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1.2015 leaves questions


The year 2015 ends not with a bang, but with a whimper for Narendra Modis
government. Parliaments winter session has disappointed, with the governments
hopes of passing the GST temporarily dashed. The finance ministrys Mid-Year
Economic Analysis was notable for its disquieting prognoses: the government has
slashed its growth outlook for the year and cautions that onward
fiscal consolidation[kun,s-li'dey-shun(integration,)] targets
look dicey[dI-see(uncertain,)] .
Analysts are looking to the PM for answers but even after 18 months in office,
Modis mood is inscrutable[in'skroo-tu-bul(mysterious,)] . Indeed,
there is a cottage industry of outsiders reading the tea leaves to divine why he is
acting the way he is. Three questions are the subject of heated debate. The first is
about Modi the Decider. Why has the man who so skillfully branded himself a
CEO-style leader allowed his party colleagues to repeatedly undermine him?
Indeed, many ministers have engaged in distracting majoritarian rhetoric[re-turik(loud talk,)] , damaging the PMs standing and giving the opposition

ammunition. Yet, no heads have rolled. Cynics[si-nik(faultfinder,)] point to


the PMs own campaign speeches in Bihar, claiming that Modi, a former RSS
pracharak, implicitly[im'pli-sit-lee(indirect,)] endorses these views and
sees no need to rein in his colleagues. Another narrative posits that Modi hesitates
to silence voluble ministers for fear the Sangh will either ramp down support for
the party or ramp up sabotage[sa-bu,taazh(destruction,)] .
Beyond Hindutva distractions, Modi is also handicapped by colleagues
who articulate[aa'tik-yu,leyt(express,)] policy views opposed to the
governments agenda. Last week, a newspaper report suggested that the US, once
supportive of Indias induction into Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, has
backed down, put off by the commerce ministrys protectionist posturing.
Similarly, while Modis leadership was central to achieving the climate agreement
in Paris, rumblings from the environment ministry were often out of sync with the
PMOs views. Even 18 months in, nobody knows whether the administration
is clumsily[klm-su-lee(awkwardly, )] playing good cop/bad cop, or
whether the left hand truly does not know what the right hand is doing.
The second question concerns the use of federal power. Why has Modi not done
more to ensure that BJP-ruled states lead by example on reforms? Supporters point
out that the government has assented to some state-level labour law alterations that
improve the investment climate. But this is a far cry from articulating and
implementing a common minimum reform programme for all eight BJP-controlled
states. Here, too, the tea leaves are inconclusive. Some claim this reticence[re-ti-

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sun(t)s(silence, )] reflects pushback from state units, while others have


suggested the PM is more interested in efficiency and infrastructure than policy
change. There is a third possibility: with an overburdened PMO, Modi lacks
bandwidth to micromanage directives to allied states.
The final question is why the PM, arguably the most charismatic politician of his
generation, has struggled to communicate. The government has been steamrolled
on big reforms, like its proposed amendments to the land acquisition bill. It
allowed itself to get trampled by a party with 44 Lok Sabha seats and a snappy
one-liner. Yet, even when the government wins, they do not effectively trumpet
their success. There are several areas where, unless policies are rectified['rekti,fId(corrected,)] , no amount
of savvy[savvy(smart,)] marketing
will obscure[ub'skyr(unclear,)] the underlying morass. But that does not
mean that successes like expanding road construction, reforming subsidies, and
auctioning coal blocks should remain hidden.
Modis silence rings loudest after moments like Dadri. Following the San
Bernardino massacre[ma-su-ku(slaughter,)] , President Obama delivered
an Oval Office address. Debates about policy prescriptions aside, Obama used the
telecast to mollify[m-li,fI(appease, )] the fears of Americas Muslims,
and in turn the fear of home-grown terrorism. While Modis defenders are correct
in pointing out that India lacks the precedent for the kind of public addresses US
presidents rely upon, Modi exhibits little reticence to shirk tradition when it suits
him. Comparisons between the US and India may be easy to dismiss, but a leaders
role as healer-in-chief should not be.

2. Game of BCCI
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Alleged financial wrongdoings. Massive cost overruns in stadium construction.


Factions at loggerheads[at 'l-gu,hed(dispute,)] , often
involving personages[pur-su-ni(important person, )] on the same
side of the political spectrum. An elaborate system of proxy voting that ensures
that the powers that be remain the powers that be. Non-submission or disclosure of
annual balance sheets and alleged tax defaults. The controversial goings-on in the
Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) have spilled over into the public
domain in recent weeks in the course of the escalating political war between
former DDCA president and present Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. The DDCA, however, is only
a microcosm[mI-kru,k-zum(mini model,)] of the secret society that is
the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), its inner workings mirroring all
that is wrong with the mother ship.
It wasnt like this one wintry afternoon in December 1928 when the board came
into being at the quaint[kweynt(strange,)] Roshanara Club, located amidst
the bustling[b-su-ling(active,)] Clock Tower in north Delhi. For years and
decades, cricket administration was helmed by people with nothing more than
an abiding[u'bI-ding(permanent,)] interest in the game. There were times
when we had to spend money from our own pocket. The BCCI office was run from
the homes of the officials, says Prof. Ratnakar Shetty, the boards chief
administrative officer, whose involvement with cricket administration dates back
to organising local Mumbai tournaments in the late 1970s. The stakes rose as the
game grew with television audiences, multi-million marketing deals and the advent
of instant cricket epitomised[i'pi-tu,mIz(resemble, )] by the Indian
Premier League (IPL). Today, the BCCI functions from a plush building in
Mumbai. With Rs.1,200 crore in its coffers, it is the richest sports body in India. It
was the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal that invited judicial scrutiny[skroo-t(u)nee(examine,)], and public interest at large, into what ostensibly['sten-sublee(clearly, )] is a private body registered under the Tamil Nadu
Societies Registration Act. The Supreme Court formed a three-member panel
headed by former Chief Justice of India R.M. Lodha to inquire into and
recommend improvements in the BCCIs functioning; the committee is scheduled
to submit its report on January 4.
The secret society
The Lodha Committee has confronted the BCCI with 82 questions on various
issues such as conflict of interest, the boards structure, the rules and by-laws
amended over the years, the basis for each of the various committees and selection
of members to these committees, and the framework for commercial engagements,
contracts and services.

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The boards list of problems begins with its labyrinthine[labu'rin,thIn(complex,)] structure. From the six-member organisation it was
in the year of its formation, it has grown into a consortium[kun'sor-teeum(group,)] of 30 units that in turn elect the BCCI officials. Twenty-seven of
these units field teams in the Ranji Trophy, the premier first-class competition. The
National Cricket Club, Cricket Club of India and All India Universities have voting
rights but not a team to boast of. The BCCI has stoutly[stawtlee(strongly,
)] defended their continuance as voting members thus far.

