1. A Patel at the helm: On change of guard in Gujarat

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

New CM of Gujarat

Effecting the fourth change of guard in a State this year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) replaced Vijay Rupani with Bhupendra Patel as Chief Minister in Gujarat on Sunday. Though the decision came out of the blue, intrigues that led to it had been gaining momentum for a while.

Caste dynamics

To keep it all under the wraps, the government in Gujarat went so far as arresting and sending to jail a journalist under sedition charges for reporting that a change of guard was on the cards. Patels or Patidars have been the backbone of the BJP in Gujarat, but the elevation of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister in 2001 unsettled the cozy relations between the community and the party. Anandiben Patel succeeded Mr. Modi after he became Prime Minister, but she did not last in office for long.

A partial ejection of Patels to accommodate a wider range of caste groups in its tent was the BJP approach under Mr. Modi and Amit Shah, and their national strategy mirrored this Gujarat experiment. The Patels in turn rebelled against the Modi-Shah axis several times in the last two decades. Mr. Rupani was less than impressive in administrative tasks or management of the social coalition. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed his failures starkly. With the Assembly elections looming, the Patels getting more restive, and the Aam Aadmi Party trying to emerge as a more viable opposition than the rudderless Congress, the BJP had to act.

The Chief Minister-designate is a first-time MLA who was elected from the constituency vacated by Ms. Patel. The change also underscores the high command culture that is now entrenched in the BJP.

The return of a Patel at the helm indicates a reversal of the BJP strategy of building coalitions of diverse caste groups under a leader from a marginal caste. Mr. Modi projected himself as a backward class leader in 2014, and subsequent choices in leadership at various levels largely followed this trend.

There have been exceptions, such as Yogi Adityanath, a Rajput, who was elected Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh. Within the party and outside of it, dominant castes have been resenting this and the BJP has now begun to feel the pressure. When it had to replace veteran warhorse B.S. Yediyurappa, a member of the dominant Lingayat community as Chief Minister in Karnataka, the BJP ensured that his successor was from the same community. The ongoing stand-off between the party and the Jat farmers in U.P. and Haryana is also indicative of the tension between the BJP and a dominant social group. The party’s Chief Minister in Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, is facing the heat. These communities are bargaining for a bigger share of power in the BJP’s Hindutva tent. The BJP is partially acting under pressure, but it may also be feeling more confident of the support of the marginal communities and poorer sections to accommodate its traditional supporters.

Source: The Hindu

2. Why is there a major container shortage, and what is its impact on international trade?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

The government is in talks with exporters to help them deal with an international container shortage that has led to freight rates rising by over 300 per cent in the past year for key shipping routes. We examine why there is a major container shortage and what the government can do to address the issue.

Why is there an international container shortage?

Experts note that the reduction in the number of shipping vessels operating as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to fewer empty containers being picked up, leaving many containers in inland depots and stuck at ports for long durations. Long waiting times at key ports such as those in the US due to congestion are also contributing to lengthening turnaround time for containers. A sustained global economic recovery has added to the impetus to trade. The lack of availability of containers and the faster than expected recovery in international trade has pushed up freight rates significantly over the past year with some key international routes even seeing an increase in freight rates of over 500 per cent compared to September last year.

How is the container shortage impacting Indian exporters?

Indian exporters are facing major delays in their shipments and consequent liquidity issues as they have to wait longer to receive payment for exported goods. Exporters noted that shipments that used to take 45 days are now taking 75-90 days leading to a 2-3 month delay in payments leading to liquidity crunch particularly for small exporters.

Additionally, structural problems such as the high turnaround time for ships in India also add to the container shortage issue that exporters are currently facing.

How can the government help address this issue?

Exporters are calling on the government to regulate the export of empty containers. Experts noted that some countries were willing to pay a premium for empty containers and that this was further adding to the container shortage. Exporters have asked the government to curb the export of empty containers at all Indian ports in line with a move by the Kolkata port to restrict the number of empty containers permitted to be exported to 100 per vessel for a three month period. Exporters are also calling on the government to release about 20,000 containers that have been abandoned or are detained by government agencies so that they can augment supply.

