Saturday, 6 June 2020

Will Joe Biden Go by Jill or Hillary? ( Sunday Guardian)

Choosing Kamala Harris as VP candidate would show that Biden believes in a multi-racial society as much as Obama did.

Donald J. Trump got elected as US President because millions of voters believed that he was the candidate best able to ensure prosperity for a country that had seen both an absolute as well as a relative decline in the incomes of the poor and much of the middle class. Rather than emotion, it was hard-nosed calculation which motivated most Trump voters to mark their choices during the 8 November 2016 ballot. If Trump could make billions of dollars for himself and his family, surely he could at the least make several thousand extra dollars for the average US citizen. Even the 45th President’s appointing of other wealthy citizens to key Cabinet posts did not raise the eyebrows of the less fortunate. They had, after all, made all the money they would ever need. Now the focus could be on the rest of society. The reality—that much of this money had been made on Wall Street and in corporate offices at the expense of the rest of society—did not figure very much in the public consciousness. During the 2016 polls, had there been a stark choice between Trump and Bernie Sanders, enough voters may have tilted towards the latter to get him elected as the first self-declared socialist ever to hold the world’s most high-profile leader (and still  the most consequential, although that attribute may  migrate to the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party). However, the Democratic Party, whose upper layers have been tended and lubricated by the wealthy behind a smokescreen of anti-millionaire rhetoric, closed ranks at the top to ensure through foul means more than fair that the always reliable (for mega donors) Hillary Clinton prevailed over Sanders, who quickly folded up and genuflected before the formidable Clinton machine. This time around as well, those with a genuine patina of fighters against mega privilege such as Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris were eclipsed in the Democratic Party presidential primaries, including by well-camouflaged backers of privilege such as the engaging Beto O-Rourke. In each primary, the party machine, still significantly under the influence of Bill and Hillary as a consequence of the subservience of Barack Obama to the Clintons once he secured the party nomination in the 2008 Presidential primaries, ensured that the votes of Bernie Sanders were suppressed in the mysterious and invisible manner of certain views being systematically weakened in number of hits by social media giants largely peopled by individuals playing at revolution through computer keyboards. Joe Biden, who had early on been identified by this columnist as a Clinton surrogate, seems to have locked in the nomination, denying it to Bernie Sanders or to either Warren or Harris. Should Biden get religion at 78, he would choose Warren or Harris as his running mate, but given the grip that the Clintons have long exercised on him, what is more likely is that a “safe” (for Wall Street and for corporate donors) albeit feisty in verbal jousts candidate will be chosen by the prospective Democratic Party candidate against Donald Trump, thereby making easier a second term for an individual ready to do almost anything so that the 3 November election ensures that he remain in the White House rather than go to jail, which is where Hillary Clinton would like to send him to repay Trump’s effective pardon of her influence-peddling activities over the years. There is not the faintest whiff of Prithviraj Chauhan and his fatal (to himself and to his people) generosity about the steely Hillary Clinton, who would have put both Indira Gandhi as well as Margaret Thatcher in the shade for ruthlessness, had she been elected about four years ago rather than Trump. The lady is formidable, brilliant and deadly in a way that Trump can never in practice be, for all his bluster.

Should Joe Biden, even before clinching the nomination some months later, choose Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris as his running mate, his chances of becoming the 46th President of the US would soar. He is known to be a person of integrity, as is his spouse and was son Beau. Son Hunter has a taste for the good life, and is somewhat careless about the ways in which he ensures such an outcome, being a “Goodwill Ambassador” for hire to companies in the Ukraine, China and elsewhere. Fortunately for him, much of the media in the US dislikes Trump so much that they are determined to publish whatever it takes to get Biden elected. Or not do, in the case of easily obtainable facts concerning the activities of Hunter Biden, who has been given almost a blank cheque by his father after the death of elder brother Beau as a consequence of illness. While the Trump team may unearth bucketfuls of dirt about Hunter, such topsoil is not missing in the case of some members of the extended family of Donald Trump, who have ignored the fact that only their businesses visibly doing badly during the term (or terms) of Trump will ensure both his political success as well as the avoidance of multiple enquiries into their own business dealings, especially if these be profitable. The success or failure of Joe Biden on 3 November will hinge to a considerable extent on the distance he is able to maintain between the “requests” of the Clinton machine and his actions, including on the selection of the Vice-Presidential candidate. This columnist believes that choosing Kamala Harris would show that Biden does not just talk about a multi-racial society but believes in it as much as Barack Obama did. Given his record in supporting several of the Clinton initiatives which sent hundreds of thousands of hapless African Americans to prison and brutalized them, or which ensured that greed prevailed over reason in the financial markets, Biden will need more than soothing speeches to make many believe that he means what he says. The problem the prospective nominee faces is that both Harris as well as Warren are toxic to Hillary Clinton and to the interests she has so ably (if not always openly) championed throughout much of her political career. Barack Obama was fortunate in 2008 in having Mitt Romney as his opponent in the 2012 elections. Neither the Christian right nor Middle America took to the somewhat aloof candidate, who was no match for Obama. But for Covid-19 and the aftershocks created by the panic measures taken to stop its spread, Trump would have been certain to get a second term. He is still a formidable candidate, despite a gaffe a day. Which is why Biden needs another feisty politician—of principle and not just rhetoric—to take on Trump and Mike Pence, who has shown a capacity for quiet leadership that would make him the inevitable Republican nominee in the 2024 elections. Joe Biden has the advantage of an idealistic wife who, in a very understated way, is as steely as Hillary. The question which may decide the fate of the 2020 polls will be whether he listens to Jill Biden or once again goes by the habits of decades and trots along obediently behind the Clinton bandwagon. Should that happen, Donald J. Trump will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW for four more years.

PM Modi's Opponents Plan an Ides of August Surprise ( Sunday Guardian)

New Delhi: Rather than the “Ides of March”, future historians in India may write about the “Ides of August”, should the plans now under preparation of influential groups (each working towards the same objective) be ready by their intended launch date, 15 August 2020. The plan of action is to begin around that day and move into higher and higher gear thereafter. The calculation of these groups (who are in regular informal coordination with each other) is that by 15 August, the economic situation facing hundreds of millions of citizens in the country will have become so dire—indeed hopeless—that the tinder thus created would be sufficient to ensure that manifestations of discontent get sparked and spread across urban areas. This is expected to have an immediate impact on the investment climate in India, which is becoming a country of interest especially for units seeking to relocate from China. It is a given that the Ministry of Finance has been conservative and still moored to the past from the time the Narendra Modi government was sworn in on 26 May 2014. Even after the immense tensions in the economy caused by DeMo 2016, the rollout of GST as initially structured, and now the Great Indian Lockdown, the ameliorative responses of both the Ministry of Finance and the Reserve Bank of India have exhibited much the same caution that the US Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department showed in abundance during the years preceding the Great Depression of the 1930s. Because of such a timid stand, unemployment in the US during the 1930s reached the previously unimaginable figure of 24%. But President Donald J. Trump cajoled both the Federal Reserve Board as well as the Department of the Treasury into giving out trillions of dollars in doles, a scale of relief several times more than ever witnessed during past crises, accompanied by shock among conventional monetarists and economists. Because of Trump’s measures, the US economy has started to rebound during the last month, with unemployment figures falling by 2.6 million. In India this far, while the Agriculture Ministry and to a more limited extent the Company Affairs Ministry have finally—in the sixth year of Modi’s period in office, expected by well-wishers to last a total of 15 years—gone in for “Modivian” reforms. Sadly, many other key ministries have remained sluggish in their approach to change. This has created hope in those unalterably opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the “Anyone but Modi” groups. They have informally come together and are relying on a “Brains Trust” comprising mostly of expat experts, assisted in private by officials within the system who are sympathetic to their objective of weakening the hold of Modi over the people, thereby preparing the ground for a meltdown of governance in the manner last seen during the final 28 months of the Sonia-Manmohan government.


