a)  In a foreign policy haze

In an ambitious statement ahead of his visit to India this week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set the course for India-U.S. relations going ahead, mapping convergences in connectivity, trade and economics and counter-terrorism cooperation. He said the “most profound transformation” was their growing strategic convergence, and agreed that “the world’s two greatest democracies should have the two greatest militaries.” His comments were welcomed in New Delhi, especially as they contained several broadsides on China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific and on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India has fiercely opposed. He also displayed a keen understanding of India’s strengths as a “diverse, dynamic, and pluralistic” democracy.

Hold the enthusiasm

Despite Mr. Tillerson’s effusive words, however, it may be necessary to curb any enthusiasm until the U.S. policy compass itself is more settled, given that the policies of the Trump administration have thus far defied a clear reading. Worse, they have sent out confusing signals, with policy, public statements, and Twitter bursts often contradicting each other. A case in point was the Coleman hostage release story last week, that led to a slew of statements on the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan. Just days before U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford had told a Senate armed service committee that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has proven links to terror groups and suggested the partnership with Pakistan was all but over. After the release, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was beginning to “develop a much better relationship with Pakistan and its leaders”. Shortly after, his Chief of Staff John Kelly referred to Pakistan as a “great partner”, while Mr. Tillerson said Pakistan was critical to regional stability. Yet, reports that the raid by Pakistan had come not through intelligence cooperation but coercion — a team of Navy Seals had threatened to go in, Zero Dark Thirty-style, if Pakistani forces didn’t rescue the five-member Coleman family before they were transferred across the border with Afghanistan — called into question these fulsome words of praise. Even more confusing were the actions. As U.S. forces resumed drone strikes in the Af-Pak region, their big kill was Omar Khalid Khorasani, the leader of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which targets Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. rejoined the Pakistani-led Quadrilateral Coordination Group along with Afghanistan and China, that seeks to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table for talks, a group that’s carried out deadly attacks across Afghanistan just last week. As a result, it may seem that the U.S.’s South Asia policy has mixed up its carrots and sticks in the Af-Pak region.

The Pakistan line

For India, it is disappointing that Washington has not been similarly pro-active in condemning the Pakistan government’s decision to drop terrorism charges and paving the way for 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed’s release from detention, while it is hoped that Mr. Tillerson will make those statements in Islamabad. Instead, Mr. Tillerson appears to be keen on brokering dialogue between India and Pakistan, saying that he hopes to “ease tensions along their border.” Some of the confusion in public statements clearly stems from the ‘disconnect’ in Washington, with the White House, the U.S. military establishment, and the State Department on different pages. It is no secret that Mr. Trump, Mr. Tillerson and other decision makers have often been at odds over policies on Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Qatar, climate change, etc. In an interview last week Mr. Tillerson admitted to the differences, and even that he was often informed of presidential policy by tweet. “I wake up the next morning, the President’s got a tweet out there,” Mr. Tillerson told The New York Times, a circumstance that saw the U.S. President praise Saudi Arabia for its moves to isolate Qatar, even as Mr. Tillerson travelled there to play the part of neutral mediator. Similarly, during American talks with North Korea, Mr. Trump all but scuttled Mr. Tillerson’s efforts with a tweet that said he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man”. Several American media outlets have confirmed that Mr. Tillerson wanted to resign in July, and called Mr. Trump a “moron”, and even as he headed out to West Asia and South Asia, at least one national daily speculated that he would quit within the week. While the U.S.’s internal politics should not, normally, concern others, the fact is that this level of instability and incoherence in foreign policy is unprecedented. The contradiction in U.S. policies is even more significant for India, as the two policies announced by Mr. Trump for the region, his South Asia policy for Afghanistan and his policy on Iran, are at odds with each other. According to Mr. Trump’s Iran strategy, announced on October 13, the U.S. will increase sanctions on Iran to ensure it can no longer “finance terror”, while refusing to certify its nuclear programme as required. Theoretically, this may not mean much to India. Practically, it will have a three-fold effect. To begin with, trade with Iran, which is already constrained by previous U.S. sanctions and diktats, will be very hard to enlarge. At present only a couple of Indian banks and almost no European banks can be used for non-oil trade, and Mr. Trump’s statement will ensure few others will venture to do so. Indian oil imports from Iran have also been decreasing, mainly due to American pressure.

