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Saturday, 22 May 2021

Smart policies can transform India into global medical hub ( Sunday Guardian)

 

The lack of substantive influence of India in the UN is clear from the fact that WHO has not given emergency use authorization for Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin but to China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Bengaluru: Over the past two months, there has been a welcome change in the functioning of the Government of India while dealing with the SARS2 pandemic. The crisis caused by the second wave seems to have resulted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi looking into several of the decisions made in 2020 for the purpose of coming up with better alternatives. This is a good start, but in India the problem has always been an indifferent finish. There needs to be consistent action on the policy front such as to maximise the natural advantages the country has from its human resources. Lowering some of the Police Constable (PC) era restrictions on NGOs has been a recent example, as also greater efforts at decentralising oxygen supply and distribution, and in ensuring that regulatory hurdles to high-quality innovation and production of vaccines and therapeutics begin to get replaced with differentiated structures more suited to 21st century India. NITI Aayog was set up to ensure policy alternatives to the formulations turned out by the Lutyens Zone. If this is happening, or if it has and the rest of the government has been listening, there has not been evidence of it during the year just past.

THREAT OF
BIO-TERROR

In the US, SARS2 guru Dr Anthony Fauci has been facing criticism for his role in providing the funds ultimately deployed by the Wuhan Institute of Virology to undertake “Gain of Function” research into SARS2. This lab-developed virus has devastated the world by bringing economies to a halt, infecting hundreds of millions and killing millions. In his defence, it must be added that Dr Fauci was probably unaware that a steel wall exists in the Wuhan lab between work done for civilian use as such, and those reserved for examination and deployment by the military.

While he was sanctioning tens of millions of US dollars that he was aware would fund SARS2 researchers in Wuhan, Dr Fauci probably believed that every detail of the findings of the experiments being conducted there with money from US (and some European) taxpayers was being sent meticulously to him. This was a somewhat unrealistic assumption to make, given the structure of governance in China, a country that has been run since 1949 by the Chinese Communist Party. The highly-regarded Dr Fauci (who was among the few from the Trump administration to continue into the Biden administration in the same job) is close to Big Pharma in the US, as are several other researchers. Dr Fauci and his colleagues at the National Institute of Health, together with associates in various foundations, probably acted in the generous manner they did from 2014 to 2019 in the belief that the Chinese scientists would do much of the preliminary (and sometimes unpleasant) work of engineering a virus. Later, Big Pharma could come up with a vaccine for this. In hindsight, it may not have been the best idea to help create a superbug to later come up with an antidote in case a largely man-made killer disease escaped from the confines of the laboratory into the human population. An increasing body of evidence shows that Peter Daszak and others who swear that it is impossible that SARS2 did may be wrong. Why is a question for a future US Congressional or Special Independent Commission enquiry into the causes and consequences of SARS2 may assist in determining. Certainly, such an enquiry deserves US Congressional scrutiny as much as does an investigation into the pell-mell entry into the US Capitol by a mob, many elements in which were violent. Such an enquiry needs to break through barriers created by partisan political interest and examine the role of outside actors (state and non-state) in creating through social media a toxic and divisive brew, variants of which were swallowed by both the “Right” as well as the “Left”.

The problem in hindsight is that the creation of a bio-terror weapon of mass destruction (such as an otherwise harmless virus made deadly and transmissible through Gain of Function experiments), when combined with the creation of an antidote, represents the Golden Grail for the military, whether in the US or China. Neither superpower acknowledges the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi to be guiding their actions and policies. Judging by the results, it would appear that China got to the finish line first, flush as its facilities were with funds from the US and other Atlantic Alliance partners. The foundational policy of this alliance (of which NATO is an offshoot) has been that Russia is the predominant threat to their primacy, and that China is an opportunity rather than a threat. But for the support received since the 1980s from Taiwan, Japan, the EU and the US, the PRC would not be the superpower that it has evolved into since the early part of the present century. Slowly, much too slowly, such views appear to be changing.

VIRUS HAS NO NATIONALITY

A virus should never be named after a country. The WHO was quick to condemn mention of SARS-CoV-2 (SARS2) as the China or Wuhan virus, and has given it a simple alternative nomenclature. In contrast, the complex numerical names of some of the variants that have evolved (or been developed, the jury is still out) since the first strain escaped into the human population in 2019 have ensured that these get named in the media for the countries where they were first discovered in the human population: the UK, the Brazilian, the South African and the Indian variants. The latter is what has been devastating large parts of Southeast Asia. The widespread use by the media and the public across multiple countries of the term “Indian virus” (rather than the overly complex numerical nomenclature used by global health authorities) is not a factor that promotes feelings of good fellowship with India or even with those of Indian origin, many of whom are facing discrimination as a consequence. The common factor in such variants is the E484K mutation, thereby strengthening the possibility of a common origin. Viruses mutate, and it is therefore no surprise that the variant in India has mutated into at least three different strains—B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3. As these names are not the easiest to remember, the term “Indian virus” has come into widespread use across the world without attracting the level of criticism (especially from the WHO) that followed any use of the term “China virus” or “Wuhan virus”. There is also no “US virus”, despite multiple strains having been discovered in the human population in that country, such as that once active in California. Being a superpower and a Permanent Member of the UNSC helps in ensuring that the rest of the world does not pick on China or the US in the manner that it does countries that are less influential.

Nobel Prize winner for medicine and eminent virologist, David Baltimore, former President of Caltech or California Institute of Technology, commented on the original SARS2 virus: “The furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus. These features make a powerful challenge to the idea of a natural origin for SARS2,” (Source: tweet by virologist Prof Richard Ebright, Professor of Virology at Rutgers University. https://twitter.com/R_H_Ebright/status/1390131060445437955. Others may be cited. Nicholas Wade “The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. May 5, 2021.)

Now we have an even more efficient and more deadly and transmissible version circulating in India, where mutations have occurred in precisely those super-efficient structural parts of the virus that raise the most suspicions of having been developed in a laboratory rather than in nature. Doctors treating cases state that overnight the lung turns opaque on X-Ray once the patient complains of breathlessness, indicating the increased speed of deadly action. Doctors and other frontline warriors are themselves dying in increasing numbers, including the former President of the Indian Medical Association. The world must therefore know how the SARS2 virus originated, as well as have robust biodefence prepared including epidemiological, virological surveillance, threats-assessments, and vaccines/therapeutics/diagnostics remedial measures.

EFFORTS TO HOLD WHO TO ACCOUNT

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Health Minister of India, was appointed Chairman of the Executive Board of WHO for one year, demits this powerful position at the World Health Assembly being held 24 May to 1 June, 2021. The Union Health Minister must have worked ceaselessly to try and find out more facts about the origins and nature of the pandemic than the WHO has publicly let on. If, as many believe, much of the Wuhan experiments were being done together with the PLA, it is understandable why so little has come out about SARS2 from that country. What is incomprehensible is the seeming lack of success (or effort) by WHO to get to the roots of the pandemic rather than rubber stamp whatever it has heard from interlocuters in Beijing. The Government of India needs to educate the Indian public the ways in which he sought to increase transparency about the origins of SARS2 during this critically significant tenure at the top of the oversight board of that organisation. Dr Harsh Vardhan needs to hold a press conference on the subject when he demits office, preferably in Geneva itself, as he must have worked hard in the powerful position he has held for one critical year to ensure transparency and accountability for a pandemic that has ravaged the country that he has been chosen to serve as Union Minister for Health, not to mention Science & Technology.

SINOpharm BUT NOT COVAXIN: WHY?

Irrespective of the variants, a combination of vaccines and complementary therapeutics will reduce further the mortality and morbidity due to Covid. This has been the case with every epidemic in history. India is well-positioned in both, and all that is needed is a hundred smart policies just as earlier the concept of a hundred smart cities was developed. It must not be forgotten that SARS2 shows the potential efficacy of engineered and disseminated biological agents in paralysing economies, melting down societies and in causing millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of severe morbidity casualties.

