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(Download) Old NCERT PDF : The Story of Civilization Part-I (Arjun Dev)

(Download) Old NCERT PDF : The Story of Civilization Part-I (Arjun Dev)

  • Medium: English
  • OLD NCERT BOOK NAME : The Story of Civilization Part-1 by Arjun Dev
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Table of Contents :

CHAPTER I

  • The Heritage of Indice 
  • The land and the People -The Ancient period-The Medieval Period — The Modern Period - Art and Architecture - The Development of Painting in India -Languages and Literature - Music and Dance 

CHAPTER II

  • Indian Awakening
  • Incllan Society in the Eighteenth Century - Impact of British Rule on India - Religious and Social Reformi Movements - Impact of the Reform Movements - Growth of Education - Modern Indian Art and Literalure -- Growth of the Press in the Ninelcenth Century

CHAPTER III

  • India's Struggle for Independence 
  • The Revolt of 1857 – Rise of Indian Nationalism - Early Political Movements and the Indian National Congress - Rise of Extremism – The Boycoll and Swadesht Movements - Morley-Minto Rcforms - Revolutionary Movement - Formation of the Muslim League – Nationalist Movement during the First World War - Nationalist Movement Becomes at Mass Movement -- Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movements - Communalism and its Dangerous Effects-Fron Swaraj to Complete Independence, 1927-1939  The Simon Commission - Lahore Congress and the Civil Disobedience Movement - The Nationalist Movement and the World - Constitutional Developments - The Nationalist Movement, 1935-1939 - Indian Nationalist Movement during the Second World War - Nationalist Upsurge after the Second World War - Achlevement of independence, 1947 - Building the New India
     

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (What are deep nu*des?(Indian Express))



What are deep nu*des?(Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Science and Tech 
Prelims level: Deep nu*de
Mains level: Challenges towards curbing cybercrimes

Context:

  • Cybercrime officials in India have been tracking certain apps and websites that produce nu*de photographs of innocent persons using Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms. 

So, what is a deep nu*de?

  • Cybercriminals use Artificial Intelligence (AI) software — now easily available on apps and websites — to superimpose a digital composite (assembling multiple media files to make a final one) on to an existing video, photo or audio.
  • Deep nu*des are computer-generated images and videos. Essentially, using AI algorithms a person’s words, head movements and expressions are transferred onto another person in a seamless fashion that makes it difficult to tell that it is a deepfake, unless one closely observes the media file.

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When did deep nu*des first surface?

  • In 2017, a Reddit user with the name “deepfakes” posted explicit videos of celebrities. Since then, several instances have been reported along with the development of apps and websites that were easily accessible to an average user.
  • The debate around “deep nu*des” and “deep fakes” was rekindled in July 2019 with the popularity of applications such as FaceApp (used for photo-editing) and Deepnu*de that produces fake nu*des of women.

The objections:

  • Because of how realistic deepfake images, audio and videos can be, the technology is vulnerable for use by cybercriminals who could spread misinformation to intimidate or blackmail people. 
  • In a presentation, the Fayetteville State University in North Carolina called it one of the “modern” frauds of cyberspace, along with fake news, spam/phishing attacks, social engineering fraud, catfishing and academic fraud.

Can anyone produce a deep nu*de?

  • According to a CSIRO Scope article from August 2019, Creating a convincing deepfake is an unlikely feat for the general computer user. But an individual with advanced knowledge of machine learning and access to the victim’s publicly-available social media profile for photographic, video and audio content, could do so.
  • Even so, there are various websites and applications that have AI built into them and have made it much easier for a lay users to create deepfakes and deep nu*des. As the technology improves, the quality of deepfakes is also expected to get better.

Are deepfakes legal?

  • At least in the US, the legality of deepfakes is complicated. 
  • While a person being harassed by deepfakes may claim defamation, removing such content could be considered censorship, a violation of the First Amendment which guarantees Americans the freedom concerning religion, expression, assembly and the right to petition.
  • According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 46 states in the US have “revenge porn” laws. 
  • Revenge porn refers to the creation of sexually explicit videos or images that are posted on the Internet without the consent of the subject as a way to harass them.

What are catfish accounts?

  • According to the Cyberbullying Research Centre (CRC), catfishing refers to the practice of setting up fictitious online profiles, “most often for the purpose of luring another into a fraudulent romantic relationship.”
  • An article on CRC says that to “catfish” someone, “is to set up a fake social media profile with the goal of duping that person into falling for the false persona.”

What can you do to protect yourself?

  • While it is not easy to keep track of who downloads or misuses your images, the best way to protect yourself is to ensure you are using privacy settings on your social media profiles that suit you.
  • If you feel your image has been used without your permission, you could use freely available reverse image search tools to find images that are similar to yours.
  • You can also be mindful of who you are conversing with on the web. 
  • A basic check of their social media profiles, comments on their images and whether similar profiles exist could help you determine if the person is genuine.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Oil price crash impacts sugar (Indian Express))



Oil price crash impacts sugar (Indian Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Sugar Prices 
Mains level: Oil prices implications on Sugar 

Context:

  • The prices of raw sugar for May 2020 delivery at New York crashed to 9.75 cents per pound, the lowest closing for a nearest-month futures contract since June 2008.

Why have global sugar prices collapsed?

  • All commodities have taken a demand hit from subdued economic activity and lockdowns imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But sugar is one commodity that, until quite recently, was on growth phase.
  • One reason for the collapse now is the closure of restaurants, weddings and other social functions not taking place.
  • People are also avoiding ice-creams and sweetened cold beverages that might cause throat infections.

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Have oil prices played a role?

  • The juice from crushing sugarcane can be crystallised into sugar or fermented into alcohol.
  • When oil prices are high, mills (especially in Brazil) tend to divert cane for making ethanol (alcohol of 99%-plus purity) to be blended with petrol.
  • In 2019-20 (April-March), only 34.32% of cane crushed by Brazilian mills went for manufacturing 26.73 mt of sugar.
  • The rest was used to produce 31.62 billion litres of ethanol.
  • But with oil prices falling, mills will not find it attractive to divert cane for ethanol.
  • Brazil’s mills are thus seen to produce up to 36 mt of sugar and hardly 26 billion litres of ethanol this year.

Will this affect India?

  • Before COVID-19 happened, the Indian industry was expecting to export 5.5-6 mt of raw sugar in 2019-20.
  • Mills had already entered into contracts of some 3.8 mt, out of which 3.05 mt have been shipped out so far.
  • The sugar industry’s woes from excess stocks are thus slow to happen aided by both exports and lower production.
  • However, dip in sugar consumption, together with higher Brazilian output, is unfavourable for both Indian sugar mills and cane farmers.
  • Nevertheless, in Indonesia, there is an increased import requirement.
  • Also, it decided recently to slash the duty on Indian raw sugar from 15% to 5%.
  • Indonesian refiners are projected to import 3.3 mt of raw sugar this year, up from 2.6 mt in 2019.
  • They buy mostly from Thailand but Thailand is experiencing a bad drought which could lead to its production falling.
  • This offers an opportunity for India.

What is the situation with respect to cane farmers?

  • Decreasing exports and falling domestic use of sugar by institutional consumers has significantly undermined the mills' ability to make cane payments.
  • E.g. Uttar Pradesh’s factories have till now crushed cane worth roughly Rs 32,000 crore in the 2019-20 season.
  • But they have managed to pay only around Rs 16,400 crore.
  • The state government recently announced a scheme of mills giving “willing farmers” one quintal each of sugar for the next 3 months, instead of payments due.
  • Moreover, the industry’s problem is not from sugar alone.
  • The lockdown has reduced off-take of alcohol, be it potable liquor or ethanol for blending with petrol.
  • With cars and two-wheelers not running, oil market companies are not very keen to procure ethanol.

Other implications of oil price fall:

  • The oil price crash has affected other agri-commodities as well.
  • Prices of corn, which is also used for making ethanol, fell to their lowest since 2009 at Chicago.
  • Likewise, palm oil, again a feedstock for bio-diesel, ended 7.5% lower at the Bursa Malaysia futures exchange.
  • Corn prices can, in turn, drag down other cereals, just as palm oil could do to soyabean and other oilseeds.
  • All these are ultimately linked to oil, whose prices matter as much to farmers as petroleum companies.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Protecting the healers (The Hindu))



Protecting the healers (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level: Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
Mains level: Details about the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

Context:

  • The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 is ensure to promulgated the healthcare workers.

About the ordinance: 

  • This 2020 ordinance will amend the Epidemic Act, 1867. 
  • It will criminalise attacks on healthcare personnel, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers.
  • It will make them a non-bailable offence.
  • Ordinarily, the guilty can be sent to jail for 3 months to 5 years, with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

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Reasons behind the promulgation: 

  • There are several incidences of frontline workers being attacked or facing harassment across the country. 
  • Frontline workers, be it healthcare workers, civic workers, emergency responders, or even police personnel, are working under great duress at the moment.
  • India’s shortage in healthcare manpower already places a heavy burden on the existing workforce.
  • The pandemic has compounded this burden many times over. 
  • If India ends up seeing the infection spread and hospitalisation numbers projected for it, it will need every healthcare hand available.
  • So, protecting these healthcare workers is a need of the time.

