India's Digital India initiative has emerged as a beacon of inspiration, showcasing the country's commitment to taking digitalization to the next level. Launched by the Government of India in 2015, Digital India encompasses a comprehensive vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Through a range of transformative initiatives, Digital India has become a remarkable global example of harnessing digital technologies for inclusive growth and development.
At its core, Digital India seeks to bridge the digital divide by ensuring equitable access to digital infrastructure and services across the country. It aims to connect every citizen with the power of technology, enabling them to participate fully in the digital age. With a focus on three key areas - digital infrastructure, digital empowerment, and digital services - Digital India has brought about significant progress and has been recognized internationally for its achievements.
One of the cornerstones of Digital India is the establishment of a robust digital infrastructure. The initiative has spearheaded the deployment of high-speed broadband connectivity to every corner of the nation, including rural and remote areas. Under the BharatNet project, the government has laid an extensive optical fiber network, connecting over 250,000 village panchayats (local administrative units) with broadband services. This has empowered millions of Indians with access to the internet, opening up a world of information, education, and opportunities previously inaccessible to them.
Furthermore, Digital India has revolutionized the delivery of government services through digital platforms, making them more accessible, efficient, and transparent. The implementation of the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has transformed the way financial transactions are conducted, enabling seamless, secure, and real-time payments across different banks and payment service providers. The Digital Locker System, e-Hospital, and e-Procurement are some other notable examples of digital services introduced under Digital India, streamlining administrative processes and enhancing service delivery to citizens.
Digital India's impact extends beyond national boundaries, serving as a source of inspiration for countries worldwide. Moreover, Digital India has paved the way for a vibrant digital startup ecosystem, nurturing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Initiatives like the Startup India program have provided a conducive environment for budding entrepreneurs to leverage digital technologies and launch innovative ventures. As a result, India has witnessed a surge in digital startups across various sectors, further propelling economic growth and creating employment opportunities.
In conclusion, Digital India stands as a shining example for the world, showcasing India's unwavering commitment to taking digitalization to the next level. Through its comprehensive vision, focus on digital infrastructure, digital empowerment, and digital services, Digital India has made significant strides in bridging the digital divide and empowering citizens. Its success story has not only transformed India but has also inspired countries globally to embark on similar digital transformation journeys. With its inclusive and transformative approach, Digital India has set a new standard for leveraging digital technologies for societal progress and serves as an inspiration for the world.
Prashant Tewari, Editor in Chief
The political parties in India try to outdo each other in luring the Indian voters with assorted goodies called freebies. This trend has gained more momentum in recent times with the political parties being innovative in their offerings as the ‘traditional free water and electricity is no longer sufficient as election goodies. The political dialogue built around freebies is fraught with danger as it shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree. The unviable pre-election promises adversely affect the informed decision-making by voters. This calls for fixing the gaps in the design, execution and accountability of freebie culture.
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In fact, the country has already suffered a great deal of damage because of freebies. Unfortunately, all parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, indulge in irresponsible populism and mad welfarism. While there can be justification for free education and healthcare, there can be no justification for the distribution of grinders, washing machines, television sets, laptops, subsidised pilgrimages, free electricity, farm loan waivers, and so on. It is not that nobody earlier warned against the consequences of populism. It is a “race to the bottom” and “a quick passport to fiscal disaster.”
FREEBIE THREATEN TO HURT INDIA’S STORY?
The results are for all to see. A recent RBI study said, “We can identify a core subset of highly stressed states from among the 10 states identified by the necessary condition i.e., the debt/GSDP ratio. The highly stressed states are Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan and West Bengal.” GSDP is the state GDP. The states with the highest debt-to-GSDP ratio in 2021-22 include Punjab at 53.3%, Rajasthan at 39.8%, West Bengal at 38.8%, Kerala at 38.3% and Andhra Pradesh at 32.4% whereas the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act recommended a debt-to-GDP ratio of 20% for state governments (40% for the Centre) by the financial year 2022-23. This level of debt is extremely concerning and is largely the result of committed expenditure and subsidies under populist schemes coupled with slow growth in revenues.
Most of the states, however, post a healthy picture of their finances which is aided by the fact that much of the borrowing that funds these freebies happens off-budget, beyond the pale of FRBM tracking.
