Biden’s statements on India reassuring - The Daily Guardian
Connect with us

Opinion

Biden’s statements on India reassuring

Joyeeta Basu

Published

on

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s policy document, “Joe Biden’s Agenda for the Indian American Community” issued over the weekend, has a detailed section on India-US partnership. It makes for reassuring reading in the backdrop of the unpleasant statements made about India by Biden’s team members and a combination of leftist-Islamist forces that seem to have gone mainstream in the Democratic party. For that matter, Biden himself did not help India-US relationship when, in “Joe Biden’s Agenda for Muslim-American Communities” issued in June, he put the world’s most populous democracy in the company of China for its treatment of Muslims—an outrageous comparison, to say the least. The “Muslim Agenda” raised the issue of “human rights” in Kashmir and criticized the Citizenship Amendment Act, apart from the National Register of Citizens, thus exposing the ignorance of Biden’s campaign team and their susceptibility to fall for propaganda by interests arrayed against India. In effect, the Biden team segregated Indian-origin Muslims as a separate entity from Indian Americans, thus subverting the whole premise of equality, which Biden claims to stand for.

 Considering no such worries about the state of India’s democracy and “secularism” find a mention in the latest “Indian American Agenda”, it is assumed that the earlier statement was an act of political expediency, tailored to suit the demands of a particular constituency. It is also assumed that the Indian “Agenda” is an act of “geopolitical expediency”, which necessitates a strong alliance between the United States and India, two of the most important democracies of the world. In fact, from the direction that US’ India policy has been taking and the way bipartisan consensus has been developing about the need to have a close USIndia partnership, especially to counter China, there is no reason to believe that Biden is being everything to everyone. Hence, he should be taken at face value when he says, “a Biden Administration will place a high priority on continuing to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship… Together, we will continue strengthening India’s defense and capabilities as a counterterrorism partner…” But then how does one reconcile the two “Agendas”? There is growing consensus in the strategic and policy community that a Biden Administration, if it comes to power, may make occasional noises about “human rights issues” under pressure from various lobby groups, but will be steadfast in enhancing its partnership with India, especially in the Indo-Pacific region. This finds a reflection in Biden’s latest Agenda, which says that a “Biden Administration will also work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, is able to threaten its neighbors with impunity”. This is a significant statement, coming from someone who is believed to be more focused on the Atlantic and Nato as the pivot of his foreign policy. In a foreign policy speech delivered in New York last year in July, not once did Biden speak about the IndoPacific, but primarily about renewing the US’ relationship with Nato. But then policy can never be static and a year later it is hoped that a Biden administration, if he becomes President, will follow in the footsteps of the Trump administration, during whose time Obama’s “pivot to Asia” became more pronounced and focus shifted completely from the Atlantic (Nato) to the Indo-Pacific, and rightly so because of the rise of a malign power such as China. The focus is now on containing China and ensuring that it behaves responsibly—as a great power should. In India, there is a belief that the Republicans are better for Indian interests than the Democrats, but this postulation may not be valid at a time when China’s aggression against India is inviting bipartisan condemnation in the US Congress. As for noises made by busybodies and vested interests about “human rights issues”, let’s not forget that the strong ties between India and US during President Donald Trump’s tenure have not deterred organisations such as the USCIRF from unfairly branding India as a “country of particular concern”. Hence, this is a hazard we have to live with, whoever be the US President, Donald Trump or Joe Biden; or better still, this is something we have to preempt and counter proactively, which we have not been doing. India’s messaging has to be better at a time when both countries’ focus is on making the India-US partnership a defining one for the 21st century. As else the narrative gets hijacked unnecessarily.

The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.

For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.

Opinion

LEAVE BOTH BIGOTRY AND ACTIVISM OUT, PLAY CRICKET

Joyeeta Basu

Published

on

Pakistan is playing good cricket, trouncing first India and then New Zealand at the World T20 championship. Both its victories were well deserved and could mark a resurgence of Pakistani cricket after a prolonged slump, during which international teams stopped visiting that country and team performance went from bad to worse. But then the praise stops there, for the less said the better about Pakistanis in cricket. With Shoaib Aktar, Waqar Yunus and others justifying the Two-Nation theory while discussing India-Pakistan cricket, saying things like there’s something special about a Pakistani offering namaaz among Hindus, asking questions about the importance of defeating kafirs…if there was a trophy for bigotry, the Pakistanis would have won it hands down. Moreover, there is no criticism of all this from the Pakistani population in general, for the thought process behind such utterances seems to have been normalized in that country.

