There are two aspects to the news- knowing the headline and understanding the intricacies of it. We at The Connectere focus on both. While The First Forum edition gives a brief about the headlines, The Weekly Analysis Edition is meant to educate the reader on what do various news mean and what are their intricacies. This initiative is meant to educate the reader on how to understand the important news. In the Twenty Fourth Edition we are covering the following news:
1. Supreme Court junks plea to postpone JEE, NEET & other entrance exams.
2. Row over the takeover of Thiruvananthapuram airport by Adani Group
3. The difference of opinion in Indian National Congress over leadership
4. Mali’s Military Coup following months of unrest
5. Congress alleges ruling party bias by Facebook following WSJ report
6. Sanctions by Pakistan on 88 terrorists fearing getting blacklisted
The Supreme Court, on the similar lines of Union Government has refused to entertain a petition by students to postpone the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) citing COVID-19 after recording the exam authorities assurance that all necessary precautions would be taken to keep safe the candidates who run into lakhs. The judgement given in this case has been vividly upheld for the conducting of other entrance exams as well such as Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) and MHCET.
The SC hearing on JEE Main and NEET had two pleas of different views regarding the postponement. While one petition was demanding the further postponement of JEE Main and NEET exam, the other was requesting no more delay in the entrance examination. Both parties were heard at the apex court and decision regarding JEE Main and NEET postponement was taken. Justice Arun Mishra headed the SC bench and Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava was representing the students and parents who had filed for the JEE Main and NEET postponement.
The Supreme Court’s point of view of “Life should go on ”, as quoted in its judgment as well, was warmly welcomed by a substantial set of parents and applicants as the Court took cognizance of the academic burden and pressure on the students. On the other hand, All India Students Association observed a hunger strike protesting against conducting all kinds of entrance exams amidst pandemic.
While the Union Government stands firm in support of the apex court’s orders, ensuring it’s trust in the guarantee of safety precautions being taken to conduct the exam, much heat has been drawn from other political parties. Many politicians have openly voiced their protest against conducting exams on a large scale during a pandemic. Much debate is also being centered around the overseas students, stuck abroad, who also have applied for given exams.
Almost 7 lakh applicants are set to appear for JEE, 17 lakh applicants for NEET, and thousands of others for other entrance exams. The authorities have a great responsibility to conduct these exams safely. As of now the exams are set to be conducted on their respective dates and students have already received admit cards however there is still a possibility that further course of action may change.
A political slugfest has erupted between the Centre and the Kerala state government over the privatization of Thiruvananthapuram airport in Kerala. The Centre has decided to lease out the operation, management and development of the airport to Adani Enterprises for a period of 50 years — a move being vehemently opposed by the state government.
The airport is being handed over to Adani Enterprises as the Centre had decided to lease out six airports in the country for their infrastructural development and AAI’s revenue enhancement on the lines of airports in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai etc. These airports being leased are that of Thiruvananthapuram, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Mangaluru and Guwahati through public-private partnership (PPP) to Adani Enterprises last year after the company emerged the highest bidder in a global competitive bidding process. Adani Enterprises outbid eight other companies in the process, including GMR Airports, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), Cochin International Airport Ltd and Zurich Airport, to win the rights to manage the six of these airports in February 2019.
Kerala government’s reservations date back to 2003, when it requested the Centre to include the state government whenever a decision to induct the private sector for managing the Thiruvananthapuram airport was taken. The Centre, at the time, assured the state that it would be consulted during the privatisation process. Thus shortly after the Union Cabinet approved leasing out the airport to Adani, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the Centre’s “unilateral decision” was against the wishes of the people of the state, and that “it will be difficult” for the state government to offer co-operation for implementation of the decision. Kerala also said its claim to manage the Thiruvananthapuram airport was rejected by the Centre even after it offered to match Adani’s bid.
After the Union Cabinet’s go-ahead to lease the airport out to Adani, an all-party meeting of the state opposed the Centre’s decision and sought revocation of privatisation of the Thiruvananthapuram airport to Adani.
Further, a petition was filed in the Kerala High Court last year, which was dismissed in December following which a special leave petition was filed in the Supreme Court. While both the High Court and the apex court did not grant a stay on the privatisation process. The Supreme Court remitted the matter back to the HC, which is yet to give its final decision.
