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Art and culture

Projecting soft power: How India is restoring cultural symbols beyond its shores: (Indian Express, Explained)


  • India has been increasingly undertaking projects across Asia to restore places of cultural importance.
  • Recently, PM Modi visited the historic Ananda temple in Bagan, Myanmar, whose structural conservation and chemical preservation work has been carries out by the Archaeological survey of India.
  • Such initiatives are an important tool of Soft Power in diplomatic relations

Restoration projects undertaken by India in Asia (locations important for Prelims):

  • Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor, CAMBODIA
  • Cham Monuments, VIETNAM
  • Thiruketeeswaram Temple, Mannar, SRI LANKA
  • Wat Phou Temple Complex, LAOS
  • Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu, NEPAL

Mechanism adopted by India for restoration:

  • Funds are released through the Ministry of External Affairs as part of India’s diplomatic outreach to these nations.
  • The ASI, under the Ministry of Culture, is the implementing agency.
  • Work can go on for decades, and is often monitored by third-party agencies such as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
  • The countries where the ASI works sometimes pitch in with help on the board and lodging of the restoration team.

Archaeological Survey of India:

  • The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), as an attached office under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is the premier organization for the archaeological researches and protection of the cultural heritage of the nation.
  • Maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance is the prime concern of the ASI.
  • Besides it regulates all archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It also regulates Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972.

Soft Power:

  • Soft power is a concept developed by Joseph Nye of Harvard University to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than by coercion (hard power), using force or giving money as a means of persuasion.
  • A defining feature of soft power is that it is noncoercive; the currency of soft power is
  •  Culture
  • Political values
  • Foreign policies.
  • Though slower to yield results, soft power is a less expensive means than military force or economic inducements to get others to do what we want.

Benefits of soft power:

  • Soft power, since it is not based on coercion, is far-reaching in other societies.
  • Identification with the transmitted values becomes far more effective when it is not imposed.
  • It costs less than the use of hard power, that first needs an important investment before being used and having an effect.
  • Soft power as it is indirect power often results from different investments that are made for other purposes than the sole purpose of increasing one’s state power.
  • Moreover, soft power has the benefit and the effect of multiplying the already reached and existing power. Thus, it works as leverage on the whole system.

India’s soft power potential:

  • India holds strong cards in the arena of soft power. Its
  • Spiritualism and yoga
  • movies and television soaps
  • classical and popular dance and music
  • principles of non-violence
  • democratic institutions
  • plural society
  • and cuisine have all attracted people across the world.
  • It is only over the past decade or so that India has begun to play its soft power cards more systematically.
  • Besides setting up a public diplomacy division within the Ministry of External Affairs in 2006 and expanding the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) worldwide, it has roped in the Ministry of Tourism, which is behind the Incredible India campaign, and the Ministry for Overseas Indians to showcase its social, political, and cultural assets abroad.
  • These government actors are working to leverage India’s soft power by using it to support larger foreign policy initiatives such as the Look East Policy (now Act East), the Connect Central Asia policy, and developing strategic aid and trade partnerships in Africa.

Neolithic pot of joy promises to shine light on prehistory in Kashmir, beyond: (Indian Express, Explained)


4,000-year-old pot has been excavated in the Haigam area of Sopore in Kashmir and  is the first piece of Neolithic pottery in Kashmir that has been found entirely intact. Before this,  only stone tools, pieces of pottery, and some human remains had been unearthed.

What is Neolithic period?

A remarkable progress is noticed in human civilization in the Neolithic Age.In India Neolithic Age is not earlier than 6000 BC and at some places in South and Eastern India; it is as late as 1000 BC

Earliest evident of Neolithic culture have been found at Mehragarh on bank of river Bolan (Baluchistan) 7000 BC showing beginning of agriculture & domestication of animals

Where are Neolithic settlements in India located?