A case in point is Latin America which provides key learning lessons on populist politics. Populism was active during the 1920s through to the 1970s, when the working poor united behind icons like Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Perón over their dissatisfaction with industrialisation. Populist governments resorted to inflationary financing to grant benefits to the poor. By the 1980s, uncontrolled public spending resulted in excessive fiscal deficits, unsustainable public debt and intractable inflation. Latin America’s ‘Lost Decade’ followed. Growth, at 5.6% in the 1970s, shrunk to 1.3% and stagnated for another decade. By the 1990s, inflation had reached 1,000% in countries like Brazil, and the poor suffered exponentially. Large economies including Mexico, Argentina and Brazil languished, and up to half of Latin Americans slid into poverty. It will augur well for India and its political stakeholders to imbibe the lessons of Latin America and how the first generation of fiscal reforms introduced in Latin America introduced political stability in the early 2000s. Going down the same path as Latin America may result in a ‘lost decade’ for India also.
Since getting elected is not a license to kill, the elected representatives must not act arbitrarily. The system of monarchy and practicing democracy have a distinction wherein in the latter system, the leader is accountable for all the actions while in the office including the finances and its management. In India, many regional and even national leaders consider themselves the incarnation of god. The reckless way these leaders spend public money is just unacceptable in an orderly society and there have to be reasonable restrictions to be imposed on them while they systematically corrupt the society by offering freebies over quality governance, just to safeguard the macro interest of the society and the growth of the country.
Prashant Tewari Editor-in-Chief
Vaishnavism is one of the major forms of modern Hinduism, characterized by devotion to the god Vishnu and his incarnations. A devotee of Vishnu is called a Vaishnava. The Vaishnavite tradition is known for its loving devotion to an avatar of Vishnu, and as such was key to the spread of the Bhakti movement in South Asia in the 2nd millennium CE. For Vaishnava, absolute reality is manifested in Vishnu, who in turn is incarnated in Rama, Krishna, and other avatars. Through his avatars, Vishnu defends traditional righteousness in keeping with the moral law.
Vaishnavism is the worship and acceptance of Vishnu. The various sects of worshippers of Vishnu pray to him in different ways. For some, the goal of religious devotion to Vishnu is liberation from the cycle of birth and death. For others, it is health and prosperity in this life, good crops, success in business, or thriving children.
Vaishnavism comprises many sects and groups that differ in their interpretation of the relationship between the individual and God. It has four main categories of sub-schools: the medieval-era Vishishtadvaita school of Ramanuja, the Dvaita school of Madhvacharya, the Dvaitadvaita school of Nimbarkacharya, and the Pushtimarg of Vallabhacharya. The Srivaishnava sect, for example, emphasizes the doctrine of qualified non-dualism of Ramanuja, according to which, although the differentiated phenomenal world is illusory, it is nevertheless the medium through which devotees may gain access to God. Another group professes the dualism of the philosopher Madhva, the belief that God and the soul are separate entities and that the soul’s existence is dependent on God. The Pushtimarg sect maintains the pure non-dualism doctrine of the theologian Vallabhacharya, which does not declare the phenomenal world to be an illusion. The Gaudiya sect, founded by Chaitanya, teaches inconceivable duality and non-duality, the belief that the relation between God and the world is beyond the scope of human comprehension.
The first supreme omnipresent Jagad Guru Shrimad Vallabhacharya Mahaprabhuji established the Vaishnav religious system to grace upon the Universe, the Divine Grace, also known as Pushtimarg.
Sri Ramanujacharya Swamy, who graced this world in the 11th century, is the most important exponent of Sri Vaishnavism. His legacy is not just how many hearts he has touched, but how many ‘souls’ he has transformed.
The current proponent of Vallabhacharya and Ramanujacharya cults namely HH Dwarkeshlalji Maharaj and HH Chinna Jeeyar Swamy respectively are doing a fabulous job to promote global peace, tranquility, and universal well-being. The two Ambassadors of the Vaishnav cult have united the nation and international PIO population with their motherland.
