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THE INDIAN EXPRESS ARTICLES WITH MAINS QUESTIONS
Topic: The G-20 outing : Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate.
Context: PM Modi’s engagement with world leaders underlined pragmatism and resilience of ties, disproved narratives of crisis.
- The G20 (Group of 20) is an international forum which includes 19 of the world’s largest economies and the European Union.
- G20 is a forum for economic, financial and political cooperation. It addresses the major global challenges and seeks to generate public policies that resolve them.
Together, the G20 members represent –
- Two thirds of the world population.
- 85% of the global gross product.
- 75% of international trade.
- 80% of global investments in research and development.
- Because the G-20 is a forum, its agreements or decisions have no legal impact, but they do influence countries’ policies and global cooperation.
- Which countries are part of G20: Germany, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, South Korea, United States, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, United Kingdom, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, European Union.
- This year’s annual G-20 summit held in Osaka, Japan, offered an expansive stage for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to kickstart his second international innings.
- If his first outing after the general elections — which gave him a massive mandate — to Maldives and Sri Lanka was about India’s maritime neighbourhood, the three-day sojourn (ठहरना) in Osaka provided an occasion to engage many of his global peers in multiple formats and address burning international questions.
- Launched in 2008 to cope with the global financial crisis, the G-20 has now become a forum for the discussion of all major international issues and a venue for bilateral exchanges between the world’s top leaders.
- Modi’s meeting with the US President, Donald Trump, underlined the essential resilience (लचीलापन) of India’s strategic partnership with the United States.
- It disproved the recent narrative that the relationship is in a crisis amidst a large number of contentions including trade, 5G, Iran and Russia.
- Trump’s tweet, hours before he met Modi, demanding that Delhi withdraw its retaliatory tariffs against American duties on steel and aluminium imports, seemed to confirm the new volatility in bilateral relations.
- But the two leaders agreed to initiate high-level talks to resolve trade disputes and discussed potential collaboration on 5G technologies.
- The discussion on the Gulf offered the PM an opportunity to lay out India’s interests in oil price stability and its contributions to regional security.
- Besides the bilateral meeting with Trump, Modi also sat down for a brief trilateral chat with the US President and the Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe.
- Modi met with Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin in a trilateral format.This must not, however, be seen as some kind of a return to non-alignment.
- It merely reflects India’s necessary pragmatism (व्यावहारिकता) amid the current fluidity in great power relations.
- This was reflected in the effort by Xi and Trump to pause their trade war. Equally important was the fact that Russia, China and Brazil were happy to thunder against the US at the BRICS forum, but had no problem joining the Osaka Declaration on cross-border data flows sponsored by Japan.
- India decided to absent itself at the discussion on data along with Indonesia and South Africa.
Conclusion: On the face of it, the abstention is of a piece with India’s recent drift to so-called “data nationalism”. However, given the growing centrality of the digital economy for India’s growth and Modi’s visible isolation at Osaka, Delhi must take a fresh look at the assumptions behind its current approaches to data governance.
Questions: Though recently held G-20 meeting showed a sense of solidarity among BRICS countries on many issues yet it has also showed divergence on different matters. Discuss keeping in mind protection to India's national interest. ( 250 w)
Topic: Re-imagining India and Africa; Bilateral, regional and global grouping
Context: Delhi’s strategy for Indo-Pacific needs to recognise the importance of the continent
- Although scepticism about the idea of Indo-Pacific endures (सहना), the new geopolitical construct continues to gain ground.
- In embracing the concept late last month, the Association of South East Asian Nations has taken a big step towards bridging the eastern Indian Ocean with the Pacific.
- If South East Asia has been central to the Indo-Pacific debate, Africa remains a neglected element. The ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific vision has come after a prolonged internal debate among its ten member states.
- The initiative came from Indonesia — the largest member of the ASEAN and an early champion of the Indo-Pacific.
- After all, Indonesia is the land link between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Almost all the maritime traffic between the two oceans passes through the narrow straits formed by the Indonesian archipelago.
- As in India, so in the ASEAN, there was much initial suspicion about the meaning of and the motivations behind the term Indo-Pacific.
- Delhi and Jakarta are also well-placed to recognise the growing importance of Africa for the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.
- Delhi and Jakarta remember that the 1955 Bandung Conference was not just about Asia or non-alignment, but promoting Afro-Asian solidarity.
