Editorials - 29-01-2021

India needs a sporting culture, better infrastructure and well-trained coaches

On January 19, precisely a month after being bowled out for its lowest Test score of 36 against Australia, India bounced back to script one of its most memorable series triumphs. Dealing with injuries and insult in varying degrees, the squad fought gallantly to beat the odds and a full-strength opponent to retain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The series-clinching three-wicket win at Brisbane — the first for a visiting team since 1988 — was achieved by a team without nine of the regular players who formed the playing XI in the first Test at Adelaide. This fitting finale to India’s tale of guts and glory brought with it the admiration of not only the cricket-playing nations but also sports lovers across disciplines. But why has India not been able to replicate or even remotely match the success of cricket in other sports? R. B. Ramesh and Sharath Kamal discuss this question in a conversation moderated byRakesh Rao. Edited excerpts:

At the outset, let us have your views on this historic triumph.

R. B. Ramesh:Initially, it was very disappointing that India got all out for 36. It felt like we didn’t show enough character in a tough environment. I was very curious about how things were going to pan out in the remaining Tests. It was heartening to see the Indian players rise to the occasion after such a debacle and win the second match. The players showed a lot of grit and determination. I was impressed, both as a former player and as a coach, because I always want to understand these things at a personal level so that this information can be shared with prospective students in the future. It was very inspiring to see the manner in which the Indian team bounced back.

Sharath Kamal:For me, the biggest takeaway was that this bunch of youngsters who have done really well in Australia are ready, both physically and mentally, to take up the fight against any opposition.

For players from India, there’s been a lot of improvement in attitude over the years. Earlier, when Indian teams toured abroad, we did not fare well because of different conditions. I feel the most important reason is that we feel intimidated the moment we go to a foreign land. I don’t see that particular aspect with these new, young players. That’s probably due to the Indian Premier League where Indian players are on a par with foreign players and are treated as equals. Since the Ultimate Table Tennis league began, we are able to talk to some of the leading players in the game at a personal level. We are no longer intimidated by them, by their game or their skill. Therefore, we are able to fight against the best players in the world. There is clearly a shift in the attitude of sportspersons from India.

Hats off to what our Test team has done, especially after losing out players due to injuries. Some of the big names, including captain Virat Kohli, were not there. There were a few who were playing for India for the first time and they came out with flying colours. One didn’t feel they were nervous. I’m happy with this kind of spirit and that should be carried to other sports as well.

No doubt, over the years, the cricket board has built a structure for coaching, holding tournaments at various levels, training match officials, etc. So what prevents other sporting disciplines from following the cricket model? Is it lack of infrastructure, funding, corporate support… ?

RBR:If you look at our cricketing history, we did not reach the place we have reached in just a few years. When India won the 1983 World Cup, it was the first time that we as a cricketing nation became visible on the global stage and people started taking notice of us. It took a couple of decades, at least, for us to evolve and build an ecosystem from which we could produce champions.

In India, we did not play chess at the top level in the international arena for many decades after independence. We had to wait for a young Viswanathan Anand, who first became World Junior Champion and then India’s first Grandmaster. When he broke into the top 10 and later into the top five in the world, others started noticing chess. I think the ‘chess revolution’ probably started from the early 1990s. It took another 10 years for Anand to win the world championship. I remember I was 12 years old when I wanted to become a Grandmaster like Anand. That is how I came to the game. There were not many tournaments or international competitions happening in India. There was no Internet. We had chess books from which players learnt their game, but even those were not available in plenty in India. It was mostly learning by trial and error.

When we started participating in international competitions, we always had the feeling — at least I had the feeling — that we were kind of inferior to the foreign players. We felt kind of intimidated. You could say that we felt like they were superior to us and we were not good enough. This was always there at the back of my mind.

But once we started playing more against overseas participants, we slowly began to realise that there was not a big difference between us and them. Probably, there was a lack of a chess culture here. We realised that once we trained ourselves professionally, we could compete with them at an equal level. It took a few years for us to realise this. One by one, many players from my generation and the subsequent generation started becoming Grandmasters. This inspired the subsequent generations to believe in their skills.

