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Children hit hardest by Covid-19 pandemic

The underprivileged kids who have neither the wherewithal for e-classes nor the food back home to compensate for the lost mid-day meals at school have suffered the most.

Amita Singh

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Most of us had accepted it as a sigh of relief from morning rush when the pandemic closed schools across the country. The loud exhaust noise from meandering gargantuan school buses on narrow streets as parents darted towards them like sprint players carrying gigantic school bags in one hand and an apologetic child in the other. These exhausted youngsters could now sleep longer as parents relaxed with their morning tea. However, as time passed by this relief came with a daunting challenge of various kinds which gawked at a bigger and more exhaustive national challenge of bridging embedded inequalities of development which was now impacting young lives.

The underprivileged children who had neither the wherewithal for e-classes nor the food back home to compensate for the lost mid-day meals at school suffered the Bacchic brutality which was returning to their lives. They were being pushed back to the labour market, rag-picking and hazardous industries. It also increased online sexual abuse of children as pedophiles became active. The shocking revelation made by the Europol director De Bolle before the European Union Parliament about “increased online activity by those seeking child sexual abuse material”, speaks much about young lives trapped during Covid-19. Neither teachers nor parents ever realised that longer exposure of children to Internet also exposed them to many insecure platforms of sexual abusers. One may ponder over the fact if some thinking or policy relief had preceded the declaration of a lockdown.

Mid-day meals are provided to children from elementary classes to Class 8. According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) around 11.59 crore or 120 million children benefitted from this scheme till February 2020. This scheme was started by the Central government in 1995 as a National Nutritional Support Programme for primary school children even though a decade prior to this more than 12 states with Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Kerala in the lead had already adopted the midday meal programme. Children all across the world went through this period of starvation as schools remained closed. In the US, the National School Lunch Programme serves free meals to around 30 million children in schools but besides that most states have after school, low-cost food programmes to prevent children from “wasting” (undernourished and weak).The gap between India and the US is enormous as far as the number of food-supported children are concerned but that also suggests much longer supply chains in India to be affected when the programme stops. The bread, rice, dairy, oil and poultry suppliers and millions of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) and Anganwadi (village courtyard shelter against malnutrition and hunger for children) workers and teachers who felt miserable for starving children but couldn’t help much. In the US, many teachers cooked and supplied free food for their school children irrespective of the programme, or cost or their own uncertain job situation.

The MHRD responded quickly to the suo motu Supreme Court notices in mid-March by declaring that children be served hot cooked food or be given food allowance. With scarcity of workers and suppliers the task was overwhelming if not impossible, yet the execution of these Central government instructions were not complied with in most of the schools around the country and children were either left to beg one square meal for themselves or pushed to the labour market. A large number of them belonged to the ‘Mahadalit’ communities (most marginalised amongst the Scheduled Castes). The Global Nutrition Report 2020 revealed that India has half of the world’s “wasted” children who have greater risk of death in childhood.

Another problem for children occurred in the manner services, supplies and safety of children jeopardised within the Child Care institutions (CCIs), orphanages, child protection and observation homes. According to the Review Exercise of CCIs during the period 2016-17 by the Jena committee, there were more than 1.8 lakh children living in them from extremely poor and vulnerable backgrounds. It was found that the government’s child helpline (1098) received 4.6 lakh calls within the first lockdown period. Majority of children called for food. While in some regions Childline and the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights rescued “reversed trafficked” (traffickers returning children) children from Shramik Express and from factories in Rajasthan and Gujarat, it’s no surprise that the helpline received 9,385 calls as cries for help against physical, emotional and sexual abuse. In the US, child welfare workers were worried as reported child abuse cases dropped significantly; i.e., in Massachusetts alone to 55% during the first week of the lockdown. Child experts in the field believe that the decline may not be revealing the true picture as children may be undergoing abuse in many more disorienting ways without being noticed and reported. Experts understand that the decline of reporting could be due to the fact that the child was no more with teachers and care takers in schools who were always the first reporters on noticing signs of child abuse.

The e-schooling has also been flaunted beyond its much limited relevance during the lockdown. Instead of a stop-gap arrangement it is now becoming a regular technologically invested destination for teaching. Do children need information dissemination alone or a holistic education? Bertrand Russell had added to it a metaphor of “sensitivity” where a teacher introduces the student to emotions to be felt on pains and calamities like wars which others suffer and have no direct relationship to self. Education is development of an enlightened universal being worthy of caring and sharing in a world of competition, conspiracy and conquest. Can online education even be a consideration for such an objective of education? Nonetheless, inequities which surface are rooted in the great digital divide and gender disparity practiced in Indian homes and in education of children.

