1 November, 2020

  • Nath moves SC over EC curbs on Congress campaigners list - (Polity and Governance)
  • High Tech Transfers: FAQ (International Relations)
  • The coming together of the Quad in the seas (International Relations)
  • What is the D614G mutation in coronavirus? - (Science and Technology)
  • Spiral Galaxy Bars may prevent new stars (Science and Technology)
  • QOD

Prelims Quiz


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    UPSC Current Affairs: Nath moves SC over EC curbs on congress campaigners’ list | Page 01

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – Polity & Governance

    Sub Theme: Star Campaigner | UPSC

    Who is a Star Campaigner?

    • A star campaigner can be described as persons who are nominated by parties to campaign in a given set of constituencies.
    • These persons are, in almost all cases, prominent and popular faces within the party.
    • There is no specific definition according to law or the Election Commission of India.
    • Star campaigners for a party will not exceed 40 where it is a recognised political party.
    • For parties that are deemed unrecognized, the number of star campaigners will not be more than 20.

    Their purpose

    • Actors, celebrities and senior political party members are the ones who are nominated to be star campaigners.
    • This is based on the premise that a popular face, someone that the common voter can immediately identify and side with, can rake in more votes for that political party.

    How much does a star campaigner cost?

    • Section 77 (b) of The Representation of People’s Act, 1951 says that most of the expenses incurred by the campaigner “shall not be deemed to be an expenditure in connection with the election”.
    • In other words, all expenses will be borne by the respective political party.
    • For example, expenses borne by star campaigners on account of travel by air or by any other means of transport shall not be deemed as expenditure in connection with the election.
    • The manual to the Model Code of Conduct states that for the benefit of availing Section 77 (1) of The RP Act, a permit for the mode of transport for every star campaigner will be issued centrally and against their name.
    • It is also mandatory for this permit to be stuck on a prominent and visible place on the vehicle.

    A case for PMs

    • The MCC states that if the star campaigner is a PM or a former PM, then expenses incurred for bullet-proof vehicles required by centrally appointed security personnel will be borne by the government.
    • If another political dignitary accompanies this candidate, then 50 per cent of expenses incurred for security arrangements will be borne by the candidate.


    UPSC Current Affairs: High Tech Transfers: FAQ | Page 13

    UPSC Syllabus: | Mains: GS Paper II – International Relations  

    Sub Theme: BECA | GSOMIA | LEMOA | COMCASA | UPSC        

    On October 27, India and the U.S. signed the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) during the third 2+2 dialogue of defence and foreign ministers of the two countries. This is the fourth and the last of the foundational agreements that both countries have concluded, starting with GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) in 2002, LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) in 2016, COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018, and now BECA.

    What are foundational agreements?

    • The United States enters into what are called ‘foundational or enabling agreements’ with its defence partners. These agreements govern the nature and scope of U.S. defence partnerships. Partners enhance the capabilities of the U.S. military in distant places through sharing information, platforms and logistics.
    • The competitive advantage of the U.S. military is maintained primarily by the advanced technologies that the country develops continuously.
    • The U.S. sells military equipment to other countries with strict control over their deployment and use. For instance, consider the B777-300ER aircraft that India bought from Boeing recently for the use of VVIPs.
    • The sale of advanced communication and security systems on the aircraft — which are not commercially available — is made seamless by foundational agreements.

    The U.S. is also eager to advance ‘interoperability’ with defence forces of the countries that are its defence partners. Interoperability involves real-time coordination of forces. The U.S. has signed these foundational agreements with at least 100 countries, which mostly follow a standard text. Country-specific changes were made in India’s case in all four foundational agreements 

    What do these agreements do?

    • The General Security of Military Information Agreement or GSOMIA, and its extension, the Information Security Annex (ISA) signed in 2019, allow military technology cooperation for the sharing of classified information between governments and companies in both countries.
    • The LEMOA enables logistics support, say refuelling of planes or ships, supply of spare parts or maintenance to each other.
      • For instance, U.S. Navy’s P8 aircraft landed in Port Blair last month for refuelling, under LEMOA. Even in the absence of this agreement, such cooperation can and has taken place between India and the U.S., but the agreement makes it seamless, and the accounting easier.
    • The COMCASA allows Indian forces to procure advanced, secure communication equipment from the U.S. Such equipment was earlier denied for U.S. origin platforms such as C-17, C-130, and commercial systems were used in their place. Only after COMCASA was signed were the encrypted systems provided to India.

    The BECA enables exchange of geospatial information. Akin to a GPS that enables navigation, such exchange of geospatial information enhances the accuracy of a missile or the utility of a drone.

    What is the strategic importance of these agreements?