How can you remove founder-members just because they dont field a team?
asks a long-time board official.
The board, which gives an annual subsidy to each affiliated unit playing the Ranji
Trophy, has also not been able to explain the reasons for not extending the same
facility to the Services and Railways; it also does not pick national selectors from
Services and Railways. The Lodha Committee has a case here to debate with the
BCCI. The board, in a bid to pre-empt the committee recommendations, has moved
to introduce a series of steps to streamline its administration and bring in
transparency under its new president, Shashank Manohar. Its constitution can now
be accessed online. On October 18, the board appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers
to verify utilisation of funds provided to the State associations. On November 9, it
appointed an ombudsman, Justice A.P. Shah (retd.).
Yet, bigger problems lie in the hinterland[hin-tu,land(back area, )] .
The constitutions of the BCCIs various affiliated units differ, and in some cases
arent available for public scrutiny despite the board making it mandatory. Among
other contentious[kun'ten-shus(controversial,)] issues the Lodha
Committee has been looking into is the arbitrariness['aa-bi-tree-nus(own
will,)] in player selection and financial irregularities bedevilling[bi'devu(harass,)] most associations. As it is, State associations of Jammu and
Kashmir, Hyderabad, Delhi, Assam, Kerala, Goa, Jharkhand and Baroda, among
others, are all facing investigations on various issues.
Clockwork precision
Despite the organisational muddle, one area the BCCI is near-unimpeachable[nim'pee-chu-bul(guiltless,)] is in its schedule. While many a sports body
has failed to organise its national championship annually, the Ranji Trophy has
never skipped its annual date since the first edition in 1934. The participation of 27
teams in two divisions Elite and Plate also imbues it a pan-India presence.
Even non-premier events such as womens and age-group tournaments follow a set
pattern. We have the best structure for junior cricket in the world, claims Mr.
Shetty.
Most of the money BCCI generates from broadcast rights is pumped back into the
game 70 per cent of its revenue is disbursed equally among its full members,

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effectively meaning each of its affiliates walks away with at least Rs.23 crore
annually. The BCCI takes pride in sharing its revenue with the players (13 per
cent with international cricketers and an equal share with domestic players). A
domestic player gets about Rs.20,000 per playing day, says veteran cricket
administrator M.P. Pandove, the Punjab Cricket Association secretary.
Lure of the lucre
What, then, went wrong? Niranjan Shah, a member of its disciplinary committee,
feels the need for court intervention would not have arisen had N. Srinivasan
stepped down as BCCI president when Chennai Super Kings, the IPL team owned
by his family-run company, came under the betting/spot-fixing cloud. All this
mess has more or less happened only because of one mans stubbornness, he says.
It is predominantly a perception issue. The BCCI isnt
an opaque[ow'peyk(unclear,)] organisation; had it been the case, the
organisation wouldnt have grown so much, says Ajay Shirke, IPL Governing
Council member.
More than anything, however, the problems have a lot to do with the infusion of
huge money into the game. The late Jagmohan Dalmiya, along with I.S. Bindra,
both former presidents of the BCCI, was the man instrumental in bringing money
into cricket. The BCCI was a self-reliant body when MAC (M.A. Chidambaram)
was its president. [Mr.] Dalmiya and [Mr.] Bindra exploited the telecast aspect to
bring in funds, says Mr. Pandove. Cricketainment in the form of the IPL became a
force multiplier, and stakes rose as the cash-rich body only got richer. IPL
brought money and some problems too, concedes Mr. Shetty.
Contrast its current pink of financial health with the situation in 1983 when India
won the World Cup in England. N.K.P. Salve, the then BCCI president, announced
Rs.1 lakh for each player, only to realise that the organisation did not have
the requisite[re-kwi-zit(required,)] money. A fund-raising event
featuring Lata Mangeshkar was organised in Delhi to this end. Those were times
when cricket was not commercial and money was not the reason for people to be
attracted to the game, is how Mr. Dalmiya once reacted to the changes in the
BCCI. Times have changed, for better and for worse.
Courtesy:the hindu

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3. Liquor policy in kerla


As virtually its last significant act of 2015, on December 29, the Supreme Court of
India delivered its judgment on the validity of Keralas newest liquor policy, which
seeks to prohibit the sale and service of alcohol in all public places, save bars and
restaurants in five-star hotels. Regardless of what our respective moral positions on
policies of prohibition might be, and regardless of the potential efficacy of such
programmes, the new law, as is only plainly evident, militates against the
fundamental promise of equal concern and treatment under the Constitution. In
placing five-star hotels on a pedestal, the law takes a classist position, and commits
a patent discrimination[di,skri-mu'ney-shun(favoritism,)] that is really
an affront to the underlying principles of our democracy. Regrettably, though, the
Supreme Courts judgment, in The Kerala Bar Hotels Association v. State of
Kerala, eschews[es'choo(stay away, )] even the most
basic doctrines[dk-trin(belief,)] of constitutionalism, and, in so doing,
allows the state to perpetrate[pur-pu,treyt(commit,)] a politics of
hypocrisy.
Kicking off the excise policy
Since 2007, the Kerala government has sought to tighten its Abkari (excise) policy
with a view to making liquor less freely available in the State, ostensibly['stensu-blee(clearly, )] in the interest of public health. At first, the State
sought to amend the policy by permitting new bar licences to be granted only to
those hotels that were accorded a rating of three stars or more by the Central
governments Ministry of Tourism. In 2011, these rules were further changed. This
time, all hotels that had a rating of anything below four stars were disentitled from
having a licence issued to serve alcoholic beverages on their premises. However,

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those hotels with existing licences were accorded an amnesty[am-nustee(forgive,)] , which permitted them to have their licences renewed even
if they did not possess a four-star mark.
The Supreme Court held, in a convoluted[kn-vu,lootid(complex,)] judgment, in March 2014, that the deletion of three-star
hotels from the category of hotels eligible for a liquor licence was, in fact,
constitutionally valid. The court provided a
rather bizarre[bi'zaa(unusual,)] rationale for what appeared to be
a palpable[pal-pu-bu(touchable,)] act of favouritism. Even hotels
without a bar licence, it said, were entitled to three-star statuses under the Ministry
of Tourisms rules and regulations.
In August 2014, the Kerala government sought to further intensify its Abkari
policy, by making its most drastic change yet, in purportedly[pu'por-tidlee(believed, )] trying to enforce complete prohibition. Only hotels
classed as five star and above, by the Union governments Ministry of Tourism, the
new policy commanded, would be entitled to maintain a bar licence. To give effect
to this rule, the Abkari Act, a pre-constitutional enactment that was extended in
1967 to Kerala, was duly amended, and the States excise commissioners issued
notices to all hotels of four stars and below, which served liquor, intimating them
of the annulment of their respective bar licences.
The new policy was immediately challenged in a series of petitions filed in the
Kerala High Court by hotels of various different denominations. In May last year,
after a division bench of the High Court had ruled in favour of the State, the hotels
filed appeals before the Supreme Court. They raised two primary grounds of
challenge, both predicated on fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of
Indias Constitution.
Fundamental rights
First, the hotels submitted that in cancelling their bar licences, and in prohibiting
them from serving and selling liquor on their premises, the State had infracted their
right, under Article 19(1)(g), to practise any profession, or to carry on any
occupation, trade or business. Second, they pleaded, in separately categorising
hotels of five stars or more, and in permitting those hotels alone to serve liquor in
public, the new Abkari policy had made an unreasonable classification, by treating
persons on an equal standing unequally, and therefore violated Article 14 of the
Constitution.
The first argument was admittedly going to be a difficult one to maintain. The
liberty to freely carry on any trade or business is subject to reasonable restrictions
that may be imposed by the state in the interest of the general public. The
Constitution itself, in Article 47, requires States to make an endeavour towards
improving public health, including by bringing about prohibition of the
consumption of liquor. Therefore, quite naturally, any policy in purported

