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Geopolitics in the time of Covid-19

The pandemic has made us realise that we are but a global village that is connected not only by trade and commerce but also shared health policies and common socio-cultural behaviour.

Dr A. Didar Singh

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It would appear that coronavirus is here to stay. It may be tackled as a pandemic one day, but certainly it will create a “new normal” for the world. Some earlier pandemics had a similar impact. As we look back in history, the Antonine Plague of 165-180 AD (which may have been smallpox or measles) killed approximately 5 million people, hastening the end of the Roman Empire.

After World War I, the Spanish Flu claimed at least 50 million lives (with about 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, infected) and triggered significant steps in global health governance such as the creation of the World Health Organization (WHO) and also led to economic distress in Asia, Europe and the US. Recovery thankfully was V-shaped, but some argue that it led eventually to the rise of Hitler. It also showed that the world is not really prepared to handle epidemics and therefore needed better coordination and cooperation. Similarly, more recent epidemics and pandemics caused by HIV (AIDS), SARS, H1N1 or the Ebola virus, support the view that the world needs enhancement of international cooperation and preparedness. Obviously, the lessons were never really absorbed by nations as we see clearly now with Covid-19. The impact is certainly both geopolitical and geo-economic.

Today politics and governance are not as we knew them in the past. Modern statecraft is multifaceted and complex (issues for example are social, political, economic, environmental, military and securityrelated) which leads us to appreciate this to navigate the ongoing crisis and forecast its implications for the global order. There is a transition in the history of international relations with this corona pandemic. International diplomacy, central to statecraft, is strongly influenced by this. Global politics stands threatened by increased tensions, blame game, and finger pointing especially between the United States and China. The US squarely blames China probably as a geopolitical strategy using coronavirus as an alibi to hinder the emergence of a new global contender.

Experts argue that the factors that currently lead to dissonance are US unilateralism versus China’s authoritarianism. How does the world address these issues? Can the UN play a role? Probably not since both are part of the Security Council and have veto rights. Neither would allow global governance to interfere with their strategies.

Globalisation has had its benefits. The prosperity witnessed post WW-II was largely through technology breakthrough, free trade, spread of education and absence of a huge conflict. This last factor was crucial. The world cannot afford any one power seeking hegemony as the new form for colonisation.

We need to assess the possible impact of the virus on these leading economies. China will not only bear the brunt of all the negative publicity that has come from being blamed as the originator of the virus, that it ostensibly tried initially to hide, but will feel the heat on its signature programme of BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). In a bleak economic situation BRI is likely to hit a funding shortfall. As would the whole exportoriented Chinese economy that would face severe pressure from demanddrops in the US, Europe and world markets on account of the pandemic. Covid-19 has exposed the need for Beijing’s decisionmakers to focus on domestic development and China will have to reconcile its thrust overseas with local resources. Whether in Asia or Africa, project failures, cases of insolvency, and bankruptcies are expected to grow exponentially along BRI routes in the months, if not years to come, leading to BRI loans remaining unpaid and disrupting the entire Chinese strategy. BRI will not stop but it will change as will the geo-politics around it.

The US economy is badly impacted, and the administration appears to have gone into a domestic huddle. Infected numbers and deaths across the US continue to rise and the economy is deteriorating. Unemployment at 14% is the highest since the Great Depression. Work-fromhome and tele-working have grown exponentially but the lower strata of society and the less educated have been hurt the most. With the required greater domestic focus, the US has been compelled to reduce its international policing role.

Europe is also in a bind. Different European countries followed different strategies for handling the virus but overall, the economic impact has touched all economies and reduced the EU’s international clout. And yet, the world expects Europe to stand up and be counted. To be that required counterbalance to unilateralism and authoritarianism. The same could be expected of a rising and strong India. To be a counterpoise along with a united Europe to these emerging trends. To stand not as in the past as part of a ‘non-aligned’ faction but one that pushes for co-existence in this multipolar world.

