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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

BRAHMOS DEAL IS A SIGNIFICANT STEP TOWARDS AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

Joyeeta Basu

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It’s of immense significance that India has got the order to supply the Brahmos supersonic missile to Philippines. It is significant for both domestic industry and for India’s broader strategic interests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept an ambitious target of reaching $5 billion (roughly Rs 35,000 crore) exports in defence and related goods by 2025. For defence production, the target is $25 billion by 2025. The government says that it is building a robust defence infrastructure based on the three pillars of research and development, public and private defence production, and defence exports. There is no doubt that defence production has got a major push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. A lot of steps have been taken including the corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the setting up of two Defence Industrial Corridors in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, raising the FDI limit in the defence sector to 74% if it is through the automatic route and 100% if such investment takes the government route. The government has also formulated a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020. It has prioritised procurement from domestic industries. The role of the PSUs in delaying production has been curtailed with active participation of private players in the defence sector. Several such reformatory steps have been taken to reorganise the defence sector and the numbers are picking up. From defence exports worth a little over Rs 1,500 cr in 2016-2017, the defence export bucket has increased to nearly Rs 8,500 cr in 2020-2021—a part of this was the “big ticket” $100 million order bagged by L&T in 2016 to design and manufacture high speed patrol vessels for the Vietnam Border Guard. All this is a huge step towards bolstering domestic industry, which was ignored by successive governments over the decades.

It is in this context that the Brahmos deal worth $375 million (Rs 2,270 cr) has to be seen. It’s a small step in the direction India can take to become a defence exporter from one of the largest buyers of defence equipment, but a step nonetheless. The best thing about the Brahmos is, one of the world’s fastest supersonic missiles with 95% accuracy, and which can operate from land, air and water, including from submarines, is now 90% Indian, with dependence on critical components from Russia reduced to the minimum. The buzz is that even Vietnam and Indonesia have shown an interest in Brahmos. Defence experts say that it is not just Brahmos, even the Akash surface-to-air missile and the Tejas light combat aircraft among others may find buyers abroad. Hence, this is an area where a lot can be achieved in terms of realising India’s potential and making it a $5 trillion economy inside the next couple of years.

As for the South China Sea countries that are the first line of defence against a malign power, it is in India’s broader strategic interest to arm them with missiles, and thus help them reduce the gulf that exists between them and China militarily. This can be a part of India’s strategy of containing China, apart from increasing India’s influence in the region, which can have a likely positive impact on trade with the ASEAN countries. India does not need to be the “security provider” for the South China Sea countries. Apparently, that role is “reserved” for the United States. However, the US has been failing in its job, if Philippines’ experience in 2012 is anything to go by, when US did not do anything to help it during the standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal. This is one of the reasons why countries in the region are sceptical about the US. This scepticism has been aggravated because of the manner in which the Afghanistan pullout happened. So there is a possibility of this region becoming a major importer of defence equipment in the near future. There is no reason why India should not get a share of that market.

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Opinion

Modi phobia has blinded Gregory Stanton and Co

The earlier predictions of the ‘Genocide Watch’ founder on Kashmir, Assam and CAA too were proved wrong, and nobody in India takes Gregory Stanton seriously.

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Anti-India non-State actors are ganging up in the United States to paint India as a dangerous place. Islamists and Leftists have joined hands with Dr Gregory Stanton—the renowned professor on genocide—to say that India is inching closer to genocide. He warned a Congressional hearing on 12th January of an impending genocide of Muslims in India.

It may ring familiar since sometime back anti-India forces had roped in singer Rihanna and environmentalist sensation Greta Thunberg to tweet on farmers’ issue in India. While Indians did not take Rihanna or Thunberg seriously, one does not know if these two were victims of propaganda or greed.

I was aghast at this comment. What could be the motive for Stanton to stick his neck out? He has already predicted that India is on the eight stage which is just one step away from genocide. The basis of his immediate provocation is objectionable utterances by some participants at the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar against Muslims. The State has acted in terms of lodging an FIR and arresting the accused and the Supreme Court has been keeping an eye on the action by the State.

