Indian Express Editorial Analysis
26 May 2020

1) Against workers-


  • At a webinar on Sunday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath spoke about the problems of those who have to move out of the state to earn their livelihoods.
  • He announced that a “Migration Commission” will be established to help workers who have returned to the state amid the lockdown.
  • The Commission will find ways to guarantee social security to workers, provide them jobs according to their skills.
  • The CM also criticised other states for not taking care of workers from UP during the lockdown.



  • For sure, the salience(importance) of welfare schemes for migrants — insurance, legal support, unemployment allowance — and the need for better employment avenues for them, cannot be overstated(exaggerated).
  • The UP CM’s stated concern for the dignity of workers from the state in workplaces in other states is also welcome.
  • But a relevant intervention on an important issue framed by the ongoing public health emergency assumed a problematic overtone(implication) when the UP CM said: “Without our permission, our people cannot be taken by other states”.
  • Quite simply, what the chief minister has proposed is against the interests of the workers he is professing concern for.
  • It also goes against a fundamental tenet of the Constitution: Clauses d and e of Article 19 guarantee citizens the right to move freely throughout the country.


  • The public exchange on the issue of the stranded and vulnerable migrant workforce has thrown up several questionable and unseemly interventions so far.
  • More than 20 lakh migrants have reportedly returned to UP in the two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown dried up their sources of livelihood.
  • While the UP government did mobilise buses to ferry(transport) back stranded migrants, a large number of them have had to undertake arduous(difficult) journeys to return home.
  • Earlier this month, the UP government sparred(argued) with the government of Maharashtra over logistics for the returning migrants.
  • Last week, it engaged in a battle of one-upmanship(technique or practice of gaining an advantage or feeling of superiority over another person) with the Opposition Congress over buses to transport workers back to the state.
  • Unfortunately, on this issue, the Adityanath government does not seem to be an exception.
  • Buses from Jharkhand have reportedly been turned back from the Bengal border, the Bihar government gave only a reluctant nod to bringing migrants by Shramik Special trains, Jharkhand has accused Chhattisgarh of sending back people who tested COVID-19, and it took a public uproar for the Karnataka government to revoke(cancel) its order cancelling trains for migrants.


  • The UP government can be said to be attempting to use the emergency created by the pandemic to give itself undue powers over its citizens.
  • The decision of workers to return to their worksites, or not, is best left to them. Of course, the home states may have legitimate worries about their working conditions.
  • Negotiations between states should inform efforts to create and strengthen social security for workers — not unilateral, unconstitutional decisions.


2) Think smarter-


  • Of all the lessons that the pandemic has taught a civilisation that had become improbably confident of its beliefs, perhaps the most unsettling(worrying) is that the most technologically capable nations cannot protect the lives and health of their citizens from a medieval plague.
  • It follows that a political culture and economic system invested in the ideal of ever-increasing GDP must invest more in the health of its citizens, who power the engine of growth.
  • Historically, India has hesitated(reluctant) to invest adequately in school education and health, the twin foundations of a mature society, and these sectors remained neglected even by the reforms process.
  • Now, it appears that even the newest innovation for optimising spaces and communities for growth, the Smart Cities Mission, hasn’t understood the foundational importance of health.



  • The figures are appalling(concerning). Only 1.18 per cent of the 5,861 projects okayed since 2015 are for augmenting infrastructure and capability in health.
  • In fiscal terms, they account for only 1.03 per cent of the volume invested by the Mission.
  • Plumbing an abyssal(poor) nadir(lowest point) in the importance accorded to health, this is even lower than the shamefully inadequate 1.6 per cent of GDP which the states and the Centre together set aside for health in 2019-20.
  • For comparison, the total health expenditure in the US in 2017 was 17.9 per cent of GDP, of which the state contributed over 8.5 per cent.
  • Of the 30 municipal jurisdictions which account for 79 per cent of cases, 17 are smart cities — and, of them, only seven have invested Mission funds directly in health.
  • Hotspots like Jaipur and Surat have no health projects at all under the Mission.


  • As the Mission clarifies on its website, a smart city has no absolute definition.
  • The term originated among Western planners to describe a city which uses Internet of Things(IOT is system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction) data to optimise its services.
  • The Indian ministry of housing and urban affairs mentions this aspect in only one of the eight features it lists for a smart city.
  • The rest focus on urban planning strategies for quality of life, such as reducing pollution and improving land use.
  • Health is mentioned only in one point, which discusses urban identity conferred through local economic activities like making sports goods and hosiery(stockings), and providing medical facilities.
  • Health is not acknowledged as the substrate of productivity.


