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How LDF and UDF have failed God’s Own Country

Sanju Verma

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Despite being bestowed with nature’s bounty, Kerala has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in past years, thanks to the debilitating politics of the Left Democratic Front (LDF). The Pinarayi Vijayan government will go down as the one which took Kerala backwards in all respects, with corruption being the LDF’s mainstay. The “Rebuild Kerala’’ initiative following the 2018 floods was nothing but hype and nothing happened thereafter. The projects ended up as mere discussions in five-star hotels and fancy seminars. Most of the flood rehabilitation houses were constructed by charity organisations. Many farmers are yet to receive financial help. The amount of Rs 2,120 crore obtained by the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund (CMDRF) is yet to be spent fully. Instalments of loans from the World Bank for “Rebuild Kerala” were spent on salaries and pensions of government staff instead of being deployed for reconstruction work. The hard truth is that under the CPI(M)-led LDF rule, Kerala has not only witnessed industrial stagnation but also seen NRI entrepreneurial activity take a backseat, with some even committing suicide due to red tape and harassment by the LDF. 

 The sad irony is that the ruling LDF, which rode to power highlighting the earlier United Democratic Front (UDF) government’s extravagance and corruption, adopted the same path once it assumed power. No one has forgotten the Congress/UDF’s Oomen Chandy or his embarrassing role in the solar scam. Unfortunately, the LDF regime took a leaf from the UDF’s book and indulged in large-scale extravagance by according cabinet rank to the chief whip and by creating a number of unnecessary posts in the last five years. The vigilance department is a mere paper tiger, with the real culprits of the Palarivattom flyover scam, for example, going scot-free due to patronage by the ruling Pinarayi Vijayan government. The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) has also reportedly become a symbol of lethargy, incompetence and rampant corruption. 

The Vijayan regime has been following the footsteps of TMC’s Mamata Banerjee by promptly re-branding and claiming as its own some of the most successful schemes of the Modi government. For instance, it was the Modi government which took the initiative to complete the Kollam and Alappuzha bypass, the work of which was stalled by both LDF and UDF governments for well over 45 long years. Kerala has received Central assistance like never before after the Modi government took charge at the Centre. It was the Centre that gave 42% of the tax share to states under the 14th Finance Commission and then 41% under the 15th Finance Commission, with Kerala being amongst the top beneficiaries in terms of devolution of money to states. The MGNREGS share to Kerala was allocated in advance by the Modi government. For the first time, the state was provided Rs 4,000 crore to tide over its fiscal deficit. The Centre’s intervention to help Kerala increase its borrowing under the ways and means advances (WMA) limit also proved beneficial for the state. 

The LDF government, on the other hand, has tried to torpedo many Central projects that were launched for the common man. The LDF fiercely opposed the PM Jan Dhan Yojana. The Left also tried to scuttle projects like the Kisan Samman Nidhi and Ujjwala Yojana that provided free LPG connection to the poor. The LDF government also diverted funds provided by the Centre in the wake of the Ockhi cyclone and the 2018 floods, with more than Rs 2000 crore being wasted or misused. 

The latest developments in the murky Kerala gold smuggling case, which led to the arrest of M. Sivasankar, former principal secretary to Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan, in October 2020, are a glaring indictment of how rules were flouted to abet corruption in high places. A few days back, the Enforcement Directorate moved the Kerala court, seeking a CBI probe into the case registered by the Kerala Crime Branch against the ED. What a travesty of justice, that rather than probing the nefarious nexus between gold smugglers, politicians of the LDF and their prized bureaucrats, the Kerala Crime branch had the audacity to file a case against the ED, which is only doing its job of unravelling the truth in the multi-crore gold scam case. The ED has detailed admissions of statements made by the key accused in the gold scam, including Swapna Suresh. Interestingly, Swapna has now accused the Kerala Speaker of meeting with a Sharjah leader in Dubai to obtain free land for an institution which the Speaker wanted to open. The Kerala gold smuggling case is related to the seizure of over 30 kg of gold from diplomatic cargo at the Thiruvananthapuram airport in July 2020. The gold was found in the diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE Consulate General’s Office in Thiruvananthapuram. This is what made the seizure sensational, because diplomatic cargo enjoys immunity from routine examination by customs department officials at airports. Swapna Prabha Suresh, aka Swapna Mohammed, who is a resident of Dubai and was an employee of the Consulate for around three years before being sacked in 2019, reportedly had unfettered access to CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s office. M. Sivasankar was not only the Kerala CM’s principal secretary, but also the head of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL). The probe by the NIA and ED later found that Sivasankar had recommended Swapna for a position with the KSITIL, which required the applicant to be a graduate. Though Swapna was not a graduate, and hence not eligible, CM Vijayan’s office allegedly gave the approval for her recruitment at KSITIL, in a clear case of political harakiri.

CM Vijayan has very conveniently dismissed the charges of corruption against his government, saying, “The Opposition is trying to foist the doings of officials on the government.” The moot question is, how can CM Vijayan claim the moral high ground when his closest confidante and former principal secretary is involved in the gold scam? How is it possible that Sivasankar was engaging in unbridled corruption without CM Vijayan’s knowledge and blessings? Even if one hypothetically assumes that the CM was unaware of what officials in his government were up to, does that not show how incompetent Vijayan is? How can a multi-crore scam happen right under the CM’s nose, with the CM supposedly having no clue about it?

Apart from the gold scam, the CBI has recently taken over the probe and registered a case for FERA violations in a housing scheme for the poor, which is part of the Vijayan government’s flagship project called the “Life Mission” project, which is being constructed with financial aid from the Emirates Red Crescent. Emirates Red Crescent is the UAE affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The CBI will probe the deal for the construction of a 140-apartment complex at Wadakkanchery in Thrissur district, signed between Red Crescent and Kerala-based UNITAC. The scam involving “Life Mission” housing project is linked to the gold smuggling case. The key accused in the smuggling case, Swapna Suresh, has confessed to the ED and NIA that Rs 4.25 crore had been paid as commission in the housing project and she also pocketed a part of the kickbacks. Kerala’s Higher Education Minister, K.T. Jaleel, is also under the ambit of investigations, showcasing how CM Vijayan’s government is steeped in widespread corruption.

