The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future. —Theodore Roosevelt.
Nothing explains this better than the SinoIndian relations. If one wants to know what is happening at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, and why it’s happening, one just has to go back to the 1950s and the early 1960s—and it may feel like déjà vu. One may be confused whether it’s 2020 or the heady days of the 1950s, except that “Hindi-Chini, Bhai-Bhai” has now been turned into “Hindi-Chini, Bye-Bye”. But apart from that, the entire Chinese modus operandi on the Ladakh front, as seen today, would be a photocopy of the decade leading to the 1962 war—when, while the Chinese political class led by the suave and sophisticated Zhou Enlai would talk of peace and brotherhood, the military wing would be busy encroaching into Indian territories!
Interestingly, in these uncertain times, when India is not only dealing with a Chinese-origin virus but is also face-to-face with PLA soldiers at the LAC, Claude Arpi, one of the foremost authorities on China and Tibet, is out with the last of his four-volume book on the India-Tibet relations (1947- 1962), The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet.
Going through this book, and the three before it, it becomes obvious that India lost the “Roof of the World”, less due to the Chinese betrayal, and more because of the monumental failure of former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to see the writing on the wall. It was “a stab from the front”, as M.J. Akbar would write in his biography on Nehru.
Till 15 December 1950, the day Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel died, there was some sort of curb on Nehru’s ideological obsession. For, Patel could comprehend the real face of the Dragon. He had written a letter to Nehru on 7 November 1950, detailing the threats which China’s invasion of Tibet posed to India. Arpi tells us that Patel’s “prophetic” letter was actually a draft sent by Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, an eminent civil servant and diplomat. A month after the entry of the Chinese forces in Tibet, Patel sent Bajpai’s note under his own signature to Nehru. But the then Prime Minister chose to ignore it, and instead, was guided by the likes of K.M Panikkar and V.K. Krishna Menon, who would often question the efficacy of a strong army. This mindset alone explains why, at the time of the Chinese aggression, India’s gun factories were apparently producing coffee!
But once Patel wasn’t around, there was no one to put a leash on Nehru’s esoteric internationalism, often overlapped with obsessively moralistic and ideological overtones. The then PM pushed his ‘Hindi-Chini, Bhai-Bhai’ policy with a vengeance. So much so that he approved the supply of rice for the invading PLA troops in Tibet when the latter were busy rampaging and decimating the Tibetan way of life and culture in the early 1950s. “Without Delhi’s active support, the Chinese troops would not have been able to survive in Tibet,” writes Arpi.
This “rice diplomacy” continued for over four years, till the first truck reached Lhasa from the Chinese side in the mid-1950s. One wonders what would have happened had India not sent rice. Would the PLA have consolidated its hold over Tibet so easily? Instead of confronting China over its forceful annexation of Tibet, which replaced a peaceful neighbour for India with an aggressive, imperialist one, Nehru felicitated the same by providing food for the invading troops.
Arpi, in his latest book, extensively quotes Apa B. Pant, India’s Political Officer (PO) in Lhasa in the late 1950s. Pant had left an extensive record of his stay there, saying how “with each visit, my first impressions have been confirmed that Tibet is a country forcibly, with the might of military strength, ‘occupied’ by the Chinese”. Pant noted that roads were being constructed very rapidly: “The Lhasa-Tsinghai [Qinghai] highway going to the northern parts of Tibet is nearly 35 feet wide and extremely well constructed.” Comparing his previous trip from Yatung to Gyantse a year earlier, which then took nearly eleven hours to complete 145 miles as the road was extremely bad, he wrote that “the same journey could be accomplished in less than seven hours”. The PO’s conclusion was that he had no doubt whatsoever that “before the road on our side is completed, the road on the Tibetan side would be ready”.
Arpi also quotes Pant to show how Tibetans looked up to India, and especially to “Chogyal Nehru” to rescue Tibet and its culture from Chinese aggression. “It is a well-known fact now that the people of Tibet consider India as the only country which can and will help their plight and the Prime Minister, [known in Tibet] as the Chogyal Nehru—Dharma Raja Nehru—would protect religion not only in Tibet but in the whole outside world.” For Pant, the hopes of the Tibetans were centred on India: “Everybody feels that a great miracle will be performed by India and Nehru.”
