At the Centre: On India-Central Asia summit

As the joint statement at the end of the India-Central Asia virtual summit on Thursday noted, ties between India and the region have been historically close, with “civilisational, cultural, trade and people-to-people linkages”, but the lack of access to land routes, and the situation in Afghanistan are among the biggest challenges. Hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Presidents of the five Central Asian Republics (CARs), it was a first, building on years of dialogue. The summit also came after the meeting of NSAs in Delhi, where they built on several common themes of concern and priority. To begin with, there is the problem of routing trade — a paltry $2 billion, spent mostly on Kazakhstan’s energy exports to India. In comparison, China’s CAR trade figures have exceeded $41 billion — they could double by 2030 — apart from the billions of dollars invested in the Belt and Road Initiative. With Pakistan denying India transit trade, New Delhi’s other option is to
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Valley and hills: On Manipur poll battle

The Bharatiya Janata Party is eyeing its second straight term in Manipur. In 2017, the party had finished second with 21 seats in the 60-strong Assembly, behind the 28 seats won by the Congress. Forming an alliance with the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) that had four MLAs each, one MLA each from the Trinamool Congress, the Lok Janshakti Party, an Independent and a Congress defector (who was Minister until his disqualification three years later), the party managed to cross the halfway mark. Defections continued, including from parties allied with the BJP. The BJP now has 30 MLAs while the Congress has 13 — but an MLA has now joined the Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s national ally. The party in power at the Centre manages to exercise undue influence in Manipur politics, and that trend could continue this time too. The BJP has no pre-poll alliance, while its principal rival, the Congress, has announced a tie-up with five smaller parties, including the
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Open the schools

India continues to record over 2,80,000 cases every day, which on its own is an uncomfortable statistic. These are not too far from that observed during the second wave and it is understandable why State administrators continue to impose lockdowns. However, numbers are meaningless without context and the data from States show that what was most feared about Omicron — an upsurge of hospitalisations and indiscriminate mortality — has not come to pass. The States that are in the throes of the wave now report, on average, that more than 95% of their available beds are unoccupied. By no means does this suggest that an Omicron infection is mild or that those vaccinated can be assured of pre-2020 nonchalance. However, the evidence is unequivocal that the odds of requiring hospitalisation are low in the doubly vaccinated and the vaccines, so far, continue to deliver on their promise of staving off severe illness. These observations are no doubt accounted for by various State governments which


Wrong route: On Kerala Lok Ayukta law

The Kerala government’s proposal to amend its Lok Ayukta Act through an ordinance appears questionable and hasty. Even though the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government is citing legal opinion to justify the proposed amendments, it does give an impression that it is in an unseemly hurry to remove the finality attached to a provision that allows the anti-corruption judicial body to direct a public servant to vacate office, if an allegation is substantiated. The criticism by the Opposition that the change may dilute the Lok Ayukta law appears valid, as Section 14 of the Lok Ayukta Act is its most stringent provision. Both the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP have appealed to the Governor not to promulgate the ordinance cleared by the Cabinet. Opposition parties have suggested that the proposal may be linked to ongoing inquiries by the Lok Ayukta against members of the Cabinet. Also, the present regime has been adversely affected by this particular provision. In April


Keeping faith: On people-to-people initiatives and India-Pakistan ties

At a time when most other India-Pakistan exchanges are suspended, even a simple proposal by the Pakistan Hindu Council, forwarded by Pakistan to India, to allow pilgrims of both countries to travel by air to avoid cumbersome journeys seems a leap. Islamabad-Delhi ties now are possibly at their worst ever in peace times, with no political dialogue at a bilateral or multilateral level for over five years. After many terror attacks, India has stopped normal communications and cultural exchanges, and after the Government’s moves on Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan stopped all trade ties. Both sides have downsized their diplomatic missions. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that the borders have been virtually sealed for two years, with few direct routes operating between them. Even the movement of pilgrims may have been cancelled but for the conscious attempt by the two governments to make an exception for faith-based travel — as was done for the Kartarpur

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For a civic solidarity: On citizenship for the Chakma/Hajong people

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