Between Agency and Compulsion: On the Karnataka High Court’s Hijab Judgment — Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

It is an old adage that the manner in which you choose to frame a question will decide the answer that you will choose to give yourself. In today’s judgment by the Karnataka High Court upholding a ban on the wearing of the hijab within classrooms, that giveaway can be seen at page 39 of […]

Between Agency and Compulsion: On the Karnataka High Court’s Hijab Judgment — Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy

GANDHI’S RELEVANCE IN TODAY’S WORLD

 India is observing the 74th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948, at Birla House in New Delhi. I will take up the occasion to reflect upon his relevance in today’s world.

 Before discussing the relevancy of his ideas in the 21st century. It is important to acknowledge the fact that one cannot recall a person who has inspired people across religions and across countries more than Mahatma Gandhi. Great leaders like Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (Frontier Gandhi), Nelson Mandela, Vinoda Bhave, Martin Luther King, Maulana Aad, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi had themselves reiterated the role of Gandhian ideas in their lives.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative to underscore Gandhian philosophy and its different facets. 

Gandhian Principles and Conflict Resolution

At a time when the world is embroiled in turmoil from the Russian-Ukraine crisis, to the rise of the Taliban, Communalism, and socio-economic conflicts sprung for different reasons, Gandhian philosophy can be of significant importance.

TRUTH AND NON VIOLENCE 

Gandhi said that the “eye for an eye approach would make the whole world blind”. This Gandhian dictum has proved to be true in the wake of America’s forceful occupation of Afghanistan and attempt to forcibly supplant its own version of democracy. The experiment proved a disaster. Similarly, India’s approach to uproot Naxalism via the use of force also proved to be a failure. Moreover, the recent Russia-Ukraine crisis and charged rhetorics may prove this dictum true again. To Gandhi war cannot be a means to solve any dispute. Infect to him war is just an outward manifestation of deeper contradictions like inequality, racism, and greed (imperialism).

Violence arises from ignorance or untruth, truth conversely arises out of non-violence. For Gandhi Ji, truth is the relative truth of truthfulness in word and deed, and the absolute truth – the ultimate reality. This ultimate truth is God (as God is also Truth) and morality – the moral laws and code – its basis. Today, if humanity wants to absolve itself of its sin then Truth and Non Violence as propounded by Gandhiji is the way ahead.

Sarvodaya

Sarvodaya is a Sanskrit word; the means of this word is ‘upliftment of all’ or ‘rising of all’. The world Sarvodaya is the effective solution to all social conflicts. Sarvodaya seeks to build a new society on the foundation of the old spiritual and moral values of India and attempts to meet the challenges of contemporary problems. It aims at the transformation of one’s mind from ego-centric to altruistic in nature. In a Sarvodaya society, there is no space for inequality, untouchability, etc. As we are witnessing increasing consciousness among people of varying identities like religion, ethnicity, caste, etc which are leading to social conflicts, Sarvodaya can show us a way to overcome these challenges.

Gandhian concept of Trusteeship

Trusteeship is a socio-economic philosophy that was propounded by Gandhi Ji. It provides a means by which the wealthy people would be the trustees of trusts that looked after the welfare of the people in general. Today we see many philanthropic movements led by billionaires like Bill Gates, Azim Prem Ji who have voluntarily pledged the utilization of part of their wealth for social causes like providing education and health. Moreover, the emergence of Corporate social responsibility is nothing but echoing of Gandhian ideas and their continued relevance. This concept of Trusteeship becomes more relevant when we see the glaring increasing inequality in society. For instance, a recently released Oxfam report pointed out that the income of 84% of households in the country declined in 2021, but at the same time, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 to 142.

 Gandhian philosophy is not only limited to the above-mentioned facets rather has a wide range covering gender equality, sustainable environment, education, politics, etc. But to cut short this article, I will limit myself to the above-mentioned facets only.

Therefore, Gandhi remains more relevant than ever in today’s world and his ideas are priceless gifts not only to our generation but also to posterity as well.

The rise of Protests in India.

                                              

Pic credit:Time

Recently, student protests flared up in Bihar, and a passenger train was set on fire in Gaya. Meanwhile, videos of Police thrashing job aspirants in Uttar Pradesh went viral. This is not a one-off instance when protesters and police confrontation gauged the nation’s attention. However, the frequency and the way of protests have undergone a substantial change over the last few years. In this article, I will try to reflect on the plausible reasons for these protests.

We have witnessed a series of protests over the last few years starting from the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act(CAA), Farmers’ agitation, Resident doctors’ protest, Bank Unions’ protest, and the recent one by aspirants of RRB-NTPC. I will not dwell much into the detailed issues because of which these protests were organized but try to bring out some common reasons for these protests.  

Protests in a functional democracy are the means to express disagreement with the government and to bring a specific issue to the attention of the government. In a democracy, Protests are seen as a tool to seek accountability from people’s representatives. But with the rise of the neoliberal state, the distinction between soft and hard states has come to play an important role in governance. Likewise, this distinction, recently, has played a very important role in Indian democracy. 

