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Pankaj Vohra



The 2020 American elections were indeed historic in multiple ways, resulting in a mammoth victory for the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris team. In fact, Kamala, whose mother hailed from Tamil Nadu, has broken the glass ceiling; she is the first woman and a person of colour to attain the second highest office in the United States. Her phenomenal rise has enthused South Asians in general, and Indians in particular as she has crossed numerous hurdles to be where she is today. Kamala’s uncle, Gopal Balachandran, who was a colleague in The Hindu, many years ago, is getting ready to represent her extended family in Washington, when Joe Biden’s presidency is inaugurated in January next year. In an interview to a newspaper, he recalled how his talented niece had been raised by his sister, Shyamala, in accordance with the family traditions and how proud she would have been, had she been alive. Shyamala had succumbed to cancer in 2009. The elevation has ensured that it would be for the first time in American history that two women would preside over the two legislative wings. While Kamala would be looking over the Senate, Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. It is more than a coincidence that these two ladies, who have numerous accomplishments under their belt, belong to North California; the San Francisco area to be precise.

Most Americans had believed that it would be Hillary Clinton, who would break into what has so far been the men’s domain in the political arena. She was considered the most suitable choice for the Oval office but as things turned out to be, her journey ended in 2016, after she lost to incumbent President Donald Trump. There was wide speculation that she would make a comeback and in case she was not inclined, it would be Michelle Obama who could be a Democrat candidate in a future President’s election.

Kamala has proved most pundits wrong as she emerged from the shadows, and assisted Biden in winning this game-changing confrontation. It has been a matter of immense curiosity that the oldest democracy in the world has waited till 2020 to elect a woman to the second highest office of the land. More than 60 years ago, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) had voted for Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who become the first woman head of a government. This was followed by Indira Gandhi in India, Golda Meir in Israel, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Chandrika Kumartunga in Sri Lanka, and Sheikh Hasina and Khalida Zia in Bangladesh. Today there are more than half a dozen countries that have a woman at the helm of affairs, including the dynamic Angela Merkel in Germany.

What it means for the US is that there would be, for the first time, a second gentleman instead of the second lady. This position would go to Douglas Emhoff, a lawyer and husband of the Vice President-elect. The acrimonious election has ended even though Trump is yet to concede defeat. With Biden and Harris, a new chapter in the American history has begun. It is to be seen how they steer the India-US relationship to new heights.

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Priya Sahgal



Modi 1234

Although the dates are still to be announced, preparations for the next round of Assembly polls are well and truly underway. The Prime Minister is getting into campaign mode and is expected to hit West Bengal with a blitzkrieg of rallies from next month. Since Mamata Banerjee’s stronghold is the BJP’s next target, expect to see him concentrate here the most, as well as Assam, a state the BJP hopes to retain despite the anti-CAA and NRC protests

In fact, most analysts agree that the CAA and NRC could backfire against the BJP in the Assam polls (hence the delay in framing the rules), but the Congress still has to get its act together post-Tarun Gogoi’s demise. And therein lies political salvation for the BJP. However, unlike West Bengal, the BJP has an able general leading the campaign in the resourceful Hemanta Biswa Sarma and a tried and tested CM face in Sarbanda Sonowal, hence that state is not high on the PM’s in-tray. West Bengal however is.

Which is why we see the Home Minister literally camping in the state, managing the campaign (along with the many defections from the TMC). And the PM is expected to bring the final push with his spate of rallies. However, from all accounts CM Mamata Banerjee is fighting hard and this would not be an easy state to wrest away. The anti-TMC vote too is divided with the Congress and the Left fighting against her. If—and this is a very big ask—the BJP does manage to wrest the state away from her, it won’t be because of a walk over from Didi. A fifteen-year anti-incumbency may however tilt the balance against her.

In Kerala—another state going to the polls, the BJP has a leader but lacks a campaign. With the “Metro Man” joining the BJP and more or less offering himself as the party’s CM face, the saffron party is back in the reckoning, even if it’s only for the benefit of political pundits. Puducherry has already seen an upset for the Congress even before the elections and there is talk that the Modi-led government at the Centre may impose Governor’s rule and delay the elections by another six months. 

Which leaves us with Tamil Nadu, a state where the BJP has little presence except as a junior partner to whoever rules the AIADMK. Right now, it is a seesaw between OPS and EPS but with Sasikala’s release and return that dynamics may change but perhaps not in time for the state polls. And with the DMK in the driver’s seat, the fate of the AIADMK may or may not matter in the coming Assembly elections. 

