Editorials - 16-03-2021

The Left needs to actively pursue agents of change such as secularism, the Green, ethnic and national movements

In recent years, radical politics has faced a number of new challenges, not least of which has been the re-emergence of the aggressive, authoritarian state. Hyper-masculine nationalism, and a systemic assault of racist and religious politics on the marginalised are the latest rationale for the aggressive assertion of indiscriminate control of all democratic institutions. Add to this the hegemony of the neo-liberal corporate world along with the demise of the Left and you have the free play of muscular majoritarianism of the Far Right. The Left finds itself in an ideological vacuum.

Anti-globalisation

In the face of the disenchantment with ‘free-market’ style liberalism and centralist socialism, a need arises to reinvent far-reaching alternatives. The anti-globalisation movement has been in recent years a bulwark against the practices of neo-liberal globalisation in all its signs of voracity, ecological devastation and genetically-modified food. This movement is relative, geographically and temporally, varying in the multifarious contests in which the dark reality of its operation is felt by the public at large. Though universal, it remains relative to varying local conditions but with the common goal of emancipation for all.

In the context of neo-liberalism, the crushing of national dignity by hunger and violence, the unrelenting siege of many developing nations by bankers and by the ‘commercial masters of the world’, as Eduardo Galeano put it, are some of the factors that must prompt contemporary Marxist critics to not only condemn the systems that have usurped socialism but also recognise that the Left must look into the future for redefining the nature of power and the conditions of existence in a rapidly developing world, thereby striking a balance between technological dominance and liberatory politics.

Marxist thought now

Post-Marxists, having realised this, have moved away from the straitjacketing of orthodox Marxism that lays emphasis on the predominance of the central role of the proletariat. The orthodox Marxist model favouring the economic determinism of history and consciousness that overlooks the role of political movements stands revised and reformulated with the trend in Marxist thought moving towards the examination of wider processes of society, especially the role of the media and the building of a new alliance between feminists, marginalised groups, gays, lesbians, ethnic groups, teachers, thereby developing a radical movement for social transformation.

The focus is therefore on a more decentralised, pluralistic, and inclusive political system. In many ways, the target is not merely capitalism but other contested areas such as racism, privatisation, workplace surveillance, bureaucratisation, etc. The irrational mystifications of the dominant discourse of religion and ethnicity stand deconstructed by a more conflictual social existence that is experienced in all aspects of our social and political world.

Inevitably, the spectre of Marx lurks at those moments of history when economic deprivation becomes rampant and where progressive struggles gear up for political and economic reorganisation. It is clear, therefore, that the predicament of reinventing and restructuring the Left remains acute within the context of the right-wing regimes with the corporate complexion as in India or the United States or Chile that are faced by serious issues of communalism, caste oppression, environmental degradation, gender discrimination and poverty. A serious consideration of the re-evaluation of economic progress, of the future of Marxism, and, more than anything else, of the reenergising of the organisational strength through mass mobilisation is consequently imperative for the success of mitigating mass unemployment, homelessness, violence, famine and economic oppression.

A phase of hope

The theoretical position of Marxism, thus, will have to be revised ensuring that more than the belief in the working class revolution ushering in a classless society, it is the agents of change such as secularism, the Green movement, and ethnic and national movements that need to be aggressively pursued. Though the struggle of the Left against the state has often led to its defeat, it has managed to regain its vigour by aligning itself to the liberal forces and its imperceptibly growing political awakening as is visible in the farmers’ strike or the awakening of radical student consciousness. Its strength in the coming days would depend on the consolidation of Left forces not on any grounds of expediency, but on ideological grounds with the aim of working together for an innovative and transformed future free of right-wing authoritarianism.

The Left, thus, is passing through a new phase of hope and forward-looking expectation with newfound passion for a complete turnaround through new strategies of mobilisation. The revival of people’s movements in Latin America, in Greece and in Spain along with the fury of the Arab Spring gave a new impetus to the wilting Left so as to challenge the neo-liberal moral high ground that has failed to offer any solution to a fragile, and the appalling present. It is hoped that the politics of the Left will impact a polarised nation ravaged by ethnic, religious and nationalist conflicts, offering a viable alternative to the emerging demise of democracy.

