News Wrap


India has over 1900 political parties, which is the largest number in the world. But over 400 of them have never contested any election. They are suspected of being conduits for turning black money into white. Political parties enjoy income tax exemptions on contributions and donations. Most candidates report poll expenses that are only 50% of the limit. Malpractices such as bribing voters, distributing cash among voters, and paid political news are still not being treated as specific crimes and cognizable offences. Election rules stipulate that persons turning 18 in the course of a year, have to wait till January 01 of the next year, to be registered as voters. This deprives 1.5 crore to 2 crore youths who turn 18 years every year, from getting registered as voters. Except in Jammu and Kashmir, the Election Commission registers new voters only once a year. Boothwise declaration of leads during counting of votes affects voters in the hinterland. The winning candidate, as well as the runners-up obtain a clear idea about the segments of the constituency, which did not vote in their favour. Eventual winners could wreck vengeance by impeding development work in those segments.

Jayalalitha’s Politics of Excess
Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister late Jayalalitha has left legacies of government schemes for free or subsidised products and services, from her personified governmental brand ‘‘Amma’’. The goodies stretch from meals and water, to laptops and pharmaceuticals. Their ‘‘benefits’’ range from basics like food and water, to producer and consumer goods like seeds and kitchen appliances. The noon meal scheme of MGR drew children to schools. The Amma Unavagams 200-odd canteens in Chennai, prepare hot meals for thousands, and have emerged in enchancing Chennai’s inclusiveness. Administered by City Corporations across Tamil Nadu, and operated by Women’s Self Help Groups, the canteens employ between 4000 and 5000 women, at daily wages of Rs 300. The low priced meals are tasty and hygienically prepared. A cross-class clientele daily of over 3 lac customers are attracted, who include college students, office workers, domestic / construction / sanitary workers, migrants, homeless people and travellers. The canteens have become areas for social convergence, and receive an estimated annual Rs 20 crore in subsidies.

The Amma Kudineer, which is the subsidised sale of Amma-branded ‘‘mineral water’’ in 1 litre pet bottles, was launched in 2013. The scheme produces water at a 3 lac litres per day plant in Gummidipoondi, Tiruvaller district. Similar to other commercial bottling plants, the water is manufactured through Reverse Osmosis (RO), involving unsustainable withdrawal of ground water and wasteful use. For every gallon of water produced 3 litres of rejected water are dumped. The RO process actually demineralises water. The scheme sells drinking water at Rs 10 a litre, where the production costs of RO water is about Rs 4 a litre.

National anthem
After India–China war in 1962, Tagore’s anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was ordered to be played in cinemas across India. Its strains were ignored by movie-goers, and the practice was discontinued. On 29 November 2016, India’s Supreme Court has ordered cinema halls to play the National Anthem before film screenings to encourage citizens to ‘‘feel this is my country and this is my motherland’’. India’s cinema industry is once again drawn into disputes over patriotism and national identity. The panel of judges was responding to public interest litigation that claimed the National Anthem was being regularly dishonoured, including in cinemas. It was already required to be played before films in the states of Maharashtra and Goa. The Supreme Court stipulates that the Indian Flag should be displayed on screen; bans anybody from dramatising the National Song, printing it on an ‘‘undesirable object’’, singing an abridged version, or making money from it. Indians have been standing for the National Anthem when it plays before a speech or the Republic Day parade, or in schools. On 09 December 2016, the Supreme Court revised its order on the National Anthem, and exempted physically handicapped persons from standing before screening of a movie, and said theatre doors need not be bolted during the rendition.

After Fidel Castro
President Raul Castro at age 85, has vowed to step down in February 2018, during the next Cuban Communist Party Congress, though he would likely remain the Party Chief. Cuba’s next president is probably vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel, relatively young at 56, outside the small circle of guerilla war veterans, and not a Castro family member. Raul gave him a ringing endorsement when he named him vice president in 2013. Diaz-Canel, the electronics engineer is an advocate of a more critical press, and an opening of the internet on the island, where a tiny fraction of the population has web access, in the age of social media. He is from the central province of Villa Clara, and gradually worked his way up the echelons of Cuba’s single party, after entering the influential 15-member politburo. Fidel Castro remains an enduring icon of resistance, even among non-leftists. Amid a week of national mouring in Cuba, after the demise of Fidel Castro, the Cuban government launched a campaign to have millions of Cubans sign a pledge to be faithful to Fidel’s ‘‘ideas and our socialism’’. Cuba’s socialist bureaucracy is inherently opposed to change. On 28 November 2016, the first commercial flight from USA to Cuba, in more than 50 years, landed in Havana.

Marginalised Rohingyas
Even with rich natural resources, Myanmar has a per capita annual income of USD 1197 (in 2011). Its GDP grew by more than 7% in the last couple of years. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) launched in 1997, and the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor initiative launched in 1999 have high potential for economic advancement in the region. From 1978-79 and 1992-94, till today, Bangladesh is dealing with a flow of Rohingya Muslim Refugees from Myanmar. Several Burmese are reportedly working in Saudi Arabia as Bangladeshi labourers. Bangladesh has a 193 km long border with Myanmar. The victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the November 2015 elections in Myanmar, has not changed the political ideology of Myanmar, when dealing with Rohingya minority. The stateless ethnic minority Muslim Rohingya population has long been marginalised. They are the poorest community of Myanmar with little or no health, education and other basic facilities. Over the last eight months, Myanmar’s army is shooting the innocent Rohingya people of Rakhine state, burning their houses and abusing women and children. Some Buddhist monks are also taking part in the abuse of the Mulim Rohingyas. Thousands of Rohingya refugees are entering Bangladesh.

Vol. 49, No.36, Mar 12 - 18, 2017