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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ANALYSING FEAR AND SPECULATION OVER THE OMICRON VARIANT
Are we ready for another lockdown? The fear of Omicron, the new coronavirus mutation hitting our shores has raised a high level of anxiety amongst Indians. The predominant fear of course is a repeat of the horrors of the second wave. Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has already asked the Prime Minister to stop all international flights from the affected countries. Kejriwal points out that a South African returnee has already landed in Chandigarh and tested positive for Covid-19. He has also infected his domestic and a family member. The genome sequencing is being done to figure out which strain of Covid-19 this is, and for now, the Union Health Minister has stated that there is no case of Omicron in India as yet.
Kejriwal, being Kejriwal, has taken to the social media amplifying the efforts his government is putting in to counter a fresh wave. The PM too we are told is holding several high-level meetings to ascertain the threat perception and our response to it. Testing has been ramped up at airports and there is talk about speeding up the booster shot and this is essential as the elderly and the health care workers have already had a gap of over six months since their last dose.
At stake are also the series of weddings and Christmas get-togethers planned as the post-Diwali surge showed an increase in cases but very few of them requiring hospitalisation. Instead, doctors claimed that it was dengue that was occupying the hospital beds. But dengue is an old familiar case study even though the cases were severe and the pollution was helping any. However, it is the fear of the unknown that has a more potent impact and the mere suggestion of another coronavirus mutation was enough to dispel any goodwill cheer.
However, the stock market is already mirroring the gloom felt in the industry. Businesses that had started are now again facing a road bump, especially the travel industry that was all set to reopen all international flights. Suddenly travel agents are getting cancellation requests on planned Christmas vacations. Offices that were opening up for offline work are also now rethinking this decision —and while there are inherent advantages to working from home and holding digital meetings, these do not match the productivity level of face to face meetings, especially in industries that require you to brainstorm.
However, we are being told by global health experts that the symptoms shown by patients infected with Omicron are mild and are mostly being treated at home. But until more data is known, one will have to live in the uncertainty that is fast becoming a regular feature in this Covid continuous world.
Why do Indians achieve more success in Western world than India?
On experiencing systems of the Western world, we come to realise what freedom and independence are. We get to see the true face of democracy in such nations. One finds no cause to hold ones’ opinions and is able to express them without any fear. In our country, even if one is right, still he can find himself in trouble if his expressions are to the dislike of the people in power.
We Indians are fundamentally noble and articulate people but this primary trait of ours had lost its significance as we had been ruled for centuries by invaders who exploited us to the maximum and unleashed a reign of misrule which went up to the extent that we almost forgot our identity and values. We had turned ourselves almost as slaves of our oppressors and this was not only confined to our body but our inner self too.
Islamic conquests made inroads into this subcontinent as early as the 8th century followed by the invasions of Mahmud Ghazni. The Delhi Sultanate was founded in the 13th century by the Central Asian Turks, who ruled major parts of the northern Indian subcontinent. This was followed by the Mughal Empire and their decline in the early 18th century that led to the rise of East India Company and consequent British Rule that lasted for over 200 years till 1947 when India was finally freed from the chains of slavery. However, it was not without a permanent scar on our motherland as it was not without the partition of this country.
We hoped to come out of this mindset that had deeply entrenched our hearts and minds during this long period of domination by invaders, but sadly we still continue to be under the shadow of the tendencies grown out of this long misrule and even after the passage of more than 70 years since we got independence, the misrule we faced earlier has not ended and we continue to watch it in one form or the other. Unfortunately, we continue to live under the same sort of oppression though in a different disguise. This takes us to believe that though the foreign rule ended, the legacy of misrule of that time is becoming more and more evident instead of being totally erased and wiped out from the face of this country.
