The Hindu: Another missed opportunity
This week’s meeting between the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Secretaries in Delhi served as a reality check on the stalemate in the bilateral dialogue. Meeting on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia conference, the two officials failed to find common ground to kickstart the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue process, or even agree on a timetable. Both countries have now officially confirmed that the talks bore no results. In Parliament on Thursday, the government referred to the talks that lasted 90 minutes as a “courtesy call”; and Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry said “no breakthrough” had emerged from his meeting with S. Jaishankar. The separate statements by the two foreign offices listing, point-wise, the issues discussed were an equal indicator of the discord. India raised its concerns about Pathankot, the 26/11 investigation, and consular access to alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav. Pakistan brought up alleged Indian interference in Balochistan and its concerns about investigations in the Samjhauta Express blast. Neither mentioned the other’s concerns, with both statements clearly aimed at their respective domestic audiences rather than a bilateral outreach. Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Chaudhry may have discussed ways to move the dialogue process forward in a productive way. The only way to do this is to schedule structured meetings at the secretary level for the next few months, even as the two National Security Advisers take up issues related to terrorism in the wake of the Pathankot attack. Pakistan has been particularly reluctant for a full-fledged discussion on terrorism, but given that it hosts the SAARC summit this year, it may be willing to be more flexible in framing the talks agenda.
Despite many setbacks, there have been numerous occasions over the past year to encourage hope that dialogue will acquire some sort of permanence. To begin with, the meeting in Ufa between the two Prime Ministers that drew up an ambitious road map for talks, the subsequent meeting in Paris, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unscheduled Christmas Day visit to Lahore surprised each time and pulled ties out of a deep freeze. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s December visit to Islamabad, when a new Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue between the Foreign Secretaries was announced, as well as the sustained contact between the National Security Advisers, gave an impression of momentum towards a historic summit in November 2016. Mr. Modi is likely to attend the SAARC summit then. Importantly, Prime Ministers Modi and Nawaz Sharif, who have deliberately kept a direct line of conversation alive all these months, have expressed their vision of bilateral ties with clarity. It is now for the two governments — which in Pakistan’s case also means the military establishment — to work towards realising that vision. In a world where the U.S. and Cuba have restored ties, Russia and China have formed a close partnership, and Iran has emerged from isolation, it is not too much to hope that India and Pakistan can at least discuss key issues.
› a situation in which neither group involved in an argument can win or get an advantage and no action can be taken:
Tomorrow’s meeting between the two leaders is expected to break a diplomatic stalemate that has lasted for ten years.
› to make something start to happen:
Taxes were drastically cut in an attempt to kick-start the economy.
Bore verb (ACCEPT)>
> to accept, tolerate, or endure something, especially something unpleasant:
The strain must have been enormous but she bore it well.
Tell me now! I can’t bear the suspense!
› an effort to bring services or information to people where they live or spend time:
The centre was awarded a grant for outreach to the homeless.
The Hindu: More noise than light
Regrettably, though perhaps not surprisingly, the debate in Parliament on the2010 agustawestland helicopter deal produced more noise than light. The real issues relating to this controversial deal are somewhat self-evident, even if they were swamped by the furious and self-serving cut and thrust of words exchanged between BJP and Congress mps. To begin with, the fact that a Milan appeals court has convicted two former top officials — of Finmeccanica and its helicopter subsidiary agustawestland — of corruption and over-invoicing in connection with the agreement to sell 12 VVIP helicopters to India cannot be brushed aside as trifling or irrelevant, merely because the deal was cancelled. While the documents submitted to the Italian court, which name Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other advisers, are by no means clinching evidence of their guilt (as their detractors may like to make out), they certainly raise enough questions that deserve to be assiduously investigated. Despite avowals by the UPA of working in accordance with procedure to prosecute those who had facilitated the deal, the previous government did little to take the investigation further. Equally questionable is the NDA government’s own record in pursuing the case, which seems to have sped up only now, after the Milan high court overturned the lower court’s partial acquittal of Finmeccanica officials. The Centre’s stand that it was awaiting the completion of the appeals process in Italy before acting holds no water, as the appeals process is still ongoing and the case is expected to go to Italy’s Supreme Court.
