Category: Editorial

Dinesh KamathJune 14, 2019
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3min00

The US is ready to help India’s defence needs with the latest technologies and equipment, but New Delhi purchasing long-range S-400 missile defence system from Russia would limit cooperation, the Trump administration has cautioned.

US had warned earlier too that New Delhi’s deal to procure the lethal missile system from Moscow will have “serious implications” on India-US defence ties.

Someone closest to the US President had said that the US now does more military exercises with India than any other country. Under the Trump administration, US is ready to help meet India’s defence needs and US is seeking a very different kind of defence partnership building on the ‘Major Defence Partner’ designation that India has received from Congress. US has been working out the strategy to make India-US ties as robust and as meaningful as possible.

The US says that what causes concern with the S-400 is that it effectively could limit India’s ability “to increase interoperability”. It is the case that 10 years ago US did not offer the range of military equipment to India that it is prepared to offer today. US is very much engaged in a conversation with India over how the two can broaden their defence relationship.

Signing of COMCASA agreement between the two countries was a key step forward which allows for the classified sharing of information, which is one of the basic foundational agreements that foster military interoperability.

So both the US and India are making significant strides forward in their military relationship. Over the last 10 years, India-US defence trade has increased from zero to $18 billion. US wants to expand defence relationship with India but US is concerned about the fact that about 65 or 70% of India’s military hardware is Russian origin.

US is India’s largest and best market. Twenty per cent of India’s goods come to US. There is Indian Foreign Direct Investment in the US. There’s a huge interest by US firms in India. Prime Minister Modi’s preoccupied with job creation and attracting Foreign Direct Investment is going to be a key part of that strategy. Properly conducted trade can be a huge strength to the relationship


Dinesh KamathJune 13, 2019
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3min00

PM Narendra Modi has called for inclusiveness in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. At Male, he delivered a speech rich in meaningful metaphors to the Maldivian Parliament. He referred to the ties that bind India to the Maldives.

Modi called the waves of Indian Ocean “messengers” of peace, friendship and trust that exist between the two countries. The speech spelt out common interests in maritime cooperation, democracy, pluralism, climate change, and in battling the twin scourges of terrorism and radicalisation. There were agreements done on hydrography cooperation and sharing ‘white shipping’ information, and to fund a conservation project for Male’s Friday Mosque. The Prime Minister expressed a resolve for the common fight against terrorism and radicalization. On his next stop, for a few hours in Colombo, he spelt out the same message.

Modi’s twin visits underlined several initiatives, including his commitment to “Neighbourhood First” and “Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)”. Modi chose to speak in Male about two important liberal values as common causes: democracy and inclusiveness. He repeated his motto, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas aur Sabka Vishwas (together with all, for the development of all and with the trust of all), and his outreach to the mosque in the Maldives and the church in Sri Lanka reinforced the words.

But sabka viswas- inclusiveness will not happen as long as Rahul Gandhi and media keep going with their narrative that Modi won the recent elections on religion/caste polarisation.  Owaisi came out and said that Rahul Gandhi would have lost at Wayanard had not Muslims voted for him. Media and Rahul have been and are continuing to shout that the minority is not safe under Modi. So, who is really being divisive?

On the whole, Modi displayed an appreciable attitude during the trips. His interest to improve ties with the countries of the world in general and with the neighbouring nations is remarkable. In the globalised world such ties will improve economic benefits. There is a need to speed up the implementation of the agreements.

Helping in conservation of a 1658 Coral Mosque is a welcome initiative towards building harmony between nations, and also a motivating factor for Muslims living in India to put their faith in the PM. However, the promises done in the southern neighborhood countries must be implemented as well.


Dinesh KamathJune 13, 2019
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4min00

Too many bodies are piling up on the world’s highest peak. Authorities should screen climbers and limit the numbers. Many trekkers are yearning to scale Mount Everest, with all the romance, danger and spirit of exploration. The need to reach the highest point on the planet is instinctive, a part of man’s desire to conquer the universe. The conquest, however, has turned out to entail a landscape littered with tons of plastic bottles, food tins, excrement, ropes and tents and scores of oxygen-starved tourists lining up to take a selfie on the summit.

Many focus on the loose standards set by the government of Nepal and the proliferation of dubious expedition companies. China also runs expeditions from its side of the mountain, but fewer use that route and the controls are said to be tighter. On the Nepal side, anyone can pick up an Everest permit for $11,000, and the total package, with guides, equipment, food and lodging for a six-week expedition can easily exceed $50,000. In one of the world’s poorest countries, that’s a flow of money the government is loath to reduce.

