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Babudom needs an overhaul if self-reliance is to succeed

The British built a system to ‘administer’ and ‘regulate’ a colony, and we are continuing that. We must change. Now is the time to instead reorient our bureaucracy towards ‘facilitation’.

Darshan Singh

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Since 1947, the key objective of self-reliance (aatmanirbhar) has remained a mirage just beyond the elusive horizon. Everyone claims to know what needs to be done, but to make it happen, we as a nation have to first get past the syndrome of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Nobody seems to want to accept and state the obvious, some out of fear or retribution, while others prefer to just drift along with the current.

In 1990 the then Finance Minister assisted by his Secretary carried out the instructions of the then Prime Minister. Much has been said and written about the wonderful changes that they had affected. The truth is that there was no complicated economic magic to it. The most important thing they did was to ‘open up’ the economy. They removed needless licencing, reduced controls and generally enabled Indian entrepreneurial talent to blossom. Even though these were done in a limited way, it was still a great deviation from the past, and the results were immediately there for everyone to see. Literally industrial and commercial activity moved forward enabling the financial sector and the country’s money reserves to grow. In a winwin situation, the tax revenues also grew alongside from the resulting larger industrial base.

Since then many genuine attempts have been made by well-intentioned people across the board including politicians. Even now our present leadership is making sincere attempts towards achieving self-reliance. This time the clarion call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come when our backs are to the wall and there is the hard realisation that the supply chain from China can be used to twist our arms, thanks to the never-ending Chinese habit of saying something and doing something else. This time if we can even partially attain a state of aatmanirbhar, it could truly lead to the development of our nation. We have to resist the inevitable forthcoming Chinese promises to befriend us, for this campaign for self-reliance is mainly to their detriment. This time we must let the much overdue call for aatmanirbhar go on to ensure a surplus economy that gets us to the crucial stage of a net exporter. It is export income that gives us the cash to lower inflation and decrease the need to print more currency.

There is no doubt that the current intentions of the government at the political level are genuine. However, the endemic problem remains for any businessman in India, who does not have special patronage, is that he must survive ‘in spite’ of the government. In all other successful countries the entire officialdom (not only limited to the bureaucracy) is a part of the national effort to build and nurture industry. Successful European countries, or even China, Japan, etc, have their officials visiting industries to find out what more can be done to enable them to succeed. They have a national recognition that they are partners with their own industry. This is where lies the rub.

Since 1947 this is the most important missing aspect in how our officialdom behaves with industry. If the greatest enemy of an Indian entrepreneur is his own country’s officialdom, then it explains why so many Indians left to start ventures outside India. The performance of our bureaucrats and officials who are in positions of power are never evaluated on how many industries they were able to nurture, or more importantly how many jobs were created under their administrative control. Politicians genuinely try for development as they have to go through the process of winning more votes. However, Indian officialdom still remains a hangover of the British colonial system which incidentally the British never applied in their own country. Our bureaucrats, once installed, continue to administer the population as ‘subjects’. There is no responsibility on officials, who are never evaluated on the nation’s success. Those countries that export to us are delighted by our failures, such as having the crucial post of a Joint Secretary (at whose level all national activities are controlled); maybe a person who may have been JS (Textiles) for two years will then serve in an unrelated activity as JS (Steel) for the next couple of years and so on. There is no continuity of acquired knowledge. This is what also makes India lag behind, especially in the field of research and development — a key element in becoming aatmanirbhar. The British built a system to ‘administer’ and ‘regulate’ a colony, and we are continuing that. We must change. Now is the time to instead reorient our bureaucracy towards ‘facilitation’, for otherwise we will stay where we were regardless of all the recent noble intentions of our highest politicians.

In the more successful nations, the aspect of ‘facilitation’ is the primary focus of their officials who take it upon themselves to guide their national objectives. The eventual target being ‘development’.

How can we get to that stage in India? It is easy to see that our best young people leave our own shores to find better opportunities elsewhere. Why have the majority of the children of our own senior bureaucrats left this country regularly for the Western world? So if they had to leave, then there can be no better proof of the pudding — the basic recipe — itself being defective. If for the children of our bureaucrats the working environment is not good enough, then why do the very same people need to remain a part of the system? The Indian system knows how to put blame on entrepreneurs and businessmen, but regularly turns a blind eye when it comes to the shortcomings of our officialdom.

So we need a revolution in our system of governance. To start with, the IAS must have a specialised cadre who are exclusively made responsible for ‘facilitation’ and ensuring the success of all the new initiatives announced under aatmanirbhar. This should be the case not only for our products but also for Indian investments flowing into other countries. Instead, currently, we are at the stage where we cannot even manage our own economy without foreign investment, perhaps our biggest weakness. All the new rules and regulations that have been announced are welcome and they do help. But this is no final solution as all that it does is mainly smoothen the surface and round off the edges.

The specialised cadre will need to start from district level (working on Industries), going into higher levels including becoming commercial counsellors (not from IFS) in our embassies abroad, and WTO and the like. European businessmen visiting India always meet their respective embassies in Delhi for assistance in lobbying the Indian government. But when an Indian businessman goes abroad, he hardly ever gets any support from Indian missions abroad.

We need a massive change in our administration. Many people can tell what our problems are, but nobody has gone to the roots to suggest a long-term solution. Without a solution, as can be seen even if some companies leave China, they still prefer Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. India, which should have been the obvious choice with its diverse strengths, still gets bypassed. Why?

