Statescan en Sat Jun 22 12:01:58 IST 2019 battleground-ready <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Bihar is set</b> for an interesting, yet unpredictable contest. At the heart of the 2020 elections is a strong push to effect a generational change in the state dominated by Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan for the past three decades. In fact, this will be the first elections since the 1990s—when the Mandal Commission changed the politics of the Hindi heartland—without Paswan Sr and Lalu Prasad. The former had passed away in Delhi on October 8, while the latter, currently in jail, may only be released on bail just a day ahead of the election results—on November 10.</p> <p>This change was visible in the reshuffle of political alliances in the state ahead of the elections. The two major opponents—the NDA and the Grand Alliance—had witnessed the exit and entry of partners in quick succession. Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, now helmed by his son Chirag Paswan, made a curious decision which could impact not only the outcome of this election, but also the entire political scenario in the state.&nbsp;The LJP announced that it will contest alone in 143 of the 243 seats—primarily focusing on seats fought by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United). Chirag cited reasons for his stance against Nitish Kumar, saying the latter had humiliated his father. The letter Chirag had written to the BJP chief, J.P. Nadda, detailing the reasons behind his decision to go solo was made public sometime before Paswan Sr’s death. Chirag said that the LJP has full faith in the BJP. He also indicated that he will not even shy away from using the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the LJP’s campaign, which the BJP warned against. The BJP is pinning its hopes on Modi’s appeal to tide over any anti-incumbency that may be there in the state against Nitish.</p> <p>The LJP conundrum left the JD(U) leadership jittery as they saw it as an attempt to hobble it. Two days after the LJP’s decision, and after an internal decision, the BJP reaffirmed its faith in Nitish Kumar’s leadership. “There should be no confusion on the issue of leadership,” said Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. “Nitish Kumar is the chief minister candidate, and even in the post-poll scenario he will be chief minister. Four parties are contesting together—the BJP, the JD(U), the HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha [Secular] led by Jitan Ram Manjhi) and the VIP (Vikassheel Insaan Party led by Mukesh Sahni). He will win with a three-fourths majority.”</p> <p>But the LJP’s move has given rise to speculation as both the BJP and the JD(U) are contesting on almost an equal number of seats. The JD(U) will have 122 seats to contest, of which it will give seven seats to the HAM, while the BJP will have 121 seats, of which it allotted 11 seats to the VIP. If the JD(U) were to get fewer seats because of the LJP, it may lead to clamour within the BJP for the top post. The LJP has already said it will support the BJP in the state after elections. This will fulfil the BJP’s desire to be the lead player in the state rather than play second fiddle to a regional satrap.</p> <p>On the other side of the political divide, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance lost three partners—Jitan Ram Manjhi, Upendra Kushwaha (Rashtriya Lok Samta Party) and Mukesh Sahni—as they dared to question the leadership of RJD’s de-facto supremo, Tejashwi Yadav. The RJD has now joined hands with the left parties; the Congress is already a partner.</p> <p>Smaller parties that command pockets of influence have also formed regional alliances to try out their luck. Kushwaha has aligned with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party to form the Grand Democratic Secular Front. Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and Devendra Prasad Yadav-led Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic) have also joined this alliance. Kushwaha is the chief minister face of this alliance.</p> <p>Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan’s new political outfit, the Azad Samaj Party, will make its electoral debut in alliance with Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik) under the banner of the Progressive Democratic Alliance. The Social Democratic Party of India, the Bahujan Mukti Party and the Indian Union Muslim League are the other parties in this alliance.</p> <p>Another factor that is powering a change in Bihar’s electoral politics is the changing demography of voters. Since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the number of voters in the state has increased by over 20 lakh to reach 7.29 crore. This includes first-time voters, and over 2.3 lakh migrants who had returned home during the pandemic.</p> <p>The 29-year-old chief ministerial candidate of the Grand Alliance, Yadav, has already promised to create 10 lakh jobs if he comes to power. The RJD draws its power from the fact that nearly 9.5 lakh people have registered in its digital portal for unemployed youth, launched on September 5. The portal also got 13 lakh missed calls since its launch. Bihar has seen widespread loss of livelihoods and unemployment because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent&nbsp;Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy survey has pegged the unemployment rate in the state at around 46 per cent—three times that of last year.</p> <p>Yadav is cautious about seat sharing after the bitter experience of his father Lalu Prasad, who had said while accepting Nitish Kumar as chief minister candidate in 2015 that he was ready to drink any poison to keep communalism at bay. Though the RJD had won 80 seats, they accepted Nitish Kumar, who had 71 seats, as the chief minister. But Kumar left the Grand Alliance in 2017 to join hands with the BJP. The RJD realised that its votes helped alliance partners win, but the latter’s votes were not transferred to them during elections. So, this time the RJD will contest in 144 seats, the Congress in 70, and left parties in 29.</p> <p>In order to counter the RJD’s youth-centred approach, the BJP immediately sent its newly-appointed Yuva Morcha chief and Bangalore South MP, Tejasvi Surya, to Patna. “Tejashwi Yadav and Rahul Gandhi should not talk about employment,”said Surya. “They themselves are unemployed. It is the Narendra Modi government which has created jobs for the youth.”</p> <p>Like Yadav, Paswan Jr is also focusing on his image as a “young leader”. He has singularly made ‘Bihar First, Bihari First’, a slogan for change in the state, his uncompromising choice.</p> <p>The JD(U), on the other hand, is trying to build a narrative based on 15 years of rule of Nitish Kumar vs 15 years of Lalu Prasad. The effort is to revive the memories of the “poor law and order situation”in the state during Lalu’s “misrule”. But the campaign may have its limitations. Nitish Kumar has built his reputation around doling out development schemes where women are one of the biggest beneficiaries. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the state witnessed higher women voter turnout as 60 per cent of them cast their votes.&nbsp;Coupled with Prime Minister Modi’s appeal, the ruling JDU-BJP combine is looking for an encore.</p> <p>What is worrying JD(U) leaders is the criticism over the state of affairs in terms of development and job creation. “Many people say that Nitish Kumar’s first tenure was better than his other terms,”said Sanjay Kumar Jha, state water resources minister and JD(U) general secretary. “It was better as he got the state in a hopeless condition, and he helped it get out of it. As he set the benchmark very high [during the first tenure], it led to higher expectations. Ask people what we have done. See how much work we have done in creating infrastructure.”</p> <p>Another big factor in the Bihar elections is caste. The NDA expects support from a bouquet of castes. Apart from the state leaders, the BJP has roped in former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Tejasvi Surya to handle the elections in the state. Both are brahmins—ideal choices—as the saffron party is trying to woo the forward castes. Meanwhile, the Grand Alliance’s focus is primarily on the Yadav and Muslim vote banks, which have 14 and 17 per cent population in the state, respectively. The Congress appeals to forward castes and dalits, too. The left parties are joining hands with the alliance as they also have pockets of influence across the state; the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) had won three seats in 2015.</p> <p>The parties are looking for emotive issues, too, to win over people. There were efforts to use Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, too, as an election issue, as the actor’s family hails from Purnea in Bihar.</p> <p>As the electioneering picks up amid the pandemic, the state claims to have recovered fast from infections. State Health Minister Mangal Panday said there were only 10,450 active cases in the state and it has a 94 per cent recovery rate—the highest in the country. But what remains to be seen will be the state government machinery’s ability to ensure a free and fair election, keeping social distancing norms in mind.</p> Thu Oct 15 21:53:21 IST 2020 there-is-no-alternative-to-nitish-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> With what message are you going to elections?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The people of Bihar are aware of the village-centric development carried out by the Nitish Kumar government without any discrimination against any community. This is reflected in our work. There is no alternative to Nitish Kumar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The RJD is making unemployment an election issue.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ They ruled for 15 years. What did they do? But we have created huge infrastructure, roads were built, electricity was provided in villages, social harmony and rule of law was maintained. We provided jobs in organised and unorganised sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How did you navigate the state during pandemic, floods, and reverse migration?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We mapped all the migrants who returned, and created work through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. We spent 08,500 crore during Covid-19, while states like West Bengal spent only 0200 crore, and Rajasthan 02,000 crore.</p> <p>There have been no protests or unrest during the pandemic as the government gave people economic security. People of Bihar trust us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What are you promising the people this time?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The last time, we formulated a seven-point programme which managed to provide electricity for all, apart from other facilities like toilets, drains, roads, and financial empowerment for women.</p> <p>This time we have resolved to give water to all households. This will be part of our seven-point [project] part two, which also includes programmes for youth, women empowerment, clean villages and cities, and additional health benefits for people.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 21:51:07 IST 2020 it-is-nitish-kumar-vs-the-people-of-bihar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Is it a generational fight as Tejashwi Yadav is pitted against Nitish Kumar?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I will not put it to such stereotypes. It is Nitish Kumar versus the people of Bihar. In the long-term memory, people of the state remember many things which the chief minister could have done, but did not do. In the short term, they remember Muzaffarpur shelter-home case, plight of returning migrants—first, the way Nitish Kumar <i>ji</i> obstructed their arrival, and then could not provide proper arrangement—and huge mismanagement during the Covid-19 pandemic in providing health facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What message are you giving to the people?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Our manifesto is ready. It is not a promise of cosmetic changes. It is a commitment from leader of opposition, Tejashwi Yadav, for transformation agenda. Complete transformation of agriculture, health and education, and [of the] unemployment situation, [along ] with women’s safety.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Is the party missing Lalu Prasad’s presence?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Not only the party, [but also] Bihar is missing him. An entire generation of Biharis, they have never witnessed or participated in an election without Lalu Prasad <i>ji</i>. He is such a valuable voice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What do you make of Chirag Paswan’s decision to contest against the JD(U), but maintain ties with the BJP?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ In independent India’s history, for the first time, a political party [the BJP] is in two alliances. Many big BJP leaders have sought tickets and got it from the LJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The HAM, the RLSP and the VIP left your alliance.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ First of all, we wish them good luck wherever they are.&nbsp;Secondly, the people of Bihar have made up their minds that 1 Anne Marg (chief minister’s official residence) will see a new occupant, a new young chief minister.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 21:47:04 IST 2020 supreme-showdown <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The city of Vijayawada has been experiencing heavy rains since October 12, which has thrown normal life out of gear. The Krishna is in spate, inundating highways and agricultural land. The city, meanwhile, is witnessing a political storm, too. On October 10, Chief Minister Y.S Jagan Mohan Reddy’s principal adviser Ajeya Kallam distributed copies of the CM’s controversial letter to Chief Justice of India Justice S.A. Bobde. In his letter, Jagan accused Justice N.V. Ramana, the second senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, and a few judges of the Andhra Pradesh High Court of abetting corruption and hindering administration. Two days later, the High Court directed the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe defamatory posts against judges and judiciary on social media put up by members of the ruling YSR Congress.</p> <p>“Since the month of April 2020, this court has noticed that a new trend has developed to abuse the High Court and its judges on different sites of social media and even in the interviews given to electronic media,”read the order. A day later, the Supreme Court Advocates-On-Record Association issued a statement condemning Jagan’s letter and its public release, observing that it vandalised and breached the independence of the judiciary.</p> <p>A fight has been brewing between the judiciary and Jagan’s government for quite some time. The government has been unhappy about the large number of public interest litigations finding their way into the High Court. In the past 18 months, the court accepted around 300 PILs regarding various decisions of the government, according to the ruling party.</p> <p>Sriram Subramaniam, the advocate general of Andhra Pradesh, said—in response to PILs on the alleged diversion of temple funds and on government advertisements—that every street conversation was being converted into a PIL. “Benamis and phantoms of political parties are using the High Court to further their political games. The court cannot be permitted to be used as a platform,”he said.</p> <p>After a spate of judicial reviews, oral observations and a recent gag order against the media, the state government and a section of legal experts said Justice Ramana was “interfering in the matters of the High Court and influencing it”. Former advocate general of Andhra Pradesh C.V. Mohan Reddy said Justice Ramana’s interference was the foundation of the present crisis. “He has a vice-like grip on the AP High Court and is controlling it. It has become suffocating for the political executive,”said Mohan Reddy. “In the past one year, any action by the government—from the construction of a guest house in Visakhapatnam or even the shifting of an office—has become a subject matter of PIL. The nexus between Justice Ramana and [former chief minister and Telugu Desam Party president] N. Chandrababu Naidu is well known, at least in the legal profession. In 2005, retired judge B.S.A. Swamy wrote a full page in his book, <i>A Caste Captures the AP Judiciary</i>, about Ramana becoming a judge. In 2017, Justice Jasti Chelameswar also mentioned it in his letter.”</p> <p>There have been instances in the past when senior elected representatives filed complaints against judges. In 1961, Andhra Pradesh chief minister D. Sanjivayya wrote to Union home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri against chief justice Chandra Reddy of the Andhra Pradesh High Court for acting with bias regarding certain appointments. The chief justice was later transferred to the Madras High Court. Six years later, prime minister Indira Gandhi wrote to chief justice of India Koka Subba Rao after the apex court delivered a verdict against her in the Golaknath case.</p> <p>What pushed Jagan to take the extreme step of approaching the chief justice was clearly the Amaravati land scam. One of the most important promises of the YSR Congress in the 2019 assembly elections was an investigation into allegations of massive amassment of wealth and land by TDP members. The new government set up a cabinet sub-committee to examine the issue, which found illegal transactions involving 4,000 acres of the Amaravati capital project. The state anti-corruption bureau registered an FIR naming former advocate general of Andhra Pradesh Dammalapati Srinivas and a few others in the case. The High Court, however, stayed the investigation and also issued an injunction against any reporting by the media on the contents of the FIR. The court observed that elected governments did not have the power to administratively review the decisions of past governments.</p> <p>On October 6, Jagan met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi for consultations. He submitted the letter against Justice Ramana the same day. Along with the letter, Jagan also submitted “material”which could prove Justice Ramana’s “interference”in the functioning of the Andhra Pradesh High Court and also his links with Naidu and Srinivas. “It is a notorious fact that Mr Srinivas is too closely associated with Sri Justice N.V. Ramana and Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu,”said the eight-page&nbsp;letter. It said Justice Ramana had been influencing the sittings of the High Court including the roster of a few judges and alleged that matters crucial to the TDP were allocated to a few judges. Jagan, who named four judges in his letter, also gave details of their orders on recent PILs.</p> <p>TDP leaders refuted the charges and said Jagan’s actions had set a bad precedent. “This is not between Andhra Pradesh and the judiciary. This will have larger implications for democracy,”said TDP leader C. Kutumba Rao, who was vice chairman of the state planning board. He said Jagan violated the Official Secrets Act by revealing confidential government documents. “Forget about what happened in the last 16 months, from here on, the chief minister will be judged by this incident,”he said.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 22:31:50 IST 2020 honour-at-stake <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>S</b>upreme Court judge Justice N.V. Ramana sounded prescient when he said last month that as judges are self-restrained when speaking out in their own defence, they are now construed as soft targets for criticism. Last week, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy wrote a rare letter to Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, accusing Ramana of influencing the functioning of the state High Court and his alleged proximity to former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and referred to an Anti-Corruption Bureau investigation into “questionable transactions”of land by Ramana’s two daughters and others in Amravati.</p> <p>The optics of a Constitutional functionary complaining to the CJI against a sitting judge is worrisome for the judiciary, which has been dealing with crisis after crisis since the press conference by four senior judges of the court in January 2018. The development has tainted the ascendency of Ramana, who is set to take over as CJI in April 2021. All eyes are on how Bobde deals with the latest crisis.</p> <p>“Any citizen of the country has the right to send a communication to the CJI if he or she feels that a wrong has taken place. Whether the charges levelled are correct or false…will have to be assessed by the CJI,”said senior advocate Lalit Bhasin.</p> <p>Bishwajit Bhattacharya, senior advocate of the Supreme Court and former additional solicitor general, said the CJI may consider “convening a full court meeting of the Supreme Court and initiate measures to put its own house in order and protect the independence of the judiciary from the onslaught of the legislature and the executive”.</p> <p>He said the chief minister should be asked to proceed in accordance with Article 124 (4) and 124 (5) of the Constitution, which deal with the process of impeaching a sitting judge. It is also being debated if the court can initiate criminal contempt proceedings against Reddy since he chose to go public with the charges.</p> <p>“If the chief minister genuinely meant to raise an issue of concern, he should have written a confidential letter to the CJI,”said senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan. For much less, he said, activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan was convicted of contempt of court.</p> <p>“It can have a catastrophic effect on the justice delivery system if judges are targeted like this,”said Supreme Court advocate Sneha Kalita. “A petition has been filed on the issue. However, I feel that the court should take suo motu action to send out a strong message.”</p> <p>It is claimed that Reddy’s public campaign against Ramana is a result of an order passed by the three-judge bench headed by Ramana that resumed proceedings against Reddy in a disproportionate assets case on October 9. “The timing is questionable,”said Supreme Court lawyer Shilpi Jain. “A letter has been addressed to the CJI regarding a sitting judge who is hearing a matter that could have repercussions in a case in which the letter writer is an accused.”</p> <p>Reddy may have his own credibility issues, but he has managed to put the top court in a spot of bother.</p> Thu Oct 15 20:32:33 IST 2020 antivirus-programme <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Gujarat </b>Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation collects milk from some 36 lakh farmers twice a day like clockwork. Any interruption would make around two crore litres of milk go waste. It was a challenge in the months of the lockdown, but GCMMF, which owns the Amul brand, made sure that every cog in the machine worked without any glitch. “There were instructions from the Gujarat chief minister’s office that milk procurement had to continue,” said R.S. Sodhi, managing director of Amul, headquartered in Anand in central Gujarat. From coordinating with the authorities for permissions to ply tankers to teaching farmers’ families hygiene practices to connecting with them regularly on videoconferencing, arranging langars for the people in the supply chain and giving 20 to 30 per cent extra incentive to the labour staff, Amul did it all.</p> <p>“During the lockdown, private players were not collecting milk. The government asked us to collect milk from non-members as well. We agreed, and as a result 40 to 50 lakh litres more of milk was collected daily,” said Sodhi. Collecting milk, however, was only half of the problem, as the lockdown had severely affected the supply chain, and the ice cream sales tanked owing to consumers’ concerns about the virus.</p> <p>Amul wasted no time to shift the supply chain workforce in the ice cream segment to dairy products, and introduce products that instantly created a large customer base. “Normally it takes a long time to introduce a product,” said Sodhi. “However, in such a situation, decision-making and action become faster.”</p> <p>While the lockdown had been a period of financial turmoil and layoffs for most businesses, many Gujarati enterprises saw it as an opportunity to keep innovating and use management skills to remain afloat, minimise losses, increase profitability and introduce relevant products. Amul’s immunity boosters in milk with turmeric, ginger and basil variants, for instance, turned out to be a major sales driver. The company has been getting large orders from temples for its panchamrit, which is given as prasad. Amul’s 10ml single-serve packs of panchamrit contain cow milk, curd, honey, sugar and ghee. “Our creamer plant was idle and we used it for panchamrit. It remains touch-free and can be taken home as prasad,” said Sodhi.</p> <p>About 270km from Anand is Morbi, the heart of India’s clock-making industry. It supplies India with about four crore clocks a year. But the lockdown was a severe blow. “We brainstormed and came up with the idea of making electric mosquito killing rackets,” said Jaysukh Patel, managing director of Ajanta Oreva Group, India’s largest clockmaker. Almost all of India’s requirement of three crore mosquito rackets a year is met by imports from China. Patel took the lead and the Morbi Clock Manufacturers’ Alliance was formed to manufacture mosquito rackets. The clockmakers had the machines and the raw material were available. “Though the rackets from China are cheaper because of under-invoicing, we are hopeful that people will give preference to an indigenous product,” he said. Ajanta Oreva is manufacturing 8,000 rackets a day and plans are afoot to increase the capacity to 25,000.</p> <p>While these innovations have been in response to Covid-19, many of them are likely to be around even after the pandemic. “Lifestyles have changed. I do not see the possibility of things returning to pre-Covid days,” said Satendra Aggrawal, business head of foods &amp; FMCG and marketing at Adani Wilmar, the second largest player in India in the packaged food segment. The company, which is part of the Ahmedabad-based Adani Group, recently forayed into sanitisers and liquid handwash. Aggrawal said the sanitiser market grew from Rs150 crore in 2019 to Rs500 crore this year. The company expects the liquid handwash segment to grow by 30 to 40 per cent in five years.</p> <p>Adani Wilmar’s mainstay, the edible oil portfolio, is also getting a makeover prompted by the pandemic with immunity booster oils and balanced/mixed oils. Aggrawal said products induced with high proteins were also being fast-tracked, which would include healthy food for children.</p> <p>Morbi, which is about 60km from Rajkot, accounts for about 90 per cent of India’s ceramic production. But the town saw the lockdown forcing some 40,000 of its workforce back to the villages. The cluster, which has small-, medium- and large-scale ceramic units, however, is back to normal now. Nilesh Jetpariya, president of Morbi Ceramics Association, said the companies ensured that the employees came back. “To ensure that the production does not suffer post-lockdown, we started the system of advance payment. About 80 per cent of the business is now on advance payment and people give it willingly,” he said.</p> <p>The cluster now has a renewed focus on exports. Jetpariya said the annual exports, which was around Rs12,000 crore, has increased by about 20 per cent and they have started competing in Chinese-dominated markets.</p> <p>And there have been innovations to cash in on the trends. Sanitaryware manufacturer Cera, for instance, has come up with anti-bacterial toilet seats and rimless western commodes. The company has also introduced touchless, sensor-activated faucets. Atul Sanghvi, executive director and CEO of Cera, said had it not been for the pandemic, the introduction of such products would have been much slower.</p> <p>Pathik Patwari, honorary secretary of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Gujarat grabbed the opportunity and put the existing infrastructure to manufacture products that are in demand. A point in case, he said, was face masks—Gujarat is the largest exporter in India.</p> <p>Ahmedabad-based Arvind Ltd, one of the largest manufacturers of denim in the world, was hit by the dwindling exports owing to the pandemic. But the company, headed by Sanjay Lalbhai, swiftly started making masks and PPE kits. Punit Lalbhai, executive director, said Arvind and ACT Grants, a non-profit coalition of venture capital funds and startups, have partnered to manufacture 30 million N95 masks in 12 months.</p> <p>Arvind was the first in the country to introduce anti-viral textile technology under the Intellifabrix brand in partnership with the Swiss company HeiQ Materials AG and Taiwanese speciality chemicals major Jintex Corporation. Garments treated with HeiQ Viroblock inhibit viruses and kill them upon contact, minimising the potential for retransmission of pathogens.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 15 19:02:35 IST 2020 pm-for-cm <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 2016, the BJP made massive gains by announcing Sarbananda Sonowal as its chief minister candidate for Assam midway into the state election campaign. The party had held off declaring a face for the top post, and there was speculation that Himanta Biswa Sarma, who had recently defected from the Congress, could be the top man. Voters were confused. Modi was not a widely popular face in the state, and there was no clarity on who the party’s poster boy would be.</p> <p>Then BJP president Amit Shah ended the speculation by naming Sonowal as the party’s choice. Shah was impressed by Sonowal’s streetfighter image, and his efforts to weed out illegal foreigners in the state. The BJP won handsomely, dethroning three-time Congress chief minister Tarun Gogoi.</p> <p>With assembly elections in West Bengal due in April, the BJP finds itself in a similar situation. Another defector, this time from the Trinamool Congress, has emerged as a strong contender for the chief minister’s position. Mukul Roy is up against BJP state president Dilip Ghosh. The only difference is that, unlike in Assam, Modi is a popular face in Bengal.</p> <p>Apparently, the thinking within the BJP is that announcing a chief minister candidate this early could backfire. But this does not mean a decision has not been made. Party sources told THE WEEK that the name has been finalised, and only four or five top leaders know about it.</p> <p>As of now, Roy is BJP’s most crucial weapon in the battle against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. He was one of the people who built the Trinamool Congress; he knows the weaknesses of his former colleagues. However, he has been reluctant to back Ghosh as chief minister. In fact, so apparent was the tussle between them that Roy suspended his party activities early this year.</p> <p>He even went to the central leadership in Delhi seeking space to work independently within the party. Notably, in 2017, Shah had made it clear that Roy would be part of the central leadership of the party, and would help Ghosh in the 2019 elections.</p> <p>The two did work together for a while, delivering the BJP’s biggest victory in the Lok Sabha elections last year—the party won 18 of 42 seats and lost six by fewer than 5,000 votes. With Modi as its face, the party won 40 per cent of the votes, just three points short of the Trinamool Congress.</p> <p>The friction began when it was time to take credit. While Ghosh’s loyalists portrayed him as a mass leader, Roy’s supporters (mostly Trinamool defectors) painted him as the game-changer.</p> <p>So, as it stands, the party has reportedly decided to fight the elections with Modi as its face. Said the BJP co-in-charge for Bengal Suresh Pujari: “[We had to name chief minister candidates in] Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as there the governments were 15 years old. In Bengal, where we won only three seats last time, there is no point in naming anybody. We will fight the election in the name of Modi<i> ji.</i>”</p> <p>The BJP’s central leadership is wary of announcing a local face. Matched against Banerjee’s strong image, the candidate might not measure up. Also, Modi has told the party that, among the handful of states going to elections soon, he would devote the most time to Bengal. At his instance, Shah is directly overseeing the party affairs in Bengal and has set up an office in Kolkata’s New Town area, near Ghosh’s office-bungalow.</p> <p>According to the BJP’s constitution, the president has maximum power. So, Ghosh would lead from the front. However, BJP national president J.P. Nadda recently made Roy national vice president. An election in-charge, who would control the candidate selection alongside Ghosh, is yet to be named. The question is: Will it be Roy?</p> <p>As a party vice president, Roy would gain more stature and can work independently. In that regard, Modi and Shah seem to have created a balance in the state unit.</p> <p>Another position to be filled soon is that of the state in-charge. Pujari said Nadda, advised by Shah, would declare the new in-charges for all the states soon. “I have expressed to the party that I may be relieved as a co-in-charge (he is one of three) in Bengal,” he said. “My party won my seat (Bargarh, Odisha) for the first time and I have a lot of responsibilities in several committees in Parliament. But yes, I would campaign in a massive way, and I can assure you that a tough man would replace me in Bengal.”</p> <p>In another interesting development, former state party president Tathagata Roy, who was till recently the Meghalaya governor, has returned to active politics. But as per party sources, there have been a lot of delays in the re-induction process. Roy even went to Delhi to meet B.L. Santosh, the BJP general secretary for organisation, to iron out the kinks.</p> <p>Then, on September 26, Trinamool defector Anupam Hazra replaced Rahul Sinha as national secretary. By dropping Sinha, a stalwart in state politics and a friend of Tathagata Roy, the party leadership sent out a clear message to Tathagata and other veterans—they can work in the party, but without any “greed or aspiration”.</p> <p>Apart from Tathagata Roy, two other Bengalis working at the national level are reportedly keen on becoming chief minister. So, Ghosh is facing challenges from various quarters. On not being declared the man for the job, he said: “Did you think that Yogi Adityanath would be chief minister of Uttar Pradesh? Who would have thought that [BJP’s first] Haryana chief minister would be Manohar Khattar?”</p> <p>Said state BJP vice president Biswapriya Roychowdhury: “Our biggest target is to win first.” The state’s Muslims would help with that, he added. “The reason for that would be looting by the Trinamool,” he said. “Through the Jan Dhan accounts, every woman received Rs500, twice. In Bengal, 40 lakh of the 53 lakh eligible women were Muslims. Trinamool workers went door to door and took a share of that money.”</p> <p>Perhaps sensing this shift, Zameerul Hassan, the state president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, asked Banerjee to form an alliance. The AIMIM would contest 94 seats, the Trinamool, 200. “But, she has not accepted,” he said, adding that if the deal does not work out, the AIMIM would go it alone, which could be “dangerous” for Banerjee.</p> <p>It is difficult to predict how Muslims in rural pockets would vote this time. The influential Furfura Darbar Sharif in Hooghly has openly revolted against Banerjee and her party, which has put her on the back foot. So much so that she has openly canvassed for Hindu votes by giving monthly allowance of Rs1,000 to Brahmin priests and Rs50,000 to each Durga Puja committee in the state. There are an estimated 53,000 such committees.</p> <p>Amid such communal undertones, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat visited Kolkata on September 23. He met his <i>pracharaks </i>at Kolkata’s Keshav Bhavan and, according to RSS sources, admonished them for not doing enough during the pandemic. “Many <i>pracharaks </i>are part of the day-to-day activities of the BJP,” an RSS leader quoted Bhagwat as saying. “Do not meddle with the BJP’s party affairs in the district. If you have anything to say about BJP leaders and candidates, you should inform the state president.”</p> <p>Bhagwat has asked the cadres to work on a war footing for the next six months. As part of the plan, Bhagwat has asked them to go to villages and tom-tom the party’s achievements, including the Ram temple and the Citizenship Amendment Act.</p> <p>As for the BJP, Shah called the Bengal top brass to Delhi on October 1. “He sought a lot of information about the progress,” said Ghosh. “He will hit the ground soon and has asked us to begin the campaign before Durga Puja (late October).”</p> <p>Party sources said that if the BJP gets a clear majority, chances are high that Ghosh would be the man for the chief minister’s job. If it is a hung assembly, Roy would be favoured for his ability to break opposition parties and bring in defectors, like Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh (who had left the Congress for the BJP) had earlier done.</p> <p>Regardless, the BJP is going all out in its mission to capture Bengal.&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 18:31:41 IST 2020 we-fight-only-to-win-will-win-all-bypoll-seats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The date for the bypolls to 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh—November 3—was announced just a week ago, but Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been in campaign mode ever since he began his fourth term in office this March. From managing the pandemic to hitting the road with Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress for the BJP, and making a spate of welfare announcements in the post-lockdown period, Chouhan is doing what he does best—connect with people. The bypolls are crucial as they will decide whether the BJP will retain power or the Congress will make a comeback. Though the BJP needs to win only nine seats to stay in power, Chouhan is confident of winning all 28 seats. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How many seats do you think will each party win in the bypolls?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>I can certainly speak about my party that we are going to win in all seats. We compete and fight to win and only win.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/Why do you think the BJP will win all bypoll seats and the Congress may not have a chance at all?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>Welfare of the state and its people is our topmost priority. Congress leaders are always involved in corrupt, mala fide and selfish practices. They do not have time for the welfare of the state; they are always busy filling their personal reserves and are involved in party factionalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party focuses on the development of every section of society. I believe in doing my karma, which is serving the society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Even as the Congress is pushing the narrative of “betrayal” by Scindia and his supporters, what, according to you, are the important issues this byelection?