CURRENT AFFAIRS – 10/05/2023

CURRENT AFFAIRS – 10/05/2023

Salvaging the idea and reality of Manipur

Kham Khan Suan Hausing
is Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad
The stability and territorial integrity of a society such as Manipur can be secured only by genuine recognition and substantive accommodation of territorial rights and identities.
The communal riots which erupted in Manipur since the evening of May 3, between the Meiteis and Kuki-Hmar-Zomi communities, have unleashed unprecedented human displacement, a tragic loss of lives and destruction of property, and show no signs of closure. As the nature and character of the riots transform from one of ethnic cleansing to genocidal attacks across the divide, the precarity of law and order remains as ragtag mobs with the support of armed groups from either side continue to expand the theatre of these riots to the peripheral areas, with more virulence. The large-scale deployment of paramilitary forces, predominantly in urban areas, is clearly not sufficient to maintain ‘law and order’ in the State’s peripheries. Even as large parts of State have turned into a Hobbesian world, where the dictum ‘might is right’ determines whether lives remain brutish, nasty, and short, the trails of destruction have already bruised the ideational and geopolitical foundations of Manipur beyond any immediate repair.
The delay in imposing the shoot-at-sight order for a night-and-a-day in Imphal and valley areas now appears as deliberate state complicity to allow ragtag mobs to do the job of a comprehensive targeting and erasure of lives, properties and land records (pattas) with precision. When this order came on the latter part of May 4, the project of ethnic cleansing of the tribals (Kuki-Zomi-Hmar) and a de facto erasure of their land titles that the tribals held for centuries in the valley was already accomplished. The thousands of tribals and Meiteis who are being evacuated to safety from Imphal and Lamka (and other towns) to towns inside Manipur and various Indian metros are likely to be displaced as ‘refugees’ for a long time. Sadly, ‘encroachers’, ‘eviction’ and ‘refugees’ are labels that will now no longer remain the exclusive preserve of any particular community.
The swift imposition of a shoot-at-sight order in Churachandpur district on the evening of May 3 is in stark contrast to the night-and-a-day delay in the valley areas. Yet, this has not succeeded in forestalling the sanitisation of disparate Meitei settlements across Churachandpur district and other peripheral areas across the State. Either way, extensive ethnic cleansing suggests that the geopolitical body of Manipur has been badly bruised and radically transformed beyond recognition.
For one thing, the rag-tag mobs, as marionettes of the integrationist project of the State and Meiteis, have succeeded partially in their attempt to dissolve tribal land rights in the valley areas, a major grouse the Meiteis have against the tribals in hill areas. In fact, this grouse was a major reason which set the stage for these conflagrations. Similar extensive counter ethnic-cleansing drives in various parts of the hills imply that considerable Meitei settlements are likely to be erased forever. The existence of multiple tribal localities in Imphal and its valley environs inhabited by the Nagas implies that the State’s aggressive integrationist and majoritarian project has to contend with this asymmetrical regime on land rights where tribals, unlike the Meiteis, can own land both in the hills and the valley.
The extensive bruises to and radical transformations of the geopolitical body of Manipur caused by these riots are likely to make the task of post-conflict state building and transformation of state-society relations extremely difficult, if not impossible. Some possible and tentative blueprints are in order.
Any attempt to secure future stability and peace in ways that will help in the stable management of post-conflict situations must begin with the audacity to confess and confront the truth about the very nature of these riots and their principal cause. The State under the N. Biren Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government must take primary responsibility for preparing, activating and sustaining what Paul Brass, an expert on Indian politics, calls, the ‘institutionalised riots system’ as a first step. Given that these riots built up and happened under his watch, Mr. Biren Singh must resign so that accountability is fixed and trust in the political system restored. A judicial commission under the Supreme Court of India supervision must be set up to fix accountability immediately so that the institutionalised ecosystem of riots does not replicate in the future.
Need for recognition and accommodation
The BJP-government and Meiteis must realise that the stability and territorial integrity of a pillarised society such as Manipur is secured not by an aggressive integrationist project and non-functional sub-State asymmetrical institutions, but by genuine recognition and substantive accommodation of territorial rights and identities, and by making these institutions work. The disintegration of the East European states in the 1990s should be a good reminder of why it is not federalism per se but the lack of democracy and the rickety functioning of federal institutions which predate disorder and state collapse. Manipur should learn from this and from the ability of deeply-divided societies such as Belgium, Canada and Switzerland to ‘hold together’ which is facilitated by their enduring commitment to accommodate and institutionalise differences as a valuable good.
In the post-conflict scenario, salvaging the idea and geopolitical reality of Manipur may impel a radical shifting of constitutional gear. This is imperative if the hills and valley communities are to live together under one political roof. Minimally, this may impel a more genuine accommodation of tribal rights and identities under the Sixth Schedule and a more robust Article 371C where ‘scheduled matters’ on the hill areas are made inviolable by brute legislative majority. However, given the hardened positions adopted by both sides, this may be easier said than done.
As a goodwill gesture, the State must withdraw all its notifications on reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries. It must also stop the blanket targeting of communities as ‘foreigners’, ‘encroachers’ and ‘illegal immigrants’. Future policy-decisions of the State must consistently follow the established procedure of laws.
State-building ahead
The weak state-society model that obtains in the State suggests that an ‘ethnic security dilemma’ — in Barry Posen’s sense — will persist in the absence of the capacity of the State to guarantee overarching security. Institutional trust and legitimacy will be critical in holding together deeply divided societies such as Manipur as a result. The state must adopt even-handedness in its dealing with diverse communities and must not cave into the pressure of the majority in the future.
Such an accommodationist framework, if it were to work and obtain trust and legitimacy from the governed, must be alive to the distinctive and historical pedigree of extant sub-State constitutional asymmetry and increasing sense of insecurity of the Meiteis under the weight of demographic pressure. The project of reviving and sustaining the idea and the geopolitical body of Manipur can be realistic only when ‘dissensual communities’ engage in reasoned dialogue and conversation by mutually respecting each other as equals, in a spirit of give and take. The landlocked nature of the State and the fact that it had an admixture of populations across the State — drawn from populations within and across various States — implies that any prolonged conflagrations will be mutually destructive and self-defeating.
Future state-building and accommodation of distinctive rights and identities are indeed challenging given that the sense of hate and mutual distrust has run deep across communities. Leaders of communities, the State and all-important stakeholders must confront the truth about the mutually self-destructive nature of violence. Serious and concerted inter-community reconciliation efforts must be initiated immediately if Manipur as an inclusive idea and a geopolitical space of accommodation were to be revived.

