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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Daily Current Affairs, 23rd June 2018

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1) International Widows' Day: 23 June
•International Widows' Day is a global awareness day that takes place annually on 23rd June. 

•The United Nations General Assembly decided to observe International Widows’ Day on 23 June each year to give special recognition to the situation of widows of all ages and across regions and cultures.

2) President 3-Nation Visit: India & Cuba Sign MoUs
•India and Cuba have signed two MoUs in the field of biotechnology, traditional medicine and homoeopathy. The agreements were inked following delegation-level talks between President Ram Nath Kovind and his Cuban counterpart Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel in Havana.

•Cuba also reiterated its support to India’s candidature for a permanent seat in UN Security Council. The President is in the Latin American country on the final leg of his three-nation tour to Greece, Suriname and Cuba.

3) PM Modi Inaugurated Several Development Projects In Madhya Pradesh
•Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a bouquet of development projects in Madhya Pradesh on his visit. In the first leg of his visit, PM Modi was in Rajgarh where he dedicated the Mohanpura Dam Project to the nation. The dam in Mohanpura has been constructed at a cost of 3800 crore rupees.

•Besides that, he addressed a public meeting in Rajgarh to lay the foundation stone of various drinking water schemes and inspect an exhibition on development projects in Rajgarh. In the second leg of his visit, the PM arrived in Indore where he attended the Madhya Pradesh Shehari Vikas Mahotsav and remotely inaugurate various urban development projects worth over 4000 crore rupees.

•He also distributed the Swachh Survekshan-2018 Awards and launched the Swachh Survekshan-2018 results dashboard. It is to be noted that Indore city has won the distinction of being the cleanest city in India for the second time in a row.

4) Ministry Of Women & Child Development Received SKOCH Award
•SKOCH Group has conferred the ‘Best performing Social Sector Ministry’ award on the Ministry of Women and Child Development for the achievements in delivering the promises made and for its significant achievements and initiatives from the last 4 years.

•Minister for Women and Child Development Smt. Maneka Sanjay Gandhi has received the award on behalf of the Ministry in an event held in New Delhi. The Minister further shared the details on the achievements of the Ministry including 6 months maternity leave, Sexual Harassment at Work Place Act, SHe-box, One-stop centres, Universal Women helpline (181), 33% reservation in the police.

5) Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli Visits China, Signed Agreements
•Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is on his first visit to China after assuming the charge as Prime Minister. China will build a railway connecting the western region of Tibet with Nepal, one of several bilateral deals signed during Oli’s visit to Beijing. The link will connect the Tibetan city of Xigaze with Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.

•The two sides signed more than 10 agreements involving technology, transportation, infrastructure and political cooperation. Nepal has already scrapped a $2.5 billion deal with China's state-owned Gezhouba Group to build a hydropower facility in the west of the country.

6) Arijit Basu Appointed SBI's New Managing Director
•The government appointed Arjit Basu as Managing Director of the country's largest lender State Bank of India (SBI). He will fill the position that fell vacant following the elevation of Rajnish Kumar as the chairman.

•Now, after this, the SBI will have four managing directors. As per the SBI Act, the bank can have four managing directors. Mr Basu has held several key positions in various circles of SBI including the bank's office in Tokyo, Japan.

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The HINDU Notes – 23rd June 2018

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📰 Free fall: on TN govt's attack on press freedom

The Tamil Nadu government’s attitude towards news media has hit a new low

•Any which way one looks at the Puthiya Thalaimurai case, one conclusion is inescapable: it is a direct attack on press freedom. That the Tamil Nadu government could have slapped a case against the Tamil news channel under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (pertaining to promoting enmity between groups), and other sections of the law, would be laughable if it wasn’t so unspeakably appalling. The cause for the action was certain remarks made by a couple of the TV channel’s guests who had participated in a roundtable discussion on current affairs before an invited audience. Although it was a right-wing section of the audience that was disruptive, first information reports (FIRs) were filed against the two guests — who, from all accounts, said nothing that was inflammatory — as well as the reporter and management of Puthiya Thalaimurai. All the more shocking is the fact that this was done even before the roundtable discussion on the role of protests was aired. Any debate in Tamil Nadu on whether protests such as the protracted and heated anti-Sterlite agitation are politicised is bound to evoke radically divergent views. But it is extraordinary that people have been booked for either hosting such a debate or merely expressing their views in it.

