The HINDU Notes – 16th June 2020 - VISION

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 16th June 2020

πŸ“° Amid pandemic, traditional art of ‘talamaddale’ goes digital

A performance of the variant of Yakshagana theatre was streamed live on social media on June 13

•The traditional art of ‘talamaddale’, a variant of Yakshagna theatre, too has gone virtual in times of COVID-19. A performance was streamed live on social media on June 13 and more such are in store.

•Vasudeva Ranga Bhat, the artiste who enacted the role of Rama in an episode of Ramayana performed from Udupi, while his counterpart Sripada Hegde, who played the part of Lakshmana, was in California in the U.S. Another artiste Ganapathi Bhat Sankadagundi who was Bharata was in Mysuru. The musicians — Anantha Hegde Dantalige, the ‘bhagavatha’ (singer-cum-director), and Ganapathi Bhagvat Kavale, the ‘maddale’ player — were in Yellapur in Uttara Kannada.

•The episode titled ‘Paduka Pradhana’ was streamed live for more than two hours from 8.45 p.m. on YouTube and Facebook using a virtual meeting app. The hosts were Sanathana Yaksha Ranga Cultural Centre and Northern California Havyaka Group.

•COVID-19 and lockdown have forced artistes of different streams to explore digital platforms and social media to reach out to art lovers.

•Unlike Yakshagana performance, in the conventional ‘talamaddale’ the artistes sit across in a place without any costumes and engage in testing their oratory skills based on the episode chosen. It is an art form minus dance, costumes and stage conventions.

•Under the changed circumstances due to the lockdown, many Yakshagana artistes and Yakshagana-related organisations are hosting the virtual ‘talamaddale’ live programmes on the Facebook, YouTube since past over a fortnight. Their links are shared on social media platforms.

•Virtual live streaming is not a new trend in case of Yakshagana performance. But when ‘talamaddale’ is concerned, it is. If some used virtual meeting apps and then streamed it live on social media, many others streamed the conventional ‘talamaddale’ (where all artistes had a ‘baithak’ in a place) live on social media.

πŸ“° Pipeline tariff policy coming, to raise share of gas in energy basket

Pipeline authorisation regime on anvil with eye on investors

•In a bid to raise the share of natural gas in the energy basket, India will soon have a new tariff policy that will help bring down the cost of transporting the environment-friendly fuel.

•Also, oil regulator PNGRB is working on a new regime for authorisation of gas pipelines that will make it more investor friendly. Speaking at the launch of India’s maiden online gas trading platform by IGX — aimed at market-driven pricing and to boost consumption by improving availability — both Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and regulator PNGRB Chairman Dinesh Kumar Sarraf spoke of a new pipeline tariff policy that will replace the existing practice of seven different pipeline operators charging separate rates and customers farther from a gas source paying more than those nearer.

•“PNGRB is also working on rationalisation of tariffs to make natural gas affordable in every part of the country. It will facilitate development of the gas market in eastern and north eastern parts of the country,” Mr. Pradhan said. Mr. Sarraf hinted at a single rate across pipelines so as to make the price of fuel uniform for customers across the country.

•A draft regulation for the new tariff policy will be issued in the next few weeks, he said. The share of natural gas in India’s energy basket is 6.2% and the Centre aims to raise this to 15% by 2030 to replace some of the polluting liquid fuel and coal with this cleaner alternative.

•Mr. Pradhan also said GAIL had come up with a proposal to have pipeline and gas marketing business in separate divisions. “There will be an infrastructure company for pipelines.”

πŸ“° Remaining non-aligned is good advice

This is not the time for India to be seen as the front end of a belligerent coalition seeking to put China in its place

•For weeks, the India-China stand-off dominated newspaper headlines, warning about the possibility of a major conflict along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors. With both India and China agreeing to step back marginally from positions adopted at the beginning of May, and “reaching an agreement”, the newspapers and most other believe that tensions have abated. The reality is, however, very different.