Perhaps this has been the real face of Pakistani cricket all along, notwithstanding the glamour that their players added to the sport in the yesteryears. After all, their most successful and “modern” captain, Imran Khan turned out to be a Neanderthal once he joined politics and became Prime Minister, going around wooing radical clerics and spewing prehistoric views on how women should dress, among other things. In fact, the cricketers seem to be a reflection of the Pakistani milieu, where the overwhelming majority appears either indifferent or insensitive, or both to the minorities, where discrimination against minorities has been institutionalized, where a whole population is being taught a false history of a glorious past where the “other” was always defeated and stayed subservient to the will of the “racially superior”. So Waqar Yunus may apologise for his namaaz remark, but the problem is the mindset he revealed, raising questions about the extent to which this mindset prevails in Pakistan.

This exultation was evident even in Pakistani minister Sheikh Rashid’s viral video, where he labelled Pakistan’s victory over India as a victory of Islam over Hindus and said that Muslims worldwide, including Indian Muslims were celebrating it. The statement was essentially mischievous, for it attempted to “otherise” India’s minority community, by making them suspect in the eyes of the majority. In spite of being a buffoon, Rashid played a dangerous game and it would be foolish on the part of Indians to play into his hands. Hence, when a small section of the minority community in India celebrates Pakistan’s victory, they actually help Sheikh Rashid to drive a wedge between the majority and the minority, thus allowing people to unfairly question the loyalty of the minority community to this country. In this case, there is no freedom to choose whose victory to celebrate, given the long history of animosity and enmity between the two countries. Even otherwise, it would be really strange for Indians to be bursting crackers celebrating India’s defeat against any country, not just Pakistan. Let’s hope that saner heads will prevail and the damage done will be repaired.

And since we are talking cricket, might as well ask: what were the Indian players thinking when they took to the knee for the #BLM movement? How many black players are there in the Indian team, or have ever been? Why are Indians suddenly showing solidarity to a cause that India has never had anything to do with? This is not an attempt to criticize #BLM, but just to ask wouldn’t it have been better for Indians to pick up a cause that resonates with this country? Activism and sports make for a bad mix, so should be avoided. But if Indian cricketers were really keen to be seen as trendy “internationalists”, they could have always picked up climate change as a cause, especially since the World Cup schedule is coinciding with the climate change summit in Glasgow. Else what we are witnessing is the team appearing deracinated and thus being trolled both on social media and in TV studios. Whatever might have been the good intention behind it, the act of taking to the knee—and that too on a day the team got walloped by Pakistan—backfired spectacularly.

So the advice to all teams at this juncture is: concentrate on the game, leave your bigotry and activism outside the playing arena.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Firecracker verdict or licence to pollute with impunity?

The verdict is based upon some highly distorted and propagandized beliefs; that there is something like green crackers, that green crackers do not pollute, that enforcement agencies can actually enforce a two-hour duration for lighting crackers and can also test noise pollution levels for taking action and lastly that sale of crackers would be confined to licensed vendors.

Amita Singh

Published

on

A much-awaited October 23 verdict of the Supreme Court on fire cracker ban has come as a great disappointment. It only strengthens a popular conviction repeatedly expressed in many of my columns that judges need better exposure to social environment or their judgements become inoperable. The verdict is based upon some highly distorted and propagandized beliefs; that there is something like green crackers, that green crackers do not pollute, that enforcement agencies can actually enforce a two hour duration for lighting crackers and can also test noise pollution levels for taking action and lastly that sale of crackers would be confined to licensed vendors only since the judges at the Apex Court want it. The worst is hon’ble Court’s complete impudence towards child labor regulations and dangers to citizen’s health closely associated with fire cracker industry. The knowledge and the hope reflected in a fatigued reaction of Justice Shah and Justice Bopanna in previous September sittings such as, ‘Everyday, everyday there is violation in this regard…..in religious processions, political rallies,’ has now turned a cause into will-o-the-wisp.