So, in the end, amidst all this poll talk—where are the issues that dominated the narrative for all of 2020. I am, of course, referring to Covid, China and the farmers’ protests. The Tikait brothers have said that they will campaign in West Bengal but will it be a poll issue there? Probably not. 

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India’s fuel economy and the hard facts

Instead of politicising fuel price hikes and conveniently blaming the Modi government, critics must understand the global trends in oil demand and supply in the post-Covid era and take a close look at the percentage of state taxes in the country, which are added to final petrol and diesel prices, especially in Congress-ruled states like Rajasthan.

Sanju Verma



Goldman Sachs recently predicted that the global oil benchmark, that is Brent Crude Oil, will be hitting $70 in the next couple of weeks. Those gains will be driven by long-dated prices and steep backwardation, which happens when futures prices are below spot prices. “We now forecast that oil prices will rally sooner and higher, driven by lower expected inventories and higher marginal costs, at least in the short run, to restart upstream activity,” said the team at Goldman Sachs, consisting of Damien Courvalin, Callum Bruce, Jeffrey Currie and Huan Wei. “We further believe that this additional rally will be supported by the current repositioning for a reflationary environment with investors turning to oil, buying a lagging real asset that benefits from a stimulus-driven recovery, and has demonstrated an unmatched ability to hedge against inflation shocks,” the team added.

Hopes of an economic recovery from the pandemic, driven by roll-outs of the Covid vaccines, have been pushing investors out of the perceived safe haven of bonds and into commodities and other assets. The yield on the ten-year US Treasury note reached 1.372% on February 22, 2021, after gaining 14.5 basis points in the last one week alone. As for the fundamental reasons supporting elevated global oil prices, a better-than-expected demand and still depressed supply, creating a much larger deficit than the deficit of 2.3 lakh barrels per day as seen in December 2020, are the key factors pushing up oil prices. Even the OPEC is now estimating global GDP growth at 4.8%, versus the earlier estimate of 4.4%. The oil deficit will likely widen as not even ramped up OPEC+ production (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers such as Russia) can keep up with the ongoing demand recovery. It will also take a while for a recovery in Iran’s exports. As vaccinations and the warm weather drive jet fuel demand, the overall global demand is expected to reach the pre-pandemic levels of 100 million barrels a day by late July 2021, as per Goldman Sachs, with the supply deficit rising to 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) during the first half of 2021. 

The recent bull rally in global oil prices, from a low of $18 a barrel in April 2020 to a high of over $65 in February 2021, effectively means that crude oil prices have risen by an unbelievable 261% in the last 11 months, with a good 25% of that rise coming in the last month alone and a solid 55% of that rise coming in the last three months. Since more than 80% of India’s oil demand is met via imports, any surge in global Brent Crude prices obviously has a sizable impact on India too as both petrol and diesel are now fully deregulated. 

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), India is currently ranked behind the United States and China as the world’s third-largest oil consumer. It consumed 206.2 million tonnes in 2017-18. Oil cartel OPEC projected India’s oil demand to rise by 5.8 million barrels per day by 2040, accounting for about 40% of the overall increase in global demand during the said period. As per the EIA, India is set to replace China as the 100 pound oil guzzling behemoth in the next few years. Since in the final analysis, the price of any commodity, including oil, is driven by demand and supply dynamics, each time petrol or diesel prices rise in India, we should ask ourselves, have we done enough to contribute to greener fuels? Maruti Suzuki, for instance, sells over 1.6 lakh units every month on an average, which means that it is selling about four cars every minute! Clearly, despite the brouhaha, oil demand continues to gallop ahead, outpacing supply.

Factors leading to the global bull rally in oil are the $1.9 trillion stimulus package proposed by President Joe Biden, Biden’s moratorium on federal land drilling, the revocation of the permit for Keystone XL and the moratorium on all oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A slow increase in non-OPEC supply, rising winter demand, a snowstorm in Texas, depleting global inventories and Covid-induced supply disruptions will further push up global oil prices.

Speaking specifically of the recent Brent Crude price rise, it has been in the making since May 2020, driven primarily by factors like output cuts to the tune of about 9.7 million bpd in May, June and July last year by Saudi Arabia-led OPEC, drilling by US shale oil wells falling to two-year lows of barely 7.63 million bpd, output cuts to the tune of 7.7 million bpd between August and December 2020 by OPEC and, of course, demand recovery in China. 

