BY EMPOWERING RURAL INDIA, WE CAN MAKE WORLD-CLASS PRODUCTS, SAYS YADUVEER SINGH BERA - The Daily Guardian
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BY EMPOWERING RURAL INDIA, WE CAN MAKE WORLD-CLASS PRODUCTS, SAYS YADUVEER SINGH BERA

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NewsX was recently joined by Yaduveer Singh Bera, co-founder of Bera Jackets, Castle Bera and JB Safaris. In an exclusive conversation, as a part of its special series, NewsX A-List Kunwar Yaduveer Singh Bera spoke about his brands and future mission.

Yaduveer Singh told us about the origins of Bera Jackets and the story behind how it became popular and what made him decide to further promote it. “Bera Jackets are not new. It has been there in Rajasthan since the 1920s and was introduced by my great grandfather Thakur Prithvi Singh Bera who was a world-class polo player and part of the legendary Jodhpur team which won all over the world. He was a man of style and in those days the tailors of Bera were known for the art of quilting that was initially done for the polo horses. He ordered his personal royal tailors to make quilted jackets and Phulgaar for him. That’s how it all began. The trend picked up and The Bera Phulgaars and jackets were ordered by several royals and were also presented to international personal guests of the royalties,” he said.

“I started this as a brand when I came back from college. I was handling Castle Bera hence was handling all the guests. I used to meet a lot of them from all over the world and they used to love these jackets that I used to wear in the evening. When I used to sit with them we used to appreciate it and they asked me what brand this is and that’s how it all started. In 2018, my cousin called me up and said why don’t I start a platform. I had no experience in fashion and was scared and confused. But I had only seven days to start a brand,” continued Yaduveer Singh. At the age of 22, he started Bera Jackets, his own brand of clothing and has not looked back since then.

Talking about his mission to open up the local landscape and the local region to the international market, Yaduveer Singh said, “I come from the place called Jawai, the leopard hills of India. My father Thakur Baljeet Singh Bera and uncle Thakur Devi Singh Bera were the pioneers of Leopards safaris in Jawai. There was a time no one believed that there were leopards in Bera Jawai but after 20 years of hard work and dedication both of them got Bera Jawai on the world map and has given employment and business opportunities to hundreds of locals.”

Yaduveer Singh was given the title of the ‘Leopard Prince’ at the age of 22 for his remarkable efforts of conservation of wildlife and heritage. A documentary was released by filmmaker Gunther Machu called ‘The Leopard Prince’ based on his life. He shared the reason behind this unique title, “My father’s elder brother, known as Leopard Man was the first person who called me ‘Leopard Prince’. That’s how it all started. An Austrian filmmaker had come to Bera and he wanted to create a film, which was about leopards, and also about the culture, the area, and the heritage of this place. We wanted to name it something different. He how saw my work, what I was doing with the Bera Jackets and all the things I was working on. We had a discussion and decided to name it: Leopard Prince.” Yaduveer Singh started an initiative known as I-CLEAN JAWAI, with a vision to clean the leopard hills of India by creating awareness as tourism has increased in the area and people have started to litter the beautiful landscape of Jawai.

The scion of the Royal Family launched a safari adventure and outsourcing company called JB safaris. Yaduveer Singh shared his vision behind it, “After Covid-19 induced lockdown I wanted to do a no contact set up where people can enjoy safaris without having to stay in a hotel. That was the whole idea behind starting the safaris as we are running Castle Bera but if our guests are located right in the centre, for example, we get many customers from Jodhpur and Udaipur who don’t want to spend the night but just come there directly for a safari and leave.”

Yaduveer Singh conducted Safari with the ‘Leopard Prince of India’ in partnership with Dubai Tourism, Singapore Tourism, and Incredible India. It was India’s first successful live virtual safari during the Covid-19 pandemic which helped to spread awareness about conservation in schools across the world.

With a mission to promote the local arts and crafts of the area to increase employment and revive the art of quilting under the brand name of Bera Jackets, he asserted, “I believe there is immense hidden talent in India and if we empower rural India, give them the facilities and support them we can make world-class products. The youth of India should not just follow international brands but create brands that can compete internationally. I started Beta Jackets but there are so many other people in rural India who can do the same and different artisans who need that attention. There are so many undiscovered places in rural parts of India. There was a time when I had to convince my friends that we have leopards in our area. Nobody believed me then and now when I talk about Jawai, people know this destination. I have seen a destination which was nothing and now it’s on the world map because of people’s dedication and teamwork.”

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THE TRANSFORMATIVE NATURE OF CONSCIOUSNESS ENERGIES

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The individual consciousness can never live independently of other energies. Do we have experience of any energy being independent? In the current material circumstances of consciousness, as soon as the current situation terminates the consciousness, particles must associate themselves immediately with another energy, either, according to the Vedas, as energies made of the same conscious constituents or be embedded within substances that are of an entirely different nature to itself. So, consciousness must find another shelter. Even when the consciousness particles are seen to transform themselves within consciousness energies, it is not a guarantee of a permanent home because within consciousness energies there are places where the consciousness particles can be seen taking a long rest from activities, bearing in mind that consciousness is always active, apart from the state of deep sleep.

Our Vaishnava acharyas have compared the state of motionlessness in the consciousness energies, known as the Brahmajyoti, with a kind of deep sleep; one could say peace and harmony. But the teachers of Vedic knowledge bring to the attention of the reader that the inherent need of consciousness to exchange with another consciousness and engage in activities eventually leads consciousness out of this deep sleep of harmony. And because of a lack of knowledge of the activities of the origins of consciousness, the consciousness particles find themselves back in the atmosphere of an ethereal, and eventually a devolved, quantum and classical plane in order to exhibit activities.