Neither is a fire cracker industry benign nor is any Diwali incomplete without fire crackers. A rowdy child living within many grown ups wishes to enjoy noise as a crib jingle toy for a baby. So much stronger becomes this desire nearing festivals that all consideration towards elderly, disabled, medically weak and small babies is ignored.My own daughter who was a day old on Diwali froze on the ear-drum blasting sound of Diwali bombs and our timely rush to the hospital saved her. My graduate student suffering from bronchial asthma was not so lucky in 1991. In the midst of Diwali triggered severe bronchospasm she was rushed from R.K.Puram to AIIMS but lost the battle. Some years later, a 10 year old girl in our neighbourhood died of burns as her dress caught fire through arbitrary burning of crackers on the roads.

Judges need to understand that the density of Delhi population since then has increased from a mere 135 per ha to above 9400 per sq.kms and in four of its districts it crosses 28000 mark per sq.kms. The neighbourhood Gurgaon alone crosses the mark of highest density state of West Bengal to 1241 per sq. Kms. Delhi’s neighbourhood population constituting the NCR is shockingly growing by 80%. Besides, this small space is shared by a large number of pets and homeless animals who become the first victims of rowdy pollution inflicted with impunity in the name of cheap fun by grown ups. What more could be seen by judges? For changing times, rules need to change and in current circumstances its criminal to allow crackers.

A large number of children are employed in fireworks industry in complete defiance of the Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition & Regulation) Act 1986 amended in 2016 (CLPR Act), Factories Act 1948, Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection) of Children Act 2015 and ILO warnings to India for being the highest employer of children below 14 years of age in the world adjoining closely the numbers in Sub-Sahara Africa. Indian Constitution has a fuzzy way out for child employers as under Art 24 it is prohibited in hazardous industries and not in non-hazardous industries. When children sit and wrap crackers in an informal and unorganized tent based fire cracker factory a large majority of them get waivers from local enforcement agencies who refuse to acknowledge the task as hazardous even though their tiny soft fingers get corroded and toxins seep into their blood stream causing irreparable harm to their health. Most of these child workers become unfit for any work by the time they reach their twenties. Poverty at their homes is generally raised as an argument for soft action by enforcement agencies. Even today more than an estimated two lac children are employed in hazardous industries across the country.The town of Sivakasi (TN) which is almost a 100 percent monopoly supplier to the firecracker market is also home to the largest percentage of child labour. The 1989 Report of Shubh Bhardwaj and 2002 of ILO has brought to surface those inhuman and precarious conditions in which these children work and also die in frequent blaze accidents that keep occurring from time to time in such factories. The clandestine manner in which this work continues is a product of a nexus between a law maker and its implementor. Its surprising that the Judges would turn a blind eye to it.

The judges have also not been able to fix liability on the authorities in charge even though they had been upbeat about it in previous court sittings on the case. They had identified Police Commissioner for fixing a liability which however went missing in the final verdict. The Court even overlooked the argument of petitioner’s learned Counsel Sankaranarayanan who clearly established that toxic ingredients are still largely used in so called green crackers. Environmentalists have clearly established that there is nothing like green crackers. In the 2018 judgement which had allocated to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO)the task of reviewing the composition of crackers to find if banned chemicals like lithium, arsenic, antimony ,lead or mercury was still in use.The PESO findings have since been overlooked. The respondents a group of firework manufacturers M/s Standard Fireworks, M/s Hindustan Fireworks, M/s Vinayaga Fireworks Industries, M/s Shree Mariamman Fireworks, M/s Shree Suryakala Fireworks and M/s Selva Vinayagar Fireworks could churn out a compromised formula from the court. The Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict, in which it said that ‘the manufacture, sale and use of joined firecrackers (series crackers or laris) is hereby banned as the same causes huge air, noise and solid waste problems’ had done little to reach a complete ban but the October 2021 verdict is discouraging for not evolving into a reasonable ban appropriate for the changing times.

The manner in which the court has handled the fireworks ban case is an indication of judicial indigence of exposure to socio-medical health data of people in India. Under the famous legal principle of corpus delicti in arson, even an uncorroborated testimony of a single eyewitness, if credible, may be enough to prove the corpus delicti and to warrant conviction. Admirable are judges who set an ethos of judicial discipline amongst enforcement agencies. Currently, judges provoke enforcement agencies to file a contempt petition if they disagree rather than holding them stringently responsible for implementation.

Interestingly the same judge, Justice M.R.Shah who constituted the Bench with Justice Arun Mishra for ordering to demolish four storeyed swanky, high-end apartment complexes at the Maradu municipality of Kochi coastal zone despite expressing it as a ‘painful duty’ has not been able to demonstrate an equivalent respect for the cause of life in the fireworks case. Who does not know that if enforcement agencies were committed and honest every judicial verdict would come hammering upon offenders but alas, this does not exist. In both cases regulations exist but trust in enforcement agencies blinds the verdict in fire cracker case.

