Weekly Update: ModiVac Certificate; Promiseland COP26

ArunBhai Shah was fully armed with all paperwork to get into the UK on a visit. He had his passport, visa, invitation and a Covid Vaccination certificate. Everything was fine according to the immigration officer. Except the Covid certificate. Her Majesty’s Border immigration officer (IO) looked puzzled at the certificate and asked Mr Shah if this was his certificate.

‘Of course sir,’ Mr Shah replied. Not satisfied, officer said, ‘It has your name, but the picture on the certificate does not look like you. You are only 36 and this picture looks like your grandfather or father.’ Oh, said Mr Shah proudly, ‘that is Mr Modi’.

‘Modi?’ asked immigration officer. ‘Why have you got someone else’s certificate and your name on it? Is this gentleman part of your team? Where is he?’ Mr Shah was confused. He is a die-hard Modi fan, Mr Shah is a Gujarati and is nationalist about everything that comes from Gujarat. He is dead proud of Mr Modi, the PM. How dare the officer not know Mr Modi whose party has spent millions to reach the number of followers that Trump had on Twitter.

‘Mr Modi, sir is our Prime Minister!’ said Mr Shah some what irritated that this English immigration officer did not know who the great man was.’ If you see TV or newspapers, you will know.’

Immigration Officer, ‘No need to get irritated Mr Shah, but why have you got your Prime Minister’s Covid Certificate and put your name on that?’

‘He is our PM and it is under him that the Covid vaccination programme was done in India. So all Covid certificates have a picture and we are very grateful.’

‘But you are a democratic country, isn’t the programme under the Government? We don’t have picture of Boris Johnson on our certificates and we haven’t seen pictures of any other world leaders on any Covid certificates. Even Mr Xi does not put his picture on certificates of Chinese. Was this funded by Mr Modi’?

‘No, I paid for vaccination and certificate sir.’

‘Ok. Not to worry. Just take a seat please’. Off went the immigration officer to his superior, quite unconvinced.

‘Dave,’ he said to his superior, ‘There is a chap here form India with a Covid certificate with his name but the picture of who he calls is his Prime Minister. It doesn’t make sense to me, can it be a forgery?’

‘Oh don’t start. I have nearly a plane load of people sitting in the interview room all with the picture of the same man. They say he is their Prime Minister. I haven’t seen that before. Not China, Putin or even tin pot countries have done that. I don’t get it. Must be a forgery. Sheena is on to the Home Office who are on the Foreign Office. Let’s wait see what they say, I’ve stopped the interview for the time being,’ said immigration officer Peter’s superior, Dave.

Meanwhile, Mr Shah was getting annoyed and agitated. How come they don’t know Modiji and why are they surprised that his picture is on the certificate. After all, without Modiji, no one would have got a vaccine.

Three hours later and no pani puri or channa bhatura, the senior immigration officer came back. And told his staff to let them all through. ‘Just check the names.’

Peter the immigration officer asked Dave the senior officer. ‘So what’s the story?’

‘Well Foreign Office called the High Commissioner who made some enquiries and said that yes although the tax payer pays some of the costs and the patient also pays, the Prime Minister has seen this as a great opportunity to promote himself. He is apparently having some problems in the popularity stakes. There is a farmers’ dispute that has dented his standing and he has failed to win a couple of regional elections. So he wants to make people believe that he made and delivered the treatment.’

‘Wow, I tell you if Boris does that, I am personally going to rip the certificate in front of him. Bit desperate isn’t it?’ Said Peter. Back at the desk, ‘Mr Shah, our apologies. Have a good stay in United Kingdom and thank your Prime Minister.’

ArunBhai Shah was happy as can be. The British officer even said ‘Thank the Prime Minister’. I will personally write to Modiji and tell him world appreciates what he has done. No other PM would have allowed vaccination! Modi ji ki jai jai, Corona ki hai hai.

No Xi, No Putin, So Modi Will Save COP26

The great Boris who promised a British version of Disneyland for everyone after Brexit, is now keen for the world climate summit COP26 to be ‘a whopping’ (his favourite word) success and promise a perfect atmosphere where fossil fuel and coal can be used without any danger to the climate. Unfortunately, President Xi and Putin who believe in delivering on their word, decided to miss the great world climate jamboree at Glasgow. But Boris is saved by no other than fellow democrat and show biz PM, our own superstar Narendra Modi ji who had promised ₹15 lakh in every Indian’s account and a job waiting for all yet to be born Indians. It is easy to see what COP26 will be like.

Neither Boris nor Modi has ever shied from fulfilling the ordinary voter’s dream call. No referendum needed. If ten citizens dream up their version of the perfect world, it will be announced. No problems. The Government will be committed to it.

Committing and delivering are two different ministerial departments both in UK and India. Fulfilling a dream by announcing its ambition from the steps of Downing Street or PM house (India) is not same as delivering it. In both democracies, there are more elections to come and someone else (new PM) can have the headache of delivery if they want. The thick wall between Dept of Hope and Dept of Reality is yet impenetrable in both countries.

So COP26 will be a great success by spin and plans that make a rainbow look dull. While Boris is committed to building a new coal plant, refuse to put Sellotape or even Blu Tack on houses leaking heat, he is also going to give the speech of his life on how within a few years, every one’s lung will have 100% oxygen without any soot in it.

There may be something in it. Many Covid patients, and patients with pneumonia or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, usually end up getting 100% Oxygen in the Intensive Care Unit through an Oxygen cylinder. If everyone’s lung gets clogged with Carbon and everyone gets pneumonia because heating becomes too expensive to afford, then they can all carry 100% Oxygen around.