The Centre has said the Union Cabinet’s approval was subject to the outcome of the writ petition. It also said that if the petitioners succeed and the outcome of litigation leads to annulment or cancellation of the bidding process, then Adani will hand over the possession of the airport back to AAI, which will be entitled to refund of the amount paid and additional investments made in the assets.
Twenty-three senior leaders of the Congress, including five former Chief Ministers, several members of the Congress Working Committee, sitting MPs, and former Union Ministers, had recently written to party chief Sonia Gandhi, calling for sweeping changes at every level. The letter had acknowledged that the youth of the country have unequivocally chosen Narendra Modi over the Congress, and underlined that the erosion of the party’s support base, and the loss of the confidence of the youth are matters of serious concern.
The letter, which is believed to have been sent a fortnight ago, amounts in effect, to a stinging indictment of the party’s current leadership.
The Significance of the letter written by the 23 leaders is that the letter is in many ways a pushback – and criticism of the present leadership. Leaders, both young and old, have flagged their concerns over a range of issues – from the uncertainty over the leadership and drift in the party to the delay in organisational appointments and the absence of free and frank discussions within the organisation. Congress leaders said the letter is in many ways a call for putting in place better systems in the party. Many of these leaders also said that it was about time that someone belled the cat.
Reacting to the move, initially Sonia Gandhi had offered to step down as interim president following a letter by more than 20 leaders demanding an “active, full-time and visible” president however by the end of the meeting she went with the support of majority others and was reinstated as the party chief until further notice for next 6 months. Former president Rahul Gandhi also launched a sharp attack against the signatories, questioning their timing, loyalty as well as the fact they went public with their grievances. He also rued the fact that the letter – seeking sweeping changes to the party organisation and elections to the CWC was written when Sonia Gandhi was in hospital and the party was battling a political crisis in Rajasthan.
Though a large section of the leaders backed Sonia Gandhi at the even-hour virtual meeting of the Congress’ highest decision making body to discuss the pivotal leadership issue, the fault lines were clear and appeared to deepen at some points as the day progressed.
On 18th August 2020, Mali, a West-African country witnessed yet another military coup by rebel military leaders forcing President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign from his position. This comes after months of large scale protests and anti-government rallies against corruption, disputed parliamentary elections and poor security in the country.
Despite being amongst the first to have a proper democratic government in the West-African region after its independence in 1960, Mali witnessed a military coup in 2012. Following the military coup of 2012, Mr. Keita came to power with a landslide victory having over 78% vote share in 2013. He emphasized and focused on zero tolerance for corruption and positive changes but Malians started viewing him with mistrust due to lack of steps and results. He was re-elected for a second turn in 2018, but many argue of an electoral fraud behind his victory. Political tension began ever since his 2018 victory. But protests escalated when the “June 5 Movement” led by the opposition coalition began, demanding the resignation of Mr. Keita over April 2020 parliamentary elections. The opposition protested against economic stagnation, president’s mishandling of crisis post-2012, brutal Islamist insurgency since 2012 in North Mali and argued the legitimacy of the elections after the constitutional court decided to overturn the results of 31 seats in favour of Keita’s party making it the largest bloc. The conflict between ethnic groups has resulted in the death of more than 500 civilians and 100 soldiers in 2020 itself.
Keita refused to step down despite the movement. Hence, the military came into action and forced Mr. Keita to resign vowing to conduct fresh elections similar to 2012-13 in a reasonable period. The soldiers of the coup who call themselves the National Committee for Salvation of the People announced the developments on state television. As soon as the news of Keita’s departure was announced, thousands took to streets of the capital to celebrate. However, Mali’s West-African neighbors threatened sanctions and border closures against the coup leaders. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded the immediate release of both Mr. Keita and the Prime Minister. French President Emmanuel Macron was amongst the first to condemn the mutiny. The U.S., China and the African Union have condemned the developments in Mali as well. The coup leaders have said that MINUSMA (UN Peacekeeping Force to stabilize the area), France’s Barkhane force, the G5 Sahel remain their partners.
Recent talks between a delegation of West African envoys and Military officers on resolving the political situation to return to civilian rule have ended without a deal. After several sessions, they have agreed upon several agreements but not on all issues. The mediation team from the regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) will now report to regional heads of state on the progress, said Colonel Wague. The West African leaders want President Keita to return to power but envoys from ECOWAS have failed to convince the military leaders who say that Keita resigned in his free will and has no aim of returning to power.
