Indian Coal Fire Won’t Be Easy To Put Out | Lokmarg

Coal Fire Won’t Be Easy To Put Out

Coal is by far the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and many countries have moved away progressively from its use because of the high degree of environmental pollution its burning will cause. However deleteriously its burning to produce electricity may impact the environment, India for a good number of reasons has no alternative to using the polluting fuel in an increasingly big way for many years to come. Under India’s earth is found the world’s fifth largest resources of coal. Exploration up to a depth 1,200 meters carried out by central agencies such as Geological Survey of India has established the country’s resources of coal at 319.02 billion tonnes, including 282.910 billion tonnes of thermal coal, which is burnt to produce electricity. The rest is metallurgical coal used by the steel industry and there is also some amount of tertiary coal.

The very high ash content in Indian coal, both thermal and metallurgical, make it dirtier than is the case with the fuel mined in Indonesia, Australia and China. Whatever that is, the compulsion to use more and more coal is to be seen in the context of huge foreign exchange outgo on imports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) as domestic production is not making the progress of desired kind.

India, the world’s thirst largest oil consuming and importing country, saw its crude oil import bill rising to $119.2 billion in 2021-22 from $62.2 billion in the year before. Crude oil besides, 2021-22 imports of 40.2 million tonnes of petroleum products and LNG cost the country $24.2 billion and $11.9 billion, respectively. India, which is over 85 per cent dependent on imported crude will have to set its energy compass in way as to be able to navigate through the choppy oil market that may see prices staying at elevated levels, principally because of improving economic outlook in the US and China. In any case, oil has started pushing higher after a rocky start to 2023.

A raft of forecasts from the likes of Goldman Sachs and markets being upbeat at the flexibility finally being seen in the way Beijing is finally handling the infectious Covid-19 disease creating condition for normal work environment could see oil rallying back above $100 a barrel.  The trade embargo on Russian oil by the European Union and the US as fallout of the Ukrainian war is working as an underlying strength for the commodity.

Based on its special historic relationship with Russia, India continues to buy Russian crude in large quantities at deep discounts to market rates ignoring the ire of the West. For example, this country imported 1.7 million barrels per day (b/d) from Russia in November with inbound shipments climbing to a record high ahead of the EU December 5 import ban and the G7 price cap of $60 a barrel. While trade and political compulsions have led India to step up imports from its traditional trusted ally, strong western protests against Russian invasion and arms aid to Ukraine for repulsing air and land attack, the war, which actually began on February 20, 2014 but took a particularly vicious form in February last year led to tightening of energy embrace between Russia and China.

Taking advantage of the crisis Russia is facing in its seaborne trade, India, to its convenience, has stepped up crude oil imports from that country to a record in November. Even that leaves India to meet a very large portion of its requirements from the open market – OPEC member countries and also the US – where a variety of economic, political and strategic factors decide the price. Oil represents the most dynamic of all commodity markets.

In recent years, India’s oil imports ranged from a low of 4.033 b/d in the Covid-19 pandemic hit 2020 to 4.544 b/d in 2018. The point then is such high levels of dependence on crude oil imports could from time to time bring the country’s current account deficit (CAD) to deeply worrying levels. For example, CAD skyrocketed to 4.4 Per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) in the July-September quarter of 2022-23 from 1.3 per cent in the identical period year before. How will not the government be concerned with the development since the comfort level is taken as breached at above 2.5 per cent of GDP? In recent years, the share of petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) in total Indian imports has ranged from 21 per cent to 25 per cent, constituting the single largest import component. However, since 2015 financial year when POL constituted 30.9 per cent of the country’s total import bill, its share in overall imports has been down.

Though not to the same extent as coal, the oil and natural gas industry is also a major environment pollutant. The US Environment Protection Agency tells us: “The industry is a significant source of emissions of methane… with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide. It also is the largest industrial source of emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a group of chemicals that contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone (smog). Exposure to ozone is linked to a wide range of health effects, including aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature death. In addition to helping form ozone, VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include air toxics such as benzene, ethyl benzene, and n-hexane, also come from this industry. Air toxics are pollutants known, or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.” But beyond production, transportation and its refining, the use of petrol and diesel to run vehicles of all kinds is the source of harmful pollutants such as grounded-level ozone and particulate matter whose inhalation could cause death.

The research group Nielsen says in a report that of the total supply 70 per cent of diesel and 99.6 per cent of petrol is used by the transport sector. Farm sector uses 13 per cent of diesel. Oil imports present India with twin challenges: first, the huge outgo of foreign exchange to pay for foreign origin crude exacerbating CAD and environmental damage that its use causes. What are the mitigating steps the government has already taken to find some relief in the prevalent situation? High taxation on automotive fuels results in an imputed carbon tax of $140 to $240 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This alone is a big incentive to boost production of electric vehicles – from two wheelers to passenger cars to buses. What also remains a highly sustainable motivation for domestic car makers led by Tata Motors and now increasingly by foreign groups to make EVs and extend their travel range before battery recharging is the government’s FAME India scheme, implemented in two phases. The acronym stands for Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India. Both the phases have secured liberal funding from the government.

Furthermore, the following government steps have also come in as major a aid to boost production and range of EVs: (a) EVs are covered under production linked incentive (PLI) with a budgetary outlay of Rs25,938 crore. (b) GST (goods and services tax) on EVs is down from 12 per cent to 5 per cent and on chargers and charging stations from 18 per cent to 5 per cent. (c) Battery-operated vehicles are given green licence plates exempting then from permit requirements and (d) Road transport ministry has advised states to waive road tax on EVs.

ALSO READ: ‘Biofuel Push Will Curb Pollution, Benefit Farmers’

In another significant environment mitigation move, New Delhi having seen the positive response of sugar mill industry to produce enough ethanol leading to fulfilling the targeted 10 per cent blending with petrol ahead of the target in June 2022 five months ahead of schedule, it has now advanced the target of 25 per cent blending by as many as five years to 2025. Fixing remunerative prices of ethanol by the government and most sugar factories earning good profits in recent years have encouraged them to build capacity for making the chemical to fulfil the progressively increasing ethanol blending with petrol. Decarbonisation on account of vehicles being powered by petrol and diesel is sought to be progressively curbed by speeding up production of EVs and stepping up ethanol use.

India is the world’s third largest emitter of all kinds of pollutants, including carbon dioxide. If things are left as they are without much action, then Indian emissions will rise from 2.9GtCO2e a year to 11.8GtCO2e in 2070. But the country has made a global commitment to get to net zero by 2070. Redeeming such a pledge will require a lot of cleaning of the system, huge investments in technology and revolutionary policy reforms. Coal, which the country will not easily be able to lower its use in the face of growing energy demand and the fuel’s easy local availability, will make it highly challenging for the country to achieve net zero by 2070. Coal India chairman Pramod Agrawal says: “Coal is not threatened by the onrush of renewable for now. This fossil fuel will not be dethroned from its energy pedestal for the next two decades if not more. Renewables are growing but not at the pace that they can effectively dislodge coal use in the country.”

In an identical way, the leading energy expert Vikram S. Mehta writes: “Coal will remain the bulwark of India’s energy system for decades. It is no doubt the dirtiest of fuels, but it remains amongst, if not the cheapest of source of energy. Plus hundreds of thousands depend on the coal ecosystem for their livelihood. The option of phasing out coal while environmentally compelling is not yet a macroeconomic or social possibility.” If anything Coal India alone has approved a total of 52 projects which will result in incremental capacity creation of 378 million tonnes a year.

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Renewed Push to Revitalise Abraham Accords

It seems as if the United States has taken another step towards being a relevant player in the Middle East, after an ill thought hiatus, leading to relations with regional players like Saudi Arab hitting rock bottom. The latest American initiative in this regard is through vitalising the Abraham Accords. This may also lead to it normalising its strained ties with Saudi Arabia besides efforts to contain Iran.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the visiting White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan a fortnight ago, in Jerusalem. The two discussed ways to broaden the Abraham Accords and reach a breakthrough that could lead to the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

After becoming the prime minister for the third time in December 2022, hard-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set normalising ties with Saudi Arabia as one of his two main foreign policy goals. Though the Israelis admit that it won’t be possible if relations between Riyadh and Washington remain tense.