•If proof was needed that the Tamil Nadu government was acting in a vindictive way, it was provided by another, and even more insidious, attempt to intimidate Puthiya Thalaimurai. On the State government-owned distribution network, the Arasu Cable TV Corporation, the news channel was suddenly pushed from the 124th to the 499th slot, removed in some places from the Tamil cluster of channels and regrouped with those in other languages. As for those subscribers who are linked to Arasu via analogue, the channel has become simply unavailable in many areas. Around 60% of the 1.5 crore homes that have cable television are serviced by Arasu, which was set up to link homes to television through multi-system operators and local cable operators at an affordable cost. As Arasu has grown in influence, private players no longer enjoy the patronage that they did earlier. Lately, there have been apprehensions that the State government is using its domination of the distribution space to bring news coverage by TV channels in line. There have been allegations that access to a couple of other news channels were disrupted as well; some have found themselves pushed back in the slots allotted by the Arasu network. This is why many in the media have been led to believe that the rationale or purpose for coming down on Puthiya Thalaimurai with such a heavy hand is to send a larger message to the rest of the media. The only way the Tamil Nadu government can prove they are wrong is by withdrawing the FIRs registered in this case.

📰 At the heart of the Silk Road

Xinjiang province has the most to offer China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. But with ethnic tensions and a relatively poorer economic position, it could also contribute a lot of problems. Suhasini Haidar on the region that is China’s greatest hope and worry

•As the horses stomp their hooves, the flames on stage rise up. This is a spectacle like no other, an opera that celebrates all the differences of the the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

•Xinjiang, formerly known as Sinkiang, is home to 47 ethnic groups, every major religion of the world, and the descendants of four ancient civilisations: Greek, Chinese, Indian and Mesopotamian. Hundreds of artistes bearing Russian, Caucasian, Indian, Central Asian, Tibetan, Han Chinese, and local Uighur features perform together on stage, along with the horses, eagles and even some Bactrian camels, as screens with colourful animations keep shifting.

•The opera, called 'Revisiting the Western Regions', recreates the region’s glorious past as a crucial link of the old Silk Route under the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE).

•It was through the three branches that go around the Tarim basin that goods were traded with China on the Silk Route, explains our tour guide and interpreter. The branches around the basin gave it the look of an eye, with the forbidding Taklamakan desert at the centre.

•Xinjiang means “an old frontier which returned”. The opera is a subtle celebration of China’s Qing dynasty reclaiming control of the western regions in 1884, and of post-Revolution in 1949 when the Communist People’s Republic of China incorporated Xinjiang, with a 90% ethnic Muslim population, into China. Since then, as the Chinese majority Han population has grown from 6% to 41% (2010 Census), Uighur Muslims' has dropped to 45%.

•Much of the diversity resplendent on stage at the Changji Opera is not as prominent outside. Thirty kilometres away, in the Xinjiang capital city of Ürümqi, we are taken to a school that is a showpiece, given its grand classrooms, libraries and impressive facilities. One by one, the students stand up to speak about their school, where they spend all but two months of the year. What they say sounds rehearsed and explains the changes in Xinjiang quite vividly.

•“My country is my family,” says 12-year-old Kawsar. “My teachers are my parents, and I live here at school where all students are my brothers and sisters.”

•Firdaus, 11, says: “I want to say thank you to my government and my country because they allowed me to come here.”

•Anya adds: “My parents live in a village and are poor. I think I am lucky to come here to school and it is all thanks to my country that I am here.”

•Nearly all the students at Ürümqi’s No. 66 school belong to poor families who live hundreds of km away in the rural and underdeveloped parts of southern Xinjiang, closer to Kashgar. Ninety per cent of them belong to the ethnic ‘minorities’, as the Uighur Muslims and other ethnicities are termed. They have been brought here for an education, but more importantly, a “mainstream” Chinese education, in which religion, culture and ethnicities don’t find much of a place.

No overt religiosity

•“According to the Constitution, we have freedom of religion,” says Qu Mingcai, principal of the school. “But until they are adults, religious activities are forbidden. When they grow up, they can choose what faith to follow.”

•As a result, when asked, students at the school know little about the upcoming Eid festival or the month of Ramzan, and most say they don’t know how to pray. While they say they speak their native Uighur language at home, they focus on Mandarin and English in school.

•Mr. Qu estimates that 90% of his students will move east to “mainland” China to continue their education and work, and hopes that this too will help in fostering a more homogenised culture. “They are all one ethnic group called Chinese,” he says, and mastering Mandarin is an “obligation” for every Chinese citizen.

•China’s form of a “secular and nationalistic” education for the people of Xinjiang, where until some decades ago most people followed the Islamic faith, has long been a contentious issue, written about by human rights agencies and criticised by many governments as an attempt to change the demography of the region.

•The U.S. State Department’s country report issued in April 2018 calls the repression of local culture and religion an effort to “Sinicize” the entire population. In a recent survey, Human Rights Watch stated that apart from what is taught at schools, as many as 800,000 Uighurs have been taken forcibly to “reeducation” camps where they are questioned about possibly extremist thoughts and indoctrinated on the perils of the “three evils” of “ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism”. Not all of them have returned, but some of those who have speak of harsh treatment and even violent punishments for those who didn’t learn their lessons well.

