Harsh Mander | Human rights and peace worker, writer and teacher
In the aftermath of the final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list that has excluded nearly 19 lakh (1.9 million) residents of Assam, Mander describes it as a “flawed process” that has pleased none. For supporters of the Assam agitation, Mander writes that there is “sore disappointment” as the final figure of less than 2 million is nowhere close to the 10 million “illegal immigrants” they had bandied about. For the BJP, Mander writes, the high number of Bengali Hindus on the list could pose a problem as “it is only Bengali-origin Assamese Muslim immigrants who constitute a threat to the Indian nation”.
The relatively low final tally, Mander writes, appears to vindicate the stand of Bengali-origin Assamese, who “have long maintained that the estimates of illegal immigration are grossly exaggerated”. That should be little comfort as those left out will have to now approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs), which Mander says apart from operating in “openly hostile and arbitrary ways”, are just too few to accommodate lakhs of cases.
As the number of Bengali Muslims in the final list is small, Mander warns that the state has plans of reverification and this too will be referred to the FTs. Whether the “illegal immigrants” will be deported, detained in detention centres is yet to be seen, he writes, but they will become “‘marked people’, powerless and susceptible to social violence and intense state scrutiny”.
DP Srivastava | Former Ambassador to Iran
Times of India
Srivastava writes on the possible thaw in the frosty ties between the US and Iran in the wake of recent statements by leaders of both countries. At the end of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, US President Donald Trump said he was open to meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and extend a “line of credit to Iran” against its oil exports. Rouhani responded to the “partial sanctions relief”, by saying that “power and diplomacy should go hand in hand” before adding that sanctions should be lifted before a meeting with Trump.
Srivastava writes that this offers “a faint glimmer of hope”, amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf region, after the nuclear deal between the two countries, also called JCPOA, fell through. The writer warns that “abandoning JCPOA could start a nuclear arms race in the region” and advocates for India to “play a role” in resolving the issue. “It (India) has the trust of both sides, and interest in stability of the Gulf as well as Afghanistan,” he writes, adding that while “road to negotiations will be tortuous” due to distrust on both sides, “the risks are worth taking”.
Ashok Malik | Distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation.
Almost a month has passed since the Modi government bifurcated J&K and abrogated Article 370. “The government has survived a critical phase,” writes Malik, as, he adds, there have not been any large scale protests or recorded instances of violence. Calling for an “early return to normality”, Malik writes that in the long run, Modi will be “judged by is his willingness to preserve and indeed enhance the ordinary Kashmiri’s dignity”. “This calls for a new social contract between the Indian State and its most alienated citizens,” he writes, adding that historically the relationship between the Valley and the Indian State has been “mediated by a political elite defined by clientelism”.
This political elite, writes Malik, took money from all sides “as Kashmir’s crisis became an industry”. For the ordinary Kashmiri, Malik says it “increased their sense of self-loathing and their resentment toward those in power”. “The true measure of Modi’s new politics in Kashmir will be to what extent such “resentment” and “self-loathing” are replaced by a sense of dignity,” he concludes.
Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy | Social activists working with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information.
Dey and Roy write that the RTI Act is not just a law but an integral part of human and democratic rights, and “as integral a part of the right to equality, as basic as human dignity”. They write that there is “legislative cunning” behind the recent RTI amendments, through which the government can now fix the tenure, status and salaries of central and state information commissioners. By this, the government has tried to control the “machinery and power centre” of the RTI, they write, adding that most governments have realised how citizens use the RTI like an “X-Ray or MRI” to check those in power.
When earlier people would ask why poor people needed information, it was proved that there is a link between “the right to know and the right to live”. The RTI law that was enacted signalled a “paradigm shift in realizing constitutional rights”. RTI users are now trying to “sharpen their RTI tools and demands”, for instance, the “Jan Soochna Portal” in Rajasthan. Like Judge K.M. Joseph had said in the Supreme Court’s Rafale judgement, the right to information is an “unstoppable human search for truth and justice”.
Sandipan Deb | Former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines
Sandipan Deb argues that big tech firms such as Facebook and Twitter lean left but warns against any government intervention to enforce neutrality. Under present US laws, internet companies have the freedom to handle their content as they see fit, and can take down objectionable content under broad legal immunity. He mentions that DonaldTrump “has reportedly drafted an executive order that could put the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of shaping how companies… curate what appears on their websites”.
He provides multiple examples to show that most big tech firms are left-leaning spaces. However, he argues that if governments start deciding how private corporations curate their content, then it will lead to a slippery slope that can result in government overreach. He writes that these firms have the right to frame their rules, and users who are unhappy can always leave. He argues that the problem is that these companies are monopolies that endanger freedom of expression. He further states that if the US government’s antitrust investigations lead to a break up of some tech giants, then “competition and market dynamics will automatically take care of ideological skews”.
Sonal Varma | Chief Economist (India and Asia ex-Japan), Nomura
Sonal Varma discusses the reasons behind India’s economic slowdown and the steps that can be taken to resolve it. She writes that the slowdown is partly cyclical and partly structural. Among the cyclical factors, she identifies a shadow banking stress and weaker global demand. Discussing the structural factors, she writes that “India’s investment-to-GDP ratio has been declining since 2012, and productivity growth has stalled”.
Given India’s weak GDP growth, and provided inflation remains low, she suggests monetary policy easing. She also writes that a “counter-cyclical fiscal stimulus” should be considered only if the slowdown persists or deepens. To overcome India’s structural problems, she recommends a multi-pronged strategy. This should involve, she says, fast-tracking infrastructure investments, raising India’s export market share, and attracting global value chains moving away from China among others.
Meghnad Desai | The author is a Prominent economist and labour peer
Meghnad Desai mentions that he had earlier taken the position that India’s slowdown was cyclical, and now a latest RBI analysis has also called the slide “as the down phase of a cycle, but not a trend reversal”. He writes that the budget gave confusing signals because of the “anti-growth and anti-foreign capital ideologues in the majority party” who now seem to have been checked.
He also talks about the transfer of RBI reserves to government. He writes that while “this has raised questions about the independence of the central bank”, “the idea that central bank should be independent of the elected Executive… is a fairly recent development”. He writes that the UK gave independence to the Bank of England only in 1997, and that too just with respect to setting the interest rate. He further argues that “the 1935 legislation setting up RBI clearly enjoins it to follow Treasury advice”.
Vikram Singh Mehta | The author is chairman & senior fellow, Brookings India
Vikram Singh Mehta discusses the “apparent lack of cohesion in economic thinking” in the government and wonders if “there is any economic body in the government that has both the mandate to look at the big picture… and also the ear of the political leadership”. He cites the example of India’s auto industry to show how the lack of cohesion in government’s policies have negatively affected this industry. He cites policies like increase in the maximum load-carrying capacity of trucks, a “generalised constriction on retail financing by banks”, “ tightening of safety norms or the fast forwarding of the Bharat Stage 6 emission norms” to argue that while “these decisions might make sense on a standalone basis,” collectively “they acquire some rough edges”.
He argues that bodies like NITI Aayog and the PM’s Economic Advisory Council “do not have the executive authority to contextualise sectoral initiatives within the broader sweep of the macroeconomy”. This lacuna needs to be addressed, he recommends.