Demystifying Politics in Democracy

Democracies are governance by the people, presumably for the people. They are also supposedly ‘of the people’ because to govern themselves, people elect some individuals out of themselves to represent them in government.

People elect representatives based upon their personal opinions and motivations, both of which are subjective. Voting someone to office is an emotional response of people.

While people carry on with their lives working as wagers or professionals or businesspersons, some choose to take up politics as their livelihood and put themselves up for being elected to office by the people.  Most democracies are federal structures, meaning thereby that there exist multiple tiers of governments. An individual citizen thus has a Member of Parliament, a Member of Legislative Assembly, and a member of Municipality or a Gram Panchayat to represent him at these tiers of Government. Then, people also elect representatives to self-help groups like worker-unions, student unions, charities, social groups, clubs, welfare groups, cooperative societies, religious bodies, and so on. Politicians have the choices of being elected to any of these tiers in the government as well as to these self-help groups. People get the opportunities to elect their representatives every five years or sooner.

Since the governance is itself a collective of the majority of the elected individuals, politicians are categorised into affiliate groups – chosen to govern or rejected to govern – for the time being. Depending upon the pro-incumbency voting or anti-incumbency voting by people, in the next round of elections, the politicians are able to keep or reverse the nature of their affiliate category.

Accordingly, the predominant policy of the politician from the group ‘chosen to govern’ is to garner pro-incumbent public opinion and inoculate the minds of people to protect them from any counter attacks of the politician from the group ‘rejected to govern.’ They trumpet their achievements and promises through events and seek amplification of their narrative through the media and press.

The predominant policy of the politician from the group ‘rejected to govern’ is to garner enough anti-incumbent public opinion before the next election, which would result into the incumbents being voted out and the group ‘rejected to govern’ would emerge as the group ‘chosen to govern’ after those elections.

Building up of anti-incumbent public opinion is achieved through developing a passive resistance to the policies of the group ‘chosen to govern’ and this requires continuing demonstration of active-resistance by the politicians from the group ‘rejected to govern’ to the policies and actions of the incumbents. Strikes, shutdowns, slowdowns, sit-ins, sloganeering are some of the tools used in such demonstrations. Resulting events create content for the media and the group ‘rejected to govern’ seeks amplification of their events and their narrative through the media.

Both the groups, group ‘rejected to govern’ and group ‘chosen to govern’ also indulge in comparative narrative involving disparaging each other and seek the help of media in their efforts. 

The fact is that the role, purpose and importance of newspapers and news broadcasts, as reporters and chroniclers of facts, which could count as proof, has diminished. Editorials and the opinions of experts in any media, print or television, which are objective, fail to catch the attention of people.

For their entertainment value, acrimonious debates between the biased and ignorant politicians and purposive shows catch the eyeballs, but the theatrical capabilities of the performers in such shows leave false impressions in the minds of the audience. The slant of the anchors towards a particular narrative works as subliminal messaging in shaping the impressions.

Media is becoming a peddler of the narrative of the politician belonging to either the group ‘rejected to govern’ or the group ‘chosen to govern.’ Social media noise and claims do not count as proof yet they strike the emotions of people and shape public opinion.

Width, depth and sustainability of favourable public opinion is the measure of success in politics. Maximising the width, depth and sustainability of favourable public opinion is therefore the real goal of any politician. Narratives, public discourse, public policy, bureaucracy, media, political workers, safety, security, justice, growth, welfare, progress, nationalism, equality, secularism, affirmative action, patriotism, peace and rule of law are just the means in achieving of these political goals.

One can fault a politician for any of the means that they use, but none can fault them for their unwavering commitment to their goals.

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First published 04 May 2021

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We Are Not Letting the Pandemic Weaken

The actual number of people getting sick with the coronavirus is increasing. We know this because in addition to positive COVID-19 tests, the number of symptomatic people, hospitalizations and later, deaths, are following the same pattern. Thankfully, Doctors, clinics and hospitals have learnt to reduce the fatality rate amongst the COVID-19 patients but this is no reason for people to throw caution to the winds.

Human behaviour is the major factor. State and local administrations, as well as individual people, differ in their response to the pandemic. Some follow COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. Others are not as prescriptive in requiring these measures or in restricting certain high-risk activities.

In some states and communities, public places are closed or practicing limitations (such as how many people are allowed inside at one time); others are operating normally. Some government and community leaders have encouraged or even mandated mask wearing and physical distancing in public areas. Others have left it as a matter of personal choice. In areas where fewer people are wearing masks and more are gathering indoors to eat, drink, observe religious practices, celebrate and socialize, even with family, cases are on the rise.

As state governments began to reopen cinemas, bars, restaurants and stores during the last few months, people were understandably eager to be able to go out and resume some of their normal activities. Nevertheless, the number of people infected with the coronavirus was still high in many areas, and transmission of the virus was easily rekindled once people increased their activities and contact with each other. Unfortunately, the combination of reopening and lapses in the infection prevention efforts – social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing – has caused the number of coronavirus infections to rise again.

There is a lag between a change in policy, and the effects of this change showing up in the COVID-19 data. An increase in the number of COVID-19 cases or hospitalizations is seen as many as six to eight weeks after change in policy. When a person is exposed to the coronavirus, it can take up to two weeks before they become sick enough to go to the doctor, get tested and have their case counted in the data. It takes even more time for additional people to become ill after being exposed to that person, and so on.

Several cycles of infection must occur before a noticeable increase shows in the data that public health officials use to track the pandemic. Due to such delays, people become careless with their behaviour, and they start moving around more. If everyone continues to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing, reopening will have a much lower impact on transmission of the virus than in communities where people do not continue these safety precautions on a widespread basis. Also, after many months of cancelled activities, economic challenges and stress, people are frustrated and tired of taking coronavirus precautions. All these are factors that are driving surges and spikes in COVID-19 cases.

