Saturday, June 20, 2020

Covid-19: Governments’ unwillingness to take people into confidence creates anxiety

The question cannot be evaded as to whether lockdown was a success or failure. Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that the lockdown is a failure because the number of those testing positive has increased at the end of the formal lockdown on June 1 is certainly not a fair assessment. The lockdown was never meant to keep the numbers down though the government, including the joint secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Lav Agarwal had strenuously argued that India will not need to experience the peak because the lockdown is meant to contain the numbers. It was a false argument, in terms of fact as well as of logic. The lockdown was meant to slow down the pace at which Covid-19 spread and enable the administration in the meanwhile to ramp up the medical facilities to cope with the increase in numbers.

The question then is whether the central and the state governments have expanded the medical facilities not just in terms of hospital beds, intensive care units (ICUs), oxygen masks and ventilators. The evidence points to the fact that the governments have been taking ad hoc measures, meeting the exigencies of the day instead of looking to the time in near future when the numbers of the Covid-19 patients was likely to grow exponentially as it has done since the beginning of May and now into June. And by all counts, the numbers are likely to increase in the months to come, stretching to the end of the year. There has been a knee-jerk response from the administration at all levels, and it is unsurprising that this is so.

The ad hoc-ism is reflected in the one-hour-twenty-minute meeting held on June 14 by Union Home Minister Amit Shah with Delhi Chief Minister Amit Shah, Delhi Lt. Governor Anil Baijal and the three municipal corporations of Delhi to tackle the issue of the increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases. This was something that should have been done immediately, or even much before, the clampdown of the lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25. And even now, the decisions arrived at the emergency meeting on Sunday smacks of ad hocism. They want to double and treble the number of tests and convert 500 rail coaches into Covid-19 care centres. There is still no clarity as to the number of people who would require hospital care.

No one in the government is willing to deal with the issue of the number of Covid-19 cases in a realistic manner because there is no transparency about the means used to estimate the numbers. Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia put the figure of the Covid-19 cases at 5.5 lakh by the end of July without revealing as to who did the exercise of estimating the numbers and what was the rationale behind the figure. Then we have the estimate of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)-constituted Operations Research Group that the lockdown has delayed the peaking of the pandemic, and that the peak is likely to be reached in mid-November. But the ICMR is not willing to own the findings.

There should have been rigorous exercise of estimating the future trajectory of Covid-19, but it seems that ICMR is acting in spurts and there is no sustained analysis of Covid-19 as it has unfolded from January 30 when the first case appeared in Kerala to the middle of June when the number of those infected at 3.32 lakh on June 14 while the study had put the figure of 5,29,872 for May 6. While statistical estimates and modelling are necessary exercises, there was also the need to assess the real time graph of the increase in the number of infections. The most crucial fact is the number of tests that have been carried so far. According to the ICMR website, the number is 60,84, 286 as on the morning of June 15. There is a connection between the number of tests and that of infections. If 3.54 lakh infected cases have come to light after testing nearly 58 lakh samples – the number of tests is based on samples and not on persons, and some people have been tested more than twice, first when they tested either positive or negative and again when they either tested negative or positive – it becomes a slightly tricky task of estimating the number of infected persons. But this is an issue that can be resolved by arriving at approximate number of tests to get the total figure of infections at any point of time. The ICMR’s sero-survey of 26,400 people in the first phase in the first month after the lockdown showed that 0.73 persons showed antibodies that pointed to exposure to the Covid-19 infection. Experts are hesitating to say whether the presence of antibodies is a sure sign that Covid-19 had passed through remains undecided.

