While it’s neither easy nor advisable to second guess Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it would be interesting to pen down some of the key points that he could be raising during his Independence Day address to the nation on 15 August this year. Interesting because the build-up seems to have begun.
For starters he will of course have to make some reference to the Covid pandemic and India’s reaction to it. This, strangely enough, is a topic he has not been very forthcoming about. During the initial stages of the lockdown we did get a couple of his televised addresses but these soon petered out (about six in all). There has been criticism that we locked down too soon, that the government was caught off-guard by the migrants’ exodus, that our bailout packages were neither adequate nor correctly tailored to address the crisis at hand. Will the PM take these criticisms head on, or will he brush these off as “Opposition propaganda”?
Will he use the fact that he implemented the world’s largest lockdown as a stand-alone achievement and let everything else pass off as collateral damage? After all, “Largest” and “Biggest” are words that fit neatly into the 56-inch chest-beating narrative. And to be fair, during the initial stages of the lockdown there were those (business leaders included) who praised him for having the nerve to shut down a country so huge, commenting that no other leader in India had the political capital to pull this one off. Certainly PM Modi had the political capital, but has he squandered a chunk of it in the implementation? Pragmatism says yes but politics says no, especially when the Opposition hasn’t done much to commend itself in the meantime.
And, yes of course, the much publicised Ram temple bhoomi pujan will be marked as an achievement. The event provides just the right setting for the “Hindu Hriday Samraat” in the backdrop of the coming Bihar and UP elections. The date of the bhoomi pujan clashes with the first anniversary of the revocation of Articles 370 & 35A in the Valley; both are a subtext of the same narrative. One Nation, One Constitution was a key mention of his speech last year.
However, one arena that will be of particular interest would be foreign policy. Lockdown began soon after US President Donald Trump’s visit to India. Foreign policy experts are since divided about the success of the visit especially since it didn’t yield any tangible benefits for India. This is election year in the US, so will the PM harp about his (now not-so) special relationship with Trump, or will he bide his time and see which way the geopolitical wind blows. But a bigger concern than Trump is our immediate neighbourhood, primarily the standoff with China. Again we haven’t heard the PM go as high voltage on this as he does about Pakistan. Will he shift the focus to Pakistan again, or will he hear his thoughts on China’s betrayal? Our equation with Nepal too is at an alltime low and that is worrying because while it’s a smaller country than both China and Pakistan, it is a part of our HUF, the larger Hindu Undivided Family.
Lastly, being Modi, he is known to take a grand event and use the platform to focus on something very basic. Such as the Swachh Bharat Mission and Jan Dhan Yojana (2014), to the Jan Arogya Abhiyan, national healthcare scheme to impact 50 crore Indians in 2018, to the Jan Jeevan Mission focusing on making drinking water available to all households (2019 speech). To be sure he’d have another scheme tagged and identified for 2020. He has already announced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana to give 80 crore people free food grains till November. Given that the economy is still to pick up, I think we can safely expect more outreaches on these lines.
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IMRAN IS JUST A SYMPTOM, REAL PROBLEM IS THE IDEA OF PAKISTAN
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is a perfect manifestation of what’s wrong with his country today. A leader who was in his youth known as much for his cricketing exploits on field as for off-the-field glamorous lifestyle, is today the brand ambassador of the Taliban. Last year, he infamously called Al Qaeda terrorist Osama bin Laden a “martyr”, a statement which his Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi preferred to duck in a recent interview to an Afghan TV channel, saying the PM was quoted “well, uh, again, out of context”. When the journalist persisted with the question: “Is he (Osama bin Laden) a martyr? You disagree (with Imran Khan)? On Osama bin Laden?” Qureshi said, “I will let that pass.” How can a minister go against his own master?
If in 2020 he called Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11 terror attacks in the US in 2001, a ‘martyr’ while addressing the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, this year, he blamed women for the rising sexual violence in Pakistan. In an interview, which aired on 20 June, the Pakistan PM said, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the man unless they are robots. It’s common sense.” Blaming “fahashi” (vulgarity) for the rise of rape and sexual violence in the country, he invoked the importance of religion and the concept of ‘purdah’ in Islam. It is to remove “temptation” from society because “not everyone has willpower”, he emphasised.
Interestingly, and of course ironically, the same Imran Khan, according to his biographer Christopher Sandford, was in his youth known for his popularity among women and his frequenting of night clubs. Sandford writes in his book, Imran Khan: The Cricketer, The Celebrity, The Politician, that Imran Khan visited all the famous nightclubs in the UK and Australia, and would love to meet and court women. He would not drink alcohol, but wouldn’t have a problem with others doing the same.
Unfortunately, for Pakistan, this has been its tragedy all through its brief history as a nation-state. It got leaders who were overtly non-religious but never dithered in using the worst form fundamentalism for benefits, personal or otherwise. Just look at Mohammed Ali Jinnah: He used to drink alcohol, eat pork, smoke 50 cigarettes a day, and dress like an English gentleman. Yet, it was he who created Pakistan in the name of Islam! In the early 1970s, it was a socialist in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who introduced radical Islam in the country—a trend which gained momentum under Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Then there was Benazir Bhutto, one of the most ‘liberal’ Prime Ministers in the history of Pakistan, who presided over the Taliban’s rise in Afghanistan. Gen Pervez Musharraf “did not blanch at whiskey, danced when the mood was upon him”, as Steve Coll describes him in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Ghost Wars, and yet he believed firmly in the necessity of the Taliban.