The ‘right to health’ goal and a role for Taiwan

Dr. Hsueh Jui-yuan
is Minister of Health and Welfare, Republic of China (Taiwan)
With the COVID-19 pandemic abating and dialogue on strengthening health systems worldwide accelerating, Taiwan should not be left out
As the world enters the fourth year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is gradually improving. Most border restrictions have been lifted and global health governance is now focused on a post-pandemic recovery. Countries have stepped up efforts to achieve health and well-being for all and further the realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whose progress was impacted by the pandemic.
Taiwan fully supports health-related SDGs and the World Health Organization’s ‘Triple Billion targets’. Taiwan is committed to building a more resilient and equitable health service supply chain, maintaining an inclusive and equitable universal health coverage system, and providing disease prevention and management through a robust primary health-care system. It is willing and able to share its experience in creating a cross-sectoral, innovative, and people-centered health approach to help the international community work toward the realisation of health-related SDGs.
Taiwan’s pandemic response
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan effectively mitigated the spread of the disease by leveraging its comprehensive public health-care system, well-trained personnel, and epidemiological surveillance, investigation, and analysis systems.
The Taiwanese people played a pivotal role too by following appropriate social behaviour, following quarantine regulations and getting vaccinated. When compared with the 38 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states and Singapore, Taiwan ranks sixth-lowest in COVID-19 mortality and case-fatality rates. Taiwan also ranks fourth-highest for coverage rates of at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and third-highest in terms of vaccine boosters administered.
Last year, the World Health Organization’s Director-General outlined five priorities for the subsequent five years: promoting health, providing health services, protecting health, powering progress, and performing. Moreover, WHO’s ‘Achieving well-being’, a draft global framework for integrating well-being into public health that utilised a health promotion approach, further demonstrates its commitment to health for all.
A focus on disease prevention
Taiwan established a universal health-care insurance system in 1995, which provides disease prevention and health-care services for all. These include prenatal checkups, gestational diabetes screening, anemia testing, and three ultrasound examinations to reduce pregnancy risks and promote maternal and infant health. To assist infertile couples and reduce the financial burdens of in-vitro fertilization, the government has continued to expand subsidised infertility treatment programmes. Taiwan also aims to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment and provide preventive paediatric health care and health education. Taiwan has a number of prevention and management programmes for non-communicable diseases which include targeting chronic metabolic diseases help assist at-risk groups, diet and exercise guidance as well as smoking and betel nut cessation information to empower people. Taiwan also supports the global fight against cancer and WHO’s goal of reducing cancer mortality by 25% by 2025. In line with WHO’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative, Taiwan subsidises cervical screenings and human papillomavirus vaccinations. HPV vaccines have been administered to female students (12 to 15 years) since 2018, with a coverage rate of 92.1% by December 2022.
Taiwan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) offers financial protection and access to a range of essential services. The COVID-19 pandemic helped the international community recognise the importance of regional cooperation and digitisation in health care. Taiwan is committed to promoting digital health and innovation to enhance the accessibility and quality of health-care services, including plans for a next-generation NHI programme. Innovative services, utilising real-time tele-health consultations for remote areas and outlying islands, and is exploring applications for artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. During the pandemic, Taiwan issued 13 export licences for its herbal formula NRICM101 (Taiwan Chingguan Yihau) to help countries in the region combat the pandemic. Taiwan is currently implementing preventive measures such as strengthening the domestic production of critical drugs and active pharmaceutical ingredients to avert future drug shortages. Taiwan will further share innovative technologies and best practices with partners around the world.
A place for Taiwan
Taiwan has not been invited to the World Health Assembly since 2017. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is abating and dialogue on strengthening health systems worldwide is accelerating, Taiwan should not be left out. Taiwan’s inclusion would make the world healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable.
Taiwan urges WHO and all relevant stakeholders to support Taiwan’s inclusion in the World Health Assembly as an observer, as well as its full participation in WHO meetings, mechanisms, and activities. Taiwan will continue to work with the world to help ensure the fundamental right to health enshrined in the WHO Constitution. In the spirit of the SDGs, no country should be left behind — especially not Taiwan, which has made significant contributions to global public health.