Post-corona economic consequences match the three scenarios of a VCurve; a U-Curve; or an L-Curve. V-Curve or the best-case scenario envisages a moderate economic disturbance, which can hopefully be dealt with by the existing world order where economies bounce back post the virus. A much more likely scenario is probably the U-Curve which may be rather bad for the world as it foresees severe economic damage necessitating a massive demand for reconstruction. Economies would have a protracted bottom of the U-Curve where available resources and a shaky global institutional architecture cannot cope with the downturn for a relatively longish period. The worst-case or L-Curve scenario could be really ugly: it includes a devastating economic collapse of potentially historic proportions, leading to social and political turmoil in a number of countries, lost benefits of globalisation and connectivity resulting in massive global changes that wreck the world order for years to come.

So, will the post-Covid world see co-existence as opposed to unilateralism? There is certainly hope for that. After all what this virus has achieved, probably for the first time in human history, is a unified human consciousness that looks at each one of us as global citizens and not just that of any one country. The online networks and common strategies for pandemic handling have brought on this realisation. We are but a global village that is connected not only by trade and commerce but shared health policies and common socio-cultural behaviour.

 As business models become virtual, maybe geopolitics too will. We shall witness a digitisation of geopolitics brought on by corona and advances in technology. The distinction between biological, digital and virtual would blur further and geopolitics may no more be the preserve of the state but have multiple stakeholders at play including large technology platforms, sub-state actors, non-state actors, digitally mobilised communities and even influential or vocal individuals. Add to this the Fourth Industrial Revolution and geopolitics becomes compulsorily multi-stakeholder-oriented where co-existence becomes the norm. That is not just the expectation and hope but something we would expect geopolitics to absorb and address.

The writer is a former civil servant and presently Distinguished Fellow at CUTS International.

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Opinion

TIME FOR INDIA TO WIN HEARTS AND MINDS OF NEPALESE PEOPLE

Kunwar Pushpendra Pratap Singh

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For the last one week the political scenario in Nepal has been taking an astonishing shape. The world may not consider it very significant but India is certainly deeply concerned with the ups and downs in the political mood of the Nepalese House of Representatives (Parliament). Historically, it is a fact that India and Nepal have the closest fraternity and it would be better to say that the two countries are identical twins with regard to their religio-cultural fabric.

The people of both countries have been enjoying psychological oneness. The religious faith system has been primarily observed in both countries on the central teaching and tenets of sanatan dharma. The physical boundaries did never take place in the mental spheres of the people in these two countries. In this way India and Nepal have been enjoying the national life in one vein. It happened so because of the prime location of Nepal between India and China. The people of Nepal en masse have a complete inclination towards India and never thought of Chinese affinity.

With the establishment of modern democracy in India, the democratic politicians of Nepal organised a movement for building a democratic Nepal on the pattern of the Indian parliamentary system. The most dependable leadership of this campaign in Nepal was guided by the leaders of the Nepali Congress, especially under the leadership of the Koiralas. Apart from Nepali Congress the other political parties based on the ideologies of liberal democracy and communism made their presence. The leaders of Nepali Congress launched their activities on the pattern of the activists of Socialist Congress (Socialist Party of India). But the so-called leftist leaders of Nepal were looking towards the Maoist ideology and claimed to be radical communists. The king’s dynasty in Nepal reluctantly preferred the Nepali Congress to communists. The collective mind of the people of Nepal also showed a greater inclination towards the Nepali Congress. After a long movement of over 50 years the Nepali Congress succeeded in persuading the political clusters to come on one platform and formulate a constitution with consensus to establish and run the democratic polity. The beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century could make it possible and thus a constitution consisting of a democratic ethos could take a concrete shape. The leaders of the Nepali Congress enjoyed the office of the Prime Minister through the electoral process.