Is this Ordinance enough?

  • The ordinance’s provision for harsher punishment and its strict enforcement should serve as a deterrent. 
  • However, the government must look at a more permanent way to protect healthcare workers.
  • It framed the Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments Bill 2019 to deter attacks on, and harassment of hospital staff.
  • However, this is yet to be enacted. 

Way forward:

  • Sensitizing the masses to support frontline workers is needed.
  • If not, India’s battle against the disease will truly be lost. 
  • The government must run awareness campaigns to address citizens’ fears about exposure to the pathogen via healthcare workers.
  • It must pass the 2019 Bill to protect healthcare workers in a more permanent way.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Free foodgrains should reach the needy (The Hindu))



Free foodgrains should reach the needy (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: Garib Kalyan scheme
Mains level: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States

Context:

  • It was heartening to hear that from the Centre that four million tonnes of foodgrains have been lifted by 36 States under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana in the course of this month. 
  • It is true that scores of urban migrant workers, many of them desperate to return to their villages, are going hungry despite rice and wheat stocks of 77 million tonnes lying in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. 

About:

  • Stocks are not reaching the hunger hotspots quickly enough, even as food has been moved, largely by rail, to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka and the North-East, where food demand possibly outstrips supply. 
  • About 50-60 million tonnes are estimated to be distributed through mid-day meals and under the National Food Security Act. 

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Reliance on PDS: 

  • The reliance on PDS is expected to increase this year, and it is just as well that both the Centre and States have topped up the NFSA entitlement — which meets the needs of 80 crore people. 
  • The immediate need is to now reach out to the millions of migrants who do not have a ration card and are outside the NFSA ambit. 
  • States and NGOs have stepped up community kitchens and other forms of emergency food distribution, but their efforts are not enough.

Garib Kalyan scheme: 

  • The Centre should release more foodgrains to the States (over and above transfers under the Garib Kalyan scheme) free of cost rather than at the issue price, relieving the States’ fiscal burden. 
  • Worrying about the ₹2 lakh crore plus food subsidy bill (the difference between the procurement, transport and storage cost on the one hand and the issue price on the other) is a case of misplaced priorities. 
  • It is a violation of the NFSA that any individual should go hungry when food is available. 
  • Besides, distributing grain free amounts to a saving on storage costs; godowns also need to be cleared to make way for the new, bumper wheat crop. Decentralised procurement and storage can reduce distribution costs and hassles. 
  • India has made significant gains in this regard since 2012-13, with States such as Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh emerging as major contributors to the grain pool. 
  • In fact, the recent movement of grains by rail has been from storages in central India as well.
  • States and private agencies have been allowed to buy from FCI depots without going through the usual process of e-auctions through open market sales.

Way forward:

  • However, there can be no escaping the impression that governments — both Central and State — have been slow to act. 
  • States receiving migrants such as Bihar must step up efforts to create kitchens and begin MGNREGA works that are consistent with social distancing. 
  • This is not the time for political one-upmanship between the Centre and States, or preoccupation with deficit numbers.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 24 April 2020 (Small units in distress as pandemic drives away business (The Hindu))



Small units in distress as pandemic drives away business (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: MSME sector
Mains level: Pandemic impact on MSME sector 

Context:

  • The MSME sector, comprising 6.33 crore enterprises, is predominantly ‘micro’ (99.4 per cent), with small and medium enterprises accounting for 0.52 per cent and 0.007 per cent of the sector respectively. 
  • A survey of MSMEs a week before the announcement of the lockdown, to estimate the impact of Covid on current and future business and the sector’s response.

SOS from MSMEs:

  • About 50 per cent of the MSMEs surveyed reported lower order books in Q4 2020 (January-March 2020) compared to the corresponding quarter in the previous year, as also compared to the previous quarter (Q3 2020), 29 per cent expected order books to shrink by more than 50 per cent. 
  • About 25 per cent of those surveyed reported a 20 per cent increase in finished goods and raw material inventories each in Q4 compared to the previous quarter due to Covid, and 17.5 per cent reported 50 per cent lower capacity utilisation compared to the previous quarter.
  • However, paradoxically, while 72 per cent agreed (strongly) that their receivables had been affected by the pandemic, an overwhelming majority (78 per cent) felt that their receivables would be affected only up to 30 days. 

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How does one interpret these results? 

  • The absence of a tangible policy response such as a declared lockdown, led to most respondents failing to factor in the true nature and impact of Covid. 
  • The MSME distress call could only be greater in the aftermath of the lock-down.
  • The survey also revealed the global inter-connectedness of the Indian MSME sector. 
  • More than 50 per cent of the respondents confirmed that the pandemic would impact their global sourcing, while an equal proportion confirmed the impact on their global markets. 
  • Thus, any volatility in global markets would prove to be a double-whammy for Indian MSMEs.

Jobs on the line:

  • The survey revealed the high employment-elasticity of the MSME sector. 
  • At the national level, statistics point to 97 per cent of the total MSME employment being generated in the micro sector, 2.88 per cent in the small and 0.16 per cent in the medium sectors.
  • This was corroborated by our survey as well. 
  • Thus, ‘small’ manufacturing plants and service firms across India typically provide employment to 300-700, while most ‘micro’ manufacturing enterprises employ 20-50 people, with micro service enterprises employing a lesser number.
  • It is this employment which would bear the brunt of the pandemic. The largest item constituting financial burden according to the respondents was labour costs (34 per cent). 
  • This was followed by raw material costs (18.8 per cent) and interest on loans (18.8 per cent). 
  • Faced with distress, SMEs would opt to survive, and the first casualty would be a cut in labour. 
  • Anecdotally, the number of SMEs keen on seeking counsel for dealing with tricky labour contracts when sales have dried up, has increased.

Conclusion: 

  • While government financial incentives and packages are the need of the hour to ‘save’ the SMEs, the SMEs themselves need to heed to the economy’s distress call and understand their role in saving the economy. 
  • Inefficient SMEs, seeking self-preservation through government relief packages at the cost of labour, may rightfully be allowed to succumb.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (Corona crisis prompts reimagining of justice delivery (Financial Express))



Corona crisis prompts reimagining of justice delivery (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level: Judiciary 
Mains level: Role of AI to build virtual courtrooms 

Context:

  • The rapid onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a shock to most existing systems and structures. This is apparent even in the delivery of, and access to, justice. 

Measures taken across the world: 

  • These are times unlike any other, and extraordinary measures are being taken across the world. 
  • The Supreme Court of the United States has, for the first time in a century, indefinitely closed its doors to oral hearings. 
  • Entire continents are in virtual lockdowns, and systems are under strain. For the Indian justice system, disruption through technology will be key. 

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Necessary to ensure distancing norms: 

  • In the long term, it will be even more necessary, to ensure distancing norms, and to help reduce pendency and burden on the courts. 
  • This is crucial to make positive inroads into the staggering number of matters pending, which are in excess of 3.5 crore.
  • This will ensure that access to justice and efficiency of dispute resolution in India is forever altered. 
  • Significant work has already been done to harmonise technology, innovation, engagement, and frameworks. 
  • It is merely a question of getting into mission mode to expedite reforms, and move from dialogues toward immediate action.

Decriminalising minor and petty offences

  • Today, authorities globally are using their discretion to differentiate between petty, non-violent crimes and other crimes so as to reduce the number of imprisonments, and therefore mitigate the risk of community spread. 
  • In this regard, the Government of India’s ongoing effort to decriminalise minor and petty offences by making them compoundable remains visionary and citizen-friendly. 
  • Recently-enacted laws are also working with this concept, as well as enabling innovative options such as class action suits to help reduce the volume of lower-value matters reaching the courts as individual lawsuits. 
  • Enabling groups of petitioners with compiled grievances to jointly file suit will streamline the cause of action, and lower the number of matters filed, helping reduce the burden over time. 
  • For ease of doing business, with protection for bona fide decisions, the decriminalisation of certain offences will go a long way toward increasing investor confidence. 
  • This is supported by the repeal of more than 1,500 archaic and redundant laws thus far.

Virtual courtrooms: Role of technology

  • In the near future, technology can no longer just be a support, but must also be an enabler of justice for those who haven’t been able to easily access it until now. 
  • A framework for the development of virtual courtrooms and remote hearing centres that enables all concerned, including the judges, to operate remotely and efficiently was perhaps due even before the pandemic, which has turned it into a necessity. 