- India and Indonesia can’t forget Africa’s role in shaping the outcome of the World War II in Asia. Nearly 1,00,000 African soldiers participated in the war to liberate Burma and South East Asia from Japanese occupation.
- If Europe and North America dominated Africa’s economic relationship in the past, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the ASEAN share the honours today with the US and EU. China, Japan, Korea and India are also major investors in Africa as well as providers of development assistance.
- China and Japan are also playing a major role in the modernisation and expansion of infrastructure in Africa.
- China certainly has strong reservations about the Indo-Pacific terminology; but no one is doing more to integrate the two oceans than Beijing.
- China’s maritime silk road is about connecting China’s eastern seaboard with the Indian Ocean littoral. As per Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies information China is involved in the development of 47 ports in sub-saharan Africa.
- Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who reinvented the Indo-Pacific has also underlined the importance of connecting Africa to Asia through growth corridors.
- China’s expanding defence and security engagement in Africa. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China accounted for nearly 27 per cent of all arms imports by Sub-Saharan Africa during 2013-17.
- China is a major champion of peacekeeping in Africa, not in manpower contribution that is dominated by Subcontinent (majorly India), but in financial, material, logistical and institutional support.
- In 2017, Beijing established its first foreign military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. And China is not the only one. Japan has run a small military facility in Djibouti since 2011. This is Japan’s first foreign base since the Second World War.
- South Korea, following a similar track, stationed about 150 troops in the UAE for African military missions, including peacekeeping.
- The US, which was focused on terrorism and other non-military threats after 9/11, is paying attention to Africa’s new geopolitics. Russia, which seemed to turn its back on Africa after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is now returning with some vigour. Meanwhile, many regional actors like Iran, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are taking growing interest in Africa.
Conclusion: During his first term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi elevated the engagement with Africa by hosting a summit in Delhi for all the African leaders, unveiling sustained high level political contact, expanding India’s diplomatic footprint, strengthening economic engagement and boosting military diplomacy.
But the scale and speed of Africa’s current transformation means the PM has his African tasks cut out in the second term.
Question: Delhi’s strategy for Indo-Pacific needs to recognize the importance of the African continent. Comment.(200 words).
Topic: Ocean’s eleven; Bilateral, regional and global grouping
Context: India and ASEAN agree on their outlook to the Indo-Pacific. They must act in concert.
- At the 34th ASEAN summit in Bangkok, the leaders of the 10-nation grouping finally came out with their positions on the Indo-Pacific region in a document titled ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific’.
- While ASEAN has not spelt out what it considers to geographically constitute the region, there appear to be several similarities between the Indian and ASEAN approaches to this critical subject.
- Acknowledging that this is a very important part of the globe from both a geo-political as well as geo-economic perspective, the group clearly wants developments here to be ASEAN-centric and even ASEAN-led.
- This approach of ASEAN heaves closely to the Indian position, which was best articulated by PM Narendra Modi in his Shangrila dialogue address on June 1, 2018, where, in reference to the Indo-Pacific region he had stated, “Southeast Asia is at its centre. And, ASEAN has been and will be central to its future. That is the vision that will always guide India…”.
- A second objective of the ASEAN group, as far as the Indo-Pacific is concerned, is to promote an enabling environment for peace, stability and prosperity by upholding a “rules-based regional architecture”.
- India, too, seeks such an order which must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons.
- The new ASEAN Outlook specifically refers to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) while talking of peaceful resolution of disputes, which can be interpreted as being squarely aimed at China and its aggressive actions in the South China Sea.
- India too believes that when “nations make international commitments, they must uphold them” including in freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and settlement of disputes. Once again, there is a close harmony of views between India and ASEAN.
- The ASEAN Outlook clearly has an inclusive approach to the region as it visualises “avoiding the deepening of mistrust, miscalculation and patterns of behavior based on a zero-sum game”.
- India has also stated that the Indo-Pacific region is not an exclusive club aimed at any country but must be inclusive, aiming at security and prosperity for all in the region.
- This is none other than PM Modi’s idea of SAGAR, which he has elaborated extensively in his many visits within the region, including recently at the Majlis of the Maldives.
- Strikingly, no countries have been named in the ASEAN Outlook. It is not being positioned as a new strategy of ASEAN, but a continuation of what have been ASEAN goals and objectives for decades.
