The HINDU Notes – 16th April 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 16th April 2019

πŸ“° SC irked after poll panel’s counsel says it is ‘powerless’

CJI raises concerns over inaction against candidates

•The Supreme Court on Monday gave the Election Commission of India (ECI) exactly 24 hours to explain its lawyer’s submissions that the poll body is largely “powerless” and “toothless” to act against religious and hate speeches by candidates during the on-going Lok Sabha election campaigning.

•During the hearing, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi even threatened to have the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the courtroom within the next half hour if the court did not get clear answers to its questions on the poll body’s powers under the law against candidates who spew vitriol.

Notice issued

•The court found that the ECI had issued notice for hate speeches and campaigning for votes on the basis of religion in only three cases so far. The three include Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati.

•The Election Commission, represented by advocate Amit Sharma, said Mr. Adityanath had been issued an advisory. Ms. Mayawati, the ECI said, had asked for votes in the name of religion.

•“So what about Mayawati? She was supposed to reply to you by April 12... Today is April 15. She has not replied. What does the law permit you to do in such cases? Answer us... What will you do now? What are you empowered to do?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked the ECI.

•“We will issue an advisory... We may file a complaint,” Mr. Sharma replied.

•Mr. Sharma tried to reason, saying, “There is a procedure... We have to give them time to reply.”

•“So you are basically saying you [the ECI] are toothless and powerless against hate speeches. The most you can do is send a notice to the offending candidate. If the candidate replies, send him or her an advisory. Despite this, if there is violation of Model Code of Conduct, you may then file a criminal complaint... That is all? Those are your powers under the law?” Chief Justice Gogoi asked Mr. Sharma.

‘No other power’

•Mr. Sharma concurred that was “no other power” with the ECI. “We [the ECI] cannot de-recognise or disqualify the person. This is the only power,” he submitted. Hearing this, the court decided to examine in detail the issue of the ECI’s powers to deal with hate and defamatory election speeches, and violations of the Model Code of Conduct.

πŸ“° ‘CCS to decide on dual control over Assam Rifles’

Union Ministries of Home Affairs, Defence inform Delhi High Court in an affidavit

•The Ministry of Home Affairs has conveyed to the Delhi High Court that it, along with the Ministry of Defence, will abide by any decision of the Cabinet Committee on Security on the dual control over the Assam Rifles.

•In an affidavit filed with the Delhi HC, the MHA has conveyed that the Union Home Secretary had held a meeting with the Defence Secretary on April 4 to discuss the issue.

•Assam Riffles, the 184-year-old paramilitary force of the country, is under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs while the operational control lies with the Ministry of Defence.

•The meeting discussed about a note moved by the MHA for the CCS on March 20 for resolving the issue of dual control over Assam Rifles.

•The CCS is chaired by the Prime Minister and comprises the Minister of External Affairs, the Home Minister, the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister.

•It was decided by both the MHA and the MoD that they will abide by the decision of the CCS, the MHA told the High Court in its affidavit.

•The Court is now learnt to have issued a notice to the Cabinet Secretary to inform it as to what decision the CCS had taken on the note forwarded to it by the MHA, an official said.

•The Court was hearing a petition filed by the Assam Rifles Ex-Servicemen Welfare Association through lawyer Neha Rathi on the difficulties faced by the retired personnel of the force with regard to the payment of pension due to the dual control of the force.

πŸ“° Sub-sonic cruise missile ‘Nirbhay’ successfully test-fired

•The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on Monday successfully test fired the underdevelopment long range subsonic cruise missile Nirbhay from the Integrated Test Range (ITR), Chandipur in Odisha.

•“It is the sixth development flight trial with objective to prove the repeatability of boost phase, cruise phase using way point navigation at very low altitudes,” DRDO said in a statement adding the missile demonstrated its sea-skimming capability to cruise at very low altitudes.

•Nirbhay has a range of 1000 km and can fly very low to the ground to avoid detection by enemy radar called terrain hugging capability. “During today’s test, the missile demonstrated the terrain hugging capability by covered way-points as low as 5 m to maximum 2.5 km (altitude),” a defence source said.

•At each waypoint the altitude was varied and it had a sustained flight at different altitudes including at 5m. “It was tested upto a range of 700 km,” the source stated.

•Of the six test trials, three were failed and three were successful. No other indigenous missile has been tested at such altitude, the source added.

•The missile was primarily designed and developed by the Advanced Defence Establishment of DRDO located in Bengaluru in cooperation with other DRDO laboratories.