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furtherance of such goals would almost always be viewed as a legitimate limitation


on any freedom to do business. In fact, in 1994, a constitution bench of the
Supreme Court, in Khoday Distilleries Ltd. v. State of Karnataka, explicitly
questioned whether any right to trade in alcoholic beverages even flowed from our
Constitution.
The State can prohibit completely the trade or business in potable[pow-tubul(drinkable,)] liquor since liquor as beverage is res extra commercium,
wrote Justice P.B. Sawant. The State may also create a monopoly in itself for
trade or business in such liquor. The State can further place restrictions and
limitations on such trade or business which may be in nature different from those
on trade or business in articles res commercium. Therefore, the court, in The
Kerala Bar Hotels Association case, perhaps, had little choice but to hold the
Abkari policy as being in conformity with the right under Article 19(1)(g).
Such a holding, though, ought not to have precluded the court
from scrutinising['skroo-ti,nIz(examine,)] the liquor policy with
further rigour[ri-gu(hardness,)] . The mere fact that a commodity is res
extra commercium a thing outside commerce does not give the state absolute
power to make laws on the subject in violation of the guarantee of equal treatment.
While a law might represent a valid constraint on the freedom to trade, it
nonetheless must confirm to other constitutional commands, including Article 14,
which assures us that the state shall not deny to any person equality before the law
or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
The point of classification
Equality, as the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin once wrote, is a contested
concept. But it is however, in its abstract form, a solemn constitutional pledge that
underpins our democracy. The Supreme Court, in some of its earliest decisions,
interpreted Article 14 as forbidding altogether any law that seeks to make
distinctions based on class, except where reasonable classifications are made in a
manner that does no violence to the provisions core promise. The court also
crystallised a basic two-prong test to determine what constitutes such a
classification: there must be, it held, an intelligible differentia, which distinguishes
persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group, and
this differentia must have a rational relation to the object sought to be achieved by
the law in question.
Hence, in determining whether Keralas Abkari policy violated the right to
equality, the question was rather simple: has the State made a reasonable
classification in consonance with Article 14 by permitting only five-star hotels and
above to serve liquor? When we apply the test previously laid down by the
Supreme Court, there is little doubt that the distinction that the policy makes
between hotels on the basis of their relative offering of luxuries constitutes
a discernible[di'sur-nu-bu(understandable, )] intelligible
differentia between two classes of things. But a proper defence of the law also

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requires the government to additionally show us how this classification of five-star


hotels as a separate category bears a sensible nexus with the object of the law at
hand. The changes in the liquor policy were ostensibly brought through with the
view of promoting prohibition, and thereby improving the standard of public health
in the State. Now, ask yourself this: how can this special treatment of five-star
hotels possibly help the Kerala government in achieving these objectives?
The Supreme Court, as it happened, made no concerted[kun'surtid(joint,)] effort to answer this question. This could be because,
however hard we might want to try, its difficult to find any cogent[kowjunt(effective,)] connection between classifying five-star hotels
separately and the aim of achieving prohibition. The court, therefore simply said,
There can be no gainsaying that the prices/tariff of alcohol in Five Star hotels is
usually prohibitively high, which acts as a deterrent[di'terunt(preventive,)] to individuals going in for binge or even casual
drinking. There is also little scope for cavil that the guests in Five Star hotels are of
a mature age; they do not visit these hotels with the sole purpose of consuming
alcohol. Given the palpable inadequacies[in'a-di-kwusee(insufficiency,)] of such a justification and also given its
validation of a manifestly classist position the court also used the State
governments excuse of tourism as a further ruse to defend the law. But when a
policy exists to promote the prohibition of the consumption of liquor, its specious
to use an extraneous[ek'strey-nee-us(irrelevant,)] consideration, in
this case, tourism, to defend a classification made in the law, regardless of how
intelligible such a classification might be.
Prohibition often has a polarising effect on the polity. But the criticisms of the
ineffectuality of such policies apart, Keralas new law ought to have been seen for
what it is: paternalism, at its best, and, at its worst, an extension of an ingrained
form of classism that is demonstrably opposed to the guarantee of equality under
our Constitution. The judgment in The Kerala Bar Hotels Association case is
therefore deeply unsatisfactory, and requires reconsideration.
Courtesy:the hindu

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4. Labours love lost


The prevailing[pri'vey-ling(very common,)] wisdom is as follows: India
has too many antiquated[an-ti,kwey-tid(old,)] labour laws which hamper
growth and investment. The need of the hour is a brisk[brisk(quick, )]

pruning[proo-ning(trimming,)] of this unruly thicket of pieces of legislation


into a handful of elegant laws that make it easy for companies to hire and fire as
they wish, and pay whatever salaries they can get away with. Once such laws are in
place, foreign investment will flood into India, manufacturing will shoot up, and
millions of Indians will find employment and make in India happily ever after.
From an industrial relations perspective, turning this corporate dream into reality
requires two things: one, trade unions must be neutralised; two, contractualisation
(temping/casual labour) must become the legal norm rather than illegal supplement
for regular work.
Both these are effectively a reality in todays India. But our legislative framework
militates against it, leaving the capitalist class vulnerable[vl-nu-rubul(weak,)] to being challenged by the working classes on legal grounds. It
is in this context that the incident of July 18, 2012 at Marutis Manesar plant
assumes historic significance, for Indias working class as well as for the investor
class.
The context
Since Independence, trade unions in India have mostly fought modest
and pragmatic[prag'ma-tik(practical,)] battles for outcomes such as
higher wages and better working conditions. But this changed in the 1990s.
Gurgaon-based labour activist Shyambir points out that after liberalisation, most
strikes by workers have been not for wage hikes but for the right to form a union.

