Daily Current Affairs 26.10.2022 (Ethiopia: its past and current challenges, ‘India’s exports to China growing faster than inbound shipments’, UNSC members to pay tributes at 26/11 memorial, Short or long stay Brexit Britain’s challenges remain, A renewable energy revolution rooted in agriculture, Ending dominance Mobile users of digital powerhouses need an environment of real choice, One-man rule, Betting on change: an American dream)

Daily Current Affairs 26.10.2022 (Ethiopia: its past and current challenges, ‘India’s exports to China growing faster than inbound shipments’, UNSC members to pay tributes at 26/11 memorial, Short or long stay Brexit Britain’s challenges remain, A renewable energy revolution rooted in agriculture, Ending dominance Mobile users of digital powerhouses need an environment of real choice, One-man rule, Betting on change: an American dream)


1. Ethiopia: its past and current challenges

How did the east African nation transition from a monarchy to its current makeup of a ‘federated Ethiopia’? What has led to the multiple insurgencies in Tigray, the northern part of the country? How are China and India operating in the country?

The first formal African Union-led peace talks between an Ethiopian government team and Tigray forces (since the war of 2020 with Tigray), in South Africa have started from October 24.

The history of conflict in Ethiopia starts from the modern period from around the 1850s to the present. During this time, there was a mix of warfare and nation-building under the reigns of the emperors, notably Menelik and later Haile Selassie, to the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, and later the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) under soldier-politician Meles Zenawi beginning 1991.

While with the term of Abiy Ahmed, the long-drawn conflict over nearly 20 years may have ended, ethnic politics and economic hurdles have not stopped. In 2020, a year after Mr. Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Prize, Tigray in the north erupted in conflict against government forces, triggering charges of Ethiopia’s gruesome human rights violations against Tigrayans.

Murali N. Krishnaswamy

The first formal African Union-led peace talks between an Ethiopian government team and Tigray forces (since the war of 2020 with Tigray), in South Africa, scheduled from October 24, are happening at a time when Ethiopian forces and allies have made some gains in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. For the rest of the world, the development spells some hope of reconciliation between the federal government and Tigray which was a prominent force in the country’s ruling coalition until Ethiopia’s current leader and Nobel Peace laureate (2019) Abiy Ahmed became the Prime Minister in 2018.

Ethiopia’s troubled history

The ethnic conflict, and several others preceding it, spotlight the rich, yet troubled history of Ethiopia which stands out in the African continent. From its origins in the Aksumite kingdom and a successor line of kings which eventually led to the ‘Solomonic line’, to a period of ethnic migrations marked by warfare, Ethiopia was an imperial state that gradually weakened over the course of the next two centuries with the emergence of regional and religious rivalries.

It is the next phase — what is called the modern period from around the 1850s to the present — that would help situate the conflict. Here, there was a mix of warfare and nation-building under the reigns of the emperors, notably Menelik and later Haile Selassie, to the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, and later the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) under soldier-politician Meles Zenawi beginning 1991. It was during the Menelik reign that Ethiopia grew in size, with his moment of glory being the defeat of an Italian invasion force that was attempting to colonise the country. The first Italo-Ethiopian war and the Battle of Adwa (1895-1896) was a watershed moment in continental history that marked the defeat of a colonial force. Menelik’s astuteness enabled the Treaty of Addis Ababa (1896), where Italy recognised the country’s absolute independence. Haile Selassie who became the emperor in 1930, ushered in a phase of modernity only to be impeded briefly by the next Italo-Ethiopian war (1935-36). Following his return from exile to Addis Ababa in 1941, he commenced military and political changes that were the catalyst for social and economic development. However, these changes triggered his unpopularity which resulted in the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974.