A point worth noting here is that, since 1977, Kerala has always alternatively voted for two fronts—either the CPI(M)-led LDF or the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF)—to the Kerala Assembly. In the 1977 Kerala Assembly election, the polls after the Emergency and the first election after the delimitation where the number of legislative seats increased from 133 to 140, the United Front secured a majority. The front was led by the Indian National Congress (INC) and Communist Party of India (CPI), and K Karunakaran became the Chief Minister. The subsequent election, the sixth Kerala Assembly election in 1980, however, set the stage for the LDF and UDF, which were formed from the constituent parties of the United Front. In the 1980 election, the LDF formed the government in Kerala under the leadership of E.K. Nayanar.

In recent times, this once socially advanced state has become the victim of radicalisation by communal, anti-national outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI), which has spread its tentacles all over Kerala. Kerala was once revered, as its social indicators were on par with the developed world. But thanks to the rabid, hate-filled politics of the LDF and the UDF, large swathes of the state have been thrown into abject poverty, with a large chunk of the rural and tribal population living well below the poverty line. Barring tourism, industrialisation is a far cry within Kerala. The reported rape of a nun by Bishop Franco Mulakkal in Kerala shows the true underbelly of Kerala’s lopsided social structure, where despite a favourable gender ratio, most people ignored this horrific crime, with even the state’s major political parties like the LDF and UDF turning a blind eye to the ghastly rape.

More than 30 million people live in the densely populated state, a third of which is covered by forests and verdant coconut trees. Kottayam is called India’s “land of letters, latex and lakes” as it alone accounts for over 15% of India’s rubber production. Yet, due to lack of political will, Kerala’s rubber plantations have never quite achieved the kind of prominence they deserved, with rubber production in the last seven years remaining stagnant at between 6.5-7.2 lakh tonnes by and large.

Kottayam is also famous as it is the gateway to the pilgrim centres of Sabarimala, Mannanam, Kuruvilangad, Vaikom, Ettumanoor, Bharananganam, Erumeli, Manarcad, Aruvithura and Athirampuzha. The famous Vaikom Siva temple, associated with the legendary sage Parasurama, is just 40 km north of Kottayam town and is a typical example of Kerala temple architecture. So are the temples of Perunna, Vazhappally and Thrikkodithanam near Changanassery. The temple at Ettumanoor, about 12 km north of Kottayam, is famous for the exquisite ancient murals and ‹Ezharaponnana’ or the 7½ elephants finished in gold. It is therefore a shame that the Vijayan government has done nothing to put Kottayam, endowed with such rich temple history, on the international tourist map.

More people in Kerala are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is a dire social problem and the state has India’s highest per capita alcohol consumption. Due to decades of abuse of power by the LDF and UDF, the state has little money to fund healthcare and education, leading to an explosion of expensive private hospitals, schools and colleges which the poor cannot afford. Road networks are extensive, but the state has few highways. Kerala lives off remittances from the Middle East and it lacks a manufacturing base. Keltron, one of the first and largest electronic undertakings in the state sector in Kerala, had been pushed to the throes of bankruptcy by rent-seeking politicians, before it eventually recovered. Kerala’s biggest advantage, a high literacy rate, has become a strange liability as the vast majority of educated unemployed go abroad for work. Can Kerala afford to become another Cuba? No! And for that, the electorate must choose wisely and shun both the LDF and the UDF.

Kerala is an over-politicised and “over-extended” state. The argument goes that radical unions, bolstered by successive Communist governments, have acted as “pressure groups advancing particular vested interests”. Also, decades of militant trade unionism led by the Communists has led to a poor work ethic and an “estrangement” from private investments – a condition similar to India’s West Bengal, which was ruined for 34 years by Communists and then by a corrupt TMC. The Kerala model is grinding to a halt because the social and political groups, having fulfilled their original agenda of filling their coffers, now have no development agenda to take to the people.

Clearly, Kerala needs a new contract between the state and its people to move ahead and reclaim its lost glory. The inclusive politics of development, progress, modernity and corruption-free governance that Prime Minister Narendra Modi epitomizes is the elixir that Kerala desperately needs at this stage. The argument that Kerala has a progressive social order is also turning out to be a big hoax, given that Kerala has consistently been reporting the most violent crimes against women, as per NCRB data. Radicalisation by terror outfits like the PFI, which supposedly has links with ISIS, are also turning Kerala into a hotbed of Hinduphobic violence and mayhem.

Speaking of violence, which is in the DNA of Communism, unproductive and violent trade unionism has also infested the agricultural sector in Kerala. The agricultural labour unions are so strong that they are reluctant to work sincerely and will not allow mechanisation and automation in this field either. As a result, hundreds of thousands of hectares of cultivatable land are lying unutilised and agricultural production is suffering badly. Similarly, even the trading sectors are infested with unionism and lobbying is so deeply entrenched that the basic economic principle of a demand-supply mechanism that dictates market prices is not being allowed to work. Even when there is an abundant supply of goods, these traders engage in black marketing and profiteering by creating artificial scarcity and keeping the prices up. So, it is the middle class who suffer the most in Kerala, while the trade unions backed by the Left have a field day.

E. Sreedharan, also known as the “Metro Man of India”, joined the BJP recently. He is best known for constructing the first Metro in the country and the engineering marvel which is the Konkan Railway, which connected southern India to the rest of the country in a rapid manner. Sreedharan is just the kind of leader Kerala needs. Speaking at a rally at Shangumugham, the 88-year-old Sreedharan said, “For the last 67 years, I was a government servant. Many people have asked me why I ventured into politics after these many years. For 67 years, I worked as part of many projects for this country. I am still energetic and want to utilise my energy for the state of Kerala. Whatever responsibility is given to me I will take it up with all courage and energy.” 

