MAY 15, Wednesday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

U.S. curbs: India to decide on Iran crude imports after polls





U.S. curbs: India to decide on Iran crude imports after polls

Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit to update Delhi on developments in Persian Gulf

Kallol Bhattacherjee
NEW DELHI

India will take a call on the purchase of Iranian energy after the general election, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif here on Tuesday.

The discussions come in the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf after the U.S. waivers for supply of Iranian energy ended on May 2, prompting Tehran to declare that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear deal.

“On purchase of oil from Iran, the External Affairs Minister reiterated the position that a decision will be taken after the election keeping in mind our commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests,” said a source familiar with the discussions held between the two sides at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan here.

The Indian side said the visit of the Foreign Minister was undertaken “at his own initiative” to update India on the developments in the Gulf region where tension escalated over the weekend as incidents of sabotage were reported in Saudi Arabia. Tehran, meanwhile, indicated that it would leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed upon during the second tenure of U.S. President Barack Obama. Following Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Zarif described the talks he held in India and Turkmenistan as “excellent”.




Sri Lanka blasts accused was on Indian radar





Sri Lanka blasts accused was on Indian radar

Three Islamic State suspects in touch with him charge-sheeted by NIA

Special Correspondent
AHMEDABAD/new delh

A key accused in the recent serial blasts in Sri Lanka, Aadhil AX, was reportedly under surveillance by Indian agencies, including Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), following the arrest of two Islamic State (IS) suspects Ubed Mirza and Kasim Stimberwala. The arrested persons were allegedly in touch with Aadhil through WhatsApp.

Both Mirza and Stimberwala were arrested by the Gujarat ATS and are in judicial custody in Surat.

Lone wolf attack plan

They have been charge-sheeted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which accused them of plotting a lone wolf attack in Ahmedabad. Mirza is a lawyer, while Stimberwala is a medical technician.

As per the chargesheet filed by the NIA, Mirza, in 2017, had a WhatsApp chat with Aadhil, who is believed to be the same person involved in the Sri Lanka serial blasts, in which more than 250 people were killed.

The chargesheet also mentions the messages and chats between Mirza and Aadhil through social media.

The ATS, however, apparently did not find any other actionable intelligence to link Mirza and Stimberwala with the Sri Lanka-based Aadhil. “Except a few chats on social media, no other material or connection or link has been found,” said a Gujarat police official.

An NIA source said another IS suspect, Mohammad Naser, deported from Sudan in 2015, was also in online contact with Aadhil. Naser, who is now in Tihar jail, has also been charge-sheeted.



Southwest monsoon likely to set in over Kerala on June 4





Southwest monsoon likely to set in over Kerala on June 4

Jacob Koshy

Monsoon is likely to reach Andaman and Nicobar islands by May 22, says Skymet

NEW DELHI

The southwest monsoon is likely to arrive in Kerala on June 4, but is poised to make a “sluggish” progress thereafter, according to an assessment by private weather forecasting agency Skymet.

It is expected to reach Andaman and Nicobar islands by May 22 and, when it reaches Kerala, it will also make a simultaneous onset over parts of northeastern India, the agency said in a statement. “All the four regions are going to witness less than normal rainfall, this season. East and Northeast India and Central parts will be poorer than Northwest India and South Peninsula. Onset of monsoon will be around June 4. It seems that initial advancement of monsoon over peninsular India is going to be slow,” Jatin Singh, Managing Director, Skymet, said in a statement.

Central India, the country’s rice bowl, is expected to see the lowest rainfall in the region, with seasonal rains at 91% of its Long Period Average.

“Odisha and Chhattisgarh are likely to be the rainiest of all, while Vidarbha, Marathwada, west Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat will be poorer than normal,” the forecast added. Last month, Skymet forecast ‘below normal’ rains to the tune of 93% (with an error margin of +/- 5%) of the long period average (LPA) of 89 cm.

The India Meteorological Department is expected to make public its own assessment of the monsoon onset over Kerala on Wednesday.

The agency’s forecasters say the monsoon over Kerala would likely be “delayed” beyond the normal date of June 1. “There’s likely to be a delay… the El Nino is one of the factors. Moreover, temperatures in the Bay of Bengal are still quite high (a factor that delays the monsoon onset over Kerala),” said a meteorologist, familiar with the IMD forecast, who didn’t want to be identified.

The meteorologist underlined that the monsoon’s onset bore no relation to its performance. Since 1971, only thrice has the monsoon arrived in Kerala exactly on June 1. The onset has been as early as May 18 in 2004, and as late as June 18, in 1972, according to Skymet.


* Nation

NRC centres victimising minorities facing dubious objections: NGO





NRC centres victimising minorities facing dubious objections: NGO

Bengali Hindus accuse BJP of betraying their trust; demand clarification from CM

RAHUL KARMAKAR

Under the thumb: Poor, illiterate people are being forced to sign an undertaking saying they do not possess citizenship documents, claim activists.File photo

GUWAHATI

An Assam-based Bengali organisation on Tuesday said some officials manning the service centres for the Supreme Court-monitored National Register of Citizens have been “making a mockery of the objection process” by forcing poor, illiterate people belonging to minority communities to sign an undertaking saying they do not possess citizenship documents.

The final phase of the exercise to update the NRC, to be published by July, involves claims and objections. Claims are for 2.89 crore people who are included in the updated list but with certain errors, while objections are for those who think certain people do not deserve to be in the list because of suspect nationality.

The NRC centres received some 3 lakh objections, almost all of them on the final day – December 31, 2018 – of the claims and objections round.

“NRC has become a tool for harassment of religious and linguistic minorities with people from one end of Assam being forced to travel to another end because of dubious objections raised by unknown people. Invariably, the objector does not turn up at the hearing but NRC officials make the poor, illiterate people sign an undertaking in English saying they do not possess citizenship documents,” said Kamal Choudhury, president, All Assam Bengali Youth Students’ Federation (AABYSF).

Mr. Choudhury found this out when he himself travelled for a hearing in Guwahati from his hometown Tangla, 100 km away, after one Anup Choudhury filed an objection against him.

“They cannot do it to people who know how to read English. I demanded a documentary proof of having attended the hearing in the absence of the complainant, but the NRC centre refused to give it. What is the guarantee they won’t call us again?” he asked.

NRC State Coordinator Prateek Hajela did not respond to messages. But another official said he was unaware of any such undertaking.

The AABYSF said some people who signed such papers had been summoned to police stations later over “issues related to NRC”.

Such people ended up being sent to detention centres for foreigners. Even women were picked up from their homes after midnight for questioning.

“If the Foreigners’ Tribunals can give ex parte (one-sided) judgements against Bengali Hindus and Muslims, who seldom get the notice from the police in the first place, why can’t the NRC authorities reject such dubious objections ex parte? Our appeals in this regard have fallen on deaf ears,” AABYSF general secretary Ajay Bhushan Sarkar said.

Anger at BJP

“The BJP government has betrayed our trust. They used our votes to turn the machinery against us after the Lok Sabha election ended. The Bengalis have been at the receiving end for ages. If we are Bangladeshis, we must be deported. If not, stop harassing us,” Mr. Sarkar said.

The AABYSF and other Bengali organisations have demanded a clarification from Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who heads the BJP-led coalition government. Some party leaders have also suffered due to the NRC objections. Swapan Mandal, the vice-president of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste Cell, has had to appear for a hearing to justify his inclusion in the updated NRC.

Heat on indigenous too

The Indigenous Assamese people too have been facing the objection music. One of them is Ajoy Hazarika, an advocate and consumer rights activist. His wife Karabi Das and brother-in-law Bipul Das, residents of Ledo in eastern Assam, received objection notices and have had to appear for a hearing at Sarupeta in western Assam. “The complainant, Manoj Nath, did not appear. We would like to know how he got hold of our documents to claim my wife is a foreigner,” Mr. Hazarika said.

Similarly, Guwahati-based social activist Hara Kumar Goswami’s had to go to western Assam’s Barpeta Road for a hearing on an objection by one Dhanmani Kakati.

