THE HINDU Editorial  – 8, July – 2017

a) The waiting game

Ever since the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress defeated an ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party in the Bihar elections of 2015, the belief has been that the opposition’s efforts to regroup at the national level will coalesce around these parties. So, when Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar broke ranks and committed the JD(U)’s support to the BJP’s presidential nominee, Ram Nath Kovind, it came as a setback for the entire opposition. Mr. Kovind was the Governor of Bihar till June, and Mr. Kumar called the support a one-of move on account of goodwill for him. Nonetheless, he went on to castigate the Congress for being unable to come up with a coherent alternative to that of the BJP’s agenda, saying a “reactive narrative” would not enable opposition unity. Mr. Kumar’s concerns are not without merit. The Congress put forth the candidature of Meira Kumar clearly as a reactive measure to counter the BJP’s nomination of a Dalit candidate. Till then, the opposition parties had been unable to agree on a candidate due to either a lack of consensus or an inability to set a proactive agenda against the BJP, which seemed to be shaping the contours of the political discourse with ease. But other opposition parties have reason to doubt whether Mr. Kumar was indeed speaking out of a genuine concern for building a strong opposition to the BJP, or working on an exit strategy from the opposition camp so that he could ally with the BJP in time for the 2020 Assembly polls, if not the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Mr. Kumar had parted ways with the BJP just ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election, making an issue of the nomination of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Although the JD(U) makes up the numbers in the Assembly in alliance with the RJD, he knows he could forge a winning combination with the BJP too. This is especially so in the context of the family of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who is himself out on bail in a corruption case, coming under intense pressure from the Central Bureau of Investigation in recent weeks for alleged irregularities. Mr. Kumar had built his initial support base on an anti-corruption platform directed primarily at Mr. Prasad, and a break in ties with the RJD would perhaps not be as much of a surprise as his decision to ally with that party was. By creating this political flutter, Mr. Kumar could also be seeking to increase his own relevance within the opposition to make a bid for the leadership position. He is perceived to be among the possible challengers to Mr. Modi in 2019, and he may be looking to increase his own stock at the expense of the Congress’s. The conflicting signals coming from Mr. Kumar therefore may not reflect any confusion; instead, these could very well be the result of a calculating mind playing the waiting game.

b) Electric horses

After a century of spectacular growth powered by the internal combustion engine, the automobile industry is taking a serious look at moving away from fossil fuels, with cars, bikes and commercial vehicles powered by electricity. This quest for electro mobility has surged ahead with Volvo, the Sweden based manufacturer owned by China’s Geely, announcing a shift to all-electric or hybrid models from 2019. At the heart of the discussion is the affordability of e-vehicles (EVs) and the range they can cover on a single battery charge, if they are to become an attractive replacement for conventional motors. There is also the question of the sustainability of making millions of batteries that must be recycled. Progress is being made on some of these metrics, as a result of which the sales of all plug-in vehicles rose 40%, at 191,700 units worldwide, in the first quarter of 2017 over the same quarter in 2016. And the International Energy Agency says in its Global EV Outlook Report 2017 that the year-on-year growth was 60%. But in perspective, electric vehicles today make up only 0.2% of all light duty vehicles in the world. What is enlivening the debate on EVs is the entry of Tesla, with its goal to mass-market electric cars that are efficient on range, and offer a minimum of 340 km on one charge, while also scoring high on design. As the single biggest component in making electro mobility mainstream, attention is focussed on battery technology. If Tesla’s assessment is correct, the technological limits of this power source are being pushed constantly: less material is being used to produce higher energy density, and at lower cost. Unsurprisingly, many major automobile manufacturers have announced plans for electrics to cater to both ends of the spectrum: marques like BMW and Volkswagen aiming at several affordable models with a moderate range per charge, and luxury cars from Daimler and Audi that run longer and appeal to keen buyers. Electromobility is also politically attractive. France, which floated a global tender at the 2015 Paris climate conference for a mass market car that costs under €7,000, announced recently that it will end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040. India, which committed to reducing the intensity of carbon emissions under the climate agreement, could give electro mobility a boost through its policy on EVs to be declared by December. Making electric two-wheelers and public transport buses attractive through tax incentives is certainly feasible, since these can be charged more easily and used for short trips within cities. The wider challenge today is to find the natural resources such as lithium, cobalt and nickel to make millions of batteries and recycle them later, besides putting up charging infrastructure across entire countries. The solutions are currently expensive. By contrast, the dilemma underscores the elegance of low-cost non-motorised options for cities, such as bicycles and walking.

Words / Vocabulary

1) Ascendant

Meaning: Increasingly successful or powerful.

Synonym: Flourishing, Developing

Antonym: Declining

Example: Jackie chan is very much in the ascendant in Hollywood.

2) Coalesce

Meaning: Come or grow together to form one thing or system.

Synonym: Combine, Merge

Example: The creamy-white, rounded edge of the approaching clouds came and coalesced, spread and mushroomed.

3) Castigate

Meaning: To criticize someone or something severely.

Synonym: Rebuke, Reprove

Antonym: Praise, Commend

Example: Health inspectors castigated the kitchen staff for poor standards of cleanliness.

4) Consensus

Meaning: A generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people.

Synonym: Agreement, Concurrence

Antonym: Disagreement

Example: The general consensus in the office is that he can’t do his job.

5) Contours

Meaning: The shape of a mass of land or other object, especially its surface or the shape formed by its outer edge.

Synonym: Outline, Shape

Example: He studied the contours of her face.

6) Indeed

Meaning: Really or certainly, often used to emphasize something.

Synonym: Truly, Extremely

Antonym: Moderately, Slightly

Example: We live in strange times indeed.

7) Concern

Meaning: To cause worry to someone.

Synonym: Treat, Involve

Antonym: Serenity, Indifference

Example: The state of my father’s health concerns us greatly.

8) Ally

Meaning: A country that has agreed officially to give help and support to another one, especially during a war; someone who helps and supports someone else.

Synonym: Associate, Combine

Antonym: Enemy, Split

Example: Cuba became an ally of the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

9) Flutter

Meaning: To make a series of quick delicate movements up and down or from side to side, or to cause something to do this.

Synonym: Hover, Thrash

Example: Butterflies fluttered about in the sunshine.

10) Surged

Meaning: A sudden and great increase or movement forward.

Synonym: Rush, Flow

Example: An unexpected surge in electrical power caused the computer to crash.

11) Enlivening

Meaning: To make something more interesting.

Synonym: Uplift, Gladden

Antonym: Detract from, Subdue

Example: The game was much enlivened when both teams scored within five minutes of each other.

12) Feasible

Meaning: Able to be made, done, or achieved

Synonym: Practicable, Achievable

Antonym: Impractical, Impossible

Example: With the extra resources, the project now seems feasible.

13) Elegance

Meaning: Graceful and attractive in appearance or behaviour.

Synonym: Style, Smoothness

Antonym: Inelegance, Messiness

Example: This is a fine building of elegant proportions.