Are Journalists Above Law?

Shared lineage, heritage, possessions, religion, scriptures, faiths, beliefs, customs, social behaviour, language, literature, and cuisines interconnect people. These elements of bonding therefore are sources for an individual’s pride and vanity.  Essence of decorum of a civilised society is both tolerance and vanity of people. Any act including a threat to commit that act, which hurts the vanity of an individual is as serious as outraging the modesty of a woman. While free speech is a virtue of a tolerant society, hurting the vanity of someone under the pretext of free speech is anarchy. Physical wounds may heal but hurt caused to vanity is rarely forgotten or forgiven.

Synchronous or asynchronous utterances in media of all kinds and public gatherings need to be within reasonable restraints so as not to hurt the vanity of anyone.

The rights (a) to freedom of speech and expression (b) to assemble peaceably and without arms (c) to form associations or unions (d) to move freely throughout the territory of India (e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India and (f) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business, all are subject to restraints imposed for preventing anarchy.

“I think, first of all, in any place around the world, it is very important that people be allowed to express themselves freely, journalists be allowed to express themselves freely and without the threat of any harassment,” Stephane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, said. (Quoted from https://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/journalists-should-not-be-jailed-for-what-they-write-tweet-and-say-un-spokesperson-on-zubairs-arrest/2576406/). He is wrong in advocating that the journalists are more than equal when it comes to legal, moral, social and cultural restraints.

Whenever a politician, journalist, lawyer, Chartered Accountant, Doctor or other professional is summoned by the law enforcement agencies for questioning, or detained by the Police for any inquiry, the representative clan and some of the non-representative elements of the so called civil society start making loud noises alleging falsehood and malice. While the officials unfailingly but eagerly apply their rules but rarely apply their minds, there are others in the government who rarely care for rules but aggressively apply their minds. Minds can be prejudicial. That investigators exceed their remit in the pursuit of justice or the orders of their masters is not an impossibility, but who are we to judge?

Are we willing to wait for the evidence to be presented before the judges and let the judge pass the verdict or are we going to initiate a parallel trial on social media sites and TV shows and Twitter? Are we going to support a system in which thousands of amateur judges oversee parallel trials and pronounce verdict months and even years before the real judges catch up?

Whatever the truth, most of us are not legal experts and it is beyond us to debate whether the process is fair or not. What we can and should debate is how ready we are to believe that every man and woman is fallible irrespective of his or her credentials. Are we ready to stop putting the suspect and the accused on a pedestal? Are we willing to suspend the purposive disparaging of the system of law by lobbyists?

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Honesty Is The Best Even Though It Doesn’t Pay!

“Famed Duke expert on human dishonesty suspected of fraud. Manipulated data in study of truth and behaviour threatens career of popular TED Talk star Dan Ariely” this news headline hit me like a bolt from the blue. (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/famed-duke-expert-human-dishonesty-suspected-fraud) Dan Ariely (https://danariely.com/) is a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioural economics and author of best-selling books including “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty.” Another headline screamed at me – Israeli-American academic Ariely is under renewed scrutiny for his role in research found to be based on falsified data. (https://www.timesofisrael.com/claims-swirl-around-academic-ariely-after-honesty-study-found-to-be-dishonest/). With age, I have learnt to expect the unexpected, but this news hit me hard because I am an ardent fan of the works of Dan and also because he is married to one Sumedha Gupta, a person of Indian Extraction, who is an accomplished academic in her field.

From fixing the traffic-rules violations on the roadside with the police to CAT-score scandals in admissions to IIMs, cheating and dishonesty are ever-present parts of our national news cycle and unavoidable parts of the human condition. Call it rational or call it irrational, the honest truth is that dishonesty is entirely human. We are dishonestly honest or even honestly dishonest.

Our teachers, parents and family elders always taught us to be honest. Later on, during the course of our higher education and learning, we were persuaded by the economists, ethicists, and business sages that honesty is the best policy. But when we hit the streets living our lives, to our surprise, our pet theories failed to stand up. Treachery, we found, can pay. There is no compelling economic reason to tell the truth or keep one’s word—punishment for the treacherous in the real world is neither swift nor sure.