In central Assam’s Nagaon, objection was slapped on senior journalist and Nagaon Press Club member Najimuddin Ahmed. Two NRC officials in the district – Baharul Islam Majundar of Batadraba and Abdul Kasem Farazi of Nagaon – also received such notices.



PG medical students upset at one week stay by CET





PG medical students upset at one week stay by CET

State govt. to move SC for extension of admission process

Suyash Karangutkar

Former Vice-Chancellor of Mumbai University Bhalchandra Mungekar meets protesting medical students of Maratha community at Azad Maidan on Tuesday. Emmanual YoginiEmmanual Yogini

Mumbai

The Maharashtra Common Entrance Test (CET) cell, through a notification issued early on Tuesday morning, stayed the admission procedure for post-graduate medical courses for seven days and said fresh guidelines would be issued following the Supreme Court order.

Mentioning the possibility of changes in the admission schedule keeping in mind petitions before the SC and High Court, the notification said, “Due to the legal issues that have come in the way of the admissions and Maharashtra government’s plan to approach the SC for an extension, the admission procedure has been stayed for a period of 7 days, starting May 13.”

This move has been criticised by post-graduate medical applicants from various reserved categories who lashed out at the State government for delaying the admission procedures.

Advocate Sriram Pingale, who is representing the Maratha students in the Supreme Court, said he has advised the petitioners to file a review petition for the May 9 verdict that struck down the 16% reservation on PG seats this year. “We will most likely be filing the review petition tomorrow,” he said.

While students of the Maratha community called it a confusing notice, students from the open category, Other Backward Classes (OBC), Nomadic Tribes (NT) and Scheduled Caste (SC) and Vimukti Jati (denotified tribes) (VJ) said the postponement was unnecessary.

Dr. Samruddhi Shinde (23), a Maratha community applicant for Masters in Dental Surgery, said the CET cell notice was not only confusing but also against their demands. “It states that a request has been made before the SC for an extension. We are clear about our demands, but this decision has brought us no clarity over retainment of our seats and branches. We will not take our protest back till our demands are met,” she said.

The applicants from the NT, OBC, SC and open category, on the other hand, questioned the move.

“We want reservations to not exceed beyond 50%. The government must follow the SC order of May 9. We are of the opinion that reservations should simply be eliminated from the post-graduate admission process,” Dr. Shrikant Ghugre, an applicant from the NT (3) category, said.

Dr. Angad Randive, an open category applicant, said the extension will further delay commencement of the academic year which usually starts by the first week of June. “Now, we have no idea when admissions will finish and when we will begin our courses. The notice says that the government will move SC seeking permission for the extension. We want to know why did they stay when they don’t have the permit?” he asked.

State Minister for medical education and water resources, Girish Mahajan, told The Hindu, “Some students have already moved the SC for a review. We will be moving the SC tomorrow seeking permission for an extension of admission in Maharashtra. The students’ immediate problem was that they wanted an extension, as the last date for form filling was May 13. We, therefore, requested for the same.”

Meanwhile, Bhalchandra Mungekar, former vice-chancellor of Mumbai University, who met the protesting Maratha students on Tuesday, said the one-week extension will not solve the problem and that procedural lapses and irregularities of the government were to be blamed for the mess. “Without making preparations and taking into account perspectives, the government took the decision due to political exigencies,” he said.



Water level in dams plummet, Pune braces for drought





Water level in dams plummet, Pune braces for drought

City requires 3 tmc water for next two months, officials fear a full-blown crisis

Shoumojit Banerjee

Grim reminder: The marker shows the low level of water at Khadakwasla dam in Pune on Tuesday. Special ArrangementSpecial Arrangements

Pune

With the effects of drought beginning to tell on cities in western Maharashtra, the State irrigation department has decided to stall the release of water from Khadakwasla dam to meet ’s potable water demands.

With the cumulative water stocks in the four major dams constituting the city’s potable water lifeline — Khadakwasla, Panshet, Varasgaon and Temghar – down to an alarming 4.75 tmc (thousand million cubic feet), the department is left with no choice but to stop water for crops and irrigation in the district’s outlying areas.

Water from Khadakwasla is usually released in two rotations for the summer crops in the outlying areas of Pune district like Daund and Indapur.

This was always a bone of contention between the irrigation department and Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) authorities, with the latter catering to the needs of a city heaving under a population in excess of 40 lakh citizens.

The department has been exhorting the civic body to cut down its water usage. Irrigation authorities claim that the city has been consuming water in excess of its stipulated quota of 1150 mld (millions of litres per day) for the past two months.

The city would require at least 3 tmc water over the next two months, say officials who fear a full-blown crisis well before monsoon brings relief.

The fall in the dam water storage levels has worried officials as the cumulative stock of the four dams — with a total capacity of 29 tmc — stood at 6.62 tmc a week ago, with stock in Temghar dam down to zero% while Khadakwasla has 26% of its total capacity.

“In contrast with the present collective stock of 4.7 tmc, last year’s stock was 7.73 tmc. Ever-increasing temperatures are quickening the rate of evaporation, thus depleting reserve stocks at an alarming pace,” said a PMC official.

Things are expected to get worse with the Met department forecasting high temperatures after May 17.

Likewise, with reserve stocks in the Pavana dam — the lifeline of Pimpri-Chinchwad — rapidly depleting, citizens are demanding that civic authorities shut down swimming pools to conserve scarce potable water resources.

The drought continues to play havoc in the arid Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, where acute water scarcity has turned stretches in districts like Parbhani, Washim and Buldhana into wastelands.

The Godavari river bed is running dry in Parbhani and Aurangabad districts. In Buldhana, the intensity of the drought has compelled farmers in several taluks to sell off their livestock.

In stark contrast to comforts of Pune’s plush urban pockets, the average potable supply in a Marathwada village is once every week, say locals and activists.

In Washim, the collective stocks in 134 small and medium water projects stood at a robust 83% in October last year. Yet today, it has declined to a mere 7% of the total capacity, said officials.



When parasols made a political statement at ‘pooram’





When parasols made a political statement at ‘pooram’

They sported images of Army personnel and Lord Ayyappa

Special Correspondent

Colourful parade: The Paramekkavu and the Thiruvambadi temples displaying innovative parasols of Lord Ayyappa and India map with a jawan in the middle.K.K. Najeeb

Thrissur

The ‘pooram’ festival concluded on Tuesday with the ceremonial farewell ritual ‘upacharam chollippiriyal.’

The idols of Paramekkavu and Thiruvambady, the main participating temples, were taken back to the respective temples after the ceremony.

The last day’s festivities are called Thattakathe Pooram, meaning pooram for the local people.

Friendly competition

All the ceremonies of Monday were re-enacted on Tuesday. The main fireworks were held around 4 a.m. Thousands witnessed the colourful show.

The ‘kudamattom’ ceremony (exchange of umbrellas), in which the participating temples display colourful parasols in a friendly competition, drew special attention this time as it featured socio-political themes that have sparked intense debates in recent times.

It was Paramekkavu that first displayed parasol in three colours of the Indian flag with the image of Army personnel in it. Thiruvambadi’s replay was a cut out of India’s map in three colours with a jawan in uniform in the middle.

Both temples also displayed innovative parasols of Lord Ayyappa. Some in the crowd welcomed it with ‘Namajapa’ slogans. If Paramekkavu parasol showed Lord Ayyappa in a sitting posture, Thiruvamabadi’s had the image of Ayyappa astride the tiger. It is the first time in ‘pooram’ that such political statements have been made by temples.



Floods result of rampant construction: SC





Floods result of rampant construction: SC

Violation of Coastal Regulation Zone norms cannot be condoned, warns the court

Legal Correspondent

Future tense: Alfa Serene Apartments, which is among the five buildings under the Maradu municipality in Kochi that were ordered to be razed by the Supreme Court . Thulasi KakkatThulasi Kakkat

NEW DELHI

Unbridled construction activities in eco-sensitive areas with natural water flow have a devastating effect and lead to natural calamities like those seen in the recent floods in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttarakhand, the Supreme Court warned.