To assume that such tactics will not be used would be to court collective danger. Unfortunately, at every step of the way, bio-terrorism provides opportunities for deniability. Therefore, the onus cannot be on the party suspected of malfeasance to allay concerns via “spin” or otherwise. There must be a clear-cut and immediate way for affected countries to be able to rush to verify as to what happened in the “culprit” country or entity. The Quad needs to work on this, with India in the lead. Relying on the UN as India has consistently done (despite its lowly status compared to the P-5) may not work. As has been said, the UN P-5 system of vetoing the rights of others to inspect the potential cause of the bio-terror or lab-leak is unacceptable. Organizations such as WHO are under the control of the P-5 that can block access for the affected/impacted to visit the source of the problem.

This was in stark view in the case of the hiding of everything for over a year by PRC. Which is why an operational arm should be with the Quad to monitor and take action. The lack of substantive influence of India in the UN is clear from the fact that, as has been pointed out, WHO has not given emergency use authorization for Bharat Biotech’s vaccine COVAXIN but on 5 May 2021 stated: “WHO today listed the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, giving the green light for this vaccine to be rolled out globally.”

It is a sign of the world we live in (rather than the world the Lutyens Zone assumes we live in) that authorities in China have been distributing five types of SARS2 vaccine before WHO approved even one of them (or before May 5, 2021). The Chinese vaccine was the one mainly used in Seychelles “the world’s most vaccinated nation” using Chinese vaccines donated by the UAE. Seychelles only has a population of 100,000 and has vaccinated 60%. Despite this, it has a high infection rate. SE Asia too uses PRC-made vaccines liberally. The region is now going through a second wave. For whatever reason, the PRC itself seems to have recovered from the pandemic and seems in much better shape than either the US or India, the two biggest democracies on the globe.

STRATEGY FOR VICTORY

The “Vaccine Maitri” program thought up by Prime Minister Modi and implemented by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar needs to be combined with a strategy for (a) identifying and boosting production of vaccines from the present low number of suppliers to more. Given the wealth of expertise in pharma in India, this is entirely possible, (b) identifying drugs that are proving effective against SARS2 as well as those (including some pricey items) that are more hype than reality and hold more hot air than hope, (c) decentralising oxygen production and supply through increase in the number of oxygen concentrators. The cores need to be imported into India from Europe and the containers made in India, rather than importing the entire equipment from China at inflated prices. Health infrastructure needs to be improved. North Block and the RBI need to stop acting like Uncle Scrooge and ensure flow of funds to those individuals and enterprises in pain caused by the effects of the pandemic. 5:5:5 needs to be the goal. An additional expenditure of 5% of GDP annually over three years, especially to small and medium enterprises and to the unemployed and under-employed. Fiscal rectitude or monetary timidity needs change should such policies cause economic contraction.

India can emerge as the vaccine and pharma hub of the world, not in the indefinite future but by the close of 2021 itself, if a hundred smart policies are developed and implemented. This makes not just political sense but still more importantly, it makes humanitarian sense as well. 2021 needs to be much more productive and much less disruptive than SARS2 made 2020. This is the challenge facing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and those who have been chosen by him to man the higher reaches of the policymaking establishment.

 Smart policies can transform India into global medical hub - The Sunday Guardian Live

CM Adityanath, protect India from charges of hate ( Sunday Guardian)

 

CM should order immediate release of list of religious structures of multiple faiths that have been demolished on account of non-compliance with regulations.

Teachings going back millennia point out that the concept of sacrifice (tyag) in the teachings of the seers of ancient India was relevant only for those few who chose the lifestyle of a renunciate. Sacrifice formed part of their “dharma”, as it involved the exchange of a better life for an existence filled with privation. The renunciate (sanyasi) accepted this cheerfully, as he saw such a sacrifice as leading to the greater good through a purification of his own self of desire. There are Jain millionaires who become monks, as do some sons and daughters of the wealthy of other faiths, notably Buddhism. What needs to be kept in mind is that such a sacrifice is part of dharma not for people in general, but only for sanyasis. For the rest, dharma meant involvement in the activities of life in a manner that benefitted the families and also society. To get material success was not evil or undesirable but an essential and desirable objective to strive for. Thousands of years later, Adam Smith talked about the same set of verities in “The Wealth of Nations”. In India, the texts and the teachings of ancient times are almost as forgotten now in our curricula as they were during the colonial period. This when such teachings have nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with knowledge. An example is the Hitopadesa, which again no Board of Education has seen fit to include in school textbooks, useful though the many lessons taught in its verses are. Take the concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which is used frequently by many to mean that all those we come across should be treated warmly. The two words they quote came from a fable in the Hitopadesa. This talked of a jackal seeking to trick a deer into inviting it to a place where it would be easy to kill and eat Chitranga, the deer. A nearby crow, Subudhi, warned the deer not to trust the jackal, but to run away. The jackal, Sudrabhudi, responded enticingly by saying “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. Had that been taken literally by Chitranga, and had the warnings of Subuddhi been ignored, the deer would have ended up as the dinner of the jackal. The lesson taught is that friends are those with good intentions, while others with evil intentions should be kept at a safe distance and treated with caution. Concepts outside the context of “tyag” and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” have gone so deep into our psyche that on a national scale, we very often ignore the advice of our friends and lower our guard with our enemies. The Vedic, Mughal and Western periods come together in the cultural ethos of India rather than form separate strands. This fusion is why the absence of a truly composite education that reflects the entire scholarship and history of India and not just the past few hundred years, is incomprehensible 74 years after the Union Jack was unfurled from Rashtrapati Bhavan and replaced with the Tricolour.
It is ironic that Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan is so vociferously against the Jewish state of Israel, seeing that his was the first country to get formed in the 20th century on an explicitly religious basis. Israel came into being as a Jewish state only after Pakistan was founded on the division of India. Many countries across the world have names with a religious tag, as though those of other faiths do not have the same right to be citizens. In Pakistan, the percentage of minorities has fallen below 2%, in Israel it is higher than 20%. In a world where the frontiers of both geography and the mind have become more open, discrimination on the basis of religion even in countries formed explicitly on a religious basis is wrong. In Israel, there does exist a fringe within the majority community that has an exclusivist viewpoint, but thus far, they have not succeeded in ensuring that the rights and freedoms of any genuine democracy are denied to other citizens. Hopefully, they never will. The trajectory of Pakistan and the few other exclusivist states shows what takes place in such a fragmentation of society. Once the “other” has been driven out or rendered helpless, groups within the majority community develop into another “other”, and the fighting goes on until the state approaches societal meltdown. Some countries have sought to erect and perpetuate a wall between “majority” and the “minority”. Such broad categorisations make no sense in a human society, where there are many divergences even within families. Segregation is wrong because it prevents people from mingling with others and thereby finding out that we are all children of the same divine force, no matter the rituals and beliefs we adopt. There is good and bad in every segment of society. India is the exemplification of Indutva, the confluence of the Vedic, Mughal and Western. Which is why it is odd that so many who claim to be opposed to sectarianism continue to divide the population on the basis of religion.

Care needs to be taken to ensure that the administration is not just fair but seen to be fair, and this is particularly applicable to Uttar Pradesh, which is the most populated state in India. A mosque that was a hundred years old was demolished in Barabanki. Other sites as well must have been, irrespective of faith. The UP administration must have a list of multiple religious structures the location of which is in non-compliance with rules that were often designed in such a complex manner that compliance was next to impossible. Presumably, houses of worship (including those of other faiths) were demolished on the same ground by authorities in UP as the building in Barabanki was. Now is the time to make public that list. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made considerable effort to prove wrong the many across the world who have been fed by the propaganda of GHQ Rawalpindi (boosted by steroids supplied by the PLA) that India is a country where supremacy of one religion over another is being practiced, a conclusion that is false and should be shown to be false. Which is why it is important that Chief Minister Adityanath order the immediate release of the complete list of religious structures of multiple faiths that have been demolished by the state administration on account of non-compliance with regulations. By so doing, he would be preventing enemies of India from using what took place in Barabanki to boost the false claim that India is a country that is not equally safe for all its citizens.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Governance reform crucial for Modi 2.0 ( Sunday Guardian)

 

Modi 2.0 needs to ensure a robust level of the protection given to whistle-blowers. They should be allowed to escape penal consequences.