Reports say that Sullivan and Netanyahu also discussed the Iranian nuclear programme, Iran’s actions in the region and its military assistance to Russia in its war in Ukraine, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the normalisation process between Israel and its neighbours.

Abraham Accords

The Abraham Accords, which were signed on 15 September 2020, normalised diplomatic relations between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, and so far have achieved mixed results.

As anticipated, normalisation has opened new opportunities for defence and security cooperation, especially among Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE, which share a common perspective on the security threat posed by Iran.

But there are shortcomings at the level of bilateral cooperation. Most notably, despite the initial goal of the Arab nations, cooperation between Israel and its Arab partners has failed to produce tangible improvements in the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.

In reality, the Israelis are now, arguably, more cautious about managing relations with the Palestinians to avoid conflict with their newfound Arab partners, affecting trade ties.

The Palestinians have not yet embraced the American vision. 86% of Palestinians believe the normalisation agreement with the UAE serves only Israel’s interests and not their own. There is indeed a possibility that the Palestine quest might be ignored further.

Netanyahu told Sullivan that the latest Palestinian moves in the international arena, especially the Palestinian Authority’s push for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, “are an attack on Israel and oblige us to respond”.

Sullivan also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Abbas is reported to have warned Sullivan that the new Israeli government’s policy could have dangerous consequences and stressed the Biden administration must intervene “before it is too late”.

Abbas told Sullivan that the Israeli government’s policy and the recent sanctions it has imposed on the Palestinian Authority, destroy the way to two-state solution, violate the agreements between the parties and ruin the chances that are left for achieving peace and stability in the region.

Getting the Israeli government and PA agree to any understanding, might be a bit tough, as the issue has many intertwined political and legal elements to be resolved, but on the other hand, Abraham Accords have been a boon to both Israel and other Gulf nations to bolster economic and trade ties.

Economic Growth

Statistically speaking, the Abraham Accords seem to have made a positive impact on entrepreneurs and investors in Israel and the Gulf.

Besides facilitating a pro-business environment in the region, it has indirectly brought positive momentum to deals such as the maritime border agreement between Israel and Lebanon, reached last year, which was mainly driven by local economic interests.

In particular, the economic and trade ties between Israel and UAE have grown substantially, besides notable steps in strengthening the economic relations between both countries, like the decision by the Dubai International Chamber to open up an office in Tel Aviv.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, trade between Israel and the United Arab Emirates reached $212.6 million in August 2022, constituting a 163% increase in trade from August 2021. For the first eight months of 2022, bilateral trade was just over $1.62 billion, constituting a 121% increase in trade from the first eight months of 2021.

Israel’s new Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has said that the volume of trade with Arab countries that normalised relations with Israel under the US-negotiated Abraham Accords in 2020 broke the 10 billion-shekel ($2.8 billion) barrier in 2022. Cohen said the Abraham Accords have dramatically changed the face of the Middle East. He added that a summit would be held in March with other Arab countries to boost regional trade.

Though the Abraham Accords might not have been able to resolve the regional schisms and rivalries, yet they have indeed paved the way for greater economic and trade relations, which seems to be the way forward also.

The writer can be contacted at @AsadMirzaND

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Five Things That Happened Last Week (And What to Make of Them)

Jacinda Ardern and the fine art of exiting office

The MP, former minister and Congress Party leader, Jairam Ramesh, who will turn 70 next year, posted an interesting tweet on his timeline the other day. News had broken about New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, 42, who had announced that she was stepping down from her post as the country’s leader on account of what can be described as burnout. Announcing her decision, Ardern had said: “I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have, but also one of the more challenging. You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges.”

Ramesh’s tweet lauded that decision and said: “Legendary cricket commentator, Vijay Merchant once said about retiring at the peak of his career: Go when people ask why is he going instead of why isn’t he going. Kiwi PM, Jacinda Ardern has just said she is quitting following Merchant’s maxim. Indian politics needs more like her.” Great point, that, about Indian politics. The thing, however, is that in his own party, the recently elected president, Mallikarjun Kharge is 80; and although she has stepped down from the president’s position, Sonia Gandhi who continues to be the real supremo of the party is 76 and keeps indifferent health. What’s more, her son, Rahul, who enjoys the privilege of being a sort of on-and-off leader of the party is 52 and is considered to be young and still evolving.

But then that is the story of Indian politics. India is a young country but its politicians are old, many of them dodderingly so. In 2022, the median age of an Indian was 28.7 years, compared to 38.4 for China and 48.6 for Japan. Yet, even though 65% of Indians are below the age of 35, the average age of its MPs has been over 50 for decades. And, typically, the so-called “young” nation’s leaders have been pretty old. Take, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Next September, he will turn 73. And, although the average age of his council of ministers has dropped from 61 to 58, most of his key ministerial colleagues are 60-plus. Contrast that with the fact that government officers in India have to retire at 58 or 60; Supreme Court judges at 65; and high court judges at 62.

Let’s go back to New Zealand. Ardern, who has indicated that burnout is the main reason she is hanging up her boots has, since she assumed office in 2017, handled several big challenges (albeit in a small country with a population of around 5 million) including a terror attack, the global pandemic, a volcanic explosion and so on. She also had a daughter during her term and created ripples when she brought her to the United Nations during an official visit. Yet, at 42, she has decided that it is time to call it quits.

Calling it quits is, however, not in the DNA of most Indian political leaders and even bureaucrats. Most of them are unable to reconcile to a life without the trappings of power. That is why we see fair numbers of bureaucrats jockeying into politics when their official bureaucratic tenures reach the end. Many, with the right sycophantic credentials, end up as governors of states or head commissions or secure similar sinecures where the perks and status that they enjoyed during their earlier careers can still be somewhat intact.

So Ramesh (the tweeting politician mentioned before) is quite right actually. Indian politics needs more people like Ardern who don’t cling on to power after their fizz has turned flat. But then the onus for doing so is with people like him and his ilk.

New BBC docu on Modi raises hackles

A new two-part BBC documentary, titled ‘India: The Modi Question’, has, among other things, shows that a hitherto secret British government investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots, which left over 1,000 people dead, found that Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then the chief minister of Gujarat was “directly responsible” for the communal violence that had ravaged the state. The investigation, according to the BBC documentary, also found that the extent of the violence was much greater than what was reported and that the motive behind the riots was to purge Muslims.

While in the years after the riots rocked Gujarat, Indian courts have dismissed allegations against Modi and his then government in Gujarat, the shadow of the Gujarat riots and widespread violence against Muslims during that period has been haunting him and his former colleagues, notably the Union home minister Amit Shah who was also Gujarat’s home minister in 2002.

The BBC documentary was briefly streamed on YouTube but later yanked from the platform. Now it can be watched only on the BBC iPlayer that works within the UK and not outside that demarcated geography. Predictably, the documentary has been divisive. The official reaction of the Indian government has been to label it as propaganda that smacks of “a colonial mindset” and an anti-India stance by the British prime minister Rishi Sunak in order to prove his British loyalty. Liberal and left-leaning circles, however, have lauded the BBC for its investigative efforts to get to the truth behind the riots and the involvement of Modi and his government in Gujarat then. Meanwhile, in case you are wondering, much of India’s mainstream media have sided with the government’s view on the documentary.

Perhaps older politicians are better for India

Lakya Suryanarayana Tejasvi Surya, 32, is an Indian politician, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organisation, and a BJP MP in Parliament. He is also famously the man who opened the emergency exit door of an airplane while on board. Luckily, it did not lead to a disaster. Surya is believed to have said that his hand accidentally touched the handle of the emergency door and it opened.

