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This world and our lives won’t be the same again

A ‘new normal’ is being created and developed as we speak. The ongoing pandemic will probably change the way the world functions in ways that are unthinkable right now.

Harini Srinivasan and Anuradha Guru

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Life is unpredictable. Anything and everything can change in the span of practically any timeframe, from a few minutes to hours to days to weeks. What better example to prove the point than the outbreak of Covid-19. From the time the first cases were reported on the last day of 2019 in Wuhan, China, to now, nearly 6 months later, the disease has assumed pandemic proportions and has affected almost every country in the world and every human being on the planet, directly or indirectly.

It is not the first time that humanity has seen such health crises. There have been several notable epidemics and pandemics in the past century. Each of them brought about economic, social, and sometimes, political upheavals. Such outbreaks of infectious disease had direct and consequential social impacts. As an example, extensive public panic in times of disease outbreaks can lead to swift population migration. According to a study, the 1994 outbreak of plague in Surat, while not of such large proportion as other epidemics, led about 5,00,000 people (around 20% of the city’s population) to flee their homes for possible safer places. Examples of certain communities facing social isolation being in some way linked to a contagious disease are also seen such as by Africans in Hong Kong SAR, China, for their presumed association with Ebola virus.

What is different is that the coronavirus pandemic is truly global. Based on the numbers affected, this has been likened to the Spanish flu which broke out in 1918, in the midst of World War I. Besides killing more than a 100 million people over a span of two years, the Spanish flu pandemic changed the world in many ways. Spanish Flu, along with WW-I, witnessed a sudden change in sex ratio in the world›s population with more men having died in these two devastations. This acted like a harbinger for more women joining the job markets. The US, in particular, witnessed a sudden surge of women professionals during the 1920s.

Spanish Flu, among other things, heralded the setting up of the Health Organization in 1922 by the League of Nations, with the aim to make equitable provision of health and social welfare and promote medical advancement. This organisation went on to become the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. With severe criticism coming its way, due to its handling of the present Covid-19 outbreak, another major change is perhaps on its way. Several nations are now voting for reforms at the WHO.

 Governments across the world have stepped into action implementing mitigating measures while assessing the situation both in their country and elsewhere around the world. India has been under a strict lockdown since March, like many others. As the world comes to terms with the disruption caused by this pandemic, which has not only caused immense death and suffering, new, almost dystopian reality is emerging where lives are being dictated by a virus for which humans are yet to find a cure. Reams have been written about its impact ranging from the human sufferings to economic distress to effects on the environment (some of which are positive). Memes, articles, blog posts are being churned out about life back in 2019 and in the post-corona days.

Things and activities considered normal and taken for granted have become a luxury. Did we think twice last year about hugging a friend or shaking hands with a colleague? Did we think twice about stepping out of our homes for a stroll or a walk to the nearby park or the neighborhood mall?

In India, in February end and early March, while we did read about horror stories coming to us from Wuhan, Italy and from the US, it did not hit us hard. It was not that easy for us to believe that in just a few weeks, we would also be locked down within the confines of our homes. The social and psychological effects of this sudden change in one’s life circumstances have been unprecedented. Life, as we knew it, is probably now passé.

Coming to terms with any kind of altered reality takes a while. Human beings go through a range of emotions while coping with any change. When the lockdown was suddenly imposed there was a sense of disbelief. Along with the disbelief was a fear — would we be able to get all the essential commodities? There was sudden panic buying, not of toilet rolls as seen in the West, but of essentials — pulses, rice, medicines. Sanitisers started flying off the shelves. Observing personal hygiene became the call of the time and was emphasised in every form of media. Washing hands, sanitising them and keeping ourselves safe from the virus was re-iterated in each and every possible way.

The first few days of the lockdown and maybe the first week was spent in a haze. People came to terms with this new state of being cooped up at home — either working from home or just staying home. With no domestic help at hand and the entire family together, there was an almost imposed family time. Chores were divided. Television, OTT platforms and of course social media became extremely important. To make lives easier and the confinement palatable, TV channels started airing reruns of popular old serials such as Mahabharata and Ramayana. The viewership of these serials proved their popularity among the masses once again! OTT platforms had their own charm for the younger lot — as they binged on popular movies, TV shows from the West and K-drama from the East (South Korea).

Home-bound, people started showcasing their baking and cooking skills. Social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook were inundated with displays of home-made baking and cooking efforts. Why, even celebrities were not immune to this — one got to read of Deepika Padukone’s baking skills and watch Diljit Dosanjh’s cooking skills. We also got sneak peeks into the daily lives of celebrities and into their homes as they were also completely home-bound. People tried to also use this time as constructively as possible as online classes and subscriptions to online skill development courses increased. There were beard challenges among men, who experimented with their look by growing beards and moustaches. Women had their grey hair challenges. In the absence of any hair salons, “go naturally grey” became their new mantra! Creative ventures such as writing challenges, makea-movie contests, book launches, book reading sessions, baking sessions — all online — came up, all with the purpose of keeping the confined well-heeled Indian engaged and happy.

