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10 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) Two Nationalisms

  • CONTEXT: Indians once displayed pride in multilingualism. Return of an instrumental English signals a new phase.

  • Not so long ago, educated Indians displayed considerable pride in the country’s inheritance of multilingualism.
  • Children who spoke Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Oriya as well as English, and scholars who were accomplished in Persian and Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali, German, French, Russian and more took pride in it. 
  • Leading thinkers stressed the richness and diversity of this inheritance. Indians needed to learn English and other foreign languages for use in their work, travels and interaction with the wider world. 
  • At the same time, we must preserve and nurture their mother tongues, the language of love, poetry and story telling that they grew up with in their homes and local communities.


  • CURRENT SITUATION: Now, the sons and daughters of India’s upper and upper-middle classes appear to have lost all pride in that inheritance. 
  • In a remarkable way, and perhaps without much realisation on their part, they have become more and more like the British rulers of colonial India. 
  • Today’s Indian elites speak incessantly in English — in shops and elevators, offices and homes, in person and online. 
  • They use Indian languages only for functional conversations with servants and trades-people. 
  • And parents occasionally reprimand their children for speaking in the “vernacular” — even in their own homes, at their own dining tables.


  • DECLINE OF PRIDE IN BILINGUALISM: English has an undeniably important place in India today. Leading intellectuals and commentators have noted that English is now an Indian language. 
  • Indian writers have contributed remarkable new works to the domain of English literature, and taken it in new directions. 
  • Yet the English in common use among India’s middle and upper-middle classes is hardly a sign of new literary encounters.
  • It is a sadly reduced version of the language, in the jargon of the business-world and self-help individualism and text message slang. 
  • What it signals is a decline of pride in bilingualism (not to say, multilingualism) – indeed, a decline of pride in linguistic/cultural inheritance and skills, more generally.


  • FACTORS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DECLINE: The re-institution of such an “English” language indexes the return of much else that British rule had sought to impose in its advancement of colonial interests and practices in India. Who or what is responsible for this?
  • I would point to two inter-connected factors. The first is an erosion of self-respect in the nation, with its rich and diverse history. 
  • The demise of an anti-colonial, inclusive and forward-looking nationalism seeking welfare & justice for all; 
  • and the rise, in its place, of a narrow, exclusivist, backward-looking jingoism — in which English (the language of “development” and “capitalism”) becomes the only language worth knowing or learning. 
  • A second factor reinforces that narrowness. This is the worldwide ascendancy of today’s neoliberal, market-driven, consumerist capitalism. 
  • An era where literature, art, philosophy, the environment, intellectual work, compassion for others, concern for the poor and downtrodden, the aged and the sick, none of these counts against brute calculation of monetary profit and loss.


  • PARADOXICAL AND PAINFUL RESULT: On the one hand, the sky is rent with slogans of the greatness of Indian civilisation, Hindu traditions and the tolerance of Hinduism: 
  • “Garv se kaho ham Hindu/Hindustani hain;” “Hindustan mein hi saari duniya ke dharma ek saath reh sakte hain;” “Hinduon ki hi vajah se Bharat ek dharm-nirpeksh desh hai.” 
  • On the other, we see the disappearance of a commitment to long-standing nationalist goals of freedom, equality, religious tolerance, economic and political opportunity, work, self-respect and dignity for all of India’s citizens, irrespective of caste, race, religion, language, gender, or place of birth. 
  • And, with that, the decline of serious interest in the preservation and development of India’s languages, and the literary and cultural legacies of Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Oriya and so on.


  • EXAMPLES: What a world of difference there is between Lal Bahadur Shastri’s simple slogan, “Jai jawan, jai kisan,” for that matter, Indira Gandhi’s “Garibi hatao,” and the Modi government’s “Howdy Houston.” 
  • Not to mention the latter’s “5 T’S: Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology,” or “3 D’s: Democracy, Demography and Demand,” in which the last two words make sense only in terms of an aggressive new culture of consumerist capitalism.