Based on the types of tools used, the Neolithic settlements in India ae found in three main areas:

  • One area is found in the valley of Kashmir in an are called Burzahom at a 20km distance from Srinagar and another Gufkral . The people here had a hunting and fishing economy,settled in pits and seem to have had no knowledge of agriculture . Tools made of bone are the special feature here. They had coarse gray pottery. An interesting find here is that the practise of burying Burzahom domestic dogs with their masters in the graves.
  • The second group of Neolithic people lived in South India south of the Godavari river. They used stone axes, domesticated sheep and cattle. The large number of domesticated cattle is an important feature here. They used stone querns which shows that they were acquainted with the art of producing grains.
  • The third are of discovery of Neolithic tools is the hills of Assam.
  • In addition Neolithic settlements are found in Allahabad, Chirand in Bihar, Belan valley in Uttar Pradesh , Vindhyas and Garo hills of Meghalayas among others.

Significance of Neolithic period

The Neolithic period was significant for a number of reasons:

  • Since, in the Neolithic period they came to be acquainted with cultivation of cereals and domestication of cattle, they needed pots to keep foodgrains and milk. Hence,handmade pottery in the early periods and footwheeled pots in the later period were found.
  • Some of them were cattle herders and domesticated sheep,cattle ,goats,etc.
  • The later Neolithic settlers were agriculturists and lived in houses made of mud and reed.They produced Ragi and Horsegram.
  • Polishing of stone tools is another significant feature.
  • Crops such as rice,wheat,barley came to be produced.
  • Cultivation of plants and domestication of animals led to the emergence of village communities based on sedentary life.


Researchers are now searching for clues to determine if these sites played a role in transmitting knowledge of agriculture, particularly wheat and barley cultivation, from western Asia into China, where farm practices played a key role in supporting the early rise of the Chinese state.


Government policies

Income limit raised for creamy layer: (The Hindu)


  • The ‘creamy layer’ ceiling for OBC reservation has been raised to Rs. 8 lakh per year.

What is the new decision?

  • The decision is to raise the income limit from Rs. 6 lakh to Rs. 8 lakh per annum for determining the creamy layer among the Other Backward Classes.

How many times have the ceiling been raised?

  • In 1993, the limit was kept at Rs. 1 lakh. It was raised thrice — to Rs. 2.5 lakh in 2004, Rs. 4.5 lakh in 2008 and Rs. 6 lakh in 2013.

What is the purpose behind raising the ceiling?

  • These measures are part of the government’s efforts to ensure greater social justice and inclusion for members of the Other Backward Classes.

India and neighbors

The case for alliance: (Indian Express. Editorial)


Rise of China and uncertainty over America’s role in Asia has brought Japan and India closer


  • Japan has come closest to being India’s natural ally in Asia
  • The emerging Asian dynamic, suggests that Delhi and Tokyo must necessarily draw closer.

Growing concerns:

  • Rapid rise of China and the other is the growing uncertainty over America’s future role in Asia.
  • Rising China has dethroned Japan as the number one economic power in Asia

Reasons for rapid rise of China:

  • Nearly 40 years of accelerated economic growth has helped China inch closer to the aggregate GDP of the United States.
  • Military modernisation over the past decades has given Beijing levers to contest US military dominance over Asia.
  • China’s GDP is now five times larger than that of India. Beijing outspends Delhi and Tokyo on defence by more than four times.
  • According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, China’s defence budget ($216 billion) is more than twice that of India ($56 billion) and Japan ($46 billion) put together.

India and Japan Current developments:

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi  had put Japan at the very top of his foreign policy agenda.
  • Modi continuously nudged the Indian establishment to think more strategically about cooperation with Japan — from high speed railway development to the modernisation of transport infrastructure in the Northeast.
  • Tokyo and Delhi have expanded their maritime security cooperation, agreed to work together in promoting connectivity and infrastructure in third countries in India’s neighbourhood. They are pooling their resources — financial and human — to develop the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
  • Today, Japan has come closest to being India’s natural ally in Asia.


