The Hindu Editorial Analysis
07 April 2021

1) Stamp out the canker thwarting democracy


A solution lies in an informal alliance of people and institutions propelling a stream of public-spirited action and activity

GS 2: Social Justice

  • The 21st century is host to multitudinous crises impacting different sectors.
  • A succession of unrelated crises has heralded forebodings of still graver damage not only to the economy but also to the body politic and people everywhere.

Introspection and action

  • For instance, the 2007-08 financial crisis seriously dented the economies of many nations, and the recovery has been slow, or sporadic.
  • The impact of COVID-19 has been far reaching, which has included an economic tsunami, upheavals and dislocation affecting every sphere of human activity, an accompanying health crisis which has not spared any nation, and the fostering of a crisis mentality.
  • A churn in the post-1945 Westphalian order is only too evident.
  • Across different continents, we are again witness to a series of political and strategic crises.
    • Disinformation and distortions caused by an overload of fake information are creating an impression that the world is facing a systemic and multidimensional crisis, the consequences of which are unpredictable.
  • The combination of circumstances is exposing the fragility of today’s party-based democracies, leading to questions about their ability to deal with newer problems.
  • The situation demands a great deal of introspection followed by conscious action.
    • Finding an optimal combination of authoritarian, populist and democratic trends, to ensure the material well-being of the majority and achieving economic development is, however, not easy.
    • Concerns are that it could lend itself to the rise of new political oligarchies, masquerading in the garb of defenders of democracy, and the creation of new elites professedly seeking to defend democracy.

Fair polls under threat

  • Elections have of late become a kind of a no-holds-barred battle for power, irrespective of whether it is being held in a large State, a medium-sized State or even an Union Territory.
  • Levels of electioneering increasingly lend themselves to abuse, rather than a highlighting of issues or policies. Innuendoes and personal remarks dominate political debates.
  • Money power is all too evident, and violence is the leitmotif in many segments.

The most threatened aspect is the concept of fair and free elections. Concerns whether the verdict reflects the true will of the electorate are, hence, bound to persist long after the results are in.

  • The real existential crisis that India confronts — in a period dominated by the pandemic and bitter electoral battles — is the virtual collapse of systems of governance in many States, as well evidenced by the events that took place recently in India’s Maximum City, and the nation’s economic capital, viz., Mumbai.

Holding a mirror

  • The Mumbai incident (Mukesh Ambani Bomb Scare Case) should be seen as merely the tip of the iceberg of what is the current reality, which is not confined to Mumbai city, but extends well beyond Maharashtra to other States in the country.
  • Established norms of conduct are sometimes given the go by during difficult periods, such as communal riots or other violent upheavals, but the extent of falsehoods indulged in by individuals in this instance has degraded not only the police force but also the entire system.

This is the real existential crisis we confront today.

An alliance with a difference

  • The reality is that it takes more than a courageous police leadership to stand up for the right policies, including not protecting officers who have clearly done something wrong.
  • Consequently, we need to look at newer alternatives. Repeating ad nauseum about reforming the police and establishing yet another blue-ribbon committee to undertake a thorough overhaul of the police machinery is a recipe for yet another disaster to come.
    • Police commissions cannot alter the milieu in which the police are compelled to operate, in which everyone — the politicians, bureaucrats and everyone in authority or presumes to have authority — seeks a police force that they can bend to their will.
    • Added to this is the widespread corruption that casts a larger-than-life shadow over not only police functioning but every facet of public life.
  • What is, perhaps, needed, or needs to be attempted, is an informal alliance of people and institutions, irrespective of ideology or interests (to the exclusion of activists of every hue, business titans and politicians) which should come together to coalesce into a mighty stream of public-spirited action and activity.


  • Essentially, it means creating and executing a national public awareness campaign against the kind of excesses that have been allowed to continue, embarking instead on a determined campaign to stamp out the canker that is thwarting democracy and democracy-related procedures and actions.
  • Creating such a movement and sustaining it will not be easy, but if the system is to be saved, there is a need to consider such real alternatives.