“Expert opinions suggest that the devastated floods faced by Uttarakhand in recent years and Tamil Nadu this year are immediate result of uncontrolled construction activities on river shores and unscrupulous trespass into the natural path of backwaters,” a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Navin Sinha observed in a recent order.

The observations are part of its direction to the authorities in Kerala to demolish certain apartment blocks situated in ecologically sensitive areas in Maradu panchayat within a month. In a detailed order published lately, the court declared the permission given by the panchayat authorities for their construction as illegal and void.

“We take judicial notice of recent devastation in Kerala which had taken place due to such unbriddled construction activities resulting into collossal loss of human life and property,” the Supreme Court observed.

It said the area in which the construction was carried out was part of tidal influenced water body and strictly restricted under the provisions of the Coastal Regulation Zone notifications.

“Uncontrolled construction activities in these areas would have devastating effects on the natural water flow that may ultimately result in severe natural calamities,” the Bench said in the order.

Prior permission must

The Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP) has been prepared to check these types of activities and construction activities of all types in the notified areas.

Under Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, the authority is empowered to deal with the environmental issues relating to the notified Coastal Regulations Zones.

Construction activities in the notified CRZ areas can be permitted only in consultation with and concurrence of the authority.

“It is the binding duty of the local self-governments, the competent authority issuing building permits to forward application for building permission to the authority along with the relevant records,” the court said.

The significance of CRZ notifications in the interest of protecting environment and ecology in the coastal areas and the construction raised in violation of the regulations cannot be lightly condoned, the Bench quoted from past judgments on the issue.



Odisha fishermen in a fix





Odisha fishermen in a fix

Unemployment worries loom after boats, nets lost to Fani

Staff Reporter

Fishing boats after cyclone hit Chandrabhaga in Puri, Odisha. Biswaranjan Rout

BERHAMPUR

The traditional fishermen of Odisha are in a fix as they have lost their boats and nets in cyclone Fani and face the diminished scope of professional employment in other coastal States during the summer months.

According to Prasanna Behera, president of the Odisha Traditional Fish Workers’ Union (OTFWU), a large number of the cyclone-devastated fishermen may be forced to become menial migrant labourers during the next two months. The Phailin cyclone of 2013 that had its landfall near Gopalpur in Ganjam district had led to large scale migration of fishermen looking for work outside the State. But Phailin occurred in October, when the scope of employment in the marine fishery sector was high in other coastal States.

Migration for jobs

During the summer months fishing activity is low in States of the eastern coast, which will reduce the employment scope for Odisha fishermen, said Mr. Behera. It is expected that some of them may migrate to the western coast looking for fishing sector jobs in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa. Others may be compelled to earn a living as menial workers in other sectors.

According to initial government assessment, 6,389 traditional marine fishing boats, 7,240 nets, 2,524 fish ponds of area 587 hectare, three fishing harbours, six fish landing centres, and five fish farms have been damaged by Fani in Odisha. According to OTFWU, the number of damaged boats and nets will be higher as information is yet to reach it from several areas.

Fani has affected the traditional fishermen of Puri, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara districts and those living on the banks of Chilika lake in Khurda, Ganjam and Puri districts. The demand for marine fish, prawn and crab has again started to rise in the Odisha markets. But the fishermen of Ganjam, who were least affected by Fani are not able to gain from it.

According to N.Taleya, a fisherman community leader of Nulia Nuagaon in Ganjam district, the ban on mechanised fishing from April 15 to May 31 for the breeding season still continues in Ganjam coast. Due to this they are only able to fish with their traditional catamarans. The catch is not sufficient to get good income, although demand is high as fishing is almost nil in the Fani-devastated coastal districts.

With fall in fish catch, women of the marine fisherman community have also lost their livelihood. They are no more able to process and trade marine products. Samudram, a federation of Women Self Help Groups , is doubtful about producing 500 kg of processed marine products per month in the coming days.



‘Our priority is to form a non-BJP government’






interview | K.C. Venugopal

‘Our priority is to form a non-BJP government’

The BJP tally will come down by 80-100 seats and Congress will gain at its expense, says party general secretary

Varghese K. George

New Delhi

Congress general secretary K.C. Venugopal, a key strategist, shares the party’s assessment of the emerging political situation after six phases of polling.

What is your assessment of the situation after six phases of polling?

According to all our inputs, the Congress has done very well. We are going to have a dramatic increase in our tally. That also means that the BJP will be losing dramatically.

What is the basis of your confidence about places where the Congress and the BJP are in direct fight?

For one, the BJP had peaked in all these States — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh. In Gujarat and Rajasthan, we had zero; in Maharashtra, the NCP and the Congress together got six of 48 seats. In Jharkhand we had no seat, in Haryana we had one. We are doing extremely well in all these States.

The BJP is facing a tough battle and even people like Nitin Gadkari are not having it easy and more than half the seats in Maharashtra will come to us.

In Gujarat, the BJP has tried everything to decimate us, but we are getting anywhere between six and 10 seats. There are conflicting reports from Rajasthan, but we are winning around 10 seats there. In Madhya Pradesh, they tried everything, including fielding a hardcore Hindutva candidate in Bhopal but we will get more than half the seats.

In Jharkhand and Bihar also, the situation is similar. The BJP hopes to win seats in West Bengal, but they are not going to win more than one or two. Overall, the BJP tally is coming down by 80-100 seats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to create a nation-wide Hindutva campaign has failed, according to you?

The PM has tried everything possible to create polarisation, but people have not let that happen.

Such a low-level campaign has never happened in the history of Indian democracy.

No leader in India, let alone a PM, has used such language. He has not said anything about jobs, NPAs, farm distress, which are the real issues before the people.

But there is also criticism that the Congress has not been able to propagate an alternative vision, and your manifesto promise of NYAY, etc. have not got any real traction.

We were very clear from the beginning that we would not fall into the trap of responding to Modi’s divisive rhetoric. That is a blunder that we could commit and hence were determined to avoid any discussion on polarising issues as he wanted. We kept the debate focussed on the real issues. NYAY is not a political agenda, but a sincere attempt to make an intervention in the lives of poor people.

In the event of a hung verdict, what will be the Congress move?

We are waiting for the results on May 23. Unless you have the numbers, it is premature to talk about post-poll arrangements. Our internal assessment is convincing for us — that the Modi government will be ousted. We are all hopeful that the Congress will be an alternative option. But our priority is to form a non-BJP government.

All existing allies will remain firmly with the Congress?

What doubt you have? Not only that, others who may not be with us today also will join us. That is why I am saying we must keep all this aside, till the results are out.

Will the Congress insist on the post of PM?

There is no point discussing that question right now. As far as we are concerned, we have fought the elections very well.



Protesting Punjab farmers met with water cannons





Protesting Punjab farmers met with water cannons

They were on their way to Raj Bhavan

VIKAS VASUDEVA

Pressing on: Water cannons drench agitating farmers in Mohali. Akhilesh Kumar

MOHALI/CHANDIGARH

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Chandigarh, several farmers on Tuesday staged a protest on the Mohali-Chandigarh boundary against the BJP-led government at the Centre and Punjab’s Congress government for adopting what they called an indifferent attitude towards their plight.

The Chandigarh police used water cannon to disperse the farmers as they started their march to “gherao” the Raj Bhavan in Chandigarh. They had assembled from across Punjab and were stopped at the Mohali- Chandigarh boundary.

The agitated farmers, under the banner of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Samiti, shouted slogans against the Centre and the State government, accusing them of failing to address farmers’ concerns.

Farmer leaders said over a dozen farmers sustained injuries as the police used force. “We are protesting against the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement) because it is detrimental to the interest of farmers. India should keep itself out of RCEP,” Sarvan Singh Pandher, president of the Punjab unit of Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Smiti, told The Hindu.

“Neither the Centre nor the State government has fulfilled it promises on farmer welfare. Implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report, which had recommended fixing the minimum support prices for crops at levels at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production is required urgently because lower prices have resulted farmers landing into the debt trap,” Mr. Singh said.