It is a scientific fact that energies are never destroyed, but transform themselves. It is also a fact that the energy source for this earth is the sun, and the Vedas indicate the sun is a devolved or transformed energy from the light of the Brahmajyoti. And the Brahmajyoti is a transformed energy from the natural effulgence of the body of divinity, who is described in the Vedas as the original cause of all causes. The sun transforms its energies through photosynthesis and heats the atmosphere and causes air movements. The moon’s energies are confirmed in the Vedas, as the moonbeams strike the planet, giving it flavour. This is not understood by modern science.

Srila Prabhupada makes the following statements:

Prabhupada: It is better. [break]…the influence of the moon planet, the vegetation grows. Do they accept, the modern botanists, influence of moon planet?

Parivrajakacarya: All the farmers, they…

Prabhupada: They do believe?

Parivrajakacarya: They believe that. They plant certain seeds according to the moon.

Prabhupada: Just see.

Pradyumna: Even in the West, they only plant certain things on the waxing moon, not on the waning moon. On Sukla-Paksa.

Prabhupada: And the moon is vacant. By the influence of the moon, other vegetation is growing, and it cannot grow itself.

Hari-sauri: They admit that the moon rays have some kind of potency. They know that.

Prabhupada: No, it is stated in the Bhagavatam.

Consciousness energies are transformed, in the sense that their circumstances transform and bring them into new environments as different combinations of matter and ethereal energies. This transition happens on account of the consciousness association with matter and an ethereal plane, or in some cases a superior plane beyond the ethereal plane. But in the case of the former, the ethereal plane connects to the quantum plane of many possibilities, that eventually devolve into the classical four-dimensional space we inhabit which includes time, as former reactions to classical, quantum and ethereal connections play out for a given period of time.

Devotee (3): Srila Prabhupada, is the subtle bodies in the subtle world, are they made up of subtle atoms?

Prabhupada: Subtle body means subtle atoms. So, if we are in subtle body, whatever there is in the subtle body, everything is there.

The permanent shelter for consciousness, the Vedas indicate, is a world of quality and variety, with beauty and love and attraction, where consciousness expands in a form that is fit for a particular display of loving exchange. The ultimate transformation and sharing of experiences, which the Vedas call rasa, is of both the consciousness of the supreme consciousness and His other parts and parcels. This exchange takes place primarily between the origins of form and beauty, divinity Himself. He is a Personality who displays a full, unlimited and ever-increasing form and personality, which forever draws His parts, who now display the beauty of love toward Him in their respective forms, in ever increasing service and qualities.

Nothing is static here, the highest of all planes, where any of the consciousness particles can reside. The immaculate senses and beauty of divinity captivates the transcendental senses of His fully transcendentally formed parts, which take up residence, along with those who have never left His association, under the guidance of the personification of Divinities’ pleasure potency and Her expansions, or under the guidance and care of others who exhibit fully the five types of loving exchanges with divinity.

How it is possible for a tiny particle to reside with the supreme consciousness is explained by the founder and acharya of ISKCON Inc., A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

“So, in the animal life it is not possible to change one’s nature, which is given by the material energy, prakrti. Prakrteh kriyamanani [Bg. 3.27]. Karanam guna-sango ‘sya… Karanam guna-sangah asya sad-asad-janma-yonisu [Bg. 13.22]. Why? All living entities are part and parcel of God. Therefore, originally, the characteristic of a living entity is as good as God. Simply it is a question of quantity. Quality is the same. Mamaivamso jiva-bhutah [Bg. 15.7]. For example, if you take a drop of seawater, the quality, the chemical composition, is the same, but the quantity is different. It is a drop, and the sea is the vast ocean. Similarly, we are exactly of the same quality as Krishna.”

Our acharyas also indicate that in Krishna’s personal abode, His sweetness increases and His Majesty diminishes, thus enabling full, loving exchanges between the origins of consciousness and all His parts. This indeed is another inconceivable aspect of the Inconceivable Lord and Master of Consciousness.

Gauranga Sundar Das is Iskcon Inc Communication Director and SM IT Head.

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INDIA ON THE TRAJECTORY OF AN ECONOMIC POWERHOUSE

The Modi government has used the Covid-19 crisis to usher in bold and radical reforms, and unveiled its vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

G.V. Anshuman Rao

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India is poised to regain its status as the largest growing economy of the world by next year. The Narendra Modi government has laid the structural framework for roaring growth that is sustainable, technology-driven and job-oriented. More than anyone else, the Prime Minister realises that the post-Covid world presents a unique opportunity to make up for the missed chances of the past to push India resolutely on a high-growth path. He is also acutely aware of the rare opportunity provided by India’s demographic dividend to transform the country into an economic powerhouse in a short span of time.

The Prime Minister has firmly seized the moment and laid the course for investment-led growth. In his second successive term as prime minister, brought to power by a larger majority, he has bitten the bullet to unleash bold and radical reforms from which past governments have dithered. Modi has put his own political capital at risk, knowing that some of the reforms will lead to protests. He has put the interest of the country above everything else and has had the confidence and determination to deliver on his vision to improve the lives of people. Clearly defined goals have been combined with an urgency of action, time-bound implementation and efficient delivery and the results are already visible. The environment of entrepreneurship ushered by his policies has spawned startups and unicorns which are attracting large overseas investments.

