FROM A MARGINAL PLAYER TO THE CUSP OF POWER: BJP’S BIG RISE IN BENGAL - The Daily Guardian
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FROM A MARGINAL PLAYER TO THE CUSP OF POWER: BJP’S BIG RISE IN BENGAL

The BJP, which had a vote share of 0.58% in the 1982 Bengal Assembly elections, is now all set to take part in a neck-to-neck battle with the current ruling party in the state. Despite facing violent attacks, the party has seen a meteoric rise thanks to its key strategists, the RSS’s careful organisational skills, and the TMC’s many faults.

Debaroopa Bhattacharyya

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) contested the West Bengal Assembly election for the first time in 1982. The primary objective of the party was to create a nucleus for a future third force in West Bengal politics. The party contested 52 Assembly constituencies and got around 1,29,994 votes in the state.

From a vote share of 0.58% in the Assembly election in 1982 to over 10.16% in the 2016 Assembly elections, and from 0.4% in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections  to over 40% in 2019, the BJP has come a long way in Bengal, laboriously treading on a road mired with thorns of propaganda, bloodshed and violence, losing 130 of its dedicated cadre and over 1,500 still  in captivity, embroiled in false cases filed against them by a ruling regime that seems to be getting increasingly insecure by the growing popularity of the saffron party among the masses. 

The BJP leadership wanted to rejuvenate the party with fresh faces before the 2016 Assembly elections. The central leadership wanted an organisation man and a new face to take on the TMC. Dilip Ghosh was brought in. He hailed from the Jungle Mahal’s Gopiballavpur.

His predecessor had been hesitant to launch full-scale verbal volleys at the Bengal CM, but Dilip Ghosh did not mince words in his scathing attacks upon Mamata Banerjee and her government. People thought the BJP was reluctant to take the TMC head-on, but Dilip’s arrival changed that perception for good. He took on Mamata right, left and centre. It gave confidence to workers and to voters too.

However, that landed him in situations where he and his convoy were attacked several times by the cadre of the ruling party in Bengal. 

Sadly, after Mamata came back to power with an overwhelming majority in 2016, utilising the many attacks on the BJP state president, the BJP was not able to capitalise on plenty of existent issues to launch an aggressive campaign against the TMC. Sambit Pal, in his book The Bengal Conundrum, observes that be it in the May 2018 Panchayat elections or the proposed Rath Yatra in December 2018, the BJP leadership was busier fighting the TMC government in the courts rather than on the streets of Bengal. When the BJP planned five Rath Yatras in December 2018 across the state, culminating in the Modi rally in January 2019 at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground, the TMC refused permission citing law and order issues. The BJP in turn did not aggressively campaign against the Mamata government and instead took the matter to court. Many such incidents exposed the BJP’s lack of organisational capabilities to act as a formidable opposition.

Around this time, the BJP launched the mantra of “win the booths, win the Assembly”. Despite early setbacks, Amit Shah set a target and directed each worker to visit at least 4-5 houses in every booth. The idea was to spread out to around 80,000-odd booths in the state and form a strong organisational net. Over the next year, the BJP recruited around 200 vistaraks for West Bengal. 

In the meantime, attacks on BJP karyakartas continued. In Purba Burdwan Kalna district, BJP MP (nominated) George Becker was attacked when he visited the locality to attend a booth vistarak programme. This was not an isolated incident. Women leaders were not spared either—Mahila Morcha president Locket Chatterjee was also attacked in Birbhum district. BJP Yuva Morcha president Debjit Sarkar was arrested during a bandh called by the party against the killing of a school student in Islampur in North Dinajpur. The students and local people were protesting in Islampur against the appointment of an Urdu teacher when they actually needed teachers in other subjects. The boy met his end when the police opened fire on the agitating crowd. 

THE BACKEND ARCHITECTS

In 2018, while Ram Lal and Shiv Prakash were already looking at boosting the organisational setup in the state, Amit Shah brought in Arvind Menon as deputy to Kailash Vijaywargiya, who was working as an observer for West Bengal. His job was to help Bengal BJP leaders mobilize grassroots workers and leaders to form booth committees, which was the goal of the national president. He started with North Bengal in 2018 to give a necessary boost to the workers and organisation, mixing with villagers and common people, thereby installing confidence in grassroots BJP workers. Meanwhile, Dilip Ghosh, working closely with strategist and defected TMC leader Mukul Roy, declared that the BJP was ready to take on the TMC in 60% of the areas. The BJP state president stood by the state party leaders and kept reiterating that the BJP was ready to take on Mamata Banerjee. 

