delhi

Farmers have already lost this game: The only option left is violence

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Farmers want trouble. They now even don’t want MSP or APMC.

Let’s say there are two sets of demands of farmers: One concerns MSP and APMC. The other is a host of other issues including electricity, matter-in-civil-courts-only, no-hard-penalty-on-stubble etc. If the government is making concessions on all these issues and still the farmers bring placards of “Yes’ or “No” to Vigyan Bhawan, what inference do you want to draw?

You think private players are the root of trouble? That they would hold “poor farmers” to ransom? But since when have wheat and paddy been produced in factories? And even if elephants do fly, how would it take away your MSP. Do you need be told that more paddy from Punjab was procured at MSP jthan at any time in India’s independent history? That the first record it broke was in 2017-18 with 176.61 lakh tonnes procured. That it has bettered this year with 202.77 lakh tonnes procured. How could private players deprive you?

Be that as it may, farmers are at Delhi’s gates. They have laid siege to the Capital. And they won’t go away in a hurry. The “poor farmers” have also brought in their women and children and elderly. In Delhi’s cold and with Covid-19 surging, they have both power and persuasion as their aces. Where do we go from here?

One, simply throw this notion out of the window that the next round on December 9 would see a breakthrough. There won’t be one, on Wednesday and in other rounds if they occur.

Farmers feel they have nothing to lose, at least for the next few weeks. For they have all the time in the world. If government blinks, the template of anarchy would succeed. If it doesn’t, agitating farmers hope it spins out of control.

You see, Punjab farmers are free because paddy season is over. It has been sowed, reaped and sold in Punjab. The next one of wheat has also been put into fields. Harvest is only due in April. Farmers have 8-12 weeks to dance on Centre’s head.

What options Centre have? Clearly, it doesn’t want to use force and it must not. It doesn’t want to lose the perception battle. It’s not a communal matter, it concerns the “annadatas” of the nation and before you know it, this entire farce would morph into something entirely different and all those infamous slogans of Modi-baiters—“Democracy in Danger”, “totalitarian India”, “Hindu extremists”—would fill the air. The prepaid media would be rubbing their hands in glee, and EU, UN and US Congress would be practicing in front of mirror which finger looks best on camera.

So farmers want to appear “peaceful and vulnerable.” Centre is “sympathetic and caring.” Both are engaged in perception battle. We know on whose side the propaganda is. Where does Modi go from here?

Let’s look at how the next few days could unfold. Centre: we are agreeing to all what you want. So why still have the agitation? If you want the three Farm Acts to be repealed, only the Parliament should take a call. After it, it was the Parliament which turned those Bills into Acts.

Farmers are unlikely to accede. For it could be back to square one. They would insist: Scrap the Acts. One, they have only a few weeks free. Thereafter, it’s wheat crop. Time is critical here.

Government could respond: Are you representing all farmers of India? Could we take a referendum please? Let India’s farmers take a call whether a simple majority want “Yes” or “No” on Farm Acts. Modi would obey it as “janadesh.”

What, you are still not ok with this? So let’s do one this thing: We know 40 farmers’ unions are leading this agitation. That’s why they have a seat in Vigyan Bhawan. You claim to be voice of India’s farmers. Could we see how many members you have on roll? You and I both would know if you are voice of India’s farmers.

This is a battle of attrition. An exercise in perception. Farmers are losing it from time to time—like calling for “Bharat Bandh”—and declaring “effigy burning” (did it really happen on Saturday?). It’s called “muscle flexing”; “baring teeth” to scare the opponent. They also want to project it’s not just Punjab but farmers of rest of India who are agitated. December 8 either way won’t offer a clue. Farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh, for example, won’t stay around for long. The sugarcane season would beckon and this agitation can wait.

So Modi won’t lift a baton. The only course open to him is the Art of Persuasion. If farmers still want to agitate, they would have to explain why now. Farmers can’t lose time. They can’t also be anything but peaceful. So stay put if you want. You might win the Battle of Propaganda. And lose the War on Reforms.

 

 

“Farce of Farmers”: No Indian could be neutral at this hour; which side are you on?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Let there be no doubt that it’s not about farmers. Think of all the reasons you could and I would demolish it clinically.

MSP? “Farmers” are worried that Minimum Support Price is not guaranteed. That private players would manipulate them in future. Now when the prime minister Narendra Modi has assured MSP in the Parliament; and the Centre needs free foodgrains for 80-crore citizens, there is no way “farmers” wouldn’t get the MSP.

Unconvinced? Let’s look at the figures.The agitation is about wheat and paddy, right? Now between Punjab (69%) and Haryana (25%), some 94 percent of all wheat and paddy is procured. It’s only going up. In 2019, the wheat bought was 34.1 million tonnes. This year it’s already 38.9 million tonnes. In 2019, the Centre had bought 26.6 million tonnes of paddy. This year, it’s 31.6 million.

