Read The Hindu Notes of 12th October 2018 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 12th October 2018

Riding the tiger

The December election will decide whether Bangladesh can protect its socio-economic advance, democratically

  • From the outside, Bangladesh appears a country where democratic stability has ushered economic progress and shed the ‘basket case’ tag carried since its birth in 1971. Bangladesh no longer makes news for mass deaths from famines, cyclones and floods, and is ahead of neighbours India and Pakistan on human development, including life expectancy, maternal and child mortality, rural poverty and food security.
  • The eighth largest country in the world by population, Bangladesh is shedding the least developing country (LDC) label and is within striking distance of middle-income status. While grassroots development, the readymade garment industry and the phenomenon of mega-non-governmental organisations deserve credit, so does the stewardship of Sheikh Hasina and her two consecutive five-year terms as Prime Minister since January 2009.
  • She is applauded by the world for providing refuge to the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar pogroms, by the West for serving as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and by India for the dismantling of camps of Northeast militants.
  • The run-up to the general elections announced for December 23 is an opportunity to observe Bangladesh from the inside, and the view is unsettling. The Prime Minister has moved progressively from autocracy to authoritarianism, and fears are rife in Dhaka of oncoming political calamity. With Ms. Hasina and her Awami League party expected to return to power assisted by well-oiled poll rigging, the only recourse thereafter for want of political paths of dissent would be self-igniting agitations.
  • Dhaka today is a city of guarded whispers. Given the brittle polity created by manifest intolerance, Ms. Hasina seems to have calculated that she simply cannot afford to lose at the polls. The daughter of ‘Bangabandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rides a tiger, fearful of dismounting for what she has wrought.
  • Awami intolerance

  • Criticism of the Hasina regime is equated with treason against the state. The legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy have become rubber stamps even as the Prime Minister suffocates the polity, with U.S.-returned son and adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy by her side. The party machine has become her personal fief and the attempt at dynastic continuity is palpable, as seen in the ubiquitous billboards portraying father, daughter and grandson.
  • The harsh measures taken by the Hasina regime against journalists reflect the political whip being applied across the societal spectrum. Media houses submit meekly to self-censorship in the face of vengeful reaction even to timid criticism, and Parliament just passed a restrictive Digital Security Act in September despite well-articulated concerns about free expression.
  • In order to crush civil society, Ms. Hasina set out to make examples of well-known media personalities. Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star newspaper, was slapped with dozens of spurious charges of sedition and defamation. Today marks photographer and cultural activist Shahidul Alam’s hundredth day behind bars, for having had the impertinence to live-stream the attacks by Awami League goons on young protesters on the streets.
  • The international outcry on Mr. Alam’s imprisonment has failed to move the Prime Minister, who is ever-more belligerent. Terrified of her wrath, consecutive court benches shamefully refuse to consider his bail petition.
  • The Indian presence

  • Observers in Dhaka say Ms. Hasina’s family tragedy helps explain her political persona, motivations and geopolitical leanings. Her intense survival instinct can be traced back to the assassination of her father in 1975, together with her mother, brothers and other family members.
  • Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister, offered refuge to the two surviving sisters (Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana), which is said to account for Ms. Hasina’s decidedly New Delhi tilt. Today, Bangladesh is regarded as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s one foreign policy success in South Asia, and New Delhi has pursued Ms. Hasina for its own ends — the closure of Northeast militant camps, entry into the sizeable Bangladesh market, and access to the Northeast through Bangladesh (even as India surrounds Bangladesh with a barbed wire fence).
  • Dhaka’s opinion-makers grumble that Bangladesh has got little in return besides assurances, while government officials are tight-lipped about the quid pro quo, particularly on water sharing. For a densely populated lower riparian country which would be devastated by any further upstream flow diversion on the Ganga/Padma — salinity, desertification, loss of livelihood and migration — Bangladesh watches fearfully the ‘river linking project’ so favoured by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • While India has snubbed Bangladesh by abstaining on a December 2017 UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Rohingya co-sponsored by Dhaka, Ms. Hasina has been resoundingly silent on the anti-Bangladeshi tirade of the BJP following the release in July this year of the draft of Assam’s National Register of Citizens.
  • For two decades, Bangladesh politics was marked by the relentless feuding of Ms. Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, chair of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). But Ms. Zia has been outwitted by the sure-footed Ms. Hasina, especially after the BNP decided to boycott the general elections of 2014. Today, Bangladesh is essentially a one-party polity under the Awami League.
  • Ms. Zia, a two-time Prime Minister, is in prison, with her jail term for graft having just been increased to 10 years. She is in failing health, the lone inmate at the old Dhaka Central Jail, the other prisoners having been moved to a new facility outside city limits.
  • Fake encounters

