INDIA MUST MARCH AHEAD: SUMMING UP 2020-21 - The Daily Guardian
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INDIA MUST MARCH AHEAD: SUMMING UP 2020-21

Crises come and go. This is not the same India that pledged gold in 1991 to get much-needed foreign exchange. We are stronger now and marching ahead. And the fight against Covid-19 has only taught us the lesson that while every effort should be made to save lives, the country must not come to a standstill.

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The achievements of the Modi government in the last one year should be seen as its deft handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, matured tackling of the India-China stand-off along the borders, creating international alliances, and getting some crucial legislation passed despite the short sessions of the Parliament. One should also not forget the bhoomi puja for the grand Ram Temple at Ayodhya on 5 August 2020.

Here I do not wish to add the achievements from the past few years such as the impact in terms of development and the larger integration of Jammu and Kashmir after Article 370 was scrapped in August 2019. This also ushered in a truly democratic election with wider participation of the local population. The same stands true for the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that granted citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who came to India on or before December 2014. This included Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.

Incremental additions in the progressive march are happening despite hiccups and one can easily list them as achievements. But the government should also be known for momentous decisions. One such is the bhoomi puja for the proposed Ram Temple. Although the matter was resolved through a judicial process, the government facilitated the process through due diligence. August 5, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the bhoomi puja at Ayodhya, was a rare moment in history. That it happened amicably showed the syncretic culture of India and the wishes of everyone that the temple dedicated to dharma, so vital for constitutional principles, be established.

Most of Modi’s governance in 2020 was focused on containing Covid-19, a new pandemic with no known antidote. Some messengers of doom had already predicted that India would have at least 30 crore cases and a very large number of deaths. The entire world was worried. But Narendra Modi emerged as the saviour and ordered a lockdown. Imagine an entire nation of 135 crore people coming to a standstill but with not a single scarcity anywhere. There was no hoarding, no black marketing and people had easy access to every item of daily use.

The period of lockdown was used to strengthen medical infrastructure by enabling the massive production of PPE kits, hand gloves, masks, sanitizers and creating Covid-19 facilities in make-shift hospitals. The recovery rate despite the pandemic was very high and the country was able to stave off the first wave without a high casualty figure. Even the United States with the best healthcare facilities and a population of merely 33 crore, as opposed to India’s 135 crore, could not do better. India’s efforts were lauded the world over.

To ensure that the adverse impact of the economic shutdown did not reach the poor, the Union Government gave free ration to 80 crore poor people from April to November 2020 incurring a cost of Rs 1.5 crore. Again, in April 2021, the Prime Minister announced 5 kg of free ration for 80 crore people for the month of May and June incurring a cost of Rs 26,000 crore. Transferring money directly into the accounts of poor farmers under the PM Kisan scheme that was launched in 2018 should also be seen as an effort to mitigate the sufferings of the agricultural community. Farmers of West Bengal also benefited from the scheme on release of the installment on 14 May 2021.

Just when India had started celebrating and numerous festivals, election rallies, social gatherings and a buoyant movement of people were taking place, we were hit by another Covid-19 storm. We all contributed to this. If we had given heed to the various warnings from the Centre and had exercised restraint, the situation could have been different.

The Kumbh festival in Haridwar, which critics dubbed as a ‘super-spreader’, was only one among the many events. The Prime Minister had to intervene and request Hindu religious seers to make the festival symbolic. Several warnings were sent to the state government to follow Covid protocols. The festival came to an abrupt end.

There are three events I can highlight to show how people ignored social distancing blatantly. These are the funerals of Shia leader Kalbe Sadiq in Lucknow on 24 November 2020, renowned Islamic scholar and former General Secretary of All India Muslim Personal Law Board Wali Rahmani in Patna on 3 April 2021 and Islamic leader Qazi Md Qadri in Badayun on 10 May 2021. One just needs to look at the images of the gathering to know whether they were super-spreaders or not. One also cannot forget the farmers’ agitation that was the biggest super-spreader since farmers came in groups to the protest sites at the Delhi borders and left for their villages carrying the disease. Thousands had joined these gatherings from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

The elections for five states can also be faulted. But we need to question the collective conscience rather than put blame on one or other institutions. No party wanted the elections to be postponed and once the campaigns started, it was difficult to control the situation. When the Parliament’s Budget Session was curtailed, the prime reason was to enable elected representatives to campaign in these elections. The Prime Minister, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP President JP Nadda did cancel their meetings during the last leg of the election campaign in West Bengal but others continued.

Also, the country witnessed the biggest movement of people based on cell phone location data. The movement of people in crowded local trains such as in Mumbai and the density of population in Asia’s biggest slums such as Dharavi in Mumbai, and elsewhere also contributed to the spread. Most marketplaces in many parts of India were crowded and people were walking without masks. India was waiting for an explosion to happen.

