Read The Hindu Notes of 18th February 2019 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 18th February 2019
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 18th February 2019
  • The challenge in the Pulwama attack

    India cannot achieve its strategic objectives if Kashmiris remain targets of harassment, and minorities are vilified

  • In recent months, those with experience in monitoring Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan had been getting distinctly uncomfortable. There were signals emanating from Pakistan pointing to a new turn. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was trying to make overtures to India and conveying that his government would be one with a difference, a ‘Naya-Pakistan’ as he called it. Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa had earlier attempted to confound observers through a long interaction with the media, which came to be touted as the Bajwa Doctrine, and was ‘supposed’ to be a hand of friendship. The offer to open the Kartarpur Corridor and the fast-track progress to the conduct of ceremonies to launch the construction of the project were uncharacteristic. His presence at the ceremony on the Pakistani side appeared to reflect total consensus and support of the Army.
  • It was somehow the wrong time for Pakistan to be making peace overtures when the Indian elections were approaching. Pakistan could not have expected any big and strategic decisions, and sure enough India’s response to everything was lukewarm. The circumstances did not permit any traction unless a firm commitment was given about the withdrawal of all support from across the border to terrorists.
  • New terror tactics

  • Whenever Pakistan starts to speak the language of peace, it raises hackles in India because it seems evident that something unusual is in the offing and overtures are primarily there to bait India. It has been proved again at Pulwama, with the most dastardly act perpetrated since the beginning of the 30-year-long proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Two issues are of relevance here. The first is that the return of the car bomb and the improvised explosive device (IED) to the Kashmir theatre was predicted for the last one year. The trend had died out after the last effective IED attack, on an Army bus in July 2008, and the last car bomb attack, again on an Army bus on the very same road, in 2004. IEDs had been rampant earlier but car bombs were few and far between. It was the progressive improvement in the fabrication of IEDs and car bombs in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and the internal security environment of Pakistan that probably gave an impetus to perceptions about their potential usage once again in Kashmir.
  • The Pakistani experience had also much to do with religiously radicalised young men strapped with explosives detonating themselves at gatherings of people — the suicide bomber as against the suicide fighter. Suicide bombing was neither experienced in earlier years nor has it manifested itself yet in Kashmir. Its threat potential, of course, remains live and its entry could further change the nature of the proxy war.
  • Pakistan’s deep state has been aware that the Indian security forces have achieved much in the last two years in terms of neutralisation of terrorists, although almost the same number have been added through fresh recruitment or infiltration. In order to reduce the domination and effectiveness achieved by the security forces and to limit their freedom of movement, the reintroduction of these devices could achieve much. That is because the unpredictability factor of IEDs and car bombs is so high that it forces a larger than normal deployment of security forces.
  • Sign of Pakistan’s confidence

  • The second relevant issue, or observation, is that Pakistan’s self-confidence has been increasing. This has been despite the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) surveillance, its reduced foreign exchange reserves and a failing economy. The backing from China and, most importantly, Pakistan’s enhanced geostrategic and geopolitical significance in the light of the U.S. decision to pull out in full from Afghanistan have also contributed to it. The moment that decision on Afghanistan was taken, Pakistan once again acquired leverage with the big powers and all stakeholders for peace in Afghanistan. The realisation that it held the key to the return of the Taliban, the upholding of all its agreements with the foreign forces and future stability, gave Pakistan a strategic boost. The U.S. started courting it in a reversal of President Donald Trump’s policy which had questioned the utility of such nations which had taken excess U.S. funding as aid and never delivered strategic advantage to it.
  • It is the first sign of Pakistan’s increasing confidence that can be seen in the Pulwama attack executed by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), an organisation virtually sponsored and owned by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Initial investigation suggests careful planning, infiltration of an ‘IED doctor’ (a technical person capable of fabricating IEDs) and a module fully functional at work with a network of overground workers. An apparent risk analysis in Pakistan would have revealed that with the internal health and state of equipment of the Indian armed forces under intense negative discussion in India, the feasibility of a response would be remote. An energetic impetus to terror would follow and this would probably have an effect on the electoral prospects of the current National Democratic Alliance government, besides preparing ground for extended violence into the future. Time and again Pakistan has been wrong in the assessments it makes.
  • While the mortal remains of 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were transported for last rites to cities and villages all over India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly promised retribution for the loss and emphasised that he had given the freedom of choosing the time, mode and place to the Indian Army. A rare political consensus, short-lived no doubt, has appeared in New Delhi, and the media is discussing military options. To be realistic, that is how the modern world functions, on the power of public opinion.
  • If that be so, what options does the Indian government have? The diplomatic one is already under execution although the energy of Indian diplomacy to paint Pakistan red must flow longer and focus on not only important capitals of the world but also significant international think tanks and media. The Most Favoured Nation status and measures involving control of water under the Indus Waters Treaty remain soft options, sans much optics. It’s the military domain which is demanding Mr. Modi’s focus. A risk analysis would already be under way to examine a range of options or combinations. It could start with covert operations which can be ongoing, to trans-border raids several notches higher than the surgical strikes and targeting Pakistan Army resources as against terrorist infrastructure, and surgical air strikes against terrorist bases inside Pakistan. Ground-based operations restricted to Jammu & Kashmir and harking back to some of the options of yesteryear could form a part of the overall response. However, it should be remembered that Pakistan will not permit such actions without its military response, which too would be robust.
  • Time to be cool headed