  • That the BNP has not been able to build a movement for the release of its leader indicates an opposition in disarray, but also the regime’s hounding of BNP cadre countrywide, through outright violence and filing of false court cases. Despite assurances from the Prime Minister of a level field for election campaigning, BNP cadre are swelling the number of inmates in jails countrywide.
  • The absence of effective political opposition has helped transform Bangladesh into a country with a deathly record of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. Fake encounters have been institutionalised by the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), while the Prime Minister has activated military intelligence in a manner not seen even under martial law, according to observers.
  • As people run for cover, the Awami League holds itself out as the sole custodian of the legacy of the Liberation War and of Sheikh Mujib, with all disagreeable forces and individuals variously tagged as ‘Jamaati’, ‘razakar’ collaborators, Westernised elite, ‘Tagorites’, Pakistani intelligence, and even Mossad operatives. Meanwhile, everyone else talks of Indian intelligence infiltrating the layers of Dhaka society.
  • Ms. Hasina is projected internationally as a fighter against Islamic fundamentalism, but has quietly accommodated the Hefazat-e-Islam, a conservative pressure group of clerics. The regime is busy excising secular content from textbooks, and has made madrasa degrees at par with university degrees for government jobs.
  • Spontaneous combustion

  • With the political opposition weakened, the people’s release is through outbursts that tend to snowball. This happened with the Shahbag movement which sought to rekindle the spirit of Liberation, an agitation against excessive quotas (56%) in public sector employment, and this summer’s uprising of youngsters demanding road safety.
  • Ms. Hasina deftly rode out these agitations, but in the absence of a democratic release through free and fair elections, a spontaneous combustion in the future may go outside her capacity to manage, engulfing all Bangladesh.
  • A faint hint of compromise appeared in the first week of November, when Ms. Hasina readily agreed to a meeting request from the Jatiya Oikya Front, an alliance formed on October 13 which includes the BNP and four other parties. Kamal Hossain, elder statesman and framer of the 1972 Constitution, leads the Front.
  • The Front’s seven-point demand included a neutral government to run elections and release of all political prisoners including Ms. Zia. The Prime Minister has turned a deaf ear to the demands, and instead elections were announced for December 23, denying the opposition alliance time to organise.
  • The intolerance and crony capitalism exhibited by the Hasina regime today colours the entire state structure of Bangladesh and jeopardises its journey towards middle-income country status. The very person who has worked to usher socio-economic advance seems ready to sacrifice it all. Ms. Hasina must try to get off the tiger, and others must help her do so.
  • ‘We should be free’

    Long-lost interviews reveal the true feelings of India’s veterans of the First World War

  • A total of 1.5 million Indian troops served in the Indian Army during the First World War. Sailing away from the great seaports of India from 1914 under the British, for four years they fought for the Allies in Europe, Africa and Asia against the Germans and Turks.
  • As cavalrymen they charged through French fields of corn with lances lowered; as marines they sailed the oceans; as engineers they built bridges across rivers in the jungles of Tanzania; as infantrymen they dug trenches in China; as secret agents they stole over the Himalayas into Central Asia; as prisoners of war they lost years of their lives to captivity in Germany, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
  • The Indian Army in fact served in what are now some 50 countries, more than any other army of 1914-18. The war was truly global, and no body of men knew it more than the Indian troops.
  • After the Allies’ Armistice with Germany 100 years ago to end the war, the white soldiers of the Western nations often put down their guns to pick up their pens. Winston Churchill, Siegfried Sassoon and many others wrote bestselling war memoirs, novels, histories and plays. But the Indians barely did the same.
  • Letters home

  • A tiny minority of the Indian soldiers did write diaries and memoirs of their war. They were well-educated and tended to come from the big cities or rich aristocratic families, such as Thakur Amar Singh, a Rajput officer who wrote possibly the longest diary in the English language, covering his war experiences in Europe and elsewhere.
  • The vast majority of the Indian troops, however, were illiterate: they came from the poverty-stricken rural districts of colonial Punjab and other northern areas. When they served abroad in 1914-18, their major means of committing their thoughts to paper was letters home, which they dictated to army scribes. Yet their letters were censored by the British; they knew it; they habitually kept back much of what was on their minds. Today, the letters survive mainly at the British Library in London in censors’ translations of those sent by a small minority of Indian troops in France and England.
  • Oral histories

