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Admin 2020-02-04

04 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) What Brexit means for the EU and its partners


  • CONTEXT: On January 31, 2020, the United Kingdom left the European Union. It was a sad moment for us, for European citizens - and, indeed, for many British citizens.
  • EU has always respected the sovereign decision of 52% of the British electorate, and the EU now looks forward to starting a new chapter in their relations with the UK.
  • A STRUCTURED EXIT: The Withdrawal Agreement that the EU negotiated with the U.K. enabled the EU to secure “an orderly Brexit” which minimises the disruption for EU citizens, businesses, public administrations, as well as for their international partners.
  • Under this agreement, the EU and the U.K. agreed on a transition period, until the end of 2020 at least, during which the U.K. will continue to participate in the EU’s Customs Union and in the Single Market, and to apply EU law, even if it is no longer a Member State.
  • During this period, the U.K. will also continue to abide by the international agreements of the EU, as we made clear in a note verbale to our international partners.
  • ELEMENT OF CONTINUITY: With the transition period in place, there is a degree of continuity. This was not easy given the magnitude of the task.
  • By leaving the Union, the U.K. automatically, mechanically, legally, leaves hundreds of international agreements concluded by or on behalf of the Union, to the benefit of its Member States, on topics as different as trade, aviation, fisheries or civil nuclear cooperation.
  • A new partnership awaits between the EU and the U.K. That work will start in a few weeks as soon as the EU 27 Member States have approved the negotiating mandate proposed by the European Commission.
  • It will set out the terms and ambitions for achieving the closest possible partnership.

  • SHARED AND DEEP LINKS: The EU and the U.K. are bound by history, by geography, culture, shared values and principles and a strong belief in rules-based multilateralism.
  • Future partnership will reflect these links and shared beliefs. The EU wants to go well beyond trade and keep working together on security and defence, areas where the U.K. has experiences and assets that are best used as part of a common effort.
  • COLLECTIVE RESPONSES FOR TRANSCENDANTAL CHALLENGES: In a world of big challenges and change, of turmoil and transition, EU and the UK must consult each other and cooperate, bilaterally and in key regional and global fora, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the G20.
  • It is perhaps a cliché but the basic truth is that today’s global challenges - from climate change, to cybercrime, terrorism or inequality - require collective responses.
  • The more the U.K. is able to work in lockstep with the EU and together with partners around the world, the greater are the chances of addressing these challenges effectively.
  • At the very core of the EU project is the idea that the EU is stronger when combined; that pooling resources and initiatives is the best way of achieving common goals. Brexit does not change the foundations.
  • Together, the 27 Member States will continue to form a single market of 450 million citizens and more than 20 million businesses. Together, the EU will remain the largest trading bloc in the world. Together, at 27, the EU is still the world’s largest development aid donor.
  • EU'S COMMITMENT TO ITS STATED OBJECTIVE: EU will stay true to an ambitious, outward-looking agenda - be it on trade and investment, on climate action and digital, on connectivity, on security and counter-terrorism, on human rights and democracy, or on defence and foreign policy.
  • EU will continue to live up to their commitments and will continue to stand by the agreements that links the EU to their international partners and continue to develop multilateral cooperation frameworks around the world.
  • The European Union will continue to be a trust worthy partner and a steadfast defender of rules-based multilateralism, working with our partners to make the world more secure and fair.

 

2) New West Asia today is rife with small state, non-state actors pitted against each other


  • CONUNDRUMS OF WEST ASIA: More than half a century ago, when analysts talked about war in the Middle East, they referred to a single overarching and permanent tension which existed between Israel and Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
  • Today, in the new Middle East - and despite the unsolved tension between Israelis and Palestinians - the defining war is a broader struggle among multiple players seeking regional hegemony.
  • Among these, there are fractious groups of militias, religious groups and tribal forces that exercise power in much of the region. These groups have grown vastly in the past 20 years, and many of them have been and continue to be financed and controlled by Iran and Saudi Arabia.
  • The Iranian revolution of 1979 galvanised Islamists across the region. But the civil war in Lebanon and Islamist insurgency against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, and the eight years war between Iran and Iraq, also strengthened the hand of armed groups outside the control of governments.

