a) Dangerous spiral: on India-Pak diplomatic row

Regardless of the provocation or the sequence of events, there is an urgent need for India and Pakistan to address allegations of harassment of each other’s diplomats and interference in High Commission work. While surveillance of diplomats by intelligence agencies in New Delhi and Islamabad is not new, matters have escalated in the past month, and the treatment of diplomatic officials by both sides has dropped to new lows. The spark for this round of ‘tit-for-tat’ actions appears to be an incident in February, when alleged ISI agents roughed up Pakistani construction workers headed for the Indian mission’s new building site in Islamabad. While Pakistan’s foreign office claimed they did not have security clearance to enter the diplomatic zone, India saw it as an attempt to stop the work, adding that power and water connections were tampered with. Then, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi claimed that Indian security personnel warned repairmen and electricians against entering its premises. Both missions said personnel were being targeted on the road, with cars stopped and drivers intimidated. Other instances on both sides include obscene phone calls, stoppage of milk and newspaper delivery to diplomats, and even 3 a.m. doorbell rings. The timing is clearly more than just coincidence, and the incidents mark a deliberate policy by India and Pakistan to give their intelligence agencies a carte blanche to target the other side. It is unfortunate that things have come to such a pass, weeks after the two countries agreed to humanitarian measures for prisoners, with Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif accepting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s proposals on the issue. The allegations of harassment are more serious than just shadow-boxing, and must be checked in order to avoid a further slippage in ties. They constitute technical violations of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the subsequent Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), which clearly state that a diplomatic agent’s person, premises and property are inviolable and must be respected and protected by the “receiving state”. The fear is that as a next step in this spiral, India and Pakistan may even take stronger measures, including sending back diplomats or scaling down their missions. India had declared Islamabad a non-family post in the wake of the terror attack on an army school in Peshawar; Pakistan may now follow suit by withdrawing its families from Delhi. At a time when bilateral dialogue has been stalled for years, and ceasefire violations are becoming the norm on the Line of Control, any escalation will impact the few lines of communication that remain. Cooler counsel must prevail.

b) A stoppable juggernaut

The results of the recent by-elections in eastern Uttar Pradesh have made it clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi is not invincible. The electors of Gorakhpur and Phulpur have shown his party the door, signalling that they are neither enamoured by what it has to offer by way of politics nor overawed of its grand success in the State Assembly elections of barely a year ago. They have bearded the proverbial lion in his den. It is now no longer inconceivable that the BJP may face the same fate elsewhere in the country in the parliamentary elections in 2019.

Secularism question

However, for this to happen, the advisers of the main Opposition party, the Congress, must read this verdict. They must realise that it would hardly do to merely “promote secularism without giving the BJP the opportunity to label [it] anti-Hindu,” as a writer put it in this newspaper soon after the elections to the Gujarat Assembly. Nor would it help for the party president to become a serial temple-goer as he did temporarily in Gujarat in poll season, a practice that has been hailed as “smart secularism” by pundits dismayed by the supposed innocence of “Nehruvian liberals”. Only a puffed-up intellect could imagine that India’s electorate are so naive as to not sniff fake religiosity from a distance. That Akhilesh Yadav did not go on a temple crawl in the Hindu-majority constituencies of Gorakhpur and Phulpur did not prevent the electors from switching their allegiance to the Samajwadi Party (SP). We know from the vote count that while Opposition unity helped with the victories, there has actually been a swing away from the BJP, even though slight. As for promoting ‘secularism without appearing to be anti-Hindu’, this is odd advice indeed. First, how can a political party promote secularism when the State, the reins to which it aspires, is constitutionally bound by it? Second, why should any religious group feel threatened by a genuinely secular State for it remains the best bet for the religiously inclined, whatever their faith. Finally, what the electors of U.P. have shown is that the people of India need no lessons in secularism. They have rejected Hindutva politics without any help from the Congress Party. How can we be certain that it is Hindutva that they have rejected? Well we can’t, for it could also be anti-incumbency as the elections were to the Lok Sabha. But if it is anti-incumbency that led to the defeat of the BJP, it is all the more reason for the Opposition parties to focus on the things that voters really care about. Hospitals are very likely among these. Last year Gorakhpur saw over 1,000 child deaths due to a deadly district public hospital in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s pocket borough.