In the final analysis, the hard truth is that God’s own country has been ravaged for over four decades by successive LDF and UDF regimes, which have simply fattened their pockets and done precious little to improve the lot of Keralites, who are almost entirely dependent on overseas money orders, which gives Kerala the unenviable term of “Money Order Economy”. During the Covid pandemic, which adversely affected all nations globally, including the Middle East, the money orders stopped abruptly as many people in the Gulf lost their jobs, bringing, in turn, untold misery upon Kerala, which is grappling today with ballooning deficit, falling growth and rising joblessness, thanks to complete apathy by CM Pinarayi Vijayan, who has done nothing for the people in the last five years. While India under PM Modi is being applauded worldwide for its outstanding handling of the Covid pandemic, Kerala is a textbook case of how shoddy leadership and gross mismanagement can cause untold damage. With a little over 2% of India’s population, Kerala accounts for more than 8% of all Covid cases in India. Along with Maharashtra, Kerala also accounts for over 70% of all active Covid cases, which reflects quite poorly on the LDF.

In sharp contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always treated Kerala favourably and fairly. Recently, the PM inaugurated a bevy of infrastructure projects in Kerala, including the 2,000-MW Pugalur-Thrissur high voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission corridor. This power transmission corridor would ensure the transfer of a large quantum of power from the national grid to the state and guarantee reliable access to electricity. The Pugalur-Thrissur line is Kerala’s first HVDC inter-connection with the national grid and the country’s first system to use the voltage source converter technology. Stating that “development is our aim, development is our religion,” Prime Minister Modi also inaugurated, via video-conference, a 50-MW solar park in Kasaragod and a 75-mld (million litres a day) water treatment plant at Aruvikkara, Thiruvananthapuram, and launched the work on two Smart City Mission initiatives in the capital—the Rs 427 crore 37km Smart Road project and the Integrated Command and Control Centre at the City Corporation. “The great Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan said, ‘I’m not asking your caste, sister, I ask for water. I’m thirsty’. Development and good governance do not know caste, creed, race, gender, religion or language. Development is for everyone,” PM Narendra Modi further added. 

Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram have made significant progress under the Modi government’s Centrally sponsored Smart Cities Mission. Under the mission, 27 projects worth Rs 770 crore had been completed in the two cities, while 68 projects worth Rs 2,000 crore were in the pipeline. As many as 175 water supply projects worth Rs 1,100 crore were being taken up in Kerala under AMRUT, another Central Government scheme. The Modi government has been giving the utmost importance to the blue economy. Development strategies targeting the fishermen community are based on “more credit, increased technology, top-quality infrastructure, and supportive government policies” to ensure that India becomes a hub of seafood exports, with Kerala at the forefront.

Clearly, Kerala deserves better. Both the LDF and the UDF have failed the state and its people. It is time for Kerala to take the “right” path.

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Opinion

HOW SHALL NIGHT CURFEW CURTAIL COVID CASES WHEN DAY NORMS ARE FLOUTED?

Pankaj Vohra

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The Delhi government as well as several other political dispensations around the country have imposed night curfew, supposedly to check the surge in Covid cases. While the declaration appeals to a number of people, the logic behind this exercise is unexplainable. There are a very few citizens who are on the road between 10 pm and 5 am as compared to the remaining period during which so much activity is witnessed both in public spaces and also in offices and other establishments. The curfew suggests that the Covid pandemic is transmitted mostly at night and hence it was paramount to somehow discourage any kind of movement in this period. The better thing would be that the corona norms should be observed and enforced during the day time when there is a tendency on part of many people to flout the rules and regulations. Any visit to the crowded markets of Sarojini Nagar and Karol Bagh would prove that by and large. The citizens have apparently thrown caution to the winds and been violating even the basics. In the walled city, there are very few people who can be seen wearing masks or observing social distancing. All these precautions are a must since the vaccines are no guarantee that the ailment would not afflict even those who had been vaccinated. A huge controversy over a certain type of vaccine has broken out in Europe and the UK where cases of blood clotting have been reported.

Back in India, Maharashtra has seen the maximum spike and even Delhi is not far behind. Politics over the availability of the vaccine has come into play with state governments accusing the Centre of not sending sufficient supplies. The Union government is also being attacked for sending vaccines to other countries when the domestic needs have not been met. The Health Ministers of several states have locked horns with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan over the issue. This is really unfortunate since there should be no politics over the pandemic and all concerned whether in states or at the Centre must work unitedly to provide as much relief as possible to people. Fortunately, in India, the spread of the virus was not as pronounced in the first phase as compared to many other countries. This may have been due to a better immunity system but all the same, it does not mean that precautions should not be taken. A person has no business to put someone else’s life at a risk and must cooperate with the authorities fully. The state governments also must take pragmatic steps instead of putting various businesses and vocations in difficulty of some kind.

The economy has suffered drastically since the demonetisation took place and the prolonged lockdown has made things worse. People have to both survive and fend for their families. Therefore, any step which deprives someone of livelihood should not be taken unless it is an urgent requirement to preserve the life of a greater number of people. The night curfew announcement has surprised many since there are restrictions in Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad but none in Gurgaon and Faridabad. Surely, the virus is not region specific. People must cooperate and make this fight against the pandemic a success.

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Opinion

What ‘emancipation’ is China celebrating today?

Even after the bloody events of 1959, which saw the massacre of Tibetans, led to the flight of the Dalai Lama and established the Communist Party’s chokehold on Tibet, how can the Chinese administration and media celebrate the region’s ‘emancipation’ and ‘peaceful liberation’?

Claude Arpi

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During the recent US-China Summit, Yang Jiechi, member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and senior-most Chinese diplomat, bluntly told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “The Chinese people are wholly rallying around the Communist Party of China. Our values are the same as the common values of humanity. Those are: peace, development, fairness, justice, freedom and democracy.” He continued for several minutes criticizing the US for its human rights record, “We do not believe in invading through the use of force, or to topple other regimes through various means, or to massacre the people of other countries, because all of those would only cause turmoil and instability in this world.”

India has recently had a different experience with China in Ladakh. However, there is an abyss between the Chinese leader’s words and what is happening in the Middle Kingdom. One typical example is the grand celebrations of the so-called Serf Emancipation Day on March 28. It is the greatest lie ever told concerning Tibet. 