About 70% of the population needs to be immune to this coronavirus before herd immunity can work. People might be immune from the coronavirus, at least for a while, if they have already had it, but we do not know for how long such immunity lasts. A widely available, safe and effective vaccine is still going to take months for everyone to get it.

There is an alarming spike in the number of cases and more COVID-19 surges are likely to occur. Letting the coronavirus circulate freely among the public would result in hundreds of thousands of cases and millions more people left with lasting lung, heart, and brain or kidney damage. We must all continue to practice COVID-19 precautions, such as physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. We must work with our government to ensure that everyone in our household is up to date on vaccines as soon as they are made available.

Let no one harbour the false attitude of denial that COVID-19 does not happen to them or that they are not the spreaders of the infection once they have survived COVID-19 or have been vaccinated for it. 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused the COVID-19 disease but people are the cause of the pandemic.

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First published 12 April 21

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Some Unsought Advice for the Prime Minister Shri Modi

The situation where you are running from pillar to post to find a hospital bed or an oxygen cylinder for your loved one, and there is nowhere to go, you feel frustrated, helpless and angry.  If you are the lucky one to find some place, the ban on visitors makes you more edgy because you could not be with your loved one to offer comfort and support when he/she needed it most. The thought of not being able to see or comfort a loved one who is living with an advanced illness is heart breaking.

Time seems to freeze when you learn that someone you love has slipped from medical care to critical care in a COVID-19 facility. Maybe you instinctively pushed the news away, or perhaps you cried, or swung into action. You and your loved one may have pursued promising treatments and perhaps enjoyed some respite from the illness over the last few days.

The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. All kinds of emotions, denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair, guilt, can flood people’s minds.

SUCCESS, WHICH THE GOVERNMENT IS TRUMPETING

The data given out by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website https://www.mohfw.gov.in/.

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 May 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 3673802   Discharged – 20432898    Deaths – 266207    

Until date (15 May 2021), 24372907 people have been identified to be infected, of which 15.07% (3673802) are Active cases right now, 83.83% (20432898) have successfully survived the infection but unfortunately, the balance 1.09% (266207) could not survive and have died.

Yes, your government is right that Indian has done exceedingly well, on an aggregate basis, in management of the COVID-19 crisis as compared to any of the countries in the world. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the mismanagement of second wave of COVID is hidden behind the exemplary management of the COVID. Your government was successful in flattening the curve of cases and deaths of the first wave over a period of 11-months, something which the Western world could not do. The same cannot however be said for the second wave.

FAILURE, WHICH OVERWHELMED INDIA

You do not have to go to any other source of data to see this. Failure, which overwhelmed India, is buried, not too deep, in these very numbers.

Please have a relook at the data given out by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website https://www.mohfw.gov.in/.

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 May 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 3673802   Discharged – 20432898    Deaths – 266207    

COVID-19 CASES IN INDIA as on: 15 April 2021, 08:00 IST (GMT+5:30)

Active – 1471877   Discharged – 12429564    Deaths – 173123    

Of the 24372907 people identified as infected so far (over the last 15 and one half month – the first case was reported on 30.01.2020), 10499082 (43.08%) cases came during the last one month. Out of 266207 deaths recorded so far, 94122 (35.36%) deaths occurred during the last one month.

This is not a joke or a mere spike. It is a deluge.

Of all the cases – 43% came in last one month;

Of all the people dying – 35% died in last one month.

COVID-19 began hitting way too close to everyone’s home. What were merely numbers for people during the first wave, started turning into names and those names 𝗂𝗇𝗍𝗈 real 𝗉𝖾𝗈𝗉𝗅𝖾 whom people know?

WHAT WENT WRONG

With micro-situations continuously evolving and rapidly changing, managing Pandemics at the ground level is a very complex phenomenon involving case-by-case tactical and urgent decisions that need ‘thinking fast’. However, the policy level, at which the office of the Prime Minister sits, the foresight and strategy based thereon, is an important decision that allows wider consultations, reviews and ‘thinking slow.’

At the strategy level, dealing with pandemics involve only two sub-strategies, ensuring that the pandemic does not spread (Restriction strategy) and ensuring that those infected are able to recover from the disease (Treatment strategy).

Restriction is about reducing the number of cases, which is accomplished through controlling the spread of infection (Appropriate Behaviour and immunisation through vaccines). Where the disease is contagious, isolation and quarantine of the prospect (contact tracing) and the suspect case (symptomatic cases) is as important as that of the confirmed case. In case like COVID, where not every infected person shows the symptoms of being infected (asymptomatic cases) the inter-people-contact has to be clamped down.

Treatment is about reducing the mortality rate among the cases through proper and timely diagnosis and treatment.

YOU HAVE RIGHTFULLY TAKEN CREDIT FOR MANAGING THE FIRST WAVE

You had the foresight and the promptness in March-April 2020, in using the Restriction strategy, when the first wave of the pandemic broke out, which resulted into definitive reduction in spread of infection and reduction in the mortality rates. Numbers speak for themselves.

However, the second wave, which started knocking at our doors towards the end of February 2021 and is peaking now, has left much to be desired at your level.

SHOW THE GRIT IN ACCEPTING THE DISCREDIT FOR MISMANAGING THE SECOND WAVE

COVID-19 patients tend to be sick for a long time, spending weeks in the intensive care unit in some cases. Patients improve up to a point, and then it can be several weeks before one would see them continue to improve. Families need to prepare for that, as well as peaks and valleys seen so often in the sickest patients. Hospital restrictions that prohibit visiting COVID-19 patients have been major stressors for families, as well as those in the hospital. In the unfortunate events of patients losing the fight against COVID-19, not every one of their families and friends have the emotional strength of suffering the pain sagaciously or silently. Patients, their families, and other caregivers have little patience or tolerance, and their short fuses can explode on the very people trying to care for them.