Economists tell us that trust is enforced in the marketplace through retaliation and reputation. If you violate a trust, your victim is apt to seek revenge and others are likely to stop doing business with you, at least under favourable terms. Sounds logical but is unreal. Cases that apparently demonstrate the awful consequences of abusing trust turn out to be few and weak, while evidence that treachery can pay seems compelling. Compared with the few ambiguous tales of treachery punished, we can find numerous stories in which deceit was unquestionably rewarded.

What do professional athletes, football players do? They sign a long-term contract and after one good year, they threaten to quit unless the contract’s renegotiated. The stupidity of it all is that they get their way.

Does treachery eventually get punished in the long term? Nothing in the record suggests it does. Men seldom rise from low condition to high rank without employing either force or fraud. Power can be an effective substitute for trust. Power, the ability to do others great harm or great good, can induce widespread amnesia. Switching loyalties to contrary political ideologies works around power. Sometimes the powerful leave no other choice. Babus and bureaucrats have to play ball with the politicians in power, no matter how badly they were treated in the past or expect to be treated in the future. Usually, though, power is not that absolute, and some degree of trust is a necessary ingredient in their working relationships.

Powerful people and business-people do not stand on principle when it comes to dealing with abusers of power and trust. When the expected reward is substantial and avoidance becomes really strong, reference checking goes out the window. In the eyes of people blinded by greed, the most tarnished reputations shine brightly. Even with a fully disclosed public record of bad faith, hard-nosed people will still try to find reasons to trust. Trust breakers are not only unhindered by bad reputations, they are also usually spared retaliation by parties they injure. The difference between the right and the wrong evaporates as ‘MIGHT’ becomes ‘RIGHT.”

Mistrust can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. People aren’t exclusively saints or sinners; few adhere to an absolute moral code. Most respond to circumstances, and their integrity and trustworthiness can depend as much on how they are treated as on their basic character. Initiating a relationship assuming that the other party is going to try to get you may induce him or her to do exactly that.

By and large, most people are intrinsically honest. It’s just the tails, the ends of the bell-shaped curve, which are dishonest in any industry, in any area. So it’s just a question of tolerating them.

Honesty is, in fact, primarily a moral choice, but there is little factual or logical basis for this conviction. Without values, without a basic preference for right over wrong, trust based on such self-delusion would crumble in the face of temptation. It is also true however that by and large, most people are neither powerful nor power-seekers. For such people, honesty is the most logical policy for leading a contented life.

Most of us choose virtue because we want to believe in ourselves and have others respect and believe in us. And for this, we should be happy. We can be proud of a system in which people are honest because they want to be, not because they have to be. Materially, too, trust based on morality provides great advantages. It allows us to join in great and exciting enterprises that we could never undertake if we relied on economic incentives alone.

Dishonesty and mistrust are as rational or irrational as is greed or deceit. Forgiving past lapses can make a righteous and godly sense. People do change. After all Ratnakar, a dacoit, did become a Maharshi Valmiki; so we are told!

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First published 25 Aug 2021

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COVID Confusions

COVID-19 is a new acronym coined for Corona-Virus-Induced-Disease of the year 2019. Year 2020 made some old word or phrases suddenly very fashionable and buzzing with new meanings, and injected them into active vocabulary of people. Corona, a word hitherto associated with the Sun, novelty and SARS-Coronavirus-1 was not so much in use but became suddenly a dreaded word linked to COVID-19. Positivity, a word that was generally used for the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude up until then, took on the other meaning of the presence rather than absence of a certain substance, condition, or feature, now a measure of incidence of disease.

