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COVID WREAKS HAVOC ACROSS INDIA AS DEATH FIGURES MOUNT

Pankaj Vohra

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Multiple theories regarding the sudden surge in Covid cases across India, particularly in metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, have come up with the government struggling to bring the situation under control. It is being said that China could have unleashed a double mutant of the virus in West Asia from where it has travelled all the way to this country since there is a large Indian diaspora which lives in that part of the world. According to this theory, the new strain of virus may have come to Mumbai, Delhi and Kerala, through Dubai. In any case, the mounting cases are a cause of immense worry, and both the state as well as Central governments should prepare themselves for meeting this growing challenge.

Another issue that is being debated is that why was the Sputnik vaccine not made immediately available here, even after reputed medical journals had rated its efficacy higher than that of other vaccines. It is evident that the powerful pharmaceutical lobbies operating out of the West and in parts of India, were interested in keeping the Russian product out of the market. The pharma companies have made tonnes of money in the past couple of months and many people who have been vaccinated were also getting afflicted, which effectively means that the pandemic is far more dangerous than what was the initial assessment.

It has to be clearly understood by all political parties that Covid does not carry any election symbol and therefore it was most important to keep politics out of this nationwide effort to combat this dreaded disease. There have been suggestions that like Britain, India should go in for a prolonged lockdown in order to decrease the number of cases. The flip side of this argument is that in an economically depressed nation like ours, people have to go out and work in order to support their families. There are reports of migrants once again returning to their native places. In the past 13 months, so many people have lost jobs or have their salaries reduced to one-fourth and in many cases, have not been paid for months. The Centre must come out with a policy to safeguard the interests of the citizens who are essentially bearing the brunt of this pandemic.

It is really strange that the Election Commission has chosen not to merge the remaining phases of the Bengal elections, even though several political parties have urged the constitutional body to do so. Election rallies and religious congregations must be immediately curtailed. What is unexplainable is that when schools and colleges can be closed and examinations postponed indefinitely, why cannot an appropriate decision be taken regarding the elections which are being needlessly prolonged. India must take some firm steps by involving experts who can help in providing solutions. The political establishment has been found inadequate in dealing with the matter. Therefore, the issue should now be dealt with experts who can help in containing the pandemic. Wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance is a reality that should not be allowed to be ignored.

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Opinion

BANGLADESH’S GIFT TO AID INDIA IN ITS FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

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Bangladesh has sent Covid medicines to its trusted friend India as a sign of friendship during this tormenting situation. The nation stands by its close neighbour with sympathy and is ready to extend all possible assistance to save lives.

Indian Army Chief General Mukund Naravane had brought one lakh doses of the Covid-19 vaccine as a gift during a visit to Bangladesh last month. Earlier in March, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave 1.2 million doses of the vaccine to its neighbour. 20 lakh doses of the vaccine also came as a gift from India in the first shipment. In addition to the 33 lakh doses sent as gifts, India has sent 8 million doses of the vaccine commercially to Bangladesh.

Now, before it could send the next consignment under the agreement, India is seeing a major crisis due to Covid. Every day there are new records of deaths and infections. In such a situation, like other countries in the world, Bangladesh also stands by its nearest neighbour and friend, India.

A week ago, Bangladesh gifted 10,000 vials of the remdesivir injection needed for Covid treatment to India. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, this is the first shipment of medicines and healthcare products sent by Bangladesh to help the people of India in the current situation. Bangladesh’s Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata, Tawfiq Hasan, handed over 10,000 vials of the antiviral medicine to a representative of the Government of India at Petrapole on the Indian border. These injections are made by Beximco, a leading Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company. The injections have been sent by the people of Bangladesh on the instructions of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as medical aid to people suffering from Covid in India.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi wrote in a tweet after the medicines were received: “By air, by sea and now by water. A consignment of emergency medicines has entered West Bengal through the land border at Petrapole. Thank you to our neighbor and close friend Bangladesh for this courtesy and cooperation. It will take our unique relationship further.”

In Dhaka, the foreign ministry had said in a statement on April 29 that Bangladesh offered to send emergency medicine and medical supplies to India to fight the epidemic. These included about 10,000 vials of antiviral injections, oral antivirals, 30,000 PPE kits and 7,000 tablets of zinc, calcium, vitamin C and other essential medicines.

