The HINDU Notes – 20th September 2019 - VISION

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Friday, September 20, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 20th September 2019

📰 Keezhadi findings traceable to 6th century BCE: report

Carbon dating suggests that the cultural deposits may be 300 years older than believed

•In a major turning point in the cultural historiography of the ancient Sangam Age, the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department (TNAD) has stated that the cultural deposits unearthed during excavations at Keeladi in Sivaganga district could be safely dated to a period between 6th century BCE and 1st century CE.

•This is the first time the date has been officially announced by the TNAD.

•The new findings in the report, released on Thursday by Minister for Tamil Culture and Archaeology K. Pandiarajan here, place Keeladi artefacts about 300 years earlier than previously believed — 3rd century BCE.

•One of the six samples collected at the depth of 353 cm and sent for carbon dating test in the U.S. “goes back to 580 BCE,” Commissioner of Archaeology T. Udayachandran said.

•The report titled, ‘Keeladi-An Urban Settlement of Sangam Age on the Banks of River Vaigai’, was published by the TNAD.

•The results from the fourth excavations suggest that the “second urbanisation [the first being Indus] of Vaigai plains happened in Tamil Nadu around 6th century BCE as it happened in Gangetic plains.”

•The report also spells the site as Keeladi as against the erstwhile widely used Keezhadi.

‘Tamil-Brahmi older’

•The recent scientific dates obtained for Keeladi findings push back the date of Tamil-Brahmi script to another century, i.e., 6th century BCE.

•“These results clearly ascertained that they attained literacy or learned the art of writing as early as 6th century BCE,” the 61-page report stated.

•Six carbon samples collected from the fourth season (2018) of excavations at Keeladi were sent to Beta Analytic Lab, Miami, Florida, U.S., for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating.

•After analysing the AMS dates, archaeologist Professor K. Rajan felt that Keeladi presented strong evidence for some of the hypotheses. Skeletal fragments were sent to Deccan College Post Graduate and Research Institute in Pune, and it identified them of species such as cow/ox (Bos indicus), buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), sheep (Ovis aries), goat (Capra hircus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and peacock (Pavo cristatus).

•“This finding suggests that the society in Keeladi had used animals predominantly for agricultural purposes,” Mr. Udhayachandran said.

Tamil-Brahmi potsherds

•Fifty-six Tamil-Brahmi inscribed potsherds were recovered from the site of excavation conducted by the TNAD alone, the report stated.

•Pottery specimens from Keeladi sent to the Earth Science Department of Pisa University, Italy, through Vellore Institute of Technology for mineral analysis, confirmed that water containers and cooking vessels were shaped out of locally available raw materials.

•“Recovery of 10 spindle whorls, 20 sharply pinpointed bone tip tools used for design creations, hanging stones of the yarn, terracotta spheres, copper needle and earthen vessels to hold liquid clearly attest to the various stages of weaving industry from spinning, yarning, looming and weaving and later for dyeing,” the report added.

•While three excavations were undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India, the fourth excavation was undertaken by the TNAD. The fifth excavation by the latter is under way. 

📰 Poshan Abhiyaan targets are aspirational: Study

Poshan Abhiyaan targets are aspirational: Study
1990-2017 trends show bigger push needed to achieve goals

•India is unlikely to meet targets set under the ambitious Poshan Abhiyaan or National Nutrition Mission (NNM) for reduction in prevalence of stunting, underweight, low birth weight and anaemia in women and children by 2022 if there is no progress achieved in improving the rate of decline observed between 1990 and 2017, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

•The study points out that India will miss its target for stunting levels of 25% by 9.6%; underweight target of 22.7% by 4.8%; desired low birth level of 11.4% by 8.9%; anaemia level among women of 39.4% by 13.8%; and anaemia level among children of 44.7% by 11.7%, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2017, released on Wednesday.

Joint initiative

•The report is a joint initiative of Indian Council of Medical Research, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

•Poshan Abhiyaan, the world’s largest nutrition programme, expected to benefit 10 crore people and launched in 2018 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to reduce stunting, underweight, and low birth weight, each by 2% per year; and anaemia among young children, adolescents and women each by 3% per year until 2022. A special target for stunting is set at 25% by 2022.

•A senior official at government think-tank NITI Aayog, which is spearheading the programme, says that the findings are not worrisome.