•Other restrictions on faith are plain to the eye. In Ürümqi, Changji and Korla in central and north Xinjiang, it is difficult to see any men with beards, women with headscarves (veils are banned), mosque minarets, or many people praying at mosques. According to human rights agency reports, any overt form of religiosity could bring you under the scanner of the state’s well-spread surveillance system, and qualify you for a stint at the “reeducation” centre.

Fear of extremism

•At Ürümqi’s Islamic Institute, a stone’s throw from No. 66, local officials attempt to explain what they call a “crackdown” on the “anti-human, anti-society” spread of extremism in Xinjiang. “Freedom of religion cannot overrule social order and education,” says Mahmood Usman, an official of the Religious Bureau of Xinjiang.

•The Islamic Institute, among the 10 such institutes in the region that educate men to become imams, was established in 1982 with a grant of 250 million yuan. Deputy president of the institute Abdur Rahim takes us through its classrooms in a seven-storey-high building. Except for the colourful caps they wear, the students in class who are chanting and memorising verses from the Koran could as well be at a management school. Not one of them sports facial hair. All of them wear shirts, jackets and shoes as they sit on chairs and tables learning their lessons. Above, cheerful red banners in Mandarin proclaim the importance of nation over faith and family.

•Abdur Rahim, who does have a small, well-kempt beard, dismisses all questions about restrictions as “western propaganda”. When pressed by journalists from our group, he points to how the institute itself has been allowed to grow from 100 students four decades ago to about 1,200 students now, as proof that the government encourages religious freedom. “But no society will tolerate religious extremism,” he says.

•The fear of extremism is evident everywhere in the province, and the link between excess religiosity and terrorism is accepted as a fact by the officials here. By the standards of any of the countries bordering Xinjiang, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and even India, Xinjiang has seen a small number of attacks. The worst violence was in Ürümqi in 2009, when 197 people died in Han-Uighur riots, followed by an attack in Kunming railway station in 2014, when knife-wielding terrorists killed more than 30 people. Even so, security personnel are present in much larger numbers than in most terror-hit countries, and there is a police station situated every 100 metres. Fuel stations are surrounded by barbed wire. Passengers must dismount outside the station; only the driver is allowed inside after strict ID and security checks.

•At high-security places, which include tourist sites, police personnel move in a rather striking triangular formation to avoid being attacked from any side. Surfing online for religious sites or information on terror groups can be hazardous as there is strong surveillance of the Internet, and any purchase, especially of things that can be used as weapons, is heavily scrutinised. One tourist who tried to buy a knife uploaded a video on how the knife was registered to the buyer’s ID, the ID number was then laser-emblazoned onto the blade, and his face recognition recorded.

•Needless to say, all foreigners are watched and followed very closely and treated much like the “pandas” that author Vikram Seth likened them to during his own travels through Sinkiang in the early 1980s. “Officialdom treats the foreigner as one would a valuable panda given to fits of mischief,” he wrote in his travelogue From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet. “On no account must harm come to the animal. On the other hand, it must be closely watched at all times so that it doesn’t see too much, do too much on its own, or influence the behaviour of the local inhabitants.”

With the BRI, a sense of urgency

•However close our treatment is to those distant days, China’s security crackdown and Sinicization programmes have a new urgency to them because of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plans for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which runs right out of Xinjiang.

•At the Ürümqi International Land Port zone, among the 18 “A class” land ports in the region, it is clear that the land route of the BRI will be driven by the railroads that run through Xinjiang. Even a few years before the BRI was announced in 2013, it would have been impossible to consider its scope. Today, a freight train goes from the Chinese city of Yiwu all the way to London, a distance that is second only to the Yiwu-Madrid freight route that traverses 12,874 km.

•This year, officials estimate that about 800 trains will run between 35 Chinese cities and 34 European cities. New ones are being inaugurated every day. On the day we visit the port, a freight train dressed with a big red bow is preparing to undertake its first journey from Ürümqi to Naples in Italy. It’s a cargo train, carrying hundreds of thousands of bottles of tomato ketchup. The BRI is not just China’s outreach to the world for connectivity or influence. As China’s economic growth slows, down to an estimated 6.5% from 6.9% last year, these railway routes will also supply new markets for China’s flagging manufacturing industry.

•In order to attract manufacturers to Xinjiang, the Chinese government has designated the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region as the ‘Core Zone of the Silk Road Economic Belt’. Incentives have been given to both industries and real estate developers. The grand lotus bud-shaped opera house of Changji, for instance, is only the first part of a grand project called the Silkroad Incity, which will house thousands in a township whose model displayed at the opera house for prospective buyers resembles a resort in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and will include schools, colleges, hospitals and a football stadium.