What is this ‘emancipation’? March 28, 1959, marks the end of the massacre of the Tibetan population in Lhasa and the placing of tight control over the Tibetan capital by Beijing. The Dalai Lama was sacked as chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), was replaced by a more pliant Panchen Lama and had just fled the Roof of the World to take refuge in India.

The Communist Party, which has forgotten the 40 or 50 million deaths during the Great Leap Forward, the 10 million or so Chinese who perished during the cruel Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, or closer to our times, the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, still ‘celebrates’ the Emancipation of the Tibetans. 

Several non-Tibetan accounts of the events of March 1959, including the popular uprising, the flight of the Dalai Lama, the massacre of the Tibetan population and finally the so-called ‘emancipation’—all this in less than three weeks—are today in the public domain. In his ‘Report for the months of March, April and May 1959’ sent to the Ministry of External Affairs, Maj S.L. Chibber, the Indian Consul General in Lhasa said, “In the history of movement for free Tibet, the month of March, 1959, will be most historic… during this month Tibetans high and low, in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, openly challenged the Chinese rule… the might of [the] PLA, who on March 20, 1959, started an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped and untrained Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, was short-lived.” Chibber continued, “On March 28, 1959, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China dissolved the local Tibet Government and transferred all its functions and powers to the Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).” 

R.S. Kapur, another Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his Annual Report for the year 1959, “The year 1959 will go down as the most important year in the history of Tibet. It marked an end to the way of life of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama, who felt that he could no longer function effectively, left his country in March. …With Opposition out of the country, Chinese got a free hand and they went all out to subjugate the country. People have been deprived of their movable and immovable property.” He further asserted, “While the heart of Tibet was bleeding, the free world only made speeches. With the end of the debate on Tibet in the United Nations, Tibetans lost all hopes of their survival, stared at the sky with blank eyes and asked: Where is God? Where is Buddha?”

Another publication, The 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents: The Chinese Army Documents, released a few years ago, used documents from the PLA’s Military Intelligence, which corroborated Chibber’s version of the bloody events of 1959.

But sixty-two years later, the Chinese media is full of the ‘liberation and emancipation’ of the serfs in 1959. A number of interviews have been published by Xinhua and its affiliates; one mentions a place called Khesum, “the name of a manor in Tibet, and also the name of a living hell for 302 serfs there.” The actual fact is that it was the ordinary people, the ‘masses’ in Communist jargon, who revolted against the occupiers in 1959. The Chinese propaganda wants us to believe that “the misery and serfdom that defined the Khesum of old are [today] nothing more than a distant memory.” Everything is fine in Tibet, according to Beijing.

Another article in China Daily notes, “This year marks not only the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, but also the 70th anniversary of the peaceful liberation of Tibet… Seventy years ago, under the guidance of the CPC, Tibetan people started to enter a new era of progress, prosperity and openness.” Quoting a puppet legislator, it continues in the same vein: “Over the past 70 years, Tibet has stepped out of the primitive society of agriculture and animal husbandry, and transformed into a society of industrialization and information.”

Xinhua quotes a former ‘serf’ Pasang, born in 1934 in a village near Shigatse, “In the old times, the family of Pasang had to pay various taxes to serf owners, under whom the family led a miserable life. The taxes imposed were more numerous than ripples in the water and stars in the sky.”

Today all over the Land of Snows, the Tibetans have to take oath and swear by the Party. Take the case of Nyalam, close to the Tibet-Nepal border, where there has been “an upsurge of learning and propagating the Communist Party history” says China Tibet Network. The people in Nyalam are actively promoting the study of the Party’s history; “Learn Party History, Increase your Confidence [in the Party], Inherit the Red Gene,” is the motto. 

Everyone has to learn from the Party’s history, “so that everyone deeply can feel the Chinese Communists’ hard work, perseverance, and wholeheartedly seeking happiness for the people.”

Even the PLA is not exempted: “Events marking the Party’s centenary will include theoretical seminars and themed forums, as well as a massive exhibition at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution. All activities will display the military’s love of the Party, the nation and the people” notes a PLA communiqué. 

Referring to Xi Jinping’s leadership: “Every soldier should be loyal to the core, uphold the core, follow the core”. The objective is to make soldiers “appreciate the glorious truth about Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The American society (like the Western) might not be perfect, but can a totalitarian regime, like the present one in China, lecture others about ‘emancipation’ or ‘liberation’? The fact is that Tibetans, like the Uyghurs, have been enslaved by the Communist Party.

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

R.S. Kapur, an Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his Annual Report for the year 1959, “The year 1959 will go down as the most important year in the history of Tibet. It marked an end to the way of life of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama, who felt that he could no longer function effectively, left his country in March.”

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Opinion

THE INTRIGUING DEBATE OF NEO-GENDER EQUALITY

Yuvraj Pokharna

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The recent case of a Zomato delivery boy allegedly punching a social media ‘influencer’ he was delivering food to has brought to the fore a grotesque but rather imperative debate. While at the surface, the case is swinging between assault on a woman and a woman making false accusations—a classic case of ‘he said, she said’—recent developments have also brought out a class issue.

Whilst our law is supposed to provide for both a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty, do we really see that happen? Especially when the victim is a woman? Even the ones with memory like a sieve may recall a few of the countless number of such cases—at least the case in Rohtak where two sisters beat up three men in a bus, alleging that they were being ‘harassed’. They were quickly praised and nicknamed ‘bravehearts’ by the media, but as it turned out, the fight was over a seat dispute. The sisters subsequently failed a polygraph test while the ‘accused’ passed it and all charges were dropped eventually. But they haven’t been able to find employment due to the label and stigma attached to the case. In fact, a media report on the charges being dropped against them had the word ‘molesters’ as the first word in its headline. So much for objectivity.

