of March. The team is expected to return some time in June. Makulu is 180 km east of Kathmandu and 98 km west of Kanchenjunga.

 

 

* Nation

Odisha braces for Fani landfall





Odisha braces for Fani landfall

Likely to occur between Gopalpur and Chandbali on May 3; storm may cause high tides

Staff ReporterBERHAMPUR

Fishermen pull their boats inland at Chandrabhaga beach in Puri on Tuesday. Biswaranjan Rout

Preparations are under way on a war footing in Odisha to face cyclonic storm Fani, which is expected to make landfall between Gopalpur and Chandbali on May 3.

Ganjam, Puri, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Jajpur, Khurda, Bhadrak and Balasore districts are likely to bear the brunt of the cyclone. It is also expected to affect Mayurbhanj district and adjoining parts of south Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Speaking to newsmen in Bhubaneswar, Chief Secretary A.P. Padhi said Fani is not a super cyclone but an extremely severe cyclonic storm that will have maximum impact in Odisha. Although the Met Department will ascertain the likely landfall spot on Wednesday, it is expected to occur between Gopalpur and Chandbali on the Odisha coast.

The National Crisis Management Committee of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs has released a sum of ₹340.87 crore for the State Disaster Response Fund to meet the situation. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also reviewed the State’s preparedness for the situation.

Fani was centred 800 km south of Puri over Bay of Bengal at 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday. It is likely to intensify into an extremely severe cyclonic storm and move north-west till May 1 evening. According to the India Meterological Department, it will then change its direction towards north-east and cross the Odisha coast on May 3 afternoon, with maximum sustained wind speed of 175-185 kmph with gusts that can reach up to 205 kmph.

Leaves cancelled

Leaves of all government officials have been cancelled. Twenty units of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force, 12 units of National Disaster Response Force and 335 firefighting units have been put on alert. Around 879 coastal cyclone shelters are being kept ready. A total of 252 powerboats are also on standby in different districts. Odisha

The Fire Department has cancelled the leaves of all its staff and 347 additional fire personnel are being deployed in coastal districts such as Cuttack, Puri, Khurda, Balasore and Bhadrak. The evacuation of people from the vulnerable areas to safe places is expected to start from May 2.

According to the IMD, the storm may cause 1.5-metre-high tides and inundate low-lying areas of Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts. Seventeen districts have been put on red alert for May 3 and 4. People living in vulnerable areas of these districts are being alerted through public address systems.

Relief operations

According to Special Relief Commissioner B.P. Sethi, all arrangements are being made for rescue and relief operations after the cyclone hits the State. Hospitals and cyclone shelters are being stocked with adequate medicines and food supply. Mr. Sethi said the State government is coordinating with the IMD, U.S. Navy and other agencies.

The ‘Kalijai Motorboat Association’, which caters to tourists in Chilika lake, has decided to stop plying motorboats on the lake from May 1-5. Fishermen on the Odisha coast have been directed to refrain from venturing into sea till the threat of the cyclone passes.

Such cyclonic storm in May is rare for the Odisha coast. According to Centre for Environment and Climate of SOA deemed university of Bhubaneswar, the Odisha coast has experienced such cyclones in May in 1893, 1914, 1917, 1982 and 1989.



ASI unearthstreasure at U.P. site





ASI unearthstreasure at U.P. site

4,000-year-old rice, dal, sacred chambers and coffins found in Sanauli

Damini Nath

Coffins inside the burial chambers at the excavation sites in Sanauli. Special Arrangement

NEW DELHI

The Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) ongoing excavation of 4,000-year-old burial sites in Uttar Pradesh’s Sanauli has unearthed underground “sacred chambers”, decorated “legged coffins” as well as rice and dal in pots and animal bones buried with the bodies, ASI Institute of Archaeology director S.K. Manjul said on Tuesday.

The excavation in the Baghpat district of U.P. was first started in 2018 and resumed in January this year, Dr. Manjul said, adding that the process of listing and preservation at the site was on at the moment.

He said three chariots, some coffins, shields, swords and helmets had been unearthed, pointing towards the existence of a “warrior class in the area around 2,000 BCE”.

“As an excavator, I think this is different from Harappan culture. It is contemporary to the last phase of the mature Harappan culture. These findings are important to understand the culture pattern of the Upper Ganga-Yamuna doab. We found copper swords, helmets, shields and chariots,” said Dr. Manjul.

The excavators have found rice and urad dal in pots, cattle bones, wild pig and mongoose buried along with bodies, he said.

“These may have been offered to the departed souls. We also found sacred chambers below the ground. After the procession, they put the body in the chamber for some treatment or rituals,” he said.

Right now, the ASI is in the process of carrying out DNA, metallurgical and botanical analysis of samples and ground penetrating radar survey of the site, Dr. Manjul said.

Largest necropolis

While Dr. Manjul said he felt the site was different from the Harappan culture, an ASI statement on the excavation said: “Sanauli is located on the left bank of the River Yamuna, 68 km north-east of Delhi which brought to light the largest necropolis of the late Harappan period datable to around early part of second millennium BCE”.

In one of the burial pits, the excavators found a wooden legged coffin that was decorated with steatite inlays with a female skeleton, the ASI said. The pit also contained an armlet of semiprecious stones, pottery and an antenna sword placed near the head.

Another area of the site included remains of four furnaces with three working levels and the “overall ceramic assemblage has late Harappan characters”, the ASI statement said.



Now, a portal to register e-vehicles





Now, a portal to register e-vehicles

Government to provide fiscal incentives to owners of first one lakh EVs

Sharad Vyas
Mumbai

Maharashtra government’s new web portal, thrown open last week for the registration of battery-operated vehicles, expects to receive about 1,00,000 applications under the State Electric Vehicle Policy. A gateway for sanction and disbursement of fiscal incentive to the buyers of Electric Vehicle (EVs), the portal is designed to accommodate one lakh applications including those of 70,000 battery-operated two-wheelers, 20,000 three-wheelers, and 10,000 four-wheelers. The portal could also take registration of 1,000 battery-operated buses, officials said.

As per the policy approved by the State Cabinet last year, an enabling environment is being created for the manufacture of nearly 5,00,000 EVs in the next five years. The government proposes exempting e-vehicles from road tax and registration charges. In addition, 15% subsidy will be provided to owners of first 1,00,000 EVs registered which would be ₹5,000 for two-wheelers, ₹12,000 for three-wheelers, and up to ₹1,00,000 for the four-wheelers, officials said.

Senior officials of the industries department said fiscal incentive will be admissible only to application of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) sold in Maharashtra for the first time and registered with Regional Transport Offices (RTOs). “We have ensured buyers are eligible for incentive only once. The subsidy should be applicable on the base price of eligible BEV,” said an official.

As per the policy, not only vehicles but even charging stations set up on public and private parking lots, fuel pumps, bus and railway stations and approved by local planning authority will be considered for grant of capital subsidy of 25% up to ₹10 lakh. As part of this, first 250 commercial public EV charging stations will be considered for assistance.