The Chabahar question

Second, if Iran is unable to conduct more trade, it will have less incentive to focus on the new Chabahar port over the pre-existing trade through Bandar Abbas. This would certainly impact India’s plans for connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It also remains to be seen whether the Trump administration would countenance Indian investment in Chabahar, the development of the railways through to Zahedan, and regular trade through Iran in order to increase assistance to Afghanistan, as the U.S.’s South Asia policy encourages, given the tough language it has employed in its Iran strategy. What guarantees would there be that Mr. Trump, who is willing to overturn the Iran nuclear deal, would not expect friendly countries like India to follow suit in helping ‘squeeze’ Iran? As Mr. Tillerson touches down in Delhi for his first visit to the region as Secretary of State, New Delhi must prepare for the challenges ahead with this wobbly compass in hand. The government has a multi-fold challenge before it, to address its concerns on all these issues, while keeping the focus on the India-U.S. bilateral relationship, which is largely more beneficial for India. This will be yet more complicated as Delhi hosts Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the same day that Mr. Tillerson arrives, and the talks could give the appearance of a trilateral. As Mr. Tillerson travels to Delhi from Islamabad, he will also carry the Pakistan perspective to his talks, a scenario of ‘hyphenation’ India had previously worked hard to avoid. In the absence of a clearer path ahead for the Trump administration, New Delhi should proceed with caution, before being drawn into the larger strategic web that the U.S. wishes to weave, both in the Af-Pak and Indo-Pacific regions.

a)  Unacceptable fetters

The Rajasthan ordinance making it a punishable offence to disclose the names of public servants facing allegations of corruption before the government grants formal sanction to prosecute them is a grave threat to media freedom and the public’s right to know. In recent times, the legislative mood is consolidating towards adding more layers of protection to officials from corruption cases. While no one can object to genuine measures aimed at insulating honest officials from frivolous or motivated charges of wrong-doing, there can be no justification for the Vasundhara Raje government to prescribe a two-year prison term for disclosing the identity of the public servants concerned. Section 228-B, the newly introduced Indian Penal Code offence that relates to acts done in the course of discharging official functions, is a direct threat to the functioning of the media and whistle-blowers. It is a patently unreasonable restriction on legitimate journalism and activism against venality. In addition, the Criminal Laws (Rajasthan Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 fetters judicial magistrates from ordering an investigation without prior sanction, as an additional shield for public servants who already enjoy the protection of Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which make prior sanction mandatory before a court can take cognizance of a case. It may even paralyse an impending probe, as no investigating agency can approach a sanctioning authority without gathering any material. This is the first time a section prescribing punishment for disclosure is being introduced in India, though provisions barring investigation or prosecution without prior sanction are also in force in Maharashtra. However, the time limit for the sanctioning authority to act is 180 days in Rajasthan, and 90 days in Maharashtra. The Union government, too, has a set of amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act pending since 2013, including a proviso for prior sanction. The Supreme Court verdict of May 2014 striking down a statutory provision for prior government clearance for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe against officials of the rank of joint secretary and above is the touchstone against which the constitutionality of the pre-investigation sanction requirement will be tested. The court had observed that such a provision destroys the objective of anti-corruption legislation, blocks the truth from surfacing, thwarts independent investigation and forewarns corrupt officers. Anti-corruption legislation in India seems to be in a state of unacceptable ux. Amendments, including those redefining criminal misconduct among public servants so that bona fide decisions by officials do not result in corruption charges, are yet to be passed. The Lokpal Act is yet to be operationalised. It is time the Centre enforced a strong body of legislation that punishes the corrupt, protects the honest, and ensures time-bound public services and whistle-blower safety. Nothing less will behove a government ostensibly keen on bringing down the edifice of corruption.


1) Counter-terrorism

Meaning: Political or military activities designed to prevent or thwart terrorism.

Example: He specialized in counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and close-quarters combat.

2) Profound

Meaning: (Of a person or statement) having or showing great knowledge or insight.

Example: A profound philosopher.

Synonyms: Wise, Learned

Antonyms: Superficial, Mild

3) Fiercely

Meaning: In a savagely violent or aggressive manner.

Example: The army clashed fiercely with militants.

4) Keen

Meaning: Having or showing eagerness or enthusiasm.

Example: A keen gardener.

Synonyms: Eager, Anxious

Antonyms: Reluctant, Apathetic

5) Curb

Meaning: A check or restraint on something.

Example: Plans to introduce tougher curbs on insider dealing.

Synonyms: Restraint, Check

6) Enthusiasm

Meaning: Intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.

Example: Her energy and enthusiasm for life.

Synonyms: Eagerness, Ardour

Antonyms: Apathy

7) Defied

Meaning: Openly resist or refuse to obey.

Example: A woman who defies convention.

Synonyms: Disobey, Flout

Antonyms: Obey, Surrender

8) Slew

Meaning: Turn or slide violently or uncontrollably.

Example: The Renault slewed from side to side in the snow.

9) Senate

Meaning: The smaller upper assembly in the US, US states, France, and other countries.

Example: The senate must ratify any treaty with a two-thirds majority.

10) Tweeted

Meaning: Communicate with (someone) on Twitter.

