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What Modi govt should learn from farmers’ stir

Despite doing reasonably good work for the farmers, the Central government still struggles to shrug off its pro-trader image. The government is often seen wanting in putting the facts across.

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Even after 11 rounds of talks between the protesting farmers and the government, the great divide remains. The farm leaders continue to take the maximalist position of seeking the repeal of the three Central farm laws, even when the Union Agriculture Minister talks about discussing the laws clause by clause. Both sides have taken rigid positions from where any early and easy resolution doesn’t seem forthcoming. While the government has made it abundantly clear that it is ready to discuss everything except the repeal of the three laws, the farm leaders won’t be accepting anything but the abrogation of the three Central legislations. And as the leaders, both political as well as farm, fail to find a middle ground, it’s the common farmers, hailing mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, who have been forced to stay in their makeshift tents at Delhi’s borders since 26 November.

Analysed closely, the situation is a classic case of how not to handle an issue. The government failed to comprehend the concerns among a section of farmers, especially from Punjab, regarding the three farm bills passed by the Central government in September 2020. Farmers were uneasy about talks of MSP and mandis being terminated. The farmers’ agitation actually gained momentum on these two points. Today the government is ready to give in writing that it is not going to end the MSP and mandis. But the question is: Why did it fail to reach out to farmers when these issues were first raised and the protests were confined to Punjab alone? Why did Central government ministers not reach out to them then?

The farmers’ stir could have been handled much better had the government dealt with it initially—and with empathy. The government seemed to have been misled by bureaucratic advice of letting the agitation lose steam on its own, and failed to act on time. And by the time it woke up to the gravity of the situation, the agitators were already on the borders of Delhi and the agitation had become much more than the issues of MSP and mandis. Whether one agrees or not, the fact is the farmers’ protests have acquired a certain political colour today. It has also become a prestige battle where no one wants to be seen to be conceding. This explains why even after the government’s repeated assurances that the MSP and mandis won’t go away, and also its readiness to discuss the three farm laws clause by clause, there is no movement in the talks. The farm union leaders’ “my way or highway” stand won’t be beneficial for the farmers’ cause.

What’s ironical, amid the ongoing protests, is that the track record of the Modi government on MSP isn’t bad at all. In fact, on the issue, the Modi government has done much more than the previous dispensation. MSP payment to farmers for paddy rose by 2.4 times to Rs 4.95 lakh crore between 2014 and 2019 under the Modi government, as against only Rs 2.06 lakh crore under the previous Congress-led regime between 2009-2014. MSP to farmers for wheat increased by 1.77 times during 2014-19 to Rs 2.97 lakh crore, as compared to Rs 1.68 lakh crore in the 2009-14 period. Also, MSP payment for pulses rose by 75 times under the Modi dispensation, to reach Rs 49,000 crore, in sharp contrast to Rs 645 crore under the UPA-II.

To its credit, the Modi government, in July 2018, announced MSP at 1.5 times the cost of production for 14 kharif crops. This was based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and National Commission of Farmers, 2006, which the previous dispensation failed to implement despite being in power till 2014. Here, one needs to clarify that the role of MSP in Indian agriculture is overhyped. It, after all, relates to just over 6% of farmers, with an overwhelming majority of small farmers not going to the mandi to sell their produce.

The current stalemate is tragic in the sense that the issues involved are serious for our agriculture and its future. Over exploration of groundwater table, consequent need to change cropping pattern, glut of procured wheat and paddy and related storage capacity and lower market price than the MSP are the core issues defying serious discussion due to the vested interest of the farmers in the MSP and mandis and the government’s failure to anticipate it. Any compromise, which seems probable, will only prolong the wait for the agricultural reforms. The government will have to find better ways to deal with the farmers and their concerns, perhaps in piecemeal.

The Modi government has failed on two fronts: One, it didn’t reach out to farmers when they first raised their concerns. But even more important than that, it should have engaged farmers and their leaders while formulating the three laws. What the Agriculture Minister proposes to do now—to discuss the farm laws threadbare, clause by clause—he and his team could have done before September.

The Centre’s second failure is even more significant: the battle of perception. It’s something this dispensation should look at more seriously. Despite doing reasonably good work for the farmers, the government still struggles to shrug off its pro-trader image. The government is often seen wanting in putting the facts across. It sometimes gives the impression that it doesn’t care; at other times, it is seen as being helpless. The government needs to beef up its defences in dealing with perception wars and need for a wider consultation on such measures.