Soft state vs Hard state

The term soft state was introduced by Gunnar Myrdal in The Asian Drama. According to him, a soft state means a lenient attitude of the state towards social deviance. The soft state does not take hard decisions, even if the situation demands it. While Hard state does take hard decisions without any hesitation and enforce its will. India, for a long, had an image of a soft-state that now seems to be changed. So the question arises are we in a Hard state? what implications does it have on Protests?

Some political pundits emphatically put forward their case for India being a Hard state and supported such claims with anecdotes. But, on the other hand, some consider India as a continuum of soft-hard states. It is this continuum that is partly responsible for the increase in the number of protests. As India slides from one end to another not based on rational necessity but political whims and fancy.

In a State which upholds the rule of law and enjoys both popular legitimacy and credibility, citizens can seek redress of their grievances through political and legal processes. It is when such legitimate channels are blocked and subverted that economic and social grievances accumulate. Thus, erupt into violent confrontation with the State. To put it simply, It is the foundational legitimacy and credibility of legislations that have been questioned through these protests.

In a democracy, Parliament is the platform where legislations are discussed and debated before giving them a form of law. But, an urge on the part of the state to shed its soft state image has led to the passage of many legislations in haste. The government simply has bulldozed the Parliament to get its way through and deprived the opportunity to various stakeholders to register their protest legitimately in the Parliament. 

This has a two-fold effect on the concerned stakeholders, one the sense of association through representatives with the law-making taken away. while second, it served to portray the government as autocratic and alienated the trust they bestowed in the government.

For instance, Farm Laws were supposed to be sent to a standing committee to vet the proposed reforms.No no doubt that Indian agriculture has been stagnant for decades and deserves to be transformed structurally but it has to be done legitimately and credibly. Farmers broke out into protest because the legitimate channel was blocked and the government was hell-bent to make its way through.

Likewise, At Shaheen Bagh, protesters would agree that the text of the law was about giving citizenship to minorities, but their fears stemmed from otherizing statements made by some politicians. The protest of Resident doctors was no different than the above-mentioned protests. The doctors have been demanding that the Supreme Court fast-track the hearing and that the Union health ministry expedite the submission of a report on the chosen criteria of R 8 lakh annual income for eligibility of the quota. Several petitions were filed challenging the EWS Quota in the NEET PG Admission in 2021. As the criteria were, allegedly, arbitrary and not discussed or deliberated objectively.

Therefore, to sum up, the reasons for these protests are the legitimacy and credibility of legislation, the trust deficit between citizens and government, and the hang to take up hard state image by the government. The pursuit of a hard state is often justified on the pretext of efficiency, but in a diverse democracy such as ours, is it feasible to let go of the effectiveness aspect of any policy?

Solution with a caveat

 In a democratic polity like ours, the State acts on behalf of the people and as per the rule of law. But it is not only citizens who are subject to the rule of law, but also the State. If the State privileges itself over its citizens, if it considers citizens accountable to the State rather than itself being accountable to its citizens, we end up with an insecure State, for which every citizen may be a potential enemy within, conspiring with enemies. In such a State the security imperative trumps the rights of citizens. A State fearful of its citizens and armed with the most powerful instruments of coercion is, in fact, a weak State. It may also become a State dangerous to its citizens. Thus, the government must work as per its constitutional mandate must learn from its mistakes before moving forward.

                   Russia-Ukraine crisis 

pic credit:vox

                  

Russian action on its border with Ukraine has activated one of the biggest security crises in Europe since the Cold War. Conflicts between the two militaries are not new and had its root in the 1990s. In 2014, Russia had seized Crimea, an important warm water port region in Ukraine. However, the recent Russian build-up of 100,000 troops along the border has escalated tensions to unprecedented levels. This action of Russia has stoked fears in Kyiv and the West that the Kremlin may start a new war with its neighbor and former province that chose to break away from Moscow’s political orbit. So, what is the reason for all these developments, and will there be an all-out war? Let’s try to put things in perspective.

Historical background 

What is now Ukraine, Russia, and neighboring Belarus were born on the banks of the Dnieper River, almost 1,200 years ago in Kievan Rus, a medieval superpower- included a large chunk of Eastern Europe. But Russians and Ukrainians have more differences than similarities in terms of a linguist, history, and, most importantly, polity.

Russia has, however, claimed repeatedly that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”, part of the “Russian civilization” that also includes neighboring Belarus. Ukrainians reject his claims. However, Russia is particularly enraged by the prospect of NATO bases next to his borders and says Ukraine joining the US-led transatlantic alliance(NATO) would mark the crossing of a red line. Additionally, Russia has asked NATO to abandon military ambitions in Eastern Europe, which would mean pulling out combat units from Poland and the Baltic states. In other words, Russia wants NATO to return to its pre-1997 borders.