Senior officials said the Directorate of Industries will verify the vehicle application within 15 days. They added that as per availability of funds, and within 90 days of filing valid claim online, sanctioned subsidy amount shall be deposited directly into the buyer’s account through RTGS.




Turf battle derails future of Train 18





Turf battle derails future of Train 18

Production of indigenously-built, fastest trainsets hit by departmental tussle

S. Vijay Kumar

Stuck midway: Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging off the Vande Bharat Express from New Delhi station in February. Sandeep Saxena

CHENNAI

Celebrated as India’s fastest train and one of the most successful products of the ‘Make in India’ initiative, future production of the indigenously-built Train 18 — helmed by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF) in Chennai — has come under a cloud, thanks to an unresolved turf battle.

While the first train set, christened the Vande Bharat Express and flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been running successfully for over 16 hours a day between New Delhi and Varanasi since February 2019, a spat over protocol among officers of the Mechanical and Electrical departments in the Railways, has hit production of the semi high-speed train.

The ICF, the world’s largest rail coach manufacturing unit, rolled out the Train 18 with a maximum operating speed of 160 kmph in a record time of just 18 months in 2018.

The self-propelled train set, comprising 16 air-conditioned coaches, was built at a cost of ₹100 crore, about half the cost of importing such a rake, with about 80% indigenous components in alignment with the Prime Minister’s call for ‘Make in India’.

The indigenous design and development was done by an in-house team of the ICF led by then General Manager Sudanshu Mani, Principal Chief Mechanical Engineers L.C. Trivedi and Shubranshu and Chief Design Engineer S. Srinivas.

Approval protocol

However, it would seem Train 18 has become a victim of its own success. According to ICF sources, the Vigilance Directorate is contemplating an inquiry into allegations that the development team compromised on the safety of the train by not obtaining technical approval for the electrical systems from a particular officer of the Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), Lucknow. (The RDSO is a standardisation organisation of the Indian Railways.)

However, enquiries by The Hindu revealed that approvals were obtained from the Train Set Directorate of the RDSO, a multi-departmental entity created to provide single window clearances for faster production.

Railway officials have argued that the train was built in record time only because Team ICF developed the prototype in anticipation of approval from Train Set Directorate of the RDSO. This was expeditious compared to the conventional practice of first obtaining the approval and then building the prototype.

No time was lost in waiting for sanctions and approvals in building the prototype.

“The net result is that the train is running successfully with not even a single issue so far. Had there not been functional autonomy in deciding the design and equipment, without any compromise on safety and quality, Train 18 would not have come out on time and in the shape in which it is running today. The protocol issues and the fight to stake claim or ownership of the flagship train has only hit the morale of Team ICF,” a senior engineer involved in making of the Train 18 said on Tuesday.

The official, who preferred not to be quoted, said key members of the Team ICF faced the threat of an inquiry or investigation by various agencies for no fault of theirs.

“After all a world class product has been made at Indian prices…since the project was a huge success, the Indian Railways ordered that 10 more train sets (160 coaches) be made operational by March 2020.”

Even after the train was ready for rollout and had been inspected by the then Chairman, Railway Board, in October 2018, some vested interests within the Railways had sought to stall the launch of the Train 18, sources claimed.

“There was a two-month delay in introducing the Vande Bharat Express to the people due to inter-departmental wrangling. The tremendous success of the train has further accentuated the bitter feud between the mechanical and electrical departments. A high-level committee is now tasked to resolve these issues, including the design, manufacture and maintenance of Train 18.”

Given the threat of departmental action, even as the Railway Board fixed a target of 10 train sets this fiscal, tenders are yet to be finalised and senior officials at the ICF said the work was unlikely to commence in the next few months.

When contacted by The Hindu, ICF General Manager chose not to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile the Ministry of Railways has constituted a committee of Additional Members of the Railway Board to sort out the differences between the two departments and bring about a working synergy to take the mission forward.



Sushma asks U.S. for Iran oil import waiver





Sushma asks U.S. for Iran oil import waiver

Tells Pompeo that vast amount of Iranian energy cannot be replaced overnight

Special Correspondent

Sushma Swaraj

NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the weekend and asked for a waiver for continued import of Iranian crude after the May 2 deadline imposed by the U.S. administration, a source has confirmed.

“Both sides discussed issues relevant to bilateral ties including the waiver for energy from Iran,” said a source about a telephone discussion between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Pompeo on Saturday.

The phone call came days before the U.S. sanctions on import of Iranian crude comes into effect on May 2 when all energy imports from Iran must be stopped by the importing nations. It is learnt that Ms. Swaraj urged the U.S. Secretary of State to consider India’s current situation, highlighting that the vast amount of Iranian energy cannot be replaced overnight.

No indication

However, there was no indication from the U.S. official for issuing a new waiver for India. Earlier, India and Turkey had held discussion about how to avoid a breakdown in the domestic energy markets due to the sanctions.

Addressing a gathering at the Observer Research Foundation on April 26, Ibrahim Kalin, Senior Advisor to the Turkish President, had said that both India and Turkey have urged for waivers. “We are looking at possibilities. In principle we believe sanctions do not work. They hurt everybody. We are talking to all colleagues and the Europeans and we are on the same page on this issue,” said Mr. Kalin.

The May 2 deadline is expected to deliver an oil shock to the leading economies of the world as U.S. President Donald Trump continues to insist that leading importers like India should zero out energy supply from Iran.



Fani is country’s strongest April cyclone in 43 years: IMD data





Fani is country’s strongest April cyclone in 43 years: IMD data

Unusual formation due to the ‘warming of the Bay of Bengal basin’; protracted gestation could lead to it gaining strength

Jacob Koshy

Rough waters: Fishermen trying to control their boat near the Chandrabhaga beach in Puri, Odisha. Biswaranjan Rout

NEW DELHI

Cyclonic storm Fani, which is lying about 600 km east of Vishakapatnam and 800 km south of Puri, is the first severe, cyclonic storm to have formed in April in India’s oceanic neighbourhood since 1976, according to records from the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

While severe cyclones (defined as generating maximum windspeeds of 89-117 kmph) can form any time, they tend to be concentrated in November — after the monsoon — or around May, when the monsoon prepares to arrive in Kerala in June.

The head of IMD told The Hindu that such quirks were a consequence of global warming. “This is a cyclone that’s forming due to the warming of the Bay of Bengal basin… with global warming we have to be prepared for such occurrences and take precaution accordingly,” said K. J. Ramesh, Director-General, IMD. He said that Fani, so far, was unlikely to have an impact on the advent of the monsoon.

From 1965-2017, the Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea have collectively registered 46 ‘severe cyclonic storms.’ As many as 28 of them were from October-December. Seven of them have been in May and only two — in 1966 and 1976 — were recorded in April, data from the IMD’s cyclone-statistics unit shows.

Tropical cyclones in the Indian neighbourhood begin as ‘depressions’ or a gradual build-up of warm air and pockets of low pressure. About 35% of such formations intensify to ‘cyclones’ and only 7% intensify to ‘very severe cyclones’. About 20-30 severe tropical storms occur around the world every year.