The Court has overlooked substantial evidence pointing towards the need for a complete ban. It has also spilled ink on its previously expressed sensitivity shared in September Court sitting debates where it declared in unequivocal terms that ‘the right to life is above right to employment’ which made headlines in newspapers.

Once again environment lost its battle against polluting factories!

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

When children sit and wrap crackers in an informal and unorganized tent based fire cracker factory a large majority of them get waivers from local enforcement agencies who refuse to acknowledge the task as hazardous.

Continue Reading

Opinion

PRIYANKA GANDHI’S ROLE IN UTTAR PRADESH POLLS

Priya Sahgal

Published

on

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is certainly busy making up for lost time as she bombards the people of Uttar Pradesh with a headline a day. If she is not taking on the cause of the farmers versus the Central and State Government on the Lakhimpuri Kheri murders, she is courting arrest trying to visit the family of a man who allegedly died in police custody. In between, she managed to evade the local police by smuggling herself out of her house in her car trunk and visited a Dalit colony where she visited a temple and swept the floor. A few days later she announced 40 per cent reservation for women in ticket distribution by the Congress, told the media that she was also working on a women’s manifesto that will include e-cycles and smartphones for college girls— and also happened to bump into her ally turned rival Akhilesh Yadav on a Lucknow flight where she congratulated him for taking all the `cowards’ away from the Congress— a reference to all the local Congress leaders who were leaving the party having lost faith in the Congress ticket.

The meeting with Akhilesh may have been by chance but she made the most of it by revealing to the media what she had told the SP leader (the line about cowards) and managed to make the most of the opportunity. While the SP camp is yet to comment on it, Congress sources also informed us as to how Priyanka sat in the economy while the socialist leader sat in business class. Later on Priyanka herself dwelt on this during her interviews with the media. Without attacking the SP leader directly she managed to convey two messages. One that he is taking turncoats whom the Congress had no use for and second, that she travelled economy class. (While Priyanka has started her media interactions, Akhilesh is yet to begin his apart from a few soundbites and appearances at conclaves.)

This running away with the message is a leaf that Priyanka has clearly taken out of Narendra Modi’s book. ( I know that neither will thank me for this comparision). Even on the day that the PM himself was at Varanasi to launch the Ayushman Bharat Infra Health Mission in his constituency, Priyanka Gandhi chose that same day to make her own announcement on health care. She tweeted that if voted to power the Congress would provide free treatment and healthcare up to Rs 10 Lakh. Taking a dig at the Yogi government she tweeted that: “Everyone saw the dilapidated condition of the health system in UP during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a result of the apathy and neglect of the current government. With the consent of the Manifesto Committee, the UP Congress has decided that when it forms the government in UP, any disease will be treated free of cost. The government will bear expenses up to Rs 10 lakh.”

She may have come late to the party—though her party workers point to her interventions during the Hathras rape and murder case, rallies against CAG, and her taking on the Yogi government on the issue of buses for the migrants— but she is definitely a major part of the Opposition’s narrative against the BJP. The problem is that the party lacks a ground-level structure and discipline to convert her initiatives into votes and two, her interventions through headline-worthy have been sporadic. Can she restore the faith of the people in her – and the Congress. A lot will depend on whether she chooses to contest the polls or not. Will she be part of the 40 percent women on the Congress ticket? “Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon” (I am a girl, and I can fight) is the Congress slogan. Will Priyanka be an active part of this slogan?

She is not revealing her cards right now but her leading from the front will make all the difference for that will pit her directly against Yogi Adityanath and his main contender Akhilesh Yadav. As far as Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is concerned it will raise her stature from campaigner to contender. Otherwise, she runs the risk of being an Assadduddin Owaisi, who is seen as a spoiler at best. The decision is in her court.

Continue Reading

Opinion

NEP warrants rewriting school syllabus

Of course, we must analyse the past without being its prisoner— in the context of the present to build a resurgent India-the hub of global education, by laying the foundation of a sound, secure and holistic school education system to meet the aspirational needs of the 21st century.

