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PLAYING WITH COMMUNAL FIRE, By Inder Jit, 26 May 2022 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 26 May 2022

PLAYING WITH COMMUNAL FIRE

By Inder Jit

(Released on 31 May 1983)

Communalism continues to grow and grow fast. Mr. Charan Singh’s timely alert against disaster has made thinking people a sit up. But the drift towards the brink continues, as in a Greed tragedy. Most leaders still swear by secularism and the liberal ethos of India as represented by Gandhi and Nehru. The reality on the ground, however, is vastly different. More and more publicmen today are talking the language of communalism. Indeed, it is becoming fashionable to champion the cause of one community or another unabashedly --- as in the pre-independence days of reckless communalism. Even as some Sikhs and extremists have raised the banner of Khalistan, Muslim leaders have come forward with demands couched in dangerous separatist idiom. Unfortunately, all this is provoking a reaction among the Hindus, who constitute the country’s overwhelming but largely silent majority. Even liberals among the Hindus are beginning to assert that the Hindus must be allowed to come into their own after a thousand years of foreign domination --- and India declared Hindu Rashtra.

Not many seem to be adequately aware of all that communalists are busy doing and the way the basic concept of a secular state and secularism is being distorted and destroyed. For instance, few know that, so to say, a “mini Pakistan” in the shape of a Muslim majority district was carved out in secular India 22 years after independence. This happened in Kerala where the then CPM-CPI coalition Government, headed by Mr EMS Namboodripad, agreed to form Malapuram district on the basis of religion as a price for the support of the Muslim League. (Earlier in 1961, Nehru and the Congress Party, then headed by Mrs. Gandhi, set aside its anti-communal approach to form a Government with the Muslim League, overruling strong Opposition from its “Ginger Group”. Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi then argued that the League in Kerala was different from Jinnah’s League in the north.) What is worse, matters did not end there. Kerala today appears to be poised again to carve out another Muslim majority district --- this time with Kasargode as its headquarter.

The demand for the second Muslim-majority district has been put forward again by the State’s Muslim leaders under the banner of the Indian Union Muslim League in a memorandum presented to Kerala’s Congress-I coalition Government, led by Mr. K. Karunakaran. The memorandum, which was significantly handed in on the eve of the last budget session on February 4, also demanded representation for the Muslims in the Public Service Commission (a Muslim incumbent had retired) and the High Court and reservation for them in government jobs. The last demand was considered and turned down on an earlier occasion. But the League decided to press for it again and, specifically, asked for a Commission to take another look at communal reservations in government jobs. The Congress-I was disinclined to accept the demand. But it was left with little choice but to concede it, thanks to the arithmetic of the coalition Government. The Indian Union Muslim League is the second largest constituent of the ruling front with 14 MLAs.

Communalism in Kerala has received fresh encouragement from the decision. The Kerala Congress (Joseph Group) has now demanded another district with Muvattupuzha as headquarters. This district is intended to have a Christian majority. Centrifugal tendencies have also extended to politics. The Harijans in the State have recently decided to establish a party of their own although they have picked a non-communal name: Indian Labour Party. The State has already two parties representing the other Hindu communities – National Democratic Party of the Nairs and the Socialist Republican Party of the Ezhavas. The Muslims have split further. The original Muslim League broke up into Muslim League and Indian Union Muslim League some time back. Now the Sunni Muslims have formed their own Muslim Democratic Party as part of a new culture in which every group wants to get the maximum for itself from the Government, irrespective of its impact on the State and its coffers --- and on India’s body politic.

The League has now directed its attention to the Centre and started talking stridently in communal terms, encouraged no doubt by a memorandum submitted to the Prime Minister by Janata, Congress-I and other Muslim MPs. It submitted to the Home Minister, Mr. P.C. Sethi, recently a memorandum which proposes a number of “operative programmes” to alleviate the “unenviable” lot of the Muslim community. Among other things, it has proposed that “jobs should be reserved for the Muslims in the Central and State services, including the public sector undertakings in proportion to their population”. The Muslims, the memorandum adds, should be “given reservation as is done by the Kerala Government”. This, the League feels, is necessary since “mere circulars sent by the Centre to the States to ensure fair participation to Muslims in services has failed to evoke any positive response”. (The memorandum, it is stated, was presented to Mr. Sethi before the Prime Minister’s directive of May 12 to the Central and State Ministries to show special consideration to the minorities.)

