delhi

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.

 

Hoping for another Kejriwal and AAP model? You must be a fool

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Those looking to have new Arvind Kejriwals and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) replicated all across India are living in a fools’ world.

Delhi is unique in the sense that a ruling party doesn’t have to worry about law and order nor has a jurisdiction over its land as is the case elsewhere.

All it needs to do is look after infrastructure, health, schools, education etc and offer freebies without a thought in the world since its revenue is always in surplus compared to its expenses.

Figures show that Kerjiwal’s government has surplus money of over Rs 5000 crores. It’s education budget is 25 per cent of its revenue. The subsidizing of electricity has gone up by 6 per cent.

This enables Kejriwal to stuff Delhi’s mainstream corrupt media with advertisements worth tens of crores which in turn ensures that not a line in criticism appears in public domain.

Kejriwal also has the unique advantage of practically having an urban political party which can’t be compared with any other local, state or national party in India.

It’s no secret that Urban India gives the nation its growth and economy compared to rural folks but India’s cities don’t control its own revenue. All the money earned through local bodies in urban areas goes to state governments who divert it in the hands of farmers, poor etc in order to secure its vote-bank and remain in power.

Just look at ministerial portfolio distribution in the Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra: The urban ministry has been retained by Uddhav Thackeray and it gives him control on most of the revenue earned in Mumbai and elsewhere in the state.

As per data, 32 per cent of India is urban while the rest is rural and hence it makes sense to divert a significant portion of your revenue towards rural areas and reap the benefits in elections.

In contrast, a Delhi government retains control of its landscape and its revenue and doesn’t have to divert its money anywhere.

Sure there are other Union Territories (Delhi is neither UT nor state but has a special status and hence enjoys legislative assembly) but nobody has the scale and depth of Delhi. Just consider: Delhi National Capital region and Mumbai metropolitan region, alone between themselves account for 9% of India’s population.

So for other Kejriwal and AAPs to emerge, a hopeful must have the (a) size of Delhi; (b) No rural vote-bank obligation; (c) no law or land obligation; (d) no subservience to a state party.  No other place than Delhi in India can claim to have this advantage.

On a larger note, it’s also a sign that sooner or later tens of urban political parties would emerge in India’s growing cities who would seek independence from the yoke of state governments.

At the moment, India’s Constitution doesn’t support such a division between power and responsibility between state and local levels but a change can’t be stopped in coming decades.

For one, India is increasingly growing urban. Surveys show that nearly 70 per cent of India would be urban by 2050. Already, from sky above, larger part of India appears to be towns, mini-cities or cities but the “definition” of “Urban” vis a vis “Rural” limits its numbers to 32 per cent only.

The definition of “urban” as per Indian laws is that the area must have its own municipality, cantonment and corporation board and must have a minimum population of 5,000.

Sooner than later, the state governments would have to cede control of their big cities in the hands of “mayors” since a great deal of rural India is moving towards cities in any case. This migration is unstoppable due to the lure and opportunities in big cities.

These mayors would be like Presidents of their cities, looking after its infrastructure, water, electricity, health, education etc and managing its own budget.  Diversion of its funds would not be feasible for state governments as most of their vote-banks would’ve moved to the towns and cities anyway.

Besides, badly managed cities where health, water, electricity, policing is ignored could lead to large-scale riots which would burn up the remote controlling powers in its own flames.

Hence, there is one Arvind Kejriwal, one AAP and one Delhi. Hoping a duplication of this format elsewhere in India is plain day-dreaming.

And hence brace yourself for BJP don’t ceding control of India’s political landscape in 2024 and beyond.

 

 

It’s unlikely the buried last Sikh king would be exhumed

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It is no small matter that the last king of the powerful Sikh empire of the 19th century is buried in a small nondescript village of 300 people in eastern England for 125 years now and voice is now being raised in the Indian parliament for it to be exhumed and his remains brought back to India.

It is also no small matter that the buried, Maharaja Duleep Singh, happened to be the son of magnificent one-eyed Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled over much of north and north-western India for 38 years, including Afghanistan and Kashmir, and had the ears of Napoleonic forces against the British expansion in India.

There is enough poignancy in the story of a young lad, enthroned as emperor at the age of five, falling to the machinations of British who pounced on his father’s death to usurp his empire, imprison his mother and ship him to England, converted as a Christian, and later denied his wish to return to his homeland as a reborn Sikh, Apparently, he died in penury in 1893 and buried in the premises of a small church of the Elveden village in West Suffolk district of England to this day.

It would appear strange too that neither the Sikhs, adherent to world’s fifth largest religion with 30 million numbers, nor their country of a billion-plus, has made a serious stake to reclaim a glorious symbol of their past even though a noise is often made to retrieve the magnificent Koh-i-Noor, arguably one of world’s most famous diamond, which once adorned his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh and is today part of British crown of jewels in England.

India was jewel in British crown for a reason. It lost precious stones (gold, silver diamonds etc), materials (sculptures, scrolls etc), resources (millions of men fighting their wars or out of famines) and lands (Pakistan and Bangladesh due to the Partition) in decades of rapine and plunder by the British colonialists.  Its’ economy, from a share of quarter of world’s GDP fell to three per cent during this horrific grab of their fortunes by the British.

But the grave of the last Sikh king is not the tomb of Pharaohs, like the one of Tutankhamun, which alone carried a wealth of a billion dollars, including a coffin of gold. Nor his remains could sink a Titanic which the doomsayers assert happened only because the gigantic ship carried an Egyptian Mummy among its cargoes.

The buried Maharaja is also no Christopher Columbus, exhumed multiple times around the world due to various claims on world’s most famous explorer, nor is he a revolutionary like Simon Bolivar whose remains was unearthed from Colombia and transferred to Venezuela in a fully-televised event to ascertain if the great revolutionary had been poisoned. He is also no Abraham Lincoln whose tomb was raided with the idea of holding the corpse to ransom by some horrid grave-diggers.

Neither the last Sikh king is some criminal like the exhumed assassins of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, nor akin to a former US president, Zachary Taylor who died in 1850 but his body was disinterred in 1991 to ascertain if he was a victim of arsenic poisoning. He is also no Eva Peron or Oliver Cromwell, two of history’s most recognized names, whose remains met a fate of mystery and macabre.

In making the demand on Mahraja Duleep Singh’s remains, the specific parliamentarian, a member of the opposition, hasn’t probably factored in a few testy details: Should the remains go to India or Pakistan for the throne of the Sikh empire ruled from Lahore; the difficulty of obtaining a licence for exhumation since it’s in a property of the powerful Church of England; wading into the elaborate procedures of Ministry of Justice in England which sits on decisions on non-consecrated grounds. The parliamentarian’s demand though wouldn’t be contested by the lineage of the last Sikh emperor, none of whom are alive today.

There is unlikely to be any serious follow-up on the demands on the Maharaja’s remains. It’s politically hazardous to release a rallying symbol for a community which for over a generation is being baited by the separatists to bolster their demands for a separate Sikh homeland. It’s also unlikely that the honourable parliamentarian of the opposition isn’t aware of the repercussions of his demands. But it would at least add heft to his party’s presence in Sikh-dominated Punjab and show the ruling dispensation of Delhi in poor light which probably is good enough for him.

Death touches all of us at some stage of our lives. In some cases, it does more than once.

(This is a reprint from rt.com)

 

There is a way out for this gas chamber called Delhi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India’s capital Delhi is gasping for breath and the fact that schools have been shut, flights diverted, construction work halted and public health emergency declared should tell a thing or two about the dire air-pollution blanketing world’s second most populous city of 30 million people.

Man and nature outdo each other every winter in producing a gas chamber which irreversibly damages the lungs of millions of children and makes air-pollution the fifth biggest killer of all–bigger than diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure and malnutrition.

The megalopolis lies lower than its surrounding areas which has dust blown in from the deserts (Rajasthan) and smoke from burning farms (Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab) that remains trapped due to stagnant air of cold winter. Tens of thousands of industries on its periphery, snarling trucks with construction materials which inject dust in air and at least 10 million vehicles on its artery of roads further choke the lungs of its residents.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi registered a high of 484 this week which is in severe category, way above the 0-100 considered “good” and “satisfactory”.  Half of this problem is due to stubble burning of crops in neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Yet, twice as trickier is the solution than the problem would appear at first sight.

Every year, after the paddy harvest, farmers are left with stubble which has grown progressively stubborn over the years due to increased use of pesticides and fertilizers. It doesn’t interest cattle. It blunts the cutting instruments. Pulling it out is time and money-consuming. Transporting it further involves expense. With a fresh crop season beckoning, farmers opt for burning the stubble as an easy way out.

India is a federal nation and states and Centre often run at cross-purpose to each other. They haven’t found a way to incentivize the farmers to pull out the stubble and transport it, say to private power producers who in turn could be incentivized to use the stubble and its valuable biomass fuel into renewable electricity. Big players have already invested $42 billion in India’s renewable energy sector since 2014 and could lap up to this opportunity which would end the stubble menace. Thailand took a similar route to tackle rice husk issue and overcame it in five years.

One of the measures being tried by Delhi government presently is odd-even scheme for cars which is odd-numbered cars run on odd dates and even-numbered vehicles on even dates. However, since vehicles measure up to only 2% of the problem, this at best is a band-aid to what is a badly-infected body.

To be sure, Delhi isn’t the only Indian city grappling with clean air issue. Indeed, 22 of world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. Population is one issue which makes India’s cities highly congested and reduce traffic to a crawl, filling the air with toxic smoke. Nearly 100 million Indians still use fuelwood and biomass cakes for cooking and general heating needs which World Health Organization (WHO) reckons leads to death of 400,000 people each year due to indoor carbon monoxide poisoning. India burns ten times more fuelwood every year than the United States. Most Indian cab drivers use adulterated fuel blends of gasoline and diesel to reduce their gas expenses but at a great cost to environment. India, lest we forget, is also the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind China and the United States.

India has woken up late to air-pollution but frankly so did the world–only around the turn of the 21st century. Humanity lived with bad air for centuries before realizing that air pollution is causing unimaginable health disasters. Today it accounts for one in nine deaths worldwide. It kills 7 million people a year, more than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Every single city in Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO markers as does 99% of South Asian cities and 89% in East Asia. Even in Europe it accounts for 500,000 deaths per year.

In India, the air pollution act was passed in 1981. Since then India has formed its own National Air Quality Index. This year it has launched the National Clean Air Programme with 20-30 per cent pollution reduction target by 2024.  This plan is specifically meant for 102 cities which are considered to have worse air quality than the national standards. After all, life can’t do without breathing.