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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NCPCR going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse in Chandigarh

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The National Commission For Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is going to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse. On 26 July 2021, NCPCR is going to instruct Chandigarh Administration to utilise all mediums to check beggars’ kids for substance abuse using medical tests in case required. This whole program would be managed under the recently launched Joint Action Plan (JAP), in which the Narcotics Control Bureau, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education are actively involved as stakeholders. NCPCR is going to start such initiatives under JAP across India.

NCPCR has identified 272 such vulnerable districts across the nation where State stakeholders would extensively work on Children who are substance abused and would wean away drugs from their lives while adopting various mediums. A recent study by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment identified 4.6 lakh children in the country who are addicted to inhalants, the only category of substance in which the prevalence was higher among children than among adults. The five states with the highest prevalence of inhalant abuse among children were Uttar Pradesh (94,000 children), Madhya Pradesh (50,000 children), Maharashtra (40,000 children), Delhi (38,000 children), and Haryana (35,000 children).

Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson of NCPCR told The Daily Guardian, “We introduced to have exclusive De-addiction and Rehabilitation Facilities for Children in 272 Vulnerable Districts. The MoSJE shall expedite the process to establish exclusive de-addiction facilities meant for children. However, if there are any constraints or lack of space, a separate portion in the existing facility has to be identified and partitioned for the children. Also, there has to be a provision of separate toilets; and safety and security of children have to be ensured.”

“The action plan mandates that ‘Prahari Clubs’’ be set up in schools in collaboration with Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti, in which children will discuss issues related to drug abuse and become monitors of the abuse,” he added.

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TECHNOLOGY WILL BE A KEY PART OF FASHION INDUSTRY’S GROWTH: SUNAINA KWATRA

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra spoke to NewsX India A-List about doing business during the pandemic, the impact of technology in the fashion industry and more. Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years of work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in the Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omnichannel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for the brand.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an international upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in the Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in line with the brand vision and improved productivity across the network. When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. While growing up my father always said that travel is the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in five continents. This allows me to be sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development, and marketing allow me to be detail-oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omnichannel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during the pandemic had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localities, fulfilment centres or direct consumers. E-commerce has been a key to successful businesses in the pandemic. Businesses had to be agile and responsive to different means of reaching consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of the pandemic, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Opting for materials that are good for the environment as well as good for us: non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and the successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewellery, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitisation is the key to the success and supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give to business owners in India as we come out of second Covid-19 wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategise and further activate their omnichannels, integrate, and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare them for the future.

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Time out: Yoga asanas amid busy work meetings

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Work from home means longer working hours, with more emails and even more work meetings. Attending those long back to back video calls can be boring, hectic, and it definitely makes your body stiff and sore due to long sitting hours at the work desk. It also affects your focus and productivity. Obviously, how can one properly concentrate while in pain? However, a little movement and stretching in between busy work meetings can save you from unwanted mind and body stress.

On International Self-Care Day, let’s decide to prioritise a healthy lifestyle amid busy schedules. 

Try these simple yoga asanas that you can do while sitting on your chair or while standing in between breaks:

1. GARUDASANA

This asana can be done while sitting on a chair or while standing. It is a great shoulder and upper back opener. It also works towards removing stiffness from the lower body as well. Remember to repeat this asana on both sides.

STEPS

· Sit up tall on the chair with your spine erect and feet flat on the floor 

· Bring both your hands together, elbows touching each other. Take the right arm around the left and bring it around so both palms are facing each other

· Lift your right leg and place it over your left thigh, tucking your right toes around the left calf

· Gaze straight and breathe normally. Remove the bind to come out of the pose

· Repeat on the other side 

2. SITTING SIDE BENDS 

Sitting at the desk for a long time can make the upper body very stiff. Hence, it is important to engage in some simple movements like side bends.

This pose can also be performed while sitting on a chair or hile standing.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight and feet flat on the ground

· Inhale, raise both your arms up in the air and palms facing each other 

· As you exhale, take your right arm over your head, stretching it over to the left

· Simultaneously, bring your left arm down to the right side

· Breathe normally, feeling the stretch in your right-hand side of the body

· Hold this pose for 30 seconds

· Repeat on the other side 

3. TADASANA 

This is one of the most simple and effective poses. It is beneficial for overall health. It helps with aligning body posture, relieves back pain, increases focus, and balance.

STEPS

· Stand straight on the floor and keep a small gap between your feet

· Inhale and raise both your arms

· Interlock your fingers and stretch your arms upwards

· Now come on your toes, raising your heels 

· Feel the stretch in the sides of your body and be in this pose for a few seconds

· Release your arms and come down on your heels

4.  SHOULDER OPENER

This is an excellent stretch for the shoulders as well as the upper back. This stretch not only helps with stiff shoulders but also calms the mind as you fold forward.

