1. Making parties constitutional

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

A political party is an organised group of citizens who hold common views on governance and act as a political unit that seeks to obtain control of government with a view to further the agenda and policy they profess. They are indispensable links between the people and the representative machinery of government. Political parties maintain a continuous connection between the people and those who represent them either in government or in the opposition.

Political parties have extralegal growth in almost every democratic country. The American Constitution does not presume the existence of political parties. In Britain too, political parties are still unknown to the law. Nonetheless, Sir Ivor Jennings, in The British Constitution, opined that “a realistic survey of the British Constitution today must begin and end with parties and discuss them at length in the middle”. Similarly, political parties in India are extra-constitutional, but they are the breathing air of the political system.

The German model

The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949) gives constitutional status to political parties. Article 21 of the Basic Law deals with their status, rights, duties and functions. It provides: “(1) Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people. They may be freely established. Their internal organisation must conform to democratic principles. They must publicly account for their assets and for the sources and use of their funds. (2) Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional… (4) The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality… (5) Details shall be regulated by federal laws.” The German model of constitutionalising political parties is more desirable for India than the U.S. and the U.K. models. Section 29A(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is the only major statutory provision dealing with political parties in India. It orders that a political party shall bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, and to the principles of socialism, secularism and democracy, and would uphold the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

Political parties in developed nations maintain high levels of internal democracy. In the U.K., the Conservative Party has the National Conservative Convention as its top body. It has a Central Council and an Executive Committee. The Central Council elects its President, a Chairman and Vice Chairmen at its annual meeting. It also elects an Executive Committee which meets once a month. In the U.S., both the Democratic and the Republican Party have the National Committee as their top decision-making body. The National Committee plays an important role in the presidential election and agenda setting.

The Indian Constitution is the one of the longest Constitutions in the world. It even elaborately deals with the co-operative societies. The right to form co-operative societies is a fundamental right under Article 19 (1)(c), but the right to form political parties is not. It is astonishing that such a meticulous Constitution overlooked political parties, the vital players in the political system, for constitutional regulation. Most of the parties are openly caste- or religious-based. Their finances are dubious and opaque. Almost all the parties — the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, the Indian Union Muslim League, etc. — are family fiefdoms. The Congress high command is only a euphemism for the Gandhi family. There are no periodical in-party elections in Indian parties except in a few like the CPI(M).

Political parties are the agents of democracy and safety valves in the political system. They desperately need reform. Hence, it is high time to constitutionalise political parties to ensure in-party democracy, to impart transparency in their finances, and to de-communalise them.

Source: The Hindu

2. From Afghan withdrawal to AUKUS, a Biden doctrine takes shape

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

In early July, when the U.S. was fast-tracking the troop pullout from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden said, “America didn’t go to Afghanistan to nation-build”. He said the U.S. met its strategic objectives in Afghanistan — bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and disrupting al-Qaeda’s networks. On August 31, the last day of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Mr. Biden gave another statement, defending the pullout that led to a quick Taliban victory. He argued that continuing American troops indefinitely in Afghanistan did not serve the U.S.’s national interest. According to Mr. Biden, the era of military operations to remake other countries is over.

Pragmatic realism

An establishment Democrat with decades of experience in foreign policy, Mr. Biden had been a supporter of the U.S.’s regime-change wars. As a Senator, he voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion. He was number 2 in the Obama administration that invaded Libya in 2011. But now, Mr. Biden is distancing his administration from the liberal internationalism of his predecessors and, in a way, following Donald Trump’s strategic reluctance. Mr. Trump was the first American President in decades who did not start a new war. It was Mr. Trump who imposed trade tariffs on China ratcheting up tensions and reached a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. While Mr. Trump reined in America’s interventionist tendencies and turned the foreign policy focus towards China, his approach was largely transactional and with contradictions. Except on climate change, Mr. Biden hasn’t revoked any of Mr. Trump’s key foreign policy decisions. Rather, he appears to be offering a strategic framework based on pragmatic realism to what Mr. Trump began — the geopolitical contest with China.

In 2001, President George W. Bush launched the ‘global war on terror’. Mr. Obama continued it and Mr. Trump used it to target the Iranian power in West Asia. But Mr. Biden doesn’t believe that it’s the U.S.’s responsibility to defeat terrorism globally. What is America’s vital national interest in Afghanistan? he asked on August 30. “In my view, we only have one: to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland.” In effect, Mr. Biden is re-interpreting the war on terror as a war focused on preventing more attacks on the American homeland. This approach would allow the U.S. to retreat from other conflict theatres, especially in the Muslim world, and refocus its resources on tackling China’s rise.