Green crosshairs

A multi-pronged counter is warranted to tackle the EU’s carbon tax plans
Starting this October, the European Union (EU) proposes to introduce a framework for levying a carbon tax on imports of products that rely on non-green or sub-optimally sustainable processes and where carbon emissions are deemed to have not been adequately priced. This Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) will begin with an import monitoring mechanism and culminate in the levy of duties as determined from January 2026. The EU argues that the CBAM will ensure its climate objectives are not undermined by carbon-intensive imports and spur cleaner production in the rest of the world. This poses a significant threat to some of India’s biggest exports to the trading bloc, including iron ore and steel, with carbon levies estimated to range from 19.8% to 52.7%. During a visit to France in early April, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said it was too early to gauge the tax’s impact on Indian exports, as operational clarity was yet to emerge. By last Thursday, top trade officials were more assertive and termed tackling this risk as one of the top items on the government’s agenda, with several options being explored.
It is critical that the Centre reacts with greater alacrity to what may be considered by some as a sophisticated trade barrier doused in ‘greenwashing’ optics, proposed by the EU. Last year, about a third of India’s iron, steel and aluminium exports, for instance, were shipped to EU members. Engineering products, the largest export growth driver in recent years, would be impacted too. Larger players across sectors are gradually turning to greener technologies, but the transition needs time — even more so for smaller businesses — to move away from legacy carbon-heavy technologies (such as blast furnaces for steel making). The EU believes the carbon tax is compatible with World Trade Organization norms, but India is looking to challenge that. It may also flag the incompatibility with the UN’s climate change framework which moots common but differentiated responsibilities for developed and developing nations. But even if these arguments are upheld, these two avenues lack enforcement options. So, a threat of retaliatory tariffs on EU imports is also being weighed even as plans are afoot to quantify the various carbon taxes levied in India. Having positioned itself as the voice of the global South, India must play that part to the hilt while at the helm of the G-20 this year and galvanise other nations to take on the EU’s carbon tax framework. This championing need not revolve around its own concerns, but the far worse implications the CBAM entails for poorer countries, many of whom rely more heavily on mineral resources than India does.

