Read The Hindu Notes of 20th December 2018 for UPSC Civil Service Examination, State Civil Service Examination and other competitive Examination

The Hindu Notes for 20th December 2018
  • Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 20th December 2018
  • Metropolis of the mind

    Delhi is fast becoming a lost city to its inhabitants, a hazy shadow of its old glorious self

    Delhi in the cooler months, between early October and late March, once a six-month stretch of mild sunshine, blue skies, crisp air, festivals of every major religious community, associated with agricultural cycles, equinoxes and other natural and cultural punctuations of the annual solar calendar braided with the monthly lunar calendar, lives now only in memory. A pall of the world’s worst air pollution descends on the city at the beginning of what used to be the festive season, and lifts only, if at all, as the harsh summer approaches, bringing with it its own problems of excessive heat and water scarcity. Our lifespans have been shortened, we are told, by sustained exposure to various pollutants, but things have reached a stage where one can only see this as a relief from having to live on in a place no longer fit for human habitation.

    India Gate

    We cough, gasp and choke our way through these punishing winter months, with poor visibility, skies neither blue nor sunny, and a feeling of being trapped in a long nightmare from which we cannot awaken. A public health emergency engulfs us all, from children with permanently compromised respiratory systems to the elderly struck by lung cancer towards the end of their lives. The persistent itch in our throats and the dull ache in our heads will not go away for weeks at a time. Mornings and evenings are unsafe for walks; any outdoor activity necessitates the use of masks if not inhalers; natural light can only be seen when one leaves town. Eerily simultaneously, a political fog descended on the capital in 2014.

    Lost cities

    In late August Ashis Nandy delivered the Daya Krishna Memorial lecture in Delhi, titled “Lost Cities and Their Inhabitants”. He was careful to define and delineate what he meant by “lost”. A “lost city” is one whose past one can remember and relate to; one whose memory as a living city is not overwritten by an episode of final destruction. Thus Hiroshima is not a lost city, since it was completely destroyed in the form in which it had existed by the detonation of an atomic bomb in August 1945. A city may be called lost when people remember its life and not its death. The city as it continues to be and the city’s lost self are, in a sense, discontinuous with one another.

    Lost cities are autonomous, to use Prof. Nandy’s term, from their real counterparts. He spoke about Bombay and Jerusalem, Cochin and Dhaka, Lahore and Hyderabad, Calcutta and Lucknow. Needless to say, histories of war, genocide and mass migration are implicit in the stories of these cities, and many others in the world, ancient as well as modern. An age passes, sometimes, before our very eyes, and what used to be our home and our haven becomes the site of myth and legend. The past serves our emotional and psychological needs, so that we keep it alive in memory to nourish our desiccated present. But it is not easy to return to or take refuge in a lost city. To try to go there is a kind of madness; to try to keep on living there is to reiterate and perpetuate our trauma of the loss and alienation we experienced when we were overwhelmed by historical forces.

    Delhi seems to exemplify the lost city. It has had so many lives that perhaps it is always a lost city, from the vantage of any present, looking back at a vanished past which would be but the most recent of a series of receding pasts that disappeared sequentially one after the other. We live in the debris of the Islamicate Sultanates and the Mughal Empire, Lutyens’ city and its Nehruvian descendant. Both its medieval and modernist avatars survive in a hybrid and fragmentary fashion, joined by a colonial hinge, altogether a peculiar but graceful mélange of eras and styles spread out over more than a millennium.

    Moments of catastrophic transformation — 1857, 1947 — at once break and remake the city, never the same, no going back. For my generation, the line splitting a before and an after in terms of politics is surely 1984. But whatever our identity and our affiliations, we will remember a Delhi not yet laid low by environmental pollution, reckless urbanisation and climate change. We are condemned to struggle for the rest of our days to mentally re-inhabit that idyll of blue sky, green grass, broad avenues, massive trees, a flowing Yamuna, clean air and slumbering monuments.

