News Wrap


A Delhi High Court ruling (2014) held both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress guilty for violating Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) rules, by accepting funds from two Indian subsidiaries of the London headquartered Vedanta Group. Penalties include imprisonment of between three and five years and a fine, or both. A Supreme Court appeal is pending, and the Apex Court is yet to stay the High Court’s decision. Parliament’s Finance Bill has retrospectively amended a clause in the FCRA. To apply from 2010, donations to political parties by Indian companies with foreign direct investment within mandated sectorial limits, will no longer be considered ‘‘foreign contributions’’. Prior to the amendment, the FCRA bans political parties from receiving funds from a foreign entity, which is defined as one where 50% or more equity is owned by a foreign enterprise. The Finance Bill (2016) is a Money Bill under the Indian Constitution, and the Rajya Sabha can neither amend nor reject the Bill, once passed by the Lok Sabha, nor can it be referred to a Joint Committee of the Houses. Retrospectively amending the FCRA provisions enables both the major political parties off the hook.

Fastest Growing
Helped by falling oil prices, rapid consumer price inflation is down from above 10% in 2013, to about 6% in 2016. The Central Government’s fiscal deficit is forecast to fall from 4.5% of gross domestic product in 2013-14, to 3.5% for 2016-17 (April to March). The economy grew only 5.3% in 2012-13. This is forecast to reach 7.5% in 2015-16. The Reserve Bank of India is expected to cut interest rates below present 6.75% in the next few months. Exports, stagnant for years, are now falling. Credit growth has slowed sharply. Gross investment fell from 39% of GDP (2011-12) to 34.2% in 2014-15. GDP per head (at purchasing power parity) is just 11% of US levels, against China’s 25%. Closing down business and laying off workers is extremely difficult.

Obama in Cuba
During the first visit to Havana by an American President in 88 years, President Barack Obama in March 2016 was confronted by the Cuban President Raul Castro’s demand for the return of Guantanamo Bay to Cuban sovereignty, and an end to the US trade ‘‘embargo’’. The Cuban leader declared that the economic opportunities offered by the US, in exchange for warmer relations were ‘‘insufficient’’. He also rejected American pressure on Cuba to improve its human rights record. He criticised USA for not guaranteeing universal health care, social security and equal pay. USA seized Guantanamo Bay, a deep sea port during the war against Spain in 1898, and has been leasing it for a peppercorn rent since 1903. The US treasury sends a cheque for $4080 every year to Cuba, which Fidel Castro and Raul Castro have been refusing to cash in since their revolution in 1958. The naval base also houses the detention centre that Mr Obama promised to close, after he came to power, but has so far failed to do so. Some 800 prisoners have passed through the gates of the facility at Guantanamo, located on Cuban territory. Today only 91 remain, 35 of whom have been approved for transfer to other countries. Mr Obama laid a wreath at a memorial to Jose Marti, a 19th century revolutionary hero, who is revered by pro-Castro communists, dissidents and exiles. On Friday 25 March 2016, an estimated 500,000 fans watched a historic free Rolling Stones concert in Havana, where rock music was banned until the turn of the century.

Razing Palestinian Homes
Since the beginning of February 2016, Israeli military have been demolishing scores of Palestinian homes, in impoverished West Bank villages, including structures that were home to more than 100 people. The demolitions are occurring in an Israeli designated military area, known as Firing Zone 918, which comprises some 115 square miles, and was declared restricted area by the Israelis in the 1970s. The Israeli action came despite a long running high profile campaign to protest the eight villages in the zone, including a petition signed by some of the world’s most famous authors. Arguing it is illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory, human rights groups have repeatedly challenged Israel’s claim to the land. Israeli bulldozers moved into Khirbet Jenbah and the nearby Hamlet of Khirbal el-Halawa, destroying homes as well as other structures, some of them funded by European countries, including the United Kingdom. Among the 200 people made homeless were dozens of children from different families. Many of the homes are attached to caves also used as houses. Families have been living on the land since long before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967. Villages such as Jenbah are some of the poorest in the West Bank, unconnected to the grid, and rely on donated solar panels, some of which were destroyed by the Israeli army. Khirbet Jenbah was demolished in 1999. The villagers, however, returned and won a court ruling allowing them to stay on the land, if they agreed to arbitration with the military. The state of Israel has declared that arbitration has failed because of the villagers’ unwillingness to relocate.

Scholars confront ISIS
Almost the first time that Muslim leaders have tackled the threat of extremist ideology head-on, the Marrakesh declaration calls for a less aggressive theology, that can live comfortably with the modern world. Denouncing intolerance and extremism, Muslim scholars from around the world have recently published a strongly worded demand that Christians and other minorities should be free to worship in Muslim countries. More and more Muslim leaders understand the threat to Islam itself from association with the violence, intolerance and extremism of ISIS, and are determined to reassert a less aggressive theology. The Marrakesh declaration of January 2016 in Morocco has demands based on the Medina charter of 1400 years ago, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all. Scholars from 120 countries were joined by Christian leaders from Iraq and other countries, where Christians face persecution. A decree of 1258 ended the practice of ijtihad, the right of scholars to interpret the Koran, in the light of current thinking and circumstances. Jamal al-Suwaidi, director, Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, a state-funded think-tank in Abu Dhabi, says in a book called ‘‘Mirage’’ that Islamism is an illusion sold by political and religious groups, who exploit it for partisan and personal interests. Conservative critics dismiss debates between Islam and modernity as by-products of western education.

Vol. 48, No. 47, May 29 - Jun 4, 2016