According to the National Sample Survey (2017-18), only 24% Indians own a smartphone and only 11% households possess any type of computer. Further the survey found that only 24% of total Indian households have Internet facility and in villages it gets further reduced to mere 15%. Even in cities where one is made to believe that every home has Internet connection, a minuscule 42% have access to it. The digital divide further deepens when the poorest 20% have only 2.7% access to computer and 8.9% access to Internet, while for the top 20% the 27.6% own a computer and 50.5% have access to Internet. In both segments, the case for online classes does not hold a strong logic except for a very shortterm measure. The worst impact of these classes has been on girls whether in school or in colleges. The Internet and Mobile Association of India reports that 67% of men as compared to 33% women had Internet access in 2019, which in villages dropped to just 28% women against 72% men. Are we taking our girls out of the professional world of skills and corporate performance?

The world is definitely not going to be free of coronavirus in any near future, nor would the impressionable and most formative years of children return to them later. The schools and students have to learn to co-exist with the virus. Some innovative learning methods should be devised beyond washing hands, masking and physical distancing. Schools may reduce classroom strength, arrange classes in shifts to prevent clustering and crowding, sports, arts and laboratory activities could be after screening and lastly an alert teacher who tracks the child’s wellbeing both physically, emotionally and academically. If schools are able to bear this challenge, the country would get one of the smartest, more resilient and most socially responsible generation of adults in times to come.

The writer is Professor of Administrative Reforms & Emergency Governance, JNU, Delhi.

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Opinion

ALL LIVES MATTER, HINDU LIVES INCLUDED

Joyeeta Basu

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Just when one thought that western legacy media had already hit the nadir with its tendentious coverage of India and India’s majority community, in comes another report that is so mendacious in its interpretation of facts that it plumbs new depths of insensitivity and treads into the territory of religiophobia. We are talking about a new article from the famous—or infamous, seen from an Indian perspective—Time magazine, which has found the social media trend “Hindu Lives Matter” to be dangerous. The headline of the report written by a Kashmiri lady (according to her Twitter bio) blatantly says, “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ Emerges as Dangerous Slogan After Horrific Killing in India” (1 July 2022). It is as if the token use of “horrific” to describe the gruesome beheading of a Hindu tailor by two Islamist terrorists is enough lip service paid, and the main issue is the reaction to the incident on social media, inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter”. Does one of the world’s best-known news weeklies realise that by publishing such a report it is essentially implying that the lives of people belonging to a particular religion—Hinduism—do not matter? That they could die like flies for all Time cared, as long as the mantle of victimhood stayed with a particular minority community in India. It is as if Hindu victimhood in the face of radical terrorism must be “cancelled”, as Time editors have pre-supposed that Hindus being in a majority in India are naturally oppressors. An Indian/Indian origin leftist commentator quoted in the article has this to say: “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ presumes those lives have been overlooked. Hindu lives have not been overlooked in a Hindu majoritarian state. This is a revisionist fabrication of history and the present.” This is a rather appalling and fabricated narrative where one community is the perpetual victim and another the oppressor, when in reality, India has had a history of conquest and subjugation of the majority community, and the resultant troubled inter-community relations. Even in the present, the situation is anything but black and white. There is nothing revisionist about a beheading on account of “blasphemy”. It is a reality. It happened, and no claims of victimhood by anyone can justify such an action. Instead of acknowledging this, the article normalises violence against Hindus. If this is not Hinduphobia, then what is? That one of the most well-known international news weeklies is providing a platform to such a phobia, and thus legitimising it, is extremely problematic.

In fact, it is the same Time that published another extremely problematic piece on the film, The Kashmir Files—The Kashmir Files: How a New Bollywood Film Marks India’s Further Descent Into Bigotry, 30 March 2022—where the Indian/Indian-origin author claimed the film to be a part of “Indian cinema’s revisionist trend, used to justify the brazen Hindu extremism of the present”. To say that a film on the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits is revisionist is itself a revisionist claim. Hence, one can argue that the trend is now for woke leftists to delegitimise all that India’s majority community has suffered as “revisionist history”.

In journalism, there is a practice of writing the headline before writing the story, where the story is tailored to fit the headline. The problem is that, in such cases, facts often get sacrificed at the altar of a pre-determined agenda or narrative. When it comes to western media’s coverage of India’s current government, and increasingly of the majority population—presumably because the western media sees them as supportive of the government—a template of bigotry and majoritarianism has been pre-decided. This confirmation bias has just to be fed by those who know how to do it, and are willing to do it. This antagonism of the western mainstream media could be because of actual ignorance or plain laziness to learn about the ground situation. It could be ideological, or may have elements of racism in it. It could also be inspired by forces inimical to India, who want to show this country as a cauldron of hatred and thus not a stable investment destination. It could be any of these reasons, or a combination of some or all of these, but the bottom line is that the demonisation of India sells with the western legacy media, resulting in a one-way street of negative coverage.