    Campus, city, nation

    The precipitous decline of Delhi has also been playing out in a microcosmic way on the once vibrant and verdant campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University. Led by a Vice Chancellor almost Shakespearean in his animus against the university in his charge, JNU has been on its own death march for the past three years. The university administration has declared war on students, faculty and non-teaching staff alike, attacking the institution from within on all fronts, ranging from the pedagogic, the intellectual and the ideological to the financial, the bureaucratic and the infrastructural. Teaching, learning and research are no longer permitted. A blanket of hazardous particulate matter coats the red brick buildings and the wild forest in which they are set; hapless denizens can scarcely remember what a normal academic year felt like.

    The most recent battlefront has been opened at JNU’s iconic gathering place: Ganga Dhaba, a nondescript tea-shop on the right soon after you enter the main gate, opposite Ganga Hostel. Don’t be fooled by the unassuming appearance of this spot, which you could easily miss if you didn’t already know it was there. The Dhaba is where students hang out, talk, argue, gossip, smoke, flirt, fight and grow up into articulate, opinionated adults, and have done for decades. It is the seedbed of JNU’s political culture and its argumentative nerve centre — the fountainhead of revolutions. For the very same reasons that students gravitate there, the current administration sees it as a threat to the BJP’s rightwing government and its Hindutva agenda.

    The university plans to shut down outlets such as the Ganga Dhaba construct a food court on the campus. This new structure will be sanitised, serving “clean” food and beverages, mirroring the drive to allow the circulation of only those ideas that the Modi regime considers palatable for India’s youth. Dust, flies, anti-nationals and mavericks: all will be evicted. Countless social scientists, journalists, activists and artists, all graduates of JNU, met their conversation partners and life partners at Ganga Dhaba: almost every one of these relationships, friendships and marriages broke the rules of caste, class, religion, language and region.

    Before it’s too late

    A crucible of diversity, dissent and solidarity, Ganga Dhaba, for all its apparent decrepitude, symbolises every value of a free, democratic and plural India that the current majoritarian dispensation is bent on destroying. Like the city of Delhi that surrounds it, JNU too is fast approaching the state of being lost. Can we attempt to save the city that is ours and the university that we love, before it is too late?

    Between rhetoric and reality

    What the conviction of Sajjan Kumar says about the Congress

    One of the low points in Parliament’s history is that when 2,733 Sikhs were massacred in three days in Delhi in November 1984, it did not pass any resolution condemning the killings or even condoling those deaths. This was despite the resolutions sponsored by the Rajiv Gandhi government in January 1985, within days of the formation of the eighth Lok Sabha, condoling Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the deaths in the Bhopal gas tragedy.

    The Misra commission

    The omission was compounded in February 1987 when an inquiry report on the 1984 carnage was tabled in Parliament. Misusing its brute majority, the Rajiv Gandhi government prevented any discussion on the report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission. This was despite its exoneration of the government and the Congress party and its leaders of any culpability. Such muzzling of Parliament betrayed the government’s own diffidence about the rigour of the clean chit procured by it from an inquiry conducted by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. Justice Misra went on to become the Chief Justice of India, the first Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and then a Congress party member of Rajya Sabha.

    It was not until the Manmohan Singh government tabled the report of another judicial inquiry into the same subject in August 2005 that Parliament had a discussion on the carnage. It was only because Parliament forced the government to accept the Justice G.T. Nanavati Commission’s findings that the FIR that has now resulted in Sajjan Kumar’s conviction — he was Congress MP from the Outer Delhi constituency in 1984 — came to be registered at that belated stage. Interestingly, the same judge who had conducted the second judicial inquiry into the 1984 carnage happened to probe the Gujarat 2002 riots as well. But when Justice Nanavati finally gave his report in November 2014 on the post-Godhra violence, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat did worse than what the Congress government at the Centre had done with the Misra report in 1987. The Nanavati report on the post-Godhra violence has not even been tabled in the Assembly.

