It is not prejudiced to suspect the Tabligh-e-Jamaat of sabotage

This is an actual Twitter conversation between two Indian liberals.

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The fallacy here is so obvious, so in your face, that it hardly needs to be debunked. Since when have we started giving clean chits to organizations based purely on their claims of religious purity? By this absurd logic, the Babaji who heads Dera Sacha Sauda would be innocent too. All the so called godmen who have been accused of rape and various other crimes would be declared innocent. Priests of the Catholic Church would receive a clean chit, whether in matters of sexual exploitation of nuns or of young children.

Even Maulana Masood Azhar and Hafiz Sayeed claim to be running religious charities. Clean chits for them as well? Which religious organization in the world would admit to supporting criminal acts? Should they all be treated as above suspicion purely based on their claims of religious piety?

It is hard to believe that Indian liberals would endorse all of that. If there is prejudice here, it is coming from Indian liberals who perhaps feel that certain Islamic organizations enjoy a special moral status, high above the ranks of so called non-believers.

It is not bigoted to point fingers at the Tabligh-e-Jamaat. Their irresponsible behavior is a matter of public record. As is the fact that they didn’t cooperate with authorities. And finally, the fact that even after the disaster became apparent, their members behaved with police, doctors and nurses in extremely anti-social ways. Teams of police and healthcare workers looking for Jamaat attendees were assaulted, pelted with stones. There are reports of those being taken to quarantine spitting on the streets, trying to endanger everyone. And finally, reports of them misbehaving while in quarantine, including obscene behavior towards women.

But there’s more. Can you believe this?

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Reportedly, some 6000 Tablighis were trained in Harkat ul Jihadi Islami in Pakistan! And reports also say that the terrorist group responsible for the infamous Kandahar hijacking was founded by members of the Tablighi Jamaat!

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Their names even came up in connection to the Godhra carnage. And apparently, being a preacher of the Jamaat was regularly used as cover story by terrorists headed to camps in Pakistan.

And finally, here is the most terrifying bit of all.

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The same building in Nizamuddin West in Delhi. According to Wikileaks, 9/11 Al Qaeda suspects detained by the Americans may have stayed in that building!

In the light of all this information, surely it makes sense to at least ask the question of whether the Corona virus disaster related to the same Jamaat was at least in some part deliberate.

In fact, it makes us wonder how this organization was even still legal. Whether it has been subjected to a full and complete investigation by agencies.

Political correctness cannot be allowed to stand in the way of national interest, nor national security. The immediate need of the hour is to put an immediate ban on all activities of the Tablighi Jamaat, subject its office bearers to detailed interrogation, carefully trace all their contacts and verify every single claim.

 

Is there hope of stopping community spread in India?

I am afraid there is very little hope at this point. After the Nizamuddin disaster, only a miracle can save us from community transmission.

What is terrifying about the Nizamuddin disaster is the “density” of the infection. We have had scares like this before. Remember the whole Kanika Kapoor thing? In Bengaluru itself, there was a woman who came from Switzerland and went to a concert. In these cases, the government tracked down as many people as possible and tested them. I don’t think even one came back positive.

But that is not what happened with the Nizamuddin disaster. As many as 700 people have already tested positive because of that one incident. I could find no number in the public domain so far stating exactly how many people the government is looking for and how many have been traced.

As for the number of people to look for, it could be anywhere between 2000 and 8000. I don’t think the government(s) have managed to track down more than 2000 people so far and 700 have already tested positive. That gives an estimate of over 2000 people who would be infected. Around 1300 of these people are still at large!

For a time period that could be anywhere between 5-15 days. Since the news came out, many of these people have hidden themselves in poorer parts of towns and villages, where people live closer together. In short, total disaster.

The problem is that the math here is absolutely brutal. A very tiny fraction of people not cooperating can precipitate total disaster. In Korea, half the total number of infections could be traced back to the ‘adventures’ of members of a single church which held some crazy belief about hastening the end of the world.

In our nation of 1.3 billion, it is not enough for the majority to cooperate. Not even a vast majority, such as 75%. Not even an overwhelming majority, such as 90%. Or even 95% or 99%. Not even 99.9%. If you can find 100 people among 130 crores who are too dumb or too determined, we are toast.

Keep in mind that at some point, words like “local transmission” and “quarantine” begin to lose meaning. Officially  (so far), India is in a stage of local transmission and not community transmission. The way I understood it, community transmission is when we have no clue where a person might have got infected. The infection is just out there. Local transmission means that we can connect the dots. X came from USA. Now his wife is infected. And his wife’s business partner.

But when the number of links grows sufficiently large, the distinction between local and community transmission loses meaning. And this number is a lot smaller than you would think. Using the ‘friend of a friend’ system, almost every human being can be connected to every other in 6.6 steps. So the line between local and community transmission is quite thin.