So, what does this phenomenon tell India and Indians, who would historically go weak-kneed whenever a “democratically elected” government comes to power in Pakistan—till the Modi government decided to give it up after the Uri and Pathankot attacks? We would be told by our peaceniks and so-called experts to reach out to the newly elected rulers of Pakistan, to make a grand concessionary gesture to help strengthen their hold in the fledgling democratic setup. This explains some of our excessively indulgent moves—from the one-sided concessions being granted by Mrs Indira Gandhi to Zulfikar Bhutto, to Atal Bihari Vajpayee making an earnest but naïve peace overtures to Islamabad via the Lahore bus diplomacy, which ironically ended up at the treacherous Kargil heights at the loss of hundreds of young soldiers.
As the transformation of Imran Khan from a suave, charismatic playboy to a hardened Islamist—and also other Pakistan leaders in the past from Jinnah to Nawaz Sharif—suggests, secularism and liberal values are sacrificed first at the altar of power in Islamabad. Anyone ruling that country will have to seek legitimacy from Islam and Islamists, especially those who are seen as suspects. And this, unfortunately, may be the reason why there may not be any redemption for democracy in our immediate western neighbourhood in the near future at least. And so is the case with good neighbourly relations with India.
In fact, India must be prepared for a perpetual state of warfare, overt or covert, with Pakistan, for its very raison d’etre is based on anti-India sentiments. It sees its existence as a state constantly in fight with India. Pakistan sees itself as an antithesis to the very idea of India, which invariably threatens the ‘3Ms’ that define Pakistan—Mullah, Military and Militant. Imran Khan is just a symptom. The real problem is the idea of Pakistan.
TIME TO MAKE CHINA PAY FOR WUHAN VIRUS
Beijing has paid in terms of its reputation. Now it will pay with money.
The world is a funny place. In May 2021, that pucca British-accent fellow who masquerades as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister claims that his country’s priorities have changed. In June 2021, Virus Pong, realising how isolated his country is, asked his officials to create a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” image for China! Wolf warriors, please go back to your lairs, your aggression has backfired.
“Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” lamented Lady Macbeth, possessed by the guilt of regicide.
After converting our planet into a gas chamber, Virus Xi tries to morally reinvent himself as a great humanitarian, out to save humankind through his fake vaccine. Ask the Tibetans and Uighurs and Kazakhs and Manchurians if his concept of innate Han superiority has been abandoned. I wonder if Hitler ever knelt beside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination centres to seek forgiveness from his Jewish victims, and loudly lamented German eugenics. China plays the victim and aggressor card at the same time.
Following the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China, the Qing dynasty was forced to sign the humiliating Boxer Protocol, which imposed backbreaking compensation obligations. Remembering that, and lamenting its humiliation every year, China decides to become aggressive.
Its global image takes a severe beating. China’s coming-out party with the impressive 2008 Beijing Olympics won universal admiration. But the world’s suspicion intensified when China boasted about the superiority of its system versus liberal democracy. The global focus on the 2013 ill-fated trillion-dollar Bilk and Rob Initiative has mutated like the virus from appreciation to angst.
The anti-China ire is even more vehement, now that there is credible evidence that the virus is a Chinese pathogen-based bioweapon that the Chinese military wanted to win a war without fighting it by crippling the adversary’s medical system. Even the god of viruses, Dr Anthony Fauci, is no longer sure that it is a natural phenomenon.
Atom bombs are a passe; they have been around since 1945 and many countries have them. A nuclear bomb has to be physically delivered and the delivery vehicle can be traced. A bioweapon is totally anonymous and gives its user total deniability, not just plausible deniability.
As its mask slips, China flails about desperately, following its template of economic blandishments, abuse and subterfuge. It claims that the deadly virus originated in America, in Italy, in France, in India, in Africa, on the moon, anywhere but in Wuhan. Even their media first called it the Wuhan virus, and then, on orders, blamed the United States’ military, but China’s Ambassador to the US confirmed in an interview in March 2020 that Covid-19 was not developed in a United States military laboratory.
There is no doubt among the senior Chinese leadership about the origin and lethality of the virus, so obfuscation and lies were imperative. China’s wolf warriors quickly launched a massive “infodemic” of denial and disinformation on Virus Pong’s instructions with one clear message: The truth must never get out.
China restricted internal travel but encouraged its diaspora in early 2020 to go back to their countries of residence. It ordered its Sancho Panza in the World Health Organization (WHO) to ask countries not to suspend flights to China, to create the impression that all was well. He said “Yesss Sirrrr”.
No credible epidemiologist in the world has shown evidence that the virus originated anywhere but China. A smart criminal, after committing his act, first destroys fingerprints, footprints and bloodstains.
When the US government shut the Chinese Consulate in Houston last year, a pall of smoke hung over the compound for several days as the staff burnt the copious files they kept on Chinese-Americans working in that hi-tech region.
But even the sharpest felon cannot eliminate circumstantial evidence such as chronology of events, movement, injury on the victim’s body, witnesses. Chinese officials claimed that the virus might have been discovered in China, but did not originate there, but instead of permitting research into the origins of the virus, vital to prevent the next pandemic, China tried to focus on who should be blamed.
The WHO team did not get approval for a year to visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology. When they did, the most important data was not shared with them.
Do not link political issues with economic ones, China tells India. But it does just that when Australia asks for an international inquiry into the origins of the Chinese virus and imposes economic costs on Australia.
So, in a strange symbiotic way, the global anger and Chinese vituperation overfeed on each other. In April 2020, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: China’s Communist Party will pay the price for not sharing information they had about the coronavirus pandemic and thus causing a “huge challenge” for economies.
The actual damage to the global economy now being talked about is several trillion dollars. Two Harvard professors have termed the pandemic among the greatest calamities in modern US history, the greatest threat to prosperity and wellbeing since the Great Depression of 1928. They estimate that the cost of the pandemic to America will be at least $16 trillion (more than the amount spent on all the wars—in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria since 9/11) provided the pandemic ends by 2021, which is optimistic.
