Cover Story en Sat Mar 07 16:18:16 IST 2020 vote-of-no-confidence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<i>Those who cannot remember the past are condemned <br> to repeat it.”</i></p> <p><b>—George Santayana,&nbsp;</b>The Life of Reason</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite a nearly unanimous chorus of opinion polls predicting a massive victory for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, President Donald Trump mounted a spirited fightback, highlighting a deep divide between a rural America and an urban America, a deeply religious America and a worldly America, an angry America and a kinder America — a Trump America and a Never-Trump America.</p> <p>For four years the Democrats refused to believe that Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was real. He could not be their president. If the young had just voted. If the Russians had not interfered. If people just had not hated Hillary Clinton so much. If everyone had only realised who Trump was, the belief went, they would have resoundingly rejected him and his style. They counted the hours until the day Trump would know that this would be the day he was kicked out.</p> <p>The Democrats looked at the opinion polls and thought of a Biden landslide. There would be control of the senate and an expanded majority in the house of representatives. The Democratic strategy was to get maximum people to vote under the theory that the more the people voted, the more they would repudiate Trump and Trumpism. They took Hispanics and African Americans for granted. Surprisingly, the Democrats also had the money advantage. Trump had blown a billion dollars in early (and questionable) campaign expenditures, so he was short of cash. Biden held a $100 million plus advantage.</p> <p>Moreover, the election took place amid Trump’s questionable approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. Early voters showed an unheard-of passion for voting, standing in lines for as long as 11 hours. Surely they were out there to oust Trump. The day before the election, the average of opinion polls by RealClearPolitics showed Biden up by 4.3 per cent.</p> <p>Historically, Americans do not turn out in big numbers for elections. But by early afternoon on November 3, many states had already surpassed previous turnouts. The first hint of the zeitgeist that would ultimately rule the election came with a report of first exit polls, at 6pm eastern time, indicating that 48 per cent of Americans believed Trump’s effort to contain the pandemic was going well. A few minutes later, reports from Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s home state, showed that Trump was matching the percentages of the rural vote he had four years ago. It was an early hint that Biden’s “blue tsunami” might not be coming after all.</p> <p>At 7pm, the evening’s first projection gave Indiana to Trump. The slam-dunk states reported at 8pm: Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia were quickly added to the Biden column. Trump took Oklahoma and Tennessee, while New Jersey was called for Biden.</p> <p>But at 8:15pm Democrats’ nemesis Mitch McConnell, the senate majority leader, won in Kentucky against a very well-funded opponent. It dashed Democrats’ hopes. There was no blue wave in 2020.</p> <p>Eight minutes later, West Virginia went to Trump and Connecticut to Biden, no surprises there. The pattern was becoming clear. The night was largely a reiteration of 2016, parties keeping their bastions, with only a few votes flipping the key battlegrounds. Florida, where the Democrats expected a quick win, was in trouble. The Latino vote — beaten down by Trump’s successful branding of Biden as a “socialist who would turn America into Cuba or Venezuela” that resonated with the heavy Cuban population — showed a significant turn to Trump, giving him Florida and its 29 electoral votes.</p> <p>A similar pattern was evident in Texas as well. Latinos in the Rio Grande valley turned to Trump in numbers that are hard to explain, despite the heavy efforts of former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and a last-minute visit by Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris. The search for meaning there will likely be the source of study and analysis for months and years to come.</p> <p>Trump, however, ran into trouble in Arizona. His disparaging comments about Mexican Americans who form a significant proportion of the state’s population, the growing Democratic population in Phoenix and its suburbs, his reluctance to campaign hard in the state and his continued vilification of Arizona’s favourite son, senator John McCain, even after his death seem to have hurt his chances. Trump also failed to match his performance in the rust belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which he wrested from the Democrats in 2016.</p> <p>Weighing in on the uncertain nature of the race, Biden addressed his supporters shortly after midnight. “We feel good,” he told them. “Be vigilant and wait for votes to be counted.”</p> <p>Trump would show no such restraint. As the tide started turning against him with the counting of mail-in ballots in critical battlegrounds, he started peddling conspiracy theories. Speaking from the East Room of the White House, he said what was happening was a fraud on the American public. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win.”</p> <p>Despite millions of ballots still to be counted, Trump said he would go to the supreme court. “We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. To me, this is a very sad moment and we will win this. And as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.”</p> <p>Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf responded that his state was going to ensure that every vote counted. “Pennsylvania will have a free and fair election and that election will be free of outside influences.”</p> <p>Although Trump led initially in Wisconsin and Michigan, Biden came back on the strength of mail-in votes and won both on November 4. The Trump campaign has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and has mounted multiple legal challenges in Michigan.</p> <p>With results from Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania taking a very long time to come in because of the surge in mail-in ballots, complicated counting laws and the close nature of the race, a clear picture has not emerged even days after the polls were closed. But with Biden making steady progress in a majority of these states, the Trump campaign has threatened more lawsuits.</p> <p>At 6:30pm on November 5, Trump made a public address, saying state election officials were plotting to steal the election from him. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” he said. But he does not seem to be getting much support from his own party. McConnell said it was not the federal government’s business how states conducted elections. ‘What we are going to see in the next few days… is each state will ultimately get to a final outcome.”</p> <p>The Democrats, meanwhile, were hoping that Trump’s perceived unpopularity would let them take back the senate and consolidate the hold on the house of representatives. But they managed to flip only two senate seats­—in Colorado and Arizona—and lost one in Alabama. They failed to dislodge even vulnerable Republicans like Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Steve Daines (Montana), and fell short of the numbers needed to win the senate.</p> <p>Their hopes now rest on the two races in Georgia, which might go to a runoff scheduled for January 5. If the Democrats manage to win both seats, there will be a 50-50 tie, and if Biden wins the presidency, Kamala Harris, as vice president, will preside over the senate with a casting vote. Biden will be much less effective as president if Republicans keep the senate because McConnell is unlikely to give him much leeway in legislative agenda and crucial nominations.</p> <p>The house of representatives was an even bigger embarrassment for the Democrats as they lost a few seats, bringing down their majority and raising questions about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s continued leadership.</p> <p>The 2020 election was a unique global event because the entire world cares so deeply about the future of the United States and its engagement with the rest of the world. The planet has never seen anything like it before, people from across the world hanging on to the results, with a choice of two vastly different visions on how to order national and international affairs. And when it came, the result was a nation divided. The legal and political challenges have already begun, bitter battles will be fought for every contested vote and the final outcome could well be decided by the courts even if the electoral college throws up a winner.</p> <p>Whoever is declared the final victor, it will be along very nary margins. If Trump wins, he will have not gained any converts from the Democratic camp. If Biden wins, Trump is certain to claim the election was stolen and continue to divide the nation. He may even announce that he will be running in 2024.</p> <p>And the rest of the world will have no choice but to adapt to the new reality.</p> Sat Nov 07 16:06:40 IST 2020 seeing-red-feeling-blue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The US election did provide one clear result: America is as deeply divided as it has been since the Civil War. The presidential outcome was so close in so many states that a final decision might take weeks and be mired in Trump-style litigation that might return an unpalatable outcome. There is one thing that is certain, though. Whoever wins will preside over two Americas, one red, one blue. No stars. No stripes.</p> <p>They are exhausted from the process, but those two Americas are not in brotherly love. They are siblings at war. Small battles play out on social media each month, long-time friends unfriend each other on Facebook over political differences. Not only do they not want to know each other’s point of view; they no longer want to know each other.</p> <p>To be sure, this started during the Obama years, but Donald Trump set it on warp speed, accelerating the process to the point that it has rolled back the long and caring process of reconciliation and integration started at Reconstruction. Today, hostility, racism and bigotry are out in the open, and hate and fear are in the air.</p> <p>In this climate, came the presidential election to save the day, perhaps reconcile the two camps by showing the other just how out of touch they were with the rest of the country. It did just the opposite.</p> <p>There is a large, some would say irreconcilable, difference between those with a higher education and those without, between rich and poor, suburbanites and country folk, ethnic groups and white males. There are exceptions, but on the bell curve, those differences are the bulge.</p> <p>Democrats feel that Biden would try to reconcile the two camps. Republicans know who Trump is and they did not care enough to deny him their vote.</p> <p>Deep and lasting damage is on the surface. For all the “let’s accept the results and move on” attitude in the media and social postings, below the surface there is an addendum, “as long as the results turn out my way”.</p> <p>Trump has unabashedly shown he is not concerned with constitutional dogma. The US is supposed to be a democratic republic, but Trump seems to just put that all aside when convenient to his purposes, and hypocritically embrace it only when it suits him. On the night of the election, Trump declared himself the winner and demanded the count of ballots be stopped, fully aware—he had to be — that millions of ballots were still uncounted. Charging that the continued count would be a “massive fraud on our nation”, he said he would go to the Supreme Court.</p> <p>And he did just that. He filed a slew of lawsuits —to continue the counting in Arizona, to stop it in Pennsylvania, to contest votes in Georgia. It is not the legal basis that matters; it is the lawsuit that is the weapon.</p> <p>The shining example of democracy to the world for more than two centuries, the US has come to this: its president saying and doing what the world has seen from autocrats who swindle their countrymen by the force of threats and rhetoric and reinterpret election results in their favour. Precisely what Americans used to call a tin-pot dictator.</p> <p>Except that half of Americans today seem to have no problem with distorting facts. They agree Trump is trampling on the democratic norms and institutions that have distinguished the US to the world, and they went to the polls in record numbers, perhaps not showing themselves as Trump supporters, but quietly voting their approval.</p> <p>“We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers), the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a BIG Trump lead. Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Michigan if, in fact… there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported! Our lawyers have asked for ‘meaningful access’, but what good does that do? The damage has already been done to the integrity of our system, and to the Presidential Election itself. This is what should be discussed!”</p> <p>Trump’s Victorian-language tweet does not hide the irony of seeking the democratic seal of approval for a process that attacks the democratic process.</p> <p>Undermining the integrity of the elections is a dangerous thing, for the US and for the world, because the world has long looked at America as humanity’s shining example of how to order its affairs. For Americans, it would shake the foundations of the very political system set forth centuries ago by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in the Federalist Papers, the Bible of America’s democracy.</p> <p>An essential American principle derived by the seminal federalist essays is that the executive branch of government must be fundamentally democratic at its core. A trustworthy system of elections is what gives its leaders legitimacy and makes the country work. In practice, that has meant the peaceful ritual of voting, the peaceful transition of power and the assumed decency of its leaders, especially in the electoral process, have been integral to democratic life and the legitimacy of authority.</p> <p>The next days and weeks are crucial to American and world interests. The US is deeply divided and the denouement of this division projected to the world in these elections may cut to the very core of its essence as a democratic republic and its role as a global beacon of democracy and freedom.</p> Sat Nov 07 15:58:12 IST 2020 vote-then-court <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Stop the Count!’ was the clarion call from President Donald Trump as the US elections drama played out with no clear ending in sight. The razor-thin margins and the yet to be counted mail-in ballots, which generally favour Democrats, were changing the scenario for Trump who prematurely declared victory. For him, on November 5, the road to the White House seemed to be through a maze of litigation.</p> <p>“All of the recent Biden claimed states will be legally challenged by us for voter fraud and state election fraud,” he tweeted.</p> <p>It is not exactly the reassuring message you expect from the leader of the free world. Minutes later, he tweeted again: ‘Stop the Fraud!’</p> <p>It is a sign of the times that Twitter put a disclaimer on many of Trump’s pronouncements.</p> <p>“They are finding Biden votes all over the place—in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our country!” complained Trump, not acknowledging that votes were not being “found” for Biden but were legitimate votes that need to be counted.</p> <p>As millions of Americans and spectators worldwide watch this nail-biting drama play out and thousands of hardworking poll-workers try to get the results to the electorate, Trump has taken his army of lawyers to challenge the outcome in different states.</p> <p>According to CBS News, “Mr Trump and the Republican Party have not been shy about attempting to wield the judiciary as a weapon in their battle for the White House, filing dozens of lawsuits in state and federal courts in the run-up to the election, seeking to block changes to election rules that made it easier to vote during the pandemic.”</p> <p>Some Republicans do not agree with this strategy. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine told Fox News, “We count the votes. We believe in the rule of law. I am for Trump, but if it ends up being Biden, all of us will accept that... Every vote has to be counted. We as a country accept election results.”</p> <p>According to Neal Katyal, Supreme Court lawyer and law professor at Georgetown University, “Optics of this are not good for Trump. His lawyers are marching into state after state, trying to stop votes from being counted. Biden’s lawyers by contrast are in court saying all votes should be counted.”</p> <p>He tweeted, “Trump’s best litigation hope in Pennsylvania is to try to toss out ballots that arrive after election day (even though Penn Supreme Court said they would count through Friday). Key problem for him, if trends continue, is that Biden will not even need any of them to win.”</p> <p>Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court, wrote in <i>The New York Times</i>: “The first statement was premature. The second did not make sense. The Supreme Court decides actual disputes, not abstract propositions, and then only after lower courts have made their own rulings.”</p> <p>As the count progressed and Trump continued to threaten legal action, the Biden-Harris team was also marshalling its lawyers and had launched the Biden Fight Fund. “[It is] to stand up the biggest and most comprehensive legal effort ever assembled,” said Jen O’Malley Dillon, campaign manager of Biden for President. “The Biden Fight Fund will fund election protection efforts for Joe Biden and Democrats up and down the ballot. If he (Trump) makes good on this threat, our legal team is standing by. And they will prevail.”</p> <p>As Biden had said at a drive-in rally in Delaware, “Donald Trump does not decide the outcome of this election. Joe Biden does not decide the outcome of this election. The American people decide the outcome of this election. And the democratic process must and will continue until its conclusion.”</p> Sat Nov 07 15:52:16 IST 2020 justice-barrett-should-recuse-herself-from-matters-involving-the-2020-election <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Can the supreme court be involved in an election in the manner suggested by President Trump?</b></p> <p>The supreme court will never directly decide the winner of an election, although its decisions about which ballots can be counted or not could contribute to the outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Should the judges appointed by Trump recuse themselves?</b></p> <p>The recusal rules do not apply to the supreme court. Each justice gets to decide whether to recuse from any case. Historically, justices have not recused themselves from cases involving the president that appointed them, but the case of Justice Amy Coney Barrett is unique. She was nominated by Trump just 35 days before the election, and he said her nomination was necessarily specifically to weigh in on the election in his favour. She did not create a conflict of interest, Trump did. But there is a conflict, and I believe Justice Barrett should recuse herself from any matters involving the 2020 election. By recusing, she will not only protect the legitimacy of the supreme court, but also her own legacy.</p> <p><b>What happens if Trump refuses to accept the outcome of the election?</b></p> <p>There is a point at which the power to choose the president ends up with the Congress. When that happens, there are constitutional directives on how a president is to be chosen. Should the presidential election not present a clear winner by electoral vote, then it is up to the house of representatives to choose the next president. In any case, according to the 20th amendment of the constitution, the president’s term ends at noon on January 20, 2021.&nbsp;</p> Sat Nov 07 15:37:18 IST 2020 left-turn-ahead <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Pramila Jayapal</b></p> <p><b><i>First among equals</i></b></p> <p>Don’t ever tell Pramila Jayapal that something cannot be done; she will get it done. Jayapal, the Democrat who represents Washington state’s seventh congressional district in the house of representatives, is “one of President Donald Trump’s most fearless opponents” and a “fast-rising Democratic star”. She won a third house term on November 3, defeating her Republican rival winning more than 80 per cent of the total polled votes.<br> </p> <p>Jayapal, 55, is the first Indian American woman to be elected to the house of representatives. She came to America as a 16-year-old student from Chennai to attend Georgetown University. Her family used all its savings to send her and her sister for education abroad.</p> <p>While doing her MBA at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Jayapal helped develop a course around economic development and tutored on the southside of Chicago at Cabrini-Green, one of the most notorious public housing projects in the metropolis.</p> <p>After college, she became a financial analyst on Wall Street, where she tried organising analysts for social good. During graduate school summer, she interned in Thailand with a rural NGO while her friends worked in consulting firms and investment banks. She left the private sector in 1991 and joined PATH, a nonprofit health organisation, and worked in villages in India for two years.</p> <p>Back in the US, the fallout of the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave her a firsthand experience about the problems faced by immigrants. “We were told to go back to our own countries, although we called America home, had planted roots, grown dreams, built families and communities.”</p> <p>Jayapal chose to fight back and asked the government not to racially profile immigrants. Five days after the attacks, she got a call from one of her friends, a schoolteacher, after a third Muslim family had withdrawn their children from school for fear of being attacked. In response, she launched Hate Free Zone, now known as One America, to fight hate crimes against Arab, Muslim and Sikh communities.</p> <p>The group challenged the government on issues such as abuse of civil liberties and discrimination, and pushed for comprehensive immigration reform. Jayapal since then has been working to bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows, keep families together and offer immigrants pathways to secure visas and citizenship.</p> <p>In 2012, Jayapal became the first south Asian American and the only woman of colour to be elected to the Washington state legislature. Four years later, she was elected to the house of representatives, and served as co-chair of the congressional progressive caucus.</p> <p>Jayapal does not accept corporate political action committee (PAC) contributions and is a supporter of the public financing system of elections. She recognises climate change and health care as America’s major challenges. “I support an urgent approach to address climate change that centres on poor communities and communities of colour,” she said. She wants to transform the health care system by making it a right and not just a privilege for the wealthiest.</p> <p>Jayapal lives in Seattle with her husband, Steve Williamson, and their two sons, Janak and Michael. Her stories and beliefs are explained in her inspiring memoir <i>Use the Power You have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change</i>. She wants the Indian American community to be more active in politics by running for office whenever possible, by financially supporting Indian American candidates and by recognising the importance of engaging with the government. “After I was elected to the house of representatives, many Indian Americans, especially women, contacted me with the great hope that new pathways have been opened for them,” she said. “Indian American girls can see that they, too, can take impossible journeys and succeed in becoming one of the only 11,000 people that have ever had the honour of serving in the US congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ami Bera</b></p> <p><b><i>Doctor’s pledge</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2013, when Ami Bera was elected to the house of representatives from California’s seventh district, he accused career politicians of lining their pockets with special interest money. “We are now left to pay the price for their government malpractice,” he said. “This is why I am taking a new oath, like the one I took to become a doctor, to put people first.”<br> </p> <p>Bera, the longest-serving Indian American in the congress, said he would not take a congressional pension until medicare and social security were secured for all Americans. He also proposed a law which would deny legislators their salaries if they failed to pass a responsible budget. On November 3, Bera won in a landslide, securing 61 per cent of the total votes polled.</p> <p>“When I first thought about running in 2010, a lot of folks just shook their heads and asked, ‘How are you going to get elected?’” said Bera in a recent virtual chat with his fellow Indian American congress members. “I just went out there and ran on the immigrant story, which is an American story and really does resonate.”</p> <p>Bera comes from a farming family in Rajkot, Gujarat. His father came to the US for a master’s degree in engineering. His mother was a teacher. After finishing medical school, Bera served as chief medical officer of Sacramento county and as dean of admissions at the University of California, Davis.</p> <p>Bera lives in Elk Grove, California, with his wife, Janine, who is also a doctor, and their daughter Sydra. He said he had been fortunate in what America had given him and his family. He feels involvement in political life is the natural progression for the Indian American community, which now wants to give back to the country and have a seat at the table. He said the Indian heritage was an asset for him. “I never run away from who I am. I actually run towards the values my family instilled in me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Ro Khanna</b><br> </p> <p><b><i>For the ordinary American</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>.The spirit of the Indian independence movement is a fountainhead of inspiration for Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th district, located right in the middle of the Silicon Valley. His grandfather was a freedom fighter and a close associate of Lala Lajpat Rai.</p> <p>Khanna, 44, was born in a middle-class family in Philadelphia. His father was a chemical engineer and his mother a substitute teacher. After completing an undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Yale University, Khanna taught at Stanford University, Santa Clara University and San Francisco State University. He served as deputy assistant secretary at the department of commerce during the Barack Obama administration. In 2012, California governor Jerry Brown appointed him to the state’s workforce investment board.</p> <p>Campaign finance reform is one of Khanna’s key priorities and he is one of just six elected officials in the US to refuse campaign money from PACs and lobbyists. He wants congress members to have a 12-year term limit and supports a constitutional amendment to overturn the supreme court verdict in the Citizens United case, which permitted corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited funds on elections.</p> <p>As a member of the house budget committee, armed services committee and committee on oversight and reform, Khanna is also the first vice chair of the congressional progressive caucus. He serves as an assistant whip of the Democratic caucus.</p> <p>Khanna, who won on November 3 with 74 per cent of the total polled votes, is well aware of the political importance of Indian Americans. “Many of us were not part of the mainstream and it gave us empathy for people who were excluded,” he said. “The greatest service that the south Asian community can do is to draw on traditions that are so great, a civilization that is so great, and to stand up for those principles in the 21st century.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Raja Krishnamoorthi</b><br> </p> <p><b><i>Big name, bigger ideas</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The name Subramanian Raja Krishnamoorthi is a mouthful in America, but the congressman from the eighth district of Illinois has carried it with aplomb and made a mark with several thoughtful legislation for American people. He easily won a third term on November 3, defeating Preston Nelson of the Libertarian party.</p> <p>Born to Tamil immigrants from New Delhi, Krishnamoorthi grew up in Peoria, Illinois. For a while, his family lived in public housing and required food assistance before his father became a professor and they acquired a middle-class lifestyle.</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi remembered those tough days when President Donald Trump decided to eliminate the food assistance programme. “Food stamps helped my parents work their way out of a difficult time. Today my father is an engineering professor, my brother is a doctor and I am a congressman. That was our American dream,” he said on television.</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi graduated from Princeton University with a degree in mechanical engineering and got his law degree from Harvard Law School. He served as a special assistant attorney general in Illinois, was the state’s deputy treasurer and was also a member of the Illinois housing development authority. He later worked in the private sector, heading research-oriented small businesses in the national security and renewable energy industries.</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi, 47, is married to Priya, a physician, and they live in Schaumburg, a Chicago suburb, with their two sons and a daughter.</p> <p>He was first elected to the congress in 2016. He serves on the house oversight committee and the steering and policy committee. Acknowledging the many important issues the Indian American caucus deals with, he said the one issue which was of great importance for him as an immigrant was comprehensive immigration reform, including improving the H-1B visa programme.</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi was a co-sponsor of the Fairness for High-skilled Immigrants Act, aimed at removing the current country quotas for green cards. “When I first ran for office here in Illinois, I said to someone ‘My name is Raja Krishnamoorthi.’ And the person in Chicago looked right back at me and said, ‘Roger Christian Murphy’. It is so nice to be among folks who share a common origin story as myself! I came here when I was three months old... I am now in the United States Congress,” he said.</p> <p>He is keen on making Indian Americans stand up for themselves. He said: “There is an old saying in Washington, DC, which is, if you do not have a seat at the table, you are on the menu! And none of us, our families, our communities, and certainly not our priorities, can be on the menu. We cannot afford that any longer.”</p> <p>The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</p> Sat Nov 07 15:31:07 IST 2020 a-spirited-campaign <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On election day in the United States, the people of Thulasenthirapuram town in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvarur district held special prayers for Kamala Harris. This is the ancestral town of her maternal grandfather P.V. Gopalan.</p> <p>Hopes had risen in their hearts, and across India and America, that Kamala would script history as the first American vice president of South Asian descent. She looked the part throughout the campaign and it was a spirited fight.</p> <p>Their joint campaign began on August 12, when they walked hand-in-hand on to a podium in a high school gym in Wilmington, Delaware. The weight of history fidgeted over the moment, overshadowing social restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic. It was their first public appearance together, in the former vice president’s hometown, and here he would announce her as his running mate.</p> <p>Dressed in navy blue, Kamala sported her all-weather “power pearls”. As Biden approached the microphone, she sat crosslegged in a seat behind him, exuding supreme confidence.</p> <p>Whom Biden would pick as his running mate was as great a matter of public interest as how he himself would fare—the gregarious, all-American, Ray-Ban wearing Amtrak evangelist was prone to gaffe. Who could forget him complimenting the 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama as the “first clean and nice-looking mainstream African-American”!</p> <p>Atop the school podium, Biden promised his listeners on camera: “We will rebuild this country once we are elected, God willing.”</p> <p>God willing…. Biden knew the hand of God rather too well. He had lost a wife and a daughter in a car crash, and a son to brain cancer. This year, he had nearly pulled out of the presidential campaign, with Bernie Sanders outdoing him in every single Democratic primary. He came fifth in New Hampshire, and fourth in Iowa. An endorsement from civil rights activist James Clyburn saved him in South Carolina, which turned the tide. The Almighty had played His hand.</p> <p>Biden lacked Obama’s amazing grace and power of speech. Clearly, he was no heart-throb of young and left-leaning voters. They saw him represent the centrist wing of the Democratic party. They saw skeletons in his closet and spoke of his “fond” reminiscence of “close” relationships with white segregationist senators like James Eastland and Herman Talmadge. They highlighted his “cosiness with big corporations”—he voted for deregulation of Wall Street (“corporatism”), the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (“at least partly responsible for the 2008 financial crisis”), the war in Iraq (“war-mongering”), the North American Free Trade Agreement (“globalism at the expense of American working class”), and the much-despised 1944 Crime Bill (“putting generations of young black men in prison”).</p> <p>There were storms of indiscretions. His old staffer Tara Reade alleged that he sexually assaulted her in the Capitol building in 1993. Then came the scandal that his son Hunter Biden had a drug addiction and had wangled a board position at Ukraine energy company Burisma when Biden was overseeing foreign policy at the White House.</p> <p>After winning democratic nomination, Biden quickly forged unity within the party, drawing socialists to his side. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thus became head of the climate change wing of his policy department, and Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise movement one of its members.</p> <p>Obama had chosen him as his running mate in 2008 for multiple reasons: one was Biden’s vast contacts when it came to foreign policy, which Obama lacked. Biden was always a voice for diplomatic restraint. He was at the heart of the Ukraine crisis—personally negotiating with president Viktor Yanukovych before he fled, and later trying to maintain peace amid warring political factions and, at the same time, keeping a Russian invasion at bay. He went on a charm offensive in Beijing (where he has noodles named after him), but wrangled with Latin America and Israel. He reportedly warned Obama against overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and assassinating Bin Laden. He recommended that civil war-plagued Iraq be divided into three federations—one each for Shias, Sunnis and the Kurds. This recommendation was based on his experience in Bosnia.</p> <p>Kamala had not displayed great respect for Biden’s worldview. She had, in fact, come into the limelight years ago by flaying his opposition to ‘busing’—a way of integrating segregated schools in the US, which the whites opposed. In July this year, a photographer shot a note that Biden held at a news conference. In Biden’s handwriting, the name Kamala Harris was scribbled on top, and under it, a few observations: Do not hold grudges; Campaigned with me &amp; Jill; Talented; Great help to campaign; Great respect for her.</p> <p>Barely two months before, in May, Kamala had been thrown a question: Will she be willing to consider a Biden-Harris ticket? “Joe Biden would make a great running mate,” she retorted, implying that he can be her vice president.</p> <p>The biting sparkle in her answers helped her rise in politics. She became San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general, and entered the US senate in 2016—the same year Donald Trump was elected president.</p> <p>Hers is a story of Indian American achievers with hard times and heartbreaks behind it. On the Delaware school podium, she spoke about her parents, who met in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “My parents would bring me to protests, strapped tightly in my stroller. My mother, Shyamala, raised my sister, Maya, and me, to believe that it was up to us and every generation of Americans to keep on marching,” she said.</p> <p>The media called her the “female Barack Obama”, though she did not like it. They had similarities; both were in the legal field before entering politics and both had mixed-race backgrounds. Her Jamaican and Indian origin stories featured extensively in her election campaign. “Pronounce my name ‘comma-la’,” she would tell crowds. “This means lotus, which has great significance in Indian culture. A lotus grows underwater, its flowers rising above the surface, while its roots are planted firmly in the river bottom.”</p> <p>Kamala was born in Oakland in 1964 to Stanford economics professor Donald Harris from Jamaica and breast cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan from Tamil Nadu. Shyamala graduated from Delhi University and reached Berkeley in 1958 for doctorate in nutrition and endocrinology. The couple divorced soon after Maya was born. Kamala graduated from Howard College and Hastings Law College, and in 2014 married the Jewish lawyer Douglas Emhoff. Maya and her husband, Tony West, and their daughter, the children’s writer Meena Harris, are also lawyers.</p> <p>Kamala’s father has figured rarely in her speeches. It was always the mother that stood out. Donald Harris blames this loss of relationship with his daughters on a long-drawn custody battle in the aftermath of the divorce, which he lost. Even in her autobiography <i>The Truths We Hold</i>, Jamaica figures just once.</p> <p>Kamala loved her visits to India—her extended family lived in Chennai’s Besant Nagar, and they would go on walks on the beach. Her grandfather Gopalan was a diplomat and freedom fighter; grandmother Rajam was a community organiser who took in and protected wronged wives and educated women about contraceptives. In her book, Kamala fondly remembers her mother’s brother Balu and two sisters, Sarala and Chinni.</p> <p>Kamala, in the book, talks about her mother’s experimentation with okra, turmeric and mustard. In a viral video, she is seen making dosa with Mindy Kaling, an American TV actor of south Indian origin, and telling her that she was raised on “rice and yogurt, potato curry, dal and idlis”.</p> <p>After she announced her decision to run for president, questions were raised over her heritage on both sides, much like what Obama had experienced when he ran for president. “How can she call herself an African-American when her heritage comes from the Caribbean?” asked her detractors. After <i>The New Yorker</i> magazine reported that her father had mentioned that his paternal grandmother was a descendant of a slave owner, some of Kamala’s critics said she had no right to speak for Americans who descended from slaves. Kamala responded: “Look, this is the same thing they did to Barack [Obama]. I was born black. I will die black.”</p> <p>Her prosecutorial record, too, was dissected. Critics said it “affected low-income African-American families the worst”—a point which Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard used to kneecap her in the primaries. Kamala had instituted strict marijuana imprisonment laws and anti-truancy laws that jailed parents if their children did not attend school. She pointed out how she had put body cameras on cops, and ensured education and work programmes to replace convictions in nonviolent first felonies.</p> <p>On the other side, conservative Hindu groups questioned her “Indianness”, which they alleged she had never claimed before the elections. Conservative activist Radhika Sud from Atlanta said: “Harris is a supporter of the anti-India, anti-Hindu brigade, who calls herself black, hates Indian side of her family, never recognised herself as an Indian”. Radha Dixit, founding member of Indo-American Conservatives of Texas, said, “Nowhere did Kamala try to claim her Hindu or Indian heritage but people are thrusting their values on her.” The Trump campaign piled on. Donald Trump’s son Eric said Kamala had “totally run away” from the Indian-American community.</p> <p>Kamala was unperturbed. In her rallies, she spoke about her mother, and her experiences worshipping in both temples and churches: “She raised us to be proud, strong, black women. And she raised us to know and be proud of our Indian heritage.”</p> <p>Return to the Delaware school. “Thirty years ago, I stood before a judge for the first time, breathed deep and uttered the phrase that would truly guide my career and the rest of my career—Kamala Harris for the people,” she said. “The people, that is who I represented as district attorney, fighting on behalf of victims who needed help. The people, that’s who I fought for as California’s attorney general when I took on transnational criminal organisations who traffic in guns and drugs and human beings. The people are who Joe and I will fight for every day in the White House.”</p> <p>At 55, Kamala is young enough and strong enough to run again.</p> Sat Nov 07 15:19:37 IST 2020 blue-print <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Long lines outside polling stations. Trumpers in speeding vehicles flashing weapons. The White House fenced off. The Empire State Building, upmarket couture stores and downtown small businesses boarded up. That’s what election week looked like in the US. Yet, through the daunting imagery, you saw Biden voters everywhere. Armed with earphones, energy bars, water, folding chairs, nail and hair clippers, and fully charged cellphones, people waited in line for three to eleven hours to cast their vote. Their message to the incumbent president, said Amy Cantrell from Georgia: “Donald J. Trump, you’re fired.”</p> <p>Since he hit the campaign trail, Joe Biden notched a stable national lead in the much-awaited dust-up of the Trump administration. He campaigned frenetically until the last day in Pennsylvania, dispatched former president Barack Obama to Florida, vice president candidate Kamala Harris to Georgia and other surrogates to different swing states. Known to make deals across party lines, Biden was able to leverage his skills to woo prodigal voters back to the Democrat fold, reclaiming Michigan and Wisconsin. In doing so, he successfully rebuilt the democratic “blue wall” Trump took down in 2016.</p> <p>In Washington, DC, first-time voter Neha Dhwan watched as Trump called India “filthy” and Biden spoke of the contributions of Indian Americans. Undecided until then, she voted for Biden. Prior to the election, a YouGov Poll indicated 72 per cent of Indian Americans who planned to vote backed Biden, against the 22 per cent for Trump. And they did.</p> <p>But there loomed the spectre of Republicans pulling a Jim Crow 2.0. Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th century. Under Jim Crow 2.0, there were voter roll purges, poll closures and lawsuits requesting that certain mail-in ballots not be counted. “The kind of energy that has gone into voter suppression is unbelievable,” said Bay Area media personality Glynn Washington. “To me, as to many others, this election is not so much about a Biden win (or loss) as much as it is a referendum on Trump.”</p> <p>Representative Ilhan Omar, who has often been the object of Trump’s ire, delivered Minnesota for the Democrats. Biden outscored Trump 52.6:45.4 per cent. At a voter interaction attended by THE WEEK, she had cautioned: “Our vote is so powerful. And that is why they are fighting so hard to limit our ability to vote. We want this election to give us the result where we can have love give us the last word.”</p> <p>Memories of being turned away from the polls in 1945 for being a black woman fresh in her mind, Letitia Washington Plummer, 98, dropped off her mail-in ballot in person in Houston. After young voters and people of colour saw their ballots rejected at higher rates, Biden’s team pushed for in-person voting. On D-Day, as per ABC Exit Polls, black men voted Democrat 80:18 per cent while black women voted Democrat 91:8 per cent.</p> <p>With these numbers, it is surprising the Democrats did not make more gains this election. An African American Research Collaborative Poll held before the election in battleground states showed that while 35 per cent of 18- to 29-year-old blacks did not always approve of Trump’s policies, they liked his brusque anti-establishment persona. In Democratic primaries, older black voters had sided with Biden and those under 30 favoured Bernie Sanders.</p> <p>Tony Bennett, 24, became a reluctant convert to team Biden, no longer able to handle Trump’s racist rants. The bartender voted Trump after Sanders was denied a ticket in 2016. “We are more pragmatic and focused on ground issues,” he said. “Trump was voted to shake the economy up and DC. I think he has done both.”</p> <p>Biden’s roadmap to the White House travelled through Latino territory, too, especially Arizona and Florida. Latinos make up the second largest eligible voting bloc this year. As per exit polls, Latino men voted Democrat 61:36 per cent and Latino women voted Democrat 70:28 per cent.</p> <p>Julian Ricardo Varela, who founded Latinorebels, a cohesive media platform for the Hispanic voice, however, said, “The Biden campaign missed an opportunity to make a targeted investment with Hispanic voters on ground, especially in key states like Florida. And it could very well come back to bite them.” With Trump making big gains among Latinos, Biden lost Florida and Texas.</p> <p>But Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, which has affected the Hispanic community disproportionately, may have helped Biden prevent further losses. Said Florida voter Isdiro Rodriguez: “We cannot survive another year of not having a plan to handle Covid-19.” Rodriguez took inspiration from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who retained her New York seat. At a voter interaction, Ocasio-Cortez had emphasised: “It is ok to say Joe Biden is not perfect, and [still] support him” and that “given the stakes in this election, I am casting this vote as in solidarity with our marginalised and vulnerable communities.” Another reason why Rodriguez voted for Biden was his choice of “a woman running mate” in Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American named to a major presidential ticket.</p> <p>And, it is women who are digging their heels in and raising their voices. For Orlando podcaster and “funnybrowngirl” Shereen Kassam, trolled for being Muslim, voting Biden was still not about race or religion. “My top concern is women’s reproductive rights,” she said.</p> <p>Infuriated by Trump’s misogynistic appeal to women voters in Michigan—“We’re getting your husbands back to work.”—Beckah Durang mailed in her ballot in favour of Biden. An out-of-work yoga teacher, she cited an August-September National Women’s Law Center report about 1.1 million workers dropping out of the labour force. Of these, 8,65,000 workers were women, and it was dubbed America’s first “female recession.”</p> <p>Julie Oliver, the Democratic candidate for the US house of representatives from Texas’s 25th district who lost to multimillionaire Republican Roger Williams, understands. “It’s in the interest of a very small economic elite—like Donald Trump and Roger Williams—to keep us divided while they continue to enrich themselves,” she told THE WEEK. “One message that resonates with all voters is our strong anti-corruption platform and the message is finally hitting home.”</p> <p>To many Biden voters “Trump has become the swamp” and that’s why they rode with Biden.</p> Sat Nov 07 16:07:54 IST 2020 cradle-of-leaders <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>VUCA. It is a popular acronym used in b-schools and in management in general. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Till now, students could not really be blamed if they had failed to grasp the gravitas of those four simple words. After all, if you had secured admission in a top b-school, what was really so VUCA about this world? Work hard and you are almost guaranteed the ‘good life’.</p> <p>So, the Covid-19 batch is perhaps lucky that it got to experience VUCA while still in b-school. The pandemic is not going to be the last “unprecedented event”. In fact, the World Health Organization is preparing for the next pandemic; its health emergencies programme believes the most likely cause will be influenza. And, an economic crisis is never far away; as we now know, the big banks are not ‘too big to fail’.</p> <p>Not to forget disruptive technology. While disruptive innovation is likely to improve our standard of living, in the short term it would spell doom for businesses which are not agile enough, leading to job losses and the resultant social impact. As we can see, it is not just global crises that can lead to a sea change. And history has taught us that decisions taken in the present can reverberate for years to come.</p> <p>It is clear then that managers will have a key role to play in the battles to come. But, how do they learn to tackle the unknown? Management students are always taught using case studies that simulate ambiguous or uncertain decision dilemmas, says Prof Venkat Raman, Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi. “The pandemic has only provided a wider canvas for them to learn to cope with uncertainties,” he says. He adds that the faculty quickly learned about the convulsions taking place in corporate strategies—to be quoted as examples in class discussions.</p> <p>Venkat Raman, who focuses on human resource development and health policy, says that in recent years, management curriculum has adopted lessons from startups and, therefore, it prepares students to respond to complex business scenarios. “Exploring the implications of the pandemic and the uncertainties of the future on work, employment, leadership, business strategies (supply chain, patterns of consumption), risk mitigation, financial health and modelling the organisational responses to crisis are issues that constitute the core of our [virtual] classroom discussion these days,” he says.</p> <p>Adaptability, the ability to learn quickly, out-of-the-box thinking and conscientiousness are critical competencies for a manager, says Venkat Raman. “Managers of tomorrow also need to be multi-skilled and multi-dimensional,” he says. “Learning management techniques from (American) textbooks is not sufficient. B-schools must make future managers understand their role in the social and economic milieu.”</p> <p>Prof P.C. Biswal, dean (research and accreditations), Management Development Institute, Gurugram, says that there could not be a more appropriate disruptive force than Covid-19. “B-schools the world over have been teaching how businesses are to be prepared for the changing times, changing environment and economic disruptions,” he says. Now, he says, they can incorporate learnings and experiences of managers during a pandemic in their curricula to teach students how businesses stay relevant during economic disruptions.</p> <p>“This pandemic has shown us how businesses are killed in such uncertain and black swan type of events,” he says. “At the same time, it is also evident that some other businesses, such as Amazon, Byju’s, Zoom and Unacademy, performed well. B-schools should incorporate changing business strategies of the above businesses to make their courses relevant.”</p> <p>Sunil Varughese, chief brand and sustainability officer, XLRI, Jamshedpur, says that b-schools must look at the adverse impact of the pandemic on business. “More importantly, the community at large and organisations, in particular, need resilience-building measures to withstand and overcome the adverse effects of black swan-like events,” he says. He adds that future business leaders should develop holistic skill-sets to enhance their “resilience quotient”, which also includes factors like fitness and immunity.</p> <p>Sumit Kumar, vice president, National Employability Through Apprenticeship Program, TeamLease, says that while hiring from b-schools, HR managers primarily look for skills like leadership, sharp intellect, agility, analytical reasoning, creativity, logical reasoning, adaptability and effective communication. In short, he says, HR managers look for impactful leaders who can shape the organisation’s future.