Nuclear War: Is Our Complacency Misplaced?

By Ganesh Chakravarthi (@crg_takshashila)

The Cold War taught us many things. It compelled nations to judge every action against potential worldwide consequences. Most importantly, it taught us that  nuclear arms should never be taken lightly.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain the whole world breathed a sigh of relief. However, neither the end of the Cold War nor the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have stopped nations from developing new nuclear weapon systems. With countries increasing their nuclear arsenals and non-proliferation talks faltering, one has to wonder if a sense of complacency now permeates the global nuclear scenario.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent international institute dedicated to researching conflicts, armaments, arms control and disarmament, conducted research which revealed that there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world and that about 1800 of them are always kept in a state of ‘high operational alert.’ SIPRI further states that all nations with nuclear capabilities are developing new technologies or upgrading their current nuclear weapon systems. This brings forth the question of the relevance that a traditional treaty like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation holds in the current global order.

No nation seems to be heading towards disarmament. The rise of Asian powers, the tensions between India and Pakistan, and China advancing its nuclear arsenal are all pressing concerns. There is also the growing discontent in the Middle East where Israel is already a nuclear power and there are suspicions that Iran is on the road to becoming one.  The situation is only compounded by the fact that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey are vying to gain political supremacy in the region, which has resulted a dangerous balance of power in the Middle East.

The Cold War created a bipolar situation between two major superpowers, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R, potentially pitching their arsenals against one another. This concept of duality has been transplanted on to other players in the game i.e. India-Pakistan, Iran-Israel and so on. The question is, is this bipolar approach still relevant in a post-Cold War era?

The time has now come to not be limited by this bipolar framework and consider analytical models that have more stakeholders. This may be essential considering the threat of a nuclear Armageddon in a world that is becoming more and more interdependent. Although the concept of a ‘world state’ seems far away, there is a pressing need to develop more effective measures for cooperative security to ensure nuclear safety. Disarmament is central to the entire process while security cooperation and arms control are categorical imperatives.

Given the failing non-proliferation talks, the world needs to look at potential new treaties which can take into account emerging nuclear powers as well as offer methods for non-nuclear nations to have a say in the process and potentially take part in the codification of nuclear disarmament norms.

A number of countries across the world have divested landmines and cluster munition producers. A potential road to disarmament could be the adoption of divestment in the production of nuclear weapon components. For instance, the Norwegian and New Zealand Government Pension funds have already implemented such schemes. Additionally, the Swiss War Materials Act has been revised very recently which prohibits the financing of nuclear weapon producers.

The stigmatising of nuclear weapons and the potential release of large financial streams tied to their production could compel several countries to go towards disarmament. All this underlies a democratisation of the disarmament process which has not happened yet.

The Cold War saw the world almost resigning to the inevitability of a nuclear Armageddon. It is up to us now to ensure that the world is not as helpless as it once was.

Ganesh Chakravarthi is the Web Editor at The Takshashila Institution and tweets at (@crg_takshashila)

Comments { 0 }

The Importance of the Constituent Assembly in Framing the Indian Constitution

By Madhav Chandavarkar ( @MadChaP88)

The Constitution of India is the rule-book for democratic governance in India. It came into force on 26 January 1950 and to date remains one of the biggest milestones in the history of our country. Framing a constitution is never a simple task but it was especially hard for India given the extremely tumultuous situation at the time. A newly independent country with a highly unequal social order was a daunting challenge to deal with, especially when it was still reeling under the effects of partition.

The Constitution was framed by the Constituent Assembly established under the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. The 299 individuals who comprised the Constituent Assembly can therefore rightfully be termed as the founding fathers and mothers of the Republic of India. Certain members of the Constituent Assembly played a key role, the foremost of whom was Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, whose role as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Assembly has earned him the popular moniker of ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’. Other Congress stalwarts like Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and Maulana Azad were also dominant voices in Assembly proceedings. A special mention must go to Constitutional Advisor, Dr. B.N. Rau who compiled the initial draft that the assembly debated after taking inputs from constitutional experts at home and abroad.