Nepalese officials are belatedly considering setting proficiency standards for climbers and limiting the numbers on the mountain to reduce congestion and garbage at the summit. But however disturbing the deaths and the queues, Everest still poses one of the greatest physical and mental challenges our planet has to offer, and trying to deny it to people is futile

Many of the deaths were needless, veterans say, and the increasing number of rookie climbers who try to tackle Everest have made it more dangerous for everyone.

Nepal said that they were analyzing what had happened and leaning toward requiring all climbers to submit proof of mountaineering experience and a verifiable certificate of good health.

Mount Everest is a huge block of ice and rock along the Nepal-China border. China also runs expeditions to the top, but on the Chinese side it appears to be less of a free-for-all. There have been two deaths this year on the Chinese side out of about 300 climbers, compared with nine in Nepal, though almost 800 people climbed from the Nepal side.

Several mountaineers described a ruthless pursuit of the summit in which other climbers refused to share the essentials of life — water and oxygen. The rules on some other mountains empowered guides to stop a climber from ascending if the guide felt the climber might not make it or was behaving badly. At Everest, it is not the same — you can hire a Sherpa on the streets of Kathmandu, or your travel agent says, ‘Here is your Sherpa,’ that’s it. There is no way to know whether that Sherpa can judge and determine the capability of the person who is climbing.

Nepal is one of Asia’s poorest countries, and even Everest, the jewel of its tourism economy, has been marred by corruption scandals and scams.


Dinesh KamathJune 11, 2019
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4min00

Actor, writer and Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad succumbed to multiple-organ failure at his residence in Bengaluru. Girish Karnad (81) was a well-known writer, playwright, actor and public intellectual.

Born in May 1938, he was one of the most prominent theatre personalities of the 60s and 70s. He wrote his first play Yayati. His last play was Rakshasa Tangadi. He was also a film director and actor, his acting debut being in the classic Samskara. He made a name in parallel cinema as well as mainstream films in multiple languages.

He often became the target of the Hindutva right, most notably for his views on Mysuru king Tipu Sultan. He said in a later interview to a television channel, “I think he [Tipu Sultan] is one of the best Kannadigas we had in the last 500 years, after the fall of Vijaynagar.”

Karnad was believed to be on the hitlist of the gang that killed Gauri Lakesh and was given security by the State police in the aftermath of her death.

Playwright, actor, institution-builder and patriot, Girish Karnad was a colossus. The Karnataka Government has declared a holiday for schools and colleges and a three-day State mourning in honour of the writer who brought the 7th Jnanpith to Kannada.

Some years ago, when Karnataka and Tamil Nadu spared over the Kauveri Water Sharing Tribunal’s judgment, Girish Karnard’s was the lone voice that urged the government of Karnataka to gracefully accept the Tribunal’s award and start releasing water to the riparian state of Tamil Nadu. Of course, for being virtuous and justifiable, he had to face the ire of the violently agitating Kannadigas, and had his house pelted with stones and odds and ends. The house was almost torn down. Yet, Karnard stood by what he said and made the agitators see sense. Girish Karnard was a multifaceted, stately and sophisticated personality who enriched art, culture, literature and civilization.

An all-rounder Girish Karnad made a mark in whatever field he chose .His dialogue delivery was superb and so was his action both on the screen and stage .Film industry lost a stalwart.

 He was a source of inspiration to several theatre activists. Praying that his soul rests in peace, one can now count one or two more alive, at the platform level of a Girish Karnad, who had the guts, know-how and literary imagination to create original writings/plays – as well as act in his own plays. India today needs at least a hundred Girish Karnads to counter parochialism and destructive social hooliganism.

So sad to hear his passing away. He was such a refined actor (I shall always remember his role in the Hindi movie ‘Swami’ with Shabana Azmi). May your soul rest in peace.


Dinesh KamathJune 7, 2019
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5min00

Removing English from India is dangerous to development and integration. The three-language formula (TLF) under the draft National Education Policy (NEP), now modified, stipulated mother tongue and English compulsory everywhere till class X, and Hindi in non-Hindi States and non-Hindi languages in Hindi States to be taught. The irony of the TLF is that to be an Indian one must have fluency in two Indian languages, in addition to English

The project to remove English has become redundant. From being a language of colonialism, English transformed itself into a global language of culture, science and technology, and world politics. Its universality claims are also backed by its capacity to absorb words from other languages.