The Marxist dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam that swept in resulted in the Derg unleashing a reign of terror, also known as the Ethiopian Red Terror. Agricultural productivity fell and famine followed. Even though dissent was snuffed out, the regime was up against armed insurgencies, especially in the northern part of the country, the embers of which were burning since the 1960s. A major insurgency followed in the 1970s — in Tigray, where the Meles Zenawi-led Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), rebelled against the military government and its policies. It was the backing of the then Soviet Union and allies that propped up both the armed forces and the Mengistu government, but this support began to dissipate in the 1980s, influencing the course of conflicts with the Eritreans and Tigray. Within a decade, by 1991, there was much change: a majority of Eritrea was in the hands of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), while in Ethiopia it was the TPLF. The TPLF was a key constituent of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. Following Mengistu’s exile in Zimbabwe (1991), the EPLF, in May, proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE), while the EPRDF assumed control in Addis Ababa (capital city of Ethiopia). It needs to be mentioned that Ethiopia and Eritrea would have to maintain good ties, mainly for economic reasons.

The formation of modern Ethiopia

The spectrum of political, economic, and security problems that confronted Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia) and Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea) paved the way for a strategy that essentially incorporated reconciliation and democratisation, social and economic development, and, importantly, ties with the western world.

In the interim government formation, the EPRDF chose political groups that led to the establishment of the TGE. There was an EPLF-EPRDF agreement over the use of the Aseb port linked to a referendum on Eritrean self-determination. The government was made up of the offices of the President, the Prime Minister, a multi-ethnic Council of Ministers and a Council of Representatives which was to draft a Constitution. Political representation saw the presence of the Oromos, the Tigrays and other groups. A significant aspect of the ‘National Charter’ was a recognition of ethnicity to enable local and regional governance under the umbrella of a ‘federated Ethiopia’. It was a bridge to create a viable government and allow representation to ethnic groupings. As a part of administration, the TGE came up with autonomous regions (between 10 to 12) linked to ethnic identification, and two multi-ethnic cities, one of them being Addis Ababa. The largest ethnicities, namely the Amhara, Oromo, Somali, and Tigray, had their own regions. Each region had districts or weredas, resulting in several hundred weredas across Ethiopia. The central government oversaw defence, international diplomacy, economic policy, and monetary issues, while the weredas were concerned with legislative and judicial matters. Thus, the regions created were: Afar; Amhara; Benishangul-Gumuz; Gambella; Oromia; Sidama; Somali; South West Ethiopia Peoples’ Region; Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR); Tigray, and Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, the cities. A 2019 referendum in the Sidama region of SNNPR resulted in a Sidama region (2020), while a South West Ethiopia Region followed in 2021. The Zenawi administration initiated a market-oriented economy which saw the appearance of private participation.

Some of the issues the TGE confronted were the addressing of human rights records and rehabilitating a vast band of ‘armed forces’ and former military personnel which resulted in clashes between government forces, former soldiers and insurgent groups. There was a refugee issue too, of a south Sudanese presence in the western Ethiopian region.

Towards a resolution

In 2018, the world pinned its hopes on Abiy Ahmed who became the Prime Minister that year. His swearing-in was well attended and he was seen as having the potential to give new direction to the EPRDF coalition. The ‘statement of motivation’ of the Nobel Peace Prize conferred on Mr. Abiy is significant: “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”. The long-drawn conflict over nearly 20 years may have ended, but ethnic politics and overcoming economic hurdles are issues that the Nobel Laureate and Ethiopian reformist confronts, especially as in 2020, a year after being awarded the Nobel Prize, Tigray in the north erupted in conflict with government forces, triggering charges of Ethiopia’s gruesome human rights violations against Tigrayans. A number of commentaries, one of them by Dr. M. Venkataraman, Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, highlight how ethnic tensions result from power play. The Tigrayans, trying to control the country, and who form about 6% of the population, consider Tigray to be the cradle of Ethiopian civilisation, and therefore the heirs of the culture. The Amhara, the country’s second-largest group, have dominated Ethiopian politics. And the Oromo, the country’s largest group, express discontentment over land issues.

