[UPSC Newspaper Clips] June 30, 2020

UPSC Newspaper Clips


Facing The Music

Hate speech can no longer be ignored, as economic sanctions drive point home to world’s largest social media platform.


In Silicon Valley, money talks. Since it’s Valley money, its voice carries further. Money preached the dotcom boom in the Noughties and talks up the digital agenda on Nasdaq. But now, for the first time, in an industry fanatically focused on the future, money is urging the Silicon Valley giants to consider their ethics. Facebook has finally been confronted with the problem of hate speech that it had tried to ignore for years, with Unilever joining a boycott by about 100 advertisers. One of the world’s biggest multinationals has imposed financial sanctions on the world’s biggest social media platform.

Facebook has about-faced. The platform, which had refused to deal with posts by President Trump that opponents read as voter intimidation, said that posts suppressing the popular vote or threatening violence were not on. But the company has wilfully lagged behind social media rival, Twitter, which had marked Trump’s tweets as “glorifying violence” and “manipulated media” in May and June. Facebook’s attempts to curb hate speech have been mere token gestures, and the latest update is just a patch. In reaction, Coca-Cola has signalled distrust by pulling its ads from the social network.

In its early years, the internet was embraced as an alternative universe, a haven of completely free speech, where the ugly side of human nature had free play because its games had no real-world implications. In the Nineties, hosting companies resisted attempts to curb hate speech and even child pornography, simultaneously pleading the freedom of speech and the inability to police third-party content. As the digital revolution built up and brick-and-mortar functions like banking moved online, the internet became a mirror of the offline world, and arguably should have been subject to everyday accountability and responsibilities. Technically, platform companies are only new avatars of the hosts of the Nineties. They host third-party content and have inherited the reluctance of their predecessors to distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. But like them, they exist at the pleasure of those third parties, some of which are sources of huge revenues. In international affairs, sanctions are used to bring problematic nations in line. A similar process of financial apartheid could force companies the size of national economies to see reason. It has been used to curb modern slavery in sweat factories, and it is now being turned on the world’s biggest corporations. In Silicon Valley, money is talking again — not in the voice of greed, but of morality.


Diplomacy after Galwan

At a time when most of the world is finding it hard to stand up against pressures from Beijing ,Indian resistance to China’s expansionism would be a definitive moment in Asia’s geopolitical evolution

C. Raja Mohan , [ The writer is director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore and contributing editor on international affairs for The Indian Express ]

There is a general consensus in Delhi that the Galwan encounter has produced a discontinuity in India’s China policy. Sceptics might say such generalisations made in the aftermath of a bloody encounter tend to overstate the prospects of change. They would add that structural constraints would limit dramatic changes in policy once the heat of the moment dissipates.

This emphasis on inertia must be set against reality that the Galwan clash comes amidst the deepening crisis in bilateral relations over the last decade. Stalled boundary talks, a widening trade deficit, the clash of national interests in the region, and Chinese opposition to India’s global aspirations have together strained Sino-Indian relations. Galwan is the last straw, the argument goes, that broke the camel’s back.

Although both propositions are rooted in reality, the potential direction of the Sino-Indian relationship is likely to depend on how the current military confrontation in Ladakh is resolved. If it ends with a quick return to the status quo that prevailed in April, inertia is likely to limit radical policy departures. If the Ladakh crisis ends in a setback for India, the pressure on Delhi to radically reorient its China policy will mount.

Meanwhile, if the military standoff continues, as it looks likely, Delhi will have to fully prepare itself. Strengthening India’s military and political hand against China in that confrontation is the immediate objective of Delhi’s post-Galwan diplomacy.

Many analysts point to India’s massive power asymmetry with China and the need to bridge it. The steps suggested include the construction of a military alliance with the US and other Western partners as well as economic decoupling and diversification. Most of these steps are for the long-term.

The focus of the government is rightly on the short-term. And it is about being able to stare down the Chinese in the current military confrontation and hold its ground. Delhi is unlikely to forget those who stand by India at this juncture.

While most analysts were talking about the prospects for India’s military embrace of America, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh dashed to Moscow last week. This was about ensuring that Russia will supply the spare parts and additional weapons like fighter aircraft that India needs.

