Daily Current Affairs 16.08.2022 (The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, The controversial visit of a Chinese vessel to Hambantota, Big Tech’s talent conundrum, 3D-printed cornea put to test in a rabbit, The fragility of the Northeast’s integration, The temples that Jawaharlal Nehru built, The shackles of 1861 need to go)

Daily Current Affairs 16.08.2022 (The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, The controversial visit of a Chinese vessel to Hambantota, Big Tech’s talent conundrum, 3D-printed cornea put to test in a rabbit, The fragility of the Northeast’s integration, The temples that Jawaharlal Nehru built, The shackles of 1861 need to go)


1. The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh

What are the various unresolved issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan which has led to consistent ceasefire violations?

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains stalemated despite several ceasefire agreements. Both Baku and Yerevan claim absolute historic ownership of the region which is located within the boundaries of Azerbaijan but populated largely by ethnic Armenians. 

The major issues between the two countries include delimiting the border between them, the nature of new transportation corridors in the region, the future of the status of Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the transfer of prisoners of war and other detainees.

The presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in the region has also become a matter of concern as their mandate is yet to be defined. The frustration over the peacekeeping forces has intensified due to their inaction in stopping ceasefire violations.

Abigail Miriam Fernandez

The story so far: The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has been at the centre of three major wars and multiple clashes for decades. The recent flare-up began on August 3 after Azerbaijan claimed that it had captured the territory in Karabakh in a retaliatory campaign, after an Armenian attack killed one Azerbaijani soldier. 

What happened?

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict remains stalemated despite the several ceasefire agreements reached in the past. Both Baku and Yerevan claim absolute historic ownership of the region which is located within the boundaries of Azerbaijan but is populated largely by ethnic Armenians.

Following Azerbaijan’s announcement of capturing Karabakh, the military in Nagorno-Karabakh disputed the claim and accused Azerbaijan of killing two soldiers, declaring a “partial mobilisation” in response to the clash. Armenia has called on the international community to help stop Azerbaijan’s “aggressive actions” claiming that it continues its “policy of terror” against the population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has also accused Azerbaijan of breaking the ceasefire agreement of 2020 and claimed that it was “taking measures to stabilise the situation” with Armenian and Azerbaijani representatives.

What does the 2020 agreement say?

The nine-point agreement of November 10, 2020 was signed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement imposed an immediate ceasefire, a timeline for withdrawal from Azerbaijan’s occupied regions, the introduction of Russian peacekeepers, and the need for new transport corridors. However, this failed to initiate a peace agreement because it altered the power balance between the two countries and lacked clarity on several issues resulting in the subsequent ceasefire violations on both sides.

Why are ceasefire agreements not working?

The recurring ceasefire violations have been triggered due to several unresolved issues. The major issues include delimiting the border between the two countries, the nature of new transportation corridors in the region, and the future of Nagorno-Karabakh and its current ethnic Armenian population.

First, the issue of delineating the shared international border. Following the 2020 agreement, a substantial amount of territory was handed over from Armenian Karabakh to Azerbaijan making the once soft border between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, a hard international border. However, Armenia and Azerbaijan have never agreed upon a boundary between them in the past and the 2020 ceasefire statement did not make it clear on how exactly the border should be drawn out.

Second, the dispute over transport routes. The overland route that goes from Stepanakert (a city within the Nagorno-Karabakh region) to Armenia has become an issue between the two countries. The 2020 agreement states that the parties should build an alternative road within three years, after which the Russian peacekeepers deployed along the current route would relocate to the new one. Presently, there is only one road which is the Lachin corridor, which runs past the outposts through Azerbaijan’s mountainous Lachin region to Shusha, which Azerbaijani forces retook in the 2020 war. The construction of the road would allow Azerbaijan to take back control of Lachin city and surrounding areas. However, Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of stalling operations of laying its several-kilometre section of the new road.

Third, the difference over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The ethnically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is also known as the Republic of Artsakh, has expressed frustration over Armenia’s willingness to make concessions to Azerbaijan as part of a larger prospective peace settlement. While Armenia supports the aspirations for independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan seeks to preserve its national and territorial integrity.