  • CONCLUSION: Is this the only path open to the world today, the path of crony capitalism? 
  • A market-driven, profiteering order, built on speculation, tax breaks for the super-rich, manipulation of statistics, and financial fiddles by those in the know. 
  • A capitalism and an autocratic “democracy” made for the national and international one per cent, increasingly by the one percent that controls the political and economic resources of so many countries around the world, including the media, the bureaucracy and judiciary, and bodies responsible for conducting free and fair elections.
  • More and more ordinary Indian citizens have seen through this subterfuge. Poor Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims fighting for livelihood and home, opportunity, access to resources and equal rights, brave women of the lower and middle classes, and idealistic youth of all classes, protesting across the length and breadth of India against the government’s policies and actions. 
  • Their understanding is captured in the holding up of the national flag, the reading of the Preamble to the Constitution, the call to defend the spirit of anti-colonial nationalism, which the ruling classes are so reluctant to uphold.


2) Mapping life

  • CONTEXT: The Genome India Project, a collaboration of 20 institutions including the Indian Institute of Science and some IITs, will enable new efficiencies in medicine, agriculture and the life sciences. 
  • Genome India Project is extremely promising and should proceed with maximum speed and maximum caution.


  • ADVANTAGES OF GENOME EDITING: The Genome India Project, a collaboration of 20 institutions including the Indian Institute of Science and some IITs, will enable new efficiencies in medicine, agriculture and the life sciences. 
  • The first obvious use would be in personalised medicine, anticipating diseases and modulating treatment according to the genome of patients.
  • Several diseases develop through metabolic polymorphisms — the interplay of the environment with multiple genes, which differ across populations. 
  • For instance, one group may develop cancers and another may not, depending on the genetically-determined pathways by which they metabolise carcinogens. 
  • Cardiovascular disease generally leads to heart attacks in South Asians, but to strokes in most parts of Africa. 
  • If such propensities to disease can be mapped to variations across genomes, it is believed public health interventions can be targeted better, and diseases anticipated before they develop. 


  • AGRICULTURE BENEFITS: Similar benefits would come to agriculture if there is a better understanding of the genetic basis of susceptibility to blights, rusts and pests. It may become possible to deter them genetically, and reduce dependence on chemicals.


  • Global science would also benefit from a mapping project in one of the world’s most diverse gene pools, which would provide data useful for the mapping of the spread and migration of a range of life forms in the Old World, from plants to humans. 
  • Traversing from the world’s tallest mountain range to warm seas through multiple bio-zones demarcated by climate and terrain, India could provide much information on the interplay of species and genetic groups within them. 
  • Eventually, a deeper understanding of ecology could emerge from the material thrown up.


  • WORD OF CAUTION: However, some caution must be exercised in the field of human genetics, because the life sciences sometimes stray into unscientific terrain and heighten political bias. 
  • The mapping of brain regions to mental functions spun off the utterly unscientific and racist field of phrenology. 
  • The work on cranial volume measurements of the physician Samuel Morton — regarded in America as the father of scientific racism— justified slavery before the US Civil War. 
  • In India, a nation riven by identity politics and obsessed with the myths of pristine origins and authenticity, scientific work in mapping genetic groups may become grist to the political mill of the unscientific notion of race. 


  • CONCLUSION: Projects in genetics generally extend over long periods of time, which should be used by makers of scientific policy to ensure that the data which emerges is not interpreted for political ends.