  • Japan was the only nation to extend public support to India during the Doklam confrontation with China
  • Two decades ago, in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests, Tokyo was at the forefront of the international condemnation and the imposition of collective economic measures against Delhi.
  • Way ahead:
  • Delhi and Tokyo have come a long way since the tensions over India’s nuclear tests in the late 1990s. But there is much distance to go before they can showcase at least an alliance-like relationship.


Indian Economy. Planning, Growth and Employment

Petrol, diesel should come under GST: (The Hindu)  


To include or not to include petrol and diesel under GST

What is the issue?

Though the prices of petrol and diesel are being revised on a daily basis, in the last two months prices of the petrol and diesel has seen a spike of Rs.7.3 per litre.

What has led to the price rise?

States have drastically increased value-added tax.

Why is there no tax cut to reduce the impact of the rising prices?

  • The government does not intend on tax cutting to soften the blow of the relentless rise in prices as the government need to finance huge infrastructure and social projects has to be balanced with consumer need
  • Along with this, the global prices had risen due to factors such as the hurricanes in the U.S., owing to which 13% of US refinery capacity has shut down.
  • Government also is criticizing the claim for tax cut saying that after the daily price revision started, the drop in the prices that for over a fortnight, is being totally ignored by the people and they are highlighting only on the “temporary” phenomenon.
  • Another point put forward by the government so as explaining why it is not taking any action on spiked prices is that – the government will not interfere in day-to-day operations of oil companies. It will interfere only to improve operational efficiency of oil companies

What is the solution prescribed by the authorities?

From the point of the administration, rather than making a tax cut, a better solution would be to include petrol and diesel in the GST regime.

Why rates are being revised on a daily basis?

  • India relies on imports to meet 80% of its needs
  • So, domestic fuel rates have been aligned to the movement of equivalent product prices in the international market
  • Earlier the rates were revised and changed every fortnight, but since July 16 they are being revised daily.
  • The rationale behind this is that the daily revision immediately passes on the benefit of any reduction in international oil prices to consumers and avoids sharp spikes by spreading them in small doses

Workers to get unique number: (The Hindu)


  • Unique identification number.

What is the in news?

  • The Union Minister for Labour and Employment said that every worker in the unorganized and organized sector will get a unique identification number.
  • This will make it easier for them to get benefits under different social schemes.
  • The government is planning to compress 44 labour laws into four codes – Wages, industrial relations, social security; and for occupational safety, health, and working conditions.

Why is it important?

  • It will benefit more than 40 crore workers of the unorganized sector.
  • Providing unique identification number was a part of the labour reforms of the current government.
  • All the prominent labour unions have been invited for consultations on labour reforms.

Why is there skepticism about the implementation?

  • The government has sufficient data about the 4.15 crore subscribers of the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation.
  • It has been unable to allot unique numbers to all of them.
  • The actual number of workers in the unorganized is not concrete.

RBI is not comfortable with bitcoins: (The Hindu)


  • Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies

Why was it in the news?

  • The RBI’s executive director termed non-fiat cryptocurrency as a private cryptocurrency.
  • A group of people (user) who are looking at fiat cryptocurrencies.
  • The RBI is studying the aspect of issuing a digital currency in place of the physical currency in circulation.
  • The central bank has cautioned users about Bitcoins.

What is the recent spurt about Bitcoins?

  • There has been a growing number of investors in cryptocurrencies over the last few years.

TRAI chief calls for zero cost for digital transactions: (The Hindu)


Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma emphasised on the need for a speedy solution to issues of data ownership and privacy.


  • Sharma on Wednesday suggested removal of costs related with digital payments such as merchant discount rate (MDR) for promoting digital transactions in the country.


  • The purpose was to have a sustainable digital transactions system.
  • To ensure that Merchant discount rate is zero, especially for small value transactions

Data Privacy:

  • India is moving towards a data world and data has become extremely important.
  • Issues of data ownership, its privacy and security are extremely important.
  • With services like a lot of “metadata” about users is given out and stored in clouds, not with the government but private firms. There is need to have data privacy.

