THE HINDU EDITORIAL : September 28,2017


  1. a) Repeat and repent

A second concerted push by Republicans in the U.S. Congress to “repeal and replace” the landmark health-care reform law passed by the Obama administration ended in tears when it failed to garner the minimum 50 votes necessary to pass on the floor of the Senate. The latest proposal, which came to be known as the Graham-Cassidy bill after the Senators who sponsored it, was built on the idea, contra-Obamacare, that each U.S. State could effectively write up its own provisions for implementing certain aspects of healthcare policy. And in return for ensuring that some basic tenets were followed, such as patients with pre-existing conditions not being excluded from health insurance schemes, they would be given sizeable block grants. These grants, effectively “sweeteners” for moderate Republicans nervous about the mid-term elections due in November 2018, were supplemented with the promise of further deregulation of the health-care sector, a giveaway to the more conservative Republican fold. Ultimately neither of these measures worked as intended. Two Republican Party stalwarts, Senators John McCain and Susan Collins, reprised their oppositional role to the effort in July 2017, when the first attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare fell short of the 50-vote mark. Along with libertarian Senator Rand Paul, their resistance was sufficient to sink the bill’s prospects. The failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents more than just cracks within the Republican superstructure. It shows that notwithstanding the stunning victory of Donald Trump last November, the party is still beset with conflicting imperatives and has not united under his leadership as President. Factors exacerbating the malaise include the pressure on Senators facing contests in the mid-term elections, where they will have to explain to voters why seven years of anti-Obamacare sloganeering has amounted to nothing. They will further have to find some way to sell the embarrassing, dismal reality that influential Republicans such as Mr. McCain are opposed to the GrahamCassidy bill as long as they don’t know “how much it will cost, how it will effect [sic] insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.” A second source of anxiety for Republicans is that the political goodwill they enjoy today hinges ever more on success in a second area of policy reform: a complex overhaul of the tax code. Mr. Trump is poised to announce a major tax cut, going by his tweets; yet will that suffice to unite his squabbling party colleagues around a single conservative banner? The heart of the problem for the Republicans is that the ACA is a powerful institutional recalibration that transferred a measure of control over health-care outcomes from health insurance corporations to patients, not to mention potentially expanding coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans. Whatever the Republicans hope to replace such a patient-centric policy with had better be deeply thought through and masterfully sold to their constituents.

  1. b) The unilateral vote

Referendums are in the news, with tensions mounting in Spain and West Asia over regional votes in Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan, respectively. Both in their own ways are a caution on how such instruments of direct democracy need to be used with care. A referendum is, no doubt, a powerful tool to deepen participation and reflect public opinion in a democracy. But when, how and for what reasons referendums should be held need to be carefully laid out so as to ensure their legitimacy. As the Brexit referendum proved last year, these instruments can reduce layered issues such as the membership of a single market into a vote on the narrower subject of immigration. When referendums are used as blunt instruments to decide upon complicated issues such as independence or secession, there needs to be an additional stress on mechanisms: questions framed for the vote, legitimacy of the institution calling for the vote and so on.

Question of cooperation

Some of the well-known referendums on independence that were held in recent years include the ones in Scotland in 2014, South Sudan in 2011 and Quebec (Canada) in 1995. The first two were outcomes of agreements with the Central governments in the U.K. and Sudan, respectively. The Quebec vote was the outcome of a provincial decision, which however resulted in failure for secessionists. The two referendums in Iraq’s only autonomous region, of Kurdistan (held on September 25) and in the Catalonia autonomous province in Spain (to be held on October 1) follow the Quebec model — without the stamp of approval or an agreement with national government in Iraq and Spain, respectively. The question of legitimacy of referendums is important and it is automatically provided if the Centre concedes this mechanism on such issues. Central acquiescence to the process of a referendum to decide or infer opinions on sovereignty also allows for a true campaign on both sides of the yes/ no positions in the referendum. This is not the case with the Catalonian and the Kurdish referendums, which means that a “yes” outcome would not necessarily push the envelope in the direction of secession in a peaceful manner. Legitimacy apart, on the face of it, there is a common thread in these two referendums. The rulers of Iraqi Kurdistan sought the nonbinding referendum as a step towards independence from “Arab” Iraq. The dominant parties in Catalonia also have a similar aim — framing the binding yes/no vote for independence as a decisive step towards the formation of a new republic, independent of Madrid. But the similarities end there — in the tactics used by these pro-secession forces from the nation-states of Iraq and Spain.

