The HINDU Notes – 10th January 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 10th January 2020


📰 MPs approve Brexit Bill, U.K. set for Jan. 31 exit

It will now go to the House of Lords

•Britain passed a major milestone on the road to Brexit when the House of Commons on Thursday approved a Bill authorising the country’s departure from the European Union at the end of the month.

•Lawmakers voted by 330-231 to pass the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which sets the terms of Britain’s departure from the 28-nation bloc. The comfortable majority won by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in an election last month secured the Bill’s passage despite the opposition of smaller parties.

•The Bill was approved after three days of debate that brought none of the frayed tempers, late-night sessions and knife-edge votes that marked previous rounds of Brexit wrangling over the past year.

•After passing through Parliament’s unelected House of Lords — which can delay but not overturn the result in the Commons — the Bill should become law in time for the U.K. to leave the EU on the scheduled date of January 31 and become the first nation to quit the bloc.

•Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said he welcomed the “constructive scrutiny” of the Lords but hoped the Upper House would not try to delay the Bill.

📰 India, Sri Lanka hold ‘productive’ talks

Visiting Minister seeks support for vocational training and capacity building

•India and Sri Lanka on Thursday discussed the “entire gamut of bilateral ties”, during talks between the visiting Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Relations, Skills Development, Employment and Labour Relations, Dinesh Gunawardena, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar here on Thursday.

•The visit by the Sri Lankan Minister, his first visit abroad after taking charge, comes after the visit by Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November as “a follow-up” to his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

More cooperation

•“The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister reiterated the importance laid by President Rajapaksa on exploring newer areas of cooperation with India with emphasis on skill development, vocational training and capacity building and requested India’s support,” the External Affairs Ministry said, laying emphasis on skilling and opportunities for people-to-people ties.

•Mr. Gunawardena also met Minister for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Mahendra Nath Pandey, and Minister of State for Labour and Employment Santosh Kumar Gangwar.

•However, officials declined to comment on whether the meeting with the new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister had discussed taking forward some of the commitments made by the previous Sri Lankan government on infrastructure projects in Trincomalee and Colombo as well as the Northern region, or about taking forward the Economic and Technical Cooperation (ETCA) preferential trade agreement talks that have been stalled for several years.

On climate change

•According to the Ministry, the ministers also discussed issues of climate change and terrorism.

•In a tweet after the meeting Mr. Jaishankar said he had “productive discussions” with his counterpart on “bilateral issues and regional concerns”. In response Mr. Gunawardena described the discussions as “cordial”.

📰 CDS and the path to jointmanship

His role is not just about tri-service cooperation, but also to ensure that acquisitions do not exceed capital allocations

•The announcement on a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) last year and the appointment of Gen. Bipin Rawat as the first CDS has been one of the key policy decisions made by the Narendra Modi government in its second term. In the aftermath of an emphatic election victory in May 2019, Mr. Modi pushed the needle on a long-pending reform for the establishment of a CDS, which was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee in 2001. The CDS will be “first among equals” in that he will consult and solicit the views of the services, but the final judgment will be the CDS’s alone and he will be the principal military adviser to the Defence Minister.

•The role here will be confined to the acquisition matters exclusive to each service and won’t extend to the procurement of big-ticket items such as warships or fighter aircraft, which will remain under firm control of the Department of Defence (DoD). The CDS will be the single-point military adviser to the Defence Minister on matters involving all three services and the service chiefs will be obliged to confine their counsel to issues pertaining to their respective services. The CDS is also vested with the authority to provide directives to the three chiefs.

A chief as well as an adviser

•Additionally, the CDS will lead the Department of Military Affairs (DoMA) dealing with the three services. Gen. Rawat will enjoy the rank of Secretary within the DoD and his powers will be confined to only the revenue budget. However, he is vested with the authority in prioritising inter-service procurement decisions as Permanent Chairman-Chiefs of Staff Committee. While the CDS does not enjoy any command authority, in his capacity as DoMA, he will wield control over issues governing promotions, travel, appointment to key posts, and overseas assignments. Consequently, the CDS will enjoy a substantial amount of influence. He will also perform an advisory role in the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA). Above all, his core function will be to foster greater operational synergy between the three service branches of the Indian military and keep inter-service frictions to a minimum. Fundamentally, the CDS will perform two roles, as the single point military advisor to the Defence Minister and as head of the DoMA.

•With his inauguration as India’s first CDS last year, Gen. Rawat has hit the ground running with some important announcements. He has sought the establishment of an Air Defence Command (ADC) by directing the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) to develop a proposal by June 30. An integrated ADC will enable nationwide coverage, prevent fratricide in the event of war and sustain jointmanship in air defence operations. In addition, Gen. Rawat has declared his intention to synergise logistics support, particularly in areas where two or more services are co-located.