Speaking at a press conference in New Delhi on the same day, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Sringla said, “Bangladesh is saying that we are producing remdesivir. Take it from us. Why they are saying, because they feel that this is the time for cooperation. India is cooperating with us and we have to cooperate with them.”

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Bangladesh has expressed deep sorrow and grief over the loss of lives in India due to the spread of Covid-19. The people of Bangladesh are praying for the relief of the people of India. If necessary, Bangladesh is interested in cooperating further with India.

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Opinion

SATYAJIT RAY, AN ALIEN IN HOLLYWOOD

The episode of how Satyajit Ray walked away from a promising career in Hollywood, inspiring in its wake multiple American films based on his story about a benevolent extraterrestrial, is yet another instance of how the legendary auteur left his mark on cinema.

Bhuvan Lall

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On Thursday, 1 June 1967, an unusually tall and handsome Indian presented his passport in the arrivals area at Los Angeles International Airport. The immigration official questioned the well-dressed man who had an intellectual bearing and was carrying a still camera. The forty-six-year-old responded in a sophisticated British accent, stating his name was Satyajit Ray and he was a filmmaker. Ray entered America and as per the law was termed an Alien (foreign national). The Lincoln convertible transporting him navigated Los Angeles’ hectic traffic and turned into the luxurious Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. Ray was checked into a stylish fully-equipped two-storied cottage. The Hollywood sign glowed at a distance in the hills. Ray had arrived in the dream factory of the world. And like countless filmmakers before him, he too had a Hollywood movie brewing in his mind.

Ray with his honorary Oscar.

This was not Ray’s first brush with Hollywood. Early on, as a film enthusiast during the 1940s, he had watched the movies of Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, and John Huston in Calcutta (Kolkata now). In 1949 he encountered Jean Renoir who was scouting for locations for his Hollywood film, The River. Renoir’s film was partly funded by Ken McEldowney, a famous florist who owned Los Angeles’ first drive-through flower shop. Ray later recalled, “I went there one day and saw him and introduced myself. I got to know him quite well, because I knew the countryside quite well and he wanted someone to guide him, so he took me along on Sundays and weekends.” Ray, the completely self-taught filmmaker, was inspired by Renoir and produced his first film Pather Panchali with music by Ravi Shankar. Travelling through India, John Huston viewed an excerpt and commented, “A fine, sincere piece of film-making”. The lyricism, compassion, and insight of Ray’s path-breaking film won unprecedented international acclaim including the Best Human Document at Cannes in 1956. The film established Ray as one of the world’s great filmmakers much as Rashomon had done for Akira Kurosawa. In 1958, the United States Information Service arranged for Ray’s month-long trip to the east and west coast of America. He admitted, “This was an opportunity I’d hate to miss because it meant staying in Hollywood and showing my film there”. On Monday 22 September 1958, on his first outing in America, Ray stood in the foyer of the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in New York. Distributor Edward Harrison had placed an advertisement on the twenty-sixth page of The New York Times publicising Pather Panchali’s American premiere. According to Ray, “I watched the audience surge out of the theatre bleary-eyed and visibly shaken.” The film eventually ran for eight months in New York. Later after the screening at the Writers’ Guild auditorium in Los Angeles, George Stevens cordially felicitated him for his passion for the cultural heritage of India and fixed his appointment with Billy Wilder. Ray arrived at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in West Hollywood where Wilder was shooting Some Like It Hot. On seeing the celebrated Indian filmmaker, Wilder exclaimed, “You won a prize at Cannes? Well, I guess you’re an artist. But I’m not. I’m just a commercial man, and I like it that way.” In America, Ray, though reserved by nature, had long conversations with Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet, and Stanley Kubrick. On his return to Calcutta, he recorded his impressions, “The East is still as far away from the West as it has ever been…”

