News & Events
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1.The voice of India: In an ever-changing country, Lata Mangeshkar seamlessly knitted our past with our present
Since Independence, Lata Mangeshkar has been inseparable from the soundtrack of our everyday lives. At kasbah roundabouts, in village fairs, at paan shops, in middle-class drawing rooms, her democratising voice was ever-present like the air we breathe. Like the Ganga and the Himalaya, she was always there. In antaksharis, college fests, home celebrations – rakhi, kirtan, ladies sangeet – there was a song by her for every occasion, season and reason; and in almost every Indian language. She transcended generations. At 60, she sang ‘Dil deewana’ for heroine Bhagyashree, then 20, in Maine Pyar Kiya (1989). Even at 92, she had nearly 15 million followers on Twitter. In an ever-changing country, Lata seamlessly knitted our past with our present.
In its core, every voice carries a code we must decipher to understand what it culturally represents. Lata’s voice encapsulated sweetness, purity and simplicity – traits matching the mood and predilections of the times when she rose to prominence. It didn’t convey power and muscle. Much like her persona, her voice embodied quiet strength and resolve. No surprise, she fought and succeeded in the male-dominated film industry on her own terms. The singer also represented, like film director Satyajit Ray and actor Dilip Kumar, an unwavering dedication towards attaining excellence. Uncompromising work ethic, devotion to meticulousness and unmatched talent combined to ensure that even the most demanding of songs was perfected and delivered with care. For decades, every aspiring singer wanted to sing like her; aptly reflected in the number of clones that subsequently emerged.
Lata was a cultural icon like few others were or will be and a global ambassador for India. Her listener-base extended way beyond the diaspora. Her voice was the courier and the carrier of Hindi cinema’s “soft power” in large swathes of Africa and Asia, way before the term, Bollywood, was coined. In 1974, Michael Foot, the British Labour Party leader, introduced her as “the voice of India” before her famous Royal Albert Hall performance in London. For many, India and Lata were synonymous.
It is well known that Lata’s rendition of ‘Ae mere watan ke logon’, made Nehru weep. Not many remember she often sang at charity shows for the jawans, the World Cup winning cricket team in 1983, and the film industry workers after the major strike in 1986. In an interview to the TOI back in 2009, director Shyam Benegal had said that with the possible exception of Egypt’s Umm Kulthum, no other singer represented the singing voice of her country like Lata. He was right. The songs of India and Lata will forever be intertwined as the country marches towards its 75th year of Independence. The singer passed away on Sunday but she will come alive every time we hear her song somewhere.
2.Congress’s Channi bet: Party showed sense sticking to the Dalit leader but challenges it faces are formidable
Punjab, where Charanjit Singh Channi will now be incumbent Congress’s CM candidate, will host the most fascinating of contests of the five states going to polls. Congress will battle it out with Bhagwant Mann-led AAP, which looks no pushover, the newly politically blooded farmers’ party SSM, BJP-Amarinder Singh’s PLC and Akali Dal-BSP. The last two don’t look like power contenders for now, but their role in a multi-cornered election may be important. And there’s Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose good behaviour post the Channi announcement may not hold, given his record so far.
Congress has huge stakes in Punjab, given how small its national footprint is. Rahul Gandhi showed some political determination by picking Channi, whose appeal to Punjab’s 31% Dalit voters is a factor, although in typically complicated way of Indian politics, Punjab’s Dalits too are not always one block, the Ramdasia-Ravidasia divide being the most critical. Channi, a Ramdasia, has his task cut out here, as he has in dealing with Sidhu, should he go rebel-mode.
AAP’s urban support may be more viable than its rural one, where Congress and Akalis, despite being bruised, fancy their chances. But SSM’s pitch to farmers may have complicated this. Also, most observers reckon votes gained by the Amarinder-BJP combine may be mostly at the cost of Congress. That’s why Channi’s ability to pull Dalit votes is so crucial for Congress, and the CM’s second seat from Malwa belt, where AAP is supposedly strong, is also an indication how much Congress depends on him. If voters don’t deliver a clear verdict, post-poll manoeuvres may be even more interesting than the election itself.
