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Opinion

Opinion : New Corona normal with films, festivals and life by Tariq Umar Khan

The graph of the active case of Corona is going down in the country and people have started taking care. It is the festival season, there is also a rush for shopping in the market but one needs to be more careful during this time. 

With the world at a standstill because of Covid-19, India’s Hindi film industry is seeing abandoned film sets, closed cinemas and movie stars with empty diaries. BBC Asian Network’s Haroon Rashid reports on the impact on Bollywood.

This time last month, Bollywood fans around the world were excited. The latest instalment of director Rohit Shetty’s super-cop universe was set to hit the screens on 24 March. The makers of Sooryavanshi were expecting massive box office numbers because the release had been strategically planned to coincide with a national holiday in India.

Instead, the country went into a 21-day lockdown that day to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Do not take the children to the market, celebrate with the party family because the corona spreads differently in different places

The Great Indian Festivals

During festivals you go out to meet your relatives, friends and party, do not do all that. It would be better to have virtual parties, virtual meetings this year, because there is a risk of infection from the crowd. If shopping is the case, then at this time, prefer online shopping.

Always wear a mask. Keep hands clean. Social distancing is to be maintained. If you have a cough, cold, or sore throat, immediately isolate yourself. These things have to be taken care of during festival time. If you do not take precautions, you can infect others as well as family members. Discover the joys of the festival among the householders, in decorating your house, in home cooking, because it is not right to meet others.

Sometimes droplets fall down after one yard. But it depends where you are. If you are in a closed area, then the droplets will stay in the air for a long time, and the chances of infection are high, the open space is less likely. The distance it will go also depends on the place. It has been found that they can go up to three to four yards.

For Film industry its a shock wave

Delhi-based exhibitor Sanjay Mehta, however, thinks there are several factors — not just COVID-19 — “The low pre-Diwali period and exams have come in the way ,” he says. The law and order, violence and protests have affected business in Delhi; the late evening and night shows — largely patronised by Muslims — are running empty in Uttar Pradesh.

According to Mr. Mehta, things will come to a head if things go out of control in the weeks ahead and if the government decides to shut down theatres temporarily. He remembers the case of a film Main Khiladi Tu Anari distributed by him back in 1994. “It started off at 100% collection. On the 6th day, the Delhi government ordered cinema closure due to a plague scare. The film couldn’t gather the same momentum when the theatres reopened,” he remembers.

So…

The recovery rate has increased, but this does not mean that the corona is over. The corona was almost over in many countries, now a second wave of epidemics is coming. Whether or not a third wave will come after this, no one can say.

Corona is not a virus, it is a group of viruses that spread differently in different places. Somewhere, too many people get infected, far fewer. These viruses are also mutates. They come in another form at intervals of few months. Can’t tell how Kovid-19 will behave. Whether it will go or not, it is not known. That is why vaccine will be needed.

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Bollywood Opinion Politics The Buzz

Man ki baat : How BJP leadership using Kangna Ranaut as a bait to clasp Oppugnant Bollywood class A

Kangna Ranaut | Sushant singh Rajput, Nepotism | Narendra Modi | BJP | Bollywood

Sushant Singh Rajput last film Dil bechara released . Kangna ranaut raising issue of nepotism like a lunatic with baseless logics although this could be done in a rational way .. what she is doing is calling each and everyone out whoever’s she doesn’t like But the story is … she is not playing it, she is just serving as a bait for Modi-shah to use CBI to tighten their grip over Bollywood

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Opinion The Buzz

Shekhar Gupta’s column: India paying the price of Modi and BJP electoral politics, now the need for self analysis and improvement in policy

Let us first see what was good in favor of the Narendra Modi government on the strategic and foreign policy fronts. In this list, relations with America are at number one. When China has come down on the villain, then only America has spoken in favor of India, that too without any transaction or condition. This has rarely happened in India’s strategic history. We have received clear and unconditional support for the Uri surgical strike, Pulwama, Balakot, changes in Article 370 and now in every case up to Ladakh. 

On the other hand, our large regional allies, mainly from the Indo-Pacific region, have stood firm with us, especially Japan and Australia. Their shared fear of danger from China connects them. Similarly, Arab countries now remain neutral in a larger perspective. Relationships with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel in particular have proved profitable. There is little problem with Turkey and Qatar, but it always has been. Is the relationship with Iran deteriorating or improving? The news is showing signs of decline. Arab countries have been neutral to India’s internal affairs (Kashmir or communalism) for the past several years, while Iran has been interfering.

Now some bad news. It is ironic that what did not go well was largely cured before that. For example, relationship to America. Among other matters, during the debate in the US Congress on issues like human rights situation in CA or CAA / NRC, the government strongly defended India, but the total relationship between the two countries remained the level of ‘small deal’ of the transaction. is. It has not reached ‘large’ strategic alliances. The reason for this is that the Modi government has been hesitating to embrace historical prejudices because of it.