Groups opposed to the Modi government have been enthused by the civil unrest being witnessed in the United States. The proximate cause of the unrest there was the cold-blooded execution of an unarmed and unresisting African-American man by a Minneapolis policeman of Euro descent, but the massing of angry crowds could also be explained by the spreading unemployment in the US, at one time reaching an estimated 40 million before now beginning to decline. The young adults who have lost jobs during the past few months form a goodly proportion of the crowds defying curfew in several US cities, and the calculation of the “Ides of August” planners in India and outside is that a similar phenomenon—a sharp rise in unemployment in India—will lead to the same unhappy outcome. India is a country of the young, and unless they are given good education and productively employed, the new generation is not going to have the patience, tolerance for hardship and self-control of those who were of their age in previous generations. The lack of attention to the actual ground situation of some of the bureaucrats tasked with filling in the details of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi’s ambitious schemes has been most evident in developments relating to the estimated 140 million migrant workers scattered across the country. No move was made to ensure that funds were provided to take care of such essentials as the rents of such individuals, even in states such as Tamil Nadu, which gave each migrant worker 30 kilograms of rice and 1 kilogram of cooking oil. Rent to the landlords needed to be paid but was not. Neither a subsistence allowance to each migrant worker at his or her work location nor ensuring mass distribution of grain from otherwise rotting FCI food grain stocks was properly attempted. An audit needs to be made of the losses incurred by FCI through disposal of food grains wasted through negligence over the years, although neither this nor any accountability for the past is at all likely in a system that has protected its own even since 1947. The “Ides of August” groups say that several of their sympathisers within the portals of government have been placed in key positions in the present government, and that in matters of policy or the crucial task of giving early warning of impending events, these Trojans are expected to give misleading suggestions and reports, so as to ensure that policymakers at the top remain unaware of ground reality.


In several cities including Mumbai, migrant workers rent not a room but a bunk bed in a cramped room, that too for 8-12 hours every day. They rest on the bunks for that period each day, and spend the rest of each day at work or remaining on the streets till the time comes for the bunk they have rented for a few hours to fall vacant when the other occupant leaves for his or her daily shift. Those working out the details of the Great Indian Lockdown, which became effective at midnight 24 March, ought to have given a window of 5-6 days for migrant workers and others to leave for wherever it was that such workers wished to spend the lockdown period. It was clear from the speech of PM Modi first announcing the lockdown that the government viewed the threat from Covid-19 as seriously as Prime Minister Winston Churchill talked of the threat of invasion from Nazi Germany in his 4 June 1940 address to the nation. Modi made it clear in his sombre 24 March address to the nation that this was a war against a deadly foe that will entail great sacrifice, but which must be won. Before the coming into force of the nationwide lockdown, the bureaucrats tasked with its implementation ought to have ensured at least five days for citizens to plan and carry out their moves rather than calculate that just four hours at night was sufficient as notice period, which it plainly was not. During such a preparatory phase of the Great Indian Lockdown, transport arteries needed to be kept open rather than shut down in the manner they were (at incredibly short notice).

Prime Minister Modi, who since 26 May 2014 is the de facto Chief Executive of the Nation, took the decision to enforce a countrywide lockdown on the country to prevent the millions of deaths that modelling by international agencies such as the Gates Foundation, Johns Hopkins and the Imperial College of London forecast for India. These estimates, which have since proved to be shamefully inaccurate everywhere in the world, left no other course for a conscientious follower of Mahatma Gandhi such as PM Modi to adopt except that of the lockdown. However, those within the government who were tasked by Modi with working out details of the measure ought to have provided sufficient time and logistics for an estimated 140 million migrants situated in different parts of the country to either be given facilities to stay put comfortably rather than move to their preferred lockdown locations and raise the risk of infection in rural areas poorly served by the public health machinery. Officials tasked with working out the operational details of the lockdown needed to ensure that those who stayed behind in their work locations were assured accommodation through assisted payment of rent to landlords and the provision of essentials and a subsistence allowance provided from the start of the lockdown by a government headed by Prime Minister Modi. It needs to be remembered that 85% of the wages of workers has been met in UK by the Conservative government of Boris Johnson. There are similar doles in the US under Trump, as in Singapore, Germany and several other countries. No such funds appear to have been released in India, only an unenforceable command that companies “retain jobs and freeze salaries”. Units making zero income, thanks to the lockdown, cannot be expected to retain staff or pay salaries. Vulture funds looking at arbitrage profits through the misery of citizens claim that a poor country cannot afford such measures, when the fact is that such assistance is particularly needed in countries where substantial chunks of the population are within sight of starvation, while more millions have crossed into the boundaries of Sub-Saharan subsistence. Looking at the migrant situation in the entire country, some states (such as Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu) seem to have handled the issue better than others such as Gujarat or Maharashtra, which have hardly seen a stellar performance in this regard. Because of inadequate attention paid to the operational details of the Great Indian Lockdown (GIL), millions of migrants have returned home to their villages in UP, Jharkhand and Bihar with horror stories of getting fleeced by truck drivers or being beaten up by policemen and starving en route. Apart from carrying the risk of Covid-19 infections to their village homes, stories of extreme hardship are daily being disseminated by returned migrants in families where other members work in the police or in the military across India. Overall, the planners of the “Ides of August” movement believe that a mood of anger is welling up against both the government as well as the upper classes. They say that for the first time since the close of the 1970s, a class divide is opening up in the minds of hundreds of millions who feel ignored by the system and who have been left to fend for themselves. It is not known whether such a change in rural narratives is being noted by intelligence and other police agencies or if so, whether officers close to the groups opposed to Modi are blocking transmission of full and accurate information to the levels needed for immediate corrective action. Given the plans being prepared, it is important to ensure through effective ameliorative policies based on “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” that a point not get reached as would trigger civil disorder on a scale which would severely impact the future prospects of the aspiring superpower led by PM Modi, to the delight of his domestic detractors and the list of this country’s international foes and rivals. The window for adequate relief measures designed to rectify the situation is closing and after some time, will shut completely. Fiscal action in the sphere of tax rebates and lowering of rates along with a massive expansion of money into the productive system so as to stimulate demand are needed since the day before yesterday.