The long-term effects of the Chinese virus, even on mildly-infected people infection, is far worse than was originally anticipated, according to researchers and doctors in northern Italy, and confirmed by American and Indian doctors. Since the virus attacks every human organ, psychosis, cardiovascular trauma, insomnia, renal and hepatic disease, spinal and biliary infections, strokes, chronic tiredness, and mobility issues are being identified in former coronavirus patients in Lombardy, the worst-affected region in the country. A recent US study confirms that 4/5 Chinese virus patients developed encephalopathy ranging from short-term memory loss and difficulty with multitasking to confusion, stupor, and coma.
India is second only to the US in infections. The cost to India would be enormous, with its economy contracting over 7% in 2020 and likely to shrink again in 2021. Based on a regression analysis using dependent and independent variables of economic output lost, human lives destroyed, material damage costs, diversion of resources, medical costs, and recovery costs, I estimate the cost to India to be $3 trillion from 2020-25.
Many countries went into months of lockdown in 2020 in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19, which reduced cross-border travel and accelerated job losses. Governments increased spending to cushion the economic damage, but are now left with a huge debt pile. Meanwhile, central banks around the world slashed interest rates and purchased more assets to inject more money into the financial system. The pandemic has sent the global economy into one of its worst recessions ever, and it isn’t yet clear when a full recovery will be in place.
A slow rollout of vaccines across developing economies could hamper the return of activity to pre-pandemic levels. Even among advanced economies, renewed lockdowns in Europe in a bid to stave off a resurgence will push back economic recovery. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast the global economy could shrink 4.4% in 2020, before bouncing back, but warned that the return to pre-pandemic levels will be “long, uneven, and uncertain”. Globally, government measures to cushion the pandemic’s economic blow totaled $12 trillion, the IMF said in October last
But that was before the second wave hit. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that in some countries, the early effects of Covid-19 on labor markets were “ten times larger than that observed in the first months of the 2008 global financial crisis”.
Will China pay when reputed experts estimate China’s debt to be over USD $40 trillion, three times its GDP? Much of law is based on precedent. Making the defeated party pay war compensation has a long history. It is intended to cover damage or injury inflicted. War reparations refers to money or goods changing hands, but not to the annexation of land. Rome imposed large indemnities on Carthage after the First and Second Punic Wars of the 3rd century BCE. The 1815 Treaty of Paris ended the Napoleonic wars. France was ordered to pay 700 million francs in indemnities. In proportion to its GDP, it is the most expensive war reparation ever paid by a country. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles and the 1921 London Schedule of Payments required Germany to pay 132 billion gold marks ($33 billion). The final payment was made in 2010.
After World War II, according to the July 1945 Potsdam conference, Germany was to pay the Allies $23 billion mainly in machinery and manufacturing plants, while its wartime ally Italy agreed to pay $400 million. Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Japan, Hungary too agreed to pay. Japan had to pay $600 million to several countries, among which India (and some others) declined to accept any reparations. After the Gulf War, Iraq’s financial liability for damage caused in its invasion of Kuwait was assessed at $350 billion. So, the precedent exists. So does the will.
We call the present situation “war” against the virus. Even if Xi PingPong changes course and decides to come clean, it may be too late. Realising that it is too expensive to be the sole Rambo of the world, America is repairing its relations with traditional allies and friends in Europe and Asia, and even worse from Beijing’s perspective, is pushing an international coalition to take on China. It has closed off space for China, by rejoining the WHO and the Paris climate accord. In May 2021, the top American diplomat for Asia said that the era of engagement with China was over and henceforth it would be a competition. The Quad is being strengthened by the day.
In October 2020, India, South Africa and 100 developing nations asked the WTO for temporary patent waivers for vaccines. Nine months later, in a carefully crafted statement, China said that it supported the appeal. But is this vaccine diplomacy or vaccine hypocrisy?
Why did China wait so long? China suffers from an acute identity crisis. Is it a struggling developing country, or is it the world’s reigning superpower in every which way? It also suffers from an acute superiority complex, and wants to be the leader in the vaccine stakes, but always thinks of its own commercial interests. If many countries start making virus vaccines (an unlikely scenario), who will buy the Chinese fakes?
Over 100 Bilk and Rob Initiative (BRI) countries have renegotiated their debt to China. As demands grow for China to pay for the devastation it has caused, many poor nations will scream for compensation. All of China’s soft power attempts are unravelling.
We are seeing the green shoots of an alliance of nations that will refuse to do business with China. The perfect storm has hit China: Massive food shortages; endless floods from May 2020; several million displaced; banks in huge debt; and foreign exchange at its lowest. In addition, even the PLA is disgruntled, while PingPong has lost the trust of his people.
“We’re going to be back in the game,” promises Joe Biden, and asks his intelligence fellows to quickly prepare a consolidated report on the origin of the virus. China has paid in terms of its reputation. Now it will pay with money.
Ambassador Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan, and Guinea-Bissau; and a Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil. The views expressed are personal.
MILKHA SINGH WAS AN UNDISPUTED BHARAT RATNA
Milkha Singh would go down in history as independent India’s unchallenged sporting hero, whose feats inspired millions of our countrymen, making him a living legend. Despite facing acute hardships and a troubled childhood, the ‘Flying Sikh’, as he was fondly called, attained great heights, not achieved by any sportsman during his golden era. He was an icon whose name and fame cut across generations and made him into one of the best-known Indians of all times. The closest examples of anyone from another field who have attained this kind of reputation over a period of time and sustained it, can be perhaps Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi.
