Hindutva forces are worried by the conspicuous politicisation of Dalits
BhimaKoregaon in Pune, Maharashtra, the seat of unrest now, is a tiny village, but is associated with an extraordinary phase of Maratha history
- Two hundred years ago, on January 1, 1818, a few hundred Mahar soldiers of the East India Company, led by the British, defeated the massive Peshwa army, led by PeshwaBajirao II, in Koregaon
- This battle has, since, attained legendary stature in Dalit history
Victory against injustice
- Ambedkarite Dalits do not see this from the narrow lens of nationalism versus imperialism. Over the years, as the battle came to be seen as a victory of the Maharsagainst the injustices perpetuated by the BrahminicalPeshwas, thousands of Ambedkarites have been gathering in BhimaKoregaon on January 1 to pay their respect at the Vijay Sthamb (victory pillar)
- The pillar was erected by the East India Company in memory of those who fought the battle and includes the names of the Mahar soldiers who unknowingly brought an end to the Peshwa rule in 1818.
The past and the present
Dalits are unanimous in drawing inspiration from the victory. In recent years, particularly in Maharashtra, since the Bhima-KoregaonRanstambh Seva Sangh (BKRSS) was formed, Dalits regard the pillar as a site of positive memory of their valour and a symbol of their renewed political aspiration
Their denunciation of the Peshwas is strategic
it helps them relate to their social and political marginalisation in contemporary times
The debate here, however, is whether such invoking of history is effective in hoisting Dalit politics to a new level? What happened on the day of the battle’s 200th anniversary which led to the death of one
Planned by Hindutva Organisations
Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar and a prominent Dalit leader from Maharashtra, has said that a few Hindutva organisations planned and perpetuated violence against the Dalits in BhimaKoregaon
These organisations have been polarising the political landscape on religious and caste lines, particularly against Ambedkarite Dalits who are seen as impediments to their political project.
A Dalit man cremated Sambhaji, eldest son of Shivaji
- A recent, and crucial, illustration of this was at WadhuBudruk, a village not far from BhimaKoregaon. VadhuBudruk is where Sambhaji, the eldest son of the Maratha ruler Shivaji, was cremated after being killed by the Mughals in 1689
- As the legend goes, Sambhaji’s body was mutilated and thrown into a river by Aurangzeb
- It was Govind Mahar (Gaikwad), a Dalit resident of VadhuBudruk, who then gathered the body parts together and made arrangements for the last rites.
Memorial of both Sambhaji and Govind Mahar
Sambhaji’s memorial was said to have been erected by the Mahars of that village. Consequently, Govind Mahar’s tomb was also erected in the village after his death.
This memorial and the role of Govind Mahar questioned
- A few days ago, upper caste Marathas, who refuse to acknowledge the role played by Govind Gaikwad and other Mahars in the last rites of Sambhaji, objected to a sign at the site that recounted the story
- Complaints were filed with the police by both side
Pre Planned attacks
In Maharashtra, there has been a consistent effort to situate Maratha history within the anti-Muslim Hindutva framework — in fact, this even predates the rise of the political right-wing in the State
Unemployment and illiteracy luring the youth
Maratha youth, who are facing unemployment and a lack of educational opportunities, are now being easily pulled into these conflicts by Hindutva organisations that are consequently built by invoking past Maratha glory
The violent clashes in BhimaKoregaon were an extension of the conflict in WadhuBudruk
This year was the 20th year anniversary
Being the 200th anniversary, that gathering in BhimaKoregaon this year was much larger than usual
Big public conference
Many Dalit and Bahujan groups collectively organised a big public conference in the name of Elgar Parishad at Shaniwar Wada, which was the seat of the Peshwas until 1818
The agenda of this conference was evidently against Hindutva politics which was powerfully manifested by projecting Hindutva politics as the neo-peshwai (new Peshwas). JigneshMevani and Prakash Ambedkar were invited.
Politicisation of Dalits
- The conspicuous politicisation of Dalits against Hindutva, particularly after the Una violence in Gujarat, has been a cause of concern for those who propagate the latter
- The Elgar Parishad helped consolidate their apprehensions against the politicised Dalits
The new political articulation of the Dalits (by equating Hindutva with the Peshwai) has annoyed the right-wing forces and exposed the fault lines we are seeing today.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday engaged in a war of words in the Lok Sabha over making Hindi one of the official languages at the United Nations.