The Nizamuddin disaster now accounts for over 25% of confirmed cases in India right now. I believe 161 people tested positive in Tamil Nadu yesterday and 140 of these were connected to the Jamaat. In the coming days, this proportion is likely to grow as many of the contacts of the Jamaatis are refusing to cooperate, hiding in ghettos. The rest of the country is in lockdown. Like I said, the math is brutal.

By the time this nightmare is behind us, we may well have over 50% of cases stemming from this one source.

If there is one ray of hope, it is in studying the Nizamuddin incident itself. This was clearly not the only large gathering of people held last month. If a hotspot had formed somewhere else, it would have been likely visible by now. The crucial difference appears to be that the exposure at Nizamuddin was extended. Thousands of people living in close quarters inside a single building and mingling heavily. A casual visit to a concert, maybe for an hour or two, or even a crowd like that witnessed at Anand Vihar terminal in Delhi, doesn’t seem to be spreading the virus quickly. It is now a week since that incident. Considering how many people were there, at least some would have shown symptoms by now.

How do we flatten the curve now? Well, I think all hope of the lockdown going away on April 14 is now scarce. This is probably going to last until the end of this month. Lockdowns do work, even if you have reached a stage like Italy.

If we make it to April 30 without thousands of people dying, I guess that would be victory.

Will Wuhan Corona virus finally end the urban legend of Kerala’s famous healthcare?

The nation is under lockdown. Inter-state travel has been halted. Even courts are not accepting cases unless absolutely necessary. This is for the safety and well being of all of us.

But imagine this.

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Apparently, people had to regularly leave behind Kerala’s famed healthcare system and seek treatment in neighboring Karnataka. With inter-state travel now blocked, people of Kerala are facing enormous hardships. Hence this order from the Hon. High Court of Kerala.

One of the handful of positives about a crisis is that it helps cut through clouds of confusion and see things clearly. For instance, the Nizamuddin fiasco revealed a vast network of foreign preachers who openly flout visa rules, take part in huge gatherings in the heart of the national capital and then fan out to every corner of India.

Similarly, the situation on the inter-state border between Kerala and Karnataka has lifted the covers on another pile of confusion. For a lot of people, it might come as a shock that people actually have to leave Kerala and seek healthcare in other, better managed states. Years of media drumbeat about Kerala’s great healthcare have come to naught.

Remember that the people of Kerala, who have to seek treatment in other states, are the biggest victims of these decades of media drumbeat. The drumbeat has put their suffering out of focus and destroyed all incentive for the state government to actually do something for its people. Why would politicians care if they know they will get good PR?

Given that Kerala is currently on edge with hundreds of cases of Wuhan Corona virus, it might surprise you to learn that as of Feb 14, 2020, Kerala had “successfully fought and contained” the problem.

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By early March, the news of Kerala’s momentous victory had spread worldwide, earning praise from a BBC panel.

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Meanwhile, the virus, which cares neither for political agendas nor media sentiments, kept working its way. Reality kept trickling in. The numbers kept ticking upwards. The state government hurried up and announced a package of Rs 20,000 crore.

Then something unprecedented happened. For the first time in years, cracks appeared in the PR machine of the Kerala government. People actually began asking if the money was really there and where it would come from. Under scrutiny for the first time ever, the myth of the state government’s “20,000 crore package” crumbled.

Meanwhile, the politicians of Kerala, from both major formations in the state, continue to thrive on strange accusations against the Central government in Delhi. Fantastic source based stories appear, about foreign aid for the pandemic. India has generally been refusing aid from other sovereign countries since the time of the 2004 tsunami, including at the time of 2018 Kerala floods. Old myths about foreign aid from UAE are dug up and circulated. Most ironically, by folks who just had to go to Geneva to bring help at the time of Kerala floods. Presumably because it would have been impossible to contact people in Geneva using either the internet or the telephone.

The people of Kerala continue to suffer, being offered ideology instead of healthcare.

We know that India doesn’t have the best healthcare system. This is a problem hardly limited to Kerala. There are numerous difficulties running a country of our size, with its widespread poverty. But it certainly doesn’t help when a state government spends its time taking jibes at others, say Uttar Pradesh, instead of trying to improve the lives of its own people.

For those who knew better, it was always apparent that Kerala govt’s propaganda on healthcare was a sham. In fact, trucks from Kerala had been dumping toxic medical waste in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu for years. This is simply not what a good neighbor does, let alone a famously literate one.

There will be difficult choices now. Should Karnataka open its borders to people desperately seeking medical help? On one hand, how can we say no to fellow citizens in need? On the other, the lockdown is absolutely crucial to contain the spread of the virus.

In the current fight against the virus, we are all in it together. All the way from the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the north to the state of Kerala in the south. We have to look out for each other. And a bit of humility on all sides will help.

Will the situation with Wuhan Corona virus finally blow the lid off the Kerala government’s propaganda on its ‘famous’ healthcare? For the sake of the people of Kerala, let us hope so.