    • Since the Civil Nuclear Agreement of 2005, the India-U.S. defence cooperation has been advancing at a rapid pace.
    • The U.S. has relaxed restrictions on technology trade in India’s favour considerably, and India is designated a ‘Major Defence Partner’.
    • Foundational agreements deepen defence cooperation, in trade and operation. India and the U.S. are also part of a broader shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region, where both countries, along with Japan and Australia, are increasing their military cooperation. U.S.-built platforms used by partner countries can talk to one another and share operational information.

    Are there any concerns? 

    • Critics worry that tying itself too closely with the U.S. may limit India’s choices. The evolution of technology makes it inevitable that all military platforms will be integrated and networked in the future. The U.S. is very particular about the integrity of its networks, and pressure could mount on India to remain firmly in its camp. The U.S. is particularly irked by India’s continuing defence cooperation with Russia. India will be taking the delivery of Russian S-400 missile defence system next year, ignoring American objections.
    • The U.S. could respond with sanctions. At any rate, it will not be possible to integrate Russian and American platforms, and this could throw up new challenges of military planning for India.

    The moot question, say experts, is whether India could ramp up its defence cooperation with the U.S. without ending up as its ally.


    UPSC Current Affairs: The coming together of the Quad in the seas | Page 14

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS Paper-II – International Relations

    Sub Theme: QUAD | Indian Ocean geo-strategy | UPSC   

    History of Malabar

    • It began as a simple Passage Exercise (PASSEX) in 1992 between the Navies of India and the U.S.
    • After having hit a pause in 1998 following India's nuclear test, the drill resumed in 2002 and since then, it has become an annual exercise
    • Over the years, the exercise grew in scope with both sides featuring submarines and aircraft carriers. It got converted into a trilateral drill with Japan’s inclusion in 2015
    • Later this week, frontline warships from India, Australia, Japan and the U.S. will team up off the coast of Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal to carry out advanced manoeuvres, including surface, anti-submarine and anti-air warfare operations, cross-deck flying, seamanship evolutions and weapon firing exercises under Phase-I of Malabar 2020.
    • This is the first time since 2007 that the four countries are together in the Malabar naval exercise. While the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) between the four has no military dimension, they are now teaming up to exercise together under the Malabar banner. 

    For over three years, New Delhi was reluctant to accept Canberra’s request to join Malabar as an observer. The first indication of a change in view came in June when officials signalled that there was a rethink. A key meeting in the MoD in August took an in-principle decision to invite Australia for this year’s exercise, pending a formal announcement. Experts believe the ongoing stand-off with China in eastern Ladakh had an impact in changing New Delhi’s view. 

    The Motto of Malabar:

    • The participants of Malabar 2020 are engaging to enhance safety and security in the maritime domain, the MoD statement said.
    • They collectively support free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and remain committed to a rules-based international order.
    • The planning conference for the exercise was held virtually due to COVID-19 and the exercise has been planned on a ‘non-contact-at sea’ format.
    • Malabar Exercise showcases the “deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests”.

    In a recent interview to The Hindu, Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell, while saying they were “delighted” at being invited to Malabar, said with the benefit of hindsight, he can say that withdrawing from Malabar “was a mistake”. Australia had joined Malabar in September 2007, which also had a small contingent from Singapore and coincided with coming together of the ‘Quad’ grouping. Both were quickly disbanded after sharp reaction from China.

    History of the drill

    Malabar began as a simple Passage Exercise (PASSEX) in 1992 between the Navies of India and the U.S. and hit a pause in 1998 after India’s nuclear tests in Pokhran, to resume again in 2002. Since then, it has become an annual feature.

    “The 2003 Malabar was seminal, since it not only graduated from the uni/two-dimensional level to a three-dimensional exercise (involving surface, sub-surface and air platforms), but also included Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) missions against suspect vessels,” wrote Gurpreet S. Khurana, executive director, National Maritime Foundation, in an issue brief, ‘Malabar Naval exercises: trends and tribulations’, dated August 5, 2014. “Such operations may be necessary to curb terrorist use of sea transportation, including for trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

    Both sides fielded submarines for the first time in 2003 and aircraft carriers in 2005 — USS Nimitz and INS Viraat. Over the years, the exercise grew in scope and complexity. It got converted into a trilateral exercise with Japan’s inclusion in 2015.

    Phase-1 of Malabar 2020 will see participation of U.S.-guided missile destroyer USS John S McCain, Australian long-range frigate HMAS Ballarat with integral MH-60 helicopter and Japanese destroyer JS Onami with integral SH-60 helicopter.

    Indian Navy is fielding destroyer INS Ranvijay, stealth frigate INS Shivalik, off-shore patrol vessel INS Sukanya, fleet support ship INS Shakti and submarine INS Sindhuraj, a Sindhughosh-class Russian Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine. Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer, P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, Dornier maritime patrol aircraft, and helicopters will also be participating in the exercise. Officials were quiet about the flotilla for Phase-II.