People died not due to the pandemic as much as they did because of the failure of the response system and an inadequate health infrastructure. Imagine so many people falling ill at the same time and many needing oxygen, ventilators and critical medicines. The casualties went up to an unimaginable level.

Yet the Modi government worked on a war footing to bring the situation under control. The government was in emergency mode. Air Force helicopters were pressed into service to airlift cryogenic tankers from foreign countries. Naval ships were deployed to transport tankers and medical supplies from distant lands. Oxygen supplies from industries were diverted to hospital use. The Railways ran Oxygen Expresses, non-signal special trains running from industrial hubs to states with a scarcity of oxygen, to ensure that the supply line was not disrupted.

The country’s lack of preparedness was for all to see. The Supreme Court observed that in the 70 years after Independence, we had failed to create an adequate health infrastructure to give the response that was needed. The Modi government sent various missives to state governments to strictly implement Covid protocol and instruct that the states should not lower their guards. But all these fell on deaf ears. Some state governments had dismantled the structures that were created in 2020.

In the words of Dr Devi Shetty of Narayana Healthcare, the Modi government moved heaven and earth to make things possible. No country in the world could have managed the crisis better, he said. No one had imagined that the demand for oxygen would increase ten-fold from 900 MT daily to 9000 MT daily. The DRDO and other Central institutions swung into action and emergency beds were created. The Railways earmarked 70,000 Covid bed facilities all across the country. The DRDO helped set up 500 oxygen PSA plants in the country using its own design. PM-CARES was used to buy lakhs of oxygen concentrators and procure more than 1.5 lakh units of the oxycare system developed by the DRDO. The DRDO has also developed a 2DG drug that reduces dependence on outside oxygen supply and helps in faster recovery.

The biggest achievement in the fight against Covid was to encourage the R&D of the indigenous Covaxin vaccine. With it, India joined the elite club of a few countries in the world to have its own Covid vaccine. The Prime Minister took a personal interest in also ensuring that there were no bottlenecks in the faster production of Serum Institute’s Covishield. India supplied vaccines to several countries and the UN Peacekeeping force. The tremendous goodwill earned thus helped India get help from across the world when it witnessed the second wave.

The Centre had already earmarked Rs 35,000 crore in its budget for vaccination and announced that there would be no dearth of money to vaccinate people. In the initial phases, it announced free vaccination for all in the age group of 45 years and above after the drive for healthcare and frontline workers that began on 16 January. From 1 May this expanded to the population between 18-44 years. By 21 May, more than 19.32 crore people had been vaccinated cumulatively, out of a population of 135 crore. This is more than half the 33 crore population of the US.

Trials are now in progress for the age group of 2-18 years. We may soon see vaccination drives being carried out in school premises for children. Knowing fully well that the country needs faster and adequate vaccination for everyone, the government has already decided to ramp up production and the target is to achieve 2 billion vaccine doses between August and December.

One cannot but also praise the Prime Minister for the deft handling of the situation on the borders facing China. While the Chinese had no qualms in becoming aggressive when India is facing an unprecedented crisis, the Indian Government ensured that there was no let up in our guards after the border stand-off at Galwan where our brave soldiers gave a befitting reply to China’s aggression.

The Chinese have not fully disengaged despite agreeing to do so. India has refused to compromise and has shown maturity by taking logical and measured steps. Our troops are vaccinated and are on full alert. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said this month that India-China relations are at a crossroads and which way it goes will depend on China. He clarified that bilateral relations with China would not improve unless the border situation improved. The disengagement process that had started early this year has not been completed, he pointed out.

In the meantime, India has joined the Quad which is a strategic alliance of four countries—India, Japan, Australia and the United States—“to keep Indo-Pacific region free, open and accessible, diverse and thriving”. That China has warned Bangladesh against joining this alliance shows the importance of Quad.

Back home, the government has been trying to push various reforms despite Covid-19 and curtailed sessions of the Parliament in 2020 and 2021. Amidst the pandemic, the curtailed Monsoon Session in 2020 was to take place from 14 September to 1 October. However, this was shortened further and the session adjourned sine die on 23 September after completing only ten sittings spread over ten days. Similarly, the Parliament’s Budget Session in 2021 that began on 29 January and was to continue till 8 April was adjourned sine die on 25 March. The reason was to enable members to participate in campaigns for the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Assam and West Bengal.

Even during the curtailed sessions, the government brought out legislation to bring changes. In 2020 it brought an Act to reduce the salary, allowance and pension of MPs and ministers by 30 percent, the Epidemic Diseases Act to curb unprecedented violence during the pandemic and for the protection of healthcare workers, and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code to give relief to companies affected by Covid. In 2021, there was legislation on mines and minerals for faster growth, on port modernization, for insurance to raise FDI to 74 percent and bills for reforms in the social and health sectors.