 

Nizamuddin disaster : Corona crisis has exposed several weaknesses in our system

In Bengali there is a saying, “Pagoleo nijer bhalo bojhe“. In other words, even a mad person can understand what will physically hurt them.

Now this is too ridiculous for words.

This is not CAA that ‘liberals’ would feel hate for the unfortunate Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan or Bangladesh. This is not NRC, not even NPR.

This is a search party coming to help people who attended a giant congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi. Literally hundreds of people who were at the event have tested positive already. The Indian state is desperately trying to locate the others and everyone they came in contact with. For their own sake. For the sake of their friends, relatives and everyone they love. For the sake of every common person on the street. And to save the nation.

Is it too much to expect a tiny bit of cooperation at a time like this? At least that search parties not be attacked with bullets.

Evidently not.

Can you believe this?

They had to close the windows because the infected persons, packed into a bus, were spitting outside, trying to infect as many people as possible. Listen to the voice of the healthcare worker, his face all covered up, as he tells the Aaj Tak reporter, “They are spitting.” Think about what he feels right now.

Think about the Aaj Tak reporter and her cameraperson, how they must have felt standing there.

And don’t forget the driver of the bus. He or she has a family too. It is heroic enough that he has to drive a bus full of infected people. It now seems they are trying to infect everyone else. The horror.

This is an hour of weakness for the Indian state. And it showed. Imagine National Security Adviser Ajit Doval having to personally go and persuade leaders of the secular community to allow their congregation to be tested!

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Do you see why this looks like the Indian state is being held to ransom? And honestly, we have no option but to cave right now. And let the Indian state be humiliated. The way the virus spreads, there is no time for confrontation. They know it and they are enjoying the humiliation they are successfully heaping upon the state.

We have to save the lives of 1.3 billion people and the future of our country. If that means the NSA has to personally beg with somebody, so be it.

This is why I was so disturbed by the incident of the little baby who died at Shaheen Bagh. Day after day, night after night, they people gathered together and slowly dragged the life out of an infant. The mother said it was her ‘sacrifice.’ I had asked at the time : that mother has already overcome the most powerful instinct in all of nature. How will we reason with people like her? She doesn’t care about death. We care about life. To her, our longing for life is a “weakness” to be exploited.

And right now, that is exactly what is happening.

This crisis has also laid bare a vast network that was mostly unknown to the public at large.

The first case in Jharkhand? A Malaysian national in Ranchi who was part of the Nizamuddin crowd. In the last two weeks, police in Jharkhand has found several foreign nationals hiding inside mosques. Not even Ranchi, mind you. In remote villages far from the city. Same stories in Bihar and many other parts of India.

In other words, a powerful network with its tentacles even in small towns and villages of the hinterland. Systematic violation of visa rules, which do not allow for foreigners on tourist visas to go around preaching religion.

Both the Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs have a lot to answer for here. How did these people get in? Did our intelligence community know about what was going on and the extent of it?

The solutions here are very difficult. And a tightrope to say the least. India now gives visas on arrival to nationals of most countries. It is not easy to codify a standard procedure that will allow an immigration officer at the airport to determine whether someone is a religious preacher. Once they are in the country, we simply lack the resources to follow them around. Remember that local police, with minor exceptions, is under state governments who may or may not cooperate. And even if they wanted to cooperate, does police really have the resources for this? Remember that our police to citizen ratio is one of the lowest in the world.

The other option is to form a Central agency like they have ICE in the US. But the costs involved would be massive.

It really comes down to immigration officers at the airport who have to be trained to spot suspicious people and cross check their local contacts before letting anyone in. Remember that we have to do this without making genuine tourists and business travelers uncomfortable. Again, tough ask.

One concrete suggestion I can make is to take action against organizations in India that are found to be hosting large numbers of ‘wilful violators’ of visa rules. Yesterday the government banned 800 individuals who were at the Jamaat, flouting the terms of their visas. But that doesn’t make a dent. A better option is to take severe penal action against the organization that hosted them. Ban these organizations from hosting any foreigners, require them to register their day to day activities, etc etc. The way FCRA goes after NGOs who don’t respect India’s sovereignty.

Meanwhile Indian liberals, embarrassed and triggered by yesterday’s expose, have begun their usual whining about “Islamophobia.”

For the last several days, liberals had been castigating Hindus over anything and everything. The ringing of ghanti, Ramayan serial, everything. Outraging over some Ram Navami festival that was canceled a month in advance!

Now of course, they have remembered that the virus does not care about religion. Congratulations for finally figuring that out.

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Now don’t scapegoat Hindu right wing on social media. They are not to blame here.

Please go use your influence to request secular leaders to let their followers get tested. But that’s expecting too much of liberal intellectuals.

 

How Communism compelled China to eat wild animals for survival

A lot has been written about China’s wet meat markets. For obvious reasons.