Sushma cries procedure as the biggest hurdle; Tharoor says it is not the national language
While Mr. Tharoor questioned the proposed move of the government, the Minister called his statement that Hindi was mainly spoken in India as ‘ignorant.’
Member nations have to share the financial costs too
Atleast, 129 member countries will have to agree to share the cost.
The Minister explained that as per rules, two-thirds of the 193 members of UNwill not only have to vote for Hindi as official language but also share the financial cost incurred to do so
‘Working on it’
The problem comes when apart from voting, the burden of the amount also falls on them. Economically weaker countries that support us shy away from this. We are working on it, we are making attempts to get support of countries like Fiji, Mauritius, Surinam… where people of Indian origin are there
Mr. Tharoor, who was a high-ranking official in the UN, asked what was the need to push for Hindi when it was not even the national language of India.
Officials from the South
The question is what purpose is being served by this. If indeed we have a PM or Foreign Minister who prefers to speak in Hindi, they can do so and we can pay to get that speech translated. Why should we put our future Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers who may be from T.N. in a difficult position
Before the government introduced a bill for a separate law to make instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat a criminal offence, the Centre deliberated on including the violation under Section 498A(b) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that pertains to “cruelty by husband or a relative of the husband”
Another option was to insert a new Section 498B in the IPC, making instant triple talaq an “offence for adultery”.
Centre considered several options
- A group of Ministers led by Home Minister Rajnath Singh deliberated the options on the table and it was decided that including instant divorce under the IPC would lead to unrest in the Muslim community as it would then “become a crime against the State”
- Instead, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was drafted and its provisions agreed upon by the group of Ministers, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj
- There was another drawback of including the offence under the criminal law — the woman would not have been entitled to compensation
- Under the new bill, a woman can claim subsistence allowance and the amount is to be decided by the Magistrate
- Political parties have opposed the bill as it sought to criminalise divorce.
The draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens is a first step, but it opens up concerns
The draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens is a first step, but it opens up concerns
Prodded by an unrelenting Supreme Court Bench, Assam met its December 31 deadline for publication of the first draft of the updated National Register of Citizens
Draft of a Draft
In the event, the list proved to be a draft of a draft, with 13.9 million cases remaining under scrutiny and names of only 19 million of the 32.9 million applicants making the cut
Credit to the government
It is to the government’s credit that its repeated clarifications that missing out on the list is no reason to panic kept people’s anxieties in check
Bigger challenges ahead
The bigger challenge lies ahead when the contours of the draft assume a firmer shape, and there is a clearer sense of the numbers that do not make it to the Draft Consolidated List of the NRC — by implication, people who are illegal immigrants in Assam.
Hope for closure
- The process will be protracted, with claims and contestations even after the final draft
- But, when completed, one can only hope the exercise will bring some closure to the vexed issue of foreigners in the State, one that had triggered the six-year-long Assam Agitation that ended in the mid-1980s but has continued to roil its politics
- The promise of detection and expulsion of aliens has propelled two parties to power 31 years apart, the AsomGanaParishad in 1985 and the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2016.
- While the scale is debatable, border crossings into Assam and West Bengal are a reality, and political parties are to blame for turning a blind eye to the situation over the decades in order to cultivate vote banks.
- The issue has, however, become much larger than a cut-and-dried question of who is an Indian citizen and who is not
- There are important humanitarian concerns at play, concerns that go beyond identification and numbers
Nearly five decades have elapsed since the cut-off date of March 25, 1971, and individuals who have sneaked in illegally have children and grandchildren by now
Since India is the only country they have ever known, where are they expected to go?
- The conditions under which some 20,000-odd doubtful, or ‘D’, voters have been confined in Assam do not inspire confidence
- That the list of aliens will only increase is daunting given the absence of a deportation treaty with Bangladesh
- The situation has been muddied with the Centre’s intent to pass the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and make Hindu illegal migrants and those from certain other minority communities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan eligible for Indian citizenship
- Part of the BJP’s manifesto for the 2014 general election, the Bill, with a cut-off date of December 31, 2014, undermines the process of the NRC, which is denominationally agnostic.
The BJP would do better to focus on its campaign promise of sealing the India-Bangladesh border and explore the possibility of provisions such as transparent work permits for foreigners, rather than push for this politically contentious legislation.
Certificates issued by the ‘gaon’ or village panchayat secretary/Executive Magistrate is no proof of Indian citizenship.
