News Wrap


Mohandas K Gandhi has long been associated with India’s homespun cloth, known as ‘‘Khadi’’. The father of independent India, sitting at a spinning wheel producing cotton thread, is an iconic image familiar to every Indian. It is a potent symbol protesting the purchase of British textile and British rule. Besides ‘‘Khadi’’, the picture of Gandhi at the spinning wheel, has over the years been adorning the annual calendar, published by Khadi and Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The government body was set up to promote the fabric. In 2017, the bespectacled leader sitting at a spinning wheel on the calendar’s cover was India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and not Gandhi. Opponents of the Prime Minister were outraged and equated Modi’s cover photo with blasphemy. A large number of the Khadi Commission’s employees staged a protest against the calendar in the second week of January 2017. There is however, no policy that mandated Gandhi appear on every calendar annually. Six publications of the Commission, have not included his image since 1996. Modi has worked to promote ‘‘Khadi’’, and sales of the textile had increased by a third from 2015 to 2016. Gandhi spun his own yard, and got his garments stitched of the ‘‘Khadi’’ cloth. The calendar was ‘‘a mere photo op’’.

Landmine Blasts
Odisha held panchayat elections in February 2017. Protesting against the panchayat elections, the Maoists blew up a landmine [on 01 February 2017], strategically planted beneath a culvert on the National Highway, close to the Odisha–Andhra Pradesh inter-state border. The blast blew up a police vehicle, killing seven police men, who were on way to Angul for training. It was a colossal failure of security intelligence. Though Odisha has fared commendably in terms of industrial investment, the predominantly rural state suffers from grinding poverty. After October 2016, the blasts were the first major strike by the left-wing extremists, when earlier around 31 activists were shot in a joint security operation, conducted by the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police, in Malkangiri district.

Kangpokpi in Manipur
With the sole objective of administrative convenience, the British in 1933 created Kangpokpi. Before Senapati district was formed in the 1970s in Manipur, most government offices were at Kangpokpi. The 1990s bloody Naga-Kuki ethnic clashes left more than 1000 dead. The Kukis were reluctant to go to Senapati headquarters, 16 km from Kangpokpi, to transact official business, or pay their taxes or revenues. Manipur’s former Chief Minister Ibobi upgraded Kangpokpi, 46 km from Imphal, to a separate district. The Manipur-based United Naga Council and the NSCN (IM) has imposed an economic blockade, on the state’s two national highways, since 01 November 2016. In December 2016, Kangpokpi was formalised as a separate district, along with six more newly created districts.
Bengal Budget

The Bengal budget proposes a plan outlay of Rs 64,733 crore in 2017-18. The budget lacks clear proposals to mop up additional resources, tax and revenue collections, employment generation and industrial investments in 2017-18. The debt burden continuing since pre-May 2016, a burden of Left Front government, is related to loans pertaining to small-scale savings which fall under a central government project. Bengal tops other states in small-scale savings sector. The central government rules of charging higher interest on loans from small-scale savings, has caused a huge debt burden on the state. Nothing tangible has been done, despite the 13th Finance Commission’s recommendation on this aspect. The budget does not mention [return of all recovered] money of chit funds to duped investors, and punishment of swindlers. The Economic Review states that Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) for 2016-17, at current and constant prices are expected to grow at 15.5% and 9.27%, respectively. Stamp duty has been rationalised to 2%, from the existing rate of 5 to 7%. The budget proposes a one-time grant of Rs 50,000 to about 50,000 skilled workers, who were forced to return to the state, owing to demonetisation. As demonetisation paralysed cooperative bank credit, a special assistance fund of Rs 100 crore has been proposed to enable farmers to procure agricultural inputs like fertilisers and seeds, on time.

Crack down on civil activists
Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Prime Minister Victor Orban leading the populist Hungarian right-wing government has begun a new crackdown on foreign-backed civil society groups in Hungary, including those funded by the billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros. Non Government Organisation (NGO) leaders are being forced to declare their personal assets, in the same way as MPs and public officials. The ‘intimidation’ of civil society groups and the newly published 2017 legislative agenda are attempts to transform Hungary into a self-styled ‘illiberal state’. Orban’s moves are allegedly designed to muzzle press freedom and curtail judiciary’s independence, since his Fidesz party took power in 2010. There are about 60 Hungarian groups which receive grants from Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Earlier, Orban received an Open Society grant himself to study politics at Oxford University’s Pembroke College in 1989. Some organisations in the NGO sector have had their tax numbers frozen, in effect crippling their ability to function. Bureaucratic moves on civil society groups are steering them away from playing a leading role in highlighting official corruption, defending refugees and migrants, and promoting human rights.

Vol. 49, No.38, Mar 26 - April 1, 2017