  • For decades it has generally been thought that the translated letters in London are the main source for the illiterate Indian troops’ thoughts. But a fresh discovery challenges this: long lost Indian veteran interviews which offer revelatory insights into the Indian troops’ feelings as never revealed to the censors.
  • In the 1970s, a team led by the American historian, DeWitt Ellinwood, interviewed a number of the last surviving Indian veterans of the First World War. Ellinwood wrote down the veterans’ words in transcripts of a thousand pages which he stored for decades at his home in the U.S. A few years ago, I learned of the transcripts from a footnote in one of Ellinwood’s academic articles. I contacted him and found out that while he still had the transcripts, he was in his 80s and would not work on them further. He bestowed them on me, suggesting that I might make them publicly available to be read alongside the Indians’ translated letters. He died shortly afterwards, in 2012, but on reading the transcripts I could see why he made the suggestion.
  • The transcripts fill in the blanks of what the Indian soldiers did not dare say in their letters under the prying British eyes. “We were slaves,” one Sikh veteran said of his war experiences of 1914-18, while another described a “curtain of fear” separating the Indian troops from the white soldiers — they were flogged by the British, paid less than their white counterparts, segregated in camps and on trains and ships, and barred from senior command.
  • The veterans also talked of how their war service opened their minds to new ideas about casting off colonial rule. “I felt that Indians were deprived of their rights. The people in Europe were free. I felt that Indians must get freedom,” said a Punjabi veteran, Harnam Singh.
  • “We got new ideas. Our hearts had changed,” agreed another Punjabi who had also served in Europe. “We were impressed by the sympathy and regard which the French people had shown to us. We thought that when others can regard us as their brothers and equals, why can’t the British give us the same status? We thought that the English had no regard for us. We lived in poverty under foreign rule. We should be free.”
  • I hope the transcripts showing the veterans’ true feelings can finally be made publicly accessible in India, available to all, including families of Indian servicemen remembering their part in the world war of 100 years ago.
  • George Morton-Jack is the author of ‘The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, the Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War’
  • Can Trump ‘roll back the Persians’?

    It’s highly unlikely that Iran will give up its forward defence doctrine in the wake of U.S. sanctions

  • On November 5, nearly six months after the U.S. pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, all the American sanctions that had been in place before the 2015 agreement were reimposed on the Islamic Republic. When President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the accord, despite international certification that Iran was fully complying with the terms of the agreement, he had said that the other signatories of the accord as well as Iran’s trading partners would be given upto 180 days to wind down their businesses in Iran before severing trade ties with the country. The new sanctions will target almost all of Iran’s vital business sectors: energy, shipbuilding, shipping and banking. Within two years of his presidency, Mr. Trump has effectively taken the U.S.-Iran relations to the pre-Obama era of hostility by reversing a signature diplomatic achievement of the former President.
  • This is not surprising given that Mr. Trump had attacked the Iran deal throughout his presidential campaign. In the words of Steve Bannon, his former adviser, one of the objectives of the administration’s “Middle East initiative” is “to roll back the Persians”. Mr. Trump is trying to do this by squeezing Iran’s economy and mounting pressure on its rulers.
  • Not a very popular deal

  • The Iran nuclear deal has never been popular among the conservative sections of the Washington establishment. Nor has it been with the U.S.’s key allies in West Asia — Israel and Saudi Arabia — who believe that the nuclear deal has done nothing to curtail Iran’s regional interventions. They worry that the deal, which limits Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions, will make Iran economically more powerful, putting it in a better position to continue its “subversive tactics” in the region. They also say that the 30% rise in Iran’s defence spend in 2016, immediately after the deal, is an indicator of its aggressive behaviour.
  • Interestingly, this time the U.S. is not talking about regime change, but “behaviour change” of the regime instead. To be sure, there’s a tactical calculus in Mr. Trump’s move. By pulling the U.S. out of the deal, his administration has put Iran in a catch-22 situation. For now, Iran and the other signatories of the deal (the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, China and the EU) have stated that they will continue with the agreement. But despite these promises, it won’t be easy for these countries to trade with Iran bypassing U.S. sanctions. European companies such as France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Germany’s Daimler have already announced plans to pull back from projects in Iran. The dilemma that Iran faces is this: it will suffer economically even if European governments stick to the agreement, but if it withdraws from the deal in protest and resumes its nuclear programme, that would only prove the Americans right and unite the West against Tehran.
  • The forward defence doctrine

  • Iran can either walk into the U.S.’s trap or continue to stick to the deal and pursue its regional agenda based on the ‘forward defence’ doctrine — use regional allies and proxies for influence in West Asia. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has gone through several economic and military challenges, which have done little to change its strategic pursuit.
  • A year after the revolution, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, backed by Gulf monarchies and the West, attacked Iran. They expected the war to overthrow the revolutionary regime; instead, it helped the Ayatollahs consolidate their position within the country. It was during the war that Iran helped establish Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s and lay the foundation for its forward defence. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations both imposed sanctions on Iran — yet Iran managed to expand its influence in post-Saddam Iraq and even got involved in Syria, its only national ally in West Asia, to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad. As the International Crisis Group recently noted in a report: “The trajectory of Iranian foreign policy was essentially impervious to the fluctuations in its economic wellbeing.”
  • Asymmetric power