Modi has not been able to break free from the old Indian hesitation. He happily went to Houston and raised the slogan ‘this time, the Trump government’, but he did not hesitate to sign a small trade deal. The absurd ideology of the Modi government and the reckless apprehension about global trade have been eclipsing India’s broader strategic interest. Nothing of mutual relations has remained untouched by this minimalism, even if it is military relations. In the last six years, India has made small purchases from the US, has not acquired any big thing nor has made any venture to develop or produce anything together.

So far we have not mentioned Russia. But when there was a setback in Ladakh, then Defense Minister Rajnath Singh first went to Russia. This shows that even after 31 years of the end of the Cold War and 25 years of economic development and now six years of Modi rule, India could not free itself from dependence on Russia in military matters. This is our failure, because today Russia has emerged as a close ally of China. If our foreign policy had been stronger, this dependence could have been reduced and India’s position would have been stronger.

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Modi seems to have set high hopes from his friendship with China. It would be considered a big mistake to imagine a Chinese veteran swinging you. India is suffering its brunt. Giving a person-centered form of diplomacy only works if it is between two countries of equal strength or when you are more powerful. India adopted a childish attitude in Xi’s case. Since he slapped our mouths in Doklam, the equation has changed. It is now clear that Xi took ‘Wuhan Bhavana’ as Modi’s plea not to make any further mess and divert his upcoming electoral prospects. 

Integrating Modi-BJP electoral politics into foreign policy was another major negative thing. If you have accepted Hindu-Muslim polarization as the formula for electoral victory, then ‘neglect’ of Muslims is necessary. Then it is certain that in Pakistan’s case your options are exhausted. But this increases the difficulty of the most trusted neighbor Bangladesh. Modi had made a good start in the country by entering into a border settlement with him. But the desire to win first Assam, then West Bengal elections was washed away.

You agree that after bringing Iran, Nepal and Sri Lanka under its control, China will now focus on Dhaka. For the last few weeks, there is no attempt of a ‘zero tariff’ trade agreement with him? India is paying the price of Modi-BJP electoral politics. India needs to introspect, understand the ground reality and improve its policy in terms of strategy. Especially in the case of domestic politics. Polarization of voters may be beneficial for the party, dangerous for the nation.

Curtsey : Dainik Bhaskar

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Opinion The Buzz

Why BJP hinding PM care funds, keeping it out of RTI and CAG Audit despite it has unused electoral Bonds fund

BJP has blocked Parliament Panel Review of PM Cares Fund. We have a panel of experts tell us why this is problematic, why as citizens we should know what the funds are being used for, and whether the fund should be audited.

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Opinion The Buzz

Opinion – How impactful is Chinese App Ban ‘Digital strike’

The Shallow showoff

If you want to ban, then put on the second largest bank of China, ‘Bank of China’! ……. What will be gained by banning some useless apps? ……. Bank of China license Nehru Or Manmohan Singh has not given it to Modi in 2018, that too when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised it to Chinese President Xi Jinping during the SCO Summit in 2018.

Bank of China applied for security clearance in July 2016. This bank was accused of funding terrorist organizations but despite that, it was given a license to do business in India.

Not only this, in August 2019, it was included in the Second Schedule to the Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934 and permission was given to provide regular bank services in the country ……. Earlier in Modi Raj only from January 2018 to Industrial & Commercial Bank of China was also allowed to do business in India,

Many economists of our country were against giving license to these banks, former RBI Deputy Governor P.K. Chakraborty had also said at the time that China was known for its aggressive trading policy. Whatever resources China has, it uses it in a very aggressive way. Our government banks are still lagging behind in terms of resources, technology and aggressive strategy. If their market share falls, it will not be good for the country’s economy.

Market expert and former banker S.K. K. Lodha gave the example of America and explained how wrong decision to license this bank is in Navbharat Times.

The US first allowed Chinese companies and banks to operate openly in the US. As a result, Chinese businesses and products were in the US. This upset America’s economy. One special thing with Chinese businessmen is that they do business abroad, earn money and invest more in their country.

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Well let me tell you that Bank of China is not an ordinary bank. The Bank of China, or SBP, operates under the China Central Huijin, an investment company run by the China government. The bank is spread over 50 countries, 19 of which come under China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ plan. OBOR i.e. One Belt One Road Project is the most ambitious plan by China to take over the world trade. is. This plan is a replica of China’s expansionary policy, therefore canceling the license of this bank will be the only act that will affect China in real terms as its trade will be directly affected.

– Girish malveey

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Big Story Opinion

Paytm’s advertisement on PM Modi’s YouTube channel …. China’s Alibaba’s money is involved in this!

