In this time of the pandemic, the mental health status of most people can be compared to a silent but ticking time bomb. As many as 264 million people in the world suffer from depression and about 85 per cent people in low and middle-income countries do not receive any treatment for their condition.
According to the Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development, mental health problems exist as a continuum — from mild, time-bound distress to severe mental health conditions, the range can vary a lot. The pandemic can have an influence on the mental health of an individual based on where that individual is situated on that band. Many people who usually cope well with a distressed mental state may report a quicker reaction to a trigger due to the multiple stressors caused by the pandemic. Those who had sporadic episodes of anxiety and distress previously may experience an increased frequency and intensity of such occurrences, bordering on a serious mental health condition. Meanwhile, those who had a mental health condition previously may experience even worse — a gradual decline of their condition and lower functioning.
Identifying the vulnerable
While the onset of a mental health problem does not discriminate, certain populations are more vulnerable to it. Most important among them are elderly people and those with pre-existing and chronic health conditions. They may be people who have long-drawn illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes, while people with diseases like cancer and other degenerative illnesses are also known to have depressive tendencies. Besides, many elderly people live alone, especially in cities, while some may live in a commune, making them vulnerable to stressors such as loneliness. Some of them, particularly those with weaker or damaged cognitive capabilities, are at a higher risk of isolation as their access to advice on infection prevention may be limited due to impairment.
Children and adolescents are the next most vulnerable group. They may grapple with several problems including loneliness, nervousness, irritability, restlessness and difficulty in concentrating on tasks. The long exposure to screens due to online classes can aggravate these problems. Estimates show that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-yearolds and that nearly half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14. They are also at a higher risk of abuse, particularly those living in crowded settings or who live and work on the streets.
Frontline workers and first responders in health and long-term care have also been stigmatised and faced assault during the pandemic, along with a growing amount of stress due to extreme workloads, witnessing the deaths of patients, taking difficult decisions, being at risk of becoming infected and becoming the carrier to their families and communities.
Women are also at risk during this time. The high incidence of violence against women even in the pre-pandemic era can be a marker of their vulnerability to genderbased violence and its impact on their mental health.
Elevate mental health services
The social and economic faultlines exposed by the pandemic may result in large-scale unemployment, shrinking of existing social safety nets, loan defaults, starvation and penury, and an increase in gender-based violence, providing a ground for an increase in chronic stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and selfharm, which is likely to increase morbidity, suicides and the number of disabilityadjusted life years (DALYs) linked to mental health. So much so that the next statelevel burden of disease may have mental health as a parameter for DALYs.
To make matters worse, the coping mechanisms for people in such difficult times may not necessarily entail dialling the mental health helplines launched by the government and NGOs, but taking refuge in alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, or spending more time on potentially addictive behaviours such as online gaming. According to the United Nations, Canada reported that 20 per cent of its people, between 15 and 49 years, increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic.
Therefore, it is time to shun the disease-oriented approach to mental health and treat it as a part of general wellbeing, much like the focus on nutrition, and ensure there is no dearth of options for accessing support. All healthcare programmes should have a mental health aspect to it. Including mental health and psychosocial aspects in our Covid-19 national response is essential because, as the UN states, it will improve the quality of programming, enhance the coping skills of people during the crisis, and is likely to speed up the recovery and rebuilding of communities.
The campaigns for mental health should be penetrative and expansive like the ones for polio and HIV which helped to remove the stigma attached to these diseases to a large extent. The government and media have an extremely important role in ensuring the spread of the right message in the right intensity, and the pandemic is an opportunity to elevate, promote and protect mental health interventions at the level of the society so that the benefits trickle down to the affected individuals.
The writer is an expert and entrepreneur in mental health. Views expressed are personal.