The PLA -- the world's largest military force with more than 2 million active personnel -- is often described as "party-army" with professional characteristics". Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, made a concerted effort to put the PLA under the command of the state instead of the CCP -- an initiative carried forward by his successors, albeit with varying degrees of emphasis. The ascent of Xi Jinping in 2013 marked a new chapter as he sought to inject a renewed sense of party ideology into the PLA and modernise it.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced the most extensive set of reforms for the Peoples's Liberation Army (PLA) in its history. These reforms sought to consolidate President Xi Jinping's hold over the Army and bring about jointness in the forces by replacing military regions with theatre commands.
Though "world-class" is not explicitly defined, a rough survey of 'PLA Daily' suggests that world-class forces are roughly similar to major military powers, including the US, France, UK, and to a certain extent in some elements, India. This points towards the ability to deploy (including airlift) troops with agility and flexibility anywhere, including abroad, to protect Chinese interests.
These reforms align with China's expanding overseas footprint -- investments under the Belt and Road Initiative, the growing profile of the PLA Navy (PLAN) in anti-piracy operations and its first overseas military base in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa. Besides, these reforms bring the PLA on a par with the major militaries in the world in terms of force posture and joint capabilities.
The restructuring of the PLA comes on the back of an exponential increase in China's defence budget since the late 1990s. For the past decade, its military spending has surpassed the annual GDP growth, reflecting Beijing's priority for military modernisation and its global ambitions.
In 2020, its spending was $209.16 billion (1.268 trillion yuan). According to Chinese Ministry of Finance figures, this year, the spending is expected to be close to $208 billion (1.35 trillion yuan).
It is the PLA's cyber, space, and electronic warfare service branch. Its focus on emerging technologies points to China's recognition of the global trend that "informatisation" or information-based/data-driven combat operations are at the core of contemporary military advancement.
The SSF reports directly to the CMC and not to any of the theatre commands, enabling joint operations for all the theatre commands through the CMC, acting like their "information umbrella". Its creation has improved the PLA's ability to fight information wars vis-a-vis its adversaries.
The SSF administers two deputy theatre command-level departments: the Space Systems Department, responsible for military space operations and the Network Systems Department, responsible for information operations such as cyberattacks and cyber espionage campaigns, for which China has gained notoriety in recent years.
India's first Chief of Defence Staff, late General Bipin Rawat, had remarked that China is the "biggest security threat" facing India. India will have to take a long view of China's transformed military power and expedite and adjust its defence reforms to achieve the same results.
Implementing such reforms requires greater political management of the forces and lesser interference from the civilian bureaucracy. Moreover, optimising the limited budgetary resources, India must intensify its ongoing force restructuring initiatives, including integrating the three services and adding to its power projection capabilities.
The Russian-Ukraine conflict has exposed the limitation of the United Nations to safeguard the interest of the nation when attacked by the adversary. Russia rightly or wrongly has destroyed Ukraine and the international community has remained a mute spectator. India must tighten its belt and secure maximum budgetary allocation for the modernization of its armed forces to tackle the ever-growing real-time threat of expansionist China.
Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief
The Russia-Ukraine crisis has the world on its edge. The deadly conflict has divided the world into two factions with different takes on the situation. The United Nations Security Council has advised Vladimir Putin to withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine. However, the efforts went in vain as Russia vetoed the resolution. UNSC is having total 15 members, 11 were in favour of the decision. Countries like India, China, and the United Arab Emirates abstained from voting. In light of this, India's decision has garnered mixed reactions globally. While many support the decision, many are disappointed with the developments and condemn the Russian invasion.
