The HINDU Notes – 26th April 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 26th April 2018

📰 Cautionary notes for Wuhan

Ahead of the Modi-Xi meeting, a look at the mixed record of grand summitry

•As a vantage point in Nepal, Mount Everest is an important symbol for India and China. What is not well known is the mountain’s contribution to the term “summit” to describe meetings between world leaders seeking to resolve monumental issues between them.

•It was in the 1950s that former U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill used the term, calling for a “summit of nations” to deal with the Cold War, even as an attempt to scale Mount Everest, which had captured the headlines, was under way. Churchill’s coinage of the term as well as his recommendation became a part of history when U.S. President John F. Kennedy met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for direct talks.

•History shows, the success of such grand summitry is mixed. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares for his “informal summit” with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in China later this week, it would be instructive to look at the reasons why not all summits, including the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna summit of 1961, have borne fruit.

Nehru and Zhou Enlai

•According to historian David Reynolds, summit-level diplomacy, or the need for issues to be resolved through personal talks between leaders, came into its own in the 20th century because of three reasons: the advent of air travel which allowed meetings to be planned at short notice; weapons of mass destruction that raised the stakes and urgency of summits; and instant mass media, which make such summits a spectacle. In terms of India-China ties, it is worth remembering that when the first Nehru-Zhou Enlai summit was held in Delhi in 1954, China did not even have an aircraft to fly in its Premier. An Air India flight was sent to bring him to Delhi. The summit in 1960, held after the Dalai Lama fled to India, turned bitter after talks on the boundary issue proved inconclusive and Zhou decided to hold a press conference at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The press conference turned acrimonious, and this time he and his entourage left on an Ilyushin aircraft, newly acquired by China. The India-China war followed in two years.

•Mr. Modi could look to his own record in the last few years to glean a few lessons. The first is that holding summits such as the one in Wuhan are necessitated when engagement at other levels has failed to resolve outstanding issues, and, therefore, must not be tied down by too much pageantry and expectations.

•Despite meetings at every level in the past, it is clear that ties have slipped, beginning with the military stand-off in Chumar, Ladakh taking centrestage right from the moment Mr. Xi landed in Gujarat, in September 2014. Extensive talks alongside the Sabarmati, accompanied by cultural performances, failed to lighten the atmosphere and ties went south after Mr. Xi left. Mr. Modi then reached out to the U.S. to announce a “joint vision” for the Indo-Pacific, while Mr. Xi went to Islamabad and launched the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This time around in Wuhan, Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi should avoid unnecessary photo opportunities and public displays full of expectations and instead focus on the talks.

•Equally important at a summit is to resist the urge to grandstand. Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf brought down the Agra summit (2001) with his press conference for editors even as talks with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was then Prime Minister, were on. Mr. Modi’s visit to Nepal in 2014 was a success bilaterally, but his reaching out to the public as well as his unsuccessful proposal to address a public rally in Janakpur were met with deep misgivings by Kathmandu.

Keeping it bilateral

•It is also important to keep the conversation more broad based, while allowing more concrete outcomes to be left to ministerial, official and working visits. This would not only stop the inevitable ‘sizing up’ by the media on ‘who got more and who got less’ but also set the course for positive engagements in the future.

•Summits are more likely to break ground on bilateral issues than on issues that involve a third country or a multilateral forum. As a result, a common understanding on boundary negotiations and rectifying the trade imbalance talks at Wuhan (and the next scheduled meeting in Qingdao in June on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Summit summit) would be of greater help before launching into bold agreements such as those on the Belt and Road Initiative, the CPEC, Nuclear Suppliers Group membership or UN terror designations.

•Finally, it is necessary to fire-wall processes launched by the leaders from bilateral and domestic minefields. In the India-Pakistan context, the Composite Dialogue Process launched by I.K. Gujral in the 1990s created a default template to return to — used by the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments until 2008.

•The Rajiv Gandhi-Li Peng summit of 1988 paved the way for the 1993 Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control, which holds even today. It was this immunity, channelled by Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi, that ensured that Doklam didn’t escalate into something more difficult to reverse.

•As Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi try to seek a better future for India-China relations, they should keep in mind Kennedy’s famous words, after the Khrushchev visit to the U.S.: “It is far better that we meet at the summit than at the brink.But let us remember that assurances of future talks are not assurances of future success or agreement.”

📰 The global nuclear cloud is darkening

India should make a credible and objective intervention

•The word ‘historic’ is appropriate to describe the April 27 summit between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. While there is considerable optimism that this meeting will mark the beginning of the long-awaited rapprochement in the Korean peninsula, the nuclear domain remains opaque.

•When U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and North Korea were in diplomatic contact and that denuclearisation was on the table, there was a flurry of activity. However, in recent weeks, though Pyongyang has announced that it is suspending further nuclear/missile tests and shutting its test site, there has been no indication that it intends to give up its nuclear arsenal.

•The term ‘denuclearisation’ in relation to North Korea is being selectively approached for its semantic exactitude. While the U.S. and Japan seek the equivalent of complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement, South Korea appears to be prioritising the rapprochement and normalisation of inter-Korean relations even while keeping the nuclear strand on the agenda. China and Russia, which are regional stakeholders, will be monitoring the summit for its outcome.

•Mr. Kim has played his relatively weaker cards in an astute manner and the very fact that the Korean summit will be followed by a similar meeting with Mr. Trump later in May or in early June marks the end of the U.S.-led political and diplomatic ostracism.

