22 Apr 2020: The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
1) Unfreedom of press
In January, ruling on the blocking of the internet in Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, the Supreme Court laid down that access to the internet, and the speech therein, are fundamental rights protected under Article 19 of the Constitution.
Yet, this week, the J&K police booked a young photographer in Kashmir, Masrat Zahra, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly “anti-national” posts on social media. An FIR has also been registered against a report from Kashmir in The Hindu, alleging that it was “fake news”.
Both the invoking of a draconian(harsh) law, under which an individual can be designated a terrorist, for Facebook posts, and the FIR against a newspaper report, send out a chilling message on free speech to journalists across the country. They go against principles and protections guaranteed by the Constitution, and upheld by the apex court.
(Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is an Indian law aimed at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Its main objective was to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India)
MISUSE OF SEDITION:
It is not unrelated that in recent years, the law of sedition(conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch) has been used in blunt and indiscriminate ways, inviting charges of intimidating dissenters and restricting freedoms – despite specific court rulings on what constitutes sedition.
For instance, in Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar (1962), the Supreme Court ruled that criticisms of the government, even the state itself, do not constitute sedition or an act seen as detrimental(risk) to the security and integrity of the Union. In Balwant Singh v State of Punjab (1995) it found that even sloganeering that seemingly supports separatism — in this case, “Khalistan Zindabad” – as long as it does not directly incite(encourage) people to commit violence against the Indian state, falls within the bounds of free speech.
(The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to create a separate country called KhalistÄn in the Punjab region as a homeland for Sikhs)
According to data from the National Crimes Research Bureau, there has been a steady rise in the number of sedition cases from 2014 (47 cases) to 2018 (70 cases) — and there have been only four convictions in that time, giving credence(weight) to the perception that the law is being misused to curb fundamental freedoms.
The use of a law framed to deal with terrorism and violent militancy in Zahra’s case, or the FIR against The Hindu, do not constitute the “reasonable restriction” on free speech that the law and the constitution permit. These must be revoked.
Journalists in Jammu and Kashmir have always faced more curbs than their counterparts elsewhere — security is the perfect alibi(excuse) for all governments to clamp down on dissent. But the latest decision is a new low even by that worrisome yardstick.
When there are growing concerns over the shrinking space for other institutions and individual freedoms, this decision only confirms that curbs on Internet access may have been eased since August 5 but little has changed when it comes to securing the rights of the press.
2) Crude shock
Collapse of oil price signals demand decline, lack of storage capacity. India must build its strategic reserves
Reverberations(echo) from the economic dislocation caused by the coronavirus are being felt across the world. On Monday, the price of the May futures contract for West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) in the US that is due to expire on Tuesday fell into negative territory — settling at – $37.63 a barrel.
OVERSUPPLY IN US:
This extreme price movement is indicative of how deeply oversupplied the US market is owing to the collapse in demand as economic activity has come to a standstill(halt) and the fact that there isn’t storage capacity to absorb this excess supply.
The “negative” price indicates that investors holding these May contracts essentially did not want to take delivery of the oil, unable to find storage facilities. And while the June contract is currently hovering(moving) around $20 a barrel, the price crash in the May contracts suggests that storage will continue to be a problem.
This implies that unless supply in the US is cut back further to readjust to the collapse in demand, more pain is likely.
(The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is an intergovernmental organization of 13 nations, founded on 14 September 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members, and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna, Austria. The stated mission of the organization is to "coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets, in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers, and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry”)
This isn’t a US-specific problem. Earlier, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, along with Russia, agreed to cut crude oil output by 9.7 million barrels per day to bring down supply. This cut is effective from May and is supposed to last till June. But this cut is unlikely to be enough to readjust supply given the extent of the collapse in global demand.
While according to some estimates demand is likely to be 30 per cent lower, it is difficult at this stage to accurately gauge(understand) the extent of the fall. Thus, it is likely that these cuts will need to be followed up by further cuts to readjust supply.
In this situation of low crude oil prices, while oil producing countries will suffer, oil consuming countries like India will benefit. Lower prices should not only help in reducing the current account deficit, but could also ease inflationary pressures if governments do pass on the benefit, even partially, to end consumers.
