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Revisit policies pertaining to teachers’ education

NCERT and the RIEs should collectively identify issues and trends that will have an impact on prospective teachers to become an effective workforce, especially promising innovations in education to cater to the requirements of children coming from diverse backgrounds.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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The most famous American automobile executive, Lee Iacocca once said that “In a truly rational society, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest would have to settle for something less.” Mostof the developed economies recognized the value of teacher education and viewed it as an important avenue for national development. They made significant investments in the furtherance of teacher education. There was a time when some of these countries even set goals for themselves to make sure that every student has an access to qualified, competent, and caring teachers. Some of them were so determined to accomplish their goals that they set up outstanding teacher training institutions to organize both pre-service as well as in-service teacher training programs. In addition, they set up various curriculum groups comprising top-class scientists and school teachers of proven merit. These groups were tasked to revamp a whole lot of school curriculum and pedagogical processes to improve teaching and learning.

Regrettably, we neither had a national system of education nor a well-established system of teacher education at the time of independence in 1947. There were very few teacher training institutions with limited provincial focus. Since there was no national focus on education, the need was felt to establish an institute of education to deal with teacher preparation in the country. This is how the Central Institute of Education (CIE) was born out of that concern in 1947. Teacher education was considered such a major concern at that point in time, that even the University Education Commission (UEC), 1948-49, included a complete chapter on professional education wherein it underlined the significance of teacher preparation for school education. This was the time when school education in the country was not handled holistically, rather it was dealt with by multiple agencies like Bureau of Textbooks, Bureau of Fundamental Education, Bureau of Secondary Education, Bureau of Educational and Vocational Guidance, Bureau of Guidance and Counselling. All these Bureaus were operating independently from different locations.

The major weak point in school education was the lack of coordination amongst various Bureaus that were operating independently. This concern was noted by the government and decided to have an overarching body to deal with school education holistically by bringing all these Bureaus under it. So the government envisioned the birth of the NCERT leading to its establishment in 1961. The NCERT was given the mandate to assist and advise the government of India on matters about education, particularly school education. It was envisioned truly as a professional body to play the advisory role to the government on school education. Initially, the NCERT was founded in the form of the National Institute of Education (NIE), but later it was rechristened into NCERT with an extended mandate of research and training.

The Secondary Education Commission (SEC), 1952-53, made a number of significant recommendations for the improvement of school education. It changed the concept of secondary education and recommended 11-year of multipurpose higher secondary education, leaving one-year out of 12 years with the university education. It also recommended the diversification of education after class 8th, introducing technology-based vocational education in areas such as home science, agriculture, commerce and fine arts. Classes nine, ten, and eleven were made part of higher secondary education.

The diversification of higher secondary education as a consequence of SEC’s recommendation necessitated the establishment of different kinds of teacher training institutions in the country. Accordingly, the government decided to establish four Regional Institutes of Education (RIEs) along with four Demonstration Multipurpose Higher Secondary Schools (DMPHSS) with the dual objective of offering 4-year integrated teacher training programs in sciences, social sciences, and commerce and of innovating newer models of teacher preparation which could be implemented in other teacher training institutions as well. The DMPHSS were envisioned as laboratories for the RIEs where they could organize pre-internship training programs for their trainee teachers. The RIEs were envisaged as leading teacher training institutions in the country. So much so that they were conceptualized on the concept of the land grant universities of America with sprawling campuses. Three of them were established in 1963 at Mysore, Bhubaneswar, Ajmer and the fourth one was established in 1964 at Bhopal, along with Demonstration Multipurpose Higher Secondary Schools, as their laboratories for the internship of teacher trainees. Since the RIEs were to be affiliated with the local universities to award degrees and universities could affiliate only colleges and not institutes, they were renamed as Regional Colleges of Education (RCEs). Initially, the RCEs were not the part of the NCERT, they were rather under a separate project.

The failure of the multipurpose higher secondary education in the country led to handing over of the RCEs to the NCERT. But within a year of their establishment, the government set up the B.D. Nag Chaudhary Committee to review the structure and functioning of the RCEs in 1964. Quite unexpectedly, the Committee recommended the closure of all the four RCEs since it found that the programs offered by them were too expensive to be continued as an independent teacher preparation program. This recommendation put the government in a quandary about what to do with such a massive infrastructure that was created with an enormous amount of investment and gusto under the erstwhile reforms.

Since the erstwhile reforms met with a strong roadblock, the government set up a one-man Commission under the Chairmanship of Professor D.S. Kothari in 1965 with an indication to resurrect the four-year science programs. So a case was made for the continuation of the four-year science program with a great deal of effort. The RCEs suffered a lot due to massive reviews carried out a number of times by different committees like B.G. Kulkarni Review Committee, Bose Review Committee, etc. They were reviewed quite frequently by various committees. In pursuance of the recommendations of the Abbreviated Review Committee of the MHRD, the RCEs were renamed as RIEs in 1995, as envisaged in the original plan.

One of the most pertinent observations on teacher preparation, made by the Kothari Commission in 1966, was that teacher education in the country cannot improve as long as it remains in isolation within itself, in isolation from school education, and isolation with higher education. Furthermore, the Commission observed that it is not an experiment to be attempted in stand-alone institutions. This was such a vital recommendation that it was also reiterated by the Justice Verma Commission in 2012. But it still remains unimplemented across the states. It is only partially attempted in 2014 when only a couple of central universities started offering four-year integrated teacher training programs after a little gentle persuasion. But obviously much more needs to be done to make this a reality.