Theoretically, every $1/barrel fall or rise in Brent Crude prices leads to a 0.45/litre reduction or rise in product prices, assuming that “other things” are constant. However, other things like the rupee-dollar exchange rate, cess, refining cost, import duties, shipping charges, freight rates and dealer commissions and profit margins are never quite constant in the real world. India’s ignorant opposition has often alleged that under the inept Congress-led UPA-2, despite elevated Brent prices globally, local fuel prices were much lower. Well, that is because fuel prices were only partially decontrolled under the inefficient Congress-led UPA-2 government, with petrol prices being deregulated only in June 2010. It was the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA government which took the unpopular but bold and long overdue decision of decontrolling diesel prices too in October 2014.

Hence, comparing fuel price movements under the Modi government with the erstwhile lethargic Congress regime is unfair and unacceptable. Also, don’t forget that the previous UPA government took loans by purchasing oil bonds of Rs 1.44 lakh crore, which the Narendra Modi-led NDA government inherited and paid for. Not only this, the Modi government also paid Rs 70,000 crore as interest alone, which means that, in total, the Modi government discharged the debt obligations of the earlier Congress regime by repaying over Rs 2 lakh crore. A father who leaves behind property for his next generations is seen with respect in society but what would one say about the father who takes loans and turns bankrupt and leaves the baggage for the next generations to come? An inept Congress played the role of such a reckless, prodigal father in this case.

To nail the misinformation surrounding domestic fuel pricing, it is best to look at this real time example. Petrol prices in Mumbai recently hit Rs 100 per litre. Of this Rs 100, the basic rate is Rs 32.97 per litre, the Central Government tax is Rs 21.58, the State Government VAT, surcharges and levies are Rs 41.67 per litre, and distributor margins work out to Rs 3.78 per litre. Clearly, it is not the Central Government taxes, but the State Government taxes that are the biggest component of petrol prices and also the biggest reason for the steep rise in domestic fuel prices. Effectively speaking, State Government taxes account for 41.67% of the final petrol price, whereas Central Government taxes account for only 21.58% of it. Hence, before pointing fingers at the Modi government, opposition leaders like the clueless Rahul Gandhi, whose party is a vital part of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra, would do well to do some number crunching. In fact, along with VAT, disaster management cess and highway liquor ban cess, the net share of State taxes in fuel prices in Maharashtra is almost 50% and the same is the case with Rajasthan, another Congress-ruled state with the highest VAT.

Also, let’s not forget that while, under an incompetent Congress-led UPA, oil prices had been deliberately kept low, it did more harm than good, because the subsidised fuel meant higher fiscal deficit, which in turn manifested itself in higher retail inflation. While retail inflation in January 2021 stood at 4.04%, with food inflation at just 1.89% and vegetable inflation at minus 15.84% under an incompetent Congress-led UPA, the overall retail inflation hit 12% in 2013, with food inflation in excess of 14.72%. So, seemingly low fuel prices under the erstwhile Congress dispensation were simply a chimera and a charade. People may have paid lower prices for fuel then, but they paid many times more for day-to-day food and grocery items in 2013. Again, it is nothing but sheer hypocrisy to talk of rising petrol and diesel prices but not give the Modi government credit for the fact that, compared to 2013, when LPG gas cylinder prices went as high as Rs 1,270 per cylinder, today an LPG gas cylinder costs Rs 769 and in January 2021, it was even lower, at Rs 694 per cylinder. Do note that globally, LPG prices in the last few months have risen from $455 per tonne to over $600 per tonne, which is a 32% increase. Locally, in India, compared to 2013, LPG prices in the last 6.5 years, under the Modi government, have actually fallen by anywhere between a good 40% to 83%!

To cut to the chase, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is planning to increase natural gas consumption by 2.5 times, as part of the energy mix, to 15.5% by 2030, from the current level of 6.2%. The ongoing transition from an “oil economy” to a “gas economy” under PM Modi’s visionary leadership is steadfastly underway. Over 70% of India’s population in over 400 districts will have city gas distribution (CGD) facilities soon. Only 25 lakh households in India had access to piped natural gas (PNG) in 2014 but thanks to the Modi government’s persistent efforts, that figure more than quadrupled by 2021. Again, India only had 947 CNG stations in 2014, and that number rose to 1470 stations in 2018, and is set to scale up to a massive 10,000 CNG stations in the next few years. Since CNG is anywhere between 45% to 60% cheaper than petrol and diesel, this will make India self-reliant in more ways than one.