Published

on

Schools

Eyebrows were raised, and speculation spiralled, when a member of the Kasturirangan-led committee, set up recently to revise the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and lay down the broad guidelines for school syllabus and textbooks, said that the existing curriculum in schools dwells “too much on defeats”, and that “in the light of new facts, history should be rewritten”. The member, an ideologue, also remarked that textbooks should talk about the “fighting spirit” of rulers such as Maharana Pratap in battles against foreign invaders. When Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, HRD Minister in Vajpayee government, caused some revision in the school text books, it was considered by the left-wing as saffronisation of the syllabus. The revision of the extant NCF has been necessitated by the National Education Policy, (NEP), 2020. The NCF revision is not new or novel. It was last revised in 2005, and earlier in 1975, 1988 and 2000. The NEP incapsulates and condenses the recommendations of the Committee set up to formulate a Draft National Education Policy. It was a Herculean task to condense over 400 page report of the Kasturirangan Committee into a precise 68 page policy document, that is the NEP, which was approved by the Union Cabinet on 29th July, 2020. As Adviser to the Union Minister for Education, I recollect, the affable but indefatigable Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had a series of mind storming and protracted discussions with senior bureaucrats, academics and scholars, apart from structured inter-ministerial discussions, leading to formulation of multiple drafts and eventual approval of the NEP 2020 by the Cabinet.

The NEP, the first education policy of the 21st century, aims to address the many growing developmental imperatives of India. The NEP envisages revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, including its regulation and governance and to create a new system aligned with the aspirational goals of the 21st century and the SDG4, while building upon India’s great traditions and value systems. The NEP unambiguously says that ‘the pursuit of knowledge (Jnan), wisdom (Pragyaa), and truth (Satya) was always considered in Indian thought and philosophy as the highest human goal. Admittedly, the purpose of education system is to develop good human beings capable of rational thought and action, possessing compassion and empathy, courage and resilience, scientific temper and creative imagination, with sound ethical moorings and values. The Policy envisages that the curriculum and pedagogy must foster a sense of respect towards the fundamental duties and constitutional values, bonding with one’s country, and conscious awareness of one’s role and responsibilities.

A host of wide-ranging measures have been taken by the Ministry of Education, the UGC, the NCERT and the CBSE to give effect to the provisions of the NEP as per the timelines stipulated in the Policy itself. The provisions of the NEP relating to Early Childhood Care, that is the foundational literary and numeracy and development of a new National Curriculum Framework for school education is a challenging task. This is so because, according to the empirical studies, and a fact reiterated by the NEP, over 85 percent of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6, indicating the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in early years. The school curriculum and pedagogy are to be restructured in a new 5+3+3+4 and ‘learning is to be made holistic, integrated, enjoyable, and engaging’. The curriculum content would be reduced to make the school bag lighter. However, the core essentials of each subject would be retained to make space for critical thinking based on concepts, ideas, applications and problem-solving. Teaching and learning have to be made interactive, creative, collaborative, experiential with classroom sessions ‘regularly containing more fun’. The NEP speaks of empowerment of students through flexibility in course choices, multilingualism, curricular integration of essential subjects, skills and capacities, with local content and flavour by developing a new and comprehensive NCF for school education based on the principles enshrined in the NEP.

The task belongs to, and stands assigned to the NCERT by the NEP, but, probably conscious of the enormity and the complexity, the GoI has entrusted the task of drafting the NCF to a 12-member National Steering Committee (NSC) headed by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan, who also headed the Committee on the Draft National Education Policy, 2019. Out of the 12 members, apart from Dr Kasturirangan who heads the NSC, two more eminent scholar members of the Committee constituted to Draft the NEP, 2019, namely Prof. Manjul Bhargava and Prof.T V Kattimani, have been retained. Prof. Manjul Bhargava is a professor of Mathematics in the Princeton University, USA- the recipient of Fields Medal. This prestigious award is given to mathematicians under age 40 by the International Mathematical Union, considered as the novel prize of Mathematics. Prof. Kattimani is a former VC of Indira Gandhi National Tribal University and the current VC of the Central Tribal University of Andhra Pradesh. The other members of the NSC comprise of eminent Vice Chancellors, distinguished scholars, renowned academics, domain experts and profound thinkers. The task before them is complex and colossal as they have to develop the new NCF within the framework of the NEP, 2020.