But there is a political angle to this which has been written about very little. Again, for obvious reasons. Things that make the left look bad tend to get edited out of history, out of media and out of popular discourse.

So here’s that angle. It’s a purely political angle. And the leftists have been trying to cover for it by accusing detractors of being against a race or culture.

This has nothing to do with race nor with culture. This is all about the despicable political ideology of Communism. And how Communism has risen from the grave again to threaten us all.

I’m not going to go simply by the name. The one party state in China may be run by the “Communist” Party, but we all know that they gave up Communist economics a very long time ago. Then why blame Communism for the Wuhan Corona virus? On the face of it, that’s a fair question.

Yes, the authoritarian instincts of the Chinese Communist Party did play a very big role in this pandemic. It is because of these instincts that they covered up their cases, destroyed samples and suppressed reporting.

But there’s much more.

How did China’s exotic meat market industry arise in the first place?

Well, the Communist Party took over power in China in the year 1949. They did everything that good Communists do, collective farms and all.

And like every Communist state everywhere, they failed. For two decades, the Chinese lived through a famine. Twenty years of absolute hell on earth. The estimated death toll from Communism in China?

30 to 50 million victims!

I generally prefer to convert that to lakhs and say 300 to 500 lakh people. In fact, I believe this is a subtle mistake that everyone in India makes while talking about Communism. The death toll should be explained in lakhs, not millions. For cultural reasons, we Indians tend to comprehend things in lakhs and crores, not in millions. So if we want Indian people to fully understand what Communism means, always put it in lakhs.

Now even a death toll like that is not enough to make the Communist leadership blink or feel any remorse. But it is large enough that they would start worrying about a revolt.

What was the prescription of the Communist Politburo of China to its starving people? Go eat any wild animal you can find and survive on that. Because Communism can’t feed them.

This is how it all got started. Desperate hungry people forced by their government to subsist on anything they could find in the forests. With the coercive power of the Communist state behind it, this soon became a thing across China.

Remember that the Communist government would regulate every other kind of market for food. In fact, markets were largely banned anyway. The only thing that was not banned nor regulated was going to the forest and eating whatever wild meat you could find. Before long, a black market had come up. And in the decades that followed, it became an industry worth over a hundred billion dollars, with a lobby of its own.

And it all began because the politburo that ruled China could not feed its people.

Even today, many decades after the fall of Communism, the dead hand of evil has risen from the grave and is threatening to destroy the world. Communism is not happy with its 1000 lakh victims over the last century. It has come back for more.

If there is a lesson here, it is that we should never underestimate the evil that Communists do. Even if it feels like they are long gone, they are not. The evil they did is going to live after them. And it can bite us in ways we never even dreamed of.

By the way, Venezuela is on the exact same track. The Communist government of Maduro can’t feed its people. And guess what?

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Watch out folks! The next pandemic is coming from Venezuela.

 

Delhi CM Kejriwal is guilty of a crime against humanity

Even at the best of times, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been given to making xenophobic jibes against Purvanchalis in Delhi.

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This is from Sept 2019. Arvind Kejriwal does not see the blood, sweat, tears and toil of the people of Bihar or UP or Jharkhand that goes into making Delhi the super productive metropolis that it is. This is the human capital that drives the tax base of the city. The taxes that he harvests, with which he showers freebies and buys votes.

But he doesn’t want them. He just wants their labor. And in a time of crisis, he has simply taken them to the Delhi/UP border and dumped them. And then he unleashed his media friends to blame UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for some reason. And of course PM Modi for the huge crowds at the bus stand in Delhi’s Anand Vihar yesterday.

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Let’s dissect this. The man has been living in Delhi for five years. He is an Indian citizen. That makes him as much a part of the population of Delhi as Kejriwal himself.

In a time of crisis, how can it be the responsibility of Uttar Pradesh government to fetch him? Is Kejriwal trying to say that just because the man is from Uttar Pradesh, he cannot truly belong to Delhi? What sort of racism and xenophobia is this?

Even more ridiculous, can you seriously expect the government of Bihar or Jharkhand to arrange pickup from Delhi? And why should they? They are Indians, living and working in Delhi, contributing to the economy of the city. In a crisis, how can Delhi government turn its back on them?

So there are many levels here.

First, there is the Nazi like Chief Minister of Delhi, who decided to dump the entire underprivileged population of his city at the time of a pandemic (I rarely use such strong language, but this is really one of those times).

Second, this is the worst possible time for crowds to gather and for long caravans of people to move across the hinterland.

Third, Kejriwal is pushing these marginalized people into India’s poorest states. The states that are least equipped to deal with a pandemic. A breakout of disease in these places could kill lakhs of people. But Kejriwal does not care about that. This is what makes his act a crime against humanity.

I have heard many excuses for Kejriwal yesterday, among them efforts to shift the blame to Modi for an “unplanned” lockdown.

Yeah, what planning? How do you “plan” for a pandemic that has brought America and Europe to its knees? We don’t have time because the virus doesn’t give us time. And even if we did have time, it is hard to imagine how one could “plan” a shutdown for a nation of 1.3 billion people.

Ok, so if I am giving all this leeway to PM Modi, why not Arvind Kejriwal? Why doesn’t he get to make the same excuse?

Well, because the peer groups for comparison are different. There are migrant laborers everywhere in India. And nobody is having fun anywhere. But nowhere did the situation get so out of control and turn into a humanitarian tragedy as in Delhi. So you have to compare Kejriwal’s response to his peers across the country. And this is where the Chief Minister of Delhi has failed miserably.

As for PM Modi, his peer group is quite different. We have to compare India’s situation to that of other countries across the world. Definitely, there are places such as South Korea and possibly Germany that have done better than us. But with America and most of Western Europe faring so disastrously, it is hard to argue that India has done a bad job.

Specifically in the case of Delhi, the “unplanned lockdown” argument is even more spurious. Delhi CM had in fact declared a lockdown 48 hours before the Prime Minister declared a nationwide lockdown. The day before the PM’s announcement, 75 districts had already been placed on lockdown, which basically included all major urban centers.

So what unplanned lockdown in Delhi? You mean with 48 hour notice?

Not surprisingly, Kejriwal’s media friends created a shameful spectacle yesterday. The people are fleeing Delhi, not for Uttar Pradesh. How could the blame be on the government they are fleeing to and not on the government they are fleeing from? If a Jewish person was escaping from Nazi Germany, you should blame Nazi Germany and not the government of the place they are escaping to.

The entire purpose of the lockdown was for people to stay where they are. It was entirely up to the government of Delhi to make some arrangements for people to stay there. We were told anyway that Delhi is a paradise where everything is free. Yesterday would have been a good time to prove it. I am no fan of Nitish Kumar, but I simply don’t see how it is the job of Bihar CM to arrange pickup of Biharis from Delhi.

And again, why should he? Biharis living in Delhi have a right to be taken care of by Delhi government in a time like this.

But India’s media was busy laying out a carpet of roses for the xenophobic CM of Delhi.

In fact, India’s no.1 liberal news website said in its report yesterday that Anand Vihar Bus Terminal is not even in Delhi, moving it about 20 kilometers east into Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh. Liberal media is willing to teleport entire bus terminals to save Arvind Kejriwal.

But, like I said yesterday, where is the incentive for secular CMs to work when they know they will be showered with praise from media anyway?

I would say the lowest point for Indian journalism yesterday came just after a prominent newspaper actually did some honest journalism by mistake. They ended up reporting that Delhi government was cutting off electricity and water connections of migrant workers, forcing them to flee. Mind you that this newspaper is generally known to be very anti-BJP in its reporting. Some low level intern must have been under the impression that journalism is about facts, not agenda.

The report went viral. Within hours, the report was “corrected” and the part about Delhi government atrocities removed. Can you feel the terrifying Orwellian stranglehold of the left? I can only hope the intern who did some honest journalism by mistake was not fired.

It is not for fun that common citizens like us feel the compulsion to speak out in the public sphere. To take time out of our personal lives and raise our voices, in whatever small way we can, for no pay and no direct benefit. We feel forced to do it because otherwise we will only be left with sold out media that will silence an intern for reporting how the CM of Delhi cut off electricity connections of migrant workers. And media that will happily move Anand Vihar bus terminal from Delhi to Ghaziabad.

 

 

 

Undeserved media praise for ‘secular’ Chief Ministers makes us less safe, not more

India is in crisis. The number of people who have tested positive for the Wuhan Corona virus is now disturbingly close to the 1000 mark. Countries such as the United States, Italy and Spain are now rapidly approaching 1 lakh confirmed cases. Only yesterday, the pandemic claimed over 900 lives in Italy and 300 in the US. We can only shudder at the thought of the nightmare scenario that could unfold in India.

Amid this, you would be pleasantly surprised (and possibly bewildered) to find that some in the media think that India is actually making the war on the virus look “easy.”

Or at least, some states are:

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So that is the list of 7 states where the war with the virus looks “easy.”

Wait! Maharashtra? Kerala? Punjab?  Aren’t these among India’s worst affected states? Didn’t over 300 people escape quarantine in Punjab, endangering everyone? If the battle in these states looks “easy,” how can it add up to a crisis overall?

Ok, there is this canard being spread that India is not testing “enough.” Perhaps it only looks like Maharashtra, Kerala, etc are worst affected, because they did the most tests?

But then, how did Jharkhand make the list? According to the same article, they’ve done just 61 tests so far.

Somebody should explain this discrepancy. If the most affected states and the least affected states, if the states doing maximum tests and the states doing minimum tests are all making the battle look “easy,” how come India is in crisis?

Among the list of achievements of these star Chief Ministers touted in this article :

(1) Chhattisgarh CM getting credit for installing banners of himself across the state. Oh and a tweet by some guy called Sudhir Mishra who thinks Bhupesh Baghel is doing a fantastic job.

