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At 79, Robert Thurman is tireless in his efforts to awaken others to the teachings of the Buddha. ‘To finish building the free society dreamed of by Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, we must draw upon the resources of the enlightened imagination, which can be systematically developed by the spiritual sciences of India and Tibet,’ he says.

Bhuvan Lall



On an early morning in 1964, a tall and handsome twenty-three-year-old American, Robert (Bob) Thurman hurriedly walked past groups of pilgrims, prayer flags, bicycles, ramshackle homes, and barking dogs. It was a haphazard path framed by the snow-capped Himalayas and unevenly lit by the sun. That day he had an important appointment in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan exile community. He was scheduled to meet with His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

Three years earlier, in late spring of 1961, Thurman was changing a flat tyre of his racing car. All of a sudden the jack snapped striking his face and he lost his left eye. It was to be the turning point in his life and since then he had an unblinking glass eye. After the accident, he had an intense desire to go on a pilgrimage ‘from me to meaning’. The young westerner was born in New York City and raised on the Upper East Side. His mother Elizabeth Dean Farrar acted in the theatre and his father Beverly Reid Thurman, Jr. worked as an editor at the Associated Press. Even as a schoolboy at Exeter the elite New Hampshire boarding school he had displayed a clear-cut philosophical bent. Now he abandoned the exhausted culture of the west and made a plan to head east. He dropped out of Harvard, divorced his rich wife Christophe de Menil, the heiress to the Schlumberger fortune and wandered through Turkey, Iran, and finally reached India in November 1962. This was a time when India was filled with western romantics in search of otherworldliness. Barely able to take care of himself, wearing baggy Afghani trousers, leather sandals, and draped in a white shawl he was hired to teach English to young reincarnated Tibetan lamas in Dalhousie. At this stage, after having consumed Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger at Harvard he became a student of a sixty-one-year-old Mongolian monk, Geshe Ngawang Wangyal. For the American yearning to escape a noisy and conflicted world of guns, tanks, aircraft carriers, and nuclear weapons it was an intuitive experience. Thurman later explained, “It was like meeting a superior civilization, a civilisation that did not believe that human nature was inherently violent”. In the next ten weeks, Thurman mastered the Tibetan language and could translate classic Buddhist texts. Provoked by his teacher’s silent intensity he decided to live the life of a monk for the rest of his time on Earth. Geshe Wangyal was not convinced yet he grudgingly offered to introduce his student to His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. Soon after amid the prayer Om mani padme hum (Hail, the jewel in the lotus) and the sound of the revolving prayer wheels in nearby homes, Thurman got an audience with His Holiness. Thurman was just twenty-three and the Dalai Lama was twenty-nine.