Check out some of these words or phrases for yourself, because your inability to use them in conversations may be mistaken as your ignorance – animal-human interface, asymptomatic, carrier, clinical trials, community spread, contact tracing, Contagious, Droplets, Epidemic, flatten the curve, herd immunity, HRCT scan, incubation period, Isolation, Mask, mRNA Vaccines, Mutant, Outbreak, Oxygen-concentrator, Oximeter, Pandemic, Pathogen, patient zero, PCR test, personal protective equipment (PPE), Plasma, Quarantine, Rapid-Antigen Test, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), Screening, self-isolate, social distancing, Super spreader, Symptomatic, Transmission, Vax, Ventilator, Viral Vector Vaccines, Zoonotic – and the list goes on.

Some proper nouns also made their way in the active vocabulary – Wuhan, AstraZeneca, Covax, Covaxin, Covishield, Sputnik5, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Novavax, Coronil, CoviSelf, Remdesivir, 2-DG, and so on; but the most conspicuous proper noun is FAUCI.

Anthony Stephen FAUCI (born December 24, 1940) is an American physician-scientist and immunologist who serves as the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the chief medical advisor to the president. He has acted as an advisor to every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan. From 1983 to 2002, Fauci was one of the world’s most frequently cited scientists across all scientific journals. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, The New Yorker and The New York Times described Fauci as one of the most trusted medical figures in the United States. Currently Fauci is the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, officially appointed in 2021.

After initially declaring in April of last year that the virus was “not a major threat to the people of the United States” and that it was “not something the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about,” Fauci repeatedly urged Americans not to wear masks early in the pandemic. Later, Fauci admitted that he had believed all along that masks were effective but said he had wanted to ensure that supplies would be reserved for medical professionals. In other words, he asserted that he had the right to lie to the public for what he believed to be their own benefit. If Fauci is correct that masks effectively contain the spread, then the cost of his misinformation as the pandemic worsened may be incalculably large, for the US community. (https://www.delcotimes.com/opinion/chris-freind-dr-fauci-needs-a-dose-of-reality/article_9bce984e-7641-11eb-8c87-4f0114a8a7a2.html )

After repeatedly dismissing the theory that the COVID-19 virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, Fauci now says he cannot rule out the theory.

Fauci has now backtracked on his comments about the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for the Chinese lab under his leadership, that funding was not for “gain of function” research, a laboratory technique that intentionally makes pathogens more dangerous and transmissible. Gain of function research in Wuhan was indeed funded through one of Fauci’s grants.

Late last week, COVID policies stated that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors, any longer. Defending the policy, Fauci declared that the abolition of mask mandates was not a contradiction of previous policy but instead followed “evolving science” on the virus; although no examples of this supposedly new scientific evidence were forthcoming. Fauci then added to the confusion by declaring, apparently on his own authority, that young children would still be required to wear masks in school. Then, just a gay later, Fauci suggested that it was “reasonable” for businesses to maintain mask mandates even for vaccinated Americans, in blatant defiance of the CDC’s recent guidance. Whichever way one looks at it, Fauci has become a key player in the current controversy, which completes his transformation from an independent doctor into a political football, at the age of 80 years.

Fauci has also steadily moved the goalposts on the percentage of the population that will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Earlier this year, he said herd immunity would be achieved when 60% were vaccinated; in recent interviews, he has spewed out numbers as high as 85%. At the very least, the top infectious diseases expert of the US and chief medical adviser to Biden is loose with the facts and is prone to changing his mind. To be fair, the pandemic caught a lot of people unaware, but the thing about Fauci is that he always is so sure of himself. (https://nypost.com/2021/01/24/dr-fauci-needs-to-be-held-responsible-for-mistakes-devine/ ).

India has done well in vaccinating the armed forces personnel with 90% of them having already received both doses of vaccine. India did not listen to the US guidelines (CDC) on reopening of schools, which is now being associated with untold misery that followed in Texas.

Luckily, Indian policy-makers do listen to Dr. Anthony Fauci but do not blindly subscribe to all his utterances. Good, is not it, that while being open to all the information, suggestions, knowledge and advice coming from everywhere, we have a mind of our own. When it comes to inconsistent and improvisational COVID messaging, no one can surpass Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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First published 24 May 21

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Are You Joking Dr. Lele?

