The Indian Express


Head Line: Humanist, feminist: Why Iswarchandra Vidyasagar matters

1) Mains Paper I: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present significant events, personalities, issues.

Why in news:

  • Some of the earliest and most fundamental reforms impacting the lives of Hindu women were pioneered by the man whose bust was vandalised in Tuesday’s attack on the college that he founded.

Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar:

  • Iswarchandra Bandopadhyay was born on September 26, 1820, in Birsingha village of Midnapore district in a poor Brahmin family.
  • After his elementary education, Iswarchandra moved to Calcutta, where he studied Sanskrit grammar, literature, Vedanta philosophy, logic, astronomy, and Hindu law, and received the title of Vidyasagar — Ocean of Learning — at age 21.
  • Privately, he studied English literature and philosophy.
  • When he was barely 30, Vidyasagar was appointed principal of Calcutta’s Sanskrit College.
  • His most enduring contributions were as an educationist and reformer of traditional upper caste Hindu society.
  • The focus of his reform was women — he spent his life’s energies trying to ensure an end to the practice of child marriage and to initiate widow marriage.

Vidyasagar’s rationalism:

  • Nineteenth-century Hinduism, Max Weber wrote in his 1916 study on The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, had “become a compound of magic, animism and superstition”.
  • Social conditions and practices reflected deep religious obscurantism, and the immutable hierachies and segregations of caste.
  • The humanist reformism of Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), Akshay Kumar Dutt (1820-86) and Vidyasagar was shot through with a powerful rationalism that rejected the decadence of contemporary Hindu society, and questioned the bases of the faith in which it claimed to have its roots.
  • Roy founded the Brahmo Sabha; Vidyasagar and Dutt were agnostics who refused to discuss the supernatural — Vidyasagar once said that given the amount of work he had in this world, he did not have the time to ponder what lay beyond.

 Reforms for women:

  • In a paper written in 1850, Vidyasagar launched a powerful attack on the practice of marrying off girls aged 10 or even younger, pointing to social, ethical, and hygiene issues, and rejecting the validity of the Dharma Shastras that advocated it.
  • In 1855, he wrote his two famous tracts on the Marriage of Hindu Widows, grounding his argument in reason and logic, showing that there was no prohibition on widows remarrying in the entire body of ‘Smriti’ literature (the Sutras and the Sastras).
  • While stating that he did feel compassion for “our miserable widows”, the great rationalist stressed “that I did not take up my pen before I was fully convinced that the Sastras explicitly sanction their remarriage. This conviction I have come to after a diligent, dispassionate and careful examination of the subject and I can now safely affirm that in the whole range of our original Smritis there is not one single text which can establish anything to the contrary”.
  • Alongside the campaign for widow remarriage, Vidyasagar campaigned against polygamy.
  • In 1857, a petition for the prohibition of polygamy among Kulin Brahmins was presented to the government with 25,000 signatures.
  • The revolt of the sepoys resulted in postponement of action on this petition, but in 1866, Vidyasagar inspired another petition, this time with 21,000 signatures.
  • In the 1870s, Vidyasagar wrote two brilliant critiques of polygamy, arguing to the government that since polygamy was not sanctioned by the sacred texts, there could be no objection to suppressing it by legislation.

 The lasting impact:

  • Two thousand copies of Vidyasagar’s first pamphlets on widow remarriage were sold out in a week, and a reprint of another 3,000 was sold out as well.
  • These were unprecedented sales figures for that time.
  • On October 14, 1855, Vidyasagar petitioned the Government of India asking that it “take into early consideration the propriety of passing a law (as annexed) to remove all obstacles to the marriage of Hindu widows and to declare the issue of all such marriages to be legitimate”.
  • On July 16, 1856, The Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, known as Act XV, was passed.
  • Inspired by Vidyasagar, a number of literary men produced dramas advocating the remarriage of widows, in Bengal and elsewhere, especially in Maharashtra.


Head Line: An Expert Explains: Article 324 and role of Election Commission

2) Mains Paper II: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.

  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

Why in news:

  • The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order Wednesday, ending the campaign in West Bengal at 10 pm the following day instead of 5 pm on May 17 as was notified earlier, and is the norm.
  • It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
  • Just a month earlier, on April 15, the ECI had told the Supreme Court that its powers to discipline politicians who sought votes in the name of caste or religion were “very limited” — only to turn around and crack the whip on Yogi Adityanath, Maneka Gandhi, Mayawati, and Azam Khan after being scolded by the court, which also said it would examine the ambit of the Commission’s powers.