SK:As Ramesh says, it is a process and it takes a lot of time, especially as India does not have a great sporting culture. If sports has become a profession today, this has happened only after 2010. Only after we won international medals did people start to see sport as a profession. Now, we have a sports industry. Prior to that, in my younger days, when I said I play sport, people used to say, but what do you do for a living? Whatelsedo you do? We were semi-amateurs back then.

I think 2018 was a great year and we are still harping on that. I hope better years are ahead.

When I won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2006, it was not considered great. If table tennis came to the limelight a little, it was in 2018 when a lot of players did India proud. In the Commonwealth Games, Manika Batra caught the eye and the men’s team did well too. Later that year, we won two medals at the Asian Games. That’s when the sport came into the limelight.

Therefore, it’s very, very important that a lot of players do well. We need a lot more improvement in terms of infrastructure and technical know-how. I went to Europe to get better as a youngster and many players continue to follow that, but none of the coaches were able to follow us. That’s the reason the coaches are lagging behind.

Unlike cricket, the quality of coaches in chess and table tennis leaves a lot to be desired. After all, the role of coaches cannot be undermined when we speak of building a larger pool of talented players.

RBR:In the last decade or so, we have seen many Indian coaches coming up and that has added to the value of the game. It has also accelerated the process of producing champions. As a result, we don’t have to wait for foreign coaches to come and teach us basic things. We have a platform to do it ourselves. I think we have built a good platform and a larger base from where we can produce champions. I think it will still take around five to 10 years for many Indian players to reach the top 20 in the world.

SK:We need to create an ecosystem where the coach is able to grow along with the player. An Indian coach will always know more than a foreign coach in terms of the upbringing of players in our society. A foreign coach can always share good technical knowledge, good technical know-how, but I think an Indian coach is the one who can actually get everything together.

In terms of infrastructure, we do have a few set-ups that are on an international level, but we need more of those kind of set-ups. If we need to do well as a country, I think we need to have a wider base of players who have access to the top level of sport. That is very, very important.

Compared to cricket, do you think the far less media attention that is given to chess and table tennis also reflects on the pace at which these sports are growing?

RBR:I don’t think the media has been unfair to other sports or they have been partial to cricket. It might look that way for many, but I would say the media projects what the people want projected. In that sense, it is just doing its job. It is for other sports to grow and get public attention. Obviously, media support is essential and fundamental, but for that, you need activities that can be properly promoted, you need stars who can be projected.

Let’s say our players are not doing well. Then there is not much that the media can project. The two have to go hand in hand. The players have to deliver, and the media can then project their achievements to a larger audience. I remember many younger players in the past who were given due attention when they were coming up whenever they achieved some great results. I don’t have any complaints against the media.

SK:We’ve got due recognition from the media. On the contrary, I feel we’ve been unfair in not giving the media the kind of regular news that it needs in terms of achievements or scaling new highs. If we are able to perform at regular intervals at the international level, then of course the media has something to write about or project. But if you’re not doing great at the international level, then there is very little that the media can do.

Do you think lack of visibility, owing to absence of live coverage of chess and table tennis tournaments, is a factor that affects a sport’s growth?

RBR:That was the case probably about 10 years ago. You didn’t have visuals of any of our top performances. These days, almost all the major tournaments are available live on websites. These websites have video cameras covering the players in action in real time besides providing live commentary.

SK:I think presentation makes everything look nice. Table tennis is a very intricate sport, involving speed and skill, all in a very small space. In India, we do not have a platform where matches involving Indians are shown. So yes, we suffer from this handicap. This is exactly where cricket remains way ahead of the rest. Matches involving India are telecast and everybody gets to follow them.

We need to create an ecosystem where the coach is able to grow along with the player. An Indian coach will always know more than a foreign coach in terms of the upbringing of players in our society.

Sharath Kamal

The issue is about checking their monopoly power while encouraging their positive externalities and consumer surplus

There are ongoing investigations worldwide, including in the European Union and the United States, on the abuse of monopolistic power by the Big Tech firms, especially Facebook and Google. Many compare this with the earlier antitrust investigations in the U.S. on the telecom industry and the break-up of the AT&T dictated by the Department of Justice in its Modified Final Judgment in 1982.