  • The Indian national leadership would do well not to be guided by the immediacy of electoral considerations; national security interests transcend this. Whatever are the selected options, the two things that would make for stronger execution are political consensus and management of internal social cohesion. India cannot achieve its strategic objectives if Kashmiris remain targets of physical abuse and harassment, and minorities are vilified on social media. It is a difficult time for India and the leadership has to work overtime to ensure that the Indian armed forces have a ‘firm base’ to operate from; that is always a military need anyway.
  • How the 16th Lok Sabha fared

    Important bills were passed; but going forward there must be debate on the anti-defection law

  • The 16th Lok Sabha had its final sitting last Wednesday, marking an end to a disappointing five-year period. This Lok Sabha was surpassed only by the preceding one in terms of the low number of hours it worked. It met for 1,615 hours, 40% lower than all full-term Parliaments. This shows a decline in the number of sitting days over the decades as well as a significant part of the scheduled time lost to disruptions. This Lok Sabha sat for 331 days (against a 468-day average for all previous full-term Lok Sabhas), and lost 16% of its time to disruptions.
  • Though there were no extreme incidents — an MP used pepper spray in the 15th Lok Sabha — MPs often broke the rules. The House was often disrupted by MPs carrying placards, entering the well, and even on occasion, blocking their colleagues from speaking. A big casualty was Question Hour — the Lok Sabha lost a third of this time and the Rajya Sabha 60%; consequently, just 18% of the starred questions in each House got an oral reply.
  • Another notable event was the Speaker blaming unruly behaviour for her inability to count the required number of MPs demanding a no-confidence motion but allowing the Union Budget to be passed in the interim. There was a similar episode at the end of the 15th Lok Sabha when the Speaker was unable to conduct a no-confidence motion but let the House pass the Act to bifurcate the State of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Key legislation

  • However, Parliament made some important laws. The Goods and Services Tax was implemented and the bankruptcy code was enacted. The IIM Act gave premier management educational institutions a level of autonomy not available to other public educational institutions. The Juvenile Justice Act allowed children (between 16 and 18 years) accused of committing heinous crimes to be prosecuted as adults. New Acts were passed: for treatment of mental health patients, and those with HIV/AIDS. Another Act was passed to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • There was some effort to address the issues of corruption, black money and leakages. The Prevention of Corruption Act was amended to make bribe-giving an offence. Laws were made requiring a declaration of assets held outside India, and to declare as fugitives those economic offenders who had fled the country. The Aadhaar Act was passed to create a biometric-based identity system.
  • Bill passing