Over two and a half decades before this meeting the Dalai Lama was a small boy who was born in a cowshed in a tiny farming community in northeast Tibet. A group of wise monks sent from Lhasa following the clues left by the previous Dalai Lama had arrived in his village. The search party sought the reincarnation of the Dalai (oceanwide) Lama (priest of Tibetan Buddhism). Following a prophecy they searched for a boy with tiger-striped legs, big, shell-like ears, and the imprint of a conch shell on the palm of his hand. They located Lhamo Dhondup, a two-year-old farmer’s son at his mud-and-stone house and subjected him to various mystical tests. He was asked to pick objects belonging to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, and he chose them correctly. That recognition brought a new title and way of life. Swiftly he was flung into a world he didn’t quite understand as he lived in the spectacular thousand room Potala Palace in Lhasa with its vast libraries. Compelled to suppress his mischievous personality he endured an exhausting education for nearly twenty years in Tibetan Buddhism. He eventually secured a Geshe degree (roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy). Renamed Tenzin Gyatso, he blessed visitors to the secretive kingdom by offering white khata scarves. Suddenly one day that magical lifestyle came to an end. On 31 March 1959, the Dalai Lama dressed in a drab soldier’s uniform, a type of clothing he had never worn, his shaved head covered with a woolen cap and carrying a German Luger stood meters from India’s border post at Chuthangmu. He looked back fondly at his homeland bearing no ill will to his oppressors and knew India was his only hope. He then took a step that altered the direction of his life. Subsequently, on 3 April 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gently rose in the Indian Parliament to confirm that the Dalai Lama had crossed into the Indian territory and had been granted political asylum by the Government of India. Members of Parliament welcomed the PM’s announcement with thunderous applause. The governments of the United Kingdom and America expressed pleasure in hearing the Indian PM’s statement. In the following years, the Dalai Lama was permitted to set up a government-in-exile in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Five years later in 1964, His Holiness sat in his chapel across from the eager student of Buddhism, Robert Thurman. Dressed in a simple russet gown the Dalai Lama wore a saintly smile and his eyes were bright and warm behind his large glasses. In broken English, the sophisticated thinker, consummate scholar armed with wisdom beyond his age, invited the westerner to study Tibetan medicine, astronomy, and Buddhism. Years later His Holiness remembered, “Thurman first came to Dharamsala in 1964… He was dressed as a monk and had only one eye like Nagarjuna’s disciple Aryadeva…”. Thurman in a talk confessed,  “I wasn’t that into Tibet per se. I was really into India. But the thing is that the Indian Buddhist great revolution in the world, great manifestation in the world, is preserved in Tibet very powerfully and lost in India. So that was, I think, why I was so captivated by the Tibetans, not to mention the Dalai Lama’s personality…” In those grueling months of learning, Thurman regularly woke up every day at three in the morning to meditate and study scriptures. Raring to absorb as much as he could he spent time with the Dalai Lama who in turn interrogated him about Plato, Jefferson, Freud, the American Constitution, World War Two and widened his grasp of western civilization. The following year, Thurman was ordained by His Holiness himself, taking 252 vows that focused on a philosophy of nonviolence, compassion, and selflessness, making him the first Tibetan Buddhist monk born in the West. This was also the first time an American had been so honored. Thus began the remarkable friendship between a simple Buddhist monk and his American disciple that prospers till today. His Holiness in an interview remarked, “I feel that Americans are interested (in Buddhism) because they are open-minded. They have an education system that teaches them to find out for themselves why things are the way they are. Open-minded people tend to be interested in Buddhism because Buddha urged people to investigate things–he didn’t just command them to believe. Also, your education tends to develop the brain while it neglects the heart, so you have a longing for teachings that develop and strengthen the good heart.”

Thurman dressed in a maroon robe and with a shaved head returned to New York in 1966 when America was at the height of the cultural revolution. He found himself ill-equipped for the monastic life and after one and half years dramatically renounced his vows though he did not quit the rigorous Buddhist practices. Instead, he returned to the American equivalent of the monastery: the university and went back to Harvard to complete his unfinished degree. At a party at the Hitchcock Estate in New York, he met the former famous model Nena von Schlebrugge. Soon the stunning ex-model and the striking ex-monk were married. In 1971 Thurman was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophy, based on his dissertation on the esoteric Buddhist doctrine of ‘Sunyata’ (voidness). Thereafter he embarked upon academic life at the Amherst College. Later he was appointed the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University. He was acclaimed as a riveting lecturer who covered the sweep of history, the subtleties of the inner science of the psyche as well as the wonders of the life of the heart. In time he gained respect as the rock star professor of religious studies. Students called his classes “life changing”. Thurman in a media interview expounded, “There’s a stereotype that Buddhism is quietistic: leave the world, drop out…. drop dead basically…”. He reasoned that meditation can also release enormous amounts of energy.