Former corporate editor of Prabhat Khabar, former executive editor of Dainik Bhaskar, former resident editor of Amar Ujala, Rajendra Tiwari take a big aim in minimal terms.

On PM Modi’s mind, he wrote- Paytm’s advertisement on Modi ji’s YouTube channel …. Alibaba’s money has been invested in it!

Actually, China is not only trying to infiltrate the border, it has infiltrated the country’s market.

Not only this, we do not even know exactly where China has infiltrated the market?

Surprisingly, before the year 2014, the Swadeshi movement, in which Narendra Modi was raising his voice, by breaking the same indigenous spirit in one corner, PM Medi made a great friendship with China, swinging it, coconut water Welted, grand welcome in India, result? The country is watching!

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Replying to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi about the circumstances from 1962 till now, Amit Shah says that – he is not afraid of discussion. Rahul Gandhi should come to Parliament and give a hand to the situation from 1962 till now!

If they know so much about China, then why are China being called a fraud? Did China strike friendship since 1962? No, then why has the PM Modi government continued to increase friendship with China since 2014?

The result of the same friendship is that in every corner of the country, the signs of China are seen, the presence of China in the market is visible everywhere!

No other government has given such a big blow to the Swadeshi movement, as much as the PM Modi government has given?

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Opinion The Buzz

Opinion : Why the Modi government gets away with lies, and how the opposition could change that

As with Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America, India faces a ‘fire-hosing of falsehood’. Mere fact-checking won’t defeat it.

The Narendra Modi government announces a grand stimulus ‘package’ that it claims is worth Rs 20 lakh crore or ‘10 per cent’ of India’s GDP. But barely a fraction of it is new money being pumped into the economy. What is made to look like a stimulus is mostly a grand loan mela.

The Modi government is making hungry migrant labourers pay train fare. When this became a political hot potato, it said it was paying 85 per cent per cent of the fare and the state governments were paying the rest 15 per cent. Truth was that that 85 per cent was notional subsidy — in effect, the migrants were being charged the usual fare, and in some places, even more.

If no one else, at least the endless sea of migrant labourers would be able to see through the ‘85 per cent’ lie. It is curious that the Modi government openly lies — lies that are obvious and blatant. Just a few examples:

Narendra Modi said on the top of his voice that there had been no talk of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in his government, when in fact both the President of India and the Home Minister had said it in Parliament.

Narendra Modi said the purpose of demonetisation was to destroy black money but when that didn’t work, his government kept changing goal-posts. Many lies to hide one truth: that demonetisation had failed.

Doublethink

The Modi government has made lying an art form. This non-stop obvious lying was described by George Orwell as doublethink: “Every message from the extremely repressive leadership reverses the truth. Officials repeat ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery,’ for example. The Ministry of Truth spreads lies. The Ministry of Love tortures lovers.”

People are thus expected to believe as true what is clearly false, and also take at face value mutually contradictory statements. The Modi government talked about NRC, but it also did not talk about it. The Modi government is making migrants pay for train fares, but at the same time, it is not charging them. Doublethink also applies other Orwellian principles — Newspeak, Doublespeak, Thoughtcrime, etc.

But why do people accept it all so willingly? Why do the people who are lied to every day go and vote for the same BJP?

There are many obvious answers to this question: weak opposition, mouthpiece media, social media manipulation, and Modi’s personality cult that makes his voters repose great faith in him.

But the lies are so obvious, you wonder why anyone would lie so obviously. Surely, when someone is caught lying they can’t be considered credible anymore?

What’s happening here is the plain assertion of power. Our politics has become a contest of who gets to lie and get away with it and who will have to go on a back-foot when their lies are caught.

When the Modi government lies so blatantly, it is basically saying: ‘Yes we will lie to make a mockery of your questions. Do what you can.’

Fire-hosing of falsehood

In 2016, Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews wrote a paper for RAND Corporation, an American think-tank, in which they analysed propaganda techniques used by the Vladimir Putin government in Russia. They called it the “Firehose of Falsehood” (read it here). The Russian model is not to simply make you believe a lie — the lie is often so obviously a lie, you’d be a fool to believe it. The idea is to “entertain, confuse and overwhelm” the audience.

They identified four distinct features of the Putin propaganda model, all of which are true for the Modi propaganda machinery as well, as they are for Donald Trump’s.

1) High volume and multi-channel: The Modi propaganda machine will bombard people with a message through multiple channels. By “multiple” we really mean multiple — you will even see Twitter handles claiming to be Indian Muslims saying the same things as the far-Right Hindutva handles. Of course, some of the Muslim handles are fake. But when you see everyone from Akshay Kumar to Tabassum Begum support an idea, you’re inclined to doubt yourself. If everyone from Rubika Liyaquat to your WhatsApp-fed uncle is saying the same thing, it must be right. If so many people are saying the Citizenship (Amendment) Act will grant citizenship and not take it away, they must be right.