Vertical presence

Why is it necessary to even consider the Congress when the possibilities for 2019 are being considered? Because even at a miserable 40-plus seats in the Lok Sabha, it is still the largest single Opposition party. And its importance stems from more than numbers. In terms of mindset, it is the only party that straddles the country vertically. With the ending of Chandrababu Naidu’s dalliance with the BJP, the entire south of the country is ruled by non-BJP parties. Assuming that this will continue till May 2019, the historical reach of the Congress party makes it better suited than any other to respond to the aspirations of the people of southern India. The architects of the BJP’s recent defeat in U.P. cannot hope to fill this role. Both the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are by choice parochial entities. Neither Lalu Prasad nor Mulayam Singh Yadav has attempted outreach south of the Vindhya. In fact, they seem to revel in the role of regional politicians apart from the unapologetic pitch to their own caste, which practice does not go down as well here. On the other hand, whatever may be their limitations, the Nehru-Gandhis mix naturally with the populace of this diverse country as if to the manner born. This is a rare valuable gift that they have inherited, but in the upcoming political battle with the BJP, the Congress leadership would need more than social skills. They can learn some of this from the leaders of the SP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the BSP. The latter bring a heft to the table which is also present in the style of Mr. Modi. And you can’t hold it against the electorate for rewarding it. After all they are not engaging in a contest for the best person in the room. Electors look for courage of conviction in their leaders; gravitas would be an additional asset. If the Congress is to lead the country once again, it should offer more than just secularism. If the results in Gujarat and the by-elections in U.P. are anything to go by, the electors need no tutoring on secularism. They are able to evaluate Hindutva politics for what it is. On the other hand, they aspire to better their living conditions and expect politicians to deliver this outcome. The Congress Party’s addiction to approbation from urban intellectuals leaves it incapable of seeing this. Deracinated in their gated communities, this group is seriously out of touch with the aspirations of ordinary people in this country. Democracy is meant to deliver this better life but in India it fails to do so. On almost every social indicator India lags the global average. Exactly as in the former Soviet Union in the 1980s the people were able to see that the rest of Europe was far ahead of them in living standards, so the people of India today see that we lag behind the rest of Asia. So if the Opposition wants to come to power, it must show solutions for a better life in India. And it must show an appetite for governance, something that Mr. Modi exudes even if his success in providing it is not so apparent four years into office. Legislating rights as under the United Progressive Alliance II may win praise from the intelligentsia of Delhi but could prove to be insufficient, as the electorate sharply signalled when it voted for Mr. Modi in 2014. Rights are hardly unimportant, but in an environment of acute economic insecurity the electorate wants the latter addressed upfront. This requires maintaining a buoyant economy and providing the services that cannot be purchased from the private sector. Political parties that aspire for power need to recognise this.

See the possibilities

It would be laziness to see election outcomes as reflecting some deeper social forces including the waxing and waning of Hindutva and conveniently assume that they are unstoppable. Electoral history in U.P. over the past 25 years reveals the folly in such thinking. The BJP was voted out immediately after the demolition under its patronage of the Babri Masjid and remained in the wilderness for much of the quarter century since. Ms. Mayawati came to power four times in this period and the Yadav clan, through father and son separately, has had more than one shot at governance. This parade is not reflective of some grand impersonal churning at work. It is the electorate thrashing complacent political parties which once they come to power fail to govern satisfactorily. Just as even two swallows do not a summer make, the elections in U.P. do not signal the departure of Narendra Modi yet, but they do suggest possibilities.


1) Provocation

Meaning: Action or speech that makes someone angry, especially deliberately.

Example: “you should remain calm and not respond to provocation”

Synonyms: Incitement, Rousing

2) Allegations

Meaning: A claim or assertion that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically one made without proof.

Example: “he made allegations of corruption against the administration”

Synonyms: Claim, Assertion

3) Harassment

Meaning: Aggressive pressure or intimidation.

Example: “The state also grants us the right to pursue this belief without any form of persecution or harassment”

Synonyms: Persecution, Irritation

Antonyms: Co-operation, Assistance

4) Escalated

Meaning: Make or become more intense or serious.

Example: “the disturbance escalated into a full-scale riot”

Synonyms: Grow, Develop

Antonyms: Shrink

5) Spark

Meaning: A sense of liveliness and excitement; a small amount of a quality or intense feeling.

Example: “a tiny spark of anger flared within her”

Synonyms: Flicker, Liveliness

6) Tit-for-tat

Meaning: The infliction of an injury or insult in return for one that one has suffered.

Example: “the conflict staggered on with tit-for-tat assassinations”

Synonyms: Retaliation, Reprisal

7) Diplomatic

Meaning: Of or concerning diplomacy.

Example: “diplomatic relations with Britain were broken”

Synonyms: Consular, Political

8) Tampered

Meaning: Interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations.

Example: “someone tampered with the brakes of my car”

Synonyms: Interfere, Meddle

9) Intimidated

Meaning: Frighten or overawe (someone), especially in order to make them do what one wants.

Example: “the forts are designed to intimidate the nationalist population”

Synonyms: Frighten, Menace

10) Obscene

Meaning: Offending against moral principles; repugnant.

Example: “using animals’ skins for fur coats is obscene”

Synonyms: Shocking, Vile

11) Deliberate

Meaning: Careful and unhurried.