So, if the agitation is only about wheat and paddy, and MSP on it, what’s the problem here?

APMC? The “fear” that mandis would be bypassed. Really? Does the Farm Acts say so? Is allowing farmers to sell anywhere they want under APMC is doing away with APMC? How is more freedom spun into less freedom narrative? Who else dominates APMC but rich farmers, powerful traders and entrenched politicians?

Unconvinced? Let’s pour over statistics released only this September. Punjab has 31 percent Scheduled Caste population. Yet only 22 Dalits received aid under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna. Why? Because this set doesn’t own much of land. The land is owned by rich farmers. In Punjab, only 3.5% of private farm land belong to Dalits. As against, Punjab has the richest of all farmers in India—classified as owning more than 10 hectares of land among all non-mountainous states of India. While the national average is 0.57% of total land in the hands of the rich, in Punjab it scales up to 5.28%.

There is no third argument in this farce. You would ask me if this is so why thousands of farmers have gathered at the gate of Delhi and choked the entrance to the Capital? All I know is that this mob is made up of all kinds: Rich-elite farmers, the people-towing trucks which the politicians are so adept at harnessing. When you have tell-tale evidence of Khalistanis popping up their banners; Popular Front of India (PFI) shouting their support; Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal opening his “langar” for them; Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh not picking up phone of his counterpart from Haryana, you know this is anything but farmers.

So, if this is not about farmers what is this all about? This is about controlling India. About usurping the power. To be the handmaidens of those who are upset at the national narrative of last six years. Those who are frustrated that neither voters nor judiciary is being swayed by their propaganda. The last resort of these losers is to unleash anarchy on the street. To keep drumming Bad Police whenever the cops push back. Police freezes, judiciary is dumbstruck—so what option Centre really has?

The Centre has called the farmers for a 3 p.m meeting on Tuesday. If it takes place, it would fail. It should. Centre has more than Punjab to worry about. It can’t guarantee MSP. It can’t handover a template in the hands of anarchists. If you guarantee MSP, you are dissuading private players from improving the agriculture sector which is in shambles. It needs big investment in tech, seeds, water-capacity. Do you think state governments like Punjab could do so? A state government which even can’t solve the stubble-burning problem? Which levies 8.6 percent tax on farm proceeds so it could offer free electricity and free water? Is it concerned that chemicals in water are now producing Cancer Villages of Punjab?

Let me make another prediction. You would have “farmers” rally in support around India, hogging your newspapers in coming days. At least in Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc who would also pass resolutions in assembly that they wouldn’t implement Farm Acts 2020. Brussels and Washington would be deeply concerned.

Somehow the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia or Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) would seek “Azaadi” for the farmers. Our Swara Bhaskars and filmi set of Bhatts and Akhtars and Kashyaps would join voices. Our Asaduddin Owaisi would be worrying about India’s democracy in front of cameras. “Award Waapsi” has already begun.

That’s why I say this is not about farmers.

Now let’s look at the other side. What options the Modi government really has to stop this recurrence of anarchy? It has seen anti-CAA protests and now this Farmers’ Stir which has been whipped up on misinformation, propaganda and the agenda to destabilize India. All in one year. Many more would occur.

Where does Modi government go from here?

Farmers’ stir: Analysing the situation from two sides of the barricades; Who’s wrong?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Farmers on foot, tractors, trucks have marched from Punjab towards Haryana and Delhi. Along the way, they have faced barricades, police resistance which morphed into tear gas, water canons and arguably some baton wielding. It’s not a pretty picture and the typical hubris of Modi government is painted in our newspapers. The stand off has refused to die down two months after the three Farmers’ Acts were passed by the Parliament in September.

Emotions are running high. So I would cut out the flourish and engage the readers in the simplest of language possible.

So, let’s first work out what the farmers want and what the Centre is loathe to give it to them. The essence of these Farm Acts is that (a) it’s now One Nation, One Agriculture market; (b) that farmers could engage with private players; and (c) No need to hoard the grains.

ONE NATION ONE AGRICULTRE MARKET: It implies that a farmer could sell his produce anywhere in the country. So, if I am a Punjab farmer, and couldn’t look beyond the mandis of the state (read Agriculture Produce Market Committee—APMC) thus far, I could now scan the neighbouring states of Himachal, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh and get the best price on my produce;

FARMERS COULD ENGAGE WITH PRIVATE PLAYERS: Farmers in Punjab are hampered on water and technological issues. The water tables of the state are so depleted that there are “Cancer Villages in Punjab” due to all the chemicals and pesticides. The simplest example on technological issue is the stubble-burning which makes Delhi a gas chamber and which the farmers’ can’t attend to because of the cost involved. Now farmers could engage private players for redemption on these fronts, including seeds.