Supreme Court clarifies on citizenship
Certificates issued by the ‘gaon’ or village panchayat secretary/Executive Magistrate is no proof of Indian citizenship
Clarification from the SC
It is only a supporting document used for the limited purpose of establishing a linkage between the holder of the certificate and the person(s) from whom legacy is being claimed, the Supreme Court has clarified
What the certificate means?
The certificate merely acknowledged the shifting of residence of a married woman from one village to another
- Such proof (of citizenship) will come only if the link between the claimant and the legacy person (who has to be a citizen) is established
- The certificate has to be verified at two stages
- The first is the authenticity of the certificate itself; and the second is the authenticity of the contents thereof.
An exhaustive process
The process of verification, the court said, was bound to be an exhaustive process in the course of which the source of information of the facts and other details recorded in the certificate would be ascertained after giving an opportunity to the holder of the certificate.
Some specific actions on Pakistan ,which is in the cross hairs of U.S. President Donald Trump for sheltering terrorists, could be expected in the next one or two days, the White House said on Tuesday.
Experts say Trump’s tweet does not indicate any shift in policy; however, the bellicose rhetoric employed by him could be counterproductive
Mr. Trump had criticised Pakistan in a harshly worded Twitter post on January 1, which several commentators in the U.S. fear could be counterproductive to America’s military operations in Afghanistan.
- The administration has already withheld military aid of $255 million in August, which is technically still available to Pakistan, conditionally
- That could be withdrawn entirely
- A decision on $400 million in Coalition Support Fund — reimbursement of expenses to Pakistan related to Afghan war — for the year 2017 is also pending
- This money could be given only if the administration certifies that Pakistan has taken adequate action against the Haqqani Network.
Continuation of Obama policy
Mr. Trump’s tweet does not indicate a shift in policy, as the previous Obama administration had come to same conclusion about Pakistan, while the undiplomatic rhetoric could backfire
No substantial change
In actual terms, the policy does not appear to have substantially changed
Obama administration followed through on cuts
- In its final years, the (Barack) Obama administration followed through on cuts in military and economic aid when they were unsatisfied with the degree of cooperation coming from Islamabad, particularly in targeting militant organisations
- This was meant to send a signal of divergent interests
The difference now
The difference is that the current administration has amplified the signal with a sweeping incendiary statements and antagonistic rhetoric that is likely counterproductive
Nothing new though but more determination this time
- The reality is that despite all the attention to this Trump tweet, he was largely saying things he’s already said before. So the tweet itself doesn’t represent much that’s new. That said, the tweet was clearly telegraphing the White House’s intention to suspend aid, and this is an administration that appears much more determined than its predecessor to follow through on threats to cut aid
- Pakistan is actively choosing not to act further on the Haqqanis, the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba], and others, and it cannot expect Americans to see this as the behaviour of an ally.
Impact on Afghan situation
How will Mr. Trump’s approach affect the situation in Afghanistan?
If it doesn’t elicit enhanced cooperation and scuttles existing mechanisms of cooperation, it will undoubtedly hurt efforts in Afghanistan
But no major effect on Afghanistan’s stability
But even if Pakistan did everything the U.S. asked, it’s highly uncertain this would yield stability in Afghanistan. Kabul is plagued by many more challenges of internal fissures, corruption, illegitimacy, and incompetence
Furthermore, the Taliban may not need Pakistan to generate combat power, so even if Pakistan managed to put the squeeze on some Taliban elements, they may foreclose on what little leverage they have left while being blamed for the Taliban continuing to threaten the Afghan state
Pressure tactics of the US might backfire
U.S. pressure tactics could backfire in a big way, cause Pakistan to tighten, not ease, its embrace of Afghanistan-focused militants, and lead to even more violence in Afghanistan
Strong reactions from Pakistan
Pakistan has reacted strongly to Mr. Trump’s statement, and how it would respond further also remains an open question.
Measures Pakistan could take to hurt US on Afghan border
Pakistan has plenty of tools to respond to further U.S. coercive measures including closing the G-LOCS and A-LOCS [ground and air lines of communications], ratcheting up the temperature on the Afghan border, and reducing intelligence cooperation. If the U.S. escalates in kinetic terms with drone strikes outside the established zones, Pakistan can escalate in kind and attempt to shoot down some drones.
Decline in trust would be the worst
The worst consequence is a decline in trust that makes recovery from a downturn much more difficult
In effect, if the U.S. pressure tactics work, and Pakistan backs off on its links to militants, then Afghanistan is a big winner.