NCERT has undoubtedly done a commendable job in areas like teacher education, textbook development, talent identification, vocational education, the survey of research in education, guidance and counselling, achievement surveys, educational surveys, education for the needs of different social groups, etc. The NCERT was always held in high esteem by the successive governments for its professionalism and monumental contribution in school education. But somehow its professional reputation as a national resource institution got some setback in the recent past and more so ever since its initial mandate was extended to assist and advise the government in planning and implementing its policies and programs on the recommendation of the Madhuri Ben Shah Committee in 1982. This has profoundly changed the role and function of the NCERT, as the implementation of government’s policies overshadowed its invaluable advisory role.

The four-year integrated teacher preparation programs offered by the RIEs have caught up the attention of the new education policy. Without looking into the reasons as to why this innovative model of the four-year integrated program has not gone beyond the four walls of the RIEs for the last fifty-eight years, the policy has stressed that by 2030, four-year integrated B.Ed. degree will be the minimum qualification for a school teacher. The four-year integrated program has several issues relating to its framework and integration of cognate subjects for curriculum and pedagogy that have not been properly deliberated upon even by the current regulator. This is one of the serious shortcomings which at one stage even forced the regulator to put the entire program on hold.

The RIEs are also responsible for this malaise to some extent since they have not made any efforts for the spread of their 4-year integrated teacher preparation model across other teacher training institutions, even though they have implemented it very successfully in their own institutions. Another shortcoming on the part of the RIEs has been that they have not come up with any other innovative model of teacher preparation in the last fifty-eight years that could have fulfilled the requirements of teacher education with the changing times, although they were expected to continually innovate and bring out newer models for the use of mainline teacher training institutions across the states.

NCERT can do much better a job if its initial mandate of assisting and advising the government on issues pertaining to education, particularly school education is restored and the task of planning and implementation of policies is transferred to provincial agencies. Besides, RIEs should also have substantial links with the NCERT headquarters. The department of teacher education of the NCERT should assume a significant leadership role in developing innovative models of teacher preparation in active collaboration with the RIEs. Together, they should re-examine and revisit the structure and design of the four-year integrated program to suit to current requirements of contents of higher secondary education and relevant pedagogical concerns.

NCERT should work in close collaboration with the RIEs and revive research component which seems to have been relegated to the background. RIEs should also be associated with the NCERT both in textbook writing and survey works. RIEs should take upon themselves the responsibility of developing state reports covering all aspects of school education that can provide necessary inputs to the state governments to initiate timely interventions to improve the overall quality of school education besides keeping a tab on the general health of school education. In addition, RIEs can also act as a stimulus to creating similar kinds of institutions in the region as NCERT did in the establishment of the SCERTs across the states. NCERT and the RIEs should collectively identify issues and trends that will have impact on prospective teachers to become effective workforce especially promising innovations in education to cater to the requirements of children coming from diverse backgrounds. They should come up with newer teacher training models that can be successfully replicated across the states.

The NCERT and the RIEs should take help from some of the outstanding members of the faculty of education, commerce, social sciences, mathematics from across the universities and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) whilst redesigning the framework and course contents of the four-year integrated teacher education program. IISERs are supposed to be pioneers in science education as is evident from their nomenclature. A country should be benefitted through their research in science education. They are the institutions ideally suited to undertake the tasks of promoting science education in the country. They should form a consortium and divide amongst themselves the areas like physics education, chemistry education, life-science education, etc. to promote science education at the school stage. They will be doing a great service to the nation not by operating like any other university but by promoting science education in its entirety. Teacher education should become a collaborative venture between the NCERT and all the leading institutions of higher learning in the country.

Teacher preparation is the most important area but it has remained the weakest one as it has suffered from decades of neglect. If teacher training institutions continue to operate in the stiff archaic style then no other reforms can do any good to school education. As it is, most of our schools are not able to produce the kind of learning that is required in present times. Transition rates and academic attainments continue to be abysmally poor. Still, every class happens to be a terminal class for many. There is undeniably a valid reason to give very high priority to teacher preparation program. It becomes all the more necessary when we are still a very long way from achieving the goal of universalization of school education and more so when the current circumstances demand teachers to deliver beyond the conventional modes of teaching and learning.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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Opinion

RADIA, PEGASUS AND BEYOND

Priya Sahgal

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Why has the Pegasus snooping scandal not created the same amount of buzz as the Radia tapes? Well, the obvious reason is that the Radia tapes actually had transcripts of alleged conversations (later, some were found to have been manipulated by FBI forensic experts). The Pegasus list so far is just that, a list of names alleged to have been snooped upon but no transcripts of conversations that took place. The second reason of course is that unlike the BJP which played up the Radia tapes to the hilt alleging that UPA was one big nexus of corrupt Luytens’ Delhi “privilegentia” that fixed ministerial appointments, the Congress has not been able to get the same kind of mileage out of the Pegasus list. Even though the firm that owns Pegasus NSO has confirmed that it sells its snoopware to only governments or vetted government agencies. That does give rise to a concern that if the snoopware was misused against Indians and it wasn’t by our own people then surely the Government of India should be worried as to which enemy state was spying on us? The fact that the only denial so far has been that there was no ‘unauthorised’ use of the snoopware has not reassured those whose names are on the list.

But already the government has moved on to other business. And so has the rest of Parliament, including the Congress. Rahul Gandhi, for one, does feel that the issue needs to be played up; he is leading from the front on this one, holding an impromptu press meet outside Parliament to highlight his concerns. But others in his party feel that the issue is not emotive enough to reverberate outside the capital. There is a feeling that everyone does it so what is so new about the Modi government doing the same, if indeed it did deploy the snoopware as is being claimed. Even if this was the case that “every government” has done this in the past, it has had a catastrophic impact on some of the governments accused. From R.K. Hegde to Chandrasekhar, several leaders lost their governments on such allegations. Even the UPA was affected by Radia tapes. But from the Opposition’s point of view, the Pegasus allegations have failed to make a dent on the Modi government. This has led a rethink within the Congress on whether to stay on the issue or raise something more emotive such as the economy, rising fuel prices and the contentious farm bills. This had Rahul Gandhi driving a tractor to Parliament to protest against the farm bills as well.