  • This brings us to the manner in which some Bills were passed. The Aadhaar Act was passed as a Money Bill — and upheld (incorrectly in my opinion) by the Supreme Court. The Constitution defines a Bill as a Money Bill if it contains provisions that exclusively relate to taxes or government spending. Importantly, such Bills need majority support only in the Lok Sabha, with the Rajya Sabha having just a recommendatory role. Arguing that Aadhaar was primarily a subsidy delivery mechanism, and not an identity system seems like a stretch, but that was the majority decision of the Supreme Court. However, there has not been much conversation on the various Finance Bills that have been passed as Money Bills.
  • The Finance Bill is traditionally introduced with the Budget, and contains all the legislative changes to tax laws. Therefore, it is usually a Money Bill. However, Finance Bills, in the last few years, have included items which have no relation to taxes or to expenditure of the government. The Finance Bill, 2015 included provisions to merge the regulator of commodity exchanges with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. The Finance Bill, 2016 included amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act which relate to donations to non-profits. The Finance Bill, 2017 went further and changed the compositions of 19 quasi-judicial bodies such as the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Green Tribunal and the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT), and repealed seven other bodies including the Competition Appellate Tribunal.
  • About half the clauses of the 2018 Bill were on issues unrelated to taxes. Even the Finance Bill, 2019 presented with the interim Budget amended the provisions related to attaching property under the money laundering law. It is difficult to see how these Bills would fall within the narrow definition of Money Bill, as defined in Article 110 of the Constitution.
  • A few other Bills, such as the Triple Talaq Bill and the Citizenship Bill, were passed by the Lok Sabha but will lapse as they were not passed by the Rajya Sabha. It is evident that the government was able to have its way on every issue in the Lok Sabha and was held in check only due to a lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha; even this check was bypassed occasionally using the Money Bill route. The government could do this as a result of the anti-defection provision which gives complete control of all party votes to the party leadership. This law has converted MPs from being representatives of the people to delegates of the party. If the party in government has a majority of its own, it can have any provision passed; even coalition governments have to convince just a handful of leaders of their alliance partners.
  • Review the anti-defection law

  • Parliament plays the central role in our democracy by holding the government to account and scrutinising proposed laws and financial priorities. With the end of the 16th Lok Sabha, it is time to ponder on how to make this institution more effective. An important step will be by reviewing the anti-defection law that has hollowed out the institution.
  • Strange emergency

    Donald Trump’s latest move further undermines American democracy

  • Declaring a state of national emergency is hardly a trivial decision. While the U.S. has done so in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and similar exigencies, President Donald Trump has opted for this measure in the context of what he has described as “an invasion of drugs and criminals” from across the border with Mexico. The move has further polarised Washington and put the strident immigration debate front and centre again. The context for the emergency is the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, for 35 days, that resulted in the shuttering of nine government agencies and the furlough of 800,000 government workers. The primary cause was Mr. Trump’s refusal to sign off on Congressional appropriations bills unless lawmakers agreed to hand over $5.7 billion to fund his plan to construct a border wall with Mexico. As the cost to the U.S. economy of the shutdown soared close to $11 billion by late-January, Mr. Trump backed down on his demand, yet warned that unless Congress yielded on the border wall funding, “I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and the Constitution of the U.S. to address this emergency.” Now he appears to have made good on that statement, probably on the basis that during national emergencies U.S. law permits the diversion of funds from military or disaster relief budgets to tackle the “crisis” at hand.
  • This begs the question of how real the emergency is and why the White House is devoting its considerable political capital to this one policy issue. Mr. Trump frequently alludes to the migration crisis that he believes has engulfed the southern border. It is true that more than 2,000 people were turned away or arrested at the border each day during November 2018, numbers that U.S. immigration hawks have seized upon to press the argument for a wall. Yet this figure has decreased considerably over the past decade, and border crossings by undocumented migrants are at an all-time low, down from 1.3 million in 2001 to about 40,000 in 2018. If this is then a purely political move that panders to Mr. Trump’s conservative voter base, it may stand on wobbly legal foundations. Already, the first few lawsuits challenging the emergency declaration are working their way through the courts. Further, Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, may under their constitutional powers vote to terminate the emergency. This would put the Republican-controlled Senate on the back foot by requiring it to clarify its position on the status quo, by either supporting or defeating such a resolution. While Mr. Trump’s supporters are doubtless celebrating their Commander-in-Chief’s chutzpah for this move, the truth is that it will only take the U.S. further away from the ideal of peaceful coexistence within a pluralistic democracy.
  • Delhi dilemma

    Supreme Court’s split decision flags the need to address complexities in Centre-UT ties