What will Modi ji Promise? There are rumours that by the year that India becomes Jagat Guru, i.e the Oxbridge of the world, he will have net zero carbon in India. Well there are some milestones to achieve. He didn’t say all of India will be net zero. With leadership of world’s most polluted cities, net zero is a tall order. Unless like note bandi, there will be overnight order at 00.01 on some day after COP26 that no one is to use petrol, gas or diesel. Even Modi ji won’t dare do that, tough as he is in seeing the aam aadmi suffer and still vote for him. So net zero addicts can trek to the Himalayas in India.

Secondly, the Jagat Guru time is a few centuries in the future when the rest of the world collapses and Indian scholars stop copying western ideology but put ‘made in India’ on it. So there is in fact a long time before net zero carbon is to be delivered.

The rest of COP26 will no doubt remain mesmerised as most British are in UK with Boris, despite him competing with Bolsonaro and Trump for the highest Covid deaths. Masochism is an English trait. And the conference will no doubt be in awe of Modiji in his holy attire and announcement of climate nirvana through yoga.

Putin and Xi know that if they go, Boris and others will try and blame them for bringing the world to this disaster while they (Boris and Biden) will save it. Not withstanding that the industrial revolution started in good old Britain and the fact that Britain has probably been responsible for more than 50% carbon in the climate over the centuries. Both Xi and Putin will be blamed even in their absence but they can watch the circus from home. Even oil dependent Saudi Arabia is going to announce it will be net zero by 2060. Perhaps that’s when its oil will dry up. COP26 is going to be a great PromiseLand.

What does COP mean for India?

In just a few weeks, the most important climate talks since the Paris Agreement were signed will decide the fate of global climate action… So, what’s in store for India, despite the expectation that Prime Minister Modi will get a less than pleasant welcoming from the Scottish Hosts of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference and talk around leaked documents from India to the UN.

Current pledges combined put the world on track for 2.7º C of warming, which will lead to irreversible environmental changes and extreme weather events, and for South Asia, India is in the spotlight as the world’s potential next biggest polluter in the second half of this century, if China and the US reduce their carbon emissions as promised.

This 26th Conference of Parties, i.e., COP26 is being regarded as the most important conference since 2015, when the Paris Agreement was released by the 197 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2015 in Paris, countries pledged to keep global warming well below 2º C, they intended to do this through a series of individual emissions reduction pledges known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

On the agenda at COP 26

Five years down the line, countries were scheduled to return to the forum and finalise a rulebook on how to implement the Paris Agreement. Some industrialised countries and civil society groups also hoped that all countries would submit more ambitious NDCs. The UNFCCC secretariat pushed for this by asking all countries to update their NDCs.

None of this happened in 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis, which led the UN to postpone the meeting. Negotiations are resuming this year with the same agenda. Nations will need to reach consensus on how to measure and potentially trade their carbon reduction achievements, a sticking point that prevented them from finalising the rulebook in previous years. They will also need to ratchet up their national pledges for a chance to keep global warming within 1.5C.

Current pledges combined put the world on track for 2.7º C of warming, which would lead to a slew of irreversible environmental changes and extreme weather events such as floods, heatwaves, cyclones, abnormal rains and more. According to the Intergovernmental Pane on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN scientific body on climate change, the world is currently well on track to reach 1.5º C of warming by 2040, and South Asian economies are among the vast majority of countries that are not doing enough to improve on this.

India’s position before COP26

It is important to not South Asia is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population and to some of the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As COP26 is imminent, in the next round of global climate talks under the UNFCCC, South Asian nations are preparing to make a case for putting their development needs at the centre of their carbon reduction pathways.

India’s climate pledges involve a reduction in the carbon intensity of its economy, meaning that emissions are expected to grow together with the country’s economy, albeit at a slower pace. The country’s pledges and carbon reduction policies have recently been deemed ‘highly insufficient’ by the think tank Climate Action Tracker, which analyses countries’ climate pledges against the global 1.5º C goal.

According to a note circulated by the COP 26 presidency, the meeting’s priorities will include a push towards raising USD 100 billion per year in climate finance to help developing nations decarbonise and adapt to climate change, a goal that is still a distant prospect nearly two years after its deadline. Parties will also be expected to address the gap between their NDC plans and the 1.5C goal, the note says, encouraging all countries to develop strategies ‘pointing the way to net-zero.’

The net-zero debate

In South Asia, India has been under the spotlight as the world’s potential next biggest polluter in the second half of this century, if China and the US reduce their carbon emissions as they have promised. International partners have been putting pressure on the Modi administration to set a 2050 deadline for India’s emissions to reach ‘net-zero’, meaning it is able to absorb all the emissions it produces. As COP 26 approaches, observers are waiting for the country to take a stand on this expectation, following other major economies such as China, Japan, South Korea, France, and the UK.

However, Kelkar says, the example set by rich countries is not enough to inspire confidence among developing nations. While net-zero targets address a distant future, she says, “what we need is immediate and tangible emission cuts over the next few years.” At this year’s COP, she says, “we need to meet the long-overdue climate finance target of $100 billion per year, [and] we need to close years of pending negotiations on international carbon trading.”

Reaching net-zero is “absolutely critical for all countries, including India and its South Asian counterparts,” says Vaibhav Chaturvedi, an economist with the think tank Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), who specialises in the study of low carbon pathways. “But it can’t be by 2050 for all the countries. Countries should be given time to choose a net-zero year depending on their national circumstances.” Negotiators from South Asia, he says, “have to ensure that they push for equity in the net-zero debate, along with enhanced financial flows to aid climate mitigation and adaptation to this part of the world.”

The Indian government has not yet finalised its COP 26 strategy, but recent speeches by environment minister Bhupendra Yadav have been focusing on the need for industrialised countries to cut their own emissions, and to do so in this decade instead of setting a distant mid-century goal.