Sadly, it never happened, primarily because Chogyal Nehru had other plans. But as later events suggest, and as revealed by Arpi, Mao’s China used the Tibet experience to prepare for an armed assault against India in 1962. Arpi writes about a forthcoming book, Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet and the China-India Border War, by Chinese-born scholar Jianglin Li. He quotes Matthew Akester, Jianglin’s colleague who wrote a summary of his findings, as saying: “No doubt the 1962 border war was a big defeat for India. In the decades since, numerous books and articles have been published dealing with its cause, process and result… I would like to present a few historical details from Chinese sources that may have gone unnoticed. These concern the eastern sector of the conflict, on which some documentary sources are available.”
Akester quotes from Jianglin’s forthcoming book, in which she demonstrates how the PLA used the operations against “rebels” on the Tibetan plateau between 1957 and 1962 to prepare for the war with India. Though the Chinese “official” history of the war affirms that the PLA was unprepared, Jianglin Li discovered that it was not exactly the case. So, all in all, Nehru’s India provided rice to Mao’s men to prepare for a war that they would later wage on India itself!
The book also reveals how the Government of India chose to first ignore—and then hide from people as well as the Parliament—China’s intrusion into India’s Aksai Chin area, even making a road there as early as 1954- 55. In early 1958, five months after the “official” opening, Subimal Dutt, the Indian Foreign Secretary, wrote to Nehru: “There seemed little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road connecting Gartok in Western Tibet with Yeh [Yecheng] in Sinkiang passes through Aksai Chin.” Dutt suggested sending a reconnoitring party “in the coming spring” to find out if the road had really been built on Indian territory. The next day, Nehru agreed, but added: “I do not think it is desirable to have air reconnaissance. In fact, I do not see what good this can do us. Even a land reconnaissance will not perhaps be very helpful… I think it would be better to do this rather informally.”
So, China blatantly occupied and built a road on Indian territory, and the Prime Minister wanted to take up the issue informally! Incidentally, a year later, Nehru hid the truth in the Parliament when it first came up on 22 April 1959 during a discussion on Chinese maps displaying Indian territory as China’s. Braj Raj Singh, an MP, queried: “May I know whether the Government’s attention has been drawn to the news item published in several papers alleging that the Chinese have claimed some 30,000 sq km of our territory and they have also disputed the McMahon line?” This was clearly related to the Aksai Chin as well as the eastern sector. Nehru’s answer was misleading, to say the least: “I would suggest to Hon. Members not to pay much attention to news items emanating sometimes from Hong Kong and sometimes from other odd places. We have had no such claim directly or indirectly made on us.”
It was only in August 1959 that Nehru dropped the bombshell in the Parliament: that the ‘Tibet-Sinkiang highway’ had been built through Indian territory.
Arpi also brings up the issue of India’s superior air power in 1962 vis-à-vis China. He quotes the Dalai Lama’s memoirs, Freedom in Exile, narrating his last days in Tibet: “From Lhuntse Dzong, we passed to the small village of Jhora and from there to the Karpo pass, the last before the border. Just as we were nearing the highest point of the track we received a bad shock. Out of nowhere, an aeroplane appeared and flew directly overhead. It passed quickly—too quickly for anyone to be able to see what markings it had—but not so fast that the people on board could have missed spotting us. This was not a good sign. If it was Chinese, as it probably was, there was a good chance that they now knew where we were. With this information they could return to attack us from the air, against which we had no protection. Whatever the identity of the aircraft, it was a forceful reminder that I was not safe anywhere in Tibet. Any misgivings I had about going into exile vanished with this realisation: India was our only hope.”