(2) Rajasthan CM getting credit for writing a letter to PM Modi.

(3) Puducherry CM getting credit because his police lathicharged some street vendors.

It doesn’t take much to notice that all the star Chief Ministers being praised in this article belong to a certain political camp. This would be fine, if these were normal times.

But in times like this, if Chief Ministers belonging to a certain camp feel like media will not hold them accountable, it takes away their incentive to work effectively. And that makes us much more unsafe at a time when the life of millions of people could be at stake.

This is not just a matter of one article. Consider the ultimate trailblazer when it comes to receiving media praise: the Communist government of Kerala.

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By Feb 14, 2020, Kerala had successfully fought and contained the deadly virus. Mission accomplished.

Or not.

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On March 5, Kerala won praise again, this time from the imperial BBC. However, the BBC was slightly less effusive, downgrading Kerala from “successfully fought and contained” to “efficient handling.” Perhaps our former colonial masters were jealous.

As of March 28, cases in Kerala continue to increase rapidly, making it the second most affected state in the country. Despite successfully fighting and containing the virus over a month ago.

Perhaps this would have happened anyway. But there is a valid concern: if the govt of Kerala notices that they are receiving global accolades for free, why would they do anything at all? Did undeserved media praise make the govt of Kerala complacent?

Which is the worst affected state in India? Maharashtra. But imagine this.

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The article quotes about half a dozen people to draw this conclusion. Among them, one Congress Rajya Sabha MP, one ex-aide to Rahul Gandhi and a Congress spokesperson. At least one of the people complained that Aaditya Thackeray is the “true pillar of strength” behind the CM, but is not getting due credit for it.

This is comical. Except that there is nothing funny about the pandemic right now.

Here is the Associate Editor of The Hindu.

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Now consider this. We have all seen the disturbing images of migrants having at the Delhi/UP border, so desperate that they consider walking hundreds of kilometers back to their villages in Uttar Pradesh. Could Arvind Kejriwal, with the resources of the national capital, have done nothing for these unfortunate people instead of leaving it all to Uttar Pradesh?

He just didn’t have an incentive. Because he knew he was getting showered with certificates of appreciation.

When PM Modi came to power in 2014, less than 40% of households in India had access to toilets. Have you ever wondered how this happened? What were our secular and liberal Prime Ministers doing for six decades?

Perhaps they didn’t have the incentive to do anything. Perhaps because they were showered with excessive praise for doing precious little. That’s why we ended up with the collective failure where 60% of households did not have toilet access.

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This is data from the World Bank on per capita GDP of India vs Pakistan. Observe how Pakistan’s green line stays consistently above India’s blue line for decades. Until around 2007, when India finally manages to push its nose ahead.

In other words, 60 years for India to pull ahead of Pakistan in per capita GDP.

How did this happen? Perhaps because media and intellectual class was busy showering praise on ‘secular’ Prime Ministers by quoting one Congress MP, one Nehru-Gandhi family aide and one Congress spokesperson?

When you take away the incentive of political parties to work, they don’t. In decades after independence, India’s secularism could not guarantee even one toilet per family. PM Modi has had to arrange that since 2014.

Now, all of a sudden, we have been plunged into a situation where we might need one ventilator per Indian. It is good that liberals are now asking: what about quality healthcare? Expectations from India are surely growing even faster than the spread of Wuhan Corona virus. Now we are expected to have a better healthcare system than America, France and UK. It’s been (almost) six years of Modi already. What could be taking so much time?

Very well. The Govt of India should welcome this challenge. And the commitment of the media to keep the Modi govt accountable. At the very least, the Central government needs the states to cooperate. As a matter of basic decency, perhaps the media should try not to take away the incentive of non-BJP Chief Ministers to pitch in and help.

RBI and Govt are firefighting : But how long?

So it is finally here. After trying not to cave for weeks, the RBI finally delivered a 75 bps rate cut today. Along with that, a 3 month moratorium on term loan repayments, including EMIs. Credit card debt does not fall under this category though. These moves were targeted at relief to middle class folks, after the govt’s 1.7 lakh crore package for the poor yesterday.

Let’s take the 1.7 lakh crore package first because that impacts the most people. In fact, many more people than you would think.

Here are the upshots

(1) PM Kisan payment of Rs 2000 in first week of April

(2) Rs 1000 payment to 30 million poor senior citizens.

(3) Rs 500 per month to female Jan Dhan account holders

(4) Small hike in NREGA wages.

(5) 5 kg of staples (rice/wheat) and 1 kg of dal per month for next 3 months.

This is really not a lot of money, nor a lot of food. Sadly however, this does make a difference a staggering 880 million people. Extremely vulnerable people, who have been pushed to the edge.