Challenges in framing the Constitution

The Constitution took a significant amount of time to be framed and though it continues relying on many institutions established by the British it borrows different aspects from various constitutions. However, widespread demands for an indigenous Constitution meant that a lot of the initial debates were about whether it would be wise to follow the model created by the British. Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge facing the assembly was to create a political framework that would keep the various communities and princely states happy in India and prevent Balkanisation. The members were acutely aware of this as Delhi was facing enough violence that they often needed curfew passes to attend Assembly sessions. The fact that the Assembly also functioned as an interim Parliament would have also informed the members about the scale of administrative work needed to ensure unity.

Other major challenges faced by the assembly were:

  • To frame a constitution which would uplift downtrodden sections of society. This meant providing an assurance to minorities regarding the protection of their rights as well as creating a welfare State that could improve their social and economic status.
  • To ensure democratic processes for citizens in perpetuity – the fathers wanted their vision of the country to remain after their death.
  • To frame a constitution capable of effectively handling communal violence. This was largely motivated by the violence occurring due to the partition.
  • To frame a constitution which could integrate princely states and their various demands.

At the time, the Congress party was the dominant political force in the country and was so in the Assembly as well. Yet the Congress actively sought out non-Congress luminaries such as Ambedkar to make sure that the best minds would be involved and that as many communities would be represented. There was even considerable divergence of opinions among leaders of the Congress itself. It is therefore a testament to the dedication of the constituent assembly that despite such odds, a consensus was reached.

This was perhaps the outcome of a recognition of the role unanimity in conceptualising the constitution would play in its durability and continuity. Issues were therefore debated until decisions as unanimous as possible could be made and proceedings were open to members of the public and the press. Many discussions also took place outside the halls of the Assembly in and between the various committees. These debates and committee proceedings have now been transcribed and published.

The completion and adoption of the Constitution was an historic event that was being avidly observed by the entire world. The decision to grant universal adult franchise was a tremendous gamble for the Indian State but was also one of the most transparent displays of democratic fervour.

The drafting of the Constitution is now considered a monumental feat of democracy for which the members deserve immense respect. These individuals, despite being a multicultural set of people from various communities, were collectively committed to achieving the historic task of establishing a democratic republic in India. Today, as we have entered the 70th year of our independence, our Constitution still stands as a shining beacon of democratic governance. It is because of the members of the constituent assembly that our flag flutters proudly over the Parliament in Delhi.

Madhav Chandavarkar is a Research Analyst at the Takshashila Institution. His Twitter handle is @MadChaP88

Comments { 0 }

Rebel No Longer

India’s stance on nuclear norms is changing in order to keep up with the trends of the time.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Until 2010, India was the norm breaker of international nuclear negotiations. However, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal saw India take a different approach to nuclear negotiations. Now, in order to gain access to nuclear fuel and technology, India is lobbying hard to be a part of export control regimes. This endeavour is just a step for India to become part of the international rule-making mechanisms on nuclear issues.

During the early years of the Cold War and its existence as a new democracy, India vociferously supported the cause of nuclear disarmament. As national security was the primary objective of India’s grand strategy, and nuclear weapons could lead to mass destruction, a nuclear weapon free world was a moral but also realist stance. Jawaharlal Nehru famously called for a standstill agreement on nuclear testing. However, as negotiations underway for a non-proliferation agreement, India found the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) discriminatory and unbalanced towards countries that had not detonated a nuclear device. India did not sign the NPT and the succeeding Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) because of the lack of commitment towards disarmament.

India’s Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in 1974 and finally its nuclear test in 1998 both faced criticism at the global stage. The PNE spurred the formation of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which aimed at reducing proliferation through the implementation of restrictions on nuclear exports and nuclear-related exports. The control of supply of nuclear fuel and technology left India to indigenously develop technology for its nuclear programme. The 1998 tests faced sanctions from the United States and Japan and huge global outcry that India was “nuclearising” South Asia.

Since the 2005 Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal however, India has changed its position gradually. The India-specific waiver by the NSG to engage in nuclear trade and commerce meant that India’s proliferation record were taken cognisance of.  India has also made efforts to be seen as a responsible power committed to non-proliferation. It harmonised its export control lists along the lines of international norms and has made sure that its non-proliferation track record is impeccable.

Recently, India attempted to gain membership in the NSG and the MTCR -the latter proved successful while the former is proving to be a formidable diplomatic task. India has also been an active participant of the Nuclear Security Summit, the most relevant forum for negotiating nuclear affairs currently. India’s attempt is to become part of the rule making mechanism rather than act as a rule-breaker. This would ensure India becomes an integral player in the future nuclear discourse. This is important because of India’s unique nuclear programme- uncomparable with any other in the world.

