Rajdeep Sardesai | Senior journalist and author
Sardesai writes that Modi 2.0’s most defining feature is the strong rise of Amit Shah as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s number two. Major decisions taken in this term have borne the “stamp of Shah” — from the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir to the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Right to Information Act.
Shah previously served as minister of state and handled almost 12 portfolios in the state government when Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002. He was considered the “eyes and ears” of Modi. BJP’s former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his home minister L.K. Advani were also a strong duo between 1998-2004, but not as powerful as Modi and Shah who have a generation gap of 15 years. But Shah is “careful to walk a step behind the PM”, and never undermines Modi.
Shah’s emergence signals a complete “ideological shift” in this regime. But “excessive centralisation of power” could weaken the rest of the cabinet and Parliament, and potentially lead to “arbitrary” decisions like demonetisation. The Modi-Shah combo could work in Gujarat, but their success in a larger framework will be tested on issues like Kashmir and the economy.
Pamela Philipose | Author of ‘Media’s Shifting Terrain: Five Years that Transformed the Way India Communicates’
The Indian Express
Philipose writes about the “civic death” of those afflicted after Assam’s NRC process, and the indifference and inaction from most parts of the country. She questions if this is because some feel that the final NRC list was “fair” as the numbers were less than the initial projections or because the “Bangladeshi spectre” will finally be removed.
Labelling people “Muslim infiltrators” can be seen not just in the police’s FIR reports, but also in judiciary’s language. This “communal framing”, writes Philipose, is decades old, but things are now worse, with a party, which is “committed to Hindutva”, controlling Assam and the Centre, says the author.
The NRC process could forever change the constitutional idea of citizenship in India, Philipose says.
Ironically, while India tries to affirm its position in the global order, it is violating several international treaties through the NRC process. Those who feel treaties are not binding should note that Article 51(c) of the Indian Constitution “enjoins the fostering of respect for treaty obligations”, many of which are now laws in our country.
There needs to be an awareness of “statelessness as state-directed stripping of rights”, and what it means for those who are reduced to being aliens, concludes Philipose.
Mohammed Ayoob | University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University
Ayoob writes that the exit of John Bolton, National Security Advisor to US President Donald Trump, coupled with Israel’s “diminished influence on Washington” are signs that US-Iran relations may improve. Trump needs a breakthrough in foreign policy before the 2020 elections as his efforts with North Korea and Afghanistan have been ineffective.
Bolton’s conviction to make US push Iran for a regime change, even if that meanbt war, did not go down well with Trump. He doesn’t want to send more troops to “volatile West Asia”, he wants to bring back American soldiers — an important source of votes. It became evident in the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France, that Iran and the US are willing to talk to each other.
Israel and John Bolton had been the biggest “obstacles” between the US and Iran, but Israel is worried by the US’s new stand on Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that a meeting between Trump and Iran President Hassan Rouhani might happen soon. This could be the beginning of a “de-escalatory process that is likely to benefit both Washington and Tehran in the long run”, says Ayoob.
R Jagannathan | Editorial director, Swarajya
The Times of India
Jagannathan writes that Ruchir Sharma’s article about 5 per cent GDP being the new 7 per cent for India may have caused frenzy, but it turned out to be an accurate prediction as India’s 5 per cent GDP number was revealed for this quarter. But if India needs to accept the 5 per cent GDP as the new “aspirational benchmark”, it will become tough to accommodate jobs for the rapidly growing working-age population. The author feels that policies to improve the quality of growth are needed irregardless of the GDP.
During former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee’s time, there was low growth but employment grew by almost 60 million between 1999 and 2004. In the UPA’s term right after, there was a spurt in growth, but reduced employment. Quality of jobs in the Vajpayee era were poor but jobs at those wages were aplenty despite low growth, and “quality” of growth was poor in the UPA era as wage levels rose, but people still dropped out of the workforce.