The author then says that it could well have been an Indian airplane from Squadron 106, as mentioned to him by Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath. “It is worth mentioning here after meeting Wing Commander Jaggi Nath, we realised that the Indian Air Force had been extensively flying over Tibet between 1959 and 1962.” Among other things, the two-time Maha Vir Chakra awardee said: “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out… They did not believe me that there was no Chinese air force.”
Arpi further writes, “Today, it is clear that there was no PLA Air Force worth its name and that the Chinese planes did not have the capacity to fly over Southern Tibet, one can only deduce that the plane seen by the Dalai Lama and his party was a Canberra of the 106 Squadron of the Indian Air Force.”
While detailing the flight of the Dalai Lama, the author also exposes China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh. He writes, “If Arunachal had always been ‘Chinese territory’, as Beijing pretends today, why did the PLA’s troops stationed in Lhoka and Kongpo areas of ‘Southern Tibet’ not follow the Dalai Lama when he crossed the Indian border in Khenzimane/Chuthangmu, north of Tawang on March 31, 1959. The Chinese troops should have done so, if the Tawang and Bomdila districts belonged to China! But they did not! Why? Simply, because, at that time, China did not consider NEFA, today Arunachal Pradesh, as part of its territory.”
The book ends on a tragic note with India getting humiliated in 1962. But one of the most poignant portions of the book lies here: the fate of the prisoners of war (PoWs). Very few people know that more than 3,900 PoWs faced harrowing treatment at the hands of the Chinese. Read the book to find out how our political leaders left them as cannon fodder in front of the PLA troops, and yet, those bravehearts didn’t give in.
They first fought the Chinese on the battlefront, and later, suffered unfathomable torture in their custody—but refused to give in. The End of an Era is a stark reminder of the fact that when China talks of peace, India should better prepare for war. The Dragon did the same in 1962. It is doing the same in 2020. The difference is that there’s no Nehru in India now. And it’s not the India of 1962.
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GLAD THAT I LISTENED TO MY INSTINCTS: TANUJ VIRWANI
Tanuj Virwani, who has won a lot of accolades for his role in ‘The Tattoo Murders’, recently joined NewsX for an exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List and opened up about his current projects and how the pandemic has been affecting him.
Tanuj Virwani is an actor and model, who has won a lot of accolades for his role in ‘The Tattoo Murders’ on Disney+Hotstar, and yet again he packed with a powerful role as ACP Aditya in ‘Murder Meri Jaan’ streaming on Disney + Hotstar alongside Barkha Singh. Along with being an actor he has shown a keen interest in direction and writing and has made several socially relevant short films. Tanuj recently joined NewsX for an exclusive interview as part of NewsX India A-List and talked about how his current projects and roles in it and how the pandemic has been affecting him.
When asked about what convinced the director and also him to do the role in his recent film ‘Tattoo Murders’, Tanuj shared with us, “If you propose that question in front of our director Shravan sir maybe he will ask what convinced Tanuj to do the role. It was sort of a perfect role because I think I was also itching to do something different. Since I have started getting work, I have been offered an array of roles such as after ‘Inside Edge’ I have been offered interesting projects. It was more urban in the treatment of how those characters lived, and I specifically felt that with the character of Prabhat Pratap on ‘Tattoo Murders’, it offered me the chance to do something drastically different and I like to experiment.”
“On this particular project, I did not have the sort of pressure to carry a shoot but I was okay to try something different because sometimes you will pass with flying colours and audience will embrace it or sometimes just mixed reactions. But if you don’t try, if you don’t take that first step into the water you will never know whether you can sink or swim. I think the OTT platform also largely should be credited because it really gives us as actors a lot more scope for experimentation, shoots and even films.”
When asked about how appealing the role was to him, the actor replied, “Absolutely, the one thing I am happy having seen the show entirely is that our director who is also one of the writers on the show was kind of able to read it in the authenticity that was present in the writing. Many times what happens is that things get lost in translation, you might read a script and whereas the whole story may appeal to you but when you see the way it’s finally done on the screen executed very differently. In this particular case, I feel Shravan sir has done an excellent job of maintaining the authenticity and it’s very raw and very edgy because there’s no sex involved in a lot of projects was involved shooting in real life which I think will be impossible during a pandemic but we finished shooting just before Covid has hit.”