The solution suggested must ensure the importance of the new specialised cadre and it can at best be chosen from the same IAS stock (taking care that they would be selected from among those who know how to ‘apply’ their acquired knowledge, and not just those who got in based merely on acquired knowledge. Finally, those who make up this new grouping should never be subordinate to the IAS. This would amount to a complete radical overhaul of our administrative services and it is but natural bureaucrats will oppose the creation of what they will consider to be a watchdog body that overrides them. If his clarion call for aatmanirbhar has to succeed, the creation of the new cadre is a prerequisite that needs to be implemented at an all-India level.

 Darshan Singh is an entrepreneur who has worked in quite a few key areas that have been critical to the process of nation-building, including the railways and oil and natural gas exploration. He is also an educationist, currently the chairperson of the Welham Boys’ School in Dehradun.

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Opinion

CITIZENS SHOULD BE TRAINED ON THE COMPLEXITIES OF USING CRYPTOCURRENCIES

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In India, there is a lapse in the legislation on regulation of virtual currency, which either prohibits trade and dealings or legalises their use. The Supreme Court, in the case of Internet and Mobile Association of India v. Reserve Bank of India, set aside the curb imposed by the RBI on banks and NBFCs from trading or providing services in cryptocurrencies. Nevertheless, the court also put emphasis on the dire need of an umbrella legislation for regulation of virtual currencies.

The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 is being reviewed and would be introduced in Parliament soon. The bill’s specifics have not yet been made available. However, market commentary indicates that it would enable the issuing of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) as well as the usage of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies which underpin cryptocurrencies. In terms of private digital currencies, recent remarks by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman suggest that, rather than an outright prohibition, there could be experimentation, discovery and promotion of the emerging technologies behind these.

The draft Bill prohibits all cryptocurrencies due to the threats associated with them, such as alleged money-laundering, consumer risks, and a danger to the country’s financial stability. However, cryptocurrencies have the ability to have additional advantages such as improved record tracking and more effective cross-border transfers. Several countries are using laws to attempt to minimise some of these threats.

According to the draft Bill, cryptocurrency is any content, code, or token that has a digital representation of value and is created by cryptographic or other means. This description might be too vague, encompassing different types of digital tokens that are not developed using cryptography and not in consonance with international standards. Such tokens could not carry the same risks as cryptocurrencies.

The penalties prescribed by the Bill for such offenses could be disproportionate in comparison to other comparable economic offenses in the country. To illustrate, mining, holding, issuing, transferring or any usage of crypto, barring created exceptions, is punishable with a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years which is synonymous with punishment for possession of marijuana under NDPS.

NATIONAL STRATEGY

The MEITY issued a draft national strategy on blockchain which proposed the establishment of a ‘National Level Blockchain Framework’ which will be a multi-layered infrastructure to host sector-wise specific blockchains. Users under the draft will have the mechanism to access the infra through a ‘National Blockchain API’ which will be linked with Aadhar and E-sign. It has established legal and regulatory barriers to blockchain acceptance, such as privacy concerns, the RBI’s unfavourable views on cryptocurrencies, and impediments due to data localisation criteria. Nevertheless, the draft needs to revisit the data localization requirements as it identifies it as a barrier to the adoption of blockchain. Localisation should be exempted for decentralised storage as it would better security.

According to the draft, privacy is not an important characteristic of blockchain which should not be the case, and it is believed by numerous entities that use privacy-enhancing features on top of blockchains. French Data Protection Authority recommendations on privacy protection could be a potential way forward.

There is an urgent need for regulatory harmonisation since most blockchain technology advancement occurs in the permissionless blockchain domain, it should be proposed that the MEITY collaborate with the RBI and other sectoral regulators to develop an inclusive platform for blockchain in India.

THE WAY FORWARD

In the longer run, licensing and compulsory registration could be a plausible solution that helps in facilitating the compulsory registration of the trader. Any activity or business involving a transaction in crypto should be permitted, however it should be subject to requirements of licensing. Zebpay, a Bitcoin wallet app, often follows a self-regulation scheme thus adhering to KYC and anti-money laundering standards. This allows the rules of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 to be applied to ensure that no individual or agency misuses these networks.

In India, a Special Regulatory Body dealing with the Regulation of Virtual Currencies could be empaneled. This body’s responsibilities may involve issuing licenses to virtual currency merchants and organisations receiving virtual currency payments, as well as promoting the registration of different types of virtual currencies floating in the Indian and global markets. This agency would also seek to deter illicit activity using virtual currency and to track down the perpetrators. Its members may involve RBI’s board of directors, governors’ delegates, senior intelligence officers, and economists.

Citizens should be trained on the complexities of using cryptocurrencies. The RBI can provide regular alerts about the opportunities that cryptocurrencies provide for illicit activities such as money laundering and terrorism.

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Opinion

VIRUS IS YOUR ENEMY, NOT PM MODI

Rather than playing politics and getting elated in their own echo system, the Opposition should trust the Prime Minister.

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In numerous interviews, Medical Advisor to the POTUS, Dr Anthony Fauci, has reiterated that despite the divisiveness, our common enemy is the virus and not each other. The message is to fight this pandemic unitedly. Sadly, that spirit is missing among Indian politicians who are so paranoid about Narendra Modi that even a pandemic has failed to drive some sense into them.