Those opposed to Narendra Modi are now preparing to catalyse and ride a series of events after the “Ides of August” that they expect will culminate in a process which will result in the government going into a policy gridlock, much as was the case in the final 28 months of the Sonia-Manmohan decade. They are in regular contact with experts (mostly stationed overseas at present) on social psychology, military science and economics. The latter have predicted to their contacts in India (based on the information fed to them by friends in the system in India) that the economy is headed by early next year towards what they have characterized as “hyper-deflation”. Such an event would involve steep falls in output after an earlier collapse in demand, accompanied by lower prices as producers desperately seek to unload stocks on a market shrinking in effective demand by the hour because of the fall in purchasing power. Many of these expert advisors have occupied key policymaking slots in the Government of India and know that institution well along with many of its personnel (many of whom informally update their external contacts about developments in India). The latter have told their external and internal contacts in the “Anyone but Modi” groups that the recent downgrade by Moody’s to the margin of junk status was not because of the Rs 20 lakh crore additional expenditure announced by PM Modi on 12 May, but because “not enough was being done to rescue and revive the economy”. Interestingly, the advice of those in the “Brains Trust” who still give advice to the present government was precisely that: to do little, and to cling to fiscal and monetary conservatism, the very course of action that they now privately claim led Moody’s to its ill-advised downgrade of an economy that even adversity cannot keep from becoming the third largest in the world. These experts have sought to establish that the actual quantum of outlays announced by PM Modi “add up to less than 3% of GDP rather than 20%, and that this is woefully inadequate” to help the economy to regain its old momentum. Aware that an important component of Narendra Modi’s support base comes from the salaried middle class and the professional classes, they predict mass layoffs in companies during July and August, with the dire situation continuing for several more months. By the close of 2020, they calculate that it would be almost impossible to get the economy moving out of the critical care facility for at least the next three years, thereby casting a shadow over the 2024 polls and before that, polls in states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. From their insider knowledge of the functioning of North Block and Mint Road, the experts consulted by known and unknown opponents of Modi do not believe that innovative ideas will get acted upon, such as the RBI going ahead with a massive increase in money supply which could be distributed directly to workers, or the Finance Ministry giving tax rebates and write-offs for units giving more jobs.


It is a given that three years will be needed to recover from the consequences of the policy response to Covid-19. At least 5% of GDP for this and the next two years will need to be spent as additional expenditure to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and the policies it has spawned on the broader economy. Interest rates need to be cut at least for MSMEs and SMEs to 5% through the RBI subsidising banks making such loans. In a situation of falling demand, what is needed is not additional funds at the same high interest rates (which is in the range of 11-18% when compared to near zero or negative interest rates in other major economies), but much lower rates for existing loans through the life of such loans. Rather than go by “babu logic” and extend moratoriums in 3-month instalments, such relief should be given for at least 18 if not 24 or even 36 months, especially in industries that are badly hit. Otherwise, high interest rates and RBI-caused chokeholds on fresh financing will result in a spike in NPAs over and above the horrendous amounts already caused by reckless lending to crony capitalists. Interest rate policy in India has been designed to favour overseas vulture funds holding the overseas assets of bureaucrats, businesspersons and politicians, who also benefit from the longstanding policy of allowing the rupee to fall against major currencies, while verbally comforting those invested in rupees with the placebo that the fall of the currency has not been as steep as in ramshackle economies such as Pakistan. A lowering of bank interest rates to 5% on existing loans to MSMEs and SMEs can be effected through RBI action designed to compensate banks. This would unleash animal spirits in a determined way, but those advising opponents of PM Modi (and who are awaiting an economic collapse) are certain that this will never happen. The reason they give is the influence in the policymaking community of arbitrageurs who borrow at almost zero interest abroad and invest in India, for example by selling shares purchased a year or less back at a profit and retiring their debt with a handsome gain at the expense of an economy that is groaning under high interest rates and a falling rupee. Why obvious measures such as allowing companies to raise additional share capital on the basis of the stock value during the previous 15 days rather than the present 26 weeks (if the latter be higher, which given the circumstances, it is likely to be) not get done. Plainly, such flexibility is beyond the capability of the bureaucracy in a country filled with innovation and entrepreneurial talent choked by system-created blockages to their utilisation. A hopeful sign is that PM Modi seems to have finally prevailed over such elements and has been announcing several essential reforms during the past few weeks. Many more are needed, and soon, if the hopes of the “Ides of August” planners are to be dashed.

The faith in these groups in the tendency of North Block to get policy wrong has been fortified by the just announced decision to raise the price of aviation turbine fuel by 56% in a situation where airlines are struggling to simply breathe. Automobiles and housing are other sectors, and in both the cause of their faltering is the collapse of retail credit and the rise in delinquencies caused in large part by the economy slowing markedly years before the Covid-19 shock. Thus far the RBI seems unwilling to address this problem sufficiently so as to bring retail credit back to health through an economy made strong by demand created by sufficient liquidity. The manner in which the Finance Ministry and the RBI managed the 2016 demonetisation of 86% of India’s currency has lowered the reputation of the latter institution especially to a level not seen before in its history, and the only way to redeem lost trust would be for the Central bank to take adult rather than baby steps to begin the rescue and revival of the economy by the close of 2020, a task that policy fashioned with the innovative mindset promised by Modi to the people of India in his many speeches could still achieve.


Because of PM Modi’s swift actions, the IAF will get the first four Rafale fighters (of 36 ordered) within a few weeks. This is 18 years after the A.B. Vajpayee government first began negotiations on its purchase. India can become the platform for several topline US aircraft, such as the F-35, except that the induction of S-400 systems from Russia has made this problematic. The F-35 manufacture plan was abandoned in Turkey after Erdogan went in for S-400s. India’s C-130 J Hercules aircraft, Globemasters, Chinook helos and the F-777 light howitzers can take care of any intrusion in Ladakh, and sufficient volumes of each can be stationed and partly made in India if policies get designed for the purpose. Russia needs to be kept happy through additional purchases, but not by installing the S-400 and foreclosing the setting up of production lines of state-of-the-art weapons systems from the US. Despite optimism by those gleeful about what they see as the impending disaster of the government failing to prevent hyper-deflation, those planning the “Ides of August” movement may be in for a surprise. Over the past few weeks, major reform after major reform has been rolled out by the Modi government. Even as early as before 15 August, additional reforms and economy boosters may take place as to speed up the process of ensuring a soft landing in a situation where, as Rahul Bajaj points out, the Covid-19 curve has not flattened but the economy’s growth curve has. Recent studies show the novel coronavirus has a much lower death rate than earlier predicted by alarmist agencies and journals. The decisive manner in which PM Modi has gone in for Unlockdown 1.0 despite warnings from prophets of doom favouring a longer lockdown give rise to hope that Modi may be able to ensure that North Block and Mint Road finally be made to deliver on the policies needed to ensure a soft landing for the economy and a subsequent move upwards of the growth curve. This will lead to disappointment within the experts from abroad and their associates in India who are looking forward to a meltdown of governance in India as a consequence of what they believe is by now an almost inexorable move towards hyper-deflation in the economy by the close of 2020. The consequent misery among the people, they expect, will lead to a situation that would render the governance mechanism ineffective and which would lead to mass civil tumult. They do not anticipate remedial action by PM Modi as could result in their forecasts and plans getting derailed even before 15 August 2020, but Narendra Modi has surprised his detractors and opponents many times in the past, and may do so again before long.