To anyone who has flown on an aircraft, the emergency exit door usually is not touch sensitive. Also, opening it when a plane is not in an emergency situation is unlawful. Surya’s party colleague and aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, however, made light of what could have been a disastrous thing by saying: “It’s important to look at the facts. The door was opened by him by mistake when the flight was on the ground and after all checks, the flight was allowed to take off. He also apologised for the mistake.”

As far as we know, Surya has not been censured or has had to pay for his “mistake”. Life goes on as normal for him as it usually does for most privileged members of India’s power elite when they break the law. But, (and see the segment on Jacinda Ardern above) perhaps India needs older, greying and wiser politicians rather than whippersnappers whose hands can wander when they are sitting in an aircraft.

Women wrestlers accuse coaches of sexual harassment

Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, 66, is a six-time MP and head of the Wrestling Federation of India. He has also been recently accused of sexually harassing women wrestlers for many years. Women and men wrestlers who have been staging protests have alleged that Singh as well as coaches at the national camp for wrestling in Lucknow have been exploiting women wrestlers systematically.

Singh and others have, for the moment, denied the allegations but as investigations get going the truth will, hopefully, emerge. For a long time women in Indian sports have been discriminated against and this is not the first time that allegations of exploitation have been made. However, it is the first major concerted protest against people in power in India’s sports arena. One hopes that others will be inspired by such protests to open up about similar instances in other sports.

Google, ChatGPT and the imminent battle over AI-powered bots

I asked ChatGPT, a chat bot developed by OpenAI, an American artificial intelligence lab, which has become a big craze around the world: “What is Google Deep Learning?” In seconds, the bot replied: “Google Deep Learning refers to the various deep learning technologies and services developed by Google, such as TensorFlow and the Google Brain team. These technologies and services are used for a wide range of applications, including image and speech recognition, natural language processing, and predictive analytics. Google has also developed various deep learning models and algorithms, such as the Google Neural Machine Translation system and the Google DeepMind AlphaGo program, which have achieved significant breakthroughs in their respective fields.”

The reason why I asked ChatGPT that question was because of the imminent competition that it might face. Even as ChatGPT becomes a rage (it can answer any question as long as it pertains to pre-2021; it can write essays; create lyrics for songs; and almost everything that a human can do), Google, which has a subsidiary called DeepMind, is believed to be working on a ChatGPT killer that it claims to be better, faster and safer than ChatGPT. Must ask ChatGPT what it thinks of that!

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A young, working woman, going home with a friend on a scooty, after a New Year eve get-together, is dragged for hours, trapped in the underbelly of the car, on the desolate midnight streets of West Delhi, by men loaded with machismo, money

No Antidote For Toxic Masculinity!

Some things just refuse to change, even in the acche din of ‘New India’! They come back like a memory frozen in cold blood in this biting cold wave, and life goes on just as before in a bitterly ritualistic scenario where the stunning lack of empathy strikes the deepest core of humanity like the icy north wind cutting into the flesh, as if with a sharp knife.

A young, working woman, going home with a friend on a scooty, after a New Year eve get-together, is dragged for hours, trapped in the underbelly of the car, on the desolate midnight streets of West Delhi, by men loaded with machismo, money, and, perhaps, unlimited alcohol. One of them reportedly has connections with the ruling party at the Centre.

Even while multiple versions come forth, sometimes in brazen contradictions, for instance regarding the identity of the driver, with or without a licence, and that if the music was too loud inside the car, etc, it is widely believed that the drivers knew what they were doing. However, what is striking is the manner the entire episode was enacted for such a long time, pointing to the inherent barbarism enclosed in the deepest recesses of a society.

Why did the killers keep driving, apparently taking the same route again and again, reportedly trying to jerk the woman away from the underbelly of the car, instead of helping her, if, it was, truly, an accident? What drives human beings, inebriated or otherwise, to enact such a prolonged public spectacle of cold-blooded murder and in such a terribly grotesque manner, unimaginable even in the most inhuman, perversely secret, viciously sadistic fantasies? What is the kind of upbringing they have had that compelled these men to instinctively behave in such a manner? What kind of schools and colleges did they go to, what were their family and social values, what kind of friendships did they cultivate, how did they relate to other women, their friends, classmates, sisters, strangers?

The cops are so predictable in Delhi that their conduct too follows a pattern, and it, seemingly, remains unchanged. Since 2014, under the muscular dispensation in Delhi, they seem to have become more predictable. Be it their tacit silence when ABVP goons brutally attacked JNU students and at least one teacher with rods etc, including the woman president of the JNU Students’ Union, her head smashed, blood all over her face! Or the manner the Delhi Police went berserk in Jamia Millia Islamia, attacking students for their peaceful dissent, so much so, entering the library and beating the hell out of shocked students immersed in reading. Remember that viral moment of male cops, trying to beat up girl students in Jamia, for absolutely no rhyme or reason, and the students defying them with a totally unafraid and brave act of non-violent defiance – a true act of Satyagraha?

The partisan conduct of the Delhi Police during the violence which rocked Northeast Delhi in the midst of the peaceful and massive anti-CAA protests across the country has been pointed out by critics. Remember that Muslim boy being forced to sing the national anthem? Remember the cops throwing stones along with the Hindutva mobs? Remember the homes and shops of one community being ravaged, so openly and brazenly?

Remember a police officer, standing in abject silence, as a small-time ex-AAP-turned BJP leader, spewed venom as a public spectacle? Or, when, a BJP politician, later rewarded with a Union minister’s post, made a public declaration, brazenly instigating violence, during the non-violent protests by the mothers and sisters of Shaheen Bagh, against the communal and anti-constitutional CAA: ‘Goli maaro… ko!” Did anything happen to these politicians or the goons who attacked the JNU students?

ALSO READ: ‘Police Action In Jamia Exposes Beti Bachao…’

If anything, this case uncannily reminds of the BMW case in which the son of a powerful family with big connections was involved. Did he stop to help the injured, some of them cops manning a barricade? Did he call a helpline, the police or an ambulance – or try to pick up the injured and rush them to a hospital? Instead, he and his friends went back to a safe home, got the servants to wash the car, removed all the traces of human flesh and blood on it, and life was happily lived ever after. Indeed, his and his friends’ life continue to be a happy-ever-after saga.

While many fear that the killers in the car which dragged the woman this New Year eve might eventually escape punishment, amidst the haze of hazy evidence, the big questions remain. In this disturbing bitter realism of a Hobbesian, brutish and nasty realm, no one is safe, especially women, with scores of men getting drunk inside their cars, in what is popularly called ‘Carobar’. Not only can they drive rash and turn the car into a killer machine, but, together, in a macho and mindless gang, many of them have the potential to celebrate a kind of savagery unimaginable in any civilized society.

More than that is the stunning lack of empathy. The eye-witness kept calling the cops – so what happened? He saw the car again and again, kept calling, and even chased the car – so what happened?

Remember how Nirbhaya, totally brutalized, and her friend, assaulted and smashed, were lying on the ground on a street as scores of cars passed by and no one even stopped by to help? At least that tragedy created a huge storm in Delhi and elsewhere with that bus stop in Munirka in South Delhi, where JNU students protested with candles again and again, becoming a tragic milestone of a tragic memory. However, has the reality of that brutal night changed for the better in the capital of India? It does not seem so.

However, there are stories of hope and inspiration. If not in Delhi, then from far-away America. And there are lessons for all of us.

Amidst the fierce snowstorms in sub-human temperatures stalking America recently, the ‘Independent’ of London reported about Sha’Kyra Aughtry, an Afro-American mother of three, who is rightfully being hailed as a ‘true angel’. If she and her boyfriend had not moved out of the cozy safety of their home into the deadly blizzard on a dark dawn, risking her life, the life of a developmentally disabled man who was lost in Buffalo at Christmas could never be saved.