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BRAHMOS DEAL IS A SIGNIFICANT STEP TOWARDS AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT
It’s of immense significance that India has got the order to supply the Brahmos supersonic missile to Philippines. It is significant for both domestic industry and for India’s broader strategic interests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept an ambitious target of reaching $5 billion (roughly Rs 35,000 crore) exports in defence and related goods by 2025. For defence production, the target is $25 billion by 2025. The government says that it is building a robust defence infrastructure based on the three pillars of research and development, public and private defence production, and defence exports. There is no doubt that defence production has got a major push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. A lot of steps have been taken including the corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the setting up of two Defence Industrial Corridors in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, raising the FDI limit in the defence sector to 74% if it is through the automatic route and 100% if such investment takes the government route. The government has also formulated a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020. It has prioritised procurement from domestic industries. The role of the PSUs in delaying production has been curtailed with active participation of private players in the defence sector. Several such reformatory steps have been taken to reorganise the defence sector and the numbers are picking up. From defence exports worth a little over Rs 1,500 cr in 2016-2017, the defence export bucket has increased to nearly Rs 8,500 cr in 2020-2021—a part of this was the “big ticket” $100 million order bagged by L&T in 2016 to design and manufacture high speed patrol vessels for the Vietnam Border Guard. All this is a huge step towards bolstering domestic industry, which was ignored by successive governments over the decades.
It is in this context that the Brahmos deal worth $375 million (Rs 2,270 cr) has to be seen. It’s a small step in the direction India can take to become a defence exporter from one of the largest buyers of defence equipment, but a step nonetheless. The best thing about the Brahmos is, one of the world’s fastest supersonic missiles with 95% accuracy, and which can operate from land, air and water, including from submarines, is now 90% Indian, with dependence on critical components from Russia reduced to the minimum. The buzz is that even Vietnam and Indonesia have shown an interest in Brahmos. Defence experts say that it is not just Brahmos, even the Akash surface-to-air missile and the Tejas light combat aircraft among others may find buyers abroad. Hence, this is an area where a lot can be achieved in terms of realising India’s potential and making it a $5 trillion economy inside the next couple of years.
As for the South China Sea countries that are the first line of defence against a malign power, it is in India’s broader strategic interest to arm them with missiles, and thus help them reduce the gulf that exists between them and China militarily. This can be a part of India’s strategy of containing China, apart from increasing India’s influence in the region, which can have a likely positive impact on trade with the ASEAN countries. India does not need to be the “security provider” for the South China Sea countries. Apparently, that role is “reserved” for the United States. However, the US has been failing in its job, if Philippines’ experience in 2012 is anything to go by, when US did not do anything to help it during the standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal. This is one of the reasons why countries in the region are sceptical about the US. This scepticism has been aggravated because of the manner in which the Afghanistan pullout happened. So there is a possibility of this region becoming a major importer of defence equipment in the near future. There is no reason why India should not get a share of that market.
Modi phobia has blinded Gregory Stanton and Co
The earlier predictions of the ‘Genocide Watch’ founder on Kashmir, Assam and CAA too were proved wrong, and nobody in India takes Gregory Stanton seriously.
Anti-India non-State actors are ganging up in the United States to paint India as a dangerous place. Islamists and Leftists have joined hands with Dr Gregory Stanton—the renowned professor on genocide—to say that India is inching closer to genocide. He warned a Congressional hearing on 12th January of an impending genocide of Muslims in India.
It may ring familiar since sometime back anti-India forces had roped in singer Rihanna and environmentalist sensation Greta Thunberg to tweet on farmers’ issue in India. While Indians did not take Rihanna or Thunberg seriously, one does not know if these two were victims of propaganda or greed.
I was aghast at this comment. What could be the motive for Stanton to stick his neck out? He has already predicted that India is on the eight stage which is just one step away from genocide. The basis of his immediate provocation is objectionable utterances by some participants at the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar against Muslims. The State has acted in terms of lodging an FIR and arresting the accused and the Supreme Court has been keeping an eye on the action by the State.
But nobody in India is losing sleep over what happened in Haridwar for the simple reason that India is too big and resilient to allow such incidents to disturb the social fabric. The same way the country had absorbed the statement of Akbaruddin Owaisi of the AIMIM who had said that if police is removed for 15 minutes, Muslims will finish 100 crore Hindus. Although the speech is used in debate to show communal polarisation, nobody takes the statement seriously.