A recent Credit Suisse research report said India has 100 unicorns with a combined market capitalisation of $240 billion, which is way above the earlier estimate of 30-40 unicorns. “These are only at the top of a fast-growing pyramid of 80,000 startups in India, which are incrementally now nearly 10 percent of new companies formed every year; the number of firms is up 70 per cent in eight years,” the report said. Opposition parties have been accusing the Modi government of “working for select industrialists” but the facts on the ground are totally different as revealed by this report. The startup ecosystem is flourishing and is creating new millionaires and billionaires who do not necessarily derive their wealth from family-oriented businesses. Large companies across sectors are also gaining strength. The research report referred to growing internet penetration, digital payments and biometric identity, improved physical infrastructure and skilled human resources as some of the key enablers in the growth of unicorns in India. The Modi government has sharply focused on each of these areas and made giant strides in the past six years.

The Credit Suisse report also said that the natural shortage of risk capital in India due to low per capita wealth has been addressed by a surge in private equity, mostly foreign. India-focused venture capital funds have raised $3 billion in 2020, the highest in the last five years and around 40 percent more than in 2019, according to a report by Bain and Company.

The success of Indian startups in turning into unicorns (valued at $1 billion or more) and the massive global private equity investment drive last year increased the interest of global investors in the economy’s startup ecosystem even though it was a pandemic year. According to data analysed by consulting firm Praxis Global Alliance, around 59 international investors made their first-time PE-VC investment in India in 2020, despite curbs on Chinese investment due to border tensions. The corresponding number stood at 43 in 2019. The data showed that the top 10 new global investors in 2020 participated in around $7 billion worth of deals while it was $1.2 billion in 2019.

India needs growth of around 10 percent for nearly three decades to end poverty and raise incomes substantially and this cannot be achieved without a boost to manufacturing and exports. South Korea grew at an average rate of 9.6 percent between 1960 and 1990 and China grew at a rate of about 10 percent between 1980 and 2010. In contrast, India’s average growth rate for the past 30 years has been 6.5 percent. In 1995, the value of China’s imports and exports of goods totaled $280.9 billion or 3 percent of global trade. By 2018, its total trade in goods had jumped to $4.6 trillion or 12.4 percent of global trade. In contrast, India’s share went up from 0.6 percent to 1.7 percent. Also, 75 percent of Indian exports have been in areas where the global export market was just about 30 percent.

The Modi government has used the Covid-19 crisis to usher in bold reforms and unveiled its vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat. It has come out with an ambitious PLI (Production Linked Incentive) scheme to create global champions across industries that will have the size and scale to penetrate global markets, something that China has successfully demonstrated in the past two decades in several sectors. The PLI scheme has been carefully devised and the government has expectations that the amount of about Rs 2 lakh crore earmarked for the scheme for the next five years would result in increasing production by about $520 billion. 13 carefully chosen sectors have been brought under the ambit of the scheme.

The Prime Minister said at a webinar earlier this month that the government is working at every level to promote industries through measures like ease of doing business, reducing the compliance burden, creating multi-modal infrastructure to reduce logistics costs and constructing district-level export hubs.

India is already witnessing a massive thrust to infrastructure in terms of new roads, bridges, airports, ports, rail and metro lines and high-speed freight corridors due to the policies of this government. The government has simultaneously rolled out ambitious plans of infrastructure spending with the National Infrastructure Pipeline envisaging an investment of Rs 111 lakh crore on infrastructure projects by 2024-25. The urgency of the government’s actions is evident from the Union cabinet’s recent decision to give approval to the setting up of a development finance institution (DFI) to fund infrastructure projects. The DFI will be fully owned by the government initially and the shareholding will gradually be brought down to 30 percent. The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) will be set up with a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore and an initial grant of Rs 5,000 crore and the government expects it to use the sum as a lever to raise up to Rs 3 lakh crore in the next few years.

Reforms have been initiated in the banking sector too and the government is absolutely clear about its direction. It is for the first time that any government has talked of the privatization of some banks. Due to the government’s strategy of “recognition, resolution, recapitalisation and reforms”, the NPAs of public sector banks fell by over Rs 1 lakh crore during the first nine months of the current fiscal to Rs 5,77,137 crore from Rs 6,78, 317 crore.

A reflection of investor confidence in the government’s economic policies is the rise in FDI. India witnessed a 13 percent rise in foreign direct investment to $57 billion in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a UNCTAD report. India and China were the only two countries which saw FDI rising in the pandemic year, while the rest of the world, including developed economies, saw sharp declines.

There has been a lot of positive change in the business policy environment in the country, especially in the past six years. The government is paying attention to urbanisation as it is a driver of growth. The country has moved to be among the top 50 countries in the global innovation index.  India’s ease of doing business ranking improved from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019. It is possible now to open a bank account in a few minutes and norms for opening new businesses have been liberalized. Much-needed reforms in mining, coal, labour laws, and agriculture have also been announced.  When I came to India from the US about four decades back, it was the peak of the Licence-Quota Raj and an open and welcoming business environment was difficult to envisage. While some policy reforms were brought in 1991, hard reforms have been ushered now.

India can reclaim its status as the fastest-growing major economy in 2021-22 if the OECD projection of a 12.6 percent expansion in GDP is realised. After plunging into recession for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century due to the Covid crisis, India recorded a rise of 0.4 percent in the GDP in the last three months of 2020. The country has the potential to be a USD 1 trillion digital economy by 2025.

The latest estimate by UNCTAD has said that India’s economy, estimated to contract by 6.9 percent in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will record a “stronger recovery” in 2021 and grow by 5 percent. The September 2020 report by UNCTAD had said that India’s economy was forecast to contract by 5.9 percent in 2020 and recover to 3.9 percent in 2021.

The government has a sharp focus on innovation and growth of industry in sunrise sectors so that India can be a lead exporter in sectors where other countries do not yet have a comparative advantage. It has created a policy environment for sustained high growth and for the country to produce global champions. 

The author is a political analyst and the former chairman of Andhra Pradesh Electronics Development Corporation.

