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VIRUS IS YOUR ENEMY, NOT PM MODI

Rather than playing politics and getting elated in their own echo system, the Opposition should trust the Prime Minister.

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In numerous interviews, Medical Advisor to the POTUS, Dr Anthony Fauci, has reiterated that despite the divisiveness, our common enemy is the virus and not each other. The message is to fight this pandemic unitedly. Sadly, that spirit is missing among Indian politicians who are so paranoid about Narendra Modi that even a pandemic has failed to drive some sense into them.

I would not need to quote Dr Fauci for a society that has always banded together in times of crisis. But for some, political survival has become more important than the lives of people. In their enthusiasm to score political points, they are ignoring the negative impact their murky tricks may have on people. Yes, I am talking of the vaccine politics being played out in full public view. While PM Modi and his team have been trying their best to empower the country and vaccinate people as quickly as possible, the Opposition parties are trying their best to undermine the efforts by spreading rumours and raising demands that may make the society more divisive and confused.

The Prime Minister, who worked overtime to ensure that scientists come out with vaccines earlier than expected, is being accused of not making enough efforts to meet the vaccine demand. Facts, however, would reveal that Modi has been way ahead of the Opposition’s thought process. The Opposition did try to derail the process but has failed desperately.

First, the timeline. The rotavirus vaccine that prevents diarrhoea in young children first came to the US in 1998. It was withdrawn and then reintroduced in 2006. India included this vaccine in the Universal Immunisation Programme in March 2016. The Hepatitis B vaccine was available in the world commercially in 1982. India launched this in 2002. The polio vaccine was approved by the WHO in 1955. The oral version of the same came to be commercially marketed in 1961. India launched the vaccine in 1978.

Compare this to the vaccine for Covid-19. The WHO gave the first emergency use authorization for the vaccine against Covid-19 on 31 December 2020. India got its first vaccine in January 2021 and it had already launched its vaccination programme on 16 January 2021. Also, India achieved the rare feat of having an indigenous vaccine and joined the elite club of about a dozen countries that can say so too.

While scientists must be complimented, one cannot take credit away from the leadership. PM Modi set up a task force of experts in April 2020 and personally monitored vaccine development and ensured that the country was not lagging behind. Covishield and the indigenously produced Covaxin became the first two vaccines which were given clearance for emergency use.

When talks were going on that the vaccine being developed by Bharat Biotech and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) would be India’s weapon against Covid-19, very few believed it. But the Prime Minister was sure about it. When the ICMR was trying to fast-track trials, everyone raised eyebrows and charged the PM with putting pressure on the process. But the PM was only encouraging and asking them not to compromise on parameters.

Everybody in the country heaved a sigh of relief and pride when the PM announced on 15 August 2020 that the vaccines were at various stages of trial and a fully ‘Made in India’ vaccine would be ready soon. While promising that the vaccines would reach every Indian, he said that the distribution roadmap was ready. And both the vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin, after satisfactory trials, were given emergency use authorisation on 3 January 2021.

While India was celebrating and the world looked towards India with hope, the Opposition reacted with bitterness. Some called it haste and dubbed it as vaccine nationalism. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor called the approval “unseemly haste”. He said, “Chest-thumping ‘vaccine nationalism’ – combined with the PM’s ‘self-reliant India’ campaigning – trumped common sense and a generation of established scientific protocols”. “Jingoism is no substitute for common sense,” he added. While demanding full disclosure about the trials, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that “any attempt to short-circuit the regulatory process for political gains will damage the good reputation built by Indian pharma over the years”. A Samajwadi Party leader called it the “BJP vaccine”. One cannot say whether these leaders were acting at the behest of pharma lobbies that were keen to sell their vaccines to India, but it was certain that they saw the vaccine as the most powerful weapon to solidify Modi’s image as India’s most beloved leader.

Ever since, their single-point agenda has been to damage this image and they have tried their best to argue that the vaccine was going to undermine the health of the people. Thousands of articles and media reports came, opposing vaccine use. No one asked the simple question: can any PM do that? Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh raised objections to the use of Covaxin in immunization even when the programme rolled out on 16 January. Punjab, Chhattisgarh and Kerala opposed Covaxin even when its efficacy was proved after the third phase of trials. The TMC in West Bengal joined the chorus and the Jharkhand government termed people on whom the vaccine would be used as “guinea pigs’’.

All this was bound to impact people negatively. There were reports that many people in Kolkata refused to take Covaxin at private hospitals, saying they would take Covishield instead. For the Opposition, their tirade seemed to work. They had undermined their own vaccine.

‘Who should be vaccinated first?’ This has also been an issue since day one of the vaccination drive. This was the first time that even people who considered themselves powerful did not try to short-circuit the system. Even the Prime Minister had to wait for his turn to take the jab. There was no rush, no scramble to be the first. Everybody knew he would get the jab when his turn came.

At a meeting of the Covid Vaccine Group on 30 June 2020, the PM had formulated four guiding principles for vaccination: “First, vulnerable groups should be identified and prioritized for early vaccination, for example, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, non-medical frontline corona warriors, and vulnerable people among the general population. Second, vaccination of ‘anyone, anywhere’ should take place without imposition of any domicile-related restrictions for getting the vaccine. Third, vaccination must be affordable and universal – no person should be left behind. And fourth, the entire process from production to vaccination should be monitored and supported in real time with the use of technology.”