Dealing with tensions with the Tigrayans following political changes in 2019, the formation of the Prosperity Party (the ‘successor’ countrywide party to the EPRDF; the TPLF did not to join), and, as a result, independent elections in Tigray, led Mr. Abiy to form an alliance with Eritrea and seek support from the Amhara, tapping into ‘past grievances with the Tigrayans’. This has also led the U.S. to allege “ethnic cleansing”, a charge that has been denied. The Tigray conflict has the potential to pinch Ethiopia hard with the freezing of western aid, but this could be overcome by looking to China and West Asia.

Foreign influence

Chinese presence is prominent in infrastructure creation such as buildings, roads and bridges and even in rail linking and creating port access. In contrast, the Indian presence, which strengthened during the Haile Selassie era, is seen more in human resources such as the education services. However, amidst the ‘focus’ on ‘unity amidst ‘diversity’, the Abiy government once again confronts conflicts between the country’s ethnic factions: Amhara and the Tigrayan conflicts over territory, Oromo groups and the brutality of militias against the Amhara. Also linked to the Tigrayan tensions is the mega hydroproject on the Blue Nile, the 6,450 MW Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD , which will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric facility. It is a few hundred kilometres away from the Tigrayan border and upstream and east of the border with Sudan. There is a threat of regional disquiet with Sudan and Egypt which depend on the Nile and fear restrictions to water use. The conflict with Tigray worries the world as it could spill beyond the borders and ignite a crisis in north-east Africa. Thus, much rests on what happens in the South Africa talks.

2. ‘India’s exports to China growing faster than inbound shipments’

PLI schemes for different sectors will help reduce dependence on imports over time; technical regulations framed for products such as toys, electronics, chemicals and fertilizers will check sub-standard imports, says government official

India’s trade equation with China has been improving in recent years with outbound shipments rising faster than imports, whose growth is being driven largely by vital raw materials and to meet demand from high-growth sectors such as telecom and power, a senior government official said.

China is one of India’s large trading partners, with trade flows between the two countries having grown 59% from about $72 billion in 2014-15 (FY15), to $115.4 billion in FY22.

“Since India-China trade started picking up, the growth in exports to China has been much higher than the import growth,” a Commerce Ministry official told The Hindu. From $11.9 billion in FY15, India’s exports to China had risen 78.1% to $21.25 billion last year, while imports stood at $94.16 billion, 55.8% over the $60.4 billion recorded in FY15. By contrast, imports from China had increased 192% between 2006-07 and 2013-14, when they had crossed $51 billion, he pointed out.

Intermediate goods account for more than a third of India’s imports from China, while capital goods constitute another 19.3%, with telecom and power sector gear being key drivers, which helped meet domestic demand in these fast-expanding sectors, the official said. The major items of import from China are electronic components, computer hardware and peripherals, telecom instruments, organic chemicals, industrial machinery for dairy, residual chemicals and allied products, electronic instruments, bulk drugs and intermediates.

The production-linked incentive schemes for different sectors will help reduce the dependence on such imports over time, even as technical regulations framed for products such as toys, electronics, chemicals and fertilizers will check sub-standard imports, he emphasised.

3. UNSC members to pay tributes at 26/11 memorial

The Counter-Terrorism Committee meet will be held on Friday. It is part of the Centre’s effort to keep the focus on terrorism, terror financing; India’s tenure at the Security Council ends in Jan.

Ambassadors of all countries in the UN Security Council (UNSC) will attend a memorial for victims of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai on Friday, as part of a special session of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) at the Taj Mumbai hotel, one of the sites of the attacks in 2008.

The ceremony will include a joint wreath laying ceremony and separate floral tributes by United Nations officials and representatives of every country in the Security Council, said officials, stressing the significance of China’s Ambassador being part of the event, given its record of placing holds on listings of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists at the UNSC in the past four months.

The officials said that with just two months to go on India’s two-year tenure as an elected member of the UNSC, India is doubling up on efforts to highlight cooperation on terrorism and terror financing.

“From January onwards India will not be ‘in the room’ [at the UNSC] for these discussions on countering terrorism and discussing listings. So it is necessary to find ways to keep global pressure on fighting terrorism,” said former Indian Ambassador to the UN Asoke Mukerji, who suggested the “Sudan model” on listing terrorists.