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AN INSIGHT INTO PUBLIC SPACE DESIGN OF INDIA AND BRAZIL

In ‘Deciphering Design with Dikshu’, Andre Aranha Correa Do Lago, the Ambassador of Brazil to India, talks about his interest in architecture, and the uncanny similarities between vernacular Indian and Brazilian architecture.

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India and Brazil are often termed as long-lost twins with similarities edging back to almost five centuries. Portugal’s Pedro Alvares Cabral was sent to India by the King of Portugal after the return of Vasco Da Gama from his pioneering visit to India. Subsequently, the Portuguese connection with India led to the exchange of several crops in the colonial days. Both countries, eventually, began their journey of development post the colonial era, Brazil in 1945 and India in 1947. And not just this, the list of shared diversities goes on—the megadiverse countries enjoy tropical weather and are united by their love for architecture, well reflected through their thriving public spaces. 

In ‘Deciphering Design with Dikshu’, Andre Aranha Correa Do Lago, the Ambassador of Brazil to India, converses about his interest in architecture, the uncanny similarities between vernacular Indian and Brazilian architecture and shared aspirations on public spaces with architect Dikshu Kukreja, managing principal, C.P. Kukreja Architects.

“As a Brazilian, I grew up in a generation where architecture was the biggest symbol of a country. Being born in 1959, that was the time that Brasilia, the new capital, was about to be inaugurated. This got everybody in Brazil to take interest in architecture; Brasilia somehow also symbolised the country Brazil wanted to become—a country with personality, modern values, and innovation. And so, I am from a generation where architecture was everything. This was also a time when there was great appreciation for colonial architecture in Brazil. Overall, architecture was very present, even though my father was a diplomat but my mother would talk about architecture at home,” says Andre Do Lago.

But have we all been conscious of how our public spaces affect us and the significant role they have played in our communities? The Ambassador adds, “Like India, Brazil is a very large country. But most of Brazil has very kind weather. So, the public spaces become very important as most of the times we are outside. Each city is very proud of its public spaces and it’s quite interesting to see how you have traditional public spaces in old cities and how, over the years, we have developed man-made public spaces—which is a great challenge. How can you design a good public space that people can adopt?”

The desire for architectural innovation is leading to increased adaptation of modern architecture in consideration of the region’s topographical and cultural demand. Architecture, since time immemorial, has been a major part of defining one’s identity and there is a dire need to understand the same. Discussing the various factors driving change in public space architecture, Dikshu adds, “Indian society has thrived on public spaces, whether it’s streets, our plazas or the public meeting space at the corner of the street that leads you from your neighbourhood to the main avenue, these spaces have been intricately woven into the fabric of our cities. And these have now transformed in the 21st century.”

Today, 90% of Brazil is urbanised; it grew much faster while it retained the Portugal effect over the Baroque from Spain. The transition has been very quick and holds an experience from which one can learn and learn from its outcome while planning urban spaces in India. The Ambassador explains, “I believe public spaces are one of the greatest challenges of contemporary architecture like in India and Brazil most people live in cities that are quite recent since our countries were agrarian societies that little-by-little evolved into bigger cities. There is always a reference to old squares, old streets, and how people are resistant to architecture or urban interventions. And it’s quite unfair as there are public space designs which have come up to work very well with their surroundings. This is a great challenge. In the case of India, there are so many cities of more than 10 million people, how do you create spaces that make them happy to be in the city and not miss old kinds of spaces?” Dikshu agrees,“This approach about having a local influence goes a long way in better understanding people’s needs as a community.”

Due to favourable weather conditions, the idea is to create spaces that not only enrich the experience of the place but are also well received by its people. Designing a public space is one of the most challenging tasks for a planner and a designer.

“I believe India and Brazil share a common notion and that’s diversity. In the case of Brazil, there has been a lot of immigration while in India, the diversity is homegrown. We might be countries on the opposite side of the globe but it’s intriguing to discover these similarities. I remember while working on a project for a Brazilian MNC Perto, how there was a resemblance in design thinking and approach. The communities in India and our idea of celebration—beaches and parks in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, and Bengaluru form an important part of our lives.” says Dikshu.

He further adds,“If 20th century belonged to modern architecture, I believe 21st century has to belong to a more participative and contextual architecture, that’s the way to look at it. We can’t be sitting in our ivory towers trying to design for the world, we need to be closely interacting, especially when it comes to public spaces. After all, when we are designing something for the public, how can we not have their participation in it?”

Ambassador Andre Corrêa Do Lago, an architectural enthusiast, is currently serving on the Pritzker Prize Jury and has always looked forward to being in India for its rich cultural and architectural heritage. He was pleasantly surprised when he visited the city of Orchha in Madhya Pradesh, established around 1501, and recalls his experience: “Only India can have a place like Orchha with such quality of architecture,” he adds, “In any other country, it would have easily been in the top three most beautiful cities. However, in India, with such a plethora of heritage, it is not and that’s what I love about it. The country has these series of surprises.” 

As we progress as a society and there seems to be a need for increased infrastructure, Dikshu urges for a more responsible approach, “On this planet, architecture is not just about intervening and creating more new-built environment but also about restoring. We don’t have to have a fancy for demolishing stuff, we can always preserve buildings. And buildings alone do not make great architecture—it is the public spaces and the urban design intervention.”

This conversation has been hosted in one of the top 20 most beautiful rooms in the world. Watch the entire episode of deciphering Public space design in India and Brazil by logging into www.designwithdikshu.com.

Join Dikshu Kukreja in his journey of creating awareness towards design by following him on Twitter (@DikshuKukreja) and Instagram (@dikshukukreja) and spreading awareness about design. You can also directly connect with him and find answers to your design-related curiosities by using the hashtag #designwithdikshu on Instagram or Twitter.