  • The Supreme Court’s split decision on the question of whether the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD) has executive control over those in its service points to the inherent complexity of the relations between the Delhi government and the Centre. The disadvantages of not having full statehood status has been felt by many elected regimes in Delhi. But under Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party government, and with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre, the extent of acrimony has been severe. Battles have been fought in the political and judicial spheres over whether some subject or the other falls under the Delhi government or is the exclusive preserve of the Centre. A Constitution Bench ruling last year provided a framework to resolve such issues. It held that the Lt. Governor has to act either on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, or abide by the decision of the President on a reference made by him. The power to refer “any matter” to the President did not mean “every matter” should go that way. Specific issues were left to a Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, which has resolved most issues. It has upheld the Delhi government’s power to appoint prosecutors, levy and revise stamp duty on property transactions and issue notifications under the Delhi Electricity Reform Act.
  • Both judges agree that there is no ‘service’ in the Delhi government, as all its employees come under the ‘Central services’. Its civil servants are drawn from the DANICS cadre, a service common to various Union Territories. Justice Sikri believes that going by a Constitution Bench decision last year, the NCTD would indeed have the power to deploy officials within its own departments. However, the absence of a public service in Delhi means Entry 41 in the State List (services; service commissions) would imply that it is a matter inapplicable to ‘Union Territories’, and therefore, the LG need not act on the Delhi government’s aid and advice. Therefore, he favours a solution under which transfers and postings of officers in the rank of Joint Secretary and above could be directly submitted to the LG, and those of others be processed by the Council of Ministers and sent to the LG. In case of any dispute, the LG’s view will prevail. Justice Bhushan, on the other hand, has ruled that once it is accepted that there is no ‘service’ under the NCTD, there is no scope for its government to exercise any executive power in this regard. A larger Bench will now decide on the question relating to control over the services. The more significant challenge is to find a way out of the complexities and problems thrown up by the multiple forms of federalism and power-sharing arrangements through which relations between the Centre and its constituent units are regulated.
  • One purpose, many differences

    Taking on the BJP is not enough; the Opposition must work on its common agenda

  • The Opposition parties that have banded together against the BJP need to go beyond State-level alliances. They must present not only a common pre-poll agenda with a storyline distinct from that of the ruling party, but also a united front, minimising competition among their members in key States.
  • Despite the Narendra Modi government losing some of its sheen, the BJP’s well-oiled machine presents a formidable challenge to the Opposition. But it is becoming apparent that the Congress, which is still riding high after its 2018 electoral victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, is doing all it can to strengthen itself even as it tries to rally the other secular Opposition parties to take on the BJP.
  • Some fraught relations

  • The resulting tension has manifest itself in the Congress’s equation with the smaller parties. Barring the States where the Congress is in a direct fight with the BJP, its interests clash with those of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal; the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in Uttar Pradesh; the Left parties in Kerala and Tripura; the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi; and even the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, where the two are currently sharing power. In some other States, the Congress’s relationship with its allies — whether the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, or the National Conference — is somewhat less strained. As things stand, it will fight against its “national allies” in at least three States — U.P., Kerala and Tripura — and is likely to have a seat-sharing agreement with the Left parties in West Bengal against the Trinamool.
  • The fraught relations between the Congress and some of its allies were visible in Parliament. On February 12, the SP and other Opposition parties were upset when the Congress did not join their protest in the Rajya Sabha after SP chief Akhilesh Yadav was prevented by the BJP government in U.P. from boarding a flight to Allahabad. A day later, Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury accused the Trinamool on the floor of the Lok Sabha of involvement in the chit fund scam; only NC leader Farooq Abdullah intervened. An incensed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee confronted UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in Parliament House, “I won’t forget it.” Taken aback, Ms. Gandhi sought to placate her: “We may accuse each other, but we are still friends.” Even as this was playing out in Parliament, the Congress declared it would fight the elections in U.P. “on the front foot”, rather than meekly accept the two seats left for it by the SP-BSP-RLD combine. A circumspect Mr. Yadav welcomed Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into full-time politics, but BSP supremo Mayawati fired her first salvo against the Congress last week: M.P.’s Congress administration and U.P.’s BJP government, she tweeted, were alike as both had used the draconian National Security Act against Muslims accused of cow slaughter.
  • This has upset the Opposition parties, as U.P.’s 80 Lok Sabha seats hold the key to forming the next government at the Centre. They are also concerned that this tension will adversely affect the momentum that the Opposition got after the swearing-in of the Congress-JD(S) government in Karnataka in 2018. At the Opposition protest at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on the closing day of Parliament, Mr. Abdullah advised his colleagues: “Defeat Modi first, then think of the Prime Minister’s chair. Big causes need sacrifices. The days are over when there was the flag of one party across the country.” Ms. Banerjee took the hint and responded that while she would not concede an inch in West Bengal, all the Opposition parties are willing to come together “nationally”.
  • In the Congress, however, leaders and party workers alike believe that as members of “the only national party with an inclusive agenda”, they must first strengthen their own organisation. They say that they cannot be “held hostage” by regional parties such as the SP, BSP and RLD in U.P.— or, for that matter, in any other State. They are optimistic that the ideology that binds the Opposition parties will ensure that even those who contest against each other in the elections — for tactical or other reasons — will come together after the results are in.
  • A common minimum programme