The IMD ranks cyclones on a 5-point scale with the mildest at 62-88 kmph and the strongest, a ‘super cyclonic storm’, at 221 kmph). Cyclone Fani is expected to graduate to an ‘extremely severe cyclonic storm’ by Wednesday and make landfall in Orissa (as a very severe cyclonic storm) by May 4, according to an evening forecast by the IMD on Tuesday.

“It is very likely to move northwestwards till May 1 evening and thereafter re-curve north-northeastwards and reach Odisha Coast by May 3 afternoon with maximum sustained wind of speed 170-180 gusting to 200 kmph,” the IMD statement notes.

Meteorologists also point to Fani’s protracted gestation. The storm had been building up since April 25 and is expected to make landfall, according to current models, only after May 3. “Nearly 10 days is an extremely long period,” said Mr. Ramesh. On an average, tropical cyclones form and make landfall in less than a week.

Satheesh Shenoi, Director, INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services), a research unit responsible for tracking the oceans, said that Fani’s slow progress — it is now moving at 11-18 kmph — was also a matter of worry as the longer it hovered in the ocean, the more moisture and energy it gained from the ocean and the stronger its impact along the coast.

“For now, models suggest that waves as high as 6.3 m are possible in the ocean under the influence of the storm,” he told The Hindu.

Heavy rains are expected in north Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and light rains in West Bengal under the influence of the cyclone. Strong winds are expected in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and south Andhra. Fishermen have been advised to stay away from the sea.



India’s ASAT test a response to growing space threats: France





India’s ASAT test a response to growing space threats: France

‘Outer space becoming an arena of rivalry between nations’

Dinakar Peri
New Delhi

Stating that defence and offensive space technologies are being developed with various aims of spying, gaining control, deactivating service and destroying, French Envoy in India Alexandre Ziegler has supported India’s Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile test as a response to these growing threats.

“India shared the same observation and desire to act, which is actually reflected in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the ASAT missile test on March 27 this year. It is obvious that it was a clear response to an assessment of growing threats in the outer space. And that’s an assessment that we share…,” Mr. Ziegler said addressing the 5th Kalpana Chawla annual space policy dialogue organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) that began on Monday.

Debris concerns

He also observed that outer space has become an “arena of rivalry between major powers.”

At the same time, he said there was common concern on space debris. Satellites today have to avoid almost 6,00,000 debris of over 1cm travelling at speed faster than a bullet, he stated.

On March 27, India shot down a live satellite in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) of 300 km using a modified interceptor of the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system. Officials had stated that the LEO was particularly chosen to minimise space debris.

India and France, which have been cooperating in the area of space for several decades, had announced the setting up of a constellation of satellites for maritime surveillance of the Indian Ocean.

Mr. Ziegler said as part of this, the two countries are co-developing a constellation 10-15 satellites that could help “monitor the maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean.”

“It is part of the joint vision that we signed. It is a civilian project,” he stated.

In this regard, Rod Hilton, Deputy High Commissioner of Australia, said his country was keen to be part of the broader maritime security cooperation and was working with India and France.



Rafale case: SC gives 5 days for govt. to respond





Rafale case: SC gives 5 days for govt. to respond

Top court refuses Centre’s request for 30 days to reply to review petitions; asks for affidavits by Saturday

Krishnadas Rajagopal

The Centre had sought more time in the Rafale review case.K_MURALI_KUMAR

New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused the Union government”s request for a whole month to repond to the Rafale case review petitions and instead gave it five days till Saturday.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi ordered the government to file its reply in an affidavit “on or before Saturday.”

The Bench also directed the government to respond by affidavit to a separate application for initiating perjury proceedings against those in the government who had allegedly “suppressed” vital documents and circumstances of the Rafale jets’ purchase from the court.

The court upheld the 36 Rafale jets’ deal on December 14, saying it had limited jurisdiction over defence deals.

In another judgment on April 10, the court rejected the government protests to maintainability of the review petitions against the December 14 order.

The brief hearing on Tuesday on the review petitions began with Attorney General K.K. Venugopal informing the court that the government had circulated a letter to all the parties concerned for a deferment of the hearing on April 30.

Mr. Venugopal said a fresh response was required from the government as there were new documents annexed in the review petitions. “Give us some time… Your April 10 judgment allowed these documents. There was no formal notice issued to the Union of India,” he submitted.

“If your grievance is that no notice was issued, we will issue notice,” the CJI responded.

At this point, advocate Prashant Bhushan, one of the review petitioners, pointed out that the application filed by them, including former Union Ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, to initiate perjury proceedings against government officials who submitted “false information” in the Rafale case was also listed and the court should issue formal notice on that too. Though Mr. Venugopal protested, the CJI said the government could very well raise its objections against the perjury plea in a separate affidavit. This affidavit should also be filed by Saturday.

Perjury plea

The perjury application submitted that the apex court was “misled” into rendering its December 14 judgment “on the basis of false evidence and suppression of crucial pertinent information by the government in the course of judicial proceedings.”

On April 10, the court declared unanimous support for freedom of Press in a democracy by refusing the government’s preliminary plea to keep the Rafale jets’ purchase documents a secret. It said the documents published first by The Hindu in a series of articles since February last would be considered while examining the merits of the five review petitions.

The government had claimed that the review pleas were based on secret Rafale documents unauthorisedly removed from the Ministry of Defence and leaked to the media. Mr. Venugopal had argued that “stolen” documents came under the protection of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). They were not admissible in evidence in a court of law. Claiming privilege, the government wanted the court to ignore the documents, even if they were found to be germane to the Rafale case, and dismiss the review petitions at a preliminary stage.



‘Article 239A allows greater powers for Puducherry House’





‘Article 239A allows greater powers for Puducherry House’

Madras High Court curbs L-G role in administration

Mohamed Imranullah S.

Puducherry Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi

CHENNAI

In a 150-page judgement on Tuesday, Justice R. Mahadevan of the Madras High Court pointed out the significant differences in the powers conferred on the legislatures of Puducherry and Delhi under Articles 239A and 239AA of the Constitution.

In his judgement ruling that the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) of Puducherry could not interfere with the day-to-day administration of the Union Territory when an elected government was in place, the judge said though Article 239AA imposes several restrictions on the legislature of Delhi, no such restrictions had been imposed explicitly in the case of Puducherry under Article 239A.

“The above Article symbolises the supremacy of the Legislature above the Administrator in case of the Union Territory of Puducherry.”

Council of Ministers

The judge held that government secretaries of the Puducherry administration were required to report to the Council of Ministers headed by the Chief Minister on all official matters. “The secretaries are not empowered to issue orders on their own or upon the instructions of the Administrator,” Justice Mahadevan said.

Use of social media

He also disapproved of the alleged practice of government officials being part of social media groups through which the L-G was issuing instructions to them for redress of public grievances and reminded them that as per rules, they were bound to use only authorised medium of communication when it came to issues related to administration.

The judgement was delivered while allowing a petition filed by Congress MLA K. Lakshminarayanan in 2017, and quashing two clarifications issued by the Union Home Ministry that year with regard to the powers of the L-G. The judge held that those communications had been issued without reference to the constitutional provisions and other laws.