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>The MLAs who moved to the BJP from the Congress clearly said that Kamal Nath put the development of the state at stake. Chhindwara alone meant the whole state, in fact the whole country, for Kamal Nathì.</p> <p>The people of Madhya Pradesh are well aware about what the BJP has done in the past and what the Kamal Nath government has done in 15 months. Keeping in view the distress of the people in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we took quick result-oriented decisions such as wheat procurement even in lockdown period. We introduced the Kisan Samman Nidhi, street vendors’ scheme and many others that made a world of difference. Our ideology is purely developmental and people-oriented. Service to the people is our sole religion. We did not allow the development process to stop even during the Covid-19 crisis. The Congress will try to hide its failure and faults by blaming others; it is an old tradition with the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Does the financial aspect of implementing the schemes you have announced worry you?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>We have not only made announcements, but also implemented these schemes in letter and spirit—transferring Rs60,000 crore to the accounts of beneficiaries.</p> <p>I don’t believe in crying for want of funds. I believe in hard work. Availability of funds is all about political will, competency and financial management skills, and the Congress has failed miserably in this area. So, as far as the work for public interest is concerned, there will never be any dearth of moneyì. If you are able to discern the plight of the people, you are determined to find ways for their amelioration, and then arrangement of funds is no longer a difficult task. Although it is true that we got an empty treasury, we are working [a way] out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you plan to bring the state economy back on track?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>We are resolute in reviving [the state economy] with a well-thought-out plan of action. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given us the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. We have prepared a roadmap towards realising his dream, based on sector-specific development, which will accelerate growth and boost the state’s economy.</p> <p>We have also taken up the ‘Ek Zila, Ek Pehchan’ (one district, one identity) scheme to encourage region-specific farming and augment local economy, fulfilling the prime minister’s idea of ‘vocal for local’ì. We have taken decisions such as not raising petroleum-linked prices, which the Congress did during the pandemic, reducing stamp duty by 2 per cent and no additional taxes for the real estate sector as part of our measures towards reinvigorating the state’s economy and the real estate. IT-based monitoring will ensure efficiency and transparency in the functioning of the administrative machinery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think many in the BJP, especially in the Gwalior-Chambal region (Scindia’s bastion), might still be upset? Will it hurt the party’s poll prospects?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>I will term this as a mere presumption. The BJP takes decisions based on collective consent and deliberation. We work by rising above petty politics. Our party is a democratic organisation and has leaders who grow on their own capabilitiesì. We are confident that the BJP will win the byelections in each and every seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Anti-incumbency was said to be one of the major factors for BJP’s loss in the 2018 assembly polls. Do you think the voters’ mind has changed in two years?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>It was a fractured mandate, not in favour of the Congress. What had happened in the assembly elections was not due to anti-incumbency. It was because of the dilemma in peoples’ mind in a few places, and people accepted this immediately after the election results were announced. They were not happy with the Congress winning. They realised their mistake of not choosing a chief minister who would stand by them in good and bad times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If the BJP gets the required majority in the house, what changes do you foresee in the state’s socio-political sphere?</b></p> <p><b>A/ </b>People will witness a revolutionary changeì. A new chapter of development-centric politics begins here. The politics which has corruption and opportunistic approach as its basis is set to finish forever. The state’s politics will set new examples of democratic values under the BJP government. &nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 18:18:38 IST 2020 laying-the-groundwork <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On March 1, 1974,</b> chief minister D. Devaraj Urs implemented a revolutionary land reform that helped thousands of landless tenant farmers in Karnataka take ownership of the fields they had been cultivating. As land was redistributed among the poor to free them from exploitative tenancy laws and absentee landlords, a slogan resonated across the state—<i>Uluvavane bhoomi odeya</i>, or the tiller is the owner of the land.</p> <p>Forty-six years later, the state government led by Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has brought about another set of game-changing land reforms. On September 26 this year, the assembly passed, by voice vote, the Karnataka Land Reforms (Second Amendment) Bill, replacing an ordinance promulgated in July this year. The amendment lifts restrictions on buying agriculture land, and repeals certain sections of the parent act of 1961, which bars non-farmers from buying farmland and penalises those who falsely claim that they are eligible to own farmland.</p> <p>Opposition parties allege that the amendment reverses decades of farm reforms and imposes a “modern-day zamindari system” on farmers. They have been supporting statewide protests by farmers, dalits, labour organisations and pro-Kannada outfits, which want the amendment and the farm bills recently passed by Parliament to be withdrawn.</p> <p>Farmer organisations say the amendment will force small-scale farmers to sell their land and become labourers. “Instead of encouraging farmers to sell their land at competitive prices, farming should be made remunerative,” said Kurubur Shantakumar of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha. “More than 19,000 applications from landless farmers seeking land are pending before the government. The farm bills are all moving towards privatisation of agriculture. The food production in the country today is 285 million tonnes, enough to last the next two years. The farmers have toiled hard to ensure food security. The government should not forget this.”</p> <p>The BJP maintains that the reforms would help farmers embrace technology, enhance production and solve the agrarian crisis. “The new act will help bring a new era of farming. Many youth, including software professionals, want to engage in farming today,” said Revenue Minister R. Ashok. “Many are buying land in neighbouring states that do not have restrictions. We want farmers to adopt modern techniques to scale up agri exports, which will make farming remunerative. Right now Karnataka’s share in agri exports is only 5.7 per cent; Gujarat’s is 17 per cent.”</p> <p>The Yediyurappa government has accomplished what the Union government could not in 2015. The Centre had tabled a bill in Parliament to amend the 2013 Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, but strong opposition forced it to refer the bill to a joint house committee. Industry bodies say the stringent consent and compensation provisions in the 2013 act have resulted in land acquisitions coming to a standstill. The Union government, which is struggling to build smart cities and develop highways and industrial corridors, is banking on BJP-ruled states to push through land reforms.</p> <p>Opposition parties allege that such reforms would “corporatise agriculture” and put India’s food security at risk. “Before the green revolution, the food production in the country was about 50 million tonnes,” said former chief minister Siddaramaiah. “But now, it is 291 million tonnes. But if farmland is [used for other purposes], it might lead to food scarcity. This has exposed the nexus between the government, corporates and housing societies.”</p> <p>Karnataka has 195 lakh hectares of land, of which 30 lakh hectares are forest land, 22 lakh hectares are designated agriculture land, and 11.79 lakh hectares are lying fallow. The government says the new act will encourage industries only on fallow land. Irrigated farmland and land owned by dalits will continue to be protected, said Yediyurappa.</p> <p>Industries bodies say the fear of farmers losing their land to corporates is unwarranted. “Till now, all industries in the state have together used less than 1 per cent of the total land and created one crore jobs,” said C.R. Janardhana, president, Federation of Karnataka Chamber of Commerce and Industries. “With the new law, industries can utilise another 1 per cent and create one crore more jobs.”</p> <p>The state government is finalising a new industrial policy, focusing on 13 major sectors like automobiles, pharma, cement, steel and logistics, to help turn Karnataka into a “factory of the future”. “The policy will attract investments worth Rs5 lakh crore that can create 20 lakh jobs,” said Yediyurappa.</p> <p>On March 19 this year, the state government amended section 109 of the Karnataka Land Reforms Act, 1961, allowing industries to sell agricultural land converted for industrial use after seven years. It also granted “deemed approval” for purchase and change in land use—if the state high-level clearance committee failed to file objections within 30 days.</p> <p>The land bank created by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board has not been very helpful, say investors. At least 140 proposals worth Rs50,000 crore made in the past five years have failed to take off because of acquisition hassles. “The poor ranking of the state in ‘ease of doing’ business was mainly because of scarcity of land and red tape,” said Janardhana. “Telangana and Andhra Pradesh developed at our expense owing to the free access to land there.”</p> <p>Ashok said the farmers could get competitive prices only in an open market. “In 1974, the great farmer leader Prof M.D. Nanjundaswamy favoured the scrapping of sections 79(a) and (b) [of the 1961 act], saying it was unconstitutional as it violated Article 19(g) [the right to practise any vocation]. I believe the farmer should have the right to sell his land like any other asset,” he said.</p> <p>He also accused the Congress of double-dealing. “The 1961 Act was amended 34 times,” said Ashok. “Many stalwarts of the Congress, including R.V. Deshpande and Mallikarjun Kharge, had argued in favour of repealing sections 79(a) and (b). In fact, the Congress government in 2015 had attempted to scrap the sections by setting up a cabinet subcommittee. An amendment in 2017 raised the non-agricultural income limit for the buyer from Rs2 lakh to Rs25 lakh per annum.”</p> <p>The Janata Dal (Secular), which counts farmers as part of its support base, is playing both sides. JD(S) leader and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy has supported the new reform, saying he too had faced difficulties in buying agriculture land. But the party has extended its support to the farmer agitation as well.</p> <p>Land distribution patterns show that the opposition to lifting restrictions on selling farmland has been weakening. Land values have been spiralling upward, and the average land holding in the state is 1.55 hectares now, down from 3.5 hectares in the 1960s. Large tracts of farmland are entangled in legal battles. “The state has 73,173 cases of violations under the 1961 Act, which will be abated with retrospective effect,” said Ashok.</p> <p>As per the 2015-16 agriculture census, there are 78.32 lakh farming households in the state. Around 66 lakh are small and marginal farmers, holding less than 1.45 hectares. One in five rural households in the state are landless, suggesting that a huge number of farmers are still employed as farm labourers.</p> <p>“Farmers are not foolish. They now understand the value of their land, especially if it is in the irrigation belt,” said Ramakrishna Omkar, a farmer in Vijayapura district. “If corporates buy land and start farming on a large scale, we, too, will benefit, as they bring new technology and a bigger market for local produce. Small farmers can till their land and work for the corporate farms or agro-based industries for additional income. It is a win-win situation.”&nbsp;</p> Fri Oct 09 19:24:06 IST 2020 utter-chaos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On August 16</b>—the seventh day of running a high fever—Ragini Asthana’s breath became wheezy. The 56-year-old teacher was rushed to the Pandit Uma Shankar Dixit hospital in her hometown Unnao. She did an antigen test for Covid-19, which came back negative. But her oxygen and blood pressure fell rapidly. She was then referred to the Ursula Horsman Memorial Hospital, Kanpur, and was admitted to the ICU on the first floor. By then, Asthana could barely move. Yet, in the absence of a catheter, she had to drag herself to the only toilet available on the ground floor, from where the hospital’s Covid-19 wing operated. Her oxygen levels improved slightly before plummeting again. Family members said that the same nurses and doctors moved between the ICU and the Covid-19 ward. When they asked an attendant to wear gloves, they were asked to provide the same.</p> <p>Around 4:30am on August 19, after receiving four injections over two days to stabilise her blood pressure, Asthana was declared dead. The family was given, what they call, a temporary death certificate without the hospital’s stamp. It listed cardiorespiratory arrest as the cause of immediate death. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was the antecedent cause. The family said that she had never experienced breathing distress earlier. Her body came in a bag with injunctions to not open it. “Her symptoms pointed to Covid-19, but we could not get an RT-PCR test despite a chief medical officer (CMO) from another district calling the hospital for it,” said Asthana’s nephew Ankur Khare. “Losing her is difficult. Not knowing what we lost her to is more difficult.” The family then got prescriptions from a doctor in Kolkata for tests at private labs. One member tested positive and has since died.</p> <p>Asthana’s case illustrates multiple strands in Uttar Pradesh’s Covid-19 struggle. There is testing, but not necessarily of the right kind. The situation magnifies staff shortages in hospitals and how non-Covid patients bear its brunt. It highlights the helplessness of health care workers, many without the basic protection of gloves. With more than three lakh cases, Uttar Pradesh is one of the five states that contribute to almost 60 per cent of the country’s caseload.</p> <p>Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been relentless. Every morning at 10, he huddles with Team 11—a bureaucratic steering committee for the pandemic. He travels constantly to monitor the districts, and has pushed for the highest number of single-day tests. He is ably helped by a health minister (see interview) known to keep his head down and work without making big statements.</p> <p>Yet all is not well.</p> <p>The state’s public health care system is crippled by corruption—there is an ongoing inquiry into the procurement of pulse oximeters and thermometers by panchayats above the mandated prices. The state ranks sixth from last on the country’s list of doctors to population ratio. One in five posts of laboratory technicians is vacant. Most government hospitals do not follow the protocol of having at least 20 per cent beds in the ICU, needed for the increasing number of critical patients.</p> <p>Also, the lockdown was not wholly utilised. Ambulance drivers in many districts struck work over delayed salaries. Existing manpower was not readied. In Lucknow, for instance, the faculty of many super specialty hospitals, instead of training for the pandemic, went on summer break. Multiple doctors said that key management positions in hospitals were filled by political push and there was a crippling communication gap.</p> <p>“The crisis was not understood,” said a doctor serving in a Covid-19 ICU. “Its management is unevenly distributed. The same doctors and nurses keep working instead of having a pool to draw from. The way we are forced to work is unethical and inhuman.” At the same hospital, resident doctors on duty for seven straight days begged to resign.</p> <p>Private hospitals have faltered. At Lucknow’s TSM Medical College and Hospital, 38 patients requiring Level 3 (L3) care died as it was only equipped with L2 facilities. The management refused to comment, but THE WEEK accessed a review report that read, “Patients with co-morbidities are not assessed.... The control room is not functional... Most deaths occur between 10pm and 8am as doctors do not take rounds.”</p> <p>Nuzhat Husain, officiating director of the Ram Manohar Lohia Institute of Medical Sciences (RMLIMS)—one of the three government institutions providing Covid-19 care in Lucknow—said, “It is easy to judge negatively. Right up to the CM’s office people are working 24x7 to manage this situation. We have done well on the testing front in terms of numbers and reach. We are conducting molecular tests in places like Azamgarh and Banda—unimaginable six months ago. The situation is evolving. We are keeping pace.”</p> <p>Director General of Health Devendra Singh Negi said that the state was doing well. He said paediatricians, physicians and chest specialists were being trained to manage BiPAP machines and high-flow nasal cannulas (both systems to pump oxygen). Nurses, ward boys and sanitation workers were trained for infection control and biomedical waste management.</p> <p>However, video training or quick courses do not translate into the ability to offer critical care. As Pravin Kumar Das, the anaesthesiologist in-charge for RMLIMS’s Covid-19 hospital, said, “A nurse with years of ICU experience has instincts that cannot be developed overnight.”</p> <p>Negi said that the state was geared to meet the need for increased oxygen supply. “Though we have not faced shortages, we are giving licences to new suppliers in the shortest possible time,” he said. “We will reduce production of industrial gases and divert capacity to oxygen production, if needed. A big oxygen plant is coming up in Modinagar.”</p> <p>Doctors, besides battling their own fears, are also harassed. On September 4, the district magistrate of Raebareli allegedly called the CMO a donkey and threatened to skin him. Sachin Vaish, chairperson of the Provincial Medical Services Association, said that such complaints were common. “We do not want rose petals or the beating of thalis. We demand respect,” he said. “Everyone is under pressure, but that is no excuse for foul words and mistreatment.” The burden on doctors is also attributed to the undue influence of bureaucrats in the Covid-19 management. Negi, an anaesthetist, though discounted this view.</p> <p>Dr Kafeel Khan, the paediatrician at the centre of the 2017 Gorakhpur tragedy (wherein 70 children at the Baba Raghav Das Medical College died owing to stoppage of oxygen supply), said, “The state’s health system is a white elephant. When doctors and health workers do good, they are penalised. Who will dare speak about shortcomings?”</p> <p>Deficiencies in Lucknow offer a window into how critical the state’s challenges are. On August 2, Sudeep Sarkar, 44, the owner of a printing press, tried to get a Covid-19 test done at a government health centre. He had high fever, body pain and laboured breathing. Sarkar lives alone and drove himself for a test after popping a pill. He stood in line for two hours only to be told that he could not be tested despite his temperature being high. He went to another government centre but the designated testing time was over. The next day, at a third centre he was told there were no test kits. A desperate Sarkar took to social media. “I was distraught,” he said. “For hours, I retweeted every Covid-related tweet with a comment to draw attention to myself.” There was no response from the state machinery. On day five, as he stood for hours in another line, the kits ran out again. “I threatened to call the media. It was only then that I was tested,” said Sarkar, who tested negative.</p> <p>The state’s media is walking a blurry line, often running blind items with racy headlines. One report was titled, ‘Doctors gobble food worth lakhs’—this, for news about money spent on transporting and quarantining doctors who came off Covid-19 duty in hotels.</p> <p>Husain said that while the media is eager to criticise, society should be asked to be responsible, too. The High Court has stepped in to ensure some public accountability by pronouncing that those without masks be penalised.</p> <p>Uttar Pradesh’s Covid-19 trials have just started. When it shall look back to list what was lost and gained, the dead like Asthana will need answers like the living.&nbsp;</p> Thu Oct 01 18:21:11 IST 2020 given-our-population-size-we-have-fared-much-better <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jai Pratap Singh is the cabinet minister for medical and health, family welfare, mother and child. Singh was infected with COVID-19 in the earliest days of the pandemic and used that period to firm up his knowledge about the symptoms and forms of the disease by talking to other patients. It also allowed him to see for himself how robust the government’s system of surveillance was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How has Uttar Pradesh responded to the pandemic so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chief Minister initiated procedures as soon as we got a message about the coronavirus entering the states. The first thing was to get beds ready in anticipation of the numbers. We have 1.55 lakh beds at different levels of care. Then came testing. We started with just 7200 tests but have now touched 1.5 lakh tests a day. We started with antigen and pool testing. Truenat machines were installed in one go in all districts. CB-NAAT machines used to test for tuberculosis were also put to use for COVID-19.</p> <p>If we compare ourselves to other states, then given our population of 23 crores we have fared much better. Our strategy is testing, intensive surveillance, contact tracing and home isolation or hospitalization as need be. We had extensive containment zones initially and these would spread in a 500 metre radius of the infections. It is now down to 100 metres. For one patient, we trace at least 15 contacts. There is a control and command centre at every district which is the management centre for COVID-19. Once a patient’s name comes up on the portal, the management of the patient, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic starts. Multiple levels of surveillance are in place such as the CM’s helpline, the chief medical officers (CMO) and the local health centres. Health workers from my local community health centre (CHC) came to check on me when I was sick without knowing who I was.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What was a key intervention during the lockdown?</b></p> <p><i>&nbsp;</i></p> <p>As migrants started to return home, we set up quarantine centres in every village. We had surveillance teams in every village, consisting of the ASHA, ANM, Pradhan, panchayat members and others. The teams collected information about every returning member, his family members, health conditions, mapped his skills etc. This firsthand, real-time information was very useful. It helped us identify and treat other diseases such as acute respiratory syndrome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There are announcements of new/additional beds made every day. Practically though how much time does it take to set up a bed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are not setting up beds from scratch or even building new infrastructure like some states have done. In most cases we are taking over existing structures. For example, in Gorakhpur there was a TB hospital, construction of which had just finished when the pandemic struck. It was not being used and we set up a COVID care facility in it. In Gonda, there was a new Mother and Child Health facility which we similarly converted. Another example was an eight-floor constructed but non-functional hospital in Sector 39 Noida. We are not doing anything extensive such as laying down lines for oxygen supply. So practically when an increase in numbers is announced we can assume that it takes 15 days for the bed to be available for use. Our technical support partner, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped in to help with many of these new facilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>How have you tackled the challenge of manpower?</b></p> <p><i>&nbsp;</i></p> <p>UP has been short of medical and para medical manpower even otherwise. For the immediate situation we have permitted open tenders from the market. The response has been 50-50. The most acute need is of pharmacists and lab technicians but if doctors are willing to come, we shall welcome them. We have been asking the private sector and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to help us. Existing AYUSH doctors have been trained to work in COVID19 care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you think the state places extra emphasis on numbers at the cost of quality?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our teams have been strictly instructed to do quality testing and not just test randomly for the sake of numbers. The kind of test and the result determine the number of tests. For example, an antigen test shows a strong positive, but if it yields a negative, it is sent for RTPCR testing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Is there a specific strategy for cities which are reporting a very high number of new infections (including the state capital Lucknow which reported more than 900 cases every day in September)?</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are 20 cities with high transmission rates, that is more than 100 cases in a day. The maximum number of tests are being conducted in these cities and contact tracing is intensive. I monitor the number of contacts traced every day and alert the local authorities if the numbers are low. We have ensured that ambulances are available in adequate numbers. The challenge is that people do not come to get tested, and when they do it is very late. Some people insist on home isolation and go to the hospital when the disease is at an advanced stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Why have private laboratories been hesitant to test?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We had reduced the rate of RTPCR tests from Rs 2000 to Rs 1600 as the cost of reagents came down. Many states had introduced similar rate cuts but in a meeting with private laboratories we understood the cost they had to bear. Now the rates have been readjusted and they are testing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has the government relied too much on bureaucracy, instead of the experts, to manage the pandemic?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bureaucracy is important as the challenges of the pandemic have to be met on multiple fronts by multiple departments such as the industry, police, panchayati raj, animal husbandry, revenue, agriculture and health. The Team 11 approach (at the state capital and the districts) is very good as it provides for coordinated COVID-19 management and also ensures that other essential activities do not suffer.</p> <p><i>&nbsp;</i></p> <p><b>Did the weekend lockdown offer any gains?</b></p> <p><i>&nbsp;</i></p> <p>The lockdown had a psychological impact. It oriented people to live with restrictions. It is not possible to keep people in their homes for a very long time. So, when the Centre said we had to unlock we did.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is UP prepared for?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are prepared for everything. We are using this opportunity to do up our health systems. We will have an infectious disease laboratory in every district with the help of the centre. We will have good equipment. Every CHC will have machines for ultrasound and digital X Rays. We have re budgeted our costs so that we have the money for equipment at every level. We have been trying various methods for lateral entry of specialists into the public sector including walk in interviews and trial appointments.</p> Thu Oct 01 18:12:06 IST 2020 spreading-terror <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In 2014,</b> Ayman al-Zawahiri, the successor of Osama bin Laden, released a video saying he had set up an organisation called Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). In India, he said, the modules were active in West Bengal and Assam.</p> <p>Six years later, on September 19 this year, the National Investigation Agency arrested nine suspected Al Qaeda operatives from Bengal and Kerala. All nine were from Murshidabad, which borders Bangladesh and is one of the more backward districts in the country. Intelligence agencies have found AQIS modules in Murshidabad, and have traced several others to Malda and Uttar Dinajpur.</p> <p>Sources told THE WEEK that, in August, the NIA came to know about several meetings between groups operating in Murshidabad and Ernakulam, Kerala. Acting on a tipoff, the agency started snooping; it used its IT cell to trace phone calls and WhatsApp video calls between suspects. The NIA also used the Border Security Force’s South Bengal Frontier to collect details about the nine. While six of them lived in Murshidabad, three were labourers in Kerala. The group is headed by Murshid Hasan, who was working as a cook in Ernakulam.</p> <p>According to the NIA, the accused were plotting a “major bloodletting” in Delhi and other parts of India. The agency had recovered country-made firearms and a few conventional explosives (no IEDs) from the men.<br> An NIA source said that the AQIS planned to attack some BJP leaders, including Dilip Ghosh in Bengal.</p> <p>The NIA apparently got to the nine men after it arrested Tania Parveen, a college student, from Baduria in the North 24 Parganas district of Bengal in March. According to the agency, Parveen had links with Lashkar-e-Taiba.</p> <p>After interrogating the nine accused on September 25, the NIA made another arrest—Shamim Ansari from Jalangi in Murshidabad. He reportedly used to make trips to Kerala as a labourer.</p> <p>The investigation has revealed that the accused are linked with Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, which is the AQIS cell in Jammu and Kashmir. Notably, the Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police had said that Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, which reportedly also operates from Pakistan, had been wiped out from Kashmir after its head, Zakir Musa, was killed in 2019.</p> <p>It is surprising that Bengal-based outfits, which usually look to Bangladesh for inspiration, have allegedly developed links with Pakistan-based groups. NIA sources said that some of the accused had visited Srinagar and other areas in Kashmir as labourers. Interestingly, after the removal of Article 370 last year, Kashmir-based Pakistan militants had killed five labourers from Murshidabad. This raises the question—why would labourers from Murshidabad have been in contact with the militants who killed their own people? Could there be a quid-pro-quo arrangement?</p> <p>If the Bengal-Kashmir link is proven, it would mean that Pakistan has widened its network of terror beyond Kashmir and Mumbai.</p> <p>But does that rule out a Bangladesh connection? “We are investigating it. So far, the NIA has not touched the issue,” said a Kolkata Police Special Branch officer. Both the special branch and the West Bengal CID have interrogated the men.</p> <p>If needed, said NIA sources, they would question the accused on possible links to the 2014 Burdwan blast, which the agency is still investigating. The NIA would check if the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen of Bangladesh modules in Bengal—which were uncovered after the Burdwan blast—had built up AQIS modules, too.</p> <p>Another worrying fact for investigators is the link to Kerala. The men from Murshidabad are not part of the module that sent Islamic State recruits to Syria, which raises several other questions. The NIA is investigating whom the three arrested from Kerala were in touch with.</p> <p>The agency has found several Al Qaeda-related documents on the nine men, as well as a blueprint for launching attacks throughout India. The accused are reportedly tech-savvy; three of them are college students, including one who is an aspirant engineer. They apparently used the deep web to connect with people across India. “Interestingly, all the devices—laptops and smartphones—were locked using biometrics, but they could not be opened with the men’s fingers,” said an investigating officer. “So, some foreign body (or some other person) might have been used to open the devices.”</p> <p>Through the deep web, they used to interact with their “partners in crime” on video and voice calls. The NIA has also found some WhatsApp groups the men had formed. One of them is called ‘Quateel for Islam’; quateel means killer in Arabic.</p> <p>The arrests have predictably become a political issue. “Bengal and Kerala have become dens for terrorists as governments in both states have no eagerness to crush the menace,” said Dilip Ghosh.</p> <p>Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar lashed out at the police. After Bengal Director General of Police Virendra wrote to the NIA, asking why the state police were not kept in the loop before the arrests, Dhankhar said, “The director general is burying his head in the sand like an ostrich. The state is a safe haven for terror, crime and illegal bomb-making competitions, which results in atrocities and violation of human rights.”</p> <p>Partha Chatterjee, state education minister and Trinamool Congress secretary general, said: “The matter is under investigation, no one should play politics.”</p> <p>During the interrogation, the NIA also found that some madrassa authorities were in touch with six of the men. This had apparently happened during the Burdwan blast case, too. “I would ask NIA officers to stay a few days in madrassas here,” Md Yahiya, chairman of Bengal Imams’ Association, told THE WEEK. “They would see what nationalism is all about. We create good humans in madrassas, not rapists or crime lords.”</p> <p>Bandi Mukti Committee, a human rights organisation that had given legal aid to the Burdwan blast accused, said it would send a fact-finding team to the villages from where the men were arrested. “In the past 123 terror cases in India, the accused walked free in 99 cases,” said BMC state secretary Choton Das. “In many cases, the Supreme Court threw out the charge-sheet.”</p> Thu Oct 01 17:26:03 IST 2020 power-play <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>THE EASE OF DOING</b> business rankings released on September 5 by the Union government’s department for promotion of industry and internal trade saw Gujarat slipping from fifth to tenth position. It has come as a big blow to a state already battered badly by the Covid-19 pandemic. The state’s response to the pandemic has faced a lot of criticism. The Gujarat High Court recently pulled up the state government for its alleged mismanagement of the pandemic and said the Ahmedabad civil hospital looked worse than a dungeon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has been a tough few months for Gujarat, which used to advertise its health care facilities to attract NRIs, and is known for its business-friendly climate and the biennial Vibrant Gujarat Summit, launched by Narendra Modi when he was chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since Modi moved to New Delhi after a 13-year stint as chief minister, Gujarat has been slipping on a number of parameters. It has become a major headache for the BJP, which considers Gujarat its model state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been rumours that Vijay Rupani, chosen by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to replace Anandiben Patel as chief minister in 2016, is on his way out. While that change is yet to happen, the BJP has appointed C.R. Patil, a three-time MP close to Modi, as the new chief of its state unit in the place of Shah’s protégé Jitu Vaghani. The appointment is seen as a warning signal to Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel, with whom he shares a testy relationship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patil appears to have been given a clear brief as the Rupani government has fallen short on a range of critical issues including the response to the pandemic, agitations by Patidars and the OBCs, dalit issues and the controversies surrounding police recruitment and private school fees.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Patil taking charge, it seems Rupani’s wings have been clipped. The new president meets party workers regularly. Despite appeals by the government about maintaining social distancing and avoiding rallies and processions, he organised two yatras—one each in Saurashtra and north Gujarat. Patil has now tested positive for Covid-19. Unconfirmed reports indicate that at least 130 BJP leaders and workers, too, have become infected. There are rumours on social media that the new BJP president turned out to be a superspreader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has further ruffled feathers within the BJP is Patil’s order that ministers should be present at the party headquarters in Gandhinagar to redress the grievances of party workers as Covid restrictions prevent them from visiting the secretariat frequently. Those who belong to other parties and those without any party affiliation are also allowed to meet the ministers at the BJP headquarters. Patil is also reaching out to BJP workers through an e-interface after Covid cases were reported from the party headquarters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not many within the BJP are happy with the new scheme of things. But unlike in the Congress, nobody is speaking out. A senior BJP leader told THE WEEK that forcing the ministers to function from the BJP office was unconstitutional. “Why give VIP status to BJP workers? And, why force Congress workers to go to the BJP office? Moreover, the ministers are being paid their salaries from the state’s exchequer,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Right wing ideologue Vishnu Pandya, however, said the move was a step in the right direction. “In the state secretariat, the entry is limited due to various reasons and the ministers are not able to reach out to many people. Moreover, the administration remains confined to GRs (government resolutions),” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political analyst Hari Desai said Patil had been given the “assignment of a super CM”. The way he organised a rally in Rupani’s home city, Rajkot, was a clear indication of the changing power equations in the state BJP. Desai said the new president might be able to arrest the worrying slide in the party’s fortunes, but his appointment was also indicative of disagreements between Modi and Shah. The way things are, in the upcoming byelections to eight assembly seats and several local body seats, Patil will be calling the shots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya dismissed the allegations that Patil was brought in as a super chief minister. He said ministers were asked to spend time at the party headquarters to motivate ordinary workers and that such an experiment was undertaken in the early 1990s as well. “The government and the party complement each other,” said Pandya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition Congress, however, said Patil’s order to the ministers to get to the party office showed that its workers were not being heard. “The BJP is not listening to the common man or even ordinary party workers. Only influential people are being heard,” said Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi. “If Patil or the Gujarat government wants to listen to the masses, then they should open the doors of the secretariat to all.”