Interestingly, the League virtually questions India’s claim to being a secular state and points out: “The position of minorities in all walks of life is the best yardstick to measure any commitment to secular character of the State. When this yardstick is applied, a grim picture emerges with respect of Muslims of India. Not only is the position grim, but is steadily deteriorating with the passage of time…” it also directs attention to the economic aspect and says: “The Muslims constitute the second largest religious denomination in India and yet there is a total lack of official data regarding their employment status and similar socio-economic factors… This lack of official data is another evidence of callousness and apathy on the part of successive Governments to improve the lot of Muslims”. It recalls that even the Government of India resolution appointing the Minorities Commission in 1978 conceded that “despite the safeguards provided in the Constitution and the laws in force there persists among the minorities a feeling of inequality and discrimination”.

Equally of interest is the League’s suggestion that the present system of voting should be replaced by the more modern system of proportional representation. (According to one Muslim leader, this will enable the community to play a more decisive role in elections.) Other suggestions, which also deserve to be recounted, area: restructuring of the police force to remedy its “partisan attitude” and curb “anti-Muslim violence”, ban on all anti-minority, para-military and extremist organizations like the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, establishment of a Minority Economic Development Corporation to actively aid the Muslims in economic development, fair representation on Public Service Commissions and boards of nationalized banks, insurance companies and public undertakings, liberal aid to Muslim educational institutuions and establishment of an Urdu University. Further, grant of constitutional status to the Minorities Commission and power under the Commissions of Inquiries Act; No interference with the personal law of the Muslims and deletion of Article 44 of the Constitution providing for a uniform civil code for all citizens.

On May 21, the League and its many silent supporters, including Congress-I MPs and persons in high places, seemed to have won a major victory in New Delhi close on the heels of the Prime Minister’s directive to all the Central Ministries and the States. The Home Minister was reported to have stated at Indore that “the Government proposes to fix a quota for minority communities in Government services”. Mercifully, the statement was denied three days later and Mr. Sethi’s remarks clarified. The Home Minister, it was explained, had only stated that “the Government was very keen to ensure the increasing representation of minorities in Government services”. But basic issues arise. How is the Government going to “ensure” special consideration to and increasing representation of the minorities in government services and public sector undertakings? More important, is it the responsibility of the Government in a secular state to be concerned with ensuring favoured treatment and jobs for any community? Is the League justified in claiming that the “test of a secular state lies in how it treats the minorities?

Secularism is not a particularly happy expression to describe what free India stands for. Nehru himself told Parliament in 1950 that he “disliked” the word. (Secular, according to Chambers means “civil not ecclesiastical; lay not concerned with religion”.) He, therefore, took the earliest opportunity to explain that a secular India did not mean a country without religion. It only ensured an institutional separation of the state from religion --- and a balanced approach to all faiths. Yet the scope and content of secularism continues to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. In fact, our secularism has evolved an Indian connotation over the years and its own yardstick, an opinion shared by several leading Indians, who are acknowledged to be secular and hold top positions. A Hindu today is by and large accepted as secular only if he is pro-Muslims and favours Christians and other minorities. He is acknowledged to be “genuinely secular” if he is also critical of Hinduism and those who proudly proclaim themselves as Hindus. Speak of Muslim or Sikh communalism, for instance, and you are promptly denounced as a Hindu chauvinist, if not worse.