A member of the NSC, and a right-wing ideologue, has hinted at re-writing history and the textbooks ‘in the light of new facts’ of history. The precise mandate of the steering committee is to develop the NCF within the mandated remit. The NEP speaks, among other things, of incorporating local content and flavour as the students must know about their past, immediate surroundings and topography, India’s civilisational heritage, constitutional values, to develop the spirit of critical thinking and enquiry. The Policy advocates multilingualism, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong opportunities for all by 2030 by incorporating rapid changes in the knowledge landscape in the globalised world. The aim is to promote India as a global study destination by providing premium education at affordable costs so as to help ‘restore its role as a Viswa Guru’. Evidently, the founding fathers of our republic laid the foundation of a civic nation, and not an ethnic nation by crafting a republican democratic Constitution, solemnly affirming to secure to all its citizens: Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity— assuring the dignity of the individual.

When one speaks of India’s civilisational heritage and the need for inculcating the spirit of enquiry and scientific temper, the following Vedic hymn flashes across the mind: ‘Whether God’s will created it (the universe), or … only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows, only He knows, or perhaps He does not know.’ In a steering committee of twelve eminences in diverse fields of knowledge, there may be an initial difference of opinion but when they talk together, deliberate, build consensus and bring unity of purpose having regard to the need to impart quality education and to make India a global hub of education, expectedly, they will surmount parochial considerations and develop the national curricular framework in perfect accord with the hallowed provisions of the NEP2020, staying clear of the potential carping criticism of the extreme left or the radical right, by not harking too much on the past. Of course, we must analyse the past without being its prisoner— in the context of the present to build a resurgent India-the hub of global education, by laying the foundation of a sound, secure and holistic school education system to meet the aspirational needs of the 21st century.

The writer is ex Addl Secretary, Lok Sabha and a member of the Delhi Bar Council. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

A member of the NSC, and a right-wing ideologue, has hinted at re-writing history and the textbooks ‘in the light of new facts’ of history. The precise mandate of the steering committee is to develop the NCF within the mandated remit. The NEP speaks, among other things, of incorporating local content and flavour as the students must know about their past, immediate surroundings and topography, India’s civilisational heritage, constitutional values, to develop the spirit of critical thinking and enquiry. The Policy advocates multilingualism, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of lifelong opportunities for all by 2030 .

Continue Reading

Opinion

THE PANDEMIC: US NEEDS TO CLEAN UP ITS OWN HOUSE, COUNTER CHINA

Joyeeta Basu

Published

on

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the United States has admitted what was being suspected for a long time—that the US has poured money into gain-of-function research in China and that money has funded bat coronavirus research at a Wuhan laboratory. In a letter to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, last week, the NIH admitted that it funded the EcoHealth Alliance, which researched on bat coronavirus in partnership with the Wuhan Institute of Virology to try and see how the virus could be made more infectious than normal. At the same time, NIH claimed that the research being done by the EcoHealth Alliance could not have started the pandemic, because the genetic composition of that virus was different from that of the SARS-CoV-2. But such is the trust deficit resulting from the NIH’s unwillingness to share information, not everyone is ready to buy that argument.

EcoHealth Alliance, a non-governmental organization, is led by the now-infamous British zoologist Dr Peter Daszak, who has been in the forefront of pushing the no-lab-leak theory. He was the one who on 19 February 2020 had written a letter to the medical journal Lancet—co-signed by 26 scientists—saying, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin…and overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife.” The letter also made it clear that the Chinese should not be held accountable for the pandemic. It was again Dr Daszak who was part of the World Health Organisation’s investigation team that “probed” the origin of Covid-19 last year. He was thus responsible for shifting the whole focus of the probe, because of which China got away. In fact, he played a major role in shifting the narrative to such an extent that any question asked about China’s culpability in the spread of the virus got branded as “racism”. Questions are also being raised about how much the powerful Dr Anthony Fauci, who has been in the forefront of US’ fight against the coronavirus and who is currently the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, knew about this. During a Congressional hearing earlier this year, Fauci had flatly denied that he knew that the NIH, through EcoHealth was funding coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The NIH is now claiming that Dr Fauci did not perjure himself in that hearing. However, according to media reports, EcoHealth Alliance has said that they had made all the research data available to the NIH as far back as 2018, thus raising grievous questions about what Dr Fauci has been hiding.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the NIH’s role in the gain of function research in coronavirus in bats has been problematic, and much of its efforts have been directed towards cover-up, when the need is transparency. As a result, the investigation into the origin of the virus has been compromised right from the beginning. The truth has been a casualty in the process. Considering the difficulties of cornering China over the spread of the virus, it is the US that will have to take the lead in speaking the truth and bringing those guilty of the cover-up to book, even if they are important people who are part of the administration. Until and unless the US leads by example, how can it lead the world in putting pressure on China to confess to its role in the spread of the virus? The investigation ordered by President Joe Biden into the origin of the virus was inconclusive. It could not determine if there was a lab leak or if the virus jumped from animal to human. The report was along expected lines, with China stonewalling any probe. But questions are bound to be raised about the US’ inability—or is it unwillingness?—to come to a definitive conclusion about the origin of the virus.