Going by the above, one is led to believe that we Indians are not even now truly free and independent in real terms of the word. Freedom and independence connote freedom of thoughts and actions but without infringing such rights of others. What it further implies is that we are hesitant and scared in expressing our thoughts due to some dark fear of retribution from the powers that be. As a corollary, we have to accept the fact that after suffering foreign domination for a long period, we are and continue to be a suppressed society and also suppressed people. Our psyche always fears the unknown and we are totally shaken if we hear an unfamiliar knock at our doors. This has made us almost robotic and we only express the rehearsed lines as we are always controlled by the thought that if we express anything which is not found palatable, we would be made to suffer on one pretext or the other. So to find safety, we enter into our cocoon and seal our mouth.
We Indians are well aware of the rampant corruption around us. We are fully aware that some powerful people in our society are the most corrupt and there are anti-social elements but we see day in and day out such people ruling the roost and they use the powers at their command to serve their personal interests at the cost of this great nation. We have watched since independence such elements taking control of our destinies, but we have chosen to give a blind eye to this, just to ensure our personal well-being. It is there for everyone to see that barring a few, our political class is not entirely clean and the pity is that we stand helplessly and allow such things to continue.
But the contrast becomes crystal clear when we move to the Western world. On experiencing their systems, we come to realise what freedom and independence are. We get to see the true face of democracy in such nations. One finds no cause to hold ones’ opinions and is able to express them without any fear. In our country, even if one is right, still he can find himself in trouble if his expressions are to the dislike of the people in power. This has made us vulnerable before the political class and we don’t find ourselves safe even if we are following our normal routines. Things have come to such a pass that one is not safe while walking on the road. This has made our womenfolk and children more vulnerable.
It leads us to the question as to how Indians become important, rich, and leading lights when they are settled in some foreign land. We see everyday Indians achieving newer heights in the US, Europe, and many Asian countries. Most of these Indians enjoy ultra-high net worth and high status in these countries. The question arises of how such a thing is possible outside of our country. The answer lies in the fact that Indians are peace-loving people. When we are in our country, we are moulded by the prevailing environment that evidently is not clean and we feel helpless and sometimes make us choose the wrong options to achieve the right end. A further fact is that generally we Indians are intelligent and believe in toiling hard. But the predicament is that only a few attach values to such traits. However, the same people, when they go abroad, find that these values are given great importance and values. Indians achieve a higher success rate than the local people since they sacrifice their comforts and involve themselves with heart and soul in their endeavour but in comparison, a local wouldn’t make a similar sacrifice at the cost of his lifestyle and comforts. This endears the Indians to the local people and provides them with a priority. A similar approach can be noted as far as the academic field goes. Indians believe in achieving academic excellence and ignore extra-curricular activities when pursuing their education. Their effort is always to top in their career. Comparatively, people in such developed countries devote time to other activities such as games. This naturally makes Indians more suitable for various specialised fields and it is there for all to see that they hold important positions in foreign countries in such positions.
The need is to open eyes and call a spade a spade for the welfare of our teeming millions and this will help us to achieve the Eldorado we always dream of and then we will see no difference whether we are in India or abroad.
Jagdip Singh is Chairman, SIGMA GROUP of Industries and Hony. Consul General of South Korea. The views expressed are personal.
When we are in our country, we are moulded by the prevailing environment that evidently is not clean and we feel helpless and sometimes making us choose the wrong options to achieve the right end. A further fact is that generally we Indians are intelligent and believe in toiling hard. But the predicament is that only a few attach values to such traits. However, the same people, when they go abroad, find that these values are given great importance and values. Indians achieve a higher success rate than the local people since they sacrifice their comforts and involve themselves with heart and soul in their endeavour but in comparison, a local wouldn’t make a similar sacrifice at the cost of his lifestyle and comforts.