Consider, for example, Marx’s prediction of how the inherent conflict between capital and labour would manifest itself. As he wrote inDas Kapital: “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery....” When the richest 1% hold more wealth than the bottom 90%, change is inevitable. The rise of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon, for example, has significantly brought a fundamental shift in the Democratic Party towards left of centre. The burgeoning sea of young supporters behind Mr. Sanders will demand this change towards a progressive agenda clamouring for a shift towards the 90% languishing in low paying jobs and sunk in debt.

Undoubtedly, the Republicans in the United States, or the right-wing forces in India, are inveterate in following a pattern of relentlessly reproaching progressive thinkers only because of the oppositional voice that comes into clash with its larger inherent proclivity. This neo-liberal high ground expressed in the sham of the loud claims of a better tomorrow comes in direct conflict with a rational and an open knowledge-driven society connected with the masses in a symphony of free expression stimulating a debate on the successive structural crises of inequality, industry and global finance.

The task ahead

A multiracial society, therefore, must aim for a more democratically functional system as opposed to the vicious politics of division perpetuated and practised in most of the democracies across the world. Transformative racial policy, on the other hand, will ensure the fostering of an equitable and indiscriminate society at a juncture when a rabid form of ultra-nationalism is resulting in creating a fragmented world. A new progressive movement for an open and participatory form of socialism must be the objective espoused on the Left for a tenacious resolve to seek reform through measures of putting jobs at the top of the economic agenda, increasing the funding for public health care, ending police brutality, and gearing up movements at the grassroots.

The task before radical activism therefore, is to examine and question the formulation of public policies with the foremost attention on their relevance to the masses as opposed to the scourge of neo-liberalism as well as the elitist forms of knowledge. The sooner we realise the cataclysmic crisis of capitalism the better equipped we will be to confront a murky future. Like Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, the message sent out by a progressive leadership must rise above cheap populism of laying the solutions on a platter for the public, and instead, reason with them to begin realising that the answers to the problems lie with them and that they need to collectively get more organised. With a new ‘people’s powered politics’ of sharing and debating, self-confidence could be inculcated to shape a social environment deeply unbiased and just.

Shelley Walia has taught Cultural Theory at Panjab University, Chandigarh and is the author of ‘Humanities at the Crossroads’

The productive dialogue and substantive joint statement of the summit show the grouping’s significance

The maiden Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit of the leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. on March 12 was a defining moment in Asian geopolitics. That it was a meeting at the highest political level, occasioned a productive dialogue, and concluded with a substantive joint statement is indicative of its immediate significance. The summit showed that the “Quad has come of age”, as underlined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If it leads to tangible action and visible cooperation, it will impact the whole region.

The Quad is no longer a loose coalition. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 triggered cooperation among the navies and governments of the Quad powers. They sought to forge diplomatic cooperation on regional issues in 2006-08, but gave up mainly because China objected to it and the hostility to China was not yet a potent enough glue.

This began to change in 2017 when Beijing’s behaviour turned hostile, climaxing in multiple challenges in 2020, including its adventurism in eastern Ladakh. The Foreign Ministers of the Quad met thrice between September 2019 and February 2021. This time, U.S. President Joe Biden moved swiftly to host a virtual summit, drawing immediate response from the other three leaders.

Five highlights

The Quad’s new approach may be somewhat different from the Trump era. The former U.S. President’s tough line on China is now indispensable, but without the name-calling of Beijing. A more sophisticated approach is being invented, with enhanced emphasis by the U.S. on carrying its allies and strategic partners together. The summit’s outcome, therefore, merits close attention for at least five reasons.

First, past debates over diverse, even differing, visions of the Indo-Pacific are over. The joint statement struck a neat compromise: to please the U.S. and Japan, it refers to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, but in the very next sentence it offers an elaboration – “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion” – that amply satisfy India and Australia.

