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Navigating between friends – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/navigating-between-friends/article18235445.ece

  • Any narrowing of the U.S.’s rhetoric-action deficit vis-à-vis Iran will impact India

    • Changes in the United States’ attitude to Iran could be very serious for India; among the issues involved are India’s access to Iranian oil supplies and other resources, the progressively more cordial relations between New Delhi and Washington, and India’s deepening defence relationship with Israel.

  • Upping the ante

    • The Trump administration is openly and consistently confrontational towards Iran, where President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was firm but constructive.
    • Mr. Trump’s own statements that he could consider committing U.S. troops abroad have been accompanied by an unprecedented $54 billion increase in the defence budget, despite the President’s frequent pre-election denunciations of what he called excessively high defence spending

  • India’s Iran relationship

    • In October 2016, Iran was India’s largest supplier of crude oil, with its exports to India exceeding the overall largest supplier Saudi Arabia’s exports of 697,000 barrels per day (bpd) by over 10%
    • As the U.S. federal body Energy Information Administration notes, India is also funnelling Iranian oil into its expanding strategic petroleum reserves (SPR), with a view to holding 90 days’ supply against contingencies.
    • Crucially, Tehran has consistently offered New Delhi very favourable terms, including non-dollar oil sales and other commercial attractions.
    • Oil is of course only one commodity in a long-standing Indo-Iranian trade relationship; Iran buys basmati rice and sugar from India, as well as various agrochemicals and petroleum products. Substantial expansions in the volume of business are also likely, despite earlier tensions over delayed Indian payments for oil.
    • The Indian government has, furthermore, taken steps to reassure Indian insurers in the public and private sectors, as well as banks, over the risks they might take in handling Iranian money while the U.S. sanctions regime remains in force.
    • In addition, India and Iran have reached agreement on the expansion of several industrial facilities at the port of Chabahar; the work is to be undertaken mainly by Indian entities. Another substantial deal is the one under preparation for India to have operating rights in the Farzad B gas field, which lies within Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.

  • Consequences

    • The prospect of a more aggressive U.S. attitude on Iran, if not stronger sanctions against Tehran, will almost certainly make the Government of India very uncomfortable, with the attitudes taken by Israel and Saudi Arabia no doubt exacerbating New Delhi’s predicament
    • In 2012, the then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stated that attacking Iran would only delay Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon and not stop it. At that time too, the former head of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, Meir Dagan (now deceased), said that a pre-emptive attack on Iran was “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard.

  • Among the commercial agreements which have followed the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union), is a 10-year, $16.6-billion contract for the aerospace giant Boeing to supply Iran Air with 80 passenger aircraft. Quite apart from Boeing’s competition with the EU manufacturer Airbus, any attack on Iran could put about 1,00,000 U.S. jobs at risk.

  • Perhaps as a result, the Trump administration, despite its bellicose rhetoric, is showing some signs of moderation in all this.
  • For India, a further point is that while previous U.S. administrations exempted India from certain sanctions over India’s continuing oil deal with Iran, the Trump administration may see the matter differently. One saving grace may be that no matter what Mr. Trump’s main regional allies tell him or want him to do, they cannot predict what he will actually do.

A solution in search of a problem – OPINION – The Hindu

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/a-solution-in-search-of-a-problem/article18235450.ece

  • The proposed new avatar of the National Commission for Backward Classes is unlikely to provide a credible and effective social justice architecture

    • “who are the backward class of citizens?”

  • In seven decades, the nation has failed to answer the question and it also willy-nilly blurred the distinction between caste and class. This failure is at the core of demands by several rich, powerful and dominant castes to be included as backward classes (BCs) to obtain the benefits of reservations.
  • The new NCBC

    • On April 10, Lok Sabha passed the 123rd amendment to the Constitution which will, when it becomes law, bring into being a ‘constitutional’ National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC).
    • The current NCBC was created under an Act of Parliament in 1993. The new insertion into the Constitution (Article 338B) is identical to the Articles 338 and 338A that respectively created the national commission for SCs and another for STs. (The amendment also brings about changes to Articles 342 and 366.)
    • What the 123rd amendment amounts to is that the Union government has in one stroke brought BCs in league with the SC/STs as victims of discrimination, exclusion and violence.

  • It not only is illogical and lacks historical justification, but is fraught with several challenges to the way India runs its welfare system.

    • In fact, the new NCBC is a solution in search of the problem. It is bound to create more problems than it is capable of solving.
    • One, on the task of identifying backward classes, the new entity will not even be expected to do the job. Hereafter Parliament will determine who is a BC for the ‘Central’ List. Two, since it has no responsibility to define backwardness, it cannot address the current challenge of well-off castes’ demands to be included as BCs.

  • Delinking Article 340

    • Article 340 which deals with the need to, inter alia, identify those “socially and educationally backward classes”, understand the conditions of their backwardness, and make recommendations to remove the difficulties they face.
    • The article stipulates the appointment of a commission to give effect to its provisions. This was the context for the appointment of two commissions (one headed by Kaka Kalelkar in the 1950s and the other by B.P. Mandal in the 1970s). Even the 1993 NCBC Act was based on this article.

  • The 123rd amendment delinks the whole folio of backward classes from Article 340 and brings it closer to provisions related to SC/STs.
  • The main shortcoming of the current NCBC, according to the Union government, is that it has no power “to hear the grievances” of the BCs

    • The government initially proposed to set up the “National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes” which is — in nomenclature, at least — closer to Article 340. By retaining the old generic name of NCBC and delinking the body from its soul (Article 340), the government set the stage for the whole scheme of special protections under the Constitution to crumble.
    • Once the 123rd amendment becomes law, Article 340 will be dead without being accorded the dignity of a repeal

  • New untouchables?

  • Though Article 338B keeps the socially and educationally backward classes as its subject matter, in practice the proposed system will treat the developmental issues related to BCs on a par with caste discrimination and untouchability suffered by SCs and even by STs.
  • The new NCBC will hear grievances, inquire into complaints, summon officials given its powers as a civil court, issue directions and have the right to be consulted by both Union and the States on policy matters related to BCs.
  • A generation ago social justice was mistaken to be a new dawn for ‘weaker’ sections such as SC/STs, BCs and minorities to be united as one group of Indians with common interests and destiny. That project was dead on arrival, as its votaries lacked both intellectual honesty and policy imagination.