We have finished almost five weeks of lockdown and there is possibly more in store. Several states are talking about it. We all must learn to manage it, even though many of us dread it. “You are least lonely when you are alone,” said the old sage. The sagacity of the nostrum is being tested during this corona pandemic. Countless articles have appeared on the arcane subject of solitude versus loneliness which broadly state that whilst solitude is a physical condition, loneliness is more psychological. The latter manifests itself as a foreboding of abandonment from society. With movement curtailed during current times, let’s call it the ‘lockdown syndrome’ with all the attendant issues that we have not encountered before. The emphasis during Covid-19 has been on social distancing as opposed to a physical one (unless the terms are interchangeable). Is it leading to the populace shunning all kind of social contact? These are early days of the infection, so drawing any conclusions is fraught with risk.
However, practically everyone is hunkered down to the confines of their homes thereby minimising social interaction of the physical sort. Is this period of self-isolation going to yield to a large number of humans indulging in “solo pastimes”, or for the more sociable or socially-inclined (and business people) this presents new opportunities of virtual parties, virtual dinners, virtual games, online meetings and online classes, etc. This virus demands social distancing, quarantine and isolation so that vulnerable individuals are not exposed and healthcare systems are not overwhelmed. Most countries (including India) are following a strategy of “flattening the curve.” This lockdown is probably the only weapon available with society to slow the spread of Covid-19. But that is not the only epidemic we are facing right now. The requirement to separate ourselves from others (social distancing) comes at a time when many nations are in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness whose antidote is greater positive social connection. Although social distancing is essential in the current crisis, staying at home with limited human contact can have a significant impact on our mental well-being — and in particular, feelings of loneliness.
Social distancing requires increasing the physical distance between individuals and requires cancelling group events and closing public spaces, and maintaining a six-ft distance from other individuals. Quarantine (from the old Roman concept of quarantino or 40 days of separation) requires separating and restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease for a period of time to see if they become sick. Isolation is separating sick people who have a contagious disease from people who are not sick. From a physical health standpoint, these are important public health measures. From an emotional health standpoint, this separation runs the risk of increasing the negative feelings and resulting in negative health outcomes associated with social isolation (being alone) and loneliness (feeling alone, even when surrounded by others). The current pandemic is not just a medical tragedy. Even when the medical threat has disappeared, psychiatrists say people across the globe will battle psychological scars for years. Research in America has found that three-fifths (61%) of Americans over the age of 18 are lonely and that loneliness is rising. Even before this pandemic, experts have talked about people over 60 feeling socially isolated and lonely. This just got worse. Loneliness is problematic because it is associated with a host of negative outcomes including poorer cognitive performance, impaired executive control and selfregulation, lower levels of self-rated physical health, substance abuse, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation.
All of these are mental health issues. Online connectivity is an option but for many people (especially the aged) computers and smartphones can feel daunting. And then there is fake news – especially spread thru social media. Lack of information or the wrong information, either provided inadvertently or maliciously, can amplify the mental health effects. There is a huge amount of misleading information circulating online about Covid-19. This blend of half-truths and nonsense in these posts makes it hard for social media firms to filter them out. Business has a major role here. Messages about what businesses are doing for their employees and in their communities are important. Some companies are helping schoolchildren from vulnerable families who can no longer get a school meal; others are providing public health messages about effective handwashing. Even CEOs can show they are working from home and self-isolating, while still being effective in their leadership including taking care of their employees. Such positive messages help in maintaining the sanity we all need.
The secret to managing during this Covid-19 pandemic is to maintain connections even during social distancing. We have seen our PM doing it so effectively. He knows it’s important to keep the morale of a nation high during trying times and this will inspire people and give them hope. Ultimately both a cure and a vaccine will be found. That is the promise of medical science. Till then our resolve must be kept up. There is little doubt that Covid-19 will shape the future with social distancing being the next normal, along with use of masks in public places, hygiene levels enhanced, working remotely and focusing on acquiring new skills and learnings which shall reshape manufacturing/ shop floor practices to avoid physical proximity. All of this will help us in tackling new viruses that may surface from god knows where — otherness in proximity but togetherness in finding a cure is the way forward. The writer is former Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and ex- Secretary General, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
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DYNASTIC DNA TURNS SAFFRON
Why did R.P.N. Singh quit the Congress and cross over to the BJP? For that matter, why did Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, Sushmita Dev, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Ashok Tanwar quit the Congress? If you ask the Congress they will call these leaders opportunistic and point to all that the Grand Old Party has done for them, making some of them the union ministers and giving them party positions. In that Congress is right. These were all leaders who counted for something within the organizational framework. They were also once part of Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle, what was once known as his Camelot, harking back to a time when the Gandhis still retained their Kennedysque mystique. And if Scindia, Prasada and R.P.N. were made ministers solely based on their pedigree, well, then it was all part of the optics that the Congress wanted to convey. This was a party of governance, that had onboard the old guard as well as its vision for the future — young fresh minds, graduates from Harvard, Stanford and Cambridge, from Doon School, Miranda House and St Stephens.