The newspaper reported: “She saw Joe White, 64, caught in a snow bank and being buffeted by strong winds and heavy snowfall. She cut off White’s socks as they had become frozen to his legs, and used a hairdryer to thaw his frozen pants. The couple fed him and tried to treat his hands for frostbite, which had begun to turn gangrenous, and piled blankets on him to try to keep him warm. Aughtry contacted White’s sister, his only living relative, and staff at the North Park Theater cinema house where he has worked as the custodian since 1980…With Buffalo’s streets paralyzed under 50 inches of snow and emergency vehicles unable to reach the house for more than 24 hours, Aughtry took to Facebook on Christmas Day to plead for help in getting White to the hospital…”

Soon, after seeing her Facebook posts, neighbors joined in and cleared the snow. She took White to a hospital. His life was saved.

As a tribute to her, her boyfriend, and the community which responded collectively in this moment of crisis in trying to save the life of an unknown man who lost his way in the snowstorm, the North Park Theatre announced that they would hold a film show in honor of Sha’ Kyra and all others. No wonder, in the media and amidst her community, she is being hailed as an ‘angel’. An inspirational role model, who showed exemplary empathy and selfless courage, in saving the life of a fellow human being.

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Gandhi Godse Ek Yuddh Movie

When Gandhi Met Godse

As India celebrates 75 years of its independence from colonial rule, a debate rekindles a clash between the ideals Mahatma Gandhi espoused and those that caused his assassination. The timing seems perfect for the Gandhi-Godse: Ek Yuddh film. It is being released on January 26, just four days short of the day he was killed 75 years ago.

It is based on a double assumption: that Gandhi survives the attempt on his life and engages in a debate with his unsuccessful assassin, Nathuram Godse. The clash of ideas forms the crux of the film, leaving the verdict to the viewers, and the people outside, not just in India but wherever Gandhi is known, understood and appreciated.

The basic idea is not new. It formed the hypothesis of Godse @, a play scholar-writer Asghar Wajahat wrote in 2010. It has been performed in different languages in different cities and generated a measure of closed-door debate. The film now seeks to take it to larger audiences.

Still recouping from the bullet wounds, Gandhi meets Godse in jail, outside of the prison cell and without being held in chains. He refuses to depose before Godse which helps to reduce the latter’s jail sentence.

More importantly, both engage in a debate. A clash of ideals, not a jugalbandhi, it shows Gandhi calm and all smiles, while Godse is angry, tense and frustrated, unwilling and unable to agree with everything Gandhi says. One preaches ‘ahimsa’ the other rejects it. One wants to carry all citizens along, but the other pitches only for the Hindus. Godse continues to hold Gandhi responsible for the country’s Partition and vows to undo it. No appeasement of Muslims, be they in Pakistan or those who have stayed on in India.

It is an open-ended debate. The two engage in what resembles the current Hindutva debate, with the deification of Godse, questions on the relevance of non-violence, re-writing of history and the “me too” factor in who won the country’s freedom, and how.

The Gandhi-Godse debate is unique, and also essential in the present times when Gandhi sought to be appropriated first, to be questioned, dismissed and possibly discarded. His most likely replacement would then be the culture that nurtured Godse, and the reliance on violence that Gandhi preached against.

The filmmakers may aim to be neutral and objective. But this writer must inject a disclaimer, for whatever it is worth, and take the Gandhian side.

The debate takes place amidst decades of indifference and lip service paid to Gandhi’s ideals. So, it is a critique of not just his baiters, but also of those who claim to follow him but lost their way post-Independence.

In the film, Gandhi quits the Congress when his followers — Nehru, Patel and Azad – reject his call to disband the party now that it has helped achieve the country’s Independence. (This is an issue that Congress baiters have found handy). He also launches community development projects as per his ideas and leads anti-government protests. They are thwarted by his followers now ruling the country. He is imprisoned in independent India even as people continue to revere him as “the Father of the Nation.”

Gandhi is put in the cell where Godse is serving his prison term. As the two meet, this allows for the resumption of the debate over Akhand Bharat, the Partition of India, on Pakistan and Hindutva. Both re-evaluate their ideas. Gradually, Godse and Gandhi understand each other, even as they disagree.

Gandhi maintains that Godse is not the wrong man. Only his views are wrong. Although Godse is influenced by Gandhi’s thoughts and personality, to what extent, remains unstated. Critics are likely to ask: Is he the new anti-hero?

ALSO READ: Gandhi or Godse – Kindly Choose One

Gandhi’s own frailties come to the fore in a story within the story. Sushma, his young woman devotee, loves Naveen, a college teacher. Gandhi separates the two. He wants Naveen to continue “serving the nation” as a teacher, without distracting Sushma’s mission. He resents Naveen secretly meeting Sushma and asks Sushma to quit his ashram.

Gandhi’s controversial views on celibacy come into play. With this new weapon in his arsenal, Godse attacks Gandhi for being unfair, especially to his women devotees, by insisting that like him, they practice celibacy. Gandhi is made to realize this by his deceased wife Kasturba. She comes into his dream and pleads for the young couple on an issue that she had suffered when alive. Gandhi relents and blesses Naveen and Sushma’s marriage in jail. Is it Kasturba’s persuasion that works or Godse’s trenchant criticism?

How much of all this will be accepted/rejected by Gandhi’s acolytes and how far do today’s Hindutva followers feel vindicated? The film’s interpretation of Godse and his “filmy re-trial” shall remain to be judged by those who will watch the film.

Given the current times, the film could well boost Gandhi-baiting, also Godse’s advocacy. The Congress has already launched an agitation, while the BJP camp defends the film as a work of fiction.

Producer-director Rajkumar Santoshi has told the media that Godse’s viewpoint has not received adequate space in his view. Besides Wajahat’s story, he has incorporated portions of Godse’s statement recorded in the court during his 1948 trial. Godse was eventually convicted and hanged. “My take is, I might dislike the person but I will fight for that person. It has been done in a democratic setup”, Santoshi says. “I request people to watch the film with an open mind and not come to theatres with any preconceived notions. Those coming with an open mind will truly enjoy the film,” he appeals.

Santoshi is leaving the film’s conclusions open to public interpretation. So is Asghar Wajahat, the playwright and the film’s writer. The duo want Gandhi versus Godse debated in a true fashion that Gandhi would have approved, whether or not their current lot of his followers and baiters relish.

Save Santoshi himself and music by A R Rahman, the rest of the ensemble has no marquee, only performers. Deepak Antani and Chinmay Mandlekar, both seasoned performers, play Gandhi and Godse respectively.

Santoshi has made films that entertain, some of them with his preferred actor Sunny Deol. The latter is famous for the “dhai kilo ka hath” fisticuffs, and also for using the gun to secure justice on his own terms in the face of vested interests all around.

Santoshi’s heroes have also protected women, taken on the law, screaming the famous “Tarikh pe Tarikh” on the propensity of the powerful to seek postponement of court hearings if they find the going tough. The phrase, incidentally, was used approvingly by a judge in the courtroom recently.

The Gandhi-versus-Godse is a different cinema terrain for Santoshi, but that cannot be a reason for anyone to prejudge his new work. Good filmmakers are known to switch gears and move from popular entertainment to what they consider “purposeful” filmmaking.

As per Wajahat’s play, Gandhi and Godse agree to disagree on their points of conflict in a true gentlemanly fashion. Their respective jail sentences end, dramatically, on the same day, July 5, 1960.

Bidding farewell, Gandhi says: “I shall continue to do what I have been doing and I am sure you will do the same.” Both part with a Namaste. Their respective courses are open, to be viewed and interpreted. Perhaps, the way it is being done now and shall be done in future as well. There is no last word.

The writer can be reached at

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Book on Indian Navy Evolution

Indian Navy@75 – The Rime of The Modern Mariner

When a Task Force of the United States Navy’s 7th Fleet headed by USS Enterprise sailed into the Bay of Bengal in December 1971, ostensibly to counter a Soviet flotilla but actually to impact the ongoing conflict in favour of close ally Pakistan, it was India’s hour of reckoning. Till high-octane diplomacy helped, the only defence arm protecting the Bay, and carrying out assaults in the Arabian Sea, was the Indian Navy, a tiny force by the two superpowers’ reckoning.