Second, the summit leaders have secured an adequate alignment of their approaches towards China, even without mentioning the ‘C’ word in the document. Senior officials gave sufficient hints on this score, reinforced by phrases such as “security challenges” and “the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas” in the joint statement. The context and the subtext need to be appreciated for a full understanding. Given the bipartisan consensus in Washington and the state of China’s fraught relations with the other three capitals, a clear-eyed assessment of the threat from China is shared by all. But instead of unidimensional antagonism, the Quad members have preferred a smart blend of competition, cooperation and confrontation. Further clarity should emerge after discussions between the top officials of the U.S. and China, set for March 18.

Third, the Quad has placed a premium on winning the battle for the hearts and minds of people in the Indo-Pacific region. The aim is to convince the nations of Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Indian Ocean region that the Quad is a benign grouping, committed to solutions for their development and well-being. This explains the special initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for every person in need in the region from the western Pacific to eastern Africa. It is both a laudable and doable objective, given the firm commitment of financial support by the U.S. and Japan, logistics and some funding from Australia, and the manufacturing and managerial capabilities of India. This new synergy is a real highlight that should result in the production of one billion vaccine doses in India by 2022.

Fourth, the establishment of three working groups on vaccine partnership; climate change; and critical and emerging technologies (such as telecom and biotechnology) and their new standards, innovation and supply chains is a welcome step. Joint R&D projects may become essential. All this should get the four national establishments into serious policy coordination and action mode, creating new capacities. The careful choice of themes reflects a deep understanding of the long-term challenge posed by China and has global implications.

Finally, the March 12 summit will not be a one-off. The leaders have agreed to meet in-person later this year, possibly at an international event within the region. Foreign ministers will gather at least once a year; other relevant officials, more often. Thus, will grow the habits of the Quad working together for a common vision and with agreed modalities for cooperation.

Other aspects

The summit has been watched closely by the ASEAN capitals. A few of them may express cautious welcome. Beijing seems rattled but resigned to the Quad’s new momentum. The Chinese see it in negative terms, targeting New Delhi in particular. The refrain of “India is moving too close to the U.S.” has, after the summit, become India is “a negative asset of BRICS and SCO”, as claimed by a Chinese government mouthpiece. Such views should be dismissed as inconsequential.

Among other issues discussed, the Korean Peninsula drew particular attention. The commitment to the “complete de-nuclearization” of North Korea as per the United Nations Security Council resolutions was reiterated – a reference to the importance of South Korea as a partner of the Quad. On Myanmar, Washington heeded wise counsel from Asia. The call “to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience” is unexceptionable. It may help ASEAN in carrying forward its diplomatic initiative to promote reconciliation in Myanmar.

The lucid joint op-ed inThe Washington Postby the four leaders projects the Quad as “a flexible group of like-minded partners dedicated to advancing a common vision and to ensuring peace and prosperity”.

The summit and ‘The Spirit of the Quad’ – the inspired title of the joint statement – represented a giant leap forward. Now is the time to back political commitment with a strong mix of resolve, energy, stamina and the fresh ideas of stakeholders and experts outside of government to fulfil the promise of the Quad.

Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, and a former Ambassador to Myanmar and DCM in Jakarta

In Kerala, the BJP’s invitation to the IUML is not outlandish given their predecessors’ pragmatic politics of the past

The State of Kerala recently witnessed what many would call an odd political moment. In the middle of the bustle of preparations for the State Assembly elections, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Kerala, Sobha Surendran, recently extended an invitation to the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to join the National Democratic Alliance fold, with a rider — this was provided the IUML shed its ‘communal’ policies.