The model refers to a logjam at the UNSC over the U.S. requests to list four Sudanese terrorists under the UNSC Resolution 1591 sanctions regime, which was blocked by China. Eventually in April 2006, the U.S. was able to force a vote at the UNSC, which saw the listings go through, as Russia and China abstained from the vote.

Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not comment on whether India and the U.S. were considering a similar push for a vote at present, but New Delhi has expressed its frustration with China’s blocks on its joint terror listing proposals with the U.S. for five commanders of the LeT and JeM, including 26/11 terrorist handler Sajid Mir, LeT recruiter and fund collector Shahid Mehmood, and Hafiz Saeed family members Abdur Makki and Talha Saeed, all wanted for their role in the Mumbai attacks.

These will also be highlighted at the upcoming “No Money for Terrorism” conference in Delhi in November which will be inaugurated by Home Minister Amit Shah, and by officials preparing for a visit to New York by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to chair a session of the UNSC in November.

The CTC meeting in Mumbai follows a week after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the 26/11 memorial, and was taken through an exhibition of photos of the terror attacks on Mumbai hotels, the CST railway station, and other locations over three days, that left 166 people dead.

The visiting Ambassadors, both current and incoming members of the UNSC, Under-Secretary-General Vladimir Voronkov, UN Office on Counter-Terrorism, and Weixiong Chen, Acting Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate, would also meet with some of the victims of the attacks who had met Mr. Guterres.

The event will be followed by an “informal briefing on combating terrorism financing in the local and regional contexts”, according to the CTC’s draft agenda.

4. Editorial-1: Short or long stay, Brexit Britain’s challenges remain

Rishi Sunak has claimed several records this week — Britain’s first Asian Prime Minister, the youngest in two centuries, and certainly the wealthiest in living memory. His predecessor, Liz Truss, leaves with the record of the shortest serving Prime Minister, resigning after 45 days; the premier with the least support of her parliamentary colleagues; the leader who oversaw one of the worst declines in the value of the pound; perhaps even the leader who almost wrecked the British economy with her ideologically driven fiscal policies. But the story of Liz Truss’ rise and fall, and of Rishi Sunak’s rise to become Britain’s fifth Prime Minister in six years is also the story of Brexit Britain. This is the story of a country that voted to pull up the drawbridge in exchange for honeyed promises of ‘taking back control’ of immigration and its economy. Brexit Britain’s challenges remain.

Cameron to May

To rewind, David Cameron called for a referendum in 2016 on whether Britain should remain in the European Union (EU). In a badly-worded ballot, the electorate were offered two choices: Remain (in the EU), or Leave. There was no explanation about what ‘leaving’ meant, or indeed how any future relationship with Britain’s largest trading partner might be managed. The country voted narrowly — 52% to 48% — in favour of Leave. The drafting of the referendum also indicated a one-off event. However, the subsequent six years have shown that Brexit could never be an event — it was a process, and one with a long tail. Thereafter, Britain has cycled through four other Prime Ministers in an attempt to disentangle itself from all the trading, financial, legal, bureaucratic and cultural ties that bind Britain to the world’s largest single market.

David Cameron, who belatedly campaigned for Remain after opening the floodgates, was succeeded by Theresa May, another Remainer. In order to win the party over, Ms. May tacked right, promising a harder divorce from Europe than might have been necessary. Ms. May could have opted for a Norway-type agreement, which would have allowed for Britain to remain in the European Economic Area and pursue a customs agreement with the EU, thereby protecting its most important trading relationship, while still nominally bringing political control back to Westminster. Instead, she pursued a complete break with the EU. Her appeasement of the hardline Brexiteers effectively shut off any path for a Remain supporter to become Prime Minister. Each leader after her adopted an increasingly harder stance on bringing back sovereignty, understood as some mythic regaining of control over immigration, trade, domestic workers rights, human rights and economic policy.