Saturday, 30 May 2020

Eid Shows Tablighis Do Not Represent India's Muslims ( Sunday Guardian)

Eid was observed this year in homes, rather than in massive congregations.

The internet was meant to be a pathway to the world. Conversations can take place across time zones in real time, although it has taken the restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic to teach even Silicon Valley that the earlier insistence on staff working from offices was an error. The giants of the virtual world—Google, Amazon, Netflix, Baidu, Alibaba, to name a few—had to either follow manufacturing industries in shutting up shop temporarily or to allow the bulk of their employees to work from home. Surprisingly for those whose habits of thought remain moored to those acquired across generations, the work proffered by those at home often turned out to be better than when they were in their offices. A minister during the A.B. Vajpayee era began the still ongoing process of seeking to police the Information Technology (IT) industry in India the way other industries had long been. Some corporates that had flourished under Licence Raj began Information Technology outfits. Staff associated with the creation of software were asked to report for work punctually every morning (or get their salaries docked), leave only after office hours and wear ties and preferably a suit as well while at work. Needless to say, such corporates fared poorly. It is not an accident that the wearing of suits (or even jackets) is regarded with some disdain in locations where the Knowledge Industry flourishes. After all, who would want to put on such an uncomfortable garb if there were no compulsion to do so? The IT industry in India grew exponentially until the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments sought to regulate it in a manner that included the criminalization of several outcomes in which internet platforms as such had no responsibility. Despite the laws and regulations proscribing “hate speech” (itself a somewhat diffuse term), webspace has witnessed a tendency for those having similar likes—and dislikes—to cluster around only each other. Through the consequent magnification of the echo of their views, several of their prejudices get embedded in their reasoning.

Among many netizens was the reflexive belief that Muslims in India are represented by the adherents of the Tablighi Jamaat (which managed to escape the eagle eye of the authorities to held a mammoth indoor rally in the heart of the national capital, with unfortunate consequences for the battle against Covid-19). The fact is that Tablighis represent only a tiny proportion of Muslims, although the way most of the community remained silent about the behaviour of some of the members of that group led to such a fact not being as obvious to the larger public as it ought to have been. However, Eid, the close of the period of Ramzan, showed India’s Muslims to be as conscientious about public health as any other community. The observance of Eid-ul-Fitr this year overwhelmingly took place in homes, rather than in massive congregations as previously. And in a welcome break from a tradition that has not been sanctioned in the Holy Quran (women and men being separated for prayer), women and men prayed together in several homes, often for the first time. Several individuals gave to the poor the moneys saved through the absence of the lavish Iftar parties that had been a staple of the past. Both these changes in past practice deserve to be continued even in a situation where the novel coronavirus may no longer be the public health threat that the WHO (somewhat belatedly) proclaimed it to be. In a country which in many regions regarded the education of women as a waste of money, time and effort, Muslim women are joining their sisters of other faiths in filling schools and colleges. Several have distinguished themselves, including in fields such as medicine and engineering. This is a world away from the vision of the Taliban or their ideological cousins in other parts of the world, who believe that a woman’s place is in the home, when not being made to do back-breaking work in the fields or elsewhere. Despite the continuation of the Great Indian Lockdown to (at least) the close of this month, many had believed that large groups of people would assemble and gather outside their homes in order to celebrate the end of the period of fasting. Instead, across India, Muslims remained at home during that day, acting no differently from Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and those of other faiths. They behaved in the manner good citizens are expected to, by obeying the rules of the lockdown and ensuring social distancing. If the images appearing on television screens about the doings even in hospital wards of some of those who had attended the New Delhi Tablighi Jamaat meeting are accurate, such was the opposite of the behaviour of a community that numbers nearly 200 million across India. Fortunately, such individuals are not taken as role models but as a fringe group by India’s Muslims.

Whether it be the world of cinema, education, business or literature—or in diverse other fields—Muslims in India have excelled, both men and women. The restraint and dignity shown by them during Eid proves the point that the people of India ought never to have been divided on the basis of faith. Such a division was sought (and successfully implemented) by Winston Churchill, Conrad Corfield and other backers of colonialism in their attempts to permanently weaken the people of the subcontinent through fragmentation.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Asia is Now the Global Geopolitical Center, It's Time For an Indo-Pacific Charter (Japan Forward)

Two months after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, on August 14, 1941, the heads of government of the United States and the United Kingdom issued the Atlantic Charter, a set of principles that were intended to define the world order after the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.

The principles enshrined in the Atlantic Charter inspired a set of organizations and structures that are still in existence today. On January 1, 1942, the nations fighting the 1939-1945 war together gave a call for what was to become, on October 24, 1945, the United Nations Organization. 

Four years later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed to deter the Soviet Union from invading and occupying countries in Europe outside the Iron Curtain that laid across the dividing line between Soviet satellite states in Europe and other countries in a continent that had dominated world history for close to six centuries.

Although Winston Churchill, the then-prime minister of the U.K., did not favor giving the freedoms enunciated in the Atlantic Charter to European colonies in Asia and Africa, such a narrow view of human freedom was opposed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt throughout the war years. The torch of liberty that was lit in the minds and hearts of millions in Asia through the Atlantic Charter and the UNO ensured that European colonization was rolled back across the world’s largest continent, ending with the handover of Macau to China by the Portuguese on December 20, 1999.

By then, the balance of geopolitics was shifting from the West to the East, but the organizations and structures weren’t adapting. That same year, India’s first professor of geopolitics enunciated the concept of an “Asian NATO,” a security alliance of countries in Asia determined to resist outside efforts at dominating them. This Asian version of NATO did not find favor with European powers, who were insistent that their own military alliance was sufficient to tilt the balance of forces in Asia, the way they used to during the period of European colonization.

Well after it was clear that Asia was outpacing Europe in the economic and later the technological spheres, they continued to insist on the primacy of the Atlanticist world view, which holds that the Atlantic is still the geopolitical global center of gravity. In fact, by 1999 that honor had returned to Asia.

In the U.S., the powerful Atlanticist lobby sabotaged efforts by a section of the Pentagon to shift Washington’s focus from Europe to Asia. It is an effort that has continued into the Trump administration, where a substantial section of policy makers and the media have teamed up to insist that the Atlantic remain the center of gravity of U.S. foreign and security policy, making it remain Moscow-centric at a time when Beijing has far outstripped that capital in terms of growth and potential for power projection
 Enshrining Freedom and Democracy in Asia
 Rather than assume that Asians are incapable of looking after their own security without European assistance, what is needed is for Asian countries to come together with North America ― a continent that has never sought colonies ― to form an Indo-Pacific Charter on the lines of the Atlantic Charter.

