India needs to get skilled at tapping skills at a young age for the right market demand. Hundreds of foreign companies, including over 200 firms from the United States (as reported in the media), are planning to set up their manufacturing bases and are ready to invest heavily in India after booting out of China. Now, a gigantic challenge awaits the nation in supplying the required skilled manpower for the prospective industries.
With an opportunity offered after corona, India, with its honest and laborious human resource available, can be the new skill bazaar for the world. But we are not yet ready with the basics and the required skill force. But it’s not a mission impossible either. Skilling can be done on war footing and first and foremost, we must come out of seeing skilling as a government scheme and out of the mindset of just opening a computer training shed or a nursing training center. Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid a special thrust to build a “skilled India”. For which the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) has taken many steps to hone talent and train youth to meet the demands of the industry, including for some exceptional talent to find their career prospects overseas. But now the urgency is to skill on a mass scale to meet the upcoming foreign companies’ demand and it calls for a shift in existing standard operating procedures.
Millions of workers will be required for the industries in India, including a large number of engineers and technicians, besides supervisors. Innovation, integrity and pro-activeness, hunger to learn and earn, will hold the key for millions of high school students who will be identified in a mission mode to make this happen. This is no less than raising an army for a war. And as it happens in the barracks before a war, the new skill force selected for training must also go through the regimental routine of eight-hour work schedule and the selection criteria must be based on the need to join from household and high aspiration so that mission meets its big picture objective. Strict rules during the training will give them a sense of discipline and fixing their wages to at least 10% higher than the minimum daily wages of casual labour will give them a sense of pride. Further, this will give them a skilled identity in their own neighbourhoods to attract more.
We must first identify the prospective trades from where the maximum skill force will be demanded and start training the idle and unutilized human resources India possesses accordingly with no delay. Those responsible for the skill hunting must know the fact that we don’t need highly qualified people for the upcoming demand. Instead, the new skill mission must be tapping 95% of the required force in the high schools of rural and semi-urban areas. However, my interaction with the industry also exposes the gap between what we are producing and what the industry needs. Nearly 95% of the trained work force required must be just 10th class or high school pass. About 4% supervisors are needed to train the young workforce and the remaining 1% must be qualified engineers to train the supervisors and oversee the works of the young skilled workforce.
The demand is coming now from infrastructure works, real estate sector, food processing, auto industry, mobile and computer hardware factories, and MSMEs. Apart from the training in respective trades, the new workforce must be taught across board about reading of engineering drawings and instruction, must have the basic English-language training and how to use simple tools as the real training on machines will start only after the company hires them. We must focus to make them factory-fit to deliver the right output.
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LET THE STATES DECIDE THE RESTRICTIONS THEY WANT TO TACKLE COVID
There is a sudden clamour for a national lockdown, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi being very vocal about it. He is following in the footsteps of Dr Anthony Fauci, who thinks that India should go for a stringent lockdown for at least two-three weeks, as else apparently the coronavirus transmission chain cannot be broken. But then such views are not exactly supported by many Indian scientists, who have a better idea of the ground reality in India than any American, however illustrious, may possibly have. The problem is, there is no study that can say with certainty that a lockdown will actually break the chain of transmission and will bring down the infection level. Last year’s lockdown helped delay the spread of the infection and gave some time to the authorities to prepare the system to cope with the surge that followed once the restrictions started being removed. However, when the first wave happened, it was not as infectious as the current one, which the scientists believe was because of the natural immunity that Indians have. The reason why they are hardier than their western counterparts. Some scientists also believe that the virus could not cope with the average Indian’s immunity system and cases tapered off naturally after peaking to the level of a little over a lakh a day. Now that a far infectious variant has arrived, more people are getting infected, because of which the total caseload is going up, with that the number of deaths too. However, many scientists and virologists are of the opinion that this is not the time to go for a lockdown because it will not help contain the wave; instead, it’s time to ramp up the vaccination drive, not only to contain the spread of the virus, but also to counter likely future waves. There is enough evidence to prove that vaccination is saving lives and hence the stress should be on covering as many people as possible within a short span of time.