But disentangling an almost 50-year relationship was never going to be easy. Theresa May could not deliver, not least because peace in Northern Ireland after decades of sectarian violence was predicated on EU membership. This required the free movement of goods and people on the island of Ireland, which was incompatible with Brexit. Ms. May was ousted when she could not deliver the hard Brexit she promised.

Johnson to Truss

Boris Johnson succeeded her as party leader and premier by promising to ‘get Brexit done’. When he was thwarted by Parliament over his willingness to renege on formal commitments already made to the EU, he called a general election, which he won easily. In this, he was aided by the pusillanimity of the Labour Party, which feared telling the truth to some of their Brexit-backing constituents in the north of England on the false promises of Brexit. Labour lost the election (and those voters), and with it an opportunity to question the wisdom of Brexit.

Boris Johnson’s electoral victory in 2019, with the largest majority in three decades, snuffed any debate on how to leave the EU. He survived a series of scandals that were a direct consequence of his attempt to push through Brexit, including lying to the Queen, trying to illegally prorogue Parliament, and eventually agreeing to a customs border between Northern Ireland and Britain — the issue that had contributed to Ms. May’s downfall. The summer he was ousted, there were hours-long queues at the port of Dover and the threat of empty supermarket shelves as a result of Brexit bottlenecks.

Liz Truss succeeded Mr. Johnson by pushing the myths of Brexit to their logical conclusion. Just as Brexit had been peddled on the fabled ‘return’ of millions to fund the National Health Service (NHS) — the NHS is now on its knees because of under-funding and a lack of staff; on the fairy-tale of turbo-charged growth once the constraining labour laws and financial regulations of the EU were discarded; and the comforting delusions that countries would be lining up to sign trade deals with a ‘free’ Britain, so too Liz Truss persuaded herself and enough of her party that all she had to do was to slash taxes for the rich, appeal to bankers and their high risk strategies, and all would be fine with the British economy.

Unfortunately for Ms. Truss, international investors do not buy into myths: declining confidence in the long-term prospects for Britain was signalled from 2016 with the fall of the pound. The promised trade deals came with strings attached in the form of what countries wanted in return — in the case of India, a more favourable visa regime for its workers, which clashed with the vow of cracking down on immigration. Sometimes sovereignty is not all that it is cranked up to be.

A ‘profound crisis’

In the end, the markets took back control of Britain. Already poorer as a result of Brexit — some estimates calculate a 4% drop in productivity in 15 years as a result of the Brexit-induced loss of market access and openness to trade — and with a dented credibility as a result of reneging on the Northern Ireland Protocol that Boris Johnson had negotiated with the EU in January 2020 (and which came into force in January 2021), the markets looked with scepticism at the Truss government’s attempts to repudiate ‘economic orthodoxy’ with deep, unfunded tax cuts. Though they have been reversed, the cost of the economic folly remains. Rishi Sunak’s current in-tray will have briefings on soaring inflation, rising mortgages, a continuing cost-of-living crisis, an NHS in crisis, and strikes by multiple workers unions.

Mr. Sunak, a committed Brexiteer, shares his two predecessors’ ideas on migration, growth, and Britain’s ability to go it alone. However, as he recognised in his first speech since becoming Prime Minister, Britain ‘faces a profound economic crisis’. Though there are global economic headwinds, most of these problems are of Westminster’s own making. Whether Mr. Sunak’s time in Downing Street is short or long, it will be a turbulent stay.

5. Editorial-2: A renewable energy revolution, rooted in agriculture

The beginnings of a renewable energy revolution rooted in agriculture are taking shape in India with the first bio-energy plant of a private company in Sangrur district of Punjab having commenced commercial operations on October 18. It will produce Compressed Bio Gas (CBG) from paddy straw, thus converting agricultural waste into wealth.

It has become common practice among farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh to dispose of paddy stubble and the biomass by setting it on fire to prepare fields for the next crop, which has to be sown in a window of three to four weeks. This is spread over millions of hectares. The resultant clouds of smoke engulf the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi and neighbouring States for several weeks between October to December. This plays havoc with the environment and affects human and livestock health.