In the ongoing Zomato controversy, ‘Instagram influencer’ Hitesha shared a horrendous video on her social media claiming that a Zomato delivery boy assaulted her after she tried to cancel her food order as he arrived 59 minutes late. As claimed, she suffered a nasal bone fracture during the scuffle. From the public to the media, everyone took her side and the Zomato boy, Kamaraj, was swiftly booked by the Bangalore Police. Later, Kamaraj busted Hitesha’s allegations and said that it was she who berated and abused him in filthy language and hurled slippers at him. When he tried to defend himself, the ring on her own finger hit her nose, added Kamaraj. The ‘victim’ fled the city out of the jurisdiction of the Bengaluru City Police after a counter FIR was lodged based on the complaint of Kamaraj. The police learnt of her disappearance after they tried to contact her for questioning following Kamaraj’s complaint. On the same day, she got support from an unexpected source—Bollywood.

Now common logic dictates that whenever Bollywood comes out in support of something or someone, it warrants some due diligence. Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta, who had dropped off the radar several years ago, resurfaced to support the influencer, calling everyone who supported the delivery agent “adumbass” and reiterated that an “educated urban woman ordered food” and that “since she ended up with a bleeding nose, there wasn’t supposed to be another side to it.” Note Dutta’s choice of words here—educated, urban and woman. Not only is this a case of “he said, she said” but also one of “she’s educated and urban, she can’t be wrong”: A clear-cut case of class issues.

As in every case, the principles of natural justice have been thrown out of the window and the ensuing media and the social media trials have ensured that Kamaraj is labelled for life. As I write this, Hitesha’s original video on Instagram has amassed nearly 2.5 crore views and her follower toll has reached lakhs. A cursory Google search for ‘Zomato Kamaraj and Hitesha’ will bring forth numerous reports from her side of the story. But when was the last time we heard from him?

There are three main takeaways from this case, up from the usual two that invariably arises out of such cases. The first is that of media trials and declaring one party guilty even before the facts are known. In many cases, the man is automatically deemed to be guilty, and in this case, the class difference is being used to add fuel to the fire.

The second and more important takeaway is the law itself. Our laws, in the matter of sexual assault and similar crimes, explicitly describe the victim as a woman and the perpetrator as a man. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, passed in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 only protects women from sexual assault, voyeurism, stalking and disrobing. Prior to the act becoming a law, it was a gender-neutral ordinance which attracted heavy flak from feminists and activists, resulting in the government retaining only acid attacks and attempted acid attacks as gender-neutral crimes.

The third takeaway from this case is a new one—the actual influence of “influencers” on social media. Hitesha’s case became viral only because she has nearly one lakh followers on Instagram. Influencers are to social media what film stars and celebrities were to traditional media. Social media users need to be made aware and should question what they see. After all, if influencers can ask their followers to question the government, why can’t normal users ask people to question influencers as well?

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Opinion

PM Modi’s war against Covid-19 and Opposition’s vaccine politics

Sanju Verma

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India has surpassed the US to become the country with the fastest vaccination rate globally, with the number of people vaccinated on a single day, 5 April, 2021, exceeding 4.3 million people, vindicating Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s measured and calibrated approach on this front. 

Overall, till date, since the vaccination program started in India on 16 January 2021, over 91 million or 9.1 crore people have got the jab, 2.4 crore vaccine dosages are in stock and we have another 1.9 crore in the pipeline. India has vaccinated the third highest number of people globally. Humanitarianism has been amplified by the generous outreach of the Modi government, which has exported well over 60 million or over 6 crore Covid vaccines to over 76 nations under the WHO-monitored vaccine sharing initiative, COVAX. Naysayers who allege that India should not have sent vaccines to other countries conveniently forget that exporting vaccines is not merely about “vaccine maitri” or vaccine diplomacy. Coronavirus is the worst global pandemic to hit mankind in 102 years. International diplomacy apart, even from a humanitarian standpoint, India, given its status as a rising economic superpower, is obligated to assist and support those who are less fortunate. Don’t countries help each other when there are earthquakes, cyclones or catastrophic floods? So why should helping other nations during a debilitating pandemic be viewed any differently? Clearly, Prime Minister Modi’s war against the Wuhan virus has been guided by the abiding principles of “India First” and “Neighbourhood First”. 

Experts opine that India should scale up the vaccination drive to stem the recent spike in cases by ramping up the inoculation drive in areas of high transmission to prevent the virus from spreading. What experts need to also understand is that it would be chaotic to simply make the jab a “free for all” kind of an exercise where anyone who wants the jab gets it. The issue at this stage is not a supply-side one to start with. Eight out of the ten high-risk zones reporting the highest number of daily cases are from the state of Maharashtra alone, which has the unique distinction of wasting 5 lakh vaccine dosages. Effectively, what this means is that states like Maharashtra need to reduce vaccine wastage and inoculate on a war footing. Despite availability, Maharashtra has had an average weekly positivity rate of 23.2%. To conveniently blame the Central Government for inadequate supplies, when the problem is actually that of inadequate and incompetent management by the utterly apathetic Shiv Sena-led MVA alliance, reeks of a poor attitude. Another example of gross mismanagement is Congress-ruled Punjab. On February 3, 2021, Punjab had only 2,122 active cases. Two months later, the number became 24,458, with cases rising exponentially in places like SAS Nagar, Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Patiala.

Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan summed up Maharashtra’s criminal lethargy succinctly when he said, “When states ask to open up vaccine supplies to everyone over 18, we must presume that they have done saturation coverage of healthcare workers, frontline workers and senior citizens. But the facts are altogether different. Maharashtra has vaccinated just 41% of healthcare workers with the second dose. Equivalent numbers for Delhi and Punjab are 41% and 27%. There are 12 Indian states/UTs that have done more than 60%. When it comes to senior citizens, Maharashtra has vaccinated just 25%, Delhi has vaccinated 30% and Punjab has vaccinated only 13%. There are four States/UTs that have already vaccinated more than 50%.” Maharashtra, Delhi or Punjab, all three are non-BJP ruled. In fact, with a weekly positivity rate of 13.8%, Chandigarh, like Maharashtra, is a textbook case of how shoddy governance can cause irreparable damage. Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, is clearly overrated, given his absolutely dismal track record, be it in tackling farm issues or Covid, with Punjab reporting a high active caseload.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, elaborating on Maharashtra and Punjab further, said, “Doesn’t it seem evident that these states are trying to divert attention from their poor vaccination efforts by just continuously shifting the goalposts? Politicising such a public health issue is a damning indictment of certain political leaders who should know better. I have seen statements made by public representatives in Maharashtra about a shortage of vaccines. This is nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the Maharashtra government’s repeated failures to control the spread of the pandemic. The inability of the Maharashtra government to act responsibly is beyond comprehension. To spread panic among the people is to compound the folly further. Vaccine supplies are being monitored on a real-time basis and state governments are being apprised regularly about it. Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless. It is shocking to see how the state government is putting Maharashtrians in danger by letting people escape the institutional quarantine mandate for the sake of their personal vasooli. Overall, as the state has lurched from one crisis to another, it seems as if the state leadership is happily sleeping at the wheel.”