According to the 2020 agreement, point one claims that the parties to the conflict must “stop in their current positions” while point four states that the Russian peacekeeping forces would be deployed concurrently with the withdrawal of the Armenian troops. However, the two sides interpret these points differently with Armenia stating that the first point allows them to keep their forces in Karabakh and that they have complied with the fourth point by withdrawing armed forces from the seven Azerbaijani districts around Karabakh. Conversely, Azerbaijan says that Armenian forces should have withdrawn from Karabakh as soon as the Russians were deployed on the ground, arguing that the force is illegal and has urged the Russian peacekeepers to disarm it.

Fourth, the dispute over the exchange of prisoners. According to the eighth point, the two sides were to exchange prisoners of war, hostages and other detained persons, and dead bodies. While there has been a series of prisoner exchanges in the last two years, the Azerbaijan side still has many captives while Armenia has just a few.

What about the negotiations?

Since 2020, the negotiation process has been slow. The diplomatic initiative taken by Armenia and Azerbaijan has not yielded any substantial gains with both sides accusing each other of delaying negotiations. It was only in 2022, two years after the war, that the two leaders expressed their intention to discuss a peace plan for Nagorno-Karabakh. The two leaders met in Brussels during which Azerbaijan voiced its frustration that subsequent diplomacy has moved too slowly, claiming that Armenia was prolonging the negotiations with the aim of waiting for the geopolitical situation to change in their favour. Meanwhile, PM Pashinyan has received domestic criticism that he was preparing to compromise on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, the negotiations between the two countries are nowhere close to reaching a peace agreement.

What is Russia’s role?

The presence of Russian peacekeeping forces in the region has also become a matter of concern. According to points three and four of the 2020 agreement, the Russian peacekeeping forces are to be deployed for five years making it the first time Russian troops were deployed on the ground in almost thirty years. However, their mandate is yet to be defined, questioning their presence in the region. Additionally, the frustration over the peacekeeping forces has intensified due to their inaction in stopping ceasefire violations.

Will the ceasefire hold?

While the 2020 agreement has the potential to open opportunities for new transport connections and economic cooperation, the discord between Armenia and Azerbaijan would hinder this process. Further, the agreement has been criticised for being biased. Apart from this, the agreement also fails to address unresolved issues between the two countries. Thus, until these lacunae are filled the recurring ceasefire violations are likely to continue.

2. The controversial visit of a Chinese vessel to Hambantota  

What kind of ship is the Yuan Wang 5? Why is its presence in the Indian Ocean a cause of concern for India?

On August 13, Sri Lanka approved the arrival of a Chinese satellite-tracking vessel to its Chinese-funded Hambantota port.

India has expressed its concern over the Chinese vessel visit. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs’ commented that India “carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests”.

China reacted strongly after they were asked to defer the vessel visit. Without directly referring to India, China said that it was “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka.”.

Meera Srinivasan

The story so far: On August 13, Sri Lanka approved the arrival of a Chinese satellite-tracking vessel to its southern Chinese-funded Hambantota port. It was the second approval from the island nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after it first cleared the visit on July 12. In the weeks in between, India raised concerns over the ship’s visit with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and officially commented on it, while Indian media splashed headlines of a “Chinese spy ship” hovering in the Indian Ocean. Caught in a delicate diplomatic and geopolitical spot, Colombo gave its nod after “extensive consultations” with “all parties”.

What is the vessel?

Yuan Wang 5 was described by the Sri Lankan government as a “scientific research ship”. The BRISL (Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka), a Colombo-based organisation studying China’s ambitious connectivity project, was the first to draw attention to the visit in a Twitter post late July. It said that the Yuan Wang 5 will conduct “satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean Region” through August and September. Vessels of the Yuan Wang class are said to be used for tracking and supporting satellite as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

How have different countries reacted?

India has expressed its concern over the Chinese vessel visit. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs commented twice on the issue. Addressing the weekly media conference in New Delhi, the official initially stated that India “carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests” and later said that they were “rejecting insinuations” that Sri Lanka was “pressured”. After India raised the matter with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar took it up with his Sri Lankan counterpart Ali Sabry on the side-lines of the recent ASEAN summit in Cambodia. In a similar bilateral meeting in Phnom Penh, U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken too raised the issue with Mr. Sabry, The Hindu reliably learned from official sources in Colombo. 

At the same forum, Mr. Sabry reportedly discussed the matter with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, sources said. An official statement said the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister firmly backed the ‘One China Policy’ that President Wickremesinghe earlier endorsed. The developments showed that Colombo was caught between the U.S. and India on the one hand, and China on the other. That too at a time when the Sri Lankan government is counting on all their support as the island nation, hit by a devastating economic crisis, embarks on debt restructuring ahead of a promised International Monetary Fund (IMF) package.

