Much has been written about the impact of Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown on India’s formal economy. But given that India’s informal economy employs nearly 90 percent of the country’s total employed population, it deserves some focus too. Since an overall evaluation of India’s informal economy would be too big a challenge, this article will only focus on informal workers and how they were impacted by Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown. Before moving on to implications, it is important to highlight the problems an informal sector employee faces even under normal, non-pandemic circumstances. The Informal sector workforce largely consists of economically marginalized sections of the Indian society. Owing to lack of government regulation and documentation, they don’t receive social security services, pension schemes, paid holidays and a whole host of other basic rights that a formal sector employee receives. In addition to all this, their job security practically doesn’t exist. They are employed and serve at the pleasure of the employer who can remove them from their jobs without any notice. In this context, let us study the problems they faced during and in the aftermath of the nationwide lockdown.
Author: Manraj Singh Page 1 of 3
The one word that defines him is curiosity. Always looking for new things to explore and learn. Apart from this, he is an avid debator which largely stems from his habit of reading voraciously. Currently pursuing Political Science (Hons.) at Ramjas College, Manraj is a movie buff and a huge football fan.
History is testament to the fact that despite elaborate legal instruments stressing the importance of civilian-military distinction in international warfare, common people continue to be disproportionately affected in conflict zones across the world. In order to confirm this hypothesis, one need not look beyond the barbaric atrocities of recent wars in Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan etc. Each of these conflicts brutally disrupted the lives of common people and forced many of them to seek new homes. As a result, from 2014 to 2019, millions of refugees from the Middle East and Africa made their way towards Europe, often undertaking perilous journeys through the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Those that survived this journey and made it ashore were often met with inhumane conditions, lack of employment opportunities and other problems that arise as a result of undocumented living. The incompetent and unsatisfactory response of the European Union, which was yet to completely recover from the Euro Zone debt crisis, coupled with the polarized political environment in many European States further compounded the problem. This article will be specifically addressing the political challenges, at both domestic and regional levels, that emerged during and in the aftermath of this crisis.
India is currently facing one of its worst NPA (Non-Performing Assets) crises in history. Due in equal measure, to bad policy choices and the pandemic, NPAs are expected to be 12.5 % of all bank loans by March next year. To put the scale of the crisis into perspective, the global average NPA to total loans ratio is about 3 percent. NPA ratio in countries like Australia, UK and Republic of Korea is less than 1 percent. The situation is so adverse that just a couple of years ago, India’s 4th largest private bank, Yes Bank, almost collapsed. But while the current crisis has been heavily documented, the NPA crisis from 1997 to 2002 has not received much attention by scholars and politicians alike. It is important to dissect the causes and effects of that crisis to effectively address the current one. This article will attempt to give a general outline of what transpired during those 5 years.
To say that the 2020 US presidential election was a roller-coaster ride would be an understatement. At the time of this writing, Donald Trump has still not conceded the election and continues to push an unfounded perception that the election was ‘stolen from him’. All of this comes after a bitterly personal battle during the election campaign where neither of the candidates pulled any punches while launching verbal tirades against each other. Observers are already calling it the most unusual and fiercely contested election that America has ever seen. But as far as personal rivalries and vote-related controversies are concerned, the election of 1960 far outweighs this year’s election. Two friends-turned-foes, who were opposites of each other in terms of both background and personality, went head-to-head in their quest to become the Leader of the Free World. This article will give a brief account of everything that transpired during the election of 1960.
It has now been more than a year since Coronavirus emerged in Wuhan. In the initial days, no one could have predicted the number of tears that would be shed as a direct result of this virus. While the global casualty figure is undoubtedly the most brutal manifestation of this virus’ notoriety, there are many more subtler ways in which it has wreaked havoc across the world. Disruption of day-to-day routines as well as the prevailing environment of uncertainty has devastated people psychologically. It is quite hard to name a sector whose day-to-day activities have not been compromised, or at least significantly altered, by the coronavirus pandemic. If students start making a list of the affected sectors and institutions, there is a good chance that the first item on the list would be ‘educational institutions’. With colleges closed and the academic calendars in limbo, the one thing that came to the rescue of students and teachers alike was online education.
“Man is, by nature, a political animal”-Aristotle
People who grow up in Indian households are told right from the get go that there is quite a neat distinction between ‘political’ acts and ‘sincere’ acts. Parents tend to paint politics as an avenue which is dirty, crooked, violent and one which is inhabited by fools. On the other hand, the ideal children are those who put their heads down and study hard even if it means being ignorant about the political happenings of the world. There is a fundamental flaw in this distinction.