Some measures

The Government of India has put in place several measures and spent a lot of money in tackling the problem. The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas (CAQM) had developed a framework and action plan for the effective prevention and control of stubble burning. The framework/action plan includes in-situ management, i.e., incorporation of paddy straw and stubble in the soil using heavily subsidised machinery (supported by crop residue management (CRM) Scheme of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare). Ex-situ CRM efforts include the use of paddy straw for biomass power projects and co-firing in thermal power plants, and as feedstock for 2G ethanol plants, feed stock in CBG plants, fuel in industrial boilers, waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, and in packaging materials, etc.

Additionally, measures are in place to ban stubble burning, to monitor and enforce this, and initiating awareness generation. Despite these efforts, farm fires continued unabated.

Though paddy stubble burning in northwest India has received a lot of attention because of its severity of pollution, the reality is that crop residue burning is spreading even to rabi crops and the rest of the country. Unless these practices are stopped, the problem will assume catastrophic proportions.

A project in place

In its search for a workable solution, NITI Aayog approached FAO India in 2019 to explore converting paddy straw and stubble into energy and identify possible ex-situ uses of rice straw to complement the in-situ programme. In technical consultations with the public and private sectors, the FAO published its study on developing a crop residue supply chain in Punjab that can allow the collection, storage and final use of rice straw for other productive services, specifically for the production of renewable energy.

The results suggest that to mobilise 30% of the rice straw produced in Punjab, an investment of around ₹2,201 crore ($309 million) would be needed to collect, transport and store it within a 20-day period. This would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 9.7 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent and around 66,000 tonnes of PM2.5. Further, depending on market conditions, farmers can expect to earn between ₹550 and ₹1,500 per ton of rice straw sold, depending on market conditions.

A techno-economic assessment of energy technologies suggested that rice straw can be cost-effective for producing CBG and pellets. Pellets can be used in thermal power plants as a substitute of coal and CBG as a transport fuel. With 30% of the rice straw produced in Punjab, a 5% CBG production target set by the Government of India scheme, “Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT)” can be met. It could also increase local entrepreneurship, increase farmers’ income and reduce open burning of rice straw. In Punjab, Sangrur, Ludhiana and Barnala were recommended as the most promising districts for these interventions. Verbio India Private Limited, a 100% subsidiary of the German Verbio AG, got approval from the Punjab government in April 2018 to set up a bio-CNG project that will utilise about 2.1 lakh tonnes of a total of 18.32 million tonnes of paddy straw annually. The plant is in Bhutal Kalan village of Lehragaga tehsil in Sangrur district, Punjab. The plant will use one lakh tonnes of paddy straw produced from approximately 16,000 hectares of paddy fields. Paddy residue will be collected from this year to produce 33 tons of CBG and 600-650 tonnes of fermented organic manure/slurry per day — this will reduce up to 1.5 lakh tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Many benefits

Thus, from paddy stubble, CBG valued at ₹46 per kg as per the SATAT scheme will be produced. Paddy straw from one acre of crop can yield energy output (CBG) worth more than ₹17,000 — an addition of more than 30% to the main output of grain. This initiative is an ideal example of a ‘wealth from waste’ approach and circular economy.

There are several other benefits: the slurry or fermented organic manure from the plant (CBG) will be useful as compost to replenish soils heavily depleted of organic matter, and reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers. The plant will also provide employment opportunities to rural youth in the large value chain, from paddy harvest, collection, baling, transport and handling of biomass and in the CBG plant. This will boost the economy of Punjab. It is pertinent to mention that straw from many other crops contains higher energy than paddy straw.

This appears to be a first win-win initiative in the form of environmental benefits, renewable energy, value addition to the economy, farmers’ income and sustainability. This initiative is replicable and scaleable across the country and can be a game changer for the rural economy.