The issues raised by the Pegasus revelations are grave enough to have the French and Israeli governments institute an inquiry. What if they turn up something awkward for the current government? Will the government be under global pressure to react, for unlike the Radia tapes this is not confined within India›s borders? While the Pegasus scandal may not have the impact the Opposition would have been hoping for, the last word on this is not out yet.

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Opinion

Iron birds in grey skies: Age of drones

A forward-looking, harmonised and appropriate legal framework must be put in place to harness the benefits of drone technology, while protecting the common citizen from its illegal and criminal use.

Brijesh Singh and Khushbu Jain

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As fireworks lit the sky for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, something magical happened: A fleet of 1,824 drones in the air formed the official symbol of the Tokyo Games; the display then transformed into the Earth with coloured maps of continents. This heavenly performance was orchestra to the score of Imagine by John Lennon (reworked).

The drones utilised Intel’s “Shooting Stars” platform, and displayed the unprecedented power of the advanced technology with a breath-taking spectacle like none before.

The global commercial drone market size has been valued at $13.44 billion in 2020. Expected to be galloping at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 57.5% from 2021 to 2028, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this growth rate with a considerable increase in the utilisation of drone technology across various scenarios. UNICEF has said that more than eighteen countries have deployed drones for delivery and transportation purposes during the pandemic.

The terrorist organisation ISIS has been using drones for warfare and has posted videos from its successful hits online. The US government has been successfully using Predator drones to take out high value terrorist targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recently the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir upped their game by attacking an Indian Air Force technical airport with drones on 27 June, increasing instances of use of drones by anti-national elements and terrorists are being noticed causing widespread concerns.

UTILITY

The Drones have umpteen applications, some of which we have not yet envisioned.

Replacing hazardous works such as climbing tall structures, inspecting confined areas and traversing dangerous terrains. They are helping save lives during search and rescue efforts and are optimising energy production and delivery.

1.     Enforcement: The drones are an important enforcement tool been used by the police in search and rescue, identification of victims, monitoring, analysis, and management of road traffic, or for monitoring pedestrian behaviour and accident prevention, to deal with illegal immigration, for border surveillance. In some US states, the police use drones for crowd control, in accidents, crime tracing, for the monitoring of crime suspects, and in search and rescue operations.

2.Commercial: As compared to on-ground vehicle deliveries, drone deliveries are more environmentally friendly and companies are drawn towards preparing themselves to offer drone delivery services. Some examples among others are Amazon and Google. 

3.Environmental Protection: Another crucial and effective role of Drones are in protection of the environment, enforcement of environmental law and environmental crime prevention. In Africa drones have been used to deal with illegal poaching, which threatens the extinction of mammalian species, while in Italy, the police launched the “DroMEP” project, which involves the use of drones in environmental monitoring. Apart from Forest Monitoring, illegal logging, deforestation, and smoke detection to prevent forest fires, small drones can be used for low-cost data collection for biodiversity, natural disasters, and wildlife monitoring and assessment.

4.Agriculture: Agriculture has been most benefited from the usage of drones for different applications such as: mid-season crop health monitoring, irrigation equipment monitoring, and midfield identification. Data acquisition and analysis and for continuously monitoring fields for learning and developing modern farm management skills by the farmers.

5.Health and public: Low-cost drones with a camera on board have been used for public health purposes by detecting water spots to reveal mosquito breeding areas responsible for malaria. 

6.Healthcare Logistics: Drones are facilitating the much needed requirement of modernising the last mile in medical deliveries and bridging gaps in access by providing regardless of location—just in time resupplies of key medical items.

In recent times, drones for healthcare have witnessed a range of landmark moments.

A.    In India, Medicine from the Sky, a World Economic Forum initiative in partnership with the Telangana government and Apollo Hospitals, has also helped enable and scale drone-based medical deliveries in the region.

B.     University of Maryland drone delivered a kidney that was successfully transplanted into a patient suffering from a serious neurological condition, the first ever drone delivery of a human organ.

C. In Rwanda more than 13,000 deliveries have been done by Zipline drones demonstrating their humanitarian potential.

D. Outside of Kigali, drones now carry 35% of blood supplied for transfusion.

E. In Ghana delivery of Covid-19 testing materials.

Globally, every state is acknowledging the use of drone technology as the need of the hour. India with vast and equally difficult geography and wide-raging healthcare disparities need to incorporate drone delivery solutions on a much larger scale.

TECHNOLOGY

Ranging from Boeing’s Phantom Eye with a 150-ft wingspan that cruises at 20,000m for days together to small hummingbirds, drones come in all shapes and sizes. Airplane-like with fixed wings, Helicopter-like with rotary blades, or balloon-like and insect or bird-mimicking devices.

There are different categories of drones, drones with different weights, control systems and else. They can be remotely piloted via a communication link from a ground station, with a smartphone, or utilise satellite communication; they can even be autonomous. Their speeds may vary from static hovering to more than 1,000 km/h. Drones can have varying flight ranges and endurance, from a few minutes to even months. They have evolved to use different power sources, including solar energy. Furthermore, they utilise different lift technologies from fixed wing drones which can take off in the same way as aeroplanes, to other types that can be launched through a rocket or catapult or even by hand; there are some which take off vertically using multi-rotor and helicopter type blades, the variety is immense and mind-boggling.

