i) Tokyo dreams — On Japan snap polls

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gambled his career by calling snap elections to the Lower House of the Japanese Diet in late-October. The term of the House would have ordinarily lasted another year, but he clearly senses a turn in the popular breeze in his favour. Whether the electorate will vindicate his judgment, however, may well depend on the grit and tenacity of his challenger, Tokyo’s first woman Governor, Yuriko Koike. The former television anchor achieved an unprecedented feat last year by taking the city’s top job, trouncing the official nominee of Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in a triangular race. Ever since, Ms. Koike, who had served briefly as defence minister during Mr. Abe’s first term in 2006-07, has become accustomed to thriving in a crisis. In a repeat of her growing penchant to take on a male-dominated establishment, Ms. Koike floated a local party earlier this year, which spectacularly captured the Tokyo city assembly in July. Now, following the surprise announcement of polls to the Lower House of the Diet, she has launched the Party of Hope, drawing a number of parliamentarians from across the spectrum, including the ruling camp. She has even pledged that her new party would field candidates across the country. In fact, Ms. Koike has been quick to exploit Mr. Abe’s decision to seek a fresh mandate more than a year in advance as merely a device to shore up power. But the Tokyo Governor, in turn, would also be mindful of criticism that she is abandoning her current responsibilities with the plunge into national politics. This is especially so given the coming Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, and any impression that she is abdicating the preparatory work could be damaging. Meanwhile, the divided and demoralised opposition Democratic Party, in the midst of a leadership crisis, could work to project Mr. Abe as a symbol of relative stability especially at a time when the North Korean crisis shows no sign of abating. His own personal ratings have also seen a remarkable revival, after allegations of his links to controversial transactions in a land deal had led to a significant dip in opinion polls. The Prime Minister still has his share of challenges to contend with. A new anti-conspiracy legislation to combat terrorism was criticised for lack of public scrutiny and for incorporating intrusive provisions on individual privacy and free speech. Even if he can win a re-election, regaining the current two-thirds majority for his party is far from certain. Such a tally is critical for Mr. Abe to legislate the controversial revision to Japan’s pacifist constitution, over which he has staked his reputation. In substantial terms, though, voters may have little to choose between the conservative nationalist stances advocated by Mr. Abe and Ms. Koike.

ii) Expanding the common ground

Hours after U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis landed in Kabul, he was welcomed with six rockets landing near Kabul’s international airport, as if to remind Washington what’s at stake in the on-going conflict in Afghanistan. This visit came weeks after the Trump administration unveiled its South Asia strategy which in many ways marks a radical departure from the past by putting Pakistan on notice and bringing India to the centre stage of Washington’s Afghanistan policy. This was reinforced by Gen. Mattis during his visit to India this week when he suggested India and the U.S. would work together to fight terrorism. “There can be no tolerance of terrorist safe havens,” he said. “As global leaders, India and the United States resolve to work together to eradicate this scourge.” While announcing his new Afghanistan policy, U.S. President Donald Trump had mentioned, “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the U.S., and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development.” In line with this, Defence Minister NirmalaSitharaman made it clear that while “there shall not be boots from India on the ground in Afghanistan,” New Delhi will be stepping up its development and capacity-building engagement with Afghanistan.