Be that as it may, first the CAA stir and now the farm protests give the government enough reason to look inwards and see where it has gone wrong. Both the measures were desirable and well-intended, yet faced resistance due to a lack of sufficient communication on the purpose. It seems to be a complex function of the government’s overconfidence and absence of a responsible opposition at the Centre to keep the government on toes. The country can’t afford endless protests and agitations, especially when the economy is badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown.

The writer is a former IPS officer and the editor of the quarterly magazine, ‘Dialogue’. The views expressed are personal.

The farmers’ stir could have been handled much better had the government dealt with it initially—and with empathy. The government seemed to have been misled by bureaucratic advice of letting the agitation lose steam on its own, and failed to act on time. And by the time it woke up to the gravity of the situation, the agitators were already on the borders of Delhi and the agitation had become much more than the issues of MSP and mandis.

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Opinion

THE FARMER-IMPASSE CONTINUES, EVEN AS DELHI SUFFERS

Joyeeta Basu

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Almost nine months after farmers protesting the three farm laws passed by Parliament gathered on Delhi’s borders, they are still stationed there. Even though they are not hitting the headlines with the regularity as they were earlier in the year, does not mean that they are not blockading several roads, making the lives of local residents and commuters miserable. Talks between the government and the farmers broke down post the Republic Day violence perpetrated by some farmer groups, during which the Red Fort was vandalized and a religious flag was hoisted at this national monument. Even otherwise, the farmers had taken a maximalist position about the farm laws. That the laws were viewed by most experts and stakeholders to be reform oriented and worth giving a try, did not make any difference to the protesters. In fact, except for with the farmers of Punjab and a handful of farmers from Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the agitation did not find any resonance in a country which still has nearly 50% of its workforce employed in the agricultural sector.

The government was ready to make several concessions, including putting the laws on hold for up to 18 months. But the farmers were adamant, thus raising questions about the political nature of the “movement”, where the intention was to ensure that Government of India came across as weak and unable to bring in any reforms. It was a clear case of the farmers being misled by vested interests, who used disinformation to make the farmers fearful of the amended laws. Considering the whole premise of the movement is to bring the government to its knees, and with individuals such as Rakesh Tikait actively campaigning in Assembly elections in his capacity as a “farmer leader”, the fig leaf of the movement being apolitical has been destroyed. And the minute any movement gains a political colour, the obvious question is about the political benefits that some seen and unseen forces are hoping to derive from it.

With Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Assembly elections coming up early next year, it is increasingly appearing that the so-called agitation will continue well into 2022, or at least until the elections are concluded. The idea is to keep the issue alive until the elections in the hope of influencing voters, apart from gaining political legitimacy for these “farmer leaders”. Hence, these unscrupulous leaders are taking advantage of the gullible farmers by painting dire pictures of loss of land and livelihood to corporates because of the farm laws. The counter-narrative is yet to take hold of public mind, at least in Punjab. So the lives of Delhi-NCR residents are expected to stay thrown out of gear for another six-seven months minimum, which should raise some serious questions about the government’s inaction on this.

Why is the mighty Indian state bent upon appearing a soft state, where groups of individuals can hold the national capital to ransom for months, break every possible law, and get away scot-free? The whole idea of having an internal security apparatus is to pre-empt such disruptions. Why are such agitations not being broken up inside the first few days of the protesters blocking roads? It was the same in the Shaheen Bagh protests, which started in 2019 December and was allowed to fester for three months. But for the restrictions imposed because of Covid, it would have continued perhaps for a much longer time. The farmers’ agitation did not even bother about Covid restrictions and continued through the deadly second wave, thus spreading the infection to the hinterland. And now the worry is that some other agitation will start around October-November-December, when the weather is conducive to organizing outdoor sit-ins and it will continue for weeks, if not months. Such disruptions in Delhi not only ensure national and international media spotlight, but are also a good way of showing the Central government as weak and vacillating. As for the farmers, it is hoped that they will realise that they are being misled by their leaders. Holding the national capital to ransom is no solution to their grievances.

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Opinion

Blinken’s India visit sent a strong message to China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first-ever visit to India underlined the US commitment to stay engaged in the Indo-Pacific region. During the visit, Blinken held discussions with civil society representatives, including the delegate representing the Tibetan government-in-exile, and the move was a calculated step to send a message to China.