When asked about his success with digital platforms, Tanuj said, “I think just the visibility of what OTT platform offers to actors like myself and many others in my position is insane. I still remember when I was signed on ‘Inside Edge’ and we were shooting back in 2016, a lot of us were very cautiously optimistic that we know we are making something cool and interesting but no one could have in their wildest dreams thought like the impact it could have. Today when you look at the entire landscape of entertainment in our country it has just shifted so dramatically and has given birth to so many wonderful actors and I consider myself very fortunate that I am an active actor at this point of my career who is getting these opportunities. I am just so glad that I listened to my instincts and it has given me even more confidence on going ahead to trust my instincts.”
While talking about his next upcoming movie, the actor shared with us and said, “The lineup seems to be very solid right now so I believe my next release would be a show called ‘Tandoor’ that is based on a Tandoor murder case that happened in Delhi in 1995 and I am portraying the role of the person who was responsible for it and it’s a miracle to get that on Covid situation. I have got another show coming up with Barkha Singh so I am looking forward to it as it has given me another opportunity to do other works. There is one upcoming project which I am passionate about with the mafia in Bombay city because it’s again a very different kind of project.”
When asked how the actor himself has adjusted to the pandemic situation, Tanuj revealed, “Everybody collectively put our guards down and we are in a probably worst situation than from last year. I would like to say is that we all have been redirecting for the last year about social distancing, sanitisation and wearing masks and hence I request viewers to take of themselves and others around especially those who are vulnerable. It has been frustrating for me also but whenever I put on television I consider myself extremely fortunate and grateful to be in the position that I am and there is so much to look forward to in life and I am sure few years from now when we will look back at this as learning curve thinking and how we lived through it and we survived.”
Cryptocurrencies: Regulation is the constructive way forward
Is the wave of cryptocurrency a destructive tsunami that shall annihilate the financial system or a lucrative opportunity that ought to be pushed towards profitable shores? Given that the first cryptocurrency, bitcoin, traded at $0.08 when it was created in 2009, even after accounting for its significant fluctuations, its current value of $35,876, is enough to make jaws drop and eyes roll.
What makes cryptocurrency so valuable despite it having no intrinsic value? Top cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin trade at amounts that are unthinkable for an intangible piece of code. While this can be baffling, on deeper scrutiny, print money’s valuation is equally without any intrinsic value. Once the gold standard was removed in the 1930s as a basis to value fiat currency, the central bank of a country was effectively the sole determinator of its value. So the RBI dictates the value of the Rupee and if it decides to devalue it against the dollar or print more money, it can easily do so. However, there is still a level of stability associated with the value of the rupee owing to several factors on the demand and the centralised nature of its regulation, as is true of most fiat currency from stable economies. On the other hand, it begs the question of whether a currency whose value can fluctuate from $58,000 to $30,000 on an Elon Musk tweet can be said to have any level of stability.
The value of cryptocurrency is derived from demand and supply, media forecasts and finite coin mining. Being platformed on blockchain technology and a decentralised distributed ledger system it has no central authority which approves and maintains a record of the database and determines its value. Despite the banking system being one of the oldest institutions backed by the Central government, the absence of an intermediary has not stalled the growth of cryptocurrencies because it has developed on a peer to peer network, being freely tradable by individuals and vesting control directly into the hands of the owner. Its convertibility into fiat currency is also at the behest of individuals who, through exchanges, are perfectly happy accepting it as tender which constitutes a discharge of debt.
Moving forward, there is great uncertainty about the place of cryptocurrencies in the formal economy on account of the concerns of the state-regulated banking system. Lately, the Chinese government, amongst others, has vowed to crackdown on crypto-exchanges amidst growing leakages from their financial system. El Salvador, in stark contrast, became the first country to formally introduce cryptocurrency in its financial system and recognise it as legal tender. Several countries stand between these two extremes and recognise cryptocurrency in a limited capacity by regulating its use. India is at such an inflection point and must decide which path to follow.