'Balanced Diplomacy' is one of the primary reasons behind India standing on neutral ground to continue a good relationship with Russia. For years now, both countries have stood by each other on several occasions. The friendship between PM Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin is known to everyone. Along with this, the country has factored in its national security in the delicate diplomatic scenario. India has been looking closely at the ongoing conflict, especially when Pakistan PM Imran Khan visited Putin in Moscow just hours into its Ukraine invasion. Seeing the country's growing relationship with Pakistan and China has unsettled the political dynamics. However, India abstaining from voting also showcases its resistance to the recent attacks. "The Chinese explanation of the vote seems to support Russia, while our explanation is objective and points out that this was in contravention of the UN Charter and International Law. We have kept space for diplomacy and dialogue,"
Furthermore, the country has asked the Russians for de-escalation as violence will never be the answer. Is Neutrality Enough? Many have welcomed India's decision to remain neutral in the deadly conflict, keeping in mind the country's interests in the future. It is a tightrope walk for the country as it tries to balance its relationship with Russia and the USA, which are on the opposite side of the spectrum. However, questions are being raised about the move. Is neutrality enough? Is being silent about Russia's uncalled intrusions into Ukraine the answer? According to The Diplomat, silence is painful as an expert claimed that India will have a challenging future ahead after this stance. Its neutral approach may hamper its ties with the Americans and other Western liberal countries. What is all the more alarming is Russia's recent response to nukes. It 'highly appreciates' India's balanced approach in the conflict. This sets a bad precedent for the country as it could 'silently' support Russia's earlier actions in Ukraine and Crimea. As a liberal democracy, India's neutral stand is not appreciated by Ukraine at all. The country's envoy in India publicly showed his discontentment as it wants a powerful developing nation like ours to stand with a country in crisis.
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to Narendra Modi, requesting his support in the same. US President Joe Biden said to PM Modi must take a stand on the current crisis. It is noteworthy to mention the stand taken by Ukraine viz Russia in respect of Indian national interest namely Kashmir, the border dispute between India & China, bogus human rights issues, etc, India should deal with the current crisis.
Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief
Tablighi Jamaat is often considered extremely orthodox in its interpretations, with the ability to convert Muslims into radical believers. The Tablighi Jamaat members have declared they are not political but they tacitly supported secular political parties in India to protect their interests after the partition of the country. They say the Prophet Mohammed has commanded all Muslims to convey the message of Allah, and the Tablighis take this as their duty. They divide themselves into small Jamaats (societies) and travel frequently across the world to spread the message of Islam to Muslim houses. During this travel, they stay in local mosques. This free spread has enabled them to meet the vulnerable deprived section of the Hindu population in India and backed up by the power of petrodollars & ISI dirty money machine including the vast network of Dawood Ibrahim and other anti-national entities, they have converted a large section of the population in the last 70 years with ease and without force.
Radicalism and Role in Acts of Terror Some TJ followers have worked as allies of Jihadi and sectarian organizations. However, once they joined the militant organizations, they cut off their links with the Tablighis. The terror groups have used the TJ congregations as a selection camp for recruitment. Tablighi Jamaat has been a sympathizer and supporter of jihadi organizations such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al Qaeda and Taliban. According to the India Abroad News Service report, "As per WikiLeaks, some of the 9/11 al-Qaeda suspects detained by the US in Guantanamo Bay had stayed in the Tablighi Jamaat headquarters in Nizamuddin West, New Delhi, years ago". According to Pakistani security analysts and Indian investigators, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) members, involved in the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999, were members of Tablighi Jamaat.
Recently, Tablighi Jamaat has been banned in Saudi Arabia, and Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, whose governments see its puritanical preaching as extremist. When conservative societies are getting modernized in a fast-paced globalized world, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) is being credited with ushering in a reform phase in Saudi society and politics by giving up age-old religious, and societal customs and laws. Under his stewardship, theatres have been opened up in various Saudi cities, women have been allowed to drive cars, women can visit markets or shopping malls without a male chaperone, and they have been allowed not to wear Hijab or Abaya in places or to cover their faces.
In India, policymakers need to answer a simple question, how do we want to shape the future of our country? The constitution has declared India a secular state, then can Tablighi Jamaat or Bajrang Dal exist with the secular system?
Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief
The The poll pundits have sounded the alarm bell for the ruling party wherein disenchantment is building up within the electorate of a few poll-bound states. A similar disillusionment against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showed in the results of three Lok Sabha constituencies and 29 assembly seats across 13 states.
The saffron party was handed humiliating defeats in Himachal Pradesh, where elections are due next year, and stares at complete rejection in West Bengal, where it had emerged as the second-largest party after the Trinamool Congress (TMC), and routed in Rajasthan. Victories in Rajasthan will be sweet for the Congress because not only did it retain the Vallabhnagar seat but also wrested the Dhariawad constituency from the BJP. In Vallabhnagar, the BJP finished fourth while in Dhariawad, it was pushed to the third position. Barring its performance in Assam, where Himanta Biswa Sarma’s leadership steered the BJP and its ally United People’s Party (Liberal) (UPPL) to comprehensive victories in all the five assembly segments, gaining four of these from opposition parties, the BJP put up a lackluster show if compared to its past performances.