India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has the enviable accomplishment and unique distinction of already vaccinating over 11 million people in what is clearly the world’s fastest and most ambitious vaccination drive, with India even exporting vaccines to over 21 countries. The Union Budget for 2021-22 set aside Rs 35,000 crore for the Covid vaccine. The allocation of Rs Rs 2.23 lakh crore for health is a 137% jump in 2021-22, over 2020-21. Rs 1.18 lakh crore for road infrastructure, Rs 1.10 lakh crore for railways, an outlay of Rs 3.6 lakh crore for the power sector and Rs 16.5 lakh crore towards agriculture credit outlay in the Union Budget showcase how the Modi government is spending money judiciously towards a healthier and better India. Defence allocation at Rs 4.78 lakh crore, which is up 19% in FY22, over FY21, is aimed at a safer and more secure India.

It is an unpopular opinion but let truth be told—taxes are crucial for resource mobilisation by the government to fast-track development. And yes, this is true for India and of course governments the world over too. But, don’t forget that, as per the 15th Finance Commission’s recommendations, 41% of the Central Government’s divisible pool of taxes goes to the states. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has been touted as the most significant and bold indirect tax reform ever in independent India. The GST seeks to rationalise and remove the cascading effect of indirect taxes by subsuming a host of indirect taxes such as VAT, excise duty and entry tax. The GST Council has two-thirds representation from the states and only one-third from the Centre. Hence, rather than politicising fuel price hikes and conveniently blaming the Modi government, states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where fuel prices are amongst the highest and where the Congress is in power or in alliance, need to answer whether they are ready for fuel prices to be brought under the GST? Because, as they say, you cannot have your cake and eat it too!

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the author of the bestseller ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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According to WHO, the suicide mortality rate per 100,000 population in 2016 was 16.5 in India, while the global average was 10.5 per 100,000.



Suicide is a serious and emerging public health concern in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the suicide mortality rate per 100,000 population in 2016 was 16.5 in India, while the global average was 10.5 per 100,000. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that in 2019 there were 381 suicidal deaths on a daily basis, totalling 1.36 deaths due to suicide in that year.

One of the pressing issues adding to the rising number of suicide cases in the country is the lack of attention towards mental health issues. The stigma surrounding anxiety, depression, and other issues prevent people from seeking help or opening up. When the situation goes out of hand, they may consider suicide as an option. Unless awareness and conversations around mental health surge, the situation will be hard to change.


According to the National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, common mental disorders (CMDs), including anxiety disorders, depression and substance use disorders, are a huge burden affecting nearly 10.0% of the population. For all Indians with mental health problems, the treatment gap is staggering. Anxiety and depression affect 38 million and 56 million people respectively in the country. These figures translate to around 150 million Indians who are in need of mental healthcare but, unfortunately, just ten percent of those in need of mental healthcare in India can avail it.

Also, the WHO reports that in the country there are less than 4,000 mental health professionals, i.e., 1 mental health professional for 400,000 people. Due to fear of being judged, medical students seldom opt for psychiatry.

Also, often the families of suicide victims do not want post-mortems because of the fear of body mutilation of the deceased, the time-consuming nature of the process as well as the stigma attached. They prefer to stay away from police investigations. As a result, death by suicide is often reported as being due to an accident or illness. The low report rate of suicide is a big hindrance to research.

Despite the implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 by the government, India lacks suicide prevention strategies to combat the concern of the rising number of suicides every year.


First, governance and leadership for suicide prevention need to be strengthened in our country. The government needs to focus on the development and implementation of national policies or strategies for suicide prevention. Apart from appropriate budget allocations, such measures would also require legal, institutional, and service arrangements to be adjusted appropriately.

The Health Ministry should shift the focus of care towards comprehensive, community-based health and social care services to help people who are at risk of suicide. Such services should be integrated with primary and hospital care to ensure continuity of care between different providers. Greater collaboration is required between informal healthcare providers, schoolteachers, and religious leaders among other community members.

Also, research capacity and academic collaboration need improvement to focus on various aspects of suicide and suicide prevention. Sex and age-disaggregated data requires to be collected and measured, while the direct and indirect costs of suicide and attempted suicide should be collected.

Apart from all these strategies, campaigns to reduce stigma, guidelines for the mass media, and increasing public awareness are some of the essential steps that can be taken to address the issue of the rising incidence of suicides from mental health disorders.


It is quite clear that more needs to be done in India to promote mental well-being. The government must take note of the current scenario surrounding mental illness in the country and consider what essential steps need to be taken in the near future—with consideration of suicide prevention and awareness imperative.