Honestly, I am fed up of people dissing the effort by saying it is not a lot of money and the government should have done “more”. From where? Show me the resources? Do these people think the government has a secret stash of money rotting somewhere that they are simply denying to people out of some kind of selfishness? This is a horrible situation that nobody could have planned for. I mean, there are top hospitals in New York where healthcare workers are wearing trash bags to protect themselves. Nobody is prepared for this. Nobody could have been. So stop dissing India because the government cannot arrange doorstep delivery of meals to 1.3 billion people at a time when people are literally dying on the streets all across America and Europe.

I think the government really should also have set up a fund where people can contribute voluntarily so that cash transfers can be made to the poor. A fund like this would swell up quickly. In fact, people will (or at least should) contribute generously *both* for selfish and unselfish reasons.

The ‘unselfish’ reasons are obvious, but the ‘selfish’ ones less so. It is spending that drives the economy. Even spending by the poorest of the poor…sales of soap, toothpaste, biscuits, everything. If demand crashes, nobody’s job is safe. No high flying executive is safe. Without significant wealth transfer to the poor immediately, everyone is going to be out of a job.

The RBI’s announcements today were directed at a slightly more well off section of the population. The middle class and their EMIs. While these people are not on the edge, remember that the middle class accounts for most of the spending. There had to be something to lift their spirits. Not that anybody can (or should) go out to eat right now, but at least a bit more money in their pockets will enable them to spend when this nightmare finally ends.

The markets reacted somewhat negatively to the RBI announcements, but at this moment the market seems to have a mind of its own. The market in the US had reacted negatively when the Fed announced it would pump in a trillion dollars a few weeks ago. In India, the rate cut failed to cheer the market as well. Although Bank Nifty went up by 2%. In fact, the Nifty 50 rose, while the Sensex 30 fell, both by small margins. Such disagreement between the two indices is quite rare, indicating a very neutral sentiment about what happened.

There is a job here for govt and RBI to do. Making sure that banks actually pass on the benefits of low interest rates to their customers. In the past, we have seen very slow transmission of these rate cuts. The RBI and govt have both expressed irritation at this. But now is the time to make sure the banks comply.

The same goes for EMIs. Technically, the RBI has not stopped EMIs for three months, they have given the banks the option to do that. The final decision can be taken only by the bank. It is here that the government has to use its clout to make sure the banks don’t engage in any funny business.

The question is when the nightmare will end.  We have purchased a bit of time, but not much more. And what’s the endgame? The US, with 80,000+ infections now, is the most affected country, exceeding even China. The number of deaths too has climbed sharply, with nearly 1300 dead so far. The official toll in China is around 3000. The way we have seen the Wuhan Corona virus take a human toll, the US may hit 3000 deaths within a week.

My nagging fear keeps resurfacing here. What if India’s best case scenario turns into the worst case scenario? What if we successfully stop the virus, only to find out 3 months later that the entire West is affected! What happens then? Do we never open our borders again? Will we be left as the only country with no immunity? Because, it is no longer possible for America or Europe to get a grip on the virus. They might as well stop testing now and just wait for the pandemic to pass, however bad it gets.

 

If India is testing too few, why is the percentage of “positives” in India so low?

Since the time the pandemic began, India has been facing a constant barrage of criticism. Why is India testing so few people? Are India’s stringent testing criteria leaving out too many affected people who are spreading the disease all around the country?

Let us hope at least some of this criticism comes from well meaning concern, although I suspect much of it does not. But without anyone on either side getting defensive about their position, they really do need to explain this.

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While these numbers are changing rapidly in real time, these figures are broadly correct.  Till now, India has carried out a total of 25,144 tests and detected 693 cases, which comes to 2.7%.

Meanwhile the United States has carried out roughly 370,000 tests and detected around 60,000 infections, which is a rate of 16-17%.

Those two are very different numbers and very far from each other.

The irony here seems to be this: the wider you cast the net, you should have a lower and lower percentage of actual affected persons.

On the other hand, India is testing people who are already showing symptoms, have traveled abroad or have come into direct contact with those having a travel history. For a fairly long time, India was applying even more stringent criteria : only those with travel history (or direct contact with such people) and who are already showing symptoms. In other words, India was testing almost exclusively people in the highest risk category of contracting the Wuhan Corona virus. This should have pushed the percentage of detected infections higher, not lower.

South Korea has drawn praise all across the world for its efficient and widespread testing. So far, Korea has carried out about 350,000 tests and detected about 9000 cases of the virus, which works out to 2.5%. That is strikingly close to India’s number.

This genuinely could be good news for India, a ray of hope. It does suggest that India might actually be testing at a very appropriate rate. So far, with around 700 infections, that means the disease might not have gone out of control in India. It might really still be stuck in Stage 2 instead of the truly terrifying Stage 3 (community transmission).

There are other considerations here, of course. We know that the number of infections goes up exponentially. The testing ability also goes up with time, but perhaps not as fast. Perhaps therefore the ratio between the number of infections and the number of tests will go up as time passes?