All Indian languages are languages of identity and cultural expression whereas English is a language of mobility and empowerment. You cannot prescribe any language other than English as a medium of instruction in subjects of higher education for which only English books are available and which can only be properly taught in English. India ought to introduce English throughout school and college education so that all Indians will be conversant in English.

While English stands dismantled as a second/link language in administration, Hindi remains unacceptable to non-Hindi States. So, an educated person from a non-Hindi State will be clueless in a Hindi State and vice-versa. It does not matter whether he is transacting some business or attending an official meeting. Therefore, instead of promoting national integration, the official language policy has accomplished the opposite.

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, is it merely their cultural pride that cannot reconcile to Hindi? Sub-national aspiration can go only thus far. Instead of merely opposing Hindi imposition, they can build a better case for English as the second language throughout the country.

What is wrong in learning Hindi? Most Northerners can speak Hindi because their mother tongue is similar to Hindi. It is a pity that time and again emotion overwhelms logic. You need a local language as a communication link. The politicians in Tamil Nadu are simply using this issue for political reasons. Many non-Tamil southerners can communicate in Hindi. It is only in Tamil Nadu where politicians have not allowed a third language. Tamils will lose out.

Three languages formula is good for a country with such diversity and can be utilised for integration of our country. Under the formula languages should be -1.State language where school is situated. 2. If state is in Northern India it should be any Southern Indian language, in case of Southern/Central/Northeast states it should be Hindi. 3. Politicians have created all disputes by making disputes over removal of English. In globalised world, English acts as a medium of communication in many countries.

Hindi is our mother and English is our father. We need both as HIndi gives national growth and empowerment. English gives international growth and empowerment. When we have both international and national growth it will lead to overall growth. English is a global language which can’t be substituted by any language. English isn’t a colonising factor but a binding factor. We Indians have turned it from our weakness into our strength. So there is one request to our politicians to not turn our strength into our weakness again.

Let’s not limit ourselves to one language, one village, one state, one country or one continent as India is known for its variety.

The Hindi issue has been grossly bungled by government after government. A simple, easy to learn version of Hindi is what was needed, not the highly sanskritized, doordarshan standard. A simple, not too academic, practical familiarity with Hindi would have gone a long way and wouldn’t be seen as a burden to the non-Hindi states. Besides, Hindi as a language should also enrich itself by borrowing liberally from Tamil and other Indian languages. Isn’t that what national integration all about?


Dinesh KamathJune 4, 2019
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4min00

The economic crisis is deepening. The second Modi government takes office amid a clear economic slowdown. The new Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, is facing an under-performing economy. The unemployment data, controversially suppressed by the Union government so far, showed that joblessness was at a 45-year high of 6.1% in 2017-18. These numbers highlight the challenges ahead for Ms. Sitharaman as she sits down to draft the Budget for 2019-20, to be presented on July 5.

The good news is that inflation is undershooting the target and oil prices are on the retreat again. But the rural economy remains in distress. Overall economic growth in the first quarter of this fiscal is likely to remain subdued, and any improvement is unlikely until the late second quarter or the early third. There are not too many options before the new Finance Minister.

She has to boost consumption and take measures to boost private investment. A rate cut by the Reserve Bank of India, widely expected this week, would certainly help boost sentiment. But it is the Budget that will really set the tone for the economy.

The easy part was winning the election by appealing to Hindu Nationalist sentiment and increasing tensions with Pakistan over the Pulwama incident. Now however with the economy slowing and unemployment rising, Modi will have to take the needed steps to introduce market labor and land reforms. As a result FDI is declining. There is little difference between NDA and UPA in this regard.

The economy as a whole is terribly saddled due to the NPAs that wiped nearly $200 billion from banks’ capital, bottle necking further flow of credit to industries. Government must immediately bring back the Land Acquisition Bill to remove bottlenecks faced by huge investors & making India more attractive for investment in order to fill the capital deficiency. Easing of labor laws is a must to make sure protection laws don’t hinder & push back investors. We need to roll out red carpet to them to generate jobs.

Some people, when reporting about India’s problems, always search for negative news about India and highlight it. It is not just India but the whole world which seems to be going through an economic slowdown. The Modi government does show promise of helping India overcome this slowdown.

National Economic development is not a magic-wand. Action needs years of Planning, Resources conversions, Education, Management/Administration to steer and maneuver the country to the position of top economic power.

Though some external factors do influence the economy in a liberalised world, our nation has great potential to tackle the internal economic issues. Fortunately, the nation is also rich in professionals in the field. The finance minister needs to take advice from the economists too & take the most optimum steps to rebuild the economy.

