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November 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

[oped of the day] The love triangle


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : India-Nepal-China triangle


President Xi Jinping flew straight from Chennai to Kathmandu. It is even an affront to India. 


    •  King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of Nepal, had said in 1770 that Nepal is a root vegetable between two big boulders, calling for balance and equidistance.

Background to the trip

    • Long pending – Nepal has been waiting for Xi since 2014. China has been waiting for the right timing: For Nepal to have a full-fledged communist government. 
    • India’s marginalisation in Nepal — is largely self-inflicted. Narendra Modi chose Nepal for his first visit and promised to reset India-Nepal relations. That never happened.
    • The china-nepal relationship is to be upgraded to a long-term strategic and security cooperation. Xi pledged to safeguard Nepal’s national sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. 
    • Agreements signed – 18 agreements and two letters of exchange were signed. 

Agreements & Challenges

    • Boundary Management Systems that help insulate China’s northern reaches with Nepal — is a perennial issue relating to the illegal passage of Tibetans. 
    • Anti-China activities – China’s main security concern relates to anti-China activities by 20,000 Tibetans living in Nepal who are virtually under lockdown during such visits. 
    • Mutual legal assistance in criminal matters – Beijing hopes will ultimately result in an extradition treaty. 
    • Financial assistance – Xi also announced a financial assistance package of $495 mn for the next two years which India will find difficult to match. China has overtaken India in FDI to Nepal which was about $300 mn in 2018. 
    • Connectivity – The feasibility study for the Cross Himalayan Connectivity Network of a railway from Kyirong to Kathmandu was approved.
      • This will be extended via Pokhara to Lumbini in Terai as the China-Nepal Economic Corridor component of the Belt and Road Initiative. 
    • Cost of connectivity – A preliminary study by China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group Co Ltd has noted technical, geological, scientific and engineering challenges to this. This includes its security along with high costs and risks that outweigh the benefits. 
    • One estimate puts the cost of the Kathmandu-Kyirong section which includes a 28 km tunnel at $2.7 bn.
    • Debt trap – The question of funding invokes the memory of the Hambantota debt trap. A railway line from Lhasa to Kathmandu, unless it reaches the border with India, makes little commercial sense. 
    • Strategic issues – It will raise strategic doubts and uncertainties between India and China given the state of current relations.

Nepal’s view

    • Opportunity – Nepa does not view the CNEC as a threat but an opportunity for it to play the bridge between the two fastest-growing economies, China and India.
    • Risks to Nepal – Given the great rise of China, and its involvement in Nepal’s domestic politics, Nepal may be forced to make major strategic choices.
    • India’s role – In the past, former prime ministers had sought to encourage India to join the triangular India-Nepal-China grouping. In 2016, the three countries did discuss it. But India preferred to deal bilaterally with Nepal. 
    • China-India plus one – After Wuhan, then Chinese Ambassador to India, mooted this as a new model, as the two countries agreed to jointly train Afghan diplomats. 
    • Connectivity to Nepal – the Cross-Himalayan Connectivity Network will help Nepal become land-linked from land-locked with additional entry points. This will reduce the dependence on India. 

Chinese view

    • Window to Tibet – China sees Nepal as a window to Tibet.
    • Parity with India – due to its pre-eminence in Nepal and deep pockets, China has sought parity with India including enhanced defense and military cooperation as part of the new blueprint in Nepal-China relations. 
    • CNEC – The CNEC is more strategic than economic, especially its envisaged outreach to Lumbini which will breach India’s red line on Chinese activities in Nepal. 


    • India has completed its feasibility study of a railway line from Raxaul to Kathmandu. How the Kathmandu-Kyirong rail will connect with the Indian section to the south is unclear. 
    • The Indian military still views a PLA challenge through Nepal to the strategic Indo-Gangetic plains. 


    • Xi’s dream — to be the sole leader of the Asian century — is attainable: 
    • By keeping India anchored to the region using Pakistan China blocks India’s traditional strategic space in Nepal.
    • Geography, including the open border, is in India’s favour. 
    • Winning back Nepal and the confidence of its people is the challenge.