In 2018, the BJP’s electoral progress and success in the Jungle Mahal districts, especially Jhargram and Purulia, directly reflected the organisational boost. In Jhargram, the BJP bagged the majority of seats among 24 Gram Panchayats and 10 were hung as no party got a majority. In Purulia, the BJP got 10 Zila Parishad seats while the TMC got 25. In the Panchayat Samiti, the BJP was victorious in 142 seats and in Gram Panchayats, they won 644 seats. Mukul Roy can claim credit for this spectacular victory of the saffron camp because he used his sources in the TMC to extract unhappy workers from that party to vote and work for the BJP. 

However, in May 2018, two BJP workers were found dead in Purulia in close succession. One of them was Trilochan Mahato, whose body was found hanging from a tree with the following written on his shirt in Bengali: “This is for indulging in politics from such a young age of 18. Been trying to kill you since the vote. Failed. But today you are dead”. This incident shook the state BJP thoroughly. The murder of two BJP workers in a district where the BJP had fared well exposed, on the one hand, their growing political acceptance and strength and, on the other, their inability and weakness in protecting their own cadre from such violence and atrocities. 

Amit Shah further brought in the architect of Tripura victory, RSS Pracharak Sunil Deodhar, for a brief period to Bengal to assist Shiv Prakash, Arvind Menon and Kailash Vijaywargiya. The result of these behind-the-scenes architects’ relentless perseverance resulted in extending the party’s organization in a large number of villages and towns before the elections in 2019. From 452 mandal committees in 2015, the BJP reached 1280 in 2019. Setting up 12,407 shakti kendras and appointing 10,266 full-time shakti kendra pramukhs, many BJP district units got new party offices, bringing in much enthusiasm among the grassroots workers.

ROLE OF THE BJP IT CELL 

Another organisation that gave the party and its leaders, workers and supporters the much-needed push was the IT Cell. Shiv Prakash brought in Ujjwal Pareek, a Kolkata boy, to head the BJP’s social media team in Bengal. The IT Cell’s job was to operate the “BJP4Bengal” Facebook page as well as its Twitter handle, apart from the 50,000-odd WhatsApp groups. When Mamata Banerjee reacted belligerently to the “Jai Shree Ram” slogan in West Midnapore’s Chandrakona, the IT Cell stitched together a video which asked the question, “Is it a crime to chant Ram’s name in Bengal?”. That video was made viral and it stoked a fire among Bengal’s masses, awakening their dormant Hindu religious sentiments, especially among the youth in the suburbia. 

THE RSS ANGLE

The RSS through its shakhas and other social organisations has been able to influence people at the grassroots immensely. RSS activists don’t work directly for candidates but for ideas and issues which align with the RSS-BJP ideology. They form different organisations in different areas, for instance, in Hooghly during the last elections, they formed an outfit called the Hooghly Zila Janakalyan Samiti. This outfit’s job was to distribute leaflets and carry out a door-to-door campaign.

Until a few years ago, the RSS had about 700 shakhas in South Bengal and about 300 in North Bengal, but the figure went up in South Bengal to 1200 and to 400 in North Bengal by 2018.

It is the RSS which helped to capture and consolidate the Matua vote for the BJP before the 2019 elections, closely working with the Matua  community and organising “mochchab” every fortnight. A “mochchab” is a community programme where members of the community socialise and share a meal together. The RSS used these informal meetings to discuss the NRC and Citizenship Bill/Act to gain the confidence of the community in favour of the saffron camp. Sambit Pal mentions in The Bengal Conundrum how, apart from organising mochchabs, the  RSS also kept working with frontal organisations like the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram which works in tribal areas running hostels and schools like Ekal Vidyalaya and involving people in social activities, mass marriages, etc. The VKA did not directly participate in BJP politics but their social influence helped BJP gain popularity and credibility among tribal and backward populations in North Bengal. Other organisations like the Sree Hari  Satsang Samiti helped the BJP make headway through the RSS activities without much publicity and politicking. 

The Sangh outfits were also like a protective umbrella, always standing in support of Hindu groups whenever there were communal clashes in the state. Saffron flags in minority-dominated remote villages showed how these organisations helped to turn the story around for the BJP and also mobilised Hindu voters across suburban and rural Bengal, observes Pal. 