Scientists and experts also say that of the total number of cases, 85%-90% are very mild, in fact even asymptomatic, which will eventually push the country towards herd immunity—but that may or may not be some time coming. However, any movement towards herd immunity also means that the infection is far more widespread than it is believed to be, and more the tests conducted, higher the number of cases, although mostly asymptomatic. The slight dip in cases that Maharashtra is witnessing need not necessarily be because of the lockdown, but may be because the wave has already peaked there, say some scientists. And India as a whole is possibly reaching the peak of the second wave sooner than later. Opinions are divided on whether or not the peak can be arrived at artificially by what is known as “breaking the chain” through lockdowns. Instead, what is verifiable is that a lockdown has a huge economic cost, which the country may not be able to bear as it struggles out of the pit that it has fallen into since last year.
Also questions exist about a blanket country-wide lockdown. The infection is not evenly spread, some states are worse affected than others, and even in the worst affected states, the cases are not evenly spread. In fact, it is not just vaccination, what is needed is the ramping up of the healthcare system, so that we are better prepared to tackle any likely future wave. It also needs to be checked if medical practitioners are following the latest guidelines from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Covid treatment. If not, there has to be strict implementation. The treatment is evolving but there have been complaints that doctors are still prescribing “old” ways of treating the virus. What is also needed is masking up and following social distancing norms. Indians have to learn to behave responsibly.
Several states have already imposed severe restrictions, including lockdowns. Last year when the Centre imposed a countrywide lockdown, some states were unhappy as they felt that the countrywide lockdown did not take into account local factors. In fact, the Central government faced heavy criticism both nationally and internationally for imposing the lockdown. And now that the Centre has left it to the states to decide how they go about imposing the restrictions, suddenly there is a hue and cry on the need for a nationwide lockdown. Interestingly, when Rahul Gandhi is furiously asking the Prime Minister to impose a national lockdown, his own party Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh of Punjab is categorical that there will not be a lockdown in his state, but restrictions. Let the states do what they think is best for them instead of India going for a national lockdown.
COVID CRISIS IN INDIA: POST-ELECTIONS INTROSPECTION
Despite forewarnings, India found itself completely unprepared to tackle the lethal second wave of Covid-19 thanks to delayed decision-making and uncoordinated efforts by the administration. To prevent such a disaster from recurring, the system needs to enable decentralised institutions and smooth information flow for quicker decisions and early warnings against impending catastrophes.
As the dust settles in five election-bound states and the cows return home, it’s time for somber introspection. Cows never care for any pandemics or wars, burials or cremations, doctors or deaths. They only follow their master and spend time on the ranch. That’s what makes some lives so different during election time. Those who travelled to rallies fell over each other’s shoulders to have a glimpse of majestic leaders from the country’s capital coming to speak to them. Their sloganeering broke the sound barriers as inebriated party workers in a ravenous craving for victory turned legitimate ‘super spreaders’. The coronavirus didn’t have to wait long for its scintillating performance as these rallies, led by the very team that was supposed to control such a viral disaster in our country, made its task easier. The Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority and the Minister of Home Affairs, the offices which coordinated and led the fight against the coronavirus by issuing office memorandums and notifications to update information and resources were commanding the blitzkrieg. Sensing such liberty in the air, people threw away their masks and state governments started winding up their revamped response infrastructure laid out during the first wave. People took warnings from concerned citizens simply as doomsday prophecies. Corona season was over and the election season lighted a new spring of hope.
The Election Commission behind this colossal gaffe went to the Supreme Court for the erasure of the Madras High Court’s ‘murder charge’ against it, which many think is an understatement. It was then told by a worried Court to accept bitter questions raised in the process of judicial scrutiny on matters of public interest such as its oversight of the pandemic’s ruinous spread. In fact, a two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals invoking the constitutional right to life and it remains overloaded with petitions from concerned citizens and distressed relatives of Covid patients, unprecedented and unparalleled in the country’s courtroom history. This is being attended by officials from the state as well as the Centre. While doctors are breaking down in hospitals on seeing avoidable deaths due to shortage of oxygen, medicines and ventilators, judges are also losing their cool at the mismanagement and allegation-brawls between officials in e-courtrooms. India has lost some of her top minds, leading professionals and committed doctors to the lethal second wave of Covid which most people believe was avoidable if the government had been better prepared.
