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A leaf out of Ambedkar’s book

Dalit – Bahujan politics, which is perceived as having no road map, could learn from Ambedkar’s political experiments

The rapid decline of the Bahujan Samaj party over the years has led some to believe that Dalit politics lacks a suitable road map . Rebuilding the Bahujan movement will be difficult if the political agenda and electoral strategies are not improvised. In such a crisis, the Dalit-Bahujan leadership could learn from B.R. Ambedkar’s political experiments.

Ambedkar’s social movement and political thoughts are heralded for making Indian society sensitive towards the ideas of social justice and democracy. Ambedkar was keen to find a dignified place for the ‘Untouchables ‘ in modern institutions, including legislative bodies . He appealed to the ruling classes to recognise the ‘Untouchables ‘ as a new social and political minority, and demanded special safeguards for them from the state . He thought community based political representation would liberate the ‘Untouchables ‘ from the hegemony of the social elites and help them bring their issues to the mainstream. But Ambedkar was not interested in Framing the Dalits as a political force for the Dalits alone ; he expected them to unify vulnerable caste groups, religious minorities and the deprived working classes and bring about revolutionary political change .

Forming political parties

Ambedkar’s first political party, the independent labour party (ILP) , was committed to the welfare of the working classes . The socially marginalised castes , especially the ‘Untouchables ‘ , formed a significant part of modern industry, especially in Bombay . Ambedkar noticed that parties claiming to represent the interests of the working class did not pay attention to the concerns of ‘ untouchable’ labour . He reprimanded the socialist -communist leadership for betraying the trust of lower caste workers . The ILP , he proposed , would highlight the class -caste relationship and contest coercive “Brahmanism & Capitalism” together.

In 1942, Ambedkar established his second political party , the Scheduled Federation (SCF) , in Bombay . This was when hectic deliberations were taking place between the Congress, the Muslim League and the representatives of religious minorities over India’s constitution. In new constitutions in the world then, different religious communities and groups were granted political safeguards and cultural rights according to their numerical strength and historical location. Ambedkar wanted to establish the Depressed Castes as one of the prime actors in the nation building process . The SCF demanded that the ruling classes cherish the values of socially diverse groups and integrate the different aspirations of marginalised people in their plans for a new India . Further , the SCF meant to promote the interest of the diverse ‘Untouchable ‘ castes on a single national platform. Ambedkar introduced the SCF as a rival of the Congress and a harsh critic of M.K. Gandhi’s leadership. The Congress was depicted as an association of powerful caste groups and rich capitalists .

March to national politics

There have been several efforts to project M.K. Stalin as a prime ministerial candidate

Twenty five years ago, in Tiruvarur, the then Tamil Nadu chief minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi was asked by a journalist why he was not aspiring for the post of Prime Minister. He replied :” I know my limitations”. The question was raised against the backdrop of a serious bid made by the founder of the Tamil Maanila congress (Moopanar) , G.K. Moopanar, to become prime minister following the resignation of H.D. Deve Gowda as the head of the United Front Regime . Today, concerted efforts are on to project Karunanidhi’ s son and Chief Minister M.k. Stalin as a prime ministerial candidate.

In the last couple of months , many events can be cited as attempts at promoting Mr. Stalin to the National scene. In early February, the chief Minister wrote to leaders of almost three dozen parties across the country, asking them to nominate their representatives to the All India federation of social justice. Later that months, kerala chief minster Pinarayi Vijayan , former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Rashtriya Janta Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav , and former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah came to Chennai to participate in the launch of the first volume of Mr. Stalin’ s autobiography, Ungalil oruvan ( one among you) . A month later , in New Delhi, leaders of various non BJP opposition parties came together during the inauguration of the DMK’s office . Mr. Stalin’s condemnation of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s observations on the hindi language and his participation at a seminar held last week during the CPI(M)’s party congress in Kannur were also viewed as part of his March towards national politics.