2) Rapid, continuous and repetitive: The hashtags, memes and emotionally charged videos will be ready before any announcement is made. The moment the announcement is made, both social and mainstream media will start bombarding you with messages in support of it. The volume and speed of the propaganda will barely leave you with the mind space to judge for yourself.

While the government will be careful to avoid saying it is not charging migrants, its deniable propaganda proxies will go around suggesting exactly that until the voice of the doubters has been drowned out. (A liberal journalist I know actually thought the migrants were not having to pay train fares anymore.)

3) Lacks commitment to objective reality: In other words, fake news. We know why fake news works: confirmation bias, information overload, emotional manipulation, the willingness to believe a message when it is shared by a trusted friend, and so on. There’s no dearth of this in the Modi propaganda ecosystem. There are countless fake news factories like OpIndia and Postcard News. Moreover, the mainstream media itself has been co-opted to manufacture fake news at scale, as the absolutely fictional charges of JNU students wanting India to be split into pieces (“Tukde tukde gang”) shows.

PM Modi himself is happy to lie for political posturing: from attributing a fake quote to Omar Abdullah, to saying there are no detention centres in the country, to exaggerating all kinds of data.

4) Lacks commitment to consistency: This is the bit where the fake news and claims are exposed, and yet they don’t hurt the leader. One day the Modi government says demonetisation is for destroying black money and next day it says it was to push cashless transactions, and third day it says the idea was to widen the tax base.

Ordinarily, such contradictions should hurt the credibility of Modi and his government. But, coupled with the three points above, the RAND researchers suggest, “fire hosing” manages to sell the changed narrative as new information, a change of opinion, or just new, advanced or supplementary facts presented by different actors.

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How to fight the fire-hosing of falsehood

The RAND corporation researchers also suggest five ways for the United States to counter the Russian “fire-hosing of falsehood”. These are applicable to any actor who undertakes this propaganda model, including Modi and Trump.

  1. First Information Report: Try to be the first in presenting information on a particular issue. In shaping public opinion, the first impression can be the last impression. (With our lazy opposition, this ain’t happening, but the Congress party’s announcement of paying train fares for migrant labourers was one example of creating the first impression of an issue.)
  2. Highlight the lying, not just the lies: The world needs fact-checkers, but they’re not going to be able to stop the fire-hosing of falsehood. That’s like taking paracetamol for Covid-19. You may need it for the fever, but it won’t kill the virus.What might treat the virus of fire-hosing, however, according to the RAND researchers, is to chip away at the credibility of the liar by simply pointing out that he’s a serial liar. M.K. Gandhi’s assertion of truth as the core of his politics, for example, served the purpose of painting the British colonial rule as being based on falsehoods.
  3. Identify and attack the goal of the propaganda: Instead of simply fact-checking the propaganda, the political opponents need to understand the objective of the lies and attack those. So, if the objective of lying about migrants having to pay for train fares is to not let them travel for free, the opposition should spend great time and energy addressing migrant labourers about how the government is being insensitive to their plight. This will take a lot more work on the ground, and simply tweeting facts won’t be enough.
  4. Compete: Across the world, fire-hosing of falsehood is becoming a powerful propaganda tool. Those who want to defeat such propaganda may have to do their own fire-hosing of falsehood. As the Hindi saying goes, iron cuts iron. When public opinion is being manipulated with fake news and lies, the opposition cannot win the game with mere fact-checking. It may have to do its own rapid and continuous misinformation with little regard for the truth. The RAND researchers suggest this is what the US should do against Russia.
  5. Turn off the tap: Lastly, attack the opponent’s supply chain of lies. If opposition-ruled states are not cracking down on fake news and communal hate-mongers in their states, for example, they’re making a huge mistake.
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Opinion The Buzz

Opinion: Why are Indian states junking labour laws in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis?

The Big Story: Ctrl-Alt-Delete

As of May 10:
Covid-19 cases in India: 62,939 (up from 40,263 last week)
Recovered: 19,357 (up from 10,885)
Deaths: 2,109 (up from 1,306)

It is a cliche by now to agree that India reforms in a crisis.

The trope is most strongly linked to the 1991 Balance of Payments crisis, which led to the process that is now commonly known as the “liberalisation” of the Indian economy.

So this week as India’s states announced a number of changes to labour laws, TV channels and newspapers spoke of major “reforms” in the middle of the coronavirus crisis and of chief ministers “stoking the engine” and “blazing a trail for the rest of India to follow”.