Nepal shifted from dynasty rule to democratic polity on the pattern of the Indian parliamentary system. The people of Nepal were enjoying the privilege of a peaceful parliamentary system but the communists in Nepal, loyal to China, were trying to grab power. The peace-loving people of Nepal could not sense the unpatriotic gesture of the leftists in Nepal. In the recent past some unprecedented natural calamities and disasters shattered habitations in Nepal. India extended a helping hand with all sincerity but failed to show the posture of appreciable engagement. The clever Chinese government helped Nepal less than India but succeeded in establishing her enthusiasm to provide welfare measures in Nepal during the miseries. The communist clusters also took benefit of the situation and got an edge over India. The opponents of dynasty rule and democratic rule run by the Nepali Congress leaders took advantage by persuading the simple Nepalese people to appreciate the Chinese welfare craft.

In this way K.P. Sharma Oli capitalised on the favourable opportunities of the Nepali Congress’ weakening and designed interventions by China and took over the office of the Prime Minister in Nepal. For the first time, from 11 October 2015 to 3 August 2016 and again from 15 February 2018 to 10 May 2021, his status was turned to that of a caretaker prime minister after he lost a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives. 

The opportunist and clever China won the goodwill of the simple and sane Nepalese people through Oli’s regime. The Oli government never took the welfare of Nepalese people on its agenda and only worked as a shadow government of the Chinese president. Throughout his regime Oli was engaged only in manipulating the mindsets of the people of Nepal towards the Chinese choice. Oli did not care for long, natural bonding between the peoples of Nepal and India. The people of Nepal and their representatives in different parties and even some nationalist communists in Oli’s block realised what China had its eye on.

Now the people of Nepal and their patriotic representatives have exposed the selfish loyalty of Oli to China. The fraternal bonding between India and Nepal was being harmed by him, bringing great change in the minds and moods of people and their representatives towards Oli and China. It seems that the combined blessings of god Pashupath Nath and god Vishwanath have saved Nepal from cruel Chinese paws. The extreme state of disruption and depression being faced by Nepalese people during Oli’s regime compelled them and their representatives to reject Oli and finally, on 10 May 2021, Oli lost his majority in the House of Representatives.

Though Oli has reappointed as the PM after the Opposition failed to secure majority seats in Parliament to form a new government, a new dawn has become visible which bears plenty of opportunities for the people of Nepal, their development, their autonomy and their religio-cultural happiness. Apart from immense favourable moments for Nepal, a ripe moment has come for the people and power of today’s India too. India must have an agenda of generating fresh faith in the minds of the Nepalese people and power. The new political upsurge in Nepal must be capitalised upon by India and ensure as top priority that India is the true elder of Nepalese people and sovereignty.

Let us celebrate this upsurge of political purification in Nepal unitedly.

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Opinion

FOSTERING ACADEMIC COMPETITION IN THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM

Healthy competition among universities can raise the bar of higher education in India significantly. But for that to happen, context-specific and evidence-based strategies for institutionalising and funding interdisciplinary research, continuous professional development of faculty members, and a thriving university-industry interface must be ensured.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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It is a desirable expectation that the majority of our universities should continue to strive to achieve excellence in teaching and learning, in discovery and invention, and in extension and engagement with social concerns. There is an urgent need to promote the culture of healthy academic competition amongst our universities. Their competitive spirit should stem from a positive mindset. They should make concerted efforts to win in different kinds of academic competitions, but if someone else raises the bar of academic excellence higher than them they should feel equally good, if not more. The academic competition should not be about the end result of winning, but to have a deeper understanding about the subject and showing the way forward in that particular domain to others as well.

Academic excellence is of paramount significance because it is linked with those outcomes of teaching and learning and research and innovations that are valued the most. These goals require, among others, due emphasis on interdisciplinary research, university-industry interface and continuing professional development of faculty, as the overall success of a university depends upon the amount and quality of its research and the quality of its faculty and students. These are some of the pressing issues that the university system was expected to resolve but it seems to have no end in sight. Although efforts have been made to put in place a system of professional development of faculty, far too little has been done insofar as institutionalisation of interdisciplinary research and university-industry interface are concerned.