3.Fixing frequencies first: On 5G economic payoff in Budget speech
Policymakers must make sure that the 5G economic payoff will outweigh the high cost
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget announcement that the Government proposes to conduct the “required spectrum auctions” in 2022 to facilitate the roll-out of 5G mobile phone services in fiscal 2022-23 has understandably triggered speculation including about the feasibility of the timeline. The Government’s keenness to expedite the roll-out was framed by Ms. Sitharaman as being propelled by an appreciation of the latest generation telecommunication technology’s ability to serve as an enabler of economic growth and job creation. Commenting on the Budget announcement, Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said TRAI was expected to submit its recommendations on the spectrum to be set aside for 5G by March, adding that the auction for the airwaves would be held soon after. While last week’s flurry of announcements have raised the possibility that the next auction of telecom spectrum may be held within the next few months, there is little clarity on the approach the Government plans to take with regard to the crucial issues surrounding the introduction of 5G services. Foremost are questions around the particular frequencies the regulator is likely to recommend, the Government’s plans on pricing the spectrum, and most crucially, the very viability of the new technology, both for the telecom companies and the economy as a whole. With the financially stressed private telecom service provider industry now reduced to a near duopoly, as Vodafone Idea continues to bleed losses and subscribers and even plans to convert some of its outstanding interest dues to the DoT into an equity stake that will make the Union government the largest shareholder, the sector’s appetite for the highly capital intensive 5G technology is unlikely to be substantial at the moment.
That 5G represents an exponential leap in technology is beyond doubt. However, most countries that have commercialised 5G so far largely find the technology still predominantly deployed as an upgraded replacement for 4G in terms of end use, with the industrial and public utility applications envisaged still at least a few years away. Also, for the new technology to work at its optimum potential the Government would need to not only offer the key operational frequencies including the below 1 GHz, the C-Band frequencies around 3.5 GHz, and the higher 26 GHz but also crucially enable the transport or backhaul of signals between the base stations and telecom operator’s core network by offering no- to low-cost E-Band airwaves. With the COVID-19 pandemic having shown up the existing mobile networks’ inadequacies in terms of reach, especially in enabling the delivery of education to remote and rural students, it may make the most sense to delay the introduction of 5G until policymakers are sure its economic payoff will outweigh the high cost.
4. Death of a terrorist: On the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi
Geopolitical and sectarian faultlines in Iraq and Syria enhance the threat from the IS
The death of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS), has come at a time when the terrorist outfit has been trying to revive its fortunes in Iraq and Syria, its core region. A few weeks earlier, IS militants had carried out an ambitious attack — their largest since the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS founder, in 2019 — on a prison in northeastern Syria’s Hasakah, to free thousands of jihadists. But it was a failure as American soldiers joined the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish militia, to push back the militants. Qurayshi blew himself up along with his family, like his predecessor did three years ago, when U.S. special forces approached his hideout in Idlib, the province controlled by jihadists linked with al Qaeda. When he became the IS chief, the entity had transformed itself from a ‘Caliphate’, with control over some key cities in Iraq and Syria, into an underground insurgency with global branches. Under Qurayshi, the IS continued to operate like a loose confederation of autonomous networks. Its Afghan and West African branches expanded operations, while in Iraq and Syria, it staged occasional attacks — a reminder that it is only the physical Caliphate that has been destroyed.
It is more than a coincidence that both Baghdadi and Qurayshi were hiding in Syria’s Idlib. The Syrian government’s efforts to recapture the territory have not been successful as there is strong regional opposition, especially from Turkey which fears another refugee influx. The province is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a globally designated terrorist outfit that was formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al Qaeda. Idlib is now run by Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the al Qaeda militant who was sent to Syria by Baghdadi in 2013, in the early stages of the civil war, to open a branch of his outfit. If a lasting solution to the jihadist control of Idlib is not found, the future Baghdadis and Qurayshis would also take refuge in this region. Another important lesson the IS’s recent attacks provides is that the Syrian Kurds remain a key ally in the fight against the IS, as the Hasakah incident has shown. The U.S. should not throw them at the mercy of Turkey — like the Trump administration once did — once the IS threat is minimised. They should be incorporated into a larger regional counter-terror strategy. Lastly, the IS has learned how to survive these occasional setbacks. It has lost its Caliphate and its top commanders but there are thousands of foot soldiers spread across Iraq and Syria, waiting to strike. The still open wounds of the civil war in Syria and the lingering sectarian sentiments in Iraq have let them survive so far. As long as these geopolitical and sectarian faultlines remain in Iraq and Syria, the IS threat will not vanish.