The HINDU Notes – 18th April 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 18th April 2019

📰 The limits of populism

It is very difficult for an incumbent government to offer biographical solutions to structural problems

•Democracy and populism are cousins. A charismatic leader mesmerises the electorate, strikes an emotional chord and blurs the distinction between the leader and the led. However, a charismatic-popular-populist pitch doesn’t automatically transcend into populism. It requires demagoguery wherein hitherto suppressed but popular desires get articulated by a mesmeriser who emerges as the saviour. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were charismatic but not populist as they assumed a guiding role vis-à-vis the people rather than getting subsumed by their worldview. Gandhi didn’t hesitate to withdraw the non-cooperation movement in the aftermath of Chauri Chaura when it gained momentum, and Nehru stood for secularism and scientific rationality in the midst of Partition’s mass frenzy. The popular and the populist can be perfect strangers or bedfellows, and their transition into populism lies in a social, political and electoral mix.

History of populist elections

•Against this backdrop, post-Independence India witnessed the first populist national election transcending into populism in 1971, on the plank of Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi Hatao” slogan. Being true to the saltiness of the turbulent late-1960s and 1970s, she adopted left-wing populism, denouncing her rivals as right-wingers. To be called right wing at the time implied being anti-democratic, anti-people and anti-poor. That populism made the leader and the led coterminous. It was even proclaimed that ‘Indira is India’.

•What makes an election populist and determines its final transition into populism? The answer can be found by locating the constituent elements of the package. First and foremost, one needs a democratic set-up — real or farcical — as the ‘masses’ are indispensable to populism. Second, a charismatic leader is required, someone seen as an insider-outsider in the system offering a therapy for an ailing polity. It denotes a politics of ‘impatience’ and ‘exasperation’. Institutions and established procedures are seen to be subverted by the privileged elite to retain their advantage over the ‘masses’. The collective quest then is for a larger-than-life saviour to recover the national self. Third, a leviathan demon must be imagined whose destruction only a messiah is capable of causing. This takes the focus away from institutions/structures to personalities. A perfect battleground of protagonist vs. antagonist is drawn. In a nutshell, populism offers a biographical solution to structural problems. A saviour is presented who must seek popular approval to take the demon head on. An election in a democratic set-up is the perfect occasion for this crusade.

•Since 1971, India has witnessed three more populist national elections transcending into populisms of various kinds, in 1977, 1989 and 2014, when the collective democratic quest in the electoral arena seemed to be for a saviour rather than a leader. On every occasion elections appeared like a biography of a new saviour. Pollsters and political analysts call this phenomenon the ‘leadership factor’. So, if 1971 was about Indira Gandhi, 1977 was about Jayaprakash Narayan, 1989 was about the sudden metamorphosis of an erstwhile feudal leader, V.P. Singh, into an anti-corruption crusader, and 2014 was about Narendra Modi promising epochal change.

The story since 2014

•True to the populist requirement, Mr. Modi emerged as the complete package, being everything to everyone. A ‘Hindu-Hriday-Samrat’ to the Hindutva constituency, a ‘developmentalist’ for the corporate and middle class, a ray of hope for the rural masses, an ultra-nationalist for those sensing a national drift, a ‘chaiwala’ for the poor, and an insider-outsider to the masses feeling vanquished by the very system that is supposed to empower them. Thus, the circle of electoral populism that emerged from the leftward vantage point in 1971 got completed in 2014 with the right-wing populism of Mr. Modi.

•However, the political journey since 2014 reveals something mammoth. The charisma Mr. Modi used to exude is dipping, if it has not vanished entirely, opening up a new political scenario without charismatic/mass leaders. At present, India doesn’t have charismatic leaders like Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra, N.T. Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh, M.G. Ramachandran/Jayalalithaa/Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Jyoti Basu in West Bengal or Biju Patnaik in Odisha. Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Prafulla Mahanta and Arvind Kejriwal are now quieter avatars of the old fiery selves. When there is a dearth of popular leaders even at the State level, for a populist to mount the crest of populism at the national level is a small possibility.

•This means India is in a post-charismatic leadership phase. How this phenomenon unfolds in these Lok Sabha elections is yet to be seen, but one big takeaway lies in the fact that a populist election without a charismatic leader cannot transcend into populism. With dwindling charm, Mr. Modi can’t so easily repeat the triumph of 2014 in 2019.

•Second, the fine distinction between the incumbent right-wing populist and the liberal elite is blurred due to associational factors, such as the competition for the same sort of rhetoric on pro-people policies, making the slogan for anti-elitism, a prerequisite for any kind of populism, feeble.