Interdisciplinary research perspectives are the cornerstone of present-day research and it must take roots in the culture of our university system where individual departments largely operate as islands without connectivity to others. The present system requires interdisciplinary research as creation of new knowledge entails syntheses of ideas and characteristics from across different disciplines. In fact, it has become a practical necessity since new knowledge lies at the intersections of different disciplines. This is the time when advancement of knowledge has become one of the inevitabilities of a progressive and modern society. Advancement of knowledge is as important in the life of a university as the transmission and certification of knowledge. It is needless to say that it requires a larger pool of scientists and increased budgetary allocations over a protracted period.

Though the pool of Indian scientists has increased a little in the last couple of years, the number of researchers per million population, as of 2018, is far fewer (216) than China (1,307), America (4,412), Russia (2,784), England (4,603), Germany ( 5,212) and France (4,715). It is much worse than numbers in even smaller countries like Sweden (7,536), Norway (6,467), Netherland (5,605) and New Zealand (5,530). Nonetheless, India has emerged as the world’s third-largest contributor of scientific publications (135,788) in peer-reviewed journals as of 2018, with China being the first (528,263) and America the second (422,808). What is particularly noteworthy about this is that our expenditure on research and development in terms of percentage of GDP is far too less (0.9%) than both China (2.1%) and America (2.7%). There are countries which are spending even more than China and America like Israel (4.9%), Sweden (3.2%) and Germany (2.9%).

Apart from much larger research grants to universities, there is also a need to identify and address other basic issues which can promote the culture of interdisciplinary research in our university system. There is a lot to learn from how such a culture has been created in some other countries and how it could be scaled in our university system after its appropriate experimentation in some of our leading universities. Since interdisciplinary research requires funding at a large scale, and there is a scarcity of resources, it obviously requires mobilisation of resources through other means of financing. It is, therefore, necessary to understand how leading universities of the world mobilise their funding and how that model can be replicated in the country. In addition, it would also be desirable to examine how the faculty in those universities are able to deliver and meet the timelines of the funding agencies?

It is extremely important to develop and scale centres of interdisciplinary research across universities. There is an urgent need to have a concrete action plan. But we need to realize that despite interdisciplinary research being a buzzword, most seem to be utterly clueless about what they could do and how to go about it. There is a need to identify a group of eminent researchers from different domains of knowledge who can study the dynamics of interdisciplinary research and prepare a roadmap for Indian universities to make it happen.

The second important aspect of quality higher education which is as important as the earlier one is the university-industry interface. After it proved to be a hugely successful endeavour in western universities, it spread its wings across some universities in the east. But somehow it remained confined only to those premier institutions which had consciously developed the capacity to solve the problems of the industry, helped them increase their productivity, guided them to make gainful investments and supplied them with a skilled workforce. Despite the constant exhortation and encouragement by various commissions and committees, most universities could not get culturally tuned to operationalise a university-industry interface or develop confidence in meeting timelines. In fact, most of them were lacking in foresight and had been beset with diffidence and indecisiveness. Consequently, they could not arouse confidence and enthusiasm in the industry.

The university system in most leading countries mobilises its funding largely from the industry. Their research and development activities are mostly dependent upon the interface between the university and the industry. The funding from the industry sustains the research support needed by the university and in turn it helps the industry to utilise the outcome of the research for application. This aspect is not as dominant in the functioning of our universities as in some of the leading universities abroad, since they sustain largely on internal funding through research grants.

There may be different levels of strategy that can determine the direction and scope of the university-industry interface over the long term. First, universities should ascertain requirements of the industry by associating industry leaders and integrating industry-linked areas in their curriculum. Second, they should prioritize their Ph.D. as well as other research programs for finding solutions to industry-related problems. Third, the industry should absorb university graduates and after providing them a certain orientation, send them back to the university on a sponsorship basis for Ph.D. programs. Fourth, the government and industry should jointly support the university to upgrade its research facilities. Fifth, the industry should invest in establishing their labs and workshops on the campus of the university for mutual benefit. Sixth, the industry should identify areas of their interests and commission research projects to the university. Lastly, the university should study how this interface has been working well in some of our premier institutions. In addition, a group of university academics can undertake a detailed study of how this works in some leading universities of the east and the west and bring back experiences which can enhance the university-industry interface in the country and thus lay a solid foundation for R&D focus in university research.

