1) Bottom or mirage?: On NSO estimates of GDP growth
Official estimates of gross domestic product for the fiscal third quarter have pegged growth in the festival demand-filled October-December period at 4.7%.
A distinct slowdown from the revised year-earlier and preceding quarters’ 5.6% and 5.1% paces respectively.
CONTRACTION IN VARIOUS SECTORS OF ECONOMY:
Manufacturing, which contributes just under a fifth to gross value added (GVA), was the biggest drag posting a 0.2% decline and extending the sector’s contraction into a second straight quarter.
Output at electricity and allied utility services also shrank 0.7%, reflecting lack of demand from becalmed factories.
And activity in construction, a generator of orders for goods from cement to steel, softened worryingly to a 0.3% expansion, prolonging the industry’s slowdown for a third consecutive quarter.
However, agriculture and the three largest services sectors, including public administration and defence, shored up overall GVA.
Farm output expanding by 3.5% and the government-centred services growing by 9.7%, according to NSO estimates.
SURGE IN GROWTH:
The Centre was quick to assert that the economy appeared to have “bottomed out”, with the Economic Affairs Secretary citing an improvement in output at the eight core industries as an uptick in momentum.
To be sure, overall growth at the eight industries that include coal, refinery products, steel, cement and electricity averaged 2.2% in January, propelled by an 8% increase in coal production.
And the survey-based IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI for February pointed to an improvement in manufacturing, clearly a positive augury.
Still, a closer look at the actual numbers for private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) and gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) — key components of GDP — across the three quarters belies hope that the economy is out of the woods.
Downward revision of data for 2018-19 have lent a statistical boost of 0.6 percentage point to the first and second quarter GDP growth estimates.
Disconcertingly the second-quarter PFCE and GFCF figures have been revised downward from what was projected earlier.
And of concern is the second successive contraction in capital formation.
GFCF shrank 5.2% in the third quarter, after declining 4.1% over July-September, signalling that investment activity is just not recovering, the government’s corporate tax cuts notwithstanding.
Consumption spending too remains palpably soft with the pace of growth for all three quarters lagging the year-earlier levels even after the revision.
With automobile sales still floundering, the RBI’s consumer confidence survey pointing to a fall in non-essential consumption and the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on global demand yet to be factored in, the bottom may still be some distance away.
While data revisions have lifted first-half growth, actual numbers reveal a softening.
2) Safeguard undermined: sedition charges on Kanhaiya Kumar
Kanhaiya Kumar and nine others were booked for allegedly supporting “seditious” slogans raised during an event at JNU on February 9, 2016.
The law on granting sanction for prosecution imposes a duty on the government concerned to apply its mind to the facts of each case.
And then render a decision based on its assessment whether, prime facie, a case has been made out.
Delhi govt.’s policy decision to grant sanction to prosecute in all cases is questionable.
AAP regime’s justification that it cleared the prosecution of Kanhaiya Kumar and others on charges of sedition and conspiracy because it adopts a policy of non-interference in judicial matters is completely unacceptable.
The process cannot be based on a uniform policy.
Superior courts have repeatedly stressed that giving sanction is not a mechanical process, but requires application of mind.
The government is required to decide whether there is enough material to conclude that the speech or slogans had a tendency to create public disorder or contained incitement to violence.
The prior sanction norm is a vital procedural safeguard against frivolous prosecution.
The sanction requirement has seen criticism only in corruption cases, as the power could be used to shield corrupt public servants.
However, the sanction contemplated by Section 196 of the CrPC, for “offences against the state” in the Indian Penal Code, as well as “conspiracy” to commit them, is different.
Such sanction is also needed for Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups) and Section 295A (malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings).
The reason is that a police officer’s understanding of the offence should be subject to the government’s scrutiny so that these provisions are not unlawfully used against free speech.
DELHI GOVT's DISSERVICE:
In reducing its role to a policy that only the judiciary can decide the case on merits, the Delhi government has done a disservice to those charged with the serious offence under Section 124A.
The Delhi police filed a charge sheet in January 2019. There was criticism from the ruling BJP that the AAP government was delaying the grant of sanction.
There was a court deadline for the regime to give its decision. However, this did not mean that it was asked to accord sanction mechanically.
After video footage purportedly showing the students raising “anti-India” slogans was found to be doctored, one would have thought the NCT government would be wary of endorsing the police claim.
Moreover, the decision goes against the emerging body of opinion that the sedition provision needs to be revisited, if not scrapped altogether.
The political narrative behind the belated grant of sanction may be that Mr. Kejriwal and his party might not want to concede the nationalistic space entirely to the BJP.
What is of greater concern is that its action may end up legitimising the imaginary construct that these students and their supporters constitute a ‘tukde tukde’ gang bent on breaking up the country.
3) The message from Delhi
Despite surface similarities, what happened in Delhi last week was not a “riot”, at least not what we used to mean by that term.
Nor is it accurately described by other old-fashioned terms such as “communal violence” or “pogrom”.
The truth is that we do not have a single word or phrase yet that can name this phenomenon, because it is really the newest stage of an ongoing project rather than a stand-alone event.