As with most significant technological developments, India viewed cryptocurrency with scepticism but did little about it from 2008 till sometime in 2018, when the RBI decided to come out with a circular that disallowed banks from allowing persons to trade in cryptocurrency. That step was taken without the legislature disallowing trade in cryptocurrency, so it effectively never made cryptocurrency illegal but created a surrogate ban for its official trade. The result was cryptocurrency exchanges relocating themselves outside of India and those wanting to trade in cryptocurrency proceeding to do it from outside the country. The RBI’s circular was struck down by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Internet and Mobile Association of India v RBI, which meant that crypto-currency, never considered illegal in India, could be traded and conversions into fiat currency done through the formal banking channel. However, as with most things, matters did not end with the Supreme Court’s decision. The recent experience with cross border trade in cryptocurrency in violation of foreign exchange guidelines served as another important reminder that regulation, and not prohibition, is the way forward. The cryptocurrency exchange WazirX was put on notice by the Enforcement Directorate for the alleged violation of foreign exchange laws.
Rather than a blanket or a surrogate ban, acknowledging that the Indian authorities are well within their rights to prosecute the unauthorised and illegal use of cryptocurrency is the way to serve all stakeholders and is better in the long run, even from a tax collection standpoint. Allowing interested traders to access the market through legitimate and regulated means would help negate many of the worries associated with cryptocurrency transactions. Banning cryptocurrency is likely to further incentivise investment through the black market thereby leading to even more leakages from the formal economy.
India can take several cues from beyond its borders on how to approach the regulation of cryptocurrency. The European Union, while cautioning against the dangers of cryptocurrencies, has permitted its use by regulating it. Cryptocurrency trading is also permitted in the USA, UK, Canada, Brazil and Russia, amongst others. For example, in the USA, people who trade in cryptocurrencies must follow centralised regulations and must register with accredited bodies to enforce anti-money laundering programs, keep appropriate records and make reports to FinCEN. With the active monitoring of such reports, it is possible to regulate the entire market holistically to avoid funding criminal activities such as terrorism.
With carefully crafted safeguards most of these concerns can be tamed. The potential for cryptocurrencies to destabilise the system can be addressed by simple checks such as permitting trading only through exchanges and limiting deposits and withdrawals. By placing limits on the volume of sales and purchases as a percentage of the total holding, the volatility can be controlled in the same manner as the stock market. That said, while there have been talks of cryptocurrency regulation in India and several policy papers, they have not materialised into a proper regulation. A bill in Parliament proposes criminal penalties for mining, holding, selling, trading, issuance, disposal, or use of cryptocurrency and at the same time introduces the Digital Rupee as the RBI backed digital currency. However, that was followed by a ministerial press statement that suggested that even if the bill was tabled for the RBI to launch a Digital Rupee, it would not criminalise cryptocurrency. That bill is yet to be tabled. Further, high echelons of the government and in particular the Finance Ministry have made positive statements to the media on the subject, which shines a bright ray of hope, but not without the usual policy surprises.
The question is whether India wants to follow China or embrace the winds of change with strong controls that are in sync with the liberal free-market economy. By embracing new technologies in our democratic and progressive nation, the twin objective of strengthening the dream of a digital India and not missing on the Blockchain revolution will become a reality. Gautam Buddha’s adage holds true even in today’s world: “Change is never painful, only resistance is.” There is no reason for India to impose a complete ban. Appropriate regulation and taxation are the tools to introduce it within the system for safe and legal use.
Nakul Dewan is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and Barrister, Twenty Essex, Singapore and London. Nakul was the lead counsel who successfully argued against the RBI’s cryptocurrency ban in Internet and Mobile Association of India v RBI. Avishkar Singhvi is an Independent Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The views expressed are personal.