In the much-anticipated Lok Sabha elections of 2014, the ruling Indian National Congress suffered an agonizingly crushing defeat at the hands of the Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party. The results, though not wholly unexpected, sent shockwaves in policy circles throughout the world. Eminent scholars and political scientists, both Indians and foreigners, scrambled to arrive at an explanation for the humiliating defeat of India’s Grand Old Party. After careful analysis, they echoed a unanimous opinion, one which is hard to disagree with i.e., the biggest factor in INC’s defeat was its disastrous and age-old romance with corruption. UPA-II had been rocked with one major corruption scandal after the other. Caught up between the CWG and 2G scams, senior party leaders could only watch helplessly as the credibility of their beloved party crumbled by the day. However, this wasn’t the first time Congress had tasted defeat in a General Election on the issue of corruption. In 1989, only one scandal had been enough to drive Congress out of power. Hence, this article will attempt to trace the origin of INC’s preoccupation with corruption by breaking down the first high-profile political scandal in Independent India’s history: The Bofors Scandal.
The story began on March 24th, 1986. On this day, a multi-million-dollar deal was signed between the Government of India and Bofors AB, a Swedish arms company which was one of the oldest and most reliable in the world. The deal included the sale of 410 155 mm Howitzer field guns. These guns were invaluable additions to the inventory of Indian army as they gave the country an edge in cross-border firing along the India-Pakistan border. It was one of the biggest military deals in India’s history as a result of which PM Rajiv Gandhi’s ever-increasing popularity received a further boost.
Sweden also had cause for celebration as it was the biggest arms deal in its history. Observers had been sceptical about Rajiv Gandhi, who had taken over the reins of the country in an almost monarchical dynastic succession after the untimely death of his mother, Indira Gandhi, in 1984. However, less than two years after his mother’s death, his handling of the INC had drawn plaudits from around the country and this deal was labelled as one of the biggest successes of his administration.
However, it all came crashing down a year later. On 16th April 1987, Dagens Eko, a Swedish news agency, made sensational allegations claiming that Bofors AB had paid bribes to various politicians of the Indian National Congress in order to secure the contract. These bribes hadn’t been dispatched to India but instead to certain Swiss Bank accounts held by these politicians. Even though this report escaped the notice of most Indian news agencies, Chitra Subramaniam, a correspondent of The Hindu, managed to hear about it in a radio broadcast while she was working on another story in Sweden.
What followed was a brave tale of investigative journalism which was riddled with all sorts of political pressures and threats. Chitra Subramaniam established contact with Sten Lindstorm, former chief of Swedish Police, who had originally leaked information regarding the scandal. She obtained around 350 documents from Lindstorm that outlined how Bofors AB had paid around 640 million rupees in kickbacks to Indian politicians in order to secure the contract. The story was published in The Hindu and caused an instant uproar among India’s political elite. Although not many observers believed this at that point, but this news story was the beginning of the end of Rajiv Gandhi’s administration.
As the vociferous rhetoric of the opposition parties gathered steam, all eyes were on the Indian Prime Minister. In the first parliamentary session following the revelations, he denied all allegations against his government in a staunch and unrelenting tone. But no one was convinced, least of all his own Defence Minister and close confidante, VP Singh. Being a seasoned politician with respect across the aisle, he sensed an opportunity and decided to resign from his post as well as the party.
He quickly formed his own party, Janata Party, which aimed to rally around the Bofors scandal in the hopes of toppling INC in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. Meanwhile, the pressure from the opposition parties and eminent newspapers led to the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee in 1987 to probe into these allegations. It was supposed to submit its report before the 1989 elections but due to intense pressure, it could not proceed with the investigations in an impartial manner. However, the mere speculation that his party may have unduly gained from the deal led to a sharp downfall in his popularity. As a result of this, Congress was thrown out of power in an emphatic fashion as VP Singh, heading a coalition of opposition parties and being supported by the BJP from the outside, emerged as the Prime Minister of India.
Since Congress was out of power, the stage was finally set for a credible investigation into the allegations. In January 1990, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed an FIR against Martin Ardbo (then president of Bofors AB) and alleged middlemen Win Chadda as well as the Hinduja brothers. It was claimed that these middlemen had acted as pivots while facilitating the informal contact between Congress politicians and Bofors.
However, the main middleman was alleged to be Ottavio Quattrocchi. He was an influential Italian businessman and was quite close to the Gandhi family. It was his alleged involvement in the case that led many to believe that Rajiv Gandhi had either benefitted or at least had possessed knowledge of what was going on. Less than 3 months after CBI began its enquiry, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE operative.