    China gave a restrained response on the announcement. Asked about Australia’s inclusion in Malabar, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in Beijing that they “noticed” this development and China believes military cooperation between countries should be “conducive to regional peace and stability”.

    Military cooperation 

    • While New Delhi may have been reluctant to let Australia into Malabar, it has quietly improved its military cooperation with each of the Quad countries bilaterally. Information exchange for enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness is a prominent theme for the Indian Navy with increased presence of Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean.
    • Since 2008, China has maintained regular presence in the Indian Ocean Region in the name of anti-piracy patrols and even deployed submarines for the purpose. In 2017, China formally opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.
    • This has also brought a change in the Navy’s operational philosophy in the last few years with its mission-based deployments, a series of logistics support agreements to increase operational turnaround in the region and beyond and other foreign cooperation and capacity building activities. The Malabar and cooperation with the U.S. is one of the many strands being pursued. There are also other regional organisations such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Goa Maritime Conclave that India is actively engaging.
    • This is the first Malabar exercise since India signed mutual logistics pacts with all three countries. India has also now signed all the four foundational or enabling agreements with the U.S., which takes interoperability several notches higher, not just with the U.S but also with Australia and Japan.
    • For instance, during the past Malabar exercises, to enable encrypted communication, the U.S. would install its encrypted communication kits, CENTRIXS (Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System), onboard Indian ships. India got access to these systems after it signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018. 

    In March 2019, Indian the Navy and the U.S. Navy signed a loan agreement and installed two Pacific fleet-provided CENTRIXS kits at the Indian Navy headquarters, said Ellen Lord, U.S. Under Secretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment, in November last year.

    More systems have been added in a variety of places and platforms though officials declined to give a specific number. This will enable seamless communication with all participants of Malabar 

    An interesting aspect of India’s deployment is that a Russian origin submarine, U.S. origin long-range submarine-hunting aircraft, U.K. origin trainer aircraft and indigenous stealth frigate armed with a mixed armament package will be exercising with the U.S. and its allies.

    While all eyes are on the exercise, the question is whether Australia’s participation this year is a one-off incident or it will continue to be part of Malabar going forward. The MoD has stated that Australia will be part of Malabar 2020 but has not commented on the future.


    UPSC Current Affairs:What is the D614G mutation in coronavirus? | Page 12

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III – Science & Technology 

    Sub Theme: Corona virus mutation | UPSC                

    While novel coronavirus is undergoing many mutations, one particular mutation called D614G, according to a study, has become the dominant variant in the global COVID-19 pandemic.

    What is the D614G mutation?

    • When the virus enters an individual’s body, it aims at creating copies of itself. When it makes an error in this copying process, we get a mutation.
    • In this case, the virus replaced the aspartic acid (D) in the 614th position of the amino acid with glycine (G). Hence the mutation is called the D614G.
    • This mutated form of the virus was first identified in China and then in Europe.
    • Later it spread to other countries like the U.S. and Canada and was eventually reported in India.

    How is this mutation different?

    • The D614G mutation is situated in the spike protein of the virus.
    • You can think of the spike protein as a massive ‘trimer’ assembly with three protein chains. Each protein chain has two sub-units (S1 and S2).
    • The sub-unit S1 is the one that attaches to the host cells — Human ACE2 receptor.
    • The S2 sub-unit mediates the fusion of the viral and human membranes.
    • The D614G mutation is present in the sub-unit S1 of the protein and is also close to the S2 sub-unit.
    • Therefore, it has an impact on the human cell’s interactions with both S1 and S2.

    In simple words, this particular mutation aids the virus in attaching more efficiently with the ACE2 receptor in the human host, thereby making it more successful in entering a human body than its predecessors. To provide a clear picture of how transmissible this particular mutation of the virus has become over time, a paper in the journal Cell says that the mutation was found in 10% of 997 global genome sequences before March 1, 67% of sequences between March 1 and March 31 and 78% of the sequences between April 1 and May 18 

    What are the effects of the mutation?

    • Not only did the D614G show increased infectivity but it also displayed greater ability at attaching itself to the cell walls inside an individual’s nose and throat, increasing the viral load.
    • However, the paper could not establish any direct correlation between this particular genetic change in the virus and an increase in the severity of COVID-19 or its impact on a patient’s mortality.
    • The patients seem to be exhibiting variable reactions to it depending upon their genetic constitution, age, exposure to other diseases etc. Researchers are still pondering over the effects of this mutation.

    How prevalent is it in India?

