IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 10 October 2019

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Mahabalipuram’s China connection

Topic: GS –II: International relations

Mahabalipuram, or Mamallapuram, 56 km south of Chennai on the Tamil Nadu coast, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet China’s President Xi Jinping on October 11 & 12 in an informal Wuhan-style summit, had ancient links with Buddhism and China through the maritime outreach of the Pallava dynasty.

When the Pallavas ruled

  • The name Mamallapuram derives from Mamallan, or “great warrior”, a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known. It was during his reign that Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese Buddhist monk-traveller, visited the Pallava capital at Kanchipuram.
  • Narasimhavarman II (c.700-728 AD), also known as Rajasimhan, built on the work of earlier Pallava kings to consolidate maritime mercantile links with southeast Asia.
  • Most interestingly, as historian TansenSen recorded in his 2003 work Buddhism, Diplomacy and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400, Narasimhavarman II sent a mission to the Tang court in 720 with a request that would seem unusual in the context of India-China relations today.
  • The name Mamallapuram derives from Mamallan, or “great warrior”, a title by which the Pallava King Narasimhavarman I (630-668 AD) was known.
  • The emissaries of the Pallava king sought the permission of Emperor Xuangzong to fight back Arab and Tibetan intrusions in South Asia. And, “Pleased with the Indian king’s offer to form a coalition against the Arabs and Tibetans, the Chinese emperor bestowed the title of ‘huaidejun’ (the Army that Cherishes Virtue) to Narayansimha II’s troops”, Sen wrote. The offer of help by the Pallava ruler, Sen noted, may have had more to do with furthering trade and for the prestige of association with the Chinese emperor, rather than any real prospect of helping him to fight off enemies in the faraway north.
  • The Descent of the Ganga/Arjuna’s Penance, a rock carving commissioned by Narasimhavarman I, with its depiction of the Bhagirathi flowing from the Himalayas, may serve as a reminder of the geography of India-China relations, and their shared resources.

Hindus, Muslims and China

  • Tamil-Chinese links continued after the Pallavas, flourishing under the Cholas as the Coromandel coast became the entrepot between China and the Middle East. The links extended to a wider area beyond Mahabalipuram, through a layered history that has left a rich tapestry of society, culture, art and architecture, which is diverse and complex, and reaches up to modern times.
  • The ancient port city of Pondicherry, 80 km south of Mahabalipuram, was a French colony famous for its Chinese exports known as “Coromandel goods”, including crepe de chine.
  • By the time Islam arrived on south India’s east coast in the 9th century, Muslims had already started trading with China by maritime routes, Sen wrote. The trading missions that the Cholas sent to the Song court included Muslims. A trader named Abu Qasim was second-in-command of a mission sent in 1015; the next mission, in 1033, included one Abu Adil. “It is possible that both Abu Qasim and Abu Adil were members of the Tamil-speaking Muslim community on the Coromandel coastknown as Ilappai,” Sen wrote. Today, the ancient port of Marakanam is a fishing village, known for its Muslim boatmakers.

Continuing connections

  • In later centuries, the Coromandel coast retained its importance for trade between China and the west. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a staging post for the Dutch, French and British for control of the seas between South Asia and Southeast Asia, as the Europeans fought to protect their trade routes with China and other countries in the region.
  • The ancient port city of Pondicherry, 80 km south of Mahabalipuram, was a French colony famous for its Chinese exports known as “Coromandel goods”, including crepe de chine. Today the Union Territory, with its French legacy, Tamil residents, Bengali and international devotees of Sri Aurobindo, is among the most diverse and cosmopolitan of cities in South India.
  • After establishing their writ on the Coromandel Coast, the British expanded eastward and established control over the Straits of Malacca, essentially to protect their trade routes to China and the rest of the region.
  • Among the colonial outposts on this coast is Sathurangapattinam, or Sadras, right next to Kalpakkam, where the Dutch East India Company built a fort, their second one on the east coast after establishing a capital at Pulicat, north of Chennai.
  • Sadras became a huge centre for the Dutch-controlled manufacture of cotton and muslin. The Dutch presence in the region grew rapidly after they established themselves in Java in 1603. They traded within Asia, buying textiles, metal, and porcelain, importing and exporting between India, China and Japan, to keep the spice trade going.


Topic: GS –II: International relations

People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, has lashed out at Apple for hosting on its App Store an app that tracks and displays the movement of police in Hong Kong.