REGULATION

When an emerging technology does not fit neatly within a pre-existing regulatory scheme, regulators have the difficult task of creating new rules that do not conflict with existing ones. In the absence of an established record of risk assessment data, regulations of new and emerging technologies are largely based on ethical considerations, perceptions of risk, or their potential impacts. This is the case with regard to unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly referred to as drones, and the potential threat they pose to manned aircraft and persons on ground. The Ministry of Civil Aviation recently released a draft policy for drones titled Drone Rules 2021 which will replace the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Rules 2021, which came into force in March this year. The said policy focuses on more safety features and aims at addressing the concerns of India’s nascent unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) such as self-certification, and non-intrusive monitoring, reducing the number of approvals required by applicants. From 25 the number of forms required are reduced to 6 with reduced fees for certain approvals. The draft policy also makes a push for ‘Made in India’ technologies, includes exemptions for research and development (R&D) activities, and envisions a drone trade body. On the aspect of safety—the policy proposes mandatory safety features like ‘No permission—no take-off’. It also mandates for drones to be equipped with a real-time tracking beacon and geo-fencing. This technology ensures safety as it will help in triggering real time alerts if and when the vehicles cross a certain boundary which are prohibited or under exempted list. The existing drone owners who don’t have these installed, will have to incorporate them within six months of the rules coming into effect. Interesting aspect introduced in the draft rules are provision for promotion of adoption and use of drones by creating a Drone Promotion Council which will facilitate:

(a)  development of a business-friendly regulatory regime, including automated permissions;

(b) establishment of incubators and other facilities for the development of drone technologies;

(c)  involvement of industry experts and academic institutions in policy advice; and

(d) organising competitive events involving drones and counter-drone technologies.

 The new rules also provide for classification of drones based upon the maximum all-up weight including payload which remains unchanged and are as under:

(a)  Nano drone: Less than or equal to 250 gm;

(b)  Micro drone: Greater than 250 gm and less than or equal to 2 kg;

(c)  Small drone: Greater than 2 kg and less than or equal to 25 kg;

(d)  Medium drone: Greater than 25 kilogram and less than or equal to 150 kilogram;

(e)  Large drone: Greater than 150 kg.

The draft rules are open for public suggestions until 5 August, 2021.

DRONE FORENSICS

The INTERPOL has recently issued a detailed ‘Framework for Responding to a Drone Incident’ which provides guidelines for First Responders and Digital Forensics Practitioners on how to respond to a drone incident.

Once a drone is captured there is an opportunity to collect a wide range of forensic evidence. This may include the serial number of the frame of proprietary drones, which can lead to the person who purchased the machine, to physical cues like fingerprints of the pilot or other ground crew who put it in the air or handled its operations. It may also have connected devices that store data in an SD card and can be used as forensic evidence.

A camera onboard can be a source of rich information for investigation; other than the stored data, the recorded footage might contain not only visual information but metadata in the form of EXIF data. Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) is a standard that defines specific information related to an image or other media captured by a digital camera. It is capable of storing such important data as camera exposure, date/time the image was captured, and even GPS location.

 Analysis of electronic evidence for forensic purposes consists of discrete stages such as acquisition, examination, analysis, and presentation. Throughout the process, the chain of custody of the evidence must always be updated whenever it changes hands and its integrity must be secured at all times. 

There are two primary sources of evidence in a drone related incident viz. The Drone, and Drone Remote Controllers (RC.)

Data on drones can include the one stored on different data storage mediums, including the drone itself, removable storage mediums, mobiles devices, the cloud, and so on. In addition, there is important residual data held on the drone RC which includes: (a) Telemetry data related to the drone’s flights such as GPS, (b) Velocity, (c) direction, (d) altitude, (e) motor speeds, (f) Time and Date (from GPS signal), and (g) user inputs.

Then maybe Associated Devices that have been paired or connected to the controller such as a mobile handset or tablet. Which can provide IMEI of the handset or unique hardware ID of the device.

Additionally, it may hold important information about Registered User Accounts containing email address or registered account name that has been created with the drone manufacturer.

Communication logs would contain signalling data which logs the signal strength between the drone and the RC. These and other related artefacts can be of immense importance interesting the origin, motive targeting and tradecraft of the adversary.

CONCLUSION

Law has a tightrope to walk, on one hand it has the task of adapting and rising up to ever-changing technologies, on the other, not to be a hindrance to innovation and growth.

The future is a grey sky filled with iron birds, which will be doing almost everything, from surveillance to saving lives and assisting with pest control to cleaning oceans.

Criminals, terrorists and disruptive elements will not be behind too; from contraband transport to targeted assassinations, attacks on critical infrastructure to dissident protests in the sky, and violation of individual privacy to advanced cybercrime, drones will be used by adversaries to the fullest.

It is, therefore, imperative that a forward-looking, harmonised and appropriate legal framework is put in place to harness the benefits of this wonderful emerging technology, while protecting the common citizen from its illegal and criminal use.