Doctors and nurses are withstanding the worst of a much angrier, more frustrated, and weary bunch. Medics falter when they witness rudeness and other bad behaviour. It interferes with their working memory and decreases their performance. Frustrated patients are making health care workers’ jobs even harder.

No medical-care infrastructure, in terms of both physical dimensions and human dimensions, can have the capacity to deal with such deluge.  No society can cope with such agony and death. Yes, Treatment Strategy has limitations in dealing with such tsunami of cases.

However, you have faltered in making use of the Restriction Strategy once the coming of the second wave was clearly visible towards the end of February 2021. This failure has resulted into the ‘unforeseen’ deluge of cases and deaths. In ability to see these coming, is itself a failure of leadership and his advisors.

Overtly or covertly, this failure is being attributed not to any lack of your foresight regarding COVID, but to your political ambitions in West Bengal and other states. I am not a political strategist, but the results tell us a story.

FAILURE IN STATE ELECTIONS 2021

Ever since you brought in the US Presidential style of electioneering to Indian politics in 2014, people vote for the leader as much as they vote for a party. Your inability to win Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh had shown an association in your inability to project an unambiguous leader who could campaign in the same style in the state as yours in the national elections.

When you or any of your central leaders campaign in a state election, the electorate asks themselves – are you or any of those central leaders going to be their Chief Minister? Even when they wish to vote for your party, they do not know who is going to rule them. As they say, a known foe is better than an unknown friend is, the electorate ends up making choices, which may look poor from a larger perspective, but they are the best picks that the electorate could make from within the choices available to them.

Let us not forget that a day after the first round of polling took place on 20 May 1991, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated while campaigning. The remaining election days were postponed until mid-June and voting finally took place on 12 and 15 June. When the surge in COVID cases was so visible by the end of March for everyone to see, not postponing the elections was neither good strategy nor good politics. The votes polled in your favour in successive rounds of polling have shown a negative association with the rising COVID-cases in the country. Who knows, if the state elections were postponed for a better time, their results for you could have been better.

WHAT NEXT

Dear Prime Minister! As a leader, please accept the fact that you won the battle against the first wave but lost the battle against the second wave. You do not win all the battles. It is important that you win the war – war against COVID-19.

You won people’s mandate because they trusted you. You used your high visibility and high credibility in winning over their emotions. Trust is after all an emotion.

All Indians are one but they are not the same. Similar people are grouped into states. That we have 29 states shows similarity of people within the states but dissimilarity of people across the states. Indians are not like Americans, who have little diversity in language, culture or religion.

The unified central-command structure of decision making which you could use so successfully in running the Government in Gujarat may not be an optimal design for running the Union Government. Please remember that the entire bureaucracy that you handled in Gujarat was a unified Gujarat cadre but when you handle the union Government, your bureaucracy is not one cadre. The rules of engaging with the opposition leaders and bureaucracy within Gujarat are not suited to engaging with the opposition leaders and bureaucracy in the matters of the Union.

They still trust you but the untold agony and death, which they have seen over the last one month, has broken them emotionally. Fear & grief of COVID-19 is overwhelming ordinary people and your political rivals and bruised media (you have taken away many of their free bees) are adding fuel to this fire. Emotions are contagious. Our brains are wired to mirror the body language and emotion of others. In an era of social media, opinions occlude information and truth becomes matter of opinion. Absolute truth makes way for pre-truths, half-truths, developing truths, post-truths, my truths, your truths and no-one-knows whose-truth.

There is no denying that you are suffering from a loss in your credibility. Your high visibility and waning credibility is untenable in public space. You cannot be complacent or disheartened. You need to make a serious course-correction.

You have to rise as a leader and restore the confidence of people in their ability to overcome and succeed under your leadership. Please work towards decreasing the COVID-19 test-positivity rate & case fatality rate and increasing the EMOTIONAL POSITIVITY among the people of India.

To everyone locked inside their homes, in fear or anxiety, and to everyone locked out from the joys of life as usual, please put a confidence in them that the sun will come again. Remind them of the vibration that passed all over their lives, make them remember everything that they shared with their loved ones, thank the Gods who helped them face the untold grief over the last one month.

You have to rise from the ashes of the second wave. YOU HAVE TO WIN ALL THE FORTHCOMING BATTLES AGAINST THE THIRD AND THE FOURTH WAVE. YOU HAVE TO WIN THE WAR.

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First Published 17 May 2021

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Na Dainyam Na Palayanam न दैन्यं न पलायनम्*

There is no reason to believe that any Indian political leader is anti-India. They all mean well and wish well of the country. They all have illusionary visions and Indian spirituality.

The phrase ‘Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam’ (Sanskrit: वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्) consists of several words: vasudhā (transl. ’the earth’); ēva (transl. ’is thus’); and kuṭumbakam (transl. ’family’).

अयं निजः परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम्। (ayaṃ nijaḥ paro veti gaṇanā laghucetasām)

उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्॥ (udāracaritānāṃ tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam)

The original verse appears in Chapter 6 of Maha Upanishad VI.71-73. Also found in the Rig Veda, it is considered the most important moral value in the Indian society. This verse of Maha Upanishad is engraved in the entrance hall of the parliament of India.

‘Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam’ belonged to the world where there was only the Vedic Civilisation and is no more valid in the times of ‘I, me, mine and ours’ ethos. A Hindu may believe that the whole world is ‘one family’ but the rest of the 85 percent of the people of the world may not think so.