“What would have happened had you come face-to-face with the Enterprise?” Looking back, then Eastern Command chief, Vice Admiral N Krishnan’s response to the question this writer put a month after the conflict is immaterial. What remains is the supreme confidence on the face of that chubby sailor in the Navy’s hour of glory and its long-awaited, full-blooded participation in a war that India won.

That hour, the centuries that took to build it, and the Navy’s evolution over the next 50 years are vividly recorded by Commodore (retd) Ranjit B Rai, co-author Aritra Banerjee and dedicated contributors in The Indian Navy@75… Reminiscing the Voyage. An individual’s labour of love, it deserves a warm welcome. Rai’s many books done earlier and his naval museum to record India’s naval prowess make him a worthy sailor storyteller.

Rai was a rare witness to some of the Navy’s ‘sea-mark’ moments, from Goa’s liberation to the 1971 war to the operations in Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar, the Maldives and then the disastrous Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. A former Director, Naval Operations (DNO) and Director, Naval Intelligence (DNI), he adopts an autobiographical style even as he tracks down his peers and shipmates, long after their retirement to construct a narration that, given India’s notorious lack of a sense of history, could otherwise drown in the whirlpool of time.

It has not been easy in a country that has always faced adversaries from the north. The common Indian psyche is to think of the soldier and the airman, much less the sailor. Launching “Make in India”, it has perforce indigenized, more than the two other services.

It still needs emphasizing that the Indian Ocean has always occupied a vital place in India’s national security and economic prosperity, more now as it has risen on the world stage. The Indian Ocean’s waters wash the shores of 40 countries and have four strategic choke points and 90 per cent of India’s trade by volume, and 85 per cent of oil imports for India come by sea. Half of the world’s container and one-third of the world’s cargo traffic pass through this region.

Perceptions have changed. The British thought IN was not “mature enough” to acquire submarines, till the Russians stepped in. Australia was alarmed over India’s “blue water ambitions” in the 1980s. Now it partners the Navy along with US and Singapore and in the IN’s outreach, including the Malabar naval exercises.

The book stresses that over time, the Navy has gained importance as the 21st century is predicted to be a Maritime Century and the centre of gravity of the world has shifted East, with the rise of China and India.

ALSO READ: Know Your Sea, Cadet

Yet, for long years the Navy remained the “silent Cinderella” when it came to allocating funds. Ships and submarine acquisitions suffered long waits. The inter-service rivalry forces ‘silence’. On writing on the Navy’s wish list, pre-Budget, for a Mumbai paper in 1983, this writer’s editor was requested by the then Western Command chief, late Admiral R H Tahiliani, to ask me to pipe down a bit. Mercifully, the Navy has now been given ₹47,590.99 crore ($7 billion) for capital spending in 2022-23 and is tasked to be the net security provider in the IOR.

No other service has had to change the basics as much as the Navy. Rai tells you how a question from Soviet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov visiting INS Nilgiri in 1960, “where’s the weaponry?” prompted the Navy to alter its British-based philosophy to Russia on weapons fit. He traces the IN’s journey from the British, to the Russians and now, many others in the new century to reach the world class.

The Navy evolved from buyer to builder post-1972 but its limitations remain. Cmde. (retd.) Uday Bhaskar notes that while it can design ships (few other nations do), build the hulls and develop some of the missile systems, it still imports most of the gadgetry and weaponry that make a ship sea and combat-worthy.

As the only service that has to work outside the territorial boundaries and on the high seas, the Navy’s challenges lie there and far outweigh its progress. Take just the aircraft carrier. After six decades of refitting foreign ones to its needs, it has just acquired its first indigenous one. Late-coming China has three and is projected to possess five or six by the 2030s.

Indeed, China’s advent into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) poses the biggest security threat that India must tackle. The reality is that IN could pulverise Karachi port and harbour in 1971, and blockade it in 1999 during the Kargil conflict and in 2001 when the Indian Parliament was attacked. Now, the Chinese presence and a heavy stake in the shape of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are bound to prevent such a recurrence.

As the only military service that operates outside the country’s borders and on the high seas, IN plays a key diplomatic role, of hard and ‘soft’ variety. Rai correctly says IN is a necessary adjunct to the foreign office and matches its diplomatic objectives far and near. Its noblest mission, of course, was in 2004, to reach, within 12 hours of the Tsunami, Indonesia and the Malacca Straits, its guns covered, not blazing, on a disaster relief mission.

As Defence Advisor posted in Singapore in 1991, Rai takes the widest possible picture of India, then on the cusp of historic economic reforms. He narrates his experiences when Manmohan Singh under P V Narasimha Rao and with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, marshalled the much-needed resources. India began to “Look East” and it is just as well that it now “Acts East.” As emphasized by Harsh V. Pant, this is where its security lies given the need to counter China’s pushy advances.

The Indo-Pacific has become crucial to India’s statecraft as evidenced by the Prime Minister’s articulation of Sagar (Security And Growth for All in the Region), and Mausam and Sagarmala. The changing security architecture in the maritime Indo-Pacific with the rise of China and QUAD behoves the Government and the Navy to review India’s maritime strategy and the strength of platforms it needs, and swiftly provide the funds.

The writer can be reached at

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Trading With The Enemy: It’s Complicated | Lokmarg

Trading With The Enemy: It’s Complicated

Quite a few Indian politicians short on knowledge on economics have the habit of shooting their mouth on major trade and economic issues without realising the harm all this might do to the country. Many worthies doing it to get attention of the masses given to supra nationalism is understandable. But why should Arvind Kejriwal, who graduated in mechanical engineering from IIT (Kharagpur), known for its liberal academic environment and was a member of Indian Revenue Service before launching Aam Aadmi Party in 2012, be in that kind of bandwagon! Kejriwal, who cannot plead ignorance of economic affairs after running Delhi as chief minister since February 2015 in a recent uncharacteristic jingoistic outburst said: “Why don’t we stop our trade with China? All things that we import from China can be manufactured here in India. Halting the trade will be a lesson for China and also generate employment in India.”

At his implicit encouragement, AAP’s trade outfit held a protest rally in New Delhi’s Connaught place urging traders to unite in a “boycott of Chinese goods.” Many politicians from other parties too have joined Kejriwal in initiating strong trade action against China.

The spark for all such angry but uninformed reactions came following defence minister Rajnath Singh informing Parliament of Indian Army successfully pushing back Chinese soldiers found transgressing into Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh. What the people giving a shrill call for trade suspension with China are likely unaware that India and China have carried on with unsettled borders since our Independence and their liberation.

Solution to knotty border issues, according to former Indian national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, calls for prolonged “hard negotiations.” In the meantime, the two countries remain engaged in reinforcing road and related infrastructure at disputed border points along with high levels of military deployment. The protestors should be told that unless the two major powers of Asia have consciously decided to pursue bilateral relations with particular focus on trade independent of intermittent skirmishes happening at some border points, China could not have become India’s second largest trading partner in 2021-22 from a low of 12th in 2000-01.

There were, however, years in the past decade when China replaced the US to take the top slot in India’s export-import trade. The US and China have been alternating their positions as the two largest trading partners of India, with one constant. While India continues to record a significantly large trade surplus with the US, amounting to $32.85 billion during 2021-22, its trade deficit with the neighbour in the north ballooned from $44.02 billion in 2020-01 to $73.31 billion in 2021-22.

Incidentally, China alone had a share of over one-third of India’s total trade deficit of $191 billion in 2021-22. As expected, China origin import juggernaut is continuing through the current 2022-23 financial year. Commerce ministry data says during April-October 2022-23, India’s trade deficit vis a vis China leaped year on year 39 per cent to $51 billion from $37 billion. Apart from what keeps on happening at the border from time to time, should this rising trade deficit be any reason for politicians worth their salt to give a call for trade extinguishment. The answer will be a resounding no.

For appreciation, one has to consider the items that India principally imports from China to sustain and promote this country’s manufacturing of finished products. For example, if for some reasons there are dislocations in supply of active pharmaceutical ingredients from China for any length of time, production of medicines here will be upset causing serious health problems. Then how will India pursue the cherished goal of a digitally empowered society where growing numbers of people will be using computers and mobile phones for accessing information and conducting all financial transactions unless there are easy imports of electronic components and computer hardware and peripherals from China. Government officials and also industry in general will heave a sigh of relief if the agitation against imports from China does not spread and it actually ends in a whimper.