Based on international norms and discussions with experts, the Covid Vaccine Group devised the mechanism to roll-out vaccines in India. The target was to vaccinate 30 crore people by August 2021. In the first phase it was open to healthcare and frontline workers whose numbers came to 30 million. In the second phase the free vaccine was applicable to all above the age of 45 and above. The Centre was to take the tab. More than 18 crore people were already vaccinated, having taken one or two doses by Friday, 14 May.

As the PM launched “Vaccine Utsav” from 11 to 14 April to speed up the vaccination drive, the country witnessed a second Covid wave with a severity not imagined by anyone. States that had started celebrating and preparing to bid goodbye to the pandemic, despite warnings from the Centre, and people who had become complacent suddenly found caught in the vortex.

Despite the severity, the trend of the infection was the same. While it severely impacted the younger generation too, close to 70 percent of those affected were in the 70-plus category. The impact could have been mitigated by better preparation and a war-like effort, but helplessness was visible all around. Delhi, which had recorded a peak of close to 9,000 cases on 11 November 2020, crossed the 30,000 mark daily on some days in April 2021.

In this situation, opposition parties discovered that the best way to deflect attention from poor management was to shift the focus to vaccination for people in the age group of 18-44 years. The demand was first made by Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray who on 5 April appealed to the PM to include people in the 25-44 age group. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal had already written to the PM saying all adults should be vaccinated. Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel wanted this to be extended to 18 years and above. The Indian Medical Association also requested the PM for the same and suggested that public places be opened to those with vaccination certificates.

The Health Ministry responded by saying that the inoculation strategy was crafted to minimize deaths and protect the vulnerable. Union Health Secretary Ranjit Bhushan said, “The basic aim is to reduce death through vaccination. The other aim is to protect the healthcare system. If doctors, nurses and paramedics are infected then who would run the hospitals? These are the two objectives of vaccination in all countries.”

The vaccination objective was not based on demand but need, he stressed, while asking people not to trivialize the government’s decision. He said, “When we talk about opening vaccination to all, our focus reduces on controlling the pandemic. Did you hear about any country that vaccinates those younger than 45 years?”

Rahul Gandhi perhaps sensed an opportunity to score a political point and to create a wedge. He tweeted: “It’s ridiculous to debate needs and wants. Every Indian deserves the chance to a safe life.” Politics hijacked his sense of balance and he ignored the fact that since vaccines were in limited supply it was not possible to open it for all. Chairman of the National Expert Committee on Vaccine Administration VK Paul clarified that when the time would come, this would be open to all.

Rahul Gandhi and his supporting parties raised the issue of vaccine export. “While our nation is facing vaccine starvation, more than 6 crore (60 million) vaccines have been imported,” he said. Such intemperate criticisms can come only from a person who is completely irresponsible and does not bother about the interest of the nation. Vaccine export was a part of the commitment to the GAVI alliance that takes care of poor countries and is applicable to all vaccine manufacturers.

What Gandhi and other Opposition leaders have been saying would have made India a pariah in the international community. The SII alliance with AstraZeneca had clauses for the compulsory sale of vaccines. Considering that the SII depended on crucial raw material from the US to make this vaccine, should India have tried to default on the commitment? One just needs to recall the panic that had been caused when news about the US stopping supplies of raw material for Covishield came out. The Government of India had to intervene to smoothen the process. India’s goodwill earned through vaccine diplomacy has also compelled the world to come to India’s help when it got engulfed in a crisis. Indian vaccines helped the UN peacekeeping forces to continue their operations and also healthcare and frontline workers to work safely to save lives. No wonder world leaders expressed their debt to India for saving the lives of their citizens.

And this export of vaccines did not impact India’s own vaccination programme for the 45-plus category. It was merely a matter of prioritization since vaccines were not available anywhere and it takes time to ramp up production. The Union Government always said that the entire country needs to be vaccinated. To prevent the society from getting divided on vaccines and to enable faster vaccination, the Union Government on 19 April announced vaccination for the 18-44 years category from 1 May. The expert group had been mulling over this already. But it wanted to ensure a smooth supply line and uniform policy.

The government’s new liberalised vaccine policy allowed the two vaccine manufacturers to earmark 50 percent of their production exclusively for the Central government and 50 percent for state governments and the open market. Opposition-ruled states and Congress leaders had already demanded that states be given greater leverage in the procurement of vaccines and that they should not be held hostage by the Centre. Under the new system, states could lift their quota of vaccines based on their population directly from the Centre. They were also allowed to float tenders for procuring vaccines from other manufacturers.

The states that were asking for a liberalised procurement policy suddenly realised that they could not do much since buying it from outside at competitive bidding could be costly. All those who were talking of decentralization suddenly took a U-turn and started demanding that the Centre do the purchasing and give to state governments.

Was the Centre unaware of this? It was fully aware that such a policy could lead to chaos. After its meeting on 12 August 2020, the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for Covid-19 (NEGVAC) had specifically advised all the states “not to chart separate pathways of procurement”.