While this does paint a hunky-dory situation on the face of it, it is certainly not the truth. By the time, Lockdown 1.0 ended and the number of Covid cases soared, it became clearer that we were in this fight for the long haul. The disease was lurking to threaten our complacent existence. The issues faced by the migrant labourers were too close for most people to ignore. While do-gooders amongst us tried to help these stuck migrant labour by cooking and distributing food, for the majority, the impending economic doom spelt by the virus added on to the already existing anxiety. With apps tracking and tracing the number of infected and casualties, with job cuts, with businesses shutting down, and this feeling of being extremely held up in homes induced major behavioral changes as well. Fear, anger, frustration and other negative feelings have been coming to the fore. As these took a toll and intensified, social and psychological issues have been reported. Domestic violence has risen rapidly — as some are reacting rather violently to this changed reality and their lack of control on their lives.

In this ever-changing scenario, as the world fights the virus and tries to resume the process of living and scientists are working hard to develop a vaccine, there is no certainty of what humanity is looking at, or how long this fight for survival is likely to be and when this will end. There is an overload of information, with new developments almost each day. There are no concrete answers to several questions.

 However, one thing is clear, our lives have changed forever. Countries are slowly trying to return to a semblance of normalcy. Offices are slowly resuming, shops are opening up, sporting activities have resumed (without a live audience — the Deutsche Bundesliga is a case in point); people somehow are trying to get about in their lives — stepping out of their homes albeit with masks, gloves and sanitisers in tow.

A “new normal” is being created and developed as we speak. The ongoing pandemic will probably change the way the world functions in ways that are unthinkable right now. Only time can tell how!

Harini Srinivasan is an author, former civil servant and Editorial Advisor with Publications Division, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Anuradha Guru is an officer of the Indian Economic Service presently posted as Executive Director in the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India. She is an alumnus of JNU and Delhi School of Economics.

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Opinion

BJP HERE TO STAY

Priya Sahgal

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At the BJP National Executive in Hyderabad, Home Minister Amit Shah made an interesting comment—that the way he sees it the BJP is here to stay for the next three decades. There is no breaking news in this statement for the way the Congress is going it is clear that there is no stopping the BJP. But at the same time it would be interesting to see what kind of a governance model the BJP has in plan for the next three years. Will he be able to promote India as a vishwa-guru? Will the BJP be able to end the politics of jaatiwad and parivarwaad?

Well Maharashtra seems a step in the right direction if the limited goal is to strike at dynasty politics. For the short term, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has shown that there can be a Sena without the Thackerays—though we have to see how this plays out in the courts which will take into account the strength of Shiv Sainiks outside the House as well. But if Eknath Shinde (aided and abetted by the BJP) is able to wrest the party symbol from the Thackerays then that sends a very strong message to other political dynasties.

Already Akhilesh Yadav is feeling the heat. In the recent bypolls, the Samajwadi Party lost two Muslim dominated strongholds Azamgarh and Rampur to the BJP. Akhilesh’s silence on the hijab controversy during the recent assembly polls was noticed by the minority community. And now during the national executive Prime Minister Modi pointed out that they need to woo backwards amongst the Muslim community as well. Already the party leadership is divided between Akhilesh and his Uncle Shivpal Yadav. The young SP chief has a tough task ahead and he made the right decision when he gave up his Lok Sabha seat for the MLA one. He has to show he is serious about state politics. Then comes the curious and curiouser case of Rahul Gandhi, the dynast who doesn’t know what to do with his silver spoon. Should he shake it or stir it or exchange it! Party sources claim that the Congress is still not sure as to whether it would be holding its inner party polls in September as planned. Which means that Rahul’s elevation could get further delayed. Which means the confusion will further continue over the leadership issue. Well, on one side, there is a party that has the next three decades chalked out and, on the other side, is a party that is to come up with a definite plan for the next three months!

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Opinion

Team Modi should involve end stakeholders to push reforms

If PM Modi’s natural style is ‘just do it, and do it fast’, now the government needs to pay greater attention to change management to make the reforms more acceptable.

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In response to the Agnipath scheme, when people took to the streets, it seemed like a familiar sight. One more “good” reform scheme of the Narendra Modi government was being opposed vehemently by the masses. And this time, many noticed a trend in terms of repeat of protests against government schemes— demonetisation, CAA, farm laws and, now, the Agnipath scheme. Even genuine Modi supporters, in a way, felt the fatigue of “defeat” of one more Modi scheme in the durbar of the masses.