It should be recognized straightaway that the doctors and the medical researchers are unsure about Covid-19, its intensity, its spread and its impact. The scientists are grappling with many unknowns. It can perhaps be argued that the governments at this point are following the tentative guidelines that the medical experts community is coming up with from time to time, and that the ad hoc nature of governmental response follows from the uncertainties of the state of knowledge that we have about Covid-19. It is however assumed that governments must act in these matters with the worst-case scenario in this context, and it could very well be the case that the worst may not come about. If that be indeed the case, we must prepare for the worst and hope for the best, however cliched it may sound. And to avoid confusion and the resulting anxiety in the public mind, governments and the medical experts must share the information, with the caveat that it is open to revisions and corrections. You cannot manage a pandemic, which is a national medical emergency, without taking the people into confidence. The governments and the political leaders are instead trying the old tricks of holding back what they consider to be sensitive and alarmist information to control possible public panic. It is a short-sighted Machiavellian ruse. It does not work. Sharing information is an imperative of a democratic society.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Numbing numbers of government munificence

What has the government done so far to deal with the financial woes unleashed by the Covid-19 crisis which has brought economic activity to naught since the first lockdown was announced for March 22 and a first 21-day lockdown from March 25, which was extended up to May 3 in a second lockdown, and up to May 17 for a third time? The Ministry of Finance in characteristic Modi government fashion has issued a statistical statement about the money and material spent on the people on May 6. The statement said that 8.19 crore PM-KISAN beneficiaries received a first instalment of Rs 16,494 crore, which works out to Rs 2000 per head.

It also said that 20.05 crore women Jan Dhan Yojana account holders received Rs 10,025 crore, which works out to Rs 500 per head. And of these, 8.72 crore women account holders claimed the amount through customer induced transaction, which accounts for 44 per cent of the total account holders. It also said that 2.20 crore building and construction workers were given Rs 3492.57 crore, which works out to Rs 1587 per head. And 2.82 crore old age persons, widows and disabled persons received Rs 1405 crore, which is Rs 498 per person.

Apart from these cash disbursements, the ministry stated that 36 states and Union Territories have lifted 67.65 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of food grains, of which 30.16 LMT have been distributed among 60.33 crore beneficiaries in April. And 6.9 lakh metric tonnes of food grains have been distributed among 12.39 crore people in May by 22 states and UTs, it says. And 2.49 LMT of pulses “have also been dispatched to various states/UTs” and they have been distributed to 5.21 crore ‘household beneficiaries’ out of 19.4 crore ‘such beneficiaries.’  Under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, 5.09 crore cylinders have been booked, and 4.82 crore free cylinders have already been delivered, according to the statement.

It stated that 9.6 lakh members of Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) withdrew online the non-refundable advance of Rs 2985 crore, and that 24 per cent of EPF contribution amounting to Rs 698 crore was transferred to 44.97 lakh employees. And that health insurance scheme for 22.12 lakh health workers in government hospitals and health care centres has been operationalized by New India Assurance.

Noting that the increased rate of MGNREGA has been notified on April 1, 2020 and that 5.97 crore person’s mandays work has been generated this financial year, the government press release says that Rs 21,032 crore has been released to the states “to liquidate pending dues of both wage and material”.

The government must have felt the need to put these numbers in public domain to parry the question as to what it has been doing in the face of the misery of the poor people in the wake of the Covid-19 induced lockdown since March 25 to prove that the government have not been insensitive and that they have been acting quietly and effectively to lend a helping hand to those who are suffering the most. But the belief that the statistics released in the press statement bear eloquent testimony to what is being done by the government for the people might prove to be unsatisfactory. People who have been experiencing the sharp sting of misery for days and weeks are not likely to be mesmerized by numbers, however impressive they may appear to be. The numbers are however the crutches that the government wants to use to stand up before the people.

But this  is in contrast to the reticence of the government to take note of the fact that hundreds of thousands of migrant labour are in sheer misery -- which is no fault of government while the November 2016 demonetisation fallout was nothing but its folly -- and its unwillingness to express concern over it. It is this bureaucratic resistance to take note of the hardship of people that is alienating the government among the people though the opinion charts reveal that Prime Minister Modi’s popularity is over 90 per cent, the highest for any national leader anywhere in the world.  There is not much of contradiction here. Mr Modi’s popularity is because of the people’s perception at large that the prime minister is an honest man and that he is doing his best. But that may not suffice.