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‘INDIA SHOULD BE THE ONE RATING OTHER DEMOCRACIES’

Author, scholar and former chairman of Prasar Bharati, A. Surya Prakash questions the credentials of several democracy reports emanating from the West, saying India, being the world’s largest democracy, should have institutions to rate other democracies.

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Swedish institute VDem recently published a data-heavy report, noting India’s shift from being an “electoral democracy” to an “electoral autocracy” and categorising it among the bottom 50% of the world’s countries on its liberal democracy index. But is this an honest reflection of India’s socio-political condition or a biased representation, part of a larger narrative against India being created by the Western media? In a recent interview, author, scholar and former chairman of Prasar Bharati A. Surya Prakash presented a critique of recent democracy reports and the picture they paint of India.

A. Surya Prakash.

“In the VDem report, Denmark is place at number one. Its constitution says that the Evangelical-Lutheran Church shall be supported by the state. Our constitution prohibits any link between religion and state. In fact, Article 28 in the Constitution bars religious education in any educational institution wholly funded by the state. One of the foundations of democracy is such a separation of religion and the state. So, it can be said that secularism is absent in Denmark,” Surya Prakash noted. “The RSF (Reporters Without Borders) and VDem reports also place Maldives way above India. Article 9 of the Constitution of the Maldives says only Muslims can be citizens. The state is wedded to the tenets of Islam in the Maldives. If that is so, is it a democracy? And one ahead of India?” he questioned.

As another example, he pointed out that in the constitution of Sweden, the third-best democracy according to VDem, Article 5 says that the king or queen shall be the head of state, thus making it a monarchy, not a republic like India. He also highlighted how the Swedish constitution dictates members of the monarchy the religion they must follow and mandates government permission before marrying. “Here, we can choose the religion we wish to adhere to or not to have any and be atheists. And imagine the Indian Constitution telling one individual or community that you need government permission to marry,” said Prakash.

“The US State Department says slavery is endemic in Burkina Faso! And it is suppose to be the 36th among democracies, while we are 142nd,” he said, critiquing the RSF report further.

The former Prasar Bharati chairman also highlighted how the Directive Principles instruct that the means of production be evenly distributed for equal development. Unlike monarchies, which create different classes of people, India has equality before the law, he added. “We are also civilisationally secular.”

Surya Prakash then elaborated on eight elements—an inviolable commitment to freedom of expression and conscience, an unambiguous constitutional commitment to secularism, separation of religion and state, a republican form of government, a constitutional right to equality before law, gender equality, right to life and personal liberty, and universal adult suffrage—which are “the foundations on which democracy is built” and established that the Indian Constitution has all these elements.

Freedom House, which moved India from “free” to “partly free” in its 2021 report, had cited deterioration in “political rights and civil liberties… since Narendra Modi became Prime Minster in 2014.” Regarding allegations about curbs placed on the freedom of expression and the press, Dr Prakash countered, “Just go on Twitter every day and see the hashtags attacking Prime Minister Modi. There are millions of supporters of PM Modi and the ruling BJP and millions of others opposed to them. We are a liberal, open democracy. Don’t such institutes see this?” He added, “In 2014, the daily print order of newspapers was 150 million. In 2018, it went to 240 million. There are 200 news channels. Have those people never seen our primetime debates? The match that is on between the Opposition and the ruling parties every day. And they say we are not a deliberative democracy.”

He also slammed VDem’s report for indicating a lack of political freedom in India and raising doubts on the electoral process. “This is absolutely ridiculous. They are not aware of our constitutional reality and federal structure. Other than the BJP, there are 44 political parties governing us in the states. If the ruling party at the Centre is dictating terms, how did YSR, TRS and TMC get a majority of Lok Sabha seats in their states? The federal government itself is run by a coalition. Why are they unable to see this plurality? Saying we have no political freedom is the biggest joke…You may say anything you want about us but do not question the integrity of our elections. No citizen should accept this.”

Warning Indians to not fall for the “traps” laid by these democracy reports, Surya Prakash also criticised the questions raised against the integrity of the Indian judiciary. With references to Article 368 of the Constitution, and landmark judgements like the Kesavananda Bharati and Minerva Mills cases which evolved the doctrine of basic structure and the Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Raj Narain case which upheld the judiciary’s check on the power of the government, Prakash underlined, “We are a great nation with great institutions. Let us be proud of this.”

Responding to a question about why such reports tend to be lopsided and misleading, he opined, “Those who are producing these reports have never actually travelled in India. They are making their own assessments. Over the years, there has been a certain contempt for India. They always thought we are a primitive society—even Churchill did—incapable of running a good democratic system. But we are proving them wrong, also on the social and economic fronts. We have kept the nation together when everything around us is collapsing and nations formed on the basis of religion are breaking away.”

So, as a nation, should India contest these reports and the perception they create or ignore them? “In the first 60 years or so, there was a certain Nehruvian model of governance, especially with regard to our response to the international community. And it meant putting up with a lot of things we should not have, like such reports condemning India,” said Surya Prakash, emphasising that India must not ignore them anymore, but reject and question them.

“We are the largest democracy in the world, the most diverse society. It is for the rest of the world to see how we manage this, how we have brought about a certain synthesis and harmony. My view is that as the largest democracy, we should have institutions to rate other democracies—and first to define democracy itself,” he said.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Prakash sent a direct message to the “custodians of democracy” coming up with such reports. “Please don’t lecture us. Look at your own constitutions and reflect over what I have said. If you run India down, you are running democracy down. We are the most vibrant democracy and plural society in the world. Don’t think you can knock us off our pedestal. Those who ran our government in the past have allowed you to get away with this, but we have to challenge this now.”

