CURRENT AFFAIRS – 09/05/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 09/05/2023

Buddhism, India’s soft power projection tool

Abhishek Srivastava
is Assistant Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament, CIPOD, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
With its strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, India can play a lead role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues.
There is much significance to India having hosted a two-day global Buddhist summit in New Delhi (April 20-21), which was organised by the Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the International Buddhist Confederation. The summit saw the participation of key figures from the global Buddhist community, including the Dalai Lama. It was at this summit that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, laid emphasis on the continuing relevance of the Buddha’s teachings in today’s world. The summit was a significant opportunity for India to project and connect with the Buddhist population around the world, thereby strengthening the country’s soft power.
India’s efforts so far
The Indian government has been actively investing in its Buddhist diplomacy efforts, with a focus on promoting tourism through the development of the “Buddhist tourist circuit”. Additionally, Mr. Modi has made it a point to visit Buddhist sites during his Southeast and East Asian visits. By hosting such a high-profile event, the Indian government hopes to demonstrate its commitment to preserving and promoting Buddhist culture and heritage, as well as strengthening ties with the global Buddhist community. With its strong historical and cultural ties to Buddhism, India is well-positioned to play a leading role in shaping the discourse around Buddhist issues on the global stage.
Against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Mr. Modi said, “India has not given ‘Yuddha’ to the world but ‘Buddha’.” This resonates with his earlier statement of his telling the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, that ‘this is not the era of war’. The Delhi summit’s theme, “Responses to Contemporary Challenges: Philosophy to Praxis”, also highlights India’s attempts to provide an alternative to contested global politics, with morality as the guiding principle.
Buddhist diplomacy has the potential to promote regional cohesion, given that nearly 97% of the global Buddhist population is based in Asia. During the Cold War, China effectively used Buddhist diplomacy to engage with its neighbouring countries, and it continues to employ this approach to gain legitimacy for its Belt and Road Initiative. As India and China compete to dominate the Buddhist heritage as a tool for soft power, India holds an advantage due to the faith’s origins in the country. However, despite being home to a number of key Buddhist sites, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar, India has struggled to attract Buddhist tourists, who tend to favour sites in Thailand and Cambodia.
The guiding principle, China factor
India’s efforts to position itself as a great power committed to cooperation rather than coercion are rooted in its deep historical and cultural ties to the region. The current government’s guiding principles for foreign policy, Panchamrit principles include “Sanskriti Evam Sabhyata” which means cultural and civilizational links, which were highlighted during the Delhi summit, which saw a diverse group of 171 foreign delegates from South Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, and Taiwan, along with 150 delegates from Indian Buddhist organisations. Also in attendance were prominent scholars, sangha leaders, and dharma practitioners. Through such efforts, India hopes to reinforce its image as a responsible global power committed to peaceful cooperation and regional stability. By laying an emphasis on cultural and civilisational ties, India seeks to promote greater understanding and cooperation between nations and to demonstrate the unique role it can play in shaping the region’s future.
India recognises the importance of Buddhism as a means of conducting public diplomacy and has utilised it to its advantage. However, to maintain its edge over China, more action is needed. China is actively seeking to exert control over the appointment of the next Dalai Lama, which would be a blow to India’s efforts to project its soft power through Buddhism. India must act to ensure that it remains a key player in the global Buddhist community.
To further strengthen its Buddhist diplomacy, India should continue promoting Buddhism at the highest levels of government, while also organising cultural events to showcase the country’s rich Buddhist history. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) could play a significant role in promoting such events within and outside India. Additionally, India should work to strengthen its ties with key Buddhist institutions and leaders around the world. The Delhi summit was a step in the right direction, providing a valuable opportunity for cultural exchange and the sharing of ideas.
The film link
India also needs to utilise the reach of Bollywood in promoting its Buddhist heritage. China, with its influence over Hollywood, has completely dominated the narrative around Buddhism through cinema. In contrast, India is behind in this domain; there have not been any efforts made through cinema. India’s G-20 presidency this year could be used to promote Buddhist diplomacy on a bigger scale through various cultural meetings, especially as Buddhist teachings align with the motto of India’s G-20 presidency, ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’.
As Buddha was the first diplomat of peace, his teachings of peace and cooperation in these tough times can become the guiding light of Indian diplomacy on the world stage.