Interestingly, team Modi itself had not anticipated the kind of resistance that we have seen repeatedly. So why is it that Team Modi that seems to understand the voters’ mind fairly well when seeking votes fails to predict the pushback to their reforms from the masses? Why has this government failed in pushing through quite a few big reforms despite PM Modi’s popularity and his supposed positive intent? There are a few theories. The first theory is that PM Modi does not involve experts when forming policies. While this seemed true at the beginning of his tenure as PM, learning from the demonetisation “fiasco”, over a period of time, Modi has surely increased the level of consultation—at least the technical aspects, if not other aspects like change management required–with experts when designing big reform policies. GST was almost entirely designed and detailed by “experts”. The scrapping of Article 370 was thought through to the last level of details, including the push back and potential riots. The Agnipath scheme was evidently reviewed and detailed by the heads of Armed forces as mentioned by themselves in various forums.

The second theory is that the government isn’t communicating enough about their reform policies. This seems to be true to a fair extent. The government does make grand announcements and circulates information about the features and (supposed) benefits of their schemes on traditional and social media. But the problem is, people don’t get to hear what they want to hear in those communications. The communications aren’t convincingly conveying “what’s-in-it-for-me”, and, on the contrary, are giving rise to “why-it’s-not-for-me”, which the government has not been able to address. Generally, people of no country like sudden changes—more so Indian masses, a large section of whom are economically vulnerable and hovering around the poverty levels. In a zeal to announce “big transformative” changes, the government might actually be scaring the stakeholders who may not be prepared for reforms like open market competition (farmers, MSMEs) or short-term contractual arrangement (for army) rather than lifelong safe jobs. There are tactics on effective political messaging to push through reforms with relatively lesser resistance like those used in 1991 liberalization which the government might want to deploy.

The third theory is that the government is trying to do “too much too soon”. Team Modi seems to be in a hurry, which could arguably be a good thing, but the changes are probably appearing too suddenly and happening too fast for the people to keep pace with. If a relatively small reform like increasing FDI limit in the insurance sector took more than a decade, the present government aspires to push through big reforms like CAA and GST (from planning to launch to stabilisation) in 4-5 years. That also means that big reforms are not spaced out or phased adequately. The Agnipath scheme could have coexisted with regular recruitment for a few years before it completely replaced the regular recruitment to reduce the pain and fear among the young aspirants. Further, the government could have avoided launching the Agnipath scheme now when Army recruitment had been on hold for a few years due to Covid and lakhs of young aspirants were eagerly waiting for their dream jobs. Balancing speedy reforms with minimising pain of the stakeholders involves careful trade-offs which this government doesn’t seem to be making effectively.

The fourth theory is that this government isn’t seeking feedback from the beneficiaries. This, too, seems to be often true and probably the biggest of their shortcomings. If adequate inputs are taken from “beneficiaries” during the design stage and pilots are conducted, then policy related communications could be smarter and initiatives could be phased better. Be it GST, CAA or the farm laws, the government was caught off-guard for not knowing upfront what beneficiaries or stakeholders would actually want and how they would react.

The root cause of the above flaws in implementing big reforms could be PM Modi’s overconfidence or overenthusiasm or a combination both. Also, if PM Modi’s natural style is “Just do it, and do it fast”, he needs to learn from the experience of the last eight years and do more to alter his natural style with the goal to take the stakeholders along by being more empathetic and sensitive to their real and perceived needs. The government needs to pay greater attention to change management to make the reforms more acceptable. Nothing to take away the government’s efforts in pushing probably the maximum number of reforms and initiatives in India’s history within just eight years even in the challenging times of Covid pandemic and Ukraine conflict. The Modi government has initiated big reforms like Cooperative Banks Regulation Act, disbanding of Ordinance Board, privatisation of Air India, public listing of LIC, merger of PSU banks, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, scrapping ofArticle 370 and implementing GST. History shows that it is relatively easier to push through reforms relating to businesses and corporates compared to those relating to citizens and it is no different for the Modi government. It has faced maximum opposition and failures in reforms relating to farmers, labour laws, land laws, army recruitment and citizenship status of people of India. The Modi government has eight years to look back at, reflect upon, draw lessons from and get better at pushing through reforms successfully. For this, Team Modi needs to ensure greater involvement of end stakeholders when designing reforms, pay greater attention to managing change, have a more palliative communication strategy and phase the reforms better. India needs more reforms from this government and a little more effort towards this will do the trick.

Alpesh Patel is a tech entrepreneur and has been a management consultant with Big4. He is the author of the book ‘Chalta Hai India’ by Bloomsbury, India.

Team Modi seems to be in a hurry, which could arguably be a good thing, but the changes are probably appearing too suddenly and happening too fast for the people to keep pace with. If a relatively small reform like increasing FDI limit in the insurance sector took more than a decade, the present government aspires to push through big reforms like CAA and GST (from planning to launch to stabilisation) in 4-5 years. That also means that big reforms are not spaced out or phased adequately. The Agnipath scheme could have coexisted with regular recruitment for a few years before it completely replaced the regular recruitment to reduce the pain and fear among the young aspirants.