A communal ecosystem

But viewed from a historical perspective, such a proposal is not outlandish. Prof. Bipan Chandra in hisCommunalism in Modern Indiahas identified three species of communalism, namely communal nationalism, liberal communalism and extreme communalism or fascist communalism. In a concluding paragraph, he observes: “Communal nationalism fed liberal and extreme communalism and made it difficult to carry on political struggle against them... They, in turn, constantly generated communal nationalism within the nationalist ranks. Similarly, the logic of liberal communalism inexorably led to extreme communalism.” This process clearly exposes the symbiotic relationship between the three species of communalism. The BJP may belong to the species of extreme communalism, and the IUML to liberal communalism. But to maintain the communal ecosystem, both parties need each other.

If one goes back in time, to colonial India, the All-India Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha were the major communal players. The IUML and the BJP are the direct descendants of these two parties, respectively. Both Savarkar and Jinnah were arch enemies on stage since they catered to two separate vote banks. But offstage, the common thread for both parties was anti-Congressism. “Pragmatic politics” made them odd bed-fellows to fill the vacuum created by the Congress following the “Do or Die” cry of the Quit India movement.

The colonial era

A media article titled ‘Hindu Mahasabha with Muslim League’, is illuminating. It says: Both the Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha opposed the Quit India movement and preferred to join hands with the British under the garb of the ‘pragmatic politics’. Even when most of the Congress leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were in jail, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the second in command of the Hindu Mahasabha, with the blessings of Savarkar, had joined the Fazlul Haq ministry in Bengal as the Finance Minister in 1941 and remained in the ministry of the mover of the Pakistan Resolution for nearly 11 months. It was the same personage who launched the Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP in October 1951 with the blessings of Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalakof the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The article mentioned above continues: Savarkar defended this strange hybridisation in his presidential speech to the Kanpur session of the Hindu Mahasabha, in the following words: In practical politics also, the Mahasabha knows that we must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind-Hindu-Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League itself in running [a] coalition Government. The case of Bengal is well known... Wild Leaguers, whom even the Congress with all its submissiveness could not placate, grew quite reasonably compromising and sociable as soon as they came in contact with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr. Fazlul Huq and the able leadership of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities (https://bit.ly/3rQGozZ).”

Politics of the north

The article has more to say. It says, the Sindh Assembly was first to pass the Pakistan Resolution moved by G.M. Sayed in 1943 when the Province had a coalition government with diametrically opposite political forces, i.e. the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha. The Hindu Mahasabha members walked out and the three Hindu Mahasabha Ministers voted against the resolution; but the resolution was passed 24 versus 3 in the Sindh Assembly on March 3, 1943. Even after passing the Pakistan resolution, none of the three Hindu Mahasabha Ministers resigned from the Ministry headed by Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah of the Muslim League. They were Rao Saheb Gokaldas Mewaldas, Dr. Hemandas R. Wadhwan and Lolumal R. Motwani.

In the provincial elections held in 1937 in the North West Frontier Province, the media article adds, the Congress won the majority of the seats in the Provincial Assembly. In 1939, when the Congress Ministry headed by Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan resigned, Sardar Aurangzeb Khan of the Muslim League with the support of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Akalis formed the coalition government. Mehr Chand Khanna of the Hindu Mahasabha was the Finance Minister. Even in Punjab, says the article, there were serious efforts to have the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha coalition government installed. Both Savarkar and Dr. B.S. Moonje were very much active for the same. Jinnah had declared that the Hindu Mahasabha was to have a coalition government with the Muslim League as Savarkar and Dr. B.S. Moonje had directed to form a coalition government with the Muslim League “if it was inevitable”. Here too,the article, ‘Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha in Coalitions’, by Dr. Hari Desai, and published in theAsian Voice(September 25, 2017), is illuminating.

The All India Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha alliance during the Quit India movement was the dark side of the tragedy of Partition. In the present context, one wonders what the proposal in Kerala could portend.

Faisal C.K. is an independent researcher

A recent judgment highlights the need to reconsider POCSO’s absolutist approach to adolescent sexuality needs

A single bench of the Madras High Court recently allowed a petition seeking to quash a case of kidnap, aggravated penetrative sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of a minor. Aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is the equivalent provision for aggravated rape. A person can be charged with this offence in certain aggravating circumstances, such as if the rape occurs within a relationship of trust or authority, or if it leads to pregnancy, among others. Under POCSO, the consent of a person under the age of 18 is irrelevant, regardless of the nature and circumstance of the sexual interaction, or the particulars of the person with whom it takes place. This means that any sex with a minor is rape.