•Once inducted, Nirbhay, similar to U.S. Tomahawk cruise missile, will give Indian armed forces a long range standoff capability to strike targets on land.

•The missile took off vertically turning horizontally into desired direction, booster separated, wing deployed, engine started and cruised all the intended waypoints, DRDO stated and added the entire flight was fully tracked by a chain of electro optical tracking systems, radars and ground telemetry systems deployed all along the sea coast.

πŸ“° Rawat bats for indigenisation

Army chief commissions Veera, offshore patrol vessel

•Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat on Monday called for enhanced coastal security and expressed satisfaction over the thrust being attached by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) for indigenisation and augmenting its fleet under ‘Make in India’ programme to face the challenges posed by various elements.

•He was speaking after commissioning the Indian Coast Guard Ship Veera, third in the series of seven offshore patrol vessels built by L&T Shipbuilding.

•Describing the induction of the ship as a historic occasion, Gen. Rawat said the dynamics of modern conflicts was fast changing.

•“Scenarios to fight in the sea and air are undergoing change,” he said and stressed the need to work in close coordination with the Army, and explained how they were successfully working jointly in the Andamans and other parts.

•Stating that the Coast Guard was the youngest force created by the Ministry of Defence in 1978, he said they had been mandated to take up various operations to ensure round the clock surveillance with a hawk eye vigil on coastal and maritime security.

Joint operations

•Gen. Rawat said that the Coast Guard had developed flexibility and resilience to work as per the demand and underlined how it had played a stellar role in taking up joint operations with the Army. The induction of air cushion vehicles would further strengthen the capabilities of the Coast Guard, the fourth largest force in the world.

•He said the Coast Guard was working in close coordination with the Navy and other stakeholders in serving the maritime security and coastal security.

•It was also extending aid to civil authorities in the event of natural calamities such as cyclones and floods, he said and cited how it saved several lives during the Chennai and Kerala floods.

•Earlier, on arrival he was extended a ceremonial welcome by a 50-men guard of honour. Director-General of ICG Flag Officer Rajendra Singh and Chief of Eastern Naval Command Vice-Admiral Karambir Singh and Managing Director and CEO of L&T Shipbuilding Vice Admiral (Retd.) B. Kannan, were present.

πŸ“° Centre extends truce with Naga militants by a year

Fresh agreement with another group

•The Centre on Monday extended the ceasefire agreement by one year with two insurgent groups in Nagaland, while a fresh pact for suspension of operations was signed with another outfit, the Home Ministry said.

•A ceasefire is in operation between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Neopao Konyak/Kitovi) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Reformation (NSCN/R).

•It was decided to extend the suspension of operation agreement with NSCN(NK) and NSCN(R) for a further period of one year with effect from April 28 this year till April 27, 2020, a Ministry statement said.

•Meanwhile, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland(K-Khango) has also entered into a fresh ceasefire agreement with the Union government from Monday for a period of one year, the statement said.

πŸ“° 10% quota: Cabinet nod for funds

•Central educational institutions across the country will together create over two lakh additional seats over the next two years to implement the 10% reservation for economically weaker sections.

•The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a budget of ₹4315.15 crore to create the additional seats in 158 institutions, according to senior officials of the Human Resource Development Ministry.

EC in the loop

•According to the officials, the ministry sought permission from the Election Commission before taking the proposal to the Cabinet as the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha polls is in place.

•However, there was no official announcement of the Union Cabinet’s decision.

•A total of 2,14,766 additional seats will be created, with 1,19,983 new seats in 2019-20 and the remaining 95,783 seats to be added in 2020-21, officials said.

•In January, Parliament passed the 103rd Constitutional Amendment which provides for 10% reservation in jobs and educational institutions to economically backward sections in the general category. This quota is over and above the existing reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. The reservation is meant to be implemented in private institutions as well.

•In order to implement the new 10% quota without reducing the proportion of SC, ST, OBC or general seats available, institutions have been asked to increase their total intake by 25%.

πŸ“° An India without the Left?

To understand the Left’s central role, one has to take stock of the mass mobilisations to highlight injustice and inequity

•One out of every two Indians goes to bed hungry at night. That’s almost 700 million Indians. The number comes from McKinsey. But you don’t need a consultant to tell you about the distress in India. It is evident on our streets and in our fields. Agrarian distress (amplified by the suicide of farmers) and urban distress (illustrated by the growth of slums) have become normal. Policy from the Central government does not effectively address any of the challenges faced by over half of the Indian population. Deprivation and desolation set the mood. The emotional dial switches to anger ever so often.

