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Utpal Kumar



When India decided to pull out around 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar in Afghanistan on Saturday, in view of the Taliban gaining ground in new areas around the southern Afghan city, India once again found itself at a crossroads in what is believed to be the “graveyard of empires”. What has added to the already complex scenario is the eagerness of China to jump into the Afghan melee once the last of the Americans pack their bags on 11 September 2021.

The presence of the Dragon has made the situation more alarming in Afghanistan. A senior MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) official said that New Delhi has to reorient its Afghan policies. “We just can’t afford to sit back and let the situation slip away to the advantage of the forces inimical to us. Sensing an opportunity in the Afghanistan crisis, China has become super active in the region. Its close ally Pakistan too must be elated with the development.”

There’s a serious churn going on in the MEA on how to bite the Afghan bullet, especially on the issue of the Taliban. There was a time when a section of the Indian establishment wasn’t too averse to talking to the Taliban, but the Kandahar hijacking episode in 2001 changed all that. New Delhi just couldn’t be seen dealing with the Taliban. But now with the Dragon in the Afghan picture, and Taliban knocking on the Kabul doors, the consensus seems to be building up in India about the inevitability of talking to the Taliban. “Just that we should not be seen as too desperate for talks,” advised an official in the know of the situation. “Taliban know very well that India’s nod is necessary for their legitimacy in Afghanistan and have therefore in recent times made several overtures to Delhi through third-party contacts,” he added.

As per media reports, the Taliban have reached out to India at least two dozen times and even tried to come clean on their Pakistan connections. In fact, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen went to the extent of saying that his organisation never took part in the Kashmir jihad!

Sources say that there has also been softening in Delhi’s stand vis-à-vis Taliban. In 2018, India, for instance, sent a “non-official” delegation comprising two retired diplomats to the Moscow peace conference on Afghanistan. Two years later, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar himself participated in the intra-Afghan talks in Doha where he said in no uncertain terms that the peace process must be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. He also emphasised that no part of Afghanistan is “untouched” by India’s “400-plus development projects” in that country.

No doubt, India has been a big part of the Afghanistan development story, with investments worth $3 billion. It may not be the biggest investment, but each project undertaken by India, including the construction of the parliament building, the Salma dam and the Zaranj-Delaram highway project, has won goodwill among the public in that country. As Jaishankar himself had said while speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, “In the last 20 years, we have demonstrated, through our actions and projects on the ground, what our real feelings are for Afghanistan… I think, in all the 34 Afghan provinces, we have development projects of some kind.”

It is because of these investments and stakes that India can’t leave Afghanistan. This is also the reason why Indians stationed in Afghanistan find themselves in the line of jihadi fire. No wonder, about a week before the Kandahar evacuation, the Indian embassy in Afghanistan had issued a strongly-worded advisory for Indian nationals, asking them to exercise “strict vigilance and caution” with regard to security at workplace, place of residence and also during movement in the city. The advisory said that the security situation in Afghanistan is “highly volatile, unpredictable and dangerous”.

So, what should India do to deal with the Afghan quagmire? Unlike the US, it just can’t pack its bags and vanish, being in the immediate neighbourhood, and with Pakistan and China trying to turn it into their strategic depth vis-à-vis India. “India needs to follow a very fine diplomatic line,” said a senior MEA official, adding that Delhi must keep on supporting President Ashraf Ghani and yet should not be averse to talking to the Taliban. “The Taliban are a reality. The US has accepted it, and the sooner we accept it, the better placed we would be in dealing with the Afghan challenge. But this doesn’t mean we should give up on President Ghani. In fact, India’s active diplomatic role may hold the key to democratic forces retaining some of their hold in the Afghan administration,” he said.

Now that’s where the crux of India’s new Afghan policy lies. Delhi may not have a military presence in Kabul, but it has a strong hold over the hearts and minds of people there. India’s active role in rebuilding Afghanistan has given people there a semblance of normalcy amid violence and killings. This explains why the Taliban have been reaching out to India. This also explains why India is being invited to diplomatic high tables while discussing the fate of Afghanistan.