The Congress party recently alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and RSS, controls Facebook in India. They have also demanded a high-level enquiry alleging favorable treatment to the BJP on election-related issues by the social media giant. This comes after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report which alleges that Facebook is appeasing ruling parties in several countries by overlooking hate speeches from party leaders to secure its business and stay in a win-win situation.
The Wall Street Journal report that is based on interviews with unnamed insider employees said that company’s top lobbying Indian executive, Ankhi Das, intervened in the review process and opposed applying the company’s hate-speech rules on BJP’s Raja Singh over post targeting the Muslim Communities as traitors and at least three other Hindu nationalists for business prospects. Congress General Secretary, KC Venugopal, has written to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg alleging this bias by executives. “Your company may be a willing participant in thwarting the very rights and values that our founding leaders sacrificed their lives for”, Venugopal said in the letter. The party has asked Facebook to make public all instances of hate speech since 2014 and also proposed a new team for India operations during the inquiry period. A similar policy of appeasing the ruling party by Facebook has been observed in Germany, Singapore and Vietnam as well.
Rahul Gandhi responded with a tweet stating that fake news and hatred is being spread by the ruling party to which Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad gave sharp response reminding him of the opposition party’s alliance with Cambridge Analytica. India is Facebook’s biggest market with over 340 million users as of 2020, and its US$ 5.7 Billion investment in Reliance Jio are cited as business prospects behind the allegations of favoritism to ruling party. However, Facebook India Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan said that the company is against bias and denounces hate and bigotry in all forms. He stressed that Facebook has been an open and transparent platform for all to express their views. He said that the platform has removed and will keep on removing content that violates their community standards.
Facebook employees around the world are raising questions on adequate procedures and content regulation in India. According to Reuters, an open letter has been written by 11 employees to the leadership, which demands that the company denounce anti-Muslim bigotry and ensure consistency. “The Muslim community at Facebook would like to hear from Facebook leadership”, said the letter. In a recent development, the Congress party has formed a panel of at least four individuals informally to look into the matter. The panel comprises of 4 young lawyers who will be gathering information for deciding their next course of action.
In an attempt to avoid getting blacklisted by Paris based global terror financing watchdog- Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Pakistan on 18th August 2020 imposed sanctions on 88 new terrorists in compliance with the list issued by UNSC. Sanctions include assets freeze, the prohibition of transit via Pakistan, no procurement of weapons, and no direct transfer of funds. Much to the surprise, the list contains names and whereabouts of India’s most wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim whose presence in their country has always been denied by Pakistan. Apart from Dawood, the list includes Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed, Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, 26/11 accused Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi. Dawood’s details include his three Karachi based addresses along with his passport numbers of 9 Indian and 5 Pakistan passports.
FATF, which is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1989 by the G-7 countries for combating money laundering and terror financing had put Pakistan in its Grey List in June 2018. The countries in the Grey List face economic loss to which the Pakistani Foreign Minister has openly agreed. According to some estimates, Pakistan loses US$ 10 Billion annually as it is a part of the FATF Grey List. Pakistan had therefore been asked to implement a plan of action by the end of 2019. However, Pakistan had failed to check the flow of money to terror groups. Following this, it was given a final warning in February 2020 to complete the action points by June which got extended to September in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pakistan has borrowed US$ 30 Billion loans in the past two financial years of which US$ 13 Billion has been borrowed in 2020 itself. Recent strain with Saudi Arabia where the Kingdom immediately demanded US$ 1 Billion from its earlier loan of US$ 3 Billion and suspended the US$ 3.2 Billion Deferred Oil Payment option is a major economic setback for Pakistan. In such a scenario, falling in the blacklist which includes only Iran and North Korea will turn out to be a severe blow for the already struggling Pakistani Economy. International sanctions and major restrictions on imports and exports are bound to follow. Therefore, Pakistan eagerly needs a way out of the FATF Grey List which is reflected from its recent steps.
The FATF required Pakistan to comply with 27 action points of which Pakistan has complied with 14. On August 6, Pakistan submitted its first draft report to the joint group of FATF showing adherence to the remaining 13 action points. Pakistan would be sharing its final updated version of the progress report in the first week of September. The unimplemented 13 conditions include curbing terror financing, enforcement of the laws against forbidden organizations, and improving the legal systems. However, sources believe that this step by Pakistan to include Dawood will not be of much significance as he has not been put on Pakistan’s National Terror List – the National Counter Terrorism Authority.