    That is perhaps only to be expected from a party like the BJP as it is, anyway, perceived to be ideologically communal. How different though is the performance of the Congress, given its pretensions of being a legatee to the secularism of Gandhi and Nehru? The conviction of Kumar this week vindicates the perception that the Congress has a long record of being opportunistically communal. If it took 34 years to convict the first political leader for Delhi 1984, it has a lot to do with the Congress regime’s subversion of institutions to shield the culprits in the early years.

    To begin with, Rajiv Gandhi did not deem the carnage worthy of an inquiry as he called it a “dead issue”. After deriving political mileage from it in the 1984 Lok Sabha election and the set of Assembly polls in March 1985, he yielded to the inquiry demand as Akali Dal leader Sant Longowal had insisted on it as a pre-condition for talks on the raging Punjab crisis.

    A whitewash

    Set up as it was rather reluctantly, the Misra Commission conducted all its proceedings in camera. Under the shroud of secrecy, it produced a whitewash. While holding that the Congress and its leaders were blameless, it conceded that its workers might have, on their own, participated in the mass killings: “The Congress party at the lower level — like any political party anywhere — has loose ends and from the fact of participation of people belonging to the party at that level it is difficult to accept the stand that the Congress (I) party had either organised or participated as such in the riots.” Citing the evidence of stray incidents of pushback, Misra claimed that had the Congress party engineered the violence, the situation would have been so bad that neither the police nor civil society would have been effective anywhere in Delhi. “If the Congress (I) party or a powerful force in the party played any role, neither of these two elements could have functioned in the manner each of them has been ascribed.”

    Using party resolutions to disregard the allegations made by victims, Misra said: “In the face of these resolutions of November 1, 1984, by the Central and Union Territory party organs, it is indeed difficult to allege, much less discover, unseen hands of the party behind the violence perpetrated so dastardly.” He also set much store by the fact that several Sikhs belonging to the Congress party had not been spared during the carnage. “If the Congress (I) party or some of its highly placed leaders had set the rioters to operate, one would expect the Sikhs with Congress base and affinity to have escaped the depredation.” Kumar’s conviction confirms the tenuous basis on which the Congress and its leaders had been let off the hook in the first instance. More importantly, it exposes the wide gap between the rhetoric and reality of India’s Grand Old Party.

    Change in Mizoram

    The MNF faces the task of upgrading infrastructure and diversifying the economy

    In the din over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s losses to the Congress in three States in the Hindi heartland, the dismal defeat of the ruling Congress party to the Mizo National Front in Mizoram has gone insufficiently noticed. With this, the Congress has lost its last remaining State in the Northeast, a region in which it was traditionally dominant. The BJP managed to mark its first and only victory in the State by winning the Chakma refugee-dominated Tuichawng seat in south Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district. But the BJP will consider the MNF’s victory as a significant accretion to its set of fellow-travellers and alliance partners in the Northeast. The MNF is part of the North-East Democratic Alliance, an anti-Congress front formed by the BJP that includes all the other ruling parties in the region. While the MNF has come to power on its own, without an alliance with the BJP, its membership in the NEDA means it is an ally of the BJP for all practical purposes. Despite an improvement in social indices in the State over its decade-long tenure, the Congress was always expected to face an uphill task to retain power because of growing anti-incumbency sentiment following allegations of corruption in recent years. The MNF’s victory was also aided by its strong positions on total prohibition, a promise that carried a lot of weight with conservative and influential Christian civil society groups in the State, which had implicitly lent support to the party.

    The presence of the Zoram People’s Movement, a collective of seven parties formed just a few weeks before the Assembly elections, hit the Congress’s chances even more. The candidates of the ZPM contested as independents but garnered close to 23% of the vote, damaging the Congress in particular. The Congress’s vote share dipped to 30.2%, a 14 percentage point swing from its 44.6% share in 2013. The Congress’s total tally of five seats is its lowest-ever in the 40-member Mizoram Assembly. The MNF faces the task of diversifying the economy, given the disproportionately large section of the population dependent on agriculture and horticulture. The New Land Use Policy launched by the Congress did bring a significant pause to jhum cultivation (the practice of slash and burn), but fell short of encouraging sustainable agricultural practices as the scheme effectively provided patronage for commercial crop-growing by select beneficiaries. Mizoram has the potential to be a gateway in the Act East and BIMSTEC connectivity schemes to extend trade routes from the Northeast to Myanmar and onwards. But it requires better road connectivity and infrastructure. This should be an important priority for the new MNF government.

