News & Events
In this section, we are presenting our readers/aspirants compilation of selected editorials of national daily viz. The Hindu, The live mint,The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Economic Times, PIB etc. This section caters the requirement of Civil Services Mains (GS + Essay) , PCS, HAS Mains (GS + Essay) & others essay writing competition.
1.Back to school: Use all safety protocols, but reconnect with the children whom online teaching left behind
Amidst uncertainty about the future course of the Covid pandemic, including whether a third wave is around the corner or whether India is entering some kind of endemicity, states from Assam to Karnataka are now taking the calculated risk of reopening schools. Learning losses since March 2020, which the SCHOOL survey finds “catastrophic”, are driving this decision. India’s pre-pandemic data on foundational knowledge of math, sciences and languages was worrying enough. Since then too many students have simply been left behind by online teaching.
Our society’s weak digital foundations, including the fact that only 12% government schools possess internet facilities, have worsened the situation. Estimates vary, but whether it is 8% of rural students logging into online classes (SCHOOL survey) or 18% of students at Standard 9 and above (ASER 2020 Wave 1), all of them present a bleak picture. There are also children who have thrived with remote learning and parents who would prefer to continue it, rather than risk a Covid infection. This is why the idea of parental consent is key for now, alongside making a choice available.
As India hasn’t even begun vaccinating children, waiting for that exercise to be completed isn’t practical. But almost 80% of all teaching and non-teaching staff have received at least one dose – fully vaccinating them must be a priority. Reopening of schools also means children, an estimated 115 million of whom are threatened by severe malnutrition because of the pandemic, can begin mid-day meals again. Indeed schools should open wherever there is low positivity. They should reduce risk of outbreaks with resolute masking, good ventilation, physical distancing and regular monitoring for symptoms. The key is constant alertness and to be more nimble than the virus. After 18 months of learning losses, this is essential work.
2. Jai which kisan? Protests by big farmers a complication in BJP’s UP strategy. Can making small farmers happy work?
Huge crowds at the Muzaffarnagar kisan mahapanchayat protesting GoI’s farm laws and the call to vote against BJP are not to be dismissed. The western UP belt with nearly 120 of the state’s 403 assembly seats enjoys profound political significance. BJP’s 2014 campaign for UP gained momentum in part after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Jats and Muslims, often sharing socio-political alliances earlier, were ranged on opposing sides. Western UP continued to provide rich pickings for BJP. In 2017 UP state polls, BJP’s non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav SC coalition sealed a winning 43.3% vote share in this region against the party’s statewide vote share of 39.7%.
BJP’s central government passed the largely correct farm laws without much consultation. GoI should have known its laudable ambition of creating a robust private market for agri produce would come up against big farmers, who prefer assured earnings from state agencies. Now, the future of these laws is in limbo. The Supreme Court has stayed their implementation. PILs on them are pending for further hearing. There’s no clear indication of GoI’s position after its offer to temporarily suspend the laws. And UP polls are due around February-March 2022.
So, GoI’s future action, if any, will have more impact on western UP the closer it comes to polls. Repealing the laws may placate farmer leaders and help BJP politically in some ways. But there’s a price to pay – the immense political capital invested in convincing small and marginal farmers of reforms’ benefits will be wasted. They haven’t joined protests, since they don’t enjoy the benefit of MSP and subsidies. Another pre-poll sop is to significantly increase PM-Kisan payouts. That will make numerically larger small farmers happy but not mollify big farmers. BJP’s strategists have their work cut out figuring out the cost-benefit equation here. Giving in to pressure groups is not a sweet experience, as BJP knows already from ever-demanding sugarcane farmers.
Perhaps, the party is betting on its formidable caste coalition to hold despite the Jat unrest and a prospective Jat-Muslim alliance. In the past, BJP has reverse-consolidated votes against dominant groups. Here, though, the unprecedented Covid pandemic and economic distress are potential factors. Western UP’s 25% Muslim population, going up to 40%-plus in some districts, also affords BJP the chance for yet another attempt at non-Muslim consolidation. The party still holds many cards. But farm protests show India’s fractious electoral politics can create difficulties for anyone.