</p> Fri Sep 25 19:40:20 IST 2020 survival-instinct <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>His tribe harvests honey from tree hollows; they find the hive by following bees. Peddalu Mandli, 27, of Petralachenu in Telangana is slowly learning that art from elders. Last week, Mandli and a few others tracked down a hive. “Only our tribe has the expertise to find these beehives and collect honey from it,” he says proudly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mandli hails from the Chenchu tribe, one of the oldest aboriginal tribes in India. Hunter-gatherers, the Chenchus live in the thickly forested Nallamala Hills—around 9,000sqkm in the Eastern Ghats, spread across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The tribe also has a presence in Karnataka and Odisha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike most other members of his tribe, Mandli has lived in a city and has a degree—a bachelor’s in education. For some time, he waited tables in Hyderabad. But now, to protect himself and his tribe, he has moved back to the hamlet and its traditional way of life. Wary of Covid-19, Petralachenu residents—around 200 people—have cut ties with the outside world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the men are excellent marksmen, hunting expeditions have been stepped up during the lockdown; the bag mostly yields birds and small animals. “I am not that good with the bow,” says Mandli. “So, I take along my dog, who plays a major role in our hunting trips. We have realised that if we have to survive the pandemic, we have to go back to our traditional lifestyle. In future, I want to cultivate and promote the crops that our elders used to eat; it will keep us healthy and immune.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chenchu hamlets are called pentas. While an exact number of pentas is not available, there are reportedly 48,000 Chenchus on record. Many of the pentas are situated close to Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve, India’s largest tiger reserve. The tiger is the tribe’s totem. They believe that whenever they are on the verge of starvation, a tiger will come to their rescue and leave a dead prey for them to feast on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dharmakari Ramkishan, a government doctor and an activist who has studied the Chenchus extensively, says that Covid-19 could wipe out the tribe. “Chenchu are officially categorised under particularly vulnerable tribal groups,” he says. “Since they have lived in deep forests all their lives, they have not been exposed to major infections. Their immunity to Covid-19 will be much lesser than people from other communities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ramkishan, who also runs an NGO called Chenchu Lokam, adds that the tribe’s mortality rate is thrice the national average. “From an anthropological point of view, they are walking historical treasures,” he says. “Studying them can reveal a wealth of information. The state government should immediately announce a separate Chenchu plan and make sure that their immunity levels are improved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, not a single Covid-19 case has been registered in any of the pentas, probably because most hamlets are far off the beaten track. Hamlets in the Appapur Gudem area, for example, are 35km off a motorable road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have warned forest officials not to enter our region, because we want to rule out every possibility of contracting infection,” says T. Balaguruvaiah, sarpanch of the Appapur cluster. “We told the officials and other outsiders who wanted to provide us with food that we can survive as well as take care of the forest on our own. My priority is to ensure that my tribe does not get wiped out.” The tribal elders have nominated one tribesman to manage the government-run Girijan Cooperative Corporation outlet in the forest from where rice and essentials are procured every month.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Government officials, too, are doing their best to ensure that the tribe has limited contact with outsiders. T. Akhilesh Reddy, project officer of the Telangana government’s integrated tribal development agency, says: “We have completely restricted access to Chenchu habitats. But despite our warning some politicians and NGOs are trying to contact them. From our side, we have supplied them with rations to last a good amount of time and are also ensuring (supply of) essential items and water.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the tribe has its own strategy in place, in case anybody tests positive for Covid-19. “We believe that a drink made from a powerful herb called naleni found only in the forests can be effective against this virus,” says Balaguruvaiah. “Our ancestors used to drink it (to ward off) malaria. Along with this drink, we are also looking at other medicinal herbs to fight this virus. Since good hospitals are far, we have to be prepared.”</p> Thu Sep 17 19:39:48 IST 2020 systemic-stains <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Opposite Maddox Square in Kolkata, occupying the large expanse of 62 Ritchie Road, lies the historic South Dhobikhana. Started by the British on August 15, 1902, it is the second oldest open-air wash house in the country; Mumbai’s famous Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat opened in 1890.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An old wooden signboard at the entrance to the wash house says “South Dhobikhana”. The sprawling 22 bighas (one bigha equals 0.33 acre) house as many as 180 wash pens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The construction of South Dhobikhana was proposed in 1880 on the lines of the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat. In 1890, the fund for its construction was sanctioned from the Municipal Corporation’s loan fund. By 1913-1914, around 180 concrete wash pens became operative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of these wash pens are still functional even though the washing style has changed over the years. Dhobis start working at around 4am and continue until evening. A total of 245 licensed dhobis—many of them second or third generation washermen—are associated with the South Dhobikhana. In addition, there are another 450 or more people assisting them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Panchu Lal Das, 74, who has been working in the Dhobikhana for the last 50 years, says that the working conditions in the wash house are extreme—in summer they have to work in the scorching heat, and in winter, in freezing cold. The Dhobikhana is lacking official support, the washermen say. Most of its infrastructure is in a dilapidated state now. Santu Choudhuri, secretary of the union, South Dhobikhana Rajak Sangh, says that they used to get water supply four times a day earlier. But now, water is available only twice a day—around 10,000 litres in two instalments from 7am to 9am and from 4pm to 6pm from the Tallah tank. The dhobis say that the electric supply is plagued by voltage fluctuation, and this affects the functioning of electric drying machines—used particularly during the monsoon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the British period, the South Dhobikhana was listed under emergency services. The dhobis who have been in this profession for generations are in a sad state today because of the apathy of the corporation. They are uncertain how long this traditional job will continue, given that it is not lucrative enough to attract the younger generation.</p> Thu Sep 17 20:26:36 IST 2020 splits-wide-open <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>WITH BYELECTIONS</b> due in 27 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP and the Congress are caught in a deep political quagmire. The depth of it was evident from two political developments in the last fortnight. On September 8, the BJP’s powerful leader in Gwalior, Satish Singh Sikarwar, joined the Congress in the presence of state Congress president and former chief minister Kamal Nath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikarwar resented the BJP’s decision to induct Jyotiraditya Scindia, MP, and his supporters in March. “We have always fought feudalism, and the person against whom we had been struggling for years is now in the BJP. It was not possible to continue there. The struggle against feudalism will now continue through the Congress,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikarwar is considered close to Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who is also from Gwalior. Interestingly, a few days before Sikarwar joined the Congress, Tomar and state BJP president Vishnu Dutt Sharma had held a series of coordination meetings with party workers in nearby Guna and Shivpuri districts. The workers were told to wholeheartedly support Scindia and his followers in the run-up to the bypolls. Sikarwar’s move, say observers, could be Tomar’s way of indicating his displeasure at Scindia’s growing clout.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sikarwar had contested the Gwalior East assembly constituency in 2018, but lost to Munnalal Goyal of the Congress. Goyal is in the BJP now, and he is assured of the party ticket to contest the bypoll in Gwalior East. Sikarwar’s entry into the Congress means he would again take on Goyal; only the poll symbols would change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the other 26 seats, too, are likely to witness similar fights. “The resentment against the Scindia camp is very much there in the BJP, and it extends from ground-level workers to top-rung leaders,” said political commentator Manish Dixit. “This internal issue is sure to harm the BJP in the bypolls. Sikarwar’s is the first big direct move of displaying the displeasure openly.”</p> <p>The first incident that hinted at the troubles in the BJP and the Congress happened two weeks ago. On August 26, the Congress sent a delegation of former ministers to Gwalior, three days after the BJP claimed that it had inducted as many as 75,000 former Congress workers in the presence of Scindia, Tomar and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The delegation’s task was to counter the claim and attack the government. But, with big leaders like Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh keeping away from the event, the Congress could not attract even a fraction of the media attention that the BJP had secured for its event.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The BJP’s show and the Congress’s response are the best examples of the political situation in the state now,” said political analyst Girija Shankar. “The opposition cannot go on pitching [former minister] Jitu Patwari against Chouhan, or [legislators] Sajjan Singh Verma and N.P. Prajapati against Scindia and Tomar, if they are serious about the polls.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The bypolls, which have to be held before November 29, are as crucial as assembly polls. The revolt of 22 Congress MLAs under Scindia’s leadership had helped the BJP topple the Congress government in March. Three more Congress legislators later joined the BJP, while two seats fell vacant after the incumbents died. The bypolls in 27 seats will now decide the fate of the Chouhan government, which is nine seats short of majority in the 230-member assembly. “Elections are won solely on management, and the BJP is far ahead in this department,” said Shankar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Dixit, Congress faces the difficult task of finding effective candidates in a region dominated by Scindia. “Digvijaya Singh has some support, but Kamal Nath does not have much hold in the Gwalior-Chambal region, where 16 seats will go to the polls,” he said. “Also, the party is unable to put the BJP government as much in the dock as they should, despite issues like fuel price hike, a collapsed economy, farmer suicides, large-scale unemployment and the Covid-19 crisis.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unrest has been brewing in the BJP after Scindia’s entry. Party veterans like Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya have tacitly made their displeasure known. According to Dixit, even Yashodhara Raje Scindia, who had welcomed her nephew’s decision to join the BJP, has not been taking part in party programmes despite being a minister from the region. Home Minister Narottam Mishra, who hails from Gwalior, has also been keeping away from events featuring Scindia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources say the Scindia issue has so touched the BJP workers on the raw that the party has decided to keep him away from the coordination meetings held by Tomar and Sharma. BJP leaders, however, say the meetings are a routine affair. “There is always a need to motivate party workers,” said the party’s chief spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya. “We also conduct post-poll meetings to analyse the party’s performance down to the booth level and discuss strategies. So nothing should be read into these meetings.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jitu Patwari said the Congress was preparing for the bypolls by strengthening its organisation and taking up issues. “We cannot make the same mistakes as the BJP, which has been putting people’s lives at grave risk by conducting mass programmes despite the Covid situation,” he said. “But if the elections were to be held tomorrow, we are completely prepared.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamal Nath said he was confident of a thumping victory. “The Congress can get, and is getting, as many leaders into its fold as it likes,” he said. “But we don’t make everything a media event. Surveys show that we are winning all seats. People may not stand with the Congress or Kamal Nath, but they will definitely stand with truth.”</p> Fri Sep 11 22:07:29 IST 2020 saffron-onslaught <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As chants of “Jai Shri Ram” rent the air after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, his supporters in Tamil Nadu were chanting for a different deity—Lord Murugan. It was the state BJP’s latest attempt to take on the DMK and Dravidian ideologue Periyar E.V. Ramasamy, and it had turned to the son of Lord Shiva for help.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It all began in June, when a Tamil YouTube channel called Karuppar Koottam posted a video allegedly disparaging the devotional song, ‘Kandha Sashti Kavasam’, which praises Lord Murugan. A slew of complaints was filed against the channel; its founder Surendra Natarajan and associate Senthil Vasan were detained under Goondas Act.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With assembly elections due next year, the BJP-led Hindu right, looking to find a foothold in the state, milked the Karuppar Koottam. A day after Natarajan and Senthil Vasan were arrested, BJP workers sung ‘Kandha Sashti Kavasam’ outside their homes. Next, they trended “Vetrivel Veeravel” (victorious vel, courageous vel) on social media, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers went from door to door pasting stickers of Lord Murugan’s vel (a divine spear), and the BJP organised a vel puja.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All these were part of an attempt to unite Hindus against those inimical to their faith; the DMK and Dravidar Kazhagam, its ideological parent, were the targets. The month-long campaign influenced many, including a 21-year-old in Coimbatore who threw saffron paint on a statue of Periyar. Though the man, a right-wing worker called Arun Krishnan, was arrested and charged under the National Security Act, the BJP helped out his family with Rs50,000.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party also took the fight to the DMK’s doorstep, asking president M.K. Stalin to explain his party’s stand on the Karuppar Koottam controversy. A defensive DMK said it was “not anti-Hindu” and that at least 70 per cent of its members were Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the right wing had been attacking Periyar for some time, it was especially emboldened after the deaths of J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi, two giants of the Dravidian movement. The victory in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the silence of the ruling AIADMK further strengthened the right-wing forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Periyar ideology is just a myth,” BJP national secretary H. Raja told THE WEEK. “He was a stooge of the Christian missionaries. He was a womaniser and there is evidence to prove this. The Dravidian ideology of Periyar is anti-Hindu. So, we will have to cut the roots of this core ideology. The DMK has turned apologetic these days only because it wants the Hindu vote.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So ingrained is Periyar in the Tamil psyche that any party hoping to make inroads into the state’s politics has to address him. Said political commentator Professor Ramu Manivannan: “To engage with Tamil politics, you have to engage with Periyar, because his ideologies have addressed a wide spectrum of political culture, religion and gender. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidian movement is not a political but a social movement, and Periyar was instrumental in contributing to the [growth of] reasoning.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a social movement that stands in sharp contrast, in crucial aspects, to what the sangh parivar has been preaching. “Rationalism is the reason the RSS hates Periyar,” said filmmaker and Dravidian thinker Karu Palaniappan. “He was the man who taught us to reason out everything. But now he is being reduced to a person who was anti-God. The RSS and the BJP are doing this particularly among Hindus, using emotions to uproot rationalistic thinking.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notably, the DMK has often taken the bait. A day after Ganesh Chaturthi, when right-wingers asked why Stalin had not wished the people of the state, his son, Udhayanidhi, tweeted a picture of a clay Ganesha with a garland. He got trolled. Later, he explained in a two-page statement: “I am an atheist. I did it because my daughter wanted a photo with the statue my mother had got. My mother is a believer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political observers said the young Udhayanidhi was hurting the party through such antics. It was like walking into the trap the BJP had set.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“This will only lead to a disaster as we could lose the minority and dalit votes,” said a senior DMK leader close to the Stalin family. He even took up the issue with Stalin. “He told me that everyone says we should reply to these issues. But he is firm that these are not required, as it might hamper the prospects of the party during elections.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, Udhayanaidhi put out an explanation for his Ganesha tweet only because Stalin had told him he was wrong. The scion, said party sources, is known to clash with his father at times. Incidentally, on the day of the Ganesha tweet, Stalin had sent out two statements against the Union and state governments, but these did not get enough attention because of the tweet. Sources said Stalin, who has been waiting for years to become chief minister, is most worried about his son.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another headache for the DMK is that many volunteers of strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC (Indian Political Action Committee), which is helping the party’s campaign, have quit in recent weeks. The reasons for doing so are unclear at the moment. Recently, though, Kishor had met Stalin in Chennai, and had reportedly asked him to rein in Udhayanidhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has used such distractions shrewdly. During the pandemic, senior leader V.P. Duraisamy and Thousand Lights MLA Ku Ka Selvam joined the BJP. Selvam’s was a highly embarrassing defection, and the BJP celebrating it only signalled that all was not well within the DMK. Sources in the party said that the rise of Udhayanidhi and his friend MLA Mahesh Poyyamozhi has been at the expense of party seniors, many of whom are miffed. According to BJP sources, several DMK leaders, including E.V. Velu and S. Jagathrakshagan, are said to be in talks with the saffron party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, it was Udhayanidhi’s move to make political novice Chitrarasu the party’s Chennai west district secretary that drove Selvam away. While Selvam does not have a cadre following, his defection did hurt the DMK in the battle of perception. “Selvam is like a child. He was shown a piece of chocolate and he left,” said Udhayanidhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP, which has under 3 per cent votes in the state, has been working overtime to poach DMK leaders, including the senior ones. “We are talking to many people in the DMK,” said recent jumper Duraisamy. “At least 40 of its MLAs and MPs will soon join our party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>DMK insiders said the BJP had been approaching every MLA, MP and district office-bearer through powerful industrialists in the region. “They have sent feelers to at least 45 of our district functionaries in recent days,” said a DMK MLA who also got an invitation. He said the BJP had been poaching DMK members who were fighting legal cases.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And the BJP is unlikely to relent anytime soon. In fact, if it wants to make an ideological dent in the prevailing political thinking in the state, it might even have to strengthen the vitriol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid all this, there have also been changes in the DMK hierarchy. Party leaders Durai Murugan and T.R. Baalu were recently elected as general secretary and treasurer, respectively.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK has also intensified its campaign against Hindi imposition, following an incident in mid-August; a Central Industrial Security Force personnel reportedly asked DMK MP K. Kanimozhi if she was Indian after she did not speak to him in Hindi. A month later, T-shirts with anti-Hindi imposition slogans are selling like hot cakes among celebrities and the public in Tamil Nadu. The AIADMK has also taken up the cause, strongly opposing the new education policy. On September 7, in a letter to Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, Tamil Nadu Higher Education Minister K.P. Anbalagan said Tamil Nadu would continue with its two-language policy, which had already proven successful.</p> Fri Sep 11 19:29:32 IST 2020 my-aim-is-to-win-150-seats-in-2022-assembly-polls <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Many were surprised</b> by Chandrakant R. Patil’s appointment as president of Gujarat BJP. The three-time Lok Sabha member is believed to have been handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Patil, 65, is the first non-Gujarati to assume the post. He, however, calls himself a Gujarati, and it seems few can disagree. He won from the Navsari Lok Sabha seat in 2019 by a margin of 6.89 lakh votes.</p> <p>The Congress has been highlighting an old issue in which Patil was suspended as a police constable for his alleged proximity to bootleggers. But he is undeterred, and is meeting party functionaries and travelling to different regions. In an exclusive interview, Patil talks about his new responsibility. Excerpts:</p> <p><b>Q/What are your priorities?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>To further strengthen the Gujarat state unit’s organisation, which is already strong, make the model acceptable and ensure that it is copied and discussed in all states like the Gujarat development model. The organisation that can win maximum number of elections, seats with the maximum margin, and take policies of the state government to the masses, and can be called the best organisation.</p> <p>If you win, you form a government, make leaders, enable masses to get the fruits of various schemes and based on it you again face an election. This is a cycle; you cannot break it.</p> <p><b>Q/What are the challenges before you and the BJP in Gujarat?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I have been lucky that I have got a responsibility that does not have a challenge. The party’s organisation has the strength to face any challenge. All the units of the party are like gold; they only have to be given shape so that they look even better.</p> <p><b>Q/What are your goals as the state party president?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The only aim is to win 150 seats in the 2022 assembly elections. I cannot disclose how I plan to do this.</p> <p><b>Q/You recently said that the BJP should not rely on those who had come from the Congress to win elections.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>If BJP workers do not want people from the Congress or other parties to come to the BJP, it is their responsibility to ensure the victory of a candidate. If that happens, Congressmen will not have a reason to join the BJP. There will not be a reason to bring them in. I am confident that in the days to come we will create such a situation.</p> <p><b>Q/Is the Congress a challenge for you in Gujarat?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Not at all. Not only in Gujarat, it is not a challenge in the country.</p> <p><b>Q/What about Hardik Patel, who was recently appointed working president of Gujarat Congress?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>In the past, he has not helped the Congress win a single seat. In Surat, he did make efforts and said they would win eight to 10 assembly seats. The Congress did not win a single seat and the margin of the BJP increased. We, in fact, benefited because of Patel.</p> <p><b>Q/You are tagged as the first non-Gujarati to become state BJP president. How will you get rid of that tag?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>I have been in Gujarat all my life. Gujarat and Maharashtra were one when I was born. Just on the basis of the surname how can you call someone non-Gujarati? I am a Gujarati. When you do not get any issue to talk about a person, you raise such issues. Look at the merit. I won the Lok Sabha election with the highest margin in the country. Had this been an issue, I would not have won. The Congress president is from Italy. She is not even an Indian. But if C.R. Patil is made Gujarat BJP president, you have a problem. They fear that I will finish them.</p> <p><b>Q/Your appointment came as a surprise to many.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>There has been a mindset that the person should be of a particular caste and from a particular area. The media also thinks on those lines. For them it is a surprise. The BJP gives responsibilities to the workers and I have been a party worker for 30 years. The way partymen from different regions are coming and greeting me shows that they have faith that I will do something new.</p> <p><b>Q/Your past as a police constable is being highlighted after your appointment.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The way I am being portrayed reflects their fear. They should talk about my electoral fights. They blabber when they do not have any concrete issues to raise.</p> <p><b>Q/How will you coordinate with the state government? There are rumours that some ministers do not listen to party workers.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>The ministers have worked in the party’s organisational structure for years. They do know the problems of the organisation. We also understand the problems of the state government. We understand that every demand cannot be fulfilled. In such circumstances, one needs to chalk out a common minimum programme and problems of the masses should be resolved.</p> <p><b>Q/Do you intend to give less prominence to those who have come from other parties?</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>When a person resigns from one party, it is apparent that he has had problems in that party and does not see a political future there. He does not join the BJP as a Congressman. He comes as a neutral person. And if he is given a ticket, he has to prove his capabilities by winning the election.</p> <p><b>Q/There has been discontent within the BJP. Partymen want original BJP leaders to get tickets.</b></p> <p><b>A/</b>Only those with the BJP are being given tickets and it will be so in the future also. The newcomers have become BJP workers. &nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 16:51:47 IST 2020 rversal-of-fortunes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>A day before</b> he was sworn in as Kerala chief minister in 2016, Pinarayi Vijayan held a media conference. He advised everyone to be careful of certain “avatars”—crooks who claimed they were close to the government, and used it as leverage to strike illegitimate deals.</p> <p>Vijayan, apparently, did not heed his own advice. With assembly elections less than a year away, it has landed the government in a spate of controversies that led to a no-trust motion in the assembly. The government defeated the motion, but not before Vijayan was compelled to speak for hours defending his government.</p> <p>Barely a few months ago, the Left Democratic Front led by Vijayan was hailed by national and international media for its efficient handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The social welfare measures initiated by the government during the lockdown were also praised as a model of good governance. The government’s good performance had the opposition rattled. A survey held at that time predicted that the LDF would return to power after the assembly polls, breaking Kerala’s 40-year tradition of not re-electing an incumbent government. The survey said 86 per cent of respondents wanted Vijayan as the chief minister.</p> <p>But all that is old story now.</p> <p>A series of controversies are eroding the government’s credibility. It all began with the seizure of 30kg of gold from a consignment addressed to the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The smuggling case soon became a political hot button when it was revealed that the main accused in the case, Swapna Suresh, had links with M. Sivasankar, principal secretary to the chief minister. The opposition alleged that Swapna was one of the “avatars” who had considerable influence in the government. Though Vijayan removed Sivasankar from the post the day after the scandal broke, the damage had been done.</p> <p>The National Investigation Agency, which is probing the case, has twice questioned Sivasankar in connection with the smuggling case. The customs department and the Enforcement Directorate have also questioned him. There is no evidence that links Sivasankar to the case, but it is clear that he has close ties with Swapna. And that has been enough to put the LDF government under a cloud of suspicion.</p> <p>“Sivasankar may not have anything to do with gold smuggling,” said N.M. Pearson, a political observer known for his left leanings. “But it is a huge embarrassment that the secretary to a chief minister belonging to a left party has got involved in such a nasty case.” According to him, the incident shows the “depoliticisation” of left parties.</p> <p>The smuggling case led to more skeletons tumbling out of the LDF government’s closet. Higher Education Minister K.T. Jaleel, a prominent Muslim face in the government, was accused of accepting money and ‘gifts’ weighing 4,000kg from the consulate in March. The minister said the gifts were copies of the Quran, but the opposition alleged that some of the packets contained smuggled gold. The ED has already started an investigation into the matter.</p> <p>The Life Mission, the government’s housing scheme for the homeless, is also embroiled in allegations. Swapna, who earlier worked at the consulate, allegedly received kickbacks for an apartment project sponsored by Red Crescent. The government, however, has denied the allegation.</p> <p>“It is ridiculous to raise such allegations against a project that has built homes for more than two lakh people across the state,” said M.B. Rajesh, CPI(M) leader and former Lok Sabha member. “All these allegations are meant to just hoodwink people. Once the smoke clears, people will see the good deeds done by this government.”</p> <p>The government, however, has been lurching from trouble to trouble. It had long been opposing the Union government’s move to lease out the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport to Adani Group, and had even enlisted the opposition Congress’s support in the effort. Recently, though, it was revealed that a legal firm that had links to Adani Group had served as consultant to the government on the matter.</p> <p>That these violations happened under his nose will be a matter of regret for Vijayan. “Yes, he is hurt because he had trusted Sivasankar absolutely,” said a source close to Vijayan. “Even when others pointed fingers at the latter, the chief minister trusted him because Sivasankar had such a blemish-free track record.”</p> <p>The source, however, insisted that the controversies had not affected Vijayan personally or officially. “His routine is the same,” he said. “All work is happening per schedule. Only that there is more caution these days. He is a fighter and he has survived worse battles.”</p> <p>Vijayan’s recent losses have been opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala’s gain. Until a few weeks ago, the towering image of the chief minister had dwarfed Chennithala and his efforts to discredit the government. It had even led to a section of the Congress demanding that former chief minister Oommen Chandy be made opposition leader. It was argued that only Chandy had the charisma to effectively take on Vijayan.</p> <p>But the smuggling case has helped Chennithala eclipse both his rivals. “The case was a golden opportunity for Chennithala,” said K. Saju, senior journalist. “He upset the moral high ground of Vijayan and the Left government, and established his supremacy in the Congress.”</p> <p>According to Pearson, the government suffers from centralisation of power. “If the LDF government has done a good job, the entire credit goes to Pinarayi Vijayan for anchoring both the government and the party,” he said. “But if something has gone wrong, the blame for that, too, should go to him. That is the price one has to pay for centralising power.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 27 16:46:25 IST 2020 no-place-like-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In June,</b> Chetan Raval from Ahmedabad was running a fever a shade under 100°F for about four days. The 59-year-old runs a business and is active in several social organisations, so he regularly comes in contact with different people. He thought it prudent to get tested for Covid-19. He tested positive. He immediately called up his doctor to ask which hospital he should get admitted to. Dr Parthiv Mehta, a pulmonologist, asked Raval to stay at home. Raval, a Congress leader, then checked with his wife and daughter. “I told them that if they were afraid of contracting the virus, I can get admitted in a hospital,” said Raval. But they both insisted that he stay at home.</p> <p>Raval’s is not a solitary case. Getting treated at home for Covid-19 has become a norm in Ahmedabad, one of the worst Covid-19 affected cities in the country. Out of about 72,000 cases in Gujarat and 2,670 deaths as on August 11, Ahmedabad has accounted for over 28,000 cases and 1,630 deaths.</p> <p>According to sources, a few thousand have recovered after being treated at home, and even more are still under treatment. These patients are being treated by private practitioners and the Ahmedabad municipal corporation’s (AMC) Ghar Seva: Sanjivani teams.</p> <p>Treating a particular patient depends on the risk factors involved like whether the patient has comorbidities, Mehta told THE WEEK. It is also important to know the proximity of a hospital to a patient’s home, in case hospitalisation is required. Equally important is the cooperation of the patient and family members. Being admitted in a hospital can be depressing for a patient, and more so when doctors and paramedics are in PPE. Hence, being at home is relaxing for the patient and the family gets real-time feedback.</p> <p>“Whenever I needed to speak to Chetan, I would call him [on the phone] or go to his room and stand at a distance, wearing a mask. He, too, would wear a mask,” said Diana, Raval’s wife. Life for Raval was otherwise normal as he exercised, drank plenty of fluids and even did some indoor chores. At his home, the house help continued to come but took precautions.</p> <p>Doctors put on PPE just before entering the patient’s home and remove it when leaving, said Dr Raj Rawal, critical care expert, whose team provides home treatment for Covid-19 patients under the aegis of Care Associates. The family then calls the AMC and the kit is disposed of. Consultations are also done through Zoom and WhatsApp calls. The patients are required to share their blood work and other reports, including X-rays regularly.</p> <p>It is also important for doctors to deal with patients carefully as they often battle anxiety. Deval Gandhi said she nearly cried when her husband, Devanshu, managing director of popular ice cream brand Vadilal, and their two daughters tested positive within a week of her doing so. “The way Dr Mehta handled us is commendable,” said Deval, adding that he was also strict with them.</p> <p>According to one estimate, more than 25 teams of doctors and private practitioners have been providing health services to patients at home in Ahmedabad since late March. These doctors have also been treating patients outside Gujarat. Rajendra Prasad Goyal, superintendent of police in the criminal investigation department in Udaipur, Rajasthan, and his 27-year-old daughter Arushi were also Mehta’s patients. Under his guidance, their quarantine period began on August 3. The father and daughter had shifted to another home while the mother and son, who had tested negative, stayed in their apartment.</p> <p>“Our daughter had a mild fever and some throat irritation for about four to five days,” said Goyal. “After she tested positive, all of us, including our 11-member staff, took the test. Except me, all tested negative.” Goyal has no symptoms and Arushi’s symptoms have gone. The father and daughter now spend quality time together.</p> <p>Remaining in quarantine may sound simple, but that was not the case with S.P. Adeshara’s family back in Ahmedabad. At the residence of this former food and drugs commissioner, he and six others tested positive. Only Meenaben, his wife, tested negative. “It was difficult. Either all seven had to get admitted to a hospital or get quarantined at home,” he said. After consulting Rawal, it was decided that the family would be treated at home. So, while all members who tested positive would move around freely in the house, Meenaben was isolated in one room.