But nobody in India is losing sleep over what happened in Haridwar for the simple reason that India is too big and resilient to allow such incidents to disturb the social fabric. The same way the country had absorbed the statement of Akbaruddin Owaisi of the AIMIM who had said that if police is removed for 15 minutes, Muslims will finish 100 crore Hindus. Although the speech is used in debate to show communal polarisation, nobody takes the statement seriously.

Everyone in India knows that the sadhus at the so-called Dharam Sansad had no locus standi in terms of their affiliation with the BJP or even the Sangh Parivar. It is doubtful if they could be called a credible representative organisation of the Hindu angst. A similar incident had happened at Jantar Mantar where people had shouted anti-Muslim slogans and some arrests were made. But now that the Dharam Sansad has got into international prominence, it may also be inquired whether they became a victim of international conspiracy. There are a number of organisations working hand-in-glove to create such a situation and then to use that to defame the country.

Stanton’s argument is that the Prime Minister did not condemn the incident. Ridiculous to expect that Narendra Modi would go on issuing condemnation one after the other only to embolden such happenings. The law of the State should act and Stanton was not briefed properly to know that law and order in India is not the subject of the Prime Minister but of the various State governments. It is only when the States fail in the task that the Central government intervenes.

An average Indian who does not normally react to such international propaganda thinking this will subside, would be shocked to hear that Stanton’s ‘Genocide Watch’ has compared the situation to Rwanda in the 1990s and Myanmar (due to Rohingya Muslims). To speak in such derogatory terms for a thriving democracy which has robust institutions of checks and balances would be considered sacrilege by any Indian citizen worth his salt.

Stanton was proved wrong earlier so far as his prediction for India is concerned and he may be nursing his wounds because of that. While addressing an audience of Congressional and US Government officials at a briefing titled “Ground Reports on Kashmir and NRC” in Washington DC on 12 December 2019, he said: “Preparation for a genocide is definitely underway in India.” He claimed that Muslims were being persecuted in Assam and Kashmir and described this as the stage just before the genocidal stage in his famous “10-Stage Genocide Process”. These things never happened. In the Assembly elections last year, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 75 of the 126 seats in Assam to the Congress’ 50 and formed the government for a second time.

The problem is that Stanton is in bad company. An independent research would give him a different picture about India. He has ganged up with the likes of Teesta Setalvad who tried her best to malign Narendra Modi but failed miserably. The might of Amnesty International, that was caught red-handed committing fraud in India, is now with these people along with other organisations that work for Muslim cause such as the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC). The IAMC has already asked Indian Muslims settled in different States of the US to influence their representative for Congressional hearings on the status of Muslims in India.

The Indian government has banned thousands of NGOs from taking foreign funds since they refused to comply with the Indian legal system. Some international NGOs thought they were powerful and they could bend the government but they have failed. Amnesty had imagined that the United Kingdom would come to its rescue but the UK, which is rule bound, would not do anything to ask India to bend its laws. All these NGOs, rubbed by the Modi government on the wrong side, have an axe to grind and are trying to show their power of mischief. They are likely to do similar things in the European Parliament in an attempt to defame the Modi government. Not that this would make much of a difference to either Modi or India, but the fangs of these organisations are getting exposed.

Stanton is a Modi hater. Even in his speech released on various social media platforms, he minces no words to demonstrate his hatred. He intentionally referred to Gujarat riots of 2002 and said that Modi as the Chief Minister did nothing. He even said that “Modi encouraged those massacres”. The facts are to the contrary. Army was called within 24 hours, the shortest span in the history of riots in India, and no inquiry has found Modi not doing anything. Stanton is cocking a snook at the Indian judiciary since Modi has been held not-guilty by Indian courts.

Let us see another statement of Stanton. He criticised Modi for revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and for passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). To him, the revocation was intended at restoring Hindu domination. He found that the CAA was aimed at targeting Muslims. Both are false. Revoking Article 370 has been one of the core ideological issues of the BJP since the party considered it divisive and had been advocating complete integration of the State with India. And the CAA is intended to grant citizenship rights to those persecuted minorities that had come to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Clearly Stanton has been bought over by the Islamist narrative. He claimed that 200 million Muslims would be victims of the CAA.