STEPS

· Sit comfortably on the chair with your feet flat on the floor

· Take your arms behind your back, interlacing your fingers 

· Bend your torso forward, bringing your hands over your head, straightening it as much as possible

· You can place your head on your lap if that’s comfortable or else, just gaze towards the floor 

· Be gentle and know your limit 

Remember to do deep breathing during these asanas. It will help you relax and destress. Take out at least a few minutes every day to rejuvenate and recharge yourself.

The writer is a Yoga Instructor at SARVA.

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WORLD ORDER AND INDIA: NEGOTIATING THUCYDIDES TRAP & GREAT CONVERGENCE

Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan

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Harvard Professor Graham Alison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ and Geneva School of Economics Professor Richard Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ are two dominant geopolitical perspectives today that guide and capture current global geopolitical transitions and turbulence of our times. Thucydides Trap and Great Convergence are recent propositions. There is, however, a very interesting third perspective too that was prophesied back in 1940s by former Director of London School of Economics, Sir Halford John Mackinder. 

Mackinder’s perspective centred around the imagination and theoretical construct of China and India rising to world centre stage. Back in 1943, Mackinder, writing the last article of his life, prophesied that “the Monsoon Lands of India and China holding a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilisation will grow to prosperity and balance the remaining great geographical regions.” Mackinder further added, “They will then balance the other thousand million who live between the Missouri (River in the USA) and the Yenisei (Russian River).  A balanced globe of human beings, and happy, because balanced and thus free.” In the midst of the World War II, Mackinder wrote this piece at the request of Foreign Policy magazine and imagined a great geopolitical turning point emerging from the Asian highlands where China and India shall hold and define the thread of international geopolitical balance. 

After over 75 years of Mackinder’s hypothesis, while China’s rise has greatly ruptured the global power balance and distorted world order today, the rise of India into the world stage offers an alternative narrative. Away from the communist jingoism and carefully balanced from Western political prescriptions, India, as Mackinder imagined, has indeed emerged as the largest democratic polity in the world with a world view that is entirely native of India and flows from the civilisational values of the subcontinent while being organic in character and symbiotic with larger aspirations of the world.

RISING MULTIPLEX WORLD ORDER

Bretton Woods system is under great stress today symbolising a visible decline of American eminence in international affairs. The United Nations — the largest organ of Bretton Woods — is unable to respond to conflict situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Crimea, South China Sea dispute, terrorism, and radicalism issues. Demand for UN reform is quite rightfully growing. Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) emerging as new frontiers of conflict, newer security alignments and counter alignments like QUAD, joint military exercises like Malabar and MILAN, Sea Guardian et al are new strategic security experimentations. Given Chinese infrastructure investments in several Island Chain countries, long-neglected Island nations have suddenly emerged as critical investment destinations and phenomena of Island shopping by big powers. 

Bretton Woods financial architecture is also under stress. BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are seen as alternatives to World Bank. While the dollarised world economy is threatened by the Eurozone, cryptocurrencies, and the Chinese digital Yuan, the international trade regime is vacillating between trade liberalism and aspiration for protectionism. New players and economic clusters demanding and competing for power and influence, it’s new world order of pluralism and multipolarity which Professor Amitav Acharya captures as phenomena of multiplex world order. While the political analysts from Robert Keohane to Joseph Nye, and Kishore Mahbubani et al are largely in agreement with the multiplex world order hypothesis, economists have far too matured explanations of this change and the change drivers. 

GREAT CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS

‘Thucydides Trap’ sensitises all of us of a visible war. Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ hypothesis on the other hand squarely simplifies this puzzle. Baldwin argues that a fundamental shift in the world’s mode of production has occurred leading to the emergence of wealth in many parts of the world — a critical structural shift. Baldwin calls it as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where North American and Western European capital has integrated with cheap labour in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Vietnam et al. The net result — the erstwhile capitalist block is rendered de-industrialised and at their cost and expense, several countries of the world have become wealthier and correspondingly aspirational too. Knowledge economy and its critical arsenals like AI, algorithm, big data, digital currency, and decision tree et al have become new factors of production. 

While China took great advantage of this shifting mode of production to build the Chinese economic power and its corresponding geopolitical influence and ambition, several other countries like India, East Asian countries, Brazil, and Mexico et al also prospered as growing economic powers. Goldman Sachs former Chairman Jim O’Neill spotted this transition and coined the BRIC acronym in 2001. Baldwin called this a phenomenon of ‘Great Convergence’ that led to the pluralisation of the wealth of the world which was earlier limited to industrialised G-7 countries only. Several cluster economies like BRICS, ASEAN, and EU et al also emerged as sovereign country clubs to share the benefit of this change and better negotiate their fortune and influence.   