Three main challenges

•Gen. Rawat faces three main challenges. First, there are concerns over matters relating to service parochialism, though there have been no initial indications in this regard. If he privileges support for the Army, his parent service, he is likely to put himself on a collision course with the Naval and Air Force chiefs. A corollary is that as an infantry officer, he may become susceptible to bias in matters concerning procurement decisions or personnel issues focused on the infantry. The latter outcome could vitiate his capacity to address the needs of the armour and artillery corps. Any parochialism could potentially derail the primary objective of creating the CDS — promoting synergy and shaping acquisition priorities both within and between the services. Indeed, one of the tasks the CDS is to avoid wasteful expenditure and duplication of equipment in the inventories of the services.

•But, the CDS’s role is not simply about tri-service cooperation, it is equally about fostering better cooperation between the MoD bureaucracy and the services and ensuring that projected and planned acquisitions of the services do not exceed capital allocations. A secondary challenge stems from the sheer levels of manpower in the Indian Army, which is the service that consumes the lion’s share of the defence budget. As it is a manpower-intensive fighting force, pruning the number of personnel in the Army will remain perhaps the most vexed challenge for possibly the entirety of Gen. Rawat’s tenure. This will demand innovation, given the fact that infantry-based operations geared for counterinsurgency warfare, which a large part of the Army is dedicated to undertaking, are manpower intensive.

•There are no instant remedies, but one pointer is towards greater investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the long term, a process that has already begun, but will require a dedicated push from the CDS over the course of his tenure. The application of AI technology is likely to lend itself to tanks and artillery systems, as is visibly evident from the vigorous pursuit of AI by China’s People’s Liberation Army.

•The final challenge facing the CDS will be the extent to which he can encourage the services to support indigenisation. Cost saving is not simply about reducing manpower in the Army, it is equally about getting all the services, particularly the capital-intensive services, to rally behind a committed enterprise to support the native Research and Development for production and eventual deployment of weapons systems, which when procured from abroad drive a massive hole in the budget.

📰 A nation losing democratic steam

Beyond the undermining of India’s pluralism, the CAA signals New Delhi’s low regard for neighbouring countries

•These are bewildering times for members of civil society in countries bordering India, who are no longer able to appeal to New Delhi on the platform of reason, pluralism and even humanity. When New Delhi appeared arrogant or tone-deaf in the past, there were ways to make yourself heard, but today there is a silencing within that weakens not only the spirit of India, but the prospects of peace in South Asia.

•While the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw adventurism, from demonetisation within to blockade without, his re-elected government seems intent on changing the face of India through majoritarian intolerance under the banner of Hindutva. While putting fear in minority communities, this trajectory is also accelerating India’s economic decline and weakening New Delhi’s international influence.

A geopolitical folly

•While the adoption of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December has triggered India-wide dissent, it began as an act of geopolitical folly. For domestic appeasement, Home Minister Amit Shah and Mr. Modi brought forth a Bill that essentially accused three selected countries of discrimination against their Hindu, Jain, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsi minorities. In one stroke, New Delhi distanced itself from the friendly state establishments of Dhaka and Kabul, and deepened the divide with Islamabad.

•Even discounting the fact that residents of glass houses must resist the urge to throw stones, this was an unexpected accusation. While no South Asian country is free of majoritarian discrimination, the concern of New Delhi’s rulers was clearly not the well-being of the minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have been in fact been made more vulnerable by the Act. The Indian authorities did not engage in sustained international effort to address the issue, such as through the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. The appropriate approach here would have been to join the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, and to be open to foreigners of any faith or persuasion who seek refuge. To cherry-pick among non-citizens on the basis of religion was crass.

•Now, the human rights community and intelligentsia in the neighbouring countries are left in an awkward position when challenging the CAA’s selectivity — their interest is to promote inclusion within rather than demand that India become an ‘equal-opportunity’ host for Muslims as well. Nevertheless, one must challenge India’s Home Ministry as to why the CAA ignored the larger number of Muslims of different sects enduring sectarian strife. These include Ahmadiyya and Shia, particularly Hazara, of Pakistan and Ahmadiyya and Bihari Muslims of Bangladesh. And why ignore the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India and the vulnerable Rohingya of Myanmar?

•In reality, the adoption of the CAA is just a way-station on the Hindutva highway, which considers not just modern-day India but all of the notional ‘Jambudvipa’ as the Hindu homeland. Those galloping along this highway believe in a selective rendering of a Hindu subcontinent overrun by invaders from the northwest. This exclusivist project seeks to paint the variegated belief system of ‘Hinduism’ with a broad ideological brushstroke. Faith has been turned on its head, becoming less a quest for spiritualism. Many god-men, god-women, gurus and babas have boarded this Hindutva wagon, notably the mahant of Gorakhnath temple who is now also the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.

•The Indian establishment has thus super-charged its social engineering campaign, specifically targeting the country’s Muslim citizenry. The campaign started with the revocation of the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, followed by the Ayodhya verdict that privileged mass belief over evidence. The enactment of the CAA and the scheme to confirm citizenship through the National Register of Citizens is part of the plan.