But the mistake these people make is not realising that India is too big a power to be felled by keyboard warriors. It may be dented, but not felled. It is just that it is sad to see institutions such as Time, instead of promoting “All Lives Matter”, should find “Hindu Lives Matter” to be a dangerous slogan. What a downfall.

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Opinion

No party can dislodge the BJP for 40 years

Union Minister Amit Shah’s statement that the BJP needs to stay in power for another 30-40 years for setting things right, should not be taken lightly. The BJP will use the time to end dynastic and caste politics, and the politics of appeasement.

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It is extremely difficult for political parties to challenge the BJP’s political hegemony unless they jettison their old ways and discover new methods to give vent to nationalist resurgence. Union Minister Amit Shah’s statement that the BJP needs to stay in power for another 30-40 years for setting things right should not be taken lightly.

The BJP will use the time to end dynastic politics, casteism and the politics of appeasement. Shah, while addressing the BJP’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad over the weekend, described these as the “greatest sins” and the reason behind the country’s suffering. The target of the party would be “fulfilment” and not appeasement as exhorted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The party’s national executive outlined the parameters of its ideological affront on opposition parties. The BJP’s focus is clearly going to be to expose these parties and push forward its agenda of development and good governance. In that sense, the BJP is trying to give a tectonic shift to Indian politics that sank to a new low due to caste or communal divide or dynastic rule.

A country where more than 65% voters fall in the category of youth, this agenda is going to find a strong resonance. A youth is supposed to be rebellious and opposed to caste and communal divide. He is also supposed to champion an open system where all avenues are open to him, including politics. He does not mind private individuals passing on their heritage to family, but is strongly opposed when public offices and political parties are passed on to individuals merely because of the links of birth.

This urge of the youths is likely to dismantle dynasty based parties and make the BJP more attractive to them. Politics is not a business that a father wants to pass on to his son or daughter. It is a vocation and a commitment and a means to achieve social, economic and political transformation. Newer people must get a chance to join this process and contribute meaningfully. An ordinary man can question why even foreign educated sons and daughters of these politicians want to join politics. Is it because it is more lucrative than being the CEO of an MNC?

There is a challenge to this from within the BJP as well. It is but natural for a father or a mother to try to pass on the baton to his son or daughter. The Prime Minister is trying to ensure that politics does not become a handmaiden of dynasties. There are occasions, as for example during ticket distribution for the Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, where he has put his foot down and taken the risk of alienating important leaders. The challenge in the coming days would be to institutionalise this process so that the party does not suffer due to aspirations of political families. Unless this is done, there is a real danger that in times to come most political representatives would belong to one or the other political families.

Ideological demolition of other parties would not be tough. The Congress is already on a war path due to its failure to respond to the challenges. It cannot even imagine making someone else from outside the dynasty as party president since the person who would become party president would control all Congress assets and would be all powerful. To find a person who would be loyal to the dynasty forever is extremely difficult.

The youth no longer finds the Congress attractive. Its appeasement politics and attempts to divide people to rule have few takers. It has not been able to give an alternative political vision that would be more attractive than that of the BJP. On the plank of nationalism and patriotism, the Congress would not be able to match the BJP. There are few in the Congress who can claim to understand the civilizational and cultural assets of the country.

Let us try to look at the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, every member of the extended family of Mulayam Singh Yadav is in politics, either at the local level or at the level of state legislature or Parliament. It has no ideology except to unite Yadavs and Muslims and a few other castes and somehow come to power. It does not have a national vision. Its other version, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is suffering due to lack of a democratic structure. It tried caste coalition by asking Brahmins to support the party. Its future looks bleak.

In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav who was a by-product of anti-Emergency movement had to wait for the anti-corruption movement of V.P. Singh to gain prominence. In the company of Singh, he discovered the virtue of becoming the leader of 52% of OBCs. He has used his plank of social awareness to reward each and every member of this family. His family is a classic example that those who fail in all other fields find acceptability in politics due to caste and family clout. The party would collapse due to vaulting ambition of Lalu’s children and failure to respect democratic values.

Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled by two families the Abdullahs and the Muftis. The young crops of politicians from the grassroots are now itching to give a fight to them. People are reaping the benefits of development and they have begun to think beyond these two families. In West Bengal, it is either Ms Mamata Banerji or her nephew. None outside the family would get the prominence. She is already mad at the ideological attack launched by the BJP and cannot think beyond the politics of appeasement. Her politics gets precedence over national security. How long she can hold on to the state as her citadel is the topic of discussion in West Bengal’s political circles.

Dynasty is thriving in politics of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—the ruling YSR party in Andhra Pradesh and the TRS in Telangana. The challenger Telugu Desam Party is also a dynasty based party. People are realising the dangers of dynasty in politics and Telangana is going to face stiff challenge from the BJP at the next Assembly elections.

We have already seen the ugly face of dynasty politics in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar of the NCP is busy sorting out the legacy issue. A person of his national stature has not been able to respond on national issues. The Shiv Sena led by Udhav Thackeray may have got the bitter pill of discovery that the followers are unhappy with dynasty politics. Because of his love for chair, he failed to respond to national issues as per the organization’s ideology.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is no longer a movement, but a legacy of M. Karunanidhi. His family thrives. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha runs on legacy of Shibu Soren (Guruji). There is a vacuum for politics based on ideology and democratic values in both. In Odisha, Biju Janata Dal is doing well under 76-year-old Naveen Patnaik. He has been benevolent, non-controversial and people love him. But everyone wants to know how BJD would survive after he becomes inactive.

The BJP’s aspiration to expand to the South and make a strong mark in other states should be seen in this context. The aspirations are not for immediate realization, but building organizations brick by brick so that it is ready to take up the challenge when the time comes. The party works 24-hours and the entire election machinery is in full force whether it is local elections, state level elections or elections to the Lok Sabha.

Amit Shah often says that the BJP with its strong cadre presence should have no problem registering victory year after year. When you have a person like Narendra Modi whom people respect, this is not tough. With its ideology of good governance and a strong nation, the party is slated to get institutionalized as a natural party of being in government. The challenge as of now is none.

The Congress’ appeasement politics has few takers today. In Uttar Pradesh, every member of the extended family of Mulayam Singh Yadav is in politics, either at the local level or at the level of state legislature or Parliament. The future of the Bahujan Samaj Party looks bleak. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family is a classic example that those who fail in all other fields find acceptability in politics due to caste and family clout. In Jammu and Kashmir, people have begun to think beyond the Abdullahs and Muftis. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is no longer a movement, but a legacy of M. Karunanidhi. His family thrives. Dynasty is thriving in the politics of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—the ruling YSR party in Andhra Pradesh and the TRS in Telangana. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha runs on the legacy of Shibu Soren (Guruji). In Odisha, everyone wants to know how BJD would survive after Naveen Patnaik becomes inactive.

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Opinion

POLITICAL ACTIVISTS SHOULD STOP ATTACKING THE APEX COURT

Pankaj Vohra

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Soon after a Division Bench of the Supreme Court virtually indicted suspended BJP spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, for her remarks about the Prophet, right wing activists took to the social media to target the judiciary. This unfortunate attack on the Apex court and its two learned Judges, Justice Surya Kant and Justice JB Pardiwala was completely avoidable and in fact, lowers our belief in the rule of law. The honourable Judges had declined to entertain Nupur’s plea to club the FIRs registered against her in various parts of the country for her comments and observed that she had a “loose tongue’’, “is singlehandedly responsible for what is happening’’ and she should have apologised to the Nation. While the BJP did not take up the issue directly, many of its supporters took to twitter and other social media handles to question the Supreme Court. This is obviously a serious matter since the judiciary is an essential part of our democratic system and along with the Executive and the Legislature is assigned the role of upholding the Constitution. In a totally unrelated development, Chief Justice N.V.Ramana while speaking at a function in San Fransisco, accused politicians of trying to undermine the authority of the courts. He said that the ruling dispensation expects that every action should be endorsed by the courts. The judiciary is not bound by the dikats of any political party and is only responsible for upholding the Constitution. Strong words indeed. Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Kapil Sibal while speaking to a news agency stated that certain sections of the judiciary had let the people down and stated that after being on the bar for over 50 years, his head hangs in shame looking at the manner where certain courts turn a blind eye to gross violation of the rule of law. This fresh debate on the judiciary as long as it is done in the right spirit is fine but trolling judges for their comments, amounts to contempt of the majesty of our judicial system. Kapil has expressed his views in a particular context and so has the Chief Justice. But ordinary citizens may be entitled to their opinion, yet they should ensure that they do not exceed the Lakshman Rekha where the sanctity of the Highest Court gets compromised. Attempts to link Nupur Sharma’s remarks with what happened in Udaipur and Amrawati could be part of a natural reaction. However, it must be clearly understood that the terror act by the killers of Kanhaiya Lal is highly condemnable. Therefore, spokespersons and supporters of all parties must act in a responsible manner so as to contain this hatred which is being spread in our country by vested interests. The National Investigation Agency is probing the Udaipur incident and would certainly come out with its findings shortly. Such cases should be speedily tried in fast track courts to give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators so that others get this strong message. The independence of the judiciary must be preserved at all cost and no attempt should ever be made to undermined the authority and wisdom of the Courts. 

