Facing Zoonotic Diseases: Globalised world requires global code of conduct

A crisis does not emerge out of thin air; it has underlying causes. And most of the underlying causes, if not all, are in front of our eyes; it’s just that we refuse to see and act on them. The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis is not a black swan; it was predicted and could have been prevented.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have seen the emergence and outbreaks of multiple zoonotic diseases – infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses that jump from animals to humans. Some of them are new to humans, and hence we do not have immunity against them and some re-emergence of old diseases. Studies indicate that the frequency of these outbreaks has increased significantly in the last 20 years.

We have had three pandemics since 2000 – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and now Covid-19. SARS and Covid-19 spread from civet cats/ pangolin and bats in China and swine flu from an intensive pig farm in Mexico. In between, we have had regional outbreaks of bird flu from poultry, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) from camels, Ebola from monkeys and pigs, Rift Valley fever from livestock, West Nile fever from birds, Zika from monkey and Nipah from bats.

The root cause of all the above diseases can be broadly put under three baskets. First, environmental destruction. Due to deforestation and habitat loss, wild animals and humans are now nearby, leading to the spillover of animal diseases into humans. Ebola, West Nile virus, Nipah and Zika come under this category. Similarly, livestock is also coming in contact with wildlife and transmitting pathogens to people, like the Rift Valley virus.

Second, cultural practices. The practice of eating exotic wildlife, sometimes raw, is spreading novel pathogens to humans. Both SARS and Covid-19 have origin in the wildlife markets in China. But the practice of eating wild animals is not restricted to China; it exists in one form or another across the world.

Third, intensive animal farms. The industrial farming of animals, by keeping animals very close to each other and pumping them with growth promoters like antibiotics, is another cause. Bird flu and swine flu both have their origin in intensive animal farms.

The above causes are not hidden; they are widely known, and different countries have legislation in place to control them. Many countries, including India, have strong laws against deforestation and for curbing the trade and consumption of wildlife. Countries have also put in place regulations to improve practices in animal farms. But many have not acted on these issues. And, in a globalised world, we are only as strong as the weakest link. Weak regulations and poor implementation in one country have global ramifications. This is evident in the case of Covid-19.

Since the outbreak of SARS, it was widely recognised that the presence of a vast reservoir of coronaviruses in horseshoe bats and civet cats, together with the culture of eating exotic animals in China, is a time bomb. Under global pressure, in 2003, China did ban the consumption of civet cats, but it was poorly enforced. It was only in 2018 that China’s legislature passed nationwide laws to ban the farming and consumption of wildlife. These laws are now being rolled out in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic. This is too late, and the global community is paying the price of China’s inaction.

But the fact is, the next novel coronavirus can emerge due to negligence in any country. The current social and economic practices around the world are just too poor to stop the next pandemic. To manage and prevent the next pandemic, the world needs to come together to address the underlying causes of zoonosis.

Zoonoses have killed millions of people in the 21st century (several times more than all the wars and terrorist attacks put together). Their economic cost has ranged from a few billion dollars in the case of regional outbreaks to several trillion dollars for pandemics. They are not a national issue; they are global and require a global response. Countries cannot hide behind sovereignty and not act. The world, therefore, needs a universal code of conduct to address zoonoses urgently. Nothing less will suffice.

Making Reading a Habit

 The best thing about books is that sometimes they have pictures.’ As children get used to powerful visuals on digital media, this statement rings even more true. Books simply do not have the kind of magnetic pull that fast-moving, colourful images on screen do. However, books do have the hidden treasure of depth of imagination and understanding that can only be uncovered by a curious child willing to experiment, explore and discover.

Children often get intimidated by the idea of ‘finishing’ a book. It would help if parents have a pre-reading discussion about the characters and what they look like, what they might be feeling and what is interesting about the story. Children need some hand-holding while navigating a book — this does not imply telling them the storyline; often all it requires is asking a host of questions that may enable the child to think deeply about the content. For fictional texts, making predictions about what might happen or changing the ending may be a fun activity, especially for younger children. For older ones, linking the story to personal experiences and posing questions such as ‘what would you have done in this situation?’ provides guidance for critical analysis.

Most non-fiction texts often appear boring unless the child is interested in that particular topic, such as the world of dinosaurs. However, it is important not only to expose a child to a wider range of texts and subjects but enable them to ask questions, draw from personal experience and create a wish-list. If it is a text about inventions in transport, they might be able to tell you what they wish they could invent, or imagine a new kind of vehicle that they would like to use. The essential prerequisite for reading is speaking skills, and once we focus on developing children’s capacity to construct and voice an opinion, they can weave their way through stories with greater ease. It is not the willingness to learn, but the curiosity to know what happens in a story that propels a child to read more.