With every by election in West Bengal since 2016, the BJP has gained in vote shares at the cost of the Left front. This vote shift peaked in the 2019 Lok Sabha election with the BJP winning 18 out of 42 seats. The BJP’s vote share shot from 10% in 2016 to over 40% in 2019, with the Left’s vote share declining from 27% to 7.5%, the Congress’s share collapsing by 7% and the TMC falling by 2%. In numbers, roughly 1 crore voters seem to have shifted their allegiance from the Left towards the BJP. 

Dibyojyoti Basu, a senior journalist, opines that the main reason for the BJP’s rise in Bengal is the tyrannical nature of the Mamata Banerjee government. “Extortion and Chanda Raj are back with a bang in Bengal, much to the consternation of businessmen, commoners and the overall hoi polloi. People are disgusted with the misrule. Thus the cry for change,” he says. 

TMC’S MINORITY APPEASEMENT POLITICS

Excessive minority appeasement by the TMC has also driven the Hindu voters away from it and towards the BJP. Once in power, Mamata Banerjee rolled out several Muslim-specific policies such as granting an allowance or stipend to imams and muezzins, extending scholarships to Muslim students of Class I to X, offering reservation to Muslim OBCs, banning the telecast of a drama series by controversial author Taslima Nasrin on the demand of conservative Muslim clerics, and making Urdu the second official language in districts where the Urdu-speaking population was more than 10%.

The Mamata government also gave a grant of Rs 300 crore to the Aaliah University, which was started during the Left front’s rule, and constructed special hostels for Muslim girls in districts.

Additionally, Mamata Banerjee increased the number of tickets given to Muslims in the Bengal Assembly elections. She covered her head and attended prayers in mosques, mixed Arabic words with Bangla in public meetings, roped in influential urbane Urdu-speaking Muslims and also gave more weightage to Urdu-speaking Muslims in her cabinet as compared to the previous Left government.

This kind of blatant appeasement of minorities has not augured well with most Bengali Hindus. Dibyojyoti Basu adds, “For the sake of Muharram processions the Mamata government postponed the Durga Puja immersion ceremony. The chief minister had also in the recent past objected to Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal.”

Dr Jayanta Gupta, a renowned gynaecologist in Kolkata, says that the TMC has resorted to minority appeasement to expand its vote base without any particular vision for the overall development of the state. The dole-outs have multiplied in 2021 keeping the election in mind, with Maa Canteen serving egg curry and rice for Rs 5, the Swasthya Saathi Card that promises treatment at government and private hospitals at shockingly unrealistic subsidies (no wonder the card is being turned down by most hospitals), financial grants to “paara” clubs (local clubs) working under the TMC banner at the expense of taxpayers’ money, etc.

Rampant corruption unleashed by the ruling party and widespread unemployment are also part of the cancer that is rapidly eroding Bengali society and unabashedly exposing the can of worms that the TMC has opened, resulting in the Bengalis’ patience wearing thin. The citizens of this state are now looking for change and the BJP with its pragmatic vision and nationalistic tone is increasingly finding a place among the masses, Gupta says. 

What further adds to the BJP’s armoury is rampant corruption and widespread unemployment in the state, along with the widespread anger among the Matua community for being stateless and homeless in India for so many decades. The recently passed Citizenship Bill actually fulfils the Matua demand and hence gives the BJP a strong support base in the region. To add to Mamata’s worry is growing claimants for Muslim votes in the state—from AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi to the Indian Secular Front is backed by Islamic cleric Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui.

CONCLUSION

If several opinion polls are to be believed, it will be a neck-and-neck contest between the TMC and the BJP. It is already showing signs of going down to the wires for both the camps. It remains to be seen how the BJP will further galvanise public opinion against the ruling regime, now that the CBI enquiry into various scams has engulfed the Chief Minister’s nephew, Abhishek Bandopadhyay, and his wife, Rujira Narula. 

The road to Nabanna still remains an uphill climb for the BJP because the steepest peaks will unravel themselves now that the election schedule has been announced by the Election Commission. 

The writer is founder and editor-in-chief of Tribe Tomorrow Network. The views expressed are personal.

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PM MODI’S UNRELENTING FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

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

Sanju Verma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FIVE YOUNG LEADERS SHARE THEIR VISION FOR INDIA AND ITS FUTURE

NewsX was recently joined by five young leaders from Global Youth India who expressed their views, vision and goals towards the country.

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Five young leaders from Global Youth India joined NewsX for a special interview which was titled, ‘What They Think: Youth Vision and Leadership in India’. These young emerging leaders talked of their expectations, hope and vision for the country.

