Daily Current Affairs 19.04.2023 ( Arunachal hosts Buddhist meeting at Dalai Lama’s first halt in 1959 , The future of India’s civil society organisations , Deadline for Aadhaar-based payment under MGNREGS extended till June 30 )

Daily Current Affairs 19.04.2023 ( Arunachal hosts Buddhist meeting at Dalai Lama’s first halt in 1959 , The future of India’s civil society organisations , Deadline for Aadhaar-based payment under MGNREGS extended till June 30 )


1. Arunachal hosts Buddhist meeting at Dalai Lama’s first halt in 1959

Zemithang, the first stop of the 14th Dalai Lama during his flight from China-occupied Tibet in 1959, hosted a major Buddhist conference on April 17.

The importance of the place in Tawang district was not lost on some 600 delegates, including Tibetan spiritual leaders, from across India who attended the conference organised by the Indian Himalayan Council of Nalanda Buddhist Tradition (IHCNBT).

“Zemithang, as you might all know, is the last Indian border through which His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama entered India in 1959. Therefore, holding this conference here is significant,” Arunachal Pradesh CM Pema Khandu said at Gorsam Stupa, where the conference was held.

Zemithang or Zimithang, in the Pangchen Valley, is a village and the last circle headquarters bordering Bhutan and Tibet. The place on the bank of the Nyamjang Chu (river) is about 96 km from Tawang, the district headquarters.

Zemithang means “sand valley” and the people of the area are referred to as Pangchenpa, meaning “people who gave up sin”.

Beijing contests the Zemithang circle’s border with Tibet along the Namka Chu and Sumdorong Chu valleys. Admitting that while Buddhism has been expanding globally and witnessing an important resurgence in some traditional areas, Mr. Khandu pushed for the need to make it vibrant and connected deeper to Nalanda Buddhism.

2. ISRO plans to launch TeLEOS-2 on April 22

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will launch Singapore’s TeLEOS-2 satellite on April 22, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

The launch, which will be carried out by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), is scheduled to take place at 2.19 p.m.

This launch will be the PSLV’s 55th mission and TeLEOS-2 is an Earth Observation Satellite developed by ST Engineering.

In 2015, ISRO launched TeLEOS-1, the first Singapore commercial Earth Observation Satellite, which was launched into a low Earth orbit for remote sensing applications. The ISRO has so far launched nine satellites belonging to Singapore.

The PSLV-C55 is ISRO’s third launch this year and the last PSLV mission was in November last year.

The public can also witness the launch from the Launch View Gallery in Sriharikota by registering through the following link:

The launch, which will be carried out by the PSLV, is scheduled to take place at 2.19 p.m.

3. The future of India’s civil society organisations

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s systematic suffocation of civil society over the last nine years has ensured that most governments no longer listen to civil society organisations (CSO) or movements, either in the pre-legislative stage or in the redress of lacunae in the implementation of government schemes. Given that advocacy is effectively dead, the ability of civil society to shape policy and public discourse has shrunk drastically. Because civil society is seen to be the new frontier for war and foreign interference, there has been a systematic clampdown on CSOs lobbying for greater constitutional and civic freedoms. Therefore, activists, journalists, academics and students have been targeted by a plethora of the state’s governing instruments and non-state actors (who have resorted to violence and abuse, online and offline). This has been further exacerbated by restricting the access of CSOs to resources (including cancelling Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act clearances, revoking 12A/80-G licences, imposing retrospective taxes, and pressuring private companies and philanthropists to redirect funding).

Because the BJP government has re-conceptualised vikas (development) as the furtherance of large projects, rather than citizen’s well-being, civil society is being vilified as disruptive to India’s development trajectory — and therefore anti-national. This portends a grave threat to the system’s integrity because civil society is an indispensable safety valve for tensions in a polity.

A drastic structural adjustment

All this has been coupled with the BJP spearheading a structural adjustment of India’s civil society landscape. By positioning many institutions from the Sangh Parivar, the BJP is fostering a ‘New Civil Society for New India’. Apart from being the primary recipient of government patronage, the Sangh’s CSOs are also the principal beneficiary of Corporate Social Responsibility funds (whether this is as quid pro quo for clearances/licences/exemptions by BJP governments, or through blatant coercion is anybody’s guess). Moreover, these Sangh institutions have access to and influence over select departments in State governments (primarily education, culture, personnel as well as Dalit and Adivasi welfare). Apart from the profound programmatic implications this has (activities related to the welfare of women, Dalits, Adivasis, students, human rights and freedoms are increasingly shaped by the Sangh’s ideological imperatives), this has also altered the civil society landscape in India. All other CSOs/movements are slowly being circumscribed as a result of the financial and political clout the Sangh’s CSOs can muster. That this endeavour has not fully succeeded so far is testament to the legitimacy that India’s CSOs/movements still enjoy among Indians. However, while most civil society actors are aware of the existential threat they face, they have not displayed nimbleness in reorienting their normative and operational methodologies. They still cling to outdated tactics whose overall utility is fast diminishing. Sanctioned, and therefore sanitised, protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, Townhall in Bengaluru or Azad Maidan in Mumbai are undoubtedly cathartic to the constituency that activists influence, and keep the flock together. But they do nothing to shape the thinking or action of BJP governments. Similarly, articles/papers, speeches at think tanks/conferences/symposiums, and petitions/open letters do not shame governments into any substantive course correction. Even lobbying legislators to raise issues is ineffective — the Union government either does not let Parliament function or ignores uncomfortable issues.