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The right to collective bargaining is enshrined in our Constitution. Article 19(1)(c)


grants all citizens the right to form a union. On top of it, we also have a Contract
Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 that prohibits employment of
contract workers for core industrial work. And yet, the Indian state has either stood
by or actively colluded[ku'lood(conspire,)] while employers tried every
tactic, including illegal termination, to prevent union formation, and kept hiring
temporary workers for regular jobs.
In the National Capital Regions Okhla-Faridabad-Noida-Gurgaon-Manesar
industrial belt, it is common to find workers toiling on 12- to 16-hour shifts for as
little as Rs.9,000 a month, for years together. It raises a fundamental question:
whose interests have the labour laws served all these years? Evidence suggests that
it is not the labouring classes.
And yet, oddly enough, the clarion call for labour reforms is coming not from the
working classes but from the corporate class. One reason for this could be that with
global capitalism yet to recover from the shock delivered in 2008, the only way out
of the crisis is to tighten the screws on labour to extract more value.
In such a scenario, who wants a labour class feeling empowered to fight for its
entitlements? From this perspective, the Manesar conflagration was
a decisive[di'sI-siv(crucial,)] event that has, at least for now, beaten back
labour and put capital firmly in control in an age-old conflict.
The background
To quickly summarise the incident of July 18, 2012: an outbreak of rioting at the
Manesar plant left one HR executive dead and 40 others injured. The police
arrested 147 Maruti workers and slapped murder charges on all of them. The
dominant narrative about this event is one of labour militancy gone wild, holding it
responsible for the loss of life and property.
What has not attracted critical scrutiny[skroo-t(u-)nee(examine,)] is the final
outcome of the larger conflict between labour and management of which this
incident was the culmination: the termination, in one go, of 546 permanent workers
and 1,800 temporary workers. Such a mass retrenchment would be unthinkable in
the normal run of things. Were we to ask who gained the most from this sorry
episode, the answer is definitely not the worker.
The provenance[pr-vu-nun(t)s(origin,)] of this incident goes back more
than a year, to June 2011. Thats when Maruti workers began agitating for their
right to an independent union. After several months of struggle, the Maruti Suzuki
Workers Union (MSWU) was formed in early 2012. Now, the MSWU in early
2012 was a different animal from the kind of unions Indian managements were
used to dealing with. It derived its power from something unprecedented[n'presi,den-tid(new,) ] in the short history of labour struggles in postliberalisation India: a strategic unity between permanent and temporary workers. It
was too dangerous a threat, one that no management would brook.

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According to Shyambir, After its formation in March 2012, right up to the


incident of July 18, the main agenda of MSWU was regularisation of temporary
workers. They wanted pay parity for permanent and temporary workers. Their
slogan of Same Work, Same Pay made them hugely popular.
Given that around 80 per cent of industrial workers in the Gurgaon-Manesar belt
are hyper-exploited contract labour, this union may have made a big impact on
labour mobilisations had it been allowed to flourish. With the purge of 2,300
workers that followed July 18, 2012, the threat was snuffed out.
The present scenario
By October 2012, within three months of the July clash, Maruti had set up a new
system of company temps in place of the earlier system of hiring temporary
workers through contractors. Under this regime, the temporary worker will work
for six months. Then he is laid off for five months, after which he may be recalled
for another six months.
Both corporate commentators and labour activists have termed this a master stroke.
While the former see in this a replicable model to pre-empt labour unrest, the latter
consider it a move designed to prevent unity between permanent and temporary
workers by regularly churning the latter.
In September 2015, Maruti announced a salary hike of Rs.16,800, spread over
three years, for permanent workers. When temporary workers agitated for a similar
revision, unlike in early 2012, the permanent workers did not back them. If
breaking the unity between permanent and temporary workers was the mission, it
had been accomplished.
Maruti, for its part, has presented its system of company temps as a superior
alternative. When contacted by The Hindu, a management source said that the
new system is superior to the contract system since it is a direct recruitment by the
company. No contractor is involved, and company temps enjoy all benefits like
canteen food, uniform, PF, ESI bonus, etc.
Not surprisingly, there has been a persistent[pu'sistunt(continuous,)] corporate chorus demanding a labour regime that
allows companies to freely hire temporary workers even for core operations. And
the Modi government is eager to deliver.
The labour reforms on the anvil essentially boil down to two things: make it
impossible to form a truly independent trade union; make it legal to keep
temporary workers permanently temporary, while paying them a subsistence wage.
With the central trade unions seemingly uninterested in putting up a fight on core
labour issues, independent trade unions nipped in the bud, and contract labour
effectively legal, the only potential challenge that labour now poses to capital is
mobilisation based on unity between permanent and contract workers. This was the
weapon Maruti workers had assembled at the Manesar factory in 2012. Its the
reason why they needed to be made an example of, so that Indias working classes
wont dare to attempt such experiments in the future.
Courtesy:the hindu

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5. The terror attack and the climate deal


A new year gives us an opportunity to learn from past lessons. Last year, two
events made Paris appear on front-page headlines: the terror attacks and the climate
deal. Could the Paris agreement be an answer to terrorism as we know it today?
Arent climate change and terrorism manifestations of the same world process,
even though their interconnections might be complicated?
A 2014 U.S. Department of Defense report pointed to climate change being one of
the major threats to the countrys national security. In November, when
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders referred to the occurrence of
drought in Syria as a push factor for terrorism in that country, most people had
rubbished it as an overstretched argument, but retired U.S. Rear Admiral and
meteorologist David W. Titley made the same point. The U.S. government reports
note how climate change has the potential to create instability and poverty in
countries it affects the most, leading to discontent that pushes people to take up
arms.
But what voices in the U.S. fail to acknowledge is how both climate change and
terror are consequences[kn-si-kwun(t)s(result,)] of
the plundering[pln-du-ring(loot,
)] of fossil fuels. The complicity of
powerful nations such as the U.S. in creating a situation in which both terrorism
and climate change have managed to thrive[thrIv(grow,)] has not been
emphasised by the mainstream discourse.
Gathering evidence
The Nigerian energy activist, Ken Henshaw, while deposing against the U.S.-based
international oil and gas company, ExxonMobil, at the Peoples Climate Summit
on the sidelines of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change, drew linkages between oil extraction
activities around the Niger delta and the rise of extremist groups such as Boko
Haram. Nigeria is now called a terrorist country due to Boko
Haram insurgency[in'sur-jun(t)-see(rebellion,)] , he said. Much of the
insurgency exists in the region bordering Lake Chad. In the last ten years, the lake
has shrunk 20 times its original size. Livestock cannot breed anymore in the lands

