1. The significance of the Bali G-20 summit
How important is this summit for the world and for India specifically? Which countries are not attending the gathering? Why and how was the G-20 formed? What does its current make-up say about the economic balance of the world? When is India taking up the G-20 presidency?
On Tuesday, leaders of the G-20 nations will gather at Bali’s Nusa Dua resort for the 17th summit of the world’s most advanced economies. G-20 countries represent 85% of the global GDP, 75% of global trade and 66% of the world population. While the focus will be on post-pandemic recovery and dealing with energy and food security impacted by the Russian war in Ukraine, much interest will be around which leaders choose to hold bilateral summits on the sidelines. Notable by his absence is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had earlier accepted Indonesian host President Joko Widodo’s invitation, but as the war with Ukraine continues, has sent his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to represent Russia.
What is the agenda of this summit?
The motto for this G-20 is Recover Together, Recover Stronger. President Jokowi has made recovering from the pandemic a major focus despite geopolitical tensions overshadowing the summit. The leaders will engage in discussions over three sessions: on Food and Energy security, Health Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, and Digital Transformation. In addition, to highlight the concerns over climate change issues, Mr. Jokowi will lead his guests to the Indonesian mangroves of Taman Hutan Raya, which have been restored over a 30-year project covering nearly 700 acres. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also set to spell out his agenda for the year ahead under India’s G-20 presidency, with special focus on the Global South and the problems it is facing due to geopolitical tensions, food and fuel shortages.
What makes this G-20 different from others?
For the world, this is the first G-20 since Russia began the war in Ukraine and the west imposed sanctions on Russia. Efforts will be made to build global consensus over issues that have clearly divided the world. For India, the importance of the summit of the world’s most advanced economies is that it is India’s turn to host the summit next. Mr. Modi will receive a handover from the Indonesian President Joko Widodo after which India will assume the presidency on December 1. Additionally, this is only the second time Chinese President Xi Jinping has travelled abroad since the COVID pandemic, and the first time since he was re-elected at China’s Party Congress last month.
Who all are attending and who is not?
The summit in Bali will be attended by leaders of Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S. Spain is a permanent invitee, and the special invitees this year also include leaders of Cambodia, Fiji, the Netherlands, Rwanda, Senegal, Singapore, Suriname and UAE. In addition, heads of several international agencies like the UN, the IMF, ASEAN, the African Union will attend the 2022 G-20. The Indonesian President has also invited the Ukrainian President to address the summit virtually, while Russian President Putin, and leaders of Mexico and Brazil (which is in a leadership transition), will not attend the summit.
What do we know about the bilateral meetings?
All eyes will also be on the bilateral summits happening by the sidelines — including the Biden-Xi summit, held on Monday at a time when U.S.-China tensions are at a high. While neither Delhi nor Beijing have confirmed a Modi-Xi meeting, any interaction between the two leaders will be the first since the military stand-off at the Line of Actual Control which began in April 2020. Mr. Modi is expected to meet many of the G-20 leaders and others, and will invite them to next year’s summit in India.
Why was the G-20 created?
Created in 1999 as an acceptable medium between the more “elitist” G-7 (then the G-8), and the more unwieldy 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the G-20 was conceived in a more unified, post-Soviet era, when western economies made the rules, China was just on the rise and Russia was still recovering from its breakup. Over the past two decades, the global economic balance has shifted, and the G-20 has been seen as a more representative and egalitarian grouping of global leadership, and was particularly useful in steering the global economy after the global financing crisis and banking collapse of 2008. Significantly, next year the “Troika” of G-20 will be made up of emerging economies for the first time with India, Indonesia and Brazil — an indicator of the shift in the global economic agenda towards the Global South.
2. What are the hurdles to building schools for tribals?
Are all the sanctioned schools functional? Why has the Eklavya Model Residential Schools scheme run into technical difficulties over population and land criteria?
