Indian Express Editorial Analysis
30 May 2020

1) When crises come-

CONTEXT:

  • On Tuesday, Assam’s Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma reportedly said that “it would be wiser for the people who are stranded outside the state to return by June 10 so that the state could shift its focus to flood management”.
  • He was referring to the dual challenge the state has been confronted with since last week. Assam has a much lower caseload compared to most states.
  • But with migrants returning, the number of COVID positive people in the state has almost doubled in less than a week. At the same time, it experienced its first wave of flash floods last week.
  • Triggered by the cyclone Amphan, the floods have affected five districts.
  • The situation drives home the urgency of framing protocols(rules) and creating institutions to deal with multiple emergencies simultaneously.

 

 

NOVEL CORONAVIRUS IS HERE TO STAY:

Epidemiologists and policy-makers now agree that the novel coronavirus is here to stay till there is a vaccine or people develop herd immunity.

TRIVIA-

(Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune)

  • Meanwhile, societies will continue to be confronted with droughts, floods and weather vagaries.
  • In some parts of the country, the response of the disaster mechanisms to such exigencies has been compromised by the imperative(need) of dealing with the pandemic.
  • Last week, for instance, when cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal and Odisha, the two states evacuated about 5 lakh people. In normal times, this would have been hailed as a feat in disaster management.
  • However, since the two state governments also had to ensure social distancing, they fell short of cyclone relief centres.
  • Such challenges are likely to increase with the onset of monsoon — synchronising flood control and relief with COVID containment measures will be a test for several state governments.

 

 

DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT:

  • The Centre used the Disaster Management Act (DMA), 2005 to notify the COVID-19 pandemic as a “disaster”.
  • Enacted after the tsunami of 2004, the Act does not mention a public health emergency.
  • A criticism of the DMA is that it looks at disasters from an administrative and law and order perspective, and does not underline their humanitarian aspect.
  • It talks of mitigating(reducing) the “hardship of the community” but stops short of involving non-state actors in disaster relief operations.
  • At the same time, the successes in COVID containment — in Kerala, Odisha, parts of Rajasthan — owe much to civil society involvement. The salience(importance) of such initiatives cannot be overstated.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

  • The country requires protocols to involve civil society in myriad post-COVID roles — from alleviating(reducing) the stress of migrants and arranging quarantine to organising flood relief.
  • Country needs to evolve well-rounded protocols for managing disasters, not look at them as only administrative problems.

 

2) Mr Mehta’s lecture-

CONTEXT:

  • Solicitor General Tushar Mehta’s grandstanding(seek to attract applause or favourable attention from spectators or the media) in the country’s apex court on Thursday crossed several lines.
  • First, the line of propriety.
  • Unlike the Attorney General, the SG is not a constitutional but a statutory authority; he appears on behalf of the government in court.
  • Yet, on a day when the country’s highest court finally, if belatedly(lately), questioned the Centre and the states on the plight of stranded migrant workers,
  • It takes a particularly blind and blatant partisanship, apart from a moral obtuseness(stupidity), to question, instead, the commitment and credentials of those who are pointing to the unfolding tragedy and calling for urgent redress(remedy) and accountability.

 

 

OVERWROUGHT RHETORIC:

  • In Mehta’s overwrought rhetoric, they are “prophets of doom” who “only spread negativity, negativity and negativity”, and who are “not showing any courtesy to the nation”. He contrasted them with ministers “working overnight”.
  • Mehta also spoke of “the vulture and a panic-stricken child” — evoking the image captured by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter in Sudan, which, in the early ‘90s, sparked a debate on the journalist’s professional and personal responsibility, the dividing lines that can blur or grey in challenging situations.
  • While that debate is an important one, and it goes on, Mehta’s attempt to hang his own narrow rage on it misfires completely.
  • The fact is that it is the journalists’ focus on the arduous trek of the migrants, as they attempt to go back home, having lost their jobs and with no resources to fall back on, that has made their plight visible and compelled the government, and now the Court, to respond.
  • The fact also is that Mehta had stood in court on March 31 and made the misleading claim that there are no more migrants on the road.