•The voices of peasants and workers, of Dalits and Adivasis are muffled. Most political parties ignore them, making their appeal to the middle-class as if this class should set the terms for political decision-making. It is evident that the real beneficiaries of government policy since 1991 have not been this middle class, but it has been what should be called an oligarchy (10% of Indians own 75% of India’s social wealth). Centre-stage have been the interests of prominent business houses. Not the voice of Chinna Balayya (a farmer from Parigi mandal, Andhra Pradesh, who killed himself) nor the voice of a 16-year-old girl from Gaya, Bihar who was killed in an honour killing, nor hundreds of lakhs of people like them.

Amplifiers on the street

•The amplifiers of the voices of the farmers and the workers, the women and the Dalits are one section or the other of the organised Indian Left and of leftist movements. One often hears chatter about how the Left is anachronistic or how the Left is marginal. Yet, in 2018, the Left played a central role in hundreds of public actions by ordinary people whose extraordinary courage stunned the nation. It was the long march of the farmers of Maharashtra in 2018 that pushed a section of the urban middle class to acknowledge the suffering in the countryside and to welcome the marchers to the outskirts of Mumbai late on a Sunday evening. When the farmers realised that the next day an examination for students had been scheduled, they picked up their belongings and marched into the night to reach Azad Maidan. This sensitive gesture won the hearts of Mumbai. It is one thing to keep saying ‘farmers’, and another to say that the farmers came as part of the All-India Kisan Sabha, a mass organisation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Farmers suffer the agrarian distress in a relatively isolated way, and the suicide of farmers is an illustration of their solitary experience of sorrow. It is the organisation that takes this loneliness and makes it political.

•Across India, over the past year and more, people agitated against the vicissitudes of capitalism and the failure of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address this turbulence. There was the agitation of the ASHA and Anganwadi workers, the workers and peasant march into Delhi, and the general strike in early January 2019 as well as other, smaller public actions. All of these were organised by trade unions and peasant and agricultural worker platforms of the Left. The Left and other left-liberal platforms — pushed by sensitive sections of the Indian public — fought against the dangerous cow protectors and the honour killing murderers. The most volcanic of these agitations were the cascading kisan mobilisations by the Left mass fronts in Rajasthan. These protests, along with those in Maharashtra and the peasant march into Delhi, put agrarian distress on the table. They are what contributed to the churning of political fortunes in the three Hindi-speaking States — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was defeated in the Assembly elections last winter. That the Left was not able to convert these mobilisations into more seats for Left candidates is a sad commentary on the Indian electoral system — where caste and other sectarian affiliations, as well as sheer money power, determine the outcomes.

The Kerala example

•A pall of gloom descended on the country after the disaster of demonetisation and the goods and services tax, after the daily reports of lynching and communal mobilisations, after the ghastly anti-science drift of intellectual institutions, after brutish language began to define public discourse. Meanwhile, in Kerala, the Left Democratic Front government provided an alternative discourse and practice. Small gestures of care were offered to break the rigidities of culture. The government provided free sanitary pads for schoolgirls in government schools, so that they would not feel the social penalty heaped on women for menstruation. Transgender rights came into focus, with some of Kochi Metro’s ticket collectors being recruited among the transgender community. The divisiveness of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was consistently fought by Kerala’s incomparable Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, and his fellow Ministers.

•Then came the massive flood that swept through the small State. Central government aid was paltry and slow. It was a reflection of how parties like the BJP tackle tragedy. Relief and rehabilitation, particularly for the poor, takes ages. When we travelled recently across the length and breadth of Kerala, in cities as well as the countryside, it was hard to imagine that the State had been ravaged by ferocious floods. A large part of the credit goes to the people of Kerala and the culture of public action in the State. They organised themselves in myriad, more or less spontaneous ways to help each other. The courage of the fisherfolk who ventured into the waters with no regard for their personal safety is one example. There were so many others.

•Coupled with this was the attitude and fortitude of the Left Democratic Front government itself. It plunged into rescue and relief in an absolutely non-partisan manner. This was contrasted with the attitude of the Modi government at the Centre, which sought to penalise the people of the State for the government they had elected. It is also in sharp contrast to the Hindutva organisations, which gave even this colossal tragedy a sectarian and communal colour.

