Cover Story en Sat Mar 07 16:18:16 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 hoping-against-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE GREATER HYDERABAD</b> region has been an area of great concern for the Telangana government with respect to Covid-19 cases. With a population of more than 1 crore—almost a quarter of the state's population—it accounted for more than half of the total cases in the state. Of the 836 deaths in the state till September 1, around 60 per cent have been in and around the city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Till a few weeks back, the state capital had only one multispeciality hospital and two state-run hospitals dedicated to Covid-19. Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao had expressed concern about the rise in cases in Hyderabad and pitched for continuing the lockdown and night curfew in the city even after Unlock 1.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the authorities seem to have turned things around. The city now has more than 100 labs testing for Covid-19 and around the same number of enlisted hospitals. According to rough estimates, around 15,000 positive patients in the city are in home quarantine. The police have busted a couple of rackets which were selling Covid-19 drugs in the black market and have campaigned to encourage plasma donation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, cases have fallen in Hyderabad, while increasing in the rest of the state. In the last week of June, over 700 cases were recorded daily in Greater Hyderabad after testing less than 5,000 samples. On August 28, over 62,000 samples were tested in the state, a significant number from Greater Hyderabad, and only 432 were positive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>G. Srinivas Rao, director of public health, Telangana, recently hinted that the curve is already flattening in Hyderabad. Health Minister E. Rajender, who had been heavily criticised for the surge in cases, is a confident man today. "A multi-pronged approach got us to this stage," he said. "We educated people about the virus, and are continuously improving treatment facilities and testing more." He added that the government had also tackled the issue of private hospitals charging exorbitant fees. "There is no shortage of beds or oxygen support," he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The minister said: “We feel that the virus is now less virulent. It does not look as dangerous as it was before.” Though discreet about it, state health officials are also pinning their hopes on herd immunity. A recent study by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology concluded that around six lakh people (about 6 per cent of the city's population) might have been infected already. A health official said that this number, if true, shows that the city has survived the pandemic “with just a scratch” as deaths were much lower than predicted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Giridhar R. Babu, epidemiologist and professor, Public Health Foundation of India does not agree with the government’s view. "The available data is insufficient to assess the spread of Covid-19 in Hyderabad," he said. "But I wouldn’t assume that the curve is flattening so fast. As people come out slowly there is a higher risk of more people getting infected. It does not look like we have reached a stage of herd immunity as the number of positive cases being reported are still high."</p> Fri Sep 04 14:22:16 IST 2020 viral-fervour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Never since Lady Macbeth has hand washing become such an obsession. And opportunity. Once an accessory of just health care professionals and, perhaps, hypochondriacs, the hand sanitiser today comes Modi-endorsed, up there in the list of essential commodities for offices, shops and homes.</p> <p>So, just as well, that from a handful of brands, as many as 152 new companies entered the sanitiser manufacturing market in the month of March alone, according to Nielsen India. Scores more followed suit in the ensuing months, ranging from startups and pharmaceuticals to liquor manufacturers and sugar mills.</p> <p>Rahm Emanuel, who was chief of staff in Obama’s White House, put it succinctly. “Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before!”</p> <p>So it was when the pandemic-lockdown lethal duo sucker-punched India. While most of us withdrew to the safety of the four walls of homes, an intrepid bunch decided to unleash its ingenuity. From Bengaluru’s Log9, which came up with a CoronaOven to sterilise anything from milk packets to a wad of cash, to the Gollar robot employed in Covid-19 wards in Mumbai to serve food and medicines to patients, to the IIT Madras wrist-band that tracks early Covid-19 symptoms and notifies the result via Bluetooth, the examples are plenty.</p> <p>As their ‘normal’ business models fell by the wayside overnight, companies far and wide had to pivot. The giant Tata Consultancy Services nimbly adapted to a work-from-home model overnight. When restaurants and food delivery came to a halt, Wow! Momo, a pan-Indian takeaway, switched to delivering essentials. With passenger flights banned, SpiceJet scaled up cargo services, ran repatriation flights for stranded Indians, and even launched an insurance scheme offering test, medication, consultation and hospitalisation cover for Covid-19 patients. Kolkata’s Agarwal Industries, which makes cement bags, got into making bags to store grain and dry rations; it added an ultraviolet additive to ensure cereals are not damaged even stored in open sunlight.</p> <p>“You are now seeing instances where auto manufacturers are producing ventilators, sanitary napkin manufacturers are producing surgical masks and sugar industries are manufacturing hand sanitisers,” NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant told THE WEEK. “There is absolutely no dearth of innovation in India, and going forward, businesses must not only innovate but also adapt to the changes in demand that have been brought about by this crisis.”</p> <p>Then there are companies that reinvented themselves overnight. Mukesh Ambani was probably the busiest man in the past few months, as he sewed up deals left, right and centre. He is in a process of rebuilding the conglomerate that his father, Dhirubhai, built on oil and petrochemicals. The new focus? Digital commerce, with a vengeance.</p> <p>Yes, there is fear. And yes, there is uncertainty. Yet, one of the many lessons India—and the world—is learning from this pandemic panic is that there is hope, and opportunity. As scientist Raghunath Mashelkar asked recently, “What better way to innovate than in the time of a crisis?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Hyper-ventilator</b></p> <p>Looking back, it is rather funny. In April and May, alarm bells had started ringing as Covid-19 cases started spiking and the country stared at an acute shortage of ventilators. While India’s hospitals cumulatively had less than half a lakh ventilators, worst-case scenarios projected that it may end up with two lakh Covid-19 cases requiring ventilator support. By August, that story had come full circle. A stream of intrepid innovations has now left the country with a problem of plenty. With ventilator production rising from roughly 5,000 per month in March to 50,000 in just a few months, the government had to authorise their exports from August 1.</p> <p>While the likes of Bharat Electronics, along with Skanray and DRDO, did their bit by churning out 30,000 ICU ventilators by Independence Day, the role of India’s auto industry in this dramatic turnaround is no less impressive. After a communique from the heavy industries ministry, auto companies hooked up with ventilator makers.</p> <p>It soon became clear that the issue was two-fold. With ventilator demand till then limited to big hospitals, there were just a handful of companies making it. The numbers were small and the cost high. The auto companies had more than just the task of production at hand.</p> <p>MG Motor, for instance, tied up with Vadodara-based ventilator maker MAX to scale up production. MG’s plant is in Halol in Gujarat. The collaboration focused on scaling up production by addressing issues in the supply chain, IT system and manufacturing process.</p> <p>The production capacity was increased five times, to 300 ventilators per month, in the first phase, which was completed by June, with an eventual enhancement up to 1,000 ventilators a month. “We are committed to supporting our country’s fight against Covid-19. This collaboration is designed to work towards the common goal of serving the community,” said Rajeev Chaba, president and managing director, MG Motor India.</p> <p>Maruti Suzuki tied up with Delhi-based ventilator maker AgVa to scale up production, source components, help in financing and also with upgrading systems. Hyundai collaborated with French company Air Liquide Medical Systems to make and supply hospital ventilators, targetting 1,000 in the first phase. Skoda-Volkswagen used 3D printers to convert snorkelling masks, and use them for surgical procedures. It also helped in manufacturing intubation boxes for doctors as well as mechanical Ambu bags. Mahindra &amp; Mahindra has been even more ambitious, and developed a ventilator that costs just Rs7,500, even while working on developing an automated Ambu bag.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Doctor will ‘see’ you now</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Joyeeta Basu is precise in her instructions. “Press two fingers down just below your sternum,” she guides, as I lie down on my bed. “Do you feel any discomfort, any pain?” she asks, before telling me to do the same on the stomach and lower abdomen. Then she asks me to stick my tongue out, shakes her head and pronounces the golden words that soothe my frayed nerves. “No, it’s not Covid,” she says. “Seems like a belly infection that sparked off this fever.”</p> <p>A regular day at the doctor’s? Not quite. Basu did her diagnosis over a WhatsApp video call, and sent the prescription over email. The payment was done over net banking, though there was an option of UPI as well.</p> <p>Telemedicine, for long viewed suspiciously by patients and the government as a tech-fangled option that could never replace a hands-on consultation, became a life-saver, as patients and medics finally took to it as the ‘new normal’. It is now the boom story of 2020—as per RedSeer Consulting, India’s digital health market will jump from Rs9,000 crore last year to Rs33,000 crore this year.</p> <p>Practo Technologies, one of the leading players in the space, says online consultations went up 500 per cent since March. Apollo Hospitals’ tele-consultations reportedly have gone up three-fold since March; it expects 40 per cent of its consultations to move online in the next three years. Another player, 1mg, had 150 doctors on its platform, but come lockdown, it says 10,000 doctors wanted to sign up!</p> <p>It also helped that the government changed rules, accepting tele-consultation as an essential service. As per a report by the US-based Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics &amp; Policy, India has a shortage of six lakh doctors and 20 lakh nurses. While the government operates telemedicine services like eSanjeevani, a part of Ayushman Bharat, it is evident that a rapid scaling up by private operators will speed up coverage.</p> <p>Practo has been on an overdrive, getting on board more doctors and clinics and training them on protocols, even while launching subscription-based health plans for customers. “For long, telemedicine remained a luxury for many. Today, it’s a necessity. More so for the two-thirds of the country’s population that resides in villages,” said Shashank N.D., cofounder and CEO of Practo. “Imagine what having access to a doctor on the phone could do to this population!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Hotel families</b></p> <p>Quarantine, which directly translates into ‘40 days’, turned out to be literally that for Bhima Sankar Raju—that is how many days he got stuck in a hotel when lockdown was announced. An oil rig engineer with GE, Raju was on his way to his hometown, Rajamundhry in Andhra Pradesh, from an offshore oil rig off Mumbai, when he got stuck in transit in Hyderabad. “Flights to smaller cities were cancelled in advance,” he recalled.</p> <p>Stuck at the Novotel Hyderabad Airport hotel, Raju slowly adapted to a life in quarantine amid strangers. “I quickly became friends with some pilots and expats who were also stuck,” he said. The hotel tried to keep its quarantined guests engaged with a novel concept—guests were given a patch in the hotel’s herb and vegetable garden to tend, to pass time playing ‘farmer’.</p> <p>“They guided us, and we spent an hour every day tending to ‘our’ garden,” Raju said. “It was quite satisfying, it kept us active and made us cheerful. And now I feel like there is a part of me in a corner of that hotel forever.”</p> <p>From ‘DIY kits’ of restaurant-grade ingredients, discount vouchers that could be redeemed in the future and social media gigs and cooking classes, big hotel chains left no stone unturned to engage their patrons, despite being pummelled in the first wave of the pandemic’s aftermath.</p> <p>“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to innovate and engage with our consumers through newer avenues,” said Kerrie Hannaford, India head of Accor, the world’s second largest hotel chain which runs brands like Novotel, Fairmont, Ibis and Sofitel. Many hotels put on their thinking hats trying to figure out how to ride it out, ranging from offering properties as Covid-19 treatment or isolation facilities, as well as giving packages for ‘work from hotel’ for those tired of hibernating in their apartments.</p> <p>Many hotels tried to make up for the guest restrictions for weddings by throwing in packages for a honeymoon stay for the couple. While the Sarovar group actively courted MNC executives who were forced to leave their company guest houses, the Taj group came up with packages like 4D and Urban Getaways for guests who want staycations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>First day, first show</b></p> <p>Over-the-top, or OTT, the web-based streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, have consistently maintained their buzz factor over the past year or so. Yet, even by this measure, their lockdown innovations were truly over the top.</p> <p>Take Disney+ Hotstar, the OTT market leader, for instance. ‘First Day First Show ki home delivery’ was the ambitious tag line it gave to premiering an array of Bollywood films, skipping the traditional modes that normally preceded an OTT appearance, like theatre release, DVD and satellite TV telecast. With cinemas across the country shut down for the fifth month running, it could not have been better timed.</p> <p>“People want pictures, and they are locked up at home. There are only 52 weeks for movie releases. So we thought, why not use the pandemic to create a big, big alternative world of a virtual, private theatre in everybody’s homes,” said Uday Shankar, chairman, Star &amp; Disney India. Disney+ Hotstar’s plan is to premiere Bollywood films that could not make it to theatre due to the lockdown, one every Friday. This includes big ticket titles like Sushant Singh Rajput’s last film <i>Dil Bechara</i>, <i>Laxmmi Bomb</i> (Akshay Kumar) and <i>Bhuj: The Pride of India</i> (Ajay Devgn).</p> <p>Going by economics, it makes sense to most filmmakers. The longer they wait for theatres to open, the bigger is the interest burden on their investment, not to forget the ever-present threat of prints being leaked on the internet. There were also worries that once cinemas open, the prized slots will be gobbled up by releases from big production houses and A-list stars, leaving other films at a disadvantage.</p> <p>For a movie going straight to OTT, the money paid by the platform forms the biggest chunk of its revenue, followed by satellite and audio rights. But it also saves on the massive promotional and distribution costs a theatrical release would have incurred. Of course, this would mean that the makers will never find out if it could have been a 0100 crore film or bigger, but producers call it a ‘risk-free deal’, especially for an off-beat or non-superstar film.</p> <p>For streaming platforms, too, movies are what ‘mega soaps’ were to satellite TV. The average time spent by OTT subscribers went up from around 20 minutes to an hour, as per reports. And, with more than 40 OTT platforms, the competition is also rife. This is where movie premieres come in.</p> <p>Unlike satellite TV channels that buy rights to a film and then recoup it from selling ad space during the movie telecast, OTT players depend on subscription. Having a line-up of new films and serials—particularly premiering movies directly on the platform—becomes a USP to increase the subscription. That most subscription packs are annual, or renewed automatically, helps the platforms to retain the subscriber for a longer period.</p> <p>While the powerful distribution-multiplex lobby is not exactly thrilled, for the film industry, there is no other option. Even if the government greenlights the opening of movie halls, surveys show that a vast majority of the public would still be wary of going to cinemas.</p> <p>But for OTT, it is another step in its upward trajectory. “If we can beam films on the 50 crore smartphones in this country… it is going to make the industry much, much bigger,” said Uday Shankar. “We should not see this as a short-term tactical compromise, we should see this as a big leap. It is not an ‘either’ or ‘or’ question, it is a multiplier.” The only issue, as actor Varun Dhawan quipped, would be, “popcorn <i>khud banana padega!</i> (one needs to make one’s own popcorn).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Clean kindly light</b></p> <p>A few hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi put India into a lockdown on March 24 midnight, a bunch of entrepreneurs and innovators in Bengaluru went into a huddle. The men at Log9 were mostly working on nanotechnology and new energy solutions like fuel cells. But that day, they had a more pressing problem.</p> <p>“We were facing problems in our own houses in sanitising stuff,” said Akshay Singhal, founder &amp; CEO of Log9. “That’s when we realised there should be something which helps us sanitise objects much more easily and with complete assurance.”</p> <p>Their solution? The CoronaOven, which uses ultraviolet rays in the wavelength of 253.7 nanometre, a threshold at which germs and bacteria lose their infecting capabilities. It can be used to sterilise anything from a quart of milk to jewellery to gadgets.</p> <p>There was already scientific research that proved that UV light at this wavelength could kill coronavirus which caused SARS back in 2002. Singhal and his team adapted the technology with other parameters and made it easy to use by launching it in a microwave-like format for public use within two weeks of lockdown. “We also realised there was a dire shortage of PPE kits and masks in the country and if you can use this to sanitise them and use them longer, it would help,” he said.</p> <p>“From idea to dispatch, we were quick, despite the lockdown requiring permissions for movement and manufacturing,” said Singhal. Considering the lockdown restrictions, the team tried a mix of institutional sales or sales through public service organisations, as well as through e-commerce platforms like Amazon and 1mg. It is also available on the Central government’s e-marketplace. The oven has 10 variants, with the smallest one retailing at Rs11,000.</p> <p>ICMR-empanelled Central Scientific Instruments Organisation’s (CSIR-CSIO) certification proved to be a shot in the arm. Bengaluru’s Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is jointly working with the firm to carry out further research and optimisation. The technology’s adaptability is perhaps its greatest strength—while the microwave-shaped product fits household purposes, variants include the tunnel installed at the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru to sanitise airport trolleys and a handrail sanitising format for airport escalators. For Ola cabs, the team came up with a device which can be attached to the roof of the car to sanitise interiors between rides. “A car can be sanitised in two minutes,” said Singhal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Reaping the benefit</b></p> <p>Ninjacart, the business-to-business (B2B) fruit and vegetable supply chain company, faced a unique prospect when the pandemic hit. On the one hand, it was faced with a sudden drying up of business as cities went into the lockdown. On the other, it found its suppliers, farmers across the heartland, left with millions of tonnes of veggies rotting away.</p> <p>When the farmers sent out SOS messages, the company had to do something. “While the supply side was a challenge, there was a hit on the demand side, too,” said Vasudevan Chinnathambi, cofounder of Ninjacart. “Though vegetables and fruits were part of essential items and allowed, city markets were not active in many places, and there were restrictions on how much we can sell. In some places, markets were moved to other locations.”</p> <p>For Ninjacart, it was clear that it had to develop a whole new system between the B2B model it had, with a direct link between farmers and consumers. The solution was ‘Harvest the Farms’; the company used its logistics technology to link farmers to consumers in the locked-down cities. “We identified vegetables in excess supply as well as those going unharvested within our farmer networks,” said Chinnathambi. To handle the last mile, Ninjacart roped in Swiggy, Zomato and Dunzo.</p> <p>After running the scheme till the end of July, Ninjacart is now back to its original B2B model, with orders back to the pre-Covid-19 level. “We did it purely as a problem-solving exercise,” said Chinnathambi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Genies on bikes</b></p> <p>When the pandemic brought its food delivery business to a grinding halt, restaurant aggregator Swiggy unleashed the Genie. Simply put, the Genie hyperlocal service is like a <i>dabbawalla</i> on steroids, where delivery agents pick up and drop off anything and everything. From a home-cooked meal for a health care professional on duty to a birthday gift for a dear one you cannot meet in person, Genie was a quickly-thought-of and executed idea, and the quick adaptability made the difference.</p> <p>“The pandemic presented businesses with a rare opportunity to reinvent and build solutions that are needed and aligned to ground realities,” said Vivek Sundar, COO, Swiggy. “We have dealt with several unprecedented challenges to keep essential services operational for customers in need, and, at the same time, made a diverse range of offerings available to them through partnerships.”</p> <p>Genie, which was scaled up to 60 cities in no time, was not a one-off. The pandemic also prompted Swiggy to aggressively pursue its plans to deliver grocery and essential services, something which was till then treated as an afterthought to its restaurant delivery model. Besides tying up with FMCG brands like Unilever and ITC and supermarkets, it also partnered with some 100 hotels and premium restaurants to deliver curated meals to customers.</p> <p>To wash it all down, Swiggy also tied up with some state governments for home delivery of alcohol. Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal used the service. Swiggy hired a tech firm to develop artificial intelligence face recognition for the mandatory age verification, which compares a government ID with an uploaded selfie. “Alcohol e-commerce is an effective way to comply with physical distancing norms, which is the new normal across the globe,” said Amar Sinha, chief operating officer of liquor maker Radico Khaitan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Seeing is believing</b></p> <p>Before the lockdown, zoom was the function of a camera lens. Today, it is both a verb and a noun, with a plethora of terms like ‘Zoom bombing’ and ‘Zoom shirts’ lighting up the trend-o-meter. Blame it all on the video call phenomenon.</p> <p>It is not like video calling and conferencing facilities did not exist before the pandemic. Yet, as most of the world retreated into the four walls of their homes, video calls and webinars suddenly became our only link to the outside world—and a semblance of life as ‘normal’ as it could be.</p> <p>The harbinger of this video call revolution was Zoom, an app that has been around from 2013, but saw its popularity skyrocketing as a world in quarantine turned to it for anything from school lessons to office conferences to even friends and families catching up with each other. The statistics say it all—Zoom went up from one crore video calls a day to 30 crore in just three months, with Indians making up a significant chunk of it.</p> <p>“Life after Covid-19 is going to be different,” said Sameer Raje, Zoom’s India head in a recent interview. “People are going to change the way they do business, the way they travel, the way they interact. It’s going to be more and more of a virtual world.”</p> <p>But do not think Zoom is going to have it easy. As if its security travails (the home ministry even released an advisory restricting official meetings on Zoom), links with China (probably stemming from its big operational team in the mainland as well as the fact that its founder is a Chinese-American) and the flak it had to face due to its deal with Facebook were not enough, it faces tough competition from the likes of Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, as well as WhatsApp, which promptly updated the messaging app to double the number of participants in a video call.</p> <p>A spate of Indian apps is also in the fray, hoping to grab an ‘<i>atmanirbhar</i>’ chunk of the trend. The most famous among them all is Mukesh Ambani’s JioMeet, an app that aims to steal not just Zoom’s thunder, but its lightning and showers, too, with a host of features that promise to outdo Zoom, like no time limit, HD audio and participants up to 100. Not surprisingly, Zoom cried foul, alleging that JioMeet was a clone. Other contenders include Say Namaste and Airtel’s Blue Jeans app.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Tourism reimagined</b></p> <p>Nivedita would have probably termed it ‘unimaginable’ if you had told her in the second week of March—while she was on an experiential tourist visit to Orchha—that flights, resorts, parks and tourist spots would be shut down worldwide in a few days. Orchha, a town in Madhya Pradesh which boasts a palace resort and a music festival as its main attractions, is among a string of tourist centres the leading travel and lifestyle writer and blogger would call her natural habitat. Little did she know that Orchha would be the last of her jaunts in the foreseeable future.</p> <p>Nivedita has, since the lockdown started, been cooped up in her Mumbai pad, wistfully re-posting images from her earlier outings on her social media feeds, wondering when her virus-enforced grounding will end. After posting the lockdown de rigeuer photos of food dishes, gardens and views from balconies, she went back to what she does best—writing about the places she visited. Only this time, it was memories, or as social media hashtags it, #throwback. “Memories of a wonderful time come flooding in,” she wrote on a post of a tourist attraction in Italy that she had visited recently.</p> <p>If travel writers and influencers are feeling the angst, the pain is more exacerbated and pretty existential when it comes to the travel and tourism industry. Analysts say the leisure industry will be back on its feet a long time after things limp back to normal, most probably only after a global vaccination drive.</p> <p>But you have to give it to their ‘best foot forward’ optimism. Tourism boards and other ancillaries of the travel and tour industry have adopted a digital route to ensure they remain relevant. The Maldives government actually kicked off a tourism campaign in April, even as most of the world went into various modes of quarantine. The only difference—they billed it ‘Visit Maldives Later’.</p> <p>In fact, ‘Travel later’ or ‘Dream now, visit later’ have been popular hashtags used by tourism boards, travel agencies and sites on social media, as people across the world remained indoors. The lockdown has also seen the more intrepid of them getting mighty creative.</p> <p>The tourism board of Vienna, for example, shared access links on the internet that would help users take a virtual tour of the city’s famous palaces and museums, aptly titling it ‘armchair tourism’. In fact, virtual tours virtually came into their own, and today there is no limit to the sights and sounds you can partake in at the click of a button—from checking out masterpieces at The Louvre in Paris to visiting a winery in South Africa.</p> <p>Kruger National Park has used drones, balloons, remote cams and even guides on foot to bring out a live online safari for viewers across the world, including a real-time interaction with a game ranger!</p> <p>Many state tourism boards have run campaigns on Instagram and other online channels on the themes of ‘don’t travel now, so you can tomorrow.’ Nearer home, an agency associated with Kerala released a video of a Kathakali dancer greeting visitors and using a hand sanitiser. The message, it seems, is clear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I<b>nnovative service delivery</b></p> <p>Sakshi and Mayank Jain had to shift their wedding from the Doon valley to The Westin Gurgaon because of Covid-19. The couple said the hotel ensured that they had an “elegant engagement and an intimate ceremony”. Rahul Puri, multi property general manager at the hotel, said that apart from the standard safety measures, guests are offered contact-less valet, mobile check-in and check-out, key-less entry, QR code menus and digital payment options. All hotel staff wear PPE kits and housekeeping entry into rooms is negligible/minimal, unless specifically requested. Puri said that the wedding segment had remained resilient and is helping the recovery of hotels. “We hosted 60-70 weddings events (in two properties) from June to August,” he said, adding that there is round-the-clock attention on health and safety. “The focus has shifted from aesthetic cleanliness to clinical cleanliness.”</p> Fri Aug 28 13:12:18 IST 2020 startup-shake-up <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shubham Khanna&nbsp;is a “swimming pool designer”. The 24-year-old says his Delhi-based family has been in the business of constructing swimming pools for 25 years. But that is not the only niche credential he has. This self-avowed gin-lover started off a passion project to create his own brand of the alcoholic beverage also called ‘mother’s ruin’.</p> <p>He tried 40 different recipes with multiple botanicals over two years. It was in the 14th or 15th recipe that he added hemp seeds, which he would often buy while on a Keto diet. Once he tasted the concoction, he knew he was on to something. Now, GinGin, set to launch in Goa by August end, is India’s&nbsp;only single-shot distilled ‘hemp’ gin. A play on the Italian word CinCin that means “cheers”, the homemade gin will be bottled in a sleek, rectangular slab of glass. And with a name that is as straightforward as it is unapologetic. “How many people will know Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are gin brands? This will straightaway let people know what it is,” says Khanna.</p> <p>The spirit—comprising nine botanicals like&nbsp;lavender, rosemary, cinnamon and&nbsp;butterfly pea flower—is very much a lockdown baby. Khanna was supposed to import a full gin distillation still in February to prepare for an April 15 launch. He had been importing most of his botanicals from Italy. Instead, the lockdown scuttled all import plans to make him truly “<i>atmanirbhar</i>” (self-reliant). He built his own column still and all his botanicals are now sourced from Himachal Pradesh. “This is the first-ever gin to be made in an India-made still,” says the single-man team behind GinGin.</p> <p>It was Orson Welles who said,&nbsp;“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” At a time when small businesses are getting pummelled, some lifestyle startups are using the crisis as a launchpad, fully aware that the rules are changing every week. Forced to twist and tweak their ideas in a pandemic, these entrepreneurs are banking on innovation to thrive amid uncertainty.</p> <p>Their products represent slivers of opportunity presented at a strange time when logistics and transportation are as unstable as they would be during natural disasters. And social media is the most convenient marketing tool to reach millions glued to their devices more than ever. With no offline events and publicity pyrotechnics, the limited resources can now be poured into making more refined, thoughtful products.</p> <p>For example, there is Altered TV, which could prove to be a boon for artists, musicians, promoters and event managers, because going out for a live gig is now fantasy-fiction. Created by Mumbai-based music and entertainment company Gently Altered, the live-streaming platform helps the performing arts community make use of a sleek interface that replicates the dance floor or a big party with a stage. Done in collaboration with a French ticketing company, they have been curating their ‘telecasts’ for the last two months, hosting close to 70 artists who have attracted about 750 people each time.</p> <p>Whereas Facebook or Instagram livestreams encourage compulsive scrolling, a dedicated platform like Altered TV ensures the viewers stay longer. There are multiple stages, a built-in video conferencing space to meet your friends while watching the live show and a chat room to meet others. “It is inspired by how a dance floor works. Or how when you go to a party, you mostly stick with the ones you know while also meeting a few others you don’t,” says Gently Altered’s founder, Nishant Gadhok. “There is also an after-party room for when the show is over.”</p> <p>Treadmills, cycles, cross-trainers, cameras, washing machines and microwaves, you can rent all of these on Sharent for as limited a time as six hours. Founded by three friends from Amity University in Noida who could not afford home essentials in their undergraduate years, they struck upon an interactive rental service idea which could trump major players in this space. “People do not have the purchasing power right now,” says Pritam Bhattacharjee, one of the co-founders. “So, if you have two cameras&nbsp;at home and you are not using both, you can lend one through our platform. You are also earning passive income. We want to be the Swiggy and Zomato in the renting space.”</p> <p>Bhattacharjee recognises the challenge that he has—to build a community which can really trust each other. “When I was moving out of Delhi, I had to sell a fridge I got for Rs8,000 at Rs2,000, even though I used it only for a year,” he recalls. “With Sharent, we want to tell people that you don’t [have to] sell your goods out on OLX, rather rent it out with us so you can not only earn from it and recover the original amount but turn your depreciating assets into income-generating ones. We are an asset-light model, we don’t keep any inventory with us. We don’t own any of the products, we are just facilitators.” The company will go live in September.</p> <p>From baby products like strollers and bassinets, Bhattacharjee has included houses also into his quick-fix rental mix. “The pandemic made us stress on quality and hygiene,” says Bhattacharjee. “Also, with people losing jobs, we were able to onboard some quality professionals, which would have been difficult otherwise.”</p> <p>But what about when the Covid-19 struggle has passed? How relevant or resilient will these companies born out of adversity be? For Gadhok, hosting concerts, festivals, parties and shows on his platform is not a short-term, opportunistic plan. “Consumer behaviour in terms of live-streaming has changed and we want to ride that wave,” he says. “Later on, when events start, live-streaming will be a complementary aspect. It will not replace the live experience but add to it. Imagine how feasible digital festivals would be for people unable to travel all the way.”</p> <p>It is not just about emergency breakdowns. Quality, pricing and loyalty will ensure longevity for Covid-19 biz-kids, like Mumbai-based, Delhi-raised Shekhar Wig likes to think. A criminal lawyer by accident, his heart lies in repairing cars. As a teenager, he used to spend his evenings after school in his father’s Maruti-authorised service station in Delhi, observing and learning from the mechanics there. And as an adult, he would hone his skills in garages and workshops in Mumbai after work in the High Court.</p> <p>But he could only take a real crack at servicing cars in a pandemic. In May, a senior journalist sought help on social media to get her vehicle repaired; a friend of Wig tagged him in the post. While the journalist had found help by the time Wig responded, others noticed how Wig was ready to go anywhere, anytime to fix cars. The requests started pouring in.</p> <p>“Some were like, ‘I have not been able to take my car out since March.’ Some were waiting to drive their cars 2,000km to their village or hometown. Some wanted it fixed for medical emergencies. I was completely taken aback by the response. That is when the idea of WIG Garage was born,” says the 39-year-old, who has repaired and returned some 70 cars from Maruti to Mercedes across Mumbai. He uses an Instagram page that he started at the insistence of close friend and renowned film producer Guneet Monga.</p> <p>WIG Garage’s business plan is to fix cars while clients stay home. So, Wig picks up faulty cars from housing societies and makes sure they never come back to his garage for the same problem. “I smell the engine of a car from a distance. When I touch the silencer or hear the sound of transmission, I know exactly what is wrong with the car,” says Wig. He has had many run-ins with the police during the lockdown, who have stopped him at barricades and check posts, often towing away a client’s car. But such are the perils of the job. “This is <i>sewa</i> for me like you have them in temples and gurdwaras,” he says. “It is a joy for me when people return home in such trying times in cars fixed by me. It is a happy moment.”</p> Fri Aug 28 14:09:50 IST 2020 bot-vs-virus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In April, Krishnan Nambiar, Mangaluru-based robotics engineer, got a call from the district hospital in Kasargod. The hospital was desperate for an efficient, unmanned device that could disinfect its premises, which was teeming with Covid-19 patients. Nambiar, CEO and founder of Vanora Robots, was in his hometown, Kanhangad, during the lockdown and took up the challenge. His team got into action, and in nine days, the hospital got a disinfecting robot that would disperse doses of type C ultraviolet (UVC) rays, which can destroy the cell structure of SARS-CoV-2 and a host of other pathogens.</p> <p>The robotic platform developed by Nambiar’s team was lauded by his patrons as it provided a safe and cost-effective alternative to chemical disinfectants that were expensive, time-consuming to use and left behind a chemical residue.</p> <p>“The hospital used to spend about Rs30,000 every day on personal protective equipment (PPE) to disinfect the wards,” said Nambiar. “But the robot made the process quick and safe as it works as a land-based drone, is agile and moves on specially designed wheels. It is remote controlled (with inbuilt camera and sensors) and can be operated by a technician. It runs on two car batteries.” Nambiar worked as an architect in Scotland before obtaining two masters degrees in robotics from England. After his return to India in 2015, he developed robotic platforms for filmmaking and inspections.</p> <p>“The challenge was to devise a technology to disinfect rooms and surfaces while keeping the UVC light within safety levels as overexposure can be dangerous,” said Nambiar. “Our platform has UV controllers that work on artificial intelligence.” Vanora Robots is roping in local artisans and fabricators for its product development and production.</p> <p>“Our UV robot was priced at Rs3 lakh, as it had expensive components,” said Nambiar. “By chipping off some of the components, we were also able to develop an affordable model—a robotic tower, which is mobile but not remote controlled. The unit can dispense pre-determined doses of UVC rays in an area marked for disinfection. We began to provide disinfecting services to homes and offices with the UV tower. We also came up with a UV chamber to disinfect keys, files, parcels and documents.”