The News Editorial Analysis 31st Jan 2022
Limits of power
SC serves a reminder that the House should work within constitutional parameters
In ruling that the one-year suspension imposed last year by the Maharashtra Assembly on 12 BJP legislators was illegal and irrational, the Supreme Court has set the limits of the legislature’s power to deal with disorderly conduct in the House. It has laid down a significant principle that the effect of disciplinary action cannot traverse beyond the session in which the cause arose. Citing precedents from rulings of the Privy Council and the Supreme Court, the Court has sought to read the power of the House to suspend a member as essentially defensive or ‘self-protective’ so that disorderly conduct does not overwhelm its proceedings, but it should not assume a punitive character. Therefore, the suspension beyond the duration of the session was illegal. It was deemed irrational because the need to exercise the power was limited to restoring order in the House; logically, it was not needed beyond the day, or in case of repeated disorderly conduct, to the session so that scheduled business could be completed. It has termed the one-year suspension as a punitive action worse than expulsion. Its reasoning is that if a member is expelled by a resolution of the House, the Election Commission is bound to hold a by-election within six months and the member could seek re-election. On the contrary, the year-long suspension will mean that the constituency remains unrepresented, while there would be no vacancy to be filled through a by-election.
The State government argued vehemently that there was no limit to the action that the House could take for maintaining order and the Court could not examine the proportionality of the action. Rule 53 of the Assembly allowed the Speaker to adopt a graded approach to disorderly conduct; naming members after which they should withdraw from the House for the day, and, in the case of the conduct being repeated, for the rest of the session. However, the Government insisted that the suspension was imposed under the inherent power of the Assembly to ensure orderly functioning. Even then, the Court ruled, in the absence of a rule enabling such a power, the House had to adopt a graded approach and that the same-session limit could not be breached. Referring to the bar under Article 212 of the Constitution on the judiciary examining the regularity of the procedure adopted by the House, the three-judge Bench ruled that the present action was illegal and irrational, and not a mere irregularity of procedure. The ruling is yet another reminder to legislative bodies that their functioning is subject to constitutional parameters. In an era when the government side accuses the Opposition of being obstructionist, and the Opposition alleges that it is being silenced, it is gratifying that the higher judiciary grapples with questions related to the limits of the power exercised by the majority in the legislature.
Show commitment to equity in the Budget
The Government needs to stop India’s avalanching slide into a grossly divided society, made worse by the pandemicOn January 17, 2022, Oxfam International presented its annual global “Inequality Report”. Titled “Inequality Kills”, the report calculated and presented the quantum growth in wealth of a minuscule few, and the simultaneous impoverishment of millions of working people. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, the report reveals, more than half the world’s new poor are from India; 84% Indian households have suffered a loss of income, with 4.6 crore people falling into extreme poverty. In this period, the richest 142 people have more than doubled their wealth to more than ₹53 lakh-crore. This is clearly happening by design, and can only be corrected if our policymakers reverse their framework of paying lip service to the poor while making policies that support the rich. One of the most important places to show commitment to equity, is the Union Budget; and inequality should perhaps be discussed threadbare in India before, and after every Union and State Budget.
This is the guiding light
There is also a constitutional mandate to reduce inequality. In India today, some of the most basic human rights that allow people to stay alive are under threat. It is the sacred responsibility of the Government to follow the Constitution, and ensure delivery of these rights. The policymaking “duty” of all governments is to follow Part IV of the Constitution — the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Budget is one of the most important annual exercises in state policy, and it is the Directive Principles that should be a guiding light. In terms of inequality, Articles 38 and 39 mandate a policy path. Among other important principles, Article 38(1) states: “The State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.” Article 39 (c) states: The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing — (c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment;
A rights-based policy framework, should, therefore, be followed by the Indian state to protect the poor and the marginalised. But the Prime Minister advocates that people concentrate on their duties and stop demanding their rights. On January 20, 2022, at the launch of the Brahma Kumaris’ year-long programme of events (as part of the Government’s celebration of 75 years of Independence) the Prime Minister declared, “In the last 75 years, we only kept talking about rights, fighting for rights and wasting our time. The talk of rights, to some extent, for some time, may be right in particular circumstances, but forgetting one’s duties completely has played a huge role in keeping India weak.” Ironically, the Prime Minister did not seem to be referring to his own duties.In a country like India, reducing inequality should be a high priority. Today, this principle is being inverted. The Oxfam report does not exclusively examine the multiplying wealth of India’s billionaires. Let us look outside this 0.00001% of our population, and for the purposes of the Budget, look at their analysis of basic social services — particularly those that affect the survival of the poor.India must be one of the only countries in the world where during the COVID-19 pandemic the health Budget has declined — and that too by a huge 10% in the last year. Social security expenditure has declined from an already pathetically low 1.5% in 2020-21 to 0.6% of the Union Budget in 2022. It is at this end of Budget allocations where people are deprived of the most basic services and entitlements and are unable to survive. Social security pensions, for the elderly, for the disabled, and widows have been frozen at ₹200-₹300 a month for almost 15 years. The Government says there is not enough money to even index these to inflation. In contrast, policymakers have just in the last year increased their own salaries and pensions through a DA increase to 28%, and given themselves a bonus of 3% — with just the increase for one crore central government employees and pensioners costing the exchequer more than the total social security pension budget for 3.3 crore beneficiaries.The Prime Minister’s outburst against “rights” perhaps explains his lack of support for the implementation of rights-based laws. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, even his government had to turn to the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to save millions of Indians from hunger and premature death. After increasing allocations in the first phase of the pandemic, allocations were frozen, and budgets were slashed in Budget 2021-22. The Government said it will supplement as and when needed. However, it is clear that supplements come in an extremely miserly fashion, causing extensive distress, and in MGNREGA, undermining the legal guarantee of work on demand.During a recent 18-day “Accountability Yatra” in the State of Rajasthan, we came across thousands of cases of needy people not receiving ₹2 per kilo wheat. The answer to grievances and appeals filed in writing is that the portal is closed and no more entries allowed. The priority list of households under the NFSA has been frozen in absolute numbers, based on a percentage determined from the 2011 Census. In the last 11 years, population increases amounting to approximately 10 crore eligible beneficiaries have been kept out. Therefore, approximately 12% legally entitled people — even children of existing “priority households” — cannot get subsidised foodgrain. To use digital codes to block even the appellate process mandated by law is a live example of callous multi-dimensional inequality, demonstrating why the “Inequality Kills” title of the Oxfam report is poignant and true.