•Third, there hasn’t been a policy solution to the problems afflicting the people in 2014. Rather, with a high unemployment rate, deep rural distress, etc., the government has been pushing the problems out of the frame, rather than solving them. For instance, by suppressing data on unemployment, and making audacious claims that ‘job-seekers have become job-givers’. However, when the masses suffer, the populist leader’s capacity to strike an emotional chord so that they trust him by reputation is tough.

•At present, a repeat of the 2014 kind of populism isn’t possible as the electoral speeches of Mr. Modi then carried the promise of emancipation. The fluidity of the binding narrative of ‘achhe din’ provided a sense of certitude to voters worried about various uncertainties. Now the narrative has shifted to presenting one’s failures to be less than those of the rivals. In a nutshell, populist tactics don’t seem to translate into populism at this juncture. In this post-populist scenario, the public sphere is witnessing animated public debate on a range of issues. No single narrative is dominant.

•Therefore, in these Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s emphasis is on alliances. It is the pragmatism of political alliances that holds the key for the party, rather than Mr. Modi’s populism.

A fractured narrative

•Hence, all the political hullaballoo over post-Pulwama hyper-nationalism may offer a shot in the arm to the BJP amid the the dwindling charm of Mr. Modi. However, a repeat of the 2014 kind of populism against the backdrop of undelivered promises will require a collective embrace of ‘self-deception’ by a significant majority besides the BJP’s core base. Populism is no more the defining feature of Indian politics and, by extension, of Indian democracy. All the narratives offered are fractured, including that of nationalism. In all likelihood, the Lok Sabha elections, too, will yield a fractured mandate. A fractured mandate at this juncture will be a good omen for Indian politics as democracy mustn’t be reduced to the biography of a leader.

📰 A crisis of credibility?

While nothing bars the EC from asserting its authority, it still needs institutional safeguards to protect its autonomy

•The Election Commission of India (EC) is a formidable institution which has led the world in electoral efficiency since its inception. But in the 2019 general election, it has come under the scanner like never before in the wake of incidents involving a breach of the Model Code of Conduct, particularly those by the ruling party. On April 8, in a letter to the President of India, a group of retired bureaucrats and diplomats, in the context of recent incidents, expressed concern over the EC’s “weak kneed conduct” and the institution “suffering from a crisis of credibility today”.

Points of concern

•The letter described the Prime Minister’s March 27 announcement, of India’s first anti-satellite (ASAT) test, as a “serious breach of propriety [which] amounts to giving unfair publicity to the party in power”. Questions were also raised over the launch of NaMo TV without licence, and a biopic on the life of the Prime Minister which was scheduled for release on April 11, when elections commenced. The group also requested the EC to “issue directions to withhold the release of all biopics and documentaries on any political personages through any media mechanism until the conclusion of the electoral process”. They asserted that the release of such propaganda amounted to free publicity, and hence should be debited as election expenditure in the name of the candidate in question. The same standards should also apply to other such propaganda, an example being a web series titled “Modi: A Common Man’s Journey”.

•Other important issues highlighted in the letter included transfers of top officials, voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) audits, violations of the MCC by Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh (for which the group has requested his removal on account of “grave misdemeanour”) and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath (in his speech he referred to the armed forces as the army of Narendra Modi), and also corrosion of the political discourse in general.

•Needless to say, the questions being raised about the credibility of the EC are a cause for worry. It is, however, not the first time that the conduct of the commission has been questioned.

At the core

•To my mind, the genesis of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointment of election commissioners, who are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. This debate can be settled once and for all by depoliticising appointments through a broad-based consultation, as in other countries.

•In its 255th report, the Law Commission recommended a collegium, consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. Political stalwarts such as L.K. Advani, and former Chief Election Commissioners including B.B. Tandon, N. Gopalaswami and me supported the idea in the past even when in office. But successive ruling dispensations have ducked the issue, not wanting to let go of their power. It is obvious that political and electoral interests take precedence over the national interest.

•A public interest litigation was also filed in the Supreme Court in late 2018 calling for a “fair, just and transparent process of selection by constituting a neutral and independent Collegium/selection committee”. The matter has been referred to a constitution bench. It’s not a routine matter. On issues of such vital importance, even the Supreme Court — which I have always described as the guardian angel of democracy — has to act with utmost urgency. If democracy is derailed, its future too would be in jeopardy.