•Mr. Kim would be cognisant of the global nuclear trajectory and the manner in which the U.S. has dealt with the weapons of mass destruction issue in Iraq, Libya and Iran. Thus, while verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation is a desirable objective for South Korea, Japan and the U.S., it is the critical survival shield for the Kim regime.

The Iran nuclear deal

•More recent developments in relation to the Iran nuclear deal and Mr. Trump’s determination to jettison it since it is a “bad deal” have led to a darkening of the global nuclear cloud. As per the original 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the U.S. President has to certify every 120 days that sanctions need not be enforced against Tehran and that the nuclear weapon programme rollback compliance undertaken by Iran is proceeding satisfactorily. United Nations-led external inspectors have certified that Iran’s compliance has been in keeping with the 2015 accord. The last such U.S. waiver was approved reluctantly by Mr. Trump on January 12. He had warned then that that would be the final endorsement by him of the deal, for he wanted more stringent conditions to be added to the current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In short, the U.S. is changing the goalposts and the May 12 deadline is looming large.

Deteriorating relations

•The last year has seen bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia on the one hand and between the U.S. and China on the other becoming increasingly brittle. This has also affected the weapons of mass destruction domain. Consequently, many of the major (nuclear-missile) arms reduction treaties and verification protocols between the U.S. and Russia that go back to the Cold War decades and the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union have become moribund, and the subtext is causing the global nuclear cloud to become even darker.

•More specifically, both the U.S. and Russia have embarked upon major nuclear weapon modernisation programmes and the decision to resurrect the nuclear-tipped cruise missile at sea has very destabilising implications. This capability had been buried given its inherently deterrence destabilising characteristics. The nuclear-tipped cruise missile that can evade current missile detection systems has also been embraced enthusiastically by India and Pakistan. Collectively viewed, this trend is a disturbing augury.

•India has urged nuclear restraint and universal disarmament since the 1950s and has been relatively muted after its May 1998 nuclear tests and the rapprochement with the U.S. over the nuclear issue that began in mid-2005. Given that it aspires to a seat at the global high table, India ought to make a credible and objective intervention that will burnish its profile as a ‘different’ nuclear weapon power – one that remains committed to restraint and the elusive Holy Grail of nuclear zero. The Xi Jinping-Narendra Modi informal summit may be an opportune moment to bring the darkening nuclear cloud back to the global political agenda.

📰 Koreas to talk peace

What is the inter-Korean summit?

•The leaders of North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, will meet in the demilitarised zone between the two countries on Friday to discuss the ‘denuclearisation’ of the Korean peninsula and the official end to the Korean War (1950-53) which has technically still not concluded.

How did the summit come about?

•North Korea had conducted a number of nuclear and ballistic missile tests under Mr. Kim’s rule, including in 2017, defying United Nations Security Council Resolutions. Consequently, tensions ran high between stakeholders in the region as Mr. Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump exchanged threats of war. Mr. Moon, who took over as President of South Korea last May, has been a proponent of engagement between the Koreas, a cause he has pushed. In his 2018 New Year’s Day speech, Mr. Kim said he would send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Since then, there have been several high-level diplomatic meetings leading to the setting up of the summit.

How is the U.S. involved in peace talks?

•The U.S. is a major stakeholder in the region where two of its key allies, South Korea and Japan, are located. The U.S has over 28,000 troops in South Korea and the country’s involvement in peace talks is to be expected. As the thaw occurred, Mr. Kim conveyed his willingness to talk with Mr. Trump via the South Koreans. The two leaders will meet at the end of May or in early June. U.S. Secretary of State nominee, Mike Pompeo, made a secret visit to Pyongyang to meet with Mr. Kim around April 1, possibly to prepare for the Trump-Kim summit. The outcome of the U.S.-North Korea meeting is particularly difficult to predict because both Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump are unpredictable and prone to dramatic gestures. According to Mr. Moon, the North Koreans have not demanded that U.S. troops withdraw from South Korea as a precondition for denuclearisation but have asked for security and an end to hostility. Mr. Trump, whilst praising Mr. Kim, has said that sanctions will remain in place until a deal is reached.

What about China?

•China is the largest trading partner of both North and South Korea. Some 90% of North Korea’s trade passes through China. Mr. Kim has had a cooler approach to China relative to his father or grandfather, both of whom ran North Korea before him. As China participated in UN sanctions against North Korea, the relationship between the two countries was further strained. Mr. Kim made a sudden visit to Beijing last month — his first foreign trip as North Korea’s leader, and Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit Pyongyang later this year. His manoeuvres could be a clever strategy to engage with all stakeholders, some of whom, like the U.S. and China, have competing interests in the region. Reaching out to China before talks with the U.S. could also provide some backing to North Korea. It is likely though that Mr. Kim will want to reduce North Korea’s dependence on China over the longer term. China, on the other hand, is unlikely to be satisfied for long with the side role that it seems to be playing at the moment in the peace process.

📰 Resume DACA, says U.S. court

Judge stays move to end the scheme, asks Trump govt. to accept new applications

•In the biggest setback yet for the Donald Trump administration in its attempt to end a programme that shields some young adults from deportation, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the protections must stay in place and that the government must resume accepting new applications.

•Judge John D. Bates of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said that the administration’s decision to terminate the programme, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was based on the “virtually unexplained” grounds that the programme was “unlawful”.