The AUKUS alliance

The withdrawal from Afghanistan raised credibility questions on America’s power. There were criticisms that the U.S. abandoned its ally in Afghanistan — the Kabul government. But in Mr. Biden’s new realist world, supporting the Afghan government or fighting the Taliban endlessly doesn’t serve any national security purpose to America. But tackling China’s rise is vital to America’s interests because an increasingly powerful China could challenge the U.S.’s global pre-eminence. China has already established a domineering status in the Indo-Pacific. After completing the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Biden administration did not waste any time to announce its most ambitious new alliance — the AUKUS.

Under the AUKUS deal, announced on September 15, Australia would get nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S. and the U.K. Australia will also host American bombers on its territory and get access to advanced missile technology. Mr. Biden, by convening the first Quad summit of leaders from India, Australia and Japan, in March had signalled where his focus would be on. But Quad, which has been around for some time, hasn’t acquired any security dimension yet. AUKUS, on the other side, is Washington’s most emphatic effort to rebalance to the Indo-Pacific, a move that would harden the belief in Beijing that the U.S. was seeking to contain China. While Mr. Biden ruled out a new Cold War in his UNGA address on September 21, six days after the AUKUS announcement and three days before the first Quad in-person leaders’ summit, he left no ambiguity on what the focus of his foreign policy would be. It’s not war on terror; it’s not Russia, America’s traditional foe. It’s going to be China, and the new great power contest would unfold in the Indo-Pacific.

Challenges

The Biden policy is still in its early stage, and already faces several challenges. First, the U.S. is withdrawing from continental Asia without an alternative plan. It leaves a vacuum, which its competitors, including China, would try to fill in–something what’s happening in Afghanistan. Second, terrorism hasn’t been defeated, as the August 26 bombing at the Kabul airport showed, and would continue to pose security challenges. Third, the Iran nuclear issue remains unresolved, and Tehran now has little incentives to go back to the agreement. Fourth, China commands enormous economic clout, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S., while trying to beef up its security presence and commitment through AUKUS, is either reluctant or unable to match China’s economic clout in the region.

There is no effort from the Biden administration to rejoin the Pacific trade pact, which now China seeks to join in.

Lastly, the AUKUS agreement has caused rifts within the Atlantic alliance. The first sharp reaction to AUKUS came not from China but from France, which had signed an agreement for supplying diesel submarines to Australia. The deal is now dead, and France feels it was “stabbed in the back”. Mr. Biden is already witnessing a conflict between the new direction and the old realities.

Source: The Hindu

3. Australia to ease international border curbs from November

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International Relations

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday, October 1, 2021, announced an 18-month ban on Australians travelling abroad will be lifted from next month, easing one of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions imposed globally.

Reopening the international border for citizens and permanent residents will be linked to the establishment of home quarantine in Australia’s eight states and territories, Mr. Morrison said, meaning that some parts of the country will reopen sooner than others.

The first phase of the plan will focus on citizens and permanent residents being allowed to leave Australia, with further changes expected to permit foreign travellers to enter the country.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve save dlives,” Mr. Morrison said during a televised media conference. “We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country.”

Mr. Morrison slammed the international border shut in March 2020. Since then, only a limited number of people have been granted a permit to leave the country for critical business or humanitarian reasons.

Citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return from abroad, subject to quota limits and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense. There have also been a few high-profile exceptions granted for entry for business purposes, including Hollywood actors to film movies and TV shows.

Mr. Morrison said he expects the first home quarantine systems to be up and running in November, but the timetable will be set by individual states and territories.

He has previously said it wants all state and international borders reopened when the national vaccination rate for people aged over 16 reaches 80%, expected by the end of next month.

However, a Delta variant-fuelled outbreak that has lockeddown the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra forweeks has divided state and territory leaders. Some presiding over virus-free parts of the country have indicated they willdefy the federal plan.

New rules

Under the plan announced on Friday, Australians who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel abroad and complete a 7-day quarantine at home on their return. People who are not vaccinated will be required to undertake 14 days of quarantineat a hotel when they return.

Mr. Morrison said his government was working towards quarantinefree travel with countries such as New Zealand when “safe to doso”.

An Australian government source said plans were being discussed to allow foreign visitors to enter the country, but itwas not possible to yet state a timetable.