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#InternationalPompeDay: Pompe Foundation presents a captivating session on “Pompe: A rare disease”

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Pompe Day panel

On International Pompe Day, NewsX in partnership with Pompe Foundation held an enthralling session on ‘Pompe: A rare disease’. NewsX was joined by an expert panel which included Dr Sheela Nampoothiri, clinical professor and the head of the department of pediatric genetics at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, Cochin, Mr Prasanna Shirol,  Co-founder and executive director, Organisation for Rare Disease India, Dr Ratna Dua Puri, a professor and chairperson at the Institute of medical genetics and genomics at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, Dr Monjori Mitra, Professor at Institute of Child Health, Kolkata, Mr Anil Raina General Manager at Sanofi Genzyme, Mr Sudarshan Kestur, Advocate Meryl Sarah Mammen (Pompe warrior) and Arif (father of a child with Pompe disease).

Mr Prasanna Shirol kickstarted the conversation, he said, “Awareness is very important, especially when it comes to rare and genetic disorders, especially in a country like India, where we have our diverse population of education background and things. Awareness not only for the general public but also for the medical fraternity is very important when it comes to rare diseases. This time is very important because this day happens to be world Pompe day and also, the only treatment for Pompe, which is Myozyme is 15 years, where we are celebrating the 15 years of care and treatment for a deadly chronic disease condition called pumping. ”

As there is not much clarity about the Pompe disease among the common public. Dr Sheela Nampoothiri wonderfully explained the three variety by stating, “Pompe disease is an extremely rare lysosomal storage disorder where there is an accumulation of the glycogen happening in the various parts of the body mainly gets accumulated in the cardiac muscle and also in the skeletal muscle and the patients will probably be presented with, either with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that means the walls of the heart will be very much thickened.  There are mainly three varieties of Pompe’s disease, the one which is manifesting in the first year of life, is called infantile Pompe disease. And these babies die by somewhere around nine months to one year if they are not getting the correct treatment at that point of time. They should be started on treatment as early as possible, because if the irreversible damage has already happened, then there is no point in giving treatment, the patients won’t be doing that well. The second variety is called juvenile Pompe disease, where they do not have cardiac involvement, but they have mainly muscle involvement, they will be having difficulty getting there from the floor, they will be having difficulty in climbing stairs. The third variety is a late-onset Pompe disease or an adult form of Pompe disease, where the patients will be somewhere very normal till around 16-17 years and they will be having difficulty climbing stairs and difficulty to get up from the floor and they will also be having lung involvement.” 

Citing the problem of how to teach the parents about the rare diseases. Dr Monjori Mitra said, “It’s very difficult to transmit to the parents the telltale signs, the doctor also needs to know. Today, we do find that the awareness of the symptoms amongst the general paediatrician will also low. The parent might come and simply complain that my child is choking is having little physical difficulty in feeding, where the child is otherwise quite healthy, but if a doctor has an awareness that there can be a possibility of competencies, then the first diagnosis goes there and the early pickup.” 

Meryl Sarah Mammen spoke about her own personal struggles with diseases and described, “my journey of Bombay has been a series of misdiagnosis. And my first symptoms were noted when I was in seventh grade when my dance teacher complained about me getting out with the difficulty compared to other children. At first, we didn’t know anything about this and then my parents heard that I was having difficulty climbing stairs. As years passed on, I completely lost most of my moments like climbing stairs, getting up from the ground. Eventually, by the age of 21, I couldn’t even walk, it was really difficult to walk without any kind of support. It was then under Dr Verma, we came to know about Pompe. Before that doctors diagnosed it as muscular dystrophy because it’s more and more common.” 

Arif shared the Journey of his daughter and said, “under the supervision of Dr Ajay Patil, who has expertise in genetics who guided me well through the Biogen treatment. His valuable suggestions on the usage of the drug helped me improve the health of the Madiha. Ever since Madiha has been started the drug and has seen her heart improving. Just a timeline I want to share at 1 year 3 months, she was on ventilator support for almost a week and was diagnosed with heart and mind. 1 year and four months he was on oxygen support for a month and diagnosed with Pompe disease. One year, five months, she received her first enzyme that is on 3rd August 2012. One and a half years she was oxygen-independent. At two years she started sitting and one year, six months to two years, four months she was on a liquid diet. So around 2 years 5months, she started eating solid food. Three years she started speaking and going to school ”

Dr Ratna Dua Puri highlighted the importance of early treatment and explained, “the basic physiology of the disease remains the same. It presents very early, more the first year of life, there’s a lot of cardiac involvement, we don’t find that in patients of later onset of a disease. It’s very slowly progressing but essentially, the concept of supportive care and definitive care remains the same. And I think what is really important for both infantile and late-onset Pompe, is to diagnose the patients early.”

Mr Anil Raina emphasised the company’s sense of duty and humanitarian efforts during the conversation. He said, “ There are countries that offer treatment support to patients with such debilitating disorders. But there are others where the system is still evolving and just because the system is in a state of evolution, one cannot deny a person the right to treatment. A patient is a patient, irrespective of the geography of that patient. For example, when we started our humanitarian program, which was way back in 1991, this is actually, we are commemorating the 30 years of our humanitarian program. ”

Mr Sudarshan Kestur talked about the legal aspects and said, “Our framers of the Constitution have given us some really wonderful provisions. Most importantly, the High Court and the Supreme Court have very clearly held that the judgments in various stages of clearly held right to life are a part of the liberty that we have under Article 21. Now, having said that, the same principles have been consistently followed by our Karnataka High Court, because of consistent and persuasive orders passed by them, nearly about 45 to 46 children are being supported. So this is one of the actions, where the persistence and the consistent effort of the judiciary have to be now placed on record”.