</p> <p>Their cook would bring lunch and dinner for all of them in eight different parcels. However, they did face medical issues. Adeshara’s son developed a lung infection, and they were prepared to move him to a hospital. The antibiotics, however, worked and gradually the infection subsided.</p> <p>Rawal said that in April they used to get about 100 calls a day with requests for hospital beds and so they started home service. “In fact, the AMC even pulled us up for it,” he said. “We later wrote to them that it reduces the burden on the hospitals, and that people who require aggressive treatments will get the beds.”</p> <p>The home care service started by the AMC is more than a month old now. Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said the civic body has been following ICMR guidelines. What began as a handful of paramedical teams visiting those under home care, has now expanded to 184 teams. The teams visit the patients daily or on alternate days to check on them. If need be, even a physician visits them.</p> <p>The doctors are able to judge when the breathlessness could occur or increase, said Dr Ajay Jain, a pulmonologist who treats patients at home through e-consultation. According to him, when tested positive, it is all about isolating oneself, washing your own utensils and keeping a distance from family members.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:36:05 IST 2020 heights-of-negligence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a report on the IX812 crash which took place at the Mangalore International Airport in 2010, Air Marshal (retired) B.N. Gokhale, who headed the court of inquiry, specifically mentioned the hazards of tabletop runways. They require extra skill and caution during flight operation, and the risk of overshooting or undershooting can lead to grave situations, noted the former vice chief of the Air Force, who was a Sukhoi pilot. The IX812 crash had 158 fatalities.</p> <p>A ‘tabletop runway’ is one located on top of a plateau or hill with one or both ends stopping short of a precipice. Like Mangaluru, the Kozhikode Calicut International Airport in Karipur, Kerala, also has a tabletop runway, and experts are pointing fingers at it for the IX1344 crash of August 7. The Air India Express flight, a Boeing 737-800, overran the runway, skidded off at the end, slid down 35ft and broke into two. Eighteen people, including both pilots, were killed.</p> <p>The experts, however, are asking for the Swiss Cheese Model aviation disaster probe mechanism before coming to any conclusion on the crash. The model illustrates that, although many layers of defence lie in between hazards and accidents, there are flaws in each layer (like holes in a wedge of Swiss cheese) that, if aligned, can allow an accident to occur.</p> <p>“Accidents are often caused by the confluence of multiple factors, ranging from unsafe individual acts (human error) to organisational errors, including that of the regulator,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, member of a safety advisory committee constituted by the ministry of civil aviation. “In India, all the previous layers (of cheese) are removed and we only see the final layer (the pilot).”</p> <p>The pilot of the IX1344 seems to have committed exactly the same error that caused the accident in Mangaluru. “And if it is the same airline and the same error has occurred, it points to a very serious deficiency in aviation regulation,” said Ranganathan.</p> <p>The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, India’s aviation regulator, has blamed the weather, saying that it was raining heavily when the flight from Dubai tried to touch down. The flight was supposed to land on runway 28, but due to low visibility it landed on runway 10, which is said to have had tailwinds. The wind is likely to have accelerated the flight, making it impossible for the pilots to stop it.</p> <p>Kozhikode is one of the 11 airports that were named as critical after the Mangaluru crash. Leh, Kullu, Shimla, Port Blair, Agartala, Lengpui, Jammu, Patna and Latur are the others.</p> <p>Gokhale, however, is of the opinion that there is not much to worry about tabletops if rigid safety norms are followed. He maintains that pilots should get special clearance from the regulator to land on such runways. “Besides pilots, we must look into safety issues, including friction test. In case of rain, rubber marks need to be removed quickly as they affect brakes. Friction test and rubber removal are critical on short runways,” he noted. He also recommended avoiding the downward slope in the overshoot area and a ground arresting system similar to those in IAF airfields.</p> <p>Ranganathan, who specialises in wet runway operations, is surprised that authorities allowed flight operations in Kozhikode airport during heavy rains. He said both ends of the runway had heavy rubber deposits that would result in friction being well below normal in wet conditions. There is also a marked downslope after the first third of runway 10. “These are all detrimental to safe landing,” he said. “When pilots feel that they experience poor braking due to heavy rubber deposits on the runway, there is a tendency to touch down early.” In fact, Ranganathan had even submitted images to the aviation authorities showing landings made well short of the aiming point on runway 10 at Kozhikode.</p> <p>Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Kumar jumped the gun by saying it looked like “a bad judgment call by the pilot”, harping on the point that the aircraft made a late touchdown. Indian Commercial Pilot Association has objected to his statement and demanded that Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri remove him. In the early days, the directorate was headed by aviation professionals. Of late, however, it is mostly IAS officers.</p> <p>A senior Air India pilot told THE WEEK that Mangaluru and Kozhikode airports were particularly tricky as the margin of error for the pilots was very low. “They lack the right kind of lighting required on the runway and the weather makes it worse. The rain is blinding during the night and it is like making a black hole approach,” he said. Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe, the commander of the ill-fated flight in Kozhikode, was a highly decorated veteran of the Indian Air Force.</p> <p>Sudden changes in wind pattern on approach is a common phenomenon on tabletop runways. “It makes the approach management difficult,” said another pilot, adding that monsoon conditions make it a lot more difficult. And, it does not help that at times pilots are entirely dependent on instrument indications that might suddenly change when the transition to the tabletop happens. “For example, the radio altimeter, which shows the height of the aircraft, may show 500ft, and a second later it may show 100ft because you have entered the table zone,” he said.</p> <p>In a communication to K.N. Srivastava, chairman of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, Ranganathan had pointed out that Kozhikode had been classified as Code 4E to accommodate wide-body aircraft in violation of International Civil Aviation Organization standards. “The DGCA and the Airport Authority of India are aware of this and this has been documented in detail by Arun Rao, member of Aerodromes Group-CASAC and a former ICAO head. All these reports have been ignored,” he said.</p> <p>Kozhikode and Mangaluru airports have only 75m on either side of runway when the mandatory requirement is 155m. This, however, could have been mitigated by taking extra safety features, said aviation experts. “This (Kozhikode) was an accident waiting to happen,” said Ranganathan. “They manipulated the rules to allow wide-body aircraft to operate.”</p> <p>V.P. Agarwal, former chairman of AAI, said there was no procedural error but admitted that in 2017, under pressure from the local community, wide-body aircraft was allowed to operate from Kozhikode with ‘load penalty’ (with fewer passengers than the capacity). “As load penalty operation is uneconomical for both airlines as well as passengers, efforts were made to allow full load operation by extending the length of the runway,” he said. A request to acquire additional land was made to the state government.</p> <p>The construction cost of tabletop runways is much higher compared with regular ones. “The cost of making a tabletop runway is similar to constructing a full airport at any other place,” said Agarwal. “While making the Gangtok airport, out of total expenditure of 0450 crore, the runway cost close to 0350 crore.” In Kozhikode, he said, the new land acquisition rule made the process cumbersome. It would have cost the AAI 0250 crore to extend 900ft of the runway.</p> <p>Experts say engineered materials arrestor system (EMAS), which is a bed of engineered materials built at the end of a runway to reduce the severity of the consequences of a runway excursion, is an easily available option for short runways like Kozhikode. EMAS is mandatory in many countries.</p> <p>Agarwal said as the airport was not old and the pilot was not inexperienced, other safety aspects should be investigated, including the use of rubber removal machines and friction testing machines on the runway. Rubber removal machines and friction testing machines were procured for Kozhikode, Mangaluru and Thiruvananthapuram airports after the mishap in 2010.</p> <p>In 2019, a DGCA audit had found “various critical safety lapses”, including on the runway and the apron in Kozhikode. The AAI later responded that it had complied with all suggestions. Now experts are asking if the regulator had verified AAI’s claims. “I am not saying that the pilot did a perfect job. The pilot had made an error. But the contributory factor shows failure on part of the AAI and DGCA,” said Ranganathan.</p> <p>Another concern is the narrow approach roads to tabletop runways. It came into light after the Mangaluru crash. “It was noticed and AAI procured rapid intervention vehicles to deal with such situations instead of crash tenders for faster mobility in narrow lanes,” said Agarwal. “In hilly terrains, it is not easy to expand roads. Such vehicles were stationed at Kozhikode and Mizoram airports as well.”</p> <p>Ranganathan had predicted in a tweet in February that 2020 would be a year of a fatal accident for India. “It is happening every ten years. 1990, Bangalore A 320 crash of Indian Airlines; 2000, Patna crash of Alliance Air; 2010, Mangaluru crash.” It would make sense for the authorities not to wait for another 10 years to fix the holes the safety system.&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 18:17:00 IST 2020 loss-of-vision <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The year was 1982; the venue was Karipur in Kerala’s Malappuram district.</p> <p>A huge crowd had gathered to see their long-cherished dream of having an airport in the Malabar region take wing. Welcoming guests to the foundation stone-laying ceremony was an elephant that belonged to one of the richest families in the area. The family had handed over more than 100 acres for the airport; the elephant, all decked up, was there to bring good fortune to the project.</p> <p>Little did they realise that a decked-up elephant was not enough to ward off disasters in the airport if there was no vision to support it. On August 7, 2020, the Air India Express Flight 1344 from Dubai carrying 190 people skidded off the airport’s tabletop runway while trying to land amid heavy rain. The aircraft fell 35 feet into the valley and broke into two. Eighteen people, including the pilot and the co-pilot, died and 114 were injured.</p> <p>The Karipur airport, officially called the Kozhikode Calicut International Airport, was built by razing hills. Its tabletop location makes it one of the most challenging airports for pilots, since there is no margin for overshooting the runways. At 2,860 metres, the airport’s main runway is only about 400 metres longer than the runway in Mangaluru, where a similar tragedy happened in 2010.</p> <p>“A detailed technical probe will find out the exact reasons why the tragedy happened. There could be multiple reasons. But regardless of the findings, common sense is enough to realise that, had there been a longer runway, this tragedy would not have happened,” E.K. Bharat Bhushan, former director-general of civil aviation, told THE WEEK.</p> <p>Bhushan, who retired as the state’s chief secretary, had been associated with the airport since the stone-laying ceremony. He was sub-collector of Malappuram then. Later, as district collector, he fast-tracked the completion of the airport in 1988. As DGCA in 2012, he addressed several safety concerns in the airport.</p> <p>According to him, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had long wanted the runway be extended. “But there has been no movement, thanks to local opposition to land acquisition. There have been instances where officials who had gone to survey the land were manhandled by local people,” he said.</p> <p>“This accident could have been easily averted had there been a little more vision,” said Bhushan, who is from Malabar.</p> <p>The story of the Karipur airport is one of long waits, tight purse-strings and lack of vision. The airport was first announced by Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, India’s first minister for communications, in 1953 along with 12 other airports. While all the other airports opened within a decade, Karipur had to wait till 1988.</p> <p>In fact, the idea of the airport can be traced to Ayub Khan, who became president of Pakistan. It was he who first proposed an airport in Kozhikode in the mid-1940s. He was heading the Indian Army cantonment in Kannur then.</p> <p>The Malabar Chamber of Commerce had been campaigning for an airport as Kozhikode was a commercial hub even then. The project got life when 214 acres were acquired in 1968. The estimated budget was 014.5 crore.</p> <p>But the plan remained dormant for more than a decade. After many <i>dharnas</i> in Kozhikode and Delhi, work finally began in 1982 and was completed in 1988. “It was a long-cherished dream of the people of Malabar,” said Dr P.A. Kunjappu, whose father was the “Karipur Adhikari” who owned much of the airport land.</p> <p>According to Alikutty, a former postman who has written a novel in which the Karipur airport has a central role, Karipur was chosen because of the availability of water resources. “I used to bring English newspapers for the officials from Mangalore who had come to survey land in the 1960s. At that time, the whole area was a grazing field for cows,” he recalled.</p> <p>According to K.K. Kunjalankutty, who was associated with the airport from 1970 to 2004 in various capacities, the proposal to extend the runway has been pending for more than two decades. “There had been many moves for land acquisition, but they were all scuttled,” he said. “Unless political parties who are powerful in the region come forward, there will not be progress.”</p> <p>Politically, the area in and around Karipur is dominated by the Indian Union Muslim League. IUML leaders, however, deny that they were not interested in developing the airport. They also counter the allegation that the accident happened because of the relatively shorter runway.</p> <p>“The inquiry has proved that the accident was due to the pilot’s mistake and not because of the runway’s length,” said P. Abdul Hameed, the local IUML legislator. Hameed said his party had been consistently demanding that the airport be developed.</p> <p>But the Kondotty gram panchayat, which is ruled by the IUML, passed a resolution against land acquisition for the airport in 2013. Why are IUML supporters opposing land acquisition? “That is because successive state governments and the Central government failed to come up with convincing packages for rehabilitating those who will lose their property,” said Hameed.</p> <p>IUML sources, however, told THE WEEK that a few hardline Muslim political groups were the real hindrance. “They are behind the opposition to the GAIL pipeline project and the national highway expansion, too,” said a leader.</p> <p>Amid these hindrances, a larger airport was opened in Kannur in 2018. That airport has a 4,000-metre runway—the fourth longest in the country—and is spread over 2,300 acres. It has attracted a major share of non-resident Indians from Malabar, who earlier had to depend on the Karipur airport. The situation may prompt the civil aviation ministry to shut the Karipur airport until it is modernised.</p> <p>“The people of Malappuram should realise that the Karipur airport has no future unless there is development,” said K.N.A. Khader, IUML legislator. “We got this airport after decades of struggle and we should do everything possible to develop it. This airport is so close to our hearts.”</p> <p>There could not have been a better display of this ‘bonding’ with the airport than the way the local people rushed to the rescue of passengers trapped in the aircraft. Ignoring heavy rain and Covid-19 fears, they reached the spot minutes after the mishap, and helped take passengers to hospital in autorickshaws, cars and other private vehicles.</p> <p>“As soon as we heard the loud sound, we rushed to the spot,” said Shaheer K.K., who was part of the rescue operation. “Many were bleeding heavily and we knew they had to be in hospital at the earliest.”</p> <p>Did they not think about the possibility of an explosion, as it had happened in the Mangaluru crash? “No,” he said. “All we thought at that time was how to rescue passengers trapped inside the plane.”</p> <p>Throughout the night, there were long queues in hospitals to donate blood. The airport was part of a Covid-19 containment zone, and one of the passengers who died was later found to have been infected. So the state government has asked all rescue workers to quarantine themselves. Nearly 500 people took part in the rescue operation.</p> <p>Their courage, however, has received boundless praise. Air India thanked them saying they had risked their own lives to save many passengers. “Taking a bow to humanity!” it tweeted. “A standing ovation from our hearts to the people of Malappuram, Kerala, who had showered us with kindness and humanity during the uncertain incident. We owe you a lot!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>For a safer airport</b></p> <p><i>Fill up gorges, up to the peripheral boundary; land belongs to airport authorities. Ramps can be built up to the compound wall</i></p> <p><i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Night landing can be allowed, but needs complete instrument lighting on the runway, including approach and centreline lighting</i><br> </p> <p><i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Large aircraft should not be allowed to land unless runway slope is levelled out to make minimum 3,000m of runway</i><br> </p> <p><i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Engineered Materials Arrestor System, though costly, can be used. For Runway End Safety Area, soft arrestor can be used Get high pressure rubber removal equipment like in the Mumbai airport and runway friction test equipment</i><br> </p> Thu Aug 13 18:13:02 IST 2020 first-among-equals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Shantaram Budhna Siddi</b> was in his village, Hittalahalli in Uttara Kannada district, when someone called him from Bangalore on July 23 and told him that he had been nominated to the Karnataka Legislative Council. Siddi, 55, dismissed it as a prank. More calls came, and finally he realised that he had become the first person from the Siddi community to become a legislator. Feeling humbled, he sat down with his wife, Susheela, and their two children.</p> <p>Shantaram is also the first Siddi graduate; he took his degree in economics from Karnatak University. The nomination to the upper house of the legislature, he says, was “a recognition given to my three decades of service and to the Siddi community.”</p> <p>The Siddis are an ethnic group of African descent. The Portuguese brought them to India as slaves and sold them to Muslim rulers and wealthy landlords in Hyderabad, Karnataka and Gujarat. Some became soldiers; others worked on farms and in plantations.</p> <p>The Siddis of Karnataka have lived in small settlements near the Western Ghats for generations. The settlements are spread across the five taluks of Uttara Kannada district (Karwar, Ankola, Yellapur, Siri and Mundgod), Khanapur in Belagavi district and Kalaghatagi in Dharwad district. Most of them are farmers who depend on forest for livelihood.</p> <p>Shantaram began working for the RSS-affiliated Vanavasi Kalyana Karnataka in Uttara Kannada in 1989, but insists that he is no politician. “My people are overwhelmed with my nomination as we cannot even dream of contesting an election,” he says. “The last time we saw one of our own hold a political position was when Lawrence Khaitan Siddi was elected president of Yellapur taluk panchayat. The Siddi women are getting elected to gram panchayats after the government made it mandatory for them to have at least one Siddi member. Many youth are growing politically aware. But numerically, we are a small community (of 40,000 people) and do not wield enough political power.”</p> <p>Prashanth Siddi, who has acted in more than 70 Kannada films, says Shantaram has been working for the uplift of tribal communities for three decades. “He has worked without expectations, spending from his own pocket many times,” he says.</p> <p>The last time the Siddis in Karnataka made news was when Kamala Mingel Siddi won a bronze medal in 100-metre hurdles in the 1993 SAF Games in Dhaka. Kamala was one of several Siddi children handpicked and trained by the Sports Authority of India under the Special Area Games project, launched in 1987 to identify and train children who have natural physical aptitude for athletics. The project was abruptly scrapped in 1993, leaving many recruits shattered.</p> <p>Shantaram, whose daughter is a graduate and son is a pre-university student, says the Siddis remain backward because they are mostly uneducated and landless. “The school dropout rate among tribal children is worrying. Unless we make learning a happy experience for the children, the fear of failure will keep them away from school. I hope to build hostels with better facilities. Only a handful of our youth are pursuing higher education. I want the numbers to grow,” he says.</p> <p>The Siddis were accorded Scheduled Tribe status in 2003, but it has done little to empower them. “It has not helped much as the major tribes corner all benefits. Social discrimination also forces our youth to drop out of schools,” says Jayaram Siddi, the first advocate from the community. The stringent Forest Rights Act remains a big impediment. “Small farmers are tilling small parcels of forest land,” says Shantaram. “The government must grant them land rights (title deeds) to make them self-reliant. Our people are deprived of benefits of the ST status as the guidelines to get a caste certificate are complicated.”</p> <p>Shantaram was born in a poor farming family in Hittalahalli in Yellapur. To make ends meet, he worked with his parents and three brothers and a sister in the fields of local landlords. A bright student, he stood first in class 7 and his teacher was keen that he study further. “I joined a free hostel in Ankola run by the social worker Nirmala Gaonkar,” he says. After his graduation in 1988, he returned to farm labour and was hoping to land a decent job when two RSS workers, Prakash Kamat and Ajit Kumar, met him.</p> <p>“They asked me if I would work for tribal communities, especially Siddi, which was an endangered tribe and the most backward, too, he says. “In August 1988, we set up the first tribal students’ hostel in Mundgod. Today, we have eight such hostels across six districts and our activities are spread across 18 districts. Around 52 tribal communities are part of our network and we work with 22 tribal groups.”</p> <p>The Siddis are often mistaken to be foreigners because of their appearance, but they have assimilated into the regional culture. They speak a dialect that is a mix of Konkani, Kannada and Marathi, and follow Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. The women wear sari, dot their forehead with vermillion and are experts in local cuisine. They depend on forest produce—honey, tubers or even red ants—to whip up delicacies. “The Siddis are unique and the only tribe to follow three different faiths. They all come together for the annual ‘Siddi Naasa’, where they worship their ancestors (spirits),” says Professor H.C. Boralingaiah, former vice chancellor of Kannada University, Hampi.</p> <p>The Siddis, however, still battle discrimination. “It is common for people to stare at us or touch our hair. I remember an incident in Kumta, where I was attending a shakha. I overheard two schoolboys saying a black bear had visited their school. They were referring to me, and it hurt,” says Shantaram. “But things are slowly changing. Our youth in cities like Bengaluru, Dharwad and Belagavi are finding greater social acceptance. But, if we go to smaller towns like Bhatkal, Honnavar or Siddapura, people still laugh at us. To our people, it is traumatic.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 13 19:01:36 IST 2020 grave-concerns <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a deep fear attached to the funerals of Covid-19 casualties, and the chimneys of the crematoriums in Bengaluru are alleviating this. As the electric furnaces reduce the bodies into ashes, the chimneys send out the visual proof.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Around the time Bengaluru became a Covid-19 hotspot, a few videos went viral—they showed families keeping vigil beside bodies kept on the streets, waiting for ambulances to arrive. Ambulance drivers, gravediggers and volunteers are now toiling to give proper funerals to those who have succumbed to the virus. Personal protective equipment (PPE) has become the new dress code at funerals, irrespective of religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fear often borders on paranoia. Residents near a Christian cemetery in Vishwa Nagar, outside Bengaluru, stopped an ambulance carrying the body of an 86-year-old man who had tested positive for the virus. The police and civic authorities tried to reason with them, but the residents would not budge. The family eventually buried the body in a cemetery on Hosur Road.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking into consideration all these challenges, the Karnataka government recently earmarked 35 acres outside Bengaluru as an exclusive cemetery for Covid-19 victims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Almost 90 per cent of the bodies I transported were of people above 55,” said Naveen Gowda, an ambulance driver in his early 20s, as he leaves the Hebbal crematorium. “I do up to four trips a day, sometimes ferrying two bodies on a trip.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fear generated by social distancing has evolved into a stigma towards burials and cremations. Charitable organisations like Mercy Mission are working to eliminate that stigma. Their volunteers, called mercy angels, have helped more than 200 families across religions bid adieu to their loved ones, free of cost and by following protocol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the end of the day, the elements of nature do embrace the departed souls without discrimination.</p> Fri Aug 07 11:46:22 IST 2020 the-grand-slum <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Dharavi has an</b> inherent spirit to fight all odds with its camaraderie. A few months back, in April and May, it was the hotbed of Covid-19 infections in Mumbai. And now, as on July 29, Asia’s largest slum has just three active cases.</p> <p>Incidentally, a record number of Covid-19 survivors from Dharavi are coming out to donate their blood plasma to help fellow beings. “Most of the essential services workers from Dharavi were found Covid-19-positive, and, among them, almost 75 per cent were in the age group of 20 to 50,” says Kiran Dighavkar, assistant municipal commissioner of G/South ward which comprises Dharavi. “They did not have comorbidities, and hence, their plasma was found to be good with a high load of antibodies [that can be used for plasma therapy to treat the infected]. All the 2,100 discharged patients were asked if they were willing to donate their plasma, and almost 400 to 500 agreed.” The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation authorities have identified 50 to 60 eligible candidates from Dharavi for plasma donation, and among them 15 have already donated it. “We are quite excited about the number of volunteers who are coming forward to volunteer for this effort,” says Dighavkar.</p> <p>The snaking roads of Dharavi now wear a particularly clean and refreshing look. Its narrow, confined alleys look freshly washed, and its heaps of garbage have disappeared. Almost everyone wears mask, and the slum seems unusually quiet with fewer people around.</p> <p>Crouching outside her tenement, Lakshmi Kamble, a third-generation resident of Dharavi, lauds the aggressive cleaning and disinfection efforts that happened in the area. “Because of one virus suddenly everyone seems to be taking interest in Dharavi,” she says. “Why did they neglect and ignore us for so long?”</p> <p>Covid-19 reached Dharavi on April 1, when a 56-year-old man died on the very day he tested positive for the coronavirus. Soon, the numbers spiked and contact tracing became an enormous challenge for the authorities. “[In Dharavi,] a community toilet is usually shared by 300 to 400 people. That one factor was enough to strike off the concept of contact tracing, as was being applied elsewhere in the city,” says Dighavkar. What followed then was an aggressive effort of proactive tracing, tracking and testing through multiple fever camps, and prompt acquisition of facilities for quarantining and isolating patients.</p> <p>At the time when the pursuit of the virus was at its peak in April, there were only eight health posts in Dharavi, each manned by an assistant medical officer and a few nurses, and supported by 200 community health volunteers and 50 odd coordinators. This was not enough for the densely-populated slum. More hands were needed in distribution of essentials, too. And, that is where Dharavi’s strong community engagement came into the picture.</p> <p>At a time when most private clinics and hospitals remained shut in Mumbai, 24 private doctors based in Dharavi came forward to lend a helping hand to fight Covid-19. They screened close to 48,000 people within the first week itself in six high-risk zones. And an additional 350 clinics, which had shut down, started screening people for Covid-19, and they coordinated their efforts via WhatsApp. “We thought it was better to serve our own people than remain cooped up indoors,” says Dr Yusuf Khan, president, Dharavi AYUSH Doctors’ Association. “The people here believe us. So, when we say that ‘yes, you must get quarantined’, people obey.”</p> <p>As with doctors, the BMC also got abundant volunteers to do the legwork for various other things. “People from within the community came forward to work for the community, and manpower was never an issue,” says Vanessa D’Souza, who helms the NGO SNEHA that works with the residents of Dharavi. The World Health Organization, too, lauded this very aspect in Dharavi’s fight against Covid-19. “Children, almost 50 of them, from the community came over asking for work, and we paid them 1300 per day for distributing food,” says Dighavkar. “We had no shortage of manpower; when we advertised for 50 ward boys, 450 people queued up outside my office.”</p> <p>Money, too, was available as a number of people, including many celebrities, contributed towards salvaging the crisis in Dharavi. “Everyone wanted to donate to Dharavi only,” says Dighavkar. “We acquired a few private hospitals in the area, including the 51-bed Sai Hospital and Prabhat Nursing Home, and a number of other facilities including lodges, hostel rooms, marriage halls and hotels. So, logistics was never an issue, and we were equipped to have an instant end-to-end solution in Dharavi itself from treatment to discharge.” By the first week of June, a 200-bed hospital was set up complete with oxygen supply machinery, some of which were donated by Bollywood celebrities.</p> <p>Measures such as appointing community coordinators from within Dharavi to be in-charge of sealed-off containment zones worked well, too. “There was a sense of belonging and ownership among these coordinators, and that is why we observed that there was strict adherence to rules,” says D’Souza.</p> <p>After witnessing high numbers in April and May, it was only on and after June 3 that the community started witnessing a dip in Covid-positive cases. And, now, Dharavi is inching towards zero active cases. But the fight is not over.</p> <p>“It is too early to celebrate,” says Vinod Shetty of ACORN India. “The government can now seriously think about upping the hygiene and sanitation levels in Dharavi so as to improve the living conditions of people there.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 17:20:39 IST 2020 a-hero-lives-on <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Not even death</b> could stop Anujith from caring for his fellow beings. The 27-year-old from Kerala’s Kollam district crashed his motorcycle on July 17 while swerving to save a pedestrian; he succumbed to his injuries three days later. But Anujith’s heart now beats in another man’s body, his arms went to a young boy who lost his hands in a mishap, his small intestine now functions in a young woman, his kidneys have saved the lives of two people and his eyes have given new light to two others. The magnanimity of a single donor has transformed the lives of seven recipients.</p> <p>Anujith had registered himself as a donor with Mrithasanjeevani, Kerala government’s organ transplant programme, and had made his family and friends promise that they would donate his organs in the event of his death. “He always lived for others. He had made me swear that I would donate his organs,” said Anujith’s wife, Princy. “It was my duty to fulfill his wishes.”</p> <p>Anujith’s sister Ajalya echoed the same sentiments. “I am sure this is what my brother wanted. He would be very happy now,’’ she said. But fulfilling Anujith’s wishes was not easy for them because of the increasing number of Covid-19 infections in Kerala. “We tried our best to convince them that it was not advisable to do this in the time of Covid. There were many technical and medical issues involved to do organ transplants during this time,’’ said Dr Noble Gracious, nodal officer of the Mrithasanjeevani programme.</p> <p>Another problem was that the eligible recipients were spread across the state, while Anujith’s body was in Thiruvananthapuram. “But his family and friends were determined to see to it that Anujith’s organs reached the needy. It was very rare to see such commitment,’’ said Gracious.</p> <p>The family and friends approached Health Minister K.K. Shailaja’s office for help. After she alerted the chief minister’s office, permission was granted to use the police helicopter for transporting the organs. Covid tests were subsequently performed for Anujith, the intended recipients and the medical staff involved. All, luckily, tested negative.</p> <p>After a five-hour-long surgery, the heart, the hands and the small intestine were airlifted to Kochi. One kidney was transported to Kollam, while the second kidney was transplanted in a patient in Thiruvananthapuram. The corneas, too, were donated to patients in the capital.</p> <p>Anujith’s heart started beating in the body of 55-year-old Job Mathew (name changed as per protocol) after a four-hour-long surgery. Mathew has been suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy since 2012 and his heart function was reduced to 15 per cent. “We don’t know how to thank Anujith and his family. We want to meet them once my father is out of hospital,’’ said his son. The patients who received Anujith’s forearms and small intestine are also recovering well. Doctors said hand transplants were rarely performed because family members of the dead usually did not like to see the body without hands.</p> <p>“All the patients are doing well and have been shifted out of ICUs, thanks to the coordinated effort of the medical teams involved in the mission. But none of this would have happened without the love and determination of Anujith’s family and friends. This is an unforgettable experience in our professional lives,’’ said Gracious.</p> <p>Anujith’s friends and family said there was no better way to honour a person like him who always lived for others. “He was a rare soul,” said Ajith, one of Anujith’s close friends. “There is not a single person in our village who had not received some help from him.’’</p> <p>No wonder help came pouring in following Anujith’s accident. It was friends and acquaintances who took care of the expenses during his hospitalisation and burial. Now they are trying to repay the loan he took last year to build his house.</p> <p>Saving lives, in fact, was nothing new to Anujith. Back in 2010, he saved hundreds of lives when he stopped a local train by waving his red school bag after he found a crack on the tracks. Next day, the picture of him carrying his tattered bag was carried by all newspapers. “I saw the reports and admired this guy who saved so many lives,’’ said Princy. Admiration turned gradually into love, but religious differences stood in the way. The young lovers, however, did not budge and got married despite the challenges.</p> <p>“We had just begun our life,” said Princy. “He was such a nice soul, helping everyone around him. Why did this happen?’’ Speaking of her husband’s sacrifice, Princy believes that all who received Anujith’s organs will turn out to be healthy. “I want to meet all of them, especially the person who received his hands. I want to hold those hands,’’ she said. Gracious said the meeting might happen once the recipients had recuperated fully. “What is more important is the fact that the donor’s family comes to terms with the loss. Such meetings are quite emotional for both the donor’s family and the recipients,’’ he said.</p> <p>Princy, meanwhile, tries to find solace in the fact that Anujith’s heart is still beating. “I tell my son that his father is not dead, that he is living through many others. I do not know whether my son understands anything. But what I said did make him smile,’’ she said.</p> <p>The three-year-old may or may not have understood the enormity of his father’s sacrifice. But many others certainly have. Inspired by Anujith, 110 young people from his village have pledged to donate their organs. And, as Princy would love to believe, “He is happy up there, knowing that he has helped seven others even in death.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 17:10:13 IST 2020 the-good-doctor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>In the late 1970s</b>, little Ajoy Mistry was a household help to a wealthy family in Hanspukur village in South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal. One day, he was sent to the local market to do the family’s shopping. Ajoy, who was 12, spent 10 paisa on a sapodilla plum (chikoo). The sweet taste was short-lived, as his employers thrashed him over the missing 10 paisa.</p> <p>“No one rescued me even though I was crying profusely,” said Mistry, 55. “The locals knew the story behind my thrashing, but no one supported me.” Today, the little boy is Dr Ajoy Mistry and life has come full circle. He is now seen as the saviour of the villagers who had once turned their backs on him.