a) Diplomatic mayhem

The dramatic decision by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen to suspend diplomatic ties with Qatar could have far-reaching economic and geopolitical consequences. Tensions were brewing within the Gulf Cooperation Council for the past six years ever since Qatar started actively supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, a political Islamist movement that the Saudis and their close allies see as a threat to stability in West Asia. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain had temporarily withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar over this. But a suspension of diplomatic ties as well as air and sea travel to and from Qatar is unprecedented. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on Monday asked Qatari diplomats to leave their countries within 48 hours and Qatari citizens within 14 days. Saudi Arabia blames Qatar for “harbouring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region”. But such allegations can be raised against most Gulf countries. It is an open secret that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar back their proxy militant groups throughout West Asia. Take the case of Syria, where the Saudis back Salai groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, while the Qataris bankroll the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both share the same goal: to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Assad. In Yemen, Qatar is part of the Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing the country for over two years. It is not immediately clear what drove Riyadh to take this extreme step. Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s open embrace and anti-Iran agenda, the kingdom could be making a renewed attempt to rally Sunni countries under its leadership against Tehran. Qatar has historically played of both sides of the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Even as it joined the occasional GCC outbursts against Tehran, it maintained sound economic and diplomatic ties. Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who had a phone conversation with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani last week, is reportedly critical of the Saudi-led efforts to drive up an anti-Iran agenda. It is to be seen whether Saudi Arabia has overplayed its hand. If Qatar continues to resist the GCC line, it could trigger a wider crisis in the region. Qatar is an economic powerhouse in the Gulf and hosts the headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. The air war command for the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is also in Qatar. So any prolonged attempt to isolate the country would not only have economic consequences — oil prices fluctuated soon after the decision was announced — but also complicate the fight against the IS yet more. What West Asia requires is a united front against terror and lowering of Saudi-Iran tensions. Opening new fronts in the rivalry will only destabilise the region further.

b) Maha farm crisis

A strike by farmers in Maharashtra continues to affect normal life, despite the State government’s announcement of an end to the strike last week. The farmers, whose demands include full waiver of farm loans, hikes in the minimum support price for agricultural produce and writing off of pending electricity bills, have been on an indefinite strike since June 1. As the strike nears the end of its first week, prices of essential goods such as milk, fruits and vegetables have risen steeply, causing distress to consumers. Some farmer groups agreed to call of their strike after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis promised that his government would waive farm loans of small and marginal farmers worth about Rs.30,000 crore, increase power subsidies, hike the price for milk procurement, and also set up a State commission to look into the matter of raising the MSP for crops. He also promised that buying agricultural produce below their MSP would soon be made a criminal offence. Other farmer groups, meanwhile, have stuck to their demand for a complete farm loan waiver and continued with their protest. It is notable that the protests have come soon after the Uttar Pradesh government waived farm loans earlier this year, setting of similar demands in other States. Yet, while Maharashtra’s farmers have caught the attention of the government, the focus on quick fixes has pushed aside the real structural issues behind the crisis. At the root of the crisis is the steep fall in the prices of agricultural goods. The price slump, significantly, has come against the backdrop of a good monsoon that led to a bumper crop. The production of turdal, for instance, increased five-fold from last year to over 20 lakh tonnes in 2016-17. Irrespective of price fluctuations, MSPs are supposed to enable farmers to sell their produce at remunerative prices. But procurement of crops at MSP by the government has traditionally been low for most crops, except a few staples such as rice and wheat. This has forced distressed farmers to sell their produce at much lower prices, adding to their debt burden. Not surprisingly, the whole system of agricultural marketing has led farmers to feel cheated, and it was only a matter of time before they organised themselves to protest. Going forward, any long-term, wide-scale procurement of crops at MSPs looks unlikely; even a onetime full loan waiver is considered unrealistic by the Chief Minister, given the State’s finances. The possible ban on buying produce below the MSP would just worsen the crisis by making it hard for farmers to sell their produce even at the market price. The only long-term solution is to gradually align crop production with genuine price signals, while moving ahead with reforms to de-risk agriculture, especially by increasing the crop insurance cover. Expediting steps to reform the Agricultural Produce Market Committee system and introduce the model contract farming law would go a long way to free farmers from MSP-driven crop planning.


1) Diplomatic

Meaning: Involving diplomats or the management of the relationships between countries.

Example:  Diplomatic negotiations.

Synonyms: Tactful, Discreet

Antonyms: Impolite, Blunt

2) Brewing

Meaning: If you brew tea or coffee, you add boiling water to it to make a hot drink, and if it brews, it gradually develops flavour in the container in which it was made.

Example:  He brewed us some coffee./He brewed some coffee for us.

Synonyms: Concocting, Imminent

Antonyms: Frigid, Scary

3) Allies

Meaning: Someone who helps and supports someone else.

Example:  The US is one of Britain’s staunchest allies.

Synonyms: Affiliates, Colleagues

Antonyms: Litigant, Rivals

4) Harbouring

Meaning: To Keep (a thought or feeling, typically a negative one) in one’s mind, especially secretly.

Example: She started to harbour doubts about the wisdom of their journey.

Synonyms: Nurture, Cherish

5) Multitude

Meaning: A large number of people or things.

Example: This case has raised a multitude of questions.

Synonyms: Crowd, Throng

Antonyms: Few, Handful

6) Allegations

Meaning: A statement, made without giving proof, that someone has done something wrong or illegal.

Example: Several of her patients have made allegations of professional misconduct about/against her.

Synonyms: Indictments, Citations

Antonyms: Refutations, Disavowals

7) Regime

Meaning: Particular government or a system or method of government.

Example: The old corrupt, totalitarian regime was overthrown.

Synonyms: Empire, Sway

Antonyms: illegal, Unlawful

8) Coalition

Meaning: The joining together of different political parties or groups for a particular purpose, usually for a limited time, or a government that is formed in this way.

Example: Government by coalition has its own peculiar set of problems.

Synonyms: Alliance, Federation

Antonyms: Separation, Detachment

9) Emboldened

Meaning: To make someone brave.

Example: Emboldened by drink, he walked over to speak to her.

Synonyms: Assured, Cheered

Antonyms: Despondent, Miserable

10) Rivalry

Meaning: A situation in which people, businesses, etc. compete with each other for the same thing.

Example: There’s fierce rivalry for the job/to get the job.

Synonyms: Competition, Strife

Antonyms: Cooperation, Affiliation

11) Fluctuated

Meaning: To change, especially continuously and between one level or thing and another.

Example: Vegetable prices fluctuate according to the season.

Synonyms: Vacillated, Alternated

Antonyms: Stabilized, Steadied

12) Destabilize

Meaning: To make a government, area, or political group lose power or control, or to make a political or economic situation less strong or safe, by causing changes and problems.

Example: They uncovered a plot to destabilize the government.

Synonyms: Weaken, Damage

Antonyms: Stabilise, Approve

13) Steeply

Meaning: Suddenly or by a large amount.

Example : The value of the land has risen steeply.

Synonyms: Abruptly, Exorbitantly

Antonyms: Gradually, Cheaply

14) Slump

Meaning: (of prices, values, or sales) to fall suddenly.

Example:  The value of property has slumped.

Synonyms: Decline, Drop

Antonyms: Increase, Ascend

15) Remunerative

Meaning: Providing payment for work.

Example: A highly remunerative (= well paid) job.

Synonyms: Lucrative, Gainful

Antonyms: Baneful, Unpaid