Death and taxes, they say, are the only certainties in life. To that needs to be added the fact that in democracies, politicians who come to power inevitably leave power. Only a very few continue till nature intervenes, as in the case of President Roosevelt in 1945. From being hailed as divinity by no less a personage than Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1971 to getting defeated in her own constituency in 1977 by Raj Narain, Indira Gandhi saw a reversal of fortune. Her supporters melted away, but almost all returned as soon as she came back to power in 1980, among those being A.K. Antony. So watertight was the cocoon of ignorance of ground reality in the Prime Minister’s House that the Prime Minister failed to anticipate the humiliation of the Congress Party by a collection of individuals, who in 1971 belonged to the past and seemed destined to remain there. In 1975, this columnist (who even at a much younger age was peripatetic) was at Delhi airport to catch a flight to Ahmedabad, going there to meet a friend studying in the Indian Institute of Management. Morarji Desai was on the same flight. At the airport, he looked around and smiled at people he seemed to recognize, none of whom bothered to respond to the individual who for so long was among the most powerful men in India. This columnist went up to him and engaged him in conversation. Tulsi Ramayana was the subject Morarji chose to talk about, until we walked into the aircraft . Morarji was in a sombre mood, perhaps because of the manner in which he seemed to be among India’s forgotten men. Three years later, this columnist met him again, this time at South Block. Morarji was in his office, that of the Prime Minister of India. He smiled at the mention of that airport encounter, and asked if this columnist had read Tulsi Ramayana yet. There was a crowd of people outside his office who were waiting to meet him, among which may have been someone who had looked away at Delhi airport when the man who had been Deputy PM of India just six years earlier looked in their direction but was denied any sign of recognition. His trajectory showed that it was impossible to count any politician out, or permanently in, where India was concerned. The good news for politicians is that there seems to be an unwritten code, at least in the Lutyens Zone, to ensure that changes in government do not bring about any genuine (as distinct from cosmetic) effort at either transparency or accountability where high-ups in the previous regime are concerned. Take as an example a minister who siphoned off more than Rs 90,000 crores through gaming the markets through rule changes and insider information. He was held to account, not for the Rs 90,000 crore siphoned off by him but for small change, and the charges were such that the case may eventually get thrown out in court, as took place in the 2G matter with so many who had been prosecuted.

Even the limited level of accountability seen in Modi 2.0 is a plus, given the Lutyens Zone tradition that major misdeeds by the very powerful remain interred in the recesses of the governance system. The results of the absence of transparency and accountability in the higher reaches of the political administration have been visible in the consistent under-performance of India in comparison to many other countries. To change this, Modi 2.0 needs to ensure a robust level of the protection given to whistle-blowers. They should be allowed to escape penal consequences and suffer a financial penalty only up to 50% of their illegal earnings, provided they revealed evidence that implicated a higher-up. Finally, such a pyramid of the discovery gleaned through confessions and evidence submitted by wrongdoers would reach elevated levels. These are where graft needs to be eliminated, for it is at the top that the most consequential decisions get made. In India, the lower the level of the official, the higher the possibility of accountability, when the reverse is what is needed for the healthy evolution of the Indian state. We hear a lot of what happens in India, good and bad. What is less discussed is what does not happen, all too often as a consequence of misuse of executive power by an official belonging to the 5% of the governance machinery that is corrupt. In government, what matters is format and procedure, not outcomes. If the prescribed format is adhered to, decisions that favour individual interests get taken without routine discovery. As long as the paperwork is complete and has been correctly formatted, it has often been possible for a few to subvert the public interest for a bribe. This happens even if the Secretary, Minister or Prime Minister is honest. Which is why the stages of each decision need to be much more accessible to the public than they are at present. Until there is transparency, there will be no accountability. And unless there is accountability, there will not be a governance mechanism agile enough to meet the needs of the 1.4 billion citizens of our country.

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Policy reset can ensure India leads fightback against SARS2 ( Sunday Guardian)

 

This is the time to spend on people, not pander to Wall Street speculators by continuing with the Chicago School fiscal rectitude that ruined societies in South America in the 1970s.

 There have been substantive measures taken since the full force of the second wave of SARS2 hit India in February, and many are expected to show results within this year or the next. Rather than focus only on such recent actions, the Government of India needs to examine precisely why such measures were not taken early enough, in 2020. Had they been, much of the tragedy that has fallen on family after family would have been prevented. It was only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened in March in the midst of his election tours that matters began to improve. It is unlikely that there will be a rigorous effort at enforcing accountability within those whose lack of preparedness in 2020 for the scenario that unfolded in 2021 caused the shortage of oxygen, medicines and supplies that led to the deaths and misery of so many families across the country. The PM’s decision on 24 March 2020 to enforce a 21-day lockdown on the entire country at almost no notice (and which was followed by a similar national lockdown) was intended for a crisis-level expansion in hospital bed availability, and in the supply of the essentials needed to overcome the impact of the virus on vulnerable individuals.

SPECIALISTS NEEDED

The second wave has been far more deadly than the first, and its ferocity could have been anticipated, had specialist facilities such as the National Institute of Virology in Pune been placed at the heart of the central effort taken to meet the crisis caused by the present SARS2 spike. Specialisation in paediatric care or heart issues is essential for health, but in an epidemic so similar to SARS1, what was needed was full mobilisation of the best epidemiologists in India. Together with those from other specialisations, they needed to be present in each group tasked with framing policy to combat the pandemic. Not that such avoidance of specialisations is an aberration. Officers who have spent decades in unrelated fields have been regarded from 1951 onwards as sufficient to take up leadership roles in specialist departments such as Defence or Home. In the complex world of the 21st century, administrative expertise by itself may not be sufficient for success in outcomes, nor can the domain knowledge needed for such success be picked up from a few briefings. More departments, including Health and Education, need to follow the example of the Department of Science & Technology and that of Atomic Energy by ensuring the embedding of domain specialists, especially at middle and higher levels. It would appear that a “doctor is a doctor, no matter what he is a specialist in”, seems to have been the belief while choosing the personnel who were chosen to manage the SARS2 task forces, empowered groups and regulatory authorities. These were brought into operation during the start of the pandemic in 2020. What is needed is substantial expertise in the prevention and handling of epidemics, especially those of viral origin. There are several world class experts in this field in India. Judging by the reports featuring those prominent in government-appointed bodies, relatively few epidemiologists and specialists in viruses appear to have been tapped for manning SARS2 policy and monitoring groups.

What had been needed from early 2020 itself was to have ensured that longstanding regulatory and other obstacles got cleared. There needed to be decentralisation of oxygen production and supply in place of the cumbersome system involving a few big producers that has long been in operation in the country. The removal of regulatory blockages to expansion and decentralisation of oxygen supply took place only after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister six weeks ago. Similarly, there needed to be a trawl of companies operating in India that have the potential to make vaccines and therapeutics found to be helpful in battling SARS-2. This seems to be taking place, but again, only after Prime Minister Modi’s March 2021 intervention, by which time the country was in crisis. Had those in the substantial machinery set up by the PMO in 2020 to manage the crisis anticipated problems and worked on improving the availability of the requisites for mitigation, such measures could have begun to be implemented in 2020 itself. There are complaints that medicines produced by domestic companies that showed promise in trials were ignored in favour of more expensive substitutes from abroad. Such reports need to be investigated. Unfortunately for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 100% of the blame for the lack of preparedness is being placed at his door, not just in India but globally.