  • Iran knows that it’s not a major conventional military power. Saudi Arabia, its main regional rival, spends almost five times more on its military than Iran’s defence budget. Israel, another rival, is a de facto nuclear power and the mightiest military force in West Asia. As Iran cannot beat its opponents in a conventional power projection, it has turned to the doctrine of forward defence. Today’s Iran is a conventional power with an asymmetric military doctrine, which has served the country well over the past 40 years. Now Iran has Hezbollah in Lebanon, a regime in Syria that’s completely dependent on it for survival, and influential political allies in Iraq. It also reportedly supports the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen who control parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a. So, in the event of a direct military confrontation between the U.S. or its allies and Iran, Tehran can instigate multiple crises across the region. The forward defence is Iran’s core strategic principle, launched to overcome its conventional power deficit. This is the most significant takeaway from Iran’s foreign policy. And it’s naïve to believe that Tehran would give this up in the wake of the U.S. sanctions. Rather, domestically, the U.S.’s rhetoric and sanctions could undermine the legitimacy of Iran’s moderates and reformists who lead the current administration and strengthen the hands of the hard-liners.
  • Another factor that is in Iran’s favour is the lack of unity in its rival camp. The Saudi blockade on Qatar has already divided the Gulf countries. Turkey, an American ally and a member of the NATO, has gradually moved closer to Iran and Russia in recent years and the three countries are now cooperating in stabilising Syria. More important, the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul has weakened Riyadh diplomatically and thrown a spanner into Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan (with American backing) to create an “Arab NATO” to counter Iranian influence. Iran would likely exploit these crises within its rival camp by strengthening its own regional activism, particularly at a time when the U.S. is turning hostile.
  • If Mr. Trump wants peace in the region, he should have used the channels opened by the nuclear deal and taken steps to address Iran’s security concerns in return for limiting its regional activities. But like most of his predecessors, he wants to “roll back the Persians”. His predecessors lost the game. It is to be seen whether Mr. Trump will succeed or follow suit.
  • Protect the little helpers

    Hundreds of species of pollinators may be in dangerous decline

    Protect the little helpers - Bee
  • Across India’s agrarian plains, plantations and orchards, millions of birds, bats and insects toil to pollinate crops. However, many of these thousands of species may be in dangerous decline.
  • In 2015, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) found that pollinators lead to huge agricultural economic gains. The report estimated pollinator contribution in India to be $0.831-1.5 billion annually for just six vegetable crops. This is an underestimation considering that nearly 70% of tropical crop species are dependent on pollinators for optimal yields.
  • The decline of moths, bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators is undeniably linked to human activity: large tracts of natural habitats have been cleared for monoculture cultivation, while the use of pesticides and fertilisers is pushing out nature’s little helpers. In a series of studies at the University of Calcutta, researchers have showed that native Indian bees, when exposed to multiple pesticides, suffer from memory and olfactory impairment, lower response rates, and oxidative stress which damages cells. Parthiba Basu and his team estimated that between 1964 and 2008, there was a 40-60% growth in relative yields of pollinator-dependent crops, while pollinator-independent crops such as cereals and potatoes saw a corresponding 140% rise in yields. In Kashmir, researchers have pinned lowering yields of apple trees on the declining frequency of bee visits. In north India, lowering yields of mustard cultivation may be caused by disappearing pollinators.
  • At the turn of the millennium, many countries, particularly the U.S., observed with some anxiety the phenomenon of bees deserting their hives. By 2014-15, the U.S. had established a Pollinator Health Task Force and a national strategy that focussed on increasing the monarch butterfly population and planting native species and flowers in more than 28,000 sq km to attract pollinators. Around the same time, the U.K. developed 23 key policy actions under its National Pollinator Strategy. Meanwhile, after the IPBES report, almost 20 countries have joined the Coalition of the Willing on Pollinators.
  • Apart from promoting organic farming and lowering pesticide usage, landscape management is key. The EU Pollinators’ Initiative adopted in June can provide pointers to India, particularly a policy of direct payment support to farmers to provide buffer strips for pollinators for nectar- and pollen-rich plants. India has millions of hectares of reserve forests, some of which have been converted to pulpwood plantations. Much of this can be restored to become thriving homes for pollinators. The same can be done in gram panchayat levels. Fallow areas and government land can be used to plant flowering species for pollinators.