6. Editorial-3: Ending dominance Mobile users of digital powerhouses need an environment of real choice

The recent order of India’s competition regulator against Google for abusing its dominant position in the Android mobile device ecosystem is significant not just for the amount of penalty imposed but also for the drastic changes in business practices that it requires the IT giant to undertake. On Thursday, the Competition Commission of India imposed a penalty of about ₹1,337 crore, said to be a provisional amount, on Google, while coming down heavily on it for having such restrictive clauses in its agreements with original equipment manufacturers (who use its Android platform) that it can keep competition at bay. And because of such agreements, the order said, “Google ensured that users continue to use its search services on mobile devices which facilitated un-interrupted growth of advertisement revenue for Google.” It, therefore, concluded that the whole idea of Google imposing such restrictions on its device partners was to “protect and strengthen its dominant position in general search services and thus, its revenues via search advertisements”. This decision, both the penalty and the regulator’s direction to Google “to modify its conduct”, will be welcomed by anyone who realises the power of the big IT platforms to shut out competition and, therefore, choice for the users.

Significantly, it will not be business-as-usual for Google, as the regulator has issued a cease and desist order against it, according to which it will have to drastically change the terms of the deals it enters into with original equipment manufacturers. For instance, as per the Competition Commission order, Google should not henceforth force original equipment manufacturers to choose from its bouquet of apps to pre-install on the device. Nor should it, the order says, require device makers to pre-install its apps such as Google search, Chrome, YouTube, Maps, among others, as a precondition for licensing of its Play Store. It also has been directed against restricting users from uninstalling its pre-installed apps. One of the requirements, in fact, targets Google’s primary revenue generator. It says, “Google shall allow the users, during the initial device setup, to choose their default search engine for all search entry points.” These, among a slew of such requirements, could well mean that Google will have to tweak its business model in India. Google has termed the order a “major setback” for Indian businesses and consumers, saying it opens up security risks while also possibly raising the cost of mobile devices. While the option of legal review is open, it is to the regulator’s credit that Google’s anti-competitive practices have been called out. What the mobile users of a potential digital powerhouse such as India need is an environment of real choice.

7. Editorial-4: One-man rule

Xi Jinping is now in full command of the party, the military in his third term

China’s President Xi Jinping emerged out of last week’s Communist Party congress in even firmer grip on Chinese politics. With four Xi allies chosen to join the two others who continue on the Politburo Standing Committee — the seven-member Xi-headed body that rules China — he has engineered a clean sweep and complete domination that is unprecedented in Chinese politics. Even at the height of Mao Zedong’s power, he had to contend with rival power centres. Mr. Xi faces no such challenges, having sent past rivals, such as Bo Xilai, as well as potential challengers, such as Sun Zhengcai, to prison on corruption charges. Past factional arrangements have also been decimated. Mr. Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, no longer wield influence. Mr. Jiang did not attend the congress, while Mr. Hu was, on the final day, escorted out before he could vote on the resolutions passed unanimously. While his forced removal was attributed to health reasons, the extraordinary sight only underlined Mr. Xi’s dominance. So did the early retirements of Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang, which paved the way for Xi allies to occupy the top positions. Mr. Li has been replaced by a close Xi associate, Li Qiang, who was criticised for this year’s draconian COVID-19 lockdown of Shanghai. He is now the country’s second-ranked leader. A constitutional amendment declares it is now an “obligation” of every party member to follow Mr. Xi, while the official Xinhua news agency noted the key factor in promotions was “loyalty” to Mr. Xi.

The Communist Party has framed the concentration of power in Mr. Xi’s hands — and China’s return to one-man rule — as a necessity. Mr. Xi has frequently criticised “weak leadership” that preceded him, and did so again at the congress. “Strong leadership”, in the party’s view, is the only guarantee for a “strong country” — a Xi catchphrase — to stand up to the U.S. and deal with domestic challenges such as a slowing economy. Markets, however, reacted with a crash, with Chinese stocks in Hong Kong falling by the most since 2008 and a record dumping of shares in Chinese firms by foreign investors. Chinese leaders have in the past described the current world order as offering a “period of strategic opportunity” for China. Mr. Xi changed that formulation, painting a picture of a darker world that also required “struggle” and a “fighting spirit”, a phrase added to the constitution. Mr. Xi, in full command of the party and the military, is now likely to pursue that mission in his third five-year term.