Sexual tendencies of adolescents

The judgment echoes the arguments that child rights activists have been making for years: by ignoring the natural sexual tendencies of adolescents, POCSO can and does become a tool for the persecution of young people in consenting sexual relations. The court reasoned that adolescence and young adulthood form a continuum because of the physical, biological, neurological, and social changes that occur during this time. The implication is that people within this age group may be clubbed together notwithstanding the legal line drawn at 18. This informed the court’s view of the relationship of the minor ‘victim’ with the accused respondent as being a loving, rather than an abusive, one.

The judgment concluded that the case could be quashed because it was purely individual in nature and doing so would not affect any overriding public interest. However, in doing this, it ignored the established precedent against quashing cases of rape, a heinous and serious offence, held by the Supreme Court to be a public concern, and not a private matter. Perhaps the court was persuaded in taking this course because of its observation that POCSO could not have been intended to bring such cases within its scope. In making this observation, the court relied on the Statement of Objects and Reasons of POCSO, which states that the law was enacted pursuant to Article 15 of the Constitution, which allows the state to make special provisions for women and children, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.

However, neither the founding documents nor the listed categories of offences give a sense of what the limits of POCSO were meant to be. The Parliamentary Committee (Rajya Sabha) which considered the POCSO Bill, 2011 had, in fact, criticised the clause providing for the possibility of consent in cases of sexual intercourse with minors between the ages of 16 and 18. It believed that a uniform age of 18 would ensure that trials of child rape would focus on the conduct of the accused and the circumstances of the offence, instead of putting victims on trial as is often the case when the consent of the victim is in question. This would indicate that adolescent sexuality was not meant to be an exception to POCSO’s bright-line approach.

The five State studies on the functioning of Special Courts under the POCSO Act, conducted by the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, have demonstrated that these de facto consensual cases are complicated. While adolescents can and do choose to have sex, it is a fact that they are still children, and their nascent sexual autonomy is susceptible to abuse. This contradiction created by the very nature of adolescence has led to inconsistent and unprincipled adjudication. The absolute age line of POCSO has not prevented the insensitive assessment of minors’ consent. At the same time, it has forced courts to choose between applying the law and doing justice, especially in cases where the minor victim has willingly eloped with or married the accused or is carrying his child, for imprisoning him would only do her harm.

A just verdict

Therefore, the judgment was intuitively just, even though it was not in line with precedent. It highlighted the urgent need for a reconsideration of the absolutist approach of POCSO when it comes to the sexual interactions of adolescents with other young people. Courts need to be able to strike a balance between the limited but developing capacity of adolescents to consent to sexual interaction and their vulnerability to being groomed, abused, and exploited. For this to be possible, the legislature must provide clarity on the core wrongs that POCSO is meant to address, so that valid conclusions may be drawn about what is the intent of the law, and what is clearly outside its purpose.

Shraddha Chaudhary is Lecturer, Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, and PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge. She was a researcher for two of the five State studies referenced here

The election results will be indicative of a new social compact that is taking shape in the State

The coming Assembly election in Kerala could mark a realignment of the State’s political landscape. The Congress, which leads the United Democratic Front (UDF), the CPI (M) that leads the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the BJP that leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), are all betting on an outsize impact the small southern State may have on their respective national plans. Kerala is one State where Rahul Gandhi is miles ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in popularity and a victory of the UDF could set the scene for his return as Congress president. Mr. Gandhi has been investing considerable time in the State. The BJP, long seen as a north Indian party, has made significant inroads in the State, and is hoping to emerge as the third pole through social engineering that includes wooing a section of Christians. A notable performance in Kerala can give a fillip to its southern ambitions and buttress its claim of being a national party. The incumbent Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is experimenting with daring political moves to win a second consecutive term, unusual in Kerala. His moves could be highly rewarding politically, but could unsettle the implicit power-sharing arrangement among Kerala’s elites.