The Union Health Minister also exposed the Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, and rightfully so. “Similarly, we have seen regular comments by leaders from Chhattisgarh that are intended to spread misinformation and panic on vaccination. I would like to humbly state that it would be better if the state government focusses its energies on ramping up their health infrastructure rather than on petty politicking,” said Dr Harsh Vardhan. The Chhattisgarh government, in fact, refused to use Covaxin despite it being given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Drug Controller General of India. Not only this, by its actions, Bhupesh Baghel’s government has the dubious distinction of being perhaps the only government in the world to have incited vaccine hesitancy.

Maharashtra, with only 8% of India’s population, has recorded the highest number of Covid deaths in India, accounting for 34% of the total country-wide deaths, in a classic case of embarrassing misgovernance under the MVA alliance. Again, Maharashtra, accounting for 60% of India’s active caseload, is currently a non-BJP-ruled state and led by a Congress-centric alliance. It is, in fact, one of the worst performing states, having reported almost 57,000 fatalities, with the corrupt MVA netas busy trying to ward off allegations of vasooli (extortion), rather than caring for the citizens of the state. In sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh, a BJP-ruled state, which has a massive population of over 200 million people and is almost the same size as Brazil, has reported less than 9,000 deaths. Brazil, in the meanwhile, has reported over 3.41 lakh mortalities.

On 16 January 2021, India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.38 billion people, kickstarted the world’s largest Covid vaccination drive, with 2.07 lakh people vaccinated in a single day, across 3,351 sessions, involving 16,755 vaccinators. What makes India’s vaccination drive against Covid unique is its sheer size, scale and meticulous planning, guided by the humanitarian concept of “Jan Bhagidari”, or peoples’ participation. The plan is to inoculate 300 million or 30 crore “priority population” in the first two phases by July-August 2021, including 3 crore healthcare and frontline Covid workers. From March 1, 2021, the eligibility criterion was expanded to include people over 60 years of age and those between 45 and 59 with comorbidities. The third phase of the vaccination drive aimed at everyone above the age of 45 was launched on 1 April.

The calibrated approach of the Modi government is both practical and the need of the hour. A vaccine is not some kind of a “life jacket” that can prevent a person from getting infected, but it certainly reduces the severity of the infection and helps in breaking the transmission chain. It is important to inoculate vulnerable age groups first and therefore prioritising some demographic age brackets over others, which is exactly what the Modi government is doing. Those who allege that India should start vaccinating everyone above 18 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! The Central Government is spending around $5 billion on free doses at state-run clinics, public health centres and hospitals.

Inoculating 300 million people within six to seven months 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 has a national recovery rate of over 92.48% and the case fatality rate (CFR) of just 1.3%, the lowest globally. India’s cumulative positivity rate too is hardly 5.07%, which is commendable given that many states in the US like Florida and Connecticut, till recently, were reporting daily and weekly positivity rates in the higher double digits. It is indeed noteworthy that despite having a population density of 455 per square kilometre, amongst the highest in the world, India, which has tested over 250 million people, has done an unprecedented job of reining in the total number of cases at barely 13 million. In sharp contrast, the US with a population density of just 36 per square kilometre, has reported a staggering 31 million coronavirus cases and over 5.59 lakh deaths. 

The Modi government has built a war kitty of 2,360 master trainers, 61,000 programme managers, over 2 lakh vaccinators and over 3.7 lakh vaccination team members so far. Serum Institute of India’s Covishield and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, which it has developed with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), are homegrown vaccines that vindicate PM Modi’s clarion call of “vocal for local” and are reflective of the country’s innovative and scientific temper. Both the vaccines have been approved by the DCGI.

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 innoculate 30 million or 3 crore frontline Covid workers. Earlier, in June 2020, over Rs 2000 crore was allocated from the PM-Cares 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, 30,000 ventilators 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. However, in one go in June 2020, the Modi government made available 50,000 ventilators to ensure that 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 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 speaking, this means that a population 2.5 times the size of the US was fed, showcasing the Modi government’s generous, welfarist and people-centric approach.

Contrast this with the policy of obfuscation and apathy followed by China, with the probity and transparency shown by India, in taking Covid head-on. Be it building over 116 million toilets under the “Clean India” or “Swachh Bharat” mission, making India’s 5.5 lakh villages open defecation-free (ODF), giving free health insurance to 50 crore Indians under the “Ayushman Bharat” scheme, producing over 60 million PPE kits and 150 million N95 masks between April and October 2020, bringing home over 3.9 million stranded Indians from different parts of the globe via the “Vande Bharat Mission”, or extending medical and humanitarian assistance to over 150 countries in the fight against the pandemic, the Modi government’s fight against the Wuhan virus was made easier by the fact that a huge amount of effort went into ramping up India’s health infrastructure and making cleanliness a way of life in the last 6.5 years. What is worth mentioning here is that, during the initial days of the Covid outbreak, there was only one lab in the country that could undertake testing for the infection. But today there are over 2,000 testing laboratories. 