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around the lake... People have become destitute['des-ti,tyoot(poor,)] , [have]


joined criminal gangs... insurgency and fundamentalism thrive, as it has become
easier to recruit people. He said that linking climate change to terror is often
viewed as an exaggeration[ig,za-ju'rey-shun(overstated,)] , but
failing to see the connections between the two would leave us blind to one of the
most obvious existential crises in the world.
The resource curse phenomenon is very much at work in countries such as
Nigeria, where the wealth of natural resources has not empowered the local
communities, but has fuelled social conflict instead. Conflict brews among agents
of world powers that buy oil, the ruling elites who profit from selling it, and the
local population that struggles to maintain control over these resources. This has
created an ideal condition for terrorism to thrive. Lets look at Afghanistan or Iraq.
Though terrorist organisations such as the al-Qaeda trace their origins back to the
Cold War days, what has exacerbated[ig'za-su,beyt(worsen,)] tensions in
the country of its origin today is the struggle over controlling natural resources.
The Iraq invasion too was primarily motivated by the U.S.s own greed for oil. The
works of leading intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Mahmood Mamdani
have exposed how the U.S. war on terror is essentially a war for controlling oil
resources. While Professor Chomskys work has focussed on the U.S.s actions in
Arab nations, Prof. Mamdani has written about the conflict in Darfur, Africa. In his
2003 essay Wars of Terror, Prof. Chomsky recalls how former U.S. President
Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff discussed the campaign of hatred against us
[the U.S.] in the Arab world, not by the governments but by the people. The
basic reason is the recognition that the U.S. supports corrupt and brutal
governments and is opposing political or economic progress in order to protect
its interest in Near East oil, Prof. Chomsky writes. Today, China too has joined
this race to plunder, taking major initiatives to develop the Amu Darya basin in
Afghanistan, to be able to drill oil from the region. But such exploitation, without
addressing the problems of corruption and the lack of government accountability,
has directly aided the cause of terror.
Another concern is how revenues from oil are helping to fund terror, as is the case
of the Syrian oil fields helping fund the IS. And though the U.S. recently surpassed
Saudi Arabia as the worlds largest producer of oil, it continues to depend on oilrich countries for augmenting[og'ment(increase,)] its fuel supplies. Nigeria,
Saudi Arabia and Iraq figure in the top five countries from where the U.S. imports
most of its oil. The oil dependency of the world powers is, thus, not only brewing
trouble in countries from where the fuel is being extracted, but also making
them vulnerable[vl-nu-ru-bul(weak,)] to attack from militant groups. It
is this dependency that is also keeping the U.S. from acting decisively[di'sI-sivlee(with firmness, )] against the Saudi government, despite
suspicion since the 9/11 days that the country is funding terrorist groups. Realising

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this, world powers are now switching to alternative sources of fuel such as shale
gas, though environmental groups are resisting it, as it involves fracking.
Pact and context
The Paris Agreement has to be, therefore, situated in this broader geopolitical
context. It was hardly surprising that in the lead-up to the final day of the UN
climate summit, Saudi Arabia, the largest oil supplier in the world until recently,
was the one country that opposed the climate deal, as its economic interests were at
stake. But it finally budged, as it found itself increasingly sidelined at the
negotiating table. Clauses on human rights were dropped from the operative
portions of the agreement text, in keeping with Saudi Arabias demands, in order to
achieve consensus[kun'sen-sus(agreement,)] over the agreement. The
Paris Agreement is thus nothing but a diplomatic victory for world powers, as they
can now mobilise the deal to work towards alternative pathways to energy
production. This will help reduce oil dependency in their economies, and also help
devise methods to drive down the profitability of oil, which could dry up funding
for terror as well. There remain fears that much like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the
Paris agreement too could suffer from a lack of implementation from powerful
nations. However, with world powers now compelled[kum'pe(force,)] to act
out of self-interest to keep terror at bay, one hopes things would be different this
time. The lesson from Paris 2015 is this: until world powers stop digging black
gold from Iraq, Africa and Saudi Arabia, the webs of violence, terror and climate
change will continue to keep us trapped in the times to come.
Courtesy:the hindu

6. The many must resist the some


The World Trade Organisations (WTO) press release after the Nairobi
Ministerial Conference in mid-December said, WTO members secured a historic
Nairobi Package for Africa and the world. Those seemingly optimistic words,

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however, belie several fundamental challenges that the Nairobi Ministerial


Declaration presents for the future of the WTO. Buried in the last few paragraphs
of the declaration is a recording of differences between WTO members over how
the future negotiations will be conducted. It notes that while many WTO members
reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), not all members share this view.
R. V. Anuradha
A cardinal[kaad-n(u)(important,)] principle for WTO negotiations
is consensus[kun'sen-sus(agreement,)] . The WTO works on the principle
of one vote for each member country, irrespective of size or economic power. This
principle worked well in theory in a world where a few economically strong
powers could continue to hold the reins of decision-making, but has been running
into increasing ramifications[ra-mu-fu'key-shun(complexities,)] in a
multipolar WTO with a membership of over 160 countries, and a U.S. and
European Union whose economic clout have been diminishing[di'mi-nishing(lessen,)] .
The Doha precedent
To add to the complexities of the increasingly complex WTO was the
fairly egalitarian[i,ga-li'teh-ree-un(equalitarian,)] mandate that the
DDA presented. The Doha Development Round, launched in 2001, set for itself the
challenge of a single undertaking comprising several elements including
agriculture, non-agricultural market access, services, intellectual property, trade
facilitation, trade and environment, and trade and development. Virtually every
item was envisaged[in'vi-zij(imagine,)] as a whole and indivisible
package which could not be agreed upon separately. The underlying principle for
this was the need for a balanced outcome in all streams of negotiations.
The dilatory[di-lu-t(u-)ree(slow,)] progress at the WTO has been
accompanied by the growth of mega-regional trade agreements the recently
concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) formed among 12 countries, and two
under negotiation: the Regional Cooperation for Economic Partnership
(RCEP) formed among the 10 ASEAN countries and India, China, Japan, South
Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the E.U. These mega-regionals need to
also be seen in the context of increasing bilateral free-trade agreements (which
have increased from around 124 such agreements in 1994 to over 600 agreements
in 2015). A significant amount of Indias own negotiating capital and focus has
been on the mega-regional RCEP agreement, and on bilateral free-trade
agreements; but neither approach is a substitute for the WTO and its
strong edifice[e-du-fis(structure,)] of a multilateral system of rules, backed
by an effective dispute-settlement mechanism.
Agreeing to disagree