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ALL LIVES MATTER, HINDU LIVES INCLUDED

Joyeeta Basu

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Just when one thought that western legacy media had already hit the nadir with its tendentious coverage of India and India’s majority community, in comes another report that is so mendacious in its interpretation of facts that it plumbs new depths of insensitivity and treads into the territory of religiophobia. We are talking about a new article from the famous—or infamous, seen from an Indian perspective—Time magazine, which has found the social media trend “Hindu Lives Matter” to be dangerous. The headline of the report written by a Kashmiri lady (according to her Twitter bio) blatantly says, “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ Emerges as Dangerous Slogan After Horrific Killing in India” (1 July 2022). It is as if the token use of “horrific” to describe the gruesome beheading of a Hindu tailor by two Islamist terrorists is enough lip service paid, and the main issue is the reaction to the incident on social media, inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter”. Does one of the world’s best-known news weeklies realise that by publishing such a report it is essentially implying that the lives of people belonging to a particular religion—Hinduism—do not matter? That they could die like flies for all Time cared, as long as the mantle of victimhood stayed with a particular minority community in India. It is as if Hindu victimhood in the face of radical terrorism must be “cancelled”, as Time editors have pre-supposed that Hindus being in a majority in India are naturally oppressors. An Indian/Indian origin leftist commentator quoted in the article has this to say: “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ presumes those lives have been overlooked. Hindu lives have not been overlooked in a Hindu majoritarian state. This is a revisionist fabrication of history and the present.” This is a rather appalling and fabricated narrative where one community is the perpetual victim and another the oppressor, when in reality, India has had a history of conquest and subjugation of the majority community, and the resultant troubled inter-community relations. Even in the present, the situation is anything but black and white. There is nothing revisionist about a beheading on account of “blasphemy”. It is a reality. It happened, and no claims of victimhood by anyone can justify such an action. Instead of acknowledging this, the article normalises violence against Hindus. If this is not Hinduphobia, then what is? That one of the most well-known international news weeklies is providing a platform to such a phobia, and thus legitimising it, is extremely problematic.

In fact, it is the same Time that published another extremely problematic piece on the film, The Kashmir Files—The Kashmir Files: How a New Bollywood Film Marks India’s Further Descent Into Bigotry, 30 March 2022—where the Indian/Indian-origin author claimed the film to be a part of “Indian cinema’s revisionist trend, used to justify the brazen Hindu extremism of the present”. To say that a film on the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits is revisionist is itself a revisionist claim. Hence, one can argue that the trend is now for woke leftists to delegitimise all that India’s majority community has suffered as “revisionist history”.

In journalism, there is a practice of writing the headline before writing the story, where the story is tailored to fit the headline. The problem is that, in such cases, facts often get sacrificed at the altar of a pre-determined agenda or narrative. When it comes to western media’s coverage of India’s current government, and increasingly of the majority population—presumably because the western media sees them as supportive of the government—a template of bigotry and majoritarianism has been pre-decided. This confirmation bias has just to be fed by those who know how to do it, and are willing to do it. This antagonism of the western mainstream media could be because of actual ignorance or plain laziness to learn about the ground situation. It could be ideological, or may have elements of racism in it. It could also be inspired by forces inimical to India, who want to show this country as a cauldron of hatred and thus not a stable investment destination. It could be any of these reasons, or a combination of some or all of these, but the bottom line is that the demonisation of India sells with the western legacy media, resulting in a one-way street of negative coverage.

But the mistake these people make is not realising that India is too big a power to be felled by keyboard warriors. It may be dented, but not felled. It is just that it is sad to see institutions such as Time, instead of promoting “All Lives Matter”, should find “Hindu Lives Matter” to be a dangerous slogan. What a downfall.

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Opinion

No party can dislodge the BJP for 40 years

Union Minister Amit Shah’s statement that the BJP needs to stay in power for another 30-40 years for setting things right, should not be taken lightly. The BJP will use the time to end dynastic and caste politics, and the politics of appeasement.

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It is extremely difficult for political parties to challenge the BJP’s political hegemony unless they jettison their old ways and discover new methods to give vent to nationalist resurgence. Union Minister Amit Shah’s statement that the BJP needs to stay in power for another 30-40 years for setting things right should not be taken lightly.

The BJP will use the time to end dynastic politics, casteism and the politics of appeasement. Shah, while addressing the BJP’s national executive meeting in Hyderabad over the weekend, described these as the “greatest sins” and the reason behind the country’s suffering. The target of the party would be “fulfilment” and not appeasement as exhorted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The party’s national executive outlined the parameters of its ideological affront on opposition parties. The BJP’s focus is clearly going to be to expose these parties and push forward its agenda of development and good governance. In that sense, the BJP is trying to give a tectonic shift to Indian politics that sank to a new low due to caste or communal divide or dynastic rule.