Russia’s concerns are understandable given that NATO was founded as a direct counterbalance to the USSR. Further, Russia shares considerable land borders with NATO countries, leaving it vulnerable to missile strikes in the event of a conflict. But, this is not the only reason for the simmering crisis.

Economic Reason

Apart from ideological and political reasons, Putin had desperately sought Ukraine’s membership in a Moscow-dominated free-trade bloc. The Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC) united several ex-Soviet republics and was widely seen as the first step to the reincarnation of the USSR.

Russia’s desperation for a warm water port is not unfounded. Most of its ports on the Arctic freeze for several months of the year and are not accessible. while Vladivostok, the largest Russian port on the Pacific Ocean, is ice-locked for four months of the year and enclosed by the Sea of Japan which is dominated by the Japanese. By seizing Crimea, Russia got access to its only true warm water port in Sevastopol. However, access to the Mediterranean sea through the Black sea is still restricted by the Montreux Convention of 1936, which gave Turkey, now a NATO member, control of the Bosporus.  

The immediate reason for Aggression:

A range of reasons can be held responsible for the recent developments. Putin’s approval ratings are going down as Russians resist vaccinations and decry the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. A new war or escalation may distract the public from domestic problems and boost Putin’s popularity. 

Putin also wants to engage in direct dialogue with the USA and it already seems to be paying off well as both had an almost 2-hour video conference call.

Will there be an all-out war?

The answer to this question with certainty can not be ascertained. Western nations have threatened Russia with tougher economic sanctions like cutting Russia out of the SWIFT financial System among others. Moreover, most of the natural gas supply to the EU comes from Russia. Russian gas supplies account for 43 percent of the total gas imports into the EU. Around one-third of Russian gas to the EU travels through Ukraine which makes European nations particularly vulnerable to conflicts between the two. During past disputes, Russia has turned off its gas pipelines through Ukraine.

What are the options?

One is to change the government in Kyiv by force; a prospect that would be costly and would evoke significant international condemnation. Another option is to impose costs on Ukraine by decimating their army or occupying critical territory until Ukrainian leaders agree to sever their ties to the West. The third, a strategy that Moscow is currently adopting, is to demand concessions from NATO and the US. However, that too comes with its risks and, Putin will be conscious of the fact that if he were to back down, it would have massive implications on its reputation.

War would be devastating for all countries, while peace seems to be elusive at the moment. The best outcome for everyone involved is to maintain the status quo and engage diplomatically to resolve the issue.

DEEPENING CHASM!

The incident of the alleged custodial death in the state of Tamil Nadu has sparked outrage across the country. This sordid and unfortunate incident has revived the debate on the functioning of India’s Criminal Justice System. With the allegations made by the investigating magistrate that some police personnel is not cooperating in the inquiry, calls for a fair probe, are growing. The public outcry against the wrongful actions of the police is nonetheless suggestive of a deepening chasm in the society against the police and warrant urgent attention.

Recurrence of such incidents raise a pertinent question, Quis custodiet Ipsos custodes? i.e. Who will guard the guards themselves? The law enforcement agencies have a pivotal role in ensuring a crime-free society. But, if the law enforcer becomes the lawbreaker, then to whom citizens of the country will look up to for their safety and security. The treatment to which people are subjected to, by police, in day to day life is not only unethical but tantamounts to dereliction of the duty also. In this article, I will try to examine the reasons for such transgression on the part of the police. Along with that, I will also reflect on some of the recommendations made by several committees and commissions to reform the system.

SYSTEM DEFICIENCIES

The need of the hour is to denounce all the acts of deprivation inflicted upon people by the police in the discharge of their duty. But, denouncement must not only be limited to criticism of such deprivations. Rather, we must compel our political leadership to make some long-lasting reforms in the criminal justice system of India.


According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRS), the state police forces had 24 percent vacancies (about 5.5 lakh vacancies) until January 2016. The sanctioned police strength was 181 police personnel per lakh persons in 2016 in contrast to the actual strength which was 137 police personnel per lakh persons. This was much less than the United Nations’ recommended standard which is 222 police personnel per lakh persons. Further, 86 percent of the total state police comprise of the constabulary. And Constables are typically promoted once during their service, and normally retire as head constables. This rigid structure of promotion during the service weakens their incentive to perform well. In contrast to the limited promotional aspects, the responsibilities on a constable are wide-ranging and are not limited to basic tasks only. For instance, a constable is expected to exercise his judgment in tasks, like intelligence gathering, surveillance work, and report to his superior officers regarding significant developments in the course of his/her duty. A constable assists with investigations and is also the first point of contact for the public. Therefore, a constable is expected to have some analytical and decision-making capabilities, and the ability to deal with people with tact, understanding, and firmness.