It is rather uncommon for a leader of Tamil Nadu to get national prominence. Other than Moopanar , Congress leader K. Kamaraj and AIADMK leader J. Jayalalithaa were talked about as prime ministerial material. While kamaraj was content playing the role of ‘kingmaker ‘ in 1964 and 1966 , Jayalalithaa, despite her turning the 2014 Lok sabha elections into a lady versus Modi fight , and her party bagging 37 seats out of 39 in Tamil Nadu, did not make it .

In the last three years , Mr Stalin has tasted success twice as a leader of coalition. In the 2019 Lok sabha elections, when he proposed the name of Mr . Gandhi for the post of Prime Minister, the DMK -led front captured 39 constituencies, including one in Puducherry. Two years later , it got a two thirds majority in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. After capturing power in the State, Mr. Stalin has continued to criticize the BJP on a host of issues . In the last 11 months , he has been particularly highlighting the importance of social justice, greater autonomy for the states and the Dravidian model of governance. Perhaps conscious of the criticism that Dravidian majors do not seek industrial investment in the way parties in other states do, Mr. Stalin has shown keenness in attracting investments in a big way . His visit to the UAE is the most recent indication of this. After he became Chief Minister in May 2021 , the state government signed 131 MoUs involving an investment of Rs 69,375 crore . Mr Stalin also announced that the State would hold the next Global Investors ‘ Meet by 2023 end , the previous two editions of which were held during the AIADMK regime . There are signs of his government willing to bite the bullet in economy -related matters , even as Mr. Stalin has been keeping all his political allies together. Though it is too early to talk about the compositions of political form

Belated Pivot

Without curbing inflation, the RBI will not be able to promote sustainable growth

The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee has rather belatedly acknowledged that it’s primary remit is, after all, to ensure price stability. Addressing the media on Friday after announcing the MPC’s first Monetary Policy review of the new fiscal year, RVI governor Shaktikanta Das was emphatic in stating that ” in the sequence of priorities, we have now put inflation before growth”. More than 3 years after it prioritised growth over price stability —in February 2019, and well before the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic -the RBI has pivoted back to putting the horse before the cart , best reflected in the Central bank’s own words on monetary policy goals :” Price stability is a necessary pre condition to sustainable growth”. That it has taken the outbreak of war in Europe, with its accompanying commodity price shocks to remind the RBI of the imperative centrality of price stability is a salutary reminder that monetary policy makers can ill afford to be complacent when it comes to inflation.

Less than two months after it rather sanguinely projected inflation to average 4.5% in the fiscal year to March 2023, the MPC has raised the forecast by a substantial 120 basis points to 5.7% . And this even as it cut it’s earlier projection for real GDP growth in the current fiscal by 60 basis points to 7.2% . The RBI also made it clear that while it has left benchmark interest rates and it’s accomodative policy stance unchanged for now , the time had come to commence the ” withdrawal of accomodation”.

To be sure , Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was still two weeks in the future the last time the RBI’s rate setting panel finalised its policy review. And yet, the price of crude oil, which Mr. Das cited as the key factor that had neccessitated the revision of the inflation projection and the pivot , had already been on the boil since December. In fact, the lone dissenter on the MPC on the issue of the policy stance in February, Jayanth Varma , had stressed the need to look ahead at the likely state of the economy at least three to four quarters later and shift to a neutral stance given that monetary policy acts with a lag. The RBI ‘s deputy governor overseeing Monetary Policy, Michael Patra , had on the other hand at the last MPC meeting starkly warned that, “Central banks have a choice :either accept higher inflation for some time or be prepared to be accountable for destroying demand “. With the RBI’s own quarterly projections for inflation now presaging the possibility of a policy failure by way of three consecutive quarters of inflation above the 6% upper bound, policymakers have clearly realised any further delay in changing tack would risk leaving the economy with neither growth nor price stability.