The first panellist was Jyotismita Khataniar, an undergraduate student of sociology at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. She is a fierce feminist and has a keen interest in European and South Asian politics and different forms of humanitarian issues revolving around the division. She is the co-founder of ‘Feel to Heal’ mental health forum and the president of Sri Venkateswara College Chapter-Global Youth. “The Youth can take the right action only when they are in the right headspace,” she said.

Talking about her forum and the main focus of the same, Jyotismita said, “The youth can take the right action by being in the right headspace. We can be change-makers and rather than being a liability, we can be essential assets of the country only when we have the access to proper healthcare. I want to make this forum as intersectional as possible so that people coming from different backgrounds can feel inclusive and realize that they are being heard and understood.”

On a concluding note, Jyotismita shared a message of belief and hope. ‘’I believe that ‘little act of kindness’ goes a long way and kindness is one of the most important traits that a human can have and develop,” she said.

Next was Ashraf Nehal, a third-year student at the University of Delhi who has been writing on Politics and International Politics. He is also a Parliamentary Researcher with the AICC and is also a Research Associate with Red Lantern Analytica whereby he is researching China. As a policy enthusiast, he believes that the government must follow a policy-centred approach rather than a political one. He joined Global Youth during his 2nd year and has been serving as the Deputy Chairperson of the Brazil Forum.

When asked about the challenges faced by India and how they can be addressed, Ashraf commented, “Youth today is not very much aware of the policies, be it international or domestic, although we have youths who are interested in politics. I have been working with all the national political parties but into the policy cell. I myself frame the parliamentary question and briefs but there exists an age gap as I cannot put in my opinion there. We need to be aware of the point of policy. We have zero representation of the youth in the United Nations and Parliament. In the United Nations, there is only one post for the youth that also a virtual presence, but I do not see any action taking place there. Same thing goes for Parliament and we need our weightage to be there.”

Ashraf’s idea of changing the world is based on the belief of youth participation, be it in international or domestic policies. “Global Youth has been very instrumental here as it is us who are dealing with the Ambassadors, Commissioners and the Embassy.” When asked about where he sees himself in the next 10-15 years, he commented, “I will be guiding others as I have been guided in the Global Youth”.

The third panellist for the session was Sehaj Malhotra, a second-year student of Political Science at Lady Shri Ram College for the University of Delhi. She truly believes in the power of young people who can cohesively shape a better world, with wide-ranging interests in human rights law, gender justice, sustainable development and social entrepreneurship, she strives to create an equal and inclusive space for all. When asked if there is an issue she sees around her that she’d like to fix and resolve, she said, “There are a lot of problems that persist and require addressing timely, but one specific thing which I have noticed during the pandemic is the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on work culture on the Indian youth.”

She went on to explain the solution to the mentioned problem: “I feel there is a partnership and cooperation that is required, be a partnership with government, be it a public-private partnership which is required to invest and to encourage aspects like youth entrepreneurship and India as a country requires more skilling when it comes to youth, the right kind of skills, the right kind of training, which integrates us properly into the job market.”

The fourth panellist was Kavya Uniyal, an undergraduate student at Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, majoring in History and Political Science. Hailing from Uttrakhand, she is an advocate of the rights of the LGBTQ Community. Talking about joining the Global youth and her experience so far with the organisation, she said: “It was in the pandemic that I decided to channelise my energy in the right direction and do something productive. I got to know about Global Youth from a few friends of mine and decided to join. I was recruited in the International Legal Council and I currently serve as the events head at the organisation.”

On the challenges and issues that prevail in the country, Kavya said, “I have always been a firm believer that human beings are an heir to the legacy of dignity and self-worth and there can’t be any compromise when it comes to human dignity. However, there are people coming from certain section especially the LGTBQ community who have been denied the same.”

Quoting Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, she said, “Right to life and liberty is not created by the Constitution rather it is recognised by the Constitution and hence is an inalienable natural right.” She further brought into light the recent judgement by the Delhi High Court wherein the honourable court ruled that same sex marriages can’t happen between heterosexual people.

“The LGBTQ community and the members have been fighting over this legislation as the Centre has made its stance very clear and has vehemently opposed the idea, stating that marriage is a union between a biological male and biological female. I think the decision is problematic because we are implying that heterosexual people who have difficulty in conceiving a child will be denied the right to marry whoever they want to. I think it’s high time that we should let people be.”

The fifth panellist was Nandiinii Singh, an undergraduate student studying political science at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She serves as the chairperson of the India-UK Youth Forum, Global Youth. She has been keenly observing the education sector and the impact of the relevant policies, particularly in navigating the gap between Indian education and employment. She started by sharing her journey with Global Youth and said. “It began in 2019 in my first year of college.”