•“Poshan Abhiyaan has doubled the rate [of decline]. For example, it sets a target of 2% reduction per year for underweight, but the percentage of reduction for this indicator typically is 1%. So, we are not worried. We knew the prevalent levels were slow; the country aspires to make them faster and is making extra efforts to achieve that. Under Poshan Abhiyaan, we will make a change,” Dr. Vinod K. Paul, Member, NITI Aayog told The Hindu.

‘Needs acceleration’

•The study, however, points out that the rates of improvement desired under the Poshan Abhiyaan are aspirational.

•“Our findings suggest that the malnutrition indicator targets set by NNM for 2022 are aspirational, and the rate of improvement needed to achieve these targets is much higher than the rate observed in this study, which might be difficult to reach in a short period. This slow pace of improvement needs to be accelerated, so that future prevalence of the malnutrition indicators is better than our projections based on trends so far.”

•“We anticipate that the ambitious efforts of the Poshan Abhiyaan which started in 2018 will accelerate the rate of improvement in the malnutrition indicators above that has been possible previously in India, which would likely lead to future prevalence of these indicators to be better than our projections based on the trends up to 2017,” said Professor Lalit Dandona, PHFI.

Gaps shown

•He added that the gaps shown in the study highlight how much more of these efforts are needed in different States to reach the targets set by the government.

•According to the National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-2016), 38.4% of children under the age of five are stunted; 35.7% are underweight; 18% of children were born underweight (less than 2.5 kg); and 58% of children between the age of 6-59 months and 53% of women in the age of 14-49 years have anaemia.

•While the base for NNM targets is NFHS-4 data, the study considers prevalence levels determined in 2017 as the base level, which are comparable with the former.

•The study used all accessible data sources from India, including national household surveys, a variety of dietary and nutrition surveys, and other epidemiological studies, to arrive at its findings.

📰 No scope for third party role in Kashmir, says India

On eve of Modi’s U.S. visit, Foreign Secretary says this was made clear during PM’s meeting with Trump

•India reiterated on Thursday that there is no scope for third party intervention in the Kashmir issue.

•Announcing the details of Narendra Modi’s September 21-27 visit to the U.S., Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the Prime Minister will meet U.S. President Donald Trump in New York and Houston and pitch for a greater role for India at the international level during his multilateral meetings.

•“The Prime Minister has made it very clear in front of the media during his meeting with President Trump in Osaka. India does not see a role for anybody in this matter,” said Mr. Gokhale when asked about President Trump’s latest assertions on mediating for reduction of India-Pakistan tension over Kashmir. Mr. Trump had hinted at his role while highlighting the reduced India-Pakistan tension in recent days.

•Mr. Modi will meet Mr. Trump in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, apart from the public reception, “Howdy Modi,” organised by the Indian-American community in Houston on September 22. President Trump has said that a big announcement is expected during the event, which however has not been confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs as on Thursday.

•Mr. Modi’s special outreach with the leaders of sixteen energy majors in the U.S. like Exxonmobil, Total S.A and Dominion Energy is expected to be on September 21, which will be followed by a CEO roundtable on September 25. The top Indian diplomat said Mr. Modi will highlight India’s aspiration for shaping global political and socio-economic agenda in his bilateral and multilateral meetings.

•Apart from the official meet with Mr. Trump, Mr. Modi’s other confirmed meeting will be with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New York. He will also hold interactions with a large number of leaders from Latin America and the Caribbeans. Apart from the speech at the UN General Assembly, he will address the Climate Summit on September 23 and participate in a special leaders’ dialogue on terrorism co-organised by the King of Jordan.

•“Our intention this year is to participate in all the plurilaterals to showcase our achievements in climate change, universal health coverage and sanitation. Multilateralism is at the centre of global politics and should remain so,” said Mr. Gokhale elaborating on India’s agenda for interacting with the world community. The Indian diplomatic team at the UN is expected to argue for reform of the Security Council and reiterate the demand for permanent membership for India. India will also launch Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) during the visit. Significantly, Mr Gokhale did not spell out India’s strategy to counter the expected high decibel campaign from Pakistan on the situation in Kashmir.

•The visit will allow Mr. Modi to interact with a large number of the smaller countries of the world that have the potential to expand India’s global support base. Accordingly, India will host the leaders of CARICOM (Caribbean Community ) and FIPIC (Forum for Indo-Pacific Island Cooperation). This will be a continuation of India’s engagement with the smaller countries and island nations of world. The smaller UN member nations and the oceanic islands have increasingly wielded greater influence at multilateral platforms like the UN General Assembly and related platforms.