A country where more than 65% voters fall in the category of youth, this agenda is going to find a strong resonance. A youth is supposed to be rebellious and opposed to caste and communal divide. He is also supposed to champion an open system where all avenues are open to him, including politics. He does not mind private individuals passing on their heritage to family, but is strongly opposed when public offices and political parties are passed on to individuals merely because of the links of birth.

This urge of the youths is likely to dismantle dynasty based parties and make the BJP more attractive to them. Politics is not a business that a father wants to pass on to his son or daughter. It is a vocation and a commitment and a means to achieve social, economic and political transformation. Newer people must get a chance to join this process and contribute meaningfully. An ordinary man can question why even foreign educated sons and daughters of these politicians want to join politics. Is it because it is more lucrative than being the CEO of an MNC?

There is a challenge to this from within the BJP as well. It is but natural for a father or a mother to try to pass on the baton to his son or daughter. The Prime Minister is trying to ensure that politics does not become a handmaiden of dynasties. There are occasions, as for example during ticket distribution for the Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, where he has put his foot down and taken the risk of alienating important leaders. The challenge in the coming days would be to institutionalise this process so that the party does not suffer due to aspirations of political families. Unless this is done, there is a real danger that in times to come most political representatives would belong to one or the other political families.

Ideological demolition of other parties would not be tough. The Congress is already on a war path due to its failure to respond to the challenges. It cannot even imagine making someone else from outside the dynasty as party president since the person who would become party president would control all Congress assets and would be all powerful. To find a person who would be loyal to the dynasty forever is extremely difficult.

The youth no longer finds the Congress attractive. Its appeasement politics and attempts to divide people to rule have few takers. It has not been able to give an alternative political vision that would be more attractive than that of the BJP. On the plank of nationalism and patriotism, the Congress would not be able to match the BJP. There are few in the Congress who can claim to understand the civilizational and cultural assets of the country.

Let us try to look at the politics of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, every member of the extended family of Mulayam Singh Yadav is in politics, either at the local level or at the level of state legislature or Parliament. It has no ideology except to unite Yadavs and Muslims and a few other castes and somehow come to power. It does not have a national vision. Its other version, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is suffering due to lack of a democratic structure. It tried caste coalition by asking Brahmins to support the party. Its future looks bleak.

In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav who was a by-product of anti-Emergency movement had to wait for the anti-corruption movement of V.P. Singh to gain prominence. In the company of Singh, he discovered the virtue of becoming the leader of 52% of OBCs. He has used his plank of social awareness to reward each and every member of this family. His family is a classic example that those who fail in all other fields find acceptability in politics due to caste and family clout. The party would collapse due to vaulting ambition of Lalu’s children and failure to respect democratic values.

Jammu and Kashmir has been ruled by two families the Abdullahs and the Muftis. The young crops of politicians from the grassroots are now itching to give a fight to them. People are reaping the benefits of development and they have begun to think beyond these two families. In West Bengal, it is either Ms Mamata Banerji or her nephew. None outside the family would get the prominence. She is already mad at the ideological attack launched by the BJP and cannot think beyond the politics of appeasement. Her politics gets precedence over national security. How long she can hold on to the state as her citadel is the topic of discussion in West Bengal’s political circles.

Dynasty is thriving in politics of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—the ruling YSR party in Andhra Pradesh and the TRS in Telangana. The challenger Telugu Desam Party is also a dynasty based party. People are realising the dangers of dynasty in politics and Telangana is going to face stiff challenge from the BJP at the next Assembly elections.

We have already seen the ugly face of dynasty politics in Maharashtra. Sharad Pawar of the NCP is busy sorting out the legacy issue. A person of his national stature has not been able to respond on national issues. The Shiv Sena led by Udhav Thackeray may have got the bitter pill of discovery that the followers are unhappy with dynasty politics. Because of his love for chair, he failed to respond to national issues as per the organization’s ideology.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is no longer a movement, but a legacy of M. Karunanidhi. His family thrives. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha runs on legacy of Shibu Soren (Guruji). There is a vacuum for politics based on ideology and democratic values in both. In Odisha, Biju Janata Dal is doing well under 76-year-old Naveen Patnaik. He has been benevolent, non-controversial and people love him. But everyone wants to know how BJD would survive after he becomes inactive.

The BJP’s aspiration to expand to the South and make a strong mark in other states should be seen in this context. The aspirations are not for immediate realization, but building organizations brick by brick so that it is ready to take up the challenge when the time comes. The party works 24-hours and the entire election machinery is in full force whether it is local elections, state level elections or elections to the Lok Sabha.