Additionally, progressive CSOs fail to blend socio-cultural values with welfare/constructive work or calls to protect constitutional values. Consequently, they are unable to reshape hearts and minds, and thereby guide mass consciousness. Given that vast sections of society have been radicalised (highlighted in a 2017 study by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung), this is a major shortcoming of progressive civil society. Anecdotal evidence from various States suggests that local communities instrumentally secure benefits from progressive CSOs/movements, but ideologically align with the BJP. This dichotomy has resulted in psychological fatigue among key activists, who naturally question the foundational rationale of their work.

A realignment is needed

This situation is untenable for various reasons. First, because of the financial and structural constraints imposed on them, CSOs/movements are bleeding conscientious youngsters, who naturally need some financial sustenance. Second, without sustained support, CSOs cannot positively mould public discourse or make a tangible impact on the nation at large. And third, with governments consciously avoiding CSOs/movements, their ability to shape policy is diminished (which adversely impacts organisational morale). It seems unlikely that the BJP government would take any steps to redress these problems. So, what is the way forward for progressive civil society in India?

Faced with a drastically reduced spectrum of options, some progressives will migrate to safer avenues; others may limit the scope of their work, and still others may even re-align with the BJP. The net result is that civil society will be unable to speak truth to power, amplify the voices of the most vulnerable, enrich policies/legislation through constructive feedback, or further the collective good. This is obviously not in the peoples’ or the national interest. We need to collectively forge a plan of action for this sector’s future.

The one possibility that could emerge is that young activists could be inducted into political parties, either within the party organisation or in an aligned body. This could create an institutionalised moral force within the parties (which could balance electoral compulsions with ethical/human rights considerations). This would afford parties a layered systemic approach to thorny issues.

Currently, many parties consciously avoid direct exposure to difficult issues that could adversely impact them electorally (a real concern because of the ability of the powers that be to manufacture false narratives). This includes communal disturbances, atrocities against Dalits and women, championing the rights of activists fighting for Adivasi rights or civic and political freedoms. In stark contrast, if an aligned civil society organisation took up such issues (both within and outside the party organisations), it would ensure that a party remains connected to genuine community problems, while allowing for a permeable wall of separation. There is a precedent to this, when the Congress Movement (the Gandhian constructive movement) complemented the Congress system (which has always been an electoral and governance machine).

Given the prevailing political climate, CSOs will need to urgently collaborate with other progressive stakeholders (for which they will need to shed their studied aversion to each other and political parties). Some civil society stakeholders would argue against this, either because they can continue raising funds and attracting global attention when harassed. But those isolated examples do not address the systemic corrosion that the sector faces today. In fact, in the near future, the BJP could well resort to using the continued existence of these ‘celebrity’ activists as proof of their tolerance towards civil society in general. We need to find structural solutions to structural problems. This is our historic responsibility.

In that spirit, private philanthropies and companies need to realise that they are the only lifeline for progressive CSOs today. Yes, it is infinitely easier to support organisations that work on ‘soft’ issues that may not invite the wrath of the powers that be. It is even easier to look the other way. But inaction today will directly contribute to the extinction of civil society, arguably the fifth pillar of Indian democracy. Transcending instrumental exigencies, conscientious Indians must find the courage to work together and silently devise new methods of collaboration. Only through such a principled coalition can we first safeguard, and eventually further, the constitutional idea of India.

In the prevailing political climate, civil society needs to collaborate with other progressive stakeholders to move forward

4. Deadline for Aadhaar-based payment under MGNREGS extended till June 30

The Union government had said only 80% of beneficiaries are now eligible for the Aadhaar-based payment system. 

Following sustained protests by Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) workers, the Union government has extended the deadline till June 30 for workers to mandatorily use the Aadhaar-based payment system for receiving wages.

On March 31, the earlier deadline, the Union Rural Development Ministry’s own data pointed out the beneficiary accounts eligible for Aadhaar-based payments were only 80%, sources said. Despite the extension, 20% of the MGNREGS workers were off the grid. The rural employment law clearly states that the workers have to be paid within 15 days of doing the job. The order, therefore, was directly interfering with the implementation of the law.

The NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a workers collective platform focused on the scheme, has been protesting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi for the past 55 days on the various problems plaguing the scheme.

One of the issues is regarding the Aadhaar-based payment system, which they call cumbersome especially for workers who are not conversant with the banking system.For each day’s paperwork, they end up losing the day’s wages. A delegation of the Morcha met the Union Rural Development officials thrice in the span of their protest.

Heeding their requests, last week, the Ministry extended the deadline to June 30.

“For the Aadhaar-based option to work, not only the worker’s must have job card and bank account be seeded with Aadhaar, the account has also to be connected to the National Payments Corporation of India. This connection, known as mapping can be very cumbersome, because it requires meeting stringent KYC requirements, resolving possible inconsistencies between the Aadhaar database and bank account,” Jean Dreze, one of the key architects of the scheme, had said.

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