The Narendra Modi-led government is pushing to set up 740 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) for tribal students — one each in every sub-district that has at least a 20,000-odd Scheduled Tribe population, which must be 50% of the total population in that area. The government is persisting with its mission despite the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Ministry noting this year that the population criteria was “impractical” and needed an “immediate review”.
When was the idea mooted?
The EMRS model was first introduced in 1997-98 to provide quality education to tribal students with residential facilities in remote corners. The aim was to build schools at par with the Jawahar Navoday Vidyalayas and Kendriya Vidyalayas. Until 2018-19, the scheme was overseen by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs with maximum control of identifying new schools, recruiting, management and admissions lying with State governments. While the Union government had sanctioned a certain number of preliminary EMRS, the guideline of the scheme noted that States and Union Territories would be responsible for seeking sanction of new schools as and when they needed it. The funds for these schools were to come from the grants under Article 275(1) and the guidelines mandated that unless States finished constructing the schools sanctioned by the Centre, they would not be entitled to funds for new ones. Apart from the infrastructural requirements of 20-acre plots for each EMRS, the guidelines did not have any criteria of where the EMRS could be set up, leaving it to the discretion of State governments.
When was it revamped?
In 2018-19, at the bidding of Mr. Modi, the Cabinet approved the revamping of the EMRS scheme. The new guidelines gave the Union government more power to sanction schools and manage them. A National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS) was set up and entrusted with the management of the State Education Society for Tribal Students (SESTS), which would run the EMRS on the ground.
The new guidelines set a target of setting up an EMRS in every tribal sub-district and introduced a “population criteria” for setting them up. The new guidelines also reduced the minimum land requirement from 20 acres to 15 acres. Since the new scheme was put into place, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs sanctioned 332 of the targetted 452 schools till 2021-22. However, the Standing Committee in its report noted that a large number of schools were being delayed because the area (15 acre) requirement and the population criteria were making identification and acquisition of land “more cumbersome”, especially in hilly areas, leftwing extremism-affected areas and the northeast. It noted that even though the new guidelines provided for relaxations in these areas, other problems with land acquisition continued to persist. The Standing Committee noted that the population criteria ran the risk of depriving a “scattered tribal population” of the benefit of EMRS, “which are a means towards their educational empowerment”.
What is the current status?
The Tribal Affairs Ministry insists on maintaining the new criteria. Ministry officials said that as of November, a total of 688 schools have been sanctioned, of which 392 are functional. Of the 688, 230 have completed construction and 234 are under construction, with 32 schools still stuck due to land acquisition issues. As for serving less dense tribal populations, Minister of Tribal Affairs Arjun Munda said that the government will take care of it after the targetted 740 schools under these criteria are built.
3. Wholesale inflation slipped to single digit at 8.4% in Oct.
Base effect, cooling commodity prices helped; this is the fifth successive month of wholesale inflation moderating since it hit a record high of 16.63% in May; food price inflation eased to 6.5%
India’s wholesale price inflation slipped below 10% for the first time in 19 months this October, when it eased to 8.4% from 10.7% in September, thanks to base effects and cooling commodity prices. This is the fifth successive month of wholesale inflation moderating since it hit a record high of 16.63% in May.
The inflation rate in October 2021 was 13.8% and was even higher at 14.9% in November last year, so economists at ICRA expect the base effect to intensify and bring headline wholesale inflation down to between 6% and 7% in November.
Wholesale food price inflation eased further in October to 6.5% from 8.1% in September while inflation in manufactured goods dropped to 4.4% from 6.3% a month earlier.Fuel and power inflation dropped to 23.2% in October from 32.6% in September.
‘Food price uptick’
“Wholesale inflation will continue to moderate on the back of the base effect as well as softening of global commodity prices,” said Bank of Baroda economist Jahnavi.
However, some food articles would tend to show a sharp uptick in prices, particularly vegetables and cereals, while pulses may inch up too, she cautioned.