8. Editorial-5: Betting on change: an American dream

There are three countries in which the West in general and the U.S. in particular would like to see regime change: Iran, Russia and China. Iran is the most promising; China, the least.

Once the Ayatollahs took over Iran in 1979, they demanded handover of the Shah from America where he had taken refuge. The U.S. refused and the Islamist students took over the American embassy in Tehran, holding the diplomats hostage for 444 days. Ever since, the relations between Washington and Tehran have been extremely unfriendly. A superpower, humiliated, must not rest until the regime is toppled. During the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war, the Americans were clearly on Iraq’s side, which gave further cause to the Iranians to hate the US.

Iran’s nuclear programme has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. America had no objection per se in Iran having nuclear weapons so long as Shah was in power; indeed, they set up several nuclear plants in Iran. Once the mullahs declared their determination to drive Israel into the sea, the Americans had no choice but to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear programme and to impose stringent economic sanctions against it. There were opportunities to reach an agreement on this festering issue, but they were not seized. Mr. Trump denounced the nuclear deal worked out by President Obama; he too had little choice in the face of Israel’s stubborn opposition to any deal with Iran.

The U.S. is looking at the current wave of protests in Iran as an opportunity to bring the regime down. Even the Iranian oil industry has joined in the protests. This is not as farfetched as it might appear. The mullahs surely remember how the CIA in 1953 brought down the democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh, who had nationalised the Iranian oil industry. Tehran accuses the U.S. as being behind the protests sparked by the death of an Iranian woman during police custody. Can one dismiss their claim altogether? The protests, combined with the dire economic situation, might pose existential threat to the regime. The mullahs must not underestimate the capability of CIA to elevate the protests into a civil war, or of the staying power of the protesters. Even a strong man like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt had to step down despite controlling the military and intelligence. Iran would do well to reach an agreement on the nuclear issue.

As for Russia, President Biden publicly called for Mr. Putin’s removal. “For God’s sake, that man, (meaning President Putin,) cannot remain in power,” he said in Warsaw on May 26. Does Putin’s war on Ukraine open up, however slightly, the door for a regime change in the Kremlin? The war has gone extremely badly so far for Mr. Putin. He too is facing humiliation and has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons. His counter sanctions against the West by denying energy supplies to them are unlikely to produce change of behaviour just as the Western sanctions have not worked in making Mr. Putin sue for peace. However, even Mr. Gorbachev had to pull out of Afghanistan; his country could no longer afford to remain in Afghanistan and the families of the fallen soldiers generated almost unbearable protests. Mr. Putin may face a similar situation at some stage.

Mr. Biden is in no hurry. The U.S. is not interested in a ceasefire. The war does not cost them anything. The arms industry is booming and American blood is not being shed. As and when Ukraine begins to rebuild itself, it is mostly the American companies that will reap all the contracts.

{A thought regarding Ukraine. While the big powers are indulging in irresponsible talk of nuclear war and Armageddon, the rest of the world is suffering grievously, particularly the developing countries. They must not continue to sit with folded hands. One of them, such as India, either singly or with like-minded partners, should table a resolution in the Security Council demanding immediate end to the hostilities in situ, to be followed by intense diplomacy by the Secretary General with all the parties to explore avenues to find face-saving formula that might satisfy or dissatisfy everyone equally.}

China is a different story. The Chinese Communist Party, with its 90 million members, is firmly, though perhaps not too comfortably, entrenched. Its economy is the second largest in the world. Its military, growing more powerful by the day, is well disciplined; at least so it appears. What sustains the CCP is its remarkable feat in reducing poverty and improving the living standards of the people. So long as the party can increase prosperity, it is safe. Hence, the economic war with China which Mr. Trump started and Mr. Biden is continuing and ratcheting up almost every week.

There have been some rumblings, reported in the media, among senior echelons of the CCP; how true, one does not know. All in all, China offers the least potential for regime change, but the U.S. will not abandon the goal. One of Mr. Biden’s successors, however removed, might succeed.

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