Further, the political interferences restrict operational freedom of the police and promote a culture of political patronage. Lower salary, poor working conditions, dilapidated infrastructure, poor training, shortage of weaponry and vehicles, etc. are some of the issues that are plaguing the police. In this dim background, the expectations of the family members of the police personnel and one’s desire to ensure that his/her children receive a quality education and health care, generate immense pressure on police personnel to meet all these genuine ends. However, I am in no way justifying or expressing solidarity towards police personnel who indulges in violent or unethical and corrupt acts. But, of the view that the issue of custodial violence must not be seen as an isolated issue and must be considered in the background of the working conditions under which police works. The malaise that is plaguing the work culture of the police forces is way deeper than portrayed above. Thus, requires an immediate antidote to restore the faith of the public in the police.

ANTIDOTE

As it is said, ‘light is the best disinfectant’, so is in the case of India’s criminal justice system(ICJS), the light is the recommendations of several commissions, committees, and the guidelines as prescribed by the Supreme Court of India to eradicate the malaise of ICJS. The issue of the police-public interface has been a matter of discussion for long. Starting with National Police Commission (NPC) to the Padamanabhaiah Commission and the Second Administrative Reform Commission (ARC), these have not only provided deep insights but made some poignant recommendations to make long-lasting reforms in the criminal justice system of India also. But, given the misplaced priorities of the political leadership, nothing much has been done to pursue the recommendations in letter and spirit. Perhaps, unwillingness is rooted in the vested interests of the politicians to use the strength of police as an instrument to sabotage the political fortunes of their opponents.

But as the saying goes, better late than never. All the issues pervading the criminal justice system of India must be assessed holistically. Besides, the adaptation of the Model Police Law Act of 2006 by the states should be encouraged on a priority basis. The guidelines framed by the Supreme Court of India in the famous DK Basu case such as all officials must carry name tags and full identification, an arrest memo must be prepared, containing all details regarding time and place of arrest, attested by one family member or a respectable member of the locality. The location of arrest must be intimated to one family or next friend, details notified to the nearest legal aid organization and arrestee must be made known of each of his/her rights. The above recommendations, if implemented in letter and spirit, will bridge the trust deficit between the police and the citizens.

Further, in Prakash Singh vs. Union of India (2006) case, the SC has laid down some guidelines like separation of crime investigation and law enforcement units, independent Police Complaint Authority (PCA) to check misconduct of police, fixed tenure of 2 years to provide operational freedom, set up police establishment board to decide transfer and postings and the establishment of the State Security Commission to curb the unwarranted influence of the state government need to be implemented expeditiously by states. It has been over a decade now but these recommendations hardly saw the light of the day. Although few states have adopted some of the recommendations, they were also in diluted form.

All the stakeholders must acknowledge the futility of a battered criminal justice system and its repercussions on society. The Prevention of Torture Bill 2017 needs to be prioritized to humanize the orientation of the prisons of the country and fulfills the commitment under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. A culture of lackadaisical approach and impunity must come to an end. It is expected that the judiciary must rise to the occasion and restore the belief that the stroke of a pen is self-enforcing, by making political leadership abide by its judgment.

INDIA’S OTT CONUNDRUM!

Once again calls to ban over-the-top (OTT) platforms have started buzzing in the Indian media. And becoming a matter of political discourse in India. The protagonists of such demands are of the view that the content that is streaming on OTT platforms is highly provocative, vulgar, and put Hinduism in poor light. It is being alleged that many web series such as Leila, Sacred Games, Paatal Lok has riled up the sentiments of the Hindu populace of the country. Therefore, it is imperative to examine this issue at its merit before drawing any concrete conclusion.


But, before examining the merits of the concerns expressed above, it is indispensable to define OTT. An OTT is a media service providing online content and offering streaming media as a standalone product. The term is commonly applied to video-on-demand platforms like Netflix, Amazone Prime, and many others. It also encompasses audio streaming, messaging services, and internet-based voice calling solutions like Tik Tok, Whatsapp, etc. however, it needs access to the internet and smartphones, tablets, laptops/PCs. In this article, I will put forth both the views, For and Against. Besides, I also try to reflect on the complexity involved in regulating the content streamed on OTT.


IN SUPPORT


A large section of the Indian society supports the call to ban OTTs. Arguments justifying the calls to ban vary from hurting religious sentiments to promoting moral degeneration of the society in general, and particularly youth. Glorification and sympathy towards terrorists on hand. While portraying the Indian Army and the Police as an active participant in nepotism, casteism, corruption, murders, and fake encounters, targetting a particular community, and encouraging ‘Hinduphobic’ content, etc. are some of the popular narratives drawing support in favor of such demands. Further, romanticization with smoking, alcohol, drugs, and violence is encouraging youth to imitate such practices.
Besides, from a security point of view, misuse of OTTs for radicalization, and to misguide youth is also a genuine concern expressed by people. These platforms have decentralized functioning of terrorist organizations. Thus, making it further difficult for agencies to efficiently and effectively tracking the perpetrators of the crimes. Lone wolf attacks, a speeding truck running into people, among others, are allegedly inspired or radicalized through many OTTs. For instance, the terrorist attack in Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand, which was live-streamed by a gunman espousing far-right political ideology, was an intriguing testimony to the possible misuse of OTTs. Therefore, in light of the above arguments, a call to ban OTT seems to be worth considering. But, before arriving at any conclusion, let us also consider the arguments on the other side.