•Besides the manner of appointment, the system of removal of Election Commissioners also needs correction. Only the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is protected from being removed except through impeachment. The other two commissioners having equal voting power in the functioning of the EC can outvote the CEC 10 times a day. The uncertainty of elevation by seniority makes them vulnerable to government pressure. The government can control a defiant CEC through the majority voting power of the two commissioners. One has to remember that the Constitution enabled protection to the CEC as it was a one-man commission initially. This must now be extend to other commissioners, who were added in 1993, as they collectively represent the EC.

Moving forward

•The EC’s reputation also suffers when it is unable to tame recalcitrant political parties, especially the ruling party. This is because despite being the registering authority under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, it has no power to de-register them even for the gravest of violations. The EC has been seeking the power to de-register political parties, among many other reforms, which the EC has been wanting.

•The reform was first suggested by the CEC in 1998 and reiterated several times. The EC also submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court last February saying it wanted to be empowered “to de-register a political party, particularly in view of its constitutional mandate”.

•Elections are the bedrock of democracy and the EC’s credibility is central to democratic legitimacy. Hence, the guardian of elections itself needs urgent institutional safeguards to protect its autonomy. It is time that action is taken to depoliticise constitutional appointments and the EC empowered to de-register parties for electoral misconduct. It is a step needed towards restoring all-important public faith in the institution.

•While these reforms may continue to be debated, nothing stops the EC from asserting the ample authority it has under the Constitution and being tough. It’s not their discretion but the constitutional mandate. It did not need a reminder or a nudge from the Supreme Court.

📰 For a free referee: Election Commission's powers

The Election Commission must be unfailingly strict in ensuring a fair election

•It took more than a rap on the knuckles by the Supreme Court before the Election Commission of India stirred from slumber amid repeated violations of the law and transgressions of the Model Code of Conduct in the ongoing election campaign. In fact, the EC had appeared to be willing itself into inaction amid a flurry of abusive and divisive speeches by pleading powerlessness to act. On Monday, the Supreme Court came down heavily on the EC for its lack of initiative in enforcing the law. The EC cracked the whip soon after the court’s censure and barred four leaders accused of intemperate speeches from campaigning for varying durations of time. By suggesting a clinical parity between BSP chief Mayawati’s call for Muslims to not divide their votes, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s speech in which he characterised the election as a contest between ‘Ali’ and ‘Bajrang Bali’, in a reference to Muslims and Hindus, the EC perhaps wanted to demonstrate impartiality. However, it needs to do much more to be seen as a fair referee. The incumbent members of the EC may end up expending the accumulated trust in the institution if they do not consistently and unfailingly demonstrate efficiency and neutrality in enforcing the law and the MCC.

•For now, the EC has managed to redeem that hope to some measure, but not entirely. Article 324 of the Constitution gives the commission the powers of “superintendence, direction and control” of elections. Through the Representation of the People Act, other rules and orders, by the apex court and the EC, the system governing the Indian electoral process has evolved, and continues to do so. The EC has powers to deal with newer challenges that crop up, such as the easy dissemination of misinformation with the help of technological tools in recent years. While responding to new situations by changing the legal architecture is essential, the EC needs to build upon a fundamental premise of the rule of law, which is, ‘be you ever so high, the law is always above you.’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brazenly violated a directive of the EC that campaigners must not seek votes by invoking the name of the soldiers. Continuing raids by Central agencies targeting only Opposition leaders and the blatant partisanship of the public broadcaster, Doordarshan, smack of misuse of power by the incumbent government. The EC is vested with powers to ensure a free and fair election. Under Chief Election Commissioners like T.N. Seshan and J.M. Lyngdoh, the commission has in the past shown the capacity to come up with creative solutions that adhere to both the spirit and the letter of the law. Their examples should encourage the EC to find strength in its constitutional mandate and not plead helplessness in the face of challenges to its authority. The Supreme Court too made the EC conscious of its own powers once more.

📰 The ethical act of voting

It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society

•There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human. It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves. When I visit an organisation, there is always somebody who complains that their colleagues do not work at all. Ironically, the colleagues also say the same thing about others in the organisation. Our self-perception is often at odds with the way others see us. This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

•In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters. The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods. The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for. These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well. Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party. It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid to vote

•What does it mean to perform the act of voting correctly? It is often said that voting is a duty, but what kind of a duty is it? Is it to make a mark on a sheet or is it actually a particular process of thinking and deciding?