📰 Modi, Trump may reference ‘mini-deal’ on trade at Houston event

Industry insiders said any trade agreement at this point will be welcomed in both Washington and New Delhi.

•India and the United States are expected to announce the resolution of some of their trade differences on medical equipment caps, ICT (Information Communication Technology) tariffs, market access for agricultural products, and are in discussions on restoring India's GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) status and a future Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

•Despite the positive momentum in talks, sources said no “comprehensive trade deal” was expected during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit beginning Sunday and only a limited package of announcements are likely to be made.

•Sources aware of the negotiations said that on Wednesday, Indian officials handed over their version of an agreement and it was being vetted by the USTR (United States Trade Representative). They hoped that Mr. Modi and President Donald Trump would make an announcement of a “mini-deal’ after their bilateral meeting in New York next week. The sources wouldn’t confirm, but didn’t rule out the possibility that the leaders would reference the “mini-deal” during their joint public appearance at the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event in Houston on Sunday, if it is finalised in time for that.

•The draft agreement addresses some of the US’s concerns on ICT tariffs and data localisation rules, on price caps or Trade Margin Rationalisation (TMR) on medical equipment like knee implants, as well as agricultural market access for select products. In return the US is expected to roll back some of the tariffs that it had imposed on India in 2018,when it began its GSP review. However, the sources cautioned that India is still holding back on lifting the price caps on coronary stents, which were announced by the Modi government in 2017 as a move to make healthcare affordable, and shying away from major ICT concessions due to worries over opening the market for Chinese products.

•It is unclear whether the two sides have made headway on the US demand for market access to dairy and pork products.

•Business chamber officials who had keenly followed the talks since trade negotiations broke down between both sides last year say that an announcement on starting formal discussions on a FTA would be significant. “For many years, there has been a search for the next ‘big deal’ [like the civil nuclear deal] in the US-India relationship. The FTA talks, if they were to start, could potentially become that,” Ridhika Batra, Director, FICCI-USA said here.

•According to the sources, the USTR and Commerce Ministry officials have also been discussing how to restore India’s GSP status in “some form or entirely”. Despite the government announcing that it was not deeply affected by the US decision to review and then revoke the GSP, the latest export figures have shown a slump, indicating that Indian exporters have lost out on contracts due to the US decision, and the government has been talking to the US about reconsidering its decision. Several US companies doing business in India and at least 44 lawmakers have made a case for India with Mr. Lighthizer on the GSP issue as well.

•Industry insiders said any trade agreement at this point will be welcomed in both Washington and New Delhi. “For the Trump administration, which has not made much headway in its other trade tussles, including with China, the deal with India is a much needed break. For the Modi government, which has faced so much bad economic news, this will be a boost that will hopefully reopen channels of investment,” a business representative closely involved in the talks, who preferred not to be named, told The Hindu.

📰 UNICEF says conflicts, climate crisis, online misinformation are big emerging threats to children

Organisation’s executive director Henrietta Fore in open letter outlines eight growing challenges for the world’s children

•Protracted conflicts, the worsening climate crisis, a rising level of mental illness among young people, and online misinformation are some of the most concerning emerging global threats to children, cautions the UNICEF.

•In an open letter issued by the organisation’s executive director Henrietta Fore marking 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNICEF sounds the alarm on major growing and future challenges facing children.

‘New set of challenges’

•The letter outlines eight growing challenges for the world’s children including prolonged conflicts, pollution and the climate crisis, a decline in mental health, mass migration and population movements, statelessness and online misinformation.

•“The children of today, are facing a new set of challenges and global shifts that were unimaginable to your parents,” writes Ms. Fore.

•“Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it.”

•The letter also expresses concern that the majority of children will grow up as natives of a digital environment saturated with online misinformation. For example, so-called ‘deep fake’ technology uses artificial intelligence techniques to create convincing fakes of audio and video content, relatively easily.

•The letter warns that an online environment where truth can become indistinguishable from fiction has the potential to totally undermine trust in institutions and information sources, and has been demonstrated to skew democratic debate, voter intentions, and sow doubt about other ethnic, religious or social groups.

•“Online misinformation is already leaving children vulnerable to grooming, abuse, and other forms of exploitation; skewing democratic debate; and, in some communities, even prompting resurgence in deadly diseases due to distrust in vaccines fuelled by online misinformation – the results of which could be the creation of an entire generation of citizens who do not trust anything,” states the letter.