This horrific incident led to an outpouring of sympathy for the Gandhi family and as a result, the case was put on the back-burner. In addition to this, Congress came back into power under PV Narsimha Rao. However, more evidence was uncovered in 1997 when Swiss Bank agreed to declassify information about 500 accounts allegedly held under phony names by Congress politicians. This breakthrough gave a new impetus to the case and in 1999, when the BJP-led NDA was in power, CBI filed a charge-sheet against Rajiv Gandhi, Quattrocchi, SK Bhatnagar (former defence secretary), Hinduja brothers and Win Chadda.
While all of this was happening on the political front, the Bofor field guns had come in handy while subduing Pakistan in the Kargil War. But complications had arisen owing to a severe lack of spare parts. Due to this situation, the Indian government had decided to lift the ban that it had imposed on Bofors in the aftermath of the scandal. Let’s get back to the investigation. It seemed like the perpetrators would finally be penalised. However, that was not to be the case. Win Chadda and SK Bhatnagar passed away in the second half of 2001 while the case was still on in the Delhi High Court.
Then in 2002, Delhi HC decided to stop the proceedings in the case but this was overruled by the Supreme Court in 2003. However, bowhile the case resumed, Rajiv Gandhi was exonerated by Delhi HC in 2004 on the grounds of lack of evidence. In 2005, even the Hinduja Brothers were given a clean chit by the HC. The only potential perpetrator now left was Quattrocchi.
The Indian government tried really hard to have him extradited from Argentina in 2006 but the Argentine judge ruled against it. One of the major reasons why the extradition had not actualized was because Argentina and India did not have an extradition treaty so there was no established mechanism to facilitate the extradition. After this failed attempt, it was decided that pursuing Quattrocchi was proving to be quite costly for India (250 crore rupees had been spent on it) and hence this pursuit was dropped. While the case dragged on, Quattrocchi passed away in Milan in 2013. He was not the only one to die that day because with him died the possibility that a person would face jailtime for one of the biggest scandals in Indian history. The fact that the Bofors scandal was systematically buried by the system is one of the biggest blots on the legacy of independent India.
The other article in this series:
The past 20 years have witnessed a dramatic rise of corporate interest in European football. Football clubs have transformed from being community-owned organisations to full-blown capitalist entities owned by individuals or companies who have nothing to do with the game. Before explaining the 50+1 rule, the consequences of this transformation and how it fits into today’s topic, it is important to understand the historical significance of football clubs. Or to be more precise, what exactly have football clubs historically meant to common people?
In many European households that support their respective local clubs, football is almost as important as religion. If you head down the streets of any European city and visit such a household, you’ll realise that club kits and flags are treated as sacred symbols and every home fixture calls for a pilgrimage, yes that’s the word, to the local stadium.
What makes it even more special is that in most cases, this football fandom is intergenerational. Many contemporary local fans can testify to the fact that their grandfathers also supported their local clubs. Hence, the support of a club can be characterised as a tradition which must be carried forward at all costs.
For such fans, and there are many of them, trophies and winning is secondary. What matters most is having a sense of stability and familiarity in life which is provided to them by their constant, life-long support for a football club and everything associated with it. A decades-old stadium, an enduring philosophy and a distinct culture hold much more importance than a trophy which is bound to rust sooner or later.
After considering this, it is fair to state that every football club exists for, and because of, its fans. If the fans were to boycott a club, no amount of financial jockeying would be able to save it from imminent collapse since no one would watch that team play. This undisputed and supreme bond between the fans and a football club is the bedrock of Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule.
German football has always respected and valued this fan culture. The Bundesliga has one of Europe’s highest average attendances for its games primarily because of low ticket costs. In fact, Germany’s respect for football fans is so immense that up until 1998, no private investment in football clubs was allowed at all. The clubs were run as non-profit organisations by fan groups. Even though private investment was allowed after 1998, the DFB (Deutsche Fußball Bund) devised the 50+1 rule to ensure that the interests of fans don’t become subordinate to capitalist enterprises. The rule basically states that in order to be eligible to compete in Bundesliga (German domestic league system), a club must give its members a majority stake (50% shares +1 share) in its financial structure.
The average annual membership fee is around 30 to 60 Euros. This means that any middle-class person in Germany can easily become a member of the local football club and influence its decisions. One of Germany’s best clubs, Borussia Dortmund, has over 150,000 members. What purpose does this rule serve? Since the members have a majority stake in the club, all potential operational decisions need to get passed by the club membership. This usually occurs through a process of voting.
A proposed policy is put up on the agenda and all members have the right to vote on it. Only if the vote is favourable can the proposed policy be implemented. The club president is elected using the same procedure. However, there is a caveat in this rule. If a company or an individual has funded a club for more than 20 years, they can acquire a majority stake in the club. VFL Wolfsburg (owned by Volkswagen) and Bayer Leverkusen (owned by Bayer) are notable examples of clubs where the respective companies acquired a majority stake after substantially funding these clubs for 20 years.