I would not need to quote Dr Fauci for a society that has always banded together in times of crisis. But for some, political survival has become more important than the lives of people. In their enthusiasm to score political points, they are ignoring the negative impact their murky tricks may have on people. Yes, I am talking of the vaccine politics being played out in full public view. While PM Modi and his team have been trying their best to empower the country and vaccinate people as quickly as possible, the Opposition parties are trying their best to undermine the efforts by spreading rumours and raising demands that may make the society more divisive and confused.

The Prime Minister, who worked overtime to ensure that scientists come out with vaccines earlier than expected, is being accused of not making enough efforts to meet the vaccine demand. Facts, however, would reveal that Modi has been way ahead of the Opposition’s thought process. The Opposition did try to derail the process but has failed desperately.

First, the timeline. The rotavirus vaccine that prevents diarrhoea in young children first came to the US in 1998. It was withdrawn and then reintroduced in 2006. India included this vaccine in the Universal Immunisation Programme in March 2016. The Hepatitis B vaccine was available in the world commercially in 1982. India launched this in 2002. The polio vaccine was approved by the WHO in 1955. The oral version of the same came to be commercially marketed in 1961. India launched the vaccine in 1978.

Compare this to the vaccine for Covid-19. The WHO gave the first emergency use authorization for the vaccine against Covid-19 on 31 December 2020. India got its first vaccine in January 2021 and it had already launched its vaccination programme on 16 January 2021. Also, India achieved the rare feat of having an indigenous vaccine and joined the elite club of about a dozen countries that can say so too.

While scientists must be complimented, one cannot take credit away from the leadership. PM Modi set up a task force of experts in April 2020 and personally monitored vaccine development and ensured that the country was not lagging behind. Covishield and the indigenously produced Covaxin became the first two vaccines which were given clearance for emergency use.

When talks were going on that the vaccine being developed by Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would be India’s weapon against Covid-19, very few believed it. But the Prime Minister was sure about it. When the ICMR was trying to fast-track trials, everyone raised eyebrows and charged the PM with putting pressure on the process. But the PM was only encouraging and asking them not to compromise on parameters.

Everybody in the country heaved a sigh of relief and pride when the PM announced on 15 August 2020 that the vaccines were at various stages of trial and a fully ‘Made in India’ vaccine would be ready soon. While promising that the vaccines would reach every Indian, he said that the distribution roadmap was ready. And both the vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, after satisfactory trials, were given emergency use authorisation on 3 January 2021.

While India was celebrating and the world looked towards India with hope, the Opposition reacted with bitterness. Some called it haste and dubbed it as vaccine nationalism. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor called the approval “unseemly haste”. He said, “Chest-thumping ‘vaccine nationalism’ – combined with the PM’s ‘self-reliant India’ campaigning – trumped common sense and a generation of established scientific protocols”. “Jingoism is no substitute for common sense,” he added. While demanding full disclosure about the trials, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that “any attempt to short-circuit the regulatory process for political gains will damage the good reputation built by Indian pharma over the years”. A Samajwadi Party leader called it the “BJP vaccine”. One cannot say whether these leaders were acting at the behest of pharma lobbies that were keen to sell their vaccines to India, but it was certain that they saw the vaccine as the most powerful weapon to solidify Modi’s image as India’s most beloved leader.

Ever since, their single-point agenda has been to damage this image and they have tried their best to argue that the vaccine was going to undermine the health of the people. Thousands of articles and media reports came, opposing vaccine use. No one asked the simple question: can any PM do that? Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh raised objections to the use of Covaxin in immunization even when the programme rolled out on 16 January. Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Kerala opposed Covaxin even when its efficacy was proved after the third phase of trials. The TMC in West Bengal joined the chorus and the Jharkhand government termed people on whom the vaccine would be used as “guinea pigs’’.

All this was bound to impact people negatively. There were reports that many people in Kolkata refused to take Covaxin at private hospitals, saying they would take Covishield instead. For the Opposition, their tirade seemed to work. They had undermined their own vaccine.

‘Who should be vaccinated first?’ This has also been an issue since day one of the vaccination drive. This was the first time that even people who considered themselves powerful did not try to short-circuit the system. Even the Prime Minister had to wait for his turn to take the jab. There was no rush, no scramble to be the first. Everybody knew he would get the jab when his turn came.

At a meeting of the Covid Vaccine Group on 30 June 2020, the PM had formulated four guiding principles for vaccination: “First, vulnerable groups should be identified and prioritized for early vaccination, for example, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, non-medical frontline corona warriors, and vulnerable people among the general population. Second, vaccination of ‘anyone, anywhere’ should take place without imposition of any domicile-related restrictions for getting the vaccine. Third, vaccination must be affordable and universal – no person should be left behind. And fourth, the entire process from production to vaccination should be monitored and supported in real time with the use of technology.”

Based on international norms and discussions with experts, the Covid Vaccine Group devised the mechanism to roll-out vaccines in India. The target was to vaccinate 30 crore people by August 2021. In the first phase it was open to healthcare and frontline workers whose numbers came to 30 million. In the second phase the free vaccine was applicable to all above the age of 45 and above. The Centre was to take the tab. More than 18 crore people were already vaccinated, having taken one or two doses by Friday, 14 May.

As the PM launched “Vaccine Utsav” from 11 to 14 April to speed up the vaccination drive, the country witnessed a second Covid wave with a severity not imagined by anyone. States that had started celebrating and preparing to bid goodbye to the pandemic, despite warnings from the Centre, and people who had become complacent suddenly found caught in the vortex.