TMC WORKING TOWARDS UPSTAGING THE CONGRESS
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is clearly working on a plan—to replace the Congress as the main Opposition force in the country. To achieve this goal, she is picking up various leaders, even though questions can be raised about her choice. Those who have joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) as the party seeks national prominence, do not have any ground presence except perhaps in Meghalaya. By inducting Kirti Azad, who lost the last Lok Sabha elections by nearly 5 lakh votes, and Pavan Varma, who was expelled by JDU and before that was a Rajya Sabha member without any grassroots connect, it is not known what sort of a national presence the TMC is hoping to get. In Meghalaya, 12 of the 17 Congress MLAs there may have joined the TMC, but when it comes to Lok Sabha seats, Meghalaya has only two, and even if Ms Banerjee wins all the 42 seats in Bengal, her tally will go up to 44 if she wins both those seats. So TMC may have become the main Opposition party in Meghalaya, courtesy Mukul Sangma, but there are grave doubts about whether this will have a domino effect and make other Congress leaders from the Northeast make a beeline for the TMC—this could have been an immediate possibility if the TMC had done well in the Tripura civic body elections, but it didn’t. It performed miserably, managing to win 1 out of 334 wards. And in spite of the claims being made by TMC spokespersons as the party emerging as the main Opposition face in Tripura, statistics show that the Left is still ahead of the TMC. The Tripura result was not commensurate with the hype created by the TMC, proving once again that unless there is hard work at the grassroots, no Opposition party can uproot a well-entrenched ruling party. Anti-incumbency is always a factor against any government, but for the Opposition to convert that into a critical mass of votes to overthrow a government depends on a lot of factors, including the severity of the anti incumbency and the grassroots connect of the Opposition. The TMC should have known this, for this is what happened to the BJP in the Bengal Assembly elections earlier this year. It just didn’t have the organisation on the ground to convert the anti-incumbency into votes for it to defeat Mamata Banerjee’s party. From the Tripura results it is anyway apparent that in this case, anti incumbency was not severe against Chief Minister Biplab Deb.
The whole national strategy of the TMC appears to be hinged on breaking other parties—particularly the Congress—and importing their organisation in different states, but for that the electoral performance of the TMC outside its stronghold Bengal will have to be up to the mark. Why else will senior Congress leaders consider replacing the Gandhis with Mamata Banerjee as their leader? The Tripura results would not have inspired confidence in such quarters, for it drove home the point that a stellar performance by TMC against the BJP outside of Bengal is unlikely at this point.
More importantly, a lot will depend on the Assembly elections that will take place next year. If Congress does well in Punjab, then it will be easier for the Gandhis to quell dissension within the ranks and the possibility of defections will recede in the backgroumd. So TMC may have overplayed its hand by name-calling the Congress, refusing to attend meetings called by it, and by defiantly announcing that it is only the TMC, and not Congress, that can take on the BJP.
Strategy is fine, but there is nothing like hard work on the ground and reputation of being a good administrator. It does not help the TMC’s case when Kolkata is named as the worst city in the country for providing jobs and economic growth, as shown by the first Sustainable Development Goals Urban Index released by Niti Aayog last week. Also, how can there be any national leadership role for a regional party without grassroots presence in more than one state? But then the strategy is based on the hope that there will be a fractured mandate in 2024, and a party with 40-45-odd seats will manoeuvre its way to power, upstaging the Congress. Only time will tell how effective this strategy is.
Aggressive TMC to jostle with Congress for Opposition space
Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, after her party’s decisive victory in West Bengal Assembly elections, has become aggressive and is now aspiring to dethrone the Congress from playing a leadership role for the entire Opposition.
Parliament’s winter session commenced on Monday. Although it is hoped that the rancours of the Monsoon session would subside since the issues that the Opposition cited for their ire no longer exist, an aggressive Trinamool Congress itching to play a larger opposition role may play spoilsport and create problems of floor management.
There are other parties too that would be keen to send a signal that they are not far behind if it comes to a street fight. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress would use this session to reposition themselves for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh due early next year. All these parties are likely to try to achieve Muslim consolidation by raising related issues.