</p> <p>Covid-19 hit Hanspukur hard in May, a few days after super cyclone Amphan swept through South 24 Parganas. Mistry led relief operations across the area. Wearing personal protective equipment, Mistry ferried food, medicines, masks and sanitisers in an ambulance. Within a month, he reached around 4,000 patients, including pregnant women.</p> <p>Bishnupur town, under which Hanspukur falls, is a major hotspot in South 24 Parganas. The spike in cases has been linked to the large number of migrant labourers who had returned home. Pathar Pratima, Kakdwip and Namkhana are also emerging as hotspots in the district. Mistry runs a 50-bed hospital in Hanspukur—Humanity Hospital—and a clinic-cum-hospital at Pathar Pratima.</p> <p>Mistry’s mother Subhasini, 75, has been credited with founding Humanity Hospital with her meagre earnings as a vegetable vendor. Several news reports echoed this when she was awarded the Padma Shri in 2018. But, Mistry said there was more to the story than what was reported. “My mother’s hard work has always been my strength,” he said. “But the hospital was the result of my relentless struggle, [through] torture and insult. It is completely different from what people know.” Subhasini, too, said her dream of starting a hospital for the poor became a reality only because her second son became a doctor.</p> <p>Today, the two hospitals give hope to thousands. Humanity Hospital is a government-approved Covid-19 hospital. It even has an intensive care unit, a rarity in any part of West Bengal, let alone a rural area; only half-a-dozen hospitals outside Kolkata have ICU facilities.</p> <p>Bishnupur MLA Dilip Mondal said that he held a meeting with the local administration before designating Humanity Hospital as a Covid-19 centre. “Dr Mistry agreed; we are grateful to such people as they never questioned our decision,” said Mondal. “The doctor’s story is a guiding force for all of us. Moreover, the hospital is run efficiently.”</p> <p>Mondal, who is a member of many health committees of South 24 Parganas, said: “Since this hospital has oxygen and other related facilities, we have decided to admit not only mild patients but also severe cases here,” he said. “We will shift them to Kolkata only if the situation worsens.” He added that though the hospital had necessary facilities, the administration would supplement it with more doctors and equipment.</p> <p>On July 16, when THE WEEK spoke to Mistry, he was busy treating critical patients. “We have to fight day and night to save lives,” he said. “So, it is difficult to talk to you.” The rush of patients is forcing Mistry to stay at the hospital around the clock. “More patients are coming in every day, making it difficult for me to go out with my ambulance like I did at first,” he said.</p> <p>But, he has already made a huge difference in the district. “He has travelled all over (the district) to track people with Covid-like symptoms,” said Sukumar Mondal, a panchayat member in Kakdwip. “He also gave people advice on how to cope with the disease. He gave nutritious food to poor mothers and pregnant women.”</p> <p>Said Mistry: “I have felt poverty and humiliation; it prompted me to try to make a difference in society. I could have joined a good hospital and made money, but I did not do that.”</p> <p>Mistry was four when he lost his father, Sadhan, to an abdominal infection. Sadhan had lost his land because he could not pay tax, and the family had no means of livelihood. Subhasini got Mistry a job at a tea stall as a dishwasher. “One day I broke a glass,” he said. “The owner hit me on my head and cheeks. I was crying, but the man had no heart. I also lost the job.”</p> <p>His mother then found work for him at several households. Mistakes were punished in the same manner—public thrashings. His ragged clothes earned him the moniker “dustbin boy”. While everyone ridiculed him, no one bought him clothes, said Mistry. “I belong to a scheduled caste,” he said. “Perhaps, if I belonged to the upper caste, people would have helped me.”</p> <p>The turning point came when he was admitted to an orphanage at Bishnupur. The man who ran the orphanage took him under his wing. “It was the greatness of Jyotish Chandra Ray, who I used to call uncle,” said Mistry. “He allowed me to stay at his home and study in school.” Mistry excelled at studies. “I not only used to study, I used to work in villages and go to remote places to bring many boys like me to the same orphanage,” he said.</p> <p>Meanwhile, after leaving her son at the orphanage, Subhasini and her two daughters went to Tiljala near Park Circus in Kolkata to earn a living selling vegetables. Mistry completed his schooling with distinction, cleared the all India medical entrance examination and received a scholarship from a German organisation. He moved out of the orphanage and started tutoring the nephew of a rich farmer, who was childless. He was given accommodation and food in return.</p> <p>Thanks to Mistry’s efforts, the boy who used to fail exams started scoring more than 90 per cent. His uncle was pleased and wanted to give Mistry one of his many houses in the area. Mistry saw a chance to build a hospital for the poor and put forth the idea. The man accepted, but later backtracked because his relatives felt that Mistry was trying to grab his land. “One day, they beat me up while I was going to write an examination in the medical college,” he said. As per the advice of his professors, he lodged an FIR against them. “But, they were in positions of power in the panchayat; the police did not take any action,” said Mistry.</p> <p>Instead, he was attacked again on his way to college. But this time, he retaliated. “As a result, a police complaint was lodged against me as well,” he said. As his enemies were linked to the Congress, he got the support of the local Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders. As his education progressed, he began tutoring more students to make ends meet. In the early 1990s, he bought a small patch of land in the village. The CPI(M) leaders told him that they would build a hospital and name it after his father. But, he refused. “I told them I have no desire to name it after my father and it would only be for humanity,” said Mistry.</p> <p>He built a thatched-roof hut and brought his mother to stay with him. By that time, his elder brother had started a small business and his sisters were married. On December 31, 1992, while he was still in medical school, he declared he would see patients free of cost from his hut. It made local communist leaders angry. The potential threats were dealt with when, with the help of one of his professors, Mistry brought then health minister Prasanta Sur to lay the foundation stone of the hospital.</p> <p>Soon, he received donations from many people and was able to build a permanent structure. He completed his MBBS from Calcutta Medical College and Hospital in 1995 and his MD from the same college two years later. Many of his former professors also began frequenting his hospital as guest doctors. It took 20 years to get the hospital going in full swing. However, he could not save his elder brother who had congenital heart disease. He refused to undergo surgery as he felt it was too risky and died two years ago.</p> <p>What about the people who called him “dustbin boy” or thrashed him? Mistry said he sees them looking at him while he is working. “Some give threatening looks,” he said. “Others have apologised, but I tell them they are not guilty. I was the victim of a society which taught them to do so.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 30 17:05:11 IST 2020 we-will-avoid-the-politics-of-opposing <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVER SINCE</b> he launched the agitation in 2015, demanding quota for Patidars, Hardik Patel has been in the limelight for his fiery speeches and the sedition charges levelled against him. He openly supported the Congress in the 2017 Gujarat assembly polls and joined the party in 2019. Now, Patel, 26, has been appointed working president of the Gujarat Congress. Apparently, this was done to clip the wings of president Amit Chavda, who is considered ineffective, and also to infuse new blood into the party. Patel’s elevation also aims to balance caste equations. While Chavda is an OBC leader, opposition leader Paresh Dhanani is a Leuva Patel and Hardik is a Kadva Patel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Patel talks about his challenges and plans:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Were you expecting to be appointed as state working president?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It happened suddenly so I was a bit worried, too. It is necessary to shoulder this responsibility as, perhaps for the first time in its history, the party has given this [role] to a 26-year-old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For me, it is not happiness. It is a responsibility. I will surely succeed. But, for this, I will have to start work from now. My target is to have 50 strong youth in each of the 16,000 villages of Gujarat. They should fight for the party, die for the party. They will be used in the 2022 assembly elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We will also keep away from the politics of ‘opposing’ and focus on solving problems. For example, if there is an electricity problem in a village, we do not have to go there and hurl abuses at Narendrabhai (Prime Minister Modi) or the Gujarat government. The idea is to see how the government solves the problem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If someone asks about the growing unemployment, I would say that it is because of the wrong policies of the government. First fill up three lakh posts that are vacant; that will help three lakh families.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you feel?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ It is nice that a farmer’s son has got this opportunity after just five years of public and social life. It is a big thing that Rahulji and Soniaji have kept faith in me. Priyankaji has also supported [me]. When I met Soniaji, she told me, “Youth like you are needed in the party.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the challenges you face?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The biggest challenge is to bring people (into) the party. My first responsibility is to bring in youth between 18 and 24. They have never seen Congress rule.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What else do you plan to do?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Politics is of two types—table and field. I am not one for table politics. I will go to villages. I will sit on someone’s cot and eat and sleep at someone’s place. If I speak to them, I will get to know the real issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is necessary to bring back enthusiasm among the youth by winning all the seats in the byelections. (Byelections to eight assembly seats are likely to be announced soon). It will also be about giving prominence to the party worker who has been fighting the BJP rule for 30 years. He may be weak, financially and socially. But give him an opportunity as he has remained with the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Gujarat model of development is being highlighted. Do you agree with it?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ There is a need to prepare a list of problems in Gujarat. When you are part of a television debate, and if a minister says that Gujarat has witnessed development, then we should show details about villages that have not been developed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gujarat’s health care infrastructure stands exposed during the Covid-19 [pandemic]. There was no need to kill [gangster] Vikas Dubey in an encounter. Instead, he should have been admitted to Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital. His last rites would have been done and nobody would have known. Things are that bad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is health care the only sector that is lacking?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Look at education. It is the primary responsibility of the state government, and more than 170 schools have shown very poor results [in the recent state board exams]. What development have you done? If you say that you have made bridges and a riverfront in Ahmedabad, then that is not development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If laying roads in Ahmedabad and Surat is the definition of development, then what will happen to the people in villages? Development means progress for each person. [Enough development that] he gets good money for his yield in the fields, does not need to take a loan and can marry off his children. If parents spend 80 per cent of their money on children’s education, then the children should have jobs. Where are the jobs?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ The Congress does not accept outsiders easily.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Even in a house, children have a difference of opinion with their parents. Yet they stay in the same house, eat together, sleep together. My case is similar. We will discuss, fight, work for the people and form a government. I do not believe in factions or camps. My faction will be that of the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would like to tell the masses that they have reposed faith in the BJP for 30 years in Gujarat, and yet there are issues. At least put your faith in the Congress one time. Send us back to the opposition if we fail. We do not have public relations companies. We will go to the villages and solve problems faced by the people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Do you think the cases against you can damage the Congress?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ They will send me to jail. They will not allow me to contest elections. [But] they will not be able to take my life. They cannot take away my courage and determination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How will you stop more Congress MLAs from joining the BJP?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ A mother keeps a child in her womb for nine months, the parents bring up the child and still they are sent to old-age homes. If a mother cannot read her children’s mind then we also do not have that capability. We need people who speak up, who can go into the chief minister’s chamber and fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some state Congress leaders are unhappy with your appointment.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Half an hour before my appointment was announced, all the senior leaders called to wish me. They said the party had done some good for the first time.</p> Fri Jul 24 10:53:13 IST 2020 on-a-temple-trail <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>IN THE 1850s</b> or so, a series of unusual events rocked Perumallapadu village on the River Penna, which empties into the Bay of Bengal. One day, the village, which was then part of the Madras Presidency, woke up to the news of a village elder’s death. Mourners carried Vemana Narsapa Naidu’s body to the cremation grounds outside the village. Legend has it that, just before lighting the pyre, a relative whispered a few words in his ears as per Hindu custom. Suddenly, Naidu sprung back to life. He then told the mourners that he had received divine instructions to restore a Shiva temple built by Parasurama. In the years that followed, Naidu reconstructed the temple, which came to be known as the Sri Nageswara temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He restored the temple, dug a koneru (pond) and reared a tamarind grove with his property. The temple is in the shape of a tower. Nandeeswara is installed in front of this temple,” reads an excerpt from a 1961 manual, which is in the possession of the state archaeology and museums department.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lore has it that around 60 years ago the Penna river changed course after a flood. The temple itself was buried by the sand and debris carried by the floodwaters. The floods forced the villagers to shift 1km away. Over time, the 800-odd villagers forgot the location of the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cut to 2020. Till early this year, Potugunta Vara Prasad was busy developing software at an IT firm in Stockholm. And then the pandemic struck. Prasad, 36, was given the option of staying put in Sweden or returning to India and working from home. He chose the latter, wanting to be with his parents, wife and son in Perumallapadu, in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Growing up, Prasad, like most of the villagers here, had heard the legend about the temple. “Deep in my heart, I always wished to see the temple. I wanted to find it in my lifetime,” said Prasad. While Naidu’s decision to restore the temple was a divine calling, Prasad decided to look for the temple after his spiritual guru from the adjoining village told him to do so around five years ago. Every time he visited the guru, he would remind Prasad about the temple. Prasad, perhaps, never had the time earlier, but the pandemic provided him with the perfect opportunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On his return from Stockholm in March, Prasad quarantined himself for a month. Like him, around 50 young men had returned home owing to the pandemic. “After the quarantine period, I felt lively, meeting my friends, family and walking around the village,” he said. “We spent the initial days playing cricket and gossiping.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, Prasad broached the topic of the temple with the young men. When he got their support, he approached the village elders. “They had a lot of doubts. I came back with a plan and presented it to them,” he said. “Then we sat together and brainstormed. Finally, there was a consensus on going ahead with the excavation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the villagers, previous attempts to find the temple had failed, and they had little hope of success this time, too. Nonetheless, Prasad, like Naidu, decided to fund the exercise. “We approached the local endowments department and sought permission,” said Mannem Manohar, 21, an engineering graduate who had returned to the village from Nellore city. He was part of the group that held discussions with officials. “We explained the importance of the temple,” said Manohar. “A few days later, they gave us oral permission.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 15, the villagers gathered at the spot where they thought the temple once stood. Eyewitnesses said that the atmosphere was festival-like. Prasad’s spiritual guru was also present. An earth-mover was rented and, after an elaborate prayer session, the excavation began. Hours passed, but there was no sign of the temple. By evening the villagers were demoralised. The turning point came just as they were getting ready to throw in the towel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“A shepherd who lives on the outskirts of our village came to us,” said Manohar. “He said that we should dig at a particular spot. We did not take him seriously. But he was insistent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next morning, the villagers gathered at a new location. At around 7am, the excavation started. In an hour, a pointed structure was unearthed. It was the tip of the entrance tower of the long-lost temple. “I had tears in my eyes. It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Prasad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the villagers celebrated, the young among them posted photos and videos on social media. Soon, the posts went viral and hundreds of people from different parts of the district streamed to the site. While some wanted to click pictures, others came to pray. Government officials, too, reached the site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The area has been designated as a containment zone and such crowds cannot be allowed during a pandemic,” said mandal revenue officer Geetha Vani, who was among the first officers to reach the spot. “We held discussions with the villagers and immediately stopped the activity. We barricaded the site and secured the place so that it does not turn into a picnic spot. It is dangerous for people to go inside the structure as it can collapse anytime. We have to ascertain the facts related to this temple. We have written to the collector and endowments department.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Currently, only a quarter of the temple has been excavated. The outer walls and the top portion of the temple have sculptures of goddesses. A narrow passage hemmed in by sand mounds leads to the main entrance. There is visible damage to the structure; the woodwork and bricks are exposed. According to locals and officials, all idols and ornaments from the temple were shifted to another temple just before the floods had hit the region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, officials of the state archaeology and museums department, who were unaware of the existence of the temple, are trying to find out the age, history and the significance of the structure. “Preliminary examination has revealed that stones were not used in the construction,” said assistant director O. Ramasubba Reddy. “Only lime mortar, wood and bricks were used. This structure does not seem to have the influence of the Pallava-Chola style of architecture, which is found in other temples in this region. It is difficult to tell the age of the temple till we have a closer look at the inscriptions.” On his visit to the temple on the first day, Reddy spotted something strange. “The tiles in one section inside the temple were dug up,” said Reddy. “It is strange and we have to find out why.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The village youth now take turns to visit the site every day to make sure there are no trespassers. Prasad and his team are now waiting to discuss with officials the next step in the restoration process. Prasad came to know about Naidu’s temple restoration initiative only after the team found the structure. And, to his utter surprise, one of Naidu’s descendants—Vemana Dasaradha Rama Naidu—is his neighbour. In his 70s, Dasaradha had walked all the way to the temple when the excavation began. “It was a different feeling seeing the temple as my ancestors built it,” he said. “I faintly remember playing inside the temple as a child. My grandparents told us stories about the temple and the village, when it was situated on the riverbank. All I want to do is go inside the temple and spend time there.”</p> Thu Jul 23 17:32:25 IST 2020 capital-punishment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>On March 24,</b> the day the nationwide lockdown was announced, a video shot near Chennai’s Spencer Plaza went viral. The video showed a cop managing traffic appealing to commuters with folded hands to stay indoors even as reports came in from many parts of the country that policemen had to resort to force to enforce the lockdown.&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months later, however, the image of the Tamil Nadu police lay in tatters. The custodial torture and the death of a father and son in Sathankulam, a small town in southern Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district, has brought to the fore the flaws within the home department, which is headed by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami.</p> <p>On June 24, as massive protests broke out in Sathankulam demanding justice for 58-year-old Ponraj Jayaraj and his 31-year-old son, J. Bennix, Palaniswami was in Coimbatore, reviewing Covid relief work. “The father died of respiratory illness and the son died of heart attack,” said the chief minister.</p> <p>It all began on June 18 after Jayaraj kept his mobile phone store open beyond the permitted time during the Covid-19 lockdown. After he allegedly questioned the police, he was taken to the police station the next day. Bennix, who went to the station looking for his father, too, was taken into custody. Eyewitness accounts said Jayaraj and Bennix bled from their anuses after the police roughed them up. According to a handwritten statement from the Sathankulam government hospital accessed by THE WEEK, there were multiple marks of violence on Jayaraj’s and Bennix’s buttocks. The son had a sulcus (depression) on the right knee.&nbsp;</p> <p>“On June 20, we were asked to bring lungis for them, as they were being taken to the magistrate. They were bleeding from their buttocks,” said Rajkumar, a relative of the deceased. Jayaraj and Bennix succumbed to their injuries on June 22. The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court took suo motu cognisance of the incident and asked the revenue department to take over the Sathankulam police station. It ordered a magisterial inquiry into the deaths and instructed the Crime Branch Criminal Investigation Department (CBCID) to investigate. The CBCID arrested inspector Sridhar, sub inspectors Balakrishnan and Raghu Ganesh and eight policemen.&nbsp;</p> <p>But the government subsequently handed over the case to the CBI, prompting senior DMK leader Kanimozhi, who represents Thoothukudi in the Lok Sabha, to say that the AIADMK was trying to help the police.</p> <p>The People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has, meanwhile, written to the chief minister to cancel the order transferring the case to the CBI. “In earlier cases like the Thoothukudi Sterlite firing case and the suicide case of IIT student Fathima Latheef, the CBI probe did not go forward. Moreover, the CBI does not have the manpower and infrastructure compared with the CBCID. So, the investigation might not move forward and turn in favour of the accused,” said PUCL state general secretary K. Saravanan in his letter. The CBI’s performance in cases such as the 2009 Madras High Court attack case and the death of DSP&nbsp;Vishnupriya has invited a lot of criticism.&nbsp;</p> <p>Human rights activist Henry Tiphagne said the Sathankulam case was unusual in the history of Tamil Nadu. “For the first time ever, a court ordered revenue officials to take control of a police station,” said Tiphagne, founder of People’s Watch, a Madurai-based human rights organisation. “The judges spoke to head constable Revathy, [who gave a statement about the custodial torture], as she feared for her life for telling the truth. The police in this case had to give protection to their own constable.”</p> <p>The alleged involvement of four members of a community policing programme, Friends of Police, came in as yet another embarrassment for the police. FoP state administrator G. Lourduswami, however, said the four men were not part of the initiative and were volunteers enlisted by the local police for Covid-19 relief work. There were also allegations that the FoP at the Sathankulam station had links with Seva Bharati, an RSS-affiliated organisation. B. Rabu Manohar, the state secretary of Seva Bharati, however, denied the charges. Following the controversy, the FoP programme was banned by the government on the basis of a report by the director general of police.</p> <p>The Tamil Nadu police saw a major reshuffle after the deaths. All 24 police personnel serving at Sathankulam station were transferred out in a single order. More than 50 senior officers were transferred statewide. Thoothukudi superintendent of police Arun Balagopalan was replaced by Villupuram SP S. Jeyakumar. He will serve with S. Murugan, the new south zone inspector general. Jeyakumar was the subject of a CBI probe in the 2018 gutkha scam; Murugan is under investigation in a sexual harassment case filed by a female IPS officer.&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources in the police department said senior officers were chosen according to the whims and fancies of the ruling dispensation. A senior IPS officer, who was transferred from a high-profile post in a southern district to a low-profile post, said he did not want any prominent post under this government. “It will only add black marks to my career,” he said.</p> <p>A senior officer who was shunted out of Chennai said there was no rationale behind his transfer. “There were many differences among the DGP, the intelligence and the chief minister regarding the final list,” he said. “The transfer, I feel, was done just by rolling the dice.” Sources said the transfer file was pending with the chief minister for a fortnight, and changes were made based on requests by AIADMK leaders.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The transfers were a curious exercise,” said former DGP R. Nataraj, the current Mylapore MLA. “A particular system is followed by the home department for transfers, unlike in any other state.”&nbsp; </p> Thu Jul 16 17:26:42 IST 2020 there-is-suspicion-that-aiadmk-is-trying-to-help-the-police <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Do you think the Sathankulam case has been blown out of <br> proportion?&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I think every case of custodial torture and death should get this kind of attention. In this case, the father and son were middle-class businessmen who had no disputes with the police or anyone else. There are several other cases, which have not received attention. For instance, tribal people living outside the villages are picked up by the police when there is a minor issue… or after a protest. But we don’t get to know. At times, there are protests against such torture. Sometimes, we let it go and feel that it is justified. The brutality and the consequent actions show that this could happen to you and me, so (the Sathankulam deaths) struck a chord with a lot of people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Do you think there is a growing sense of impunity among the police in south Tamil Nadu?&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I will not say that this happens just in Tamil Nadu and that the Tamil Nadu police is wrong. This is happening across the country, but Tamil Nadu is second in India when it comes to police excesses, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. The police have to be aggressive at some point, but they have to understand that they are not the ones to inflict punishment.</p> <p>About the police in south Tamil Nadu, I will say that caste divisions in this region, particularly Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari, have been increasing because there are not many employment opportunities in this region. Despite getting a good education, the youth do not see an opportunity for a better life. This leads to caste clashes. To address this issue, [former chief minister] M. Karunanidhi appointed the Ratnavel Pandian Commission, which gave recommendations to bring down the caste clashes there. But successive governments did not take it forward.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> The Sathankulam case has been handed over to the CBI. Many <br> people, however, say the CBCID probe was progressing well. &nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ I want the investigating agency and the government to make sure that justice is done to the family. When the CBCID inquiry began, it was monitored by the court and there was pressure from the people on authorities which helped get some kind of justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> There are allegations that the ruling AIADMK is protecting the police and that the case was <br> transferred to the CBI only to save the accused policemen.&nbsp;&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The local minister from the Thoothukudi region spoke out in favour of the police and said it was not custodial death. There is strong suspicion that the ruling party is trying to help the police. But with the CBI taking over, I feel justice will be done.&nbsp; </p> Thu Jul 16 17:21:10 IST 2020 thorny-throne <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Shivraj Singh Chouhan reached Delhi for the second time in a week on July 5, the rumour mills began churning. Though the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister was “officially” there to meet Union ministers about developmental work in his state, it was widely seen as a visit to get the BJP leadership’s nod for the allocation of portfolios to his recently inducted cabinet ministers. The fact that he met with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda only bolstered the rumours.</p> <p>Apparently, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who got 11 of his aides into the cabinet of 34, apart from three other former Congress MLAs, was pressuring Chouhan for portfolios of his choice. Knowing that his loyalist ministers would have to face byelections soon, Scindia wanted departments that had a direct connect with the people, said sources. Chouhan, too, wanted these departments, either for himself or for the original BJP members.</p> <p>However, wanting to avoid a tussle, Chouhan had once again deferred to the central leadership, said sources.</p> <p>The portfolios were assigned on July 13, 11 days after the cabinet expansion. And though a balance was struck, the Scindia camp looks more dominant, having gotten the departments of its choice.</p> <p>Congress leaders were quick to point out Chouhan’s “helplessness” as a chief minister, and brought up rumours that he might be replaced, at the first opportunity, by someone like Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar or Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra.</p> <p>Political watchers, too, said that Chouhan was no longer the BJP’s supreme leader in Madhya Pradesh. The challenge for the mild-mannered Chouhan comes from within, they added. He would not only have to watch out for Scindia, but also mollify the party’s old guard.</p> <p>Chouhan would now have to prove his mettle by ensuring that the party wins enough seats in the byelections, not just to get a majority in the house, but also to get the public’s approval on the political coup that the BJP staged in March, getting 22 Congress MLAs to jump ship.</p> <p>Chouhan was somewhat of a nobody when he was made chief minister in 2005. The young leader, 46 then, clawed his way to the top strategically and confidently. He was called ‘<i>paaon paaon waale bhaiya</i>’ because of his frequent foot marches in his parliamentary constituency of Vidisha, and later became the well-loved ‘Mama’ (maternal uncle) of the masses. He continued to be on the ground, mingling with voters and speaking their language.</p> <p>Chouhan managed to win the 2008 and 2013 state elections, despite facing corruption charges in an alleged scam related to the purchase of four dumpers in 2007, and later the Vyapam recruitment scam, which got national attention.</p> <p>Even though the BJP lost the 2018 assembly elections, it got 109 of the 230 seats and a higher vote share than the Congress, despite facing anti-incumbency of three terms. The credit for this went to Chouhan’s lone campaign against the formidable Congress trio of Scindia, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh.</p> <p>However, that slim margin of loss seemed to have changed everything. “A chief minister is usually the first among equals,” said political author Rasheed Kidwai. “But with the latest developments, Chouhan cannot claim to be first among equals anymore. He had no direct role in the entire episode (the Scindia-led defection); that was scripted by central leaders and the chief ministership came to him as a favour. This is different from getting the post after leading from the front to win an election. And now, he is being made to pay a price for that. I believe that the [recent developments] might not be one-offs, but part of a list of big challenges that Chouhan will have to face.”</p> <p>He added that the byelections to 25 seats would be tricky as 14 ministers (former Congress MLAs) will be in the fray. “It is being said that the BJP might like four or five of these ministers to lose so that those left out in the party could be accommodated as ministers,” said Kidwai. “Technically, the BJP requires just nine seats to get a majority in the house, but prestige is at stake and the party might look to win about 20. In my view, 18 is the benchmark. Anything less will reflect poorly on Chouhan and the party.”</p> <p>Said political analyst Manish Dixit: “If Chouhan has to rush to Delhi [for] even such things, the situation is tough. This is the first time this is happening to him. It looks like he wants to stick to his post at any cost, which is not a comfortable situation for a leader who has enjoyed unchallenged leadership for 13 years.”</p> <p>However, he added that Chouhan had an inherent capability to bounce back from tricky situations and to best his opponents, such as BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, former chief minister Uma Bharti, BJP national vice president Prabhat Jha, or even ministers Narottam Mishra and Gopal Bhargava. “It will be interesting to watch out for his moves in this context,” he said.</p> <p>Kidwai, however, said that Scindia would be a far tougher customer as he had a direct line with the central leadership, a clear national image of his own and was quite media savvy, too.</p> <p>Looking ahead, political analyst Aman Namra said Chouhan would have to work hard to run a government made up, in part, of Congress rebels. “The rumours of Mishra or Tomar getting command making the rounds when Chouhan was in Delhi is an indicator that even if the tiger is alive, his roar does not have the same echo or his claws do not have the same power,” he said. “This time, the crown of power has more thorns.”</p> <p>Chouhan’s position, said former Congress minister Jitu Patwari, could be gauged from the fact that he did not have even a single minister of his choice in his cabinet. “This does not augur well for the state and its future looks dark if this government continues,” said Patwari.</p> <p>State BJP chief spokesperson Deepak Vijayvargiya, however, dismissed such readings. “The BJP is in no trouble,” he said. “The Congress has still not been able to absorb the shock of having the rug pulled from under it. It should pay attention to finding some stability, rather than commenting on the BJP.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 16 17:00:43 IST 2020 good-cop-bad-cop <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In August 2008, an unexpected judicial pronouncement was made at a fast-track court in Sitapur. It announced rigorous life imprisonment for 14 policemen for killing three young people in Sarsai village of Sitapur district. But it was hardly fast, for it had taken 27 years and 200 hearings for the judgment to be reached at the special court. Six of the policemen and nine of the witnesses had died by the time the judgment came.</p> <p>The Sarsai judgement is almost an aberration in a state where 6,126 encounters have taken place since March 2017, when the present government came to power, in which 122 criminals have been killed and 13,361 put behind bars. Magisterial inquiries are mandatory in all encounter cases, and only 74 have been completed so far. In all 74, the action of the involved police personnel has been held correct.</p> <p>The Vikas Dubey encounter may be just another number, but it is proving to be a problematic one in a state where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has announced that criminals who shoot at the police should expect bullets in return. In its crudest form, this is labelled the <i>thok do</i> (shoot them) policy.</p> <p>The Dubey encounter has raised many questions—the most important of which is why he would have attempted to escape when he surrendered of his own will in Ujjain. His surrender in a different state could have been prompted by the swift police action in nabbing and killing his associates while also razing his house in Kanpur.