Key differences now

However, there are important differences this time around when compared with the earlier investigations. First, the information good that is being provided by the Internet firms of today, is largely non-rival. The consumption of information by one does not alter the value for the others. However, in telecom, due to limited network capacity, the consumption by one has an effect of decreasing value for the others and, hence, is rival in nature.

Second, telecom services are within the jurisdictional boundaries of regulators and, hence, the regulators have the power to lay down rules of the orderly behaviour of the licensed telecom operators. On the other hand, the Internet firms operate globally, thanks to the ubiquitous Internet. Therefore, it is often difficult to lay down international rules of obligation and fulfilment by the different country regulators.

Third, while it is debatable whether the goods and services provided by the Internet firms are excludable, telecom is certainly excludable due to the need for consumers to obtain connections from the respective telcos and pay the subscription charges for the same. It is this factor that was leveraged by the Internet firms to provide search, navigation, and social connectivity with no charge to the consumers, and, consequently, making these services non-excludable. In fact, the Internet, started as the Department of Defense project in the U.S., was created to be non-excludable. However, commercialisation of the Internet has created this new avatar of non-excludability that includes subtle trade-offs of personal information for availing services of the Internet firms.

Monetisation models

It must be pointed out that such non-excludable and non-rival goods, also known as public goods, are provided by governments. On the other hand, in a peculiar way, the information goods as described above are being provided by private firms. This arrangement poses several problems.

First, while governments can cover the expense of providing public goods (such as police protection, parks and street lights) through tax-payers’ money, private firms need to have monetisation models to cover the costs of providing their services. Hence, the Internet firms have resorted to personalised advertisements and third-party sharing of the personal information of their users for monetisation purposes.

Second, the strong network effects present in these Internet platforms warrant increasing the subscriber base and garnering as much market share as possible. This results in near monopoly of some firms in their defined markets. In order to retain their pole position, these firms may resort to anti-competitive behaviour including acquiring rivals to vertically integrate; erecting entry barriers by refusing to interconnect and inter-operate with competing firms, and leveraging their capital base, thereby engaging in predatory pricing, and driving out competitors.

Indispensable applications

However, network effects create a huge consumer surplus. Even without our knowledge, these Internet firms have now become an indispensable part of our lives. We cannot do without Google Maps for our day-to-day commute to various destinations; Google Searches are indispensable in our quest for information and news; Google Scholar is a necessary tool for academicians to explore relevant research artefacts. There are positive externalities as well. For example, Google Maps Application Program Interface (APIs) is being used by almost all logistic and transport companies; Facebook APIs are used for advertisement by almost all firms across the industry. Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, recently announced that its Search is being expanded to provide accurate and timely information on vaccine distribution to enable quick recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hence, the question before policymakers is how to regulate these Internet firms from abusing their monopoly power while at the same time encouraging the positive externalities and consumer surplus they create. This is a tough nut to crack as it is often very difficult to prove that the firms engage in the abuse of their monopoly power. Due to strong network effects, it is not possible to ban or curtail these services. Even if other options are available (such as Signal and Telegram for messaging), the network effects bind customers to their often used platform (WhatsApp), even if it is not their favourite.

Possible solutions

A traditional view is to subsidise the good that creates positive externalities. Should the governments provide tax subsidy to these Internet firms in return for their orderly behaviour in the marketplace? Should the governments mandate sharing of Non-Personal Data (NPD) owned by these firms for societal and economic well-being as pointed out in the expert committee on NPD? It is legitimate as pointed out by the Australian government in its media legislation, that Google and Facebook must negotiate a fair payment with news organisations for using their content in Facebook’s newsfeed and Google’s Search. Controlled expansion of products and services without hurting the interests of consumers and smaller competing firms shall be the mantra used by these firms to minimise litigation, lawsuits and, eventually, wastage of tax-payers’ money.

The other way to control any abusive behaviour of the Internet firms is to use the power of public voice. The million mails that were sent to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in March 2015, effectively put an end to the Free Basics programme of Facebook in India, thereby prohibiting any violation of Net Neutrality principles. Similarly, the huge public outcry and subsequent government actions have delayed the recent changes to privacy policy relating to the sharing of personal information between WhatsApp and its parent firm, Facebook.