How did China respond?

China reacted strongly after Sri Lanka, following concerns voiced by India, requested China to defer the visit of the vessel “in light of the need for further consultations”. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “I have noted relevant reports and would like to stress two points. First, Sri Lanka is a transportation hub in the Indian Ocean. Scientific research vessels from various countries including China have made port calls in Sri Lanka for replenishment. China always exercises freedom of the high seas in accordance with the law and fully respects coastal countries’ jurisdiction over scientific research activities in waters under their jurisdiction. Second, Sri Lanka is a sovereign country. It has the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests. To have normal cooperation is the independent choice made by our two countries. It serves the shared interests of both sides and does not target any third party.” Without directly referring to India, he added that it was “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka.”

What is Sri Lanka’s stand?

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said: “having considered all material in place, on 13 August 2022 the clearance to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China was conveyed for the deferred arrival of the vessel from 16-22 August 2022.” The announcement meant that the controversial vessel visit, earlier scheduled for August 11, was effectively postponed by five days, while its week-long duration remained as was earlier planned.

The developments were “in light of certain concerns raised with the Ministry”, it said, without naming India in its statement. Sri Lanka’s popular weekend newspaper Sunday Times reported that the U.S. and Indian envoys were asked to provide “concrete reasons” for their objections. “Not satisfied with the reasons being sufficient to refuse entry to the Chinese vessel, the Government decided to inform the Chinese embassy in Colombo to inform the ship to continue its journey to Hambantota,” a news report published on August 14 said.

3. Big Tech’s talent conundrum

The hiring freeze at Big Tech, tight money supply from VCs to start-ups, and a gloomy macro-economic environment could bring tech jobs and talent to an equilibrium point where demand meets supply

The pandemic’s effect on jobs was far-reaching. The ILO report titled ‘Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020: Navigating the crisis towards a human-centred future of work’, estimates the pandemic to have wiped out some 81 million jobs in 2020 compared to pre-crisis trends.

Hiring tech talent is not easy. Start-ups flush with cash from venture capital (VCs) lure tech talent to join their ventures. Representation of Fortune 500 companies, including Big Tech firms, fell 25% in the tech job universe as start-ups, unicorns, newly-listed public companies and non-tech companies increased their hiring for tech roles. 

Despite the pains to build a talent bench, top tech firms are now hitting the brakes on hiring. The hiring re-think comes at a time when VCs are tightening their purse strings due to geopolitical, supply chain and economic uncertainty.

John Xavier

At the end of 2019, Big Tech firms were hungry for talent. Google, in its annual report, said it increased the number of employees by nearly 23% to 1,18,899. The search giant noted it would onboard more engineers and product managers to run its services. The company was also keen on bulking up its sales team to grow cloud business. Other top tech firms too sought to increase their employee numbers. But COVID-19 upended the global economy, making several businesses re-draw their strategies and change course. Many companies had to let their employees go. About 20 million workers lost their jobs in the U.S. alone. Half of those cuts occurred in the last two weeks of March 2020, the period when several countries enforced lockdowns to protect their citizens from getting infected by COVID-19.

Job lay-offs in the pandemic

The pandemic’s effect on jobs was far-reaching. In the Asia-Pacific region, millions of people were asked to work reduced hours or for no hours at all. Overall, working hours in the region decreased by an estimated 15.2% in the second quarter and by 10.7% in the third quarter of 2020, relative to pre-crisis levels, according to a 2020 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The ILO report titled ‘Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2020: Navigating the crisis towards a human-centred future of work’, estimates the pandemic to have wiped out some 81 million jobs in 2020 compared to pre-crisis trends. It noted that an additional 22-25 million employed persons were pushed into extreme poverty, making them live on less than $1.90 per person per day. A large proportion of these jobs were low-wage earning employments; service-providing sectors like leisure, travel and hospitality were worst hit. For instance, about 16.1 million of the nearly 20 million jobs lost by workers in the U.S. in March 2020 were in the hospitality sector.

Sizing up the market

But jobs that let people work from home had a longer runway. According to estimates by ILO, prior to the pandemic, only 8% workers worldwide worked from home on a permanent basis. That size has grown exponentially since then. The multi-lateral organisation’s labour force survey suggested that in the second quarter of 2020, approximately 17% of the world’s employed population were working from home. That is about 560 million workers.