The Leak

As mentioned above, India is the world’s third-largest carbon emitter, after China and the US, yet the BBC has found in leaked documents to the United Nations that India intends to continue to fuel their country with coal.

India aims for renewables and nuclear energy to account for 40% of its installed electricity capacity by 2030 – a goal it could achieve ahead of time, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

But it remains the world’s second-largest consumer of coal, which still powers more than 70% of its grid. But coal will be difficult to give up, India has told the team of scientists compiling the UN report ahead of the summit in Glasgow.

The reports – which bring together evidence on how best to slow down global warming – are by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body studying climate change.

“In spite of substantial growth in the renewable energy sector in India, coal is likely to remain the mainstay of energy production in the next few decades for sustainable economic growth of the country,” said a senior scientist from India’s Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, according to the leaked documents. Follow this link to read more on Why India can’t live without coal

CAT estimates that by 2030, India’s emissions intensity will fall to 50% below 2005 levels, going past its avowed target, 35%. But India has yet to explain how it will reach net-zero emissions – nor has it said by when it plans to do so.

China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter and coal consumer, has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060. And demand for coal in the country has also flattened, possibly leaving the future of fossil fuel in the hands of Indian policymakers.

What can South Asia bring to the table at COP 26?

While a net-zero commitment by mid-century may be unfeasible for countries in South Asia, Bangladesh and Nepal have submitted updates to their climate pledges prior to COP 26, increasing their mitigation efforts in line with the principles of the Paris Agreement. India is yet to decide whether it will come forward with a fresh set of promises at COP 26, but so far lawmakers have made clear that they won’t raise climate ambitions under pressure from developed countries. The country, they point out, already has some of the most ambitious clean energy goals, with 450 GW of clean energy capacity to be installed by 2030.

Despite its renewable targets, 80% of India’s energy needs are currently met by fossil fuels, particularly coal, a figure that will likely face scrutiny in Glasgow. “It’s important to understand the risks [of certain energy policy choices] as much as the opportunities,” says Christopher Beaton, who leads the Sustainable Energy Consumption programme at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). “I think that it’s less about trying to force countries to commit to stop building coal, and more about assessing the risks that come with it.”

In the case of India, Beaton says, there’s already an oversupply of coal power capacity, which means many of these assets will eventually become stranded. Holding on to too much coal also means that adding a lot of new renewable energy capacity may not necessarily help decarbonise the economy.

“Committing to shifting public financial flows away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy is a proposition that almost every country can back,” he says. “It’s something that will definitely support a lot of the bigger picture ambitions that will be key at the COP 26 table, also increasing the pace of change.”

Made in India vs Make in India

“This is the best time ever to be in India & it is even better to Make in India” Prime Minister Narendra Modi- February 13th, 2016

Made In vs Make In Explained

The primary difference between ‘Make in India’ and ‘Made in India’ can be explained as a bottle of Coke is manufactured in India but eventually, those companies are not Indian, hence Coke can’t be compared with ‘Made in India’.

PM Modi is turning to industrial corporate farming companies rather than using their own farmers. This will leave millions of farmers jobless and will destroy the environment – an example of Make in India but NOT Made in India. India is just the beginning: The worry is that India is an experiment and that the Corporates around the world are looking at how it will play out.

So, what does this have to do with the Indian Farmers?

The Indian Farms Reforms of 2020 refers to the Agricultural Bills passed by the Lol Sabha (or House of People, the lower house of the bicameral Parliament of India) on 17th September 2020, and by the Rajya Sabha (or the Council of States, the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of India) on 20th September 2020. The three new laws aim to deregulate Indian agriculture, by encouraging farmers to sell directly to companies. The government has long been a middleman, guaranteeing minimum prices for certain crops. The laws say farmers will still have price assurances, but the language is vague, and farmers are nervous about losing government support.

Taken together, the reforms will loosen rules around the sale, pricing, and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. They also allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier; and they outline rules for contract farming, where farmers tailor their production to suit a specific buyer’s demand. The protests have been the strongest in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana state, where the mandi system is strong and the productivity is high – so only the government has been able to buy that volume of produce at a set price.

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains, and online grocers. Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices. The reforms, at least on paper, give farmers the option of selling outside of this so-called “mandi system”, but in practice, this will leave the farmers worse off.

These ‘Reform Bills’ while directly impacting on small scale farmers in some regions of India, will have far-reaching consequences for the rest of the world, in small scale farming, employment, environment, and food security.

If the Indian Government succeeds in deregulating farming in India and allowing the corporate sector to drive out small farmers in large numbers, other countries will follow suit. In other words, State Governments will try to do the same and deregulate farming in their own countries. They will try to push out small farmers and bring in large-scale industrial farming companies.

We are witnessing a corporate land grab. It may be starting in India, but it will impact the whole planet.

Risk to Small Farms International

“With… a fundamental shift in the functions of livestock, there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out… and global food security and safety compromised.” World Bank (2001)

Large scale farming in India will create more competition for the small farmers around the world and the big companies will be able to offer cheaper prices and larger volumes that small farms cannot compete with.

Priced Out of the Market

In 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) stated that food prices had been driven upwards in recent years, due to ‘longer-term economic growth in several large developing countries. These countries put upward pressure on prices for petroleum and fertiliser because of the resource-intensive nature of their economic growth and led to increased demand for meat, and hence animal feed, as diets diversified.’ The issue with this is, as the prices of fertilizer and other resources required for farming increase, the small farms cannot afford to buy them by comparison to the large-scale industrial farming companies. This, therefore, means small farms have to charge more as they have paid more for farming essentials and the large-scale farming industries are able to change less by comparison to the small farms.

Europe

Across Europe, small farms are disappearing. They struggle to compete with large multinational agro-businesses, they are under pressure from land grabbing, and they face serious challenges to secure public support, as they are often considered unviable and outdated.