The writer is Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation. The views expressed are personal.

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India’s quest to become the next innovation superpower

While India did achieve a milestone of being ranked 3rd among the lower middle-income countries in the Global Innovation Index 2020, it is a still an innovation laggard in the overall global setting, coming at 48th position. For a country that is credited with some of the most influential innovations from Aryabhata’s number 0 to J.C. Bose’s radio technology, it is high time that we reclaim our ancient status as an innovation superpower in this modern era.



“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” While Steve Jobs intended these powerful words for a class of graduating individuals, the global status quo shows us that this is also descriptive of national-level trends. The countries which innovate are often the ones who primarily steer the direction of global affairs.

While India did achieve a milestone of being ranked 3rd among the lower middle-income countries in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020, it is a still an innovation laggard in the overall global setting, coming at 48th position behind China (14th) and some ASEAN countries such as Malaysia (33rd) and Vietnam (42nd). Patent applications continue to be concentrated within a handful of countries such as the US and China, while India remains a relatively marginal contributor.

Perhaps it is time we look towards foreign models and absorb their characteristics. The most hackneyed example in this regard is Silicon Valley. Numerous articles and studies have already explored how Bangalore or other parts of the nation can become the next Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, this recurrence is largely justified. What makes the Valley so enticing is how it is the all-rounded result of a strong education system, a vibrant risk-taking culture, productive competitiveness, and the espousal of foreign talent. There’s a lot of things that the Valley had to get right to be the global innovation centre that it is now.

But a fundamental takeaway from the American model which is often unexplored is the relationship between freedom and innovation. A beacon of liberty, America has ensured that the freedom to think, create, and produce for the masses is protected by its democratic frameworks. Educational institutions enjoy great autonomy which facilitates research, and the ease of doing businesses ensures that ideas-to-companies can be seamlessly executed.

There are other also interesting cases that provide further precedents for India’s innovation journey. Israel, despite having a population of just 9 million, is famously known as the “start-up nation” that boasts the highest start-ups per capita. The proactive role of the Israeli government in providing incentives and forging public-private partnerships forms the basis of Israel’s start-up engine. Another stand-out of Tel Aviv’s start-up ecosystem is its cultural take on risk management. Failure isn’t viewed pessimistically and is accepted as a cultural norm.

The Nordic countries—namely Sweden, Finland and Denmark—are also top-ranked nations in the GII. Like Israel, the governments in the Nordic region also play a huge hand in supporting R&D and incentivising entrepreneurship. But another unique highlight is how it elevates inclusive education—starting from the very beginning during the primary stages—and equal opportunities as a major propellant of creativity. Estonia is another neighbouring parallel with a vigorous innovation system that boasts the higher unicorn (start-ups with valuations more than $1 billion) per capita.

Japan, India’s very own fellow Asian nation, is a curious case of the convergence between historical cultural traditions and innovation. The desire for kaizen (continuous improvement) is strongly embedded in Japanese traditions, and one need not look beyond Japanese etiquettes and the meticulous work behind origami and sushi for examples. This deep-rooted perfectionism also forms the backbone of its high-quality innovation. Japan has also historically excelled in absorbing new technologies and building up on them to come up with improved innovations.

“But this is India! Foreign models won’t work here!”, shouts the sceptical Indian at the dinner table. To a certain extent, this reservation is well-founded. There is no denying that India has its own economic constraints and solving the innovation problem—especially in a globally competitive world—is not as simple as plug-and-play. The countries we mention as being exemplars of innovation hold a GDP per capita that is 20-30 times than that of India’s. Apart from accelerating innovations, India faces another daunting task ahead of it: making it affordable.

Coupling creativity and affordability is tricky and can restrict the flexibility of the Indian inventor. But some scholars argue that we can do better with less. Ideas such as “Frugal Innovation” bolstered by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu explore the reduction of complexity and the price of innovations by removing its nonessential features. The philosophical underpinnings of Gandhian Engineering, which is the design of ultra-low-cost products for a sustainable society, are also being pushed by the eminent scientist Dr R.A. Mashelkar. The idea of more from less for more (MLM) ensures that innovation works for all and not just a select few. This way, innovation-led growth via MLM product development is attained by sustainable means and aligns with India’s long-run SDGs.

However, low-cost production does not mean that we compromise on quality and produce imminent junk. China is now realising this and has transitioned from low-end to high-quality production. Cost and quality must be carefully juggled.