While governments and regulators deal with these dilemmas, should not the Internet firms adhere to core ethical principles in conducting their businesses? Lessons from the Enron scandal, and collusions between large banks and financial institutions during the 2008 financial crisis, indicate that firms that aim at super monopoly profits and are greedy to become powerhouses of the world, often end up in the ditch.

V. Sridhar is Professor, International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore. With inputs from Kala Seetharam Sridhar, Professor, Institute for Social and Economic Change

Notwithstanding the euphoria, Alexei Navalny is unlikely to be the catalyst that will lead to ‘regime change’ in Russia

Russia had its fair share of internal and foreign upheavals in 2020 — the novel coronavirus pandemic, the consequent economic downturn, the controversial arrest of a regional governor, the developments in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh. But 2021 brought to focus another troubling event of the previous year: the tribulations of anti-Putin activist Alexei Navalny, which leave many questions unanswered.

A saga, European sanctions

The saga began on August 20 last year with Mr. Navalny falling ill on a flight to Moscow. His flight made an emergency landing at Omsk where Mr. Navalny was initially hospitalised and treated. He was, at the request of his wife, taken to Germany where he completed his treatment and had a miraculous recovery from what has emerged to be a near lethal poisoning.

Meanwhile, the German government felt that it had enough evidence to accuse the Russian security services of poisoning Mr. Navalny. The Germans claim that he was struck with the now infamous Novichok poison, leading to the European Union imposing sanctions on six Russian officials, including the head of the national security outfit, Federal Security Service (FSB) and a chemical research centre. Russia denies the accusations. But the Russian government still has many questions to answer about the poisoning.

The latest instalment of this story was Mr. Navalny’s detention on arrival from Berlin (January 17, 2021) and the subsequent country-wide public protests on Saturday (January 23). The charges against Mr. Navalny, include an old case in which he received a suspended sentence and a new case of fraudulent use of public money. Mr. Navalny denies all charges.

The protests this time

The protests demanding his release, while not the largest seen in Russia, were widespread, occurring in every major city, from the Pacific coast to the Baltic Sea; they resulted in about 3,000 people being detained and released.

What does stand out, however, is that people from various strata and age groups joined the mostly peaceful protest actions. Normally, Navalny-related demonstrations attract primarily youth (15-25 years old).

That others joined the protest this time is significant. It is probably a reflection of the deep disillusionment with the drop in living standards sparked off by years of Ukraine-related sanctions and lower energy prices, and worsened by the pandemic-driven economic downturn. This should worry the government even if Mr. Navalny himself is not causing them sleepless nights, although his call for ‘smart voting’ in the forthcoming parliamentary elections — all opposition voting for one person against the ruling party candidate — might.

Political targets

Mr. Navalny till the poisoning was a fringe political actor, mainly active in Moscow. His political career started with the liberal opposition party, Yabloko, in the early 2000s. He subsequently broke away to form his own nationalist group. His anti-corruption campaigns began in the late 2000s when as a shareholder of large companies such as Rosneft, Gazprom, he tried to seek greater transparency about their financial dealings.

He followed this up with several exposés of key members of the Russian elite. Prominent among them are government officials (Igor Shuvalov, Alexander Bastrykhin, Viktor Zolotov) and oligarchs (Viktor Vekselberg, Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov). All of them have denied the charges. His subsequent investigations have targeted Dmitry Medvedev, the former President and Prime Minister. The latest, now viral exposure, targets Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, although the charge of him owning a plush palace being built with government money in Southern Russia is not new and has been denied earlier.

Earlier, Mr. Navalny’s presence was primarily online, barring sporadic street protests and his campaign for the Mayorship of Moscow. Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Navalny was used as a tool in the internal battles among the elites. This is not difficult to believe because some of the information that Mr. Navalny uses in his anti-corruption campaigns would be difficult, actually impossible, to find in publicly available sources. This kind of knowledge would have to come from someone not just inside, but very high-up in the system.

Divided opinion

The anti-regime protests expectedly sparked off varying reactions from analysts. Some suggest that these are the beginning of serious moves for regime change, while others call them a storm in a teacup. Surprisingly, the most pro-government TV anchor, Dmitry Kiselyov, chose to compare Mr. Navalny’s return from Germany to a similar journey in 1917 in a sealed train by iconic Bolshevik leader (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) Lenin — the precursor to the October revolution of that year.