India’s China strategy needs to be debated

Shashi Tharoor
is a third-term MP (Congress) for Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha, a former United Nations Under Secretary-General and former Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs. He is the award-winning author of 24 books, including ‘Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st century’
Is India repeating the errors made in its pre-1962 engagement with China?
The Chinese have a knack for making headlines on India’s borders. The latest move, in April, saw them “renaming” 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which they consider to be “Zangnam” or, in English, “South Tibet”. The announcement was made after approval from the State Council, implying a green light from the very top of the Chinese system. Zhang Yongpan, of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, claims that China’s move to “standardise” names in Zangnam “completely falls within China’s sovereignty and it is also in accordance with the regulation on the administration of geographical names”.
Long-held tactic, much provocation
India responded typically by “rejecting outright” this act of nomenclatural aggression on part of the Chinese. But is that enough? The “re-naming” of disputed territories has been a long-held tactic of the Chinese government, and this is the third batch of “re-naming” with reference to Arunachal Pradesh. More significantly, it is not the first provocative act of Chinese provenance in recent months. Ever since the unresolved stand-off at Galwan in June 2020, there has been no serious attempt by Beijing at a resolution, let alone a restoration of the status quo ante, while several instances of further provocation have occurred from the Chinese side. Another border skirmish in December 2022 in the Tawang area showed that whatever policy the Ministry of External Affairs is masking with its anodyne statements, it is not ensuring deterrence.
India has lost access to 26 out of 65 Patrolling Points (PP) in eastern Ladakh, according to a research paper submitted by a senior police officer at the annual police meet in Delhi, last December. The “play safe” approach has turned areas that were accessible (before April 2020) for patrolling by the Indian Army into informal “buffer” zones, resulting in the loss of pasture lands at Gogra hills, the North Bank of Pangong Tso, and Kakjung areas. This is a matter of national security and of grave concern. Prime Minister Narendra Modi assures the nation that no “Indian territory” has been occupied, but such surrenders of access to lands traditionally used by Indians have become routine. Yet, the government refuses to openly call out the Chinese threat. The Prime Minister was willing to stand up and proclaim that “this is not an era of war” while sharing a platform with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin — the leader of a warring country with which India shares deep and friendly relations. What stops him from speaking out on a series of egregious transgressions by China on his own country’s borders?
Explaining the Indian stand
There are arguably several factors that have possibly led to the Indian aversion to denouncing the Chinese. Happymon Jacob has identified several: the growing power differential between the two countries; uncertainty about the strategic actions of major powers such as the U.S. in case of a military stand-off; the military capability differential between the two countries (India is not equipped for a major war with China); pressure from Indian business interests anxious to safeguard trade (India’s trade dependence on China has now crossed over $100 billion); lack of consensus within the various ministries of the government about the kind of response the Chinese threat merits; and lack of political will within an increasingly hyper-nationalist, image-conscious Bharatiya Janata Party government (Mr. Modi is obsessively anxious not to appear weak, especially just in advance of a general election).
These considerations have led to the emergence of overcautious self-restraint on the part of the Indian government, marked by a refusal to permit even a basic discussion of China in Parliament, on the grounds of national security. This overlooks growing Chinese self-assertiveness on its land and sea borders, bordering on belligerence, which has already set alarm bells ringing in a number of Asian capitals and in Washington. Is India repeating the errors made in its pre-1962 engagement with Communist China? Nehru’s vision of India and China as the two major south Asian civilizations led to India being one of the first countries to recognise the Communist government in China and ended up with its softening its line on China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, its encroachment on India’s borders and its cartographical aggression in the pursuit of Chinese goodwill. Mr. Modi’s current policy of Chinese appeasement seems eerily similar, and could end just as badly.
What lesson does this have for the Indian response today? The ruling party vociferously argues that in the 1950s, India failed to call a spade a spade, behaved too cautiously in its diplomacy, and left too much for too late. The only difference 60 years later appears to be that the Indian government is today reinforcing its border defences and building roads and other infrastructure on the Indian side. While these may prepare India better to resist a People’s Liberation Army sweep into India, it does nothing to deter a Chinese build-up and continuing “salami-slicing” tactics on the disputed frontier, while India’s diplomacy only emboldens Beijing and leaves potential allies puzzled. Only if there is an acknowledgement of the problem can there be the initiation of a process of resolving it.
China’s assertive image building exercise
As a one-party state, China does not have to worry about public approval, but the Chinese Communist Party has shored up its domestic credibility by valorising its international image. Once anchored in the “peaceful rise” theory, it is now about showing strength, determination, economic might and an unwillingness to compromise on what it sees as its core national interests. The absence of a tough rhetorical response to Chinese actions in public is usually viewed there as a Chinese gain, whereas acrimony in public unsettles them.
In fact, China’s public image is a source of its vulnerability. It has always had a fear of being isolated in global affairs: this is why its assertiveness today is accompanied by diplomatic overtures in Europe, Russia and West Asia, to add an adroit diplomatic gloss to its uncompromising military determination. India was able to capitalise on China’s image-consciousness to get Masood Azhar blacklisted by the 1267 UN Sanctions Committee after China blocked India’s efforts for more than a decade, cornering Beijing through nimble, stakeholder-oriented diplomacy, so that in the end, China did not want to be seen as the lone holdout. Hence, image matters to Beijing, and can be exploited to India’s advantage.
When dealing with the Chinese, India must always remember Mark Twain’s observation, that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. The period since Galwan, 2020-23, is not the same as 1949-62, but the same pattern of appeasement and self-denial is ominously emerging. India is missing an opportunity to loudly and proudly raise matters of its own vital interest by not using a strategy that fractures China’s image by challenging it publicly on its transgressions. The government must do what Nehru did, and take the Indian people into confidence. It is time for an urgent debate in Parliament on India’s China strategy.