AGAINST

As Nobel laureate, Amartya sen in his much-celebrated book “Argumentative Indian,” argues that reliance on reason should be our pursuit in resolving social issues than towing to traditions. In this backdrop, reasons not to ban OTTs, are worth considering. Any such ban will not only circumvent creativity but also an affront to the fundamental rights (FR) as envisaged in the Constitution of the Republic of India. For instance, such a ban will infringe the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression and Right to Choice (Article.19(1)(a)), and Right to Leisure (Article.21). Though, fundamental rights are not absolute and have to be contested against the principle of ‘Proportionality and Necessity’ to qualify the reasonable restrictions. Further, people do watch content available on OTTs on their devices like mobile and laptops. Consequently, they also have a Right to Privacy under article -21, which is recognized by the Supreme Court of India as a fundamental right in very famous Puttaswamy judgment.


Moreover, such protagonists are also of the view that the state must abandon its paternalistic tendencies to fetter the freedom and the liberty of citizens of the country. As every content available on OTT has a subtle disclaimer like U/A or A/A, a summary of the story, etc. This information is enough to enable people to make informed choices while surfing on OTT.


The proliferation of OTTs has revolutionized and decentralized the erstwhile monopolized entertainment industry. It has opened up a gamut of new employment opportunities and investments. Moreover, diversity of entertainment sources, recognition of hidden talent are some of the positive externalities that the government can not bruise aside while contemplating a ban on OTTs.Now, let us consider the legal complexities involved in regulating OTT.

LEGALITY OF REGULATION

The multimedia content streaming on the OTT Platforms has ‘minimal restrictions or limitations’ as they are not in the ambit of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. Therefore, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has no oversight over the content streaming on the OTT. Nevertheless, the provisions of the Information and Technology Act, 2000 apply to OTTs and the corresponding statutory authority exercising jurisdiction under the said Act can also take actions accordingly. In other words, unlawful content is not immune to the law of the land. Recently, acknowledging concerns of different sections of the society, streaming platforms entered into a self-regulation code or the ‘Code of Best Practises for Online Curated Content Providers’, intending to self-regulate its contents voluntarily. Moreover, a revised code envisages the creation of a Tier-II grievance redressal mechanism, called the ‘Digital Content Complaints Council’, to institutionalize regulation of OTT.
Nevertheless,a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) contending ban on OTT is still pending in the SC. Even the Chief Minister of Bihar is also in favor of a ban on the streaming platform, allegedly, on account of vulgarity that is being shown on these platforms. The growth of the OTT industry is attributable to self-regulation. The intervention of the state must be to strike a balance between the competing rights of all the stakeholders. As to cite Dr.A.P.J Abdul Kalam, “Creativity is seeing the same thing as everybody, but thinking of something different.”

PREDICAMENT OF TRADE EMBARGO AGAINST CHINA

With the mischievous and barbaric actions of China in the Galwan valley, a clamor, to put a trade embargo on China, is gaining traction. The pre-meditated and planned attack on Indian soldiers on 15 June 2020 resulted in 20 fatalities and left several others injured. China has not revealed casualties on its side borne out of the incident. In this background, outrage in public and the urge to give a befitting reply to China’s misadventure is genuine.

China has not only violated the territorial integrity of India but also challenged its resolve to uphold the principles enshrined and agreed upon in “Panchsheel.” This incident has heightened the public sentiments, call to boycott Chinese products is just an expression of these sentiments. However, such a view to banning trade with China lacks prudence. In this article, I will try to put things into perspective as to why banning trade with China is easier said than done.


Intricacies of Bilateral Trade

Bilateral trade between India and China is to tune of around $80 billion. Out of this, India accounts for around $60 billion import which translates into 13% of India’s import basket. Further, India’s export to China is around 5%. Now, to get a better picture of the intricacies of the bilateral trade between both the countries, let us analyze the same from the perspective of China. China’s export to India is around 3%, while its import from India is a mere 1% of its total import. This is a broader picture and easy enough, for a well-informed person, to see the effectiveness of embargo against China. But to make this understanding to the general public is a tough task. Therefore, I will breakdown this analysis to the micro level to make it easy and more understandable.

Production and Producer’s Peril

India is critically dependent on China not only for several finished products like semiconductors, nuclear reactors, etc. but also for several intermediate products. Intermediate products such as Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) to manufacture medicines, Diammonium Phosphate for production of fertilizers, rare earth minerals, automobile spare parts, and electronic hardware constitutes a significant proportion of India’s import basket from China. Thus, a sudden ban on imports from China will jeopardize not only production but also employment. Some may argue that we can import these products from any other nation. Surely, we can do that but not in such a short period. That would be an uphill task. And, if we attempt to take such a drastic step then it will be a 40% costlier for India.Consequences of which would be a drain on India’s forex reserve.