The Kurdish case

Iraqi Kurdistan is just one of four Kurd majority areas, the other three being in Syria, Turkey and Iran. Kurds were denied a homeland of their own after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and various movements seeking autonomy and independence in the four countries have been brutally repressed over the years. In Iraq, Kurds were repressed during Ba’ath rule. After the U.S.- led invasion of Iraq, they managed to get a better deal in the new regime and enhanced their autonomy following Baghdad’s entanglement in the civil war against the Islamic State (IS). Kurds are an important partner for Baghdad in the fight against the IS, with the U.S. also treating the Peshmerga forces as an ally. With a weakened Baghdad dependent upon Shiite militias and Iran’s proxy forces in the long civil war, Kurds have used the situation to enhance the territory under their control. The move by the Iraqi Kurds towards independence is being viewed with alarm by the Turkish and Iranian regimes. Turkey has in the past treated Kurdish demands for minority rights such as recognition of their language, let alone autonomy, as secessionist. Following concessions towards minority rights in the early 2000s under the AKP regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a long-running battle against insurgents led by forces such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) eased, but hostilities were renewed recently by the Erdoğan-led regime. Iran is also fighting a minor insurgency in the mountains of its northern region led by another affiliate of the PKK, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) and has recently closed its eastern borders in the light of the referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan. In short, any moves for independence of “south Kurdistan” in Iraq have geopolitical ramifications and are severely opposed by Turkey and Iran in particular, as well as the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, which remains tactically silent on the matter for now. The referendum in Iraq cannot be seen in isolation from the other battles which are being fought by Kurds in neighbouring countries and which could complicate matters such as the still unfinished civil war against the IS in Syria and Iraq, regardless of how legitimate the historical claims of the Kurds for a separate homeland are.

The view from Barcelona

Catalonia’s referendum does not suffer from these complications. Catalans were also subject to similar centralisation and unitary principles during Franco’s rule in Spain as Kurds were in Turkey, being unable to speak their language in public. But this was a fate suffered by other minorities in Spain as well, the Basques for example. Unlike the Basque region where movements for decentralisation, autonomy and even independence took a violent turn with a raging insurgency led by the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Catalan demands were through the democratic route. This gained significance in the post-Franco transformation of Spain, with a degree of autonomy guaranteed to its many nationalities such as the Basque region, Galicia and Catalonia apart from other autonomous communities in a process of devolution regulated by the Spanish Constitution of 1978. While the recognition of “nationalities” such as the Catalonian one in Spain has decisively moved the country away from the centralised and unitary nation-state under Franco, there have been demands for a truer federalisation and greater devolution of power, especially in Catalonia lately. This has expressed itself as a movement for independence in the past decade as an array of political parties from the Left to the Right have asked for a separate nation-state due to the distinctiveness of the Catalan identity and notions of economic injustice. Secessionists point out that while Catalonia is the richest province, it gives more to Spain than it gets from the government in Madrid. The real reasons for the demands of independence lie in the vagaries of Spain’s economy which have affected Catalonia as well. Catalan nationalists from both the Left and the Right have used independence as the way to answer raging problems such as unemployment instead of pursuing reforms and measures that will relieve Catalonia (and indeed Spain) of these issues. The October 1 referendum itself is problematic — it asks participants if they prefer independence through a yes/no vote and choices such as greater federalisation are not provided on the ballot. In any case, parties supporting the “no” option (and endorsed mostly by non-Catalan long-time residents of the region) are boycotting the referendum. Yet, the Catalan government is pushing the referendum as a binding step towards independence.

Different strokes

In sum, the issues at stake in Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia in Spain are vastly different. Kurdish claims of independence might be legitimate due to the repression faced by Kurds in their respective sovereignties and the parcelling of the Kurdish homeland into regions across those sovereignties. But a push for independence in this milieu is fraught with new tensions rising out of geopolitics. The Catalan case for independence is lesser as the real problem in Catalonia is related to economic issues, which are shared by the rest of Spain as well.


1) Concerted

Meaning: Jointly arranged or carried out; coordinated.

Example: “a concerted attempt to preserve religious unity”

Synonyms: Joint, United

Antonyms: separate, Individual

2) Garner

Meaning: Gather or collect (something, especially information or approval).

Example: “the police struggled to garner sufficient evidence”

Synonyms: Gather, Collect

3) Write up

Meaning: A written account, in particular a newspaper article giving an opinion or review of an event, performance, or product.

Example: “we had a good write-up in yesterday’s paper”

4) Ensuring

Meaning: Make certain of obtaining or providing (something).

Example: “legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all”

Synonyms: Safeguard, Protect

5) Tenets

Meaning: a principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy.

Example: “the tenets of classical liberalism”

Synonyms: Principle, Precept

6) Intended

Meaning: Planned or meant.

Example: “the intended victim escaped”

Synonyms: Calculated, Deliberate

Antonyms: Accidental

7) Resistance

Meaning: The refusal to accept or comply with something; the use of force or violence to oppose someone or something.

Example: “government forces were unable to crush guerrilla-style resistance”

Synonyms: Opposition, Battle

Antonyms: Submission, Surrender

8) Stunning

Meaning: Extremely impressive or attractive.

Example: “she looked stunning”

Synonyms: Remarkable, Extraordinary

Antonyms: Unattractive, Ordinary

9) Exacerbating

Meaning: Make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse.

Example: “the exorbitant cost of land in urban areas only exacerbated the problem”

Synonyms: Aggravate, Worsen

Antonyms: Calm, Reduce

10) Sloganeering

Meaning: Employ or invent slogans, typically in a political context.

Example: “at least he avoided vapid sloganeering”

11) Embarrassing

Meaning: Causing embarrassment.