Evidence-Based Medicine is a hot topic ever since the unpleasant and acrimonious spat between Swami Ramdev, also known as Baba Ramdev, of Patanjali and Dr. Jayesh Lele, MBBS, general secretary of the country’s largest lobby of allopathic doctors, the Indian Medical Association, or IMA was aired on 25 May 2021.

Lele seem to claim that COVID-19 treatment being undertaken in India by the allopathic doctors is Evidence-Based Medicine, which Ramdev was unwilling to accept due to very frequent and recurring changes in the allopathic treatment-protocols being practised, the preceding ones being abandoned citing lack of evidence while the succeeding ones being merely new conjectures.  Following the dictum that ‘absence of evidence’ is not the ‘evidence of presence’ let us dispassionately and objectively examine Lele’s claim.

The updated (revised and improved) definition of Evidence-Based Medicine is a systematic approach to clinical problem solving which allows the integration of the best available research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values. (David L. Sackett, Sharon E. Straus, W. Scott Richardson, William Rosenberg, and R. Brian Haynes. Evidence-Based Medicine: How To Practice And Teach EBM. 2nd edition, London: Churchill-Livingstone, 2000)

Speaking at the MLA 2010 Annual Conference, held in Washington DC, Mark Ebell, MD, MS, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia, and Editor-in-Chief, Essential Evidence Plus  defined Evidence-Based Practice as, “Making a conscientious effort to base clinical decisions on research that is most likely to be free from bias, and using interventions most likely to improve how long or well patients live.” (https://youtu.be/XWi7vNv2nos)

Evidence-based medicine includes three key components (see Figure): research-based evidence, clinical expertise (i.e., the clinician’s accumulated experience, knowledge, and clinical skills), and the patient’s values and preferences.

Practicing evidence-based medicine is advocated on the promise of improved quality, improved patient satisfaction, and reduced costs.

The EBM Pyramid (see figure) explains the knowledge types and the reliability of such evidence. Evidence in Level I is considered the gold standard of medical knowledge. Evidence in Level II comes from Controlled trials without randomization or Cohort or case-control analytic studies or multiple time series studies. It is often true that the best evidence available to clinicians is their own observed aggregate data. Evidence in Level III is based on expert opinion from experts who have narrowed their focus as much as possible about a complex area. Evidence in Level IV is based on personal experience. This is the least desirable source of evidence and lacks any statistical validity.

There is good evidence (e.g., from RCTs) and there is bad evidence (e.g., from personal experience). Then there’s evidence that falls in the grey area—neither clearly defined as good nor bad. It can be difficult for clinicians to know whether to use evidence in the grey area. To determine the validity of evidence, a team of clinicians with several years of experience in evidence-appraisal should review the knowledge in question. The team can then determine if the evidence is valid (i.e., accurate) and applicable (i.e., useful for the situation or population being considered).

COVID-19 is a fast moving epidemic with many uncertain parameters. In view of the lack of prior knowledge and urgency of the situation to have some understanding, clinicians and researchers worldwide are reporting rapid results in the form of Level III and Level IV evidence. There is no evidence at Level II or Level I about any treatment protocols at this time. These rapidly reported results are continuously changing as new insights on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 emerge.

The treatment protocols adopted by allopathy for treatment of COVID-19 have therefore been non- standardized, non-evidence-based protocols. They have been based on near real-time data, mostly of level IV and level III, to make care decisions with the sole objective of improving outcomes of treatment. Given the urgency for action, transparency, accountability, quality of care and value of care have expectedly taken a back seat.

Numerous preventative strategies and non-pharmaceutical interventions have been employed to mitigate the spread of disease including careful infection control, the isolation of patients, and social distancing. Management is predominantly focused on the provision of supportive care, with oxygen therapy representing the major treatment intervention. Medical therapy involving corticosteroids and antivirals have also been encouraged as part of critical management schemes.

The COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines have been developed by National Institutes of Health of the Government of the United States, to provide clinicians with guidance on how to care for patients with COVID-19. As per the official website these treatment guidelines were last updated on 27 May 2021. (https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/introduction/ accessed on 06 June 2021). The recommendations in these Guidelines are based on scientific evidence and expert opinion. Each recommendation includes two ratings: an uppercase letter (A, B, or C) that indicates the strength of the recommendation [Rating of Recommendations: A = Strong; B = Moderate; C = Optional] and a Roman numeral with or without a lowercase letter (I, IIa, IIb, or III) that indicates the quality of the evidence that supports the recommendation [Rating of Evidence: I = One or more randomized trials without major limitations; IIa = other randomized trials or subgroup analyses of randomized trials; IIb = Nonrandomized trials or observational cohort studies; III = Expert opinion].

As on date, there is only one recommendation rated ‘AI’ for Managing Outpatients with COVID-19 while the most reliable of recommendations for Managing Patients in an Ambulatory Care Setting have not bettered the ‘AIII’ rating. Critical Care recommendations are still at rating B. Recommendations for managing hospitalised patients with varying severities of disease are still at ‘BIIa’ rating.

These guidelines have a clear disclaimer, “Rated treatment recommendations in these Guidelines should not be considered mandates. The choice of what to do or not to do for an individual patient is ultimately decided by the patient and their provider.”

The above facts clearly indicate that there is no evidence-based-practice or evidence-based-protocol for treatment of COVID-19 in the allopathic system. Based on frugal, confusing, rapidly changing and often low-quality data, clinicians are using and recommending their best educated guesses for treating COVID-19. It is true that an educated guessing is better than no guessing until such time that research becomes available but there is no evidence to show that an educated guess is any better than an uneducated guess.

Surely you are joking Dr. Jayesh Lele when you say that the treatment-protocols being practiced for treatment of COVID-19 is evidence-based-medicine. There is no harm however in your and your fellow members of IMA at least hearing C. Miller when he tells us, “why the practice of medicine is not science.” (Miller C. “Medicine Is Not Science: Guessing The Future, Predicting The Past” Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 2014, Vol 20, Issue 6, pp. 865-71).

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First published 06 June 2021

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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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Online Academies and their Self-appointed Educators

The amount of ‘GYAN’ being distributed freely on about every known issue, subject and discipline on the social media –Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and the like, is unbelievable. It is very difficult if not impossible for anyone to come up with questions which have not been already answered on Quora or SlideShare; and should such questions remain, one can expect to seek answers by posting the questions on such sites.

The depth and width of ‘knowledge’ being peddled online is unmatchable by any individual subject-expert or even a University. Truly therefore, these are the NEW universities which are exclusively online and distribute ‘GYAN’ in both the modes – synchronous and asynchronous.

The only problem is that there is no accountability or responsibility taken by these academies for the GYAN which they distribute.  These academies are totally democratic and non-discriminatory. They have free and open enrolment of faculty and students, with no essentiality of any prior learning of any sort. With no entry or exit hurdles for faculty and students, they also do not directly conduct any evaluations or certifications. Credentials are certified by ‘measurable metrics’ of the kind-  ‘clicks’ ‘likes’ ‘follows’ ‘shares’ or ‘comments’ – which are a manifestation of democratic votes for an educator of these online academies.

Such manifestation imparting itself so strongly into mainstream information seems harmless. After all, it is helpful and important to be clear about the kind of world we are living in and the kind of life we desire because that clarity shapes our values, decisions, and relationships to all things material, including money.

There is nothing that makes self-appointed educators qualified to sell the promise of a less ignorant life. It is easy for these people to step into roles of knowledge leaders on Facebook or Instagram because, now more than ever, youngsters in particular, want something meaningful to believe in and reach out for information and knowledge outside the conventional and traditional institutions. Youngsters are seemingly looking for information and community in combination.

One of the positive things about a wider array of people being able to access an audience is the kind of democratization of information and knowledge leadership, but without a collective protocol to determine whom we trust to answer life’s greatest questions, we also forget to consider the capabilities, credentials and motives of those who are answering these questions for us.

