Gist of The Hindu: February 2016

Gist of The Hindu: February 2016

Where the mind is without fear

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing Indian-origin professionals in Silicon Valley, argued that this is brain gain, as millions of successful Indians in the U.S. bring back knowledge to India. There is truth to this assertion. India should then cherish the dramatic increase in the number of Indian students in the U.S., from 31,743 in 1995 to more than 1,02,000. The discussion of brain gain versus brain drain misses something potentially far more important, however: the issue of a domestic brain trap. Brain trap is a result of the archaic educational, social, and economic systems that stifle most young minds from blossoming into creative thinkers and highly productive citizens. One could argue that the millions of successful Indians in the U.S. would not have achieved much success if they had remained in India. This includes me. Unlocking the enormous domestic brainpower will trump any brain gain.

There are many plausible reasons for brain trap. One important reason is the process by which an individual’s inquisitiveness is repeatedly snubbed from childhood. Often this is a result of strict adherence to social norms at home and is carried over to schools and workplaces. Case in point: In a gathering that I attended, a spiritual leader said, “Indian culture is the greatest in the world.” In response, a 6-year-old child innocently asked, “Why?” Obviously stumped by the question, the leader said, “Children in Indian culture respect elders and do not disagree or talk back.” The child nodded her head in acceptance.

Unfortunately, the damage begins there. Obedience is valued more than the child’s inquisitiveness. We assume disagreeing is disrespectful and obedience is a greater trait than inquisitiveness. Deeply held beliefs are blindly transferred to children. This obedience gets amplified in schools. Fear is embedded in the psyche of the student both at home and school and the ability to think beyond the norms is curtailed from childhood. Fear manifests itself in many forms and one is that of academic stress due to hyper-competition.

Teachers play an extraordinary role in shaping students. If India wants to unlock the brain trap, then it must invest massively in teachers and teacher training. That begins by acknowledging the importance of creativity, introducing teaching and testing methods that encourage inquisitiveness, and rewarding teaching innovations. In India, professors are expected and incentivised to get PhDs. But, it is unclear if there is any greater focus on creativity or academic research in most places. Professors who emphasise research and publish papers with students should be recognised and rewarded.

The business leaders and industry associations like NASSCOM lament the lack of soft skills or critical thinking among graduating students. Often critical thinking skills are equated with math or science-related fields, while placing very little emphasis on critical thinking skills rooted in economics or the liberal arts education. Both are essential.

Despite recommendations, there has been little meaningful progress. It is well understood that students develop leadership skills when they are exposed to societal and economic problems. There are numerous assumptions, biases, inconsistencies, incomplete information, and counter arguments that can cloud judgment. Therefore, to make informed decisions, students need to learn to make logical arguments, provide evidence and identify limitations, recognise different viewpoints, develop skills to disagree respectfully, and to communicate effectively. Unfortunately, engineering and science do not always promote this kind of critical thinking.

Mainstreaming a nuclear Pakistan

What should New Delhi’s response be to a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Pakistan that could eventually mainstream the latter into the global nuclear order? New Delhi’s initial reactions to media reports about a possible deal indicate that it would unambiguously resist any such move by the United States. In a recent Washington Post column, David Ignatius wrote that “the United States might support an eventual waiver for Pakistan by the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which the United States is a member… the issue is being discussed quietly in the run-up to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington on October 22".

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly responded to what Mr. Ignatius called a potential U.S.-Pak “diplomatic blockbuster” in the following words: “We’ve seen these reports and it is not for the first time this issue has surfaced. Whosoever is examining that particular dossier should be well-aware of Pakistan’s track record in the area of proliferation. When India got this particular deal it was on the basis of our own impeccable non-proliferation track record. That is the reason the U.S. gave us 123 Agreement in 2005 and that is why we got a NSG waiver in 2008. Pakistan’s track record is completely different, so we hope that will be taken into account in making any such decision”.

Pakistan-watchers in Washington do not think that the proposal for a nuclear deal for Pakistan would fructify anytime soon, and even if it does materialise, it will come with a number of conditionalities, many of them unacceptable to the Pakistan Army, the custodian of the country’s nuclear arsenal. Moreover, even if the negotiation process between the U.S. and Pakistan eventually leads to a civilian nuclear deal, there is absolutely no reason for New Delhi to lose sleep over it, unless, of course, New Delhi wants to get back at Islamabad for crying foul when the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was being negotiated over a decade ago.

Critics of the U.S.-Pakistan deal advance a number of arguments why Pakistan should not be offered a nuclear deal by the United States. One, they point out that Pakistan has a terrible track record of nuclear proliferation and that a nuclear deal would be seen as rewarding such irresponsible behaviour. Two, the argue that it would enable Pakistan to enhance its nuclear arsenal which, of course, is directed against India, making the latter more insecure. Third, they feel a U.S.-Pakistan nuclear deal will hyphenate India and Pakistan once again in the international discourse, something New Delhi viscerally detests.

First of all, Pakistan’s admission to the global nuclear order is good news for the international non-proliferation regime. An isolated nuclear Pakistan would not be in the interest of the international community or India. Critics of the deal would argue that given Pakistan’s well-known history of engaging in external nuclear proliferation, we should be wary of inviting it to be part of the global normative framework. To me, that is precisely the reason Pakistan should be mainstreamed rather than kept out. I am not sure having a terror-infested nuclear-armed state for a neighbour — operating outside the reach and supervision of the global nuclear institutions — is in India’s best interests.