Children and education
The pandemic has also produced a generation of children who have forgotten what formal education is. Many teenagers from poor households have already joined the workforce. In this period, there has been a 6% cut in the education Budget. Relying on online teaching, accompanied by Budget cuts, amounts to the institutionalisation of endemic multidimensional poverty.The list can go on and on. As we await Union Budget 2022-23, will this trend be reversed? There will be much talk among affluent analysts cautioning against social sector expenditure, calling them “welfare and doles”. Programmes such as the food security Act will not receive the quantum of allocations needed, even though food grain stocks are more than 90 million tons. The People’s Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG) has estimated that approximately ₹2,64,000 crore will be needed to guarantee 100 days work for currently active job cards. Even half that amount is unlikely to be allocated for MGNREGA. Social security pensioners will continue to face hunger, insult, sickness and death. One would expect that if nothing else, their millions of votes in crucial State elections would fetch these families some basic rights. But, in polarised elections, the basic needs of unorganised and voiceless people are easily ignored.
Time to generate data
Policymakers will tell us that resources are scarce. Oxfam says the combined wealth of India’s 142 billionaires has increased by a massive ₹30 lakh-crore, in just the pandemic period. Jan Sarokar, a network of more than 30 social sector movements, has suggested that a 2% wealth tax, and a 33% inheritance tax on the top 1% of our population will fetch an estimated ₹11 lakh crore per annum, to support basic social sector entitlements. Suggestions such as this are already being ridiculed by market fundamentalists. Which way will the Government go?The Bharatiya Janata Party’s response to most international reports has been to claim flawed methodology and analysis. It is time to introspect, generate robust data, and face the truth. The Budget is a policy that matters to all. There is, unfortunately, little hope that this Government will stop this avalanching slide into a grossly divided society. It is perhaps up to society to stand up and make sure that we are true to our constitutional commitment of building a more just and equal society. That is our most fundamental duty.
For the Finance Minister to note
The Indian government has to prepare for the introduction of the global minimum tax on MNCsThe World Inequality Report 2022 authored by Lucas Chancel, Thomas Pikketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman says India is now among the most unequal countries in the world. The bottom 50% of the population earn ₹53,610, while the top 10% earn more than 20 times that. The top 10% and top 1% of the population hold 57% and 22% of the national income, respectively, while the bottom 50% hold just 13%. India stands out as a poor and unequal country with an affluent elite. Inequality today is as great as it was at the peak of western imperialism in the early 20th century. The pandemic has exacerbated it. Nations have become richer but governments have become poor, says the report. The totality of wealth is in private hands. Global multimillionaires have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth growth over the past several decades.The Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, will take the findings of the report while framing the Budget. The long-standing complaint about corporate houses abusing provisions for tax exemption and deductions was addressed in a unique way by Ms. Sitharaman when she brought in a twin system of tax rates for companies claiming deductions and not claiming deductions. Domestic companies are charged 25% when their turnover is less than ₹250 crore and 30% when their turnover is above ₹250 crore. Suitable surcharges are also levied. A glaring inequality arises in the case of partnership firms; they are taxed at 30%. The idea seems to be to encourage corporatisation of firms. But medium- and small-scale industries find it a pain to go through the legal processes of corporatisation. Promoters of companies devise novel ways to escape the rigour of taxation.
The revolt of the haves
The decline in corporate tax rates reduced government revenue at a time of growing public deficit and declining public wealth. It erodes the progressive nature of the tax system. High-income individuals choose to incorporate their business so that they can shift income from personal income tax to corporate tax. There is also the recent phenomenon of wealthy families of promoters of big corporate houses creating a succession plan through private trusts. Assets are transferred to the trusts. India’s corporate houses are taking a cue from wealthy families in the West like the Waltons who run Walmart via private trusts. The time has come for the re-introduction of estate duty in India.