Retailer’s and Consumer’s Peril

The call to boycott all the Chinese products has more repercussions on retailers, as they have already paid for the products available in the market. Besides, consumers looking to avoid purchasing Chinese products have another predicament. They either have to purchase products made in India, let say electronic products, which might be inefficient as compared to their Chinese counterparts. But enough to cherish clarion call of ‘Atmanirbhar’ as made by the Indian Prime Minister Modi. On the other hand, if consumers choose to buy products of countries like Made in Japan Made in Korea as a substitute than they have to pay more. In other words in one way or the other, the Indian public has to pay the price.

Moreover, uncertainty arises from deteriorating bilateral Indian-China relations may jeopardize the thriving start-up ecosystem in India. As currently, start-ups like Paytm, Byju, Oyo, and many others have significant investments from Chinese investors. These start-ups may withstand the pressure of the clamor resulted from boycott China call but emerging start-ups will be deprived of the seed funds. Consequently, this will further aggravate the economic condition of India.

China is the fulcrum of the global supply chain and boycotting China will be more painful for Indian than to China. Of course, India should strive to decouple herself from China but it can only be a gradual process, calibrated in a proper and planned manner. Imposing higher tariffs, discrimination in awarding government’s contract, etc. may put India and China against each other in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for violating trade principles set out in multiple multilateral trade agreements. Perhaps, multilateral institutions like BRICS may become an arena of poxy war between both nations.

Anguish against China must not occult our ability to reason to give a befitting reply to the enemy. It is incumbent on our leadership not to succumb to skewed domestic short term populism. Rather, it should work out a multi-pronged comprehensive security framework to deal with the enemy, both militarily and economically. The sacrifice our brave soldiers have made to preserve the sanctity of India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, must not go into vain. Thus, our approach should be driven by pragmatism and greater realism not the other way around.

OPPORTUNITY IN CRISIS

image is taken from google.

When written in Chinese, the word “crisis” (危机) is composed of two alphabets, one represents ‘danger’, and the other represents an ‘opportunity.’ – John F Kennedy.
A global pandemic has revealed systemic inefficiencies plaguing the health sector of India. With the continuous increase in COVID-19 patients, hospitals across the country are struggling to respond proportionately. The image of patients sharing beds with dead bodies, news of a pregnant woman and her unborn child died after scrambling for 13 hours to get admitted into a hospital; a patient lying on a bed with his hand and legs tied due to his inability to clear hospital bills, are an indictment of apprehensions people have expressed regarding the treatment of patients.

No matter how bleak the picture is, the crisis does present an opportunity for India to shed its inhibitions and acknowledge pervasive issues plaguing its health sector. It is imperative for citizens, irrespective of their political inclinations, to seek accountability from authorities entrusted with the task. However, seeking accountability doesn’t mean to disrupt the usual day-to-day business through violent protests. Rather, protests should be in line with the principle propounded by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, “EDUCATE, ORGANIZE, AGITATE.” Only a vigilant and well-informed citizenry can awake the politicians and the administration from their deep slumber.

To put things into perspective, let us understand the crude reality of India’s health sector. India has spent only 1.4% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on healthcare in the financial year (FY) 2017-18 against China’s 5%. The average per-capita expenditure on public health is at mere ₹1,112 in FY 2015-16, which is much lower than the average per capita expenditure in China. Out-Of-Pocket (OOP) expenditure constitutes the major chunk of the healthcare expenditure of a family (around ~70 percent), of which the majority is spent on drugs and medicines. Despite various interventions of the government, the majority (at least more than 60 percent) of the patients are still forced to pay for some of the medicines they receive under any subsidy or insurance plan. Recently, a study of the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) has revealed that India has 2.06 (approx.) health professionals (counting only doctors, nurses and midwives) per 1,000 people, which is less than the minimum threshold fixed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at 4.45 under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Moreover, most central and eastern Indian states have a low density of health workers, ranging from approximately 2.3 per 1000 people in the state of Bihar and Northeastern states to as low as 0.7 per 1000 people in the state of Jharkhand.

Rural areas, accounting for at least 65 percent of the total population of India, has only 36 percent capacity of health workers. All the government medical colleges in the country produce more than 50 percent of all the doctors in the country every year, but nearly 80 percent of them prefer to work in the private sector. Also, 70 percent of nurses and midwives are employed in the private sector. Only one in five doctors in rural India are qualified to practice medicine, highlighting the widespread problem of quackery. The WHO report, published in 2016, highlighted that 31.4 percent of those calling themselves allopathic doctors, were educated only up to Class 12 and 57.3 percent doctors did not have any medical qualification.