Adityanath’s fight for pride in his backyard






IN FOCUS:GORAKHPUR

Adityanath’s fight for pride in his backyard

U.P. Chief Minister is smarting over the loss of the seat in the 2018 byelection, but now, the crucial Nishad vote is likely to be split

Omar Rashid

“Will a dancing Brahmin be allowed to win from a Nishad area,” Devendra Nishad asks. “Will we go to Mumbai if we ever need him?”

The unemployed youth’s dismissive take on BJP candidate Ravi Kishan Shukla, a Bhojpuri film star, in Gorakhpur not only brings to surface the caste divide in Purvanchal but also reflects the sense of betrayal felt by a section of the community.

In Bankati, a Nishad-dominated village in the Pipraich Assembly segment of Gorakhpur, the community’s anger towards the BJP is perceptible. They accuse the party of insulting them after their leader Rajmati Nishad, a former MLA and runner-up in 2014, was lured from the Samajwadi Party (SP) just before the election with the promise of ticket only to be denied it later.

A humiliated Ms. Rajmati, who had even started campaigning for the BJP, returned to the SP with her son Amrendra. The Nishad leader is the wife of Jamuna Nishad, an icon of the community here who came close to wresting the Gorakhpur seat from Yogi Adityanath in 1999, losing by just 7,000 votes.

That the SP has fielded a Nishad and former State Minister Ram Bhual has further pushed the community towards the SP-BSP alliance. “We don’t care if [Narendra] Modi becomes PM or what happens elsewhere. Here, we are defeating the BJP and choosing our own MP,” Raju Nishad, a farmer, says.

Significant vote bank

A riverine OBC community, the Nishads, along with their sub-castes Mallah, Kewat, Bind and Kashyap, are an important non-Yadav backward segment. Bandit-turned-politician Phoolan Devi is among their most popular icons.

With 3.5 lakh votes, they are a critical section in Gorakhpur. In 2018, Praveen Nishad, son of Nishad Party chief Sanjay Nishad, who has projected himself to be the voice of the riverine castes, wrested Gorakhpur from the control of the Gorakhnath temple for the first time since 1989. However, right before the 2019 polls, he ditched the SP-BSP and joined the BJP, altering equations and splitting the Nishad community. The swing in their votes could decide the outcome in the tight contest.

A section of the Nishads feels betrayed that Mr. Sanjay “sold out” to the BJP even after they faced lathis of the BJP government during the community’s agitation in March demanding Scheduled Caste status. Mr. Sanjay had led the protests.

“Sanjay Nishad is merely promoting himself, while some others are fighting the legal battle,” says Brij Mohan Nishad, the headman of Arazi Bankat village.

Seated in his large house overlooking lush fields, Mr. Brij Mohan dismisses Mr. Ravi Kishan as an outsider and hails Mr. Bhual as the son of the soil. He also punches holes in the BJP’s pro-OBC claim.

“They talk of Dalit and OBC, but only work for the upper castes,” he says. The BJP government has shut down the pension scheme set up by the previous SP government, which was benefiting poor women, and the 102 emergency ambulance service, he adds.

However, not all Nishads agree. Mr. Sanjay still commands a following, while others laud Mr. Modi’s welfare schemes.

In Magalpura Badkatola village, one can spot newly constructed toilets and a pucca road leading into the settlement. Vindhyachal Kewat, a labourer, stands outside his brick hut, which stands in sharp contrast to the smart white toilet next to it. “We got this eight months ago. There is also cooking gas for the home. This government gave us facilities others never did,” Mr. Kewat says.

Santosh Nishad, a mason from Magalpura Badkatola, is all praise for Mr. Modi and scoffs at the caste identity of the SP candidate.

“I don’t care for caste. I will vote for the one who has done development for me. That is Modi,” he says.

In 2018, the BJP lost Gorakhpur by a margin of 20,000 votes. The SP, backed by the core Jatav votes of the BSP, increased its vote percentage to 48.8% from 21.75% in 2014.

CM’s prestige

BJP leaders say the party was let down by low turnout in the Gorakhpur city segment in the byelection. “We want to increase it to 50-55% from 28%,” Mahendra Pal Singh, Pipraich MLA, says. A close aide of Mr. Adityanath, he was the Chief Minister’s choice for Gorakhpur ticket but the party eventually went with Mr. Ravi Kishan. Mr. Singh is a Sainthwar and the community is strongly backing the BJP.

Mr. Adityanath held the seat from 1998 to 2017, before vacating it to head the State government. He has taken it upon himself to increase the turnout and restore his wounded pride.

Then there are meetings to mobilise intellectuals, students and sportspersons to increase polling in urban areas, to offset any losses in rural areas due to the Jatav-Yadav and Nishad arithmetic.

Kafeel Khan, a doctor suspended from the BRD Medical College in Gorakhpur after the deaths of infants over alleged lack of oxygen, says that unlike in the past, when Muslims thought it futile to vote against Mr. Adityanath, the community will come out in larger numbers behind the Opposition alliance just like they did in 2018.

The SP and the BJP are tightly locked in the four rural segments. In Gorakhpur city, there is no contest as Mr. Adityanath’s clout runs high.

For the rest, especially the non-Yadav OBCs, it is all about the PM, and like one Jaiswal voter in Pipraich said, “Hindus can now raise their head high unlike during the SP rule when only Muslims were pampered.”

The Congress hopes that by fielding a Brahmin lawyer Madhusudan Tripathi, it can cut into upper caste votes. But that did not cut ice with Surya Prakash Pathak, who rides an autorickshaw near the Gorakhnath temple. “The country only wants development,” he says.


* Editorial 1

Inching closer to the brink





Inching closer to the brink

As the U.S. provokes Iran, the onus is on Europe to somehow stand by its end of the nuclear deal

Getty Images/iStockphotostuartmiles99/Getty Images/iStockphoto

There is no dearth of conflicts in West Asia. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has defied resolution for seven decades. The fight against the Islamic State and its offshoots in Iraq and Syria has drawn in the U.S., Russia, Iran and Turkey, while the civil war in Yemen has heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the U.S.’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) a year ago added to this volatile mix and set into motion a dynamic that is fast approaching crisis point.

The deal at risk

The JCPOA was the result of prolonged negotiations between 2013 and 2015 between Iran and P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, U.K., U.S. and the European Union). It would not have worked but for the backchannel talks between the U.S. and Iran, quietly brokered by Oman, in an attempt to repair the accumulated mistrust since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Barack Obama has described the JCPOA as his greatest diplomatic success as U.S. President. Iran was then estimated to be months away from accumulating enough highly enriched uranium to produce one nuclear device. The JCPOA obliged Iran to accept constraints on its enrichment programme backed by a highly intrusive inspection regime in return for a partial lifting of economic sanctions.

Mr. Trump had never hidden his dislike for the JCPOA, calling it a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made”. After ranting about it for a year, he finally pulled the plug on it on May 8 last year. Having replaced Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo as his Secretary of State, and H.R. McMaster with John Bolton as National Security Adviser in March last year, the decision was easier as both Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton share his extreme views about the JCPOA and the Iranian regime with equal fervour. By November 5, the U.S. had re-imposed sanctions on Iran that had been eased under the JCPOA.

The U.S. decision was criticised by all other parties to the JCPOA (including its European allies) because Iran was in compliance with its obligations, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The fact that the U.S. unilaterally violated a legally binding (Ch VII) UN Security Council resolution (2231) mattered not an iota.

Iran declared that it would continue to abide with the restrictions imposed on its nuclear activities under the JCPOA as long as the EU would uphold the promised sanctions relief. Mr. Trump’s criticism of the JCPOA was that it did nothing to curb Iran’s missile development or its destabilising regional behaviour. His primary cheerleaders in denouncing the JCPOA were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Europeans shared some of Mr. Trump’s concerns but unanimously declared that the best way forward was to faithfully implement the JCPOA and then negotiate further.

‘Maximum pressure’ on Iran

In keeping with its strategy of ‘maximum pressure’, on April 8, the U.S. designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organisation, a move rejected by the U.K. and European allies. It is the first time that U.S. has named the military of another country ‘terrorist’. Given the IRGC’s involvement in large parts of Iranian economy and relations with Hezbollah, the U.S. designation of the IRGC makes it difficult for Iran to get a clean chit from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June.