Former Union Minister and Congress leader R.P.N. Singh addresses the media after joining Bharatiya Janata Party, at the party headquarters, in New Delhi on Tuesday. ANI
I recall when Jitin, Scindia, and R.P.N. were made ministers during the UPA government along with Milind Deora and Sachin Pilot. If they were accommodated into the Union Government it was not just because of their dynastic surnames (though there is a comfort in the familiar) but also because of the fact that they symbolized the then Congress way of life. It would also be pertinent to point out that all of them were Lok Sabha MPs and not brought in through the Rajya Sabha. Most them belonged to the Class of 2004 which had as its star debut Congress heir apparent, Rahul Gandhi. If the party promoted these faces, it was to further the narrative around its scion, Rahul Gandhi who was being groomed to take over the party some point in the near future. And it is not that they did not deliver. It was R.P.N. SIngh as Minister of State for Home who reached out to the youth protesting against the Nirbhaya gangrape. He did not make politically incorrect statements like some feudal heartland leader saying `Boys will be boys’ but reached out to them, taking delegations to meet both Rahul Gandhi and the then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. As Minister for Telecom and IT, Scindia roped in McKinsey to convert redundant post offices into centres of financial remittances in rural areas (Project Arrow) while Sachin piloted the new Companies Bill through Parliament in UPA2.
The reason this narrative collapsed was that Rahul did not live up to the script. While the others were given ministerial berths, he opted to stay out. And so a Scindia or a Pilot could never be given serious power lest they outshine Rahul Gandhi. Yes, they were made ministers (some in the middle of UPA2) but how many of them were `allowed’ to outshine their colleague and Gandhian peer? It is not that the BJP is any different. No one is allowed to take credit or outshine the Prime Minister (Ask Nitin Gadkari what happens when you do that). But, for all its flaws (or not) the Modi Model is winning elections. And that is what politics is all about. What if Rahul Gandhi had joined the government in UPA 1, learnt the governance ropes and took charge in UPA 2 with his team of young professionals turned politicians. Would 2014 have had a different ending? Maybe not but al teast it would have a fighting chance in 2024. Suppose the people lose faith in the Modi government by the next Lok Sabha polls and are looking for an alternative to the Modi Model? There is no Rahul model in place to give them an answer. Instead, we have Arvind Kejriwal offering the Delhi Model and Mamata Bannerjee offering her West Bengal model.
It is all very well for Rahul Gandhi to complain that `power is poison’ when he is made party vice president. Well if that is the case then perhaps he should be running an NGO pointed out RSS leader Ram Madhav during one of his interviews with NewsX. So, if an R.P.N. has left Congress he is clearly letting it be known that he doesn’t feel there is a political future for him in that party. Ditto for why Swami Prasad Maurya left the BJP. In fact, as one of R.P.N.’s predecessors told me while quitting the Congress, `being a Congress member from Uttar Pradesh is suicidal. A Congress member from Punjab still has hope but not from Uttar Pradesh’.
Judging by the Congress reaction, the party leadership is not too unhappy with the loss of these leaders. We are told that Rahul is in the process of building a new Congress, recruiting talent from outside such as Kanhaiya Kumar, and promoting non-dynasts from within such as Bhupesh Baghel and Charanjit Singh Channi. Well, at least there is a plan in place. Now what the party needs is some consistency.
How PM Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat tackles energy crisis
In the backdrop of the need to ensure power availability at a reasonable cost across the country including states located far away from the coal pit head, PM Modi’s call for Atmanirbhar Bharat under ‘One Nation, One Grid’ proved very successful.