India is no longer rebelling against the international nuclear norms. This is also a result of the changing dynamics of the nuclear debate. Non-proliferation is not the main agenda anymore; the discourse is moving towards counter-proliferation, anxieties over nuclear security and nuclear terrorism. As India is trying to establish itself  a responsible nuclear power as it shares the concerns of the other countries in the world. To this end, the way is within nuclear security architecture and not outside it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

Comments { 0 }

The G-20 Report Card

 The G-20 proved successful as a exigent mechanism post the 2008 Financial Crisis but hasn’t been able to provide solutions to global issues. The 2016 Summit in September will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

In the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the G-20 was thought to be the most effective institutional response to the crisis. Since then, the multilateral forum has been struggling to stay relevant to the changing geopolitics. Delivering more structural, longer-term solutions to create a more balanced global economy requires more far-reaching actions at domestic level, often needing the approval of national parliaments, which effectively makes advancing the G-20 agenda more difficult.[1] Since 2008, economic changes have been rapid and unpredictable. The Chinese reminbi was admitted into the SDR basket of currencies in 2015 but the Chinese economy in the same year went through a number of shocks and had to devalue its currency. Thus, China which hosting the 2016 Summit, faces a completely different context from the earlier years because of its own economic problems. The Summit, to be held in September 2016 will show if the grouping will become yet another defunct multilateral forum or if it can revitalise decisionmaking in the international system.

The G-20 is an interesting group for analysis on three different levels: On one hand, it shows the wrangling of the US which has been declining in stature in the international system, unable to cope with the pressures of the system unilaterally. On the other hand, it also sees the diplomatic maneuvering of China on an ascent, keen to reform the international system in its favour. The third level sees middle power countries around the world that are pushing for their own national interests as well as the agenda of developing countries.

The Group of Twenty was initiated in 1999 as a response to the Asian Financial Crisis on the suggestion of the G7: “the commitment to work together to establish an informal mechanism for dialogue among systemically important countries, within the framework of the Bretton Woods institutional system”.  The 2008 financial crisis exposed the fault lines in the global economic system particularly excessive bank credit, build up of private consumption based on uncollaterised loans and an inexorable rise in public debt. The group emerged partly as a result of political pressure on world leaders to ‘do something’ about the global financial crisis.  But it also was a response to the absence of international institutions where international coordination could take place quickly along a broad range of policy instruments.

The G 20 in the short term has achieved a status of one of the most important exigency contingents that allows for consensus building amongst powers of differing capabilities.  In the medium term, the G-20 could reflect and (possibly even help manage) a major reorientation in the relative standing of the world’s major powers.

The G-20 was envisioned as a forum to deal with financial crises beyond the capacity of advanced Western states. However, it has been transformed into an arena for world politics to be played out. Different forces of agenda setting have been played out within the G 20. For one, an America reeling from the impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis, initially set the agenda of the G-20 as the primary mechanism for crises management. However, the US has not been able to dictate processes or outcomes of the G-20.

China, as the rising power and expectant challenger to the power of the US, briefly aligned with the US. This led to fears of the two most powerful actors combining strategies to jointly dictate the agenda. However, China did not follow through with any sort of G 2 arrangement citing domestic concerns. G-20 is also the battlefield for developed countries grappling with the rise of emerging countries. While the G20 emerged as the major platform for global politics, the expansion of its agenda and its relevance amidst dynamic geopolitical and economic contexts in the future will determine its prospects.

The G-20 has other instrumental benefits, namely the formation of a new and updated concentration of power and has cross regional reach.  The growing strength of the G-20 as a forum however does not mean that G-20 decisions are effective. G-20 pessimists often cite lack of progress on curtailing currency wars and macroeconomic imbalances and repeatedly express disappointment over the outcome of the G-20 summits. Global governance, even with just twenty members and consensus based decision making, is an arduous task.

The G-20 demonstrates that in a multipolar world, emerging powers have to share the burden of leadership with great powers. However, it has realised very little since 2009 despite much talk. China’s assumption of presidency could provide the group with the push it needs to effect any major change. However, the agenda for discussions remains unclear thus making durable solutions to the problems of global governance implausible.