The Modi government did not allow life to come to a standstill. All essential services were brought to the people. Goods trains, trucks and other essentials transport were running. The average speed of construction of national highways at 29.81 km per day was the highest ever in 2020-21. The government had already decided to complete all ongoing projects sanctioned up to 2015-16.

The Modi government’s commitment to nation building could be seen in the conceptualization of creating modern building structures to house various ministries of the government in a stretch of 3.2 km from the Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate. The idea was consolidation and saving the government’s wasteful expenses in the old buildings that defy modern demands.

The construction of the new Parliament building at the estimated cost of Rs 862 crore has already commenced in January after due allocation of money and the tendering process. The building is slated to be complete by 2022 to enable the country to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence in the new Parliament. Bidding goodbye to the colonial hangover, this new building is going to be India’s pride that would stand the test of time for 200-250 years and remind coming generations of the strength of India’s democracy and the values that guide our progress.

The actions of the Modi government showed in enough measures that while we must work on our weaknesses and build our muscles by tightening the sinews of our country, India must not stop. We are not the same country that had pledged gold in 1991 to not to default on international payment obligation. We are strong. And the determination and ambition of the nation is to find fulfilment in the desire for action. Lives must be saved and those who are living must live a life of action and fulfilment. This is the Modi motto.

The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

Needed, a fair probe into Leicester violence

Joyeeta Basu

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After a near-riot like situation in Leicester and Birmingham in the UK, where Hindu houses and temples were targeted by Islamist mobs, many of them Pakistanis, the subcontinental divide seems to have reached the UK. It started post a cricket match between India and Pakistan, where the manhandling of the Indian flag by a man mistaken to be a Pakistani, led to a scuffle. This incident was picked up by the Pakistanis—and there is no dearth of them in the UK—to propagate falsely that Hindus were attacking Muslims. This led to many Islamists attacking Hindu neighbourhoods. As the matter continued to simmer, a protest march by some Hindus—some of them were apparently carrying Indian flags and chanting a religious slogan—in a Pakistani neighbourhood, was again falsely portrayed as a call to violence against the residents there. From thereon, matters have escalated to levels where Hindus, many of them of Indian origin, are living in fear, while the Pakistanis take control of the streets.
The situation seems to have been aggravated by the agenda-driven coverage by mainstream British media, which tried to draw false equivalence between the victims and the aggressors, and resorted to victim blaming, including falsely seeing BJP-RSS hand in the violence. They toned down their coverage only after the local police stepped in to say all that the victims had been accused of was actually fake, but by then a lot of damage had been done. It’s extremely problematic that the British media fell for the Pakistani narrative. But then when did the British media ever see India or Indian origin people, without the benefit of coloured glasses? It has a long history of bias against what it calls a “former British colony”. And now, thanks to their hatred for anything remotely right of centre, the narrative-spinning against India has reached cacophonous levels, primarily because one such government is in power in India. India, according to the British media, is now a cauldron of communal violence and hatred, where the minority community is oppressed and discriminated against. This is the narrative that Pakistan and interests arrayed against India spin against India, worldwide, and in which many Indian and Indian-origin intellectuals add fuel. Britain’s mainstream media is willing to be duped by the Pakistanis because the latter feed their confirmation bias. The Indian government can afford to brush off this western media coverage as ill-informed and biased, because when it comes to India’s “comprehensive national power”, such attacks are pinpricks at best. India is too big and important to be affected by the carping of, for instance, a city reporter in a British newspaper. But the common man cannot afford to be the soft target in all such incidents, with the attackers justifying their actions on what the media has told them about India and Hindus. Hence, it’s extremely reckless on the part of the western media to promote this anti-India, anti-Hindu narrative, because they are making the common Hindu/Indian a vulnerable target of bigots and zealots.
Also the recent incidents have given rise to some voices in the UK that say that diaspora politics is different from India’s politics and that whatever may be happening in India, in the UK they are not like that. The obvious question: what is happening in India that these people have to be so ashamed of this country? India is a thriving democracy; a major power both economically and militarily; India’s soft power has global reach; India is among the top do-gooders of the world, be it as the first responder in disaster situations in its neighbourhood or when supplying vaccines to the world; India is an aspirational and upwardly mobile society, where if given the right opportunity even the poorest of the poor can thrive. Indians are living the Indian dream, and its government, in fact all its governments, must have had some contribution to make that dream possible. So why should a section of the diaspora feel ashamed about a government Indians have chosen, legitimately and democratically? And in the case of the current government, the incumbent Prime Minister is a world leader, with Mexico wanting him to sort out the Ukraine crisis along with the Pope, and the French President quoting his “this is not the era of war” statement during his own speech at the United Nations.
So, what is happening in this country according to a section of the diaspora? Religious divide? Oppression of the minorities? It is as if religious divisions never existed in a country that was born out of religious partition. Also, screaming “minority oppression” does not help without proof, and till date there is no proof, notwithstanding the mudslinging by a particular section. The truth is, India is as united or as divided as it has always been; as communal or as secular as it always was. Hence, the rhetoric used against it to berate it, is just that—rhetoric.
A question now about the law and order machinery in the UK. If Indians and Pakistanis live in harmony in the Gulf, one of the reasons for that is the robust law and order machinery there. While in Britain, too