OBJECTIVE AND RESULT

Not for the first time, there has been a gap between what Prime Minister Modi wanted and what was in practice accomplished. There was sound logic behind the forced exchanging in 2016 of previous Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes with others. For too long, there had been recourse to currency paper and other requirements from foreign companies that were selling the same product to any country that paid the high price demanded, including Pakistan and entities linked to the PRC. Only recently, after the intervention of the PMO, have features been added to currency notes that make it more difficult to replicate. When demonetisation was announced by the Prime Minister in 2016, the country had been awash in counterfeit notes, which presumably was a factor behind this decision. India is not Germany or Israel, and a substantial segment of the economy is tethered to cash. This segment suffered substantially because of the sudden drop in liquidity to near zero. The RBI should have made arrangements to ensure that liquidity was sufficient to prevent a liquidity cataclysm within the small and informal sector. Both sectors that are linked to enterprises much larger, and whose travails affected supply chains across a range of enterprises. It is not the Prime Minister’s job to ensure that banks get prepared on time to handle the flood of currency that would inevitably come to them once DeMo was announced. It was not the PM’s job to make sure that segments of the economy did not suffer on account of a sharp dip in liquidity consequent to the changeover to new notes. It was not his job to ensure that new notes were sent on time to banks and to ATMs across the country. These were the tasks of those lower down the chain of command. The Reserve Bank of India failed these essentials in such a manner that it became an object of ridicule across the world. Soon afterwards came the rollout of GST. This was an essential reform, but needed to have been designed so as to ensure a quantum increase in overall growth. The initial GST structure was complex rather than simple, and those designing it added penal provisions that made compliance even more of a nightmare. Carrots were few, the stick substantial. Tax rates were complex and much too high, while exemptions given were much too low. North Block often forgets that the purchasing power of the rupee is not what it was in the 1970s. This needs to be kept in mind while designing exemption limits and cutoffs in its tax policies. The focus of the original design was on immediate revenue rather than on ensuring that the flow multiplies over a period of 3-5 years through growth-inducing features. That was the time needed for production and innovation to rise to the levels needed to meet the Prime Minister’s objective of a $5 trillion economy. Such an expansion will come about not because of government increasing its revenue (which objective has long been an obsession to many in the Finance Ministry) but because tax rates and regulation get pruned to levels that are less reflective of the permit-licence period. At the same time, there has too often been a genuflection of North Block and Mint Road to Wall Street .This has resulted in being tight-fisted while dealing with individuals and sectors where generosity was called for. In 2012, it was forecast in The Sunday Guardian that Narendra Modi would (on becoming Prime Minister) become the Deng Xiaoping of India, transforming the country. The sooner this becomes a reality, the better.

SPEND ON PEOPLE

In 2018, it was not a done deal that the BJP would come close to a Lok Sabha majority in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Rahul Gandhi emerging as the Opposition alternative to PM Modi and the Balakot strike changed that. Sentiment prevailed in the form of anger at Pakistan and hope in a future led by PM Modi. These trumped the efforts of an opposition itself scarred by corruption charges to paint Modi in the same colours. It was true that the economy was slowing down, but it was expected that this would son be set right by PM Modi. During the current SARS2 second wave, fear has overshadowed hope for the future and anger at Pakistan. Fear caused by the economic havoc caused to individual families by job losses and the impact on business of the pandemic. Fear that savings will be wiped out should the disease hit a family, at a time when it is affecting millions and draining away the savings of even the middle class. Fear of the future is everywhere, which is why calls for positivity (itself a sinister word in the lexicon of SARS2) are not falling on receptive ground. 2021 need not have begun on an unhappy note. It was suggested in *The Sunday Guardian* in 2020 that 5% of GDP get spent as additional expenditure on boosting jobs and incomes during the pandemic. The boost is not just for the year just past. The same increase in spending needs to take place in 2021 and 2022. This is needed to ensure that the economy roars with double digit growth by 2023. The extra spending needed to be diverted to individuals and entities in such a manner that jobs were rescued and families were saved. As an example, had migrant workers been given a dole for at least six months through their bank accounts that compensated them for the loss in income because of lockdowns, that may have prevented millions from returning to their villages during that period. This is the time to spend on people, not pander to Wall Street speculators by continuing with the Chicago School fiscal rectitude that ruined societies in South America in the 1970s.

DIVERSIFY MEDICAL SUPPLIES

A back of the envelope calculation shows that India has several companies that have the potential to develop vaccines that will be as effective as any competitor. These include Cipla, Shanta Biotech, Biological E, Panacea Biotech, Hester Biosciences, and Zydus Cadilla, besides the three already in the ring (Bharat Biotech, Dr Reddy’s and SII). What were the bottlenecks that stopped the entry of more companies developing vaccines when the pandemic became visible in India in January 2020? It would appear from the records available that public funding for vaccine development in India has been low. And that bottlenecks to vaccine development by multiple companies that are a leftover of past practices were allowed to continue. This is being changed since March 2021, but could have been done in 2020 by the numerous task forces and empowered groups set up to handle the consequences of the pandemic. India being a country where doing nothing brings little censure, those involved in such lack of action during 2020 are likely to continue in their posts. Changes need to come if the confidence of the public is to be won back. Listening to a trove of statistics recited by an official when citizens are desperately searching for oxygen or medication may not result in a “positivity” boost in public sentiment. Especially when infections have reached levels not seen in the country till now. Regulatory changes would have ensured the dissemination of oxygen supply though smaller production units a year ago, and why this was not attempted at that point in time remains unclear. The situation is the same with therapeutics. Action needed to have been taken by the administrative machinery as soon as the Prime Minister alerted the nation in early 2020 that it was at war with a deadly pathogen . This would have mitigated the effects of the onset of a second wave.

DON’T WASTE TIME

Diplomats and other officials are preparing to conduct negotiations with the WTO on ensuring greater access to vaccines and medication helpful in the protection of citizens during a pandemic that has devastated societies across the world. Such negotiations may be a waste of time, as India already has the laws needed to ensure access to vaccines and medication, should it use those. There are TRIPS and WTO stipulations that an epidemic or a pandemic frees a country from the obligations it has entered into previous to such a disaster. The Quad needs to ensure that a collective effort be made to escape dependence on the PRC for intermediate materials used in the production of drugs. It is self-destructive on the part of the PRC to continue to restrict access to these, as doing so would only speed up the shift of supply chains from that country. The Consul-General of India in Hong Kong has correctly flagged the extortionate prices being charged by Chinese producers of oxygen concentrators and other equipment. This has been going on for months at the very time when media outlets in China were talking of that country’s “generous assistance” to India. It has been pointed out that the core of each “Chinese” oxygen concentrator is made in Europe. Why no action was taken during the start of 2020 itself to ensure that these were directly imported from Europe and manufactured in India  remains unclear. The Prime Minister’s repeated calls to action need to be actioned on. The blame for such lack of preparedness and effort will fall on Narendra Modi and not on any other person, and this is already happening across the country. For everything going wrong, the blame is being placed on the Prime Minister, to the delight of his adversaries. They expect to coast to victory in subsequent elections because of such a situation, and their confidence is growing with every passing month. They expect that Bengal will not be a full stop but just a comma before other victories get chalked up.

DEVOLVE POWERS

Devolving more powers to state governments is a must. And corporates need to be given the freedom to procure vaccines from wherever they can find it, and ensure their staff are protected free of cost? Several private companies have a logistics chain for their items that is reliable, and these can be tapped to carry items essential in winning the battle against SARS2. Not only All of Government but All of India needs to be involved in the biological warfare that has been unleashed on the world’s most populous democracy. What needs to be done by the government is to mandate online transparency in (a) the receipt of funds, (b) the supply of vaccines and oxygen, and (c) availability of medication. Almost every day, complex graphs and charts are being rolled out by officials to the media. These are too general and too opaque to have the effect of generating sufficient confidence within the public that the system is delivering results. There also needs to be transparency in goods that are being donated across the world. Rather than make efforts at centralisation that slow down the last mile delivery crucial to the saving of lives, what is needed is to reveal (i) which hospital, (ii) what equipment and (iii) from where it is coming from. Transparency will ensure efficiency rather than efforts to manage more than what the system can handle effectively.

NGOs CAN HELP, NOT HURT

The digital revolution promoted by Modi since he took charge of the country in 2014 needs to be used to ensure that information reaches the public, not everything going to some designated agency, and from then on, radio silence. Donors will multiply once they are certain that what they are giving is actually going to those in need. Curing a headache by cutting off the head has been Standard Operating Procedure in several departments since colonial times. Just as the entire bureaucracy cannot be put into the freezer because 5% of bureaucrats are corrupt, that 5% of NGOs are dodgy and have agendas that go against the national interest should not be a reason for slowing down certification and permissions for all of them. It is not the job of government agencies to block, it is their responsibility to act as facilitators. The agencies would also ensure monitoring which separates the bad apples that get discovered in the course of their operations. Individuals and NGOs have done service during the pandemic in a manner that the world has seen and appreciated. Only a few NGOs need to be the targets of investigation and action. The rest should be allowed the freedom to operate. Restraint and restriction should be the exception and not the rule. In efforts to catch a crook, 99 individuals doing useful and honest work should not be prevented from doing so.