A modest man with no pretensions, Milkha was a role model for the best-known woman athlete, P.T. Usha, who like him also obtained the fourth position in the Los Angeles Olympics, 24 year after the flying Sikh lost in a photo finish at Rome. On hearing about his demise, P.T. Usha paid her most sincere homage to him, describing him as her idol. In fact, Milkha’s success story is also a tribute to the Indian Army, which supported his efforts, with not too many facilities available at that time. His story was such that a few years ago, Farhan Akhtar decided to make a movie on him and played the lead character of the distinguished athlete.
Milkha Singh was, without any doubt, a Bharat Ratna and successive governments ignored him for the highest civilian honour in his lifetime, though no one from the field of sports deserved it more than him. Sachin Tendulkar has been worshipped like a God by his fans, but before conferring the Bharat Ratna on him, the UPA government should have considered Milkha Singh. Sachin has achieved innumerable records, but if a person from the field of cricket was to be chosen, both Sunil Gavaskar, arguably the best Indian batsman ever, or Kapil Dev, who led India to its first World Cup victory, should have been chosen. This is not to discount Sachin’s contributions but to underline that he would have qualified for the honour in any case at some point, but there were others who could have been also considered.
There are sportspersons who have outclassed themselves despite several limitations. In the field of hockey, Major Dhyan Chand, his brother Roop Singh and K.D. Singh Babu besides Balbir Singh of the Western Railways and former skipper Ajitpal Singh, were all exceptional sportsmen as well; the first three accomplished a lot before India became independent. P.T. Usha, Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu, Sania Mirza, P. Gopichand, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Abhinav Bindra are amongst a galaxy of sportspersons who have brought glory to our land. However, Milkha Singh was the lone ranger, whose name and fame stood out. In fact, there were so many jokes that were coined featuring him, which showed how popular he was.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has announced the setting up of a Milkha Singh Chair at the Patiala Sports Institute, something which should have been done during his lifetime. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be honouring public sentiments if he bestows the ‘Bharat Ratna’ on this Bharat Ratna. It would be the most deserving award to a person whose determination and hard work made him a part of the legion of superheroes. May his soul rest in peace.
Why universities are not ready for online degree programmes
As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes.
Higher education all over the world is undergoing an enormous amount of transformation in all its multi-dimensional aspects. This includes engagement with new emerging frontiers of knowledge, developing its interdisciplinary perspectives, research and innovation covering both fundamental and applied aspects across different subjects, impact of technology on the process of teaching and learning, to name a few. Besides, the cost of higher education has also been increasing in leaps and bounds resulting in the emergence of low-cost models to make it accessible to a greater number of people. It is a fact that almost all the developing economies are considerably impacted by consideration of cost, massification, equity and quality of higher education. The Indian higher education cannot be an exception to this global development. It is obligated to take appropriate measures to provide access to quality higher education to a large number of aspirants using conventional as well as other possible technology mediated modes of teaching and learning.
Indian higher education system thus far has largely been based on Face-to-Face and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) systems of delivery. While the former accounts for about 88% of the total enrolment, the latter accounts for the remaining 12%. The ODL system, which is in vogue since the sixties, is currently in use in as many as 91 universities which includes one Central university, 13 State Open Universities, and 77 state universities. Although the system of higher education has progressed considerably since independence, it is still at the threshold of the initial phase of “massification” with only 26.7% of the Gross Enrolment Ratio, which is several notches lower than the world average of 34.45%. So, there was a long felt need to look up for alternative models of delivery, something deeper and if not altogether new, then relatively so. It has gradually led to the idea of exploring the potential of online mode of delivery in higher education as it is believed to serve the dual purpose of being used for offering regular degree programmes and for short-term professional development programmes.
The idea of online mode of delivery in Indian university system was mooted by the UGC in 2016. It was based on the premise that to begin with, universities could offer up to 20% of the course contents through online mode, outside the conventional mode, using technology-driven teaching and learning with credit accumulation and credit transfer. It was considered that this measured transition would provide good opportunity to the universities to have sufficient experience in developing multimedia enriched e-courseware in four quadrant format and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), video lectures and modules besides developing and organising necessary infrastructure that would be the basic requirements to run online programmes. And, if this transition yielded good results only then some select universities could be given concurrence to offer full-fledged online degree programmes.
But because of the emerging demand of the university system, the UGC has brought out an integrated Regulations to enable universities to offer full-fledged online under-graduate and post-graduate programmes in 2020. Any university, which is accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 3.26 and above on a 4-point scale, or having NIRF ranking in top 100 in two of the three preceding years in the university category, can offer three under-graduate and ten post-graduate online programmes without the prior approval of the UGC, in those disciplines which it offers in the conventional mode. In addition, there is yet another category wherein the university will have to take the prior approval of the UGC if its NAAC’s score falls between 3.21 and 3.26 or if its NIRF ranking in top 100 is only in one of the two preceding cycles. The Regulations, however, prohibit online delivery of such programmes which require practical or laboratory work as a curricular requirement, except in cases where practical component is limited to programming and coding including software tools. There are also certain other stipulations like faculty requirement, development of in-house instructional materials, active engagement of learners, conduct of proctored examinations, etc, which are to be complied with by each university planning to offer programmes in online mode.
There can be no two opinions that online learning now is extending its scope and reach with implications for making it a lifelong endeavour. Possibilities of developing and offering online, blended or hybrid models of learning are becoming a reality across the globe with choice of space and time and accumulating credits for acquiring a formal degree of the university. But there are serious issues of quality, like availability of tech-savvy teachers, quality of instructional materials, requisite infrastructure, broadband connectivity, and accessibility of middle and lower middle-class students to smart devices and internet connectivity. Since these online programmes are going to be from amongst non-science subjects and at a lesser cost, a larger number of students opting for them might come from poorer backgrounds with different kinds of post-enrolment requirements. These are extremely concerning issues that have no easy fixes and thus require thoughtful examination.