Stanton’s real pain is visible when he says that the Indian Constitution was devised to make India a secular country and not a country based on Hindutva. He complements the Congress for maintaining the secular character of India in the initial years after Independence.

“What we have now though, an actual member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) — this extremist, Hindutva-oriented group — Mr Modi as [the] prime minister of India. So, what we have here is an extremist who has taken over the government,” he said. Batting for Congress and attacking Modi is an old trick adopted by many RSS-BJP haters.

Now we know why he is in a bad company. This is because he is suffering from Modi phobia. Calling the Indian Prime Minister an ‘extremist’ would not be appreciated by any world leader who has interacted with Modi. He has earned friends and has impressed them with his commitment to democracy and development. Stanton’s utterances are an affront to the honour and dignity of an average Indian who sees hope in their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

There are some people and vested interests that always wanted the Indian poor to suffer. Health card for the poor, a bank account for them where they get direct benefits through electronic transfer of funds and a free ration so that they don’t die of hunger have helped Modi emerge as the messiah of the poor. His schemes do not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims. These things don’t suit the Western narrative.

He has reined in corruption and given a level playing field to people who want to take the country forward. India is now home to the third largest number of Startup Unicorns after the United States and China. It will soon have 100 such unicorns each valued with a minimum value of USD 1 billion.

The pain of anti-India forces is the country is progressing despite being an area of potential conflict. The prophets of doom are being proved wrong. The incidents of terrorism have come down and Hindus and Muslims are trying to settle their issues through intellectual discourse. Genocide Watch also intends to influence the decision of MNCs which may be planning big investment in India now that the honeymoon with China appears to be almost over. India under Modi is a very attractive destination for these investors. FDI inflow during the last seven years (2014-21) was USD 440.27 billion which was 58 per cent of the total FDI inflow of USD 763.83 billion in the last 21 years. This is despite the pandemic.

Where does this leave Stanton and his likes? The West and Europe are shy of facing the charge of being Islamophobic. They have not been able to work out a full-proof mosaic society, where Muslims, a miniscule minority there, do not face discrimination. India is working well despite having a Muslim minority that has more population than any caste Hindu group. So, it makes sense for people like Stanton to take up the cause of some Muslims in the US who may be charged up by the motivated narrative that goes out from India. This would at least save Stanton from not being labelled Islamophobic. But they have to be wary of Modi phobia too. This blinds your vision and forces you to go wrong.

The writer is the author of ‘Narendra Modi: the GameChanger’. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

NON-CRICKETING REASONS FORCE KOHLI TO QUIT TEST CAPTAINCY

Pankaj Vohra

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Virat Kohli, the country’s most successful Cricket Captain had to give up his position due to politics within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It is apparently an array of the non-cricketing reasons that have compelled him to step down, and it would become a very difficult job for the administrators of the game to find his replacement. Kohli made this public declaration of relinquishing his Captaincy after first informing his own teammates and Head Coach Rahul Dravid besides speaking with BCCI secretary Jay Shah. The announcement has left Cricket fans shell-shocked and the entire Cricketing fraternity throughout the world has hailed King Kohli as one of the best in the game and someone whose contribution in making India, amongst the topmost cricket-playing nations is an acknowledged fact. While it is for sports writers and experts to figure out how the team shall be rebuilt, there are reports that Kohli was likely to be served a show-cause notice for publicly contradicting the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on the issue of giving up the T-20 Captaincy, before the team embarked for the South African Tour. It was to pre-empt the show cause notice that he took this drastic decision. It goes without saying that after the exit of Ravi Shastri as the Indian Coach, Kohli had very little support left, and it would have been a matter of time that he would have quit.

Dravid is a legendary all-time great of the game but his and Kohli’s personalities are totally apart. There has also been a lot of politics within the Board where the West Zone has regained control of matters and has the final say in major decisions including team selection. The complexion of the Indian team shows how certain players have made it to the squad due to regional bias that has triumphed over merit. Kohli had made the Indian side into a fighting force that was feared by all Cricketing countries. In the pre-Kohli era, whenever team India lost on a foreign tour, fans would accept the outcome. However, after Kohli took over the leadership role, the expectations were always high and the recent loss to South Africa was described by everyone as “an upset”. This was Kohli’s influence over the game and his teammates.