Referring to the provisions of the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963, the judge said Section 44 of the Act states that there shall be a Council of Ministers in each Union Territory to aid and advice the Administrator who shall act in his/her discretion only in so far as any special responsibilities were concerned.

However, since the Act does not specify the ‘special responsibilities’ in relation to which the L-G could apply his/her discretion, “it is the bounden duty of the Administrator and the Council of Ministers to avoid logjam and facilitate the smooth functioning of the government in public interest, leaving the political differences apart,” the judge said.


* Editorial 1

An employment-oriented economic policy





An employment-oriented economic policy

In the heated debate on jobs, the crucial link between macroeconomic policy and unemployment has not been flagged

Getty Images/iStockphotoalluranet/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Innumerable tasks with respect to the economy await the winner of the parliamentary elections now under way, but two may be mentioned and they are connected. The first is to review the conduct of macroeconomic policy. Though it must come across as arcane, this is an element of public policy that makes a difference to whether we enjoy economic security or not. This brings up the second task for the winner, namely employment generation.

The macroeconomic policy pursued in the past five years needs overhauling. The government has continued with fiscal consolidation, or shrinking the deficit, while mandating the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to exclusively target inflation leaving aside all other considerations. This has contracted demand. That high fiscal deficits and high inflation per se can never be good for an economy does not justify a permanently tight macroeconomic stance. The rationale given for one is that it is conducive to private investment, said to be shy of fiscal deficits and held back by inflation. Both the deficit and inflation have trended downward in the past five years, yet investment as a share of national income has remained frozen.

Inflation targeting

Now, while fiscal consolidation was something the Narendra Modi government had inherited, it has taken credit for having moved India onto the path of ‘inflation targeting’. Arguably though, India has seen a virtual inflation targeting since 2013 when the policies of the RBI became more closely aligned to the practices of central banks in western economies. Thus in 2013-14 the real policy rate saw a positive swing of over four percentage points, and it has more or less remained there. Admittedly, at double digits, inflation had been high in 2012-13 but that could have been due to abnormal hikes in the procurement price and not due to runaway growth. However, as the theory underlying inflation targeting asserts that it reflects an over-heating economy, an interest-rate hike is triggered. The high interest rate regime in place since 2013 could not but have had a negative impact on growth by raising the cost of capital to industry. The negative impact of a high policy rate may, however, have appeared elsewhere too.

Reviewing RBI’s role

A regime of high interest rates can be bad not only for investment — and thus for growth and employment — but also for financial stability. Sharp increases in interest rates can trigger distress. A trade-off between low inflation and financial stability could emerge depending upon how the former was purchased. If low inflation is achieved via high interest rates it can trigger financial instability in two ways. The first is via the direct impact on the cost of financing in a floating interest-rate regime; a higher policy rate translating into a higher borrowing rate. Second, if rising interest lowers growth, revenue will grow more slowly for firms. Both these mechanisms can render once-sound projects unprofitable, leaving banks stressed. It appears that this did not find a place in the operating manual that goes with the ‘modern monetary policy framework’, with inflation targeting as its primary focus, instituted in India in 2015. That our concerns are not purely imaginary is evident in the fact that there has been a growth of non-performing assets of banks even after a change in the method of classification first resulted in their surging in 2015. This feature along with the spectacular collapse of the giant Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) recently point to the need to review the role of the RBI.

Experience suggests that it must be tasked with far greater responsibility for maintaining financial stability while being granted wider powers. It goes without saying that the Finance Ministry and its nominees on the RBI Board should desist from insisting upon actions that could jeopardise financial stability in trying to quicken the economy. At the same time, the RBI’s leadership may want to reflect on the mindset that leads to publicly lecturing the government of India on the fate of incurring the “wrath of financial markets”. Whatever be the compulsions of securing the balance of payments, such a view privileges the interests of international finance capital over the public interest in a democracy. It also suggests that the movements in the financial markets are to be treated as the bellwether in economic policy-making. Actually, over the past 30 years, from Mexico to southeast Asia, financial markets can be seen to have been fickle, self-serving and capable of causing great harm as they switch base globally in search of profits through speculation.

The entire gamut of macroeconomic policy in India needs re-thinking. In the heated public debate on job creation that we have seen recently, the link between macroeconomic policy and unemployment has not been flagged. When policy holds back investment, and we have seen above that it can, the prospect for employment growth is weak. The conduct of macroeconomic policy in India in recent years has compromised the principle that its two arms of fiscal and monetary policy must be used in a countervailing matter if aggregate demand is not to be affected. Instead, for too long, macroeconomic policy in India has been contractionary across the board, impacting employment adversely.

Job creation

Even as we shift towards macroeconomic policies that maintain the level of aggregate demand, we can assist the unemployed by strengthening the employment programme we already have, namely the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Three actions may be taken towards this end. First, there have been reports that though the budgetary allocation for the scheme may have increased, workers face delay in payment. This is unacceptable, especially in this digital era when beneficiary identification and money transfer are cheap and reliable. Second, as has been suggested, there is a case for extending the MGNREGS to urban India for there is unemployment there. Of course, some rationalisation of existing public expenditure would be needed to generate the fiscal space needed, but we may yet expect a positive sum outcome when this is done imaginatively.

However, as with macroeconomic policies, a thorough review of how the MGNREGS works on the ground is necessary. In the context, we often find a reference to “asset creation”. This is an important criterion but we need not rule out the provision of public services under the scheme. The point is to ensure that we have desirable outcomes beyond just the job statistics. There is reason to believe that this matter is given no importance in the implementation of the scheme at present. An example would make this clear.

In Kerala, employment under the MGNREGS is also organised to clear the vegetation at the roadside. However, what at times is found to remain after the MGNREGS work team has left is the garbage that was earlier concealed by the undergrowth. The organised ‘cleaning’ expertly skirts the garbage unconscionably deposited at the roadside! This is more than just a matter of aesthetics and can be dangerous when, for instance, waste from abattoirs has been dumped in the shrubbery. It makes a mockery of publicly-funded programmes that they can leave us worse off, and speaks of the unaccountability that pervades so much of government intervention in the economy. But recognising the hazard opens up an opportunity for improvement. The MGNREGS should target the waste dotting our countryside, and when extended to urban India should aid municipal waste-management efforts. We would then have a cleaner environment and have at the same time created jobs. That would a fitting tribute to the man after whom the programme is named, one who had worked for a clean India much of his life.

Pulapre Balakrishnan is Professor of Ashoka University and Senior Fellow of IIM Kozhikode



A Washington pipe dream





A Washington pipe dream

The American stance on Iranian oil exports could only cause mayhem in West Asia

Mohammed Ayoob

Getty Images/iStockphotodesigner491/Getty Images/iStockphoto

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on April 22 that the United States would not issue any additional ‘Significant Reduction Exceptions’ to existing importers of Iranian oil who had received such exemptions last November. Mr. Pompeo declared that the objective was to bring Iranian oil exports to “zero”. India, China and Turkey, the principal remaining oil importers from Iran, will feel the greatest impact of this policy, which will take effect on May 2.