In the middle of 1966, on Kubrick’s invitation Ray entered the massive sets of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the MGM studios in Borehamwood, England. Here he discussed an idea for a science fiction film with writer Arthur C Clarke. Then a New Zealander, Michael Wilson, working as a filmmaker in Sri Lanka, arrived at Ray’s home with a glowing reference from Clarke. Ray’s wife Bijoya recalled the visit, “One day a young man called Mike Wilson came to our house from Sri Lanka with an unusual proposal. He asked Manik (Ray) to make a film in English for Hollywood.” Ray was amiable and began working on a Hollywood screenplay based on his original story “Bonkubabur Bondhu” (Bonkubabu’s Friend) that appeared in the Bengali children’s magazine Sandesh in 1962. Set in an Indian village it portrayed the friendship between a small boy and a benevolent extraterrestrial with superhuman powers. It was titled “The Alien”. Canadian documentary filmmaker James Beveridge captured Ray undertaking location scouting for the film. Normally Ray’s films were produced with minuscule resources, but The Alien needed a large canvas and world-class visual effects. That’s where Hollywood came in. Ray had his reservations about the creative control mechanism of Hollywood. Previously, Oscar winner David O. Selznick had offered Ray a film with Jennifer Jones but he felt alienated amongst the overflowing studios and temperamental stars. so he declined. Nevertheless, copies of Ray’s The Alien reached the desks of studio executives in Los Angeles. On the other end of the planet, Columbia Pictures was struggling and needed a breakthrough movie. Ray’s script for The Alien indicated box office potential. In the summer of 1967, a cable was transmitted to Calcutta, summoning the cinematic poet from India.

On a sun-drenched morning in June 1967, Ray, driven by his associate Wilson, entered the Columbia Pictures Studios on Sunset Boulevard. In the meeting with the top echelons at Columbia, Ray visualized The Alien with Marlon Brando or Steve McQueen as the American engineer and Peter Sellers as the Indian businessman. The meeting with Sellers at Ravi Shankar’s home in Los Angeles had gone well and both Brando and McQueen were enthused. Designer Saul Bass was to create the wordless alien creature from outer space. In an unprecedented decision, Columbia straightaway offered to greenlight the multi-million-dollar movie titled “The Alien” in English and “Avatar” in Bengali, with Ray retaining the final cut. Ray was photographed across from the Dolores Restaurant for a publicity still and American newspaper headlines announced ‘Famous Director Of India Accepts Hollywood Challenge’. Shortly thereafter Ray shockingly discovered copies of his script on the desk of Wilson’s Chateau Marmont room with the credit: “Copyright: Mike Wilson and Satyajit Ray.” Equally disconcerted Columbia executives subtly hinted that they preferred an exclusive contract with Ray excluding the middleman Wilson. With profound uneasiness, Ray called Bijoya on 18 June to say that he would have to stay for a while longer and would be back by the end of the month. She too had her apprehensions about Wilson. On one occasion in Calcutta, Wilson, fretting that Ray never touched alcohol, had told her, “He has managed to reach such heights without drugs; just imagine what he could have done had he taken some…”. On 28 June 1967, Ray returned from Hollywood to his flat in downtown Calcutta and shared his premonition with Bijoya, “I have great doubts of the film ever being made”. He explained, “They’ve enthusiastically approved my story. Yet I have a feeling that the whole project will come to naught.” Subsequently, Ray discovered in a meeting with Columbia in London that Wilson had unethically appropriated the $10,000 advance. Surprisingly, even Sellers pulled out, and in the film The Party, named his pet monkey ‘Apu’. The thoroughly distasteful experience that continued till late 1968 compelled Ray to gracefully shelve The Alien. Even though Columbia Pictures stayed committed, he walked away from a promising career in Hollywood and also relinquished the opportunity of reaching a global audience with Columbia’s distribution.

In February 1972, Ray revealed to The New York Times, “I have no desire to work outside of India. I have had offers to go to California, but I’m not used to working in a studio setup. I fear I’ll lose my freedom…” Essentially, Ray concluded, “the West took the slightest interest in India… A vast subcontinent with one of the oldest and richest traditions of art, music and literature existed only to be ignored.” Nevertheless, Ray’s films continued to be released in arthouse cinemas in America acquiring a rare cult following. And in Hollywood Meryl Streep. appreciating Ray’s pictures, maintained, “His handling of actress Madhabi Mukherjee in Charulata shows how much respect and dignity Ray gave to his actresses. That itself is the hallmark of a true director. I have not an iota of doubt that if Ray worked in Hollywood, he would have proved a tough competition for the likes of Sir David Lean, Francis Ford Coppola and Sir Alan Parker.” Afterwards, Hollywood movies outwardly inspired by Ray’s The Alien kept surfacing. The erudite filmmaker insisted that such imitations “would not have been possible without my script of The Alien being available throughout America in mimeographed copies”. In the end, Ray had no interest in pursuing the issue. Tragically, The Alien perished in Hollywood and remained a great might-have-been by a master filmmaker.