Separately, Internet-savvy consumers who chat, share videos and shop online using e-commerce platforms and social media apps extended their usage time. So, the few billion consumers and half-billion workers became an important market for large tech firms to sell their products and services. And to grease the wheels of digital commerce, they went scouting for people who can code, sell and put digital stuff on the cloud.

Google stuck to its pre-pandemic year hiring pace, and increased its total headcount to 1,74,014 as of June 30. The search giant is not alone. Microsoft, which shares its annual report in the middle of every year, nearly doubled its headcount to 2,21,000 between July 2018 and June 2022. While Facebook’s total headcount jumped 60% between end of 2019 and 2021, the social media firm’s total employee count was less than half of Microsoft or Google’s. Amazon, the giant in the Big Tech pack, said it employs about 1.6 million full-time and part-time employees as of December 31, 2021.

A hard nut to crack

Hiring tech talent was not easy. In 2021, tech job postings in the U.S. nearly doubled while the average number of applicants shrunk by 25%. There were 6.5 times more IT job openings than talent to fill them, according to recruiting analytics firm Datapeople.

According to a survey of over 500 developers by Stack Overflow, 25% of developers were actively seeking a new job, while 54% said they were passively open to new opportunities. And when considering a new role, 65% cited pay as the biggest reason for jumping ship. In a survey of 5,500 professionals by Adobe, nearly 35% respondents said they planned to switch jobs in the next year. Among Gen Z respondents, the likelihood of switching jobs was 21 percentage points higher.

At the other end of the spectrum, start-ups flush with cash from venture capital (VCs) lured tech talent to join their ventures. Representation of Fortune 500 companies, including Big Tech firms, fell 25% in the tech job universe as start-ups, unicorns, newly-listed public companies and non-tech companies increased their hiring for tech roles. It is therefore, no wonder that tech firms tried different ways to attract talent. Some companies even posted jobs without explicit degree requirements from candidates. Such postings grew almost 25% last year. But top tech firms still prefer Master’s Degree or an MBA more than ever with 25% more of their jobs asking for them.

Hitting the brakes

Despite taking the pains to build a bulky talent bench, top tech firms are now hitting the brakes on hiring.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees in July that the company would reduce the pace of its recruiting efforts for the rest of the year. Microsoft has said that it would remove several listed job openings. Apple has also said it will slow its hiring for the rest of the year as it prepares to weather a potentially tough economic climate. The iPhone maker has 1,54,000 employees as of September. Amazon, the biggest tech employer, said back in April that it was going to slow its hiring as it is overstaffed.

The hiring re-think comes at a time when VCs are tightening their purse strings due to geopolitical, supply chain and economic uncertainty. They are now more selective in their bets, with a strong focus on fintech and cleantech, according to a quarterly report on venture funding by KPMG.

“With valuations declining, many tech companies performing poorly on the public markets, and no end in sight to the level of geopolitical uncertainty, notwithstanding other challenges facing the VC market globally, we’re starting to see investors instructing their portfolio companies to preserve cash.” said Jonathan Lavender, Global Head, KPMG Private Enterprise, KPMG International, commenting on the venture pulse report.

The hiring freeze at Big Tech, tight money supply from VCs to start-ups, and a gloomy macro-economic environment could bring tech jobs and talent to an equilibrium point where demand meets supply. Perhaps, the September ending quarter will shed more light on it. But, until then Big Tech firms that gobbled up human resources in the last two years can sit tight and re-prioritise where to deploy their new hires.

4. 3D-printed cornea put to test in a rabbit

No synthetic components used, say scientists

A team of clinicians and scientists from the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI), Hyderabad, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad, and Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), have collaborated to develop the 3D-printed cornea from the human donor corneal tissue, which would have otherwise been discarded for not meeting optical standards for clinical transplantation.

The printed corneas need to undergo further clinical testing and development before they can be used in patients, which could take several years. The team is hopeful of a positive outcome.

While corneal substitutes are being actively researched throughout the world, they are either animal-based or synthetic. The Hyderabad-based team said that their product is completely natural, contains no synthetic components, and is free of animal residues. It is developed indigenously through government and philanthropic funding.

Corneal damage is the leading cause of blindness worldwide with more than 1.5 million new cases of corneal blindness reported every year.

