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WHAT’S UNDERMINING BUREAUCRACY AND MEDIA?

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If the political and the corporate system are not delivering, what about the permanent civil service? The biggest strength of the bureaucracy is that it comes through a transparent selection process and has amongst the best minds in the country. Bureaucrats have a secure working span of 30 to 35 years and can therefore think in the long term. All of them, when they appeared before the UPSC, professed a desire to serve the people. They claimed that their motivation to join the government was to take the benefits of development to the poorest. Some of them could have lied but certainly not all. The bureaucracy runs the government and has the executive powers to enforce the law. They are not just for programme implementation, regulation and compliance but are also mandated to protect the interests of the weakest—who are undeniably an equal owner of the country’s natural resources. They have to build and sustain public institutions, not mindlessly support outsourcing. They should be working on capacity building, improving the quality of products and services in the MSME sector, setting up technology incubation centres, skilling, re-skilling and strengthening the health, education, sanitation and training infrastructure to energise small industrial units. Instead we see that even the regulatory role of the bureaucracy is getting compromised.

What is undermining the bureaucracy? I am not getting into the subject of administrative and police reforms, etc. Here the question is why bureaucracy alone is targeted for corruption? True, we have seen how corruption undermines peoples’ trust in the bureaucracy and it has to be put down. The mechanisms to do so are available; we need the will to go forth. There are checks which work. All government decisions are subject to oversight by Parliament and statutory audit by an autonomous constitutionally mandated CAG; RTI queries, public disclosure and judicial review are other powerful deterrents. While petty corruption has continued as always, the last few decades have seen big corruption at higher levels. All these cases are linked to corporate entities, which have thrived under opaque decision making. They waste shareholder wealth on lavish lifestyles, questionable deals and hide behind an audit system which is on their own pay rolls. Their business decisions are vetted by an amorphous body of shareholders, financial institutions and promoters, who steam roll decisions in their personal interest. Notice how all cases of big corporate corruption were unearthed only when public servants and public financial institutions were probed. It was the oversight in the public sector which exposed the rot in the private sector, even leading to the recent fall of a government. The message is clear if we want to root out corruption, we must subject the private sector to the same kind of scrutiny as the public sector. All decisions, except on matters of national security, should, by law, be open to public scrutiny. Let us bite the bullet and see the dawn of a new India.

Talking of media, a lot has been written about their falling standards and there is no point dwelling further on the same. The crux of the matter is that information and questioning are the basis of democracy. The stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. Only intelligent people can ask questions, while the others can be led like sheep through fake news and propaganda. Educated people are a threat to totalitarian regimes. Bhagat Singh, before he went to the gallows in his mid-twenties, was reading the works of Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Upton Sinclair, Friedrich Engels, Louis Tennyson and Rabindranath Tagore while in Jail. Apart from his daring exploits, it will not be wrong to believe that his intellect was considered a greater threat by the colonialists, even when he was so young? Therein lies the role of media.

Propaganda and fake news have traditionally been considered to be tools of non-conventional warfare. You use it in adversary nations to exploit their fault lines, to sow dissension and create confusion with the objective of undermining unfriendly regimes. You never ever use it within your own country. The final prey of propaganda, if used within a country, is always the regime itself which starts believing its own fake claims and loses touch with reality. It is like setting up terror groups to wage war against unlawful organisations inside the country. The groups eventually turn on the creator. Let us also remember that if the media becomes too compliant and keeps projecting the regime’s version for too long, it eventually loses credibility and then there is no vehicle left to carry the truth. The way to correct wrong perceptions of the past is through informed debate and not through fake claims. Intelligent people on either side have to establish their claims through facts and reason—that has been our tradition of shastrarth. Pushing false narratives to a gullible and poorly educated public is not in the long-term interest of the nation. We need thinking people, not compliant masses.