A key concern now is vaccine wastage. What is vaccine wastage? While wastage cannot be fully eradicated, it has to be within recommended limits. In general, high vaccine wastage inflates vaccine demand and increases unnecessary vaccine procurement and supply chain costs. Vaccine wastage is directly linked to vaccine usage, which is the proportion of vaccines administered against vaccines issued to a vaccination site. What is causing the wastage? For instance, each Covishield vial has 10 doses in total, while a Covaxin vial contains 20 doses—each dose being 0.5 ml (for one person). Once opened, all doses have to be administered within four hours, otherwise it goes to waste and the remaining doses have to be destroyed. The vaccine wastage in India can be largely be attributed to low turnout of beneficiaries, which is due to inadequate planning of sessions by a few states. For instance, if a vial contains doses for ten people and only six turn up, four doses would go waste. In a few Opposition-ruled states, opening vials, despite an inability to mobilise a critical mass of people, has led to vaccine wastage. Till date, around 6.5% of Covid vaccines have gone to waste nationally, according to Central health officials. Over 23 lakh vaccine doses have been wasted, translating into a wastage rate of 6.5% nationally, with the wastage rate being as high as 18% and 12% in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, respectively.

The second reason accounting for vaccine wastage, identified by the Centre, is inadequate training. Officials said some vaccinators are drawing only nine doses against ten doses. “We are seeing that trained vaccinators know how to draw a vaccine. These trained vaccinators will tell you that even in a vial of ten doses, you can actually take out 11. This is a crucial aspect to reduce vaccine wastage,” the official said. Also, open vial policy guidelines have to be strictly followed to minimise vaccine wastage. In the Covid-19 vaccination drive, the Health Ministry factsheet sent to the states mandates that both Covishield and Covaxin have to be discarded after four hours of opening.

The Modi government’s CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network) app, owned by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, was earlier the platform used for conducting Pulse Polio and other crucial and highly successful immunisation programmes across the country. The same platform has been expanded for doling out Covid-19 vaccines and the Ministry of Electronics and IT along with the National Informatics Centre are handling the backend and the tech infrastructure for it. CoWIN is again an example of how the Modi government has seamlessly embraced technology to ensure last-mile delivery. When it does become open to everyone, it will have four modules—user administrator, beneficiary registration, vaccination and beneficiary acknowledgement and, of course, status updation. The CoWIN app is likely to be made accessible to the general public for registration by the end of March-April 2021.

“Good governance is not firefighting or crisis management. Instead of opting for ad-hoc solutions, the need of the hour is to tackle the root cause of the problems”; this is a famous quote by PM Modi. Better words have not been said. Undoubtedly, India’s outstanding and successful war against Covid will go down in history as a textbook case of what a sensitive and nimble-footed leadership can accomplish. It would be apt to conclude with a quote by John F. Kennedy, who said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Undoubtedly, while a reckless China foisted the Wuhan virus on an unsuspecting mankind, a visionary leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi utilised this unprecedented global crisis as an opportunity to reach out to and heal millions, both in India and outside, showcasing India’s true spirit of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which means, “the world is one family”.

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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LOCKDOWN IS NO ANSWER TO SECOND CORONA WAVE

Joyeeta Basu

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Now that India is in the middle of a second wave of coronavirus, with the number of daily cases rising exponentially, particularly in Maharashtra, the Centre has issued a stark warning about the next four weeks being “very, very critical”. The infection is spreading more rapidly than it did earlier, even though the rate of infection in terms of population continues to be low, as it was when India witnessed the first wave. Amid this, reports of restrictions are coming, including weekend lockdowns being imposed in Maharashtra. But as we witnessed during the prolonged lockdown last year, any shutdown can cause economic havoc. India is yet to recover from the body blow that its economy received last year. Lives and livelihoods were badly disrupted, and continue to be so in sectors such as travel, tourism and aviation. So asking business establishments to down shutters just when the economy is showing signs of recovery and trade is picking up is not the best way to tackle the virus. No wonder traders in Mumbai are refusing to comply with the state government’s orderia. Another possibility of migrant labour being forced to return home is also looming in the horizon. This is completely avoidable. In fact it is not at all clear why a night curfew has been imposed in Delhi by the government of the union territory. What will such a curfew achieve except for giving the police some respite when it comes to controlling the law and order situation at night?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that this virus is likely to come back in waves and may continue for some time if not years before it settles down and we achieve herd immunity. Hence, the need of the hour is to learn to live with it—not by behaving as if there is no tomorrow, but by maintaining strict Covid protocols. So masking up and maintaining social distancing are norms that will have to be followed rigorously. It’s easier said than done, considering this is election season and high voltage campaigning has been going on in certain states, and will in fact continue in Bengal until the end of this month. But surprisingly, the maximum numbers are coming from states, except for Tamil Nadu, that have zero electioneering activity. Maharashtra Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab account for over 80% of the cases. Of these, Maharashtra alone has 55% of the total cases in the country. So where are these states going wrong? Considering the number of celebrities in Mumbai suddenly getting Covid, there is some speculation if Mumbai’s high-flying night life is contributing to the surge. Perhaps a socio-economic breakdown of people getting Covid will throw some light on why Maharashtra is witnessing this uncontrolled spread. Currently, it’s a mystery.

Media reports suggest that the Central government had told the Maharashtra government that weekend lockdowns had proved to be a failure to break the chain of infection, and hence the state should focus on a strict containment strategy. But the lockdown was imposed apparently to force compliance. However, the country may have to pay a heavy price for this, not only because of economic disruptions caused by the lockdowns, but also because some migrant labourers leaving Maharashtra may take the “new variant” of the virus to the rest of the country.

As for the demand that vaccination should be opened for all, it may prove to be a logistical nightmare if that happens, not just because of any possible shortage in the availability of the vaccines, but also the possibility of hospitals and health centres getting swamped. So the present focus should be on maximum coverage of the 45+ population, for which ongoing awareness campaigns need to be enhanced, including possible door-to-door visits by health workers.

However, there is a downside to vaccination too. Vaccination reduces and does not eliminate the risk of getting the infection. Hence arises the need for therapeutics. In the last one year, scientists and doctors have gained considerable understanding of the virus, in spite of its tendency to mutate into several variants, and how to treat it with medicines. This route should also be pursued aggressively.