Sunil Gavaskar, perhaps the greatest Indian batsman ever, feels that giving up Captaincy would help Kohli to concentrate on his batting. His opinion is that many more centuries would now flow from Kohli’s willow in the next five or six years of Test Cricket he shall play, given his exceptional fitness levels. India has to look for a new leader who can lead from the front and earn the respect of all the teammates. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul are the front runners but one cannot rule out R. Ashwin to be in the reckoning also. Gavaskar is of the view that Rishabh Pant would make a very good Captain. However, the Board must seriously consider Ajinkye Rahane even though he has not been in the best form of his life. His Captaincy in Australia had been extraordinary and from the current crop of players, he would be a very good choice during this transitional phase till a new leader can be identified.

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Opinion

Just a ‘security breach’ or a sinister plan?

Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab administration and police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident.

Ashish Sood

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The unprecedented breach in the security of the Prime Minister of India has left the entire nation shocked and aggrieved. It is difficult to believe that the cavalcade of the world’s most popular leader gets stranded for more than twenty minutes over a flyover merely ten kilometers away from the Pakistan border. Historically speaking, India has never witnessed a security lapse of such a magnitude where busloads of protestors brazenly obstruct the PM’s convoy. The casual and high-handed manner in which the security of the PM was handled is even more shameful and raises serious doubts upon the intention of the Congress government in Punjab.

The absence of the Chief Minister, DGP and Chief Secretary of Punjab for the customary reception of PM, false assurances of route clearance given by DGP and refusal by CM Channi to get on the phone for resolving the issue goes fundamentally against the ethos of democracy and is sufficient to raise a cloud of suspicion. Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab Administration and Police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident. While the situation demanded an immediate and prompt response from the CM as the security of the supreme elected head of the state was under threat, he preferred to engage himself in whataboutery. He candidly questioned the need for opting the land route despite being well aware that the weather conditions were not conducive for a safe flight. Is it not enough to suggest that the Congress desired the Prime Minister to meet the same unfortunate fate as that of first CDS Late Gen. Bipin Rawat and thirteen others who succumbed to a plane crash recently?

The other Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely putting a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying an overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather it just seems to be a tip of an iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India. It would not be absurd to say that the Congress has a predominant role in fueling up this conspiracy against the nation. According to media reports, the DGP of Punjab got in touch with senior members of the government and conveyed his inclination to use ‘force’ to disperse the protestors but he was told to exercise restraint. Without paying any heed to the fact that the security of the PM is sine-qua-non to maintain stability in the country, he was further ordered to not do anything which could put the state government in a fix. One of the leaders of the protestors has publicly admitted that he was informed by the SSP of Punjab Police about the route of the PM’s convoy whereas the existing norms do not allow anyone to disclose this fact. It undoubtedly hints towards the mala-fide intentions of the Congress government to create another riot against Sikhs with an aim to whitewash its own blot of 1984 killings.

It is an established fact that Congress can stoop to any low to retain its power. The security personnel deployed at the spot where PM’s cavalcade was stuck were seen enjoying tea with the protestors. What were the reasons that compelled the celebrated Punjab Police to act so loosely? This shameful display of connivance of Police officials with the protestors cannot be made possible without political patronage from the Congress leaders in power. In the 1980s, Congress supported extremists to dethrone Akalis and dissociate them from Sikhs in order to gain power. In the process of achieving its political goals, it set the peaceful environment of Punjab on fire as mayhem surrounded the entire region. As a result, Punjab witnessed mass killings, terrorist attacks and separatist insurgency, ultimately leading to the mysterious ends of many of its leaders including the assassination of Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi. Sadly, Congress leadership doesn’t want to learn from its own doings in the past and has restarted echoing the voices of secessionist elements. The blatant appeasement of the fervid proponents of Khalistan by Congress who created ruckus in the recent farmers’ agitation sends a clear message that it will do anything to retain power, even if it means another partition of India.