None would perhaps dispute the contention that in the university system it is the teacher who, besides being qualified, competent and caring, has to be extremely dynamic and collaborative without which she would not be able to give an interdisciplinary orientation to research or ensure a university-industry interface. It could be possible only when the teacher continually keeps herself abreast of the latest developments in the subject and changing requirements of the industry. Thus a vibrant university system needs to ensure that every member of the faculty is able to demonstrate the best of his or her inherent potential for the good of education and the society. And it is for this reason that there has to be an inbuilt provision for continuous professional development of academic faculty, commensurate with the changing and constantly emerging concerns in all domains of human learning.

The UGC took the initiative for continuing professional development of university teachers through the establishment of as many as 66 Academic Staff Colleges (ASCs) in selected universities in the country. The ASCs were expected to be vibrant centres to provide opportunities to the faculty for their professional and career development. They were mandated to organise orientation and refresher programs in different areas of study, covering every teacher at least once in three to five years. They seem to have realised a little insofar as an orientation program is concerned but much more remains to be accomplished insofar as the content enrichment part is concerned.

Regrettably, the ASCs seemed to have drifted away from their primary goal and slipped into the role of fulfilling the requirements for career advancement. It was corroborated by the Review Committee (2010), which ound out that just a quarter of the ASCs came close to their charter. Though they have now been renamed as Human Resource Development Centres (HRDCs), this mere change in their nomenclature has not yielded any desirable results. The experience, thus far, points out that the operational design of the HRDCs calls for serious introspection, if the needed objectives of continuing professional development of teachers is to be seriously realised.

In this connection, a small group of senior faculty from across universities may be constituted to study how the faculty development initiatives are operationalised in some leading countries? What institutional structures have been created for this purpose? What is their working design? How often does a member of the faculty undergo professional development? Is it voluntary on the part of the individual faculty or is the concept institutionalized? Who pays for this activity? Is undergoing training linked with career promotion? What is the profile of institutions offering such programs? Such an exercise is extremely necessary to revitalize the faculty development program and thus should be undertaken sooner rather than later.

Academia bears a heavy responsibility for evolving context-specific and evidence-based strategies for the institutionalisation of interdisciplinary research, university-industry interface and continuous professional development of faculty along with resource requirements. This exercise will have a vast amount of beneficial interests besides fostering healthy academic competition amongst the universities and that is what is going to be a spur for modernisation. It would provide first-hand knowledge of facts and requirements which could be used to put up the case with full academic justification to the competent authority. It would be hard to become a significant global competitor in higher education if such inescapable reforms were brushed aside.

The author is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

THIS IS NOT A MODI HEALTH CRISIS, THIS IS AN INDIA HEALTH CRISIS

Savio Rodrigues

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In a democracy, it is not incumbent on citizens to find favour or merit in its elected representatives. They have the right to disagree, dislike or even have disdain against their political leaders for legitimate or frivolous reasons.

So, if for some reason — political, social, or for a plain dumb notion of herd mentality — you dislike the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, that is your freedom to exercise. But your dislike or stronger feelings of hate for Modi or the BJP-led government in a global health crisis impacting our nation is misplaced.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a “Modi” health crisis – it is an India health crisis. Modi is the Prime Minister of India today, he may or may not be the Prime Minister of India tomorrow, but if we fail to act as one nation today, we might not have a nation at all tomorrow.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a serious health crisis. We need to work collectively as one nation and one people to tide over these hard times our country is experiencing. Lives are being lost every day.