By embracing new technologies in our democratic and progressive nation, the twin objective of strengthening the dream of a digital India and not missing on the Blockchain revolution will become a reality. Gautam Buddha’s adage holds true even in today’s world: “Change is never painful, only resistance is.” There is no reason for India to impose a complete ban on cryptocurrency. Appropriate regulation and taxation are the tools to introduce it within the system for safe and legal use.
FASHION WAS NEVER A PLAN B FOR ME: RANNA GILL
NEW DELHI: Fashion designer Ranna Gill recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List . She gave an insight into her journey and shared how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
An alumnus of the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Ranna Gill launched her label ‘Ranna Gill’ two decades ago. Over the years, she has carved a space of her own in the Indian fashion industry. Ranna recently joined NewsX’s special series NewsX India A-List and spoke about not only her journey but also how the pandemic has impacted the fashion industry.
Speaking about how the pandemic has impacted her label and how she overcame the challenges, Ranna said, “We are still fighting. The challenges were big. We overcame them a little bit and then we came back to the fighting ground again. We have two businesses, so we have an export business in the United States and then we have stores and retail in India. So, we kind of need to paddle both. When this side of the river is stormy, we jump to the other side. We kind of need to paddle both sides and somehow try to come out of it, get out of the troubled water and we will.”
When asked about the brand ‘Ranna Gill’ and how was it conceptualised, she responded, “It is a lot of work. I started this brand with my mother, so the company is owned by my mom and me. I always loved fashion as a young student. I went to fashion school, it was my passion, it was my first love. It was what I always wanted to do so it’s not a plan B. It’s not like I wanted to be something else and I just rolled into fashion. I studied fashion. I have got bachelors in fashion from FIT New York, so I am a student of fashion and as well as a fashion designer. So, I have trained in fashion and I have always loved it. Even to this date, after having done designing for over twenty years, I still get excited when I look at products when I look at fashion I look at colours. Colours to me are like what candy is to children. It’s just such a special treat to look at the colour palette, to look at swatches, to dip die, to look at textures. Prints are an important USP to our brand. Even now, I am wearing a print from my collection. I love prints, the play of prints, and colours. We like to do easier, more playful, more ready to wear bodies, using these tools. We always stay closer to the story, what it is speaking, what the brand is speaking to its customers. You will always see colour in our collection and you will always see prints in our collection.”
Talking about the trick or mantra behind increased online sales amid the pandemic, she said, “I think it’s mostly product and the price point. It’s not very expensive, not very pricey and it’s not very difficult to wear. You don’t need to think of an occasion before coming onto our website or our stores to buy a line. To buy our products, whether it is a blouse, a tunic or a dress, you can always buy them over this weekend or two weekends down. You can wear it in the summer or bring it up in the falls. I think the product is always the king and we stay close to our language or the message we are sending to our customers. We don’t pivot from sarees to sometimes go on to make a blouse. We are always going to make the blouses, the dresses and tunics and that’s what we are going to always be designing into and circling back to. I think the product is crucial, that helped us through this time, price point, sensible pricing. sensible making of products. It’s not too fashionable that it won’t be relevant next year or two years down the line. So it’s all of those things that we kind of always come back to.”
Finally, when asked about the lessons she learned during this phase and future plans for her brand, she said, “We want to 100% focus on our online business. That is where we are headed and that I think is the future. Having said that I think we can bring more to our stores maybe. I am a little old school but I still think that they are very lovely to come to our shop. The customer has this special feeling. When she comes to our store, the girls know her she wears the garment so I think it’s going to be a bit of both. It’s really not going to be some clear messaging but at the moment it’s online, of course.”
She added, “There have been some really hard learning lessons. I think one has to for all of us. For our brand, it was just mainly we just decided to fight for the brand. We were not going to give it away or let it go and we just kind of all held hands. When did our business quietly and just fought for what we stood for so many years? One thing we learnt in our business, is working via technology. In the past, we used to take a flight and go to any place and really quickly. We would meet a buyer or meet or go to fashion fair or meet. I feel that one of the great learning is that we all got out of this phase was using technology for fashion, for all streams of business, even to connect with friends and family and fighting for your own business. Those were the two big learnings for me.”