It would be interesting to figure out if the Parliament can discuss the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) issue. Those who are trying to compare the farm legislations with the CAA are grossly mistaken since this would mean taking away the rights of the people already granted to them. In the case of farm legislations, nothing was being imposed and no section was negatively impacted by withdrawal. If those who wanted to benefit would have come on the streets in favour of the legislations and against those farmers agitating against the three legislations, this would have created a difficult situation.
These parties would also like to keep raking issues related to farmers. With his increasing isolation, Rakesh Tikait is becoming more aggressive. He has been abusive and challenging the government. The opposition parties may find it politically expedient to give fodder to him and keep alive the issue and try to wean away farmers from the BJP. From the perspective of the Opposition, the agitation must continue at least till the Uttar Pradesh elections. From the BJP’s perspective, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already extended the velvet glove by withdrawing the three legislations. Tikait has already said that he would work to defeat the BJP. The government is being challenged to act tough and use force which it has been avoiding.
An interesting discussion would be on the issue of the MSP. Opposition parties have demanded that it should be made legal. Can the government do it? What are the issues impacting this and is it helpful for the country? What is the purpose of MSP and how it should be administered? The government has said that the MSP regime would continue as before. Should we not wait for the Prime Minister’s decision to set up a committee to make the MSP more effective and transparent. What is the hurry? The government has shown its commitment to the MSP by spending more money (about Rs 85,000 crore) than ever before on purchasing Rabi crops (wheat). This time money was sent directly into the accounts of farmers under DBT. A dispassionate debate would make the issue clear for people.
Nobody is in doubt that TMC leader Mamata Banerjee, after her party’s decisive victory in West Bengal assembly elections, has become very aggressive and is now aspiring to dethrone the Congress from playing a leadership role for the entire Opposition. The TMC deciding not to attend a meeting of Opposition parties called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday intended to send this message loud and clear.
Instead, the TMC is holding its national coordination committee meeting at the residence of Banerjee in Kolkata on the same day. During her visit to Delhi last week, she did not pay even a courtesy call to Gandhi and when asked, she asked bluntly if this was needed or compulsory. TMC leaders are certain that now it is Banerjee vs Gandhi tug of war on who would be the Opposition’s face.
Of late, the TMC mouthpiece Jago Bangla has been critical of Congress and its leadership. It has described the Congress as incompetent and incapable and has charged Congress leaders as being interested merely in armchair politics rather than fighting for the people on the street. It spelt out that Banerjee and not Gandhi was the real face of the Opposition.
On the eve of the Winter session, Banerjee gave a wake-up call to the Congress by inducting former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and 11 other Congress MLAs from Meghalaya into the TMC and, thereby, making her party the main opposition in the state. She also welcomed former Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar and Congress leader Kriti Azad into the party during her Delhi visit. Already many other Congress leaders have joined the TMC in Goa. Sushmita Dev has joined the TMC in Assam.
One need not be too intelligent to understand the message Banerjee has given to the entire opposition and other Congress leaders who are unhappy with the leadership of the Gandhi family. She is no longer shy of claiming that she and her party can lead the opposition and not the Congress.
This newfound power and assertiveness will force it to flex muscles during the Winter session that has 20 working days. She will chart out an independent course and try to get maximum mileage through her street fighter image and no holds barred fight inside Parliament in full media presence. This is exactly what the TMC had done during the last Monsoon session where TMC MPs were at the forefront in disrupting Parliament functioning. They were involved in pushing and shoving parliament security staff.
The TMC would be more aggressive also to hide its failures in Tripura. Despite the heroics in Delhi last week, the party is bruised because of its abysmal performance in the municipal elections in Tripura. The BJP has won 329 of 334 seats. In Agartala Corporation, the party has won 51 out of 51 seats. Neither the Left nor the TMC could open their account. The Prime Minister has said this is a result of good governance.
TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee drew solace that it had got a substantial percentage of votes but could not explain its failure to give a fight to the BJP. He has alleged that the BJP has “butchered democracy” in Tripura. So sad that the party that has made violence its tool to achieve political supremacy in West Bengal is talking in these terms. The TMC has already sounded out that it would raise the issue in Parliament. The issues that the Opposition claimed provoked them were farmers’ agitation and Pegasus spyware controversy. Both the issues no longer exist. The farmers’ agitation has lost the punch after the government decided to withdraw the three farm legislations. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have already passed the repeal bill on the first day of the winter session as per the promise made by the government.
The issue of Pegasus is being looked into independently by a three-member expert committee under retired Supreme Court Judge RV Raveendran. The committee has been set up by the Supreme Court and hence the Parliament, by standard convention, would do well not to discuss the issue which is being considered by the Court. The government’s stand is clear from day one that there has been no illegal snooping.
At an all-party meeting with the government, opposition leaders showed their inclination to raise various issues such as legal guarantee on the MSP, price rise, divestment of PSUs, CAA, Coal situation, and Lakhimpur violence. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, present from the government side, urged the opposition that leaders should ensure smooth functioning of parliament so that members can have healthy debates.
Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi said after the meeting, “There have been many suggestions. The government is ready to discuss all issues under the rule, without disruptions. The government hopes that there will be a good discussion in the Parliament.” The Prime Minister has already said before the start of the session that the government was ready to discuss all issues and answer all questions.
But the healthy debate is the biggest casualty when the opposition tries to create optics for public mobilisation outside. The common man on the street would like to watch the debate and listen to the arguments of both the government and the opposition. This makes them understand whether the government is on the right track. The Opposition also gets a chance to present their arguments and earn support. Parliamentary debates are the opportunities to put the government on the mat.
The crucial issue is whether the opposition will do this or they will fritter away the opportunity by raising demands that the government would not be keen to accept. By creating ruckus or by disrupting proceedings using other means would not help. They must appreciate that the government has the majority to get any legislation passed. An informed debate would help the cause of people. Creating ruckus does not help the Opposition’s cause.
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.
Banerjee is no longer shy of claiming that she and her party can lead the opposition and not the Congress. This newfound power and assertiveness will make TMC flex muscles during the Winter session that has 20 working days. She will chart out an independent course and try to get maximum mileage through her street fighter image and no holds barred fight inside Parliament in full media presence.
CHANNI’S AAM AADMI IMAGE PUSHES AAP ON BACKFOOT IN PUNJAB
Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi is emerging as the most effective politician in the border state and if he manages to assist the Congress in winning next year’s Assembly polls, he would have joined the big league. The simple but astute politician appears to be giving a tough time to his rivals, and to begin with, he has damaged the prospects of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) more than anybody else. Till a few months ago, most of the surveys considered the AAP as the frontrunner in Punjab but it is evident that Arvind Kejriwal is struggling to put the Congress down, and so far, his efforts have not succeeded. Channi because of his humble background and unwavering determination is synonymous with the image of the Aam Aadmi and through his actions, has pre-empted many promises made by Kejriwal and the company. The Delhi CM had first accused Channi of being a `naqli’ Aam Aadmi but his political jibe did not click. Next, he accused Channi of being `naqli Kejriwal’, while alluding to Channi following his party’s agenda which is again proving to be counter-productive. The proof of the pudding is in eating and what Kejriwal was promising to bring to Punjab, Channi has already implemented what he is calling the Congress programme aimed at helping the common citizen of the state.