    Rights, revised

    Lok Sabha has passed a new Bill to protect transgender persons, but concerns remain

    The passage of a Bill in the Lok Sabha to secure the rights of transgender persons is a progressive step towards extending constitutional protection to this highly marginalised community. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2018, as passed, is an improved version of the legislation introduced two years ago. The earlier draft was widely perceived as falling short of the expectations of stakeholders and not adequately rights-based, as envisaged by the Supreme Court in its landmark decision on transgender rights in 2014. Experts, as well as the Standing Committee of Parliament on Social Justice and Empowerment, had criticised the original definition of ‘transgender persons’ for violating the right to self-determined identity. The revised definition omits the reference to a ‘neither male nor female’ formulation, and covers any person whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth, as well as transmen, transwomen, those with intersex variations, the gender-queer, and those who designate themselves based on socio-cultural identities such as hijra, aravani, kinner and jogta. The requirement that a district screening committee must recommend the issue of a certificate to each transgender may be necessary to prevent misuse, but such a process goes against the principle of self-identification, a key right the Supreme Court had protected. The government has omitted the need to go through the same screening committee to get a revised certificate after a transgender has sex reassignment surgery, but the medical certification requirement remains. Transgender persons may question the need for such external gate-keeping.

    There are other legitimate concerns in the revised Bill, which will now go to the Rajya Sabha. One refers to the bar on forcible separation of transgender persons from their families, except through court orders. It has been revised to cover transgender children. Earlier it covered adults as well, but the committee had noted that it was within the family that many transgender persons faced harassment and abuse, and often felt driven to flee their homes. Another concern is that the Bill criminalises begging by making it an offence for someone to compel or entice a transgender person into seeking alms. When begging itself is no more seen as an offence, it may harm the community if such a means of livelihood – in the absence of employment – is criminalised. The Bill, unfortunately, does not give effect to the far-reaching directive of the Supreme Court to grant backward class reservation to the transgender community. Nor have the Standing Committee’s concerns about recognising civil rights in marriage, divorce and adoption among them been addressed. There is much good intention behind the welfare provisions, but social legislation is much more than high-minded clauses. It needs to be followed up with zealous implementation and framing of deadlines to achieve specific objectives.

    We are not mere subjects of the state

    In a democracy, citizens have the freedom to criticise laws that violate their idea of dignity

    “It has become a fashion of the day to make a hue and cry about personal liberty,” the Maharashtra government lamented before the Supreme Court in early December. The government said this in response to activist Gautam Navlakha’s plea that his arrest by the State police in the Bhima Koregaon case was without sufficient evidence. The unease of the Maharashtra government with the idea of personal liberty should have caused alarm. Political parties should have critiqued it. After all, does not our system of parliamentary democracy depend on the idea of freedom of individuals to make their own choices independently, without restrictions from any authority? But nothing of that sort happened. There was hardly a murmur in the media. It almost seems as if we agree with the Maharashtra government that individual liberty is a luxury and is at the mercy of state authorities.

    Problem with individual liberty

    The Maharashtra government is neither the first nor alone in expressing its disquiet with the idea of individual liberty in recent times. Let us recall the argument of the Indian state in the Aadhaar case. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had said in 2017 that individuals cannot have an absolute right over their bodies and that such an idea was a “myth”. He also said that even if you would like to be forgotten, the state will not be willing to forget you. This is clearly a Kafkaesque expression. Not being allowed to get away from the gaze of the state is a surreal feeling, but this is where we seem to be heading. Being remembered is very often confused with being loved.