ALSO READ: ‘China Will Continue To Make Covert Incursions’

Commerce ministry data shows that India’s principal imports from China are electronic items, telecom instruments, chemicals and capital goods and their combined imports jumped to $31.008 billion during January-November 2021 from$19.720 billion in the same 11 months of the previous year. Aghast at some Indian politicians’ poor understanding of cruciality of trade between the two large Asian neighbours, Arvind Panagariya, a former vice chairman of government think tank Niti Aayog and now professor of economics at Columbia University told PTI the other day the reason India buys so heavily from China is because for many of this country’s imports, China remains the cheapest supplier. At the same time, Panagariya says: “It also happens that for goods India wants to export, China does not offer New Delhi the best price. So, we sell them to other trade partners such as the US. The fact that this results in a trade deficit with China and trade surplus with the US should be no reason for worry,”

Shocked by the boycott call given in some quarters, the noted economist who left the Niti Aayog job not in happy circumstances, wants the unversed in realities of economics to remember that a $3 trillion economy will better avoid an economic war with a $17 trillion economy in order not to suffer considerable economic damages. In his words: “Now there are some who want trade sanctions on China to ‘punish’ it for its transgressions on the border… if we try to punish China, it will not sit back, as amply illustrated by its response to sanctions by even the mighty United States.”

Only the naive will disagree with Panagariya proposition that in the event of India engaging with China in a highly uneven trade war in response to occasional border engagements “will mean sacrificing a considerable part of our potential growth… purely on economic grounds.” For example, the pharmaceutical industry, the whole range of electronics goods manufacturers and industries dependent on supplies of critical raw materials and intermediate products from China will be paying dearly in case supplies from China get choked. In any case, instead of being concerned with trade deficit with one country, our focus at all times should be on external imbalance reflected on current account deficit showing our external liabilities.

Indian metal makers, particularly aluminium and steel, are buying heavy machineries such as smelters, alumina refineries, coke oven batteries and blast furnaces from China mainly at the expense of traditional establishments in European Union. “We are buying such high-tech expensive equipment from China not for any love for that country but for attractive prices on offer. Chinese equipment in employment here in aluminium and steel plants will match the best available elsewhere on all parameters such as end product quality, energy efficiency and post-installation services. In the process of emerging as the owner of the world’s largest steel and aluminium capacity, Beijing has ensured simultaneous development of machine building capacity matching the best available elsewhere,” says Bharat Aluminium CEO and director Abhijit Pati.

As more and more Indian metal groups, including the government owned ones are buying machines from China, European machine makers have started bringing down their prices globally. India, which has ambitious steel and aluminium growth targets, is a beneficiary of price competition between machinery manufacturers in China and the EU.

Many of our saffronite politicians have only scorn for Indian economists based abroad, irrespective of their achievements. Fortunately, that does not stop them from watching developments in the country of their origin and making some sane suggestions from time to time. Such economists include Amartya Sen, Kaushik Basu, Panagariya, Raghuram Rajan, Pranab Bardhan and Maitreesh Ghatak. Isn’t the Panagariya prescription that instead of threatening a trade war with China, India should focus on signing free trade agreements (FTAs) with developed countries to get easy and duty-free access to its goods and services in their markets? Take the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) that came into effect a few days ago. As a result, 96 per cent of Indian goods exports will enter Australia duty-free and over the next three years, this will rise to 100 per cent. India in turn will get cheaper raw materials from resource-rich Australia as these get duty exemptions. Indian minister of commerce and industry Piyus Goyal says ECTA activation should raise India-Australia bilateral trade to about $50 billion in five years from $31 billion now and also in the process create about 1 million new jobs here. We have it from Goyal that India will sign at least two FTAs with developed countries this year. Sabre-rattling does not help. The way forward is to negotiate hard and with confidence FTAs.

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Biased Media

Propaganda War: Ukraine Through Facts & Fictions

News media like to put out that they are objective, balanced, unbiased and free from interference. This is particularly claimed by liberal left leaning press in the West and some State-owned media groups on both sides. But some critical evaluation of their articles and editorials exposes them to be as unabashedly propagandist as the most unapologetic biased news media. They just do it subtly as evident in the coverage of the Ukraine conflict. Through the fog of misinformation, disinformation and censorship, it is difficult to know which side to believe and which media to trust.

Within a week of the attack by Russia, the general theme in almost every western media was that Russia’s attempts to conquer Ukraine had failed and the war is proving to be longer than expected! This line was promoted in countries that unsuccessfully spent a good 20 years to ‘conquer’ Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. How a week in war translates into ‘failure’ and 20 years as ‘near success’ is a logic that only the media can twist as fact.

Ukraine was part of the USSR and if anyone knew the number of weapons and fighting skills of Ukrainians, especially after three years of engagement in Donbas, it was the Russians. They seemed prepared for a longer war, possibly a year, given the number of troops they had assigned and the supply lines created as well as preparations for sanctions. But a lot more has been censored and disinformation is ripe on both sides.

Before the attack, some of the liberal Press in the West had also carried article and newsbriefs of Nazi type units, called Azos including in respected sites such as Bllingcat, who allegedly had infiltrated and taken over a lot of institutions in Ukraine. Since the conflict, there is almost no mention of Azos or Nazi-type groups dominating the decision making bodies in Ukraine and in fact media like BBC have been accused of whitewashing Ukrainian Azov contradicting their own previous reports.

Equally interesting is that there is very little journalist reports of Ukrainian men paying human traffickers to get out of Ukraine to escape being forced to join the defence. On the other hand, narratives of Russian men escaping Russia to dodge conscription make headlines in most western Press even when Russia lets them leave. Most Press gives the impression that the recruits in Russian Army have been forced to fight against their will while the average able bodied Ukrainian young man has rushed to the defence of motherland or fatherland. But some rare media has covered stories of Ukrainian men being forced at gunpoint to fight against their will. Why is the male human trafficking trade in Ukraine doing so well, if young men are queuing up to fight?

Take another bit of reporting. Every week, the media has reported deaths of Russian Generals, commanders etc. But no Ukrainian officer seems to have died in this 10-month old war. Amazing. It appears Ukrainian officers are invincible or simply sending the young men to slaughter while themselves staying safe in command centres in Kyiv.

Or another fact that is standing out as a sore thumb. Without evidence western commentators are pushing the line that Russia wants to revive the USSR and we are led to believe that Russia has lost this war. At the beginning, Russia spelt out its aims. It was going to ‘free’ Donbas’ and reduce Ukraine’s military capability. It has taken Donbas. It has now almost wiped out Ukraine’s arsenal. Ukraine is now dependent on weapons from the West. How long will the west ‘donate’ its own supplies?

Facts and fictions are not amiss on the other side either. Russia has been stating that this was a ‘special operation’ and not a war. Some of its media say that at end of every article. With thousands of their own soldiers dead and significant part of the enemy territory taken with daily casualties running into thousands, it is difficult to understand when a war is and when a special operation is. A Special Operation normally lasts a few weeks, is swift with very few casualties. To call this ‘special operation’ after 10 months of fighting and hundreds of thousands dead, is fictional absurdity if not denial.

Russia has claimed that it has broken the will of Ukrainians. Has it? Russian media also latches onto stories of men escaping conscription in Ukraine, suggesting Ukrainian are fighting unwillingly. Ten months later, it continues to be challenged on all fronts. Weapons alone do not win wars, unless armies are willing to fight. Ukrainians have shown true grit in the face of a formidable army. Russia is now using some brutal and indiscriminate tactics.

Russian news media also trots daily victories with few exceptions where it says that its forces have performed a tactical withdrawal. Given the number of claimed victories, Russia should have taken all of Ukraine by now. In fact, tactical retreats mean Russians have been forced out or lost in those towns. Russians who question the ‘victories’ end up silenced or in prisons. The truth is as the Government wants it, not what it is. Allegedly quite a few high-profile Russians also seem to be falling from windows especially when they have been critical of Government policy in Ukraine.