•Two hundred and fifty km south of Ürümqi, Korla is being marketed as the ‘Eye of the New Vitality of the Silk Road’. This dusty town on the edge of the desert has been transformed with a grant of $50 billion. Its population has doubled to 800,000 in a decade. The city centre today could be any bustling Western capital, with skyscrapers, malls and a huge central plaza with 69,000 sq m of office space. The aim is to make Korla a futuristic hub for applications development and cloud computing.

•On the outskirts of Korla, the desert climate is also spawning new opportunities for China’s BRI. The dry air and soil have always been known for growing the juiciest pears and grapes, but Beijing’s push for business is attracting others.

•In 2015, the Litai textile company of China’s Jinsheng group, which has business in 35 countries, decided to invest in a “million spindle” silk yarn factory. Its website says that its Korla plant was an “an important strategic initiative” to “[seize] the ‘Belt and Road’ development opportunity and [promote] strategic transformation of Litai, and will make a positive contribution to the regional stability and economic development in Xinjiang.”

•Today, the mostly mechanised factory is up and running, with each unit producing about 75 tonnes of yarn a day. Jinsheng’s future plans involve harnessing the railway routes to Europe to send its products, a modern day reprisal of the ancient Silk Route where merchants carried tea and spices from the East and returned with western commodities.

•Italian explorer Marco Polo is said to have discovered the Chinese ‘Baiju’ rice wine during his travels along the old Silk Route in the 13th century. Today, dozens of vineyards in Yanqi County, not far from Korla, are hoping to rev up production to the point where they can repeat along the new Silk Road Marco Polo’s wine exports.

•“China has had 5,000 years of wine drinking, but regular grape wine is only just catching people’s attention,” says Zou Jiyun, the third-generation owner of the Xiangdu Winery that produces about 10 million bottles of Chan D’or wine a year. “As a wine culture grows and more wine is imported from Europe, it is necessary that we keep up with the competition.” The understanding is that the BRI will work “both ways” — the roads and railways could eventually bring in Western products to compete with Chinese goods.

Bumps on the Silk Road

•However, not every investment is paying off. Sensing opportunity in Xinjiang, and facing labour problems in Kolenchery, Kerala, where it is headquartered, India’s spice essence manufacturer Synthite decided to set up a manufacturing plant in 2015 for export of Paprika oleoresins from Korla. The group, which had a turnover of ₹1,200 crore last year, controls about 45% of the world market in spice oleoresins, and is the world largest supplier of spice enhancers.

•The Synthite China Country Head and General Manager-Operations, Sreekumar Methil, says their original plan for the Xinjiang plant was to double capacity quickly and ship out spices over the rail route, but they have held off expansion plans for the moment. “Despite the government’s push, the business atmosphere is still not easy in Xinjiang. The biggest problem is the security environment,” he says. He lists issues: security checks, difficult access to export facilities, and problems with the labour force, given the Han-Uighur tensions over the past few years.

•“Working in China and working in Xinjiang are two very different things,” he says, indicating that Synthite facilities in other parts of China haven’t faced similar issues. In addition, relations between India and China, currently improving but frequently tense, also impact the working climate for Indian companies in Xinjiang, he notes.

•Synthite’s problems point to the larger bumps on China’s new Silk Road, which could derail many of its ambitious plans. As a result, officials have been trying to reduce ethnic tensions in Xinjiang.

•In Korla, city planners are working on massive housing projects to bring the two major communities to live together, unlike in Ürümqi, which was polarised and ghettoised before the 2009 riots. About 5,000 sq km have been acquired in Korla. Officials say all farmers and peasants are being given housing and compensation commensurate with the homes they gave up. We are welcomed into the home of one Uighur family which extols the virtues of modern living, with air-conditioning, heating and piped gas. Thousands of them will also have to be given vocational training over the years, as the state consciously attempts to move them away from farming to other professions.

•When asked about the loss of traditional culture as a result of such urbanisation, officials take us to a quaint museum where they ‘showcase’ an old farm, with an old round-dial phone, a 1980s television, and basket-weaving women, to contrast this with the comforts of modern life and thus highlight their efforts in preserving traditional ways.

•With its geographical position and climate benefits, Xinjiang has the most to offer the grand $1 trillion BRI. Yet, with its relatively poorer economic position, deep ethnic tensions and security situation, it could also contribute the most number of problems to the initiative. As one visiting journalist put it, the “core” of the Silk Road, as Xinjiang is called, is both at the heart of China’s biggest worries and is one of its greatest hopes.