Years later in November 1991, the governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood debated the names for a possible Honorary Oscar. Honorary awards were not annual, could not be conferred posthumously and a two-thirds vote was required by the board of governors. Martin Scorsese, who as a teenager had admired Ray’s signature work, the Apu Trilogy, at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in New York, proposed his name and swiftly got the backing of Hollywood luminaries and legendary filmmakers. Significantly, Elia Kazan asserted, “It can truly be said in his case that when we honour him, we are honouring ourselves.” Then on a December day in 1991, an Indian post and telegraph employee rushed up the flights of stairs in an old building at Bishop Lefroy Road to the doorstep of Satyajit Ray’s flat in Calcutta. A telegram from Karl Malden, President of the Academy declared that Ray was to be the recipient of Hollywood’s highest accolade, the Honorary Oscar for his career in the moving pictures as a cinematic auteur. On receiving the news, Ray, both surprised and elated, remarked, “For a film-maker, an Oscar is like a Nobel Prize.” An ailing Ray scheduled a trip to Hollywood for the Oscar ceremony, combined with a visit to his cardiologists in Texas. But a health relapse forced him into seclusion at the Belle Vue Clinic in Calcutta. Around early March 1992, the Academy dispatched a three-member delegation from California to Calcutta. Professor Dilip Basu, representing the Oscar committee, disembarked at Dum Dum airport after the long intercontinental flight, tightly clasping his briefcase that transported the Honorary Oscar. And on 16 March 1992, after obtaining the cardiologist’s permission, the delegation filmed Ray’s acceptance speech in the intensive care unit. For the first time in its history, an Oscar was presented outside the ceremony.

Finally, on the night of 30 March 1992, one of the grandest days of Ray’s life, at the 64th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn walked on to the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. She had earlier requested Ray for the correct pronunciation of his name (pronounced ‘rye’) and now she announced, “The Academy Board of Governors has voted to award an Honorary Oscar to the great Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray. Academy recognizes Mr Ray’s rare mastery of the arts of motion pictures and his profound humanism which has had an indelible influence on filmmakers and audiences throughout the world…”. Amid tremendous applause and a short montage of his works, Ray appeared in a videotaped speech, holding the Oscar statuette on his hospital bed. With his characteristic restrained humour, he graciously accepted the honour, stating, “Well, it is an extraordinary experience for me to be here tonight to receive this magnificent award, certainly the best achievement of my movie-making career. When I was a schoolboy, I was terribly interested in the cinema. I became a film fan, wrote to Deanna Durbin, got a reply, was delighted…wrote to Ginger Rogers, didn’t get a reply. Then of course I got interested in cinema as an art form and I wrote a twelve-page letter to Billy Wilder after seeing Double Indemnity. He didn’t reply either. Well, there you are…. Everything I have learned about the craft of cinema is from the making of American films. I have been watching American films very carefully over the years and I loved them for how they entertained and later loved them for what they taught. So, I express my gratitude to the American Cinema, to the Motion Picture Association, for giving me this award and for making me feel so proud. Thank you very, very much.”

After the awards function, Hepburn traced Billy Wilder who mailed Ray an invite to discuss Double Indemnity in Hollywood. Sadly that was not to be, as less than a month later, on 23 April 1992, death came to India’s national treasure Satyajit Ray. Subsequently, at the suggestion of Hepburn, the Academy along with Professor Basu’s Satyajit Ray Film and Study Center at UC Santa Cruz launched a project to restore over a dozen of Ray’s films. On 21 April 1995, Sony Pictures Classics through the ministrations of Merchant Ivory Productions, re-released nine of Ray’s restored masterworks across America. And in Hollywood, Los Angeles Times’ reviewer noted, “There are so many masterpieces in Ray’s filmography that his output is more than astonishing – it’s almost superhuman. And yet Ray was a supremely human artist.”

