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WILL BJP’S FARMER OUTREACH PLAN NEUTRALISE FARM LAW ANGER?

Priya Sahgal

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The BJP recently held meetings to discuss the impact of the farmers’ protests in over 40 Lok Sabha seats spread across Haryana, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh where the Jat vote counts. Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP chief J.P. Nadda have held meetings with party MPs and MLAs in the area trying to ascertain the damage. Union minister of state for Agriculture Sanjeev Balyan has been tasked to lead the BJP’s outreach to khap panchayat leaders. This is something of a worry for the BJP which had been making inroads into the Jat belt but now it seems that it is losing that advantage. Of course being the BJP it is clear that roll back is not on the agenda. But short of that all efforts will be made to placate the Jat farmer leaders. Part of the BJP’s counter strategy is to portray the agitation as being led by ‘professional agitators from the Left’ who are misleading the farmers and do not have their well-being at heart. But given the way the agitation has caught on this is going to be a tough ask.

The results from the Punjab municipal polls too should worry the BJP even though it doesn’t have much stakes in the state where the Congress won 1,399 of the 2,165 municipal wards, and six of the eight municipal corporations. But it should worry the Akali Dal more for it is clear that walking out of the Modi-led government hasn’t done much to assuage the farmers’ anger against the Badals.

With the Parliament session coming to an end, the Opposition hasn’t been able to focus on the farmers’ protests as much as it would have liked to. And now it is back to the streets to the khap panchayats and farmer leaders such as the Tikait brothers to gain as much political capital of the protests as they can. The Aam Admi Party too has tried to throw in their lot with the farmers but with mixed results. The one party that has gained some traction is the RLD with Jayant Chaudhury being on ground from Day 1 of the protests.

However, as the focus shifts to the West Bengal elections, one is left wondering as to how these protests will be resolved. Will the government wait for the farmers’ to go back to their fields as the season starts and then do some damage control? There really doesn’t seem to be any other way out as the farmers remain adamant about a roll back and the government equally adamant not to set such a precedent.  

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Opinion

STIC TRAVELS APPROACHES GOLDEN JUBILEE WITH UNPRECEDENTED RECORD

Pankaj Vohra

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It was precisely 48 years ago, when former Delhi University Students’ Union president Subhash Goel launched his own travel agency, STIC, which at that time meant Students’ Travel Information Centre. His aim was, and is even now, to help students get international tickets at discounted prices to enable them to undertake trips abroad. No wonder that STIC, which is the General Sales Agent for 10 international carriers including United Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines, has a track record that is unmatched by any of its rivals. STIC has over 25,000 vendors, among them a large number of registered IATA recognised travel agents, who buy their tickets through this agency which started from the Theatre Communication Building in Connaught Place, the site where Palika Bazar is located at present.

Goel had withdrawn himself from his family business and launched his enterprise with just a table and a chair at the building complex. During the Emergency, it was decided by the government to demolish both the Indian Coffee House and the Theatre Communication Building to make way for an air-conditioned underground market. The Coffee House was the meeting place for all intellectuals, most of whom did not endorse the political views of the then government. The consequence of the decision was that Goel who was the DUSU president in 1966 was left with no place to operate from. He did not lose hope and started selling tickets from an old Ambassador car, he owned and which was parked nearby at a parking lot. Shortly after that, he took up a counter at the Yorks Hotel and continued with his business. The inspiration for the travel agency had come when he had to travel abroad for a conference but had no money to buy the ticket. The then DU Vice Chancellor, Dr C.D.Deshmukh offered to pay for his trip but accepting the ticket from the authorities would have hurt his anti-establishment image. A friend in Mercury Travels told him that if he could get 15 persons to buy the tickets, he would get one ticket free. This he did in no time and discovered that the travel business was indeed money making. With some help from Dr Karan Singh, the then Union Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister and Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the first NSUI president, whose father was also a Union Minister, Goel embarked on a new journey. It was a voyage of struggles and both he and his wife, embraced the challenge and worked tirelessly towards their targets.

Air Lanka was the first GSA milestone and subsequently, both Air Nippon and Virgin Atlantic were also introduced to the Indian traveler by STIC. Goel recognized that students would always be attracted towards his venture since in the past, another entrepreneur, also a Delhi University student, Inder Sharma had successfully started SITA travels. SITA was inspired by a US company, which stood for Students Information Travel Agency. Goel expanded his business by first acquiring an office at the Imperial Hotel, and later in the Chandralok Building on Janpath. Subsequently, his agency functioned from multiple locations, with the Headquarters in `G’ Block of Connaught Place. Goel has the distinction of being the youngest DUSU president and has his both daughters as his partners in his venture, which represented his undying spirit and deep resolve. STIC is a landmark of Delhi and its success story also demonstrates how a successful DUSU president became a successful entrepreneur as well.

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PM Modi: The visionary and innovator

Sanju Verma

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Prime Minister Narendra Narendra Modi has clearly been the most popular and powerful leader in independent India because he has always been his own person, never allowing others to define who he is, which eventually is the true hallmark of great leaders. 

SOCIO-POLITICAL MEASURES

On the socio-political front, clearly, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950 and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of achievements. However,after Kashmir’s special status gone, vide a Presidential order and a historic decision on the floor of the Parliament on August 5,2019,people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the State.With revocation of Article 370,the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990,in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

From banning instant triple talaq and making it a criminal offence,defining the nation’s first menstrual hygiene protocol, amending the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act of 1971,giving women reproductive rights over their bodies and increasing the foetal gestation period from 20 to 24 weeks, welcoming more women recruits in the NCC,to banning commercial surrogacy, women empowerment had been the cornerstone of Modi’s policy making. 

FOREIGN POLICY HEFT

Again,significant headway has been made on the foreign policy front. For instance, while the Quad was initiated in 2007, it was only on March 12, 2021 that the first, serious leader level Quad summit was held to thwart Chinese policy of expansionism and aggression that neither India nor like-minded nations have taken kindly to. One of the other big achievements of the Modi government was, forcing China to undertake a syncronized and organised disengagement, starting February 2021, post the Galwan stand-off. While under an incompetent Nehru, India was forced to cede 38,000 square kilometre of Aksai Chin, under Modi, India forced China to disengage, without ceding an inch of territory. Be it the surgical strike in 2016 or the Balakot strike in 2019, or for that matter the Galwan disengagement, strongman Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has always been driven by the “India First” approach. 

THE UNSTOPPABLE MODI FACTOR

The moot question then is, what about the “Modi Factor”? The charisma and connect with the electorate, popularity and indomitable capacity for relentless hard work are factors that make Prime Minister Narendra Modi a leader who is in a league of his own. To even try and create a false equivalence between the indefatigable Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, a fascist,rabble rouser, limited to Bengal, is doing a great disservice to even the basic understanding of Indian polity. On May 28,2021, Mamata Banerjee kept the Prime Minister and Governor of Bengal waiting and what is worse, stormed out of a review meeting to discuss the impact of the recent cyclone, without bothering to make a presentation. Time and again, Mamata Banerjee has shown why she is a callous, deplorable leader, unfit for any national role in Indian politics and why TMC, the party she heads, is a certified party of goons and vandals.

A FAILED CONGRESS

Modi’s meteoric rise has led to the Congress Party’s rapid fall into oblivion, changing India’s political landscape irrevocably. The Congress has ceased to matter, after a string of debilitating defeats, with compulsive liar, Rahul Gandhi turning into a vacuous paper tiger on Twitter, whom no one takes seriously. The Left, barring in Kerala, has been wiped out. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav never had any national stature to start with and both these Parties were almost reduced to nothingness in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly polls in 2017,with SP winning only 47 seats compared to the massive 312 that the BJP won. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,while the BJP secured 62 seats from UP,Congress was reduced to 1 seat, Samajwadi Party, merely 5 seats and Mayawati’s BSP,to 10 seats.

The “Khan Market Gang”, has tried to resurrect the political fortunes of many failed regional satraps in a bid to checkmate the Modi aura, but these efforts repeatedly came to nought. Winning Bihar in 2020, despite a 15 year anti-incumbency, winning Assam for the second time in a row in 2021, with a thumping majority, raising BJP’s tally by 2467% from 3 to 77 seats in Bengal, forming the government in Puducherry, winning 483 of the 576 seats in local body polls in Gujarat with a 84% strike rate, raising tally in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls by 400% from 4 to 48 seats, winning the erstwhile, impregnable bastions like Dubbaka in Telangana and Pandharpur in Maharashtra, are a reflection of PM Modi’s unmatched, winnability quotient.

FARM REFORMS

On the economic front, the Modi government passed the historic Farm laws in September 2020, to empower India’s farm community. These laws had been pending for fourteen long years since 2006, based on recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and National Commission of Farmers. It needs to be mentioned here that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agrarian reforms have been sweeping, far reaching and inclusive. Over 6 crore farmers are taking benefit of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) paying a meagre premium of just between 1.5-2.5%.

What has the Modi government done for uplifting the well being of India›s farm community? The Modi government has been transferring cash directly to farmers, as is evident from the Rs 6000 per year that is paid to over 10 crore farmers, under the PM Kisan scheme. Over Rs 1.54 lakh crore has been paid via PM-KISAN, since its inception, in December 2018. From just 255 million tonnes in 2012-13,under an inept Congress regime,to 297.5 million tonnes in 2019-20 and 305.43 million tonnes in 2020-21, is a vindication of how India›s self sufficiency, with exportable surplus in the foodgrain space, has added to India›s economic heft. Besides agriculture, a bright spot has been the foreign portfolio investments (FPI) amidst the pandemic, with December 2020 recording the single highest-ever monthly inflow from FPIs at Rs 62,016 crore, surpassing the previous high of Rs 60,358 crore recorded in November 2020. The year 2020 also recorded the highest ever yearly net inflow of FPIs into equities, at over Rs 1.70 lakh crore. Do note that the huge surge of FDI inflow of $82 billion in FY21,is a vote of confidence from global investors, in the Modi government›s structural reforms. India›s forex reserves at over $642 billion,is a new high too.

LABOUR REFORMS

The new Labour Code seeks to transform India and rid it of outdated technologies and methodologies. The reduction in compliance burden would also facilitate expansion of establishments, helping to create jobs on a large-scale across a plethora of segments and sectors.

AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

The Modi government announced a stimulus of Rs 2.65 lakh crore under Aatmanirbhar Bharat 3.0, taking the total stimulus since the onset of Covid, to Rs 29.88 lakh crore, which was akin to almost a massive 15% of GDP. The government’s contribution to the stimulus was 9%, with the remaining 6% came from the RBI. It is true that the Rs 1.97  lakh crore expenditure in the form of production-linked incentives (PLIs) to 13 new sectors will be over five years. That said, there is no denying the fact that Aatmanirbhar Bharat 3.0 will have a multiplier impact on consumption, especially across stressed sectors, accelerate economic recovery and incentivise job creation through a virtuous cycle. Despite Covid-19 second wave, most global rating agencies and the IMF are predicting between a 9.3% and 11.5% GDP growth for India in FY22, amongst the highest worldwide. No other leader could have, or would have done what Narendra Modi did, in terms of unleashing some of the most historic reforms, during the pandemic, to shape a new India, better equipped to deal with a post Covid-19 global order.

GARIB KALYAN

The Rs 1.93 lakh crore allocated for the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), Rs 11.03 lakh crore allocated towards the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan 1.0, Rs 82,911 crore for the PMGKP Anna Yojana (which was extended till November 2020) and Rs 12.71 lakh crore infused via RBI measures, announced till 31 October 2020, not only injected liquidity into money markets, but also increased purchasing power via direct benefit transfer (DBT), improved cash flows by recalibrating EMIs and provided access to cheap credit for MSMEs, migrants and farmers. 

INFRASTRUCTURE

National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) plans to spend Rs 110 lakh crore on nearly 7,000 projects across sectors such as transport, communications, urban development, energy and water. The plan is a grand vision involving private and state-run players and many believe it is too ambitious in its scope.According to data, these projects include the Rs 3.66 lakh crore Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the Rs 1.08 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor and the Rs 1.09-lakh crore North South Dedicated Freight Corridor,amongst others.

MEGA COVID VACCINATION DRIVE

Every sixth person in the world is an Indian. Also, India has a high population density of 455 persons per square kilometre. In the given circumstances, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to vaccinate everyone from 18 years onward is not only an extraordinarily bold move, but completely do-able too. In an unprecedented display of political will power and conviction,the Modi government,till date,has administered over 77 crore (770 million) doses,with over 57.86 crore people,given the first dose.

India’s daily positivity and weekly positivity rates at less than 3%.The active caseload too,is less than 2%,while the recovery rate is almost 98%.In August 2021 alone,India administered over 18.35 crore doses,with a daily average run rate of 59.19 lakh vaccines.Till 16th September 2021, over 11.16 crore doses were given, with a daily average run rate of roughly 74.4 lakh vaccines, which is excellent by any yardstick. What is however,gigantic,is the fact that over 2 crore,as in 20 million doses were administered on a single day on 17th September 2021, equal to the population of four New Zealand’s put together. To put it in lay man’s terms, of late, India has been on an average, vaccinating more people daily than the average number of people vaccinated in 18 major nations globally on a daily basis. 

VARANASI MODEL AND HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE

Clearly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done a phenomenal job, with the Command and Control (CAC),Varanasi model, being a huge success story. While India’s electorally puny opposition has done absolutely nothing apart from blaming the PM, it is the Modi government which has done all the heavy lifting. The Congress ruled India for sixty years and could not even provide 47,000 ventilators. In just 14 months, the Modi government provided 60,000 ventilators to States. Despite ruling for 10 years between 2004-2014, the Congress under Manmohan Singh could set up only one AIIMS. In sharp contrast, in just the last 7 years, the Modi government has set up 15 AIIMS and the number of medical seats too has gone up by 70%, from 52,000 in 2014 to 88,250 now. Hence the Congress and its paid brigade of jaded acolytes, journalists and “Durbaaris”, have no political or moral authority whatsoever to wax eloquent about India’s health infrastructure. While the Nehru-Gandhi parivaar and their family retainers left India’s healthcare in a shambolic state, it is PM Modi who has been steadfastly putting the system back on track with almost 3 lakh crore dedicated to health spending in 2021-22, alone.

MAKE IN INDIA

Speaking of vaccines, Bharat Biotech’s homegrown Covaxin,made alongwith ICMR,is a tribute to India’s stellar Make in India, initiative. The telecom reforms and setting up of a Bad Bank,that were announced in the last 48 hours,will further propel India’s corporate sector and unleash animal spirits,by eradicating the NPA mess, left behind by successive Congress regimes, much before the Modi government assumed charge, in 2014.

Speaking of the virus, while Rahul Gandhi did nothing for the people of his constituency in Wayanad, besides trolling the Modi government on Twitter and Sonia Gandhi did zilch for the people of Rae Bareli, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been toiling hard 24/7 to ensure India’s war against Covid is taken to its logical conclusion. While the Modi model has been powering ahead, the Kerala model has failed miserably, with over 73% of India’s daily new Covid cases coming from Kerala alone.

The good news for Indians and India lovers is the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi ran the world›s biggest food security program amidst a full fledged lockdown in 2020, where-in every month,for 9 months in a row, 810 million people,including daily wage earners and migrant workers, were given free food grains.Basically,every month,for 9 months at a stretch,India fed a population that was almost 2.5 times,the size of the US in 2020 and likewise,the scheme is underway in 2021 too.

In 2021,in yet another ambitious turn of events,India is in the midst of the largest and most ambitious vaccination drive ever in mankind. Given his past track record of seamlessly translating vision into reality, PM Modi is set to deliver yet again! Don›t forget, India is a massive country with a population that is equal to the population of 196 countries. Solely due to the indefatigable conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite being a country that is widely spread out geographically, India has in the shortest time span vaccinated over 61% of its adult population with atleast one dose, despite the opposition promoting «vaccine hesitancy». Also, overall, more than 54 crore Coivid tests have already been conducted, keeping in sync with the larger goal of testing,tracking and treatment.

CONCLUSION

In the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there is a quote which goes: “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones that we miss.” Well, the last two years of the Modi government have been extraordinary, for the sheer number of opportunities that were seized to create new milestones. “When the world is in crisis, we must pledge—a pledge which is bigger than the crisis itself. We must strive to make the 21st century India’s century. And the path to do that is self-reliance”—this powerful quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sums up the ethos of his vibrant political philosophy in more ways than one.

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

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LEVERAGING NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION WITH SUCCESS ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS

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Man has been using language— both verbal and nonverbal— as a tool of communication for centuries that allowed him to interact with the environment and to regulate his social behavior. Nonverbal communication adds to the information as communicated through verbal format using multiple channels like facial expression, vocalizations, artefacts, gestures, spacing etc. According to experts, a substantial portion of our communication is nonverbal that makes up 65–70 percent of the social meaning of a conversation. It is one of the most pervasive phenomena of our everyday life that accompanies us mostly unconsciously every minute of the day. The body sends a continuous flow of cues/signals, consciously or unconsciously, unravelling innermost feelings and thoughts, personalities, moods, often, more powerfully than with their words. It is therefore agreed that nonverbal behaviour provides fertile ground towards effective and efficient information transference, especially, nonverbal communication could be the most reliable source of information in situations where verbal communications are untrustworthy, ambiguous, or otherwise difficult to interpret. Freud, remarked that people watchers who watch/observe people can ensure themselves that no person can keep secrets from them, “If their lips are silent, their fingertips chat, betrayal oozes from every pore of their body”.

There is not one single universal nonverbal language. Different societies all over the world show widely differing behavior patterns making nonverbal communication a culture specific. In England, the nose tap gesture is a signal for conspiracy or secrecy, but in Italy the meaning changes and it becomes a friendly warning. Similarly, although most people in the world understand the movement of the head up and down to mean “yes” or “I agree,” this is not the case with Bulgaria. In fact, there are few factors that tend to have the greatest impact on interactions when crossing cultures. For instance, spatial relations and tactile communication are used differently in different nations. Americans, Germans, or Chinese, for example, tend to prefer larger amounts of personal space than do some Latin Americans, Italians, or Middle-Easterners. Likewise, there are cultures where during conversations touching on the arm, shoulders, or greetings with hugs or kisses etc. is very common, however, during conversations, in cultures of “keep your hands to yourself” touching is virtually non-existent and if it does occur, it can be a major faux pas. Further, mostly in some occidental cultures, direct eye contact is the way to go—it suggests confidence, respect, and interest in what the other person is saying. To look away may suggest being suspicious, shifty, and untrustworthy in most situations while as, it is just the opposite in oriental cultures where people expect and appreciate indirect eye contact when interacting.

Thus it evident that the nonverbal behaviour of an individual is profoundly influenced and regulated by the culture of a country. Misinterpretation of nonverbal cues at times can result into serious repercussions misunderstandings among people. Today, in the globalized world, where businesses are conducted across different countries, often, employees will be expected to listen to and communicate with diverse workforce who may come from different cultures displaying specific nonverbal behaviour that may not necessarily match with the nonverbal code of yours. Therefore, it becomes imperative for professionals operating globally, to study norms of interaction through a detailed examination of spoken and nonverbal interaction in the native and target language and are required to adapt their nonverbal behaviours to accommodate a particular international audience. This knowledge of nonverbal differentials across cultures will become a highly valued asset in a global community.

The recent outbreak of Covid-19 around the globe forced businesses to shift from traditional offices to physical to remote to hybrid way of working. People are wondering how can they substitute the lack of the richness of communication and body language inherent in face-to-face interactions on virtual platforms. However, the rules remain the same for telecommuters as well. The virtual conversations can be enriched the same way as the physical interaction by using the illustrator movements including gestures or other natural manners that accompany words that add meaning to verbal communication. While these body movements may not have a meaning that can be pinpointed, they serve to embellish/ contradict/substitute or complement a person’s words. Similarly, one can use affect display- such as the facial movements that can indicate disgust, anger, or amusement or a number of other emotions. Again, in any business or sales situations, people who are listening can apply regulator actions like they may nod and move their head in an interested manner, urging the speaker either to continue or explain or repeat. Further, non-verbal messages can be communicated in an online environment by means of the use of emoticons and bolded and italicized text. In order to portray anger, all capital letters can be used.

In the age of the virtual communication, nonverbal cues often speak louder than our words. Right kind of energy levels, speaking with passion, the tone matching the intent of the message could prove to be infectious on the screen as well.

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Millennials, relationships, and the pandemic

The Wimpy Kid is in a way a metaphor for how younger people across the world have become more indoor oriented because of technology. If technology had made millennials more housebound, the arrival of this new deadly virus has compounded the problem.

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There are two ways that our changing world has affected relationships for everyone but more especially for millennials. Relationships with the family, with friends, and even romances are affected. The first cause for this is the advancement of technology and the second is the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, the new technologies had shaped our world, and particularly affected the world of the millennials.

Youngsters these days spend a lot of time online on Facebook and Instagram aside from other platforms. On the one hand, this is great for relationships for you could conceivably connect with someone on the other side of the planet who shares similar interests. At the same there is the danger of ignoring the here and now— and I don’t only mean bringing your smartphone to the dinner table. You don’t want to keep the people who are part of your daily life, be it parents, friends or siblings, waiting endlessly, while you excitedly track down how many likes and shares you are getting for a particular post or engage with someone living in another city or country.

I remember picking up one of the Wimpy Kid books for my niece from the airport, which I read during the course of a flight from Dubai to Delhi. Now this particular book has an interesting storyline. The Wimpy Kid’s mother feels that her kids are too immersed in their smartphones and tablets; and so, she decides that one day in a week the family will have togetherness time and all electronic devices ranging from the smartphone down to the TV will be shut down. Incidentally Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, made a similar suggestion a few months ago. Anyhow, coming back to the Wimpy Kid, the story has a very interesting, and to my mind, appropriate twist towards the end. The mother cannot find the Wimpy Kid who has wandered off into the forest, but she manages to track him down through a tracking device she had installed in one of his shoes. Meaning that we cannot get rid of this technology; it is there to stay.

The Wimpy Kid is in a way a metaphor for how younger people across the world have become more indoor oriented because of technology. If technology had made millennials more housebound, the arrival of this new deadly virus has compounded the problem. Earlier parents may have been telling their children to leave their computer and go out and play a game or sport. Now they say, it’s better if you stay at home, and if you do go out wear a mask and keep a safe distance from others.

I recently met my nephew Dhruv and his wife Aarushi after a long time. Now Dhruv got married just a month before the onset of the pandemic. Both of them are working professionals and they were both asked by their companies to work from home, the same as I myself have been doing, in my job with the United Nations. When I asked Dhruv how they were doing he said something interesting. He said, “We are together all the time, 24 7, day and night, seven days a week. With this much proximity if you can still manage to like being together, it means that your relationship is really working.”

Dhruv and Aarushi were lucky, but the news has not been so good all around. Young and old married couples around the world have found it a challenge to be together all the time. In France there were so many cases of domestic violence as a result of enforced togetherness that the President ordered various hotels to be commissioned that could serve as places for women to stay in – women who had been abused or beaten by their husbands. Too much physical togetherness can be a problem but for some millennials, the problem was just the reverse. It was to get to physically meet their girlfriend or boyfriend, as the case may be during the time of Covid-19 restrictions. During the worst phase of the pandemic, when meeting people was discouraged, I came across this case in my neighborhood, where the boy told his girlfriend: “Let’s meet up at Mother Diary. We can chat with each other while we are in the queue, shopping for vegetables.”

Where do millennials go to for advice on relationship issues? In the past they could have confided in an elder but these days they often hesitate because the times we are living in are so different from those when their elders were young. Their viewpoints, and world view are also often very different. There are online resources millennials can turn to, or they could take advice from friends but one other place to turn to for advice and learning is books.

My new novel Star-Crossed Lovers in the Blue: Love in the Time of Corona, discusses some of the challenges faced by millennials. In fact, the story itself is about how the two main protagonists in the story, the merman Arj and the mermaid Utir, overcome various problems and obstacles to be together again. In the words of a reviewer, the story talks about love, joy, sadness, anger, trust, fear, mystery, everything in parts. The novel takes the reader through a roller coaster of emotions and discusses important issues concerning relationships, including the importance of trust. For instance, Arj is heartbroken when the love of his life, Utir apparently betrays him, but somewhere, deep-down, he trusts that she would not have done what she did unless there had been a compelling reason for her to do so. It is this very trust that takes him across the world’s oceans in search of Utir, and a potential happy-ending. No spoilers here!

The writer is the author of the book, Star-Crossed Lovers in the Blue. The views expressed are personal.

I remember picking up one of the Wimpy Kid books for my niece from the airport, which I read during the course of a flight from Dubai to Delhi. Now this particular book has an interesting storyline. The Wimpy Kid’s mother feels that her kids are too immersed in their smartphones and tablets; and so, she decides that one day in a week the family will have togetherness time and all electronic devices ranging from the smartphone down to the TV will be shut down. Incidentally Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari, made a similar suggestion a few months ago. Anyhow, coming back to the Wimpy Kid, the story has a very interesting, and to my mind, appropriate twist towards the end. The mother cannot find the Wimpy Kid who has wandered off into the forest, but she manages to track him down through a tracking device she had installed in one of his shoes. Meaning that we cannot get rid of this technology; it is there to stay.

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US MUST SANCTION PAKISTAN

Joyeeta Basu

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that some of Pakistan’s interests were conflicting with that of the United States and that Washington would reconsider its ties with Islamabad, are of immense significance. His was the first public pronouncement of the Joe Biden administration’s Pakistan policy. President Biden’s phone call to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, which he and his men have been publicly hankering for, is yet to materialize, even after nine months of Biden being in office. This should give an inkling that not all is well between the two countries. But what was unsaid, was finally said at the Congressional hearing, where Pakistan came in for severe criticism for the role it has played for decades to keep Afghanistan on the brink, while nurturing and using all sorts of terrorist groups to serve its own interests. Blinken was clear that Pakistan has been “involved in harbouring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis”.

Blinken also said, “What we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban-led government if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support… So Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding those expectations.” Valid words. But how far is the US willing to go to punish Pakistan for the “duplicitous” role it has played—and still plays—specifically, by “using the US to defeat the US in Afghanistan”, as one of ISI’s ex chiefs, Hamid Gul had boasted? There is no reason to believe that a rogue country such as Pakistan will “line up with a broad majority of the international community” on the issue of Afghanistan, and thus give up the leverage it has acquired by installing a terrorist regime in Kabul. Instead, with the PRC as its backer, it now feels even more emboldened to continue with its misadventures. No US administration has taken any substantial action—except for some token aid cuts—against a rogue Pakistan, and this in spite of the perpetrator of 9/11, Osama Bin Laden found on Pakistani territory, right on the Pakistani military’s doorstep. Bizarrely, as the perusal of some recent articles in the US media show, even the discovery of Laden is now sought to be spun, at least by a section, as having resulted from Pakistan’s cooperation with the US. The US has publicly expressed its displeasure with Pakistan earlier as well, but when it comes to the brass tacks, Pakistan is still the US’ Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA), and thus eligible for special financial and military largesse. Public opprobrium has never translated into action from the US. Thus, Pakistan has got away with murder, every time. In fact, such was Pakistan’s confidence in US inaction—and in its own ability to gull the US—that it was, until recently, hoping even to come out of FATF’s grey list, because it was “helping” Washington to pull out American troops from Afghanistan.

However, this time it may not be so easy for GHQ Rawalpindi to get off the hook, in spite of the backing from the US Democratic Party’s pro-Wahhabi “progressive”—in reality, radical and regressive—fringe. This time Pakistan may have crossed the red line of “defeating” the US in a battlefield the superpower had invested itself for two decades. Ironically, things may not have come to such a pass for Pakistan, if Imran Khan and Company had not resorted to exulting over US’ exit from Afghanistan; or the GHQ had not inserted its pet terrorists such as the Haqqanis in the Taliban government. There is too much public scrutiny now of the role Pakistan has played, as evident from the severe criticism it received in the Congressional hearing. Also, no US President wants his people to see him as having been taken for a ride.

In spite of all this, if the US again falls into the trap of employing the arsonist to douse the Afghan fire, then it will have only itself to blame. Blinken must make good his promise to “reconsider ties” with Pakistan. A slight rap on the knuckles will not do, maybe by removing Pakistan’s Major Non Nato Ally (MNNA) status, or something similar. The need of the hour is sanctioning Pakistan and that is the process that the US must initiate.

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Thoughts on the International Day of Democracy

UN’s most powerful organ, the Security Council is a face of unrepresentative and imperious decision making at United Nations which blatantly ignored even some most compelling demands made during the pandemic by nations beyond its five permanent members. So what provokes this world body to declare a day of democracy?

Amita Singh

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United Nations had declared 15th September as the International Day of Democracy way back in 2007. What made UNO to declare such a day when it has itself mostly failed to abide by the concerns of democracy around the world and across decades? Freedom House data has already shown that a global deterioration of democratic concerns is sweeping through the world like a tornado and democracies have been sinking into authoritarianism, militias or rule by mercenaries. Take for example the latest barefaced defiance of all UN resolutions in Afghanistan by just a small rustic group of medieval terrorists called Talibans, legitimized and made big by UN’s highest funding nation USA to smoothly squash civilian population, dump Geneva Conventions and human rights. UNO is repeatedly guillotined by powerful nations which are legitimizing their undemocratic decisions in many ways. UN’s most powerful organ, the Security Council is a face of unrepresentative and imperious decision making at United Nations which blatantly ignored even some most compelling demands made during the pandemic by nations beyond its five permanent members. So what provokes this world body to declare a day of democracy?

The Declaration came exactly twenty years after the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) adopted a Universal Declaration on Democracy in 1997. IPU is an international organization that has an observer status in United Nations. It is composed of world parliaments, parliamentarians and later several civil society organizations also joined in. IPU promotes democratic governance, gender parity amongst legislatures, empowers youth for political participation and ensures that nations adopt sustainable development in their models of progress. The 1997 Declaration was well researched as slippages in the democratic functioning of governments were abound. It also affirms principles of democracy, exercise of democratic government, and international scope of democracy. There exists a historical link to this declaration of 1997 which and can be traced back to people’s struggles during the 1980s against the stifling of democratic processes by authoritarian regimes. In 1988 a peaceful revolution in the Philippines called ‘People Power Revolution’ which was also called the EDSA Revolution getting this name from manila’s most prominent highway ‘Epifano de los Santos Avenue’ blocked by people to overthrow a 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. In Philippines, an innovative democratic model of governance was brought up through a movement of an International Conference of New or Restored Democracies (ICNRD) under the initiative of President Corazon C.Aquino of Philippines. In ICNRD’s international meet at Doha in 2006 this new model of democratic governance with a tripartite structure having three essentials participatory pillars ie; governments, parliaments, and civil society was explicitly recognized by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/253 of 2 May 2006. This movement of new and restored democracies acknowledged the fact that if even a single pillar of governance is weakened, democracy would derail. A year before the declaration of Democracy Day in 2006, another small Himalayan Kingdom state Nepal experienced what is known as ‘Nepal’s Magna Carta’ of 18th May 2006 when the Parliament unanimously voted to strip the King of his discretionary superior powers over people’s representatives. This day was hailed in Nepal as a ‘Democracy Day’ when all power that was vested in the King came under the power of people’s parliament including the 90,000 troops that the king controlled and in return all assets of monarchy became taxable.

Ironically, Qatar which a day ago had gone to meet the Taliban was given a lead by United Nations in 2006 to draft a text for a resolution on the democracy day by UN General Assembly. Finally, on 8th November 2007, the final resolution, titled, ‘Support by the United Nations system of Government efforts to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies’ was unanimously adopted by all UN member states to declare 15th September as an International Day of Democracy.

The Day of Democracy comes with an annual theme. Interestingly, the theme for 2019 was ‘participation’ and it talked of improving democracy by looking into institutional access and partnering with governments. Nevertheless, in 2020 it reverted to focus on basic concerns of democracy and selected a theme ‘2020 COVID-19: A Spotlight on Democracy’. In a very arbitrary frame of governance that lashed world events during the pandemic, there were raised concerns on due process of law, respect for international legal standards and right to access justice during crisis period which was being denied by democratic governments. In India as well, the execution of colonial era’s draconian ‘Epidemic Diseases Act 1897’ proved forbidding and humiliating to the underprivileged as they were denied transportation to reach their homes and one chief minister even allowed its administration to wash them with sanitizing chemicals as they enter a city. The 2021 theme remained undecided for long but then the focus garnered around the importance of ‘parliamentary oversight’ to maintain adequate checks and balance in any healthy democracy. It indicates that parliaments across the world have been failing to address their key role of maintaining a parliamentary oversight over an executive or a due process of law which should be followed in sustaining democracy. So, fear is that Parliaments which are a creation of democracy are now becoming threats to democracy.

A parliamentary system is a fusion of legislature and executive since leader of a majority party in Parliament is designated as the Prime Minister who then constitutes his Cabinet. Art 75 in the Constitution establishes that ‘pleasure of the President’ is the condition for a Minister to hold office and the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House. There are mutual checks and balances to establish intra-institutional controls. There are several Parliamentary Committees including the Standing Committees which are constituted in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of Parliament or Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business. These Committees especially Finance Committees such as the Estimates, Public Accounts, and Public Undertaking Committees are powerful committees to check the government’s overreach as well as the health of administrative systems during emergencies such as the pandemic. Judiciary remains independent and due to separation of power maintains its independent status of a watchdog of democracy. The former CJI Ranjan Gogoi emphasized the judiciary’s watchdog role in several public speeches that he delivered but on retirement he accepted being nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Watchdogs do not accept bones from those they are supposed to guard against. This relationship of greed with power was well brought out by former High Court Judge B.Kemal Pasha in his response to allegations against judiciary’s role in multi-crore Rafale deal. He said that judiciary should have ‘backbone’ to continue as the watchdog of the Constitution. He was referring to Art 142 under which the Supreme Court has immense power for judicial activism yet it said they have no power to intervene in the deal.The article 142 says, ‘The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or orders so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India …….’This is how our Constitution was formulated by brilliant and experienced minds but a few ideological vanguards like Sai Deepak in a latest talk show with Shashi Tharoor boldly declares that to protect this ‘Constitution at the expense of civilization is grave injustice’. Many who do not understand the balancing act of our Constitution also fail to understand that civilization is sustained because of this balance which they are trying to disturb.

Democracy’s lungful of oxygen comes from its respect for human rights. While the Day of Democracy focuses on ‘parliamentary oversight’ it is nothing but an assurance to people that they would be safe and justice would be done. Parliament is a primary forum for protecting human rights but its only on its failure that judiciary and civil society has to barge in. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 captures this relationship of democracy and human rights in Art 21 (3), “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

The last perplexing question on democracy emerges from Art 21(3) mentioned above. This article is merely reflecting an 1861 model of John Stuart Mill’s ‘Representative Democracy’ which continued to be popular in post -second world war explorations of Comparative Politics Movement in the non-western world. These studies conducted in emerging post-colonial nations experimenting with their cultural frames of democracies saw elections as a primary representative act of democracy as even that appeared difficult. Seventy five years later with fairly well informed voters and high paced technology it is now well established that to think of elections as an assurance of democracy is merely stamping a procedure which has become a ritual. It rarely gets converted to substantive democracy in which those who elect also control their representatives through institutions of accountability and information dissemination. Much has been done to prevent substantive democracy through ordinances, notifications and laws which shrink space for public discourse and twist democracy into a one way ratchet. This has now raised questions of ‘democratic backsliding’ in which governments ritually hold timely free and fair elections through an independent election commission nonetheless institutions for the participation of people and voicing their concerns are locked up and enforcement agencies have personnel policies which turn exceptional clause of discretion into regular norm to appoint compliant officials. In a world governed by cyber interaction and veiled opinions, winning an election against poor and minimally educated may just be a sort of a digital craft in which a prowling cat can be presented as a gentle generous lion. Now that this obstinate pandemic has put everyone from primary school kids to the top governance officials over on-line internet based information, one would fail to imagine now what intellectual disaster is cumulatively going to stand against democracies in times to come.

Democracy is short-term representative governance and a long-term substantive life based upon a due process of law, access to justice, freedom of expression, and protection of human rights including gender rights. Freedom of expression may give some shape to substantive democracy but laws on inculcating ethics and integrity are weakening. Democracies have no viable alternative other than repression and surveillance. Unless this Day of Democracy is rightly observed we may continue to repeat Plato’s words that democracy is where donkeys march on roads with flags claiming to be perfect democrats.

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.

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