Eight countries, including India, were provided a six-month-waiver by the U.S. to continue Iranian oil imports as long as they showed significant reductions. India brought its oil imports down from around 480,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 300,000 bpd. These waivers lapsed on May 2. Civilian nuclear cooperation at Bushehr, Arak and Fordaw was being undertaken by Russia, China, France, Germany and the U.K. under a waiver that has been curtailed and now needs to be renewed every 90 days, making things difficult. The waiver for shipping out excess heavy water (Iran can keep only 130 MT) and low enriched uranium (Iran can hold 300 kg) has been revoked.

Over the last year, the U.S. has imposed new sanctions in an attempt to strangle the Iranian economy, leading to heightened tensions. In a clear signal, Mr. Bolton announced on May 5 that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft-carrier strike group (USS Abraham Lincoln) and a B-52 bomber force to the Persian Gulf “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”. The new threats have not been elaborated.

On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that following U.S. announcements, Iran would no longer observe the ceilings of 130 MT of heavy water and 300 kg of low enriched uranium, and excess production would be retained within the country. He clarified that “Iran does not want to leave the agreement; today is not the end of the JCPOA”. Given the current rate of heavy water production and uranium enrichment, it is unlikely that the ceilings will be breached. Since Iran is observing the verification arrangements, any increase in production will be monitored by the IAEA.

Mr. Rouhani also announced a window of 60 days for other JCPOA members to make good on their commitment to ensure sanctions relief, failing which Iran could undertake uranium enrichment above 3.67% (a restriction under the JCPOA) and resume construction of Arak heavy water reactor (this was mothballed). This would mean the end of the JCPOA.

The U.S. responded by announcing additional sanctions on Iran’s industrial metal industry, the second largest export item after oil. In addition, a USS Arlington (transporter of amphibious vehicles and aircraft) and a Patriot missile defence battery have also been deployed.

Critical test for the EU

Many observers have described Iranian action as a ‘minimalist response’ to ‘maximum pressure’. However, Mr. Rouhani made it clear that the decisive moment would come after 60 days. It is a warning, particularly to the Europeans, that Iranian patience is running out. After committing to evolving an arrangement to bypass dollar-based transactions to enable sanctions relief to continue, the EU announced the setting up of the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) on January 31. Promoted by the U.K., France and Germany and based in Paris, it is currently limited to pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, food and agricultural products. Eventually, it is to be extended to third countries and cover oil exports. Iran set up its counterpart body, the Special Trade and Finance Institute (STFI), on April 29. If EU decision-making is protracted, Iran too is a difficult negotiating partner.

Mr. Trump keeps insisting that the U.S. does not want war and believes that ‘maximum pressure’ will bring Iran back to the negotiating table or even bring about regime change. He says he is waiting for a telephone call from Tehran, ready to negotiate a ‘better deal’. Iranians are a proud people and such a call is not going to come. Last year, Iran’s decision to continue observing the JCPOA was based on the idea of outlasting a single-term Trump presidency. As a second term for Mr. Trump becomes likely, Iran knows that it needs to develop its nuclear capability beyond the point of no return to ensure regime survival. This is the lesson from North Korea.

Many in the U.S., as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia, hope that the heightened military pressures will tempt Iran into a provocation which can be used to justify a U.S. military response. If this happens, it will throw the region into prolonged turmoil, unravelling boundaries established nearly a century ago.

The EU has long wanted to be taken seriously as an independent foreign policy player. Here is its diplomatic moment — can it strengthen INSTEX enough to persuade Iran to stick with the JCPOA, or will it only end up issuing pious calls for restraint all around?

Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and currently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. E-mail: rakeshsood2001@yahoo.com



Facing the climate emergency





Facing the climate emergency

The politics of the climate crisis needs a radical transformation — people’s movements are a spark of hope

Sujatha Byravan

Getty Images/iStockphotoAnar Babayev/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. shows that global warming during the past half century has contributed to a differential change in income across countries. Already wealthy countries have become wealthier and developing countries have been made poorer in relative terms during this time. India’s GDP growth penalty between 1961 and 2010 is in the order of 31% for the period, whereas Norway gained about 34% on a per capita basis. More recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has reported that, worldwide, the abundance of species has reduced by at least one-fifth, about a million species are under threat of extinction in the next few decades and 85% of wetlands have been lost.

None of these stunning scientific findings made banner headlines. The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister did not hold an emergency meeting to discuss the loss of economic output because of climate change or the effects from loss of biodiversity in India. The manifestos of the political parties contesting the Indian general election barely took note of questions relating to climate and environment. Instead, it is “business as usual” or “life as usual” in the familiar news cycles of bickering and politics.

Instances of collusion

What we have, moreover, are numerous instances of elite networks that are taking advantage of the situation to consolidate their control. These networks often involve governments actively or quiescently colluding with fossil fuel companies, agro-industrial elites, financial elites and other big businesses that are ignoring climate change and making a fast buck often even from the growing disasters. The International Monetary Fund estimates in a recent working paper that fossil fuel subsidies were $4.7 trillion in 2015 and estimated to be $5.2 trillion in 2017. It goes on to say that efficient fossil fuel pricing would have reduced global carbon emissions by 28%.

The Arctic is melting rapidly and the tenor of the recent discussions among Arctic countries suggests that even as increasing glacier melt is responsible for opening up shipping in the area, superpowers are angling to access wealth from the oil, gas, uranium and precious metals in the region.

Mozambique recently had two successive intense cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, with widespread devastation. In an article in The Nation, Dipti Bhatnagar, a local activist, describes how big oil and energy companies have been eager to tap into Mozambique’s liquid natural gas, with large banks from many countries involved in the financing. In 2013, bank loans for $2 billion were guaranteed by the Mozambican government. When the government defaulted on its loans and the currency plummeted, it left behind a trail of woes. The story in Mozambique is of how “corrupt local elites collude with plundering foreign elites” and enrich themselves and their partners, while the people are left to bear the burden of debt.

While this kind of corruption may not be new, various versions of this are played out in other countries. Governments’ corporate cronies and plundering elites, of course, need not be foreign. Environmental laws can be broken by old boys’ networks with impunity as penalties are cancelled by a party in control. It is the poorest and those without access to power who become victims of the fallout from these situations. Another recent example is the draft Indian Forest Act of 2019, which enhances the political and police power of the forest department and curtails the rights of millions of forest dwellers.

Ear to the ground

Policies and commitments make it clear that most governments and businesses are not interested in dealing with the climate and ecological crises. They will certainly not give these the central attention they deserve in these times of an emergency; they barely even acknowledge them. Luckily, what we are witnessing is a large-scale movement for “planet emergency”, climate and ecology. Greta Thunberg has been leading this among school-going children, and Extinction Rebellion has been organising “die-ins” in many parts of Europe and now in Asia. Their non-violent civil disobedience is just what is needed and it is indeed inspiring to see children and grandparents protest together. People’s movements, whether made up of students or adults, cannot be ignored for long and governments will have to pay attention.

The atmosphere now has concentrations of over 415 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, compared to 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. But then, fossil fuel companies and politicians have known about climate change for at least 30 years. They have funded misinformation regarding climate directly, taking lessons from tobacco companies that propagated lies for decades about cigarettes being safe. The documentary film Merchants of Doubt describes how a handful of scientists have obscured the truth on global warming so that business profits can continue to flow. The fossil fuel industry has also funded politicians, so their words and laws are already bought.

About a major overhaul

The only solutions that governments and business are looking for are those that enable them to carry on as before. But the planet is well past that point where small fixes can help take us on a long path to zero carbon earth. We are now at a stage where we need major overhaul of our lifestyles and patterns of consumption. The U.K. Parliament became the first recently to declare a climate emergency. It remains to be seen if appropriate actions will follow this declaration. When a 16-year-old speaks with far greater clarity and conviction than the thousands of dithering policy wonks who have been debating for over three decades, we know the politics of the climate crisis must undergo a radical transformation.