‘Explain it better’

•The judge stayed his decision for 90 days and gave the Department of Homeland Security the opportunity to better explain its reasoning for cancelling the program. If the department fails to do so, it “must accept and process new as well as renewal DACA applications”, Mr. Bates wrote in his decision. The ruling was the third in recent months against the Trump administration’s rollback of DACA. Federal judges in Brooklyn and in San Francisco each issued injunctions ordering that the programme remain in place. Neither of those decisions, however, required the government to accept new applications.

•Mr. Bates described the Trump administration’s decision to phase out DACA as “arbitrary and capricious because the department failed adequately to explain its conclusion that the programme was unlawful”.

•The Supreme Court in late February declined an unusual White House request that it immediately decide whether the Trump administration can shut down the programme.

•The Obama administration established the DACA programme based on the premise that people brought to the United States as children should be treated as low priorities for deportation. About 7,00,000 unauthorised immigrants, the majority of them brought to the United States as children, had signed up. The programme gives young immigrants, who are referred to as Dreamers after a proposal in Congress called the DREAM Act and must renew their DACA status every two years, the ability to work legally in the country.

•The Trump administration officially rescinded DACA in March but the programme has allowed the Dreamers to renew applications after previous court orders.

📰 If the nuclear deal stays, it stays in full, says Rouhani

Iran rejects U.S. proposal to rewrite the 2015 agreement

•Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani rejected any hopes of rewriting a nuclear deal with world powers on Wednesday, after the leaders of the United States and France called for a new pact covering Tehran’s missile programme and regional interventions.

•“We have an agreement called the JCPOA,” said Mr. Rouhani in a fiery speech, using the technical name for the 2015 deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. “It will either last or not. If the JCPOA stays, it stays in full.” He was responding to statements in Washington by French President Emmanuel Macron and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump, in which they proposed a new deal with tougher restrictions on Iran.

•Mr. Trump called the existing accord “insane” and “ridiculous”, despite European pleas for him not to walk away, and demanded fresh curbs on Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for militant groups across West Asia.

•Mr. Macron said the new agreement should include a settlement on Syria, where Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad. In Iran, Mr. Rouhani responded by ridiculing Mr. Trump, saying: “You have no expertise in politics, nor in law, nor in international accords. “A tradesman, a businessman, a high-rise builder, how can he judge about global issues?”

EU, Moscow back Tehran

•Iran has the support of all other parties to the accord, who say it is working and Tehran has stuck to its commitments.

•On Wednesday, EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini insisted the deal must be maintained. Moscow also reiterated its support, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters: “We believe that no alternative exists so far” and demanding that Iran be involved in any further discussions. Iran has warned it will ramp up enrichment if Mr. Trump walks away from the accord.

📰 ‘India has a duty to ensure full implementation of the 1987 accord’

Tamils have no intention of dividing the country, says Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition

•The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 is still alive and it is India’s duty to ensure that it is implemented in fullest spirit, said Sri Lanka’s Leader of Opposition R. Sampanthan on Tuesday.

•“Our journey continues, we need the accord, we need to ensure that the spirit of the accord is implement and India must do its duty to ensure the same. It is India’s duty and India cannot get away from that duty,” he said, speaking at the launch of Or Inapprachanaiyum Or Oppandhamum, a Tamil book authored by T. Ramakrishnan, an associate editor with The Hindu.

•“We are not saying India alone can solve this, our demand is for a political solution evolved in this country, with the consensus and support of all the people of this country,” he said.

•Referring to the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to draft a new Constitution, currently stalled due to the ongoing political crisis between coalition partners, Mr. Sampanthan said that the position of the Tamil National Alliance is that the effort must continue and be completed. “We need maximum devolution to exercise power without interference of the Centre… powers pertaining to people’s everyday lives,” he said.

•Tamils have no intention of dividing the country but wanted to live with respect and dignity in an undivided country, where their rights are acknowledged, he added. He said if Sri Lanka’s leaders failed to negotiate with all the people to evolve an acceptable political solution “we will not hesitate to do what we must to get a just solution“.

•Speaking earlier, A. Varadarajaperumal, former Chief Minister of the Tamil-speaking North-Eastern Province, which was earlier a united entity, spoke of the “many contradictions” among the diplomatic, bureaucratic and intelligence arms of the Indian establishment around the time the accord was signed which, he said, led to the “failure” of the Indian military contingent (IPKF)’s intervention in Sri Lanka.

📰 Judges seek to fortify top court

Ask CJI Misra to initiate frequent informal discussions for sharing ideas freely

•Supreme Court judges have asked the Chief Justice of India to hold a ‘Full Court’ once in a while and also initiate frequent informal discussions where ideas can be shared freely among them.

•At a recent meeting, the judges proposed to Chief Justice Dipak Misra that only a frank and free exchange of ideas among themselves would improve “institutional strength.”

•When Chief Justice Misra asked the judges if they had any particular issues in mind, they said there was no need to prepare an agenda for meeting one another. Rather, they should meet often to “exchange ideas, discuss, to strengthen the institution.”

•This may signal a thaw in the strained relationship within the highest judiciary with judges rallying together after the failed removal motion against Chief Justice Misra.

•Trouble had started with the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court — Justices Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph — holding a press conference to complain about the selective allocation of nationally important cases to certain Benches.

•The judges had said that Chief Justice Misra did not act despite repeated entreaties from them, thus forcing them to bring the issue into the public domain.