Surendra Kumar

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Amidst media reports of the capture of a large swath of territory in Afghanistan by the Taliban, it was speculated that Kabul would be at the top of the agenda of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to India. It is because the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the growing foothold of the Taliban have a direct bearing on India’s security.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken address the joint statement, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (ANI)

Well, Afghanistan was on the agenda. But on his first visit as the Secretary of State, Blinken reviewed the entire India-US relationship with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, held discussions with Ajit Doval, and called on PM Modi. Besides covering bilateral relations including defence, security, trade, business, investment, energy, education, Science and technology, Blinken and Jaishankar, also exchanged views on Covid-19, Indo-Pacific, Quad, climate change, terrorism, cybercrime, snooping, etc. Their comments during the joint press conference suggested that their talks were frank and candid; there was convergence on several issues but their perceptions differed on some issues as well.

Jaishankar’s initial remarks provided a context: “Our bilateral cooperation has vastly expanded in the last few years. Our interests are shared, our concerns are similar and our convergences are strong.” Probably, shared interests and similar concerns relate to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, and given India’s location and past experiences, the concerns are similar but not exactly the same.

And strong convergence is as well discernible with regards to Indo-Pacific, Quad, terrorism, cybercrime, growing menace of intelligence gathering, and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

Jaishankar emphasized, “Peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific are as important for both of us as democratic stability in Afghanistan. Deepening the Quad as a qualitative platform is in our mutual interest and we must work together even more closely on key contemporary challenges like terrorism, climate change, pandemics, and resilient supply chains.”

Recollecting how India had helped the US 2020 and how the US provided “exceptional” help when India was battling the second wave of the pandemic, Blinken said, “We are determined to end this pandemic, and India and the US will work together to do it, including through the Quad vaccine partnership, which will bring safe and effective vaccines to others across the region. India and the US together will be leaders in bringing this pandemic to an end and setting up a stronger global health security system..”

The US has already extended Covid-19 related assistance of $200 million. Blinken announced additional assistance of $25 million. Total assistance from the US including from private sources and Indian Americans has crossed over $500 million.

Both Blinken and Jaishankar reiterated that the peace process in Afghanistan must ensure her sovereignty; it has to be Afghanistan led and Afghanistan owned government leading to the establishment of a democracy representing all ethnic groups, and the sovereign establishment will uphold human rights including the rights of women and will not allow the return of terrorist groups who carry out attacks inside Afghanistan and against its neighbors.

Blinken stressed that there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan, and both, the Government and the Taliban must come to table and strive to set up an inclusive and fully representative administration.

Blinken dampened the Taliban’s triumphal bravado by asserting that, “Afghanistan would be ‘pariah state’ if Taliban took control by force.” He also dismissed suggestions that with the exit of its soldiers, the US will wash its hands off Kabul. “Even as we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan,” he said, “We remain engaged in Afghanistan. We don’t only have a strong embassy there but we also have important programs that support the country economically through development and security assistance.”

Airstrikes by planes and unmanned drones from outside Afghanistan during the last week signal that the US intends to bolster the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and allow the Ghani government not to be run over by the Taliban, at least for now.

Blinken applauded India’s role in Afghanistan, and said, “India and US share a strong interest in peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan. As a credible partner in the region, India has and will continue to make a vital contribution to Afghanistan’s stability and development.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran don’t share this perception. Russia has held the meeting of the TROIKA (Russia, China, and Pakistan) and a large Taliban delegation was received in China. While the US exits from Afghanistan, Imran Khan has the gall to pronounce that the US “messed it up in Afghanistan”.

Blinken clarified that Quad wasn’t a military alliance and its objective “was to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, stability in the region.”

Jaishankar’s said, “China needs to get over the idea that others are doing something to target them.” China does indeed believe that Indo-Pacific and QUAD are essentially anti-China fronts. Russia supports China’s assessment here too.

Like Biden, Blinken sees US relations with China as marked by competition, rivalry, and cooperation; Climate Change can’t be addressed without China’s close cooperation.

Nevertheless, India sees China differently, given the long-pending border dispute, bloody clashes in Galwan valley last year, the impasse on the LAC, and the adverse trade balance.

America acknowledges Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the table and its continuing relevance for containing them and for peace and stability in Afghanistan. But we have misgivings about Pakistan’s role in a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul and also apprehend a spike in terrorist attacks against India.

Blinken thanked Jaishankar on Twitter for “collaborative discussion on many areas of cooperation, including efforts to support peace and stability in Afghanistan. India is one of our most valued partners, and the US welcomes India’s emergence as a leading global player.”

Blinken’s dialogue with Ajit Doval is believed to have covered Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific, bilateral defense and security, and economic technology. He also exchanged views on contemporary and futuristic issues related to regional and global security.