Whatever Mr. Kiselyov’s reasoning, Mr. Navalny is no Lenin, even if the protests for his release continue. It is clear that now, Mr. Navalny will have a more prominent role in Russian politics and is likely to emerge as the darling of the western media — although, Moscow-based western media correspondents are less ebullient and more cautious in their assessments of Mr. Navalny and his future role.)

Churn among the elites

Mr. Navalny, notwithstanding the euphoria of the moment, is unlikely to be the catalyst that will lead to “regime change” in Russia. His nationalist platform is not currently capable of appealing to all sections of Russian society or convincing the political opposition to coalesce around it. He is simply not in the same league as Mr. Putin and several other leaders but could, for the time being, serve as the lightning rod for the people to register their disaffection with the regime’s policies.

While India may not be waiting with bated breath for “regime change” in Russia, it is important to recognise that the shadow boxing taking place through Mr. Navalny is an indication of serious churn among the Russian elites. In Russia historically, barring once, change usually begins in the upper echelons of power.

Nandan Unnikrishnan is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation

Empowering people to reflect on the root causes and repercussions of hate crimes is essential

Every year on January 27, the United Nations honours the victims of the Holocaust by reaffirming its unwavering commitment to counter anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. The date marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops in 1945 and calls for a sombre reflection on the real dangers of extreme forms of hatred.

“All of us, dying here amidst the icy, arctic indifference of the nations, are forgotten by the world and by life.” This poignant statement by a camp inmate engraved on the walls of Yad Vashem should make us all sit up and take note that this is not just a forgotten sentiment in the pages of history books. This is a palpable feeling even today. Time and again, we have seen how hate speech can prompt ordinary people to feed into prejudices and hostilities. Has the eternal promise to “never forget” already been forgotten?

Hate speech has intensified

Currently, the anonymity of the Internet and increased screen time during the pandemic have intensified hate speech. Greater exposure to hateful discourses online has allowed anti-Semitism and other variants of racism to fester in our societies. According to researchers at Tel Aviv University, the feelings of uncertainty, alienation and dejection brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have aggravated anti-Semitism worldwide by attributing blame to the Jewish people and using them as a scapegoat. In this crucial time that requires unity, the proliferation of anti-Semitic sentiments on social media has revived prejudices and stereotypes, further dividing society.

For this reason, understanding the significance of the Holocaust carries great importance today. The Holocaust was a watershed moment in history as it illuminates the many manifestations of hate and its impact. Therefore, whilst urging member states to strengthen the resilience of people against hateful ideologies, the UN emphasises the use of education as a potent tool to inculcate a culture of peace. Within the framework of its programmes on the prevention of violent extremism and Global Citizenship Education, UNESCO continually works towards advancing activities to prevent and address tacit and overt forms of anti-Semitism.

However, education must not be viewed as a panacea to cure intolerance. Lessons on how racist ideologies and hate speech inform the development of tragedies like the Holocaust must go beyond textbook learning. This is because, often times, we have seen highly educated people perpetuating hatred.

Denial and distortion

Holocaust denial and distortion is flourishing online. This is defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as a virulent expression of contemporary anti-Semitism. According to a previously launched report by the World Jewish Congress, more than 100 posts per day on average denied the Holocaust. This brings to light the increasingly growing dangers of online platforms in distorting reality and stoking hatred.

UNESCO’s recently launched campaign called #ProtectTheFacts, developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the UN, and the European Commission, provides a unique opportunity this year to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust by promoting sound policies and practices that raise awareness about Holocaust denial and distortion.

In today’s polarised world, empowering people to question and engage in critical reflections about the root causes and repercussions of hate crimes is essential. Individuals always have more power than they realise, for better or for worse.Consequently, equipping them to make the rational choice of acting as active bystanders rather than perpetrators is the only way to create peaceful and sustainable societies.