Despite the severity, the trend of the infection was the same. While it severely impacted the younger generation too, close to 70 percent of those affected were in the 70-plus category. The impact could have been mitigated by better preparation and a war-like effort, but helplessness was visible all around. Delhi, which had recorded a peak of close to 9,000 cases on 11 November 2020, crossed the 30,000 mark daily on some days in April 2021.

In this situation, opposition parties discovered that the best way to deflect attention from poor management was to shift the focus to vaccination for people in the age group of 18-44 years. The demand was first made by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who on 5 April appealed to the PM to include people in the 25-44 age group. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had already written to the PM saying all adults should be vaccinated. Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel wanted this to be extended to 18 years and above. The Indian Medical Association also requested the PM for the same and suggested that public places be opened to those with vaccination certificates.

The Health Ministry responded by saying that the inoculation strategy was crafted to minimize deaths and protect the vulnerable. Union Health Secretary Ranjit Bhushan said, “The basic aim is to reduce death through vaccination. The other aim is to protect the healthcare system. If doctors, nurses and paramedics are infected then who would run the hospitals? These are the two objectives of vaccination in all countries.”

The vaccination objective was not based on demand but need, he stressed, while asking people not to trivialize the government’s decision. He said, “When we talk about opening vaccination to all, our focus reduces on controlling the pandemic. Did you hear about any country that vaccinates those younger than 45 years?”

Rahul Gandhi perhaps sensed an opportunity to score a political point and to create a wedge. He tweeted: “It’s ridiculous to debate needs and wants. Every Indian deserves the chance to a safe life.” Politics hijacked his sense of balance and he ignored the fact that since vaccines were in limited supply it was not possible to open it for all. Chairman of the National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration VK Paul clarified that when the time would come, this would be open to all.

Rahul Gandhi and his supporting parties raised the issue of vaccine export. “While our nation is facing vaccine starvation, more than 6 crore (60 million) vaccines have been imported,” he said. Such intemperate criticisms can come only from a person who is completely irresponsible and does not bother about the interest of the nation. Vaccine export was a part of the commitment to the GAVI alliance that takes care of poor countries and is applicable to all vaccine manufacturers.

What Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have been saying would have made India a pariah in the international community. The SII alliance with AstraZeneca had clauses for the compulsory sale of vaccines. Considering that the SII depended on crucial raw material from the US to make this vaccine, should India have tried to default on the commitment? One just needs to recall the panic that had been caused when news about the US stopping supplies of raw material for Covishield came out. The Government of India had to intervene to smoothen the process. India’s goodwill earned through vaccine diplomacy has also compelled the world to come to India’s help when it got engulfed in a crisis. Indian vaccines helped the UN peacekeeping forces to continue their operations and also healthcare and frontline workers to work safely to save lives. No wonder world leaders expressed their debt to India for saving the lives of their citizens.

And this export of vaccines did not impact India’s own vaccination programme for the 45-plus category. It was merely a matter of prioritization since vaccines were not available anywhere and it takes time to ramp up production. The Union Government always said that the entire country needs to be vaccinated. To prevent the society from getting divided on vaccines and to enable faster vaccination, the Union Government on 19 April announced vaccination for the 18-44 years category from 1 May. The expert group had been mulling over this already. But it wanted to ensure a smooth supply line and uniform policy.

The government’s new liberalised vaccine policy allowed the two vaccine manufacturers to earmark 50 percent of their production exclusively for the Central government and 50 percent for state governments and the open market. Opposition-ruled states and Congress leaders had already demanded that states be given greater leverage in the procurement of vaccines and that they should not be held hostage by the Centre. Under the new system, states could lift their quota of vaccines based on their population directly from the Centre. They were also allowed to float tenders for procuring vaccines from other manufacturers.

The states that were asking for a liberalised procurement policy suddenly realised that they could not do much since buying it from outside at competitive bidding could be costly. All those who were talking of decentralization suddenly took a U-turn and started demanding that the Centre do the purchasing and give to state governments.

Was the Centre unaware of this? It was fully aware that such a policy could lead to chaos. After its meeting on 12 August 2020, the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) had specifically advised all the states “not to chart separate pathways of procurement”.

There was bound to be a vaccine shortage because of the technical issues involved. It needs a different kind of laboratory security and the government cannot risk the lives of people. Already it is taking steps to increase production and the country would soon have sufficient vaccines to give it to other age groups too. But rather than depending on the wisdom of the government, Rahul Gandhi and others started lobbying for other vaccine manufacturers. The Modi government was clear that any vaccine manufacturer must follow the process of bridge trial to test its suitability for India that has a different climatic condition. Some vaccine manufacturers opted out. The pride of a country and lives of people are more important than the ego of these manufacturers.

When the Opposition found that none of these were sticking and that the government was on firm wickets, it raised the issue of differential pricing. How can the Union Government buy the vaccine at the rate of Rs 150 per shot and ask states to buy the same at Rs 300 or private players at Rs 600? This was a way to help vaccine manufacturers make a profit. This argument will not hold ground when seen in the proper context.

The vaccine procured by the Centre is also going to the states and that too free of cost. Differential pricing is a way to encourage private players to keep some margin so that there is an incentive for them to invest in the expansion of capacity. This would also help other global players to come to India. If the government fixes the price for all, this would drive away others and also prohibit investment in research by pharma companies. Competition may bring the prices further down.