  • CONTEMPORARY WEST ASIA: As a result, contemporary West Asia has been shifting constantly between state actors (Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Israel) and non-state actors (the militia groups and local forces) that actually controlled much of the land.
  • At times, non-state actors like the Hezbollah of Lebanon have been more influential than the national governments.
  • As for the Islamic Republic of Iran, its pre-eminence in proxy wars was born out of the Iran-Iraq war. It is in opposition to the American-Saudi support for Saddam Hussein that the Iranian government decided to create its Shiite proxies and militias in the region.
  • Today, Iran considers itself as a model state, presenting itself as the self-appointed leader of the world’s Shiite Muslims, with an emphasis on those in Iran’s near abroad.
  • In this process of self-affirmation, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and, more specifically, the Quds Force of Soleimani, played a key role.
  • This is why, in all the conflicts managed by the Quds Force, Iranian authorities have always given priority to their national-ideological interests over regional security and stability.
  • This could also explain why there has been a constant preoccupation with and fear of Shiite groups among the Sunni states in the region. The Saudis viewed Iran as a domestic threat from 1979 onwards.
  • Seeing the threat as intolerable, they began looking for a way to strike back. In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia, wishing to contain Iran’s influence on the region’s minority Shiite populations, sought to harden Sunni-Shiite rifts.
  • FALL OF SADDAM AND AFTERMATHS: After the American invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam’s government, Iran was convinced that the US and Saudi Arabia would install a pliant Iraqi government, so it raced to fill the post-war vacuum.
  • Iran’s leverage with Iraqi Shiite groups (Shiites are Iraq’s largest demographic group) allowed it to control Baghdad politics and undermine the American-led occupation.
  • The Shiite success in Iraq reflects the effectiveness of IRGC doctrine regarding the construction, support, and use of sectarian political and military proxies as a central tool of Iranian policy.
  • The late Quds Force chief, Qassem Soleimani, played a special role within Iran’s hegemonic enterprise in the Middle East.
  • With Soleimani killed and an imminent danger of an American military response to an Iranian proxy aggression, Tehran will certainly expand the model it perfected in Syria and Iraq - namely, fostering the creation of numerous smaller groups and placing them under the general umbrella of the IRGC.
  • However, despite the Iranian hegemonic presence in Iraq and Syria, some of its proxies, like the Lebanese Hezbollah, have been suffering from decreased resources and personnel, particularly after losing many elite commanders in the Syrian war.
  • CONCLUSION: As for Iran’s hardliners, despite increased regional tensions and harsher American sanctions, they are suspicious of any mediation by countries that are allied with the US.
  • At the end of the day, even an ideologically-oriented country like Iran needs a breakthrough with the Donald Trump administration if regional calm is to be restored. Maybe this is the key to understanding the geopolitics of the new Middle East.

 

3) On shortage of doctors: Camel in the tent


  • As the Centre pushes to attach medical colleges to existing district hospitals in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode, to ostensibly address the shortage of doctors in the country, the question is: does it understand the nature of the camel that it is planning to allow into the tent?
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in the Union Budget speech, introduced the proposal and stated that those States that fully allow the facilities of the hospital to the medical college and wish to provide land at a concession would be eligible for viability gap funding.
  • Several details are already available in the public domain, as part of the plan, first proposed by NITI Aayog. It argues that it is practically not possible for Central and State governments to bridge the gaps in medical education with their limited resources and finances, necessitating the formation of a PPP model, “combining the strengths of both sectors”.
  • This would augment the number of medical seats available and moderate the costs of medical education. Experts have argued that the NITI Aayog has not given sufficient play to the role of the district hospital as the pivot of primary health care in every State.
  • Allowing private parties to “operate and maintain the district hospital and provide healthcare services” could seriously dent public health services. It is problematic that the NITI Aayog envisages the creation of “free” patients versus others, because this will create a new category of have-nots.
  • A working draft of the concessionaire agreement indicates that the private firm “can demand, collect and appropriate hospital charges from patients”. There is understandable opposition to the scheme in States such as Tamil Nadu that have a robust public health-care system, and a medical college in nearly every district.
  • These States are naturally loath to turning over a key unit in their health-care network, which is running reasonably efficiently, to the private sector motivated by profit rather than public interest.
  • Ultimately, eternal vigil will be the price of going for this new mode. While creating quality medical professionals for the country should definitely be on any government’s to-do list, destabilising people’s access to affordable public health services, will be disastrous.
  • Viability gap funding is provided for projects that the government does not find commercially viable because of long gestation periods, and relatively minor revenue flows, and involves PPP, but this instant situation calls for pause: health fits square in the State’s welfare role.
  • The government must consider raising health-care spending beyond the usual under 2% of GDP, and ensure more resources are available to provide free, quality health care to all. If it does stay on its path of giving the private sector some control over district hospitals, it will do well to be wary of the camel in the tent.