Such a catastrophe was forewarned as the WHO had already declared during September-November 2020 that a second wave will affect the Mediterranean and European regions for sure. It later expected new variants to affect Canada too. China had taken the warnings seriously and started mass testing and more effective contact tracing through regulated and limited lockdowns to avoid the killer second wave. The British variant had already reached India while the findings on Brazilian and South African variants added to fears. Despite the WHO’S repeated warnings against lowering guards and becoming complacent, the country was made to feel festive with the boisterous IPL at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the declaration of elections on 26 February, and the Kumbh Mela which saw 3.5 million people converging on its first day alone, while in the later days that number increased to more than 4.8 million.
Nature always warns humanity before a catastrophe. A new variant was detected in India in early December last year, following which the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on 25 December established a top science research group called the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG). It constituted a grouping of 10 national laboratories to carry out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating the Covid viruses, collecting epidemiological trends with genomic variants. INSACOG found 771 variants of concerns (VOCs) in a total of 10,787 positive samples collected from 18 states across the country. As per the information shared by INSACOG on its website, 736 of the samples were found positive for the British variant, 34 samples were South African variants, and one sample of Brazilian lineage was also detected. India was already seeing a viral bomb and there was no lack in our research institutions to have a deficit of epidemiological information about what India was heading towards, whatever be the explanations later from decision making bodies. INSACOG alerted the National Centre for Disease Control of the Health Ministry on 10 March against a more contagious variant which would spread very fast and infect a large population. There was still ample time to wind up election rallies and take back Kumbh orders. Nevertheless, the government went ahead with its historically long election process in multiple phases and most cabinet ministers, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the National Disaster Management Authority preferred to keep decisions on hold till the return of top leaders to their offices from highly charged and sufficiently draining election meetings.
All this was happening in the midst of a fatal surge of Covid-19 cases. The total number of cases across the country swelled during the period of intensive election conglomerations across the country (roughly 1 March to 1 May) and specifically in election-bound states. The country-wide numbers surged from around 12,000 cases and 30 deaths to 3,71,041 cases and 3,319 deaths. In the five states where election rallies were held, a huge convergence of people in the open, mostly without masks, happened. In West Bengal, where the Prime Minister alone held more than 18 meetings with a crowd exceeding hundreds of thousands in each, Covid cases surged from 201 with 2 deaths to 17,512 and 103 deaths. The Tamil Nadu story was worse as cases increased from a mere 470 to 19,588 and deaths increased by 25 times. During the same period, Assam and Puducherry, where deaths were limited to 23 and 19 saw a deadly rise by 130 and 17 times, respectively. Kerala, despite its much superior healthcare and hospital system, also saw a surge from 3,496 to 32,805 cases and from 5 to 48 deaths. Much of the election crowd either returned to Delhi and Mumbai or passed through these two states leaving behind a trail of infections which in the face of an unresourced government brought a deadly collapse of record proportions. The country which had held its head high by exporting 66 million vaccines to 95 countries till 16 April, including necessary drugs such as paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), was now seeking the same from other countries. India has some of the best doctors in the world and one of the largest vaccine production capacities, but nothing helped as the health system collapsed in a heartbreaking scenario of desperation, despondency and death.
What went wrong with the leadership whose slogans such as ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’ (Possibility, thy name is Modi) and ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (participatory and inclusive development) were being relished so well? Do administrators have a constitutional responsibility to act in time without waiting for directions from their political masters? Can our country reclaim a responsible and responsive administrative system which remains less influenced by the whims of political masters? The Supreme Court in 2013 had given a clear verdict in a writ petition of TSR Subramaniam and others v. Union of India where ten retired civil servants had invoked Article 32 of the Constitution, highlighting the necessity of various reforms for the preservation of integrity, fearlessness and independence of civil servants at the Centre and state levels in the country. Justice K. S. Radhakrishnan had issued certain directions to shield administrators from political influence based on the principles recognized by Rule 3(3)(ii)(iii) of the All India Service Conduct Rules, 1968 and as implicitly recognized by the Santhanam Committee Report, 1962 (Section 6, sub-para 33[iii]). To keep the bureaucracy free from ideological sycophancy, the Parliament was directed to immediately enact a Civil Services Act, setting up an independent Civil Services Board for the Union Government under Article 309 of the Constitution. Strong Prime Ministers always reduce administrative initiatives and gradually get clogged by a non-meritorious scum of officers around them. One could go on to name a long list of institutions in this country where bureaucracy has unquestionably succumbed to the tide of a strong regime even in the past. The catastrophe which follows has taken its deadliest toll this time in the country and should act as a wakeup call to bring reforms.