 ECI’s freedom, responsibility Constitutional provisions:

  • There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution.
  • The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.
  • Babasaheb Ambedkar introduced this Article on June 15, 1949, saying “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”.
  • Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”.
  • Parliament enacted The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and The Representation of the People Act, 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
  • The Supreme Court in Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Ors (1977) held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”.
  • The Constitution has not defined these terms.

Article 324 in depth:

  • Article 324, the court said, “is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections” in the ECI “and, therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function”.
  • The framers of the Constitution, the court said, had left “scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations that may emerge from time to time…”
  • Importantly, however, the court, while observing that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations”, underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.”
  • The court observed: “No one is an imperium in imperio in our constitutional order.
  • It is reasonable to hold that the Commissioner cannot defy the law armed by Art. 324.
  • Likewise, his functions are subject to the norms of fairness and he cannot act arbitrarily. Unchecked power is alien to our system.”

 ECI’s role in West Bengal:

  • The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election “shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission” from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and “such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission”.
  • The situation in West Bengal is covered by existing laws, and there was no need to invoke the residuary power granted to the ECI by Article 324.
  • The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe.

ECI in 2019 General elections till now:

  • In N P Ponnuswami (1952), the Supreme Court held that even courts do not have the power to interfere with the electoral process, a view that it reiterated in Special Reference No. 1 (2002).
  • Last week, the court rejected a plea seeking a direction to the ECI to advance the timing of voting to 5.30 am for the last phase of the election in view of the heat and the fasting of Muslims during the month of Ramzan, saying “We cannot get into poll times. It is the Election Commission’s call.”
  • It had no convincing logic for a seven-phase election in West Bengal or a three-phase vote in a single constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, and gave no reason for not holding simultaneous Assembly elections in J&K and by-elections in Tamil Nadu.
  • The reduction of the campaign time in West Bengal by 19 hours — to 10 pm on Thursday — seems clearly arbitrary.
  • As the Supreme Court has underlined, absolute power is the antithesis of constitutionalism.
  • Article 324 protects the ECI, but does not allow it to become a law unto itself.


Head Line: Trade troubles

3) Mains Paper III: Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth.


  • Labour intensive exports remain sluggish, non-oil non-gold imports contract, suggesting weak domestic demand.
  • According to the latest trade data, at the aggregate level, exports grew by a mere 0.64 per cent in April.
  • But, strip away the spurt in petroleum exports, and the remaining exports actually contracted by 3 per cent in April.


  • India’s trade deficit surged to a five-month high of $15.3 billion in April with merchandise export growth slumping to 0.64 per cent — the slowest pace since December 2018.
  • These numbers suggest that the high export growth observed in March may indeed have been an aberration.
  • This subdued performance in April comes after recent data showed that industrial production had contracted by 0.1 per cent in March.
  • With both consumer durables as well as capital goods segments contracting sharply — the latter is a proxy for investment demand — it suggests that the underlying drivers of growth are sputtering.

 General slowdown in growth:

  • According to the latest trade data, at the aggregate level, exports grew by a mere 0.64 per cent in April.
  • But, strip away the spurt in petroleum exports, and the remaining exports actually contracted by 3 per cent in April.
  • The lacklustre performance can be traced largely to the contraction in exports of engineering goods as well as subdued growth of major labour intensive segments.
  • For instance, gems and jewellery contracted by 13.4 per cent, leather products by 15.25 per cent as did man-made and cotton yarn.
  • Growth of the ready-made garments segment also slumped to 4.4 per cent in April, down from 15 per cent in March. This does not bode well for job creation.
  • On the other hand, imports rose by 4.5 per cent in April, on the back of higher crude and gold shipments.
  • But what is worrisome is that imports, excluding oil and gold, which give a better sense of domestic demand, contracted by 2.2 per cent in April, after contracting by 2.67 per cent in the previous month.

 Impact of slow down:

  • The near-term prospects for exports appear to be muted. For one, the escalation of trade tensions between the US and China is likely to impact global growth and trade.
  • In fact, last month, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) lowered its projection for global trade growth.
  • It now expects merchandise trade volume growth to fall to 2.6 per cent in 2019, from 3 per cent in 2018.

 Way Forward:

  • Clearly, the next government has its task cut out. It will have to carefully navigate the intensifying trade war between the US and China while putting in place measures to boost competitiveness and revive exports.

Perhaps, easing the compliance burden of the goods and service tax (GST) would be a good starting point.

The Hindu

The Hindu










Times of India