Moreover, it cannot be a coincidence that three terrorists were arrested from around the same sensitive region soon after the incident. A few videos surfacing over the internet which were uploaded a year ago eerily reflect the similar events which transpired during the security breach. The FIR registered against 150 unidentified persons after the incident does not mention the security breach rather it only deals with the obstruction in any public way attracting a penalty of meagre two hundred rupees. Thus, the aftermath of the incident is self-explanatory and indicates Congress’ deep plunge into the murky waters of depravity and moral turpitude.

Once a prominent leader of Jana Sangh, Balraj Madhok had famously remarked that if Congress is malaria, Communists are a plague. This comparative analysis of both the ideologies has taken a new turn in the contemporary parlance. The recent turmoil created by Congress suggests that it has unhesitatingly adopted the Communist’s infamous goal of anarchy. This thirst of grabbing power at the cost of compromising PM’s security makes the situation even more worrisome and uncannily resembles a deadlier pandemic for a vibrant constitutional democracy like ours. Though this incident has unraveled many nefarious agendas of the Congress party but a plethora of questions still remain unanswered. It cannot be outrightly denied that the protestors and police were certainly hand in gloves with those at the top levels acting in cahoots. The people of Punjab have witnessed misgovernance and complete collapse of law and order in the past one year and hence, they will take the Congress party to task by voting them out of power in the upcoming elections.

Writer is the Co-Incharge BJP, Jammu & Kashmir Affairs. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.

Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely turning a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather they just seem to be the tip of the iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India.

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Opinion

DESERTIONS PUT YOGI ON THE BACKFOOT IN UP

Pankaj Vohra

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Yogi Adityanath

Desertion by several OBC leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections could spell trouble for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and come in the way of his second consecutive term. In fact, the momentum seems to be shifting towards his principal challenger, Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the crucial polls that have been described by several political pundits as the semi-final before the finals in 2024. The desertions by prominent leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Dharam Singh Saini, Avtar Singh Bhadana, Madhuri Verma and Roshan Lal Verma amongst others, also reflects that there were a large number of issues that remain unaddressed by the Yogi government. It is evident that the government was perhaps thriving because of high voltage publicity and divisive politics.

The BJP has tried to underplay the decision of these leaders amidst claims that at least 100 more prominent functionaries from the State may similarly leave the party in the near future. What should be worrying for the ruling dispensation is that its political narrative so far, could even damage the Narendra Modi brand. Modi is the undisputed political leader in the country and since his name and performance is being also projected as plus points for the BJP, a major problem could arise in the event the Saffron Brigade loses the plot in the most populous state of the country. In view of the unfolding developments, it would not be surprising that the double-engine slogan of the party, to lay emphasis on the development of the state, due to the close coordination between the Centre and the Yogi government may be amended in order to shield the Prime Minister. The outcome of the UP polls would have wide ranging ramifications and could even impact the Presidential elections later this year.

If the BJP is unable to secure majority of its own, it would be very difficult for the central leadership of the party to decide on a person of its first choice for the top position. The choice could narrow down to someone who is also acceptable to sections of the Opposition or States, which otherwise are opposed to the BJP and its allies. Therefore, the BJP shall have to pull a rabbit out of its hat to upset the existing calculations which seem to be projecting an easy win for Akhikesh, notwithstanding the overwhelming projections in favour of the ruling party in most opinion polls. This is also a wake-up call for the BJP Parliamentary Board and the Sangh Parivar that they should stop taking things for granted and believe only in their own caste formulas, rather than the emerging situation on the ground. In the past three Assembly polls, Uttar Pradesh has given a convincing mandate to whichever party won. In 2007, it was for Mayawati, in 2012 it was for Akhilesh and in 2017, for the BJP. Therefore, if the trend continues, then it would again be a repeat of a one-sided election in favour of whoever wins ultimately. The reason for these desertions is that the Yogi government has been engaged in hyping the issues close to its agenda while ignoring the concerns of those who are leaving or have left. The most obvious inference is that in pursuance of Kamandal politics, the BJP underestimated the threat from Mandal politics. The consequences of these resignations, if they go against the interests of the party, could put a question mark over Yogi’s ability to lead. He is desperate and to send a polarizing signal, he recently talked about the contest between 80 percent who favoured development, and 20 percent who were against it.