Global minimum tax
The Government of India has to prepare for the introduction of the global minimum tax on MNCs, as agreed to by 130 countries in July 2021. The rate then fixed was 15%. This is lower than what working class and middle-class people in high-income countries pay. MNCs are always ahead of the governments. Mark Zuckerberg chose to change his company’s name from Facebook to Metaverse. Google, Apple and Intel are all working on devices to circumvent the minimum global tax. Metaverse will pervade daily life offering new avenues for buying goods and services, communicating with friends and collaborating with colleagues. Metaverse refers to a collection of shared online worlds in which physical augmented and virtual reality converge. The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, points out that people can now hangout with friends, work, visit places buy goods and services and attend events on Metaverse. Digital access has not been equitable. This provides a challenge to the implementation of the proposed global minimum tax. Augmented reality attempts to provide a new kind of computing platform so as to find a new source of revenue.The rate of global minimum tax at 15% on MNCs will mean a gain of $0.5 billion for India without deductions. The gain will be zero if deductions are allowed. The World Inequality Report suggested a minimum global tax on MNCs at 25%. This will yield $1.4 billion for India without deductions and $1.2 billion with deductions of 5%. MNCs and their shareholders have been the main winners from globalisation. Their profits have boomed due to the ever-closer integration of world markets.Inflation indexing has long been suggested as a way out to sort out the difficulties of the fixed income group.India is a poor country. Pericles said, “Poverty is no disgrace to acknowledge but it is real degradation not to attempt to overcome.” The Finance Minister will do well to remember Justice Chagla’s famous saying, “Equity and income tax law may be strangers to each other but they are not sworn enemies.” No doubt, our socially conscious Finance Minister will do everything to promote equity while presenting the Budget.T.C.A. Ramanujam is Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (retd.) and an advocate of the Madras High Court. T.C.A. Sangeetha is an advocate of the Madras High Court
A year on from Myanmar’s ‘annus horribilis’
The road ahead looks dark and New Delhi’s outreach needs to be guided by realism and pragmatismThe coup in Myanmar will be a year old tomorrow. On February 1 last year, the military seized power, violating the Constitution. A decade-long experiment with hybrid democracy ended abruptly, paving the way for violence, oppression and instability. The road ahead looks dark, but diplomatic efforts are under way to bring amelioration.
The Opposition camp has called for a nationwide silent strike that ends in mass clapping, an act representing the indignation and the frustration of the people. They are angry with the military that has oppressed them and imprisoned their elected leaders. They are also frustrated with the international community as it failed to show up with a magic wand to restore democracy. Some of their leaders are promising freedom from military rule by the end of 2022. But few believe them.The military leadership has persisted in marching on the dangerous path it chose last January. It convinced itself that the November 2020 elections were fraudulent, resulting in a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It feared that, armed with a strong popular mandate, she would clip their wings and establish full democracy. President Win Myint and Daw Suu Kyi were arrested and there was a brutal clampdown. The result: 1,498 people have been killed and 11,787 imprisoned till January 27, 2022, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Besides, a sizeable number of security officials have been killed. An exodus of people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries followed, which included over 15,000 people to Mizoram, India.After the coup, the Opposition was active in articulating people’s anger. A parallel government named the National Unity Government (NUG) was formed. Slowly it lost momentum as Naypyitaw denounced NUG as “terrorists”, and used its overwhelming power to subdue the resistance. The military now has an upper hand although normalcy still eludes the nation. Instability has ruined the economy, with the World Bank terming it as “critically weak”. The crisis also weakened the Government’s efforts to manage the pandemic. In short, Myanmar has just gone through its annus horribilis.
Attention has now been focused on mediation by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). It began well by persuading Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the regime’s supremo, to accept the ‘Five-Point Consensus’ comprising, inter alia, the cessation of violence, national dialogue and mediatory efforts by ASEAN. Insiders recall that Min Aung Hlaing’s consent was implicit. This became explicit when Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin formally conveyed Myanmar’s “commitment” to the plan last August. But the military resiled from its implementation. With uncharacteristic firmness, ASEAN barred the Senior General’s participation in its summits. It offered representation at the non-political level which Myanmar turned down.In this impasse, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, the current ASEAN Chair, has adopted a softer approach which is backed by Thailand and Laos. It aims at adjusting to the military’s refusal to compromise on its key requirements such as denial of access to Daw Suu Kyi for ASEAN mediators, and little dilution of the 2008 Constitution. Other ASEAN States led by Indonesia are opposed to Cambodia’s diplomacy. But long-time ASEAN watchers believe that through further consultations, the grouping will craft internal consensus and re-adapt its negotiating mandate.Whether this happens on Cambodia’s watch, or later under the Indonesian leadership, remains to be seen. A key person to watch is Noeleen Heyzer, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’s special envoy, who could help both the UN and ASEAN to craft a modus vivendi for Myanmar.
The West exerts influence in Myanmar, but it has been unable to comprehend the dynamics of power. The United States and the European Union have not accurately assessed the military’s resolve and core conviction that without its driving role, national unity and integrity would disappear. The western policy to promote democracy and impose sanctions against the military have produced minimal results.The media paid huge attention to Russia’s endeavours to woo Myanmar by increasing its defence cooperation since the coup. But the principal player is China, not Russia, despite evident coordination between the two. Beijing enjoys enormous leverage in the ‘Golden Land’ through its control over several ethnic armed organisations, projects covered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the regime’s protection via veto in the Security Council, and a thick cheque book. Whoever wields power in Naypyitaw develops stakes in close partnership with China. But Myanmar’s rulers also desire independence and balance in their external policy, provided the international community gives them the means for it. Japan understands this geopolitical reality, but acting by itself, Tokyo cannot make a difference. It should act in coordination with ASEAN and India.
As the world’s largest democracy, India is always happy to work with fellow democracies, but it has never been in the business of exporting democracy. Nevertheless, it has done much to shape and to strengthen diplomatic efforts at the UN and through its support to ASEAN for putting Myanmar’s transition to democracy back on the rails. This line was reiterated by India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in his interactions with the top military leadership in December 2021. He was given a patient hearing even though his request to meet Daw Suu Kyi was denied, as was expected. Besides, New Delhi provided one million doses of “Made in India” vaccines, and humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar.For India, the well-established two-track policy of supporting democracy and maintaining cordial relations with the Government remains in operation. South Block has to protect the state’s interests, guided by realism and pragmatism. It has to discourage a mass influx of refugees; cut the capability of insurgent groups to endanger security in the Northeast from Myanmar soil; safeguard the ongoing projects and investments; and, above all, counter China’s growing influence.Finally, what future awaits Daw Suu Kyi who no longer dominates the political narrative as she did before the coup? Sadly, she faces three choices, all difficult: long imprisonment, foreign exile, or imposed retirement from politics. The last option seems the most likely at present.Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House and former Ambassador to Myanmar. He is also the author of ‘India-Myanmar Relations: Changing Contours’
Probe sought into Pegasus case
Advocate files fresh plea in SC for investigation into spyware deal with Israeli firm
Supreme Court advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has circulated in the media a signed online copy of a plea he claims to have filed in the Supreme Court for an investigation into an allegation made n a New York Times report that India bought Pegasus spyware from NSO of Israel.“This Hon’ble Court be pleased to allow present application to issue necessary direction to register FIR for investigation to recover public money paid for the impugned deal and prosecute persons concerned, including Nagendra [Narendra] D. Modi, in accordance of law as prayed in the interest of justice,” the application circulated by Mr. Sharma said.The advocate is one of petitioners who had earlier approached the Supreme Court seeking a probe into whether the Indian government possessed the spyware and had used it to snoop on citizens, including parliamentarians, journalists, activists, court staffers and even its own Ministers.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana had, in a 46-page order on October 27, set up an expert technical committee monitored by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to inquire into the allegations of spying and file a report.