Brijesh Singh, IPS, is an author and IG Maharashtra. Khushbu Jain is an advocate practising before the Supreme Court and a founding partner of law firm Ark Legal. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

CONCOCTED NOISE ON HUMAN RIGHTS CANNOT STALL INDIA-US PARTNERSHIP

Joyeeta Basu

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is all set to visit India this week, during which he is expected to discuss the Quad—specifically how to counter the threat posed to the world by China—the situation in Afghanistan and the terrorism emanating from Pakistan. However, a State Department spokesperson’s statement that Blinken will also raise human rights issues with New Delhi, has got people of the woke variety excited, without realizing that at best any such talk will be a sideshow, a token mention under pressure from lobbies, some of which are even backed by Pakistan and China. The focus will be primarily on countering China, and India’s role in this scheme of things. Amid the cacophony over human rights, it must be pointed out that India has never claimed to be a perfect democracy. India is as flawed or as “perfect” as any other major democracy. Nothing has happened in the last seven years of the Narendra Modi government for India to be losing its democratic values. The whole issue is political, where a narrative of intolerance and authoritarianism has been spun for the last seven years by the “entitled”—and their ecosystem—who have been tossed out of the power structure and have become increasingly irrelevant. In fact, the power structure itself is more democratic now because of the wider representation on top from those outside of the “entitled” zone. The citizens of this democracy are as powerful as ever in exercising their will, and know how to keep their rulers under check. Institutions too are resilient enough to correct the excesses. The flaws are, of course, innumerable, but then which democracy is perfect? The American version, with its difficult race relations, its BLM riots, its mess of an election process which leaves millions feeling disenfranchised, its President’s refusal to hand over power even after losing an election? Hence, the picture being painted globally by mainstream foreign media—severely burdened by its left-liberal baggage—and some foreign policy analysts, with active help from some of those from inside this country itself, is a caricature of the ground reality. Add to this the fact of the rabid Left joining hands with the Wahhabis in the US, a manifestation of which are the so-called Progressives in American politics, and we have the concoction of a narrative whose ultimate goal seems to be ensuring a regime change, disregarding the verdict of the people in the world’s largest democracy.

The consensus in India is that Blinken will make a huge mistake if he barks up the “human rights” tree. Lecturing will not be tolerated. The backlash will be severe to the unfair criticism, jeopardising India-US strategic partnership. This is exactly what the Chinese want, to drive a wedge between the two nations. However, there is no reason to believe that he doesn’t understand that, whatever be the Democratic Party’s domestic compulsions, where the radical Left-Wahhabi fringe is threatening to become mainstream. The US recognises the threat that China is to the civilized world and the need to contain it. In fact, to come across as tough on China is excellent domestic politics for Joe Biden, given the negative sentiments in his country about India’s neighbour.

Considering Xi Jinping’s dangerously aggressive overreach, where he wants to be the emperor of all that he sees, military means may be the only way of containing him. So a conflict is likely, sooner or later—a conflict where the Quad will have to play a central role. Hence, much to their disappointment, the woke public is likely to discover that the “human rights” talk is at best a sideshow, confined to token statements from both nations. No amount of spurious noise can stall a partnership whose time has come, and Blinken’s India visit is testimony to that.

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Opinion

Is Pegasus controversy a toolkit to defame India?

When the state has various mechanisms to know activities of individuals that could be a threat to the country, why should it resort to illegal spying? If India is safe today and it has not witnessed terrorist activities that marked the earlier regimes, it is because of the strong intelligence network.

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Is it not true that vested foreign powers are keen to destabilise India? Did The New York Times not seek to recruit a journalist who would be anti-establishment and anti-Modi? Is it not true that Amnesty International was violating the law of the land, and when asked to explain and comply, it ran away?

If a news report comes out a day before Parliament’s Monsoon session is set to begin and the next day opposition parties try to disrupt Parliament claiming that the rights of private individuals have been violated by the State, one is bound to doubt the intention behind such a story. Naturally, there would be closer scrutiny by the State and unbiased people about the authenticity of the report and the intentions.

This explains why Union Home Minister Amit Shah said “disrupters and obstructers would not be able to derail India’s development trajectory”. “Disrupters are global organizations that do not like India to progress. Obstructers are political players in India who do not want India to progress. People of India are very good at understanding this chronology and connection,” he said and assured that the Modi Government would continue to work for national welfare.

The story that first appeared in India was carried by a website that has earlier too published stories that have not been credible. This story was published in collaboration with 16 other international publications, including The Washington Post and The Guardian, which were media partners to an investigation carried out by Paris-based NGO Forbidden Stories and rights group Amnesty International.

The so-called investigation conducted by the Amnesty security team found a leaked database of 50,000 phone numbers which the reports said was of the NSO and target for surveillance using Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO. This also included potential 300 targets that were Indians and included politicians even from the ruling BJP, journalists, and activists.

The claim was that the data was leaked from the NSO server but the NSO had denied having any such data. It said: “The report by Forbidden Stories is full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability and interests of the sources…After checking their claims, we firmly deny the false allegations made in their report. Their sources have supplied them with information which has no factual basis, as evident by the lack of supporting documentation for many of their claims.” The NSO even threatened a defamation suit.

Analysis of the source of such reports would further establish understanding of the entire controversy. The source of the investigation is Forbidden Stories (FS) and Amnesty (AI). The FS, which claims to champion independent journalism, has become a tool of propaganda by the West and has backed leftist viewpoints in the entire world.

It is difficult to believe the FS claims that its activities are not affected by the ideology of its donors. One of the donors is Luminate founded by Omidyar group. Luminate holds that Illiberal democracies’ are emerging and civil society is under attack. It has lamented the rise of nationalism and polarization of communities. Scroll.in is supported by the Omidyar group.

One of the donors is the Open Society Foundation of George Soros whose antipathy for India is well known. He has lamented the rise of nationalist governments across the globe. He has criticized the Indian Prime Minister and his policy on Jammu and Kashmir. He has described the actions of the Modi Government as the “biggest and most frightening setback” to the survival of open societies worldwide.

Amnesty story in India is rather well known. Its accounts were frozen by the Indian Government in 2020 after it was found that it violated the FCRA. It opened business entities in India and used the FDI route to fund its activities. When caught it raised the bogey of the witch hunt.

The Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has claimed that he was a victim of Pegasus. Some private photographs of Bezos were leaked which became the reason for his divorce that cost him Rs 3 lakh crore.

So, it is quite possible that all conspired to defame NSO and Pegasus and the countries that could possibly be linked. They could kill many birds with one stone. Paint some regimes as violators of Human Rights and individual liberty, paint Pegasus as the enemy of privacy of individuals and club a vibrant democracy like India with not-so-democratic regimes and paint the country’s image in a bad light.

Let us focus our attention on India. Many are unhappy with India’s growing clout and assertion. There were many foreign NGOs that worked unfettered without bothering to abide by the law of the land. Amnesty is not the only one. Greenpeace Organization had to close many of its India offices since foreign donations were stopped for violating Indian laws.

Of the 22,400 NGOs registered under the FCRA, the registration certificates of more than 20,600 were cancelled since 2011 for violating various provisions of the FCRA. Most were deregistered due to non-filing of annual returns which is mandatory as per law. The Government simply wanted to make NGO operations more transparent and accountable. Who gave the money and why and whether the money was used to serve that purpose? This intended to check siphoning and diversion of funds for other activities. These FCRA NGOs received more than Rs 58,000 crore in donations in the year 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The lobbies acting against India have an axe to grind. Such stories based on fiction— I call it fiction because you don’t need much brain to prepare such a list— intends to create an optics that India is intolerant and is violating the right of private individuals. After this, the lobbies would call on US Senators and representatives of European countries and the UK and ask them to issue Statements condemning India’s so-called attempt to muzzle the press and on the issue of their perception of violation of Human Rights.

Meanwhile, AI has come out with a curious explanation. It has claimed that it never said that the recently leaked list of phone numbers was specifically a list of numbers targeted by the NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. It merely said that this is a list of numbers on which the NSO clients might like to spy on. This proves that the list was designed by FS and AI and dished out to select media outlets to sensationalize.

Those who had calculated that this would be India’s Watergate moment forcing the Prime Minister and the Government to resign were dejected that like many other arsenals this too failed to defame the Indian Prime Minister. This was a dangerous game plan. The entire controversy appears to be more like a toolkit to defame India and the Modi Government. Democracy like India has been clubbed with countries that India would not like to be compared with. India has been the target of many funders of FS and also AI and other international NGOs that have huge clout but they have failed to browbeat the Indian Government.

While the entire opposition could not hide its elation at something they calculated would bring the Prime Minister on its knees, the Government came up with a factual clinical response. “No unauthorized interception took place”, the Government asserted. The “sensational story” a day before the Monsoon session of Parliament cannot be a coincidence, India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in the Lok Sabha. “Global expose of alleged hacking in India, using Israeli spyware Pegasus, is an attempt to malign Indian democracy and its institutions”.

He asked all parliamentarians to examine facts and pointed out that the consortium spoke of a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers but the presence of a number in the list did not mean that the device was targeted. He suggested technical analysis on the phone numbers to know whether these phones were compromised using any spyware.

Although many opposition leaders tried to present this as a serious violation of the right to privacy, the Government refused to set-up an inquiry, and rightly so. A mere report based on conjectures cannot be the basis of an investigation unless we want India to be on perpetual inquiry spree.

If the government says it has not done anything illegal, the best way for those, if they have proofs of being snooped upon using spyware, is to get their phones examined followed by lodging of an FIR if the accusations are true. This would lead to investigation and help the police to reach the truth. Hacking is a crime and it must be dealt so. As of now, none have come forward saying that they are giving their phones for investigation.

The investigation should be done, if or not the story was used as a toolkit to malign the Indian Government. Whether certain organizations contacted Indian parliamentarians asking them to raise the issue? Whether some parliamentarians were aware of such a story coming up anytime soon? This would establish if the pandemonium was a spontaneous or well-crafted result of the toolkit.

Indian Government came out with a strong response when it pointed out to vibrant democracy in India and its zeal to defend the Right to Privacy which has been dubbed a fundamental right by the Supreme Court. The Government has introduced the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, to protect the personal data of individuals and to empower users of social media platforms, a Statement from the IT ministry said.

Critics have often asked the Government to clarify if it was a client of the NSO? Is it important? If the Government has clarified the issue should be allowed to rest unless one has proof to the contrary. Who are the people interested in knowing this? The NSO may have sold the spyware to so many countries, some of which are very hostile to India. Is it not possible that one of these have tried to play mischief if at all such a thing has happened?

Those advocating investigation have not found much traction among people since Indians by and large do not mind spying by the State to keep themselves safe. Mahatma Gandhi had said pubic figures should not have private lives and their actions should be open to scrutiny. Actually, people are having the last laugh at those claiming privacy rights.

This produced desperation as evidenced in Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Shantanu Sen snatching the paper from the hands of IT Minister Vaishnaw, when he was going to read out from that on the Pegasus controversy. He was rightly suspended for the rest of the Monsoon session for this unruly behaviour.

Chanakya who is credited with conceptualizing State and its functions had asserted that the State must have a strong network of loyal spies to secure the State against vested interests. This was essential to curb political corruption, to prevent instability due to machinations by vested interests, and to ward off both internal and external security threats. Who would oppose this? Technology has replaced or come as powerful tool to carry on the activities that would keep the State safe and stable.

When the State has various mechanisms to know activities of individuals that could be a threat to the country, why should the State resort to illegal spying. If the country is safe today and it has not witnessed bomb blasts and major terrorist activities that marked the earlier regimes, it is because of the strong intelligence network. Terrorist modules have been caught whether in West Bengal or Uttar Pradesh before they could produce collateral damage by their actions.