Despite the consolidation processes that have been ongoing in the European farming sector for decades, small farms still make up the majority of European farms. More than two-thirds of all farms in Europe have less than 5 hectares of agricultural land, and more than half have a Standard Output of fewer than 333 euros per month before production costs are even deducted. Small farms are therefore a crucial part of the European agricultural system. Nevertheless, their numbers are declining. While in 2005 still, more than 70% of all farms in the EU-27 worked on less than 5 hectares, by 2013 this number had fallen to just over 65%.3 In Romania, to give just one example three family farms disappear every hour.

Ratan Tata And Aryan Khan

Weekly Update: Getting Air India Is Step 1 For Tatas; No Bail For Khan


The Tata acquisition of Air India has unleashed high-decibel social media buzz, much of it bullish yelps in favour of the Tatas who were the original owners of the airline before it got nationalised in 1953. The privatisation of Air India has taken 20 years since it was first attempted back in 2000. And the saga of what happened to those attempts and why they were unsuccessful over the past two decades is well-documented. In that context, the Tata acquisition is certainly welcome but could it be too early to rejoice? With the acquisition of the flagship airlines, the Tata’s have also inherited a daunting challenge.

In the best of times, the air travel business can be a dicey proposition. In the wake of the Corona pandemic, things have been devastating for the sector. A recent McKinsey & Co. report on the prospects for the sector post Covid estimates that in 2020, global industry revenue totaled $328 billion, around 40 percent of what it was in 2019. For perspective, it means the sector’s revenue in 2020 is the same as what it was in 2000, that is, two decades ago. What is more, McKinsey estimates that the sector will continue to remain smaller (and may even shrink further) in the years to come. To be sure, the consulting firm projects that air traffic won’t return to 2019 levels before 2024.

Air India has an accumulated loss of Rs 77,953 crore and debt of Rs 61,562 crore. And although the pandemic may have wreaked havoc on the company as it has on every airline in the world, it must be noted that Air India never made profits since 2007 when the state-owned domestic airline, Indian Airlines, was merged with it. That is, no profits at all in the past 14 years.

So, to bring things back to the ground, the Tatas have a task on their hand. The global environment for the aviation business is something that airlines companies have little control over besides being smartly reactive to it. But Air India has a host of other issues that have to be tackled. First, it may be the Tatas’ largest interest in the sector but it is by no means their only aviation business: besides Air India, the Tatas have Air Asia in which they own a nearly 85% equity stake; and Vistara in which they own 51% stake (Singapore Airlines has the rest). It would be interesting to see how the Tatas configure their airlines business in a way that is best for each of these entities. Will they go for a merger? Or operate them independently?

Second, there is the question of management of Air India.The airline has not had a professional CEOin a while and it is a bureaucrat, the civil aviation secretary of the Government of India who has been officiating in that role. The Tatas would have to embark on a search for a suitable person to helm the company.

Third, there are the financial liabilities and operational losses. The Air India acquisition also comes with retirement benefits that the airline pays to nearly 55,000 retired employees. But that is small change compared to the investment needed in modernising the airline’s fleet of aircraft. Air India and its subsidiary has 117 aircraft, while its subsidiary the low-cost Air India Express has 24. Many of these need to be replaced or equipped with new engines and that would entail hefty expenses.

Finally, the airline operates on many routes that are not remunerative. During its years under government ownership, meddling by the ministry has often led to adding routes on political and not economic considerations. Air India’s new owners will need to sort those out as well. For the Tatas, getting back control of what they once owned (very long ago) is only the beginning of a long journey.

No Bail For Aryan Khan

A raid conducted by the Narcotics Control Bureau on October 2, reverberated through newsrooms and social media platforms throughout this week. While eight people were arrested from a party on a luxury cruise ship, Cordelia, on Mumbai’s shores, the one name among them that has hogged all the limelight is Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh, “King Khan” or SRK as he is better known.

Fans are frantic in their protests that he is being targeted by the Narendra Modi government for his closeness to the Thackeray family. They cite the role of a local BJP supporter who gave the tip off and accompanied the NCB sleuths during the raid, to drive home the point that the Centre wants Khan to “fall in line” or else. On the other side of the debate are those who consider Bollywood a drug den, where,they allege, drug abuse is rampant and there is a huge demand for illegal drugs. This group cites the drug links that surfaced after the death of talented young actor Sushant Singh Rajput last year, involving top film stars.

The debate spilled over to political circles this week. NCP and Shiv Sena leaders, including chief minister Uddhav Thackeray have questioned the legal alacrity in drug bust case, conrasting it with the lethargic action in Lakhimpur case where a union minister’s son was involved in running over a vehicle on farmers.

Both sides have ignored the facts. First, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act has strict provisions to keep those charged under it behind bars. This means the bail under NDPS is difficult to get. In comparison, the bail provision under road accidents comes under culpable homicide. So comparing the Lakhimpur with Mumbai drug bust is unfair (Salman Khan allegedly ran his SUV over Mumbai footpath dwellers in 2002 and was granted easy bail, and later acquitted).

However, coming to the drugs case, the NDPS provisions were supposedly made tough to discipline drug dealers and peddlers, not the user. From university students, young corporates, party circuit regulars to hill trekkers and religious Hindu hermits, use of banned drugs is common. From Kumbh festival to Kanwad Yatra, use of psychotropic substances is more a spectacle than a hush-hush matter. Yet, the NCB team targeted only the users, in this case high-profile, clearly raising doubts. In any case, the Modi government at the Centre is now considered, not without reasons, using central investigating agencies to make their critics or opponents fall in line.