At this rate, where is the world headed? Millions of people have died from the virus. It has been one of history’s worst genocides and it is ongoing. Billions of people have been financially impacted. Will there be no justice for them? Will China get away with murder? The US is a superpower, it calls itself the world leader. It should live up to that claim and lead from the front in holding China accountable, for which it needs to clean up its own house first.

Continue Reading

Opinion

One billion doses: PM Modi must get full credit

While addressing the nation on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful.

Published

on

Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be given full credit for the feat India has achieved of administering one Billion doses to Indian citizens. Although healthcare workers and the entire administration must get the credit, there was one man behind all of them who believed this was possible despite serious doubts raised by opposition and critics. And this was Narendra Modi. He kept inspiring people amidst chaos and ensured that the administration was totally focused on the target.

While critics kept raising asking how would illiterate population that did not have smart phones register under Co-win App and how could infrastructure be created overnight to administer the vaccine, Modi had immense trust that people would come forward and script India’s success story. While opposition parties were criticizing, he was working with scientists and bureaucrats and trying to tie-up the loose ends, learning from mistakes and applying correctives.

Debates after debates BJP spokespersons would be asked how would the Government achieve this impossible task. They asserted that when the Government had announced the target this would be achieved. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that India would be able to vaccinate citizens only by end of 2024, whereas, the Government asserted it would do so by end of December 2021. Modi always works to a plan and his dateline has been proved to be correct. By 21 October, the One Billion doses mark was already achieved. By end of December the country would add many more millions.

The Prime Minister never takes credit. He has always given credit to citizens for the country’s progress. While addressing the nation on Friday, Modi gave full credit to all those who made the world’s largest vaccination programme successful. He thanked, in particular, the health workers who took extra efforts to achieve the task. This gratitude to them and to people was there even in his mann ki baat on Sunday.

Modi described the vaccination programme as “a journey from anxiety to assurance that has made the country stronger” despite efforts by sections of opinion to create distrust. That this feat was achieved in nine months very few could imagine. But this was made possible because he trusted science and scientist and did not allow politics to deter their approach.

While addressing health workers in January this year in Varanasi, the Lok Sabha seat he represents, Modi had brushed aside criticism over emergency use of Covaxin produced by Bharat Biotech. He described the scientists as modern rishis who had worked day and night to devise the elixir for saving lives.

Modi clarified that he was guided completely by advice of scientists and not by what was said by political parties. “And when the go-ahead from the scientists came, we had to decide from where to start. Then we decided to start from health workers who remain in contact with patients constantly,” he told a gathering of health workers. During his address on Friday he said: “It is a matter of pride for us that India’s vaccination programme has been science-born, science-driven and science-based.”

Vaccination drive was launched on 16 January 2021 with target of inoculating three crore health workers and front-line workers. This proved to be a smart move to reduce vaccine hesitancy since people get convinced when doctors and health workers take the vaccine, Modi acknowledged. This helped them save many lives without fearing their own lives while treating patients during the second wave.

Now the task may appear easy, but the context should not be forgotten. It was efforts of these scientists that India developed its own vaccine and also became the centre for manufacturing the other one- Covishield. When more than a hundred countries are awaiting supply of vaccine to them to tide over the crisis, India is on the verge of a recovery that has become a shining example to the world. The WHO has lauded this achievement and given full credit to the political leadership.

When the Union Government had told the Court that it would have enough vaccine to inoculate 93-94 crore adults by the end of the year, the Supreme Court had sought a roadmap. Actually, very few were ready to believe that more than 900 million (90 crore) people would get the vaccine by the year end.

The liberalised vaccination procurement framework issued in April last month was based on scientific analysis of global best practices, SoPs of WHO and recommendations of experts. This allowed larger role for private players and gave operational flexibility to States. Besides procuring vaccine from indigenous manufacturers they could also seek vaccine directly from foreign vendors.