The order came after the Union government did not file a “detailed affidavit” in the court in response to the petitions, citing national security reasons, among others.
The Justice Raveendran committee recently invited persons who suspect themselves of being snooped on to come forward and hand over their electronic equipment for technical examination to detect the presence of the spyware.
‘Breach of trust’
Mr. Sharma alleged the “deal was not placed in the House for approval and breach of trust for personal political interest by the Prime Minister and BJP party is illegal, attract criminal breach of trust embezzling of public money…”The application further said the “petitioner has also filed application to issue letter of rogatory to Israeli court for securing necessary evidence secured by the government during its raid upon NSO office and other places.
Gehri dosti, says Israel PM about ties with India
Countries celebrate 30 years of diplomatic relationsIsrael and India have a “gehri dosti” (deep friendship), Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said and thanked his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, for his “deep commitment” to the “strong and robust friendship”.Describing the opportunities of collaboration between the two countries as “endless”, Mr. Bennett, in a special video message released on Saturday evening, stressed that “the ties between Israel and India are strong and together they will only grow stronger”, as the two nations celebrated 30 years of establishment of diplomatic relations.“There is something I wanted to tell to all of the people of India,” Mr. Bennett said.
“Israel and India have a “gehri dosti”, Deep Friendship. Today we honour 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and India. Thirty years of a wonderful partnership, a deep cultural connection, and military and economic cooperation,” he said.Though India had recognised Israel on September 17, 1950, full-fledged diplomatic relations between the countries were established on January 29, 1992.“I would like to thank my dear friend, Prime Minister Modi, for his leadership and deep commitment to this strong and robust friendship,” Mr. Bennett added.“Our countries may be different in size but we share much in common — our rich history, the inherent warmth of our peoples, and our cutting edge innovation and technology”,
Another BrahMos deal in the pipeline
It could be inked with Philippines ArmyWhile the Philippines signed a $375 million deal for BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles last week to be operated by the Philippines Marines, there is another long-pending deal under discussion for BrahMos missiles for the Philippines Army, which could see progress in the near future, according to defence and diplomatic sources.In an ironic situation, while India has signed its biggest defence export contract with the Philippines, it does not have a full-fledged Defence Attaché (DA) at its embassy in Manila. The proposal for increasing the number of DAs at several Indian missions abroad, including the Philippines, has been pending for some time, at least two officials independently said.“The Marines deal is done, next will be of the Philippines Army. The Philippines Army (PA) will push through with the project,” two diplomatic sources stated.Acquisition of BrahMos by the PA is programmed in the Horizon 3 Modernization programme of Philippines (Year 2023-2027), one of the sources stated. This deal was in the works before the Philippines Marines, which is under the Navy, initiated its project but got delayed and was held in abeyance. Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had stated in December 2019 that the PA was looking to procure two BrahMos missile batteries.Earlier, in 2019 the PA had activated its first land-based missile unit under the its Army Artillery Regiment in preparation to induct the BrahMos. In the absence of a full-fledged DA at the embassy in Manila, the DA at the Indian mission in Singapore currently functions as a non-resident DA to the Philippines.
India records a spike with 404 COVID-19 deaths
Along with 28,264 infections, Karnataka tops the list with 68 casualties, followed by Maharashtra at 50 and T.N. at 38Two years since India recorded its first novel coronavirus case from Kerala on January 30, 2020, the country has recorded over 4.1 crore infections.On Sunday, 404 deaths were recorded across the country, considerably higher than the average levels recorded last week. The total number of recorded fatalities has reached 4,94,131.
The country recorded 1,48,080 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday. The number of active cases has crossed the 18.9 lakh mark.The figures are based on the State bulletins released until 10 p.m. on Sunday. However, Ladakh, Tripura, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Lakshadweep had not yet released data for the day.
Karnataka recorded 28,264 infections on Sunday, followed by Maharashtra (22,444) and Tamil Nadu (22,238). Fatalities echoed the trend with Karnataka reporting 68 fatalities, followed by Maharashtra (50) and Tamil Nadu (38).On Saturday, 16.1 lakh tests were conducted (the results for which were made available on Sunday). The test positivity rate (the number of cases detected per 100 tests) was 9.1%.As of Sunday, 92.4% of the eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, while 69.4% have received both doses.
In the 15-17 age cohort, 62.1% has received the first dose.
Altogether, 94,16,13,123 first doses, 70,69,00,347 second doses, and 1,13,19,297 booster doses have been administered across India.There has been a slight decline in the number of fresh COVID-19 positive cases in Andhra Pradesh in the last 24 hours ending Sunday morning, but the number of deaths due to the virus infection has gone up. The State reported 10,310 fresh positive cases against 11,573 cases on the previous day (Saturday).