All states have declared that they would administer vaccines to people free of cost. The people are thus not impacted by the cost of the vaccine. Why can’t states therefore take the tabs? For example, the Delhi government, which spends crores on advertisements and self-promotion, can easily afford to buy the vaccines. When a BJP-ruled state like Uttar Pradesh, the most populated in the country, can do it, why can’t Maharashtra, the richest, and other states do it too?

Allowing private players would further ease down the burden on the respective states. Those who can afford and don’t mind paying can go to private hospitals and get their jabs. There are many in the country who do not want it for free and would rather go to a private hospital and get the shot of their liking. Why are states trying to stop them from doing this? Availability, not pricing, is the issue.

Federalism is a shared concept. The Centre is under pressure due to a massive investment need for infrastructure. This year alone over Rs 3 lakh crore was spent on health. Besides the emergency need due to Covid, such as extending help to states to strengthen their response system, the government is also setting up hospitals and reinforcing the healthcare system across the country.

Sharing the burden of vaccinating everyone is not a bad proposition. Rather than playing politics and getting elated in their own echo system, which is filled with anti-Modi venom, the Opposition should know that the PM, who worked in a focused way to give India its vaccine, would also ensure that everyone is vaccinated. His timeline is better than yours because he has planned much in advance. Just listen to him and follow him and remember that the virus is the enemy.

The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

TIME FOR INDIA TO WIN HEARTS AND MINDS OF NEPALESE PEOPLE

Kunwar Pushpendra Pratap Singh

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For the last one week the political scenario in Nepal has been taking an astonishing shape. The world may not consider it very significant but India is certainly deeply concerned with the ups and downs in the political mood of the Nepalese House of Representatives (Parliament). Historically, it is a fact that India and Nepal have the closest fraternity and it would be better to say that the two countries are identical twins with regard to their religio-cultural fabric.

The people of both countries have been enjoying psychological oneness. The religious faith system has been primarily observed in both countries on the central teaching and tenets of sanatan dharma. The physical boundaries did never take place in the mental spheres of the people in these two countries. In this way India and Nepal have been enjoying the national life in one vein. It happened so because of the prime location of Nepal between India and China. The people of Nepal en masse have a complete inclination towards India and never thought of Chinese affinity.

With the establishment of modern democracy in India, the democratic politicians of Nepal organised a movement for building a democratic Nepal on the pattern of the Indian parliamentary system. The most dependable leadership of this campaign in Nepal was guided by the leaders of the Nepali Congress, especially under the leadership of the Koiralas. Apart from Nepali Congress the other political parties based on the ideologies of liberal democracy and communism made their presence. The leaders of Nepali Congress launched their activities on the pattern of the activists of Socialist Congress (Socialist Party of India). But the so-called leftist leaders of Nepal were looking towards the Maoist ideology and claimed to be radical communists. The king’s dynasty in Nepal reluctantly preferred the Nepali Congress to communists. The collective mind of the people of Nepal also showed a greater inclination towards the Nepali Congress. After a long movement of over 50 years the Nepali Congress succeeded in persuading the political clusters to come on one platform and formulate a constitution with consensus to establish and run the democratic polity. The beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century could make it possible and thus a constitution consisting of a democratic ethos could take a concrete shape. The leaders of the Nepali Congress enjoyed the office of the Prime Minister through the electoral process.

Nepal shifted from dynasty rule to democratic polity on the pattern of the Indian parliamentary system. The people of Nepal were enjoying the privilege of a peaceful parliamentary system but the communists in Nepal, loyal to China, were trying to grab power. The peace-loving people of Nepal could not sense the unpatriotic gesture of the leftists in Nepal. In the recent past some unprecedented natural calamities and disasters shattered habitations in Nepal. India extended a helping hand with all sincerity but failed to show the posture of appreciable engagement. The clever Chinese government helped Nepal less than India but succeeded in establishing her enthusiasm to provide welfare measures in Nepal during the miseries. The communist clusters also took benefit of the situation and got an edge over India. The opponents of dynasty rule and democratic rule run by the Nepali Congress leaders took advantage by persuading the simple Nepalese people to appreciate the Chinese welfare craft.

In this way K.P. Sharma Oli capitalised on the favourable opportunities of the Nepali Congress’ weakening and designed interventions by China and took over the office of the Prime Minister in Nepal. For the first time, from 11 October 2015 to 3 August 2016 and again from 15 February 2018 to 10 May 2021, his status was turned to that of a caretaker prime minister after he lost a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. 

The opportunist and clever China won the goodwill of the simple and sane Nepalese people through Oli’s regime. The Oli government never took the welfare of Nepalese people on its agenda and only worked as a shadow government of the Chinese president. Throughout his regime Oli was engaged only in manipulating the mindsets of the people of Nepal towards the Chinese choice. Oli did not care for long, natural bonding between the peoples of Nepal and India. The people of Nepal and their representatives in different parties and even some nationalist communists in Oli’s block realised what China had its eye on.

Now the people of Nepal and their patriotic representatives have exposed the selfish loyalty of Oli to China. The fraternal bonding between India and Nepal was being harmed by him, bringing great change in the minds and moods of people and their representatives towards Oli and China. It seems that the combined blessings of god Pashupath Nath and god Vishwanath have saved Nepal from cruel Chinese paws. The extreme state of disruption and depression being faced by Nepalese people during Oli’s regime compelled them and their representatives to reject Oli and finally, on 10 May 2021, Oli lost his majority in the House of Representatives.