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Opinion

Modi at eight: The Varanasi model

The last few years have been momentous in the history of Varanasi. Not only has the city given India one of its most popular and powerful Prime Ministers ever, but it has also witnessed rapid development that only an MP of Narendra Modi’s stature can usher in.

Sanju Verma

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Taking forward the progressive journey of “Vikaswaad” in Varanasi,Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 15,2021,inaugurated and laid foundation stones of multiple development projects worth more than Rs 1500 crore at the IIT-BHU ground. He also inaugurated the International Cooperation and Convention Centre, ‘Rudrakash’, which was constructed with Japanese assistance later. Various public projects and works, including a 100-bed MCH wing in BHU, multi-level parking at Godauliya, Ro-Ro vessels for tourism development on river Ganga and a three-lane flyover bridge on the Varanasi-Ghazipur highway, were the defining projects, flagged off by the PM. Central Institute of Petrochemical Engineering and Technology (CIPET), 143 rural projects under Jal Jeevan Mission and a mango and vegetable integrated packhouse in Karkhiyaon, are alone, worth around Rs 839 crore.

On a visit to Varanasi on the occasion of “Good Governance Day”, in 2014,Prime Minister Narendra Modi, without any hesitation, picked up a broom and participated in a cleanliness drive at Jagannath Gali near Assi Ghat.Further, speaking on the occasion, the PM described the land of Kashi, as one which gave us “Shiksha Ki Sanskriti” (a culture of education). And indeed, within barely eight years, Varanasi today, which has transformed into a thriving medical hub of Purvanchal region, is known as the unique seat of holistic learning, with a humanist vision.

Varanasi is on the bucket list of virtually every international tourist who comes to India. In 2014, when PM Modi was elected as the MP of Varanasi, he remarked, “There’s a lot of work that god has put me on this earth for. A lot of it is dirty work, but I’m up to the task.”

Since then, from world class infrastructure to express trains, from underground cabling to waste treatment plants, from a cultural convention center to modern traffic control, from a multimodal terminal to a container depot for perishables, Varanasi has witnessed a transformative revolution in the last eight years, with Kashi Vishwanath Dham, showcasing Kashi’s vibrancy.

PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ring Road and Phase-1 was completed in November 2018 in record time, making traffic movement across the city much easier and helping decongestion of roads. Varanasi has a very busy airport, naturally due to the movement of pilgrims and tourists in and out of the city. The over 17 kilometre long airport road developed under the aegis of PM Modi, is called the Gateway of Varanasi today. The development of the first multimodal terminal on an inland waterway in Varanasi was a matter of pride for the city, with the PM receiving the first container vessel on the river Ganga, in 2018.

PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation of two dedicated cancer hospitals in Varanasi,a few years back. Also, IMS BHU was accorded AIIMS like status, which will further improve health facilities in the hospital. Kashi is called the city of Mahadev, as in Lord Shiva and,the development of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is a boon to lakhs of devotees of Shiva, who are making use of the direct link, developed between the temple and Ganga Ghat. Kashi, a thriving and busy city, generates a lot of waste and sewage. PM Narendra Modi inaugurated a large sewage infrastructure project, sometime back. A 140 million litre per day (MLD) sewage treatment plant (STP) at Dinapur, set up in 2018,has made the city get rid of the large waste generated and would further curb river pollution.

The last few years have been momentous in the history of Kashi. Not only has the city given India one of its most popular and powerful Prime Ministers ever, but it has also witnessed rapid development that only an MP of Narendra Modi’s stature can usher in. PM Modi laid the foundation stone of trade facilitation Centre and Crafts Museum in 2017, for the benefit of many weavers, craftsmen and artisans of Varanasi and nearby areas. He had once remarked that India cannot become a Vishwa Guru without the development of Kashi. Development of Kashi is in turn, incomplete without bettering the lives of weavers.