Decline in A.P.
The State also witnessed nine deaths — three in Kadapa and Visakhapatnam, two in Nellore and one each in Chittoor, Guntur, Prakasam and Srikakulam districts.As many as 39,296 samples were tested in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of samples tested in the State so far to 3,24,45,428 and 9,692 people afflicted with the virus recovered during the past day.The cumulative toll and tally of the pandemic in the State has increased to 14606 and 22,67,596 respectively and the number of active cases touched 116031.The districts of YSR Kadapa, Kurnool and Guntur maintained their top position in terms of reporting highest number of fresh positive cases in the past day.
Split-up of districts
Kadapa reported 1,697 positive cases, Kurnool 1,379 and Guntur 1,249, followed closely by Krishna that logged in 1,008 positive cases, Nellore 927, East Godavari 910, Visakhapatnam 853, Prakasam 700, Chittoor 411, Srikakulam 229, Vizianagaram 222 and Anantapur recording 99 positive cases in the last 24 hours.
Amid chill in relations, new PLA history returns spotlight to 1962 war
The downturn in ties has coincided with greater interest in China in the 1962 war, which hasn’t been covered as extensively in the media as Korean War or war with Japan
Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the 1962 India-China war which falls in October this year, official Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations.Previous anniversaries of the war received only modest attention in China — far less than in India — and some Chinese military scholars have in the past viewed the war with India as one of China’s forgotten wars.
Unlike the Korean War or war with Japan, the India-China war hasn’t been covered as extensively in Chinese films, television dramas or in the media.That is now changing. There has been renewed attention on 1962 following the Line of Actual Control (LAC) crisis which began in April 2020 and particularly after the June 15, 2020 clash in Galwan Valley. If the normalisation of ties with India was one reason for downplaying 1962 in the past, the recent plunge in relations has coincided with greater interest both in 1962 and on the boundary dispute.To mark the 60th anniversary, Zhang Xiaokang, daughter of the former PLA General Zhang Guohua who headed the Tibet military region and planned the Chinese offensive in the eastern sector in October 1962, brought together Chinese military researchers to compile a new history of the war, titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack. Extracts of the book were published this month in the popular Chinese website Guancha. The book is based on interviews with PLA veterans and focuses on Chinese military strategy as well as on the legacy of the war.In China, high-profile books on military history, a sensitive topic, cannot be published without a green light from the PLA’s Central Military Commission, which is headed by President Xi Jinping. The extract said although it had been many years since the war “it has not been forgotten with the passage of time, and generations of soldiers and military fans have always been interested in this counterattack.”One reason why the 1962 war hasn’t received wide attention is that unlike the war against Japanese occupation, China was the aggressor, despite the often repeated claim by the Communist Party that China had never invaded or occupied any country.
Officially, China still calls its massive attack on India as a “self-defence counterattack”. The book reveals that the CPC under Mao, very shortly after the offensive, decreed that all references to the war in China could only describe it as a “counterattack”, reflective of how the leadership looked to immediately turn on its head China’s act of aggression.
The extract notes that on December 3, 1962, less than two weeks after the unilateral ceasefire declared by China, the PLA’s General Staff department issued a telegram to all troops on “The Question of Naming the Operation Against the Invading Indian Army,” which stipulated that the war would only be referred to as the “China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack”, a description that is still used today.The book also looks at Mao’s decision to go to war and says he believed the offensive would, somewhat counterintuitively, “create conditions for a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Indian border issue” by bringing India to the negotiating table after Nehru’s “refusal” to acknowledge a dispute. That both sides subsequently began negotiating, the book argues, proved him right.It also says Mao was initially concerned about the capabilities of the Indian Army but was reassured by his generals, including General Zhang. It quotes Mao as saying “if we don’t win, we won’t blame heaven and earth but our own incompetence”. He also told General Zhang that if China lost “sacred territory in Tibet” in the war that it would “take it back one day”.The book focuses on the Eastern Sector, which General Zhang headed, and discusses the significance of the capture of Tawang in 1962, which it said was aimed to “demonstrate that China would not accept the McMahon Line” as well as its sovereignty over Tibet.It attributes China’s military success in 1962 to the fighting experience gained by the military first in the war against Japan and subsequently in the war in Korea fighting U.S. troops. Those wars have occupied the spotlight in official Chinese military histories. But with the resurgence of tensions along the India-China border and ahead of the upcoming anniversary, the India-China war is now back in the spotlight.
The touch of the master’s hand or ‘Byramji effect’
He rewrote record books setting the bar at a mark which is unlikely to be surpassed
Rashid Byramji who breathed his last on Saturday, the 29th January, 2022, was a man who became a legend in his lifetime and will remain one forever.Rashid was arguably the greatest trainer that India has seen in recent times. He rewrote the record books setting the bar at a mark which is unlikely to be surpassed. In a star-studded career that began in 1956, Rashid stood out like a colossus. Close to 3200 winners; 230 Classics; 10 Indian Derbies (not counting three that were saddled by his assistants) 12 Invitation Cups are statistics that will forever exemplify his brilliance.He stamped his authority even further by being crowned Champion Trainer no less than 42 times winning 11 Bangalore Summer Championships on the trot.