Cyber Security – CERTs, Policy, etc

[op-ed snap] The sovereign test


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Rights in the age of technology


Will Cathcart, the global head of WhatsApp, wrote that “Governments and companies need to do more to protect vulnerable groups and individuals”. 


    • He was referring to spyware attacks, like the one that the messaging platform succumbed to from Pegasus.
    • Pegasus is a malicious software developed by NSO.
    • WhatsApp has disclosed that a “not insignificant” number of Indian journalists, rights activists and lawyers were targeted using Pegasus.

Responsibility of governments

    • Cathcart placed the responsibility on both tech companies and governments. 


    • NSO severed its contract with Saudi Arabia after accusations by a journalist.
    • He claimed that its software was used to hack his phone, which allowed Saudi agencies to track journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated in Istanbul. 

Technology & Fundamental Rights

    • WhatsApp has often claimed that its end-to-end encryption makes it a safe and private way to communicate. That claim is now being contested. 
    • In the digital age, companies will emerge and operate in the grey areas of the intersection between technology and security to make a profit. 
    • But national security must not be used as a shield by either governments or private players to justify the violation of fundamental rights.

Indian scenario

    • Right to privacy – India is a constitutional democracy where the courts have read the right to privacy in the right to life and liberty. 
    • Indian response – Law and IT minister said he has asked WhatsApp to explain the breach, while the home ministry has said it will take strict action against those violating the law. 
    • Actions in previous instances – Earlier, the Indian government and parliamentary committees have summoned executives from Facebook and Twitter.
    • The vulnerability of India – Indians continue to be the largest user base for WhatsApp. 
    • Relation with Israel – India also enjoys close ties with Israel. 

Way ahead

    • Indian government must leverage its relationship with Israel to hold NSO to account. 
    • It must punish anyone found guilty of unlawfully violating the privacy of Indian citizens. 
    • The government has made it clear that it holds a sovereign right over the data of its citizens. The idea of data sovereignty must include a citizen’s right to privacy. 


The government’s response in the aftermath of the WhatsApp hack will demonstrate its commitment to the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Financial Inclusion in India and Its Challenges

[op-ed snap] India scores on financial inclusion


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Financial Inclusion in India


According to the report, Global Microscope report on inclusion, by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), India has the fifth most conducive environment among emerging countries for inclusive finance.

Facts of report

    • Only Columbia, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico are ahead of India. 
    • The EIU’s analysis takes four basic parameters into account: 
      • whether non-banks can issue e-money
      • the presence of financial service agents
      • proportionate customer due diligence
      • effective financial consumer protection
    • Of the 55 countries assessed, only four scored perfectly across all four enablers.  India is among them.

India – Financial Inclusion

    • Amartya Sen has famously once remarked that “poverty is the deprivation of opportunity”. 
    • Former US president Bill Clinton, on a visit to an Indian village, was quoted as saying all that India’s poor needed was “education and some credit”. 
    • It’s the credit part that financial inclusion initiatives aim to provide. 
    • The poor opened bank accounts under the government’s Jan Dhan Yojana. In 2011, only 40% of Indian adults had an account, according to the Global Findex report; now almost 80% have one.

Way ahead

    • It remains unclear whether poverty itself is being alleviated as a result of such inclusion. 
    • At least it’s possible for the government to directly reach a vast chunk of the population with cash transfers. 
    • Such handouts could help bridge gaps in people’s ability to use these accounts. 
    • Over time, if rural incomes witness an uptrend and non-financial inclusion goes up, India could fulfill the objective of the whole exercise.



Financial Inclusion in India: Need and future; PMJDY; Payment Banks and Small Banks

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Explained: What it means to host UNFCCC COP?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNFCCC COP

Mains level : Climate change negotiations and issues

  • Chile, the designated host for this year’s UN climate change conference, has said it would not be able to organise the December event because of political unrest at home.
  • Spain which stepped in and offered to host it on the same dates, December 2-13 will host the CoP.