•The UNICEF suggests that we should start by equipping young people with the ability to understand who and what they can trust online, so they can become active, engaged citizens.

•The letter cautions that mental illness among adolescents has been on the rise in the years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that depression is now among the leading causes of disability in the young.

•The letter urges that appropriate promotion, prevention and therapeutic treatment and rehabilitation for children and young people affected by mental health issues be prioritised, and that the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness be challenged so that treatment can be sought and support provided.

📰 Smoke of the vaper: On e-cigarettes ban

The ban on e-cigarettes will require rigorous implementation to be effective

•When alternatives are peddled as ‘the lesser evil’, virtue is artificially added as a measure of degrees. The evil is often clear and present, as in the case of electronic cigarettes, in all forms — Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), vapes, and e-hookahs. The Centre’s move to ban these products shows a welcome intolerance of anything that impacts negatively on the health and wellness of the people of the country. The Cabinet recently cleared the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Ordinance, 2019. Now, any production, import, export, sale (including online), distribution or advertisement, and storage of e-cigarettes is a cognisable offence punishable with imprisonment or fine, or both. E-cigarettes, which were to aid smokers kick their habit, do not burn tobacco leaves. Instead these battery-operated devices produce aerosol by heating a solution containing among other things, nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance that may, according to studies, function as a “tumour promoter” and aid neuro-degeneration. Some other compounds in the aerosol are toxic substances that have known deleterious effects, and might just be less harmful than cigarettes, not harmless. Seven deaths have been recorded in the U.S. — the largest consumer of e-cigarettes in the world — where, New York recently banned the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes.

•There is ample evidence on the harm of nicotine addiction — the reason that it is only approved under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act for use only in nicotine gums and patches. As the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) outlines, these devices can only be believed to succeed if smokers have moved on to an alternative nicotine source, and then stopped using that too; and the recruitment of minors into nicotine dependence eventually wanes to zero. There is evidence now that vaping, dangled as a cool, fun, activity, lures youngsters, and ironically, serves to introduce them to smoking. The FCTC also records that e-cigarettes are unlikely to be harmless, and long-term use is expected to increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and possibly cardiovascular disease and other diseases also associated with smoking. The urgency to act on this front is also justified by the number of users. As per figures submitted to Parliament earlier this year, e-cigarettes and accessories valued at about $1,91,780 were imported to India between 2016 and 2019. The government, already on the right path, must go all out to ensure that its ban is implemented earnestly in letter and spirit, unlike the patchy execution of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. It is essential to ensure this progressive ordinance does not go up in smoke.

📰 Catch a cold and help scientists make new vaccines

Under a new model, volunteers will be infected with viruses or bacteria

•The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) is close to finalising three projects worth ₹135 crore, involving Indian and European scientists, to develop new influenza vaccines.

•What will make these projects unique is that they involve a Controlled Human Infection Model (CHIM): volunteers who take part in trials will be infected, under expert supervision, with infectious viruses or bacteria. Such studies, which are being employed in vaccine development in the United States, the United Kingdom and Kenya, are being considered in India.

•A CHIM approach will speed up the process whereby scientists can quantify whether potential vaccine candidates can be effective in people and identify the factors that determine why some vaccinated people fall sick and others do not. The risk in such trials is that intentionally infecting healthy people with an active virus and causing them to be sick is against medical ethics. It also involves putting human lives in danger.

Ethics and guidance

•By November, experts in vaccine development, social scientists and bio-ethicists are expected to prepare, with the DBT’s support, a guidance document that will elaborate upon the circumstances under which CHIM trials may be conducted, facilities needed, the profile of potential volunteers, the informed-consent forms they would need to sign and the compensation that can be offered.

•Post the availability of guidance documents, there needs to be approval from the Drug Controller-General of India. “Any such trial will have to comply with the rules governing clinical trials in India. The influenza trials will be performed outside India, but what we are hoping to get out of this is learning,” said Gagandeep Kang, Director, Translational Health Science and Technology Institute of India (THSTI). Scientists at the THSTI are involved in establishing protocols for the trials.

Intestinal bugs too

•Rather than influenza trials, India would likely develop CHIM protocols to study bacterial or enteric viruses (residing in the intestine) such as cholera or typhoid, said Professor Kang. If successful, these would serve to create back-ups to the existing cholera and typhoid vaccines. Experience with CHIM could help to create clinical investigators trained in vaccine development.