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Uses of Artificial Intelligence: 

  • AI, for aspects not related to objective and discretionary decision-making, has significant potential. 
  • ROSS, an AI solution for legal services, is said to have launched a revolutionary contextual search technology, which actually enables lawyers to research 80% faster. 
  • India, too, has innovators in this space for case-law research and litigation support, with potential for achieving scale. 
  • This is a major pivot for support services in the legal and judicial ecosystem. 
  • A conversation between service providers and dispute resolvers could help add cohesion-led problem solving, with the option of imminent scale.

Relying on data:

  • An important first step from collaboration would be to help ensure the downstream usability of reliable and verifiable data. 
  • The data could be generated from filings, judgments, and related documents to assess and analyse the efficiency impact. Machine-readable laws will also help. 
  • By standardising inputs in a way that are technology-adaptable, analysis will be possible with a large data set and, presumably, more reliable than anecdotal evidence generated through current data-gathering and analysis. 
  • Technological tweaks to help data could perhaps, in future, be analysed for identifying under-trials who have already served their term waiting for a court date in the case of petty, non-violent offences. 
  • Augmenting reforms, both legal and judicial, with technology interventions could perhaps help unclog prisons and courts, assess efficiency and streamline access to data and result in better case-flow management for judges.

Continuing legal education for qualitative improvements:

  • The legal fraternity can also help in increasing capacity and capability to help the most vulnerable. 
  • Widening the importance of continuing legal education can help streamline and update knowledge of processes and laws for all lawyers practising across the various tiers, bringing qualitative improvements. Virtual classrooms for these can allow pan-India dissemination in a cost-efficient manner. 
  • A concerted drive can also be initiated to improve processes for legal aid, including through a broad-based pro bono initiative to help those who need it the most.

The time for disruptive reform is now:

  • The Supreme Court, to its credit, has been increasingly progressive in recent times. Successive Chief Justices of India have expressed their willingness to evolve the judiciary into a technology-friendly landscape. 
  • Chief Justice SA Bobde in particular has welcomed the use of AI and machine learning for non-invasive aspects, to enhance efficiency in judicial functioning. 
  • The court as a whole has been open to innovation and cognisant of the need to change the status quo. 
  • The e-Courts project, and aligned initiatives, are indicative of that mindset. But, now, novel technology-led ideas should be initiated as pilots, and pilots should be rolled out widely, without further delay.
  • Technology-led solutions will help flatten the curve for access while, in the long term, reducing the stress on courts.

Conclusion: 

  • There will, as with all disruptors, be a learning curve, and longer-term implications in providing a sustainable framework. 
  • Continuous dialogues will help bridge many of those gaps. Positive, visionary responses to emergencies define institutional legacies. 

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (No transparency in West Bengal (The Hindu))



No transparency in West Bengal (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Health 
Prelims level: International standard practices
Mains level: Health infrastructure in West Bengal 

Context:

  • While the global media is painting a medical apocalypse, sections of the Indian media fear that reporting the Central and State governments’ speciousimage management during this extraordinary viral outbreak will come with consequences. 
  • Meanwhile, front line health workers — doctors, nurses and trainees, who are under-equipped and not always fully appreciated — look like lambs to the slaughter. 
  • As the fight against more infections rages, stoic and selfless, hospital staff continue to do what they are trained to do.

Delays and data issues:

  • In West Bengal, the medical fraternity claims that the State is reporting fewer cases as only a minuscule proportion of the population is getting tested. 
  • Recently, at least three healthcare workers, including interns, tested positive for the virus after delivering babies of COVID-19-positive mothers in the Kolkata Medical College and Hospital. 

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Dubious reputation:

  • West Bengal has acquired the dubiousreputation of conducting the least number of COVID-19 tests among the larger Indian States (62.7 per million of population). To make matters worse, its methodology for aggregating ‘asymptomatic and those under observation’, ‘sick’ and ‘deaths’ leaves important questions unanswered. 
  • Doctors complain that the Standard Operating Procedure for COVID-19 death certification has not been followed. 
  • In Kolkata Medical College and Hospital, for instance, when doctors clinically assess a person to have died of COVID-19, and is yet to be lab-tested (test results may take up to two days), the bodies in their highly infectious states have been released to family members for last rites. 
  • No tests are being conducted posthumously outside of the specialised (Level 4) hospitals converted for treating COVID-19 positive patients, doctors say. With the testing rate low, we don’t know if there are COVID-19 deaths outside Level 4 hospitals. How many are succumbing in general wards, homes and villages? Who is checking?

International standard practices: 

  • West Bengal’s numbers come under further doubt as the State government is instructing doctors to be cautious while recording COVID-19 as the cause of death in the case of those patients who have other underlying medical conditions. This is not in keeping with international standard practices. 
  • In the U.K., doctors record a wider set as having succumbed to COVID-19, including deaths strongly suspected as being by COVID-19, even if no laboratory test has taken place, or if there are co-morbidities such as kidney, lung or heart disease. West Bengal authorities are telling doctors to do the opposite.

Delay:

  • As more healthcare workers test positive, their calls for testing much more are stonewalled. Authorities, they say, have “no intention” of doing enough tests. This is unconscionablea failure of the State government’s duty of care towards medical professionals and the public.
  • Then there is the newspeak: how do surveillance, quarantine and being under observation differ? Do these numbers (31,023<) include those in self-isolation? Who collects, collates and checks these figures from hospitals and District Collectors’ offices before they reach the panicking public? Is it only up to the hospitals to track COVID-19 deaths?

More question than answers:

  • Is there bureaucratic delay in reporting or are there other unforeseen limiting circumstances such as a State budget shortage or delays from the Central government in releasing funds? If there are inevitable delays, how long will the delays be on average? Can the gaps be narrowed and closed for better estimates? Can the true numbers then be higher? 

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (The village is still relevant(The Hindu))



The village is still relevant (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Not much 
Mains level: Role of villages in an economy 

Context:

  • The upheaval caused by the novel coronavirus should inspire a review of past choices and policies. Some of these policies had gained so much acceptance that one felt there was no point left in questioning them. 
  • Public health and education are two areas in which India took a decisive turn in the 1990s. 
  • When several States decided to stop giving permanent appointment letters to doctors and teachers in the mid-1990s, they were guided by an ideological shift at the national level towards allowing health and education to be opened up for private enterprise. 
  • This was viewed as a major policy reform, a necessary part of the bigger package of economic reforms. They were presented as a package, offering little choice for specific areas. 

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Taking a back seat:

  • The new buzz was public-private partnership. It covered everything from roads to schools. 
  • The form it took made it amply clear that the state would take a back seat after issuing a set of rules for private operators while the state’s own infrastructure will shrink. 
  • The cost-effective measures became the priority in both health and education. 
  • Chronic shortage of functionaries became the norm while young persons learned to wait for years for vacancies to be announced. 
  • Working on short-term contracts, with little security or dignity, became common. 

Imbalance and invisibility:

  • This general framework justified discriminatory funding in every sphere, including health and education. 
  • No serious public investment could be made in villages. 
  • Even as medical education and teacher training became increasingly privatised, the availability of qualified doctors and teachers willing to work in villages dwindled. 
  • Ideologically-inspired pursuit of economic reforms swept State after State, leaving little room for dissent or longer term thinking. 
  • A veneer of welfarism was maintained. It allowed the expansion of essential facilities of a rudimentary kind in villages. 
  • They served as sites for special schemes for the poor and provided minimalist provisions. 
  • The goal was to keep the poor alive and occupied. Privately-run facilities burgeoned, creating an ethos that boosted commercial goals in health care and schooling. 
  • Stuck between state minimalism and commercial entrepreneurship, villages lost what capacity they had for regenerating their economy or intellectual resources. 

Obsolete debates:

  • The novel coronavirus has demonstrated how unsustainable this socio-economic arrangement was, apart from being ethically indefensible. It was characterised by sharp and growing regional disparities. 
  • No matter how hard we will try to rebuild the world as it was before the virus struck it, its unsustainability will not go away. 
  • It is rooted in the structural imbalance between the urban and the rural on one hand and the predominance of a skewed vision of economic growth on the other. 
  • In this vision, the village has no future other than becoming a pale copy of the urban and eventually dissolving into it.
  • Once upon a time, there were debates over the nature of India’s rural society — on whether it was intrinsically good or bad. These debates are no longer relevant. 
  • The village is, however, still relevant, at least for the vast number of urban workers. Similarly, while the problem of defining a village in an academic sense has ceased to matter, its existential reality has asserted itself, and we need to recognise this assertion.
  • If we do, we might agree to notice a problem in policies that do not acknowledge the right of villages to flourish as human habitations with their own distinctive future. 

Conclusion: 

  • They deserve to have new sites and forms of livelihood. 
  • They also deserve systems of health and education that are not designed as feeders to distant centres. 
  • Initiatives in this direction will make both cities and villages more sustainable and capable of coping with the kind of crisis we are currently facing.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (Why workers need unions(The Hindu))



Why workers need unions(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:National 
Prelims level: Gig economy 
Mains level: Social issues 

Context:

  • Covid-19 and the resultant distress in the job market have once again highlighted the importance of trade unions, especially in ensuring that worker welfare becomes a key agenda of policymakers as well as companies. 
  • Inarguably, one of the biggest and most immediate casualties of the Covid-19 crisis are workers in sectors where unions are non-existent. 
  • The very absence of collective bargaining powers has exposed these workers to extreme uncertainty, and they fall prey to the draconian measures taken by their companies. 
  • The gig economy is a worthy example. 