Violation of the right to privacy by the State under exceptional circumstances is small price citizens pay to be safe and secure. The Government must keep them safe and enable them to pursue their dreams. The State needs to be successful 100 per cent every time to prevent any terrorist or such incidents. Terrorists need to be successful only once.

Rather than trying to shoot through the shoulders of others either as an accomplice or a victim, opposition leaders should do well to participate in the process of enacting privacy law that can be basis of similar legislations in other countries.

The writer is the 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’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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MIRABAI CHANU SETS THE PACE FOR THE INDIAN OLYMPIC CONTINGENT

Pankaj Vohra

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It was for the first time since India started participating in the Olympics that there was a podium finish for a sportsperson on the opening day itself. Mirabai Chanu, the unassuming weightlifter from Manipur, came very close to winning the Gold but had to settle for the Silver medal due to unavoidable circumstances. It is said that well begun is half done, and the young lady’s feat should inspire other medal aspirants in Tokyo where in 1964, India had avenged its defeat in Rome to Pakistan, to win the Hockey Gold, by beating the arch-rivals by a solitary goal. It was one of the most widely cherished moment by the entire country and sports veterans remember that game vividly till this day. Similarly, Mirabai’s performance despite several hurdles that had come her way, would be enshrined in the memory of every Indian for a long long time to come. There are very high hopes attached to the current Olympic contingent, and sports journalists have been predicting that they may come back with the highest medal tally when the games end next month.

Every Indian would be praying for the athletes, particularly for someone like P.V. Sindhu, who is in the best position to strike the Gold this time. Olympics are all about physical fitness and mental toughness which have to be tested against the best in that particular sport in the competition. Every participant has to have the ability to take on sportspersons ranked above them and beat them in that particular discipline by rising to the occasion by raising their accomplishing efforts. The Flying Sikh Milkha Singh served as an inspiration for every sportsperson in India even though he had failed to win a medal which should have been his at Rome in 1960. P.T. Usha was also an icon in the sports world. There are so many others who have made us all proud. When Abhinav Bindra struck Gold in shooting and the Tricolour went up with the National Anthem playing in the background, it was one of the most cherished moment etched in the minds of those who witnessed this spectacular achievement. The Indian Hockey Team was once considered to be the only medal hope for India though things have changed and other countries have raised their level of the game, relegating India to a position which should change. It was in Moscow in 1980 that the Hockey Gold medal had come to our shores the last time and the way things are, the team shall have to outdo their own expectations, particularly after losing 7-1 to Australia on Sunday. The Indian pugilists, the badminton contingent and Manika Batra, whose performance in Table Tennis has been exceptional, are amongst those who could have a podium finish. The legendary Mary Kom and the wrestlers also have high hopes pinned on them. The contribution of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore Saina Nehwal, Sushil Kumar, Vijendra Singh, Sakshi Malik, Bajrang Punia, Leander Paes, Sania Mirza and so many others, shall continue to inspire posterity. The Central and State governments have at long last started paying heed to Sports and therefore the endeavor shall bring results in the future.

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Deriving inspiration from intellectual giants

Although the areas of operation of Acharya Jadgish Chandra Bose and Sir Asutosh Mookerjee were different, there were many similarities between the two. They were independent-minded and intellectually-curious men, serving humanity with selfless devotion; they left behind a legacy that is enormous.

Prof. Ved Prakash

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It is hard to make a distinction between talent and genius. Even then some differential psychologists and philosophers made occasional attempts but the exact measure of success attained remains somewhat doubtful. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer made one such attempt. According to him, “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see”. But in common parlance, this distinction does not find its ready expression. In fact, the two terms have been used interchangeably for a long time. Though it is believed that both are evenly distributed in a sizeable population but in practice, some countries seem to have them more in number than others. One might call them with whatever names, they are the ones whose scholarships have brought the civilization thus far and would continue to move it forward. India is known to have produced very many such scholars from the very earliest times. They have left behind a legacy of strong leadership in their respective areas of expertise. Life and work of such geniuses stand as a testament to their indomitable will and the courage to practice the ideals that they preached. The general populace would be proud in knowing about their remarkable contributions that have a significant bearing on education.

It should be the bounden duty of educational institutions to educate the coming generations with the life and work of such inspirational scholars. Two such contemporaries who had experienced a long and profoundly productive career in education and left a unique and indelible imprint happened to be Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose and Sir Asutosh Mukherjee. Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose was born in Munsiganj, Bengal Presidency on 30th November, 1858, and Sir Asutosh Mukherjee was born on 29th June, 1864 at Kolkata. Although they were born in affluent and scholarly families yet they were sent to vernacular schools because of the firm conviction of their parents to study in their own mother tongue, to know their own people and to be at one with them. Both of them were extraordinarily talented with different dreams but had one thing in common, that they were deeply and passionately committed to excellence.

Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose wanted to go to England to compete for the Indian Civil Services but aborted his plan thinking that he would like to be a scholar ‘who would rule nobody but himself’. He was a multifaceted personality. He was incredibly knowledgeable in different fields of study. He was a physicist, biologist, botanist, and science fiction writer. He was known as one of the fathers of radio science. He became the most prominent first Indian scientist who proved by experimentation that both animals and plants share much in common. He demonstrated that plants were also sensitive to heat, cold, light, noise, and various other external stimuli, research of far-reaching depth of that time. Interestingly, he explored this phenomenon out of the burning curiosity that was aroused by his mother in him when she forbade him not to pluck ‘Tulsi’ leaves after sunset, as she had a belief that like humans the aromatic plant also goes to sleep after sunset. He had a very fertile mind full of original ideas. He had given his views on several concerns which have a strong bearing on education.