📰 Seychelles stalls project for Indian naval base

Govt. not to seek ratification of deal as Opposition cites threat to sovereignty

•The Parliament of the Seychelles will not ratify India’s plans to build a naval base in the western Indian Ocean region. Officials of the Seychelles government announced this on Friday when the country’s President, Danny Faure, arrived in India on a six-day state visit.

•News reports suggest that the Opposition members in the Seychelles Parliament argued against allowing India to build a naval base on the strategically located island of Assumption saying it would infringe on the country’s sovereignty. The government said the proposal to seek ratification of the project would not be presented to Parliament as the Opposition had already said that it would not clear it, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Barry Faure told Reuters over telephone.

•“The state visit of President Faure is part of regular high-level exchanges between India and the Seychelles, and will accord an opportunity to review our wide-ranging bilateral cooperation, including in the fields of defence and security and development partnerships,” said the External Affairs Ministry.

•Mr. Faure will be accorded a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday. The dignitary and his senior Cabinet colleagues are also scheduled to visit Gujarat, Goa and Uttarakhand.

Coast guard facility

•Seychelles has indicated that instead of allowing India to run the base, it would like to develop a coast guard facility at the Assumption. The Indian project was to include facility for Indian ships and an airstrip that would allow New Delhi to guard the energy lanes vital to India’s economy.

•The Parliament’s decision follows several protests by civil society activists in the archipelago nation who have urged the government to remain non-aligned and avoid tilting towards either India or China. Leader of the Opposition Wavell John Charles Ramkalawan had earlier stated that he would block the government’s move to seek clearance from Parliament.

•India had earlier tried to reach out to Mr. Ramkalawan, who was extended special courtesies during the PIO-Parliamentary Conference, a global meet of leaders from the Indian-origin people. However, he declared on March 27 that the project would not take off.

•The agreement for the base was signed on January 27 when the former Foreign Secretary of India S. Jaishankar travelled to the country.

📰 States’ claim on fighting plastic only strong on paper

Most qualify the ban geographically or focus on specific categories: report

•While Maharashtra may be gearing up for a stringent ban on plastic, experience from across the country suggests that States’ claims on reigning in plastic are stronger on paper than on the ground.

•According to the Centre’s Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, all States have to annually apprise the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the steps taken to reign in plastic use, whether a ban is in force, and the strength and performance of a recycler and waste-processing network. The latest such report — as of July 2016 — notes that only 24 States and Union Territories have complied with these directions.

•Most States, while claiming a ban, qualify it by saying that the ban is imposed in specific towns or cities. Or that it is focussed on particular categories of plastic. Take Assam. Its performance report states that while there is a “complete ban” on plastic carry bags in Kamrup, Sonitpur, Nalbari, Dibrugarh, it allows the import of “substandard plastic carry bags”, provided the Commissioner of Taxes, Assam is informed.

•In Gujarat, the estimated plastic waste generation is approximately 2,69,294 tonnes per annum and there are nearly 689 plastic waste recyclers, all of them registered. But only Gandhinagar — the capital city but with less than 4% of neighbouring Ahmedabad’s population — has an “explicit” ban on the use of plastic carry bags.

•Delhi, which reportedly generates the largest quantity of plastic waste in the country, has not provided information on its plastic management initiatives to the CPCB.

•The law requires that all plastic waste recyclers register themselves but there were around 312 unregistered plastic manufacturing/recycling units in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttrakhand and Uttar Pradesh. “…It is observed that most of the States/UTs have not set-up proper monitoring system for use of carry bags as per the specified guidelines. It has been observed that those States/UTs, who have imposed complete ban on use and sale of plastic carry bags, the plastic bags are stocked, sold and used indiscriminately. Besides, substandard carry bags (<50 micron) are used widely in other States/UTs, violating PWM Rules, 2016,” the CPCB highlights in the report.

•India generates an estimated 32 million metric tonnes of packaging waste each year, of which plastic waste constitutes 16%. But only 60% of the collected plastic waste is recycled.

Single-use plastics

•Around 43% of manufactured plastics are used for packaging, most of it “single-use” plastic. So far, not a single one of the 24 States that report their plastic waste management performance have plans in place to tackle single use plastics.
States’ claim on fighting plastic only strong on paper
•Independent experts say that while Maharashtra’s initiative is laudable, it still hinges on extremely efficient enforcement. “Maharashtra has increased its collection centres in the last three months but the problem remains — what alternatives exist to single use plastics?” said Swati Sambyal who works on waste management policy at the Centre for Science and Environment. “The manpower requirements and enforcement challenges are enormous.”

•Kerala and Sikkim, according to Ms. Sambyal, are the States with the most creditable plastic waste management policies. “Sikkim has a system of buying back plastic from consumers. Maharashtra needs to implement such a system,” she said.

