28 DEc 2015
Opposition for opposition’s sake
It must have caused the Congress party great political discomfort to watch Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a surprise stopover in Lahore, exude bonhomie with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and behave as if he could will India towards better ties with Pakistan without help from anyone else. What the Congress-led government failed to do for ten years between 2004 and 2014, despite the good intentions of its Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, seem able to do with ease: take the initiative in visiting Pakistan and set the agenda for talks with Pakistan. The Congress is free to rue its missed opportunities, and, maybe, even blame a combative BJP-headed opposition for the unimaginative and constricted foreign policy vis-à-vis Pakistan in that decade. But what it should not do is undermine the efforts of Mr. Modi as he sets about doing what it would have liked to have done by itself. Of course, Mr. Modi can be faulted for the U-turns in India’s South Asia foreign policy. But the time for such criticism is not now, when he and his government are moving ahead in the right direction. The sudden boost to ties with Pakistan might have been ‘unpredictable’, as Congress leader Anand Sharma saw it, but ‘predictability’ is no virtue either. Also, it is of no great consequence if the visit was prearranged days in advance or was the result of an impulsive decision. What matters is what ensues from Mr. Modi’s sudden overtures to Pakistan. If the relations move up a level or two, and the surprise visit helps build greater trust between the two countries, then it would have served its purpose. The visit can be termed ‘frivolous’ only if the end results do not go beyond wishing Mr. Sharif on his birthday or greeting his granddaughter on her wedding. To be dismissive of the Modi-Sharif meeting even without giving it a chance to bear fruit betrays the political nervousness of the Congress more than anything else.
That, during its years in power, the Congress took its cautionary instincts on Pakistan to an absolute extreme was obvious. Indeed Prime Minister Singh did not get the necessary support from his party or his Cabinet colleagues when he tried to take the initiative in resolving outstanding issues with Pakistan — most spectacularly, on the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. This might have had to do with the fear of the BJP, then in opposition, taking political advantage of any normalisation of relations with Pakistan by projecting it as a sell-out. But without doubt, Prime Minister Singh was seen as apolitical by the Congress leadership, and was not given a free hand in taking initiatives of the kind that Mr. Modi has. The Congress should seriously introspect about the need to place national interest above petty political calculations. For his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too must reach out to take opposition leaders into confidence on his vision for India-Pakistan talks — else, bipartisan consensus on such a crucial issue will remain elusive, with populist grandstanding continuing to threaten the country’s strategic and foreign policy challenge.
Lack of physical comfort.
Discharge (moisture or a smell) slowly and steadily.
Cheerful friendliness; geniality.
Bitterly regret (something one has done or allowed to happen)
Make narrower, especially by encircling pressure.
Behavior showing high moral standards.
A result or effect of an action or condition.
Acting or done without forethought.
Happen or occur afterward or as a result.
An introduction to something more substantial.
Not having any serious purpose or value
Feeling or showing that something is unworthy of consideration.
Serving as a warning.
In a spectacular manner
Not interested or involved in politics.
Difficult to find, catch, or achieve.
The Hindu: New energy in old friendship
“Should old acquaintance be forgot”, asks the famous song Auld Lang Syne, traditionally sung at the year’s end. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia last week, much in the manner of the song, was as much about reassuring a “strong and reliable friend of India”, as he referred to Russia, as it was about chalking out new avenues for future cooperation in defence, energy and space. These avenues are well- charted, with the annual summit between both countries giving a consistent direction on all bilateral agreements, but relations have flagged in the past few years. This year the summit itself had to be put off several times for one reason or another, and it was finally held on Christmas-eve, which was the last possible window before Russia shuts down for holidays. In contrast, India’s relationship with the other world power, the United States, has seen a dramatic year, particularly in military engagement. From U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi as chief guest at the Republic Day parade, when India and the U.S. signed their first military agreement outside South Asia as a maritime cooperation agreement, firming up of more military exercises and joint development of defence equipment, visits by top U.S. generals, and the first-ever visit by the Indian Defence Minister to an American military base — all have given the impression that India is abandoning its traditionally neutral strategic space.
While Prime Minister Modi’s visit may not have resulted in overturning that impression entirely, it has served as a major boost to the outlook on India-Russia ties in the future. First, a series of defence acquisitions announced in the works will put Russia back on top of military suppliers to India, a spot taken by the U.S. and Israel for more than five years. Second, the deal for 200 Ka-226T Kamov helicopters will become the first big Make in India project, which has tended to be only a slogan thus far. Third, by investing time in the CEO summit that included several Indian players in the energy and defence sector, Mr. Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have shown a desire to involve the private sector in areas that only saw government-to-government deals. This move is the most significant: despite the close friendship the two have fostered, the immense goodwill the people of the two countries share and the major dependence the Indian military has on Russian hardware, bilateral trade ties have always been poor, and even today languish below $10 billion. Russian and Indian industry’s interest and investment will give what the leaders referred to as the old friendship’s “new energy”. An energy that will also bolster India’s plans for new ties with Central Asia, and more recently, in the trips Mr. Modi made straight after his Moscow visit, with Afghanistan and Pakistan
A person’s knowledge or experience of something.
A broad road in a town or city, typically having trees at regular intervals along its sides.
Make (something) physically solid or resilient.
Give up completely (a course of action, a practice, or a way of thinking).
Encourage or promote the development of (something, typically something regarded as good).