But if the pressure tactics fail, stability in Afghanistan could worsen, and the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan will grow even more complicated than it already is
In more ways than one, 2017 marked a turning point in India-China relations. If it began with India taking a strong stance against China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it ended with China tightening its grip on South Asia. And in between was the Doklam stand-off which underscored the challenges in this bilateral relationship in ways that few would have anticipated in recent years.
A flash point
Beijing is peeved at what it sees as New Delhi’s intransigence (refusal to change one’s views or to agree about something) on the BRI as India is perhaps the only major power frontally challenging China’s attempt to redraw the global economic landscape. And this challenge is framed around a principle which China holds very dear: the foundational principle of “sovereignty”
After all, the basis of the India-China partnership at one point was premised on them being the so-called “sovereignty hawks” in the global order. This was reiterated in platforms such as the Russia-India-China trilateral and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Not attending BRI
India used this to counter the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an important element of the BRI, even at the cost of getting regionally and globally isolated when it decided not to attend the BRI summit in May 2017
Disregarding Indian concerns on sovereignty
India was clear that China cannot expect to evolve a India-China global partnership on the basis of sovereignty-related concerns vis-à-vis the West and at the same time disregard Indian concerns on sovereignty with impunity at the bilateral level.
China winning in the Indian neighborhood
As the year came to an end, China’s engagement in India’s neighbourhood seemed to be growing with the Left Alliance winning in Nepal and the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between China and the Maldives
China’s relationship with Pakistan has become stronger with Beijing now openly batting for Islamabad, whether it is in scuttling Indian attempts to get Pakistan-based terror outfits banned by the United Nations Security Council or preventing India from joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
India pushing back globally: The Quad
India is pushing back in the wider Indo-Pacific
In November, on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila, India participated in the first formal official-level discussions of the ‘Quad’, the quadrilateral formation that also includes Japan, the U.S., and Australia.
As the two nations look to repair the damage done to their bilateral ties over the last few years, mere rhetoric of the past is unlikely to work
Need to find common ground
They need to find common ground to work seriously so that some tangible outcomes can be achieved
Both countries challenge each other
For India, China’s rise as a great power in its own vicinity presents a challenge that it has not encountered in the past. Beijing, for its part, is facing a New Delhi which, unlike before, is willing to challenge China
Doklam stand off
The Doklam crisis was as much about China asserting itself vis-à-vis India as it was about New Delhi’s determination not to cede any more ground to China.
Old formulations and principles seem to have outlived their usefulness. Otherwise, as China continues to strengthen its forces in Doklam and India seems determined to resist it, another Doklam-like episode may be just around the corner.
The closer you get to the border in J&K, the greater the yearning for an end to ceasefire violations
The closer you get to the border in J&K, the greater the yearning for an end to ceasefire violations
Author went on a field trip to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir with the Pakistan army for research on ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan
On the other side
Murree was under a thick blanket of snow on a cold December morning at the headquarters of General Officer Commanding of Pakistan Army’s 12 Division
- There was a great deal of politeness around, probably camouflaging the disquiet at having someone over from the ‘enemy’ country
- For an army that has been conditioned to view India as its existential enemy, this was to be expected
Tatrinote-Chakan Da Bagh
While on our way to the Tatrinote-Chakan Da Bagh trading point from the Battal sector (which the Pakistan Army calls a ‘hot’ area due to the frequent firing there) in the frontlines of Rawalakot, the Brigadier of 2-AK insisted on taking a circuitous route
- The faster road connection to the trading point was right under the Indian posts and was under constant Indian firing
- “It would be a pity if you were to be shot by your country’s army,” the Brigadier said half-seriously looking up at what the Pakistan Army calls India’s ‘Jungle Post’ in the foothills of the PirPanjal mountain range
- Ducking ‘friendly fire’ while on ‘enemy territory’ seemed sensible.
On day three, we drove down to Rawalpindi from Rawalakot and entered what is normally off-limits for most civilians, most certainly an Indian, the ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of the Pakistan Army, its heavily guarded General Headquarters. The General Headquarters is an impressive world-class campus, as are the security protocols and paraphernalia in and around it
Meeting with Chief of General Staff
- I was ushered in to have a private meeting with the Chief of General Staff (arguably the second most powerful officer in the Pakistan Army) and his deputy
- He seemed upbeat about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Pakistan Army’s ability to handle internal security challenges, and Pakistan’s return to the regional geopolitical scheme of things.