It is evident that the central government has so far not released any money either through the states or through any other means, and that it has been mostly operating a barter economy of sorts, providing food grains and gas cylinders and a token cash component. The market runs on the wheels of cash, while the state-controlled supply system only ensures that basic items like food are made available in kind. While the government supplies are necessary, these government interventions do not help in reviving an economy. There is also the natural tendency for the government to keep tight control of economic activities through delayed payments. Late Arun Jaitley as well as incumbent finance minister Sitharaman have always claimed that budgetary allocation for the MGNREGA are higher than before, the plain fact is that it has not exactly ignited rural economy. MGNREGA remains an ameliorative measure and the Modi government is only too happy to play the role of benign patron by paying for public works.

The government, both at the centre and in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh want to reorder, as it were, the deployment of labour, which had been returning from industrial and business hubs like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Surat, by creating employment opportunities in the state itself. Of course, this remains a far-fetched idea because new investors and new enterprises would not absorb all the available work force. The prime minister too is turning in his mind the rusted idea of ‘self-reliance’ and localization of manufacturing. This is not a helpful way of moving the economy into a meaningful growth orbit. State-run and state-directed economies are usually duds and the Modi government seems to display the fatal desire to run the economy.







Saturday, May 16, 2020

Is India in the race for the coronavirus vaccine?


There is not much to show that India is in hot pursuit of the vaccine for Covid-19 or Sars-Co-2 as the world reels under the pandemic, where four million and more have tested positive, and about three hundred thousand have died. Prime Minister Narendra Modi however senses an opportunity for India to establish its credentials on the global front, and he is keen that India should be part of the race. In his televised address to the country announcing the extension of the lockdown from April 16 to May 3, the prime minister towards the end of the speech exhorted young scientists in India to work for the corona virus vaccine to win against the pandemic and win glory for the country. But it looks like that this could be nothing more than another of the prime minister’s rhetorical flourishes.

Indian scientific institutions and pharmaceutical companies do not seem to have it in them to go for the kill as it were. In other words, there is no buzz, no excitement in the Indian medical research circles or among the Indian pharmaceuticals. And there is no money either. A clumsy bureaucratic response of the government has been to promise funding for Covild-19 solutions which are ready to be deployed through the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). Funding is needed to do the required research to arrive at solutions. There is quite a bit of risk involved in research and development because success is not assured. But without taking the risk, no movement forward can ever be made.

 In a meeting with the prime minister on May 5, the Covid-19 task force had said according to the official press release that there were about 30 vaccine candidates. On May 9, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in a press release in the name of its director, Balram Bhargav, says that ICMR’s National Institute of Virology (NIV) in Pune will partner Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL) to produce an indigenous vaccine based on 11 samples of Covid-19, and It did not say who took the decision and how it was made. There was no reference to the committee that the ICMR had set up on April 6 – one of the six – to look into the vaccine aspect of Covid-19, while the others were tasked with dealing with the management and treatment of the people affected by the virus. BBIL on its part had announced in early April that it was working with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Madison-based GenFlu on anti-Covid 19 vaccine, which is a variant of the flu vaccine. There is no clarity on the coronavirus vaccine research and projects in India. The science bureaucracy seems to be calling the shots which is not the way to achieve scientific breakthroughs.

There are no research institutions in India like the Jenner Institute at the Oxford University in Britain, which has forced itself into the frontline to work towards a vaccine on a war-footing because it had already done work on a coronavirus vaccine for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), nor are there any Indian pharmaceutical companies like the Boston-based Moderna which has set in motion the making of a vaccine in collaboration with the country’s National Institutes for Allergy and Infection with its mRNA1273, ready to go into Phase2 trial. Pharma giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech have joined hands to make a vaccine. In China, CanSino Biologics, Beijing Institute of Biological Products are moving on with their candidate vaccines.

The enthusiasm and aggression required to be in the frontline of scientific research is absent in India for many reasons. One of them is the mindset inculcated among the Indian scientists of making research cost-effective by doing in India what has been done in the West at a lower cost. Hence Prime Minister Modi’s boast that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) mission to Mars was achieved at a fraction of the cost in the United States. It is often forgotten that adaptation and improvisation are a notch or two, even much more, lower than original work.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Shaheen Bagh – protest with a difference

Muslims stand up for equality principle enshrined in the Constitution

Muslims in India, the largest religious minority, have responded in an innovative and creative fashion to the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 which guaranteed citizenship to ‘persecuted religious minorities’ from the Muslim majority neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. They are protesting its tacit discrimination against Muslims from these countries, and its underlying bias against Muslims in the country. India’s Home Minister Amit and Prime Minister Modi have vehemently denied that the CAA discriminated against Muslims either in India or in the neighbourhood. But their assurances sounded weak and insincere because of the barely concealed hostility towards Muslims among the foot-soldiers of the right-wing nationalist ruling party.  

