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NRC after Citizenship Bill — Swapan Dasgupta, listen to Urjit Patel on banks — Ashok Desai

The best of the day’s opinion, chosen and curated by ThePrint’s top editors.

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The NRC process has distorted Indian nationhood. Set it right

Swapan Dasgupta | Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
Hindustan Times

Writing about the  National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, Dasgupta recounts two incidents. The former journalist writes about a meeting with a community of Hindu banjaras (a nomadic tribe) in Jodhpur seeking “refuge and citizenship” after crossing over from Pakistan. He also mentions a meeting with “nervous Hindus in Bangladesh” who had told him that nearly 40 rural Hindu families crossed over to India every day due to social isolation and vulnerability. For Hindus and Sikhs who were left on “the wrong side of Partition”, there is an “unstated right of return” to India, suggests Dasgupta.

The NRC has identified 19 lakh people as “illegal settlers” in Assam. Dasgupta lists two issues with this. First, the verification process failed to differentiate between those who left “East Pakistan/ Bangladesh” to “avert religious persecution”, and those settled in Assam to make a better life or as part of a formal process. Secondly, the NRC process should have been started after the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was enacted. In view of these, Dasgupta suggests that the government should legally “invert” these steps.

Platform for nuclear threats: Is anti-India prejudice hardwired into The New York Times’ DNA?

Ramesh Thakur | Professor Emeritus of Public Policy, Australian National University
The Times of India

Thakur writes that The New York Times (NYT) reached a “new low” in displaying its “anti-India bias” when it published an opinion piece by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on 31 August.

He points out that Khan in his NYT piece refused to admit the involvement of Jaish-e-Mohammad in the Pulwama attack. In his piece, the Pakistan prime minister also compared Indian PM Narendra Modi to dictators like Mussolini, Hitler and Milosevic, while Khan himself is PM “owing largely to the machinations of the military intelligence-dominated deep state”.

At the time the NYT article was published, a 19-year old Sikh girl in Pakistan was “abducted, forcibly converted and married to a Muslim”, writes the professor. From its cartoon mocking India’s Mars Mission to its “hypocritical editorial” rejecting India’s credentials to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the NYT’s commitment “to publishing a diversity of opinions” is questionable, writes Thakur.

Reaching out to Europe

Raja Mohan | Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore
The Indian Express

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Biarritz to meet G-7 leaders, and to Vladivostok for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, helped establish the importance of Eurasia for India’s “changing geopolitics”, writes Mohan. Modi’s successful talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow, Budapest, Warsaw and Brussels could help India overcome some of its recent foreign policy challenges.

First among them is the “Russian question”. With Macron, Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enthusiastic about easing conflict with Russia, India has a great stake in a rapprochement between “Russia and its European neighbours in the west and Japan in the east”. Secondly, India and other countries can work with France to develop coalitions to stabilise the Indo-Pacific region. Thirdly, India needs to support the initiative by France and Japan to “save the global trading system” amid the US-China trade war. Fourth, India can join the German initiative, “Alliance for Multilateralism”. Finally, there is “room for expansive cooperation” between India and Central European states.

India’s Afghanistan policy should rapidly adapt to the evolving realities

Harsh Pant | Professor, International Relations, King’s College London
The Economic Times 

After US President Donald Trump hinted at the need for India to play a bigger role in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, Pant highlights the “realities of geography”.

Trump’s statements from last month about retaining some presence in the region have complicated chances of a “final settlement” in conflict-ridden Afghanistan, but the US President’s desire to withdraw from Afghanistan will certainly increase pressure on regional powers.

India has done a lot of developmental work in Afghanistan and enjoys the country’s goodwill. Its “ability to shape the priorities of its neighbours” was demonstrated, writes Pant, when Pakistan tried to gain Afghanistan’s support over India’s move to abrogate Article 370, but was rebuffed even by Taliban.

Afghanistan is more likely to look at India to “safeguard its sovereignty” but for that India’s Afghanistan policy should rapidly adapt to the “evolving realities”, writes Pant.

It’s a brouhaha over one pocket swapping money with the other

Anantha Nageswaran | Dean, IFMR Graduate School of Business, Krea University

Amid a debate over the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s decision to transfer Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the Modi government, Nageswaran writes that the central bank in any country “is an extended arm of the government” and the move is akin to “a transfer from the left pocket to the right pocket, or vice-versa”.

However, he argues that the transfer does suggest a kind of fiscal desperation on the part of the government. An expert committee had recommended that “the RBI Board make a decision to keep the bank’s contingency risk buffer (CRB) within a range of 5.5% to 6.5% and transfer the excess to the government”. The board has chosen the lower end of the spectrum, he notes.

Nageswaran also cautions the government against arm-twisting the central bank further as such a move may prove counter-productive.

The dangers of optimism: India needs to guard against turning complacent

Mihir S Sharma | Columnist, Fellow at Observer Research Foundation
Business Standard

In view of the considerable economic slowdown, Sharma argues argues for the need of urgent structural reforms. The country has long been “accustomed to assume that, in the long run, things will work out for the Indian economy”. India has many advantages like “a young population, strong consumption demand, a large market, [and] a labour cost advantage”, but these could lead to complacency and the mistaken belief that India will eventually become an upper-middle income country.

“There is often a trade-off between short- and long-term effects of policy” and, in India, the belief is that “the short term is what really matters because the long term will take care of itself”. This leads to a de-prioritisation of structural reforms, he observes.

After taking steps to aid growth, govt must now work to rationalise GST rate
Govinda Rao | Chief economic advisor, Brickwork Ratings and counsellor, Takshashila Institution

The Financial Express

Rao looks at the slowdown in various sectors of the Indian economy and provides recommendations for a revival. Noting the drop in manufacturing sector’s growth to 0.6 per cent this year from 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of last year, he writes that this “has not been seen for a long time”. In the construction sector too, the growth has dropped from 9.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2018-19 to 5.7 per cent in the current fiscal.

According to Rao, one of the reasons for the “moderation in private consumption and capital formation” is the high GST rate. He mentions that 28 per cent tax on items like automobiles and consumer durables like refrigerators and air-conditioners has negatively affected demand.

To tackle this, Rao recommends a reduction in the number of items in the highest tax slab.

The unhealthy banking sector will serve the economy poorly and make the RBI ineffective

Ashok V. Desai | Economist and former chief consultant, Ministry of Finance
The Telegraph

Noting the issues with India’s banking sector, Desai cites former RBI governor Urjit Patel’s speech at Stanford University to say that India’s “extremely high NPA ratio of close to 10 per cent” puts it in the company of countries like Cameroon, Maldives, Bulgaria and Italy. “In most normal countries”, the ratio is 1-2 per cent.

Desai argues that in India the government uses public sector banks to “give favours and buy political support”. They have to lend “without expectation of repayment — to farmers, small businesses and so on”. He notes that the number of fraudulent loans — “giving loans for a bribe to people who are not going to repay” — have quadrupled since 2013-14 and 90 per cent of them are from government banks.

These banking sector issues can be quickly resolved if the government gives RBI “the requisite powers”, he writes. However, he argues that the government is unlikely to do it since it wants banks to “lend to borrowers in agriculture, small industry and infrastructure”.

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