•Further, it has been over two years since the Supreme Court asked the government to finalise the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment of judges. The government’s reluctance to clear the Collegium recommendations of Uttarakhand Chief Justice K.M. Joseph and senior advocate Indu Malhotra challenged the Supreme Court’s authority. To cap it all, the failed removal motion by Opposition parties against the CJI has scarred the judicial institution.

📰 Ministry clears Indu Malhotra as SC judge

First woman lawyer to be elevated

•Senior advocate Indu Malhotra will be the first woman lawyer to be elevated as a Supreme Court judge after the Law Ministry cleared her name for the position.

•Sources said the official notification will be published soon as Ms. Malhotra is likely to take oath on Friday.

•The Supreme Court Collegium, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and comprising among others Justices J. Chelameshwar and Ranjan Gogoi, also cleared 12 names across four High Courts to be appointed as judges. While five names were cleared for the Gujarat High Court, four have been recommended for the Chhattisgarh High Court, two for the Madras High Court and one for the Bombay High Court.

•Ms. Malhotra was one of the two names the SC Collegium had recommended for elevation in January.

📰 Didn’t order Aadhaar-SIM link: SC

Says government using an order passed by it on February 6, 2017 for the seeding

•The Supreme Court on Wednesday denied directing the mandatory linking of Aadhaar and SIM cards, and said the government was using an order passed by it on February 6 last year as a “tool” to seed Aadhaar with SIM cards.

•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the five judges on the Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, after perusing the February 6 order in the Lok Niti Foundation case, said the court had only asked the government to tighten the verification process of mobile phone users through Aadhaar linkage, citing national security.

•“In fact, there was no such direction from the Supreme Court, but you took it and used it as tool to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users,” said the Bench, which included Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, and Ashok Bhushan.

•Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), said seeding was done in pursuance of a TRAI recommendation. It was “legitimate state interest”, with regard to national security, to ensure that it is the applicant, and no one else, who was using the mobile SIM.

Exclusive power

•Mr. Dwivedi submitted that the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) notification had mooted the re-verification of mobile numbers by using e-KYC process. Besides, the Telegraph Act gave “exclusive power to the Central government to decide licence conditions” of the service providers.

•But Justice Chandrachud said the licence agreements were between the government and telcos. The court asked how the DoT could “impose the condition on service recipients for seeding Aadhaar with mobile phones”,

•The Aadhaar scheme has been criticised for aggregation of meta data, while every body ignores the fact that banks and telecom companies have a much “bigger data base.”

Telco database

•“Vodafone has a much bigger data base of information even without Aadhaar. The Aadhaar data is immaterial for them,” Mr. Dwivedi argued.

•“Every transaction using cards, what I purchased by using cards, where and when, is with the bank. Aadhaar does not do that,” he submitted.

•The lawyer referred to the control being enjoyed by the UIDAI over entities, private and government, which seek Aadhaar authentication for providing services and benefits to citizens. Mr. Dwivedi said data was encrypted and held offline and above all, the Aadhaar scheme was safer than smart cards as there was no chance of data breach.

📰 India shows jobs growth as 3.11 mn join PF in 6 months

‘Data may help fill missing link for policy-making’

•India added 4,72,075 employees to the State-run social security fund in February, after adding 6,04,557 in January, new data on payrolls released on Wednesday showed, giving a guide to how many new jobs are being created in the non-farm sector.

•The Employees Provident Fund released provisional figures for six months that showed that 3.11 million workers joined the fund during the September 2017 to February 2018 period, partly due to a pick up in the economy and federal support.

•“The data shows there was a good increase in jobs every month in the last six months which will now help fill the missing link for policy-making,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, chief economist at the State Bank of India. The new data could help Prime Minister Narendra Modi deflect criticism that promises made before the 2014 election for stronger jobs growth were not being kept despite the fastest economic growth of any major economy. Critics say the new data overestimates job creation in the organised sector as many workers, who were working on contract with same companies, were added to the fund due the State incentives.

Mandatory contribution

•It is mandatory for employers and employees of companies with 20 or more workers to contribute to the EPF, though the government plans to amend the rules so that firms with 10 or more staff have to open an account with EPF for workers.

📰 Bamboo Mission extended

•The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the extension of the National Bamboo Mission (NBM) till 2019-20 at an expenditure of ₹1,290 crore.

•“The Mission will ensure holistic development of the bamboo sector by addressing complete value chain and establishing effective linkage of producers [farmers] with industry,” the government said in a release.

•“The CCEA [the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs] has also approved the setting up of an executive committee for the formulation of guidelines of the NBM and to make the changes therein, including cost norms for various interventions from time-to-time as per the needs and specific recommendations of States, with the approval of the Union Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare.”

•Of the total cost of ₹1,290 crore, the Centre’s share would be ₹950 crore.

•“The scheme will benefit directly and indirectly the farmers as well as local artisans and associated personnel engaged in bamboo sector, including associated industries,” the government added.

•“Since it is proposed to bring about one lakh hectares under plantation, about one lakh farmers will directly benefit in terms of plantation.”

📰 Revisit AFSPA

Its revocation in some areas is welcome,but should it be on the statute books at all?