The sustained efforts of the Modi Government during the pandemic including ‘pump priming’ with a multiplier effect on private sector investments and demand as well, has poised the Indian economy to resurge into one of the highest growth rates. Resultantly, the power sector, with a strong co-relation co-efficient with the overall economy, also witnessed buoyant demand for power with the spin-off revival of the generation and transmission sector. The unprecedented and erratic rainfall during the extended monsoon season of this year led to coal supply bottlenecks in the coal-fired thermal power plants in the country. However, with the timely intervention of the government, disruption in the power supply was averted.
In the backdrop of the need to ensure power availability at a reasonable cost across the country including states located far away from the coal pit head, PM Modi’s call for “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat” under the “One Nation, One Grid” proved successful as it was ensured that power was available in the grid from plants which were having sufficient coal stock. It is to the great credit of the Modi government that due to the flexibility introduced in the coal distribution policy, the country did not face any blackout as any shortage at the individual thermal power plants was substituted with coal stock available at other plants. In another visionary measure, coal import up to 10% had also been allowed to augment domestic coal supply to ensure that there was no loss of productivity infringing upon national income due to outages of coal-fired power plants.
The coal-based power generation in the country grew by about 14% during the last year (April to November 2021). Even though the international coal prices saw an increasing trend, to ensure the welfare of the consumer, the Government did not increase the price of domestic coal, since January 2018.
The domestic coal-based power plants have generated 20% more power in this period as compared to last year and ensured that there is no shortage of power in the country despite the steep decline in power generation by the imported coal-based power plants due to high prices of imported coal.
A sudden increase in power demand and high rainfall in the catchment area of some coal mines depleted the coal stock at the power plants i.e. as against standard 30 days of coal stock requirement, a few power plants had near-zero coal stock. However, before the problem could transform into a widespread crisis leading to blackouts and prolonged supply outages, the Government ensured, with effective intervention, that coal supplies to power plants were restored to meet the daily generation requirement.
The overall railway rakes loaded (till 28.12.2021) from Coal India Limited (CIL) sidings and washery sidings near CIL was 296.1 rakes per day which is an increase of 23% as compared to the previous year. Similarly, 259.5 rakes per day were loaded for the power sector from these sidings, which is an increase of 29% as compared to the same period of last year. CIL’s production was 413.64 MT (Apr – December 2021) (5.3% growth) which is very high despite the second wave of Covid during the year. The CIL coal despatch was 481.83 MT during the same period i.e. a growth of 17.64%, which is the highest ever despatch by CIL during this period. Also, the CIL despatch to the power sector was 386.5 MT which is also the highest ever coal despatch to the power sector. CIL is poised to produce 650 MT coal this year and despatch 682 MT this year.
The coal stock at thermal power plants of the country, which are linked with the coal companies, is more than 23.2 MT (sufficient for more than 12 days coal consumption). The coal demand from power plants for the last 4 months of this year is about 243 MT (from all sources) and the coal stock required is about 47 MT. The coal demand is going to increase in the medium-term (up to 2030 or so) although the relative share in total power generation may reduce due to larger integration of renewable power of 500 GW and achieve 50% of electricity usage from renewable sources of energy by 2030. The coal demand from the power sector is likely to hover around 900-1000 MT by 2030. Thus, in absolute terms, the requirement of coal is going to increase despite the anticipated change in the power mix basket.
The steps being taken to increase production are (i) Rolling auction for commercial mining (ii) Amendment in Mineral Concession Rules 2021 to allow 50% sale of coal after meeting with end-user requirement of linked plant (iii) Mine Developer and Operators identified by CIL (iv) A target of 1 Billion Tonne coal production by CIL by 2023-24.
Hence, despite liberalising import of coal during the coal crisis period, the Government, on the whole, has achieved Atma-Nirbhar Bharat by reducing coal imports for power generation by about 50%. India is making great strides in the power sector and it will not be long before we live up to PM Modi’s commitment of 500 GW of Renewable Energy by 2030.
JAMIA HAMDARD UNIVERSITY DESERVES TO BE A CENTRE OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE
The year 2021 shall always be remembered as a year of success and pride that scripted glorious history in the journey of Jamia Hamdard. Placed among the top 25 universities of India, it has bagged the first position in the field of Pharmacy while its medical college has been ranked 22nd at NIRF in the country by the Union Government. What added another feather to the deemed-to-be university’s cap was its achievement at the UPSC examination for civil services the same year. As many as 10 students who were trained by Jamia Hamdard Residential Coaching Academy cracked the examination.