INDIA AS A SWING STATE

Meanwhile, Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman’s hypothesis of ‘Global Swing States’ is yet another explanation that captures countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey as the possible Swing States of the world and its transition. Global Swing States, as Fontaine and Kliman would see, are those nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge or gateways of multiple regions, and embrace democratic governments at home. They are increasingly active, aspirational, and desire changes in the existing international order. They greatly represent the aspirations of the developing countries that were systematically marginalised in the Bretton Woods arrangement.

DOES INDIA OFFER THE WAY?

India, in many ways, offers a very proactive and positive way forward towards a smooth transition of international order. In spite of being a nuclear power, India traditionally has downplayed military adventurism or musclemanship in foreign policy practice and choices. As a country of civilisational value order, India champions participatory and inclusive international governance order. While India’s democratic polity is an assured global value, as a critical representative of developing countries’ aspirations, India symbolises consensus than conflict. Since 1947, India has always advocated respect for territorial sovereignty for all nations and demanded strategic autonomy for itself in foreign policy choices. As the second-largest global market, India boasts of a huge labour force and attracts much more global interest than all other Swing States put together. In the Indo-Pacific Sea lanes, India talks of rule-based governance and ‘security and growth for all’ — a cooperative development module than predatory hegemony. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, India acted as a benevolent vaccines supplier than monopolising or profiting out of the crisis. 

India characteristically holds a ‘goodwill value’ which is beneficial to the world at large. While Mackinder imaginatively predicted the rise of China, he was equally apprehensive of the rise of ‘Yellow Barbarian’ and anticipated that the rise of India shall beneficially balance the world order. Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India, undoubtedly, holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.

Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus and serves as a Distinguished Fellow, Political Economy at Centre for Public Policy (CPPR), Kerala.

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Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra advises on changing modes of doing business in pandemic

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Sunaina Kwatra

Fashion & lifestyle leader Sunaina Kwatra speaks exclusively to NewsX India A-List on a host of issues including doing business during the pandemic, impact of technology in fashion industry and the future of luxury inc.

Sunaina has proven expertise in international retail management, brand positioning, and turnaround execution. She has almost 20 years work experience, the majority of which has been leading fashion brands at the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesey (LVMH) group in Asia Pacific. Sunaina began her career as an entrepreneur in the homeware and lifestyle industry working with retailers in the United States including Barneys New York and Pottery Barn. She pivoted into luxury fashion brand management after completing her MBA and has held strategic positions to expand and reposition brands within LVMH’s Asia Pacific portfolio.

In her most recent role, Sunaina was the country head of Louis Vuitton in India and legal director for all operations in the country. She was responsible for developing and expanding Louis Vuitton’s omni-channel retail operations, people and brand equity in this high growth market. She successfully led her team to achieve the highest sales, client experience and brand growth that had ever been achieved for Louis Vuitton in India.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q. Congratulations on all you have achieved. Could you tell me more about your background and how your Indian roots brought you back to India?

A. I’m from Thailand. I am ethnically Indian but fourth generation, born and brought up in Thailand. I was very blessed to have an International upbringing. I have worked in five continents, travelled extensively. My last few roles have been within the LVMH group based out of Hong Kong.

My first role within the group was as the Regional Head of Asia Pacific for Emilio Pucci. In this role, I managed the entire scope of the brand’s direct retail business in Hong Kong and China as well as franchise, department store and multi-brand distribution in Asia Pacific. My next role within the LVMH group was as the Commercial Director for Givenchy to identify and execute growth strategies to maximise brand development and repositioning. In my tenure, I oversaw 61 locations, opened 24 stores in-line with brand vision and improved productivity across the network.

When they offered me the position to come back to India to amplify the Louis Vuitton business in India, I was thrilled at the opportunity and I am very proud of all we did to build the business and our team in India.

Q. What are the tools that have allowed you to succeed?

A. Growing up my father always said that travel was the best form of education. I had a very international education in Asia, Australia, and Europe and have worked in 5 continents. This allows me to sensitive to people and cultures while executing different strategies to grow businesses. I am a commercially driven leader and am passionate about people and delivering excellence. My general management and end-to-end experience overseeing teams, networks, finance, logistics, merchandising, client development and marketing allow me to be detail oriented yet see and set the big picture.

Q. What have we learned in retail during the pandemic?

A. The biggest learning is that we have to embrace e-commerce and the online experience. The word ‘omni-channel’ was a buzzword a decade ago. I think successful businesses during Covid had to integrate different methods of shopping available to consumers. You have had to expand the supply chain through localites, fulfillment centers or direct consumers. E-commerce has obviously a key to successful businesses in Covid. Businesses had to agile and responsive to different means of reaching the consumers. The lockdown has also led to less physical interaction with consumers. Brands have had to re-think the consumer experience and how they engage with clients. The big thing is how do we engage with clients in a number of different ways.