Though they are playing for high stakes in Kerala, all three parties are in turmoil within and in tussles with allies. The CPI (M)’s decision to deny ticket to several of its veterans has not been taken kindly by its cadres, who have taken to the streets and social media to challenge it. The party wooed Kerala Congress (Mani) from the UDF into the LDF, in an embarrassing somersault that it finds difficult to explain. Charges of corruption and nepotism, including a multiagency investigation into the links between the former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and a smuggling racket have taken the shine off the governance record of the LDF government. Mr. Vijayan, however, is trying to turn this in his favour, by claiming to be at the receiving end of machinations by Central probe agencies at the behest of the BJP. The Congress is trying to keep the leadership squabbles within by not formally announcing a leader, but signalling that former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy could get another term should the party win. It is also struggling hard to hold on to traditional bases. The BJP in Kerala had never imagined itself as a serious contender for power, and the opportunity in sight has intensified internal factional rivalries. The campaign and outcome of the Assembly election will be indicative of a new social compact that is taking shape in Kerala, and in that sense, it is not merely about electing a new government this time.

Supreme Court has boosted independenceof SECs in holding local body elections

Even though more than a quarter century has elapsed since the Constitution was amended to make urban and rural local bodies a self-contained third tier of governance, it is often agreed by experts that there is inadequate devolution of powers to them. This may somewhat explain their relative lack of autonomy. However, an entirely different facet of the way these local bodies function is that the manner in which their representatives are elected is often beset by controversies. Local polls are often marred by violence, and charges of arbitrary delimitation and reservation of wards. A key factor in any local body polls being conducted in a free and fair manner is the extent to which the State Election Commissioner, the authority that supervises the elections, is independent and autonomous. Unfortunately, most regimes in the States appoint senior bureaucrats from among their favourites to this office. In practice, SECs frequently face charges of being partisan. Routine exercises such as delimiting wards, rotating the wards reserved for women and Scheduled Castes and fixing dates for the elections become mired in controversy as a result, as the Opposition tends to believe that the exercise is being done with the ruling party’s interest in mind. Even though this cannot be generalised in respect of all States and all those manning the position, it is undeniable that SECs do not seem to enjoy the confidence of political parties and the public to the same extent as the Election Commission of India as far as their independence is concerned.

It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court’s judgment declaring that a State Election Commissioner should be someone completely independent of the State government acquires salience. It has described the Goa government’s action in asking its Law Secretary to hold additional charge as SEC as a “mockery of the Constitutional mandate”. By invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Court has asked all SECs who are under the direct control of the respective State governments to step down from their posts. In practice, most States appoint retired bureaucrats as SECs. Whether the apex court’s decision would have a bearing on those who are no more serving State governments remains to be seen. However, it is clear that these governments will now have to find a way to appoint to the office only those who are truly independent and not beholden to it in any manner. The verdict will help secure the independence of SECs in the future. More significantly, the Court has boosted the power of the election watchdog by holding that it is open to the SECs to countermand any infractions of the law made by the State government in the course of preparing for local body polls. Regimes in the States would have to wake up to the reality that they cannot always control the local body polls as in the past.

During the pandemic, India has initiated education reforms and become the pharmacy of the world

By virtue of extensive immunity due to oral vaccination, the last polio case was reported in India in January 2011. Subsequently, India was declared polio-free in 2014. The Government of India observes National Vaccination Day every year on March 16 to convey the importance of vaccination to its people. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the significance of this day becomes even more pertinent. The firm conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured that Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) has its own COVID-19 vaccine. I also congratulate my colleague Dr Harsh Vardhan and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for their perseverance and hard work. Indians will finally become healthier than before. This will help India emerge as a global leader in the post-COVID-19 era.