Three suggestions which can prevent the recurrence of such a disaster in the future have to do with systemic reforms in governance. First, the flow of information should not be blocked at any point and individual responsibility should be fixed on officials identified for doing it. Second, every institution should be governed through an increasing decentralization of authority at the Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director levels so that points of delay are detected and addressed in time. Third, the NDMA should reclaim its independence from the Home Ministry and work as a professional body of experts which is open to quick decisions on collaborations, information sharing and issuing early warnings against impending disasters. The world is changing faster than the hold of amateur political masters and one can definitely carve a brighter future if the government incorporates the suggested changes in the system. People can be better safeguarded even if they drop hopes of Arcadian bliss!
The author is President, NDRG and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU.
COMBATING THE APOCALYPSE: A SOLDIER’S VIEW
Since the gory partition of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947, India has, unquestionably, not witnessed a human tragedy of the proportions of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that has been unleashed in the past three weeks. The hardships and casualties seen in the wars that India has fought and won since Independence pale into insignificance due to the scale of the misery inflicted on the nation by this pandemic.
That India has now become the worst-affected Covid-hit country in the world should not only sadden us but make people at all levels of governance introspect, especially about the fidelity of our institutions, our organizational skills and contingency planning both by the Centre and state governments. That the nation has failed its people is abundantly clear. To be in denial of this inglorious performance will only add on to the omissions of neglect, apathy and in some cases the naked greed and black-marketing of unscrupulous vendors of medical equipment especially some oxygen suppliers and ambulance owners.
Our terribly hard-pressed yet unsung medical fraternity, some NGOs, security personnel and many sections of the people have come out to serve the lakhs of patients in trouble. They are the silver lining in today’s utterly tragic scenario. As a matter of fact, our medical crews’ services and sacrifices are no less than those of frontline soldiers’ who lay down their lives for the nation. That India also owes a deep debt of gratitude to nations like the US, the UK, the UAE, Singapore, Japan, France, Germany and Romania and organizations like the UN and the EU, among others, who are rushing medical equipment, oxygen concentrators and cylinders, PPE equipment, Covid vaccines, raw material for manufacturing the vaccines, etc, cannot be understated.
Although this is a time to heal, to unite and, by synergetic action, to bring whatever succour the nation can for its hapless people, some states are certainly in denial, churning out false figures and false hopes. The reality on the ground is abysmal and very different, with many hospitals turning back precariously ill patients for want of beds, oxygen, ambulances, etc. Sections of the media are vividly bringing out the helplessness of state administrations. Crematoriums all over the country are overspilling with the dead. This is the worst-case scenario which no one in the nation would have imagined. The shrieks of the helpless are heart-wrenching, with some of them falling on the deaf ears of local administrations which had one full year to prepare for any medical emergencies, including establishing hundreds of oxygen producing plants, which are low-cost and low-tech anyway. Could we not foresee the second wave? And now the third wave is also a possibility.
In the last three weeks some patients have died owing to a lack of medical care and the daily number of people getting affected have crossed 4 lakh. Reportedly, essential oxygen supplies like containers, tankers and concentrators are now being flown in from abroad by the Indian Air Force with the Indian Navy also on standby. The Indian Army has also opened the doors of its over-crowded hospitals to its civil brethren. Urgent replenishments from within the nation have also been geared up though many hospitals, especially in North India, are crying for emergency supplies to attend to their patients. Media reports of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, just witnessing an unprecedented 40,000 cases in one day display the enormity of the growing pandemic. For how long these lapses will continue and keep taking a heavy toll on life remains to be seen.
It will be prudent for the nation to fully comprehend that with the virus being airborne and intensely contagious, the situation can worsen further. The Centre must work out, with the utmost alacrity and professionalism, a National Action Plan, combining the resources of the Centre and all states, utilizing professionals from the Armed Forces and the Disaster Management Authority, the MHA, top medicos and a few industrialists. Statutory powers should be given to them and a retired Service Chief appointed to coordinate the relief efforts and head a National Task Force. Importantly, political parties must cease playing gutter-level politics to further their petty agendas. Casting aspersions on each other and branding people from opposing parties as anti-nationals must cease—this is no time for political or religious polarization. Let us learn from those selfless, noble people and organizations who are providing oxygen and ambulances to the needy or cremating unknown people on their own. Some gurudwaras, mosques and temples are also doing yeoman service reaching out to the hapless.