Q. How do you think technology will impact the fashion industry in the future?

A. Technology will be a key part of the growth of the fashion industry. Coming out of Covid, sustainable materials are important and a key focus for a lot of brands. Materials, that are not only good for the environment, but good for us being non-toxic and more breathable. We know that there are now going to be ways to bridge e-commerce and successful physical presence of stores. We can have VRs, augmented reality to help you try out clothing; jewelry, fashion and many brands have done it successfully. Just the engagement of technology and digitization is key to the success and the supply chain management. This is an exciting time for us and technology will enable future growth in retail.

Q. What advice would you give business owners in India as we come out of our second Covid wave?

A. I am sitting in the US right now and we are starting to see lines in retail stores again. People really want to embrace human connection. I would just like to say that there is hope and light. I hope that businesses now use this time to strategize and further activate their omni-channels, integrate and improve their e-commerce presence, engage with their communities on social media platforms and really use technology to enhance the supply chain and logistics to better prepare themselves for the future.

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Wanted to explore something other than film music: Sunidhi Chauhan

Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a candid conversation wherein she talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’, besides sharing her incredible journey.

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Singer Sunidhi Chauhan recently joined NewsX for a conversation as part of NewsX India’s special A-List series. She talked about her new single ‘Ye Ranjishein’ and also shared insights from her incredible singing journey. 

Sunidhi Chauhan began by telling her side of the story, answering why it took 20 years to launch her new single and said, “Yeah, I know it sounds weird, right? I didn’t want it to be that way. But actually film music just generally kept me busy. So I didn’t have the time to think about what I wanted to do other than film music. During this lockdown, I happen to sit down and think about, what is it that I want to say in my own song? Because film music will keep happening and I am a product of the film music and I love it but on the side, I did want to explore something different and I just met the right people at the right time. Which was during the lockdown and I’m happy that something productive has come out of it.”

When asked about her new song, she began by praising the music video’s director, Ranju Varghese and said, “The credit for the music video is totally our director. We shot in a barren land, there was nothing that you could see too far. I don’t know how he put all of that together on the table of the Edit and it just looks so brilliant right now. None of those things were there while we were shooting, except for some properties. There was nothing and he’s really brought it to life and done a fab job. I met Shruti Rane, who’s this amazing young composer and sings very well, through Gaurav Dasgupta, a friend of mine who I’ve worked with. He himself is a music composer and I have really liked singing for him. So I thought maybe he’s meeting me for a song that he has composed and Shruti is one of the singers he is introducing me to but when I got to know that it’s her song written by her as she’s a songwriter. I was blown away, she’s a very sweet cute little girl and I didn’t think a serious song was coming out of her. I was really taken aback and I complimented her and I was like, let’s do this song.”

She urged people to be more responsible in these difficult times and said, “Through the song, I’m sending all the good vibes, positivity, love and prayers. Of course, we are losing a lot of people and these are crazy times. I urge everyone to be more responsible, you’ve been doing great, but I think we need more because it has hit us for the second time now and this wave is even more dangerous. It’s almost airborne now, you have to be more responsible and take care of each other. And it just takes to wear a mask properly. That’s all.”

Speaking about how she managed with the obstacles she encountered last year, she said, “We were just grooming, mopping, and dishes at home, and nothing else. And a few songs here and there. Which were recorded from home for the movies. Because even movies were shut, nobody was really working, but whatever little was happening was this and then after that, when I started getting used to the new norm, which was staying at home and doing nothing and days would just pass by just OTT and housework and that’s all and of course, a kid to look after. Then finally I got some space for myself where I could think about the fact that I have to do something different other than music. I am a product of film music, of course, and I love it.”

“Thanks to the lockdown it did give me a little place where I could think about who I want to work with. Like I did a single with Shalmali recently, it’s an English song called here is beautiful. I did one song, One non-film song with Daboo Malik and he was the first one to actually approach me during that time for me to sing a non film song and I did that and that was such a humble attempt. We couldn’t even make a nice video out of it. We just shot some portions at home and just made a video but we received such great response so that kind of gave me a boost to keep walking in that direction. And now here I am with three songs out already and I’m very excited. I plan to do a lot more songs not from songs because that’s like a little different side of me which is coming solely from completely from heart,” She added.

She also shared her defining moments from her career and said, “I’ve been lucky to receive a lot of love and a trophy, of course, because I won that competition, which was produced by Lata ji. And I had participated in that show, because I wanted to see her once in my entire life and I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen. But luckily, I won the competition. And she was the one who gave me that trophy. So that was one moment which I can never forget. Of course, then my child who completely changed my life. Now I’m very happy about this new, independent space. So I think it’s a rebirth. I actually feel that.”

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