Jamia Hamdard was established by a renowned Unani physician, Hakeem Abdul Hameed (14 September 1908-22 July 1999). The Founder-Chancellor was a great philanthropist, thinker and visionary, who set up several institutions. He was honoured by several national and international awards including Avicenna Award presented by the erstwhile USSR in 1983 and Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan by the Union Government. Hakeem Abdul Hameed was an honorary member of the Academy of Medical Science of the Islamic Republic of Iran and once was the Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University.
His son is Mr Hammad Ahmed (President, Hamdard National Foundation, HNF-HECA) who has taken charge as the Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard University. He has been a member of HNF since its inception in 1964. His-decade long experience in charitable institutions is bound to inspire the University to attain new heights.
Mr Hammad Ahmed has been involved in Jamia Hamdard since before it gained Deemed University status in 1989. Over the years, he has served in the Executive Council, Finance Committee and various other advisory bodies of the university and has championed the growth of Jamia Hamdard through sustained personal attention and interest, with vice-chancellor Professor Mohammad Afshar Alam’s mission being implementing the National Education Policy (NEP) of the union government for improvement in the quality of education.
The Jamia Hamdard, which started its journey from a small Unani clinic in 1906 by Hakeem Hafiz Abdul Majeed, has grown to its present form on account of the efforts of his illustrious son, Hakeem Abdul Hameed, who efficiently carried forward the philosophy and objectives of the Hamdard. In 1947, he planned to set up a complex of educational institutions which would concentrate on highlighting the contribution of Islam and Islamic culture to Indian civilisation and the development of Unani medicines for curing diseases.
For setting up a complex of research and educational institutions, Hakim Abdul Hameed purchased land in the Tughlaqabad area of South Delhi which was not inhabited in those times. In order to implement and execute the objectives of the Wakf as enshrined in the Wakf deed, Hakeem Abdul Hameed and his associates established several institutions for teaching and research. In 1962, Hakim Abdul Hameed set up the Institute of History of Medicine and Medical Research with the object of promoting education and research in the history of medicine, besides appraising the principles of medicine.
In 1963, Hakeem Abdul Hameed along with his friends and associates set up the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies with a view to promoting the study of Islamic Culture and Civilisation especially its contribution to Indian society and culture.
In 1972, Hamdard College of Pharmacy was set up. But it was 1989 when the dream of Hakeem Abdul Hameed was accomplished as Jamia Hamdard received Deemed to be University status from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Over the last decade, the Jamia Hamdard rapidly emerged as an outstanding institution of higher learning with distinct and focused academic programmes. The graduate programme in Information Technology and Computer Applications and post-graduate programmes in Information Technology, Computer Applications, Business Management, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy are among the new courses. Undergraduate programmes in Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy are being introduced from this year.
Jamia Hamdard wants to provide international quality higher education under the NEP, which is expected to bring a sea change in academia. It aims to undertake cutting-edge research in the fields of social, natural science and technology and particularly promote the study of modern and traditional medicine systems, especially Unani-Tibb. This will usher in a holistic and integrated approach to healthcare and meet the societal education needs of underprivileged Indian communities.
Its mission of promoting the cause of higher education through modern styles of teaching and advanced research in the branches of knowledge the Jamia Hamdard is likely to develop core competence for and as may be in consonance with the emerging needs of India under the ambit of NEP.
Another ambitious plan of Jamia Hamdard is to co-operate, collaborate and associate with national and international organisations and institutions in any part of the world having goals wholly or partly similar to it and under the provision of the UGC regulations.
It also wants to offer the scope for higher education for excellence and innovations which may fit primarily at UG, PG and doctoral levels.
The Ministry of Education should contemplate bestowing the status of the Centre of National Importance on this prestigious institution, engaged in the service of mankind.
The author is Professor of Arunachal University of Studies, Namsai and also Former Media Advisor, Aligarh Muslim University. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
India’s war legacy cannot have colonial shadow on it
The India Gate was constructed as a British war memorial to commemorate the 83,000-plus soldiers who died during the First World War, from 1914-21. Out of these, the names of only 13,516 soldiers, including British, are inscribed on it
These are the most beautiful and inspiring lines enshrined as epitaph on the Kohima War Memorial in Nagaland. These lines commemorate those Indian soldiers who fought the Japanese during the Second World War. They constantly remind us that we are safe today due to the sacrifices of those brave soldiers. Although these thoughts were penned by John Maxwell Edmonds, they are relevant to all war memorials.