When asked about a problem that is close to her heart and that she hoped to fix, she responded, “Something that I have been studying, researching and closely following especially during the pandemic is the disconnect that I have sensed between the education and the employment sectors, there is a definite mismatch between what the formal education system is equipping with and the needs of employability and the focus.”

“In the next five to 10 years I definitely see myself dedicatedly working towards the cause I just highlighted, and that I think would be in the public service field,” she added.

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A BIG THUMBS-UP TO PM MODI’S SOFT POWER DIPLOMACY

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the economic crisis, amid a raging pandemic, has bolstered India’s image as a promising economic power, a worthy alternative to China and an attractive destination for foreign investment.

Vishwas Pathak

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Covid-19 has brought inexplicable changes on every possible front across the globe. This pandemic brought everything to a standstill, but now establishment in every corner of the world are in pursuit of a successful revival, with the only desire of getting back on its feet. 

In this process, mere choice and need are not enough to get what is desired. With the changes in the global scenario, the priorities of all the countries have changed too, along with the dynamics of their investments. However, at a time when even developed countries are struggling to get back on their feet in terms of their economy, India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is continuing to witness an optimistic upwards trend in the calculations of economic progress.

Despite reservations about economic revival, the people of this nation had collectively and completely supported the lockdown. In the initial phase of the lockdown, they were on the same page as the government, which prioritized the health of the citizens over the economy.

What then came as a relief to citizens and industrialists were the packages announced by the Prime Minister under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan. These developments helped create a positive perception about the government which in a way managed to do well both on the economic as well as the health fronts.

While the initiatives of the government were appreciated domestically, they were also closely observed internationally. The manner in which India handled the Covid situation, at the same time initiating policies for economic revival, has been perceived as a successful model of governance by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is being appreciated across the globe. This has helped India enhance its reputation for goodwill at the international level.

Ever since Narendra Modi took charge as the Prime Minister, he has been keenly focusing on projecting internal strengths, such as positive economic growth, a robust domestic demand, a young workforce, economic and social reforms and, most importantly, a stable and dynamic government, to attract foreign investments. If the overview of this positive approach of global investors towards India is to be analysed, a consistent 7%-plus economic growth along with the needed improvisations of the nation’s macro fundamentals has made India a preferred choice for FDI. Besides, the ambitious economic reforms brought in by the Modi government have ensured that foreign investors view India as a destination for long term investment.

With changes in the global trend of investments due to Covid-19, India verily enjoys a brighter spot vis-à-vis China. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected an impressive 12.5% growth rate for India in 2021, which is stronger than that of China. This also makes India the only major economy to have a positive double digit growth rate last year during the pandemic. Similarly, Moodys, World Bank and the Reserve Bank of India have also revised their estimates and projected impressive growth.

At a stage where the pandemic is yet to be defeated and cases are accelerating around the world, India stands tall amongst 16 global economies in comparison. India, with a multitude of opportunities and potential, has over the last few years developed tremendous goodwill among the global economic powers as well as with neighbouring countries. In comparison, with its aggressive and dominating policies, China is gradually losing the influence it had in the recent past. Simultaneously, an international union of inclusive economies is forming, which will lead inevitably to further isolation of China.

The Quad, a four-nation alliance of India, Australia, the US and Japan, that was established in 2007, has maintained a low profile for a very long time. However, the exhibition of increasing bonhomie among the four nations has most certainly irked Beijing and challenged its ambitions. This Quad’s advocacy of “free and fair” Indo-Pacific trade is nothing but a clear signal cautioning China. In the world of free trade, assertion and dominance like China’s is most uncalled for. However, the protagonists can only be those whose foundations happen to be inclusive like, in this case, India.

At a time when global growth is expected to moderate to 3.3% over the medium term, India’s growth projection is an assurance to its people and industrial sector that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of achieving a $5 trillion economy is going to be a reality soon. While this looks ambitious, Narendra Modi has proved that with proper planning and execution, nothing is unachievable. And the IMF’s projection of economic growth echoes the same possibility.

With India’s image of inclusivity along with a well thought out plan and encouraging ease of doing business, the Modi government has ensured that we will soon be one of the most powerful economies in the world. We have now successfully painted an image of ourselves as a peace-loving business-friendly country with a plethora of opportunities, essentially owing to our exponential market potential along with a young workforce. Our relaxations in FDI along with our evolving technological and innovation capabilities only compliment our welcoming and accepting nature.