3) On cheetahs in Indian forests: Cat conundrum

  • The Supreme Court’s order enabling the introduction of exotic cheetahs to an Indian habitat on an experimental basis has naturally led to renewed enthusiasm among wildlife lovers, who see in it a potential bulwark against creeping pressures on habitats. 
  • As a graceful animal that was hunted and extirpated in the country in the 20th century, the cat has periodically inspired campaigns for a fresh introduction mainly inspired by the nationalistic sense of loss. 
  • Remarkably, the antiquity of the high-speed hunter that formed part of Mughal hunting groups has been a matter of scientific debate, with much literature tracing the origins of the Asiatic cheetah to about 200,000 years ago, and one recent hypothesis arguing, in contrast, that it appears to be a relatively modern alien import to India. 
  • With a group surviving in Iran, there is growing interest in preserving the Asian population. Whatever its origins, it is illogical to expect that a new population, whether from Africa or Iran, will fare better today than in the past. 
  • It is worth recalling that the same court observed in its 2013 order restraining the Environment Ministry from importing African cheetahs into Kuno, Madhya Pradesh, that there are many seriously threatened Indian species such as the lion, the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal florican, the dugong, and Manipur brow-antlered deer which deserve immediate conservation action.
  • Any move to rewild India’s threatened natural spaces with cheetahs, which require large grassland ranges, should consider the viability of such a programme. Man-animal conflicts is an area of concern, as a growing human population lives cheek by jowl with tigers, leopards and long-ranging creatures such as elephants. 
  • While the Court has appointed an expert committee to guide and direct the experiment proposed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, it needs a broader scientific inquiry into the added pressures that a small group of introduced predators will impose on an ecosystem, crucially on the prey base that currently sustains tigers and leopards. 
  • Any attempt at expensive rewilding will be negated by parallel efforts to liberalise environmental clearances for extractive industries in and around forests. Material extraction including minerals is going on close to protected areas, and fresh roads are sought to be built through even tiger territory, making pristine rewilding an incongruous concept. 
  • Moreover, cheetahs are genetically fragile and lose cubs in a litter prematurely, affecting the establishment of a viable population. Restoring ecology and diverse species cannot be a serious goal in the absence of iron-clad protections to existing parks, sanctuaries, migratory corridors, and buffer areas. Preserving wild spaces with surviving species should be the first order priority.


4) On Bodo accord: Searching for a solution

  • New Delhi’s third attempt at conflict resolution with Assam’s Bodos came out of the blue. The State had been more in the news for the sustained protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, one that pre-dates the pan-India ferment after the Bill’s passage in Parliament. 
  • The signing of the peace accord on January 27 shifted attention after the Prime Minister had to abort two planned trips to Guwahati for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe on December 15 and the inauguration of the Khelo India Games on January 10. 
  • The new deal offers more hope than the 1993 and 2003 accords; some of the most potent factions of the National Democratic Front of Boroland that had stayed away from earlier agreements are now on board. 
  • More significantly, the stakeholders have agreed that the updated political arrangements would remain confined to the realm of wider autonomy within the State of Assam, giving statehood and Union Territory demands a final burial. 

  • The generous terms promise an expanded area to be renamed as Bodoland Territorial Region, a ₹1,500-crore development package, and greater contiguity of Bodo-populated areas. 
  • There is also an offer of general amnesty for militants, with heinous crimes likely to be benignly reviewed, and ₹5 lakh each to the families of those killed during the Bodo movement - it claimed nearly 4,000 lives. 
  • On a success scale, the agreement falls somewhere between the Naga framework agreement of August 2015, shrouded in secrecy, and the January 16 Bru settlement to permanently settle around 34,000 people displaced from Mizoram in 1997 in Tripura. 
  • While it empowers Bodos, the question of an enduring peace remains moot. With newer claimants to a share of spoils, the current bonhomie could be severely tested when the expanded Bodoland Territorial Council goes to the polls soon. 
  • It has been dominated since inception in 2003 by the Bodoland Peoples Front, comprising former Bodo Liberation Tigers cadre, but the new batches of surrendered militants as well as the All Bodo Students’ Union intend to enter the fray. Of greater concern are inter-tribal and community ties. 
  • The Bodos comprise not more than 30% of the population in the BTR region, and the central munificence has deepened the insecurity among Koch Rajbongshis, Adivasis and Muslims. 
  • The politics of deferring to such identity-based movements is part of an old playbook of internal security in the Northeast - the Bru solution betrays shades of it, and one can trace it back to the Mizo insurgency and Laldenga becoming the Chief Minister of Mizoram. 
  • The Kokrajhar MP, a non-Bodo, has appealed to the government to ensure that a Bodo solution does not engender a non-Bodo problem. The accord’s success will lie in the stakeholders working out a power-sharing arrangement in the proposed BTR that privileges equity over hegemony.