What probably in this vendetta politics, the powers that be do not realise that they are playing with the lives of several youth. The prison atmosphere can be an overwhelming experience for an undertrial. In high-profile cases, this may scar their psyche for life. What good can come out by keeping a band of 20-somethings in judicial custody for experimenting with banned substances for an occasional kick? Lawmakers and law enforcers must keep that in mind

Why Warm Milk Makes You Sleepy, Study Explains

According to time-honoured advice, drinking a glass of warm milk at bedtime will encourage a good night’s rest. Here’s why.

Milk’s sleep-enhancing properties are commonly ascribed to tryptophan, but scientists have also discovered a mixture of milk peptides, called casein tryptic hydrolysate (CTH), that relieves stress and enhances sleep.

Now, researchers reporting in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have identified specific peptides in CTH that might someday be used in new, natural sleep remedies.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep. Sedatives, such as benzodiazepines and zolpidem, are commonly prescribed for insomnia, but they can cause side effects, and people can become addicted to them. Many sedatives work by activating the GABA receptor, a protein in the brain that suppresses nerve signaling.

Scientists have also discovered several natural peptides, or small pieces of proteins, that bind the GABA receptor and have anti-anxiety and sleep-enhancing effects. For example, treating a protein in cow’s milk, called casein, with the digestive enzyme trypsin produces the mixture of sleep-enhancing peptides known as CTH.

Within this mixture, a specific peptide known as a-casozepine (a-CZP) has been identified that could be responsible for some of these effects. Lin Zheng, Mouming Zhao and colleagues wondered if they could find other, perhaps more powerful, sleep-enhancing peptides in CTH.

The researchers first compared the effects of CTH and a-CZP in mouse sleep tests, finding that CTH showed better sleep-enhancing properties than a-CZP alone. This result suggested that other sleep-promoting peptides besides a-CZP exist in CTH.

The team then used mass spectrometry to identify bioactive peptides released from CTH during simulated gastric digestion, and they virtually screened these peptides for binding to the GABA receptor and for the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.

When the strongest candidates were tested in mice, the best one (called YPVEPF) increased the number of mice that fell asleep quickly by about 25 per cent and the sleep duration by more than 400 per cent compared to a control group. In addition to this promising peptide, others in CTH should be explored that might enhance sleep through other pathways, the researchers say.

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Guangdong Provincial Key R and D Program, the Shandong Provincial Key R and D Program, and the Specific Fund Program for Basic and Applied Basic Research of Guangdong Province. (ANI)

Weekly Update: Air India Boomerang, A Neta’s Privilege & Richer Ambani

The one thing Air India has become good at is going around the world and at each stop collecting debts. Daily it clocks up $3 million loss for the Indian taxpayer. Now it has decided to go back to base and stop this addiction. That is it has gone back to the point when it first started conflating financial loss with nationalism. It is back home now with the Tatas where it was cocooned and spent its growing years. After a 68-year spree of carefree ‘awaragardi’ it is going to become a responsible airline.

JRD Tata started the airline back in the 1932 and named it Air India in 1948. It was a good airline with growing reputation under the Tata family business. However another family owned business, the Congress Party, probably fancied the name Air India and wanted the brand under it. Although not having enough money, the Congress Party had the power of the State in its hand. So it nationalised Air India in 1953. A lot of good and well working industries, institutions, banks and political entities were nationalised by Nehru’s family over the years with disastrous results.

Air India started well as a national carrier for a while but then started working like the Government. It became a creaky machine, haemorrhaging money and rewarding privilege. The losses started to nose dive into a bottomless pit.

The BJP Government under Narendra Modi, not yet run by a family, saw no advantage in burdening the nation further. The accumulated debt is already some ₹70,000 crore which is nearly $8 Billion, no mean sum. Moreover the family run party has lost both power and financial muscle, so Air India could be freed from serfdom.

Tata Sons as Talace Private Ltd have bought it back from the Government for $2.7 billion. They are happy they have their baby back after it was wrestled away, adopted and abused by the State. Question now is whether Tatas will be able to nurture it back to a responsible, financially viable healthy grown up airline able to compete with the best. Tatas have shown they can both manage and grow world brands, as they have done with Jaguar Land Rover, once a crown jewel in Britain’s manufacturing. With that record, if anyone can resuscitate Air India’s battered, bruised, tortured financial life back into some meaning, the Tata group can.

The Neta Privilege

People saw him. He has allegedly been videoed on site. He has been named by victims and witnesses as the driver or the instigator of the most heinous yet stupid turn of events in the long running farmer’s dispute. Yet Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra, says he wasn’t there.

Even with videos flying around the world showing cars ploughing in and eight people dead, the Uttar Pradesh government’s response to the black and white crime was, ‘we will set up an enquiry’. Inquiry is a convenient tool learnt from Colonial times to stifle proper police investigation and even throw the issue into an abyss of ‘political do nothing’.

It was the Chief Justice of India who intervened suo moto, meaning that the Supreme Court initiated a case itself. CJI NV Ramana, and Justices Surya Kant and Hema Kohli form the bench. The SC sent notice to Uttar Pradesh Government for an update on the FIR. It was also not impressed by the ‘Special Investigative Team’ as all the personnel were from Uttar Pradesh and obviously under that government. A day later the SC enquired why the chief suspect had not been arrested.

The Neta’s son did not attend the first summons by the police. A second summon was sent and realising that he would have to be arrested now that the SC was involved, the son went to the police. How many crime suspects have the luxury of ‘walking’ at will into a police station?

Despite a team of experienced interrogators, Ashish Mishra (the Neta’s son) failed to answer questions. So they put him under arrest. The arrest is not for ‘suspected act of terror’ not even ‘suspected murder’ but merely for not answering questions!

Meanwhile, the Neta himself has been busy making excuses for his son. First that he was not at the scene saying, ‘He would have been killed if he were there!’ Then he said son was at a family-sponsored function in the village. And explaining the failure to attend the first summons, that the son was ill.