Before discussing this project, it may be helpful to note some of the reasons why older descriptions do not fit.
More than mere ‘communal violence’, the recent events mark a disturbing turning point in contemporary Indian politics.
If the 2002 riots of Gujarat were our first in the age of the mobile phone, the rampaging mobs of Delhi have scripted India’s first encounter with public violence in the era of the smart phone.
Despite the inevitable risk of fakery, this is undoubtedly the first time that copious audio-visual documentation of wholesale violence has emerged almost immediately.
Video clips of horrific acts of wanton cruelty are criss-crossing social media, speaking eloquently of the unspeakable. Deeply shocking as these images are, their effect is even more stunning.
Graphic depictions of inhumanity have not elicited remorse or changed minds; rather, they have deepened biases and hardened stances. At least this is how it seems a week later.
One explanation for this is the media, particularly television and digital platforms.
Our society has never been as media saturated, nor have our media been as blatantly one-sided as they are now.
The bulk of the electronic media are strongly and blindly supportive of the ruling party and the government, and they fawn on the Prime Minister, who can do no wrong in their eyes.
Even when confronted with damning evidence, the so called ‘godi’ (or lapdog) media finds ways to defend the indefensible, the more aggressive elements even going on the offensive with “alternative facts”.
But the major part of the explanation lies elsewhere, and is far more important.
The Delhi violence and its aftermath point to the truth that, today, a large mass of people have been injected with hate and inoculated against all antidotes.
Such people are convinced that they already have all the facts they need. They are programmed to regard arguments against their worldview as proof of a conspiracy against it.
Their staunch beliefs are not random perversions, or a legacy from the past. They are the fruit of long and painstaking ideological work at the grass roots.
How to counter this work and undo its effects is the central question of our time.
SHAHEEN BAGH MODEL:
Another striking difference from the major riots of the past is the absence of a clear and commensurable provocation;
1984 had the assassination of a Prime Minister by her Sikh bodyguards as the trigger,
while 2002 had the Godhra train deaths attributed to Muslims.
The year 2020 has nothing comparable, except the protests against the CAA, and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) iconised by Shaheen Bagh.
More an inspiring model than a place, Shaheen Bagh is quite exceptional as a provocation for unrestrained brutality and killings.
It is a peaceful protest led by women of all ages including the elderly; it constantly invokes nationalist symbols, speaks a non-sectarian language, and adopts the Preamble to the Constitution as its manifesto.
Spreading quickly (albeit unevenly) across much of the country, the Shaheen Bagh model of protest is the first significant political challenge faced by the Modi-Shah duo since their rise to power in 2014.
No matter how annoying these protests were to daily commuters, and regardless of the local conflicts between rival groups of activists, there was nothing here to justify the organised looting, arson and murder that ensued.
The argument that this was Delhi’s “punishment” for rejecting the ruling party in the recent Delhi Assembly election is an inadequate explanation because the loss did not matter a great deal in the larger scheme of things.
The acts of omission and commission of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) both before and specially after the violence point to another major truth about contemporary politics.
It is one of the most significant achievements of the Modi-Shah project that no major party is willing to take even the slightest risk of appearing to be pro-Muslim today.
This argument can be taken further.
The Delhi violence may mark a decisive turning point in the post-2019 phase of the Modi-Shah project when the nationalist-cum-anti-Muslim agenda has generated enough momentum to break free of electoral compulsions.
If true, this is a momentous event. It implies that the Hindu-majoritarian agenda has won the political battle so decisively that it can even afford to lose elections.
In other words, elections will be won or lost on “lesser” local or current issues, but both winners and losers will support Hindu-majoritarianism.
Seen from the reverse angle, this means that challenges to Hindu-majoritarianism can only be staged outside of electoral politics.
But the Modi-Shah project is more than and different from a Hindu-majoritarian agenda. This distinction is vital because it is the only ray of hope for those who oppose both.
Put simply, the Modi-Shah project is a deeply authoritarian two-man bid for capturing and retaining power that is riding two horses simultaneously, namely crony corporatism and Hindu-majoritarianism.
Only after its second consecutive landslide win in 2019 has the Modi-Shah duo acquired enough leverage to become the dominant partner vis-à-vis its allies, but it still needs both.
Sites of probable friction between the dynamic duo and each of their two allies, or between the allies themselves, are the most productive sites for mounting a challenge to the Modi-Shah project itself.
The daunting but urgent task is to begin mapping these sites in concrete political terms.
Frankly, this is uncharted territory, and the success of the Modi-Shah project has transformed the landscape.
Challengers must contend with the almost complete subversion of all the institutions that are constitutionally designed to protect and nurture precisely this kind of democratic contestation, including the judiciary, the police, the bureaucracy, the media, universities, and even data-gathering organisations.
Delhi 2020 is different from earlier instances of “communal violence” for two main reasons.
First because it marks the launching of a sophisticated campaign to “Dalitise” Muslims, a story that cannot be told here.
Second, because it identifies a turning point in contemporary Indian politics.
