News & Events
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1.Alarm bells: On symbols of Sikh separatism
Sikh separatism is now feeble, but vigilance is essential
Symbols of Sikh separatism that appeared at the Himachal Pradesh Assembly complex in Dharamshala on Sunday suggest that forces promoting it are active and capable of mischief. Purported flags of imaginary Khalistan were put up on the gate of the complex, and slogans scrawled on the walls. The State police chief has set up a special investigation team and ordered heightened vigil at the borders. On the same day, the police in Punjab said they had averted a terror attack after arresting two men, said to be Khalistani sympathisers, with explosives in Tarn Taran district. A U.S.-based Khalistani separatist has been charged in Himachal Pradesh under the UAPA and the Indian Penal Code. Opposition parties in the State, the Congress and AAP, have used the incident to make a case against the ruling BJP, months ahead of the Assembly election. Comparable rhetoric had shadowed the recent election in Punjab, where political opponents accused one another of being sympathetic to separatists. That was avoidable loose talk on a sensitive topic. Sikh separatism, and the accompanying terrorism supported by Pakistan, was snuffed out by the Indian state decades ago, but at a huge human and political cost. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated and the sectarian violence against the Sikh community that followed in different places deepened the fault lines. Those wounds continue to fester, and care must be taken by the state, political actors and community leaders to ensure that history does not repeat itself as yet another tragedy.
A separatist plan to hold a referendum on Khalistan in Himachal Pradesh is laughable, but vigilance is essential. The groups that call for Khalistan are based abroad, and command little respect in the Sikh mainstream at the moment. They campaign among the Sikh diaspora, alleging mistreatment of the community by the Indian state. They have a favourable environment though. Domestic divisions in India, exacerbated by the politics and policy of the ruling BJP, are echoing among the diaspora in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. Religious minorities and Dalits have been disconnected from the diaspora mobilisation of the Indian government. Hindutva affiliates helm Indian diaspora politics. This provides an opening for India’s enemies to inflame passions. Fortunately for India, there are not many takers for such propaganda among the Sikh community. But thoughtless comments and campaigns against the community, particularly when they are led by powerful political actors, can trigger serious reactions. In its desperation to delegitimise the farm agitation, the BJP tacitly supported campaigns that portrayed Sikh protestors as anti-nationals inspired by foreign countries. Though isolated and feeble, Sikh separatism continues to flicker. It must serve as a constant reminder for social cohesion and impartial state policy.
2.Relentless war: On Russia-Ukraine crisis
Russia should support the UN Secretary General’s peace mission and end the attacks
Over two months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the UN Security Council finally managed to issue a statement calling for ‘a peaceful solution’ and backing the efforts of Secretary-General António Guterres in this direction. While the carefully drafted statement avoided any reference to ‘war’, ‘invasion’ or ‘conflict’, the fact that the 15 members of the Council, including Russia which has veto power, unanimously agreed to the call for peace shows that all sides are feeling the heat of the conflict. Going by the votes in the UN General Assembly, international public opinion is heavily against the war and the UNSC is expected to do more to bring the violence to an end. The statement was issued a week after Mr. Guterres held talks with Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively. But his mission would be successful only if the parties concerned showed seriousness in ending the war. As of now, neither exists beyond statements. For example, Russia stepped up attacks in Ukraine after the UNSC statement was issued. On Sunday, 60 people were killed in Luhansk. On Monday, Mr. Putin, in his Victory Day address marking the Soviet triumph over German Nazis, claimed that the Russian troops were “defending the motherland”, indicating that the war will grind on.
When he ordered the ‘special military operation’ for what he called the “demilitarisation and denazification’ of Ukraine, Mr. Putin must have expected a quick victory. But Ukraine’s resistance did not only deny the Russians this but also galvanised western support. When western financial and military aid hardened the Ukrainian resistance, the Russian troops, despite their incremental territorial gains in eastern and southern Ukraine, appeared to have got stuck in the battlefield. The stalemate has increased the risks of a wider conflict. The U.S. now seems determined to “weaken Russia”, as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said. Russia, with its back against the wall, is warning of a third world war with nuclear weapons. The possibility of a direct Russia-West confrontation makes it the most dangerous moment in global politics since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. If both sides still believe in rational policymaking, they should immediately look for an offramp. Russia cannot ask for dialogue and peace when continuing to pound Ukrainian cities. Its war machine has slowed down and it is already facing economic and political isolation in Europe. Escalating this conflict, bringing the whole world into danger, does not serve anybody’s interest. Instead, Moscow should immediately end the attacks and support the UN Secretary General’s mission of finding a peaceful solution that could address the security concerns of both Ukraine and Russia.