Shaheen Bagh is a lower middle class neighbourhood, where many of the women of all ages wear the veil or ‘burqa’. They are not the politically articulate angry protestors. They cannot argue their case like political activists. All that they say when they are asked about what should be done, they turn their faces away and say the CAA must go. And asked if they think that the government will listen to them, they almost shrug their shoulders and say that they hope that the government will listen when so many people are asking for it. They feel that something is terribly wrong and that it should be righted. They do not understand the nuances of the arguments about equality in terms of the Constitution. But they feel that it is time to argue the Muslim case but not any more in the narrow terms of “Muslim rights”. They feel that that they are fighting against the subtle or not-so-subtle hint of discrimination writ large in the CAA. They sit under the tent in the small square next to the narrow lane of shops of Shaheen Bagh through the day. The men stay out of the tent.  The faces have an expression of tragedy like the plaintive chorus in classical Greek tragedy. But there is a flicker of hope and gaiety in the faces of the younger women. They seem to be waiting for  a glimpse of sunshine on a bleak cloudy day.

Many of them are not willing to give their names when speaking to journalists. There is a lingering fear in their voices. I ask a young woman in a burqa who lives in the neighbourhood and who was sitting in the tent whether the police harass them. “The police do not harass much. They come and share their view and we tell them ours.” A university-going young woman says, “If we are wrong, they should come and explain to us.”

There are other people lingering at the protest tent. Three young people, in their late 20s, have come from Baroda, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the home state of Mr Modi served he served as chief minister from 2001 to 2013 before he became prime minister in 2014. They say that there were no protests in Gujarat because the provincial government does not allow protests. The atmosphere is stifling, they say. The police are hovering around the university in Baroda to keep any protests from erupting, especially around the famous fine arts department. One of them is an employee of a government enterprise, another is an artist. The third is a social activist. There are a large group of Sikh men, another religious minority group, sitting at the rear end of the protest tent. They have been manning the community kitchen for the protestors who swell the place in the late evenings and in the night. There are a few individuals who have come from Bihar in eastern India.

There is a blood donation ambulance at the back of the protest tent. It is that of the Om Blood Bank which serves thalassemic children in NOIDA. Dr Azhar says that they have set up a day-long blood camp at the site and 50 people have donated. No one knows whether they are Hindu or Muslim or of any other religion. And it will be used for those who need it irrespective of their children. A statement is being made indirectly about non-discrimination to protest the CAA.

The protest at Shaheen Bagh presents an interesting contrast to the anti-corruption protests that erupted in Delhi in 2011 led by activist Anna Hazare and supported by people like Arvind Kejriwal, who is now the chief minister of  Delhi. At that time a lot of young people, some of them in Bermudas and bandanas, working in private companies, turned up at the protests, expressing their anger at the growing corruption in the governmental system. Many of them came from well-off middle-class backgrounds, who appeared apolitical but who were fired by the anti-corruption protests. The anti-corruption protests in Delhi were held in the heart of the capital, at Jantar Mantar near the Parliament and at Ram Lila Maidan. But the anti-CAA protests in Delhi are confined to the Muslim-majority neighbourhoods in Jamia Millia Islamia, a nationalist university that came up during the freedom struggle, and in Shaheen Bagh. Yet many people are wending their way to the protest tent at Shaheen Bagh from all over the city and from other parts of the country, Muslims and others.

The CAA has triggered an unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Muslims who feel that they have been pushed to the wall and they need to step out and speak up. The customary protest of Muslims under its orthodox and reactionary political leaders has been the cry that Muslims are in danger, along with the incendiary call that Islam is in danger, which was an indirect way of pushing ordinary Muslims into violence and a riot situation. This time round the protest came from Muslim women and it came with the call for upholding the principle of equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

It has also been the case that the earlier Muslim protests were based on those of fundamental rights of the Constitution which guaranteed religious minorities the right to practice and profess their religion, to preserve their culture and language and institutions. The protests were always about invoking the Constitution to protect Muslim rights. This time round the Muslim women are not protesting for the rights of Muslims. They are protesting the CAA because it violates the principle of equality. The equality guaranteed in the Constitution says that no one will be discriminated based on caste, creed, religion and sex.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, a provocative gesture of the BJP

The devil is in the details. Indeed. Bu those who are supporting and those who are opposing the Citizen Amendment Act 2019, passed by both Houses of Parliament, do not want to go there. They want to dwell in the cloud cuckoo land of rhetoric. The argument of Home Minister Amit Shah, and of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its mentor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other like-minded reactionaries is that India is the land of Hindus by default and that this does not mean that India does not belong to the Muslims living here. It is a tricky argument at best. But it suits the ideologues in the BJP and the RSS.

If ideology alone were to be the criterion, then the BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi should send back all the illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants and it must resettle the illegal Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants outside Assam because the Assamese do not want them. And it remains to be seen whether the Modi government will set in place procedures that a Hindu from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan must prove that there was persecution before he or she is granted asylum and citizenship. Mr Shah and the Modi government are eloquently silent on the nitty-gritty of the matter.

It turns out that the number of illegal Bangladeshi Muslims is less than 10 lakh, and it is yet to be determined whether they have come in after the cut off date of 1971. Even if the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise completed in Assam under the direction of the Supreme Court is scrapped in favour of Shah-proposed nationwide NRC, the process remains painfully cumbersome. The government is to follow the due process of hearing appeals through tribunals from the affected people and decide each case on merit. The Modi government cannot send those who still are considered illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh because India must reach a bilateral agreement with Dhaka to do so. The precedent lies in the Sirimavo-Shastri pact of 1964, where half of the plantation Indians were repatriated and the other half stayed on. So, it is going to be a complicated long-drawn out affair.

The Modi government will then have to keep those identified as illegal immigrants in detention camps and it will have to follow the rules of the United Nations in treating the refugees during that time.  So, the BJP has literally tied itself up in knots. The rhetoric of protecting Hindus who are persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries remains hogwash, a mere red rag to the secularists and other liberals. The Hindus from the Pakistan side are too few and mostly from Sind and the Sikhs in Pakistan fewer, and they are mostly from Punjab. No Christian from Pakistan would want to choose a BJP-ruled India because the BJP’s anti-minority stance is disarmingly candid. The Hindutva ideologues do not believe in the Hindu idea and ideal of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ or the ‘world is a family’.

The eruption of angry protests in Assam go to show that the Assamese oppose the Citizenship Amendment Bill because they do not want to be burdened with Hindu migrants from Bangladesh. The government must relocate them elsewhere as had been done through the Danadakaranya project of 1958. The BJP leaders believed, and wrongly so, that the Assam agitation was against Bangladeshi Muslims and not against Bangladeshi as well as Bengali Hindus. The Modi government continues with this blinkered outlook.

The CAA remains a rhetorical gesture of the Hindutva party, and it is blown to smithereens at the first brush with reality. It does not pose much danger to the secularism enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution or to the secular polity in the country. It cannot harm the Muslims in the country in any which way, but it does pose a rhetorical question to the idea that India belongs to all the people who live in it, and not just to the Hindus, the majority community. The CAB’s hint that the Hindus in the rest of the subcontinent have the first right to citizenship in India is a weak assertion. The BJP wants to state its Hindutva agenda through law, but it is a law that cannot change the social reality of India where Muslims form the largest minority community. And legally, it does not exclude the migration of Muslims from the Muslim countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. A BJP government can create hurdles but unless it brings in a blatant law that Muslims from these three Muslim countries do not have the right to migrate to India or to apply for citizenship, it is incapable of either changing the Indian law and reality of a multi-religious country.

To see CAA as a slight to Muslims would be to yield ground to the BJP’s Hindutva rhetoric. Its aim is to provoke the Muslims and other secularists. It serves the purpose of a besieged Modi government from diverting attention of the people from the economic problems and challenges facing the country. The last five years have shown that Prime Minister Modi has no clear vision for the country. That is why he picks on things like abolishing Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir and demoting the state to that of two Union Territories. All that Mr Modi and Mr Shah want to do is to win the 2024 Lok Sabha election, and the strategy is belligerent assertion of Hindu majoritarianism which is nothing but hot air in political and economic terms. Mr Modi’s vision of New India is extremely flawed because he seems incapable of overcoming the temptation of using the Hindutva ideology to win political skirmishes.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019: Beyond rhetoric

The Citizen Amendment Act has predictably raised more of the proverbial dust and shed little light on the issues involved. There was much legal and political cunning in its drafting, where it passes muster on more counts than one. And it is this advantage in terms of brownie points that helps, rather barely, to conceal its more than questionable ideological intent. The political and legal technicalities are easy to grasp. There is nothing in the Bill that is prejudicial to Muslims living in India. If the religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are conferred citizenship  it does not take away from the rights of Muslims in India. And there is a cut-off date mentioned here: December 31, 2014. Of course, there is the potential of changing the cut-off date in the future through further amendment.

The CAB is not expected to be an idealistic statement where the persecuted from all over the world are given refuge in democratic, secular India. Home Minister Amit Shah said that Muslims from these three Muslim-majority countries can apply for Indian citizenship, and their request will be considered on grounds of merit. In fact, a BJP government can reject all applications from a Muslim in any of these three countries, but it has saved its face with Mr Shah saying that there was nothing in law to say that Muslims from these countries cannot come into India or apply for citizenship. India’s treatment of Rohingyas has made it clear that a BJP government, and most probably governments of other parties as well, could reject a case like that of the Rohingyas. In 1971, the 10 lakh refugees who poured into India from Bangladesh went back in the next two years. The Bengali refugees who were resettled in Dandakaranya were from an earlier period – 1947. 

The rhetorical riposte of Mr Shah that Congress had accepted partition is both true and untrue. After Jinnah’s Direct Action Day of August 16, 1946, the Congress leaders felt that it was impossible to deal with Jinnah and the Muslim League. The Congress gave a last chance to League to join the Interim Government, and seats were kept vacant in the Constituent Assembly. But it did not work, and it would not have worked given the political circumstances of the day. There was also the fact that Congress refused to accept the League’s position that it represented the Muslims in the country, and that Congress could not have any Muslim candidate in the government. So, Mr Shah was being more than economical with the truth when he said that Congress was responsible for partition on religious basis.

The Nehru-Liaquat Pact of April 8, 1950 states in no uncertain terms that minorities in each of the countries should look up to their own governments. And it was only in West Bengal, East Bengal and Assam and Tripura that minority commissions were set up to oversee the conditions of the minorities and protect them from any kind of harassment and protection from violence immediately after independence. It was also agreed to facilitate the migration of those who want to go across with assurances of protection of their property, and arrangement for allotting evacuee property in case of permanent migration. It is beyond the understanding of the leadership of a right-wing party like the BJP to grasp the unwieldy details of resettling the refugees of 1947.

There is a sensitive issue which the BJP as well as the secularists refuse to talk about. It is about the marriage links between the Muslim families in India and their relatives who had migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and later. A similar marital link exists between the Muslims in Kashmir and in Pakistan. Indian governments, including that of prime minister Vajpayee, dealt with the issue with understanding. Many of the men and women, and it was more the women, who would overstay their visa in India and whenever India-Pakistan relations would go into the discord mode, there was a threat that these families would be separated from the daughters-in-law and their children. And many of them who married into Indian Muslim families may face obstacles if they were to apply for Indian citizenship. The issue is that of being with their families and there is no political angle involved in it. Most of the time, the issue was handled with a human touch. But the Modi government indicates that it wants no connect at the family and social levels with Pakistan and it is to be dealt with as an enemy state and many of the fanatical elements, including educated, middle class Hindus, support the belligerent stand.

