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14.5.21 The Hindu Editorials

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🛑The transfer of power in Assam, from Sarbananda Sonowal to Himanta Biswa Sarma was a smooth affair albeit mediated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership. Mr. Sarma has been the key strategist and troubleshooter for the BJP, not only in Assam, but in the entire northeast, for six years now. It would have been unsustainable for the party to keep him away from the post of the Chief Minister any longer. He was a key figure in the Congress until 2015, when he walked out of it to instantly emerge as the face of the BJP. A champion of pluralism as a Congress leader, Mr. Sarma grew strident as a polarising figure in Assam as a BJP leader. The BJP won Assam for a second consecutive time on the back of intense Hindu consolidation that swept through autonomous tribal regions, and across Bengali and Assamese speakers. Mr. Sarma has said his government would expand the welfare schemes started in the BJP’s first term, particularly targeting women and tea garden workers. That is hardly a controversial move, apart from the additional burden it might put on the State finances. The real challenge for him is in balancing the conflicting expectations of the constituents of the party’s support base with regard to the new citizenship regime legislated by the Centre.

Mr. Sarma’s government has already moved the Supreme Court for a re-verification of the Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC). The State government alleges “major irregularities” in its making — ineligible inclusions and unreasonable exclusions. An application by the State also prays for the deletion of illegal voters from Assam’s electoral rolls. The final draft of the NRC published in August 2019 had excluded 19.06 lakh out of 3.3 crore applications for lack of adequate documents establishing them as Indian citizens. Some think too few have been excluded. The CM wants up to 20% re-verification in the NRC for areas bordering Bangladesh and 10% for interior areas; and the Supreme Court’s guidance on the issue if discrepancies are found. The BJP’s evasive position on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which Assamese nationalists fear will open a floodgate of Bengali Hindus into the State besides granting citizenship to those who are already there, has been successful as an electoral strategy this time. That it is a central law and the State has little to do with it is technically correct, but it is disingenuous for a party that is in power at both levels. The BJP has been riding a tiger on the citizenship question. The party must use its fresh mandate in Assam as an opportunity to refresh its approach towards peoples and their movements in the northeast with compassion and realism.

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1.Troubleshooter (N)-a person skilled at solving or anticipating problems or difficulties. मुश्किल दूर करने वाला

2.Walked Out (Phrasal Verb)-to leave suddenly often as an expression of disapproval.

3.Swept Through (Phrasal Verb)-to become dominant, ubiquitous, or popular throughout some place.

4.Conflicting (Adj)-incompatible or at variance; contradictory. परस्पर-विरोधी

5.Discrepancies (N)-an illogical or surprising lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more facts. विसंगतियों

6.Evasive (Adj)-avoiding or seeking to avoid trouble or difficulties.

7.Open A Floodgate (Phrase)-to make it possible for something to happen in great numbers.

8.Riding A Tiger (Phrase)-to do something that is safer to continue than it is to quit.

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🛑The latest retail inflation and industrial output data from the National Statistical Office (NSO) offer some relief from the pall of gloom cast by the relentless second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Provisional headline inflation slowed to a three-month low of 4.29% in April, helped by softer food prices and a statistical base effect. The rate using an imputed index for the year-earlier period was 7.22%. A separate NSO release showed March industrial output jumped by 22.4%, benefiting again from the fact that the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) had posted an 18.7% contraction in March 2020, when the economy was halted by the start of a nationwide lockdown. A closer look at the inflation data reveals a substantial cooling in the prices of cereals, milk and milk products, vegetables, and pulses and products. While both cereals and vegetables saw a deflationary trend widen to -2.96% and -14.2%, respectively, dairy products, which have the second-largest weight in the food and beverages category, also slid into deflation territory at -0.13%. And price gains in pulses, which had been bothering monetary policy makers by having been stubbornly stuck in the double digits over an 18-month stretch, decelerated into single digits to reach a 20-month low of 7.51%. The combined impact slowed inflation across the food and beverages group by more than 250 basis points to 2.66%.

Still, the same Consumer Price Index data also point to persistent price pressures that could potentially fan faster inflation in the coming months, especially at a time when the socio-economic burden of the crippling pandemic and the impact of the lockdown that several States are resorting to is yet to be fully gauged. Price gains in meat and fish quickened to 16.7% and was little changed at 10.6% in the case of eggs, while inflation in oils and fats accelerated almost 100 basis points to 25.9%. Transport and communication also remained in the double-digit range at 11.04%, despite benefiting from the virtual freeze in the pump prices of petroleum products that coincided with last month’s Assembly elections. Now, with global crude oil starting to firm again and local petrol and diesel prices resuming their upward trajectory, the prospect of haulage costs — for transporting goods from factory and farm gates — rising in the near term is very real. Add to the mix rising international commodity prices and the outlook for inflation gets even more cloudy. Industrial production numbers may also provide cheer only for a limited period, aided in no small measure by output having cratered in the first few months of the last fiscal. IHS Markit’s PMI survey for April showed new orders and output having slowed to eight-month lows, and with the pandemic-triggered factory shutdowns threatening supply disruptions, industrial production and inflation face challenges. Policymakers must stay vigilant to ensure price stability even as measures to bolster demand are the need of the hour.

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1.Pall (N)-a negative feeling or mood.

2.Gloom (N)-feelings of great unhappiness and loss of hope.

3.Deflationary (Adj)-causing prices and the level of economic activity to become lower or to stop increasing. मँहगाई कम करना

4.Beverages (N)-a drink that is produced to sell to people. पेय

5.Crippling (Adj)-causing severe damage or problems. गंभीर, अशक्त कर देने वाला

6.Gauged (V)-to judge the worth or importance of. मानदंड, अन्दाजा करना

7.Haulage (N)-the commercial transport of goods.

8.Disruptions (N)-disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process. अवरोधों

9.Bolster (V)-support or strengthen.

10.Of The Hour (Phrase)-most important or popular at the present time.

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🙏With thanks to the original al sources

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