Everyone in India knows that the sadhus at the so-called Dharam Sansad had no locus standi in terms of their affiliation with the BJP or even the Sangh Parivar. It is doubtful if they could be called a credible representative organisation of the Hindu angst. A similar incident had happened at Jantar Mantar where people had shouted anti-Muslim slogans and some arrests were made. But now that the Dharam Sansad has got into international prominence, it may also be inquired whether they became a victim of international conspiracy. There are a number of organisations working hand-in-glove to create such a situation and then to use that to defame the country.
Stanton’s argument is that the Prime Minister did not condemn the incident. Ridiculous to expect that Narendra Modi would go on issuing condemnation one after the other only to embolden such happenings. The law of the State should act and Stanton was not briefed properly to know that law and order in India is not the subject of the Prime Minister but of the various State governments. It is only when the States fail in the task that the Central government intervenes.
An average Indian who does not normally react to such international propaganda thinking this will subside, would be shocked to hear that Stanton’s ‘Genocide Watch’ has compared the situation to Rwanda in the 1990s and Myanmar (due to Rohingya Muslims). To speak in such derogatory terms for a thriving democracy which has robust institutions of checks and balances would be considered sacrilege by any Indian citizen worth his salt.
Stanton was proved wrong earlier so far as his prediction for India is concerned and he may be nursing his wounds because of that. While addressing an audience of Congressional and US Government officials at a briefing titled “Ground Reports on Kashmir and NRC” in Washington DC on 12 December 2019, he said: “Preparation for a genocide is definitely underway in India.” He claimed that Muslims were being persecuted in Assam and Kashmir and described this as the stage just before the genocidal stage in his famous “10-Stage Genocide Process”. These things never happened. In the Assembly elections last year, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 75 of the 126 seats in Assam to the Congress’ 50 and formed the government for a second time.
The problem is that Stanton is in bad company. An independent research would give him a different picture about India. He has ganged up with the likes of Teesta Setalvad who tried her best to malign Narendra Modi but failed miserably. The might of Amnesty International, that was caught red-handed committing fraud in India, is now with these people along with other organisations that work for Muslim cause such as the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC). The IAMC has already asked Indian Muslims settled in different States of the US to influence their representative for Congressional hearings on the status of Muslims in India.
The Indian government has banned thousands of NGOs from taking foreign funds since they refused to comply with the Indian legal system. Some international NGOs thought they were powerful and they could bend the government but they have failed. Amnesty had imagined that the United Kingdom would come to its rescue but the UK, which is rule bound, would not do anything to ask India to bend its laws. All these NGOs, rubbed by the Modi government on the wrong side, have an axe to grind and are trying to show their power of mischief. They are likely to do similar things in the European Parliament in an attempt to defame the Modi government. Not that this would make much of a difference to either Modi or India, but the fangs of these organisations are getting exposed.
Stanton is a Modi hater. Even in his speech released on various social media platforms, he minces no words to demonstrate his hatred. He intentionally referred to Gujarat riots of 2002 and said that Modi as the Chief Minister did nothing. He even said that “Modi encouraged those massacres”. The facts are to the contrary. Army was called within 24 hours, the shortest span in the history of riots in India, and no inquiry has found Modi not doing anything. Stanton is cocking a snook at the Indian judiciary since Modi has been held not-guilty by Indian courts.
Let us see another statement of Stanton. He criticised Modi for revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and for passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). To him, the revocation was intended at restoring Hindu domination. He found that the CAA was aimed at targeting Muslims. Both are false. Revoking Article 370 has been one of the core ideological issues of the BJP since the party considered it divisive and had been advocating complete integration of the State with India. And the CAA is intended to grant citizenship rights to those persecuted minorities that had come to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Clearly Stanton has been bought over by the Islamist narrative. He claimed that 200 million Muslims would be victims of the CAA.
Stanton’s real pain is visible when he says that the Indian Constitution was devised to make India a secular country and not a country based on Hindutva. He complements the Congress for maintaining the secular character of India in the initial years after Independence.