Amit Shah often says that the BJP with its strong cadre presence should have no problem registering victory year after year. When you have a person like Narendra Modi whom people respect, this is not tough. With its ideology of good governance and a strong nation, the party is slated to get institutionalized as a natural party of being in government. The challenge as of now is none.

The Congress’ appeasement politics has few takers today. In Uttar Pradesh, every member of the extended family of Mulayam Singh Yadav is in politics, either at the local level or at the level of state legislature or Parliament. The future of the Bahujan Samaj Party looks bleak. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family is a classic example that those who fail in all other fields find acceptability in politics due to caste and family clout. In Jammu and Kashmir, people have begun to think beyond the Abdullahs and Muftis. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is no longer a movement, but a legacy of M. Karunanidhi. His family thrives. Dynasty is thriving in the politics of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana—the ruling YSR party in Andhra Pradesh and the TRS in Telangana. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha runs on the legacy of Shibu Soren (Guruji). In Odisha, everyone wants to know how BJD would survive after Naveen Patnaik becomes inactive.

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POLITICAL ACTIVISTS SHOULD STOP ATTACKING THE APEX COURT

Pankaj Vohra

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Soon after a Division Bench of the Supreme Court virtually indicted suspended BJP spokesperson, Nupur Sharma, for her remarks about the Prophet, right wing activists took to the social media to target the judiciary. This unfortunate attack on the Apex court and its two learned Judges, Justice Surya Kant and Justice JB Pardiwala was completely avoidable and in fact, lowers our belief in the rule of law. The honourable Judges had declined to entertain Nupur’s plea to club the FIRs registered against her in various parts of the country for her comments and observed that she had a “loose tongue’’, “is singlehandedly responsible for what is happening’’ and she should have apologised to the Nation. While the BJP did not take up the issue directly, many of its supporters took to twitter and other social media handles to question the Supreme Court. This is obviously a serious matter since the judiciary is an essential part of our democratic system and along with the Executive and the Legislature is assigned the role of upholding the Constitution. In a totally unrelated development, Chief Justice N.V.Ramana while speaking at a function in San Fransisco, accused politicians of trying to undermine the authority of the courts. He said that the ruling dispensation expects that every action should be endorsed by the courts. The judiciary is not bound by the dikats of any political party and is only responsible for upholding the Constitution. Strong words indeed. Senior Supreme Court lawyer, Kapil Sibal while speaking to a news agency stated that certain sections of the judiciary had let the people down and stated that after being on the bar for over 50 years, his head hangs in shame looking at the manner where certain courts turn a blind eye to gross violation of the rule of law. This fresh debate on the judiciary as long as it is done in the right spirit is fine but trolling judges for their comments, amounts to contempt of the majesty of our judicial system. Kapil has expressed his views in a particular context and so has the Chief Justice. But ordinary citizens may be entitled to their opinion, yet they should ensure that they do not exceed the Lakshman Rekha where the sanctity of the Highest Court gets compromised. Attempts to link Nupur Sharma’s remarks with what happened in Udaipur and Amrawati could be part of a natural reaction. However, it must be clearly understood that the terror act by the killers of Kanhaiya Lal is highly condemnable. Therefore, spokespersons and supporters of all parties must act in a responsible manner so as to contain this hatred which is being spread in our country by vested interests. The National Investigation Agency is probing the Udaipur incident and would certainly come out with its findings shortly. Such cases should be speedily tried in fast track courts to give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators so that others get this strong message. The independence of the judiciary must be preserved at all cost and no attempt should ever be made to undermined the authority and wisdom of the Courts. 

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Opinion

Modi at eight: The Varanasi model

The last few years have been momentous in the history of Varanasi. Not only has the city given India one of its most popular and powerful Prime Ministers ever, but it has also witnessed rapid development that only an MP of Narendra Modi’s stature can usher in.

Sanju Verma

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Taking forward the progressive journey of “Vikaswaad” in Varanasi,Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 15,2021,inaugurated and laid foundation stones of multiple development projects worth more than Rs 1500 crore at the IIT-BHU ground. He also inaugurated the International Cooperation and Convention Centre, ‘Rudrakash’, which was constructed with Japanese assistance later. Various public projects and works, including a 100-bed MCH wing in BHU, multi-level parking at Godauliya, Ro-Ro vessels for tourism development on river Ganga and a three-lane flyover bridge on the Varanasi-Ghazipur highway, were the defining projects, flagged off by the PM. Central Institute of Petrochemical Engineering and Technology (CIPET), 143 rural projects under Jal Jeevan Mission and a mango and vegetable integrated packhouse in Karkhiyaon, are alone, worth around Rs 839 crore.

