8 APRIL 2016
Lessons from the Chinese veto
The Centre’s protests over China’s move to block India’s attempt at the United Nations to ban Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar is understandable. After all, it was Azhar along with Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed that provided the leadership for most of the terror attacks launched from Pakistan on India. Even if China awaits evidence of Azhar’s role in the Pathankot attacks, it cannot be unaware of his long association with terrorist activity, including the 2001 Parliament assault. Also, it is impossible to ignore the fact that IC-814 was hijacked and hundreds of innocent lives were endangered only in order to secure his release. Azhar is the undisputed leader of the JeM, which has been proscribed by the UN for its links with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and it is only logical that he also comes under the ban. Despite China’s repeated assurances of standing firm on the issue of terrorism at the bilateral level as well as at multilateral fora such as BRICS and RIC, it has let India down time and again in the past two years. Since September 2014, when President Xi Jinping visited India, China has blocked India five times. For instance, India’s resolutions to have Syed Salahuddin and Azhar added to the list of proscribed terrorists were opposed. So was the call for action against Pakistan for violating the ban on Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. So, while the strong Indian reaction is justified, it is unlikely that the government is surprised by it. The takeaway must be that India rethinks its moves to isolate Azhar and other Pakistan-based terrorists with more effective results.
Much of the problem, as the government’s statement itself acknowledges, stems from the insistence of the United Nations Security Committee on Terrorism on “unanimity” and “anonymity” for all decisions on listing terror entities, which allows China to overrule India’s efforts with a “technical hold”. It is no secret that while India-China business and people-to-people ties have improved over the past few years, the security relationship has flagged. A series of border incursions by Chinese troops, followed by India’s forging maritime military ties with the U.S. for coordination in the South China Sea, have increased distrust between New Delhi and Beijing, which has widened due to lack of meetings at the designated Special Envoy level for more than a year. Added to this is China’s renewed closeness to Pakistan, and growing interests in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, making it more difficult for Beijing to hold Pakistan accountable on tricky issues such as terror. The answer is clear: India must show that terror is not a zero-sum game and that it is willing to work with every world power in order to isolate the terrorists that continue to threaten its people. Airing of frustration is one thing, but what is really required is deft diplomacy behind the scenes and a continued engagement with Beijing. Both countries after all have a shared concern
Promoting equity with variable fees
The decision of the Human Resource Development Ministry to raise the annual undergraduate student fees at the Indian Institutes of Technology to Rs. 2 lakh marks another major initiative by these leading education institutions to realise their real costs. Continuing with the policy of affirmative action, students from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, candidates with disability and those from families with a defined low income will get fee exemption. An upward revision of the annual fees was made twice by the IITs during the UPA government, taking it from Rs.25,000 to Rs.90,000, based on expert committee recommendations. Several concessions for candidates from the weaker sections were offered even then. It is important that fees for higher education are structured in such a way that the opportunity for the brightest students to enrol in the best institutions is not linked to their socio-economic backgrounds. There is also merit in the argument that education is a basic right that access to this must be widened by every possible means; enlightened policy pursues this ideal in a variety of ways. The fee revision scheme to be introduced broadly meets these criteria, and is consistent with the social deprivations that SC and ST students have faced, although the deficit they suffer due to a neglected school system remains unaddressed by overall education policy. It is also important to ensure that the liberal education loan linkage for IIT students that the Devang Khakhar committee recommended, with no collateral requirements, is in place.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who envisaged the IIT system as the technological manpower base for a nascent nation, said in his convocation address to graduating students of the Institute in Kharagpur in 1956 that it would be “fantastically stupid” to train people for certain ends and not utilise them. In the decades since, droves of IIT graduates have left for good research and employment prospects abroad, raising the question whether India derived adequate social returns for the beneficial and relatively low-cost education that these institutions offered them. For some time now, though, an open economy with an avowed policy of encouraging entrepreneurial initiative has offered technologists greater freedom within the country, although in several areas of research, such as computer science and materials, the base remains low, and encourages graduates to migrate. The imperative should therefore be to attract and retain talent, while protecting academic freedom and the principle of equity. This can be done through a funding system that does not close the door on a meritorious student who finds the fees unaffordable. An income-linked loan scheme open to everyone, tied to the ability of the graduate to repay (rather than the status of a student’s parents) would be an equitable option. The IITs should still offer generous assistantships flowing from social and charitable endowments. That would serve as a model for technical education and research.