As anticipated, Blinken held a round table meeting with the representatives of the civil societies. His stress on democratic values, freedoms including freedoms of religion and expression, rule of law, human rights, and the role of civil societies, were couched in a polite, non-accusatory tone; he mentioned that both the US and India, the largest democracies, weren’t perfect and that they were work in progress. Expectedly, Jaishankar countered Blinken by saying that those who expect certain standards from others must first achieve those standards themselves.

In March 2018, the Indian government had advised the Tibetan Bureau to shift the function commemorating 60 years of Dalai Lama’s exile to Dharamshala. Following Galwan Valley clashes, there seems a shift; we are signaling to China that we can play the Tibetan card. On 6th June, PM Modi telephoned Dalai Lama to wish him on his birth anniversary; China wasn’t amused.

And China wasn’t pleased that Blinken’s meeting with the civil society was also attended by the Director of the Tibetan Bureau in Delhi, Geshe Dorji Damdul. Blinken also separately met a Rep of the Dali Lama, Ngodup Dongchung, reflecting Biden’s support for the Tibetan cause.

The US has openly said that Dalai Lama’s successor should be selected by the Tibetan people.Blinken’s emphasis on the shared value of democracy provoked a sharp reaction from China. “One man and one vote and a multi-party system is not the sole form of democracy…it shouldn’t be used to smear other countries and stoke confrontation,” said the Chinese spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

Evidently, though physically absent, shadows of China loomed large on Blinken’s talks in Delhi.

The writer, a former Ambassador, writes on political and strategic affairs. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

BORDER DISPUTES BETWEEN STATES CANNOT BE LEFT UNRESOLVED

Pankaj Vohra

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The dispute between Assam and Mizoram needs immediate attention and the Centre must step in to ensure that the mini-civil war does not escalate any further. It is indeed most unfortunate that the police forces of the two states were involved in an armed confrontation that left several people dead.

The Mizoram authorities have registered an FIR against the Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma and an early resolution to this sensitive issue does not seem to be in sight. The genesis of this confrontation may lie in the colonial past of our country but it does not mean that differences cannot be ironed out amongst disputing parties. The Centre has to play a pro-active role in bringing the two sides together even though the meetings between the DGPs and the Chief Secretaries of the two states, have not made any headway. It is shocking that two States of India are involved in this kind of violent altercation. One could have understood if these clashes pertained to Indian forces on one hand and the soldiers of other countries on the other on our international borders. This inter-state squabble is unacceptable from all counts and demonstrates that the intelligence agencies were unable to anticipate this build-up and take remedial measures much before this armed confrontation took place. There have been disputes in the past between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh and sharing of waters but despite being emotive issues, the matter did not end up in a physical fight. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have often quarreled over the quantum of their share over the waters of the Cauvery river and Maharashtra has had a different viewpoint regarding the areas that fall within Karnataka and touch its borders. Andhra and Telangana have a different perceptions regarding some territories but never have any of these states resorted to the use of arms. The elected governments of the two states—Assam and Mizoram—need to behave more responsibly instead of making a public spectacle of their inability to sort out things amongst themselves. Indeed, regional pride often thwarts any attempt to drive sense in the heads of disputing parties but violence has no place in our country. There have been instances where Chauvinistic feelings were aroused in the past over re-organisation of states. When Punjab was sought to be divided in the mid-1960s into lingual lines, the members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh listed their mother language as Hindi instead of Punjabi in multiple instances. The result was that when Haryana and Himachal were carved out of Punjab in 1966, several Punjabi-speaking areas found themselves to be parts of Himachal and Haryana instead of Punjab. This anomaly exists till today but all the three states progressed on their own steam and the misrepresentation of language at one stage, is a forgotten matter. The creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat from the Bombay State also led to bitterness and led to the birth of Shiv Sena in the early 1960s. Over time, a lot of things have come and gone. Similarly, Mizoram and Assam need to come to a solution acceptable to both sides as early as possible in the national interest. 

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Opinion

India must revisit Tibet policy to stop Beijing bullying

Xi Jinping visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. His objective was to ‘implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau’.

Claude Arpi

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The last few weeks have been eventful as far as Tibet is concerned.

From June 21 to 23, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. When the Chinese president landed in Nyingchi City (previously called Prefecture), near the Indian border of Arunachal Pradesh, it immediately rang bells in the security establishment in India.