</p> <p>Those doubts will now be investigated by two bodies. The first is a three-member Special Investigative Team (SIT) that will, among other things, look into the larger networks that had ensconced Dubey despite the 60 criminal cases against him. The composition of this body, experts say, is legally unsound as section 155(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure specifies: “Investigation includes all the proceedings under this Code for the collection of evidence conducted by a police officer or by any person (other than a magistrate) who is authorised by a magistrate in this behalf.” The SIT instead is headed by a bureaucrat. Of the other two members who are police officers, one is J. Ravinder Goud, who was charge-sheeted in a suspected case of fake encounter in 2007.</p> <p>A one-man judicial commission headed by retired judge Shashi Kant Agarwal will look into the ambush at Bikaru, which left eight policemen dead on July 3, and the encounter on July 10, in which Dubey was killed while being ferried from Ujjain to Kanpur. Agarwal served at the Allahabad High Court between 1999 and 2005, after which he was transferred to Jharkhand.</p> <p>Judicial commissions in the state anyway have little impact. Take, for instance, the one-man Nimesh Commission set up to probe the police version of the arrest of two alleged terrorists Khalid Mujahid and Tariq Qazmi responsible for the 2007 bomb blasts in Lucknow, Faizabad and Gorakhpur. The commission was formed in 2008 and its report tabled in the assembly in 2013. It called into question the police version of the arrests, but remained vague about pinning any responsibility.</p> <p>Ram Das Nimesh, the author of that report told THE WEEK, “It is never in our hand to ensure what action the executive will take on a report”. The report, without any concrete findings, is believed to have earned him the chance to head yet another commission to look into the violence in Tappal, Aligarh, in 2010. This one, too, gave a clean chit to the local administration for the flare-up that left five dead.</p> <p>Kumar Askand Pandey, associate professor of law, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University, Lucknow, said that most inquiry commissions are set up to fail. “Commissions and more commissions seem to be the norm in almost all cases which point to possible wrongdoing on the part of the police,” said Pandey. “All commissions work independently with no communication among them. Thus, larger issues always remain unaddressed. In the last three years, commissions in the state have been notorious for giving clean chits. The whole matter appears very murky.”</p> <p>Vikram Singh, former director general of UP Police, said there seemed to be an ‘epidemic’ of questioning any action by the police. “I have no reason to disbelieve the version given by the UP STF (Special Task Force) and the UP Police based on my real-time exchange of fire with hazardous criminals,” said Singh. “Lame excuses are being given such as that he (Dubey) had a rod in his leg and thus could not have outrun the police…. The right to private defence by use of proportionate force is enshrined in the law and is established standard operation procedure.”</p> <p>In 2013, Mujahid died while being ferried from a court in Faizabad to a Lucknow jail. An FIR was lodged by Mujahid’s uncle against 42 policemen and intelligence personnel, including Singh, who had by then retired and was more than 500km away in Haridwar when Mujahid died. “So many policemen languish in jails and die on such trumped up charges,” said Singh. “Not one armchair activist or any member of the candle-light gang sides with them.”</p> <p>Another top cop, Brij Lal, who was then additional director general of police and later became the state’s DGP, was also named in the same FIR. Now retired and a BJP member, Lal, who is credited with bringing down 19 criminals through encounters, said: “Encounters have happened even before independence. Dreaded criminals do not yield themselves to easy arrests. They will fire till the last bullet. The police fire in retaliation.” Lal believes the police version but adds that the operation could have been better planned. “My first concern was always that the fewest number of people who needed to know about an operation should have knowledge of it,” he said.</p> <p>A group of lawyers have written to the chief justice of the Allahabad High Court on July 11, asking him to take suo motu cognisance of the alleged extrajudicial killing of Dubey and order a “court-monitored CBI enquiry of the entire incident”. The letter raises 20 important queries related to the encounter.</p> <p>Anurag Dixit, former vice president of the Central Bar Association, who co-wrote the letter, said that the state had sponsored a PIL against itself, a day later, to lend credence to its actions. “On July 12 (a Sunday) a hurriedly drafted PIL was filed before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court,” said Dixit. “This was immediately taken up on Monday and dismissed as it called for constituting a judicial commission headed by a former or sitting judge to probe the police encounter, a step which the government had already taken. The state thus has for itself a judicial nod for how it is going about to probe the matter. This also renders infructuous any other PILs in the matter till some fresh cause arises.”</p> <p>For now, however, there are enough old questions to answer in one of the state’s most dramatic encounters.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 16 16:35:37 IST 2020 golden-opportunity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On July 12, Kerala saw a car chase that would put Formula 1 races to shame. It started at 11.30am at the Walayar border in Palakkad and ended at 1pm in Aluva, Ernakulam. The route was the NH544; the distance covered was 138km. The participants were three police vehicles and a bevy of media cars.</p> <p>Inside one of the police vehicles were Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the second and fourth accused in the gold-smuggling case that shook the state earlier this month. The NIA had nabbed the duo from Bengaluru the previous night; they were about to escape to the northeast. The chase ended in Kochi after they underwent Covid-19 tests in Aluva. Both were presented before the NIA court and were remanded to 14 days custody.</p> <p>The duo has been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and had been, according to the NIA, using the diplomatic channel to smuggle gold for the past one year. The luggage that was nabbed at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport on July 4 was addressed to Rashed Khamis Ali Musaiqri Alshemeili, charge d’affaires at the UAE consulate in Kerala. The 30kg gold was “camouflaged” amid eatables. According to the customs department, Suresh had been using her contacts as a former UAE consulate official to run the smuggling network with Sarith Kumar, a former public relations officer at the UAE consulate. It is still unclear who paid for the gold and for whom it had been sent.</p> <p>Apart from the diplomatic angle, the highlight of the case is the connection between Suresh and M. Sivasankar, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s principal secretary. Though the IAS officer was immediately removed from the post, the opposition alleged that Vijayan was trying to protect him. “The buck stops with the chief minister. Removing the secretary will not be enough,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. “The chief minister is afraid that his office will be investigated, so he is trying to save face by removing the secretary.”</p> <p>Vijayan, on his part, maintained that the government had nothing to hide. “If someone has made a mistake, they will pay for it,” he said. “We will not protect anyone.” Vijayan had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting a coordinated investigation by all central agencies as the matter was “extremely serious”, and had implications for the nation.</p> <p>But the opposition was not ready to buy this, and there were protests across the state demanding Vijayan’s resignation. The Congress-led United Democratic Front has announced that it would move a no-confidence motion against the state government.</p> <p>The involvement of Sivasankar, whom Vijayan had handpicked as his principal secretary, is certainly a huge setback to the chief minister’s image. It has also led to criticism of his centralised style of functioning.</p> <p>“The issue is not Sivasankar, but the neoliberal capitalist policies being pursued by the left government,” said political observer M.N. Pearson. “All these deviations are part of that.” He added that the left government had lost its moral high ground.</p> <p>A senior LDF leader, who did not want to be named to avoid “precipitating the matter further”, said, “Sivasankar may have been a good officer, but ever since he was appointed as personal secretary to the chief minister, he had been acting in a high-handed manner. He has committed many mistakes in the past four years. But because of his proximity to the chief minister, others were hesitant to point them out.”</p> <p>Other parties in the LDF are also critical of Vijayan for not suspending the IAS officer despite the customs questioning him.</p> <p>Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders, however, insisted that Vijayan was not someone who plays to the gallery. “The government has already appointed a committee headed by the chief secretary to look into the matter,” said CPI(M) state committee member M.B. Rajesh. “Its report will be out and action will be taken accordingly. The left government has nothing to worry.”</p> <p>What it does have to worry about, some left leaders admit, is the new lease on life the Congress has received because of the case. The party had seemed listless of late, especially in the face of the goodwill the government had earned for its effective handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>As for the left, Suresh’s call records, gathered by the investigators, have further complicated matters. Among the people Suresh called was State Higher Education and Minority Welfare Minister K.T. Jaleel. The minister, however, said the calls took place when Suresh was executive secretary at the UAE consulate general office. “It was the consulate general who himself asked me to get in touch with Swapna in connection with Ramzan relief. I have nothing to hide,” Jaleel said while releasing details of the WhatsApp conversation and calls.</p> <p>On July 14, the customs department questioned Sivasankar for nearly seven hours. The agency is expected to question him again as Suresh’s call records indicate close links between them. Customs seems to be certain that Sivasankar was also close to the other accused.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the customs department, which is also investigating the case, has arrested T. Rameez, a Malappuram-based businessman. According to the NIA, Rameez is the crucial link in the smuggling case and had been doing this for nearly a decade. His family ties with Indian Union Muslim League leaders has added fuel to the already raging political fire.</p> <p>“The case has tarnished the image of the Pinarayi government, while also exposing the smuggling links of the Muslim League,” said BJP leader Sandeep Warrier. “The BJP has no political agenda in this case. But we are sure that the people of Kerala, who are fed up with both the fronts, will come closer to us.”</p> <p>Pearson agreed. “The BJP will use this case to prove that the Muslim politics in the state is totally funded by the Gulf,” he said. “Till now, all these were mere allegations, but now they will create the proof.”</p> <p>BJP president J.P. Nadda, while addressing a virtual gathering in Kasargod on the day Swapna was brought to Kochi, said, “We all know how the LDF and the UDF have joined hands to fight the idea of the BJP in Kerala, but our <i>karyakartas</i> are determined to see that, in times to come, there will be <i>kamalam</i>, <i>kamalam</i> and <i>kamalam</i> (lotus, lotus and lotus) not just in Kasargod, but throughout Kerala.”</p> <p>However, the BJP might also have some explaining to do. Customs has questioned Hariraj, a cargo clearing agency owner, on the suspicion that he had tried to get the baggage with the smuggled gold cleared at the airport. He has been linked to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Hariraj, however, has denied the association.</p> Thu Jul 16 16:30:52 IST 2020 besieged-and-vulnerable <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JULY 1,</b> Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray went to Pandharpur, a pilgrimage town in Solapur district, with his wife and son Aditya, minister of tourism and environment. It was Ashadhi Ekadashi, a holy day for Hindus. Thackeray prayed for a miracle that would help not just Maharashtra—the Indian state worst affected by Covid-19—but the whole of mankind to get rid of the pandemic. Later, he reiterated this sentiment on Twitter, saying that man was down on his knees and there was no cure for the disease, yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief minister, who had in the past maintained that the state was doing extremely well in its fight against Covid-19 and assured people victory over the virus, showed the first signs of fatigue and resignation with his entreaty for divine intervention. As of July 5, over two lakh people had been infected in Maharashtra and close to 9,000 had died. With over 84,000 cases, Mumbai accounted for 41 per cent of the total.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The heavy showers in the state’s Konkan regions could compound the problem as monsoon-related illnesses would overload the already strained health infrastructure. “Our biggest worry is how we will differentiate those with malaria, leptospirosis and dengue from those with Covid-19,” says Dr Harshad Limaye, internal medicine specialist at Nanavati Hospital in Mumbai. “We are also expecting a few cases of swine flu. The already acute bed-availability crisis might worsen anytime now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a steep spike in cases during Unlock 1, the chief minister decided to restrict movement in Mumbai. The police imposed a new rule asking citizens to move only within a 2km radius from their homes; only office-goers were exempt. The sudden enforcement of the rule caught many unawares and evoked strong reactions from those who were fined and had their vehicles seized.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party—partners in the ruling alliance—expressed displeasure that ministers from the allies, including Home Minister Anil Deshmukh of the NCP, were not kept in the loop by the chief minister’s office before asking Mumbai Police to enforce the blockade. Similarly, a 10-day lockdown was imposed in Thane, despite a difference of opinion between Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad of the NCP and the Shiv Sena’s Eknath Shinde, minister for urban development and public works. After ministers from the NCP complained to party chief Sharad Pawar that they were not being taken into confidence by the chief minister, Pawar met Thackeray and the periphery blockade in Mumbai was withdrawn. But, the chief minister was adamant that strict restrictions were needed in the corporations neighbouring Mumbai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, shortage of health care personnel is leading to extreme working conditions. “There is burnout and confusion among civilians and frontline workers,” said Swati Rane, vice president, Clinical Nursing and Research Society. “I know of a nursing hostel in Pune where bouncers were sent to ensure that nurses kept working for 12 hours at a stretch, despite their protests. The government continues to face staff shortage and many have to work for inhuman hours. IAS officers alone cannot manage Mumbai, especially when those in the wards have no idea what to do.” A structure is lacking and decentralisation is the need of the hour, she adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most experts and health activists agree that Mumbai’s Covid-19 numbers have stabilised to an extent over time. But, the relentless rise in cases in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) is adding to the city’s case load. These fringe towns, which include Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayandar, Ulhasnagar, Kalyan Dombivli, Thane, Ambernath, Badlapur and Bhiwandi, have contributed over 15,000 cases so far. “These towns do not have the infrastructure to fight a pandemic,” says Brinelle D’Souza, assistant professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and co-convener of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan’s Mumbai chapter. “Covid-19 patients from these areas are coming to the city’s hospitals and testing facilities. So one cannot actually say that Mumbai has gotten over the pandemic unless the other corporations, too, report a decrease in numbers. Right now, there seems to be a lack of coordination between MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) and the eight other corporations of the MMR, which share boundaries and depend so much on each other for human resources.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a bid to get a grip on the situation, the government deputed four IAS officers with medical backgrounds as municipal commissioners. Sudhakar Deshmukh, municipal commissioner of Panvel Municipal Corporation (PMC), told THE WEEK that 90 per cent of the infections in PMC were from Mumbai. “Residents here go to Mumbai for work and catch the infection because of lack of social distancing and spread it here,” he says. Seven of the nine municipal corporations in the MMR are now in lockdown and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is hoping to build giant Covid-19 care facilities on the city’s periphery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Additional chief secretary, S.J. Kunte, who is in charge of tackling Covid-19 in the MMR, says that this situation was expected because of the unlocking and restarting of local trains to ferry passengers for essential services. “Now, the point is to trace, track and test cases and minimise the spread,” he says. “We are trying to manage, but we have no manpower,” says Kunte. “They (doctors) ask for a lot of money to serve and we are asking corporations to pay up to Rs1.10 lakh, instead of the Rs75,000 per month stipulated by the National Health Mission. That is the only way.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On July 4, the cabinet secretary held a meeting in which he stated that the fatality rate should be brought down to 1 per cent. Mumbai’s fatality rate is close to 6 per cent; the state average is 4.49 per cent and the national average is 2.9 per cent, according to the Medical Education and Drugs Department, Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BMC had already come up with a nine-point strategy—Save Lives—on June 30 to reduce Covid-19 fatality. It includes closer monitoring of critical patients, including video surveillance by heads of units and heads of hospitals, among other aspects.”The number of positive cases are declining, but the city’s ICUs remain largely full,” says Dr Om Shrivastav, member of the state Covid-19 task force. “In the next few weeks, we will know how effective it (Save Lives) is.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important initiative has been Project Platina—a convalescent plasma therapy trial, which will be free of cost in 17 medical colleges across the state—launched by the chief minister on June 29.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as Mumbai continues to report over 1,000 cases a day, there is a silver lining. Dharavi, which was once a Covid-19 hotspot, reported significantly fewer cases at the start of July. The load has now shifted from the slums to the city’s high-rises as residents step out of their homes and get house help back in. For instance, housing complexes in the city’s D Ward, which includes “posh” localities such as Malabar Hill, Gamdevi and Nepean Sea Road, witnessed a surge in cases in June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To make things worse, even as people desperately try to save their loved ones, private hospitals continue to charge a premium for hospital beds and present the patient’s families with exorbitant bills. This has not gone unnoticed and, on July 4, Santacruz police registered an FIR against Nanavati Hospital for allegedly charging Rs2 lakh per bed per night.</p> Sun Jul 26 16:24:12 IST 2020 fatality-rate-is-high-because-of-urbanisation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AJOY MEHTA,</b> a 1984-batch IAS officer was at the helm of the Covid-19 response in Maharashtra as the chief secretary. After his term ended on June 30, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray created a new post—principal adviser to the chief minister—to keep him on board. Mehta talks to THE WEEK about the state’s fight against Covid-19 and why private hospitals continue to overcharge patients. Edited excerpts:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your take on the Covid-19 situation in Maharashtra? There are over two lakh cases now.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In one line, we are very much in control. Yes, there are some hotspots where we are working to bring down the number of cases. But, in most places we have plateaued. I would not say it is coming down, because we are also opening up. As you open up, there is bound to be an increase. But the increase should be within the control of your health system. Today our health system is not swamped [as] our reopening is calibrated. We are building health infrastructure, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Has Maharashtra entered the community transmission phase?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No. We are far from it. When community transmission starts, you will see geometric progression; 6,000 will become 12,000 the next day and 12,000 will become 24,000. Also, in community transmission, one is not able to trace the index cases. But today, we are able to trace the index cases and that, too, in containment zones and hotspots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The opposition has alleged that the government is underreporting deaths.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Covid-19 deaths must be notified under the Epidemic Act, which was not done in the rush of things when we started. Our people were involved in saving lives and that did not get reported. So, all figures were reconciled over the state. Yes, the death rate went up, but at least we have told the people the truth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The state’s fatality rate is very high in comparison with the national rate.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The rate is high because we are undeniably the most urbanised state and Mumbai has the highest level of urbanisation. And unfortunately this disease has been an urban phenomena. Social distancing in public transport is not possible today. The trains in Mumbai carry 6,000 passengers. Our offices, shops, sabzi mandis... we have just not thought about social distancing. It is a new concept and it will take time to put all these things in place. Our work ethics, social ethics and a lot of things will have to change.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Is the state nearing a second peak?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Monsoon tends to lower your immunity and brings along certain diseases, including dengue and malaria. So we are now making huge efforts to keep monsoon-related illnesses in control. Because a combination of these with Covid-19 will become deadly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>There have been instances of overcharging in private hospitals.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This situation existed about a month back; we were fighting it. Today, 80 per cent beds have been taken over. We have also got auditors now in each hospital , looking at their billing section. We also have a complaints mechanism in place and as a result we filed an FIR against the CEO of a very renowned hospital in Mumbai for overcharging patients. This is the first of its kind in the country. We have conveyed very strongly that we need everybody’s support during this crisis. And if you support us voluntarily it is fine, else we have the backing of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The 80:20 bed ratio was confusing and many hospitals came out with their own versions of it.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the start, we converted government hospitals across the state into Covid-19 hospitals. Then we made the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule insurance applicable to everybody—12 crore people. Thousands of private hospitals and 900 procedures came under that umbrella. But, hospitals were not ready to treat patients at insurance rates. That is when we asked for 80 per cent of their beds for treatments covered under the insurance. While some hospitals offered 80 per cent of the 10 per cent charity beds, others showed some beds to be unoperational.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>[We said] that we will send a person and count all the beds, and I want 80 per cent of the total beds available. So, to counter this, hospitals began overcharging with, for example, personal protective equipment costing 010,000 and other consumables. So then we fixed charges of PPE and said we could supply them to the hospitals, too, and asked them to display the rates on a board outside. So as hospitals came up with new things, we [stepped in].</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>For the full interview, log on to</b></p> Thu Jul 09 18:54:36 IST 2020 all-that-glitters <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JULY 4,</b> a diplomatic consignment from Dubai arrived at the Trivandrum International Airport. It was addressed to Rashed Khamis Ali Musaiqri Alshemeili, charge d’affaires at the UAE consulate in Kerala. The “diplomatic bag”, which weighed around 50kg, contained dates, oats, butter cookies and noodles, as per the consulate’s order. However, it also had something that was not ordered, at least officially-30kg of gold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The customs department, which had been tipped off about gold being smuggled in a “diplomatic bag”, was waiting for the recipient. Eventually, Sarith Kumar, a former public relations officer at the consulate, came to collect the bag. He was immediately arrested and remanded to custody by customs officers. It was reportedly the first time that such a case—in which diplomatic exceptions were used for smuggling—had been registered in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A diplomatic bag is used for carrying official correspondence or other items between a diplomatic mission and its home government or diplomatic, consular and other official entities. It has certain legal protections. A customs official told THE WEEK that, as per the Customs Act and Diplomatic Relations (Vienna Convention) Act, two types of objects are exempt from inspection: Articles for office use and the personal baggage of a diplomatic agent. “We had to seek permission from higher authorities to check the consignment as it was brought in as personal baggage,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Upon interrogation, Sarith Kumar revealed that Swapna Suresh, his former colleague at the UAE consulate, was at the centre of the smuggling ring and that this was not the first consignment that had reached Kerala this way. Suresh, a contract employee with the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL), under the IT department, was immediately sacked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suresh’s career has been a story of spectacular growth. She was born and raised in the UAE and apparently started her career as a front-office manager of a dance bar in Dubai. After getting married, she lived in Thiruvananthapuram for a while, but separated from her husband after her daughter was born, and went back to Dubai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She returned to Kerala in 2017, soon after the UAE started its consulate there, and was appointed executive secretary. Her knowledge of Arabic and her pleasing manners were well noted at the consulate, which is where she met Sarith, the prime accused in the case. She used to organise all major events at the consulate and invited several political leaders to these, slowly making her way into the power circles of the state capital. She was apparently close to leaders of both the ruling and opposition fronts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story took a dramatic twist when Suresh’s close ties to M. Sivasankar, principal secretary to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, came to light. Apparently, Sivasankar was a frequent visitor at her apartment, and it was after first meeting Sivasankar at the consulate that Suresh quit the job and joined the IT department on contract. She organised events and hobnobbed with leaders there, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, protocol was not followed in her appointment to KSITIL; at the time, the crime branch was investigating her for allegedly framing an employee of Air India’s ground handling crew in a sexual harassment case. Suresh is now absconding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also in the cross hairs is Sivasankar, who was also the IT secretary, one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the state; he always had Vijayan’s ear. In fact, Sivasankar’s had been one of the first appointments by the current Left Democratic Front government. “He was a surprise choice for many in the party because of his Congress connections,” said a CPI(M) leader. “But the chief minister went ahead as he was apparently impressed by the fact that Sivasankar was a good taskmaster.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The day after the gold was seized, Sivasankar was removed from both posts. However, the controversy kept snowballing. Both the Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP are baying for Vijayan’s blood. “The chief minister cannot wash his hands [of the case] by removing the IT secretary. Sivasankar was removed because the chief minister feared the investigation would reach him,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. Demanding Vijayan’s resignation, he added, “The influence of the smuggling cartel in the chief minister’s office and the nexus between politicians, government officials and the smugglers point to a grave situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has also trained its guns at Vijayan. The party’s national spokesperson Sambit Patra tweeted a photo collage featuring Vijayan and Suresh, captioning it “gold”. In the state, the BJP leadership has announced a series of protests demanding Vijayan’s resignation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chief minister, however, looks least perturbed by the developments. “The state government has nothing to hide or fear as it has got nothing to do with the case,” he said. “Sivasankar was removed from all the posts the very day the allegations came up. If he has done something wrong, he will have to pay the price for it. The left government will not try to save any culprit.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He added that he welcomed any sort of investigation by Central agencies. “In fact, we would like the Central government to investigate the case thoroughly so that all the links in this case are exposed,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His cool demeanour notwithstanding, it is clear that the controversy has tarnished the state government’s image. “Kerala is a very sensitive state, politically. Even a minor tremor could cause large repercussions,” said senior journalist Jacob George. “The controversy has come at a time when the left government has earned a good image nationally and internationally for its effective handling of the Covid-19 situation. A small drop of kerosene is enough to destroy a well-cooked&nbsp;payasam.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>George also said that the incident had given a fresh lease of life to the UDF, which was struggling to find its feet. And if there is anyone who should be especially happy about the controversy, it is former chief minister Oommen Chandy. Many have already drawn parallels between the current case and what happened to the previous UDF government towards the end of its term. There, too, was a woman—Saritha Nair—whose links with the chief minister’s office had hurt the government. In fact, it could be argued that the ‘solar panel scam’ effectively demolished the UDF’s chances of re-election. The Left Democratic Front had, at the time, gone hammer and tongs to sully Chandy’s image. The solar case is still under investigation. “I am a believer. I have no complaints,” said Chandy. “Many are praying for me.... The truth will prevail.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, amid complaints about lapses on its part, the UAE consulate in India has issued a statement condemning the attempted use of diplomatic channels for smuggling, and has promised full cooperation with customs authorities. “Smuggling has happened many times,” said a customs official. “The fact that they (consulate) never checked the weight marked on the cover of the parcel is surprising. Also, how can they send someone who is no longer part of the consulate to collect a diplomatic bag?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authorities in the UAE have also launched an internal investigation to find out who sent the cargo containing gold to the consulate in Kerala.</p> Thu Jul 09 17:53:31 IST 2020 return-game <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FOR SOME TIME</b> now, Edappadi K. Palaniswami has been trying to establish himself as a leader tall enough to take on DMK president M.K. Stalin. And yes, for a while, he seemed to have won over the people with his policies, before Covid-19 struck. In the months since, he has been accused of coming up short, especially in the fight against the pandemic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And now, he has to contend with the possibility of meeting a ghost from the past sooner than he had thought. On June 25, BJP member Aseervatham Achary tweeted: “Mrs Sasikala Natarajan is likely to be released from Parappana Agrahara Central Jail, Bangalore, on 14th August 2020. Wait for further updates.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala, confidante of former chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, was convicted in a disproportionate assets case, and has been in jail since February 2017. Her sentence ends next February.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When THE WEEK asked Achary to elaborate on his tweet, he refused, saying, “I cannot divulge anything more on this. But I am sure about the date of release.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Achary is known to be close to BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who, of late, has been talking about Sasikala’s release and how she cannot be excluded from Tamil Nadu politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala completed 40 months and 16 days in prison at the end of June. Her term is 48 months. She had done time for the case in 1996 and 2004, for 13 and 22 days respectively. However, she was out on parole in October 2017 and March 2018, for five and 15 days, first to see her ailing husband, Natarajan, and later to attend his funeral.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A prisoner is eligible for remission only after serving two-thirds of the sentence. Generally, per prison rules, a reduction in sentence is based on conduct and employment in prison. In certain states like Karnataka, learning Kannada is also taken into account. According to the Karnataka Prison Rules 1974, a convict is eligible for six days of ordinary remission a month, or 72 days a year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, at the end of June 2020, Sasikala would have been eligible for 240 days of remission. Add to this the 35 days she had spent in jail earlier, in the same case, and Sasikala should be able to walk out of jail at least 275 days before February 14, 2021, the day her sentence ends.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her advocate N. Raja Senthoor Pandian told THE WEEK: “By all means, Sasikala is eligible for a premature release. The eligibility came up in December 2019 itself. I have been continuously working for it. I met her on March 7 this year, before the lockdown began. [Since then], we have not been able to strategise as I have not met her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even if she is granted early release, Sasikala would have to pay a fine of Rs10 crore, as per the Supreme Court judgment that put her in jail. Also, the allegations that Sasikala had bribed prison officials for preferential treatment, which IPS officer Roopa Moudgil had levelled, could also come up while Sasikala’s release is being considered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are ready to pay the fine of Rs10 crore whenever we are asked to,” said Senthoor Pandian. Regarding allegations made by Moudgil, he said that the enquiry committee set up to investigate them, headed by IAS officer Vinay Kumar, had found no violation of prison rules.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Regardless, another stumbling block for Sasikala would be the Karnataka prison guidelines of 2014, which do not allow for the early release of a person booked for an economic offence, along with a handful of other crimes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, in an RTI reply to Bengaluru-resident T. Narasimha Murthy on June 6, the office of the chief superintendent of prisons said that “Multiple norms are encompassed to calculate the date of release for any given convict prisoner. For example, the date of release changes based on the fine payment status. Hence, we are unable to provide you with a precise date of release.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In October 2019, while handing over the sanction papers to prematurely release 140 lifers at the Parappana Agrahara prison, N.S. Megharikh, then Karnataka DGP (prisons), had told a television channel, “The prisoners now being released belong to a different category of convicts; Sasikala was different as she was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, he was implying that the tag of “good conduct” would not be enough for Sasikala’s early release. Commenting on social media posts that hinted at Sasikala’s early release, he had said, “These are all motivated and false news.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senthoor Pandian, however, insisted that any prisoner who has completed two-thirds of the jail term becomes eligible for early release. “As per the Karnataka Prison Manual, the rights are bestowed on all prisoners,” he said. “[What has to be decided is] whether it is special remission or ordinary remission. There is no bar on remission for prisoners retained under the Prevention of Corruption Act. If suppose such a bar is sought to be imposed, the High Courts and the Supreme Court have intervened in the past to maintain parity for all prisoners.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If she does walk out early, Sasikala could muddy the waters in a state facing elections in less than a year. On March 7, at a news conference in Coimbatore, Subramanian Swamy had said, “There will be changes in Tamil Nadu politics after her release. It will be difficult to exclude her from politics. She has experience, talent and a whole community behind her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sasikala is said to know the pulse of the AIADMK cadres as she had steered the party from behind Jayalalithaa for two decades. Also, there is the image of Palaniswami and his deputy O. Panneerselvam, tears in their eyes, requesting her to take over the party at Poes Garden in 2016.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Sasikala’s return will definitely bring about big changes in Tamil Nadu politics,” said former MLA P. Vetrivel, who is now with T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam, which was formed as a breakaway faction of the AIADMK in 2018. “She, along with T.T.V. Dhinakaran, can be the strong leaders who can give a tough fight to the DMK during the elections.” Incidentally, Dhinakaran, who is also said to be expecting his aunt Sasikala to return soon, did not react to Achary’s tweet. Sources said that Dhinakaran, now in Puducherry because of the lockdown, has not spoken to anyone on the legality of Sasikala’s remission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“She will be a strength to the AIADMK,” said political analyst Tharasu Shyam. “But it depends on whether there will be pressure from the BJP or whether the existing AIADMK will accept her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The AIADMK has changed a lot since Sasikala went to jail. Both EPS and OPS, as co-coordinator and coordinator, have taken over all the powers vested in the party general secretary. “There will be no political impact when she comes out of prison,” Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar told THE WEEK. “Be it the cabinet ministers or party executives or district secretaries or branch secretaries, at every level in the party, we have decided to do away with Sasikala and her family. [Anyway,] the Karnataka prison authorities have denied her early release.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>AIADMK sources said that, even after Achary’s tweet, no one in the party has bothered to talk about Sasikala. A senior minister from one of the prominent southern districts, who was once an ardent Sasikala supporter, said he wanted her to come back, but also that the party had been performing well in the past four years. “I do not know if her comeback would bring any changes in the party,” said the minister. “EPS will never want to give up his post or work under her.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides, the AIADMK seems to have more urgent problems. The faction feuds have become more pronounced, and EPS, said sources, is struggling to keep the flock together. Even Stalin pointed this out at a recent news conference, saying that “the ministers should shed their egos”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Sasikala, even an early return does not necessarily mean re-entry into active politics. She still faces a slew of other cases and, according to the Supreme Court sentence, cannot contest elections for another six years. “Sasikala’s alienation was a well-thought-out strategy by [Narendra] Modi and the BJP,” said political observer Raveenthran Duraisamy. “There will not be any going back. Sasikala is not a proven political force. In 2024, there may be a compromise between Dhinakaran and the BJP, excluding Sasikala. But no major change will happen in the run-up to the 2021 elections.”</p> Thu Jul 09 17:32:06 IST 2020 missed-congeniality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Just before the Lok Sabha elections in May 2019, Amit Shah, who was the BJP’s president then, claimed that his party would win 23 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said he was daydreaming. While it was clear that Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress were struggling with an eroding support base, her popularity had remained intact. No state leader of the BJP was a match for her, and she was pinning her hopes on this to sail through.</p> <p>Banerjee, however, failed to see the undercurrents. A week before the last phase of the polls in Bengal, THE WEEK published a detailed report on allegations about Trinamool leaders in the western and northern parts of the state swindling state funds, and how this would affect the party in the elections. People were clearly upset with Banerjee’s party.</p> <p>In the end, Shah almost pulled it off. The BJP bagged 18 seats and finished second in four by margins of less than 5,000 votes. More importantly, the results indicated that the party had a shot at wresting power from the Trinamool Congress.</p> <p>The assembly elections in Bengal are only 10 months away, and things have not got any better for Banerjee. A large section of the people are unhappy about the relief distribution of Covid-19 and Cyclone Amphan. There are widespread allegations that the money has gone to many undeserved people who were close to the Trinamool. The resentment is so strong that many Trinamool leaders were beaten up and their houses ransacked in different parts of the state.</p> <p>Banerjee, however, has been careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and has taken action against dozens of leaders. It is said that she is being advised by poll strategist Prashant Kishor. Many panchayat chiefs have been expelled and many others have been served show-cause notices.</p> <p>In Hooghly district, Manoj Singh, the pradhan of the Garalgacha gram panchayat, was expelled on June 20. Singh had submitted a list of 166 people for Amphan relief—among whom were himself and his wife. He was asked to resign by the Trinamool district president Dilip Yadav. “When he refused to do that, we were left with no other option but to expel him on the grounds of corruption,” said a statement by the party. Yadav added: “Along with Singh, we have received a number of allegations against panchayat chiefs and members. All inquiries will be completed within a stipulated timeframe.”</p> <p>Banerjee’s opponents, however, say this is just eyewash. “The chief minister’s punishments to her party men are laughable,” said CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty. “Did she touch the big guns?” Banerjee’s crackdown has so far been limited to measures at the party level. No legal action has been taken against anyone.</p> <p>The government is also being criticised for the mess in the public distribution system. Some 450 ration dealers have been suspended for malpractices. “If so many ration dealers have been suspended, who would give rations? What parallel system does the state government have? If so many ration dealers are held responsible, why is the government silent on the party men who forced the ration dealers to do corruption?” asked BJP state president Dilip Ghosh.</p> <p>Opposition parties allege that dealers were forced to divert foodgrain to the party’s relief channel. Food Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick denied the allegations. “No one in our party would be allowed to take relief materials meant for poor people,” he said. “Stringent action will be taken against them.”</p> <p>A week ago, Banerjee called an all-party meeting to discuss the relief measures for Covid-19 and the Amphan cyclone. The meeting was attended by the leaders of the left parties, the Congress and the BJP. The chief minister wanted to create a committee and CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra to lead it. But Mishra turned down the offer. A leader who attended the meeting told THE WEEK that Mishra told Banerjee that it was her party which had the mandate to rule. Banerjee agreed and made Education Minister Partha Chatterjee the head of the committee, which has Mishra, Ghosh and a few others as members.</p> <p>Ghosh had initially resisted Banerjee’s proposal to make him a committee member. “I repeatedly told her that I could not be part of such a committee which has no locus standi,” he said. “Such a committee cannot work constitutionally. But the chief minister said she would empower the committee to take decisions on behalf of the government. I have never heard of such a scheme of things anywhere in India.”</p> <p>He said the move is politically motivated. “The government is in the dock. The chief minister is becoming unpopular. So she wanted all of us to be part of that mess. Now she would go and campaign that she wanted to take everyone with her but the opposition refused,” he said.</p> <p>Banerjee, for sure, has political motives, and her main goal is to stop her rivals from taking advantage of the volatile ground situation. The state has been witnessing many incidents of mob violence over relief distribution. The BJP said Trinamool party men were behind the violence. “They attacked our party men at different places when we reached there with relief materials,” said Ghosh. “We have to do this because the government has failed miserably.”</p> <p>One of Banerjee’s intentions behind constituting the committee was to make a charter of demands to the Central government. She wanted Ghosh to be the bridge to the Centre rather than Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar. If Ghosh fails, she will be able to pin it on him and the BJP.</p> <p>Dhankhar, however, has already created a report. “It is sort of a scam in the making,” he said. “Ruling party workers, though not entitled, got benefits, giving rise to protests and violence at many places.” He said he had advised the government to use proper channels to distribute relief money. “People complained to me that in the name of relief it is daylight loot and plunder by the ruling party workers with the support of the local administration.”</p> <p>The Trinamool has been critical of the governor for not supporting the chief minister’s demands for more funds from the Centre for relief work. Banerjee has demanded a 010,000 crore package and requested the opposition leaders to jointly put pressure on the Centre for it. Dhankhar, however, denied that the government had proposed any such demand to him and said it was Banerjee’s political ploy. “I am all for a considered and deserved relief package for the state. For the chief minister, it is virtually a daily rhetoric with an eye on the political radar,” he said.</p> <p>It remains to be seen if Banerjee’s new initiative is going to work. Especially because of the opposition leaders’ mistrust of her and their refusal to make any commitment. But her political game is certainly on.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 02 19:39:40 IST 2020 blood-brothers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was raining heavily when Vineeth Ravi got the call from Dr Shinaz Babu, the nodal officer for Covid-19 at Government Medical College, Malappuram. “I picked up the phone thinking it was a casual call,” said Ravi. “He calls me up regularly to check if I am OK, though it has been almost a month since I had become Covid-19 negative.”</p> <p>But this was more than a regular call. Babu had a request. “Doctor told me that a Covid-19 positive patient was very critical, and asked me whether I was ready to give blood for administering plasma treatment,” said Ravi, 23. “I immediately said yes. How could I say no to a doctor whose medical team risked their lives to save mine?”</p> <p>Ravi, who holds a diploma in mechanical engineering, had contracted the virus during his stay in Chennai. “The situation in Chennai was so bad that I rushed back to Kerala immediately after the lockdown was lifted,” he said. “I tested positive and was admitted to the medical college. I am alive now because of the care given to me by Dr Shinaz and his team.”</p> <p>When the request came, Ravi did not think twice, but Babu insisted that he get the permission of his parents before going ahead with it. Ravi asked his mother and she agreed. “She told me that it was my responsibility to repay those who saved my life,” he said. “She also told me that there is nothing greater than saving another life.”</p> <p>Though Ravi’s home is 60km from the hospital, he reached the hospital within two hours of the call. “I told Vineeth that I would send a vehicle for him. But he said he would come on his motorbike,” said Babu. “It was raining heavily. I got worried seeing him as it had been only 22 days since he had been discharged. But Vineeth showed no signs of weakness and gave the required amount of blood.”</p> <p>That blood has now saved a life.</p> <p>It was M.K. Sainuddeen Bhaqavi, who works as an ustad in a mosque in Oman, who received Ravi’s blood. Now, Bhaqavi has been discharged, becoming the first Covid-19 patient in the state to recover after receiving plasma treatment.</p> <p>Bhaqavi comes from a family of traditional ustads (religious scholars). All of his eight brothers are ustads in various mosques in Malappuram. Only Bhaqavi had gone abroad and was working at a Sunni centre in Buraimi, Oman, for more than a decade. He was the president of Santwanam, a charitable society that helps NRIs. He returned to Kerala on June 6 and went straight to the medical college as he felt feverish. He tested positive for Covid-19; his condition worsened due to comorbidities and he was shifted to the ICU. But his health deteriorated further.</p> <p>It was then that Babu called Ravi. “Bhaqavi’s condition was very bad,” he said. “We went for plasma treatment as the last hope.”</p> <p>Malappuram district has one of the highest number of Covid-19 cases in the state, thanks to its NRI population. Two of the patients that the medical college had tried plasma treatment on before did not respond to the treatment. But it worked well for Bhaqavi.</p> <p>“He told us that the hospital staff looked after him like a mother would look after her kids,”said Bhaqavi’s brother Sharafuddeen, seated next to him. It had only been a day since Bhaqavi’s discharge and he was not in a position to talk much. “He used to reassure us over phone that there was nothing to worry as he was in safe hands,” said Sharafuddeen.</p> <p>When Bhaqavi came to know that it was Ravi’s blood that saved him, he wanted to meet him. Babu arranged for it and the duo met on the day Bhaqavi was discharged. “He held my hands for a few moments and told me that there is no greater thing than saving lives,” said Ravi. “I thought of my mother then as she too had told me the same. She had prayed every day for the person who was now thanking me.”</p> <p>Bhaqavi gifted Ravi some chocolates, too. “I had no idea for whom I was giving blood. Blood has no religion and it was proved once again when I met him,” said Ravi.</p> <p>According to Babu, the meeting was a great experience. “We develop a special bonding with all the Covid-19 patients by the time they are discharged and it was great to see someone who got cured from here coming back to help cure others,” he said.</p> <p>The government medical college has done five plasma treatments so far. While two showed no response, others responded well, the doctor said. The state has so far done seven plasma treatments. So how do they choose blood donors?</p> <p>“We keep track of every patient even after their discharge as part of the protocol,” said Babu. “Plasma can be taken from those who have turned Covid-19 negative and fall in the 18 to 50 age group. Also, they should be having no comorbidities. So, whenever blood is required, we contact the patients who meet the requirements. We have received only positive responses from them so far.”</p> <p>Shahul Hameed, another former Covid-19 patient in Malappuram, said that anybody who received treatment in the medical colleges in Kerala would say yes to the requests. “Such is the care we have received from the medical team here,” he said. “Right from the doctor to the sweeper, all of them have taken pains to save our lives. We owe our life to them.”</p> <p>Hameed, who works in a transportation company in Abu Dhabi, had returned on May 7. He tested positive while in the state-run quarantine centre, and was immediately shifted to the medical college. “When one is in isolation, one has limited contact with others, and the way those few treat you matters a lot,” he said. “It is the love, care and the food provided at the hospital that has brought me back to life. Donating blood is my small effort to repay those who helped me. Also, I understand the insecurities of a Covid-19 patient very well as I was also one.”</p> <p>It was one Rajeev Kumar (name changed) who received blood from Hameed. An assistant sub-inspector with Delhi Police, Kumar tested positive two days after his family reached Kerala on June 17. He received blood from Mohammed Basheer, too. According to doctors, Kumar is showing good improvement after receiving plasma treatment.</p> <p>“When the doctor told us that two of his former Covid-19 patients had agreed to give blood to my father, we were so relieved,” said Kumar’s son. “I immediately asked for their numbers and called them up to thank them. That Hameed and Basheer readily agreed to give blood to someone whom they have not even seen, immediately after recovering from an illness, is a great act of love.”</p> <p>“I felt so happy when I got the call from the son of the patient to whom I had given blood,” said Hameed. “That call has made my life more meaningful.” Ravi feels the same. “That my blood was useful in saving somebody’s life has made my life worthwhile,” he said.</p> <p>Both hoped that these tales of love from Malappuram would help clear the misconceptions about the district. “Ours is a regular district like any other,” said Ravi. “The proportion of one religion may be higher than the other, but that has not stopped us from loving each other.” Hameed, Bhaqavi and Kumar could only concur.&nbsp;</p> Fri Jul 03 19:40:36 IST 2020 testing-has-been-ramped-up-in-areas-of-community-transmission <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How is the Covid-19 situation in Goa now?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Currently, there are 716 active cases in Goa [as on June 30]. Of the 1,315 people who tested positive so far, 45 per cent have recovered. Three deaths have been reported. These were patients with comorbidities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Community transmission has begun in the state. How do you plan to redesign your containment strategies?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It has come to our notice that community transmission has begun in the state. Testing has been ramped up in presumed areas of community transmission. We have also redrawn the containment and micro-containment zone maps. People who test positive are being admitted to Covid-19 care centres.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How is the state dealing with the crisis​?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We have a dedicated 250-bed Covid-19 hospital. By converting hotels into Covid-19 care centres, we have added 1,500 beds to our existing capacity. Besides these, we have institutional quarantine centres as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Goa is the first Indian state to blend ayurveda with allopathy to tackle Covid-19.</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Ayurveda is good for boosting immunity. People in containment zones are being given ayurvedic immunity-booster dose, as per AYUSH guidelines. That said, for people admitted in Covid-19 hospitals, we offer allopathic treatment only. We follow the Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> Does Goa welcome tourists now?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ Hotels and home stays have not resumed operations, yet. But we hope to welcome tourists within a short span of time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What is the financial commitment of the Centre to states like Goa?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ States across the country have been affected by the pandemic. The Centre has provided us financial and infrastructural support.</p> <p>Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan packages offer financial assistance for the poor. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced 020 lakh crore economic relief package. Another package for labourers has also been announced by the government. Besides all these, the Centre has allowed us to use the mineral fund deposited with the state government to deal with the pandemic. That is a great relief for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How has the pandemic affected the tourism and mining sectors?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ The mining sector has not been affected much as transportation was allowed. But tourism has been hit hard—100 per cent loss has been reported in this sector.</p> <p>However, we managed to support the pharma and food industries even during Lockdown 1. Now, all the industries [except tourism] are running at 90 per cent of capacity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> How are you providing support to people who lost their livelihood?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ It is challenging. We are exploring ways to help farmers and those in the travel and tourism, and mining industries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q</b>/<b> What are the learnings from the pandemic?</b></p> <p><b>A</b>/ We need to come up with vaccines and immunity-booster doses to fight the infection. As the chief minister of Goa, I believe it is a great opportunity to master the lost art of self-reliant living. Our youth are practising lessons of self-reliance in their farms. We are looking at ways to export more and import less.&nbsp; </p> Thu Jul 02 19:25:00 IST 2020 online-succour <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A 55-year-old man with chronic liver disease and severe cough was recently rushed to the intensive care unit of the Covid-19 hospital in Karnataka’s Bagalkot district. As he tested positive and his condition deteriorated, doctors feared that he might succumb to the pandemic just like the hospital's first critical patient who was admitted in March. This man, however, survived. A team of specialist doctors from Bengaluru, who are part of the state’s Tele ICU initiative, helped doctors in Bagalkot treat the patient. “The patient was a former alcoholic and was in a critical state,” said Dr Chandrakant Javali, senior specialist physician in Bagalkot. “But Tele ICU helped save the patient. I feel I would not have lost the first patient if Tele ICU had been there earlier.”</p> <p>For doctors in peripheral hospitals who battle limited infrastructure and poor access to treatment protocols, Tele ICU has been a boon. Set up in mid-April, Tele ICU is an online facility to treat critically ill patients in remote areas with the help of off-site experts and technology. The state government has roped in two private hospitals—Columbia Asia and Manipal Hospitals in Bengaluru—to act as the nerve centre of 29 district hospitals designated as Covid-19 hospitals. Tele ICU has pulmonologists, intensivists and critical care experts conducting e-rounds to monitor critical cases in remote areas twice a day.</p> <p>Karnataka has had 1,568 high-risk patients; 749 of them have been discharged and 755 are being treated. Out of the 207 deaths reported till June 15, eight patients were brought dead. A good number of cases were late referrals from private hospitals.</p> <p>“Covid-19 is a unique disease because at least 50 per cent of patients appear very normal, but suffer sudden deterioration because of silent hypoxemia (dip in oxygen level in blood), which can be fatal,” said Dr Pradeep Rangappa, who is heading Tele ICU’s Columbia Asia unit. “As low oxygen in blood goes unnoticed if not tested, we identified certain alarm markers or predictive variables for Covid-19 patients. Blood tests help us monitor these alarm indicators. Early indication helps in early intervention, which in turn reduces mortality.”</p> <p>Dr Trilok Chandra, Tele ICU’s chief nodal officer, said high-risk groups—like the elderly, patients with co-morbidities, children and pregnant women—needed a critical care support unit. But setting up Tele ICU was challenging, as most government hospitals did not have well-equipped ICUs or the expertise to handle a new disease like Covid-19. “First, we standardised the checklist so that all hospitals followed the same set of parameters for investigation, monitoring and treatment,” said Chandra. “We homogenised the care and identified alarm markers. The state-level expert committee came up with treatment protocols and standard operating procedures from time to time. The government also upgraded the ICUs in hospitals to provide bedside dialysis, X-ray and oxygen facilities. During the weekly videoconferences, the specialists guided the remote hospitals to make necessary changes to their ICUs or treatment protocol.”</p> <p>The 257-bed district hospital in Bagalkot, which has 43 ICU beds, 24 doctors and 100 staff nurses, was upgraded. “We procured pulse oximeters and non-invasive ventilators, and trained our staff on safety measures. Tele ICU has dramatically changed the outcomes, as it has helped in constant monitoring and early intervention,” said Javali.</p> <p>Rangappa said the initiative clicked because on-site and off-site experts worked cohesively. “The network of more than 150 doctors working across 29 hospitals subscribed to the concept,”he said. “The knowledge transfer brought transformative change in treatment protocols and practice patterns, empowering bedside doctors to adopt standard operating procedures and train their staff. The involvement of the bedside doctor in decision-making helped shape effective treatment, as patients came in with challenging and multiple complications.”</p> <p>Tele ICUs have helped doctors adapt new technologies; for instance, non-invasive ventilation is more effective than invasive ventilation in critical cases. “We started monitoring all patients with pulse oximeter, as a sudden dip in oxygen levels can be dangerous,” said Chandra. “Patients were monitored using finger clip oximeter, which gives an alert the moment the oxygen level goes below the threshold. This has improved the chances of survival. Our endeavour is to prevent patients from reaching the ventilator stage with early identification and therapeutic interventions.”</p> <p>The Covid-19 death rate in Karnataka is one of the lowest in India. “The Karnataka model of Tele ICU can be replicated by other states reporting high Covid-related mortality,” said Rangappa. “However, deaths can be averted not just by doctors or treatment, but by the behaviour of people as well.”</p> <p>With the easing of the lockdown, the government is expecting a surge in the number of critical cases. It has enhanced facilities in ICUs and isolation wards, and formed district-level “therapeutic committees” involving specialists in private hospitals.</p> <p>“The state is encouraging reverse quarantine—confining only the vulnerable groups to home—children under 10, persons above 55, and those with co-morbidities,” said Chandra. “We are also conducting household surveys to detect the cases early. We are also sensitising private hospitals to refer symptomatic patients to the designated health facility, or follow the standard treatment protocol.”</p> Thu Jul 02 19:17:04 IST 2020 shahs-showtime <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On June 27, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal together inspected a 10,000-bed makeshift hospital for Covid-19 patients that is coming up at the Radha Soami Satsang Beas campus on the outskirts of the capital. On the face of it, the two leaders were a picture of bonhomie. However, scratch the surface, and the political fault lines become evident. Even the run-up to the joint inspection had its share of obvious and not so obvious efforts to claim ownership of the initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kejriwal had tweeted to invite Shah for the inspection, and requested him to provide health care staff for it from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force and the Indian Army. Shah had promptly responded, reminding Kejriwal that it had already been decided at a meeting between them that doctors and nurses from the ITBPF would be deployed at the facility. He also spelt out details of when he expects it to be functional. Shah’s response was evidently aimed at giving the impression that he was in charge of the Covid-containment measures in the capital. On the other hand, Kejriwal wanted to convey the same, and also highlight that he was keen on the Centre’s collaboration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah stepped into Delhi’s Covid-19 scene three months after the coronavirus arrived in the capital, at a time when the situation appeared to be getting out of control. There was a surge in the number of cases and the Kejriwal government was swamped with reports of people failing to get beds in hospitals and finding it difficult to get tested for the virus. Critics said the Aam Aadmi Party regime had slackened its testing and tracing efforts. And, the government’s decision to reserve Delhi’s hospitals for Delhiites was seen as a reflection of the city’s lack of capacity to deal with the disease.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politically,&nbsp;it presented Shah with a great opportunity to emerge as Delhi’s saviour during an unprecedented health crisis and show the Kejriwal government in a bad light. Just a few months back, Shah had helmed the BJP’s campaign in the assembly polls in Delhi. In that contest, Kejriwal had comprehensively beaten Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Centre entered the scene after Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal overturned the Kejriwal government’s decisions to reserve hospitals in the city for Delhi’s residents and narrow the criteria for testing. Shah’s first high-level meeting involving Delhi’s stakeholders, including Baijal and Kejriwal, was on June 14, when a slew of measures were announced, primarily with regard to increasing testing, enhancing the number of beds and intensifying tracing, surveillance and containment efforts, and putting a cap on testing and hospitalisation rates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah has since then been actively involved. His surprise visit to the Delhi government-run Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Hospital, a prime Covid-19 facility, was broadcast live on his YouTube channel. The home ministry has been regularly putting out releases regarding the progress made in Delhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Kejriwal government relaxed the lockdown without the necessary arrangements in place,” said Delhi BJP leader Vijender Gupta. “The Centre had to intervene since the Kejriwal government was more interested in getting political mileage out of the situation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, the politics behind Shah’s initiatives was clear as BJP leaders responded to his visit to LNJP Hospital by asking how many times Kejriwal had visited the hospital. It was apparent that the choice of the hospital was guided by political considerations. The Supreme Court had, taking suo motu cognisance of media reports, said patients were being kept in horrific conditions in the hospital. Delhi’s BJP MPs were despatched to the antigen testing centres in the city to emphasise upon the BJP’s imprint on the enhanced testing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For AAP’s political opponents, the Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to question its claims of having improved the health care infrastructure in Delhi. Shah expressed it in a TV interview: “I am not running Delhi. Let us not use such words.... Arvind Kejriwal is always kept in the loop. He is also involved in decision making. Some political statements may have been made, but no impact on decision making.... [Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish] Sisodia’s statement [that Delhi will have 5.5 lakh cases by July end] had created some panic. That is not going to happen.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi Congress President Anil Chaudhary said the AAP’s claims on improving the health care infrastructure in the capital stands exposed, and while the Kejriwal government indulges in a blame game with the Centre, the people are suffering. Kejriwal, on the other hand, is playing a balancing act; he is aware that his government needs the Centre’s help in handling the pandemic. “The chief minister believes that the fight against Covid-19 is a massive one, and no one person or agency can deal with the disease on its own,” said Sisodia. “It is with this sentiment that he wants to take everyone along, and he is finding success in his efforts. We can see that the situation is now stabilising.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However,&nbsp;the unease in the AAP with Shah’s growing involvement in Delhi’s affairs has shown through in its comparison between the BJP government erecting a statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and the Kejriwal regime naming the 10,000-bed makeshift hospital after the country’s first home minister. The AAP leaders have called the Baijal’s order on compulsory institutional isolation of Covid-19 patients the “Shah model”, as against the “Kejriwal model” of allowing home isolation for asymptomatic and mild cases. The assessment within the AAP is that the Delhi government gave the Centre an opportunity to rush in. For the time being, Kejriwal and his party have opted to grin and bear it as Shah has his sweet revenge.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jul 02 16:35:09 IST 2020 malady-and-madness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>ON JUNE 18,</b> a day before Chennai and neighbouring Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Chengalpattu districts went into lockdown, the Tamil Nadu government announced that it was withdrawing an earlier order amending the English spelling of 1,018 cities, towns and villages in the state. The order had drawn widespread criticism, and the railways and India Post had not been consulted on the new names.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was not the first policy U-turn the government had made amid the Covid-19 crisis. On June 9, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami cancelled the class 10 board exams, even as the advocate general was arguing in the Madras High Court that the exams ought to be held in mid-June, before the number of infections begins to peak. On June 12, when journalists asked Palaniswami whether the government was planning to lock down Chennai to contain the virus, he asked them not to believe in such “rumours”. Three days later, though, he declared the lockdown.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, when journalists asked him about rumours that Higher Education Minister K.P. Anbalagan had tested positive, Palaniswami looked irked. “He himself has said that he is not infected. What more do you need?” he shot back. On June 20, though, Anbalagan told THE WEEK that he had indeed been infected and was being treated at a private hospital in Chennai.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anbalagan was one of the five ministers overseeing relief work in the Greater Chennai Corporation. After he tested positive, half a dozen ministers who had come into contact with him rushed to get themselves tested. Apparently, all ministers are worried that they have been exposed to the virus. A 56-year-old private secretary in the chief minister’s office, B.J. Damodharan, died of Covid-19 on June 17, a day before Anbalagan was infected. At least seven people in the chief minister’s offices have been infected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palaniswami himself has twice undergone tests; the results were negative. He maintains that there is no community spread of Covid-19 in the state. “If you and I get infected, only then can it be called community spread,” he told a journalist. “As of now, there is no community spread; things are under control.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government, however, seems to be groping in the dark. It had appointed 12 teams of IAS and IPS officers in April to review Covid-19 programmes across the state and recommend changes. But, except for the medical experts team, none of the groups have submitted any report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government had also constituted a team under IAS officer J. Radhakrishnan to exclusively handle Covid-19 operations in Chennai. But the five IPS officers in this team have not been handling any Covid-related work. On June 6, the government appointed Pankaj Kumar Bansal, IAS, as special coordinator to oversee initiatives in high-risk zones like Chennai, over and above what it had asked Radhakrishnan’s team to do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 12, Radhakrishnan replaced Beela Rajesh as health secretary, after it was alleged that the health department was underreporting casualties. “At least 200 deaths were not reported by the Chennai corporation,” said Jayaram Venkatesan, convener of the NGO Arappor Iyakkam. “The family of the deceased were given mortuary cards at the hospitals where the deaths happened. But [the deaths] were not added to the corporation’s record.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government set up a committee to look into the matter, and the chief secretary issued a strongly worded order to Chennai corporation commissioner G. Prakash to take immediate measures to control the disease in Chennai. It was an unusual order, as corporation commissioners report only to the municipal administration secretary and Prakash is close to Municipal Administration Minister S.P. Velumani, who is referred to as the “shadow Chief Minister” in the ruling AIADMK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Earlier, on June 1, IAS officer S. Nagarajan was removed as director of the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, which was established in 2005 to reform the health care sector. Such bureaucratic reshuffles, however, have not improved the ground situation and the numbers continue to rise in Chennai and other districts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The chief minister is not able to take any stern action,” said DMK president and opposition leader M.K. Stalin. “This is because he does not have control over his own cabinet. The ministers should shed their egos and work together to eradicate the virus.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government says 60,000 people in Tamil Nadu have contracted the virus and more than 750 have died. Though it has maintained that only the elderly and people who have existing health conditions were at high risk, 30 per cent of the dead were under 50 and had no comorbidities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin said the government should stop fudging figures and reveal the actual numbers of patients and deaths. “The government has an indifferent attitude in handling the pandemic,” said DMK spokesperson A. Saravanan. “The chief minister denying that his own colleague has tested positive is proof that the government is not transparent. The government is just fumbling about in the dark.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palaniswami says no decision has been taken to extend the lockdown in Chennai. He wants everyone to wear masks and stay indoors for now. “The complete lockdown is like a speed-breaker,” he said. “We have implemented it so that people stay indoors. This lockdown is not to trouble anyone, but to stop the spread of the virus.”