RAMP UP THERAPEUTICS

Therapeutics need to be ramped up in India, and it is expected that changes in administrative practice can ensure this. Many drugs found useful in dealing with the pandemic have expired patents, while others that are essential can be produced either through collaboration or on occasion, compulsory licensing. When a German pharma company sought to stop this from happening to a product in India, the courts stood by patients and not the patent. This avenue needs to be explored rather than avoided out of worry of the US Trade Representative. The USTR under Biden is not what the USTR was under Trump, and it is unlikely that lifesaving measures will be blocked by the White House in the manner that was threatened during the period when Trump was in office. Should India produce drugs not only for itself but for the world (as policy resets can ensure), it would be difficult for even Switzerland or Germany to block such a situation, despite the influence of Big Pharma in those countries. Unlike what its detractors say, the Vaccine Maitri policy of the Modi government made sense, but needs to be combined with moves to ensure that bottlenecks to production of PPEs and other requisites get removed. ICMR and the Health Ministry need to be pro-active on this. Given the dismal record of the WHO during the pandemic, relying on that organisation for guidance on what to do is an invitation to disaster.

DUAL SYSTEM FOR VACCINATION

COWIN is a good system, except for the many millions too poor to access the internet. A dual system has been suggested by a health specialist based in Japan, Dr Sunil Chacko. This is that those too poor to have access to the internet should be given the right to walk in to vaccination centres kept for them. Others could schedule appointments through their smartphones. Once more companies in India are enabled through policy resets to increase the production of vaccines, India can produce around 4 billion SARS2 vaccines annually within the next two years, and be able to vaccinate the world. India can equally well produce low-cost therapeutics effective against the disease and send them across the world, as is happening in the case of HIV-AIDS. 2020 was a year of missed opportunities. 2121 needs to be the year of the Great Reset.

Policy reset can ensure India leads fightback against SARS2 - The Sunday Guardian Live

 

Policy reset can ensure India needs fightback against SARS2 ( Sunday Guardian)

 This is the time to spend on people, not pander to Wall Street speculators by continuing with the Chicago School fiscal rectitude that ruined societies in South America in the 1970s.

 There have been substantive measures taken since the full force of the second wave of SARS2 hit India in February, and many are expected to show results within this year or the next. Rather than focus only on such recent actions, the Government of India needs to examine precisely why such measures were not taken early enough, in 2020. Had they been, much of the tragedy that has fallen on family after family would have been prevented. It was only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened in March in the midst of his election tours that matters began to improve. It is unlikely that there will be a rigorous effort at enforcing accountability within those whose lack of preparedness in 2020 for the scenario that unfolded in 2021 caused the shortage of oxygen, medicines and supplies that led to the deaths and misery of so many families across the country. The PM’s decision on 24 March 2020 to enforce a 21-day lockdown on the entire country at almost no notice (and which was followed by a similar national lockdown) was intended for a crisis-level expansion in hospital bed availability, and in the supply of the essentials needed to overcome the impact of the virus on vulnerable individuals.

SPECIALISTS NEEDED

The second wave has been far more deadly than the first, and its ferocity could have been anticipated, had specialist facilities such as the National Institute of Virology in Pune been placed at the heart of the central effort taken to meet the crisis caused by the present SARS2 spike. Specialisation in paediatric care or heart issues is essential for health, but in an epidemic so similar to SARS1, what was needed was full mobilisation of the best epidemiologists in India. Together with those from other specialisations, they needed to be present in each group tasked with framing policy to combat the pandemic. Not that such avoidance of specialisations is an aberration. Officers who have spent decades in unrelated fields have been regarded from 1951 onwards as sufficient to take up leadership roles in specialist departments such as Defence or Home. In the complex world of the 21st century, administrative expertise by itself may not be sufficient for success in outcomes, nor can the domain knowledge needed for such success be picked up from a few briefings. More departments, including Health and Education, need to follow the example of the Department of Science & Technology and that of Atomic Energy by ensuring the embedding of domain specialists, especially at middle and higher levels. It would appear that a “doctor is a doctor, no matter what he is a specialist in”, seems to have been the belief while choosing the personnel who were chosen to manage the SARS2 task forces, empowered groups and regulatory authorities. These were brought into operation during the start of the pandemic in 2020. What is needed is substantial expertise in the prevention and handling of epidemics, especially those of viral origin. There are several world class experts in this field in India. Judging by the reports featuring those prominent in government-appointed bodies, relatively few epidemiologists and specialists in viruses appear to have been tapped for manning SARS2 policy and monitoring groups.

What had been needed from early 2020 itself was to have ensured that longstanding regulatory and other obstacles got cleared. There needed to be decentralisation of oxygen production and supply in place of the cumbersome system involving a few big producers that has long been in operation in the country. The removal of regulatory blockages to expansion and decentralisation of oxygen supply took place only after the direct intervention of the Prime Minister six weeks ago. Similarly, there needed to be a trawl of companies operating in India that have the potential to make vaccines and therapeutics found to be helpful in battling SARS-2. This seems to be taking place, but again, only after Prime Minister Modi’s March 2021 intervention, by which time the country was in crisis. Had those in the substantial machinery set up by the PMO in 2020 to manage the crisis anticipated problems and worked on improving the availability of the requisites for mitigation, such measures could have begun to be implemented in 2020 itself. There are complaints that medicines produced by domestic companies that showed promise in trials were ignored in favour of more expensive substitutes from abroad. Such reports need to be investigated. Unfortunately for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 100% of the blame for the lack of preparedness is being placed at his door, not just in India but globally.

OBJECTIVE AND RESULT

Not for the first time, there has been a gap between what Prime Minister Modi wanted and what was in practice accomplished. There was sound logic behind the forced exchanging in 2016 of previous Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes with others. For too long, there had been recourse to currency paper and other requirements from foreign companies that were selling the same product to any country that paid the high price demanded, including Pakistan and entities linked to the PRC. Only recently, after the intervention of the PMO, have features been added to currency notes that make it more difficult to replicate. When demonetisation was announced by the Prime Minister in 2016, the country had been awash in counterfeit notes, which presumably was a factor behind this decision. India is not Germany or Israel, and a substantial segment of the economy is tethered to cash. This segment suffered substantially because of the sudden drop in liquidity to near zero. The RBI should have made arrangements to ensure that liquidity was sufficient to prevent a liquidity cataclysm within the small and informal sector. Both sectors that are linked to enterprises much larger, and whose travails affected supply chains across a range of enterprises. It is not the Prime Minister’s job to ensure that banks get prepared on time to handle the flood of currency that would inevitably come to them once DeMo was announced. It was not the PM’s job to make sure that segments of the economy did not suffer on account of a sharp dip in liquidity consequent to the changeover to new notes. It was not his job to ensure that new notes were sent on time to banks and to ATMs across the country. These were the tasks of those lower down the chain of command. The Reserve Bank of India failed these essentials in such a manner that it became an object of ridicule across the world. Soon afterwards came the rollout of GST. This was an essential reform, but needed to have been designed so as to ensure a quantum increase in overall growth. The initial GST structure was complex rather than simple, and those designing it added penal provisions that made compliance even more of a nightmare. Carrots were few, the stick substantial. Tax rates were complex and much too high, while exemptions given were much too low. North Block often forgets that the purchasing power of the rupee is not what it was in the 1970s. This needs to be kept in mind while designing exemption limits and cutoffs in its tax policies. The focus of the original design was on immediate revenue rather than on ensuring that the flow multiplies over a period of 3-5 years through growth-inducing features. That was the time needed for production and innovation to rise to the levels needed to meet the Prime Minister’s objective of a $5 trillion economy. Such an expansion will come about not because of government increasing its revenue (which objective has long been an obsession to many in the Finance Ministry) but because tax rates and regulation get pruned to levels that are less reflective of the permit-licence period. At the same time, there has too often been a genuflection of North Block and Mint Road to Wall Street .This has resulted in being tight-fisted while dealing with individuals and sectors where generosity was called for. In 2012, it was forecast in The Sunday Guardian that Narendra Modi would (on becoming Prime Minister) become the Deng Xiaoping of India, transforming the country. The sooner this becomes a reality, the better.