Captivated by the middle path of the Buddha, Thurman created the field of Buddhology and as one of America’s most famous Buddhists heightened the awareness of mind science all over the country. After writing substantial scholarly works, he authored best sellers and lectured in the public intellectual tradition. His belief in the Three Precious Jewels of Tibetan Buddhism: the Buddha, the Doctrine, and the Community and with remarkable insight into eastern spirituality, attracted a global audience. With his swatch of thick hair perched above his glasses in his booming voice, the brilliant populariser of the Buddha’s teachings declared,  “I invite you to embrace a new reality. I invite you to awaken to the infinite life you already have, no matter what your worldview. I invite you to take up responsibility for your own destiny. I invite you to take advantage of your priceless humanness to make a definitive turn towards ultimate security, complete freedom, and unbounded happiness. Thanks to the Tibetan people, especially their living saviour, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his various emanations, I have found basic sanity in my lifelong quest.” The Dalai Lama appreciated his disciple’s lasting allegiance to Buddhism stating, “He became a professor and has dedicated his academic career to elucidating Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings and aspects of the Gelugpa tradition… Je Tsongkhapa wrote about the great Indian texts and Thurman has taken special interest in that body of work. I’d like to acknowledge that here and thank him.”  As part of Thurman’s long-term commitment to the renaissance of Tibetan civilization at the request of his teacher, he co-founded Tibet House in 1987 initially with Tenzin Tethong, Richard Gere, and Philip Glass. Since then Thurman’s daughter Uma, a film star has served on the Board. Feted by Washington, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the academic elite, Time chose Thurman as one of its twenty-five most influential Americans in 1997, describing him as a “larger than life scholar-activist destined to convey the Dharma, the precious teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, from Asia to America.” The New York Times wrote Thurman “is considered the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism.” And in 2020, the Government of India bestowed a Padma Shri to Thurman.

Earlier in 1995, Thurman did the fifty-two kilometres circumambulation of Mount Kailash, the pilgrimage site in western Tibet considered the sacred axis mundi of Central Asian cosmology. Out of the blue, Thurman became aware of the presence of two other people inside his head. They seemed like great scholars – one from the twentieth century and the other, a Mongolian, from another time. It was his realization of his earlier lives on Earth. Thurman later claimed, “After forty years of involvement with Buddhism I consider reincarnation the most scientifically and empirically validate-able, relational description of the life process and how life and death work… I refute the materialist idea that the mind is the epiphenomenon of the brain. And it’s become a matter of conviction…” Addressing death, Thurman insists that he is “unintimidated by death. It’s liberation, transformation. The awareness of death is the door for us to be alive.”

Now at seventy-nine, Thurman living the life of the mind refuses to slow down. Active on social media he is tireless in his efforts to awaken others to the teachings of the Buddha. Along with his wife Nena, he has founded the Menla Mountain Retreat, a Tibet-inspired spa and wellness facility in the Catskill Mountains of New York that has been blessed by the Dalai Lama. Here using his powerful lectures, the charismatic teacher invites the audience to turn toward the East and to contemplate with all the capabilities of the Western mind the attractions of the Eastern spirit as represented in Buddhism. Thurman, the proponent of an inner revolution within each one of us believes, “To finish building the free society dreamed of by Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson, we must draw upon the resources of the enlightened imagination, which can be systematically developed by the spiritual sciences of India and Tibet. We have not yet tamed our own demons of racism, nationalism, sexism and materialism… none of us can be really free until all of us are”.

That for Bob Thurman is a path for a peaceful future for all humankind and our planet.

Bhuvan Lall is the author of ‘The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose’ and The Great Indian Genius: Har Dayal’. He is currently writing ‘The Path of Gautam Buddha’. The views expressed are personal.

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Direct Selling Rules: The return of the inspector raj?



The one in a century catastrophe, the Covid-19 pandemic, has been a disruptor of businesses and a fuel to social imbalances. The Covid crisis has put a dent on the growth delta and has caused a tectonic shift in the fundamental functioning of the economic ecosystem. Priority consumer spending during the pandemic was a boon for the IT and pharma sector, however, it devastated the most labour intensive and consumer discretionary product industries, which together make up 30% of the total population and majority of the lower middle class. Worsening the fact is that 81% of the workforce in these industries are in the informal structure, often on daily wage with no job security. In the past few months, as the local brick and mortar businesses struggled to stay afloat, global e-commerce giants spread their reach across the urban & rural areas. As a result, over 7.4 million livelihoods are on a brink of a fallout.