This doesn’t mean that the Taliban have cut their ties with Al Qaeda or even the mother of all terrorism—Pakistan. If anything the links have become deeper and would turn even more menacing, especially in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan which many in the Islamist world would see as an affirmation of jihadi victory. The real problem, however, is on the eastern side of the Durand Line in Pakistan, which just refuses to give up on its terror aspirations. With Taliban in power, Pakistan would achieve, in Steve Coll’s words in Ghost Wars, General Zia-ul-Haq’s dream: “A loyal, Pashtun-led Islamist government in Kabul.”

India’s—and for that matter world’s—problem resides in Pakistan, which called for “guns rather than butter” weeks after its independence. Where every general, liberal or otherwise, “believed in the jihadists, not from personal Islamic conviction, in most cases, but because the jihadists had proved themselves over many years as the one force able to frighten, flummox, and bog down the Hindu-dominated Indian Army”, as Coll writes again. In Pakistan, jihad is not a calling for the otherwise liberal generals, but a professional imperative. “It was something he (general) did at the office. At quitting time he packed up his briefcase. Straightened the braid on his uniform and went home to his normal life.”

The Americans would have saved themselves from this embarrassment of leaving Afghanistan like a loser had their President listened to former CIA operative Bruce Riedel, who had told President Barack Obama right at the beginning of his first term to shift focus from Afghanistan to Pakistan, for the latter has a “convoluted relationship with terrorists in which it was the patron, the victim and the safe haven—all at the same time”, as former Ambassador Rajeev Dogra recalls in his book, Where Borders Bleed.

The Americans failed to act, despite knowing the real force behind the Taliban surge in Afghanistan. Maybe they fell under the trap of Pakistan being a nuclear weapons state, an argument which the Pakistanis would use generously vis-à-vis India till Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the bluff after the Balakot air strikes in 2019!

Be that as it may, India will have to play the Great Game, with or without the US. For, its stakes have risen further with the Dragon all set to play the Afghan tango with Pakistani generals and Taliban leaders. With Taliban at Kandahar gates and China checking in on Kabul, it’s time India reoriented its Afghanistan policy.

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Grameen Foundation India (GFI) on Monday launched a special initiative ‘Catalyst Award’ under its MANDI (Market Enabled Access through Digital Innovation) project to support and develop the farmer producer organisations (FPOs) in Uttar Pradesh.

Speaking at the event, Prabhat Labh, Chief Executive Officer, GFI said, “Smallholder farmers, especially women, play the most critical role in ensuring food security in Uttar Pradesh. Grameen’s endeavour is to recognise the role of women smallholder farmers, and support them through linkage to markets, technology and finance in order to increase their incomes.” The MANDI project aims to strengthen the FPO’s capacity to connect smallholder farmers, especially women, to markets and finance, in order to improve farmers’ incomes and resilience. It predominantly works on four thematic areas such as financial linkage, access to market, FPO capacity building on day-to-day operation and compliance, and gender mainstreaming. It also focuses on leveraging data for decision-making and facilitates need-based modern technologies. The MANDI project is implemented by GFI in partnership with Walmart Foundation.

The Catalyst Award is a financial assistance program being offered to select FPOs to support their long-term institutional strengthening and growth. The financial assistance being extended to the FPOs would help them in serving their members, particularly women and smallholder farmers in a better and organised manner. The awards were given at a one-day workshop organized on Monday, 29 November 2021 on “FPO strengthening through Gender Mainstreaming” at the Shatabdi Krishi Prekshagrih, Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi.

Addressing the participants, Mahendra Singh, Joint Director, Agriculture, Government of Uttar Pradesh said, “FPOs can become business entities serving needs of small and marginal farmers and focusing on women participation. FPOs should focus on market and financial linkages to benefit shareholder farmers.”

The day also saw the launch of another initiative on which GFI is collaborating with ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). Under the collaboration, it has developed a support fund for the FPCs (Farmer Producer Companies) in response to Covid-19 pandemic mainly to cope better with situation brought on by the pandemic. FPC support fund (FSF) is being given for promotion and expansion of business activities being conducted by registered FPCs promoted under the MANDI project. A total amount of INR 4.5 lakh will be given to the FPCs.

The overall objective is to provide immediate support to FPCs which will help the project beneficiaries cope better with the pandemic while building resilience and bringing things back on track— by providing access to ‘working capital’ to the farmers through the FPCs, so that the farmers can continue with their farming operations uninterruptedly. This will also help FPCs for strengthening business activities, innovative product and services design and delivery which will help the farmer members of FPCs. The program is implemented through GFI’s subsidiary Grameen Foundation for Social Impact (GFSI) with support from ICRISAT and would cover four districts of Ghazipur, Varanasi, Mirzapur and Prayagraj and would benefit about 11,500 farmers.

This event is part of a series of activities being organised by the GFI for generating awareness among the stakeholders of FPOs, and creating an ecosystem to foster women’s empowerment in agriculture. It aims to sensitise stakeholders on increasing women’s participation in decision-making and in the entire FPO value chain.

About 146 attendees representing FPOs, experts from financial technology, markets and convergence participated in the event and subsequent workshop. The companies such as Blue Soils, UPPRO (State Level Federation of FPOs of Uttar Pradesh), EF Polymer also displayed their products and services.

Grameen Foundation India is a leading social impact organisation, working on financial inclusion, agriculture-based livelihoods and health and nutrition initiatives with the mission to enable the poor, especially women to overcome poverty and hunger. Inspired by the work of Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus, Grameen provides works in partnership with leading development organisations in India to ideate, innovate and scale breakthrough solutions that reach underserved populations, particularly women.

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Yotta Infrastructure announced that it will commence construction of two more data centers in their Greater Noida Data Center Park in January 2022. The two buildings will have a capacity of 30MW IT load each and will be ready to go live in January 2024. The construction of the first of six data center buildings started in January 2021 and will go live for customer operations by July 2022, in a record time of less than 18 months. Once completed, it will have a capacity of 30 MW IT Load.

Commenting on the development and his vision to transform Uttar Pradesh as a technology hub, the Honourable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Yogi Adityanath, said, “Uttar Pradesh today is at the forefront of all-round development. Data Centers are the hub of the digital revolution. They are the temples for digital democracy. The government of Uttar Pradesh has taken path-breaking steps, including a forward-looking Data Center policy helping and incentivising the development of high-quality, large-scale data centers in UP. I congratulate the Hiranandani Group and Yotta for taking this initiative which shall enhance the quality of life for citizens and shall grow the digital economy of the country, promise them all help and wish them success.” The Uttar Pradesh government, in October 2020, gave approvals to the company to set up a 20-acre hyper-scale data center park in Greater Noida. This will be the first data center park in the region, which will consist of 6 interconnected data center buildings offering 30,000 racks capacity powered by more than 250 MW of power. The estimated cost to set up the park is approximately INR 7000 Crore (~USD 950 Mn). The project will also generate direct and indirect employment in Uttar Pradesh as the company expands its team to operate and build the data centers.

Darshan Hiranandani, Group CEO – Hiranandani Group, said, “The Digital India initiative has opened up new avenues for businesses, and India has been on the upward trajectory with respect to digital transformation way before the pandemic hit us. The last couple of years have only reinstated the need to grow digital infrastructure in our country. We are grateful to the Government of Uttar Pradesh and the Honourable Chief Minister Shri Yogi Adityanath Ji for extending their constant cooperation that helped us speed up the construction process. Our Datacenter Park in Greater Noida will go a long way to augment the digital infrastructure not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in the entire north region of the country as Yotta continues to strive to bridge the demand-supply gap in the Indian data center industry.”

Sunil Gupta, Co-founder, and CEO of Yotta Infrastructure said, “Foreseeing increased demand from the region due to digital acceleration, we’ve decided to commence construction of two new data center buildings of 30MW IT load each from January 2022, much ahead of our earlier schedule. The data center park shall be the largest one in the region, powered by redundant 220 KV express feeders and an on-site substation, with an option of 100 percent green energy to customers. With the presence of multiple telco operators, redundant fiber paths and various public and private Internet exchanges and availability of Build To Suit (BTS), Bulk and Retail Colocation and various Cloud and Managed Services, this highly interconnected data center park is attracting customers from across the World and industry verticals.”

Riding on the digital revolution and a huge supply-demand gap in the country for high-quality, scalable data centers and benefitting from its all-around capabilities across the value chain of Datacenter from Build to Operate, Yotta is feverishly developing data center parks across the country. It has also signed MoUs with Tamil Nadu and West Bengal Government to set up data centers in Chennai and Kolkata, respectively. The company recently announced that its first data center in Navi Mumbai – Yotta NM1, is India’s first and the only Tier IV Constructed Facility certified by Uptime Institute (USA).

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In sync with Guru Nanak’s ‘oneness’



An exhibition titled ‘Paradigm of Oneness’—a solo show by artist Dr Jaspal Singh Kalra—was held recently in the capital at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre wherein the artist attempts to imagine Baba Nanak in the content of his immortal Shabads.

Artist Dr. Jaspal Singh Kalra

Banrae Embroidery & sketch on linen by Dr. Jaspal Singh Kalra

Bhande bahara Embroidery & sketch on linen by Dr. Jaspal Singh Kalra

Nanak’s oneness goes beyond just humans. His compositions talk of nature, animals, plants, earth, water, air and to love them all is true oneness with the divine. Imagining self as part of other is the paradigm of Nanak’s oneness that takes us beyond our ego. The series of artworks on display are Kalra’s journey of art as a personal expression. His art is not about deciphering or finding reasons but simplifying the complexities.

This personal expression of setting text in artworks has been part of Dr Kalra’s style for more than a decade. When his mother passed away, it transformed into interpretation.

The word ‘Sab Tera’ is also interpreted as ‘terah’ or thirteen and in keeping with this concept thirteen Shabads have been taken to create this series of artworks. Shabads by Baba Nanak, Kabirdas and Sheikh Farid range from oneness of humans, gender, nature, universe, divinity and value of sharing.

Speaking to The Daily Guardian, Kalra explained the title of the exhibition and said that oneness is about gender, people and moving away from discrimination. “When we started creating these artworks, we had people from different faith who understood his philosophy and tried to associate with it. Here it was about the oneness of thought and connecting it with art,” he said.

He added, “We gave it the name paradigm because it was not just about one single thing. There are smaller aspects. It has so many components to it that makes it a paradigm.”

Everyone knows that Guru Nanak is an important religious figure in Sikhism. But in the case of Kalra, he says it is important and a conscious effort to humanise him in order to understand his teachings. “When we humanise something, we connect to that person much closer. When we make someone a god or a demi-god, there’s an awe that comes in. If you have to love someone’s poetry and follow, the first step would be to be in one with that person,” he said while speaking to The Daily Guardian.

On the issue of the hurdles he faced while creating these works, he said that he did not face much of it and added that he was being guided by a force through the creative process. Kalra further said that every time he was working with a Shabad or a Doha of Kabir on his artwork, he was reliving them. “Every time when I was working on it, I would go deeper into the meaning because we were spending so much time in sketching and conceptualising. Then you really look (at the work and the verse) and get into another time zone,” he added.

“The whole process for us (of creating these works) became an act of respect and worship,” the artist said further. From his artwork, he said, the thing that the viewer must capture is the human values and make your own meanings out of them.

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In the exclusive conversation with us as part of NewsX India A-List, Vicky Kaushal and Shoojit Sircar opened up about the response to Sardar Udham Singh, their favourite scenes in the film and much more.



Actor Vicky Kaushal and Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar, who are basking in the success of their film Sardar Udham Singh, joined us for a candid chat as part of NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, the duo opened up about the response to Sardar Udham Singh, their favourite scenes in the film and much more.

When asked whether he expected so much love from the audience for the film, Shoojit Sircar said, “We knew that the final climax of the film will evoke some kind of a reaction but we didn’t expect these many praise-worthy messages and texts. That was absolutely overwhelming.”

On Sardar Udham Singh being a difficult character to portray, Vicky said, “Everyone attached with the making of the film, was in sync with why this story is important and why this story needs to be told. We were always in sync with that. Yes definitely, when you see that the film has resonated in such a beautiful way with the audience and connected with the audience, it does make you feel good. It makes you feel that your efforts have landed well. Not many people knew who Sardar Udham Singh was or what his sacrifices were. Now people would be aware of it, they would discuss it and this would probably lead to discussions about other such unsung heroes and other such sacrifices of that time. That of course is a big takeaway for a big victory for us.”