</p> <p>Usually, a leader is expected to understand the ecosystem, assess future potential, analyse market capabilities and drive the organisation’s journey across all functions, he says. During a crisis, they have to be able to be fast and creative, to think on their feet and come up with alternate business solutions. “Not just this, HR managers also scout for candidates who have strong crisis mitigation skills,” he says.</p> <p>But, why is management education a must? Is it not possible that even people who never went to b-schools have these skills? “Any employee who has the skills I mentioned and an innovative and solution-driven approach can deal with crises,” he says. “However, having a management education as such, especially from the likes of IIMs, can make the candidate more tactical.”</p> <p>Kumar feels that b-schools should also look at policy studies and research along with management education to prepare the individual to understand the market better and create future-proof solutions. “Social skills are important, too,” he says, adding that management students should develop strong people skills which will help them when their staff is worried during a crisis.</p> <p>Students joining b-schools this year are going to have a slightly different experience than what they had envisioned. But, for the second-year students, their experience in b-schools has been akin to a roller-coaster ride. It is highly unlikely that any of them anticipated a pandemic when they started their courses in 2019. But, as required of future managers, they remain unfazed.</p> <p>Pravar Vir Gupta, a second-year student at IIM Bangalore, says that management education is all about learning to deal with and thrive in uncertain environments. And the pedagogy teaches just that, he says. “The curriculum and the case-based teaching, which is adopted in many of the courses, tell us how companies handled the issues they faced,” says Gupta, adding that activities in the curriculum provide ample opportunities to apply the learnings.</p> <p>“One term of the PGP course has recently concluded online,” he says. “A few months ago, this was almost unthinkable. It was made possible by constant ironing out of the issues that kept cropping up as we progressed into the term. Such instances give us confidence that we will be able to meet any new challenge.” Courses were modified to suit the online mode, but group projects and presentations were retained, he says.</p> <p>Gupta adds that professors also took out extra time to interact personally with students outside of class hours to ensure that learning is not inhibited by the remote mode. “Some professors took the online mode as an opportunity to bring in more guest lecturers, including C-level executives of multinational companies; earlier they might not have been able to travel to meet the students in the class.”</p> <p>Suhasini Sharma, second-year student at XLRI, says that evaluation was tweaked to adapt to online. “Professors have substantially reduced the weightage of exams and are instead concentrating on how we relate to the lessons,” she says. “Substantial weightage is given to term papers, inclusion of real time industry issues as projects and journals on takeaways from classes.”</p> <p>Neither Sharma nor Gupta seems too downbeat about placements. “While the on-field jobs like sales and marketing are feeling the impact, the pandemic has also opened up tremendous opportunities in fields like technology, consulting, HRM and pharma,” says Sharma. Gupta says that IIMB’s career development office is confident there would be no significant impact on placements.</p> <p>Indeed, it looks like students, at least at the premier institutes, do not have much to worry about, if you go by the latest placement reports of the top four institutes in THE WEEK-Hansa Research Best B-Schools Survey 2020. At IIMA, of 391 students who sought placement, 388 accepted offers (two were still in process and data for one student was unavailable, at the time of audit); 19 students accepted international offers.</p> <p>The salary (maximum yearly earning potential) for domestic offers was a minimum of Rs16 lakh, maximum of Rs55.88 lakh and a mean of Rs26.126 lakh. For overseas offers, this was $42,478; $1,80,645 and $84,200, respectively. IIMB reported 100 per cent placements (among students who opted for it), including 18 overseas offers. The average compensations were Rs26.18 lakh (domestic) and Rs32.10 lakh (overseas).</p> <p>XLRI reported 100 per cent placement with an average annual package of Rs24.30 lakh. The highest offer, which was from overseas, stood at Rs58.5 lakh per annum. FMS, too, reported 100 per cent placement (among students who opted in), with an average package of Rs25.6 lakh per annum and maximum of Rs58.6 lakh per annum. As this happened at the height of Covid-19, there are no concerns of a dip next year.</p> <p>Kumar of TeamLease says that as the economy is in recovery mode following the unlocking, firms are looking for fresh talent. However, it has to be kept in mind that students at the top b-schools hold a distinct advantage over other MBAs. Says Prof Amit Karna, chairperson, placements, IIMA: “In general, management education may not be that immune in the job market, but the [impact on] the job market for students from premier institutes is minimal.”</p> <p>The students from these institutes comprise the top 2 to 3 per cent of the management graduates joining the workforce, he adds. “Recruiters have to fulfil their talent needs from somewhere,” says Karna. “So, they fall back on their longstanding partnerships with premier institutes. Campus placements are an efficient way of hiring, so they rely on campuses rather than the open market.”</p> <p>Alok Shende, an alumni of IIM Calcutta and the founder-director of Ascentius Analytics LLP, a Mumbai-based boutique management consulting firm, says that future managers can be groomed to comprehend uncertainty by quantifying it. He adds that quantitative skill orientation creates a proclivity for managers to be ready for the world that is increasingly led by data and insights.</p> <p>Despite the best efforts of India’s top b-schools, there may be some shortcomings like the possibility of reduced camaraderie among students, loss of values that students pick up through personal interactions, and, to an extent, even an adverse impact on team skills. These, says Venkat Raman of FMS, are traits that are essential to be a good corporate citizen. He adds that the pandemic has reiterated the need for imbibing compassion, empathy, and humane values. “The pandemic tested the true face of companies in terms of supporting (or abandoning) their employees in crisis,” he says.</p> <p>Varughese of XLRI says: “Organisations, both small and large, need to proactively react compassionately to help mitigate the pain and sufferings of internal and external stakeholders and society at large during adverse events, thereby contributing to the greater common good.” Perhaps more businesses thinking of the greater good will be a positive outcome of this experience. We can at least hope so.</p> <p>In the meanwhile, do not be surprised if you come across new courses like “principles of pandemic management” or “work-from-home behaviour”. In management education as in life, change has to be acknowledged and accepted. After all, it is a VUCA world.&nbsp;</p> Sat Oct 31 11:24:17 IST 2020 new-ceo-will-be-orchestrator-of-experiments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By the time India confronted Covid-19 in mid-March, IIM Bangalore had completed all its degree-granting programmes. Only the convocation remained. The immediate decision was to cancel the event and replace it with a small ceremony to recognise the award winners. We did not have enough time to visualise an online event with digital avatars that has now become the default convocation practice at most institutions. We have, however, promised to host a grand physical event for the 2020 graduating class, when conditions permit one!</p> <p>Our faculty are no strangers to distance teaching-learning using technology. More than a decade ago, IIMB was the pioneer in offering a weekend degree programme for the software industry simultaneously in Bengaluru and Chennai, with two-way video and audio using ISRO satellite technology, much before streaming video became commonplace. IIMB also became the pioneer of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in business and management in India in 2014. Today, we offer 50 management courses and customise many more.</p> <p>We adopted a structured approach to manage the Covid-induced online transition. We quickly put together a team of our most tech-savvy and experienced online teachers and the chairs of our key academic programmes to chart out our approach. Feedback from faculty suggested that they would be most comfortable teaching in a classroom setting and that they would like to have as clear a view of the students as possible. So, we rapidly upgraded the infrastructure in 20 classrooms to include a large screen to see the students, a large digital writing board and another monitor to follow the chat.</p> <p>We trained online learning facilitators—staff to help the faculty move between modes in the classroom. Our core team offered a series of workshops to faculty to help them make the best use of the available technology and the features of the online platform. Faculty were also encouraged to make modifications in their courses, pedagogy and evaluation to suit the new medium. The feedback I have suggests that these efforts paid off. Both faculty and students admit that the experience has been much better than expected. Yet, challenges remain.</p> <p>An MBA programme is much more than classroom sessions. Projects, peer learning and camaraderie leading to lifelong friendships are a few of the other key elements. We realised early that we needed to curate a “social learning experience” and organised a number of online forums, games and informal events to facilitate this process. Our students have taken many initiatives to keep their clubs and other activities running virtually. I was amazed by the quality of the student events online; it showed their talent and technical prowess.</p> <p>Evaluation has been a challenging area. While some faculty have shifted to online assignments and projects, others have tried out different online evaluation and proctoring solutions. Students have access to library and database resources online, so projects based on secondary research have worked well, but field-based projects have been difficult to pursue. Placement is the next major challenge. Initial indicators from recruiters are that there will be good job opportunities at the top schools this year, though India’s overall economic numbers are a cause for concern.</p> <p>What are the long-term prospects for management education in India? I personally believe that they continue to be good. The government has announced incentives for companies setting up capacity in India in a variety of priority industries. Changes in agricultural policy are expected to create new opportunities for the corporate sector in agriculture and food processing. The experience during Covid-19 suggests that much needs to be done to enhance the quantum and quality of health care services in India. The country will need qualified managers to drive all these initiatives.</p> <p>The skill-set required by the manager of tomorrow will be different. Elements of Industry 4.0 (such as automation, Internet of Things, 3-D printing, data warehousing and analytics) are becoming an integral part of contemporary manufacturing. Contemporary services businesses are dependent on technology and advanced data analytics. The core principles of marketing, finance or operations management are likely to remain the same, but a successful manager will need to integrate a good understanding of technology and data with the traditional functional skills.</p> <p>Automation is likely to make some existing managerial jobs redundant. But there will be new roles where human intelligence cannot be replaced or where it can augment artificial intelligence for the best results. Today, businesses generate a lot of data and the digital environment permits experimentation at low cost. Contemporary managers have to be able to design and perform such experiments and use the results in their decisions. Reflecting these changes, the role of the CEO is increasingly that of an orchestrator of experiments.</p> <p>For those who have rich industrial experience and are looking for the content and the way of thinking that management education provides, MOOCs are a useful approach. Based on asynchronous access to streamed content, MOOCs give a lot of flexibility to the learner. MOOCs offer a way forward to provide specialised content in hitherto under-managed verticals. If required, learning through MOOCs can be supplemented by discussion forums, small group discussions and other modes of focused learning. This will be particularly useful for the owners and managers of MSMEs.</p> <p>There is an urgent need to make mass undergraduate education in India more relevant and useful. The typical bachelor’s degree in the humanities does not equip graduates with any kind of marketable skill. MOOCs offer the opportunity to correct this. Why not offer a MOOCs-based degree programme in digital entrepreneurship? Essential skills would include communication and presentation, basic spreadsheet modelling, making business plans, online sales and marketing, an understanding of digital technologies and basic coding skills.</p> <p>The MOOCs technology makes it relatively easy to offer such a programme with different language options, thus making it possible to reach out to learners across the country.</p> <p>Management education undoubtedly faces challenges in the years ahead, but, in my view, we are well prepared to face them.</p> <p><b>Krishnan is professor of strategy and director, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore.</b></p> Thu Oct 29 16:46:22 IST 2020 managers-as-plumbers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Managers are increasingly working in volatile environments. This requires that they focus on the big picture and pay attention to detail. As MBA graduates enter the real world, theoretical knowledge equips them to think through the problems at hand. But, they also learn which analytical models and theories do not give much guidance.</p> <p>There are two major reasons why there should be attention to detail. First, it turns out that managers are busy people and rarely have the time or inclination to focus on details. They tend to decide on how to address problems based on intuition, without much regard for rigorous scientific evidence. Second, details and analytical models that a manager considers uninteresting are in fact very important in determining the impact of a firm’s action, while some of the theoretical issues that b-school education conditions them to worry about most may not be that relevant.</p> <p>Therefore, managers need to adopt the mindset of a plumber (a term coined for the new-age economist by Esther Duflo, co-recipient of 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences). As Duflo suggests, plumbers try to predict what may work in the real world, mindful that tinkering and adjusting will be necessary as our models give us little theoretical guidance on what (and how) details will matter.</p> <p>Let us look at an example where the manager donned the plumber’s hat. Every digital marketing class teaches the effectiveness of search advertising (placing online ads in search engine results). Managers in the eBay advertising team were spending millions of dollars on search ads. Then, one day, eBay allowed the search advertising team to tinker and experiment with the process. They found that most search ads had little effect on sales. This saved eBay millions of dollars.</p> <p>The plumbing mindset focuses on how to do things rather than what to do. It involves incremental innovation on a continuous basis. As Duflo puts it, the plumber does not invent a machine but installs it, attentively watches its working and then tinkers as needed. The working of the parts of a machine is difficult to anticipate and will only become known once it starts running. Here are some skills needed to inculcate a plumbing mindset:</p> <p><b>Analytical and technical skills: </b>Managers work in teams comprising software engineers, data engineers and data scientists. The new teams consist of members whose strengths complement one another. Specifically, data scientists come from a variety of academic backgrounds: computer science, physics and statistics. To work well with these diverse sets of viewpoints, a detail-oriented mind grounded in critical and analytical thinking is needed.</p> <p><b>Team design and management:</b> Although attention to detail is the general way to describe the handiwork of plumbers, Duflo suggests two different kinds of plumbing in the context of policy design. First, is the “design of the tap”, which means taking care of seemingly irrelevant details in the policy. Second, is the “layout of the pipes”, which covers the operational issues that define the policy’s functioning but are often termed purely mechanical. Plumber-managers must work on the tap design, that is the design of the team, and hone their own skills. Further, they must manage the layout of the pipes, that is tinker with the movement and composition of the teams in real time.</p> <p><b>Alertness to algorithmic bias:</b> Business is becoming highly algorithm driven and data oriented. The problem is that algorithms are biased. In March 2016, Microsoft launched Tay, an AI-based Twitter chat bot. Within 24 hours, trolls trained it to come up with racist, misogynist and offensive tweets. Similarly, Amazon developed an AI to streamline and screen potential job applicants. The algorithm was trained on data of previous successful hires and it picked up the existing biases of hiring for male-dominated roles. The result: the algorithm apparently learned that women were less preferred. To deal with such scenarios, plumber-managers need AI training to learn both the biases and risks. They need not go completely technical, but they do need to understand data science and AI enough to manage AI-based products and services.</p> <p><b>Empathy:</b> Empathising with customers is a fundamental skill as the new consumers in India are from tier-2 and tier-3 cities who are less technologically sophisticated and expect hyper-localisation. To cater to such consumers and scenarios, plumber-managers must not only focus on the technical details but think with their hearts.</p> <p><b>Working in sync with academia: </b>Tech-giants like Facebook, Google and Amazon are not only applying innovations coming from academia but are also engaging with the academic community (by sponsored grants, funding and recruiting academics). Firms are hiring economics, marketing and computer science PhDs to be a core part of their data science teams. The new manager must act as a facilitator of partnership between academics and industry, that is follow a blend of theoretical and practical approach. Facebook’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, says that letting AI experts split their time between academia and industry is helping drive innovation. To succeed in environments where academia and industry are working in sync, the manager needs to embrace the concept of learning by noticing. The plumber-manager must notice anything that can potentially matter for implementation. Plumber-managers will share their observations with engineers and scientists working in their teams and this will lead to the generation of interesting and important insights and directions.</p> <p>Though we try to argue it is the need of the hour for managers to don the plumbers’ hat, it is not that managers have to have the plumbing mindset all the time. Instead, we propose that there is value for managers to take on some plumbing projects, in their own as well as the firm’s interest.</p> <p><b>Kapoor is an assistant professor (marketing) at IIM Ahmedabad, and Chaturvedi is a software engineer with Qualcomm in San Diego, the US.&nbsp;</b></p> Thu Oct 29 16:39:15 IST 2020 suited-for-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Every institute wants to stand out to attract the right students and the best recruiters; to carve a niche for itself and show that its students are able to get the most out of their course, particularly in a disrupted pandemic year. In the fiercely competitive b-school arena, where thousands of schools vie for their share of the pie, flexing is the need of the hour.</p> <p>Take for example the 33-year-old Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar (XIMB). It boasts of a variety of programmes and faculty strength and is successful in attracting new-age companies for placements. The institute claims to have had a smooth placement process this year, despite the pandemic, following last year’s 100 per cent placement in reputed companies.</p> <p>“The teaching and learning environment at XIMB is not just to produce MBA graduates for the job market, but to develop a well-rounded professional ready to take on leadership roles,” said Reverend Paul Fernandes, vice-chancellor, XIMB. “The academic programmes are designed to bridge the gap between academia and industry on the one hand, and theory and practice on the other hand. We have always responded to the emerging order in the world of business and to the technology-led industrial revolution 4.0 by focusing on data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT). New courses have been introduced, such as design thinking of managers.”</p> <p>Standalone b-schools like these want to be known for their high innovation in terms of teaching methodology and want to facilitate and encourage research. At T.A. Pai Management Institute (TAPMI), Manipal, at the start of the academic year, each faculty member can decide whether their focus would be research, teaching or administration, and design their deliverables accordingly. TAPMI even provides substantial research funds for its faculty.</p> <p>“More than 50 per cent of our recruiters have been hiring from our institute for more than four years,” said Aditya Mohan Jadhav, professor, in-charge, office of corporate engagement. “This is possible only because they find value in our students. We are able to generate this value through innovative teaching methods based on experiential learning.”</p> <p>During the pandemic, TAPMI decided that instead of end-term examinations, students can be evaluated based on individual activities or projects. Students can even replace elective courses offered by the school with courses offered by Coursera or Manipal University.</p> <p>“The pandemic has led to more types of roles offered [by recruiters] as compared with the more traditional profiles, which I think is a positive outcome,” said Sneha N. Kumar, a second-year MBA student. “TAPMI’s forethought about the pandemic helped us prepare well in advance for the new mode of recruitment processes.”</p> <p>To incorporate the latest methods in pedagogy, Chennai-based Great Lakes Institute of Management has included simulations, experiential learning, role-play and flipped classrooms. The institute recently made changes to the curriculum for its two-year programme and is also currently revising it for its one-year programme. The key focus of the changes is the emphasis on communication skills via workshops.</p> <p>“We continue to engage with our students through innovative means,” said Suresh Ramanathan, dean and principal. “For instance, we are strengthening problem-solving skills and integrative thinking by a unique integrative case study competition that will run all through the year.”</p> <p>To overcome limitations set by the pandemic, the institute launched a new module called Term Zero, where it lined up global thought leaders from Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth among others, and industry leaders like Indra Nooyi, Sam Pitroda and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw to interact with the students.</p> <p>For standalone b-schools such as Mittal School of Business of the Lovely Professional University, the faculty is using innovative pedagogy to ensure rigorous hands-on exposure for its students. Keeping in mind the recent developments and expectations of the industry, MSB has integrated industry certifications with the curriculum. Over 1,000 students have earned industry and massive open online course (MOOC) certifications in the last academic year.</p> <p>“Our MBA programme aims to build strong research skills among our students through different courses like research methodology, internship and capstone project, which make them capable of systematically investigating business issues,” said Rajesh Verma, professor and dean, MSB.</p> <p>These b-schools are also not deterred by the IIM Act and the National Education Policy 2020, both of which will redefine the b-school landscape in the country. The acts allow IIMs to grant the MBA degree and a PhD, but restrict private autonomous b-schools from doing the same. “Prior to these acts, the postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) awarded by IIMs as well as the private autonomous b-schools signalled quality education and ensured parity,” said Jadhav. “The IIM Act does not impact us. But many private autonomous b-schools have approached the government and requested for the same autonomy to grant a degree similar to the IIMs.”</p> <p>Ramanathan also feels that the IIM Act may not have an impact on private autonomous b-schools. “We are on the same page as the government in its call to institutions of higher learning to become more competitive in a global environment,” he said. “We believe that competition is good, but hope that the government can encourage the growth of high-quality private institutions as well.”</p> <p>“Government support and more autonomy make a b-school more responsible,” said Fernandes. “The IIMs get large corpus funds from the government. If we had some of the funding they have, we would have witnessed a big transformation.”&nbsp;</p> Sat Oct 31 11:22:34 IST 2020 the-great-american-election-heist <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Four years after winning the presidency by convincing Americans that he would build a wall along the entire southern border of the United States and make Mexico pay for it, Donald Trump is back on stage, promising to give Americans a stimulus package and make China pay for it. The cheers are deafening and Trump is dancing. Never mind he could not build the wall and Mexico mostly laughed at the suggestion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump, who said he knew more about Islamic State than his generals and more about viruses than his infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, is on a roll. “The pandemic is ending. We are rounding the corner,” he says at a rally, without a hint of the deception that unnerves his critics. The mostly unmasked, socially close crowd goes wild. Never mind the 8.4 million Americans infected by the virus and the 2,25,222 dead, the highest tally globally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then he calls for the jailing of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton for good measure. “Lock them up, lock them up, lock them up,” the chants get louder. Trump wants to lock up the entire Biden family. Never mind the criminal investigations conducted by Trump’s own justice department turned up nothing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Covid-dominated election season in the United States is a remarkable split-screen. On the one hand, there are raucous rallies featuring Trump. On the other, people show up at 4am in early voting centres that open at 8am. They come with chairs, blankets, breakfast, patience and a lot of determination. In Georgia, they have stood for 11 hours to vote. Early voting is up by 400 per cent in Illinois and by 101 per cent in North Carolina. They stand several feet apart in lines several blocks long. They are mostly masked, careful people who believe in the American tale of democracy and the advice, “If you don’t like the way things are going, vote”. And they are not the same people who are cheering for Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump changed America four years ago. In the five years since he announced his unlikely campaign, everyone including the media has struggled to have a good sense of what is happening. Trump’s political obituary was written after each one of his blunders, which would have killed any other campaign. The media is still at a loss to explain the things Trump does, how they work and why they work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump filed for re-election the day he was inaugurated as president, much earlier than any other candidate in history. Much of the respect and admiration for pre-political Trump came from 14 seasons of the television show The Apprentice in which he was the star, director and producer. It earned him hundreds of millions of dollars and positioned him as a master dealmaker and decisive multi-billionaire, an evaluation which is disputed by those who have analysed his extensive and complicated personal finances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The key to the show’s success was its masterful stagecraft. The difference between what is real and what is appearance is of greater importance in politics than in show business. Fiduciary norms apply to the actions of political officials. But Trump understands that dramatic effects can blur the line and he uses the tools of theatrical stagecraft to attain the effects he wants. The idea that presidential candidates would respect the rules went out with the rise of Trump. Under him, the American life has become a never-ending play where he is the producer, director and main actor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump has cast his cabinet members as performers and you can almost see behind the scenes as he tells them how to speak his lines: “This is the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period,” said Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary at his first news conference, arguably stretching the truth about the size of the crowd that attended Trump’s inauguration, and shrinking his credibility and reputation in the process. It started in Trump’s 2016 campaign rallies. His theme was victimhood,  invoking the stereotypes of the evil stranger and made-up two-dimensional villains with easy, if sophomoric, nicknames like Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted and Pocahontas. This time it is Sleepy Joe and Phony Kamala. They mark what critics say is an apparent pathological desire to create an alternative reality with no regard for the weight of responsibility in his power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump is masterful in getting his followers to conjure an illusion that becomes their reality. It does not have to be even close to reality — as when he says his Covid response is the best in the world — but the audience has to accept the illusion. That he achieves it regularly, albeit with an ever-shrinking audience, is quite remarkable. Comparing himself to the son of God and striding before his crowds like God himself, Trump knows how to give them all the material they need to find a transformative experience in his words.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Words can be representative and symbolical and can be used to mean something other than their literal meaning, and have a larger impact than literal words allow. It provides plausible deniability, an old political trick — saying one thing and meaning many things that work on more than one level of meaning despite the unawareness of those listening and acting on those meanings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whether by instinct or by design, Trump’s words and attack lines are fraught with distilled political tropes strong enough to resonate with people’s predispositions and branch out from there in ways Trump himself cannot know where they will lead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What you are seeing and what you are reading is not what is happening,” Trump tells his rallies. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.” Then he says Covid-19 will go away “like magic”. In every speech, the subliminal message is that the power lies in the people to make the magic work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Watch any Trump rally for a few minutes, and you will see him railing against being “controlled” by the deep state and against political correctness (read equality, racial harmony and non-discrimination). He does not speak the adorned language of politicians but taps into words and dog whistles that reveal a truth about his audience. He is a hero to his people who revel in his resistance. It is in that cauldron that adulation becomes adoration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is pretty darn honest, he is strong, he talks in plain English, and he does not beat around the bush… no bullshit,” says Trump supporter Patti Castro of Delavan of Wisconsin. “It is the real language of man,” she says, appreciating Trump for talking the way people naturally talk, without the caveats and appropriateness of political language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The whole world envies us,” says Trump from the stage, and the crowd roars in approval. But the opposition suspects the whole world may be laughing at the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Important heads of state have pretty much stopped visiting the White House and Trump no longer goes to them either, says Steve Baker of Gainesville, Florida, who is the founder of Friends of the Middle, a group dedicated to finding common ground. “For some reason — maybe all the laughing in Trump’s direction — they just could not seem to get along, despite the importance of doing so. My guess is that they decided they could not trust the fool-in-chief.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ann Horton, a physician’s assistant from Statesville, North Carolina, says Trump is Russian President Valdimir Putin’s puppet. “A list of traits  like misogyny, racism, fear-mongering, power-thirst, sadism, bullying and xenophobia  have made a mockery of the US and the presidency worldwide,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Presidents in the past have grown into the job. They have gone through a great arc of development of their own character, becoming wise by acknowledging their initial ignorance and realising the value of their experience as human beings and world leaders. Trump, who refuses to acknowledge any errors and personal flaws, shows no sign of such a move, say his critics. In fact, his rhetoric and actions have a definite anti-knowledge, anti-science tinge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition in its naiveté initially thought that a man like Trump could never be elected president. But the Democrats and their allies are now consciously aware of their ignorance and lack of imagination and are prepared for the cruel ways in which Trump could work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Vote for Joe Biden like your lives depend on it,” says former first lady Michelle Obama in a video message, in an all-out effort by the Democrats to ensure that the complacency of 2016 is not repeated. “We can no longer pretend that we don’t know exactly who and what this president stands for. Search your hearts and your conscience,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A slow, seething anger is quietly spreading across America among independents, Democrats and even a widening swath of Republicans who see Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis as utterly incompetent. “Seven months later, he still won’t wear a mask consistently and encourage others to do the same, even when those simple actions could save countless lives,” says Michelle. “Instead, he continues to gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A feeling has set in that Trump is an actual and present threat to American lives. Baker says his support for Biden is less about enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate than an absolute unacceptability of Trump. The president’s lies are the real problem, he says: “There are petty ones and there are terrible, tragic lies — like the ones he chose to tell that concealed the real danger of Covid-19 from the American people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are millions in America who think like Baker. “I can’t stand Joe Biden. He is old, inarticulate and creepy as hell — basically everything I wouldn’t want in a president,” wrote Madeline Phaby, assistant news editor of The Miami Student, the official student-published newspaper of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “And yet, filling in the circle next to his name on my absentee ballot was one of the easiest things I have ever done,” wrote Phaby in an op-ed. Ohio is a crucial swing state which has determined the fate of several presidential elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a moral calculus in voting for Biden. Considering his age, Biden may be a short-time president. But the Democrats see promise and energy in his running mate Kamala Harris, who for them is a symbol of a return to a vision of America as a multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural and more accepting place that respects women and appreciates the kinder, motherly embrace women contribute to society. But the Democrats also quietly remind each other that Hillary Clinton had a comfortable lead going into the elections four years ago. The post-traumatic-stress is still palpable among the long lines for early voting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Democrats worry that Trump and the Republicans may yet try something Machiavellian to remain in power. They draw comfort from the fact that even a few prominent Republicans have announced their support for the Biden-Harris ticket and have put together a political action committee to point out what they see as the danger Trump poses to America.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I have been a Republican for over 40 years,” says former Republican party chairman Michael Steele. “I’ll be damned if I am going to cede that ground to Donald Trump, who is not now nor has ever been a Republican, who is not now nor has ever been a conservative. [If you] want to play this little game that Donald Trump is like you, you are stupid. You are being played. You are getting punked. But what is so bad is that you are complicit in your own punking,” says Steele.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Democrats have realised that no one “can afford to rest easy until the race has officially been called in Biden’s favour”, according to a post in Baker’s group. “I am hopeful,” says Baker. “It appears that what must be the dumbest populace on the face of the planet, after four years of the stupidest person [to ever lead] a country, has finally decided that Trump must go and plans to vote in record numbers.” Agrees Horton, “We will again become, albeit wounded, the United States of America. We will again care about each other, the environment, our world view. And we, as citizens, will hold these damn politicians accountable,” she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It may, however, not be so straightforward. For months now, foreseeing a large mail-in vote due to the pandemic, Trump has been on a campaign to discredit the process and hinder the operations of the US Postal Service —by even  overtly withholding funds — in order to ensure that it cannot handle the overflow of ballots. For the first time in history, Trump has named a political appointee as postmaster general, who has promptly moved to decommission mail sorting machines, take out mail drop boxes and reduce overtime for employees, in an attempt to delay votes from being cast and counted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The president’s rhetoric against mail-in votes has been vicious, qualifying them — without evidence — as part of a massive voting fraud. But it has spurred more than 30 million Americans so far into voting early. “We are going to brave the lines. As there are all kinds of lawsuits to stop the acceptance of mail-in ballots, we have no choice. He has destroyed the postal service,” says Horton. Grammy winning Atlanta songwriter Johntá Austin says this is the most important election of their lives. “If your vote was not important, they would not be going to such great lengths to take it away from you.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luck and timing have always been on Trump’s side. Getting an opportunity to add a third supreme court justice is morbid luck. Three days after the death of liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump offered the nomination to Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judge on the US court of appeals for the seventh circuit, openly musing about the possibility of her having to decide his election-related case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the 2000 presidential elections between George W. Bush and Al Gore, a lawsuit by the Republican party to stop the recount in Florida and declare a winner was ultimately upheld by the supreme court. Tradition has been that a justice with an allegiance or debt to a litigant would recuse from the case, but in the Trump world, there is no place for such niceties. He tirelessly chastised his first attorney general Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 elections after revelations that he had two undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador. Trump forced Sessions to resign and then openly campaigned to undermine his bid to return to the senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump is a lifelong expert on taking litigation down to the wire. American courts are littered with Trump lawsuits which served the purpose of wearing down the other side financially or otherwise. “The chess pieces have been moved and set up in preparation to contest any election results Trump decides he does not like,” says Baker. “He has called the process ‘corrupt’ and subject to ‘cheating’ since he was elected. The heat has been turned up steadily as the elections approach.” Trump himself declined to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power before giving a qualified answer, “If it is a fair election.” The Democrats fear that the president plans to unleash mayhem to stay on in the White House even if he loses the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s angry debate performance was also an indicator of his desperation. When asked to condemn white supremacists, he gave the Proud Boys, a far right group notorious for violence, a new rallying cry, “Stand back and stand by”. The group says the president’s words mean “wait for my orders”. “If Trump does not get re-elected, there is going to be a riot... you are going to see a civil war.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Add to the mix QAnon, a Trump-supporting virtual cult, which says the Democrats support paedophilia and drink children’s blood, and sees Trump as a messiah who is there to save the children. Many suburban mothers see Trump as the hero of the story. For his part, Trump, when asked about QAnon, said he did not know about the group, but said it opposed paedophilia. And, supporters like Castro are prepared to believe whatever he says. “Trump is bringing the constitution back to where it was, the fundamentals like the right to bear arms,” says Castro. “That is our constitutional right, which they want to take away.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Trump, the stakes are big beyond politics. Upon leaving office, he would lose the legal protections of presidency. There are criminal and civil investigations under way — New York prosecutors are investigating the Trump organisation for bank fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations. There is a civil tax liability related to a $72 million tax refund and there are lawsuits for defamation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lately, Trump has been joking that if he loses the election, he may have to “leave the country” out of embarrassment. Some see that as testing the waters and setting the scene for an exit to avoid arrest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the beginning of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Trump has been discussing the possibility of pardoning himself preemptively. A string of pardons that did not go through the usual justice department investigation and recommendations seems to have laid the groundwork for one final pardon for Trump and his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s bitter despair as the campaign comes to a close — frantically holding dozens of rallies ignoring Covid protocols — shows us a world in which ordinary citizens are perhaps puny and insignificant to the great events that condemn the fate of a nation. The tragedy of pandemic-ravaged America is that Trump’s rosy predictions for the defeat of Covid cannot succeed. Containing the pandemic does take serious, consistent, coordinated work and vigilance, the kind that New Zealand, South Korea and even Wuhan managed to achieve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the events that drive America’s fate may yet be in the hands of Biden and Harris. The Democrats have chosen the path of controlled reason, mature language and careful, deliberate action utterly faithful to American ideals, which they feel Trump has cast by the wayside. The juxtaposition of characters is at the very heart of what is happening in America today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tragedy, if it is to come, is dominated by fate. And whatever fate America chooses will come at a cost for Americans.</p> Tue Oct 27 16:44:28 IST 2020 party-over <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Political parties were not envisioned by America’s founding fathers, so it is of great significance that we may soon be witnessing the collapse of America’s storied two-party system. The Republican party seems to have sold its soul to Donald Trump who has remade it into a reflection of his own dysfunctional self. The Democratic party has been meandering in the desert, seeking to find a home in the hearts of those who despise Trump.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party that loses the presidential election is certain to be shocked into nonexistence, if not utter irrelevance. Trump has already reduced the Republican party into a cog in his political machine, keeping it in line with the mere threat of a nasty tweet to his 87 million followers. He has used it to ram through controversial environmental, educational and labour policies and judicial appointments like the recent nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court. Back in 2016, Republican senators blocked president Barack Obama’s supreme court nominee months before the presidential election. Now they march in lockstep with Trump to violate their own decrees, with a Trumpian disregard for promises and propriety and will confirm Barrett right before the election, perhaps hoping to boost their standing with the fanatics in the party and save the president and themselves in the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But they may have miscalculated the backlash from the public, evident from the long lines at early voting stations. Influencing the voters’ decision further is Trump’s denial of the Covid-19 pandemic and the president’s obstinance which does not permit him to accept his own mistakes. It has created a governmental dystopia that has all but paralysed the most powerful nation on earth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>America is experiencing a political atmosphere which stokes fear and anxiety among its people. Both Republicans and Democrats hope that it will lead to wholesale changes and usher in an era of new politics. It could also lead to the demise of one of the political parties. There are precedents in the nation’s history. After its loss in the 1800 presidential elections, the Federalist party faded into irrelevance. Similarly, the Whig party, which gave the country four presidents in the 19th century, collapsed after the 1852 presidential polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the Democrats lose the presidential elections and fail to gain a majority in the senate, they are likely to remain mere spectators in a Trump show of unabashed triumphalism. If Trump loses and the Republicans lose control of the senate and fail to win back the house of representatives, the party will have no one to blame but Trump. But they should also blame themselves because without their enabling, Trump could not have happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Americans rarely split their votes and it spells trouble for down-ballot Republicans if the nationwide backlash against Trump becomes a landslide. That is not hard to imagine in a country presided over by a party, which, according to former Republican congressman David Jolly of Florida, has become “an association of largely white populists with an angry anti-government grievance agenda”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is still support for the agenda and Trump seems perfectly capable of firing up his base. “I support law and order, hard work and respect for the American flag, our national anthem, the military, human life, NASA and our founding fathers. I also support protecting our borders from drugs, the killing of terrorists and putting America first,” says Jordan Vaughn of Belle Union, Indiana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Should Trump manage to eke out a win and his party loses the senate and the house, he will find that the lack of accountability that has characterised his first term is a thing of the past. The Russian investigation and the impeachment failed not on account of lack of substance, but because Republicans chose loyalty to Trump over everything else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is only one senate race, in Louisiana, where the Republicans are likely to pick up a seat. Republican senators in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa, Georgia, South Carolina and Michigan are in danger of losing to Democratic contenders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Democrats need to flip only three seats to retake the senate, or four if Trump is re-elected and Vice President Mike Pence can break a tie. And, they are quite likely to keep the house of representatives. With opinion polls giving Biden a double-digit edge over Trump, calmer days are perhaps here again.</p> Tue Oct 27 16:46:31 IST 2020 biden-with-his-reservoir-of-empathy-is-what-america-needs-right-now <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ You have been with Joe Biden from day one of his presidential bid.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We had a very talented and crowded primary field. Those were tough days in February 2020 when we took on Iowa, New Hampshire and Alabama. We were a much smaller team and had a lot less resources. I was really impressed with the vice president’s resilience, and also how we dealt with the pandemic. That was an education, and something I had never done before. They say that you get measured by the company you keep and the people you work with. I have spent the better part of the last few years with Barack Obama and Joe Biden and I am proud of that. My biggest takeaway about Biden is having a president with his experience, his knowledge and also his empathy. [He knows] the feeling of personal loss, having unfortunately gone through it in his life too many times. You cannot underestimate what that means to those who are hurting right now, with so many lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is very important to have someone with that kind of reservoir of empathy now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ For Indian Americans, how important is the choice of Senator Kamala Harris as your vice presidential candidate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is incredibly important. After we got the news, I got emails and phone calls from families who aren’t necessarily political. They felt heard and seen in a way that maybe they hadn’t felt before. That photo of Senator Harris with her mom in a sari, that was all of our moms. I think it is going to mean a lot for the Indian American experience in this country, another symbol of how far we have come. Our children don’t have to become doctors and engineers to serve at the highest levels of government. It can be a vital part of our democracy and can contribute to society in so many ways. I think you are going to see another generation of Indian American leaders in politics and government as a result of that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a significant presence of Indian Americans in the Biden team. Will it have an impact on his approach to India and to immigrants from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think the diversity of the staff is something that we are proud of because it reflects the diversity of the country. It will have an influence on the administration because this campaign feels very much like America, with people from all walks of life. First generation Americans are people whose parents have immigrated in the last 30 to 40 years. I think it is personal to us. It is not abstract, we have lived it. I am confident that if we are fortunate enough to win, we will have an administration that feels the same way. I think people across the country will know that their story is somehow represented in that White House and in that administration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How did the immigrant experience influence your career and worldview?