Finally, without socially responsible behaviour on the part of the people, no government can cope with this virus. So it’s upon us to mask up, maintain social distancing, wash hands and for those above 45 to get vaccinated immediately. It’s time to be responsible citizens.

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What is in the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogan?

The warm community greeting of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ has assumed the proportions of an incendiary war cry in recent times. How did it become so and does it respect the true spirit of the Ramayana or Lord Ram?

Amita Singh

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A genie that had been throttled in a bottle since 1947 appears to have been released. A worrisome incident that left many from metropolitan areas appalled is a recent encounter which shows an emerging power semantics of public space. On the morning of 6 April 2021, in Gurugram’s Nathupur village market, three young boys in their early thirties, clad as sadhus, went from shop to shop, asking for money with thunderous slogans of “Jai Shri Ram”. A shopkeeper greeted them delightfully with “Jai Siya Ram”, but surprisingly, the sadhus appeared highly displeased and shouted back angrily, “Say ‘Jai Shri Ram’, ‘Jai Siya Ram’ is wrong.” There was a bit of a tussle and the sadhus, who were perceived as a nuisance, were made to flee by a united front of shopkeepers. This community village market is a cultural space for embedded normative exchanges which highlight the most pristine national inclinations. But the slogan of “Jai Shri Ram” has become an enigma for most Indians as its content and spirit do not match. Who has created this segmentation, and why?

Columnists often face the impossible task of balancing the forbidden (not everything can be written) with the forsaken (not everything can be ignored). Their universe of elliptical proximity to their subjects is jammed with justice-seekers in the waiting, for attention, consideration and even resurrection. Ironically, it appears that the current dispensation of Indian politics has turned Shri Ram, an incarnation of God, worshipped as a revered divine deity, into a consecrated yet perforated sachet of public delivery. The everyday greeting of “Jai Siya Ram” from benign communities inhabiting the holy land of Ayodhya to Chitrakoot resonates to the shores of Rameshwaram in search of the deity’s tales of tolerance, forbearance and humility flowing throughout the 5th century BCE epic, the Ramayana.

At the Ayodhya bhoomi pujan ceremony, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used the slogan “Jai Siya Ram” instead of “Jai Shri Ram”, acknowledging the fact that Mata Janaki or Sita, who represented “bhoomi” or Mother Earth has a central role in the Ramayana. His speech was a generous acknowledgement of the role that Mata Janaki or “Siya” played in the life of Rama. By referring to her moral strength as a ground for bhakti or devotion and faith, he in fact highlighted the bond that the Ramayana weaved together in its characters, from Bharat to Ahilya, Kewat, Shabri, Sugreev, Vibhishana, and finally in conceding before the knowledge of Ravana, despite slaying him in war. Love spares no one and that is the essence of the Ramayana, embedded in the warmth of the community greeting of “Jai Siya Ram”. Those who heard this speech felt an invocation of love and harmony in social relationships which have been strained since 1984. Nonetheless, one would agree that no content or any meaningful usage can be without a norm, especially when it is about its intentional usage, while laying claim to a slogan such as “Jai Shri Ram” or “Jai Siya Ram”. PM Modi was right in acknowledging the role of Mata Janaki in “Jai Siya Ram”, but why does this mother incarnate disappear among his followers when they roar, nay, let out the war cry of “Jai Shri Ram”? What made Mamata Banerjee object to the outcry of “Jai Shri Ram”?

The slogan “Jai Shri Ram” has an anecdotal past which reveals that it has been used to provoke incendiary thoughts and actions to achieve an objective which is otherwise not lawful, which is socially disliked and may not be approved by the administration. The slogan, with a militarised invincibility to its tone, a threatening call akin to “Allah hu Akbar”, screeches through social divisions, creating schisms and provocations to accomplish conspiracies of brutal punishments against sinners, the unchaste and the promiscuous. This slogan has been used to glorify social evils and customs in the name of sanitising society such as the glorification of the dreadful act of “suttee” or “sati”. An interesting case from 1871 may bring greater clarity in understanding the normative links of this slogan. In Queen v. Mohit Pandey & Others (1871), the woman had been prepared to commit suicide by “suttee”, as was expected by her husband’s family. As she moved towards the pyre, her stepsons followed her, shouting slogans of “Jai Shri Ram” to create an environment of bizarre but powerful religious nostalgia for a cause larger than a woman’s life, lest she change her mind on nearing the pyre. When conspirators of a grotesque self-infliction become vanguards of a holy army, slogans can stifle minds, appropriate to the accomplishment of an offence. Evidence that emerged from the heinous act of burning the woman with her husband’s body revealed active connivance and unequivocal support of the suicide by the accused and justified the inference that the provocative sloganeering was indeed a conspiracy for commission of the “suttee”. The District Sessions Judge of Ghazeepore, S.N. Martin, sentenced the accused under Section 306, IPC to five years of rigorous imprisonment for abetment to suicide.

On the whole, the Ramayana’s true spirit and character have been badly dented by the enterprise of politics which becomes dependent upon slogans which are used to push male supremacy, militarised followers and provocative communication. In fact, during the last years of his stay at Kashi (now Varanasi) Acharya Tulsidas mentioned how malice, hatred and sectarianism were spread by similar unscrupulous pundits and miscreants who mocked his common man’s imagery of Rama. In Ramcharitamanasa, he has referred to such miscreants as: “Hasi hahi krura kutila kavi cari/ Je par dusana bhusana dhari.”

Those mundane pundits would later touch Tulsidasa’s feet and beg for atonement at the Kashi Vishwanath temple but what about these muscle-flexing sadhus desecrating the name of Rama by filling it with aggression, violence, hate and a deadly ambition to capture political power through the weapon of “Jai Shri Ram”? Will the final courtroom of Rama ever provide them an opportunity for penitence or as the renowned Urdu poet “Zauk” expressed: “Charakh par baith raha jaan bacha kar Isa;/Ho saka jab na mudaba mere bimar ka.” (Hazrat Isa was sent as a messenger of God to earth to reform people deviating from the path of righteousness but He soon got frustrated and took refuge in heaven again.)

The author is a former Professor of Administrative Reforms & Emergency Governance at JNU, Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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