Pointing at the wide gap between the demand and supply of donor corneal tissue worldwide, and lack of adequate eye banking networks, they said that less than 5% of new cases every year are treated by corneal transplantations.

Much-needed innovation

Dr. Sayan Basu and Dr. Vivek Singh, lead researchers from LVPEI, believe that this can be a ground-breaking and disruptive innovation in treating diseases like corneal scarring or Keratoconus.

“It is the first 3-D printed human cornea that is suitable for transplantation. The bio-ink used to make this 3D printed cornea can be sight-saving for army personnel at the site of injury to seal the corneal perforation and prevent infection during war-related injuries or in a remote area with no tertiary eye care facility,” they said.

5. Editorial-1: The fragility of the Northeast’s integration

The idea of India is under transformation again, and any return to ‘mainstream versus sub-stream friction’ spells danger

The integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from the very start of India’s journey as an independent nation. The region has always been seen to be somewhat alien and needing assimilation, which found (and finds) reflection in administrative terms too. Two such measures, on opposite ends of the spectrum, should characterise this predicament: the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution introduced in 1949 and the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), promulgated in 1958. Seventy-five years after Independence, the question is how successful has this integration been?

‘Excluded’ areas

The British had also considered leaving this “Mongolian Fringe” — a term British India Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe coined in a paper in 1940 — as a Crown Colony. This entity was to be a combination of hill regions of the Northeast and Upper Burma. The Governor of Assam, Robert Reid, flagged this in a 22-page note in 1937 titled ‘A Note on the Future of the Present Excluded, Partially Excluded and Tribal Areas of Assam’, by saying people here, “neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically”, had any affinity with the rest of India. There were other similar thoughts too as David R. Syiemlieh documents in his On the Edge of Empire: Four British Plans for North East India 1941-1947.

These “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas Reid mentions, were constituted largely of the unadministered hills of Assam separated from its revenue plains by an “Inner Line” created by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, and this was a year before Assam was separated from Bengal and made a Chief Commissioner’s Province. Earlier, Assam was annexed into British Bengal after the First Anglo Burmese War 1824-26 and the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.

The Sixth Schedule

British Assam was virtually the entire Northeast of today, excluding two kingdoms, Tripura and Manipur. In these kingdoms too, though no Inner Line was introduced, the British brought in similar administrative mechanisms separating “excluded” hills from the revenue plains. In Tripura, the plains of Chakla Roshanabad were annexed to British Bengal and the Tripura kings were allowed to be landowners there but not claim sovereignty over them. In Manipur, the hills and the central revenue plains of the Imphal valley came to be treated as separate administrative regions in 1907.

The Crown Colony plan was ultimately dropped on grounds of administrative feasibility. Reid’s idea probably was also influenced by a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929 by a nascent Naga nationalist body, Naga Club, which argued that Nagas were not Indians. Interestingly, the Crown Colony bears resemblance to the notion of “Zomia”, conceived by Willem van Schendel and popularised by James C. Scott in ‘The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia’. This complex mosaic of ethnicities was what India inherited.

The Sixth Schedule was independent India’s first administrative instrument for undivided Assam’s tribal belt. The works of Verrier Elwin, British-born Indian anthropologist, who advocated for tribals to be encouraged to live by their own geniuses, were its inspiration. The Schedules mandated the formation of Autonomous District Councils in which, among others, tribal customary laws were given legitimacy.

The Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule and would have nothing less than sovereignty. A powerful insurgency resulted, and in its wake, AFSPA, with sweeping powers given to the armed forces. As an overture of pacification, the Naga Hills district was merged with the adjacent Mon and Tuensang subdivision of the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), or today’s Arunachal Pradesh, to form a separate Nagaland State in 1963. Naga insurgency, however, raged on in different avatars. A peace negotiation has been in progress for the last 25 years, and the hope is that this would culminate in a lasting settlement.

In 1972, most of these autonomous regions were bifurcated from Assam. Meghalaya became a State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were made Union Territories. The latter two were upgraded to States in 1987. Tripura and Manipur, which were made Part-C States after merger with India in 1949, were also upgraded to States in 1972.

Amidst these, the national identity question remained incompletely resolved and insurgencies spawned and spread even in States such as Assam and Manipur where the emotional gulf with mainstream India had seemingly narrowed. The hegemonic suspicion of the Indian state of the “Mongolian Fringe”, and reciprocal fear of the latter of being forced out of their traditional worlds to be overwhelmed by a cultural and population deluge from the mainstream, persisted. Every deviation from national norms in the region came to be attributed to machinations by unseen “foreign hands”; likewise, every nationalising project tended to seen on the other side as insidious cultural aggression.