  • In the absence of a substantive pre-poll alliance, Opposition leaders who met at NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s residence on February 13 discussed whether a common minimum programme could hold the constituents together in a “pre-poll alliance” to avoid “post-poll irritants”. These Opposition parties have realised that this is critical as it will not only ensure that voters take them more seriously after the elections if they forge ahead of the BJP-led NDA, but the President too will be compelled to call them first to form a government. In the absence of a pre-poll alliance with a common agenda, he is likely to call the single largest party, which may well be the BJP, despite predictions that its numbers will slump.
  • What is driving the Opposition today is the energy and combativeness of younger regional leaders, particularly Ms. Banerjee, the Telugu Desam Party’s N. Chandrababu Naidu, and the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal. Mr. Abdullah, Mr. Pawar and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda are playing the role of elder statesmen. There is also a grudging acceptance from some Opposition leaders that Mr. Gandhi’s steadfast attack of the BJP, and particularly Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the Rafale deal has not just dented Mr. Modi’s seemingly immaculate image, but also provided a “political line” for the Opposition.
  • Today, the Pulwama terror attack poses a fresh challenge to the Opposition. It will require the combined political skills of leaders to ensure that the BJP and the RSS do not use this carnage to polarise voters on religious lines.
  • Making art inclusive

    Events like the Kochi-Muziris Biennale serve a vital purpose

  • Art ought to be an enabler but that is perhaps utopian. Exhibitions have now proliferated and there is a plethora of art events, but whom or what are these events for? For a privileged few who access these spaces which are deeply hierarchical in nature? Galleries in a traditional sense have remained the preserve of the elite. This has led to the emergence of non-normative, alternative art spaces where newer alliances and engagements can be embraced.
  • The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which began in 2012, feels like redemption in many ways. It is one of India’s biggest achievements in making art inclusive. Hordes of people show up at the venues every day, many of whom have limited or no prior exposure to the visual arts. These are the common masses who turn their Sunday trip to the city into a visit to the biennale.
  • One of the major initiatives of the biennale during each edition has been to reflect stories of the local people and their histories. Thus, besides a lot of otherwise perplexing art from far removed contexts like Romania or Hungary, the visitors also find a representation of themselves in paintings, videos or photography.
  • For instance, in the ongoing edition, Nilima Sheikh’s painting ‘Salam Chechi’ is a tribute to the ubiquitous Malayali nurse. Artist Vipin Dhanurdharan has portraits of local people who had welcomed him into their home for meals. He organises a community cooking and dining event every week by inviting experts to cook traditional recipes unique to various communities living in Kochi (in picture). The current edition curated by artist Anita Dube is titled ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’. Dube’s politics are at the forefront. She has tried to make the marginal visible, to situate the unheard and the unseen at the centre of her discourse.
  • Art without politics is no art at all and could you think of a better place than Kerala to rise up to the challenge? Feminism, identity politics, gender rights, LGBTQ representation and farmers’ issues are replete in this edition. This is art of our ‘contemporary’ ethos because it is reflective of the times we live in. Contemporary is just not cutting-edge art practice, but art that takes a distinct position vis-à-vis the current sociopolitical climate of the country. Amidst shrinking spaces of debate and dialogue and growing apathy for compassion, spaces like these are the need of the hour.
  • In her curatorial note, Dube writes, “If we desire a better life on this earth — our unique and beautiful planet — we must in all humility start to reject an existence in the service of capital. ‘Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’ asks and searches for questions in the hope of dialogue.” Through dialogue, we shall thrive.