The only seat where it was able to displace the ruling party was Huzurabad in Telangana. The BJP, which had won the closely-contested Dubakka by-poll last year, will now push to project itself as the primary challenger to the incumbent K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi.
However, Congress will gain some confidence from the by-polls. Not only did the party emerge stronger in BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh, but also fought tightly-contested elections in Madhya Pradesh, where although it managed to win only one of three seats, its 45.5% vote share was only 2% lower than the BJP’s. It also won the prestigious Deglur assembly seat in Maharashtra by a margin of around 42,000 votes. Deglur had become keenly watched because top BJP leaders like former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had extensively campaigned in a bid to topple Congress. The grand-old party would also be happy that it has wrested the Hangal constituency in Karnataka from the BJP. The seat falls in chief minister Basavaraj Bommai’s home district Haveri.
The by-polls also indicate that a substantial section of voters tends to prefer regional forces that are in strong positions. The TMC’s enormous wins in all four assembly seats of West Bengal signal such a trend. Not only did the TMC secure more than 75% votes in all the constituencies, but the other parties struggled to even save their deposit.
Similarly, the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress registered an emphatic win in Andhra Pradesh, defeating the BJP by more than 90,000 votes. The Shiv Sena, too, registered a win in Dadra and Nagar Haveli, its first outside Maharashtra. The Lok Sabha seat in the Union Territory had fallen vacant after independent MP Mohan Delkar died by suicide this year. Kelkar made serious allegations of harassment against BJP leader and Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel, who was also governing Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The Shiv Sena fielded Delkar’s wife Kalaben Delkar, who defeated the BJP candidate by a big margin. Indian National Lok Dal leader Abhay Chautala won the Ellenabad seat in Haryana by defeating the BJP in a closely-fought election. Chautala had resigned from the seat in support of the farmers’ protests earlier this year.
In Meghalaya, voters preferred Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party and United Democratic Party over Congress. In Bihar, although the Rashtriya Janata Dal could not win either of the two assembly segments in Bihar – Tarapur and Kusheshwar Ashtan – it held onto its ground and even managed to decrease the margin of victory considerably in Tarapur. The ruling Janata Dal (United) won both seats.
The biggest takeaway from the by-polls will be the BJP’s uninspiring show. The saffron party could not register wins in states where it is not in power, except in Telangana. The thrashing that it received in West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh are some of the biggest-ever defeats that the saffron party has faced. On the other hand, the Congress did comparatively well in BJP-ruled states, while performing exceedingly well in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where it is in power.
Notwithstanding the regional dynamics, the BJP’s reticence in responding to matters that affect the common man like fuel price rise, unemployment, crashing businesses, and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, even while it remains extremely vocal in counting its achievements in well-mounted advertisement campaigns, may cost the party dearly in the long run. While one should not read too much into the by-poll results, they do contain the warning signals of the beginning of a probable downfall.
However, BJP can argue that they have not unleashed the Modi card in the by-poll hence the initiative remains with them going ahead in the next round of elections.
(The writer is Prashant Tewari, Editor-In chief of the Opinion Express)
The Pakistan government at the moment seems to be rejoicing Taliban victory in Afghanistan. The manner in which it wanted to exploit the Taliban victory in Afghanistan has rebounded threatening to reinforce religious fundamentalist inclinations in Pakistan itself.
The Taliban's victory in Afghanistan may give Pakistan a choice to look at its relationships with its neighbours, not just from an anti-India stance as it tries to rein in and influence the Taliban to remain pro-Pakistan and not adopt an independent policy of their own.
However, the religio-politico situation of the region has increasingly shown a ripple effect in Pakistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains a prime example of such thinking.
Commenting on the evolving situation Ayesha Siddiqa, a geo-politics adviser at SOAS, UK, said that Rawalpindi invested primarily in the Taliban as it knew that the US would ultimately leave Afghanistan. Rawalpindi's prime desire was to ensure a friendly establishment in its north-western neighbouring nation, which doesn't get exploited against Pakistan's interests, especially by India.