Ron Malka is Ambassador of Israel to India, Walter J. Lindner is Ambassador of Germany to India and Eric Falt is the Director and Representative of the UNESCO New Delhi cluster office covering Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka

China should show global leadership, and not go down the path of arrogant superpowers

In 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping became the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of China to attend the World Economic Forum at Davos, a gathering synonymous with global capitalism. He delivered a robust defence of globalisation, three days before newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump was set to be sworn in, and six months after the Brexit vote in the U.K. On January 25, Mr. Xi returned to the Davos platform, albeit virtually. His speech carried many of the similar themes from four years ago, calling for global unity, closer coordination on macroeconomic policy, and more equitable growth. It did also carry two messages that appeared to be aimed at Washington, a reflection of four turbulent years of a tariff and technology war between the world’s two biggest economies. “Each country is unique with its own history, culture and social system, and none is superior to the other,” he said. “Difference in itself is no cause for alarm. What does ring the alarm is arrogance, prejudice and hatred; it is the attempt to impose hierarchy on human civilisation or to force one’s own history, culture and social system upon others.” He also hit out at attempts “to build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to wilfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions” and said a “misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of cold war, hot war, trade war or tech war, would eventually hurt all countries’ interests.”

If Mr. Xi’s first Davos speech found a broadly receptive audience amid a crisis in capitalism, with the rise of populism in the West creating the space for China to try and fill a void in global economic leadership, China will find a harder sell four years on. His message “to stay committed to international law and international rules instead of seeking one’s own supremacy” and for “the strong [to] not bully the weak” will appear especially jarring to those in China’s neighbourhood. Indeed, only the day before the speech, military commanders from India and China spent over 16 hours in talks, the latest unsuccessful attempt to disengage two forces that have been eyeball-to-eyeball for months, after China’s unprecedented military mobilisation across the LAC starting in May. It is not only India that is dealing with a harder Chinese military posture in the midst of a global pandemic. On January 23, eight bombers and four fighters from China entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, the latest warning to Taipei. One cannot find fault with Mr. Xi’s statement that “decisions should not be made by simply showing off strong muscles or waving a big fist”. Indeed, its importance is in its relevance to all the big, militarised powers. And, China is one of them.

Even with declining infection rates, public activity needs to be guided by caution

The course of the coronavirus pandemic in the new year presents a picture of contrasts, with some rich countries running out of vaccines, experiencing a tide of new cases and deaths, and poorer countries going without access to vaccination, while India reports a case decline. Vaccine hesitancy may even be wasting precious vials in some States. Amidst suggestions that the worst is over, the Home Ministry has proposed further relaxations in the protocols for public activity from February, including occupancy levels in cinema theatres, holding of exhibitions and access to swimming pools. This will come as a relief to some of the outlying sectors that could not fully unlock so far, although, as the Ministry points out, all other activities have been permitted. The January 27 guidelines for Surveillance, Containment and Caution also create a window for further relaxation of international air travel, but the DGCA has decided to maintainstatus quoon scheduled flights till February end. Full-fledged inter-city rail services await a decision too. In an economy struggling with a demand contraction for goods and services, a graded opening is the prudent course, with strict enforcement of public health measures. It would be wrong to read the MHA’s unlock advisory, without taking cognisance of the protocols that must continue to be followed: use of face masks, healthy distancing, staggering of working hours, workplace sanitisation and firm action against spitting in public. These legal requirements, however, have been rendered moot in many instances by crowded election campaigns, agitations and gatherings. Many States are not even trying to persuade recalcitrant people in public.

India’s declining infections have prompted a further relaxation of activity curbs, but there is no cause to lower the vigil. Genetic mutations of the coronavirus in South Africa, the U.K. and Brazil pose a new worry, with implications for those who have avoided infection so far or have recovered after a difficult battle. Poor communication and lack of transparency on vaccine efficacy data have produced hesitancy, resulting in low uptake in some States. On the other hand, the virus variants have turned the spotlight on second generation vaccines that are expected to protect against them but will take time to arrive. Without ready pharmaceutical remedies, citizens and policymakers have to fall back on the default toolkit of safe behaviour. There will be considerable interest in new measures in Europe, where governments now require use of masks of N95 or FFP2 standards, to offer higher protection in public places and transport; Germany is to give these free to people over 60 and to vulnerable individuals. In India, even with a sizeable population exposed to the virus, as seropositivity surveys show, the spate of infections in Kerala and Maharashtra underscores the value of the precautionary principle on the road to universal vaccination.