The pandemic has created an anti-China sentiment across the globe. There was a time when China’s foothold in the manufacturing sector in India appeared undisputed. However, the change in this is now evident with India emerging as a better alternative, by choice and not compulsion. Many conglomerates, particularly from China, have moved their manufacturing operations from China to India in the recent past. 

This has been possible precisely because the nation, under the efficiency and wisdom of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, believes in democratic leadership and not dictatorship in terms of economic operations. Propelled by the economic reforms in 1991, the Modi government has only strengthened its roots through various financial, socio-economic and agricultural reforms.

India as a country has never believed in the policy of expansionism like China. Instead we have always believed in “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies are a reflection of the same. 

On the basis of such strong indicators of a robust economy and its colossal opportunities, the world has verily given a big thumbs-up for Modi’s soft power diplomacy.

The author is Media Head, BJP Maharashtra. The views expressed are personal.

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WHEN BUDDING STARTUPS SHARE INNOVATIVE IDEAS WITH PANELLISTS

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In an invigorating session with NewsX, Supreme Incubator, a startup venture platform founded by Disha Singla and Tanvi Singla, presented a panel discussion, ‘Demo Day by Supreme Incubator’, wherein five budding startup companies presented their ideas and vision in the presence of an exemplary panel which consisted of business and entrepreneurial stalwarts who were also esteemed investors.

Supreme Incubator aims toward helping early age startups, especially those who are beyond the metropolitan areas and helping them build strong foundations from a very early stage and accelerate their growth. They hand-picked startups from a variety of companies across the country through a six-month-long program and provided them with a structural support system involving dedicated mental support, opportunities, and infrastructure. Supreme Incubator has been serving solutions for the young startups, creating a startup ecosystem, and helping them adapt to this new normal.

A demo day is an event that culminates this cohort program where companies, which are successfully graduated, can come to this platform to pitch to this panel of investors, who are successful entrepreneurs and capital venturists in their own right, to showcase their business idea and what does their product or company represents.

The panel constituted of some of the industry leaders who have actively contributed to the startup ecosystem and helped it to be stronger than ever. The panellists included Ashwin Srivastava, an IIT Bombay Alumni, Global Investor, VC/PE FIRM Founder, Government Advisor; Ashish Taneja, Partner at growX Ventures; Sandro Stephen, Regional Head, North India Operations, and Indian Angel Network; and Kshitij Shah, Principal, 3one4 Capital. Disha and Tanvi were also present while their finalised startup teams gave presentations to potential investors.

On an introductory note, Tanvi talked about Supreme Incubator and shared her experience of working with these young startups and how incredibly talented are the teams of different startups. The five startups pitched to the investors, followed by a Q&A session from the panellists and NewsX viewers.

The startups were: 

Startup 1: Bigdipper Exploration Space Technologies – Abhinesh Srivastava, CEO

Startup 2: TalkEng – Er. Subhra Deb, Founder & CEO, Sowarjit Baidy, Co-Founder & CEO, Sushmita Bhowmik, Co-Founder & CPRO, Subhendu Datta, Co-Founder & COO, and Shantanu Modak, Co-Founder & CMO

Startup 3: SoDo – Gaurav Sood, Founder & CEO

Startup 4: Edgenus – Jalaj Garg, Founder & CEO, and Priyansh Mahajan, Co-Founder & COO

Startup 5: Hyoristic Innovations- Hari Shankar Lal, Founder & CEO

Abhinesh made the first pitch whose startup- Bigdipper Exploration Space Technologies aims toward enabling access to space resources. Talking about the idea, he underlined that their goal is to develop cutting-edge robots for lunar and deep space missions which would further enable access to space resources that will have a life-changing impact on humanity. In the presentation, Abhinesh briefly described the roadmap of the company, the opportunities that await us in space technology, and the future goals of the company. “With 2.5 crore capital, we will be able to get the product ready by the end of next year,” he said.

The second startup to make their pitch was TalkEng, which is an ed-tech startup, aiming to revolutionise the process of learning any language, especially English. The team cited some relevant data that is obstructing young people to take up jobs, particularly in the corporate sector. They talked about their innovative idea of following a scientific approach to pave the way for English learners, citing the three crucial elements which are required to learn and achieve fluency in any language, that is Listen-Observe-Speak.