This met demand of various states for more power since Health is a state subject. Some States had promised free vaccines and were trying to project central government in poor light without realising that vaccine was in short supply. When some of the States floated global tenders, they did not get the response due to this very fact. Some vaccine manufacturers told the states that they would deal only with the Federal Government.

Rather than trying to do politics over vaccine they should have merely executed the vaccination drive. If they were sincere in their efforts, they could have remitted to the Centre the expenses for free vaccine promised. Their criticisms and approach demonstrated that they were merely trying to score political point. Their propensity to find fault with every decision taken by the Prime Minister created confusion and panic all around.

Some mavericks said that the Centre should invoke compulsory licensing and allow other players to make vaccine hardly realising that making Covid-19 vaccine required lot of bio-safety measures which others were not equipped with. The solution was to increase capabilities of existing manufacturers which was an easier option.

While explaining this Niti Ayog member VK Paul had cited the example of Moderna, a US pharma giant. Moderna had said (October 2020) that it would not sue company which makes its vaccines but not a single company did this. Vaccine making is not an easy process, he had explained.

Imagine the contradiction between a chief minister sitting in Delhi or Maharashtra talking about vaccine like an expert and the Prime Minister talking to world experts and leader on vaccine availability and administration and trying to devise strategy for the country. Who was better equipped knowledge wise or by the capabilities to decide? The former was only waving swords in the air without any knowledge or competence whereas, the real fire-fighting was done by the latter through cold calculated steps.

It is only after some opposition ruled States raised their hands in sheer desperation and created an impression that the task was impossible that the Prime Minister announced free vaccine for all and allowed private players to cater to those who were willing to pay. The opposition had created a mess of the situation and it was clear that they were not able to rise to the occasion. People were upset and angry and these States were trying to shift the blame to the Centre on one pretext or the other. While opposition attitude reflected contempt and derision of Indian efforts, the Prime Minister’s attitude reflected trust and confidence.

The opposition was found in the race to undermine India’s own vaccine. When Covaxin was declared as India’s answer to search for vaccine, the opposition questioned its efficacy without knowing that this was the amrit that would save people. They questioned emergency use authorisation without realising that these were Indian scientists who had recommended this and not PM Modi.

While Indian scientists rejoiced and the country felt proud, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned saying this would be dangerous to use Covaxin. Questioning the Emergency use approval of Covaxin, former Union Minister, Manish Tiwary had said, “if the vaccine is so safe and reliable and efficacy of the vaccine is beyond question then how is it that not a single functionary of the government has stepped forward to get themselves vaccinated as it has happened in other countries around the world?”

One Congress leader from Bihar asked why had the Prime Minister not taken the jab first even when Modi had announced that nobody would jump the queue. The Prime Minister pointed out on Friday that the vaccine driver had kept the VIP culture away. Those who were eligible got the jab first. Others despite their political clout waited in the queue for their turn.

Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh has crossed all limits of valid criticisms by terming the vaccine as BJP vaccine and declaring that he would not take the vaccine. This is what he said: “Main toh nahi lagwaunga abhi vaccine. Maine apni baat keh di. Aur woh bhi BJP lagayegi uska bharosa karunga main? Arre, jao bhai. Arre, apni sarkar ayegi, sabko free vaccine lagegi. Hum BJP ka vaccine nahin lagwa sakte (I will not get the vaccine now. I am telling you about myself. Am I going to trust a vaccine given by the BJP? Oh, get lost. When our government comes, everyone will get the vaccine free)”.

How ridiculous one can become was evident when Samajwadi Party MLC Ashutosh Sinha said that people might become impotent after taking Covid vaccine. Rumours were spread that vaccine intended to decrease population of some community.

All these increased vaccine hesitancy so much that people were often seen running away from health-workers deployed to inoculate them. Some delayed taking the jab for the fear that this would harm them. India’s vaccination programme and its success now must be seen in this context. There was one man who has been absolutely sure of science and his people. The world knows who he has been.

But there is no time to relax. One that the drive must be stepped up to bring all under vaccine drive as soon as possible. The festivals season, the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

The festival season the country is witnessing, is a testing time. If proper care is taken and people keep taking the Covid protocols seriously, India would come out of the pandemic and move on to a faster economic recovery. The Prime Minister has appealed to people to make wearing mask a routine of their life. Just following this simple routine will save life until everyone gets fully vaccinated.

Continue Reading

Trending