Sujatha Byravan is a scientist who studies science, technology and development policy



Missing demand





Missing demand

Slowdown has widened across sectors; the new government must hit the ground running

A welter of data collectively and individually point to one worrying conclusion: economic momentum across sectors is slowing in the widening absence of that key ingredient, demand. Domestic sales of cars, commercial vehicles and two wheelers all contracted in April, from a year earlier, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has reported. The decline of almost 16% in total automobile industry sales is an indication that consumption demand across markets — urban and rural, institutional and individual — is petering out. While sales of commercial vehicles, a fair proxy for overall economic activity, slid 6% last month, a 16.4% drop in demand for two-wheelers extended the segment’s slump into the new financial year, mirroring the rippling rural distress. The data on passenger vehicles, which saw the steepest drop in almost eight years, add to the gloom. Car sales shrank almost 20% amid a protracted slump that shows no signs of a reversal. The latest industrial output figures from the government serve to underscore the widespread nature of the demand drought. The Index of Industrial Production (IIP) for March shows output fell 0.1% from a year earlier to a 21-month low, with the use-based classification revealing a weakening that spared none of the six segments. The capital goods sector shrank by 8.7% on the back of an 8.9% contraction in the preceding month. Output of consumer durables fell 5.1% from a year earlier, and growth in consumer non-durables production slid to 0.3% from the 14.1% pace in March 2018.

Manufacturing, which has a weight of almost 78% in the index, continues to be the biggest drag, with output contracting by 0.4% after shrinking by a similar extent in February. Overall, the sector’s growth slowed to 3.5% in the last fiscal, from 4.6% in 2017-18. The composite picture that emerges from all these numbers belies the CSO’s implicit fourth-quarter GDP growth assumption of 6.5%, and paints it as overly optimistic. With global headwinds strengthening in the backdrop of an escalating trade war between the two largest economies, the U.S. and China, and rising tensions in West Asia beginning to push up energy costs from the top oil-exporting region, Indian policymakers have to contend with an external sector that would likely only add to the domestic pressures, most certainly in the near term if not in the longer. The distress in the farm sector may just ease marginally if the monsoon does turn out to be “near normal” as forecast last month, and could help spur a demand revival in the rural hinterland. Still, the new government that emerges after May 23 must spare little time in drawing up appropriate policy measures that not only help reinvigorate demand but also ensure that such a revival is robust, across-the-board and enduring.



Miles to go





Miles to go

South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa must use his election victory to reform the ANC

Cyril Ramaphosa, victor in South Africa’s recent presidential election and head of the African National Congress, is celebrating his win and the peaceful transition of power from his predecessor Jacob Zuma. But he must equally be aware that there is a daunting challenge that awaits him in the realm of economic reform, institutional reinvigoration and breaking from a past of political corruption that has hobbled the country’s prospects for much-needed growth. To begin with, the ANC won just under 58% of the vote, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance won about 21%, the Economic Freedom Fighters 11%, and the 45 smaller parties together won almost 11%. That is a considerable proportion of overall votes for the ANC, but nevertheless marks a disconcerting secular decline in its tally, which was as high as 69% in the 2004 national elections but slid steadily downward to almost 66% in 2009 and to 62% in 2014. The dwindling popularity of the party that swept gloriously to power in 1994 following the defeat of apartheid, has been coterminous with the rise of a corrupt political elite that indulged in what is now widely recognised as “state capture” — rent-seeking built on the marketisation of the South African state. Given that Mr. Zuma, who stepped down in 2018 in the wake of corruption scandals, allowed this culture of venality to flourish, Mr. Ramaphosa will have to apply a scalpel to the ANC itself: trim the Cabinet and oust those associated with illicit dealings.

The President will also have to be deft in terms of steering the economy through choppy waters. The rate of unemployment is now at 27%. This raises the already high levels of stress on tottering public finances and social welfare programmes, which must cater to at least 17 million people. A positive step forward here would be for Mr. Ramaphosa to deliver on his promise to tackle the “public patronage” system, at the heart of which are the inefficiency ridden state-owned enterprises. In his victory speech he vowed to end corruption “whether some people like it or not”. Indeed, no task is more urgent than this, for it is only by stemming the leaks in public finances that the government can hope to pump funds back into the public services for education, health, and social security. This in turn could directly improve the welfare of the poorest South Africans, mostly youth, who have relatively few marketable vocational skills and opportunities, and are left to fend for themselves in the private sector. While Mr. Ramaphosa has made a decent start by changing the leadership of the tax authority and the national prosecutor’s office, the danger for the administration lies in the realm of politics. To deliver on the promise of economic growth and good governance, Mr. Ramaphosa must stand ready to power through any resistance to reform by the ANC old guard, some of them Mr. Zuma’s avowed allies.


* Editorial 2

Implementation issues in 10% reservation





Implementation issues in 10% reservation

A well-designed assignment mechanism is vital for the quota for economically weaker sections to work

A new Constitution amendment provides 10% reservation to individuals from economically weaker sections in the general category for government jobs and educational institutions in India. A view of Parliament. AFP

A new Constitution amendment provides 10% reservation to individuals from economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category for government jobs and educational institutions in India. This law raises several implementation questions. Under the law, EWS applicants may even find it harder to obtain positions. These problems can be addressed using the science of matching theory.

Boston, where we are based, faced similar implementation challenges with its school assignment system. Like India, thousands of school assignments in Boston are made using a matching process with a system of reserves. In part due to our interaction with Boston officials, the city moved to a scientifically sound implementation of their policies. Boston’s experience holds important lessons for India.

Unreserved to reserved

Until now, India’s main reserve-eligible groups have been Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. In job and university assignments, there is a widespread tradition of first assigning a reserved category applicant to an unreserved position if he or she qualifies on the basis of merit alone. When unreserved positions are exhausted, a reserved category applicant may then be considered for a reserved position. A meritorious reserved candidate (MRC) is a reserved category applicant, who is tentatively assigned to an unreserved position.

When the assignment involves multiple types of jobs or universities, the existence of MRCs raises two important questions. One, can an MRC move to a reserve position for a more preferred job or university place if he or she is tentatively holding a less preferred unreserved position? Two, if such movement is allowed, what happens to the newly vacated seat?

A 2004 Supreme Court decision in Anurag Patel v. U.P. Public Service Commission mandates that an MRC is entitled to move or “migrate” to the more preferred assignment. A 2010 Supreme Court decision in Union of India v. Ramesh Ram & Ors answers the second question for the case of public sector job assignments. It specifies that the newly vacated position is to be given to a candidate from the general category, who is not eligible for any reservation. That is, even if there is a more deserving reserved category applicant — say, another MRC who received a less preferred position — the newly available unreserved position can go to a potentially lower-scoring applicant from the general category. Therefore, one unintended consequence of this judgment is that the cut-off score for reserved category candidates can be higher than the cut-off score for the general category.

At present, a small fraction of unreserved positions are tentatively assigned to reserved category applicants. This means that the number of meritorious reserved candidates is relatively modest compared to the number of unreserved positions. But with the new EWS reservation amendment, a large fraction of general category applicants are expected to qualify as economically weak. This means that a large share of unreserved positions will be tentatively assigned to the EWS category. As a result, there will be many more meritorious reserved candidates. And the positions they vacate due to migration are to be offered to the general category candidates who do not qualify for EWS reservation due to Ramesh Ram. This may result in a reduction in the number of positions offered to those in the EWS category.

For example, under the system used by the Union Public Service Commission to allocate the most sought-after government jobs in India, such as in the Indian Administrative Service, a non-EWS applicant from the general category would take newly vacated positions following migration, increasing their overall share. In all likelihood, the cut-off scores will be higher for EWS candidates than for non-EWS general category applicants, meaning it’s harder for the poor to qualify than the rich. Creating such a large reserved category results in a big challenge to the implementation of Ramesh Ram, or any system based on the idea of a meritorious reserved candidate.

Horizontal or vertical?

Another implementation challenge with the new amendment is that the new law does not explicitly state whether the new EWS reservation is horizontal or vertical. This is despite the clear distinction made in the landmark judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992).