- It is clearly mentioned that no new structures will be created, but that existing ones will be optimally utilised for achieving some of the goals stated in the Outlook.
- There is great similarity and parallel in both thought and approach between the Indian and ASEAN positions on the Indo-Pacific Region.
- As middle or balancing powers that do not want to be in a position to have to choose sides between the big players, there is common ground between the two.
- Individual countries or groups of nations are now being called upon to back one side against the other. This is difficult for both ASEAN as well as India.
Conclusion: India should quickly seize the moment of the announcement of the ‘ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific Region’, and institute a new dialogue with the 10-member grouping so that we can both further calibrate our approaches in this very important matter.
Together, we shall have more say on this subject than we have individually. A Track-1 India-ASEAN Indo-Pacific dialogue should be instituted at the earliest.
Question: Do you feel there is convergence in the policies and approach of India and ASEAN on the issue of Indo-Pacific. Comment.(200 words)
Topic: Spectrum of Possibilities’; Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
CONTEXT: Government needs to assist the telecom sector to facilitate a smooth transition to 5G
History of Telecom Sector
- In the years following the liberalisation of the telecom sector in India that began gingerly (होशियार) in 1994, the biggest barrier to private entry was a licence or the right to operate telecom services under the Telegraph Act.
- Licences were scarce since the government had limited their number in the same manner that licences were controlled pre-1991.
- So, when India allowed private players in telecom, potential investors showed extraordinary exuberance (अधिकता) by committing huge sums of money to obtain a licence.
- But Competition was limited to two private operators, telecom services were constrained everywhere in the country, and therefore, there was a huge addressable market.
- Unfortunately, the revenue enthusiasm of the private entrants was belied (झूठा साबित), not least because tariffs for the new services were set at impossibly high levels.
- Besides, the incumbent public sector monopoly made life hard for the private sector entrants. In 1999, the government took a “brave” decision in favour of the sector.
Play of Spectrum
- On a collective plea by private operators, the government agreed to reduce their licence fee burden that threatened business continuity.
- The massive growth of telecom that followed the government’s decision to migrate to a licence fee regime based on a percentage of revenue. Evidence shows that the government too has benefited.
- Licences are now available on tap — anyone who wishes to offer telecom services can get one. But, there’s a catch. The binding constraint is imposed by the availability of spectrum — without it, the licence is not worth the paper on which it is printed.
- Thus, the effective barrier to entry is now spectrum and not the licence.
- How spectrum is assigned will determine the nature and extent of competition in the market, and facilitating it is one of the primary mandates of regulators.
- In this backdrop, we find the rules and the reserve prices for the upcoming spectrum auction including radio waves for 5G mobile services issued by TRAI to be incompatible with the goal of facilitating competition and market growth.
- In brief, the reserve prices are too high, compromising India’s 5G adoption ability.
- Luckily, the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) has returned the recommendations to TRAI for reconsideration. The other positive development is that the new minister has set up a committee under the telecom secretary to review levies on the sector.
- It is a recognition that the industry’s debt levels have burgeoned (अंकुर निकलना), due in part to the enormous amounts paid for spectrum and other regulatory charges, and in part due to competition from technological disruptions via apps which have put pressure on traditional revenue streams.
- The year 2010 was a watershed moment in the life of Indian telecoms. Until then, spectrum was administratively assigned, and thereafter by auctions.
- The pre-2010 administrative assignment of spectrum suffered from lack of transparency, favouritism and avoidable scandals. The Supreme Court thus ordered the government to auction spectrum for “all times to come”.
- Telecom auctions have unquestionably had their advantages. Usage has become efficient and the government has generated substantial revenue.
- We currently follow a simultaneous multi-round ascending auction method, which could be designed to produce high revenue for the government. If this is done for the upcoming 5G auctions, India could well miss the 5G bus, or even come under it.
- Neither is going to be easy. But when the problem is knotty, so are the solutions. We must recognise that spectrum is the new entry barrier or the manifestation of market power. No operator should be allowed to hoard or capture it.
- Else Ghalib’s lament, Hum ne maana ki taghaful na karoge lekin, khaaq ho jayenge ham tum ko khabar hote tak, (I know you may not neglect me/ but it may be too late by the time you act) might just ring true.