On a visit to Varanasi on the occasion of “Good Governance Day”, in 2014,Prime Minister Narendra Modi, without any hesitation, picked up a broom and participated in a cleanliness drive at Jagannath Gali near Assi Ghat.Further, speaking on the occasion, the PM described the land of Kashi, as one which gave us “Shiksha Ki Sanskriti” (a culture of education). And indeed, within barely eight years, Varanasi today, which has transformed into a thriving medical hub of Purvanchal region, is known as the unique seat of holistic learning, with a humanist vision.

Varanasi is on the bucket list of virtually every international tourist who comes to India. In 2014, when PM Modi was elected as the MP of Varanasi, he remarked, “There’s a lot of work that god has put me on this earth for. A lot of it is dirty work, but I’m up to the task.”

Since then, from world class infrastructure to express trains, from underground cabling to waste treatment plants, from a cultural convention center to modern traffic control, from a multimodal terminal to a container depot for perishables, Varanasi has witnessed a transformative revolution in the last eight years, with Kashi Vishwanath Dham, showcasing Kashi’s vibrancy.

PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ring Road and Phase-1 was completed in November 2018 in record time, making traffic movement across the city much easier and helping decongestion of roads. Varanasi has a very busy airport, naturally due to the movement of pilgrims and tourists in and out of the city. The over 17 kilometre long airport road developed under the aegis of PM Modi, is called the Gateway of Varanasi today. The development of the first multimodal terminal on an inland waterway in Varanasi was a matter of pride for the city, with the PM receiving the first container vessel on the river Ganga, in 2018.

PM Narendra Modi laid the foundation of two dedicated cancer hospitals in Varanasi,a few years back. Also, IMS BHU was accorded AIIMS like status, which will further improve health facilities in the hospital. Kashi is called the city of Mahadev, as in Lord Shiva and,the development of Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is a boon to lakhs of devotees of Shiva, who are making use of the direct link, developed between the temple and Ganga Ghat. Kashi, a thriving and busy city, generates a lot of waste and sewage. PM Narendra Modi inaugurated a large sewage infrastructure project, sometime back. A 140 million litre per day (MLD) sewage treatment plant (STP) at Dinapur, set up in 2018,has made the city get rid of the large waste generated and would further curb river pollution.

The last few years have been momentous in the history of Kashi. Not only has the city given India one of its most popular and powerful Prime Ministers ever, but it has also witnessed rapid development that only an MP of Narendra Modi’s stature can usher in. PM Modi laid the foundation stone of trade facilitation Centre and Crafts Museum in 2017, for the benefit of many weavers, craftsmen and artisans of Varanasi and nearby areas. He had once remarked that India cannot become a Vishwa Guru without the development of Kashi. Development of Kashi is in turn, incomplete without bettering the lives of weavers.

Handicrafts of Kashi are spread in the form of cottage industries, with Banarasi silk saree, textile industry, carpet industries being some of the prominent ones. More than lakhs of handloom weavers are directly or indirectly related with these industries. Measures taken for the betterment of weavers and artisans have gone a long way in enhancing their incomes. For the retention of next generation of weavers, a carpet engineering program is being run in IICT Bhadohi. 75% of the fees of the students belonging to poor families of weavers is being taken care of by the Modi government. There is a provision for margin money of Rs. 10,000 in MUDRA scheme for weavers. Mega carpet clusters in Mirzapur and Bhadohi are being given modern looms. Also, they are being imparted skills under skill development programs. To realize this goal, a B.Tech. program in the carpet technology area, is being run in IICT Bhadohi. India currently occupies 35% share of the world’s carpet market. PM Modi has set a target to own 50% of the world’s carpet market.

Across India, after PM Modi took up the cause of promoting Khadi,sales of Khadi have been on an upswing. In Varanasi too, Khadi institutions and workers are being encouraged, with credit linked capital subsidy (CLCS). Under Kasuhal Vikas Yojana, thousands of youth are being skilled and empowered. The Coir Board also organises regular international vyapar melas.The commencement of expansion of Diesel Locomotive Works, also started thanks to PM Modi.

Not only is Kashi witnessing development on an unprecedented scale but people of this sacred city are also experiencing first hand, what it is to have a karmayogi PM as their MP. A “cheque bounce” law was scrapped, on the request of small businessmen from Varanasi,benefitting scores of small traders and proprietors. The ‘Jan Sampark’ office of PM Modi in Kashi is dedicated for the service of common people in the city and had done exemplary work, when floods hit the city, in 2020.

After selecting Jayapur, a tiny village in Varanasi, 7km from the Rajatalab railway station, for the ‘Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’, PM Narendra Modi opined that it is not MPs who are taking guardianship of the village under this Yojana, but villagers who were taking MPs under their wing, through this scheme. “Can we decide that we will not allow Jayapur to become dirty; can we ensure children wash hands before eating”, the Prime Minister asked the large gathering at Jayapur, asserting that these things did not require government intervention. He said such positive social energy can help create a model village. Days after he met and addressed people of Jayapur, they reciprocated, by turning the birth of a girl child into a festive occasion and planting trees.