Inclusion by accommodation

But as India gained confidence and shed its insecurities of further balkanisation after its traumatic Partition experience, the outlook towards national identity and nationalism underwent moderations, inclining towards a constitutional definition of these understandings rather than it being cultural. National integration also came to be more about the mainstream broadening to accommodate all other streams within the national territory, rather than requiring the latter to leave their streams to join the mainstream.

The changes the North Eastern Council (NEC) went through can be read as a demonstration of this. This institution was founded in 1971 as an advisory body. Initially, its members were Governors of the Northeast States, thereby remaining as the ears and eyes of the Centre. Its original pledge too made security the primary concern. In 2002, the act that brought NEC to life was amended. From an advisory role, it became an infrastructure planning body for the region. Sikkim was also brought into its fold. Significantly, its executive structure expanded to include Chief Ministers of these States, linking it to the aspirations of local electorates.

Likewise, DoNER was created in the Union Government in 2001, and in 2004 it was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry. The paranoid suspicion of a “foreign hand” too has all but disappeared, and, earlier, in 1991, India’s Look East Policy was born with the stated objective of linking the Northeast with the vibrant economies of South East Asia. In 2010, a protected area regime that had restricted visits to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram by foreigners was relaxed. Although unsuccessful, there was even a judicial commission constituted in 2004 to recommend a way to repeal or else “humanise” AFSPA. The new optimism was palpable. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to presume this was the “moral imagination” of John Paul Lederach at work, resulting in the visible ebbing of many insurgencies in the region today.

Now, an unsettling question

But the idea of India is transforming again under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in New Delhi, indicating a return to a rigid understanding by the Indian mainstream. The unsettling question is would this mean a return to the mainstream versus sub-stream friction? The BJP, today has a strong presence in the Northeast. The party is in power in Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh but what needs to be remembered is that electoral politics in the region has been less about ideology and more about aligning with the party in power at the Centre. Grass-root sentiments do not always reflect in this, and are supported by two examples. Assam vehemently opposed the BJP-sponsored Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), yet the electorate returned the BJP to power. In Manipur, AFSPA remains an emotive issue, yet the BJP which did not even mention AFSPA in its election manifesto was voted back. This disconnect between the grassroots and electoral politics being what it is, there is no guarantee that the BJP’s party ideology has harnessed or sublimated the undercurrents of gut politics in the region. If unmindful, the potential for trouble in the CAA, AFSPA or other counter-cultures the region is known for, can flare up again regardless of the party in power.

6. Editorial-2: The temples that Jawaharlal Nehru built

Nehru’s luminous legacy is deeply laid in India’s growth story since Independence

As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, Indians will see this as an occasion to recall Jawaharlal Nehru’s immortal speech, “A Tryst with Destiny”, delivered on the night of August 14, 1947, and its haunting poetic expressions — “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India awakes to life and freedom.” For most, that speech and the man who spoke those words symbolised the spirit of a new nation just born. For them, some of the recent attempts to undermine Nehru’s place in history may seem like a minor distraction.

Vision of a modern nation

Nehru’s luminous legacy is deeply laid in India’s growth story since Independence. In May this year, when the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) launched India’s largest public issue and collected ₹21,000 crore from the market, the nation was aware that this was a Nehruvian institution established in the early years of independent India. Equally, when we look at the celebrated names of global CEOs and corporate leaders, we can recognise many of them as Nehru’s ‘children’, as they were educated at the iconic Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIM).

In 1947, Nehru, as Prime Minister, inherited an India that was politically shattered, socially divided and emotionally devastated. Yet, with restraint and self-confidence, he steered the country through those turbulent times and laid out the vision of a modern, progressive nation that quietly earned the respect of the global community.