The power tariff has been brought down by rupees three, arrears of the poor have been waived off, petrol and diesel prices are down by rupees ten, and the sand is now sold for one-fourth the price it was being sold earlier. Kejriwal has claimed that at least 25 Congress MLAs and two MPs were in touch with him, but Channi has hit back by telling the AAP Boss that why would Congress MLAs be looking towards him when his own flock—11 of the 21 MLAs who won on the AAP symbol—have already switched sides. Channi has asserted that how can he be a `naqli’ Kejriwal and taunted the Delhi CM that he cannot become a `naqli’ Channi either and being an outsider to the state, the common citizen could not identify himself or herself with him. The latest attack on the Congress by Kejriwal is that he is attempting to draw a wedge in the top ranks by praising Navjot Singh Sidhu and lashing out at the rest of the leadership. Kejriwal is a master strategist in many ways and knows he has to do something fast if he has to weaken the grand old party. Congress leadership at the Centre is aware of the maverick ways of Sidhu and has also drawn a contingency plan for the poll preparation which could run parallel to what the former Test cricketer is doing.
There is speculation in political circles that Sidhu could jump towards AAP, closer to the polls, thus giving Kejriwal a popular face and adding momentum to his party’s campaign. The logic being given is that Sidhu realizes that with Channi as the head of the government, he has little chance of becoming a Congress Chief Minister in the immediate future. Punjab is turning out to be a battle between Congress and the AAP with the Akali Dal desperately trying to resuscitate itself. Captain Amarinder Singh’s new political party is yet to take off and is heavily dependent on the BJP to both fund and back it. The BJP on its part is watching the unfolding situation very closely and would want to know the list of Amarinder Singh’s candidates before supporting him. This may take time since the Captain would only be able to provide and finalise his list, once Congress declares its own nominees. Those who do not find a berth, would gravitate towards the former CM, which is the belief with which he is moving ahead. There are conjectures in political circles that his wife, Preneet Kaur, and one more Lok Sabha MP from the State may join Amarinder’s party. Preneet has already been served a show-cause notice by the AICC. On his part, Channi is unruffled by what is happening and in a recent interview to a TV news channel, had a dig at the Captain and also the Badals. He said that earlier people would want to know about the working hours of the former CM.
But now they want to know what were the sleeping hours of the current CM while referring to his tight and strenuous work schedule. He said that he has been functioning without an army of advisers, OSDs and PAs, thereby reducing the load on the exchequer while reiterating that he stood for the common citizen and not for the elites like Amarinder and Badals, who had the resources to look after themselves. The former CM had described Channi as a “good boy’’ implying that he was inexperienced. However, Channi has shown far greater political maturity towards the problems confronting the state and their solutions. The political narrative in the border state is changing at a very rapid pace, and for the Congress, which is imploding everywhere else in the country, Channi could very well be a match-winner they have been looking for.
The saga of COP26: Why we should be concerned
It is because of the flawed approach of UNFCCC and IPCC that Combating Climate Change Movement has not gained the required momentum even after 24 years of the Kyoto protocol.
The 26th Climate Change summit, called COP26 (Conference of Parties) started its proceedings on the 31st of October and continued the discussions up to the 12th of November. After a lot of haggling for two weeks, the conference produced the Glasgow Climate Pact (GCP). The media, as a whole, has dubbed the pact as a weak narrative belying the hopes, aspirations, and ambitions of those who are concerned about the catastrophic future of the earth due to the drastic changes in the climate patterns, leading to the triple problems of floods, droughts, and cyclones as a result of global warming. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, calls the deal “A compromise with welcome steps.” Originally, the conference was called upon to deliberate on three main agendas.
1. That all nations must agree to cut down the consumption of fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) to reach the status of Net Zero Emissions (NZE) by 2050. US agreed to abide by the directive to reach the NEZ status by 2050. But China and India agreed to achieve this target by 2060 and 2070 respectively.