Russia goes on about de-Nazification of Ukraine. There is no evidence that the majority of Ukrainians are racists or ‘Nazi’ like. Moreover, there are plenty of extreme Right wing nationalist groups in Russia who have links with similar groups in the West.

Through the mirrors of fiction being promoted facts can be obscure but quite simple. Russia had reached an understanding with major western powers after collapse of USSR that NATO would not expand into ex-USSR countries. NATO did expand and had come close on the doors of Russia by encouraging Ukraine to join. Professor Mearsheimer’s talk is the most concise analysis of this conflict. There were also agreements about installing missiles in Ukraine. The Ukraine Army was being trained to act as a first shield against Russia. To protect itself, Russia had started insurgency in Donbas. It took Crimea in 2014 to stop its base being taken away in the Black Sea.

To convince its own side about the necessity of invasion, Russia raised the fighting in Ukraine Donbass region as ethnic cleansing of Russian speaking Slavs. It was a narrative that fired Russians. Russia also raised spectre of chemical weapons factories in Ukraine near its borders. The attack was legitimised in the eyes of ordinary Russians.

Russia prepared for a longer war with strategies to deal with sanctions and weaponization of financial institutions against it. Russia weaponised gas and oil in retaliation. Its economy has in fact grown.

ALSO READ: Ukraine War – A Diplomatic Opportunity For India

On the other side, the war is actually a proxy war for USA and the UK in an attempt to weaken Russia. The Ukrainians are victims who have been forced into a fight in support of American foreign policy. The US has a number of experts and senior army officers in Ukraine. There were chemical and bio labs even admitted by a US assistant Secretary of State as well as cautioned by WHO. It makes no sense for the US to have sent senior secret service personnel to shut down what it calls ordinary labs testing for chlamydia and strep bacteria.

Both sides are pushing propaganda narratives. The West continues to promote the narrative that Russia is losing the conflict as it failed to take Ukraine in the first week. It also promotes the narrative that Putin and his circle want to restore the USSR. Western media hardly ever mentions the agreement not to expand NATO. But some pragmatists such as Kissinger are calling for negotiations.

Russia on the other hand continues to promote the story that Ukraine has been taken over by Nazis and is an existential threat to Russia as well as trying to annihilate Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Through all this maze of fiction on both sides when even reputable media have compromised, the only reliable analysis is to look at what has been achieved and look at social media from both sides. But freedom loving west has blocked many of Russian media as has Russia in retaliation. Truth is the first casualty of war and is being killed on both sides.

India Stands Up To Hate Politics

If life could be totally predictable, inevitable and mechanical, then it would be difficult to live for even one moment. If everything could be ‘manufactured consent’, as Noam Chomsky wrote, totally controlled and pre-determined, then this Orwellian realm of everyday existentialism, hate politics and fake news, would be, indeed, suffocating and oppressive.

Yes, it is.

And, yet, it is not!

If thought and emotion do not precede action, and if theory and praxis have no meaningful synthesis, then it would be a jarring symphony we would be playing all our life. If collective and individual suffering is dumped and degraded in the pursuit of crass, selfish, profit and ambition, then there can be no love for the nation, or humanity. All the books we have read, our youthful idealism, our dream for a better world — that is of no use anymore.

There can be wealth, fame, private property, cushy jobs, happy families and comfort zones in our atomized, protected, sanitized structures of daily life. But, there would be no music, nor dance, or song. There would be no authentic friendships or spiritual journeys into the unknown, no contradictions or imperfections, no vulnerabilities and fragilities, no compassion and passion. Knowledge will never truly liberate. Work and love will have no play or joy. All freedom and happiness would be fake!

This is because despite the typical patterns of predictability, despite the black holes which often trap our inner souls into a doomed dungeon, there are always signs and symbols of magical optimism which emerge from nowhere, outside the manifest code, beyond the truth of absolute knowledge. Walter Benjamin would call it close reading beneath the surface, rediscovering the nuanced, the unstated, the mystical, the intangible. Ivan Illich would say that what is of utmost importance is unlearning and learning – perhaps unlearning is more crucial then learning.

There could be music in an empty sheet of paper, who knows? Akira Kurosawa would jot down all over the blank sheet, on the sides, in the corners, for hours labouring on his notes, like the old Postcards we wrote before quick emails destroyed letter-writing.  Despite that, he was unable to find the central thesis of his disjointed masterpiece.

Andrei Tarkovsky would make magnificent and mystical cinema, often, with his father’s poetry in the backdrop in Russian, and you could see actually the grass move with the wind and touch the beautiful woman’s feet in ‘Mirror’; she, sitting on a fence, forlorn and solitary. Like a message of deep love from a man going away into the far-distance.

And, yet, Tarkovsky would know that cinema is so painstakingly technological, meticulously mechanical; and, yet, he would say, that poetry has a different reason to exist for different human beings, because it could be a ‘way of life’, like his cinema in exile from totalitarian Soviet Russia.

There was indeed music on an A-4 size of paper recently, which was a blank sheet, held by young girls and boys in China, seeking dissent and democracy, in an absolute dictatorship, camouflaged as “Communist”, but, basically, a Repressive State Apparatus. They have recently witnessed how the students’ movement in Hongkong, the media, and civil society, were so brutally crushed by the ‘Communist Establishment’ in Hongkong. So much so, a statue as a tribute to those students massacred in Tiananmen Square in June, 1984, too, was crushed in Hong Kong. Indeed, why are dictators so afraid of memories?

The blank A-4 sheets held by youngsters in China only said what they wanted to speak out aloud, and could never speak. This too was a sign that all is not lost, even in a one-dimensional dictatorship led by a man with a half-twisted smile who has assumed that he too is immortal – like all dictators in the history of the world!

Remember the Dandi March? Remember Richard Attenborough’s epic film on Gandhi? Remember that reporter trying to send a story of the march on the wire? Remember how the police broke the heads of each and every Satyagrahi, coming one by one, waiting for the blow, refusing to succumb?

ALSO READ: ‘Bharat Jodo Is A Healing Touch For Wounded Nation’

There was no big monopoly media those days under the repressive, cold-blooded plunderers of the brutal British empire. There was no internet or social media or television. Despite that the march against the Salt Tax was ‘breaking news’ inside every courtyard of distant Indian homes! How did that happen?

And people who had little or no courage were burning firangi clothes inside their homes, because Gandhi gave them a chance to join the freedom struggle, even with their constraints. And even while he built a committed cadre and political leadership which would be ready to sacrifice everything for the freedom of the country, he knew that those who have little courage today can show exemplary bravery tomorrow, perhaps, day after tomorrow! All human beings, thus, deserve a chance. Those who are cowards today can become the bravest tomorrow.

This is because history is unpredictable, like human nature, and history shapes human nature, since it is the being which determines the consciousness, and not vice versa, as Karl Marx wrote. He also wrote, that if you can’t love, and if your love cannot create love, then you are an “unobjective being, an impotent person”. 

It is like Che Guevara’s famous poster which says that if you can’t love, you can never change the world. This is because if there is no synthesis between the romantic and the radical, then the radical is dry, barren, rootless, and narcissistic, without sensuality or sensitivity, almost inhuman, outside humanity.

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Almost 25 kilometers every day, with a dedicated band of ‘walkers’, criss-crossing the countryside, small towns and cities,  holding hands and fingers, walking with youngsters, old and young, uninhibited and with effortless love and affection, hugging everyone, carrying little kids on the shoulders, running suddenly in a spurt of energy and ecstasy, watching street theatre by idealistic youngsters on the wayside, discussing all that is important and seemingly unimportant, from sustainable environment to the logic of tapasaya, to the nostalgia of old Italian scooters, walking, nevertheless, from very early morning to twilight, each day, with tens of thousands of Indians.

Who are these tens of thousands of Indians? And what is the message?