Being human

•Imagine if there were no Left in India. Would anyone pay attention to the voice of the worker and the peasant, the voice of the dispossessed and the frustrated? Would anyone amplify their dreams and desires, their aspirations for a good life? Who would take up the Supreme Court order to allow women into the Sabarimala temple, or go out on the street to form a Women’s Wall of lakhs of women? Who would stand for reason above division, social care above individual wealth? Years ago, Akbar Allahabadi sang, “You were people. With great difficulty you became human.” That ‘difficulty’ is the place where the Left lives. Without its efforts, would humanity survive?

πŸ“° Weathervane of democracy

The Election Commission’s weakening commitment to the Model Code of Conduct is cause for concern

•For the first time since the general election of 1996, the reputation of the Election Commission of India (ECI) has taken a beating. Subsequent to the 1996 election, which marked a turning point in the reduction of electoral malpractices, surveys showed that trust in the ECI was the highest among the major public institutions in India. However, there are now perceptions that the ECI has responded inadequately, or not at all, to violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), which is in effect from March 10 to May 23. Some examples in this election include the Prime Minister’s announcement on national television of India’s first anti-satellite weapon test, the Rajasthan Governor making statements in favour of the ruling party, leaders of the ruling party invoking the Indian Army in their election campaign, and, in a spate of dubious media initiatives, a continuous line of statements along communal lines.

•The MCC, like the ECI itself, is a unique Indian innovation and encapsulates an important story about democracy in India — the conduct of free and fair elections. Though just a brief set of guidelines, not law, the MCC is a powerful instrument. It comes into force when the ECI announces election dates and comprises directions to government functionaries, political parties and candidates aimed at an impartial election process. Important provisions include barring governments from making policy announcements to sway voters and restraining political actors from inciting hatred against any group, or bribing or intimidating voters.

Down the years

•The origins of the MCC lie in the Assembly elections of Kerala in 1960, when the State administration prepared a ‘Code of Conduct’ for political actors. The leading political parties of the State voluntarily approved the code, which proved useful during the elections. Subsequently, in the Lok Sabha elections in 1962, the ECI circulated the code to all recognised political parties and State governments; reports were that it was generally followed. The emergence of the code and its voluntary acceptance by political parties showed the commitment of the political elite to the holding of free and fair elections.

•However, from 1967 till 1991, as political competition intensified, political actors began to resort to corrupt electoral practices. Governments made populist announcements on the eve of elections, had pliant officials in key positions while intimidation of voters and booth capturing increased. The ECI’s appeals to observe the code of conduct were largely ignored. The ECI now resorted to a familiar, but ineffective, strategy in Indian public life. It refined the code, making it more stringent by including a section about the misuse of powers by ruling parties and renamed it the MCC. Though it demanded that the MCC be incorporated in the law, no such law could be passed.

A turning point

•After 1991, the ECI used new means to enforce the MCC. The then-Chief Election Commissioner, T.N. Seshan rebuked prominent political actors publicly and even postponed elections, thereby re-interpreting the ECI’s power to fix election dates. The burgeoning electronic media of the time reported these initiatives with enthusiasm, while candidates were happy to capitalise on the mistakes made by their rivals. Consequently, political actors began to take the MCC seriously, fearing it even if they did not respect it. The MCC now countered the lack of commitment of the political class to free and fair elections, the ECI began to command a new respect and electoral malpractices declined dramatically.

New flashpoints

•Today, the MCC is at a crossroads, as is the ECI. Two distinct trends are visible. One, electoral malpractice has appeared in new forms. Voter bribery and manipulation through the media have become the techniques of unethically influencing voters in place of voter intimidation and booth capturing. These malpractices are harder to stem. Booth-capturing is an identifiable event, taking place at a particular time and place. Voter bribery is spread over time and space. Voters resent being intimidated and are likely to cooperate with authorities in preventing it, but may be willing to be bribed. The misuse of the media is difficult to trace to specific political parties and candidates.

•The ECI’s response to the new challenges has been inadequate. It has appointed expenditure observers, evolved a code for social media, and, very recently, after a spate of criticism, stopped the release of biographical pictures that could influence voters. But there is little evidence that it has got to the core of the problem as it did after 1991. As in the pre-1991 phase, its efforts have hardly borne fruit. At the same time, the misuse of money and media power has intensified since the last two elections.

•The second trend is that the ECI’s capacity to respond to the older types of violations of the MCC has weakened. Its response to inappropriate statements by powerful political actors has been weak, or delayed. Consequently, political actors are regaining the confidence to flout the MCC without facing the consequences. As the ECI’s capacity to secure a level playing field has dipped, attacks on it have increased. They now encompass its processes such as the use of electronic voting machines, which had become acceptable when the ECI was stronger. A vicious cycle has been set in motion.