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have been fortunate enough to do the work I have done and go to places I could only have dreamt of, such as a couple of trips to India for President Obama, the last of which was on Republic Day in 2015, walking into the presidential palace in Delhi or showing up at the Republic Day parade with the president of the United States. In Washington, my parents, my sister and my aunts and uncles would visit the White House and I would show them the Rose Garden and I would think how far we have come in one generation and that this was all because of their hard work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immigrant experience has made me very protective of all immigrants, their journey and their story. I feel incredibly protective of their legacy. I know that I am a very important link in the chain because I saw their struggle first-hand. It is very important for all of us who did not actually live that struggle to continue to tell their story, not just to our children but to our colleagues and our friends, and make sure that that story lives on and those values live on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You once tweeted about how Parkinson’s disease affected your dad. How important is Obamacare for America’s future and what are Biden’s plans to protect it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is extremely personal to me. My dad was ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, and in the last few months of his life, he couldn’t even stand up on his own. We were lucky because my father had the required insurance coverage, but there are so many who do not. It is incredibly important that we uphold the Affordable Care Act and build on it and maintain those protections. I think there is a generation of us who grew up here with an education and experience and we need to stand up and fight for those things.</p> Fri Oct 23 16:49:23 IST 2020 the-power-of-the-other <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE STORY OF</b> Maju Varghese, the chief operating officer of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, is a classic American tale of immigrants succeeding against the odds. Varghese’s parents came to New York in the 1970s from Thiruvalla in Kerala with little money and big dreams. His mother, Saroja, a nurse, was the first to come to the US. Her husband, Mathew, and their six-year-old daughter Manju later joined her. Varghese was born in the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first few years were not easy for the family. Mathew had not finished college as he had to take a job following his father’s premature death. He drove a cab in New York City and also worked as a security guard. The city, back then, was a dangerous place for cab drivers. Many had fallen victim to violent crime. Varghese remembers how his father would often work late into the night, leaving his mother worried. “I was travelling out of Washington not long ago, and I saw an Indian cab driver. When we stopped at a red light, he was eating dinner out of a Tupperware container, and it reminded me of my father,” says Varghese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As young Manju could not speak English well, people made fun of her. Sometimes, they picked on her name and her clothes, and she came home crying. Mathew and Saroja, too, had their share of struggle, but they found support from their relatives and the small Kerala community around them. “We grew up in a Christian household and our churches had many Kerala families,” says Varghese. “We went to church every Sunday. We had the vibrant Indian community on weekends and then I had my American life on weekdays. It really shaped the way I was brought up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Varghese studied political science and economics at the University of Massachusetts, and took his law degree from Hofstra University in New York. He worked with the Al Gore presidential campaign and as a research associate with the Democratic National Committee. He met his wife, Julie, while they both were working for Gore. The couple has a 14-year-old son, Evan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Varghese, at 43, is part of the Washington power elite. He had served in a variety of roles in the Obama administration for over six years, including as special assistant to the president for management and administration. “It was a really remarkable run and I got to meet and work with some outstanding people who are like family to me,” says Varghese. “President Obama is an incredible person who has a way of connecting with everyday people, which is a remarkable thing. We saw how warmly he was embraced in India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After leaving the White House, Varghese worked as a senior adviser at the Dentons law firm and then joined The Hub Project, a civic organisation based in Washington, DC, as its COO. He joined the Biden team in September 2019, overseeing the organisational details of a large and diverse team.</p> <p></p> Tue Oct 27 15:18:53 IST 2020 samosa-for-kamala <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH LESS THAN</b> two weeks left for one of the most chaotic presidential elections in American history, the Indian American community with 1.4 million registered voters seems to be reiterating its traditional preference for the Democratic party. Despite isolated pockets of support for President Donald Trump, especially on account of his friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, most Indian Americans are likely to vote for Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, as many as 65 per cent of Indian Americans are inclined to vote for Biden, while 28 per cent favour Trump. Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder of AAPI Data, a platform that publishes demographic data and policy research, says Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, and Indian Americans are the fastest growing community within the group. They are likely to have a significant impact on electoral races in many competitive states and congressional districts. “We have had a record high turnout in 2018 and we are most likely going to see that continuing,” says Ramakrishnan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seema Nanda, who had served as CEO of the Democratic National Committee, says the Indian American turnout has almost doubled from the midterm elections in 2014 to the midterms in 2018. “That is a staggering statistic to really see the awakening of the Indian American community. It can really be attributed to the results of the 2016 [presidential] elections. People woke up and saw what happened when they did not vote.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nanda has observed a massive surge in political awareness and activism among the Indian American community, which has doubled in strength since 2000. “One of the most fascinating things I saw in leading the Democratic party was that there were so many grassroots groups of Indian Americans, with a lot of women doing the work on the ground. They did not do any of this before 2016. So Trump’s election was a mobilising moment for the Indian American community that is going to really play out in 2020.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian Americans have influence beyond their numbers and with their brain power and financial muscle, they are a force to reckon with. As Neil Makhija, executive director of the advocacy group IMPACT (Indian American Impact Fund), says, “The reason we are here was to fill a specific role for industry because of the immigration policy. But we are coming of age as a community and we are finally getting to a position where we are seeing people up and down the ballot, people who are entering public life.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the second generation Indian Americans are particularly active in civic life and more than 70 of them are in the fray in the current election season. These include Sara Gideon who is the Democratic nominee for senate from Maine, and Sri Preston Kulkarni and Hiral Tipirneni, Democratic nominees in the race for the house of representatives from Texas and Arizona, respectively. Democratic members Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal are seeking reelection to the house of representatives. In 2012, Bera was the only Indian American in the Congress. By 2016, there was a five-fold jump in the numbers as he was joined by Krishnamoorthi, Khanna and Jayapal in the house and Kamala in the senate. “Our community did not increase its population by five times in those four years. What happened was that we increased our engagement,” says Makhija.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi calls the Indian presence on the Capitol the samosa caucus. “We need more pakoras, more idlis and more vadas. We need everybody in the Congress so that it looks like America. You can run for local office, city council, state house, state senate and, of course, the US Congress, though please, not in my district,” he jokes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maya Harris, who took to the internet to tell voters how her sister Kamala always stood up for her, says the south Asian community has a decisive role to play in this election. “We literally have the potential to be the margin of victory in several key swing states to propel Kamala and Joe into office,” she says. In 2016, the Democrats lost Michigan by just 10,000 votes and Pennsylvania by 40,000 votes. “There are more than 44,000 south Asian voters in Michigan and more than 60,000 south Asian voters in Pennsylvania who could easily close that gap.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden has recognised the importance of attracting diverse groups and has assembled under the Democratic tent a vast coalition ranging from seniors to millennials, from Hindu Americans to Muslim Americans and from college students to restaurant workers. There are scores of Indian American groups that have come together to support him. Besides AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) there are several other players like the Indian American Impact Fund, South Asians for Biden, the Indian National Council for Biden and Indiaspora. There are also grassroots groups like Sikh Americans for Biden, which coordinate advocacy efforts, phone banking and digital outreach in battleground states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamala’s presence on the ticket has attracted a large number of Indian Americans, although a section of them feels that she is not Indian enough. Krishnamoorthi says her presence is a huge plus. “You see it in all kinds of metrics. Whether it is fundraising or engagement, it is palpable. Her addition to the ticket has made a big difference. You see pictures of her family and you see your own family in those pictures. It is really quite striking.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The excitement for change is bringing a tidal wave of funds and support. IMPACT raised $11 million in just three months and Makhija says the excitement about this year’s elections among Indian American voters is unparalleled. “With an Indian American on the presidential ticket for the first time in history and a record number of Indian American candidates running for office, our voters are poised to exert considerable influence.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Republicans, too, eye the growing Indian American vote with great interest. Ramakrishnan says Trump’s popularity has gone up to some extent among the community. Four years ago, only 16 per cent of Indian Americans voted for him, but now his support has gone up to 28 per cent. “If the undecided voters break in the same ratio, he will probably get 30 per cent of the Indian American vote,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Niraj Antani, who was only 24 when he was elected to the Ohio house of representatives on a Republican ticket, says Trump’s outreach efforts are bearing fruit. “The president’s trip to India and sharing the stage with Prime Minister Modi and his neutrality on issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the abrogation of Article 370, compared with Biden's opposition to those issues, have polarised the community and that is why you are seeing what the data shows,” says Antani. The Trump campaign has made a lot of efforts to reach out to Indian Americans, including the Howdy, Modi! event. Antani agrees that Indian American support for Trump is not going to shoot up from 28 per cent to 70 per cent in the near future. He says it is all about creating a coalition. “So if it goes up from 28 per cent to 38 per cent, it could well be part of a coalition to win a state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Krishnamoorthi, who is a member of the house intelligence committee, says Biden played a key role in shepherding the India-US India nuclear deal through the US Congress. As chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, he worked hard to ensure the deal’s smooth passage on the Capitol Hill. Taking note of the warm ties between former president Barack Obama and Modi, Krishnamoorthi says India-US ties will always be driven by bipartisan consensus. “The relationship is taking on new importance, especially with regard to our views on national security vis-à-vis China in the Indo-Pacific region. And for that reason, our national security is bound up with the security of India. I think that Joe Biden and future presidents will grow closer to India and that is a natural progression.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nisha Biswal, president of the US-India Business Council, agrees. “The US-India relationship is the defining partnership of the 21st century,” says Biswal, who served the Obama administration as assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia. “I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will certainly put India among the very top of their priorities as they look to strengthen America's standing in the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden is also likely to address concerns regarding H-1B visas and green cards, which have been targeted repeatedly by the Trump administration. Sabrina Singh, who is Kamala’s press secretary, says Biden will reform the existing H-1B visa system to ensure that it is not used to hold down wages in the United States. “Biden will then support expanding the number of visas and eliminating country-limits on employment-based green cards.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The unpredictability of this year’s voting process is keeping the Indian American community on its toes. A large number of young men and women are involved in grassroots efforts, especially in the battleground states. Their efforts got a boost on October 14, when south Asian celebrities came together for a virtual block party in support of the Biden-Harris ticket. The event attracted more than 1,300 participants and included famous names such as former federal prosecutor Preet Bharara and actors Aasif Mandvi, Mindy Kaling, Kumail Nanjiani and Madhur and Sakina Jaffrey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Outreach remains the key to success for Democrats, says Nanda. “We lost in 2016 by just 70,000 votes, across three states— Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. So every single vote is going to matter. There is an overrepresentation of Indian Americans in these battleground states. But it is a vote that can never be taken for granted.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a New York-based journalist who blogs at Lassi with Lavina.</b></p> <p></p> Tue Oct 27 16:46:19 IST 2020 win-win-situation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IRRESPECTIVE OF WHAT</b> happens in the presidential elections on November 3, India can be assured of continuing courtship from the United States. Although President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are engaged in a bitter battle, they both agree on the importance of ties with India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has shown that its relationship with the US is special for both countries. The ice was broken with the visit of president Bill Clinton in 2000. President George W. Bush came to India and offered the civilian nuclear deal. Barack Obama came twice—first in 2010 and then in 2015 as chief guest of the Republic Day celebrations. Even Trump, known to be a reluctant traveller, made a standalone visit along with his family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fundamentals of the relationship are strong. Bilateral trade has grown from $60 billion in 2013 to $90 billion in 2019. The 2+2 dialogue has been institutionalised. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark T. Esper will come to Delhi on October 27 for talks with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. It is unusual to have such a summit so close to the presidential elections and it shows the level of bipartisan support India enjoys in Washington, DC. Defence ties, too, have improved, especially with the signing of three foundational agreements (the last of these agreements could be signed during the 2+2 dialogue), growing arms sales and with the US decision to rename its Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India will be keen to see how the new administration deals with China. The Trump camp suggests that Biden will be soft on China. “You think the Chinese gave (Biden's son) Hunter Biden $1.5 billion because he was a great businessman, or because they knew the Bidens could be bought, and therefore be soft on China,” said Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr at a recent campaign event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Biden has a long history of friendship with India. “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States,” Biden had said back in 2006, when he was a ranking member of the senate foreign relations committee. He worked with committee chairman Richard Lugar to get the India-US nuclear deal approved by the senate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris released a video on August 15 to commemorate the Indian independence day in which he promised to “confront the threats [India] faces in its own region and along its border”. It has come at a time India is facing threats on its eastern and western borders. The Trump administration, too, has promised India support, especially in dealing with China. “We are doing it in the security area. We are doing it in terms of outsized demands to claim sovereign territory, whether it is in the Galwan valley of India on the India-China border or in the south Pacific," said Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at Wilson Center, Washington, DC, said India might prefer Biden to Trump if it had to make a choice. “Biden is a more conventional and predictable leader and India would prefer to have a less mercurial and more low-maintenance figure running the show in Washington.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajesh Rajagopalan, who teaches international politics at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed with Kugelman’s observation. “Trump has shown distrust for alliances and partnerships,’’ he said. “We need to build partnerships and the Biden administration will do a better job.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A stable hand in the White House is very crucial for India, more so in the context of the emerging Sino-US cold war, which could shape the contours of the global security architecture. “We will be looking at how the new administration deals with China,’’ said Sanjay Pulipaka, senior fellow at the Delhi Policy Group. “At the moment, the department of state, the department of defence and even the US trade representative see China as a possible threat.’’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Biden is yet to reveal his China policy, he could make some overtures in an attempt to tone down hostilities. But his steadfastness might work better in the long run. “Trump has steadied the policy despite his unpredictability,’’ said Rajagopalan. India will be counting on the US to build and strengthen multilateral partnerships like the quad to counter China.</p> <p>The Indo-US partnership will, however, face its own set of challenges. The Trump-Modi bromance weathered the trade tariff storm, but the Democrats could prove to be difficult on the issue of human rights. Kashmir, the treatment of minorities and Amnesty International’s departure from India could become prickly issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has made it clear that criticism is not welcome. Last year, Jaishankar cancelled a meeting with top leaders of the house foreign affairs committee after they insisted on the presence of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who sponsored a resolution which was critical of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaishankar also rebuffed Senator Lindsay Graham, a close confidant of Trump, after he suggested at this year’s Munich Security Conference that the best way to sell democracy was to settle the Kashmir issue democratically. "Do not worry senator,” Jaishankar told Graham. “One democracy will settle it and you know which one.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kugelman said though Democrats made more noise about India's domestic policies compared with the Republicans, most of that came from their Congressional caucus. “If Biden became president, the criticism would be subdued. Democrats and Republicans alike see India as a key strategic partner in helping pursue Washington's top foreign policy goal—balancing Chinese power in the Indo-Pacific,” he said. “But it does not mean that a Democratic administration will not be critical of India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also worry whether Biden will be a hands-on president, considering that he is 77. “Or will there be a tussle between the progressives who want to change the world and the moderates? India will have to wait and watch,’’ said Harsh Pant, director of the strategic studies programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, there is no immediate cause for concern. A strong bipartisan consensus on the importance of India will propel bilateral ties forward regardless of who wins on November 3. “One of the constants in US-India relations has been that every presidential administration has left the relationship in even better shape than the one it inherited,” said Biegun on October 20. “Oftentimes we can see international relations move with the political shifts in the United States, but India has been a constant…. It leaves me confident that this relationship is much bigger than any one political party.”</p> Fri Oct 23 16:36:58 IST 2020 pain-and-gain <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>E<i>shah Panthah</i>. Or roughly, ‘That is his only way forward’, in Sanskrit.</p> <p>Addressing the nation on May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi used the obscure words to announce what would be the guiding principle of India’s post-Covid recovery—Atmanirbhar Bharat.</p> <p>“The state of the world today teaches us that making India self-reliant is the only path,” said Modi, announcing an economic package of 020 lakh crore, the biggest in independent India’s history. “In times of crisis, ‘local’ has fulfilled our demand; local has saved us. Local is not just the need, it is our responsibility, too.”</p> <p>After Modi’s speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled a slew of measures, ranging from structural reforms and easing of rules to pumping money into the system. The big moves included business loans at concessional rates, debt relief for micro, small and medium industries, allowing farmers to sell directly to private players, completing ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme by March 2021, additional funds for creating and guaranteeing rural jobs, opening key sectors like commercial mining to private players, and raising FDI limits in defence and space.</p> <p>Modi’s clarion call for Atmanirbhar Bharat generated paeans from industrialists and analysts, and a viral hashtag, #VocalForLocal. Detractors, however, soon pointed out that this export-oriented swadeshi drive was just the old ‘Make in India’ wine in a new bottle.</p> <p>Undaunted, the government has gone into a publicity overdrive—wooing start-ups, conducting an essay contest and an all-India app innovation challenge, publishing Atmanirbhar progress reports of various departments, and so on. Modi himself has been pushing the agenda in virtually every speech.</p> <p>The biggest push for Atmanirbhar Bharat, however, came inadvertently on June 15, when scores of Indian soldiers died fighting Chinese troops on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Patriotic outrage over the incident resulted in calls to boycott Chinese products. Hundreds of Chinese apps were banned, including the wildly popular PUBG. Infrastructure deals involving Chinese firms were revoked, and investment and tender-contract barriers were erected tactically to keep China out of the Indian market.</p> <p>The bad blood between India and China fits in neatly with Modi’s twin goals of reducing India’s dependence on cheap Chinese imports and making it a manufacturing hub for the world, as an alternative to China. But, fanfare aside, how much of Atmanirbhar Bharat has translated into concrete action on the ground?</p> <p>It is a mixed bag, really. But then, Atmanirbhar Bharat is hardly a short-distance sprint—it is a race of a lifetime. “The reforms introduced as part of Atmanirbhar Bharat require long gestation periods, and there has to be some level of normalcy before we can determine progress,” says Arvind Sharma, partner at the law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas. “Dividends of the reforms would be reaped over a period of time across various sectors.”</p> <p>Modi has put a good share of his eggs in the corporate India basket, especially in sectors like electronics, pharma and defence, which are highly dependent on imports. “The world is looking for a reliable partner, and India has reliability and talent,” said Modi at the annual summit of the Confederation of Indian Industry in June. “India’s industry should take advantage of it. This is a ‘rise-to-the-occasion’ moment.”</p> <p>It will not be easy for India Inc, though. Indian companies have for long been dependent on cost-effective imports from China—raw materials, components and even finished products in some cases. There are companies, particularly in electronics retail, that sustain themselves by importing Chinese products in bulk and then rebranding and selling them in the domestic market.</p> <p>In pharma, dependence on Chinese imports is above 80 per cent in many cases, even though some raw materials are available domestically. “In many products, there are alternatives available in India,” says Kushal Suri of Morepen Laboratories. “But the way Chinese products became cheaper in due course of time, their production in India has become totally unviable.”</p> <p>The first step for India Inc, therefore, would be to achieve self-sufficiency in sourcing raw materials, or to at least reduce its dependence on China. Jindal Steel, for instance, has promised to cut down its imports from China—from $400 million today to zero in two years.</p> <p>The second step would be harder, though pivotal. As Modi and his ministers have repeatedly said, self-reliance does not mean shutting out the world; it means attracting the world to do business in India. Except for a few high-profile cases—like Apple’s contract manufacturers and German shoe manufacturer Von Wellx moving out of China and setting up shop in Agra—that is still to happen on a large scale. Also, such investments are more likely to go to countries like Vietnam than India.</p> <p>“The fight is between India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Cambodia,” Ashish Jain, CEO and director of Von Wellx Germany, told THE WEEK. “The country that will be more aggressive both in terms of government policy and private investment would take the crown from China.”</p> <p>Infrastructure spending will also be significant. The Bharatmala project—which involves building a network of highways that will cost at least 010 lakh crore—could be a big decider on the effectiveness of Atmanirbhar Bharat. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has modified the tender process to eject Chinese bidders. At a recent industry meet, he proposed public-private partnerships to speed up delayed infrastructure projects. “Highways will increase productivity and open up employment prospects,” said Gadkari.</p> <p>Yet, there are worrying signals from the ground, especially in the disbursement of MSME loans. Bankers burnt by non-performing assets are so worried about being saddled with bad loans again that RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das has had to warn them that “extreme risk aversion can be self-defeating”.</p> <p>Lack of coordination between the Centre and states is also a stumbling block. BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Assam have hit the ground running, while others have stuck to a cautious pace. “Success would depend to a large extent on the level of coordination between Central and state governments to facilitate grounding of investments, and on the ability to institutionalise good practices,” said Arindam Guha, leader, government and public services, Deloitte India.</p> <p>Atmanirbhar Bharat’s lasting legacy could well be its boost to entrepreneurship. “It will go a long way in benefiting the Indian economy,” said Sharma. “The reforms are intended to ensure inclusive growth for various economic groups and regions. It will result in jobs and export opportunities.”</p> <p>The lockdown churn in the jobs sector has prompted young professionals to innovate and become entrepreneurs. “We have witnessed a massive spurt in queries from young entrepreneurs who want to be up-skilled,” said Divya Jain, founder of the placement platform SafeJob.</p> <p>According to Apoorva Ranjan Sharma, managing director of the venture capital firm 9Unicorns, the youth are embracing the self-reliance mantra. “Many youngsters in smaller towns have taken their maiden step to become self-reliant by starting their own businesses after losing jobs in the last few months,” he said. “We see this to be a bigger success than all other such initiatives in the past.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 20:02:44 IST 2020 locked-and-loaded <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a webinar organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry on August 27, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spelt out how the government wanted to make India’s defence industry self-reliant. “Our resolve for Atmanirbhar Bharat is not inward-looking,” he said. “It is to make India capable and to boost global peace and economy.”</p> <p>India has the third largest annual defence budget ($70 billion in 2020), behind USA ($732 billion) and China ($261 billion). It imports 9.2 per cent of global arms, second only to Saudi Arabia. As much as 30 per cent of India’s defence budget is spent on capital acquisitions—90 per cent of them are imports.</p> <p>In May, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who held the defence portfolio earlier, raised the automatic-route limit for FDI in the sector to 74 per cent from 49 per cent, allowing foreign players to own a controlling stake in joint ventures with Indian companies. Several other measures were announced to boost domestic production.</p> <p>Under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the government had been trying to increase domestic defence manufacturing and create jobs. The renewed impetus under Atmanirbhar Bharat is aimed at reducing dependence on imported military hardware. To give priority to indigenous items, necessary changes have been made in the defence procurement policy, the guiding document for military procurement.</p> <p>The government’s thrust is evident from the two proposed defence industrial corridors—in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh—and the launch of the Innovations for Defence Excellence, an initiative to boost technology development. A defence planning committee headed by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, with the three service chiefs and the secretaries of defence and expenditure as members, was constituted to speed up modernisation of the armed forces.</p> <p>The defence ministry has bifurcated the procurement budget into two: domestic purchases and foreign procurements. An import embargo has been laid on as many as 101 items—including artillery guns, light military transport aircraft and conventional submarines—worth almost Rs1.3 lakh crore for the Army and Rs1.4 lakh crore for the Navy. Under Atmanirbhar Bharat, the domestic industry will get contracts worth Rs4 lakh crore in seven years.</p> <p>The Defence Research and Development Organisation has come out with a list of 108 systems and subsystems—including unmanned aerial vehicles, mobile decontamination units and marine rocket launchers—that it wants locally designed and manufactured. It has earmarked Rs100 crore to help the private sector, especially the nearly 6,000 micro, small and medium enterprises that supply products and components to defence behemoths. “This will help DRDO focus on more advanced technologies,” said DRDO chief Satheesh Reddy. “The industry will be a partner right from the beginning of all our projects.”</p> <p>According to Laxman Behra, research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the government has simplified policies for private players. “In the next few years, the government will reap the benefit of these policy reforms,” he said. “Efforts are on to provide a level playing field to private players.”</p> <p>With a well-defined policy and funding commitment in place, the focus is now on the acquisition process and the procedures to ensure ease of doing business. “The four waves of business process restructuring between 2018 and 2019 and the new draft defence acquisition process (DAP 2020) have focused on extensive involvement of the industry in its formulation,” said Jayant Damodar Patil, defence head, Larsen and Toubro. “[It] addresses all generic issues faced by the industry.”</p> <p>Private players had built infrastructure, capability and capacity over the past few years. L&amp;T, for instance, invested in establishing seven state-of-the-art centres for making weapon and armoured systems, warships and submarines, and missile, aerospace and military communication systems. The next logical step for the government, said Patil, is to expedite placement of orders.</p> <p>“Programmes worth more than Rs4.1 lakh crore have already been granted acceptance of necessity (AON) by the defence ministry,” he said. “All that is needed is initiating issuance of RFPs (request for proposals) against the AONs, reviewing their progress periodically, and awarding [contracts] in a time-bound manner.”</p> <p>Granting a level playing field for both public- and private-sector units would be crucial. The defence sector was first opened to private players in 2001, and each subsequent edition of the defence procurement procedure had added provisions to boost the domestic industry. But the complex policies and processes dampened enthusiasm.</p> <p>The Atmanirbhar drive is expected to finally set things right. “Private players feel that there is still a continued bias towards public-sector undertakings,” Lt Gen (retd) Subroto Saha, member of the national security advisory board under the Prime Minister’s Office, told THE WEEK. “The prime minister’s initiative strives to bridge this gap in indigenisation and self-reliance with greater private-sector participation.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:56:53 IST 2020 our-requirements-provide-huge-opportunity-for-domestic-industry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria led the team that negotiated the purchase of 36 Rafale jets from France, but he is a strong supporter of the Make in India programme. He played a major role in the development of the indigenously-made light combat aircraft Tejas. In an exclusive interview, Bhadauria explained why being self-reliant is the only long-term solution to ensure India’s security. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the Air Force preparing to become self-reliant through the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>The vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat finds innate resonance with the planning process in the Indian Air Force. The IAF has had indigenously designed aircraft such as HT-2 and HF-24, and versions of Kiran and the [Tejas] MK1. Among indigenously manufactured aircraft are the Gnat, MiG-21, MiG-27, Jaguar, Avro (HS-748), Chetak, Cheetah, Dornier 228, Hawk and Su-30. [Also, the domestic industry has] upgraded MiG-21, MiG-27, MiG-29, Mirage, Jaguar, Dornier 228, An-32 and Mi-17.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How self-reliant is the IAF in air-defence systems?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>All our current inductions in the ecosystem of ground-operated radars are either indigenously designed or made by Bharat Electronics Ltd. Among airborne radars, we have already inducted the AEW&amp;C (airborne early warning and control system). We have also inducted indigenous missile systems and locally manufactured early-warning suites for our fighter fleet. Certain critical operation support systems such as the integrated air command and control system (IACCS), the air force network (AFNet) and integrated materials management online system (IMMOLS) are completely home-grown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which are the future air assets—like fighter jets, transport planes, helicopters and trainer jets—that can be made indigenously?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>The indigenous projects that we wholeheartedly support include the advanced light helicopter, Tejas MK1A and its future upgrades, light combat helicopters, and the HTT-40 trainer jet. In medium- to long-term, we have placed our trust in the fifth-generation advanced medium combat aircraft project. The Avro replacement project, which will be under Make in India, has the potential for orders from the civil sector as well. Overall, our requirements provide a huge opportunity for the domestic aviation industry to evolve rapidly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the scope of the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission in the IAF?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>[The Air Force wants] the domestic industry to develop niche technologies specific to military aviation. This is indeed a golden period of opportunity for all stakeholders in the Indian aviation industry. We must remember that in the long run, a strong, indigenous and self-reliant defence ecosystem is the only counter to the technology, weapons and platforms that our adversaries have or will have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is being self-reliant the only solution to future wars?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>India’s wars—today or in the future—will have to be fought by us alone. <i>Atmanirbharta</i> is the only long-term solution.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:44:20 IST 2020 seeds-of-change <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The most radical of Atmanirbhar Bharat measures has been the recent agriculture reforms. Braving protests in and outside Parliament, the government pushed through three bills meant to dismantle the old, restrictive structures that cover much of India’s farm sector. Oddly, though, farmers themselves have been at the forefront of the anti-reform agitations, and especially so in Punjab and Haryana.</p> <p>Of the three new laws, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act is the most contentious. It allows farmers to sell their produce to anyone or anywhere, bypassing mandis run by the legally mandated agriculture produce market committees (APMCs). The government says the law will set farmers free, increase their income, and promote competition.</p> <p>But opposition parties, including the Shiromani Akali Dal which recently broke off its alliance with the BJP, allege that the reforms will weaken the APMC system, which guarantees farmers minimum support price for their produce. They say it would result in corporates exploiting farmers.</p> <p>The BJP has accused the opposition of spreading misinformation and launched a drive to “educate” farmers. “Why would a farmer sell outside the mandi if he is not getting a higher price? The agitation is politically motivated,” said Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar.</p> <p>The government says the three laws—the other two being the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Prices Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act—have opened the sector to investments and technology interventions. “These laws have a certain historic value, and they would be in favour of the farmers,” said Sanjay Borkar, CEO and cofounder of FarmERP, a tech platform that assists farmers through pre-sowing, harvesting and selling stages. “It is now very difficult for an individual to buy produce directly from farmers. Farmers also have to go through the arduous process of going to the mandis and finding the right buyer. They usually enlist the help of commission agents for the end sale, which narrows down the field for [independent] players. Post these reforms, farmers will have direct access to buyers.”</p> <p>There are more than 500 agri-tech startups in the country; the government hopes for 1,000 more in the next few years. They can link farmers to markets, consumers and technology, and provide help in selling or processing produce. “We aim at bringing two million stakeholders to our platform by the end of 2021,” said Borkar.</p> <p>From increasing productivity, the emphasis has shifted to ensuring profitability. The protection and price assurance law provides a legal basis for contract farming. Small, struggling farmers can now enter into agreements with companies or lease out land for cultivation. Similarly, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act has eased controls on storage of agriculture produce. This, and an agriculture infrastructure fund of 01 lakh crore, will help create facilities where farmers can store or sell their produce at competitive prices.</p> <p>Currently, only 6 per cent of farmers in the country sell their produce to government-mandated procurement agencies. But there is much anxiety among them about whether the reforms would prevent the government from continuing to offer minimum support prices in APMC mandis, where the government is the major buyer. They fear that if the government stopped supporting prices, the mandi system would weaken and market forces would drive prices below MSP.</p> <p>“The government says farmers will get a price higher than the MSP outside the mandis; if so, why not give MSP a legal basis?” asked Devinder Sharma, an expert in food and trade policy. “The government should bring a fourth law that guarantees that the farmer will get MSP even if the crop is sold outside mandis.”</p> <p>Agriculture has largely withstood the lockdown distress. The past few months have seen record yields and procurement of wheat, paddy and pulses. Maintenance of buffer stock of pulses has resulted in a 74-times increase in procurement during 2016-17 to 2020-21 over the 2009-10 to 2013-14 period. This has been attributed to the government setting MSP as 1.5 times the cost of production.</p> <p>The Food Corporation of India has also increased paddy procurement to allay farmer fears. “Maximum procurement has happened in Punjab, where 7.82 lakh metric tonnes of paddy has been procured from farmers through the APMC system, as against 24,452MT procured last year,” said FCI chairman D.V. Prasad. “The pace of procurement as well as the enthusiasm of farmers in selling stocks to FCI in Punjab and Haryana put to rest any misgivings they have had regarding the continuation of MSP after the introduction of the new farm acts.”</p> <p>India, however, is yet to become <i>atmanirbhar</i> in edible vegetable oils, pulses, fresh fruits, raw cashew nuts, raw sugar, raw cotton and spices, which together constitute nearly 84 per cent of agri imports. On the other hand, agri exports in April to September this year increased by 43.4 per cent to Rs53,626 crore, up from Rs37,397 crore in the same period last year.</p> <p>“The way forward for the sector is through increasing the income of farmers, so that they are not forced to move out of rural areas,” says Sharma. “[During lockdown] 80 million ‘agriculture refugees’ returned to their native places in a reverse migration. Second, the government should pump in investments in the sector to make it a major driver of the economy.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:40:06 IST 2020 tap-and-transfer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>An electrician in Mumbai, Ashok used to queue up at a post office to send money to his family back home in a village in Bihar. Now, he transfers money through an app in his smartphone. Thanks to the unified payments interface (UPI) developed by the National Payments Corporation of India, his relatives can simply walk into a neighbourhood grocery store and withdraw money through an app-based product provided to the merchant by a fintech firm. “UPI has become a very convenient method for sending and receiving money,” says Ashok.</p> <p>The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) began pilot-testing UPI in April 2016. After a slow start, Indians rushed to embrace UPI as the go-to method for financial transactions, from paying bills to buying shares. In August this year, UPI clocked a record 1.5 billion transactions worth Rs2.85 lakh crore.</p> <p>The pandemic has helped the growth of the platform—thanks to social distancing norms, people have been increasingly shopping online and choosing UPI apps for payment. Since its inception, UPI has raced past credit and debit cards to become the fastest platform to hit one billion transactions a month.</p> <p>In 2019, UPI transactions surged 188 per cent to touch 10.8 billion, according to the payment service provider Worldline. The transactions were worth Rs18.36 trillion, a three-fold jump over 2018. Debit and credit card transactions, too, grew in the same period, but their combined transaction value was less than Rs14 trillion.</p> <p>So how does UPI work? It is essentially a digital platform that links a bank account to a smartphone app, allowing the transfer of money between two parties and their bank accounts. Apps such as Google Pay, PhonePe, Paytm and NPCI’s own BHIM allow users to send and receive money through a few taps on their smartphones.</p> <p>Earlier, NEFT (national electronic funds transfer) was the preferred means of account-to-account money transfer. But it used to work only on business days and had a cut-off time of 7pm on weekdays, until it was made available 24x7 on December 16 last year. UPI has no time restrictions; it has always been available 24x7.</p> <p>“UPI is built for the smartphone generation,” said Harshil Mathur, CEO and co-founder of the payments platform Razorpay. “It is also extremely simple for a new user to learn. Costs are low for a merchant; almost free. From that perspective, UPI has a lot of value.”</p> <p>UPI was launched with 21 member banks from public, private and cooperative sectors. Soon the platform was adopted by fintechs like PhonePe. In the past few years, UPI has attracted more banks and global fintech players like Google and Amazon. Last year, Chinese company Xiaomi, India’s largest smartphone seller, launched Mi Pay, a UPI-based payment platform.</p> <p>“UPI is the world’s first truly interoperable platform built on mobile-first principles,” Hemant Gala, vice president, payments and financial services at PhonePe, told THE WEEK. “It provides a user with the ability to send or receive money instantly across the network. It is a highly safe, secure and convenient way to make payments. And it has made financial inclusion a reality by enabling instant money transfers and merchant payments in even the smallest towns in the country.”</p> <p>UPI’s success has been a boost to fintech platforms. In March this year, NPCI allowed payment service providers to offer cash withdrawal facilities in shops. Since UPI allows players to create a user interface on top of the payment layer, an entire ecosystem of fintech startups is thriving.</p> <p>Take Paynearby, set up by the financial services company Nearby Technologies Private Ltd. It allows neighbourhood retail stores to offer assisted digital financial services like Aadhar-based cash withdrawals, utility bill payments, insurance and mutual funds, and UPI payment services. “When you go to a <i>kirana</i> shop to buy grocery, you can withdraw money or just ask for a fixed deposit to be opened on the spot. Banking has got merged in the grocery list now and you don’t even need to go to an ATM for it,” said Anand Kumar Bajaj, founder and CEO of Paynearby, which clocks more than 10 lakh transactions now.</p> <p>BharatPe, which focuses on merchants, offers a single QR code, enabling shop owners to accept payments from multiple payment apps. “Banks have completely [distanced] themselves from customer needs. That gap has been filled by fintechs, and that has only been possible with UPI as a layer in between,” said Ashneer Grover, co-founder and CEO of BharatPe.</p> <p>Based on the cashflow generated by merchants using its QR code, BharatPe has begun offering them small-ticket loans. It has tied up with non-banking finance companies to lend more than 0175 crore.</p> <p>But how safe is UPI? “It has enough safety factors built in,” said Mathur of Razorpay. “For doing a UPI transaction, you need a smartphone. It’s your smartphone and your pin. Even from a liability perspective, RBI has a strong set of guidelines to ensure that a customer’s money is not lost during a transaction.”</p> <p>Last year, HDFC Bank warned its customers of an app called AnyDesk, which fraudsters were using to gain remote access to smartphones and steal banking credentials. Gala said PhonePe was investing in sophisticated, fraud-detection technology. “We score every transaction in real time for authenticity before allowing the user to authorise the same,” he said. “We also invest in real-time analysis of mobile numbers, devices, cards or bank accounts for patterns of abnormal behaviour.”</p> <p>Buoyed by UPI’s safety and success, Google wrote in December last year to the US Federal Reserve, asking it to implement a similar, real-time payment platform. “We believe the right model for driving digital payments is through partnership between banks, governments and tech companies; through open and standards-based infrastructure like UPI,” said Caesar Sengupta, general manager and vice-president, payments, Google, last year.</p> <p>NPCI itself has plans to launch UPI abroad. It recently launched its wholly owned subsidiary, NPCI International Payments Ltd, to internationalise RuPay and UPI. “Several countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East have shown interest in replicating our model,” said Dilip Asbe, NPCI’s managing director and CEO, while launching the subsidiary.</p> <p>In November last year, NPCI demonstrated a BHIM-enabled, QR code-based payment in Singapore. If made operational, it will allow people who have BHIM app to make payments in Singapore. “There is scope for enhancing global outreach of our payment systems,” the RBI recently said, “through active participation and cooperation in international and regional fora, and by collaborating and contributing to standard setting.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 16 17:10:09 IST 2020 power-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Though self-reliance in energy generation is not one of the five pillars of Atmanirbhar Bharat, energy is essential to power it. The mission finds synergy with the government's lofty commitment made five years ago in Paris of bringing new and renewable energy to 40 per cent of the total energy mix in the country by 2030. Given that India is a developing economy with an increasing demand for electricity, it cannot eliminate fossil fuel from the energy equation. While long gestation periods slow down nuclear projects, the new and renewable energy commitment will at least keep the country's carbon footprint from expanding.</p> <p>The renewable energy sector comprises solar, wind, tidal and biomass. Though wind is the largest source of clean energy, comprising 10 per cent (37.68GW) of the total energy generation of India, solar is now the flagship. At the Paris summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi floated the idea of an International Solar Alliance, which is now the first multilateral organisation to be headquartered in India. The country has also given itself the target of generating 100GW of solar energy by 2022. With 37GW capacity installed and another 25GW under construction, India could reach the target by the deadline, despite the pandemic and economic slowdown.</p> <p>The issue, however, is about how self-reliant and “clean” this solar energy generation really is. Solar energy is generated from a composite unit called a module, which itself is made of a number of cells. These cells are composed of wafers, made of polysilicon. The focus has been on ramping up the capacity to manufacture cells and modules, the raw material for which is importedÅlargely from China. In 2019, India imported cells, panels and wafers worth $1.5 billion, of which material worth $1.2 billion was from China, says Sanghamitra B. Jayant, senior manager, corporate strategic management wing of Bharat Heavy Electronics Limited (BHEL).</p> <p>Industry experts feel that the government needs to step in here, and provide variable gap funding (VGF) to boost domestic production of solar plant parts. Their production itself is energy-intensive and requires big investment in R&amp;D. China, with its economies of scale, is able to produce them at costs that Indian manufacturers simply cannot match under present conditions.</p> <p>The government certainly has given the boost to solar energy production, with several government enterprises mandating the use of clean energy. Indian Railways, for instance, plans to procure 3GW of solar-generated electricity, and domestic content requirement (DCR) is an important prerequisite. But without giving sufficient boost, the domestic manufacturing remains largely at the assembling stages. The initial parts are still imported.</p> <p>The other challenge with solar power is that it requires vast acreage, much higher than thermal generation. According to the ministry of new and renewable energy (MNRE), 1.31 lakh acres has been identified for solar parks, of which 82,600 acres have been acquired for developing 50 parks with an aggregate capacity of 40,000MW. However, the government has not focussed as much on rooftop solar generation. As Jayant says, the future has to be rooftop panels, given the limitations of space. Yet, rooftop generation has only reached around 10 per cent of its 40,000MW target for 2022. Elsewhere in the world, rooftop generation is the mainstay of solar production.</p> <p>Chetan Singh Solanki, IIT Bombay professor and founder of Energy Swaraj Foundation for popularising solar energy generation at domestic levels, notes that small plants are not a priority with the government, given its big target. “It is easier to sanction a 500MW project than to encourage five lakh homes with rooftop panels of 1KW,” he said. “Also, the government's claim of having already provided electricity to each home comes in the way of promoting domestic production.”</p> <p>Rooftop generation depends largely on the system of net metering, where the individual gives the power to the grid and adjusts it with the monthly power bill. “In India, the discoms (distribution companies) are still not too savvy with the system. The bureaucratic hassle is huge and therefore is a disincentive,” said Solanki. “Worse is the trend of providing free electricity, forget subsidised (power). No competition can withstand a freebie.”</p> <p>India is a newcomer to solar energy generation, with the National Solar Mission coming out only in 2010. Wind energy is a more mature project here, with a presence of over two decades. Yet, according to ministry figures, the growth in wind generation is stagnating—it grew by only 2.07GW last year. Unlike solar, the wind energy sector already has a good Make in India tradition, with leading producers Tamil Nadu and Gujarat already having international players like Denmark-based Vestas manufacturing components, largely towers and plates, in these states.</p> <p>Wind power generation, too, could do with some more attention. According to the National Institute of Wind Energy, India has an offshore wind energy generation potential of 70GW, as well as an installable capacity of 695GW on land, of which 347GW can be done on cultivable lands.</p> <p>A little more attention to solar component production and a boost to the wind sector can go a long way in making India's renewable energy production more <i>atmanirbhar</i>.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:26:15 IST 2020 ganga-is-among-the-top-ten-cleanest-long-rivers-in-the-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Har Ghar Nal Ka Jal (piped water in every home) is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flagship mission in his second term. The new ministry that was formed by merging the ministry of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation with the ministry for drinking water and sanitation, has a telling name—Jal Shakti or water as a force.</p> <p>India is not deficient in water, however, its distribution across the country is not uniform. Despite the many rivers, agriculture still remains largely dependent on underground water. The water bodies, meanwhile, have gone into distress because of exploitation and pollution.</p> <p>Under Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the ministry is handling two big missions—a Rs20,000-crore endeavour to clean up and maintain the Ganga, and providing piped water to every home by 2024. In an interview with THE WEEK, Shekhawat speaks about the progress and the success stories so far. Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Only 17 per cent of rural households gets tap water at home, as of last year. That is a shocking figure.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> When Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, less than 20 per cent of the population had bank accounts. Sixty crore people defecated in the open. Eight crore households did not have a cooking gas connection. So, is it shocking that in homes where there was no electricity, toilet or gas connection, there was no piped water?</p> <p>The stunning bit is not the figures of 2014. What made the world sit up and take notice was the speed at which the Modi government has achieved targets with 100 per cent success—look at rural electrification or toilet construction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have a humungous task on hand. Are you confident of meeting the target by 2024?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> We have been working hard and in the last year, we have already brought piped water to another 2.24 crore homes (30 per cent coverage), despite the pandemic restrictions. We are providing one lakh connections every day. Goa became the first state with a functional tap in every home. Telangana is almost there with 98.5 per cent coverage. Across the country, already 52,000 villages have piped water in every home. There is still a lot more to be done. Not every state is progressing at the same speed. West Bengal has only 2.4 per cent coverage, Meghalaya 4.22 per cent.</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the challenges?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> Sustainability of source [of water] and treatment and disposal of grey water are big challenges. The prime minister is clear that both the quantity and quality of the water supply have to be maintained. We have a commitment of providing 55 litres per capita every day. We have asked states to install sensor-based systems to monitor the two Qs. We are encouraging water testing by establishing and strengthening laboratories so any consumer can get the water tested.</p> <p>We are also working on ways of treating used water in villages and the reuse of grey water in agriculture, industry if any, or recharging groundwater, so that the sustainability of source is ensured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A recent report from the Central Pollution Control Board said that the Ganga's water quality did not improve during lockdown, unlike other rivers.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> I think the report has been misinterpreted. Our efforts have borne fruit. After the mission was announced, the ministry organised a rafting expedition from source to the mouth in 2015. We did a similar expedition last winter and the results were visible. One of the best yardsticks of a clean aquatic system is the riverine life it sustains, and we have seen fish, dolphins and other animals return to the river.</p> <p>Another way of assessing a river is the amount of dissolved oxygen it has. I can say with pride that from the source to Haridwar, there is not even a drop of sewage discharge into the river. All the 4,600 villages along its path have been declared clean villages that have sewage treatment plants.</p> <p>We took a year and a half to assess the work needed on the Ganga, since previous efforts to clean it were piecemeal and not sustainable. We have undertaken 352 projects [sewage and effluent treatment plants] on a hybrid annuity model, to ensure that the concessionaire runs it for the next 15 years, so that the plants will not be abandoned midway.</p> <p>The Swedes have ensured that the Danube leaves the country cleaner than when it enters. The Germans have brought back to life the dead Rhine. It took the Germans 29 years and the Swedes 30 years. We are only four years into implementation. Also, our rivers are different. They are living entities. The number of people living on the banks of the Ganga alone rivals the population of Europe. Yet, today, I say with authority that the Ganga is one of the ten cleanest rivers in the world, of its length.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The country is facing water stress. Two years ago, a NITI Aayog report predicted that urban India would run out of groundwater soon.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> I do not want to delve into the report, but in 15 of those 21 cities, groundwater is a minuscule part of total water supply. But yes, there is a challenge, our dependability on groundwater is very high. Twenty per cent of the geographical area in the country is in the ‘over exploited’ or ‘exploited’ range for groundwater. This is a concern. The PM launched Atal Bhujal Mission last year, targeting the seven most vulnerable states. We are focussing on the demand side, instead of supply, and working on ways of water use efficacy through participatory water management principles. Since 89 per cent of water used in India is for irrigation, we are working on reducing this requirement through smart and micro-irrigation systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the progress on river linking?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b> We have identified 30 links, and put five of them into the national perspective plan. We are coordinating with states to come on board and develop water-sharing understandings. The Ken-Betwa link is very close to some big announcement soon.&nbsp; </p> Thu Oct 15 19:20:11 IST 2020 life-in-litres <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Self-reliance, whether in industry or agriculture, depends on water. “If we run out of water, we can forget any sort of <i>atmanirbharta</i>. Water is about survival,” noted Mukund Vasudevan, co-chair of FICCI's Water Committee and member of the recently formed CEO Water Alliance (CEWA), a body that works towards finding solutions to reduce the demand for water.</p> <p>India supports 18 per cent of the world's population on 4 per cent of the world's freshwater supplies. While much of the water dependence is on underground aquifers, more than half the water received through precipitation flows into the sea. Agriculture gulps between 80 to 89 per cent of the total water consumed in the country. Experts note that with a little prudent water management, India is fine for the present. However, unless we plan for the future, we could be staring at a severe water crisis in 20 years.</p> <p>“Reducing consumption is to everyone's advantage, and the industry is realising that it also reduces costs in the long run to invest in new technology for it,” said Vasudevan. Recycling may be second nature to India, but as Saravanan Panneer Selvam of Grundfos India asked, “Are we recycling enough?” The general manager of the pump manufacturer said that industry water can be recycled up to four times with good technology, but most units in the country recycle water through only one cycle. In the fields, too, water consumption can be reduced by investing in smart agriculture and irrigation.</p> <p>Domain experts point out that the biggest challenge in India, whether in the field, factory or home, is the lack of awareness about water management. Rainwater harvesting remains patchy and there is still no concerted effort at recharging aquifers. The Centre's Atal Bhujal Yojana to target the most critical districts in terms of groundwater depletion is a move in the right direction.</p> <p>Vasudevan notes there needs to be more private sector involvement. “The government has made a laudable start with the annuity hybrid mode for Namami Gange projects,” he said. “The same needs to be extended to other ventures, too.”</p> <p>The other challenge, said Selvam, is that the technology for smart use of water is expensive. The <i>atmanirbharta</i> boost might incentivise Indian manufacturing of equipment for water management, but the sector needs more support from the government, he said.</p> <p>Water is a sector in which <i>atmanirbharta</i> itself could generate livelihood, said Poonam Sewak, vice president (knowledge and partnerships), Safe Water Network India. The network has worked with the government to plan the Har Ghar Nal scheme for providing piped water to every rural household. “The small water enterprise market alone has the potential to become a $2 billion industry,” said Sewak. “It can generate a whole lot of livelihood, whether it is manufacturing components for water ATMs, running these units or maintaining them.”</p> <p>At the other end, a market in grey water needs to be created. Under Namami Gange, the government has come up with a public-private model of monetising treated water. This industry has great potential, but it requires more R&amp;D.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:15:07 IST 2020 right-on-the-money <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Move over CBI, for there is a new sheriff in town. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has become the latest nightmare for corrupt politicians, shady tycoons, terrorists, drug-peddling celebrities, Maoist insurgents, wildlife poachers and other high-profile fugitives. The agency, which was set up in May 1956 as an enforcement unit under the department of economic affairs, has now transformed into a crime-fighting juggernaut under the department of revenue. Some of the high-profile targets in the ED’s crosshairs include businessmen such as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Robert Vadra, and politicians like Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ahmed Patel, P. Chidambaram, Praful Patel and D.K. Shivakumar.</p> <p>Much of the ED’s transformation has taken place under director S.K. Mishra, who took charge in October 2018. An unassuming officer from the Indian Revenue Service, Mishra prefers to keep a low profile. Even a photograph of the director is not available on the ED website. Mishra works six days a week out of the ED’s modest headquarters in Lok Nayak Bhavan near Khan Market in Delhi. He oversees an organisation which has a working strength of 1,273 officers against a sanctioned strength of 2,066 officers. Only about 400 of them are investigators.</p> <p>Yet, the success rate of the agency is growing fast. And, so are the controversies. Recently, it had a run-in with the UK-based human rights organisation Amnesty International. Making use of certain findings from a CBI probe into Amnesty’s functioning in India, the ED conducted a detailed investigation and found that between 2013 and 2019, a private limited company called Amnesty India International had received Rs 51.72 crore from Amnesty International as “export proceeds’’ for certain services. But no services were exported by Amnesty India during this period and, therefore, the amount received was found to be in contravention of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) and the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA). The ED froze the organisation’s bank accounts.</p> <p>Incidentally, Amnesty’s two major recent reports—on the abrogation of Article 370 and on the 2019 Delhi riots—were focused on India. The ED’s crackdown gave the Narendra Modi government ammunition to condemn certain “entities’’ funded by foreign donations for interfering in India’s domestic political debates.</p> <p>Amnesty International said the charges against it were unfounded. The European Union has taken note of the ED’s action against the NGO. Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, told THE WEEK that the EU had raised the issue with its interlocutors in India and Brussels and was hopeful that it would be resolved soon.</p> <p>The ED has so far secured 18 convictions, arrested 224 persons, filed 734 prosecution complaints and is conducting trials in 640 cases. It has attached property worth Rs77,304 crore. But what enhanced the agency’s reputation the most were the three successful extraditions from the UAE—bringing back Christian James Michel, Deepak Talwar and Rajeev Saxena, who were facing charges in the AgustaWestland chopper scam. At least four more extradition requests are pending before foreign governments, including in the cases of fugitives such as Mallya, Nirav Modi, Choksi and arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari.</p> <p>One of the recent successes for the ED came on August 28, when it got the “fugitive economic offender tag’’ against Chetan and Nitin Sandesara, promoters of the Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech. The Sandesara siblings are accused of routing undeclared funds and causing bank loan defaults to the tune of Rs8,100 crore. The fugitive tag allows the ED to confiscate their properties to recoup the losses.</p> <p>For a very long time, the CBI was the undisputed hero of police stories in India, but, over the years, its vast mandate got divided among other agencies. While the ED took up economic offences, the National Investigation Agency was set up to probe terror, hijacking and national security crimes, leaving the CBI with a diminished brief. Today, the CBI is being increasingly relegated to playing second lead to the ED, especially in high-profile cases. Moreover, opposition-ruled states like West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are reluctant to hand over cases to the CBI.</p> <p>“Sadly, the lustre and shine of the CBI has eroded under the NDA government,” said Prithviraj Chavan, who had served in the prime minister’s office from 2004 to 2010 as the minister with administrative control over the CBI. “This has happened because CBI directors are now handpicked by the government. And, by the government, I mean the prime minister,” he said. On the other hand, the ED director reports to the revenue secretary and the Union finance minister for administrative purposes. And, unlike the CBI, which cannot operate in states without the consent of the respective state governments, the ED can suo motu register cases when there is a predicate offence (a crime which is a component of a more serious crime).</p> <p>In March this year, the ED secured the conviction of Jharkhand minister Anosh Ekka in a money-laundering case linked to former chief minister Madhu Koda. It was a major victory for the ED when the special PMLA court gave Ekka a seven-year prison sentence for laundering Rs20.32 crore.</p> <p>“PMLA was enacted in 2002, but the rules were not notified till 2005,” said M.L. Sharma, former special director of the CBI. “So it was virtually dysfunctional. Since the law was made in a hurry, it was amended six times between 2005 and 2019 when it finally became a powerful law.” Section 5 of the Act empowers the ED to attach any property which is suspected to be ‘proceeds of crime’. Upon conviction, the whole property can be confiscated and handed over to the Union government.</p> <p>In June 2019, the ED charge-sheeted former Union minister P. Chidambaram and his son, Karti, in the INX Media money-laundering case and filed a supplementary charge sheet in the Manesar land scam case against former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Speaking to THE WEEK, Hooda said the ED got its powers from the law and the agency should use it judiciously. “The CBI and the ED should work as autonomous agencies and should be fair in their investigations,” he said.</p> <p>Yet another advantage the ED has over the CBI is that a statement made by an accused before the ED is admissible in court. A statement recorded by the CBI or the police has no value in court. In June, when the Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, masked ED sleuths landed at the Delhi residence of senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel to record his statement in a case involving the Sandesara brothers as the Covid protocol mandated people above 65 to not step out of their homes. The Covid concession did not apply to Patel’s son and son-in-law, who had to visit the ED office to give their statements.</p> <p>“The ED is making hay while the sun shines,’’ said senior Supreme Court lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi. He said PMLA was being misused and that many of its provisions were facing legal scrutiny. “A glaring example is section 45 which makes bail impossible for an accused in a money-laundering case,” said Tulsi. “This has been quashed by the Supreme Court. The courts are working only on urgent matters because of Covid-19, but the moment the Supreme Court applies its mind to the issue, we will see many more provisions being struck down.” In his view, the problem is more about the government misusing the provisions. “This law was available to other governments also, but it was not misused. But today, the ED has become larger than the CBI,” he said.</p> <p>Vadra, who is the husband of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, was grilled extensively by the ED in February and June 2019 on cases involving purchase of alleged illegal assets abroad and land allotment in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district. Chidambaram was not so lucky as he had to spend 40 days in Tihar jail. Another senior Congress leader Shivakumar, too, had to go to jail after the ED arrested him in an alleged tax evasion and hawala transaction case.</p> <p>On October 5, the CBI conducted simultaneous raids at multiple locations linked to Shivakumar and registered a case on allegations of possession of disproportionate assets worth Rs74.93 crore. CBI officials confirmed that it was ED sleuths probing money-laundering charges against Shivakumar who found that he could also have violated the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.</p> <p>The ED has stolen a march over the CBI in the Hathras rape case as well. After Rajeshwar Singh, the agency’s joint director in charge of the Lucknow zone, found that one of the accused in the case was already under its scanner, the agency sought more details from the Uttar Pradesh Police to track the source of funding for the protests in Hathras. The ED has found that a website calling for violent demonstrations to protest the Hathras rape has also been linked to other violent agitations, especially in Kashmir. “A preliminary inquiry is going on and more information cannot be divulged at this stage,” Rajeshwar Singh told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Shantonu Sen, who was joint director of the CBI, however, said the ED still had a long way to go. “The CBI was prone to misuse, but compared with the ED, it had some checks and balances. While the CBI sleuths maintain a case diary during an investigation following the Code of Criminal Procedure, the ED does not follow such procedures,” said Sen. But ED sleuths said they kept a record of their investigations.</p> <p>ED sources said all state police forces were required to share with it monthly reports of all FIRs. A dedicated division in the ED would sift through those FIRs and pick up money-laundering offences. For example, in money-laundering offences related to drug trafficking, the ED would pick up cases where a certain minimum amount of narcotics was involved. It would also look at corruption cases where Rs10 crore or more was involved, except in the case of political corruption. That was how the ED registered a case under PMLA after the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, because the Bihar Police had registered an FIR on the basis of a complaint filed by Sushant’s father, K.K. Singh. He had accused Sushant’s girlfriend, actor Rhea Chakraborty, of siphoning off Rs15 crore from his son’s accounts.</p> <p>With the technological expertise of its cyber unit, the ED has accessed relevant WhatsApp chats, revealing details about narcotics consumption and the role of several celebrities, who are now being questioned by the Narcotics Control Bureau. “Our inquiries are based on the data provided by the ED,” said an NCB official.</p> <p>The ED works on most cases with a bare minimum number of officers. In its Ballard Estate office in Mumbai, there are just about 30 investigators. While the CBI had assigned nearly 40 officers to probe the Nirav Modi case, the ED put only three or four officers on the case. “Nearly 80 petitions are filed daily in different courts by various vested interests to dislodge the case,” said an ED officer about the Nirav Modi case. “Two dedicated officers reply to each petition, get stay orders on bail applications and continue to investigate the case,’’ said the officer. Litigations are a major headache for the ED as high-profile accused quickly approach courts for anticipatory bail and also employ other diversionary tactics.</p> <p>“Our attempt is to file the prosecution complaint within a year and not drag the matter once we summon an accused in a particular case,” said an ED officer. ED sleuths prefer keeping fewer key witnesses in their cases in order to focus on important matters at hand and avoid endless court hearings. “Fewer key witnesses mean quicker trials and convictions. Moreover, if a case is not proved, we will not shy away from filing a closure report,” said the officer.</p> <p>ED sleuths do not undergo police training at world-class academies, but they have a high-value property in Delhi, confiscated in a money-laundering case, which is being used as a training centre. About two-thirds of the officers on deputation to the ED are from the customs department, while one-third are from the income tax department. The ED has its own cadre where qualified candidates join as assistant enforcement officers, who rise in the hierarchy to become joint directors. The agency is in dire need of a headquarters, a training centre, housing facilities and its own offices across the country. A former officer recalled how he had to take an accused with him on a scooter once, all the while worrying that he might get off and run away at a traffic signal.</p> <p>With the passage of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act in 2018, the ED now has the power to confiscate assets and catch fugitives abroad. The first such confiscation, worth Rs1,350 crore, happened in the Nirav Modi case, and it posed a huge challenge for the agency. “We had to bring back over 2,300kg of polished diamonds and pearls from the UAE and Hong Kong. We had never done this before and there was no precedent available with any other agency,” said an ED officer.</p> <p>The consignments were stored in the warehouse of a logistics company in Hong Kong and were transported by an air cargo service. ED officials were constantly monitoring the shipment to ensure that nothing went missing.</p> <p>When investigations began in the Kerala gold smuggling case to find out how the proceeds of smuggling were used and whether funds were diverted for terror activities, the ED’s experience came in handy. The ED may not be a police organisation, but it has tightened the noose around cross-border terror financiers in Jammu and Kashmir and has cracked down on extortion rackets run by Maoist commanders in Bihar and Jharkhand.</p> <p>The agency has a secret special task force which looks into terror financing and the smuggling of drugs and liquor. The force has enabled the agency to attach the proceeds of crime of Pakistani terror mastermind Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Syed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen, controversial televangelist Zakir Naik and designated global terrorist Dawood Ibrahim’s aide Iqbal Mirchi among others. The STF was successful in proving foreign exchange rules violations against Kashmiri separatist leader Yasin Malik and former Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.</p> <p>The ED is also active in targeting wildlife poachers by tracking down illicit money generated through the sale of animal parts. Recently, it has started cracking down on companies that run Chinese online betting applications. Mishra is, in fact, an old China hand as he used to work on Sino-Indian border management in the home ministry before joining the ED. In August, an ED team raided 15 locations in Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and Pune and found that Chinese nationals had floated multiple companies in India to run online betting apps and that payment instructions were coming from China. It arrested a Chinese national and three Indians and froze Rs46.9 crore in four HSBC bank accounts.</p> <p>The ED will have a key role to play when the global terrorist financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF) reviews India’s anti-money laundering regime next year. The agency’s actions in India and abroad will determine how the country has performed in curbing the menace of money-laundering and the underlying criminal activity. The last FATF review was held in 2011.</p> <p>Among the ED’s most successful and most controversial missions so far have been the extradition of Saxena, Talwar and British national Michel in the AgustaWestland case. While Michel was deported from Dubai in December 2018, Saxena and Talwar were sent back by the emirate a month later. The case is politically sensitive with the ED claiming that Michel had disclosed the names of senior Congress leaders as recipients of kickbacks in the chopper deal. But the latest CBI charge sheet, which was filed on September 20, has not named any politician.</p> <p>Michel’s lawyer Aljo K. Joseph said it was a classic case of the government using its premier investigating agencies for political vendetta. “In the CBI charge sheet, none of the political names widely discussed by the media have been included,” Joseph said. “This means that the investigating agencies have been used by the BJP to target its political adversaries without proof.” He also pointed out that Michel was being held in Tihar jail without bail.</p> <p>ED sources said the probe had become deeper with the sixth charge sheet naming Ratul Puri, nephew of former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath, in a money-laundering case linked to the AgustaWestland scam. “We are hoping to fill the missing links,” said an investigator.</p> <p>A major challenge for the ED involves the extradition of Mallya from the UK. The former Kingfisher Airlines boss is wanted for fraud and money-laundering charges amounting to Rs9,000 crore. The Indian case for Mallya’s extradition received a big boost with the ED’s findings on money-laundering. Chief Magistrate of England Emma Arbuthnot accepted the ED’s submissions and cleared Mallya’s extradition after noting that the case was not politically motivated. Arbuthnot’s order came at a time when the CBI, which was pursuing Mallya, was facing a credibility crisis because of the bitter internal feud between the agency’s then director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana, who was heading the probe against Mallya. “The extradition was granted after we could establish how blatantly money was laundered,” said an ED officer.</p> <p>The only challenge remaining in the case is to deal with Mallya’s efforts to get political asylum in the UK. If his request is denied, Mallya may be brought back to India, most likely within a year. And, the Ballard Estate office of the ED is preparing to take custody of its prized catch. Those who know the ED director well say he rarely smiles, but if the agency succeeds in bringing Mallya back, he can most certainly afford a hearty laugh.&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 18:05:51 IST 2020 ed-cbi-have-become-puppets-of-modi-government <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) have become puppets in the hands of the National Democratic Alliance government. They take up cases which are shortlisted by the government and harass its political rivals and also businessmen and industrialists not liked by the government.</p> <p>These days, the ED is playing the role which the CBI used to play in the past as the CBI’s procedure for filing cases and conducting investigations takes a longer route. The ED is being used by the government to target political rivals and other adversaries. There is a lot of criticism today from the public and the civil society about the functioning of these organisations. But the government and the organisations are not bothered because they want to stick on to their chairs.</p> <p>During my tenure at the prime minister’s office, I was given a free hand by prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh to function independently. We worked to address the problems we were facing and also to strengthen the CBI’s autonomy. We were very careful while appointing the CBI director and it was done in a transparent manner. We respected the views of the leader of the opposition, who was part of the three-member selection committee, along with the prime minister and the chief justice of India or his nominee.</p> <p>During our tenure, there was consensus in the appointment of the CBI director and the agency was functioning dispassionately without fear or favour. Several cases were filed even against leaders of the ruling coalition. We were criticised for it, but it clearly showed that there was no interference in the CBI’s independent investigation process. Today, you see a totally changed scenario.</p> <p>The CBI is in the pocket of the ruling establishment. There is rampant corruption and favouritism in the CBI because it is afraid of the people in power at the Centre. On the other hand, the reform that we brought was transparency, accountability and non-interference by the Central government.</p> <p>The powers given to the ED were brought into force and the Prevention of Money-Laundering Act (PMLA) was implemented during the United Progressive Alliance government. It was used to investigate the parking of money earned through illegal means by criminals and tax evaders. This has now been side-tracked by the present government and the trust which the people had in the ED is lost.</p> <p>The CBI was one of the most reputed organisations when the UPA was in power. It has now become an organisation that employs people with criminal backgrounds. The government keeps on ignoring the views of the opposition leader while selecting the CBI director. Everybody still remembers the fight between then director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana, but the government still tried to push Asthana for the post of director.</p> <p>The selection of the CBI director should be done by a larger body and not just a three-member committee. It should have representatives from the ruling establishment, the judiciary and the opposition. Other eminent personalities should also be members of the committee. Only then the CBI will be able to function independently without being at the mercy of the ruling party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author, who is the chief minister of Puducherry, had served as minister of state in the PMO from 2009 to 2014, overseeing the department of personnel and training, which had administrative control over the CBI.</b></p> Fri Oct 09 17:44:52 IST 2020 ed-has-a-better-conviction-rate-than-other-agencies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Enforcement Directorate implements three laws—Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 (FEMA), Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA) and Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 (FEOA). FEMA is a civil legislation dealing with foreign exchange. FEOA forces fugitive economic offenders to return to India; if they fail to do so, their assets will be confiscated and they will forfeit their right to take recourse to civil courts.</p> <p>PMLA deals with the proceeds of criminal activities enumerated in schedules A, B and C of the Act, requiring detailed analysis of financial statements and financial transactions routed through different financial institutions. It results in civil proceedings relating to the attachment of the proceeds of crime and criminal proceedings relating to the filing of prosecution complaints in sessions courts against the accused.</p> <p>A large number of cases pertaining to scheduled offences are investigated by various agencies. The ED is not in a position to take up money-laundering cases in respect to all these scheduled offences due to the shortage of manpower.</p> <p>Besides PMLA cases, the ED had a huge pendency of FEMA cases from 2002 onwards. Steps were taken to expeditiously promote eligible officers and an annual calendar was prepared for conducting examinations and holding departmental promotion committees. Still there is a huge gap between the sanctioned strength and actual strength.</p> <p>This gap was to be filled up by deputation of officers from the police, income tax and customs. In order to attract officers on deputation, a proposal was sent to the government for making financial incentives of ED officers at par with CBI officers. The proposal was accepted by the government and this motivated more officers to apply, resulting in the ED’s strength going up to 1,100 by 2018 from around 700 in 2015.</p> <p>The ED handles high-profile cases involving people like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallaya who have the financial strength to engage the finest lawyers. We need to match them to conduct best investigations. Selection and training are, therefore, of utmost importance.</p> <p>In order to enhance the professional skills of our officers, various training courses are organised, covering high-tech electronic evidence collection, financial analysis and various other techniques of investigation. Workshops on search, seizure, interrogation techniques, preparing the complaint for attachment and writing prosecution complaints have been organised. We have also organised moot courts to give our officers a flavour of court appearances.</p> <p>The ED has in-house forensic labs in Delhi and in all regional offices. Earlier, electronic documents had to be sent to different Central forensic laboratories, and the results took up to three years to come, hampering investigation. Now zonal offices are provided with kits for electronic data acquisition so that officers are not dependent on outside experts.</p> <p>People often comment that the conviction rate in money-laundering cases is poor. Conviction rate is the ratio of the number of cases ending in conviction against the total number of cases decided. Till now, only a limited number of cases have been decided by the courts due to prolonged trial periods. Of the 15 cases decided (until 2018), 14 have ended in conviction. Thus, our conviction rate is 93.33 per cent, which is far better than any other agency.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author was director, Enforcement Directorate.</b></p> Fri Oct 09 17:41:20 IST 2020 bank-told-us-about-account-freezing-not-ed <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Enforcement Directorate’s action against Amnesty India appears harsh. Is your organisation being targeted?</b></p> <p>In the past couple of years, there has been a steadily escalating series of attacks and legal harassment against Amnesty India, which has culminated in the freezing of our bank accounts, essentially making it impossible for Amnesty India to operate. But the government has never substantiated the allegations against us by framing charges.</p> <p>Even in the case of freezing our bank accounts, we heard it from the bank and not from the Enforcement Directorate directly. So what we see is a Kafkaesque sentencing without notification, charges and conviction, which is a shocking culmination of the Indian government’s targeting of Amnesty India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The government says Amnesty has flouted Indian laws.</b></p> <p>There has been a succession of allegations, interrogation of board and staff members, raids on our offices and most recently the freezing of bank accounts by the ED. FIRs have been registered, but they have not resulted in charges being framed. What happened in September is merely the final stage of this kind of escalating harassment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The United Progressive Alliance government, too, had denied permission to Amnesty India to receive funds under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).</b></p> <p>Amnesty India has not applied for permission to receive foreign funding under FCRA because it is not required for its lawful operating model. But we have certainly witnessed legal harassment increasing significantly under the present government. That is consistent with the way it has treated the wider civil society and human rights movements, looking to silence and suppress critical voices, including with the recent tightening of FCRA regulations. But Amnesty India has not sought to operate under FCRA. Under the entirely lawful and transparent setup that we have, the predominant funding for Amnesty India is from within India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Does Amnesty International give financial support to Amnesty India?</b></p> <p>Amnesty India has a mechanism to provide consultancy services and one of the clients is an international partner within the Amnesty movement. This is all fully compliant with the Companies Act and other applicable laws. But the domestic human rights work carried out by Amnesty India and the fundraising have been directed at a domestic audience with a view to funding the human rights work within India, thanks to around 11,000 donors at present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your organisation has been critical of issues such as the abrogation of Article 370 and the Delhi riots.</b></p> <p>India has had a succession of serious human rights crises from the epidemic of caste violence and violence against women and minorities to the role of police during the Delhi riots and the role of security forces in Kashmir. India has historically prided itself as the world’s largest democracy, with a vibrant civil society and media. Of course, India has a progressive Constitution, but actions like these, which include closing down of operations of Amnesty India and the challenges many organisations and civil society are facing, are absolutely not consistent with the message that India has projected to the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What steps are you planning next?</b></p> <p>We will fight it in the courts once we have the opportunity, that is, when charges are framed and brought to court. So far, the government has only engaged in legal harassment and a smear campaign.&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 17:38:19 IST 2020 made-in-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ever since she's claimed that the novel coronavirus has been a result of a man-made laboratory intervention in China, Dr Li-Meng Yan has been in the eye of a storm. Her research paper has been termed 'unscientific' and one 'without evidence' by the Chinese authorities and she's had to flee from her home country of HongKong to take refuge in the US to keep herself alive. Her family is being &quot;controlled and monitored closely&quot; by the Chinese Communist Party and she's had to cut off all ties with them to protect them. On a Friday evening, as she spoke over a video call from New York the bespectacled scholar and virologist from China Dr Li-Meng Yan looked every bit calm and composed, far removed from the present circumstance she finds herself in. Dressed in a black skater dress with a microphone plugged into her ears, as she connected for an interview with THE WEEK, the tension and that desperate urge &quot;to chase the truth and bring it in front of the world,&quot; was evident from the way she took on questions and answered each one with conviction. Dr Yan has taken the bold step to go against her peers, colleagues, the government and the society when claiming that the Chinese government covered up the dissemination of information relating to SARS-CoV-2 and that it is a product of genetic engineering and manipulation. She's even gone against the WHO where her husband is currently employed. &quot;The truth is important, not me,&quot; she says.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your current state of mind like?</b></p> <p>From January to now I have been trying to fight lies and bring out the truth. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the others including the world Health Organisation (WHO), scientific world and the media are trying their best to suppress me. I don't want to push anyone to trust me. People can verify. But one must see both sides. The thing is I'm happy that more and more people realise that this is a problem. Over the past half year, many people just believed the authorities. They ignored this possibility, this fact that the virus came from the lab and is not a mere natural disaster. Now people started realising it and that's a good thing. They can now find more facts to support their investigation, discuss it, share the ideas. This way the Chinese Communist Party's suppression can be broken down. Also, I'm working on the second scientific report to show the world scientific evidence. I'm also shocked that all the people who i have worked with in the past months have have been lying to the public about the origin of the virus, thereby ignoring the safety of the world at large. Now even when I put my scientific report out, the top experts in the field, lie. And people believe them because they are experts. For example, from the 19th January, Lu De's broadcast channel in Chinese helped me deliver a message that the virus was man made and important people in the government listened to that which went against the Chinese Communist Party. When the authorities watched the broadcast, they knew someone inside delivered the truth outside so that's why they admitted that there was indeed a transmission going on, it was human to human and that the cases had already tripled, were taking place all over China not only in Wuhan. Just a few hours after the broadcast, the chairman Xi Jinping published the first Chairman statement of 2020 to upgrade the SARS 2 disease at the same level as SARS 1, as a very serious infectious disease. But despite us pushing to help people, this government allowed people to go all over the world, and WHO said that masks do not work, there's no need to be scared, there won't be pandemic, to not impose PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern) on China, and later also said not to use Hydroxychloroquine. But as per my intelligence and research it was wrong and irresponsible to dismiss HCQ. At present, I'm getting help from the US, from the people who support anti-Chinese communist party, and from leading scientists all over the world, who believe in the fact that the novel coronavirus was indeed manmade. But still the attacks from the Chinese government and its colleagues against me are going strong.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You say that you came to know of the human to human transmission in China as early as December 31. But China and WHO confirm such transmission only on January 20. Why do you think the delay happened?</b></p> <p>Initially from December 31st, I was assigned to the WHO H5 reference lab at the Centre of Influenza Research at Hong Kong University (HKU) by my supervisor, Poon, Lit Man Leo (professor and division head at the University of Hong Kong) to track the new, unknown pneumonia happening in Wuhan because they lacked the information through Chinese official channels. At that time I already got confirmed information that sequence is isolated in Wuhan already. Over 40 cases had happened at that time but they claimed 27. A paper in the New England Journal admitting that they too knew it since December. But then the Chinese government came out with a white paper to impose their versions and make people quiet. From local doctor to CDC (Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention) staff in a way in Hong Kong we are not allowed to know anything unless government tells us or gives the information. Nobody knew what was happening. Even those inside the hospitals were asked to remain quiet, unaware of the kind of treatment patients were given, what for, and what they were undergoing. It was highly suspicious.&nbsp;</p> <p>The prime broadcaster from CDC postponed the results. Our government has many, many ways to hold the truth. They made sure everyone bought the theory that the seafood market was the problem and that was all one big lie.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said Professor Malik Peiris, a renowned virologist who has been researching emerging viruses at the animal-human interface, knew about the cover up but did nothing. How did you come to know of his involvement and what did he exactly cover up?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I knew him even before I came to that department. I came to the university of Hong Kong in 2012 July and I met my husband there. My husband is also another expert working for WHO for the emerging diseases sphere. He is on the staff of Professor Malik. They both come from Sri Lanka. We both know Malik for over ten years. Malik knows us quite closely and we even stayed at Malik's home. My supervisor was also on the staff of professor Malik earlier. So everything I discussed with the former, or with my husband is known to Malik immediately and I know it because I get feedback too. You see it's a very small group. So, although he knew everything he didn't act. So basically, I can tell you Dr Tederos and others in leading positions, including MariaVan Kerkhove who is the technical lead at WHO<b>&nbsp;</b>have very strong connections with Malik. And so nothing got done.<b>&nbsp;</b>Malik had strong connections with China government. So both, the Chinese and the WHO kept everything under the carpet. CCP insists that Wuhan Hunan seafood market and wild animal are the origin of SARS-CoV-2 from the beginning. But dont allow scientists to investigate the market and collect samples. They can't even provide any positive sample with suspicious animal hints like hair/shit/DNA. However, they still cleaned the market so that there would be no way for others to find out the evidence.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said that your lab in the university of Hong Kong also knew it, your supervisor knew about it but nobody said or did anything.&nbsp;</b></p> <p>My supervisor insisted that I do this in secret. Apart from the two of us, Malik knew it. But in this secret investigation, my supervisor<b>&nbsp;</b>warned<b>&nbsp;</b>me repeatedly that I should be careful because the Chinese government don't want to release these things so he said do not cross the red line and if you have, you will be in trouble. You will disappear. And when I report to him, he would keep silent and during early January to January 16 he even asked me to stop investigation and after that he directly contacted my friend in CDC, saying now I will be in touch with him. You go do your work because it is dangerous. I cannot have you work on this because the government does not want people to know.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You say that the virus is man made and that it can be made in six months. Can you substantiate your claim because scientists world over are saying that your claims are unscientific and lack evidence.&nbsp;</b></p> <p>First, scientists who reject the lab origin theory are lying. I take full responsibility. They can sue me if they want. I put my name here but other authors are anonymous because I have to protect them, but they are real and real experts. Of course, I can tell you that the first report before I publish it has been read by many well-known people in the US government including the top experts. I have my contacts and gave it to them for their reviews. There are two theories: One is the nature theory and the other is the theory of lab origins. The existing scientific publications supporting a natural origin theory rely heavily on a previously discovered bat coronavirus named RaTG13, which shares a 96% nucleotide sequence identity with SARS-CoV-2. However, I contest the existence of RATG13 in nature. Also, we live in a time when viral genomes can be engineered and manipulated to create novel coronaviruses. There has been a highly probable pathway for the laboratory creation of SARS-CoV-2and the evidence is present in the viral genome. Also, let me tell you that as per the natural evolution there may be a chance that the virus comes from animals through an intermediate host and jumps onto humans but that takes a very, very long time and coincidences such as bat meets a suitable intermediate host and bat virus luckily adapts to the new host, etc. Meanwhile, nature origins can also be mimicked in laboratories. Here, the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories and the RBM that is, the receptor binding motif within the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 which determines the host specificity of the virus is suspiciously similar to that of SARS-CoV of 2003 and so between these two viruses there is a series of laboratory procedures that have happened. The genomic evidence suggests that the RBM has been genetically manipulated. Also, SARS-CoV-2 contains this unique furin cleavage site at the S1/S2 junction of the lineage B of Beta coronavirus is demonstrated in my report, which is otherwise completely absent in all other coronaviruses that can be found in nature. So then there is every possibility that this furin cleavage site has been inserted by man into the SARS-CoV-2 genome. So all that is needed is a backbone to create the virus and for this particular present novel coronavirus, a bat coronavirus ZC45 and/or ZXC21 come to be the closest backbone or shares the highest sequence identity with SARS-CoV2. Now, this backbone or template has already been existing with Chinese authorities ever since they were discovered in 2015 by labs in China. Once the template is available, it is just a matter of reconstruction of all the procedure of the virus from the bat coronavirus to the one that targets human beings. I'm also certain that although SARS-CoV-2 is created using Zc45/ZXC21, during its creation, changes must have been introduced to obscure the genetic connection between the two. From the very beginning, the scientific world tried to ignore the man-made lab origin theory. But they cannot explain why the bat coronavirus can travel into human and become much like humans. One very important fact is also that envelope (E) protein of SARS-CoV-2 and ZC45/ZXC21 virus is 100 percent identical, which never happened among cross-species coronaviruses.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But 'The Proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,' the paper which was published in Nature, said that the virus was natural and that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone.&nbsp;</b></p> <p>My second report, which is currently under progress will stress on this fact a bit more. The communist party influenced not only the Chinese scientists but also people overseas. Nature origin professor Dr Anderson attacked my report and me in the media saying that my paper is nonsense and that their analysis clearly shows that SARS-CoV-2 is neither a laboratory construct nor a purposefully manipulated virus. They are misleading people by way of these conceptions. The SARS-CoV-2 does not like it in nature. That is why for thousands of years it never happened in this type of virus. To engineer and create a human targeting novel coronavirus, one would need to pick a bat coronavirus as the template or the backbone. This is not too much to ask for, because many research labs have been collecting samples of bat coronaviruses over the past two decades. The actual template could be ZC45 and/or ZXC21 or a close relative of them. Now to get this template bat virus to be converted into a coronavirus that can bind with human ACE2 receptor to infect humans, they would require to use molecular cloning to get the Spike protein to bind to human ACE2. Also, one would use reverse genetics to assemble the gene fragments of Spike, ORF1b and the rest of the backbone into a CDNA version of the viral genome Then post carrying out the in vitro transcription to obtain the viral RNA genome, and transfection of RNA genome into cells we could have live and infectious viruses with the desired artificial genome. All of this, when considered together is consistent with the hypothesis that the SARS-Cov-2 genome has an origin based on the use of ZC45/ZXC21 as backbone or a template for genetic gain-of-function modifications. Besides, this article 'The Proximal ....' is full of problems. It admitted some of the unusual characters in SARS-CoV-2 genome, like RBD and furin cleavage site in S1/S2. But they intentionally ignore the possibility of man-made origin and Zhoushan bat coronavirus. Instead, they only emphasise on the nature origin theory.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it not true that coronaviruses circulate in wild animal populations and that there may be a tendency to spill over into humans?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>All I'm saying is that there are other type of coronaviruses for example, MERS. We know MERS jumped from camel to humans, and this is the problem why among humans it has sometimes transmission between human to human but not to this extent or not so highly contagious. This has been going for years and there is also chance for different types of zoonotic passages to jump into humans. But it takes time and also different conditions. For example, Avian Influenza jump from birds to humans. So it is usually just a change in some deeper part by the mutant and it can somehow attack human and the latter may be dead. They have a direct way after that equate with the RBM (Receptor binding Motif) and also equate the furin cleavage site and the evidence they even put the one part called the RdRp which draw your attention from backbone Zhoushan bat coronavirus. If you were to trace back the family tree using the RTRP gene neither does it become very unique nor close to the backbone.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did you try to report your findings to the authorities in Hong Kong and China and how did they respond?</b></p> <p>I didn't report on the virus being man made because I knew I would be killed immediately. I reported the cover-up, the human-to human transmission and there is no intermediate host from mid December to January 17. I kept reporting this. But there was no response. I'm a scientist. After my investigations, intelligence and all the scientific evidence showed me that it exists from the military. But I cannot trust the communist party and I saw what happened in Hong Kong during the protests there so I had to give this out by myself to the world.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, how long before do you think China knew about the virus and the fact that human to human transmission was happening?&nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> <p>What I can tell you based on my intelligence is that at the earliest it was in December that human-to-human transmission happened. In December, Wuhan already isolated the live sequence of the virus using the sequence from a patient's sample. This is against their claims of all this happening in the middle of January. So from end of December the doctors in Wuhan including the doctor Li Wenliang who told us first that there was a novel coronavirus, even before that already local doctors were told to keep silent. Even as other doctors asked the friends in Wuhan we were asked to keep quiet and wear mask without asking any questions. Everyone's scared. Doctors are scared. Nobody was allowed to talk about it at the time, not even now.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Hong Kong University says that you never conducted any research on the human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus while you were working there.</b></p> <p><b>What was your research focus before you left the university?&nbsp;</b></p> <p>I have evidence that I was secretly assigned by my supervisor Prof. Leo Poon. I was doing is for five years in the school of public health at the University of Hong Kong after I get my PhD in mainland China and working in university of Hong Kong for several years, Prof Peiris wanted me to go to that department and work with them. I thought it was a challenge because this is the topmost lab in coronavirus and merging disease in the world. I worked in the areas of virology, immunology, vaccine development. I have my universal influenza vaccine patented and on pending. I've presented papers in topmost conferences of the world. So before i left the University of Hong Kong I initiated several important projects including that on COVID-19. Work on hamsters in COVID-19 has been certified to be excellent by scientists across the community. I have also presented a research paper on infectious diseases which was cited 300 times just within one month of getting published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The statements from the University of HongKong come out when I stepped into the studio of Fox News in July. At that time they released the part of China's cover up, human to human transmission all of which I had already said way back when the university disregarded it all as being unscientific. I and my family got prosecuted by the government, the CCP threatened, monitored and controlled my family and ransacked through my house and the vice-chancellor of the university of Hong Kong recruit people to dig out information about me and contacted all my friends and contacts and tried slapping a criminal case on me. I cut off all contact with my family since July. They don’t know anything about what I am doing. Nobody stood up for me. Malik left the job immediately when I left Hong Kong. The University too, immediately deleted my HongKong credentials on their website. I took an annual leave of ten days when I left Hong Kong. With the weekend too, it should have lasted until May 11 I left HongKong on 28 April. This way it was easy to escape because i did not have to respond to anyone. But they shut down my portal, called the police and deleted my website. The HKU said my words were without scientific evidence when I told the public about the prosecution from CCP. How could my such an experience be scientific? And Leo Poon never responded to my words in public because he knew I have evidence. So is Malik Peiris. The week before I left, Malik was so excited for the 28 million HKD ($3.2 million) funding from Carrie Lam (HK government) of citizens anti-COVID19 antibodies screening project. But he retired immediately after I escaped.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>When did you realise that you were in danger?</b></p> <p>I knew I was in danger right from the moment I decided to give the message out. So, right from January to April I was in danger. Lu De helped me to keep everything a secret by himself volunteering to give out the message instead of me. It takes time for the China government to zero in on or target who is doing what. In Mid-April Mr Lu-de had the intelligence that I was in danger and that the government wanted to make me disappear. After that people from the Rule of Law Foundation helped me to escape from Hong Kong to the US.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are associated with the controversial businessman Guo Wengei and through him Steve Barron. How have they helped you?</b></p> <p>From the time I contact until I decide to leave I was only in touch with Mr Lu-dE. He was the one who called the director of the board, at Rule of Law Foundation and Mr XXX (he did not wish to be named) was the chairman of the RoLF and RoLS (Rule of Law Society) and my school supports this Foundation. Those at RoFL target Chinese Communist Party's bad things. People who donate money to the foundation support people and their behaviour to reveal the truth as the anti Chinese Communist Party. They helped me to come out with the truth and I will never discredit the support they've extended.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You're a post-doctoral researcher well-versed in the peer review system and its merits. But you still chose to publish your controversial paper on an open access site before having it peer reviewed. Why did you take that decision, especially knowing full well that it could affect the credibility of your paper.&nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> <p>Peer review does not mean that something needs fixing. It is also not an indication for good standards. So many to peer review journals, including Nature, New England Medical Journal, and more also have some negative past to them of faking data or giving out misinformation. Also, for peer reviewing any one journal they have their small group of experts for reviewing it using their expertise. But I said I knew the urgency. The pandemic is on us and we need to act faster. If i go to the peer review, i can tell you with guarantee that those many months and years. Also, i do not have to depend on the credibility of a journal. What I'm saying is fact and the truth. I show it to the world to do peer-review because this is related to us all as one world. And the government was behind my neck so for acting quick I did not indulge in peer reviewed journals.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But why did you not engage with the critics/sceptics including prominent virologists?</b></p> <p>I did whenever i was presented with an opportunity. Many media do not want to engage objectively with me. Also, I'm busy with the next scientific report. When it comes out, many lies from those prominent scientists will be revealed immediately.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Virologist David Robertson from the University of Glasgow shows that SARS-CoV-2 and its closest known ancestor, a virus called RATG13 has been circulating in Bat populations for decades.&nbsp;</b></p> <p>In my second paper I will tell you that the RATG13 is fabricated. And also my intelligence says that this virus never existed. While suggesting a natural origin for SARS-CoV-2, the RATG13 virus diverted the attention of both the scientific community and the public at large away from ZC45/ ZXC21. One of the publications also indicated that the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of the RATG13's spike protein could not bind ACE2 of two different types of Horseshoe bats implicating the inability of RaTG13 to infect horseshoe bats. This further substantiates the suspicion that the reported sequence of RaTG13 could have been fabricated as the spike protein does not seem to carry the said function.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What's the way forward from here?</b></p> <p>I'm right here in the US working on my second research paper. I can't wait to prove the lies that have surrounded the natural origin theory of the novel coronavirus.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Trump administration froze funds to WHO. Is that the right policy?</b></p> <p>Yes. The WHO gave out wrong and misplaced advisories, including that of not wearing masks, etc. They came to China several times yet they never visited the right hospitals and centres which could have helped get information. Unless we have the truth, we will not have the solutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Some say your research may be politically motivated.</b></p> <p>This is nothing to do with politics. It is about the truth. And if I don't tell the truth now, i won't be able to tell it ever. Because it is happening and I can see it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Did you have any previous run-ins with the government?</b></p> <p>None at all. I have been a very respected, awarded scientist. Before all of this, we got along supervisor, my peers. It has been a sort of dictatorship but we were used to with that life. I enjoyed my work and we also a lot of happy moments.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Are you living in fear right now?</b></p> <p>Not fear. I know that the CCP is targeting me. They are following me everywhere. They even knew of my previous apartment in New York when i had just landed here hence I had to change my apartment immediately after. But as of now I am under protection. Also, I don’t think the CCP will win against me.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>It seems that the Rule of Law Society connects with the Falun Gong religious cult. And that it is trying to spread the idea of artificial origins of SARS-CoV-2 as part of their anti China campaign. Do you think so?</b></p> <p>That is very naive. This is a legal organisation. You are free to make your judgement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you feel targeted by the scientific community across the world?</b></p> <p>Yes, they are targeting me. I can be killed any moment by the government. But I still want more and more people to talk about the origin of this virus and know the truth. Because this is not about me. It is about the truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Will you go back to HKU?</b></p> <p>No never. I won't take the flight to HK ever again. They will arrest me if I go there ever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You once said that you discovered a cover-up operation in Wuhan?</b></p> <p>From December 31 to 3rd Jan Wuhan government already knew more than 40 cases were there but claimed 27, said there was no human to human transmission . THE CCP agreed that the discovered the sequence on January 10 and they uploaded it to the NIH database think-tank which is a big database for the sequences of pathogens. The first time they uploaded a wrong one. The genome is a fingerprint. But two days later on January 13 the first overseas case happened in Thailand. that made the govt realise that people overseas also had the chance to know the sequence.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Version 1 can’t be analysed to be closed to Zhoushan bat coronavirus because of unusual errors inside. Later, the repealed version 1 came out ...The notes shows they had updated that sequence in database.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 14, version 2 came out. They removed or repealed the version 1 that time. Three days later, they extended the nucleotides with a long sequence and called it version 3. From 1 to 2 to 3 you can compare the similarity to Zhoushan bat coronavirus. So that repealed version 1 had gotten back again after I released the information and they said they had updated it to the version 3.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Is the Chinese state influencing studies on the Wuhan virus all over the world?</b><br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes absolutely. They strictly are in control of the clinical samples. Even in Hong Kong you cannot get the clinical sample. So for example i want to do antibody screening for some in area next to Wuhan , the government will not allow it. When i said we want to do asymptomatic study in China, the CCP party secretary of Guangzhou and head of Guangzhou CDC took the samples away. So, they, including the CDC director, are manipulating and controlling the studies. 33 environmental samples were collected by the state in Wuhan but no outside experts were there. They said they got already got he samples from the wet food market, cleaned it and shut it down.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Why don't any other scientists come in support of you?</b><br> </p> <p>They do. But the ones who do are not in China. There are three Chinese scientists in the US. Scientists from across the world have been supporting me via emails and texts and Twitter. But my social media profiles have been taken down and I'm not allowed to connect with anyone on these platforms.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How is life right now?</b></p> <p>Life right now is protected, safe and very hectic. I have been attacked twice already. But I have to do my next set of investigations, collaborate with people and live a simple, hardworking life right now.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 08 16:03:35 IST 2020 true-lies-false-truths <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&quot;The China virus.”  The words reach a crescendo as they roll out of President Donald Trump’s mouth, clearly showing his irritation. He is rebranding Covid-19 as the ‘China virus’ and has claimed, without any proof, that he has seen evidence that it was manufactured in China.</p> <p>Out of the darkness about how the virus left the city of Wuhan and spread across the world, a report from a Chinese virologist who fled to the US has gone viral among the conservative media in the United States. It fits well with Trump’s China virus mantra, which has become one of the mainstays of his reelection campaign.</p> <p>Is it all too convenient? Does the report stand up to scrutiny?</p> <p>The report titled “Unusual features of the SARS-CoV-2 genome suggesting sophisticated laboratory modification rather than natural evolution and delineation of its probable synthetic route” is authored by Dr Li-Meng Yan, a virologist who claims to be one of the world’s first scientists to have studied the new coronavirus and to have discovered that it originated in a People’s Liberation Army lab, though the report only alludes to it as a possibility.</p> <p>Yan fled Hong Kong saying she feared that she would disappear along with her evidence. “I have to hide because I know how they treat whistleblowers. As a whistleblower here I want to tell the truth of Covid-19 and the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” she told Fox News.</p> <p>The Yan report is presented in conjunction with Shu Kang, Jie Guan, and Shanchang Hu, all listed as PhDs with the Steve Bannon-run Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation, a group with no previous experience working on infectious diseases. Bannon was Trump’s chief strategist and was arrested recently on a fraud indictment. He was picked up from a yacht owned by renegade Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.</p> <p>Putting aside questionable political motivation, and there is certainly plenty to look at there, the report, though not technically inaccurate in many of its individual statements, spins a tale of possibilities about the origin of the Covid-19 virus based on unsupported claims, beliefs and unexplored anecdotes. It projects a sensational circumstance favourable to Trump’s political line.</p> <p>Couched in confusing scientific jargon, the report moves quickly to set up possibility as evidence. It leaves interpretations in the air and concludes by innuendo,  basically sowing doubt about the likelihood of current explanations and thus inferring that the virus is man-made. But the report fails on several levels to show that its findings are legitimate.</p> <p>“The evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 should be a laboratory product created by using bat coronaviruses,” says the report. Beyond that, the authors claim that a “synthetic route” to create the virus makes its laboratory creation “convenient,” and that they will demonstrate that it can be done in approximately six months.</p> <p>The writing shows that the authors derived their hypothesis by questioning the veracity of the theories about the origin of the virus. But it ignores evidence to the contrary. “Even if we ignore the above evidence that no proper host exists for the recombination to take place and instead assume that such a host does exist, it is still highly unlikely that such a recombination event could occur in nature,” says the report.</p> <p>Kristian Andersen, professor of immunology and microbiology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, disagrees. His research uses infectious disease genomics to investigate how pathogenic viruses emerge and cause large-scale outbreaks. Summarising a peer-reviewed study he co-published in the journal <i>Nature Medicine</i> in March, Andersen says, “By comparing the available genome sequence data for known coronavirus strains, we can firmly determine that SARS-CoV-2 originated through natural processes.”</p> <p>Andersen and his co-authors say the new virus likely emerged because of natural selection, a process by which organisms adapt to their environment to survive. Yan, however, chose to ignore Andersen’s study. “The receptor-binding motif (RBM) within the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, which determines the host specificity of the virus, resembles that of SARS-CoV from the 2003 epidemic in a suspicious manner. Genomic evidence suggests that the RBM has been genetically manipulated,” says the Yan report.</p> <p>Andersen’s team, however, looked specifically at the spike proteins and their gene sequences and found that “the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering”. Yan’s case for in-vitro manipulation of the virus ignored such contradictory findings.</p> <p>Andersen says Yan’s report lacks scientific merits. “It is non-scientific and false — cherry-picking data and ignoring data disproving their hypotheses. It is using technical language that is impossible to decode for non-experts — poppycock dressed up as ‘science’,” he tweeted.</p> <p>Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen thinks the analysis by Yan and her team did not adequately support their claims. “These claims are, to use some virology jargon, total horseshit,” tweeted Rasmussen. She told <i>The Daily Beast</i> that Yan’s claims were all circumstantial and that some of them were entirely fictional. She debunked Yan’s sensational claim that “the coronavirus’ genes are suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories,” asserting that the similarity was natural. Meanwhile, Carl T. Bergstrom, professor of biology at the University of Washington, says the Yan Report is a “bizarre and unfounded preprint”.</p> <p>There exists a gap between what the report actually says and the claim made by Yan in multiple televised interviews that she has proof that the Covid-19 virus was manufactured by the Chinese Communist Party in a Wuhan lab. “I can present solid scientific evidence to our audience that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is actually not from nature,” she told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on September 15. “It is a man-made virus created in the labì. The very unique bat coronavirus, which cannot affect people, becomes a very harmful virus after the modification.”</p> <p>A few days after it featured Yan, Fox News defended a defamation lawsuit in a Manhattan court, arguing that “no reasonable viewer takes Tucker Carlson seriously”. The judge accepted the argument and threw out the case. So, by the network’s own admission, the Tucker Carlson show is not one where you get the facts, yet that was where it chose to let Yan tell her story.</p> <p>In the end, Yan’s data does not support her conclusions. It reaches its goal of linking the message through a series of beliefs and suppositions. It does not demonstrate that it could be done, rather shows that it could possibly be done. Mere possibility, while sensational, is not probability, as it implies resources and motives not necessarily available.</p> <p>But the motives behind the report are raising eyebrows. <i>The Daily Beast</i> pointed out that “the Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation websites indicate that the organisations have not previously published scientific or medical research.” Machiavellian moves by Bannon no longer elicit surprise, but his involvement in the production and release of the Yan report suggests that it is part of a larger, coordinated political effort to advance the “China created the coronavirus” story.</p> <p>Twitter suspended Yan’s account for making false claims, while Facebook and Instagram flagged retweets of her Tucker Carlson interview. But the conservative media in the US has been repeating the report, despite the global scientific community questioning and rejecting her claims.</p> <p>“This preprint report cannot be given any credibility in its current form,” says Andrew Preston, an expert in microbial pathogenesis at the University of Bath in the UK. He told the BBC that Yan’s claims were unsubstantiated. Dr Michael Head of the University of Southampton says Yan did not offer any data that overrode previous research.</p> <p>It is unquestionable that Yan is now in the Bannon orbit, in that interconnected and interdependent world of politics and power, of information and allusion, of order and disorder, good and bad, truth and fiction. Unfortunately, Yan and her co-authors have put forth their hypothesis as a fact, a conclusion they reached by straying into confusion and assumptions, ignoring more likely paths.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 21:34:28 IST 2020 the-man-the-melange <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On July 6, 2000, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived in Kolkata to inaugurate the birth centenary celebrations of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, his political mentor. Vajpayee was Mookerjee’s secretary when he was the president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, who had sanctioned the use of the Netaji indoor stadium for the celebrations, and deputy chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee were invited to the function. But Basu was away in Israel, and the state cabinet gave the event a miss. A furious Vajpayee later told journalists that the leftists had insulted Bengal by boycotting the event. But then Mookerjee’s politics had always been unacceptable to a large section of the Indian political establishment, especially the left, as they believed that he promoted communal politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not all would, however, agree. Legendary communist and iconic parliamentarian Hiren Mukherjee wrote this in a tribute published by the parliament secretariat: “Mookerjee could not be glibly branded as a mere communalist, though in the heat of politics he often was. One could always discern the catholicity and, also within limitations, the rationality of his outlook. He cherished freedom of opinion and was far away from socialism, as one could be, but there was in him an innate liberalism. He made no bones about his Hindu Mahasabha links but he was a champion of civil liberties and kept himself above the narrowness of communal chauvinism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee saw himself as the defender of Hindu rights, especially in his homeland—the Muslim-majority Bengal province of British India. He felt the Congress was not standing up to the Muslim League, especially during the frequent communal riots in Bengal. And he was a trenchant critic of Mahatma Gandhi’s version of secularism. Many Congress leaders agreed with him on the issue, but they stayed silent out of deference to Gandhi. Mookerjee, eventually, got slotted as a communal leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1952, when they both were members of the first Lok Sabha, Mookerjee jokingly told Hiren Mukherjee, “Do you know Hiren, they have allotted accommodation to me at Tughlak Crescent, mind you, not on Tughlak Road. And, I don’t bat an eyelid, yet some people call me a communal Hindu.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FROM STUDIES TO STATECRAFT</b></p> <p>Mookerjee was born in 1901 into one of Calcutta’s most respected families. His father, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, had served as vice chancellor of Calcutta University and as a judge of the Calcutta High Court. After completing his BA Honours in English from Presidency College, Mookerjee went on to pursue his master’s degree in Bengali language as he wanted to promote his mother tongue. In 1925, he left for England to study law and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1927. Upon his return to India, he turned his focus to higher education and, in 1934, was appointed vice chancellor of Calcutta University. He played a leadership role at several other prominent institutions such as the Asiatic Society and the Indian Institute of Science.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Throughout his career as an educationist, Mookerjee had never been influenced by religious considerations. His family members told THE WEEK that Muslim academics from all over the country used to visit him at his south Calcutta residence. Some came seeking his support to maintain their schools, colleges and students. “Legendary Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam faced starvation at one point of time. It was Dr Mookerjee who saved his life,” said Anirban Ganguly, director of the Delhi-based Syama Prasad Mookerjee Foundation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee’s first brush with electoral politics came in 1929 when he was elected to the legislative assembly as a Congress candidate representing Calcutta University. He resigned a year later and got himself re-elected as an independent candidate after the Congress boycotted the assembly. Mookerjee became increasingly involved in politics after he was re-elected in the 1937 elections. He started associating himself with the Hindu Mahasabha, then headed by V.D. Savarkar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1937 elections resulted in a coalition government of the Muslim League and the Krishak Praja Party, a breakaway faction of the League headed by prime minister A.K. Fazlul Haq. Two decisions of the Haq government pushed Mookerjee deeper into politics. He was opposed to the decision to reserve half of the seats in the Calcutta corporation council for Muslims. Although Muslims were in majority in the province, they constituted less than 30 per cent of the city’s population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee was even more appalled by the government’s plan to remove Calcutta University from the supervisory role over secondary education in Bengal and give it to a board nominated by the government. He felt that it was a deliberate attempt to communalise the education sector. Despite his opposition, the Haq government passed the corporation bill, reserving 46 of 93 seats in the corporation council for Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BATTLE WITH BOSE</b></p> <p>After the corporation bill was passed, new elections were scheduled to be held in early 1940. Subhas Chandra Bose, who was forced to quit as Congress president at the 1939 Tripuri session of the All India Congress Committee because of his differences with Gandhi, saw the corporation elections as a platform to demonstrate his popular support. He had launched a pressure group called the Forward Bloc within the Congress; he proposed that the Bloc and the Mahasabha together fight the League in the corporation elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bose and his elder brother Sarat, who then headed the Bengal Congress, discussed the alliance with Mookerjee. Although Mookerjee supported the proposal enthusiastically, negotiations broke down at the last minute. The Mahasabha fought alone and won 50 per cent of the seats. “We defeated Subhas’s force whom Gandhi followers had feared to challenge,” wrote Mookerjee in the book Leaves from a Diary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bose, however, allied with the League to keep Mookerjee at bay. Shocked, Mookerjee wrote: “The great liberator and leftist who regarded Gandhi, Jawaharlal and the rest as moderates, and branded them as ‘compromise-wallahs’, was not hesitant to install a League mayor and placate the League for his own purposes. He was out to wage a relentless war on the League ministry in one breath, in another he was a warm and dear ally of the League while it ruled the corporation. Could Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde do any better?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bose, too, was shaken. The electoral drubbing and the uncomfortable alliance led to his leaving Calcutta to focus on the Azad Hind and the Indian National Army. In 1941, he left his homeland for the last time, via Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee, however, did not forgive Bose for what he felt was a betrayal of the Hindu cause. He accused Bose of being autocratic and even of committing financial irregularities, citing certain observations made by Congress leader B.C. Roy. “Dr Roy made an astounding statement that there have been serious financial irregularities on Subhas’s part,” wrote Mookerjee. “Monies received as purses presented to the president have mostly been appropriated by himself—while according to previous practice 75 per cent should have gone to provincial Congress funds and 25 per cent to the central fund.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SETTING THE SYLLABUS RIGHT</b></p> <p>The strong performance in the corporation election, however, established Mookerjee in Bengal politics. Soon, he became working president of the Mahasabha. In December 1941, when the Muslim League withdrew support to the Haq government, Mookerjee helped cobble together an alliance that propped up Haq and kept the League out. He became the finance minister in the new government. To this day, Mookerjee’s detractors cite this experiment to bolster the allegation that he got into bed with the Muslim League for the sake of power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In March 1942, when the education bill was taken up by the cabinet for discussion, Mookerjee told governor John Herbert that it was being proposed because of political reasons. He said the secondary education board should not be in the hands of the proposed 18-member political committee, which would be dominated by Muslim bodies, but should be controlled by government officials. The government was forced to drop the bill because of Mookerjee’s opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bill was proposed again in 1944. By then, Mookerjee had resigned his ministership and Khwaja Nazimuddin of the League was the prime minister. He continued to oppose the bill and threatened that if it was passed, he would launch a movement demanding a separate secondary board for Hindus. After listening to Mookerjee’s arguments, governor Richard Casey asked the cabinet to consider whether the bill would lead to communal disturbances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nazimuddin thought the bill was important to checkmate Mookerjee and told the governor that his government had the support of the scheduled castes as well. “Dr Mookerjee would find it difficult to create any communal feeling. The teachers already have been attracted by the DA hike and would get substantial grants in improving schools,” said Nazimuddin, according to declassified cabinet documents. The governor, however, listened to Mookerjee’s objections and sent the bill to the director of public instruction. The government was ultimately forced to drop the bill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SPARRING WITH SAVARKAR</b></p> <p>Despite allegations that Mookerjee was a product of the Savarkar ideology, he was never a blind follower. Mookerjee had a mixed relationship with Savarkar. He was angry that Savarkar chose to ignore the Mahasabha’s decision to launch direct action if Britain failed to honour its promise of complete transfer of power. “I had joined Mahasabha in the full belief that I would not hesitate to fight the government at the right moment and thus pave the way ourselves towards national freedom,” wrote Mookerjee. He felt Savarkar had no desire to popularise the Mahasabha; he quit the party after Savarkar refused to initiate reform measures and give membership to liberal Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE QUIT INDIA CONTROVERSY</b></p> <p>Mookerjee’s critics maintain that he betrayed the Quit India movement by joining hands with the British. While he was initially opposed to the movement, declassified documents reveal that Mookerjee’s resignation from the provincial cabinet on November 20, 1942, was largely influenced by the brutal crackdown the British administration unleashed against Congress leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 1942, governor Herbert informed the Bengal cabinet that viceroy Lord Linlithgow had declared the Congress an unlawful organisation and that there would be a stringent crackdown against the party. Haq said he agreed with the viceroy. Mookerjee was the only cabinet member to oppose the decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It is essential to appeal both to people and British government through the viceroy. The attempt might fail but it would be a noble failure. And if the ministers fail, they might have to resign,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee wanted to meet Gandhi in jail, but was denied permission. He wrote to the viceroy that the demand of self-rule by the Congress was a demand of all Indians. “What is regarded as the most unfortunate decision on the part of the British government was its refusal to negotiate with Mahatma Gandhi, even after he gave his emphatic assurance that the movement would not start until all avenues for an honourable settlement had been explored.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his letter, Mookerjee listed a series of conditions to be followed by the Indian national government if Britain granted independence to the country. One of the proposals was about the importance of guaranteeing minority rights. “There will be a treaty between Great Britain and India which will specially deal with minority rights,” he wrote. “In any case, any minority will have the right to refer any proposal regarding the future constitution to the arbitration of an international tribunal, in case it considers such a step to be necessary for the protection of its rights. The decision of such a tribunal will be binding on the Indian government and on the minority concerned.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the letter went unanswered, Mookerjee continued in office for only a few more months. A devastating cyclone hit Midnapore in early November, and Mookerjee felt that the relief and rescue efforts organised by the governor were inadequate. It was the last straw for him and he submitted his resignation on November 20.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FACE OFF WITH FAMINE</b></p> <p>The dreadful famine, which devastated the Bengal province in 1943 and 1944, saw the death of more than 50 lakh people. Mookerjee had warned the cabinet in July 1942 that governor Herbert was misleading the viceroy about the food situation in Bengal. “Since the military is lifting huge amounts of resources, it would be required to send fresh statistics to the government of India,” he said, according to declassified files. Mookerjee strongly criticised the government’s decision to divert rice from Bengal to British troops in the Gulf and Ceylon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the governor denied the allegation, Mookerjee revealed that the decision was made by the concerned joint secretary in connivance with the Muslim League, without consulting the minister. “The joint secretary had without sufficient examination given the contract to an agent who had no organisation for doing the work and was effecting purchases at government expense through representatives of the Muslim League,” said Mookerjee. The Haq ministry was dismissed by the governor in March 1943 and a Muslim League government headed by Nazimuddin was appointed in its place. The new government constituted a civil supplies department to tackle the food crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to declassified papers, Bengal exported two lakh tonnes of rice in 1942, despite the threat posed by World War II. Madras and Bombay, the other two major provinces, had set up channels to purchase and distribute food. But Bengal kept on exporting its rice stocks. “Calcutta had a large European commercial community which controlled the distribution of rice. Rice was exported by Shaw Wallace &amp; Co, which was meant for industrial workers. Export to the Gulf, too, continued unabated,” said the declassified files. Suhrawardy, meanwhile, kept open inter-district and inter-regional rice trade, despite opposition from Nazimuddin. Suhrawardy said the alarming situation in the rural areas forced him to keep trade channels open. But the government reserves ran out in no time. Suhrawardy then imposed fresh agriculture tax and also hiked sales tax, causing the prices to skyrocket, accentuating the effects of food shortage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To deal with the crisis, Mookerjee set up an organisation called the Bengal Relief Committee. He also launched an agitation against the government’s inept handling of the crisis. Nazimuddin recognised what Mookerjee was doing; in an oblique criticism of Suhrawardy, he said that Mookerjee would have lost his face had the food ministry been able to show some result.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In December 1944, Suhrawardy himself admitted failure and acknowledged the good work done by Mookerjee. “Because the government failed to step in to control and coordinate the activities of relief work, the Bengal Relief Committee and the Hindu Mahasabha took the lead in the matter of relief and acquired a disproportionate amount of authority and prestige,” said Suhrawardy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>RIOTS MOST FOUL</b></p> <p>Suhrawardy’s mischief was not just limited to the civil supplies department. Declassified files show that he played a leading role in instigating communal riots on August 16, 1946, which was observed as Direct Action Day by the Muslim League, demanding the creation of Pakistan. There was widespread rioting across Calcutta, Howrah and 24 Parganas, in which thousands of people lost their lives. The number of Hindu casualties was higher as Suhrawardy took control of the police control room at Lal Bazar and directed police action. Mookerjee requested governor Fredrick Burrows to deploy the army, but it was delayed because of Suhrawardy’s intervention, resulting in more death and destruction. With no official help forthcoming, Mookerjee organised defence and counterattack teams for Hindus with the support of the city’s Marwari groups. Communal riots broke out a few months later in Noakhali, located in present-day Bangladesh. The situation was so dire that Gandhi rushed to Noakhali to bring the situation under control. In his report to governor Burrows, Suhrawardy accepted that a large number of Hindus were forcibly converted. “They were being fed and looked after in their villages, but they were being kept there virtually as prisoners,” wrote Suhrawardy. Mookerjee, too, wrote to the governor, highlighting the violence and conversions and, for the first time, demanded the partition of Bengal to protect Hindu interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>PANGS OF PARTITION</b></p> <p>The seeds of Bengal’s partition were sown during the time of the great famine. But it was kept in check by Suhrawardy and Sarat Bose, who were working hard to keep the province united. Bose’s grand-niece Madhuri wrote in her book The Bose Brothers that Congress workers in Bengal were opposed to partition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In May 1947, the majority of Congressmen in Bengal remained in favour of a free and united Bengal. Those not in favour were influenced by the pro-partition propaganda largely financed by the Hindu Marwari capitalists of Calcutta, with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha as the main spokesman,” wrote Madhuri, quoting her father Amiya Nath Bose. Madhuri, a human rights lawyer based in Geneva, told THE WEEK that the Bose brothers—Sarat and Subhas—were Indian nationalists whereas Mookerjee was a Hindu nationalist. “The disagreements and conflicts that arose between them can be explained by this fundamental difference,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Madhuri said including Suhrawardy in the united Bengal movement possibly did hurt the cause. “But for Sarat, achieving his goal of keeping Bengal united was paramount and he was ready to reach out to those he believed shared this goal no matter what their personal interests were,” she said. Mookerjee, however, trumped both Sarat and Suhrawardy using his influence in Delhi with Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. Both leaders wanted to retain Calcutta at any cost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE POLARISATION DEBATE</b></p> <p>Mookerjee remained a deeply polarising figure throughout his political career. He was not a blind dogmatist, but he feared that his homeland was facing the threat of creeping Islamisation orchestrated by the Muslim League and facilitated by the British government. The demographics of Calcutta—a Hindu majority city located in a Muslim majority province—indeed affected and shaped his thinking. He fought against giving Muslims reservation and other concessions. He took strong exception to the fact that government departments often ignored merit and used religion as a criterion for recruitment. In 1943, the Bengal Public Service Commission published a report on recruitment practices in the province. It revealed that the home department, for instance, often recruited only Muslim candidates from the merit list given by the commission, ignoring higher-ranking Hindu candidates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even after India became independent, the ‘Hindu in danger’ theme remained close to his heart. When he contested the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952 from the Calcutta South East constituency, the plight of Hindus in East Pakistan was his key campaign plank.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>TRYST WITH THE CONGRESS</b></p> <p>Mookerjee wrote in his diary that Patel, Nehru and others had persuaded him to join the Congress because of his courageous efforts to retain parts of Bengal, especially Calcutta, with India, but he politely turned it down. He had his share of ideological differences with Gandhi on issues ranging from his economic philosophy, the Congress position on the Muslim League and on the status of Hindi as national language. Mookerjee believed that spinning wheels could resolve the issue of India’s clothing shortage, but it was not enough to make the country a great economic power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1946, when the AICC session was held in Calcutta, Mookerjee was unwell and all senior Congress leaders except Gandhi visited him at his home. Gandhi sent him a note in Hindi before leaving Calcutta. And, Mookerjee replied in Bengali.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee was part of independent India’s first cabinet headed by Nehru. “Most people are unaware of the fact that Gandhi and Patel asked Nehru to include Dr Mookerjee in the first cabinet,” said Ganguly of the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Foundation. Mookerjee worked for three years as minister of commerce and industries and prepared the blueprint for several major industrial projects like the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, the Sindhri Fertiliser Corporation and the Hindustan Aircraft Factory. He quit in 1950 saying India was not doing enough to protect the Hindu minority in Pakistan. A year later, he launched the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee then turned his attention towards achieving Kashmir’s total integration into India. Non-Kashmiris required a permit to visit the state back then. Mookerjee chose to challenge the rule and was arrested on May 11, 1953, upon entering Kashmir. He was held in preventive detention, a provision against which he had vociferously protested in Parliament. As he was suffering from chronic rheumatoid pleurisy and heart ailments, he was soon shifted to a nursing home in Srinagar. But his condition deteriorated and he breathed his last on June 23. Despite multiple requests for an inquiry into his death, there was no probe, and his death remains controversial to this day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We differed sometimes very deeply on many issues and we agreed too on many issues and it is a matter of peculiar regret and grief to me that in the last days of his life an occasion arose on which there was very considerable difference between him and me,” Nehru told the Lok Sabha after Mookerjee’s death. “However, we are deprived of the personality who had played such a notable and great part in the country and who was after all fairly young and who had a large and good stretch of years before him. But that was not to be.</p> Sat Sep 26 15:33:42 IST 2020 bjp-governments-should-have-probed-mookerjee-death <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Was Mookerjee a secularist?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Secularism is a much abused word and I am not going to use it. I am giving you examples. It was Mookerjee who brought Hassan Suhrawardy—elder brother of the first Pakistani prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was blamed for the Calcutta and Noakhali riots—to Calcutta University as professor of fine arts. Hassan, back then, was a professor of English in St Petersburg, Russia, and Mookerjee, as vice chancellor, wanted him to fill the post vacated by Rabindranath Tagore’s cousin Abanindranath. The famous Bengali poet Jasimuddin was able to complete his studies only because Mookerjee arranged a scholarship for him. Yet, Mookerjee got a raw deal ultimately as he was branded a communalist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is it not wrong to say that Mookerjee did not support the Quit India movement?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He did not support the Quit India movement. But leaders like B.R. Ambedkar and C. Rajagopalachari, too, were not in favour of the movement. What perhaps gave you the impression that Mookerjee supported the movement was a letter he wrote to viceroy Lord Linlithgow, acknowledging the patriotic sentiment of the movement. He opposed the atrocities unleashed on Congress workers. He wanted the British to quit, but he realised that there was no one to whom they could have handed over power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later in 1947, India saw the problems associated with the transfer of power. The country had to be partitioned. The Quit India movement had a dangerous effect on Bengal as Muslims and communists had a field day, (as) Congressmen (were) in jail. They propagated their views openly as a result of that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But Mookerjee resigned from the Bengal cabinet because of the oppression against Congress workers.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think that was the only reason. A tsunami had hit Midnapore, causing huge destruction. But Mookerjee was not allowed to visit the place. As the British government failed to undertake a proper rescue operation, he took on the governor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you assess Mookerjee’s relations with Subhas Chandra Bose?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mookerjee had practically no interaction with Subash Bose except during the corporation election in 1940. Personally, I feel that a leader of Bose’s stature should not have stooped so low to interfere in corporation politics. Earlier there was some talk of a coalition between the Hindu Mahasabha and the Congress for the corporation election, but it did not work out. Bose threatened Mookerjee that he would break his organisation, by force if needed. But their paths crossed barely for a year. Bose left India in January 1941 and never returned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What about Sarat Chandra Bose?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Mountbatten became viceroy in 1947, the Congress accepted the partition proposal. Mookerjee categorically said that Hindus could not be a part of Pakistan and that if India had to be partitioned, Bengal should also be partitioned. We, Bengali Hindus, are all grateful to him for this. We would have been Pakistani citizens but for him and would have been killed in state-sponsored pogroms. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Suhrawardy and Liaquat Ali Khan did not want to give up Calcutta, which was then India’s number one city. As they saw Mookerjee winning, floated the idea of a united, independent, sovereign Bengal and they managed to get Sarat Bose on their side. But by that time, Bose was a politically discredited person.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>So, if the Congress had accepted the partition proposal, why is Mookerjee alone being hailed as the founder of West Bengal?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is primarily because Mookerjee was then the undisputed leader of Bengal on the issue of partition. The Congress did not have a leader of Mookerjee’s stature after the departure of Subhas Bose. Mookerjee was the man who initiated the ‘Save Bengal, save Hindu’movement and he continued with it till the end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why did Calcutta forget him?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a canard floated by the communists that he was not popular in Calcutta. When he became minister in Nehru’s cabinet, the city cheered him and there was a long queue from Howrah station till the Howrah bridge to receive him. After he resigned, too, there was a huge gathering in Calcutta to receive him. There were reasons behind it. Chittaranjan Locomotive Works and Damodar Valley Corporation were his contributions as cabinet minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After his death, although his coffin reached the Calcutta airport in the middle of the night, a huge crowd had assembled to pay their last respects. It took seven hours to complete the journey from the airport to his house, which normally takes just 45 minutes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Was Mookerjee a mass leader?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course. Otherwise how could he have swayed the people of Bengal on the issue of partition and the entire nation over Kashmir? The whole country erupted when he took major political steps, first against the British and then against the Congress government in free India. There was a similar reaction after his death as well. People cutting across party lines paid him moving tributes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>His death remains mysterious.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is really mysterious is that there was no inquiry after his death. His death in custody came soon after he was heralded by The Illustrated Weekly of India as a likely successor to Nehru, preferred over prominent leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan in a survey. He died under questionable circumstances. There had been five inquiries about Netaji’s disappearance. Gandhi’s assassination was also thoroughly investigated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why was Mookerjee’s death not investigated?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru stonewalled it with his brute majority despite requests by senior leaders like Nirmal Chatterjee and H.V. Kamath. Nehru and home minister K.N. Katju prevented it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why non-Congress governments, too, chose not to investigate?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1977 Janata Party government was totally confused. However, I agree that the Vajpayee government should have set up an inquiry commission. That argument is valid for the present government as well, but most of the evidence (is) probably lost by now.</p> Fri Sep 25 18:59:04 IST 2020 mookerjee-hindu-nationalism-could-cause-riots-in-kolkata-today <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>How do you look at the tussle between the legacies of Subhas Chandra Bose and Syama Prasad Mookerjee?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No comparison could be drawn between Netaji and Mookerjee. There is no doubt that Mookerjee was a great academician and a Hindu nationalist. But Netaji was a world leader and a secular man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Kolkata port has been renamed after Mookerjee.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was no need. The Kolkata dock was named after Netaji because he went abroad twice from there. I am not perturbed because it has been named after Mookerjee, but I am disturbed that the name of Netaji dock has been changed. This is unacceptable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Forward Bloc went to court against it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was also not required. I do not think it is a matter for the courts to decide. It is a question of morality and ethics. There are many other things which could be named after Mookerjee. Calcutta has a long road in his name.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How do you describe Mookerjee’s role in history?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not want to insult Mookerjee. But it is a fact that he opposed the Quit India movement. The Central government celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday with so much fanfare, so then how could you mix that with Mookerjee’s politics? Here lies the contradiction. Also, his politics in Bengal was not at all good for Hindu-Muslim unity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But many people think of him as the creator of West Bengal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not agree. People who should be credited for the partition of Bengal are Jawaharlal Nehru, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Louis Mountbatten.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But Mookerjee made a massive effort for it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then so be it. But if Nehru did not want partition, it would not have happened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your family wanted a unified and independent Bengal.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We did. We wanted a secular and independent Bengal. The partition of Bengal was a wrong move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But look at what happened to West and East Pakistan.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whatever happened in Pakistan was caused by radical forces there. If Bengal was united, such things would not have happened, at least in East Pakistan. Do not forget that Pakistan was a secular state so long as Jinnah was alive. In India, we faced Sikh radicalism and Hindu radicalism along with Islamic jihadism. What would you say about the people who destroyed Babri Masjid? Are they not radicals?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>But how would you define the Muslim League and a man like Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, who should have been indicted for the Calcutta and Noakahali riots?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I agree. My grandfather and granduncle wanted a safe distance from both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. They considered them two sides of the same coin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If that is so, why did Sarat Bose join hands with Suhrawardy?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not agree with his decision. But it was an emotional decision. He could not accept the partition of Bengal, which he thought would bring mindless misery to common people. In fact, he was right. But could he have done otherwise? The opposite side was led by Mookerjee, which was equally lethal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, Netaji had sent my father (Amiya Nath Bose) to Gandhi in 1937 to persuade him to accept a coalition between the Congress and Fazlul Haq’s party. But he could not go as he was suffering from an asthma attack. The Congress did a massive blunder by not accepting that proposal. Had that been accepted, it would have kept the Muslim League in check in Bengal for a decade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You do not consider Mookerjee a legend?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not think of it that way. Of course, Mookerjee made a huge contribution in Kashmir. He was an extremely bright academician and his contribution in Kashmir was extremely memorable and we should cherish that. A man launching such a movement and dying because of that was definitely a big contribution. But that does not mean we should not point out what he got wrong. His Hindu nationalism should not be replicated in Bengal today. In fact, it would be a dangerous idea to propagate such an ideology today. There will be riots in Kolkata if we apply such principles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Mookerjee did not have a cordial relationship with your grandfather or granduncle.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It does not matter. They do not require any certificate. Mookerjee was a great scholar. He was respected for that. But in Bengal he messed up his own politics. He lacked political acumen. There was no need to create East Pakistan. He could have fought for merging undivided Bengal with India. People would have remembered him forever for that. We think it was a political blunder that time. And, yes, unfortunately the Congress was a part of that blunder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said Mookerjee’s ideology was just the opposite of Gandhi’s ideology. But Gandhi also opposed Subhas Bose strongly.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That rivalry was not personal, but was based on some small issues. Rivalry between Mookerjee and the Bose brothers was ideological. Both Netaji and Gandhi were the most secular people India had ever seen. Netaji never compromised with communalism. He rejected the idea of different kitchens for Hindus and Muslims in the Azad Hind Fauj. Gandhi knew all these.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father told me an interesting story. Gandhi did not take part in the first Independence day celebrations as he did not accept partition. He was in Calcutta and then went to Pune. Sarojini Naidu was with him. My father went to Pune and met with Gandhi. He told Gandhi that had he interfered strongly, partition could have been avoided. Gandhi said everyone wanted to become prime minister and that he could not do much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When my father was about to leave, Gandhi told him, “Amiya, I think I backed the wrong horse. I should have backed Subhas.”My father broke down hearing that.</p> Fri Sep 25 18:55:51 IST 2020 the-jana-sangh-ideas-and-objectives-were-different-from-that-of-the-bjp <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was my uncle and he lived in our family mansion at 77 Asutosh Mookerjee Road, Kolkata. I am somewhat diffident to write at length about someone who was so closely related. Our grandfather, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, died a few years before I was born. But when I was young, the memory of Sir Asutosh and his influence still prevailed in our family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle used to speak often about the values and ideals of his father. While he was in Calcutta, my uncle remained extremely busy. He met a stream of visitors from all walks of life every morning. Former president of India Dr S. Radhakrishnan was one of his close friends. I have seen him visiting my uncle immediately after he returned from his morning walk. My uncle spent his days in Calcutta attending meetings at Calcutta University and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle was totally relaxed when we were at our holiday home in Madhupur. He enjoyed playing bridge with his friends and with youngsters from our family. He also loved to recount the stories of his younger days. While he was in England, he and his friends used to hold seances (a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead). Occasionally they were disturbed by an evil spirit. My uncle had then sought the advice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the famous Sherlock Holmes series) who advised him against holding further seances. My uncle enjoyed home-cooked food when he was in a relaxed mood and would even suggest some of the recipes. As he became more and more engrossed in politics, his light-hearted company with us became rare.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle was from the field of education and he later entered active politics. After the 1937 general elections, A.K. Fazlul Haq first joined hands with the Muslim League to form the government in Bengal. Communal tension between the two major communities was on the rise. The Congress split in Bengal and there was a leadership vacuum in the legislative assembly and outside. My uncle was compelled to assume the leadership of the Hindus who were facing danger from the communal politics of the Muslim League. In December 1939, he joined the Hindu Mahasabha and gradually became a national leader. He was never communal and maintained his friendship with prominent Muslim leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle was a great orator and an able parliamentarian. After Haq broke away from the Muslim League, Sarat Chandra Bose (elder brother of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) and my uncle joined hands with him to form the Progressive Coalition Party. Haq became prime minister and my uncle became finance minister. Sarat Bose was also to be a minister, but he was arrested before he could take oath. Under his direction, two of his followers were made ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is totally untrue that Syama Prasad Mookerjee ever joined hands with the Muslim League. As a minister, my uncle frequently clashed with Bengal governor Sir John Herbert. His letters to the governor and the viceroy were banned when they were published. After Haq resigned and the Muslim League came back to power, Bengal faced the great famine. My uncle organised relief measures and he exposed, on the floor of the legislature, the lapses and wrongdoings of the government’s food policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Communal tension continued to rise in Bengal and the rest of India. My uncle had campaigned throughout India against Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s demand for Pakistan. But when partition became inevitable and the whole of Bengal was claimed by the Muslim League as East Pakistan, my uncle took a prominent part in demanding that at least a part of Bengal should remain with India. He used to say, “Jinnah divided India, but I divided East Pakistan by retaining a part of the Bengal presidency within the Indian Union.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle successfully opposed the creation of a sovereign Bengal as advocated by Sarat Bose and S.H. Suhrawardy. It was largely because of his leadership that a part of Bengal became what is now known as West Bengal under the Radcliffe Award. My uncle was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and its proceedings have recorded his speeches and suggestions while the Indian Constitution was being framed. He had vehemently opposed amendments of Article 19 and 31, which curtailed civil liberties and the right to property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle was minister of industries in the first Union cabinet after independence. He resigned when Jawaharlal Nehru made a pact with Pakistan prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan regarding the migration of refugees from East Pakistan into India. After the first general elections, my uncle was elected to the Lok Sabha; although he was not formally designated so, he was the de facto leader of opposition. He frequently clashed with Nehru over his policies, particularly towards Pakistan. He formed a new party called the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The ideas and objectives of the Jana Sangh, however, are not the same as that of the Bharatiya Janata Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My uncle was arrested when he tried to enter Kashmir and was detained in Srinagar. Nehru then went to London for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference and Syama Prasad Mookerjee died in Srinagar. Nehru refused the request made by my grandmother for an inquiry into the circumstances of his death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The message on the morning of June 24, 1953—the news of his death—was conveyed in a rather garbled way by a telephone operator to my father in Calcutta. I recall my father going to Dr B.C. Roy to ascertain correctly the news of his demise. Many prominent physicians in Calcutta and elsewhere had criticised the treatment given to my uncle in Srinagar. Our family was not informed when my uncle had taken ill and was hospitalised. His detention was totally unconstitutional.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author, who is Mookerjee’s nephew, was chief justice of Calcutta and Bombay High Courts.</b></p> Fri Sep 25 18:52:15 IST 2020 divide-and-conquer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Kolkata Raj Bhavan wore a festive look on July 6, despite the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar hosted the celebrations to mark the birth anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the BJP’s predecessor. It was for the first time that Mookerjee’s memory was honoured at the Raj Bhavan. For decades, he had remained largely forgotten in his hometown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhankhar has also installed Mookerjee’s portrait at the Raj Bhavan. Although his portrait was unveiled in the Parliament’s Central Hall way back in 1991, no such honour was bestowed on him by the West Bengal government. “I need to recognise the monumental contributions of this great man, who is in a league of three greats with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr B.R. Ambedkar,” said Dhankhar. With only months left for assembly elections in West Bengal, it is hard to miss the political undertones of the move. Dhankhar, however, said he was only acknowledging Mookerjee’s contributions just like the Union government did with its decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status, which was one of Mookerjee’s life’s missions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I went to the National Library and saw a video presentation on 100 years of Indian nationalism. Four nationalists of Bengal—Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee—were part of it,” said Dhankhar. But there was nothing in the Raj Bhavan—a building frequented by Mookerjee, often to lock horns with the British governors over his pet causes. “A full-size portrait befitting Dr Mookerjee’s stature will soon be installed at the Raj Bhavan,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But opinion is divided in Bengal about reviving Mookerjee’s legacy. The Forward Bloc, the political outfit launched by Subhas Bose, has approached the Calcutta High Court against the Narendra Modi government’s decision to rename the Kolkata port after Mookerjee. The party, which is part of the left front, pointed out that there was already a dock in the Kolkata port named after Bose. “The Central government is blind. It did not mind belittling Subhas Bose by renaming the Kolkata port as Syama Prasad Mookerjee port. It has no idea that a dock inside the port is named after Bose. How could Bose live under Mookerjee even after death? This is rubbish,” said Naren Chatterjee, state secretary of the Forward Bloc.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee said the people of Bengal would never accept Mookerjee as a legend. “Why should we call him a patriot?” he asked. “Was he jailed during the freedom struggle? He sided with the British government. If the prime minister wants to keep Mookerjee’s name for the port, he must withdraw Bose’s name from the dock.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee was quick to find support from the CPI(M). Sujan Chakraborty, CPI(M) central committee member, said Bengal thought of Mookerjee as a traitor, rather than a freedom fighter like Bose. “He has no place in the history of our state. Naming the port after him is nothing but recognising a Hindu nationalist who compromised with the British,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Historical facts, however, show that Bengal never really turned its back on Mookerjee. His death in 1953 shocked the state. When his dead body was brought to Kolkata from Srinagar, people across party lines paid their respects. Jyoti Basu, who was then the leader of the undivided Communist Party of India, too, was among them. Basu—who was a member of the provincial assembly in British Bengal, along with Mookerjee—never went hammer and tongs against the Jana Sangh leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senior Congress leader B.C. Roy, the second chief minister of West Bengal and Mookerjee’s personal physician, demanded a probe into Mookerjee’s death by a Supreme Court judge. But the request was turned down as it would have brought Kashmir under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, which was politically not possible at the time. A frustrated Roy then travelled to Kashmir and visited the place where Mookerjee was lodged after his arrest and the hospital where he died. He also spoke to Dr Ali Jan, who had treated Mookerjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said Roy’s relations with Jawaharlal Nehru went downhill after his Kashmir visit. Back in Calcutta, Roy erected two statues in Mookerjee’s memory and named one of the longest roads in the city and also a college after him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But after the left front came to power, Mookerjee’s name started fading in the city. “The communists taught foreign history and erased the episode of Bengal’s partition from the syllabus. And they did everything possible to delete the name of Syama Prasad Mookerjee from the Bengali intellect,” said Anirban Ganguly, director of the Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ganguly, who is a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, said the Modi government would soon include Mookerjee’s contributions in the syllabus of Central education boards. “But what is causing deep anguish is that the man who created the state of West Bengal has not yet found a place in the textbooks of his own state,” he said. He said the left front governments and the Mamata Banerjee regime were equally responsible for ignoring Mookerjee’s contributions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dhankhar said Mookerjee’s life, nationalistic convictions and thoughts deserved to be a part of the academic syllabus at the Central and state levels. “His life story and undaunted nationalistic spirit would infuse our young, impressionable minds with inspiration and motivation,” he said. “Convincing Rabindranath Tagore to give a convocation address in Bengali in an English-oriented institution like Calcutta University was such a feat and because of him the vernacular language was introduced as a subject for the highest examination of the university. Significantly, this facet is reflected in the National Education Policy 2020.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh said if the BJP came to power in the state in 2021, Mookerjee’s contributions would make its way into the syllabus in a big way. “His contribution would be told to everyone across the urban and rural belts of Bengal. We will ensure that. The idea of leftism in textbooks will be a thing of the past,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh, a former RSS pracharak, said he grew up learning about the fiery movement led by Mookerjee in Bengal before partition. He said it was M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, who inspired Mookerjee to start the Jana Sangh. “Mookerjee wanted efficient and honest human resource which the RSS gave him once he floated the party. That tradition still goes on,” said Ghosh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The memory and legacy of Mookerjee is a critical element in the BJP’s strategy to win the 2021 assembly polls. Said Ghosh at a rally commemorating Mookerjee’s birth anniversary, “A slap would now be met with a slap, a brick would be met with a brick and a fight would be met with a bigger fight. This is what Syama Prasad Mookerjee taught us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP hopes to educate the young generation about the role played by Mookerjee in facilitating the partition of Bengal and on the issue of refugees. “We are working to infuse young minds with Mookerjee’s ideology,” he said. “We tell them that without him, we would have been part of East Pakistan and Bangladesh and would have been subject to forced religious conversion. We also tell them the story of how Hindu women were raped there. You may find it communal, but it is the reality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As outlined by Ghosh, the BJP’s key campaign theme for next year’s elections is Mookerjee’s work for persecuted Hindu refugees and linking the issue with the Citizenship Amendment Act. The party is filling up Kolkata and the countryside with pictures and posters of Mookerjee, equating him with Swami Vivekananda, Tagore and other Bengali renaissance men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, right in time for the elections, the party is demanding the Bharat Ratna for Mookerjee. “We are asking the Central government to award Mookerjee the Bharat Ratna,” said Ghosh. “He is one of the greatest Bengalis in independent India who was not honoured with the award. We have appealed to our government and will continue to do that till we achieve our goal.”</p> Fri Sep 25 18:43:20 IST 2020 lost-in-the-woods <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The drug world, according to the Mumbai Police, uses certain codes for the banned substances. Alia Bhatt means cocaine; Anushka Sharma, hashish; Kangana Ranaut, afeem (opium); Katrina Kaif, smack; Nargis Fakhri, ecstasy; and Priyanka Chopra, LSD. “The names of drugs keep changing as it is a strategy to throw the cops off guard,” said Yashpal Purohit, a Bombay High Court lawyer who has handled several drug cases in Mumbai and Pune.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nomenclature aside, the Narcotics Control Bureau does seem to be hot on the trail of a drug cartel that allegedly has ties with Bollywood. On September 8, the bureau arrested actor Rhea Chakraborty, the former girlfriend of the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act for procuring and consuming drugs. She is currently in 14-day judicial custody at Mumbai’s Byculla jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its remand application, the NCB said that Rhea was “an active member of a drug syndicate connected with drug supplies”. It said that her WhatsApp messages indicated that she bought the drugs along with Sushant and gave instructions in this regard to his house manager Samuel Miranda, house help Dipesh Sawant and her brother Showik Chakraborty. On September 11, Rhea was denied bail. If found guilty, she could be jailed for up to ten years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCB’s case hinges on 59 grams of curated marijuana found on alleged drug peddlers Abbas Ramzan Ali Lakhani and Karan Arora, who were arrested on August 28, and their alleged links with those close to Sushant. The NCB has arrested Showik, Miranda and Sawant and 15 others in the case. Rhea reportedly revealed the names of several Bollywood celebrities during interrogation, but NCB officials said these cannot be disclosed at the moment. However, an official involved in the probe said that the names would be investigated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources said that Rhea also admitted to Sushant smoking weed depending on his mood and the drug’s availability. The payment, allegedly, was made from the cards of either Rhea or Sushant. NCB sources also said that Showik used to provide details of the supplier who was supposed to come outside Sushant’s house and deliver the drugs to Sawant and Miranda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Rhea has reportedly admitted to communicating with all the accused to procure drugs for Sushant, her lawyer Satish Maneshinde has dismissed the allegations, saying his client was being harassed for “loving a drug addict”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Bollywood’s latest potboiler is playing out in news studios, other hubs of Indian film industry have their own drug-addled sagas to unpack. The past few months have seen the police swooping down on dealers, confiscating huge caches of drugs and knocking on the doors of the rich and the famous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sandalwood drug scandal, for instance, jolted Bengaluru out of its pandemic slumber. Earlier this month, the central crime branch of the Bengaluru city police arrested two Kannada actors—Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanaa Galrani—as part of its investigation into a major drug racket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In its first information report, the Bengaluru police named Ragini and 11 others, including the son of a former minister, who have been booked under the NDPS Act and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code for buying, possessing, distributing and using banned drugs at rave parties, as well as for criminal conspiracy. The crime branch has been adding names to the list by interrogating arrested drug dealers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The actors’ arrests came after the NCB’s Bengaluru unit arrested three drug dealers—former television actor D. Anikha and her associates Mohammad Anoop and R. Ravindran—on August 21. The officers confiscated a huge cache of MDMA pills and LSD blots from their homes in the city. During interrogation, Anikha allegedly admitted that she had supplied drugs to prominent Sandalwood actors and musicians, television actors, children of VIPs and college students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bengaluru City Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said the CCB had lately been tailing Ravi Shankar, a senior division assistant at the Regional Transport Office in Jayanagar, following a tip-off that he went to parties with a Kannada actor and supplied drugs there. “We arrested Ravi in a 2018 drug case and got a lot of information from his phone on the people linked to him,” said Pant. “His statement gave us leads for subsequent arrests.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crime branch learnt that drugs were being sold to the glitterati at rave parties held at resorts in Ramanagara and Bidadi, and farmhouses in Bengaluru and Tumkur. Getting an entry to these parties is quite hard, and invites are sent out at the last minute to dodge the police and the media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The crime branch has also arrested Rahul Shetty, an architect and close friend of Sanjjanaa Galrani; Viren Khanna, a party planner; Loum Pepper Samba, a Senegalese drug peddler; Vaibhav Jain, son of a prominent jeweller in the city; and Prashant Ranka, a local drug dealer. They are looking for Aditya Alva, son of former minister Jeevaraj Alva and brother-in-law of Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi; and the prime accused Shivaprakash, a Kannada film producer once close to Ragini. Both have absconded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Sandeep Patil: “There is focused attention to break the drug network. Thousands of kilos of marijuana are being seized every year, and school and college students are turning addicts. At the same time, rave parties attended by celebrities and VIPs are providing a platform to drug peddlers to sell synthetic drugs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to rave parties, Goa invariably finds its way into the conversation. On the night of August 15, the Goa Police raided a rave party at a villa in Vagator village and found cocaine and MDMA pills worth Rs9 lakh. The host was Kapil Jhaveri, a small-time Bollywood actor who has been in films such as Aatma and The Love Season.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We arrested four people for possession of drugs and 19 others for being in the house where the drugs were being consumed,” said Shobhit Saxena, superintendent of police, crime branch, Goa Police. Jhaveri and three female foreigners were arrested. A few days later, the police picked up Shailesh Shetty, co-promoter of dance music festival Sunburn, for organising the rave party, as well as the peddler who allegedly sold the drugs to Jhaveri. Both are out on bail. Incidentally, Jhaveri is on the board of directors of Tirumalla Tirupati Multistate Cooperative Credit Society, which a Goa legislator had recently accused of money laundering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is nothing surprising,” said Vivek Agnihotri, director of films such as Tashkent Files and Buddha in a Traffic Jam. “Cocaine is called the champagne of Bollywood parties and glamour is essential for the syndicate to thrive and survive. Right from identifying newbies or starlets to introducing them to drugs, an entire industry works on how to get newer people hooked. Influential A-listers are roped in to encourage younger talent to take it up and very soon, unknowingly at first, one gets pulled into a syndicate. The network works on commission; the user becomes the dealer or the promoter and pushes others to become members for a cut. The reason some senior people, no matter how talented they are, do not get work in Bollywood is that they refuse to be part of this group.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rhea had reportedly told the NCB that 80 per cent of Bollywood actors were on drugs. And while most have been silent about their habits, actors like Ranbir Kapoor have admitted to smoking weed in their younger days. Some others, like Fardeen Khan and Vijay Raaz, have had run-ins with the law in drug-related cases. But perhaps the most open about it has been Sanjay Dutt, who has put forward his lifetime of drugs and alcohol as a cautionary tale.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Malayalam film industry, which has garnered great applause for its path-breaking cinema, has also dealt with such demons. In fact, Mollywood’s tryst with drugs has highlighted a fissure between the “old school” artistes and their “new gen” successors. The most notable case in recent memory was that of actor Shine Tom Chacko, a promising talent, who was arrested in 2015 for allegedly possessing cocaine. There was buzz at the time that the real culprit was a prominent actor who anchors many of the ‘new gen’ movies. In fact, over the years, the raids have caught only second- or third-rung stars, if that. For instance, in May 2018, excise officers in Thiruvananthapuram arrested three Ernakulam natives for possessing hashish oil worth Rs12 crore; it was apparently meant for some A-listers in the film industry. Notably, a certain top actor hooked on hashish is said to have undergone de-addiction therapy during the recent lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before the pandemic, a group of senior Malayalam film producers had sought an appointment with a state cabinet minister through his secretary. The secretary, who expected an outpouring of routine complaints regarding production issues or tax exemptions, was stunned to hear the producers talk about the spike in drug use on film sets. They said the behaviour of young actors was delaying schedules and hurting them financially. The producers wanted the government to take up the matter with the all-powerful Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA), many of whose top office-bearers are close to the ruling CPI(M). They gave the secretary a list of known drug users in the film industry. “The list had the who’s who of the industry,” he told THE WEEK. “New-gen actors, scriptwriters, directors... I must say I was shocked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Turns out, the Sandalwood drug bust had a connection with Mollywood. Mohammad Anoop, who was arrested with Anikha in August, is reportedly close to many top stars in Kerala. He used to deliver expensive drugs to night parties in Kochi, said customs officers. Apparently, a few handpicked restaurants, high-end hotels and flats are the centres from where the agents of the patrons collect the “stuff”. Gyms and spas are also known to be places of drug exchange.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The use of drugs like LSD is common among a section of new-generation actors,” said Kerala Film Producers Association president M. Renjith. He had also voiced his concern during the recent friction between the producers’ association and young actor Shane Nigam, whom the association banned for indiscipline stemming from alleged drug use on sets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tollywood, the names of top Telugu actors, directors and producers have been linked to drug networks, and police and excise officers have found their names on peddlers’ phones. In 2017, investigating officers called in a string of film folk, including top director Puri Jagannadh and popular actors Ravi Teja and Charmme Kaur. The police had found a large cache of banned substances at a peddler’s home, and he had apparently revealed the names of his star clients.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, Hyderabad-based activist M. Padmanabha Reddy, who is a former IFS officer, has been filing RTI applications to know the status of the case. “The case was put on the backburner,” he said. “At the time, they had collected the nail and hair samples of the celebrities to test for banned substances. When we sought to know the results of the analysis, information was denied on the pretext that it was personal information. We got to know that film industry elders had met the chief minister and the case has almost been closed since then.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In another case, a police officer recalled how a popular young Telugu star, in 2013, was called in and warned; his name had been cropping up whenever a Nigerian peddler was arrested. The police also suspect that some actors who shoot abroad come back with drugs. They say event managers and assistants often act as a link between the peddlers and the artistes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said C. Vivekananda Reddy, a retired state excise officer from Hyderabad: “The celebrities have a strange confidence owing to their star status and believe they can get away with anything. But during interrogation, they crack and their confidence dips.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Political nexus?</b></p> <p>Many a time, the names of politicians have surfaced in drug cases. For instance, earlier this month, the NCB summoned Yashas, the son of a Bengaluru councillor S. Keshavamurthy, to Mumbai, in connection with the Sandalwood drug case. However, rarely has a politician been punished in any such case. In fact, there have for long been whispers about a Congress legislator in Karnataka having links to drug peddlers with international connections, especially in Sri Lanka, where Indian film stars frequent casinos known to be dens of drug activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2017, police recovered drugs from a luxury car that had had an accident near South End Circle in Bengaluru, but the case did not progress. Reportedly, the car belonged to a former MP’s grandson. Former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has even alleged that the BJP toppled the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress government in 2019 using drug mafia money. The Congress has attacked the BJP over the arrest of Ragini; the actor had been a star campaigner for the BJP during the 2019 assembly byelections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kerala, the police suspect the involvement of Bineesh Kodiyeri, son of CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, in the Sandalwood drugs case. On September 9, the Enforcement Directorate questioned Bineesh, who has had cameos in a few films, for more than 10 hours. He is reportedly friends with the arrested Anoop. “Bineesh loves the limelight,” said a source. “He demanded roles in movies in return for the ‘services’ he provided.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many in the Malayalam industry have also linked the unusually high number of movies being produced to drugs and black money. As many as 167 films were produced in 2019 alone, and the figure has consistently crossed 150 in every year of the past decade. Interestingly, most of the producers were newcomers, and the ED has reportedly sought details of all films produced by the industry in the past two years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Industry hypocrisy</b></p> <p>On September 15, Samajwadi Party MP and actor Jaya Bachchan told Parliament: “Just because of a few people, you cannot tarnish the whole industry.... I was really embarrassed and ashamed that yesterday one of our members in the Lok Sabha, who is from the industry, spoke against the film industry.” She was referring to a statement BJP MP and actor Ravi Kishan had made about the prevalence of drug use in the film world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian film industry has often been called out for being hypocritical in its response to allegations of drug abuse. The usual reaction has been denial and disbelief in public, and a meek acknowledgement in private conversations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kannada film producer and journalist Indrajit Lankesh, however, openly spoke about several actors “consuming drugs” at rave parties. “(After the NCB made the arrests in late August) I gave the crime branch around 20 names of actors, actresses, sons of film directors and politicians, event managers and coordinators, based on the information I received from my sources in the industry,” he said. “It is now up to the investigating agency to find enough evidence to arrest all the culprits.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce had been in denial until the two female actors were arrested. While some have since expressed shock, others argued that Sandalwood was being unfairly “targeted” and that drug abuse was rampant in society. Some also complained of “misogyny” after the police arrested only the female actors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Many people are questioning the timing of my statements,” said Lankesh. “It is just the law of incidence. I have seen indiscipline issues among some actors who have turned up on sets in a bad state. Some newbies are treating films as a hobby rather than a profession. It will be hypocritical not to address the issue. A dialogue has to start, to tackle the drug menace. The arrests will act as a major deterrent for students getting lured by ganja and cocaine, as they will realise that consuming drugs is illegal and punishable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pointing to the leadership vacuum created by the deaths of veterans such as Rajkumar and Ambareesh, former film chamber president Sa Ra Govindu said: “We want to clean up the industry and we cannot allow a handful of people to ruin the legacy of an industry that was built by stalwarts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The older generation in Kerala has bemoaned the “caravan culture” of the past decade. “Earlier, everyone from the hero to the spot boy used to be together on set,” said a senior actor. “But now, most actors have their own caravans and they step into it once their portion is over. Nobody knows what happens inside.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems there is more discipline on the sets when veteran stars such as Mammootty and Mohanlal are part of a production. “They are so different from the current ‘powder generation,” he said. Added a Mollywood producer: “Most of them (new-gen artistes) are in their early thirties now. Some who cannot handle success or money became addicts.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The topic of drugs has triggered a war of words between generations. While the old-school artistes call the newer lot the “powder gen”, the youngsters label the veterans as “boozers”. “The old generation had heavy drinkers. They did not take drugs because drugs were not easily available,” said a new-gen scriptwriter. Many actors and scriptwriters THE WEEK spoke to said they were open to using drugs and even argued for a “liberal approach”. “Many in the Malayalam film industry use drugs,” admitted an actor-director. “But do not make it sound as if it exists only in the film industry. Aren’t there drugs in colleges, offices? It becomes an issue only when it leads to abuse. Unlike MDMA, weed or magic mushrooms have no side effects. Cannabis is legal in many countries. It is time weed is legalised.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tamil Nadu, a clutch of senior Kollywood stars, along with a young music composer, are called the “powder boys”. Police sources said the stars network with the drug cartel, the cinema industry in Chennai and some industrialist families in the state. “They source and supply; hence the nickname,” said a senior officer at the DGP office in Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A. Bruno, the zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau, Chennai, said the rave parties usually had MDMA pills. The late-night parties that once happened in Chennai’s star hotels have moved to the East Coast Road, he added. The parties get their customers through the dark web, client references and video game tournaments, which are also organised by the drug pushers. MDMA, usually in powder form, costs 03,000 a gram, and is either sniffed or rubbed on the wrist. Many actors are said to use it as a stimulant to help them perform better. Half a gram of MDMA can keep one awake all night, said Bruno.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Telugu film industry has not taken too kindly to the bad press it has been receiving. Jeevitha Rajasekhar, general secretary of Telugu Movie Artists Association, said that even though drug consumption was a major problem, only the film industry got the blame. “Drugs are bad and actors are supposed to be role models. I agree with that,” she said. “But why are only film industry members pushed to the forefront? We want the governments to put an end to this menace. At the same time, as an industry, we do not want to be the face of the menace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The perception battle</b></p> <p>In older movies, drug use was portrayed as a social evil, practised only by the villain and his coterie. Now, though, the image of a drug user has been softened to some extent. A lot of films even show the hero smoking up for pleasure. A case in point is the 2013 Malayalam movie Kili Poyi, said to be the industry’s first stoner movie. “This change in the depiction of drugs is reflective of the new ethos of the film industry in particular, and the larger society in general,” said film critic Sajitha O.C.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kannada actor and social activist Chetan Kumar made a separate point. He tweeted: “While the current focus is on exposing film personnel/actors who use #drugs privately… Isn’t it hypocritical to not point fingers at film ‘stars’ who, for money, openly advertise alcohol (as soda), gutka/pan masala, gambling (rummy), etc? Aren’t they ‘ambassadors’ of social evils?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Harmanpreet Kaur, assistant professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences: “Art is inspired by society. It is interesting to note the portrayal of drug use/substance abuse in Hindi cinema over the decades. Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971) with its hit number ‘Dum Maro Dum’ reflected hippie culture and portrayed drug use as a vice. The hero rescuing his sister from it carried a strong anti-drug message. Many films portrayed cannabis/bhang use in a jovial manner through songs, be it ‘Jai Shiv Shankar’ (Aap ki Kasam, 1974) or Holi songs like ‘Rang Barse’ (Silsila, 1981).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Contemporary Hindi films have also shown characters doing drugs, like in Dev.D (2009), Udta Punjab (2016) and Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016). Fashion (2008) is another example in which Kangana Ranaut starred as a model ruined by drugs. Incidentally, she has now been tweeting against Bollywood’s “drug abuse problem” even as a video of her claiming that she used to be a drug addict herself, has gone viral on Twitter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regardless of whether the fresh cases lead to further arrests or bring down cartels, it is clear that the various ‘woods’ of Indian cinema, be it Bolly, Sandal or Molly, have a spreading drug problem. And change, it seems, can only come from within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To modify the famous lines of Robert Frost: “The woods are ugly, dark and deep, and they have some secrets to keep.