2) Reworking net-zero for climate justice


Along with comparable levels of commitments there need to be equally comparable metrics for well-being


GS 2: Social Justice, Indian Judiciary

  • Global transformation is affecting the planet. But there is no uniform transformation across the world.
  • Global temperature increased sharply only after 1981 with little contribution from the developing countries as their industrialisation and urbanisation had yet to begin.



In 2015, at the UN General Assembly when the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 was adopted and at the Paris Conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed a reframing of climate change to climate justice, arguing that just when countries such as India were becoming major industrial and middle class nations, they should not pay the price for the pollution caused by the West.

  • The Paris Agreement, explicitly recognises that peaking will take longer for such countries and is to be achieved in the context of “sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
  • India will meet its Paris Agreement target for 2030, its per-capita emissions are a third of the global average, and it will in future remain within its share of ecological space. The pressure arises from the way the agenda has been set.


Treaty’s inequity

  • First, inequity is built into the Climate Treaty.
    • Annual emissions make India the fourth largest emitter, even though climate is impacted by cumulative emissions, with India contributing a mere 3% compared with 26% for the United States and 13% for China.
    • According to the United Nations, while the richest 1% of the global population emits more than two times the emissions of the bottom 50%, India has just half its population in the middle class and per capita emissions are an eighth of those in the U.S. and less than a third of those of China.
  • Second, the diplomatic history of climate negotiations shows that longer term goals without the strategy to achieve them, as in the case of finance and technology transfer, solve a political problem and not the problem itself.
  • The focus on physical quantities, emissions of carbon dioxide and increase in global temperature, measures impacts on nature whereas solutions require an analysis of drivers, trends and patterns of resource use.
  • Third, models on which global policy recommendations for developing countries are based consider achieving ‘reasonable’ not ‘comparable’ levels of well-being to show that early capping of energy use will not affect their growth ignoring costs on the poor.
  • The different means to achieve the goals are not on the agenda because the rising prosperity of the world’s poor does not endanger the planet and the challenge is to change wasteful behaviour in the West.

Role of infrastructure

  • The vaguely worded ‘net zero’ emissions, balancing emissions and removals, could be disastrous for development latecomers like India because the current frame fails to recognise that more than half the global cumulative emissions arose from infrastructure, essential for urban well-being.
  • 1) Infrastructure has a defining role in human well-being both because of the services it provides outside the market and the way it shapes demand distinct from manufacturing (production) and lifestyles (consumption), which alone are captured in model projections.
  • 2), The global trend is that in an urbanised world, two thirds of emissions arise from the demand of the middle class for infrastructure, mobility, buildings and diet.
  • There is no substitute to cement, steel and construction material, and worldwide they will need half the available carbon space before comparable levels are reached around 2050, while developed countries use most of the rest.
  • 3) Because of its young population and late development, much of the future emissions in India will come from infrastructure, buildings and industry, and we cannot shift the trajectory much to reach comparable levels of well-being with major economies.
  • For example, China’s emissions increased three times in the period 2000-2015, driven largely by infrastructure.

New framework

  • A global goal-shaping national strategy requires a new understanding.
  • India must highlight unique national circumstances with respect to the food, energy and transportation systems that have to change.
    • For example, consumption of meat contributes to a third of global emissions. Indians eat just 4 kg a year compared with around 68 kg per person for the European Union and twice that in the U.S. where a third of the food is wasted by households.
  • Transport emissions account for a quarter of global emissions, are the fastest growing emissions worldwide and have surpassed emissions from generation of electricity in the U.S., but are not on the global agenda.

Coal use

  • Coal accounts for a quarter of global energy use, powered colonialism, and rising Asia uses three-quarters of it as coal drives industry and supports the renewable energy push into cities.
  • India with abundant reserves and per-capita electricity use that is a tenth that of the U.S. is under pressure to stop using coal, even though the U.S. currently uses more coal.
  • India wants to eliminate the use of oil instead with renewable energy and hydrogen as a fuel for electrification, whose acceleration requires international cooperation around technology development and transfer.