The incident witnessed by many, if not hundreds, was that Netaji’s son’s four wheeler deliberately ploughed into peaceful demonstrators walking home. Four farmers were killed. The crowd then turned onto the vehicle and its owners. The driver and two BJP members were beaten to death by the crowd. Eye witnesses say that Ashish Mishra was either driving or forced his driver to drive into the crowd. Mishra himself escaped.

The incident has put a spotlight on the BJP government and the PM himself. Will he stand by his promise not to be like Congress Family Raj and sack the junior minister as well as allow the wheels of justice to act unhindered or will be protect the ‘extended BJP family’ as Congress used to do? Prime Minister Modi’s integrity is on line as well.

And Ambani Joins Bezos

While more people are becoming poor in India especially due to the pandemic, there is some good news. Mukesh Ambani has become richer by $23.8 Billion last year. He now joins the very select group of people in the world with over $100 Billion assets, such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

This will be welcome news to many people in India sleeping rough on the streets and who are still waiting for a decent roof over their head, access to clean water and a decent meal a day. Or they may not notice any change in their lives.

One In Three Kids With Food Allergies Is Bullied

A new study has determined the size and scope of bullying kids with food allergies experience by offering them a multi-question assessment.

The findings of the study were published in the ‘Journal of Pediatric Psychology’.

Living with a food allergy can greatly impact a child’s everyday life — from limiting participation in social activities to being treated differently by peers.

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17 per cent of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy.

But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimisation behaviours, that number jumped to 31 per cent.

Furthermore, Children’s National Hospital researchers found that only 12 per cent of parents reported being aware of it. The reported bullying ranged from verbal teasing or criticism to more overt acts such as an allergen being waved in their face or intentionally put in their food.

Researchers said identifying accurate assessment methods for this problem are critical so children can get the help they need.

“Food allergy-related bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. By using a more comprehensive assessment, we found that children with food allergies were bullied more than originally reported and parents may be in the dark about it,” said Linda Herbert, PhD, director of the Psychosocial Clinical and Research Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National and one of the study’s researcher.

“The results of this study demonstrate a need for greater food allergy education and awareness of food allergy-related bullying among communities and schools where food allergy-related bullying is most likely to occur,” Herbert added.

The study looked at food allergy-related bullying among a diverse patient population and evaluated parent-child disagreement and bullying assessment methods. It included 121 children and 121 primary caregivers who completed questionnaires.

The children ranged in age from 9 to 15-years-old and were diagnosed by an allergist with at least one of the top eight IgE-mediated food allergies — peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

Of the 41 youth who reported food allergy-related bullying:

  1. 51 per cent reported experiencing overt physical acts such as an allergen being waved in their face, thrown at them or intentionally put in their food.
  2. 66 per cent reported bullying experiences that are categorised as non-physical overt victimisation acts including verbal teasing, remarks or criticisms about their allergy and verbal threats or intimidation.
  3. Eight reported relational bullying, such as rumours being spread, people speaking behind their back and being intentionally ignored or excluded due to their food allergy.

The researchers also noted that food allergy bullying perpetrators included, but were not limited to, classmates and other students, and bullying most commonly occurred at school.

The authors found that only 12 per cent of parents reported that their child had been bullied because of their food allergy and of those, 93 per cent said their child had reported the bullying to them. Some parents reported they had been made fun of or teased themselves because of concerns about their child’s food allergy.

“It’s important to find ways for children to open up about food allergy-related bullying. Asking additional specific questions about peer experiences during clinic appointments will hopefully get children and caregivers the help and support they need,” Herbert concluded. (ANI)

Weekly Update: Corporate-Civil Service Divide; Captain Deserts, Cong At Sea

Grit and determination are what helped Shubham Kumar, this year’s topper in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination, realise his ambitions. It was his third attempt this year. Last year, when Kumar took the exam, he was selected but his rank was 268. Kumar wanted to realise his ambition to do much better. So he took the exam again. This time, he topped.

Kumar, 24, comes from Kumhari village in the Kadwa block of Katihar district in Bihar. It is in a zone that is chronically ravaged by floods. The son of a rural bank’s branch manager, Kumar, a graduate of IIT-Mumbai, has always been determined about pursuing success single-mindedly. And, from a very young age, he wanted to become an IAS officer, a dream that has now come true.

The examinations conducted by the UPSC are for aspiring candidates who want to join the elite bureaucratic cadres in India–including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the Indian Police Service (IPS), among others. Every year, as many as a million candidates register for the examination and of them,about half actually complete the exams. But the number of positions that they compete for is less than 1,000. So the percentage of candidates selected from all of those who take the tests is 0.2%. There are very few competitive exams in the world that are as difficult to crack as the UPSC examination.

Kumar is emblematic of the drive that UPSC toppers demonstrate. Last year’s topper, Pradeep Singh, son of a village sarpanch from Tewari village in Haryana’s Sonipat district, made it to the top rank in his second attempt. Kumar and Singh are also examples of how, increasingly, aiming high in the UPSC exams has become more an objective of, often less privileged, rural Indian youth rather than their more well-heeled urban counterparts.

Although accurate statistics are not easy to come by, it is estimated that the majority of the candidates that get selected for UPSC’s elite cadres each year come from the two states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Of course, these two states are among India’s most populous ones–UP has over 200 million people, of which 77% live in villages; and Bihar has a population of 104 million, of which 88% live in villages. In UP, there is a tiny village named Madhopatti in the Sirkoni block of Jaunpur district, where just 75 households live and, it is believed, that each of these households has at least one member of the family in one of the elite UPSC services. It is even known as the Officer’s Village of India.