But make no mistake: India’s limitations do not mean we have nothing to absorb from foreign models. These models themselves are successful due to a blend of factors and do not abide by a strict formula, but they help in highlighting different fundamentals that can be integrated within India’s approach. Israel for its successful deployment of government resources and bold culture; the Nordic model for its strong foundation in education and equal opportunities; the US for its protection of freedoms; and Japan for its absorption of new technologies and hunger for perfection.

In crux, for India to build a strong foundation for spurring innovation, it needs both the role of the state and the private sector in bolstering human and financial capital and a risk-friendly culture.

There is some laudable progress being made on some of these fronts. The Atal Innovation Mission—especially its nation-wide Tinkering Labs initiative—fosters innovative mindsets during the seed stages of schooling. The Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) 2020 also contains reforms that strengthen industry-academia-society linkages.

Overall, India has moved up significantly in the GII over the past few years, but there is still more distance to be covered if it were to become a global innovation hub.

According to the recent India skills report, less than half of Indian graduates are employable. Only 2.5% of tech graduates possess the skills that Artificial Intelligence requires. There is a massive education gap, and this must be corrected if we were to lead India’s innovation to be on par with global standards. Institutions must also be granted with greater autonomy to protect innovative freedoms.

Most innovation leaders have a GDP portfolio that has at least a 2% share for R&D. India’s dismal <1% R&D spending is almost entirely borne by the government, exposing the large gap left void by the private sector. For India to bring up its R&D spending to 2% of the GDP, the private sector will have to step up and engage in research endeavours just like we see in other global innovation leaders such as Japan and the US.

There are also certain “invisibles” whose connection to innovation is rather blurred and whose importance is undermined in India. One such crucial aspect is gender equality. To truly harness the benefits of a large young demographic, we need to mobilise human capital efficiently—and that includes women. How are we expected to be more innovative if we perpetuate a culture that obscures the ideas of nearly half the population? An Accenture report found that an innovation mindset was six times higher in the most-equal workplace cultures than the least-equal. As exemplified by the Nordic model, apart from the social aspect, there is a strong economic and growth case to be made for gender parity.

Collective attitude matters as much as the economics behind innovation. India has a large precedent of start-up success stories in Ola, Flipkart, Oyo, and many others. One’s success can be another’s inspiration, and this can be a robust cycle that empowers start-up led innovations.

The pandemic might have hampered economic progress, but it ironically led to the technological evolution of many MSMEs. In order to reach locked down consumers, businesses increasingly adopted digital tools. Riding on this digital wave, this new setting can be further built upon by introducing more new technologies. Demand for such innovations is rife and will likely remain so.

Big Tech’s monopoly has also posed a serious question of its abilities to innovate amidst its rigorous pursuit to increase market share rather than develop new products that change lives. This further calls for bold start-ups to disrupt the market to prevent creative stagnation.

The harsh truth is that innovation is risky. The road to becoming an innovation superpower is undeniably complex and will require tireless determination. Every stage of an individual’s development—starting from primary schooling to the workplace—must be scrutinised and revamped.

But the economic payoffs for embarking on the innovation journey are huge (and necessary). A growing bright, young population offers tremendous hope and positively signals that ground-breaking innovations are very well within India’s reach. For a country that is credited with some of the most influential innovations from Aryabhata’s number 0 to J.C. Bose’s radio technology, it is high time that we reclaim our ancient status as an innovation superpower in this modern era.

Rajesh Mehta is a Leading International Consultant & Columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Manickam Valliappan is a public policy researcher working closely with Mr. Mehta. Views expressed are personal.

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Aditya Satsangi



Joe Biden, the 46th POTUS, has the rare distinction of scoring either a century or a hat-trick, in cricket parlance. Biden has seen India-US relations from a close perspective two times under Barack Obama and now this third term provides him a chance to add his own touch to India-US relations. He also has the rare distinction of working with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for two years during the second term of the Obama administration. During the Obama administration, India embarked on an ambitious foreign policy of proactively engaging with the American administration. Obama was the second US President who received the rare opportunity to address the joint session of the Indian Parliament. President Obama announced publicly to support India’s claim to be a permanent member of the UN Security Council. China hasn’t allowed that to happen because of its own insecurities vis-à-vis democratic nations.

Successive US administrations post the Clinton era have continued friendly foreign policies towards India. Most American policies towards India have been geared towards winning more defense deals from India. In that regard, successive US administrations have done fantastic work. India today operates the largest fleet of C-17 globe masters, in addition to Apaches AH64, C130 Hercules, M777 guns, Boeing Poseidon 8i and the upcoming Black Hawk R60 helicopters. The focus of successive US administrations in building a closer defense relationship with India has been a huge success for American defense contractors too.