4. Echoes of Kashmir’s long-lost Persian inflection
Being the official language of courts and commerce in Jammu and Kashmir, Persian adorned verbal transactions in the Valley up until 1889, when Urdu replaced it under Maharaja Pratap Singh, the third Dogra ruler. Now, an exhibition of Persian manuscripts by Khwaja Muhammad Amin Darab, poet and chronogram writer, here puts a spotlight on the fast-fading language in Kashmir. The exhibition is an attempt to revive the language in the Union Territory.
A total of 73 rare manuscripts, including 11 books, written by Darab have been put on display at the Amar Singh Club in Srinagar on Monday. Among the exhibits are a chronogram on Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, a tahniyat nama (congratulatory message) from traders of Srinagar to Dogra Maharaja Hari Singh on his accession to the throne in 1923 and a number of elegies of prominent scholars, including Muslim scholar and jurist Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri, who served as the principal of Darul Uloom, Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, prior to 1933.
“These manuscripts throw a light on Darab’s way of engaging with the community, scripting invitations of prominent families, writing marsiya (elegy), versified tarikhs (dates) and inscriptions of prominent shrines and mosques in Kashmir,” Saleem Beg, convener of the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)-Kashmir, told The Hindu.
Darab, who died here in 1979, is considered among the last transmitters of traditional Muslim learning, grounded in Persian adab or literature, in Kashmir. He was considered a master of Persian Qitah-i-Tarikh (chronogram), besides Naats in praise of Prophet Muhammed and Manqabats.
At present, the remnants of Persian verses in Kashmir live in Naats and Manqabats recited in mosques and shrines. Sufiana mehfils, spiritual musical nights of the Sufi order, are still dominated by Persian poetry.
“The Mughal rule in Kashmir from 1589 saw Persian language reaching its zenith. Eminent Iranian poets visited Kashmir in the 17th century including Sa’ib Tabrizi, Abu Talib Kaleem Kashani, Muhammad Jan Qudsi Mashhadi and Mir Ilahi. All except Sa’ib died in Kashmir and were buried in Mazaar-u-Shuaraa, a graveyard reserved for the poets. Among several centres of Persian learning that emerged in the Indian subcontinent following the establishment of the Muslim rule, Kashmir enjoyed a distinct position,” Professor Mufti Mudasir Farooqi, an author who teaches at the Department of English, Kashmir University, said.
From the 14th to 19th century, Persian language emerged both as the language of administration and all kinds of writing.
“Revenue and most historical records in Kashmir still have the imprint of the Persian language that is fast fading from the scene,” Mr. Beg said.
Darab’s life-long interest in Kashmir’s contribution to Persian is also highlighted in his meticulous documentation of the works of one of Kashmir’s greatest Persianate poets, Ghani Kashmiri. Also, Darab was a respected calligrapher of Nastaliq script evident from handwritten wedding invitations. “This exhibition is an invitation to individuals and families across the geography to preserve and share their family archives,” Mr. Beg added.
5. Editorial-1: The shape of the Indian economic pie must change
The Supreme Court of India’s decision to support the economically weaker sections (EWS) quota raises fundamental questions about remedies for social and economic discrimination. Who is being discriminated against? What is the nature of discrimination? Which remedies are justifiable? Reservations in jobs and education are legal remedies. Subsidies (and ‘freebies’) are material compensations for deprivations caused by social and economic discrimination. The Court has been approached on both matters.
A fundamental question arising with an EWS quota on top of other quotas is that the total numbers of people discriminated against has crossed 50%. Now, a majority is complaining about discrimination. The question before the Court was whether opportunities can be reserved for economically weaker persons regardless of their societal status whereas the Constitution allows affirmative action only for historically disadvantaged castes and communities. When a majority demands affirmative action, courts are expected to judge whether to rob Peter to pay Paul.
There is a chasm
Clearly, the shape of the economy is distorted. Decent jobs and social security are available to too few; good education and health care is not available to all. Until the pattern of economic growth changes to generate sufficient employment and the Government can deliver social security to all, issues about fair distribution of opportunities and the need for subsidies will become harder for the justice system and the Government to resolve.