Why do rural youths seem to aspire more to join the UPSC cadres more than urban youths do? Is it because the cachet attached to those services appears to be valued more highly in India’s villages and small towns than in its cities? Is it a truism that India’s urban youths eye careers in the corporate world, and aspire more for an MBA tag than that of an IAS, IFS, or IAS? Questions such as those require sociological probes.

Is there a divide between India’s youth? Are India’s urban youngsters more westernised, corporatised and lured by wealth and material acquisitions? An MBA from even a low-tier business school could expect a starting salary of Rs 1lakh plus a month, which is roughly double of what a freshly-minted IAS officer makes. But a job in the corporate sector has none of the responsibility, commitment and dedication to nation building or administration that comes with the job of being a civil servant. Half of India’s 1.36 billion people are below the age of 25. With such a huge proportion of youth among its population, questions such as the ones just posited require to be addressed.

Captain Ejects

One month is a long time in politics. The latest example of this truism is the Punjab unit of the Grand Old Party. At the beginning of September, it seemed Captain Amarinder Singh was firmly in the saddle, despite a bitter faceoff with newly-appointed Pradesh Congress head Navjot Singh Sidhu. The party seemed to be in pole position for the next Assembly election due early next year. Captain had made the right noises amid raging protests against central farm laws and this was not lost on the state electorate. The second week of September saw Sidhu garnering support of state legislators who were miffed with the Chief Minister, and there were quite a few of them.

Interestingly, Captain had more support from Congress leaders active in Delhi than in Punjab. However, Gandhis seemed tilted in favour of Navjot Sidhu who paraded about three dozen MLAs to buttress his claims in public view. Before the end of third week, Amarinder Singh put in a one-line resignation to the state governor. The wounded tiger minced no words in raising questions on Sidhu leadership. The acrimony did its damage to the Congress party.

The Congress went into a huddle to pick up the next chief minister, months ahead of elections. When they picked up Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit Sikh, for a state which has about 30% Dalit voters, some viewed it as a masterstroke to resurrect the turbulent jet. Barely had it gained balance, just a week after the Captain had deserted the ship, when the mercurial Sidhu rocked the boat once again. Citing some ‘unexplained’ principles, Sidhu quit as the PCC chief, making himself as the shortest PCC chief in the party’s recent history. Captain was grinning from ear to ear, with a told-you-so look on his face. His exit from the party, with a vow to defeat Sidhu in next election, brought the unwashed linen in public.

Central leaders like Manish Tiwari and Kapil Sibal, dubbed as members of G-23 band of party ‘rebels’, found an apt opportunity to question the party leadership in handling the matter. From the numero uno status in the beginning of month, the state Congress unit had egg on its face just before the flip of the calendar leaf. The electorate must also be thinking: if a party cannot manage its domestic affairs, how will it rule a border state effectively?

Kangana – The Mercurial Mistress Of Bollywood

Kangana Ranaut combats her critics on the social media with as much ferocity, if not more, when playing Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, she fought the British soldiers in 1857 before being killed in her last battle.

The vision of her blood-splattered face as she screamed and slashed at those pursuing her, riding her horse with son tied on her back, lingered long after one saw Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019). Her performance as one of the most iconic persons in India’s contemporary history was outstanding and won her the National Award.

That she fought the director in its run-up and re-shot significant parts, completing the film after Sonu Sood, a popular co-star quit, was controversial but added to her feisty personality. It lent an aura, even bankability, although the film’s budget doubled.

It is difficult to ignore her on the screen, and equally difficult to digest what she posts on the social media. Some of it is vituperative and personalised. She insists she is stating the ‘truth’. Her comments on writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar are now a court case. Upon her skipping some hearings, the court has warned that if she does not show up, an arrest warrant might be issued.

Whether she says the right things rightly is debatable. Like those who rush to see her films, she also has a huge following in the cyberspace. Her right-wing ‘nationalist’ supporters surely outnumber her critics. She is not alone, given the addiction to be on social media these days. Professional compulsions, perhaps, but it is difficult to fathom why professionals and people in public life, otherwise presumably busy, court, even initiate controversy.

Kangana can be compared with Vidya Balan. Beginning their cinematic careers in 2006 and 2003 respectively, both are actors of the new century. They are ‘outsiders’, without filmy pedigree. Both are rightly credited for their choice of roles, as women of substance, performing them in ways that have changed the concept of the female protagonist in Hindi cinema. But they have different personalities. Compared to Vidya who is married into a filmy family, Kangana has been more forthright in decrying gender bias and nepotism in Bollywood. She even attacked a biggie like Karan Johar.

A better view of Kangana would need to include her rumoured and reported relationships and tiffs with Aditya Pancholi, Adhyayan Suman, American doctor Nicholas Laffarty, her courtroom spat with Hrithik Roshan and more. But who are we to judge the woman who is variously described as “free-spirited,” “sexiest star”, the “hottest vegetarian” and yes, the “best dressed actor”?

Her filmography, as with any artist, is a mix of flops, average and block-busters. Yet, 13 of her 35 films released so far have brought her nominations and awards, many of them in consecutive years. This is remarkable. She began with a bang in the 2006 thriller Gangster that won her the Filmfare Award for Best Female Debut. She received praise for portraying “emotionally intense” characters in the dramas Woh Lamhe (2006), Life in a… Metro (2007) and Fashion (2008). For the last of these, she also won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. 

Besides Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, she stands out winning four National Film Awards and as many Filmfare Awards, three International Indian Film Academy Awards, and one award each from the Screen, Zee Cine and Producers Guild award.

Kangana plays a strong woman – strong, even if erring. Leaving out Lakshmibai, she has by and large played the city girl not ready to take nonsense from men, even husband after a love marriage. One saw her doing that in Tanu Weds Manu: Returns (2015).