It may be pertinent to mention here that there are a number of leading universities of the world which have not yet considered it fit to offer online degree programmes because of quality considerations. Although these universities have developed a wide range of online courses in the form of e-courseware, MOOCs, video lectures and modules, they make them available to those who want to broaden their knowledge on a particular topic, free of cost, without seeking any formal degree. Accordingly, joining such courses does not require any formal academic qualifications as a prerequisite. There are other sets of leading universities that are offering online courses only to complement their campus-based degree programmes and not for the award of full-fledged degrees.
The best course of action would have been to give careful attention to details besides drawing lessons out of the experiences of those leading foreign universities which are offering online courses for broadening of knowledge and honing of skills, and not for award of degrees. Online education can certainly provide opportunities of learning to a wide spectrum of learners and help increase the GER. But an incremental increase in GER sans quality is of little consequence. It is understood that the UGC has cleared as many as 38 universities which can offer full-fledged online degree programmes without the approval of the Regulators. It seems to have been done far too early and on a far too large a scale. Universities should have devoted a little more time to developing real expertise in online delivery by continuing with a blended or hybrid mode of delivery for a while. Some of these universities ostensibly are going to be academically and professionally naïve in the extreme.
These universities will have to make a big push on the technical front not only to make online programmes a success but also to widen the scope of their sustainability. Most of the universities may not be fully equipped in terms of basic technical infrastructure as well as technology-oriented workforce. The first and the foremost requirement of the universities would be to carry out customized Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to facilitate hassle free learners’ registration with provision of authentication, document verification and payment gateway. They will have to develop an appropriate dashboard that can provide quick access to all the stakeholders. It should be able to provide quick reminders to everyone, from the administrator to mentor to learners, to complete the task in a time-bound manner. They will have to set up a center having e-learning facilities including video-studio for recording, editing, and enriching lectures through animations and simulations. Universities will have to create their own Learning Management System (LMS) with user friendly features and provisions for both synchronous and asynchronous interactions to ensure seamless delivery of course contents and organisation of discussion forums. They may have to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven LMS with adaptive learning and adaptive assessment features to provide personalized learning experiences.
LMS integrated with analytical tools and other applications will have to be effectively used to analyse learner’s engagements in different activities to provide timely feedback besides ensuring the authenticity of the learner and mitigating the participation of proxy learners. This aspect of the LMS is going to be extremely critical not only to combat unfair means but also to ascertain real engagement of learners for the purpose of having their fair assessments. The LMS must be accessible in all devices, especially mobile devices, to enable all kinds of learners to use it without any technical glitches. The universities will have to put in place a robust system of proctored examination to ensure transparency, objectivity and credibility of their degree programmes.
On academic fronts, universities will have to redesign the curriculum to ensure its compatibility with the requirements of online delivery. The first and foremost requirement would be about redesigning outcome-based curriculum which ensures mapping of graduate attributes that are in sync with the needs and requirements of both the global market and the society. It would require proper structuring of syllabi with inbuilt hierarchy, development of good quality learner centric and multi-media enriched e-content in four quadrant MOOC format, quality reading materials in the form of e-courseware, short duration video lectures, well designed assignments in the form of projects, quizzes, term papers, provisions for synchronous and asynchronous interactions to enable students to participate in online discussions and forums, home assignments and criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests to assess real potential of students. Universities will also have to make digital library resources available, provide links for open education resources and MOOCs and list of related publications as per the requirement of the programme to encourage self-learning. Apart from all that, they will have to provide professionally trained mentor teachers who will have to guide and counsel students at every stage of the programme. Universities will also have to design assessment tools for both formative and summative assessments. While they can use the Learning Management System (LMS) for formative assessment, they will have to use proctored examination for summative assessment along with provisions of verifiable online certification and award of diplomas and degrees.
Universities will have to make doubly sure that their programme administrators or the mentor teachers do not treat the online programmes as an auto-play video courses. It will require tech savvy teachers who are fully conversant not only with the ICT empowered pedagogies and virtual interactions but are also capable of mentoring the students by engaging them effectively throughout the programme. This would require a teacher-student ratio much lower than what is proposed (1: 250). This would call for the organisation of regular orientation programmes for the faculty in collaboration with experts in e-learning and technology mediated teaching and learning.
As of now, there may be very few universities in the country which can honestly fulfill all technical, academic and social requirements of full-fledged online degree programmes. And, even when they do meet those professional requirements, there would still remain a serious concern of ensuring that no student, irrespective of his or her geographical location, has any kind of deprivation with regard to access to tools and devices needed for wholesomely benefitting from online modalities. Although it seems less threatening, if universities are going to seize this opportunity to maximise their resources, like some of them did through their ODL programmes in the past, then it may be equally worrisome. This transition obviously is going to be as much a difficult challenge for the universities as for the Regulators. It is not going to be a piece of cake for either of the two. But since they have already moved in this direction, now the onus lies on them to set standards and institutionalise full-fledged online degree programmes by justifying all the essential academic, technical and social requirements, failing which it would be nothing short of a misadventure.
The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.
THE ECOLOGICAL REVIVAL OF RAM RAJYA
While the building of the mammoth temple at the Ram Janambhoomi in Ayodhya has garnered all attention. The attempt is to revive the ‘Ram Nagari’ in totality and not just confine it to a temple.