Wider role in Kabul

India has decided to take up 116 “high-impact community developmental projects” in 31 provincesof Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have also agreed to “strengthen security cooperation”, with New Delhi agreeing “to extend further assistance for the Afghan national defence and security forces in fighting the scourge of terrorism, organised crime, trafficking of narcotics and money laundering”. India will be training Afghan police officers along with Afghan soldiers. This is aimed at sending out a message to Pakistan, which continues to assert that India has “zero political and military role” in Afghanistan. After handing over four attack helicopters to Kabul as part of its assistance package, India is keen to expand the scope of its security cooperation with Afghanistan which had remained limited in the past not only due to geographical constraints, but also due to Washington’s desire to limit India’s security engagement in the country. The U.S. is sending about 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan, most of which are preparing to arrive in the coming weeks. “A lot is riding on this of course as we look toward how do we put an end to this fighting and the threat of terrorism to the Afghan people,” Gen. Mattis said in Kabul. “We are here to set the military and security conditions for that but recognise ultimately the responsibility for the Afghan leadership to step up and fully own the war.” The convergence between India and the U.S. on Pakistan has evolved at an extraordinary pace. The Trump administration’s hard-line approach on Pakistan’s support for terrorism comes at a time when New Delhi has led an active global campaign to marginalise Islamabad and bring its role as a state sponsor of terror to the forefront of the global community. During Gen. Mattis’s visit, Ms.Sitharaman reminded the U.S. that “the very same forces which did find safe haven in Pakistan were the forces that hit New York as well as Mumbai”. Mr. Trump had made it clear that Washington “can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond”. The Xiamen BRICS declaration earlier this month also listed Pakistan-based terror organisations for the first time. It is not surprising, therefore, that Pakistan’s Foreign Minister has had to admit that terrorist Hafiz Saeed and terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are a “liability” for his country and for the South Asian region.

Stronger ties with U.S.

The visit of Gen. Mattis also underscored the growing salience of defence ties in shaping the trajectory of Indo-U.S. relations. Washington is no longer coy about selling sensitive military technologies to India. China’s growing assertiveness in the wider Indo-Pacific is a shared concern and this was reflected in the reiteration by the two countries of the critical importance of freedom of navigation, over-flight and unimpeded lawful commerce in the global commons. Bilateral defence ties have been growing in recent years, “underpinned by a strategic convergence”. As Gen. Mattis suggested, the U.S. is looking forward to “sharing some of our most advanced defence technologies” with India “to further deepen the robust defence trade and technology collaboration between our defence industries.” The sale of 22 Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems, which was announced during Prime Minister NarendraModi’s visit to the U.S. earlier this year, is high on the agenda. With this deal, the Indian Navy will not only acquire the world’s most advanced maritime reconnaissance drone, it will also lead to greater defence technology sharing. As India and the U.S. expand military cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, new alignments are emerging which have the potential to reshape the regional security architecture. In the past, India had been reluctant to play an active role in East and Southeast Asia. Now as part of its ‘Act East’ policy, India’s engagement with the region has become more robust and Washington has been encouraging India to shape the regional strategic realities more potently. At a time when regional security in the wider Indo-Pacific has taken a turn for the worse, the U.S. is looking at India to shore up its presence in the region. And India, driven by China’s growing profile around its periphery, is keen to take up that challenge.Gen. Mattis’s visit has highlighted the growing convergence between the U.S. and India on key regional and global security issues. As the two nations move ahead with their ambitious plans, the challenge will be to sustain the present momentum given the myriad distractions that Washington and New Delhi have to contend with.

