(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
If I was the editor of London Times, god forbids, and had sought out my New Delhi correspondent Hugh Tomlinson in my cabin, it would cross my mind how he would make a living outside the News Building in London.
I am afraid I don’t know how good he is with his arms or legs, for as far as his mind is concerned, there is enough in his latest piece to suggest it’s in need of attention.
He has chosen to write about the proposed “Central Vista” in India’s Capital which would be at least six years in the making and would house India’s parliamentarians besides carving out a new residence for its prime minister.
Somehow, he has quoted £2.4 billion as the cost of new Central Vista which is nearly three times the proposed expenditure. I mean I distinctly remember the concerned Indian minister to have pegged the figure at £800 million. Who is Hugh’s source? I need to ask for he hasn’t bothered with his source in the piece. Not even “according to a tea-seller outside the ministry who refused to be named.” I know pen-pushers are grumpy on their salary; and pissed at any penny the government spends. But even lies need be palatable. You can’t describe the fly-in-your-tea as a new delicacy.
Then Hugh shouts out that the expense involves the one on Indian prime minister Mr Modi’s new residence. I mean it would only be ready after 2024 when Modi would’ve finished his second term. Who knows the people’s choice thereafter? Unless of course a bird has hummed the future in Hugh’s ears. And if indeed it’s a prediction, how would he approach Rahul Gandhi after dooming his prospects? Burning bridges from both ends, I say.
By now, I know figures are not Hugh’s strong points. To his eyes, India’s parliament is almost a century old. It’s actually seven years outside since it began functioning in 1927. As a Briton, he ought to remember that all it took was seven years of World War II to terminate the British Empire of centuries. It was enough to move the nerve centre of world from London to Washington.
Hugh, I would tell him, do work on your history. I mean you find the Parliament House most viewed structure after Taj Mahal. It can’t be that you haven’t been to Gateway of India. Or the magnificent view of Rashtrapati Bhavan from India Gate has escaped you. You also declare with flourish that the new Central Vista would “consign to history” the Parliament House. The latter in fact would only be turned into a museum.
A few visits to library—I mean not the one of our own in The Times which hides more than it reveals– would let you know that in today’s free world, words such as imperialism and slavery are cussed terms.
When this new city we call New Delhi came up, built by Herbert Baker and Edwin Lutyens, and which led to creation of the Parliament and the Viceroy’s House (Rashtrapati Bhavan) among others, India’s native leaders, later its founding fathers, viewed it as permanent edifice of colonialism. Nehru had mocked it as the “chief temple where the High Priest officiated” while Mahatma Gandhi is rumoured to have wanted to turn the Viceroy’s House into a hospital.
Baker was the disciple of arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Baker’s words “…People must raise themselves to liberty, it is a blessing that must be earned…” are still engraved outside New Delhi’s secretariats. This view was the guiding public face of colonialism, propounded by men such as John Ruskin which justified centuries of genocide and pillage by the British around the world. Lutyens had viewed the Taj Mahal, which Hugh so admires, as “small but very costly beer.” It can’t be that it has escaped Hugh’s attention the statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were attacked in Portland recently . Today’s US is hell-bent on discarding racists and slavery-champions, what if they were its founding fathers.
Hugh clearly suffers from Hinduphobia. I squirmed in my seat at his words that the present move is “desecration of India’s heritage” amidst the growing fears that “Modi aims to sweep away India’s secular foundations and establish a Hindu theocracy.” I mean even by prejudicial yardstick of The Times, this was too far out.
For India to establish a Hindu theocracy, it would have to drive 200 Indian Muslims into Indian Ocean. It would have to deny voting rights to millions; dump periodic elections and burn up the Indian Constitution. Modi could perhaps all do this if he could transport a billion Hindus to some other planet which is habitable but has not a single other soul.
Who gave Hugh this idea? I hope not one among the 100 “historians” and “architects” who have written a letter to Delhi’s planners recently. How do you bring people into decision-making? By referendum? And keep the voters-in-favour waiting for four years. a la Brexit?
The official word to me seems pretty sound. The 500-odd member of parliaments (MPs) don’t have their own chambers to meet or attend a stream of visitors. Where do they handle secret documents that the MPs are required to read and refer? Where do they peer through volume of committees-related work? Is the present Parliament safe on hazards such as “fire” and “earthquake-resistant”? Does it have basic public facilities and ample parking? Do we want people to take call on such specialized matters? Don’t elections in democracy mean that the work of people has ended and the job of government has begun?
It is India’s money and India’s choice. They have every right to vision an India of tomorrow. If it feels the new Central Vista would lead to better coordination among parliamentarians, cabinet, the President and their attendant staff for efficient running of the country, who is me or Hugh to knit the dog’s hair?
The one thing I would grant Hugh is that he didn’t give the headline. Next in my chamber is the sub-editor who put “vanity scheme” in the headline. Who’s vanity? Modi’s? Where’s such a reference in the text?
(This is a reprint from the NewsBred).
Why is China so reckless, why it doesn’t mind that the world is beginning to array itself against Beijing politically, economically and militarily?
It has pushed India to a point where India is doing navy drills with the United States in Andaman and Nicobar, right at the mouth of Malacca Strait which, if it was to be blocked, would finish China. Eighty-percent of China’s energy and trade is conducted through these waters. This is the strait which joins Indian Ocean with Pacific Ocean.
China has torched the informal summits between its leader Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, all those moments at swing in Ahmedabad, those hugs at BRICS and SCOs, after it killed 20 Indian soldiers and buried billions of Chinese investments now, and for decades, in India. It has created an enemy in India when an enduring friendship was in the front lawns.
It has angered the United States, The European Union and a host of other democratic nations with its revamped security laws on Hong Kong to the extent that Washington would offload its officials at airports; England is offering citizenship to Hong Kong residents, tearing the extradition treaty and EU is vowing to stand by the “citizens of Hong Kong.”
It has annoyed most of its neighbours in Indo-Pacific–Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan etc—with its aggressive claims on reefs and islands; patrolling and sinking their assets with impunity. Most of them it shares seats with in ASEAN and RCEP. Besides, nations such as Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia—and many others—are de facto NATO bases which could cripple the supply lines of China.
It has spat on one of its largest partners, Australia, by raising a prohibitive 80% tariffs on exports by Canberra. All this for Australia voicing their concern on Hong Kong.
Leave aside Tibet or Taiwan, China is also making partners such as Kazakhstan fume with claims on its sovereignty. They recently had a report in its servile media where Kazakhstan was said to belong to China since ages and that Kazakhs would have no problem if they were to merge with China.
Isn’t China mindful that Hong Kong, as a global financial hub, is their interface with the capitalist world?
This is a country which has a debt that is 300 percent of its GDP. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is staring at a financial catastrophe in the Covid-19 world. It has lent $1.5 trillion to more than 150 countries. Several of these countries would soon be defaulting on loans.
Most of us know that China is world’s largest exporter. Very few realize that it’s also world’s second largest importer. It imports minerals and oil to run its industries which feed its exports. Why is it endangering these imports?
It’s telecom giant Huawei, with over $100 billion of revenue every year, has gone on a “survival mode” as said by its own president, Guo Ping since US has shut its door. So would do India, England and the Western world.
Isn’t China mindful that the world is seething in anger against them? That actions against Beijing are already shifting gears? Why is it shooting itself in the foot? Why is it willing to lose in seconds all that it had gained in decades?
An incident during the lockdown perhaps holds an answer to China’s present recklessness. People of Hubei and Ziangxi clashed with the police as they were refrained from crossing the bridge over the Yangtze River. All they wanted was to get back to work. China’s big firms, which engage 30 crore migrants, were opening up. Millions today need work to survive.
It’s all about population
China has always worried about its population. Even way back in 1820, every third person in the world was Chinese. It could feed its people due to its fertile floodlands around two major rivers: the Yellow river and Yangtze River. That of course was the agricultural era. But food is food in any era. That was the reason it annexed Tibet since both these rivers originated there. What if India, a neighbour, poisons those rivers? What if a puny like Tibet, without any army, could choke it to its death? China thus staked its claim on Tibet and cooked up historical evidence when Tibetans are no Han Chinese.
It’s thus inevitable that people’s anger would burst forth if world begins to pull out its manufacturing units out of mainland. The population is already ageing, Covid-19 hasn’t been a help in an already falling birth rate. What happens if “Tiananmen Square” erupts in every province?
This is the reason why China is taking on the world. It wants to stoke the feeling of nationalism in its 1.40 billion population. It has insurmountable problems since the world is hostile and views them as villain of this Coronavirus catastrophe. Their best bet is to tell its people that they need to get behind since Capitalist forces of the world want to break them up like they did during the Opium Wars of the 19th century.
It would give Communist Party of China (CCP) the handle to retain its control over the people and even over its own comrades. It could further tighten its surveillance over its own citizens in the name of national security. In China, a mobile SIM subscription links a person to his health, finances and recognition details. In the name of controlling health, Beijing is making it mandatory for all its citizens to register to its Apps now.
There is no getting away that more its “sheep”—a term for its citizens—try to breakaway from the fold, more are the chances that China would indulge in some reckless political or military gamble. It explains why the Dragon is more like a mad elephant gone berserk these days.
(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.