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Three crucial factors in gig economy:

  • It is the total absence of workers’ unions which makes them silent spectators to preemptive measures so much so that most of the sacked are asked to stop working immediately and leave without any monetary compensation. 
  • The remaining employees work under extremely stressful conditions without adequate safety measures. 
  • It is the ironical way in which these workers are defined by the companies — a stark reflection of the fact that unions or any other forms of workers collectives do not play any role in the way they are classified, both in India and advanced markets. Workers in non-unionised sectors are going to pay dearly in the future. 

Way forward: 

  • Given the sheer disregard with which labour policies are framed in countries such as India and the US,— two large economies where the business sector is infested with anti-union practices — the economic crisis triggered by Covid will become even more telling. 
  • Hence, this calamity must come as a wake-up for workers usually reluctant to join or form unions, especially belonging to the Left parties, which seem to have given up on their aggressive enthusiasm in furthering working class goalsand have compromised along the way.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 23 April 2020 (India’s IT services sector faces grave challenges (The Hindu))



India’s IT services sector faces grave challenges (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: Information Technology service 
Mains level: COVID 19 challenges towards IT services sector 

Context:

  • Just when India’s information technology services companies had adapted to the changing business models arising out of the emergence of new digital platforms, they are faced with yet another disruption in their delivery models. 

Work from home:

  • The ongoing economic lockdown due to Covid-19 has disrupted the way IT companies function as more than 85 per cent of the workforce now has to work from home. 
  • From a centralised architecture, IT services companies have had to restructure their entire organisation — a transformation that is here to stay even after the lockdown ends. 
  • In the pre-Covid era, companies such as TCS had a highly centralised delivery model. 

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Future working model:

  • In future, not more than 25 per cent of employees would be working from offices. 
  • This means companies will have to rejig cybersecurity mechanisms, their project management practices, and put in place systems to ensure that proper work allocation, monitoring, and reporting is done. 
  • Under this model, costs related to real estate and managing offices will go down over a period of time but higher spending will go into collaboration and other kinds of productivity tools. 
  • Dependence on H-1B visas will also come down as on-site delivery of services will not be relevant. 
  • The sector is up against massive demand destruction with lockdown-induced slowdown coming on top of the ongoing contraction in key markets. 
  • India’s top three IT companies — TCS, Infosys and Wipro — signalled the distress ahead, as they all missed street estimates in March quarter earnings and suspended revenue guidance for the year ahead.

Reforms needed: 

  • IT companies must reduce over-reliance on big-ticket deals from traditional markets like the US and the UK. 
  • There should be a quick transformation into a distributed delivery architecture instead of the centralised one today. 

Conclusion:

  • In the long term, behavioural shifts as a result of Covid-19 will help the sector. 
  • The human interface will reduce and technology will be required to take over many functions. 
  • This behavioural change can open up opportunities for Indian IT companies to earn higher margins doing consulting-led work.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 April 2020 (The key strategy is fiscal empowerment of States (The Hindu))



The key strategy is fiscal empowerment of States (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: COVID-19 pandemic
Mains level: Boosting resources by centre to states for combating COVID 19

Context:

  • The scale of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has never been seen before. 
  • Even as we are in the midst of the second phase of the national lockdown, there is no clarity on the time it will take to come out of the crisis, the extent of damage it will inflict, and the cost of relief and rehabilitation required. 
  • At a time when governments, both at the Centre and in the States, are fiscally stressed, the pandemic has forced them to undertake huge expenditures to save lives, livelihoods and reduce distresses and even more, to create a stimulus to revive the economy as we map the exit strategy.

Need for relief:

  • The speed of economic revival will depend on how long it will take to revive economic activities and the volume of stimulus through public spending the government is able to provide. 
  • It now appears that the lockdown will be lifted in stages and the recovery process will be prolonged. 
  • The country is literally placed in financing a war-like situation and the government will have to postpone the fiscal consolidation process for the present, loosen its purse strings and finance its deficits substantially through monetisation. 

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States responsibility: 

  • Being closer to the people, the States have a much larger responsibility in fighting this war. Public health as well as public order are State subjects in the Constitution. 
  • In fact, some States were proactive in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak by involving the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, even before the Government of India declared a universal lockdown invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005. 
  • Of course, the Centre under Entry 29 of the Concurrent List has the powers to set the rules of implementation which states, “Prevention of the extension from one State to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting men, animals or plants”. 
  • While Central intervention was done to enable, “consistency in the application and implementation of various measures across the country”, the actual implementation on the ground level will have to be done at the State level. 
  • Furthermore, States are better informed to decide the areas and activities where relaxations should be done as the coronavirus curve is flattened. 
  • Hopefully, there will be better coordination between the Union and State governments instead of claiming credit and apportioning blame.

Focus on health and economy

  • The acute shortage of protective gear, testing kits, ventilators and hospital beds has been a major handicap and the immediate task of States is to ramp up their availability and supply. 
  • In addition, the disruption caused by the lockdown has caused untold misery, and providing relief and rehabilitation to migrant labourers and informal sector workers had to the focus. 

Historical negligence in the health-care sector:

  • The pandemic has underlined the historical neglect of the health-care sector in the country. 
  • The total public expenditures of Centre and States works out to a mere 1.3% of GDP. In 2017-18, in per capita terms, the public expenditure on medical and public health varied from an abysmal ₹690 in Bihar and ₹814 in Uttar Pradesh to the highest of ₹2,092 in Kerala. 
  • The centrally sponsored scheme, the National Health Mission, is inadequately funded, micromanaged with grants given under more than 2,000 heads and poorly targeted. 
  • The focus of “Ayushman Bharat” has been to advocate insurance rather than building wellness centres.

Facilitate economic revival: 

  • Besides protecting lives and livelihoods, States will have to initiate and facilitate economic revival, and that too would require substantial additional spending. 
  • Hand holding small and medium enterprises which have completely ceased production, providing relief to farmers who have lost their perishable crops and preparing them for sowing in the kharif season are other tasks that require spending. 
  • In fact, States have been proactive. Kerala came out with a comprehensive package allocating ₹20,000 crore to fight the pandemic. 
  • Almost all States have taken measures to provide food to the needy besides ramping up health-care requirements.

Extensive revenue losses:

  • While the requirement of States for immediate expenditures is large, they are severely crippled in their resources. 
  • In the lockdown period, there has virtually been no economic activity and they have not been able to generate any revenue from State excise duty, stamp duties and registration fees, motor vehicles tax or sales tax on high speed diesel and motor spirit. 
  • The revenue from Goods and Services Tax is stagnant and compensation on time for the loss of revenue has not been forthcoming. 
  • In Karnataka, it is reported that as against the estimated ₹12,000 crore every month, the State may not be able to generate even ₹300 crore in April. 

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Tax devolution:

  • The position regarding tax devolution from the Centre is even more precarious. 
  • To begin with, the tax devolution in the Union Budget estimate is lower than the Commission’s estimate by ₹70,995 crore. 
  • The Budget estimate for 2020-21 itself is a huge overestimate when seen against the 11-month actual collections in 2019-20. The required growth to achieve the Budget estimate is 33.3% over the annualised actual collection. 
  • The projections are that the growth of nominal GDP in 2020-21 will be just about 4% and if the tax revenue increases by the same rate, devolution to the States would be lower by ₹2.2-lakh crore than the Finance Commission’s estimate. 
  • This results in a loss of ₹9,173 crore for Tamil Nadu, ₹9,000 crore for Andhra Pradesh, ₹8,000 crore for Karnataka, ₹4,671 crore for Telangana, and ₹4,255 crore for Kerala. 
  • There is a strong case for the States to go back to the Finance Commission with a request to make and give a supplementary report.

Way forward: 

  • The war on COVID-19 can be effectively won only when the States are armed with enough resources to meet the crisis. But they are faced with stagnant revenues while their expenditure commitments are huge. 
  • There is only limited scope for expenditure switching and reprioritisation now. Their borrowing space too is limited by the fiscal responsibility and budget management limit of 3% of Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). 
  • Faced with an acute fund crunch, Kerala floated 15-year bonds but was faced with a huge upsurge in the yield to 8.96%. 
  • The announcement by the Reserve Bank of India on the increase in the limit of ways and means advances by 60% of the levels prescribed in March 31 could help States to plan their borrowing better; but that is too little to provide much relief.