The end of the waivers is expected to bring different responses from the main importers. China, one of the largest importers of Iranian oil, is likely to defy the American demand because as a great power and potential challenger to U.S. hegemony it will not want to be seen as bowing to American pressure. Furthermore, Beijing is firmly opposed to unilateral sanctions, as it fears that one day it may be subjected to similar treatment.

Turkey and Iran have overlapping strategic interests regarding Kurdish secessionism, the territorial integrity of Iraq, and shared antipathy towards Saudi Arabia. Iran is the second largest supplier of energy to Turkey and a leading trading partner as well. Furthermore, Turkey’s relations with the U.S. are currently rocky over U.S. support to the Syrian Kurdish militia, the YPG, that Ankara considers a terrorist organisation because of its close relations with the secessionist PKK. The threat of American sanctions on Turkey following the latter’s decision to buy S-400 missile defence systems from Russia has also contributed greatly to tensions between the two countries. Therefore, it is unlikely that Turkey will bend completely to American will although it may do so partially to placate its NATO ally.

Indian capitulation?

The American decision could not have come at a worse time for India with the country in the midst of a bitterly fought election campaign and policy makers focussed on the domestic scene. Nevertheless, the Indian response is expected to be the most weak-kneed of the three. New Delhi is likely to comply with American demands, as India’s relations with the U.S. in the economic sphere are very important to it. The U.S. is India’s largest trading partner and a leading source of foreign investment. It has become increasingly important in the strategic arena as well because of the convergence of American and Indian interests regarding containing China in the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, the civil nuclear relationship with the U.S. is very important for India, as is American support for India’s bid to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

However, compliance with the American diktat will not come without costs. India is heavily involved in building the Chabahar port in southern Iran. This port is expected to become a major access route for India not only to Iran but also to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing hostile Pakistani territory. Tehran is also important for New Delhi in the context of Afghanistan as both are unequivocally opposed to the Pakistan-supported Taliban returning to power even in a power-sharing arrangement. Furthermore, Iran shares India’s antipathy toward Pakistan, which it considers Washington’s proxy and Saudi Arabia’s ally. India’s decision to stop importing oil from Iran at America’s behest could drive a wedge between New Delhi and Tehran that will be very difficult to repair and cost India strategically.

The most important question is whether Iran will capitulate to the American threat of cutting oil imports down to zero and accept Washington’s demand to revise its position on issues the U.S. considers important. These include Tehran totally giving up its right to enrich uranium and closing down all nuclear facilities including those engaged in research for peaceful purposes. Additionally, it would entail Iran drastically curtailing if not completely eradicating its ballistic missile programme, and radically changing its West Asia policy to fall in line with American preferences in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

However, this appears to be a Washington pipe dream. Iran has stood up to unprecedented sanctions for four decades and remained unbowed. The current American policy of forcing Tehran to cut its oil exports to zero will only aid Iranian hardliners and end up with Tehran adopting an even more virulent anti-American posture, further impeding the realisation of American strategic objectives in the region.

A dark scenario

While this confrontationist policy may please Israel and Saudi Arabia, it can well become a prelude to another major war in West Asia. Pushed to the wall by its inability to export oil in sufficient quantities, Iran is likely to retaliate by withdrawing from the nuclear accord and resuming full-scale nuclear enrichment close to weapon grade-level. This could lead to either an American and/or Israeli air and missile strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Such attacks are bound to invite Iranian retaliation against American targets in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan and around the Gulf, either through proxies or directly. Iranian retribution is likely to include air strikes against Saudi and Emirati targets as well and concerted efforts to block the Straits of Hormuz.

The mayhem that this action-reaction phenomenon will cause in the region can be disastrous for West Asia and could seriously disrupt the flow of energy supplies from the Gulf through the narrow Straits of Hormuz. It is ironic that some of the authors of America’s disastrous invasion of Iraq, such as National Security Adviser John Bolton, are also the masterminds behind the current American confrontationist policy towards Iran. If not reversed, such a strategy could well lead to another American misadventure in West Asia before which the tragic consequences of the Iraqi invasion, such as state failure and the boost to international terrorism, are likely to pale into insignificance.

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University and Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Center for Global Policy, Washington DC



Transparency road





Transparency road

India and China should be guided by the Wuhan spirit, and not by differences over BRI

Two years after the Belt and Road Initiative forum was unveiled with fanfare, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s address to the second BRI forum was a clear indication that Beijing is coming to terms with the pushback his ambitious project has received. Mr. Xi’s speech to 37 heads of government and the UN Secretary General and the IMF Managing Director had many significant takeaways, including a stated commitment to “transparency and sustainability” of BRI projects, and to greater debt sustainability in the “financing model” of the Belt and Road under new guiding principles. Since 2017, India, the U.S. and other countries have been critical of the lack of transparency with which many of the BRI projects were negotiated with governments. Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Malaysia had second thoughts on some of the infrastructure projects over fears of a “debt trap”, and allegations of corruption in BRI projects became election issues. In April last year, European Union Ambassadors to Beijing issued a statement saying the BRI ran “counter” to their agenda for liberalising trade and “pushed the balance of power in favour of subsidised Chinese companies”. After Central Asia and South East Asia, China’s biggest foray is into Europe, and the criticism did not go unheeded by Beijing. China agreed to renegotiate terms on projects, reached out to regional organisations like the Arab and African forums and the EU, where Premier Li Keqiang pledged to “respect EU rules and standards” at a summit of “17+1” Central and Eastern European countries that are part of the BRI. It is hoped that China will take this understanding forward beyond Mr. Xi’s speech and help build an infrastructure financing network that is equitable and transparent, especially for smaller states.

While Mr. Xi’s words on transparency and inclusivity will be welcomed in India, they don’t address New Delhi’s main concern over the BRI, of sovereignty. India’s objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is that it runs through parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and this has led to the Modi government’s decision to stay away from the summit. India’s other concern over the BRI’s inroads in South Asia will also grow: at the summit, China listed the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor and the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, and the CPEC as focus areas. Even so, India has abandoned its sharp rhetoric against the BRI this time compared to 2017, and China issued statements saying it would not allow the decision to affect the bilateral relationship. This was an indicator that both would rather be guided on the issue by the Wuhan spirit than by the deep differences they continue to have over the BRI project.



Off the mark





Off the mark

The Telangana exam fiasco necessitates a fresh review of all the papers

When the school-leaving certificate remains the most important outcome for a student at the end of a dozen years of study, governments have a duty to ensure that it is accurate. The serious errors in the Telangana State Board of Intermediate Education results this year, which have triggered 21 student suicides, show that policymakers and the bureaucracy can badly fail at meeting their responsibilities. A few hundred students were declared absent and passed, without their marks being displayed, and in other cases, as absent and failed, although the candidates had taken the examination. In one case, apparently caused by human error, the student’s marks statement recorded a zero, when in fact she had scored 99. The State-appointed inquiry committee that went into the examinations issue has pointed to errors on the part of the company that was chosen to handle the results, notably absence of checks on the system’s performance and sufficient trials of the software application to assess its robustness. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has ordered free reverification of the papers, but the government’s major concern should be the restoration of public confidence. It should review all the papers and make them available to candidates for scrutiny without any fee.