Much like caviar, reading is an acquired taste.

In school, characters were often introduced to us in a blasé tone: ‘this is Peter’ followed by a description that leaves little room for imagination. Later, children are asked to write ‘character sketches’ that look more like cookie-cut answers fulfilling the teachers’ expectations rather than allowing a child to apply cognitive skills in drawing conclusions about the character. If we were to flip the mode of such instruction, children could be encouraged to explore by looking closely at the facial expressions of characters to decipher emotion, analyse their behaviour and use their own vocabulary bank to describe what the character might be thinking or feeling. Using a multi-sensory approach is significant in cultivating a sense of empathy and compassion through reading activities.

Once children learn to identify with characters’ emotions, they read with a keener interest in the evolution of behaviour and learn to make connections with real-life situations, predictions about how the story will unfold and understand the nuances and twists in the tale — all significant ingredients for inference and critical analysis. Curiosity leads to discovery, which is the other significant element in developing reading and comprehension skills.

Uncovering the layers of any genre of text becomes a Herculean task for children who have not been exposed to higher-order thinking skills — who do not quite learn how to dig deep into the context, description, characters and action. Much like caviar, reading is an acquired taste and until one learns to enjoy it, we don’t really know what we are missing. As children become accustomed to exploring books, they gradually develop a tendency towards inference — digging deep for hidden meanings. Through this skill, they begin to appreciate different perspectives, have an eye for depth and detail and analyse storylines and characters in innovative ways.

The skills acquired from fictional reading lend themselves to the building blocks of inquiry-based writing. Children who read a lot ask themselves questions about their own writing, helping themselves organise and give shape to their thoughts. Reading is a receptive skill while writing is expressive — reading therefore moulds perspective. Individuals at any age make meaning of information by linking it to personal experiences — if they read a book without processing or internalising the content, they will perhaps remain disconnected from its essence. It is only when they identify with what they read that they are able to critically analyse and use it as a stepping stone for ideas in their own writing. An in-depth involvement of thought and feeling poured into reading will necessarily reflect in the ways children ‘own’ their writing and are able to manipulate words, self-correct, consolidate and strengthen their compositions.

Coronavirus crisis is no turning point for globalisation

In the short term, there will be flight to safety of people worried about a pandemic, as there is of capital during a financial crisis. When normalcy returns, the globalised Indian will fly away once again.

As people return home from distant lands, global value chains get disrupted and cross-border movement comes to a grinding halt, new theories are being propounded about the end of globalisation and the return of the all-pervasive “nanny state”. This is not surprising, given that a commonplace watchword of the era of globalisation has always been that while “all economics is global, all politics is local”. Governments, democratic and authoritarian, can only act locally even against global threats, unless they cross borders to challenge such a threat. Even governments wedded to the ideology of laissez-faire have been forced to act in response to local pressures of one kind or another.

A public health crisis caused by a rapidly spreading virus has naturally sounded a “call to arms” for governments, just as in 2008-09 a financial crisis with global contagion effects also mobilised governments. In 2008-09 it was an essentially “Trans-Atlantic” financial crisis that forced governments around the world to act locally to insulate themselves. This time it is a “Eurasian” epidemic, so to speak, that is forcing governments around the world to act locally. The only difference, however, is that, in 2008-09, there was greater commitment to multilaterally deal with a financial crisis on the part of the Group of 20 nations than is as yet on display today. Hopefully, the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to mobilise the G-20 will encourage a more purposeful multilateral response. In response to the Covid-19 crisis, some in India have begun writing the obituary of India’s globalisation and hailing the virtues of inward-oriented nationalism.

Much of the “touch-me-not” and “social distancing” narrative encouraged by fear of pandemics plays into the ideology of inward-looking, sectarian nationalism that right-wing governments across the world have been promoting. Political movements that have been opposed to cross-border migration are using the scare generated by Covid-19 to seal borders and stop travel. Admittedly, this is needed as a short-term measure to arrest, or at least reduce, the pace of transmission of the virus. However, to imagine that the current episode marks a turning point for globalisation of people and economies is not just an historically ill-informed view but also a self-defeating one. Mankind has faced many such challenges posed by nature and other species but has continued to move, co-habit and populate around the world. Political and administrative barriers to the natural movement of people are creations of the 20th century.