India, since Independence, has faced many major emergencies unitedly and with exemplary fortitude. Let us rise to the occasion to combat Covid-19 and speedily restore sanity, normalcy and harmony within the nation. As a soldier who has proudly worn his nation’s uniform for 41 years, it is now my fervent belief that India will overcome the current upheaval by all-encompassing synergetic endeavours and also gear up for any such cataclysmic events in the future. We must thwart with all our genius and our sweat the human disaster unfolding. Rise India, rise.
PM MODI: THE CHOICE OF BHARAT, UNACCEPTED BY THE LUTYENS ELITE
The rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought a massive disruption among the cosy elitist clubs of Lutyens’ Delhi, which dominated the country’s political and bureaucratic circles but were utterly disconnected with the Indian masses. With this change in power, the frustration of the old elite has become evident.
India for a very long time was divided between the elite belonging to the Lutyens’ club of the national capital and the rest of the country. This self-proclaimed elite class, who took pride in going to the clubs of Delhi and trying to influence important decisions in the government, had created a closed-door arena for themselves which was not open to others. The contours for that were predefined from Janpath to Akbar Road in the capital, if at all anyone from outside the Lutyens zone ever desired to enter this club.
The protectors of this elite regime, curated by a select few in a country of over 1 billion, in their self-proclaimed supercilious righteousness, behaved oblivious to the fact that they were transcending over the thin line between keeping their pride and being adamant about their behavioural patterns.
The nation’s epicentre of political power had become practically unreachable for the common people of this nation. India has invariably taken pride in exhibiting its democratic nature. However, with this elite class dictating the navigation of power in the national capital, the concept of democracy benefiting all had become a mere phrase.
Whosoever managed to cater to the interests of this elite class could very well turn the wind of favour in their direction. The rest were only an audience who watched a story of aspirations and ambitions revolving around the same class of people time and again.
The term ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ has great resonance with British-dominated India which had a typically English-speaking elite lobby. While we inherited a lot of unwanted things from the British, this elite class was one of the most treacherous things to have been taken ahead by some people, particularly in the limelight during the UPA 1 and UPA 2 tenures, although its roots were very deep in the country’s political circle.
The influence of a British pattern of dominance on this Lutyens’ Delhi lobby was to the extent that they outrightly rejected the basic consciousness and concept of Bharat. They took pride in calling themselves the elite English-speaking population of the new India, the boundaries of which were crafted to suit only their interests.
However, the ascent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi created a massive disruption amongst these cosy clubs of Lutyens’ Delhi, which, albeit unwillingly, were replaced by true intellectuals with the experience of the grassroots, who could relate to the predicament of the people outside the radius of the Lutyens zone. With this change in their modus operandi, their frustration became evident. A recent interview where this frustration could be seen was of Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with the forgotten voice of English journalism, Karan Thapar. Baru in his book titled India’s Power Elite has tried to showcase this change within the political and bureaucratic circles of Delhi.
In an interview with The Wire, Baru says the new elite in power is more provincial and prefers to use Hindi or vernacular languages. The old elite had been to similar schools and universities and were members of the Gymkhana or IIC. Baru added that this is the first time the PMO does not have officers who have graduated from St. Stephen’s College or JNU. These statements made by the advocates of Lutyens’ Delhi reflect their mindset on what they think of the deserving people now in power who understand the basic needs of our countrymen.
If Baru’s interview was to be decoded in an alternative perspective, what he has conveniently refrained from making a comment on is about the fact that these very Lutyens’ people failed to provide electricity for the rest of the country for over 65 years after Independence. The Lutyens’ Delhi government or the St. Stephen’s graduates as bureaucrats failed to ensure that the common man is connected to the banking systems of this nation. Perhaps they were busy issuing financial aid to future potential defaulters, the lobbying for whom was done allegedly by those sitting in ICC or the Gymkhana.