Among the issues raised after the Telangana fiasco is whether the private agency selected to process the results could handle the scale of the operation. This year, over 8.7 lakh candidates took the Intermediate examination, and the inquiry has determined that there was no significant variation in the pass percentage in some of the difficult subjects, compared with 2018. But the agency contracted to do the processing had encountered problems with data even during the collection of fees, which should have led to rigorous scrutiny of the technology. There was also a lack of understanding among examiners, since some errors were traced to wrong entries in machine-readable forms. Independent verification, review of results and future preparedness are now being pursued, but many families have lost loved ones and others have been deeply traumatised. It is imperative that all school boards learn from Telangana’s mistakes. The tragic consequence of examination muddles is a spate of student suicides. This distressing annual phenomenon is witnessed in many States, but governments have not addressed it with any degree of alarm. Students should be counselled at school that marks in the final examination are not the sole determinants of success. Policymakers should follow up such an assurance by creating more opportunities for all youth to acquire life-building skills that match their aptitude. Such counselling can also help parents, who view school-leaving marks as the make-or-break numbers for a child. A proper examination is important, but in a diversified, growing economy, sound learning and job skills hold the key to securing the future.


* Editorial 2

The RSS is at war with India’s past





The RSS is at war with India’s past

All it wants to do is to demolish secular India and the Gandhi-Nehru state to erect a Hindutva state

RSS workers in Mangaluru in 2016. H.S. Manjunath

The RSS: A Menace to India

A.G. Noorani

LeftWord Books

₹1,500

“Beyond a doubt, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is the most powerful organisation in India today… Its pracharak (active preacher) Narendra Modi is now Prime Minister of India. Its stamp is evident in very many fields of national life,” writes the leading constitutional expert and political analyst in his new book, The RSS: A Menace to India. The RSS is at war with India’s past, he says, and is belittling three of the greatest builders of the Indian state, Ashoka, Akbar and Jawaharlal Nehru. “The poison” of Hindu right-wing communalism “has spread alarmingly,” he says in the introduction, but points out that the “forces that spread it are not invincible. They can be defeated provided that those who oppose it are ready and equipped to meet the challenge at all levels… what is at stake is not only the Indian Dream. What is at stake is the soul of India.” An excerpt:

In March 2015, the Indian Council of Historical Research became the first of the learned institutions to be ‘reconstituted’ to suit the tastes of the saffron rulers.

A Hindu Rashtra

The RSS believed that its hour had arrived. Mohan Bhagwat [sarsanghchalak, or chief] said on February 9, 2015, that this was a “favourable time”. He asserted that “the idea of Hinduism is the only idea in the world which brings all together… Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra, which is a fact. We are going ahead with this (idea). All Hindus have to be organised to make this nation great. When our country will become great that will benefit the entire world.” He was being modest; for the usual refrain was that a ‘Hindu India’ would be a Vishwaguru or a Jagadguru (world teacher). The world expected the RSS to lead. “The job of the organisation is to unite Hindus and this cannot be done through speeches alone. The time has come when the whole society wants the RSS, and has expectations from us. The organisation must grow in order to fulfil these expectations. We have to unite Hindu society, make it fearless, self-reliant and selfless.”

The icon of the secular state

The RSS had every reason to be pleased with Modi’s ventures, which were based on three fundamentals. First, wipe out the secular national consensus evolved since the 19th century by the leaders of the freedom movement such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Badruddin Tyabji and Surendranath Banerjea. It was also enunciated by Vallabhbhai Patel in his presidential address to the Congress in 1931 and by Maulana Azad in his presidential address in 1940 as a retort to the Muslim League’s clamour for the Partition of India. Nehru faced the reaction thereafter. The tragic situation brought out the best in him and he emerged as the most articulate exponent of and the icon of the secular State.

Secondly, next only to Ashoka and Akbar, Nehru became a great builder of the Indian state. He won the nation’s love and confidence and the world’s admiration. But his concept of that state was that of a secular, democratic state based on a tolerant, pluralist society. This was in direct contradiction to the ideology of the RSS and its political progeny. He fought them tooth and nail. He is the one Congressman the RSS has always hated the most. On the Partition of India, it wanted to establish a Hindu State. Gandhi, Nehru and Patel opposed it. It fell to Nehru to expound the ideal by word and deed. He did so by a relentless campaign of educating the people and by building institutions cast in the secular mode. He espoused the concept of a composite culture of India. The former Jana Sangh leaders accepted this very concept in 1979, only to resile from it a few years later.

The ‘Gujarat model’

The RSS and its creature the BJP want to wipe out and demolish the secular state and erect a Hindutva state based on the fascist ‘Leader’ principle. It would be sustained by a society from which religious tolerance is banished as was done, one hopes momentarily, in Gujarat before and after the 2002 pogrom. This is ‘The Gujarat Model’ which the RSS and its pracharak Modi seek to replicate at the Centre. Not only will India’s democracy and secularism suffer, the India which the nation loves and the world admires will perish. The RSS is a menace to India; and not only to its minorities.

The RSS has set before itself this, the second task — the destruction of the Gandhi-Nehru state after brainwashing the nation into acceptance of Hindutva. Soon after the 1989 elections, Jaswant Singh went about campaigning for an ideological “idol-breaking”. Modi is at work on this ignoble venture.

Lastly, the RSS wants to eliminate the minorities, chiefly Muslims and Christians as minorities, and reduce them politically to being nonentities. Mobilise “the Hindu vote bank”, denounce the “appeasement” of a “Muslim vote bank” and either eliminate all opposition parties (“Congress Mukt”, Modi’s ideal) or absorb them; the willing ones are too small and too contemptible to mention. The Sikhs are not overlooked. [K.S.] Sudarshan’s characteristically Quixotic venture to Punjab earned him a loathing.

Sudarshan became RSS chief on March 10, 2000. He advised, “The Prime Minister should bring in economic advisers who believe in the swadeshi concept”. He also demanded that the Constitution of India be scrapped. “This ‘remake’ of the British model in [sic] in 1935” should be replaced with one based on the “aspirations of the people”. In drafting the present Constitution “Indian ethos and aspirations were not taken into account”. He added that “the RSS did not expect the Review Committee appointed by the Government to do this [take a fresh look] as it has been asked not to alter the basic structure of the Constitution”.

On the same day, in his first address to RSS activists in Nagpur, Sudarshan said: “These non-Hindus are not foreigners but ex-Hindus; they are Indians but their faiths will have to be Indianised.”

He attacked Gandhi as well as Nehru. “Even Gandhi blamed the Hindu community for creating an environment congenial to communal conflicts.” He asserted that the “third phase in RSS history was marked by Jawaharlal Nehru’s efforts to curb the organisation”. The demolition of the Babri Masjid, he claimed on March 19, “has made Hindus all over the world proud”.