News is now dictated by interests of the promoters and handouts by interested parties are published without even the minimum effort to check their veracity. Having said all this, it remains a fact that some of the brightest and most well-read men and women are connected to this field. Some may have ideological reasons, but most can easily discern what is happening around them. We have seen some senior columnists make a course correction in their analytical writings. Truth purifies the soul and gives the opportunity to start again. The idea is not to start ranting where you were fawning but to bring public discourse back to the reality. While professional bodies can exercise checks on their members, the longer-term solution is to have a mandatory disclosure of ownership and funding of all media enterprises.

The writer is an Indian civil servant and a former Chairman of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The views expressed are personal. This is the fourth of a five-part series that will appear over a period of time.

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A marine commando recounting 26/11 attacks from ground zero

A minute-by-minute account of that fateful night, how a team of MARCOS entered the Taj, and how one of its bravehearts confronted the terrorists and was nearly killed.

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Decorated with the Shaurya Chakra for his role in rescuing hostages, Praveen Kumar Teotia was one of the MARCOS—Marine Commandos of the Indian Navy—who fought the terrorists holed up in the Taj during the 26/11 attacks, suffered near-fatal injuries and, in the end, saved hundreds of lives. Teotia, in his book, narrates a minute-by-minute account of that fateful night, how his team entered the Taj, how he confronted the terrorists and how he was nearly killed. Excerpt:

It was a usual Mumbai evening. Walking past the Leopold Café, I was headed towards the Gateway of India. The majestic Taj stood gazing at the Arabian Sea, overwhelming the tourists below. Bewildered by its imposing structure, I looked at the Taj and marvelled at its beauty. The people inside must be living such a luxurious life, I thought to myself and sighed.

It was 8 pm and the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea looked calm. Heading towards my naval base, I had one final look at the area. Some pigeons fluttered past, a policeman whistled and a hawker packed his belongings for the day. The neon-lit surrounding would now illuminate some late-night lovebirds, looking for their private space in this insomniac city. Life looked picturesque and undisturbed. Who would have known that an hour from then, death would spread its dirty tentacles, choking life out of this picture? Who would have imagined that ten men from Pakistan would come sailing through the Arabian Sea in a small boat and would launch the most dastardly attack on the city? And hardly would have I imagined that few hours from now, I will be facing these fidayeen, inside the Taj, eye to eye, and my life would change forever.

I entered the room. It was dark and silent. Ever since we had entered the Taj, there was death and mayhem around us—in the halls, the corridors, the reception area. The lazy opulence of the place had been disrupted and what stood before us was a shaken Taj. Bullet-ridden bodies were lying amidst the inferno and bloodbath. Some lucky survivors had to be pulled out with corpses lying on top of them, an experience that would torment them for life. Imagine your loved one or a complete stranger lying breathless on top of you. What could you do? Push it as if the person didn’t mean anything to you? Or just lie down with your eyes closed, smelling blood and feeling the unmoving mound of flesh on top of you, waiting to either die or be rescued?

Everything about the majestic Taj that day was pale and morbid, but the atmosphere of the room we had just entered was sinister. Danger was very close and years of my training and times spent in real operations told me that something was not right in this room. I could sense danger lurking somewhere. I became more vigil. But nothing was visible.

I was leading the team and behind me, roughly at a distance of a metre and a half, was my buddy. Third in the line was Sunil Kudiyadi, our navigator for the night. Without him, it would have been very difficult to manoeuvre through the Taj. Behind Mr Kudiyadi, there were two more commandos, Ranjeet and Ashok, and even though our friend, the security manager, had no weapon to himself, he was safely ensconced between the armed commandos. His calm demeanour was noteworthy as it helped us focus more. Mr Kudiyadi was also one of the commandos that day, albeit without an army fatigue.

One more step and I was consumed by complete darkness now. I was carrying my weapon in my right hand and with the left hand, I tried exploring the wall. ‘Where is the light switch?’ I quietly asked Kudiyadi. ‘Should be ahead.’ All of us were groping in the dark.