    Even before the arrest of the activists and the Aadhaar case, at a joint conference of Chief Justices of High Courts in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned judges not to let their orders be influenced by perceptions that are often driven by “five star activists”. Why did he choose to make the idea of an activist elitist?

    For the state, every individual has the potential to turn into an anti-state actor. That is the premise of extraordinary laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which criminalises even the intent to indulge in what the state perceives as unlawful. This is an excuse to rob a person of his or her individual liberty.

    Let us be honest in our arguments as well. There is no denying the fact that some of those arrested, not to forget Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba who is at present languishing in Nagpur Central Jail, do support Maoist ideas. But that cannot become an excuse to deprive them of their individual liberty. So long as they are not involved in any violent act, they cannot be stripped of their right to entertain and express their ideas. For many, the very idea of a Hindu Rashtra is as dangerous and anti-constitutional as the idea of an Islamic democracy or a Sikh nation, but you don’t jail them for espousing these ideas. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejected the suggestion by R.K. Karanjia that organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh should be banned for opposing the constitutional idea of India as a secular state. Nehru said ideas need to be fought with ideas and not with the coercive power of the state.

    Why? Because the state is also an idea or ideology backed by not only arms but also powered by the law. All states claim to have the best notion of goodness and welfare for their subjects. They try to implement laws that are seemingly non-violent and that are framed through consensus. But we know that such consensus is always temporary and can be subject to change.

    Democracy and subjectivity

    Do I have the freedom to criticise or challenge the idea of welfare and goodness propounded through these laws? If not, I am a mere subject of the state; I have not attained my subjectivity. The journey towards democracy is closely tied with the discovery and realisation of this subjectivity. For Karl Marx, capitalism is bad because it does not allow subjectivity to flourish, or because it deifies hierarchy in subjectivities. For him an ideal state would be one in which human beings self-govern or self-rule.

    The objective is to realise the essence of human nature. In this struggle is born the idea of individuality. It is a complex and relatively new notion for us humans who seem to be programmed to think that the standards of human nature are issued from some authority and we are simply its creatures. It is therefore not surprising that the transfer of loyalty from religion to nation is almost seamless. Or, that the nation itself replaces god. The state becomes the sole bearer of the idea of the nation and takes it upon itself to protect it from violators. To criticise the state thus becomes a blasphemous act.

    The state seeks to present itself as a living being. But Mahatma Gandhi rightly said that it is not superior to the individual since the state is a soulless machine whereas the individual has a soul. B.R. Ambedkar also unequivocally placed the individual not only above the state but also above society: “The aim and object of society is the growth of the individual and the development of his personality. Society is not above the individual.” Quoting Jacques Maritain, he said: “Man is an individual who holds himself in hand by his intelligence and his will; he exists not merely in a physical fashion. He has spiritual super-existence through knowledge and love, so that he is, in a way, a universe in himself, a microcosm, in which the great universe in its entirety can be encompassed through knowledge.” He added: “Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.” Of course, what one derives from this principle is that a noble society can only be a community of free individualities.

    The tension between the state or any authority and individuality will remain. A democratic state is not a citizenry which only has the freedom to elect lawmakers. It is more than that. It is one where citizens have the freedom to criticise and disobey laws that they find violating their idea of dignity and goodness.

    In a democracy, I attain my individuality by first recognising this right and then by expressing it. I don’t hand over my judgment to authorities. If the state seeks to restrict me, it becomes my holy duty to resist the state. Only by doing so can I proclaim my individuality.

    A river running dry

    The Ganga basin is becoming increasingly fragile with more and more hydropower projects coming up

    From aiming for Aviral Dhara (uninterrupted flow) of the Ganga to Nirmal Dhara (unpolluted flow), the government is now simply focussing on a Swachh Ganga (Clean Ganga). While the whole focus of the Clean Ganga project has been on setting up sewage treatments plants and cleaning ghats and banks, the main issue, which is that the river does not have adequate flow of water, has been ignored. With severe pollution destroying the river, and developmental projects critically affecting its flow, the Ganga is in a dire strait.