Many things require to be done to set matters right. For one thing, we need to move from pseudo to genuine secularism. There is no scope in it for job reservations, as demanded by the League. Such a demand is only a step away from the logic of separate electorate, which led to India’s partition. Equally, there is no scope under it for the state to be either pro-majority or pro-minority community. For another, our top leaders and others must stop playing the communal card. Poll campaigning in Jammu and Kashmir has given an ugly thrust to communalism. This strategic area has got polarized along communal lines as never before. Communalism has already taken a heavy toll in Punjab and Assam and there is little hope of improving matters until this is ended. (The basic issue in Assam is not Hindus versus Muslims but Assamese versus foreigners.) Muslim, Sikh or Christian communalism is as bad as Hindu communalism --- and deserves to be condemned equally. Either we are secular or we are not. We must desist from playing with communal fire.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Yasin Malik Gets Life Term: AID PEACE PROCESS OR SETBACK?, By Insaf, 28 May 2022 Print E-mail

Round The States

New Delhi, 28 May 2022

Yasin Malik Gets Life Term

AID PEACE PROCESS OR SETBACK?

By Insaf

 

Will the life term handed to Kashmir separatist Yasin Malik ‘fuel more alienation and separatist feeling’ as the PAGDwarns or will North Block have triumphantly doused the anti-India fire? There is no ready answer, but there is simmering in the Valley. Despite tight security,protests erupted in Srinagar on Wednesday last and 10 people were charged under UAPA. The  administration had to snap mobile internet in parts of city.It was a setback to ‘peace efforts’, said the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Hurriyat Chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, under house arrest since August 2019 said the move is ‘bound to prove counter- productive”; Malik “is being punished for his political beliefs”; since 1994 he “pursued peaceful and democratic means of conflict resolution…” But the NIA court had been firm saying his crimes “intended to strike at the heart of the idea of India” and were “committed with the aid of foreign powers and designated terrorists.” It, however, rejected the NIA’s plea for death penalty, saying it did not fall in the rarest of rare category.

 

The charge goes back to 2016, when the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader was accused of orchestrating violent protests, when 89 cases of stone-pelting were reported. Malik, however, had pleaded that he had given up violence in 1994 and declared he would “follow the peaceful path of Mahatma Gandhi”. This was dismissed by the court: he could not claim to be a follower of Gandhi as he did not condemn the violence in the Valley. Malik also added there was no evidence to show he had provided any logistical support to any terrorist organisation in the past 28 years. Plus, he said that over a period of time, many former Prime Ministers, from V P Singh till A B Vajpayee, had engaged with him, and that the government cannot be “considered a fool” for providing a political platform to a person who will engage in terrorist activities. The arguments cut no ice with the court. The verdict was handed over. Coming days need to be watched and time will tell, whether the order goes in favour of heart of India.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *

Walking The Dog

The VIP culture in Delhi simply takes the cake. Athletes and coaches being forced to wrap up early and gates of government-run Thyagraj stadium closed for a babu to walk his dog, rightly would make many see red. It did. Not just sportsmen and ordinary citizens, but fortunately even the Home Ministry viewed the report in a national daily as unacceptable and within hours took action. On Thursday evening Delhi’s Principal Secretary (Revenue) Sanjeev Khirwar was transferred to Ladakh, and his wife Rinku Dugga, a fellow IAS, also seen in the photograph in the daily, packed off to Arunachal Pradesh, following an inquiry by Chief Secretary. While Khirwar and Stadium administrator denied the stadium was being vacated by 7 p.m. for him to walk his dog, athletes were quoted saying they used to train till 8.30 pm under lights earlier, but now their training and practice was disrupted. Whether further action to be taken against the bureaucrat is not known, the Delhi government also got its act together and announced that all sports facilities would remain open till 10 pm. Athletes should say a big hurrah for the daily!  

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *

Dome of “Corruption”

An under-construction 70 tonne dome of Meghalaya’s new Assembly building came crashing down on Sunday, leading to rumblings within the National People’s Party (NPP)-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government. Could it lead to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s exit,as ally BJP too has joined Opposition in raising questions of alleged corruption?The new Assembly building was necessitated by the earlier one being damaged in 2001 fire and sessions since then being held at the Art &Culture Department’s auditorium in Shillong. A construction company from UP was given the Rs 177.7 crore contract and work began in 2019. Though completion was slated for this July, the strength of other areas already built is now to be looked into. Predictably, a political blame game is on. BJP, with 2 MLAs, proposes to send a report to Delhi. Debate is on which agency probes the case--CBI or a judicial inquiry? Congress and TMCdemand government must come clean as there’s ‘institutional corruption’. Will it be checked or be another whitewash?