Example: “a conscientious and deliberate worker”

Synonyms: Careful, Cautions

Antonyms: Hasty, Careless

12) Shadow-boxing

Meaning: Make a show of tackling a problem or opponent while avoiding any direct engagement.

Example: “a fortnight of political shadow-boxing”

13) Inviolable

Meaning: Never to be broken, infringed, or dishonoured.

Example: “an inviolable rule of chastity”

Synonyms: Absolute, Unalterable

Antonyms: Partial

14) Scaling down

Meaning: To make something smaller than it was or smaller than it was planned to be.

Example: A shortage of money has forced them to scale down the project.

Synonyms: Making smaller

15) Stalled

Meaning: Stop or cause to stop making progress.

Example: “his career had stalled, hers taken off”

Synonyms: Obstruct, Impede

16) Ceasefire

Meaning: A temporary suspension of fighting; a truce.

Example: “the latest ceasefire seems to be holding”

17) Cooler

Meaning: Showing no friendliness towards a person or enthusiasm for an idea or project.

Example: “he gave a cool reception to the suggestion for a research centre”

Synonyms: Unenthusiastic, Tepid

Antonyms: Enthusiastic, Friendly

18) Prevail

Meaning: Prove more powerful or superior.

Example: “it is hard for logic to prevail over emotion”

Synonyms: Overcome, Triumph

19) Invincible

Meaning: Too powerful to be defeated or overcome.

Example: “an invincible warrior”

Synonyms: Invulnerable, Unconquerable

Antonyms: Vulnerable, Defenseless

20) Overawed

Meaning: Impress (someone) so much that they are silent or inhibited.

Example: “the eleven-year-old was overawed by the atmosphere”

Synonyms: Intimidate, Daunt

21) Bearded (the proverbial) lion in his den

Meaning: To visit an important person in order to tell or ask them something unpleasant.

Synonyms: Dealing with

22) Inconceivable

Meaning: Not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.

Example: “it seemed inconceivable that the president had been unaware of what was going on”

Synonyms: Unbelievable, Unthinkable

Antonyms: Likely

23) Puffed-up

Meaning: Out of breath.

Example: “he felt puffed after climbing to the top of the apartment block”

Synonyms: Panting, Wheezy

24) Threatened

Meaning: To be likely to cause harm or damage to something or someone.

Example: Changing patterns of agriculture are threatening the countryside.

25) Incumbency

Meaning: The holding of an office or the period during which one is held.

Example: “during his incumbency he established an epidemic warning system”

26) Straddles

Meaning: Take up or maintain an equivocal position with regard to (a political issue).

Example: “a man who had straddled the issue of taxes”

27) Dalliance

Meaning: A period of brief or casual involvement with something.

Example: “Berkeley was my last dalliance with the education system”

28) Parochial

Meaning: Having a limited or narrow outlook or scope.

Example: “parochial attitudes”

Synonyms: Narrow-minded, Provincial

Antonyms: Cosmopolitan

29) Unapologetic

Meaning: Not acknowledging or expressing regret.

Example: “he remained unapologetic about his decision”

30) Populace

Meaning: The people living in a particular country or area.

Example: “the party misjudged the mood of the populace”

Synonyms: Population

31) Deracinated

Meaning: Uproot (someone) from their natural geographical, social, or cultural environment.

Example: “a deracinated writer who has complicated relations with his working-class background”

32) Appetite

Meaning: A strong desire or liking for something.

Example: “her appetite for life”

Synonyms: Craving, Longing

Antonyms: Aversion

33) Intelligentsia

Meaning: Intellectuals or highly educated people as a group, especially when regarded as possessing culture and political influence.

Example: “a distrust of the intelligentsia and of theoretical learning”

Synonyms: Literati, Cultrate

34) Buoyant

Meaning: (of an economy, business, or market) involving or engaged in much successful trade or activity.

Example: “car sales were buoyant”

Synonyms: Booming, Strong

Antonyms: Depressed

35) Waxing and waning

Meaning: To grow stronger and then weaker again.

Example: His commitment to democracy and free markets has waxed and waned with his political fortunes.

Synonyms: Changing, Alter

36) Demolition

Meaning: The action or process of demolishing or being demolished.

Example: “the monument was saved from demolition”

Synonyms: Destruction, Clearance

Antonyms: Construction, Confirmation

37) Patronage

Meaning: The power to control appointments to office or the right to privileges.

Example: “recruits are selected on merit, not through political patronage”

Synonyms: Favouritism, Partiality

38) Wilderness

Meaning: A position of disfavour, especially in a political context.

Example: “the man who led the Labour Party out of the wilderness”

39) Churning

Meaning: (of a broker) encourage frequent turnover of (investments) in order to generate commission.

Example: “these brokers churn the client’s portfolio to generate an income for themselves”

40) Complacent

Meaning: Showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements.

Example:” you can’t afford to be complacent about security”

Synonyms: Satisfied, Content

Antonyms: Dissatisfied, Humble

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