Example: “an embarrassing muddle”

Synonyms: Shameful, Degrading

12) Anxiety

Meaning: A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

Example: “he felt a surge of anxiety”

Synonyms: Worry, Concern

Antonyms: Calmness, Serenity

13) Overhaul

Meaning: Take apart (a piece of machinery or equipment) in order to examine it and repair it if necessary.

Example: “the steering box was recently overhauled”

Synonyms: Service, Maintain

14) Suffice

Meaning: Be enough or adequate.

Example: “a quick look should suffice”

Synonyms: Serve, Enough

15) Squabbling

Meaning: Quarrel noisily over a trivial matter.

Example: “the boys were squabbling over a ball”

Synonyms: Quarrel, Argue

16) Recalibration

Meaning: To change the way you do or think about something

Example: You need to recalibrate your expectations.

Synonyms: Rebuke, Reboot

17) Immigration

Meaning: The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.

Example: “a barrier to control illegal immigration from Mexico”

18) Blunt

Meaning: Weaken or reduce the force of (something).

Example: “their determination had been blunted”

Synonyms: Dull, Dampen

Antonyms: Intensify, Sharpen

19) Provincial

Meaning: Of or concerning a province of a country or empire.

Example: “provincial elections”

Synonyms: Country, Regional

Antonyms: National, Metropolitan

20) Concedes

Meaning: Admit or agree that something is true after first denying or resisting it.

Example: “I had to concede that I’d overreacted”

Synonyms: Admit, Accept

Antonyms: Deny

21) Acquiescence

Meaning: The reluctant acceptance of something without protest.

Example: “in silent acquiescence, she rose to her feet”

Synonyms: Permit, Allow

Antonyms: Forbid, Refusal

22) Referendum

Meaning: A general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.

Example: “he called for a referendum on the death penalty”

Synonyms: Ballot, Poll

23) Decisive

Meaning: Having or showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively; settling an issue; producing a definite result.

Example: “the archers played a decisive part in the victory”

Synonyms: Deciding, Resolute

Antonyms: Insignificant, Indecisive

24) Brutally

Meaning: In a savagely violent way; in a direct way that does not attempt to disguise unpleasantness.

Example: “she was unapologetic and brutally honest”

25) Repressed

Meaning: Restrained or oppressed.

Example: “repressed indigenous groups”

Synonyms: Oppressed, Restrained

Antonyms: Free, Democratic

26) Enhanced

Meaning: Intensify, increase, or further improve the quality, value, or extent of.

Example: “his refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation”

Synonyms: Increase, Intensify

Antonyms: Diminish, Mar

27) Entanglement

Meaning: A complicated or compromising relationship or situation.

Example: “he would not contemplate foreign entanglements whose outcome was unpredictable”

Synonyms: Involvement, Complication

28) Secessionist

Meaning: A person who favours formal withdrawal from membership of a federation or body, especially a political state.

Example: “an ardent secessionist”

29) Concessions

Meaning: A thing that is granted, especially in response to demands; the action of conceding or granting something.

Example: “the government was unwilling to make any further concessions”

Synonyms: Compromise, Admission

Antonyms: Denial, Retention

30) Hostilities

Meaning: Hostile behaviour; unfriendliness or opposition.

Example: “their hostility to all outsiders”

Synonyms: Malice, Bitterness

Antonyms: Friendliness, Approval

31) Affiliate

Meaning: Officially attach or connect (a subsidiary group or a person) to an organization.

Example: “they are national associations affiliated to larger organizations”

Synonyms: Associate, Related

32) Ramifications

Meaning: A complex or unwelcome consequence of an action or event.

Example: “any change is bound to have legal ramifications”

Synonyms: Consequence, Aftermath

33) Isolation

Meaning: The process or fact of isolating or being isolated.

Example: “isolation from family and friends may also contribute to anxiety”

Synonyms: Separation, Segregation

Antonyms: Contact, Accessibility

34) Regardless

Meaning: Despite the prevailing circumstances.

Example: “they were determined to carry on regardless”

Synonyms: Anyway, Anyhow

35) Devolution

Meaning: The transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by central government to local or regional administration.

Example: “demands for electoral reform and devolution”

Synonyms: Delegation, Transfer

Antonyms: Centralization

36) Distinctiveness

Meaning: The quality of being individual or easily distinguishable.

Example: “communities are keen to maintain cultural distinctiveness”

37) Boycotting

Meaning: Withdraw from commercial or social relations with (a country, organization, or person) as a punishment or protest; refuse to cooperate with or participate in (a policy or event).

Example: “we will boycott all banks which take part in the loans scheme”

Synonyms: Spurn, Avoid

Antonyms: Support

38) Repression

Meaning: The action of subduing someone or something by force.

Example: “students sparked off events that ended in brutal repression”

Synonyms: Suppression

Antonyms: Freedom, Liberty

39) Milieu

Meaning: A person’s social environment.

Example: “Gregory came from the same aristocratic milieu as Sidonius”

Synonyms: Background, Setting

40) Fraught

Meaning: Causing or affected by anxiety or stress.

Example: “there was a fraught silence”

Synonyms: Anxious, Worried

Antonyms: Calm

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