When a selfless approach was needed to fight Covid-19, corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. Even a crematorium wasn’t spared.
Kautilya sat down to write ‘Arthashastra’, one of the first books of economics in human history, some 2,300 years ago. And he ended up writing a whole chapter on ‘corruption’. He famously said, “Just like it is impossible not to taste a drop of honey that you find at the edge of the tongue, it is impossible for a King’s officer not to eat up a bit of King’s revenue.”
Essentially, it means that even as long ago as in 300 BC, we were rampantly corrupt and as a society, we exploited whatever individual power we had. Kautilya implied that for Indians, the very human nature itself poses corruption. Time and again it was proved in our history. Kingdoms grew or fell through some strategic corruption of individuals who switched sides at a critical time. Even the British India Company walked over this sub-continent and established the rule of Britain over us because we could be corrupted easily, and it was so effortless to divide us and rule.
Transparency International, which places us in the list of nations as a very corrupt society, remarked that over 92% Indians have been exposed to and/or indulged in corruption of either giving or receiving or both at some point in their lives. As a society, we indulge in it as a casual act of convenience. And then, we complain about it, make a fuss and cry wolf.
WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNMENTS ABSOLUTELY WIPE OUT CORRUPTION?
So, whether it is Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’ or a review by an international organisation, we have had an indisputable image as a corrupt society that can hardly be changed. In these 2,500 years, we have had several types of governments ruling over us — kingdoms, monarchies, dynasties, Sultanats,foreign colonisation, and democracies. There have been benevolent rulers, autocratic usurpers, people’s leaders, men of the sword, and religious oppressors, you name it and we have had it. But how come any form of government or system of rule could not bring down corruption through force, legislation, counselling, or any other means for thousands of years? Haven’t we punished people enough? Well, the country has historically practised capital punishment, dismemberment of limbs, jailing, public humiliation, seizing of property, and all kinds of punishment for corruption over centuries and millennia. Yet, as a society, we are as corrupt as we have been for thousands of years.
This essentially means that it is not the government or the law which is weak and unimaginative in bringing down corruption. It is just that as people, we are too strong and imaginative to remain corrupt by all means. The people perpetuate corruption as a means of convenience. And morally, we do not attach shame or guilt to being corrupt. Corruption is our blood trait. Corruption is more of people’s character in definition than being social malice that the governance can totally get rid of. What has stayed so for years shall remain the same in the coming years, unless we change at an individual level.
During these testing times, when a selfless and sincere approach was needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, this trait of corruption ruled the roost. A grocery shop owner fleeced customers citing short supply. A pharmacist hoarded life-saving medicines. A piece of basic equipment like a pulse oximeter suddenly disappeared from stores and if available, was sold at a much higher price. Black marketing of oxygen cylinders wreaked havoc on several families in dire need of oxygen. Even a taxi driver charged hefty sums from passengers. This shows that we can exploit any opportunity for money or material. And by stooping this low, we have also defeated all the good works of a large section of people during these difficult times. Individuals, organisations, even political parties, in their own capacities, have been providing free food, medicines, ambulances, oxygen, and all possible support to the needy but they were easily eclipsed by the rampant corruption surrounding us.
In the Covid era, we have seen that corruption has reached the zenith. It is not exaggerating to say that during the times of the pandemic, we have ‘corona’ated corruption and installed it on the throne. Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless.
People of all stature — from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends — had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus. It was widely reported that once you reach the hospitals, in the hope of some relief and cure, corruption widened its wings. Finding a hospital bed for the patient proved to be a Herculean task and in several cases, the hospital beds were hoarded by unscrupulous agents in connivance with the hospitals. Negotiating for an ambulance to take the critical patients to came as another shocker. News reports of ambulance operators charging Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 for ferrying patients to short distances of a few kilometres describe this moral corruption in the most absolute terms.
In our country, where total private infrastructure accounts for nearly 62% of all of India’s health infrastructure, it is easier for corruption to thrive at every level of the system. Medical staff were found refilling empty Remdesivir bottles with fake drugs and selling them to patients not only at a premium but also risking their lives, remorselessly. Patients and their families were cheated with fire extinguishers in the name of oxygen cylinders just when they needed oxygen to save the lives of their loved ones.
These instances are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The deep-rooted corruption at the health services goes up to kickbacks given to the health workers to please them and secure better services, thefts of medical instruments and medicines from the hospitals that are sold at a premium outside the hospitals. This ethical and moral bankruptcy have even driven them to the extent of recycling and selling bio-medical wastes like used face masks, PPE kits, and gloves for the sake of a few pennies. Hospitals were also found charging exorbitant fees from Covid patients.
And if one thought this face-off with corruption would end here, a rude shock awaited. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, who would have ever thought of corruption in the cremation grounds. Families of the deceased were charged up to Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 for cremating the bodies that used to be a matter of less than Rs 5,000 on normal days. The cost of woods and ghee spiralled through the sky as bodies queued up at crematoriums.
I began this article by saying that corruption is a blood trait of people. There is very little that anyone can do to remove evil from our surroundings if people act beyond the sanctity of morality. A thing that was never effectively curtailed for centuries will only increase and occupy the centre stage of our lives when people patronise it, benefit from it, and silently subscribe to it.
The present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has effectively shown how a system can be run without corruption. Having served for 20 years as head of the governments — in Gujarat and then at the Centre — without even a charge of corruption, PM Modi has an impeccable, clean character to inspire our generation to adopt honesty as their way of life. Unfortunately, even the high degree of honesty and morality of our Prime Minister failed to influence our society and proved that corruption was indeed our blood trait.
Governments can only help people’s will to change. But if they don’t want to change, there is no power with anyone anywhere to pull us out of the intricate mess that we have created for ourselves. Let us pledge not to exploit humanity with greed.
The writer is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.
Corruption thrives at the juncture of power. And power need not be political or administrative or of any high order. And if the opportunity is critical, rendering the other one helpless, distressed, and weak in some manner, it is all the more easier to exploit the situation. And the coronavirus pandemic has become a golden goose of benefit for the heartless, unscrupulous, and ruthless. People of all stature—from the rich and resourceful to the ones struggling to meet their ends—had to fight this corruption alongside fighting the deadly virus.
BORIS JOHNSON TO DELAY LIFTING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN UK
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday is expected to delay lifting of COVID-19 restrictions on June 21 as planned.
Johnson told British media from the G7 summit in Cornwall on Sunday that the government “is looking at the data”, reported euronews. “The roadmap was always cautious but irreversible and in order to have an irreversible roadmap, we’ve got to be cautious,” he added.
England’s four-step easing programme planned for all remaining restrictions on businesses—including pubs, restaurants and nightclubs—and on large events and performances—including weddings and funerals—is expected to be lifted on June 21.
The UK has experienced a surge of new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, blamed on the spread of the Delta variant.
Nearly 7,500 new infections were recorded on Sunday across the UK, bringing the weekly tally to more than 50,000—a near 50 per cent rise on the previous week, reported euronews.
This is despite the country having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 78.9 per cent of the adult population having received at least one dose and more than 56 per cent now fully inoculated.
British health authorities say that the Delta variant is up to 60 per cent more transmissible than the original strain and now represents over 90 per cent of new cases in the UK.
They also stressed last week that although vaccination prevents the risk of severe disease, it does not eliminate it completely or prevent transmission, reported euronews.
PROTESTS IN BERLIN TO MARK SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HONG KONG UPRISING
On the second anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising in Hong Kong, scores of people including German citizens and Hongkongers jointly organized a protest in Berlin, Germany.
Nearly 100 protestors including representatives of Tibetans and Uyghurs participated in the protest at Alexanderplatz, a large public square in the capital city, on June 12 against the widespread human rights abuse by the Chinese government. Demonstrations were staged in several cities across the globe on Saturday to commemorate the second anniversary of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Since June last year, the sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the city is being used to stifle political opposition and anti-government protests.
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