 

CROSSING ANOTHER LINE:

  • Mehta crossed yet another line when he sought to lecture to the imagined enemies and critics of government, and to the apex court itself, on the meaning of judicial independence —
  • “For them, Lordships are neutral only if you abuse the executive”.
  • Some high courts, he said “are running a parallel government”.
  • The latter was an allusion to the fact that high courts have seemed more outspoken about the humanitarian toll of the pandemic and the response to it.
  • As this newspaper reports today, as many as 19 High Courts across the country have been pushing and prodding officialdom towards redressal and relief for the most vulnerable during the pandemic.
  • Is the second highest law officer in a country that prides itself for the noise of its democracy really suggesting that, in a public health emergency, any criticism of the government, from activists, journalists, Opposition, and courts, is unwelcome?
  • Is he trying to pit(set someone or something in conflict or competition with) the Supreme Court against the high courts?
  • Of course, there will always be some in the Bar or in the PIL cottage industry who give out integrity certificates to the judiciary and quickly take them back, depending on which way a particular verdict goes.
  • But it’s a bit rich for Mehta, as counsel for the government, to lecture the bench — and the world — on what judicial independence should mean.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

  • There is a question, too, for the Supreme Court. The SG’s outburst draws attention to the SC’s silence.
  • It would be unfortunate, indeed, if the SG’s unwise and mean-spirited(inconsiderate and unsympathetic) exuberance(quality of being full of energy, excitement) is allowed to be seen to, in some way, or in any way, be endorsed(supported) by the highest court.
  • Solicitor General’s bullying(seeking to harm) need to be called out — by the court too. That's judicial independence.

 

 

3) Delhi is unlikely to opt for an escalation with China that affects its economy-

CONTEXT:

  • Indian and Chinese troops have “pushed each other around” on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, raising international alarm.
  • Under pressure from missile fire on its own LAC with India, Pakistan made public its hostility(aggression) by getting its military experts to predict India’s humiliation at the hands of a “superior power”.
  • But judging from its past modus operandi(method), war is not going to be India’s option — nor any form of escalation that will affect its economy.

 

 

NO KNEE-JERK REACTIONS:

  • This is where India acts differently: No knee-jerk(sudden) reaction that will lead to the kind of war that broke out in 1962.
  • Unlike Pakistan’s predictable reaction of breaking off cross-border trade — as it did in 2019 after the Pulwama incident — India became a significant trading partner with China touching a reported turnover of $89 billion in 2018.
  • The country’s PM Modi courted the most after he came to office was China — despite border incidents — and he conducted highly publicised meetings with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.
  • Modi was not hostile(aggressive) towards Pakistan to begin with either and paid a “private” visit to Lahore in 2015 to see a friendly Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.
  • The visit, unfortunately, foreclosed the latter’s ouster from power in the “rigged” election of 2018.
  • All this after the genuine Indian grievance over the Mumbai attacks, and the subsequent badly-handled trial of the culprits in Pakistan.

 

 

NOT TO CONFRONT AGAINST CHINA:

  • Despite signals from President Donald Trump in Washington, India is not going to step into the war of a “geostrategic response” to China in South and Southeast Asia where China is seen flexing its military muscle.
  • Europe seems to be going along with Trump and Australia, actually swallowed the bait(lure), criticising China over COVID-19. The result: It has suffered a major trade reversal at the hands of its largest trading partner.
  • Both China and India are major powers in the Gulf region and don’t need to confront each other, either in Afghanistan-Pakistan or the Iran-Arab region.
  • In the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the third-largest trade partner for India, worth nearly $100 billion, while Saudi Arabia is fourth-largest with $57 billion in 2018.
  • China trades to the tune of $167 billion with the Gulf states and, together with India, has emerged as a significant political “alternative” after Trump withdraws from the Gulf.
  • Of the 28 million foreign workers in the Gulf, India has the largest number followed by Bangladesh and Pakistan — its manpower being superior in quality to the workers sent by others.

 

 

INDIA AND CHINA- REGIONAL POWERS:

  • How have the Arabs and Iranians reacted to the developments in India, which affect the lives of Muslims?
  • Note the lack of reaction from Saudi Arabia and the UAE after India’s “annexation” of “disputed” Kashmir in 2019, and the enforcement of conditions of “citizenship confirmation” of Muslims in India (also note the absence of Arab reaction to China’s incarceration of Uighur Muslims).
  • Both China and India have emerged as big regional powers, making it possible for the neighbours to establish trade equations with them.
  • Pakistan may be the one that has not rationalised its relationship with India, but Iran clearly has.
  • PM Imran Khan did begin by announcing that he would like to have trade relations with India, and possibly also did some lateral thinking about India’s desire for a trade route to Afghanistan through Pakistan.
  • Since Afghanistan is included in the SAARC, the trade route would have been quite natural and beneficial to Pakistan.
  • But Pakistan still had to learn its lessons. India opened the Chabahar port route for Indian trade going to Afghanistan, and onwards to Central Asia.
  • India traded with Iran to the tune of 41 billion Indian rupees in 2019, running parallel to China — Iran’s largest trading partner.

 

 

CONCLUSION:

  • India’s position in South Asia and the Gulf has gained acknowledgement because of its economy — note the Arab investment which has gone to India instead of Pakistan — and China is a peripheral(outer) challenger in the region, in addition to being one of its biggest trading partners.