Scriptures say that it was Raja Ram who turned Ayodhya from a mere administrative centre of the kingdom to a vibrant capital city, an urban hub. “Maryada Purushottam Shri Ram was very well aware of the elements of life— the Panch Mahabhoot. To keep the city in a live condition and for life to exuberate in its full potential, he designed the space for all 108 elements which contributed to the making of the Panch Mahabhoot (five elements — earth, water, fire, air, and space). And this was done by making a space for 108 Jalashay (waterbodies) well within the city limits to create water sovereignty for the whole city,” says Mahant Pawan Kumar Das Shastri.
Following the apex court judgement and resumption of the work at the temple site, it was felt that Lord Ram cannot be welcomed in an ecologically degraded city. Thus, Ayodhya Development Authority and Ayodhya Nagar Nigam together envisaged a move for the government-citizen partnership to revive and rejuvenate the city ecologically.
The outcome of this initiative is Jal Dhar, the attempt to identify and resurrect water bodies in and around Ayodhya, the lifeline of Ram Rajya. Expertise for executing the project came from a reputed NGO, Community Friendly Movement (CFM), which is credited with creating/reviving many water bodies in the country’s most arid district, Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh. Challenge in Ayodhya was, however, different. The area was not arid, rather riverine and it had a network of water bodies, which had got encroached upon over a period of time thus leaving a trail of polluted ponds and frequent urban floods.
A painstaking study of land records, done by a group of local citizens under the leadership Acharya Ram Prakash Pandey, gave an estimate that 108 ponds existed in Lord Rama’s city, many of which had practically vanished and others were in a state of absolute distress. These natural water bodies that are the charging points of the aquifer system ensuring water ecological balance were in deep stress and needed urgent attention.
Water hyacinth covered lake surface, drains released in ponds, making them a breeding ground for mosquitoes, waterborne disease, and floating non-biodegradable waste. Last December, it was decided that the revival of these ponds was to be made part of the citizen’s initiative, duly supported by the government agencies by the way of in-situ rejuvenation.
The 108 water bodies of Ayodhya were geotagged through the campaign #KahanHaiMeraTalab and #AaoBachaLePaani on social media including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Ayodhya residents came out in full support and in a matter of one week, all the ponds (locally called Kunds) were identified along with their cornerstones. It was stressed to the citizens that from the Vedic times, humans lived in harmony with nature but the degradation of human values led to erosion of natural resources. The campaign was to start course correction and regain natural wealth.
The first such initiative was taken at Lal Digghi Talab, which is located in the upmarket Civil Lines area. One of the city’s main drains fell in this pond. The filth in water choked aquifers, which did not allow water to seep into earth, making it stagnant and a source of urban floods during the rainy season. To overcome the problem, a pump house had been installed to drain out the water and pump it into the main sewer line. In December last year, the municipal bodies in collaboration with CFM started what’s called the Vedic treatment of water. It’s an integrated process that involves the treatment of water using Ayurvedic ark (plant extracts) specially prepared and customized as per the need of the specific water body.
“The process of treatment involved installation of a freshwater tank to dilute the ark (concentrate) created specifically for the water body and releasing it in the pond before sunrise. The whole process requires a very small electrical charge to resuscitate the water ecology and induce aerobic reaction leading to the increased dissolved oxygen level in the water. Once the process is initiated, the viscosity of water improves and the clogged aquifers start to open,” says Saurav Ghosh, of CFM.
“As the city prepares for the onset of Monsoon, the process of removing encroachment and preparation to catch the rain where it drops, and when it drops, is going on in full swing in Ayodhya,” says Vishal Singh, Municipal Commissioner and Vice Chairman, Ayodhya Development Authority. “Having encouraged people with Vedic inspirations, it was decided to use the Vedic sciences to clean the ponds, which yielded great results,” adds Singh.
After just a month of treatment, the natural aquifers became functional and started recharging the water table. Since the water had started to seep into the earth, there was no overflow making the pump house redundant. The work is now set to begin on the other water bodies.
However, it is not to be a one-time affair but the initiative is to create structures for the sustainability of these water bodies, and here comes the concept of connecting the 108 Kunds to 108 Agnihotra or Yajna Kund. Thereafter appoint a scholar as caretaker, who additionally would be training and helping people in performing Vedic rituals.
This scholar will not only perform yajnas but also ensure the care of Prakriti (nature) in the local ecosystem to ensure operation and management for sustainability of the rejuvenated Kund. By taking care of water, plants, animals, and humans around the Kund, the scholar will be Mool Srota (fundamental connect) to establish the missing link to serve nature. “The management and care of precious water, water reuse and knowledge propagation will go hand in hand to make Ayodhya ready to welcome Raja Ram and his devotees,” says Pandey.
HOW PM MODI INTEGRATED J&K WITH INDIA
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the most popular and powerful leader in post-independent India. On the socio-political front, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950, and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of his achievements.
President Ram Nath Kovind declared the abrogation of the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The move came after both houses of the Indian Parliament passed a resolution in this regard.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by clause (3) of Article 370 read with clause (1) of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the President, on the recommendation of Parliament, is pleased to declare that, as from 6th August 2019, all clauses of the said Article 370 shall cease to be operative,” an official notification said.
This meant the separate constitutions of Jammu and Kashmir ceased to be in operation. With the State constitution rendered inoperative and Articles 1-2 applicable to Jammu and Kashmir, the Central government got the power to redraw the map of the erstwhile State. The Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir got a new status comparable with that of Delhi and Puducherry, the only two other Union Territories to have legislatures of their own. The Governor of Jammu and Kashmir became Lieutenant Governor.