The lack of a drug recall law in India

What happens when substandard drugs are indiscriminately distributed in the market? Have there been discussions on implementing a drug recall law in the country? Why are pharmaceutical companies resisting a centralised drug recall authority?
The story so far:
On April 25, Abbot, a multinational pharmaceutical company, published a public notice in newspapers alerting people about a mislabelled batch of medicine that it had inadvertently shipped to the market. While such recalls take place regularly in the U.S., we have never witnessed domestic or foreign pharmaceutical companies recall substandard or mislabelled drugs in India.
Is there a drug recall law in India?
One of the reasons for this difference in behaviour in India and the U.S. is because the law in the latter requires pharmaceutical companies to recall from the market those batches of drugs that have failed to meet quality parameters. India, on the other hand, has been mulling the creation of a mandatory recall law for substandard drugs since 1976, and yet no law exists that mandates such medicine be removed from the market to this day.
In 1976, the Drugs Consultative Committee, which consists of all the state drug controllers along with senior bureaucrats from the Ministry of Health and the national drug regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), discussed the issue of drug recalls. The minutes of this meeting record a discussion on how drugs ordered to be recalled by a state drug controller in one State were found to be on sale in another State. While the meeting resolved to have greater cooperation between various state drug controllers to facilitate better coordination, this decision never translated into amending the law to create a legally binding structure to enforce such recalls. Since then the issue has come up repeatedly in regulatory meetings in 1989, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2016, 2018 and 2019 but none of them resulted in amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act to create a mandatory recall mechanism. In 2012, certain recall guidelines were published by the CDSCO but they lacked the force of law.
Why is there no recall law?
There are three possible answers to this question. The first is that the Drug Regulation Section of the Union Health Ministry is not up to the task of tackling complex drug regulatory issues due to a combination of factors including apathy, lack of expertise and a greater interest in enabling the growth of the pharmaceutical industry than protecting public health. The second possible factor is India’s highly fragmented regulatory structure, with each State having its own drug regulator. But despite the fragmentation, drugs manufactured in one State can seamlessly cross borders to be sold in all States around the country. To create an effective recall mechanism, the responsibility of recalling drugs has to be centralised, with one authority wielding the legal power to hold companies liable for failures to recall drugs from across the country. However, both the pharmaceutical industry and state drug regulators have resisted greater centralisation of regulatory powers. This opposition has little grounding in logic. If India is a single market for drugs, it follows that it should have one regulator. If not, the incompetence of a regulator in one State can lead to adverse effects for patients in other States.
The third possible factor is that India’s drug regulators are aware of the fact that a mandatory drug recall system, which necessarily has to be centred on a system of wide publicity, will bring to public attention the state of affairs in India’s pharmaceutical industry.
What happens when substandard drugs are not recalled?
People, including children, are almost certainly dying or suffering from adverse health events because substandard drugs are not swiftly removed from the market. Every month, dozens of drugs fail random-testing in government laboratories. Ideally, these drugs will be necessarily recalled in a transparent manner, with the people being informed of the failures.
If this were to actually happen in India, the people would be flooded with alerts on an almost daily basis, which then would increase the pressure on drug regulators to institute extensive reforms.
If the bureaucracy’s intention is to avoid accountability, it might prefer to keep quiet and let substandard drugs, even those with dangerous consequences for consumers, circulate in the market. This has been their modus operandi for decades, until recently, when drug failures overseas brought attention to this issue. Yet nothing has changed on the ground.
The writers are co-authors of The Truth Pill: The Myth of Drug Regulation in India.
On April 25, Abbot, a multinational pharmaceutical company, published a public notice in newspapers alerting people about a mislabelled batch of medicine that it had inadvertently shipped to the market.
India has been mulling the creation of a mandatory recall law for substandard drugs since 1976, and yet no law exists that mandates such medicine be removed from the market to this day.
People, including children, are almost certainly dying or suffering from adverse health events because substandard drugs are not swiftly removed from the market. Every month, dozens of drugs fail random-testing in government laboratories.