The civilian relationship between India and the US has also been on an upswing. A large tax-paying Indian American community has contributed significantly to the growth of the American economy. Today, India stands as the ninth largest trading partner of the US. Indian American doctors today serve every seventh American today. Their contribution to space exploration is second to none. Almost 14% of billion-dollar firms were started by Indian Americans in the last ten years alone.

The Indian contribution to the yoga industry of the US stands second to none with India being the home of yoga therapy. By rough estimates, almost 40 million Americans have experienced the advantages of yoga. Americans have experienced the warmth and positive contributions of the culturally vibrant Indian American community. The people-to-people connections between Indians and Americans have significantly multiplied within the last decade. India today exercises considerable soft power over Americans. India has also emerged as a leader in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, being the second largest vaccine producer today after the US. India’s vaccine diplomacy has also helped more than 57 countries globally.

However, there have been some major irritants in the India-US relations which have dampened relations from time to time. The proactive USCIRF, a commission of USAID (under US State Department), has repeatedly engaged in promoting anti-India fake narratives against some internal law changes in India without any fact checks. The lack of Indian American representation in USCIRF has destroyed the credibility of the State Department to a large extent. The propaganda-based American media organisations have also repeatedly voiced the views of anti-India forces to the chagrin of the growing Indian American community. Major private social media corporations such as Twitter and Facebook have been used to create internal disturbances in India, which have the potential to become a major diplomatic irritant between the two countries in the near future. There have been reports of Amazon circumventing Indian laws to challenge small traders in India, which also hasn’t been received well in India. Indian foreign policymakers would expect the American State Department to become more aware of these challenges and proactively address some of them which significantly define public opinion against American interests.

Given the aspirations of young Indians, Indian foreign policy also has kept up with them. State Secretary Antony Blinken has been a fantastic choice made by the Biden administration. It remains to be seen if he would be able to take India-US relations further than where Mike Pompeo left them. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will be closely watched by Indian defence planners on the issue of the recent purchase of S-400 purchase by India. POTUS Biden and VPOTUS Kamala Harris’ leadership on these burning challenges will define the future of India-US relations in coming times to come. Given Biden’s prior experience with India, it is noteworthy that he has always taken care of the best interests of both countries.

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Sedition: The easier way to stardom for misguided youth

Disha Ravi’s case shows how the youth in India are getting caught up in anti-national activities and compromising on their future for quick stardom. Instead of being irresponsible and eventually fading out, youth activists must aim to work hard, understand issues in depth and then earn respect by leading the society and making more permanent impacts.



I have no sympathy for Disha Ravi and her two colleagues. Their actions clearly intended to endanger the image of India and create disaffection with the country. They were not innocent youngsters caught in the vicious propaganda of international gangsters but active accomplices in the overall scheme of things.

But I feel sad for the youth who get caught in such crimes. They get involved in activism for quick fame or otherwise and ruin their bright futures. No right-thinking youth would ever want to act against his or her country, but if your acts are dubbed anti-national, it is something you had not bargained for and you have to live by that image forever.

The Latin maxim Ignorantia juris non excusat meaning “ignorance of law is no excuse” guides criminal jurisprudence all across the globe. A person can commit the crime without knowing whether it is a crime or not but he would still face the consequence of his action as per the law of the land.

What happens if a person is committing an act that he or she knows is wrong and might attract the wrath of the state? In the first case, mens rea would need to be established but in the second case mens rea is already there because you knew that the actions were wrong and could invite arrest and punishment. Disha knew that the UAPA could be invoked against her and hence asked her mentor Greta Thunberg to delete the toolkit and lie low for some time.

There is no harm in criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his government as criticism is the basis of democracy. Even when you use foul language and cross the line of civility, one would give you the benefit of the doubt and accept this as a case of a frustrated youth. What is not acceptable is that you would connive actively with those forces that have avowed to dismember the country. Everyone knows the agenda of those claiming to work for Khalistan, an issue that had led to a bloodbath in Punjab in the 1980s.