The clearest signs that we may arrived at this point came not during but after the violence.
A message was hidden in the decided lack of regret and in the shocking continuity of the same voices shouting the same slogans (including “goli maaro”), now calling it a “peace march”.
In the language of map apps, this message said that the mindset called “Hindu Rashtra” may no longer be our destination — it may have become our current location.
There is a crucial question that we Indians should be asking ourselves before it is too late, particularly the vast majority who identify, or are identified by others, as Hindus.
Is this really what we want?
4) India needs urgent and radical reforms in its space sector
When you think of outer space, you think of big powers like the United States, Russia and China.
You might also note the collective European effort under the European Space agency as well as the impressive national space programmes of India and Japan.
Space programmes have for long been viewed as either strategic or symbols of national prestige for big countries that are prepared to invest significant resources in the pursuit of a credible presence in outer space.
UAE AND LUXEMBOURG:
Two small countries, the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in Europe have begun to demonstrate that the outer space need not be the playing ground for big powers alone.
If you are a sceptic, you might think it is pretentious for the UAE with its native population of barely one million and Luxembourg with 600,000 people to think of a place for themselves in space.
But that is not stopping the two from thinking boldly about their possibilities in space.
REMINDER FOR DELHI:
The interesting path these two countries have set for themselves in outer space is a reminder that Delhi needs to adapt to the rapidly changing dynamic in outer space.
That size is not a constraint is reflected in the UAE’s plan to launch its Mars mission, “Hope”, later this year in partnership with a range of organisations across the world.
Japan is scheduled to launch the UAE Mars probe this year. India’s own ISRO is also working with the UAE on its Mars mission.
Last year, the first Emirati Astronaut, Hazza al-Mansouri spent more than a week in the US-Russian space station.
UAE AND LUXEMBOURG's SPACE STRATEGY- ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION:
While spectacular projects like sending an astronaut into space or launching a Mars probe generate much flag-waving at home and turn heads in the region and beyond, there is something else at the heart of the UAE’s space strategy.
It is about cornering a slice of the rapidly growing commercial space industry — part of a major effort to diversify the UAE economy away from its reliance on hydrocarbons.
Luxembourg has a similar strategy. It too entered the space sector only in the middle of the last decade. It is also driven by the need for economic diversification.
Over the years, Luxembourg moved away from its past reliance on the steel industry to become a centre of European banking and finance.
It is now looking at commercial space as a major opportunity. At the moment, the space sector accounts for nearly 2 per cent of Luxembourg’s GDP.
Luxembourg has taken a number of regulatory steps to create a vibrant ecosystem for space companies ranging from satellite operations to future extraction of resources from asteroids and other space objects.
There are more than 50 companies and two public research organisations that are driving the expansion of space sector in Luxembourg.
UAE and Luxembourg do have a reputation for leveraging new ideas to transcend the limitations of their size in the world.
But their space adventure was not possible without the structural changes that are reshaping the global space activity.
ROLE OF PRIVATE SECTOR:
Through the second half of the 20th century, outer space was the sole preserve of national space programmes driven by government-funding, direction and management.
As military uses of space and prestige projects like Moon-landing emerged, major private sector entities already in the aviation industry like Boeing and Lockheed won space contracts in the US.
But the Pentagon and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) told these companies what to do.
The last decades of the 20th century saw significant expansion of satellite-based telecommunication, navigation, broadcasting and mapping, and lent a significant commercial dimension to the space sector.
As the digital revolution in the 21st century transformed the world economy, the commercial space sector has begun to grow in leaps and bounds.
The global space business is now estimated to be around $ 400 billion and is expected easily rise to at least trillion dollars by 2040.
One example of the rise of private sector companies in the space sector is SpaceX run by the US entrepreneur Elon Musk. Hired for a resupply mission for the space station, it now launches more rockets every year than NASA.
The entry of private sector has begun to drive down the cost-per-launch through innovations such as reusable rockets.
As launch costs came down, the private sector has become more ambitious. SpaceX plans to launch hundreds of satellites into the low-earth orbit to provide internet services.
Amazon has plans to build a network of more than 3,000 satellites in the low-earth orbit. Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have plans to develop space tourism and build human settlements on the Moon and on Mars.
It is not just big companies that are aiming for the Moon. Last year, a private company in Israel sent a lunar lander to the Moon.
Although the lander crashed, much like India’s Vikram, the private sector has begun to do things that were once the monopoly of national agencies.
INDIA- DISTANCE AWAY:
India, however, is quite some distance away from adapting to the unfolding changes in the global space business.
In its early years, India’s space programme that was constrained by lack of resources found innovative ways of getting ahead in space.
Although the ISRO encourages private sector participation in the national space programme, its model is still very 20th century — in terms of governmental domination.
As it looks at the growing role of the private sector and the effort by nations like the UAE and Luxembourg, Delhi needs to move quickly towards a new model for India’s space activity.
It needs a regulatory environment that encourages a more dynamic role for the private sector and promotes innovation.
It will be a pity if India squanders the many advantages of its early start in space by delaying the much-needed reform and reorganisation of its space sector.