Hunger for political power

•Of course, India’s population of 200 million-plus Muslims will not be going anywhere. India is their homeland, and they have no extra-territorial magnet similar to Israel vis-à-vis the Jewish people. One searches, therefore, for an explanation as to why Indian society has thus been led to the cliff’s edge. This seems to be motivated by nothing more than a hunger for political power using religion and ultra-nationalism as tools. Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah have essentially lined up behind Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s two-nation theory, leaving India’s Muslims emotionally drained and fearful.

•In a world increasingly defined by populist ultra-nationalism, seen in the ascent of figures like Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte and Jair Bolsonaro, India with its ancient-civilisational and modern-Gandhian heritage should have been framing the democratic response to myriad pressing issues, from global warming to nuclear weaponisation. A confident, egalitarian-minded India would also have been leading the discourse on international migration and challenging China for its internment camps for Uighurs and for using facial recognition technology for surveillance. Instead, we have a regime whose topmost leader terms Muslim immigrants as ‘termites’ fit to be dumped into the Bay of Bengal; which keeps Rohingya refugees away with threats of deportation; and which is itself rushing to catch up with Beijing in building internment camps and using facial recognition and drones to control dissent.

•Looking at India from the outside, we see a ruling establishment that values mythology more than history and a society losing its scientific edge, its great universities being run to the ground. India under Mr. Modi is losing democratic steam, with its weakened courts, progressively politicised military, and a police force and investigating agencies that are willing instruments of power-brokers. Many of us have been there, done that.

•The genie that has been released through the enactment of the CAA must be forced back into the bottle, taking into consideration the sheer scale of human tragedy possible in the subcontinent. And, while the ongoing countrywide dissent against the CAA by lay-citizens has been spontaneous and heartfelt, it may not be enough to challenge a party that has just been elected with an overwhelming majority for a five-year term.

Seeking greater federalism

•One used to regard India’s Central government as the protector of citizens when the States went renegade, but what happens when the Centre goes rogue? Devolution of power and authentic federalism is clearly the solution for human dignity and social justice in a country as vast and diverse as India. Here, as a former Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Modi could have set an example as the great federalist Prime Minister. Instead, he has presided over a further Centralisation of governmental power, with the Hindutva agenda part and parcel of this process.

•And this is why it is vital to recognise the institutional resistance to the CAA emerging from the States run by non-BJP parties. Amidst the gloom, one sees in the State-side reaction not only an immediate response to the CAA, but the glimmer of possibilities of a longer-term restructuring of the Indian state towards governance that is more accountable to the people. The centripetal force represented by Narendra Modi requires a centrifugal counter from the States of India.

📰 A continent on fire: on Australia wildfires

Australia must adopt policies that will foster environmental protection

•Australia’s catastrophic fire season that began in August last year is unprecedented, and has caused large scale destruction, mainly in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland. Fire is no stranger to the dry continent’s woodlands, but the inferno this time has devastated over 10 million hectares of land, killing at least 25 people and tens of millions of animals, besides forcing the evacuation of entire communities. Shocking images of kangaroos burnt in their tracks as they tried to flee and koalas desperately escaping the fire are indelibly imprinted in the consciousness of people around the world. This is a moment of reckoning for Australia. The government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has sought to downplay the impact of changing climate, is struggling to pacify angry citizens who are calling for a reconsideration of the country’s relationship with fossil fuels. Warnings have been sounded by scientists that even with a global average temperature rise of 1°C, the raging fires have engulfed an area the size of Switzerland. In a world set to warm at least half a degree more in coming decades, Australia’s encounters with devastating fires could become more frequent, perhaps even once in eight years, making large parts of the continent uninhabitable. The current fire season presents a cross-roads, and a wise choice would be to move to a greener future, one that strengthens an already diverse economy through innovation.

•As scientists have been pointing out for years, the coal industry has a sway over politics in Australia that is disproportionate to its share of economic production. This was evident when Mr. Morrison held up a big piece of the black rock in Parliament in a gesture to highlight its economic importance. The display may have reassured the mining industry, which has torpedoed a profits tax in the past, but it shocked researchers who worry about greenhouse gas emissions increasing in Australia, and in countries to which it exports the fuel. Credentialled specialists at the country’s Climate Council have had to crowdsource funds to continue their work after the official Climate Commission was shut down by the government six years ago. Today, they are raising the alarm over the lowest ever rainfall recorded in parts of NSW and Queensland, and high peak temperatures, producing a tinderbox effect across the large Murray-Darling Basin. The situation is bound to worsen without policy change, as temperatures are predicted to soar to 50°C. Over the past half century, the number of hot days and very hot days each year have steadily increased. It would be tragic if this scientific insight is ignored. Long-term prosperity for Australians and a future for its charismatic animals can be secured only through policies that foster environmental protection.

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