A horizontal reservation is a ‘minimum guarantee’, which only binds when there are not enough EWS applicants who receive a position on the basis of their merit score alone; if so, the bottom-ranked general category selections are knocked out by the top-ranked unselected EWS candidates. With a large number expected to qualify for EWS, the 10% minimum guarantee will already be achieved essentially in all applications. This means the policy, if applied horizontally, will virtually have no effect.

A vertical reservation, on the other hand, is an ‘over and beyond’ reservation. This means that if an applicant obtains a position on the basis of his or her merit score without the benefit of the reservation, it does not reduce the number of reserved positions. This important distinction appears not to have been a part of discussions leading up to the passage of the law. A government memo suggests that the new EWS reservation might be vertical, but it is important that this issue be clarified.

We have seen first-hand how challenging these notions can be in practice. Boston originally had a neighbourhood reserve for half of each school’s seats. Officials were not clear whether this neighbourhood reserve is a minimum guarantee or an over-and-beyond allotment. When the Mayor advocated for increasing neighbourhood reserves, there was a great deal of confusion and anger about the underlying policy. Our research showed that Boston had effectively negated the neighbourhood reservation, by applying a horizontal implementation. The original intention of Boston’s policy, however, was to have an over-and-beyond neighbourhood reserve, as in the vertical implementation. Transparency about these issues brought about an entirely new system.

These issues can be resolved using a well-designed assignment mechanism and transparent rules about processing of reserves. Our experience in Boston generated academic literature which has gone on to influence assignment practice throughout the U.S. Our research shows how it is possible to adapt these mechanisms for India and satisfactorily implement reservation policies, as they are envisioned in Indra Sawhney.

Lack of clarity on implementation opens up possibilities to distort or even manipulate outcomes, undermining policy goals. It can confuse the public and keep university or job assignments in limbo for years as courts process legal challenges. India’s new EWS reservation policy is heading in this direction unless these implementation issues are addressed head-on.

Parag A. Pathak is a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, U.S. Tayfun Sönmez is a professor of economics at Boston College, U.S.



The Bahujan movement needs to reinvent itself





The Bahujan movement needs to reinvent itself

Mayawati’s challenge is to bring different marginalised communities together

The Dalit movement in north India started taking shape under the cultural and intellectual leadership of Swami Achhootanand and his Adi Hindu Movement in the 1920s. Active in areas that are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the movement received new momentum when the B.R. Ambedkar-led Republican Party of India (RPI) began to work during the Independence struggle and after. The RPI tried to expand in the Hindi belt, but it managed to impact only a few parts of U.P. in the 1960s and ’70s. The Congress, the ruling party then, empowered the Dalits through various Constitution amendments, laws and policies. The Arya Samaj movement also helped to provide an identity and respect to various Dalit communities.

The major turn came in the 1980s and ’90s when the Bahujan movement, under the leadership of Kanshi Ram, started influencing the society and politics of north India. The Bahujan movement had a broader definition of the oppressed, and included the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). It also included lower-caste Muslims (Azlafs). Mayawati emerged as the leader of the Bahujan movement after Kanshi Ram’s death. She went on to become U.P. Chief Minister four times.

Failure to mobilise small communities

The Bahujan movement, which transformed into a political party called the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), is now facing a crisis. In the last few years, its vote share has been declining. Though the BSP has continued to enjoy the support of the numerically strong Jatavs in U.P., it has failed to continue to garner support from the other major Dalit communities by mobilising them under the Dalit-Bahujan frame of politics. Their votes are also fragmented among the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. As a result, they are not being able to acquire electoral clout that could put pressure on political parties to work for their development. The Bahujan movement in U.P., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is centred mostly around Dalit communities that are visible and large in number. It has to penetrate deeper to reach communities that are relatively invisible, numerically smaller, and voiceless.

The influence of the Bahujan movement among the Most Backward Classes (MBCs), OBCs and STs is also waning. Many of them supported the BSP in the first and second phases of Bahujan mobilisation. Kanshi Ram had successfully created a rainbow coalition of a few OBC and MBC, and many SC, communities. However such a coalition broke down in a later phase of Bahujan politics. The movement is also failing to mobilise the Muslims who are part of the Bahujan communities. Kanshi Ram had sought to bring them under one umbrella.

Leadership crisis

Another crisis is that the Bahujan movement has failed to cultivate powerful leaders at the top level. Sone Lal Patel, who founded the Apna Dal (Sonelal), and Om Prakash Rajbhar, who leads the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, are products of the Bahujan movement. They may have emerged as the second rung of leaders of the movement, but due to some reason or the other, the BSP failed to keep them under its fold. Now, many young leaders, such as Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan and Jignesh Mevani, who are not satisfied with Ms. Mayawati and the BSP-led Bahujan movement, are challenging the form and content of the contemporary Bahujan movement. They are challenging the BSP’s ‘sarvajan’idea.

The Bahujan movement needs to revive itself as a movement and take up many social issues in its agenda which are linked to the empowerment of Dalits. The BSP needs to expand among the most marginalised communities. The BSP has found new ways of reaching out to the people, such as through social media, but it needs to also retain the traditional ways of mobilisation such as organising small meetings in Dalit localities.

The BSP’s performance this election will decide its future. Given that the SP and the BSP are fighting the election together, this will be a test of Ms. Mayawati’s capacity of transferring the BSP’s vote base to the SP. The possibility of the Dalit base shifting to the Congress will also be a cause of concern for the Bahujan movement, given the possibility of a revival of the party in north India.

Badri Narayan is Director, G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad



Leaders and growth





Leaders and growth

Questions to ask as political systems continue to tip towards strong leaders

Chirantan Chatterjee

Compared to geography, legal origins and political institutions, what role do leaders play in economic growth? This question is salient in India given that the challenge of sustaining economic growth might be moving from a single leader to a multi-leader competition mode. While many business leaders in India have advocated for decisive leadership to maintain the momentum of growth, data show that coalition governments performed respectably whenever they were in power. This raises the question of how much a leader matters to economic growth.

That conundrum is also at the heart of the ‘great man theory’ of the world, which British historian John Keegan wrote about. He argued that the political history of the 20th century can be found in the biographies of six men: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Roosevelt, and Churchill.

Providing causal evidence in this area can be complicated because economic growth, good or bad, could throw up certain types of leaders, which may have subsequent effects on growth itself. Economists Benjamin Jones and Benjamin Olken showed that one can use random leadership transitions, from death due to natural causes or an accident, to provide more causal evidence. Using worldwide data from 1945 to 2000 and 57 random leadership transitions, they showed that leaders matter for economic growth, but leadership effects are strongest in autocratic rather than democratic settings. They also found that the channel through which leadership impacts growth was through monetary and fiscal policy, not private investment, and that the deaths of autocrats, particularly extreme autocrats, led to improvements in growth rates. Similarly, Tim Besley and co-authors showed in their 2011 paper, using an expanded dataset between 1875 and 2004, that rather than leaders per se, more educated leaders cause higher periods of growth compared to less educated leaders. They also showed in a 2016 paper that resilient leaders facing a lower probability of being replaced are less likely to reform institutions in the direction of constraining executive power.

Notwithstanding these studies, many questions remain: What else matters besides economic growth? For example, should we consider national security, religiosity, economic inequality? Should specific leadership attributes be explored as being the key to assuring sustained economic growth? For example, how much does it matter whether a leader is from a dynastic versus non-dynastic background? Do married leaders have a bigger impact or single leaders? What about the age of leaders, and whether they were educated in Western democracies, and to what extent they exuded charisma? As political systems across the world continue to tip towards strong leaders, these questions will matter more than ever before.

The writer is a 2018-2019 Campbell and Edward Teller National Fellow in residence at Hoover Institution, Stanford University


* Foreign

U.S. updates military plans against Iran





U.S. updates military plans against Iran

Envisions sending 1,20,000 troops if Tehran attacks American forces or starts work on nuclear weapons

War Eric Schmitt, Julian E. Barnes
WASHINGTON

At a meeting of President Donald Trump’s top national security aides last Thursday, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 1,20,000 troops to West Asia should Iran attack U.S. forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons, administration officials said.