There was bound to be a vaccine shortage because of the technical issues involved. It needs a different kind of laboratory security and the government cannot risk the lives of people. Already it is taking steps to increase production and the country would soon have sufficient vaccines to give it to other age groups too. But rather than depending on the wisdom of the government, Rahul Gandhi and others started lobbying for other vaccine manufacturers. The Modi government was clear that any vaccine manufacturer must follow the process of bridge trial to test its suitability for India that has a different climatic condition. Some vaccine manufacturers opted out. The pride of a country and lives of people are more important than the ego of these manufacturers.

When the Opposition found that none of these were sticking and that the government was on firm wickets, it raised the issue of differential pricing. How can the Union Government buy the vaccine at the rate of Rs 150 per shot and ask states to buy the same at Rs 300 or private players at Rs 600? This was a way to help vaccine manufacturers make a profit. This argument will not hold ground when seen in the proper context.

The vaccine procured by the Centre is also going to the states and that too free of cost. Differential pricing is a way to encourage private players to keep some margin so that there is an incentive for them to invest in the expansion of capacity. This would also help other global players to come to India. If the government fixes the price for all, this would drive away others and also prohibit investment in research by pharma companies. Competition may bring the prices further down.

All states have declared that they would administer vaccines to people free of cost. The people are thus not impacted by the cost of the vaccine. Why can’t states therefore take the tabs? For example, the Delhi government, which spends crores on advertisements and self-promotion, can easily afford to buy the vaccines. When a BJP-ruled state like Uttar Pradesh, the most populated in the country, can do it, why can’t Maharashtra, the richest, and other states do it too?

Allowing private players would further ease down the burden on the respective states. Those who can afford and don’t mind paying can go to private hospitals and get their jabs. There are many in the country who do not want it for free and would rather go to a private hospital and get the shot of their liking. Why are states trying to stop them from doing this? Availability, not pricing, is the issue.

Federalism is a shared concept. The Centre is under pressure due to a massive investment need for infrastructure. This year alone over Rs 3 lakh crore was spent on health. Besides the emergency need due to Covid, such as extending help to states to strengthen their response system, the government is also setting up hospitals and reinforcing the healthcare system across the country.

Sharing the burden of vaccinating everyone is not a bad proposition. Rather than playing politics and getting elated in their own echo system, which is filled with anti-Modi venom, the Opposition should know that the PM, who worked in a focused way to give India its vaccine, would also ensure that everyone is vaccinated. His timeline is better than yours because he has planned much in advance. Just listen to him and follow him and remember that the virus is the enemy.

The writer is convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

BRAHMOS DEAL IS A SIGNIFICANT STEP TOWARDS AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

Joyeeta Basu

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It’s of immense significance that India has got the order to supply the Brahmos supersonic missile to Philippines. It is significant for both domestic industry and for India’s broader strategic interests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept an ambitious target of reaching $5 billion (roughly Rs 35,000 crore) exports in defence and related goods by 2025. For defence production, the target is $25 billion by 2025. The government says that it is building a robust defence infrastructure based on the three pillars of research and development, public and private defence production, and defence exports. There is no doubt that defence production has got a major push from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. A lot of steps have been taken including the corporatisation of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), the setting up of two Defence Industrial Corridors in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh, raising the FDI limit in the defence sector to 74% if it is through the automatic route and 100% if such investment takes the government route. The government has also formulated a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020. It has prioritised procurement from domestic industries. The role of the PSUs in delaying production has been curtailed with active participation of private players in the defence sector. Several such reformatory steps have been taken to reorganise the defence sector and the numbers are picking up. From defence exports worth a little over Rs 1,500 cr in 2016-2017, the defence export bucket has increased to nearly Rs 8,500 cr in 2020-2021—a part of this was the “big ticket” $100 million order bagged by L&T in 2016 to design and manufacture high speed patrol vessels for the Vietnam Border Guard. All this is a huge step towards bolstering domestic industry, which was ignored by successive governments over the decades.

It is in this context that the Brahmos deal worth $375 million (Rs 2,270 cr) has to be seen. It’s a small step in the direction India can take to become a defence exporter from one of the largest buyers of defence equipment, but a step nonetheless. The best thing about the Brahmos is, one of the world’s fastest supersonic missiles with 95% accuracy, and which can operate from land, air and water, including from submarines, is now 90% Indian, with dependence on critical components from Russia reduced to the minimum. The buzz is that even Vietnam and Indonesia have shown an interest in Brahmos. Defence experts say that it is not just Brahmos, even the Akash surface-to-air missile and the Tejas light combat aircraft among others may find buyers abroad. Hence, this is an area where a lot can be achieved in terms of realising India’s potential and making it a $5 trillion economy inside the next couple of years.

As for the South China Sea countries that are the first line of defence against a malign power, it is in India’s broader strategic interest to arm them with missiles, and thus help them reduce the gulf that exists between them and China militarily. This can be a part of India’s strategy of containing China, apart from increasing India’s influence in the region, which can have a likely positive impact on trade with the ASEAN countries. India does not need to be the “security provider” for the South China Sea countries. Apparently, that role is “reserved” for the United States. However, the US has been failing in its job, if Philippines’ experience in 2012 is anything to go by, when US did not do anything to help it during the standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal. This is one of the reasons why countries in the region are sceptical about the US. This scepticism has been aggravated because of the manner in which the Afghanistan pullout happened. So there is a possibility of this region becoming a major importer of defence equipment in the near future. There is no reason why India should not get a share of that market.