“What we have now though, an actual member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) — this extremist, Hindutva-oriented group — Mr Modi as [the] prime minister of India. So, what we have here is an extremist who has taken over the government,” he said. Batting for Congress and attacking Modi is an old trick adopted by many RSS-BJP haters.
Now we know why he is in a bad company. This is because he is suffering from Modi phobia. Calling the Indian Prime Minister an ‘extremist’ would not be appreciated by any world leader who has interacted with Modi. He has earned friends and has impressed them with his commitment to democracy and development. Stanton’s utterances are an affront to the honour and dignity of an average Indian who sees hope in their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
There are some people and vested interests that always wanted the Indian poor to suffer. Health card for the poor, a bank account for them where they get direct benefits through electronic transfer of funds and a free ration so that they don’t die of hunger have helped Modi emerge as the messiah of the poor. His schemes do not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims. These things don’t suit the Western narrative.
He has reined in corruption and given a level playing field to people who want to take the country forward. India is now home to the third largest number of Startup Unicorns after the United States and China. It will soon have 100 such unicorns each valued with a minimum value of USD 1 billion.
The pain of anti-India forces is the country is progressing despite being an area of potential conflict. The prophets of doom are being proved wrong. The incidents of terrorism have come down and Hindus and Muslims are trying to settle their issues through intellectual discourse. Genocide Watch also intends to influence the decision of MNCs which may be planning big investment in India now that the honeymoon with China appears to be almost over. India under Modi is a very attractive destination for these investors. FDI inflow during the last seven years (2014-21) was USD 440.27 billion which was 58 per cent of the total FDI inflow of USD 763.83 billion in the last 21 years. This is despite the pandemic.
Where does this leave Stanton and his likes? The West and Europe are shy of facing the charge of being Islamophobic. They have not been able to work out a full-proof mosaic society, where Muslims, a miniscule minority there, do not face discrimination. India is working well despite having a Muslim minority that has more population than any caste Hindu group. So, it makes sense for people like Stanton to take up the cause of some Muslims in the US who may be charged up by the motivated narrative that goes out from India. This would at least save Stanton from not being labelled Islamophobic. But they have to be wary of Modi phobia too. This blinds your vision and forces you to go wrong.
The writer is the author of ‘Narendra Modi: the GameChanger’. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.
NON-CRICKETING REASONS FORCE KOHLI TO QUIT TEST CAPTAINCY
Virat Kohli, the country’s most successful Cricket Captain had to give up his position due to politics within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It is apparently an array of the non-cricketing reasons that have compelled him to step down, and it would become a very difficult job for the administrators of the game to find his replacement. Kohli made this public declaration of relinquishing his Captaincy after first informing his own teammates and Head Coach Rahul Dravid besides speaking with BCCI secretary Jay Shah. The announcement has left Cricket fans shell-shocked and the entire Cricketing fraternity throughout the world has hailed King Kohli as one of the best in the game and someone whose contribution in making India, amongst the topmost cricket-playing nations is an acknowledged fact. While it is for sports writers and experts to figure out how the team shall be rebuilt, there are reports that Kohli was likely to be served a show-cause notice for publicly contradicting the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on the issue of giving up the T-20 Captaincy, before the team embarked for the South African Tour. It was to pre-empt the show cause notice that he took this drastic decision. It goes without saying that after the exit of Ravi Shastri as the Indian Coach, Kohli had very little support left, and it would have been a matter of time that he would have quit.
Dravid is a legendary all-time great of the game but his and Kohli’s personalities are totally apart. There has also been a lot of politics within the Board where the West Zone has regained control of matters and has the final say in major decisions including team selection. The complexion of the Indian team shows how certain players have made it to the squad due to regional bias that has triumphed over merit. Kohli had made the Indian side into a fighting force that was feared by all Cricketing countries. In the pre-Kohli era, whenever team India lost on a foreign tour, fans would accept the outcome. However, after Kohli took over the leadership role, the expectations were always high and the recent loss to South Africa was described by everyone as “an upset”. This was Kohli’s influence over the game and his teammates.