Bhuvan Lall is the author of “The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose” and “The Great Indian Genius: Har Dayal”. He can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com.

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT: INDIA CAN MAKE CHINA PAY

Joyeeta Basu

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The doomsayers have spoken. Three weeks of India going through one of its worst health crises ever, faced with a once-in-a-century pandemic and they have started writing the end of the India story. Many see India losing its global standing, its regional standing, with its image dented and the back of its economy broken as it fails to counter the growing influence of China in the neighbourhood. The rest of the predictions go like—the focus on Indo-Pacific will be a non-starter, as US and European Union will continue to have their trade relations with China; and since India has been badly battered, it may not even have the resources to be at the core of the Quad’s Indo-Pacific strategy. Needless to say, much of this commentary is emanating from China, which—according to media reports—while claiming to be by India’s side, has been gloating over India’s troubles. And as it happens with India and Indians, for every such narrative being spun from either China or internationally, it is being amplified by interests who would like to see India fail if that means a failure of the present political dispensation.

It’s a different matter that India is too big and too resilient for it to cease to matter globally. The world will be at peril if India with its 1.3 billion population fails. But the pictures of doom and gloom that are being transmitted across the globe have the definite purpose of showing India in a poor light as an investment destination and as a strategic partner of the western world. But then, if India was a spent power and the Quad a non-starter, why are Chinese diplomats going around arm-twisting a small country like Bangladesh warning it against “joining” the Quad? Why is China nervous if it was so secure in the knowledge that with the fulcrum of Quad—India—melting away, its competition for an alternative supply chain has dissolved? The reality is, no one knows it better than China that India may be going through a terrible crisis, and China may be cutting deals with the West, but that is not stopping world powers from converging on the Indo-Pacific. This is happening because they recognize the malign nature of China, a manifestation of which is the pandemic coursing its way through the globe. India may be bearing the brunt of the second wave, but now other countries—including Taiwan, which was believed to have managed the pandemic—too are witnessing a rise in cases. But nothing seems t be happening in China. Serious questions are being raised about the nature of the virus, including the reference to the documents with the US State Department that say that Chinese military scientists allegedly were talking in 2015 about militarising the SARS coronaviruses.

Several questions exist about the exact nature of the virus, and how it was allowed to spread across the globe by sending out people internationally from China, even though domestic travel was banned. But until now no serious attempt has been made to hold China accountable for what it has done to the world. Amidst this, the World Health Organization has been whitewashing China’s role as the originator and spreader of the virus. But if that has not stopped the powers that matter from converging on the Indo-Pacific, it’s because the civilized world realizes that China, if left unchecked, can be a serious threat to them. Of course, only time will tell if economic ties with China can be decoupled from security interests. Amidst this, the mistake that the Chinese have made is underestimating India, which may be down, but is anything but out. Even in the middle of the pandemic India sent out a strong message to China by not allowing any Chinese companies to participate in the 5G trials. Losing India’s billion-plus market and India’s meta-data would have dealt a body blow to China. India needs to get its act together in many areas, but it has the capacity to make China pay. And that is what worries China.

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GNCTD AMENDMENT ACT: THE CHALLENGES OF GOVERNING DELHI

The recent GNCTD Amendment Act seems to be a case of using legislation to settle ideological disputes. However, in doing so, it not only violates the principles of constitutional morality and objectivity, but also defies the democratic and federal tenets enshrined in the Constitution which vests powers in people’s representatives and enables them to work for citizens.