At this juncture, it is only logical that the Centre welcomes all information, particularly when it is offered by key players, rather than shoot at the messenger. In this connection, it is especially unfortunate that someone with the sagacity and level-headedness of Arun Jaitley, who is the Minister of Information and Broadcasting to boot, should have imputed political motives to The Hindu for carrying an exclusive interview with alleged middleman Christian Michel, in reply to a question from a Congress leader in the Rajya Sabha. To deny Mr. Michel’s sensationalist contention, made also to an international tribunal in The Hague, that Prime Minister Modi tried to strike a deal with his Italian counterpart over agustawestland is one thing. But surely, if the Centre is committed to uncovering the truth about the helicopter deal, it was even more important to signal clearly that the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation would waste no time in pursuing Mr. Michel’s offer to be interrogated. Eradicating corruption from the defence sector is a necessity, not just for saving taxpayer money but also to uphold the country’s battlefield preparedness. Equipment bought on compromised quality standards can have untold consequences at critical moments. India must shed its reputation as the playground for corrupt middlemen. The agustawestland deal is an opportunity to work towards this goal.
Swamp (TOO MUCH/BIG)
› If something swamps a person, system, or place, more of it arrives than can be easily dealt with:
Foreign cars have swamped the UK market.
I’m swamped with work at the moment.
Cut and thrust
› interesting and exciting arguments:
She enjoys the cut and thrust of party politics.
Trifle (UNIMPORTANT THING)
› a matter or object of little value or importance:
I brought a few trifles back from India – pieces of jewellery and fabric mainly.
› to finally get or win something:
I hear he finally clinched the deal to buy the land he wanted.
› someone who criticizes something or someone, often unfairly:
His detractors claim that his fierce temper makes him unsuitable for leadership.
› showing hard work, care, and attention to detail:
An assiduous student
› a statement in which you say or admit something that you believe, support, or intend to do:
They were imprisoned for their avowal of anti-government beliefs.
Her public avowals to reduce crime have yet to be put into effect.
› the decision of a court that someone is not guilty:
The first trial ended in a hung jury, the second in acquittal.
› a particular point in time:
At this juncture, it is impossible to say whether she will make a full recovery
› having or showing understanding and the ability to make good judgments:
A sagacious person/comment/choice
› LAW to say that someone is responsible for something that has happened, especially something bad, or that something is the cause of something else:
For purposes of the company’s violations, the conduct of its officials and employees may be imputed to the firm.
Shed (GET RID OF)
› (often used in newspapers) to get rid of something you do not need or want:
900 jobs will be shed over the next few months.
Psychotherapy helped him to shed some of his insecurity/inhibitions.
Indian Express: CPM-Congress bonhomie points to a new political turn in Bengal
The photograph said it: Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and CPM stalwart and former West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee smiling and shaking hands at the joint rally of the two parties in Kolkata on Wednesday. What was deemed an impossible political scenario until recently is playing to a full house in West Bengal as the state enters the last lap of the six-phase election. A cautious CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury has suggested it was kosher for Bhattacharjee to share the stage with Gandhi since the former was no longer a part of the party’s central leadership. Though leaders of both parties, including the CPM’s chief ministerial nominee and politburo member, Suryakanta Mishra, and state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, have been addressing joint rallies, the Left’s central leadership has been at pains to explain that it is only a seat adjustment, not an alliance. The guarded response of the CPM central leadership to the jot is evidently shaped by the compulsions of the Kerala elections, where the Congress is its main adversary, and the reluctance of a section within the party to sharing electoral space with an old “enemy”. The Congress, less encumbered by history and ideology, has had fewer qualms in admitting to the jot.
Clearly, political exigency has forced the two parties, sworn adversaries in the state since Independence, to come together. Cadres of both the Congress and the CPM were fleeing to the Trinamool Congress, the new party of office and power, and the latter stood to gain from a divided opposition. Arithmetic drawn from the 2014 general election, which the Trinamool near-swept, indicated that the voteshare of the Left Front and the Congress in West Bengal matched the Trinamool’s numbers. Feeling the heat on the ground, cadres pushed reluctant leaderships to forget the past and join hands. The outcome of the Bihar assembly polls, where Nitish Kumar, who had defined his politics in opposition to that of Lalu Prasad, built a winning Mahagathbandhan with the RJD and the Congress, must also have influenced the tie-up in Bengal. Critics may call the Congress-CPM coming together schizophrenic, but it points to a phase of post-ideology politics that also reflects the maturing of a layered federal polity. Politics in states has acquired an autonomy with the emergence of powerful regional parties, which is forcing parties with a national footprint, like the Congress, the BJP and the CPM, to explore state-specific alliances based on local factors.