2. Both UNFCCC ( UN framework convention on climate change) and IPCC ( Inter-governmental panel on climate change) had discovered that the safe value of the rise of global temperatures to prevent or avoid perceptible changes in climate cycle or pattern was 1.5 C and was likely to reach around 2050. This value of temperature rise can be stabilised provided all nations decide to gradually cut down the present level of consumption of fossil fuels to reach the Net Zero Emissions (NZE) status by the year 2050 after switching on to new renewable or non fossil fuels (nuclear or hydrogen fuel) sources of energy. Accordingly, all nations submitted their updated targets to develop alternate sources of energy by 2030 keeping in mind complete achievement of NZEs status by 2050. Indian targets were declared on the floor of the house by the Prime Minister in person.
The annual consumption of these three types of fossil fuels produces 50 billion tonnes of GHGs; Carbon dioxide being the principal component. China produces 31% emissions followed by US(16%) and India(5%).These three countries together produce 52% of the global emissions while 30 top consumer countries (G30) produce 90% of the global emissions. So it would have been much better if UNFCC and IPCC concentrated on G30 countries and leave the rest 165 who hardly consume 10% of the fossil fuels per year. In fact, many countries like Bhutan have already reached the NZE status and some are about to reach it.
The concept of NZEs does not mean that consumption of fossil fuels will be reduced to zero. It only means the following: The total amount of emissions of GHGs (calculated in terms of CO2 equivalent) from fossil fuels is equal to the amount of CO2 absorbed by the forests, crops, carbon sinks, and by new and old technologies of sequestering CO2 to be used for commercial uses.
The basic mistake made by UNFCCC and IPCC is that both did not calculate the values of the two sides of the equation for individual countries of the G30 group. This calculation would have enabled the major emitters to know the extent to which the consumption levels of fossil fuels by the years 2030 and 2050 needs to be reduced. Consequently, the individual nations could expand the forest areas to maintain a higher value of consumption of fossil fuels. The World Energy Outlook report for the year 2021 indicates that nations will have to cut down the 2019 consumption levels of fossil fuels by 50% to achieve the NZE status in 2050. In other words, China and India will have to phase out 50% of their thermal power plants by 2050 and the global consumption of crude oil would be reduced to 50 mbpd. Oil and gas-producing countries are greatly worried about the arrival of this scenario because their prosperity is entirely based on the sale of crude oil and natural gas.
3. In the 2009 climate summit at Copenhagen (COP 15), it was agreed that developed nations would release a sum of $100 billion every year towards the climate-financing fund to enable underdeveloped countries to switch on from fossil fuel energy sources to alternate sources of energy. This fund never arrived from the wallets of the rich nations and the progress of transition of energy from one side to another never picked up. India was at the forefront to take up the cause of the underdeveloped nations to compel rich nations to contribute the arrears of $ 1.0 trillion towards the climate financing fund.
THE AGREEMENT DRAFT
The Glasgow Climate Pact contains the following three features in response to the three principle issues raised above:
1. All nations agreed to focus on sticking to the Paris conference (CP21) goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 C from the preindustrial levels due to global warming caused by GHG emissions. But the draft is totally silent whether countries like China and India are bound to reach NZE status by 2050 or not. Reaching NZEs by 2050 is the soul or essence of the Combating Climate Change Movement (CCCM) and the COP 26.
2. All major emitter countries of GHGs (read G30 countries) will scale up and resubmit their NDCs (nationally determined contributions) or targets for cutting down the consumption levels of fossil fuels for the year 2030 along with pathways to reach NZE status by the year 2050 in COP27 to be held next year in Egypt. India had declared that it would be able to develop 500 GW of renewable or green energy by 2030. No other country had made such an ambitious announcement.
All countries agreed to phase down the unabated coal power and fossil fuel subsidies in line with the coal use by the poor and vulnerable sections of society. The term ‘phase out coal’ was replaced by ‘phase down coal’ at the instance of India, China, and Iran. India considers this change of terms as a great diplomatic victory though the change of terms does not mean much because the NZE targets do not ask for zero consumption of fossil fuels.