Medicines are global goods

The Prime Minister realised early on that the challenges being posed by the pandemic would require a global solution. As most developed nations ramped up their efforts to vaccinate their respective populations, the developing countries ran dangerously behind, which could have meant another year of humanitarian and economic crisis for them. While developed countries engaged in vaccine nationalism, it became imperative that a universal, equitable, and affordable supply of vaccines was ensured for developing countries. I am proud that our initiative of making vaccines widely available for other developing countries firmly established India as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ and sent out the message that medical products must be dealt with as global public goods. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been leading global efforts to mitigate the challenges by supplying medicines and generic drugs to other countries. This shows that while becomingaatma nirbhar, we are proving our mettle at the global level. As of March, we have supplied vaccines to over 70 countries while ensuring that our domestic demand is met.

I am proud that our educational institutions took the lead and transformed the challenges into opportunities. The IITs came up with incredible innovations like low-cost portable ventilators, affordable AI-powered COVID-19 test kits, drones for sanitisation, and cheap and effective PPE kits and masks. With the help of these innovations, we were able to provide healthcare facilities to our people. We even exported this equipment to different countries, which reflects our long adage philosophy ofVasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Research and innovation

As we now step into a post-COVID era, it becomes more imperative to strengthen research and innovation. Through the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, we have already taken a step forward in this direction. The NEP aims at improving the research and innovation landscape in India. It proposes that higher education institutions (HEIs) should focus on research and innovation by establishing start-up incubation centres, technology development centres and interdisciplinary research. The HEIs should also focus on developing mechanisms and organising competitions to promote innovation among student communities. To attain the highest global standards in education, the NEP also recommends setting up Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities, which will be on a par with IITs and IIMs.

Before the commencement of the next academic session 2021-22, the National Research Foundation (NRF) will be established under the Principal Scientific Adviser, which will transform India’s research culture. I am glad that an outlay of Rs. 50,000 crore for the next five years has been allocated for NRF in the Budget.

The world will remember us for initiating the largest education reforms and emerging from the pandemic as a global leader. By taking the COVID-19 vaccine, the Prime Minister has given a solid boost to our vaccination drive and instilled confidence in the nation. I appeal to my dear citizens to come forward and be a part of the vaccine drive because it is only together that we can build a ‘Swarnim Bharat (A Golden India)’.

Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is Union Education Minister, Government of India

Professor F.J.C. Hearnshaw, a well-known student of European history and a great admirer of the orthodox variety of democracy, writes, in a recent book of his, with reference to Egypt and India: “I believe that if the real will of the inarticulate multitudes of both countries could be accurately ascertained, it would be found that what they ardently desire is not the setting up of a constitutional apparatus which they have not as yet the capacity to work, but rather the continued maintenance of the just and ordered rule of the British administrators.” All this only means that even Professors, who we are disposed to imagine follow reason rather than instinct, have their own pet prejudices and are guided by them in their conduct in life, for the fact is, as theNew Statesmanreviewer of his book points out, “a man who can hold such a belief about Egypt at the present day must either be completely ignorant of the facts, or allow his wishes to influence his belief to such an extent as to make his opinions of very small value.” Possibly, if Professor Hearnshaw studied facts at close quarters, he might persuade himself to alter his opinion, even as Mr. Curtis or, nearer home, Mrs. Besant did who, holding the view ten years ago that it was impossible to plant English democracy in India for which she said the country was unfit, was later on convinced that the English system of responsible government was the ideal thing for India.

Bangla Desh, as East Pakistanis have been calling their troubled land, was on the verge of unilateral independence to-day [March 15] with Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman announcing that he was taking over control from the military authorities. Mr. Rehman made the announcement just as the ultimatum given by the Martial Law authorities to employees of defence undertakings who had been staying away from work in response to his call for non-co-operation was about to expire. He had earlier asked the employees to defy the ultimatum which threatened them with dismissal and imprisonment if they did not resume by 10 a.m. to-day. Mr. Rehman along with his announcement issued a 35-point directive for the administration of the province.