What are the regulations to curtail misleading food ads?

What are the stipulations under the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising & Claims) Regulations, 2018?
The story so far:
On April 29, the Advertisement Monitoring Committee at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) flagged 32 fresh cases of food business operators (FBOs) making misleading claims and advertisements. As per the regulator, the count of such offences has shot up to 170 in the last six months.
What are the regulations?
There are varied regulations to combat misleading advertisements and claims, some are broad, while others are product specific. For example, FSSAI uses the Food Safety and Standards (Advertising & Claims) Regulations, 2018 which specifically deals with food (and related products) while the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA)’s regulations cover goods, products and services. Further, the Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 stipulate that advertisements must not imply that the products have “some special or miraculous or supernatural property or quality, which is difficult of being proved.” The FSSAI seeks that the advertisements and claims be “truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, not misleading and help consumers to comprehend the information provided”. The claims must be scientifically substantiated by validated methods of characterising or quantifying the ingredient or substance that is the basis for the claim.
Product claims suggesting a prevention, alleviation, treatment or cure of a disease, disorder or particular psychological condition is prohibited unless specifically permitted under the regulations of the FSS Act, 2006.
When can a product be referred to as ‘natural’ and ‘fresh’?
A food product can be referred to as ‘natural’ if it is a single food derived from a recognised natural source and has nothing added to it. It should only have been processed to render it suitable for human consumption. The packaging too must be done sans chemicals and preservatives. Composite foods, which are essentially a mixture of plant and processed constituents, cannot call themselves ‘natural’, instead, they can say ‘made from natural ingredients’.
‘Fresh’ can be used for products which are not processed in any manner other than washing, peeling, chilling, trimming, cutting or irradiation by ionising radiation not exceeding 1 kGy or any other processing such that it remains safe for consumption with the basic characteristics unaltered. Those with additives (to increase shelf life) may instead use ‘freshly frozen’, ‘fresh frozen’, or ‘frozen from fresh’ to contextualise that it was quickly frozen while fresh.
What about ‘pure’ and ‘original’?
‘Pure’ is to be used for single-ingredient foods to which nothing has been added and which are devoid of all avoidable contamination, while unavoidable contaminants are within prescribed controls. ‘Original’ is used to describe food products made to a formulation, with a traceable origin that has remained unchanged over time. They do not contain replacements for any major ingredients. It may similarly be used to describe a unique process which has remained unchanged over time, although the product may be mass-produced.
What about ‘nutritional claims’?
Nutritional claims may either be about the specific contents of a product or comparisons with some other foodstuff. Claims of equivalence such as “contains the same of (nutrient) as a (food)” or “as much (nutrient) as a (food)” may be used in the labelling provided that it gives the equivalent nutritional value as the reference food. According to Manisha Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) , most complaints of misleading ads were related to the nutrition of a product, its benefits and the ingredient mix not being based on adequate evidence.
“A lot of claim data is to be based on technical data. For example, if you say, that there is Vitamin D in my product, we need evidence to substantiate that there indeed is Vitamin D in your product,” she says, adding, “then if you claim that Vitamin D in your product can also help reduce fatigue, improve stamina or another claim like that — then there needs to be enough literature to substantiate that the ingredient does what is being stated”.
The Advertisement Monitoring Committee at the FSSAI flagged 32 fresh cases of food business operators (FBOs) making misleading claims and advertisements.
According to Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) , most complaints of misleading ads were related to the nutrition of a product, its benefits and the ingredient mix not being based on adequate evidence.
The FSSAI wants advertisements and claims to be “truthful, unambiguous, meaningful, not misleading and help consumers to comprehend the information provided”.