The brouhaha over the merging of the Amar Jawan Jyoti flame with the Eternal Flame at the newly constructed National War Memorial is political and bereft of emotions that should define Independent India’s existence as a sovereign State. By the merger, this country is creating a new tradition where the sacrifice of every soldier on a daily basis is recognised and valued. The memory is being magnified and amplified many times over and evoking the right response.
War memorials have played an important role in the lives of nations. Different countries have created different traditions. Infosys Trust Chairman Sudha Murthy brilliantly describes how deeply touched she was when she visited Moscow and came to know of the tradition of newly married couples visiting the nearest war memorial after exchanging their marriage vows.
Every newly married couple is reminded that their peaceful existence in Russia is because of the sacrifices made by their ancestors. It is a tradition for couples to seek the blessings of martyrs in war memorials. This is a sign of gratitude that the nation pays to its heroes, she describes. Visiting a nearby war memorial immediately after the wedding and wearing a service uniform since everyone serves in the armed forces is a custom Russians have evolved over generations.
War memorials are supposed to create memories and thus must evoke the natural urge of giving thanks and determination to be better citizens. In countries where a brief stint in the military is a must, one does not need to teach the respect the army commands or should command. But in our country, where even the sacrifices of our brave soldiers are at times undermined due to political reasons, it is necessary to keep reminding ourselves that our national life depends on the daily supreme sacrifices made by these soldiers to keep the country together. The highest sacrifice is going to the war knowing fully well that you may not return to your loved ones.
Imagine a non-descript politician calling the Army Chief, “Sadak ka Goonda”, and getting away after tendering an apology. This happens when a politician starts seeing the Army as partisan to establishments. Instead of celebrating the victories of our armed forces, such people start seeing these victories with jaundiced eyes and ask the Army to give proof of their valour.
This shows that the ceremonial obeisance before the Amar Jawan Jyoti has failed to imbibe those right values. Dignitaries come and go after paying their respect to the makeshift war memorial at India Gate, but these have failed to create the right memories for us. A visit to a war memorial is not a ritual but a recognition of the supreme sacrifices made by the country to keep itself afloat.
I have often seen merry-making people visiting India Gate for picnics or partying or simply to have ice cream after dinner. But I have seldom witnessed them stopping by at the war memorial and trying to figure out the reason for the eternal lighting of the flames. The meaning of the rifle-turned upside down with a helmet on it is lost on most.
India Gate, the symbol of the British Raj, looks imposing and grand and has become a symbol of India’s capital. But has it acquired the stature of a war memorial? I have serious doubts. Those picnic-goers should not be expected to drown their passions in sombre thoughts. Sadly, the memories are not created. I bet you ask a common person who visits India Gate to spell out his thoughts after visiting the memorial. He would not be even able to explain the meaning. So, images about the visit are created but not the thoughts. You become a part of history, yet you do not know the history.
When the Amar Jawan Jyoti was inaugurated on 26 January 1972, it was to commemorate the memories of the 3,843 Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives while writing India’s triumphant military history in liberating Bangladesh in 1971. The makeshift war memorial was embedded close to India Gate (under the arch of the India Gate) and the permanent flame was lit in the memory of the soldiers who sacrificed their lives. Gradually, it came to symbolise the sacrifices made by all soldiers.
The India Gate was constructed as a British war memorial to commemorate the 83,000-plus soldiers who died during the First World War, from 1914-21. Out of these, the names of only 13,516 soldiers, including British, are inscribed on it. Some names are of those soldiers who lost their lives in the Third Anglo-Afghan war. The foundation for this war memorial was laid on 10 February 1921 and was inaugurated on 2 February 1931.
Naturally, if you have the Amar Jawan Jyoti adjacent to or under the India Gate, memories would get mixed. The symbol of the British Empire exists side by side with the independent military victory of 1971. It does not have the names of freedom fighters of India or of those soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the Bangladesh War or the other wars that India fought and won either before or after 1971.
While no one can take away from the valour of Indian soldiers who fought bravely and created a saga for their regiments during the First World War, the fact remains that Indians had no say in this participation. It was the British who decided their wars and forced participation. This was the history of British India and not an independent nation. While this would be respected as a relic of the past, it cannot truly represent an Independent India’s war legacy.