</p> Fri Jun 26 12:01:10 IST 2020 trouble-in-paradise <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>EVEN BEFORE THE</b> results of the Rajya Sabha elections were announced in Madhya Pradesh, social media saw a stream of congratulatory messages emanating from the BJP camp. Sure enough, the party won two of three seats on offer. Senior BJP leaders went to the state assembly with winning candidate Sumer Singh Solanki and a representative of the second winner, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who could not be present because he was in Covid-19 quarantine, to collect the winning certificate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But they were not elated as expected. It seemed as though future tasks were hanging heavy on their hands. Political watchers say that despite regaining power and the high of the Rajya Sabha polls, the BJP’s real test is just about to start. And trouble is likely to emanate from within.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources say that when the much-publicised “Operation Kamal” was set in motion in the state in March, the BJP had two objectives—dislodge the 15-month-old Congress government and win two Rajya Sabha seats. Before that, the BJP was not in a statistical position to ensure two Rajya Sabha berths, despite having 107 MLAs in the 230-strong assembly. Both objectives were achieved when Scindia and the 22 MLAs who supported him quit the Congress for the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, with Scindia in the upper house—considered part of the deal—the BJP has to fulfil promises made to his supporters. And this is going to be tough, say political watchers. “Now with Rajya Sabha polls done, the BJP has to set about expanding the Shivraj Singh Chouhan cabinet to accommodate Scindia supporters who have been waiting for three months,” political analyst Manish Dixit says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He says that the BJP, which has been stalling the much-awaited expansion, first on the grounds of the lockdown and then the Rajya Sabha polls, has no excuses left. “The patience of Scindia supporters is wearing thin and the bypolls to 24 vacant seats in the state are looming,” says Dixit. “In such circumstances, the BJP has to take a call on the cabinet expansion.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sources say that as part of the deal, at least 10 to 12 of the 22 defectors have to be made ministers, while the others are to be made chairpersons to boards and corporations. But, if the BJP accommodates all 22 Scindia supporters in such a manner, it will mean fewer opportunities for other BJP leaders. Several BJP leaders who were former ministers or have won multiple elections and are aspiring to become ministers, have already started to show their discomfort.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Striking a balance between Scindia supporters who are awaiting their reward and original BJP leaders who want their years of loyalty to be acknowledged has certainly put the BJP in a catch-22 situation,” says Dixit. The developments during the Rajya Sabha polls—Guna MLA Gopilal Jatav is rumoured to have cross-voted and Raigaon MLA Jugalkishore Bagri cast an invalid vote—are also being looked upon as signals sent by the upset senior MLAs, though the party and the MLAs have denied any such motive. Dixit also points out that in the past fortnight many BJP leaders, including some prominent ones, have joined the Congress; several Congress members have joined the BJP, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shams Ur Rehman Alavi, political commentator, says that the BJP cannot now wait until the bypolls to expand the cabinet or make political appointments as Scindia supporters will want a strong turf to play on when they seek re-election in the bypolls. On the other hand, upsetting senior leaders could make the situation difficult as the bypolls are the key to the BJP staying in power, says Alavi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP has to win at least nine of the 24 seats to get a majority. Then, with the support of the non-Congress opposition MLAs, it can comfortably complete the tenure. But the Rajya Sabha polls showed a problem in this aspect, too—the Congress managed to get two additional votes. If the rumour of the BJP MLA cross-voting is false, then the party got the votes of two non-Congress opposition MLAs. And the BJP, with 111 votes, got at least five votes of non-Congress opposition MLAs—as one of its votes was invalid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Experts say that if the Congress managed to attract one or two non-Congress MLAs during the Rajya Sabha polls despite being down in the dumps, then the role of these seven non-Congress MLAs will become interesting and BJP could not count on them fully. The BJP might actually manage to win more than the required nine, given that it is the ruling party and that the Congress might not find the right candidates to pitch in the regions where Scindia has support, says Alavi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>K.K. Mishra, Congress spokesman in-charge of the Gwalior-Chambal region (where most of the bypolls are to be held), said that the BJP’s “annual examination” was due. “Like developing the Covid-19 vaccine, the task of expanding the cabinet will be a most challenging one,” he says. “Balancing the aspirations of its own cadre and the honour of those who have not yet been mentally [accepted] as their own will be a daunting task. Parties thrive on the loyalty and hard work of its ground workers, but if they are upset, it is a bad signal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP state president Vishnu Dutt Sharma told THE WEEK that the cabinet expansion would be done soon and the focus is on the impending bypolls. He said that there were no immediate plans of making appointments to government posts, but steps would be taken when required. As for the leaders or workers of the party being upset at the developments, he said that though some frontline workers might be discontent, there was “no major issue”. “Our party has a culture where all things are resolved through mutual discussions and party workers go by the party line,” says Sharma.</p> Fri Jun 26 12:00:32 IST 2020 online-onslaught <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Madhya Pradesh</b> BJP had hoped to take social media by storm on the afternoon of June 10; Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari was to feature in the state’s first virtual rally. The aim was to not only publicise the achievements of the Modi government in its sixth year, but also to use the rally as a soft launchpad for campaign mode. The state will soon see crucial byelections to 24 assembly seats.</p> <p>However, just before the rally could begin, a June 8 clip—purportedly of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan addressing BJP workers in one of the constituencies up for election—went viral. “The (BJP) central leadership decided that the (Congress) government should fall. And was it possible to fell the government without Jyotiraditya Scindia <i>ji</i> and Tulsi <i>bhai</i> (Tulsiram Silawat, former MLA of Sanwer)?” he asked in the clip.</p> <p>Hundreds of Congress-supporting accounts had posted the clip, claiming that Chouhan had openly admitted to the conspiracy to dislodge the Congress government. The clip drowned out the Gadkari rally.</p> <p>Scores of memes and slogans surfaced, and #BJPloktantrapedaaghai (BJP is a stain on democracy) was soon the number one trend—it was featured in more than 52,000 unique tweets and reached 90 million users, claimed the state Congress social media and IT department.</p> <p>Before the furore had died down, another clip popped up. It allegedly featured a female Congress worker from Ashoknagar district talking to Jyotiraditya Scindia on phone, claiming that she had paid 050 lakh to one of his staffers for an assembly ticket for her daughter-in-law.</p> <p>Then came the third audio clip, allegedly of Scindia supporter and former minister Imarti Devi, who is heard threatening a worker for telling her that she was losing support among people in her constituency. Yet another clip appeared, in which a policeman claimed that Scindia was getting him posted in Lahar, the constituency of former Congress minister Govind Singh, allegedly to cause Singh discomfort. The policeman was later suspended.</p> <p>Said political commentator and avid social media user Shams Ur Rehman Alavi: “During these past three months, the party (Congress) has surely sharpened its strategy, managing to impact the public perception regarding the role of the BJP in dislodging its government, [in] probably allowing Covid-19 to spread due to this reason and [in] the consequent failure to prevent the pandemic from exploding in the state and elsewhere.”</p> <p>Also, the Congress seems to have foiled Scindia’s attempts to portray himself as someone the party neglected, by painting him and his supporters as betrayers who flipped for money, added Alavi.</p> <p>Political observer Manish Dixit agreed that the Congress looked far sharper online compared with the BJP, which usually has the edge on social media. “The Congress has [also] taken up issues that directly concern the common people—inflated electricity bills, problems faced by farmers, students forced to appear for exams amid a pandemic, the rising crime rate and so on,” he said. “They managed to generate interesting hashtags like ‘Shivraj <i>atta chor hai</i>’ (Shivraj is a wheat-flour thief) and coin terms like ‘Bikaulal’ (one who is sold), which have been a hit with the people.”</p> <p>Dixit said that, at a time when there is no physical connect with the voter, the Congress has definitely stolen a march on the BJP in the online world. “This constant campaign can definitely have an impact on the voters’ mind, although only a section of them are on social media,” he said.</p> <p>However, Abhay Tiwari, the key man behind the Congress’s online strategy, said that his party would definitely win more than 19 of the 24 seats. “We noticed during the political turmoil in March that social media users were leaning towards the Congress’s stand that dislodging the government was a BJP conspiracy and that huge money was involved in it,” the chief of the state Congress IT department told THE WEEK. “So, we decided to use that momentum and sharpened our attack. We coined terms like ‘Jaichand’ (a historical figure said to have betrayed Prithviraj Chauhan against invader Muhammad Ghori), ‘Bikaulal’, ‘Shri-ant’ (Mr End; Scindia is commonly called ‘Shrimant’) and ‘Panauti’ (bad omen, for Chouhan), and also convinced people that the ex-MLAs had taken 035 crore each for the deal.”</p> <p>The Congress also conducted online polls to gauge the public mood, and even pitted BJP supporters against each other. “For example, we asked who the ‘Panauti’ was and we found BJP supporters voting on the Scindia option and Scindia supporters voting on the Chouhan option,” said Tiwari.</p> <p>“For the past three months, we have been gaining 3,000 followers a day on Twitter (@INCMP had 653k followers as on June 15) and we have surpassed the BJP handle (@BJP4MP had 561k followers),” he added. “During the past two years, we gained five lakh followers; the BJP managed just one lakh. Also, among the Congress state units, we have the most Twitter followers.”</p> <p>The party has posted a WhatsApp coordinator in 58,000 of 63,000 polling booths in the state; these coordinators spread content on non-political groups. Also, the party has a Facebook page and a Twitter handle for each of the 230 assembly constituencies. The Youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India are an important part of the online strategy.</p> <p>Senior Congress leaders have also been active on social media. “Kamal Nath <i>ji</i> monitors the social media campaign daily,” said Tiwari. Others involved in strategy making and guidance, said sources, include state Congress media cell chairman Jitu Patwari, former minister Sajjan Singh Verma and former assembly speaker N.P. Prajapati.</p> <p>Akshay Hunka, a Congress member who is working to bring together a ‘Twitter activist team’ from among party supporters, said people were organically sharing his tweets on this effort. “This shows people’s inclination to become part of a campaign that seeks to bring out the truth of the BJP’s games,” he said.</p> <p>For his part, Shivraj Dabi, the coordinator of the IT department of the Madhya Pradesh BJP, said there could not be comparisons because the ruling party will always focus on its achievements and future plans, while the opposition will try to find faults. “The Congress campaign is simply focused on distracting people from real issues and thrives on fake information,” he said. “We want to create awareness among people, tell them about welfare schemes and help them. The Congress might be getting a little more visibility because of its irrelevant and false attacks. We do not want to lend credence to everything they say by responding to them. Only when it is about big leaders or sensitive matters do we clarify the situation with facts and figures.”&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 18 17:05:40 IST 2020 troubleshooter-on-the-throne <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>The Karnataka Congress</b> seems to be taking a leaf out of the RSS-BJP playbook for its revival. The state unit is gearing up for a transformation into a “cadre-based party” with focus on empowering the booth worker and strengthening booths. The party hopes to channel the power of social media by appointing a booth-level social media-in-charge and by using technology to gather traction among the youth.</p> <p>Riddled with electoral debacles, factional feuds, mass defections, a waning support base and a demoralised cadre, the story of the Congress in Karnataka was no different from that in most of the rest of India. But the sudden change of guard on March 11, when Congress president Sonia Gandhi appointed D.K. Shivakumar as the new state president, has brought hopes of a revival.</p> <p>Shivakumar, the party’s troubleshooter, is expected to take charge during “Pratijna Dina”—the official swearing in ceremony that will be livestreamed across 7,800 locations, including the district and block Congress offices in the state. The date of the event has not been confirmed, yet. But, it is expected to mark a new start for the Congress as a tech-savvy party and highlight Shivakumar’s focus on the cadre.</p> <p>Shivakumar has already visited senior leaders to emphasise that the party believes in collective leadership. The factional feuds between the “original” Congressmen and the “outsiders” (identified with former chief minister Siddaramaiah who joined the party in 2007), had triggered the collapse of the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress coalition government in July 2019.</p> <p>After losing power, the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee had fallen into total disarray. Following the December 2019 bypolls, when the Congress won only two out of 15 seats, Dinesh Gundu Rao resigned as state chief. But the party high command desisted from naming Rao’s successor fearing a backlash from the overlooked faction.</p> <p>Now, as Shivakumar has the top post, the rival faction got three working presidents—Eshwar Khandre (Lingayat), Satish Jarkiholi (scheduled tribe; Valmiki) and Saleem Ahmed—reportedly to balance the demographic equation. But insiders felt that it was an effort to rein in Shivakumar. The new state chief is focused on uniting the party and bringing it to power. “Rest of the things can wait,” he said.</p> <p>Senior Congress leader V.R. Sudarshan said that Shivakumar understood the need to listen to the party worker. “This is a competitive era and all parties are wooing new voters and the youth,” he said. “If the booths are empowered, pro-active and pro-people, it will appeal to the youth. It is the committed booth worker who needs to be valued to strengthen the party as he is also the voice of the people, the voters.”</p> <p>The exodus of Congress leaders has meant losing experienced hands who wield immense political clout in their constituencies. Moreover, the exit of a leader also translates to losing his supporters—grassroots workers for the party. So, bringing back at least some of the turncoats is also part of the expansion plans. However, a committee has been set up to decide on who gets to join.</p> <p>Any leader hoping to return to the party or new entrants who wish to join it will have to go through the screening committee, headed by MLC and former KPCC president Allam Veerabhadrappa. This panel will consult the block level and district level units to avoid infighting and groupism. “The party will not impose a leader on the cadre, but arrive at a consensus to induct a leader into its fold,” says Sudarshan.</p> <p>The mantra under the new leadership is “perform or perish”. Insiders hinted that the revamping of the state and district units would see new faces, too. All 68 Congress MLAs in the 224-member assembly would be held responsible for strengthening the booth level committees in their constituencies. MLCs will handle two constituencies, and anyone aspiring for a party post should have booth-level experience.</p> <p>Karnataka has seen the majority community lean right in recent years. Though the Congress managed to hold on to a lot of the Ahinda (Kannada term for minorities, dalits and backward classes) votes, the BJP split the votes of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and added it to a Hindu vote bank. Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has the support of the Lingayats, who hold sway in over 100 northern constituencies.</p> <p>In the Old Mysuru region, the politically influential Vokkaliga community continues to patronise the JD(S), though Shivakumar, too, belongs to the same community. But,</p> <p>Shivakumar said that he never believed in communal or caste-based politics. “The broad-basing of the party will happen by grooming local leadership and by creating equal opportunities for all,” he said.</p> <p>The Congress will plan its expansion without sacrificing its inclusive ideologies, said Sudarshan. Soon after the swearing-in, Shivakumar plans to tour the state to “listen” to the people suffering because of Covid-19. “The party will ensure that people get what has been promised to them by the Yediyurappa government,” he said.&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 18 17:02:55 IST 2020 modi-government-has-no-eyes-ears-or-heart <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress in Karnataka has a new captain—troubleshooter D.K. Shivakumar. He has taken charge as the KPCC chief at a time when the party is facing an identity crisis. Mass defections, constant drubbings at the elections and a strong political opponent in the ruling BJP have lead to bitter factional feuds among the leaders while demoralising the cadres. But Shivakumar has a blueprint for the party’s revival and is placing his faith on the committed party workers to breathe life and vigour into the party.</p> <p><br> In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Karnataka Congress president D.K. Shivakumar shares his plan to strengthen the party in time for the 2023 assembly elections and talks about the response of the Centre and the state government to Covid-19. Excerpts:</p> <p><br> <b>What is top on the agenda to revive the party?</b></p> <p><br> My first agenda is to convert Karnataka Congress from a mass-based party to a cadre-based party. We will transform into a party that values the party worker and involves him in every decision as he is the voice of the common man. The voice of the party worker should be the voice of the party, too. I do not want to impose my ideas and decisions as I want people to hear the voice of the ordinary party worker.&nbsp;</p> <p><br> <b>The Congress's organisational structure at booth-level has weakened. How will a cadre-based party shape up?</b></p> <p><br> I believe there already is a structure and presence of our workers in every booth. But we need to connect to them. We are working on identifying and grooming the local workers into leaders. There is a disconnect and that is the reason why Rahul Gandhi called for a programme—“Shakti”—to connect every party worker to the leadership.</p> <p><br> <b>What changes do you expect to make at the grassroots?</b></p> <p><br> Today, we need to reach out to every voter.&nbsp; We no longer have the luxury of communicating only to the head of the family and be rest assured that all the family members would support us. Now, each member of a family thinks individually. The father has an opinion,&nbsp; which is not shared by his son. We want to decentralise the system.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><br> <b>How will you reach out to every voter and impress them, as every political party is wooing the common man?</b></p> <p><br> The Congress has been a mass-based party appealing to all sections of the society. Our party was built based on a movement (the freedom struggle), but today, the messaging and the communication channels have undergone a sea change. While the ideology of the Congress will not change, its approach will be technology-driven. There are multiple platforms on mainstream and social media.&nbsp; We need to create a system at the booth-level and groom leaders who will reach out to the voters.</p> <p><br> <b>You have said winning every booth is the key to electoral success. Can you explain?</b></p> <p><br> I am a party worker first and then the KPCC president. A booth-level worker is the key person for any party. In Kerala, we have a good model. The booth worker is the man who stands for the party and gets us the votes. The party should respect the booth-level worker.&nbsp; Anyone who aspires to be an office-bearer, the block president or youth Congress president, should have worked to strengthen his booth first. This will strengthen the organisation structure at the grassroot level.</p> <p><br> <b>How do you plan to fill the vacuum left by senior leaders who left the party?</b></p> <p><br> Besides the leaders, I want their supporters also to return. We have constituted a screening committee to examine requests from leaders inclined to join the Congress. The panel's recommendation will be based on the feedback it gets from the local leaders and party workers.</p> <p><br> <b>Why do you need a screening committee if the idea is to expand the party?</b></p> <p><br> Many leaders from other political parties want to join the Congress. The committee will consult the respective district and block-level committees and local leaders, before admitting the ‘migrant’ leader. A new entrant into the party should gel with the local leaders and party workers. Last time, when some JD(S) leaders joined the Congress, our cadres were upset and they shifted their loyalties to the JD(S). It was the JD(S) cadres, who came to the Congress along with their leaders, who supported our party. We lost some seats by a margin of 50,000 votes. We don't want to disrespect our cadres by imposing our decision on them.&nbsp; Any decision taken by the party should have the consensus of the party workers, too.</p> <p><br> <b>How do you rate the Covid-19 response of the Centre and the state government?</b></p> <p><br> The Modi and the Yeddiyurapa governments have no eyes, ears or hearts. It is clear from their Covid-19 response. The Centre announced a Rs20 lakh crore package and the state government announced a Rs 1,680 crore package. But are benefits reaching the people? The food kits given during the crisis was part of the common minimum programme started by the UPA. We saw the food kits meant for migrants being distributed among the BJP supporters and voters. They put photos of BJP leaders on the packets. If the migrants had got food kits and money, they would have stayed back in Karnataka. The Congress extended all support to the ruling party during the Covid-19 crisis. But we were assertive and aggressive when we realised the people were suffering.</p> <p><br> <b>During the migrants crisis, the Congress was accused of playing politics as it staged a dharna and offered to pay the bus fare for migrants. Comments.</b></p> <p><br> The Congress party is worried about the migrant workers as they are the sole breadwinners of their families. It is a fact that though they stay away from their homes, they have the power to influence their people back home. They tell their people who to vote for, or which party is good or bad. The IT guy, the government employee, the rich man, the poor man, each has a single vote. So, everyone is equal. We must listen and respond to every individual voice.</p> <p><br> <b>How will you ensure that the people get what is promised in the packages?</b></p> <p><br> They have put in many rules and regulations in place to claim the benefits. This is not practical. The government wants to discourage people from availing the benefits. The barber or the washerman needs to access an app and fill in his information to avail the benefit. Is it not a joke? There are better ways to do it. The village officers can get the details and photograph of everyone eligible for benefits with just a mobile phone, and disburse the benefit (money) on the spot. You can authorise the tehsildar to sign the cheque. We want to ensure that the packages do not remain as announcements.</p> Thu Jun 18 17:25:48 IST 2020 care-and-chaos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Aarthi Ravikumar </b>(name changed), 46, a staff nurse at the Tamil Nadu Government Multi Super Speciality Hospital, Omandurar Estate, Chennai, is physically and mentally tired. She is currently on a seven-day home quarantine, after having nursed Covid-19 patients for a fortnight. She had become used to seeing at least four deaths a day at the designated Covid-19 facility. “It is a horrible experience,” she said. But Aarthi consoles herself saying that she could save a Covid-19 patient with diabetes, with her timely intervention.</p> <p>Nursing has become an ordeal these days. “Taking care of patients has always been my love. But my experience in these three months was terrible,” she said. The Omandurar Estate hospital, where she works, has two towers and 14 floors with more than 400 beds for Covid-19 patients. The hospital is one of the biggest government facilities in the state for Covid-19 patients.</p> <p>Tamil Nadu has more than 46,000 Covid-19 cases; 73 per cent of them are from Chennai and majority are active. As per data available from the Greater Chennai Corporation, 15,385 people in Chennai are still under treatment for Covid-19, and at least 5,000 of them are in home care (as on June 15).</p> <p>“The numbers strike a fear,” said Parthasarathy Ranganathan, 56, a resident of West Mambalam in Chennai. “Recently, more than 50 shops in my locality were closed. My neighbour said that a shop owner tested positive for Covid-19. I used to shop from most of the shops which have been closed. I feel no precaution can save Chennai anymore.”</p> <p>On June 15, the state government announced that Chennai and the neighbouring districts of Tiruvallur, Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu will have an intense lockdown from June 19.</p> <p>Apparently, it was only on June 12 that Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had said that the government had no intention to declare an intense lockdown.</p> <p>The upcoming lockdown will be for 12 days— including two Sundays, without relaxations. Sources in the Chennai Corporation and the state health department said that during this lockdown, there will be a coordinated effort to collect data of the infected people and to intensify contact tracing. But the 12-day lockdown might not be sufficient to bring down the numbers, say experts. In fact, the medical expert committee wanted a stricter quarantine and increased monitoring and testing in containment zones, instead of a lockdown.</p> <p>“What can a lockdown achieve when the past five lockdowns have not yielded results as expected?” asked infectious disease expert Dr Subramanian Swaminathan. “For disrupting transmission [of virus] we need at least three weeks, and these 12 days will not be of any help. It does not make any epidemiological sense.”</p> <p>Apparently, members of the medical expert committee also said that bringing Chennai under control within a 12-day period is “impossible”. They also pointed out that even if the numbers are brought down as of now, the city might witness a second wave like in China. “The only way out is to encourage hand hygiene and social distancing,” said Dr J. Amalorpavanathan, former director at the Institute of Vascular Surgery, Madras Medical College. He feels that the previous lockdowns did not yield the expected results as the government failed to ramp-up testing.</p> <p>A study by the Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University in May predicted that the spread and the death rate in the state will see a new peak by July: With loosened lockdown, at least 1,50,244 cases and 1,654 deaths (by July 15); without lockdown, cases up to 2,10,197. The study also predicts a bigger peak in September-October.</p> <p>“The infectivity rate in Chennai is high,” said Dr S. Poongulali, senior consultant at Voluntary Health Services, Infectious Diseases Medical Centre. “Out of 18,000 people tested daily, at least 2,000 people test positive, which means close to 11 per cent of the cases are positive. Lockdown will not help without increased testing rate and contact tracing. Lockdown cannot be a strategy by itself.”</p> <p>Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, former principal at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, however, feels that Chennai is slowly coming out of the epidemic. “Piece by piece, each cluster is coming to an end, and each containment zone has got herd immunity,” he said.</p> <p>There is a general notion that the Koyambedu cluster was responsible for the spread of the virus in Chennai. But experts question the source for Covid 19 clusters in the police department, government hospitals and Puzhal Central Prison, and a cluster at Kannagi Nagar slum area.</p> <p>The high exposure of doctors and nurses at the government hospitals could also not be controlled due to the shortage in man power. According to Aarthi, many staff nurses at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (RGGGH) and Omandurar Estate hospital, who had tested positive for Covid-19, have underwent treatment and returned to work. Incidentally, Thanga Lakshmi one of the staff nurses at RGGGH, who had a second exposure, died on June 14.</p> <p>At Omandurar Estate hospital, 140 nurses work in two batches. At a time, one batch will be in quarantine, while the other batch (split into three groups of 23-24 personnel) works in three shifts. “Just 23 people for 400 patients. Imagine the burden on us,” said Aarthi.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the government has greenlit a controversial step to increase the man power. On June 14, an advertisement in a Tamil daily said a private firm named Gentleman HR Recruiting Agency is recruiting for the posts of ward boys, lab technicians, radiologists and dialysis experts at the government hospitals. The permission given to the agency for the recruitment was apparently cancelled by the government on June 17, following criticism from the media and the opposition. “The government is working round the clock to serve the people. We are very transparent in handling the pandemic,” said Health Minister Dr C. Vijayabaskar.&nbsp; </p> Tue Jun 23 21:39:55 IST 2020 team-of-turncoats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>AFTER HE WAS REAPPOINTED</b> as president of the BJP’s West Bengal unit in January this year, Dilip Ghosh had a closed-door meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was the party’s national president then. Ghosh told Shah that he needed to pick his own team to improve the party’s prospects in the state before the assembly polls in 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shah sought a wish list. Ghosh sent one, but it was so startling that a party general secretary in Delhi called him and requested a meeting when he came to Delhi for the budget session of Parliament later that month. Ghosh is the MP from Medinipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the meeting, the secretary told Ghosh that the shake-up he proposed was so drastic that the national leadership would struggle to contain resentment in the party. Ghosh said if the BJP wanted to win Bengal, it should have leaders “who were connected to the ground” (trinamool, in Bengali).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The secretary said the list would have to wait, as Shah was preparing to pass the mantle of party president to working president J.P. Nadda. Once Nadda took charge, in late January, he began assessing Ghosh’s plan. Nadda spoke to Kailash Vijayvargiva, Shiv Prakash and Arvind Menon (all general secretaries in charge of Bengal) and Mukul Roy, who had quit the ruling Trinamool Congress to join the BJP in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Three months later, Ghosh was given the green light. He was asked to constitute a state committee that had Trinamool defectors in key positions and fewer RSS emissaries. Several leaders who had won the Lok Sabha elections last year were brought in, and “non-performers” shown the door.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the non-performers were party vice president and Subhas Chandra Bose’s grandnephew Chandra Bose; Rajya Sabha members Roopa Ganguly and George Baker, who was also the BJP’s Anglo-Indian face; RSS ideologue Shamik Bhattacharya; and firebrand leader Badsha Alam, who allegedly attacked Mamata Banerjee in the 1990s, when he was in the CPI(M).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh appointed former Trinamool MP Saumitra Khan as president of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, replacing RSS nominee Debjit Sarkar. Khan had quit the Trinamool two years ago. He was charged with murder and barred from entering Bishnupur after the BJP fielded him for the Lok Sabha seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan campaigned over the phone, while his wife, Sujata, and partymen hit the trail. He ended up scoring a surprise victory. As head of the Yuva Morcha, he is expected to replicate the key role the youth wing played in helping the BJP come to power in Tripura, Assam and Manipur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party’s Scheduled Caste Morcha, too, is now headed by a former dalit leader of Trinamool—Dulal Bar, who represents Bagdah in the assembly. Khagen Murmu, a former left leader who represents Malda North in the Lok Sabha, has been named head of the BJP’s Scheduled Tribe Morcha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fashion designer Agnimitra Paul, who had joined the BJP last year, has been named chief of the party’s women wing. She replaced Locket Chatterjee, MP, former actor who has long been a vocal critic of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chatterjee is now one of the five general secretaries of the BJP’s state unit. The others include Jyotirmoy Mahato, who had won from Purulia last year; Sabyasachi Dutta, once a close confidant of Mamata; and Sayantan Basu, who had lost to Nusrat Jahan of the Trinamool last year but polarised the Muslim-majority Basirhat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are three new vice presidents: Arjun Singh, Barackpore MP and former Trinamool leader; Bharati Ghosh, who was key IPS officer under Mamata; and Mafuja Khatun, former CPI(M) leader who gave a tough fight to the victorious Trinamool candidate in Jangipur and polled more votes than Abhijit Mukherjee, incumbent MP and former president Pranab Mukherjee’s son. Jangipur is a Muslim-dominated seat where the BJP had no hopes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ghosh said the new state committee was composed of active and capable leaders. “We all wanted performers who would act as an election team,” he said. “Our central leadership told us not to include people who were not active.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the team is led by Ghosh, most new appointees are Mukul Roy’s followers. By increasing Roy’s clout, the BJP seems to be following its successful strategy in the northeast. It was Congress defector Himanta Biswa Sarma who helped the party’s rise to power in Assam and other northeastern states.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Arvind Menon said the BJP would fight the assembly polls next year under the new team. “The party sat down and made the best choice,” he told THE WEEK. “This is the best team available and it will click next year.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An RSS hand, Menon had helped the BJP win seven of eight seats in north Bengal after he was put in charge of the region. He said Mamata’s popularity was at an all-time low because of her inept handling of Covid-19 and cyclone crises. But he praised the efforts of the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front government in his home state, Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are politically very much against the communists, who are ruling Kerala,” said Menon. “But we have no complaint against them as far as the Covid-19 handling is concerned. Rajasthan (which is ruled by the Congress) also did well by having a coordinated plan with the Union government. But in Bengal, the state government did not even think of poor people and played dirty politics.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the BJP would tell voters about the Trinamool government’s “lackadaisical attitude” in tackling the pandemic in the state. “What is the point of hiding numbers? Why did she not welcome migrant labourers [returning to the state]? Why did people die at home without getting treatment? Shouldn’t we tell all this to the people?” asked Menon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP’s major worry is its poor presence in parts of south Bengal. In Howrah, South 24 Parganas, East Midnapore and Kolkata districts, the BJP had drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha polls. “This region is a major headache for us,” said vice president Biswapriya Roy Chowdhury. “But the situation has improved a lot. In one year, we will overcome the hurdles in this region.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chandra Bose’s removal from the state committee could cost the BJP dear. If Bose is forced to become a BJP rebel, Mamata could project it as a slight to his illustrious family. Trinamool has had two MPs from the family—Krishna Bose, wife of Subhas Bose’s nephew Sisir Bose; and her son, historian Sugato Bose. A distant member of the family, Amit Mitra, is Mamata’s finance minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Menon said Chandra Bose would be “accommodated” elsewhere. “I have spoken to him,” he said. “His advice and active participation would help the party. One must understand that not everyone can be made vice president or general secretary.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Covid-19 having restricted political activities in the state, experts say the BJP is more affected than the ruling party. In the Lok Sabha elections last year, there was a 6 per cent difference in the vote shares of the Trinamool and the BJP. When the pandemic struck, the BJP had been taking measures to bridge the gap well before the assembly polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Menon, however, said Covid-19 had only made Mamata more unpopular. In April, she roped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor to help manage her image in the run-up to the polls. “Mark my words: The worst of this would be the advice she will get from Kishor,” said Menon. “It will boomerang on her, as her own partymen would get angry and join us.”</p> Fri Jun 12 15:10:59 IST 2020