Extremely large or great, especially in scale or degree
(of a person or other living thing) lose or lack vitality; grow weak or feeble.
A long, thick pillow that is placed under other pillows for support.
Last week, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court refused to extend bail to Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for alleged links with Maoists. The judge also issued a notice of criminal contempt to activist-writer Arundhati Roy, who, in an article published in May this year, had questioned the court’s delay in granting Saibaba bail. In both cases, the court acted harshly, and should have taken a more considered view.
The association of Saibaba — who suffers from 90 per cent physical disability due to post-polio paralysis and has already spent more than a year in jail — with the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF), a body that subscribes to Maoism, has been held up as evidence of his association with Maoists. In the 2011 Sri Indra Das vs State of Assam case, the Supreme Court observed that mere membership of a banned organisation is no reason to arrest or jail a person. It cited several judgments by the US Supreme Court to support its position and held that “mere membership of a banned organisation cannot incriminate a person unless he is proved to have resorted to acts of violence or incited people to imminent violence, or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to imminent violence”. The high court’s approach towards Saibaba’s bail plea appears excessively stern, even unreasonable, against the backdrop of the apex court’s reading of the law earlier.
Roy’s controversial article is a defence of Saibaba’s right to bail. She defends his political worldview, and her own views on the conduct of the government and the police vis-a-vis Maoists are scathing. An undertrial in poor health deserves better treatment from the judiciary, she argues, and points out that individuals sentenced to life for rioting and murder have been granted bail. It is absurd to argue that Roy’s criticism could hamper the administration of the law or that it interferes with or obstructs the judicial process — the grounds on which the law of contempt is invoked. The law of contempt has been described by distinguished jurist V.R. Krishna Iyer as a “vague and wandering jurisdiction with uncertain boundaries and a suspect power to punish that lies in the hands of the prosecutor itself”. It is discretionary jurisdiction and, hence, must be exercised judiciously. As the Supreme Court observed in 1999, ironically in a case involving Roy, “the court’s shoulders are broad enough to shrug off their [critics’] comments”. The lower judiciary, too, must take criticism in its stride and guard against the illiberal tendency to stifle dissent and disagreement.
In a harsh or unkind manner;
Make (someone) appear guilty of a crime or wrongdoing; strongly imply the guilt of (someone).
Encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behavior).
About to happen.
Witheringly scornful; severely critical.
The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
Cite or appeal to (someone or something) as an authority for an action or in support of an argument.
The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn.
Available for use at the discretion of the user.
Make (someone) unable to breathe properly; suffocate.
Hold or express opinions that are at variance with those previously, commonly, or officially expressed.
Google, the disruptor
The recent visit of Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, indicated that the tech giant has decided to set great store by its investments in India. Mr Pichai announced multiple India-specific projects, which could all have a transformational and disruptive influence. “Project Loon”, “Tap to translate”, “Offline mapping” and “Asus Chromebit” are among the most interesting. These are at the cutting edge of technology. Other Google projects such as delivering free Wi-Fi at railway stations, more streamlined search, the establishment of a new campus in Hyderabad, and the training of two million Android developers will generate employment, and also have large positive externalities.
There is a common thread. India is a low-bandwidth geography with relatively low Internet penetration. The telecom system, power supply and other infrastructure are significantly less reliable than those in the First World. But India also has a very large number of sophisticated surfers and skilled computer users. It is an overwhelmingly mobile internet population. Pilot projects which cater to these characteristics and constraints could be scaled up massively to deliver similar services across India – and also in other regions with similar characteristics, like much of Africa and some of Eastern Europe. “Project Loon” considers replacing conventional cell towers and broadband infrastructure with an internet grid of balloons. A balloon can be launched and tethered in places which are geographically inaccessible and hard to connect with terrestrial infrastructure – thus providing high-quality broadband access in remote locations. Making this work will require finding cost-effective solutions to many engineering problems, including avoiding interference with aircraft routes. India is ideal for trying and scaling up such solutions, especially since Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, with its massive rural footprint, is partnering Google. If such a technology can deliver stable, viable Wi-Fi at reasonable cost, it will change the dynamics of surfing and disrupt the business models of conventional telecom service providers.
Similarly, “Tap to translate” – a fast, seamless, auto-translation service on mobile across multiple languages – has obvious applications in India with its multitude of national and official languages. The key here would be to make the process so easy that it could be used by anyone who can either see or hear. Such a technology could make a big difference to the differently-abled, for example. “Offline mapping”, which will deliver mapping and locational services to users who are not on the Internet, is another disruptive technology. India is already the third-largest market for mapping services, according to Google. Offline mapping would be a force multiplier for travellers, local businesses and emergency services as well. The Asus Chromebit taps into the demand for a simple cheap computer of the type that the failed Aakash project was supposed to service. Its central processing unit is the size of a chocolate bar, it costs about Rs 8,000 and it can be hooked to almost any external monitor and keyboard. It works off cloud storage. If Chromebit is hooked on to an old personal computer, it is a cheap and instant upgrade.
The disruption value of these projects is considerable. Google obviously hopes to use India as a vast sandpit to create and refine the required technologies. This appears to be a sound commercial decision. It could, in time, translate into vast gains for India’s digital population.
Causing or tending to cause disruption.
Incapable of being resisted;
Tie (an animal) with a rope or chain so as to restrict its movement.
Attach or fasten with a hook or hooks.
A quarry from which sand is excavated.
All the best!