Here was a maestro who schooled and produced some of the greatest horses ever. Squanderer, Elusive Pimpernel, Sweet Memories, Commanche, Manitou, Everynsky — the list would make the mind boggle and you’d run out of superlatives to describe them. They all had one thing in common and it was called the touch of the Master’s Hand or simply, the Byramji touch.The one story about him that will remain etched in my mind featured the all-conquering Commanche, who was facing off against a horse named Beauregard, trained by Chandrashekar, in the RWITC Invitational in Bombay. Just a couple of days before the race, Beauregard had a problem. Chandra turned to Rashid for help, and Rashid being the person he was, went across and sorted out the issue. In a sport that has cut-throat competition and a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality, how many people would ever have done that?On the race day, in a duel down the straight, Beauregard pegged back Commanche. Had Rashid not gone across and advised Chandrashekar what to do, Beauregard would probably never have run. Rashid knew that and yet he went out of his way to help another professional. That was the sort of person he was — an incredible human being.As Shakespeare put it, “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world,
SC judges irked by the use of social media to troll their work
But, some feel judges shouldn’t take criticisms to heart
Supreme Court judges seem to have a mixed view about what is said on social media. They have often faulted social media of being a pliant tool at the hands of forces who want to “villainise” judges, launch personal attacks and troll them for their work. There are some who believe that an attack on judges is an attack on the institution itself. The government has rushed to support the court.In his Constitution Day speech in November 2021, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana drew attention on the “attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media”.“Physical attacks on judicial officers are on the rise. Then there are attacks on the judiciary in the media, particularly social media. The law enforcing agencies, particularly the Central agencies, need to deal with such malicious attacks effectively,” the CJI exhorted.
In March 2021, the then Minister of Law and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, flagged the government’s concern about “social media campaigns” conducted against individual judges for their judicial opinions and judgments.However, apex court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, as witnessed in a recent hearing, offers a counter view. He observed that the shoulders of the judges are “broad” enough to bear the barbs shot at them. The judge does his duty and remains faithful to the Constitution.
‘Bomb cyclone’ hits eastern U.S., triggers transport chaos, outages
Residents in towns and cities urged to avoid all unnecessary travelAgence France-Presse BostonBlinding snow whipped up by powerful winds pummeled the eastern United States on Saturday, as one of the strongest winter storms in years triggered transport chaos and power outages across a region of some 70 million people.Major cities like New York and Boston bore the brunt of the blizzard, which the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed intensified on Saturday into a “bomb cyclone” — characterized by the explosive power of rapid drops in atmospheric pressure.The heaviest-hit parts of New York and Massachusetts received two feet of snow by early evening, with more than 95,000 homes in Massachusetts reported without power.Cold weather stretched as far south as Florida, where the NWS warned of “scattered to isolated falling iguanas from trees” as plunging temperatures temporarily paralysed the large lizards.Residents in towns and cities across the eastern seaboard were urged to avoid all unnecessary travel for a second night of whiteout conditions, with additional snowfall expected to be heaviest across New England.In Long Island, officials said a woman had been found dead in her car by a snowplow operator.Salt machines and snowplows crawled along the streets of New York City, where Central Park was covered in 7.5 inches of snow and regional train lines were partially shut down.New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware declared emergencies for all or part of the States.
Unnati youngest women’s singles champ
Kiran stops Priyanshu’s remarkable rally for the men’s titleFourteen-year-old Unnati Hooda capped a splendid run with an impressive finish against a fighting Smit Toshniwal to become the youngest winner of the women’s singles title in the $75,000 Odisha Open badminton tournament at Cuttack on Sunday.For the men’s singles title, Kiran George staved off a remarkable rally from Priyanshu Rajawat in three games.
The newsmaker of the day was the Haryana school girl who kept her calm to claim the first game. Trailing 9-14, Unnati battled hard to surge ahead at 18-17 to lead for the first time. Though Smit drew level, Unnati won three straight points to close the game.In the second game, Unnati jumped to a 17-4 lead before Smit closed the gap to seven points. Like in the first game, Unnati claimed the final three points for the title.In the men’s final, after the players were locked 1-1, the decider saw Priyanshu blow away a 10-5 lead after George won eight points on the trot to lead 17-12. Though Priyanshu fought well to catch up at 18, George was not to be denied.In another all-India final, Treesa Jolly and P. Gayatri defeated Sanyogita Ghorpade and Shruti Mishra to win the women’s doubles title.However, in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles finals, where the home-grown talents faced overseas rivals, there was disappointment for the host.The results (final):Men: Kiran George bt Priyanshu Rajawat 21-15, 14-21, 21-18. Doubles: Nur Mohammad Azriyn Ayub Azriyn & Lim Khim Wah (Mas) bt P.S. Ravikrishna & S. Udayakumar 18-21, 21-14, 21-16.Women: Unnati Hooda bt Smit Toshniwal 21-18, 21-11. Doubles: Treesa Jolly & P. Gayatri bt Sanyogita Ghorpade & Shruti Mishra 21-12, 21-10.Mixed doubles: Sachin Dias & Thilini Hendahewa (Sri) bt M.R. Arjun & Treesa 21-16, 22-20.
HRC ex secy. Nari Reddy passes away
Mr. N.N. Reddy, popularly known as Nari Reddy, former secretary of Hyderabad Race Club (HRC) passed away on Sunday due to cardiac arrest. He was born on March 23, March, 1932. Mr. Reddy was the longest serving secretary of HRC — from June 15, 1972 to June 30, 1993.He was the secretary general of 24th Asian Racing Conference hosted jointly by RWITC and HRC in 1995.Mr. Reddy was the founder director of Racing Academy run by the Turf Authorities of India (TAI) from April 1, 1996 to March 31, 2008. Under him several racing officials were trained. Mr. Reddy was the architect of all reforms which took Hyderabad racing to new heights. Under his administration various reforms took place, such as:
- HRC was given the status of an independent Turf Authority by the TAI in 1977.
- HRC introduced a computerised totalisator system in 1988 for the first time in India.
- For the first time in the country, an off-course tote centre of HRC was opened in Hyderabad by him.