However, political arrangements, forged only for power, may not last if the parties fail to discover or forge common ground. The jot in Bengal, for instance, will need to converge on political goals that go beyond a shared antipathy towards their common foe. A tie-up that enthuses cadres may not attract voters if it does not promise political stability and a governance agenda.
› loyal, especially for a long time; able to be trusted:
She has been a stalwart supporter of the party for many years.
> Someone who is cautious avoids risks:
He’s a cautious driver.
› (of food or places where food is sold, etc.) prepared or kept in conditions that follow the rules of Jewish law:
A kosher restaurant/butcher/shop
› humorous legal, able to be trusted and therefore good:
Their business activities aren’t quite kosher.
› to make a quick short note of something:
Could you jot your address and phone number in my address book?
› a very strong feeling of wanting to do something repeatedly that is difficult to control:
For many people, dieting is a compulsion.
› an enemy:
He saw her as his main adversary within the company.
› prevented from making quick progress by having to carry heavy objects or deal with important duties and responsibilities:
She was encumbered by concern over her husband’s health.
› an uncomfortable feeling when you doubt if you are doing the right thing:
She had no qualms about lying to the police.
› the difficulties of a situation, especially one that causes urgent demands:
The exigencies of war
› someone who suffers from schizophrenia
› a serious mental illness in which someone cannot understand what is real and what is imaginary:
› an enemy:
The two countries have united against their common foe.
They were bitter foes for many years.
› [I] to express excitement about something or great interest in it:
He was enthusing over a wonderful restaurant he’d been to.
[+ speech] “She’s the best leader that this country has ever known!” he enthused.
Business Standard: EPF dilemmas
One of the reformist thrusts of the central government in the recent past seems to be becoming a casualty of rollback and confusion. The government had announced, in the last Union Budget, its intention to address the subsidies and tax exemptions carved out for the Employee Provident Fund, or EPF. It announced that, for money invested after April 1 this year, a part of the withdrawals from this savings instrument would become taxable. Other changes were also carried out or announced at around that time – such as the raising of the age of retirement, in an early-February notification, for the purposes of the provident fund from 55 to 58 years. It also tightened the rules governing withdrawals, stipulating that they would not be permissible before a member turned 58. The government also agreed to put interest into inoperative accounts – to which no contributions have been made in 36 months – which would have been a major plus. And finally, as part of its attempt to bring down small savings rates across the board, the finance ministry appeared to have marginally reduced the interest rate on EPF deposits from 8.8 per cent to 8.7 per cent.
However, its messaging about these changes was abysmal and it seemed that within the government there was lack of unanimity of views on the proposed changes. Also, the government found itself at the receiving end of considerable middle-class anger. Even so, it should have been able to ride out the storm. But that is not what happened as the government rolled back many of these reforms. First, barely more than a week after it was announced, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley set aside the Union Budget’s proposal to tax a part of the withdrawals of EPF deposits, made with effect from the start of the current financial year. In the process, the original idea of bringing EPF on a par with the National Pension System in terms of its tax status was also abandoned. Protests continued about certain other provisions that among other things barred withdrawal of deposits before a member completed 58 years. Such protests were led especially by trade unions in the organised sector. Then, last fortnight, amid considerable confusion, the labour ministry rolled back the early-February notification that had made various changes to the withdrawal norms.
Now comes news that the finance ministry appears to be retreating from even its marginal decrease in the EPF’s interest rate. Reportedly, it has said that its lowering of the rate to 8.7 per cent from 8.8 per cent was only “advisory” in nature. The labour ministry, meanwhile, has said that the lowering of rates was a “directive”. The central board of trustees of the EPFO, the finance ministry, and the labour ministry all seem engaged in passing the buck. In the process, the last remaining portion of the attempt to rationalise the EPF system looks likely to be jettisoned. This does not bode well for the future of this – or indeed, of any – politically sensitive reform. The finance ministry should have been clearer about its intentions at the start, taken the unions and its own government into confidence, and gone ahead with the reform.
> a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two different things you could do:
The president is clearly in a dilemma about/over how to tackle the crisis.
› to push suddenly and strongly:
She thrust the money into his hand.
They thrust a microphone in front of me and fired questions at me.
She thrust the papers at me (= towards me).
Carve sth out (for yourself)
› to successfully create or get something, especially a work position, by working for it:
He hopes to carve out a niche for himself as a leading researcher in his field of study.
› very bad:
Abysmal working conditions
The food was abysmal.
› the state of being unanimous
Retreat verb (POSITION)
>to go away from a place or person in order to escape from fighting or danger:
Pass the buck
› to blame someone or make them responsible for a problem that you should deal with:
She’s always trying to pass the buck and I’m sick of it!