  • In the Paris Agreement, ‘climate justice’ was relegated to the preamble as a political, not policy, statement.
  • It needs to be fleshed out with a set of ‘big ideas’.
    • The first is a reframing of the global concern in terms of sustainable development for countries with per capita emissions below the global average, in line with the Paris
    • Agreement. Second, the verifiable measure should be well-being within ecological limits.
    • Third, international cooperation should centre on sharing technology of electric vehicles and hydrogen as a fuel, as they are the most effective response to climate change.

3) Redefining combatants

Cyber attacks point to the need to rethink what constitutes a force and what a justified response can be


  • A report in The New York Times on the October 2020 breakdown of the Mumbai power distribution system points a finger at Chinese cyber hackers.


Changing definitions

  • The universally accepted Lieber Code of 1863 defines a combatant. It says, “So soon as a man is armed by a sovereign and takes the soldier’s oath of fidelity, he is a belligerent...”; all others are non-combatants. An organised group of “belligerents” constitutes a regular armed force of a state.
  • The 1899 Hague Convention brings in further clarity of what constitutes a regular force.
    • First, the force should be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates.
    • Second, it must have a distinctive emblem recognisable at a distance.
    • Third, it must carry arms openly.
    • And last, it must conduct operations in accordance with laws and customs of war.
  • Those who conducted the (yet unproven) Mumbai ‘cyberattack’ or the 2007 attack on Estonia’s banking system did not meet any of the four conditions of being called combatants, but still wreaked havoc.


  • A combatant, thus, needs to be redefined due to three reasons.
    • First, a cyber ‘army’ need not be uniformed and may consist of civilians. After the cyberattack on Estonia, the government set up a voluntary Cyber Defence Unit whose members devotes their free time towards rehearsing actions in case of a cyberattack.
    • Second, cyber ‘warriors’ do not carry arms openly. Their arms are malicious software which is invisible.
    • And finally, the source of the attack could be a lone software nerd who does not have a leader and is up to dirty tricks for money, blackmail or simply some fun.

None of these meet the requirements of The Hague Convention but the actions of these non-combatants fall squarely in the realm of national security.

  • This raises two very basic inquiries that need deliberation.
    • First, would the nation employing civilians in computer network attacks not be in violation of the laws of war?
    • And second, if these people are considered as combatants, would the target country have the right to respond in self-defence?
    • A response would be reactive, after the attacker has conducted his operation; hence, as a right of self-defence, would an act of pre-emption (through kinetic means and/or through cyber) be in order? This argument may appear far-fetched now but needs to be examined as India seems to have a new view on the concept of the right to self-defence.

View of the right to self-defence

  • In a February 24, 2021 UN Arria Formula meeting on ‘Upholding the collective security system of the UN Charter’, the Indian statement says, “...a State would be compelled to undertake a pre-emptive strike when it is confronted by an imminent armed attack from a non-state actor operating in a third state.”
  • It adds that “this state of affairs exonerates the affected state from the duty to respect, vis-a-vis the aggressor, the general obligation to refrain from the use of force.”
  • Though used with reference to an “armed attack”, the implications of the statement, when viewed vis-à-vis cyber attacks done by faceless persons who are non-combatants as per international law, open up an avenue that requires careful examination; cyber attacks may not kill directly but the downstream effects can cause great destruction.

International actions against hackers have been generally limited to sanctioning of foreign nationals by target nations.

  • In 2014, for the first time, a nation (the U.S.) initiated criminal actions against foreign nationals (five Chinese operatives of Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army) for computer hacking and economic espionage.


  • The question is, how long before this escalates to covert and/or overt kinetic retaliation.
  • India seems to have made its intentions clear at the UN meet, but this is a game that two can play; if not regulated globally, it could lead to a wild-west situation, which the international community should best avoid by resolute action.