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Opinion

This is the century of development, not war

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Recently, during bilateral talks with Russian President Putin at the SCO Summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his views. On the one hand, when the whole world grapples with the dire consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war, and wondering how to stop the war, Modiji categorically told Putin, “This century is not of war.” For the past six months, experts in international politics, various organizations and even the common man have been wondering, “Is this century of war?” Then why has this war between Russia and Ukraine not only broken out, but also went on for six months and still there is no sign of its end. While leaders like Biden are opening new fronts against Russia in the seventy-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly, apart from discussing the issues related to energy and food crisis arising out of this war, Putin, on the other hand, is neither afraid of any criticism or sanctions, nor stepping back from the war.
Over the past six months, we have seen how Russia, along with few separatist forces, occupied the north-eastern regions of Ukraine and moved forward, so much so that there was an outcry in Ukraine. Then Zelenskyy appeared as a war hero with a gun, and deployed thousands of his civilians before the Russian army. Then a few days later, he was seen crying in front of the world for the violation of human rights in Ukraine by Russian troops. He was sometimes seen as a hero who was determined not to kneel against a superpower like Russia for the sovereignty of his small country, and sometimes he was seen as a puppet of US and NATO countries, who repeatedly took U-turns from their own statements. We saw Bucha massacre, the arms race intensifying, threat of nuclear accident posed by the Russian attack on the Zaporizhia nuclear plant, and more. We also felt the crises of energy, food, human rights, environment and economic systems. Putin attacked Ukraine with the insistence that Ukraine should not become a member of NATO. That is a thing of the past. In these six months, the Russian army registered victory sometimes, and also faced defeat from Ukrainian army. Recently, the Russian army seems to be losing various won posts in Ukraine. The fear of the unfavourable weather ahead is also haunting the Russian army. On the other hand, Ukraine is completely ruined. Zelenskyy is getting weapons and arms from US, but who will resettle Ukraine, is still an unanswered question. On the other hand, due to this war, new theatres of war are seen opening in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asian regions. In between, various international forums and countries like Turkey have also tried to stop the war, but all have failed before the war.
Why is the war not stopping? Looking at Russia, its intentions were clear from day one. Putin not only wants to return the glory of the old Soviet Union to today’s Russia; he is also angry with the rapid ‘NATO’fication of countries in his region. Russia never plans for a day or two or a week or so. Whatever the western media may say today, US also knows that not only is Russia capable of dragging this war for a long time, it is also capable of bringing the world, especially Europe on its feet because of its energy reserves. On the strength of this, Putin was not only able to cope with all the sanctions, he was also able to make unprecedented profits during the war by selling oil and gas at his arbitrary prices. Putin is fighting a war to achieve far-reaching objectives. And despite losing some of the territories occupied by Ukraine to Ukraine, at least presently, it cannot be said that Russia lost this war.
This war is actually happening between Russia and US. Looking at US, it has played a decisive role in motivating Ukraine to go to this war. In the early stages, Zelensky also said several times that he felt that he had been made a pawn of NATO countries. The US not only strengthened the Western camp’s military alliance, NATO with this one move, but also made a lot of profit by being the largest trader of the arms market in the world. Small countries around Ukraine not only ran to become members of NATO in fear, they also spent a large part of their budget in their military budget to buy weapons from US.
India has put forward a balanced side in all these six months. India did not appear to be taking sides in Ukraine and Russia. But it condemned the Bucha massacre. India is understanding very well that this is a war of two superpowers, and it is requesting to stop the war, but is not standing in any camp.
Putin understands India’s neutral role. His stand was clearly visible in the talks with Modiji. Not only did he respond positively to Modiji’s advice, he also spoke on global concerns related to energy and food. Here the western camp also appreciated India for advising Russia to stop the war without any delay. India knows very well what its own concerns are. As an emerging power of the world, India will not allow any country or lobby to use itself. At the same time, India seems committed to a permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. Today’s world is a world of emerging powers and in order to avoid further wars like Ukraine-Russia, it is necessary that the balance of poles should be maintained in global politics. That is why it is necessary for all those countries like India, which have emerged as new poles of global politics, to achieve decisive positions in international bodies.
Along with Putin, Biden also needs to understand that this century is not of Europe or the superpowers, this century is not of war either. This century is the century of Latin US, Asia and Africa. This century is the century of development. Only by understanding this, the end of this war is possible.
The author is Professor, School of International Studies, JNU.