SPEND ON PEOPLE

In 2018, it was not a done deal that the BJP would come close to a Lok Sabha majority in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Rahul Gandhi emerging as the Opposition alternative to PM Modi and the Balakot strike changed that. Sentiment prevailed in the form of anger at Pakistan and hope in a future led by PM Modi. These trumped the efforts of an opposition itself scarred by corruption charges to paint Modi in the same colours. It was true that the economy was slowing down, but it was expected that this would son be set right by PM Modi. During the current SARS2 second wave, fear has overshadowed hope for the future and anger at Pakistan. Fear caused by the economic havoc caused to individual families by job losses and the impact on business of the pandemic. Fear that savings will be wiped out should the disease hit a family, at a time when it is affecting millions and draining away the savings of even the middle class. Fear of the future is everywhere, which is why calls for positivity (itself a sinister word in the lexicon of SARS2) are not falling on receptive ground. 2021 need not have begun on an unhappy note. It was suggested in *The Sunday Guardian* in 2020 that 5% of GDP get spent as additional expenditure on boosting jobs and incomes during the pandemic. The boost is not just for the year just past. The same increase in spending needs to take place in 2021 and 2022. This is needed to ensure that the economy roars with double digit growth by 2023. The extra spending needed to be diverted to individuals and entities in such a manner that jobs were rescued and families were saved. As an example, had migrant workers been given a dole for at least six months through their bank accounts that compensated them for the loss in income because of lockdowns, that may have prevented millions from returning to their villages during that period. This is the time to spend on people, not pander to Wall Street speculators by continuing with the Chicago School fiscal rectitude that ruined societies in South America in the 1970s.

DIVERSIFY MEDICAL SUPPLIES

A back of the envelope calculation shows that India has several companies that have the potential to develop vaccines that will be as effective as any competitor. These include Cipla, Shanta Biotech, Biological E, Panacea Biotech, Hester Biosciences, and Zydus Cadilla, besides the three already in the ring (Bharat Biotech, Dr Reddy’s and SII). What were the bottlenecks that stopped the entry of more companies developing vaccines when the pandemic became visible in India in January 2020? It would appear from the records available that public funding for vaccine development in India has been low. And that bottlenecks to vaccine development by multiple companies that are a leftover of past practices were allowed to continue. This is being changed since March 2021, but could have been done in 2020 by the numerous task forces and empowered groups set up to handle the consequences of the pandemic. India being a country where doing nothing brings little censure, those involved in such lack of action during 2020 are likely to continue in their posts. Changes need to come if the confidence of the public is to be won back. Listening to a trove of statistics recited by an official when citizens are desperately searching for oxygen or medication may not result in a “positivity” boost in public sentiment. Especially when infections have reached levels not seen in the country till now. Regulatory changes would have ensured the dissemination of oxygen supply though smaller production units a year ago, and why this was not attempted at that point in time remains unclear. The situation is the same with therapeutics. Action needed to have been taken by the administrative machinery as soon as the Prime Minister alerted the nation in early 2020 that it was at war with a deadly pathogen . This would have mitigated the effects of the onset of a second wave.

DON’T WASTE TIME

Diplomats and other officials are preparing to conduct negotiations with the WTO on ensuring greater access to vaccines and medication helpful in the protection of citizens during a pandemic that has devastated societies across the world. Such negotiations may be a waste of time, as India already has the laws needed to ensure access to vaccines and medication, should it use those. There are TRIPS and WTO stipulations that an epidemic or a pandemic frees a country from the obligations it has entered into previous to such a disaster. The Quad needs to ensure that a collective effort be made to escape dependence on the PRC for intermediate materials used in the production of drugs. It is self-destructive on the part of the PRC to continue to restrict access to these, as doing so would only speed up the shift of supply chains from that country. The Consul-General of India in Hong Kong has correctly flagged the extortionate prices being charged by Chinese producers of oxygen concentrators and other equipment. This has been going on for months at the very time when media outlets in China were talking of that country’s “generous assistance” to India. It has been pointed out that the core of each “Chinese” oxygen concentrator is made in Europe. Why no action was taken during the start of 2020 itself to ensure that these were directly imported from Europe and manufactured in India  remains unclear. The Prime Minister’s repeated calls to action need to be actioned on. The blame for such lack of preparedness and effort will fall on Narendra Modi and not on any other person, and this is already happening across the country. For everything going wrong, the blame is being placed on the Prime Minister, to the delight of his adversaries. They expect to coast to victory in subsequent elections because of such a situation, and their confidence is growing with every passing month. They expect that Bengal will not be a full stop but just a comma before other victories get chalked up.

DEVOLVE POWERS

Devolving more powers to state governments is a must. And corporates need to be given the freedom to procure vaccines from wherever they can find it, and ensure their staff are protected free of cost? Several private companies have a logistics chain for their items that is reliable, and these can be tapped to carry items essential in winning the battle against SARS2. Not only All of Government but All of India needs to be involved in the biological warfare that has been unleashed on the world’s most populous democracy. What needs to be done by the government is to mandate online transparency in (a) the receipt of funds, (b) the supply of vaccines and oxygen, and (c) availability of medication. Almost every day, complex graphs and charts are being rolled out by officials to the media. These are too general and too opaque to have the effect of generating sufficient confidence within the public that the system is delivering results. There also needs to be transparency in goods that are being donated across the world. Rather than make efforts at centralisation that slow down the last mile delivery crucial to the saving of lives, what is needed is to reveal (i) which hospital, (ii) what equipment and (iii) from where it is coming from. Transparency will ensure efficiency rather than efforts to manage more than what the system can handle effectively.

NGOs CAN HELP, NOT HURT

The digital revolution promoted by Modi since he took charge of the country in 2014 needs to be used to ensure that information reaches the public, not everything going to some designated agency, and from then on, radio silence. Donors will multiply once they are certain that what they are giving is actually going to those in need. Curing a headache by cutting off the head has been Standard Operating Procedure in several departments since colonial times. Just as the entire bureaucracy cannot be put into the freezer because 5% of bureaucrats are corrupt, that 5% of NGOs are dodgy and have agendas that go against the national interest should not be a reason for slowing down certification and permissions for all of them. It is not the job of government agencies to block, it is their responsibility to act as facilitators. The agencies would also ensure monitoring which separates the bad apples that get discovered in the course of their operations. Individuals and NGOs have done service during the pandemic in a manner that the world has seen and appreciated. Only a few NGOs need to be the targets of investigation and action. The rest should be allowed the freedom to operate. Restraint and restriction should be the exception and not the rule. In efforts to catch a crook, 99 individuals doing useful and honest work should not be prevented from doing so.

RAMP UP THERAPEUTICS

Therapeutics need to be ramped up in India, and it is expected that changes in administrative practice can ensure this. Many drugs found useful in dealing with the pandemic have expired patents, while others that are essential can be produced either through collaboration or on occasion, compulsory licensing. When a German pharma company sought to stop this from happening to a product in India, the courts stood by patients and not the patent. This avenue needs to be explored rather than avoided out of worry of the US Trade Representative. The USTR under Biden is not what the USTR was under Trump, and it is unlikely that lifesaving measures will be blocked by the White House in the manner that was threatened during the period when Trump was in office. Should India produce drugs not only for itself but for the world (as policy resets can ensure), it would be difficult for even Switzerland or Germany to block such a situation, despite the influence of Big Pharma in those countries. Unlike what its detractors say, the Vaccine Maitri policy of the Modi government made sense, but needs to be combined with moves to ensure that bottlenecks to production of PPEs and other requisites get removed. ICMR and the Health Ministry need to be pro-active on this. Given the dismal record of the WHO during the pandemic, relying on that organisation for guidance on what to do is an invitation to disaster.

DUAL SYSTEM FOR VACCINATION

COWIN is a good system, except for the many millions too poor to access the internet. A dual system has been suggested by a health specialist based in Japan, Dr Sunil Chacko. This is that those too poor to have access to the internet should be given the right to walk in to vaccination centres kept for them. Others could schedule appointments through their smartphones. Once more companies in India are enabled through policy resets to increase the production of vaccines, India can produce around 4 billion SARS2 vaccines annually within the next two years, and be able to vaccinate the world. India can equally well produce low-cost therapeutics effective against the disease and send them across the world, as is happening in the case of HIV-AIDS. 2020 was a year of missed opportunities. 2121 needs to be the year of the Great Reset.