Though the government has taken several initiatives, the most celebrated, and championed as one of the largest health care schemes, Ayushman Bharat program, is one of them. It is aimed at making path-breaking interventions to address health in a holistic manner starting from primary health care up to tertiary. Still, many issues are left unaddressed viz. inadequate allocation of resources to run the scheme, conflicting and overlapping with health schemes of various states. Therefore, It leads to a diffusion of responsibility on account of health is a state subject. Further, it creates fertile grounds for collusive as well as coercive corruption. Ensuring sustainability of the model of insurance for health insurance companies, the ever-increasing OOP on outpatient care, and neglect of health infrastructure (3 D’s: Doctors, Diagnostics, Drugs). The latest National Health Policy (NHP) introduced in 2017, has also proposed some innovative measures to salvage the crumbling health sector but nothing much has been accomplished till now.

The already existing sordid condition of the health sector got aggravated amid the ongoing pandemic crisis. Therefore, time is not to see the spectacle, rather channelize the concerned voices into one stream and transformed them into an issue of the political discourse requiring a mass movement. All the goals and targets that are decided in the NHP need to be put on a high pedestal to achieve the intended results. The successful model followed in the states of South India like Kerala and Tamil Nadu needs to be adopted by the other states with a curated approach. We must create a synergy between different schemes and efforts to uphold the accountability of the administration. Efforts should be made to attract and retain doctors in rural areas such as financial and non-financial incentives, the establishment of medical colleges in rural areas starting with an initial target of one medical college per district, preference to students from under-serviced areas, realigning pedagogy and curriculum to suit rural health needs, mandatory rural postings on a bond-basis can be some of the solutions to improve the dilapidated condition of the health sector in India.
A country that aspires to become a world leader, can not remain aloof to the health of its populace. As Dr.B.R.Ambedkar rightly said, “Frail humanity! Be it embodied in a grave philosopher or a frivolous housemaid, it succumbs. It can not be otherwise.” COVID-19 has revealed this stark reality and calls for real and long-lasting changes in India’s health sector.

INDIA-CHINA FACE-OFF

Some of the latest trends on social media platforms are #PindownChina, #ChinaUsesNepal, and similar others, which are suggesting a possibility of war between India and China. Primetime debates on popular news channels seem to be turning into war rooms and panelists from different backgrounds are contesting potential scenarios if and when a war happens. Though a full front war between the Republic of India (henceforth India) and the People’s Republic of China (henceforth China) is as impossible as World War III.
The recent incidents of Chinese incursions are undoubtedly unprecedented and have heightened the tension at the border between armies of both sides. But, rhetorics in media have blown the crisis out of proportion by contemplating a war. In the wake of the present border dispute with China, as an Indian, I think it is my duty as an informed citizen to put forward the whole picture with facts to arrest the warmongering in society. In this article, I will try to reason why a war between India and China is not favored by any of the stakeholders viz. India, China, and the World.

CHINESE AVERSION TO WAR

China is already facing severe criticism on account of its failure to timely inform the world about the outbreak of pandemic COVID-19 when it was in its early stages. Brewing tension between the US-led group of western nations and China on the issue of the new security legislation meant to do away the autonomy of Honk Kong has put the differences into a ‘cold war’ situation further cornering China. The recent trade sanctions on China by the US and the UK’s proposal to form a D10 consortium to circumvent Huawei on the issue of patent rights, together have put China into the dock. The consolidation and coming together of Western nations against one particular country may put the groupings like Quad at the forefront to be used in tandem with the US’s Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) and its Indo-Pacific command doctrine, to circumvent the rise of China. The pivotal role which can be played by India for the realization of the implicit motives envisioned in the above-mentioned groupings and doctrines may raise the stakes for China if India actively joins the US-led campaign against China. Thus, by escalating disputes to the level of war, China will only end up doing the same which it abhors i.e. a permanent coalition between India and the US against China.

INDIA’S AVERSION TO WAR

The ambivalent attitude of the US towards the geopolitical interests of India has raised India’s suspicion of whether to consider the US as a trustworthy and reliable partner. For instance, the US has completely neglected India’s reservations in the Afghanistan Peace Process and left India to fend for herself. Moreover, some observations like the US is using India to counter China and pays no regard for India’s interests in other regions on geopolitical or trade-related issues are gaining traction. The action of the US to extricate itself from the Middle East Region will leave a vacuum in the region to be filled by China through its Belt-Road Initiative (BRI) and ‘Debt-Trap’ diplomacy. In case of a breakout of war, one of the possible fallouts will be a significant rise in the terrorist activities and proxy wars against India backed by China.