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>with Namrata Biji Ahuja</b></p> Sat Sep 19 13:51:25 IST 2020 bigger-fish-to-fry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In April, drug law enforcement agencies made a presentation before Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The picture was worrisome. A minimum of 360 tonnes of retail quality heroin is being consumed in the country every year, the international value of which is about Rs 1,44,000 crore. There are an estimated 20 lakh “dependent” users of heroin in the country. The survey conducted by researchers and doctors of National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 2019 helped the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) understand the consumption and impact of drugs and psychotropic substances on the Indian population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NCB arrested Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty on September 8 in a drug-related case and she is said to have mentioned some names. But drug law enforcement officers said the actor or her celeb friends may not reveal much. Those accused might not be aware of the entire drug syndicate. That there could be a bigger syndicate in the state with supply links on foreign land, will be a matter of investigation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the newly begun slew of investigations gives officials hope to bust larger drug networks in the country. “We have exposed some of the links in Bollywood in the latest case but the drug problem in Mumbai is part of a larger malaise. We are focusing on catching the big players,” said an investigator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The names of these celebrities [given by Chakraborty to the NCB] cannot be disclosed at this point during the investigation,” said the official. “However, legal action will be initiated against them soon.” But the drugs seized so far in this case are only drops in the ocean.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India is sandwiched between the notorious Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran) and Golden Triangle (Thailand, Myanmar and adjoining areas)­—two principal areas of illicit opium production in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Last year, we generated a lot of awareness in state agencies and other law enforcement agencies about the drug menace,” Rakesh Asthana, NCB director general, told THE WEEK. “As a result, a lot of seizures have taken place and coordinated efforts are being made to control the problem.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While India was earlier receiving drugs from international syndicates, today its pharmaceutical and chemical industry—one of the biggest in the world—is also being tapped by international drug cartels for procurement of “precursor” chemicals and for producing synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, popularly known as Yaba tablets, cocaine and a dozen other curated drugs. “The drug cartels in Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Delhi and Punjab are actively involved,” said K.P.S. Malhotra, deputy director, NCB.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cocaine is emerging as the future drug in India. “It is costly but much sought-after because the high it gives is different from other drugs,” said a drug law enforcement official. India does not grow coca plant, so the cocaine comes from Colombia and other South American countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fresh inputs with drug law enforcement agencies, accessed by THE WEEK, revealed that the Colombian drug cartels want to bring the paste from the coca plant to labs set up in India, where it can be treated with potassium permanganate to make cocaine. India is one of the biggest manufacturers of the chemical compound.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pharma industry in the country, too, is contributing to the drug menace, where painkillers like Tramadol and Premadol are abused. Moreover, large amounts of plant-based drugs like cannabis are grown in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and northeastern states. “They are mostly grown in areas prone to left-wing extremism, insurgency or terrorism,” said a drug law enforcement officer in Jharkhand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are various networks in south India that are very active like the traditionally ganja-producing areas of Kerala which are now being tapped by heroin and cocaine drug cartels. The biggest threat is being posed by the Kasargod module. “The Qatar authorities are working closely with Indian drug law enforcement agencies to bust this network where the drug trafficking organisations are using human carriers from Indian airports for trafficking of drugs to Doha,” said Malhotra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A total of 14 cases are being probed by the NCB as part of the Qatar network. The probe revealed that the suppliers were communicating directly with kingpins lodged in Qatar’s central jail. The carriers were usually persons looking for jobs in the Gulf, who were lured by travel agents and sub-agents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Emerging trends show that sea routes are more active than land routes. Pakistan-based drug smugglers are pushing heroin in India through the sea route. India is also working with the Myanmar police to bust drug syndicates which allegedly have deep links in China. According to latest intelligence reports, Myanmar provinces of Kachin and Shan bordering China have a huge drug industry, indirectly supported by the Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another challenge for the drug law enforcement officers is to break the demand and supply chain. “It is easy to probe cases once the traffickers are caught and drugs are recovered. But the real challenge comes when the drugs cannot be located,” said an investigator.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, about 55kg of cocaine and 200kg of methamphetamine were caught in Australia. The Australian Federal Police revealed that the cocaine had come from India. The Indian agencies found that a group from Delhi, Punjab and Uttarakhand was involved. The NCB registered a case, conducted raids and seized 20kg of cocaine. The investigators found that the 55kg of cocaine was actually part of a consignment of 300kg that had landed in Mumbai by sea in a container. The remaining cocaine is still missing.</p> Fri Sep 18 22:38:28 IST 2020 joint-capital <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a tip-off that helped the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) sniff out Venkat Reddy from a factory he had rented in a pharmaceutical cluster in Hyderabad. Reddy had been arrested twice earlier for illegally manufacturing ephedrine, a compound used to make meth. In August, the DRI raided the factory and caught Reddy ‘cooking’ mephedrone, a banned synthetic drug that goes by the street name ‘meow-meow’. The DRI also raided multiple locations in the industrial hub and seized around 220kg of mephedrone, also known as poor man’s coke. Meow-meow has a very small market in Hyderabad; most buyers are reportedly in Mumbai and Delhi. Officials, therefore, believe that the produce was for export. “This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said a police official.</p> <p>If one goes by the past cases probed by the excise department, the DRI and the police, it seems that Hyderabad is a transit point for and manufacturing hub of narcotic and psychotropic drugs. Weed, too, finds its way to Hyderabad through the cannabis corridor of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh’s East Godavari and Visakhapatnam districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are four regions where cannabis is cultivated on a large scale—the northeast, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Himachal and the Andhra belt. Right now, Andhra tops the list for production,” said a top cop from Andhra Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to intelligence officials, modified vehicles are used to ship weed into Hyderabad and its surrounding areas through the cannabis corridor. Modifications range from engineering hacks to secret compartments in the vehicle, the tyres or even the fuel tanks. Currently, the market value of weed grown in this corridor is Rs25,000 per kg. Every year, an estimated 100 tonnes of weed is seized by officials in Telangana.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We think what we seize is only 3 per cent of the produce,” said an official of the police task force in Telangana. Only a fraction of the load that reaches Hyderabad is distributed by local peddlers. The major share is split, bagged and carried to big markets—Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Gujarat—and other states, either by human couriers or heavy vehicles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, Hyderabad’s supply of psychotropic substances and synthetic drugs like LSD, MDMA or ecstasy, crystal meth and cocaine come from Mumbai, Goa or from abroad. In the last few years, these substances made up for majority of drugs seized from users and peddlers, some of them Africans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“An engineering student from a small town in Telangana ordered MDMA on the dark web,” said an officer. “He got the drugs concealed in a book from the US. We were surprised to know that the culture has penetrated deep into the interiors, too.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there is a bigger problem brewing in the backyard for enforcement agencies. Hyderabad is home to a large number of pharmaceutical factories that specialise in bulk manufacturing. In the last few years, the Narcotics Control Bureau, DRI and the police have rounded up and seized units that were manufacturing precursor chemicals for narcotic substances as well as new-age drugs. Mephedrone is only one such example.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ephedrine is a compound used in prescription drugs to treat breathing issues and blood pressure. It is also procured as a raw material by various pharma companies to manufacture large-scale drugs. Ephedrine can also be used to manufacture methamphetamine, which is then sold as crystal meth or speed, a synthetic drug. In the last few years, hundreds of kilos of ephedrine have been seized from various factories that were trying to use it illegally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Out of the total quantity of ephedrine they buy for manufacturing legal medicines, a greedy manufacturer may mark five per cent as spoilt,” said a government official. “This will either be used to manufacture drugs or be exported as it is. Ephedrine is in high demand in Indonesia, where it is banned. We found that it is being exported to Indonesia from India in cooking utensils. We suspect that it is being sent out to western countries in different ways.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ketamine, used as tranquillisers or pain killers, is also known as a ‘date rape drug’. Though its domestic use is limited, it is in high demand overseas where it is used in combination with other semi-synthetic drugs. Even Ketamine was found in recent seizures in Hyderabad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The officials suspect that these drugs are concealed in artefacts, books and utensils and couriered to the US, the UK, a few Asian and African countries. Reportedly, one popular destination is Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is also believed that they are being smuggled out of the country in cargo ships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Officials seem to be worried that some unethical pharma unit managers and brilliant chemists who have gone rogue might be cooking up substances under the radar in Hyderabad. Intelligence officials dealing with narcotics said that there might be five to six such operators in the city specialising in manufacturing drugs and procuring precursor chemicals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are closely monitoring closed pharma units,” said Cyberabad Police Commissioner V.C. Sajjannar. “We are taking swift action whenever we notice any suspicious activity. We have task force teams and special operating teams continuously looking for (weed) and other banned substances. Our force is also on alert on highways and bypass roads so as to seize vehicles transporting narcotic drugs.”</p> Thu Sep 17 19:43:50 IST 2020 work-the-virus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hashicorp CEO Mitchell Hashimoto recently asked his employees whether they knew the difference between typing ok, ok. or ok.. Not knowing the difference in today’s world, he said, is equivalent to being illiterate. According to him, ok. has a negative implication while ok.. reflects uncertainty. Chat literacy, like many other things, is probably a side effect of the pandemic. It is just one of the ways in which Covid-19 has turned the world topsy-turvy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a result, we have all gotten “cyber-struck”. Zoom rooms, remote fitness and online concerts have become the norm. Education got interactive with video games teaching you the basics of trigonometry. Apps like Krisp and Muzzle streamlined video conferencing without screen pop-ups and background noise. Companies like Twitter and Shopify made remote working more or less permanent. Gaming platforms like JetSynthesys raised crores in funding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a way, the virus has proved to be the tipping point of digitalisation. “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in May. “If you embrace digital, then no matter what job you do, it will be a hot job,” says Ashutosh Khanna, senior client partner, Global Consumer Markets, Korn Ferry International. “Take marketing. If you don’t know how to run a digital campaign or organise your company’s data, then you might know how to make the world’s best television commercial, but you are not relevant anymore.” According to Rohit Kale, who heads the India operations of Spencer Stuart, the role of a chief digital officer is becoming redundant because digital has infiltrated every aspect of work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy estimates that 27 million youth in India lost their jobs in a single month (April). Hiring did pick up 35 percentage points from April to June, as per a recent LinkedIn report. However, the market recovery is expected to remain “fairly flat”. Competition for jobs had doubled over six months, with an average of 90 job seekers on the platform in January increasing to 180 in June. Those in sectors like recreation and travel were 6.8 times more likely to look for jobs in a different sector. The most popular jobs were those of a software engineer, business development manager, sales manager, business analyst and content writer, with the top skills being JavaScript, Structured Query Language, sales management, team leadership and recruiting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khanna says that in future, everyone is going to have multiple careers. “If you are a journalist, you might not remain a journalist all your life,” he says. “You are [essentially] a content person. If you don’t have that perspective, you might have a career problem down the line. Increasingly, it is about knowing which skill-sets you want to acquire. If you are not investing in yourself, [you will become redundant]. Why is nobody spending money to re-skill themselves? Show me a post-graduate who came out of college in the 1990s and who, in the last seven or eight years, has expressed an interest in learning how to write code. If you don’t know how to code, you will become a fossil in five years.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hiring patterns, too, have changed. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have revolutionised the hiring process and increased the competition for jobs. “With data-driven algorithms, multiple rigorous parameters can be set to learn extensively about a wider pool of candidates and proactively reach out to them early,” says Vikram Ahuja, co-founder, Talent 500 by ANSR. NLP-powered chat bots are enabling recruiters to set up interactive sessions with multiple candidates and thus aiding ‘contact-less hiring’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post pandemic, instead of hiring new talent, many companies are hiring specialists as advisers or on a project basis, says Jyoti Bowen Nath, managing partner, Claricent Partners. Also, Covid-19 has raised the issue of ethical treatment of employees and gig workers (those hired temporarily). According to one survey, 70 per cent of gig workers were not satisfied with the support they received from their employers during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the education sector, the shift towards online learning has been stark. “Whether it is the primary mode of delivery or not, it will undoubtedly complement the traditional learning method,” says Ambrish Sinha, CEO, MeritTrac Services. “However, there will be teething issues like getting teachers and students accustomed to a new interface and mode of learning and access to internet and devices. Investments will need to be made in suitable IT-enabled infrastructure and full stack digital solutions. Teachers will need not just hands-on training on the various technologies and tools available to impart knowledge effectively, but also classroom management strategies and identifying how they can best work with different types of learners remotely, keeping their cognitive development and learning styles in mind.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another factor that is being widely discussed, especially as tech jobs take centre-stage, is the importance of man-machine collaboration. “The health crisis gave people a greater appreciation for the fact that humans and technology are more powerful together than either can be on their own,” states a Deloitte report. “Consider how telemedicine, manufacturing, education and even grocery delivery drew on the power of integrated human-machine teams during the crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Professor Amit Karna, Chair –Placement, IIM Ahmedabad, says that what recruiters are looking for today are candidates with learning agility. “If there were two candidates, one with greater intelligence and the other who can adapt more, the second would probably get picked,” he says. In this uncertain scenario, students too are anxious about their future. “We are a little sceptical about the start-up space which, we feel, will take three to four years to recover,” says Akanksha Priya, a second-year student at IIM Ahmedabad. “As a batch, we prefer stable companies who will not revoke offers. Product management roles are in high demand, since tech has not been impacted much by the pandemic. Even those without a background in technology are taking courses to gain some experience. We are also optimistic about consulting. Registration for various competitions [on campus] has increased because students are hoping to get Pre-Placement Offers (PPO) from companies if they win these competitions. Even if they don’t want the job, they want a backup for more bargaining power. Everyone is focusing on building up their Cvs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Manish Bahl, assistant vice president, Centre for the Future of Work—Asia Pacific, Cognizant, the pandemic will create a whole new category of jobs. “Covid-19 has disrupted every aspect of our work, life and society,” he says. “We still don’t know how this will end, but we do know that the world that emerges post-virus will look and feel incredibly different. The virus forced a reckoning of how we view, perform and reward work. The next five years will bring more change in employment trends than the previous 20.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the jobs he mentions are: Chief Cleanliness Officer (CCO): Covid-19 has changed how people see the world. With this new perspective, they suddenly realise that everything around them is unclean and potentially unsafe. The CCO will lead the global clean regime movement by leveraging AI technologies to monitor the cleanliness of physical assets and initiate automated cleanliness actions as needed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>CEO—Cashless Society: Consumers are increasingly avoiding touching and using cash. The CEO will use AI tools to analyse and evaluate cashless data, prepare forecast reports, and take the necessary steps in moving us towards a cashless society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Financial Wellness Coach: People are already struggling to manage their finances and agonising over how to best plan for a post-Covid world. The financial wellness coach will use AI platforms to ensure the financial well-being of customers by translating their personal needs and life goals into financial targets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Give-to-Get Trust Manager: Give-to-Get is all about the data customers give about themselves—personal, financial and transactional—and what they receive in return from a company (better service and rewards). The role of a trust manager will be to develop and manage the positive give-to-get trust framework for customers to meet their expectations from brands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>WFH Facilitator: The work-from-home (WFH) facilitator will oversee the integration and engagement of the remote workforce. The facilitator will be responsible for ensuring that we have the right technologies, HR processes and culture to make ubiquitous remote work a soaring success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To some, these jobs might seem futuristic, but they are coming. In the meanwhile, based on our interaction with various business heads, industry experts and recruiters, THE WEEK lists 10 jobs that, in the post-pandemic scenario, have become highly desirable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The logistics sector, for example, has seen an increase in job creation due to the boom in e-commerce, says Sumit Kumar, vice president, NETAP, TeamLease. According to him, there is also an increased demand for health care professionals and, in the pharma and biotechnology sector, for more scientists for research and development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the education sector, the online learning boom has created a need for content developers, content writers and virtual trainers. The increase in digital payment transactions has led to more field sales professionals being hired for merchandiser enrolments. Greater adoption of technology and digitalisation means a greater demand for cyber-security specialists, data analysts, data scientists and AI and machine learning experts.&nbsp;“AI scientists who can build systems for data anonymisation will be in demand especially in a post-Covid-19 world,” says Ranga Jagannath, director–growth, Agora. “Analysing real-time human engagement to decode human emotions and engagement patterns will increase personalisation of products and services.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If you are in these jobs, Covid-19 might just have made your prospects brighter. If not, you might be hoping that things will go back to the way they were. They probably will not. Some changes are going to be permanently etched into the fabric of our society. During World War II, many people thought that wartime surveillance and encrypted communication would last only until the end of the war. They were wrong. And if you do not want to hear those two brutal words immortalised by President Donald Trump in The Apprentice, it is time you figure out ways to stay relevant in the curious world that is being birthed by a pandemic.</p> Sun Sep 13 09:27:39 IST 2020 the-big-10 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>1 - DATA SCIENTIST/ DATA ANALYST</b></p> <p>Every business generates large volumes of data. For enterprises to succeed in today’s world, they need to know how to analyse data and find patterns in it. These patterns help predict future outcomes, says John Kurien, co-founder and CEO of, a start-up focusing on cloud cost optimisation and management for enterprises.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, there are two parts to this job. One is that of a data scientist in the purest sense of the term. These are specialised people who create “data models” or “algorithms” that determine how to identify patterns and predict future outcomes. The second part is that of a data science engineer. They are engineers who are well-versed with the technology behind big data and machine learning implementations. The second set implements the algorithms derived by data scientists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ajoy Raj, senior data scientist and co-founder of FieldNotes (PlanQube in India), a customer engagement platform that uses AI to manage leads and contacts, says that the demand for data scientists has exploded because now we have the tools to make it a viable business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tanmai Choudhary, 22, who joined the home improvement company Lowe’s as a data analyst in August, says that what excites him about the job is the kind of possibilities it offers. “Job opportunities in data analysis are huge,” he says. “You will never have a problem switching jobs if you are in this field.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2 - DIGITAL MARKETING SPECIALIST</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Abhishek Kumar, co-founder of the digital marketing training programme, DigiGrad, by 2025, there is expected to be over 30 lakh jobs in digital marketing alone. “If you are looking to start a career that is in demand and future-ready, the answer is clear: it is digital marketing,” he says. A digital marketing specialist is responsible for organising online campaigns, performing consumer research and selling a product using social media, Web analytics, email marketing and search engine optimisation. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My expertise is in creative ideation, and I believe creativity and my passion for marketing are what makes a career in digital marketing suited for me,” says Supraja Ashok, 20, who completed her BCom with a specialisation in marketing from M.O.P. Vaishnav College, Chennai. She is currently working with the digital marketing agency, Social Beat. She says that digital marketing is challenging and exciting because there are so many verticals to it, whether it is content creation, targeting clients through digital tools or working with a multitude of brands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Consumer centricity is the key to digital marketing, says a digital marketing specialist with a multinational who did not want to be named. Consumers might be involved with one thing today and bored with it tomorrow. There is huge scope to cater to their needs. Digital marketing and data are changing the world. According to her, there will be no chief marketing or sales officers in future. These roles will be integrated into that of a chief growth officer, who will be responsible to bring about disruption which, in future, is going to be instrumental.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>3 - CHIEF HR OFFICER</b></p> <p>In the post-Covid scenario, the role and scope of HR officers have increased multiple-fold. It is important for HR officers to know how to reorganise policies and processes to adapt to the new reality. “The pandemic has transformed HR and made companies go through a steep learning curve,” says Shantanu Jha, senior vice president and HR Lead, Global Delivery, CDO and India HR, Cognizant. “It has put HR at the forefront of crisis management. At Cognizant, too, we have invested substantial effort to facilitate a rapid shift to seamless remote working and ensure business continuity. We have moulded robust contingency plans and expanded virtual tools to transition to a fully remote workplace where employees had the necessary infrastructure to work and deliver.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says that HR leaders should be able to challenge the business and institutionalise core people processes. According to him, some of the skill-sets one needs to do well in HR are:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>● Solution orientation</p> <p>● Crisis management and creative problem-solving</p> <p>● Data, analytics and technology expertise</p> <p>● Business acumen and understanding of the digital technology market, especially virtual and augmented reality</p> <p>● Design thinking with empathy and emotional intelligence</p> <p>● Virtual communication</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>4 -&nbsp; FULL-STACK ENGINEER</b></p> <p>A full-stack engineer has expertise on the front-end (interface) as well as the back-end (logic and data) of an application. LinkedIn describes it as the Swiss army knife of tech roles. The position has become increasingly important over the years, says a full-stack engineer based in Bengaluru. Before the advent of cloud, a single programming language was used for both front-end and back-end to build monolithic apps. Then, user experience was not as important as functionality. Now, it has become immensely important. So, front-end and back-end roles have gotten segregated. With new-age start-ups, the front-end guys are responsible for the user experience and the data comes from the back-end. In this scenario, someone who is familiar with both front-end and back-end technology is of tremendous value.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, earlier, if a team was responsible for developing a software in six months, now they have to do it in two weeks. In something called agile methodology, decision making has become much more rapid. Therefore, the importance of full-stack engineers has increased multiple-fold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While core technology companies may still prefer engineers with in-depth knowledge in a specific technology, start-ups and consulting firms want engineers who know a little bit of everything.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>5 - BLOCKCHAIN DEVELOPER</b></p> <p>Edureka defines a blockchain developer as one responsible for developing and optimising blockchain protocols, crafting the architecture of blockchain systems, developing smart contracts and web apps using blockchain technology. According to the NASSCOM-Avasant Blockchain Report 2019, globally, blockchain revenue is concentrated in three key industries: banking, manufacturing and financial services. In India, BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) is the leading industry using blockchain, but other industries like health care, retail and manufacturing are catching up. “The Indian blockchain ecosystem is at a vibrant and exciting stage—the government (in its dual role as consumer and regulator) enterprises, service providers, start-ups, academia and investors—are making significant efforts to evolve and enhance the blockchain value proposition,” stated the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Demand for blockchain is growing at over 40 per cent per quarter, it says. There is a shortage of skilled blockchain developers, with only 45,000 to 60,000 of them being industry-ready globally. There has also been a rapid growth in blockchain start-ups, with more than 3,100 of them emerging since 2009, focusing on areas like infrastructure, financial services, data analytics, mining, social network and content management. A blockchain developer should have a thorough knowledge of blockchain, its application and architecture, data structures, cryptography and web development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>6 - LEAD GENERATION SPECIALIST</b></p> <p>A lead generation specialist is responsible for identifying and attracting potential clients to an organisation. It was one of the jobs listed in India’s Top Emerging Jobs 2020 report on LinkedIn. “Online lead generation includes everything from search engine prominence to social media and email marketing,” stated the report. “A lead generation specialist will weigh the best approach and deliver the best value to the business.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The responsibilities of a lead generation specialist include handling enquiries from clients, ensuring business goals are met and comprehending the products and services of a company. Some of the skill-sets one requires are an understanding of key communication techniques, strong strategy-building and verbal skills and an ability to find digital solutions to complex problems. Good problem solving and critical thinking skills, too, will come in handy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to LinkedIn, lead generation, which involves both marketing and sales, now ranks among the highest priorities for many organisations. “The higher the quality of the leads that are identified, the more efficiently a good sales team can convert them into paying customers,” stated the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>7 - VIRTUAL TRAINER</b></p> <p>Online learning has witnessed an unprecedented boom since the pandemic. The online education market is expected to grow by $14.33 billion from 2020 to 2024, as per a market research report by Technavio. In such a scenario, the demand for virtual trainers has increased in leaps and bounds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Virtual trainers need to constantly keep themselves updated about the latest technology innovations in education, says Dr Indira V.M.D, an educator with the online learning platform, Lido. She says that the number of virtual trainers has gone up post pandemic and schools are witnessing a higher attrition rate of teachers because many of them are moving online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is also a higher standard for virtual trainers set by several ed-tech companies. “All our teachers are rigorously screened with less than 1 per cent acceptance rates,” says Aamit Khanna, who heads corporate communications at Lido. Teaching is highly personalised with advanced algorithms matching the child to the most suitable tutor. It is no longer static, with child engagement levels and retention metrics giving teachers real-time feedback on their performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>8 - SPECIALIST IN DATA PRIVACY LAW</b></p> <p>The need for privacy specialists has increased greatly in a short span of time, even though data privacy and protection laws in the country are at a nascent stage, says Supratim Chakraborty, partner, Khaitan &amp; Co, and a specialist in data privacy law. Post Covid-19, advice relating to aspects of data privacy and new-age technologies has seen an exponential rise as there has been a major shift in most organisations to the digital way of transacting business.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to him, the job involves training members of an organisation on planning and execution of privacy programmes; understanding products, services and organisational plans; providing inputs to ensure compliance with data privacy and protection requirements; and helping organisations respond to regulatory queries. “It is an exciting and challenging role,” he says. “One has to be abreast of domestic and international developments. An understanding of foreign laws from jurisdictions having mature privacy laws plays a key role in honing the skills of a specialist.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“With the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 and several other legislative developments in the works, there will be a massive change in the way organisations will need to ensure compliance with the new legal regime,” says Chakraborty. “This will undoubtedly create a great demand both in law firms as well as companies which will translate into a mammoth requirement for specialists in this field. In fact, many organisations are already staffing people to meet these demands. We also observe a great deal of re-skilling happening in order to meet the present and upcoming requirements.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>9 - HEALTH CARE MANAGER</b></p> <p>The health care sector is on the brink of an explosive growth. One of its pioneering concepts is digital health, including testing, diagnostics, health cards and telemedicine. As all the medical records and diagnostic results are becoming digitised, hospitals need administrators to handle the data. In this scenario, the role of a health care manager, who can handle medico-legal concerns, administrative responsibilities and doctors’ accessibility, becomes exceedingly important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Health care administrators are responsible for the [smooth functioning] of medical programmes, optimising costs, fulfilling doctor requirements, handling public relations and patient needs,” says Ambili Vijayaraghavan, COO, Aster Medcity. “For example, are patients discharged quickly without having to wait? It involves a lot of interacting with patients, doctors and team members to plan how to take the hospital to the next level.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to her, hospital administration has become more streamlined. Over the last 15 years, many institutes like IIHMR and Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) have started offering specialised courses in health care<br> management, she says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vijayaraghavan says that post Covid-19, there has been some changes in the management of process flows. Stricter infection control measures and proper zoning of the hospital have been instituted. Many new protocols have come into force. “We also need to be trained in-house to know how we need to change processes,” she says. As Dr T.R. John, chief of medical services at Aster Medcity, says: “The role of a health care manager is a relatively new concept in India unlike in the west. Earlier, we used to have doctor-managers. Now, it has become more professional. It is definitely an up-and-coming field.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>10 - AGRONOMIST</b></p> <p>An agronomist is responsible for cultivating crops, protecting plants and ensuring a higher yield. Talking about how the pandemic will create new opportunities in this field, Subramanyam Sreenivasaiah, CEO, Ascent Consulting Services, says, “Globalisation, until now, meant procuring any commodity from anywhere in the globe and cost seemed to be the only driver and not the supply chain. The new normal will bring in challenges for governments to keep adequate food grains and other associated commodities. Production needs to be doubled globally to meet hunger needs and would get further complicated when supply chain restrictions are in place, more so when the goods are perishable.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is going to be a high demand for manpower in this field because agriculture is still the main occupation of a majority of the population and we need more quantities of food for internal consumption, says V.R. Kumar, editor-in-chief of the agricultural magazine, Agro India. “Agricultural production is now happening in a more scientific manner with students trained by agricultural colleges and research institutes under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the coordinating body,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I want to become an entrepreneur in the farming field ultimately, but right now, I am looking to get a job, maybe as a lab analyst, to earn money,” says Shweta K., 23, who is doing her MSc in Soil Science from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka. Anitha K.V., an agriculture student who is doing her PhD on the impact of different levels of the NPK fertiliser on brown-top millet, says that it has always been her dream to pursue a research job in agriculture. “I used to help my father with sowing and transplanting ragi and paddy, and weeding and harvesting them,” she says. During the pandemic, though, she was in a quandary. “I wondered whether I should give up my PhD and try for a job, because I was scared I would not get one.”</p> Sun Sep 13 09:25:21 IST 2020 lives-without-livelihood <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ravishankar Gopal (name changed) thought all was hunky dory when lockdown was announced and he was asked to work from home. Working for a leading IT firm in Chennai on a project, he was paid his March salary in full and on time. Things will be fine in a couple of weeks as the lockdown controls the spread of Covid-19, he thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He could not have been more wrong. Once his project got over in April, HR gave him two options. Either wait on the bench (IT industry parlance for employees who are not working on any project) without salary or take three month’s salary and quit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gopal put in his papers. His home and vehicle loans and daughter’s school fees were all hanging above his head. “Waiting on the bench was like working and then going home without salary,” he said. “Compared with that, the three month’s salary was far better—I managed my expenses with it till July.” Gopal is hopeful of finding another job soon, even if the pay is three-fourths of what he was drawing earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Multiply Gopal’s woes by millions, across India’s towns and villages, and you have a very big, very human tragedy unfolding. A whopping 12 crore jobs were wiped out right after the lockdown was imposed in late March. While the numbers have been ‘improving’—job losses came down quickly to nine crore in May, 2.6 crore in June and around a crore in both July and August—the bigger worry is the story in between. A survey by the Tamil Nadu government a couple of months ago found that in 53 per cent of households at least one person had lost his job since the pandemic hit. Worse, average monthly household income had fallen by half.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is more bad news in the fine print. The jobs that did come back are mostly in the informal sector. This means that many white collar or “office” work that sustains India’s middle class, on a steady prospering trajectory since liberalisation in the early 1990s, have been wiped out. And many would find it difficult to find a matching job quickly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Loss in salaried jobs are mounting,” said Mahesh Vyas, MD &amp; CEO of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, in an exclusive interview with THE WEEK (see interview on page 48). “It would be difficult to see a recovery in salaried jobs till such time as investments pick up.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is not much good news on that front. Despite the realisation that the Indian economy will suffer because of the effects of the lockdown when the figures finally came for the April-June quarter, it was still a penny drop moment. While the GDP decline was expected, what has dismayed North Block, where the Union finance ministry is headquartered, has been the scale of contraction—at nearly 24 per cent, India’s performance was the worst among all major economies during the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, the downswing seemed to unilaterally reflect across India Inc as well. Combined revenues of more than 2,000 listed companies were down 24.3 per cent year-on-year in the April-June period. Manufacturing and services sector (excluding banks), mainstays of the India success story over the past three decades, was worse, at -27.44 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“About one quarter of the gross domestic output... has been wiped out,” lashed out former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram in an essay earlier this week. “Note that when output is lost, the jobs that produce that output are lost, the income that those jobs provide are lost, and the families that depend on those incomes suffer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The suffering is very real. Ronak Kotadia, 40, who was manager in the export department of a garment firm in Ahmedabad, had to cancel his father’s cataract operation, after he was fired one day before the procedure. “Under Mediclaim, we can get reimbursement of only Rs24,000,”he said. “I have no capacity to arrange the rest of the amount.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kotadia added: “Our family is suffering because of the job loss. My father, too, is suffering. But what can we do!” He got the pink slip after working for a couple of months on half salary. His wife, a teacher in a CBSE school, is only being paid 30 to 40 per cent of her salary. The family of six, including his parents and two children in classes I and VI have to manage with that income. Kotadia also has to pay a monthly EMI of Rs14,000 on his home loan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an ironic twist, even as the urban economy slumped, the rural economy picked up. For example, incomes from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act doubled during the summer months—the government had raised allocation for the scheme, which guarantees at least 100 days of unskilled work for rural workforce—from Rs60,000 crore to more than Rs1 lakh crore to take care of the pandemic’s economic woes and the reverse migration of workers from cities to villages. Helped by a good harvest and the government largesse, agriculture and rural spending has been the only silver lining to Indian economy’s accumulating clouds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, any economic revival depends on urban consumption, and a reciprocal pick-up in productivity in businesses and industries. That is caught in the veritable ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation—factories and plants across the land have been reducing production (which also means lesser contract staff and wages) as they do not expect demand. And demand is not picking up, or picking up very slowly, as those who have lost their jobs or those still holding on to their jobs both limit their expenses to bare essentials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From giant factories to small cottage industry units, this has meant lesser output. “We have revised working hours corresponding to the workload,” said Harkirat Singh, managing director of the firm that makes Woodland shoes, “As [demand] picks up in line with the governmental policies, things will start coming back to normal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And on the consumer side, it has translated into below capacity consumption in retail stores (except essential items) and shopping malls, flights, trains and restaurants, while cinemas are still closed on government diktat—all sectors where a sizeable chunk of discretionary spending by urban Indians takes place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This dip in consumption is part of the problem, as Gautam Duggad, head of research (institutional equities), Motilal Oswal Financial Services said: “Sectors which are doing well are essentials—consumer staples, FMCG, pharmaceuticals and IT. Still not doing well are discretionary (areas) like retail and aviation.” Restaurateur Zorawar Kalra, whose restaurant chains include Farzi Cafe and Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra, agreed. “Restaurants that have opened are running at very low volumes and thus staffing is not at 100 per cent levels.” According to the National Restaurant Association of India, more than 30 per cent of restaurants and bars have permanently shut down over the past five months.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nobody gauged the distortion in value chains caused by Covid-19,”said Navneet Sharma, dean at IFIM Business School, Vijayabhoomi University. “How goods and services are produced and distributed is in a state of flux.” The only way out, as the experts would have it, sounds rather simple. “A lot of government spending, promotion of entrepreneurship or start-up activity through the removal of entry barriers, and lessening of compliance or regulatory burden on business,”Sharma said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some sectors may need particular handholding, considering the walloping they received. India’s tourism and hospitality industry may have seen job losses of up to 70 per cent of its workforce, according to an estimate by KPMG.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The industry’s ask? Deferment of taxes, reduction in GST and auto-renewal of licences and waiver of dues from the lockdown period, according to K.B. Kachru, chairman emeritus (South Asia), Radisson Hotel Group and vice president, Hotel Association of India. “Unless domestic travellers are incentivised, no major growth should be expected,” he said. “Any stimulus will go a long way in protecting jobs and businesses.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After rounds of meetings, right from the Economic Task Force to NITI Aayog and the chief economic adviser, the government is said to be looking at another fresh stimulus, as a follow-up to the five tranches of measures announced by the finance minister back in May, this time aimed at the middle class. The Kamath panel’s blueprint to rejig loans, announced this week, should also help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, if not the real thing, there are at least ‘green shoots’ of optimism. The finance ministry is adamant that the economy is witnessing “a sharp V-shaped recovery”, as per its monthly report for September. Former RBI governor C. Rangarajan a few days ago said in a paper in the Indian Public Policy Review that despite all forecasts of the annual GDP declining this financial year, “a small positive growth may not be ruled out for the Indian economy in 2020-2021”. The reason? Sectors like agriculture, public administration, defence and other services might still perform well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are also expectations that public consumption will pick up, which in turn will lead to an overall recovery in the economy—the upcoming festive season will be the crucial barometer. “Shopping and retail business are growing by every passing week,” says Yogeshwar Sharma, CEO and executive director, Select Citywalk, one of the biggest malls in the country. “Festive season will be close to 75 per cent of last year.” On the job front, the likes of LinkedIn and are reporting fresh hiring, even if the number of applicants has gone up. LinkedIn said hiring on the platform has gone up 35 per cent since the nadir of April, when it plunged 50 per cent year-on-year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, of course, there are hopes that pin everything on what the heart, not the head, tells you. “Indians are eternally optimistic, it is in our nature,” said Kalra. “We also like to buck international trends, so we are hoping that recovery will be quicker here as compared with other parts of the world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until that redemption arrives, ‘tomorrow is another day’ is the credo by which those burnt by the job massacre are taking it. Applying for fresh jobs, circulating their CVs, hoping for a turnaround in their fortunes…and minimising expenses. Kotadia gives an example, “If my son asks for a 0500 T-shirt, I will convince him to settle for one that comes for 0100-0200 and tell him that we will buy the one he likes during Diwali.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>With Lakshmi Subramanian and Nandini Oza</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INHOSPITABLE SECTOR</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaitley was a senior marketing manager of a luxury hotel chain in Bengaluru when the pandemic struck. There was no salary in April, and he was fired in May. With more than a decade of experience in the hotel industry, including stints in MNC hotel chains, Jaitley had had a smooth run until now. So the sudden job loss came as shock.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Since my wife is also employed [as an HR professional], I did not face any sudden financial problems [after the job loss],” he says. “Plus, I have the support of my parents who are currently staying with me. My father retired from a semi-government firm. Also, I do not have any loans, as I am yet to invest in a property in Bengaluru.