COP25: The event

  • The signatories to the 1992 UNFCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) meet to discuss and decide on steps that countries need to take to fight climate change.
  • The year-end conference called COP has been held since 1995 and never been postponed.
  • This will be the 25th edition of the meeting, hence COP25.

Why is it for?

  • It is the same meeting that, at COP3, delivered the 1997 Kyoto Protocol the first international agreement to fight climate change.
  • The Kyoto Protocol was later deemed to be inadequate, and after several years of negotiations, COP21 in 2015 delivered the Paris Agreement.
  • In subsequent years, countries have been trying to finalise the rules and procedures that will govern the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
  • One of the most important tasks at the upcoming COP is to complete the negotiations over the rulebook.

How is a host decided?

  • The venue for the COP meeting is rotated among the five UN-identified regions — Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and Western Europe and Others.
  • The countries in the region have to propose a candidate, and a host is usually decided at least two years in advance.
  • If no one else agrees to do it, Bonn in Germany, as headquarters of the UNFCCC secretariat, has to step in and host the event.

Trends in the hosting pattern

  • The rotation cycle has not been followed very strictly.
  • The first and second COPs were both held in Western Europe (Berlin and Geneva), and so were the fifth and sixth (Bonn and the Hague).
  • After the 2012 COP in Doha, the event has not returned to Asia.
  • That is because Fiji, the host in 2017, lacked the resources to organise an event of this scale; as a compromise, the event had to be held in Bonn under the Fijian presidency.
  • Even before the ongoing unrest, Chile had been a reluctant host. The only other contender from the region to host COP25 was Costa Rica, but it lacked the resources.

Why hosting a COP is difficult?

  • The host city incurs huge expenditure on the event, not all of which is reimbursed.
  • Apart from the over 20,000 participants, the city has to make arrangements for visits by heads of states and governments, and other personalities.
  • Side events and demonstrations invariably come with the conference, and the host city has to brace for such disruptionsthe for more than two weeks.
  • The event does help local economy, and tourism, but many countries do not see that as an adequate incentive.

A weak climate leadership

  • For countries with smaller greenhouse gas emissions, this is not much of a problem, but such expectations explain why the US, China or Russia have not shown much interest in hosting the event.
  • Japan hosted the 1997 event that produced the Kyoto Protocol, but it also happened to be the first country to walk out of it in 2011.
  • Australia, which too withdrew from Kyoto Protocol, has never hosted it.
  • Spain will now host it for the first time, and so will the UK, in Glasgow next year. Germany and Poland have been hosts three times each.
  • India, the third largest emitter, hosted the 2002 COP in New Delhi, much before climate change became this big.
  • The EU which has a relatively strong climate change action plan, has hosted the most COP editions — 11 of 24 COPs, with Madrid now the 12th of 25.

North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

History of Naga flag and its relevance now


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Naga flag

Mains level : Naga peace process


  • The deadline for a final Naga peace accord passed on amid assertions from both sides that peace talks would continue.
  • Among the issues that have been contentious is the demand for a separate Naga constitution and use of the Naga flag, for decades a symbol of Naga nationalism.

The Nagas & the Indian Union

  • In a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, representatives of Naga tribes demanded that Nagas be left free after Independence and not be included in the Indian Union.
  • Ahead of Independence, a nine-point agreement was signed between the Government of India and the Naga National Council.
  • This included an experimental coexistence with India for a period of 10 years to be reviewed at the end of that period.
  • While the Nagas saw this provision as temporary, with a right to self-determination after 10 years, Naga historians say the Indian government has interpreted the “trial period’’ as accession to the Indian Union.

Independence celebration

  • The tallest leader of the Naga struggle, Dr A Z Phizo, met M K Gandhi in Delhi on July 19, 1947.
  • According to Naga historians, Gandhi agreed that the Nagas would celebrate their independence a day ahead of India, on August 14, 1947.
  • To this day, Nagas across Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh celebrate August 14 as Independence Day.