Sunil Gavaskar, perhaps the greatest Indian batsman ever, feels that giving up Captaincy would help Kohli to concentrate on his batting. His opinion is that many more centuries would now flow from Kohli’s willow in the next five or six years of Test Cricket he shall play, given his exceptional fitness levels. India has to look for a new leader who can lead from the front and earn the respect of all the teammates. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul are the front runners but one cannot rule out R. Ashwin to be in the reckoning also. Gavaskar is of the view that Rishabh Pant would make a very good Captain. However, the Board must seriously consider Ajinkye Rahane even though he has not been in the best form of his life. His Captaincy in Australia had been extraordinary and from the current crop of players, he would be a very good choice during this transitional phase till a new leader can be identified.
Just a ‘security breach’ or a sinister plan?
Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab administration and police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident.
The unprecedented breach in the security of the Prime Minister of India has left the entire nation shocked and aggrieved. It is difficult to believe that the cavalcade of the world’s most popular leader gets stranded for more than twenty minutes over a flyover merely ten kilometers away from the Pakistan border. Historically speaking, India has never witnessed a security lapse of such a magnitude where busloads of protestors brazenly obstruct the PM’s convoy. The casual and high-handed manner in which the security of the PM was handled is even more shameful and raises serious doubts upon the intention of the Congress government in Punjab.
The absence of the Chief Minister, DGP and Chief Secretary of Punjab for the customary reception of PM, false assurances of route clearance given by DGP and refusal by CM Channi to get on the phone for resolving the issue goes fundamentally against the ethos of democracy and is sufficient to raise a cloud of suspicion. Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab Administration and Police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident. While the situation demanded an immediate and prompt response from the CM as the security of the supreme elected head of the state was under threat, he preferred to engage himself in whataboutery. He candidly questioned the need for opting the land route despite being well aware that the weather conditions were not conducive for a safe flight. Is it not enough to suggest that the Congress desired the Prime Minister to meet the same unfortunate fate as that of first CDS Late Gen. Bipin Rawat and thirteen others who succumbed to a plane crash recently?
The other Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely putting a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying an overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather it just seems to be a tip of an iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India. It would not be absurd to say that the Congress has a predominant role in fueling up this conspiracy against the nation. According to media reports, the DGP of Punjab got in touch with senior members of the government and conveyed his inclination to use ‘force’ to disperse the protestors but he was told to exercise restraint. Without paying any heed to the fact that the security of the PM is sine-qua-non to maintain stability in the country, he was further ordered to not do anything which could put the state government in a fix. One of the leaders of the protestors has publicly admitted that he was informed by the SSP of Punjab Police about the route of the PM’s convoy whereas the existing norms do not allow anyone to disclose this fact. It undoubtedly hints towards the mala-fide intentions of the Congress government to create another riot against Sikhs with an aim to whitewash its own blot of 1984 killings.
It is an established fact that Congress can stoop to any low to retain its power. The security personnel deployed at the spot where PM’s cavalcade was stuck were seen enjoying tea with the protestors. What were the reasons that compelled the celebrated Punjab Police to act so loosely? This shameful display of connivance of Police officials with the protestors cannot be made possible without political patronage from the Congress leaders in power. In the 1980s, Congress supported extremists to dethrone Akalis and dissociate them from Sikhs in order to gain power. In the process of achieving its political goals, it set the peaceful environment of Punjab on fire as mayhem surrounded the entire region. As a result, Punjab witnessed mass killings, terrorist attacks and separatist insurgency, ultimately leading to the mysterious ends of many of its leaders including the assassination of Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi. Sadly, Congress leadership doesn’t want to learn from its own doings in the past and has restarted echoing the voices of secessionist elements. The blatant appeasement of the fervid proponents of Khalistan by Congress who created ruckus in the recent farmers’ agitation sends a clear message that it will do anything to retain power, even if it means another partition of India.