Destruction on both sides
Any visitor to either side of the LoC and the International Boundary (IB) in the Jammu-Sialkot sector would be shocked by the destruction of lives and livelihoods both sides have suffered over the years
Use of heavy artillery
With the rampant use of high calibre weapons such as mortars and even artillery in the borders in Jammu and Kashmir, civilian casualties and the destruction of their habitats have risen steadily
The narratives about death and destruction and how children cannot attend school due to ceasefire violations are tragically similar on both sides of the border
Low population on the Indian side
On the Indian side, much of this destruction is in the Jammu sector where villages fall in the range of high calibre Pakistani weapons
Far more on the Pakistani side
- Notably, there is far more border population on the Pakistani side than on the Indian side which has over the years put the Pakistan Army under a lot of pressure from the local population to control the firing
- Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have put much pressure on New Delhi.
- The one source of relief for the border population is the cross-LoC trade and transit that has persisted despite the ceasefire violations
- Despite being disrupted for short periods due to the firing, it is eventually reinstated to the relief of the local Kashmiris on both sides.
Always under threat
Soldiers posted on both sides also live under the constant threat of enemy firing. A senior Border Security Force officer once described this fear: “A man standing on duty at the post is always under tremendous fear of being watched by the opposite side through a telescopic rife and of being shot at any moment.” Being patriotic is one thing, dying avoidable deaths is another.
Pakistani military deployment on the LoC is thin compared to the Indian deployment along the counterpart sectors
The Pakistani side has not erected border fences, has stationed fewer troops, constructed fewer posts, and carries out very little patrolling along the zero line
In short, Indian forces enjoy sheer physical dominance along the borders
This seems to have aided the ability of the Indian forces to carry out occassional ‘surgical strikes’, both acknowledged or otherwise, across the LoC
Pakistan more enthusiastic about confidence building measures on the border
- Thanks to its thinner presence on the borders and the asymmetric impact on its border population, there seems to be greater enthusiasm in Pakistan for confidence-building measures to reduce violations on the border
- Pakistan, for instance, is keen to formalise the 2003 ceasefire agreement and to discuss other related confidence-building measures.
Officers open to suggestions than our political class
Not so surprisingly, officers posted on either side of the LoC and IB (in Jammu) are far more open to suggestions of confidence-building measures than the political classes and civilian bureaucracies in the respective capitals
Three suggestions which seem to have some traction on both sides deserve mention
Lower the caliber of violations
One sure way of reducing the destruction of civilian habitats is to lower the calibre of the violations
How: To do so, the two sides could consider withdrawing heavy artillery to 50 km behind the zero line
Regular meetings at DGMO level
- Two, the two Director-Generals of Military Operations, along with their delegations, could consider holding regular meetings every six months
- Data show that every time the leaderships of the armed forces meet, ceasefire violations come down — albeit for not too long
Establishing more Flag meeting points
Three, establishing more flag meeting points between local commanders and responding quickly to meeting requests could lead to better communication and reduced misunderstandings resulting in fewer ceasefire violations
India should take the initiative
- That the Indian side suffers fewer casualties and lesser destruction of civilian habitats is no reason why we should avoid entering into joint mechanisms to stabilise the borders in Jammu and Kashmir
- Over 30 slain Indian soldiers on the LoC and close to 900 ceasefire violations last year alone (note that each ceasefire violation could be tens of thousands of shots ranging from personal weapons to heavy artillery) should be reason enough for doing so.
The Chinese track construction was first observed by residents of the area, who informed the ITBP. The ITBP and Army sent a joint patrol on December 28, which asked the Chinese workers to return to their territory.
- Months after the two countries de-escalated from a standoff at Doklam on the Sikkim-Bhutan border, the Indian Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have foiled a Chinese attempt to build a track on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Tuting area of Arunachal Pradesh.
- The incident occurred on December 26, when a Chinese civilian track construction party, unaccompanied by any soldiers, crossed into the Indian side of the LAC, near Bishing in Tuting area of Arunachal Pradesh. This area near Kapang La is where Siang river crosses from Tibet to Arunachal Pradesh, but the Chinese workers did not cross the river.