NO STOCKPILING: The Centre says we have enough food. Farmers’ don’t need to stockpile but for exceptional circumstances. The State government wants to have it say. It’s not a major point in the present confrontation.

xxx

Once these three Farm bills were moved, Shiromani Akali Dal walked out of the alliance with the BJP. The Punjab state government of Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, moved a resolution which was passed by the state assembly to override these Farm Acts of the Centre. Yet, the agitation has refused to die down because the President of India hasn’t given his assent to the state assembly’s resolution.

The arguments from the other side, backed by the Punjab state government and passed by the assembly, are these:

(a)    The State government could notify the fee on any private or electronic transaction. So if you go to Punjab, as a private, player, the state government could actually levy tax on you (So whither Ease of Doing Business?)

(b)    Instead of a few hundred mandis, the whole Punjab state would thus become a mandi over which the writ of the state government would run large;

(c)     The Punjab state government says that the procurement of wheat and paddy should happen only on the Minimum Support Price (MSP). If it is bought for less, the state would have the right to punish the private player. The State say we are doing so to protect the future of farmers: What happens if the Centre changes its mind and does away the MSP for wheat and paddy?

It’s the MSP which is the stickiest of all points. The contention that private players in future could hold the farmers at their mercy is unfounded. As of last year, the total procurement by private players in the State was a mere 0.58 per cent. Further, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, some 80 crores of the 150-crore population are being given free foodgrains. The Centre would always need to procure foodgrains. The incitement to farmers that their future would be held to ransom is fallacious.

Sure, the MSP is not just important for the farmers. It’s also important for the Punjab state government. It taxes farmers to the tune of 8.5 per cent. Last year, the Punjab state government made 3600 crore revenue out of this exercise. This money, they claim, they spend on the welfare of farmers which includes free electricity and free water.

Naturally, MSP suits both farmers and the Punjab state government. Farmers get free subsidies. The State government affords it through taxation, most of which comes from the revenue that the Centre gives by procuring the foodgrains.

The Centre is loathe to guarantee MSP. One, there is little logic as outlined since the government would always need foodgrains. Two, as said, private players are miniscule in this game. Besides, wheat and paddy are not the only produce from Punjab. There is a flourishing dairy industry too. All could benefit if the market is allowed to take its own course.

Arguing in favour of farmers for “free” subsidies is the same if I go to my bank tomorrow and say I can’t pay my loan back because it pinches my pocket. That’s no argument. You can’t run a nation on this premise. Further private players, as said, could provide solution to a lot of lingering farm issues in this country. If the threat of a punitive State action is around, nobody would come forward. The farm situation would only worsen. E-commerce players like Grofers and Big Basket, a win-win for all, would suffer.

Now look at it from another perspective. This issue seems only to concern Punjab. The farmers in the rest of the country have no issue with these three Farm Acts. Wheat and Paddy and that too of Punjab farmers isn’t the entire India and its produce. Could a state hold to ransom which is good for farmers and sectors all across?

Now let’s delve on the political aspect of it. Captain Amarinder Singh and Congress know that the election is only a year and a half away in 2022. This is the right time to make a capital investment. Shrimoni Akali Dal too want to recover its lost ground. It’s BJP, who would fight all 117 seats alone. Who stands to lose the most? One should give BJP credit for persisting in face of such adverse poll logic.

There is also this question of middlemen. It’s not an inconsiderable number in Punjab: At the last count it was 36,000. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) gave them Rs 1,600 crores at 2.5 percent commission last year. They stand to lose the most if the monopoly of mandis (APMC) is done with. They also flourish under the political patronage. Both won’t like the new measures to kick in.

 

Who’s afraid of Islam? A question Muslims could no longer ignore

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It’s not just France. It’s all over Europe. States might not have said it as openly as Emmanuel Macron of an “Islamist danger” but the rise of Islamophobia in the Old World is relentless. If you think sitting in Delhi or Mumbai keeps you a world away, it’s a dangerous delusion.

Let’s first speak in defence of Islam. Twenty years ago, West waged a “War on Terror”. Muslims could never rest in peace thereafter. My book “How United States Shot Humanity” details their tragedy. We don’t have to go to Crusades. Just two decades back is enough. Innocents died in far greater number than the dreaded; families in millions were uprooted; defenceless and homeless they headed for Europe; some could make it, many didn’t. Lives destroyed forever.

And this was not just foreign lands. At home the West set about putting their citizens under surveillance—Muslims far more than others. In Britain, for example, you are more likely to be searched and questioned if you are a Muslim. The air became thick with suspicion.

It struck a chord with Algerians and Pakistanis and Moroccans and Chechan Muslims who had made Europe their home after the Second World War. The Old World had been torn apart by the Big War. It needed rebuilding. Finances came from the United States. Labour from former colonies, many of whom were Muslims. Now they couldn’t see their fellow co-religionists ruined. Much before, thousands had headed from Europe to make cause with Islamic State (IS) in Middle East.

Societies in Europe were alarmed, they became wary of Muslim neighbourhood, discrimination began and the retaliation followed. Right wingers thought they had enemy next door; the feeling was reciprocated by the Next Door. One thing led to another.

The defenders of Islam thus claim their practitioners are being victimized. When State calls it “War on Terror” all Muslims, and not just Radicals, are put on notice. Innocents, living their normal lives, their kids in schools, their men and women in offices, began breathing toxic air. Hotheads take matter in own hands. The stereotype of Terrorism-Is-Islam is reinforced. When veils or Hijabs are banned in public, it’s seen as an attack.

The other side of the divide: Islamophobia

Those who have Islamophobia, have a different take. They can’t understand how could an author (Salman Rushdie) be hounded for years for what he wrote or why people are beheaded for cartoons. “Freedom of Expression” is the founding tenet of modern Western civilization. The State protects it. Its Constitution guarantees it. Are we to believe than that there is a parallel society, a society within society, which follows different tenets and the world knows it as Sharia Law? That they would follow what allegedly is written in their Holy Book and claim lives, walking over the Law of Land.

It doesn’t go with the idea of multiculturism which the West wanted to showcase to humanity. How could “freedom of expression under house arrest,” be acceptable?

For instance, it’s pointed out many Muslims have not tried to learn French in France; that they don’t send their kids to public schools, opting for “madarsas” instead; there is demand for separate swimming pools for their girls; and that’s how “separatism” is injected from the very beginning.

When Macron warns that “the problem is an ideology, which claims its own laws should be superior to those of the Republic,” it shouldn’t lead to condemnation by Erdogans, Imrans and Mahatirs of Islamic world. It doesn’t help. Certainly not your present and future generations who would be drenched in dripping blood. Instead, Macron’s words should lead to real. Just dismissing it as “Islamophobia”—as do “anti-Semitism”—is dangerous and self-defeating. Inclusiveness could only happen if both sides begin looking within.

Even if Islamophobia is decried, there is little doubt it has gained enormous currency in last two decades. You could ignore it but the elephant is in the room. France has 6 million Muslims, more than anyone else in Europe, so we could understand why right-wingers like Marine le Pen have such a persuasive influence. But others are no better. Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the Sweden Democrats for example now hold the narrative.

Half of Germany feels there is a “fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture. In Italy, the figures is 53%. In Finland a staggering 62%. Political parties have flourished on Islamophobia. Street demonstrations against Islam are everyday.

They call it “Counter-Jihad” ideology. Islamophobia networks have spawned all over. They offer some irrefutable logic: If Islam is not repressive, how do we term its treatment of women. How are we supposed to react to Chopping Squares. How are we to comprehend rulings where evidence, cross-examination and witnesses are dispensable.

Good Muslims would suffer, and I have said it many times, till they don’t oppose the Bad Muslims. Till they tell them that we have all the freedom to practice our religion at home and we are not bothered about others. We won’t take law into hands nor approve if radicals override the established laws. It’s not enough that 99% are good if they are handmaiden to the remaining 1%.  The future of Islam is in their own hands. Sense of persecution won’t help. Sense of responsibility would.

 

Who are these blessed people in our Coronavirus world?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Thailand hasn’t reported a new Coronavirus case for seven weeks now. Nobody has died in the Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the pandemic which has tormented our world with millions of cases besides 600,000 dead and counting. Are we talking of two different planets here?

This only gets intriguing if you remember that Thailand was the first country outside China to report the first Coronavirus positive patient. That it’s one the most visited place for people from Wuhan, the villain of this tragic outbreak. That Bangkok for five years now is the most visited city of the world, with 22 million visitors last year. That Thailand was the worst-effected country with HIV/AIDS outside East and Southern Africa. In 2018 alone, 18,000 people died to AIDS-related illness. That around half of those infected are young people between 15-24 years.

Big cities and slums are said to be most susceptible to Coronavirus outbreaks. Experts cite New York, London, Mumbai and Delhi as proof, as they do the instance of slums of Brazil which would soon have 100,000 dead from the pandemic. Both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh account for 20 million living lives. The cities of these countries also abound in slums. We aren’t even counting the visitors. Yet there are no community outbreaks.

Scientists would love to nail down the reason why Coronavirus stands defeated at the doors of these countries. Has it anything to do with the mighty Mekong River, 12th biggest in the world, which passes through all these four countries through its length of 4,350 kms? Another country which is home to Mekong River is Myanmar which too has only six deaths to show thus far. Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province through which Mekong also flows through, has less than 190 cases. All have recovered.

Mekong River, there is little doubt, is the water-road in this part of the world. It’s a safety net during times of crisis. When lockdowns are enforced and economy begins to pinch, a whole lot of unprivileged people—informal workers, labourers, taxi drivers, little traders—go from their rural habitats to cities and back. In times of crisis, it’s nature’s supermarket: the forests, rivers and wetlands which provide food and sustenance to the teeming poor. Then there are fisheries which ensure nobody sleeps hungry.

All this is okay but it doesn’t explain why Coronavirus has stayed away? Should we offer the silly logic that there might be something in the features and physical make-up of these people who look similar and could pass off as locals? I mean if you spot a Vietnamese in Thailand what chances are that you would know he is a foreigner?

The AFP recently ran a story in which it threw wild darts in the darkness to guess the phenomenon. Could be the Thai habit of greeting others with a Wai, another name for Namaste really, which is social distancing by habit? Should one put it to Thailand’s robust health care system? The outdoor lifestyle of many Thais? Is there a genetic component one is missing here?

Thais have a mask-wearing culture. Heavy vehicular traffic and the resultant air pollution, not to forget the emissions from industries and farmers burning fields for plantations, has made masks a way of life over the years. A study informs that during the pandemic, 95 percent of Thais have been wearing masks in public.

Experts are also wondering if this has to do with the immune system. It’s the part of the world where malaria, dengue, cholera etc break out frequently. Has it imbued these people with some sort of immunity in their genetic make-up?

Is Thailand doing things differently than others? Let’s look at the timeline: China reported its outbreak on December 31, 2019. Three days later, Thai airports were screening the visitors. A day later, an emergency operation centre had been set up by the public health ministry. By January 8, the first suspected Coronavirus case had been identified. Within days, people arriving at airports were monitored and quarantined, if necessary. Eventually all visitors from abroad were quarantined.

There was a moment of disquiet for sure. Transmissions had begun to jump by March in Bangkok. A cluster of infected patients developed around nightclubs and a boxing stadium. On March 21, schools and non-essential businesses had been shut. On March 26, public gatherings were banned. International flights had stopped by April 4. Red-light districts were closed. Sex workers rushed back home. Tourists fled.

But at least 58 people have died in Thailand due to the pandemic. What explains the “miracle” of Indo-China? The incredulous immunity of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos?

Besides the routine measures—we all know, masks, social-distancing, sanitizing hands etc—Vietnam has adopted a stringent screening procedure. Thus, be it banks, restaurants, airports or even apartment complexes, all need to have themselves screened at virtually every point of interaction, so to say. In Cambodia, thanks to overwhelming medical aid from around the world, the corona-testing kits are cheap and readily available. No less is said to be the reason that most of Cambodia is rural, as is Laos, and the pandemic has been easy on the village folks so far.

It’s this success against the Corona, that all these countries are now open to foreign visitors. They are not back to normal, for they never went off the rails in the first instance. I know you would bring up economic fallout–there are plenty of whiners in India for me to know their type–but that, some other day, some other time.

 

 

Sushant and Gaurav: What’s the connection we all need to know?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Death has hovered around us in recent months. Corona Virus pandemic allows us only incremental life; not a free-flowing one. We are not allowed to forget we are mere mortals. Everyone is a little less confident these days.

We are now grimmer after Sushant Singh Rajput has taken his life. Apparently, he closed his room and hung himself. He talked to few in his last 2-3 days. Nobody knows what took him beyond the brink. He didn’t suffer from finances, fame, glamour or an affair gone rancid. He also wasn’t born in riches and had come up the hard way. He worked very hard on his fitness. He could talk on Jean-Paul Sartre and Stephen Hawking. He was an accomplished student. He also wanted so much more from his life. Possibly the next superstar. There was every reason for him to be proud about his growth in a little life of 34 years. Yet he threw it all away. His suicide is now the stuff of gossip. We all can speculate and a few could introspect but the tragedy has already overtaken us.

 

There is this unrelated case of Gaurav Bansal (see image) who was everything Sushant Singh Rajput wasn’t. Bansal didn’t have money, fame, glamour nothing. He was one faceless amongst us in a lower middle-class Delhi locality. He too took his life. But with a difference. He goaded others to hang him and didn’t do it himself. Rajput was overtaken by his own stress. Bansal’s Gaurav’s was a cool, calm move as he worked out his plan to perfection. He sought out men to murder him, weighed pros and cons on methods, the venue of crime, before having himself killed At least in his case we know the motive of his suicide-by-other name: He wanted his impoverished family of a wife and two young sons to have the Rs 1 crore they could get on his term insurance policy.

Why did Gaurav have himself killed rather than commit suicide? Apparently, most term insurances on suicide commence after the policy has been in existence for 12 months. We could thus deduce that his policy was still in hibernation on the matter of suicide. We could also reasonably conclude that he took this policy with a view to snuff out his life down a few months.

So now that his appointed killers have been held, and the nuances of the manufactured crime are in public domain, would his family get the money for which a concerned husband and a loving father laid down his life?  Would insurance companies, who are out there to make profit, suddenly acquire that human eye and won’t let his death go to waste? And if they don’t, won’t it be a tragedy we won’t know that the life Gaurav lost amounted to nothing.

Then there is this case in the Capital where a father threw down his months-old baby from the second floor because the daughter was bawling. She was brought into this world by her parents but had no say on her life. She wasn’t intelligent enough to fathom that her father was heavily drunk. Her mother possibly couldn’t imagine that the husband has gone to balcony not to calm down the baby but to splatter the road below with the entrails and blood of the innocent.

All these incidents have happened in quick succession in last 72 hours. They all defy the societal norms with which we all grow up in our lives. Yet it isn’t the first time. There would be a repeat in future. Yes, we are not responsible. We can’t be held by police or deemed guilty by the courts. But, is there something we all could do?

For instance, we should keep track on Gaurav Bansal’s family and the insurance company to see it’s not deprived of its bread-earner’s sacrifice. We should ensure that the insurance company has been human and not helpless in its technical shield. Our newspapers and swaggering journalists, who criticize all but themselves, for once could appear grown up.

At a local level, we could ask a few of our elders to offer themselves for counselling to distressed residents in neighbourhood. We should also be more observant to people we meet in our days. Those peons, maids, gardeners, car-cleaners, the vendor outside our colonies, who largely exist and not live if viewed from the window of our charmed existence.

Suicides, worldwide, average 80 lakhs annually. India shares 17 per cent of lives such lost. A lot of these dark moments are avoidable. If “will” fails, loving family and caring friends come handy. At an impersonal level, you and I could be the life-savers in our own little way. All our riches against such acts would weigh lighter on the scale of humanity.

In passing, there is a need to inform that an insurance company could refuse to honour a term-insurance policy if one has a criminal record, death is due to influence of alcohol, addiction to smoking, hazardous activities or during childbirth. Value your life, and that of others, and then rightfully claim you qualify to be a part of the society.

Delhi voters cruel lesson: Freebies are not governance

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The unfolding Corona pandemic disaster in India’s capital Delhi is a reminder to voters that freebies aren’t the yardstick to elect a government.

Just before the assembly elections this year, Arvind Kejriwal had announced free bus rides, free metro travels and multiple other sops to its citizens. He had gloated on his mohalla clinics; declared his medical infrastructure as unprecedented. After winning the elections by a mile, he had preened in front of national media that his government had still made profits in each of his five years of first term.

Both apparently were a lie. If he had made profits for five years, his coffers wouldn’t have run out in just two months of lockdown. If freebies were just a matter of “Rs 150 crores,” as he said to a TV channel the other day, Delhi wouldn’t be struggling for beds at this grave hour.

Let’s look at it in real figures. Delhi presently has a shortfall in thousands of beds where symptomatic patients could be quarantined. If we go even by Kejriwal’s own estimate that only Rs 150 crores of freebies were spared, just imagine the boost it could have given to Delhi’s Corona battle—hotels could have been turned into quarantine centres, paying guest houses likewise and Delhi would’ve done one thing which is now a worldwide truism: quarantine, quarantine and quarantine.

Now hospitals are burdened with unmanageable mix, dead bodies are in corridors and horrific images are being flashed in our living rooms. Paramedical staff is being persecuted to the extent that even the Supreme Court has asked Kejri government to spare the “warriors” in this raging “war.” The lashing by India’s apex court is a scathing indictment of his government.

Delhi health minister Satyendra Jain estimates at least 50,000 Corona patients in the Capital by June-end. The experts put the figure to 100,000. Even if we go by the fatality rate of 3 per cent, it means 16,000 people would be Corona’s fatal victims in the Capital. That’s damning. Death would literally be dancing on Delhi’s streets.

All along, Kejri and his men have flipped and flopped in their measures. Some days the lockdown is lax, on other days suffocating. Some days Delhi’s medical help wasn’t for outsiders, later it was withdrawn. Wine shops had an early reprieve. Tablighi Jamaat fiasco was met with a manufactured response. Kejri and his odd-even methods had a play too. Then there was this migrant fiasco where thousands marched on to Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus terminus only to be told no-go. He is further not in best of terms with his neighbouring states. Clearly, this man is at his wit’s ends.

It’s important that Delhi recovers. Delhi is the engine which drives at least the north India economy. It’s hugely dense mega city with a sizeable lower-class population. Social distancing or home quarantines aren’t an option with them. How do you quarantine a mildly infected young kid when his grand parents share the space with him?

The only option is to seek quarantine facilities outside the box. It’s still not too late to look at hotels and paying guesthouse for those extra few thousand beds. Corona is shattering Delhi to pieces. If it’s beyond Kejriwal and his government, he must ask Centre to take over and impose President’s Rule. You just can’t be a bystander and leave everything “ram-bharose” when the stakes are this high.

 

 

 

Mr Kejriwal, we needs your hands on the burning deck; not FIRs against our saviours

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

In filing a FIR against Ganga Ram Hospital in the Capital, and accusing them of “black-marketing” Arvind Kejriwal could’ve appeared a concerned chief minister of Delhi but for a condemnable transgression—he saw a few “political” contacts behind it.

Taken to a logical conclusion, Kejriwal seems to be implying that Corona patients are not given due care and are being turned away as the hospital is secure in its political contacts. That is, if Delhi buckles under Corona’s weight, it would help a few of his political opponents.

If it wasn’t so, Kejriwal could have just limited his diatribe to the conduct of the hospital which doesn’t pass his muster. A FIR and accusation of “blackmail” is bad enough. The accusation that the hospital is not following the due norms is contestable. But to give it a political colour is wildly unnecessary.

One, it’s suspicious for in the past Kejriwal had made many wild accusations against other political heavyweights and then, with his tail between his legs, offered unconditional apology. In effect, he is loose-tongued and makes accusations when it politically suits him – only to flush it down the drain after it has served its purpose. Two, it raises the spectre of fear that Delhi is sinking and pretexts are being manufactured. Both are not good.

The Delhi Medical Association (DMA) duly has sent a stinging reply to Delhi’s chief minister. They feel it’s an “insult” to paramedical staff who are “risking their lives;” and are being “penalized” for their tireless work of the last few months. They feel an “overstressed” medical staff is being “threatened” and “intimidated.”  For good measure, DMA has mentioned its 15,000 members as being the ones who are being put “under pressure” by the “diktats (farmaans)” of the Delhi government.

The DMA, for good measure, has made a few demands which, if true, reveal the immense pressure under which medics are performing their duty. For one, they are explicit that testing facilities are inadequate. There are not adequate labs.  The DMA has made two other relevant points which deserve close attention of readers.

One is that there is need for timely transfer of grave patients to higher care centres. Two, in case of Covid-19 deaths, a prompt and efficient system to transport and cremate the body as per guidelines is urgently needed. It points to an overwhelmed medical system in the Capital. There are multiple issues with Corona pandemic where hospitals are being subjected to sorting their patients; bring additional requirements for those “quarantined” including supervision and in case of worsening patients virtually dictated to keep them within confines instead of shifting them to better care Centres.

Further, a peeved Kejriwal has banned the test on suspected Corona patients by the hospital since June 3.  Implying that they be admitted without ascertaining if they are Covid patients or not. It’s leading to the situation of over-congestion and chaos which the DMA has outlined in its letter. It would overwhelm the system and not help anyone—neither the hospitals nor the unsegregated patients nor Delhi for that matter.

Delhi needs a chief minister with hands on burning deck—not one who is blaming everyone but himself for at least one of his oversight: Remember Tablighi Jamaat? The last thing we need is to put the ones on the dock who are India’s real saviours. If they go, so would Delhi.

Growing worry on Corona in Bengal: Has the horse already bolted?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

All this while, we have been fretting upon Mumbai and Delhi. It now seems Kolkata was ignored as the wool had been pulled over our eyes.

No less than 264 containment zones now figure in the teeming city of Kolkata itself after Centre came out with its Red, Orange and Green classification list on Corona Virus on Friday.

Kolkata is only a microcosm of worrying state of affairs in West Bengal where no less than 10 districts have been classified into Red Zone though typical of its chief minister Mamata Banerjee, she contests it to be only four districts.

The trouble is, so much water has flown under the Hooghly in the last few weeks that Mamata’s assertion only helps to grow the band of skeptics over her utterances.

West Bengal till Friday was officially announcing the fatality figure in the state to be 33. It had arrived at this figure by un-clubbing co-morbid cases from Corona fatalities. Ms Banerjee’s state was not only flying against the norms of India’s apex medical body, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), but also against the guidelines laid down by the World Health Organization (WHO).

West Bengal, as per WHO norms, had 105 fatality due to Corona Virus till Friday. It had 831 cases which gave West Bengal a fatality ratio of 12.87% compared to national average of 3.19%, four times India’s overall ratio.

Initially, things appeared in control after Bengal reported its first Corona case on March 17 and a state-wide lockdown was announced on March 23 on the heels of its first Corona death. Ms Banerjee marking “social-distancing” circle on the roads was a timely optics.

But then the first hint of trouble was the assembling of thousands of migrant workers at the Howrah Station on March 25. On April 2 and 3, the state government didn’t release the official bulletin on the pandemic. Between April 4 to 6, the health bulletin seemed to miss the Corona-related deaths before the anomaly was sorted out on April 7.

Things were hardly getting better though. On April 11, West Bengal Doctors’ Forum wrote to Ms Banerjee and pleaded with her to be transparent on Corona Virus. On April 13, the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED), the designated testing facility of ICMR in Kolkata, rued that “West Bengal government is not sending enough samples for Covid 19 testing.”

Growing worry led Indian Medical Association and seven other medical organizations to approach the chief minister to release “real-time Covid 19 data in West Bengal.”

The broken healthcare system of West Bengal, a victim of four decades of apathy under the Leftist/Trinamool Congress regimes, apparently can no longer be masked. Videos began emerging of disturbing conditions inside hospitals. It led to mobile phones, including the ones of medical staff, being banned in wards of the hospitals. A Kolkata-based oncologist had an FIR slapped against him for his social media posts on lack of medical kits. His mobile was confiscated, returned only after Calcutta High Court intervened.

Whenever media questioned, Ms Banerjee shot back with the advice to “behave properly” or her government could be forced to take action under the Disaster Management Act.

Lately, healthcare workers in the state are testing positive. It includes 20 of Kolkata Medical College. On April 26, a senior health officer of the state department became a Corona fatality.

Ms Banerjee seems averse to Centre offering advice or help, but for financial aid of course. She was unhappy when the Inter-Ministerial Central Teams (IMCTs) visited Bengal. IMCT has subsequently expressed concern over the paucity of protective equipment, ventilators and quarantine facility. The testing is low and test reports too are taking longer time than it should.

The spurt in fatality rates suggests that cases are being admitted in the hospitals only after the positive cases have turned grave. Law enforcement is lax. There is a real fear of community transmission.

Most would pray that Kolkata doesn’t suffer from a widespread infection of Corona Virus. Doubters believe it already is suffering from community transmission. The coming days would hold key for the state, which by extension would mean the nation itself. Arrogance and denial is no way to run the state when the lives of lakhs of its citizens are at grave risk.

 

 

Corona Virus: India enters the stretch when the wheels could come off

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India stood as one behind its prime minister Narendra Modi’s call to “isolate” itself on Sunday but there is a fear that the deadly Corona Virus could be laughing in the background—or in the midst of 1.3 billion people.

Any world leader could have swooned at such a doting citizenry which stood indoors and came out with pots and pans; conch-shells and bells at an appointed hour to extol India’s medical warriors in the frontline against the pandemic virus. But Modi’s words in the aftermath are one of caution: “Stay indoors”.

For the moment, Modi’s message is directed at residents of 80 districts of 22 states which have officially been “shut down.” But for grocery and medical shops, nothing moves. This figure, if the example of rest of the world is anything to go by, is due to shoot skywards in coming days, if not hours.

Nations, mauled by this virus, have shown a spike after the first 250 cases are detected. Thus, Italy went from 322 to 41,000 cases in 24 days. Spain (261 to 17,000) and the United States (233 to 14,000) went into a tailspin in just two weeks. Germany (262 to 14,000) and France (285 to 11,000) nosedived in a mere 16 days. United Kingdom took a dozen days to find its 270 cases balloon to 3,200.

India crossed its 300-patient figure last Saturday.

India, on its part, is stretching itself thin to buck this trend. Trains have stopped running as India’s migrant poor, who work in cities and different states, are coming in hordes on platforms to return home. It’s Capital, Delhi, is now formally under curfew. Most states are shutting shops, entertainment malls, restaurants, metros etc. in cities to ensure people stay indoors. Only essential services like grocery and medicine shops are exempted.

All signs indicate that India is fearing the worst. Its health ministry held a press conference on Sunday to confess they are mostly using anti-viral drugs to combat the menace. “But then countries most developed, having the best of

scientific and medical infrastructure, haven’t been able to come to grips with it,” said the official rather sheepishly.

The preparation for the worst-case scenario is underwhelming. New labs are being taken into the fold but they add only 60 to the numbers which is battle-ready from the State’s side. Schools are being converted into quarantine-wards. Medical staff in the business of testing suspect cases is complaining of inadequate protection. India would lose the battle if its medical personnel take to heels. Then there would be no stopping the marauding virus.

A committed, aware citizenry is thus India’s best bet. And there could be no better man than Modi for the task as millions swear by him. His secretariat is holding meetings with honchos of other states to get real on the situation. States increasingly are offering money and free food to aid India’s poor, without a formal job and now shunned by the shops and householders who usually seek them out on a day-to-day basis.

Isolation seems to be the first and possibly best bet for the Indian state. Many of its citizens believe that the rising temperatures could stall its spread. Some hope Indians have the requisite immunity system within their frames, having grown up in less than perfect environment, to combat virus. Nobody knows for sure.

For the moment though the nation is on its Sunday-high. The recent heat generated on Kashmir or the recent Citizenship Act is doused. Families are rooting for neighbours they hadn’t noticed previously. Indian flags are being unfurled on balconies and roof-tops. There is celebration at the sight of empty streets—quite eerie, Orwellian, for this otherwise would signify the end of the world.