Japan and India are required to lead such an effort, together with the U.S. The Indo-Pacific Charter would call for the protection of existing boundaries across Asia, opposing efforts at changing such a status quo by force. It would call for the elimination of hegemony and dominance of smaller and weaker countries in Asia by more powerful entities. And it would set up a security and defense mechanism for that purpose which would include Japan, India, the U.S., Australia, and Canada besides other like-minded countries.

This organization would jointly defend any member or allied power in Asia against an effort to change the status quo by the use of force. The Indo-Pacific Charter would enshrine the importance of freedom and democracy, and call for all states to ensure that such universal values are protected within their boundaries and not trampled upon.

Such a charter would recognize that the torch has passed from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific, and that for the U.S. in particular, the most significant allies of the future are no longer France and Germany, but Japan and India.

The countries subscribing to the Indo-Pacific Charter would come to the defense of any other country facing a threat to its sovereignty by force of arms. It would also safeguard crucial sea and air lanes as global commons across the continent so as to ensure free communication and commerce, unhampered by any hostile force.
 Keeping the Peace
 Such a coming together of great democracies would ensure that a superpower war does not break out in the continent.

Just as war between the U.S. and the USSR was avoided throughout the Cold War, war between China and the U.S. needs to be avoided. This can only happen if a deterrent force is created that will oppose efforts at changing the status quo by force. Peace has been kept in Europe for decades, barring a few smaller and largely internecine conflicts, since 1945.

The task before humanity is to similarly keep the peace in Asia. The time for an Indo-Pacific Charter is now.
 Below are the potential points of an Indo-Pacific Charter update of the Atlantic Charter: 
  1. No territorial gains to be sought by any major power.
  2. No creation of artificial territories in the open seas.
  3. No acquisitions by force or lease of new territories within sovereign nations.
  4. Re-formation of the U.N. Security Council or formation of a new Indo-Pacific Security Council.
  5. Participants will work towards freedom and sovereignty of data.
  6. Participants will work towards a unified approach to using Artificial Intelligence for the good of humanity.
  7. Formation of a Space Security Council.
  8. Participants work together to promote democracy and participatory government.
  9. Nations that are democracies stay as democracies.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Bill Gates Bats for the Great Indian Lockdown (Sunday Guardian)

The lockdown has had visible effects on both society and economy. It is unclear how long it will take to get production lines and services back to pre-lockdown levels.

New Delhi: The most comprehensive and total lockdown in history has been ongoing in India from 25 March. The aim of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he cogitated on the Great Indian Lockdown (GIL) and finally implemented it was obvious. It was to protect as many individuals as possible of the 1.29 billion citizens of the world’s future third superpower from the millions of deaths that a battery of experts had publicly warned was inevitable in the absence of such a drastic measure, one not reproduced in any other country. In the rest of the “locked down” world, the degree of lockdown varies from 30% to 70%. Some have avoided a lockdown altogether, relying on social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene to keep mortality rates low. In India, where even a single Covid-19 case has been discovered, facilities (including medical) have been shut down, so comprehensive is the safety protocol. The disease is being treated as though it has a mortality rate of 90% even though the actual death rate is far lower. Being a leader who cares, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi clearly decided to exercise caution rather than take chances in a matter where so many lives were at risk. And there were those who said three months ago that governance in India was so leaky and inefficient that such a strong measure as a comprehensive nationwide lockdown could never be implemented. Hence, that a catastrophe in the form of millions of coronavirus-related deaths would be “inevitable by the month of May”, and that the deadly curve would continue to rise for much of 2020. The people of India proved such forecasts wrong. They trusted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and obeyed the lockdown order he issued without significant demur, just as they had stoically accepted the 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the country’s currency at just four hours’ notice, that too after office hours.

The Great Indian Lockdown (GIL) has had visible effects on both society as well as the economy. It is unclear how long it will take to get production lines and services back to pre-lockdown levels, given the widespread disruption that the measure has caused. Estimates of job losses go into figures never before even imagined as possible in the history of the Republic of India. Given his studied style of functioning, PM Modi would have cogitated over the lockdown measure and discussed it at length with experts and officials before ordering the GIL. At that point in time, an army of academics and medical specialists were originating and recycling information, some of which got mixed with both misinformation and disinformation. The effect was to create an atmosphere through the media such as would ensure the compliance of the population with the complete lockdown for whatever length of time such a move was deemed to be essential by the Prime Minister and his advisors on the subject. Among the reported proponents of such a never-before-attempted measure was Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft has become an ubiquitous influence in the global health industry, and as such, his apparent recommendation in favour of a comprehensive lockdown wherever the novel coronavirus made an appearance would have been extraordinarily persuasive. At the same time, the leadership of the prestigious Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) seems to have been unanimous in urging just such the lockdown. The head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) was among the first international heavyweights to compliment Modi on the Great Indian Lockdown (GIL). Another was the 45th President of the US, Donald Trump and a third was Director-General Tedros of the WHO, who has been associated with Gates for decades.
Policy missteps as well as ineffective communications strategies have given wings to a global effort by interested elements to falsely claim that India under Narendra Modi is evolving into a Germany under Nazi rule. International media outlets running such outlandish comparisons themselves have journalists working in India, who have not allowed the absence of any evidence of such genocide or mass killings of specified groups to deter them from giving a platform to those peddling such falsehoods, or to repeating them in their own columns and reports. In keeping with the running down of not just the government in India but the people, there has emerged an entire industry of lockdown enthusiasts within the world’s institutes, academic bodies and the media that sprang up during March 2020. They continue to make doomsday predictions about the “expected” or “potential” (i.e. hypothetical) effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to ensure that the present Great Indian Lockdown continues for an extended period of time. Almost none of such “scientific and fact-based” reports or studies are based on anything other than mathematical models.
Standing in a league much above such individuals in impact is an individual who has (through his inventive mind and business skills) acquired a degree of financial power that few governments across the world can match. Because of the reach this provides, every cause that he promotes immediately becomes a cause celebre throughout the world, studied, and immediately gets talked respectfully by mediapersons, governments and much of the public. He is known as an individual who studies an issue, then makes up his mind, and who has the reputation of indefatigably charging ahead once his mind gets made up on an issue. This instrument of change is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who may rank among the most influential persons on the planet outside the four leaders of the world’s two present and two future superpowers, Donald J. Trump, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin.

Bill Gates has within his remit a vast tax-free income with practically no oversight, and has gained the respect and attention of an army of global policymakers and experts who take as gospel the suggestions he makes for governments, media and the public to follow. Wife Melinda is known for her simplicity despite her immense wealth, and for exhibiting a genuine concern for the underprivileged. Melinda Gates is regarded by those in contact with her to be an individual without the societal, political or ethnic biases common to many of those in her societal group.
Unlike Foundations that were created when the founder of a corporation was dead, Gates (assisted by a team carefully chosen by him) controls a huge amount of tax-free money (as well as $30 billion of Warren Buffett’s money) while still relatively young and very active physically. There does not seem to be any Oversight Board supervising the functioning of the Gates Foundation. It would appear that only Bill and Melinda (a couple that have been loyal and close to each other from the start of their relationship) take the investment-related decisions needed to manage the vast sums of money which accrue from their selling Microsoft stock. Much of this is put into the Foundation rather than handed over to their children, as also has been a large chunk of Warren Buffet’s money. The self-effacing Buffet is himself a Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), but is not co-chair and does not seem to be involved in the major decisions of the Foundation concerning which policy to promote or oppose.

So far as global disease vectors are concerned, initially Gates gave $100 million to create an Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle called Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The founding Board members included Dr Tedros (then Ethiopian Health Minister who is now Director-General of WHO). Thus, they already have an inside track to data from WHO and that UN agency’s associated governments and entities. Health data from Indian Health Ministry may be accessed by the BMGF via WHO, of which Gates has long been a major donor. Information is processed by the Bill and Melinda personal partnership so as to design policies approved by them that would improve the world. Whether all such policies actually accomplish such an ambitious task is a matter yet to be finally decided, at least in some instances. An example is the lockdown policy. Taiwan has had hardly any lockdown, yet has less than 500 Covid-19 cases and very few fatalities. Actual data from countries that have imposed different levels of lockdown do not show any correlation between the extent of a lockdown and the recorded number of cases and fatalities. Meanwhile, the Great Lockdown Theory embraced by both the WHO as well as by the Foundation has caused worldwide economic distress on a scale not seen even in the 1930s except in countries such as Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic. The single track focus on “breaking the chain of infection through lockdown” and thereby “flattening the curve” has caused distress, both financial and societal, on a scale that may not wholly have been factored by Bill and Melinda Gates, who have funded many of those who first came out with alarming figures about likely death tolls from the Covid-19 pandemic. WHO itself has been singularly ineffective in warning the world of the disease before it grew into a devastating pandemic. It is not known whether the Foundation urged a speedier response on Director-General Tedros in the crucial weeks before the WHO finally declared the novel coronavirus to be a global health emergency capable of rapid spread. The respect given to the Gates Foundation and to Gates personally indicates that his views are treated with a high degree of respect, which is why several of the policy prescriptions suggested by him get adopted across the world. Numerous individuals linked to the BMGF are regularly getting placed in important positions, including in the world’s biggest democracies, India and the US.

The Gates Foundation grant to the Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) was renewed. Chris Murray, the Director, decides on the methodology that seems to produce numbers that always fit into existing hypotheses. There does not seem even a semblance of oversight—including by the media—over the numbers that have so prolifically been generated by the IHME. Computer-generated results of the institute are accepted, seemingly without any questioning of the postulates or methodology used to get such results. Gates himself places considerable reliance on its findings. Given the immense respect that BMGF has, it is no surprise that several of those associated with the Foundation have been chosen for senior slots in several multilateral agencies such as WHO, World Bank, etc. There is also an MoU that IHME & Gates has done with WHO for accessing data. Hopefully, universities in India too will gain similar access to WHO data as well as funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Some of this could be used to review existing methodologies used by IHME and other institutions generating similar results, and to suggest alternative options for consideration by the policy community. Having different, indeed clashing, points of view is essential in any scientific enquiry in the post-Galileo age. The Covid-19 fatality numbers generated by grantees of the Gates Foundation (including WHO) seem to have no peer review about the methodology. Except of course by other grantees who seem not to be able to find any fault in the results, not even in conclusions (such as incidence figures in India) that have demonstrably been shown to be wrong. The BMGF may need to go back to the drawing board on some of its assumptions if it is to achieve the vision of Bill and Melinda Gates of being an institution that shines a spotlight revealing pathways to a better world where the underprivileged in particular get the justice that has been denied to them for a very long time.

Bill Gates, through his business acumen, drove into the ground many companies in Silicon Valley in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in Microsoft’s ruthless drive for dominance. Today, Gates is on a mission to create improvements in the global health sector. In the US, healthcare is 17% of GDP, and soon it will be above 10% of GDP in all countries (including private spending in healthcare). Large pharma conglomerates have driven policies and products in directions which benefit their shareholders, but which have sent healthcare costs ballooning to levels unaffordable even in the present. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, even the merest suggestion of promoting any treatment or method of immunity other than the vaccine route has been torn to pieces by those behind what has become the conventional wisdom in battling the coronavirus. This has emphasized the need for a vaccine as well as the use of ventilators over other methods. This in a world where such technologies are unavailable to much of the population, just as the regular banking system or access to online systems was unavailable in 2016 to hundreds of millions including in India, a country where Bill Gates was an early and enthusiastic backer of demonetisation and the ending of currency as a medium of exchange. As initially implemented by North Block and Mint Road, that far-reaching change in a method of exchange that is the lifeblood of the economy was initially structured in such a manner as to severely impact liquidity across vast swathes of the population, especially in rural areas and in slums. Did the BMGF factor in such operational problems before its founder became a forceful proponent of the plan to replace paper money with digital currency through elimination of the latter via governmental edict?

Over the years, there have been efforts by identifiable interests at stealing through patenting traditional technologies (incorrectly regarded with contempt by Atlanticist experts) and herbal cures. Many such cures may indeed be valueless, and some even harmful. But there would be some that deserve adaptation and dissemination, and what seems to be the obsessive focus of the Foundation on the usual track followed by the pharmaceutical industry in the US and the EU may need change. Other options in healthcare need to be given attention, in particular innovations such as the revival of production of vanishing but essential herbs in greenhouses. If the disappearing pools of traditional knowledge were accessed and harnessed in the search for cures and preventives, the world would likely be a better place. The time may have come for Melinda Gates to persuade her partner to look beyond the BGMF’s usual prescriptions. They need to examine with the open-mindedness of the reformist mind how for example generics could be given a boost so as to lower healthcare costs. India, a country that Bill Gates seems to have a particular affinity for, could serve as the location for much more than vaccine trials. Traditional immunity boosters used over the centuries in China and India may potentially save (at much less cost) many lives, just the way the pills and injections multiplying across the globe do. In an era of Alternative Energy, the time may have arrived for Bill Gates to turn his attention towards the possible development of provable, safe and effective Alternative Medicine in addition to the conventional fields of study already attempted. Human lives are precious, but they need affordable options in order for them to be accessed. This calls for measures other than those relied upon by Big Pharma-centric policies and the often hugely expensive favoured protocols of treatment promoted by the US National Institute of Health, another institution that has received favourable attention from Bill and Melinda Gates. As Sanatan Dharma postulates, there may be many paths to a single goal and not just a single pathway. Hopefully the BMGF will study in detail the full effects of the Great Lockdown as well as the Great Demonetization, both being policies that appear to have received its enthusiastic support. Or that Bill and Melinda will ensure that it study possible alternatives rather than coming to an early conclusion and then making the mathematical models fit the conclusions already arrived at. When Bill Gates speaks, media and policymakers listen. Hence the need for the Foundation to proceed in such a manner that not simply the immediate effects but the “morning after” gets accurately mapped out. The law of unintended consequences must never be forgotten.