Nehru misread China, Shastri misread Pakistan, Indira misread Khalistan, Guljari Lal, Morarji, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Gujaral, Devegowda, and Chandra Shekhar were unable to read anything, Rajiv misread Sri Lankans, Narsinha Rao misread Italians, Vajpayee misread Pakistan, ManMohan did not read anything, and Modi has misread China.

All politicians know and understand that ‘poverty’ is India’s biggest problem. Most of them want to correct it but they do not have it in them to deal with the problem directly. Indian political leadership has conclusively proven itself consistently deficient in its foresight and capability in policy-making and action taking over the last 75 years. 

If India lost the 1962 war with China, due to lack of appropriate weapons and ammunition in the hands of our soldiers, India may lose the 2020-21 war against this virus due to lack of appropriate weapons and ammunition in the hands of our doctors.

A wiser political leader Vajpayee had written:

कर्तव्य के पुनीत पथ को
हमने स्वेद से सींचा है,
कभी-कभी अपने अश्रु और—
प्राणों का अर्ध्य भी दिया है।

किंतु, अपनी ध्येय-यात्रा में—
हम कभी रुके नहीं हैं।
किसी चुनौती के सम्मुख
कभी झुके नहीं हैं।

आज,
जब कि राष्ट्र-जीवन की
समस्त निधियाँ,
दाँव पर लगी हैं,
और,
एक घनीभूत अंधेरा—
हमारे जीवन के
सारे आलोक को
निगल लेना चाहता है;

हमें ध्येय के लिए
जीने, जूझने और
आवश्यकता पड़ने पर—
मरने के संकल्प को दोहराना है।

आग्नेय परीक्षा की

इस घड़ी में—
आइए, अर्जुन की तरह
उद्घोष करें:
‘‘न दैन्यं न पलायनम्।’’

A ‘Murali-Dhar’ does not remain a ‘Murali-Dhar’ but goes on to become a ‘Giri-Dhar’ and a ‘Chakra-Dhar’ as the situation requires.

If ‘Maha Upanishad’ gives us, the value of ‘Vasudhaiva Kuṭumbakam,’ ‘Katha Upanishad’ gives the inspiration to Swami Vivekananda to give us ‘Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.‘ The words “Arise, awake…” can be found in the 1.3.14 chapter of the ‘Katha Upanishad’, where Yama is advising Nachiketa

उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत प्राप्य वरान्निबोधत, (Uttisthata Jagrata Prapya Varannibodhata)
क्षुरासन्न धारा निशिता दुरत्यद्दुर्गम पथ: तत् कवयो वदन्ति| (Kshurasanna Dhara Nishita Durataya durgama Pathah tat kavayo Vadanti)

Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn.
Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path,
so the wise say—hard to tread and difficult to cross.

* न दैन्यं न पलायनम् was the motto of my school that I proudly wore on the badge of my barrette cap.

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First published 27 April 2021

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Crush the Enemy Within

A careful examination of the reactions of the civil-society; the secularists, and the reporting by the media connected with the “incidents and events” in India, over the last 28 years, beginning with the 1993 Mumbai blasts shows a very hypocritical prejudice. When those seen as perpetrators of the crime were Muslims, the standard line was, “terrorism has no religion.” And there were numerous instances of the kind. However, in an exceptional instance, where the crime could be attributed to Hindus; the untoward event was showcased as unassailable “Hindu Terrorism.”

To kill even the imagery of “killing for or in the name of religion” Hindus are possibly the only people in the world, who, rather than kill, have got killed. They have never attacked anyone for propagating their religion. Hindus have welcomed people of all nationalities, faiths and cultures, when they came pursuing their personal, logical dreams and aspirations. Only under a threat to their own survival caused by a “Fire & Sword” tenet of the external aggressors, did the Hindus invoke “Maa Kali” to rekindle their sacrificial fire and then did not stop until they have driven the aggressors back to where they came from.

Christian or Muslim, though they have just recently converted and still have lots of Hindu content in their spiritual lives, somehow believe that they belong to a cultural unit altogether different form the Hindu one. Hindustan to them is where they live, yet it is not Holy land to them, which is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Naturally therefore, their love is divided. They must set their Holy-land above India in their love and allegiance. It is however, a folly, when Indian Muslims start looking at Pakistan as their fatherland and/or holy-land. If the majority of the Indian Muslims can free themselves from their prejudices coming from such ignorance, and as the patriotic and noble – minded amongst them have always been doing; and begin to love Hindustan as their fatherland, the story of their conversions, forcible in millions of cases is too recent to make them forget . . . that they inherit Hindu blood in their veins.

If a Sister Nivedita or an Annie Besant could become a Hindustani in spite of being from a different Nation (rashtra), Race (Jati), Civilization (Sanskriti) and Holy land (pavitra bhoomi); Hindu-ness must be something more profound than the what it is being made out to be by the propagators  of the malicious scare of “Hindu-Terror.” This propaganda gives fire to the deviant and the misled to form into scattered hooligan groups adorning the “saffron” and creating mischief. All these are rudderless groups of young people out seeking media limelight through acts of misplaced adventurism. They are ‘rogues and goondas’ exhibiting a religious fervour at the most, not necessarily driven by religion; some of them neither Hindus nor with Hindu names; but for sure, not terrorists.