My left hand was now touching the wall and it provided me with support and acted as my guide while moving ahead. I was taking each step very slowly and quietly, with my eyes ocussing in the darkness. After ten to twelve cautious steps I heard a sound.

Click.

Click.

These were, in fact, two sounds coming from two different sources. It was the sound of safety catches of two AK-47s being removed. The AK-47 is one of the first true assault rifles and, due to its durability, low production cost and ease of use, the weapon and its numerous variants remain the most widely used assault rifles in the world. To fire, the operator inserts a loaded magazine, moves the selector lever to the lowest position, pulls back and releases the charging handle, aims and then pulls the trigger. In this setting, the weapon fires only once, often called semiautomatic, which requires the trigger to be released and depressed again for the next shot. With the selector in the middle position (full-automatic), the rifle continues to fire, automatically cycling fresh rounds into the chamber, until the magazine is exhausted or the pressure is released from the trigger.

The first click indicated that the attacking weapon was in single shot. The second click meant that it was now in ‘burst’ mode and with a single press of the trigger the entire magazine could be emptied. The standard magazine capacity is thirty rounds, which mean thirty bullets at once racing towards the target. Gauging by the extent of this planned assault, it was clear that the terrorists knew they were facing an army or commandos, and not ordinary citizens. They wanted to ensure maximum damage in minimum time.

I swiftly bent down a bit. They had been in this darkened room for a while, hence they must have adapted. They were able to now see the movement in the dark. With enough time, our eyes can adapt and see the low levels of light present in partial darkness. Human eyes take several hours to fully adapt to darkness and reach their optimal sensitivity to low-light conditions. The quickest gains in vision sensitivity are made in the first few minutes after exposure to darkness. For this reason, many people think that after only a few minutes, their eyes have reached their peak sensitivity. But after several hours of exposure to darkness, the eyes continue to adapt and make small gains in sensitivity. My attackers thus had an edge over me.

I, however, had just entered the room and the surroundings were unfamiliar for me. I felt a table and hid myself behind it, trying to locate the direction of the sound. It was coming from the right side of the room. My cheek placed neatly on the butt of my weapon and my fingers on the trigger, I now aimed towards the direction from where the sound was coming from. With my eyes focussing hard to decipher even an iota of movement, I was ready to take my shot. And suddenly there was a flash. The flash was followed by the sound of burst fire that was directed at me. The staccato of burst shots filled the room, leaving a deafening silence in the room.

My weapon was in single-shot mode and I immediately fired three to four shots. In a split second, it was all over.

I had been shot.

Excerpts from the book, ‘26/11 Braveheart: My Encounter With Terrorists That Night’ (Rupa).

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‘I have always been used to lockdowns’: Deepa Malik, Paralympian & Arjuna Awardee

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Deepa Malik

Indian athlete and a medalist in the paralympic games, Deepa Malik joined NewsX for an exclusive conversation in its special segment called NewsX A-List. 

Addressing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Deepa said, “By the grace of God, I have always been used to lockdowns. I faced my first lockdown when I was a five year old and was in a hospital, literally admitted for a year at a go as a young little girl, in an era when there were no laptops, i-pads, Netflix or mobile phones. That was one and second, my daughter had an accident as a very young child and she got Hemiplegia paralysis on one side, so with her, I had to be grounded.”

Deepa’s own paralysis in 1999 left her bed-ridden for two years and for two years, she was not even made to sit because she had to go through major surgeries in her spine. “With urine bags and everything around me, all I could see was the ceiling, I was not even made to turn around, just to change diapers. So mentally I have been prepared for a lockdown or being a social recluse,” said Deepa.