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Opinion

Modi phobia has blinded Gregory Stanton and Co

The earlier predictions of the ‘Genocide Watch’ founder on Kashmir, Assam and CAA too were proved wrong, and nobody in India takes Gregory Stanton seriously.

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Anti-India non-State actors are ganging up in the United States to paint India as a dangerous place. Islamists and Leftists have joined hands with Dr Gregory Stanton—the renowned professor on genocide—to say that India is inching closer to genocide. He warned a Congressional hearing on 12th January of an impending genocide of Muslims in India.

It may ring familiar since sometime back anti-India forces had roped in singer Rihanna and environmentalist sensation Greta Thunberg to tweet on farmers’ issue in India. While Indians did not take Rihanna or Thunberg seriously, one does not know if these two were victims of propaganda or greed.

I was aghast at this comment. What could be the motive for Stanton to stick his neck out? He has already predicted that India is on the eight stage which is just one step away from genocide. The basis of his immediate provocation is objectionable utterances by some participants at the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar against Muslims. The State has acted in terms of lodging an FIR and arresting the accused and the Supreme Court has been keeping an eye on the action by the State.

But nobody in India is losing sleep over what happened in Haridwar for the simple reason that India is too big and resilient to allow such incidents to disturb the social fabric. The same way the country had absorbed the statement of Akbaruddin Owaisi of the AIMIM who had said that if police is removed for 15 minutes, Muslims will finish 100 crore Hindus. Although the speech is used in debate to show communal polarisation, nobody takes the statement seriously.

Everyone in India knows that the sadhus at the so-called Dharam Sansad had no locus standi in terms of their affiliation with the BJP or even the Sangh Parivar. It is doubtful if they could be called a credible representative organisation of the Hindu angst. A similar incident had happened at Jantar Mantar where people had shouted anti-Muslim slogans and some arrests were made. But now that the Dharam Sansad has got into international prominence, it may also be inquired whether they became a victim of international conspiracy. There are a number of organisations working hand-in-glove to create such a situation and then to use that to defame the country.

Stanton’s argument is that the Prime Minister did not condemn the incident. Ridiculous to expect that Narendra Modi would go on issuing condemnation one after the other only to embolden such happenings. The law of the State should act and Stanton was not briefed properly to know that law and order in India is not the subject of the Prime Minister but of the various State governments. It is only when the States fail in the task that the Central government intervenes.

An average Indian who does not normally react to such international propaganda thinking this will subside, would be shocked to hear that Stanton’s ‘Genocide Watch’ has compared the situation to Rwanda in the 1990s and Myanmar (due to Rohingya Muslims). To speak in such derogatory terms for a thriving democracy which has robust institutions of checks and balances would be considered sacrilege by any Indian citizen worth his salt.

Stanton was proved wrong earlier so far as his prediction for India is concerned and he may be nursing his wounds because of that. While addressing an audience of Congressional and US Government officials at a briefing titled “Ground Reports on Kashmir and NRC” in Washington DC on 12 December 2019, he said: “Preparation for a genocide is definitely underway in India.” He claimed that Muslims were being persecuted in Assam and Kashmir and described this as the stage just before the genocidal stage in his famous “10-Stage Genocide Process”. These things never happened. In the Assembly elections last year, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 75 of the 126 seats in Assam to the Congress’ 50 and formed the government for a second time.

The problem is that Stanton is in bad company. An independent research would give him a different picture about India. He has ganged up with the likes of Teesta Setalvad who tried her best to malign Narendra Modi but failed miserably. The might of Amnesty International, that was caught red-handed committing fraud in India, is now with these people along with other organisations that work for Muslim cause such as the Indian-American Muslim Council (IAMC). The IAMC has already asked Indian Muslims settled in different States of the US to influence their representative for Congressional hearings on the status of Muslims in India.

The Indian government has banned thousands of NGOs from taking foreign funds since they refused to comply with the Indian legal system. Some international NGOs thought they were powerful and they could bend the government but they have failed. Amnesty had imagined that the United Kingdom would come to its rescue but the UK, which is rule bound, would not do anything to ask India to bend its laws. All these NGOs, rubbed by the Modi government on the wrong side, have an axe to grind and are trying to show their power of mischief. They are likely to do similar things in the European Parliament in an attempt to defame the Modi government. Not that this would make much of a difference to either Modi or India, but the fangs of these organisations are getting exposed.

Stanton is a Modi hater. Even in his speech released on various social media platforms, he minces no words to demonstrate his hatred. He intentionally referred to Gujarat riots of 2002 and said that Modi as the Chief Minister did nothing. He even said that “Modi encouraged those massacres”. The facts are to the contrary. Army was called within 24 hours, the shortest span in the history of riots in India, and no inquiry has found Modi not doing anything. Stanton is cocking a snook at the Indian judiciary since Modi has been held not-guilty by Indian courts.

Let us see another statement of Stanton. He criticised Modi for revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and for passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). To him, the revocation was intended at restoring Hindu domination. He found that the CAA was aimed at targeting Muslims. Both are false. Revoking Article 370 has been one of the core ideological issues of the BJP since the party considered it divisive and had been advocating complete integration of the State with India. And the CAA is intended to grant citizenship rights to those persecuted minorities that had come to India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Clearly Stanton has been bought over by the Islamist narrative. He claimed that 200 million Muslims would be victims of the CAA.