Because of the 1991 example, the term “reforms” tends to conjure up memories of dismantling of the restrictive Licence Permit Raj (which, as Rahul Jacob’s superb piece explains, is actually making something of a comeback) and changes to laws that allow private enterprise to thrive. The English-language media usually portrays such changes as being indisputably beneficial for Indians.ADVERTISEMENT

But can you actually use the word “reforms” to describe Uttar Pradesh’s actions under Chief Minister Adityanath? To attract investment, Adityanath is giving businesses and factories in his state a three-year regulatory holiday. The PurgeLabour, if you will.

“The Uttar Pradesh government has approved an Ordinance exempting businesses from the purview of almost all the labour laws for the next three years, to give a fillip to investment in the state, affected by Covid-19…

The government had cleared the “Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020” to exempt all establishments, factories, and businesses from the purview of all but four labour laws, for three years.”

Laws connected to industrial disputes – including over layoffs and compensation – and the working conditions of workers, health and safety mandates, maintenance of facilities like drinking water, canteens, rest rooms and crèches and inter-state worker regulation are all defunct for the next three years. The list is long.

As expected, this has elated the people who believe that labour laws are the main barrier holding back Indian industry. (Never mind the fact that many of those who hold this belief cannot actually point to laws that have proven to be restrictive, 

Meanwhile, those who pay attention to the actual conditions of labour are horrified. This “turns the clock back 100 years”, one said. Even the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organisation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has criticised the decisions. They are a “bigger pandemic”, said the Sangh.

And here is a comment from the Observer Research Foundation’s Gautam Chikermane and entrepreneur Rishi Agrawal, neither of whom are exactly bleeding-heart labour activists:

“We wonder what this policy will deliver to Uttar Pradesh. Even if we believe that these suspensions are fine and pass the Union and judicial muster, we fail to understand what Adityanath will get or how Uttar Pradesh will benefit by designing a policy for just three years or how such a policy will attract long-term capital. Investors need policy stability, consistency and predictability. A three-year window of regulatory concessions add up to nothing for any new and serious investor.”

Chikermane and Agrawal compared Uttar Pradesh’s move to changes put in place by the Madhya Pradesh government, insisting that the latter’s policies make much more sense.

In the face of Adityanath’s wrecking ball, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is carrying out a more targeted demolition of labour laws. The state’s new rules are aimed at significantly reducing the regulatory processes a business has to undertake, particularly if it is new.

Critics have long argued that many of these laws actually work against the interests of labour, and instead only enable rent-seeking behaviour. These people believe that revoking some of those laws will allow allow private industry to flourish, thereby giving workers more choice and benefits.

But, in addition to removing some of the regulatory requirements, Madhya Pradesh will let companies hire contract workers for a longer duration, allow them not to recognise trade unions for collective bargaining in a number of sectors such as textiles, cement and auto, and not provide any mechanism for raising industrial disputes for new firms.

Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh aren’t the only ones. Other states have done away with the eight-hour work day, and are trying various alterations of labour laws.

Shankar Gopalakrishnan, who studies labour issues, has a useful thread about the standard narratives surrounding labour law changes in India and how the laws hurt workers in the unorganised sector, even if they don’t apply to them.

The Economic Times’ TK Arun argues that the decisions reflect what sort of aspirations Indian states seem to have: “If the ambition is to assemble sweatshops that produce stuff to be sold in the local weekly market, you have the kind of labour laws the leaders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh champion.”

A study of four states – Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh – by the VV Giri National Labour Institute found that ‘amendments in labour laws neither succeeded in attracting big investments, boost to industrialisation or job creation’. Regression analysis studies of Indian experience have shown that ‘growth in labour market flexibility does not have any statistically significant influence on employment growth’.”

This context is important because a number of states are making these changes with an idea of attracting business that would have otherwise gone to China, 

At least some of this seems like wishful thinking, considering the economic mismanagement India has seen over the last six years, coupled with the immense state arbitrariness faced by businesses during lockdown. This doesn’t exactly reflect an ease of doing business.

There is an unsaid aspect of the “India reforms in a crisis” trope. It usually means that it is also a time where opposition to these changes – the kind of pushback that makes it hard for those laws to be changed in normal times – has been nullified. That may be seen as a good thing if its effect is to end rent-seeking behaviour or undermine vested interests.

But when it takes on workers at a time when people simply don’t have the opportunity to take to the streets to express their opposition, this could seem like callous exploitation to many people. And it tells us even more about how pandemic politics, the subject of last week’s newsletter, may play out.

Missing middle

The Centre under Prime Minister Narendra Modi during this crisis has been full of contradictions, if not outright arbitrariness. On one day, it angrily tells Kerala that it is not allowed to open bookshops. Two days later, it makes opening bookshops legal.

The Central government has tried to dictate much of how India has responded to Covid-19, a damaging centralised approach that we wrote about a few weeks ago. Yet it has been absurdly absent when it comes to other issues.

The migrant worker crisis is instructive.