It is clearly evident that this rule stands for democratization and respects the pivotal role of fans in European football. Despite claims that this rule harms German football by depriving clubs of potential capital worth billions, German clubs have performed reasonably well at the highest stage. In fact, just a week ago, Bayern Munich lifted the UEFA Champions League which is the ultimate achievement for all European teams. However, the revolutionary scale of the 50+1 rule can be properly understood only when we compare the financial structure of German and Non-German clubs.
Let’s start with the team which took on Bayern in this year’s Champions League final. About 10 years ago, Paris Saint Germain was languishing at 13th place in Ligue 1 (France’s domestic league). It was facing considerable financial debts, had no marquee player and no discernible international fan base. Notwithstanding, its fortunes were about to change. In 2011, Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) acquired a majority stake in the club.
What’s interesting is that QSI, being a state-owned organisation is under the direct authority of Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar. Hence, it won’t be far-fetched to claim that PSG is literally a capitalist extension of the state of Qatar. This takeover may have allowed PSG to win trophies and woo players like Beckham, Ibrahimovic, Neymar and Mbappe but it also meant that the power was concentrated in the hands of only one person who lives thousands of miles away from Paris with no direct link to the club’s culture. The fans of the club have no decision making power at all.
PSG is just one of the many examples where a football club has been taken over by capitalists who have no interest in the sport. One of the most famous clubs on the planet, Manchester United, is owned by The Glazer Family which is based in the United States of America. One of the members of this family openly admitted that it took him 3 years to wrap his head around the offside rule and that he still hadn’t fully understood it.
Another interesting story outlining the absurdity of capitalist expansion in football revolves around a Manchester City fan, Colin Shindler. He is a 71 years old professor of history who has been a lifelong fan of the club. Unfortunately, for most of his lifetime, Manchester City was overshadowed by its arch-nemesis and neighbour, Manchester United. So, in 1999, Shindler penned a book called ‘Manchester United Ruined My Life’, in which he spoke about his love for Manchester City and highlighted his frustration at United’s seemingly endless phase of dominance.
However, in 2008, Manchester City was acquired by UAE-based Abu Dhabi United Group. The owner of the group, Sheik Mansour, pumped in hundreds of millions of pounds into the club and completely transformed its stadium and training facilities. Within a short span of time, Manchester City had won their first Premier League title in 46 years and had developed an international fan base. Currently, Manchester City is one of the biggest clubs in the world and consistently performs better than Manchester United. Colin must be happy, right? Wrong. Instead, he wrote another book called ‘Manchester City Ruined My life’.
While it did not achieve as much publicity as its predecessor, the book outlined his disgust at the radical changes that Sheikh Mansour had made at the club. Even though Manchester City won trophies, Colin claimed that the decades-old philosophy and structures of the club had been dismantled and he felt a sense of disenchantment with the new project.
After considering all these examples, it is easy to appreciate the ethical basis of the 50+1 rule. However, it has had its fair share of problems. For starters, a German club called RB Leipzig was able to exploit a lot of loopholes to its benefit. RB Leipzig is owned by the Austrian soft drink giant, Red Bull. In order to bypass the 50+1 rule, RB Leipzig kept the annual membership fee so high (600 euros) that no rational person wanted to become a member.
As a result, for a long time, the club only had 17 members and all of them were Red Bull employees! So, RB Leipzig was under the direct control of a capitalist enterprise which is a big no-no in the eyes of German football fans and a clear dereliction of the spirit of the 50+1 rule. On top of that, this club has risen quite rapidly in German football and, in addition to being placed third in Bundesliga, was also a semi-finalist in the UEFA Champions League this season.
These achievements are amazingly remarkable especially after considering that RB Leipzig was founded only in 2009. Many critics of the rule, such as former Hannover 96 president Martin Kind, claim that it stops German clubs from competing at the top level against the best clubs of Europe. For these critics, RB Leipzig is the perfect symbol of the potential success that German clubs can achieve if the rule is lifted.
Apart from this argument, many critics claim that scrapping this rule will pull out a lot of clubs from the quagmire of financial insecurity. Nearly 13 out of the 36 clubs making up the top two divisions of German football almost went bankrupt due to the pandemic. This prompted Herbert Hainer, Bayern Munich’s president, to claim that the rule must be lifted as strong private investors will have the capability to bail German clubs out of such sticky situations; but the fans remain adamant and firm in their protection of this rule and any attempts to tweak it is met by fierce protests.
The chief executive of DFB, Christian Seifert, has suggested establishing a task force to investigate possibilities for any future change to the rule but no further action has been taken against it. The drama is just beginning and one can expect to hear about the 50+1 rule on a regular basis from now on as the debate around it intensifies.