The China Daily reported about his stage-managed arrival: “He [Xi] was warmly welcomed by local people and officials of various ethnic groups.” Xi inspected the ecological preservation in the basin of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and its tributary, the Nyang River.

For India, this was an important part of the visit because first, the Chinese President was accompanied by Gen Zhang Youxia, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (chaired by Xi), and second, due to the proximity of ‘Bayi’ (which means ‘8-1 or August 1’, a term reserved to the People’s Liberation Army which was founded on August 1). Bayi is the Headquarter of the forces facing India in Arunachal Pradesh. Though no details have filtered, Xi was probably briefed about the situation on the border (a meeting with the PLA top brass of the Western Theater Command and the Tibet Military District was later organized in Lhasa).

The visit has to be seen in the context of the CPC’s 100th anniversary and the 70 anniversary of the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion’). The People’s Daily resumed the objectives of the visit: “to implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau.” This refers to the 7th Work Forum held in August 2020 which defined the development policies for Tibet for the five next years, particularly the sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Chinese President’s tour was hardly over, that another development took place in Delhi: on July 28 morning, US Secretary of State Blinken ‘briefly’ met the Dalai Lama’s representative Ngodup Dongchung during the former’s maiden trip to the Indian Capital.

Later photos of a meeting with members of the Indian ‘civil society’, attended by Geshe Dorjee Damdul, Director of Tibet House, the Dalai Lama’s cultural centre in Delhi were released. Confusion was created between the two meetings, because Dongchung was called ‘a’ representative of the Dalai Lama, while he is the ‘The’ Representative in Delhi. The US embassy should have certainly given the full name of the Representative, to avoid such ambiguity.

A couple of days earlier Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State had met State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China.

A State Department communiqué said: “The Deputy Secretary and State Councilor Wang had a frank and open discussion about a range of issues… [She] raised our concerns about human rights, including Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; abuses in Tibet; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press.”

All this is fine and welcome, but one question remains: has India a Tibet Policy?

It is India that has long and tense border with Tibet from Demchok in Ladakh to Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh; is it not high time for Delhi to have its own ‘Tibet’ Policy and start immediately engaging Dharamsala?

At first, Indian officials should meet the newly elected Sikyiong Penpa Tsering; it has not helped India to keep the relations with Dharamsala at a low key (or non-existent). Both India and the Tibetans need to seriously discuss several issues, whether of common interests or problems facing the Tibetan refugees in India.

The election of a new Sikyong Penpa Tsering as the head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is an ideal time to sit together.

Contentious issues, if any, should also be brought to the table (for example, why, nearly three months after the result of the elections, half the recently elected members of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies have still not yet taken the oath? Is there a Chinese angle behind this?). This should be frankly discussed (and not necessarily made public).

Several areas of Indian interests need to be discussed.

First, the recruitment of Tibetans in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Militia; it has been reported in the Indian media that China wanted to match India by raising a Special Force composed of Tibetans. It is doubtful if this can succeed as Beijing’s trust in the Tibetans remains extremely low, even 70 years after the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion), but Delhi should ascertain Dharamsala’s views; and the CTA should eventually issue a statement stating its views.

Exchanges should also take place about some aspects of the Tibet-Indian border, whether in the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh), Central Sector (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) or the eastern part of the Western Sector (Demchok area); what is Dharamsala’s historical take on these issues?

This is particularly important at a time when it has been reported that the Chinese have erected tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala near Demchok in Ladakh. The Tibetans are certainly aware of their traditional border with India and can hopefully openly state their position.

Another area of interest (not to say worry) for India, is the demographic change on the Indian frontiers. Since 2017, the mushrooming of ‘model’ villages in Tibet, at the proximity of the Indian border, is disturbing; hundreds of ‘xiaogang’ (‘moderately well-off’) villages have come up in the last four years with a mixed population of Tibetans and Hans.

Further, the authorities in Tibet have started to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party. A new formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps, the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.” Officially, this development is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.

There are other areas of common interests, for example how to communicate with the Tibetans inside Tibet? Once the Ladakh episode is over, Delhi should facilitate cultural contacts between Tibetans in India with those in Tibet and why not invite the latter for religious or cultural happenings in India.

Environmental issues are also of concern for India, particularly the mega hydropower plants to be developed by China on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra; what are Dharamsala’s views on this?

From India’s side, assurance should be given that Delhi will stand by the Dalai Lama’s choice for his succession.