The advocates of Lutyens’ Delhi, who call themselves a highly intellectual class, could not muster their intelligence to ensure macro- and micro-level finances for the nation like that PM Modi and his team did. Be it the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code or the introduction of the GST or the clarion call for Swachh Bharat, the old highly educated graduates could not count anything like these as their achievements.
It is imperative for these self-proclaimed elitists to understand that the sentiments and the needs of the country as a whole are not confined to the walls of the privileged enclaves of the capital. The people of this nation do not require the alluring phrases of English which can vow audiences. They require concrete action on the ground as that done by the PM Mudra Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana, Ujwala Yojana, PM Suraksha Bima Yojana, Jan Dhan Yojana and many more.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team may not represent English-speaking people but even those English-speaking people of Bharat are strong advocates of his policies as they understand that merely speaking in English does not necessarily speak for one’s knowledge.
A matter of absolute dismay is that Baru in his interview with Karan Thapar went on to compare the impact of the cultural revolution under Prime Minister Modi to the one that happened under Mao in China. In both instances the aim was to remove, if not eradicate, vestiges of the old order which may have tried to cling on to power and office, he says.
While Prime Minister Modi lets his work do the talking, what the Lutyens’ lobby have perpetually failed to understand is that the people of this nation have no interest in keeping these vestiges which led them into the dark era of Emergency, the coal scam, 2G scam, chopper scam, CWG scam, Adarsh scam. And this list can go on.
Our fellow Indians would rather appreciate the parts of India which are registering world records for fastest road construction, ensuring all farmers are covered under the PM Kisan Yojana, ensuring pension to farmers, labourers and shopkeepers, amending laws related to matters like Triple Talaq and strict punishment against child abuse, seeing a historical reduction in corporate tax, delivering the next generation of fighter planes to the country, observing the Bodo Peace Accord and Bru-Reang Permanent Settlement, forming a trust for a grand Ram temple, deciding to revoke Article 370 and make Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh Union Territories, and making the Citizenship Amendment Act. And this list can go on too.
Left with no other major controversies, the pseudo-secular left-liberal lobby of the Lutyens zone in the national capital has now resorted to decrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his developmental reforms have shattered the walls built by them to protect their own interests.
The nation under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has gathered in unison to outcast the British-influenced mindset of maintaining centralized colonies of power. Instead the nation now witnesses a free India with a plethora of opportunities and the most transparent and accessible processes.
This disruption in the system brought by Prime Minister Modi can never be supported by the protagonists of the old elite. Perhaps this is why Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be unaccepted by traditional Lutyens’ folks but is the most preferred choice of Indians.
The author is BJP Media Head, Maharashtra.
BJP’S MESSAGE DID NOT REACH BENGAL VOTERS
Congratulations to Mamata Banerjee for bringing back her party, Trinamool Congress, to power in West Bengal for the third term, although she herself lost her seat to her former lieutenant, Suvendu Adhikari, who is now with the Bharatiya Janata Party. But that will not stop her from being sworn in as Chief Minister, as she has six months to fight another election from a safe seat where she gets a sure-shot victory. As for BJP, let it not be under the illusion that just because it got nearly 80 seats from a mere three seats in 2016, its performance has been fantastic. In fact, compared to the Lok Sabha elections, its performance has been dismal. From around 120 seats—if the 18 Lok Sabha seats it won are converted to Assembly seats—it has gone down to the range of 80. So there has been a loss of around 40 seats. Of course, people vote differently in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, but even then, in the 2021 elections the BJP actually had the opportunity to pose a much better challenge to Mamata Banerjee if it had got a proper strategy in place. Getting defectors from the TMC has not worked, with most of the defectors losing, as people refused to vote for the “turncoats”. Even Suvendu Adhikari, BJP’s biggest catch from the TMC, had limited influence, although he managed to defeat the Chief Minister in a very close fight. But then not everyone is a Suvendu Adhikari who can pull off a win against a sitting Chief Minister in a 50:50 fight.