In the market of hate, a daily public spectacle is selling unchained, unselfish, unbridled love —  unleashed! No wonder, despite the stooge media — doing nothing but Hindu-Muslim hate polarizations — blocking it, or the trolls trolling it with crudity unsurpassed, the message found a sacred space in the solitary book shelf of every heart, even, perhaps, those hearts who hate day and night, and never get tired of it.

Let it be stated, finally and frankly, that the Bharat Jodo Yatra, led by a young, bearded Rahul Gandhi, with infinite stamina, in a faded white T-shirt, has struck a chord across millions of hearts in India! And this is happening when we all thought hate has won the final victory, and that rapists and murderers would forever become free in Gujarat, that fear is the only Orwellian key in our daily life, and that we know so well how so many innocent, peaceful protesters, including young and brilliant scholars, most of them Muslims who believe in the Indian Constitution, have been languishing in prisons.

The love has spread in the dingy dungeons of hate, though the frustrated faces of hate remain unchanged. The love has touched the people beyond class, caste, religion and identity, and it is still a lovely ghost who walks the streets. They just cannot stop it.

“Rahul Gandhi, he is in your mind,” he told reporters in his umpteenth press conference, in a ‘democracy’ where the current PM has had — not ‘one’ press conference. The meaning is clear as a pristine and ever-flowing river, like the long march. This yatra is different – it is another phase of ‘national enlightenment’. Don’t talk of individuals. They are mere signs and of history.

This contemporary history must change. This world must change. This India must change.  Because, as the slogan goes: Nafrat Choro, Bharat Jodo

Happy New Year Dear Readers, Friends and Strangers. May love, friendship and hope float in your warm and cosy homes.


Bangladesh – Reeling Under Multiple Crises

Russia’s unrelenting military assault on Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022 has already done a significant collateral economic damage to Bangladesh and other East Asian countries. The setback is to an extent that Bangladesh, a least developed country which aspires to acquire middle income status by 2031 had to scamper to International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout package of $4.5 billion. Earlier to the damage being wreaked by the Ukrainian war that shows no signs of ending anytime soon, the Bangladesh economy took a beating from the Covid-19 pandemic. But as the IMF acknowledges, Bangladesh made a “robust economic recovery from the pandemic” by clocking a 3.4 per cent GDP (gross domestic product) growth in 2020 followed by a lot more impressive 6.9 per cent in the following year. The problem of inequitable distribution of incremental wealth generation among different sections of society remains.

In a recent country report, the World Bank has, however, cut the Bangladesh GDP forecast for 2022-23 by 0.6 percentage points to 6.1 per cent as the country battles “high inflation and rolling electricity blackouts.” Led by economic distress, Bangladesh is the third of India’s neighbour country to have secured accommodation from the IMF with all the stiff accompanied conditions. Nevertheless as IMF emergency funds help avert a potential debt servicing/payment default, they create the ground for more aid from other multilateral institutions and friendly nations.

Incidentally, Pakistan’s extended loan facility from IMF stands at about $7 billion. The highly politically disturbed Pakistan, according to expert estimates, will need at least $41 billion for debt repayments and to fund imports. Most worryingly, the country’s foreign exchange reserves are down to a level that could pay for about one month’s imports. Political unrest that recently took the form of an attempted assassination of dethroned prime minister Imran Khan, mostly covert army interferences in government work, the law unto itself ISI, state harbouring Islamist forces within the country and outside have all combined to exacerbate Pakistan’s economic problems. Till such time, the army stays put in the barracks and a democratically elected government gets a free hand to rule, there will be no redemption for Pakistan.

Sri Lanka will remain an example of how runaway inflation of food, medicine and fuel prices making them unaffordable for the masses could bring hundreds of thousands of protesters out on the road and lead them to lay siege on the President’s official residence forcing Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign and flee to Singapore. The island country, which defaulted on its $51 billion external debts, ran out of foreign exchange to fund essential imports. That left Sri Lanka with no alternative but to agree to conditional $2.9 billion bailout from IMF.

India too a victim of inflation well beyond the Reserve Bank of India’s tolerable band and a high rate of unemployment is expectedly concerned about developments in its immediate neighbourhood. Concern remains about China spreading its influence in south Asia. Currency depreciation vis a vis US dollar and high energy prices have dealt a major blow to all these countries.

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Historically, India has an affinity towards Awami League and its leader Sheikh Hasina. This is based as much on thrice incumbent Hasina government pursuing a secular policy in the face of opposition from Jamaat-i-Islami and not so covert attempts at Islamisation/radicalisation of Bangladeshis by Pakistani agents as the ties forged since the liberation war leading to creation of a new country out of east Pakistan. Even then, New Delhi has kept communication channels with the principal Opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of which the founder was former President Ziaur Rahman (1977-81) live, if not for anything than to loosen its dalliance with Islamist forces. In any case, BNP has seen that its pursuit of a highly Islamist policy and communal rant are not yielding dividends at the hustings.

For example, in the 2018 general elections to Jatiya Sangsad (House of the Nation), BNP got only seven seats and 13 per cent of the votes. Besides the voters not warming up to what it promised in the election manifesto, the party had to contend with two handicaps during 2014 elections. First, the late Ziaur son Tarique, the acting chairman of BNP is cooling his heels in exile in London following the life sentence award given to him on charges of attempt to kill Sheikh Hasina in 2004.

Second, chairperson Khaleda Zia (the late President’s wife) spent nearly four years in jail between 2017 and 2020 on several corruption charges, including siphoning of foreign donation money for an orphanage. She got released from jail well before serving the full sentence, but with the condition that she would stay put in Dhaka. Moreover, she has serious health problem creating a leadership vacuum in BNP. Whatever that is, BNP has principally latched on to growing popular discontent about rising prices of all essential items to launch a campaign against Hasina government, which is becoming increasingly strident.

Despite official highhandedness in dealing with protests, BNP, to the surprise of the government has been able to hold massive rallies in districts and the capital city Dhaka. In the meantime, revelation of a big ticket corruption involving S Alam group, popularly believed to be Awami League’s key financier, has helped in fanning people’s anger against the government. Name almost any sector, including banking, S Alam has its finger in the pie. Such is the public resentment against the group taking multi-billion dollar loans from a number of banks, in some of which it has substantial equity ownership. Worse is the group has used the borrowed funds to fund purchase of hotels and real estate in Singapore. The irregularities in borrowings and subsequent investments offshore reek of a kind of corruption that Hasina is left with no alternative but to order an inquiry.

A question mark remains on the fairness of the inquiry since the involvement of some Awami League politicians close to the prime minister is not ruled out. But the bank loan scandal already an embarrassment for the administration will compromise the Awami League and its leader ahead of 2023-end elections in case the inquiry reveals some murkiness in loan sanctioning. Some BNP politicians claim that in the days ahead more cases of corruption involving businessman-politician nexus will come to light to provide them with the handle to berate the government of the day. Besides piling pressure on Hasina administration for its attempts to silence the Opposition using every means, including arrests and attempts to sabotage lawful protests, BSP for political optics made its seven MPs to resign their parliamentary seats. Naturally, Awami League is wondering aloud why did it take BNP four long years to realise that democracy is now at risk? As it happens in such awkward situations, the ruling party sees a foreign hand working.

Bangladesh foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has complained, not to anyone’s surprise that “some powerful countries have the historical habit to suppress third world countries like ours. Have they not in the past destroyed stable countries such as Iraq and Libya in the past? Let me warn my countrymen if we are not able to resist foreign engineered unrest then all of us will suffer.”

In the meantime, in its attempt to build pressure on Hasina government, BNP has announced a 27-point programme for structural reform of the state and governance. This, among other reforms, includes reintroduction of holding elections under a neutral government, limiting a prime minister to hold office for two consecutive terms (this in order to debar Hasina to become prime minister once again), election commission to be manned by “independent and impartial persons,” and formation of an election reforms commission. The elections are to be held by December 2023 and it is too early to make any forecast about poll outcome at this stage.