While Pakistani fear that the Taliban victory may give a violent boost to the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban has close ties to their Afghan kin, and the TTP had started to be active again inside Pakistan even before the Taliban capture of Afghanistan.
The Taliban victory benefits from decades in which religious fundamentalism was woven into the fabric of Pakistani society as well as some of its key institutions. Siddiqa comments: "The fact remains that, notwithstanding the ambition to mellow the tone of religion in Afghanistan, Pakistan itself runs the risk of becoming more like its north-western neighbour more religious and more authoritarian."
Pakistan understands the complex situation very well and that's why it was pushing the Taliban to opt for a truly inclusive government besides broadening its contacts with other Afghan groups. A visit last week to the Pakistani capital by representatives of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and other Afghan politicians is a pointer in that regard.
In discussing the fallout for Pakistan of the Taliban victory, analysts have by and large focus on Pakistan as fertile ground for the spread of Taliban-style religious fundamentalism as well as concerns that it would enable TTP to rekindle their campaign of attacks in Pakistan.
The TTP is a coalition of Pashtun Islamist groups with close ties to the Afghan Taliban that last year joined forces with several other militant Pakistani groups, including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violently anti-Shiite Sunni Muslim supremacist organisation.
"Pashtuns of the Afghan Taliban will, after a few years in power, find common cause with their Pashtun kinsmen in Pakistan... There are plenty of Pakistani Pashtuns who would prefer the whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) to be part of a wider Pashtunistan," predicts scholar and former British ambassador to Pakistan Tim Willasey-Wilsey.
In fact, the events of the last 75 years confirm that the main focus of Pakistan's foreign policy has always been anti-Indian in tenor and practice. It became a fertile ground for Mujahideen in the 1970s, as it wanted to exert more influence on the Soviet state as compared to India besides stoking the fire in Indian Kashmir.
Later it allied with the US just in order to belittle India, but the reality is that Pakistan has always tried to be involved in Afghan affairs due to the economic gains also and this trend continues even now. The British Foreign Secretary Dominic Rabb, while in Pakistan last week, announced a doubling of aid to Afghanistan to 286 million pounds and released the first tranche of 30 million pounds of that to support Afghanistan's regional neighbours including Pakistan. Thus, in a way the foreign aid has not only lined the pockets of Afghan gang lords and politicians but even Pakistani generals and politicians.
This complexity in Afghan affairs and the recent announcements by senior Taliban leadership with regard to India puts Pakistan in a real quandary. Pakistan might also be concerned after a Taliban official Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai declared in a rare statement on foreign policy that "we give due importance to our political, economic and trade ties with India and we want these ties to continue. We are looking forward to working with India in this regard".
Pakistan in today’s contest may be rejoicing the de-facto control over Afghanistan but it will be a sure suicide in long term, leading to the destruction of the modern nation that its founding father MA Jinnah has dreamt of.
(The writer is Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief of The Opinion Express Group)
The Hits & Miss of Covid 19 in India: The WHO Representative to India, appreciated the response of the Government of India to the first wave of the pandemic COVID-19 describing the Lockdown Measures as "timely, comprehensive and robust". WHO has, however, cautioned that lockdowns alone would not eliminate coronavirus and India must take necessary measures to prevent a second and third wave of infections. The government failed to understand the gravity of the problem. Healthcare spending in India is abysmally low for an emerging economy with a population of 1.3 billion. The lack of the desired level of investment in the health infrastructure has so far resulted in the fragility of the Indian health ecosystem which posed a big hurdle in generating an effective response against the pandemic. It is, therefore, strongly recommended to the Government increase its investments in the public healthcare system and make consistent efforts to achieve the National Health Policy targets of expenditure up to 2.5% of GDP within two years as the set timeframe of the year 2025 is far away and the public health cannot be jeopardized till that time schedule.