Last week, Karnataka all but acknowledged that it sees migrant workers as machines or beasts of burden, not citizens. Right after a meeting with real-estate developers, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa decided to cancel trains for this vulnerable group to go home. As I wrote, the comparisons to bonded labour and begaar were not far-fetched.

BJP Member of Parliament Tejasvi Surya (whose past bigotry has been so embarrassing that the Indian government asked Twitter to take down one of his posts) sold the idea as a “bold move” that would help migrant labourers “restart their dreams”.

Thankfully, public pressure resulted in the policy being reversed.

Other states have also sparred over everything from the cost of screening to the responsibility for offering care to the migrants as they attempt to get home in the middle of this crisis. And as a result, with even more setting out on foot or on perilous road journeys, we get news of a cargo train running over 16 workers and an overturned truck killing six.

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Meanwhile, the Centre – which is squarely responsible for inter-state travel and whose logical role would include speaking up for citizens if individual states are squabbling – has left it to various chief ministers to deal with this politically complicated situation. This fits in with the Modi-gets-the-credit, states-get-the-blame approach that we have seen.

Missing middle 2

It has been 45 days since the Finance Ministry last announced a package to address the economic fallout of India’s harsh lockdown measures, and that was mostly a reworking of existing schemes to give food and cash to the poor. There have been reports for weeks about an actual stimulus package for industry and small businesses. Undoubtedly, one is in the works. Yet the delay has already cost India.

Meanwhile, KV Subramanian, Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister thinks India’s GDP growth will be 2% this year, when most other countries are expecting zero or negative growth. (For context, his prediction for last year’s growth was two percentage points below what even the finance ministry eventually expected). His talk of “no free lunches” have made many wonder if India will go for a fiscally conservative response to the crisis.

Shah’s health

Amit Shah is unhappy.

The Union Home Minister has been relatively silent over the last few months, going back to the Centre’s messaging around the Delhi riots. This was quite a change compared to 2019, when Shah almost seemed more prominent than Modi.

The Covid-19 crisis too has seen Shah at most operating in the background, with the occasional photo op or Home Ministry press release. This led to a few theories doing the rounds, with people speculating that he is unwell.

Now some of those people have been detained. And Shah put out a statement asking people to mind their own business, adding that he believes speculation about people’s health only makes them stronger.

Lockdown ending?

The next deadline for the Centre to decide on how India takes on the Coronavirus Crisis is May 17, when the third phase of the lockdown is set to end. Modi will be speaking to the chief ministers on Monday, which should offer some sense of what the way forward looks like.

Most indications suggest that, after more than seven weeks of lockdown (with the last two seeing considerable relaxation on the extremely harsh measures of the first five), India will open up. Indian Railways has already said it will restart some services.

However, this will take place despite coronavirus cases continuing to grow and questions about whether enough was done to prepare in the interim.

We considered, on this newsletter a few weeks ago, the complication of India moving into an “early” lockdown, when it had just 500 cases. That seems even more stark now. As I write in this long look at the lockdown and what comes after, the simple answer for why India is opening up now might not be because of any specific gains against the virus or health preparedness, but simply that it cannot afford to be shut for much longer.

“It is important that we learn to live with the virus,” said Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal, last week, admitting as much.

Flotsam and jetsam

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 87, has been admitted to the hospital after he complained of uneasiness. Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, 74, slipped into a coma.

Indian and Chinese troops got into fisticuffs on the Sikkim border, though the situation appears to have been resolved. India’s Met department is now going to offer weather forecasts for areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, resulting in even more India-Pakistan chatter than usual, especially for Gilgit Baltistan.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s political pickle – the fact that he isn’t yet actually an MLA – appears to have been solved. A gas leak at a plant that was reopening after the lockdown in Andhra Pradesh killed 11 people. Moody’s says India’s GDP growth will be zero this year and that the country’s sovereign rating could be downgraded further.

Ground Report

Shoaib Daniyal has a report on how West Bengal is only paying lip service to the idea of getting back its migrants, since the state fears a further spread of Covid-19 if large numbers return.

The piece has this excellent anecdote, when a Gujarat official asks Daniyal to do some inter-state coordination:

“To make matters worse, Bengal has not responded to requests from other states, when it comes to taking back Bengali workers. On May 4, Karnataka complained that Bengal was refusing to give consent for trains. Maharashtra made the same allegation on May 6.

Harshad Patel, the Gujarat government’s nodal officer for West Bengal migrants accused the Trinamool government of stonewalling requests to accept migrant trains. ‘We are not able to connect with them,’ complained Patel, when contacted by Scroll.in. ‘There is no response and no consent from West Bengal. We cannot send trains till they agree.’

‘Ask them to at least respond,’ he continued. ‘If they give consent, we can plan trains and request the railways.’