Moreover, it cannot be a coincidence that three terrorists were arrested from around the same sensitive region soon after the incident. A few videos surfacing over the internet which were uploaded a year ago eerily reflect the similar events which transpired during the security breach. The FIR registered against 150 unidentified persons after the incident does not mention the security breach rather it only deals with the obstruction in any public way attracting a penalty of meagre two hundred rupees. Thus, the aftermath of the incident is self-explanatory and indicates Congress’ deep plunge into the murky waters of depravity and moral turpitude.
Once a prominent leader of Jana Sangh, Balraj Madhok had famously remarked that if Congress is malaria, Communists are a plague. This comparative analysis of both the ideologies has taken a new turn in the contemporary parlance. The recent turmoil created by Congress suggests that it has unhesitatingly adopted the Communist’s infamous goal of anarchy. This thirst of grabbing power at the cost of compromising PM’s security makes the situation even more worrisome and uncannily resembles a deadlier pandemic for a vibrant constitutional democracy like ours. Though this incident has unraveled many nefarious agendas of the Congress party but a plethora of questions still remain unanswered. It cannot be outrightly denied that the protestors and police were certainly hand in gloves with those at the top levels acting in cahoots. The people of Punjab have witnessed misgovernance and complete collapse of law and order in the past one year and hence, they will take the Congress party to task by voting them out of power in the upcoming elections.
Writer is the Co-Incharge BJP, Jammu & Kashmir Affairs. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely turning a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather they just seem to be the tip of the iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India.
DESERTIONS PUT YOGI ON THE BACKFOOT IN UP
Desertion by several OBC leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections could spell trouble for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and come in the way of his second consecutive term. In fact, the momentum seems to be shifting towards his principal challenger, Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the crucial polls that have been described by several political pundits as the semi-final before the finals in 2024. The desertions by prominent leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Dharam Singh Saini, Avtar Singh Bhadana, Madhuri Verma and Roshan Lal Verma amongst others, also reflects that there were a large number of issues that remain unaddressed by the Yogi government. It is evident that the government was perhaps thriving because of high voltage publicity and divisive politics.
The BJP has tried to underplay the decision of these leaders amidst claims that at least 100 more prominent functionaries from the State may similarly leave the party in the near future. What should be worrying for the ruling dispensation is that its political narrative so far, could even damage the Narendra Modi brand. Modi is the undisputed political leader in the country and since his name and performance is being also projected as plus points for the BJP, a major problem could arise in the event the Saffron Brigade loses the plot in the most populous state of the country. In view of the unfolding developments, it would not be surprising that the double-engine slogan of the party, to lay emphasis on the development of the state, due to the close coordination between the Centre and the Yogi government may be amended in order to shield the Prime Minister. The outcome of the UP polls would have wide ranging ramifications and could even impact the Presidential elections later this year.
If the BJP is unable to secure majority of its own, it would be very difficult for the central leadership of the party to decide on a person of its first choice for the top position. The choice could narrow down to someone who is also acceptable to sections of the Opposition or States, which otherwise are opposed to the BJP and its allies. Therefore, the BJP shall have to pull a rabbit out of its hat to upset the existing calculations which seem to be projecting an easy win for Akhikesh, notwithstanding the overwhelming projections in favour of the ruling party in most opinion polls. This is also a wake-up call for the BJP Parliamentary Board and the Sangh Parivar that they should stop taking things for granted and believe only in their own caste formulas, rather than the emerging situation on the ground. In the past three Assembly polls, Uttar Pradesh has given a convincing mandate to whichever party won. In 2007, it was for Mayawati, in 2012 it was for Akhilesh and in 2017, for the BJP. Therefore, if the trend continues, then it would again be a repeat of a one-sided election in favour of whoever wins ultimately. The reason for these desertions is that the Yogi government has been engaged in hyping the issues close to its agenda while ignoring the concerns of those who are leaving or have left. The most obvious inference is that in pursuance of Kamandal politics, the BJP underestimated the threat from Mandal politics. The consequences of these resignations, if they go against the interests of the party, could put a question mark over Yogi’s ability to lead. He is desperate and to send a polarizing signal, he recently talked about the contest between 80 percent who favoured development, and 20 percent who were against it.