This is not about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi or Arvind Kejriwal or Uddhav Thackeray or Mamata Banerjee or MK Stalin or Yogi Adityanath. This is about thousands of Indians suffering due to the pandemic. This about thousands of lives being lost daily. This is about a damning and dangerous virus we know so little about and its changing mutation making the prevalent health crisis more severe by the day.

This is not about whether the Centre is acting more responsibly than the state governments, or one state government has managed to deal with the health crisis promisingly and is beating the curve. This is about citizens who are gasping for breath, wanting to live, and hoping that the Centre or State has done its job in ensuring that we have the requisite health infrastructure to deal with the pandemic.

This not about Uddhav Thackeray or Arvind Kejriwal saving Maharashtra or Delhi better than Narendra Modi, nor is it about Goa’s Health Minister Vishwajit Rane playing out a subtle media exercise to show he is more competent than the Goa Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant. This is also not about Chief Ministers or Health Ministers walking in hospitals followed by their media entourage clicking pictures for their media or social media campaigns. Most importantly, this crisis is not about which social media IT cell got which hashtag to trend more than the other IT cell. This is about life. The life of our people.

People want to live. The pain and trauma are heart-wrenching and disturbing. I do not think a political leader with an ounce of humanity will ever resort to playing dirty politics over the lives of our people but unfortunately, our nation manages to produce such rectums that think only about the political opportunities at hand and not about the welfare of the people or the nation.

Every Indian we save from the virus is one less potential carrier of the virus across a community, state, or our entire nation. We are a nation of travellers and our people travel around the country, therefore, this cannot be about saving your own state, this should be about saving our country. But we must while keeping a focus on the macro strategies in dealing with this crisis as a nation, we must ensure that we manage this health crisis at a micro level, at an individual level, and family level too.

While the nation is rife with stories of people rising to the occasion to fight this pandemic for other people, there some stories that have exposed the complete inhumanity that also exists. Making a profit over the desperation of people in a health crisis is pathetic and downright diabolic. But people resort to it, not thinking for a moment that people with immense wealth also cannot escape the wrath of the coronavirus if it decides to ensure that life is sucked out of you. Today you are profiting on someone’s misery, tomorrow someone will profit from your misery.

This is the time for the people of India to rise up against an enemy that we do not fully understand, therefore it is important for us to stick together because we know each other and we can trust each other. Every Indian in this war against the coronavirus is a soldier and as a soldier, we must fight this pandemic.

This pandemic was unleashed around to world to cripple our socio-economic existence by hitting us and other countries at the root of our strength — our people. The greatest wealth of any nation is its citizens and their health. If there are no people, there will be no citizens. This is not the time for blame-game but the time to play the game of defeating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some nations want us to fail. Some nations want us to continue to remain like a third-world nation. Most importantly, some nations want our people to suffer so that they can gain from a change of political regime. As Indians, we must not let the lives of our people become pawns in the hands of political opportunists waiting for Prime Minister Modi to fail or for other Chief Ministers to fail so that India fails. If the state fails, the Centre fails. If the Centre fails, India fails. And we cannot let India fail.

I believe we can beat this virus and win this war against Covid-19 but we have to do it as one India. Therefore, it is my appeal to political leaders, their IT cells, their spokespersons, and their supporters, there is a time to play politics. However, this is not that time. This is the time to look at this crisis as an India health crisis and not the Modi health crisis.

Remember there is no balm to calm the heart of a person that has lost a loved one unexpectedly.

The author is founder & editor-in-chief at GoaChronicle.com.

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Opinion

AMITABH’S DONATION TO GURDWARA PROJECTS IGNITES SIKH POLITICS

Pankaj Vohra

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Cine superstar Amitabh Bachchan’s declaration that he donated Rs 12 crore towards Covid-related projects initiated in two prominent gurdwaras of the capital has snowballed into a major controversy that could have wide-ranging ramifications for Punjab in general, and Sikh politics in Delhi in particular.