As a result of distorted coverage, respondents have become distrustful of reporters

For a reporter, listening to voices from the ground is the most exciting part of the job. It doesn’t matter what beat you’re assigned, whether politics, environment, crime, or civic issues, or what event you’re asked to cover, whether elections or protests; it’s always the conversations on the ground and the story they help us build that matter. This is what I look forward to while reporting.

When I was assigned to cover the farmers’ agitation, which has stretched on for over two months now to become a winter of discontent, I was naturally looking forward to speaking to as many people on the ground as possible and filing reports.

Unfortunately, due to recent events and coverage by certain sections of the media, especially biased coverage and even fake news, even starting a conversation with the farmers has become increasingly difficult at the protest sites at the Singhu border and Tikri border in Delhi.

Earlier, for all my other stories, I would simply establish contact with the respondent and begin a conversation. But the farmers at the protest sites are wary and distrustful of reporters. In several instances over the past few weeks, I have found myself cornered and questioned. I have been asked to prove that I do not belong to that section of the media which allegedly misrepresents the farmers. Their aversion to some media houses is so-deep rooted that convincing them to speak to me has become one of my biggest challenges on the ground. After all, what is a report without voices?

And if I do manage to successfully convince them to speak to me, that’s not the end of the story. I get calls or WhatsApp messages from them the next morning demanding links of the story published — proof that I indeed stuck to my word.

Once, at the Tikri border, after an extensive conversation with a group of farmers, I sought permission to photograph them. They agreed, but only on the condition that I would allow them to photograph my press card so that they can be certain that their photos won’t be misused. “Majboori hain madam(We are helpless, Madam),” they told me. Even at the Singhu border, where posters of certain channels and anchors, allpersonae non gratae, have been put up, the same challenges stare at us.

However, once trust is established, the farmers are friendly and generous. They have offered me fruits, tea, and even langar.

It is not just reporters; in some instances, the mere sight of a camera makes the farmers uncomfortable. In some places, the protesters have prevented photojournalists from entering the protest site.

The most common complaint from the farmers is that “the media” is not writing or showing their version of the story. Their primary complaint is largely with sections of the television media. But their distrust of the “media” — which is as an all-encompassing entity that includes print, digital and television media; sober and sensational coverage; factual reportage and fake news — in general has become problematic.

We live in a polarised world where many inhabit echo chambers. While the farmers’ fears and concerns are understandable given some of the distorted coverage of their protests and the fake news phenomenon, it is also becoming increasingly difficult for us reporters to just do our job.

In this volume of about 250 pages Mr. B.C. Pal envisages the question of Imperial reconstruction in its bearing on India’s interest. He shows how the policy of the economic exploitation on which Britain holds India tends to widen under the new influences and warns us against the danger that the new Imperialism might mean to India, viz. the domination of the Colonies in addition to that of Britain. The Milnerian distinction between the self-governing Empire and the dependent Empire is exposed in its true colours. Mr. Pal has hard things to say about the hollow cant underlying the talk about Imperial Preference and other nostrums which have regained currency in post war discussions. The remedies that are suggested in the book to overcome this menace of increased exploitation of British capitalists are an alliance with British labour and equalisation of wages and hours of work for labour in India besides a taxation on all excess profits in the country.

While the British Premier, Mr. Heath, is busy asserting his Government’s right to sell arms to South Africa, Mr. Vorster’s regime is going on with its ruthless implementation of apartheid. It has now attacked important members of both the Anglican and Catholic churches. The Dean of Johannesburg has been imprisoned for his outspoken attacks on racialism and the Government is preparing to expel Father Cosmas Desmond who wrote a book underlining the horrors of resettlement of people according to the colour of their skin. The Father wants to go to London to visit his parents and the Government is not willing to grant him a visa to return. But if he stays on, he may find himself in prison pretty soon under one or the other of South Africa’s apartheid laws. Apart from this, the security police is closely watching all churches where priests with conscience are looking out for opportunities to permit inter-racial worship of God. Africans have been turned away from “whites only” churches, and “coloured” clergymen of the Dutch Reformed Mission have been specially warned not to do any propaganda against segregation. Apart from all this the Government has also moved against some whites in an Orange Free State small town for alleged intimacy with African women.