</p> <p>Disinfection will be a key requirement at schools, colleges, hospitals, metro stations, supermarkets, gyms and homes in the days to come. And UV technology has been a saviour of sorts to meet this need. Nambiar says that the UV chamber is being used to disinfect suitcases and files of VVIP guests in seconds. An eye hospital in Udupi is using UVC in operation theatres—instead of chemical fumigation—after every procedure so that more surgeries can be performed in a day.</p> <p>“UV towers weigh less than 10 kilos,” said Nambiar. “Cinema halls can save time [by using these] and have more screenings. The UV chambers come handy in schools to disinfect schoolbags, at check posts and police stations that scrutinise documents, and at apartment complexes when receiving parcels.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 18:16:03 IST 2020 spinning-a-new-yarn <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When India went into the first phase of the Covid-19 lockdown in March, a pall of gloom descended on Tiruppur, the knitwear capital of India, which was already suffering from the aftershocks of demonetisation and the implementation of the goods and services tax. But it soon found an opportunity in the crisis, by focusing on technical textiles such as face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE) and coveralls.</p> <p>“Initially we produced it for the district’s requirement [following a request from the district collector]. Now we are supplying across the country,” said Raja M. Shanmugam, president of the Tiruppur Exporters Association. Nearly 150 factories now roll out a million pieces a day.</p> <p>“We have got bulk orders for 20 lakh fabric masks, which can be reused. These are different from surgical masks. We have also designed affordable and reusable two-layer masks for the general public,” said K.G. Ganeshan, partner of Swell Knit, a textile unit.</p> <p>PPE for doctors and frontline workers is also in demand, said Gopinath Bala of SVS Advanced Fabrics. “We have launched a fabric for coveralls, cubicle partition fabrics that can be used in hospitals and coveralls with breathable fabric for doctors and nurses,” he said. It manufactures five types of coveralls and surgical gowns that are antimicrobial and antiviral and can be subject to multiple industrial wash cycles. “Bulk orders will come once the government allows exports,” said Gopinath.</p> <p>Chennai-based initiative Defend and Protecht have come up with masks capable of neutralising viruses. “Our HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is among the first textile technologies in the world to be proven effective against Covid-19,” said Bharat of Emcee Apparels, a member of the initiative. The fabric comes from Taiwan and the chemicals to neutralise the virus are from Switzerland. The three-layer mask is self-sanitising, reusable, breathable and hypoallergenic.</p> <p>“Textile industry is our biggest job creation platform,” said Prabhu Dhamodaran, convener of the Indian Texpreneurs Federation. “With the world looking for products from outside China, I feel we should look into diversifying our products and ensuring cost competitiveness.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 18:09:27 IST 2020 indian-industry-has-met-covid-19-challenges <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>To battle the coronavirus outbreak, a nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 25, with relaxations since June 1 when the first phase of unlocking began. This helped buy time to create the necessary health care facilities for the emergency situation. Ensuring business continuity became critical as the lockdown severely disrupted business and economic activities.</p> <p>The government took quick decisions to cushion the shock by providing regulatory relief, additional credit and supportive measures for poor households. Many industry suggestions for business continuity from CII were addressed in the policy announcements. At the same time, to deal with the impact of the lockdown, Indian firms changed their business models significantly.</p> <p>The first order of the day was to ensure the safety and health of employees. CII brought out operating protocols for different sectors, and businesses put in stringent procedures overnight. Secondly, health care products such as masks, PPEs and ventilators were the immediate requirement. CII put together a coalition of member companies and partners to fast-track production, which helped to quickly create new capacity. It was notable that while the market for ventilators numbered 8,500 in 2019, by July, production had been ramped up to 50,000, with most components sourced in India.</p> <p>Enterprises that had to defer their physical operations with social distancing becoming a norm shifted their operations online and implemented work from home (WFH), wherever possible. The transition to the WFH model, in fact, yielded positive results, as this ensured business continuity in a cost-effective manner, improving quality and productivity for most organisations.</p> <p>As the lockdown was relaxed, organisations instituted precautionary measures to ensure safety at workplaces. These included, among others, sanitising workplaces at regular and frequent intervals, staggered work shifts, ensuring physical distance between workstations and limiting visits of clients and customers. Arranging transport and provision of housing facilities, wherever possible, were also undertaken by many business enterprises.</p> <p>Sensitising employees on Covid-19 and its spread through awareness sessions, and encouraging hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing, use of hand sanitisers and wearing face masks continue to be carried out. Apart from instituting health and safety measures in their own premises, many companies also formed medical task forces to assist medical preparedness of hospitals, in terms of quarantine centres, isolation wards, doctor training and medical logistics.</p> <p>Innovative health apps and thermal screening devices promoted safety in workplaces by enabling health check-ups and regular monitoring of employees. Digital technology also helped in the delivery of goods and services and provided a major boost to e-commerce businesses.</p> <p>Interestingly, companies also came forward in large numbers to support their communities during this trying period. They provided medical and food kits, as well as cooked food to distressed sections of society. Several companies even imported equipment for free distribution. CII converged efforts and helped reach out to 80 lakh beneficiaries in various ways.</p> <p>With a focus on digital technology and innovations, the Indian industry has risen to the many challenges brought about by the coronavirus outbreak and the lockdown.</p> <p>Uday Kotak is managing director &amp; CEO, Kotak Mahindra Bank, and president, CII</p> Thu Aug 27 18:47:07 IST 2020 respond-reset-and-reconsider <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 is not just a health challenge, but also a humanitarian call to redefine the way in which humans live, engage and work innovatively. Food companies need to leverage their in-depth knowledge of food habits, nutrition, quality and safety in order to innovate and also adapt to this new normal.</p> <p>There has been an increase in in-home indulgence as a way of seeking small pleasures, and consumers are experimenting with new cuisines and cooking styles. Alongside this, Covid-19 has also led to enormous concern about nutrition, quality and safety of brands and products among consumers. The kind of nutrition a brand seeks to offer and its trustworthiness have become key parameters of a consumer’s choice.</p> <p>To cater to the rise in in-home indulgence, Nestlé India introduced a ‘Maggi - Cooking Made Simple’ service. It was made available through our website and it brought forth the most popular recipes from across the country. Different recipes and master classes with Milkmaid and Nescafé were also held to engage with consumers during the lockdown. AskNestlé2.0, an intuitive mobile website, provides real-time and personalised advice on nutrition that is balanced, relevant, scientifically derived and can be customised for the audience.</p> <p>Clearly, the e-commerce journey is here to stay and there will be re-calibration of channels. Going forward, consumers are going to be more digitally active than they were, and food companies with a strong digital-first capability are the ones that are going to hold the consumer’s interest for a long time. Nestlé India’s Milo rolled out a workout video that offers advice on simple exercises that parents and children can do together at home. Milkybar ‘Play Eat Learn’ digital campaign launched a series of simple DIY ideas and Munch partnered with Star Network to launch a campaign which celebrated the confidence and spirit of many young Indians and their families during these testing times.</p> <p>Companies need to focus on three Rs—respond to the new demand, reset their defining relationships with consumers, and reconsider their product portfolio in the post-Covid era to make the product healthier while also allowing consumers to make a pleasurable and indulgent choice.</p> <p>To ensure smooth supply of our products, Nestlé India provided its own transportation and manpower service to suppliers who were impacted, and facilitated direct procurement of ingredients. We also adapted alternative formats of packaging.</p> <p>We have stood by our nearly one lakh dairy farmers and have ensured that every drop of milk they gave us has been taken into our factory for processing. Similarly, we continue to work closely with our coffee farmers and spice growers, and extended our support to numerous farmers in Karnataka by sourcing substantial quantity of tomatoes from them through our suppliers to ensure there is no distress.</p> <p>At Nestlé India, the safety, well-being and security of our people will remain paramount in our minds. Each of us has had to embrace new and different ways of working in terms of “work from home” and has been subject to stresses, fears and anxieties never experienced before. We are sensitive to the human and emotional needs of our employees and have rolled out numerous ‘virtual’ engagement programmes, training programmes, mental health initiatives, ‘check-in’ programmes with youngsters who live alone or far from home, and free advisory calls with accredited doctors in India and abroad on queries pertaining to Covid-19.</p> <p><b>Suresh Narayanan is chairman &amp; managing director, Nestlé India</b></p> Thu Aug 27 17:58:13 IST 2020 hospitality-sector-will-bounce-back-with-the-help-of-tech <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a no-brainer that the pandemic has impacted the travel and hospitality sector worldwide. The Indian hospitality sector alone is looking at a revenue loss to the tune of Rs90,000 crore in 2020. Having said that, the industry is showing resilience, and is innovating constantly to ensure its survival and subsequent revival in a post-pandemic environment. Known globally for their high levels of service, Indian hotels are rapidly changing and evolving their business operations to meet the changing guest requirements in the new normal.</p> <p>Customised service with a quality personal interface has been the guiding force in securing a high degree of customer satisfaction. This is in stark contrast to what is called for in the altered times that dictate minimal contact. How will the industry reinvent in the times of social distancing when it comes to providing accommodation, creating food and beverage experiences and conducting events. In my mind, the industry will do it effortlessly. An industry that has taught associates to smile while talking to the customers on the phone will quickly adapt. In fact, hotels already have changed, some with greater ease than others.</p> <p>In the past, hotels have been using technology at the back end to support personalisation of services. The same technology will come to the front of the house and be more visible and, in fact, replace or minimise human contact while providing services. Apps help customers to self-check in and check out. Guests can view rooms remotely prior to booking/checking in. A repertoire of culinary experiences can be home delivered through mobile apps. QR codes can replace menus in guest rooms and restaurants. Bio-bubbles and corridors have been created for complete sanitisation. Hotels are making increased use of AI devices. They are integrating voice technologies like Amazon Echo and Google Home with their services to offer customers a wide range of services while dramatically reducing personal interactions.</p> <p>Many hotel chains are also in the process of deploying digital technologies which will enable the increased use of interactive smart tables that can help guests to punch in their dining requirements, change table-top food presentations and pay the bills. AI-enabled technology will also aid access to guest history to facilitate personalised service.</p> <p>Robotics, too, will help achieve a higher level of hygienic service. Technology savvy hotels are already in the process of automating standardised food production assembly lines on the lines of flight catering to promote reduced physical contact. There will be an increased proliferation of digital display technologies. RFID badges and augmented and virtual reality-based product and service displays will replace talking. ‘Socially distant service’ and ‘minimal contact service’ are the new mantras for the industry.</p> <p><b>Madan Prasad Bezbaruah is former secretary, ministry of tourism, and secretary general, Hotel Association of India</b></p> Thu Aug 27 17:54:13 IST 2020 success-simulation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Entrepreneur Mallika Valluru came up with the idea of creating simulation labs for school students, after watching a simulation show at a museum in Washington, D.C. She started her education start-up, Radius EduTech—along with Siddhartha Malempati—in November, 2018.</p> <p>The company created interactive content for smart classrooms, offered 925 modules in maths, science and social studies, and supplied projectors, boards and tablets to the schools. “We wanted to scale up, and have the projectors and smart boards in more classrooms. We also wanted to expand to more schools,” said Valluru.</p> <p>But with the Covid-situation, the start-up was also hit. That is when the company came up with a new business model. Radius introduced a new learning management system, along with a low-bandwidth videoconferencing tool— Octa. Their platform allowed students to sit in virtual classes, listen to video lessons, do assignments and also experience digital simulations. The application also catered teachers to keep track of academic progress of students.</p> <p>The platform now has a reach of more than three lakh users.<br> “Our revenues before and after pandemic are more or less the same, but our reach has increased multi-fold,” said Malempati.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 17:48:03 IST 2020 digital-drive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 has spurred automotive companies to innovate to comply with the new norms of social distancing and hygiene. German automaker Volkswagen, for instance, has launched a programme to ensure that its sales and service facilities are regularly sanitised and are equipped with masks and gloves. The company has an antimicrobial treatment system and an ozone vehicle disinfectant system to keep its cars germ free. Its online sales and service system has evoked a positive response from prospective buyers. For health care professionals buying BS6 Polo and Vento, Volkwagen offers a three-month EMI holiday.</p> <p>MG Motor India's contact-free programme offers an umbrella of sales and service initiatives. The company is enhancing its digital push through voice interaction, allowing customers to walk up to vehicles in showrooms and be guided by automated voice instructions. Customers can scan QR codes to receive voice-guided feature demonstrations. The company ensures the safety of its customers and employees by conducting thermal scanning of all its staff and visitors, equipping the staff with PPE and conducting periodic sanitisation of display cars and showrooms. MG customers can upgrade their vehicle infotainment software themselves, without needing to visit the service station. Customers can also avail services such as sanitisation, disinfection and fumigation done by trained technicians at home.</p> <p>FCA India, which manufactures brands such as Fiat, Abarth and Jeep, has launched a digital module called ‘Book My Jeep’, allowing customers to own a Jeep without having to physically visit a showroom. The online module allows customers to book, perform a test drive, purchase a fully sanitised vehicle and get it delivered without leaving their homes.</p> Thu Aug 27 17:39:36 IST 2020 rapid-response <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Covid-19 has hit the Indian education sector hard. As nobody was prepared for such an eventuality, institutions scrambled for the only exit door in sight—online education. India’s top colleges knew that the experience they provided in their classrooms could not be replicated online, yet. But they had to find ways to impart learning with available tools.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apart from posting lectures and material online and sharing recordings through WhatsApp groups, the faculty at Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR), Delhi, taught individual students over the phone, to ensure that no one was left behind because of accessibility constraints. Suman Sharma, principal, LSR, said teachers were also taking online courses to hone their remote-teaching skills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Along with imparting curriculum education, we also (address) the adverse impact of this pandemic,” she said. “Safety measures are discussed actively and faculty members take special care to ensure that students remain positive. Some faculty members, who are trained psychologists, are counselling students to help them navigate these challenging times. This dialogue is immensely useful and fosters a sense of community even though there is no physical presence of students in college.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Loyola College, Chennai, recently set up a help desk to address emergency needs of staff and students. It arranges medicines for the staff and their family, and food and counselling for the students who are stranded. The college works with state government officials to deliver these emergency services.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The college has developed its own learning management system. “The Loyola Learning Management System is almost on par with any other learning management system like Google Classroom,” said Reverend Thomas Amirtham, principal, Loyola College. “It has been exhaustively explored to create classes, share class notes and conduct assessments of students. Most of the teachers have realised their dual role as teachers and learners as they have enrolled themselves in various online programmes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At IIT Bombay, the education technology department—which spearheads research on pedagogy and online education—is streamlining the in-house process. The institute also runs the massive online open course (MOOC) programme; MOOCs are aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. “Hence, there is enough in-house experience on online education,” said Subhasis Chaudhuri, director, IIT Bombay. “We are now training other faculty members and teaching assistants on how to make the best use of currently available technologies to maintain the high quality of education that we stand for. It is not going to be easy, neither do we want our students to suffer. Our faculty members will dedicate themselves even more during the forthcoming semester for the benefit of our students.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the premier institutes have introduced innovations to elevate online education. “To overcome the monotony and to bring in variety in teaching, we have been using techniques like flipped classroom (an instructional strategy focused on student engagement), blended learning, group discussions, assignments, self-study and project-based learning,” said Rajendra D. Shinde, principal, St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. “Since online lectures allow us to bring in visiting faculty, we have encouraged our (lecturers) to invite guest speakers for topics relevant to research and industry.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The college is also looking to organise extra-curricular programmes like the college fest online. “Our students will miss the exposure they get through such programmes,” said Shinde. “The pandemic has offered new challenges to our students to use their creativity for online versions of these programmes. I am sure this experience will enrich them in digital transformation and techniques.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hansraj College, Delhi, has crowdsourced a strategy for the next semester’s classes. Based on recommendations and suggestions from different departments, the college conducted a comparative analysis of different options of online teaching (both paid and free) and settled on the Microsoft Teams platform. Unique IDs for students and teachers will keep uninvited attendees out. It is also organising training sessions for the faculty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The college principal, Rama, who uses only her given name, said that the college was developing “student-friendly” assessment tools that would challenge their application skills, something that traditional tests do not do. “Though the online system of teaching and learning has been around for more than a decade, the situation till now has not warranted a complete reliance on it,” she said. “While we hope the situation improves at the earliest, we shall continue teaching in the medium best suited to the requirements of our students.” The college is also organising webinars on stress management, yoga and meditation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s education hubs are also metros; the pandemic hit these centres hard, forcing colleges to take their admission process online. “Our admission will be based on an online entrance test,” said Shinde of St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. “We have hired an agency to implement these entrance tests and students can take the test from their homes. Malpractices, if any, will be taken care of by an Artificial Intelligence technology.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At IIT Bombay, admission to degree programmes are decided by GATE scores (Graduate Test in Engineering). As GATE exams were completed before the lockdowns started, students were spared the confusion. For research programmes such as PhD, the departments conducted extensive online interviews. The list of successful candidates is now ready.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some colleges were already using online admission systems. For example, Loyola, Chennai, has had it since 2013. For some courses, it also conducts an online aptitude test. The college also plans to hold interviews through apps like Google Meet; marksheets might be verified through a system similar to DigiLocker. For most top colleges in Delhi, higher secondary marks are the sole basis for admissions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The challenges posed by the pandemic are not going to end with admissions or with redesigning the curriculum. As many sectors have been hit hard, colleges will need to do a lot more to prepare students for the post-Covid scenario. Many institutes are preparing courses focused on emerging areas like fintech, block chain, data analytics and machine intelligence. As online media outlets and online transactions continue to grow, courses in multimedia and animation are being upgraded. Interestingly, courses related to psychology like master’s in lifespan counselling are also in demand, perhaps because of the impact that the pandemic has had on mental health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s New Education Policy 2020 was introduced into a world of shifting paradigms. Experts said that the move to introduce online courses in liberal arts was much needed in India. Having major and minor subjects will help learners to customise their courses. Multiple entry and exit points are also a good idea. However, replacing UGC and other higher bodies with a single authority seems a difficult task, said Shinde. “Of course, the big question remains how and when will this policy be implemented? The success of NEP lies in it being implemented with care, precision and accuracy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pratibha Jolly, former principal, Miranda House, Delhi, and academic consultant to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council called the NEP progressive and ambitious. It is a vision document, she said, that seeks to not just reboot and rebuild the education system “but reimagine, redefine and re-engineer every aspect of support for lifelong learning”. However, she, too, agreed that the challenge lies in laying a clear roadmap and rolling it out firmly with prioritised plans for implementation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She added that the top colleges and universities have enough experience, professional competence and acumen to immediately shift to the new paradigm. Jolly added that while awaiting the rollout of the new policy, for confidence building, some existing challenges can be quickly addressed with enabling actions. For instance, while the choice-based credit system sounded good on paper, even the best of institutions could not implement it in letter and in spirit.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Individual choices of subject combinations simply could not be given because of resource and infrastructure constraints,” she said. “Institutions always looked for an optimum number of students before allowing a combination to be offered. There was then no room for the singular student who wanted to pursue physics with music, or chemistry with culinary arts. With the establishment of the Academic Credit Bank, institutions can easily create such opportunities for learning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While colleges are preparing to begin an academic year under the shadow of Covid-19, they are eagerly looking forward to having students back on campus. “A college is a vibrant space because of its students,” said Sharma of LSR. “We are exploring multiple options to encourage students to participate and feel a sense of belonging. We have a host of societies that are planning online events and students are actively participating as they prepare videos for those events and display their talent. These are humble attempts at recreating the campus experiences, given the circumstances. However, we cannot wait for the campus to fill with the energy of our students again, as soon as it is possible to do so safely.” Chaudhuri of IIT Bombay said: “The life, peers, the discussions, the culture and the engagements, apart from the academics, set IITB apart. The faculty does not want to stare at the laptop and give lectures. We want our students back on campus as soon as the pandemic is over. I hope we do not have to wait too long.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>RESEARCH METHODOLOGY</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SINCE 2009,</b> THE WEEK has been conducting the Best Colleges Survey in association with Hansa Research to rank the top colleges in India. This year, the study covered 23 cities; 1,422 academic experts, 2,429 current students, 645 aspiring students and 30 recruiters took part in the primary survey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recruiters’ opinions were taken only for engineering colleges. Aspiring students were interviewed for arts, commerce, science, engineering and medicine. The respondents were asked to nominate and rank the 25 top colleges in India and their respective zones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perceptual score was calculated based on the number of nominations and the actual ranks received.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For factual data collection, a dedicated website was created and the link was sent to more than 3,500 colleges. Of the 404 colleges which responded, 22 were rejected as they did not meet the eligibility criteria—at least three batches should have graduated from the programme and 50 per cent of seats filled in the last academic year.</p> Fri Aug 21 12:36:14 IST 2020 perfection-is-always-achieved-only-tomorrow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/What makes St. Stephen’s stay right up on the top? Apart from its history and illustrious alumni, what makes the college so sought after?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I am going to share some secrets. The first one is hard work, which is perhaps the singular most important feature which distinguishes us. The students we select are among the best in the country, they have worked hard to reach here. We have stiff competition in college, but it is not a selfish competition, it is a healthy one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second secret is a willingness to share. We encourage everyone to share what they have—lecture notes, meals, talents and abilities. We have several platforms for our children to share their abilities, we also tell them to excel in whatever they are doing, whether holding a blood donation drive or a musical performance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyone at the top knows that you cannot stay there forever, unless you work at it day after day. I am sure the other colleges also put in their best. But we are not competing with others, the competition is from within. Brazilian racing legend Ayrton Senna once said that the limitations were his own. It is not a limit someone else puts on me, he said. Here, we are also constantly aware that our limitations are within us and we constantly push those limits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/This has been an eventful year for education. Let us start with the National Education Policy 2020. Your opinion, please.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The NEP 2020 is a culmination of years of aspiration. Having been in the teaching field for over two decades, I know the many occasions when we felt a serious lapse in the policy. This document is an aspirational one, it tries to look at many of the deficiencies we have experienced. As a document, it promises to be a cure. As teachers, however, we know that our aspirations are not exactly what happens. While a good document, its success lies in how well the good intentions are carried out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the many nice things in India is its cultural plurality. It must be retained. The needs of those on the fringes of education should be addressed. Then, NEP 2020 will be a real success. Implementation, and taking [along] all sections of our country, is the key.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/There are already protests about the three-language formula.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/I was born in Tamil Nadu and when I was in school, there were protests against Hindi. So, I passed out of school without learning Hindi. Today, I am in Delhi and by default, have to use Hindi in several instances. I really regret that I have not had a formal education in Hindi. I know the limitations and feel that as a child, had I learnt Hindi, I would probably have done better. Having said that, I am against the kind of imposition which seems to be there. A three-language formula is not a bad one. Children are very capable of absorbing many new things. The option should be given to the child to determine what these three languages are going to be. If there is a freedom of choice, and if the government makes it possible for it to be comfortable for every child to learn in the language they choose, we will be at a level where no one else in the world can catch up with us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How has the pandemic impacted education?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/It has affected us in many ways. This campus is extremely beautiful, but our children are missing. What is the purpose of a campus without children? It is an important part of their growth to interact with each other, have activities where physical contact is important. The pandemic is terrible, it has distanced us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It, however, has also come as an opportunity for teachers to look at another set of methodologies—online. A teacher cannot afford to be stagnant, and the pandemic has forced them to learn things they probably never learnt before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic came with challenges and blessings. When the lockdown was proclaimed, I put up a letter on the college website telling everyone that this was a time for us to look within ourselves, to see what is truly important to us and what we can do away with. The pandemic provided us with a wonderful opportunity to introspect.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Which is that one lesson which will stay long after the pandemic is over?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/The pandemic has made each of us understand that we are so small, a microcosm, in this huge universe, and there is something even smaller than us, which can rewrite our life. This Covid-19 virus is such a small thing, but it has got the whole world on its knees. One of the greatest lessons a teacher can bring to the classroom is a sense of humility. That there is no reason for us to gloat and strut around feeling powerful. We are not. We are always in the process of becoming better. Perfection is always achieved only tomorrow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/St. Stephen’s was planning to apply for a deemed university status.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/We would have loved to have become a university but I don’t think we are ready for that, yet. We are, however, ready for autonomy, and we hope NEP 2020 will be able to grant autonomy to the most deserving institution in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you see the youth having changed over the decades.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/They are smarter, more technically savvy and, what hits me in the face is that they are so focused. At their age, I don’t think I had this much clarity on what I wanted to do with my life. The world has evolved and has offered them more opportunities. I think with all the cumulative experiences passed on to them through families, friends and teachers, they have become a better set of young people. While there is so much to be worried about in the world—political disturbances, natural calamities, environmental hazards—I am confident that this set of young men and women will pave the way for a brighter world.</p> Fri Aug 21 12:29:13 IST 2020 the-silver-lining <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EDUCATION HAS FOR</b> long been considered the hardest sector to reboot. Covid-19 changed that in one fell stroke. It pushed students and teachers into the future of education. A future that had long been talked of but largely disregarded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, though the pandemic forced educational institutions to rush to digital platforms and enter the virtual classroom, there was minimal familiarity in its use. The result was the transfer of the ongoing teaching routine to the virtual space. What followed was a string of montages, snap shots of written notes, doodles and derivations, PowerPoint presentations, old and new, and collation of information from web resources. However, even as interactive learning and personal connect was fragmented, frugal innovation and effective transition to the virtual mode was commendable. More importantly, perhaps, the strongest critics of online education discovered its power, picked up digital skills and developed new competencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic highlighted the value of open distance learning and open educational resources. Large populations of students, faculty, and public at large have benefitted from the state-of-the-art course materials made freely available by diverse entities. The virtual academic landscape is now abuzz with a broad range of webinars with global outreach, master classes, engaging extramural events, and social and cultural festivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fast-evolving virtual digital forums have enlivened professional conferences replete with exceptional speakers, plenaries and breakout sessions; immersive workshops; poster and exhibition stalls and interactive lounge experiences for the personal digital avatar. This has helped academia envision the innovative power of immersive technologies. It has also brought into mainstream general education the discourse about technology-enhanced learning and the need for creating, adopting and adapting high quality instructional material for online delivery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Building effective educational institutions is a complex task. Reinventing well established institutions and dislodging old practices is all the more difficult. The experience of the past few months has lowered attitudinal barriers and provided the necessary impetus to usher in the much-needed systemic change. As institutions brace for the new academic session, they will have to strengthen resilience and the capacity to embrace disruption and ask fundamentally challenging questions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Academic leaders will have to redefine the periphery of their outreach. Perforce, they will have to invest in digital infrastructure for enabling learning anytime, anywhere on the campus and beyond. They will have to learn to straddle the physical and virtual spaces with equal ease to create the hybrid campus. Furthermore, faculty will have to strategise a novel quality framework for teaching-learning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Time is opportune to re-evaluate the extant structure of the degree programme with its content-laden curriculum, rigid teaching schedules, and graduate outcomes determined by an end of the year examination. It is time to review all processes, experiment, innovate, redesign and recreate appropriate alternatives. Students need to be informed of the changes and helped to reset personal goals and expectations. They need strong mentoring and hand-holding as they negotiate new terrains of learning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is yet uncertain if and when students will be able to return to the campus. However, it is easy to predict that there is no going back to the old ways. As educational institutions reboot to a new reality, they will have to envisage much more than safe usage of physical spaces, heightened personal hygiene, testing for the infective, enhanced health care, secure residential accommodation, and a robust scaffolding for mental health and wellness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For some time now, over admission has been rampant, and colleges have been struggling to manage the expansion-equity-excellence triad creditably. Merely breaking the class into smaller sections will not suffice. With the overarching paradigm of active self-paced learning, novel hybrid models of teaching will have to be created and fine-tuned to address specific course dependent needs. A plausible approach is to have online lectures for large groups augmented by frequent face-to-face interactive engagement—the so-called tutorials for smaller groups. The latter can also quickly go online in case of a sudden campus shutdown. Science disciplines will have the additional challenge of innovatively integrating hands-on activities and laboratory work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Institutions will have to garner expertise in educational technology and instructional design. Development of online content will entail sustained capacity building of faculty to engender a nuanced understanding of how meaningful teaching-learning requires not just domain knowledge but also knowledge about pedagogy and technological skills. In-house resources will be best co-developed in collaborative faculty teams with complementary skills. Institutions will gain by proactively contributing to national consortiums building repositories of massive open online courses and virtual labs. To stay relevant, this experience is crucial for the faculty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next wave of disruption will come from data analytics, adaptive and immersive learning technologies that will bring personalised education to students’ devices. Students now are digital natives. Socially networked, they have manifestly new ways of garnering knowledge, learning and sharing. For them, the current crisis has been disruptive, but not necessarily detrimental. Peer networks have been highly resilient. They have engineered novel ways of disseminating learning resources, overcoming digital access through mobile communication apps. Increasingly, students are deciding their own learning trajectory, exploring best available resources and supplementing the degree programme with a portfolio enriched by online courses, skill-based micro credentials and nano-degrees. Facilitating experiential learning are service providers offering early internships and placements. This trend will increase exponentially. Mechanisms have to be created for formally recognising these student achievements.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Institutions will be known for agile crisis management; how seamless, comprehensive and cogent their curricular delivery is; the quality of student experience and how astutely they position students for the workplace. Liberal education has many elements that are not vicarious. It integrates experimentation, work in the labs, field trips and early research that interface with the real world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Holistic education is about face to face interactions, peer learning, collaborations, teamwork, networking with outside agencies and community service. It is about nurturing talent and building soft skills. In campuses, the noisy corridors, brimming cafeterias, lively discussions, debates and discourse, the sports competitions and the vibrant cultural landscape provide opportunities for personal growth and developing an identity, for humanism and citizenship. The real challenge will be to create an immersive hybrid campus life which epitomises such open-ended learning that continues to be hands on, minds on and hearts on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Jolly is former principal, Miranda House, University of Delhi, and academic consultant, National Assessment and Accreditation Council.</b></p> Fri Aug 21 12:24:28 IST 2020 assess-students-do-not-test-them <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>OVER THE LAST</b> couple of years, the ministry of human resource development, the University Grants Commission and various other regulatory agencies have been attempting to ensure quality in education with the help of accreditation and ranking agencies. But these efforts always met with systemic resistance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, because of Covid-19, online pedagogy, among other mantras of quality in higher education, has come to the fore. Many options like massive open online courses, credit transfer and e-governance have remained underutilised by institutions. But the pandemic has left us with no option. There are visible changes in the attitudes of teachers, students and other stakeholders to create a mental and physical viability for online pedagogy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, stakeholders at all levels of education have faced challenges during the preliminary phase of online teaching. Now that we have realised that online teaching is going to stay on as the future mode of education, government agencies and institutions need to develop policies, provisions and practices for it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When innovations occur, quality check has to follow as a response system to fructify the results of innovative pedagogy. Institutions and stakeholders need to regularly assess what an innovation facilitates. The answer to this question will lead to quality assurance. Regular stock-taking through a transparent feedback system is a handy tool to conduct such validity checks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Generally, academic administrators focus on teachers, while the attitudes and behaviours of students are ignored while considering innovative practices in pedagogy. Teaching is popularly considered to be synonymous with lecturing, while learning is thought to be synonymous with listening. But in the online mode, teaching and learning has to be a collaborative exercise, wherein teachers have to go beyond lecturing and students have to participate actively in the teaching-learning process by following the exercises, activities and instructional materials uploaded online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pandemic provides teachers and institutions with a window to change the hackneyed systems that have stopped being fruitful. Virtual pedagogy will ensure that lack of infrastructure and space will become less of an excuse for non-performers. But internet access remains a major road-block for many students and teachers. Virtual space needs to be developed in place of physical space to facilitate effective learning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government and institutions need to divert their funds to ensure internet access to teachers and students. These funds can be easily created because running costs of campuses have reduced significantly because of negligible physical presence of teachers and students in campuses. This will lead to equity and will ensure that the ‘Covid-19 batch’ does not suffer for no fault of its own. Additionally, internet and learning management system service providers need to collaborate at the government and institution level.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A significant paradigm is the examination system. At present, most institutions are perplexed with regard to conducting examinations. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to revisit the entire idea of examination, testing and evaluation. We need to decide whether we want to test or assess our students. Testing and evaluation need to be subordinated with the spirit to assess a student rather than to pass a judgment on a student. Assessment is more constructive and positive. We must not forget that the examination system has a washback effect on pedagogy. When our students are tested they study to pass the test, but when our students are assessed they study to perform. Therefore, we must switch over to assessments that are formative. The pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact on our lives and minds. Therefore, we need to minimise the burden of this impact by creating an ecology where judgmental and penalising tendencies are weeded out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Khan is chairperson, department of English, and director, Internal Quality Assurance Cell, Aligarh Muslim University.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AS TOLD TO ABHINAV SINGH</b></p> Fri Aug 21 12:23:08 IST 2020 unsure-of-what-to-expect <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I RECENTLY FINISHED</b> my CBSE Class 12 from Army Public School, Delhi, with 95 per cent marks. By virtue of my Army background, I did my schooling across India, in places such as Bengaluru, Lucknow, Nashik and Wellington (Tamil Nadu). I had chosen humanities in high school; subjects were political science, English, psychology and home science. Psychology, in particular, intrigued me because it explored cause and effect, whereas the other subjects mostly dealt with facts. I wish to change society’s attitude towards women’s psychological health.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I aspire to join Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi, because it is one of the finest institutions (for social sciences and humanities) in India and I believe it will provide me with the best platform for my holistic development. I was greatly inspired by Gurmehar Kaur, an LSR alumni, who once came to my school for a function. I feel LSR is equipped to provide everything that I am looking for—outlook, perspective and strong female relationships that last a lifetime. It has girls from all sections of society and meeting them would help me broaden my horizons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been looking forward to my first day in college ever since I started Class 11. If my dream of joining LSR came true, I was planning to join a club; I prefer the dance society as I am fond of dancing. But, the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty. Many of my batchmates were banking on sports trials to get into their dream institutions, but there are no such trials this year. I do not even know what to expect from my first year in college. The Delhi University’s application process has been hectic (the admission process will commence in September).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The start of term is probably going to be online, which is disappointing, and the year may get extended, which is annoying. However, I will still have more than two years. And a fresher’s party can always take place later! While the delay is making me restless, it also gives me more than enough time to prepare for the next step.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AS TOLD TO ABHINAV SINGH</b></p> Fri Aug 21 12:09:23 IST 2020 thug-of-hindustan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It began, as change often does now, with a burst of idealism and an online petition. The statue of slave trader Edward Colston had just found a permanent place at the bottom of the sea in Bristol. History had been made. It had been corrected. There was a rush of revolution. And, swept up in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Ameya Tripathi, Meera Somji and Rhianna Ilube—British, but inheriting stories of the empire—launched a petition to topple India’s original bad guy: Robert Clive. “It sometimes takes pulling down a statue,” says Somji, studying gender at the London School of Economics, “or removing it to shake people.”</p> <p>This is a new generation discovering the past through the prism of the present, probably spurred by this pause of a pandemic, to urgently right the wrongs of history. From America to Australia, the BLM movement is raging with this sense of urgency and is forcing countries to confront racism and imperialism. It is a revolt—the kind that has the possibility to ensure that the past is more inclusive, fairer and is not only the version of the victor. In a <i>Game of Thrones</i> sort of frenzy, statues are coming down and heroes are turning into villains. The message is clear: heroes of the past must subscribe to the 21st century sense of justice to be on pedestals.</p> <p>In Belgium, statues of Leopold II, the coloniser king, have been pulled down; in the US, some memorials to the Confederacy, which supported slavery, have disappeared, and in the heart of London there is Clive, still standing.</p> <p>One of the first Indian words to enter the English dictionary was loot. Clive can single-handedly take credit for that. The weight of the word—as well as the enormity of it—is on display at Powis Castle in Wales, which has the largest private collection of Indian artefacts in private hands in Britain, courtesy Clive and his eldest son, Edward. But it goes beyond just plunder. Clive systematically presided over the first corporate takeover of a country. The East India Company (EIC) stripped Bengal of its wealth to turn Britain into a rich country and later an empire. His first loot is valued at £250 million in today’s money.</p> <p>Clive began his career in the EIC as a writer and rose to become the first governor of Bengal. Under him, the EIC became rulers. He installed a pliant nawab in Bengal—Mir Jafar—with the Battle of Plassey in 1757, because the earlier nawab Siraj-ud Daula had gone rogue. But his masterstroke was that he extracted the <i>diwani</i>—the right to collect revenue of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa—from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. In the hands of unscrupulous company officials, this triggered the famine of Bengal. (Clive knew that once the news of the <i>diwani</i> reached England, the price of the EIC stocks would soar. He wrote to his stockbroker to ensure that he profited from it). “There is nothing redeemable about him,” says historian Lakshmi Subramanian, who wrote <i>History of India 1701-1857</i>.</p> <p>Yet, Clive stands tall right in front of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, a hero and a constant reminder of the empire, the plunder and the ruin. Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks past his statue every time he heads to the park behind 10 Downing Street for a walk. “This is not where he belongs,” says historian William Dalrymple, who has been vocal about removing the statue.</p> <p>The incongruity of Clive having pride of place, in a tourist spot and right in the heart of British government, stands out. Former high commissioner of India to the UK Navtej Sarna had tweeted: “Whitehall statue of so-called “Clive of India” irked me each time I went to British #FCO. It needs to go. The Raj was not ‘some enormous rose-tinted Merchant Ivory film writ large over the plains of Hindustan, all parasols and Simla tea parties’.”</p> <p>Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet to London Mayor Sadiq Khan on removing the Clive statue triggered public outrage, which has added to the momentum of the movement to get the statue out. “His statue there is a daily affront to people from the former colonies,” says Tharoor. “Removing Clive is a powerful symbol. Don’t forget the Brits actually called him ‘Clive of India’. So, in many ways, he is emblematic of the Raj and all its misdeeds.”</p> <p>Unlike the other instances of instant justice, the Clive statue will be removed in a civilised manner. There will be debate, discussion, resistance, and a long wait. But it does offer hope that for once there will be real conversation. The petition demand is to move the statue to a museum, where future generations can fully understand the extent of Clive’s legacy. “It will not happen overnight,” said Murad Qureshi, a UK Labour politician who has chosen to lead this battle from the front. Qureshi went through school without learning about the empire; it was at the dinner table where he heard Clive’s name. “Most people who go past it [the statue], don’t know who this guy is,” says Qureshi. “But for those of us who do, we are offended.”</p> <p>Thanks to the BLM movement, Britain, for the first time in centuries, might be forced to acknowledge its past in an unvarnished way—to actually have a conversation about plunder, loot and empire, a word that has lost its punch. “The campaign to remove it has attracted 85,000 signatures on its petition in one month,” says Tharoor. “As the numbers grow, I hope it will be difficult for the British government to ignore this demand.” And the debate this time has gone beyond the government. Public opinion matters. “I’m afraid British historical amnesia has convinced too many of them that they have nothing to apologise for,” says Tharoor. “So they are unlikely to act, even to remove the statue, unless the facts are impressed upon them.”</p> <p>But this is not the first time that Britain has faced resistance about the empire from within. The Rhodes Must Fall movement against Cecil Rhodes, who is like Clive in terms of pushing for profit, rocked Oxford University in 2016, a year after his statue was removed from the University of Cape Town. It still stands outside Oriel College in the heart of Oxford.</p> <p>But at a time when the world is reassessing the past so that it reflects a more just world today, the stubbornness of not removing the statue is troubling. In Shrewsbury, Shropshire, where Clive was born, two petitions to remove his statue sparked a debate. With the local council voting to keep the statue, it continues to dominate the skyline. The governing body of Oriel College, however, has voted in favour of removing the Rhodes statue.</p> <p>That offers hope. The effort to talk about the silences in British history is coming from within the country. People under 30 are re-examining the past through books like Dalrymple’s <i>The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire</i>—a mass market seller that was read by both former US president Barack Obama and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan—or Tharoor’s <i>An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India</i>. The EIC story, largely forgotten, is being rediscovered.</p> <p>Clive was not a name Somji had ever heard before. “I was meeting my family a few years ago and they told me to meet at Clive,” she says. “I thought it was odd, who is Clive of India? It was like one of those characters in <i>Lagaan.</i>” Somji is not alone. Clive has vanished from British curriculum for the past 40 years, and Tharoor has been pushing for the empire to be included in the British curriculum.</p> <p>For the BLM movement to go beyond symbolism, this has to happen. Especially for Britain, where the empire has been normalised. “Clive is different from Colston,” says Tripathi, who is pursuing his PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. “He is different from Churchill; he is a privateer. It is more politically palatable for a certain white constituency, conservative or liberal, to say that he was hated in Britain and Bengal. But as a British citizen, whenever I see the statue at Whitehall, I don’t feel offended; I feel complicit.”</p> <p>Clive and his adventures had become an inspiration. He fuelled the idea of the empire. It was where fortunes were made. He was received by the king. He became an MP from Shrewsbury. Later, he became Baron Clive of Plassey in Ireland’s County Clare—a title he proposed himself. The Irish estate brought him £2,000 per annum, Clive writes. His life in India was the stuff of legends. In Corsica, Napoleon dreamt of being a nabob. Prime minister William Pitt the Elder referred to Clive as the heaven-born general.</p> <p>His wealth, which was obviously not amassed through kosher means, bought him power. The sheer magnitude of what he had can be judged by just a box that he sends to his wife, Margaret, in 1765. It contains, he writes, diamonds, rubies and pearls amounting to 42,000 Arcot rupees. A large transparent diamond of 20 <i>rattis</i> (one <i>ratti</i> is just under a carat), a diamond ring, 20 diamond drops, one ruby ring set with diamonds and 103 pearls. The invoice does not contain the 22 loose diamonds, he writes. This is just the tip of his vast fortune. Over the years, he acquired grand houses. His wife became a patron, so powerful that Mozart performed in their home. And when Clive sailed back to India in 1764, he had an orchestra on his ship.</p> <p>He carted away everything—money, bejewelled flasks, hookahs, the palanquin that Siraj sat on. His son Edward, who was governor of Madras, even took Tipu Sultan’s horse back. Many of the artefacts that fill museums across the UK belong to the family. And in many of them, he is still Clive of India. The loot is treasure and how he acquired it does not even impact the countless who troop through the corridors of museums marvelling at them.</p> <p>And increasingly, he might be the perfect test case to talk about the empire. Churchill may be its poster-boy—“a monster”, as Tharoor puts it—but he was a prime minister. He had been elected. His statue, how much ever it offends the colonies, was voted in with popular appeal. Clive’s was not.</p> <p>Clive’s statue was hoisted up in 1911 by Lord Curzon who wanted to shore up an empire that was on its last legs. When he died, Clive was the most hated man in Britain, a biographer says. “Clive was regarded as a criminal in his lifetime,” says Dalrymple. “He died from his own hand, in the immediate aftermath of a massive parliamentary debate on whether he was a crook. He actually escaped full censure but the whole thing was incredibly bruising for him. He went home the night of the debate not knowing whether he was going to wake up with a penny in the morning.” Clive was buried in an unmarked grave in Shropshire in the dead of the night. He was 49.</p> <p>In his defence before the committee, he had said, “Presents in India are coeval with the Company…. There has been no commander of his Majesty’s Squadron, nor a commander of His Majesty’s Land Forces nor a governor nor any chief who has not received presents.” An argument that is bought. As a committee member acknowledges at the end of the debate, Clive did contribute to the country. This is why Clive’s statue needs to go even more than Churchill’s. Despite the scandal, Clive was corrupt, but had respect. He still does. Even on websites of the National Trust, Clive is still very much a name that matters.</p> <p>In a world where companies are being increasingly pressured to be ethical; where the Chinese government’s pushing of an economic agenda is being seen as neo-colonialism; and security concerns over Huawei are being debated as an assault on sovereignty; can Clive still stand? It is unlike the demand for an apology for Jallianwala Bagh, which was for the action of General Reginald Dyer. Clive represents the empire. He founded it.</p> <p>“History has a tendency to catch up,” says author Sudeep Chakravarti. “But it’s up to a particular country’s citizens to do what they wish with statues, memories and histories. Britain is a country built on myth, cruelty and commerce, much like modern Belgium, which still has several statues of Leopold II.” This is at the heart of the battle to remove Clive’s statue. How does Britain see itself? Post Brexit and in a pandemic-stricken world with hyper nationalism, any conversation on colonisation will be difficult, dirty and divisive. “I believe if you are a mature postcolonial power, you should be able to reconcile with the history that is ignominious,” says Subramanian.</p> <p>But it will not be easy. Change in institutional Britain happens slowly. Germany is the only country in the west that has dealt with its Nazi past. “The imperialist history of Britain runs so deep. There will be resistance,” says Ilube, who along with Somji founded A History of Everything Else, an online platform, to research and share untaught stories of the empire. “Because it is very difficult to understand what Britain is if we are ashamed of the imperialist past.”</p> <p>The conversation about the empire has so far been led by those who felt the weight of it the most—who came in last. And the immigrant debate is a very dangerous one. “It is very different for us,’’ says Robert Fowke, writer and Clive’s descendant. “You haven’t had this immigration into India that we have had into Britain. But if you, say, had a population which was European and discontented, you would need to integrate their historical narrative with yours. We have the same problem. The problem is if you are from an Indian background or an African background, then Clive is not an ancestor. There is a lack of belonging.”</p> <p>At Berkley Square, in London, stands one of his houses that Clive refurbished to demonstrate himself as a man of taste while he stripped Bengal; a blue plaque outside it describes him as a soldier. Qureshi wants that corrected. “He was a mercenary,” he says.</p> <p>In the US, Woodrow Wilson’s name is being axed from institutions; Dixie Chicks will now onwards be simply known as The Chicks; and the term master bedroom has been expunged. The politically correct term is primary. The cultural landscape is being transformed to acknowledge the uncomfortable silence of the past. For Clive, vocabulary must change again. An Indian word that has now become English, loot must accompany each picture from his collection, each object in Powis Castle and especially under his statue when it does go to the museum.</p> Thu Aug 13 17:52:22 IST 2020 plunder-and-scoot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Robert Clive carted home Siraj-ud Daula’s palanquin. Far away from Bengal, it is now in Powis Castle, Wales. The castle, according to historian William Dalrymple, has more Mughal artefacts than even the National Museum in New Delhi.</p> <p>Powis Castle boasts the largest private collection of Indian artefacts in Britain. And there is more. In 2004, Clive’s descendants sold five bejewelled Mughal pieces, including an “extraordinary” jade flask that sold for £29,17,250.</p> <p>The jade flask, says auction firm Christie’s, was part of the imperial collection of the Mughal court and formed part of the booty that Nadir Shah took away. It is unclear how Clive got his hands on it. Christie’s says that only two other such flasks have been recorded; both are part of the Hermitage Museum collection in Russia.</p> <p>The other objects in the lot were a “pistol-grip dagger decorated with elegant floral sprays”(£7,33,250); “a pale green nephrite jade bowl”(£53,775); a flywhisk, made with banded agate and inset with rubies (£9,01,125); and a hookah with sapphires “innumerable” on a blue enamel field, which Christie’s says was a Mughal favourite.</p> <p>Among Clive’s other collections, there is a small but beautiful album of paintings—miniatures of flowers, plants and court life. The album is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.</p> <p>While Clive was certainly one of the richest men of his time and carried away plenty of treasures, his eldest son Edward carried the family tradition forward. Edward and his wife, Henrietta Clive, added to the collection at Powis Castle. Among them is a tiger’s head in solid gold, studded with diamonds, emeralds and rubies—one of the eight finials on Tipu Sultan’s throne. It was given to Lady Henrietta Clive as a souvenir, when Tipu’s gold throne was being broken up for sale.</p> <p>In a letter to her brother, Henrietta writes, “The plunder of Seringapatam is immense. General Harris will get between £1,50,000 and £2,00,000. Two of the privates have got £10,000 in jewels and money. The riches are quite extraordinary. Lord Clive has got a very beautiful blunderbuss (a short, large-bored gun) that was Tipu’s and much at Seringapatam. I should like to have the pickings of some of the boxes.”The blunderbuss, the finial, Tipu’s slippers and a portion of his tent are on display at Powis castle. Another finial was auctioned for £3,89,600 in 2009.</p> <p>The Clive Collection for years has been displayed as Indian curiosities, for those who wanted to get a glimpse of the stuff that fuelled myths about the empire. But the displayers and viewers alike did not put into context how the treasures reached the castle. Given the current controversy, it is likely to change.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 17:10:18 IST 2020 mentor-and-more <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>They were mentor and pupil, but poles apart in character and disposition. If Robert Clive was a bully, his mentor Stringer Lawrence was a gentleman. If Clive was driven by greed, Lawrence never touched a penny that was not honest. Yet, they had the highest regard for each other, and remained lifelong friends. So much so, when he heard that Lawrence was in financial difficulties after his retirement, Clive settled an annuity of 500 pounds a year for him. Once when Clive was to be honoured with a sword of honour, he refused to accept it unless Lawrence, too, was similarly honoured.</p> <p>Though the Indian Army traces its founding to January 15, 1949, when it got its first Indian commander-in-chief in General K.M. Cariappa, several military historians, including Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, consider Lawrence as the father of the Indian Army.</p> <p>Major (later Major-General) Stringer Lawrence arrived in Madras in 1748, offering his services to the East India Company after having served in Flanders and Gibraltar. The company’s small force, not better than a troop of factory guards, had no commander at that time after the death of Major Knipe. So Lawrence was selected “to be major of our garrison at Fort St George”, which had, by then, been captured by the French.</p> <p>Lawrence soon set out to raise a professional army out of the “ill-disciplined ruffians” that comprised the company’s army then. “He organised seven companies of Europeans each with a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign and eighty-one other ranks, and adopted a similar system for the Company’s sepoys,” writes James P. Lawford in <i>Clive: Proconsul of India</i>. “Until then the Indian soldiers had been nothing better than roving bands of poorly armed men under a local leader. They remained under their own officers, but British officers were now posted in to command them on operations. Above all he initiated a system of military law which, for the first time, made it possible to introduce proper military discipline into the Company’s forces.” This, according to several historians, was the beginning of the modern Indian Army.</p> <p>Within weeks, Lawrence captured Cuddalore from the French—the first major military victory of the British in India. It was during the small siege of Ariancopang (Ariyankuppam) that Lawrence noticed the young Lieutenant Clive who was standing firm with some 30 men even after most other platoons had retreated. Next, he was impressed with the young man’s audacious attack of Devicottah.</p> <p>Their finest hour together was during the operations around Trichinopoly against Chanda Saheb in the famous Carnatic wars. It was here that Lawrence finally chose Clive, who was the junior-most of Lawrence’s captains, for some of his most arduous operations including the one to break the siege of Trichinopoly. Clive proved to be worth more than Lawrence’s confidence, so much so that the fond mentor gave full credit to his pupil in every dispatch that he sent to the directors. By the time the Carnatic wars ended, the British were virtually the masters of the south and Clive, just 27, the rising star of British arms.</p> <p>Soon Clive moved to Bengal where he defeated Nawab Siraj-ud Daula. Lawrence continued in the south for a few more years, and retired to England where he spent his last years as an honoured guest of his friend Sir Robert Palk, a former governor of Madras after whom the Palk Bay and Palk Strait are named.</p> Thu Aug 13 17:05:50 IST 2020 bankrolling-a-battle <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The story of Robert Clive and the Battle of Plassey will be incomplete without the story of his financiers.</p> <p>The Battle of Plassey did not see much blood. It was fixed by the ultimate fixer himself—Clive. He wanted to place a more pliant nawab on the throne. Mir Jafar, who had been demoted by Siraj-ud Daula, was the perfect candidate. But Clive also had the most powerful partner on his side: Mahtab Rai ‘Jagat Seth’, head of the banking family that controlled the economy. The title Jagat Seth—meaning banker to the world—had been conferred on Mahtab’s family by the Mughal emperor.</p> <p>While Jafar’s treachery is well known, the role the Jagat Seths play in this conspiracy to replace Siraj has been lost, except in academic circles. According to the <i>Siyar-ul-Mutakherin, a History of Mahomedan Power in India During the Last Century</i>, the Jagat Seths offered the British three crore rupees for the campaign against Siraj. The figure may be exaggerated, but it is very likely that they paid them.</p> <p>A key to understanding the kind of influence the Jagat Seths had and the power they wielded as kingmakers is understanding who they were. All of the money of Bengal, the richest province in India, passed through their hands. They had the monopoly over minting coins. They also collected revenue for the nawab. They also lent money to everyone—the nawab, merchants and trading companies. Their banking network branched out across Calcutta, Dhaka, Delhi and even Patna. “They dealt big,” writes Sudeep Chakravarti in <i>Plassey: The Battle that Changed the Course of Indian History</i>. They were the Ambanis of their time, much less flashy.</p> <p>“For several decades, the Seths displayed a particular knack to back the winning horse,” writes Chakravarti. “Even create the winning horse.”</p> <p>It was always a good idea, especially since they had keys to the treasury, to keep the Jagat Seths in good humour. Siraj’s takeover from his grandfather Alivardi Khan—a man who loved food, had a professional storyteller and preferred consensus—upset the power equation in the province, even with the Jagat Seths.</p> <p>Chakravarti writes about an incident when Jagat Seth Mahtab Rai was slapped by Siraj for failing to raise 30 million rupees from the East India Company and other merchants. This was the beginning of intrigue, and the Jagat Seths participated whole-heartedly in the plot to overthrow Siraj. “‘They are, I can say, the movers of the revolution. Without them the English would never have carried out what they have,’” writes Chakravarti, quoting from the recollections of Jean Law, Siraj’s ally and chief of the French factory in Bengal.</p> <p>The Company’s run-ins with Siraj had increased. There had been similar problems with his grandfather, too, but the English then had found a way out, with the Jagat Seths acting as intermediaries for a fee. But Siraj was not his grandfather. He had a temper and wanted to centralise power. “Clive is rightly reviled, but we should know that he was financed by the Jagat Seths because they were sick of the exactions of Siraj-ud Daula,” says Lok Sabha MP and writer Shashi Tharoor.</p> <p>In the introduction to J.H. Little’s <i>House of Jagatseth</i>, historian N.K. Sinha writes that the role of Mahtab Rai and his cousin Swaroop Chand was clear—they supported Yar Latif Khan, a general and Siraj’s archenemy, and then “persuaded him to throw in his lot with Mir Jafar”. According to Jean Law’s recollections, “the path which led to the Battle of Plassey had its beginning in Murshidabad and not in Calcutta and it was the Seths who placed the feet of the English in the path”.</p> <p>The Jagat Seths proved to be formidable enemies. With access to information and proximity to Siraj, they became agents for the British. They also played a part in the charade that was the battle, posting an agent in Siraj’s court to “attend” to him. The die was cast, and Siraj—betrayed by his own—finally lost.</p> <p>However, despite their craftiness, the Jagat Seths miscalculated when it came to the British. They backed the wrong horse. “They thought the British would go away,” says historian Lakshmi Subramanian. “They thought they would be like the Marathas. They would intervene and then disappear. They didn’t.”</p> Thu Aug 13 17:01:02 IST 2020 beyond-binaries <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Bhima-Koregaon, a tiny village in the heart of the Maratha country, offers a twist to India’s favourite ‘the British-were-the-enemy’ story. On January 1, 1818, the British army, with mostly Mahar soldiers, defeated the army of Peshwa Baji Rao II. This decisive battle decimated the once-formidable Marathas, paving the way for the empire, and is celebrated as a victory of the dalits over the upper castes.</p> <p>In 1927, Dr B.R. Ambedkar made a pilgrimage to Bhima-Koregaon, bringing this forgotten battle into dalit memory. The ritual is now repeated each year. The victory tower at the centre of the village is festooned with flowers. For dalit political consciousness, this is a milestone. The Bhima-Koregaon battle is only one story among the many that does not fit in a neat version of what is Indian history.</p> <p>“Caste complicated a lot of received wisdom and these linear narratives,” says historian Manu S. Pillai. “Caste throws a spanner in the wheels when learning Indian nationalism. For example, Lord Macaulay is a textbook villain. But there are groups of dalit intellectuals who celebrate his birthday as a <i>jayanti</i>. In Uttar Pradesh, briefly, they tried to install a goddess called ‘Angrezi Devi’, wearing an English hat. To them, Macaulay, by propagating English education in India, opened up the opportunity for a lot of marginalised groups to go up the ladder.”</p> <p>For years, Indian history has existed in these binaries: good and evil; black and white. Of late, the battle between saffron and secular has become more heated. Then, there is the great revival of the past and stories that came from across the Vindhyas. The Cholas and their sheer clout has now found its way into mainstream history. Pillai is the poster boy of how a 700-odd-paged book on an “obscure” subject set in Kerala—<i>The Ivory Throne</i>— by an unknown writer can become a bestseller.</p> <p>Gradually, history, too—at least on bookshelves in bookstores and online—is becoming much more of a cacophony rather than just the classical-trained rigid symphony. “Any scholarly inquiry into history is to ask uncomfortable questions and challenge binaries,” says Pillai. “The whole idea of history is to complicate and contextualise.”</p> <p>Cookie-cutter history is on the way out in the west, courtesy the Black Lives Matter movement and its push for a more diverse, more inclusive, less imperialist version of history. India also has, in the last few years, witnessed challenges to the established linear narrative.</p> <p>“Our past has not been free of coercion either,” asserts Srinath Raghavan, military historian and trustee of New India Foundation. The biggest push-back has been where the longest silence has existed—among women. The past two years have seen a spate of women writers choosing to question the male domain of history. From the Mughal court, where the harem was a centre of power—so strong that even Emperor Akbar chose to bow down to its authority often—to more ordinary women.</p> <p><i>Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire</i> by Ira Mukhoty, which looks at the role of women in the Mughal harem, came out in the same year—2018—as Ruby Lal’s book <i>Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan</i>, providing an insight into the lives of women in that era. Last year, there was <i>Tawaifnama</i> by Saba Dewan, a book that came out of the New India Fellowship that encourages well-researched books on post-independent India precisely to provide nuanced understanding of the country.</p> <p>“There is another subtle effect in India that adds to the assumption that there are no strikingly fiery or transgressive women in history,” says Mukhoty. “In that when a woman’s acts or achievements do escape censorship and are recorded, they are over time so entirely sanitised and sandblasted by patriarchal assumptions that the woman ends up seeming like a perfect <i>sati-savitri</i> figure. Even someone like Meerabai is now understood to have been a perfect woman and widow, whereas she railed at and fought against all the evils of patriarchy and caste hypergamy, natal alienation, purdah and patriarchal control. She was deeply critical of the elite Rajput structure that had stifled her so completely.”</p> <p>But beyond the obvious silences—of caste and gender—is also the omission of texture from official history to “not tell the full truth”, as William Dalrymple puts it. His book, <i>The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire</i>, brings to the fore the role that the Jagat Seths played in bankrolling Robert Clive’s campaign against Siraj-ud Daula. “The fact that Clive fought Plassey on Marwari wages—it just wasn’t there in their books,” he says. “You can’t get around that and you can’t understand Plassey and what happened unless you take it in.”</p> <p>The independence struggle is the star of the show. And its setting—as the ultimate battle in <i>Star Wars</i>, where the evil empire is defeated by the forces of good—has reduced the Battle of Plassey as a story between Clive, who is conniving, and Siraj, who is often portrayed as a debauch. The truth lies somewhere in between.</p> <p>Sudeep Chakravarti’s <i>Plassey: The Battle that Changed the Course of Indian History</i>—a lush retelling—adds more texture to the nationalist vs the imperial version of the battle. “There is a need for, what I like to term, corrective history,” he says. “There is a need to peel away layers to expose the truths and lies, the myths and the nuances—the greys between the black and white absolutes. Moreover, the backstory of Plassey, which is a mix of aggressive mercantilism married to geopolitics, is often diminished. For instance, a few works acknowledge just how much the French were a factor in the run-up to Plassey. There is also the immensely interesting cast of characters—dramatis personae—in and around Plassey.’’</p> <p>While academics have written extensively on the clout of the Jagat Seths, their writing remains confined to that space. “It is a fact that this has not yet percolated in the popular understanding,” says Raghavan. “For which Indian historians have something to answer because they have been writing only for their own audiences.” This is a gap that needs to be filled. And, this is perhaps the best time. But beyond the scholarly and the popular exists history that is laying the foundation of the future. The battle for a more inclusive world begins in school.</p> <p>“Clive is rightly reviled, but we should know that he was financed by the Jagat Seths because they were sick of the exactions of Siraj-ud Daula,” says Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, a campaign leader for the removal of the Clive statue in London. “I would be in favour of teaching Indian schoolkids a broader and more complex history than they get now. Because that is exactly what I am demanding that Britain should do—teach unvarnished colonial history in their schools. Today you can get an ‘A’ level in History in Britain without learning a line of colonial history. That must change in Britain, and we must open up our history syllabi, too.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 16:54:22 IST 2020 clive-fought-plassey-on-marwari-wages <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>William Dalrymple has been vocal about removing the Clive statue in front of the Foreign Office in London. His book—<i>The</i> <i>Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire</i>—is a cautionary tale of a corporate that took over a country. Dalrymple writes about loot, plunder and Robert Clive. “If [British Prime Minister] Boris [Johnson] wants to go for a walk in the park and avoid the press, he comes out of the back and passes Clive every day. This is not where this man should be,” he says. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<i><b>The Anarchy</b></i><b> has made Clive’s loot story with the East India Company mainstream, even in India.</b></p> <p>A | Two things have made an impact in India [with the book]. The fact that it was a company... it was a business and was no more British, as Facebook is [an] American [company] and not a governmental organisation….</p> <p>The other thing that took people aback, which was not in their history books, was the business of the Jagat Seths—the fact that Clive fought Plassey on Marwari wages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Why this omission in&nbsp;textbooks?</b></p> <p>A | There was an awful lot in Nehruvian textbooks that polished the rough edges. These were written in the aftermath of partition when 1.5 million people had been killed. A nation was trying to find its feet and those books did all they could to emphasise Hindu-Muslim unity and to make the villain of the piece the colonial. While they were written by major historians with the very best of intentions, they opened the door to complaints from the Hindu right to point to an omission… and they do gloss over unpleasant facts that get in the way of a straightforward nationalist narrative.</p> <p>Like, it was a fact [that it was] Indians who paid Clive to fight Plassey. This is an important part of the tale…. I think there is a realisation among the right that they were not getting the whole story about, particularly, the early days of the Sultanate in textbooks…. I am getting the impression that they [Indians] weren’t told the whole story of the East India Company. It wasn’t the British. This was a commercial company operating in the early days… doing an errand for the Marwaris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Do you think a revisionist version of history in India will be more upfront about the collaboration between the Jagat Seths and the British?</b></p> <p>A | At a scholarly level that has already happened. There has been important scholarly work by Bengali historians on the different banking families, done 10 or 15 years ago, but it hasn’t made it to the mainstream. The three big names are Kumkum Chatterjee, who is no longer with us, Rajat Kanta Ray and Lakshmi Subramanian…. It is not new what I was saying, but it was new to the lay reader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Where do you see the Clive debate today in Britain?</b></p> <p>A | Clive has been out of the British curriculum for the past 40 years or so. My generation was the last to learn about Clive. But everyone has completely forgotten him here. He is not a name that means anything to anyone here, particularly younger people. The people who are angry about Clive are either historians or Indians.... I haven’t seen crowds in the streets baying for Clive’s blood. That said, the British are now well used to seeing themselves as, in movies, villains…. We have seen for 20 years or 30 years [that] the British are quite open to the idea that their forbearers may have been war criminals.</p> <p>But they remain in perpetual ignorance. Unless you go out and study it in university, you don’t come across it. You can go to the best schools in the country and study history at various levels and still not know anything, astonishingly. Appalling as that is… this is a minority interest. It is not like slavery, where it directly impinges on a large section of the British population (and) where you can get a large mob to gather and knock down a statue in Bristol. I just don’t think that will happen to Clive. That said, we are working to get it taken down and [moved] to a museum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Please elaborate.</b></p> <p>A | There is a group of us who are actively engaged with the Foreign Office to try and find out who actually owns it, whether it is the council or English Heritage. We are taking it up with some people in the Foreign Office as well as elements in the Conservative Party. There is not much resistance and I think it is doable. What makes me want to bother doing it is where that statue is. It is immediately outside the Foreign Office, just behind Downing Street.</p> <p>Every ambassador who goes to pay his credentials, passes Clive. If Boris wants to go for a walk in the park and avoid the press, he comes out of the back and passes Clive every day. This is not where this man should be.</p> <p>It was not put up there in his lifetime by a grateful nation who thought Clive was a wonderful figure. Clive was regarded as a criminal.</p> <p>He died from his own hand in the immediate aftermath of a massive parliamentary debate on whether he was a crook. He escaped full censure, but the whole thing was incredibly bruising for him. He went home the night of the debate not knowing whether he was going to wake up with a penny in the morning. He took his life immediately afterward.</p> <p>There is a parallel with the Confederate statues in the United States, just as they were built as the civil rights movement was about to grow. So, Curzon raised the money for the statue, just as the resistance [against] the Raj was growing…. It was 130 years after Clive’s death…. This is being done by arch imperialists to show the power of the empire at a time when it realised that it is not a given and indeed in a generation it will be over.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Why is it easier to put the Clive statue in a museum than getting an apology for what happened in Jallianwala Bagh?</b></p> <p>A | I think that will come, too. We are seeing movement on that. The Archbishop of Canterbury went down on his knee and apologised. I will be astonished if we don’t see an apology pretty soon.... You can’t claim that you are forward looking and diverse and not apologise…. Of course, there will be resistance from the far right, like in America. Where you would have much more difficulty is in Winston Churchill, who unquestionably was a racist, who unquestionably contributed to the Bengal famine, but of course, he didn’t create it. And yet, he is rightly looked on by the country as a saviour from Nazi occupation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Do you think that there will be a certain simplification of history with the Black Lives Matter movement? That everything will be reduced to a villain versus victim binary?</b></p> <p>A | Indian history is complicated, too. Slavery was prevalent in India right up till the mid-19th century. There were massive numbers of black slaves shipped from Ethiopia and Somalia to India throughout the Middle Ages. This is not something that happened elsewhere. This is a big part of Indian history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>There were attempts to vandalise Gandhi’s statue, too. In India, there has been an attempt to revisit the legacy of leaders like Gandhi.</b></p> <p>A | Gandhi and Churchill are well oddly paired. In a way, they are heroes to an older generation and troubling to younger ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>How do you see this Black Lives Matter movement with the toppling of the statue ending?</b></p> <p>A | I think the general direction of history has to be in the direction of diversity, inclusivity and justice. In the long term, it is not sustainable in having totems of imperialism on every street corner.... You will gradually see them being taken down and put into museums. The specific movement of George Floyd, I say this with regret, that sort of moment of action has gone…. There are more pressing anxieties. [But] just like we have seen in the British High Commission in Delhi, all those imperialists who had been filling the drawing room of the High Commission are not there anymore. You have more [art] by Anish Kapoor and the Singh Twins representing a more modern vision of India-British relationship.... Meanwhile, I will continue to push for people to be educated and push it in the British curriculum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>Do you think that will happen?</b></p> <p>A | I hope it will.... I don’t think it will happen in (t)his particular government. In the course of time, it has to happen. It is something I will continue pushing for. I think it is the key. Unless you have that people’s knowledge of the Raj, it will be Merchant Ivory films with constant tea-parties.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 16:45:34 IST 2020 icon-o-clash <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The battle to remove Robert Clive’s statue goes beyond London. Clive stands tall in the middle of Shrewsbury town square, a much-photographed landmark in Shropshire county. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, Clive’s imperial past has caught up with him. Local resident David Parton started a petition for the statue to be removed; more than 13,000 people signed it. Parton’s argument: “Clive is not a hero. He is a murderer.” A counter petition to keep the statue also exists, with more than 8,000 signatures. Their logic: Clive contributed to Shropshire and needed to stay.</p> <p>The controversy has generated a heated debate, tearing the small town apart. “When the (slave trader) Edward Colston statue was torn down, I thought this was the moment we needed to have a debate about Clive in my hometown,” Parton says. “No one has talked about his historical legacy, no one has questioned his imperial past. This is the moment, we need to address his numerous crimes.” But there are those who are equally convinced that Clive needs to stay. The need to remove him is a demand made by foreigners, they say.</p> <p>The Shrewsbury example offers—as a microcosm—the kind of resistance that exists to add a progressive caveat to a past that was not always glorious. In London, Clive may be a name that has been forgotten, even though he stands in front of the Foreign Office. But in Shropshire, he is the boy who came back as a successful man and represented the county.</p> <p>His school desk inscribed with an R, from the Old Grammar School, is on display at the Market Drayton museum. The house he built for his parents at nearby Stych is listed as a Grade II building and has been divided into flats for sale.</p> <p>“We are having a purge on anything regarded as not quite praiseworthy. So that includes almost all of our history,” writes Ian Picton-Robinson, manager, Market Drayton Museum, in an email. “Curiously, I think India was not a slave situation. Though Britain unquestionably dominated, with force and total misunderstanding, were there not some benefits? Many governors and viceroys wanted to improve things, but were frustrated by the sheer complexity of India and its traditions, and by the government in London understanding even less.”</p> <p>The statue is not the only memory of Clive in the town. There are three streets named after him—Clive Road, Clive Way and Clive Green—according to local history sources. Clive was elected MP from Shrewsbury in 1761, a seat he held until his death. In 1762, he was elected mayor of the town.</p> <p>He died in 1774. It is believed that he killed himself amid accusations of greed and was buried in an unmarked grave at St Margaret’s Church in Moreton Say, Shropshire. He was hailed as a hero only in 1860, following which the bronze statue was raised in Shrewsbury town square. “If seen as just Clive, then well worth being there,” says Picton-Robinson. “If seen as a symbol of the East India Company, then perhaps it should be moved to somewhere less prominent, surrounded by relevant history.” According to local history sources, it was the stain of taking his own life that prevented the town from honouring him earlier.</p> <p>In July, the Shropshire council voted to retain the statue 28 to 17 votes. The council is debating on adding a plaque to put in context Clive’s past. But Parton says, “Clive’s statue represents bringing up painful imperial memories every single time we walk past it. We shouldn’t have to be living in the past.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 16:33:59 IST 2020 it-will-take-two-or-three-years-to-remove-clive-statue <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Murad Qureshi has been at the heart of the battle to remove Robert Clive’s statue in London. A member of the London Assembly, an elected body that scrutinises the activities of the mayor of London, he is aware that the statue cannot be removed overnight. He has also objected to the plaque outside Clive’s Berkley Square residence in London that calls him a soldier and administrator. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Why is it important for the Clive statue to go?</b></p> <p>A | It is a simple thing. I thank the Black Lives Matter movement for giving us scope to talk about other (aspects) of the British colonial legacy. The importance of RobertClive, otherwise known as Clive of India, is some of the myths around him on the basis of which a statue and a blue plaque have been put up.</p> <p>There is clear evidence that he looted Bengal, and contributed greatly to the famine in which almost ten million people perished in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Also, he gave the means for the British Raj to enter. Historically, his contemporaries were very critical of him. So, I am not judging him by the standards of today. I am judging him by his times. Contemporaries like Samuel Johnson, people of the Tory Party and the Whigs also condemned him strongly. Lord Curzon puts up the statue. I declare an interest as a Bengali. Sometimes to go forward in life, you need to deal with the past, that is what I am doing here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Will it be easy to remove the statue?</b></p> <p>A | I have been involved with putting up statues. When Ken Livingstone was mayor of London, I assisted in putting up the statue of Nelson Mandela. I assume it is pretty much the same process. We know the English Heritage manage the statue in King Charles street near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Secondly, the local council is Westminster. We have to persuade English Heritage that in [this] time there is no need for Clive of India.</p> <p>Most people who go past it, don’t know who the guy is. But for those of us who do, we are offended. For example, Nelson Mandela’s statue was put up in Parliament Square; it was a battle but we got there…. We are laying the groundwork [for the Clive statue removal]. I know it won’t happen overnight. It will take two or three years.... We hope that the Museum of London will take it. They have a new building coming up. I have just written to them asking to make space for all these statues. They should be put up in their context.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Do you hope to take this further to talk about the empire?</b></p> <p>A | I think this is an example of British history that most Brits do not know at all. I went through the British education system. We are taught about Henry VIII and six wives in Tudor times and then suddenly we come to defeating the Nazis in World War II. Everything in between, there is nothing there. I think it is time we come to terms with our history. On the back of discourses like this… it is a useful way to learn some history lessons. Britain is fresh of leaving Europe proper in end of January. India becomes a more prominent trading country. We need to get this right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>The London mayor has started a committee to review statues and names of streets for a more diverse view of London.</b></p> <p>A | I want to make sure the commission has taken on board the practical things on ground—the planning process, whose ownership it is in. So, they can also put pressure on the museum in London. In Central London, we have the plaque.... I am objecting to that on a factual basis: he wasn’t a soldier; he was a mercenary. There is no way you can call him an administrator.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 17:49:48 IST 2020 showing-disrespect-to-someone-like-Clive-does-not-help <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Robert Fowke has spent years busting myths—be it historical myths for children or in poetry. He wrote about the sailor that inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Lately, Fowke has found a story closer to home that he hopes to put into perspective.</p> <p>A descendant of Robert Clive through his wife, Margaret, Fowke is writing a book on Lady Clive. A couple of years ago, he had come to Chennai, where the Clives had gotten married. He disputes that Clive was a monster. “I know [William] Dalrymple says Clive was a monster and a racist,” says Fowke, over the phone from Shropshire. “But he wasn’t.” Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">What do you make of this petition to remove Clive’s statue?Å</b><br> </p> <p>A| I think it is necessary that we look at the shared historical narrative that we have in the country so that it includes people who came from the New Commonwealth in the last 50 years. I have no problem with that at all. I think there is a danger now that it becomes indiscriminateì you end up in a situation where you could say that anyone who contributed to British history, contributed to the British empire.ì That everything about the British empire is bad without exception, which is kind of simplistic. We need to look with detail and empathy at people from the past and not just dismiss them because they are associated with our own British history.</p> <p>I found that Indian people are far more open-mindedì [about] the history of the association between Britain and India than British people are themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>As a descendant of Clive, do you think that the Black Lives Matter movement is forcing you to relook at his legacy? Do you think that you are being forced to feel apologetic for the past?</b></p> <p>A | It has become very divisive. Obviously, he was a man with many faults. In particular, he was very greedy. He was also a very brave man, a tormented soul. He achieved a great deal, in British terms. He was also before the empire—there was no British empire at that time. You should not really judge him for the very racist attitude that developed in the 19thÅcentury. It is unfair on him as a historical character that I am personally, emotionally very involved with. It is not right to show such disrespect to somebody of that calibre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |&nbsp;<b>As someone who has written extensively on history, do you think the Black Lives Matter movement is reducing history to this rather simplistic binary of black vs white, victim vs victor?</b></p> <p>A | History is almost a bunch of fiction, isn’t it? Because you have to use a process of selection in order to write our book. It is so much a constructed thing. It can almost be seen as fiction. For instance, Dalrymple, for narrative purpose, sets Clive against Warren Hastings. Anyone who knows about that period knows that Clive proposed Hastings to go out to India. They were not rivals. In a way, Hastings [was] continuing the politics that Clive had already suggested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Clive was judged for his actions by his peers.</b></p> <p>A | This is interesting. He was judged at that time very harshly by [Edmund] Burke and [Horace] Walpole. Very falsely in many ways. Obviously, he took a huge amount of money after Plassey. But by the standards of the time in India it was not much... it incited envy at home more than anything else. He acquitted himself very well in parliament. [William] Pitt said he was one of the greatest orators of his time. He was a remarkable man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>He battled mental illness, which is not much talked about.</b></p> <p>A | He was a bit like Churchill, I think, a manic depressive. He was so driven. The number of times he risked his life is extraordinary. He was not a military mind, but he was good at fighting. To be driven and to be so ambitious—I can hardly imagine it myself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>You think people are judging him by 21stÅcentury mores?</b></p> <p>A | Which is absurd. Even judging by the standards of his time, he was humane. If you take a look at other historical figures who have had great victory—Wellington or Napoleon—tens of thousands of people died. In the Battle of Plassey, there were only a few hundred. People were dying in tens of thousands in massacres that were happening at the end of the Mughal empire. Clive didn’t do that. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty man at all. He wasn’t even really a soldier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>But the idea was that he amassed so much wealth.</b></p> <p>A | That is what people don’t like about him. But then to put on his shoulders the process of the empire thereafter is not good history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>You are writing a book on Lady Clive.</b></p> <p>A | Margaret was a lovely woman. She was clever and funny. Her family are called Maskelyne. Their mother was a clever woman interested in astronomy. Margaret herself was interested in astronomy. They were all passionate about music. She had interests that were more intellectual than Clive. But it was a happy marriage. They were evenly matched. I can imagine he cannot be always likeable. But she was always entertaining. She complemented him. I am charmed by her. I sort of fell in love, reading about her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Were you always aware of the Clive association?</b></p> <p>A | My family was involved with the East India Company from 1700. I sort of knew about it very vaguely. You know how you hear those myths and stories. I thought I would like to find out more in detail. We have this huge archive in The British Library. It is the largest archive of private letters and they are all associated with my family. What stood out for me were the women’s letters. The men’s letters are more about business or politics. The women’s letters are more emotional, therefore intriguing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>What were you looking for in Chennai?</b></p> <p>A | I was trying to retrace where they [the Clives] were. It was immensely rewarding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>Do the letters throw light on the Clives’ <br> marriage?</b></p> <p>A | You can’t achieve what Clive achieved. I know those who disagree won’t call them achievements, but they were, without being very clever. They say he would sit quietly in a room. But then, if there was a subject that he was interested in, his observations would be very acute. He could be funny. He was quite a humorous man. I love the anecdote of an aunt—she would sit on his knee and he would coax her into telling all the naughty words she had learnt at school.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Q |<b>What do you think of relooking at history with the Black Lives Matter movement?</b></p> <p>A | I am sure it is completely helpful. It is very different for us. You haven’t had this immigration into India that we have had into Britain. But if you, say, had a population which was European and discontented, you would need to integrate their historical narrative with yours. We have the same problem. The problem is if you are from an Indian background or an African background, then Clive is not an ancestor. There is a lack of belonging. We need to create that belonging. But I am not sure, I hate to use it, it sounds a bit rude, but this cultural victimhood really benefits the people who are expressing it so stronglyì. I recognise the need to do it. But I don’t think showing disrespect to someone like Clive really helps.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 17:48:55 IST 2020 peggy-the-other-clive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Margaret Clive sits gazing into the distance in a portrait attributed to Nathaniel Dance. There is sheet music on the table and a string of pearls around her neck. The portrait, which hangs in Powis Castle in the UK, was painted in 1773—a year before her husband, Robert Clive, killed himself.</p> <p>Margaret’s brother Edmund had played cupid. There are two versions of this story. One version claims that Clive saw a miniature of a young woman in Edmund’s room, and asked about her. When told that it was his sister, Clive begged him to invite her to Madras. The other version claims that he read her letters and was “struck by them”, and asked Edmund to invite her to India. Whatever the version, a letter from Edmund to her says: “Matches in this country generally proving so vastly superior to what are made in Europe.”</p> <p>Clive, then 27, was a catch. He had spent a decade in India and was being referred to as General Clive by the directors of the East India Company in London. He had proven his credentials on the field, thwarting French ambitions in the Carnatic four times.</p> <p>“They were evenly matched,” says Robert Fowke, a descendant who is writing a book on Lady Clive.</p> <p>Peggy, as Margaret Maskelyne was known as, had “won all hearts in Madras”, writes Sir George Forrest in <i>The Life of Lord Clive</i>. Margaret came from old East India Company stock. Her father, however, was a civil servant. Edmund, meanwhile, “led a life that was more entertaining than memorable”.</p> <p>The fatigue of the company’s campaign had done Clive in. His “fits” continued, and Clive was set to sail home in 1753. He married Margaret five days before he was to go home; on a Sunday, at St Mary’s Church in Madras. Later, when he appeared without his wife in Calcutta, the French spread rumours that he was attracted to courtesans—a charge his biographer Forrest staunchly defended. “There is little evidence that his wife or any other woman had much influence in his life,” he writes.</p> <p>Lady Clive and her achievements have been overshadowed by her husband. She was a clever and humorous woman, interested in music and astronomy. She had a young Mozart perform in her house in London, and used to correspond with astronomer William Herschel. “Her letters are obsessive to th e point of boring,” says Fowke.</p> <p>In a letter, cited by Fowke, Margaret writes after Claremont, another grand home, has been completed: “I have a charming new house for a charming old husband.” Money was certainly not an issue for them. At home in the evenings, Clive and Margaret tended to socialise with old friends and family.</p> <p>When he was in India as governor, Clive wrote long, descriptive letters to Margaret, suggesting that the two certainly shared a warm relationship.</p> Thu Aug 13 17:48:10 IST 2020 rites-of-return <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Whether you like him or not, you have to admire Rahul Gandhi for his gumption to walk back into the limelight despite the crushing electoral defeats, the myriad questions raised about his leadership abilities and the ignominy of being held up as an object of ridicule by his political rivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the midst of Covid-19, the former Congress president has taken a new avatar and is tirelessly carrying out an incessant critique of the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the pandemic, the economy and the Chinese intrusions in Ladakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a hectic pace to Rahul’s online interventions, and his effort is to project the Modi government as incapable of handling the pandemic and the economic slowdown, and as dishonest on the skirmish with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It, however, appears that the main purpose of the endeavour is to refurbish Rahul’s image and project him as a person who delves into issues with the rigour of an intellectual and the sensitivity of an empathetic, thoughtful leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The image revamp coincides with the Gandhi scion crossing an important milestone—he turned 50 this year. He cannot be referred to as a young leader anymore, having well and truly entered middle age.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In keeping with the seniority that he has assumed, he has given up the belligerence of the angry young leader persona of yore, appearing calm, composed, thoughtful and self-assured in his online outings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clean-shaven, hair neatly combed, the kurta replaced by a formal blue shirt in his videos on the Chinese incursions, the get-up seems aimed at showing him as a leader with a difference. The tone, too, is markedly different, shorn of the aggression of the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ slogan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul has said he wanted to offer constructive criticism over how the government was managing Covid-19 and its impact on the economy. He has had a series of online conversations with experts such as Raghuram Rajan, Abhijit Banerjee, Ashish Jha, Rajiv Bajaj and Muhammad Yunus on the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. He sat down on a footpath with a group of migrant workers to talk about their struggles and interacted with a taxi driver at a tea stall, the events gaining traction on social media.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has held news conferences, posted video messages, has been active on Twitter and has even launched his Telegram channel. And the latest online tranche of four slickly produced videos on the Chinese incursions attempts to show him as a leader with a deep insight into the problem, thereby trying to project Modi, by comparison, as not telling the complete truth about the issues with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A repackaging of Rahul is under way, and the effort appears to be to project him as the antithesis of Modi, as a leader who is empathetic to the vulnerable sections of society, willing to seek suggestions from experts and is prepared to take questions from the media. He has sought to come across as the voice of sanity in these uncertain times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Rahul was not altogether missing from the public eye after his resignation last year, he did stay under the radar, hence there is intense speculation whether he is now ready to make a comeback as Congress president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing of Rahul’s efforts makes it all the more interesting. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, who stepped in after his resignation, completes one year as interim chief of the Congress on August 10. With no sign of a process being put in place to elect a new president, an option before the party is to extend Sonia’s interim presidentship. The other possibility is Rahul agreeing to take charge and settling the leadership issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a news conference a couple of months ago, Rahul was asked whether he was on a comeback trail. He replied: “Please see my letter from a year ago…. I stand by my letter.” Sources close to him said the reasons why he quit were spelt out clearly in his open letter issued at the time of his resignation and that it stressed that accountability needed to be fixed at all levels. They said he would come back on his own terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A close Rahul aide said his return as Congress president was imminent, although he could not confirm whether it would happen now. “Majority of the Congress workers definitely want him back. It is also a fact that Sonia Gandhi’s appointment was on a temporary basis, with a certain date, which we are now nearing. There are serious health issues. She stepped in to fill a vacuum, and she cannot continue doing that indefinitely. So I am sure there will be a resolution soon, though I am not sure what that resolution will be,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul’s supporters have begun calling for his return. Demands were made in the Congress working committee (CWC) meeting of June 23 and Sonia’s meetings with party MPs on July 11 and July 30. Rahul’s staunch supporters, who had defended his decision to resign, now want him to come back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As someone who worked with him, I was not disappointed with his decision to resign as party president. The party lost the Lok Sabha election. But it was not his fault alone. Yet, he came forward to put in his papers. But now, I feel it is high time he returned as party president,” said S. Jothimani, MP from Karur and a close aide of Rahul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with the demand for Rahul’s return, the divide between the old guard and the young leaders in the party—the principal reason for his resignation—has reappeared, too. It played out in Sonia’s meeting with members of the Rajya Sabha on July 30. The leaders in this meeting, many of them representing the old guard, were not so effusive in their demand that Rahul come back, quite unlike the fervent demand heard in her meeting with Lok Sabha members on July 11.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The meeting, in fact, became a war of words between the seniors and the young leaders identified as Team Rahul. The call for introspection made by senior leaders and the organisational issues raised by them were seen by Rahul’s supporters as expressing reservations about his leadership. Rahul aide Rajiv Satav reportedly said the introspection had to begin with the functioning of the second United Progressive Alliance government and how the Congress fell from more than 200 seats in 2009 to just 44 in 2014. There was an immediate retort to this from leaders like Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor, who were ministers in the UPA government and are uncomfortable with the way the leadership issue has been dragging on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The seniors are also said to be uncomfortable with Rahul’s online interactions, especially his China videos. They complain that he is setting a line of attack against the Modi government without consulting party leaders. It has been an old grouse that Rahul relies on his set of advisers rather than taking the senior leaders into confidence, betraying a distrust of them. Moreover, they feel he has been going on a trajectory of his own, without taking the party along or conveying the impression that the view that is being offered has been discussed and debated in the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past one year following Rahul’s resignation, several voices within the party have demanded an end to the leadership conundrum, arguing that it was hurting the party badly. The sentiment gathered steam after the party drew a blank in the assembly elections in Delhi, second time in a row, and leaders including Tewari, Tharoor, Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Sandeep Dikshit spoke about the need for Rahul to make it clear whether he wanted to be Congress president or not, so that the party could then go ahead and settle the issue. Some leaders suggested having a non-Gandhi at the helm, while some others felt that general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra can step up, although she has made it clear that she wants to focus on Uttar Pradesh, her current assignment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gathering momentum is the view that either the CWC appoints a full-time president or elections be held for the top post as Sonia completes a year as interim chief. Many leaders feel that if Rahul does not want to come back as president, then the party should ideally have elections for the post.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is restiveness in the party, even among Rahul’s supporters, over the way he has kept the leadership issue hanging, and it is felt that the uncertainty is doing the party a lot of harm. The state of drift, with the leadership vacuum not allowing the party to have a sense of direction, is proving to be a big impediment in countering the aggressive politics of the Modi-Shah combine. Electoral contests apart, the party has found it difficult to keep its flock together; its government in Madhya Pradesh fell a few months ago and its chief minister in Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, is struggling to save his government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a growing feeling that the Congress has failed to stop its decline. Its national footprint has shrunk drastically, and its organisation has become weak and lacks direction. Leaders have deserted it in a steady stream, with a weak high command unable to negotiate with regional satraps from a position of power. And the party has been unable to get an ideological footing to take on the BJP-RSS.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Statistics bring out the current state of the Congress. It has just 92 MPs in parliament which has 790 members—52 in the Lok Sabha and 40 in the Rajya Sabha. It has about 800 MLAs of a total of 4,123 MLAs in the country. In the last Lok Sabha elections, it failed to win a single seat in 13 states and five Union territories. In the politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, it won only one seat—Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli. The victory in the heartland states in the assembly polls in December 2018 failed to translate into any gains in the Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party which was in power in 14 states in 2014 now rules only three states—Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh—and the Union territory of Puducherry, and is a junior partner in the government in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. There are vast expanses where the party has either become redundant or is riding on the back of a regional player. Madhya Pradesh was won back from the BJP after a gap of 15 years, but the Kamal Nath government fell because of desertions. The northeast, once the party’s stronghold, is now Congress-mukt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Not enough has been done at the state and Central levels to revamp the party. The party has to make a serious effort to train leaders and workers to make them understand the Congress ideology, the history of the party and the nation,” said former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is dissatisfaction with the manner in which the high command culture works and there are demands that decision making should involve diverse voices and must be decentralised. “Why can’t you have leaders who are in their 20s and 30s in the decision-making process? The party needs to hear new and diverse views,” said Aditi Singh, MLA from Raebareli, who was once close to the Gandhis, but is now seen as a rebel leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Former Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said the party should put in place a dedicated cadre like that of the RSS. “The workers should have a sense of commitment to the party ideology and be ready to fight and make sacrifices for it. We used to have committed leaders. But that is not the case now,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ideological clarity is, however, what the party appears to lack at the moment. It looked confused in its responses to crucial issues such as abrogation of Article 370, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens. It could not take a clear stand on the construction of the Ram temple and on the tie-up with the ideologically opposite Shiv Sena. The party has found itself doing a tight-rope walk between its own ideological bases of secularism and inclusive politics, and the hindutva-based and nationalism-infused narrative of the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress needs a powerful story of its own to counter the BJP’s narrative, and this has to be provided by the leadership. Rahul found a potent line of attack, unveiled in his Berkeley talk in 2018, but it was lost in the noise over nationalism in the post-Pulwama situation and in his own reliance on the ‘chowkidar chor hai’ election slogan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as the party debates the efficacy of Rahul’s renewed attacks on the Modi government, his supporters insist he is on the right track. “Yes, he is a dynast. He has that baggage. But there is no denying that he has a unique voice and he speaks from the heart,” said a Rahul aide. “He is talking to an audience those in power do not care about. He is resonating, maybe not on a tsunami scale right now. Will that happen in the next two to three years, given the current state of affairs? I definitely think so.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul has complained that he finds himself alone in his fight against Modi. This is a point he stressed in his resignation letter and has repeated in party meetings. However, Randeep Surjewala, head of the Congress communications department, who is close to Rahul, said, “Rahul Gandhi has never said he is alone in the fight against Narendra Modi. He only expects every Congress leader, who has served in positions of power, to rise in unison in these difficult times to fight the battle unitedly and not be hesitant of the brutalities unleashed by the Modi government by false cases of ED or the Income Tax or the CBI. When he says ‘Daro mat’ (Don’t be afraid), which is his clarion call for all, he says it also to Congress leaders to be not scared of Modi.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Members of Team Rahul have felt abandoned and sidelined after his resignation, and some of them felt compelled to leave the party, the most significant one being Jyotiraditya Scindia. Some others have been sulking or striking discordant notes, such as Milind Deora or Jitin Prasada. Sachin Pilot, another prominent young leader, has gone on the warpath against the leadership, leaving the Gehlot government in dire straits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There are problems in the Congress across the country and that is largely because there is no direction. Party leaders and workers don’t know where the buck stops or to whom to address their problems,” said Pradyot Deb Barman, who quit as Tripura state Congress president last year. “Circumstances in the party changed drastically after Rahul’s resignation. Young leaders like me were in the party because of him. But after his resignation, he became unresponsive to our concerns. He changed his number and it became impossible for us to get in touch with him,” Barman said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As questions were raised about Rahul abandoning leaders who had grown in the party with him, some leaders said he had actually promoted ‘babalog’, who came from entitled backgrounds and could not deal with loss of power. Newly appointed Congress working president of Gujarat, Hardik Patel, said it was wrong to say that young leaders in the party were not getting their due. “Had that been the case, a 26-year-old like me would not have been given such an important assignment in a crucial state. While the party leadership recognised Sachin Pilot’s abilities, it also gave regard to the experience and political sagacity of Ashok Gehlot. Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, it was felt that the experience of Kamal Nath was important to run the government. Young leaders need to exercise dhairya, dheeraj aur sahas (patience, endurance and courage),” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Countering the criticism that Rahul left young leaders to fend for themselves or was inaccessible, Surjewala said, “Scindia and Pilot were treated by Rahul Gandhi as not just friends but as members of the family. So if either of them says they were unable to meet him, they are simply lying.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Surjewala, “When you work in a political scheme of things, you have to negotiate the political waters without looking at Delhi 24x7 for intervention. So Scindia had to learn to negotiate the political waters alongside a Kamal Nath and a Divgijaya Singh or Pilot had to learn to deal with Gehlot. To expect Rahul Gandhi to be on their side 24x7, negotiating those political waters, would be too much to ask.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, as friends turn foes, supporters get restless, detractors get into attack mode and the party withers, the time for Rahul to make up his mind is running out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Give up the sycophantic culture</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ADITI SINGH</b><br> MLA, Raebareli</p> <p>After the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi said there would not be another Gandhi at the helm of the Congress and that things needed to change. But the party went ahead and appointed Sonia Gandhi as interim president. Now we hear that Rahulji is poised to come back as president. So, is there any change happening? Leaders like Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot might have thrown their hats in the ring for the post of Congress president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The youngest member in the Congress Working Committee is 37. Why cannot you have leaders who are in their 20s and 30s in the decision-making process? For me, what has been most frustrating is that things just do not seem to move in the party. Nothing happens, no new thing gets done.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Twitter trolls call me opportunistic. But I joined the Congress in 2016 when it was not in power at the Centre and was not in a position to win in Uttar Pradesh. I joined the party because I had faith in the party’s ideology. But now I do not think there is any ideology left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think India deserves a better opposition. The party needs to get rid of the ‘chamchagiri (sycophancy)’ culture. It needs an active leadership and inner-party democracy. We have brilliant leaders in the party. But if you do not know how to make use of them, then nobody can help you.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Congress is not a bunch of sycophants</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>S. JOTHIMANI</b><br> MP, Karur</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi is the best thing that has happened to the Congress. I am not saying this because he is my leader and my mentor, but because of the qualities that he embodies. A leader has to be committed, honest, truthful, knowledgeable, visionary, democratic and compassionate. Rahul is upfront, speaks the truth irrespective of the consequences and he understands the idea of India. He empowered young leadership and tried to build a party with all kinds of leaders.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not a bunch of sycophants. We have strong views. We have many differences with Rahul. But we trust the Gandhi family and his leadership because of what they stand for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul said he himself was the symptom of a disease called nepotism. He fought against the status quo. That is why he is what he is now. He could have been prime minister in 2009 itself. But he is not after power. When the Congress was in power, he moulded leaders like me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was not disappointed with his decision to resign as party president. The party lost the Lok Sabha elections. It was not his fault alone. Yet, he put in his papers. Now I feel it is high time he returned as party president. He should build the Congress and its organisation from the grassroots. The clarity that he has for fighting the RSS and the anti-people regime of the BJP has to percolate down through the party.</p> Fri Aug 07 11:30:12 IST 2020 india-will-soon-discover-its-need-for-rahul-gandhi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE LEADER IS GONE;</b> long stay the leader. The modified conundrum of leadership might well help perplexed minds, within the Congress and without, to understand the situation in our party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No standard rules of the game can be applied to the Congress, even if any other party goes by any rules beyond jo jeeta wo sikander! The problem for them is to understand that two successive defeats in Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent resignation from the post of party president have not conspicuously impacted the hold of Rahul Gandhi on the party. His repeated assertions about having decided to distance himself from the top post, sometimes with surprising adamance, have put some entreaties on pause, but have not made people give up on hope and habit of Congress ethos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One thing is clear though: vacating the president’s post did not mean retreat from leadership, which, in any case, is a trait not amenable to being switched on and off. Rahul has remained in control of guiding the party and has concentrated on a leadership style unique in terms of the standard we are accustomed to in the dreary political landscape. Indeed it is commendable for modern democracies, closest to the likes of Barack Obama and Tony Blair rather than Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. Contrast prime minister Nehru and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and you will understand that there are many role models and the Congress preference is obvious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ultimately, however, it must work with the voter. I recall a brilliant piece written by Vir Sanghvi many years ago in memory of the late Madhavrao Scindia whom he described as the ‘best PM India never had’. But then as Shah Rukh Khan would add, picture abhi bhi baki hai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We hear a great deal about the urgent need for the leadership ambiguity to be removed. We all think that in principle that is fine, but the ambiguity, as I said, is for outsiders, not the homegrown Congress cadres and leaders. That is a fact that outsiders can continue to deny for as long as they wish; it has and will make little difference for party faithfuls. Nothing is on hold that we would do with a full-time president. There is, of course, much more that we can do even now and hopefully will in the weeks and months to come, factoring in the constraints of Covid-19 and the political atmosphere in the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul is an idealist, something some people consider a disqualification for a mass leader; he is a hardcore professional, something that some people believe sits uneasy with the malleability needed for the rough and tumble of politics; he has clear likes and dislikes for ideas and people, something that people used to politicians who are everything to everyone do not understand. The unrelenting attacks on Modi and the RSS made some leaders uneasy about taking on the popular mood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At one gathering of intellectuals suggesting more diplomatic alternatives he asked as only he can, “Why? Are you afraid of the RSS?” His steadfastness and political fortitude showed in his response to the Scindia and Pilot episodes. In the world of compromises, he is loath to depart from principle. Some of his uncompromising democratic positions, like the Youth Congress elections, made dyed in the wool old hands nervous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once India tires of being told it is deprived by the ‘other’ and inevitably returns to collective destiny, it will discover the need for Rahul. The only question that remains is whether this happens naturally or will require strategic steering. The truth is that no party has figured this out as yet. Many are hoping that the fruit of change in public mood will fall in their lap like in the past, but politics has transformed considerably to assume that. The tree needs to be shaken and from the record Rahul is the only public figure to be attempting to do that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Any honest person will admit that contemporary politics in India is surreal. There is public approval of vigilante justice and crowd lynchings, criminals use crime to secure political power and then use power to subvert justice, botched governance is being proclaimed as high accomplishment, and inexplicable military ambiguity is being brandished as unprecedented success. Audacity of the political class is the new norm, while dissent and public protests are being painted in dark shades. Enforcement agencies are unselfconsciously becoming dramatis personae of the drama of political vendetta, while disguised and open defiance of India’s composite culture has become entrenched in the landscape.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this crowded space, Rahul has thoughtfully chosen to harp on the devastating medical and economic consequences of mismanaging Covid-19 and the knots we are tying our foreign policy into. The future of India depends heavily on those two frontiers, yet people continue to ask what he is doing about the party. Politics is as much about the idea whose time has come as indeed about the nuts and bolts of the organisational machine with circumstances dictating priority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His commitment to liberal democracy is second to none, but as we learnt in the economic competition with China, democracy has its own timeline for development and growth. It is the very time that Congress is taking to shake itself free of the shock of two consecutive defeats that will give it a sustainable thrust for the future. Many of us in the Congress continue to have faith in the proposition that the future will not only include Rahul, but will be substantially shaped by him. His detractors and ambivalent well-wishers will just have to understand that he will write his own script and pick his own timeline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Boxing great Muhammed Ali’s career seems to have interesting parallels that fit the trajectory of Rahul’s politics. When the body was young, it was the dance trick to tire the opponent with ‘I dance like a butterfly, I sting like the bee....’ In tougher moments it was the rope-a-dope: lean back on the ropes to take more beating than the opponent has the stamina to give. Ultimately it is the left jab that will decide the match. Lesser mortals can seldom guess where and when it will come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dream of Camelot, ‘the once and future....’ is still alive. Those who have gone to the current power house without character will miss being part of it and resign to the fate of being part of the best team that did not happen because of their unwise decisions.</p> <p><b>The author is a senior Congress leader and former Union cabinet minister.</b></p> Fri Aug 07 11:07:58 IST 2020 only-rahul-can-lead-the-fight-against-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q/ From Himanta Biswa Sarma to Jyotiraditya Scindia, so many young leaders are leaving the Congress.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Sometimes, it is a mistake to appoint people as state Congress presidents at a very young age. As regards Himanta Biswa Sarma, he was originally not a Congressman. He had links with the United Liberation Front of Assam and had cases against him. To save his skin, he came to the Congress. Yes, I encouraged him and gave him opportunities. He was not humiliated. He left because of other reasons. The BJP government raided his house. There was a case against him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If a young leader proves his mettle, for example, like Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy did in Andhra Pradesh, he or she deserves to be put in a leadership position. Reddy may not be with us, but he proved his leadership capacity and organisational skills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is said that the young leaders in the Congress are feeling sidelined.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The problem is that people like Jyotiraditya Scindia are not committed to the party ideology. Sometimes, you get impressed with the smartness or intelligence of a youngster. But that is not enough. They must be committed to the party ideology. We must choose people who are committed and have worked their way up from the grassroots. It is a mistake to promote people who have not worked hard for it. Some of them are capable, but in most cases, you will find that youngsters, particularly those who have come in because of their father’s blessings, are most likely to commit mistakes. That is because they have not come through trials and tribulations. That is the case with my own son also.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the leadership issue wrecking the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have always been in favour of Rahul Gandhi being Congress president. I was not in favour of him resigning and had asked him why he was stepping aside. In a democracy, defeat in an election is a part of life. Even a leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not get his party elected for so many years. But Rahul felt he was morally responsible for the defeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today also, we want Rahul at the helm. Of course, we need Sonia ji’s guidance. But because of her age and other reasons, she cannot move around the country as much as Rahul can. And that is important, particularly when you are in the opposition and pitted against a leader like Narendra Modi who is an expert in perception management, has money power and has no qualms in using institutions to target his adversaries. We feel that among us, only Rahul can fight against these forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Rahul Gandhi and the party do not seem to be in agreement on taking on Modi directly.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Rahul is attacking Modi like anything. Many senior leaders, whom I do not wish to name, are completely silent. The BJP attacked Pandit Nehru, Indira ji and Rajiv ji. And now, they are attacking Rahul. Why? If Rahul is a nobody, they should ignore him. But they attack him, even though we are in the opposition and he is not even the president of the party. They know that by finishing him, they can destroy the Congress. They know that he is one of the main pillars of the party, just as Modi is the symbol of the BJP and the head of the government. Who else should we attack with regard to wrong policies of the government?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does the Congress need to do on an urgent basis to get back on its feet?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have to change our strategy. The world is changing and Modi has changed the nature of politics. It is all about marketing. We must change our outreach to beat him at his game. We need to vigorously use new media. We also need to create a dedicated cadre like that of the RSS. The workers should have a sense of commitment to the party ideology and should be ready to fight and make sacrifices for it. We used to have committed leaders. But that is not the case now. Look at Scindia or Pilot. How can you leave the party and join a party that is diametrically opposite to our ideology?</p> Fri Aug 07 11:06:50 IST 2020 revisit-secularism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE CONGRESS</b> lost both 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections with only 44 and 52 seats, respectively. Congress president Rahul Gandhi resigned on July 3, 2019, stating, “As president of the Congress party, I am responsible for the loss of the 2019 elections. Accountability is critical for the future growth of our party. It is for this reason that I have resigned as Congress president. Rebuilding the party requires hard decisions and numerous people will have to be made accountable for the failure of 2019. It would be unjust to hold others accountable but ignore my own responsibility as president of the party.” Only an honourable man with the courage of conviction would quit considering that no one held him accountable or much less asked him to step down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 10, 2019, the Congress working committee, after wide-ranging consultations with state leaders, appointed Sonia Gandhi as provisional president under Article 18(h) of its constitution. Says the article, “In the event of any emergency by reason of any cause such as the death or resignation of the president elected as above, the senior most general secretary will discharge the routine functions of the president until the working committee appoints a provisional president pending the election of a regular president by the AICC (All India Congress Committee).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reappointment of Sonia Gandhi, much to her disinclination, was a wise choice and was widely welcomed. From 1998 to 2017, she led the party with sagacity and compassion and was responsible for two Congress-led governments at the Centre. Since then, the Congress has managed to be a part of coalition governments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand. It got 31 seats in Haryana—35 being the halfway mark—but unfortunately drew a blank twice over in Delhi where it had governed from 1998 to 2013. The Bihar assembly elections are now round the corner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the trials and tribulations that confront the Congress today have roots that stretch back over five decades. The process commenced in 1967 with the loss of Tamil Nadu, deepened with the defeat in West Bengal in 1977 and worsened further with the loss of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha in the 1990s. These are the states the Congress has never won back. There are certain other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab where the party was out of power for 10-15 years, but has been able to reclaim. The reason why the losses went unaddressed was due to the four stunning victories that the party pulled off in 1971, 1980, 1984 and, to a lesser extent, in the 1991 general elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Coupled with this electoral deficit are profound ideological challenges it needs to address with dispatch. After the collapse of communism in 1991, it re-oriented the nation’s economic trajectory and made it congruent with the Washington Consensus. Unfortunately, the Congress has never been able to align its own economic philosophy with that economic shift. A millennial today wants to know whether the party recognises the pursuit of individual wealth through legitimate means as a valid aspirational goal. The challenge to reconcile the animal spirits unleashed by liberalisation with social equity has never been adequately communicated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress needs to revisit its position on secularism, which is a classical construct imported into the Indian socio-political environment by the founders of the Constitution who were acutely cognizant that there must be a clean separation between the Church and the State, especially in a profoundly religious country such as India. Over a period, their ideological offspring reinterpreted it to mean ‘Sarv Dharm Sambhav (equal respect for all faiths)’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the last couple of decades has taught us is that when secularism is interpreted as patronage of all faiths, you skid down a slippery slope where religious preferences of the ‘powers that be’ then start dictating the policies and priorities of the state. This is the spectre of majoritarianism. Can this genie be put back in the bottle?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress must define its vision of nationalism. In the past six years, its delineation of nationalism has been the antithesis of what the BJP stands for—a narrow, chauvinistic and patriarchal view of nationalism. It is unfortunate that the party that was in the vanguard of the freedom struggle has not been able to articulate its vision of nationalism cogently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, it must exorcise politico-economic neo-feudalism from the political firmament, including its own backyard. In 1971, the Congress leadership took a stout position against the vestiges of feudalism that paid rich political and economic dividends. Over a period, those feudal interests have been able to re-ingratiate themselves into positions of influence within the party structure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of late there has been persistent comments that the Congress must have a non-Nehru-Gandhi president. The fact is that the Congress rank and file across the country still identify themselves with the Gandhi family. Between 1991 and 1998, no Nehru-Gandhi was part of the Congress. For the past 21 years, no Gandhi has been a part of any government at the Centre or in the states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress did form the government twice at the Centre. Following Rahul Gandhi’s resignation in 2019, the Congress now has three options. It can either confirm Sonia Gandhi as the full-time president or Rahul Gandhi can withdraw his resignation and return as president for he was elected for five years till 2022. If both these are non-sequiturs, then the Congress must hold an election to the post of president and to the working committee. Article 18(h) of the Congress constitution puts the ball squarely in the AICC’s court.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CWC’s mandate ended after appointing a provisional president. The ideal solution would be a Nehru-Gandhi presidency, elections to the CWC, the reinstatement of the Congress parliamentary board and deep organisational reforms. The uncertainty at the top must end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, some relatively younger people who always got things on a platter have left the party. For them, power and positions are the only aphrodisiac. They never went through the organisational grind of the National Students’ Union of India and the Youth Congress. They never spread mats for a public meeting or pasted posters or did wall writing or, for that matter, got knifed in a student union election. They never asked themselves the basic question: Why am I in the Congress?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scindia, Pilot, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Ajoy Kumar, Pradyut Kishore and many others belong to this genre. They received in disproportion to what they deserved at the cost of other young people. However, the party must also look within. If it keeps rewarding people who repeatedly lose their security deposits, decimate the party in states they once headed and cross vote against the party in Rajya Sabha elections, it demoralises those who believe in ideology and diligence and patiently wait for their chance. Where then is the accountability that impelled Rahul Gandhi’s resignation? It cannot be ‘you show me the man I will show you the rule’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem of India today is not the government. Its credibility lies in tatters. It is the absence of a viable opposition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is a lawyer, MP and former Union minister. Views are personal.</b></p> Fri Aug 07 11:15:37 IST 2020 the-gandhis-are-made-of-sterner-stuff-than-what-modi-and-shah-think <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>SENIOR CONGRESS LEADER</b> Digvijaya Singh says former party chief Rahul Gandhi’s image has been spoilt by the BJP and the RSS through a concerted social media campaign, but insists that it is on the mend ever since he has started taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on critical issues such as national security, Covid-19 and the economy. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Singh says Rahul should never have resigned as Congress president and that he is a leader with a different temperament, who believes that “power is poison”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What does the Rajasthan episode tell us about the state of the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have brought the Gujarat model of politics to the national scene. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, the BJP was a different party. We have seen the most unethical way of functioning in the BJP since the advent of the Modi-Shah partnership. They are on a buying spree. I have never heard of MLAs being given Rs20-25 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is the BJP not merely taking advantage of fissures in the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Fissures will be there in a party. The Congress may not have managed its internal dissensions. But look at the offers to defect, and defection is not because of ideology or discontent. Those who joined the Congress seeing it as a party of power and authority started looking elsewhere when they found that it is unable to give them power or authority. But they are not the majority. Only 15 to 20 per cent people may have left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Why are the young leaders upset?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ In Madhya Pradesh, the majority of the MLAs supported Kamal Nath. In Rajasthan, the majority of the MLAs supported Ashok Gehlot, and Sachin Pilot was given the posts of deputy chief minister and state Congress president. In Madhya Pradesh, these positions were offered to Jyotiraditya Scindia. They should have waited. They should have been more active in winning over MLAs if they wanted to be chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is not their exit a big loss for the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They worked hard and the Congress looked after them. They took off from where their fathers—Madhavrao Scindia and Rajesh Pilot— had left. They were both in the Union cabinet. One became state party president and the other was national general secretary, appointed over thousands of Congressmen. But these youngsters, who in 10-15 years got more than what they could get in any other party, are unhappy. And to do a somersault and join the party against whom you had spoken with such force and venom [seems unthinkable].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Scindia attacked you.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Did I ever oppose him in the party? He was given ample opportunity. He became a Congress working committee member surpassing many others. In fact, I always promoted him. I had brought his father into the Congress. I mentored him after his father’s untimely death. We saw him as a future leader. Then why this mad hurry?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were Scindia and Pilot asking for more than what they deserved?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Yes. I became chief minister at 46 after I got more support in the Congress legislature party than my senior Shyama Charan Shukla. I was not nominated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Was Rahul Gandhi’s resignation as party chief a correct move?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There was no reason for him to resign. He had emerged as a national alternative to Modi. His ratings had gone up. Yes, we did not do well in the Lok Sabha elections, although I do not want to mention the reason here. But he should have carried on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, he was the first person to warn the government about Covid. He was the first to question Modi over Chinese incursions. Among the opposition leaders, Rahul is the only one taking on Modi on every front, and he is doing it convincingly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel he can provide a viable leadership alternative to Modi?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ He has a different temperament. Power does not attract him. He could have easily become a cabinet minister or even the prime minister between 2010 and 2014. We would all have supported him. But when he became the Congress vice president, he quoted his mother to say that “power is poison”. He wants to connect with the poor and the downtrodden. His is the lone voice for the people who are not heard. Had his idea of NYAY been implemented, the poor would not have been so badly affected during the pandemic. His ideas are absolutely right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress does not seem to have recovered from the Lok Sabha defeat.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I agree. Not enough has been done to revamp the party. We have to make a serious effort to train leaders and workers to make them understand the Congress ideology, the history of the party and the nation. And then, democracy within the party is important.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you see the probe into the Gandhi family trusts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Bofors case was investigated by the V.P. Singh government and then by the Vajpayee regime. They found nothing, because there was nothing. These trusts are regularly audited. The probe is meant to scare and create a bad image of the Gandhi family. But the Gandhis are made of sterner stuff than what Modi and Shah think.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is it high time Rahul Gandhi returned as party president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This is my grouse with Rahul Gandhi. Of course, he always treats me with great respect and I find him to be a very sincere person. He is a voracious reader and understands the basics of democracy and the socioeconomic conditions in India and the world. But because of his tough stand against the BJP and the RSS, they have tried to destroy his image through a concerted social media campaign. For a young emerging leader, his image has been tarnished by the misrepresentation of facts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you feel he has an image problem?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The image problem is in the minds of the people. But it can be countered. Ever since he started challenging Modi on issues of national security, Covid-19 and the economy, things are changing. He is getting as many likes and retweets as Modi does. So people are realising their mistakes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Will he be back as Congress president soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There can be no comeback since he is already there. He has voluntarily held himself back, which I think is not the right decision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Sonia Gandhi is completing one year as interim president of the Congress. Can we expect a leadership change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is no such thing as interim president. She has been appointed Congress president by the working committee. She is a full president. Let the CWC decide on the leadership.</p> Fri Aug 07 11:03:26 IST 2020 jammu-and-kashmir-365-since-370 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On August 5 last year, the Centre cut Jammu and Kashmir in two. It evoked both gasps of horror and raucous applause. However, unlike the svelte assistant in a magician’s saw trick, the state did not come out unscathed. Now sliced into two Union territories, the former state had also lost Articles 370 and 35A, which had given it special status when it joined India. What followed was a tight lockdown, restrictions on movement, a communication blockade and mass arrests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A year on, the sight of tourists fleeing Kashmir still haunts Feroz Ahmed Shanglu, a houseboat owner near the Dal Lake in Srinagar. “My business was good before Article 370 was revoked,” he said. “The hotels referred tourists to my houseboat for overnight stays.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dearth of sightseers dried up his savings; dazed and confused, he approached the Houseboat Owners Welfare Trust for help. The charity, which gives monthly aid to 600 houseboat and shikara owners, took care of him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later in the year, after the lockdown was eased a bit, Shanglu met owners of several hotels and guest houses, looking for work. “They used to hire me for making<i> kahwa </i>and <i>noon chai</i> (salt tea) for tourists, but none of them had any business,” he said. Since June, he has found some work at weddings and small events outside Srinagar. “I get Rs 700 a day (selling tea), but save only Rs 500 because I have to pay for travel,” he said. As fewer weddings are taking place, Shanglu has not been able to provide for his family, which includes his wife, two children and his old mother. “Without help from the charity, my family would starve,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abdul Khaliq Shora, another houseboat owner, said, “I am 70. I cannot go out looking for work. I survive on aid from the charity.” Shora, who lives with his wife, divorced daughter and grandchild, said his houseboat had been lying vacant since August and needed repair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tariq Paltoo, who owns two houseboats and a guest house, and works as a volunteer for the charity, said, “Our charity is supported by our community members outside Kashmir. Our community is not used to aid and that is why every family listed with us is identified by a code number and food kits are delivered to them at night.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Land rides have fared no better. Ghulam Nabi Pandav, chairman, Kashmir Tourist Taxi Operators Association, said 26,000 cab drivers were without work since August. “Many drivers are working as labourers away from their homes so that nobody recognises them,” he said. “We were told rivers of milk would flow in Kashmir after Article 370 [was revoked]. Where are those rivers?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The carpet industry, one of the mainstays of business in Kashmir, is also hanging by a thread. At Pattan and Sumbal, considered the carpet belt of Kashmir, dozens of weavers have closed their looms and have taken to menial labour. “There was no raw material as everything was shut and phones were also blocked,” said Nazir Ahmed Malik, a weaver in Pattan. A half-finished carpet lay unattended as he spoke. “Even if I had completed this carpet, there would be no buyers,” he said. “My son now works as a labourer in Srinagar and that is all we are surviving on.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story repeats itself in neighbouring villages.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every year, Kashmir exports about Rs 1,600 crore worth of handicrafts, which includes shawls, papier-mâché products and wood carvings. Parvez Ahmad Bhat, president of the Artisan Rehabilitation Forum, said there were more than the “official” 2.5 lakh artisans in Kashmir, and that the handicrafts department seemed unmoved by their plight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Syed Kounsar Shah, who exports papier-mâché products, said some artisans had become suicidal because of unsold stocks. “We are now arranging counselling [sessions] for them,” Shah said. “I am an award-winning exporter, but today, like most artisans, I feel desperate.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The lockdown aside, the suspension of high-speed internet also killed many businesses. Hundreds of WhatsApp accounts, which could not be updated, were deleted. “We used to get orders online and the money through net banking,” said a female entrepreneur. “But after the internet was blocked, we could not do any business.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Education also stalled. About 10 lakh students could not attend school and college for months last year because of curfew-like restrictions. They returned to classes in March, but the pandemic forced them back home. And though online classes have been introduced, the slow internet has played spoilsport.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story in Kashmir’s apple orchards, too, is not rosy. In October, after militant attacks on apple traders and on truck drivers coming into Kashmir discouraged them from pursuing deals, local farmers were left without buyers. The government offered to buy the fruit, but not many growers came forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the autumn leaves fell, sector after sector bled. As per a December report of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kashmir lost between Rs 14,296.10 crore and Rs 17,800 crore, and 4.9 lakh jobs between August and December. In July 2020, it updated the figure to Rs 40,000 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Jammu, however, most of the restrictions of the post-abrogation lockdown were quickly lifted and internet connectivity was restored earlier. The region saw growth in manufacturing of plastic and steel products, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, and animal and poultry feed. The toll on imports from other states was also abolished, making goods cheaper for consumers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Local businesses, however, are worried about their ability to compete with cheaper goods from outside. “Our cost of manufacturing is higher than neighbouring states because we import raw material from outside,” said Annil Suri, former president of the Bari Brahmana Industries Association. “We have to pay higher freight charges on raw material; skilled manpower also comes from outside.” He said that, after they paid migrant workers in March, all of them were ferried out. “Now there is labour shortage in Jammu,” he added.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For most people in Kashmir, the revocation of articles 370 and 35A was always about changing the demography of India's only Muslim-majority state. This impression only deepened after the Centre, on March 31, announced new domicile rules under the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Adaptation of State Laws) Order, 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The order defined domiciles as those who have lived in Jammu and Kashmir for 15 years and those who have studied for seven years and appeared in Class 10 and Class 12 exams in schools there. It also included any Indian citizen who had been an employee of the Central government or a public-sector undertaking in Jammu and Kashmir for 10 years. And, the children of anyone who fulfilled the criteria above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Until last August, only permanent residents were considered domiciles. Article 35A defined a permanent resident as a person who was living in Jammu and Kashmir on May 14, 1954, or had been living there for 10 years and had lawfully acquired immovable property. The state government would issue them a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC), which was needed to apply for government jobs and to buy immovable property.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, on May 18, the UT administration issued the Jammu and Kashmir Grant of Domicile Certificate (Procedure) Rules, 2020. Under these, the tehsildar has to issue the domicile certificate within 15 days of application, failing which he could lose Rs 50,000 from his salary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This is unprecedented,” said a tehsildar who did not want to be named. “While issuing PRCs, it used to take weeks and sometimes months to verify the antecedents of the applicant.” Another tehsildar spoke of a recent procedural headache. After she had sought documents from a man who claimed to be living in Kashmir for more than 15 years, she got a call from an Army officer asking her to issue the certificate. “I told him that the man had no documentary proof or witnesses to support his claim,” she said. “I told him he would be posted elsewhere tomorrow, but I have to live here and cannot flout the rules.” She said the officer understood and did not insist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the government has said that permanent residents will get the domicile certificate based on their PRCs, the order has sparked fears of a National Register of Citizens in Kashmir. In fact, some revenue officials THE WEEK spoke to in Kashmir believed that it was easier for an outsider to get the domicile certificate. The rules dictate that the PRC should match with government records, but the officials feared that some records could have been lost due to a number of reasons, including floods and fires.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The immediate beneficiaries of the domicile law are the migrants living in Jammu and Kashmir. Currently, at least 17 lakh of them are eligible for a domicile certificate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, with a nudge from the Centre, the underprivileged from other states could look to Jammu and Kashmir for a better life. That will not only alter the demography of the Union territory, but also reduce the societal clout of permanent residents.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It could also affect jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir is currently 17.9 per cent, far higher than the national average of 8 per cent. The domicile law has come at a time when, according to the Union home ministry, there are 84,000 government vacancies to be filled.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for investment from outside, sources said the revenue department had identified around 50,000 acres, mostly in Jammu, to set up industrial units. According to sources in the State Industrial Development Corporation, several companies have shown interest in investing in a variety of sectors, including health care, hospitality, education and agriculture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chaitanya Sharma, manager of the Jammu and Kashmir Trade Promotion Organisation, told THE WEEK that they were in talks with companies, but the pandemic had put everything on hold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some local businessmen said they welcomed outside investment, but that the government should dispel fears that inviting such companies was not part of the plan to change the region’s demography. “Land could be leased to outsiders to set up business even when Article 370 was in effect,” said a businessman. He added that the government had also, on July 18, approved amendments to the law to allow marking of “strategic areas”, where the Army could carry out unhindered construction and related activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Syed Mujtaba, a lawyer in Kashmir, said the Centre could not make any law as the abrogation had been challenged in the Supreme Court. “The lieutenant governor does not represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but the Centre,” he said. “The people have no agency.” A government spokesman, however, said there were adequate safeguards in place and accused the political parties of spreading misinformation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike in Kashmir, the scrapping of the state's special status was greeted with cheer in Jammu, especially by BJP supporters. The domicile law, however, has them worried about losing jobs and business to outsiders. There has been no open dissent in Jammu for fear of strengthening what they consider “anti-national” protests in Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zorawar Singh Jamwal of Team Jammu, a socio-cultural group, said that though he was concerned, the new domicile law did have safeguards. “Navin Choudhary (an IAS officer from Bihar whose domicile certificate went viral) has been living in Jammu and Kashmir for 26 years,” he said. “Only then has he gotten the certificate.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, Sushma Singh, who lives on the outskirts of Jammu, said she was worried about the future of her daughter, who recently passed her CBSE class 12 exams. “Now outsiders will also stake a claim on seats in professional colleges here,” she said. “We are now feeling insecure.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Harsh Dev Singh, chairperson of the Jammu-based National Panthers Party, said the domicile law was unfair to the educated youth of Jammu and Kashmir, and that the government should at least have retained the permanent resident status. “There has been no development and only retrenchment since last August; around 1,200 health workers were sacked,” he said. “Employees of the information and education departments have also been removed. No daily wager has been regularised.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That all is not well for the BJP in Jammu was evident when the party won only 52 of 148 seats in the block development council elections in October. This when the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party did not contest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, most political leaders detained in early August have been reluctant to broach the topic of abrogation even after their release several months later. The silence of the senior NC leaders and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son, Omar, has fuelled speculation that the party is hoping only for the restoration of statehood. On July 27, Omar wrote in a national daily that he would not contest assembly elections as long as Jammu and Kashmir remained a Union territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party's workers, some of whom have spent their whole lives with the NC, are not pleased. “We fought separatists only because we had autonomy, our own flag and laws that protected our identity,” said a leader in Srinagar. “Now we have nothing and our party is saying it will fight in court.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason the burden of fighting is on the NC is that it is the only party whose leadership and support base are still largely intact. And the BJP knows this. The party is now banking on the delimitation process, which would be completed in May. As part of this, Jammu is expected to gain twice the number of seats as Kashmir. Before last August, the state assembly had 87 seats, including four from Ladakh. Kashmir had 46, Jammu 37.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP hopes for votes of the West Pakistan refugees, Gorkhas and Valmikis, who have gained certain rights because of the abrogation. The party is also banking on the new domiciles, especially in the Muslim-majority areas of the Chenab valley and the Pir Panjal region of Jammu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only Mehbooba Mufti, PDP president and former chief minister, who is still detained under the Public Safety Act at her home in Srinagar, continues to be defiant. Analysts said she wants to salvage her image, which was sullied by her alliance with the BJP in 2014. The party, though, seems to be in disarray as many of its leaders have joined the Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, which PDP minister Altaf Bukhari floated with the BJP's backing last year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the separatists, the abrogation has left them in tatters. On June 29, Syed Ali Shah Geelani resigned from the chairmanship of the Hurriyat Conference (G) and accused its constituents of shying away from accountability.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The separatists had lost traction long before August 5 because of internal feuds and the inability to get public support. The Centre's crackdown on separatists through the National Investigation Agency hit both factions of the Hurriyat Conference, headed by Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As expected, the abrogation has affected the security of the region. Since January, security forces have killed at least 133 militants in Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag districts of south Kashmir. After last August, the state police came under direct control of the Centre. That freed it from political interference and increased synergy with the Army and the CRPF.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, security forces had killed 133 militants before August 5, and only 25 in the remaining months. “We resumed operations after two weeks [of the abrogation],” said a senior police officer. “The priority was to prevent 2010- and 2016-like agitations in which many civilians were killed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The restraint, however, led to several militants infiltrating from Pakistan. Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy, last December, told Parliament that there were 84 infiltration attempts and 59 militants could have slipped in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last October, a new militant group, The Resistance Front (TRF), announced its presence with a grenade attack on security forces at Hari Singh High Street in Srinagar; seven people were injured. That the group had been active on Telegram while internet was suspended in Kashmir led to suggestions that its handlers were in Pakistan. The police said that Pakistan had formed the TRF to mislead the Financial Action Task Force, which had threatened to blacklist the country for supporting terrorism. “Lashkar floated the TRF with some members of the Hizbul Mujahideen,” said Vijay Kumar, inspector general, Jammu and Kashmir Police.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The group gained notoriety after five of its militants and five Army men were killed in an encounter on April 4 near the Line of Control in Kupwara. After that, security forces intensified operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April, 23 militants were killed in the first 24 days. But, on May 3 and 5, eight security forces personnel and two militants were killed in two engagements with the TRF at Handwara in Kupwara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 6, the security forces killed Riyaz Naikoo, Hizbul Mujahideen chief operations commander, and his associate at Beighpora in Pulwama. “While on his trail, we managed to bust six of his hideouts,” said Kumar. “We interrogated some of his over-ground workers and got vital information.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On May 19, Junaid Sehrai, the Hizbul Mujahideen’s divisional commander for central Kashmir, and his associate Tariq Ahmed of Pulwama, were killed in Srinagar. “In the past two months, there have been attempts by the JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) to carry out a Pulwama-type attack, but we have foiled them,” said a senior police officer. Security forces are on the trail of other listed militants, including Naikoo’s successor Saifullah Mir alias Ghazi Haider and JeM IED expert Adnan Bhai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been political casualties, too. On July 8, militants shot dead BJP state executive member Sheikh Waseem Bari, his father Sheikh Bashir Ahmad and brother Sheikh Umar, who were also office-bearers of the party, outside their Bandipora home. The attack happened a month after Ajay Pandita, a Congress sarpanch, was shot dead by militants in his village of Larkipora in Anantnag. Deputy General of Police Dilbag Singh said the attack was the handiwork of a hybrid group of local and foreign militants working together to confuse security forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In another significant move, security forces have stopped handing over the bodies of local militants to their families to prevent emotional funerals, which they said motivated the youth to join militancy. Though police have cited the pandemic as the official reason, police sources said the policy was first discussed in 2018, but could not be implemented due to objections by local politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kashmir has seen many such changes in the past one year. And now, another autumn beckons. The chinar leaves must fall again; hope, though, can cling on.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Sat Aug 01 17:34:43 IST 2020 time-for-street-protests-has-passed <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Our primary fight will be in the courts because that is where we expect to get justice from. There is no point expecting justice from the very government that snatched Article 370 from the people of Jammu and Kashmir,” former chief minister Farooq Abdullah told THE WEEK. “As a political party, it is but natural that we will also keep the people abreast of what we plan to do. We were among the first to approach the Supreme Court and we have one of the best-drafted petitions. If by proactive you mean street protests, then the time [for] that has passed. We are a democratic mainstream party and will use every democratic means at our disposal.”</p> <p>As for the 'Gupkar declaration', where regional parties of Jammu and Kashmir resolved to stand together and fight the abrogation on August 4, 2019, Farooq said: “I cannot say what its current status is. Some of the signatories to the declaration have gone to court individually and some have not bothered to challenge the abrogation at all. When all the leaders are freed from detention, the NC will meet and decide on its next course of action. But we are clear that we do not accept the changes forced on us on August 5 and will continue to oppose them.”</p> Thu Jul 30 18:02:50 IST 2020 our-only-concern-is-our-identity-we-do-not-want-ladakh-to-be-like-assam <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Gyal P. Wangyal heads the 30-member Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and holds the status of a cabinet minister. He talked to THE WEEK on the changes that have come in Ladakh since it became a Union Territory, challenges ahead, Chinese incursion and more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/It's been a year since Ladakh became a Union Territory. How do you see the development?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite its strategic significance (shared border with Pakistan and China), Ladakh has been the most neglected part of the country under the erstwhile J&amp;K government. Infrastructure developmental work was absolutely on low priority for Srinagar-run government. After becoming Union Territory, Ladakh has got actually its identity. It is the foremost thing for us. For developmental work, Union government has already allocated Rs 6,000 crore for Ladakh. Earlier, having funds for the development was a big problem for us because of stepmotherly treatment by J&amp;K. Now, we need to start from the scratch. We need to begin from zero unlike J&amp;K, and it will take time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Are you saying J&amp;K discriminated against Ladakh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. Ladakh has always faced discrimination by the political class of Kashmir, who used to rule on us from Srinagar or in Jammu. We need to beg to J&amp;K for funds, despite being largest in area, as Ladakh is 65 per cent while Jammu and Kashmir is only 35 per cent of total land area of the erstwhile state. And Leh district itself is 45,000 sq km. Development is to be done for the area not its people. Ladakh has a population of close to three lakh. J&amp;K used to ask money from Planning Commission in terms of area, but while distributing, it was always on the basis of population. Due to this, Ladakh used to get only 2 per cent of the total budget of J&amp;K. So, we had to face issues on the development as our area is vast.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How has the development work progressed in the past one year in Ladakh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since, we have become UT, our budget has increased four times—Rs 232.43 crore for Leh and similar amount for Kargil district. But, it is our bad luck that due to COVID-19 pandemic, we could not utilise it. Due to the restrictions, no meeting of general council of the Ladakh Hill Development could take place in the last five months. So, no planning was made on the disbursement of the allocated fund. Now, we need to follow MHA rules for financial planning. Our biggest problem is availability of labour, as they come from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and even from Nepal. There is a big uncertainty on return of these labourers to Ladakh. Now, we are afraid that whether we will be able to utilise this allocated Rs 232 crore for development.</p> <p>Moreover, from October, winter will set in the state and it brings to halt all infrastructure work due to heavy snow. COVID-19 and tension on border with China have badly affected the development of Ladakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Are you satisfied with the development on the border area in view of the Chinese incursion?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, there was a proposal from MHA of Rs 600 crore to develop the border area. Unless we provide basic facilities to residents of border villages, they will migrate. In recent past, hundreds of migrants have come down and settled in Leh. Union government could not implement its own plan of border development. Now, we are pushing to revive as it becomes important in terms of Chinese incursion. If we manage to stop migration, these people will always be the eyes and ears for the security agencies. With better road connectivity, border tourism can also be promoted in remote areas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you see the abrogation of Article 370 ?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To have a separate Union Territory was long-pending demand of people of Ladakh. The demand was legitimate on the various grounds—geographical, cultural and linguistic. Many Ladakhi leaders, including Kushok Bakula Rimpochee, have led the movement for the separation from J&amp;K state. Thupstan Chhewang, former member of Parliament, who founded the Ladakh Buddhist Association that spearheaded the agitation, ultimately led to the setting up of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC ) in 1995. But due to Article 370, we were not allowed to have separate status of Union Territory. Now, Modi government has removed Article 370 and both J&amp;K and Ladakh have made UTs. With abrogation of Article 370, Ladakh should integrate the region fully with the rest of the country as an equal stakeholder in building the nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Do you fear change of demography?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes. Fear of the influx of outsiders that would lead to a change in the region’s demography is very much there in every Ladakhi's mind. Now, anyone can settle here. With no special status, Ladakh will become open for all, especially in terms of real estate. That is why, we need protection of land. Domicile rules also need to be considered for Ladakh, too, if residents of J&amp;K can get it. Essentially, the Ladakhi identity needs to be protected through safeguards. We don’t need everything defined under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Based on Articles 244(2) and 275(1), the Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram after setting up autonomous district and regional councils. But, we are asking for safeguards in employment, land, environment and heritage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What are the challenges ahead for Ladakh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are well aware of it that we do not have any issue of funds after becoming a UT. Our only concern is our identity. We should not lose it. We do not want to be like Assam. Our upcoming generations should not blame us for wrongdoings. Government of India has given us the status of a UT with Hill Development Council, which is unique. But now, there is a need to amend the legislative powers of Hill Development Council at UT level to avoid any friction between UT administration and Development Council. Both need to work together for betterment of Ladakh otherwise tug-of-war will start. We (Development Council) are an elected body and represent the people. Accountability of voters is on us, as nobody will ask questions to the district administrative body. So, we need an amendment to bring us at par with UT administration to work jointly for developmental task. Hill Development Council has 30 body members, of which 26 are elected and four are nominated. PM Modi-led government at the Centre has fulfilled the long pending demand of Ladakhi people. People cannot forget what he (PM Modi) did for Ladakh. Centre had that option to disband Hill Development Council, which it did not do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/How do you see the issue of nomads in Ladakh?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have been constantly working on issue of pasture land for nomads. Earlier, we did not have the required fund. Now, we have no dearth of funds. Nomads on border villages suffer the most when it snows. So, we are creating a fodder bank and identifying pasture lands for them. We need to develop the border infrastructure as we are lacking it hugely. Lack of communication system is also an issue. Our executive councillors have made a couple of visits to the remote border villages after tension on the border with China and listened to their grievances.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/What is your take on incursion by Chinese military?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is not the first time, Chinese have intruded into our territory. They have been doing it for the last five decades. Now, it has come to the limelight because our forces have shown firmness and retaliation on the border, which never used to happen earlier. There is a buffer zone, which was never contested, and both sides used to patrol. Earlier, we never objected to Chinese incursion. We cannot trust China. Ladakhi people are not scared of Chinese military.</p> Fri Jul 31 18:28:26 IST 2020 sino-indian-tensions-have-not-affected-the-situation-on-the-pakistan-front <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lieutenant General B.S. Raju, who heads the Army’s Srinagar-based Chinar Corps (XV Corps), has been successful in tackling the twin challenges of infiltration operations along the Line of Control (LoC) and counterterror operations in the hinterlands. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, the commander discussed the impact of Covid-19 on operations in the valley, the improvement in the security situation in south Kashmir and whether Pakistan is trying to take advantage of Sino-Indian tensions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do give us a sense of the current security situation against the backdrop of last August’s legislative action [revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and turning it into a Union territory] and the threat of Covid-19?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The internal situation in Kashmir is stable but sensitive. Maintaining peace has been the prime goal of all government agencies. The prevention of violence in the post legislative action (situation) has been the cornerstone of our security strategy. The adversary’s principal strategy is to instigate violence and cause the loss of Kashmiri life and property, which starts a cycle of violence. Our strategy is to carry out most operations based on specific intelligence and in a manner ensuring minimum use of force and taking all steps to avoid collateral damage. Precautionary and preemptive measures for the safety and security of the people have been instrumental in saving lives. The recent spurt in civilian killings is a repeat of the terror activities that happened last September, and is indicative of the desperation of terrorist controllers. They are resorting to hitting soft targets among the Kashmiri population. We are working towards neutralising this threat, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 is a challenge for common citizens and soldiers alike. The Army has been involved in the dissemination of information about Covid precautions, distribution of sanitisation supplies and relief material. We have a detailed protocol of quarantine and testing of personnel coming after leave. During operations, all precautions are taken as per the recommended protocol. However, if things get active on the LoC, we are ready for all contingencies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There has been a sharp decline in stone-pelting incidents during anti-militancy operations.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The principal strategy of Pakistani handlers and their proxies has been to instigate violence and protests that can lead to the deaths of civilians. Pakistan has been using a variety of means to instigate violent protests including stone-pelting, using money and a network of radicalised over ground workers (OGW). Concerted police action to cut off hawala and drug channels has choked funding for such anti-national activities. Good intelligence and policing has ensured identification and booking of OGWs. The support of the <i>awam</i> (general public) has helped maintain peace. The civil society is actively contributing to control these violent activities. The recent success in kinetic operations to kill terrorists, with a focus on the terror leadership, has also played a role.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is south Kashmir free of militancy now as claimed by the police? Will the focus now shift to the north, where a mix of local and foreign militants are mounting attacks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The success in eliminating terrorists operating in the hinterland and an effective counter-infiltration grid have virtually broken the backbone of terrorism in J&amp;K. There are pockets of turbulence in south Kashmir and we are focusing on these pockets. The security forces and other agencies have been working in tandem to maintain a robust counter-terrorist grid in south Kashmir. The past one year has witnessed the elimination of all major terrorist leaders. The number of terrorists operating in the valley has gone down because of reduced recruitment and successes in counter-terror operations. We are conscious of the threat to soft targets, which normally are the civilians, and are working hard to defeat such efforts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We expect terrorists to shift focus based on the pressure applied by security forces. The success in the south is complemented by similar operations in the north, which is affected more by Pakistani terrorists who infiltrate across the LoC. This year, a robust counter-infiltration grid and the domination of the LoC have curbed infiltration. There have been successful elimination of terrorists who were trying to infiltrate both in the Baramulla and the Kupwara sectors. The terror <i>tanzeems</i> (groups) are under pressure from their handlers for executing terror activities as we head towards the completion of one year of relative peace after the August 5 legislative action. We are working hard to deny any operational space to these terrorists and to provide an environment of peace and security to the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How would you describe the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo after a Colonel and a Major were killed in an operation against militants in Handwara?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Over the past year, the leadership of all terror <i>tanzeems</i> has been effectively targeted and eliminated. Riyaz Naikoo’s killing, which was part of this effort, was important because of his reign of terror, and helped dent the terror activities of Hizbul Mujahideen. We are committed to wiping out terrorism from the valley and efforts are being made by all stakeholders to this end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Handwara, late Col Ashutosh Sharma and his team acted immediately to neutralise the threat after receiving information on the movement of terrorists nearby. Our men take risks beyond the call of duty and we remain indebted to such brave men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A new militant group the Resistance Front (TRF) has claimed most attacks on security forces since February. What do we know about this group?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The Resistance Front is a social media organisation. Various reports exist on its origin, funding and backing by Pakistan. TRF is one of the several efforts of Pakistan-based controllers, to give terrorism an indigenous face, and it has claimed various terrorist acts as its own. Pakistani authorities have directed terror organisations not to claim any such acts in an attempt to hoodwink the FATF authorities as the country faces international scrutiny.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>TRF has also been at the centre of the recent spate of inter <i>tanzeem</i> rivalries which have come to light.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are surveilling and monitoring Hawala networks. Drug money is known to fund terror activities, and efforts by intelligence agencies have led to major recoveries and disruption of this channel of funding. In addition, we are committed to identifying and neutralising of the OGW network which sustains terrorists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Could you share details of ‘Operation Rangdori Behak’ in which five militants were killed in one of the most daring operations amid thick snow and inhospitable terrain at Keran near the LoC in Kupwara?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ On April 1, footprints were noticed near the LoC at first light. The area has razor sharp ridge lines and all routes have high levels of snow. Terrorists attempted to exploit the inclement weather. Search parties were immediately launched and terrorists were given chase; however they broke contact after dumping their heavy loads and bags. Subsequently, additional troops were launched and the area was cordoned off.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A close quarter battle followed at virtually point blank range. The Army, with their superior training standards, were able to take out all five terrorists before the fall. However, we lost the entire squad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How is the Army dealing with the threat of infiltration and militant infrastructure in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Since the legislative action on August 5, 2019, Pakistan has been belligerent across diplomatic forums. It has also been under domestic pressure to instigate violence in Jammu and Kashmir. We have an all-weather, effective, multi-layered counter-infiltration grid in place. We keep updating our drills and use technology to beat any fresh tactics used by the adversary. The surveillance grid has a mix of technological tools for all-weather day-and-night surveillance. The effective surveillance grid and top class weaponry ensure we respond hard and fast, in a punitive manner. The Pakistanis know it and the unlucky ones experience it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ It is said that local militant recruitment dipped in 2019.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The recruitment of local boys in 2019 was less compared with 2018 and it shows the decline in terror influence. Local terror recruitment is one of our primary concerns. Our efforts are aimed at weaning the youth away from terror. Proactive steps are being taken to identify and counsel vulnerable youth. In this we seek help and support of the civil society. New recruits have very low survivability, with some getting killed within a couple of months. We are working to firstly prevent the local youth from joining terrorism and secondly to facilitate the surrender of those who have joined terror groups.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ So you want to give the militants an opportunity to surrender.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Promoting surrender is something that we are working on at multiple levels. In all operations, we extend every opportunity to local terrorists to give up arms and return to the mainstream. During most encounters, we halt operations and involve the parents or society elders to urge trapped local terrorists to surrender. Even before encounters, as part of our counterterror operations protocol, we reach out to friends and family of a known terrorist to facilitate surrender. The family and the misguided youth are assured of state help in surrender, security from terror retribution and help in rehabilitation. To make it more attractive, we have given suggestions to the government to update the existing surrender policy. We also look at the <i>awam</i> and Kashmiri society to constructively engage with the youth to remove the false notion of ‘<i>jannat</i> in martyrdom’ spread by Pakistani and separatist propaganda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How many local and foreign militants are active in Jammu and Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Estimates regarding active militants vary, but the figures are down because of the relentless successful operations. This is largely a result of good control over infiltration, killing of existing cadres and reduced recruitment. The number of terrorists remaining does not matter much since lower numbers do not mandate a major change in our methods; a single terrorist with a pistol can prove lethal and terrorise the population. We are working towards addressing the complete ecosystem that nurtures terrorism so that we can once again focus on development, prosperity and the well-being of the population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The recent killing of an old man in Sopore and the images of his grandson seated on his body evoked widespread condemnation. What is being done to prevent the recurrence of such acts?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The unfortunate killing of the man in the crossfire was another example of terrorists choosing civil areas to attack security forces. In Sopore, we witnessed both the effect of violence initiated by terrorists from a religious place and the scale of vicious propaganda against the security forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The ground layout and the sequence of events clearly show that the grandfather of the child was killed in the firing by terrorists from the window of a mosque. Four CRPF soldiers were injured and one succumbed to injuries. The society forgot the trauma of the child and the effort by security forces to ensure his safety. Journalists and civil society need to hold themselves at higher levels of professionalism. We respect the role of the journalists as watchdogs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Army conducts its operations under a stringent code of conduct. Safety of the civilian population is our prime concern and we take every possible measure to avoid collateral damage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you look at the recent resignation of Syed Ali Geelani, a vocal supporter of militancy, from the Hurriyat Conference?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The resignation of a man who has already lost his relevance is an effort to regain space for the separatists. It reveals the corruption and the Pakistani roots in all actions of the separatists. The desperation of the Pakistani establishment and the separatist camp is visible in such acts. It is also interesting to note that Geelani found no one in Jammu and Kashmir fit and ready to carry his anti-India ideology forward. The proxies in PoK are his last hope. These are also indicators of a failing structure, with infighting, slandering and the blame game coming to the fore. The Pakistan–separatist–terrorist nexus is at its lowest ebb. The Pakistan-controlled proxies are focused on re-engineering violence and generating a state of fear. We as a nation need to identify this opportunity and work hard to strengthen the progressive elements in Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Ceasefire violations along the LoC have increased. Is Pakistan trying to take advantage of Sino-Indian tensions?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is only one reason for the near constant ceasefire violations—Pakistan is attempting to assist more and more terrorists to infiltrate into India. The Pakistan army facilitates these infiltration attempts. Also, in the summer months, an escalation in ceasefire violations and infiltration attempts is well anticipated. The Army is well poised and fully committed to not allow any misadventure by Pakistan.Å The situation on the Ladakh border is also well under control. There has not been any major escalation in the situation on the Pakistan front. We are aware of some defensive deployments done by the Pakistanis. The situation in Gilgit-Baltistan is also being watched. There has not been any major perceptible escalation in the situation on the Pakistan front owing to the situation on our borders with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the Army's public reachout programmes?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The support and cooperation we have received from the <i>awam</i> in our outreach programmes has been overwhelming. Our programmes are running well within the revised safety protocols and we are helping the <i>awam</i> by spreading information about Covid, distribution of sanitisation kits/face masks and humanitarian aid to the needy, especially in far-flung areas. We have incorporated safety guidelines and have suitably modified the implementation of our outreach initiatives. The joint efforts of all stakeholders in the national fight against the pandemic will ensure that the people of Kashmir will remain safe and healthy. We are confident that with our combined efforts, we shall overcome this hurdle. The Army is constantly working alongside the civil administration to bring succour to the lives of the people. We have modified our combat drills as per Covid-19 advisories to ensure the safety of both the soldiers and the <i>awam</i> in all interactions. Force preservation in the times of the pandemic remains our concern even as we ensure the safety and security of the national borders and the hinterland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your reaction to the demand for a political initiative to fill the vacuum created by the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our role as security forces is to ensure a secure environment where the administration and the civil society can function without the fear of the gun. We are working on that singular aim. It is a work in progress. On the political front, the government has clearly enunciated the objectives and the roadmap for the political landscape and we are confident that we will soon see progress on that front. It will not be apt for me to comment on the political developments or scenarios.&nbsp;</p> Fri Jul 31 13:25:12 IST 2020 keeping-the-faith <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For the people of Ladakh, the past one year has been one of hope and apprehensions. Hope, because the erstwhile Buddhist kingdom’s decades-old dream to be a Union territory finally came true on August 5 last year. “It was the result of a 70-year fight of the people of Ladakh to get their identity,” said P.T. Kunzang, president of the influential Ladakh Buddhist Association, which had been spearheading the agitation.</p> <p>Apprehension, because Ladakhis now worry about jobs and protecting their land and fragile ecosystem. “People who want to use the resources in Ladakh for selfish purposes are not welcome,” said J.T. Namgyal of the BJP, who represents Ladakh in the Lok Sabha.</p> <p>Ladakh has two districts, Leh and Kargil. Leh is dominated by Buddhists; Kargil, by Shia Muslims. There are about 1.15 lakh Shias and 1.35 lakh Buddhists. Hindus, Sikhs, Sunni Muslims and others number around 10,000.</p> <p>The past one year has not seen any big-ticket development work here. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently approved the plan for the first Central university in Ladakh, which will have a centre for Buddhist studies. This will help Ladakhis, who now have to travel hundreds of kilometres from home for higher education. The Union government has also allocated 06,000 crore for various development projects. “A cold desert, Ladakh only gets few months of summer to carry out development work. Activities had to wait till March because of the snow. But from March onwards, the Covid-19 pandemic has gripped us,” said Gyal P. Wangyal, chairman of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council.</p> <p>According to Wangyal, Ladakh has to start from scratch. “Ladakh used to get only 2 per cent of the total budget of Jammu and Kashmir [even though it covered 65 per cent of the state’s area]. So development was almost negligible here,” he said.</p> <p>The council, which was set up in 1995 after a series of agitations, has 30 members; re-elections are expected to be held in September or October. The ruling BJP has an edge over the Congress in the polls.</p> <p>With Article 370 gone, there is fear that the influx of outsiders would lead to a change in the region’s demographics. “With no special status, Ladakh will become open for all, especially in terms of real estate,” said Wangyal. “That is why we need protection of land. It has to be ensured that potential buyers do not exploit us. Domicile rules for Ladakh are also required.”</p> <p>Abdul Qayum, president of the Anjuman Moin-ul-Islam, which represents 20,000 Sunni Muslims in Leh, Dras and Zanskar, fears that Ladakh is set to lose its cultural identity. “With enough funds from the Union government, Ladakh will develop,” he said. “But I feel the ‘Ladakhiness’ will be lost. We have a distinct culture and identity; I don’t think it is going to last.”</p> <p>Qayum said Leh has benefited administratively—people no longer have to travel to Srinagar to make their grievances heard. But he believes that demographic change is now imminent. Leh is easily accessible by air, and every year it hosts tourists that number four times its population.</p> <p>Qayum said the only way forward is to give more teeth to the hill development council. “Unless the Union government empowers the council,” he said, “I do not see any change in decision-making.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 17:55:04 IST 2020 testing-times <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A year after articles 370 and 35A were struck down, a list of challenges still confronts the Centre. These include legally defending the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, assuring people of the region that the decision was not an attempt to change demography, and defeating the home-grown militancy born of a deep sense of alienation in Kashmiri Muslims.</p> <p>“The alienation of the Kashmiri Muslim is nearly 100 per cent after the abrogation of Article 370,” said former home secretary G.K. Pillai, who was part of discussions between the Centre and Kashmiri groups during the previous UPA government. “The Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing lockdown have been a blessing in disguise for the security situation. How the government utilises this time to generate employment, initiate developmental works and launch outreach programmes will temper the repercussions later.”</p> <p>With the delimitation process and new domicile law, Kashmiris feel they can be dispossessed of their rights by hegemonic control through new settlers, said M.M. Ansari, former interlocutor, Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>Policymakers in Delhi, however, are confident that once the benefits of the new domicile law start showing, people will embrace the change.</p> <p>“A variety of developmental activities were anticipated, but little happened after Jammu and Kashmir went into a second lockdown because of Covid-19,” admitted a government official.</p> <p>The benefits of certain Central laws are also yet to reach the grassroots. “The empowerment of the Panchayati Raj institutions is still not complete. The babus in the central secretariat do not believe in decentralisation of powers,” said Anil Sharma, president of the All Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference. “People feel as if they did something wrong by supporting the abrogation. They cannot meet any administrative secretary for redressal of their grievances. Corruption continues at all levels.”<br> Anoop Kaul, chairman of Sampoorn Kashmir Sanghathan, said the government should issue a domicile certificate to all Kashmiri Pandits living outside the Union territory. He also demanded that a truth and reconciliation commission be set up to bring out the actual reasons behind the exodus and bring all culprits to justice.</p> <p>There is also growing resentment among people, especially in Jammu, about the UT status; home ministry sources indicated that Home Minister Amit Shah, who wants to control the security situation, is keen on restoring statehood. D.K. Pathak, former Border Security Force chief, said heavy deployment of security forces had prevented terror incidents, but a wave of mass mobilisation can be expected in future.</p> <p>The litmus test for the Centre would be the phased withdrawal of security forces and the smooth conduct of assembly elections. Sources said that Delhi would like to wait for the delimitation process to end and economic activity to pick up before calling elections.</p> <p>Sources also said that the Centre might release a few political detainees as a symbolic gesture to get public support. By now, many of the detainees are too weak to shape public opinion.</p> <p>The separatists have also lost their power. Recently, Syed Ali Shah Geelani resigned from his faction of the All Party Hurriyat Conference. Intelligence agencies have inputs on how the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence was leaning on Geelani to control the narrative in Kashmir, which he failed at.</p> <p>The ISI is now, reportedly, pooling the resources of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba for infiltration and attacks. Pakistan seems to be worried that further integration with India would sever social ties between PoK and Jammu and Kashmir, and is trying to lure young professionals from the valley who sympathise with the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir.</p> <p>Delhi's direct control of the security grid in Kashmir could give it the upper hand, but for normalcy to return, more bloodshed cannot be ruled out. However, the good news for Delhi is the burgeoning pro-independence sentiment in PoK. “Instead of keeping the [24 seats reserved for PoK in the assembly] empty, the Indian government should consider nominating the people from PoK living in exile to those seats,” Amjad Ayub Mirza, from Mirpur in PoK and living in exile in the UK, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Geo-strategic experts said the abrogation was also meant to send signals to China and Pakistan. “The Modi government wanted to tell them that after such internal reorganisation, a red line will be drawn on their interventionist policies,” said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor in Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “However, China's approach is to put India on the defensive, and hence took the issue to the UN Security Council thrice last year. If China does not resist the lifting of Article 370, the Kashmir land it acquired from Pakistan (including Aghil, Shimshal, Ruksam and Sakshgam) will be in jeopardy.” India, in a tit for tat move, raised the Hong Kong issue at the UN Human Rights Council in July.</p> <p>Pillai said Modi was disillusioned with Chinese president Xi Jinping and there was a worry that India was joining the anti-China chorus with the US. “India needs friends, and in diplomacy, there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests,” he said.</p> <p>Ansari said the way forward for peace in the region was a tripartite dialogue with Pakistan and China, as the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Control were not internationally accepted borders.<br> Referring to the Galwan Valley clash of June, Pillai said: “India cannot open too many fronts. It needs to be careful how it treats its neighbours. When we deal with the Kashmir situation, it is not only the domestic audience that is listening. We know the Chinese were not only listening and watching, but also preparing,” Pillai said, referring to the Galwan Valley clash of June.</p> <p>A section of the security establishment, however, believed that Chinese ambitions in Kashmir had nothing to do with Article 370 and that they would grab any territory if there was an opportunity.</p> <p>“India will not hesitate from revisiting its China policy,” said a top intelligence official. “India will pursue strategic autonomy by not working against interests of any country, but whenever Indian interests overlap, it will collaborate with others, including in military cooperation.”</p> <p>As for the on-ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir, a security expert in the government said National Security Advisor Ajit Doval would be the man to take the Union territory out of the double lockdown. “History is replete with examples of how princely states that merged with India grew to become world-class destinations. The IT city of Hyderabad is one example and they can thank [Sardar Vallabhbhai] Patel for it,” said a government official.</p> <p>The government hopes to do the same with Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 17:51:21 IST 2020 this-will-be-the-last-phase-of-militancy-or-terrorism-in-j--k <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q. Was Jammu and Kashmir ready for the drastic change of removal of its special status?</b></p> <p>The year 2019-20, since August 5-6, has possibly been one of the most eventful years. For that matter a historical year since Independence. The Constitutional changes, which happened on August 5, 2019, were the ones for which the nation was ready. The people of India were waiting, but somehow the political will was lacking. Many governments came and went and maybe it was God's will that someone like Narendra Modi should take over as prime minister and accomplish this noble task.</p> <p><b>There is concern over the security situation in J&amp;K post abrogation of Article 370.</b></p> <p>Till as late as August 5, 2019, all the prophets of doom were saying no one can touch Article 370. They had gone to the extent of saying that if somebody even touches it, there will be earthquakes, volcanoes, bloodshed. But from all aspects, including security, if we go by evidence and chronology, August 6 and the following six months have been the most peaceful festive season in Jammu and Kashmir. This was the time when we had Diwali, Holi, Eid, Moharram. Among national festivals, we had Independence Day and Republic Day.</p> <p>In the last thirty years in Jammu and Kashmir, there has been not a single occasion when there wasn't any untoward incident on the day of these national festivals. The perpetrators of terrorism in the state and Pakistan-sponsored terror groups would always try to show their presence. This was the only year when no untoward incident took place. So the prediction made by prophets of doom turned exactly reverse. This was also the year when for the first time there were Block Development Council elections in Jammu and Kashmir. This itself speaks for the security situation.</p> <p><b>When can we expect a terror-free Jammu and Kashmir?</b></p> <p>I can speak from the evidence on the ground that terrorists are on the run. This is going to be the last phase of militancy or terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p><b>But there is a threat of local militancy and even Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is continuing on the border.</b></p> <p>When I say the phase of militancy will be over, I am referring to both. Because the terrorist infiltration from Pakistan has considerably gone down as there is a heavy check now. All kinds of technology are being put to use and the local youth are also realising the futility of it. The ‘life’ of even the most celebrated commanders of terrorists is not more than two years. Now the parents are coming forward to warn their children against falling prey to any kind of allurement to become terrorists.</p> <p><b>Pakistan will continue to stoke unrest in J&amp;K.</b></p> <p>Pakistan has been trying and it will continue to try. But from the Indian side, it is much more strict now and with the modern technology available, the surveillance is also of a very high degree. It is not only physical surveillance. There is graphic, thermal, satellite-driven surveillance.</p> <p><b>The recent killing of a BJP leader in Bandipora in North Kashmir isn't a good sign.</b></p> <p>These incidents which we are seeing, which includes the unfortunate incident of one of our BJP worker getting killed, are happening because terrorists are desperate and on the run and trying to attack whatever soft targets they come across.</p> <p>But now the flushing is going on, for example, in my constituency of Udhampur, there were two districts, which had earned notoriety as far as terrorism is concerned. Doda and Kishtwar have been officially rendered terror-free now. This happened early this year. These were the districts that witnessed many massacres during the last 30 years of terrorism.</p> <p><b>China and Nepal have reacted sharply to India's claims on PoJK, Aksai Chin, Kalapani after the abrogation of Article 370.</b></p> <p>First of all, it has nothing to do with the abrogation of Article 370. I would not get into the nuances as this is a highly sensitive matter related to security and I will leave it to ministries of external affairs and defence. But Article 370 has nothing to do with it. Whatever is the stand of the government of India and whatever is the stand shared by the ministries of external affairs and defence, we would stand by that without adding to it.</p> <p><b>What have been the immediate benefits of removal of special status in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>There were at least 800 laws enacted by the Indian Parliament that was not applicable in Jammu and Kashmir. These are laws that had no effect on the so-called special status, but they were held back for political reasons. For example, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. I don't think any country in the world would have any reservation in implementing it. But it was not enforced in Jammu and Kashmir, maybe for political motives and appeasement of certain sections of society. Similarly, the Dowry Prohibition Act was not applicable. The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments brought in by Rajiv Gandhi government were not implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, despite the Congress being in coalition for so many years. These amendments ensured direct empowerment of local bodies by allowing Central grants for panchayats and municipal bodies to directly reach elected representatives. But this was not implemented and Central grant reached ministers who then routed it as per their discretion. This is the first time it has got implemented and true empowerment of people has taken place in the last six months.</p> <p>Political parties like the PDP and National Conference spoke of self-rule and autonomy, but does it mean autonomy or self-rule for family or dynasty? True autonomy should have taken birth from the grassroots. So much duplicity was going on in the name of Article 370.</p> <p><b>How is the government ensuring good governance in Jammu and Kashmir?</b></p> <p>As far as governance is concerned, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 (amended in 2018 ) dealt by the Department of Personnel and Training handled by me, has been implemented in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time. Till date, Jammu and Kashmir had its anti-corruption law, which lacked lustre. If you wanted to fix somebody or let him go, you could do it.</p> <p>Now, Jammu and Kashmir has a PC Act, which talks of time-bound disposal of cases and after the 2018 amendment, not only the bribe-taker but the bribe giver is also held guilty. Secondly, the jurisdiction of CVC has been extended there. The Right to Information Act is the same as the Centre. All these laws were either not implemented or implemented in a modified or truncated form to suit the political interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;Citizenship rights were not given to refugees who settled there from Pakistan. The contradictions were huge and this was happening because the political parties were thriving on a captive vote bank.</p> <p>But now for the first time, Jammu and Kashmir is enjoying a similar kind of liberty and freedom as the rest of India. J&amp;K is the only UT which has got two AIIMS. This happened after the personal intervention of Modi. In the last five years, more than half-dozen medical colleges funded by the Centre were opened in J&amp;K but there was no faculty since the local government did not allow them to purchase land. That barrier has been removed now.</p> <p><b>How big is the focus on industrial growth in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>Jalandhar city, which is close to Jammu, is a big business centre but the latter has not. This is because investments were not allowed from outside. All that has been changed with the new domicile law. The COVID lockdown has caused some interruption, otherwise, a big outreach programme had been started by the UT government to facilitate and create awareness for available investment options. They were visualising a huge investment up to Rs 25,000 crore and had started conducting outreach programmes in various cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata. New industrial hubs have been identified in small districts like Udhampur and many potential investors are already keen to go there and set up units.</p> <p><b>There is a worry that the new domicile law will change the demography of J&amp;K.</b></p> <p>This debate has been raised by those who have a huge vested political interest. It is not the population demography they are worried about, it is vote bank demography. They feel if someone comes from outside and gets citizenship after living there for ten years, as per the domicile law or an IAS officer is allocated AGMUT cadre and after serving there for a couple of years, he will also get voting rights and like that students, Pakistani refugees or Gorkha settlers get similar voting rights, that will impact their limited captive vote bank on which they have been thriving on. Otherwise, if there is a healthy change of demography happening all over the world, why should J&amp;K shy away from it?</p> <p>There are certain advantages to it. Now people are increasingly realising this facade of demography and debate is cooling down.</p> <p><b>When will the delimitation exercise start in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>The Delimitation Commission has been set up and because of the lockdown certain procedural delays happened, but soon thereafter they will start their sittings.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;Is the government looking at a timeframe to complete the delimitation exercise?</b></p> <p>There was no exact timeline fixed, but in between the COVID pandemic broke out and the lockdown happened so they could not even move forward and fix deadlines. But of course, it is an elaborate exercise, which needs sufficient time to complete.</p> <p><b>What was the need for a delimitation exercise?</b></p> <p>To put it bluntly, the need for delimitation has arisen from some time. There have been allegations that the 2011 Census exercise was not fair; the embargo on delimitation by the then government was meant to obstruct the normal periodic exercise, which should take place. Delimitation is an exercise, which should take place in democracy from time to time because of the population demography changes, land demography changes, the topography changes. Depending on several parameters, the constituencies are determined for the state assembly. There is also a rotation of the reserved constituencies. So, this is an exercise that has to be undertaken periodically to make it more compatible with a free and fair democracy. But this was not happening and we are only making up for it now.</p> <p><b>There are allegations BJP is doing delimitation for vote bank gains.</b></p> <p>BJP is not barring anybody from their voting rights so this allegation is unfounded. If this allegation is coming from some quarters, maybe they are apprehensive that after delimitation they will not be able to thrive on that captive vote bank. If they are truly committed to democracy, they should be ready for delimitation and a free franchise. BJP has never shied away from it. BJP has been supporting voting rights all over the country. BJP has never obstructed any procedures and processes but in the natural course, if people of J&amp;K, elect BJP then it is not BJP's manipulation, then there is something wrong on the other side.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;How soon will Assembly elections be held in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>They will happen in due course of time and as you know the delimitation exercise is also going on.</p> <p><b>Will the government wait for the delimitation exercise to get completed before holding Assembly polls in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>I cannot say right now as this is something for which a call has to be taken by the government depending on the various inputs received by it.</p> <p><b>When will the government look into the demand for statehood for J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;I agree with you. There has been a discussion on this and I don't need to add anything to it because the Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said on the floor of the House that this is an arrangement for the time being and once the circumstances are congenial, it will be reverted to a state.</p> <p><b>The J&amp;K Reorganisation Act, 2019 has 24 seats reserved in the state assembly for PoJK. What is the plan for PoJK?</b></p> <p>There cannot be any difference of opinion as far as the facts are concerned. PoJK is a part of India and it was forcibly occupied by Pakistan and that too when the Indian forces were on the verge of retrieving. It was one of the many Nehruvian blunders as history records it that prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to the Akashwani Bhawan and made the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire without consulting his Cabinet, home minister or defence minister and the territory had to be lost to Pakistan occupation.</p> <p>The question now is how to retrieve it? Even in 1994, when the Congress government was in power, a resolution was passed unanimously by Parliament saying that the only pending issue between India and Pakistan is of retrieving the illegally occupied part of J&amp;K that is in Pakistan's occupation. So why were successive Congress governments quiet on it for 25 years? Now since the BJP and NDA have shown will to move forward and having accomplished what it has in the last one year, I think we should look forward to it as the next agenda.</p> <p><b>What will be the way forward for retrieving PoJK?</b></p> <p>These are issues that involve a great amount of technicality and sensitivity and worked out at different levels. But certainly, this is very much on the agenda. It is also the will of the people living in PoK to be part of India because they have been maltreated and given second-degree treatment over the years.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;The exiled community from PoJK wants nomination to these seats. Is that a possibility?</b></p> <p>The will is there and it is testified from the fact that 24 seats have been kept reserved in the State Assembly for the residents of POJK. Now, how does the government go about it is something we will have to work out. Right now we are seized of the delimitation exercise, once it is done, a thought can be given to this aspect also.</p> <p><b>Pakistan is holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan region of PoJK in September. Your comments.</b></p> <p>It has been an accepted position of the government in Islamabad that Gilgit-Baltistan was a disputed area. In other words, it was not their area. Now, suddenly in the last few years, they have changed their stance and expansionist designs have cropped up in Islamabad. An administrator had been appointed there all these years because they had accepted it officially that this territory is not part of Pakistan like the four provinces of Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As far as POJK is concerned, Pakistan was illegally occupying it. So we reject the move.</p> <p><b>Will the government undertake outreach and cultural awareness programmes for PoJK and Gilgit-Baltistan to connect the people there with the rest of the country?</b></p> <p>Certainly. This is already being undertaken. Political of course is just one part, but even at the social level, at the level of NGOs, we are holding outreach programmes and discussions throughout the country in different parts—south, north, east, west, northeast. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, it has got disrupted.</p> <p><b>How do you see the future of separatists in the Valley, especially after the resignation of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from the All Party Hurriyat Conference?</b></p> <p>Separatists have no future. Their past could never have a future because as I always said separatism in Kashmir is by convenience and not a conviction. I wish it would have been better for them if they were separatists by conviction. At least they would have been faithful to their people. They have been unfaithful to their people and trying to bluff them by raising the slogan of separatism. Many separatist leaders are drawing pension as ex-legislators of J&amp;K Assembly, including Geelani. Some of them have a son working in the provincial civil services, daughter working in the education department, daughter-in-law working as a doctor and one of the members of the family also becomes a separatist. So, it is politics by other means. It is not by conviction.</p> <p>On the one hand, they claim not to be subscribing to the Constitution of India, on the other hand, they are very particular to make use of every privilege made available through the Constitution of India. The point is you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time.</p> <p>They fooled people for three generations and now the young generation in Kashmir are not ready to be taken for a ride. They have seen the earlier two generations suffering and being at a disadvantage and they will not allow themselves to be used in the same manner. So that myth has exploded.</p> <p>What has also happened is that in the last six years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been a whole new opening of avenues and opportunities particularly for youth and now with the age of social media, connectivity, the youth of Kashmir can realise what he is missing out. He is conscious of the fact that India is on the verge of becoming a global power and the Indian youth is dominating in every sphere of life around the world so why should he be left out on a hollow slogan of separatism that too given by the leaders who themselves are leading a life of double standards.</p> <p><b>So is it the end of the road for Abdullahs, Mufti, Geelani?</b></p> <p>As far as the dynasties are concerned, not just in Jammu and Kashmir but all over India the feudalist hangover is over. It is the third generation after Independence and it is said that even the Samskara changes after the third generation. Today, people have learnt to test and elect their representatives based on certain hard evidence. So, I don't think simply being the member of a dynasty would be sufficient to reach where you wish to reach.</p> <p><b>How do you see the entry of new political parties in J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>As far as we in BJP are concerned, the more the merrier. That is the spirit of democracy.</p> <p><b>When will the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) go from J&amp;K?</b></p> <p>That is something which the Union home ministry has to take a call and they have inputs which we may not be having access to.</p> <p><b>Did the special status benefit J&amp;K in some way?</b></p> <p>The National Conference or the PDP have used the alibi of Article 370 for their convenience. The so-called protagonists of Article 370 were also not loyal or faithful to it. The used it to carry on their political hegemony. They deprived their daughters of the right to property and citizenship. I can name at least three chief ministers whose own daughters or sisters were deprived of citizenship rights or property rights just because they had married outside J&amp;K. So, this was an anomaly, a miscarriage of history and the principle of justice. Any anomaly cannot stay forever, that is the rule of nature.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Jul 31 08:00:39 IST 2020 we-were-there-everywhere <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was a former ruler of India who sent the ultimatum that started the war. It was a future ruler of India who received the final document of surrender that officially ended the war. From the beginning to the end, World War II was India’s war as much as it was of any other people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us begin at the beginning. At 4am on September 3, 1939, Lord Halifax sent a telegram from London to Neville Henderson, Britain’s ambassador in Berlin. The cable contained a message for Germany’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop: Withdraw Germany’s occupation army from Poland. “I have accordingly the honour to inform you,” continued the Halifax cable, “that unless not later than 11am, British summer time, today September 3, satisfactory assurances to the above effect have been given by the German government and have reached His Majesty’s government in London, a state of war will exist between the two countries as from that hour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was perhaps the harshest step that Halifax, a man of peace whom his old friend Mahatma Gandhi had described as “the most Christian and the most gentlemanly” personage, had taken in his eminently successful public life. Born without a left hand, Lord Irwin, as he had been known before he was made the Earl of Halifax, had finally landed the most prestigious job in the world at that time, the secretary of state of Great Britain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, as viceroy of India, he had put Gandhi in jail for breaking the salt law, but had soon made amends by receiving the “half-naked fakir” as an equal at the magnificent palace that he had inaugurated in the new imperial capital of New Delhi. The two men had also signed a pact that had led to Gandhi sailing to London for the second Round Table Conference and having an audience with the king-emperor. Though the conference had failed, the Gandhi-Irwin pact had opened the way for political dialogue between Indian leaders and British rulers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, as foreign secretary in the embattled Tory government of Neville Chamberlain, Halifax had fathered the appeasement policy by which Britain watched helplessly while a militarised Germany, under the Austria-born artist Adolf Hitler, was gobbling up country after country in Europe. All along, Halifax had been avoiding a war that he was convinced would not only destroy Britain and her empire, but also wreck the whole of Europe and the free world. His admirers say the appeasement helped Britain gain time to rearm.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Halifax’s assessment was not wrong. The same afternoon after his ultimatum expired, British ocean liner Athenia was torpedoed, killing 112 passengers. Only then did the harsh reality hit the great sea lords of England—that they might still be ruling the world’s waters, but German U-boats were ruling the underwaters. The Battle of the Atlantic opened the same day, and within a month the Royal Navy would lose half a dozen ships.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dry ground, too, was shaking under Britain’s feet. Most of her land forces were dispersed across Africa and Asia. There was an expeditionary force of about 1,50,000 men in France, but the generals knew that they stood no chance before the German panzers. Finally, the entire expeditionary force, along with an Indian animal transport contingent, would be ferried to safety in May 1940 across the English Channel from Dunkirk, on every little boat that could float, making it the largest military evacuation in world history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the hour set by Halifax elapsed, his office sent cables to hundreds of offices across the world. One landed on the desk of the viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, in Simla. At 8.30 the same evening (3pm London time, just four hours after Halifax’s deadline expired), Linlithgow went on air pledging India’s wholehearted support to the war effort. The proclamation, done without even a modicum of consultation with Indian leaders, would later prove politically the unwisest step taken by any viceroy (see story on page 48).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one—not even the viceroy—had any idea how India would fight the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the hour when Linlithgow was going on air, the Indian Army had just 1,60,000 troops, including about 16,000 British officers and men, and 72,000 with the princely states. The Royal Indian Navy had just 1,700 officers and men, and the Indian Air Force had just one squadron with 200 officers and men who were busy quelling a tribal uprising in Waziristan. The squadron was commanded by its first Indian commander Subroto Mukherjee, who would later become the first Indian chief of the IAF; among the officers was Arjan Singh, who would also later head the IAF and become India’s only marshal of the air force. By the time the war ended in 1945, the Indian Army had swelled to “more than two and a half million”, writes Harry Fecitt in Distant Battlefields. “It was the largest all-volunteer army in the history of human conflict.” Close to 25,000 of them perished in the war, 64,000 were wounded and 12,000 went missing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But at this moment, it was nothing but a small border army. Most of the land and air forces were deployed to guard the northwest from the Russians, who, the British feared, had been coveting India, first under the imperial Tsars and now under the godless communist Joseph Stalin. When the war opened, the Soviet Union was an ally of Germany. Only months earlier had Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and occupied most of eastern Europe. The two dictators, it had appeared, were dividing Europe among themselves, and Stalin would soon be reaching out to Asia, particularly India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Britain’s position was precarious—alone and friendless with a huge empire to defend. The United States, with its enormous grain granaries and industrial might, offered some hope; but its isolationist politics made it stay neutral in what was perceived to be another European war. The US offered arms, but on cash basis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cash was what Britain did not have. Britain’s strength lay in her colonies, the crown jewel being India, where the Linlithgow regime launched a massive recruitment campaign. Indian leaders, despite their non-cooperation, did not try to block it. By late November, the first Indian troops joined the expeditionary force in France, allowing part of the main British force to move north. By then, Stalin had conquered Finland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early in 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini met Hitler on the Austrian border and promised to enter the war “at an opportune moment”. In April, Norway and Denmark fell to Germany. On May 10, Hitler shocked the world by invading Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and attacking Britain’s staunchest ally, France. Chamberlain resigned the same day, giving way to an all-party government under the India-hating Winston Churchill.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was Mussolini who drew first blood with Indians. He chose his “opportune moment” in June 1940 to strike in North Africa, held by Sir Claude Auchinleck’s Eighth Army with the 4th and 5th Indian divisions under it. The overall command of the region was vested in the one-eyed Archibald Wavell, a general who wrote poems when he was not planning strategies. (He had lost his left eye in the Battle of Ypres in World War I.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both men took an instant liking to the Indians. Before the war would end, the two would come to India, both to command the army here and Wavell to also rule India as the viceroy who would pave the way for a constitutional transfer of power through an interim government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will leave the two Indian divisions under these two men for the time being, and see what was happening in Europe.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The picture was getting dismal in Europe. As regime after regime fled to London, Churchill ordered Operation Dynamo by which 3,40,000 Allied troops, including four Indian mule transport companies, were ferried to England from Dunkirk on warships, sloops and country boats. On June 25, France surrendered. Hitler was now the overlord of the entire western Europe, leaving the east, the Baltics and Finland to Stalin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July 1940, Hitler asked his general staff to plan an invasion of Britain, a venture that several European kings and dukes, including Napoleon, had planned but never succeeded since 1066. In what came to be known as the Battle of Britain, history’s greatest air war, German bombers pounded the cities of Britain day and night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was into this dismal picture that Indians entered. Italy had a vast empire in East Africa from where they threatened British territories and invaded British Somaliland. The first major Allied action in Africa, Operation Compass, was against the Italians in Sidi Barrani area of Egypt. The 4th Indian Division, commanded by Major General Noel Beresford-Peirse, was pressed into battle in December 1940; they pushed out the enemy in three days, capturing 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns, 75 tanks and 1,000 vehicles. The 5th Indian Division, under Major General Lewis Heath and comprising only two brigades, defeated the Italians at Agordat in Eritrea and pushed them out of Keren. But the Italians took up defensive positions on the mountains 70km east. The Indians soundly defeated them at Ad Teclesan, where Subedar Richpal Ram (4/6 Rajputana Rifles) won a posthumous Victoria Cross. The Italians surrendered at Asmara in Eritrea on April 8, 1941.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In short, it was the Indian forces that liberated the city of Addis Ababa in April, paving the way for Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to return to his homeland. Ever grateful, Sudan and Ethiopia would later contribute money for setting up the National Defence Academy near Pune. The main building of the NDA is still called Sudan Block.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, the Italians fighting in Eritrea regrouped in Amba Alagi. The 5th Indian Division stormed the heights from the north, while a British force pushed from the south. On May 18, the Italian viceroy and the entire Italian force surrendered to the Indian division. Even Churchill conceded: “The whole empire has been stirred by the achievement of Indian forces in Eritrea.” In the subsequent mop-up operation, second lieutenant P.S. Bhagat (later lieutenant general) won the Victoria Cross.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, another threat arose in the Middle East. A pro-German junta, led by Rashid Ali, seized power in Iraq, from where Britain was getting most of its oil to run the war machine. With all her forces tied down in Europe and Africa, Britain sought India’s help. In mid-1941, the 8th Indian Division reached Basra in Iraq, followed by the 10th division. They occupied Baghdad and secured the oil fields, winning the theatre honour of ‘Iraq 1941’. Another Indian brigade, along with Australians and the Free French Forces, captured Damascus in a bold night attack and secured Syria and Lebanon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Embattled in Africa by the Indians and the Allied forces, Mussolini sought German aid. Hitler sent his celebrated general, Erwin “the Desert Fox” Rommel, a master tactician who was respected even by his British enemies, as head of the Afrika Korps. Rommel struck in March 1941. A brilliant action by the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade delayed him at Meikili on April 6, which allowed an entire Australian division to withdraw to Tobruk in Libya. Rommel besieged Tobruk, forcing the Allies to withdraw further. In December, Rommel defeated the Allied force, including 4th Indian, but their subsequent actions forced him to withdraw to El Agheila.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In May-June 1942, the 10th Indian Division joined the Commonwealth forces in the first Battle of El Alamein in Egypt. Soon the 4th Division, which had gone to Syria, too, returned and helped in the famous victory of Bernard Montgomery over Rommel in the second Battle of El Alamein. An exuberant Churchill declared: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was not just the genius of Montgomery (his father had been one of the greatest administrators of Punjab and had lent his name to a district in West Punjab, now in Pakistan) alone that turned the tables. Hitler was losing interest in Africa; his eyes had by now been on a larger pie—the vast territories of Russia, its oil in the Caucasus and the cherry cities of Moscow and Leningrad. If he could conquer Russia, he would be the master of the entire European landmass, save perhaps the little island of Great Britain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 22, 1941, Hitler committed a Napoleonic folly—he invaded the Soviet Union in a three-pronged operation. The blitzkrieg of tanks faced no resistance for miles and miles. Taken by surprise and speed, the Russian defences crumbled in town after town. More than five lakh were captured prisoner within weeks, and starved or tortured to death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In July, Stalin ordered his people to burn their crops, bridges and buildings and withdraw, so that the invading Germans would not seize them. By autumn, the German forces had begun the siege of Leningrad that would last 872 days, and were almost sighting the spires of Moscow. Russia was starved of food, fuel and ammunition. They needed immediate supplies, especially oil, as did Britain. Most of the oil had been coming from Persia, and now that was under threat from the advancing German army. An Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran was planned, but where would the forces come from? Again the British looked to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 8th and 10th Indian Divisions, the 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade and a British armoured brigade, all fighting in North Africa, were pressed into an incredibly rapid invasion of Iran in August 1941. Two Indian battalions made an amphibious crossing of the river Shatt al-Arab and captured the oil rigs of Abadan. Eight battalions of British and Indian troops under Major General William Slim, who would later defend India from the Japanese, advanced from Khanaqin in Iraq into the Naft-i-Shah oilfield in Iran and on towards the Pai Tak Pass. The pass was taken on August 27, and two days later the defenders surrendered. It was all swift, and fairly easy, but very vital to the further conduct of the war. As Auchinleck, who had commanded Indians in the Middle East and would later become the commander-in-chief of India, said, the British “couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The operation would give relief not only to the British, but also to starving Russia. The job of opening a supply line to Russia from the Middle East was also entrusted to the Indian command now. The Persia and Iraq Force (PAI Force), consisting mostly of Indian troops, developed ports, roads, river and canal routes from the Persian Gulf to the Arctic reaches of Russia, through which tens of thousands of soldiers carried 62,000 tonnes of aid. Later, in 1944, a grateful Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR would award the prestigious Orders of the Red Star to Subedar Narayan Rao Nikkam and Havildar Gajendra Singh Chand of the Indian Army Service Corps.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By late 1941, the German advance, though slowed, was reaching the outskirts of Moscow. Stalin moved his government further east, but he stayed in Moscow with his celebrated general, Georgy Zhukov, who, too, moved his troops behind the city and waited for the snow to fall. Into this freezing picture, now entered another enemy and a friend. And that enemy was going to pose a direct threat to India. With that, the war also would become a world war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 7, Japanese planes bombed the US Pearl Harbour. America’s entry into the war, with all her industrial might, was a big relief to Russia, which had been worried that Japan would attack them from the east. Japan’s attack on the American port revealed that her interests were in the Pacific. Relieved, Zhukov moved his Siberian divisions, the world’s best snow-warriors, to fight the Germans around Moscow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Indians and the British, however, this also brought new dangers. Japan, the Allies realised, was coveting the Pacific and also Britain’s Asian empire, of which India was the crown jewel. It also meant that thousands of Indian lives were in danger. For, most of Britain’s Asian empire—from distant Hong Kong to next-door Burma—was garrisoned mostly by Indian troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Within four hours of the attack on Pearl Harbour, Japan struck at not only the British garrison in Hong Kong, which included 5/7th Rajput Regiment and the 2/14th Punjab Regiment, but also Malaya, where the bulk of the British army was Indian. On December 11, the Japanese invaded Burma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rajputs and the Punjabis in the Hong Kong garrison fought bravely for 18 days before surrendering. Bearing the brunt of the ferocious Japanese attack on Malaya that began December 8, were the 9th and the 11th Indian Divisions, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade and several independent battalions. They tried to stop the Japanese at Jitra, Kampar and Slim River in Malaya; two Indian brigades which had arrived as reinforcement in January 1942 joined them at Muar. More than 3,000 of the 4,000 men in these brigades perished.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Malaya looked a lost cause, yet the troops fought bravely. But the biggest blow came in Singapore, considered the eastern gate of the empire. Despite the brave fight put up by the 9th and 11th Indian Divisions, Singapore fell to the superior might of the Japanese on February 15, 1942. About 55,000 Indians were captured by the Japanese. The fall of what was called Fortress Singapore, like the disaster in Mesopotamia in World War I, was the hardest blow that the British suffered in the war. In both, it was Indian troops who suffered the most. The surrender signalled that the sun was going to set on the empire in the east. An alarmed Churchill exclaimed at the fall of Singapore: “Australia is threatened; India is threatened.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturally, the subsequent battles were the most desperate ever fought in any war in modern times. Military historians say that in terms of ferocity, the battles in the east—on the islands and atolls of the Malayan archipelago, the vast malaria-infested plantations of Malaya, and the dense jungles of Burma—were the most desperate, for both the British and Indian regiments. A battalion of 15th Punjab were in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, ruled by a British rajah since James Brooke set up a kingdom styling himself rajah in the mid-19th century. The Punjabi bid to hold an airfield cost them 230 men on the Christmas eve of 1941. The survivors crossed into Dutch Borneo to fight the Japanese under a Dutch command for three months before being captured.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Into Burma, it was not an attack but a massive invasion by the Japanese on December 11. The 17th Indian Division held the Japanese at the Bilin River for two days in February 1942 in close-quarter fighting. As the Japanese outflanked and encircled them, they fell back wading through the jungle track for about 50 kilometres to Sittang bridge. In the pitched battle that followed, they lost most of their guns, vehicles and other heavy equipment. The remnants made their way to Pegu in March.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In April, the 48th Armoured Brigade, along with the 48th Indian Brigade and 1st Burma Division, could finally inflict some damage on the Japanese. By the time the battle ended, the troops were too exhausted to even hold on. The high command in India tried once more to hold on in Burma with a bold campaign in Arakan, beginning December 1942. But with neither the Indian nor the British troops having been trained for jungle warfare, the campaign flopped. The repeated defeats affected the morale, and stories of Japanese invincibility began spreading among the troops and the public. About 12,000 of the 40,000 Indian prisoners of war who were captured in Malaya or surrendered at Singapore joined Mohan Singh’s First Indian National Army, and subsequently Subhas Chandra Bose’s forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, London decided that their Indian high command was not capable of training and equipping the army for jungle war. A new Supreme Allied Command for South East Asia was created under Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten, leaving the India command in charge of internal security. General William Slim, who commanded the entire force in Burma, concluded that it was time to take a last stand for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But where? It would have to be at the eastern gates of India itself, he decided. The entire army in the Arakan was airlifted with American help to Imphal and Kohima. This far and no further, Slim decided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slim’s grit paid off finally. As the British and the Indians stood defending India, the Japanese infiltrated through the gaps, crossed the Kalapanzin River, turned west and south, and attacked the headquarters of the 7th Indian Division in February. In what came to be known as the Battle of the Admin Box, one of the most ferocious battles ever fought, the 5th, 7th and 26th Indian, 81st West Africa Division, and 36th British Infantry Division dug in and fought back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Indians on both sides, it was a war for their country. The defenders at Imphal and Kohima were told that they were now, for the first time, fighting to save their motherland from unknown tyrants of the east. On the attacking side too, the INA troops were told that they were seeking to liberate their motherland from the European enslavers. To the great glory of India, both sides fought hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hitting like typhoons from land and air, the defenders mauled the Japanese. The ferocity of the defence took the Japanese by surprise; though more Indian and British soldiers were killed in the battle than the Japanese, for the first time the Japanese realised that capturing India, even with the help of the INA, was not going to be a walkover as they had thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The brilliant defence of the Admin Box boosted the morale of the Indians and the British. It shattered several myths, the primary one being that the Japanese were some sort of supermen who could not be defeated. It also proved that regimental loyalty in the Indian Army was as strong a bonding as were national loyalty and ethnic bonding. If many troops had switched over to the INA during the Burma campaign, many more had stayed on with their buddies, platoons, battalions and regiments, even risking their lives. And by the time the Japanese arrived at Imphal and Kohima, many of them had also been trained in jungle warfare through the famous Chindit operations of Orde Wingate (see page 38).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So when the attack on Imphal came, the defenders were in fairly high spirits. The 17th, 20th, 23rd Indian Divisions, 50th Indian Parachute Brigade and 254th Indian Tank Brigade defended Imphal and Sangshak from March till July 1944, yielding not even an inch, and finally pushing back the enemy into Burma with heavy losses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost simultaneously, the Japanese were pushing at Kohima, too, where the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, 5th and 7th Indian and 2nd British Divisions captured a ridge that was dominating the area. The Japanese held on to the road that was leading to Imphal for more than a month from May 16. Finally, the defenders blasted them out, and captured the road, which was a major supply line for the army. The battle ended on June 22, when the troops from Kohima and Imphal met on the road at Milestone 109. Finally, the Japanese abandoned their invasion plans and began a retreat into Burma. As Wavell would remark later, Kohima was where “the Japanese were routed and their downfall really began”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Slim decided that his victory would be complete only if he reconquered Burma. He sent his Indians and British troops after the Japanese. Probably inspired by the memory of the 70,000 who had fallen in Malaya and 1,75,000 in Burma as dead or wounded, they hit the enemy hard at Meiktila and Mandalay from January to March 1945. They proved to be as good as the Japanese in jungle warfare, and superior to them in the use of armour and mechanised forces in jungles. Even Slim was surprised at the ferocity with which the Indians hit the enemy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The twin victories at Meiktila and Mandalay virtually decimated the Japanese army in Burma. The subsequent operation to capture Rangoon, Operation Dracula, was a walkover for the Indian divisions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were still pockets of fierce resistance. In the Battle of Ramree Island in southern Burma, which had been captured by the Japanese in 1942, the 26th Indian Division fought for six weeks in early 1945.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now the Allies were gaining the upper hand in both the Pacific and Europe. General Douglas MacArthur, a brilliant tactician, had led the American forces ‘leap-frogging’ from island to island, kicking out the Japanese. In Europe, the Allied forces, under the overall command of Dwight Eisenhower, had landed in Normandy and also pushed up from southern Italy, fighting their way into Rhineland. Meanwhile, Zhukov’s Russians, who had suffered the most in the war, were having their revenge by pushing the Germans back into Germany and Berlin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the Russian forces were finally pounding Berlin, Hitler knew the game was over. He married his mistress Eva Braun on April 30, 1945, retired to his bunker, where she swallowed poison, and shot himself. Seven days later, at 9:20pm, his nominated successor, Admiral Karl Dönitz, signed the instrument of surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The guns went silent all over Europe, and celebrations broke out. Wandering incognito among the London revellers were two pretty girls named Elizabeth and Margaret, much like the bored princess who sought a few nightly adventures in Roman Holiday.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But there was still no revelry for the Indian soldiers fighting in Asia. As Churchill said in his radio broadcast next afternoon, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing [as Japan] remains unsubdued.” In Washington, DC, Harry Truman, who had succeeded Franklin Roosevelt as president, said, it was “a victory only half won”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two were now after the Japanese. As Burma was conquered, the British made plans to retake Malaya and Singapore. The 25th Indian Division with 3 Commando Brigade had joined in the first large-scale amphibious operations in southeast Asia in January 1945. They had occupied Myrbaw and Ruywa. In April, the division was withdrawn to south India to prepare for Operation Zipper. They were chosen for the assault landing role in the invasion of Malaya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Truman decided to cut everything short. After the Battle of Okinawa in April, in which 82,000 US troops and 1,17,000 Japanese soldiers and citizens were killed, he decided enough was enough. From Potsdam on July 26, he ordered the Japanese to “surrender or suffer prompt and utter destruction”. Japan rejected the ultimatum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 6, a USAF B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, named after the mother of its pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets, dropped the atom bomb Little Boy on Hiroshima, killing about 80,000 innocent people. Even before the mushroom cloud dissipated, Truman issued another warning to Japan to surrender or “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. On August 9, Stalin invaded Japan. Within hours, another of Truman’s bombs, Fat Man, fell on Nagasaki. The next day, Tokyo agreed to surrender on one condition: Please let our emperor remain in place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The big three, now the rulers of the universe, agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 14, the Allied governments announced the surrender of Japan. On September 2, the Japanese generals officially surrendered to General MacArthur on board USS Missouri, berthed in Tokyo Bay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For India, however, there were a few more days of war left. The 5th Indian Division had sailed from Trincomalee and Rangoon to retake Singapore in Operation Tiderace. The fleet arrived in Singapore on September 4, 1945. The 23rd and 25th Divisions landed in Malaya on September 9.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 12, exactly six years and nine days after Gandhi’s friend Halifax had sent the ultimatum to Ribbentrop, the war officially ended. Jawaharlal Nehru’s future friend Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the supreme Allied commander for southeast Asia, accepted Japan’s surrender in the Municipal Building of Singapore, now known as City Hall. Representing the Indian Army at the ceremony with General Slim was Brigadier K.S. Thimayya, the only Indian officer who had been given an operational command in the war. He had led the 8/19th Hyderabad Regiment against the Japanese in the Burmese jungles, and would later save Kashmir and command the Indian Army.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, the war that had started with a cable sent out by a former ruler of India ended with a document received by a future ruler of India, who would also bring the curtain down on the colonial phase in India’s history. But the armed forces that they left behind would march on to greater glories.</p> Fri Jul 24 11:44:14 IST 2020 theatres-of-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THEY FOUGHT IN</b> East Africa; they fought in North Africa. They fought in Iraq, Iran and Palestine, and in Italy, southern Europe, Borneo and the Philippines. They fought in Malaya; they fought in Singapore; they fought in Burma; they finally took a last stand at the gates of India, where they vowed not to surrender.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To paraphrase a famous Winston Churchill speech, they fought on the beaches, on the islands, on the landing grounds, in the streets, in the deserts, in the jungles, in the hills—they fought everywhere. Where they were not fighting, they were serving the men who were fighting—even on the frozen Russian front.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was the story of the Indian Army in World War II. As military historian Rana Chhina says, they “fought against two of the finest armies of the world—the Germans and the Japanese—and proved [their] worth.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the war started, the Indian Army had less than two lakh men, including a few thousand British officers and men. When the war ended, they were 2.5 million, after losing 87,000 dead and 64,000 wounded; the largest voluntary army ever raised in the history of the world, as Churchill grudgingly conceded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here we present a broad picture of the major battles that the Indian Army fought. They won some, they lost some, but they fought all well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★NORTH AND EAST AFRICA★★</p> <p>Defeating Italians; taking on Rommel</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OPERATION COMPASS</b></p> <p>This was the first large British operation in the war, and the Indian Army played a major role in it. British, Indian and other Commonwealth forces attacked Italy’s 10th Army under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani in western Egypt and Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya from December 1940 to February 1941.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 4th Indian Division, commanded by Major General Noel Beresford-Peirse, joined the battle on December 9, 1940. In two days, they pushed the Italians out of their fortified positions, enabling the British to capture the Libyan ports and cut the enemy’s supply line. They captured 38,300 prisoners, 237 guns, 73 tanks and 1,000 vehicles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OPERATION BATTLEAXE</b></p> <p>This was a British attempt to raise the Siege of Tobruk and recapture eastern Cyrenaica from German and Italian forces. It was the first time that a major German force had to be on the defensive. The celebrated General Erwin Rommel launched his Afrika Korps in late March 1941 against the British Desert Force, which included the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade and the 11th and 18th Frontier Force Cavalry. They could not stop the Germans, but the motor brigade held ground at Meikili, and finally made breakthrough on April 8. This enabled an Australian division to entrench at Tobruk.In June, Archibald Wavell launched Battleaxe to drive out the Germans and Italians beyond Tobruk, but failed. The British and Indians fell back to Sidi Barrani. The failure led to the replacement of Wavell by Sir Claude Auchinleck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>OPERATION CRUSADER</b></p> <p>Auchinleck was trying to bypass Rommel’s defences on the Egyptian-Libyan frontier and defeat the German armoured forces to relieve Tobruk, which was under siege. The 4th and 5th Indian Divisions and the 29th Indian infantry brigade formed part of the attacking force. On November 18, 1941, Auchinleck launched a surprise attack, but it lacked punch since he had dispersed his attack force. The attackers lost 530 tanks. On November 24, Rommel ordered the “dash to the wire”, causing chaos in the British rear echelons. The timely arrival of a New Zealand force saved the British and the Indians. By December, Rommel’s supply lines got thin. He narrowed his front and shortened his lines of communication. By mid-December, he withdrew to El Agheila.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>FIRST BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN</b></p> <p>The British Eighth Army settled at El Alamein, only 106km from Alexandria port, from where their supplies were coming. Rommel, too, had his forces nearby, planning to capture Alexandria, and then Cairo, and ultimately the Suez Canal. But he was hampered by the fact that his supplies had to come from distant Tripoli in Libya. In July, Auchinleck’s Eighth Army launched six attacks employing, among others, the Indian 5th Division. Rommel resisted fiercely. As he suffered 13,000 casualties, including 3,000 Indians, Auchinleck decided to wait. But Churchill, who wanted immediate action, removed him and appointed Sir Harold Alexander as Middle East commander and William Gott as Eighth Army commander. Gott was killed when his aircraft was shot down. So Lt Gen Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place. He took command on August 13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SECOND BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN</b></p> <p>Rommel’s Afrika Korps launched a determined attack at Alam-el-Halfa on the night of August 30, 1942, but Montgomery resisted fiercely. On October 23, Montgomery launched an attack in which the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions played a major role. The Indian 5th Brigade broke through Rommel’s defences and captured El Alamein. By the end of November, the Allies took 30,000 prisoners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The victory at El Alamein was the first big success against the Axis forces anywhere in the world. It eliminated the Axis threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal, which was Britain’s main supply route for oil from the Middle East and troops from India. The 4th Indian Division fought hard; the 10th Indian Division, too, joined at a later stage. Subedar Lal Bahadur Thapa and Company Havildar Major Chhelu Ram won Victoria Cross in these operations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★MIDDLE EAST★★</p> <p>Securing oil for the war</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ANGLO-IRAQI WAR</b></p> <p>In 1940, a pro-German junta took power in Iraq, threatening Britain’s oil supplies and opening a route for Germans to invade Afghanistan and India. Since the Indian Army was even otherwise guarding the northwest against threat from Russia, it was asked to neutralise the threat. Gen Robert Cassels, commander-in-chief of India, who had successfully commanded a cavalry brigade in Iraq in World War I and helped end the Mesopotamian campaign, sent the newly formed 20th Indian Brigade under Brigadier D. Powell. Along with the British forces, they swiftly captured Basra and Baghdad, reoccupied Iraq and installed the pro-British Prince Abd al-Ilah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>SYRIA-LEBANON CAMPAIGN</b></p> <p>In mid-May 1941, trouble arose in Syria, where French Vichy forces, which were friendly to Germany, captured the airfields. The 5th Indian Brigade joined the Free French forces and captured Damascus airfield in a bold night attack on June 21, 1941. Syria sought armistice in July 1941.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ANGLO-SOVIET INVASION OF IRAN</b></p> <p>Iran ruler Reza Shah had good relations with Germany, and he threatened to cut oil supplies. Russia, which had just joined the war on the Allied side, panicked. The British moved the 8th Indian Division along with their own and Soviet forces in an Anglo-Soviet invasion. The 8th Indian Division attacked from the west while a Russian contingent attacked from the north. They installed a friendly regime and this ensured supplies to Russia. A new Persia and Iraq (PAI) Command was raised, consisting mostly of Indian units, to ensure the supplies to Russia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★EUROPE★★</p> <p>Chasing Mussolini</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>ITALIAN CAMPAIGN AND THE BATTLE OF MONTE CASSINO</b></p> <p>The victories in North Africa in 1941-42 enabled the Allies to plan an invasion of Italy from the south. The 8th Indian Division, which was with Mongomery’s Eighth Army in North Africa, captured Taranto port, which was the first bridgehead captured by the Allies on European soil. When the task of advancing to Rome was given to the British Fifth Army, the Indian 4th Division joined them.The division assaulted Cassino, but it proved costly. So the overall Middle East commander, Gen Harold Alexander, sent the 5th and 8th Armies to attack Liri Valley and force a way to Rome. The 8th Indian Division, too, joined the attack. They broke through the Gustav Line and chased the Germans into Rome. Soon the 10th Indian Division secured the north up to the Adriatic. As many as 4,720 Indians died in Italy; another 17,310 were wounded. Six Indians won the VC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★THE FAR EAST★★</p> <p>A Dip in the Pacific</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BATTLE OF HONG KONG (DECEMBER 8–25, 1941)</b></p> <p>The day they bombed Pearl Harbour, the Japanese also attacked Britain’s crown colony of Hong Kong, which was garrisoned by British and Indian troops. The first attack was faced by the 2/14 Punjab. On December 8, 1941, their forward troops virtually wiped out a Japanese platoon.Despite being subjected to dive bombing and heavy mortar fire, 5/7 Rajputs held on to Devil’s Peak on the mainland until ordered to retreat to Hong Kong island. The Japanese followed them to the island, where they fought till the last man. The garrison held out for 18 days before being forced to surrender. Some were captured alive and murdered by the Japanese. Among the prisoners who survived were 5,072 British, 3,829 Indians and 1,689 Canadians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★SOUTHEAST ASIA★★</p> <p>Enemy from the East</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Malaya and Singapore</b></p> <p>The Malayan and the subsequent Burma campaigns were the bloodiest battles for both the British and Indians. About 1,30,000 of the Allied troops were captured by the Japanese in Malaya alone, and 15,703 killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British were caught off guard when Japan’s 25th Army, under Lt Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita, invaded Malaya and began bombing Singapore. The Indian III Corps, the 12th Brigade and a number of independent battalions resisted them, but were smashed in the battle of Jitra (December 11-13). The enemy swiftly advanced to Kota Bharu on the northeast coast of Malaya. As the British abandoned Penang, the local Indians felt betrayed, and many began to cooperate with the invading Japanese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On January 11, 1942 Kuala Lumpur, too, fell to the Japanese. As the Japanese moved towards Singapore, less than 320km away, the Indian 11th Division resisted them bitterly in the battle of Kampar (December 30-January 2). But as the Japanese brought more forces by the sea, the Indians and the British retreated to Slim River. Two Indian brigades were wiped out in the battle of Slim River (January 6-8).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Battle of Muar, the 45th Indian Brigade was destroyed. The survivors grouped themselves into a Muar force and tried to keep off the Japanese while allowing the remnants of the Allied forces to escape from northern Malaya. When the wounded and bleeding force finally reached the bridge at Parit Sulong, they found it had been captured by the enemy. Every man was for himself then. They took to the jungles, swamps and rubber plantations. All but two of 135 troops were captured, tortured and killed. About 3,000 Allied troops were killed in the Battle of Muar. Of 4,000 men in the brigade, only 800 survived.On January 27, the remaining forces crossed over to Singapore. The Japanese invaded the island on February 7. The Allied force of about 80,000 was taken prisoner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BATTLE OF BORNEO</b></p> <p>As the Japanese threat loomed, the British sent the 2nd Battalion of the 15th Punjab and a gun battery from the Hong Kong-Singapore Royal Artillery to guard the airfield at Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. The Japanese attacked, killed 230 men of the battalion in one night, and captured the city on December 24, 1941. The defending force was disbanded, and they crossed over to Dutch Borneo, where they were placed under Dutch command. The men continued to resist the Japanese in the dense jungle of southern Borneo until April 1, 1942, when they finally surrendered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>★★ENEMY AT THE GATES★★</p> <p>Burma campaign and Defence of India</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 8, Japan invaded Malaya and, later, Burma. The 17th Indian Division fought and delayed the Japanese at Bilin River in February 1942. Outgunned, they retreated to the Sittang bridge. The enemy followed and in the ensuring Battle of Sittang Bridge, the division lost most of its guns and equipment.In April, the Japanese attacked the Yenangyaung oil fields, where the 48th Indian Brigade defended it with the British 1st Burma Division, inflicting heavy casualties. But the Japanese reinforced and struck. The badly bruised army retreated through the jungle, mostly without even transport, towards Manipur and were joined even by the Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1942 the Allies attacked Arakan with the Indian contingent trying to capture Mayu peninsula and Akyab Island, but failed. Then, Brigadier Orde Wingate raised the famous Chindits, who infiltrated through the Japanese front lines and marched deep into Burma, so as to cut the main north-south railway. They damaged communications of the Japanese in northern Burma, but most of them were killed or captured. All the same, the adventures of the Chindits became legendary and helped instil confidence in the Indian and British troops.By early 1944, the Indian XV Corps broke a Japanese counterstrike in the Arakan. As the XV Corps came under attack in the Battle of the Admin Box in February, the 5th Indian Division broke through the Ngakyedauk Pass and reinforced them. Both sides lost heavily, but that was the first major battle won against the Japanese and it was mainly by the Indian units.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>BATTLES OF IMPHAL AND KOHIMA</b></p> <p>Yet the Japanese pushed forward. William Slim correctly judged that they would now lunge forth towards India, and that is where the British would have to take a last stand.As the Japanese 15th Army under General Renya Mutaguchi and Subhas Bose’s Indian National Army crossed the Chindwin River on 8 March, Slim and Lt Gen Geoffry Scoones ordered a fighting retreat to Imphal and Kohima. Having blunted a Japanese attack on Arakan, Slim airlifted the entire 5th Indian Division to the Indian border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Japanese now struck Imphal. As the enemy rolled down the hill into the Imphal plain, IV Corps opened up while airplanes piloted by Arjan Singh and his buddies roared up into the skies and pounded them from the air, blunting the Japanese attack. By May, a counteroffensive was ordered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another Japanese division, under Lt Gen Kotoku Sato was pounding Kohima to capture it and advance to Dimapur. Lt Gen Montagu Stopford quickly reached there with his Indian XXXIII Corps and stopped Sato. The two brilliant defences finally stopped the Japanese march, which had never been stopped since the war began.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Sato retreated, the troops of IV Corps and XXXIII Corps met at Milestone 109 on the Dimapur-Imphal road on June 22, signalling they shall not pass. That was the greatest defeat that the Japanese had suffered ever in history—60,000 dead and more than 1,00,000 wounded.As the enemy retreated, Slim ordered a pursuit. The 5th Indian Division advanced along the mountainous Tiddim road, captured Kalewa and crossed the Chindwin. Soon Mandalay and Rangoon were taken, and the Japanese were on the run.</p> Fri Jul 24 11:38:26 IST 2020