Behind the statements

•Confirmed facts about incursions during May are that Chinese forces came in sizeable numbers and crossed the undemarcated LAC at quite a few points in the Ladakh and Sikkim sectors. These were in the vicinity of Pangong Tso (Lake), the Galwan Valley, the Hot Springs-Gogra area (all in Ladakh), and at Naku La in the Sikkim sector. Talks at the level of military commanders, from lieutenant generals to brigadiers and lower formations, have produced, to repeat the official jargon, a “partial disengagement”. Both sides have also agreed, according to the same set of officials, to handle the situation “in line with the agreement” that had been reached.

•The blandness of the statements conceals many a truth. This time, it would appear, the Chinese are here to stay in places such as the Galwan Valley. It is also unclear, as of now, whether the Chinese would withdraw from Pangong Tso, any time soon. Restoration of the status quo ante which existed in mid-April is thus nowhere on the horizon. Another bone of contention also seems unlikely to be resolved for quite some time, viz. , China’s insistence that India stop road construction in the border area on the ground that it is taking place in Chinese territory, which India contests, insisting that it is taking place within Indian territory.

•Public attention has been deflected from China’s sizeable military presence along the LAC, (comprising armoured vehicles, artillery units and infantry combat vehicles in far larger numbers than at any time in recent years), and the partial disengagement may provide many in India an opportunity to claim that China “blinked” while India showed “steely resolve”. This is not, however, the time for political grandstanding. There is a great deal at stake.

More weightier reasons

•India needs to undertake a detailed analysis of recent events to find proper answers to many vexed questions. To merely affirm that India’s decision to strengthen its border infrastructure was the main trigger for the recent show of strength by China, would be simplistic. Both India and China have been strengthening their border infrastructure in recent years, and while the strengthening of the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi road may have angered the Chinese, to ascribe China’s recent show of strength to this would be misplaced.

•Admittedly, Chinese President Xi Jinping disdains Deng Xiaoping’s aphorism, “to keep your head low and bide your time”, but Mr. Xi is not known to act irresponsibly. A demonstration of military strength, merely because India was improving its border infrastructure, would fall into this category. Nor does this action fit in with western assertions that such steps demonstrate China’s newly assertive post-pandemic foreign policy.

•There have to be far weightier reasons for China’s actions, and India needs to do a deep dive to discern whether there is a method behind China’s actions, viz. , as for instance, the existence of certain geopolitical factors, an increase in bilateral tensions between India and China, economic pressures, apart from China’s internal dynamics. China’s action clearly belies the code of conduct drawn up at the Wuhan (China) and Mamallapuram (Tamil Nadu) summits by the leaders of India and China, and the recent incursions do convey the imprimatur of the top Chinese leadership.

The American orbit
•If we were to examine geopolitical factors, it is no secret that while India professes to be non-aligned, it is increasingly perceived as having shifted towards the American orbit of influence. India’s United States tilt is perhaps most pronounced in the domain of U.S.-China relations. Quite a few instances could be highlighted to confirm the perception that India tends to side with the U.S. and against China whenever there is a conflict of interest between the two. An evident degree of geopolitical convergence also exists between the U.S. and India in the Indo-Pacific, again directed against China. India is today a member of the Quad (the U.S., Japan, Australia and India) which has a definite anti-China connotation. U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest ploy of redesigning the G-7, including in it countries such as India (India has conveyed its acceptance), but excluding China, provides China yet another instance of India and China being in opposite camps. A recent editorial in China’s Global Times confirms how seriously China views the growing proximity between Delhi and Washington.

•Coming next to bilateral relations, and notwithstanding the public bonhomie at the level of Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, relations between the two countries have been steadily deteriorating. India is almost the last holdout in Asia against China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI). India also loses no opportunity to declaim against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China further views India’s assertions regarding Gilgit-Baltistan, as an implicit attack on the CPEC, China’s flagship programme. More recently, India was one of the earliest countries to put curbs and restrictions on Chinese foreign direct investment. Adding to this, is the rising crescendo of anti-China propaganda within India. The Global Times has implied in one of its editorial pieces recently, that China’s friendly policy towards India should be reciprocated, and that India “should not be fooled by Washington”. On the eve of the recent high-level border talks between top military leaders, China again made an elliptical reference to the need for India to maintain equidistance between the U.S. and China.