    A fragile region

    Today, several hydropower projects are mushrooming at the source of the river, which is the Garhwal range of the Himalayas. Unlike other ranges, the Garhwal is narrow. It is from here that many rivers and tributaries of the Ganga basin emerge. These spring- or glacier-fed rivers join one another at different points to form an intricate riverine ecosystem in the Himalayas. The entire basin falls in the seismic zone 4-5, and is highly prone to landslides and land subsidence.

    The understanding that hydropower projects mean development needs to change. To construct a hydropower project, large sections of land are cleared of forests. But what happens when such deforestation takes place in an already fragile mountain area? Many studies have been conducted near the existing dams along the course of the Ganga. The immediate impacts of these projects have been loss of agriculture, drying of water sources, and landslips. As construction in such projects progresses, there is also dumping of muck, which can pose severe threats. Muck dumping during construction of the Alaknanda hydropower project caused devastation downstream in Srinagar in the 2013 flash floods. Such muck is dumped either into the river or in forest areas. After all the massive deforestation, muck dumping, blasting and tunnelling, the hydropower projects thus constructed eventually dry up the river bed as the water is diverted into tunnels. This causes severe distress to aquatic life, and the river bed is no longer even wet in certain stretches. As the Ganga is diverted into long tunnels, de-silted, and directed to powerhouses to churn turbines and generate power, the barren landscape, dried water sources and the obscene muck slopes narrate a story of destruction. This is a far cry from the promise of development.

    The irony is that even after all this devastation, electricity is not generated as per the intended capacity. For example, the installed capacity of the Maneri dam is 90 MW but it only works at below 40% of its capacity. This is because there is too much silt during the monsoon and reduced flow of water in winters. As glaciers continue to retreat, the silt in the rivers is only going to increase. As the reason for diminished output is natural and not technical, and therefore cannot be remedied, this is only going to cause more problems for future projects. For example, the flow of debris was stopped by barrages in the Alaknanda hydropower project. This escalated the impact of the 2013 disaster, according to the expert committee of the Supreme Court.

    In the case of the Ganga, these projects also prevent sediments from going downstream. This affects the fertility of the delta downstream and also destroys the unique self-purifying properties of the Ganga.

    Reports of committees

    Twenty government committees and reports warn about the anthropogenic activities in these fragile areas and recommend conservation of these areas for food and water security. When the late G.D. Agarwal, crusader of the Ganga, fasted to invoke the government to act against these projects, the government proposed an e-flow notification for the Upper Ganga River Basin. It specified that during the dry season (November-March), 20% of monthly average flow has to be maintained, and during the monsoon season, 30% has to be maintained. The notification stated that existing hydel projects that do not meet e-flow norms must comply within three years. The 20% recommendation is less than the scientific recommendation of 50% (only for existing projects). If the government intended to rejuvenate the river, it would have specified that e-flows are only for existing projects. Instead it has opened the floodgates for several such projects as long as the compromised e-flows are maintained.

    The result of such a relentless push for hydropower projects is that only 80 km of a 2,500 km-long river now remains in the Aviral-Nirmal state. Unless we question these projects now, we will not be able to save the Ganga, the lifeline of millions of people.

    Chasing peace in Yemen

    The events that led to the Stockholm peace agreement, and the way forward

    What triggered the truce?

    The ceasefire between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in the port city of Hodeida came into existence on December 18. The agreement was reached in UN-mediated talks held in Stockholm earlier this month. At the time of the negotiations, the city was almost in the hands of the Saudi-led coalition. The coalition had blockaded the port, the main conduit for humanitarian aid to enter Yemen, for months, and the fighters, mostly UAE soldiers, were battling the rebels. But Saudi Arabia came under increased global pressure to stop fighting in Yemen after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul triggered a global outcry. The spotlight on Yemen and its deteriorating humanitarian situation has been so strong after the Khashoggi affair that even the U.S., which supports Riyadh in the war, cut down its involvement by ending refuelling of coalition aircraft. With the UN also pushing for talks, the Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia gave the green light for talks.