The Direct Selling industry (where products reach consumers from their friends, neighbours of family-members who are direct sellers) offers livelihoods to millions, with no investment but time and effort, this is an industry that is now part of the socio-economic landscape of the country. According to the annual survey of IDSA, this industry is part of the global $180 billion industry, that has heavyweights like Amway, Herbalife and Oriflame from overseas, as well as Indian companies like Medicare etc. Pegged at a Rs 16,772 crore annual turnover in 2019-20, this industry has been struggling to find its place in the sun, due to the baggage of perception, when they are unfairly mistaken with Ponzi schemes. To be sure, it is a disruptive form of selling daily-use products, that has come under flak in many countries for the aggressive recruitment and sales pitch.

The industry which has been seeking regulatory clarity for over a decade, may finally see light at the end of the tunnel, as and when the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) notifies Direct Selling Rules under the Consumer Protection Act 2019. 

In end-2016, the DoCA notified Guidelines for the Direct Selling industry, which were the result of an Inter-Ministerial Committee comprising Consumer Affairs, Finance, Commerce, Law, IT as well as Chief Secretaries of three States. Sixteen States notified these guidelines and Direct Selling found mention in the Consumer Protection Act 2019, along with e-commerce. These Rules are expected to strengthen consumers› interest, as well as to bring about regulatory clarity for the Direct Selling business in the country. On 30 June this year, DoCA put up the Draft Rules for Direct Selling on their website, giving until 21 July for stakeholders to send in their comments.

What’s interesting is that precise a decade since the first regulatory action threatened the very existence of this industry. In July 2011, the Oomen Chandy-led government in Kerala, was on the verge of shutting this industry down, as a few Ponzi scheme operators vanished overnight. In a classic case of let’s-throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater, there was a move to shut down this industry, till intense industry interactions spread over three months, saw the State issue guidelines in September 2011. 

A perusal of the recently proposed Rules indicates that the industry will finally get what it has sought—total and complete legitimacy, but may push the industry toward a licence raj. If the Rules come out the way they are, each and every of the 7.4 million Indians will have to register themselves with the Department for the Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. Industry associations representing this industry are of the view that this goes against the fundamentals of Ease of doing business, as this unprecedented step, will take this fledgling industry, back into the licence raj days.

In 2020, India jumped 14 ranks to 68th position in the World Bank›s annual report on the Ease of Doing Business (EODB). This was owed to an increased penetration of digitalisation, simplified IBC norms and narrowing of the registration windows. However, in reality, these advances are limited to medium and large enterprises and often does not touch the small business who are majorly unorganised but employees the maximum unskilled workers. India can achieve true ease of doing business only when a person, even with no formal education, can ideate and execute a business within a viable period of time. However, the recently passed Direct Selling Rules can act as a major deterrent in achieving this goal.

Even though the Indian government was finally able to recognise the industry, but the strict norms of registration may demolish the flexibility of the system, which gives the industry a major leverage. Our neighbouring countries, although were before the time in their regulations, however, they maintained the sanctity of the industry functioning. The Direct Sales and Direct Marketing Act 2002 of Thailand, the Multi-Level-Marketing Supervision Act 2014 of Taiwan, the Door-to-Door Sales Act of South Korea not only recognised the industry but also allowed generous slack in the system.

The implementation of the Direct Selling Rules will act as an inflection point in the growth trend of the industry. However, If the government wants to promote entrepreneurship at the grassroots level, the current norms of direct selling need to be amended and the direct selling business should be made reachable to the lowest income strata and women, which currently constitutes 74% of the total people involved in the industry. We hope with dialogue and actions we can resolve the only point in this revolutionising regulation.

Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant & columnist working on Market Entry, Innovation & Public Policy. Uddeshya Goel is a financial researcher with specific interests in international business and capital markets. The views expressed are personal.