Ideas and institutions

Nehru’s vision of India was anchored in a set of ideas such as democracy, secularism, inclusive economic growth, free press and non-alignment in international affairs and also in institutions that would lay the foundation for India’s future growth. These institutions touched every kind of economic activity, ranging from agriculture to aviation and space research. An agnostic Nehru described them as “the temples of modern India”. There were around 75 of these institutions including the Bhakra-Nangal dam, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the LIC, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Indian Oil Corporation, the National Library of India and the National Institute of Design. Nehru saw them occupying the commanding heights of a stable, self-sustaining economy with people’s welfare as their central mission. Nehru’s inclusive vision ensured that these institutions spanned the entire social spectrum. When the IITs were planned, Nehru also established a network of Kendriya Vidyalayas. Along with large projects in steel and petroleum, Nehru saw the importance of promoting small and cottage industries and set up the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. When Bhilai, Durgapur and Rourkela were taking shape as functional townships, the Prime Minister also felt the need for a well-designed, modern city and thus was born Chandigarh. Chandigarh was perhaps India’s first ‘smart city’ when that term was not yet fashionable.

Two of these institutions deserve special mention: the Election Commission of India and the Planning Commission. They relate to the fundamentals of the Nehruvian vision: the triumph of democracy along with development. Nehru’s institutions flourished under the management of a group of accomplished persons who shared his idealism and his vision of a modern India. These were people of stature and high learning. They were technocrats, scientists and professionals with impressive records of past achievements. They included Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, P.C. Mahalanobis, Verghese Kurien, S.S. Bhatnagar, S.Bhagavantam and C.D. Deshmukh. Each of them steered the fortunes of the project under them with high professional standards, laying down benchmarks for the performance of the project and identifying second layers of leadership for the project’s future growth. Many of these institutions, over the years, rose to global standards. Indian Oil became the first Indian company to be listed in the Fortune 100, in 2014. Amul emerged as the country’s best known consumer brand and India became the largest milk-producer in the world.

Shifts in the economy

Prime Minister Nehru’s 17-year rule set the stage for momentum in the Indian economy and his management model became a template for many succeeding Prime Ministers. This was a period which saw seismic shifts in the Indian economy. The Green Revolution which transformed India from a basket case to a grain-exporting nation, the telephone revolution that changed the telephone from being a symbol of elite lifestyle to mass ownership, and the digital revolution which turned India into a global technology hub all played out one after another. And then came the momentous reforms in 1991 under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao which transformed the economy into an open, liberal and largely market-driven regime.

The success of these missions owed a great deal to the Nehruvian model, with several scientists and technocrats playing a central role in these accomplishments, such as M.S. Swaminathan, Sam Pitroda, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Nandan Nilekani. Collectively, these shifts have lifted over 300 million Indians above the poverty line and heralded the arrival of a modern, diversified globally connected economy with a significant digital component.

Now, well into the third decade of the 21st century, India is widely recognised as the fastest-growing large economy of the world. It is an incredible transformation in scale and depth to unfold in 75 years. It all began with one man’s dream and the many shrines of growth and development that he built. Their enduring impact reaffirms Nehru’s place in history. Among the political leaders of the newly independent nations of the 20th century, Nehru stands out as a unique personality who combined intellectual stature with mass popularity. The Economist in a widely-read obituary titled “World Without Nehru”, on May 30, 1964, observed, “Throughout the long years of his premiership, he retained his magical grip on the great masses of people.” That equation, which an Indian Prime Minister had with his people, remains unequalled and untested till now.

7. Editorial-3: The shackles of 1861 need to go

Though much has changed, attention needs to be paid to lingering issues in India’s police agency

As India is celebrating 75 years of Independence, the police continue to be in the public gaze, most often for antagonistic reasons. Criminal laws and procedures, though modified, and the shadows of India’s colonial legacy do not appear to leave the police agency any time soon.

Changes to the IPC

India’s parliamentarians rose to the occasion and passed The Probation of Offenders Act, 1958, with an objective more to reform, rather than punish, offenders. Realising the urgent need to check the social evil of dowry, the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed in 1961. More revolutionary changes were made in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1983 and 1986 and by introducing Sections 498A (cruelty by husband and his relatives) and 304B (dowry death) along with certain amendments in the Evidence Act. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was enacted in 1989.

The definition of rape has been widened and offences related to sexual assault made tougher. Comprehensive laws such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, have been enacted. Electronic documents and signatures have been given legal sanctity to facilitate online transactions and check cybercrime under the Information Technology Act of 2000. The National Investigation Agency was constituted in 2008 (after the deadly 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai) to investigate and prosecute offences affecting national security. All these statutes have added a progressive and more humane chapter to the history of our criminal justice system.