As always, this is where I remind you to contribute to our Ground Reporting fund, or subscribe to Scroll+ if you want to help us ensure that we can continue to bring you quality journalism in these testing times.”

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Linking Out

India is using criminal provisions for what is essentially economic strategy. “Economic policy works well when there is the slow, intellectual, consultative process of understanding problems, undertaking cost benefit analysis, finding the least coercive intervention, and making small moves,” writes Ajay Shah in the Business Standard. “The Disaster Management Act, 2005, does not have these checks and balances.”

A massive repatriation effort is underway, as India attempts to get citizens home from abroad. Though the Vande Bharat mission is being used to generate publicity for the Modi government’s efforts, it is full of challenges, writes Constantino Xavier in the Hindustan Times. Nikhil Eapen on Article 14 writes about how the ticket prices are too steep for many Indians who work in the Arabian Gulf.

We need to pay close attention to how people save their money. In Mint, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha savings data will tell us what effect the crisis has on expectations for the future.

Is Nepal falling even more out of India’s orbit? Gautam Sen explains why he believes this is so on New World Order, even as the two countries get into another map-based squabble.

Nearly 40% of Aaadhar-based payments failed in April. Malavika Raghavan and Samir Shah write in Mint about how this makes life worse for the vulnerable.

“When all the smoke and dust clears, state government finances will be in shambles.” So says Pronab Sen on Ideas for India, predicting that states will have to go to the Centre with the begging bowl.

Should India allow employment of MGNREGS workers in private agricultural activity? Roshan Kishore in the Hindustan Times argues that it would be a non-inflationary way to support rural India.

Read this report on the “precariat” in the time of the pandemic. Forty economists offer up analysis of the trade and foreign policy effects of Covid-19 on India.

Can’t Make This Up

India’s IANS news service mistook some Pakistani satire for genuine news, resulting in this excellent tweet about Imran Khan:

Categories
Opinion

Opinion : Aarogya Setu fits right in with Modi govt’s push for greater state control : Shashi Tharoor

The Aarogya Setu app became the Modi government’s weapon of choice overnight to fight Covid-19. But it can very well outlive the crisis.

he announcements have come thick and fast. On 14 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged citizens to download the Aarogya Setu app, a tracing app that lets you know if you have been in proximity with anyone who is Covid-19-positive. Last week, on 29 April, the government issued a circular stating that it would be compulsory for all government employees to do so. On Wednesday, India’s 48.34 lakh government employees were instructed to download the mobile app “immediately” and commute to their offices only when it showed “safe” status. And on Friday, the Modi government suddenly decreed that the app was now mandatory for all employees, public or private. On what basis it could issue such an instruction to non-government employees was far from clear.

Others started leaping on the bandwagon. Local authorities have been instructed that all residents in a containment zone are obliged to download the app. Many Residents’ Welfare Associations have started imposing the same requirement. Noida went one step further and ordered that anyone in that city caught without the app would be liable to arrest and a fine. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has told schools that students’ parents should download the app. Zomato, Swiggy and Urban Company announced that their employees have to download the app. As evacuations of Indian nationals from foreign countries began Thursday, passengers were told that they would have to download the Aarogya Setu app upon arrival.

This little app, using GPS location services, cell-tower proximity, and Bluetooth, has become, overnight, the government’s weapon of choice for combating the Covid-19 pandemic.


Rigged with risks

Close to nine crore Indians have obediently downloaded the app. There are a few vital problems, however: it is not voluntary, there are inadequate data protections built in and the government can use it to trace all your movements, and not just near Covid-19 patients. And to make matters worse, the famous French “ethical hacker” who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson tweeted Tuesday that the app is not safe: he had identified a security flaw that he would reveal to the government. (Alderson did so 45 minutes later; let’s hope the authorities deploy an effective fix.)

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The app, which asks for a user’s age, address, travel history, smoking history, symptoms and location, calculates the risk of contact with an infected person on the basis of Bluetooth proximity. It continuously checks if other people who have downloaded the app are in your proximity, tells the user how many people have tested positive in the vicinity and how many in range have flagged themselves unwell.

There are no global standards for such apps, but China, Hong Kong, Singapore,and several European countries have deployed comparable apps for coronavirus contact tracing. Unlike India, however, using them is entirely voluntary in most countries. Aarogya Setu is not just obligatory but far more invasive, using Bluetooth, GPS and cellphone tower information in tandem and relaying data to an external server. There are few explicit safeguards. There’s also the great danger that the app will be seen as a “magic bullet” when it is no substitute for a comprehensive testing strategy, which India is yet to implement.