Deepa went on to say, “Being a sportswoman, every time you are getting ready to win a medal for 130 crore Indians, you have to go under a lockdown, you have to eat very consciously, you have to work towards your immunity,  you have to exercise, you have to do your meditation because the focus is important in winning a big medal and then, you are under such a strict regime that you have no time to socialize. So for me, the lockdown has not been a very unprecedented situation in a way of mental stress, but of course, Covid was new, my role in Covid was very new because in February I had taken over as the president of the Paralympic Committee of India. It was a transition for me, from being an athlete to being into an administrative role. So, for me, it was a totally new learning experience.”

Talking about the impact of Covid-19 on the athletes, Malik said that India still does not have the infrastructure or the public transportation that aids the physically challenged people’s smooth movement outside their home. She said that they do not have end-to-end accessibility in most parts of the country. She addressed the problems faced by the athletes who are below the poverty line. However, looking at the positive aspect of this, Deepa said that the athletes learnt to use the video calling mobile applications during this pandemic. According to Deepa, they were able to communicate with each other more than they ever did before.

Deepa Malik has received a number of awards in the last decade for her work, some of the awards that she received include Padmashree award, Arjuna award, Rajeev Gandhi Khel Ratna award, Women Transforming India award etc. Deepa thinks that her entire journey was aimed at changing the mindsets.  “So when the United Nations, Niti Ayog, Prime Minister, Jury chooses me to receive an award that says ‘Women Transforming India’ award, that was very dear to me and it was received by my father and that was the day my father asked everyone to pray for me and he said that he had faith that I’ll bring everyone a medal. On 12th, I won it.”

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‘Poetry and art makes you care about things’: Mahima Tyagi

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Mahima Tyagi

NewsX was recently joined by Mahima Tyagi, a student and a content writer for an exclusive chat. Mahima shared her journey of being a writer and a filmmaker with NewsX in its special segment NewsX A-List.

Giving a background of how content writing began for her, Mahima said that she was really young when it began for the first time, it had a lot to do with some of the teachers that she had. She said that the English teachers she had in school were keen on imparting the knowledge that they thought would help students in life and a lot of the kids turned a blind eye to that, but Mahima didn’t and that’s where it just all began, she was really young, she was about 5 years old when she wrote her first poem, it was basically a rehash of something that had already been written.

“I think what really drove me to it after my 12th grade was, I was awarded like a certificate of recognition by the HRD ministry in my 10th grade, and I had, at a very early age kind of associated my self-esteem with academic success. And I was really happy about that until of course, as things go, and I think in 12th grade, I suffered a little bit of a setback academically and the career path that I had in mind was sort of out of the window at that point and I think it was, as the same goes, one door closes, another one opens. And I decided just by chance to apply to some of the universities I would have had dreamt of when I was young and I managed to get into some, pretty much all of them.  I then chose the one that I wanted the most and so I just pursued it, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever taken. Not a day goes by without me just cherishing what it is to be a writer and to wield the power of the pen,” said Mahima.

Ms Tyagi believes in the power of her pen and she believes that with her writing, she can bring about a change in the society. “Writing is art at the end of the day and any kind of art can bring about as much change as perhaps extensive political lobbying can, it’s the same. It targets the attitude that pervades in society. So at the end of the day, if you have the right intention in mind, art is one of the strongest mediums to bring about that change and I think I’ve witnessed that firsthand when I was competing in the international poetry competition. And since I was studying in London, I was at a place where there was, perhaps, a lakhs of brown poets, or people that came from the Indian sub-continent, which one could attribute to the societal taboo around art as a career medium,” said Mahima Tyagi.

Mahima shared that when she confirmed with her poetry coach that she was going to talk about colonialism, it was a very intense and bold risk to take at that point, because of her judges panel that would go in front of her, and since it was an international competition with a lot of white people in the room and a lot of people from the British origin, but her coach gave her a green signal.

“I remember when I had finished reciting my poem, there was a brief pause. I think that was the moment of that final moment of revelation, is this going to work? Or am I going to just completely lose faith in this entire process. And I got applauded by everyone there and I think it meant a lot to me because it made me realize that if I truly believe in something, no matter how bold, no matter how outrageous on confirmative, it’s going to arouse an emotion among the people,” said Ms Tyagi.