[1]  Marcin Szczepański and Etienne Bassot, “The Group of Twenty (G20): Setting the Global Agenda”,  European Parliamentary Research Service (Brussels: January 2015) p.8

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

Comments { 1 }

The Olympics is not just about sportsmanship

It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity.

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Bomb scares, doping allegations, unready rooms, sexual harassment and the clinking of gold medals have turned all eyes to Rio. The 2016 Olympics is sure to be exciting but the mega event is also important because of its geopolitical undercurrents. Indeed, the Olympic Torch may represent ‘peace, unity and friendship’ but the Games have always been about more than sportsmanship. The objective is to carry out sports diplomacy, however the result is often dictated by power politics. This year, for instance, the participation of the first ever team of displaced athletes named ‘Team Refugees’ brings light to the instability of political regimes around the world and the impact it has on civilians. Not only does this indicate an erosion of nationalism but also the fragile state of peace of the post Cold War world.

The Olympics display elements of nation branding embedded in the practices and traditions. It is an opportunity for countries to display their soft power as well as attract investment and tourism. A simultaneous narrative is often one of urban development (or lack of) as countries strive to boost infrastructure and provide ‘worldclass facilities’. Ten years ago, Brazil was touted as one the strongest economies in the world and its hosting the Olympics was to indicate its standing among middle powers. The choice of Brazil as a host city somehow became representative of the North-South debate as, it is the first South American host and the sole in the southern hemisphere.

However, the Rio Olympics seem to have had the opposite impression. The awaited impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the huge corruption scandal and the terrible recession instead showcase the simmering political discord within the country.  The construction of Olympic specific infrastructure is also problematic because it highlights issues of national importance. Generally, there is a trend of the hosts using the mega event to ramp up the infrastructure in cities. On the other hand, this has also exposed the various pitfalls within the cities themselves. Questions about the preparedness of Rio, has also brought the spotlight to the various problems in Brazil, from the amount of air pollution and the political instability, to high unemployment rates, the crime rates in the city to the pandemic Zika virus.

The criticism levied against Rio is not unique; the Olympics is beset by criticism and political signaling. A set of protestors outside the mega-event has become a regular feature. The 2012 Winter Olympics at Sochi saw massive demonstrations by LGBT activists as well as Georgian protestors. The suppression of Tibetans gained widespread coverage during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Poverty whether it is in Rio, Athens, Beijing or London is a common narrative for host countries. This year, it has gained even more prominence with the popularity of favela tours that are supposed to boost cultural understanding and tourism revenues but have been criticised as voyeuristic slum tourism.

Through political history, the Olympics were reflective of the power politics of the time and were characterised by patterns of political gesturing. The Games were cancelled thrice because of the two World Wars. During the Cold War, antagonism between the two bipolar states was remarkable in the Olympic Games as the raking of medals was a metaphor for the prowess of a superpower. The Olympics have often been sites for geopolitics to be played out as countries boycotted the games to display political displeasure. Of course, the most remarkable event in the history of the Olympics were the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in which 11 Israeli athletes killed by Palestinian extremists.

The messy history of the Olympic Games has translated into a devoted fan following for various sports, with technology allowing for live broadcast and constant reminders. It is an important nation building activity, turning a politically indifferent aam aadmi into a patriotic tally keeper. It is impossible to keep politics out of sports, particularly at an event whose very foundation rests on national identity. What ensues however, is a extravagant display of games and geopolitics, which sometimes intertwine.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

Comments { 0 }

India’s Nepal policy after Prachanda’s elevation to Prime Minister

India’s policy towards Nepal should be viewed as a friend and trusting neighbour rather than a bully

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda’s ascent to being the Prime Minister of Nepal on August 3 has come at an opportune time for India. Unveiling ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy in 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke through the tradition when he invited the heads of state of all bordering countries for his swearing in ceremony. The case of Prachanda is unique in the sense that he has had a blow hot-blow cold relationship with India in the past. In that sinusoidal curve of blow cold in the latest phase, it was in all probability that India catalysed his ascendancy, miffed as it was with his predecessor K.P. Sharma Oli.

If Monroe doctrine is the bible to international relations, then India’s moves with Nepal do not fit into this framework at all. Put simply, Monroe doctrine dictated to the European powers in the early part of 19th century that the USA would brook no interference in its politics and no further colonisation could take place. This was one of the factors that helped the US emerge as a hegemon in the 20th century. A landlocked country like Nepal situated in the northeastern part of India and sharing a long 1850 Km border with India should in all probability be a client or a satellite state of India.