•The MCC is, in many ways, the weathervane of our democracy. The initial idea of free and fair elections was embraced by the political elite voluntarily, and the MCC emerged. Over time, the commitment of the political class to free and fair elections declined, and it flouted the MCC. During the early to mid-1990s, the ECI enforced the MCC on reluctant political actors, and MCC began to feared, if not voluntarily followed. Today, the ECI’s own commitment to the MCC seems to have weakened, a bad omen for our democracy.

πŸ“° A mammoth election: Indonesia polls

Much is at stake in Indonesia’s presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls, all in a day

•Indonesia’s single-day presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on April 17 will be a mammoth exercise. It will also test the popular mood on President Joko Widodo’s moderation, which has been under attack from the religious right. Popularly known as Jokowi, he is seeking a second and final term, as Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, approaches 75 years since gaining independence from the Netherlands in 1945. Mr. Jokowi, a former Jakarta governor, from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, faces Prabowo Subianto, a former army general, of the Great Indonesia Movement Party; they had clashed in the 2014 race too. Opinion polls show Mr. Jokowi winning comfortably. The roughly 5% rate of growth in GDP in the last few quarters is well below the President’s 7% target, but is still an improvement over previous years. Sentiment has also turned positive since the rupiah regained its value after the slide during the 2018 currency crises in emerging markets and the return of capital flows. Jakarta’s current account deficit, owing to a slump in exports, could cause concern unless the U.S.-China trade dispute is settled amicably. But the liberal-leaning President’s challenges are linked to the poll-time rise in religious tensions.

•In the 2014 contest, Mr. Jokowi’s opponents played the identity card by claiming that he, a Javanese Muslim, was a Christian and a communist. In 2017, an ethnic Chinese and Christian successor of Mr. Jokowi as Jakarta governor was convicted of blasphemy soon after re-election. The government’s subsequent ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organisation wedded to the establishment of an international caliphate, underscored the difficulties in balancing conflicting political interests. Rising religious militancy in some regions of Indonesia has also endangered the rights of the LGBTQ community, denting the country’s record of respect for cultural pluralism and tolerance of heterodox social behaviour. While the constitutional court in 2017 rejected a bid to ban same-sex marriages, human rights groups are concerned over the lack of anti-discrimination protections for gay persons. Mr. Jokowi’s choice of an orthodox Islamic cleric as running mate is being viewed as an attempt to boost his religious credentials. In a unique Indonesian electoral operation, votes for thousands of seats, fought by hundreds of thousands of candidates at various levels, are tabulated manually in full public view during daylight hours. Final results of the April 17 polls are expected after weeks. The complex nature of the process and provision for quick counts based on a sample of the actual votes cast have in the past led rival camps to trade accusations of manipulation and intimidation. Mr. Jokowi, whose party narrowly won the 2014 legislative and presidential vote after spectacular poll ratings, would be acutely aware of the high stakes involved. A nascent democracy, Indonesia will hope to see through this transition with fortitude.

πŸ“° Respecting leaders in a democracy

We do not defer to our rulers. Our equals, they earn our respect only if they perform well

•Respect for politicians is in short supply in our times. Most citizens of contemporary democracies seem to tolerate, not respect, those they elect. Are we troubled by the absence of respect in politics? Should politicians even be accorded respect? If yes, what form of respect must they get?

Directive respect: Egalitarian

•‘Respect’ has multiple senses, of which three are relevant here. One sense, that might be called ‘directive respect’, was elaborated by the late 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. For him, respect had the force of an authoritative moral instruction, a directive. Why? Kant understood that humans in their social interactions can never entirely eliminate using one another for personal benefit. When I enter a bus, I approach the conductor not out of love, affection or curiosity, but with one goal in mind: to purchase a ticket to travel. And the conductor is in the bus to do a job for the bus owner: sell tickets. All of us — the passenger, the conductor, the driver and the bus owner — relate to each other as instruments to achieve our respective ends: travel home, earn a livelihood, make profit. However, Kant argued, while this may well be so, each must also keep in mind that we are moral agents with distinct purposes, with our own subjective take on the world, with the capacity to endow the world with meaning, purpose and value. In short, we have inherent dignity that imposes limits on the extent to which we can use each other for personal benefit. I can’t treat the bus conductor as a mere thing to be pushed around, offended or humiliated, even as I buy the ticket from him. I must respect him.