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It is in this context that the Nairobi Ministerial Declarations admission of


dissonance in the WTO membership on the Doha mandate assumes greater
significance. This dissonance is presented in the text of the declaration which
records what many Members versus some Members want. While many
reaffirm the Doha mandate, the others do not. While many Members want to carry
out the work on the basis of the Doha structure, some want to explore new
architectures. And finally, while some wish to identify and discuss other issues
for negotiation (a reference to issues other than those under the Doha mandate),
others do not.
For the first time in a Ministerial Declaration adopted by consensus, there is
reference to a consensual acknowledgement of divergence of views, which
underlies the slow progress of the Doha round. While there is no identification in
the declaration, the developing countries, including India, clearly belong to the
many category, while some includes the U.S., the E.U., and other developed
countries. The use of the word many could perhaps be seen as
an implicit[im'pli-sit(unexpressed, )] recording of a majority view
in favour of the Doha mandate. A glimmer of hope, however, remains that the
views of the majority could potentially be tapped for driving at a logical and
hopeful conclusion of the Doha mandate.
However disappointing the Nairobi outcome may be, it is in essence a recording of
a factual reality of the differences between countries, and the vehement[vee-umunt(strong,)] pressure of the developed world to manoeuvre[mu'noovu(operate,)] the WTO in a direction that best suits its interests. The only
option for India is to forge ahead with a high degree of preparedness and focus on
areas of its interests, coalition-building with like-minded countries, and translating
what many want into actual results. The Doha round had resulted in several
decisions and declarations which continue to remain legally valid decisions of
WTO members and need to be honoured in taking forward the negotiations. The
Nairobi Declaration in fact refers to the recently concluded United Nations
2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the SDGs is that of
promoting an equitable multilateral trading system under the WTO through the
conclusion of negotiations under its Doha Development Agenda. This can again
be seen as an implicit referencing of the DDA and its importance.
Furthermore, the Nairobi Decisions on special safeguard mechanism for
developing country members and on public stockholding for food security
purposes clearly make reference to post-Doha decisions (the Hong Kong
Ministerial Decision and the Bali Decision) as the basis for further negotiations. It
is important to build on each of these to reach luculent[loo-ky-lunt(clear,)],
successful and speedy outcomes.
On other Doha issues, it is important to clearly map what India wants, and how that
may be achieved for example, in services negotiations.

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Of equal importance is the need to prepare for the new issues, approaches and
architecture that some WTO members have expressed their desire for in the
Nairobi Declaration. The recently concluded TPP agreement perhaps provides a
clear glimpse of what these new issues are likely to be environment, labour,
investment, competition, government procurement, and so on. How to engage on
these issues, and identify the red and green lights for negotiations, is the next
challenge that India needs to be prepared for.
The WTO remains an institution that is worth preserving. India needs to approach
it from a position of strength, with clearly defined agendas, and with preparedness
for the new challenges it presents.
Courtesy: the hindu

7. Know your English


You look really fresh. Did you sleep for a long time this afternoon?
I catnapped, actually. It did me a world of good. You see
Catnap? Does it mean to sleep for a long time?
It means the exact opposite. When you have a catnap, you sleep or doze for a very
short period of time. Usually, not more than fifteen minutes.
So catnap has the same meaning as forty winks?
Thats right! People usually have a catnap during the daytime. After he finishes
reading the paper, my father catnaps for ten minutes.
I read somewhere that taking a catnap in the afternoon is good for health.
Several people in my office have a catnap during their lunch break.
Good for them. Did you manage to go to bed early on New Years Eve?
I couldnt this year, unfortunately. A friend of mine dropped in unexpectedly. His
two kids were under my feet all evening, and....
Why would they be under your feet? Were they...?
When you say that someone is under your feet, you mean that the person is
always near you. He hovers around you; so it becomes difficult for you to do what
you want to.
So this individual constantly gets in your way and becomes a source of
annoyance.
Exactly! He becomes a nuisance. Heres an example. There are days when my
colleagues at the office get under my feet.
When my nephew was young, he used to get under everyones feet. Like most
kids, he showed no regard to other peoples feelings.
You dont show regard to other peoples feelings, but regard for. The
expression regard for in this context has the same meaning as respect for.
Todays students have very little regard for their teachers.
Thats true! Sharmila has very little regard for her husbands scholarship.

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There are times when my mother has little regard for our feelings. Whenever she
makes something special, she doesnt allow us in the kitchen. She says we get
under her feet.
You were earlier complaining about your colleagues being under your feet. Hope
theyre not ruining your project.
The project is progressing quite nicely, actually. Ever since we decided
to crowdsource on Facebook and the other social media...
Crowdsource? Ive heard of outsourcing something, but what does crowdsource
mean?
Crowdsourcing is actually a combination of two words crowd and outsourcing.
The word is normally used to refer to the practice of obtaining the services of a
large number of people it could be the general public.
So you take a project and outsource it to a whole lot of people. These individuals
help you with the content, right?
It could be anything content, ideas, opinions, etc. Very often, the people
involved in the project dont get paid at all. To find out what features young people
wanted in their cars, our company crowdsourced on Facebook.
Crowdsourcing enables you to gather a lot of information very quickly.
So true!
****
My grandkids think Im the oldest thing in the world. And after two or three hours
with them, I believe it too. Gene Perret
Courtesy: the hindu

8. Questions on net neutrality


Net neutrality is a principle that promises equality for all packets of data over the
internet. The topic has spurred wide public debate and credit for this goes to Trai,
which has set high standards for public consultations. In August 2014, faced with
growing demands by telecom companies for separately charging users and internet
companies for data-heavy web services, it organised a high-level seminar. There

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seemed to be a sharp difference of opinion and peace was brokered at the time by a
statement that a consultation paper would be released on it soon.
A consultation paper provides the necessary background of policy choices and
legal regulations on the basis of which inputs are invited from the public. After
these inputs are received and published, it may provide an opportunity for
additional counter-comments before publishing its recommendations. The
consultation paper on OTT (over the top) services didnt come without public
nudges by various stakeholders due to repeated violations of net neutrality. It was
highlighted that violations were eroding the basis of any future rules and could
shape usage patterns and business practices that would render[rendu(provide, )] future net neutrality rules toothless[toothlus(ineffective,)].
When the consultation paper on OTT services was finally published in March
2015, it made several comments that lacked balance. Trais delay and lack of
familiarity with new technologies caused disgruntlement[dis'grn-tulmunt(dissatisfied, )]. Towards the end, an unprecedented[n'pre-si,den-

tid(new,) ] number more than a million people participated and sent


in their comments. It has been more than six months since the counter-comments
were sent to Trai. It has still not published its recommendations. However, it has,
without clarifying its position on or concluding the OTT consultation, issued a
subsequent paper on differential pricing of data services in December. Differently
pricing data services is a core issue of net neutrality and covered in the consultation
paper on OTT services. While the contents of the new paper are reason for
optimism it states how Trai can use its tariff regulation power to regulate net
neutrality the document has also been viewed with suspicion, as a
delaying manoeuvre[mu'noo-vu(tactic,)]. The delay has been compounded
by a lack of clarity on the path the consultation processes are following.
Parallel to the Trai consultations, two other processes on net neutrality are
underway: First, the department of telecoms (DoTs) report on net neutrality,
which, on one hand, makes actionable recommendations and, on the other,
is ambiguous[am'big-yoo-us(unclear,)] about details. Further, its
somewhat irregular for it to preempt Trai with a report. The DoT usually waits its
turn and exercises its power to issue regulations on the basis of Trai
recommendations. Then, theres the Rajya Sabha standing committee on
information technology.
Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has said the DoT will wait for
Trai to make recommendations. But theres a lack of clarity on how these different
reports and recommendations will be considered. The four processes, although
well-intentioned, will undoubtedly result in contradictions and delays at the cost of
net neutrality. This has reportedly been mitigated['mi-ti,gey-tid(lessen,)] by