Elaborating more on the poems written by her, Mahima said that she dabbles between either social journalist poetry or a more lyrical and personal poetry. She added that with the first kind that she takes to is based on social issues, studying abroad, in some strange way brought her closer to the social fabric of her own country.

Talking further on the same, Mahima said, “I think when you look at something from a distance, we’re able to see it in its entirety and that’s what I was able to do and I just came closer to the issues that I had grown up seeing, but never really noticing, perhaps, there are a lot of issues and at the risk of sounding a little lofty, human trafficking or the class divide and a lot of different issues, the religious divide, there’s so many things that I’ve written poetry about which aim at perhaps, arousing some sense of emotion, some sentimental life change.”

Mahima is also passionate about filmmaking, sharing more on the same, Mahima said, “I think I realized that poetry is storytelling and so is filmmaking. So the idea at the end of the day is to is to extend a narrative out there for people to observe and that’s where I think films are visual poetry. So that’s where it came about, I think I was just talking to a few friends and I had some modules, some courses at my time in university, where I was studying films and I realized that it’s visual poetry, like I said, and I started to then make few videos, and I had this series where I would just like to portray in the background, and we would have visual direction. So that’s where our passion for films came into being, so I created documentaries, or just fiction, all of that. And like I said, it’s art at the end of the day, so poetry, filmmaking, public speaking kind of blended together for me, and it became art, which is something that I really feel passionately about.”

Talking about her source of inspiration, Mahima said,  “Inspiration’s  everywhere, I think when you have drive and when you really care about things, and poetry and art, in general makes you care about things. A lot of it also came from a lot of field work that I have done, so I wrote this little collection about the Rohingya community. I met these people, they are beautiful people, their stories are so compelling, they’re so  evocative that you  can’t help but gain inspiration.

Sharing about her future plans, Mahima said that she believes that in life, one needs to have a cause and then have means to bring that cause to fruition. She added that the cause at the end of the day is to to bring change in attitudes that wade away taboos that continue to persist in society still. “The Muse for me personally is poetry or I think it’s filmmaking. So the idea is to wake up every single morning, care about something and try to change what it is that prevents me from caring about things,” said Mahima.

Conveying her message to the youth, Mahima said, “My message is that there’s no one singular method to bring about change. You can’t get that one degree or do that one course or meet that one person, it doesn’t have to be that way. I think you just need to believe and you need to care and you need to use your privilege to kind of bring about that change. One of my favourite authors ever Nikesh Shukla, he says, ‘Get where you want to be, and then throw a line back’ and I think that’s a beautiful way to just look at life and that is what I would like to say to the youth as well, use your privilege, get where you want to be and then throw line back to the people, to your roots, and bring everyone ahead in front of you.”

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UNRULY TOURISTS THRONGING CASINOS AS IF IT WERE A CARNIVAL TIME: GOA BJP MLA

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A ruling BJP legislator in Goa on Tuesday criticised unruly tourists thronging the state’s offshore casinos as if it were a carnival time, thus foregoing social distancing norms and other Covid-related SOPs.

BJP MLA Atanasio Monserrate also expressed concern about increasing number of Covid-19 cases traced to Goa’s offshore casinos, while urging Health Minister Vishwajit Rane to direct his officials to conduct an inspection to see whether SOPs are being followed in the offshore casinos of Goa.

“They (tourists) come here to have fun, but Goans should not be infected by Covid-19 because of this. I will be speaking to the Chief Minister and the Health Minister to see what can be done to check if SOPs are being followed,” Monseratte said, commenting on the large unruly crowds outside the six offshore casinos operating in the Mandovi river off Panaji.

