A pound of flesh to feed the poor

A few months ago, the most optimistic observers of international politics were not willing to hedge their bets on the Doha Development Round at the World Trade Organisation. The Doha Round negotiations have been stalled for more than a decade now — the West would like developing countries to remove import barriers while India, Brazil and China want the United States and the European Union to reduce the massive subsidies they provide to rich farmers. Neither side has conceded ground on its claims. But at the Bali Ministerial Conference this December, the U.S. will use a trump card to have its way with India and other emerging markets: our food security legislation. On the pretext of “allowing” India’s food security law to exist alongside its commitments to the WTO, the U.S. has wrested an in-principle agreement from New Delhi on the issue of “trade facilitation.” In other words, India has agreed to greater market access for western companies in order to ensure the survival of the Food Security Act.

On how the United Progressive Alliance is trading food security for market access by the West, here

Fair criticism of “Indian beauty”

(From ‘The Edit Room’)

The Hindu’s leader writers meet every day at noon in our Chennai office. The purpose of our meeting is two-fold: to identify crucial topics that merit an editorial and allot them to specific writers. The second is a rather straightforward process. Our team comprises writers who specialise in various topics, be it politics, science, the environment, sports, business, law or foreign policy – we are almost always sure who the best person to editorialise an issue is.

In this post, I want to focus on the first and most important part of our agenda. Which issues should the newspaper write editorials on? During a meeting last month, a colleague suggested we write a leader on the Miss America saga. Indian American Nina Davuluri’s achievement had been met by a barrage of patently racist commentary on social media. Indian media outlets had played the controversy up, with some turning the news of a beauty pageant into a peg for righteous outrage. Surely, The Hindu had something to say about it?

On the editorial debate around the Miss America episode, here

Delivering us from surveillance

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reluctance to raise the slightest murmur of protest against the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying excesses during his American trip leaves us with one question: will NSA surveillance continue unabated? India has displayed a stunning lack of political will to even broach the issue with Washington D.C. Perhaps, this was inevitable: a Prime Minister humiliated at home by his own party can hardly be expected to sour the one foreign policy achievement that defines his legacy. Dr. Singh was busy ensuring the India-U.S. nuclear deal is operationalised before he demits office to worry about concerns that actually affect the lives and businesses of Indians.

On the simple steps India can take to help rein in the NSA’s surveillance programmes, here.

Lessons in statecraft from the UN high table


Within hours of the time of writing, the United Nations Security Council will pass a resolution that not only paves the way for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons but also sets its crisis on track for a politically mediated settlement. For all intents and purposes, this will be the first time the Council would adopt substantive measures to tackle Syria, since conflict first broke out two years ago. The Council’s permanent members have signed off on the draft resolution, and its contents were discussed at a full-house meeting of all UNSC members on Thursday night. The UNSC draft resolution, which will be cleared without amendment, represents an unmitigated victory for Russian diplomacy: Moscow has extracted every pound of flesh from its bargain with the United States to destroy Syria’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and more.

On UNSCR 2118, which represents a major victory for Russia, here

Doing justice to an editorial

(The Hindu’s editorial blog, curated by me, is now online  thne.ws/editroom)

Earlier this month, The Hindu’s editorial board met to discuss the sentence handed down by the Juvenile Justice Board to the minor accused in the December 16, 2012 Delhi gang rape case. The editorial board was only too aware of a groundswell of public anger that had built up over the “lenient” 3-year sentence to the juvenile offender.

As our readers would know by now, three years in a remand home is the maximum punishment that can be imposed under the JJ Act. Much of the anger, therefore, had been channelled towards the Act itself: while some sections of society sought its amendment to lower the age of juveniles from 18, others wanted to increase its quantum of punishment for heinous crimes like murder and rape.

We were faced with this question: how should The Hindu respond to popular demands to “correct” the Act? Should we tap into this narrative and lend support to the amendment proposals?

Read the full post here

Folks in HYD welcome

Folks in HYD welcome

Endgame in Syria, for now

The United States and its Western allies have temporarily shelved their plan to attack Syria. On Tuesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his request to “postpone” a Congressional vote on authorising military force. His decision came after a day of intense diplomatic activity, triggered by Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international inspection and control.

Moscow’s initiative — engineered by its astute Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov — was eagerly accepted by the White House after it had become clear that U.S. legislators were going to turn down Mr. Obama’s request to bomb Syria. Mr. Lavrov’s masterstroke not only thwarted an imminent attack, but also allowed the Obama administration to wriggle out of the knot it had tied itself into. For its part, the Bashar al-Assad regime has shown approval of this proposal and has even promised to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires state parties to stop producing and gradually destroy their toxic munitions.

On the Russian checkmate in the Syrian chessboard, here

No better judge of this government

One late evening, on March 9, 1937, thousands of Americans turned their radios on to hear an unusual request from their President: help me “pack the Supreme Court” with judges who will rule in my favour. The United States had been ravaged by the Great Depression, and Franklin D. Roosevelt had a plan to save its economy. But the “New Deal,” as he called it, comprised a series of welfare legislation — designed to raise the minimum wage, enhance social security, and provide subsidies to American farmers — and President Roosevelt needed a pliant Court that would not strike it down. So he mooted the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill that would “retire” many of the sitting Supreme Court judges and replace them with appointees inclined to see the President’s actions in a kinder light. While Roosevelt’s intentions were noble, the public and the U.S. Congress saw right through his appeal — whatever the objective, the independence of the judiciary could not be compromised. Closer home, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has embarked on a similar, dangerous mission to clean up the mess it has left behind and protect its legacy at the cost of the Supreme Court’s credibility. Only this time, it may succeed.

On the Congress government’s attempt to “pack the Supreme Court” with pliant judges, here.