The Federation of Indian Export Organisations has also called on the government to notify a freight support scheme for all exports till the end of the fiscal when freight rates are expected to normalise.

Exporters are also asking the government to push back on a move by shipping lines to offer priority bookings at higher rates, asking that shipping lines revert to taking bookings on a first come first serve basis.

In the medium term, exporters have called on the government to take steps to boost the manufacturing of containers in India.

Source: The Indian Express

3. Battle of Saragarhi explained: When 21 men fought thousands

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; History

September 12 marks the 124th anniversary of the Battle of Saragarhi that has inspired a host of armies, books and films, both at home and abroad. What makes this battle unique? Why is it considered one of the finest last stands in the military history of the world?  What is the Battle of Saragarhi?

The Battle of Saragarhi is considered one of the finest last stands in the military history of the world. Twenty-one soldiers were pitted against over 8,000 Afridi and Orakzai tribals but they managed to hold the fort for seven hours. Though heavily outnumbered, the soldiers of 36th Sikhs (now 4 Sikh), led by Havildar Ishar Singh, fought till their last breath, killing 200 tribals and injuring 600.

In his book ‘The 36th Sikhs in the Tirah Campaign 1897-98 – Saragarhi and the defence of the Samana forts’, Punjab Chief Minister and military historian Capt Amarinder Singh writes that at the very outset of the battle, these soldiers knew they were looking at certain death but they did not flinch. “They could have surrendered, yet they didn’t and displayed unparalleled bravery.”

What was Saragarhi, and why was it important?

Saragarhi was the communication tower between Fort Lockhart and Fort Gulistan. The two forts in the rugged North West Frontier Province (NWFP), now in Pakistan. were built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh but renamed by the British. Though Saragarhi was usually manned by a platoon of 40 soldiers, on that fateful day, it was being held by only 21 soldiers from 36th Sikh (now 4 Sikh) and a non-combatant called Daad, a Pashtun who did odd jobs for the troops.

Saragarhi helped to link up the two important forts which housed a large number of British troops in the rugged terrain of NWFP.

Fort Lockhart was also home to families of British officers. The wife of the commanding officer of 36th Sikh, Lt Col John Haughton, was at the fort till May 1897 when she went home to deliver a baby.

What transpired on that day?

Around 9 am that day, the sentry at Saragarhi saw a thick haze of dust and soon realised that it was caused by a large army of tribals marching towards the fort. He estimated their number between 8,000 and 15,000.

The tribals wanted to isolate the two forts by cutting off the lines of communication between them.

Within minutes of sighting the tribal army, Sepoy Gurmukh Singh, 23, sent a message through the Morse code to commanding officer Lt Col Houghton, saying, “Enemy approaching the main gate…need reinforcement.”

Unfortunately, the Pathans had cut the supply route between Fort Lockhart and Saragarhi. Houghton radioed back, “Unable to breakthrough, hold position”. Sepoy Gurmukh Singh conveyed this message to platoon commander Havildar Ishar Singh. Fully aware of the consequences, the braveheart responded with a stoic, “Understood.”

Capt Amarinder says, “The soldiers at Saragarhi knew it was their last day, yet they didn’t flinch.”

Besides being outnumbered, what were the other challenges they faced?

Capt Jay Singh-Sohal, a British officer whose film ‘Saragarhi: The True Story’ is based on first-hand accounts of the battle, says, “The soldiers were not only outnumbered, they also had limited ammunition with around 400 rounds per man, one reason why Lt Col Haughton, urged them to use their fire-power carefully. “

The signalman Sepoy Gurmukh Singh was also short of hands. Sohal says the heliograph communication system, which uses sunlight and mirrors to flash messages via the Morse code, was usually operated by three men. While one sent the messages, the others would read the incoming message through binoculars, and the third would pen them down. On that day, Gurmukh was doing all three.