As mainstream information continues to be shaped by social media, criticism of those who profit from such ventures is fundamental to protecting not only our own well-being, but the future of truth itself. As they say, if you don’t have information, you are uninformed; if you have information, most likely, you are misinformed. The problem then manifests in your belief that you are properly informed and knowledgeable. Should we worry about expertise becoming a commodity and eluding accountability?

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Disclaimer:

These contents of this post may qualify as ‘GYAN’ and I, as the author of this post, may as well fit the description of a ‘self-appointed educator’ as meant in this post. This posting is intended solely for those readers who are discerning and matured enough to choose what is right for them and is not an unsolicited commercial communication or spam. This content of this post is not guaranteed to be complete or error free. No liability is assumed for any errors and/or omissions in the contents of this message.

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First published 27 November 2020

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Misinformation about COVID-19

The UN has been focusing on misinformation in connection with COVID-19, stating that misinformation is a virus. Surprisingly, there are instances where public figures such as elected officials like the presidents of Brazil and the USA have indulged in disseminating misinformation. It is difficult to understand why elected officials would circulate misinformation about a pandemic, seemingly for short-term victories or momentary political gains, when their people are becoming sick and dying. Imposing their misguided, and sometimes deadly, interpretations of the crisis on the public has been reckless and is a regrettable way of exercising power.

There is no doubt that tackling the misinformation is as relevant as mitigation and prevention of the disease when confronting an unprecedented public health crisis like the COVID-19.

India shines as an example of successful engagement with the misinformation adopting vigorous and innovative strategies to confront situations that can be described as calculated distortions of the truth perpetrated by certain opinion makers, public figures and politicians via the media, especially social media.

India has successfully contained the deadly threat of misinformation about COVID-19 and is showing the early signs of succeeding in containing the pandemic itself. The Lancet is however not too optimistic about Indian success (www.thelancet.com p. 867 Vol 396 September 26, 2020). Let us hope that ‘The Lancet’ is not propelling some misinformation about India (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/lancets-pessimism-indias-optimism-mukul-gupta).

(First published 08 October 2020)

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The LANCET’s Pessimism on India’s optimism

Both, human nature and human custom, has constraints and boundaries which keep reminding us of human imperfection and of the fragility of real communities. Pessimism is the recognition that these constraints and boundaries make impossible any planned, rational transformation of society. However, history is replete with examples where societies have been transformed through the belief that we can advance collectively to our goals by adopting a common plan, and by working towards it. Optimism is therefore the key to change and transformation while pessimism guards the hierarchy and status quo. As they say, excess of everything is bad, so is true for optimism and pessimism, which is why there is a concept of realism.

On 26 September, the Free Press Journal published a news article saying that “The renowned medical journal, Lancet, has cautioned India on the danger of presenting the current pandemic situation with too positive a spin. It not only clouds reality but also hampers vital public health initiatives.” The link can be found at https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/india-is-creating-a-false-optimism-reputed-medical-journal-lancet-on-indias-handling-of-the-pandemic.  Having carried out some forecasting for COVID-19 cases in April and May 2020, purely for academic joy, this news report intrigued me and motivated me to look up at the “THE LANCET” caution.

 “The LANCET” which began as an independent, international weekly general medical journal in 1823, claims to make science widely available so that medicine can serve, and transform society, and positively impact the lives of people.

People in general and decision makers around the world have a great regard for “The Lancet” which has over time evolved as a family of journals across various medical and health specialities.

“The LANCET” has captioned its editorial to Vol. 396, September 26, 2020, on p. 867 as “COVID-19 in India: the dangers of false optimism.”

First things first – this is an editorial opinion and not a piece of research. An editorial opinion is expressed with the purpose of influencing public opinion and public-policy and may not be taken as non-purposive or unbiased. While this editorial makes some palpable hits, it is hard to separate the wheat of philosophical wisdom from the chaff of prejudice.

Next – it is a well accepted cardinal principle that false optimism is fraught with peril. False pessimism is equally fraught with peril. If the fallacies of optimism are human universals, what is more corrupting is not the attempt to do the impossible, but the failure even to attempt it. Progressive changes, however, rarely happen by chance. History is a narrative of humans rationally and consciously transforming the world. To give up on “goal-directed policies and politics” is to give up possibilities of betterment.