3. Only a perfunctory clause was added in respect of the commitment of rich nations to pay the arrears due to the commitment made in COP9 to contribute $100 billion per year towards the climate financing fund. Now the draft says, “The member nations urge the rich nations to start the contribution fresh from now onwards till 2025 and then double the amount of contribution ($200 billion per year) from that year.” The term ‘urge’ instead of a firm direction makes the draft greatly watered down. It is not understood how the underdeveloped countries agreed to accept this clause without a firm assurance from the rich countries even though they are signatories to this draft as they were in 2009.
FLAWS IN THE APPROACH
Both UNFCCC and IPCC, the two main drivers of the Combating Climate Change Movement, have adopted a flawed approach to take the nations towards the goal of Net Zero Emission status by the year 2050. The key points of the flawed approach are enumerated below:
1. UNFCCC and IPCC should have first concentrated their efforts on reducing the consumption of fossil fuels of G30 countries (who presently consume 90% of the fossil fuels), and also hold discussions with them individually, to find out to what extent each country is really in a position to reduce the fossil fuel consumption without jeopardising the economic growth and then fix the NDCs targets for the year 2030. This exercise will greatly avoid the bickerings during the discussion during the next summit.
2. Combustion of fossil fuels presents three problems simultaneously I.e. air pollution, climate change, and depletion of resources. Air pollution has become the most serious problem at the moment. But both UNFCCC and IPCC never talk about this great health hazard. China is burning 11 million tonnes of coal and 14mbpd of oil daily (half of the global consumption) and people are facing very serious health problems in most of her big cities. India too is facing identical problems of air pollution in big cities due to vehicular emissions and Supreme Court is now taking the Delhi government to task. Likewise, depletion of these vital resources will be a big problem to be faced by the next generations. Chinese coal at the present rate of consumption will not last more than 30 years. Likewise, 60 billion tonnes of extractable coal reserves in India will not last more than 70 years. If all three issues are highlighted simultaneously, all nations will show more promptness to reduce the consumption levels.
3. Every country has its limitations in developing renewable resources of energy. Many G30 countries like Japan do not have hydropower potential. European countries do not have enough clear sky days to generate solar power during the five winter months of the year. India has very scarce potential for generating wind energy. Therefore, the two UN bodies should assess the renewable energy potential while fixing the targets.
4. The COP26 agreement only talks about reducing coal consumption whereas combustion of oil produces very obnoxious gases like SO2, NOx, and lead oxide. The major cause of severe air pollution in the cities with concomitant health hazards is vehicular emissions. Therefore, equal stress should be given to replace the existing fleet of cars and small size trucks with electric vehicles and transfer an appreciable part of the freight and passenger load of trucks and buses to the railways.
5. Use of nuclear power and hydrogen fuel can be good substitutes for replacing fossil fuels. But people do not allow the setting up of nuclear power plants after the explosion in a nuclear power plant in Japan. Research on developing hydrogen fuel is still in the embryonic stage. Therefore, G30 countries need a rethink on the use of nuclear power and should provide more funds to the development of hydrogen fuel.
6. 166 countries with very low consumption of fossil fuels discovered and cried out in the conference that real culprits of triggering climate change are 30 countries (G30) who consume 90% of the fossil fuels and release an equal amount of emissions. But the climate change does not limit the climatic upheavals to these G30 countries alone and sweeps the entire world. So they, G166, are suffering because of the brazen and profligate use of fossil fuels consumed by G30 countries to sustain their prosperous economies and leaving very little for future generations. But their genuine cry was heard and yet ignored.
It is because of this flawed approach of UNFCCC and IPCC that Combating Climate Change Movement has not gained the required momentum even after the 24 years of the Kyoto protocol. The pact reached at Glasgow on 14 November is rightly called an agreement better than no agreement. The only achievement of this conference has been to postpone its three main agendas to the next year’s conference (COP27) to be held in Egypt.
The writer is a retired Engineer-in-Chief of Public Health Department Haryana and has had an illustrious career for 34 years. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
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