•Consider the act of voting by those who get paid before they vote. This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places. Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself. In other cases, people are given money and goods in more surreptitious ways. This cash-for-votes practice seem to go against the very grain of democratic election. But why so?

•In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction. What they are basically asking is this: what am I getting in return for voting for you? This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction. When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act. Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation. So, the fundamental question about voting is this: are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others? Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians? Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?

•We are clearly helping somebody else by voting. If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature. There is a direct benefit to the person who is elected — she enjoys a lot of power after being elected. This is the dilemma in electing somebody. We are supposed to vote for free, whereas the result of our action ends up making another person better off. So why is voting not seen as a business transaction since the winner of the election profits from the action of the voter? Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.

•People who stand for elections understand this logic well and they deal with it merely as a problem of economics. Their calculation is also based on this understanding: let us say a person wins an election, because of which she expects to make one crore in the next year. The person needs enough votes to make this happen and spends in anticipation that she will be able to recoup the money if she wins. Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!

•When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money. Those for whom small amounts of money do not matter ask for other favours, including protection of their interests, whether their religion, their caste or even economic benefits appropriate to their class. When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

•The dynamics of voting is thus a complex problem of rationality, similar to problems in rational choice theory. First, how do politicians know that the people will vote for them after taking their money or listening to their promises, especially if more than one politician pays the same group of people or makes similar promises? Moreover, how do they know that enough people will vote for them to make them win? For the voter, it is a much simpler calculation. They get paid for a service they perform by voting. Interestingly, many of them do vote for the person they take money from, because they feel they are morally bound to do so.

For the larger good

•The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group. But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction. The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one. It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society. Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes. That is, when I vote, I vote on behalf of others as much as on behalf of myself. This duty is the ethical rationality related to voting. It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.

📰 Indonesia’s Widodo set for re-election

Indonesia’s Widodo set for re-election
Unofficial results put the incumbent in a comfortable lead over his rival, ex-general Prabowo Subianto

•Indonesia’s Joko Widodo was on track to be re-elected leader of the world’s third-biggest democracy as unofficial results put him in a comfortable lead over firebrand ex-general Prabowo Subianto after voting closed on Wednesday across the 17,000-island archipelago.

•While official results are not due until next month, a series of so-called “quick counts” by pollsters showed Mr. Widodo as much as 11 percentage points ahead.

•The vote ended at 1:00 p.m. local time, but some of the 8,00,000 polling stations across the volcano-dotted nation remained open late due to delays and long queues.

•The quick counts have been reliable indicators in past elections, but Mr. Widodo held off declaring victory — while his rival insisted he had won. “We’ve all seen exit poll and quick count numbers, but we still need to wait for the official results,” Mr. Widodo told cheering supporters in Jakarta.

•The 67-year-old Subianto — who warned of street protests and legal challenges if he lost — insisted that he was Indonesia’s next leader, without citing specific evidence.

•“We will not use illegal tactics because we have won,” Mr. Subianto said. “For those who defended (my rivals), I’m still going to defend you. I’m the President of all Indonesians.”

•Mr. Subianto, who has long had his eye on the country’s top job, lost to Mr. Widodo in 2014 and then mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to the election.

•This year’s campaign was punctuated by bitter mudslinging and a slew of fake news online — much of it directed at the presidential contenders.

•“I hope after this that there will be a call for reconciliation because... we’ve been living in a very polarised atmosphere,” political analyst Gun Gun Heryanto told Kompas TV.

Papua to Sumatra

•From the jungles of Borneo to the slums of Jakarta, Wednesday saw millions of Indonesians cast their ballots in one of the world’s biggest exercises in democracy.

•Horses, elephants, motorbikes, boats and planes were pressed into service to get ballot boxes out across the vast country that is home to hundreds of ethnic groups and languages.

•The call to prayer had rang out as voting began at first light in restive Papua province in the east of the 4,800 km-long Muslim majority nation.

•Leading in pre-vote polls, Mr. Widodo, 57, pointed to his ambitious drive to build much-needed roads, airports and other infrastructure across Southeast Asia's largest economy.

•But Mr. Widodo — a political outsider with an everyman personality when he swept to victory in 2014 — has seen his rights record criticised owing to an uptick in discriminatory attacks on religious and other minorities. His choice of conservative cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate also raised fears about the future of Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam.

‘Indonesia first’

•The soft-spoken Mr. Widodo stood in stark contrast to fiery nationalist rival Mr. Subianto, a strongman who courted Islamic hardliners and promised a boost to military and defence spending.

•Echoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Mr. Subianto vowed to put “Indonesia first” by reviewing billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

•His presidential ambitions, however, have been dogged by a chequered past and strong ties to the Suharto dictatorship, which collapsed two decades ago and opened the door for what is now a flourishing democracy.

•Mr. Subianto, who moved to soften his strongman image with an Instagram account featuring his cat Bobby, ordered the abduction of democracy activists as the authoritarian regime collapsed in 1998, and was accused of committing atrocities in East Timor.

•A record 2,45,000 candidates ran for public office, from the presidency and parliamentary seats to local positions — the first time all were held on the same day.

•Voters punched holes in ballots — to make clear their candidate choice — and then dipped a finger in Muslim-approved halal ink, to prevent double-voting in a graft-riddled country where ballot-buying is rife.

•About two million military and civil protection force members were deployed to ensure the vote went smoothly.

📰 Average rainfall hides weather extremes: report

•While the Indian Meteorological Department has predicted a “normal” monsoon this year, a new report on disasters warns that the “average” rainfall figures hide extremes of floods and droughts across the country.

•Other disasters are hidden because of slow-onset or they may be affecting ignored populations or occurring at the same time as more high profile disasters, says ‘The Face of Disasters 2019’, a report released by the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) on Wednesday.

•During the June to September monsoon of 2018, for example, Punjab experienced a “normal” monsoon with rainfall just 7% higher than the average rainfall in the State. However, that figure masked the fact that Ropar saw 71% excess rainfall while Ferozepur experienced a 74% shortage.

•Similarly, eastern Uttar Pradesh saw a minimal shortage of 16% lower than usual. However, Kushi Nagar received 82% less while Kannauj actually had a surplus of 62%.

📰 The end of the runway

The plans to rescue Jet Airways came too late

•Jet Airways seems to have approached the end of the runway. With banks unwilling to throw in more money to rescue the airline and no saviours visible on the horizon, it seems destined to follow the flight path of Kingfisher Airlines, which bit the dust in 2012. From over 120 aircraft, the storied airline is now down to just five. Almost all its leased aircraft have been repossessed by lessors. On Wednesday night, the airlines decided to temporarily suspend all its flights. Its experienced pilots have either moved to competitors or are queuing up before them now. And the Jet brand, which was once reputed, stands tarnished with passengers complaining of cancelled flights and delayed refunds.

Emergency funding

•Jet Airways has been pleading for emergency funding of at least ₹400 crore. But banks have refused to budge, and rightly so. From their perspective, more lending to the sinking airline would simply mean squandering money. Emergency funding is a viable option when there is a high possibility of the borrower’s business bouncing back and enabling repayment of the money borrowed. That is not the case with Jet Airways now. It was a different story a couple of months ago when the banks did attempt a bailout package for the airline. But the descent in the airline’s fortunes since then has been rapid. Only a foolhardy banker would write a cheque for Jet now. Besides, given the atmosphere of political uncertainty, bankers would think twice before trying to save a private airline that is probably beyond rescue. No banker would like to get in the crosshairs of a new government. As it is, some are asking why banks should try to rescue the airline instead of taking it to insolvency court, which is the prescribed route for such cases.

•It is interesting that the present government, despite all the pressure that has been brought to bear on it, has kept away from all the action. Bailing out a private enterprise with public money is something that it would not want to be seen doing at this point in time.

•The lenders consortium is still trying its best to find a suitor for the airline. They have invited expressions of interest from prospective bidders and will shortly call for bids. But what will the prospective buyers bid for? The airline is now down to about 16,000 employees, has a debt overhang of ₹8,414 crore (as of March 31, 2018), and accumulated losses of over ₹14,000 crore. Its routes and departure slots at major airports have been appropriated by competitors, albeit on a temporary basis. If Jet Airways does not show up on the radar again in full force before the end of the summer schedule in October, the routes and slots will be foregone.

•For any prospective bidder, the attraction is not just the number of aircraft that the airline flies but also the routes, departure and landing slots, and parking rights. Besides, the brand loyalty, of course. Jet scored high on these accounts, but not any more. In short, Jet today has more liabilities than assets to speak about. So, why will any serious bidder agree to take over the airline now?

Stepping down

•The fact is that the rescue act was mounted too late. That the airline was in trouble was known since October, but the desperation set in only in February. Part of the blame for the delay lies with founder and chairman Naresh Goyal, whose reluctance to part with control over the airline put off not just prospective investors such as the Tata Group (which admitted to have been in talks for an investment in Jet) but also Jet’s partner, Etihad Airways. In the event, Mr. Goyal’s decision to step down probably came too late in the day.