There are obvious flaws in any such app, many flagged by the independent journal Nature, which points out that “there is scant published evidence on how effective these apps will be”. Questions abound about accuracy, risks of hacking, and Bluetooth-related security breaches. It omits those possibly afflicted persons who don’t have a smartphone, of course, which excludes people of economically weaker communities. It also risks being misled by some self-declarations, by confusion if a family member borrows your phone, or the opposite problem — going the other way and overwhelming the public health system with false alarms. And, says Nature, one of the deepest flaws in digital contract-tracing apps anywhere is “the fact that only a fraction of any population is likely to have the app at all”.


A surveillance tool

The democratic solution to that problem is to develop public trust in the app, rooted in transparency, but India hopes to overcome the challenge by obliging everyone to use its app. Indications are that all future smartphones in the country will have Aarogya Setu pre-installed. You may soon not be able to leave home to use the Delhi Metro or get on public transport without showing you have the app. Combined with existing government databases, the app will have a synoptic view of its users’ movements and activities. This is why the biggest concerns relate to privacy and the risk of enhanced – and conceivably permanent – surveillance of Indian citizens.

We still don’t have a data protection law in the country, though I personally (and many others) have repeatedly called for one in Parliament. The government has denied the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which I chair, the opportunity to review a law that falls squarely within its mandate, by sending it instead to a select committee chaired by an MP of the ruling party. Our country has no meaningful anti-surveillance laws – intrusive interceptions are still conducted under the 1885 Telegraph Act – and many have expressed the fear that the war against coronavirus is being used as a pretext to erode the privacy of Indian citizens and keep tabs on their freedom of movement.

“The coronavirus is a gift to authoritarian states including India,”author Arundhati Roy toldThe Guardian. “Pre-corona, if we were sleepwalking into the surveillance state, now we are panic-running into a super-surveillance state.”

The web watchdog NGO, the Internet Freedom Foundation, has cautioned that the app could create a permanent surveillance architecture, and that – since the government has a blanket liability limitation in its service agreements and privacy policies — citizens cannot hold the government accountable or seek judicial remedy. Aarogya Setu’s user agreement states that the data can be used in the future for purposes other than epidemic control and shared with government agencies. The algorithm and source code used by the app are neither transparent nor auditable; there is little transparency around how the data will be handled, what will be the nodal department empowered to share the data with other agencies, which government departments will have access to the Aarogya Setu database, and how effective the promised “data anonymisation” will be. It is well established that it is not difficult to identify individuals from anonymised data sets.


A warning

At a time when the Narendra Modi government has seized powers to enforce the ongoing lockdown, charged journalists, arrested student protesters, banned gatherings and severely restricted the functioning of courts, denying bail to many, there are genuine concerns that the Aarogya Setu app will play into an unfolding narrative of greater government control.

Failure to install the Aarogya Setu app is punishable under Section 188 of the IPC (disobedience of an order by a public servant) and Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act (disobedience of an order by an official relating to a disaster). There have been no prosecutions yet. But we have been warned.

The author is a Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and former MoS for External Affairs and HRD. He served the UN as an administrator and peacekeeper for three decades. He studied History at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University and International Relations at Tufts University. Tharoor has authored 19 books, both fiction and non-fiction. Follow him on Twitter @ShashiTharoor. Views are personal.

Categories
Cricket Opinion

Babar Azam is Better Than Virat Kohli: Tom Moody

The former Sunrisers Hyderabad coach, however, admitted considering Azam’s statistics at the moment, it is very difficult to put him in the top five current batsmen.

Former Australia all-rounder Tom Moody believes Pakistan batsman Babar Azam has grown by leaps and bounds in recent times and will “definitely” be among the top five batsmen of the decade in Test cricket in the near future.

“He (Babar) has emerged over the last year or so into something that is going to be so special. We talked about how Virat Kohli is so good on the eye as a batsman. If you think Virat Kohli is good to watch, have a look at Babar Azam bat. My gosh, he is something special,” Moody said in The Pitch Side Experts Podcast as quoted by cricketpakistan.com.pk.

“I think in the next five to ten years, he will definitely be in your top five (batsmen of the decade) without a question,” he added.

Babar Azam scoring faster than his idol Virat Kohli | Cricket News ...

The former Sunrisers Hyderabad coach, however, admitted considering Azam’s statistics at the moment, it is very difficult to put him in the top five current batsmen.

“I think, in the next 5-10 years, he will be on your top five position. Even though he has played 26 matches but in half of those matches he was not considered even part of the main batting line-up for Pakistan. He was the after-thought down the order,” he said.

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“I think at the moment, it is very hard to justify him at that position given his statistics. Away from home he is only averaging 37 and at home he is averaging 67. But we have to consider that he has hardly played away from home and a lot of those games away were during the early part of his career,” Moody added.

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Azam, who recently broke in the top five Test batters in ICC rankings, has so far played 26 Tests, 74 ODIs and 38 T20Is in which he has amassed 1850, 3359 and 1471 runs respectively.