The HINDU Notes – 12th June 2020 - VISION

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Friday, June 12, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 12th June 2020

📰 India reiterates civilisational and cultural ties with Nepal

Our partnership has expanded in the recent years: MEA

•As Nepal prepared to vote on Saturday for a new map amid the Kalapani territorial dispute, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday reiterated India’s civilisational ties with Nepal.

•The Ministry’s official spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, refused to respond to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s comments condemning Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s remarks warning Nepal of long-term consequences of its assertive policies. “We have already made our position clear... India deeply values its civilisational, cultural and friendly relations with Nepal. Our multi-faceted bilateral partnership has expanded and diversified in the recent years with increased focus and enhanced Government of India's assistance for humanitarian, development and connectivity projects in Nepal,” he said.

•The vote in Nepal’s Parliament for the Second Constitutional Amendment, which will give legislative support to the new map, has seen extensive discussions. On Thursday, sources in Kathmandu said the final round of discussions was expected to be followed by voting in the Lower House on Saturday.

•The official spokesperson said the report on international religious freedom for 2019, published by the U.S. Department of State, was a document produced for the domestic audience. He said other countries did not have the right to criticise India on religious freedom.

•The Indian official also hit out at Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s social media posts, offering help to the poor Indian households facing economic distress because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am ready to offer help and share our successful cash transfer programme,” he had said. Mr. Srivastava pointed to the alleged corruption cases against Pakistan’s leaders and said the country was better known for cash transfer to banks abroad.

•“We all have known about their debt problem and how much they have been pressed for debt restructuring. It would also be better for them to remember that India has a stimulus package as large as Pakistan’s annual GDP,” Mr. Srivastava said.

📰 Govt. considering universal basic income, says NHRC

Commission’s report on human rights submitted to UN

•In its report on human rights in India, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has informed the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that the recommended implementation of a universal basic income was “under examination and active consideration” of the Centre.

•As a part of the third round of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which is done every four-and-a-half-years, the NHRC submitted its mid-term report to the UN agency recently. The report, dated “May 2020”, reviewed the implementation of 152 recommendations of the UPR Working Group that the Indian government had accepted in September 2017.

•One of the recommendations was: “Continue studying the possibility of a universal basic income as a way to further reduce poverty levels with a view to possibly phasing out the existing social protection system, in full consultation with all stakeholders.”

•“This matter is under examination and active consideration of the GoI,” the NHRC report noted.

•After meeting stakeholders, including civil society, and representatives of the Ministries responsible for implementing the policies concerned, the NHRC said several issues had been highlighted, including the “ratification of international human rights instruments, issues in legislations of trafficking and protection against child sexual abuse” and “gaps in the implementation of schemes for food security and timely disbursement of wages under schemes for employment”.

More funds for health

•The report stated that there had been a consensus on the need for increasing budgetary allocation for health and nutrition by the Centre and state governments.

•With regards to child rights, the report said the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights was working on a proposal for a pilot project to eliminate child labour in five “aspirational districts with high incidence of child labour”.

•On the issue of reproductive rights, the NHRC noted that the Centre had requested the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Financial Services, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India and the National Health Authority to consider the issue of sterlisation, birth control treatment and procedures expenses not being covered under health insurance policies currently.

Rights of children

•The NHRC noted that it had found “gaps in policies as compared to obligations” under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and had made recommendations to address the same. It added that it was in the process of setting up a committee to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

•To make education more accessible to children with disabilities, the NHRC said it had recommended to the Human Resource Development Ministry in January 2020 to ensure “holistic inclusion” of such children in its Draft National Education Policy.

•The NHRC said it had expressed “concern over the inefficiencies in implementation of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 and the Rules of 1995” and warned States of coercive action when they failed to submit reports on violation of human rights of SCs, STs and minorities.

📰 Economic recovery path still uncertain: CEA

•His comments came a day after global ratings agencies S&P and Fitch forecast a contraction of 5% in the Indian economy this year, although they predicted a sharp recovery to record 8.5%-9.5% growth the following year.

•The CEA refused to put specific numbers on the Centre’s own growth expectation for this year, only saying that the Finance Ministry is working with a “large range” of estimates, adding that “very low” growth and a possible decline in output are part of the baseline assumptions.

•Both Fitch and S&P maintained India’s sovereign credit rating at the lowest investment grade, while Moody’s had also downgraded it to the same grade last week.

‘Merited better rating’

•Mr. Subramanian insisted that India’s fundamentals merited a better rating, noting that the country’s willingness and ability to pay back its loans are gold standard, especially as most debt is in domestic currency. With regard to debt monetisation, he said the pros and cons of all options are being evaluated and kept under consideration.

•The CEA welcomed the agencies’ positive response to reforms announced in the stimulus package, especially in agriculture, saying that these would be critical for higher growth prospects next year.

Investment grade

•The investment grade rating paves the way to move forward on the budget proposal for listing government bonds in international sovereign bond indices. In the long term, this could lead to the ability to raise $60 billion or more from these markets, he said.

•With regard to the privatisation policy announced in the Atmanirbhar package, he clarified that banking would be categorised as a strategic sector. This means that between one to four public sector banks will remain, while the rest will be merged or privatised.