A message for Russia

Putin should take note of the views of the global community and end the war

The suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council has turned the global spotlight on the civilian killings in Ukraine. The U.S. sponsored resolution in the UN General Assembly was approved by 93 votes against 24, with 58 abstentions that included India. Russia has faced immense criticism after bodies were found, from where Russian troops withdrew following the Istanbul talks . Russia claims it to be ” staged events and fakes ” . While the truth should be established in an independent UN-monitored probe, there is no doubt that civilians were targeted . According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at least 1,611 civilians have been killed and 2,227 injured in Ukraine since the war began. Russia cannot evade it’s responsibility for these losses. When Russia began the invasion, President Vladimir Putin had said the main objectives of what he called the ” special military operation” were the ” demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine. Considering the three front war Rissia launched , it was evident that Moscow wanted to meet its real objectives -whatever they were –quickly.

But Ukraine’s fierce resistance, especially in the north, has changed the course of the conflict, which now looks like a war of attrition, focusing on Ukraine’s east.

Now, both Ukraine and Russia are in difficult situations. The Ukrainians, with military and financial aid from West, have pushed back in the north, but lost territories in the east and the south. Given the power imbalance ,it is unlikely that Ukraine can regain the lost territories. Russia now seems to have been bogged Down in the battlefield, with international criticism mounting on its war conduct. What is in the best interest of all parties is a cessation of hostilities and a diplomatic solution.

The Istanbul talks had opened a path towards peace . According to the Ukrainian proposals , President Zelensky has agreed to accept neutrality in return for multilateral security assurances. He is also ready for a consultation period of 15 years for Crimea, which russia annexed in 2014 , and discuss the status of the self declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics in a summit with Mr. Putin. It was after these proposals that the Russians announced their pull back from the north. But the Bucha killings appear to have clouded the peace process . The investigation into the civilian killings should go in parallel and not derail the diplomatic process . Russia should follow up on its words with more demonstrable actions to end the hostilities.

The war has damaged it’s economy and it’s reputation as a great power , while causing unspeakable losses and destruction in Ukraine. The most important message from the UN body to Moscow is that it should cease the fire and take the path of diplomacy immediately.

Beyond Border -Gavaskar

Periodic reappraisal of the economic gains from the trade pact with Australia is pragmatic

The India – Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) signed last week is a key step in enhancing bilateral economic ties between the two major Indian Ocean littoral states and reflects the growing strategic alignment between New Delhi and Canberra . While India’s strongest ties with Australia had hitherto largely centred around their common colonial legacy of cricket,best exemplified in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, a more contemporary shared vision has emerged around the mutual need to strengthen their strategic and Trade engagement. This was manifested in the June 2020 virtual summit when Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison decided to elevate the relationship to the level of a comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Defence and strategic ties have gained significant traction and the latest ECTA has been hammered out in just six months since negotiations restarted in end – September. Envisaged as an ‘early -harvest’ agreement, the ECTA covers the gamut of economic and commercial relations including trade in goods and services, rules of origin, technical barriers to trade , dispute settlement and customs procedures . Targeting a goal of doubling bilateral trade to about $50 billion in five years , from the $ 27.5 billion logged in 2021, the partners have set about dismantling or lowering tariff barriers . While Australia has agreed to eliminate tariffs on more than 96% of Indian exports , including several labour – intensive industries, India will allow the duty free entry of 85% of Australian goods exports by value from day one and within the next 10 years cut tariffs to zero on another 5% of Australian merchandise.

That the negotiators adopted a pragmatic tack is evident in the way contentious issues such as the dairy sector, a politically significant export industry in Australia, were set aside for separate resolution at later talks . A key area that has been included is the movement of ‘natural persons ‘, which is inextricably linked to fostering closer people -to-people links and is an imperative in efforts to promote bilateral trade in services . The agreement aims to support access for a range of Australian and Indian skilled service providers , investors , and business visitors and also , crucially seeks to address an area linked to another major Australian export –education .

Canberra has now agreed, on a reciprocal basis , to ease visa restrictions, enabling students at varied levels of higher education to stay on for periods ranging from 18 months to four years to pursue work opportunities on a temporary basis. Arguably the best feature of the ECTA though is the incorporation of a compulsory review mechanism at the end of 15 years . With past FTAs having proved less than beneficial to domestic industry, India’s negotiators have set a meaningful precedent in including the feature to periodically reappraise the economic gains from such trade pacts.