Stanton’s real pain is visible when he says that the Indian Constitution was devised to make India a secular country and not a country based on Hindutva. He complements the Congress for maintaining the secular character of India in the initial years after Independence.

“What we have now though, an actual member of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) — this extremist, Hindutva-oriented group — Mr Modi as [the] prime minister of India. So, what we have here is an extremist who has taken over the government,” he said. Batting for Congress and attacking Modi is an old trick adopted by many RSS-BJP haters.

Now we know why he is in a bad company. This is because he is suffering from Modi phobia. Calling the Indian Prime Minister an ‘extremist’ would not be appreciated by any world leader who has interacted with Modi. He has earned friends and has impressed them with his commitment to democracy and development. Stanton’s utterances are an affront to the honour and dignity of an average Indian who sees hope in their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

There are some people and vested interests that always wanted the Indian poor to suffer. Health card for the poor, a bank account for them where they get direct benefits through electronic transfer of funds and a free ration so that they don’t die of hunger have helped Modi emerge as the messiah of the poor. His schemes do not discriminate between Hindus and Muslims. These things don’t suit the Western narrative.

He has reined in corruption and given a level playing field to people who want to take the country forward. India is now home to the third largest number of Startup Unicorns after the United States and China. It will soon have 100 such unicorns each valued with a minimum value of USD 1 billion.

The pain of anti-India forces is the country is progressing despite being an area of potential conflict. The prophets of doom are being proved wrong. The incidents of terrorism have come down and Hindus and Muslims are trying to settle their issues through intellectual discourse. Genocide Watch also intends to influence the decision of MNCs which may be planning big investment in India now that the honeymoon with China appears to be almost over. India under Modi is a very attractive destination for these investors. FDI inflow during the last seven years (2014-21) was USD 440.27 billion which was 58 per cent of the total FDI inflow of USD 763.83 billion in the last 21 years. This is despite the pandemic.

Where does this leave Stanton and his likes? The West and Europe are shy of facing the charge of being Islamophobic. They have not been able to work out a full-proof mosaic society, where Muslims, a miniscule minority there, do not face discrimination. India is working well despite having a Muslim minority that has more population than any caste Hindu group. So, it makes sense for people like Stanton to take up the cause of some Muslims in the US who may be charged up by the motivated narrative that goes out from India. This would at least save Stanton from not being labelled Islamophobic. But they have to be wary of Modi phobia too. This blinds your vision and forces you to go wrong.

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.

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Opinion

NON-CRICKETING REASONS FORCE KOHLI TO QUIT TEST CAPTAINCY

Pankaj Vohra

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Virat Kohli, the country’s most successful Cricket Captain had to give up his position due to politics within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It is apparently an array of the non-cricketing reasons that have compelled him to step down, and it would become a very difficult job for the administrators of the game to find his replacement. Kohli made this public declaration of relinquishing his Captaincy after first informing his own teammates and Head Coach Rahul Dravid besides speaking with BCCI secretary Jay Shah. The announcement has left Cricket fans shell-shocked and the entire Cricketing fraternity throughout the world has hailed King Kohli as one of the best in the game and someone whose contribution in making India, amongst the topmost cricket-playing nations is an acknowledged fact. While it is for sports writers and experts to figure out how the team shall be rebuilt, there are reports that Kohli was likely to be served a show-cause notice for publicly contradicting the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly on the issue of giving up the T-20 Captaincy, before the team embarked for the South African Tour. It was to pre-empt the show cause notice that he took this drastic decision. It goes without saying that after the exit of Ravi Shastri as the Indian Coach, Kohli had very little support left, and it would have been a matter of time that he would have quit.

Dravid is a legendary all-time great of the game but his and Kohli’s personalities are totally apart. There has also been a lot of politics within the Board where the West Zone has regained control of matters and has the final say in major decisions including team selection. The complexion of the Indian team shows how certain players have made it to the squad due to regional bias that has triumphed over merit. Kohli had made the Indian side into a fighting force that was feared by all Cricketing countries. In the pre-Kohli era, whenever team India lost on a foreign tour, fans would accept the outcome. However, after Kohli took over the leadership role, the expectations were always high and the recent loss to South Africa was described by everyone as “an upset”. This was Kohli’s influence over the game and his teammates.

Sunil Gavaskar, perhaps the greatest Indian batsman ever, feels that giving up Captaincy would help Kohli to concentrate on his batting. His opinion is that many more centuries would now flow from Kohli’s willow in the next five or six years of Test Cricket he shall play, given his exceptional fitness levels. India has to look for a new leader who can lead from the front and earn the respect of all the teammates. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul are the front runners but one cannot rule out R. Ashwin to be in the reckoning also. Gavaskar is of the view that Rishabh Pant would make a very good Captain. However, the Board must seriously consider Ajinkye Rahane even though he has not been in the best form of his life. His Captaincy in Australia had been extraordinary and from the current crop of players, he would be a very good choice during this transitional phase till a new leader can be identified.

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Opinion

Just a ‘security breach’ or a sinister plan?

Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab administration and police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident.

Ashish Sood

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The unprecedented breach in the security of the Prime Minister of India has left the entire nation shocked and aggrieved. It is difficult to believe that the cavalcade of the world’s most popular leader gets stranded for more than twenty minutes over a flyover merely ten kilometers away from the Pakistan border. Historically speaking, India has never witnessed a security lapse of such a magnitude where busloads of protestors brazenly obstruct the PM’s convoy. The casual and high-handed manner in which the security of the PM was handled is even more shameful and raises serious doubts upon the intention of the Congress government in Punjab.