(The current account deficit is a measurement of a country's trade where the value of the goods and services it imports exceeds the value of the products it exports. ... The current account represents a country's foreign transactions and, like the capital account, is a component of a country's balance of payments (BOP))
However, it is also likely that as the lockdown restrictions are eased, and as economic activity gradually picks up, the Centre and the states raise taxes on crude oil to shore up their struggling revenues. Further, as lower oil prices will impact the economies of oil producing countries in the middle east, they could also affect remittance(payment flows) to India.
India must seize this opportunity to build on its oil reserves. The government has said that it will take advantage of the low crude oil prices to fill its strategic petroleum reserves. The country’s strategic petroleum reserve facilities have a capacity of 5.3 million metric tonnes — amounting to 9.5 days of its crude oil requirements (as per consumption pattern of 2017-18).
Additionally, the government has approved the setting up two additional SPR facilities which will add another 6.5 MMT or about 11.57 days of the country’s crude requirements. In comparison, each IEA country has to hold emergency oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of imports. India should be working on similar lines.
(The International Energy Agency is a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis)
3) Learning from Lenin: At 150, the leader of the October Revolution has lessons for a post-Covid world
When we pay tributes to Lenin, we should not fail to think about ways to liberate people from all kinds of exploitations and enslavement.
April 22, 2020, marks the 150th birth anniversary of V I Lenin. He was one of the greatest theoreticians of Left politics after Karl Marx. He was an excellent strategist and tactician, who led the first socialist revolution in 1917, in Russia. He was the head of the first socialist country and founder of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
While it is appropriate that the working people of the world pay their tributes to the leader who changed the course of history by establishing a government of the working classes and laid the foundation for a new social order, there is a need to look at socialism in the context of the ongoing debate on the world post-Covid.
(Socialism is a political, social and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterised by social ownership of the means of production and workers' self-management of enterprises. It includes the political theories and movements associated with such systems)
The lockdown forced by the corona epidemic has triggered agitations by the hungry, homeless and jobless poor and migrant workers in many countries, including the US. Many scholars are recalling the Great Depression while debating the impact the pandemic is likely to have on the global economy.
However, the depression began in the first decades of the 20th century. The crisis of overproduction and over-accumulation led to the collapse of purchasing power and investment, creating massive unemployment and other related problems. The economic depression during 1929-32 shook all of Europe and the US. During this period the economy of the US was in competition and conflict with Europe, generating homelessness, migration, hunger and unimaginable miseries.
CRISIS OF CAPITALISM:
The crisis of capitalism and the conflict among the capitalist countries led to World War I. Half a century earlier, Marx had published the first volume of Capital, in which he established that capitalism is a crisis-ridden economic system.
(Capitalism- an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state)
At the beginning of the Great Depression, Lenin was leading the revolution in Russia. He argued that capitalism reached its highest stage in monopoly capitalism and thereafter, became parasitic and moribund(dying).
His work, Imperialism: The highest stage of capitalism, was a response to the crisis. The October Revolution was waged in the backdrop of the Great Depression and World War I. The USSR was projected as an alternative to the capitalist order that ensured equality and justice to all.
It’s now 90 years since the Great Depression. Those experiences and lessons are relevant even today. The current stage of capitalist development has created unprecedented income and wealth inequality within the country and among the nations. Capitalism is in deep crisis. The world, after corona recedes(ends), is not going to be the same. The economic crisis may worsen.
(The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across the world; in most countries, it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s)
It is imperative(needful) to reflect on the economic ramifications of this evolving scenario in India. Even in the name of the coronavirus, attempts are on to spread fear and terror among the people in the name of religion. From Buddha to Ravidas and further to Ambedkar, there has been the enduring dream of Begumpura. In our times, Begumpura is the New India where people reside without fear and dread, worries and sufferings.
Marx and Lenin would not hesitate to align(link) with these leaders and thinkers of our country. But corporate capitalism will not allow any alternative outside the capitalist structure. Right-wing forces have already captured power in many countries, including India.
These forces will dismantle democracy by encouraging fascist forces who claim to act in the name of radical national renewal. When we pay tributes to Lenin, we should not fail to think about ways to liberate people from all kinds of exploitations and enslavement.
(Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe)