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Why PM Modi can’t be Ronald Reagan

In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics.

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On the eve of the 2019 elections, Ruchir Sharma, the chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, expressed his disappointment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a New York Times column. According to Sharma, beneath the Modi rhetoric of “minimum government, maximum governance” lay a Bernie Sanders-like socialism including a welfare splurge, which disappointed a free-marketeer like him who expected a Reagansque redux of reform and small state. In a subsequent book, he ascribes Modi’s socialism to electoral exigencies instead of philosophical moorings.

Sharma’s analysis is partly true. In a country where three-fourths of the population is either facing acute poverty or dependent on agriculture that is contingent upon the grace of rain gods, welfare spending becomes imperative rather than a choice. Hence, when American political scientist James Manor asked P.V. Narsimha Rao who his role model was, he intuitively named social democrat Willy Brandt, the German Chancellor whose economics was animated by expanding both private capitalism and welfare spending. Astute politicians like Rao and Modi, both boasting a humble background, understand social welfare as a fait accompli in India. While Modi never publicly espoused the likes of Brandt as his hero, his former chief troubleshooter and strategist, the late Arun Jaitley, alluded to this balance: “Being pro-poor and pro-business are not mutually exclusive.”

But what makes a government pro-business? The Ruchir Sharmas sitting in global capitals are much more ambitious in their ask from what is termed as a right-wing government in India. They can grudgingly countenance an increasing welfare spending so far as reforms remain on track. Lesser taxes, divestment, and minimum state interference start their wish list followed by a range of expectations. Reagan and Thatcher personify their ideas of economic governance, and hence, they sum up their pro-business laundry list by citing these conservative British and American giants.

The lack of an Indian Reagan is partly due to electoral reasons but also partly due to the lack of an intellectual ecosystem that produces Reaganomics. President Reagan enacted policies that incubated in the American conservative movement for decades. The likes of the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation prepared the fine print that was impregnated with political will before those policies were finally conceived. Reagan was a heavy consumer of Friedmanite worldview even before he considered running for the presidency. However, it was The Heritage Foundation, headed by Edwin Feulner, that injected conservative principles and policies through a 1000-odd pages prescription-laden manual, which encompassed a potential policy outlook for all major US cabinet departments and federal agencies. To see these policies through, the Foundation manned key political appointments with suitable conservatives.

Thatcher’s story is no different. Her two steady sources of prescriptions were the Institute of Economic Affairs and then-inchoate Center for Policy Studies. Sir Keith Joseph, another Friedmanite and founder of CPS, is considered the most significant influence on Thatcher while she was in office. He chose to be the Secretary of State for Industry in the Thatcher administration and kicked off the divestment program in Britain on an unprecedented scale.

Coming back home, where are Modi’s Edwin Feulner and Keith Joseph? Where are BJP’s Heritage Foundation and Center for Policy Studies? Surely, Sangh has affiliate organisations working on economic policies—Swadeshi Jagran Manch (focuses on indigenous economic development), Bharatiya Vitta Salhakar Samiti (for finance and taxation professional), Laghu Udyog Bharati (for small and medium enterprises), and Sahkar Bharati (for cooperatives). These organizations, more than producing an economic canon that defines the Indian right, have mostly served as a feedback loop for RSS and BJP. Something that comes closest to a CPS is Vivekanda International Foundation in terms of personnel, but its impact on policy is not that evident.

Economics, it seems, is barely on the mind of even modern Hindutva ideologues. For example, BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta in his book Awakening Bharat Mata curated two dozen essays by the pantheon Indian right would like to venerate. From historian R.C. Majumdar to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and current Sangh ideologue S. Gurumurthy, it features the writings of who’s who. The anthology attempts to collate and create a philosophical canon sans a single essay on economic thought.

Another BJP MP, Subramanian Swamy, now a little sidelined politically, produced his version of ‘constitutional Hindutva’ in his book The Ideology of India’s Modern Right outlining five dimensions that suggest how Hindutva can exist within a constitutional framework. To his credit, Swamy, an old free-market warhorse and professional economist, sporadically mentions minimalist state as a governance desideratum. His subsequent work Reset makes a modest attempt to add to his earlier work using the framework of Integral Humanism of Pandit Dindayal Upadhyaya but falls short of adumbrating a complete economic program.

The illustrations of two oft-visible ideologues broach the lack of clarity and focus on economic thought in the broader Hindutva intellectual imagination. Their relevance to and influence on policy, if at all, remain questionable. Somehow, the Indian right, too preoccupied to parry itself from secular salvos, have failed to produce an ecosystem that can moor itself in a coherent economic philosophy. Such an ecosystem has to function outside of the party in the quiet, away from the rough and tumble of incessant elections.

Finally, such an intellectual ecosystem not only incubates policies but reconciles economics with other priorities of the movement. When Tory Brexiteers faced the challenge of squaring business interests with their Euroscepticism, the policy ecosystem outside the party salvaged them. Through its extensive outreach, it also brought on board scores of businesses who otherwise saw Brexit as detrimental to their trade.

Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Reagan or Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given. The Reagan part of it still remains undefined, and to an extent, unimagined. It is high time for this intellectual vacuum to be filled by the Indian right drawing from two ancient ideals: Sarve sukhinah santuh (prosperity for all) and making India vishwaguru (a leading major economy).

Chirayu Thakkar is a Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, Washington DC. The views expressed are personal.

Ruchir Sharma is correct to predict that India would never have its Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. In toto import of Western economic conservatism would be both unsuitable and undesirable. Given electoral exigencies, an occupant of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg would never be able to sign-up for it either. India would need a cocktail of Sanders and Reagan is a given.

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Opinion

CHALLENGES FACING MAINSTREAM POLITICS IN BANGLADESH TODAY

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In the 50 years since its independence, mainstream politics in Bangladesh has faced a difficult challenge. The main opponents of democratic politics are now Islamist fundamentalist groups which have gradually accumulated massive power in Bangladesh, a state based on secularism and national identity. However, there are countless forces that do not believe in the basic principles of Bangladesh. Political analysts believe that the reasons for their rise include the two military coups, the lack of proper practice of democracy, the indulgence of Islamist parties on various pretexts, and failure to take timely action to stop their rise and prevent Islamist groups from contacting Pakistan.

During the War of Liberation, two main pro-Islam political parties opposed the independence of Bangladesh. One was the Muslim League and the other Jamaat-e-Islami. Among the leftist parties, the Chinese, who were divided into different factions, were against the liberation war. After Independence, the Muslim League was politically abandoned and the government banned Jamaat-e-Islami. At that time, Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam formed a committee to restore Pakistan and traveled to different countries, urging governments and heads of state not to recognize Bangladesh. Later, the Bangladesh government revoked Azam’s citizenship. 

After the assassination of “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, army officer Ziaur Rahman came to power and formed a political party called the Bangladeh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP was joined by leaders and activists of the Muslim party, which was defeated in 1971, and the majority of leaders and activists of the pro-China political parties. At that time, Ziaur Rahman allowed the anti-liberation Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami to enter politics and also reinstated the citizenship of Ghulam Azam. From this time onwards, the politics of Bangladesh was divided into two streams—for and against the liberation war.

Sheikh Hasina returned to the country after being elected the President of the Bangladesh Awami League from her political asylum in Delhi. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League quickly became strong. After her return, the politics of the country started flowing in two streams again: pro-Awami League and anti-Awami League. Sheikh Hasina declared that her party’s policy would be based on secularism and Bengali nationalism. Hasina formed a political front with 14 leftist political parties which believed in the spirit of the liberation war. On the other hand, Khaleda Zia formed a political front with seven political parties. Besides the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, the other allies of this front were also pro-Islam.

In its 2008 election manifesto, the Awami League announced the trial of major leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami who were accused of war crimes. When Sheikh Hasina came to power, she started the trial process of the war criminals in 2009. Several top leaders of the party were convicted and sentenced to death. The most powerful fundamentalist party in the country fell into disarray at this time.

However, the radical Jamaat-e-Islami adopted four new strategies to sustain itself. On July 8, 2010, the party sent a circular to all its branches, issuing instructions to party leaders and workers to infiltrate the ruling Awami League. Youth workers were asked to join the court as lawyers so it could save them from police harassment. Thirdly, workers were also asked to take up journalism as a profession and join the pro-Awami League journalists’ forum. Finally, leaders and activists were told to take over the leadership of various branches of Hefazat-e-Islami instead of Jamaat-e-Islami. In the circular, Shafiqur Rahman, the current Amir of Jamaat, also mentioned that this was the way to go for the time being in order to survive and secretly organize themselves for the future. 

In addition, Jamaat-e-Islami has invested huge sums of money in and sent its cadres to Europe, the US, Middle Eastern countries and Malaysia, from where they launch cyber attacks and spread propaganda against Sheikh Hasina’s government. The Awami League government has also failed to respond to such cyber propaganda. The cyber sphere in Bangladesh is now under the control of the fundamentalists. Investigation shows that about 56,000 leaders and activists of Jamaat and Shibir have already infiltrated the Awami League since 2010. The government is not able to stop further infiltration. 

Although Khaleda Zia’s party, the BNP, has several anti-fundamentalist and liberal democracy-minded leaders, the main leader, Tariq Zia, is in favour of giving shelter to the fundamentalists. There have been several demands to expel Jamaat made by the BNP’s political front, but that has not been done yet. Why not? The top leader of the BNP, known as a liberal, has said that so many Jamaat members have infiltrated the BNP that a large part of the party’s top leadership is from the fundamentalist party.

These fundamentalists are now sustaining themselves in Bangladesh through various tactics. By occupying the country’s cyber space and putting out misleading interpretations of Islam, they are inciting the youth of the country against the principle of secularism and Bengali culture.

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Opinion

Why Tintin is forever

From seven to 70-year-olds, Belgium to Tibet, and comic books to the silver screen, the swashbuckling reporter Tintin has left an indelible mark on the world—and through his iconic stature lives on the talent and charm of his creator, Georges Remi, or as he was better known, Hergé.

Bhuvan Lall

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Eight decades ago, on 15 April 1941, many parts of Europe were in flames. Nazi Germany had wreaked havoc across the continent. France and Belgium were under Nazi occupation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had walked through the bombed sites in Bristol devastated by the Luftwaffe. It was noted that tears filled the tough-minded British Prime Minister’s eyes. For Churchill and Britain, it was not so much a battle for survival but a struggle to survive. Across the Atlantic, President Roosevelt made a speech promising aid to the British and their allies in their war against the fascists “until total victory has been won”.

On that April afternoon, in the middle of the World War, a 33-year-old Belgian comic book creator, artist, and writer, Georges Remi, was at the Théâtre Royal des Galeries, Brussels to attend the performance of a play penned by him. Born on 22 May 1907 in Etterbeek district of Brussels, Remi drew and wrote under the name Hergé (his initials G. R. transposed and pronounced air-zhay). With his artistic hand and creative storytelling, he gave life to the perpetual adolescent hero, Tintin. The first-ever Tintin comic appeared in black and white in the French-language newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle on 10 January 1929. It was an instant hit. Right from the beginning, Tintin the teenaged snub-nosed Belgian reporter with his trademark quiff of hair, accompanied by Snowy, his faithful fluffy white fox terrier, embarked on voyages and swashbuckling adventures around the world. Tintin, whose cause was just and whose heart was pure, personified courage and loyalty by fighting for the oppressed. Each episode was a page-turner sprinkled with slapstick comedy, sophisticated satire and political comment. Hergé once admitted Tintin was a projection of his inner self, stating, “I am Tintin… I am no hero. But like all 15-year-old boys, I have dreamed about being one. And I never stopped dreaming.”

Hergé dispatched his hero to Russia to denounce communism, teach African children in Congo, sail to America to take on gangsters, and witness Native Americans being driven from their land. Subsequently, Tintin chased drug smugglers through Indian jungles in the Kingdom of Gaipajama, dealt with spies and drug smugglers in China, headed off to the deep forests in Latin America in search of a statue, pursued a gang of counterfeiters across Scotland, and even saved the Balkan state of Syldavia from annexation by its neighbor Borduria, whose leaders had been plotting with a fictional character ‘Musstler’ (a contraction of Mussolini and Hitler and a great anti-fascist statement). 

Then 12 years after Tintin first arrived, in the spring of 1940, the Nazis landed on his doorstep in his hometown as the occupational force. It was a difficult year for artists and writers in Belgium. The Nazi regime turned significantly more repressive and the persecution of the Belgian Jews escalated. On orders from the Nazis, Le Petit Vingtième, the publisher of Tintin, was shuttered, never to reopen, and Hergé was forced to transfer the adventures of the journalist from The Daily Reporter to one of Belgium’s main dailies Le Soir, that was a known Nazi collaborator. Working in the stifling climate of censorship, Hergé was disturbed by the constant sirens, bombardments and noisy air raids. Yet he continued to contribute to the popularisation of comics in Europe. In April 1941, Hergé watched Jeanne Rubens perform the lead role in Tintin aux Indes – Le Mystère du Diamant Bleu (Tintin in India – The Mystery of the Blue Diamond) on the stage in Brussels. It was a three-act theatre piece set in distant India, co-written by Hergé with Jacques Van Melkebeke.

In the play, the intrepid Belgian comic book hero solved a mystery about a stolen blue diamond in the fictional state of Padakhore. The play concluded with the relentless do-gooder catching the thief in the medieval hall of the Chateau of Syldavia. Directed by Paul Riga, Tintin aux Indes received a positive response from the Belgians, and to Hergé’s satisfaction, it had three more outings. Surviving through the war years, Tintin, the world traveler from the small European nation, continued to raise Belgian spirits and became an indisputable national hero. However, in the post-war period, Hergé was shockingly detained for questioning four times on unsubstantiated charges of collaboration with the Nazis. The members of the resistance who loved Tintin came to his rescue. Then due to the occasional appalling language, narrow ethnic jokes, stereotypical caricatures of non-European characters, crude propaganda, and colonial tints in some of the comics, Hergé faced accusations of racism, resulting in multiple revisions of his works. Hergé touched up, redrew, and recoloured the old stories and soon his creation evolved into Belgium’s most celebrated exports.

Over the next decades, the young Belgian, imbibed with high moral standing through his 23 plus one half-finished comic book adventures, captivated millions of fans, cutting across age and nationality. Hergé surrounded his protagonist with over 228 zany and eccentric characters including the vast of the brain, hard of hearing, absent-minded scientist-inventor Professor Calculus, the yowling shrill-voiced Milanese nightingale Bianca Castafiore, the irritating chatterbox insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg, the overworked butler Nestor, the bumbling hapless bushy-mustached bowler-hatted detectives from Interpol – Thomson and Thompson twins, and his gruff sidekick, a quick-tempered alcoholic bearded sailor Captain Archibald Haddock, who screams “Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles” and has a collection of more than 220 insulting epithets like “Bashi-bazouks”, “Ectoplasms”, and “Sea-gherkins”In his comic, the mild-mannered Hergé also made the Hitchcockian appearance and was seen discreetly attending ceremonies, taking notes, or interviewing Tintin as a reporter himself.

In the pre-social media, Internet, and television era, countless people, from seven to 77-year-olds, followed Tintin as he traveled beyond his home at the Marlinspike Hall to new countries, cultures, landscapes, and natural phenomena which were still relatively unheard of. In the 62-page comic books, the footloose allrounder hero with his usual squadron of supporting characters and crazy villains covered continents on foot, horses, carts, hand rickshaws, camels, elephants, cycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks, buses, tanks, trains, boats, rafts, ships, submarines, helicopters, light aircraft, fighter planes, airliners, private jets, spaceships, and even a flying saucer. Tintin took his fans to lands as far afield from the perilous seas, rainforests, snow-clad mountains, and burning deserts to a meteorite and even outer space. It is rumored that when Neil Armstrong finally landed on the moon in July 1969, President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire reminded President Richard Nixon that it was Tintin – the one-time visitor to Congo – who had reached the moon first. In 1954, Tintin wearing an orange space suit made the trip through space in a red and white chequered rocket and landed on the moon in the double comic books, Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. 

Tintin’s enduring appeal made him an iconic character and a friend to millions of children worldwide. With fans even as far as India, Hergé had once claimed, “I receive… a lot of mail from India. Here, in the office, are two letters from Calcutta. Now, what can there be in common between a boy in Calcutta and myself?” In 1934, his hero crash-landed in an Indian jungle in his fourth adventure, The Cigars of the Pharaoh. Besides the clichéd fakirs, fortune tellers, tigers, cows, snake charmers, and cobras, Tintin met with some British residents of the colonial era and in the end joined his host, the Maharaja of Gaipajama, on a bejeweled elephant, in a victory procession. Later from September 1958 to November 1959, Studios Hergé serialized the twentieth volume of the comic series, Tintin in Tibet. The comic book’s release coincided with His Holiness Dalai Lama’s successful escape from Lhasa to India. Worked out after extensive research, it told the story of Tintin’s search for his friend Chang, who goes missing in the Himalayas after a plane crash. Desperate to find him, Tintin and Haddock land at the Willingdon Airport in Delhi as a brief stopover on their way to Kathmandu. In the afternoon they visit the Red Fort and Qutub Minar, and take a trip through a typical Indian bazaar. Lost in the Himalayas, they seek refuge in a Buddhist monastery inhabited by a levitating monk. Eventually battling blizzards, Tintin retrieves his friend from the snow-bound heights and also encounters a very emotional Yeti. Tintin in Tibet was voted the greatest French-language graphic novel of all time and was said to be Hergé’s favorite. By the 1970s Hergé became interested in eastern philosophy and Tintin took to yoga in Tintin and the Picaros.

Hergé with his talent for pacing, intrigue, and action, elevated comic book storytelling to almost the thrill of watching movies. On 6 December 1961, Tintin et le Mystere de la Toison d’Or, the first of the two Tintin original feature films starring Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin and Georges Wilson as Haddock, was released to mixed results followed by a similar outcome with the second live-action film, Tintin et les Oranges Blues in 1964. Hergé’s little masterpieces had been adapted for the radio, stage, puppet shows, musicals, animation, television, movies, and even BBC programs, but Tintin could not cross over to America and Hollywood perhaps because he was not a superhero. Interestingly on the 44th page of Tintin in America, the victorious reporter is surrounded by the American press in Chicago and a Hollywood agent in a suit shouts: “Paranoid Productions are starring you in their new billion-dollar movie spectacular!”

By a strange quirk of fate, in 1983, Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, while reading the French language reviews of his blockbuster hit, Raiders of the Lost Ark, came across repeated references to Tintin. He got hold of a Tintin adventure Prisoners of the Sun and was immediately smitten, accepting, “Every single panel told a story in cinematic terms, including color pallet, composition, figures in action… that was I think the genius of Hergé. It was a movie”. A call was organized in the middle of February 1983 with Hergé and it turned out the artist was a fan of Spielberg, having loved his first film, Duel, in 1971. Spielberg, who decades later in 2011 directed and produced The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, later revealed that Hergé had told him, “You are the only director I feel who can do justice to my book”. After the call, a meeting between Hergé and Spielberg was arranged first in London and then in Brussels but it did not materialize. The health of 75-year-old Hergé was failing and on 25 February 1983, he was rushed in an ambulance to the Saint-Luc Clinic in Brussels. Seven days later on 3 March, as the clock hit ten in the evening, Georges Remi, one of the greatest comic book artists of the 20th century, passed away. The adventures of Hergé ended that night and his death was front-page news in the Francophone world. A headline ran, “Tintin est mort”. Everyone realized that there would be no Tintin without Hergé. 

Over the years, with more than 200 million copies in more than 80 languages, including Tibetan and Esperanto, sold worldwide, the simplicity and complexity of Hergé’s comics resulted in Tintin attaining superstardom and a global following. General de Gaulle had famously declared that Tintin was his only international rival while Hugh Grant professed his love for Tintin’s King Ottokar’s Sceptre. Andy Warhol who met Hergé was a big fan, and so was Roy Lichtenstein. The French philosopher Michel Serres declared that Hergé was the author who has had the “most impact on contemporary French life.” In 1999, following a survey by Le Monde, Tintin’s The Blue Lotus was ranked 18th amongst books that left their mark on the 20th century. On 1 June 2006, the Dalai Lama bestowed the Light of Truth award posthumously to Georges Remi and the Hergé Foundation for producing Tintin in Tibet and making a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of Tibet. Tsering Jampa, representing the International Campaign for Tibet, stated, “For many, Hergé’s depiction of Tibet was their introduction to the awe-inspiring landscape and culture of Tibet”. Hergé’s instantly recognizable style of sketching has acquired a name, ligne claire, and Tintin was the first comic strip to enter the modern art collection at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. There are Tintin stamps, coins, shops, museums and a bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy stands in a square in Brussels. Also on 14 January 2021, a Tintin drawing by Hergé, originally illustrated as a cover for The Blue Lotus in 1936, was sold in Paris for 2.6 million euros ($3.1 million), breaking the record for the most expensive comic book art in history. A planet in outer space has been named Hergé in his honour.

Ninety-two years since making his debut, Tintin the unbeatable hero of many adventures is a global phenomenon with over two million comic books sold every year. Countless Tintinologists believe that the eternally youthful and indefatigable reporter with two dots for eyes, a little nose, and a distinctive tuft-hairstyle is still out there doing good somewhere in the world with Snowy chasing a butterfly next to him. Numerous fans retain a bit of Tintin within them from childhood onwards. And for millions, Tintin is forever. 

Bhuvan Lall is the author of “The Man India Missed The Most Subhas Chandra Bose” and “The Great Indian Genius Har Dayal”. He is currently writing “The Path of Gautama Buddha”.

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COVID CRISIS: LOCKDOWN IS NOT THE SOLUTION

Joyeeta Basu

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Amid an unprecedented surge in Covid infections, the Maharashtra government has imposed what it insists is not a lockdown, but a Section 144. Considering the said section of the IPC prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area, and given the measures that Maharashtra has taken, its “Section 144” looks a bit too much like the prolonged lockdown of last year. Everything will stay shut in Maharashtra except for the essential services and what is used by the essential services. So public transport, including local trains, will run but can be used only by the essential services. Cargo services and e-commerce will be allowed to function but only if they are supplying essential goods and services. IT services are allowed but only for critical infrastructure. ATMs and postal services will stay open, as well as manufacturing units that produce raw materials for essential products. Hotels, restaurants, malls, markets, factories—everything will stay shut for at least a fortnight or more. What this effectively means is a complete shutdown of sector after sector that were showing some signs of recovery after 2020. Whether the chain of infection breaks or not, what this new avatar of Section 144 will do is break the back of Maharashtra’s economy. And considering Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, this move may have a cascading effect on the country’s economy as well.

There is no study to show that lockdowns are effective in controlling the spread of the coronavirus. In fact experts are of the opinion that lockdowns are the last option, or perhaps not even an option, for it can be a killer for the most vulnerable sections of society. And if some of the vulnerable—in this case the migrant labourers—again start returning home then the possibility of the infection spreading to even the remotest corners of the country increases manifold.

Even though last year’s lockdown has been justified by some experts as having been necessary to prepare the health system to handle a huge number of cases, there is no such reason that can justify a lockdown now when the second wave is raging. Instead, the focus should have been on implementing a strict containment policy, the operative word being “implementation”. The situation in Maharashtra has been going from bad to worse over the last one month, with this single state accounting for 55-60% of the country’s total caseload. But the criticism is that no appropriate containment measures were implemented. People were allowed to throng malls, marketplaces and beaches, tossing Covid appropriate behaviour in the dustbin. The local trains went back to being crowded as ever. Mumbai went back to its nightlife, parties continued. Social distancing norms were violated with impunity, masking was given the go by. When the first corona wave subsided, it was business as usual. There was a possibility that the second wave could have been contained but for that there had to be a policy in place, which was not the case. And now that there is a surge, instead of a lockdown, the concerned authorities should have thought about what is known as an “aggressive containment policy”, which includes heightened testing, contact tracing, isolating, ensuring that social distancing is maintained, no large congregations are allowed to take place either in public or private and that people wash hands and wear masks. Apparently, one of the reasons that this surge is happening is because of the high percentage of asymptomatic cases, because of which the infection is transmitting from person to person very fast—hence the need for implementing social distancing measures.

The only way out of this mess is testing and more testing. Also the vaccination process needs to be ramped up. There is a marked unwillingness among many people to get vaccinated because of the various rumours swirling about the after effects of vaccination and reports of people getting the virus even after being vaccinated fully. The message has to go out that vaccination may not always be able to prevent the virus from attacking a person, but even if such an attack takes place, it is not virulent. It’s very mild and is not fatal. The after effects too can be tackled with over the counter medicines. In fact, from anecdotal evidence it is apparent that large swathes of the underprivileged population do not even know what the vaccination is all about. Educating them about the importance of getting vaccinated should be a priority, for which respective state governments should enhance their local-level health infrastructure. India still has a long way to go before it achieves herd immunity. Until then the infection may be coming back in waves. Whatever be the case, lockdown is not the answer to tackle the virus. It is based on this premise that policy should be made and implemented.

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Why National Curriculum Framework must be ‘national’

The 2005 National Curriculum Framework, introduced during the UPA-led government, is in need of review and revision. Mainly because the textbooks produced as per the framework have glaring omissions and anomalies, which are depriving school-going children of an education that exposes them to latest developments in the world while inculcating a sense of national pride.

Niranjan Kumar

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Children are the foundation on which our future will be built. Therefore, for nation-building, children will have to be nurtured in a way that they grow up to be conscientious and well-developed, can take pride in themselves and their heritage, and are ready to contribute to the progress of the country. For this they need to be given the ‘right’ education through a well-balanced curriculum in schools. However, an ironical situation has developed today for the want of value-based learning in children’s education and its curriculum framework, particularly when assessed from a nationalistic/Indian perspective. 

Before we delve into what is not right with regard to children’s education, it would be germane to understand its framework, denominated as the National Curriculum Framework (NCF). NCF, provided for school education, is a detailed outline of the guiding policy and objectives of education, the subjects/courses taught to school-going students, the choice of lessons/texts incorporated, and the pedagogy to impart these.

It is the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an institution under the Ministry of Education, which bears the onus of designing the NCF. It also prepares books in light of the NCF. On the initiative of the Ministry of Education, NCERT set up a committee last year to review the NCF. Here, I would like to point out the reason for the proposed review. An obvious one is that with the numerous developments in various fields it is the need of the hour that students keep abreast of the same. Therefore, the school curriculum must be revised to keep pace with new developments. It’s not without reason that this kind of exercise is initiated every 10 to 15 years.

If we look at the history of NCF’s revisions, we find that it has been revised four times so far: in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005. So, the last changes were made 16 years ago. However, in 2000, during the NDA government, the amendments, which had been made after a long and meticulous process under the mentorship of Prof. J.S. Rajput, the then NCERT director, had not gone down well with the Marxists and “liberal academics” associated with the Congress-Left alliance government. Hence, soon after forming the government in 2004, a new NCF was framed at lightning speed in 2005, just five years after the last revision! 

On the perusal of the NCF-2005 document, no concrete reason for the changes is apparent. It is cursorily mentioned, “The review of the National Curriculum Framework, 2000 was initiated specifically to address the problem of curriculum load on children.” But contrary to its stated purpose, the burden and complexity has actually increased manifold. Besides, many important points incorporated in the NCF-2000 were deliberately omitted under “ideological pressure”.  

If one looks upon the ‘Guiding Principles’ and ‘Objective of Education’ in the NCF-2000, it is found that along with placing equal importance on value education, character building, patriotism, the spirit of national unity and integrity, ‘Fundamental Duties (enshrined in the Indian Constitution by Indira Gandhi)’ were made ‘core components’ of the same. The Fundamental Duties, among others, include abiding by the Constitution, respecting the national flag and the national anthem, maintaining the unity and integrity of the nation, serving the nation, valuing and preserving the rich heritage of our composite culture, etc.

There is little need to iterate how important the above mentioned features are for any country. Unfortunately, under the vested ideological pressure, most of these were pretermitted in the NCF-2005 in the name of a “new” and “child-centered approach”, “learning without burden”, “making learning enjoyable” and a “joyful experience”. However, if one looks at the books put together in the light of NCF-2005, one finds the opposite. For example, in the Social Studies book ‘Social and Political life’ for children of Class VI, who are around 10 or 11 years of age, complex concepts such as “stereotypes” and “prejudice” have been discussed, subjects which such minds would barely comprehend. Similarly, taxing and complex questions as, “What do you think living in India with its rich heritage of diversity adds to your life?”, “Do you think the term ‘Unity in Diversity’ is an appropriate term to describe India?” “What do you think Nehru is trying to say about Indian unity in the sentence quoted above from his book The Discovery of India?” have been asked in the same book. I must repeat here that these questions and concepts are not meant for students of Classes IX, X, XI or XII, but for children from the sixth grade. Can a 10 or 11-year-old fathom such complex socio-psychological and socio-political concepts properly? It is an issue which requires careful deliberation. Another pertinent question which arises in this context is whether negative concepts like ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotypes’ should be taught to tender minds at this early stage? My contention is not with teaching these concepts as part of the curriculum, for students must understand our social system and its shortcomings, but I would recommend it for higher classes, when the mental growth and the resultant power of comprehension of the pupil enable them to view and assess these issues in totality. 

It is a task of great responsibility, and must be determined likewise, to decide what children should learn and at which stage. An example which I would like to extend here is that of sex education. The content to be included in ‘physiology’ or ‘sex education’ and the age to be taught the same demand careful and diligent exercise of wisdom. In the name of necessity, ‘sex education’ or ‘physiology’ cannot be taught to sixth graders. In a blind emulation of the West, subjects cannot be taught as per Western requirements, as cultural values and grounding of the mentioned societies varies vastly.

Sadly, the syllabus for history also suffers from the same impertinence where the glorious and rich traditions of ancient India have been ignored, undermined or distorted. For instance, the Vajji state in ancient India was a republic or a kind of democracy. According to renowned historian K.P. Jaiswal, the concept of democracy in ancient India is older than the Roman or Greek concepts of democracy. But in the NCERT book “Our Pasts-1”, there is a mysterious silence on Indian (Vajji’s) democracy except for a fleeting mention that Vajji had a ‘gana’ system, without making it clear that the ‘gana’ system was a form of democracy. The same text, however, is quick to take cognizance of and categorically mention that there had been democracy in Athens, Greece 2,500 years ago.

Similarly, while discussing the name of our country, the denomination ‘India’ has been subtly given a sort of primacy over ‘Bharat’, mentioning the name ‘India’ first and ‘Bharat’ as the second one. It must be noted that the nomenclature of ‘Bharat’ came at least a thousand years before ‘India’. The word ‘Bharat’ was mentioned at least 3,500 years ago in the Rig Veda, whereas ‘India’ was first used 1,000 years hence by the Greeks.

To cite another example from “Our Pasts-1”, the fourth chapter is titled, unscrupulously, as “What books and burial tell us”. It must be known that this chapter deals mainly with the time of the great Rig Veda. Shouldn’t the same qualify as the chapter title then? Also, there is no mention about the highly regarded status of women at that time. There is indeed a passing reference in a single sentence, which states that “a few (hymns) were composed by women”, but there is no mention that women at that time had various other rights along with the one to study the Vedas. Eminent Marxist scholar of Hindi Ram Vilas Sharma, unlike other Marxists, writes that a large number of women composed the ‘Shuktas’. Romashan, Lopamudra, Ghosha, Appala, Savitri Surya, Kamayani, Shraddha and Yami Vaiswati are a few to name. The fact that they composed Vedic hymns clearly indicates that women had the right to study. In fact, women had many other rights, as they used to fight in battles as well.

Similarly, a discussion on Emperor Skandagupta, who repelled an invasion by the tyrant Indo-Hephthalites (Hunas), Anangpal Tomar of the medieval period, credited to have established Delhi, and the subaltern king Maharaja Suheldev, who defeated the nephew of Mahmud Ghazni, is missing.

One can find hundreds of subtle references, full of fraudulent or incomplete narratives, in history, social studies and literature books. These discrepant narratives, instead of promoting patriotism or a sense of national pride and unity, are bound to breed negative feelings and an inferiority complex in children, particularly in the context of their nation.

In addition, NCF-2005 gives little importance to ancient Indian knowledge and science, philosophy, Ayurveda, yoga, astronomy and metallurgy. These subjects are missing completely from the current books. ‘Vedic Mathematics’, known to increase a pupil’s computational capacity manifold, and is available at private tuitions or on TV channels as a paid service, finds no mention in the curriculum too. 

Thus, a review is in order to incorporate various social, economic, scientific and technological developments made in the last 16 years and set right the anomalies mentioned above, with an aim to expose school-going pupils to the latest and correct knowledge that the world has to offer. Towards this objective, a competent academic leadership is necessitated, in the absence of which the growth of school-going children in India will continue to be compromised as they will remain deprived of a well-balanced curriculum even after seven years of a ‘nationalist government’ in existence. 

The author is an academician teaching at the Central Department of Hindi, Delhi University. He has also taught in various US universities. He can be reached @NiranjankIndia. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

COVID CRISIS: LOCKDOWN IS NOT THE SOLUTION

Joyeeta Basu

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Patna

Amid an unprecedented surge in Covid infections, the Maharashtra government has imposed what it insists is not a lockdown, but a Section 144. Considering the said section of the IPC prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area, and given the measures that Maharashtra has taken, its “Section 144” looks a bit too much like the prolonged lockdown of last year. Everything will stay shut in Maharashtra except for the essential services and what is used by the essential services. So public transport, including local trains, will run but can be used only by the essential services. Cargo services and e-commerce will be allowed to function but only if they are supplying essential goods and services. IT services are allowed but only for critical infrastructure. ATMs and postal services will stay open, as well as manufacturing units that produce raw materials for essential products. Hotels, restaurants, malls, markets, factories—everything will stay shut for at least a fortnight or more. What this effectively means is a complete shutdown of sector after sector that were showing some signs of recovery after 2020. Whether the chain of infection breaks or not, what this new avatar of Section 144 will do is break the back of Maharashtra’s economy. And considering Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, this move may have a cascading effect on the country’s economy as well.

There is no study to show that lockdowns are effective in controlling the spread of the coronavirus. In fact experts are of the opinion that lockdowns are the last option, or perhaps not even an option, for it can be a killer for the most vulnerable sections of society. And if some of the vulnerable—in this case the migrant labourers—again start returning home then the possibility of the infection spreading to even the remotest corners of the country increases manifold.

Even though last year’s lockdown has been justified by some experts as having been necessary to prepare the health system to handle a huge number of cases, there is no such reason that can justify a lockdown now when the second wave is raging. Instead, the focus should have been on implementing a strict containment policy, the operative word being “implementation”. The situation in Maharashtra has been going from bad to worse over the last one month, with this single state accounting for 55-60% of the country’s total caseload. But the criticism is that no appropriate containment measures were implemented. People were allowed to throng malls, marketplaces and beaches, tossing Covid appropriate behaviour in the dustbin. The local trains went back to being crowded as ever. Mumbai went back to its nightlife, parties continued. Social distancing norms were violated with impunity, masking was given the go by. When the first corona wave subsided, it was business as usual. There was a possibility that the second wave could have been contained but for that there had to be a policy in place, which was not the case. And now that there is a surge, instead of a lockdown, the concerned authorities should have thought about what is known as an “aggressive containment policy”, which includes heightened testing, contact tracing, isolating, ensuring that social distancing is maintained, no large congregations are allowed to take place either in public or private and that people wash hands and wear masks. Apparently, one of the reasons that this surge is happening is because of the high percentage of asymptomatic cases, because of which the infection is transmitting from person to person very fast—hence the need for implementing social distancing measures.

The only way out of this mess is testing and more testing. Also the vaccination process needs to be ramped up. There is a marked unwillingness among many people to get vaccinated because of the various rumours swirling about the after effects of vaccination and reports of people getting the virus even after being vaccinated fully. The message has to go out that vaccination may not always be able to prevent the virus from attacking a person, but even if such an attack takes place, it is not virulent. It’s very mild and is not fatal. The after effects too can be tackled with over the counter medicines. In fact, from anecdotal evidence it is apparent that large swathes of the underprivileged population do not even know what the vaccination is all about. Educating them about the importance of getting vaccinated should be a priority, for which respective state governments should enhance their local-level health infrastructure. India still has a long way to go before it achieves herd immunity. Until then the infection may be coming back in waves. Whatever be the case, lockdown is not the answer to tackle the virus. It is based on this premise that policy should be made and implemented.

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Opinion

Why National Curriculum Framework must be ‘national’

The 2005 National Curriculum Framework, introduced during the UPA-led government, is in need of review and revision. Mainly because the textbooks produced as per the framework have glaring omissions and anomalies, which are depriving school-going children of an education that exposes them to latest developments in the world while inculcating a sense of national pride.

Niranjan Kumar

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Children are the foundation on which our future will be built. Therefore, for nation-building, children will have to be nurtured in a way that they grow up to be conscientious and well-developed, can take pride in themselves and their heritage, and are ready to contribute to the progress of the country. For this they need to be given the ‘right’ education through a well-balanced curriculum in schools. However, an ironical situation has developed today for the want of value-based learning in children’s education and its curriculum framework, particularly when assessed from a nationalistic/Indian perspective. 

Before we delve into what is not right with regard to children’s education, it would be germane to understand its framework, denominated as the National Curriculum Framework (NCF). NCF, provided for school education, is a detailed outline of the guiding policy and objectives of education, the subjects/courses taught to school-going students, the choice of lessons/texts incorporated, and the pedagogy to impart these.

It is the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an institution under the Ministry of Education, which bears the onus of designing the NCF. It also prepares books in light of the NCF. On the initiative of the Ministry of Education, NCERT set up a committee last year to review the NCF. Here, I would like to point out the reason for the proposed review. An obvious one is that with the numerous developments in various fields it is the need of the hour that students keep abreast of the same. Therefore, the school curriculum must be revised to keep pace with new developments. It’s not without reason that this kind of exercise is initiated every 10 to 15 years.

If we look at the history of NCF’s revisions, we find that it has been revised four times so far: in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005. So, the last changes were made 16 years ago. However, in 2000, during the NDA government, the amendments, which had been made after a long and meticulous process under the mentorship of Prof. J.S. Rajput, the then NCERT director, had not gone down well with the Marxists and “liberal academics” associated with the Congress-Left alliance government. Hence, soon after forming the government in 2004, a new NCF was framed at lightning speed in 2005, just five years after the last revision! 

On the perusal of the NCF-2005 document, no concrete reason for the changes is apparent. It is cursorily mentioned, “The review of the National Curriculum Framework, 2000 was initiated specifically to address the problem of curriculum load on children.” But contrary to its stated purpose, the burden and complexity has actually increased manifold. Besides, many important points incorporated in the NCF-2000 were deliberately omitted under “ideological pressure”.  

If one looks upon the ‘Guiding Principles’ and ‘Objective of Education’ in the NCF-2000, it is found that along with placing equal importance on value education, character building, patriotism, the spirit of national unity and integrity, ‘Fundamental Duties (enshrined in the Indian Constitution by Indira Gandhi)’ were made ‘core components’ of the same. The Fundamental Duties, among others, include abiding by the Constitution, respecting the national flag and the national anthem, maintaining the unity and integrity of the nation, serving the nation, valuing and preserving the rich heritage of our composite culture, etc.

There is little need to iterate how important the above mentioned features are for any country. Unfortunately, under the vested ideological pressure, most of these were pretermitted in the NCF-2005 in the name of a “new” and “child-centered approach”, “learning without burden”, “making learning enjoyable” and a “joyful experience”. However, if one looks at the books put together in the light of NCF-2005, one finds the opposite. For example, in the Social Studies book ‘Social and Political life’ for children of Class VI, who are around 10 or 11 years of age, complex concepts such as “stereotypes” and “prejudice” have been discussed, subjects which such minds would barely comprehend. Similarly, taxing and complex questions as, “What do you think living in India with its rich heritage of diversity adds to your life?”, “Do you think the term ‘Unity in Diversity’ is an appropriate term to describe India?” “What do you think Nehru is trying to say about Indian unity in the sentence quoted above from his book The Discovery of India?” have been asked in the same book. I must repeat here that these questions and concepts are not meant for students of Classes IX, X, XI or XII, but for children from the sixth grade. Can a 10 or 11-year-old fathom such complex socio-psychological and socio-political concepts properly? It is an issue which requires careful deliberation. Another pertinent question which arises in this context is whether negative concepts like ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotypes’ should be taught to tender minds at this early stage? My contention is not with teaching these concepts as part of the curriculum, for students must understand our social system and its shortcomings, but I would recommend it for higher classes, when the mental growth and the resultant power of comprehension of the pupil enable them to view and assess these issues in totality. 

It is a task of great responsibility, and must be determined likewise, to decide what children should learn and at which stage. An example which I would like to extend here is that of sex education. The content to be included in ‘physiology’ or ‘sex education’ and the age to be taught the same demand careful and diligent exercise of wisdom. In the name of necessity, ‘sex education’ or ‘physiology’ cannot be taught to sixth graders. In a blind emulation of the West, subjects cannot be taught as per Western requirements, as cultural values and grounding of the mentioned societies varies vastly.

Sadly, the syllabus for history also suffers from the same impertinence where the glorious and rich traditions of ancient India have been ignored, undermined or distorted. For instance, the Vajji state in ancient India was a republic or a kind of democracy. According to renowned historian K.P. Jaiswal, the concept of democracy in ancient India is older than the Roman or Greek concepts of democracy. But in the NCERT book “Our Pasts-1”, there is a mysterious silence on Indian (Vajji’s) democracy except for a fleeting mention that Vajji had a ‘gana’ system, without making it clear that the ‘gana’ system was a form of democracy. The same text, however, is quick to take cognizance of and categorically mention that there had been democracy in Athens, Greece 2,500 years ago.

Similarly, while discussing the name of our country, the denomination ‘India’ has been subtly given a sort of primacy over ‘Bharat’, mentioning the name ‘India’ first and ‘Bharat’ as the second one. It must be noted that the nomenclature of ‘Bharat’ came at least a thousand years before ‘India’. The word ‘Bharat’ was mentioned at least 3,500 years ago in the Rig Veda, whereas ‘India’ was first used 1,000 years hence by the Greeks.

To cite another example from “Our Pasts-1”, the fourth chapter is titled, unscrupulously, as “What books and burial tell us”. It must be known that this chapter deals mainly with the time of the great Rig Veda. Shouldn’t the same qualify as the chapter title then? Also, there is no mention about the highly regarded status of women at that time. There is indeed a passing reference in a single sentence, which states that “a few (hymns) were composed by women”, but there is no mention that women at that time had various other rights along with the one to study the Vedas. Eminent Marxist scholar of Hindi Ram Vilas Sharma, unlike other Marxists, writes that a large number of women composed the ‘Shuktas’. Romashan, Lopamudra, Ghosha, Appala, Savitri Surya, Kamayani, Shraddha and Yami Vaiswati are a few to name. The fact that they composed Vedic hymns clearly indicates that women had the right to study. In fact, women had many other rights, as they used to fight in battles as well.

Similarly, a discussion on Emperor Skandagupta, who repelled an invasion by the tyrant Indo-Hephthalites (Hunas), Anangpal Tomar of the medieval period, credited to have established Delhi, and the subaltern king Maharaja Suheldev, who defeated the nephew of Mahmud Ghazni, is missing.

One can find hundreds of subtle references, full of fraudulent or incomplete narratives, in history, social studies and literature books. These discrepant narratives, instead of promoting patriotism or a sense of national pride and unity, are bound to breed negative feelings and an inferiority complex in children, particularly in the context of their nation.

In addition, NCF-2005 gives little importance to ancient Indian knowledge and science, philosophy, Ayurveda, yoga, astronomy and metallurgy. These subjects are missing completely from the current books. ‘Vedic Mathematics’, known to increase a pupil’s computational capacity manifold, and is available at private tuitions or on TV channels as a paid service, finds no mention in the curriculum too. 

Thus, a review is in order to incorporate various social, economic, scientific and technological developments made in the last 16 years and set right the anomalies mentioned above, with an aim to expose school-going pupils to the latest and correct knowledge that the world has to offer. Towards this objective, a competent academic leadership is necessitated, in the absence of which the growth of school-going children in India will continue to be compromised as they will remain deprived of a well-balanced curriculum even after seven years of a ‘nationalist government’ in existence. 

The author is an academician teaching at the Central Department of Hindi, Delhi University. He has also taught in various US universities. He can be reached @NiranjankIndia. The views expressed are personal.

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