Second, it is in India’s interest to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under international safeguards, if not control. It is indeed better for the international community to be in the know of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as far as possible, than having absolutely no clue about what it is doing with its nuclear material and technology. The only nuclear relationship that Pakistan has today is with China. How can such an exclusive and obscure nuclear partnership be better for India than having a Pakistan whose nuclear programme is under continuous international supervision?

The international community will place a number of demands on Pakistan, given the latter’s negligent nuclear history and the offensive nuclear posture today. For one, it would have to separate its civilian and military facilities, like India did, as part of a potential deal with the IAEA, leading to a less feverish production of fissile material by Pakistan, thereby producing fewer nuclear warheads. Second, it may be asked to accept restrictions on its weapons programme, materially and doctrinally — such as giving up the policy of early use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict with India. Third, Pakistan will have to give up its opposition to FMCT negotiations as a precondition for the deal.

New Delhi should therefore, offer conditional support to Pakistan’s inclusion in the global nuclear order. We must, however, ask the U.S. and other stakeholders to press Islamabad to stop stalling the FMCT negotiations, and agree to a nuclear ‘No-first-use’ agreement with India, which is already part of the Indian doctrine. Firm commitments should also be sought from Pakistan on clamping down on terrorism in the country in order to reduce the likelihood of nuclear terrorism in the region. Moreover, India should insist that Pakistan, as part of the deal, should be asked to negotiate nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) with India without linking them to conventional arms control.

Breaking the bonds of rural poverty

World Food Day, the world has a lot to celebrate. As a global community, we’ve made real progress in fighting global hunger and poverty in recent decades. A majority of the countries monitored by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation — 72 out of the 129 — have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment in their populations by 2015. Meanwhile, the share of people in developing regions who live in extreme poverty has come down significantly, too — from 43 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent this year. But progress has been uneven. Globally, some 800 million people continue to suffer from chronic hunger. Almost one billion remain trapped in extreme poverty. So despite major strides, hunger and poverty have stayed with us — even in times of plenty. Economic growth, especially in agriculture, has been essential to driving down rates of hunger and poverty, yes. But it is not enough, because all too often, it is not inclusive.

Most of the world’s poor and hungry belong to rural families who depend on agriculture for their daily meals and their very livelihoods. These family farmers and rural labourers, understandably, are focussed on survival in the here-and-now. They adopt low-risk, low-return approaches to income-generation, underinvest in the education and health of their children, and are often forced to adopt negative coping strategies such as selling off meagre assets, putting their children to work, or reducing food intake to cut expenses. They become trapped in survival mode. Poverty and hunger become intergenerational — and seemingly inescapable.

With most of the world’s poor and hungry still living in the countryside and still dependent on agriculture, twinning social protection with agricultural development programmes makes compelling sense. This is why FAO chose social protection and agriculture as the theme of World Food Day this year. But knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. To break the age-old bonds of rural poverty once and for all, the world needs to act with more urgency — and more decisively. Political commitment, adequate funding, partnerships, and complementary actions in health and education will be key elements in transforming this vision into reality. Policy and planning frameworks for rural development, poverty reduction, food security and nutrition need to promote the joint role of agriculture and social protection in fighting poverty and hunger, together with a broader set of interventions, notably in health and education.

An assertion of primacy

It is extraordinary that there should be near-unanimity in the country that the present system of judicial appointments that was put in place in 1993 is deeply unsatisfactory, and yet the most significant legislative effort to reform it should fail before the Supreme Court. It is no surprise that a five-judge Bench has struck down the Constitution (99th Amendment) Act, 2014, by which the government established a National Judicial Appointments Commission to select members of the higher judiciary. There were doubts whether the composition of the NJAC, especially the inclusion in it of the Union Law Minister and two “eminent persons” appointed by the government, would survive judicial scrutiny. For, the law also gave any two members a veto over all decisions, raising the question whether the judicial members could be overruled by the executive representatives. The Attorney General could not convince the court that the amendment, along with the NJAC Act, was aimed at restoring the system of checks and balances which, according to the government, was lost after the Supreme Court created the collegium scheme of appointments. The core question was whether the new institutional mechanism to appoint judges impinged on the independence of the judiciary, a basic feature of the Constitution. The court has ruled that it does. Justice J.S. Khehar, writing the main judgment, has held that the clauses provided in the amendment are inadequate to preserve the primacy of the judiciary. The inclusion of the Law Minister in the body impinged on both the independence of the judiciary and the doctrine of separation of powers.

Nobody on either side of the debate disagrees that the judiciary should be insulated from political interference. Yet, should the judiciary retain its primacy, or should the executive have a say in order that flawed choices do not erode the institution’s credibility? Justice Khehar has said the conduct of the political executive showed it tended to reward favourites in many fields. Preserving the primacy of the judiciary was a safe way to shield the institution from “the regime of the spoils system”. Justice J. Chelameswar, in his dissenting opinion, is candid in questioning the lack of transparency in the collegium system. Even while restoring this system, the majority has invited suggestions to improve it so that it is more responsive to the expectations of civil society. While to some it may appear that striking down a Constitution amendment passed unanimously in both Houses of Parliament and ratified by 20 State Assemblies amounts to negating the people’s will, it cannot be forgotten that the judiciary remains the sole authority to decide whether a law violates the basic structure of the Constitution. What the situation indicates is that India is still struggling to put together a transparent appointment system not vitiated by executive patronage or judicial nepotism.

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Courtesy: The Hindu