iii) Hope in Darjeeling — On end of blockade

With a breakthrough ending the 104-day-long blockade in the Darjeeling hills, the Union and West Bengal governments must move forthwith to consolidate the ‘truce’ and address the setback to livelihoods and the local economy suffered over this period. The announcement on ending the bandh came from BimalGurung of the GorkhaJanmuktiMorcha, which had led the agitation. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s appeal to the protesters and his tentative offer of talks brought about this turnaround, but it is his specific mention of the beleagueredMr.Gurung, who has been on the run from the West Bengal police, that made the difference. The blockade had severely hit life in the hill districts, and it is clear that local support for the agitation was waning. A section of the GJM, led by BinayTamang, had shown an inclination to negotiate with the State government. In a move to cash in on the differences within the GJM, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, a week ago, named Mr.Tamang the chairperson of a new board of administrators to head the now-defunct Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which had been set up in 2012 as a semi-autonomous body with substantive powers. This followed statements from Mr.Tamang asking for a pause in the stir pending talks between the State government and rebel GJM members and allies. Mr.Gurung now found an opening in Mr. Singh’s appeal. While the Minister did not commit to “tripartite talks” on the separate statehood issue as demanded by the GJM, he promised discussions on other issues while impliedly recognising the leadership of the official faction. That the blockade truly ended after Mr.Gurung’s call suggests that the official faction of the GJM enjoys considerably more support in the hills than the rebels. The current impasse is a direct outcome of the failure to substantively devolve power to the GTA as promised. While this summer’s agitation was sparked by grievances over Ms. Banerjee’s initial statement about Bengali being made a compulsory language of study in the State, the stir revived the demand for statehood. Put together, the maximalist position of the agitators, the discomfort within the BJP government at the Centre on officially responding to such aspirations, and Ms. Banerjee’s ploy of using the issue to sharpen a Bengali chauvinist appeal in the rest of the State to gain more support for her Trinamool Congress, all contributed to the stalemate. Mr. Singh’s appeal provided a face-saver to the GJM. The State government has suggested that it is not averse to tripartite talks over some of the GJM’s demands, but it is not clear whether Ms. Banerjee will agree to talk to Mr.Gurung. Talks involving the Centre, the State government and the GJM are, however, essential. This is the best mechanism to discuss the empowerment of the GTA, which is necessary to address the grievances of the residents of Darjeeling.

Words/ Vocabulary:

1) Gambled

Meaning: Take risky action in the hope of a desired result.

Example: He was gambling on the success of his satellite TV channel.

Synonyms: Take a chance, Venture

2) Vindicate

Meaning: Show or prove to be right, reasonable, or justified.

Example: More sober views were vindicated by events.

Synonyms: Acquit, Justify

Antonyms: Convict, Blame, Disprove

3) Grit

Meaning: Courage and resolve; strength of character.

Example: I’ve known few men who could match Maude’s grit.

Synonyms: Courage, Bravery

4) Tenacity

Meaning: The quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; grip.

Example: The sheer tenacity of the limpet.

Synonyms: Persistence, Determination

5) Trouncing

Meaning: Defeat heavily in a contest.

Example: Essex trounced Cambridgeshire 5–1 in the final.

Synonyms: Defeat utterly, Annihilate

6) Accustomed

Meaning: Make someone or something accept (something) as normal or usual; Be used to.

Example: “I am not accustomed to having my word questioned”.

Synonyms: Customary, Adapt

7) Thriving

Meaning: Prosper; flourish.

Example: Education groups thrive on organization.

Synonyms: Flourish, Prosper

Antonyms:Decline, wither

8) Penchant

Meaning: A strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something.

Example: He has a penchant for adopting stray dogs.

9) Spectacularly

Meaning: In an impressive, dramatic, or eye-catching way.

Example: The immense skyscraper is spectacularly lit up.

10) Abandoning

Meaning: Cease to support or look after (someone); desert.

Example: Her natural mother had abandoned her at an early age.

Synonyms: leave, Relinquish

Antonyms: Stick by

11) Abdicating

Meaning: Fail to fulfil or undertake (a responsibility or duty).

Example: The government was accused of abdicating its responsibility.

Synonyms: Disown, spurn

Antonyms:Accept, Take on

12) Midst

Meaning: The middle part or point.

Example: He left his flat in the midst of a rainstorm.

Synonyms: Middle, Centre

13) Abating

Meaning: (of something unpleasant or severe) become less intense or widespread.

Example: The storm suddenly abated.

Synonyms: Subside, Lessen

Antonyms: Intensify

14) Revival

Meaning: An improvement in the condition, strength, or fortunes of someone or something.

Example: A revival in the fortunes of the party.

Synonyms: Improvement, Rallying


15) Intrusive

Meaning: Causing disruption or annoyance through being unwelcome or uninvited.

Example: That was an intrusive question.

Synonyms: Invasive, Obtrusive

Antonyms: Low-key

16) Staked

Meaning: Be assertive in defining and defending a position or policy.

Example: Elena was staking out a role for herself as a formidable political force.

17) Substantial

Meaning: Of considerable importance, size, or worth.

Example: A substantial amount of cash.