- He was instrumental in getting the totalisator taxes reduced, which was the lowest in the country and helped in boosting the Tote turnovers of HRC to peak. He also presented a paper on this at the Asian Racing Conference and many countries, including Australia, took the cue and revised their betting tax rate.
No SC yardstick set on promotion quota for SC/STs
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to lay down the yardstick for determining the inadequacy of representation for granting reservation in promotions for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe candidates in government jobs while reiterating the need for empirical data to arrive at the decision.
However, the data so collected must not be for a group in a service but for a cadre in which promotions have to be made, a three-judge bench comprising justices L Nageswara Rao, Sanjiv Khanna and B R Gavai said. A cadre is part of a group.“State is obligated to collect quantifiable data as per the court’s judgment in M Nagaraj (2006) and Jarnail Singh (2018). Collection of data has to be for each category of posts for the entire service,” the court ruled. The verdict came on a batch of petitions that urged the court to clarify norms for reservation in promotions.The judgment primarily laid down the principle for providing quota in promotion. However, the order left it to the states to assess the inadequacy of representation of SC/ST to promotional posts taking into account relevant factors.The bench also said that a review should be conducted regarding the data for the purpose of determining inadequacy of representation and providing reservation in promotion, but left it to the government to decide the time period for such a review. The petitioners had sought clarity on several issues, mainly on how the adequacy of representation is to be determined. During the hearing, the Centre had suggested diluting the criteria for quota in promotion by doing away with the requirement of quantifiable data to establish inadequacy of representation of SCs/STs. It had told the bench that even after 75 years of Independence, SCs/STs have not been brought to the same level of merit as the forward classes. “If you don’t lay down a definite decisive ground that the states and union will follow, there will be a multitude of litigations,” Attorney General K K Venugopal had said.
Cadre data gathering
“Cadre, which should be the unit for collection of quantifiable data, would be meaningless if data pertaining to the representation of SC/STs is with reference to the entire service,” the bench said
Long-billed vultures, eagles go missing from Kagaznagar forest
A large number of birds are migrating from the Kagaznagar forest area. Experts attribute this phenomenon to the degradation of forests, human disturbance, water pollution, loss of nesting sites due to heavy rain and the negligence of officials in protection of endangered species. About 32 long-billed vultures and Himalayan vultures, which are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, were found in Palarapu Gutta in 2014, but all the vultures are now migrating to Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra. Two to three vultures were also spotted recently, but even they have reportedly migrated since their nests were heavily damaged and there was an absence of food. In the recently concluded bird walk festival, forest officials and several bird enthusiasts, who visited Palarapu Gutta, could spot that the number of vultures in the area had decreased as the nests were damaged.Wildlife photographer Limgampelli Krishna told Express that several species including the long-billed vulture, crested hawk-eagle and grey-headed fish eagle, were sighted during the bird walk festival. However, their numbers had come down, he noted. M Srinivas, a resident of Markaguda village in Indervelli mandal, said that long-billed vultures had come to the area in 2014, but they had been migrating to Maharshtra in the past two years as they lost their habitat from heavy rains. He mentioned that when he was a child, people would throw the body of dead cattle in the outskirts of the village for the vultures, but now when the officials do it, no vultures are sighted.
Will increasing marriage age to 21 help women?
Arrey ab ladki ki shaadi karaani hai kuch socha hai…. ghar ka kaam sikhao, zyada ladko ke saath na milne do…(Have you thought about your girl’s marriage? … Teach her housework, don’t let her mingle with boys a lot)—these are commonly uttered when it comes to discussions about the marriage of girls. Very rarely do we come across questions such as: “Is she legally eligible?”, “What does she want”, “Has she completed her education?”, “Is she healthy and well enough to bear bigger responsibilities?”The recently introduced Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to raise the age of legal marriage for women from 18 to 21, is said to be a pro-woman step towards gender equality and women empowerment, while also addressing the issues with underage marriages such as maternal mortality rate (MMR), infant mortality rate (IMR) and malnutrition. However, the potential of this step should be gauged based on data-centric evidence and not by the face value of the change in law.India is usually near the bottom of international rankings on gender indicators. And it also ranks among the lowest in the world when it comes to women’s empowerment as the country has the largest absolute number of girls who marry below the age of 18. The recently published National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) says that over 23% of women aged 20–24 got married before age 18. And the problem is more severe in rural areas, where the underage marriage rate is 27%. The statistics indicate that though we have laws well in place to prohibit child marriages, underage weddings are still a grave cause of concern. In light of the above data, the question is whether the rise in marriage age can really lead to women empowerment, gender equality, increased female participation in the labour market, autonomy and better health outcomes for women and children.Gender parity is a practice and not mere legal acknowledgement of women’s rights. Equating the age of marriage for men and women are notions of equality that are limited to the surface level and do not contribute to real empowerment. Again the fact is well reflected through the data on early marriages, despite the long-standing child marriage prohibition act.Whether the age of marriage is 18 or 21, what’s important is that girls should not be forced into early marriages. And marriages should not be the criteria to validate womanhood and then motherhood. Early marriages can be avoided when underlying causes such as fear for daughter’s safety, social stigma, fear of inter-caste/community relationship, poverty, lack of education, societal pressure, fear of rise in dowry demand and burden to feed one extra member are addressed. Unfortunately none of these are getting addressed by changing a girl’s age of marriage from 18 to 21. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data says that dowry-related matters accounted for the lives of 19 women daily in 2020. And a total of 6,966 cases of dowry deaths were reported in 2020.