In his address to the Royal Society of Arts, London in 1896, Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose pointed out that “The present system of university education does not foster the proper development of intellectual faculties and encourage originality. The exercise of mere memory at the expense of the other faculties cannot but be attended with disastrous consequences. When the brain is crammed with a mass or apparently disconnected facts, without any order or sequence, the state of equilibrium becomes highly unstable, and the shock of an examination is enough to upset it”. This address of his drew enthusiastic applause from a formidable audience. This was such an apt address that even today it is applicable, in one form or the other, to Indian higher education system.

Acharya Bose wanted students of science to learn how to use their hands, how to observe and how to avoid errors and as far as possible, to find out things for themselves, and take very little on trust. He wanted them to feel that science and scientific experiments are not merely confined to the laboratories, but that in nature around them experiments of surpassing interest are being constantly carried out if they would only see them. He was of the view that no real progress in science is possible in a country unless it aspires to take its due share in general advancement of science. He believed that the cause of science is international and scale of its benefits are universal.

Acharya Bose was of the view that “the highest expression in the life of a nation must be its intellectual eminence and its power of enriching the world by advancing the frontiers of knowledge. Discovery of truth was always at the heart of his intellectual endeavour. According to him, “Two different methods are essential for the discovery of truth, the method of introspection and the method of experimental verification. Aimless experimentation seldom leads to any great result, while unrestrained imagination leads to wildest speculation subversive of all intellectual sanity. The two methods must, therefore, be equally balanced, one supplementing the other”.

Acharya Bose was of a strong view that literature and science have a symbiotic relationship. In the multiplicity of phenomena he felt that one should never miss underlying unity and apprehend no insuperable obstacle in grasping it. He believed that both the poet and the scientist are set out for the same goal, that is, to find unity in the bewildering diversity. He believed that the status of a great university could not be secured by any artificial means, nor could any charter assure it. Its world status is only to be won by the intrinsic value of the great contribution made by its scholars. He desired that to be organic and vital, our national university must stand primarily for self-expression and winning for India her true place among the federation of nations, a guiding principle worth emulating.

Sir Asutosh Mukherjee was another legend of the same era. He was the first student of the university of Calcutta to earn double Masters degrees in physics and mathematics. He was the first Indian Vice-Chancellor who broke the colonial tradition of not letting Indian universities to have post-graduate departments for teaching and research on their campuses. He wore many hats during his long and eventful career, as a barrister, jurist, mathematician, educator and Vice-Chancellor. He remained the Vice-Chancellor of university of Calcutta for four consecutive two-year terms (1906-1914) and a fifth two-year term (1921-23). He was incredibly intelligent and bold. He had published his first research paper on Geometrical Theorem in the Messenger of Mathematics, Cambridge at the age of 17. It may be pertinent to know of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee in the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore,“Men are always rare in all countries through whom the aspiration of their people can hope to find its fulfilment, who have the thundering voices to say that what is needed shall be done; Asutosh had the magic voice of assurance. He had the courage to dream because he had the power to fight and the confidence to win — his will itself was the path to the goal”. It was because of these qualities of his that he was called the tiger of Bengal.

He pleaded for the freedom in the university, freedom in its inception, freedom in its administration, and freedom in its expression as he felt strongly that this is the very condition of vigorous existence in an institution engaged in the search for truth. He made fervent appeal to keep the universities free from the baneful influence of dogmas, whether they be official, political, religious or academic. He frankly recognized the kinship of the arts and sciences and the inherent interdependence of all study and research, supplement theoretical and professional instruction by organic connection with arts and letters. He said that he could imagine no step more unwise for an Indian university to take than to give exclusive prominence to studies peculiarly Indian.

In his convocation address to university of Calcutta in 1908, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee referred to a fundamental doctrine which he perceived lies at the root of university system of education and that referred to the medium of English in higher education. He was of the view that western life should reach us through western gates and not through latticework in eastern windows. He observed that the validity of this principle has not been seriously questioned. Academic freedom according to him, is a pre-requisite to self-education and culture. He appealed to young students not to submit to intellectual slavery and not to abandon their most priceless possession to test to doubt to see everything with their own eyes.

His oratorial scholarship and courage would continue to inspire the academic fraternity. He was a charming talker, with gay humour and a quite sarcasm. There is an interesting anecdote that relates to his accidental participation in a debate that was hosted by the university of Lucknow in 1924. The proposition of the debate which had been framed was, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Ministers and the Councils are justified in exercising control over the administration of the Universities.” He excelled in demolishing the proposal for the motion. It is not only difficult to summarise but also would not be wise to do so. Every argument he made led to losing of the motion by an overwhelming majority. The flavour of the arguments would necessitate going through the arguments the way they were presented by him. The force of his arguments is a pleasurable treat to hear on a subject of extreme relevance even today.

Although the areas of operation of Acharya Jadgish Chandra Bose and Sir Asutosh Mukherjee were different but there were many similarities between the two. They were independent minded and intellectually curious men. Both of them were extremely conscientious regarding their duty. They served humanity with selfless devotion and left behind a legacy that is enormous. The present generation of academia, as well as youth, can learn a great deal and draw inspiration from the eventful lives of these two contemporary intellectual giants.

The government may consider commissioning a project to bring out an anthology representing the quintessence of the life and work of eminent scholars India has produced and then make it available through NCERT and UGC to all schools, colleges, and universities. It would serve a double purpose. First, it would let the coming generations pay the greatest respect and reverence to the inspirational leaders of the academic world, and second their pioneered ideas and remarkable achievements would inspire posterity. Such a compilation would not only be worth a good read but could be a life-changing material for those who have a burning desire to succeed and leave a name behind.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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