Who was Havildar Ishar Singh who led the troops?

Havildar Ishar Singh was born in a village near Jagraon. He joined the Punjab Frontier Force in his late teens after which he spent most of his time on various battlefields. Soon after it was raised in 1887, Ishar was drafted into the 36th Sikhs.

He was in his early 40s when he was given independent command of the Saragarhi post. He was married but the couple had no children.

Ishar Singh was quite a maverick who dared to disobey his superiors but he was loved by his men for whom he was always ready to go out on a limb.

Writing about him, Amarinder says: “While he will always be remembered for his gallant conduct at Saragarhi, within the regiment they will also rue the loss of their best illicit liquor producer, and a man who ‘borrowed’ meat on hoof for his men, when short of rations, from a neighbouring unit without asking them.”

Maj Gen James Lunt, a British military historian, wrote, “Ishar Singh was a somewhat turbulent character whose independent nature had brought him more than once into conflict with his military superiors. Thus Ishar Singh—in camp, a nuisance, in the field magnificent.”

Gurinderpal Singh Josan, chairman of the Saragarhi Foundation, who traced the families of the 21 soldiers, says despite receiving a huge tract of land, Ishar’s family fell on hard times after his death. His wife was killed by his brother who was then sent to Kala Pani (Andaman and Nicobar).

Naik Gurmukh Singh, the signaler, was the youngest and Naik Lal Singh, 47, the oldest of the 22 men at Saragarhi. Describing the last hour of the battle in his book, Capt Amarinder Singh writes: “Naik Lal Singh, though severely injured, was lying on his bed. Although unable to move, he was conscious and able to fire his weapon, and is reported to have kept up a steady fire, killing more pathans, as did Gurmukh Singh and Sep/Swpr Daad.”

Gurmukh continued to report the battle as it unfolded. And then finding the soldiers falling one by one, sent one final message: “Permission to join the battle, Sir.” The response in the affirmative came almost immediately.

Who was Daad?

Daad was the 22nd man, the non-combatant, in Saragarhi. In his book, Capt Amarinder called him the 22nd soldier. Sweeper Daad was from Nowshera, Pakistan. He was denied any honour though he also fought bravely, killing five men before being stabbed to death.

How was the news of the battle received in Britain?

Making a departure from the tradition of not giving gallantry medals posthumously, Queen Victoria awarded the 21 dead soldiers — leaving out the non-combatant — of the 36th Sikh the Indian Order of Merit (comparable with the Victoria Cross) along with two ‘marabas’ (50 acres) and Rs 500 each.

How are the slain soldiers remembered?

In 2017, the Punjab government decided to observe Saragarhi Day on September 12 as a holiday.

Even today the Khyber Scouts regiment of the Pakistani army mounts a guard and salutes the Saragarhi memorial close to Fort Lockhart.

The British, who regained control over the fort after a few days, used burnt bricks of Saragarhi to build an obelisk for the martyrs. They also commissioned gurdwaras at Amritsar and Ferozepur in their honour. Now Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee has named a hall after Saragarhi. Actor Akshay Kumar’s film Kesari was based loosely on the battle.

Source: The Indian Express

4. A selective nuclear policy- North Korea’s nuclear program

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; International relations

The resumption of North Korea’s largest fissile material production reactor, after operations were ceased in December 2018, has sparked speculation about its real and symbolic significance. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has underlined that the restart of activity in Yongbyon constitutes a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

This is the same reactor that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in a bilateral summit in 2019 with then U.S. President Donald Trump, offered to fully dismantle in exchange for securing complete relief from international economic sanctions, but to little avail. The ageing five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon complex has been central to the North Korean reprocessing of spent fuel rods to generate plutonium, besides the production of highly enriched uranium for the development of atomic bombs. But observers also point to the diversification of the country’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes to covert locations over time. Hence, they are cautious not to exaggerate the importance of the recent reopening.