What was Article 370? Article 370, was a ‘temporary provision’ that granted special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir. Under Part XXI of the Constitution of India, which deals with “Temporary, Transitional and Special provisions”, Jammu & Kashmir had been accorded special status. All the provisions of the Constitution which applied to other States did not apply to J&K. According to this Article, except for defence, foreign affairs, finance, and communications, Parliament needed the J&K government’s concurrence for applying all other Indian laws. Thus J&K’s residents lived under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights, as compared to other Indians elsewhere in the country. As a result of this provision, Indian citizens from other States could not even purchase land or property in Jammu & Kashmir.
However, with Kashmir’s special status gone, people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the state. A separate Union Territory was created for Jammu & Kashmir and the Ladakh region was also given the status of a Union Territory, albeit without legislature. In a masterstroke, the Modi government, by revoking Article 370 and Article 35-A, mainstreamed Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, with the rest of India, as Article 370 was always discriminatory in more ways than one. With its revocation, the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990, in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.
The Modi government, on January 7, 2020, approved an industrial development scheme worth Rs 28,400 crore, for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, to give a fresh thrust on job creation, skill development, and attracting new investment. Its outlay is until 2037. Smaller units with an investment in plant and machinery up to Rs 50 crore will get a capital incentive up to Rs 7.5 crore and get capital interest subvention at the rate of 6%, for a maximum of seven years. What makes the scheme unique is the GST linked incentive that will ensure less compliance burden without compromising on transparency.
After the abrogation of Article 370, various public outreach programmes have been undertaken with the intent to take more than fifty central schemes to all the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For decades, the Abdullahs and Muftis treated this region as their personal fiefdom. The fact that in the recent district development council (DDC) elections, the BJP emerged as the single largest standalone Party, winning 75 seats and making inroads into hitherto impregnable areas like Srinagar, Bandipora, and Pulwama, is a clear vindication of Modi’s development-oriented politics. DDC elections, conducted in eight phases, saw an average voter turnout of over 51%, showcasing that there is genuine interest among the people of the valley to take part in the electoral process, because they foresee development and better quality of life for themselves and their future generations going forward. Even in the Panchayat elections held in 2018,the average voter turnout was 71%, marking the strength of grassroots democracy in Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2015, while announcing the ambitious Rs 80,000-crore development package for Jammu and Kashmir, from the Sher-e-Kashmir cricket stadium in Srinagar, PM Narendra Modi made a passionate mention of “Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat, and Insaniyat”, as in, Kashmiri culture, democracy, and humanity. “Kashmiriyat ke bina Hindustan adhura hai”, said Modi (Without Kashmiriyat, India is incomplete). The mega package that was to change the face of the militancy-hit region and draw the disillusioned back into the mainstream has been a resounding success. On the jobs’ front, over 3000 jobs were created for Kashmiri migrants in the last eighteen months. Financial assistance of Rs 578 crore through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) was provided to 12,588 displaced families (of the 36,384 families) from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chhamb. Land was acquired for an IIT and an IIM in Jammu and the two AIIMS in Jammu and Awantipora in Kashmir respectively.
Power projects have moved at a fast pace. The Pakal Dul 1,000 MW project and the Srinagar-Leh transmission line are on course. Of the 28 small hydropower projects estimated to cost a total of Rs 2,000 crore, several projects have either already kicked off the ground or will do so soon enough.
The Rs 80,000 crore package consists of 63 major development projects being implemented by 15 Central Ministries. More than 79% of the total package has already been sanctioned and over 40% of the development package has either been released or utilised. The Chenani-Nashri tunnel, also known as the Patni-top or Syama Prasad Mookerjee tunnel, is not only India’s longest highway tunnel but also Asia’s longest bi-directional highway tunnel. The tunnel stretching 9.28 km, inaugurated by PM Modi in April 2017, is a huge achievement that is set to transform how different regions of India are connected across various terrains. The tunnel has reduced travel time between Jammu and Srinagar by two to four hours, reducing the distance by 31 km, which in turn has resulted in a huge reduction in the consumption of fuel. The Modi government estimates a reduction of Rs 27 lakh of fuel consumption per day, on average. Further, the tunnel is impervious to natural calamities such as landslides and avalanches which are common in the region. The core advantage the tunnel offers is permanent connectivity to the Kashmir valley, which was hitherto only intermittently connected.
The fact that Jammu and Kashmir has always been high on the Modi government’s priority list is best amplified by PM Modi’s launch of the Social Endeavour for Health and Telemedicine (SEHAT) scheme, on December 26, 2020. The scheme will cover the remaining one crore population which has not been covered under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. With the launch of the Sehat scheme, Jammu and Kashmir are among the first in India to achieve universal health coverage. Currently, under Ayushman Bharat PM Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY), which gives eligible beneficiaries a free health cover of Rs. 5 lakh, over 30 lakh people are already covered in Jammu and Kashmir.
An uneasy calm that had prevailed in the valley after the revocation of Article 370 and 35-A, has now paved way for higher business confidence and greater stability, with militancy and separatism, taking a backseat. Abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A have made it possible to implement the 7th pay commission recommendations and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) rather than the Ranbir Penal Code (RPC), which was in vogue all these years. Under Article 35-A no outsider could bag a government job. Earlier, companies were forced to hire only locals. Revocation of the above Articles has levelled the playing field in Jammu and Kashmir. No investor was willing to set up an industry, hotel, private educational institution, or private hospital since he or she could neither buy land or property. Their wards could not get government jobs or admission to colleges. In so many decades, there are barely any major national or international chains that have set up hotels in a tourist-centric region like J&K, preventing enrichment, resource generation, and job creation. But on August 5, 2019, Prime Minister Modi’s government reset the clock, undoing all the misguided wrongs of the jaded Nehruvian era in an unprecedented, epochal decision of abrogating Article 370 and 35-A. The rest is history. Recently,in a Clubhouse discussion, senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, notorious for being a loose cannon, said that the Congress Party would consider restoring Article 370 if it came to power, forgetting that the revocation of the said Article is full and final and cannot be undone. Also, the Congress Party has been reduced to a puny, fractious Party and cannot come back to power, as India is done with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasts.