Quad Must Announce the Indo-Pacifc Charter ( Sunday Guardian)

The seeds of war between the United States and China are germinating across the Taiwan straits and in newly created atolls of the South China Sea. In Ladakh and in Sikkim, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has accelerated its “Forward Policy”, the same line of action once followed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon. They acted in the belief that the other side would never have the will to go to war against a systematic nibbling away of territory through “aggressive forward patrolling” by the military. The slowing down of the Indian economy since the close of 2016 and the antics of GHQ Rawalpindi may have persuaded the generals in Chengdu that their adoption of the forward policy would have no reciprocal blowback. B.N. Mullick of the IB had calculated that Mao’s difficulties with the Chinese Communist Party leadership and the economic pain China was then enduring would prevent the PLA from responding to the strategy of nibbling away at territory, a few feet at a time. He was wrong. And after what is taking place in Ladakh and Sikkim, the PLA leadership may be in for a surprise. An armed push to a depth of four to five kilometres in two parts of the Sino-Indian border is unacceptable, and may—unlike Doklam—lead to a conflict involving casualties. The Chinese side appears to be placing its faith in the serial (some would say deliberate) errors made by the Lutyens Zone. This network has thus far succeeded in stalling a robust defence and security understanding between India and the US, which is the only other power that can match China. Key elements of progress in this inevitable alliance are trapped through bureaucratic obstruction in a netherworld. The greatest favour that Vladimir Putin can give to Xi Jinping is to keep India from entering into a substantive military alliance with the US. In the past, Pakistan was able to fashion a close alliance with both Beijing and Washington from a time when both capitals were hostile to the other. Once the US and China became de facto allies in 1972, Rawalpindi was in ecstasy. Fortunately for India, that longstanding PLA favourite, GHQ Rawalpindi, has never succeeded in first separating Kashmir from the Union of India and subsequently doing the same with other bits and pieces of our country. It was D.P. Dhar’s masterstroke—the treaty between the USSR and India—which ensured that China (despite intense prodding by Henry Kissinger) kept out of the 1971 joint operation between the Mukti Bahini and the Indian armed forces to liberate East Bengalis from genocide. Similar insurance against a conflict with China is needed now, this time from Washington rather than Moscow.

Pakistan cannot any more recover its stability as a unitary state. The Pashtun community suffers from an artificial and cruel division formalised by the Durand Line through a treaty that long back passed its date of expiration. A unified Pashtun state comprising of territory on both sides of the now defunct Durand Line needs to be created with Peshawar as the capital, while the rest of Afghanistan could be constituted into a federation with Kabul as the capital. Within Pakistan, GHQ oppression in Sindh, Balochistan and Pashtunistan needs to end, and in order to help ensure this, India needs to help form an international coalition to assist such oppressed nationalities to secure freedom from oppression by the Pakistan army Substantive assistance to the suffering people of Pakistan cannot be accomplished by India acting in isolation. Instead, New Delhi must form part of an international coalition that would unite to oppose the post-colonial colonialism practised within Pakistan and in PoK by GHQ Rawalpindi. Such a coalition must ensure for itself primacy over the waters of the Indo-Pacific, which to this columnist  has always meant the entirety of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The Quadrilateral Alliance (Tokyo, Delhi, Canberra and Washington) would be the core of a new Indo-Pacific Defence and security alliance. The Quad needs to announce the 21st century Indo-Pacific Charter. This would guarantee security to all democracies in the Indo-Pacific, as also to affiliated powers facing the menace of intervention by hostile forces. It would assure freedom of trade and navigation within the waters of the Indo-Pacific. The signing could take place not in any of the four capitals but in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, a country that needs to be brought into the Indo-Pacific security grid in view of its strategic potential.

Prime Minister Modi needs to prevail over the prevarications of the Lutyens Zone and formalise a Quadrilateral Alliance that does not merely remain a photo-op. Next, the alliance should announce the Indo-Pacific Charter, which in the 21st century will play the same role as the Atlantic Charter did in the 20th. The aim is to protect smaller states as well as keep the two superpowers from going to war against each other. The catastrophic risk of a war between the superpowers was once between Moscow and Washington but now it is between Washington and Beijing. Across the Himalayas, across the Taiwan straits and in the South China Sea are being sown seeds of tension that must not be allowed to grow into conflict that will involve the two current superpowers—China and the US—and two future superpowers, Russia and India. It is obvious that Russia will be on the side of China, thanks in part to the successful sabotage by the Atlanticists of President Donald Trump’s pre-election geopolitical strategy of shifting priorities from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. If it is equally certain that India will be on the US side in such a conflict and vice-versa, a conflict between China and India or war between the US and China can be averted.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Globally Influential Website Fuels the Great Lockdown Strategy (The Sunday Guardian)

Backers of the theory have placed great reliance on a website, Registered on 9 March and made public a few days later, much of the detail about its provenance is hidden by WhoisGuard, a Panamanian company.