Amita Singh

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Governing Delhi has always been a challenge. Even during the late Sheila Dikshit’s regime, when both the state and Centre were ruled by the same party, there were immensely sensitive fences for the Chief Minister to walk upon and get her work done. The coming of Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi in the same city was a head-on collision and neither the city nor its institutions have since then ever rested in peace. Eventually, this turmoil has put most public services in disorder even as Delhi prepared against a pandemic of the deadliest kind. Finally, a few were vigilant enough to witness the witch on the broomstick flying over the majestic capital city sucking away its most potential and essential powers to govern. This piece attempts to analyse a recent amendment act for changing the nature of governance in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

The last Parliament session ended in the midst of stormy election rallies which overshadowed the quick passage of a highly contestable ‘The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act 2021’. This Act, while violative of many Constitutional norms, provisions and principles, also restrained the democratic stature of the Delhi Government vis a vis the Lieutenant Governor (LG). For a government which was already wading through the slippery channels of identity battles due to the lack of any control over the investigations of the Delhi riots and Covid-19 management, this Amendment Act closed the door on its face. As per the Parliament’s notification, the Act came into force on 27 April 2021. The ‘Government’ of Delhi now onwards means the ‘Lieutenant Governor’ and not the elected representatives forming the Council of Ministers in the Delhi Assembly. With this, the sacrosanctity of the country’s democratic structure has taken a nosedive as a constitutional offence has surreptitiously legitimized itself in the midst of a pandemic clawing at the city.

The Act overshoots many constitutionally prescribed responsibilities while superseding the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s judgement of 2018, divests Delhi of its special status as provided under the Constitution’s 69th Amendment Act, 1991 and violates Article 239AA of the Constitution. Sloshed by an absolute majority and prompted by AAP’s independent position on police functioning in the Delhi riots or farmers’ agitation, the Centre found an urgent need for heaving Delhi’s voice notwithstanding the constitutionality of governance, a bare fact which is likely to invite stringent judicial scrutiny.

Some special provisions were made with respect to Delhi by inserting Article 239AA in the Constitution through the 69th Amendment Act, 1991, wherein the Union Territory of Delhi became the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD). It created an elected State Assembly with powers more or less of a full-fledged State Assembly on a scale higher than the LG of a Union Territory. Article 239AA says, ‘….legislative Assembly shall have power to make laws for the whole or any part of the NCT with respect to any of the matters enumerated in the State list or in the Concurrent list in so as any such matter is applicable to Union territories except matters with respect to Entries 1, 2 and 18 of the State List and Entries 64, 65 and 66 of that list insofar as they relate to the said Entries 1, 2 and 18.’ (Entries 1, 2 and 18 relate to public order, police and land). This embedded ambiguity which establishes a full-fledged elected State Assembly but transfers its key governing pillars to an administrator called the ‘Lieutenant Governor’ had been a legal trickery to work well as long as the Centre and the NCTD were ruled by the same political party but not otherwise. This cunning of law retained an illusion of a State as long as Sheila Dixit and the Manmohan Singh government worked in loyal partnership and congeniality for a common purpose. The situation changed when the coming of AAP, a party of newcomers in politics, raised the expectations of people without having powers to deliver. The situation worsened as energetic ground workers of AAP found themselves sandwiched between the electorate and the LG acting on behalf of the Centre which nurtured an entirely different agenda. Therefore, when the matter reached the Supreme Court in 2017, the learned Constitutional bench remarked that the ‘said maze is to be cleared first’.

The Supreme Court unequivocally resolved this maze in the Govt. of NCT of Delhi vs Union of India on 4 July 2018, saying that ‘the status of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is not that of a Governor of a State, rather he remains an Administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of a Lieutenant Governor’ and further clarified that ‘Art. 239AA does not indicate that the executive decisions of GNCTD have to be taken with the concurrence of LG’. The Court invoked a purposive interpretation to these provisions to say that these do not reflect that the concurrence of the LG is required and Article 239AA cannot be given any other interpretation relying upon the principle of parliamentary democracy, constitutional morality and responsibilities of constitutional functionaries towards the basic tenets of the Constitution.

In this background, the Amendment as explained violates the basic tenets of the Constitution as given in the Kesavananda Bharati case of 1973, in turning a representative government into a unitary government by defying the democratic and federal tenet vesting powers in people’s representatives and enabling these representatives to function. This Amendment Act, while amending the 1991 Act, has violated the principles of constitutional morality, objectivity and constitutional governance as established in a long line of cases scrutinized by the learned bench while delivering the 2018 judgement. The Centre has brought such a flagrant amendment without subsequently amending Article 239AA, in the absence of which such an Amendment Act could be a denunciation of constitutional principles underlying governance.