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Opinion

Dislodging BJP from Gujarat is impossible

The opposition has failed to understand the basis of the support the BJP enjoys. Gujaratis have been voting for stability and development politics that also facilitates business. The politics of freebies or making tall promises won’t work.

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Those who imagine that they can woo voters of Gujarat by giving freebies or making tall promises are going to be greatly disillusioned. Gujarat is a different territory where people are known for their acute business sense and they work on real-time possibilities. An average Gujarati businessman (read voter) thinks about his long-term interest and does not get swayed by the momentary kick that rush of adrenalin may give him from these political promises.
Gujaratis have been voting for stability and development politics that also facilitates business. They know that if the situation is safe and predictable, they don’t need to worry about their next day’s meal. The soil values entrepreneurship and hard work. Realistic promises, therefore, cut more ice than such vain promises. One does not find the same level of backwardness that you may witness in other states of India. The Saurashtra region that used to lag behind has caught up fast on the development roadmap. So has the Kutch region after the devastating earthquake that forced rebuilding the regions using modern structures and techniques.
All these explain why the Congress has failed to dislodge the BJP for the last many years despite using all kinds of tricks and chicanery. During its uninterrupted reign since 1995, the BJP has witnessed dissensions, factionalism and split. But it has always managed to surprise critics by winning elections one after the other. The opposition has failed to understand the basis of the support the BJP enjoys.
The KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) strategy that gave the Congress astounding victory in 1985 failed to revive after the arrival of the Janata Dal- BJP in government in 1990 and then the government of the BJP on its own in 1995. The KHAM was basically a divisive political strategy by which these caste and religious groups were to be combined to come to power and rule over others. Ever since 1995, the Congress has been drumming up various charges against the BJP including corruption at high places. When it failed to checkmate Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat due to his ways to win hearts of people, they drummed up various corruption charges, including favouritism to certain business houses. The Congress even gave a representation to the President of India in 2011 about the allegations that contained 17 items running into more than 1000 pages.
The response of the Modi government was to immediately set-up a judicial inquiry under retired Supreme Court Judge Justice M.B. Shah. The Shah Commission that submitted its report in 22 volumes running into more than 5,000 pages did not find any wrongdoing on the part of the state government and trashed the allegations as baseless. The report tabled in the assembly in 2017 gave a clean chit to Narendra Modi and his government. The tirade on corruption against Narendra Modi had fallen flat.
The Congress tried to woo voters with lucrative offers that included waiver or slashing of power tariff by half and promised to allocate Rs 32,000 crore for 2.5 million unemployed youths under which every such person was to be given Rs 4000 per month as unemployment allowance. It promised free housing for single women and announced reservation to Patel community in education and jobs. The Congress manifesto also promised to abolish the contract system in government employment and replace it with permanent employment.
One would have expected that after these dream announcements the Congress would have won. The party won the highest number of seats since 1985 but fell short of numbers to dislodge the BJP. This was the best the Congress could do and also it was the first election, after many years, where Narendra Modi was not the chief ministerial candidate. The BJP has been in power in the state since 1995.
AAP coordinator Arvind Kejriwal is trying similar tricks, although his party does not have the same base as that of the Congress. He knows that the turf is weak and if has to get an outside chance, he must offer freebies. And he is actually on a freebies spree. Some of the electoral promises include an allowance of Rs 1,000 per month to all women above the age of 18, free electricity up to 300 units for all households, waiver of all electricity bills till 31 December 2021 and unemployment allowance of Rs 3,000 per month to all unemployed youths.
These promises may have electrified the election mood in anti-Modi media, this is unlikely to unnerve the BJP which knows the turf of Gujarat quite well. The BJP has the benefit of a well-oiled election machinery in the entire state up to the panna level. Every BJP worker knows that Gujarat cannot be allowed to slip away. If local elections are any indication, since it reflects the hold of the party in the electorate, the BJP is sitting tall. The party swept all the six municipal corporations in 2021 and its performance was the best in the last two decades. It won 483 of the 576 seats. The AAP stunned everyone by winning 27 of the 120 seats in Surat in its debut performance. Of these 25 seats were held by the Congress.
The AAP challenge, if at all, is to replace the Congress as the main opposition. It has failed to impress BJP voters. It would be extremely difficult for Congress voters to ditch the party and support the AAP since the Congress is a formidable opposition. The Gujarat turf will surely help Kejriwal project himself as a poor challenger and would be interesting from a media viewpoint.
Whether the Congress would be able to retain its hold is difficult to predict looking at its poor record at the municipal polls. Also, its leaders have crossed over to the BJP after realising that the Congress was a bad choice for their politics. Its poster boy, Hardik Patel, who the Congress had lapped up after his stir in the name of reservation for the Patels and made him working president of the state party, has already joined the BJP. Former Gujarat minister Naresh Raval and former Rajya Sabha member Raju Parmar recently left the Congress and joined the BJP.
It is natural for the AAP to become ambitious after the party’s spectacular victory in Punjab where it won 92 of the 117 seats. Many tall leaders such as Captain Navjot Singh Sidhu, Prakash Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Navjot Singh Sidhu and then chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi lost the poll. They were all defeated by lesser minions. There was complete disillusionment in Punjab because of factionalism in the Congress, weakness in the Shiromani Akali Dal and the failure of the BJP to mark its strong electoral presence on its own. Freebies and rising unemployment and soft pedalling the Khalistan issue worked for the AAP.
There is no such issue in Gujarat that dominated the Punjab political campaign. The electoral fight has been primarily between the BJP and the Congress. Some leaders have tried to form political parties and try their luck but failed miserably. The state is a land of opportunities. It is said that if you are ready to work you will never be unemployed.
There is a sizeable presence of BJP’s cadre all across the state. Besides being ideologically strong, most of these BJP workers are personally loyal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Most belong to the human stock Modi built when he was in the State organisation in the early 1990s and later as chief minister. He had identified them when they were young and aspiring to play an active role in politics. Both Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who worked as a team in Gujarat, are in touch with them and take them into confidence while formulating the strategy for the state.
There are some people who want to impress with their Sergius-like romantic approach. It may work one time or maybe twice, but it won’t work all the time because they may meet their match in Bluntschli’s approach based on a cool calibrated strategy. It may be a case of too much sound and fury producing nothing.