The absence of the Chief Minister, DGP and Chief Secretary of Punjab for the customary reception of PM, false assurances of route clearance given by DGP and refusal by CM Channi to get on the phone for resolving the issue goes fundamentally against the ethos of democracy and is sufficient to raise a cloud of suspicion. Unsurprisingly, after the inexplicable dereliction of duty by Punjab Administration and Police, defiance of all the existing protocols and sheer disrespect of the Constitutional authority, the Congress regime made a mockery of the incident. While the situation demanded an immediate and prompt response from the CM as the security of the supreme elected head of the state was under threat, he preferred to engage himself in whataboutery. He candidly questioned the need for opting the land route despite being well aware that the weather conditions were not conducive for a safe flight. Is it not enough to suggest that the Congress desired the Prime Minister to meet the same unfortunate fate as that of first CDS Late Gen. Bipin Rawat and thirteen others who succumbed to a plane crash recently?

The other Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely putting a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying an overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather it just seems to be a tip of an iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India. It would not be absurd to say that the Congress has a predominant role in fueling up this conspiracy against the nation. According to media reports, the DGP of Punjab got in touch with senior members of the government and conveyed his inclination to use ‘force’ to disperse the protestors but he was told to exercise restraint. Without paying any heed to the fact that the security of the PM is sine-qua-non to maintain stability in the country, he was further ordered to not do anything which could put the state government in a fix. One of the leaders of the protestors has publicly admitted that he was informed by the SSP of Punjab Police about the route of the PM’s convoy whereas the existing norms do not allow anyone to disclose this fact. It undoubtedly hints towards the mala-fide intentions of the Congress government to create another riot against Sikhs with an aim to whitewash its own blot of 1984 killings.

It is an established fact that Congress can stoop to any low to retain its power. The security personnel deployed at the spot where PM’s cavalcade was stuck were seen enjoying tea with the protestors. What were the reasons that compelled the celebrated Punjab Police to act so loosely? This shameful display of connivance of Police officials with the protestors cannot be made possible without political patronage from the Congress leaders in power. In the 1980s, Congress supported extremists to dethrone Akalis and dissociate them from Sikhs in order to gain power. In the process of achieving its political goals, it set the peaceful environment of Punjab on fire as mayhem surrounded the entire region. As a result, Punjab witnessed mass killings, terrorist attacks and separatist insurgency, ultimately leading to the mysterious ends of many of its leaders including the assassination of Prime Minister Late Indira Gandhi. Sadly, Congress leadership doesn’t want to learn from its own doings in the past and has restarted echoing the voices of secessionist elements. The blatant appeasement of the fervid proponents of Khalistan by Congress who created ruckus in the recent farmers’ agitation sends a clear message that it will do anything to retain power, even if it means another partition of India.

Moreover, it cannot be a coincidence that three terrorists were arrested from around the same sensitive region soon after the incident. A few videos surfacing over the internet which were uploaded a year ago eerily reflect the similar events which transpired during the security breach. The FIR registered against 150 unidentified persons after the incident does not mention the security breach rather it only deals with the obstruction in any public way attracting a penalty of meagre two hundred rupees. Thus, the aftermath of the incident is self-explanatory and indicates Congress’ deep plunge into the murky waters of depravity and moral turpitude.

Once a prominent leader of Jana Sangh, Balraj Madhok had famously remarked that if Congress is malaria, Communists are a plague. This comparative analysis of both the ideologies has taken a new turn in the contemporary parlance. The recent turmoil created by Congress suggests that it has unhesitatingly adopted the Communist’s infamous goal of anarchy. This thirst of grabbing power at the cost of compromising PM’s security makes the situation even more worrisome and uncannily resembles a deadlier pandemic for a vibrant constitutional democracy like ours. Though this incident has unraveled many nefarious agendas of the Congress party but a plethora of questions still remain unanswered. It cannot be outrightly denied that the protestors and police were certainly hand in gloves with those at the top levels acting in cahoots. The people of Punjab have witnessed misgovernance and complete collapse of law and order in the past one year and hence, they will take the Congress party to task by voting them out of power in the upcoming elections.

Writer is the Co-Incharge BJP, Jammu & Kashmir Affairs. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.

Congress leaders reduced the security lapse to a narrow prism of another political stunt, completely turning a blind eye to the potential threat faced by the PM from global terrorists for enjoying overwhelming popularity across the world. However, the glaring gaps in security must not be seen as an isolated event rather they just seem to be the tip of the iceberg. It reeks of a larger sinister plan to create unrest in Punjab and the rest of India.

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Opinion

DESERTIONS PUT YOGI ON THE BACKFOOT IN UP

Pankaj Vohra

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Yogi Adityanath

Desertion by several OBC leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party on the eve of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections could spell trouble for Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and come in the way of his second consecutive term. In fact, the momentum seems to be shifting towards his principal challenger, Akhilesh Yadav in the run-up to the crucial polls that have been described by several political pundits as the semi-final before the finals in 2024. The desertions by prominent leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Dharam Singh Saini, Avtar Singh Bhadana, Madhuri Verma and Roshan Lal Verma amongst others, also reflects that there were a large number of issues that remain unaddressed by the Yogi government. It is evident that the government was perhaps thriving because of high voltage publicity and divisive politics.