•The Centre’s decision to revoke the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Meghalaya and reduce its ambit in Arunachal Pradesh is welcome insofar as it signifies a willingness to reconsider the use of the special law as and when the ground situation improves. The extent of ‘disturbed areas’ in Meghalaya was earlier limited to within 20 km of its border with Assam. The whole of Nagaland, most of Assam, and Manipur excluding the areas falling under seven Assembly constituencies in Imphal, continue to be under the law, which provides protection to the point of total immunity from prosecution for the security forces operating in the notified areas. In Arunachal, the areas under AFSPA have been reduced to the limits of eight police stations, instead of the previous 16, in three districts bordering Assam. It was only last month that the Act was extended for six months in Assam, even though the Union Home Ministry has said the situation has improved considerably. AFSPA was extended in Nagaland by six months from January. There is no sign that the vigour of the law will be diluted, but the area of its use may be progressively curtailed over time. It was withdrawn in Tripura in 2015. Assam has been empowered to decide on how long it needs the cover of AFSPA. Even though there is ample evidence that the law has created a sense of impunity among the security forces wherever it has been invoked, the Centre is still far from abrogating the Act, mainly because the Army favours its continuance.

•Manipur had borne the brunt of Army excesses over the years. In a rare intervention in a matter concerning internal security, in 2016 the Supreme Court had ruled that the armed forces cannot escape investigation for excesses committed in the discharge of their duties even in ‘disturbed areas’. It ordered a probe into specific cases. In other words, accountability for human rights violations is sacrosanct and the legal protection offered by AFSPA cannot be absolute. During the Budget session, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply that the government was considering a proposal to make AFSPA more “operationally effective and humane”. In 2005, a committee headed by former Supreme Court judge B.P. Jeevan Reddy was tasked by the then United Progressive Alliance government with suggesting amendments to AFSPA. The committee recommended that the law be repealed altogether, and that the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act be amended in a manner that would enable insurgency and conflict to be tackled legally. Now that there is some degree of official recognition that special laws for protecting armed forces personnel from the legal consequences of their operations and excesses need not continue indefinitely, it is time for the Centre to revisit the Jeevan Reddy committee report and find ways of humanising AFSPA, if not revoking it altogether.

📰 A dangerous polarisation in Jammu

The region’s diversity needs to be nurtured so that another crime is not used to score political points

•As the world is horrified by the rape and death of an eight-year-old in Jammu’s Kathua district, and its subsequent politicisation, observers of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have again begun to comment on some long-term dynamics, particularly the regional differences in J&K.

•For understandable reasons, the Kashmir Valley has been the focus of attention of policymakers and commentators. Till recently, to get the Valley-based Kashmiris to acknowledge the presence and aspirations of other ethnic and identity groups in the State was difficult. Given the State’s geography, history and the post-1947 conflict, nativist sentiment informs the politics of the Valley. Indeed, non-Kashmiri-speaking groups of the erstwhile State of J&K, even those claiming the moniker of ‘Kashmiri’ in India, Pakistan, or in the diaspora, express concern in private conversations about how Kashmiri speakers (both Muslims and Hindus/ Pandits) view themselves as the more cultured and articulate voice of the State. Most fear their marginalisation in an autonomous political set-up and are therefore keen on getting some institutional assurance of their recognition as groups separate from the Valley Kashmiris.

•The hopeful prospect in this entire case is the acknowledgement by Kashmiris that other communities — in this case, the Gujjar-Bakherwals, who have been viewed with immense distrust for their seemingly ‘pro-Indian state’ inclinations — are also part of J&K. What, of course, is problematic is that groups sitting in the Valley have taken over the mantle of speaking for these communities. Looking beyond the Valley would explain why this gruesome incident became such a flashpoint.

The focal point of migration

•Given the conflict in the Valley, and the lack of better educational and economic facilities in other regions of the State, Jammu city has become the focal point of migration over the last two decades, especially for young people looking for upward mobility. While most Kashmiris opt to study in the Valley, and those who can afford it move to Delhi or universities abroad, Jammu city is the place to migrate to for the people from the interiors of Jammu region. Even Ladakhis, who logically should go to the Valley given its geographical proximity, prefer Jammu for their higher education.

•The Gujjar-Bakherwals are the third-largest ethnic group in the State. The Bakherwals have always lived on the margins of society because of their nomadic lifestyle. In recent years, with somewhat better access to education and creeping urbanisation, many of them are settling down, especially in Jammu city and its adjoining districts.

•These are the areas in which there has historically been a distrust of the Kashmir Valley, because of the real and perceived neglect by the political leadership of the State which has always been Valley-based. These are also the areas in which the Hindu communal sentiment operating within the broader right-wing nationalist framework has been visible since the days of the Praja Parishad movement that aimed to get rid of Article 370, to bring the State under one flag and one Constitution. The sense of deprivation and discrimination at the hands of the Valley and the communal sentiment have fed into each other. With no institutional mechanisms to redress the former, the latter narrative has become predominant with the binary of a Hindu-Jammu being dispossessed of its rightful share of resources and political power by a Muslim-Kashmir. The broader national-level communal polarisation has fed into this in the last few years especially, with the binary now being further reduced to Hindu versus Muslim, in which any Muslim gets bracketed with the Kashmiris, even the Gujjar-Bakherwals, who ethnically, culturally, and linguistically would otherwise identify more with the Jammu region.