- While the Chinese workers were told to return to their side of the LAC, their road construction equipment was seized
No standoff like Doklam
Sources, however, denied a Doklam-like eyeball-to-eyeball face-off between the two sides at the construction site on the LAC, and said there was no direct contact between Indian and Chinese soldiers during the incident.
According to sources, the Chinese track construction party was building a 12-feet wide, 1-km long track inside Indian territory. Because of the curved nature of tracks in mountain areas, it meant that the Chinese were nearly 400 metres inside Arunachal Pradesh.
- Although Bishing falls on the disputed LAC, it is not an area which witnesses Chinese incursions or clashes with Indian patrols
- While this remote area, at an altitude of over 12,000 feet, is manned by the ITBP, the track construction activity took place about 2 km away from the nearest ITBP post.
- It is unusual for the Chinese to undertake track construction in the area, more so during winter months
A senior official, however, told The Indian Express that this incident is “nothing out of the ordinary since perceptions of LAC differ. Our stance is that status quo cannot be altered unilaterally. Mere initiation of such unilateral activity in proximity of LAC by the Chinese is violently objected to.”
Pakistan is worried less by U.S. withdrawal of aid than the overall downslide in ties
US holds Pakistan accountable for terrorism
That the U.S. will continue to withhold $255 million in Foreign Military Financing to Pakistan this year suggests it is prepared to downgrade its ties with Pakistan further in an effort to hold it to account on terrorism
Remarks against Pakistan’s double policy
- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley cited Pakistan’s “double game” of cooperating with the U.S. and harbouring terrorists who attack its troops in Afghanistan
- Mr. Trump’s own tweet, a day earlier, on January 1, was less temperate in its wording. He accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit” and of treating the U.S. leadership as “fools”
After a National Security Council meeting of top generals and ministers convened by Prime Minister ShahidKhaqanAbbasi, it issued a statement expressing “disappointment” over the U.S. statements, and referring to Pakistan’s record in fighting terrorism and providing support to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan
Decision to hold back aid not unexpected
One reason is that the U.S. decision to hold back the $255 million was not unexpected
- In May last year, the Trump administration had decided to cut the annual outlay for 2018 from $255 million to $100 million
- In August, it notified Congress it would withhold the current tranche due for 2016 as well, while a decision on 2017 was still pending
No major impact
Second, while the overall downslide in ties with the U.S. will be a major worry for Pakistan, the cancellation of funds may not be that alarming. American assistance to Pakistan is at its lowest levels since 2001.
Chinese alternative available to Pakistan
Third, Pakistan’s confidence that it has an alternative in China has grown, with Beijing’s pledge of more than $100 billion in loans for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor infrastructure, power projects, and so on
Whether the U.S. will consider stronger measures, such as stopping all funding, sanctions, or cancelling Pakistan’s ‘major non-NATO ally’ status?
India’s view: a positive development
From India’s point of view, any attempt to hold Pakistan’s feet to the fire on its support to terror groups is a positive development
US needs to follow through
It is particularly important that the U.S. follow through on its ultimatums in this respect.
Focus on terrorism affecting American troops only
However, all American statements so far focus on Pakistan’s support to terror groups that threaten Afghanistan, and more particularly, the U.S. troops in Afghanistan
Action against groups targeting India is unlikely
Therefore, action against the groups that threaten India is unlikely to be an immediate priority. New Delhi must also be mindful of the impact of a more fractured U.S.-Pakistan relationship on regional security
Above all, the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, like that between India and the U.S. and India and Pakistan, is a long-standing bilateral one. While welcoming all moves to address India’s core concerns on terror, New Delhi must ensure it doesn’t get ensnared or triangulated in the equation between Washington and Islamabad
India has called off an order to buy Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel’s state-owned defence contractor Rafael
The deal had been worth about $500 million
The deal was worth about $500 million and its termination came ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India.
Barak missiles coming though
- India will buy 131 Barak surface-to-air missiles built by Rafael.
- The 4.6-billion-rupee ($72 million) order follows up an earlier purchase of Barak missiles, meant to protect Navy vessels against sea-skimming missiles and aerial threats.
India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation was developing a domestic anti-tank missile the government was keen to support.
India and Israel
Mr. Modi became the first sitting Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel last summer, and Mr. Netanyahu will fly to India on Jan. 14.