Conclusion:

  • Therefore, it is important for the Central government to provide additional borrowing space by 2% of GSDP from the prevailing 3% of GSDP. 
  • This is the time to fiscally empower States to wage the COVID-19 war and trust them to spend on protecting lives, livelihoods and initiate an economic recovery.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 April 2020 (Putting the SAGAR vision to the test (The Hindu))



Putting the SAGAR vision to the test (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: Indian Ocean Commission
Mains level: How India can contribute to the Indian Ocean Commission

Context:

  • In March 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited three small but significant Indian Ocean island states — Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. 
  • During this tour, he unveiled India’s strategic vision for the Indian Ocean: Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). 

About SAGAR: 

  • SAGAR seeks to differentiate India’s leadership from the modus operandi of other regionally active major powers and to reassure littoral states as India’s maritime influence grows. 
  • As External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar signalled at the fourth Indian Ocean Conference in September last year, India’s SAGAR vision is intended to be “consultative, democratic and equitable”. 
  • India’s recent admission as observer to the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) will put this vision to the test.

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IOC, a trusted regional actor

  • Following a request from New Delhi, the IOC granted observer status to India on March 6 at the Commission’s 34th Council of Ministers. 
  • Founded in 1982, the IOC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five small-island states in the Western Indian Ocean: the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (a French department), and Seychelles. 
  • Though Réunion brings a major power, France, into this small-state equation, decisions in the IOC are consensus-based, and while France’s foreign policy interests are represented, the specifics of Réunion’s regional decision-making emerge from its local governance structures. 
  • Over the years, the IOC has emerged as an active and trusted regional actor, working in and for the Western Indian Ocean and implementing a range of projects.

Leadership role played by IOC:

  • More recently, the IOC has demonstrated leadership in the maritime security domain. Since maritime security is a prominent feature of India’s relations with Indian Ocean littoral states, India’s interest in the IOC should be understood in this context. 
  • However, India has preferred to engage bilaterally with smaller states in the region. What India will not find in the IOC is a cluster of small states seeking a ‘big brother’ partnership. 
  • The IOC has its own regional agenda, and has made impressive headway in the design and implementation of a regional maritime security architecture in the Western Indian Ocean.

MASE Programme:

  • In 2012, the IOC was one of the four regional organisations to launch the MASE Programme — the European Union-funded programme to promote Maritime Security in Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean. 
  • Under MASE, the IOC has established a mechanism for surveillance and control of the Western Indian Ocean with two regional centres. 
  • The Regional Maritime Information Fusion Center (RMIFC), based in Madagascar, is designed to deepen maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime activities and promoting information sharing and exchange. 
  • The Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC), based in Seychelles, will eventually facilitate joint or jointly coordinated interventions at sea based on information gathered through the RMIFC. 
  • These centres are a response to the limitations that the states in the region face in policing and patrolling their often enormous Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). 
  • They deliver an urgently needed deterrent against unabating maritime crime at sea, only partly addressed by the high-level counter-piracy presence of naval forces from the EU, the Combined Maritime Forces, and Independent Forces. 
  • Seven states in the region have signed agreements to participate in this multilateral maritime security architecture, and once ratified, will provide its legal foundation. Many major powers have expressed interest in accessing the RMIFC.

Learn from IOC:

  • The IOC’s achievements offer an opportunity for India to learn, and also to support. 
  • The IOC style of ‘bottom-up regionalism’ has produced a sub-regional view and definition of maritime security problems and local ownership of pathways towards workable solutions. 
  • A 2019 policy brief published by the IOC (with inputs from this author), ‘Strengthening Maritime Security in the Western Indian Ocean’, sets out how the counter-piracy response off the coast of Somalia delivered unprecedented regional and international cooperation in the domain of maritime security. 
  • However, it resulted in multiple players, the duplication of actions, and regional dependence on international navies. 
  • The IOC has been seeking more sustainable ways of addressing maritime security threats in the region, with the RMIFC and RCOC as part of this response. 
  • Its regional maritime security architecture is viewed locally as the most effective and sustainable framework to improve maritime control and surveillance and allow littoral States to shape their own destiny. 
  • Moreover, with proper regional coordination, local successes at curbing maritime threats will have broader security dividends for the Indian Ocean space.

How can India contribute?

  • The IOC’s maritime security activities have a strong foundation, but they require support and buy-in from additional regional actors. 
  • India has already signalled a strong interest in the work of the IOC through its request to be admitted as an observer. 
  • The view from Ebène, where the IOC is headquartered, and from where its maritime security strategy is directed, is that major powers are warmly invited to support its initiatives. 
  • Nearly all littoral states in the Western Indian Ocean need assistance in developing their maritime domain awareness and in building capacity to patrol their EEZs. 
  • All would benefit from national information fusion centres that can link to those of the wider region. 
  • With its observer status, India will be called upon to extend its expertise to the region, put its satellite imagery to the service of the RMIFC, and establish links with its own Information Fusion Centre.

Way forward: 

  • As a major stakeholder in the Indian Ocean with maritime security high on the agenda, India will continue to pursue its interests and tackle maritime security challenges at the macro level in the region. 
  • However, as an observer of the IOC, a specific, parallel opportunity to embrace bottom-up regionalism presents itself. 
  • There are those in the Western Indian Ocean who are closely watching how India’s “consultative, democratic and equitable” leadership will take shape.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 April 2020 (The fragile ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib war(The Hindu))



The fragile ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib war(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level: Syria’s Idlib war
Mains level: Effect of policies and politics of developed anddeveloping countries

Context:

  • United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for warring parties the world over to cease fire in order to support the bigger battle against COVID-19. 
  • One such conflict is in Syria’s Idlib province involving President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces with support from Russia, and where Turkey’s armed intervention and backing of anti-Assad militants, including Islamist terrorists, had been halted even before Mr. Guterres’s appeal by a fragile agreement on March 5 between Russia and Turkey which no observer believes can endure long. 
  • In this imbroglio, described by many as the world’s greatest humanitarian tragedy, it is necessary to disentangle the priorities of the several contestants.

Background: 

  • To first summarise the ground situation, Idlib bordering Turkey is the last stronghold of jihadists funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a terrorist unit designated by the United Nations, and assorted Syrian anti-government elements evacuated from areas liberated by Damascus. 
  • The region was spared a Syrian offensive in 2018 on Turkey’s plea that it could not suffer any further influx of refugees besides hosting some three-and-a-half million already. 
  • There are about 200,000 displaced persons on the Syria-Turkey border and 85,000 in refugee camps, in addition to nearly 400,000 people displaced by the Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurds.

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Demilitarised zone:

  • A Turkey-Russia agreement of 2018 established a demilitarised zone (DMZ) with terrorists, including the HTS, leaving this zone, while so-called moderate rebels had to withdraw heavy weaponry. 
  • A chain of Turkish observation posts was established, and militants rejecting the plan were to be legitimately targeted by Mr. Assad’s military. But Syria and Turkey accused each other of violations, with Russia increasingly agitated due to drone attacks against its airbase in Latakia from Idlib-based jihadists. 
  • With the rebels making territorial gains, Syria resumed its offensive in April 2019, retaking territory and targeting Saraqib that strides the M5 highway connecting Aleppo with Damascus.

Clashes between Turkey and Syria:

  • The Syrian advances brought Turkey and Syria into direct clashes, with accusations by Damascus and Moscow that the Turks were supplying jihadists with weapons and shielding them by intermingling Turkish forces among them. 
  • The Turks denied this, objecting to their observation posts being encircled or bypassed by the Syrian army. 
  • Over 5,000 Turkish forces, with artillery and combat drones, have intervened and suffered 50 or more casualties, whereas Mr. Assad’s losses in men and material have been much higher, despite being assisted by Russia controlling the airspace and denying the Turks the use of aircraft other than drones. 
  • Moscow has also used direct air power in support of Syria, though this is denied. 
  • The conflict seriously strained Turkey’s relations with Russia to their lowest level since the 2015 crisis and the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey.

Tangled up in politics :

  • The latest Russo-Turkish agreement reaffirms their ‘dedication to combat and eliminate all terrorist groups in Syria’. 
  • Given the fact that the majority of the anti-Assad forces are HTS cadres that have been weaponised by Ankara, implementation appears highly improbable. 
  • The agreement provides for safe passage along the M4 and M5 highways linking Aleppo with Latakia and Damascus. 
  • The Syrian Army had gained control of M5 and was about to take M4 when the Moscow agreement was concluded. Both highways are important for Syria for commercial and strategic reasons. 
  • The new DMZ will bestride the M4 highway with a 12-kilometre strip jointly patrolled by Turkey and Russia.

Implications from Moscow agreement:

  • The Moscow agreement is destined to fail because the priorities of the countries concerned cannot be reconciled. Mr. Assad, recognised by the United Nations but not by the West, and openly supported by few of the nations that recognise him, now controls some 70% of his country and wishes to secure the remainder, but his forces remain dependent on Russia in the air and Iran and Hezbollah on the ground. 
  • He is in haste because his troops are exhausted by nine years of continuous fighting and he cannot count on Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah support much longer. 
  • Iran is in domestic turmoil apart from suffering U.S. sanctions and COVID-19, while the Hezbollah is deeply involved in Lebanon’s complex domestic politics. 