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PM MODI’S UNRELENTING FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

The mammoth vaccination drive, the quick manufacturing and imports of required supplies, the PM CARES Fund, the schemes launched to provide for the needy during last year’s lockdown—all point towards the dedicated efforts of the Modi government to counter the deadly pandemic. However, there are some state governments not willing to be equal and responsible stakeholders in this fight against the pandemic.

Sanju Verma

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Amid India’s second Covid-19 wave, a question which is being asked often is if the state elections and political rallies could have been avoided. The hard fact is that under the Representation of People’s Act,1951, elections to State Assemblies due for expiration can indeed be postponed, but only for six months. That too, if only there is a national emergency. However, had the Modi government declared a full-fledged political lockdown, banning the Assembly elections for six months, the entire Lutyens’ cabal would have been up in arms, calling a Covid-induced halt on elections an upturning of democracy. What about virtual rallies instead of mammoth physical gatherings, some are asking? Well, reportedly, the Election Commission had suggested virtual rallies but the proposal was struck down by a debilitated Opposition that felt that virtual rallies would give the BJP an added electoral advantage due to its massive social media presence. Also, under Article 326 of the Indian Constitution, the decision to hold elections and the modalities thereof are vested with the Election Commission, an autonomous body which has nothing to do with the BJP whatsoever. Hence, for opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee to question the need for physical political rallies is nothing short of unfettered hypocrisy.

Of late, a false narrative is also being peddled by a vanquished Opposition, leftist academicians and self-styled experts. According to it, the Modi government has not done enough to stem the rising second wave of Covid, which is again an absolutely baseless allegation. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, with efficacy of 91.6%, and to be manufactured in India by Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, is the third Covid vaccine approved in India after Covaxin and Covishield. More Covid vaccines such as Novavax, Zydus Cadila’s vaccine and Bharat Biotech’s intranasal vaccine are also likely to receive the Modi government’s nod soon to ensure adequate supply for India’s mega vaccination drive, amid the surge in cases. Till April 15, 2021, 832 million doses had been administered globally, at an average of over 18.6 million doses per day, across 152 countries, with the USA administering 195 million doses at an average of 3.35 million doses per day. India, with over 117 million doses, has the highest vaccination rate globally, at over 4 million doses per day. While it took India only 85 days to vaccinate 100 million people, it took the USA 89 days and China102 days, to vaccinate the same number of people. Hence, allegations that the pace of inoculation is slow in India are also completely unfounded.

The issue at this stage is not a supply side one, but a governance-centric one. Eight out of the ten high-risk zones reporting the highest number of daily cases are from Maharashtra, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. Maharashtra has had the unique distinction of wasting 5 lakh vaccine doses due to improper planning by the inept state dispensation. Maharashtra, with an average weekly positivity rate of 24.7%, Delhi with 20%, and Chhattisgarh with a positivity rate of over 30.63%, account for well over 50% of India’s active caseload and over 50% of overall nationwide mortalities. To conveniently blame the Modi government for inadequate supplies when the problem is actually that of inadequate management by some of the Opposition-ruled states reeks of an irresponsible attitude. For instance, despite adequate supplies of Remdesivir being made available by the Central Government and a ban on its export, the thriving black market for the drug in Maharashtra has led to its prices skyrocketing, with a vial costing as high as Rs 50,000, despite the official price being between Rs 900 and Rs 3,500.

Another glaring example of gross mismanagement is seen in Punjab. On February 3, 2021, Punjab had only 2,122 active cases. Two months later, that number exceeded 28,250. In fact, with a weekly positivity rate of over 13.8%, Chandigarh, like Maharashtra, is a textbook case of how shoddy governance can cause irreparable damage. Chhattisgarh, another Congress-led state, even refused to use Covaxin, despite it being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by DCGI, thereby promoting fear and vaccine hesitancy among its people. It is pertinent to note here that despite having a population that is half the size of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh has witnessed more Covid mortalities than Gujarat. Similarly, West Bengal has half the population of Uttar Pradesh, but has seen a higher number of Covid deaths. Unfortunately, large swathes of the biased, leftist media in India are unwilling to call out the incompetence of either Uddhav Thackeray, Amarinder Singh or Bhupesh Baghel. Let the truth be told—the BJP-governed states have done a far superior job than non-BJP-ruled states in handling and tackling Covid-19.

Another false narrative is the one surrounding the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) Fund that was launched in 2020. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs had clarified that any company’s contributions to the PM-CARES Fund, over and above the minimum prescribed corporate social responsibility (CSR) expenditure, could be offset against that company’s CSR obligations of subsequent years. Further, any contribution made to the PM-CARES Fund before March 31, 2020 qualified for 80G exemption under the Income Tax Act, 1961 (I-T Act). For contributions made, with effect from April 1, 2020, all those companies that have chosen to stay within the old tax structure would be eligible for this benefit. Further, the government has stated that the PM-CARES Fund will be audited by one or more qualified independent auditors who will be appointed by the trustees. Hence, claims from opposition leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee that this fund lacks transparency are simply for fearmongering and creating unnecessary confusion in the minds of people when they are rallying strongly behind PM Modi as he leads both India and the world in the biggest fight in 103 years—the fight against the Chinese Wuhan virus.