Finally, a mechanism should be set-up for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilization cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist, and China expert. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

A mechanism should be put in place for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilisation cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

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Opinion

MOHAMMAD RAFI LIVES ON AND REMAINS THE VOICE OF INDIA

Pankaj Vohra

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There has perhaps been no singer anywhere in the world whose songs, even 41 years after his passing away, continue to feature prominently in all radio shows of that particular country. Mohammad Rafi breathed his last on July 31, 1980, and his immortal renderings dominate virtually every station presenting Hindi melodies. In a way, he continues to be the voice of India, having done playback singing for almost every top hero of his time. His versatility was such that he could bring to life any song, happy or sad, romantic or patriotic that he was asked to sing. In other words, the reason for his immense popularity was the range of music that he could easily adjust to. Along with Lata Mangeshkar, he symbolised the best in Hindi film music in particular.

Rafi was generally the first choice of every leading composer purely because he could put his soul into any kind of composition he was asked to sing. Having made his debut in a Punjabi film in the early 1940s, this gifted crooner graduated into the top league after Kundan Lal Saigal’s era ended. Incidentally, Saigal had identified Rafi as a singer with immense talent, when he heard him for the first time in Lahore, and predicted a great future for him. After Saigal’s death, there was a void in the music world. Music lovers had heard off Rafi but he came on to the centre-stage after he sang the tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, “Suno Suno ae duniya walo, Bapu ki yeh amar kahani”, shortly after the Father of the Nation was assassinated. Rafi’s next two most popular numbers were, “Yeh zindagi ke mele” under Naushad’s baton and “Mein zindagi mein hardam rota hi raha hoon”, composed by Shankar Jaikishen in their debut making film, Barsaat. At that point of time, both Talat Mehmood and Mukesh were also very popular, with the former occupying the number one slot. It so happened that Talat decided to go for Haj pilgrimage which used to take three months at that time. In his absence, Rafi became the preferred singer of virtually all composers and also became the voice of Dilip Kumar. Thus, he was the number one male singer.

Dev Anand had once told me that so far as rendering of ghazals was concerned, no one could match Rafi but for romantic songs, Kishore Kumar was also his favourite. Not many are aware that Rafi also did playback singing for Kishore Kumar for at least four songs, and amongst them were “Ajab Hai Dastaan teri hai zindagi’’ composed by Shankar Jaikishen and “Man Mora Bawara’’, by O.P. Nayyar. In the early sixties, a feud over royalty broke out between Rafi and Lata. Both of them stopped singing together and the consequence was that for many duets, music directors roped in Suman Kalyanpur and Mubarak Begum in place of Lata since Rafi was indispensable and was the voice of all top heroes.

Over the years, many young singers have tried to emulate his style and voice but none has succeeded. He is perhaps also the only singer whose clones cannot come up to his exacting standards when the pitch gets higher. Rafi shall be always remembered as a versatile and gifted singer who was also a great human being. He died too young but his voice lives on forever. 

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Opinion

Covid pandemic and the failed Kerala model

Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%.

Sanju Verma

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Has the Kerala model failed? The answer is a vehement yes, with no ifs or buts whatsoever. Kerala has been reporting more than half of the country’s total Covid-19 cases for the past few days, kicking up a heated exchange between the state’s ruling CPI(M) and other stakeholders. While health experts and policymakers in the state, including former Finance Minister of Kerala, Thomas Isaac, cited the state’s low seroprevalence of 44.4%, to mask the failures arising from spike in daily cases, Isaac and the Leftist lobby cannot mask the hard truth. And the hard truth is this—Kerala, with a population of less than 3.5 crore, not only accounts for over 51% of India’s fresh cases, but also has a positivity rate of over 13.52%, compared to the national average of just 2.4%. Again, compared to India’s active caseload of merely 1.2%, Kerala’s active caseload is abnormally high at 1.50 lakh cases, with Kerala now accounting for 38% of the country’s overall active cases. In the last three days alone, Kerala has reported 66,000 new cases, with bulk of those cases coming from Muslim-dominated areas like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad. Needless to add, there is a clear and direct correlation between the Bakrid celebrations, which were held by flouting social distancing norms with impunity, and the sharp rise in Covid cases in Kerala.