It is difficult for the BJP and its supporters to understand what the partition meant. The case of Hindus and Sikhs was simple and tragic. They came away and cut off their roots. The Muslims who went from here, and who became the ‘mohajirs’ or migrants, were in an unenviable position. Their family links could not be cut asunder because the political boundaries were re-drawn. The assumption among the majority of the people on both sides in 1947 was that there were now two nation-states but it did not mean all others links – families, trade, culture – were to be cut off and the two states should be insulated from each other. The same challenge remains even after the formation of Bangladesh in 1972.

The old platitude that you do not choose your neighburs and you must live with them holds good. The BJP’s hard stance is not of much use in the long term. The marriage links between the mohajirs in Pakistan and their families in India are going to taper off. The question is no more that of Hindus and Muslims this side and that side. You are forced to deal with each other in a civilized way. The CAB must be delinked from the general relations between the neighbours.

There are not any more many Hindus in Afghanistan and Pakistan who would want to come to India. In Pakistan, Hindus enjoy minority status and the constitutional protection that comes from it. The picture drawn that Hindus who live there are under threat is not true. Pakistan government takes care of them. As to the Islamic militants, it is a different story. They pose a threat to majority Muslims as well.

If the BJP is sincere, and it is not for justifiably political reasons, it should give the number of Hindus from these three countries who are in the country and who are seeking citizenship. The numbers would deflate the rhetoric of the BJP.  

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale says that India will not focus exclusively on terrorism, and that there are other issues like climate change during Prime Minister Modi's trip to Houston and New York, September 21-27

The BJP-led NDA governments had felt a compulsion to talk about terrorism and the role of Pakistan in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. In his second term in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it appears, wants to broaden BJP's and NDA's foreign policy framework to include the challenge of climate change and the changes required in the United Nations to reflect the new reality of a multi-polar global order.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale stated in clear terms that 'There will be no exclusive focus on terrorism' in response to a question after he briefed the media on the prime minister's trip to Houston and New York later this week. Though the prime minister will meet United States President Donald Trump at the large meeting of 50,000 Indians-in-America on September 22 as Trump will be present there along with key Democrat leaders, and there will be a bilateral meeting between him and Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session. There is however a Leaders' Dialogue on Terrorism in which the prime minister will participate in New York.

The crowded schedule of the prime minister includes a roundtable with the chief executives of energy sector and an interactive session with the Congress leaders from both the parties, Democrats and Republicans at Houston.

On September 23, he will address a summit on climate change issues and a conference organized by the UN Secretary General on universal health coverage, where he will showcase India's Ayushman programme, which is the largest of its kind in the world.

On September 24, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and to mark Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary, the prime minister will speak at the seminar, "Leadership Matters: Importance of Gandhi in the Contemporary World". Mr Modi will launch the Gandhi Solar Park with India giving a grant of $1 million at the State University of New York (SUNY), and the release of UN postage stamp in honour of Gandhi.

On September 25, Mr Modi will give a keynote address at the plenary session of Bloomberg conference and he would later address an investment roundtable of 40 major American companies which would include Morgan Stanley and others.

He will address the UN General Assembly on September 27 in High Level Debate, the first after 2014 when he addressed the first time.

The foreign secretary said that the prime minister believes in shaping global agenda and that multilateralism is at the centre of international relations, and India wants a multilateral system which reflects the present time. He said there is also emphasis on South-South partnership.

One of the initiatives in which India will be a partner is the Coalition of Disaster resilient Network, where international aid will help countries to rebuild after a natural disaster. The foreign secretary said that India had proven expertise and capability in this.

The prime minister will be co-chairing plurilateral meetings of India-Pacific Island States and India-Caribbean states. There are 14 Caribbean states.

Mr Modi will have 20 bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, including one with Mr Trump, with India's neighbours.

External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar will be in New York during the prime minister's sjourn, and after Mr Modi returns to India forenoon of September 27, he will travel to Washington for bilateral meetings.

Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan will also be in New York, and he will be meeting with representatives of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), the Commonwealth and the BRICS (BRazil, Russia, China and South Africa).

This is the first time in five years when Mr Modi's trip to the US has involved the external affairs minister as well as the minister of state for external affairs.

The foreign secretary explained that these wide-ranging meetings become necessary because Indian ministers are unable to travel all the countries, and the UN General Assembly meeting offers an opportunity to meet them at one place.

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