India has the scientific resources for genetic research — all it needs is the vision at the national level to leverage them
At this point, in principle, the prospect of building individualized medicine based on the precise information stored in each human’s DNA (their genome) had come into view
Human Genome Project
But the human genome has around 3 billion base pairs and in 1953 it wasn’t possible to imagine extracting genetic information on the molecular scale and of this collective size
Technological advances in sequencing methods have made the possibility glimpsed 60 years ago a reality today
Already by 2001 the human genome project and its private competitor, Celera Genomics, showed that an entire genome could be sequenced.
Since then the cost of doing so has plummeted — currently it is something like $1000 per person and becoming cheaper — and the age of genomics-informed medicine is now within sight
Perhaps this will also make interventional treatments feasible, in the not too distant future, thanks to the revolutionary advances brought about by the discovery of new gene-editing techniques, such as CRISPR.
Surveying Indian variation
What implications do these developments have for India and are there deliberate choices that would shape this coming future more advantageously for the country and its people? Are there strengths that India can bring to this task?
What India needs to do
- To gain fully from the genomics revolution, India needs to collect information about the genetics of its population and train manpower capable of interpreting it
- The information that is needed has to come from a large and sustained collection of data — fully sequenced individual genomes along with medical histories for the individuals who volunteer for this effort.
- This kind of longitudinal study is what would allow actual physical manifestations relevant to health, e.g. specific illnesses, to be related to features in the genome.
One million Indians
To pick an ambitious but not impossible number, a data bank that collects this kind of information on one million Indians over the coming decade would be a feasible effort of the right magnitude
Example of China
We note that the China Kadoorie Biobank has been studying half a million people since their recruitment in 2004-2008
More Diversity in India
As India is much more genetically diverse — with something like 5,000 ethno-linguistic and religious groups (castes and others), all of which probably have some degree of genetic distinctiveness — it needs a larger survey to do justice to all Indians.
Endogamy behind genetic distinctiveness of different Indian groups
The genetic distinctiveness of different Indian groups is in part the result of endogamy
While we cannot know the full impact of endogamy in advance of a proper survey, some recent research has shown that endogamy is very likely to be medically significant
Castes are not just “of the mind”
The genetic implication of this is that there are likely to be many recessive diseases stemming from single genes specific to individual groups that can be identified
Decreasing disease burden
This knowledge could then also be quickly applied to the task of managing diseases in these groups as well as be used for genetic counselling that could reduce their incidence in future generations
Example of Ashkenazi Jews
As an example elsewhere, the founder group of Ashkenazi Jews have almost eliminated Tay-Sachs disease from their population by such means
Technique of “genome-wide association studies”
Looking ahead a bit more, with large samples the technique of “genome-wide association studies” that compare genomes of cases and controls could be used to identify genetic risk factors related to common diseases (such as heart disease that stem from many genes) that affect the health of many more individuals
Survey of India genetic diversity could be an asset
- This is a good point at which to note that such a survey of Indian genetic diversity will be an important asset, beyond disease genetics
- The data collected as part of these efforts will also help to uncover the basic biological function of genes and their interactions, which are not yet fully understood
- This knowledge will be useful to humanity worldwide and also offer India a chance to claim a piece of the global medical and scientific frontier.
Bioinformatics to play a key role
As a large part of the enterprise would be the application of information technology or “bio-informatics”, the prospects of establishing viable commercial enterprises with synergies to existing IT champions are also promising
What then is to be done?
As things stand there is certainly progress under way
There has been path-breaking work in using genomics to shed light on Indian history, a small number of hospitals are using genetic information to help patients, and there is at least one private sequencing company in India
But on a smaller scale still
But all of this activity is on a much smaller scale than needed and is currently not generating the manpower required to equip the next generation of medical and research activities in the area.
National level coherent push needed
What is needed is a coherent push at the national level that involves government, academic institutions, the existing health-care industry, the IT industry and the nascent biotechnology industry
Creating an Indian genetic data bank
This coherent push should aim to set an ambitious but realistic objective of creating an Indian genetic data bank, to promote academic programmes that train scientists, technicians and doctors in this area and to create a regulatory framework that promotes broad objectives for both public and private sectors without being self-defeating.
Other Countries might take the lead
The fact is that both genetic data and biological samples are easily transported across borders and if Indian regulation is shortsighted, it will simply cause Indian genomics to move abroad to places such as Singapore
In this context it is worth mentioning that the GenomeAsia 100K Initiative based in Singapore plans to sequence 100,000 Asian genomes, including some from South Asia
India should have its own
While this is eminently worthwhile as it will provide a broader pan-Asian set of data, it would be important to make similar investments at a national scale quickly to avoid the situation that this is one of the only enterprises to which Indians can turn to.