India for its part has been blamed by Nepal for being too overbearing. Consider this—during the devastating Nepal earthquake in May 2015, in spite of $1 billion help and the speed with which it was rendered, India was left red faced when it reminded Nepal about this during Nepal’s new constitution. India’s response of advising Nepal to address the concerns of all by which it meant Madhesis (people in the southern plains of Nepal) irked Nepal to no end. Nepal accused India of interfering in its affairs and nonchalantly went ahead and enforced the constitution. India retaliated by blockading Nepal that resulted in critical supplies being denied, chief among them being diesel.

Meanwhile, the then PM of Nepal, K.P.Sharma Oli was consistently battling his opponents as his own position was getting weakened. The main charge against him by Prachanda was his inability to give political stability.  Prachanda, who was the PM from 2006, had to step down in 2008 due to his differences with his army chief. He blamed India for this. The wheel has now come full circle. Prachanda has become the PM courting India’s help. The charge that India has acted like a big brother trying to meddle in Nepal’s domestic politics is not without substance. In 1989, India imposed economic sanctions on Nepal for importing military equipment from China. Nepal has not forgotten this.

As a result of feeling dominated, Nepal does what a weak power normally will do—seek a stronger power’s help, which in this case is China. Nepal feels that by doing this, it can keep India in check. Now, it is for India to get its Nepal policy back on track after some misses in the recent past. Assistance in the form of infrastructure building will go a long way in assuaging Nepalese. The actions must be seen in the form of friendly help rather than a big bully. Only this would help cement India’s Monroe doctrine.

Guru Aiyar is Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Stars over Everest 2 by Sam Hawley licensed from Creativecommons 

 

 

Comments { 0 }

Panacea For Cancer

By Shambhavi Naik

It’s a beautiful morning, where I proceed to unlock my phone to see the various ‘good morning’ messages on my WhatsApp. Amidst a host of forwards, I spot the latest one which tells me about the ‘amazing’ anti-cancer properties of bananas bearing black spots on their skin.

These spots, the message says, contain a protein that can prevent cancers. Now, I usually ignore such forwards, but this message was scientifically illogical at so many levels that I was prompted to reply. But more importantly, it got me thinking of the reason why such forwards make rounds so frequently; against the dread of cancer, any hope of prevention or cure is welcome news indeed. Every few days we come across articles claiming that the panacea for cancer has been discovered. It is true that cutting-edge research is being carried out to find a one-stop cancer treatment, but really, how close are we to it? I started my postgraduate research in cancer in 2006 with the utopian idea of finding the cure (and hopefully, winning the Nobel Prize in the process). After a few years of active research, I realized that the notion of finding an all-out cure for cancer might be impractical.

Instead I was reposed to ask another question: do we really need a pill that would cure all cancers? We are currently spending significant amounts of effort and money trying to figure out this panacea; but is the killing of the last remnants of cancer really so essential to warrant the scope of ongoing studies? A critical point to understand here is that having cancer cells in the body does not mean a person will immediately die. (Equally important is to take into perspective the fact that not having cancer does not make one immortal).

Let us take a practical approach to this: when does a cancer become a problem to the body? Cancer is the uncontrollable growth of cells which have lost their ability to correctly function. However, it is only when essential functions start getting affected, that we may realize that something is wrong with the body. Cancer cells are formed in our body nearly everyday, but these get killed or do not grow enough to cause trouble. But only when they start overtaking the healthy cells in the lung, does our breathing get affected.

So the question is, should our research really focus on managing cancer rather than trying highly aggressive methods to kill each and every cancer cell present in the body? At the molecular level, cancer is a fairly complicated disease. Not only is each person’s cancer different, but cells within the same patient’s disease are also not the same. What this simply means is that when we treat a person with one drug, it might not kill all of the cancer cells. Hence, doctors prefer giving patients multiple drugs. A common problem with most drugs is that they cannot distinguish between normal and cancer cells and result in all sorts of side-effects. A way to tackle this issue is to give drugs that would target the underpinning cancer-causing mechanism of the cells.