•Such sentiments do impact border matters. Almost all India-China border agreements are premised on the presumed neutrality of both countries. As the Special Representative for Border Talks with China (2005 to 2010), this sentiment was an ever present reality during all border discussions. The document, “Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question” (2005), one of the very few documents relating to the China-India border, reflects this reality.

China’s internal dynamics

•One should also not ignore the impact of internal pressures that have been generated within China — in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in part due to other factors. Mr. Xi has, no doubt, accumulated more power than any other Chinese Communist leader since Mao, but there are reports of growing opposition within party ranks to some of his policies, including the BRI.

•As the full impact of the most serious health crisis that China has faced since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 becomes evident, and alongside this the Chinese economic miracle is also beginning to lose steam, the current Chinese leadership is faced with an unique crisis. The coupling of political and economic tensions have greatly aggravated pressures on Mr. Xi, and the situation could become still more fragile, given the rising tide of anti-China sentiment the world over. How the present crop of Chinese leaders led by Mr. Xi would react to this situation, remains to be seen.

History and the present

•These are dangerous times, more so for countries in China’s vicinity, and specially India. India is being increasingly projected as an alternative model to China, and being co-opted into a wider anti-China alliance which China clearly perceives as provocation. We cannot ignore or forget the circumstances that led to the unfortunate India-China war of 1962. Faced with the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, and increasing isolation globally (with even Soviet leaders like Nikita Khrushchev trading barbs), Mao chose to strike at India rather than confront Russia or the West.

•A single misstep could lead to a wider conflagration, which both sides must avoid. This is not the time for India to be seen as the front end of a belligerent coalition of forces seeking to put China in its place — even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, now seems to be joining the anti-China bandwagon under prodding from the U.S. India has consistently followed a different policy in the past, and it is advisable that it remains truly non-aligned and not become part of any coalition that would not be in India’s long-term interest.

πŸ“° In pandemic crisis, bridging the gulf with West Asia

A strong, positive message by New Delhi to the region’s investors is crucial as both are well-placed to help each other

•As the world continues to collaborate in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic which has shattered lives, economies and, arguably, even political and global institutions, the post-pandemic architecture may look drastically different from what we have been used to.

•For India and its foreign policy, the West Asia/Gulf region holds a significant court for strategic, economic and even domestic political agendas, ranging from migration to energy security. The pandemic has initiated a reverse migration of Indian blue-collar workers as projects in oil-rich States stall, and infrastructure development halts amidst a contracting global economy that some say may be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The stakes in numbers

•India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar has said that India would repatriate more than 100,000 of its citizens between May 17 and June 13 from 60 countries, a majority of whom are expected to be from the West Asia region. Between June 10 and June 16, there were around 20 flights scheduled to bring Indian citizens back between India and Saudi Arabia alone. In neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE), more than 3.4 million Indians work. Overall, an estimated figure of close to nine million Indians work in West Asia, responsible for sending back more than 56% of India’s annual infusion of $80 billion in remittances. The UAE alone is responsible for $19 billion in remittances, being the third largest trade partner of India after the United States and China.

•Much of the impressive numbers above are now under stress, perhaps for the first time since the first Gulf War in 1991. The oil price crash, triggered by expectations of oversupply following a dispute on output caps between Saudi Arabia and Russia, exacerbated by the crash in demand due to COVID-19, will carry massive costs to the West Asian economies, and, by association, to foreign workers employed there. According to a Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry survey, more than 70% of businesses classified as small and medium-sized enterprises in Dubai, many owned by Indian nationals, may not survive over the months to come as labour critical industries such as tourism, conventions, hospitality and airlines bear the immediate brunt. To put it in perspective, according to a 2019 U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council report, the UAE’s hospitality sector itself contributes 4.6% of the country’s GDP, making nearly 600,000 jobs that are mostly fulfilled by foreign workers. Some reports suggest that up to 30% of these jobs could be lost.