A still from Tanu Weds Manu Returns

This film showed her in a double-role, the slick Londoner and a Haryanvi lass. The former sends the squabbling husband to a mental asylum, without regret. As a college-going athlete, she falls for that married man who thinks she resembles the estranged wife. It seems unreal, especially in the Haryana milieu. But it is real when at the end, the Jatti shows immense maturity and a big heart. She sacrifices her nascent love and refuses marriage, so as not to ruin the ‘other’ girl’s. The two roles are a veritable contrast. It is difficult to believe that the same actor is playing them.

ALSO READ: Sahir – The Poet Of The Underdog

In her other super-success in Queen (2014), she is an abandoned bride who proceeds alone on honeymoon, experiences life in Europe, full of fear and fun, and returns as a confident woman.

Not an English-speaking urbanite, the small-town Kangana found herself ignored in the initial Mumbai days. She has learnt the ropes, and more since, calling fellow-actress Sonam Kapoor a “mafia bimbo”, Urmila Matondkar, a senior, “soft-porn star” and a junior Rhea Chakraborty a “small-time druggie”. On the other hand, she has displayed refreshing flair for effortless Hindi. The same cannot be said of many Convent-educated women actors.

She has portrayed varied roles amidst phases of being type-cast, including a fashion diva, a con-woman, a druggy, a politico, even an alien. She shines, whether or not her films earn well. This has happened time and again. The Lakshmibai role earned her fame, awards and also the image of a patriotic icon. But the film did only modest business, which is surprising, considering the current political preference for nationalist themes and biographical portrayals.

Kangana has portrayed with aplomb lives of the big, real or imaginary. In Rangoon (2017), her Julia was loosely based on “Fearless Nadia”, a star of the 1940s. She comes off well, but the film did not. It could not repeat the huge success of Once Upon A Time in Bombay (2010), of an actress-turned sweetheart of a mafia don.

Her much-talked, much-awaited biopic Thalaivii has opened to lukewarm audiences. Reviewers are near-unanimous in praising her portraying Jayalalithaa, the actress-turned-politician who remains one of the most remarkable personalities in recent times. The film has suffered because a) multiplex theatre chains are not showing it, b) the release was ill-timed as cinema theatres are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and c) she has received the ‘outsider’ tag for the Telugu and Tamil versions. There is no final word yet. Films do recover after faltering initially.

Amidst the Thalaivii let-down comes the news that she is to play Sita in Ramayana, The Incarnation. She supposedly beat Kareena Kapoor Khan and Deepika Padukone. The film’s screenplay writer Manoj Muntashir has dismissed ‘rumours’, insisting that the film’s promoters always wanted Kangana. All this may well help her “settle scores” with two of her rivals and give a big boost on social media.

Cinema promotes woman power as no other sector. Kangana was featured by Forbes India in their annual Celebrity 100 list in 2012, 2014–2017, and 2019. In 2017, Forbes calculated her annual salary to be ₹320 million (US$4.5 million), one of India’s highest paid women.

Probably, one has already had enough of Kangana. But at 34, she has a long cinematic journey ahead. Unless politics, given her support and admiration for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, consumes her time, talent and unbound energy.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

To Dress Politics

With crowds of Black Lives Matter protesters outside and a vaccine mandate inside, the much-delayed Met Gala finally went ahead in New York on Monday evening. The event, usually held on the first Monday in May, was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and rescheduled this year for the same reason.

Typically, the politics of fashion is a subtle business, with colour or cut used to convey a message. So it was with the front of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s dress at her first Met Gala appearance. The gown was suffragette white, with tuxedo detailing more typically seen in menswear. But when she turned around, the message was loud and clear: “Tax the Rich” printed in bold, red typeface across the entire back bodice.

The dress was designed by Aurora James, the creative director of Brother Vellis. James is a vocal supporter of, in her words, “economic justice”. In 2020, she started the 15% Pledge – a call to major retailers in the US to ensure at least 15% of their shelf space is dedicated to black-owned businesses, a campaign that Sephora, West Elm, and Vogue have signed up to. On the red carpet, she told Vogue that the campaign had directed $10bn towards Black businesses to date.

But, as New York Times’ fashion editor, Vanessa Friedman, notes, the optics are complicated.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not the only attendee in a slogan gown. The model and actor Cara Delevingne, also in white and red, had “Peg the patriarchy” printed across her chest, while the congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a gown in the full spectrum of suffragette shades (green, white, and violet – for “give women votes”) that read “Equal rights for women” across two long trains falling from her shoulders. Unfortunately, the secretary of the interior, Deb Haaland, whose use of fashion is the most skillful in US politics today, was not in attendance.

As for Cara, while she didn’t disclose much about the ‘Peg the Patriarchy’ splashed across the chest of her white bullet vest, she did say it was a powerful feminist statement and essentially a middle finger to patriarchy but she ultimately advise us to ‘google it’ and so we did, and this is what we found out.

According to Google: “Luna Matatas coined Peg the Patriarchy in 2015 to get provocative about subverting the system of patriarchy. Patriarchy has no gender, working to dismantle it benefits us all.” Well, you heard what the woman said. Cara gave us a bold reminder of why we need to dismantle this oppressive system.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney made a political statement at last night’s Met Gala with an outfit inspired by the suffrage movement.

Maloney, who represents New York’s 12th Congressional District, wore a purple, white, yellow, and green dress with sashes stating “equal rights for women”.

The 75-year-old also showed off a green purse that read “ERA YES” while walking the red carpet at the annual exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.

Maloney’s outfit was a reference to the Equal Rights Amendment, designed to provide the legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.

The proposed constitutional amendment has been waiting on state ratification since Congress passed it in 1972.

In 2020, the House of Representatives voted to remove the 1982 deadline for state ratification and reopen the possibility for the amendment to pass.

Maloney explained the importance of the dress in a Tweet before attending the gala.

“Across the country, women’s rights are under attack,” she wrote.