In our minds, we associate a higher marriage age with improvement in MMR and IMR, i.e. rise in the age of marriage will lead to an increase in the age of motherhood, which means a healthier child and mother. But this is likely not true. Rather, women from privileged groups tend to marry late; hence, age looks like a deciding factor. Whereas the fact is that health indicators do not vary for women from less privileged groups even if they marry at a higher age. For instance, data from NFHS-4 shows that the level of anaemia, a key factor in MMR, shows no change even at marriage age up to 25 years, keeping other factors controlled. Hence, this points to the fact that poverty and malnourishment are the prime contributors to MMR and IMR.Let us look at the issue of gender-based violence using a report published in 2018 by the NCRB: i) it shows that once every 1.7 minutes, a crime against a woman is recorded; ii) a woman is subjected to domestic violence every 4.4 minutes. This also topped the categories of violence against women, according to the report. A multi-country study by the World Bank a few years ago saw no significant gains from raising the age of marriage for women’s decision-making or helping them find jobs. So, in a society where women have internalised the patriarchal notion of getting disrespected as valid—in NFHS-4, 52% of women respondents felt it was reasonable for the husband to hit his wife—how does the trend of deep-rooted gender stereotyping and bias get addressed while raising the marriage age?It has been evident time and again that ensuring delayed marriage and pregnancy does not just depend on the legal age. On the other hand, the relationship between the level of education and early marriage is well established. Experts say that often the girl child drops out after primary school simply because she has no access to higher education and is then married off. Also, a study by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) has found that girls out of school are 3.4 times more likely to be married or have their wedding already fixed than those who are still studying. Similarly, according to the State of the World Report 2020 by UNFPA, in India, 51% of young women with no education and 47% of those with only a primary education had married by age 18, compared to 29% of young women with a secondary education and 4% with post-secondary education. And with higher levels of education, women are also empowered to take decisions within the family and better equipped to inculcate safe sex, family planning and safe abortion practices.Holistic empowerment is about enabling women to make informed decisions, giving access to facilities, enabling them to exercise greater agency in their family life and providing opportunities for good paid employment. And education automates the process of attaining the desired empowerment, which is more sustainable while also addressing the cycle of poverty, intergenerational malnutrition and early marriage. And for this, concerted efforts should be taken to i) keep girls in school for longer and ii) enable them to complete higher education or vocational training.As we have seen, the current act will likely not have a substantial effect on issues of gender, violence and women’s health. So expecting women empowerment just by raising the marriage age to 21 is too ambitious.
Social development professional
In our minds, we associate a higher marriage age with improvement in infant and maternal mortality rates. Or in other words, a rise in the age of marriage is thought to lead to an increase in the age of motherhood, which means a healthier child and mother. But this is likely not true. Rather, women from privileged groups tend to marry late; hence, age appears to be a deciding factor
Ekapada, The Single-footed Divinity
It may appear strange and surprising, but nearly every religion and culture in the world has an unusual motif of a supernatural single-footed being, all associated with a unique myth and symbolism. In India, such an image is known as eka-paada (single-footed). The Rig Veda, the earliest known text of India, frequently mentions Aja Ekapada along with Ahi Budhnya (serpent of the deep). Aja Ekapada could be translated either as ‘the one-footed goat’ or as ‘the unborn single-footed one’. During the first half of the 20th century, many Western scholars had written about Aja Ekapada, identifying the deity with the sun, moon, thunderbolt, storm, waterspout, etc. In 1933, Jean Przyluski, a French Indologist, had interpreted the single leg of the figure as the axis mundi; and in 1961, art historian Stella Kramrisch had stated that the leg represents the polar axis.Way back in 1918, an unidentified terracotta relief figure (c. 400 CE, Gupta period) from Rajasthan’s Rang Mahal, now in the Bikaner Museum, was published in an archaeological report. In 1959, the figure was wrongly identified as ‘a monster’ in another report. However in 1960, V S Agrawala rightly identified the relief as Aja Ekapada. The relief shows the figure in standing posture, slightly inclined to the left, having a goat’s head and a pair of horns, a human torso with a pair of human hands, and a massive leg with the foot of an elephant.The Vedic hymns, to the best of my knowledge, make no mention of any part of the elephant in the context of Aja Ekpada; and hence, scholars had pondered upon the issue and expressed different opinions, which remain unsatisfactory. Incidentally, many animals take a leap into the air; whereas, the elephant would never jump up from the ground because of its mammoth size and bone structure. Most likely for the same reason, in ancient Indian literature, the elephant has been mentioned frequently as a symbol of the Earth’s stability. Hence, in my opinion, the elephant’s foot in the unique Rang Mahal relief of Aja Ekapada seems to be a poetic/artistic mode of indicating the firmness and the stability with which the deity stands on the Earth on his single leg.
(L-R) Ekapada Siva, Srimukhalingam temple, Srikakulam district,
Andhra Pradesh; Siva Ekapada Trimurti, Thyagaraja temple, Tiruvottiyur,
near Chennai; A memorial stone in Bhubaneswar MuseumIn the Vedic literature, Aja Ekapada has also been associated with a few other divinities, including Agni (God of Fire) who possesses the ram/goat as his vehicle. In the Puranas as well as in Indian art, the Ekapada concept has been fixed firmly with Rudra-Siva. From about the 8th century onwards, in many temples in Odisha, north-coastal Andhra and Tamil Nadu, and also in Nepal, various images of Ekapada Siva have been placed in one of the external niches of the central shrine. They include Ekapada-Siva, Rudra and Bhairava and Siva Ekapada Trimurti.Though no temple seems to have been exclusively dedicated to Ekapada Siva, a memorial stone in the Bhubaneswar Museum shows the single-footed Siva as the central deity at the top of the panel. This unique representation might suggest that Ekapada Siva was also revered as the Supreme One. The Atharva Veda (13. 1. 6) hails Aja Ekapada as the ‘One who had stabilised both Earth and Heaven with His might’. The same idea of bringing stability to two different realms in one step, in my opinion, has been suggested in visual art by means of the single leg of the divinity.