Economic inequalities have been increasing in all countries, even the rich ones. Governments are struggling to meet conflicting demands for “ease of doing business” for capital, and “ease of earning and living” for citizens. Populism is on the rise. On the left, populism has a “socialist” voice: it demands rights for all workers, across races and religions, who are unable to earn enough and have little social security. On the right, populism wants to protect racial and religious majorities from immigrants and minorities competing with them for limited economic opportunities.
Thomas Piketty describes, in Capital and Ideology, how societies were historically divided into three classes — a clerical and religious class, a noble and warrior class, and a common, labouring class. He explains how the merchant and financial class later emerged and became dominant. Piketty has researched European societies mostly. The Hindu caste system divided work into four broad categories. Those who did the manual work were one caste. Those who traded and did business, another. Those who ruled, carried arms, and imposed order, a third. And those with superior knowledge, who would not sully themselves with manual work or making money, a superior caste. People born into their castes were skilled in their vocations. Society and economy worked harmoniously because aspirations to change castes and vocations were pushed into the afterlife.
Piketty says, “Every human society must justify its inequalities: unless reasons for them are found, the whole political and social edifice stands in danger of collapse. Modern inequality is said to be just because it is the result of a freely chosen process in which everyone enjoys equal access to the market and to property and automatically benefits from the wealth accumulated by the wealthiest individuals, who are also the most enterprising, deserving, and useful. Nearly everywhere a gaping chasm divides official meritocratic discourse from the reality of access to education and wealth for society’s least favored class.”
Money as master
The money-owning class was despised in many cultures as mere money lenders sucking value out of others’ work. The financing of wars gave this class power over governments. International trade, the driving force for the economic power of European nations (supported with armed force), provided another avenue for growth of the financial class. After the U.S. Civil War, Abraham Lincoln dreamed of a future when “Money will cease to be the master and become the servant of humanity and democracy will rise superior to the money power”. Lincoln’s dream was buried in the latter half of the 20th century. With the victory of monetarism (and Friedman) over welfarism (and Keynes), money became the master. Central banks with responsibility to look after the health of money, acquired independence from elected governments whose responsibility is the health of citizens.
Changing the rules of the game
Mariana Mazzucato describes the rise of the financial class in The Value of Everything. The role of banks and financial institutions was to provide lubrication to the wheels of the real economy, rather than making large profits themselves. By the 21st century, production of the lubricant seems to have become the purpose of financial institutions. Innovative ways of making money from money also became the fastest way to increase personal wealth. Inequalities have increased because a much larger share of wealth is sucked into the financial sector.
The rules of the economic game are now set by the wealthiest. They influence governments’ policies the most. The terms of trade between money and labour are set in their favour. They can determine the wages they will pay workers and prices for small enterprises. Common citizens who earn with their personal labour, as gig workers, small farmers, and informal entrepreneurs, etc., live precariously. Formal jobs in large enterprises, where workers could unite to demand fair treatment from employers, are becoming fewer with the changing shape of the modern, post-industrial, economy.
India has the largest number of working age persons in the world seeking work and better incomes. The Indian economy also has among the lowest employment elasticities (that is the number of jobs created with each unit of GDP growth). India is becoming one of the most unequal societies in the world — socially and economically. The country’s problem of dividing the economic pie to rectify both historical social and new economic discrimination cannot be resolved merely by judging whose needs are greater.
The shape of the economic pie must change so that the majority benefits much faster than a tiny minority on top. This will require reforms of institutions and economic ideology. The Government must listen and respond to the needs of common citizens more than to big business lobbies. Ease of living for the majority must drive government policies more than policies for attracting big investments with ease of doing business.
6. Editorial-2: In Iran protests, the long fight for freedoms
“In our dream, wind will blow into women’s hairs, in our dream, children will not be forced to learn ideologies of the Middle Ages, in our dreams, no one will attack girls’ schools… no one will shoot at them from behind”, was the line of Hamed Esmaeilion (Iranian-Canadian activist at a rally organised to support the protests in Iran).