The country has a poor state of primary healthcare, especially in rural areas. It is strongly recommended that the Ministry urgently increase its spending under the National Rural Health Mission to strengthen the delivery of healthcare services in rural areas, keeping in view the languishing health infrastructure and inadequate delivery of health services to the much-needed rural population. The country is ravaged by natural fury but our country has shown tremendous resilience to overcome the traumatic time. It is good to see that the Modi government has started the work on a war footing and the country is gradually limping back to normalcy. The most surprising sequence of the covid pandemic is the behavior of China. They have become aggressive at the border and started challenging the armed forces of the country by snatching land parcels. Even more surprising is the silence of our government on the Chinese intent, The entire world at G7 summit condemned China but the Indian leadership chooses to remain silent.
Rafale Ghost: In another development that will escalate demands in India for an independent probe into the controversial Rafale deal, a French judge has been appointed to lead a judicial investigation into alleged corruption and favouritism in the 7.8-billion-euro sale to India of 36 fighter aircraft, including the role of a middleman whose disclosures India’s Enforcement Directorate is reportedly aware of but has not bothered to investigate till now. Given the central role played by Anil Ambani’s Reliance group – Dassault’s Indian partner in the deal for the 36 aircraft – the probe is likely to also examine the nature of the association between the two companies.
India and Dassault had officially been negotiating terms for the purchase and manufacture of 126 Rafale jets right up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s publicly announced decision – on April 10, 2015 – to scrap that deal and replace it with the outright purchase of 36 fighters. In a sensational new revelation, “Documents seen by Mediapart show that Dassault and Reliance had, in fact, signed their first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – a document setting out broad outlines of an agreement – on March 26th 2015. That was 15 days before Modi’s announcement of the turnaround, and the exclusion of HAL, and begs the question as to whether the two companies had been informed of it in advance.”
“The two partners agreed on a maximum investment in the subsidiary of 169 million euros. Of that sum, Dassault, which held a 49% stake in DRAL, pledged to provide up to 159 million euros, representing 94% of the total, while Reliance would provide just the remaining 10 million euros. “This meant that Reliance was given the majority 51% stake in the joint venture in return for a relatively very modest sum. While Reliance brought neither funds nor know-how of any significance to the joint venture, it did bring to it its capacity for political influence. On November 9, 2015, Dassault CEO Trappier and Reliance Group chairman Anil Ambani signed a “strategic partnership agreement”, which was a more detailed document than the previous March 26, 2015 MoU, for the establishment of a joint venture in India. While it detailed how Dassault would provide “technology and know-how”, “technical assistance” and “international marketing” capabilities, Reliance was expected to provide only “production facilities”, presumably land, and “marketing for programs and services with the GOI and other authorities in compliance with applicable laws”. Narendra Modi has to face a twin attack on Covid mismanagement and Rafale Ambani jugalbandi in the coming parliamentary session.
(The Writer is the Editor-in-Chief of The Opinion Express Group)
Modi government and several state government's incompetence is largely responsible for India’s pandemic disaster, as infections and deaths mount at a terrifying pace in India, the prime minister’s team's culpability for the crisis has become startlingly clear. A literate leader might have saved India from this manmade disaster.
India might have been spared this humanitarian crisis had Modi and his team not neglected their duties and vilified those who offered him, constructive counsel. He had the time, means, and access to expertise to prove the country against this inferno. As early as last November, a parliamentary committee had issued warnings of a second wave and urged the government to stockpile oxygen. But rather than bolstering India’s capacities, Modi used the virus to burnish his cult and pillage the country.
Last March, days after plunging India into chaos by announcing a nationwide lockdown with a four-hour notice, he sought tax-free donations for a fund called PM CARES to help the poorest of the poor, buy personal protective equipment and build oxygen plants across India. The equivalent of more than a billion dollars flowed into it during the first week. What did Modi do with all that money? Nobody knows and nobody is allowed to know.
Like those other leaders, Modi has spent more time diminishing the pandemic’s seriousness than combating it. In early March, even as cases in India rose alarmingly, he again boasted that the country would serve as “the world’s pharmacy,” churning out vaccines for developing nations. His health minister judged India to have entered the “endgame” of the pandemic. In a new cricket stadium named after Modi, tens of thousands of largely unmasked people turned out to watch matches between India and England last month. Many more unprotected people turned out for Modi’s recent election rallies in the state of West Bengal, and an estimated 3.5 million people attended, with the encouragement of Modi’s Hindu nationalist colleagues, the Kumbh Mela religious festival.