Unfortunately, there are no external aggressors and there is no “fire & sword” tenet in the present day attacks on Hindu-ness of India which has always stood for universal peace and brotherhood. The aggressors are enemies within; and they are using the tenets of “propaganda, unrest and division.” They are not the enemies of Hindus or friends of Muslims. They are simply bigoted, selfish, blood-thirsty hyenas waiting to feast on the remnants of the wealth and flesh of India, which they believe would fall prey to the roaring lion of “Maa Kali” or the ‘tandava’ of “Bhagawan Shiva”

True Hindus are trying their best, as they ought to do, to develop the consciousness of and a sense of attachment to the greater whole, whereby Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians and Jews would feel as Indians first and every other thing afterwards. But whatever progress India may have made to that goal one thing remains almost axiomatically true – not only in India but everywhere in the world – that a nation requires a foundation to stand upon and the essence of the life of a nation is the life of that portion of its citizens whose interest and history and aspirations are most closely bound up with the land and who thus provide the real foundation to the structure of their national state.

Multiple ethnicity and religiosity is the strength of India. This provides cultural and social diversity, variety and enrichment within the mega space called Bharat. Hindutva or Hindu-ness is plural and should not be mistaken as a synonym for Hindu-religion. Yet India needs cleansing in the nature of weeding out of the enemy within. It is unfortunate that most of such enemies have Hindu names and origins. They are deep in a new kind of “Intellectual terrorism.”  Indians and Hindus cannot drink with equanimity this cup of bitterness and political servitude at the hands of those whose only aspiration is to feast on the putrefied flesh from the corpse of Hindustan. Whenever under aggression, Hindustan has looked to Vedic wisdom. “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached” is a shloka of Katha Upanishad which was popularized in the late 19th century by Swami Vivekananda.

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Multiple sources of like-minded thought are humbly acknowledged for the above expressions. First published 25 Feb 2021

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Online Teaching exposes the Inequality between the Rich and the Poor

While moving lessons online may appear to offer the advantage of greater accessibility, that only applies to the people who can get online and COVID-19 has highlighted the depth of the digital divide and how complex and multi-layered that is. Online education may not be the most inclusive solution. Lack of supervision in on-line learning means the results for those relying on online lessons will vary depending on the home environment.

It is not just the divide between those who do and do not have access to the internet, but those who are and are not digitally-literate.

This might not seem to be such a big issue for the urban areas but it is a gigantic problem in the less urban and more rural areas of India.  School as an institution is more than just a site for formal education for the most vulnerable. It is a place where they can get health and food. The impact of COVID-19 on primary and secondary education has not only exposed the existing gap between the richer and poorer learners but has shown that this gap is likely to increase with every passing day.

In the case of higher education, colleges and universities have persistently relied on a classical Campus-Centric-Model. Simply put students and the faculty must converge to a central location where they engage with each other in classroom-based learning activities with libraries and related support services. The hosting campus may also provide housing, food, health and other support services. In recent decades, an increasing range of non-teaching services designed to attract and retain students has been introduced through big investments. Institutions have attempted to deliver a combined package which has included – instruction, support services and experience – in exchange for tuition and fees.

Over the years, remote learning platforms, correspondence courses, instructional television and, more recently, the move to online education have tended to be minor appendages at most institutions of higher education. Only handfuls have operated both in-person and significant online platforms targeting different market segments. Such a model has been remarkably resilient in responding to external challenges.

However, the onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 has put this Campus-Centric-Model under stress as never before. Campus classes were moved to online platforms as institutions closed abruptly in March. Courses and faculty conferences, career counselling and related support services were fully delivered online. Rather than serving a few non-residents with under-scaled remote formats, online learning courses were hastily cobbled together by ill-prepared faculty and staff. Despite the good intentions in responding to the pandemic’s assaults, the response did not go well.

As of date, the primary and secondary school-education has commenced entirely in the on-line mode. Very many government schools have not been able to offer online lessons in the absence of both hard and soft infrastructure. In case of higher education, most universities have deferred the start of the new academic year. In case of higher technical education, the on-going lessons have been fully moved to on-line model. With the exception of some premier management institutes the fresh students entering technical higher education have yet to start their lessons and the new academic year in any mode.

For the academic year 2020-21, it is uncertain, as to what proportions of institutions of higher education are committed to – entirely and primarily in-person instruction; entirely and primarily online instruction, mixed models of in-person and online instruction and those which remain undecided to their ‘open or close’ dilemma. Full online instruction will minimise or eliminate revenue streams, including room and board, plus all other non-instruction activities that comprise the campus experience. Full online instruction is a poor substitute for a rich residential experience. Students will be the first to demand refunds.

Lack of connectivity is going to be a critical question facing the post-COVID-19 India. Estimates show that more than 50% of students in India, from childhood to university, don’t have access to the internet at all. Teachers also need supporting as they need to move from traditional classrooms to virtual ones. The quality of education delivered digitally is being questioned in a number of countries.

Post-COVID India can expect the inequality in education to widen between different social classes.

(First published 21 Sept 2020)

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Ambedkar on Gandhi and Jinnah and the PR-Spin by Congress

[Excerpts from a speech delivered by Ambedkar on 18th January 1943 in Poona.]

“We have on the horizon of India two great men, so big that they could be identified without being named—Gandhi and Jinnah, What sort of a history they will make may be a matter for posterity to tell. For us it is enough that they do indisputably make headlines for the Press. They hold leading strings. One leads the Hindus, the other leads the Muslims. They are the idols and heroes of the hour. I propose to compare them with Ranade. How do they compare with Ranade? It is necessary to make some observations upon their temperaments and methods with which they have now familiarized us. I can give only my impressions of them, for what they are worth. The first thing that strikes me is that it would be difficult to find two persons who would rival them for their colossal egotism, to whom personal ascendency is everything and the cause of the country a mere counter on the table. They have made Indian politics a matter of personal feud. Consequences have no terror for them; indeed they do not occur to them until they happen. When they do happen they either forget the cause, or if they remember it, they overlook it with a complacency which saves them from any remorse. They choose to stand on a pedestal of splendid isolation. They will themselves off from their equals. They prefer to open themselves to their inferiors. They are very unhappy at and impatient of criticism, but are very happy to be fawned upon by flunkeys. Both have developed a wonderful stagecraft and arrange things in such a way that they are always in the limelight wherever they go. Each of course claims to be supreme. If supremacy was their only claim, it would be a small wonder. In addition to supremacy each claims infallibility for himself. Pius IX during whose sacred regime as Pope the issue of infallibility was raging said— “Before I was Pope I believed in Papal infallibility, now I feel it.” This is exactly the attitude of the two leaders whom Providence—may I say in his unguarded moments—has appointed to lead us. This feeling of supremacy and infallibility is strengthened by the Press.”

“Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few and their voice is never heard. Entrenched behind the plaudits of the Press, the spirit of domination exhibited by these two great men has transgressed all limits. By their domination they have demoralised their followers and demoralized politics. By their domination they have made half their followers fools and the other half hypocrites. In establishing their supremacy they have taken the aid of “big business” and money magnates. For the first time in our country money is taking the field as an organised power.”

“For the present, Indian politics, at any rate the Hindu part of it, instead of being spiritualized has become grossly commercialized, so much so that it has become a byword for corruption. Many men of culture are refusing to concern themselves in this cesspool. Politics has become a kind of sewage system intolerably unsavoury and insanitary. To become a politician is like going to work in the drain.

Politics in the hands of these two great men have become a competition in extravaganza. If Mr. Gandhi is known as Mahatma, Mr. Jinnah must be known as Qaid-i-Azim. If Gandhi has the Congress, Mr. Jinnah must have the Muslim League. If the Congress has a Working Committee and the All-India Congress Committee, the Muslim League must have its Working Committee and its Council. The session of the Congress must be followed by a session of the League. II the Congress issues a statement the League must also follow suit. If the Congress passes a Resolution of 17,000 words, the Muslim League’s Resolution must exceed it by at least a thousand words. If the Congress President has a Press Conference, the Muslim League President must have his. If the Congress must address an appeal to the United Nations, the Muslim League must not allow itself to be outbidden. When is all this to end? When is there to be a settlement? There are no near prospects. They will not meet, except on preposterous conditions. Jinnah insists that Gandhi should admit that he is a Hindu. Gandhi insists that Jinnah should admit that he is one of the leaders of the Muslims. Never has there been such a deplorable state of bankruptcy of statesmanship as one sees in these two leaders of India. They are making long and interminable speeches, like lawyers whose trade it is to contest everything, concede nothing and talk by the hour. Suggest anything by way of solution for the deadlock to either of them, and it is met by an everlasting “Nay”. Neither will consider a solution of the problems which is not eternal. Between them Indian politics has become “frozen” to use a well-known Banking phrase and no political action is possible.”

[Excerpts from the preface to the above speech written by Ambedkar on 15 March 1943 at Delhi.]

“I am condemned because I criticized Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah for the mess they have made of Indian politics, and that in doing so I am alleged to have shown towards them hatred and disrespect. In reply to this charge what I have to say is that I have been a critic and I must continue to be such. It may be I am making mistakes, but I have always felt that it is better to make mistakes than to accept guidance and direction from others or to sit silent and allow things to deteriorate. Those who have accused me of having been actuated by feelings of hatred forget two things. In the first place this alleged hatred is not born of anything that can be called personal. If I am against them, it is because I want a settlement. I want a settlement of some sort, and I am not prepared to wait for an ideal settlement. Nor can I tolerate [for] anyone on whose will and consent settlement depends, to stand on [his] dignity and play the Grand Moghul. In the second place, no one can hope to make any effective mark upon his time, and bring the aid that is worth bringing to great principles and struggling causes, if he is not strong in his love and his hatred. I hate injustice, tyranny, pompousness and humbug, and my hatred embraces all those who are guilty of them. I want to tell my critics that I regard my feelings of hatred as a real force. They are only the reflex of the love I bear for the causes I believe in, and I am in no wise ashamed of it. For these reasons I tender no apology for my criticism of Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah, the two men who have brought India’s political progress to a standstill.

The condemnation is by the Congress Press. I know the Congress Press well. I attach no value to its criticism. It has never refuted my arguments. It knows only [how] to criticise, rebuke and revile me for everything I do; and to misreport, misrepresent and pervert everything I say. Nothing that I do pleases the Congress Press. This animosity of the Congress Press towards me can to my mind, not unfairly, be explained as a reflex of the hatred of the Hindus for the Untouchables. That their animosity has become personal is clear from the fact that the Congress Press feels offended for my having criticised Mr. Jinnah, who has been the butt and the target of the Congress for the last several years.

However strong and however filthy be the abuses which the Congress Press chooses to shower on me, I must do my duty. I am no worshipper of idols. I believe in breaking them. I insist that if I hate Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah—I dislike them, I do not hate them—it is because I love India more. That is the true faith of a nationalist. I have hopes that my countrymen will some day learn that the country is greater than the men, that the worship of Mr. Gandhi or Mr. Jinnah and service to India are two very different things and may even be contradictory of each other.”

See:

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Vol. 1,  

Publisher: Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India (First Edition by Education Department, Govt. of Maharashtra: 14 April, 1979, Re-printed by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation: January, 2014 – from where the attached images have been extracted)

Additional details: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_ranade.html

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Guidelines and Protocols for Prioritising COVID-19 Patients

Imagine that day when India has reached a situation where every ventilator and every ICU bed in the country is taken and only two beds are available in the army hospital in the ICU for admitting Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. Unfortunately, only one ventilator is available. God forbid, at that moment, the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Leader of Opposition catch COVID-19 and all three need an ICU bed and a ventilator. What would be the protocol for allocating these resources (2-beds and one ventilator) among the three claimants?