The Naga flag

  • In the Naga narrative, passed down generations by word of mouth, the Naga flag was not designed by a mortal but is of divine origin.
  • As Naga groups battled the Indian armed forces, the legend goes, Phizo and his closest colleagues had a vision — a rainbow, in a startlingly blue sky that had appeared after a storm.
  • A woman of the Rengma tribe, one of the tribes under the Naga umbrella, was commissioned to weave the flag.
  • It was hoisted for the first time in Parashen in Rengma on March 22, 1956.
  • The flag has a blue background, representing the sky. A red, yellow and green rainbow arches across the centre.
  • The Star of Bethlehem adorns the top left corner of the flag; Nagas are predominantly Christian.

Where it stands today?

  • The flag remains a symbol of the Nagas’ struggle for over 60 years, of their religious faith, of the aspirations of the Naga people, and of their identity.
  • It helps bind all the different Naga tribes together.
  • Outside Nagaland state, in particular, the flag continues to elucidate strong emotions of identity from Nagas.
  • Inside the state, common citizens are today divided on it. Certain sections believe that with secession from the Indian Union no longer possible, the Naga flag has lost some of its relevance.

What are the secessionist tendencies today?

  • The moderates have supported a complete inclusion in the Indian state, for access to the latter’s development project, infrastructure, and its education and health facilities.
  • But a large section of the Nagas still holds dear the idea of the Naga identity and of their tribal roots.


  • The Naga struggle claimed thousands of lives over decades and devastated countless homes, all over the idea of a sovereign Naga nation.
  • If the NSCN (I-M) accedes to economic and political packages alone, without a separate flag and constitution, it remains to be seen whether it will be seen as a solution, or as a defeat.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Dwarf Planets


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Dwarf Planets

Mains level : NA

  • As of today, there are officially five dwarf planets in our Solar System. Now, there is a claimant for a sixth dwarf planet.

Hygiea: New dwarf in the race

  • Using observations made through the European Space Organization’s SPHERE instrument at the Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have now found Hygiea may possibly be a dwarf planet.
  • The most famous is Pluto, downgraded from the status of a planet in 2006. The other four, in order of size, are Eris, Makemake, Haumea and Ceres.
  • Called Hygiea, it has so far been taken to be an asteroid. It lies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • If it qualifies, Hygiea will be the smallest dwarf planet in the Solar System.

What makes a Hygiea dwarf?

  • The International Astronomical Union sets four criteria for a dwarf planet, and Hygiea already satisfies three — it orbits around the Sun, it is not a moon, and it has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
  • The fourth requirement is that it have enough mass that its own gravity pulls it into a roughly spherical shape.
  • According to the new study, VLT observations now show Hygiea satisfied that condition, too.
  • This is the first time astronomers have observed Hygiea in high resolution to study its surface and determine its shape and size.

WTO and India

WTO rules against India’s export subsidies


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WTO

Mains level : India and WTO

  • The WTO’s dispute settlement panel ruled that India’s export subsidy schemes, including the provision for special economic zones, violated core provisions of global trade norms.

A recap of India’s dispute with the US

  • Last year, the US had taken India to the WTO’s over the issue of export subsidy schemes, claiming that they were hurting American companies.
  • The US alleged that some subsidy programmes run by the Indian government were giving undue advantage to Indian businesses.
  • The Trump administration filed a case against India citing a violation of the SCM Agreement as India’s gross national product per capita was over $1,000.
  • While the government had earlier said that it would phase out the aged export subsidy programmes, no such scrapping has occurred.
  • It has also come to light that India is already working on rolling out new schemes to replace the old programmes.

Recent WTO ruling

  • Upholding US’s complaints in the case WTO panel rejected India’s claims that it was exempted from the prohibition on export subsidies.
  • India had made claims under the special and differential treatment provisions of the WTO’s Agreement on Subsidies & Countervailing Measures (SCM).
  • The panel further ruled that India is not entitled to provide subsidies depending on export performance and said it’s per capita gross national product crossed $1,000 per annum.