Policymakers should focus on growth through microeconomic policies not just macroeconomic ones, the author says. Focus should be on “job creating” sectors rather than capital-intensive sectors, better labour laws, sound urbanisation policies and an improved ease of doing business to attract foreign investment.
“The quantum of growth is less important than its quality” says Jagannathan.
Shyam Saran | Former foreign secretary and currently a Senior Fellow, CPR
Saran argues that the continuing political unrest and violence in Hong Kong will prove to be a “serious setback to China’s quest for integration with the global financial market and the internationalisation of its currency”.
The “lesser evil” for China will be violent suppression of the protests and complete the integration of Hong Kong, he writes.
Saran states that Hong Kong has been a “key intermediary” for China in terms of expanding its trade and financial connectivity world-wide. “China has used the Hong Kong financial market to enable step by step liberalisation of its own financial sector and for the internationalisation of its currency, the Renminbi(RMB).”
China also accessed the US market through Hong Kong and this will worsen their relationship, he writes. These protests will prove to be costly for China as Hong Kong’s financial success was “rooted in the confidence it enjoyed internationally as a safe and well managed regional trade and logistics hub”.
Further, Saran writes, these protests will also propel China to push for regional integration of such disputed territories, which will raise tensions in the South China Sea.
Rajat Kathuria | Director & CEO, ICRIER
Kathuria writes that bundling — where two or more goods, or services, are sold at a single price — is beneficial for the common people, and TRAI needs to recognise that for its broadcasting regulations.
He cites the multiple services offered by Amazon Prime on a single subscription and argues, “For consumers, they (bundling) reduce search costs while for producers, they reduce distribution costs.”
TRAI’s 2017 regulation that switched broadcasting subscriptions to an a-la-carte system has actually increased the costs of television bills upto 25 per cent and in some instances the channel costs were increased by 100 per cent. “The order raised several compliance challenges for the technologically underprepared cable operator,” writes Kathuria. TRAI itself, “was disappointed with the outcome”, the author says.
Kathuria argues that the recent consultation papers on broadcasting and cable, which attempts to “course-correct” the previous TRAI regulation by introducing price floors on channel bouquets among other recommendations, will be “harmful to long-run viability”.
Thus, since broadcasting is, anyway, facing competition from OTT media services, bundling “might just be the better approach,” writes Kathuria.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay | Journalist
In his piece, Mukhopadhyay reviews the BJP’s rise to single-party dominance, which can only be countered from “below” — the states, the Opposition or some counter-narrative.
Before 1989, India had One-Party Dominance (OPD) or the Congress system, which later turned into a multi-party system with Congress and the BJP as frontrunners. Yet after a phase of coalition politics, explains Mukhopadhyay, BJP emerged as the ODP, monopolising on “majority angst” and resentment felt over minority appeasement. This was reaffirmed by the party’s 2019 victory after which it no longer camouflaged its commitment to religious nationalism.
Modi’s recent clap back at critics of cow welfare policies is the latest example, which also reveals the BJP’s “growing need to discredit dissent”. Mukhopadhyay also points to the passage of many contentious bills within the last 100 days, which not only reveals BJP’s “majoritarian impatience”, but also the “Opposition’s ineffectiveness”.
Deepak Nayyar | Professor of economics, JNU
Nayyar discusses population explosion, a key talking point in Prime Minister Modi’s Independence Day speech, as a “reason for hope rather than despair”.
India’s growing population, he explains, can be harnessed as a workforce to drive economic growth, since a high proportion are young people at a working age (20-59 years). This can only be achieved, however, through better education and healthcare.
India’s population might be growing too rapidly because it is poor, writes Nayyar, since children are often considered a source of supplementing family income. Mobilising the population towards development, however, could lead to higher income levels and reduced birth rates until they replace the existing population. Once income levels rise, explains Nayyar, poverty is reduced and literacy, especially among women, spreads. Unlike elsewhere in Asia, this demographic transition has been stalled by inadequate healthcare and education.