•To reiterate, the quality of dignity that inheres in a person is the ground for a moral directive not to treat someone only as an instrument to realise my purpose but also always as a person with distinct purposes of her own. Put differently, to respect others is not just to have an attitude, but also to act towards humans in a way that does not merely use them. This is what makes it a form of directive respect. In addition to being directive, Kant’s notion is also egalitarian. This is because each of us commands this respect regardless of our differential social status or position, class, gender, race, talent or achievement.

Directive respect: Hierarchical

•This egalitarian feature alone differentiates it from another instance of directive respect where the quality that commands respect from others inheres not in the person qua person but in the social position she occupies or the role she performs. Thus, children must respect their fathers; wives, their husbands; servants, their masters; lower caste people, those in higher castes; and so on. Indeed, this unequal status is the original site of the idea of respect, its breeding ground. The notion of respect was for long intertwined with ideas of superiority and inferiority and had deep hierarchical overtones. Virtually indistinguishable from fear and deference, it was expressed not only in words but through silence and bodily stances. Thus, a person believed to be inferior could not call a superior by his name; could not look him in the eye; always had his or her head bowed or covered; could not touch any part of the superior person or could, at best, touch only his feet; was always to obey, do as he was told, never question or even respond.

•This hierarchical notion of directive respect has not disappeared from our society (as many had hoped) and continues to permeate social relationships. But disturbingly, just when we thought that because of our anti-colonial struggle and equality-centred reform movements led by Jyotirao Phule, Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, it is fading away from politics, it appears to be raising its ugly head again. Revived here is the older, deeply hierarchical idea of respect as deference which brooks no dissent, muffles voices, demands unquestioning silence from all. It is also being used to elicit obedience to a ‘supreme leader’. This appears to be happening not only in India but in many other polities of the world. I am told that many conversations between Trump loyalists and his critics come to an abrupt, screeching halt by the complaint that critics don’t respect the President. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor OrbΓ‘n says that any attack on his policies is a sign of disrespect for Hungary. The Turkish writer, Ece Temelkuran, drew attention to similar demands by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. When charged with rigging the polls, Mr. Erdogan claimed that this showed disrespect to the people of Turkey and their choice.

•The hierarchical notion of respect is a one-way street and incompatible with the very idea of democracy. The egalitarian notion of respect articulated by Kant, a prefect riposte to respect as deference, is presupposed by democracies and relevant as a value in relationships among citizens but is too general to be of use in the specific context of citizen-ruler relationship. Does this mean then that respect for politicians is entirely dispensable in democracies? I don’t think so.

Evaluative respect

•Another kind of respect exists: this is owed to people not because of what they are or their social position but by virtue of what they have achieved. This may manifest in some praiseworthy qualities of character such as moral integrity or by perfecting some skills as a cricketer or scholar. This respect consists in an attitude of positive appraisal of the person’s moral qualities or non-moral skills. Here respect is not presumed but earned. We can appropriately say that this attitude of respect is deserved when a person meets some standards of excellence integral to that practice. Precisely because it is something one achieves, it can also be a matter of degree. Rightly or wrongly, one can say that one has greater respect for Sunil Gavaskar than, say, Chetan Chauhan, or Jawaharlal Nehru than, say, Govind Ballabh Pant.

•It is this notion of ‘evaluative respect’ or ‘appraisal respect’ that is relevant in democratic politics. Politicians occupy a contingent political position where they have a job to perform: work for the common good; ensure that everyone is treated as an equal, not suffer from negative discrimination at the hands of the government; get what the people need; ensure that there is peace and justice. Also, that they work truthfully, sincerely, transparently. When politicians achieve these goals and behave in accordance with the highest standards of political morality, they earn our respect. When they fail to so, we begin to disrespect them.

•There is no question of hierarchical respect or deference to our leaders in modern, democratic polities. It is our right to question, challenge and criticise our politicians. All power wielders, including the Prime Minister, must submit to these demands. All of us, the rulers and the ruled, are bound by norms of egalitarian respect more generally, and by evaluative respect specific to democratic politics in particular. To our politicians, we can only say: perform well, and earn our respect!

πŸ“° China is using AI to profile Uighur Muslims

Facial recognition technology being used not just in Xinjiang but also in wealthy cities like Hangzhou

•The Chinese government has drawn wide international condemnation for its harsh crackdown on ethnic Muslims in its western region, including holding as many as one million of them in detention camps.

•Now, documents and interviews show that authorities are also using a vast, secret system of advanced facial recognition technology to track and control the Uighurs. It is the first known example of a government intentionally using artificial intelligence for racial profiling, experts said.