•In Saudi Arabia, consumer spending for April 2020, compared to the same time last year, was reportedly down by 34.6%. However, beyond the immediate effects, the oil price crash is expected to have a significant blow on the reform plans initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, specifically mega-projects such as the envisioned $500 billion futuristic mega-city of Neom planned on the coast of the Red Sea, and other more structural efforts to open up the Saudi economy and move the country’s financial ecosystem away from its overt dependence on petro dollars.

Oil and investment

•India gets around 60% of its hydrocarbon requirements from West Asia. On an annualised basis, India saves up to $1.35 billion for each $1 drop in oil prices. With Brent still hovering under $40, the softening oil prices have helped cushion the impact of the national lockdown on the balance of payments. India has also taken advantage of the low prices to build up its strategic reserves and is looking at offshore storage options.

•The major sovereign wealth funds and other financial institutions in West Asia have been hit hard by COVID-19 as well. Some have seen their real estate and retail portfolios shrink dramatically over the last three months. India is well-placed to attract a significant amount of capital from West Asia and reports of investment by UAE’s Mubadala and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) are a case in point. The economic reforms announced by the Finance Minister in the week of May 13 bring much needed clarity to industrial and agricultural policy. A strong, positive message to West Asian investors from New Delhi is now the need of the hour.

Steps to take

•As a starting point, working with the government of Maharashtra to expedite land acquisition for the $50 billion mega-refinery project could be an important first step. Saudi Aramco and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company have committed to investing $25 billion in the project. Fast-track resolution of endless litigation that has bedevilled the sale of a major stake of Mumbai airport by GVK to a consortium that includes the UAE sovereign fund, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) will also send out a positive signal to the markets. Some of the UAE’s largest companies such as Etisalat, Emaar and Etihad have previously had a tough time with their investments in India. By creating a few immediate success stories, India has the opportunity to transform the landscape and attract the kind of long-term capital that the economy needs. The government has announced that it has set up an empowered group headed by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba to take necessary steps to attract FDI into India. Hopefully, this mechanism can take up West Asia on priority.

Reverse migration and jobs

•If the economic prophecies come true till a certain degree, India will also share the brunt with West Asia, and both are well placed to help each other in this regard. Arguably, more than the loss of trade revenue and remittances, the return of semi-skilled and skilled workers alike into an economy already struggling with jobs may become a point of worry. To mitigate the same, the government has tried to soften the blow by launching the Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support (SWADES) which attempts to capture the skills profile of returning workers and house them in a central portal that can be accessed by Indian and foreign companies. However, much more needs to be done with regard to reverse-migration and the economics attached to it, as globally, bilateral and multilateral trade-diplomacy is set to witness a tectonic shift towards the unknown.

πŸ“° Lessons for Yogi from Gandhi and Lee

The test of public policies must be not what is good for investors but what is good for the people

•Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is determined to bring all migrant workers back to his State. He says he does not want U.P.’s citizens to migrate in future. He has a vision of providing homes and jobs to all of them — in a State which has not yet been able to provide for the larger multitudes who stayed behind. Moreover, he will be competing with neighbouring States (Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, etc.) and also States further away, which will also be working harder to grow jobs. He needs a good plan. He would do well to take some lessons from Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, and from Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation.

Developing Singapore

•Lee declared that Singapore would become the first ‘developed’ country in Asia, when it was founded in 1965. His measure of development was the per capita incomes of Singaporeans which would rise to the same levels as citizens in more advanced economies. Singapore did not have any natural resources, like oil or minerals, which it could sell to the West to bring in money for its citizens. All that it could offer large Western companies to use was its strategic location on shipping routes between the East and West, and its people. Lee invited companies from the U.S., Europe, and Japan to set up manufacturing facilities in Singapore and use Singapore labour.

•The companies were attracted by the large pools of low-cost labour in ASEAN countries. Amongst these countries, Singapore was the most attractive for its location. They welcomed his invitation. But Lee had a condition they were not prepared for. He did not want them to merely set up labour-intensive assembly factories. Lee wanted wages to rise in Singapore, so that per capita incomes would rise. Therefore, he wanted the companies to train Singaporeans to do higher-value work.