📰 Wages of vigilantism

Episodes of mass communal violence have given way to smaller-scale attacks against individuals

•The recurring incidents of lynching and targeted mob violence against vulnerable groups reported from various parts of the country are a direct challenge thrown by right-wing groups to political processes, especially electoral processes and the rule of law. According to India Spend, a data-journalism website, 86% of those killed in lynching incidents in 2017 were Muslims. In September 2017 the Supreme Court, responding to a Public Interest Litigation, directed all State governments to take measures to prevent vigilantism in the name of cow protection. However, public lynching or vigilante violence hasn’t subsided; in fact, it has spread from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Haryana to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. An overwhelming majority of these attacks are bovine related, although there are other reasons for anti-minority attacks, too. Hate violence has also happened around festivals such as Ram Navami (Bihar and West Bengal), provocations over azaan and namaz (Gurugram in Haryana) and violence against those looking overtly Muslim (U.P. and Haryana trains). The victims in cases of lynching are almost entirely from poor families.

Minorities under siege

•South Asia has a long history of communal violence, but these were primarily big episodes of mass violence. This has now given way to a smaller-scale of conflict and vigilante violence against individuals endorsed by state inaction. One possible reason for this shift could be an attempt to avoid public scrutiny that accompanies mass violence, whilst at the same time ensuring that minorities are continually kept under siege through targeted attacks. India has a poor record when it comes to prevention and punishment of the perpetrators of mass violence and/or lynchings. Each event of violence has hardened community boundaries and widened the divide between Hindus and Muslims.

•Citizens Against Hate (CAH), a civil society group investigating and seeking to provide legal help to victims of hate crimes, has documented 50 lynching deaths (Muslims), including three lynched in the last one week — two in Godda, Jharkhand (June 14) and one in Hapur, U.P. (June 18) over rumours of cow slaughter/smuggling. According to the CAH report, ‘Lynching Without End’, published in September 2017, 97% of cow-related lynchings had occurred since the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to political dominance in 2014.

•Most of these attacks were based on rumours sparked by accusations that the victims, almost always Muslims, slaughtered or smuggled cows. The content of these rumours and fears often circulating on social media take the shape of communal stereotypes of victims either eating beef or intending to do so, or showing any form of perceived disrespect for cows, which is broadly claimed as a motivation for lynching. Most actors leading the charge are suspected to belong to, or have connections with, groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Gau Raksha Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini. Professing allegiance to Hindu right-wing parties, they feel emboldened by a political regime that has prioritised a crackdown on cow slaughter. The back-end support comes from BJP MPs providing political protection to these organisations and their activities.

•What explains the phenomenon and spread of lynchings across several States? Apart from the political reasons alluded to above, the rising trend is directly related to the intensification of communal polarisation and instrumentalisation of prejudice for political ends apparent in various government attempts to infuse religion into politics and education. In the event, these acts seem to have acquired a certain degree of legitimacy in the public mind. Also, it’s important to acknowledge the widespread role of violence in Indian politics which is not considered an illegitimate form of politics. Popular anger, outrage and violence are integral features of everyday politics in contemporary India. The feeling that mobs are exacting Bollywood style justice beyond the procedures of law, with crowds of locals triumphantly watching the gruesome spectacle captured by videos that subsequently go viral, has its own vicarious fascination.

Hate crimes

•As hate crimes grow, so does the sense of impunity enjoyed by the actual perpetrators of the crime and those who prompt it. Lack of justice for victims further reinforces the vicious cycle of impunity. There is also little condemnation of lynchings by those in positions of authority except in very generalised terms. The strategic silence of the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership works like unspoken approval to carry out the attacks. The tacit endorsement of mob violence may be the most disturbing effect of decades of communal politics in India. The lack of public reaction to recent incidents implies a degree of acceptability of violence as an expression of vengeance against ‘injustices’ suffered by Hindus in the past. The theory of ‘Hindu insecurity’ and ‘Hindu persecution’ comes at a time when political representation of Muslims in legislatures and administration and their presence in the public sphere is at its lowest since Independence.

•The police often stand by, careful not to interfere with the actions of the majority community. Both mobs and police have regularly treated victims of cow vigilantism, rather than those indulging in violence, as suspects in ways that de-victimise these individuals. Rather than taking swift action against perpetrators, law enforcement agencies act mostly against the victims themselves, booking them for violating cow protection laws which act as a legitimate cover for taking action against people they suspect of trafficking in cattle intended for slaughter. In these attacks, whether the victim actually possessed beef, or whether cows were actually being transported for slaughter, or even that cows were not involved, is not relevant.