SAFETY FIRST

The Dam safety Authority might be able to monitor safety aspects of Mullaperiyar dam

The Central Water Commission (CWC)’s proposal to let the Mullaperiyar dam’s Supervisory Committee continue for a year essentially means status quo continues. The proposal makes the chief Secretaries of Tamil Nadu and Kerala accountable and provides for the participation of technical experts as panel members. The proposed arrangement , presented before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, has become necessary as the CWC is of the view that the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) , the regulatory body envisaged under the recently enacted Dam Safety Act, will require one year to become fully functional. On Thursday, the two states are expected to inform the court of their response. Given the features of the 126 -year old Mullaperiyar dam and the conroversies surrounding it’s lime and mortar structure, both states would have nothing much to complain about regarding sticking to the existing arrangement for some more time although they differ in the way they approach the dam. Located in Kerala , it is used by TN for multiple purposes.

While TN is keen on getting the strengthening work completed to raise the water level to 152 ft from 142 ft, Kerala wants a new dam built . In the backdrop of landslides in Kerala after heavy rain , fears , though misplaced , have arisen over the dam’s structural stability. Regardless of these apprehensions being addressed through technical and scientific bodies,the issue of safety crops up time and again. What this underlines is that there should be no room for complacency about the dam’s Safety. It is for this purpose that the apex court too has been addressing the issue of having a stronger institutional mechanism that the existing supervisory committee which has been rendered almost toothless.

Ideally speaking, the authority would have been well suited to handle issues concerning the Mullaperiyar, as the Act empowers the body to perform the role of the State Dam Safety Organisation (SDSO) in this context because the NDSA assumes the role of SDSO for a dam located in one state and owned by another . But , as more time is required to have the authority fully in place , the Centre has chosen to rely on existing structure, with the respective Chief Secretaries being made accountable. With a sub- committee functioning under the supervisory committee and one more panel under the National Disaster Management Authority,the oversight mechanism appears to be fine . Still, however well- designed the scheme might be , it is for the authorities to make sure their actions instil public confidence during the monsoon, when the issue of safety in Kerala acquires precedence . It is also their duty to ensure there is no panic and to deal with scaremongers .

Not taking sides

India might have to engage more deeply with the Ukrainian war as the conflict deepens

With a convincing majority of 141 of 193 countries, the UN General Assembly voted on Wednesday for a resolution that deplored in the ” strongest terms” Russia’s attack on Ukraine and demanded an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops .The resolution, which was discuss in a rare special emergency session and under the rubric of the “Uniting for peace ” resolution invoked after decades , came as a result of an aborted resolution at the UN security Council, which Russia, as a permanent member,had vetoed . While the UNGA resolution carries little teeth , it does represent a common stand taken by the international public commons , with 96 countries signing up as co-sponsors of the resolution. Russia rejected the outcome as a political vote that came of severe “pressure” from the U.S. and European countries that were the drivers of the resolution, but it seemed clear that it was isolated on the global stage . Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria voted against the motion, and 35 , including India, abstained. While the resolution also decried the Russian decision to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, representatives of member states made it clear that it was the relentless bombing of Ukrainian cities that they could not turn a blind eye to.

India’s abstention, not a surprise, disappointed many western countries that have been lobbying for a shift in the Indian position. In the past week, India has abstained from three votes ( including two procedural ones) at the UNSC where it is an elected member, one at the UN Human Rights Council, and another at the IAEA on resolutions critical of Russia.

While evacuating Indians is an important priority, it cannot be India’s only focus in this crisis, given its aspirations for global leadership and the oft quoted motto of “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam” . It may become necessary for India to engage more deeply with the conflict in Europe, which is now a global concern.