Corporate debt, a drag on economy: (The Hindu)


  • Thomson Reuters data, shows India’s corporate debt rising to a seven-year high at the end of March 2017.

What happened?

  • The Indian government reported on August 31 that annual GDP growth in the quarter ended June dropped to 5.7%, India’s weakest since early 2014.

What was considered the cause?

  • It was blamed on attempts by the government to flush out money hidden from the tax man, which caused a cash crunch, and the introduction of a general sales tax (GST), which prompted businesses and consumers to hit the pause button.

What was the main cause?

  • More than a fifth of large companies did not earn enough to pay interest on their loans and the pace of new loans fell to the lowest in more than six decades.

How are soured loans affecting India’s economy?

  • Since January 2015, the central bank has cut policy rates by 200 basis points, but commercial bank benchmark lending rates have come down less, by about 120 basis points.
  • Interest rates are soaring and borrowing costs remains unchanged making it tougher for the conglomerate to lower its net debt.
  • The impact of soured loans on bank balance sheets, is preventing bankers from getting the full benefit of central bank rate cuts.
  • Thomson Reuters data shows net debt for 288 companies with a market capitalization of more than $500 million, covering most big firms in India, has hit at least a seven-year high of ₹18 trillion ($281 billion).
  • Soured debt was 12% of total loans held by lenders at the end of March.
  • Another Thomson Reuters analysis showed more than a fifth of 513 Indian companies had interest cover of less than 1%.
  • On an annual basis, the pace of new loans in the year to the end of March, fell to the lowest since the fiscal year ended in March 1954.
  • The impact can be seen in the GDP data. Gross capital formation, a gauge of private investment, fell to less than 30% of GDP in the June quarter, from 31% a year earlier and 38% a decade ago.

Inglorious uncertainty: (Indian Express. Editorial)


India has experienced an economic slowdown to 5.7%

What is the issue?

  • India needs to grow at least 7 to 8 per cent a year. However, for the last 6years it has not crossed that average.
  • Several indices like private investment, index of industrial production are also disappointing.
  • However, the present government cite “ technical issues” as the reason for economic slowdown

What are the major issues with present government policies?

  • Inefficient addressing to the problem around the relationship between big capitals and the banking system
  • Though inflation has been managed well, unemployment remains a big problem
  • There is diminishing faith in the private sector. Indian capital is facing a deep crisis of credibility.
  • There is a lack of economic diagnosis. Myopic view of the government while implementing major structural reforms is a major issue.
  • Improper implementation of reforms like demonetization. What it might manage to achieve in the future, could have been achieved by other means and at far less cost to the poor.
  • Economic pessimism is evident from the political support for demonetization. The confidence in government was a consequence of the rock-water bottom to which the economy has reached.

Science and Tech

India has ‘narrow’ pool of mustard varieties, say agricultural scientists: (The Hindu)


National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) has said that India has a narrow pool of mustard varieties.

What was the earlier argument?

  • Critics of GM crops had put forward the argument that India is the centre of origin and diversity of mustard
  • It was stated that that India has over 9,000 varieties of mustard
  • Supreme Court-appointed Technical Advisory Committee had also recommended a stay on GM mustard citing the breadth of India’s genetic diversity in mustard and that introducing it would lead to “irreversible” contamination.

What does the present report of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) say?

  • According to NAAS, scientific analysis has shown that the Indian gene pool of mustard is very narrow.
  • It has advocated that there is a need for hybrid technology for developing better mustard varieties.
  • The NAAS has also rejected the claims that non-GM varieties of rapeseed in Europe out-yielded GM varieties grown in Canada.


Indo-Russian war games in Oct:


India and Russia will have their first tri-service military exercise in this October

What is the significance?

What is the purpose?

  • The aim of the exercise is suppression of international terrorist activities
  • The two countries decided to upgrade Indra from an individual service exercise into an integrated tri-service.
  • Indra is a joint, bi-annual military exercise conducted by India and Russia starting in 2003.
  • The aim of the exercise is to carry out joint exercises for suppression of international terrorist activities under the United Nations mandates


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