“No one is wearing masks. It is like a carnival. Goans may end up paying dearly for this. Maharashtra has even made testing compulsory for Goans. But here, it is free for all. According to the guidelines, they cannot allow operations like this,” Monserrate said.

Carnival is a popular Catholic event which marks the beginning of the holy lent season. On Monday, after photos of thousands of tourists milling on beaches and outside casinos without masks and in violation of the social distancing norms, were published in the local media, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had announced an increase in penalty for not wearing masks from Rs 100 to Rs 200.

With IANS inputs

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MAHAGATHBANDHAN FIELDS RJD MLA FOR SPEAKER’S POST IN BIHAR

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RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav

The Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Bihar on Tuesday fielded five-time Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLA Awadh Bihari Choudhury as its candidate for the post of Assembly Speaker. The election for the Speaker’s post is due on Wednesday.

Choudhury, an MLA from Siwan, is directly pitted against National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee and three-time BJP MLA Vijay Kumar Sinha.

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav on Tuesday said Choudhury has filed his nomination for the Speaker’s post on behalf of the Opposition Grand Alliance. Confident of Choudhury’s victory, he said that the post of Speaker in the Legislative Assembly is an eminent and responsible post held by a leader who can take the ruling party and the Opposition along and listen to the views of all party leaders. The Speaker’s chair must be held by someone who has immense political experience, Tejashwi added.

Asked about seeking support from the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Tejashwi said he would appeal to all the Opposition MLAs to vote for a veteran leader as Speaker of the Assembly. The RJD leader said Choudhury became an MLA for the first time in 1985 and has been elected an MLA five times.

Choudhury said the Grand Alliance has nominated him as the candidate for the post of Assembly Speaker. The Siwan MLA assured all the MLAs that if elected as Speaker he would run the House following all rules and perform his task without any prejudice.

Meanwhile NDA candidate Vijay Sinha said that normally the post of Speaker goes to the ruling party as it has the majority in the House. “The post of Speaker is elected with mutual understanding of ruling and opposition parties and it is based on numbers. Our alliance has projected me on the basis of seniority and we are fully confident about it,” Sinha said.

Tarkishore Prasad, the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar and BJP leader said: “We have the numbers to elect the Speaker in the House and we will prove our majority. Traditionally, it goes to the ruling alliance.”

Meanwhile, the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav urged pro-tem Speaker Jitan Ram Manjhi to conduct the oath-taking ceremony of every candidate of his alliance.

Yadav was hinting at Bahubali MLA Anant Singh of the RJD and Amarjeet Kushwaha of the CPI (ML). The former was elected from Mokama and is currently lodged in jail. Kushwaha has been elected from Ziradei and is lodged in Siwan jail. Both of them are facing criminal charges.

The opposition Mahagathbandhan has 110 seats in the Assembly and there is reportedly a big chance of 5 AIMIM, 1 BSP and one independent candidate voting in its favour. The ruling NDA has 125 seats. In such a situation every vote is important for both the sides.

With IANS inputs

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Hold Punjab, Haryana Chief ministers liable for stubble burning: AAP

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Senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Atishi Marlena said on Monday that the Environment Committee of the Delhi Assembly, of which she is the chairperson, met the Air Quality Commission and demanded strict action against Punjab and Haryana governments for burning stubble.

She said the commission has been requested to fix the accountability of the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana on the issue of burning stubble and take strict action against them by filing a case.

The AAP leader said the commission has also been requested to order the governments of Punjab and Haryana to resolve the stubble burning issue with bio-decomposer technology.

She said, “We presented the commission with two major agendas. The first is to give orders to the governments of Punjab and Haryana to implement the bio-decomposer developed by the Pusa Research Institute in cooperation with Delhi government with immediate effect. This is an effective as well as an efficient alternative to this problem. Secondly, we have also requested the commission to take stringent action against the Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana as they have failed to curb stubble burning. The Air Quality Commission has the power to take legal actions and can order jail term to anyone causing pollution.”

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