  • live (screenshot right) publishes crowdsourced information on the location of armed police forces, vehicles, use of tear gas, and clashes and injuries on a map of Hong Kong that is regularly updated. A website version is available too, as also a version for Android, but the People’s Daily article did not mention this, and instead concentrated on its attack on Apple.
  • China, which is sensitive to international criticism of its policies, pulled NBA games off state TV after a team official tweeted in support of Hong Kongers protesting for democracy and freedom. It had earlier criticised the US jewellery brand Tiffany, and the airline Cathay Pacific.
  • The SCMP, which contacted the developer of the app on Twitter, quoted the developer as saying Apple previously rejected the app, but reversed its decision on Friday and made the app available for download from the iOS App Store on Saturday. Apple did not respond to media requests for a comment.

Can govt intercept WhatsApp?

Topic: GS -III: Security

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is studying the possibility of bringing platforms such as WhatsApp under the ambit of “lawful interception”.

More in news:

  • Lawful interception of online communications platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Signal or Telegram has been a long-running debate that has ranged governments and regulators across the world against technology companies and privacy activists.
  • The authorities want such platforms to provide access to messages, calls, and their logs to law-enforcement agencies to aid them with investigations. India, too, has made demands for traceability of communications from instant messaging platforms.

Why is TRAI looking at lawful interception of online messaging apps?

  • The telecom sector watchdog has been carrying out consultations to build a regulatory framework for over-the-top service providers (OTTs) — or platforms that use the infrastructure of traditional telecom companies like the Internet to offer their services. TRAI has been looking at the regulation of OTTs since 2015, when mobile companies first raised concerns over services such as WhatsApp and Skype causing loss of revenues by offering free messaging and call services.
  • The other argument made at the time was that these services do not fall under the licensing regime prescribed by The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and effectively operated in a regulatory dark spot.
  • Over time, TRAI looked at various aspects of the lack of a level playing field between telecom companies and OTT service providers, including the economic aspect. However, with the boom of data consumption in the country over the last two or three years, primarily led by OTTs, TRAI officials indicated that the economic aspect did not hold ground anymore. With this realisation, the regulator began looking at the security facet of the regulatory imbalance between the two kinds of players. While telecom players are subjected to lawful interception as per the telegraph law, OTT platforms, by virtue of not being licensed, are currently not subject to interception by law-enforcement agencies.

How will the regulator proceed with the proposal now?

  • TRAI will submit its views to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which will decide on the next course of action. Currently, the regulator is learnt to be studying global practices as far as lawful interception on online platforms is concerned. It is also looking into whether other regulators and authorities have been provided any facilities for interception of communications, and could suggest that the platforms should provide the same facilities to the Indian government.

Under which laws are telecom firms currently subject to lawful interception?

  • The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 states that on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of public safety, the central government or a state government can take temporary possession — for as long as the public emergency exists or the interest of the public safety requires the taking of such action — of any telegraph established, maintained or worked by any person licensed under the Act.
  • This mandates telecom companies to provide access to messages, calls, and logs of these in case a court order or a warrant is issued. However, the government, while clear on demanding access to message logs for law-enforcement purposes, is not relying on The Telegraph Act to meet this objective. Instead, it wants the platforms to come up with a solution to enable traceability.

So, are messages sent and received on these platforms not traceable?

  • Apps such as WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, etc. claim to provide end-to-end encryption of their messages. This has caused some uncertainty among the authorities on how they can seek access to messages.
  • On the FAQ page on its website, WhatsApp states: “We will search for and disclose information that is specified with particularity in an appropriate form of legal process and which we are reasonably able to locate and retrieve. We do not retain data for law-enforcement purposes unless we receive a valid preservation request before a user has deleted that content from our service.”
  • It also says that in the ordinary course, WhatsApp does not store messages once they are delivered. “Undelivered messages are deleted from our servers after 30 days. As stated in the WhatsApp Privacy Policy, we may collect, use, preserve, and share user information if we have a good-faith belief that it is reasonably necessary to (a) keep our users safe, (b) detect, investigate, and prevent illegal activity, (c) respond to legal process, or to government requests, (d) enforce our Terms and policies,” it says. “We also offer end-to-end encryption for our services, which is always activated. End-to-end encryption means that messages are encrypted to protect against WhatsApp and third parties from reading them.”

And what is the situation elsewhere?