3.From fighters to rulers: on Taliban
India must use its voice on the international stage to make Taliban respect freedoms, rights
After postponing the announcement twice, Taliban spokesmen have said that they expect to have a new government in Afghanistan this week. There has been some speculation over the delay, more than three weeks after Taliban gunmen walked into Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani fled. While some have said the Taliban were waiting to take control of the last hold-out province of Panjshir, and others even suggested there was some symbolism attached to timing it with the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the real reason appears to be differences within various Taliban factions over the government’s structure and composition. In particular, the differences between the Taliban leadership in Helmand, Kandahar, and the political office in Doha, seen as the more “moderate” face, as well as between the “original” Afghan Taliban leadership and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a designated terror entity. The jockeying is reportedly over cabinet portfolios, the appointment of governors in the 34 provinces, control of the cities and the possibility of including non-Taliban Afghan leaders. Reports of the differences have escalated and the appearance in Kabul of the Pakistan ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, is believed to have been an attempt to smooth over the cracks in government formation. At the base of the differences is the tussle between the Taliban’s push to consolidate their takeover of Afghanistan and implement an Islamist agenda, and the desire to receive recognition from the international community and its continued financial support.
4.The symbolism of Muzaffarnagar
The panchayat signals social mobilisation, an attempt to weave together an alliance of farmers and organised sector workers and unions, opposed to moves such as the monetisation of public assets and privatisation. Will it translate into political strength?
On Sunday, farm unions, demanding a repeal of three farm laws, organised a kisan mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar in west Uttar Pradesh (UP). The choice of location had an obvious political subtext. West UP is a stronghold of Jats — who have been at the forefront of the protests along with predominantly Sikh farmers from Punjab. West UP is also the home of Rakesh Tikait, who after a range of short-term political dalliances with a range of political formations, has found strength by returning to issues concerning agriculture that catapulted his father, Mahendra Singh Tikait, to prominence. The fact that Muzaffarnagar was the site of communal violence in 2013, which benefited the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made it a symbolic site for an agitation against the BJP. But above all, it sent a clear signal that what began as a social movement, rooted in economic grievances, had now acquired a salient political character — with the stated aim of defeating the BJP in the UP assembly elections of 2022.
There is an immediate electoral calculus. For both farm unions, and the wider non-BJP Opposition, the movement represents an opportunity to break the BJP’s social alliance in the state. If Jats break away in west UP, and Jats and Muslims vote for the same formation, it will have a tangible impact in at least 24 assembly seats. But it is premature to conclude that this will happen. The BJP’s ability to win over crucial vote segments in the run-up to the elections, particularly in the last few weeks before polling, is impressive. In both 2017 and 2019, Jats expressed disenchantment with the BJP, but eventually, a large segment voted for the party. Any kind of Jat consolidation against the BJP could well lead to a non-Jat consolidation in favour of the BJP. The communal divide has not gone away. And the movement still does not have a political vehicle — Mr Tikait has a track record of electoral setbacks, Jats have been sceptical of the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Lok Dal remains weak.
5.The revolutionary potential of account aggregators
The benefits are clear — easy access to credit to borrowers currently out of the credit mainstream (including many millennials); higher efficiency (think faster loans); and fewer defaults, for lenders
It’s been said by many before but it merits repetition because it is true. What UPI did for payments in India, account aggregators (AAs) will do for credit. This radical mechanism was launched quietly last week, and it has not received as much attention as it deserves, partly because of a lack of comprehension of what it can do. The mechanism is still in its infancy — eight banks have signed on, including the country’s largest State-owned and private lenders. But, once it expands, it can help track the credit footprint of just about every Indian who wants (more) credit.
The easiest way to explain the mechanism is through prepaid SIM cards for mobile telephony, used typically by those at the bottom of the pyramid (but not just them). Currently, someone who regularly recharges their phone is off the credit radar; once their telecom company signs on to become part of the system launched last week, they will not be. The expectation is that as it grows, the mechanism will grow to include electronic wallets, telecom companies, maybe even utilities and local bodies, apart from banks and other financial institutions.
Such credit information is only shared through explicit consent, and through licensed account aggregators who do not store the information themselves — which addresses the issue of privacy to some extent. A robust privacy and data protection law, which has been long in the making, should take care of the other issues. The benefits are clear — easy access to credit to borrowers currently out of the credit mainstream (including many millennials); higher efficiency (think faster loans); and fewer defaults, for lenders.