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *

ED Proactive in Maha 

Maharashtra is on the radar of the Enforcement Directorate. After the arrest of minister Nawab Malik and former state Home Minister Anil Desmukh viz separate money laundering cases, the next in line appears to be Transport Minister and Shiv Sena leader Anil Parab. On Thursday last, the ED conducted searches at 7 premises linked to him across the State as part of PMLA probe. Charges include Parab having purchased land in Dapoli in 2017 for Rs 1 crore, but it was registered only in 2019; later it was sold to a Mumbai-based cable operator Sadanand Kadam in 2020 for Rs 1.10 crore. In between, a resort was built on the same land from 2017 to 2020!Expectedly, the SS dismissed the raids as “politics of vengeance” and accused the central agencies of being ‘driven by the BJP, to malign its image. But, it will not buckle under pressure.” Be that as it may, the timing doesn’t bode well for the party, just ahead of civic polls. Other than corruption becoming an issue, Parab is close to Uddhav Thackeray, a key strategist for the polls and seen as a bridge between the old guard and GenNext. Reason to worry.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *

Telangana’s Boo 

Telangana’s spat with New Delhi gets worse. Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao chooses to say a big boo to Prime Minister Modi, throwing protocol to the winds. On Wednesday last, he left for Bengaluru to meet JDS supremo HD Deve Gowda, hours before Modi landed in Hyderabad for the 20th year celebrations of Indian School of Business. This is the second time in past four months he has evaded extending courtesy to Modi. Earlier in February, KCR was ‘unwell’ when Modi went to unveil the Statue of Equality. Guess, other than eyeing a role in national politics, KCR has to retain his hold in next year’s Assembly polls and so the tirade. The latest: despite ‘bhaashanbaazi’ (rhetoric), industries were closing down, GDP crashing, rupee falling and all sections of society suffering. Modi counters with: ‘parivaarvadi’ is democracy’s greatest enemy, and “superstitious people can never do justice to Telangana’s potential!” Both sides speak of ‘liberation’. The potshots make good copy but who shall have the last laugh? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Modi In Quad: UNSCATHED DESPITE UKRAINE, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 27 May 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 27 May 2022

Modi In Quad

UNSCATHED DESPITE UKRAINE

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC)

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Tokyo to attend the Quad meeting. He also met other three Quad leaders bilaterally- Joseph Biden of America, Anthony Albanese of Australia and Fumio Kishida of Japan. It was assumed that Modi may not be received so warmly as before for his divergent view from other three partners on Russia and Ukraine war. But, from the reports in the press, Modi came out unscathed. On the contrary, Modi’s deliberations in the Quad and bilaterally,seem to have enhanced India’s standing vis-à-vis the Quad partners.

 

American President Joe Biden said to Prime Minister Modi that, “he is committed to making America’s partnership with India among the closest on earth”. He added that there is so much that the two countries can and will do together. The Australian Prime Minister, swore-in 48 hours before he met Prime Minister Modi, said,“Australia-India ties have never been closer”. The Japanese Prime Minister did the icing on the cake as he acknowledged India’s stand on the war between Russia and Ukraine. In response to the questions from media about India’s stand on Russia and its impact on relevance of Quad, he said, “in international situation, each country has its own historical development and geographical situation. Even amongst like-minded, positions may not agree fully”.

 

From the above accounts which are certainly not fully diplomatic hyperboles, it appears that Modi scored well for India in consolidating the bilateralism with Quad partners, and retaining their warmth and confidence. To be sure, in such summits, the bilateral meetings on the fringe are the real tangible events. Scanning the outcome of the bilateral meetings, look at the common ground created as well as reiterated with the United States. Prime Minister Modi commented that the strategic relations between India and US, is truly a “partnership of trust” and Quad is a “force for good” for global peace and stability. American President reciprocated the feelings with complete commitment to the partnership.