Confusion over motives

Indeed, the opaque nature of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme partly accounts for the current confusion over the motives behind the restart of the reactor. In June 2008, in order to buttress its denuclearisation commitment to the U.S. and four other countries, Pyongyang blew up the cooling tower at the Yongbyon complex. The move did little to assuage the concerns of critics, either regarding the plutonium stockpile the regime had amassed or its engagement in clandestine nuclear proliferation.

But it nevertheless led former U.S. President George W. Bush to ease some sanctions against North Korea, which he had in 2002 dubbed part of the “axis of evil”. More controversial was Washington’s decision to revoke, less than two years after Pyongyang’s first nuclear explosion of 2006, the designation of “state sponsor of terrorism”. North Korea was placed on the terrorism list after the 1987 bombing of a South Korean airplane.

A few months after blowing up the cooling tower in 2008, Pyongyang barred IAEA inspectors access to its reprocessing plant in the Yongbyon complex and eventually expelled them the following April. In November 2010 American scientist Siegfried Hecker confirmed accounts that North Korea had rapidly built a uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.

The above sequence of developments was almost a rerun of events nearly a decade earlier. In 1994, Pyongyang barred IAEA access to the Yongbyon complex amid suspicions that the country was generating plutonium from spent fuel. The U.S. had initially planned pre-emptive precision strikes on the nuclear sites, but was deterred against such a misadventure by a blueprint for a peace deal brokered by President Jimmy Carter. The so-called 1994 Agreed Framework, an executive agreement signed by President Bill Clinton, required Pyongyang to freeze all nuclear activity and allow inspection of its military sites in return for the construction of two light water reactors. The accord broke down in 2002.

Pragmatic path

The Biden administration has adopted a pragmatic path of declaring its readiness to resume negotiations with Pyongyang without the grandiose distractions of the Trump era that amounted to exerting little diplomatic leverage. Meanwhile, Mr. Kim has spurned all such overtures until he can win concrete relief from sanctions, especially those relating to raw materials exports. Apart from the punitive impact of such measures on an impoverished people, the protracted stand-off over North Korea reinforces the hollowness of the doctrine of deterrence and begs the question whether proliferation can ever be prevented just because nuclear weapons states want to perpetuate their dominance. The UN treaty on complete abolition of atomic arms, whose deliberations were boycotted by all nuclear weapons states, is the morally superior alternative.

Source: The Hindu

5. Why is Nipah’s return in Kerala a cause for concern?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Kerala has reported a fatality from a case of infection by the Nipah virus in the northern district of Kozhikode bringing back memories of the chaos in May-June 2018 when the same district reported 18 confirmed cases of which there were 17 laboratory-confirmed deaths. It’s the high mortality associated with the virus that triggered panic across the State and the country and when it was controlled the State’s healthcare surveillance system came in for praise though, as it turned out, it was only a test-run for the pandemic of 2020. This time, of the 274 people identified as being among the primary contacts of the 12-year-old boy who died, 68 have tested negative. Close to 15,000 people who live within a three-kilometre radius of the boy’s family, too, are being surveyed for symptoms.

Have outbreaks been frequent?

The human Nipah virus, as it is called, is classified as an “emerging zoonotic disease”, meaning that it can transfer to people after being incubated in other species. It was first recognised in a large outbreak of 276 cases in Malaysia and Singapore from September 1998-1999.

Prior to the Kerala outbreak of 2018, there have been several Nipah virus outbreaks in Bangladesh with spillovers into India particularly in 2001 and 2007 at Siliguri and Nadia in West Bengal. During the outbreak in Siliguri, 33 health workers and hospital visitors became ill after exposure to patients hospitalised with Nipah virus illness. At least 70 people died in the outbreaks in these two districts. In the 2018 outbreak in Kerala, four from the family of the first person confirmed with the infection succumbed to the viral disease.

Where does the virus originate?