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Trai asking Reliance to halt[holt(stop,)] Internet.Org/ Free Basics services,


which, as per the DoT report, violate net neutrality. However, it isnt clear if this is
a legal order. In fact, users have reported that Internet.org/ Free Basics remains
accessible.
Delays increase regulatory precariousness[pri'keh-ree-usnus(uncertainty,)]. The absence of clear norms only furthers the
interests of incumbents[in'km-bunt(officeholder,)] with sizeable market
power, which have the ability to take on risks in circumstances of ambiguity. This
is clear from Facebooks resistance to maintaining the status quo[stey-tus
kwow(existing state of affairs, )] on Free Basics. Facebook has,
instead, sought to expand it to further telecom circles in the midst of this
consultation.
Net neutrality has implications for issues concerning the development of the
internet and its adoption in India. These include licensing of internet applications
like those permitting voice calling, payment of carriage fees to telecom companies,
and zero-rated plans like Internet.org/ Free Basics. The longer these issues linger,
the more violations will occur and the status quo may become the norm. It will
likely lead to a further undermining of public trust in a consultation that has seen
record participation. Its necessary that a clear timetable and process for bringing
in net neutrality laws in India is announced at the conclusion of the countercomments period for the consultation on differential pricing of data services.
Courtesy: indian express

9. Key issues of upcoming budget


Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his team are beginning pre-budget
consultations with various stakeholders for the upcoming FY17 budget. Generally,
the consultations start with agriculture, slated for January 4. Its good practice
and courteous[kur-tee-us(polite,)] to invite farm experts and farmers

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representatives. Often, one finds these meetings full of anguish[anggwish(pain,)] on the farmers side, while sometimes very sanguine[sanggwin(optimistic,)] suggestions also come from farm experts. But no more
than 5 per cent of these suggestions are ever reflected in the budget. Would this
year be very different?
What are the key issues in the farm sector and what can the FM and his team do in
a years time? In brief, farmers are under severe stress, with profitability in farming
falling ghastly[gst-lee(alarmingly,)]. The BJP manifesto had promised
to raise profitability levels in agriculture to 50 per cent above costs, when these
were hovering[h-vu(hang over,)] around 20-30 per cent in most crops
during the UPAs terminal years. But the reality now is that profitability
has plummeted[pl-mit(drop sharply, )] to less than 5 per cent in
major crops, and is negative for others. The high hopes that farmers had of the
NDA government are fast dissipating[di-su,peyt(move away,

)] . Consequences['kn-si-kwun(t)s(result,)] of this should be clear


from the panchayat election results in Gujarat, where the BJP lost almost 75 per
cent of the seats.
The writing is already on the wall, and if ignored, the next casualty may be Punjab,
where farmers are already up in arms. The FM should visit Amritsar, the
constituency he unsuccessfully contested from in 2014, and talk to basmati
farmers. He will know whats happening on the ground. Its not just basmati or
common rice. You talk to cotton farmers from Punjab to Gujarat, and they are in
serious trouble. So are sugarcane farmers in UP and Maharashtra. Its all-pervading
gloom in agriculture today. Back-to-back droughts and tumbling commodity prices
(except perhaps tur dal) have already broken farmers backs. Its time the Centre
paid heed to farming policies.
The prime minister is now exhorting[ig'zort(encourage,)] the
bureaucracy to make transformational changes in policies and programmes, since
he realises piecemeal changes will not take his government far. But
transformational changes were already suggested last year by the Shanta Kumar
panel for food and fertiliser subsidies and restructuring the Food Corporation of
Indias role. The key recommendations were to move towards cash transfers and
outsource much of the storage functions to the private sector. If these suggestions
were implemented in earnest, one could have plugged massive leakages in the
PDS, saved large resources that could have been ploughed back into irrigation,
raised productivity and moved towards better drought-proofing. Although the PM
and FM have received positive responses to DBTs, and have tasted success in
cooking gas, it requires a bolder effort and courage to convert food and fertiliser
subsidies to DBTs. Thats been missing so far.

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Food management remains in a shambles[sham-bulz(disorder,)] , with


high levels of inefficiency and leakage. The FCI is demoralised due to mounting
arrears that have crossed Rs 70,000 crore. The fertiliser industry is now almost
sick, with no major fresh investments. Production is stagnating and imports rising.
The reason, again, is high and unpaid bills, crossing Rs 40,000 crore. The
budgetary allocation for these two subsidies hovers around Rs 2,00,000 crore.
Another Rs 1,10,000 crore remains under the carpet as unpaid bills. The FM
should be pellucid[pu'loo-sid(transparent,)] in bringing this total of Rs
3,10,000 crore into the budget as explicit[ik'spli-sit(Clear,)] subsidies. He
should then see where the fiscal deficit actually stands.
The PM and FM also talk of financial inclusion as the central policy pillar of their
transformational strategy. The Jan Dhan Yojana was great in opening accounts.
But if half of those accounts dont show any transactions, that platform remains
underutilised. Its worth leafing through the latest report on financial inclusion by
the RBI, which also talks of moving various farm subsidies towards DBT and
going for more science-based crop insurance systems.
The existing crop insurance system system isnt serving peasants[pezunt(farmer, )] well. It needs to be recast. Crop damages need to be
assessed in a few days with the help of automatic weather stations (AWS),
satellites, drones and low-earth orbits (LEOs). Compensation should be sent
directly to farmers accounts, with digitised farm records locked-in with Jan Dhan
accounts, Aadhaar and mobile numbers. The FM and his team know all this. I had
the privilege of making a special presentation to them on this. I also hear of
favourable responses, but progress so far has been very slow. If these were normal
times for the peasantry, it wouldnt have mattered much. But farmers are under
severe stress. Delay not only means ponderous[pn-du-rus(heavy,)] political
damage but also bad implementation of good policies.
Last, water is going to be increasingly critical for drought-proofing Indian
agriculture. All sources of irrigation will have to be tapped. It may be worth noting
that the time taken to complete major and medium irrigation schemes funded
through the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF, under Nabard) is much
less than for those funded by the state. A transformational strategy could be
doubling the allocation under the RIDF. Agri-market reform is another
transformational strategy that the government needs to work on for unifying
markets.
Theres enough consultation material with the FM to revive agriculture. What is
needed is the courage to implement and to go beyond the courtesy of the
consultative process.
Courtesy:indian express