Securing the migrant vote

Sanjay Kumar
is Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)
Aaliyia Mallik
is a researcher with Lokniti-CSDS
Vibha Attri
is a researcher with Lokniti-CSDS
After several weeks of intense election campaigning by all the political parties, today is the day for the voters of Karnataka to exercise their franchise. As per a report in this newspaper, the number of migrants in Karnataka increased from the previous decade. Also, 42.12% of Greater Bengaluru’s population originates from outside the district or the State. Given this large migrant population in Karnataka, Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies conducted a study between April 28 and May 1 among the migrant voters of Bengaluru to find out their voting patterns.
Apprehensions of workers
Our study in the localities of migrant workers from north and north-east India showed that nearly 99% of them were not registered as voters in Karnataka. Most of these workers who live in houses near power mills or in makeshift arrangements near construction sites continued to retain their names on the voter lists of their home constituencies. Some of them were not able to adequately exercise their political voting rights due to geographical constraints; they found it difficult to travel home for every election. A migrant labourer from West Bengal said, “I went back home once to vote and I didn’t go twice. I will go back to vote during the next Lok Sabha election.”
Migrant workers across India are often apprehensive about registering themselves as voters in any other State apart from their home State. This is due to various reasons such as frequent changes in residence, fear of losing property in their home State, and their inability or unwillingness to bring their families with them as well. We found very few migrants (less than 5%) whose families were living with them. On being asked why this was the case, the migrants said their localities were not safe for women. A migrant shop owner said, “We are all men here, so we can’t bring our families. It’s not safe.”
The Election Commission of India (ECI)’s proposal for introducing Remote Voting Machines (RVMs) seeks to extend voting facilities to such migrant workers who find it difficult to travel to their native place to vote, and thus prevent the loss of votes. Some political parties objected to RVMs, saying the ECI has not responded to pending complaints and questions about the trustworthiness of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). While there was little awareness among the migrant workers about the ECI’s proposal to introduce RVMs, 80% of them supported the proposal when they were told about it. They were happy that RVMs would enable them to vote there and that they would not have to go home to vote. A barber from Bihar said, “If what you’re saying is true, it will be great, especially for us. Paying rent and then going home and coming back is a waste of money. If this is the plan, it’s a good one.”
Less than 10% expressed their apprehensions about this mode of voting. Many voiced their concerns and anxieties about the system’s accuracy. A mill worker from Uttar Pradesh said, “I will only cast my vote from my village. I don’t trust that machine.” Another worker said, “It shouldn’t be like this because we don’t know whether the vote is actually going to the person we voted for.”
These statements show an acknowledgement of the ECI’s move, but also bring to light the lack of dialogue around the procedure and viability of RVMs. The study shows that the RVM initiative is a much-needed one for many, but it requires an additional push. For remote voting to materialise as a good alternative for the lakhs of migrant workers across the country, it needs more thought and greater transparency.
It was reassuring that despite the difficulties involved in casting their vote or their inability to do so, the respondents greatly valued their voting rights. They said it was their duty and responsibility to vote as citizens of the country. They also said to vote is important in a democracy. A labourer from Malda in West Bengal said, “It is a necessity for us to cast our vote. We are Indians and this is a priority for us.”
The migrants said none of them had ever received money or goods or services from any candidates or parties in exchange for their vote. They said they travelled back to their home States without any support or expectations.
A minimum standard of living
The study also indicated the involuntary choices that migrant workers have to make in order to maintain a minimum standard of living. Many of the migrant workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam, who were living in Bengaluru and its outskirts, said low and irregular wages and lack of opportunities in their home States were motivating and compelling reasons for them to move to a new place without their families. Even though a sizeable proportion of the migrant workers had worked in Bengaluru for decades, they were happy to move to their home States if they were offered comparatively lower pay. The most popular reason for this was to be closer to home and to their families and meet fewer expenses. A labourer from Cooch Behar, West Bengal, said, “In a month, if I earn ₹30,000 here and if in West Bengal I earned ₹15,000-20,000, I would still work there, for I would be at home. Why would I come this far?”
Lakhs of migrants who left their homes in search of livelihoods live in places far from the heart of the city. Not only have they left their home States, they have also given up on significant rights. While elections are an opportunity for people to exercise their fundamental rights, the votes of migrant voters have been missing for years. While the ECI’s move provides a ray of hope to millions of migrant workers, two crucial priorities ahead are to create awareness about the initiative and ensure transparency.
While the Election Commission’s RVM proposal provides hope to millions of migrant workers, two crucial priorities ahead are to create awareness about the initiative and ensure transparency

Pakistan and China agree to extend CPEC to Afghanistan

Pakistan, China and Afghanistan have agreed to forge closer economic ties by extending the Beijing-backed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan to fully harness the country’s potential as a hub for regional connectivity.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang and Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed acting Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi held the 5th China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue, where they also underlined the need to prevent any group from using their territories for terror activities against any nation.