The example of DG of ICMR envisaging launching a coronavirus vaccine on Aug 15, quoted by The LANCET, is surely an optimism of “unscrupulous” form, but questioning the lower case-fatality-rate in India because it is lower than the reported rate in other (western) countries is unscientific. In order to support such unscientific opinion, The LANCET goes on to suspect the entire COVID-19 data from India and suggests that this number is a political spin.

Case-fatality-rate is the ratio of deaths to cases; and its lower value would mean lower deaths for same number of cases. It could also be lower if the reported number of cases is higher for same number of deaths. What is The LANCET alleging – is India under-reporting deaths or over-reporting cases?

A scientific mind should question previous results in face of new data rather than the reliability of the new data unless one is sure that the previous data was more reliable than the new data. Data is the message and data-reports are brought by messengers; new data should lead to questioning of results, not the message.

Is this pessimism of some “unscrupulous” kind clouding the mindset of LANCET which is unwilling to accept that India might be making headway in war against COVID-19 leaving behind the expected leaders of any such success?

How would The LANCET react if one were to say that this editorial is a political spin against India’s success to protect the world’s perception of traditional western supremacy?

Is The LANCET advocating that, rather than seeking utopian solutions, radical alternatives or bold initiatives, India should muddle through with “compromise and half measures” mindful that no ultimate solutions are up for grabs?

Is The LANCET proposing for India to be “a community without convictions” marked by irony and subservience?

The LANCET is posturing as if it is exposing the blindness and the hypocrisies of the Indian politics, but its editors seem to be notorious for never acknowledging that there might be some too in the developed west. The LANCET’s editorial calling India’s COVID-19 numbers as ‘false optimism’ lacks logical or scientific reasoning and suffers from survivorship bias of quantitative back-testing using past indices.

I am neither a leftist nor a rightist. I hold no brief for India or its political class, but I do wish to raise my voice as a citizen of India, which has held on to traditions of conservative political philosophy but, which is unwilling to shut her eyes to continued propagation of western supremacy, who have tried to make heaven on earth, and ended up making it hell.

(First published 28 Sep 2020)

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Is Journalism Dead?

Journalism in India was once a profession, so we had heard. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the selling of pizza, a fast and convenient food item of suspicious nutritional value. Journalists and press no longer regard themselves as responsible advisers of the public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India as its first or foremost duty.

To anoint a hero, and worship him, has become the principal duty or mission of the journalists. Under this new configuration, news is replaced by sensation, reasoned opinion by unreasoning passion, and appeal to the minds of responsible people by appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.

The script is written by drum-beaters to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become as blind as we see it today in India and may the rest of the world. There are some 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 the politicians, has transgressed all limits. By their domination they have demoralised their followers and demoralised 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 a long time now, in our country, money is taking the field as an organised power. The questions which, we, the people, are not willing to answer are:

WHO SHALL RULE – wealth or man?

WHICH SHALL LEAD – money or intellect?

WHO SHALL HOLD PUBLIC OFFICES – educated and patriotic free men or the feudal serfs of corporate Capital?

For the present, Indian politics, instead of being spiritualised, has become grossly commercialised, so much so that it has become a byword for corruption. Journalists and media have become willing accomplices. Politics and journalism have together constituted a kind of an intolerably insanitary sewage system.

Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. Media used to be a carrier – a carrier of news, journalistic opinion, entertainment and advertising. Today, media has become synonymous with press and journalism. Coupled with social-media, print, television, internet and other in-pocket-media makes news which the journalists follow and report. Journalist and newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer, the “Father of Journalism” (born as Jozsef Politzer in Hungary in 1847) must be turning in his grave in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Where has this so called pillar of democracy gone – wo haben wir erreicht – donde hemos llegado – où avons-nous attaint – यह कहां आ गये हम…….?

(first published 23 Aug 2020)

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