Three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India’s dependence on Russian arms remains substantive. Rajnath’s visit to Moscow amidst the crisis with China underlines the weight of the past in India’s security policy. Delhi is also apparently pressing other major defence suppliers of India, including France and Israel, to accelerate deliveries on contracted defence equipment.

Meanwhile, the US has emerged as a major defence partner of India. The US aircraft flying on the Ladakh frontier these days include the C-130 transport aircraft as well as the Chinook and Apache helicopters. To be sure, American salience in Indian defence will continue to grow in the coming years. But let’s not go too far from the near-term.

There have been reports from Russia, that China is pressing Moscow not to sell the new fighter aircraft to India. Russia and China are strong strategic partners today. While the past suggests India has a special claim to Russian affections, there is a Sino-Russian strategic cohabitation today in opposition to America.

Both Russia and China have been grumbling about India’s growing warmth towards the US in the last few years. How Russia responds to India’s request for support in this confrontation with China will, of course, have a major bearing on the future evolution of Delhi’s ties with Moscow.

Unlike Russia’s public stance of neutrality between India and China, Washington has come out in favour of Delhi. If US President Donald Trump’s remarks on mediation between India and China were irritating, Delhi also notes the vocal public support of the US defence and foreign policy establishment against Chinese aggression.

Far more important than the statements is the material support that the US is prepared to give and India is ready to accept during the crisis. Media reports from Delhi say the US is already supplying valuable real-time military intelligence of value to the Indian armed forces. Washington is apparently willing to do more but is letting Delhi decide the pace and intensity of that cooperation.

But to talk of a military alliance with America is getting way ahead of the story. Such chatter underestimates the uncertain political moment in the US amidst the general election scheduled for early November. The electoral fortunes of Joe Biden are rising as the Trump Administration struggles to manage the COVID crisis. A change of guard in Washington may not necessarily change attitudes towards India, but will certainly slow things down as the new administration settles down and reviews its priorities.

In any event, alliance arrangements are not there just for the asking in Washington, whether it is dominated by Republicans or Democrats. Even more important, America’s stakes in China are far higher than Russia’s. While there is growing strategic friction between Washington and Beijing, their profound economic interdependence is a significant political constraint on the US’s options.

For now, though, Delhi appreciates the level of support it has got from the US. America and other Western friends of India had helped Delhi fend off efforts of Beijing and Islamabad to involve the UN Security Council in Kashmir’s affairs after India changed the constitutional status of the region last August.

On deeper military cooperation with Washington, Delhi would want to move with care rather than rush into it in the manner that Jawaharlal Nehru did during the 1962 war. While Delhi is in a better position today than it was in 1962, China’s capabilities and standing have grown manifold since then.

China today is the world’s second-most important power and a valued political and economic partner for most countries in the world. Very few capitals would want to insert themselves into the conflict between India and China. And Delhi should not waste its diplomatic capital in seeking public expressions of support from around the world.

If Delhi comes out of this crisis wounded, its troubles at home and the world will mount significantly. A weakened India will find recasting its China policy even harder. But an India that comes out of this confrontation with its head held high, will find its international political stock rising and its options on China expanding.

At a time when most of the world is finding it hard to stand up against relentless political, economic and military pressures from Beijing, successful Indian resistance to China’s expansionism would be a definitive moment in the geopolitical evolution of Asia. The stakes for India and the world, then, are far higher today than in 1962.


Cautious, but firm

India must weigh its options against China and engage in wider domestic consultations


After weeks of more diplomatic wording, the statement by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on June 26 appears to signal that patience in dealing with Beijing is reaching a dead end. The statement said publicly, for the first time since reports of the stand-off, that the Chinese build-up and clashes with Indian troops, including the Galwan Valley incident on June 15 in which 20 Indian soldiers were brutally killed, had a “larger context”. Moving away from previous statements that alluded to the clashes in May as quite routine, and borne from “differences in perception” of the LAC, the MEA said that PLA behaviour “this year” was a shift from the past. It also admitted that the Chinese side had built up a large armed presence since early May, making it clear that India’s strategic establishment has had much to worry about. There are other shifts of note. While each of the MEA’s several references to the situation at LAC in May and June had mentioned dialogue as the way forward, its latest statement makes it clear that it is China’s responsibility to restore peace and tranquillity along the LAC, without citing further dialogue. It warned that a continuation of the current situation “would only vitiate the atmosphere” for the relationship, indicating that the current status quo is unacceptable. In detailing the number of clashes, the use of unauthorised violence on June 15, and the sheer numbers of troops and weaponry “amassed”, the government is pointing out that China has violated every agreement on border peace that the two sides have committed to since the 1993 Agreement. In short, the message is this — not only is the situation at the LAC of concern, but China’s actions have also probably undone decades of careful negotiations on the boundary.