J&K’s special status had thus far even shielded it from the applicability of Article 3 of the Constitution, which provides for re-drawing state boundaries or the creation of a new State/UT. But all that is in the past now, as Jammu and Kashmir which are UTs now are at the cusp of a sharp economic turnaround. Remember, Article 370 and 35-A empowered J&K to be a near-autonomous State since it limited the Centre’s authority to just external affairs, defence, finance and communication. This provision even allowed J&K to have a “Sadar-e-Riyasat” for governor and prime minister in place of a chief minister till 1965, as well as its own flag and constitution. Hence revoking Article 370— which was in any case, always temporary and transitional as per Part XXI of the Constitution— was long overdue. Before the revocation, the Union government needed the concurrence of the State government to even declare a financial emergency in the State, under Article 360.
As per the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019, in place of this special status, all the provisions of the Indian Constitution will henceforth be applicable, which will help in mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir. Article 35-A, which comes under Article 370, proscribed and prevented non-permanent residents of J&K from permanently settling in the State, buying immovable property, acquiring land, applying for government jobs, or any kind of scholarships, aids as well as other public welfare projects. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will now be treated as one, with no discrimination between permanent residents and non-permanent ones.
Article 35-A also referred to as the Permanent Residents Law, had thus far barred a woman (belonging to the state) from any property rights if she marries a person from outside the state. The provision also extended to the children of such women as they did not have any succession rights over the property. The revoking of this Article ended the age-old discrimination against women of J&K, who chose to marry outsiders.
The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 has ensured stability, market access, and predictable laws in the state, to help develop an ecosystem that will give better rewards to the skills, hard work, and products of the people in the region.
“In today’s world, economic growth cannot happen in a closed environment. Open minds and open markets will ensure that the youth of the region will put it on the path of greater progress. The integration gives a boost to investment, innovation, and incomes,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said post the revocation of the discriminatory Articles.
“Better connectivity, better linkages, and better investment will help products of the region to reach across the country and the world, leading to a virtuous cycle of growth and prosperity to the common man,” the PM added. And with the slew of infrastructure projects underway in the region, that is precisely what is happening.
It needs to be mentioned here that Jammu and Kashmir had received 10% of all Central grants given to States over the 2000-2016 period, despite having only 1% of the country’s population.
In contrast, Uttar Pradesh making up about 13% of India’s population received only 8.2% of Central grants in 2000-16. That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received Rs.91,300 per person over the sixteen years between 2000-2016, while Uttar Pradesh only received Rs.4,300 per person over the same period. Why did J&K not see any substantive development despite receiving a disproportionate amount of Central assistance? Well, funds alone cannot guarantee good governance if the political will is lacking and an enabling ecosystem is missing. In one historic sweep, the Prime Minister, on August 5, 2019, by mainstreaming Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India, ensured that the region could prosper like any other without being beholden to a corrupt and conniving political class represented by the Abdullahs and Muftis who had used the special status of J&K to only accord special privileges unto themselves.
The fact that the Modi government truly abides by the dictum of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, and Sabka Vishwaas”, can be gauged from the inauguration of mega hydropower projects in Jammu on January 3, 2021. Memorandums of understanding (MoUs) were signed with National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to attract Rs 35,000 crore of investments besides ensuring a 24-hour power supply in the UT.
January 3 was a historic day as mega hydropower projects to make J&K a power surplus region in the country were inked. MoUs were signed for implementation of 850 MW Ratle HEP and 930 MW Kirthai-II HEP; execution of Sawalkot HEP (1856 MW), Uri-I (Stage-II) (240 MW), and Dulhasti (Stage-II) (258 MW) will further transform the economic landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. In the last 70 odd years, J&K was able to generate only 3504 MW energy. But in the next four years, the UT will generate additional 3,498 MW of electricity to ensure energy security of the region.
The 19 distribution and transmission projects inaugurated on January 3, 2021, would enhance the ease of living in the region, in addition to playing a significant role in raising per capita incomes, industrialisation and employment generation in J&K. The national average of electricity in rural areas is 20 hours and in urban areas is 22-23 hours, across India. J&K too will reach that milestone if the pace of development is kept steady. With locals being trained and given employment in NHPC ventures, J&K will see a new dawn of energy sufficiency and thereby inclusive development.
Indeed, J&K is taking a quantum leap from being power deficit to power surplus, in the next four years. Clean, affordable, and reliable energy is the key for industries, businesses, and society to grow. The Modi government has a well-laid out plan to effectively harness the hydro energy resources of J&K, to double the energy generation by 2024.The construction work on the Ring Road project, the widening of the National Highway from Pathankot to Jammu to make it six-lane from four-lane as well as the acquisition of land for the landmark Katra-Delhi Expressway road corridor have started in earnest in the Jammu region. Out of seven Centrally funded medical colleges, Jammu received four and Kashmir, three. As for recruitment to government jobs, hereafter the selection will be made purely based on written test, without an interview. Those including the Gupkar Alliance, who are raising a hue and cry against revocation of Article 370 are merely habitual pessimists, with rapidly declining political relevance. PM Modi’s aspirational and inclusive brand of politics is set to herald the winds of change in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, so that everyone has a shot at growth with a better quality of life.
The writer is an economist, BJP national spokesperson, and bestselling author of ‘Truth&Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.
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