The BJP has tried to underplay the decision of these leaders amidst claims that at least 100 more prominent functionaries from the State may similarly leave the party in the near future. What should be worrying for the ruling dispensation is that its political narrative so far, could even damage the Narendra Modi brand. Modi is the undisputed political leader in the country and since his name and performance is being also projected as plus points for the BJP, a major problem could arise in the event the Saffron Brigade loses the plot in the most populous state of the country. In view of the unfolding developments, it would not be surprising that the double-engine slogan of the party, to lay emphasis on the development of the state, due to the close coordination between the Centre and the Yogi government may be amended in order to shield the Prime Minister. The outcome of the UP polls would have wide ranging ramifications and could even impact the Presidential elections later this year.

If the BJP is unable to secure majority of its own, it would be very difficult for the central leadership of the party to decide on a person of its first choice for the top position. The choice could narrow down to someone who is also acceptable to sections of the Opposition or States, which otherwise are opposed to the BJP and its allies. Therefore, the BJP shall have to pull a rabbit out of its hat to upset the existing calculations which seem to be projecting an easy win for Akhikesh, notwithstanding the overwhelming projections in favour of the ruling party in most opinion polls. This is also a wake-up call for the BJP Parliamentary Board and the Sangh Parivar that they should stop taking things for granted and believe only in their own caste formulas, rather than the emerging situation on the ground. In the past three Assembly polls, Uttar Pradesh has given a convincing mandate to whichever party won. In 2007, it was for Mayawati, in 2012 it was for Akhilesh and in 2017, for the BJP. Therefore, if the trend continues, then it would again be a repeat of a one-sided election in favour of whoever wins ultimately. The reason for these desertions is that the Yogi government has been engaged in hyping the issues close to its agenda while ignoring the concerns of those who are leaving or have left. The most obvious inference is that in pursuance of Kamandal politics, the BJP underestimated the threat from Mandal politics. The consequences of these resignations, if they go against the interests of the party, could put a question mark over Yogi’s ability to lead. He is desperate and to send a polarizing signal, he recently talked about the contest between 80 percent who favoured development, and 20 percent who were against it.

The figures alluded to the religious ratio within the State where Hindus constitute 80 percent and the Muslims 20 percent. Yogi’s critics have urged the Election Commission to take notice of this loaded and communal reference by the Chief Minister which allegedly constituted violation of the Model Code of Conduct. However, Yogi is undeterred and knows that if he wins, he would truly emerge from the shadows as a leader who could be in the reckoning for a top slot in the post-Modi era. It is equally true that if Akhilesh Yadav wins the 2022 Assembly polls, he would alter the Opposition’s current equations regarding a collective plan to contest the 2024 Parliamentary polls since he would be a claimant for the leadership of the coalition as well. Interesting times are here and the Uttar Pradesh saga could spring up many more surprises as the election process progresses.

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Is the Arab world ready for a post-oil future?

In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector.

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Since the 19th century, oil has been one of the world’s major energy resources. Oil meets 33% of global energy demand, but oil demand may begin to decline sooner than expected due to renewable resources trends around the world and technological advancements. Arab countries in the Gulf region are beginning to take precautions through diversification as they need to transform their oil-dependent economies. The issue of economic diversification has taken on new urgency in the Persian Gulf countries. The global economic slowdown induced by the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the price of Brent crude oil from $64 a barrel in early 2020 to $23 a barrel in April 2020.

For decades, GCC countries have been concerned about the long-term viability of their hydrocarbon revenues. In the long run, oil and gas reserves will deplete. Bahrain and Oman are the most vulnerable, with reserves expected to run out within the next decade for Bahrain and within the next 25 years for Oman. In the short term, GCC countries have already begun to tap into $2 trillion in financial assets amassed over decades and invested in sovereign wealth funds for future generations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicted that unless GCC countries implemented significant fiscal and economic reforms, their conserved wealth would be depleted by 2034.

DIVINE SANCTION AND A CHALLENGE

Natural resources abound in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. They have been using this wealth to improve the lives of their citizens, developed infrastructure, constructed modern cities and plan for a future without oil, they have made significant progress in their objectives.All have Human Development Index scores above 0.8, putting them ahead of all other Middle East and North African (MENA) countries and on par with some European Union countries (EU).

The GCC countries, on the other hand, have struggled to make progress on the third goal: diversifying their economies. Despite their good intentions, mirrored in their national visions and economic development plans, the GCC economies remain pig-headedly keen about hydrocarbons.Thus,for economic diversification to be sustainable, other essential ingredients must be present, such as moderate government spending, increased non-oil exports, and even more foreign direct investment (FDI).

While GCC members have made significant headway over the last decade, oil and gas production continues to account for more than 40% of gross domestic product (GDP) in most countries, excluding the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Nonetheless, oil and gas royalties directly fund a large portion of the region’s other economic activities, such as construction and infrastructure development. For Bahrain, oil accounts for a minor share of GDP because the region’s oil reserves have been depleted; yet, oil continues to underpin economic activity indirectly through transfers and expenditure from neighbouring nations. Consequently, though efforts have been made to diversify government finances, hydrocarbons account for 70% or more of overall revenue in all countries except Saudi Arabia (68%) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (36%). Nonetheless, many of the diverse revenue streams in those two countries are supported by petroleum economic activities.