Policy reset can ensure India leads fightback against SARS2 - The Sunday Guardian Live

 

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Republican Party becoming a Trump Franchise ( Sunday Guardian)

 A similar takeover of a ruling party took place in India in 1969.

SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic which was revealed in its horror to the world in Wuhan towards the close of 2019, has the capability of killing not just human beings but the political careers of leaders who thought themselves unmatched by their opponents. President Donald Trump was headed for victory until the virus struck his country and damaged his reputation as a manager, a perception that had overshadowed the reality that the Trump presidency gave a bonanza to exactly the same segment of society in the US that had benefitted hugely from multiple Presidents from Reagan onwards. The US Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has ensured that Big Money remains the dominant influence in electoral contests, and this has ensured success to several candidates who place the interests of the hyper-wealthy few above that of the rest. President Joe Biden has put forward a plan of action that can transform the US for the better, much as Franklin D. Roosevelt did. This is in danger of being stillborn as a consequence of the power of Democrats in Name Only (DINOs) such as Joe Mancin to block the legislation needed to bring Biden’s vision of Opportunity for All to fruition. In his final months as President of the US, Donald Trump understood that it was not just the billionaires that counted but ordinary citizens as well. Had he put forward the same measures as Joe Biden is now placing before the US Senate, the Republicans in that august body would have supported them. Because it is no longer a Trump but a Biden presidency, they oppose the very measures that Trump had veered around to suggesting. After having given trillions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies to the hyper-rich, Trump was prepared to spend as lavishly on the rest of society. After all, it was not his money that was going to be spent, but more of the dollars printed by the Federal Reserve Board. Despite this willingness to play the role of Santa Claus, Trump was defeated because of the Covid-19 pandemic that seemed out of control throughout much of the final year of his term in the White House. The spread of the pandemic ensured the victory of Joe Biden. It is true that vaccines were developed at warp speed because of the huge amounts of money thrown in the direction of Big Pharma by President Trump. Had he directed such funds to universities and research institutes instead, more and better vaccines would have been the result. But few universities or institutes have the lobbying capacity of Big Pharma, which has long profited out of the research of others and the blocking of substitutes that are either imported from countries such as India or produced domestically.
The other country that could have emerged as a vaccine superpower is India, had the regulatory and other bottlenecks to output and innovation been removed sooner than many of them were during March 2021 through the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The country he has led since 2014 awaits the bringing to justice of those responsible for so many deaths and so much misery that has clouded the first months of 2021 in India. If the cause is a bio-terror attack, it came from a predictable source, and barriers to disaster ought to have been built, such as a sufficient number of oxygen concentrators dispersed across the country as well as substantially more vaccines and medication than had been the situation even after the pandemic had struck. It is difficult, often very difficult, to actually do something beneficial in India, but very easy for interested parties to block such actions from taking place, so dense are the constricting regulations and so immense are the powers of the officials administering them. After every failure caused by a surfeit of regulation that slows or stifles, the standard response is always more regulation. Cronies love such a system, while others despair.
Now that the Republican Party has become the Party of Trump, the definition of Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) has been changed to those who objected to such a transformation. It needs to be remembered that a similar takeover of a ruling political party took place in India as well. In 1969, Indira Gandhi converted the Congress Party into a family-owned enterprise, and the other (once?) consequential national party besides the BJP has been a family enterprise ever since. As Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao sought to bring his party back to where it had been before its complete takeover by the Nehru family, and was defeated at the polls in 1996 by the formation of the Tiwari Congress. The toxic effect of this on the Prime Minister combined with the incessant personal attack on Rao by what was called the Sonia Duo (Arjun Singh and N.D. Tiwari) that lasted from the time Ottavio Quattrocchi was permitted by Rao to leave India to almost the final days of Rao’s life, when he was not sure whether the next night would be spent at home or in jail as a consequence of criminal charges hanging over his head. Donald Trump has a ruthless streak in him that has helped ensure that most of his party leaders remain faithful to him. Should the Republican Party escape being a Trump franchise, a beneficiary could be Ivanka Trump. She who will be helped by Jared Kushner’s success in fashioning the Abraham Accords, which represent a breakthrough as important as was the 1978 Sadat-Begin Camp David accord. Should the 2022 mid-term elections go badly for the Democrats as a consequence of sabotage of Biden’s plans by DINOs, Trump would dominate the Republican Party. This would weaken the GOP substantially. Despite the Roberts Supreme Court, folks in the US are not ready to move backwards rather than forwards societally. More than her father seems to, Ivanka may understand that any effort at replicating the racial supremacy doctrine that has been woven into too much of the policies of the Trump administration would be futile. Even among white citizens in the US, the majority accept the reality of a multi-racial society. Friendships and marriages are now commonplace. US Presidents such as Lyndon B. Johnson and now Joseph R Biden are enacting measures that take account of such an inevitability. Biden Democrats winning in 2022 will be good for the US even as a loss for them would rescue Republicans from becoming a family-run enterprise. It was among the disappointments of the Clinton-suffused Obama era that the symbolism of the first black President of the US became a substitute for many of the actual steps that were needed to ensure social justice through good economic policy. The wealthy were bailed out by Obama at the expense of the poor and the middle class in the way that first Hank Paulson and later Larry Summers wanted. Should President Biden succeed despite the DINOs, his societal legacy would be far more consequential than that of the first non-white US President. The US needs to fix its socio-economic issues, if it is to successfully confront the existential challenge posed by Cold War 2.0, just as India needs to do. Should the DINOs succeed in blocking the Biden plan, they would cripple their own presidency and the Democratic Party. Should the RINOs succeed after a 2022 Republican setback, they would ensure that the Republican Party gets oriented towards the future rather than remain fixated on the past.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Xi Jinping banks on US-India systemic issues to ensure PRC success ( Sunday Guardian)

 

The Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for China to overtake the US in comprehensive global power, given that Xi Jinping has managed the aftermath of the pandemic much better than the leaders of the major countries of North America, Europe and Asia.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken very quickly echoed Henry Kissinger’s recent lament that “tensions between the US and the PRC needed to be reduced before another Cold War took place”. Blinken called on China to return to the “approved path of international cooperation”. Kissinger may be excused in view of his history, but it is a surprise that Secretary Blinken seems unaware of the Battle of Systems that China is engaged in with the US and other major democracies. The CCP leadership believes that theirs is by far the better system, and that in the ongoing contest between the two superpowers, its system will ensure that Beijing prevail over Washington. The US Secretary of State seems to have missed what has been out in the open for at least the past six years: that Xi is engaged in a rivalry that will end only with a meltdown in one or the other of the competing systems of governance. This is a contest whose acceleration has been triggered by the 2008 financial crash caused by Wall Street. Every President of the US since Richard Nixon held the view that the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would permit it to accept permanently the primacy of Washington over Beijing in the international order. It took the street-smart instincts of a New York builder to finally in 2017 enter the thinking of US President Donald J. Trump that CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping had not just accelerated the party’s longstanding drive towards global primacy, but had set a timeline and begun to implement what seemed to the CCP leadership to be a winning strategy. A plan designed to ensure the downfall of US global primacy.