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10. Deadly gamble


Saudi Arabias execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, perhaps the most influential
leader among the Kingdoms Shia minority, was clearly a provocative move.
Riyadh knew that its action would deteriorate[di'teer-eeu,reyt(worsen,)] relations with Iran and inflame sectarian tensions in West
Asia at a time when the Islamic State is systematically persecuting['pursi,kyoot(oppress,)] Shias and other minorities within Islam. Iran, a Shiamajority country and a regional rival of Saudi Arabia, had repeatedly requested the
Sunni monarchy to pardon[paa-d(u)n(forgive,)] Nimr, who was the driving
force behind the Arab Spring model protests in the kingdoms east in 2011. By
executing him, along with 46 others on Saturday, Riyadh has plunged the region,
already reeling under terrorism, insurgency[in'sur-jun(t)see(rebellion,)] and sectarianism, into more chaos[keys(disorder,)] .
Why did Riyadh do this if they knew the consequences[kn-sikwun(t)s(result,)] would be deadly? A logical explanation is that its part
of a well-thought-out strategy to whip up[whip up(create quickly,
)] tensions so that the Al-Saud ruling family could tighten its grip on power at
home and embolden its position in the region by amassing the support of the Sunni
regimes. Whether the royals agree or not, Saudi Arabia is facing a major crisis. Oil
prices are plummeting[pl-mit(drop sharply, )], endangering the
kingdoms economy. In 2015, it ran a deficit of $97.9 billion, and has announced
plans to shrink its budget for the current year by $86 billion. This is likely to

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impact the governments public spending, and could trigger resentment[ri'zentmunt(anger,)]. The rentier kingdom relies heavily on the governments
welfare policies, besides its religious appeal, to drum up public support. The late
King Abdullahs response to Arab Spring protests is an example of this. When
people elsewhere rose up against dictatorships, he announced a special economic
package of $70 billion (much of this money was allocated to build 5,00,000 houses
to address housing shortage) to quell[kwel(suppress,)] discontent at home.
Additionally, the state injected $4 billion into healthcare. King Salman does not
enjoy the luxury of using oil revenues to save his crown due to the economic crisis.
Another option the royals have to buttress their position is to resort to extreme
majoritarianism.
At least four, including Sheikh Nimr, among the 47 executed on January 2 were
political prisoners. By putting them to death, the royal family has sent a clear
message to political dissidents at home. At the same time, the execution of the
countrys most prominent Shia cleric would bolster[bwlstu(strengthen,
)] the regimes Wahhabi credentials among the hardliners.
This is a tactic dictators have often used in history. They go back to extremism or
sectarianism to bolster their hard-line constituency to tide over the economic and
social difficulties. The real aim of the monarchy is to close down every window of
dissidence; if that cant be done through economic development and welfarism, do
it by other means.
Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia go back decades. Even when prerevolutionary Iran and Saudi Arabia were the two pillars of the U.S.s West Asia
policy, Riyadh and Tehran were regional rivals. The latest phase of this cold war
begins with the U.S.-led Iraq invasion. When Saddam Hussein was toppled[tpul(fall down,)] and a Shia-dominated government emerged in Baghdad,
Iran was the happiest regional power. Hussein had been
a staunch[stonch(firm,)] enemy of Tehran. Saudi Arabia was alarmed by the
changing political equations in Iraq, and had supported Sunni militancy to prevent
the Shias consolidating[kun's-li,deyt(strengthen,)] power in the postSaddam set-up. This was one reason that Iraq broke apart later. But the Americans
had assured full support to the Gulf monarchies and kept pressure on Iran over the
nuclear sanctions. When the Barack Obama administration changed its approach
towards Iran, engaging with the Islamic Republic through serious negotiations, the
Saudis were upset. Though Riyadh publicly accepted the nuclear deal, it was
expectedly concerned about Irans reintegration with the global economy. That
would not only flood the market with cheap oil from Iran, sending oil prices down
further, but also help Tehran rise as a legitimate regional power.
This Saudi frustration was evident in its Yemen war. Riyadh started bombing
Yemen in March, when the nuclear talks were in the final stages. But after nine
months, the Saudis are far from meeting their goals defeating the Shia Houthi

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rebels Riyadh calls lackeys of Tehran. On the other side, despite rhetoric[re-turik(loud words,)] from both sides, the U.S. and Iran have expanded
cooperation from the nuclear deal to Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, American warplanes
provided air cover when the Iraq army and Iran-trained Shia militias fought Islamic
State fighters. As regards Syria, the U.S. agreed to let Iran join the peace talks,
ending years of opposition. Against this background, the Saudis wanted to escalate
tensions with Iran, and further complicate Irans re-accommodation in West Asian
geopolitical and economic mainstream. The royals know that the best way is to
whip up sectarian tensions.
Iran should have exercised restraint in the wake of Sheikh Nimrs execution. It
could have used the global anger against mass beheadings in Saudi Arabia to its
benefit, particularly at a time its rebuilding its position in the region. But lack of
a cohesive[kow'hee-siv(United,)] vision, and maybe the high-handedness
of the hardliners, led Iran to overreact to the executions. The attacks on the Saudi
embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Mashhad shifted the worlds attention from
the executions to Irans hooliganism['hoo-li-gu,ni-zum(ill manner
mischief,
)] , providing Riyadh an opportunity to extend the bilateral
tensions into a diplomatic crisis. This is exactly what the Saudis wanted. After
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, a Shia-majority nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and
Sudan, a Sunni-majority country ruled by an alleged war criminal whos moving
increasingly closer to the Gulf monarchs, have cut diplomatic ties with Iran. The
United Arab Emirates, another Saudi ally, has withdrawn its envoy from Tehran.
Iran has gained nothing but international condemnation from attacking foreign
missions in its land. Its yet to recover completely from the siege of the U.S.
embassy in 1979 by hard-line students. In 2011, students attacked the British
embassy in Tehran, forcing London to withdraw its mission. Full diplomatic ties
between the two nations were restored only recently, after the nuclear agreement.
The latest attack may have far-reaching consequences. Its also possible that hardline sections within the Iranian establishment, who are already upset with the
moderates over the nuclear deal, might have used the opportunity to embarrass
President Hassan Rouhani. Its also worth noting that the President has condemned
the attack, but not the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who warned the Saudis of
divine revenge. Whatever led to the attack has compromised Irans position in
the region.
What next
One natural victim of these rising tensions will be the Syria peace plan. President
Bashar al-Assads regime and a coalition of rebels are supposed to begin peace
talks this month, according to a road map agreed in the UN Security Council a few
weeks ago. Iranian and Saudi cooperation is a must for peace in Syria, where the
ongoing civil war has killed more than 2,50,000 people. The Saudis back antiregime rebels and extremists in Syria, while the Iranians support the Assad
government.

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Worse, its not just Syria. Unless Saudi-Iran tensions are contained, there wont be
an effective strategy to fight the Islamic State, which is a Sunni-Wahhabi extremist
group; the war in Yemen will go on, endangering many more lives; and Iraqs
efforts to stabilise itself could be challenged. The Saudis look determined to play a
long-term game of sectarian geopolitics to maximise its interests. If the Iranians
continue to respond in the same token, West Asia would remain turbulent[turbyu-lunt(violent,)] for many more years.
Courtesy: the hindu

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