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Opposition attempts for a Federal Front to face BJP in 2024 continue

Pankaj Vohra

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Opposition attempts for a Federal Front to face BJP in 2024 continue

With top leaders from Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav calling on Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi, days before she is set to relinquish her post, speculation has begun in political circles regarding their visit. It is well known by now that Nitish Kumar could be the possible face of a proposed Federal Front before the 2024 Parliamentary polls and has made it clear that he shall be contesting for Lok Sabha, leaving the State for Tejasvi Yadav, his deputy. This assurance has led to a patch up between Lalu and Nitish, who had virtually started their political journey together, way back in the 1970s when the J.P.Movement was gaining momentum. It is evident that they realise that since the Gandhis were not contesting the Congress organisational elections, they have excluded themselves from the leadership role of a united front against the BJP. The new Congress president, would be no position to lead the Opposition formation, since he would have to on one hand, save his position, and on the other ensure that the party does well in the big battle. Sonia was the UPA Chairperson and oversaw the working of the Manmohan Singh government. However, with her failing health, she has decided to take the back seat for a while and all decisions on her behalf, even when announced by her, are taken by Rahul Gandhi. With the Congress in no position to do hard bargaining, it is unlikely that it shall be leading the proposed front. This is in contrast to 2003 where at the Shimla Conclave, Sonia had given a call to other opposition parties to join hands with the Congress to oppose the NDA government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. At that point of time, she was assisted by a number of Congress leaders, most notably, Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Makhan Lal Fotedar. At present, the Congress does not have many leaders in the advisory capacity, who have the gravitas, and therefore, most of the decisions seem to be taken in a hurry without much application. Rahul’s team, does not command the same respect as the Sonia’s team of 2003. It is significant to recall that when Sonia Gandhi decided not to become the Prime Minister in 2004 after the defeat of the NDA government, Lalu Prasad Yadav, sent a message that the leader of the UPA would be chosen by all the constituents. However, Fotedar stepped in and made it known to the former Bihar CM that since the Congress was the largest party, it is Congress alone which shall decide on who the leader of the UPA should be as also the next Prime Minister. Nitish and Lalu in the present context believe that the credentials of those who are outside the Congress fold to take the lead, were stronger. Although West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee and Maharashtra strongman, Sharad Pawar are expected to play a stellar role in Opposition politics, Nitish is looking like the front runner at this juncture. It is another matter that Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to go from strength to strength and there is no big challenge to his position. The Sonia, Nitish-Lalu meeting should be apparently viewed as an exploratory exercise to assess each other’s mind as also the emerging situation. A lot more developments are expected in the future, especially after the Congress completes its organisational elections. 
— Pankaj Vohra