Care informed by data

India must pursue schemes for rehabilitation of children orphaned by the pandemic

Numbers can often be hustled to tell many tales; but it is the story that is picked on the basis of the desire to do what is morally right that sets the course for meaningful action. The recent lancet estimates of COVID-19 associated orphanhood , which put the number at over 19 lakh children orphaned as a result of COVID-19, has raised India’s hackles . The Lancet study generated numbers based on modelling, and therefore only estimates and not actual numbers are available. Globally, it estimated that 52 lakh children had been rendered orphans by the pandemic. The study, in its original period, March 1,2020 to April 30,2021 was revised , with updates based on excess mortality and fertility data used to model increases in estimates of COVID-19 associated orphanhood between May 1ans October 31,2021 for 21 countries. Orphanhood was defined as the death of one or both parents ; or the death of one or both custodial grandparents. The authors claimed their findings showed numbers of children orphaned by COVID-19 had almost doubled in six months compared with the data after the first 14 months of the pandemic.

India has objected strongly to the estimate of 19 lakh, terming it as “sophisticated trickery intended to create panic among citizens” . As per data collected by the National Commission for protection of child rights and collated on the Bal Swaraj portal, the number of children orphaned during COVID-19 in India was far lower, at 1.53 lakh.

While the study does include revised estimates for all the nations , the message that it seeks to convey is the absolute urgency with which governments must incorporate childcare into any COVID-19 management programme. The state should proactively draw such children into the umbrella of care to save them from numerous adversities —poverty, violence , destitution, and lack of access to education and health care. The Indian government, to its credit, announced a grand plan of support for children forced into orphanhood by COVID-19.

Well begun is half done , but the centre and the states must expand efforts. The government would do well to allow interventions for children to be informed by a “whole life” care paradigm, and fresh data from time to time , especially in a pandemic that is not only rapidly evolving, but by all accounts, is nowhere near ending.

Lines and roles

The time may have come for clarifying the role and functions of Governors

Signs of a confrontation between Raj Bhavan and the elected government in a state are not infrequent in the country. The onus often appears to be on the Chief Ministers to avert a constitutional crisis, as evidenced by Pinrayi Vijayan trying to buy peace with a miffed governor, Arif Mohammad Khan, rather than pursue a confrontational course, over several issues in recent times . One way of seeing these developments is to attribute then to the appointment of those who have been politically active in the recent past as Governors and the partisan role they playas agents of the centre .

However, the problems may have to do with the way they understand their own powers. Constrained by the ‘aid and advice ‘ clause in their routine functioning, some Governors seem to be using the discretionary space available to them to keep regimes on tenterhooks . A constitution bench of the Supreme court laid down in 1974 that the president and governor shall “exercise their formal constitutional powers only upon and in accordance with the advice of their Ministers save in a few well known exceptional situations”—“situations” also iluustratively listed.

Being Chandrasekhar Rao

Chasing national ambitions while also maintaining TRS supremacy in the state is no easy task

Last week , political strategist Prashant Kishor and actor turned politician Prakash Raj visited Telangana for wide ranging consultations .

The visit came days after Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao visited Mumbai to meet his Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray and Nationalist Congress party president Sharad Pawar . Mr. Raj met Mr. Rao at Mumbai airport and was present at the meeting with both the leaders.

If pictures of Mr. Raj receiving Mr. Rao at the airport caught everyone’s imagination, there was more in store when it became known that the actor and Mr. Kishor met Mr. Rao days later. They also visited two reservoirs, a resettlement and rehabilitation colony for project oustees , an integrated vegetarian and non – vegetarian market, an auditorium and a crematorium in Siddipet.

The ruling TRS made light of Mr. Kishor’s visit saying his meeting with Mr. Rao was only part of the tour he was taking of the country to understand the views of leaders on the political situation. A senior leader said Mr. Rao explained to Mr. Kishor the summary of his meeting with Mr. Thackeray. Mr kishor gave a presentation of his work as the founder of the Indian political action committee. ” But our boss is not be swayed so easily”, the leader said , adding that Mr. Raj was present more to discuss political programmes in which he could play a role . The TRS leaders said that Mr. Kishor had been tasked with preparing the blueprint for the party’s prospects in the next assembly elections. His team would be deployed to survey the public pulseand suggest corrective action.

Mr. Rao’s priority is to enter the national stage and handover the baton in Telangana to his son and Minister K.T. Rama Rao. But that would mean engaging the BJP in a healthy contest, keeping the Congress at bay in the state , and entering the national scene all at the same time , which is no easy task.