The third startup that gave the presentation was SoDo, founded by Gaurav, which is an on-demand B2B and B2C Hyperlocal platform with an intent to provide on-demand assured services for IT firms and businesses. Talking about the idea behind his company, he said, “Our company will help the clients in order creation wherein we will provide them freelancers, IT firms, and find out the best service to take depending upon their requirements to get their work done smoothly.” Gaurav underlined the post-funding predictions were stated to be at about 60 lakh wherein the major chunk would go in marketing.

The fourth presentation was given by Edgenus, founded by Jalaj, which is a one-stop destination to help you take a step ahead in your artistic passion. He asserted three major problems which might stop someone to discover and pursue arts—lack of learning opportunities, community exposure, and structured guidance in the artistic arena. The company aims to address such concerns through methods that include self-assessment, goal realisation to domain understanding, skill-building by providing the users with relevant informative content, and networking opportunities with the artists across the country.

The fifth and final startup that gave the presentation was Hyoristic Innovations. Introducing his idea to the panel, Hari stated that they aim to build high-tech solutions to mitigate space debris, making it safe for space explorations. He talked about the growing threat of space debris through his visual presentation and the current problems we are facing in that area. Hari said, “We plan to capture the eighth hidden device in the de-orbit using the ADR technique and intend to fill the gap in the debris through our services. Our service area includes ADR (Active Debris Removal) and mapping.”

On a concluding note, Disha talked about the plan ahead and stated that these startups have been an active part of the cohort. She added that the major focus would be to connect them with industry experts.

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ITV NETWORK COMMITS RS 100 CR TV SPACE FOR ROTARY RAHAT’S HEALTH MISSION

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On its mission to bring an effective change in India, Rotary Rahat is all set to roll out the world’s biggest health mission from July 2021. Led by a team of committed Rotarians all across the world, the mission will cover all of India. NewsX recently organised a special public service broadcast to spread awareness about the initiative, which was joined by Shekhar Mehta, incoming Rotary International president of 2021-22, Dr Naresh Trehan, Padma Bhushan and chairman of Medanta, Vivek Tankha, Member of Parliament and Rotarian himself, and Kartikeya Sharma, founder of ITV Network. 

In his opening remarks, Mehta highlighted the commendable work done by Rotary International in the past and said, “Rotary has been involved in many things and the biggest has been polio eradication. Over the years, the medical mission has become an important part of our work. In India, we do large camps with some of the best doctors offering their services. Various health check-ups are done, including surgeries if required. Rotary has an advantage because of its entire network. We have two lakh people whose motto is to serve the people in fields such as education, health, water, and sanitation. In the last ten years, we have done 25,000 paediatric heart surgeries and we want to do 35,000 heart surgeries for children.”

Dr Trehan said, “It is a privilege to be a part of an organisation like Rotary, which treats 50,000 people for free. Tankha has been very dedicated to the Rahat mission. I feel it is a worthwhile thing to do. In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted life in many ways, where people who need care have not been able to have access due to the fear of movement. The purpose of these camps is to detect morbidity and guide those people for the future. It has become more complex as many people have had Covid-19 and have already suffered the infection and the side effects are carried on, so I think this kind of camp takes into the huge population into consideration and the fact that those who desperately need help and are somehow unable to access it. We examine, diagnose and then treat them, this is the mission of the camps that are held around the country. Medanta will be backing it and we will be backing it more vigorously.”

He emphasised the points that need to be kept in mind while organising such camps, “The main concern is the safety of the personnel and the people who come to attend the camp. In this Covid-19 era, this has created a challenge. We will have to carefully plan our camps. It is going to be more time consuming and even more difficult to get the people. They have to be screened first for what they came to the camp for. Suppose people are in a separate situation, we will have to establish separate areas so all these things will have to be planned. If we go by the estimates of our vaccination drive, the government is expanding it with time. A large number of people who come to the camp are vaccinated and have completed their two doses of vaccination, and hopefully, they will develop immunity. A lot of the population has been covered by Ayushmann and that entitles them to treatment everywhere. All the members of the providers, healthcare providers who sign up for the scheme will be able to participate. The amount of money required to accomplish the mission and our million objectives are achievable now. We need connections everywhere. The way the population is covered by the Gold Card, the Ayushmann Card, we will have to recruit diagnostics and treatment wherever they need it. There may not be facilities in Kashmir itself, which means like us, institutions that are participating will help, so every speciality will be covered. We are ready to link with NGOs that are identifying people who cannot otherwise get access to healthcare.”