Vaccine approval

Australia’s strict border closure has been credited with keeping both fatalities and infections relatively low. It has recorded just over 107,000 COVID-19 cases and about 1,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The country on Friday reported 2,084 new COVID-19 cases, the bulk of which were detected in New South Wales and Victoria States. The results marked a small decline in case numbers from those reported one day earlier, but authorities warned against complacency.

Australia will also expand its list of authorised COVID-19 \vaccines, allowing thousands of citizens and permanent residents still abroad to return via the home quarantine system, Mr. Morrison said.

Australia currently only recognises vaccines produced byPfizer, Moderna and Astra Zeneca. Thesource said China’s Sinovac and Covishield, a version of Astra Zeneca’s vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, would be added to the list.

Source: The Hindu

4. Why Punjab, Haryana farmers are upset about paddy procurement delay

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The Centre has postponed paddy procurement from October 1 to October 11 in Punjab and Haryana, on the ground that heavy rainfall in these two states has delayed maturity of paddy and left the moisture content in fresh arrivals beyond the permissible limit. Farmers in both states have announced an agitation; in Haryana they said that they would gherao the homes of BJP leaders and take paddy-laden tractor trolleys there.

How much paddy have the two states grown?

The official dates for paddy sowing this year were June 10 in Punjab and June 15 in Haryana. This year, around 31 lakh hectares has come under paddy (non-basmati parmal rice) in the two states — around 25- 26 lakh hectares in Punjab and the rest in Haryana — and nearly 11-12 lakh hectares under basmati rice, including 4.61 lakh hectares in Punjab. Only the paddy crop is procured by the government on minimum support price, while basmati is purchased by private players/basmati exporters in both states.

At what time should the crop ideally mature?

Today, farmers opt for any of several short-duration varieties that offer high yield. Farmers mainly in Punjab prefer varieties that mature in 93 to 110 days — excluding a nursery period of 25-20 days when seeds are grown into young plants and then transplanted to the fields from the date fixed (June 10 and June 15). The shorter varieties will have started maturing by the end of September.

According to Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, over 70% of the paddy area in Punjab is under short-duration varieties now, with very little area under traditional varieties such as PUSA-44 that mature in 160 days.

Also, a combined around 6 lakh hectares in the two states is under direct seeding of rice (DSR). Although the formal date of DSR sowing was June 1, farmers sowed after May 20 itself, because DSR does not require a puddling process as well as stagnant water in the field at least for three weeks after sowing.

Why are farmers upset with the government move?

If farmers delay harvesting of already ripened crop by 11 days, the grain will fall from the panicle and the yield will go down. And if they sell it to private players, they will not be paid at the MSP of Rs 1,960 per quintal. Not many farmers have the capacity to store all their rice after harvesting it on time.

“By delaying procurement, the government wants farmers to sell already ripened crop to private players first, and only then will it enter the market,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharti Kisan union (BKU), Dakaunda. He noted that paddy procurement had never been delayed in the past, even after heavy rains in the entire first week of October in 2019.

Farmer Kirandeep Singh from Attari village in Amritsar said, “All my paddy on 16 acres is ready to harvest and I was waiting for October 1 to come. Now I am confused, because delayed harvesting would cause a loss of yield, and a private player offered me just Rs 1,500-1,600 per quintal, a loss of Rs 460-360 per quintal compared to MSP.”

Jagdeep Singh of Sangrur district said potato and green pea sowing, too, will be delayed as these are sown in the first week of October after paddy harvesting.

When all short- and long-duration varieties, which too will mature by October 15, reach the mandis on October 11, there would be a glut and hardly any place to keep the crop. Even when procurement follows the normal schedule, there are days when the mandis witness a glut.

What could be the post-harvesting complications?

Delayed procurement raises concerns about increased stubble burning this year. This is because farmers, who get only 20 to 25 days between paddy harvesting and wheat sowing to manage the paddy stubble during normal procurement time, will get only 9-15 days this.

To manage the stubble from over 3 million hectares in this time is just impossible, many of them said. Paddy harvesting takes 20 to 25 days and if farmers start it on October 11, it will stretch into the beginning of November.

The ideal time of wheat sowing is from November 1 to 15, and planting for normal varieties should not be done later than November 25. To clear the fields for wheat sowing, farmers are certain to go for burning of the paddy stubble, which stands 12 to 15 inches in the fields after harvesting.

Source: The Indian Express