Example: Email us, tweet us, go to our blog, and find us on Facebook.

11) Coercion

Meaning: The action or practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

Example: It wasn’t slavery because no coercion was used.

Synonyms: Force, Compulsion

Antonyms: Persuasion

12) Threatened

Meaning: State one’s intention to take hostile action against (someone) in retribution for something done or not done.

Example: How dare you threaten me?

Synonyms: Menace, Browbeat

13) Fulsome

Meaning: Complimentary or flattering to an excessive degree.

Example: The press are embarrassingly fulsome in their appreciation.

Synonyms: Enthusiastic, Ample

14) Drone

Meaning: Make a continuous low humming sound.

Example: In the far distance a machine droned.

Synonyms: Hum, Buzz, Vibrate

15) Seem

Meaning: Give the impression of being something or having a particular quality.

Example: Dawn seemed annoyed.

Synonyms: Appear, Look

16) Pro-active

Meaning: (Of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened.

Example: Employers must take a proactive approach to equal pay.

17) Paving

Meaning: A surface made up of flat stones laid in a pattern.

Example: Weeds had forced their way up through the cracked paving.

18) Scuttled

Meaning: Run hurriedly or furtively with short quick steps.

Example: A mouse scuttled across the floor.

Synonyms: Scamper, Scurry

19) Moron

Meaning: A stupid person.

Example: We can’t let these thoughtless morons get away with mindless vandalism every weekend.

20) Speculated

Meaning: Form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence.

Example: My colleagues speculate about my private life.

Synonyms: Conjecture, Theorize

21) Diktats

Meaning: An order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent.

Example: A diktat from the Bundestag.

22) Venture

Meaning: A business enterprise, typically one that involves risk.

Example: A joint venture between two aircraft manufacturers.

Synonyms: Enterprise, Undertaking

23) Squeeze

Meaning: Pressurize (someone) in order to obtain something from them.

Example: She used the opportunity to squeeze him for information.

Synonyms: Pressurize, Exploit

24) Wobbly

Meaning: Tending to move unsteadily from side to side.

Example: The car had a wobbly wheel.

Synonyms: Unsteady, Unstable

Antonyms: Stable, Steady

25) Perspective

Meaning: A particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Example: Most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective.

Synonyms: Outlook, View

26) Weave

Meaning: Twist and turn from side to side while moving somewhere in order to avoid obstructions.

Example: He had to weave his way through the crowds.

Synonyms: Dodge, Swerve

27) Allegations

Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.

Example: He made allegations of corruption against the administration.

Synonyms: Claim, Assertion

28) Prosecute

Meaning: Institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offence).

Example: The state’s attorney’s office seemed to decide that this was a case worth prosecuting.

Synonyms: Accuse, Cite

Antonyms: Defend, Pardon

29) Consolidating

Meaning: Combine (a number of things) into a single more effective or coherent whole.

Example: All manufacturing activities have been consolidated in new premises.

Synonyms: Combine, Unite

30) Frivolous

Meaning: Not having any serious purpose or value.

Example: Frivolous ribbons and lacy frills.

Synonyms: Flippant, Glib

31) Whistle-blowers

Meaning: A person who informs on a person or organization regarded as engaging in an unlawful or immoral activity.

32) Magistrates

Meaning: A civil officer who administers the law, especially one who conducts a court that deals with minor offences and holds preliminary hearings for more serious ones.

33) Probe

Meaning: A thorough investigation into a crime or other matter.

Example: A probe into city hall corruption.

Synonyms: Investigation, Enquiry

34) Prosecution

Meaning: The institution and conducting of legal proceedings against someone in respect of a criminal charge.

Example: The organizers are facing prosecution for noise nuisance.

35) Proviso

Meaning: A condition or qualification attached to an agreement or statement.

Example: He let his house with the proviso that his own staff should remain to run it.

Synonyms: Condition, Stipulation

36) Thwarts

Meaning: Prevent (someone) from accomplishing something.

Example: He never did anything to thwart his father.

Synonyms: Foil, Frustrate

Antonyms: Assist, Facilitate

37) Forewarns

Meaning: Inform (someone) of a possible future danger or problem.

Example: He had been forewarned of a coup plot.

Synonyms: Warn, Advise

38) Behove

Meaning: It is a duty or responsibility for someone to do something.

Example: It behoves the House to assure itself that there is no conceivable alternative.

Synonyms: Befit, Become

39) Ostensibly

Meaning: As appears or is stated to be true, though not necessarily so; apparently.

Example: The party secretary resigned, ostensibly from ill health.

Synonyms: Apparently, Seemingly

Antonyms: Really, Truly

40) Edifice

Meaning: A system that has been established for a long time.

Example: It looks as if the whole political edifice of the country is about to collapse.