MUTUAL INTERESTS OF INDIA AND CHINA

India and China are the fastest emerging economies in the world. Though rivals on many fronts, they share a mutual concern on several issues. The bilateral trade between both nations is to the order of $ 90 billion and is following an increasing trajectory. Along with this, other forms of interdependence between both the nations will not allow the temporary border disputes to escalate into a war. For instance, India is critically dependent on China for its rare earth minerals, APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient), electronics hardware, etc. Likewise, China sees India as a prominent investment destination. To name a few Byju, Paytm, Rivigo has witnessed a significant investment from China. Chinese Huawei is also contending in the auction of the Indian 5G spectrum.
From ‘Aggregate Measurement of Support’ (AMS) (or ‘Amber Box’ support) in World Trade Organization (WTO) parlance to the environmental principle of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ (CBDR) in the parlance of Paris Climate Agreement (PAC), a new form of active cooperation and coordination is building up between India and China at various multilateral institutions to safeguard their mutual interests. Further, the establishment of BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) and its daughter institutions like the New Development Bank (NDB), Agriculture Research Platform, and BRICS Credit Rating Agency (CRA), etc. which are meant to serve the interests of developing countries will be severely compromised in case of a war between India and China.

GLOBAL INTERESTS

India and China are among the top 5 militarily superior nations and a war between them will not only put their economies on the backburner but also of the whole region. Indirect victims of war will be nations like Nepal and Bhutan. Once a war starts no one can predict its outcome and means which will be employed to win the war. This argument also assumes significance as both the nations are nuclear states and the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons can not be completely ruled out, which may put an existential threat to the global community.
From the above discussion, it is clear that the possibility of war between both nations is almost negligible. As the recent aggressive actions of China, if to believe some defense experts, are tactics employed by President Xi Jinping to curb the brewing domestic discontent against his leadership by diverting the attention of the nation against the fear of an enemy. On the other hand, President Donald Trump is using ‘China-bashing’ as a template for the upcoming presidential elections in the US. In this background, It is imperative that citizen of both the countries, India and China, should act responsibly and not to indulge in warmongering talks on all the platforms because as analyzed above it is only a circumstantial phenomenon which will lose its steam if not given much attention by the people.

IS CHINA UPPING THE ANTE?

The pandemic COVID-19 has widened the existing trust deficit among the nations worldwide. The idea that ‘China is upping the ante’, possibly to preempt investments from departing to neighboring countries in the post-COVID-19 world, is gaining currency. Some may consider this notion just an exaggeration and thus may underplay this aggression. But apprehensions arising from such intrusions can not be neglected by its neighboring countries, particularly, India. In this article, we will discuss the changing dynamics along with some recent incidents to prove the above-expressed apprehensions.

BREWING TROUBLE

The Overlap of geographical territories between China and its neighboring countries has always been a bone of contention and often resulted in a military confrontation. But recent incidents of territorial aggression on the part of the china have gotten a new lease of life with a sudden increase in aggressive navy drills by PLA in the South China sea. For instance, Vietnam has lost a fishing boat to the Chinese Coast Guard last month. Also, Chinese surveying vessels can be spotted in and around Indonesian water which raises serious suspicions on China’s intention.
A similar form of Chinese aggression is witnessed by the Indian authorities on its land borders. There are two incidents to point out particularly. The first scuffle was reported on 5 May 2020 at Nakula in Northern Sikkim and the other happened within four days on 9 May 2020 on the northern side of the Pangong Tso lake near Chushul, Ladakh, at a distance of more than 1000km which resulted in injuries to the soldiers on both the sides.

Hidden intention

There have been ongoing talks in global investment circles which indicates that in the post-COVID -19 world china may witness relocation of more than 1,000 firms to the neighboring countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and India. For instance, the proposed relocation of more than 27 US companies from China to Indonesia, is a direct indication of the erosion of Chinese hegemony as a global manufacturing hub. According to the sources Germany-based healthy footwear brand, Von Wellx, has decided to relocate its entire production from china to India. This emerging trend of the relocation of manufacturing units has unnerved China. As a result, China is aggressively intensifying territorial disputes to create an environment of instability and fear for global investors in neighboring countries.
In addition to the above-mentioned apprehensions, china is also targetting India because of Taiwan’s question.

TAIWAN QUESTION
Taiwan has successfully handled the COVID -19 pandemic effectively and scientifically, which has received appreciation from all over the world. To make available the learnings from Taiwan’s strategy to all the countries fighting the pandemic, a resolution has been proposed by Swaziland and Nicaragua to reinstate an observer status to Taiwan at the World Health Assembly(WHA), WHO’s executive decision-making body. In this background, India has been appointed to chair the WHA, on May 19, 2020 for the next 3 years. This has put India in a tight spot over rising global pressure, especially coming from Japan and Australia, and sharpening faultlines between the US and China. Now, India has to take a stand on whether to support the demand of the US to reinstate the status of Taiwan as an independent observer at the WHA. This resolution, if accepted, will go against India’s longstanding “one- China” policy. Therefore, the idea that skirmishes at the border are tactics to influence India’s decision, is plausible.
Equality and mutual respect are the basic norms of international relations. The basic unit of humanity is a community and a shared future. The global community is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented coordination and cooperation. As a Chinese saying goes, “Do not impose on others what you do not desire”,.China himself must not distract consolidation of the global efforts by raking up territorial issues with its neighbors in these trying times. Rather China must walk shoulder to shoulder to lead efforts against the global fight of COVID-19.

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