Synonyms: Considerable, Real

Antonyms:Insubstantial, Worthless

18) Stances

Meaning: The attitude of a person or organization towards something; a standpoint.

Example: The party is changing its stance on Europe.

Synonyms: Attitude, Stand, Point of view

19) Radical

Meaning: Characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive.

Example: “the city is known for its radical approach to transport policy”.

20) Reinforced

Meaning: Strengthen or support (an object or substance), especially with additional material.

Example: The helmet has been reinforced with a double layer of cork.

Synonyms: Strengthen, Fortify

21) Scourge

Meaning: A person or thing that causes great trouble or suffering.

Example: The scourge of mass unemployment.

Synonyms: Affliction, Bane

Antonyms:Blessing, Godsend

22) Convergence

Meaning: Come together from different directions so as eventually to meet.

Example: Convoys from America and the UK traversed thousands of miles to converge in the Atlantic.

Synonyms: Meet

Antonyms:Leave,Separate, Diverge

23) Assertiveness

Meaning: Confident and forceful behaviour.

Example: She has difficulty standing up for herself, even when assertiveness may be warranted.

24) Reiteration

Meaning: The action of repeating something, typically for emphasis or clarity.

Example: The reiteration of his campaign promise to cut taxes.

25) Unimpeded

Meaning: Not obstructed or hindered.

Example: An unimpeded view across the headland.

Synonyms: Unrestricted, Unconstrained

Antonyms:impeded, Obstructed

26) Underpinned

Meaning: Support, justify, or form the basis for.

Example: The theme of honour underpinning the two books.

27) Reconnaissance

Meaning: Military observation of a region to locate an enemy or ascertain strategic features.

Example: An excellent aircraft for low-level reconnaissance.

Synonyms: Survey, Exploration

28) Reluctant

Meaning: Unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.

Example: Today, many ordinary people are still reluctant to talk about politics.

Synonyms: Unwilling, Disinclined

Antonyms: Willing

29) Robust

Meaning: (of a system, organization, etc.) able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions; Strong and healthy; vigorous.

Example: The country’s political system has continued to be robust in spite of its economic problems.

30) Myriad

Meaning: A countless or extremely great number of people or things.

Example: Myriads of insects danced around the light above my head.

Synonyms: Multitude, Innumerable

31) Blockade

Meaning: An act or means of sealing off a place to prevent goods or people from entering or leaving.

Example: They voted to lift the blockade of major railway junctions.

Synonyms: Siege, Barricade

32) Consolidate

Meaning: Strengthen (one’s position or power).

Example: The company consolidated its position in the international market.

Synonyms: Strengthen, Stabilize

33) Truce

Meaning: An agreement between enemies or opponents to stop fighting or arguing for a certain time.

Example: The guerrillas called a three-day truce.

Synonyms: Ceasefire, Armistice


34) Tentative

Meaning: Not certain or fixed; provisional.

Example: A tentative conclusion.

Synonyms: provisional, Unconfirmed


35) Beleaguered

Meaning: Lay siege to.

Example: He led a relief force to the aid of the beleaguered city.

Synonyms: Besieged, Under-siege

36) Agitation

Meaning: The arousing of public concern about an issue and pressing for action on it.

Example: Widespread agitation for social reform.

Synonyms: Anxiety, Perturbation

Antonyms:Calmness, Relaxation

37) Tripartite

Meaning: Shared by or involving three parties.

Example: A tripartite coalition government.

38) Impasse

Meaning: A situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

Example: The current political impasse.

Synonyms: Deadlock, Dead end

39) Devolve

Meaning: Transfer or delegate (power) to a lower level, especially from central government to local or regional administration.

Example: Measures to devolve power to a Scottish assembly.

Synonyms: Delegate, Depute

Antonyms:Centralize, Retain

40) Averse

Meaning: Having a strong dislike of or opposition to something.

Example: As a former CIA director, he is not averse to secrecy.

Synonyms: Opposed to, Against

Antonyms: Keen