It is in the interest of the people of India that governments not use the legislative route to settle ideological vengeance and berate India’s strong democratic constitution.

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

The Act overshoots many constitutionally prescribed responsibilities while superseding the Supreme Court’s judgement of 2018, divests Delhi of its special status as provided under the Constitution’s 69th Amendment Act, 1991, and violates Article 239AA of the Constitution.

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LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP

Priya Sahgal

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If there is one thing the second surge of the Covid outbreak has thrown up it is questions around the current leadership style. As the WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan said, what is needed is strong leadership that is based on science and data – not grandstanding and rhetorical flourishes. The fact that the BJP did not sweep West Bengal the same way it did Uttar Pradesh post-demonetisation has sent its own wake-up call to the saffron party. But the larger question of national leadership remains.

Now, whenever the Prime Minister’s leadership model is called into question, be it post the CAA riots, post the GST rollout or regarding the sad state of the economy, the troll army of the BJP is very quick to swing into attack mode and target Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Suddenly, all of social media from Twitter to WhatsApp is full of posts lampooning and ridiculing Rahul, trying to prove one simple point: that however bad the PM may be, Rahul Gandhi is much worse. And hence, because there is no alternative, Modi will prevail.

We are already seeing glimmers of this narrative after the Assembly polls where the Congress lost Kerala despite Rahul Gandhi’s focus on the state. But that is clearly an internal Congress problem. It is up to the party to decide if it wants to continue with Rahul despite his inability to win elections or not. India has larger problems on its plate and it would be best not to get distracted by the trolls. 

The larger question remains: is this really the catch-22 before India? Are our choices limited to Modi and Rahul only? Don’t the two national parties have alternatives? And, more importantly, what about other regional leaders? Since this is a conversation that is being had after the West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu polls, it is quite clear that answers to India’s national leadership crisis can also be found at the regional level. Even Tamil Nadu tells a heartening story where the DMK did well but the AIADMK was not decimated as expected. The former CM EPS had built a narrative of governance that stood him in good stead and may have warded off the entry of the more flamboyant Sasikala, who may have more power and funds but whose governance model is yet to be tested. 

We have seen successful coalitions on both sides of the aisle from the United Front, National Front, the UPA and the NDA. What is stopping another such formation, propped, but not led, by the Congress? Already there is talk that Mamata Bannerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Arvind Kejriwal and Sharad Pawar are exploring some options with the help of ace strategist Prashant Kishor. In fact, given the current experiment, it is clear that a coalition rather than an outright majority suits India’s needs much better. It does not need to be led by an expert or a Supreme Leader. Rather the leader of such a coalition has to be one who is a consensus man in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mode, a man who is not afraid to take the advice of experts as Narasimha Rao did to ward off the economic crisis, and a man who is humble yet inspires the confidence of not just India but also the global community. Dr Manmohan Singh comes to mind here. 

We have had these ordinary men performing ordinary tasks that have kept the ship of the state going. We do not need a Supreme Leader, we do not need a vote-winning machine. All we need is someone to set systems in place, ensure they are implemented and keep us all alive. Surely that is not too much of an ask?

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A YEAR TO EMBRACE THE INDIA-NZ RELATIONSHIP

As India marks its 75th year of independence, ravaged by a pandemic which has cast a shadow of uncertainty over its near-term growth prospects, the nation must leverage its companionship with New Zealand, expand and diversify the bilateral trade relations between the two, and resolve current FTA gridlocks.

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The 75th year of Indian Independence can be an inflection point in the India-New Zealand ties through constructive steps in bilateral trade deals and companionship to harness a plethora of opportunities between the two countries. Although the second wave of Covid-19 and the triple mutant coronavirus variant have put an abrupt halt on the near-term growth prospects of the country, the recently united Quad leaders and the increased gravity of the Indo-Pacific strategic edge have put India on the centre stage of bilateral trade deals. With NZ promising to provide $1 million in direct aid to India to fight against the novel virus, there is rising hopes of a tectonic shift in the way India sees NZ as a global partner.