 

On Australia, both leaders reviewed the multi-faceted cooperation under the comprehensive strategic partnership, including in trade and investment, defence manufacturing, renewable energy, science and technology, agriculture research, sports and people-to-ties. With Japan, India has a range of trade and investment relationship based on shared concerns, trust and goodwill. In keeping with spirit of friendship with Japan, Prime Minister Modi met three former Prime Ministers, corporate leaders and the Indian Diaspora. It is noteworthythat a former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has constituted a ‘Ganesh group of MPs in Japanese Parliament’. While deeply appreciating this, Prime Minister Modi invited the Ganesh group of MPs to festivities around Ganeshotsav this year.

 

From business perspective, Modi met the Japanese business leaders – Masayoshi Son, the founder of Soft Bank Corporation, Osamu Suzuki, senior advisor of Suzuki Motors, Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing, and NEC Corporation Chairman, Nobuhiro Endo. The meetings would have encouraged these companies to initiate and consolidate investment in India.

In Quad, as usual, several decisions were taken, a new project initiated, resolutions made on international affairs. To start with, the important joint-statement, in the wake of Russia-Ukraine war, the Quad said, “as Russia’s invasion on Ukraine is shaking the fundamental principles of the international order… (we) confirm that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, will never be tolerated anywhere, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region”.  The reference to Indo-Pacific is aimed at sending a message to China in view of its threat of taking over Taiwan by force.

 

Along with the forgoing reference to Russian war, Quad declared that, they would champion adherence to international law as reflected in the UN Convention in East and South China seas. The Quad leaders said in the joint-statement, “we strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change status quo and increase tensions. As expected, Quad unequivocally condemned terrorism and violent extremism. What is important to note is the reference to the terrorist attacks in India – 26/11 Mumbai and 2016 Pathankot attacks perpetrated by terror groups based in Pakistan.

 

The Quad announced the formation of the Indo-Pacific partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) which will track the maritime activities in partners’ waters quicker and wider. It will also track ‘dark shipping’ and other tactical level activities such as rendezvous at sea, protect fisheries, vital to many Indo-Pacific economy. On development, Quad, pledged to strengthen global health architecture in getting ahead of the virus which caused havoc in the world. On 21 March, last year, the Quad countries had announced ‘the Quad vaccine partnership’ in pursuance to that, the Quad leaders announced, “we commit to adapt our respective approaches to get ahead of the virus by focussing on preparing for new variants, making vaccines, tests, treatments, and other medical products for those at higher risk.”

 

Recognise the urgent need to tackle climate change, Quad leaders launched, “Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package (Q-CHAMP)”. This initiative was in the offing from the first in-person Quad summit. In this meeting, while launching the mechanism for addressing climate change, the Quad leaders said they will, both individually and collectively strengthen their cooperation to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, in line with the suggestions made by IPCC - Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, Paris Agreement, and COP26.

 

On infrastructure, Quad leaders agreed to deepen their cooperation. After Covid crippled the world economies, including in the Indo-Pacific region, the Quad leaders resolved to drive productivity and prosperity in the region. The leaders agreed to bring their respective skills and experiences to the table to leverage infrastructure delivery to the region. To secure this, Quad leaders agreed to extend around USD$50 billion for the Indo-Pacific over the next five years.  In parallel, the US launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) to support the economic development in the region. IPEF comprises 13 countries from the region. India was invited into this group to which Modi promptly agreed. This will perhaps make-up for the withdrawal from RCEP- the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

 

The Quad leaders took serious note of Chinese and Russian jets flying over Japanese waters as the Quad summit was in progress. Likewise, the four leaders condemned North Korea’s destabilising ballistic missile launches and called on the international community to abide by the United Nations Security Council’s resolution.