No voice for both regions

•The interesting alliance between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ostensibly to bring the two regions together, has served to increase this divide as it resulted in a political vacuum in which there is no voice to speak for both regions and all communities. The Kashmir Valley and Muslim-majority areas have been left for the PDP to cater to, while the Hindu-majority areas for the BJP. So, when Kashmiri children are injured after street clashes, the BJP Health Minister does not see it fit to visit the hospital they are in — even for cynical reasons of better optics. And when a Bakherwal minor is raped and murdered in Jammu region, it is the BJP leaders who go to address rallies questioning the inquiry being made in the case. Those defending the accused, in turn, raise slogans against the PDP charging it with wanting to change the demography of the State by bringing in Muslims.

•The argument of demographic change does not make much sense if looked at in the broader context of the whole State — people who are moving to the Jammu region are citizens of J&K itself. It makes sense only if Jammu city and its adjoining areas are seen as a political entity separate from the rest of the State. In fact, the feeling one gets is that the forces working towards the division of the State have become more proactive in the last few years, and so this heightened scaremongering on the question of demography. There is a discussion about the presence of the Rohingya in Jammu and how they are symptomatic of the attempt to Islamise the region. Again, the perception is flawed, as they are too small a number to make a difference, and legally (because of Article 370) can easily be moved outside the State.

•The fact is that given the historical dynamics (especially the conflict in the Valley) and socio-economic dynamics (mobile communities settling down and the logic of upward mobility), it was inevitable that Jammu city would be where different groups would move. The nativist sentiment that it has engendered is fuelled by the already present communal fault lines in the region. (This sentiment has been used by entities like the Hindu Ekta Manch and the Jammu Bar Association to further their interests, bordering criminal in the former case and political in the latter.)

•However, there is another truth beyond these divisions. The media has been highlighting the protests and candlelight vigils in India and abroad, forgetting that the first place where the issue was raised outside the Kathua region, and where there was a demand for an investigation, in January, was the University of Jammu, where students disrupted classes for nearly four days. Leaving aside the desirability of the mode of protest that the students adopted, the fact that young people could come together irrespective of faith, language, and geographical origin for a cause like this could not be possible without the diverse nature of the city. This diversity needs to be nurtured so that another child’s body is not used by different interests for their political and voyeuristic agendas. It needs to be moulded so that the inherent misogyny in our cultures is challenged and eliminated, and we do not have other bodies on which these vultures can feed.

📰 The changing structure of riots

They are challenging the very essence of government and politics in Indian democracy

•The recent riots in West Bengal and Bihar have got stuck in the gullet of Indian democracy. These riots are disturbing not only as new rituals of violence but as part of the more cynical narratives of electoral democracy. In fact, as acts of violence, they are depressing thrice over as events. First, as premeditated acts of brutality followed by a sterile weakness of governmental response. What is even more sinister is the narrative of legitimacy built in the aftermath of a riot to normalise them. Let’s try to understand the changing morphology of riots with West Bengal and Bihar as illustrations.

Ram Navami violence

•Between communal riots and the lynch mob, India has added a new dimension to its repertoire of violence. But unlike the lynch mob, which feeds on a hunt for an individual, the riot has a complexity we have not fully grasped. Partly this is because riots have changed structurally over time. Conventionally, a riot had a short sequence followed by an almost surprising return to normalcy, where rioter and victim played neighbours again. The new riots have raised a different spectre of violence. Typical of this new style is what one can dub Ram Navami riots.

•Associated with the festival of the birth of Lord Ram, these are no longer smallmohalla or nukkad affairs. Their change in scale is awesome, with some Ram Navami processions attracting over 25,000 people, such as the one in Bihar Sharif. The festival is used as a pretext for large pre-mediated riots involving murder, arson and destruction of property. The forces of law and order seem lukewarm or ill-equipped to fight such violence. Ironically, policemen who are supposed to control riots have been occasionally seen leading them using the most aggressive of words. The Bihar Home Secretary admitted this to the media but also sought to explain it by saying policeman are a part of society, and may get carried away by the prejudices of society. The question is when the law is seen to shield criminals, who does the victim as citizen turn to?

•Another interesting point to note is that there is almost no admission of guilt. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in fact, continues to play the political game by accusing the police of being one-sided in support of minorities. Worse, it often pretends to be proactive and lead an inquiry team to Opposition-ruled States where riots have taken place and where the government lacks the guts to challenge them. They brazenly attacked the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal even when it was clear that their cohorts in the Bajrang Dal were responsible. This creates a politics of gimmickry and misinformation leading to delays in investigation and a climate of hypocrisy.

The election trigger

•To a large extent this new form of rioting stems from the trigger of elections. Riots become a way of dividing society along standard fault lines and intensifying solidarity and suspicion as a way of consolidating vote-banks. The number of riots seems to double or triple before election year. Mass mobilisation for Ram Navami is a new phenomenon including the entry of new self-styled religious samitis and a tendency to expand beyond the locality.

•Banally, each riot begins with an act of obtaining permission. The administration is usually reluctant to deny permission, sensitive as they are to the claims of religious groups and also the political furore that follows a denial for any religious performance. The narrative then moves from the police station to the digital space. The Internet is a great carrier of instant rumours. In Nawada, riots were triggered when an idol of Hanuman was found vandalised. In fact, one of the government’s first moves during the recent riots in West Bengal was the suspension of Internet services.

•Then, there is the politics of the route. The control of routes almost becomes the ground for riots. All parties usually become unyielding insisting on pushing through a Muslim mohalla . It inevitably becomes a tussle between Bajrang Dal egos and Muslim intransigence and vulnerability. Another aspect, which is distressing to say the least, is that the leaders of riots are not mohalla boys andgoondas but leading politicians, including in a recent case a son of a Minister, who abscond happily after the riots. What one senses here is a preening of Bajrang Dal machismo. They only assure us that the logistics of riots is well-organised. One sees it particularly in the heavy presence of trishuls and swords.