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JAISHANKAR’S SPEECH, UKRAINIAN CONFLICT AND UN REFORM

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JAISHANKAR’S SPEECH, UKRAINIAN CONFLICT AND UN REFORM

Many things were said by Foreign Minister Jaishankar in his address to the General Assembly on 24 September, but what stood out as noteworthy was his focus on the urgency of UN reform, describing the current structure as ‘anachronistic and ineffective’ and how it was being increasingly perceived as ‘denying entire continents and regions a voice.’
Many people have expressed disappointment with the United Nations in the context of the Ukrainian conflict. Dissatisfaction has been expressed on two counts. On the one hand the complaint has been made that the organisation itself has shown itself to be incapable of handling a real global crisis. Especially since this particular crisis is not an ordinary one, since Russia, possesses nuclear weapons in the thousands – and President Putin has recently hinted darkly at the possibility that he may use them.
The second complaint doesn’t target the organisation itself as much as it targets its current leader, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres. In a recent article in Foreign Policy Harvard Professor Stephen Walt wished for every world leader to have the following observation prominently displayed on his work desk: ‘It’s much easier to start a war than to end it.’ It has been separately argued that Guterres did not do enough to prevent the war in Ukraine.
It is argued that the Secretary General did not properly heed advice given to him by Western nations in January this year before the Russian attack commenced on 24 February 2022. Satellite imagery clearly showed a troop build-up by the Russians near the Ukrainian border. According to American intelligence and advice tendered there was a clear possibility of the Russians invading and Mr Guterres should therefore have taken preventive action. What kind of preventive action?
At a minimum, have a face-to-face talk with the leaders of both nations, especially Putin. It is further argued that it wasn’t even necessary for Guterres to make a special trip to Moscow for this purpose. He was, anyhow, going to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing, which Putin would also be attending, (together with the Chinese premier Xi). He could have tried to use that opportunity to have a short but effective engagement with Putin.
Guterres confessed later that, like many others at the time, he never really believed that Russia would invade Ukraine. As a matter of fact, he had made a public announcement to that effect just three weeks before the invasion happened.
In his defence, it can be said that at the end of the day we are all human, and Guterres was by no means alone in concluding that the Russians were actually bluffing and would never really invade. Critics of Guterres do not accept this line of defence arguing that the job of the Secretary General of the United Nations is a job different from all others and requires the head of the UN to be on the ball all the time. The Secretary General needs to be super-alert and super-active all the time, simply because the stakes can be so very high. Once the invasion of Ukraine took place, it became all the more difficult to end the war.
Anyhow what’s done is done and cannot be undone. After all, even had the UN Secretary General been more alert and savvier than he was, he may not have been able to prevent the invasion. Critics of the UN Secretary General perhaps do not have an appreciation of the structural limitations under which the Secretary General operates, which brings us to the second criticism which is that the UN has failed as an institution.
There are some of us who argue that the organisation itself should be disbanded. Clearly an overreaction and an extremely foolish idea, it is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let us not forget that the UN and Guterres are even now playing an important, perhaps indispensable role in the conflict. In the early days of the conflict, on 28 April 2022, when Guterres visited Kiev, he spoke in an interview on how he had seen airports, roads and schools all lie in ruins due to Russia’s invasion. Large populations were without water or electricity. The Secretary General also spoke then on how together with its humanitarian partners the UN was working to ensure safe passage from besieged areas, and to provide aid where security permitted, allowing around 600,000 people to receive some form of aid. That humanitarian effort continues.
If the UN did not exist, we would anyhow need an organisation much like it. What makes far greater sense is to try and reform the United Nations so that it has the power to constructively intervene in such volatile, dangerous situations. As Prime Minister Modi suggested recently, a view echoed by President Macron, this is not the era of war, and there should therefore be an immediate cessation of hostilities and serious negotiations based on the principles of the UN Charter and International Law. As things stand, however, the UN Charter does not envisage a credible action plan in the event a UN Security Council member, in this case Russia, itself becomes an aggressor.
Who will bell the cat? The Council will never reform itself, without pressure being brought to bear upon it. The call for reform can only come from the larger community of nations. History has time and time again shown how the demonstration of public will and determination can unseat monarchs and dictators who might appear, from the outside, to be too well entrenched to topple. We, the people of the world, cannot sit and watch while the UN Security Council starts to increasingly resemble an oligarchic club that refuses to open its doors to other important actors, for all of us have a stake in the survival of the planet.

Rajesh Talwar is an author of 34 books across multiple genres. He has worked for the United Nations for over two decades across three continents in numerous countries.

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Opinion

Jan Dhan and inclusivity: The Modi way

Financial inclusion is a national priority of the Modi government, as it is an enabler for holistic growth.

Sanju Verma

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Jan Dhan and inclusivity: The Modi way

Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was launched on 28 August 2014, with the motive of ‘Banking the Unbanked’, with 179 million accounts being opened in the first year itself. PMJDY’s objective has been to ensure accessibility to various financial services like availability of basic savings bank account, need based credit, remittance facility, insurance, micro-credit and pension to excluded sections, that is, weaker sections and low income groups. PMJDY accounts hit 462.5 million, as in, 46.25 crore accounts in the last eight years, with deposits hitting a solid Rs 1.73 lakh crore. Operative accounts as a percentage of the total, stood at a healthy 81.2% in August 2022. Average deposits, per Jan Dhan account, rose to Rs 3761 in August 2022, from Rs 3398 a year ago. The average deposit per account is up over 2.9 times from Rs 1279 in August 2015.The increase in average deposit is an indication of increased usage of accounts. PMJDY has expanded its coverage to 67% of the rural and semi-urban areas and has over 56% women account holders, in a remarkable example of not only being the world’s largest financial inclusion scheme, but also being gender sensitive. About 80 million PMJDY account holders receive direct benefit transfer (DBT) from the Modi government.
Digital transactions have seen an increase with 319.4 million RuPay debit cards being issued under PMJDY, installation of point of sale (PoS) machines and introduction of UPI, taking total such transactions to 71.95 billion in FY22 from 9.78 billion in FY17.Total RuPay card transactions at PoS and e-commerce have increased from 282.8 million in FY17 to 1.51 billion in FY22.
The centre now plans to cover PMJDY account holders under its flagship insurance schemes, PM Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and PM Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) and improve access for them, to micro-credit and micro investment plans such as flexi-recurring deposits.
PMJDY is a national mission on financial inclusion. In addition, the beneficiaries get RuPay Debit card, having in built accident insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh. Technological issues like poor connectivity and glitches in on-line transactions have been effectively addressed in mobile transactions in the last seven years. In fact, technology has been used befittingly as a big enabler, something that never happened meaningfully, prior to 2014, under successively incompetent Congress regimes.
Former PM Rajiv Gandhi had said that in India from the 1980s, out of 100 paise of benefits, only 15 paise reached the true beneficiary. The remaining 85 paise was gobbled up by middlemen and sarkaari babus. Thanks to PM Modi’s Digital India, 100% of all benefits reach the beneficiary through DBT. Coming back to Jan Dhan, more than 1.46 lakh ‘Bank Mitras’, became a part of PMJDY, to ensure it reached India’s remotest and the poorest. Under PM Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), a sum of over Rs 30,945 crore was credited into accounts of women PMJDY account holders during the Covid lockdown.
“Banking the Unbanked” pertains to opening of basic savings bank deposit (BSBD) accounts with minimal paperwork, relaxed KYC, e-KYC, account opening in camp mode, zero balance & zero charges. “Securing the Unsecured” pertains to issuance of indigenous debit cards for cash withdrawals and payments at merchant locations. “Funding the Unfunded” pertains to other financial products like micro-insurance, overdraft for consumption, micro-pension and micro-credit. Jan Dhan accounts are online accounts in the core banking system of banks, in place of the earlier method of offline accounts. Interoperability through RuPay debit card or Aadhaar enabled Payment System (AePS), have been force multipliers.
The Modi government decided to extend the comprehensive PMJDY program beyond 2018, with some modifications. Focus shifted from ‘Every Household’, to ‘Every Unbanked Adult’. Free accidental insurance cover on RuPay cards was increased from Rs. 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for PMJDY accounts opened after 28 August 2018.The scheme also provides Rs 2 lakh for accidental death and full disability, and Rs 1 lakh for partial disability, for a premium of just Rs. 12 per annum. Enhancement in overdraft (OD) facilities was enabled, with OD limit doubled from Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 and with OD upto Rs 2000, given without conditions. The upper age limit for OD was also raised from 60 to 65 years.
PMJDY has been the foundation stone for people-centric economic initiatives. Whether it is direct benefit transfers, Covid-19 related financial assistance, PM-KISAN, increased wages under MGNREGA, life and health insurance cover, the first step of all these initiatives is to provide every adult with a bank account, which PMJDY has been doing on a war footing. One in two bank accounts opened between March 2014 and March 2022, was a PMJDY account. Within 10 days of nationwide lockdown, more than 20 crore women PMJDY accounts were credited with ex-gratia. PMJDY provides an avenue to the poor for bringing their savings into the formal financial system, an avenue to remit money to their families in villages besides taking them out of the clutches of the infamous, usurious money lenders. PMJDY has brought the unbanked into the banking system, expanded the financial architecture of India and brought financial inclusion to almost every adult. In today’s post Covid-19 times, we have witnessed the remarkable swiftness and seamlessness with which direct benefit transfer (DBTs) have empowered and provided financial security to the vulnerable sections of society.
Financial Inclusion is a national priority of the Modi government, as it is an enabler for holistic growth. The journey of PMJDY led interventions undertaken over a short span of 8 years have in effect, produced both transformational as well as directional change, thereby making the emerging financial ecosystem, capable of delivering financial services to the last person of the society and the poorest of the poor. The underlying pillars of PMJDY, namely, ‘Banking the Unbanked’, ‘Securing the Unsecured’ and ‘Funding the Unfunded’, have made it possible to adopt a multi-stakeholders’ collaborative approach, while leveraging technology for serving the unserved and underserved areas as well. No government in post Independent India has embraced welfarism, within the larger framework of a capitalist order, as seamlessly as the Modi government and that speaks volumes about PM Narendra Modi’s commitment to a socio-economic order that encourages all the three–egalitarianism, free markets and competition.

Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.

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