All in all, the time is ripe for India to begin its own genomics revolution. The technical understanding and will needed to launch this is present in India’s scientific leadership, in medicine and in industry. What is needed is a vision and leadership at the national level to leverage this and seize the day. Nothing less than the very health of the nation is at stake
Differences between the environment ministry and the finance ministry have become a roadblock to the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
- This authority was envisaged as an independent body that would manage a corpus — collected from industries that have used forest land for projects — that accumulates around ₹6,000 crore annually and is already worth around Rs 42,000 crore
- These funds are meant to be used by states to implement agro-forestry in non-forest land to compensate for felled forest.
Hasn’t come into existence yet
- In spite of Parliament — after a fractious debate — signing CAMPA into law last year, it is yet to come into existence.
- Minister of State for Environment told Parliament last week that this was because the “rules” governing the management of the fund weren’t finalised and several meetings had been held among states to fix these rules.
Finance Ministry: funds should be routed through CFI
Power to disburse the funds should be with the CAMPA, however the finance ministry says it should be routed through the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI)
That’s not ideal as it could allow states to use it for purposes other than afforestation
- The CFI is the repository of government revenues and taxes and all funds channelled through it require Parliamentary approval
- Currently funds collected under CAMPA directly go into the Public Account and from thereon to the states
By way of example, the education cess that the government collects never necessarily gets spent on education The Comptroller and Auditor General recently pulled up the government for not transferring ₹83,497 crore, collected as a ‘Secondary and Higher Education Cess’ in the Consolidated Fund of India during 2006-2007 to 2016-2017, to designated funds in the Public Account from where government routes money to schemes.
Ad hoc mechanism currently
Currently, states are able to access CAMPA funds through an “ad hoc” mechanism whereby the Centre disburses it on a needs-basis
Not enough due diligence
- There are, however, too few personnel entrusted with managing this fund and often there isn’t enough due-diligence done to ensure that states are given money for purposes specific to regenerating forest
- This year, for instance, the ad hoc body disbursed only ₹1,827 crore to states this year as opposed to ₹2,213 crore and ₹2,057 crore in the preceding years.
The Supreme Court, in a 2009 order, had directed that an independent authority be charged with disbursing these funds, which paved the way for the Compensatory and Afforestation Fund (CAF) Bill envisaging the creation of a permanent Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority
Last July, the Rajya Sabha signed into law the CAMPA Bill that allows the states to access nearly ₹42,000 crore — mostly collected from industrial projects as penalties — from CAMPA and channel it into afforestation projects.
The government on Tuesday issued another clarification on the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill in a bid to clear the air about the many misgivings about the proposed Bill’s most notorious clause: the bail-in.
What does the Bill seek to do?
- It is meant to consolidate all the various regulatory laws covering India’s financial institution
- It also seeks to create a Resolution Corporation (RC) that will be in charge of winding down, reviving, or resolving in any other way an ailing financial company
- As such, the Bill is to work in tandem with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
- To do this, one of the tools the RC will be empowered with is a bail-in, in which a bank’s liabilities can be cancelled or modified to shore up its finances. This clause created a lot of alarm as many felt it would put depositors’ money in banks at risk.
Are deposits at risk?
- The government said that under the current Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation Act, deposits up to ₹1 lakh are insured. Under the FRDI Bill, the RC will be empowered to increase this limit to whatever it chooses. So, at least that much will be protected.
- Further, the government said that under the FRDI Bill, the claims of uninsured depositors (that is, beyond ₹1 lakh) would be given precedence over the claims of unsecured creditors and government dues. This is currently not the case.
But what about the bail-in?
- The government has finally clarified that the bail-in clause will not be used for public sector banks (PSBs).
- It also reiterated its implicit guarantee of PSB solvency. In other words, it said that it “stands ready” to bail-out the PSBs if needed, removing the need for a bail-in.
- Equally important, the statement said that the cancellation of the liability of a depositor beyond the insured amount cannot take place without his or her prior consent
- So, the bail-in clause can only be used in private banks, and that too only if the customers allow it.
Is that all protecting depositors?
No. The use of the bail-in clause by the RC will be subject to government scrutiny and parliamentary oversight. In the event of a bail-in, the RC will have to ensure that depositors get back at least as much money as they would have if the bank had been liquidated.