•Most of these are not spontaneous acts of violence; there is usually systematic planning behind them. Common to all the episodes of violence is coordination across groups and States and districts, and no other political force masters this better than the Sangh Parivar with its numerous affiliates. Active support of powerful political figures in the current establishment at the Centre and in the States has helped to build networks, gain new recruits, resources and legitimacy that Hindu right-wing groups did not have in the past. The newly acquired organisational capacity, including manpower, money and feet on the ground, has proved crucial for translating dark ideas into concrete action across districts and converting rumour and prejudice into attacks across State borders. Apart from providing employment opportunities to youth belonging to right-wing groups, another big incentive is participation in electoral politics as these foot soldiers double up as campaigners and booth committee members of the BJP during elections.

Sustained propaganda

•Lynchings are encouraged by the atmosphere of hate and suspicion created through sustained propaganda. Always ready to refurbish the deep historical archive of anti-Muslim prejudice by focusing on the past to demonise all Muslims, the BJP has weaponised Hindu anger and paranoia into a legitimate expression of a majoritarian nation. Localised violence happening with regularity also serves a political purpose. By allowing lynchings to continue unchecked, the Hindu right boosts its image as the lone protector of Hindu religion and culture in India and this can help expand its social base. Cow vigilantism, which is a pretext to exacerbate social conflicts between religious communities, serves the political purposes of ideologies and political formations that thrive on hate and polarisation. Preventing further atrocities requires respect for the rule of law and legal institutions and strong prosecutions and expeditious punishments. Unless checked, it can cause irreversible harm to the social fabric of our society and to the tenets of democracy that have shaped and sustained the idea of India.

📰 All in the name: on Skopje ending dispute with Athens

Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia finally end a long-standing dispute

•Skopje has resolved a festering dispute with Athens over the name of the Balkan nation that emerged following the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The landmark agreement signed with Greece this month, to rechristen Macedonia as the Republic of North Macedonia, opens the doors for its admission, long vetoed by Greece, to the principal Western economic and security blocs. The two governments have locked horns on the issue for nearly 30 years, ever since the independent Slav state proclaimed itself the Republic of Macedonia in 1991. Greece refused to accept this, as one of its own provinces goes by that evocative name. More than 100 countries in the United Nations — including the United States, Russia and China — have recognised the country’s official name. But Greece has so far insisted on referring to its northern neighbour as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as per a UN-negotiated interim arrangement. According to the agreement signed this month, the Republic of North Macedonia will be the name used in Skopje’s dealings with other countries too. Many attempts to break the deadlock had failed earlier, including a Macedonian offer to change its name in exchange for handsome financial aid and investment. It did not help that Greek apprehensions were heightened when the port city of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia, was depicted on the maps of the new republic. Matters also heated up with the erection of a grand statue closely resembling Alexander the Great in the central district of Skopje, as Greeks resist any signal that the Slav republic may be laying claim to their ancient civilisation.

•A more diplomatically ticklish issue was Greece’s insistence on a constitutional amendment to clarify that Skopje had no territorial right over the Greek region. Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev held that such changes were in the realm of domestic law, and that in any case these can always be reversed by a future government. Among the concessions the Macedonian government has made in recent months is to change the name of the Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International. It has also renamed a motorway named after Alexander. It has not been easy for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras either — he survived a vote of no confidence on the issue last week, and is still to secure parliamentary ratification without support from his nationalist coalition partner. His counterpart in Skopje similarly faces the awkward prospect of the President rejecting the deal, besides having to win a popular referendum. But none of these hurdles is insurmountable. The resolution of the dispute now clears the way for talks on the Republic of North Macedonia’s membership of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

📰 An adviser with nobody to advise

Arvind Subramanian brought heft and pizzazz to his role as CEA — but who was listening?

•Arvind Subramanian has had quite a paradoxical tenure as the Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) to the Finance Minister. While he brought a lot of pizzazz and heft back to the usually staid Economic Surveys and lent his voice to a number of pressing economic issues, the government repeatedly failed to heed his advice or consult him on important economic decisions on the other. It must be frustrating to be being an adviser with nobody to advise.

Some solutions

•Mr. Subramanian’s first major contribution to the socio-economic framework was in the Economic Survey 2014-15, in which he wrote at length about the various developmental possibilities that arose from the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity. The plan here was to use data obtained through the financial inclusion network of the Jan Dhan Yojana, the identity data of Aadhaar, and the accessibility offered by the mobile revolution to target financial assistance to those who need it. It was a great idea. It was not revolutionary in terms of innovation — it was bound to happen eventually — but it takes somebody in an official capacity to write it out and argue the merits and demerits before it is taken seriously. That’s what Mr. Subramanian did.

•The idea has since taken off, with the government wholeheartedly embracing Aadhaar. The next Economic Survey saw the CEA bring to light an issue with doing business in India that few had actively thought or talked about until then: the difficulty of exit. While it was easy enough to begin a business venture in India, the CEA explained how it was extremely difficult for them to pack up or declare bankruptcy in such a way that they could easily dispose of their assets and settle their liabilities.