Let’s make no mistake, there was enough unhappiness on the ground against the Mamata Banerjee government—may not be against the Chief Minister personally, but against her MLAs. But aided by Prashant Kishor, the TMC had a better strategy in place and had a far superior ground connect than the BJP, which helped the ruling party overcome the hurdle of anti-incumbency. Also, it was able to mobilise voters better than the BJP on election day. It looks like the BJP took for granted that people were in the mood for change and hence would vote for them automatically. They also took for granted counter-consolidation by the majority community in response to the polarization among the minority community. But neither happened. Moreover, the message of a “double engine” government, with the same party’s government at the state and at the Centre did not reach the masses. Perhaps the BJP did not realise that Bengal, having been out of the national mainstream for over 45 years (34 years of the CPM, which is more like a regional party than national, and 10 years of TMC), has forgotten what it means to be ruled by a party which can ensure a steady flow of funds and investment to the state. A sort of ennui has set in where most people adjust to the reality of Bengal being an industrially barren, jobless, opportunity-less landscape, while those who have aspirations leave the state. Additionally, the local parties, both CPM and TMC have made “bonchona”—discrimination—by the Central government one of their main talking points as a diversionary tactic for their failure to deliver. People are used to “being discriminated” against by the Centre, so it does not matter to a large section if funds from the Centre come or do not come. Moreover, the population of the state has been fed a steady diet of Bengali exceptionalism because of which a large section actually believes that what they have is better than what most other states have. Awareness about development activities in other states is very low, hence some municipal level work done by the state government is taken as a sign of huge development—and there is no denying that a lot of municipal level work has happened during Mamata Banerjee’s tenure. There are people who actually believe that Kolkata is the best city to live in, in India. Also, the TMC-CPM promoted narrative of BJP being a “communal” party and riots will start if it comes to power has takers among a large section of the population.
In spite of all these factors, BJP had a chance because of criminality and corruption on the ground and a limited degree of communal polarization that has taken place. But BJP’s problem was in the communication. Its message did not reach the ground in the language that the local people understand—Bengali. The focus was on big rallies and rathyatras, when focus should have been on door-to-door campaigning and street-corner meetings. The RSS cadre that flocked to the state during the polls from other states did not speak the language, hence the message was lost in translation. Candidate selection was a major problem, with TMC defectors being given more importance than hard-working local BJP workers and leaders. Hence, a large section of the local BJP either did not take the party’s message to the ground, or simply did not work for their candidates. Also, the lack of a CM face really hurt the BJP, when the competition was someone as popular as Mamata Banerjee. The bottom line is, it was an election for the BJP to lose and it lost it.
As for Mamata Banerjee and her party, it is time she sent out the message to TMC workers that the party’s victory is not an endorsement of their hooliganism. The kind of violence that is taking place in Bengal primarily against BJP workers and sympathisers cannot be allowed to continue in a civilized state. It’s time to be magnanimous in victory, not vengeful.
READY TO TAKE OFF: AMERICA’S OLDEST AND BOLDEST PRESIDENT
With his $6 trillion plan to build back the US, create jobs and bring benefits for Americans and encourage green energy, Joe Biden cuts an impressive figure as a president. As he completes 100 days in office, we must appreciate and learn from his ability to tackle current crises like the pandemic, while keeping an eye on problems which might arise in the future.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, at 78 years, is the oldest man to be elected as the US President. After coming to power with the highest ever number of popular votes—81 million—he seems to be in a tearing hurry to transform a beleaguered US with missionary zeal. He has unleashed the largest government spending ($6 trillion) to revamp the creaking infrastructure in the country, push the green energy agenda, create millions of jobs and help the economy gallop ahead.
Addressing the Joint Session of the Congress on 30 April, on the completion of 100 days in office, Biden, with hope, optimism and determination, painted an enticing vision for the US, promising the nation will regain and reassert its global leadership role. “America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.” These phrases have a familiar ring to them; in the initial phase of the Covid crisis in 2020, PM Modi also spoke about turning crises into opportunities. And last year, on Kaun Banega Crorepati, host Amitabh Bachchan popularised the tagline, “Setback ka jawab comeback se”. Not surprisingly, Vinay Reddy’s speechwriting talent betrays his Indian genes!
In a world devastated by the Covid pandemic—especially in India where lakhs of people are gasping for oxygen and there isn’t enough space for cremations—Biden’s claim that within 100 days of his presidency 220 million Americans have received vaccine shots underlines his priorities and his seriousness to get the better of this deadly virus. Unlike his predecessor, who didn’t acknowledge the unfolding crisis and was reluctant to even use a mask, Biden accepts the dangers. “There is no wall high enough to keep any virus away,” he says, but is hopeful of not only saving American lives but seeing America become “an arsenal of vaccines for other countries”.