📰 A case for quiet diplomacy

A public debate would have hindered the resolution of past stand-offs with China

•On June 9, sources in the Indian Army said Indian and Chinese troops began a partial disengagement from some of the stand-off points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, which has seen tensions since early May. That was the first official confirmation that there were ongoing multiple stand-offs along the LAC.

•The government has come under fire from the Opposition for its silence on the month-long stand-offs. “The Chinese have walked in and taken our territory in Ladakh,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted on June 10. “Meanwhile, the PM is absolutely silent and has vanished from the scene.”

Strategy in dealing with China

•The picture that emerged on June 9 indicated we are at the beginning of the process to resolve the situation, and not at the end. Both sides have agreed on a broad plan to defuse four of the five points of discord. The situation at the fifth, Pangong Lake (in photo), remains uncertain, as also in Galwan valley and north Sikkim. At Pangong Tso, the Chinese have entrenched their positions with tents and remain on India’s side of the LAC. There is a major point of difference which will not be easy to resolve.

•The pattern of resolution of past stand-offs underlines the key role played by quiet diplomacy in unlocking complicated stand-off situations. Both the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments have followed an approach that has coupled quiet diplomacy with a strong military posture, while at the same time allowing the adversary a way out. This has been the broad strategy in dealing with challenges from China across the LAC. And this strategy has generally worked.

•Consider 2013, when Chinese troops pitched tents on India’s side of the LAC on the Depsang plains, similar to Pangong Tso. The UPA government was under fire, both for being weak on China and for its reticence. Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon recently explained how the stand-off was resolved. While the government was being publicly attacked for doing nothing, it had privately conveyed to China that if the stand-off didn’t end, an upcoming visit by Premier Li Keqiang would be off. If that demand had been made public at the time, China would have only dug in its heels, even if the government may have won the headlines of the day. “The key to arriving at a successful outcome,” Mr. Menon wrote in Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, “was keeping public rhetoric calm and steady, displaying strength, and giving the adversary a way out, which was our preferred solution.”

•The NDA government adopted a similar strategy during the 2014 stand-off at Chumar, which coincided with President Xi Jinping’s visit to India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi then was criticised by the Opposition for sitting on a swing with Mr. Xi in Gujarat while Chinese troops had crossed the LAC. Mr. Xi’s visit went ahead, while India quietly but forcefully stopped the Chinese road-building and deployed 2,500 soldiers, outnumbering the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA withdrew, and as then Northern Army Commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda (retd) explained recently, both sides disengaged and followed a moratorium into patrolling into contested areas, which was observed for many months thereafter.

•If the government had publicly announced in 2014 it was following a moratorium on patrolling up to India’s LAC to ease tensions, there would have likely been an uproar, just as there was in 2013 after Depsang. Then, Mr. Modi, who was the Gujarat Chief Minister, slammed the government, asking at the time: “What are the reasons we have pulled back from our own land?” Ultimately, in both cases, the objective was achieved. China, faced with firm resistance, was prevented from changing the status quo.

•In 2017, the government came under particularly intense fire because it stayed studiously silent through a 72-day stand-off at Doklam, amid a barrage of threats from Beijing. Indian troops crossed over into Bhutan to stop a Chinese road construction on territory India sees as Bhutanese but China claims. By extending the road, India argued, China was unilaterally altering the India-Bhutan-China trijunction. Beijing demanded an unconditional withdrawal. When both finally disengaged, neither divulged the terms. It would later emerge that the deal struck involved India withdrawing first. China then stopped construction, and the status quo at the face-off site was restored.

•Politics over border stand-offs is not new. One only needs to go back to the intense public debates in the early 1960s. The Opposition and the media are certainly right to hold the government to account. Indeed, neither the Opposition nor the media would be doing its job if they weren’t. As Mr. Modi’s comments from 2014 remind us, this is par for the course. And if questions weren’t being asked last month, perhaps we may still be in the dark.

Coming to terms with reality

•The tensions on the LAC are neither the first nor likely to be the last. With every incident, they are, however, getting increasingly politicised in an environment where there is a 24/7 demand on social media for information — and unprecedented capacity for disinformation. Rather than wish away this reality — and adopt a stand that it is above questioning — the government needs to come to terms with it. First, it needs to keep the Opposition informed, which it is clear it hasn’t. Second, it needs to proactively engage with the media, even if that may be through low-key engagement as was the case on June 9, that does not escalate into a public war of words. The media cannot be muzzled. India, after all, is not China. So it is in the government’s own interests to ensure what’s reported is well-informed, and not speculative or exaggerated.

•At the same time, expectations of having a public debate about the intricacies of every border stand-off — or for the Prime Minister to weigh in even while negotiations are ongoing — need to be tempered. This will only risk inflaming tensions, and reduce the wiggle room for both sides to find an off-ramp. The broader objective shouldn’t get lost in political debates. That objective is to ensure India’s security interests remain protected — and that the status quo on India’s borders isn’t changed by force. Past incidents have shown that quiet diplomacy, coupled with strong military resolve that deters any Chinese misadventures, has been more effective than public sabre-rattling, even if we may be inhabiting a media environment that misconstrues loudness as strength, and silence as weakness.