It is in this context that a demand was made about 60 years back that the country should have its National War Memorial. The armed forces proposed it in 1960 and the UPA government decided in 2006 that such a war memorial be set up nearby India Gate. But it ran into trouble due to objections from the Ministry of Urban Development on the heritage site issue of Central Vista. In 2012, the UPA announced the decision to construct the proposed war memorial but serious objections were raised by the Delhi Government under the late Sheila Dikshit.
It appears that while the Congress-led UPA wanted the war memorial, there was a section within the party that opposed it on the pretext that it would erase the memory of Indira Gandhi’s role in the Bangladesh War. But the agenda for a war memorial picked momentum when Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. The Government cleared the proposal for a National War Memorial at a Cabinet meeting in October 2015 and sanctioned Rs 500 crore. This was to commemorate all soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the history of post-Independence India.
The Government stated its objective: “This government will be establishing a War Memorial and a Museum with a deep sense of gratitude to honour those brave soldiers, who laid down their lives. The memorial will promote a sense of patriotism in the minds of visitors, and will award an opportunity to citizens of this vast nation, to express their token sense of gratitude to the brave soldiers, who laid down their lives for the motherland”. And the War Memorial was inaugurated just 400 metres from India Gate on 25 January 2019.
On 30 May 2019, Narendra Modi visited the NWM to pay tribute to the martyrs before taking oath as the Prime Minister of India for the second time. The seed for a new tradition was being laid. On 15 August 2019, President of India Ram Nath Kovind placed a wreath and observed two minutes’ silence at the NWM, instead of India Gate, before the start of the 73rd Independence Day parade.
The NWM is an awe-inspiring structure, spared over 40 acres and commemorates all soldiers who have sacrificed their lives. Names of more than 26,000 soldiers are etched in granite. It also contains the names of those who died during UN military operations. All the wars have been covered. The memorial intends to invoke deep memories that should serve as an inspiration and it does succeed in its purpose.
So why should one oppose the merging of Amar Jawan Jyoti with the NWM eternal fire? The memories are not being erased but new memories are being created. Unlike India Gate, when you enter the NWM you get transformed into a different world. Images of sacrifice and valour of our brave soldiers who made the country what it is today. Even two minutes of contemplation for them would be enough to remind us why we are safe today. The Congress and other leaders have made it appear as if this was an attempt to erase the memory of Indira Gandhi. This is ridiculous. She will always be remembered as an Iron Lady who made India proud, whenever the Bangladesh War is mentioned. But India won many wars before or after that and many soldiers sacrificed their lives. It is happening on a daily basis even today. How about giving them their dues? It makes no sense to have two war memorials at a distance of 400 metres.
And what a beautiful way to remind people of another great leader of the country who has been consigned to a few pages in modern history due to the political shenanigans of the Nehru-Gandhi family—Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The canopy at the India Gate that once had King George V, King of England, from 1939-68, will now have Bose, the person whom the British Empire dreaded. A befitting memorial to Bose on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary, which is celebrated as Parakram Diwas, makes us all proud.
The writer is the author of “Narendra Modi: the GameChanger”. A former journalist, he is a member of BJP’s media relations department and represents the party as spokesperson while participating in television debates. The views expressed are personal.
PRIYANKA NOT AVERSE TO A NON-GANDHI AS CONGRESS PRESIDENT
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has emerged as the most visible face of the Congress during the past few months, does not appear to be averse to a non-Gandhi becoming the chief of the grand old party. In fact, in an interview with an English News Channel, she said that the family would be open to the idea if that is what the rank and file want. However, this willingness to allow somebody other than the Gandhis to take over the organization at this stage is most unlikely since the controls for all practical purposes are still with the family. Therefore, the only way a non-Gandhi can become the Congress president is if the family backs such a person. The primary reason why there has been no serious challenge to the Gandhis from within the party so far is that senior leaders realise that it would be extremely difficult to dislodge them from their elevated position unless they decide to vacate the office for someone more capable and hands-on.