Role of Turkey:

  • Turkey under President Erdoğan, nominally a member of the western alliance against Russia, wishes to play a lead role in the Arab world, and has deliberately extended its reach in Syria and Libya to have a say in the futures of those nations. 
  • Upset with NATO for lack of support both during the failed coup of 2016 and his campaign against Syrian Kurds whom he regards as anti-Turkish terrorists, Mr. Erdoğan has leveraged the refugee problem to extract €4.5 billion from the European Union and uses the refugees continuously as a bargaining counter. He also needs manageable ties with both Russia and the U.S. to play each off against the other. 
  • The confrontation with Moscow four years ago led to severe economic difficulties for Turkey after Russian curbs on trade and tourism, which Mr. Erdoğan would not wish to have repeated. 
  • Both countries also have a vested interest in the TurkStream pipeline conveying Russian gas to southern Europe. 
  • Criticism of Mr. Erdoğan has lately emerged domestically but his position is solid provided he retains his army’s support by avoiding more casualties in Idlib. 

Russia’s call:

  • Russia is now the country of first resort in Syria and its influence in the entire West Asian region has expanded remarkably in recent years. 
  • In principle it backs Mr. Assad exercising sway over the whole of Syria and has saved him from being toppled, but it now wishes to bring the Syrian conflict to an end with a negotiated settlement, avoid losses and more expenditure, while consolidating its naval and air bases in that country.

Gaining by US and Europe: 

  • The Americans are content to be bystanders in the belief that they will be the gainers whatever the Idlib outcome. 
  • The Europeans have neither the will nor the means to affect developments, and the United Nations is continuing the thus-far futile enterprise of persuading the Syrian multi-party talks in Geneva to arrive at a new constitution to be followed by free elections.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 22 April 2020 (Futures shock: On oil price fall below $0(The Hindu))



Futures shock: On oil price fall below $0(The Hindu)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level: West Texas Intermediate
Mains level: Economic impact due to decline the crude oil prices in US 

Context:

  • Five decades after the oil shock of 1973, when an Arab embargo on the supply of oil to some western powers including the United States sent the price of crude skyrocketing fourfold to $12 a barrel.
  • The global economy faces a fresh shock from a free-fall in oil prices. 
  • On Monday, May futures for the West Texas Intermediate (WTI) U.S. crude plunged below zero to touch a historic low of -$40.32 a barrel. 

Negative price: 

  • A negative price implies that a seller would have to pay the buyer to hold the oil to be supplied. 
  • While the unprecedented plunge in the particular futures contract could be partly explained away as a technical anomaly given that the May contract was set to expire on Tuesday, beyond which buyers would need to be ready to take physical delivery, the reality is that oil prices are desperately in search of a bottom. 
  • A perfect storm of a supply glut exacerbated in March by a price war that saw key producers Saudi Arabia and Russia ramp up output even as demand continued to contract on account of the COVID-19 outbreak sent prices into a steeper slide. 
  • Brent crude futures have tumbled more than 67% in 2020 to about $21 a barrel as of Tuesday afternoon in London trading, while the WTI futures have plunged about 110% to -$5.78. 

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About West Texas Intermediate:

  • West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil is a specific grade of crude oil and one of the main three benchmarks in oil pricing, along with Brent and Dubai Crude. 
  • WTI is known as a light sweet oil because it contains 0.24% sulfur, making it "sweet," and has a low density, making it "light." 
  • It is the underlying commodity of the New York Mercantile Exchange's (NYMEX) oil futures contract and is considered a high-quality oil that is easily refined.

Curtail output: 

  • With storage for crude — on land or offshore in supertankers — nearing capacity or becoming prohibitively expensive, oil producers are going to have little option but to curtail output. 
  • Saudi Arabia is reported to be considering output cuts even before a 9.7 million barrels per day deal it had struck with Russia to cut production takes effect from May. 
  • Still, merely closing the tap a notch or two is not going to redress the oversupply in the market at a time when the ‘Great Lockdown’ has destroyed demand on an unprecedented scale. 

Strategic reserve: 

  • India has prudently been using the sharp fall in both crude prices and domestic demand to accelerate the build-up of its strategic reserve. 
  • While the sliding oil prices would help significantly pare India’s energy import bill, a protracted demand drought would end up hurting the government’s tax revenues severely, especially at a time when it badly needs every additional rupee it can garner. 
  • Also, rock-bottom oil prices risk damaging the economies of producer countries including those in West Asia, hurting inward remittances. 
  • After the lockdown, the Centre ought to consider using this opportunity to cut retail fuel prices sharply by foregoing some excise revenue for a while in order to tease back momentum into the wider economy.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 21 April 2020 (Non-essentials can wait: On e-commerce flip-flop (The Hindu))



Non-essentials can wait: On e-commerce flip-flop (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Governance 
Prelims level: e-commerce
Mains level: Reasons behind allowing the non-essentialsthrough e-commerce

Context:

  • The Centre’s last-minute reversal of its decision to allow e-commerce companies to resume deliveries of ‘non-essential items’, as part of an easing of the lockdown curbs.
  • On Sunday, the Home Ministry directed States to ensure that the movement of vehicles used by e-commerce operators for transporting non-essentials be ‘excluded’ from the list of additional activities that would be allowed from April 20 to mitigate public hardship. 

Arguments behind allowing the non-essentials:

  • The Ministry gave no reason for its U-turn.
  • It would appear wiser counsel prevailed after some Opposition parties and the retail trade had raised the issue of a lack of level-playing field for brick and mortar retailers. 
  • The online purchase of a product and its doorstep delivery by an e-commerce firm minimises human interaction to a negligible level unlike a purchase in a store, the fact that the lockdown is aimed at restricting movement to the barest minimum in order to break the chain of transmission necessitates limiting exemptions. 

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Key implications: 

  • It given the immense economic costs associated with the shutdown especially to individual livelihoods.
  • It would seem a reasonable argument that as many sectors and jobs that can be allowed to reopen with stringent safeguards mandated ought to be permitted to do so in a phased manner.
  • Among the sectors that can resume are agricultural and horticultural activities, banking, cargo transportation, construction, and manufacturing of specified goods including packaging material.

Problem for self-employed tradesmen: 

  • While self-employed tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters have been allowed to resume work, they would be unable to ply their trades if their customers are unable to furnish the relevant material at the work site because the shops and e-commerce firms selling these ‘non-essential’ goods are yet to resume operations. 
  • Lost here though is the very definition of what ought to be deemed essential. 
  • Is a packet of ‘essential’ cheese slices more vital than a ‘non-essential’ laptop for a person working from home or attending online classes? 

Conclusion: 

  • Also, as the lockdown extends to over a month, what might have been non-essential initially might turn essential later. 
  • Still, protecting lives must ultimately be prioritised over allowing commercial activity even when the line between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ purchases remains a blur.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 21 April 2020 (Preparing for a new political field in Jammu and Kashmir (The Hindu))



Preparing for a new political field in Jammu and Kashmir (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:Polity 
Prelims level:TRIVIA- Gupkar Declaration
Mains level: Role of state political parties in a democracy 

Context:

  • With National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah being released after over seven months of detention, there is an air of inevitabilityto the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, being released as well.
  • There were expectations that Mr. Omar Abdullah and Ms. Mufti would be released in tandem, but nearly a month after Mr. Omar Abdullah’s release, it is strange that her detention should continue. 
  • Ms. Mufti has merely been moved out of a sub-jail into her official residence, where she remains in detention.

New contours:

  • Notably, since they’ve been set free, neither of the Abdullahs has rocked Delhi’s political boat leading to speculation whether there had been some understanding reached prior to their release or whether they are keeping their powder dry following the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019.
  • During that meeting, politicians from across the spectrum, minus those from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), pledged to unite to safeguard the special status and autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps there is fear that Ms. Mufti could queer the pitch when she is unencumberedof her strictures and inconveniently starts harking back to August 5, 2019; after all, she has support among the Jamaat-e-Islami in south Kashmir.

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TRIVIA- Gupkar Declaration:

  • It is for the first time in the history of Kashmir that all main pro-India political parties had a premonition that India might commit aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. 
  • They decided to meet at the Gupkar Residence of Dr. farooq Abdullah, President Jammu Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) on 4 August 2019 to “deliberate upon the prevailing political situation, triggered by massive deployment of security forces, advisories issued, abandonment of Amarnath Yatra midway and forced removal of tourists from the Valley.” 
  • The meeting was attended by 18 leaders from 7 political parties, namely NC, PDP, JKPC, Congress, CPIM, PUF and ANC. The two members of Parliament elected from NC also attended the meeting. After deliberations the parties adopted a “Gupkar Declaration”, which carried the following three demands:
  • “That all the parties would be united in their resolve to protect and defend identity, autonomy and special status of the JK State against all attacks and onslaughts whatsoever
  • The modification, abrogation of articles 35A, 370, trifurcation of the State or unconstitutional delimitation would be an aggression against the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
  • That the parties participating in the meeting resolved to seek audience with the President and Prime Minister of India and the leaders of other political parties to apprise them of the current situation and make an appeal to them to safeguard the legitimate interests of the people of State with regard to constitutional guarantees given to the State under the constitution of our country.