Five more cheetahs to be released into wild at Kuno

No boundaries: Four cheetahs have been released into the wild so far, and one of them even ventured outside the national park.PTI
They will be released into ‘free-roaming conditions’ before the onset of monsoon in June; twenty big cats have been brought from Namibia and South Africa since September 2022, two have died
Five more cheetahs — three females and two males — will be released from the acclimatisation camps to “free-roaming conditions at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh before the onset of monsoon in June, the Union Environment Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
The statement was based on a report submitted by an expert committee to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which is the nodal body for Project Cheetah. The committee members visited the KNP on April 30 and reviewed the current status of Project Cheetah.
Twenty cheetahs have been brought from Namibia and South Africa since September 2022 as part of a translocation programme to reintroduce the wild cat into Indian habitat. As part of their acclimatisation, the animals were housed in special enclosures. However, two of them died — one of kidney infection and the other of heart failure, following a strenuous hunt.
Long-term plan
The long-term plan to acclimatise the animals to Indian conditions is to gradually release them into the wild — though all the animals are radio-collared and the Madhya Pradesh State wildlife officials are tracking their movement — and keep adding more animals from Africa until a sizeable self-sustaining population is established in a decade or so, while accounting for natural mortality and acclimatisation-related challenges.
So far, four of the cheetahs have already been released into the wild — with one of them even ranging outside the Kuno National Park and venturing into farms in Uttar Pradesh. It had to be tranquillised and returned to the sanctuary.
The remaining cheetahs, the statement said, would remain in the acclimatisation camps for the duration of the monsoon season (June-September).
After September, when the monsoon ends, more animals would be released into the KNP or surrounding areas in “a planned manner” to the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. The cheetahs would be allowed to move out of the KNP and not necessarily recaptured unless they venture into areas where they are in “significant danger,” the statement added.
Concern over space
Independent experts have raised concerns that the cheetahs had on average too little space and limited access to prey at the national park, and this would pose considerable problems for their eventual flourishing in India.
One of the scientists, who was associated with the study, told The Hindu that available space at the KNP — about 1,00,000 sq. km. in the park and 6,00,000 in the landscape surrounding the park — was adequate for 21 cheetahs. At present, there are 18.

Low pressure area forming over Bay of Bengal, says IMD

Heavy rains across the city, due to depression over south-west Bay of Bengal, in Bengaluru.
A low pressure area, a precursor to a cyclone, has formed over the south-eastern Bay of Bengal and this would likely morph into a cyclone tomorrow, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Monday.
Cyclone Mocha, though it is yet to be formally named so, is likely to rage along the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and head north towards Bangladesh and Myanmar.
As of now, it is expected to eventually grow into a very severe cyclonic storm. In the five-step classification of cyclones, the relatively weakest is classified as a cyclonic storm (65-68 kmph) and the strongest a super cyclonic storm (>222 kmph). A severe cyclonic storm (89-117 kmph) is just one step above a cyclonic storm.
The development of the cyclone would mean light or moderate rainfall at most places over the Andaman and Nicobar Islands starting Monday, and it would become heavier by May 12.
The sea over the southeast Bay of Bengal and adjoining south Andaman Sea would be “very rough” until May 12 and fisherfolk would do best to keep away from the seas, the IMD said.
This is the first tropical cyclone that will be forming in the region this year.