Two prominent leaders, both former presidents of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Paramjit Singh Sarna and Manjit Singh G.K. have urged the Akal Takht to take strict action against the current chief, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, for “accepting blood money” from an actor who was extremely close to Rajiv Gandhi when the Sikh genocide took place in 1984 and is perceived to be the part of the “khoon ka badla khoon” gang.

Sirsa had apparently accepted money from the cine star for a project in the Gurdwara Bangla Sahab last year and for a new Covid facility at Gurdwara Rakabganj this year. The supreme irony is that the outgoing chief had himself in 2017 demanded that Amitabh should clear his name for his alleged involvement in the anti-Sikh riots after he had been named by some of the victims.

Senior Akali leader and former Lok Sabha MP Simranjit Singh Mann has also demanded strict action against Sirsa and others, who are close to the Badals, for concealing facts from his executive and trying to cover up the matter. The revelation of money being donated came from the actor himself, who stated on a social platform how he had contributed to the noble cause. The matter has become a major point of discussion in the ongoing gurdwara politics and could impact the final outcome.

Manjit Singh G.K. said that a complaint against Amitabh’s involvement was filed before the Akal Takht by Jagdish Kaur and others who were responsible in sending former Congress MP Sajjan Kumar to jail. Paramjit Singh Sarna demanded that Akat Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh should order the immediate expulsion of Sirsa for desecrating gurdwara properties with blood money, failing which he should resign. Sarna is a veteran of Sikh politics and was extremely close to former SGPC Chief Gurcharan Singh Tohra. Manjit Singh is the son of late DSGPC president Jathedar Santokh Singh, who, till his assassination in 1981, enjoyed cordial relations with Indira Gandhi. In fact, after Operation Blue Star, senior Congress leader Buta Singh had taken Manjit to meet Rajiv Gandhi who wanted him to help in the reconstruction of the Akal Takht. Only 26 years old at that time, Manjit had declined, stating that the Sikhs would never endorse this action.

The Sarnas are very influential in Sikh circles and this attack on Amitabh has found a lot of support at every level. The Sikhs have resolved that the Rs 12 crores given by Amitabh through donation to an individual was unacceptable and would be returned and “the tainted money’’ cannot be used for any gurdwara projects. Sirsa finds himself on the wrong foot and would be looking for support from the Badals, who themselves are in the eye of a political storm concerning the sacrilege incidents of 2015. It is evident that Amitabh’s effort to warm his way into Sikh hearts by charity has boomeranged. It is evident that the Sikhs would not settle for this kind of appeasement.  

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Opinion

THE ORIGIN OF OUR MISERY: THE MYSTERY OF WUHAN’S LAB P4

In the wake of the deadly second wave of Covid-19, some questions need to be asked about the biosafety lab in China’s Wuhan. Why did the PLA take over the lab, why were the lab’s French collaborators silent on the issue, and did the WHO investigation hide any truths?

Claude Arpi

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China has mastered the art of disinformation warfare. Nearly one and half years after the dreaded Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan and while the virus is still raging all over the world, having infected some 153 million on the planet (20 million in India alone), Beijing has managed to fully cover the tracks leading to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

A team from the World Health Organization (WHO) was supposed to shed some light on the origin of the virus, but at the end of their inspection tour in January 2021, the members slipped the vital issues under the carpet and conveniently stated that initial findings suggested the most likely pathway the virus followed was from a bat to another animal and then to humans. They dismissed outright the possibility of the virus originating from the lab.

But l’Affaire Wuhan is not closed.

On March 4, a “Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation into the Origins of Covid-19”, was issued by some 28 senior world scientists. Speaking of the WHO’s China tour, they asserted, “We have reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses – whether natural spillover or laboratory/research-related incident.”

The eminent scientists further observed, “With more than two million deaths, more than a hundred million infected by Covid-19 worldwide, and a massive global disruption impacting some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, we cannot afford an investigation into the origins of the pandemic that is anything less than absolutely thorough and credible. If we fail to fully and courageously examine the origins of this pandemic, we risk being unprepared for a potentially worse pandemic in the future.”