This approach has yielded promising results and is reforming cancer therapy into a personalized regime where each person’s cancer is mapped and treated correspondingly. A major success story has been Novartis’ Gleevec in the treatment of a certain type of leukemia. But this is not as easy as it seems – finding the cancer-driver is like finding a needle in a hay stack. This is also complicated by the heterogeneity of cancer; that is, not all cells within the cancer will have the same driver. And if this was not enough, the property that makes a cancer really dangerous is its ability to evolve. Cancer cells follow Charles Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” rule to the book and show a capacity to overcome most stresses thrown at them. This explains why a cancer reappears after extensive chemotherapy – some cells adapt to survive the chemotherapy and eventually grow out even in the presence of drugs. Another way to look at this is, what comes out of an aggressive therapy regime is probably a worse cancer than its predecessor. This also feeds into why I think finding the one-stop cure for cancer is impractical. As Dr. Malcolm says, “Life, uh… finds a way”.

But then, the question remains on how do we tackle cancer? In a nutshell, cancer is a genetic disease with strong effects on physiology and social facets of an individual. However, we see that different factions of our healthcare system; the physicians, scientists and social care workers approach this disease as individual groups and rarely engage in crosstalk. For treating such a complex and evolving disease, it is essential that a more holistic approach be implemented. It is particularly important that goals of these groups be aligned: to reiterate, the goal of treatment should be to make the patient cancer-free (preferably and this now works in select types of tumors) but with minimal compromise on their standard of life post-therapy. Simply damaging a patient’s system with a host of drugs to get rid of all cancer cells cannot be a good way forward. The approach should encompass picking up the cancer at an early stage, assessing the cancer pathology and following up post treatment.

The most successful treatment for cancer is surgery, that is, to remove the tumor mass completely before it spreads. For this, it is important to catch the tumor early on – increased access to screening and an awareness of its importance are critical for identifying cancer patients at an early stage. Basic research in cancer has to focus on effective delivery of existing drugs, identifying key cancer drivers and biomarkers which can diagnose cancer before it becomes pathological. An increased co-ordination between doctors and scientists is a pivotal point in delivering expert and efficient cancer treatment. There are multiple options for treating cancer patients currently; what is needed now is a more focused and directed approach. Emphasis needs to be given to create awareness towards development in the cancer field to alleviate fear regarding cancer. A stronger role played by the media to correctly communicate developments of cancer treatments is required to prevent raising false hopes amongst the public.

Coming back to incorrect and misinterpreted information, I will conclude with what is wrong with the banana WhatsApp message. Firstly, if a protein is present in the skin of the banana, it’s not going to get into your tummy by eating the banana. Secondly, if the protein does find its way to your tummy, it will get broken down into its constituent building blocks by enzymes. So, the protein is not going to enter into your blood or reach the cancer cells at all. Thirdly (and most importantly) the protein that the WhatsApp message talks about is in fact known to do both block and cause cancer. This is true of many food products, where contradicting studies show prevention or causation of cancer. Please take these studies with a pinch of salt and let common sense prevail when making lifestyle choices. The take home message here is that instead of waiting for the perfect cure/prevention to arrive, we have to better channelize our existing knowledge to get a more effective regime to prevent and manage cancer.

Shambhavi is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution

Comments { 1 }

Andhra Pradesh: Prosperity through ports

By Revendra (@adj_r_squared)

The pre-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh governments focused extensively on the Hyderabad-centric development of IT, pharmacy and manufacturing sectors, and overlooked the potential offered by the vast 940-kilometer coastline. In 2014, the successor state was left with one major port — Visakhapatnam, and though 14 non-major ports were notified —  only 4 non-major ports — Kakinada (deep and anchorage), Gangavaram, Krishnapatnam and Ravva are operational. The ports were operating at 65% of their total capacity, and their snail-paced expansion coupled with the failure to add the complementary facilities did not provide distinct advantages to tap this sector, and generate immediate revenues.

Coastline and the distribution of Ports in States of India

Coastline and the distribution of Ports in States of India

Cargo handled

In 2013–14, the Vishakhapatnam Port and the non-major ports handled cargo of 59 and 58.94 MT respectively. Based on the cargo handled state-wise, the non-major ports of Andhra Pradesh stood second and the Visakhapatnam port stood fourth in India, together handling 12.25% of (117MT) of the total cargo moved through the sea in India. The total cargo handled by non-major ports from the state was increased to 71.3 and 72.7 MT in FY2014–15 and FY2015–16 respectively. While the current capacity of these non-major ports is 180 MT, over the next few years, the projected 707 MT of total capacity will be added these ports.