What does it mean?

  • It is worth noting that under Article 3.1 of the WTO’s SCM agreement, all developing countries with gross per capita of $1,000 per annum for three consecutive years are required to stop all export incentives.
  • The US had earlier accused India of giving prohibited subsidies to Indian steel producers, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, information technology, textiles and apparel.
  • While the panel ruled in favour of US and urged India to withdraw the subsidies without delay.
  • While the panel upheld most of the claims made by the US, it rejected some points pertaining to a subset of exemptions from customs duties and an exemption from excise duties.

Impact of the ruling

  • Some of the schemes that will be affected by the WTO’s ruling include Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS), export-oriented units (EOU) scheme.
  • It will hamper some sector-specific schemes, including Electronics Hardware Technology Parks (EHTP) scheme and Bio-Technology Parks (BTP) scheme, Export Promotion Capital Goods (EPCG) scheme; and duty-free imports for Exporters Scheme.
  • Under the various schemes, domestic companies are currently receiving billions in subsidies on an annual basis.
  • Withdrawing the subsidies may have a significant effect on the performance of such companies.

What lies ahead?

  • The WTO dispute settlement panel has asked India to withdraw the concerned export subsidy schemes within a time period of 90 days from the adoption of the report.
  • It also asked India to withdraw prohibited subsidies under the EOU/EHTP/BTP schemes, EPCG and MEIS, within a period of 120 days and SEZ scheme within 180 days.
  • India has a month to appeal against the WTO’s order.
  • However, India has the right to challenge the ruling before the appellate body of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism with regards to export subsidy schemes.

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[pib] UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CCN, Gastronomy

Mains level : Not Much

  • UNESCO has designated Mumbai as a member of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) in the field of FILM and Hyderabad in the field of GASTRONOMY.

About UCCN

  • UCCN created in 2004, is a network of cities which are thriving, active centres of cultural activities in their respective countries.
  • UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) was established in the year 2004.
  • It creates a network of those cities that are active centres of various cultural practices in their respective countries.
  • At present UCCN has 246 member cities including Mumbai and Hyderabad.
  • These cities can be from all continents with different income levels or with different level of populations.
  • UCCN believes that these cities are working towards a common mission and that is to placing creativity at the core of their urban development plans to make region resilient, safe, inclusive and sustainable.
  • Ministry of Culture is the nodal Ministry of Government of India for all matters in UNESCO relating to culture.

Objective of UCCN

  • They work together towards a common mission: placing creativity and the creative economy at the core of their urban development plans to make cities safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable, in line with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 7 categories for recognition under UCCN are as follows-

  • Crafts and Folk Arts
  • Design
  • Film
  • Gastronomy
  • Music
  • Media Arts
  • Literature

 Previously, 3 Indian cities were recognized as members of UCCN namely-

  • Jaipur-Crafts and Folk Arts (2015)
  • Varanasi-Creative city of Music (2015)
  • Chennai-Creative city of Music(2017)

Note: Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between food and culture, the art of preparing and serving rich or delicate and appetizing food, the cooking styles of particular regions, and the science of good eating.

Tribes in News

[pib] Chavang Kut Festival


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chavang Kut

Mains level : Various tribes in India

Chavang Kut

  • Chavang Kut the post-harvest festival of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities is being celebrated across North-Eastern states with traditional gaiety and enthusiasm.
  • The festival marks the Anglo-Kuki war centenary year.
  • In Manipur, Mizoram and Assam and other parts of the country, the festival is organized every year as thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.
  • It is one of the most important festivals of Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities. It is a state holiday in Manipur.

Note: Not to be confused with Chapchar Kut

Chapchar Kut

  • The Chapchar Kut is a festival of Mizoram, India. It is a spring festival celebrated with great favour and gaiety.
  • It is celebrated during March after completion of their most arduous task of jhum operation i.e., jungle-clearing.