 

4) Towards cooperative federalism


  • As of January 28, the Chief Ministers of at least 11 States have expressed their unwillingness to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Two of these States, West Bengal and Kerala, have stayed all work on the National Population Register (NPR), which is the foundational register from which the NRC will be built.
  • Furthermore, the Punjab Legislative Assembly passed a resolution seeking amendments to the NPR form to ensure that it does not seek data that may be used for verification of citizenship.
  • The NRC’s human cost: The Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, provide for the process by which taluk level officers will prepare a National Register of Indian Citizens after filtering Indian citizens from the NPR - a register enumerating all residents in the country, by family.
  • The process is arduous and ridden with wide discretion. It involves, after the enumeration, procedures for citizenship verification and scrutiny, objections and appeals. Officers may identify citizens and even whole families as “doubtful” without any just cause and demand evidence of their citizenship.
  • The rules also permit any person to object to the inclusion of a name in the draft register. This is not a case of weaponising citizenship; it is weaponising citizens against one another. The human cost of such an exercise will be immeasurable.
  • Constitutional governance: State governments have sufficient grounds to be concerned about the validity of the NPR. However, they are not empowered to hold the Union down to its obligations under the Constitution.
  • The drafters of the Constitution were more anxious to give the Union Government the power to bring errant States in line with the Constitution. For example, Article 355 enjoins the Union to “... ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”.
  • Acting under its fiduciary duty towards the Constitution and the people of the State, the Union may also temporarily, and for restoring constitutional governance in a State, declare President’s rule in the State under Article 356.
  • No equivalent power rests in the hands of States to hold the Union Government to the Constitution. When State governments raised concerns about the NPR, the Union insisted that States are under a constitutional duty to implement laws passed by Parliament - a position that a superficial reading of the Constitution may support.
  • A duty to obey all laws passed by Parliament is premised on an unbridled deference to the Union Government to correctly understand and implement the Constitution while passing laws. However, nowhere in the Constitution is there any suggestion that the Union has the final say as to what is “constitutional”.

  • Government is a human enterprise. It is wholly possible that a government may work the Constitution impermissibly, which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar reckoned with in saying “however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot”.
  • One safeguard against bad actors lies in the oath. All constitutional actors - State and Union legislators, State and Union governments and judges in the higher judiciary - are duty-bound to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India” by way of their oath.
  • The oath of constitutional functionaries of States is to be understood in light of Article 1 of the Constitution, which locates India’s identity as a “Union of States”. Therefore, States, and by extension their legislatures and governments, are indispensable to working the Constitution of India.
  • As the Supreme Court of India recognised in the landmark S.R. Bommai judgment, States are not mere “appendages” of the Centre. After all, what sets Union Territories apart from States is the exclusive and distinct legislative and administrative competences of the States, to be acted on through their three organs of government.
  • Thus, they cannot be reduced to mere administrative agencies entrusted with enforcing Parliament’s laws without any application of mind. Among the exclusively delineated areas of legislative and executive competence of States is the power and responsibility of public order and police.
  • The NPR-NRC exercise is likely to place an undue burden on every single citizen of India. Compelling the most marginalized Indians to prove their citizenship under an arbitrary and obscure process is likely to cause widespread challenges to law and order.
  • The Union, in compelling States to implement the NPR by ignoring the widespread dissent against it will be interfering with these exclusive powers of States. States, therefore, are entitled to more deference than mere reminders of their duty to obey Central laws.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • Restricting cooperation: This is not to say that States have a “right to defy” the Union. The Constitution bars States from “impeding” the Union’s work and rightly requires them to comply with central laws. However, constitutional functionaries in States cannot be compelled to defy their oaths and enforce laws that are contrary to their good faith interpretation of the Constitution.
  • In abiding by their oaths, States may require the Union to find a constitutional way to fulfil its purported objective, by withholding cooperation in a federal scheme. New institutional norms can play an important role on this front. India is not the first democracy that has seen States restrict cooperation to the federal government on contentious issues.
  • In the United States, States and cities have limited their cooperation on federal anti-immigration policies and anti-gun ownership legislation. In contrast, there are also examples of countries that have strengthened federalism by actively including the provinces or states in national policy.
  • For example, immigration laws in Australia and Canada empower provinces to nominate immigrants seeking to settle within their territory. In these examples, there is a lesson for India.
  • The Union government can include States in how decisions are made and enforced, or it can depend on archaic emergency provisio ns to enforce its will. Not every disagreement between States and the Union is the same, and the Union must develop newer conventions to foster cooperation.