Excerpted with permission from LeftWord Books



The battle for Sabarimala





The battle for Sabarimala

The issues raised in Kerala this election were related not to matters of mortals but those relating to God

The will of the people of Kerala, more inscrutable than before, is safely sealed in rooms with extra security as demanded by the times. The long wait for the Lok Sabha election results will mark an anti-climax, with temples getting a break from the delirium of devotees. Offerings from candidates will quietly pour in, making it comfortable for temples to regenerate and repair the damage done. As activists leave the temples, devotees can return to their prayers in peace. The rhythms, the bells and the music will be heard again, without being immersed in political cacophony.

Embracing Hinduism

This is the first time that God and temple rituals came to the forefront as election issues in Kerala. Earlier, it was only entreaties and special prayers that marked the election process. The first signs of the change appeared when some of the communist conclaves featured Christ and Krishna, together with Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. The explanation was that divine teachings may have influenced communism, but that was the beginning of the efforts to end the monopoly of the BJP over Hinduism. Soon enough, every party began to create its own version of Hinduism to prove that the BJP version was extremist. Political parties began to embrace Hinduism of different varieties rather than alienate Hindus, many of whom were inclined towards the BJP.

A Supreme Court judgment on the long-standing issue of whether women between the ages of 10 and 50 should be allowed to enter the Sabarimala shrine caused a tremor in Kerala, though initially there was a general consensus that constitutional rights would eventually let women of all ages enter the temple. There were some issues about women being unable to remain pure in body and soul for the entire 41 day-period of penance because of menstruation. But the surprising insistence of the Kerala government on enforcing the decision without any concern for the safety or the convenience of the women pilgrims led to sharp differences over the Supreme Court verdict. Following the model of the Ram temple, which brought the BJP to power in Delhi, the highly polarised political parties took on the cause of the vast number of devotees, who wanted customs and traditions to be protected. The strongest position was taken by the BJP, which espoused the view that young women should not enter and a review of the verdict should be sought. The Congress hesitated for a moment, but in keeping with its soft Hindutva agenda, supported the traditionalists. The government stood firm and turned Sabarimala into a battlefield, openly escorting activists to the sanctum sanctorum.

Gaining political mileage

As political postures developed around the issue, the Left parties pushed for a renaissance movement to reform outdated practices, while the powerful Nair Service Society sought protection of the faith by either reviewing the Supreme Court decision or by legislative action. The BJP supported the faithful and championed their cause, but stopped short of using its majority in the Lok Sabha to issue an ordinance to counter the decision of the Supreme Court. The Congress eventually came to the side of the believers. As a consequence of these developments, the Kerala government was seen as a renaissance group, while the others became champions of faith and rituals. Since the line between the BJP and the devotee groups was thin, the BJP got more political mileage out of the controversy than the others and, therefore, is expecting to open its parliamentary account in Kerala this time. The Congress also believes that it has gained popularity with the devotees. The Left believes that it too has gained on account of its government-sponsored renaissance, demonstrated by protests staged under its auspices by women.

Rise in number of voters

The vexatious issue on the day after the polling was the phenomenal rise in the number of voters compared to previous elections. Each side believes that more voters came to vote this time because of its own enhanced popularity. Obviously, the issues raised this time were not those of mortals, like unemployment and price rise, but those relating to God. Though the Chief Electoral Officer of the State had decreed that Lord Ayyappa’s name should not be dragged into the campaign, the Sabarimala issue was on the minds of voters as they went to the polling booths. The description of Kerala as ‘God’s Own Country’ was a mere tourist slogan once, but today political parties are banking on divine intervention to determine Kerala’s future.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and currently Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram



We are all similar





We are all similar

The neuroscience of Indianness and a case for unity

Madhurika Sankar

We are living in an increasingly polarised world. When we draw lines in the sand to demarcate our socio-cultural and religious identities, the consequences are violent. This is visible in the threats to liberal institutions, in mob lynchings, in suicide bombings, and in the building of walls that would put ancient Chinese engineering to shame.

However, our self-identity has been scientifically proven to have a strong biological basis and that contradicts the notion that, as human beings, we voluntarily choose certain behaviours over others.

In his fascinating book, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Anil Ananthaswamy illustrates how when things go awry in the brain, we get a peek into the way certain neurobiological processes work. For instance, it seems so obvious to say, “I exist”. But people who suffer from Cotard’s Syndrome claim, “I don’t exist.” By understanding abnormal neurobiological underpinnings, we have gained an insight into the neuroscience of our notions of self-identity.

Neurologist-philosopher Gerhard Roth’s words are profound: “Irrespective of its genetic endowment, a human baby growing up in Africa, Europe or Japan will become an African, a European or a Japanese… he will never acquire a full understanding of other cultures since the brain has passed through the narrow bottleneck of culturalization.”

Indeed, cultural neuroscience is a cutting-edge area of scientific exploration, using highly sophisticated brain-imaging tools such as fMRIs, which examine the neurobiological underpinnings of self-identity and how the culture we live in affects the neural pathways that dictate behaviour.

For example, when solving simple arithmetic problems, native English speakers engage the left perisylvian cortices — areas that are typically involved in linguistic processing. However, native Chinese speakers show very little activation in this area. Instead, they show marked activation in a pre-motor association area. This demonstrates that the same behavioural outcome is accomplished by different brain pathways, depending on their cultural backgrounds.

Renowned psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar examines the above biological phenomena through the lens of Indian identity in his book, The Indians, and posits that Indians, no matter which nook of the country they are from, share certain biologically predicated responses in thought and behaviour to the same stimuli.

The notion that we are more similar than different — whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, forward or backward caste, rich or poor, local or from the diaspora — may elicit ire in some people. But where do socio-cultural assertions by an insular few stand in the face of larger forces — biologically-proven phenomena that, in a beautifully Socratic irony, have partial bases in the very cultures they stem from?

The writer is based in Chennai


* Foreign

Venezuela’s Guaido urges troops to rise





Venezuela’s Guaido urges troops to rise

Opposition leader says the ‘final phase’ of his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro has begun

Reuters

Street fight: A protester near a bus that was set on fire in Caracas on Tuesday.APFernando Llano

CARACAS

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday called for a military uprising to oust President Nicolas Maduro and armed factions clashed at a protest outside a Caracas air base as the country hit a new crisis point.

Witnesses said several dozen, mostly young armed men, in military uniforms accompanying Mr. Guaido exchanged gunfire with soldiers acting in support of Mr. Maduro outside the La Carlota air base but the opposition did not appear to be about to take power by force.

Mr. Guaido, in a video posted on Twitter earlier on Tuesday morning, said he had begun the “final phase” of his campaign to topple Mr. Maduro, calling on Venezuelans and the military to back him to end Mr. Maduro’s “usurpation”.

Around three hours after his announcement, there was no sign of any other military activity. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Security forces earlier had fired tear gas at Mr. Guaido as hundreds of civilians had joined the group, the witnesses said. “We reject this coup movement, which aims to fill the country with violence,” said Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino.

He said the armed forces remained “firmly in defence of the national Constitution and legitimate authorities,” and that all military units across Venezuela “report normality” in their barracks and bases.