    How bad is Yemen’s humanitarian situation?

    Since the Saudi intervention in 2015, at least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen, according to the WHO. The widespread damage caused to infrastructure by the coalition airstrikes and lack of supplies of food and medicines due to the blockade have pushed Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe. About 12 million people are at the risk of starvation if aid doesn’t reach them fast. The country has also seen a massive cholera outbreak. A child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventable causes, says UNICEF.

    Why is Saudi Arabia in Yemen?

    Saudi Arabia interfered in Yemen after the Shia Houthi rebels captured Sana’a, the capital city, and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi moved to the country’s south. The Saudis accuse Iran of bankrolling the Houthis and “destabilising” the Arabian peninsula. The Saudi plan was to expel the Houthis from Sana’a and restore the authority of the government. But almost four years since they launched the attack, the Houthis still control Sana’a and much of the north of Yemen. They also fire short-range missiles across the border into Saudi Arabia, which has become a major security concern for Riyadh.

    Will the ceasefire last?

    Barring some violations, the ceasefire held on the second day on Wednesday. Both sides are under pressure. The war reached a stalemate long ago. The Houthis have seen loss of territory in recent months, while the Saudi coalition is facing growing international pressure. According to the agreement, all combatants should withdraw from Hodeida in 21 days. UN observers will set up a monitoring team of government and rebel representatives to oversee the truce. But the Stockholm agreement is primarily focussed on Yemen’s humanitarian conditions. That is why the ceasefire was agreed only in Hodeida. The question is whether the warring parties can extend the truce to other areas of conflict. Both parties are well-entrenched in Yemen’s fractured political landscape. A solution to the conflict can be found only if the rebels and the government make some political concessions.

    Befriend thy neighbour

    How India can develop deep collaborations with China, bypassing the West

    For a few years after it opened its doors to the world in the 1970s, China was still a socialist economy, unused to the ways of the capitalist world. My friend, Stefan Messman, a professor at Central European University, Budapest, and an authority on socialist law, was a key member of a Volkswagen team that finalised a deal with China. He was astonished at the kind of barters that had to be negotiated to set up a car plant in a country that had no market economy at that time.

    China has come a long way since then. Today, it is unrecognisably capitalist, albeit with a communist face. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) it is the dominant economic power in the world, directly competing with the U.S. for supremacy in science and technology. India ranks third in PPP.

    Rarely do we ask ourselves how a country that was no better off than India until the mid-1980s, and that suffered depredations under Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, has left India so far behind. Lacking good institutional mechanisms to understand China, Indians tend to fall for simplistic explanations such as, “We’re a democracy, China is not.” There is more to that country’s spectacular rise than just that one factor.

    For all its vaunted institutions, the West is yet to get a grip on China, but it is constantly seeking to solve the riddle of China’s rise. For example, a recent issue of The Economist examined “How the West Got China Wrong”, and Foreign Affairs magazine attempted to fathom “how China hid its global ambitions” in an article titled “The Stealth Superpower”. Even as the West continues to snarl at China, some of its best institutions and universities have collaborations with that country running into millions of dollars. Harvard University, for instance, has several ongoing programmes with the Chinese government as well as leading universities like Peking and Tsinghua in engineering, the sciences, management, environment, design and the humanities.

    Since science and technology are powering China’s growth, we need to make sense of those by setting up well-funded, world-class interdisciplinary centres not just in universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University but also in the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and the Indian Institutes of Technology which have the best technical and scientific minds in the country. Through these centres we should be able to arrive at our own in-depth understanding of China.

    The time is also right to launch a China-India version of the Needham-Cambridge study on science and technology in China, to take a dispassionate view of how our countries have evolved through history and how they can collaborate to make their rise environmentally sustainable and equitable.

    The writer has taught public policy and contemporary history at IISc Bengaluru