Given all that the MEA statement now acknowledges, it is only inevitable that the government will face probing questions on its silence when such a large troop mobilisation by China threatened Indian frontiers weeks ago, and whether it missed signals out of Beijing that this build-up was intended. Other questions remain about Prime Minister Modi’s insistence and the MEA’s consistent stand that Chinese troops have not come across the LAC, and that there have only been “attempted transgressions” by the PLA. Satellite pictures and media accounts point to the contrary. The government must now ensure some clarity. The nation must be apprised on the challenges and the steps planned beyond ongoing military and diplomatic exchanges, to ensure that the status quo ante, prior to May, is restored by China. Each step, whether it involves military action, international support, or sanctions by banning Chinese products or the participation of Chinese telecom and other companies, will come with serious consequences, and the government must ensure wide consultations, simultaneously preparing the people for what may follow.


Legitimate concern

A final Naga peace accord is key to maintenance of law and order in the State


By writing a strong letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, alleging that “law and order has collapsed” in the State and that armed gangs “who question the sovereignty and integrity of the nation” had challenged its authority by engaging in blatant “extortion” and siphoning off funds meant for development work, Governor R.N. Ravi has thrown down the gauntlet to the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party-led government, in which the BJP is a coalition partner. The Governor went on to write that functions such as “transfer and posting of officials” who are in charge of law and order above the district level will be done with his approval, as proposed under Article 371A(1)(b) of the Constitution. In a way, he was only voicing the concerns of sections of civil society over the slide in law and order; illegal collections by armed groups have been an issue for several years. In its response to the letter, the insurgent National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), which has been observing a ceasefire with the government for the last 23 years, has said the group was only engaged in collecting “taxes”, suggesting that the Governor was not inaccurate in his description. But his letter has put the State government in a difficult situation.

The much touted peace accord with the insurgent groups involved in the long-standing Naga conflict is yet to be achieved, despite the Centre’s push to conclude it last year. Mr. Ravi has remained the Centre’s interlocutor, a position he took up in 2015, even after becoming the State Governor in August 2019. Despite the Centre’s heady statements heralding a Naga peace accord since 2015, it is nowhere close to finalising it with the groups. In some ways, this is due to the NSCN-IM’s obstinacy such as its insistence on retaining a separate flag and a Constitution for the State of Nagaland and its unwillingness to dismantle its parallel administrative and paramilitary structure. The distrust it invokes among other Naga organisations besides other north-eastern governments because of its core ideology of a “greater Nagalim”, and the inherent difficulties in getting other insurgent actors on board have made this a conflict that persists despite the ceasefire and a problem that does not lend itself to a quick solution. Yet, without an agreement to rein in all the insurgent groups, the State government will have little leeway in imposing its will and prevent the blatant extortion that is hampering development and law and order. The ball is therefore in the Centre’s court, and by extension its interlocutor, Mr. Ravi’s, in finding a way to address this knotty issue. This the Governor must do, not by usurping the authority of the State government in governance matters, but by patiently refocusing on the peace process.


Grain aplenty and the crisis of hunger

The focus on One Nation One Ration Card is misplaced when what is needed is a universal Public Distribution System

Dipa Sinha teaches at Ambedkar University Delhi

With the economic crisis continuing on the one hand and the health system crumbling under the burden of rising COVID-19 cases on the other, it is clear that it will take a long time for things to get back to “normal”. Unemployment is high and it will take a while for lost livelihoods to be rebuilt, especially given the fact that India was already facing an economic slowdown along with high levels of inequality. Among other interventions to revive demand in the economy and create employment, it is absolutely essential that food support in the form of free/subsidised grains is made available to all without any disruptions.

An inadequate response

As a measure to address hunger, the central government announced as part of the ₹1.70-lakh crore relief package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) in the last week of March that it would provide 5kg of foodgrains and 1 kg of pulses for free to all those who are beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) for three months.