COVID-19 has shown that we have underestimated the insidious nature of and the menace posed by biological weapons to humanity. It is difficult to anticipate new, highly infectious, and deadly bioagents like COVID-19. The absence of immediate bio-defenses and the time-lag in finding treatment(s) and vaccine(s) enables the invisible enemy to inflict high morbidity and mortality. The latency period and mutation into virulent and different strains, along with the chances of a recurrence in waves, make disease detection and control more challenging.
Mass contagion and efforts to contain it, including through the Great Lockdown, have brought even the most powerful countries to their knees and economies to a grinding halt. It has pushed robust democratic societies into turmoil and has led governance into crisis. The pandemic has generated a psyche of fear, uncertainty, and helplessness among people everywhere.
Wish the ruling class in India should be literate enough to understand the scientific inputs rather than the usual election dynamic of dividing communities into communal, caste, and class lines.
The writer is Prashant Tewari, Editor-in-Chief of The Opinion Express Group)
THE MAHA BLUNDER: Many political leaders, who were in influential positions in Maharashtra and Gujarat during 1990s had developed close relations with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his henchman Iqbal Mirchi. This assertion was officially put down on paper when the N.N. Vohra committee submitted its report to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 5 October 1993, roughly three months after it was established on 9 July 1993 in the aftermath of 12 March 1993 Bombay bomb blasts. While the contents of the report, which was subsequently made public on 1 August 1995 in Parliament, were only limited to 11 pages, it is a part of the government’s own records that the finding of the report, in total, was close to 100 pages. It is these 100 pages that were never made public, that have now become relevant, almost 26 years after they were brought into existence after Union Home Minister Amit Shah highlighted the issue on the floor of the parliament. The 100 pages with annexures, which are the most vital part of the report, according to old Intelligence Bureau (IB) hands, contain the names of leading politicians and bureaucrats who helped Dawood and Mirchi from the 1970s till 1993 and beyond.
However, there is strong hope among former Intelligence officials that the present dispensation at North Block will now be able to gather the courage to make 100 pages of the report public, especially with the BJP now raking up the issue of the connections between politicians and Dawood. The matter has taken a serious turn in the present context when Pakistan is using Dawood & Co extensively to sabotage the progress of India. The terror attacks, gold smuggling, drug trafficking, and money laundering is extensively pushed by the Dawood network to weaken the Indian state on the behest of hostile neighbor Pakistan, a proxy controlled by China.
The growth of Dawood and Mirchi was due to the fact that the concerned enforcement agencies did not timely take action against him and, later, this perhaps became difficult on account of the enormous patronage that he had developed. MHA was given all kinds of information, in volumes of pages, which were ‘ultra-sensitive’ in nature. This information clearly showed how politicians were on the payroll of Dawood and how they were acting as his servants. Much of this information was produced in the Vohra committee report, in the portion which was not made public. We can understand why it was not made public before, but now, there is no political compulsion as such. It should have been presented before the public to show the deep nexus that existed between the politicians, police and criminals. All the recent developments in Maharashtra related to Vazegate and his handlers rouge police commissioner Paramvir Singh, NCP & Shiv Sena political leadership are known to the entire country. It further establishes the fact that nothing has changed on the ground when it comes to the criminal synergy between the various stakeholders.
Syndicated crime has dented the prosperity of the country and it has infected the system from top to bottom. It is imperative that the present government must table the Vohra committee report on the floor of the parliament and expose the nexus between the politics, police, bureaucrat, and media linkage with the syndicated mafia to clean up the governance. Narendra Modi has repeatedly promised corruption-free governance, and transparent society and his strong-willed home minister should take up the Vohra committee report seriously and the process to clean up the opaque corrupt system controlled by the mafia must end. The role of the state governments is critical to clean up the mess since law & order is a state subject. The roadmap set up by UP Chief Minister to clean up the syndicated mafia should be taken as a glaring example to set law & order right. Our country has limited resources and the scarcity is going to increase further, hence the distribution of available resources becomes key for the success of the nation. We need a coordinated effort from all the stakeholders to erase the mafia nexus so that the next generations can live in peace.
(The writer is Prashant Tewari Editor in Chief)