Lastly, the expected rate-cut by Reserve Bank of India should not reduce the interest rates on the deposits of Senior Citizens in the country.


Dinesh KamathMay 30, 2019
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5min00

The invitation to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand is a continuation of the “neighbourhood first” policy behind Modi’s invite to leaders of South Asia for his 2014 swearing-in ceremony. By not inviting leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Maldives on this occasion, the government is underlining that its regional preferences have shifted from the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) grouping to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).

Modi is signalling that he does not hold the same optimism in 2019. His moves are indications of India’s “Act East” initiative and outreach to East Asia. The separate invitation to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation chairperson indicates India’s commitment to the Central Asian grouping led by China and Russia.

India’s engagement with both BIMSTEC and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), which India joined as an observer in 2005, is at a promising but incipient stage. India sees BIMSTEC as a possible alternative to SAARC. The SCO, which inducted India and Pakistan as full members last year, is yet to demonstrate its utility for India.

 

It is quite in order for the PM to show his preferences here. This is foreign policy in a nutshell.

India’s Act East Policy must continue to focus on strengthening collaboration with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Partnerships must aim at promoting economic revival through implementation of India-ASEAN FTA in services and investment and strategic cooperation to fight terrorism, freedom of navigation, maritime security and de-fence cooperation. Modi’s use of soft power such as Buddhism, tourism, people-to-people contacts, and cultural ties with the region must also be harnessed. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sect-oral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is projected to not only increase mutual economic productivity but also promote peace and prosperity in the Northeast region. Beyond ASEAN, India must work to strengthen ties with East Asia, particularly Japan and Republic of Korea and Australia, which are both relevant for India’s strategic and economic interests. Technology transfer, civilian nuclear cooperation, de-fence, and innovation are important sectors that need to be targeted.

 

Foreign policies are determined and should be analysed on needs of the country’s welfare. SAARC’s alternate could be BIMSTEC if it serves more than the former. In recent years, owing to tension and skirmishes on border with Pakistan, India wants to be less engaged in SAARC till a firm and effective resolution to disputes does not come into way. India’s policies of Neighbours First and Look to East are meant to strengthen its regional position and thus providing India a chance to be one of the best economies of the world. Already, Indian markets and trade have become a hub center for a flourishing commerce, which is just a tunnel of getting riches and wealth. India must heed on its importance from ancient time to till date. These were Indian markets which on per se became center of exports as well as imports for British rule and its predecessor East India Company. Now when government is on majority it must take part to legislate laws concerning to trade within and outside.

By not inviting Imran, Pakistan Prime Minister, Modi has sent a clear message that abetting terror is a stumbling block in the friendly relationship of the two neighbors.

 

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newsbandMay 22, 2019
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5min00

India is in a pretty bad state today. The economy desperately needs to be repaired, as do rural distress, the job crisis and the free-falling rupee. The country’s institutions demand urgently to be rebuilt — the media, police, judiciary, universities, the planning process, the Election Commission of India. Our constitutional pledge of a secular democracy stands damaged.

During the election campaigns, the opposition leaders spoke of everything else — the agony of farmers, unemployed youth, suspect defence deals, crony capitalism and indeed crony institutions. Never did they speak of secularism. The 2019 general election has been framed as a battle of Narendra Modi against the rest. This is how the Opposition has fought the electoral battle, of Modi versus the rest. This is how the majority of Indian voters view this combat. The virulent hate speech was central to this election campaign, with Modi mocking his rival, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, for seeking election in a constituency in which he would have to depend in part on Muslim and Christian voters.

If Modi is returned with an emphatic majority when ballots are counted on May 23, as many exit polls predict, this will signal that a significant majority of Hindus endorse the Hindu supremacist ideology of the RSS. A second scenario is of reduced support for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), its tally falling short of the half-way mark. The possibility that many regional parties could be persuaded to support an NDA government only if it is led by a less belligerent leader than Modi, possibly Nitin Gadkari or Rajnath Singh.

The least expected scenario, of the victory of the United Progressive Alliance or a federal front of regional parties, cannot be ruled out yet. Whatever the final outcome, this fight to salvage, defend and fortify secularism will have to be fought by the Indian people.

Earlier generations of Indians, by & large, were persuaded by Gandhiji’s ethics of justice, tolerance & communal harmony. Hence they hailed him as the Mahatma & later, proclaimed him as the ‘Father of Nation.’ But today Mahatma Gandhi’s values of justice, unity etc are summarily branded as the “language of Pakistan,” “anti-national” etc. Why so?