Defying a crackdown by security forces, it is almost two months since protests started across Iran, and have lost little momentum. Discarding their legally-mandated Islamic head scarves, women have been at the forefront of the demonstrations over the death in September 2022 of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the morality police for wearing an ‘improper’ hijab in violation of Iranian law. According to eyewitnesses, Amini was beaten in custody, an assertion denied by the authorities.
The protests, the response and questions
These demonstrations are the most serious challenge to the Iranian government in years, forcing lawmakers on November 6 to call for the protesters to be taught a ‘good lesson’ to deter those who defy the authority of the Iranian government. For the authorities, repression appears the only recourse to remain in power. These developments give rise to many questions: can the demonstrations be sustained? How is this movement different from the several previous protests in Iran? Are the protests the beginning of long-term opposition to the ultra-orthodox Islamic Republic? And, how is the international community reacting to the movement?
Demonstrations have spread across Iran’s cities and university campuses, with large crowds in the streets protesting against the attempt by President Ebrahim Raisi’s regime to impose strict hijab rules, and brandishing defiant slogans such as: ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ and ‘We will fight and take Iran back’. In places, protesters condemned the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself, calling for his death or removal. The movement has been marked by excessive force as security forces have attacked and shot at the demonstrators with live ammunition, and assaulted them using tear gas and batons. Some crowds in the capital Tehran have reportedly fought back by chasing the security forces and setting fire to their vehicles. According to credible reports, at least 330 Iranians have been killed and 15,000 arrested, making these protests the deadliest since the 2019–20 protests that resulted in more than 1,500 fatalities. In 2009, ‘millions of people had taken to the streets after a disputed presidential election, but the unrest then was led by the middle class and limited to major cities. Economic hardship triggered nationwide protests in 2017 and 2019, and these took place mostly in working-class areas’. Unlike the previous protests, the chief source of discontent in the current movement is neither economic nor political, but for human dignity and individual rights, centring on the recognition of women as the primary victims of the regime’s male-dominated tradition and strict Islamist ideology. But neither is it an anti-religious movement; in fact, the protesters have deliberately eschewed the use of religious symbols or rhetoric. For the ‘first time, the protests involve people from all sections of society and age groups, and have spread across’ the country.
Drawing global attention
Iran’s brutal crackdown is arousing international attention and great concern. The American government and other western officials and rights activists have sought to remove Iran from the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women, the body focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The European Union, like the United States, has sanctioned regime officials responsible for the crackdown on the Iranian protesters. The UN Security Council has met informally to discuss Iran’s human rights violations and member countries decided to give the movement moral support. Apart from official statements, civil society across the globe has shown solidarity with the Iran movement by holding massive rallies. In India, activists have publicly cut their hair and burnt the hijab. But it is also true that these manifestations of support have drawn criticism for being selective. These critics say women cannot be coerced into either wearing or not wearing the hijab and feminism should be equally applied whether it is a question of the rights of women in Iran or India, a pertinent reference to the Karnataka government’s hijab ban on Muslim students in government educational institutions.
On its capacity to result in change
A relevant question, however, is whether such protests have any potential to change the attitudes of a doctrinaire regime such as those in Iran and Afghanistan. In Iran’s case, without a charismatic leader and a political agenda it will be difficult to disturb the regime, which is determined not to budge. Precedents show it has mastered the capability to suppress dissent through its decades-long Internet control, vigilantism, stifling of civic activism and draconian policing methods. The evidence of history, from France in the 1780s to Sri Lanka of today, is conclusive that no regime, however unpopular, can be overturned by a people’s movement without the army switching sides to support the people.
This is not to argue that people across the world should then stop showing solidarity with the protesters. The death of Mahsa Amini and the disappearance on September 20 of 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami, whose death was only disclosed to her parents after 10 days, have become symbols that have galvanised the demonstrations and bestowed momentum to a nation-wide movement led by Iranian women and young people. It can only be hoped that in the near future, the plight of Afghan women under the repressive Taliban — and indeed of all disadvantaged females across the world — will receive equal attention and support from the international media and the international community.