› to get rid of something or someone that is not wanted or needed:
The station has jettisoned educational broadcasts.
The DNA: The dangers of being attracted to US-style politics
It’s the season of a series of crucial assembly elections in the Indian Union whose consequences will be far-reaching. Simultaneously, the US political drama is unfolding in the form of presidential candidates nomination contests of the two major parties. And a certain section of brown people of the subcontinent are watching that eagerly, watching their English diction and their flamboyance in debates eagerly and then looking at some of their own politicians and sighing. They are also attracted by the discreet charm of an authoritarian State — ruthless and decisive. A pluralist, multiparty democracy is deemed to be inefficient by them. This is said keeping the US in mind, the pre-eminent poster child of a two-party system. A two-party system isn’t one which limits participation to two political polarities. Rather, it’s a system that’s designed to keep dissenting voices out, or co-opt them. The fact that USA with 300 million citizens has just two parties to represent nearly 95% of the populace shows a serious representation crisis. This non-representation project is ably served by systemic forces including big corporates and mainstream media, who take it upon themselves to herd popular opinion along narrow pre-designed bipartisan lines. Such models are increasingly popular in the Delhi’s media, academia and think-tanks and they are peddling it to the people of the Indian Union.
The outcome of US presidential elections has its ripple effects globally. USA is a powerhouse in many respects — economic, military and ideological. A slight twitch in the behemoth causes ruckus in other parts of the globe. When a US presidential candidate manages a turnout of 30000 at a rally, its considered outstanding, a groundswell of support. In the subcontinent, a similar turnout at a centrally located rally of a senior politician would be considered a failure. People’s political participation in brown lands make US politics look like a niche opera performance, something Bernie Sanders has been able to breach somewhat of late. In USA, the political focus is often on trivial aspects of a politician like diction, voice and posture — the sad effect of near-total television media control of political narrative. Only a certain kind of grooming makes the cut, irrespective of political inclinations.
Subcontinental politics, due to its robust plural reality, with a million fault lines, is a different game altogether. Here ‘big tent’ parties have their limits. Politicians of every level have to contend with more parameters than their US counterparts can ever imagine. This kind of politics requires a grade of acumen, understanding of people, posturing and brinkmanship that more homogeneous societies cannot even fathom. If one could hypothetically pit one brown mass politician against a US biggie, in such a contest, Laloo Prasad or Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati would body slam Hillary Clinton or Barrack Obama every single time. Clintons of the world are simply no match for the mass-political rootedness of subcontinental mass-leaders.
Indian Union suffers from the colonial disease of centralisation. Democracy and decentralisation means nothing when one can achieve majorities with about 1/3rd support, as in the Indian Union, and then decide most aspects of the peoples of the states. Devolution means asking the powerful to give up power, of power moving from the Centre to the states. The states in the US, though more homogeneous, have lots of power and autonomy. In the Indian Union, the states are alm-seekers during the day, cash-cows at night. That the brown class that envies US political style also has a disproportionate influence in the Indian Union is most unfortunate.
› the manner in which words are pronounced:
It is very helpful for a language teacher to have good diction.
› very confident in behaviour, and liking to be noticed by other people, for example because of the way you dress, talk, etc.:
A flamboyant gesture
> careful not to cause embarrassment or attract too much attention, especially by keeping something secret:
The family made discreet enquiries about his background.
› a strong difference of opinion on a particular subject, especially about an official suggestion or plan or a popular belief:
When the time came to approve the proposal, there were one or two voices of dissent.
› to sell things, especially by taking them to different places:
These products are generally peddled (from) door to door.
He travels around, peddling his wares.
Twitch (MOVE SLIGHTLY)
› (to cause) to make a sudden small movement with a part of the body, usually without intending to:
He tried to suppress a smile but felt the corner of his mouth twitch.
She twitched her nose like a rabbit.
› something that is extremely large and often extremely powerful:
A grocery chain behemoth
› a noisy situation or argument
> having little value or importance:
I don’t know why he gets so upset about something so trivial
› skill in making correct decisions and judgments in a particular subject, such as business or politics:
She has considerable business/financial acumen.
› the activity, especially in politics, of trying to get what you want by saying that if you do not get it, you will do something dangerous:
The talks have collapsed and both sides have resorted to brinkmanship.
› FINANCE a business, product, or service that makes a large profit, often used to make money to support other business activities:
Hong Kong Telecom has been a cash cow, thanks to a huge number of international calls.