NEW DELHI: Lockdown has been the recourse of choice of policymakers in key countries across the world. While a few such as Japan went in for only a partial lockdown, the United States went much further, as did France and Germany. Sweden and Belarus were among the few to go ahead with life as usual, of course with some social distancing and monitoring. China was the first to go in for a lockdown, in the city of Wuhan and later the province of Hubei. Rural hamlets were sealed off to prevent city dwellers from entering and infecting them. Altogether, around 180 million in the PRC went through a complete lockdown in that country, a figure that was low enough to ensure a fast bounce-back from the economic pain that lockdowns inevitably impose. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India was the only world leader to order a complete lockdown on 24 March 2020, that too of a country with a population of 1.29 billion, a lockdown that has largely remained in place from then. This has earned Modi a coveted place in the history books, as well as generous praise from global influencers including Bill Gates, who has from the start of the Covid-19 crisis been an adherent of the Great Lockdown Strategy.
The Covid-19 coronavirus is yet to be comprehensively understood or mapped, including its actual as opposed to the estimated incidence in different countries. Only a comprehensive screening through mass testing would reveal the true spread of the virus and consequently its death rate per hundred of the population. Treatment protocols are being modified or discarded, often with very good results. Earlier emphasis on widespread use of ventilators has been shown to be problematic, as have been initial theories of the exact sequence of causes of Covid-linked deaths. What cannot be refuted is that the worldwide pandemic has resulted in economic distress on a scale difficult to have seen replicated over the past century. This is the inevitable and anticipated consequence of the series of lockdowns of human activity resorted to by successive governments on the urging of the World Health Organisation. WHO failed to discover the pandemic in its initial stages in Hubei province of the PRC, thereby passing up an opportunity to prevent its spread beyond a few locations in China. Later, the entire top echelon of the organisation underplayed its toxicity and denied that it could be spread through human contact, or that travel from affected zones was a serious risk. After such serial misjudgments of the situation, the WHO finally put its prestige behind what is essentially a single-point prescription, which was to confine people in their homes so as to isolate them from human contact. This was seen as the only surefire way of avoiding a disastrous spread of a disease the parameters of which were—and are—still indistinct. While India was unique in both the depth as well as scale of its lockdown, other countries varied in their adherence to the single measure that had the support of prestigious institutions such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Johns Hopkins University and the Imperial College, London, not to mention the prestigious Indian Council of Medical Research.
As data are still coming in on actual (rather than hypothetical) cases and trends, including from the few locations where large-scale testing of populations has been done, to claim with the certainty expressed by US virologist Dr Anthony Fauci about what may be termed “hypothetical facts” seems premature. The effective death rate for the novel coronavirus is still a matter of dispute, with estimates ranging from very low figures secured from a scatter of field tests of significant numbers of clusters of people (such as on a ship, a police or army barrack, or a hospital) to the high mortality rates secured through mathematical modelling. The institutions which publicised such alarming estimates are now claiming that only their lockdown strategy has ensured a much lower death rate. They neglect to comment on locations where such measures were either wholly or partially absent, without the disastrous consequences that had been predicted by enthusiasts of the lockdown strategy. Treatment protocols are being adjusted, including in the use and efficacy of ventilators, and study of the precise path that the novel coronavirus within the body takes to snuff away life. Hospitals in India, the US, Russia and China (the four present and future superpowers) are learning more about what needs to be done to protect patients with severe complications, and hospital deaths are falling as a consequence. Meanwhile, the vaccine industry is in full throttle, given the rewards that would ensue to an early bird in the search for a vaccine that could protect against Covid-19.
WHO needs to give guidance on exactly which medical protocols have been shown to be effective in preventing Covid-related deaths (and such a treatment would limit the tendency to await a vaccine before ending the ongoing pandemic panic), or in estimating the exact number of deaths per thousand cases (rather than rely on estimates generated on a computer screen, which is from where the initial hyperbolic estimates of cases and deaths came from). While recommendations such as hand washing and keeping an individual from breathing directly onto another individual is welcome if not unknown, what is called for from an international organisation linked to the United Nations is a menu of options much more varied than its incessant call for lockdowns to continue into the indefinite future. According to the WHO, there is no telling when the pandemic will end, or if it ever will. There is no telling if those who have been infected but survived have immunity or not. All that is crystal clear to that organisation is that lockdowns should continue into a still uncertain future period, irrespective of the economic and societal effects of such a single-minded course of action.
Backers of the Great Lockdown Strategy have placed much reliance on a website, Registered on 9 March and made public a few days later, much of the detail about its provenance are hidden by WhoisGuard, a Panamanian company. The website is available in German, Spanish, English, Italian, Greek, Russian and Marathi, but not so far in Hindi or in Arabic. Its declared purpose is to “slow the spread of COVID-19 by flattening the curve”. Seven names are mentioned in the “Authors” section. The website exhorts those who access the site to translate its findings into any and all languages, and to disseminate the contents as widely as possible. Modestly, it describes itself as the defining chart of the coronavirus in its ( recital of how and why this signal service to humanity (which no doubt has by now been brought to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee) was born. The newly created website has an impressive list of sponsors, including NIH, INSTEDD and NCHS, all being agencies based in the US with a direct or other connection with the Leonardo da Vinci of the Covid era, Dr Anthony Fauci, although they seem not to have treated it with much financial generosity, as its reported expenses are insignificant despite its enormous media and academe-fuelled worldwide impact.
Although Covid-19 experts swear by the website, and repeat its contents without pause, it seems not to have revealed the studies or sources on which it bases its assumptions. Nor does there seem any academic or data-based background analyses offered by the website to justify its faith in the deadly effect on the pandemic of the doctrine of “Flatten the Curve”. Or whether the “y curve” is cumulative number of cases, cumulative active cases, cumulative daily cases or daily active cases. If any of the hundreds of mediapersons relying on this website have asked for such details, that query seems to have been made in private. Interestingly, in publications and on television channels that incessantly talk of “fact checking” and “science-based conclusions”, the content offered by the website has, in essence, been only the drawing of two curves. The other measures are standard boilerplate in disease prevention and control. The assumptions used behind the shape of the curves over time or revealing the formula behind the two parabolic curves appears to continue to remain a secret from its growing number of incurious but enthusiastic believers. What is apparent from a glance at the metrics shows that several experts in disease control, several with connections to a single and substantial private funding source, began quoting from this miraculous curve almost from the moment it began to appear. They were joined by academics from across the world, all united in reliance on the certainty that a single illustration of two curves was regarded as a great leap forward in unlocking the progress of the novel coronavirus or its slowdown. A search of the media and academic reports on the “Flattening the Curve” gospel reveal them to have been based on mathematical models rather than on empirical data. A comparison of the number of infections and deaths in multiple countries (including India) as opposed to the earliest predictions made by Covid-19 experts shows a huge gap between reality and estimates. Prime Minister Modi has succeeded in keeping death rates far below the levels predicted by such renowned but inaccurate early studies of the spread of Covid-19 in India. This gap between forecast and fact has done little to diminish the credibility of institutions such as the Imperial College and Johns Hopkins and the eager disseminators of the conclusions of their hypothetical models, such as CNN, BBC, NYT and innumerable others in the media who are in favour of the Great Lockdown Policy, presumably until their salaries run out as a consequence of the economic consequences of such a policy course.
Numerous conspiracy theories appear almost by the day about the Covid-19 pandemic. Some claim that there was a competition between the two superpowers to engineer the deadly novel coronavirus and perfect a vaccine for it, so that those given the latter would be safe while infected by the former faced havoc. Clearly a tall tale invented by suspicious minds. Other conspiracy theories give numerous less than flattering postulates about both the lockdown fundamentalists, as well as those who claim that this strategy is a conspiracy of ruling elites to ensure that governments gain a degree of control over their citizens that would otherwise be impossible in a democracy. An illogical premise in any country where politicians have to face the electorate periodically, with tight and continuing state control being very unpopular, especially with the young. Lockdowns across the world may indeed have prevented millions of deaths, and that the substantially lower than anticipated numbers in countries that have enforced either no lockdown (such as Belarus or Sweden) are accidents of micro-biology. It is obvious that livelihoods are impossible without life. Just as it may be possible that the actual and publicity shy designers of a website that from the beginning of its appearance transformed the direction of discourse about Covid-19 onto the Great Lockdown path had the intention of saving the world from a deadly scourge that in their reckoning was far worse in its likely effects than bubonic plague in the 14th century. It must be assumed (even without the assistance of advanced mathematical tools) that the thousands of academics in prestigious institutions. Or that the swarm of mediapersons in international media outlets who unquestioningly rely on the assumptions made by must have substantive and provable grounds for their faith, despite such grounds not being explicitly stated in the website. The serial lockdowns that the world has witnessed since March 23, 2020 cannot surely have been simply a leap of faith. There must have been a science behind such a drastic action by world leaders which will be explained to the lay public in course of time Meanwhile, the several billion individuals anxious about the shrinking world economy will just have to bear the shocks of the Great Lockdown of 2020, looking on with hope and trust on the numerous experts who testify over and over again that the lockdowns they are enduring are the only path towards ridding mankind of a scourge that supporters of the Great Lockdown clearly assume could be a potential killer of hundreds of millions of innocents, unless this multitude be protected from such a calamity through continuing with the lockdowns.