3.Opening a Pandora’s Box
Disregarding the Places of Worship Act and basic foundational feature of constitutional principles is fraught with danger
What persuaded a local civil court to order the videography and inspection of the religious site was a demand to collect triable evidence as to whether Hindu religious structures were partially razed to build the 17th-century mosque. (PTI)
A court-ordered survey of a section of the Kashi Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi Masjid complex in Varanasi has sparked off yet another controversy. What persuaded a local civil court to order the videography and inspection of the religious site was a demand to collect triable evidence as to whether Hindu religious structures were partially razed to build the 17th-century mosque. The plaintiffs, five Hindu women, have asserted their constitutional right under Article 25 to worship in the mosque area, where they say, various visible and invisible deities existed.
The court entertained the civil suit despite a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court (SC) unequivocally delineating the contours of the 1991 Places of Worship Act, when it ruled on the Ayodhya land dispute in 2019. The Act laid down that a religious place will retain the same character it had on August 15, 1947 and that no suit or legal proceedings can be initiated in this regard. The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was specifically kept outside the applicability of the Act and hence, the trial in the Ayodhya case could proceed. The 2019 verdict by the top court cemented into the sphere of Indian constitutional jurisprudence the principle of “non-retrogression” of rights as it underscored that it is not open to raking up all kinds of disputes, pertaining to the religious nature of a place of worship, at any time. The non-retrogression principle holds that the government may extend protection beyond what the Constitution requires, but it cannot retreat from that extension once made. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future, highlighted the apex court.
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4.Gold or deposits?: Household financial behaviour will see big adjustments as inflation rises
After the Reserve Bank of India’s monetary policy committee (MPC) increased the repo rate last week, there’s ground to make two assumptions. RBI’s inflation outlook, which forecast a declining trajectory in the subsequent quarters of the financial year, will be revised. Along with it, more repo rate increases are likely. These two widely held views will catalyse adjustments by all stakeholders in the economy. One way to gauge what lies ahead is to look at how the adjustments will play out through the intertwined savings and investments channels.
Household response to hardening interest rates will hugely influence both savings and investment. Not only are households the most important source of domestic savings, they are now also critical to deployment of bank credit as personal loans are almost on a par with industrial lending. Traditionally, household behaviour shows two features in a phase of high inflation. There’s a tilt at the margin towards saving in the form of gold. It was about 1.6% of household savings a decade ago when inflation was high. As inflation dropped, the saving in gold followed, to about 1.1% of savings. Also, net financial savings of households, which were about 32% of total savings in the high inflation phase, rose to around 40% when inflation fell.
There’s a new element which has come into play this time. Beginning October 2019, RBI has pushed the banking system into benchmarking lending rates to external measures such as repo rate. The system has transitioned fast in the case of loans to MSMEs, trade and home loans. In the process, bank deposit rates also adjust quickly. Therefore, household net financial savings this time may adjust quicker and their proportion to total household savings is likely to fall faster. There’s also the simultaneous lure of gold as a hedge against inflation, which has a knock-on effect on India’s current account deficit.
Investing in equity shares has emerged as an important avenue for household savings. Incremental growth in this avenue is likely to be influenced by movement in stock market indices. In this context, heightened uncertainty around inflation’s course may adversely impact investments by firms. There are also two options that will attract more personal saver attention – bank fixed deposits and insurance policies. These traditionally popular avenues which attract funds from the risk-averse even when interest rates are low, will almost surely see more incremental flows. Banks, flush with more funds, but with lending rates creeping up, will have new challenges.
5.Friendly fire: State police forces fighting each other is a dangerous trend that can become worse
The futility of using police to serve as an instrument of political vendetta should dawn on political parties after the unedifying confrontation last week between Punjab, Haryana and Delhi police. AAP’s resolve to punish Delhi BJP spokesperson Tajinder Bagga for his tweet against CM Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s interest in freeing him played out in full public glare through the actions of the three police forces. But after Bagga’s detention in Haryana and repeated judicial setbacks, Punjab police have been left red-faced. Some days ago it was Assam police’s ignominious turn over the arrest of Jignesh Mevani from Gujarat.
Also, various state police forces seem to have thrown procedure and mutual organisational courtesy to the wind. Punjab police claim they arrested Bagga in Delhi after his non-response to repeated summons – but it is still the case that they simply drove into another jurisdiction, just as Assam police and UP police have done in the recent past. Criminal Procedure Code has safeguards like police requiring an arrest warrant from magistrates before effecting arrests and securing transit remand from a magistrate after arrests in another jurisdiction. Additional Delhi high court guidelines require cops from other jurisdictions effecting arrests to also intimate local police officers. While these norms allow for exceptions, following the procedures would have saved Punjab police the blushes.
Face-offs between police forces can be good news only for criminals who commit crimes spanning across state borders or escape into another state after committing a crime. Even terrorists stand to benefit if increasing inter-forces fractiousness were to impact coordination and intelligence sharing. Assuming India’s hyper-competitive politics and bitter, person-targeted political rhetoric will continue to intensify, and police will be frequently used to settle scores and make points, the near future frankly looks bleak. Worse may yet happen in standoffs between politics-driven state police forces.