Question : What are the challenges that are being faced by Indian Telecom sector? Discuss. Also suggest what needs to be done to overcome these challenges.(250 words)
Topic: Mumbai’s tragedy; Disaster and Disaster management
CONTEXT:: Another monsoon takes a heavy toll, spotlighting corruption and incompetence in infrastructure planning and governance
- Another Mumbai monsoon tragedy has yielded another high-level inquiry, this time to probe the circumstances in which at least 26 Mumbaikars died when a wall along a suburban hillock collapsed on two shanty colonies.
- A technical experts’ committee will also probe if the quality of construction and design of the wall along the slope was appropriate.
- Meanwhile, the first week of rains left thousands with flooded and damaged homes and vehicles.
- Thousands of underground water tanks in suburban residential colonies are contaminated, and municipal authorities are bracing for an impending round of viral and water-borne diseases.
- A CAG report tabled in the Maharashtra state legislature slammed agencies for incomplete works on flood preparedness.
- After every major tragedy in Mumbai, inquiry reports point to Bad urban planning and inefficient municipal governance.
- After the 2005 deluge that claimed over 700 lives in the city after a 944 mm downpour in a single day, not only were large parts of a fact-finding committee’s recommendations never implemented, but 14 years and several hundred crores later, a project to rejuvenate the Mithi River, Mumbai’s mother drainage system, remains incomplete.
- Some government officials in Maharashtra said it is because of Climate change but the Problem is widespread construction on flood plains, reclaimed wetlands and former salt pan lands — all buffers against flooding.
Conclusion: Corruption and incompetence in infrastructure planning and governance cannot be brushed under the climate change carpet.
Various agencies responsible for Mumbai’s urban systems must do both — fix accountability for the dereliction (उपेक्षा) and simultaneously mandate scientific sustainability studies to inform all development planning, zoning initiatives, real estate development and mass transit projects.
Question : What links do you find between urban planning and devastating urban floods? Discuss. (150 words)
Topic: Simultaneous Elections vs Accountability; Parliament and state legislature – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
CONTEXT: Are elections a mere instrument to elect the government or a meaningful democratic exercise? Article from EPW (Economic and Political Weekly)
- “One Nation, One Election’’ has been an issue of great priority for the Present government. This intention of the was clear in its move to take up the discussion of such a proposal on priority in the all-party meet that took place on 19 June 2019.
- Though the idea of holding simultaneous elections is not new, as it was mooted by the Election Commission in 1982 as well as the Law Commission in 1999, the recent impetus has come from a discussion paper by NITI Aayog members as well as a report by the Law Commission.
- Furthermore, this idea has been pushed forcefully by the Prime Minister in his, thereby giving it political weightage.
- Primarily, the rationale for this idea rests on the arguments for efficiency and expenditure.
- The simultaneous conduct of elections is said to help reduce the overall expenditure on holding elections. Moreover, it would also remove the impediment in taking policy decisions due to the adherence to the model code of conduct at different points in time.
- Such arguments are essentially managerial/instrumental in nature and show scant (नाममात्र का) regard for constitutional principles and democratic values.
Why it is Not a Good Idea
- The implementation of this idea would demand the curtailment of the ongoing tenure of several state legislatures, which would effectively mean undermining the democratic mandate. Even if this process is to be ensured without invoking Article 356 and were to be carried out consensually, it would stand to harm the federal principle.
- Specificities of state-level issues and the regional forces addressing them prominently find better scope and space with the singular focus being on the elections in particular states. Simultaneity threatens to drown regional issues and further strengthen the unitary bias.
- Elections held at different times can possibly force the union government to correct its anti-people policies, and pay heed to the demands of the masses.
- Simultaneity stand in brazen contravention to the principle of accountability of the executive to the people through the legislature. It is so becuase the sustenance of simultaneous elections demands a provision for fixed tenure.
- Simultaneous elections would unduly favour the big national parties—better endowed with resources and reach—and make the political contest increasingly bipartisan and centred on personalities of leaders.
- The aforementioned “managerial instrumental” is fundamentally against the democracy.
- It imagines that people are passive voters who have to vote every five years and then withdraw from public activity, entrusting it to the executive.
- However as Ram Manohar Lohia used to argue, “Zinda kaume paanch saal intezaar nahi kar sakti” (Active masses cannot wait for five years).
- Ultimately, elections in various states also provide a scope for the expression of this activity of the masses which is essential for the health of democracy.
Question : In view of the idea of holding simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, discuss the advantages that its implementation would lead to and the concerns that it raises.(250 words)