Total Cargo handled

Vision to develop economy through the ports

Dr. Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog proposed a Shenzhen-style Coastal Economic Zone (CEZ) on the eastern coast near deep-draft ports. Fortunately, the state has three deep draft ports — Vishakhapatnam (16.5 m), Krishnapatnam Port (18.5 m) and Gangavaram Port (20.2 m) — which can attract bulk cargo. If the opportunities are exploited, the cargo movement for ports in Andhra Pradesh is estimated to constitute 10% GSDP by 2024 and 12% GSDP by 2030. The Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP) is planning to develop 18 ports — 6 currently operational, 6 under development, and 6 identified, to act as a gateway to East and South East Asian regions, and is envisaging to compete with Singapore as a ‘Logistics Hub’. In addition to handling cargo throughput of over 1000 MT a year, GoAP is working towards developing few ports for ship building and repairs.

To realise this vision, the GoAP passed the Andhra Pradesh Maritime Board Bill that was pending since 2005. After drafting policies, and getting the legislative and cabinet approvals, the focus has shifted on short- and long-term activities to boost quantum of cargo conveyed, and encourage associated sectors to invest and grow in the state. Four of the initiatives pursued by GoAP are worth mentioning.

  • First, connect and improve existing railways and roadways (four lanes and two lanes) to these ports.
  • Second, attract existing domestic manufacturing firms to export from these ports, especially from the neighbouring states of Telangana, and Chhattisgarh, and promote export-oriented domestic industries in the state. Kakinada port, the nearest to Telangana, is poised for growth in petrochemicals sector, and will be benefited from the dry port sanctioned at Bibinagar in Nalgonda district. The Visakhapatnam Port Trust is planning to set up dry ports in Telangana and Chhattisgarh, and the highway between Raipur and Visakhapatnam is being widened to four-lanes.
  • Third, the country is dependent on import of petroleum products, coal, iron ore, fertilizers, and other shipments through containers. Development of refineries, Floating Storage Re-gasification Units (FSRU), LNG terminals, etc., along the Andhra coastline, will facilitate the imports from these ports.
  • Fourth, develop multi-modal connectivity, supply chain and logistics infrastructure for efficient usage of ports. To achieve the same, the GoAP is planning to attract investments of Rs. 84,000 crores for ports and shipping industry in the state. Further, GoAP has promised to help acquire land — own or lease, provide fresh water, and power supply to these investing companies.

These initiatives are in line with the priorities of Sagarmala identified by the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India.

Scenario of ports in Andhra Pradesh. Source: Andhra Pradesh Port’s Department

Seizing the opportunities

The ports in Andhra have the potential to become hubs of transshipment for cargo headed towards Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Government of India is also promoting trade between the states on the East Coast and North-Eastern states through Bangladesh. The ports from Andhra are seizing these opportunities. The Krishnapatnam Port is already facilitating the shipments carrying cotton to Chittagong, whereas the Food Corporation of India has shipped 35,000 tonnes of rice from Visakhapatnam port to Tripura via Bangladesh.

The investments, opportunities, and initiatives will undoubtedly transform the trade and commerce activities on the coastline. It will also create jobs, and contribute significantly to the economy of Andhra Pradesh. However, the economy of ports are tightly coupled with the global economy, and a recession may have debilitating effects on the sector. A small shock was experienced by both ports in Kakinada due to fall in the exports. An optimal composition of imports and exports should be identified, trade activities with stable and growing economies must be promoted, and the government should sponsor research in this sector to keep track of trends, risks, and opportunities. Andhra Pradesh is poised to prosper through the developments of ports.

[Views in this article belong to the author. It is part of a blog series tracking governance in the reorganised Andhra state]

By Revendra (@adj_r_squared)

Comments { 0 }

Another diaspora conundrum-Saudi Arabia

Evacuations of expatriate Indians from foreign countries present our policymakers with tough questions and it is time that the Indian government sets out a clear cut policy

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The recent rescue operations by the Indian government from South Sudan looked like a well scripted Hollywood movie where the country comes to the rescue of its beleaguered citizens abroad. Within two weeks, another crisis looms in Saudi Arabia where Indian workers are reportedly living in sub human conditions. The Minister of External Affairs, General V.K.Singh (retd.) has already left for Saudi Arabia and has confirmed that 7700 workers are affected.