Keeping records

•The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. The practice makes China a pioneer in applying next-generation technology to watch its people, potentially ushering in a new era of automated racism.

•The technology and its use to keep tabs on China’s 11 million Uighurs were described by five people with direct knowledge of the systems. The New York Times also reviewed databases used by the police, government procurement documents and advertising materials distributed by the AI companies that make the systems.

•Chinese authorities already maintain a vast surveillance net, including tracking people’s DNA, in the western region of Xinjiang. But the scope of the new systems extends that monitoring into many other corners of the country. Police are now using facial recognition technology to target Uighurs in wealthy eastern cities like Hangzhou and Wenzhou and across the coastal province of Fujian, said two of the people. Law enforcement in the central Chinese city of Sanmenxia ran a system that over the course of a month this year screened whether residents were Uighurs 5,00,000 times.

•A new generation of start-ups catering to Beijing’s authoritarian needs are beginning to set the tone for emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

•From a technology standpoint, using algorithms to label people based on race or ethnicity has become relatively easy. Companies like IBM advertise software that can sort people into broad groups.

Breaking new ground

•But China has broken new ground by identifying one ethnic group for law enforcement purposes. One Chinese startup, CloudWalk, outlined a sample experience in marketing its own surveillance systems. The technology, it said, could recognise “sensitive groups of people.”

•In practice, the systems are imperfect, two of the people said. Often, their accuracy depends on environmental factors like lighting and the positioning of cameras. And while facial recognition technology uses aspects like skin tone and face shapes to sort images in photos or videos, it must be told by humans to categorise people based on social definitions of race or ethnicity. Chinese police, with the help of the startups, have done that.

πŸ“° Monsoon likely to be ‘normal’ this year, says meteorological dept.

Last year, in April, the IMD had forecast "normal" monsoon rains but India saw below normal rainfall.

•Monsoon rains in India are likely to be “normal” this year, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Monday. However, uncertainty clouds this optimism as the agency’s own assessment suggests a significant probability for rains falling in the ‘below normal’ category.

•Monsoon rainfall this year is forecast to be 96% of the Long Period Average (or 89 cm, which is a 50 year average of India’s monsoon rains).

•Strictly speaking, a 96% forecast is, in the IMD lexicon, “near normal.” This is just shy of ‘below normal’ (90%-96% of LPA) rain.

•However, Madhavan Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences (to whom the IMD reports), at a press conference emphasised that this year’s forecast was for “normal” rains. “For all practical purposes, we expect normal rains,” he added.

•This is a more optimistic assessment from the one by private weather forecasting agency, Skymet, which earlier this month, warned of ‘below normal’ rains June-September.

•The IMD’s optimism stems from global climate models projecting a ‘weakening El Nino.’ The El Nino, a cyclic warming of the Central and Eastern Pacific region, has historically been linked to a weakening of monsoon rain.

•A temperature rise greater than 1 degree C for three months at a trot, is considered a ‘strong’ El Nino (and threatening to the monsoon). A 0.5C -1C rise is called ‘weak El Nino conditions.’ Currently the El Nino is 0.9 C.

•The IMD’s models in March, expect the El Nino to peak around May and then recede for the rest of the monsoon months. “Globally too, other models that track El Nino expect it to recede after June or July. So that reflects in our forecast (of a normal as opposed to below normal monsoon rains),” said Mr. Rajeevan. In any given year, the odds of ‘below normal’ rains are 17%.

•This year — the IMD’s assessment says — the odds are 32% which Mr. Rajeevan admitted was “significant.” However the odds of ‘near normal’ rains this year were 39%, the IMD’s forecast notes. “It’s a matter of how you expect the El Nino to pan out…we combine our own experience with the model’s insights to make the forecast,” said K.J. Ramesh, Director-General, IMD.

•The IMD issues its first monsoon forecast in April and then updates it in June with details on how the monsoon will perform in various geographical regions.

•The April forecast can be unreliable. Last year, the IMD forecast ‘normal rains’ (97% of LPA) and India saw below normal (91% of LPA) rains. This was attributed by the IMD, to an unexpected weakening of the monsoon rains in North Eastern India.

•Another factor, called a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) (which refers to a warming in the western Arabian ocean) could neutralise the potential negative impact from the El Nino.

πŸ“° Coming, more GSLV satellite launch vehicles

Union Cabinet has granted approval

•The Union Cabinet on Monday approved five more GSLV satellite launch vehicles for the period 2021-24 under the next phase 4 of the ongoing GSLV continuation programme.

•One of them could be used for the second Mars mission which is being considered.