Though Oli has reappointed as the PM after the Opposition failed to secure majority seats in Parliament to form a new government, a new dawn has become visible which bears plenty of opportunities for the people of Nepal, their development, their autonomy and their religio-cultural happiness. Apart from immense favourable moments for Nepal, a ripe moment has come for the people and power of today’s India too. India must have an agenda of generating fresh faith in the minds of the Nepalese people and power. The new political upsurge in Nepal must be capitalised upon by India and ensure as top priority that India is the true elder of Nepalese people and sovereignty.

Let us celebrate this upsurge of political purification in Nepal unitedly.

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Opinion

FOSTERING ACADEMIC COMPETITION IN THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM

Healthy competition among universities can raise the bar of higher education in India significantly. But for that to happen, context-specific and evidence-based strategies for institutionalising and funding interdisciplinary research, continuous professional development of faculty members, and a thriving university-industry interface must be ensured.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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It is a desirable expectation that the majority of our universities should continue to strive to achieve excellence in teaching and learning, in discovery and invention, and in extension and engagement with social concerns. There is an urgent need to promote the culture of healthy academic competition amongst our universities. Their competitive spirit should stem from a positive mindset. They should make concerted efforts to win in different kinds of academic competitions, but if someone else raises the bar of academic excellence higher than them they should feel equally good, if not more. The academic competition should not be about the end result of winning, but to have a deeper understanding about the subject and showing the way forward in that particular domain to others as well.

Academic excellence is of paramount significance because it is linked with those outcomes of teaching and learning and research and innovations that are valued the most. These goals require, among others, due emphasis on interdisciplinary research, university-industry interface and continuing professional development of faculty, as the overall success of a university depends upon the amount and quality of its research and the quality of its faculty and students. These are some of the pressing issues that the university system was expected to resolve but it seems to have no end in sight. Although efforts have been made to put in place a system of professional development of faculty, far too little has been done insofar as institutionalisation of interdisciplinary research and university-industry interface are concerned.

Interdisciplinary research perspectives are the cornerstone of present-day research and it must take roots in the culture of our university system where individual departments largely operate as islands without connectivity to others. The present system requires interdisciplinary research as creation of new knowledge entails syntheses of ideas and characteristics from across different disciplines. In fact, it has become a practical necessity since new knowledge lies at the intersections of different disciplines. This is the time when advancement of knowledge has become one of the inevitabilities of a progressive and modern society. Advancement of knowledge is as important in the life of a university as the transmission and certification of knowledge. It is needless to say that it requires a larger pool of scientists and increased budgetary allocations over a protracted period.

Though the pool of Indian scientists has increased a little in the last couple of years, the number of researchers per million population, as of 2018, is far fewer (216) than China (1,307), America (4,412), Russia (2,784), England (4,603), Germany ( 5,212) and France (4,715). It is much worse than numbers in even smaller countries like Sweden (7,536), Norway (6,467), Netherland (5,605) and New Zealand (5,530). Nonetheless, India has emerged as the world’s third-largest contributor of scientific publications (135,788) in peer-reviewed journals as of 2018, with China being the first (528,263) and America the second (422,808). What is particularly noteworthy about this is that our expenditure on research and development in terms of percentage of GDP is far too less (0.9%) than both China (2.1%) and America (2.7%). There are countries which are spending even more than China and America like Israel (4.9%), Sweden (3.2%) and Germany (2.9%).

Apart from much larger research grants to universities, there is also a need to identify and address other basic issues which can promote the culture of interdisciplinary research in our university system. There is a lot to learn from how such a culture has been created in some other countries and how it could be scaled in our university system after its appropriate experimentation in some of our leading universities. Since interdisciplinary research requires funding at a large scale, and there is a scarcity of resources, it obviously requires mobilisation of resources through other means of financing. It is, therefore, necessary to understand how leading universities of the world mobilise their funding and how that model can be replicated in the country. In addition, it would also be desirable to examine how the faculty in those universities are able to deliver and meet the timelines of the funding agencies?

It is extremely important to develop and scale centres of interdisciplinary research across universities. There is an urgent need to have a concrete action plan. But we need to realize that despite interdisciplinary research being a buzzword, most seem to be utterly clueless about what they could do and how to go about it. There is a need to identify a group of eminent researchers from different domains of knowledge who can study the dynamics of interdisciplinary research and prepare a roadmap for Indian universities to make it happen.

The second important aspect of quality higher education which is as important as the earlier one is the university-industry interface. After it proved to be a hugely successful endeavour in western universities, it spread its wings across some universities in the east. But somehow it remained confined only to those premier institutions which had consciously developed the capacity to solve the problems of the industry, helped them increase their productivity, guided them to make gainful investments and supplied them with a skilled workforce. Despite the constant exhortation and encouragement by various commissions and committees, most universities could not get culturally tuned to operationalise a university-industry interface or develop confidence in meeting timelines. In fact, most of them were lacking in foresight and had been beset with diffidence and indecisiveness. Consequently, they could not arouse confidence and enthusiasm in the industry.

The university system in most leading countries mobilises its funding largely from the industry. Their research and development activities are mostly dependent upon the interface between the university and the industry. The funding from the industry sustains the research support needed by the university and in turn it helps the industry to utilise the outcome of the research for application. This aspect is not as dominant in the functioning of our universities as in some of the leading universities abroad, since they sustain largely on internal funding through research grants.