Varanasi is the only place from where the revered Ganga, is Uttar Vahini (flows towards North). It is here from where the powerful stream of the river Ganga turns directions. Thus, the start of the biggest sanitation drive also happened from Varanasi. Speaking of Covid, the moment it became clear that the second wave had hit India, PM sent his emissary, a long-time aide, AK Sharma to Varanasi with instructions to take proactive measures and make sure that damage was controlled. Sharma landed in Varanasi on April 13,2021 and immediately set in motion a 24/7 Command and Control room. With 20 dedicated phone lines and round-the-clock manpower, the “Kashi Covid Response Centre”, became the hub of coordination between various arms of administration, as also interface with the people, for a seamless management of the situation. Two Oxygen plants, hundreds of Oxygen cylinders and concentrators were ordered and a DRDO Covid hospital was also set up, to tide over the crisis. The positivity rate of the district came down from a high of over 30% to less than 13%,in a matter of days. The administration ramped up RT-PCR testing capacity of Kashi city from 5000 to 12000 per day, while making sure that the results were made available within 24 hours. Sharma arranged for two automatic RNA extractor machines from Assocham, that made the quicker testing possible. Of the four Oxygen plants in Varanasi supplying 12000 LPM Oxygen, one each was imported from the United States and Israel respectively, while two others were procured from Maharashtra and Gujarat each. Varanasi also had the highest supply of Remdesivir injections at about 700 vials a day. During the second wave in April and May 2021, over 9000 per day vaccination rate in Kashi, was also one of the highest for any city, in Uttar Pradesh.

Another far-sighted step taken on the instructions of PM Modi, was to make sure the rural areas were protected. The administration distributed 70,000 medical kits to contain the pandemic in rural hinterland of Varanasi and the healthcare staff at the primary and secondary dispensaries were trained on a war footing on use of Oxymeters and other testing paraphernalia. The result was heartening with distress calls from rural areas coming down from a peak of 800 per day, to about 100 at the Command and Control Centre, within days.

Amid worries of a possible third wave of Covid-19, which could have impacted children more, the inauguration of (MCH) unit at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) hospital, in Varanasi, by the PM, showcased how health has always been a top of the mind agenda for the Modi government. Considered to be the AIIMS of Purvanchal (East UP), adjoining Bihar and even Nepal, the Sir Sunderlal Hospital in BHU campus that got the MCH wing, has seen number of beds rise from 1500 to 2700,in just eight years, a rise of a solid 80%. “When the world is in crisis, we must pledge—a pledge which is bigger than the crisis itself. We must strive to make the 21st century, India’s century. And the path to do that is self-reliance”—this powerful quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sums up the ethos of the “Varanasi Model” in more ways than one. Indeed, the Varanasi model, blends the puritan with the modern and spirituality, with fast paced progress, reflective of an aspirational India, in the true sense of the term.

Varanasi is holy. Varanasi is mystical. Varanasi is enigmatic. Varanasi represents the timeless values of Hindu dharma.

For the first time a Member of Parliament from the city is the Prime Minister of India. If we look at the political history in India, a PM’s constituency is in the spotlight only for a brief period of time. In some cases, like in the case of “compulsive liar”, Rahul Gandhi, desperate to be the PM, for instance, his so called high profile visits to Amethi, used to happen only on the eve of elections, once every five years. No wonder the electorate of Amethi sent him packing as an MP, in 2019.

But PM Modi’s constituency has been the centre of attention for all the right reasons, with the PM visiting Varanasi well over two dozen times, in the last few years alone, despite his jam-packed schedule. PM Modi’s affection for the mystical city of Kashi, is well known.In his own words to the people of Kashi, Modi said, “Kashi owns me, I am imprisoned in its love”. In his many visits, apart from his interactive sessions with the people of Varanasi, PM Modi is seen inaugurating a hospital, or flagging off an express train, laying the foundation stone for a ring road or making Kashi the first multi modal hub on an inland water way. Be it unveiling the plaque of the Inter-University Centre, launching the Campus Connect wi-fi of Banaras Hindu University (BHU),or launching the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission for teachers and the National Livelihood Mission for women, Narendra Modi has done pathbreaking work, both as the PM and as the MP, from Kashi. Turning ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ into a ‘Jan Andolan’, by helping spread the message that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’, has been a hugely rewarding journey for Modi and of course, for the nation. It would be apt to conclude with a powerful quote by none other than PM Modi, which captures the essence of his famous Varanasi model–”I make changes, not for people to notice; rather, because it is my mission”. And truly enough, the transformation of Varanasi, in the last eight years, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Sanju Verma is an Economist, National Spokesperson of the BJP and the Bestselling Author of ‘The Modi Gambit’.

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