But was PM-CARES needed when we already had PMNRF, some have been asking? The simple answer to that is, the PMNRF was initially established as a deemed trust to assist displaced persons from Pakistan through public contributions by Jawaharlal Nehru. Assistance from PMNRF, besides dealing with natural calamities, is also rendered to partially defray the expenses for medical treatment like heart surgeries, kidney transplantation, cancer treatment, acid attacks, etc. However, with the launch of Ayushman Bharat, the biggest healthcare scheme globally, such needs that were earlier looked after by PMNRF have now been minimised. Also, PMNRF, which always had the Congress president as one of its key trustees, still has many remnants of the decrepit Nehruvian ideology associated with it. On the other hand, PM-CARES, set up as a public charitable trust, is an emergency fund that is entirely dedicated to the fight against Covid, and to that extent, has a very specific, targeted approach, which is the need of the hour. It is bereft of any dynastic or “high command” style culture, typical of the Congress. It is completely within the bounds of the law, transparent, and additionally, it will not have the overarching hand of or interference from the Congress, whose track record, in any case, in the past six decades of governance, has been rather dubious, opaque and abysmal. 

In effect, India’s vaccine roll-out is not only the largest in the world but also the most affordable, with no compromises whatsoever on any standard operating procedures (SoPs). The PM-CARES Fund will bear the entire cost of the first phase, which will inoculate 30 million or 3 crore frontline Covid workers. Earlier, in June 2020, over Rs 2000 crore was allocated from this fund for the supply of 50,000 ‘Made in India’ ventilators to government-run Covid hospitals in all states and UTs. Out of the 50,000 ventilators, 30,000 were manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited, yet again showcasing India’s indigenous manufacturing prowess. While a jaded, directionless and clueless Rahul Gandhi keeps taking needless jibes at the Modi government, the fact of the matter is that for over six decades India just had 47,000 ventilators, whereas in one go, in June 2020, the Modi government made available 50,000 ventilators to ensure no life is lost for want of life-saving equipment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s food security scheme for the needy, called the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), provided free ration to 81 crore or 810 million people, every single month for nine months in a row, during the pandemic. Effectively, this means that a population 2.5 times the size of the USA was fed every single month for months together, showcasing the Modi government’s generous, welfarist and people-centric approach. Of late, comparisons between India and Brazil have been abound, which is like comparing apples and oranges. The entire population of Brazil, at 21 crore, is equal to just one state in India, Uttar Pradesh which also has a population of 210 million. However, while Uttar Pradesh, with a population density of 828 persons per square kilometre, has reported about 9,500 deaths, Brazil, with a population density of barely 25 persons per square kilometre, has reported over 3.65 lakh deaths. 

To rein in Covid, super spreader events also need to be controlled. The hue and cry over the Kumbh Mela, without showing any outrage over the massive religious congregations outside mosques in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad during Ramadan, is sheer hypocrisy. We need to shed our selective outrage to overcome this pandemic. While out-of-work Bollywood starlets are sharing old pictures of the Kumbh at Prayagraj in 2019, there was not even a tiny squeak from them last year, when the Tablighi Jamaat members ran amok, spitting into food and thrashing doctors and nurses. 

Coming to universal vaccination, it is neither practical nor desirable for a country like India, which has 1.38 billion people and a population density of 455 persons per square kilometre. A vaccine is not some kind of a life jacket that can prevent a person from getting infected. However, it certainly reduces the severity of the infection and helps in breaking the transmission chain. It is therefore important to inoculate vulnerable age groups first. Quacks fail to realise that the vaccine has to be given at this stage to those who need it, not necessarily to all those who want it. Not everyone who wants the vaccine needs it! 

India is set to inoculate 300 million people within July this year, which is akin to vaccinating almost the whole of the US or equal to vaccinating the combined populations of Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and France, and in record time! India, with a population over four times that of the USA, has a case fatality rate (CFR) of just 1.25%, the lowest globally, which is noteworthy. In sharp contrast, the US, with a population density of just 36 people per square kilometre, has reported a staggering 31.5 million coronavirus cases and over 5.65 lakh deaths. 

India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led a frontal, global attack against the Wuhan virus, exporting over 60 million doses to 85 countries via the Gavi alliance. Those arguing that India should not have exported those vaccines should remember that on humanitarian grounds, a global pandemic deserves a collective effort on an international scale, and that is precisely what the Modi government deftly and rightfully engaged in via “vaccine maitri”. Don’t we help neighbouring countries during earthquakes, cyclones or floods? So, why should assistance provided during a debilitating pandemic be viewed any differently? Moreover, most of the exports had been committed to much before the vaccine roll-out, as part of bilateral agreements between India’s vaccine manufacturers and the Gavi alliance. Gavi is a public-private partnership that provides about 50% of the world’s children with vaccines.

In the final analysis, having a calibrated approach is the right thing at this stage. India’s mega vaccination drive is centred around “Education, Emergency Response and Enforcement”. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commendable war against Covid has been indefatigable and unrelenting, states need to be equally responsible stakeholders now. Remember, health is a state subject and while policymaking and procuring and distributing the vaccine are things that the Central Government has graciously decided to take charge of, enforcing Covid protocols and administering the vaccine without wastage is a localised issue which state governments have to be responsible for. India is a union of states, not a confederation of states. What this implies is that states have adequate powers at their disposal. Clearly, the Modi government is doing more than its fair share. Should the states not chip in too? For instance, is it fair on the part of Chhattisgarh or Maharashtra to indulge in criminal lethargy, leaving hapless citizens at the mercy of a negligent and insensitive regime, with the respective Chief Ministers having lost the plot completely? Is it not moral turpitude on the part of the mainstream media to always look for reasons to take jibes at the Central Government, but conveniently looking the other way and not question Arvind Kejriwal?

At a time when Delhiites need beds and oxygen, why is Chief Minister Kejriwal busy spending hundreds of crores on futile advertisements that jump at you every few minutes from television screens? To cut to the chase, Prime Minister Modi has done an outstanding job and will continue to relentlessly fight back against Covid, but other stakeholders need to wake up and smell the coffee too!

The author is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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