The constitutional courts have also made far-reaching contributions. By reading down Section 377 of the IPC, the Supreme Court granted relief to the LGBTQ+ community. Custodial torture and sexual harassment of women have been held to be violations of fundamental rights. The jurisprudence of providing compensation to victims of crime has evolved over time. The right to privacy has been recognised as a fundamental right. The demon of ‘sedition’ (Section 124A), which was brought into the IPC in 1870 to suppress the national movement, has recently been caged by the Supreme Court so that its constitutionality can be decided and its alleged misuse be curbed.

Attempts have been made to blend some elements of the inquisitorial system into the (prevalent) adversarial system by making judicial inquiry into custodial death and custodial rape mandatory and dig out the truth to punish the guilty. However, the police continue to be haunted by allegations of being a brute force. The trust deficit does not appear to have bridged despite the power to arrest having been curtailed, the use of handcuffs restrained, the presence of a lawyer permitted during interrogation, CCTV cameras installed in the police stations, and human rights bodies allowed to keep a constant eye. Lawmakers are still reluctant and the judiciary apprehensive about making voluntary confessions before a police officer admissible.

Many committees have been constituted and recommendations made to reform the criminal justice system in general and the police in particular, but to no avail. The latest in focus is the Supreme Court order in Prakash Singh v. Union of India (2006). The poor and tardy compliance with the directives has been explained in the book, The Struggle for Police Reforms in India: Ruler’s Police to People’s Police. This public interest litigation was filed with an objective of transforming ‘a ruler’s police into a people’s police’. The writer, Prakash Singh, has said that even the directive of separating investigation from law and order, which only required a sanction of a few more posts, was not implemented by States and Union Territories in the true spirit. Despite ‘Police’ being a State subject, no State government has given due attention to police reforms so far. Though the Police Act of 1861 was made applicable to all provinces after the 1902-03 Commission’s recommendations, no State or UT has adopted the Model Police Act drafted by Soli J. Sorabjee.

Though there was no connection between the magistrates and the police in the system established in England from 1829 onwards, the mutiny made this arrangement possible for the purpose of utilising the police primarily for the maintenance of British rule in India. All such provisions, despite having outlived their purpose long ago, still continue to exist not only in the States’ Police Acts but also in the criminal codes. It is no wonder then that the District Superintendent of Police is unable to transfer his Station House Officers without the approval of the District Magistrate in U.P.; the performance appraisal report of a Superintendent of Police is still written by the District Magistrate in some States (including Chhattisgarh) despite the Supreme Court’s directions to the contrary; and the introduction of the police commissionerate system in metropolitan areas (as per the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code) is always resisted tooth and nail.

Years of significance

The year 1861 was a turning point for the police in India. Though the process of drafting the IPC had begun much earlier in 1834, the revolt of 1857 gave a fillip to the drafting of the Police Act and laid the foundation for an organised police force, albeit a weak one. The main objective then was to use the police as a weapon of repression and strengthen the hold the British had over India. The prevention (and detection) of crime was never their priority. Most of the constabulary was illiterate and not paid even a ‘living wage’. It was therefore not surprising that Andrew H.L. Fraser, who headed the Police Commission (1902-03), concluded that the “police force is far from efficient; it is defective in training and organisation … it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive; and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial co-operation of people”.

Though the Commission felt the urgent need of introducing radical reforms, the recommendations made were not revolutionary in character. Except for the introduction of the post of direct sub-inspectors (for police stations) and the rank of deputy superintendent of police for natives, not much was accepted and implemented by the Secretary of State on account of financial constraints. The Commission’s recommendation of providing quarters to sub-inspectors and officers of lower rank in each province was accepted. The status of inspectors was on a par with Tehsildars. The Commission was against the application of statistical tests to judge the work of police officers. Most importantly, its report was discussed in detail, agreed upon major issues in principle, and accepted partially due to economic factors.

Since much water has flown under the bridge since 1861, serious attention is needed to address impending issues. While some police reforms may require additional funding, much of the trust deficit can be bridged by improving soft skills and ensuring investigation in an impartial manner. Unwanted and mechanical arrests need to be stopped. More offences can be made bailable and more brought under the ambit of compounding to lighten the burden on jails. Most of it can be achieved through proper training. The use of technology and forensic techniques must be encouraged to enhance the quality of evidence. Specialised wings need to be established to deal with newer types of crime. The police should be accountable only for their constitutional goal of establishing the rule of law. The shackles of 1861 must go.

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