Handicrafts of Kashi are spread in the form of cottage industries, with Banarasi silk saree, textile industry, carpet industries being some of the prominent ones. More than lakhs of handloom weavers are directly or indirectly related with these industries. Measures taken for the betterment of weavers and artisans have gone a long way in enhancing their incomes. For the retention of next generation of weavers, a carpet engineering program is being run in IICT Bhadohi. 75% of the fees of the students belonging to poor families of weavers is being taken care of by the Modi government. There is a provision for margin money of Rs. 10,000 in MUDRA scheme for weavers. Mega carpet clusters in Mirzapur and Bhadohi are being given modern looms. Also, they are being imparted skills under skill development programs. To realize this goal, a B.Tech. program in the carpet technology area, is being run in IICT Bhadohi. India currently occupies 35% share of the world’s carpet market. PM Modi has set a target to own 50% of the world’s carpet market.

Across India, after PM Modi took up the cause of promoting Khadi,sales of Khadi have been on an upswing. In Varanasi too, Khadi institutions and workers are being encouraged, with credit linked capital subsidy (CLCS). Under Kasuhal Vikas Yojana, thousands of youth are being skilled and empowered. The Coir Board also organises regular international vyapar melas.The commencement of expansion of Diesel Locomotive Works, also started thanks to PM Modi.

Not only is Kashi witnessing development on an unprecedented scale but people of this sacred city are also experiencing first hand, what it is to have a karmayogi PM as their MP. A “cheque bounce” law was scrapped, on the request of small businessmen from Varanasi,benefitting scores of small traders and proprietors. The ‘Jan Sampark’ office of PM Modi in Kashi is dedicated for the service of common people in the city and had done exemplary work, when floods hit the city, in 2020.

After selecting Jayapur, a tiny village in Varanasi, 7km from the Rajatalab railway station, for the ‘Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’, PM Narendra Modi opined that it is not MPs who are taking guardianship of the village under this Yojana, but villagers who were taking MPs under their wing, through this scheme. “Can we decide that we will not allow Jayapur to become dirty; can we ensure children wash hands before eating”, the Prime Minister asked the large gathering at Jayapur, asserting that these things did not require government intervention. He said such positive social energy can help create a model village. Days after he met and addressed people of Jayapur, they reciprocated, by turning the birth of a girl child into a festive occasion and planting trees.

Varanasi is the only place from where the revered Ganga, is Uttar Vahini (flows towards North). It is here from where the powerful stream of the river Ganga turns directions. Thus, the start of the biggest sanitation drive also happened from Varanasi. Speaking of Covid, the moment it became clear that the second wave had hit India, PM sent his emissary, a long-time aide, AK Sharma to Varanasi with instructions to take proactive measures and make sure that damage was controlled. Sharma landed in Varanasi on April 13,2021 and immediately set in motion a 24/7 Command and Control room. With 20 dedicated phone lines and round-the-clock manpower, the “Kashi Covid Response Centre”, became the hub of coordination between various arms of administration, as also interface with the people, for a seamless management of the situation. Two Oxygen plants, hundreds of Oxygen cylinders and concentrators were ordered and a DRDO Covid hospital was also set up, to tide over the crisis. The positivity rate of the district came down from a high of over 30% to less than 13%,in a matter of days. The administration ramped up RT-PCR testing capacity of Kashi city from 5000 to 12000 per day, while making sure that the results were made available within 24 hours. Sharma arranged for two automatic RNA extractor machines from Assocham, that made the quicker testing possible. Of the four Oxygen plants in Varanasi supplying 12000 LPM Oxygen, one each was imported from the United States and Israel respectively, while two others were procured from Maharashtra and Gujarat each. Varanasi also had the highest supply of Remdesivir injections at about 700 vials a day. During the second wave in April and May 2021, over 9000 per day vaccination rate in Kashi, was also one of the highest for any city, in Uttar Pradesh.

Another far-sighted step taken on the instructions of PM Modi, was to make sure the rural areas were protected. The administration distributed 70,000 medical kits to contain the pandemic in rural hinterland of Varanasi and the healthcare staff at the primary and secondary dispensaries were trained on a war footing on use of Oxymeters and other testing paraphernalia. The result was heartening with distress calls from rural areas coming down from a peak of 800 per day, to about 100 at the Command and Control Centre, within days.

Amid worries of a possible third wave of Covid-19, which could have impacted children more, the inauguration of (MCH) unit at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) hospital, in Varanasi, by the PM, showcased how health has always been a top of the mind agenda for the Modi government. Considered to be the AIIMS of Purvanchal (East UP), adjoining Bihar and even Nepal, the Sir Sunderlal Hospital in BHU campus that got the MCH wing, has seen number of beds rise from 1500 to 2700,in just eight years, a rise of a solid 80%. “When the world is in crisis, we must pledge—a pledge which is bigger than the crisis itself. We must strive to make the 21st century, India’s century. And the path to do that is self-reliance”—this powerful quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sums up the ethos of the “Varanasi Model” in more ways than one. Indeed, the Varanasi model, blends the puritan with the modern and spirituality, with fast paced progress, reflective of an aspirational India, in the true sense of the term.