•The Hyderabad-based biotech company, Bharat Biotech, relied on a CHIM approach to establishing that its conjugate typhoid vaccine — while already licensed in India — was effective in a large population. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the international consortium GAVI, the vaccine’s potency was evaluated by infecting human volunteers at Oxford University in the U.K. with a typhoid parasite. The results encouraged scientists to test the vaccine in Nepal, Bangladesh and Malawi among 1 lakh children. The vaccine was over 80% protective when tested on the field, claimed Andrew Pollard, leader of the UK vaccine trials and professor at Oxford University. The findings are to be published in a forthcoming issue of the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine.

•Vaccines traditionally are made of a weakened form of a disease-causing virus or bacteria and injected into the body to coax the immune system into making antibodies that create immunity against future infection. Years of vaccine development has shown that frequently vaccines that work in small groups of people may not always work in large populations, or those that are effective in one country may not be in another. CHIM models help vaccine-makers decide whether they should go ahead with investing in expensive trials.

📰 In liquidity push, PSBs plan ‘loan melas’ in 400 districts

Nirmala Sitharaman said the idea is to ensure maximum credit disbursal during the festive season.

•In a bid to dispel the notion that only the banks have liquidity and it is not flowing to the NBFCs and the customers, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday announced that all scheduled banks will hold large gatherings in a total of 400 districts, where customers can come and take any type of loan they want from the banks and the NBFCs partnering with them.

•The Finance Ministry, in a release, added that banks had already entered into 14 tie-ups with NBFCs for co-originating loans, with another 36 such tie-ups in the pipeline. 

•Ms. Sitharaman added that no MSME stressed loan would be classified as an NPA until March 31, 2020. “The perception is that the banks have the liquidity and this is not going to the NBFCs and from there to the end customers,” she said at a press conference, following a meeting with the heads of the public sector banks.

•“We have decided that in 200 districts between now and September 29, there will be gatherings organised by banks of the NBFCs they have partnered with,” she added. Another 200 districts will see these gatherings organised between October 10-15.

•The programme, which will be headed by Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur, is meant to encourage customers to avail of not just retail, agriculture, and MSME loans, but also loans for vehicles and housing, and Mudra loans.

•“In public, the banks will show that they are pushing liquidity into the system,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

•The Finance Minister said she has asked banks to try to get five new borrowers for every existing customer availing of a loan.

•“There are several MSMEs that want a one-time settlement of their dues,” Ms. Sitharaman said. “We have instructed the banks to give us the number of such cases between July 1 and September 30.” While there is an existing RBI provision that empowers banks to not classify stressed MSME loans as NPAs even if the 90-day limit is crossed, most banks had not used this provision, she said.

•“We have told the banks that no MSME-stressed loan will be classified as an NPA until March 31, 2020 and the banks will have work with these MSMEs to see how to resolve the stress, even if that means additional credit be given,” Ms. Sitharaman added. The government will also be considering the banks’ request for a special dispensation to be given for farmers and MSMEs.

•The government release said bank disbursement stood at ₹11.83 lakh crore for the MSME sector in FY 2018-19 compared with ₹8.53 lakh crore in FY 2017-18.

📰 Over the hills and far, far away

Integration of the mountains with the mainstream is unlikely under a unitary dispensation that promises a ‘green bonus’

•In the last week of July this year, 11 Himalayan States of India met in Dehradun demanding a “green bonus”, or a payment for environmental services they provide to the nation. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, 15th Finance Commission Chair N.K. Singh and Niti Aayog Deputy Chairman Rajiv Kumar were present. The assembled Chief Ministers argued that the Himalayan States, stretching from Jammu and Kashmir (which was still a State then) to Tripura (which most people would not really include in the Himalayan region) paid a developmental price for maintaining forests, rivers, and other environmental goods which helped the rest of the country.

•This meet was organised with much fanfare, and was meant to showcase the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s commitment to its general election manifesto which had promised a financial package to address the special developmental needs of the Himalayan States. The States asked for help to develop hydropower resources, subsidies for their environmental protection measures which deny them normal ‘development models’, and recognition of their efforts to meet human development parameters.

Unique needs

•There was perhaps nothing exceptional about much of this, and within a week, the meagre media attention this received was overshadowed by the abrogation of J&K’s special status under Article 370 and the massive clampdown on civilian life in the Kashmir valley. However banal the demands of the Himalayan States seem in comparison to what has been happening in Kashmir since August 5, both are actually part of the same problem that India has historically had: its inability to come to terms with the specificity of the Himalayan region, whether political, social, or ecological-economic.