The Nipah virus (NiV) is classified as a “highly pathogenic paramyxovirus”, and handling it requires the highest grade of facilities called BS-4. The natural reservoir for the virus is large fruit bats of the Pteropus genus. From here the virus may pass on to pigs which may be infected after eating fruits that are bitten on by infected bats. It’s also possible for the virus to have jumped to humans from bats without pigs being involved, as in previous outbreaks in Bangladesh, via direct contact or through fruits contaminated by bats. Kerala has several fruit plantations that host several species of bats. While investigations are on to determine if there are infected bats in the districts, so far no evidence has emerged. In 2018 too, the animal source of the virus wasn’t established. The virus takes 6-21 days to incubate and manifest as disease. Unlike in the case of the coronavirus which is airborne and can spread across great distances, Nipah does not transmit efficiently. Contact with body fluids and an infected person’s respiratory droplets are the most common ways to catch an infection which explains why those who share a house or hospital facilities harbouring the infected patients are at the greatest risk.

What are the symptoms and how is it diagnosed?

Fever, delirium, severe weakness, headache, respiratory distress, cough, vomiting, muscle pain, convulsion and diarrhoea are the main symptoms. Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or respiratory diseases are common too, hence the 40%-75% fatality rate. Because of the lethality of the virus, very few Indian laboratories like the Pune-based National Institute of Virology are equipped to isolate the virus using cell culture methods. However, the virus’s presence in blood or saliva samples can be determined — like coronavirus tests — in commercial antibody tests that detect the presence of antibodies in the serum. Tests like RT-PCR, undertaken by commercial laboratories, can also be used to detect the virus.

What is the treatment protocol?

Currently, there is no known treatment or vaccine for either people or animals. Ribavirin, an antiviral, may have a role in reducing mortality among patients with encephalitis caused by the Nipah virus disease, according to a fact-sheet by the National Centre for Disease Control. The thrust of treatment relies on managing symptoms. There are, however, immunotherapeutic treatments (monoclonal antibody therapies) that are under development and evaluation. One such monoclonal antibody, m102.4, has completed Phase 1 clinical trials, and has been used on a compassionate use basis. In addition, the antiviral treatment Remdesivir has been effective in non-human primates when given as post-exposure prophylaxis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are no approved vaccines but recent studies have shown that a Covishield-like vaccine fully protected a small group of primates (Green African monkeys). Another vaccine candidate has been in preliminary human trials, with the results expected later this year.

Source: The Hindu

6. Why is the JioPhone Next delayed?

Relevant for GS Prelims

The launch of JioPhone Next, a smartphone out of the collaboration between Reliance Jio and Google, has been delayed by a few months on account of the semiconductor shortage and the two companies wanting to test the device further. Chip shortages, prevalent globally through the last year, have claimed several casualties across the smartphone and automobile industries.

What is the JioPhone Next?

JioPhone Next is a smartphone that will be powered by an optimised version of the Android Operating System, which includes features such as Google Assistant, automatic read-aloud and language translation for any on-screen text, a smart camera with India-centric filters. At the Reliance Industries annual general meeting June 24, the company’s Chairman Mukesh Ambani had said that JioPhone Next will be the “most affordable smartphone globally.”

Why the delay and when will it be launched?

In a joint statement Friday, Jio and Google said: “Both companies have begun testing JioPhone Next with a limited set of users for further refinement and are actively working to make it available more widely in time for the Diwali festive season. This additional time will also help mitigate the current industry-wide, global semiconductor shortages.”

Why is the world facing a shortage of semiconductors?

The chips, or semiconductors, which are the brain-centre of any electronic technology, have become a rare commodity in the post-Covid era. Several large factories in places like South Korea and Taiwan have shut down, creating a huge pent-up demand that these foundries were unable to satisfy after opening up.

On the one hand, the pandemic caused a surge in demand for electronic devices such as smartphones, laptop, computers, etc. The manufacturing and logistical bottlenecks meant the situation was only exacerbated.

The shortage that began last year is expected to go on till 2022. To prevent a future situation like this, a number of companies are planning to reduce their dependence on only a few large factories that supply to the whole world.

Source: The Indian Express