Beijing is slowly, but surely losing its credibility worldwide. Further the role played by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is being speculated upon. Whether China manages or not to change the narrative and blame it on ‘foreign’ hands, the tragedy is bound to have deeper implications for the future of the Middle Kingdom.

Apart from the scientific recommendations of the Group of 30, an issue which needs to be immediately enquired is the role of an enigmatic personage: Chen Wei, a fifty-three-year-old PLA major general and a leading epidemiologist at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who was said to have developed the world’s first gene-based vaccine on ebola in 2014. She was sent to take over the Wuhan Institute of Virology on January 26, 2020, immediately after Beijing admitted the existence of the virus.

The Chinese press reported, “After arriving in Wuhan, Chen’s team started building a portable testing lab, which was in operation on January 30.” The State-run CCTV noted that Chen and her colleagues worked in shifts around the clock to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. The Global Times wrote, “People familiar with Chen Wei, all know one thing very well — she is fast. Chen walks fast, speaks fast, and works at a fast pace. Chen is now working to speed up the development of the vaccine of Covid-19 in China.”

But there is more to Gen Chen. Two months later, in March 2020, the Chinese media announced, “A Chinese doctor has stunned people around the world by injecting an untested vaccine for the coronavirus.” A commentator added, “Scientists in the country have been busily trying to find a way to beat Covid-19, however vaccines can usually take many months to go through testing and animal trials.

Speaking to China’s state-run TV network, Chen said, “We are doing all we can to put the recombinant vaccine that we are developing into clinical application. We must strive to bring the vaccine we are working on to clinical trial and application, providing strong technical support for winning this battle.”

This raises serious questions: why did the Chinese Army need to take over the P4 lab? How did Chen manage to produce a vaccine less than two months after the virus was officially found? Did she know beforehand about the virus?

One has to know that the P4 Institute of Virology in Wuhan is a high-tech facility partially funded and built by France. China had then a strong lobby in Paris led by former French Prime Ministers. When he had launched the research facilities in February 2017, Bernard Cazeneuve, the then French Prime Minister had declared, “France is proud and happy to have contributed to the construction of the first P4 high biosafety laboratory in China. …This cutting-edge tool constitutes a central element in the achievement of the 2004 intergovernmental agreement on Franco-Chinese cooperation in the prevention and fight against emerging infectious diseases.”

According to China.org.cn, “In January 2018, on the occasion of the state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to China, the heads of state of the two countries signed agreements on bilateral cooperation and issued a joint statement stating: ‘China and France will conduct joint cutting-edge research on infectious and emerging diseases, relying on the P4 laboratory in Wuhan’. The medical and health field constitutes a very important part of the bilateral cooperation between the two countries.”

France then trusted China. But soon after, the French disappeared from the scene. The 50 researchers supposed to work on the project never reached Wuhan. Why was nothing made public? Was the PLA behind this? Could Gen Chen have used the P4 lab as a military facility in contradiction with the civilian agreement with France?

There are many questions that the unprofessional WHO team forgot to ask.

Xi Jinping had given the PLA’s medical teams the responsibility to win the ‘War’. When on March 10, 2020, Xi visited Wuhan to announce ‘victory’, the Chinese president took the opportunity to reaffirm the PLA’s leading role in fighting the virus.

Many more questions need to be asked today, especially after the second deadly wave in India. Why was the P4 lab, a civilian collaboration between France and China, handed over to the PLA, with Paris remaining silent? Was Gen Chen sent to clean up all the compromising evidence in January 2020? Were the French asked to leave Wuhan or did they leave on their own?

Macron’s government recently donated generously for India’s medical equipment needs, including a large number of high capacity oxygen generators. This was appreciated a lot. But he would now do a great service to humanity if he would tell the world about the cause of the end of the Sino-French collaboration in Wuhan and what happened in the P4 Lab between the beginning of 2018 and the end of 2019. L’Affaire Wuhan should not be closed.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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