When asked the motto behind these camps, Tankha said, “In 2019, we had one lakh patients but the whole administration was with us. Thousands of surgeries took place. I remember doctors performing surgeries on those tribal women who otherwise may not have got a chance to live. When you see a leader like Shekhar who is willing to take mega projects it is all the more motivational and encouraging. We have 38 districts and 38 governors, Rotarians in all parts of India and each of them wanting to work. What could be a better situation than to serve the people of India? You are reaching healthcare to the unreached. We send patients to top hospitals.” 

Narrating his experience with Rotary, Kartikeya Sharma said, “I was part of the 2019 Rahat camp and saw what was happening. It was mind-boggling and motivated us at ITV Foundation as well to collaborate and take it to the furthest. Everything about Rotary is massive and what rotary as an organisation has been doing is fantastic. Rahat is a fantastic concept and it has reached millions of people in the last decade. When we spoke about it, I wanted to be a part of this organisation with names such as Medanta and Dr Trehan associated with it and the initiatives taken by the civil society which make healthcare possibilities happen.” He further committed Rs 100 crore worth of TV space across the ITV network to promote and take the mission to the farthest parts of the country over the next year.

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MAHARASHTRA BACK TO SQUARE ONE WITH SECOND LOCKDOWN

The state government’s decision to impose another lockdown is not a wise one since the losses would outweigh the benefits. What the state needs to do instead is ramp up its health infrastructure and Covid-19 testing, while letting citizens lead normal lives.

Shweta Shalini

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Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday announced a lockdown for 15 days, taking the state back to square one. The state administration seems to have accepted defeat in the fight against Covid-19 and chosen the method of inaction.

Throughout the pandemic, Maharashtra has been the worst performer consistently. Now, with a disproportionately high fatality rate, the statewide implementation of Section 144, which will paralyse daily life, is another setback for its citizens. For a state which boasts of many urbanized centres, it has failed miserably in curbing the surge in infections and put pressure on its healthcare system. 

With 60,212 fresh cases, the number of active cases in Maharashtra stands at 593,042. Disturbing reports have begun to emerge from various parts of the state, from hospitals looting patients to a lack of beds resulting in deaths. The unavailability of Remdesivir has led to hoarding. Inadequate oxygen supply has been a cause of concern. People running from pillar to post to secure hospital beds, medicines and ventilator facilities has turned it into a tragedy on a mass scale. How did Maharashtra end up in such a precarious position while Delhi is holding on despite facing a surge too?

Inadequate testing and contact tracing by the government of Maharashtra, combined with a lax attitude, have led to Covid cases shooting through the roof. The Covid positivity rate has reached the dangerous threshold of 29%. Out of the 2.20 lakh tests done, approximately 63,000 have turned out to be positive cases, which indicates an appalling state of affairs. Overall, there have been 34 lakh cases out of 2.20 crore tests.

The positivity statistics in Maharashtra are way ahead of the all-India average of 5%. Meanwhile, Delhi, despite a high density of population, has a positivity rate which is not over the national average. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are at 2% and 1%, respectively. Even a relatively urbanised and large state like Tamil Nadu has held its own with an impressive 6%.

Given the high occurrence of the infection in Maharashtra, evident from such a high positivity rate, there is an urgent need to ramp up testing. The state cannot fight Covid unless the true extent of the spread is known. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his discussion with Chief Ministers has already sought increased testing along with widespread vaccination as a sustainable tool to fight the virus.

Maharashtra with its imposition of another lockdown is taking a step backwards. Last year’s experience has taught us that lockdowns are not a permanent or sustainable solution, but merely the postponing of the inevitable. The need of the hour for the state is to ramp up infrastructure and increasing testing, while letting normal life run as usual, until the positivity rates are in a comfortable position. This way the state may surely enter the list of badly hit Covid-infected states, but will succeed in saving lives by timely interventions.

The steep fall in the mortality rate in Maharashtra may either mean a sign of hope or be considered a result of undercounting due to a lack of reporting. Whatever the case, it is getting increasingly clearer that the economic costs of a lockdown far exceed the supposed benefits.

Unlike the previous year when the scientific community’s knowledge of the virus was limited, the world is better off today, especially with vaccines available in varying degrees of effectiveness. The original lockdown served its purpose of buying time and letting India manufacture a lot of medical items like PPE kits, which aided the fight initially and made the lockdown worthwhile. But now, we have reached a point where a lockdown will lead to diminishing returns in terms of the fight against Covid-19.

The author is a BJP spokesperson and former executive director of the Maharashtra Village Social Transformation Foundation. The views expressed are personal.

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