Uttar Pradesh, more than seven times bigger than Kerala, with a population of 24 crore, in sharp contrast, has a positivity rate of just 0.02% and has done an outstanding job in reining in Covid, with the average daily new cases at barely 42. The uncalled for and “unscientific” relaxations during Bakrid, by the Leftist, Pinarayi Vijayan government, in a clear bid to appease Muslims, for political gains, has been the single biggest reason for the huge surge in coronavirus cases in Kerala. Leftist lobby in denial has been claiming that the rise in cases in Kerala is only because it is testing more, which is again a lie. In the first week of June this year, Kerala was testing 1.1 lakh people on an average, but that number now has fallen by 13.5%, to below 96,000 people. In the last eight weeks, despite a minuscule population, Kerala has been reporting between 150 to 227 deaths, on a daily basis, much higher than Uttar Pradesh. Again, in UP, out of 75 districts, 37 have been reporting no fresh cases and another 37 districts are reporting cases only in single digits. Only one district is reporting cases in double digits in UP.

In Kerala, at least 10 districts have a positivity rate in excess of 10%, with some reporting a positivity rate of as high as 14.8%! Kerala on an average has been reporting anywhere between 17,743 and 22,456 fresh Covid cases, on a daily basis, with the 15-day moving average in excess of 30,000. The number of daily cases in Kerala was 43,000 on an average in mid-May 2021 and then it declined. However, from mid-June, cases started rising again in Kerala and despite this, the Pinarayi Vijayan government eased lockdown restrictions during Bakrid, in July 2021, in a classic display of criminal apathy and appeasement-based politics. With cases continuing to soar in Kerala, especially the Delta-variant, the neighbouring states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are also now at risk of an onslaught of another wave of the pandemic, thanks only to the incompetence and criminal negligence of a failed “Kerala Model”, practised by the utterly incompetent and insensitive Left government that is ruling Kerala currently.

The “Hathras Lobby”, which was vocal in its protest against the Kumbh Mela celebrations in Uttarakhand in April 2021, fell completely silent when it came to the Eid-Ul-Fitr celebrations in May 2021, which were celebrated by flouting every Covid protocol in the rulebook. While most of the “shahi snans” were cancelled by the Uttarakhand government and the Kumbh Mela was truncated amidst huge outcry by the Leftist lobby, the deafening silence of the “Left-liberals”, who chose to not condemn, either the Eid Ul Fitr celebrations in Hyderabad in May this year, or the Bakrid festivities in Kerala in July this year, has raised many questions. Is Kumbh Covid-unfriendly but Eid-Ul-Fitr Covid-friendly? Is Kanwar Yatra Covid unfriendly, but Bakrid Covid friendly? Are large namaaz gatherings every Friday outside the Mahim Dargah in Mumbai Covid friendly, but Holi celebrations that were cancelled Covid unfriendly? Why did the “Khan Market Gang” choose to clap, abet and encourage the thousands who gathered at the Charminar in Hyderabad during the Eid-Ul-Fitr festivities in May this year, rather than reprimanding them?

The “Lutyens Lashkar” lobby that condemned the Kanwar Yatra even before it began, has been left completely exposed. The Kanwars or devout Shiv bhakts, who wait for an entire year, for the Kanwar yatra, which is the only source of livelihood for scores of people, cooperated and collaborated with the UP and Uttarakhand governments, in a remarkable display of “life over livelihood”, by calling off the yatra. In sharp contrast, with every caution thrown to the wind, Muslim-dominated districts of Kerala like Malappuram, Kozhikode and Palakkad saw a massive surge in Covid cases, immediately after the Bakrid celebrations, with Muslim-centric Malappuram seeing a massive 93% rise in infections. Some of the worst affected districts in Kerala are Malappuram (3,931 daily average cases), Thrissur (3,005), Kozhikode (2,400), Ernakulam (2,397), Palakkad (1,649), Kollam (1,462), Alappuzha (1,461), Kannur (1,179), Thiruvananthapuram (1,101) and Kottayam (1,067).

Attempts to deflect attention from the criminal apathy and gross mismanagement of the Covid pandemic in Kerala by the Left government there, is akin to adding salt to the injury of Kerala’s hapless citizens. The fifteen-day moving average of fresh cases in Kerala is over 30,000 cases, in contrast to a tiny number in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Over 45.60 crore vaccine doses have been administered cumulatively so far by the Modi government under the world’s fastest and biggest vaccination drive. More than 41 lakh vaccine doses have been administered in the last 24 hours. Testing capacity has been substantially ramped up, with 46.46 crore tests totally conducted, till date, nationally. India has vaccinated with the first dose, a population equal to roughly 92 New Zealands put together, and this has been made possible only due to the visionary prowess and foresight of Prime Minister Modi, besides of course our medical fraternity that has been toiling day and night. India’s low fatality rate at 1.1% and high recovery rate at 97.4%,are commendable indeed.