Undesirable domino effect:

  • Competitive jostlingfor political space could have an undesirable domino effectas New Delhi struggles to create a new political playing field, the contours of which are becoming clearer now. 
  • For one, it would make the going much tougher for New Delhi’s favourite, Apni Party, led by Altaf Bukhari and comprising a motleygroup of politicians who have defected, resigned or were fired from different political parties.
  • Left alone in the political field, the Apni Party will gain disdainand derision rather than political heft. This must have been a big factor in the rethink on continuing to keep the Abdullahs in detention. The question remains: what will be New Delhi’s road map for Jammu and Kashmir?

A cauldron of resentments:

  • Eight months of sustained lockdown has indubitablyleft many sections of Kashmiri society crushed economically and otherwise. There is perhaps a cauldron of resentments there, more susceptible than ever before. 
  • Before the novel coronavirus came along, Kashmir’s apple orchards did some business. But all other avenues of income, such as the handicrafts industry, small enterprises, the papier-mâché industry, the carpet industry and tourism, could not have thrived.
  • There was a strangleholdon social media. Broadband as well as mobile Internet services in the region were banned for months. 
  • Broadband and 2G Internet were restored in January, but they severely constrainall sorts of community, communication and business activities that normal societies thrive on.

Increased armed activity:

  • It’s spring in Kashmir, and the security forces confront a situation of increased armed activity. After claiming responsibility for the Kabul Gurdwara attack on March 25 that killed over 25 people, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan Province said that the attack was “revenge for Kashmir.”
  • This mutual reinforcementcould turn into a wellspring for the radicalisedKashmiri as well as for Pakistan which is set to get a better gripon Kabul via the Taliban. 
  • India temporarily closed two consulates in Afghanistan (Herat and Jalalabad) in the first week of April anticipating growing security threats, among other things. At least two of the five militants who killed para commandos in early April in Kupwara, close to the Line of Control, were local youth from south Kashmir.

Change in dynamic:

  • The COVID-19 crisis has certainly changed the dynamic of the discourse somewhat. It has given time for the government to prepare the playing field better. Delimitation will be the key. 
  • There will be more electoral loading in Jammu, which will take away some of the emphasis from the constituencies in Kashmir, which have espoused separatist sentiments.
  • Yet, delimitationbased on the infirmities of the 2011 Census would make less sense than one based on 2021, which has been deferred indefinitely. Elections could happen once the seats have increased from 83 to 90, which gives plenty of time to get the panchayat elections right. 
  • The last panchayat elections were a disaster because the mainstream political parties boycotted it. Nearly 12,000 posts were left vacant. This time the government will be keen to ensure more healthy participation.

Way ahead:

  • The rough road ahead looks something like this: if the COVID-19 crisis abates, the Amarnath Yatra will be held from mid-June to end-July, and if the security situation permits, the panchayat elections will be held. Later, the Census will be conducted and delimitation will occur. 
  • Following all this, the Assembly elections will take place. All this could take more than a year and a half. Somewhere in the middle of all this danglesthe carrot of promised statehood.
  • Though individual members are popular enough to stand on their own feet in their constituencies, the Apni Party cannot provide an overarchingpolitical framework for Jammu and Kashmir. J
  • ammu BJP and Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference chairman Sajjad Lone might add some numbers. The rest the BJP may manage, as it did in Goa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Conclusion:

  • It is unclear if the National Conference and the PDP, and others of the Gupkar grouping, if they contest, can come together to deny New Delhi political space. 
  • But right now the Kashmiri is a mere bystanderas the framework of a new political order is sought to be worked and put in place by New Delhi.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 21 April 2020 (Beijing’s response to Covid underlines that the world needs more democracy, not less (The Hindu))



Beijing’s response to Covid underlines that the world needs more democracy, not less (The Hindu)



Mains Paper 2:International  
Prelims level:One party system vs Democratic system 
Mains level: Effect of policies and politics of developed anddeveloping countries on India's interests

Context:

  • There is a desperate effort on the part of China to erase its culpability in unleashing COVID-19 across the world through the lack of transparency inherent in its one-party authoritarian system. 
  • It has sought to overcome the damaging global public opinion which it has suffered by a subsequent sustained propaganda campaign. 

Two aspects of Chinese propaganda:

  • Highlighting the success China claims to have achieved in arresting the pandemic within the country through drastic measures on a massive scale, thereby demonstrating the superiority of its authoritarian system as contrasted with the delayed and often less-than-effective measures taken in democratic European countries and the US in particular. 
  • The other seeks blanket publicity of its provision of much-needed medical equipment and medical teams to assist affected countries. 
  • The main target is Europe, though assistance to other countries is also given prominence. 
  • Chinese diplomats are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to create an image of a benign China providing public goods to a grateful community of beleaguered nations.

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Here is what China would like us to believe: 

  • The COVID-19 virus did erupt in Wuhan, but it may not have originated in China. 
  • There may have been a delay in acknowledging the seriousness of the crisis, but this was due to missteps by the local leadership in Wuhan city and Hubei province.
  • Once the gravity of the situation was recognised, Chinese leaders promptly informed the WHO and shared the DNA sequence of the virus with it and other countries. 
  • The unprecedented measures adopted by Chinese authorities, which also imposed great suffering on the Chinese people, bought valuable time for the rest of the world to get prepared to deal with the pandemic.
  • Having achieved notable success in arresting the spread of the virus, valuable assistance is now being provided to affected countries in the spirit of solidarity. 
  • China’s economy is beginning to recover and this will contribute to the recovery of the global economy.

Has China demonstrated the superiority of China’s one-party system as compared to democracies? 

  • There is no escaping the fact that COVID-19 may not have become a pandemic if China were a democracy with a free flow of information through an independent media and accountable political leadership. 
  • This is like original sin, which cannot be whitewashed. 
  • There are democracies which have done as well if not better than China without resorting to its sledgehammer tactics. 
  • Notably, there is Taiwan, which is constantly bullied by China. 
  • There is South Korea, which has even held parliamentary elections after having brought the pandemic under control. 
  • Even in India, the government is providing daily updates on the spread of the virus. The media is able to report on the shortcomings in government policies, which are then addressed, though not always efficiently. 
  • The bottom line is that as a result of being a democracy, we have a better chance of knowing the true dimensions of the crisis, of being able to obtain constant feedback on people’s reactions and access the best advice from multiple sources.
  • Rather than express envy of Chinese authoritarianism, Indians should be thankful that we are a democracy. We need more democracy, not less, to overcome the COVID-19 challenge.

What about the Chinese economy? 

  • There is no doubt that economic activity in China is beginning to revive after a steep drop of 6.8 per cent (year on year) in GDP during the first quarter of 2020. 
  • Chinese economy is now functioning at about 80 per cent of the level last year, which is impressive. China’s economy is not as export-dependent as it has been in the past. 
  • Exports were 19.5 per cent of GDP in 2018 against 32.6 per cent in 2008. But the external economic environment is critical for China’s globalised economy. 
  • It is a significant node in the most important regional and global supply chains. This will be impacted by countries re-shoring production or opting for shorter and closer-to-home supply chains, having suffered from disruptions during the pandemic. 
  • Japan will spend $2.2 billion to assist Japanese companies to shift units from China back to Japan or relocate to South East Asia. 
  • In 2012, when China-Japan tensions were at a peak, there was a similar move and India was seen as an alternative. But that opportunity was lost. Perhaps India has a second chance.

Conclusion: 

  • China will suffer from accelerated “decoupling” from the US economy with COVID-19 sharpening the already fraught bilateral relations. 
  • China was already decoupled from the US by denying entry to US tech giants, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, even while its own tech multinationals like Huawei and Alibaba have built markets in the West. This cannot be sustained. 
  • The winners in the more digital world which will emerge post-COVID-19 will be the American tech giants, even though the US is politically dysfunctional. Democracies sometimes win even if their politics is frustrating.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 21 April 2020 (Tightened FDI rules (Financial Express))



Tightened FDI rules (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 3:Economy 
Prelims level:People’s Bank of China
Mains level: Challenges for Indian economy from Chinese investment route

Context:

  • People’s Bank of China (PBC) buying a 1% stake in HDFC Bank, it is just as well that the government announced a policy “for curbing opportunistic takeovers/acquisitions of Indian companies due to the current COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Leveraging China or not: 

  • A 1% stake in HDFC Bank via the FPI route wouldn’t give PBC any leverage, but FPI rules allow for this to rise to 10%. 
  • Combined with the possibility of other Chinese entities buying, this could give the Chinese government some serious leverage. 
  • Indeed, with even more Indian assets likely to be auctioned off after the pandemic, the Centre would be wary of Chinese entities—especially given their government/military link—picking up too many assets for a song. 
  • A recent Brookings India report notes how Chinese firms are investing in all manner of areas from mobile phones and construction equipment to real estate and automobiles, and increasingly, in startups. Over 800 Chinese firms operate in India right now.