So what if we went back a little into the past and looked at these same countries when they had done fewer tests?

By Feb 29, Korea had done 55000 tests and detected 3000 cases. This works out to 5.7%, which is more than the 2.5% in Korea today. So the ratio went down with time, not up.

The French Health Agency has some data that is particularly eye opening in this regard.

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Till March 15, France had carried out 36747 tests (not far from our current 25000 tests) and discovered 6153 cases. That’s a rate of 17%, a very far cry from our 2.7%. As of now, France has carried out 1 lakh tests and reported about 20,000 cases, which works out to 20%.

There is a very good chance here that India is doing something right. There is no room for complacency here, but definitely grounds for cautious optimism.

Lockdown : Downsides of under-reacting were simply too scary

So India is officially on a lockdown. Twenty one days.

For what it’s worth, India was already locking down anyway. The Indian Railways had come to a halt. All international flights had been stopped. A day later, all domestic flights were stopped. Inter-state travel was banned. Then, lockdown was announced in 75 districts. A day before the PM’s announcement, Maharashtra had gone into a complete curfew already.

The Prime Minister has now formalized what was happening. As far as the economic cost goes,  the 75 districts locked down the previous day would represent most of the GDP of the country anyway. After all, one interesting feature of the Wuhan Corona virus pandemic is that it is going from the “rich” to the “poor.”

Will the lockdown really be worth it? Honestly, this is impossible to answer. What we do know is that the rate of infection and the death tolls in Western countries were frankly terrifying.

Yesterday, 150 people died in the US. Almost 250 people dead in France. So bad is the situation that the tragedy in places like US and France isn’t even being reported a whole lot. The headlines belong to Italy and Spain, were 600-700 people are dying daily. This may not even be the full death toll. The Spanish Army, now out on the streets, is finding bodies of old people who had been left around to die.

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The worst in humanity has begun to surface. The fear of imminent death is looming and people are doing savage things. In India, we hear that landlords are beginning to turn doctors away from renting homes! There was the video of the poor Indigo employee whose family is being ostracized by her neighborhood. In panic like this, the animal instinct is now baring itself.

In India, while we have seen few deaths so far, the number of infections is beginning to climb at a scary pace. Ten days ago, we would see 10-20 infections a day. Within no time, it rose to 30-50 a day. Now, we are lucky if we can keep it under 100 infections a day. What if this exploded to 1000 a day? Or 10,000 a day? The US is now reporting several thousand cases a day. The same could happen in India.

Luckily, the death toll has stayed very much under control so far. But who knows for how long? After seeing the way the number of infections began increasing, do we really have the appetite to run the experiment and find out?

One thing that we can say for certain is this : Every country which tried to take it easy and thought the crisis would blow over, has paid a terrible price.

Here is the President of France on March 9.

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And here is the President of France on March 16.

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Well, that escalated quickly.

The British initially said they had a plan. They wanted to go on with their lives as usual, chasing something called ‘herd immunity.’  This is where they are now.

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In the United States, President Trump initially compared the Wuhan Corona virus to the flu, which kills 37000 Americans every year. But he appears to have changed his mind again.

One thing seems clear. The virus does not spare anyone. It does not care about anyone. If we under-react, the virus could extract a terrible toll. It seems everybody eventually comes around and undertakes extreme measures. The only question is when.

India has gone into lockdown with only 500 or so cases. That makes us one of the nations earliest on the curve, to implement extreme measures. But waiting another week could have been catastrophic.

Of course the lockdown brought out the usual caravan of Modi haters and their narrow minded taunts, now all over social media. Why isn’t everything better planned? Why couldn’t India have tested all 1.3 billion people already? Did you hear that Iceland has tested its entire population, all ten of them? Well, maybe not, but you get the picture anyway. And now that 1.3 billion people are under lockdown, where is the plan for doorstep delivery of supplies to hundreds of millions of households?

There are two possible explanations for this. Maybe they are our sincerest well wishers. Maybe they have sky high expectations from India, now expected to succeed at something where all of Europe and the United States have failed miserably.

Or maybe they are just impatient to see India fail and by extension, Modi. There has been a real thirst and a real curiosity in the West about India. For Indian liberals and their sponsors in the West, it seems catastrophe in India can’t come soon enough. With the lockdown, there is now genuine fear in these liberal circles that India won’t hit the per day 1000+ death toll they have been promising their editors in the West. For backup, they search for opportunity in the terrible economic toll that this lockdown will take. Either way, the more the misery of India, the more they make merry.

We really are on our own here. It does look like nobody wants us to succeed. Which is a disheartening thought, considering that Indian people have never wished harm upon any other nation. But India’s growing might has opened up deep seated insecurities and prejudices both about skin color and non-Abrahamic faiths.

The good news is that our fate is in our own hands now. If the lockdown succeeds, we will make history. Let’s make it happen.