There may be different levels of strategy that can determine the direction and scope of the university-industry interface over the long term. First, universities should ascertain requirements of the industry by associating industry leaders and integrating industry-linked areas in their curriculum. Second, they should prioritize their Ph.D. as well as other research programs for finding solutions to industry-related problems. Third, the industry should absorb university graduates and after providing them a certain orientation, send them back to the university on a sponsorship basis for Ph.D. programs. Fourth, the government and industry should jointly support the university to upgrade its research facilities. Fifth, the industry should invest in establishing their labs and workshops on the campus of the university for mutual benefit. Sixth, the industry should identify areas of their interests and commission research projects to the university. Lastly, the university should study how this interface has been working well in some of our premier institutions. In addition, a group of university academics can undertake a detailed study of how this works in some leading universities of the east and the west and bring back experiences which can enhance the university-industry interface in the country and thus lay a solid foundation for R&D focus in university research.

None would perhaps dispute the contention that in the university system it is the teacher who, besides being qualified, competent and caring, has to be extremely dynamic and collaborative without which she would not be able to give an interdisciplinary orientation to research or ensure a university-industry interface. It could be possible only when the teacher continually keeps herself abreast of the latest developments in the subject and changing requirements of the industry. Thus a vibrant university system needs to ensure that every member of the faculty is able to demonstrate the best of his or her inherent potential for the good of education and the society. And it is for this reason that there has to be an inbuilt provision for continuous professional development of academic faculty, commensurate with the changing and constantly emerging concerns in all domains of human learning.

The UGC took the initiative for continuing professional development of university teachers through the establishment of as many as 66 Academic Staff Colleges (ASCs) in selected universities in the country. The ASCs were expected to be vibrant centres to provide opportunities to the faculty for their professional and career development. They were mandated to organise orientation and refresher programs in different areas of study, covering every teacher at least once in three to five years. They seem to have realised a little insofar as an orientation program is concerned but much more remains to be accomplished insofar as the content enrichment part is concerned.

Regrettably, the ASCs seemed to have drifted away from their primary goal and slipped into the role of fulfilling the requirements for career advancement. It was corroborated by the Review Committee (2010), which ound out that just a quarter of the ASCs came close to their charter. Though they have now been renamed as Human Resource Development Centres (HRDCs), this mere change in their nomenclature has not yielded any desirable results. The experience, thus far, points out that the operational design of the HRDCs calls for serious introspection, if the needed objectives of continuing professional development of teachers is to be seriously realised.

In this connection, a small group of senior faculty from across universities may be constituted to study how the faculty development initiatives are operationalised in some leading countries? What institutional structures have been created for this purpose? What is their working design? How often does a member of the faculty undergo professional development? Is it voluntary on the part of the individual faculty or is the concept institutionalized? Who pays for this activity? Is undergoing training linked with career promotion? What is the profile of institutions offering such programs? Such an exercise is extremely necessary to revitalize the faculty development program and thus should be undertaken sooner rather than later.

Academia bears a heavy responsibility for evolving context-specific and evidence-based strategies for the institutionalisation of interdisciplinary research, university-industry interface and continuous professional development of faculty along with resource requirements. This exercise will have a vast amount of beneficial interests besides fostering healthy academic competition amongst the universities and that is what is going to be a spur for modernisation. It would provide first-hand knowledge of facts and requirements which could be used to put up the case with full academic justification to the competent authority. It would be hard to become a significant global competitor in higher education if such inescapable reforms were brushed aside.

The author is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

THIS IS NOT A MODI HEALTH CRISIS, THIS IS AN INDIA HEALTH CRISIS

Savio Rodrigues

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In a democracy, it is not incumbent on citizens to find favour or merit in its elected representatives. They have the right to disagree, dislike or even have disdain against their political leaders for legitimate or frivolous reasons.

So, if for some reason — political, social, or for a plain dumb notion of herd mentality — you dislike the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, that is your freedom to exercise. But your dislike or stronger feelings of hate for Modi or the BJP-led government in a global health crisis impacting our nation is misplaced.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a “Modi” health crisis – it is an India health crisis. Modi is the Prime Minister of India today, he may or may not be the Prime Minister of India tomorrow, but if we fail to act as one nation today, we might not have a nation at all tomorrow.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious health crisis. We need to work collectively as one nation and one people to tide over these hard times our country is experiencing. Lives are being lost every day.

This is not about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal or Uddhav Thackeray or Mamata Banerjee or MK Stalin or Yogi Adityanath. This is about thousands of Indians suffering due to the pandemic. This about thousands of lives being lost daily. This is about a damning and dangerous virus we know so little about and its changing mutation making the prevalent health crisis more severe by the day.

This is not about whether the Centre is acting more responsibly than the state governments, or one state government has managed to deal with the health crisis promisingly and is beating the curve. This is about citizens who are gasping for breath, wanting to live, and hoping that the Centre or State has done its job in ensuring that we have the requisite health infrastructure to deal with the pandemic.

This not about Uddhav Thackeray or Arvind Kejriwal saving Maharashtra or Delhi better than Narendra Modi, nor is it about Goa’s Health Minister Vishwajit Rane playing out a subtle media exercise to show he is more competent than the Goa Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant. This is also not about Chief Ministers or Health Ministers walking in hospitals followed by their media entourage clicking pictures for their media or social media campaigns. Most importantly, this crisis is not about which social media IT cell got which hashtag to trend more than the other IT cell. This is about life. The life of our people.