•He called this, in his usual witty style, the chakravyuh problem. The Central government has since then taken decisive steps, such as bringing out the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, to address this issue. But credit must go to Mr. Subramanian for discussing a purely business issue in a way that made it relatable to even those with no business acumen.

•However, it’s about at this point that the CEA’s role began to bump up against a ceiling of non-responsiveness. Along with the JAM trinity, Mr. Subramanian had (in the 2014-15 Survey) also discussed the problems with public-private partnerships (PPPs) in India and suggested ways to improve them. Several of his suggestions, such as restructuring existing contracts to share the load between developers and lenders, might have actually worked. But PPPs have yet to take off in any meaningful way.

On demonetisation

•The 2016-17 Survey came amid great anticipation; it was the first time the CEA spoke about demonetisation. However, in keeping with his diplomatic silence following the announcement on November 8, 2016, the chapter on demonetisation was far more vanilla in its critique than previous analyses overseen by the CEA on other topics. Maybe it was still too early to gauge the impact of the move in any real sense. Or perhaps he had been instructed to go easy. Either way, the demonetisation episode brought to the fore the extent to which the CEA’s office was becoming sidelined in the current dispensation.

•Several Surveys under Mr. Subramanian have talked about the ‘twin balance sheet problem’ afflicting corporates and banks. In other words, the effect high levels of bad loans were having on the abilities of banks to lend and companies to borrow. One of the solutions he came up with was to create a ‘bad bank’, to purchase bad loans clogging bank balance sheets and resolve them. While not a new idea per se, this was the most recent attempt to create a discussion about it. The idea was barely debated outside the Survey, and died a quick death with Finance Ministry officials dodging questions about it until they stopped being asked.

•The idea of a Universal Basic Income, mooted in the 2016-17 Survey, also met the same fate. The chapter was a fascinating discussion framed as if it was taking place with Mahatma Gandhi himself — another example of the vigour and interest the CEA brought to the document. Here too, discussion within the government ended as quickly as it began.

•Mr. Subramanian’s departure comes on the heels of other noteworthy economists (former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, and former NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Arvind Panagariya) also returning to the U.S.

•Perhaps the time is ripe to overhaul the structure of economic advisers to the government. The post of the CEA should be moved to the Ministry of Statistics, which itself should be renamed the Ministry of Economics and Statistics. That Ministry is currently as much in need of an economist as of an econometrician. The post of the Chief Statistician of India has been lying vacant since February 1.

•Next, all economists in the government advising the various ministries should be consolidated under this single ministry which can then decide how best its resources are used.

•For now, however, the question Mr. Subramanian’s departure leaves us with is this: whether the position of the CEA is one the government finds useful at all. The answer may lie in how quickly the vacancy is filled and how much weight is given to the ‘adviser’ part of the role.

📰 Oil rises after OPEC agrees to lift output

Producers to add about 1 million barrels per day as Saudi Arabia wins Iran over

•Oil prices rose almost 3% on Friday as OPEC agreed to a modest increase in output to compensate for losses in production at a time of rising global demand.

•Benchmark Brent crude jumped $2.19 a barrel, or almost 3%, to a high of $75.24 before slipping to about $75 by 1305 GMT. U.S. light crude was $1.80 higher at $67.34.

•The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), meeting in Vienna, agreed on Friday to boost output from July after its de facto leader Saudi Arabia persuaded arch-rival Iran to cooperate in efforts to reduce the crude price and avoid a supply shortage.

•Two OPEC sources told Reuters the group agreed that OPEC and its allies led by Russia should increase production by about 1 million barrels per day (bpd), or 1% of global supply.

Smaller real increase

•But the real increase will be smaller because several countries that recently underproduced oil will struggle to return to full quotas while other producers will not be allowed to fill the gap.

•Analysts had expected OPEC to announce a real increase in production of 5,00,000 to 6,00,000 barrels per day, which would help ease tightness in the oil market without creating a glut.

•“The effective increase in output can easily be absorbed by the market,” Harry Tchilinguirian, head of oil strategy at French bank BNP Paribas told Reuters Global Oil Forum.

•Oil prices have been on a roller-coaster ride over the last few years, with Brent trading above $100 a barrel for several years until 2014, dropping to almost $26 in 2016 and then recovering to more than $80 last month.

•The most recent price rally followed an OPEC decision to restrict supply in an effort to drain global inventories.

•The group started withholding supply in 2017 and this year, amid strong demand, the market tightened significantly, triggering calls by consumers for higher supply. Declining production in Venezuela and Libya, as well as the risk of lower output from Iran as a result of U.S. sanctions, have all increased market worries of a supply shortage.

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