•By this time there is little scope for conversation or negotiation and the police realise their cautionary caveats have been thrown to the dogs. The stage is now set for murder and arson and the script becomes almost predictably Pavlovian between an aggressive Bajrang Dal/RSS and vulnerable Muslims, wanting retaliation. It is almost as if riots are the price we pay to keep electoral democracy going. They provide the grease for animosity and keep political suspicion and hate alive.

‘Disastrous’ handling

•When riots have almost become an extension of the discourse on electoral politics, the inevitable litany of mechanical questions follow. The police become the standard target. They seem neither capable of prevention or control, even if they have an acute sense of the possible violence. It is almost as if they have become a passive ineffectual backdrop to the inevitability of riot scenarios. Yet the pressure on them from local politicians must be intense and their efforts to control the route of a riot seem often ineffective. But it is at the political level of leadership that one sees different patterns of disastrous handling. The Chief Ministers of Bengal and Bihar, Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar, had slightly different responses, with Ms. Banerjee banking on threats and then vacillation, and Mr. Kumar greeting it with a strange indifference, conveying a tacit message that his political continuity and stability were more important than the consequences of a riot.

•In fact, Ms. Banerjee and Mr. Kumar constitute two separate melodramas of political irresponsibility. Both realised that these were organised riots, but while Mr. Kumar stayed indifferent, Ms. Banerjee was indecisive. Her bluster seems to have had little impact on the BJP as they intruded with their own four-man investigative committee into Asansol. Ms. Banerjee seems caught in a populist quagmire, while Mr. Kumar seems concerned with himself. His handling of the riots has vitiated what little reputation he built as a good administrator. One is not even clear whether his indifference will save him, as a wave of dissatisfaction spreads around him.

•Mr. Kumar’s alleged vulnerability in power has created the larger vulnerability of citizens, especially minorities in Bihar. The man who was early on firm on these questions waffles when he encounters them. His hypocrisy is more appalling than Ms. Banerjee’s empty threats and hysteria. Mr. Kumar’s contempt for the electorate demands a deeper analysis. Political irresponsibility tied to weak governance becomes an added incentive for politicians prone to use riots as an act of electoral consolidation.

•Riots have become premeditated acts of violence serving as a prelude and a catalyst for India’s electoral machine. In that sense, riots are challenging the very essence of government and politics in Indian democracy. Sadly, most critiques become Cassandra cries in a world which sees violence as an integral part of the electoral ritual. One might suggest that along with majoritarianism of the Modi regime, the cynical structure of riots might make electoral democracy one of the most tragic oxymorons of the time.

📰 3-D map of Milky Way shows 1.7 bn stars

450 scientists from 20 countries were involved in the project to catalogue solar system objects

•Europe’s Gaia satellite has produced a 3-D map of more than a billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy — complete with their distance from Earth, colour, and motion through space.

•The eagerly-anticipated catalogue, published on Wednesday, was compiled from data Gaia gathered on some 1.7 billion stars from its unique vantage point in space, about 1.5 million kilometres from the earth.

Rich dataset

•“The dataset is very rich and we believe it will revolutionise astronomy and our understanding of the Milky Way,” said Gaia’s scientific operations manager Uwe Lammers.

•“This catalogue is the most precise, most complete catalogue that has ever been produced. It allows studies which have not been possible before.”

•Launched in 2013, Gaia started operating the following year, gathering data on 1,00,000 stars per minute — some 500 million measurements per day. Its first map was published in September 2016, based on a year’s worth of observations of about 1.15 billion stars.

•An update, launched at the ILA international air and space show in Berlin, adds stars and provides more data on each one, from measurements taken over 22 months in 2014-2016.

•“For some of the brightest stars in the survey, the level of precision equates to Earth-bound observers being able to spot a €1 coin lying on the surface of the moon,” said an ESA statement.

•The new, improved map depicts 1.7 billion stars “for which we can tell where they are in the sky with very high accuracy, and how bright they are,” said Anthony Brown of the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.

•For 1.3 billion of those, “we know their distance and we know how they move through space.”

•There is, furthermore, information on the radial velocities of some seven million stars — indicating the rate at which they are moving towards, or away from, the earth.

•With all this data, “we can make a map of the whole night sky,” said Mr. Brown, who described the end result as “stunning”. “You see the whole Milky Way in motion around its axis,” he said.

Web of space rocks

•Gaia also revealed the orbits of some 14,000 “solar system objects” — mapped as an intricate web of space rocks shooting around the sun. “It represents the most accurate survey ever of asteroids in the solar system,” said Mr. Brown. More will be added in future updates.

•Information sent to the earth by Gaia is collated by 450 scientists from 20 countries. Antonella Vallenari, one of the scientists, likened the data release to “opening a chocolate box”.

•“It’s very, very exciting,” she said at the launch event in Germany, webcast live.

•The full data will be published in a series of scientific papers in a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics , laying the foundation for decades of further study. “We are really getting today the catalogue of a billion stars zipping through the Milky Way in various directions,” said Guenther Hasinger, ESA’s director of science. “With Gaia, we can actually deconstruct the whole history of the Milky Way. It’s like archaeoastronomy... to really build up the history of our universe.”