The figures alluded to the religious ratio within the State where Hindus constitute 80 percent and the Muslims 20 percent. Yogi’s critics have urged the Election Commission to take notice of this loaded and communal reference by the Chief Minister which allegedly constituted violation of the Model Code of Conduct. However, Yogi is undeterred and knows that if he wins, he would truly emerge from the shadows as a leader who could be in the reckoning for a top slot in the post-Modi era. It is equally true that if Akhilesh Yadav wins the 2022 Assembly polls, he would alter the Opposition’s current equations regarding a collective plan to contest the 2024 Parliamentary polls since he would be a claimant for the leadership of the coalition as well. Interesting times are here and the Uttar Pradesh saga could spring up many more surprises as the election process progresses.

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Opinion

Is the Arab world ready for a post-oil future?

In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector.

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Since the 19th century, oil has been one of the world’s major energy resources. Oil meets 33% of global energy demand, but oil demand may begin to decline sooner than expected due to renewable resources trends around the world and technological advancements. Arab countries in the Gulf region are beginning to take precautions through diversification as they need to transform their oil-dependent economies. The issue of economic diversification has taken on new urgency in the Persian Gulf countries. The global economic slowdown induced by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the price of Brent crude oil from $64 a barrel in early 2020 to $23 a barrel in April 2020.

For decades, GCC countries have been concerned about the long-term viability of their hydrocarbon revenues. In the long run, oil and gas reserves will deplete. Bahrain and Oman are the most vulnerable, with reserves expected to run out within the next decade for Bahrain and within the next 25 years for Oman. In the short term, GCC countries have already begun to tap into $2 trillion in financial assets amassed over decades and invested in sovereign wealth funds for future generations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that unless GCC countries implemented significant fiscal and economic reforms, their conserved wealth would be depleted by 2034.

DIVINE SANCTION AND A CHALLENGE

Natural resources abound in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. They have been using this wealth to improve the lives of their citizens, developed infrastructure, constructed modern cities and plan for a future without oil, they have made significant progress in their objectives.All have Human Development Index scores above 0.8, putting them ahead of all other Middle East and North African (MENA) countries and on par with some European Union countries (EU).

The GCC countries, on the other hand, have struggled to make progress on the third goal: diversifying their economies. Despite their good intentions, mirrored in their national visions and economic development plans, the GCC economies remain pig-headedly keen about hydrocarbons.Thus,for economic diversification to be sustainable, other essential ingredients must be present, such as moderate government spending, increased non-oil exports, and even more foreign direct investment (FDI).

While GCC members have made significant headway over the last decade, oil and gas production continues to account for more than 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries, excluding the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Nonetheless, oil and gas royalties directly fund a large portion of the region’s other economic activities, such as construction and infrastructure development. For Bahrain, oil accounts for a minor share of GDP because the region’s oil reserves have been depleted; yet, oil continues to underpin economic activity indirectly through transfers and expenditure from neighbouring nations. Consequently, though efforts have been made to diversify government finances, hydrocarbons account for 70% or more of overall revenue in all countries except Saudi Arabia (68%) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (36%). Nonetheless, many of the diverse revenue streams in those two countries are supported by petroleum economic activities.

The Gulf countries do manufacture goods and services within their borders, principally for domestic usage. These embody Agricultural products, manufactured items, and business services are examples of them. However, domestically produced goods and services would not be able to replace the massive volumes of imported goods and services required to support the region’s 27 million natives and 29 million expats.

OIL IN INTERNAL POLITICS

Generally, advanced democracies and the presence of inclusive institutions boost economic growth. Yet, in some instances, economic growth can impede democratisation. “Rentierism” is one of the most well-known theories on the subject.Rentier states generate money by collecting rent from foreign governments, businesses or individuals. They do not require tax revenues because their primary job is to disperse incoming foreign resources.

Furthermore, rentier nations are financially independent and autonomous from society, contributing a little portion of external rent earnings to domestic spending while retaining the majority of the wealth. Despite considerable criticism, the link between authoritarian Arab regimes that sell oil and their citizens lends validity to the notion. However, as the post-oil era approaches, Arab states are attempting to escape the trap of rentierism.