In the unlikely eventuality of this happening, the chosen person would have to be a politician who would be remote-controlled by them to a large degree. Amongst the current crop of leaders, there are only three who can steer the party out of its current crisis. However, there is no denying that they would need the patronage of the Gandhis who too would assist them only if it is not a long-time arrangement. Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Kamal Nath who has won nine times from Chindwara and is currently the head of State unit and leader of Opposition in the Assembly is certainly a very capable politician. He has the capacity to pick up the phone and speak to any national leader, across party lines, something which not too many politicians can do. His credentials to lead the Congress which he joined in 1969 are very strong; Chindwara is the only area in the country where the Lok Sabha MP and all the MLAs belong to the party. This is not the case anywhere else. Kamal Nath was a classmate of the late Sanjay Gandhi in the Doon School and has access to the Gandhis. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has the huge organizational experience and has been with Congress since his NSUI days. He has run the state on multiple occasions and has both, expertise and proximity to the Gandhis.
Former Haryana Chief Minister, Bhupinder Singh Hooda is a mass leader and someone who can collect a a large number of people at a very short notice. His tenure as the CM is considered to be amongst the best in the State. The contributions and the capacity of these leaders are acknowledged by everyone else in the party. Either of them can also get the G-23 or dissidents on board if that eventuality arises. However, the problem that would come in the way cannot be ignored. The Gandhis cannot be wished away and even if they are comfortable with these leaders or someone other than them, their coteries would never allow the transfer of power to take place. The coteries have light weights and shallow people, who are both insecure and lack understanding of the party, its history, and ideology. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have both had long innings of controlling the Congress, directly or indirectly. The general belief within the party is that if the Gandhis have to be at the helm of affairs, it should be Priyanka from out of the three of them. She has displayed maturity and presence of mind during her campaigning in UP, though she lacks consistency and sometimes good political advise. She has been leading from the front despite realizing that the organisation structure in Uttar Pradesh was very weak and is a major obstacle to the success of the party candidates. Amongst several options being considered by her supporters as well as her to resuscitate the Congress could be a contest from Gorakhpur against Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. This is something that would be opposed by her brother and mother. The only way Congress can survive is by reinventing itself. A split after the UP polls may become imminent. The developments could pave way for some drastic measures and could lead to a changed leadership scenario.
Caste, religion and other factors that will decide UP
Religion and caste are the biggest determining factors in the voting preferences of people in India, more so in Uttar Pradesh. It is a fact that out of political compulsions, BJP uses the religious card to woo Hindus, while other political parties ue appeasement to garner Muslim support.
The UP Assembly elections scheduled next month are one of the most defining events in the Modi-Shah era of Indian politics. Its outcome would decide how they could continue on their agenda of changing the very political discourse of the country.
Presently, some of the political pundits are elated over some defectors, claiming themselves to be the ‘mai-baps’ of smaller most backward castes (MBC), joining Samajwadi Party. The event is projected as the ‘might’ of the minorities and backward classes forming a ‘real secular’ coalition. In their understanding, this might cause an incurable injury to BJP fortunes in 2024.
These ‘experts’ argue that the caste alliances forged by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, given his secular credentials, developmental work, firm support of Muslims and farmers’ disenchantment manifested by the long-drawn agitation as well as failure of Yogi Adityanath in managing the pandemic and lacklustre performance of his regime, might make re-election of Yogi difficult.
Religion and caste are the biggest determining factors in the voting preference of people in India, more so in UP. It is a fact that out of political compulsions, BJP uses communal polarisation to woo Hindus while other political parties use appeasement to secure Muslim support.
Congress with 6.3% vote share and BSP with 22.25% in 2017 elections are totally out of the reckoning. In such a scenario, even the die-hard supporters out of compulsion would shift to other political parties than to allow their vote to go waste and/or provide an opportunity to a party which they totally abhor coming to power.
Hindus and Muslims are two major religious groups in UP. Muslims would go to any extent to prevent CM Yogi from securing another 5-year tenure as he has strongly resisted anything was pro-Muslim. They would like to vote for their most trusted party, i.e. Samajwadi Party, to defeat BJP. However, in a particular constituency, if a non-SP candidate is better placed to defeat BJP, they would vote for him. Whereas Hindus, other than the pro-SP Yadavs and the pro-RLD Jats, are also unlikely to support any candidate which would facilitate any SP victory in the state.
Caste wise, 90% Yadavs would vote for SP with only 10% going to BJP. Similarly, despite all the adverse issues, upper castes like Rajputs, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas and a faction of Jats would vote for BJP. For these castes, the “izzat of bahu-beti” (dignity of women) is more important than anything else. The prime motivation for these castes to vote for BJP is the improvement in law and order situation and neutralisation of criminal elements.