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Joyeeta Basu



US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would have won many admirers for himself and his administration in India for the sincerity and seriousness with which he handled the question on the state of India’s democracy during the press conference he addressed in New Delhi on Wednesday, along with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. In a ringing endorsement of Indian democracy, he described it as “a force for good”, while pointing out “that every democracy, starting with our own (the United States), is a work in progress”. He said when he discusses these issues, he does it with “humility” and added that “as friends (India and the US), we talk about these issues, we talk about challenges we face in renewing and strengthening our democracies. Humbly we can learn from each other. No democracy regardless of how old or large has it all figured out.” This is exactly what India has been saying—that no democracy is perfect, that they are a work in progress, but it’s ultimately the people of a democracy who make it great and there is no dearth of that “quality” in this country. Or as Secretary Blinken put it, “Like our own, India’s democracy is powered by its free thinking citizens.” That there was not even a whiff of “lecture” in his statements would have reassured many observers of India-US relations, who were worried that Blinken would give legitimacy to the spurious narrative of “backsliding of India’s democracy” being peddled by the mainstream western media, and a section of activists and analysts. During the press meet, Dr S. Jaishankar made it clear that India’s policies of the past few years came in the category of righting historical wrongs and that freedoms did not mean non governance and lack of governance. It appeared from Secretary Blinken’s statements that there was a realization of India’s position. Hence, his statements will go a long way in building trust between the two countries. It is also hoped that this will force the woke-Wahhabi public pushing the concocted narrative, to fall silent and concentrate on a matter that is of actual concern—how to prevent the takeover of the civilized world by a malign power.

As EAM Jaishankar pointed out, India-US relations have undergone major transformation—for the better—in recent years and have advanced to a level that enables them “to deal collaboratively with the larger issues” of Indo-Pacific, the Quad, climate change, tackling Covid-19, as well as regional problems such as the Af-Pak. The centrality of China in all these spheres cannot be ignored, not even in climate change—it emits nearly 28% of the world’s greenhouses—and now increasingly in Afghanistan. The day Blinken was in India, the Chinese were hosting the radical extremists of Taliban in Beijing. China hopes to extend its sphere of influence in Afghanistan by facilitating an armed takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. In such an eventuality, Afghanistan will descend into chaos and slide back into the medieval ages, with all gains made in the last 20 years lost. The human cost will be too high, apart from the strategic and economic costs for both US and India. Afghanistan does not have any option but to continue with a democratically elected government in Kabul. As EAM Jaishankar pointed out, peace was a priority in Afghanistan and there was more convergence than divergence between India and US on this issue. But peace is one commodity that the Taliban cannot guarantee and in this context Secretary Blinken’s clear condemnation of the Taliban was important, especially when Washington has allowed itself to believe that the Taliban will keep its end of the peace-bargain and not aim for a hostile takeover of Afghanistan. Blinken was categorical that taking Afghanistan by force was not the path that the Taliban should pursue and that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. However, this is easier said than done, and now that China is joining hands with these dangerous extremists and terrorists, it will have to be seen whether US action will go beyond lip service and what role India can play to bring peace in Afghanistan.

On the Quad, Blinken pointed out that it was not a “military alliance” but was meant to work on regional challenges, including vaccine production. It seems that both India and US are wary of antagonizing China, knowing its sensitivities about the Quad, which is perceived to be an anti China grouping. But if it is not a military alliance, in which category do the military exercises of the Quad countries come? Given China’s aggressive nature and its dream of world domination as an imperialist power, sooner or later the Quad will have to develop into a security alliance. And in this, US and India will have to work hand in hand. After all, one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century—India-US—also has a well-defined enemy

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Hardball diplomacy needs hard power

To defend the Indian Ocean and the Himalayas, and to play a prominent role in the Indo-Pacific and have a seat on the global table, India has no alternative but to achieve sophisticated high-level economic growth through its manufacturing and technological muscle.

Narain Batra



In spite of the fact that service and consumer economy has been a major contributor to India’s GDP, it’s not good enough to meet the rising aspirations of the high-tech digital generation; nor does the service economy enable India to face the complex challenges of national defence, diplomacy, and international trade. Service economy does not create muscle power.

Tourism, call centres, delivery services, public education, and healthcare, etc, are very important, in fact indispensable, for the general welfare and prosperity of the people; but the Aatmanirbhar Bharat needs a strong and diverse technology and manufacturing base that can raise companies like Huawei, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductors Manufacturing Company (TSMC), for example.