THE SAUDI PARAGON

The oil sector contributes 28.7 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP and accounts for 80 percent of its exports. These figures demonstrate the significance of economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s audacious economic makeover might be successful. To prepare for a Post Oil future, the Kingdom announced its “Vision 2030” with economic diversification as its primary economic goal.

Saudi Arabia has tried to enhance its private sector, unleash the potential of non-oil industries, and expand non-oil exports with this goal in mind.

It will not be easy to attain this target quickly, which is why the kingdom has tightened its laws and begun forcing foreign corporations to relocate their Middle East operations to Saudi Arabia.To attract new investment and generate new employment, the Saudi government and government-backed institutions will no longer sign contracts with multinational firms that do not have a regional centre in Saudi Arabia in early 2024.This decision heightened tensions with rival countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some UAE-based investors described the decision as “obviously geared” .

The UAE, like Saudi Arabia, has increased attempts to attract overseas companies in order to restructure their economy and reduce their reliance on oil.

This appears to be one of several competitors in the region as many Arab oil-exporting countries attempt to modernise their economies as conflicts of interest appear to be inescapable.

SAUDI AS A MOVER AND SHAKER

Saudi Arabia as predicted would never be a mover and shaker again. The decline is irreversible, because “oil-rich” is a word that will become as obsolete as “carbon copy.” Arab producers’ oil revenue has dropped by more than two-thirds, and it will never recoup. So far, the decline has been mostly driven by a sharp drop in oil prices; demand has steadily increased, but oil production has consistently increased faster; nonetheless, an outright collapse in demand is also on the horizon.

As the climate situation worsens, motor vehicles (which account for half of all oil consumption worldwide) are shifting to electricity. The United Kingdom and France have officially pledged to cease all new automobile sales with internal combustion engines by 2030, which means that no one will buy a new petroleum-fueled car after 2025. Many other countries are debating similar measures.

The unprecedented stability of these nations without a single regime change among the six “oil-rich” monarchs of the Arabian peninsula in the last 50 years – has been solely predicated on the traditional rulers’ ability to buy the consent of their subjects. When wealth disappears, so does stability. Even Saudi Arabia’s unity, established by force less than a century ago, may not survive the shift.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector. Economic diversification policies must take genuine rent-seeking behaviour into account. GCC governments will need to have an open dialogue with their citizens about the financial restrictions they confront and the options available to them in the future, and then redraw the parameters of the governing social compact in a way that is perceived as equitable and fair. This renegotiation will require both political elites and regular individuals to give up some of their rights and privileges in light of diminished hydrocarbon reserves and lower prices that are predicted to persist and sink further in the long run. GCC countries have established free zones, innovation parks, and entrepreneurial centres outside the boundaries of their rentier-based private sectors over the last two decades. Nonetheless, all of these things are primitive.

The coronavirus outbreak, combined with reduced global oil prices, has intensified pressure on Gulf governments to accelerate economic diversification initiatives. GCC policymakers must look beyond the urgent need to slash expenditures and instead focus on laying the groundwork for a thriving and sustainable post-hydrocarbon economy. Economic and political pressures have already compelled Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to lift their three-and-a-half-year embargo on Qatar, paving the way for further regional economic integration.

WILL REFORMS BE ENOUGH?

Firstly, economic modifications are required since the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members are heavily reliant on oil, and resources will need to be reallocated among other sectors.

Secondly, the transition will be political, because oil is used to bolster authoritarian governments and quiet democratic demands in many oil-exporting Arab states.

Petroleum countries would be impacted and pushed to undergo economic and political reforms. Oil has long been a key element in Middle Eastern politics, and the world’s post-oil futures may have significant ramifications in the region and global politics as a whole.

As rentier regimes make strides in preparation for a post-oil future, ultimately time will tell whether they are strong enough to protect authoritarian regimes. Oil-exporting Arab regimes may face a fresh and more robust ‘Arab Spring’ in the twenty-first century if they continue to focus primarily on the economic side of things and fail to implement institutional reforms promptly.

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