BLINKEN TOO MUCH THE OPTIMIST
Events in Hong Kong have been taken by the CCP as exposing the danger of its earlier “One Country Two Systems” policy. The risk was that a growing public preference for a less restrictive system, should that (as in Hong Kong) deliver a better lifestyle than the mechanism based on the monopoly of authority of the CCP. Which is why Xi has ensured that the system in Hong Kong has been brought closer to that in the PRC. It is now “One Country, One System” so far as residents of that Special Autonomous Region are concerned. Until Xi Jinping demonstrates to the people of China and to the rest of the world the superiority claimed by the CCP governance system, to the people, the risk is that more and more PRC citizens may convert to the same mindset that set much of Hong Kong’s population on an openly confrontational course with Beijing over five years ago. Such manifestations of public discontent against the restrictions that the CCP leadership believes essential are regarded as an existential (and exogenous) threat by the CCP leadership. For Anthony Blinken to believe that Xi would walk back (from a path that is regarded by the CCP leadership as essential to the continuation of its rule) may be somewhat optimistic.
A financial analyst based in Hong Kong discovered in 2015 that the PRC had slowed down almost to a stop its purchase of US debt with the dollars earned from the trade deficit that the US had long had with China. The deficit was partly the consequence of the unprecedented flow of currency pumped into the economy by the US Federal Reserve Board. This boosted consumer demand, which was met mainly by production from China. After all, this was where several manufacturing chains had shifted as a consequence of the “devil take the hindmost” approach of Wall Street-tilted US government policy since the period in office of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. As long as Beijing bought US treasury bills using the money it made through trade with Washington, both countries benefitted. China from increased economic growth, the US through fiscal spending cushioned by sales of debt to the biggest source of manufactures into the US. It did not take rocket science for Xi Jinping’s advisors to realise that the reason that the US dollar value was remaining firm despite ballooning deficit spending was through the accumulation of US debt by China. Should that slow down and finally stop altogether, the US government would no longer have the money to fund even its military, and would consequently enter a period of decline.
The Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for China to overtake the US in comprehensive global power, given that Xi Jinping has managed the aftermath of the pandemic much better than the leaders of the major countries of North America, Europe and Asia. Deficit spending—necessary to ensure the avoidance of an economic collapse, shot up to record levels during the pandemic under both Trump as well as now Biden. When Secretary of State Blinken talks of Beijing returning to the international rules of the game, what he means is that China should revert to its pre-Xi policy of funding the US deficit by purchasing Treasury bills. This when Xi has switched the surpluses got through trade with the US (and other countries, including India) from buying US debt to investing in Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) projects and in the purchase of gold from central banks in countries, most of whom are NATO members. The BRI is designed to ensure that Beijing emerges as the hub of Eurasian commerce and logistics.

UNPRECEDENTED CHALLENGE TO INDIA AND U.S.
Simultaneously, General Secretary Xi has begun the (inevitable for other large economies as well) transition to a digital currency, the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). Xi expects that this rollout will lead to a movement towards the RMB when the US dollar goes in for the painful reset that his tactics are designed to be about. About the change in outlook from Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific, the objection that the CCP leadership has to such a shift is that they would like it to happen after Beijing displaces Washington as the dominant power in these waters, and not before. Apart of course from the importance given to India in the Indo-Pacific construct now being adopted by most of the Atlantic Alliance partners. CCP General Secretary Xi is working to a plan designed to ensure that India never reaches anywhere near its potential. This has been operationalised in an increasingly transparent manner since the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was launched a year after the “Heir to Mao”, Xi, took charge as CCP General Secretary in 2012. The leaders of India and the US are hopefully aware of the unprecedented magnitude of the challenge facing both of them. Plus the need to cobble up a strategy smart enough to overcome it. Nostrums of the past, which in different types of packaging is what Xi Jinping expects both Delhi and Washington to adhere to, will be even less effective in the new situation than they were in the past, when the US sleepwalked into creating its most potent challenger ever.

CHINA EXPECTS INDIA WILL UNDERPERFORM
In the case of India, the failure of the Union Government to anticipate the March 2021 second wave of the pandemic and prepare for it strengthened the confidence within the CCP that the country remains tethered through an outdated governance system. They believe that this will ensure that India remains true to its longstanding tradition of under-performance. The CCP expects that the pulls and pressures of competing lobbies will reduce the level of US-India security cooperation to levels safe for the PLA to operate in the Indo-Pacific region, on land, air and sea. In particular, that the operationalising of the Russian S-400 system by the Narendra Modi government will ensure that the trajectory of such relations fails to gain anywhere close to the altitude needed for both countries to work (together with other Quad members) on ensuring freedom of navigation to all and ASEAN’s right to seabed exploration in its share of the waters of the Indo-Pacific. Just as the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic ensured the defeat of President Trump, it is expected that the same factor will work to ensure that the BJP loses the public trust needed to win the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Hope in a better life under Modi and belief in his competence by voters is what ensured the BJP victory in 2014 and 2019. It is calculated that this hope and belief the Prime Minister will deliver on what he had promised, will get reduced with each passing day as a consequence of the handling by the Modi government of the Covid-19 crisis. Thus far, it would appear that not a single individual in the numerous committees set up in early 2020 to battle the pandemic (and which have visibly failed to perform) has been brought to account. Whether the intervention of the Prime Minister to set matters right a month ago will suffice to turn the tide remains a matter of speculation. A forensic audit is needed of why there were delays in approving (a) those who came up with plans for new vaccines (b) production and dispersion of oxygen equipment and (c) neglect of the need to identify and ramp up the production of pharmaceuticals proved to be useful in the treatment of Covid-19.
The loss of political support has been added on to by the feeble response of North Block to the emergency caused by the pandemic, which ought to have led the Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India in early 2020 itself into loosening purse strings much more than what was done. For example, by giving financial assistance to the over 26 million migrant workers stranded by the lockdown in cities all over India, so that there would not be the panic rush to their home states that was seen during the biggest lockdown in world history. As yet, on the ground small and medium units are not getting the benefits that are being touted for schemes designed to keep them in business. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been shut down since the start of 2020, as have tens of thousands of medium and more than a few large businesses. What has been ramped up is a flight of entrepreneurs and innovators to locations outside India, a flight that began during the Police Constable (PC) days of the UPA and its coercive measures. Instead of dismantling these, many were added on to during Modi 1.0, and it is only during Modi 2.0 has the necessary reversal of such enterprise-killing policies has started to be carried out. As for the Quad evolving into a security mechanism, policies are yet to be discerned that move away from the standard Lutyens line of ambiguity and ambivalence.

CHINA EXPECTING DINOS TO SABOTAGE BIDEN
In the case of the US, the CCP leadership is looking towards DINOs (Democrats in Name Only). They believe that DINOs will derail the transformative reforms that President Biden and Vice-President Harris are seeking to navigate through the US Congress. The expected loss by the Democrats in the 2022 elections to the US House of Representatives and the Senate (assuming such a sabotage of the Biden-Harris policies) will further convince the CCP leadership that its gamble of accelerating the pace of transformation of the global order will pay off without triggering a kinetic conflict. The PLA is likely to lose such a contest, whether on land or sea, were the Quad to graduate to becoming a genuine security alliance rather than remain a talking shop. In the meantime, CCP efforts will continue to topple the US dollar from its position as (i) the global unit of account and (ii) the world’s reserve currency. Petroleum, for example, is being increasingly bought by the PRC on payment of RMB rather than USD, reportedly even from Saudi Arabia. The calculation in Beijing is that a sudden decline of even 20% in the value of the dollar will lead to selling pressure that would force it down to much lower levels, thereby opening the field to the digital (and gold-backed) alternative being developed by Xi. Given the manner in which the CCP leadership is working to a plan designed to displace the US by first displacing the economy as the biggest in the world, later the US dollar and finally, end the lead of the US in advanced technology, it may be a sign of a disconnect from current reality that Henry A. Kissinger still expects that a reconciliation is possible between Beijing and Washington except on surrender terms. In other words, the “White Flag” terms negotiated by the Trump administration with the Taliban, and which seems to have been accepted by President Biden. Meanwhile, the Central Bank Digital Currency (the digital RMB) will be getting ready in time for the anticipated dollar reset. Clearly, the CCP leadership believes that both the wallet as well as the gun are essential in the pursuit of power.

PLAN FOR SUCCESS
The assumption underpinning such calculations by the CCP leadership is that the Quad will not, owing to contradictory policies of its members, develop the structures needed to ensure a united response to efforts by the PLA to expand the land, air and sea space controlled by the PRC. And that business logic will prevent substantial de-coupling of production units from China to other locations. India was seen by many corporates as a suitable alternative, but that was before the second wave of SARS-CoV-2 struck. Should Prime Minister Modi do the impossible and be able to turn things around in India during the next two weeks, that would pose a significant challenge to the plans of the CCP leadership to ensure that the PRC remains the manufacturing (and increasingly the technological) hub of the world. Should President Biden succeed in getting his plans for rejuvenation of the US economy and society approved by the US Congress, that would be a second blow to the CCP leadership. The months ahead will tell if India and the US can get their act together in time to enable a reversal of the progress made by the PRC. Both the authoritarian as well as the democratic systems are on test, and the outcome depends on who will come out the winner, Xi or Modi and Biden. As matters stand, even sufficient pairing between the two biggest democracies in the world remains a work in progress. The weeks ahead need to be much more productive than past months have been. Cold War 2.0 is very much a Zero Sum game.