•Another update to the map is due in 2020.

📰 Mediterranean citrus under threat

Researchers work to check spread of greening disease in the region that exports most of its fruits

•After decimating orange groves in Florida and trees in California and Brazil, citrus greening disease now threatens the key producing region of the Mediterranean, according to researchers.

•The disease “has spread since the mid-2000s with a phenomenal speed and impact,” said Eric Imbert of CIRAD, an agricultural research centre based in the French city of Montpellier.

•The only citrus producing region as yet unafflicted, “the Mediterranean can’t remain untouched by citrus greening disease,” the researcher added.

•Mr. Imbert said one species of the insect which spreads the disease has already been found on the Arabian peninsula.

•The disease emerged in the first half of the last century in Asia, where it is called yellow dragon disease by the Chinese.

•It is spread by small insects called plant lice or psyllids which jump from tree to tree to suck the sap.

•When they do, they introduce the bacteria which ends up blocking the channels along which the sap flows.

•As the bacteria chokes off the flow of nutrients, the leaves turn yellow, the fruit is deformed, and eventually the tree dies.

•The African psyllid, which spreads a less virulent form of the disease, has already been detected in northern Spain and in Portugal, where trees were rapidly uprooted to prevent any further spread.

•“While not wanting to panic ... if we don’t do anything in terms of prevention, we could end up suffering a major catastrophe, with prices doubling or tripling,” said Mr. Imbert.

•What happened in Florida proves he may well be right. The Sunshine State saw its orange production tumble by 60% from 2005 to 2017.

•And as production costs soared, the wholesale price of concentrated orange juice more than doubled to $2,500 per tonne.

•According to the trade magazine FruitTrop, just over one fifth of the oranges, clementines and lemons consumed in the world come from the Mediterranean region. It accounts for 70% of the world’s exports of citrus fruits.

The alarm button

•“Researchers hit the alarm button long ago,” said Mr. Imbert, trying to get the attention of European authorities in particular.

•“But we have the impression we are screaming in a desert.”

•Should lice carrying the virulent strain of citrus greening disease arrive in the Mediterranean region, experts expect it to spread rapidly, as it will also be difficult to use pesticides extensively.

•With the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe already infested, French researchers have gained valuable experience.

•They suspect nurseries were the reason the disease spread so quickly as seedlings infected in greenhouses were distributed across the island.

•The response has been to ship in seeds from a repository that France’s INRA national agricultural research institute runs on the Mediterranean island of Corsica which has a collection of some 10,000 citrus varieties. Once on Guadeloupe, they are grown in special greenhouses that are made insect proof before being sold to growers.

•A type of small wasp that attacks the lice that spread the disease has also been released.

📰 BARC develops cheaper, lightweight bulletproof jackets

Bhabha Kavach weighs 6.6 kg and has passed over 30 tests

•The Bhabha Atomic Reseach Centre (BARC) has developed a next-generation bulletproof jacket for the Indian armed forces, which is not only cheaper but also much lighter.

•Bhabha Kavach, named after nuclear physicist Dr. Homi J. Bhabha, the jacket was developed at BARC’s Trombay centre in response to a request from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

•Dr. Kinshuk Dasgupta, scientific officer at BARC’s materials group, told The Hindu that the jacket weighs just 6.6 kg in comparison to the 17-kg jackets in use, and has passed over 30 tests carried out by certified agencies. Bhabha Kavach is available in three variants as per the requirement of the armed forces.

•A five-member BARC team worked for a year in 2015-16 to develop the jacket, which is being tested by a joint team of the CRPF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and the Central Industrial Security Force. The northern command of the Indian Army is also testing a variant of the jacket in Jammu and Kashmir.

•The jacket is made using extremely hard boron carbide ceramics that is hot-pressed with carbon nano-tubes and composite polymer. BARC has been using boron carbide in the control rods of its nuclear reactors.

•While the cost of a Bhabha Kavach is Rs. 70,000, jackets of similar strength are available in the range of Rs. 1.5 lakh and have to be imported. “The superior performance of the light weight jacket derives from advanced ceramics and advanced nano-composite tubes indigenously developed at BARC,” Dr. Dasgupta said.

•Dr. Madangopal Krishnan, associate director, materials group, BARC, said presently, the forces use bulletproof jackets weighing over 10 kg and are made of jackal armour steel, alumina and silica. Jackets made using boron carbide are first in India, he said.

•“Unfortunately, in certain incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, bulletproof jackets have failed to protect our jawans, as terrorists have resorted to Chinese-made hard steel core bullets capable of piercing the jackets,” he said. These specialised steel bullets were used in an attack in Pulwama on December 31, 2017, where five CRPF jawans were martyred during a gun battle with terrorists.

•“Bhabha Kavach has been designed to protect our soldiers against AK-47 (hard steel bullets), SLR and INSUS weaponry,” Dr. Dasgupta said.

•BARC has transferred the technology of Bhabha Kavach to Mishra Dhatu Nigam, Hyderabad, for its large-scale production. “It is estimated that about one lakh jackets will be required, per annum, for the next 10 years. The light jacket will surely save the government exchequer foreign exchange,” he said.

•BARC is now trying to improvise Bhabha Kavach based on feedback from the forces. “On our part, we at BARC are looking at bringing down the cost to under Rs. 35,000 and make it even more lighter,” Dr. Krishnan said.

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