Secularism is not just for Hindus to practice. It is not a one way street either. Ponder this: Muslim majority countries on either side of our border either declare themselves Islamic republic or at the least make Islam the state religion.  Even after the Bangladesh court said they need to be secular, Islam is still state religion. In practice Bangladesh is nothing but an Islamic republic.  Nothing in our laws enacted in the last 5 years or law enforcement in the last 5 years declares supremacy of HIndus

Many elections have passed by, but still there hasn’t been any visible change in India. The main reason for elections is to bring in change for the benefit of the nation. Progress is only possible by a secularist leader but we can only attain a secularist leader when we have a secularist voters who vote according to development agenda and look beyond the religious identity. But this depends completely on the voters as they can bring the change they want to see in India by supervising the government. We have to remember that we need a selfless leader who is by the people, for the people and of the people and not belonging to a particular religious sect. This is the true meaning of a leader i.e. a person who is not just a representative, but a role model for the millions of people.

Secularism is overrated.  While the latest narrative equated it to divisiveness, the pre BJP narrative equated it with minority appeasement and blind siding the identity and self-esteem of the majority.


newsbandMay 21, 2019
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3min00

India awaits the arrival of the annual summer monsoon. Normal rainfall is vital for agriculture, the health of forests, rivers and wetlands. The India Meteorological Department has forecast normal rainfall of 96% of the long period average of 89 cm rain.

Rainfall is absolutely important for farms, cities and industry. State governments should have pursued the setting up of new recharging wells and made improvements to existing ones on a war footing. They should encourage harvesting of surface water and help farmers raise the efficiency of irrigation.

There is the need for India to clean up its act on rising industrial emissions, and burning of fossil fuels and biomass in order to improve the stability of the monsoon. An equally key area of concern is freshwater availability for households. Urbanisation trends and the severe water stress that residents experience underscore the need for mandatory rainwater harvesting policies and augmented efforts by States to preserve surface water by building new reservoirs.

Compared to the 1970s and 1980s, there has been some improvement in irrigation facilities, at least in the northern and western parts of India. The rabi (winter) crop—that is far less susceptible to the vagaries of the monsoon— now provides more than half of the annual agricultural output. The agricultural sector now plays a much smaller role—compared to industry and services— in output and growth. All these changes have meant that poor monsoons have lost the kind of destabilizing effect that they had on growth rates earlier. However, all the states should prepare for recharging the wells, improve the existing wells and rain water harvesters in urban areas and to build new reservoirs.

It is true that in developing countries like India there is a scarcity of fresh potable water. This leads to many water related diseases. This will affect agriculture and in turn cause inflation and affect the economy. Thus the government cannot afford to waste time and it has to keep in mind that a stitch in time saves nine. It cannot put aside water scarcity for the sake of elections.


newsbandMay 17, 2019
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3min00

Disconnect between elite and mass concerns has made the future of Indian democracy uncertain. Several institutions, including the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India and the Central Bureau of Investigation, which are constitutionally mandated to be autonomous agencies, have recently come under a cloud because of their perceived inability to work independently of the political executive or because of the lack of transparency in their performance.

The Congress party’s pursuit of “soft” Hindutva, as against the BJP’s “hard” Hindutva is a thing of concern too. The discernible rise in populist and authoritarian tendencies in the country is reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency that threaten to reduce India to merely a procedural democracy where elections are held primarily to anoint populist leaders.

While the liberal intellectuals have been fixated on subjects such as the erosion of institutions, the rise of majoritarianism has led to most voters being unconcerned about these issues. The vision of the majority is limited to three types of issues: jobs and livelihood; caste and communal considerations; and demonstration of Indian strength especially vis-à-vis Pakistan.

One factor that appears to cut across caste and linguistic divisions is the attraction for many voters to hyper-nationalism, sometimes bordering on jingoism. Hyper-nationalism has always been the favourite strategy of populist leaders seeking to retain or to attain power.

A combination of the factors outlined above — lack of concern for institutions, preoccupation with livelihood issues, obsession with caste and community benefits, and the propagation of hyper-nationalism — taken together facilitate populism, which, as history shows, can easily lead to authoritarianism.

A minority section of Elites look at Indian democracy. Unfortunately it does not reach the vast majority of non-English speaking audience. It is only when one loses the taken-for-granted freedoms that one can appreciate its importance. But then it will have been too late.



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