From the above account, it appears that Quad and bilateral meetings went well for India. But Ukraine is still the elephant in the room. Until the war in Ukraine ends, world politics and partnerships will not be steady. Biden strongly said, “Putin is trying to extinguish culture. This is more than just a European issue, it is a global issue. Food crisis may worsen as Russia blocks Ukraine from exporting its grains”. Mark this, Biden said, “as long as Russia continues the war, US will work with its partners.”

 

Biden’s statement is fraught with uncertainties, possibilities and scope for disruption. India has to choose any of these outcomes and eventuality, arising out of the war. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

PM Modi in Nepal: CULTURE & GEOPOLITICS INTERFACE, By Dr D.K. Giri, 20 May 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 20 May 2022

PM Modi in Nepal

CULTURE & GEOPOLITICS INTERFACE

By Dr D.K. Giri

(Prof. Intl Relations, JIMMC)

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha in Nepal, on a day-long visit to lay the foundation of the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage. The proposed centre will cost Rs.1 billion and will take three years to complete. The occasion was the auspicious day of the Buddha Jayanti on 16th May. The visit got associated with usual signing of MoUs and reiteration of Indian-Nepal ties, punctuated by the diplomatic niceties and hyperboles. The moot point is, however, whether India can leverage the historic religious and cultural affinity with Nepal for geopolitics.

 

Intriguingly, the same day as Modi was in Lumbini for laying the foundation stone, Nepali Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba inaugurated Chinese-built 76 million USD, airport called Gautam Buddha International Airport. The Nepal Government claims that this airport will connect Lumbini to other Buddhist-leaning countries in South-East Asia and elsewhere.

 

However, the point to note here is that Nepal is double-dealing with India as well as China for its benefit, whereas both New Delhi and Beijing are competing for leadership space in South Asia, mainly in Kathmandu. India’s new initiative in Lumbini in a sense is aimed at curtailing Chinese preponderance of patronage of Buddhist festivals and institutions.

 

In his speech, Modi invoked the historic ties between India and Nepal and made some evocative remarks. Sample these, “India-Nepal relations are unshakeable like Himalayas”. Second, India-Nepal ties under the shared principles of Buddhism will benefit the entire humanity. Third, and more emotional for peoples of Nepal and India, “I had said in Janakpur that our Lord Ram is incomplete without Nepal. Today, construction of Ram temple will make the people of Nepal happy”.

 

Modi’s visits and prayers in the temples, mainly the famous Maya Devi Temple generated a great deal of goodwill. Modi himself was spiritually heavily delighted, “I feel blessed to have prayed at the Maya Devi Temple on Buddha Purnima”.

 

Six MoUs and Agreements were signed. These mostly relate to educational exchange. Three are between Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR)and Nepal Universities, two between IIT, Madras and Kathmandu University and one between Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Limited and Nepal Electricity Authority. The MoUs with ICCR with between Lumbini Buddhist University to establish a Dr Ambedkar Chair in the latter; the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, (CNAS), Tribhuvan University for establishment of an ICCR Chair of Indian Studies and likewise chair with Kathmandu University.

 

The fourth MoU related to a general collaboration between IIT, Madras and Kathmandu University. Following that, the fourth Letter of Agreement (LoA) between IIT, Madras and Kathmandu University for joint degree programme at masters level and the final Development Project Agreement was between SJVN Ltd and Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) for development and implementation of Arun-4 Project. This project is a hydropower project on river Arun. SJVN has a portfolio of three projects in Nepal of 2059 MW capacity, the mission is to generate 25000 MW by 2030 and 50000 MW by 2040.

 

The Lumbini visit was Prime Minister’s fifth visit to Nepal since he began to head Government of India in 2014. The visit followed Sher Bahadur’s visit to India in April this year. Recall that Nepal had a change in July last year, of parties in government. The preceding government headed by KPS Oli had created a few cracks, mainly in Kala Pani, in the bilateralism between two countries.