This completely fictional and hypothetical scenario has been presented above purely for communicating the point which is being made. No ill-will or malaise is intended towards anyone caricatured in this picture.

COVID-19 is affecting 210 countries and territories around the world. With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world nearing two million and deaths from the disease already having surpassed a hundred thousand, a growing number of national and local medical authorities have begun issuing guidelines and protocols that call for hospitals to prioritise younger patients over those who are older.

The positive news about the cases of recovery heading towards half a million mark is getting lost on people because of the fear of death causing cognitive dissonance among people who filter out all positive news and let the feeling of fatality seep in.

There is no denying the fact that no medical and health care system in any country has the capacity of handling the sudden spike in numbers of patients which the likes of Italy and Spain have seen.  The scarcity of healthcare resources in India can be directly attributed to decades of mismanaged public healthcare system. While India is working overtime to ramp up the capacity, the growth of the current epidemic makes it likely that a point of imbalance between the clinical needs of patients with COVID-19 and the effective availability of intensive resources will be reached. Should it become impossible to provide all patients with intensive care services, it will be necessary to apply criteria for access to intensive treatment, which depends on the limited resources available.

COVID-19 does not discriminate among its victims in terms of their social or constitutional status. It did not spare even the British Prime Minister.

In Italy and Spain, the two countries most affected by COVID-19 in Europe, doctors in overwhelmed intensive care units have for weeks been making life or death decisions about who receives emergency treatment. The new protocols, however, amount to government directives that instruct medical personnel effectively to abandon elderly patients to their fate.

There are confidential protocols in Spain, now leaked, which effectively advises that elderly people afflicted by CONVID-19 should die at home. The document stated that dying at home was more humane as it avoids suffering: patients can die while surrounded by their families, something that is not possible in overcrowded hospitals. The protocol also advised medical personnel to avoid referring to the lack of hospital beds.

In Italy, a document prepared by a crisis management unit in the northern city of Turin also proposed that COVID-19 patients aged 80 or older or that in poor health should be denied access to intensive care if there are not enough hospital beds.

What is the best way to serve humanity? Aspects such as who has the greatest chance of surviving an admission to intensive care will come into play. It is up to the doctors to see who has the best chance of survival.

One must ask if the high rate of mortality among the elderly is a feature of COVID-19 or an outcome of discriminatory medical care provided to them. The large numbers of dead, especially among the elderly, appears to be the price that Indians would be paying just like the European countries.

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2019-Rafale Hullabaloo – Was It All About Disparaging Modi?

The cynical political desires of those who cannot withstand the success of Narendra Modi to tarnish his image of an incorruptible on the basis of wholly uncorroborated allegations (almost assuredly as a cover for their contempt for his popularity, conviction and the people who elected him) did not, as has been exposed, actually have a case in Rafale. They seemed, rather, to be trying to ride the belief of people that such deals cannot be without corruption, reckonings which had formed over long decades of corrupt governments.

Narendra Modi saw his character assassinated on the basis of (apparently false) claims of theft and wrong doing. He was cast as someone partisan who was trying to benefit some corrupt businessmen. His purported partners in executing the crime were cast as the embodiment of the powerless. To large swathes of society, Modi was inherently guilty, by reason of being a non-congressman and a non-Gandhi-Nehru scion, and his accusers beyond reproach.

In the realms of the Court rooms and in the court of public opinion, both the political class and the media violated all standards of justice and journalistic integrity. Blinded by emotion, the anti-Modi forces inverted the pillar of our legal system of the presumption of innocence, and refused to subject all manner of outlandish claims to even basic levels of scrutiny. Many members of the bar and media alike proved irresponsible and vindictive.

“Modi’s image has not been created by the Khan Market gang, or Lutyens Delhi, but 45 years of his toil,” Modi told The Indian Express in May 2019.

He was referring to Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s statement to a TV channel in which Gandhi said the Congress had dismantled PM Modi’s image over allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal. Modi also clarified why he had highlighted late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s holiday at a naval ship in an election rally and made it a poll issue.

The Supreme Court gave clean chit to the Modi government on the purchase of 36 fully-loaded Rafale fighter jets from French company Dassault Aviation, rejecting the plea for registration of an FIR by the CBI for alleged commission of cognisable offence in the deal. The apex court dismissed the pleas seeking review of the December 14, 2018 verdict in which it had said that there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets. The Supreme Court on Thursday 14 November 2019 not only dismissed the review petition in the Rafale case but also censured Rahul Gandhi for wrongly attributing his remark “Chowkidar chor hai” to the apex court.

Rafale case illustrated that when swept up in a movement, truth-seeking inquiries in pursuit of justice can easily morph into inquisitions that subvert the very justice they claim to seek.

Rafale Review petitions have fundamentally changed something in our society; or perhaps reflect a society fundamentally changed; manifesting itself in the arming of the legal system that has swung the scales of justice out of balance. The narrative seemed to trump the truth.

Currently, lawyers, clients, and witnesses can make defamatory statements in public court filings and depositions without fear of a civil suit or a perjury prosecution. It is in fact exceedingly rare for anyone to be prosecuted for perjury in a civil proceeding. It is these realities that incentivised petitioners to falsely accuse Modi of a crime with complete immunity.

Accusers can effectively “launder” defamatory accusations through the media while protecting themselves from being hit with defamation suits by planting such allegations in court filings, and leaking them to the press.

The accused often has little recourse and there are no consequences for those who file accusations with no offer to prove them and no legal responsibility if they are categorically false and disprovable.

The erosion of fundamental principles of justice as well as a lack of any semblance of fairness in journalism reflects an erosion of our culture.