Varanasi is holy. Varanasi is mystical. Varanasi is enigmatic. Varanasi represents the timeless values of Hindu dharma.

For the first time a Member of Parliament from the city is the Prime Minister of India. If we look at the political history in India, a PM’s constituency is in the spotlight only for a brief period of time. In some cases, like in the case of “compulsive liar”, Rahul Gandhi, desperate to be the PM, for instance, his so called high profile visits to Amethi, used to happen only on the eve of elections, once every five years. No wonder the electorate of Amethi sent him packing as an MP, in 2019.

But PM Modi’s constituency has been the centre of attention for all the right reasons, with the PM visiting Varanasi well over two dozen times, in the last few years alone, despite his jam-packed schedule. PM Modi’s affection for the mystical city of Kashi, is well known.In his own words to the people of Kashi, Modi said, “Kashi owns me, I am imprisoned in its love”. In his many visits, apart from his interactive sessions with the people of Varanasi, PM Modi is seen inaugurating a hospital, or flagging off an express train, laying the foundation stone for a ring road or making Kashi the first multi modal hub on an inland water way. Be it unveiling the plaque of the Inter-University Centre, launching the Campus Connect wi-fi of Banaras Hindu University (BHU),or launching the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission for teachers and the National Livelihood Mission for women, Narendra Modi has done pathbreaking work, both as the PM and as the MP, from Kashi. Turning ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ into a ‘Jan Andolan’, by helping spread the message that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, has been a hugely rewarding journey for Modi and of course, for the nation. It would be apt to conclude with a powerful quote by none other than PM Modi, which captures the essence of his famous Varanasi model–”I make changes, not for people to notice; rather, because it is my mission”. And truly enough, the transformation of Varanasi, in the last eight years, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.

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New global partnerships in making

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CHINA VS US

Last week in his address on 22 June at the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum and the next day, on 23 June at BRICS Summit in Beijing, the Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed the need to forge greater synergy amongst countries for greater international development and close the development gap, by pooling resources, platforms and networks of development partnerships. Noting that the international community is keen to achieve more equitable, sustainable and secure development, Xi said it is important to seize opportunities, meet challenges head-on, and work on the implementation of the ‘Global Development Initiative’ (GDI) to build a shared future of peace and prosperity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden at the G-7 Summit, in Schloss Elmau, Germany, on Monday. (ANI/Arindam Bagchi Twitter)