The revisions were ordered by hard-liners led by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser. It does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require vastly more troops, officials said. The development reflects the influence of Mr. Bolton, one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.

It is highly uncertain whether Mr. Trump, who has sought to disentangle the U.S. from Afghanistan and Syria, ultimately would send so many U.S. forces back to West Asia. It is also unclear whether the President has been briefed on the number of troops or other details in the plans.

However, according to an AFP report, President Trump on Monday rejected that he was considering sending 1,20,000 troops to counter Iran, but didn’t rule out deploying “a hell of a lot more” soldiers in the future.

There are sharp divisions in the administration over how to respond to Iran at a time when tensions are rising about Iran’s nuclear policy and its intentions in the region. Some senior officials said the plans, even at a very preliminary stage, show how dangerous the threat from Iran has become. Others, who are urging a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions, said it amounts to a scare tactic to warn Iran against new aggressions.

European allies who met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said they worry that tensions between Washington and Tehran could boil over, possibly inadvertently.

More than a half-dozen U.S. national security officials who have been briefed on details of the updated plans agreed to discuss them with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

The size of the force involved has shocked some who have been briefed on them. It would approach the size of the U.S. force that invaded Iraq in 2003.

More targets to strike

Deploying such a robust air, land and naval force would give Tehran more targets to strike, and potentially more reason to do so, risking entangling the U.S. in a drawn out conflict. It also would reverse years of retrenching by the U.S. military in West Asia that began with President Barack Obama’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011.

But two of the U.S. national security officials said Mr. Trump’s announced drawdown in December of American forces in Syria, and the diminished naval presence in the region, appear to have emboldened some leaders in Tehran and convinced the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that the U.S. has no appetite for a fight with Iran.

Several oil tankers were attacked or sabotaged off the coast of the UAE over the weekend, raising fears that shipping lanes in the Gulf could become flashpoints. Emirati officials are investigating the apparent sabotage, and U.S. officials suspect that Iran was involved.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman called it a “regretful incident,” according to a state news agency. Nytimes




Dozens arrested after anti-Muslim violence





Dozens arrested after anti-Muslim violence

Sri Lanka PM appeals for calm after a man is stabbed to death

Keeping vigil: Soldiers patrolling a road at Hettipola after a mob attack on a mosque in nearby Kottampitiya.REUTERS

Sri Lanka police arrested dozens and remanded nearly 30 persons on Tuesday, in connection with the spate of anti-Muslim attacks in at least three districts over the past two days.

A 45-year-old Muslim man, who ran a timber store in Kurunegala district in the North Western Province, died of stab injuries. According to residents of the villages in the area, at least two busloads of people, aided by “local goons”, carried out attacks on mosques, Muslim-owned shops and homes on Sunday night and Monday afternoon, in the worst outbreak of violence since the April 21 Easter bombings. Similar attacks were reported in parts of nearby Gampaha and Puttalam districts.

“The fact that the mobs arrived in buses showed that these attacks were planned,” said Hilmy Ahmed, vice-president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella body of Muslim civil society organisations. “It was very much like the previous instances of anti-Muslim attacks,” he told The Hindu.

On Tuesday, the stench of a gutted factory in an interior road of Minuwangoda, about 40 km north east of Colombo, filled the vicinity. The pasta factory was the only Muslim-owned property on that stretch, according a middle-aged man running a small shop facing the factory. “I was right here yesterday evening, when 300 to 400 people entered the factory and set it on fire. Six workers were injured trying to escape,” he said, requesting not to be named. The mob, he said, came from the town area after attacking several Muslim-owned stores there.

Amith Weerasinghe of Mahason Balakaya, a Sinhala-Buddhist group; and Namal Kumara, a self-declared anti-corruption activist, were arrested on Tuesday for questioning in connection with Monday’s violence, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told The Hindu.

Inciting violence

Mr. Weerasinghe was earlier accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in Digana near Kandy in March 2018. He was arrested following the attacks and granted bail in October last. Mr. Kumara made news when he claimed he was aware of a plot to kill President Maithripala Sirisena. Police also arrested Dan Priyasad, of hard-line Sinhala nationalist group Nawa Sinhale, in connection with the attacks.

Meanwhile, a prominent legislator aligned to President Sirisena, came into focus in the wake of Monday’s mob attacks. Dayasiri Jayasekara, general secretary of Mr. Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and a former Minister, visited a police station in one of the affected villages to reportedly transfer six suspects, who were in custody for allegedly violating the curfew, to another police station and to have them released on bail.

When contacted, Mr. Jayasekara — an MP from Kurunegala — said he went to his area after reports of a huge crowd agitating in front of a police station. “I went there to help transfer the suspects to another police station to avoid any violence,” he told The Hindu, accusing social media of “distorting” his visit.

Appealing for calm, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe asked the public not to be swayed by false information.

Cabinet Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem said allowing such violence and “pre-planned attacks” was a reward to the “demented individuals” who carried out the Easter bombings. “This is exactly what they wanted,” he told The Hindu.

M.A. Sumanthiran, spokesman of the Tamil National Alliance and Jaffna district parliamentarian said: “We appeal to the government: Do not let that happen. Do not let yet another community in Sri Lanka feel that in order to survive in this country, it must fight for itself.”



Israeli firm in WhatsApp flaw row





Israeli firm in WhatsApp flaw row

Nicole Perlroth , Ronen Bergman

SAN FRANCISCO

An Israeli firm accused of supplying tools for spying on human-rights activists and journalists now faces claims that its technology can use a security hole in WhatsApp, the messaging app used by 1.5 billion people, to break into the digital communications of iPhone and Android phone users.

Security researchers said they had found spyware — designed to take advantage of the WhatsApp flaw — that bears the characteristics of technology from the company, the NSO Group.

WhatsApp engineers worked around the clock to patch the vulnerability and released a patch on Monday. They encouraged customers to update their apps as quickly as possible.

“WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices,” the Facebook-owned company said in a statement.

The spyware was used to break into the phone of a London lawyer who has been involved in lawsuits that accused the company of providing tools to hack the phones of Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident in Canada; a Qatari citizen; and a group of Mexican journalists and activists, the researchers said. There may have been other targets, they said.

Digital attackers could use the vulnerability to insert malicious code and steal data from an Android phone or an iPhone simply by placing a WhatsApp call, even if the victim did not pick up the call. As WhatsApp’s engineers examined the flaw, they concluded it was similar to other tools from the NSO Group, because of its digital footprint.

The lawyer said he had grown suspicious that his phone had been hacked when he started missing WhatsApp video calls from Norwegian telephone numbers at odd hours. The lawyer contacted Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, which has helped uncover the use of NSO Group products in attacks on journalists, dissidents and activists. NY TIMES



U.S. trade office targets $300 bn Chinese imports





U.S. trade office targets $300 bn Chinese imports

Tariff hike proposed on 3,805 goods

Sriram Lakshman
New York

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on Monday published plans to increase tariffs on 3,805 Chinese imports, valued at about $300 billion. The move was expected since the end of last week and means that almost all Chinese goods entering the U.S. will be taxed at a higher rate, if the policy is implemented.

Monday’s proposed list of goods that will now attract up to 25% tariffs includes laptops, mobile phones, clothing, motorbikes and toys. Pharmaceuticals will be excluded.

“What’s been left out so far, presumably for political reasons, is the consumer side of Chinese imports into the U.S. This latest list of $300 billion picks that up, “Joshua P. Meltzer, a global economics and trade specialist at Brookings, a Washington DC based think-tank, told The Hindu.

“How much of the negative impact of these tariffs, if they go through, depends on how much firms pass on to consumers and the extent to which this backfires on Trump politically also depends on consumers making the link between any price increases and the trade conflict with China,” Mr. Meltzer said.

The USTR has announced a request for comments from the public by June 17 and a public hearing on the tariff proposition on that day, days before U.S. President Donald Trump is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan at the G-20 leaders summit.

“Slapping tariffs on everything U.S. companies import from China — goods that support U.S. manufacturing and provide consumers with affordable products — will jeopardize American jobs and increase costs for consumers,” National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said, according to the news agency Reuters.


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