Third phase

•Sanctioned in 2003, the programme is currently in its third phase. The allocation of ₹2729.13 crore includes the cost of the launchers, augmentation of the facilities, programme management, and launch campaign, a statement said.

•The Indian Space Research Organisation uses the GSLV, the second of its three launchers, to put 2,000-kg class of communication and other satellites to a GEO (or geosynchronous) orbit about 36,000 km away.

•“The GSLV Continuation Programme - Phase 4 will meet the launch requirement of satellites for providing critical satellite navigation services, data relay communication for supporting the Indian Human Spaceflight Programme and the next interplanetary mission to Mars. This will also ensure the continuity of production in Indian industry,” the statement said.

•The first two geo imaging (or Earth observation) satellites in a hrGEO orbit are slated for the second half of this year on two GSLVs.

•The GSLV has so far launched ten national satellites, the last one in December 2018. It has made the country self-reliant in putting its 2,000 kg-class communication and weather satellites to space. Powered by the indigenous cryogenic upper stage, it is now a reliable launcher for communication, navigation and meteorological satellites and also to undertake future interplanetary missions.

πŸ“° Slowing down fast: Industrial growth

The downturn in industrial activity and the spike in retail inflation pose a policy challenge

•Yet another indicator, worryingly, points to the Indian economy slowing down fast. Industrial growth was just 0.1% in February from the year-earlier period, the slowest pace in 20 months. Industrial output had expanded by 6.9% in February 2018. Industrial growth, as measured by the index of industrial production, has been slowing down considerably in recent months, dropping to just 0.2% year-on-year in November. Manufacturing, which has a weight of almost 78% in the index, continues to be the biggest drag, with output contracting by 0.3% as compared with an 8.4% jump in the year-earlier period. The largest contributor to the slowdown in February was the capital goods sector, which shrank by close to 9%, with the contraction widening from the preceding month’s 3.4%. That the revision in this closely watched proxy for business spending plans has widened, from the 3.2% contraction reported last month, is striking. GDP grew by just 6.6% in the quarter ended December, the slowest pace in six quarters. Various institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the International Monetary Fund have been lowering their expectations for India’s growth in the coming quarters. With other economic indicators such as the purchasing managers’ index and high-frequency data like automobile sales also signalling weakening momentum, the overall scenario, when viewed along with the slowdown in industrial output, suggests that a turnaround in economic growth is not in sight.

•Retail inflation as measured by the consumer price index reached a five-month high of 2.86% in March due to the rise in food and fuel prices. While price gains still remain below the RBI’s stated inflation threshold of 4%, the trajectory is hardly bound to be reassuring. The RBI, which has cut interest rates at two successive policy meetings to help bolster economic growth, is likely to be tempted to opt for more rate reductions. While monetary easing could be an easy solution to the growth problem, policymakers may also need to look into structural issues behind the slowdown. The high levels of troubled debt in not just the banking sector but the wider non-banking financial companies are hurting credit markets, and unless these issues can be resolved, no amount of rate cuts would serve as an effective stimulus. To a large extent, the slowdown is due to investments in sectors that turned sour as the credit cycle tightened. In the fiscal year ended March, new investment proposals fell to a 14-year low, says the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. Easing interest rates without reforms may only help hide investment mistakes instead of fostering a genuine economic recovery.

πŸ“° Public sector enterprises to get 12 months to sell non-core assets

Finance Ministry may curb budgetary allocation to non-compliant firms

•State-run companies will have 12 months to monetise non-core assets identified by a ministerial panel headed by the finance minister, failing which the finance ministry may restrict budgetary allocations to the CPSEs.

•The Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) on Monday issued guidelines for monetisation of non-core assets of CPSEs and immovable enemy properties, following a Cabinet decision in February.

•According to the guidelines, an inter-ministerial group (IMG) chaired by the secretary of DIPAM will identify the non-core assets of the CPSEs on its own, and also on the basis of recommendations of the Niti Aayog. The final call will, however, be taken by the finance minister-headed panel.

•Once the Alternative Mechanism, comprising the finance minister, road transport minister and the minister of the administrative ministry concerned approves the assets for monetisation, it should be completed within 12 months from the date of approval.

•This will be the target to be achieved by the CPSEs as part of the memorandum of understanding with the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE). “The Department of Expenditure and Department of Economic Affairs may consider any proposal from the CPSE/administrative ministry for budgetary support only after looking at the achievement of asset monetisation target by the CPSE. Performance of contract management will be considered before sanctioning any government budgetary support,” the guidelines said.