People want to live. The pain and trauma are heart-wrenching and disturbing. I do not think a political leader with an ounce of humanity will ever resort to playing dirty politics over the lives of our people but unfortunately, our nation manages to produce such rectums that think only about the political opportunities at hand and not about the welfare of the people or the nation.

Every Indian we save from the virus is one less potential carrier of the virus across a community, state, or our entire nation. We are a nation of travellers and our people travel around the country, therefore, this cannot be about saving your own state, this should be about saving our country. But we must while keeping a focus on the macro strategies in dealing with this crisis as a nation, we must ensure that we manage this health crisis at a micro level, at an individual level, and family level too.

While the nation is rife with stories of people rising to the occasion to fight this pandemic for other people, there some stories that have exposed the complete inhumanity that also exists. Making a profit over the desperation of people in a health crisis is pathetic and downright diabolic. But people resort to it, not thinking for a moment that people with immense wealth also cannot escape the wrath of the coronavirus if it decides to ensure that life is sucked out of you. Today you are profiting on someone’s misery, tomorrow someone will profit from your misery.

This is the time for the people of India to rise up against an enemy that we do not fully understand, therefore it is important for us to stick together because we know each other and we can trust each other. Every Indian in this war against the coronavirus is a soldier and as a soldier, we must fight this pandemic.

This pandemic was unleashed around to world to cripple our socio-economic existence by hitting us and other countries at the root of our strength — our people. The greatest wealth of any nation is its citizens and their health. If there are no people, there will be no citizens. This is not the time for blame-game but the time to play the game of defeating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some nations want us to fail. Some nations want us to continue to remain like a third-world nation. Most importantly, some nations want our people to suffer so that they can gain from a change of political regime. As Indians, we must not let the lives of our people become pawns in the hands of political opportunists waiting for Prime Minister Modi to fail or for other Chief Ministers to fail so that India fails. If the state fails, the Centre fails. If the Centre fails, India fails. And we cannot let India fail.

I believe we can beat this virus and win this war against Covid-19 but we have to do it as one India. Therefore, it is my appeal to political leaders, their IT cells, their spokespersons, and their supporters, there is a time to play politics. However, this is not that time. This is the time to look at this crisis as an India health crisis and not the Modi health crisis.

Remember there is no balm to calm the heart of a person that has lost a loved one unexpectedly.

The author is founder & editor-in-chief at GoaChronicle.com.

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Opinion

AMITABH’S DONATION TO GURDWARA PROJECTS IGNITES SIKH POLITICS

Pankaj Vohra

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Cine superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s declaration that he donated Rs 12 crore towards Covid-related projects initiated in two prominent gurdwaras of the capital has snowballed into a major controversy that could have wide-ranging ramifications for Punjab in general, and Sikh politics in Delhi in particular.

Two prominent leaders, both former presidents of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Paramjit Singh Sarna and Manjit Singh G.K. have urged the Akal Takht to take strict action against the current chief, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, for “accepting blood money” from an actor who was extremely close to Rajiv Gandhi when the Sikh genocide took place in 1984 and is perceived to be the part of the “khoon ka badla khoon” gang.

Sirsa had apparently accepted money from the cine star for a project in the Gurdwara Bangla Sahab last year and for a new Covid facility at Gurdwara Rakabganj this year. The supreme irony is that the outgoing chief had himself in 2017 demanded that Amitabh should clear his name for his alleged involvement in the anti-Sikh riots after he had been named by some of the victims.

Senior Akali leader and former Lok Sabha MP Simranjit Singh Mann has also demanded strict action against Sirsa and others, who are close to the Badals, for concealing facts from his executive and trying to cover up the matter. The revelation of money being donated came from the actor himself, who stated on a social platform how he had contributed to the noble cause. The matter has become a major point of discussion in the ongoing gurdwara politics and could impact the final outcome.

Manjit Singh G.K. said that a complaint against Amitabh’s involvement was filed before the Akal Takht by Jagdish Kaur and others who were responsible in sending former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar to jail. Paramjit Singh Sarna demanded that Akat Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh should order the immediate expulsion of Sirsa for desecrating gurdwara properties with blood money, failing which he should resign. Sarna is a veteran of Sikh politics and was extremely close to former SGPC Chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Manjit Singh is the son of late DSGPC president Jathedar Santokh Singh, who, till his assassination in 1981, enjoyed cordial relations with Indira Gandhi. In fact, after Operation Blue Star, senior Congress leader Buta Singh had taken Manjit to meet Rajiv Gandhi who wanted him to help in the reconstruction of the Akal Takht. Only 26 years old at that time, Manjit had declined, stating that the Sikhs would never endorse this action.

The Sarnas are very influential in Sikh circles and this attack on Amitabh has found a lot of support at every level. The Sikhs have resolved that the Rs 12 crores given by Amitabh through donation to an individual was unacceptable and would be returned and “the tainted money’’ cannot be used for any gurdwara projects. Sirsa finds himself on the wrong foot and would be looking for support from the Badals, who themselves are in the eye of a political storm concerning the sacrilege incidents of 2015. It is evident that Amitabh’s effort to warm his way into Sikh hearts by charity has boomeranged. It is evident that the Sikhs would not settle for this kind of appeasement.  

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