The figures alluded to the religious ratio within the State where Hindus constitute 80 percent and the Muslims 20 percent. Yogi’s critics have urged the Election Commission to take notice of this loaded and communal reference by the Chief Minister which allegedly constituted violation of the Model Code of Conduct. However, Yogi is undeterred and knows that if he wins, he would truly emerge from the shadows as a leader who could be in the reckoning for a top slot in the post-Modi era. It is equally true that if Akhilesh Yadav wins the 2022 Assembly polls, he would alter the Opposition’s current equations regarding a collective plan to contest the 2024 Parliamentary polls since he would be a claimant for the leadership of the coalition as well. Interesting times are here and the Uttar Pradesh saga could spring up many more surprises as the election process progresses.
Is the Arab world ready for a post-oil future?
In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector.
Since the 19th century, oil has been one of the world’s major energy resources. Oil meets 33% of global energy demand, but oil demand may begin to decline sooner than expected due to renewable resources trends around the world and technological advancements. Arab countries in the Gulf region are beginning to take precautions through diversification as they need to transform their oil-dependent economies. The issue of economic diversification has taken on new urgency in the Persian Gulf countries. The global economic slowdown induced by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the price of Brent crude oil from $64 a barrel in early 2020 to $23 a barrel in April 2020.
For decades, GCC countries have been concerned about the long-term viability of their hydrocarbon revenues. In the long run, oil and gas reserves will deplete. Bahrain and Oman are the most vulnerable, with reserves expected to run out within the next decade for Bahrain and within the next 25 years for Oman. In the short term, GCC countries have already begun to tap into $2 trillion in financial assets amassed over decades and invested in sovereign wealth funds for future generations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that unless GCC countries implemented significant fiscal and economic reforms, their conserved wealth would be depleted by 2034.
DIVINE SANCTION AND A CHALLENGE
Natural resources abound in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. They have been using this wealth to improve the lives of their citizens, developed infrastructure, constructed modern cities and plan for a future without oil, they have made significant progress in their objectives.All have Human Development Index scores above 0.8, putting them ahead of all other Middle East and North African (MENA) countries and on par with some European Union countries (EU).
The GCC countries, on the other hand, have struggled to make progress on the third goal: diversifying their economies. Despite their good intentions, mirrored in their national visions and economic development plans, the GCC economies remain pig-headedly keen about hydrocarbons.Thus,for economic diversification to be sustainable, other essential ingredients must be present, such as moderate government spending, increased non-oil exports, and even more foreign direct investment (FDI).
While GCC members have made significant headway over the last decade, oil and gas production continues to account for more than 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries, excluding the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Nonetheless, oil and gas royalties directly fund a large portion of the region’s other economic activities, such as construction and infrastructure development. For Bahrain, oil accounts for a minor share of GDP because the region’s oil reserves have been depleted; yet, oil continues to underpin economic activity indirectly through transfers and expenditure from neighbouring nations. Consequently, though efforts have been made to diversify government finances, hydrocarbons account for 70% or more of overall revenue in all countries except Saudi Arabia (68%) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (36%). Nonetheless, many of the diverse revenue streams in those two countries are supported by petroleum economic activities.
The Gulf countries do manufacture goods and services within their borders, principally for domestic usage. These embody Agricultural products, manufactured items, and business services are examples of them. However, domestically produced goods and services would not be able to replace the massive volumes of imported goods and services required to support the region’s 27 million natives and 29 million expats.
OIL IN INTERNAL POLITICS
Generally, advanced democracies and the presence of inclusive institutions boost economic growth. Yet, in some instances, economic growth can impede democratisation. “Rentierism” is one of the most well-known theories on the subject.Rentier states generate money by collecting rent from foreign governments, businesses or individuals. They do not require tax revenues because their primary job is to disperse incoming foreign resources.
Furthermore, rentier nations are financially independent and autonomous from society, contributing a little portion of external rent earnings to domestic spending while retaining the majority of the wealth. Despite considerable criticism, the link between authoritarian Arab regimes that sell oil and their citizens lends validity to the notion. However, as the post-oil era approaches, Arab states are attempting to escape the trap of rentierism.