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and later China grew their economic strength out of manufacturing, and the push to meet global standards made them exporting juggernauts. China’s share of global manufacturing is 28.7% compared to India’s 3.1%, according to Statista (2019). By and large, it’s manufacturing that enabled China to lift 850 million people out of extreme poverty since Deng Xiaoping opened up the country to the outside world. The Belt and Road Initiative rose out of its “Made in China” manufacturing might.

Without a vast, diversified and sophisticated manufacturing & industrial base, India would be always looking for the next generation of French Rafale jets or Russian S-400 missile system. And keep enviously looking at China’s Mars rover Zhurong and fearing its next move in the Himalayas.

India’s has the potential to, and must, become a globally competitive manufacturing and exporting colossal; and in the process, apart from absorbing surplus farm labour due to increasing agricultural mechanisation, it would create high paying jobs by utilising the brainpower of 1.5 million engineering graduates it turns out annually from its more than six thousand engineering and technology institutions. Hardly 20 percent get jobs for which they have been trained.

Manufacturing challenges scientists, engineers, and technocrats to keep developing new technologies and products through R&D for which there’s no end state. There’s always a new product to be developed to meet the competition. A culture of innovation and zero-defect perfection begins to develop in society. 

Last year, a McKinsey Global Institute report, India’s Turning Point, posited that by 2030 India would need to generate at least 90 million new nonfarm jobs. Therefore, in order to “capture frontier opportunities, India needs to triple its number of large firms,” which numbering about 600 “account for almost 40 percent of total exports, and employ 20 percent of the direct formal workforce.”

Large companies (over $500 million revenue) are more innovative and productive than small or midsize firms. India needs to shed its socialistic-era fear of private sector big corporations, which must be allowed to become the engines of growth and high-paying employment. That said, in comparison with their corporate peers in major Asian economies, “India’s large firms have also not achieved their productivity or profitability potential,” according to the report.

India’s private sector needs more global exposure. Excessive protectionism diminishes competitive spirit and the need for innovation. Creative destruction is sine qua non for a free marketplace economy.

An atmosphere of intense marketplace competition, challenge and response, and struggle to scale up or perish must be created so that only the most efficient and best performing firms survive. The government’s recent decision to privatise more than 300 Public Sector Undertakings is a step in the right direction because it would open up huge spaces for the private sector to expand, compete, and innovate as well as create tremendous investment opportunities for Indian and global players.

To accomplish these goals India needs a new political-economic paradigm under which the Central government, the states, and the business sector need to be partners for economic growth. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the public-private sector cooperation has become absolutely essential as it is happening in the United States where the Biden government has stepped up to support critical industries from vaccines to advance manufacturing, space, and semiconductor chips. China, of course, has always supported its strategic companies, financially and diplomatically, to help them expand globally of which Huawei is a supreme example.

Being a democratic country, India cannot cherry-pick any particular company for the fear of crony capitalism; but it must select critical export-oriented manufacturing sectors for its “Make in India” programme and support them financially and diplomatically. Today exports need diplomatic support.

It is important to keep in mind that an exporting nation is diplomatically a stronger nation. International trade and commerce create diplomatic leverages, apart from spreading the nation’s culture. To have a global market share, a company has to be constantly innovative and price competitive, which in turn also helps the consumer at home. The United States, the European Union, and now China use their trading powers to advance their diplomatic goals.

Not least, to defend the Indian Ocean and the Himalayas, and to play a prominent role in the Indo-Pacific and have a seat on the global table, India has no alternative but to achieve sophisticated high-level economic growth through its manufacturing and technological muscle. Hardball diplomacy needs hard power.

Narain Batra, the author of ‘The First Freedoms and America’s Culture of Innovation’, and the forthcoming ‘India In A New Key: Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi’, is a professor of communications and diplomacy, Norwich University, Vermont. The views expressed are personal.

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Priya Sahgal



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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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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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Joyeeta Basu



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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