•The problem of integrating the northern mountains to the national mainstream is not specific to India. If one takes a look at the entire mountain zone stretching from Balochistan, through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, J&K, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, Sikkim and Gorkhaland, to Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it is easy to see that each of these regions has had problems when it comes to integration of the hilly regions with the nation states that are primarily anchored in the plains. (Himachal Pradesh is the only exception, which perhaps proves the rule.)

•One could also further argue that this ‘integration problem’ is not just a South Asian phenomenon — China is struggling to integrate its mountain people and their homelands with its national mainstream, as are Myanmar, Thailand, and other countries.

•Scholars have for long been acutely aware of this problem. Seventy and more years ago, Owen Lattimore wrote extensively about the exceptionalism of the “Inner Asian Frontiers of China” and, a decade back, James C. Scott argued persuasively about ‘Zomia’ as the mountain zone of South-East Asia (and South Asia) which deliberately kept itself independent of the plains. Scholars in India too, from Verrier Elwin to D.N. Majumdar and Y.S. Parmar, Gerald Berreman and Ramachandra Guha, have written, even if in less ambitious terms, about how structurally different are the Himalayan regions from the Indian mainstream in terms of their social and economic structure. Yet, this research has not really percolated to political understanding, whether at the level of policy formulation or popular conceptions.

Legacy of the colonial era

•To appreciate this point, we need to move back by a couple of centuries when the geography of the colonial state was being made. There is a long, complex and surprisingly unpredictable history to the establishment of Pax Britannica’s border lines along India’s northern mountains. For most regions in the Himalayas, this was the first time that a ‘nation state’, anchored in the society and political-economy of the plains, was able to reach so deep into the Himalayas and control them in a way which was historically unprecedented. In brief, the Himalayas successfully provided a barrier to Russian colonial expansion but were unsuccessful in providing a trade route into China.

•By the end of the 19th century, keeping the mountains politically quiet and socially peaceful was both a desirable aim and a hopeful description. The idyll of the ‘hill station’ and the war-like strategies towards the northern tribesmen were both creations of this policy.

•The postcolonial nation states of Asia, be it India, Pakistan, China or Myanmar, have not been able to break out of this difficult relation with their mountain regions. These independent nation states have all imagined themselves to be the inheritors, in the high Himalayas, of the geopolitical stakes of their colonial predecessors.

•Even their national imageries have been framed — despite all their other variations — on the social, political and economic specificities of the communities based in the riverine plains. It is the village or town of the Ganga plains, or along the Narmada or Krishna and Cauvery rivers, which has defined what it means to be ‘Indian’. The norms of what an ‘Indian village’ is, how its society is structured, how its economy is backward or in what ways does its political life work make no reference to the specificities of the mountain regions. These are at best imagined by the national mainstream as idyllic ‘hill stations’ peopled by ‘noble savages’, or, at worst, as wild regions inhabited by irrational blood-thirsty tribesmen.

•This is not only a social-psychological feature but has direct practical consequences as policies and programmes are devised with the ‘national norm’ in mind, which almost always have unintended consequences on the hilly regions. The mountains are in a permanent state of exception.

Resources as commodities

•Seen in this light, there is a direct, and short, link between the demands of the Himalayan States seeking a special “green bonus” — which the BJP supports — and the autonomy incorporated in the late, lamented Article 370 — which the BJP opposes. In India, specifically, the massive expansion of the national economy over the past three decades now allows for commodification of mountain resources (forests, water, labour, tourism, horticulture and even agriculture) in ways that are unprecedented. It has led to changes in the class structure and the emergence of a new middle class with national aspirations that finds the geographical specificity of the Himalayas at once a hindrance and the main commodity in its exchanges with the nation state. Thus, the variation from secessionist movements in J&K and Nagaland to active integrationist movements in Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pardesh and Manipur expresses the same conundrum — how do these regions and people reach a fair pact with the Indian nation state and become part of the national imagination?

•History tells us that almost all Asian nation states have found such a coming together very difficult, if not impossible. With its ideological militarism, ethnic sectarianism and a rapidly shrinking economic base, the present dispensation in New Delhi may well be able to throw a few crumbs but seems unlikely to be able to find a way to meet the special demands of the Himalayan people. A “green bonus” will remain a charade.