The above situation is nothing new. The expatriate workers from South and Southeast Asia belong to the cheap labour pool who work in sweatshop conditions. In 2006, 4000 South Asian labourers were deported by the United Arab Emirates on charges of vandalism when they were only protesting for fair wages and working conditions. The Indian government is signalling a very important message now. The message says that you can’t mess with the Indian workers. Providing food to the starving Indians in the camps is one thing. But to evacuate them back to India completely changes the dynamics of the situation.

There are approximately 3 million Indians in Saudi Arabia alone and about 7.3 million in West Asia. Mass evacuations using the military and commercial assets implies a huge cost to the exchequer. In this, using commercial assets is the best option. Military assets like naval ships and air force aircraft are much costlier (use of C-17 Globemaster costs US $ 24,000 per hour). Of course, it needs to be understood clearly that when human lives are at peril, no cost can be attached. In this particular situation, it can be said that workers cannot pay for their passage and thus it needs to be borne by the exchequer.

If cost-benefit analysis is to be the basis for evacuations, then the government must have contingency plans drawn up. West Asia is the most volatile of regions in the world. India has been involved in six evacuations within the last decade itself. Even geographically, the distance to Doha and Riyadh are less than 3000 km. I have argued in my earlier columns for evolving a strategic evacuation policy which calls for involving the commercial airlines and shipping. With Air India beset with its own travails, this has become imperative.

Diaspora politics can be extremely tricky and a veritable landmine for diplomatic and international relations. Should all the diaspora be treated with the same yardstick? Does a Non Resident Indian (NRI) blue collared worker surviving on the margins of host country deserve the same kind of treatment as a wealthy Indian billionaire based in North America or Europe? Does the Indian state bear any responsibility towards fifth or sixth generation naturalised Indians in Mauritius or Guyana? Should the Indian government evacuate Indians from Fiji if there is ethnic or racial violence? Or should it have a line that says that the Indian state is responsible only to ‘Indian passport’ holders and not others? These are the kind of questions that our policy makers in the ministry of external affairs ought to be grappling with. There are no easy answers. The final call lies with our elected politicians.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

 

Comments { 0 }

Online activism viewed through the “exit, voice and loyalty” framework

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

WhatsApp and Facebook action groups, change.org petitions, and online grievance reporting are now commonplace manifestations of citizens demanding better public services, particularly in the urban areas of India. Related questions arise: what are the motivations that lead to formations of such groups? And how effective in reality are such groups in resolving the key issue of under-provision of public goods?

These are questions that demand an in-depth study by themselves. However, we get a few clues about analysing such questions from a framework by economist Albert Hirschman in his 1970 treatise “Exit, Voice and Loyalty”. The main argument that the framework makes is:

members of an organisation, whether a business, a nation or any other form of human grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is demonstrating a decrease in quality or benefit to the member: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change).

In the urban context, this framework simply means the following: faced with a decline in the quality of living in a particular urban area, citizens can choose one of the two responses: either exit (move to a new city or another area within the same city) or voice (demand better services in the current areas through complaints and protests). The key question then is: what impact does online activism have on the choice between voice and exit?

Online activism makes it easy for people to choose voice over exit. This is because, as Hirschman says:
success in advocacy groups is uncertain. So, participation in a movement to bring about a desirable policy is the next best thing to having that policy.

This means that the act of getting involved in a public interest problem is seen as en end in itself by a few people because getting the desired outcome is anyways so uncertain. This further means that the costs of getting people to come together on an issue are actually seen as benefits by a few people. Thus, people move away from apathy, towards activism to voice their grievances. With online activism a possibility, the the costs of organising people over an issue become even lower, making it easier for people to rally around new causes.

Thus it is not surprising to find online petitions and action groups mushrooming to resolve urban issues. However, the key question remains: are such groups successful in bringing positive changes in the living standards that they sought to bring? As Hirschman points, since the act of getting together is itself seen as an end, people often see activism as a goal in itself. This is seen amply in the case of online action groups: groups die after getting initial ‘successes’ in the form of assurances from public officials or merely recognition in terms of ‘petition sign-ups’ or  ‘Facebook likes’. Converting this online voice into successful on the ground changes requires mobilising online groups into committed volunteers to chase the root-cause and follow up till the change is delivered. Not an easy matter.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

Comments { 0 }