Chinese President Xi Jinping at 12th BRICS virtual summit on 18 November. ANI

The Chinese president proposed the GDI in his speech to the 76th Session of the UNGA in September last year. The plan charts a course for international development. Meanwhile at the recent G7 Summit at SchlossElmau in the Bavarian Alps, Germany, President Biden on 26 June relaunched his initiative to provide infrastructure funds to poor and developing countries only a year after a largely similar scheme was unveiled at the G7 conference in Cornwall last July under the label ‘Build Back Better World’. The fund was relaunched at the start of the G7 in Germany on Sunday as the ‘Global Investment and Infrastructure Partnership’. The avowed aim of this initiative is to become an alternative to the Chinese belt and road initiative (BRI) that Beijing has used for more than a decade to expand its economic ties and influence with developing countries. The partnership aims to generate $600bn of private and public funds by 2027, with $200bn over the next five years coming from the US. Projects cited at the event include a secure sub-sea cable linking Europe and south-east Asia, an industrial MRNA vaccine plant in Senegal, solar projects in Angola, a modular nuclear reactor plant in Romania and a port linking Christmas Island with the rest of the world. INITIATIVES GALORE However, up until now, little has been heard of ‘Build Back Better World’ since last year, while in January the EU launched its own infrastructure fund for developing countries, called the ‘Global Gateway’, aiming to mobilise €300billion ($53 billion) in investments between 2021 and 2027. Initially, EU declared that this fund would work alongside ‘Build Back Better World’, and not be a rival. The UK, outside the EU, launched its own infrastructure project called the ‘Clean Green Initiative’. There are reports that Japan is planning to raise $65bn over the same period for regional connectivity, though this fund/project has not been christened, yet. All these various funds, though uniquely targeted against China have just created confusion for the common man. Realising this Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor in his speech on 26 June, implicitly acknowledged the confusion, saying there were advantages if the G7 countries showcased their offers under a common roof. It is reported that Biden, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, met in November at Cop26 in Glasgow to evaluate their differing projects, and whether by duplicating their efforts they were weakening what they were offering to poor countries. However, it does not appear from the statements that the funds are being fully merged into one funding stream, but instead are being more closely coordinated. The Guardian quoted Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser and an important member of the project, saying at an event hosted by the Centre for a New American Security last week that the US-initiated partnership will cover global infrastructure, physical health and digital infrastructure and will provide “an alternative to what the Chinese are offering”. “We intend for this to be one of the hallmarks of the Biden administration foreign policy over the remainder of his tenure,” he said. On its part China has criticised the initiative as based on a “zero-sum game approach.” The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said the relevant initiative from the US side ignores the desire of all countries for common development and win-win cooperation. G-7: NEXT STEPS Though the avowed aim of the G7 Summit was to discuss, among other issues, the war in Ukraine and ways to stabilise energy markets and lessen dependence on Russian gas and oil, the announcements made seems very little, apart from moral support to Ukraine. The G7 leaders heard the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and promised him more arms, four of the G7 nations moved to ban imports of Russian gold from 26 June onwards to tighten the sanction squeeze on Moscow and cut off its means of financing the invasion of Ukraine. However, metal analysts say this may not have a bearing on the international prices of gold, as they have held the same level since May last year. This follows reports that oil my move up again, and in this background the stalled Vienna talks might be resumed to ensure flow of Iranian oil in the market. INDIAN DIPLOMACY The common denominator at these two high-level summits was the presence of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This underlines the importance, which both China and the US attach to India currently.It is majorly due to its independent and realistic foreign policy, praised even by the Chinese foreign minister. India neither endorsed the Chinese president’s GPI nor has commented so far on Biden’s new initiative. It continues to pursue a completely independent international foreign and trade policy and due to its geo-political and economic importance, and its unwavering stand has endeared it to both the blocs, and both seem to be courting it seriously. Asad Mirza is a political commentator based in New Delhi.

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KANHAIYA LAL’S BEHEADING HAS VERY WIDE AND WORRYING RAMIFICATIONS

Pankaj Vohra

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The gruesome and gory beheading of Kanhaiya Lal, a tailor by two Islamist fundamentalists in Udaipur has very wide, far reaching and worrying ramifications for the future of this country. While the National Investigation Agency probing the Terror act is yet to conclusively point towards the international dimensions of the incident, yet it is evident that the manner in which the tailor was beheaded, and the entire killing recorded on a cell phone, has similarities with the modus operandi of ISIS and some other banned organisations. The two suspects, who are already in the custody of the police would certainly provide greater clarity on the foreign angle though some reports suggest that the duo was indoctrinated by a Karachi based outfit. There are no words to express when one looks at the videos, posted on the social media justifying the slaying and simultaneously threatening the Prime Minister and former BJP spokesperson, Nupur Sharma of similar consequences. In this instance, the Rajasthan police too appears to have faltered since it did not take the apprehensions of the tailor seriously after he had been receiving threatening calls. The deceased was being accused of backing Nupur Sharma’s comments on the Prophet and thus had become a vulnerable target. Another reason, why he could have been singled out and attacked was because of his name. In the divisive politics that has come to stay in the country, certain vested interests including foreign powers are bound to take advantage of this growing distrust amongst communities. Nupur Sharma’s comments were condemned by most Islamic nations and New Delhi had to go on a diplomatic overdrive in order to keep things under check. Kanhaiya Lal, who did not even know how to operate a smart phone had to pay a very heavy price for what was perhaps not even his action. The BJP has made this into a major political issue while training its guns on the Rajasthan government, the Congress and the Gandhis. The main question being asked is why none of the Gandhis has so far not chosen to visit the family of the tailor to express their sympathy and support for them. The growing influence of ISIS and other outfits in this country would further widen the differences between various sections of society. Muslim clerics and scholars should not hesitate in condemning this most barbaric crime in order to lower the temperature which has been rising. The NIA must go into the depth of this incident and uncover all its dimensions. The culprits must be tried under the law after the probe is completed. They certainly need no sympathy. At the same time, right wing groups owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar or its ideology should show restraint. The RSS Chief has already stated that there should be no attempt to find a Shivling in every mosque, thereby implying that attempts to incite passions must be curbed. Kanhaiya Lal has suffered with his life and his family members shall have to face the repercussions of his death in order to sustain themselves economically. Spokespersons of political parties must be responsible and avoid making comments that can lead to such a ghastly incident. 

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