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20.5.21The Hindu Editorials

🛑By choosing 17 fresh faces in the new Council of Ministers of 21, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala is trying to signal a continuing willingness to evolve as a responsive political organisation. Barring Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the CPI(M) has not nominated any of its Ministers from the previous term. All four Ministers of the CPI are new. Eight Ministers are first time MLAs, as is the Speaker nominee, M.B. Rajesh. The composition of the Council broadly reflects the State’s social diversity; and there are three women, the highest in history. The CPI(M) has reconfigured its social base in Kerala, at significant cost to the Congress, and it is reinforcing those trends through the selection of Ministers. Veena George and Saji Cherian are being rewarded for leading a shift of Christian voters in Central Travancore to the party. A judicious mix of youth and experience, the Council is an attempt at messaging to the electorate a fresh resolve of the LDF, particularly the CPI(M). But the exclusion of K.K. Shailaja, who has been in the spotlight for her role as Health Minister, has set off criticism against the CPI(M) from many quarters, including its own support base. After having won with a huge margin, she was expected to provide continuity to the State’s fight against the pandemic. Her exclusion does seem like changing horses midstream. K.N. Balagopal and P. Rajeev have proven their mettle as parliamentarians and in the organisation. P.A. Muhammad Riyas happens to be Mr. Vijayan’s son-in-law, and R. Bindu the wife of CPI(M) Acting State Secretary A. Vijayaraghavan. Both merit inclusion in their own right.

The crowd of 500 expected at the swearing-in ceremony today is, however, bad optics, in the midst of a pandemic which remains untamed in the State that is in lockdown. The new government has more challenges — a cyclone rained misery in the coastal areas this week, and fears of floods loom along with the monsoon clouds. The State’s finances are in a shambles. The CPI(M) had replaced 22 sitting MLAs who had finished two terms with new candidates in the election. Several senior leaders were already benched by this criterion. The party subsequently decided to nominate only fresh faces to the Council by way of reiterating the primacy of the organisation over individuals. Ironically, the choices also raise valid concerns of the increasing concentration of power in the hands of Mr. Vijayan. In a Council packed with newcomers, the CM will command such authority that an open discussion on any topic could be difficult. Given his complete sway over the party and the government, the onus is on him to empower the Ministers. Officials whom he trusted put him and the party in a spot many times during the first term. By restoring political consultations, including within the CPI(M), and keeping the bureaucracy disciplined, Mr. Vijayan could make his second term better than the first.

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1.Changing Horses Midstream (Phrase)-To make major changes to a situation or course of action that is already underway.

2.Mettle (N)-a person's ability to cope well with difficulties.

3.Loom (V)-come into view indistinctly, often threateningly. संकट मँडराना

4.Shambles (N)-a state of total disorder.

5.Criterion (N)-a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided. मानदंड

6.Reiterating (V)-say something again or a number of times, typically for emphasis or clarity. बार बार कहना या करना

7.Sway (V)-control or influence. प्रभाव

8.Onus (N)-something that is one's duty or responsibility.

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🛑The RBI’s latest monthly bulletin has just confirmed what many economists and anecdotal evidence have been pointing to — a sharp backslide in economic momentum. In an article on the State of the Economy, RBI officials including Deputy Governor Michael Debabrata Patra have flagged the ‘demand shock’ inflicted by the ferocious second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they have cited the loss of mobility, impact on discretionary spending and increase in unemployment as clear signs that demand is in the doldrums. Several high-frequency indicators for April have captured the reversal in momentum. GST e-way bills, an indicator of the health of domestic trade, contracted 17.5% month-on-month, while automobile fuel consumption, commercial vehicle sales and domestic air passenger traffic all shrank from the preceding month. And the previously relatively unscathed rural economy too saw demand begin to dry up as new infections spread wider and deeper into the countryside, a trend reflected in a 33.5% contraction in the dispatches of two wheelers and a palpable weakening in demand for tractors. Also, unemployment, which hit a four-month high of 8% in April as per a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, was at 9.5% on May 18 based on a 30-day moving average. Crucially, rural unemployment captured by the moving average has risen to 8.6%, and this at a time when the pandemic’s grip and higher spending on health are likely to be pushing up precarity among households in the hinterland.

Looking ahead, the critical risk to the economy even as it tries to recover from the last fiscal year’s crippling contraction is posed by the speed at which the virus continues to spread in the country. With the pace of vaccinations having slowed nationwide, more so in rural and semi-rural areas, the agriculture sector is likely to face challenges in the coming months when sowing for the kharif crop will need to be done. The reports on the infections and deaths linked to the disease from the villages and towns portray a grim picture and it is hard to see rural demand for anything other than the barest of essentials including food and medicines reviving any time soon. Add to this the rising cost of transport fuels, and the sharp increases in commodity prices, cutting across agricultural and industrial raw-materials segments and one sees ‘a worsening of domestic cost conditions’ as the RBI officials warn. Accelerating inflation threatens the economy’s overall consumptive capacity and policy makers need to be wary of the real danger of stagflation. The shrinking fiscal space notwithstanding, authorities need to spend more on an expedited nationwide vaccine roll-out and must seriously consider direct cash transfers to boost demand.

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1.Anecdotal (Adj)-based on reports or things someone saw rather than on proven facts. उपाख्यानात्मक

2.Ferocious (Adj)-savagely fierce, cruel, or violent. भयंकर

3.Discretionary (Adj)-used to describe an amount of money in a budget that can be reduced if necessary.

4.Doldrums (N)-a state or period of stagnation or depression.

5.Unscathed (Adj)-without suffering any injury, damage, or harm. सकुशल

6.Dry Up (Phrasal Verb)-to no longer exist or be available.

7.Precarity (N)-the state of being precarious or uncertain. अनिश्चितता

8.Hinterland (N)-an area that is a long way from a town or city. आंतरिक इलाके

9.Crippling (Adj)-causing a severe and almost insuperable problem. गंभीर

10.Grim (Adj)-very serious or gloomy. विकट

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