  • We can only hope that the pandemic drives the point home, and the Mission pivots to health.
  • Smart Cities Mission, which was to approach urban planning creatively, perpetuates(keep going) the traditional neglect of health.


3) The Pashtun question-


  • Delhi needs to look beyond the question of engaging with the Taliban and focus on the larger Pashtun question that once again promises to shape the geopolitics of the north-western Subcontinent.
  • The question of a direct dialogue with the Taliban was beginning to gain some relevance as the group’s effective control of territory in Afghanistan expanded in recent years.
  • It has acquired some immediacy after the Donald Trump Administration announced plans for a significant drawdown(withdraw) of its forces from Afghanistan and signed a peace deal with the Taliban earlier this year.



  • Renewed public interest in the question was triggered earlier this month when the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, called on India to open a political conversation with the Taliban.
  • The interest was further amplified(strengthened) by a signal from the Taliban that it is eager for a productive relationship with India.
  • Those calling for direct engagement with the Taliban say that Delhi can’t ignore such an important force in Afghan politics.
  • Opponents say there is no reason for Delhi to join the international stampede(chaos) to embrace(welcome) the Taliban.
  • If and when the Taliban becomes a peaceful entity and joins the quest for a political settlement with Kabul, they argue, Delhi should have no objection to direct talks.


  • For all the interest it has generated, the question of Delhi opening a dialogue with the Taliban is a tactical issue focused on when, how and on what terms.
  • But the Taliban remains an important sub-set of the larger and more strategic Pashtun question that holds the key to India’s enduring (lasting) interest in Afghanistan: Promoting a peaceful, independent and a sovereign Afghanistan that is not a subaltern (lower status) to the Pakistan army.
  • Two basic issues define the Pashtun question and will have a huge bearing on Afghanistan’s political evolution after the impending (about to happen) drawdown of the US forces from the country.
  • One is the problem of reconciling (reunite) the interests of multiple ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
  • The Pashtuns who constitute nearly 42 per cent of the population. The sizeable Afghan minorities include 27 per cent Tajiks, 9 per cent each of Hazaras and Uzbeks.
  • The regimes — the communist government in the 1980s, the mujahideen and Taliban rule that followed in the 1990s and the post-Taliban coalition that took charge in 2002 ruled over the last four decades in Kabul.
  • It is important to construct a stable internal balance which so far has been hard.


  • That problem will acquire a new intensity as the Taliban stakes claim for a dominant role in Kabul. But has the Taliban learnt to live in peace with the minorities?
  • The Taliban, an essentially Pashtun formation, had brutally crushed the minorities during its brief rule in the late 1990s.
  • There are some indications that the Taliban is now reaching out to the minorities but it is some distance away from winning their trust.


  • The problem of constructing internal balance in Afghanistan has been complicated by Pakistan’s meddling(interference).
  • Pakistan would like to have the kind of hegemony(dominance) that the British Raj exercised over Afghanistan.
  • Neither can Pakistan replicate that dominance nor are the Afghans willing concede it to the Pakistan army.
  • Pakistan’s ambitious talk of strategic depth is accompanied by worries about its Pashtun minority. There are more than twice as many Pashtuns living in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.
  • The Pashtun population is estimated to be around 15 million in Afghanistan and 35 million in Pakistan.
  • Although Pashtun separatism has long ceased(ended) to be a force in Pakistan, Islamabad finds the Pashtun question re-emerge in a different form.
  • Pakistan can’t really bet that the Taliban will not put Pashtun nationalism above the interests of the Pakistani state.
  • The Taliban, for example, has never endorsed the Durand Line as the legitimate border with Pakistan. It is by no means clear if Pakistan’s construction of the Taliban as a conservative religious force has obliterated(destroyed) the group’s ethnic character.
  • Meanwhile, Islamabad’s quest(urge) for control over Afghanistan over the last four decades has heaped extraordinary suffering on the Pashtun people on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line.
  • As the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement seeks a peaceful redressal(solution) of its demands for basic human rights, Pakistan has unleashed massive repression(suppression).


  • Pakistan’s expansive military and political investments in Afghanistan have not really resolved Islamabad’s security challenges on its western frontier.
  • If an Afghan triumph eludes(escape from or avoid (a danger, enemy, or pursuer)) Pakistan, Delhi can’t escape the complex geopolitics of the Pashtun lands.
  • That the Taliban wants to talk to India and Pakistan brands Pashtun leaders as Indian agents only underlines Delhi’s enduring salience(importance) in Afghanistan.