Speaking about that one compliment that stood out about his performance, Vicky said, “Actually in the initial stages, it was something that I read for the first time and it really brought a smile in my heart, rather than my face, was when somebody had just appreciated that this could have been the best tribute to Irrfan Saab. That really made my heart smile. That was really special for me.”

To this, Shoojit Sircar added, “When the film got over, most of the people were not able to talk and they felt a little numb. For some time, they didn’t want to talk to anyone and just be quiet. Everyone wrote to me and also on social media I read. That for me is quite a deep impact. I also get a little emotional when someone feels exactly what we feel. That is the biggest compliment I got.”

Talking about his favourite and the most difficult scene in the film, Vicky shared, “For me, the most challenging one has to be the Jallianwala Bagh scene. To recreate that and to touch upon the innocence of the 20-year-old Udham Singh, who was probably going through that kind of aftermath. You, as an actor, can never be too prepared to know what you are going to do, how you are going to do, how you are going to emote those sequences till you are thrown right in the middle of it. So, that was for me the most challenging.”

“The one scene I was looking forward to shoot was the jail portion, that lead up to that sequence. The conversation between Sardar Udham and Suhel. That trajectory was for me like the thread of the film. Shooting for those portions was kind of also telling me the graph of the character. Those sequences in the film were special for me,” Vicky added.

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Over 2.5 m Indians repatriated under ‘Vande Bharat Mission’



More than 2.5 million Indians in distress abroad were repatriated home and over 275,000 Indians overseas were provided assistance under the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ launched last year, the External Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.

Recognizing the potential health and economic impact of COVID-19, Sanjay Bhattacharyya Secretary (CPV & OIA) who attended the 112th Session of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Council on “Impact of COVID-19 on Borders, Migration and Mobility: Learning Lessons and Preparing for the Future” said that India responded to protect migrant workers, stranded in destination countries across the world. “Government organised the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ from 7th May 2020 to facilitate their safe repatriation. This was the largest and the most complex exercise undertaken by the government, with our Embassies working in tandem with host governments and community organizations to support every Indian in distress. More than 2.5 million Indians in distress abroad were repatriated home and over 275,000 Indians overseas were provided assistance,” he said in a Ministry of External Affairs statement.

He also said, “We also launched the SWADES portal (Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support). This skill mapping exercise involved our National Skill Development Corporation and the information collated was shared with State Governments, employment bureaus and Indian & foreign companies for a seamless employment channel with identification of skill sets.”

Asserting that more stable and transparent mechanisms were needed for India’s traditional destinations in the Gulf, Secretary (CPV & OIA) said that country engaged in discussions for new generation labour agreements and commenced work on integration of our eMigrate platform with those of our GCC partners. “This would promote transparency, empower future migrants, stabilize migration flows and promote safe and legal migration,” he said.

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Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Monday gave nod to the recruitment of 10,880 posts vacant in education department related to various Cadres.

Presiding over a high level meeting of various departments, the Chief Minister described education as the core sector which would be streamlined and kept under sharp focus. The Chief Minister also directed for creation of 2000 Physical Education teachers in primary schools and recruitment so as to ensure the robust health of the school students apart from focusing on the academic aspect.

Advocating the formation of cluster in every village whereby the village having a primary, middle and the high school would be availing the services of a single physical education trainer, the Chief Minister asked the School Education Department to actively consider the proposal. Besides, the Chief Minister discussed various issues related to various unions and directed that department may have discussions and after examining their demand may take up the matter with the Finance Department.

Accepting the long pending demand of around 1000 headmaster and teachers recruited under RMSA, the CM directed Finance Department to release state share of salaries which were cut due to upper cap made by Government of India (in 2016). It will cost around 3.2 Crore to state exchequer.

In another important decision, the Chief Minister gave go ahead to the recruitment of approximately 3400 various posts in the Health Department so as to further strengthen the healthcare mechanism.

Further, the Chief Minister ordered that proposal pertaining to the inclusion of the Anganwadi/ASHA Workers and other Health workers in the Ayushman Bharat scheme be brought up in the Cabinet meeting.

The Chief Minister also announced that he would shortly lay the foundation Stones of Medical colleges at Kapurthala and Hoshiarpur. The Chief Minister also announced that a new Medical College will be set up in Sangrur with 100 percent State funding. These new Medical Colleges will help in boosting medical education and research in the State.

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