The much proclaimed thriving economy of the eastern world, India has been following a spinoff strategy since the start of the pandemic to build robust indigenous manufacturing capabilities by incentivizing foreign players. Emulating China, India has gained priority in any country’s foreign trade policy, and there are economic reasons for the same. India provides a ready-to-enter market for private players with the potential to target a customer base of 1.3 billion, a demographically diversified marketplace and a resilient technological infrastructure. Besides this, the expanding scope of foreign direct investments has attracted numerous capitalists to bet on the Indian growth story.

The iron is hot to hit, but New Zealand’s approach towards a foreign trade agreement (FTA) with India is on a “slow boil”. Even after 30 years and 10 rounds of negotiations for an FTA, the Kiwis have fallen short of agreements and maintained a status quo with India. This is despite the fact that Indians contributed 3% of the total NZ GDP in 2019 and as of September 2020, India was NZ’s 11th largest trading partner with a two-way total trade value of $2.4 billion. NZ has been an active partner of India in multiple fields like sports (cricket), higher education, tourism, hospitality and cybersecurity networks. All these fronts have so far been fruitful for both the countries and generated economical returns along with a cohesive cultural understanding in the past.

New Zealand has always been an active multilateralist, working closely with countries to form conducive and mutually beneficial policies. But India is different with its approach and action. Unlike with China, NZ should not expect the same deal terms with India, which has faced severe trade asymmetries in its past trade deals with ASEAN, SAFTA and RCEP, and hence will now make new FTA deals with scrutiny.

So far the bottlenecks in the FTA deal are the high-tech dairy and agricultural products, which NZ wants to push in the Indian markets. This is because India sees business and trade liberalisation with a protectionist angle and believes that such inflow of imports will have a detrimental effect on small and medium enterprises, especially marginalised farmers.

Recently, India also opted out of RCEP negotiations to safeguard the interests of industries like agriculture and dairy and over “significant outstanding issues” with China, a co-partner in RCEP. India feared that there was “inadequate” protection against surges in imports and there was a possible circumvention of rules of origin, the criteria used to determine the national source of a product.The exit from RCEP has freed a market of worth $30 billion-plus in India to fill in. This includes value-added sectors like chemicals and plastics and rubber, minerals, leather, textiles, gems, jewellery and animal products.

This posts a significant scope for expansion and diversification for businesses involved in the New Zealand-India bilateral trade in goods. This is over and above the existing scope in the high-end education services which NZ provides to Indian students and which has grown to 79% of the total services exported. To reap the benefits, New Zealand needs to showcase poised political diplomacy with swift actions on unconventional measures to solve the FTA gridlocks.

Plan B must find alternatives to the dairy and agricultural products, which NZ initially stressed upon and posed a major consensus barrier, in favour of the newly freed markets due to India’s exit from RCEP. This will promote high trade complementarities for India, matching the import pattern of India with the export pattern of NZ, hence, increasing the chances for a successful trade arrangement. In exchange, the NZ foreign trade policy should also provide a margin of preference to India in terms of a favourable rate of import duty on pharmaceuticals, machinery and textiles. Apart from this, a De Maximus provision can be adopted to enforce strict rules on exporters’ goods to qualify as NZ origin, which has been a major concern for India. Various countries have been dumping their products in India by routing them through other countries that enjoyed lower tariffs.

The bottom line is that New Zealand has to first build trust with India before entering into an FTA. The New Education Policy and the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) passed by India in 2020 needs to be embraced by the Kiwi government to get the first-mover advantage. Through this NZ can get access to the IT powerhouse, new technology of India along with an entry into the ed-tech solutions space. The Indian diaspora, which constitutes 5% of the population and has been the fastest-growing ethnic group, has to play a proactive role to persuade the NZ government to form a correlative partnership with India.

In the near future Kiwi officials need to explore offbeat channels of trade and need to learn from trade giants like the US, Singapore and Australia, who have been strategic partners of India on multiple fronts. NZ needs to understand that India has so far little to gain from a 5 million population market and hence it demands favourable trade policies to make it economically beneficial for the country.

Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and public policy. Uddeshya Goel is a financial researcher with specific interests in international business and capital markets.

NZ has been an active partner of India in multiple fields like sports (cricket), higher education, tourism, hospitality and cybersecurity networks. All these fronts have so far been fruitful for both the countries and generated economical returns along with a cohesive cultural understanding in the past.

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