His Republican detractors might castigate him as a big spending socialist liberal dividing the country by taxing the wealthy to help the needy in an already polarized society, but the 53% approval rating for his decisions is quite impressive. Understandably, his ambitious, transformative domestic economic revival initiatives are supported by 97% Democrats and a vast majority of the middle class and lower middle class who will benefit the most.
He isn’t oblivious of the prevailing grim ground realities and long-term competition posed by China but shows the audacity and daring of Rishabh Pant in fighting and bouncing back. Asserting that the US is “rising anew”, building itself back and is “ready to take off”, he stressed, “In America, we always get up. We have shown each other and the world: there is no quit in America.” These are quite inspiring words coming from the supreme commander of the US forces.
In addition to $2.3 trillion already committed to boost the economy, Biden is proposing $2.3 trillion for the American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion for the American Families Plan which should be a shot in the arm for the middle and lower middle classes in the US. Thus, since moving into the White House, the 46th President has sought to fund various imaginative plans with a budget of $6 trillion, which is more than double of India’s annual GDP.
Dismissing Republican criticism that he was bringing a ‘welfare state’ through the back door, he asserted that “the trickle-down policy” of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump hasn’t worked in America. He bluntly pointed out that during the pandemic the worth of 650 billionaires has gone up by a whopping $1trillion and 65 of America’s biggest MNCs paid no taxes last year even though they made $40 billion in profit! It sounds familiar; in the last six months, notwithstanding the Covid crisis, India has, according to Forbes, added 17 billionaires and the collective worth of 119 billionaires is estimated to be around $300 billion.
After joining the Paris Agreement within hours of being sworn in, Biden lost no time in assuming leadership for the global fight against climate change and is leading by example. At a virtual summit of 40 world leaders hosted by him on 22 April, he made a game-changing pledge to reduce America’s carbon emission by 50-52% of its 2005 level by 2030. He also pledged to double the climate financing of developing countries and raised the allocation of funds for research and innovation for developing newer carbon capturing and emission reduction technologies. He has also pledged to pay the US’ outstanding dues to the Green Climate Fund. Biden is pushing for green energy smartly, claiming that “good climate policy is also good economic policy”. He asserted in the last session of the summit, “It’s not about the threat that climate change poses. It is about the opportunity that addressing climate change provides; an opportunity to create millions of good paying jobs around the world in innovative sectors.”
On the basis of PPP China’s GDP might have overtaken the US’, but it might have more foreign exchange reserves—around US$ 4 trillion. China has emerged as the largest trading partner for more countries than the US (47) and more than 140 countries have joined China’s BRI. With burgeoning economic and military muscles, China might also be asserting a claim on the South China Sea, but Biden isn’t willing to throw in his towel just yet. As China and India are tipped to herald the 21st century as the Asian Century, Biden has declared, “We are in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century.” With $6 trillion for his plans, if passed by the Congress and the Senate, he hopes to out-compete China in spite of Xi Jinping’s vision for 2029. In his two-hour long conversation with Jinping, Biden stressed that the US will maintain a strong presence in the Indo-Pacific, not to start a conflict but to prevent one.
Biden has also pledged to help friends and allies and, after some initial hesitancy, authorized one of the largest supplies of relief assistance to India to help overcome the Covid crisis. Unlike Trump, Biden seeks global cooperation to meet global problems and candidly admits that “no one country can deal with all the crises of our time alone.”
Moreover, although convinced of Putin’s meddling in the last presidential election, Biden is willing to participate in a summit with him. His government is also engaging with Iran.
However, after the US spent $1.3 trillion and suffered 2,700 deaths, Biden has decided to exit from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, twenty years after achieving nothing, handing over Afghanistan to Taliban on a platter. Raging civil war, a resurgence of terrorist groups, and the return of a repressive regime seem highly likely now. What a shame!
Biden is also the first US president to address Mme Vice President and Mme Speaker at the Joint Session of the Congress, with Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi smiling in their masks. He is also the biggest feminist president ever—55% of his 1,500 administrative appointments are women!
Given his qualities, we must ask the question: can’t we emulate him?
The author, a former Ambassador, writes on political and strategic affairs.
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