She said that she was supporting farmers. In that case one would be tempted to ask whether she is aware of the legislations that were passed by the government. She got a tutorial from an environment activist, Thunberg, who knows best to read out from the script, but understands less the cause that she is espousing to represent. She has no problems with farmers asking the right to burn paddy stubble (parali) that chokes Delhi and other cities. Is she aware that the massive use of fertilizers and pesticides and accompanying agriculture practices in Punjab and Haryana have increased salinity to the extent that people have started shrimp farming? But these are not her concerns. She forgets to dare the offenders.

Disha might have become a good environmentalist had she not chosen the anti-India echo system where all activists belonging to other causes join the anti-Modi chorus and forget their respective core vocations. This naturally pays as it is a quick road to stardom. International agencies including foreign media would come out in support, because they are unhappy at India acting against thousands of NGOs who were operating irresponsibly and without transparency and accountability.

India is not like other countries where a global reaction will bring you stardom. That is why people like Rahul Gandhi face a drubbing all the time. Here you have to work hard, acquire knowledge and then earn respect for leading the society. Dr B.R. Ambedkar became a great man because he was highly educated, could understand issues and came up with ideas that guide society even now.

I call this the ‘Kanhaiya phenomenon’, which may give you stardom while you are on campus but does not work when you come out of the closet of the college or university. If you wish to extend activism beyond the issue of rising mess bills or fee hikes, you have to educate yourself. This has become more relevant because of the proliferation which takes place on social media. People want to test you on your knowledge and whether you have solutions. What Kanhaiya spoke about would not enthuse anyone from the stock he came from. Everyone there speaks the same language with the same idioms and phrases. Those who lost out in the race and those who compromised suddenly saw hope in him, but due to the absence of critical knowledge and conceptualisation, he started fading out. The same slogans and speeches repeated time and again become stale. This happens to most student leaders who try to achieve overnight stardom just by opposing the government.

It is so simple to be irresponsible in this country and achieve stardom in the name of democracy. You oppose the Modi government, abuse the Prime Minister and speak for the Balkanisation of the country. You would be arrested and sent to jail. Such cases are difficult to establish, so you would be released soon. The media would lap you up and make you a hero. Some international organisations would give you awards and you would be invited for lectures and debates. Soon you would fade out due to a lack of substance. After all, the media needs new heroes and would continue to pick up new faces. Unless you create new ones, the debate looks boring and stale.

The same will happen to Disha too. The leftist echo system, that is so dominant despite not being in power, does not celebrate positive contributors to society. There are thousands of people working with the best of intentions to work for the upliftment of the poor. There are an equal number working for environmental protection. But they are working silently, unknown and unheard of. They believe in working one step at a time and the society is better because of them.

I wonder why environmentalists like Greta Thunberg or Disha would not find the Indian Prime Minister to be the best bet if they really wished to work for bettering the environment. Even when the United States walked out of the Paris Accord on climate change for financial reasons, India did not say no and continued its pledge to do its bit for saving the environment. Former US vice president Al Gore wrote the book An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 to show how policymakers avoided talking about climate change issues. Narendra Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, wrote a book Convenient Action, showcasing how policymakers could make a difference on climate change issues by reducing carbon footprints. I wonder whether Thunberg or Disha or other environmentalists have read this book.

Would it not be right to say that environmental activism or activism against human rights is just a ruse to oppose the present dispensation and one can go to any extent to further this cause? The toolkit has exposed that there was an international conspiracy to malign India by organising demonstrations at all Indian embassies. Who are these people who want India to be seen in such bad light? At a time when most countries are looking forward to investing in India, since it is a country governed by robust democratic institutions, vested interests are determined to create an image that the state is repressive and the society is conflict-ridden. If this succeeds, the next step could be to organise demonstrations at the offices of MNCs trying to invest in India to scare them away. One does not need to be too intelligent to understand who could be behind these activities.

One would expect youths to argue and get into the depth of any issue to decide if a particular legislation is good for the country or not. Here Disha chose not to research to know that the new laws are not being imposed on anyone. Farmers would use these legislations only if they found these useful. Also, who would not like farmers to use these legislations? Only those who would benefit from the present system that has given them flashy cars and other luxuries.

Alas! The plot has fallen flat. Conspirators and co-conspirators have been exposed and the police are investigating the case. Action needs to be taken against all those who conspired to hatch this plot to defame India and sow seeds of discontent. The larger issue that remains to be mulled over by policymakers is whether we are not giving students lessons in our democratic institutions and their credibility. The youth of this country need to trust their Constitution and democratic set-up. Any other person in place of Disha would have alerted the police rather than become a part of the conspiracy if she was neutral. Is the hunger for fame or hate for the present government so intense that the interest of the country was forgotten?

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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