As it became obvious that many were not part of the NFSA, the government, in May, almost two months after the lockdown was initiated, announced its expansion to cover an additional eight crore individuals for two months to ensure that migrants are included under the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package. This basically meant each State being given foodgrain to the tune of 10% more than what they normally get under the NFSA. Many States were already covering more beneficiaries than was allotted to them by the NFSA, and some States made additional temporary provisions for these two months.

What needs to be done

As many have argued, this is an inadequate response. What is required is a universal Public Distribution System (PDS) to ensure that nobody is excluded. What is also an urgent need now is for the food support announced as part of the PMGKAY and Atmanirbhar package to be extended for a longer period, as both end in June. The president of the Indian National Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, wrote to the Prime Minister last week seeking an extension in the distribution of free foodgrains until September (another three months). It has also been reported that the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan, in a video conference with State food ministers/secretaries on June 18, said that “around 10 States have written to the Ministry to extend the distribution of free food grains under the PMGKAY for three more months”. However, the government has not yet announced any such extension.

Rather, the government seems to be indicating that all problems of exclusion will be resolved once the One Nation One Ration Card scheme is expanded across the country, which is supposed to be achieved by March 2021. Under ONOC, a beneficiary can receive ration entitlements as under the NFSA from any fair price shop in the country using her/his Aadhaar number and biometric authentication. This will apparently be possible once the Aadhaar numbers of all members enlisted in ration cards are seeded, which will enable transactions under the Public Distribution System across the country to be brought on to one digital platform. It has been announced that ONOC is operational in 20 States.

Biometric authentication

Portability across States is an important and valid concern that needs to be ensured so that migrant workers can access their entitlements. ONOC, however, has a number of problems in the way it has been conceived, being Aadhaar-based. The experience of biometric authentication using electronic point of sale (ePoS) machines so far suggests that it results in exclusion of some of the most marginalised because of multiple reasons including network issues, authentication failure and so on. Keeping these concerns aside for now, it must be noted that ONOC is definitely not a solution to the immediate crisis of hunger that continues in the aftermath of the lockdown.

The integrated management of PDS (IM-PDS) portal, which gives real time data on transactions under ONOC, shows that for the month of May, there were a total of 378 transactions (3,077 beneficiaries) under ONOC and 479 transactions (3,856 beneficiaries) in June (as on June 29, 2020). The figures for April are even lower. Ironically, Mr. Paswan is reported to have said in the same videoconference that, “in the time of Covid-19 pandemic, the scheme proved immensely beneficial for migrant labourers, stranded and needy persons to access their quota of food grains through ONOC portability”. It must not be forgotten that lakhs of migrants were stranded in different places without access to food.

Overflowing granaries

This emphasis on ONOC is an obfuscation, while the real issue is of burgeoning food stocks along with widespread hunger. If we include unmilled paddy, foodgrain stock in the Food Corporation of India has now risen to almost 100 million MTs while the buffer stock norms is 41 million MTs. This will increase even more as there is another week of procurement open in the rabi marketing season; there will be another round of procurement of kharif crop in a few months (49.9 million MTs of rice was the procurement during the kharif marketing season in 2019-20). A universalised PDS giving 10kg of foodgrains per person per month for another four months requires about 47 million tonnes in total, assuming that nearly 85% of the population actually lifts their rations. It can be safely assumed that the rich will automatically self-select themselves out of the system. This is indicative and the actual requirements would most likely be lower.

It is unfathomable why the PDS is not being universalised immediately especially when food stocks are at such a historic high. The government seems to be hoping to get rid of grain through the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) where it sells the grains at prices lower than the procurement cost but much higher than the issue prices under PDS, so that the fiscal consequences can be contained. Earlier experiences with the OMSS do not spell much hope that this plan of the government will be successful. In the period 2017-18 to 2020-21 (up to first week of June), only 16.6 million tonnes of rice and wheat have been sold under the OMSS. The quantity sold each year was less than the quantity offered. Moreover, one-third of all sales was to State governments (almost all the rice) thereby shifting the subsidy burden to State governments. If not OMSS to private buyers, the only other options left are to either export them or let the grain go waste. Needless to say, choosing any of these options while people go hungry is nothing less than criminal.