a) Unwise proposal

Permanent laws cannot be made in response to transient trends, especially to create a power that is open to abuse. The Election Commission of India’s proposal to the Law Ministry that it be armed with the power to punish for contempt is an unwarranted and poorly thought-out response to some strident accusations of partisan functioning, mainly from political parties that had lost in the electoral arena. With democratic practices evolving over time, even the power to punish for contempt vested in the judiciary has come under question, with many wondering whether this relic of a bygone age should be retained. Even superior courts, empowered to act under the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, are often advised to use it only sparingly. Against this backdrop, for a multi-member Election Commission, which enjoys a high degree of public confidence and a reputation for impartiality, to ask that it be clothed with the powers of a high court to punish both civil and criminal contempt is a travesty of our open and democratic system. Civil contempt pertains to wilful disobedience of court orders, and giving the ECI the power to enforce its orders may be an idea worth debating. However, it will be very harmful to free speech and fair criticism if the ECI is given the power to punish for criminal contempt on grounds that something had “scandalised” it or tended to lower its authority — a vague and subjective provision that should have no place in contempt law. It is a matter of concern that the ECI appears to be preparing the ground to use its power to curtail free speech; its letter refers to some parties “taking advantage of the right to freedom of expression” to question the conduct of elections. There is a marked difference between the judiciary and the Election Commission. Judges have a tradition on not responding publicly to criticism. As Lord Denning observed in 1968, they “cannot enter into public controversy”. The ECI, on the other hand, responds robustly as and when allegations about the conduct of elections surface. There is no reason to believe that public confidence in the ECI will be shaken or its superintendence, direction and control over the election process undermined by criticism, however tendentious or calumnious it may be. It is true that parties have made unfair accusations about the conduct of elections, or more accurately, about the outcome of elections that went against them. The Aam Aadmi Party has made it a sort of mission to run down the electronic voting system. Not stopping with scepticism of the claim that the electronic voting machines are invulnerable, it has alleged ECI members are politically aligned to the ruling party at the Centre. However, it cannot be forgotten that reforms such as the introduction of a verifiable paper trail came about only because somebody voiced criticism and suspicion. Throttling criticism in the name of punishing contempt will only cut of feedback.

b) The Quetta murders

The killing of two Chinese nationals, abducted at gunpoint in the Balochistan capital Quetta in May, appears to have exposed fault lines between China and Pakistan, with Beijing issuing statements calling for Islamabad to do more to protect its citizens. To begin with, there have been reports of unhappiness over the $55-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor— some Pakistani economists mention the debt burden Pakistan will face, and there have been protests by Gilgit, Baloch and Sindhi activists against the environmental impact of major infrastructure projects. There are also religious issues: Pakistan accused the two Chinese nationals, who had obtained business visas to teach Mandarin and learn Urdu, of being involved in Christian “missionary work”, which is unlawful in the country. The abduction and murder, first announced in the Islamic State site Amaq, also indicates the inroads the group has made in Pakistan. The Pakistan government, which has faced criticism in the Chinese media for not doing more to save the two Chinese nationals, will clearly have to speed up its plans for a Special Security Division to protect CPEC, raising nine army battalions and hiring about 14,000 personnel. It would, however, be a mistake to read too much into reports that the killings have caused strains between China and Pakistan, or Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The two countries have had decades of close cooperation, led by defence co-production and nuclear technology transfers; if anything, CPEC binds them in an even closer embrace. In a recent statement, Beijing sought to dismiss reports suggesting that President Xi Jinping had refused to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Kazakhstan because of the kidnappings. It said the two leaders had already held substantive discussions during the Belt and Road Forum in mid-May. The killing of the Chinese nationals represents a lapse in security, but is part of what the Chinese Foreign Ministry calls the risks of “going global”, indicating that as its footprint grows in developing nations and conflict zones, its citizens will face higher risks. For both China and Pakistan, CPEC and other cooperation is not ideological but driven by mutual strategic interests. China has, for example, refused to consider India’s concerns on terror emanating from Pakistan, although groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba have attacked Chinese citizens. Similarly, Pakistan raises concerns over the alleged treatment of Kashmiris and minorities in India, but ignores the Chinese government’s strict anti-terror laws in Xinjiang province. While it is important to observe the progress of CPEC closely, and continue to raise India’s concerns on sovereignty with China and Pakistan, it is premature to attach too much lasting significance to the kidnappings in Balochistan.


1) Abuse

Meaning: Treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly/ speak to (someone) in an insulting and offensive way.

Example: Riders who abuse their horses should be prosecuted.

Synonyms: Misemploy, Mishandle

Antonyms: Compliment, Flatter

2) Strident

Meaning: (Of a sound) Loud and harsh; grating.

Example: His voice had become increasingly strident.

Synonyms: Harsh, Raucous

Antonyms: Soft, Dulcet

3) Vested

Meaning: Confer or bestow (power, authority, property, etc.) on someone.

Example: Executive power is vested in the President.

Synonyms: Entrust to, Invest in

4) Relic

Meaning: An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical interest.

Example: A museum of railway relics.

Synonyms: Artefact, Historical object

5) Bygone

Meaning: Belonging to an earlier time.

Example: Relics of a bygone age.

Synonyms: Past, Former

Antonyms: Present, Recent

6) Curtail

Meaning: Reduce in extent or quantity; impose a restriction on.

Example: Civil liberties were further curtailed.

Synonyms: Reduce, Cut, Diminish

Antonyms: Increase, Lengthen

7) Calumnious

Meaning: (The act of making) a statement about someone that is not true and is intended to damage the reputation of that person.

Example: He was subjected to the most vicious calumny, but he never complained and never sued.

8) Throttling

Meaning: Attack or kill (someone) by choking or strangling them.

Example: She was sorely tempted to throttle him.

Synonyms: Suppress, Inhibit

9) Abducted

Meaning: Take (someone) away illegally by force or deception; kidnap.

Example: The millionaire who disappeared may have been abducted.

Synonyms: Kidnap, Sneeze

10) Lapse

Meaning: Pass gradually into (an inferior state or condition).

Example: The country has lapsed into chaos.

Synonyms: Deteriorate, Decline, Fall

Antonyms: Improve, Strengthen

11) Alleged

Meaning: Said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality.

Example: The place where the alleged offences were committed.

Synonyms: Reported, Declared, Unproven