The Gulf countries do manufacture goods and services within their borders, principally for domestic usage. These embody Agricultural products, manufactured items, and business services are examples of them. However, domestically produced goods and services would not be able to replace the massive volumes of imported goods and services required to support the region’s 27 million natives and 29 million expats.

OIL IN INTERNAL POLITICS

Generally, advanced democracies and the presence of inclusive institutions boost economic growth. Yet, in some instances, economic growth can impede democratisation. “Rentierism” is one of the most well-known theories on the subject.Rentier states generate money by collecting rent from foreign governments, businesses or individuals. They do not require tax revenues because their primary job is to disperse incoming foreign resources.

Furthermore, rentier nations are financially independent and autonomous from society, contributing a little portion of external rent earnings to domestic spending while retaining the majority of the wealth. Despite considerable criticism, the link between authoritarian Arab regimes that sell oil and their citizens lends validity to the notion. However, as the post-oil era approaches, Arab states are attempting to escape the trap of rentierism.

THE SAUDI PARAGON

The oil sector contributes 28.7 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP and accounts for 80 percent of its exports. These figures demonstrate the significance of economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s audacious economic makeover might be successful. To prepare for a Post Oil future, the Kingdom announced its “Vision 2030” with economic diversification as its primary economic goal.

Saudi Arabia has tried to enhance its private sector, unleash the potential of non-oil industries, and expand non-oil exports with this goal in mind.

It will not be easy to attain this target quickly, which is why the kingdom has tightened its laws and begun forcing foreign corporations to relocate their Middle East operations to Saudi Arabia.To attract new investment and generate new employment, the Saudi government and government-backed institutions will no longer sign contracts with multinational firms that do not have a regional centre in Saudi Arabia in early 2024.This decision heightened tensions with rival countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some UAE-based investors described the decision as “obviously geared” .

The UAE, like Saudi Arabia, has increased attempts to attract overseas companies in order to restructure their economy and reduce their reliance on oil.

This appears to be one of several competitors in the region as many Arab oil-exporting countries attempt to modernise their economies as conflicts of interest appear to be inescapable.

SAUDI AS A MOVER AND SHAKER

Saudi Arabia as predicted would never be a mover and shaker again. The decline is irreversible, because “oil-rich” is a word that will become as obsolete as “carbon copy.” Arab producers’ oil revenue has dropped by more than two-thirds, and it will never recoup. So far, the decline has been mostly driven by a sharp drop in oil prices; demand has steadily increased, but oil production has consistently increased faster; nonetheless, an outright collapse in demand is also on the horizon.

As the climate situation worsens, motor vehicles (which account for half of all oil consumption worldwide) are shifting to electricity. The United Kingdom and France have officially pledged to cease all new automobile sales with internal combustion engines by 2030, which means that no one will buy a new petroleum-fueled car after 2025. Many other countries are debating similar measures.

The unprecedented stability of these nations without a single regime change among the six “oil-rich” monarchs of the Arabian peninsula in the last 50 years – has been solely predicated on the traditional rulers’ ability to buy the consent of their subjects. When wealth disappears, so does stability. Even Saudi Arabia’s unity, established by force less than a century ago, may not survive the shift.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In terms of preparing for a post-oil future, GCC governments will need to curtail public services, benefits, and jobs even further, while also curbing opportunities for rent-seeking in the private sector. Economic diversification policies must take genuine rent-seeking behaviour into account. GCC governments will need to have an open dialogue with their citizens about the financial restrictions they confront and the options available to them in the future, and then redraw the parameters of the governing social compact in a way that is perceived as equitable and fair. This renegotiation will require both political elites and regular individuals to give up some of their rights and privileges in light of diminished hydrocarbon reserves and lower prices that are predicted to persist and sink further in the long run. GCC countries have established free zones, innovation parks, and entrepreneurial centres outside the boundaries of their rentier-based private sectors over the last two decades. Nonetheless, all of these things are primitive.

The coronavirus outbreak, combined with reduced global oil prices, has intensified pressure on Gulf governments to accelerate economic diversification initiatives. GCC policymakers must look beyond the urgent need to slash expenditures and instead focus on laying the groundwork for a thriving and sustainable post-hydrocarbon economy. Economic and political pressures have already compelled Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to lift their three-and-a-half-year embargo on Qatar, paving the way for further regional economic integration.

WILL REFORMS BE ENOUGH?

Firstly, economic modifications are required since the economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members are heavily reliant on oil, and resources will need to be reallocated among other sectors.

Secondly, the transition will be political, because oil is used to bolster authoritarian governments and quiet democratic demands in many oil-exporting Arab states.

Petroleum countries would be impacted and pushed to undergo economic and political reforms. Oil has long been a key element in Middle Eastern politics, and the world’s post-oil futures may have significant ramifications in the region and global politics as a whole.

As rentier regimes make strides in preparation for a post-oil future, ultimately time will tell whether they are strong enough to protect authoritarian regimes. Oil-exporting Arab regimes may face a fresh and more robust ‘Arab Spring’ in the twenty-first century if they continue to focus primarily on the economic side of things and fail to implement institutional reforms promptly.

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