Boldest effort

The move was Mr. Guaido’s boldest effort yet to convince the military to rise up against Mr. Maduro. If it fails, it could be seen as evidence that he lacks the support he says he has. It might also encourage the authorities, which have already stripped him of parliamentary immunity and opened multiple investigations into him, to arrest him. The U.S. is among some 50 countries that recognise Mr. Guaido as Venezuela’s President.

U.S. President Donald Trump “has been briefed and is monitoring the ongoing situation,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. The White House declined comment on whether the administration had been consulted or had advance knowledge of what Mr. Guaido was planning.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton appeared to back Mr. Guaido’s actions on Tuesday. “The FANB must protect the Constitution and the Venezuelan people. It should stand by the National Assembly and the legitimate institutions against the usurpation of democracy,” Mr. Bolton tweeted, referring to the FANB armed forces.

A former U.S. official said that while it was unclear whether Mr. Guaido’s efforts would touch off a broader military uprising against Mr. Maduro, it appeared aimed at building momentum toward Wednesday’s May Day Street protests and making that a turning point.

Neighbours’ reaction

Conservative Republicans in Washington welcomed the reports from Venezuela. Senator Marco Rubio, who has worked on Venezuela policy with the Trump administration, took to Twitter to urge Venezuelans to take to the streets.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez tweeted that the government was confronting a small group of “military traitors” seeking to promote a coup.

Brazil’s right-wing government threw its support behind Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido’s push to oust the “Maduro dictatorship” with street demonstrations on Tuesday, and called on other nations to do the same.

President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted that the people of Venezuela are “enslaved by a dictator” and that he supports “freedom for our sister nation to finally become a true democracy.”



Deputy A-G Rosenstein quits





Deputy A-G Rosenstein quits

He had appointed and overseen the Mueller investigation

Sriram Lakshman

A file photo of Rod Rosenstein.REUTERSLeah Millis

Washington

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller and oversaw his probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related questions, handed in his resignation on Monday.

Mr. Rosenstein was expected to resign after the Mueller probe concluded and after William Barr, the new Attorney-General, had assumed office. The resignation will be effective May 11, and brings a controversial, sometimes drama-filled, term that began in April 2017 to a close. Mr. Rosenstein has been seen as wanting to balance the interests of many stakeholders while doing his job and had earned criticism from all quarters.

It started with a memo written by Mr. Rosenstein in May 2017 recommending that U.S. President Donald Trump fire then FBI Director James Comey for his handling of the probe into Hilary Clinton’s use of a personal server for emails (Mr. Trump later indicated he had the Russia probe in mind when he decided to fire Mr. Comey). Mr. Rosenstein’s tenure is ending with him getting some of the flak for backing Attorney-General Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report, which, according to critics, misrepresents Mr. Mueller’s conclusions on Mr. Trump’s role in obstructing the probe.

25th Amendment

During Mr. Rosenstein’s tenure were other controversies, including a report in the New York Times that, in 2017, shortly after Mr. Comey was fired, Mr. Rosenstein had discussed wearing a wire to his meetings with the President and wanted to recruit Cabinet members to make a case for invoking the ‘25th Amendment’ (a constitutional provision enabling the removal of a sitting President on grounds of mental incapacitation).

The incident resulted in Mr. Rosenstein almost getting fired by Mr. Trump, who, from time to time, attacked him for the Mueller probe.

The tone of Mr. Rosenstein’s resignation letter is being seen by some as yet another attempt by the Deputy Attorney-General to stay in Mr. Trump’s good books. He says he is grateful for “the courtesy and humour you [Mr. Trump] often display in our personal conversations”. Mr. Rosenstein signs off, “We keep the faith, we follow the rules, and we always put America first,” words borrowed from Mr. Trump’s ‘America first’ campaign.

Mr. Trump has nominated Jeffery A. Rosen, Deputy Transport Secretary, to replace Mr. Rosenstein.



Why did Baghdadi return?





Why did Baghdadi return?

The IS chief calls for a war of attrition against his enemies

Stanly Johny

Last time when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared in a video, the Islamic State (IS) was at the pinnacle of its glory. He was seen in the pulpit of the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, after the IS declared a new “Caliphate”. Almost five years later, he reappeared in another video, at a time when the IS is practically on the run.

It appears from the video that the IS wants to continue the war it started irrespective of the setbacks it has suffered recently. It is telling the world, especially the group’s supporters and sympathisers, that ‘Caliph’ Baghdadi has survived the fall of the Caliphate. Despite a $25 million bounty on his head and the massive manhunt the Western intelligence agencies have mounted, he’s here, alive and healthy, calling upon his followers to continue the “jihad”.

Second, Baghdadi has referred to the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka in the video. “As and for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the heart of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz (the last slice of territory the IS was holding until its defeat in late March),” he said, according to an English translation of the speech by SITE Intelligence Group. The Sri Lanka reference suggests that the last cut of the video is not more than a week old. The April 21 Sri Lanka attacks, which killed more than 250 people, were one of the most dangerous suicide missions the IS has ever carried out. The bombings give Baghdadi something to boast about even in the midst of military setbacks, and use it to instigate more violence.

War of attrition

Third, Baghdadi tells his followers what should they do. He says the Caliphate was defeated by the “crusaders”, in a reference to the West. What he does is to place the war on the IS in the context of the crusades, a series of religious wars in the medieval period, largely fought between Christian Kingdoms and Muslim rulers in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The Crusades, which started in 1095, lasted for centuries.

“The truth is the battle of Islam and its people with the crusaders and their people is a long battle,” he said in the video. “…the war of Baghouz is over and manifested in it is the wildness and the savagery of the people of the cross towards the people of Islam… And it demonstrates the courage and resilience and persistence of the people of Islam.”

This is not the first time the IS is using the crusade imagery. In the IS literature, the Westerners have always been called crusaders. But this time, Baghdadi himself has pinpointed an enemy and asked his followers to attack it, as part of the group’s revival strategy. “So we recommend to all of you to attack your enemies and exhaust them in all of their capabilities — human, military, economic, logistical — and in all matters. Our battle today is one of attrition and stretching the enemy.”



In Japan, end of an era as emperor Akihito steps down





In Japan, end of an era as emperor Akihito steps down

Agence France-Presse
Tokyo

Emperor Akihito of Japan formally stepped down on Tuesday, the first abdication for 200 years in the world’s oldest monarchy, as his son Naruhito prepared to take the Chrysanthemum Throne and usher in a new imperial era.

In the “Room of Pine” in Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, the popular 85-year-old performed the abdication ritual in the presence of the imperial regalia — an ancient sword and the sacred jewel.

Dressed in a Western-style morning coat, Mr. Akihito stood on a small stage before an invited audience and members of the royal family and offered his “deepest heartfelt gratitude to the people of Japan”.

He said he would “pray for the peace and happiness of all the people in Japan and around the world”. Empress Michiko stood by his side in a white and silver gown and the outgoing emperor paused briefly after exiting the stage, to help his wife, 60, down the steps.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the royal couple had offered “courage and hope” to the Japanese people in times of suffering.


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