THE SAUDI PARAGON
The oil sector contributes 28.7 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP and accounts for 80 percent of its exports. These figures demonstrate the significance of economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s audacious economic makeover might be successful. To prepare for a Post Oil future, the Kingdom announced its “Vision 2030” with economic diversification as its primary economic goal.
Saudi Arabia has tried to enhance its private sector, unleash the potential of non-oil industries, and expand non-oil exports with this goal in mind.
It will not be easy to attain this target quickly, which is why the kingdom has tightened its laws and begun forcing foreign corporations to relocate their Middle East operations to Saudi Arabia.To attract new investment and generate new employment, the Saudi government and government-backed institutions will no longer sign contracts with multinational firms that do not have a regional centre in Saudi Arabia in early 2024.This decision heightened tensions with rival countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some UAE-based investors described the decision as “obviously geared” .
The UAE, like Saudi Arabia, has increased attempts to attract overseas companies in order to restructure their economy and reduce their reliance on oil.
This appears to be one of several competitors in the region as many Arab oil-exporting countries attempt to modernise their economies as conflicts of interest appear to be inescapable.
SAUDI AS A MOVER AND SHAKER
Saudi Arabia as predicted would never be a mover and shaker again. The decline is irreversible, because “oil-rich” is a word that will become as obsolete as “carbon copy.” Arab producers’ oil revenue has dropped by more than two-thirds, and it will never recoup. So far, the decline has been mostly driven by a sharp drop in oil prices; demand has steadily increased, but oil production has consistently increased faster; nonetheless, an outright collapse in demand is also on the horizon.
As the climate situation worsens, motor vehicles (which account for half of all oil consumption worldwide) are shifting to electricity. The United Kingdom and France have officially pledged to cease all new automobile sales with internal combustion engines by 2030, which means that no one will buy a new petroleum-fueled car after 2025. Many other countries are debating similar measures.
The unprecedented stability of these nations without a single regime change among the six “oil-rich” monarchs of the Arabian peninsula in the last 50 years – has been solely predicated on the traditional rulers’ ability to buy the consent of their subjects. When wealth disappears, so does stability. Even Saudi Arabia’s unity, established by force less than a century ago, may not survive the shift.
THE ROAD AHEAD
In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector. Economic diversification policies must take genuine rent-seeking behaviour into account. GCC governments will need to have an open dialogue with their citizens about the financial restrictions they confront and the options available to them in the future, and then redraw the parameters of the governing social compact in a way that is perceived as equitable and fair. This renegotiation will require both political elites and regular individuals to give up some of their rights and privileges in light of diminished hydrocarbon reserves and lower prices that are predicted to persist and sink further in the long run. GCC countries have established free zones, innovation parks, and entrepreneurial centres outside the boundaries of their rentier-based private sectors over the last two decades. Nonetheless, all of these things are primitive.
The coronavirus outbreak, combined with reduced global oil prices, has intensified pressure on Gulf governments to accelerate economic diversification initiatives. GCC policymakers must look beyond the urgent need to slash expenditures and instead focus on laying the groundwork for a thriving and sustainable post-hydrocarbon economy. Economic and political pressures have already compelled Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to lift their three-and-a-half-year embargo on Qatar, paving the way for further regional economic integration.
WILL REFORMS BE ENOUGH?
Firstly, economic modifications are required since the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members are heavily reliant on oil, and resources will need to be reallocated among other sectors.
Secondly, the transition will be political, because oil is used to bolster authoritarian governments and quiet democratic demands in many oil-exporting Arab states.
Petroleum countries would be impacted and pushed to undergo economic and political reforms. Oil has long been a key element in Middle Eastern politics, and the world’s post-oil futures may have significant ramifications in the region and global politics as a whole.
As rentier regimes make strides in preparation for a post-oil future, ultimately time will tell whether they are strong enough to protect authoritarian regimes. Oil-exporting Arab regimes may face a fresh and more robust ‘Arab Spring’ in the twenty-first century if they continue to focus primarily on the economic side of things and fail to implement institutional reforms promptly.
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