One generally hears from the ‘intellectuals’ that Yogi is promoting ‘Thakurwad’ in UP and Brahmins are disenchanted with him and might not vote for him. They argue that Brahmins, who solidly supported BJP, were expecting a Brahmin Chief Minister after the 2017 election and a major share in power. One would like to ask these intellectuals if SP or BSP would nominate a Brahmin as the Chief Minister of UP. Brahmins may be a little disappointed with BJP but are not so foolish to allow UP to revert to its old Wild-West ways. An ordinary Brahmin is also concerned about the “izzat of bahu-beti” and is not going to vote for SP nor would he waste his vote for Congress or BSP. As regards the allegations of indulgence in ‘Thakurwad’, it has no weight as no other caste has any complaint in this regard.
Some political analysts are reading the defection of some ministers and MLAs belonging to MBC and SC and joining SP as a sign of BJP’s OBC and Dalit base cracking and paving the way for SP rule in the state. These individuals left BJP after realising that they would not be renominated. Ask any ordinary person belonging to the Dalit or MBC if he would vote for SP candidate, the answer would be ‘no’ even if he is a Yadav. Dalits and MBCs are generally the victims of Yadav-Jat-Rajput ‘dabangai’ in rural areas and ‘gundai’ of mafias in urban areas. They may criticise Yogi on any other issue but are always appreciative of Yogi for improving the crime situation in the state. It has been BJP’s policy to groom youngsters into leadership role even in the Dalit and MBC communities, and this is the reason that these leaders have been spurned by BJP and forced to leave.
Farmer agitation hardly has any impact anywhere in UP other than in the area of influence of the Baliyan Jat Khap. RLD, which is known to have influence among Jats of western UP, supported the agitation along with all other Opposition parties and is hopeful of performing better this time. The live pictures of the agitation at Ghazipur border shown in the media would show a preponderance of Muslims and Sikhs, though the area hardly has any Sikh farmers. Muslims of western UP are very keen to throw BJP out of power and thus were strong supporters of the farmers agitation and contributed maximum manpower to the blockade at Ghazipur border. The allegation of Khalistani support to the agitation has also been there. Jats, like Yadavs, being land-owning communities compete with the latter and are not enamoured of Yadav rule. A large section of Jats in western UP has become ardent followers of BJP under the influence of Hindutva ideology. RLD is likely to improve its position from 1 to 3. On all the seats where Jat candidates have not been fielded by the RLD-SP combine, Jats would not be voting for the combine but for BJP. Incidentally, farmers of UP are sugarcane growers and have not forgotten how SP left huge sugarcane arrears of farmers unpaid, which were cleared by the Yogi government. Moreover, encouragement to sugarcane farmers by permitting ethanol production is likely to secure Jat votes for BJP.
BJP would be hugely benefitting from the weakened BSP and Congress. While the Muslims supporting them earlier would shift to SP, their Hindu supporters would be moving towards BJP. Jatavs, who are the committed supporters of BSP and dislike BJP, may also shift their vote to BJP to defeat their enemy, i.e. SP.
The direct delivery of benefits like house, gas, electricity etc has won the hearts of the poor, who were always promised big but delivered nothing. Even the so-called allegation of mishandling of the Covid-19 situation has not generated widespread disenchantment with the Yogi government.
In a highly polarised state like UP where most of the contests are going to be bipolar, voters will ultimately decide their vote on their preferred party/candidate and, more importantly, whom they want to keep out from power in all circumstances. On this criteria, those who want to keep SP out far outnumber those who want to see an SP government in the state.
The final tally of Congress is not going to be more than 2, BSP 7, with SP and allies tally being around 60 (+/- 5). BJP would retain its present strength or improve it. For BJP, the polling percentage would be of utmost importance. If polling exceeds 60%, BJP would repeat its previous performance, and if it remains below 51%, BJP would struggle to cross the majority mark.
Rajinder Kumar is a formmer special director of the Intelligence Bureau
Farmer agitation hardly has any impact anywhere in UP other than in the area of influence of the Baliyan Jat Khap. RLD, which is known to have influence among Jats of western UP, supported the agitation along with all other Opposition parties and is hopeful of performing better this time.
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