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Chinese investment route in India:

  • It is difficult to get a fix on Chinese investment in India, since a lot could be coming via Singapore, or through funds where a certain beneficial interest could be Chinese; Sebi is supposed to be probing this. 
  • India’s official data show that just 1.5-2% of FDI has come in from China and Hong Kong—$800 mn of the total $45 bn of fresh equity flows in FY19, and $6.5 bn of the $456 bn that has come in since April 2000. 
  • A recent paper by Gateway House estimates China has invested $4 bn in Indian tech startups, resulting in18 of India’s top 30 unicorns having Chinese funding. 
  • In addition, Chinese smartphone manufacturers already have a two-thirds share of India’s mobile phone market. 
  • In 2018, Gateway House says, around half of the total app downloads on—iOS and Google—in India were apps with Chinese investments, such as SHAREit, TikTok, and UC Browser.
  • The Brookings paper, quoting the Chinese commerce ministry, puts the number at $6.4 bn in 2014-2017 (this includes Fosun’s $1.1 bn to buy Gland Pharma), and says this is an underestimate. 
  • The big investments that come to mind are Alibaba’s $860 mn in Paytm, and $500 mn in Snapdeal, along with SoftBank and Foxconn; Tencent’s $400 mn in Ola, $700 mn in Flipkart, $175 mn in Hike Messenger, and $145 mn in Practo.
  • Chinese apps ask for 45% more permissions—access to contacts, cameras, microphones, etc—than those requested by the top 50 global apps, this is hardly relevant since none of these firms are based out of India. 
  • The real issue is whether Chinese investors are insisting the firms share the data gathered with them; perhaps, that is something the authorities need to examine.

Steps need to be taken: 

  • If India is to be more vigilant with Chinese investors, it must carve out no-go areas; without such rules, it will be impossible to ever clear Chinese investments in the startup world, which requires quick decisions on funding. 
  • Future Chinese investment, for instance, can be kept out of the fintech space because it interacts with India’s banking system, out of biotech, defence (including drones), telecom (networks, not equipment), and such select areas, but may be allowed in the taxi business, in retail, food delivery, entertainment, etc.
  • Since China is one of the few countries that have the money to invest right now, if India’s startups aren’t to be starved of funds.
  • The government will have to ensure Indian investors get a level playing field versus global ones in terms of tax treatment, and other such facilities.
  • Indeed, till the operating environment in India gets less hostile, more startups will be incorporated in countries like Singapore; then, India can’t even hope to keep a check on Chinese investing in these firms.
  • At a macro level, if India wants to keep Chinese investment at non-threatening levels, it needs sweeping reforms. 
  • Apart from the obvious reforms to make India more competitive, and fixing the government’s anti-industry bias, policymaking has to become a lot more coherent. 
  • For instance, hope to attract Indian fintech players while, at the same time, abolishing MDR commissions these companies live off. 
  • If price controls continue to hobble domestic pharmaceutical firms, they will have nowhere to turn to but to low-cost Chinese API, and if you keep squeezing telecom players, or don’t allow electricity boards and power producers to get paid adequately, they, too, will turn to low-cost Chinese suppliers. 

Conclusion:

  • The only way to keep Chinese firms from developing a chokehold here is to allow local firms, as well as those from the US, Europe, and Japan to do well; India’s current policies, it so happens, are tailor-made for mainly Chinese firms to do well.

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THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 21 April 2020 (Putting world together again (Financial Express))



Putting world together again (Financial Express)



Mains Paper 2:International 
Prelims level:Pandemic conference
Mains level: Highlights the conditions of post-pandemic strategic environment

Context:

  • The current focus in the fight against the COVID-19pandemic rightly remains on the medical management, economic fallout and impact on social harmony due to the mass displacement of migrant labour — all aspects of human security. 

Background: 

  • It’s the post-pandemic strategic environment that will dictate how soon the world recovers from this unexpected shock. 
  • It must start with the international geopolitical angle, with many assumptions. With some clarity in this domain, we can prepare ourselves better for the recovery phase of a near post-war situation. 
  • In his essay titled “The World after Coronavirus”, Israeli historian and celebrated author Yuval Noah Harari writes: “The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will inhabit a different world.” 
  • Shortly, even as the world continues to reel under the pandemic threat, there will be more endeavours on enhancing human security through better strategic management of the world. 
  • So, what will all that be about?
  • In 1921-22, the great powers came together for the Washington Naval Conference. It was a time when the world was also trying to deal with the global effects of a pandemic and an age of great power competition after the Great War. 
  • A moratorium on aspects such as enhanced naval deployment and restrictions on the size of battleships followed but nothing more. The strategic effects of the Treaty of Versailles escaped attention. 
  • A century later, the level of trust between great powers is even less. Individual nations or blocs of nations are bound to see opportunities for strategic gain. 

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Will a potential 2020 “pandemic conference” succeed in getting big powers to jettison their geopolitical ambitions?

  • The US-China rivalry will remain the core issue, with several other regions and nations jostling to clamber on to the one who can bring them short to medium-term advantages. 
  • Contingent upon how badly the US is finally affected, its current confused leadership is unlikely to inspire and its efforts at internal stabilisation may compromise US power. 
  • A major turn in political fortunes in the US and its bumbling on pandemic management could throw open opportunities for others to exploit. 
  • The US will perceive itself as far more insecure than it was even after 9/11.
  • There is likely to be a huge effort to slander China — accusing it of being the originator of the scourge — and isolate it economically and politically. 
  • The allegations on the use of biological warfare are the ones which will cause turbulence in relationships. 
  • Ironically, China is also in a unique position to help the world bounce back. Against the backdrop of these accusations regarding culpability, we need to be ready for changes in the norms of international cooperation and behaviour.
  • A cold war of sorts could well be on the cards for some time, hampering a full recovery.
  • It will be brutal in the cyber world — fake news on social media will prevent international cooperation in crucial fields such as scientific research, patents and perhaps even slow down the ability to prevent the next pandemic. 
  • China is reported to be having leadership issues, but a steadfastness of purpose has always been China’s strength. 
  • Its ambitions for 2035 and 2050, so succinctly expressed by the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, could well be advanced sensing a moment of opportunity.
  • US’s economic capability after the pandemic, the ability to find a consensus to put on hold defence spending for the sake of human security will be the key. 
  • But the trust deficit between nations will probably hamper this to a great extent. 
  • The key anchor of globalisation — the US-China trade relationship — will change even more. 
  • China cannot be replaced by the US as a major industrial producer (even for the US market). 
  • Other countries or blocs — ASEAN, Bangladesh and India — will all chip in but that will still not be enough. Nor can any country buy as much grain from the US as China does. 
  • So, an economic relationship will continue but will be politically fractured as both parties search for alternatives, which don’t exist on a scale that both of them need.

China:

  • China’s recovery is likely to be the fastest. Its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may now go uncontested by the US-led efforts to create alternatives. 
  • The Chinese ability to influence politics among smaller nations in Asia and Africa could bring it strategic advantages, but it is unlikely to be enough to replace America unless the recession-hit US remains defensively oriented.
  • Knowing the US propensity to bounce back, China’s efforts will have to remain energetic and that is where the potential for conflict is likely to rise.
  • It is not as if the US would abandon its interests for an era of only-inward economic healing. Its eye on the future will remain firmly in place.

Some traditional hot spots could yield temporary space:

  • Iran has been hit badly and with the US unrelenting on sanctions, its economy could collapse with frightening results as far the Middle East is concerned.
  • A big nation in instability mode with internal turbulence and leadership challenges could spread greater threats of an undefined kind. 
  • The US may abandon Afghanistan with less commitment towards keeping its economy sustainable — a sure recipe for internal instability, which could see the Islamic State emerge a major player. 
  • Everything in the Middle East points towards Russian advantage and domination.

Is this an opportunity for India? 

  • Economically hit but probably one of the few nations without a recession, India’s strong central leadership could be a big advantage. 
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi would need to use all his influence to cobble together international cooperation to pull the world from the abyss it could sink into. 
  • His credibility is already higher than most international leaders and could spell a leadership role for India not in conflict with China but in cooperation with it. 
  • It is India’s established multilateral foreign policy that could eventually come to the assistance of the world.

Conclusion:

  • The UN has lost credibility with the World Health Organisation taking the worst hit any UN agency has suffered in years. 
  • However, its future is contingent upon how it manages the geopolitical fallout of the pandemic. The sooner it can get the world leaders on board, the better.

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