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaitley is aggressively searching for a new job, but there are hardly any opportunities in the hospitality segment now. “Many of my friends who are in hospitality have either been laid off or have had salary cuts,” he says. “However, I still hope that this, too, will pass, and I will find a job sooner or later. As I am from the marketing field, I feel that I will get a job in other sectors as well.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Abhinav Singh</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>MEDIA MIRE</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonar, output editor in a regional television channel, was laid off overnight. The company had already initiated 50 per cent salary cuts across brackets for a few months, citing a steep decline in revenues. In August, Sonar and several other senior employees were asked to leave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I had gone to office for some work, but was instead called in and asked either to resign right away or be prepared to get terminated,” he says. “I had been part of the team for over 13 years, right from inception. So, this shocked me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonar’s wife is working with a few non-governmental organisations. So, he has not had to worry about the day-to-day expenses of his family, at least for now. “My savings will help me pay the home loan instalments. But, then again, I was saving money for other things, which will now take a backseat,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonar is not keen on joining another media organisation until there is an improvement in the overall situation. Instead, he feels now is the time to embark on an entrepreneurial journey—perhaps, a small production company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Nachiket Kelkar</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BENCHED BRAIN</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil was a consultant with an IT company in Mumbai. He was part of a team that provided software services and support for an international airport. In early March, he and many others were released from the project as the client had announced budget cuts. Though Patil was kept on the “benched” workforce initially, in July he was asked to resign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil’s family includes his wife and son; his parents live next door. He was the only earning member in the family, and has a housing loan. “I was saving a part of my salary every month, which has helped me tide over the crisis over the last month and a half,” he says. “But if I do not get a job soon, the savings will not be enough, particularly since I have my home loan to pay.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Barring the essential food and grocery requirements, he has cut down on most of his spends right now. Patil, who has a specialisation in geographic information systems, is now putting in long hours searching for new jobs. “I did get responses from a few firms,” he says. “But they say I will have to wait for a few months, may be until late December, before they decide on hiring. That is a long time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Nachiket Kelkar</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>RETIREMENT EXTENDED</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After 20 years of service in a pharma major in Ahmedabad, Tushar Shelat, was looking forward to retire at 60. It was all going smooth, until the pandemic. For three months, he was paid half his salary. Then, the company paid him one-month advance salary and fired him. Thus ended his journey from chemist to assistant manager (production).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shelat’s daughter is doing her BSc, and his younger son had just secured admission in a university in Canada. His five-member family, which includes his mother, was totally dependent on his salary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My mother does get pension. However, that is for her own use,” he says. What worries him most is the education loan of 09 lakh taken for his son; monthly EMI of which is around 010,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shelat, however, is among the lucky few who have found another job—though it pays only half of what he was earning. “I got this job through friends,” he says. “Many others, who were shunted out with me, are still scouting for jobs. Had I been in my previous company, I would have worked till 60. Now, I have no option but to work till I am 65.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Nandini Oza</b></p> Fri Sep 11 22:13:31 IST 2020 days-of-disruption <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The churn during and after the lockdown may have implications on the very nature of what we consider a job to be. It has also not been equal in wreaking its misery—all round statistics show that most pink slips were handed to young professionals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Companies chose to lay off lower level as well as entry-level staff, people who they could easily get back once the situation got better,” points out Sahil Sharma, co-founder of GigIndia, an on-demand job platform. Neha Bagaria, founder and CEO, JobsForHer, says that companies are hiring employees with experience, considering that getting freshers trained in the current scenario is challenging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The present situation has been both a boon and a bane for women professionals. As Bagaria points out, “The double burden of work plus family duties may have contributed to many women dropping their existing jobs, or even losing their jobs, when their productivity got affected.” But as the pandemic threw opportunities like work-from-home (WFH) and gig projects, women have come forward. According to GigIndia statistics, women gig workers on the platform went up from just 12 per cent before Covid-19, to 29 per cent in September. Work applicants from small towns have risen from 5 per cent before the pandemic to 58 per cent presently, with a 115 per cent spurt in WFH jobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic may change the very nature of jobs in the long run. “What does job security mean?” asks Sharma. “It means that in a moment of crisis, your job will be safe. But last few months we saw that nobody’s job was secure!” Sharma says the definition of “job security” has now changed to “holding multiple jobs—one or two or even three part-time ‘gig’ work or assignments at the same time.”</p> Fri Sep 11 20:00:17 IST 2020 loss-is-not-only-of-jobs-but-also-of-incomes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/Your latest numbers on job losses are alarming. Would you say this was expected considering the stringent lockdown?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/As of August 2020, we estimate the net job loss to be 10.9 million. As against a total employment of 403.5 million in 2019-2020, the estimated employment in August 2020 was 392.5 million. The lockdown was the surprise. Its length, its initial stringency and then its uncertainty have all been surprising. Given such a lockdown, the job losses are not surprising.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/With the implementation of “unlock” measures, do you see the job situation improving quickly?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In terms of jobs, there have been some very quick improvements. India lost 121 million jobs in April 2020. Since then, the losses have steadily declined. It was down to 90 million in May 2020, then 26.5 million in June, 11 million in July and also in August. There was a very quick and substantial improvement in May and in June. Then, the recovery slowed down in July and stagnated in August. Much of what could be recovered quickly has been so. The remaining recovery could be a long haul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the factors you feel are required for an uptick on the job front?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Jobs will recover the remaining lost ground when the economy opens up further and enterprises are allowed to function. The recovery of jobs has reacted well to the unlock process. Beyond this repairing of lost jobs, jobs will improve only when the productive capacities are expanded from where they are. New factories and offices need to open up for new jobs to be created. This implies the need for new investments into new productive capacities. An important ingredient in the recovery process is a pick-up in demand. The lockdown has led to a contraction of consumer demand. Till consumer demand does not pick up, it may be difficult to see investments recover, and till investments do not recover an uptick on the jobs front is unlikely.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/You have also said that middle-class urban Indians who lose their salaried jobs would find it difficult to get another one.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The recovery till August has been confined to mostly informal forms of employment. Losses in salaried jobs are mounting. It would be difficult to see a recovery in salaried jobs till such time as investments pick up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What kind of lag are we seeing before things improve as compared with previous situations of economic distress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The lockdown is unprecedented. We have no history to guide us out of a situation where the economy shrinks by 24 per cent or where the unemployment rate shoots up to 24 per cent. Shocks of this kind, if left unattended, leave a long-term scar on the economy. In 2007-2009, the Union government took the lead in spending its way out of the impact of the global financial crisis. This time, the government is reluctant to put money on the table. The recovery from here is unlikely to be automatic and it is unlikely to come anytime soon. The loss is not only of jobs but also of incomes. Incomes of even the employed have been hit. Incomes matter as much as employment.</p> Fri Sep 11 22:29:31 IST 2020 governments-need-to-avoid-imposing-arbitrary-lockdowns <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Delhi is well past its Covid-19 peak.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The peak had come in June, when a deluge of cases had exposed an acute shortage of hospital beds and testing kits. The prognosis looked grim: Cases were expected to surge to five lakh by the end of July.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By August, though, the state government had turned things around. The test positivity rate, which stood at 31.66 per cent on June 14, fell to around 6 per cent two months later. A high positivity rate indicates that only the potentially sick are being tested; a low positivity rate points to the slowdown of the spread.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The slowdown in Delhi has been significant. On September 1, it reported 2,312 new cases, up from the seven-day average of 1,855, but well below the peak in June (3,947 cases). With 14,626 patients, Delhi is now fourteenth among states in terms of the number of active cases. There have been 1.77 lakh cases and nearly 4,500 deaths.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Things changed when the focus shifted from providing only tertiary care to giving primary-level care for those with mild disease,” says Dr K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India. “The strategy of segregating people with mild symptoms for home isolation, providing them pulse oximeters and thermometers, and following up with them worked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The involvement of AYUSH medical practitioners helped preempt shortage of manpower. “Kerala, for instance, involved only allopathic doctors initially, giving rise to a shortage. In Delhi, AYUSH doctors have been involved, since April 14, in testing centres, Covid care centres and even hospitals,” says Dr Amar Bodhi R., associate professor at the Delhi government’s Dr B.R. Sur Homoeopathic Medical College and Research Centre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bodhi, who was in charge of six testing centres in Delhi, said the practice of segregating patients worked. “If patients did not show symptoms or had just mild ones, and if they had a separate toilet at home, we would send them into home isolation,” he said. “If they had elderly relatives at home, we would put them in institutional isolation. If they had co-morbidities, or symptoms such as fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, blood pressure less than 90/60, pulse rate more than 120 and [oxygen level] less than 95, then they would be sent to a hospital.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of cases came down also because of the natural course of the Covid-19 spread. “In many urban conglomerations, the infection peaks after a certain number of people are infected; then it begins to stabilise,” said Dr Sumit Ray, head, critical care, Holy Family Hospital. “In New York, the infections peaked at about 20 per cent seropositivity (the instance of blood serum testing positive for a virus). In Delhi, it happened after 23 per cent seropositivity. We were right at the point of being overwhelmed when cases began to stabilise. A younger population also meant fewer deaths. Medical management in the country, as in the city, was better because we had the advantage of learning from the experience of European countries.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since August 21, though, there has been a rise in the number of cases and containment zones. Positivity rate has risen to around 11 per cent, owing to the phasing out of the lockdown and the influx of patients from outside the state. To tackle the situation, the government will increase testing from 20,000 tests a day to 40,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But a significant number of these tests will be rapid antigen tests, which experts say are less than accurate. The gold standard is the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. But Delhi, which has two crore people, conducts only 5,000 to 6,000 RT-PCR tests a day. The number is grossly inadequate, said a health ministry official. Chennai, for instance, conducts 8,000 to 10,000 tests; it has a population of 80 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal knows that the fight is far from over. In an exclusive interview, he spoke about his plan to refine the Covid strategy to save lives and livelihoods. “Aggressive testing is a pillar of the Delhi model,” he told THE WEEK. “That is the only way we can identify and isolate patients early on.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Covid-19 cases in Delhi had stabilised, but a slight increase is now causing concern. How is the government handling the situation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The overall situation is far better than it was in June, [when] we had the second highest active cases in the country. Today we are ranked 14th. Our recovery rate is around 90 per cent, the best in the country, as compared to 76 per cent nationally. Over 70 per cent of our hospital beds are vacant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, there has been a slight increase in cases. We are repeatedly urging the public not to get complacent and to strictly wear masks, maintain social distancing and sanitise hands regularly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Which Covid-19 strategies have worked for Delhi, and what are the key learnings? Do you see any correlation between rising cases and the unlock process?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Till the end of May, the situation in Delhi was under control. We had anticipated a rise in the number of cases with the opening of the lockdown, but the surge was more than expected. That is when the entire city and its two crore people came together to bring Covid under control in what is now popularly called the Delhi model. There are three key principles that constitute the model.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The first principle and foundation of the model is teamwork. So we reached out to everyone—the Central government, non-governmental organisations, resident associations, health workers and, of course, the two crore people of Delhi. Everyone came together to fight Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second principle was acknowledging, appreciating and encouraging constructive criticism. And working towards fixing the problems highlighted by others. For instance, in early June, we started receiving a lot of complaints about Lok Nayak Hospital, the Delhi government’s largest Covid hospital with 2,000 beds. Rather than clashing with those highlighting issues, we fixed all issues one by one. The media was particularly helpful in mediating concerns and pointing us in the right direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third principle is that no matter how bad the situation turns, the government cannot give up. The Karnataka health minister recently said: ‘Now only God can save us.’ I can understand the anxiety and helplessness of that minister. But as a government, you cannot give up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Delhi was among the first to use rapid antigen tests to augment testing. How do you plan to modulate your testing strategy in the coming days?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/In June, Delhi became the first in the country to start using rapid antigen tests. We found that when cases surged, many people started complaining about having to wait for RT-PCR tests. That is because we have limited lab capacity in Delhi. But rapid tests allowed us to immediately scale up testing from around 10,000 tests to 20,000 tests a day. We have created testing facilities in schools and dispensaries, where we are encouraging people to get rapid test done for free. At 81,000 tests per million, we are testing more than anywhere else in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In light of the slight increase in cases, we have decided to further double the number of tests to 40,000 a day, and to extend the timings of dispensaries, clinics and hospitals, where these tests are being done for free.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There has been a huge debate on plasma therapy across the world. You are an advocate of the therapy. How has it been used in Delhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We studied the experiences of many countries and found plasma therapy to be a promising option. I am not saying that it is the treatment for Covid-19; but even if there is a small chance of saving someone’s life, we should try it. Today, Delhi has shown the way as far as plasma therapy is concerned. Delhi was the first to initiate trials of convalescent plasma therapy at Lok Nayak Hospital in April; the trials showed encouraging results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequently, we launched the country’s first two plasma banks in Delhi in early July, so that patients in need of plasma can get it free of cost and without hassle. We are running awareness campaigns to encourage recovered patients to donate their plasma. So far, more than 900 recovered patients have donated plasma, and around 710 units of plasma have been used in the recovery of patients across hospitals in Delhi. The recovery rate in Delhi has gone up to 90 per cent; it has been possible because of measures like plasma therapy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last week, when the US announced its decision to promote plasma therapy among critical patients, I felt proud. What Delhi did yesterday, the US is doing today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your home quarantine strategy is a highlight of the Delhi model.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Home isolation was the cornerstone of Delhi’s Covid turnaround. We studied what was going wrong in Italy, Spain and New York. There, they would take every Covid patient, whether mild or severe, to hospitals and quarantine facilities. So when patients who actually needed critical care reached hospitals, there was no space for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi’s home isolation model has set an example for the whole world. More than 90 per cent of Covid patients either have no symptoms or show mild symptoms like fever or cough. They can stay home and look after themselves. We explained to patients what to do during home isolation and what precautions to take. Our team of doctors checks on patients every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also provided pulse oximeters free of cost to every single patient in home isolation. The biggest problem faced by a patient is a sudden drop in oxygen levels, also called ‘happy hypoxia’. If the oxygen level falls to 90, it is considered serious; if it falls below 85, it is considered very serious, and you will experience trouble breathing. It was observed that some patients had no symptoms at all, but their oxygen levels dropped drastically. Before they could be taken to hospital, they succumbed to Covid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, more than 90 per cent of patients in Delhi are recovering in home isolation. A significant achievement is that no patient in home isolation has died since July 14.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A big concern has been the availability of beds, particularly ICU beds. How did the Delhi government tackle this? What are your views on pricing issues and the need to regulate private hospitals?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/When the number of deaths started increasing in June, I spoke to doctors and health experts. A major recommendation that came was the need to increase ICU beds. We also found that many deaths were taking place in wards rather than in ICUs.</p> <p>That is when we decided to increase ICU beds in Delhi on a war footing. From less than 500 ICU beds in early June, Delhi today has more 2,100 ICU beds, about 1,200 of which are vacant. We saw reports from many cities, where patients ran from one hospital to another to locate a vacant bed. We avoided that in Delhi by launching Delhi Corona, an app that gives real-time status of vacant ICU beds in government and private hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Affordability of health care is very important, especially so in times of a pandemic. But any kind of price capping should be done with caution and in consultation with private hospitals. In Delhi, we talked to all stakeholders before deciding to cap the prices of isolation beds and ICUs in private hospitals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You want the Delhi metro reopened. Given the metro’s huge ridership and the concerns about the spread of the virus in closed spaces, how do you plan to manage the situation if it reopens?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Metro rail and buses are the lifeline of Delhi. I have said this earlier also: We need to learn to live with Covid and let the economy find its feet. Crores of people across the country have lost jobs because of this pandemic. But we can’t go back to our old ways. That is why even when the Delhi metro reopens, it will have very strict standard operating procedures regarding passenger screening and enforcement of social distancing. We had resumed Delhi’s bus services in June with strict SOPs; we haven’t heard of cases spreading because of buses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your view on reopening schools?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I don’t think anything can replace the experience of learning in a classroom or playing with your friends. But the risks [of reopening schools] are far too high. Till Covid is completely under control, we are not going to open schools and colleges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to bolster the economic situation in Delhi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/Reviving Delhi’s economy, even as we keep Covid in check, is our biggest priority now. I think two factors are going to be most important. First, people will need to stop fearing the virus. Only then can businesses open and consumers start spending. We are beginning to see this happen in Delhi, since the situation here has substantially improved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, governments need to avoid imposing arbitrary lockdowns. I am seeing many states imposing two- and five-day lockdowns. This will only hurt the economy further. Delhi is the best example of how to control the spread of Covid without resorting to lockdowns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each state will need to take specific measures to revive its economy. We have already taken many decisions. We reduced VAT (value added tax) on diesel by Rs8.38 a litre in one go in July; allowed street vendors and weekly markets to start operating, and hotels and banquet halls linked to Covid hospitals to start functioning normally; and launched ‘Rozgar Bazaar’, a jobs portal that connects employers and jobseekers. In just one month, 10.5 lakh jobseekers have registered and there are over eight lakh active job vacancies. In addition, I am holding regular meetings with traders, industry associations and businesses, and listening to their suggestions so that together we can get Delhi’s economy back on track.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Delhi government and the Union home ministry had several disagreements about managing the pandemic. How were these disagreements reconciled?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We have worked closely with the Central government and all other stakeholders in the fight against Covid. Naturally, there will be some disagreements in terms of what strategy to deploy. For example, Delhi’s home isolation model was key to our overall Covid strategy, but the Central government cancelled the programme because of some misapprehensions. So we sat down with them and explained to them each and every element of our home isolation programme, and convinced them of its need. The media and the people of Delhi also voiced their support. I am glad the Centre reversed its decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Non-BJP chief ministers have opposed the Centre on two key issues—holding the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the shortfall in goods and services tax collections.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I feel that the health and life of students is sacrosanct and we just can’t compromise on that. We understand that conducting exams is necessary, but [it should not] put lives at risk. We suggest postponing exams or finding an alternate way of conducting them at least for this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the Constitution, the Centre is obligated to give states GST compensation for lost revenues. It is the states that are at the forefront of fighting Covid, so the Centre should go even beyond its constitutional obligations and support states in all possible ways. Unfortunately, at the last meeting of the GST council, the Centre refused to meet its obligations. This is a huge betrayal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What would be the big challenges for your government in the coming days?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The biggest challenge at this moment is to get the economy back on track and restore the lost livelihoods of lakhs of people, including migrant labourers who were the most affected by the pandemic. Only if the economy improves will government revenues improve. And only then will we be able to work on many other important issues in Delhi, like environment, sanitation and infrastructure development.</p> Fri Sep 04 17:10:01 IST 2020 metros-vs-microbe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE SURGE IS</b> here. Of tests for Covid-19 and of new cases. On August 30, India conducted 8.4 lakh tests, recorded 78,761 new cases—a single-day high for any country—and saw 948 people die of the disease. The distribution of the case load and the deaths has not been uniform. The Union health ministry says that about 70 per cent of the cases are concentrated in seven states—Maharashtra (21 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (13.5 per cent), Karnataka (11.27 per cent), Tamil Nadu (8.27 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (8.27 per cent), West Bengal (3.84 per cent) and Odisha (3.84 per cent). Half the deaths reported are from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as these states struggle to manage their case load, India's Covid-19 story can be traced to its burgeoning metropolises, from where it is slowly spreading out to smaller districts and rural areas. The contagion entered the country with the international traveller through some of its busiest airports, and began ravaging its bustling cities. For the virus, the mega cities proved to be fertile grounds to replicate—crammed hutments in slums standing cheek-by-jowl with plush housing societies, busy markets and sardines-in-a-can scenes in its public transport systems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oblivious to the administrative or geographic boundaries and undeterred by a nationwide lockdown, the contagion 'bloomed' in the disease hotspots—from the densely packed slums of Mumbai to the crowded wholesale vegetable markets of Delhi's Azadpur mandi and Chennai's Koyambedu. Sero survey reports suggest that the undetected cases in our cities are several fold higher than the RT-PCR detected cases—about 30 per cent people in Delhi are sero-positive, 16 to 57 per cent are so in Mumbai, 51.5 per cent in Pune (albeit in a smaller, much less representative sample) and one-fifth of Chennai’s population has been exposed to the virus. The Delhi sero-survey, for instance, suggests that about 58 lakh people have the antibodies and virus exposure, while the reported cases are only around 1.7 lakh as of August end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cases in Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata have plateaued in the past few weeks, though Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru continue to struggle. Even as some cities pause to catch their breath, and unlock the economy, experts say it is not yet time to lower our guard. As people begin to move out of homes, testing will remain the key to managing the spread of the virus. “If we look at Chennai, epidemic management can be divided into two phases—pre and post June 20, when we saw the biggest peak. It has been over a month now that we have seen cases stabilise,” says Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, public health expert at the ICMR-National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai. “What has worked for the city is that for a population of 80 lakh, we are doing 8,000-10,000 tests per day. Positivity rate, which should ideally be under 5 per cent, stands at 8-11 per cent in the city. Mask compliance and people's [willingness] to come forward and get tested have also made a major difference.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from RT-PCR tests, several states are now doing rapid antigen testing, although the chances of false negatives can be high in the latter. “It does help rule out the positives, but unless the symptomatic negatives are re-tested, which many states are not doing, it does not work. The Tamil Nadu government has made a conscious decision of not doing rapid antigen tests,” says Kaur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>States that were able to use the lockdown to prepare their health systems are faring better, says Dr Giridhar R. Babu, professor and head, lifecourse epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). But he adds that it is a misconception that any city has undertaken miraculous strategies, what with the basics being the same—testing, contact tracing, isolating and treating. The temporary plateau in a few cities could be attributed to the less movement of people, and as and when people step out, the cases would increase.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Babu and Kaur insist that a rise in cases is not a fact to be hidden or feared. “There is a perception that states that are reporting higher numbers are somehow not doing good. But increased numbers are only a function of enhanced testing. Focus has to be on reducing deaths,” says Babu. “Look at Andhra Pradesh, for instance, where a case fatality rate of 0.9 per cent has been reported. Once the sero-positivity results are out, this number will come down even further.” The Union government, too, has asked states with high case loads and deaths to bring down their case fatality rate under 1 per cent across all districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Following simple public health strategies has worked for some cities. For instance, Delhi, which opened up really fast, saw a rise in cases, but managed the situation with the home isolation model, providing people pulse oximeters and thermometers at home and monitoring their condition, says Dr K. Srinath Reddy, president, PHFI, who is part of the ICMR's task force for Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Reddy says that testing, coupled with contact tracing, isolating, mask compliance and physical distancing, can alone let us live with a virus that is here to stay. “We need to test intelligently, given that sensitivity for RT-PCR tests is 60-65 per cent and for rapid antigen tests it is about 50 per cent,” he says. “The company that manufactures the RT-PCR test itself says that a negative test does not mean much. Which is why clinical investigation such as chest CT scans and monitoring for symptoms is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Strict measures such as enforcing lockdown and current strategies of testing and isolation have failed, says Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, former principal and head of the department of community health, CMC, Vellore. “This is a disease of the elderly, causing high mortality among those over 60. Those aged less than 50 are by and large affected mildly. The focus has to be on protecting the vulnerable,” he says. “Instead what some states did initially was to admit even those with sub-clinical infection. That did not help and in some places even overwhelmed the systems.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To deal with the virus effectively, the country has to incorporate certain strategies in its public health response, says Muliyil. “First, there has to be a change in attitude,” he says. “Instead of stigmatising those who have recovered, we need to understand that once infected, the recovered individual will have long-lasting immunity. This long-lasting immunity is also the reason why vaccines will work to protect against this disease.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Muliyil says that both herd immunity by natural infection and immunity through vaccines will help in dealing with the disease. “Herd immunity varies: in some diseases such as measles it is 90 per cent, but in the case of influenza, it is 40 per cent. In the case of H1N1, once 40 per cent of the population got it, the disease disappeared for a year. A year later, with new births, that balance tilted and we saw fresh cases. Similarly, in this case by the time we reach that point, there will be a vaccine. So the scenario looks pretty positive,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In rural areas, the transmission would be slower, as they are not as crowded and are sparsely populated. Healthcare systems in smaller towns would need support in dealing with pneumonia and early management of severe cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What is clear is that you cannot isolate human beings for too long in a bid to 'catch the virus',” says Muliyil. “There is a need to be honest about community transmission, about the protection of the vulnerable and the elderly, and the need to save lives. At this point, communities and local administration need to deal with the disease together, not in isolation or dictated by fear.”</p> Fri Sep 04 14:46:06 IST 2020 newer-targets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH CLOSE TO</b> 1.5 lakh cases within city limits and an additional 1.8 lakh in the extended metropolitan region, Mumbai's fight with Covid-19 has been a staggering one. Every day, the city reports between 1,100 and 1,300 new cases and nearly 50 people die from the virus. In many ways, Covid-19 has exposed the dream city's vulnerabilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the initial months after the first case was recorded in the city on March 11, Mumbai scrambled to hold together its shaky health infrastructure. It battled lack of medical equipment, dearth of frontline health workers in leading public hospitals, a huge migrant crisis, food shortage in high-density areas, the threat of transmission in slums, sudden transfers of municipal commissioners, undercounting of deaths, and frequently changing testing policies that were sometimes at variance with ICMR guidelines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I think Mumbai took a long time to take decisions and decentralise the control of Covid-19,” says Sayli Mankikar, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation. “It was too little too late when it began. But after Iqbal Chahal (current municipal commissioner) took over [in early May], a new protocol was put in place, which worked. I feel we need to innovate and disrupt further.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the six months since the first case, Mumbai has created temporary medical infrastructure and has contained transmission in Dharavi and other high-density areas through an aggressive ‘test, trace, track and treat’ policy. But the city is now tackling three immediate problems—containing the infection spread in non-slum, high-rise areas; arresting the growing number of critical patients; and bringing down an ever-increasing fatality rate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The best part of Mumbai's fight is that 80 per cent of the non-health care responsibility has been handled by the non-profit sector and activist citizens,” says Shishir Joshi, founder of the non-profit Project Mumbai. “The state busied itself with catering to the shortages in basic health care infrastructure. There was a complete breakdown in communication from the authorities and the excuse that the virus [gave] us no time to prepare does not hold ground in a mega-city like Mumbai. It only brings into focus the 25 years of incompetence of the municipal government in power.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation official, on the condition of anonymity, said: “The BMC has left no stone unturned in its efforts to contain the transmission of the virus in the city; Dharavi is the best example of it. And if we have a high number of infections, we also have an equally high number of those who have recovered and have been discharged from hospitals. The recovery rate stands at 81 per cent. So, one only needs perspective to analyse the work done by the corporation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, Mumbai’s fatality rate stands at 5.3 per cent, which is higher than the state (3.2 per cent) and national average (1.8 per cent). Late admissions to hospitals and infrequent check-ups of patients at home have contributed to the high mortality, say experts. The aim is to bring it below 3 per cent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To do this, the BMC has urged private hospitals to refer critical patients to civic-run Covid-19 health centres and major hospitals. This is part of the civic body's 'Mission Save Lives', a nine-point strategy launched on June 30, which aims to reduce fatalities through video surveillance of patients and mandatory audit of every death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“More than half of all fatalities have been among those under the age of 60, which is very high in comparison to most countries,” says Dr Murad Banaji, a mathematician at Middlesex University London who works in disease modelling. Examining the sero-survey that detected 57 per cent infection in high-density slums across three wards, including Dharavi, Banaji says that it is likely that there were over 50,000 infections in the city by the end of March. “The spread in Mumbai was quite rapid in the slums between late March and early April,” he says. “The report was a shock even for researchers. What we missed is that there was a slow ongoing spread in housing societies as well. The reason for the slow decline in the cases in Mumbai is that we still have spread in housing societies.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, the BMC is looking after discharged patients through 'Mumbai Maitri', a dedicated remote-monitoring set-up that has trained health care workers calling home-quarantined patients and doing regular follow-ups. Around 20 lakh citizens in the city have completed their quarantine; more than 1.5 lakh are currently under home quarantine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Convinced that Dharavi is flattening the curve, the BMC has decided to shut down the jumbo facilities created to tackle the pandemic there. The citizens, however, see a sense of fatigue among those in-charge. “I feel everyone has given up, really,” says a 23-year-old woman in Dombivli. “My relative who tested positive some time back has not received a single call from the authorities asking how he is feeling post-Covid-19.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mankikar, however, says: “Mumbai is in a much better situation and the administration has got a stronger grip on all the services. Our numbers are still high but we have at least sorted issues in the high-density areas. We still have a long way to go to completely open up, but we are inching closer to that goal.”</p> Fri Sep 04 14:35:19 IST 2020 not-there-yet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“<b>THINGS ARE NOT</b> as bad as you might think,” asserted Debraj Jash, principal pulmonologist at Kolkata's Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. “With more tests in the past ten days, the [growth rate] of infections has become static in Kolkata. We are optimistic seeing the situation. If we tackle the impending unlocking carefully, we might be able to win the race as the Covid-19 curve in Kolkata has been plateauing a bit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jash even claimed that the city had reached its Covid-19 peak. While West Bengal has been reporting about 3,500 cases a day, Kolkata has seen around 550. While daily testing in the state a few months ago was 5,000, it is now around 45,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“[However,] many battles have to be fought in the future,” he said, "especially when the government unlocks the whole system. So, we need to keep an eye on emerging issues.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said that the treatment protocol for Covid-19 had advanced a lot since March. “Initially, we did not use steroids,” he said. “Now we know how to use them, what medicine to use and how long such steroids should be used. That has been reflected in the change of scenario.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hospitals are also trying to admit fewer people. Many are treated in the outpatient department, and others are urged to stay at home. “The patient needs to take certain medicines at home,” said Jash. “If the patient's oxygen level is going down or if there is shortness of breath, he would have to report to the hospital. Otherwise, we are treating them at home.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Indranil Khan, a cancer specialist: “I have many patients who, despite their comorbidities, won the fight against Covid-19 because they got tested early and did not panic. All of my patients, who are mostly immunocompromised, have won the battle thanks to early detection.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>State Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha said that most of those who have died of Covid-19 had reported to hospital late. “So, the administration's biggest challenge is to bring them treatment without wasting any time,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the reasons for late reporting in Kolkata is the social stigma associated with Covid-19.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another worry is the expensive fees in private hospitals. Many patients have complained to the state health commission about private hospitals denying them treatment unless they paid upfront. “They would ask if you have money for down payment,” said Sushil Roy, a resident of north Kolkata. “Once you say you have insurance, they would say no bed is available. My bill for 15 days was close to 010 lakh.” Roy, a retired PSU officer, had to use his personal contacts to get admission in the hospital. “But think of people who do not have the contacts of high-profile people,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan, however, noted that even if the medicines were cheap, the hospitals had to do a lot of tests and had other patient-related expenses. He said the hospitals charging for these was acceptable as long as they were not eyeing profits. “I suggest the government have a designated officer to look into the billing of each private hospital,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>West Bengal now has to consult the Union government before imposing lockdowns outside containment zones. Medical experts said the situation might be troublesome if unlocking is not handled properly. “Many infected persons are staying at home,” said Jash. “A large number of them are asymptomatic. But once everything is open, they would have to come out for work. This would cause a second wave.”</p> Fri Sep 04 14:33:21 IST 2020 cautious-optimism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>BENGALURU CROSSED ONE</b> lakh Covid-19 cases on August 21, accounting for 37 per cent of the total cases in Karnataka. In May, the city had been praised as a model for managing the pandemic as it had reported only 280 cases and 11 deaths. But since mid-July, the city has found itself battling a surge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The surge followed the lifting of the lockdown, the resumption of economic activities, interstate migration, fatigue of Covid warriors, complacency in contact tracing and the callous attitude of the citizens. Health officials, however, hint that the pandemic may have peaked in the city. “The ongoing sero survey can indicate the peak or the prevalence and immunity levels in the community. But our focus now should be to contain the virus, reduce mortality and adhere to the social distancing norms,” said Dr M.K. Sudarshan, chairman of Karnataka’s Covid-19 technical advisory committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi, which has a population of 1.9 crore, had nearly 3,500 daily positive cases at the peak of the pandemic. Daily positive cases in Bengaluru, with a population of 1.3 crore, seem to have plateaued at around 3,500, although testing has been scaled up. "In the beginning of July, we used to conduct 4,000 tests per day. Now we are conducting 25,000 tests. We are also tracing more contacts per patient," said Munish Moudgil, special officer for the Covid-19 war room.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shortage of beds has been a major challenge. It is now being addressed with a real-time centralised bed allocation system, which helps patients locate hospitals with bed availability. A change in the quarantine norms has been rewarding, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Home isolation has reduced deaths. Patients are regularly monitored using pulse oximeters and are rushed to hospitals only if their oxygen saturation level drops,” said Dr C. Nagaraj, a member of Karnataka’s treatment protocol committee. “At least 40 per cent of the Covid patients who came to hospitals used to die within a day. But now, ward-wise medical triage teams are helping in early intervention and also in freeing up hospital beds for critical patients.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bengaluru team has found that high flow nasal cannula and non-invasive ventilation are more effective than ventilators for critical patients. “We started monitoring all patients with finger clip pulse oximeters, which give an alert the moment oxygen levels go below the threshold level. This has improved the chances of survival,” said Dr Trilok Chandra, chief nodal officer of Tele ICU, an online facility to treat critically ill patients in remote areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike has stopped barricading containment zones and labelling homes under quarantine to destigmatise Covid and encourage people to seek early medical intervention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Karnataka Medical Education Minister Dr K. Sudhakar, who has been the face of the battle against the pandemic in the state, said Bengaluru was leading from the front in providing innovative solutions to fight Covid-19. “Bengaluru accounts for only 10 per cent of the total deaths among the top four metro cities in the country,” said Sudhakar. “The mortality rate in Bengaluru has come down from 3.11 per cent on May 31 to 1.55 per cent in August. The recovery rate is 66.12 per cent, with less than 1 per cent of the cases being treated in ICUs. So Bengaluru is definitely doing well in containing the pandemic.”</p> Fri Sep 04 14:24:31 IST 2020 proceeding-with-caution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN RECENT DAYS,</b> Health Minister C. Vijayabaskar and his team have been hailed as the saviours of Tamil Nadu. The state has, in the past six months, done the most testing—nearly 80,000 every day since August 29. It has also been locked down the most. While the growth rate of cases has plateaued in the past few weeks, the number of deaths—7,322—is still worrying.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state’s battle against the virus took a turn in mid-April, when J. Radhakrishnan replaced Beela Rajesh as health secretary. The former has experience in handling disasters, and he was immediately faced with one. The Koyambedu wholesale market in Chennai became a hotspot, and the city began recording more than 2,000 cases daily. “This is when we decided to go for door-to-door screening,” Vijayabaskar told THE WEEK. The health department set up fever camps in every ward of Chennai. About five months later, the Greater Chennai Corporation has nearly 190 fever camps in the city. Any person can walk in and get tested. The result of the RT-PCR test, which took three days in April, takes six to 12 hours now. “This is because we have government-run testing centres in every district,” said Vijayabaskar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are 150 approved testing centres across the state; 87 of these are private. The government bears the cost of testing there, too. The state spends 07 crore every day on testing, said Vijayabaskar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When a person tests positive for the virus, the authorities call him and dispatch an ambulance. A bed is allotted, based on availability, before he reaches the hospital. A pack of medicines, which includes vitamin and zinc tablets, is kept ready for the patient. A blood test and a CT scan are done, based on which the medicine dosage is decided. “We give remdesivir and tocilizumab based on requirement,” said Vijayabaskar. “Earlier, we did not have ample stock of these drugs. But now we are self-sufficient.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Testing apart, the minister explained how the government handled Covid-19 clusters. The Koyambedu market aside, there was focus on micro-clusters, particularly in crowded slums. “We set up toilets within containment zones,” he said. “We ensured people got everything, so that they do not come out. Food supply to every household in the micro-clusters was ensured.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But now, as the city reopens, the health system would have to be wary. “I do not know if there will be rapid spread, but we are well prepared to handle it,” said Vijayabaskar. He added that the health infrastructure, which has been scaled up by 30 per cent, will be expanded to 50 per cent in the next two weeks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai, for instance, there are 2,000 beds exclusively for Covid-19 patients; the number was 50 in March. “We ensure that 30 per cent of the beds are available to accommodate new patients,” said Dr T.S. Selvavinayagam, director of public health. “So, when the hospital gets 70 per cent filled up, we immediately increase the number of beds by scaling up the infrastructure in every hospital. The lockdown helped us work out strategies to contain the spread and scale up infrastructure.”</p> Fri Sep 04 14:23:15 IST 2020