•Global supply chains were forming then: MNCs were on the lookout for lower-cost sources. MNCs could ‘plug and play’ in larger labour markets. If wages rose in Singapore, which Lee wanted, he feared they would move their assembly operations to the neighbouring countries. Lee promised the companies world-class infrastructure, an efficient administration, and low taxes. In return, he wanted the companies to help the government by investing in continuous upgradation of their employees’ skills, so that Singaporeans would earn more and Singapore would become fully ‘developed’.

•The companies were not willing to make such long-term investments in Singapore’s people. Lee turned to J.R.D. Tata to set up a training centre and a precision tool room in partnership with the Singapore government, and help build foundations for Singapore’s industrial growth. Thus, the Tatas were pioneers in Singapore in the 1970s; other, much larger companies then came along.

•The rules of globalisation have made life easy for migrant capital, not for migrant labour. They make it easy for migrant capital to come into a country, make profits, and leave when it wishes to. It has been hard for migrant labour to join the global party. They have died in hundreds while crossing the seas to Europe, and walls are shutting them out from the U.S. Tragically, even when they leave India’s globalising cities to go back to their villages, after being used and discarded, they are dying on the way out too.

•Governments must listen to and care for their citizens and workers more than to investors. They must encourage only those investors who care as much for citizens and workers where they invest as for their own investors back home. Economists who advise governments must be clear that humans are not tools to produce returns for investors; rather, money is a tool to produce benefits for humans.

Gandhian economics

•U.P. is more complex than Singapore. Singapore is a city state with about 6 million citizens, while U.P., with a population of more than 200 million, has dozens of towns and thousands of villages. Migrants are returning from India’s cities to villages in U.P. and other States. They are returning to a world Gandhi knew well. Gandhi said that unless people in India’s villages have economic and social freedom, India cannot be a free country. This was his vision of ‘poorna swaraj’. For him, political freedom from the British was a step on the way. Gandhi is often dismissed as an impractical romantic. However, Gandhi and his economic advisers understood the economic and social problems in India’s villages better than the economists in India’s Planning Commission did. Gandhi also knew the potential of India’s poorest people, who were merely statistics for the economists. Above all, he believed that the economy must serve human needs, rather than human beings becoming fodder for the GDP. This was a vision that Lee Kuan Yew had too: for him, the ultimate measure of Singapore becoming fully developed was not the size of its GDP, but the incomes of its citizens.

•U.P. does not have a ‘migrant’ problem. It has a ‘citizen’ problem. All citizens of the State (and India too) deserve jobs, livelihoods and a good life with dignity, whether they are migrants or not. The test of public policies must be not what is good for investors and for the GDP, but what is good for the people, especially those who are the most powerless. In Lee’s, Tata’s, and Gandhi’s books, diluting the rights of workers to make life easier for investors was not done.

•The world has been ‘deglobalising’ since the financial crisis of 2008. Many countries have raised barriers against migrants from other countries. The World Trade Organization is very sick. COVID-19 has sharply accelerated a trend towards localisation that was already under way. Supply chains have broken up. Barriers against movement of people have gone up everywhere.

•‘Gandhian’ economics, which E.F. Schumacher (author of Small is Beautiful ) and J.C. Kumarappa (sometimes referred to as Gandhi’s Planning Commission) articulated very well, is based on simple principles. One, human beings and local communities must be the means for human progress — and their well-being must be the purpose of progress too. Two, governance must be strengthened at the local level, in villages and cities. Three, wealth is good, but wealthy people must be only trustees of a community’s wealth, and not its owners. Four, the alienation of owners from workers must be reduced with the creation of new models of cooperative capitalist enterprises, where the workers, not remote capitalists, or the state, are owners of the enterprises.

•India had come to a fork in the road in 1947: it could run behind the West to catch up; or it could take a path less taken, using a ‘Gandhian’ approach for human development. It chose to run behind the others. Now, we are back at the crossroads. The health crisis and the economic crisis have made people everywhere consider what path we should take after this crisis. Back to the ‘normal’ economics of GDP or towards a more human and more local economics?