    • The D614G mutation, which is the defining mutation for clade A2 of the virus, is indeed, quite prevalent in India.
    • A study (a preprint posted on bioRxiv) — which collected SARS-CoV-2-positive samples from the various States like Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh among others — reveals that the D614G was one of the most prevalent spike mutations even during the initial phase of the pandemic.
    • Since then, D614G mutation’s ‘relative abundance’ has increased over time to 70% and above, in most States except Delhi, reports another pre-print in BioRxiv after analysing samples from 10 Indian States.

    Can this mutation impact vaccine research?

    • A paper in the journal, Nature, after conducting experiments on hamsters, concluded that this particular mutation may not reduce the ability of vaccines in clinical trials to protect against COVID-19 and that the therapeutic antibodies should be tested against the circulating variant of the virus before clinical development.
    • “There is a need for extreme caution with premature inferences on mutations and their effects without supporting experimental evidence. This could result in a media frenzy and potentially undermine public confidence in vaccines.


    UPSC Current Affairs:Spiral galaxy bars may prevent new stars | Page 12

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III – Science & Technology 

    Sub Theme: Barred Spiral galaxies| Decreasing star formation in our galaxy | UPSC              

    The mystery behind declining star formation

    Galaxies are made up mostly of gases and stars, with gas being converted into stars during the life of a galaxy. So understanding galaxies requires us to determine how the amounts of both gas and stars change with time. Astronomers have long known that galaxies formed stars at a higher rate when the universe was young than they do today. The star formation activity in galaxies peaked about 8-10 billion years ago and has been declining steadily till today. The cause of this decline was unknown as there had been no information regarding the amount of atomic hydrogen gas — the primary fuel for star formation — in galaxies in these early times.

    The central question to be understood from this article is - Why some galaxies are forming more stars at the centre and while others don’t?

    The article is based on a research paper on ‘Barred Spiral galaxies’.

    Spiral galaxies

    • Spiral galaxies are named by their spiral structures that extend from the center into the galactic disc.
    • It consist of a flat, rotating disk containing stars, gas and dust, and a central concentration of stars known as the bulge.
    • The bulge is surrounded by a much fainter halo of stars.
    • The spiral arms are sites of ongoing star formation and are brighter than the surrounding disc because of the young, hot stars that inhabit them.

    Barred spiral galaxy

    • A barred spiral galaxy is a spiral galaxy with a central bar-shaped structure composed of stars.
    • Some barred galaxies have shown a higher concentration of newly formed stars, suggesting that the bar nurtures star formation.
    • The stars move in elongated orbits near the centre so that, from far, this portion appears like an illuminated bar.
    • Nearly two-thirds of the disc galaxies in the local universe are found to have this bar structure.
    • The Milky Way Galaxy, where the Solar System is located, is classified as a barred spiral galaxy.

    Hypothesis on the function of Bar

    The current hypothesis is that the bar structure acts as a type of stellar nursery, fuelling star birth at their centres. The bar is thought to act as a mechanism that channels gas inwards from the spiral arms, in effect funnelling the flow to create new stars. This process is also thought to explain why many barred spiral galaxies have active galactic nuclei.

    Since so many spiral galaxies have bar structures, it is likely that they are recurring phenomena in spiral galaxy development. The oscillating evolutionary cycle from spiral galaxy to barred spiral galaxy is thought to take on the average about two billion years.

    Recent studies have confirmed the idea that bars are a sign of galaxies reaching full maturity as the "formative years" end 

    Deduction of Role of bars

    Since not all spiral galaxies have bars, the role of bars – why they exist, what triggers their formation and whether they foster star formation are interesting questions. The research work on which the article is based,  studied four barred galaxies out of which three appear to prevent stars from forming at their central region covered by the length of the bar.

    What causes a galaxy to be star-forming or not is a puzzle. The prevailing idea is that star-forming galaxies are converted into non-star-forming galaxies through some mechanism. The research work (discussed in the article) has tried to understand the role of the stellar bar in quenching star formation in the central region of spiral galaxies.

    In three of the four galaxies, they find that the region covered by the length of the bar does not have enough gas (Hydrogen in the atomic form and molecular hydrogen, which is believed to condense and form stars). This is taken as evidence for the bar redistributing the gas in the central region of these spiral galaxies. This is almost like the whirlpool we see in rivers. There is a cavity formed in the central region with no gas and stars.

    The researchers do not see the same depletion of gas and stars in the fourth galaxy. The reason, they believe is that this galaxy does not have an old enough bar. They believe it will take a few million years for the bar to evacuate the gas that forms stars.

    The bar is a complex and dynamic structure and the paper adds an interesting angle by suggesting this method in which it prevents star formation.

    This is probably the tip of the iceberg. More statistical samples are needed (which is currently lacking) with new observations from radio to ultraviolet wavelength for more galaxies.