•Mr. Goyal is a veteran of many a battle in the Indian skies and his influence over successive governments since the mid-1990s ensured that the skies were kept clear for him. The 5/20 rule (a government norm under which national carriers are required to have five years of operational experience and a fleet of minimum 20 aircraft to fly overseas) was clearly designed to help Jet. So were the restrictions on foreign investment in domestic carriers, until Jet decided to invite Etihad as a partner.

•But Mr. Goyal has run out of options now. After all, what goes around comes around. Jet Airways was a superb brand and had built strong loyalty among fliers. It is sad that it has to go. But more unfortunate is the plight of Jet’s employees, who will now be forced to work with competitors at lower pay scales, if at all they find openings. And of course, fliers, who are already forking out 20-30% extra on fares thanks to the fall in airline seats.

📰 ‘Zinc deficiency rising in Indians’

Rising CO2 levels responsible: study

•Rising carbon dioxide levels can accelerate zinc deficiency in crops and thus in human consumption, cautions a new study titled ‘Inadequate zinc intake in India: past, present and future’ by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

•The study states that inadequate zinc intake has been rising in India for decades, causing tens of millions of people to become newly deficient in it. The study added that the highest rate of inadequate zinc intake was concentrated mainly in the southern and northeastern States with rice-dominated diets: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya.

•“Rising carbon dioxide levels in the coming decades could accelerate this trend. National grain fortification programmes, increased dietary diversity, bio-fortified crops, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions could all make a difference to slow or reverse the course,” the study noted.

•Inadequate zinc intake can have serious health consequences, particularly for young children, who are more susceptible to contracting malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, when suffering from zinc deficiency. The presence of zinc plays a critical role in human immune systems.

•“Rice is poor in [the presence of] zinc, causing higher rates of zinc inadequacy in diets that rely heavily upon it. Overall urban populations, and wealthier urban groups in particular, showed higher rates of inadequate intake as well, due to a higher proportion of nutrient-poor fats and sugars in the diet,” the study said.

📰 China unmoved by U.S. bid to discuss Masood Azhar in UNSC

Beijing reiterates that progress was being made to achieve consensus on the issue in the 1267 committee of the Security Council.

•China on Wednesday said it was not facing any deadline to take a call on designating Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group, as an international terrorist, and reiterated that progress was being made to achieve consensus on the issue in the 1267 committee of the United Nations Security Council.

•In response to a question on listing Azhar, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, “On the issue of the listing of Masood Azhar, China’s position remains unchanged. We are also having communication with relevant parties and the matter is moving towards the direction of settlement,” in the 1267 committee.

•China has been sticking to its position that the issue of listing Azhar is the prerogative of the 1267 committee and has rejected a parallel initiative by the United States, France and Britain seeking a vote on banning Azhar in the Security Council plenary.

“Technical hold” on designating Azhar

•Last month, China placed a “technical hold” on designating Azhar following the February 14 Pulwama attack in which more than 40 CRPF personnel were killed. The JeM had taken responsibility for the attack, triggering a cross-border air strike by the Indian Air Force on a training camp of the group in Balakot.

•India had expressed disappointment over China’s move, but the U.S., along with France and the United Kingdom, had been vocal in criticising Beijing’s decision. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, but on the other [hand] it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions at the UN.”

•Asked whether China had been given an April 23 deadline by the U.S., France and Britain to lift its “technical hold” on listing Azhar, Mr. Lu was firm in denying the assertion. “I don't know from where you get such information, but the Security Council and its subsidiary bodies like 1267 committee, they have clear rules of procedures and you have to seek clarification from those sources.”

•He added: “China’s position is very clear. This issue should be resolved through cooperation and we don’t believe that any efforts without consensus of most members will achieve satisfying results.”

•China has emphasised that the purpose of its “technical hold” is to allow more discussion on the issue in order to achieve a consensus-based settlement within the parameters of the 1267 committee.

•Mr. Lu said, “In relevant discussions, most members expressed that this issue should be discussed within 1267 committee and they don't hope to bypass the 1267 committee to handle the issue. Regarding what you said, relevant parties are forcing a new resolution through the Security Council, we firmly oppose that.”

•Last month, Beijing dismissed allegations that it was sheltering terrorists by placing a “technical hold” on listing Azhar. On April 1, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing “has been in close communication and coordination with various parties,” in the 1267 committee.