More than 47.48 crore vaccine doses have been provided to states/UTs. Further, 53.05 lakh doses are in the pipeline. More than 2.88 crore balance and unutilised doses are still available with states/UTs and private hospitals. Hence flimsy and baseless allegations by the Left dispensation of Pinarayi Vijayan that enough vaccines were not being supplied by the Centre, leading to a slowing down of the vaccination process in Kerala and thereby a rise in fresh cases, are just a bunch of vicious lies. Kerala, the “Hathras Lobby” claims, is recording the sharpest rise in cases in the country, fuelled by the Delta variant, only because it has a seroprevalence of merely 44%, thereby implying that 56% lacked antibodies and consequently remained vulnerable to the infection. However, this reasoning is weak. For instance, Assam with a low seroprevalence rate of 50.3% is doing a pretty good job and a far better job than Kerala. Also, the antibody levels reported state-wise as part of the ICMR survey do not distinguish between those in response to a natural infection or through vaccination.

Clearly, God’s own country has become the epicentre of India’s fresh Covid surge. In sharp contrast, with fresh daily cases at merely 42, positivity rate of 2.6%, total active cases at just 729 and a recovery rate of 98.6%, Uttar Pradesh has done a phenomenal job in reining in Covid. Undoubtedly, the command-and-control model adopted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi, which is now being replicated elsewhere in UP, has been a resounding success and is a textbook case of how to manage a global pandemic.

Since the onslaught of Covid-19 pandemic in the country last year, Kerala has remained one of the two biggest epicentres of Covid-19 infections in the country, along with Maharashtra. Maharashtra has, at any given point, accounted for over 30% of the total Covid fatalities in India and is yet another classic example of how a Congress-centric alliance wreaked havoc with the so-called “Mumbai Model” falling apart; Maharashtra reported over 1.32 lakh Covid deaths thus far. Despite raging infections in Kerala and the state government’s inability to manage the pandemic, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government gave in to the pressures of the Muslim community and lifted lockdown restrictions for three days to celebrate Bakrid from July 18 to July 21. Interestingly, the Supreme Court, which had ruled against conducting Hindu religious events such as Kanwar Yatra in Uttar Pradesh, stepped in pretty late when it came to issuing similar directions to the Kerala government and by the time the apex court stepped in, enough damage had been done, with things in Kerala spiralling out of control.

Apart from the excellent job done by UP, which has reined in fatalities, Kerala has seen over 16,585 Covid-related deaths despite a far smaller population. Another state which has shown tremendous maturity and alacrity in dealing with the pandemic is Uttarakhand, where the active caseload is only 672 cases and the recovery rate is pretty high at 95.89%. Unfortunately, recovery rate in Kerala is below that of the national average and also below that of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, clearly showcasing how the vacuous “Kerala Model” has crumbled in the face of a man-made crisis—a crisis made by the incompetent Left government in Kerala, led by the equally inept Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Congress scion Rahul Gandhi, who is the MP from Wayanad, is also culpable. Apart from taking potshots on Twitter at the Modi government, Rahul has done precious little during the pandemic for either Wayanad or the people of Kerala.

Around 2,000 seers of the Joona, Agni, Avahan, Kinnar, Udasin, Bada and Naya Udasin, Nirmal and Niranjani akhadas and three Bairagi akhadas kept the ‹shahi snan’ on April 27, 2021, only symbolic on Chaitra Purnima, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the seers on April 17, 2021, to refrain from a physical “shahi snan”. “The people of India and their survival is our first priority. In view of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we have duly immersed all the deities invoked on the occasion of Kumbh. This is the formal immersion-conclusion of Kumbh on behalf of Joona Akhara,” Swami Avadheshanand Giri, the ‘mahamandaleshwar’ of the Joona Akhara, said in a tweet in Hindi on the decision to cancel the last “shahi snan”.

From “vaccine hesitancy” propagated by the likes of Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’ Bhupesh Baghel, to “vaccine wastage” encouraged by the utterly inept Congress led Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan, to “vaccine profiteering” by the Congress-led Amarinder Singh regime in Punjab, to the failed “Kerala Model”, thanks to the criminal apathy of the Left government in Kerala, the Covid pandemic has been a revelation. And the biggest revelation is this—if India is progressing rapidly towards vaccinating its entire adult population of 94 crore (940 million) people, it is only due to the tireless efforts of the Modi government, which has repeatedly displayed tremendous courage of conviction in ensuring that the world’s largest vaccination drive proceeds seamlessly and steadfastly.

Sanju Verma is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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