 

Until the aggressive advent of China into South Asia, India had healthy relationships with all South Asian countries except perhaps Pakistan. India-Nepal ties were smoothly conducted under the special relationship enshrined in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1950. The current visit could be inferred to leverage religious and cultural diplomacy to emphasise the special relationship. Whether it will revive the economic and geo-political bonhomie, is a matter of speculation.

 

Evidently, cultural diplomacy can contribute to growth of trade, economic and geo-political relations. The question is how countries like India, with rich heritage of culture and civilisation, could use this soft power to bear upon strategic and economic relations. India has quite a role in delivering hydro power projects and those on transportation, infrastructure and connectivity in Nepal. Arguably, New Delhi has, in the past, misread the interface between politics and economy in its foreign policy. Now, it is expected, in the wake of the Lumbini visit, that New Delhi uses the complementarity between cultural diplomacy and foreign policy.

 

Let us note that New Delhi has not leveraged its huge religious and cultural influence in the entire South East Asia for enhancing bilateral relations. To have a glimpse of India’s historical-cultural footprints in South-East Asia, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It was initially a temple of Lord Vishnu gradually converting into a Buddhist temple.

 

In the third century BCE Hindu priests and Buddhist monks accompanied mercantile class and assumed a leading role in spreading the message of Indian thoughts and culture to the entire South-East Asian region. Angkor Wat, Pagan and  Borobudur, resembling the carvings of Konark temple in Odisha, display the deep penetration of Indian culture. The Indian epic Ramayana is used in Malaysia as Serirama and as Ramker (Ramayana Khmer) in Cambodia.

 

The Indian cultural influence got diluted and submerged with the conversion of South-East Asians into Islam. Yet, there are several religious monuments, practices and symbolic structures still maintained in South-East Asia. The Muslim majority Indonesia named its Airline as Garuda, the vehicle used by Lord Vishnu. The puppet dance, a particular folk dance form in Odisha, is still practiced in Indonesia.

 

Despite the above rich heritage, New Delhi has not had deep economic and trade relations with well-off South-East Asian countries until it signed the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in 2009. This proves the point that cultural diplomacy has been downplayed in India’s economic and foreign policy.

 

In Lumbini visit, this fault-line should be corrected. India has deep and wide religious and cultural links with Nepal. Both are only two majority Hindu countries in the world. In fact, Nepal was officially a Hindu kingdom until 2015 when its new Constitution made it secular like India has been. Understandably, the economicgrowth and trade potentials are the current measure of strength of a country. But cultural ties between countries can provide a conducive context for improving the trade and economy. This hypothesis is to be tested after the Lumbini visit of the Prime Minister. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

Minimum Wage: NATIONAL BASE VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 25 May 2022 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 25 May 2022   

Minimum Wage

NATIONAL BASE VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

A recent study commissioned by the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) has backed universal basic income to reduce the income gaps as well as devising an urban MGNREGA to rehabilitatesurplus labour. “Raising minimum income and introducing universal basic income are some of the recommendations that can reduce the income gap and equal distribution of earnings in the labour market”, according to the report prepared by the Institute of Competitiveness. While such a policy may help in gearing employment, it is essential to point out here that even in the MGNREGA, there is a lot of disparity as States pay different wages to beneficiaries.  

 

Undeniably, the need for a national minimum wage in the country, which has been aired time and again, is an essential necessity. But there have been no efforts in enforcing such a wage policy. There is need for the government to formulate and enforce a minimum wage across the country to minimise labour exploitation at a time when prices of petrol, diesel and other essentials keep rising.

 

In the last Parliament session, RJD Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha, raised the issue of revising the minimum wage and referred to the expert committee headed by labour economist, Anoop Satpathy. The 2018 report had recommended fixing the need-based national minimum wage for India at Rs 375 per day or Rs 9,750 per month. Plus, it recommended introduction of an additional house rent allowance (city compensatory allowance) for urban workers over and above the National Minimum Wage.

 

Regrettably, the Centre did not act on the reportand instead announced formation of another expert group for consideration of minimum wage. The Satpathycommittee had worked out an evidence based formula of a balanced diet of 2400 calories, 50 grams of protein and 30 grams of fat per day per person. It had added some expenditure towards clothing, education and housing and multiplied the cost by 3.6 to include the spouse, two children and elderly parents. Currently, the minimum wage notified by most of the States is Rs 200-oddper day.