7. Editorial-3: Where no child is left behind
It is alarming that India ranks 132 out of 191 countries in the 2021 Human Development Index, which is a measure of a nation’s health, average income, and education.
The National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 states, “A National Mission on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy will be set up… on priority… for attaining universal foundational literacy and numeracy in all primary schools, identifying state-wise targets and goals to be achieved by 2025, and closely tracking and monitoring progress of the same.” How do we achieve this ambitious objective?
Efforts over the years
Ever since the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All at the Jomtien Conference, concerted efforts have been made to bring all children to school. Even before the conference, in 1987, the Shiksha Karmi Project was started in schools to tackle teacher absenteeism in remote villages in Rajasthan. Active involvement of the local communities was a crucial part of the project. By supporting and training local persons, the project succeeded in creating teachers. The premise was to focus on the basics of teaching through practice. Unfortunately, this lesson is given up when we work with regular teachers.
The Bihar Education Project was introduced in the early 1990s to give a fillip to the universalisation of primary education. It developed a 10-day residential in-service training for teachers, called the Ujala module. This proved to be a challenge as communities viewed understaffed and dilapidated schools only as election booths.
The Lok Jumbish, or Peoples Movement for Education for All, was launched in 1992 in Rajasthan. By providing a thrust to innovations and emphasising civil society partnership, this programme demonstrated successes, especially in tribal districts. However, the inertia of the mainstream continued to reign supreme.
In 1993, the Supreme Court ruled in Unni Krishnan v. State Of Andhra Pradesh that the right to education for children up to age 14 is central and fundamental. The District Primary Education Programme was started in 1994, to universalise and transform the quality of primary education. This too remained a project as Directorates did not own the initiatives fully.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, aimed at the universalisation of elementary education, was launched in 2001. While it has made a difference to school participation and has brought about improvement in school infrastructure, uniforms, toilet access, water and textbook availability, classroom processes still remain a challenge.
We have still not figured out a systemic way of recruiting good teachers and establishing teacher development institutions. The recruitment of teachers, educators and administrators has to become a priority if we want to make a difference. The Central, State and local governments need to transform governance to ensure that everyone delivers their best. We should ensure that there are direct funds to schools, no teacher vacancies, fewer non-teaching tasks, and a vibrant community and panchayat connect for accountability.
Giving communities power
While many efforts have indeed been made, we still need to work on community connect and parental involvement. Panchayats and community collectives with very high social capital, such as women self-help groups, can help ensure that local households own the initiative. Panchayats can leverage resources. Communities can both enable and discipline teachers if funds, functions and functionaries are their responsibility. The Panchayati Raj, Rural and Urban Development Ministries can work on community connect and make learning outcomes a responsibility of local governments. Providing decentralised funds to schools with the community overseeing such funds is the best starting point towards achieving the NEP objective.
It is poor governance that affects the effectiveness of face-to-face or digital teacher development initiatives like Nishtha. Pratham’s Read India campaign and the Azim Premji Foundation’s large-scale efforts to improve government schools by providing district-/block-level support to schools and teachers also suffer due to poor governance of schools and teachers.
There are many innovations in the civil society space, such as by Gyan Shala, Saksham, the Central Square Foundation, Room to Read, and Akshara, but many of them are not initiatives aimed at improving mass education. The Sampark Foundation provides some answers to the aforementioned challenges. The Foundation uses technology for teacher development. It uses audio battery-operated sound boxes and innovative teaching learning materials. It has also launched a TV, which helps teachers use lesson plans, content videos, activity videos and worksheets to make classes more interactive and joyful. While it is too early to comment on the success of these initiatives, these appear to be sound methods to overcome teacher incompetency through the use of technology.
The time between preschool and Class 3 can be transformational for individuals. It is time for everyone from the Panchayat level to the Prime Minister to ensure that all children are in school and are learning by 2025. Foundational literacy and numeracy are necessary to prepare a generation of learners who will secure for India high rates of economic progress and human well-being. The time to act is now.