For victim and victimiser alike, the Indian justice system, and those who report on it, needs to be fair and equal. A case must be judged on its merits, treating parties involved as unique an individual who’s every motive, belief and action cannot just be presumed as convenient. There is a crying need for reforms in our justice system to treat both the accused and the accuser fairly, and for the court of public opinion to do the same. Recognizing that societies are often swayed by their passions, it is an argument that needs to be made. The pressure that can be exerted on judges when they are adjudicating controversial or challenging cases has been greater than ever, in part due to a climate of online hostility. The internet has clearly changed the landscape. Every judge is definitely in the firing line when it comes to online harassment and abuse.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. History teaches us that the desire to bring down the powerful can also corrupt, and the absolute desire to bring down the powerful can corrupt absolutely.

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Rising Religiosity in Secular India

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, India is swarming with millions of educated, relatively well-to-do men and women who devotedly participate in global networks of science and technology. The Indian economy is betting its fortunes, at least in part, on advanced research in biotechnology and service industry, whose very existence is verification for a thoroughly materialistic world. And yet, a vast majority of these middle-class beneficiaries of modern science and technology continue to believe in supernatural powers supposedly embodied in idols, divine men and women, stars and planets, rivers, trees, and sacred animals. By all indications, they treat supernatural beings and powers with utmost earnestness and reverence and go to great lengths to please them in the hope of achieving their desires. Indians and not just the Hindus are showing signs of growing religiosity.

The new religiosity of middle-class Indians is openly ritualistic, ostentatious, and nationalistic. Unlike the previous generations that grew up on a mixture of exhortations for cultivating scientific thinking and the neo-Vedantic preference for a more cerebral, philosophical Hinduism, the new Hindu elite and middle classes revel in ritualism, idol worship, fasts, pilgrimages, and other routines of popular, theistic Hinduism, sometimes mixed with new age spirituality. It is not that these more ritualistic expressions of popular Hinduism were entirely absent from the cultural milieu of the educated, middle to upper classes of the generations that came of age in the earlier, more ‘socialist’ and secular era. What has changed is that the ritualistic aspects have moved from the privacy of the home and family, to the public sphere, the domain of pride and prejudice, politics, and profits. What has also changed is that the educated elite don’t feel that they have to defend their practices and beliefs against secularist finger-wagging. There is a new, unapologetic, and open embrace of religiosity in India today which wasn’t there in, say, the first half of our seventy years as a republic.

Why is it so? There are no answers. Yet, there are educated guesses and expert opinions which seem to point towards the “secularism” the way it has been practised by the governments during the last four-five decades. While the Indian debate over secularism has been firmly stuck between the Gandhian pole of “sarva dharma samabhav” (equal respect for all religions) and the Nehruvian pole of “dharma nirpekshta” (equal indifference to all religions); the Indian Constitution is based entirely on a secular morality pertaining to this life, with no reference to religious conceptions like karma and dharma. Indian secularism offers its own peculiar twist to the idea of secularism: it does not erect a wall of separation between religion and the state. What makes the Indian state secular, instead, is its commitment to religious neutrality, which is, not having an official religion of the state and treating all religions with equal respect. The Indian Constitution, moreover, is completely ‘nastik’ (atheist).

BUT, is India truly secular? The Constitution’s promise of equal citizenship regardless of caste, creed, class, or gender meant a clean sweep of Hindu laws, taboos, and customs that had regulated socio-economic relationships for centuries. But, the same constitution did not provide equal citizenship for citizens of different religions. For instance, under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code, bigamy is an offence and a person, who contracts a second marriage while the first marriage is subsisting, is guilty of the offence. But this provision is in applicable to those people who can have more than one wife as per their religion. The very fact that operation of a penal provision is not alike among all people and that it is dependent on one’s religious faith tantamount to making a mockery of the very concept of secularism. Similarly, the enactment of the Muslim women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 with a view to circumvent the decision of the apex court in the ‘Shah Bano case’ and to treat the divorced Muslim women differently from their counterparts in other religious faiths cannot be termed as secular. To deny rights to Muslim women which are available to the women of other faiths is a violation of the provisions of the constitution that the state shall not discriminate against any citizens as grounds of religion. Although Article 15 of the constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, even today the rights and liabilities of people relating to maintenance, inheritance etc. differ according to their religion. This casts a shadow on our claim of being a truly secular nation.

Then there is this law enacted by different states which goes by the name of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act. While the purported inspiration is better administration of temples, the real motivation is to fill state coffers with ‘easy’ temple ‘money’. Fraud in a few temples does not make a case for takeover of all temples across the country by the government, and most importantly, no other religious community in India have to bear the brunt of such Acts to control their religious institutions. Do the state governments in India believe that Hindus have poorer & lower standards of ethics and values than Indians of other religious denominations? Or is it that in a ‘secular’ India religious minorities are unassailable while Hindu institutions (and the donation money they attract) are considered easier to be meddled with?

The conduct of the politicians in power and thus the government has however not been as secular as it was expected to be. Religious identities (taqiyah – skullcap) got politicized and religious rituals (roja-iftar – breaking of the Ramadan fast) became as much a part of political mobilisations as they were of weddings and funerals. Indian governance propagated the saga of minority appeasement, even if it came at the cost of majority, as secular; but, even a talk about any concern for the majority was tinted as communal.

Believers can be secularists. Believers may not be sceptics. But believers polarised by their government can be divisive and separatists. Appeasement has created a sense of entitlement among the minority and they started a public display of demand for such entitlements through hitherto unknown examples of conducting Friday Namaz in public places including roads and highways. Democratising the principles of ‘Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’, without simultaneously secularising education, has led to the creation of a less secular civil society. Such actions by the government and the minorities appear to have not only polarised the people but have outraged many from amongst the majority who have now chosen to put up a bigger and grandeur display of their religiosity.

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