  • Currently, there is no jurisdiction anywhere in which messaging apps have been known to provide access to their messages. However, pressure on such services to provide access for law-enforcement purposes has been rising everywhere. The United States Department of Justice has made fresh arguments for access to encrypted communications.
  • In India, Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has repeatedly stressed the need to be able to trace messages to prevent serious crimes. While the Indian government has conceded that encrypted messages may not be accessible, it has asked the platforms to provide origin of messages that could possibly incite violence or other mischievous acts.

Behind Nobel, Chemistry of mobile batteries

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognises the work that led to the development of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power most of the portable devices that we use, such as mobile phones.

  • The prize has been given jointly to Stanley Whittingham, now with Binghamton University, State University of New York; John B Goodenough, now with the University of Texas at Austin; and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation.
  • Whittingham developed the first functional lithium-ion battery in 1976, Goodenough brought in a major improvement in 1980, while Yoshino made the first practical-use lithium-ion battery in 1985. Commercially manufactured lithium-ion batteries, based on what Yoshino had developed, made their first appearance in 1991.

How batteries work

  • Batteries convert chemical energy into electricity. A battery comprises two electrodes, a positive cathode and a negative anode, which are separated by a liquid chemical, called electrolyte, which is capable of carrying charged particles. The two electrodes are connected through an electrical circuit. When the circuit is on, electrons travel from the negative anode towards the positive cathode, thus generating electric current, while positively charged ions move through the electrolyte.
  • Single-use batteries stop working once a balance is established between the electrical charges. In rechargeable batteries, an external power supply reverses the flow of electric charges, so that the battery can be used again.

The winners’ recipe

  • STANLEY WHITTINGHAM: When Whittingham began working on batteries in the 1970s, rechargeable batteries were already available, but were bulky and inefficient. Whittingham worked with newer materials to make his battery lighter and more efficient. The older rechargeable batteries used to have solid materials in the electrodes which used to react with the electrolyte and damage the battery. Whittingham’s innovation came from the fact that he used the atom-sized spaces within the cathode material, titanium disulphide, to store the positive lithium ions. The choice of lithium was dictated by the fact that it let go of its electron quite easily and was also very light.
  • JOHN B GOODENOUGH:Whittingham’s battery worked at room temperature, making it practical, but was prone to short-circuits on repeated charging. An addition of aluminium, and a change of electrolyte, made it safer, but the big breakthrough was made by Goodenough who changed the cathode to a metal oxide instead of metal sulphide (titanium disulphide) that Whittingham had been using. Goodenough’s battery was almost twice as powerful as Whittingham’s.
  • AKIRA YOSHINO: Yoshino started working on Goodenough’s battery and tried using various lighter carbon-based materials as the anode in order to bring down the weight further. He got excellent results with petroleum coke, a byproduct of the oil industry. This battery was stable, lightweight, and as powerful as Goodenough’s

Lithium-ion still best

  • Researchers have continued to look for other materials to make more efficient batteries, but so far none of these has succeeded in outperforming lithium-ion battery’s high capacity and voltage. The lithium-ion battery itself has, however, gone several modifications and improvements so that it is much more environment friendly than when it was first developed.

20 new moons orbiting Saturn

Topic: GS -III: Science and Technology

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center confirmed 20 new moons orbiting Saturn, making it the planet with the most moons in our Solar System, at 82. The 20 had been discovered by Scott S Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science. Until their confirmation, the planet with the most moons was Jupiter, at 79.

More in news:

  • A count of the moons listed on the NASA website shows that our Solar System’s planets together have 205 confirmed moons now. Saturn and Jupiter, with 161 between them, account for nearly 80% of these. Another 20% are orbiting Uranus (27) and Neptune (14). Of the remaining three moons, one is Earth’s own while the other two are with Mars.
  • Mercury is so close to the Sun and its gravity that it wouldn’t be able to hold on to its own moon, NASA explains. Any moon would most likely crash into Mercury or maybe go into orbit around the Sun and eventually get pulled into it. It is not yet clear, however, why Venus does not have a moon.
  • The newly discovered moons of Saturn are about 5 km each in diameter. Seventeen orbit Saturn opposite to the planet’s rotation, and three in the same direction as Saturn’s rotation.
  • The Carnegie Institution for Science has invited, until December 6, suggestions for names of the 20 new moons of Saturn. The rules are at: https://carnegiescience.edu/NameSaturnsMoons

Editorial section:

Affirmative action at the crossroads-The Hindu

War on words-The Hindu

Maintaining the India-China stride length-The Hindu

Infinite crisis-The Hindu

The minimum wage solution-The Hindu


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