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On a balance

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

In the current round of Assembly elections in five States, the distinguishing feature of the two States that went to polls on Saturday — Punjab and Goa — in single-phase elections, was the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the fray as a force to reckon with. Despite AAP’s poor record of governance in Delhi where it had swept to power two years ago riding on high expectations, there is a perceptible mood for change which it is expected to benefit from in the State elections. Both States recorded historic turnouts — 78.62 per cent in Punjab and 83 per cent in Goa.

Whether this reflects an urge for change and would favour the new emergence of AAP only time will tell. This is indeed AAP’s chance to prove that it is not just a Delhi party. That Punjab was the only State where it won some seats in the Lok Sabha elections (four) indicates that the initial spadework had already been done.

Punjab could well end up with a hung verdict and in that event there could well be a Congress-AAP coalition since the BJP is a virtual untouchable for both parties. That over 80 per cent polling was recorded in Malwa region which accounts for 69 seats of a total of 117 seats in the Assembly seems an encouraging factor for AAP which has made substantial inroads in that region.

But the Congress, energised by Amarinder Singh’s leadership, could well be an important player. As for the Akali-BJP combine, it is plagued by anti-incumbency and with having to bear the cross of the mismanagement of the drugs and law and order issues. But if the recent high-decibel campaign against AAP for commiserating with extremists drills fear into people of the return of militancy, many voters could fall back on the incumbent Akali-BJP combine. That this would be sufficient to offset the gains of AAP, however, seems unlikely.

As for Goa, while the BJP’s gambit of bringing Manohar Parrikar back to the State as chief minister if it wins could work to the benefit of the party, the fact that not only the AAP but also the MGP (Maharashtra Gomantak Party), an erstwhile ally of the BJP, and a former RSS leader Subhash Velinkar are new challengers to the BJP, besides the Congress, could pose some challenge to the ruling party. Nevertheless, the BJP seems to have an edge.

(Follow us on Twitter @NTChennai, FB page News Today)


Jitters for students

Monday, 6 February 2017

A virtual panic has gripped Indian students in the US with the initial signals that have emerged in the wake of President Donald Trump’s assumption of office. Close on the heels of his order temporarily barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries, a leaked draft of an executive order has sent shivers down many a spine. If this continues, experts and counsellors are wondering if the US will command the number one position among higher education destinations.

Students heading to the US for higher studies currently get a year of OPT (Optional Practical Training). Those pursuing STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) courses get an additional allowance of 24 months, essentially allowing them three chances (one each year) at the H-1B visa. But the leaked draft order says this extension would be revoked.

Some students have started looking at Canadian and Australian universities in preference to US schools institutions even as counsellors are being flooded with panic calls from students and parents. In 2015-16, nearly 16 per cent of international students in the US were from India. A dramatic reduction in these numbers could hit the American economy hard but the Trump administration is oblivious to that eventuality. The tag of an American qualification is so coveted in the developing world not the least of it in India, that aspiring students are being exploited by many universities with hefty fees.

It is small wonder then that many universities are mailing prospective students to tell them that they are welcome to their campuses regardless of what the Trump administration says. But it is easier said than done. If President Trump stays firm in his resolve to cut down on immigrants, there is little that the universities can do.

As indifferent luck would have it, recent data from UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency shows a decline in the number of Indian students to the UK by 44 per cent – from 24,030 in 2011-12 to 14,400 in 2015-16. It was at least partially this that resulted in Indian students going to the US rising by 25 per cent to almost 1.7 lakh in 2015-16.

Now, if the US government does not act to woo student aspirants and persists with its myopic policy of shunning immigrants, the students would look to other destinations. In the bargain, the US would also lose out in attracting much-needed talent. Indeed, the loss would be both India’s and that of the US.

(Follow us on Twitter @NTChennai, FB page News Today)



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