 

Every year, the Centre notifies a National Minimum Floor Level Wage too that is not binding on States. The last floor level wage, notified in July 2017 was Rs 176. Under the Code on Wages passed by Parliament in August 2019, the Centre can notify a national floor wage on the basis of its assessment of the minimum living standards. No State can prescribe a minimum wage below this floor wage. But the rules are yet to be framed and the floor wage is yet to be notified.

 

Meanwhile, the Centre increased wage rates under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) by 5 to 7%, but the revised accounts still fall short of the minimum wages that had been notified by the States for similar unskilled work. Sikkim has the highest daily payment of Rs 333 under the MGNREGA for 2022-23. But MGNREGA workers in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh will receive a daily wage of Rs 204, the lowest among States, up from Rs 198, while workers in West Bengal will get Rs 223 for a day’s work, a hike of Rs 10.

 

 

The amount varies, based on difficulty of terrain and working conditions. Nikhil Dey of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan said the minimum NREGA wages remaining lower than the States’ payouts amounted to denial of basic standards of living to those opting for the national job scheme. Though an expert committee under Mahendra Dev had in 2014 recommended that MGNREGA rates cannot be lower than the States’ minimum wage for agricultural workers, the Centre is not implementing the report.

 

And though the Centre has increased wage rates, according to official data of Rural Development Ministry, there is a negative balance of Rs 15,190 crore on March 23 this year, which may increase to around Rs 15,500 crore by 2021-22 end. With reduced budgetary allocation, work under the scheme may not be possible for over nine months or so. This at a time when unemployment in urban areas in the 15 year and above age group showed 9.8% in July-September quarter of 2021, moderating from the double digit in the previous three month period (12.6%) though, however, a later figure revealed that it was around 7.6% in March.A section of analystsattribute this to the fact that poor people in rural and semi urban areas cannot afford to remain unemployed for long as a result of which they are taking up any job that comes their way. 

 

These aspects are very important, one of wage rates and the other of employment generation. Both are crucial for upgradation of livelihoods but sadlyboth Centre and most States are not serious. The latest CMIE figures suggest an unemployment rate at 8.1% with 53 million people without jobs. The unemployment rate peaked to 11.84% in May 2021, while it hovered to just around 4% in 2013-14 when Dr Manmohan Singh relinquished office.

 

Though the Code on Wages, Industrial Relations Code, Social Security Code and the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, which replace 29 labour laws were adopted, these are yet to be implemented. Also setting up National Social Security Fund to cover over 38 crore informal workers and improve the case of doing business is among the top agenda for the Labour Ministry. 

 

While the government claims it is doing all it can to ensure better wages and working conditions for the labour class, the Opposition hits out saying that “Modi is doing everything for his capitalist friends; they are earning Rs 1000 crore daily. But he is not interested in creating jobs because he knows he can win by misleading people on emotive issues”. Even the corporate social responsibility (CSR) has not been quite effective and has neither helped in creation of jobs nor helped in development of social infrastructure, that is, in the realm of education and health.

 

While we talk of economic growth, there is need for formulating a policy based on wages and employment. The current situation has seen a thrust of our politicians and planners geared towards increasing incomes of the business class and the rich. In pursuing this policy, instead of effective public-private participation, the policy followed by the government is to play into the hands of the private sector by handing them over profitable public sector units.

 

Understanding of developmental economics is vital for formulating a policy for increasing wages and employment that obviously benefits the lowest segments of society. Unfortunately, the policy makers have for years been either ignorant or prefer to remain indifferent to the needs and demands of the masses, which primarily includes better livelihood opportunities.

 

Thus there is a need for a genuine transformation that would witness proper wages and adequate employment opportunities for the working class. Though the economy has been steadily recovering, a change would mean steady increase in wages commensurate with price increase and slow but steady rise in employment.---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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