Consider the example of the Indian state that has had the highest incidence of Covid-19 and the best response to it — Kerala. It is one of India’s most globalised economies that depends on services and commodity export, labour migration and tourism. Can Kerala afford to shut its borders to the world? Hardly. While Kerala has always had an enlightened and responsible political leadership, its present government has been quick to put in place a robust strategy to deal with Covid-19, acutely aware of the vital importance of links with the rest of the world for Kerala’s economy, indeed the Indian economy as a whole. Not only do millions of Malayalees working in the Gulf, one of the regions badly struck by Covid-19, bring in billions of dollars every year into India, but Kerala exports hundreds of thousands of trained nurses that staff hospitals around India and the Gulf.

Kerala’s is just one, if obvious, example of the importance of global links for India and Indians. It is not an accident that next to Kerala the most Covid-19 affected states have been Maharashtra, Telangana and Haryana — all homes to Indians living abroad. Recent arguments from “swadeshi” enthusiasts that Covid-19 will contribute to greater inward-orientation of the economy does not take into account the globalisation of the middle classes, ranging from working class families dependent on incomes from the Gulf, to peasants manning the agrarian and livestock economies of Canada and Italy and the millions of the technically qualified who live in the developed West, especially the United States.

A highly regarded supporter of the BJP recently tweeted that in hindsight it would be appreciated that the Narendra Modi government was very smart in walking out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement because its membership would have exposed India to dependence on Covid-hit China. The fallacy of this argument lies in the fact that India walked out of the RCEP precisely because China and other countries were not willing to allow more Indians to live and work in their countries! Indeed, for three decades now, India has sought a multilateral agreement for the movement of people, not just merchandise and capital, and the Indian diaspora is viewed as an asset. India cannot afford to enter a post-Covid world that reduces, rather than expands, opportunities for Indians to earn a living from the global economy.

In the short term, there will be flight to safety of people worried about a pandemic, as there is of capital during a financial crisis. Many Indians abroad will want to return home either for family or financial reasons. It remains to be seen how long such people choose to stay back in India given the fact that they have all been “voluntary migrants”, leaving India for greener pastures.

Unlike the millions of “distress migrants” who leave home under social, political and economic pressure and compulsion, India’s middle classes travelling to developed countries have all been voluntary migrants who had chosen to socially secede from their home country. Apart from the migration of middle-class workers, students and professionals, that of the elite is also not going to be reversed. Children of scores of well-placed business persons, political leaders, officials and diplomats have all migrated to the developed world — a phenomenon best described as a “secession of the successful”.

Wealthy businessmen who have been taking pride in their “non-resident” status, buying fancy property in Europe but minimising tax liability in India, are now desperately seeking permission to bring their globalised families home in search of more easily accessible healthcare. Influential people in government, business and other professions may like their children to migrate out of India in normal times, even use medical facilities abroad for normal procedures, but when there is a public health scare and millions queue up for help, they find accessing private hospitals and doctors easier at home than in Covid-hit West. When normalcy returns, the globalised Indian will fly away once again.

Could Covid-19 be a novel breed of a deadly Franken-gene: China’s Test-tube Pandemic

Whether you are a movie buff or not, the image of Boris Karloff in the 1931 horror movie dressed up as Frankenstein is probably burned into your memory. As a child, you might have seen that fictional image and recoiled in absolute horror and ducked your head into someone’s arms or into your pillow. As an adult, you might laugh the whole thing off. The thought of a scientist piecing together a monster that can terrorize society seems like a script only fit for the movies. In 1931, it was.

Fast-forward to 2020. What if this scenario isn’t so far-fetched? What if scientists are actually creating Frankenstein-type monsters in their laboratories with the potential to terrorize the world—monsters that are being wittingly or unwittingly unleashed on an unsuspecting public?

We no longer have to use our imaginations. It is happening before our eyes.

As the world continues to grapple with the covid-19 pandemic crisis, with over 14,000 deaths at the time of writing this, researchers have been trying to solve the question of its origins so they can understand how to stop such occurrences from happening again. They have delved beyond the headlines to study the virus’s unique infectious architecture. What they have found is alarming but not altogether surprising: covid-19 appears to be a designer virus, a new breed of Franken-gene unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

It appears to be a test-tube, made-in-lab pandemic.

No Animal-to-Human Transmission

The first evidence is its apparent lack of zoonotic transmission—when an infectious disease or virus jumps from an animal to a human—a process that usually takes months or years to develop and complete. The Chinese Wuhan wet market is where this jump is said to have occurred, completing the transmission from animals to human—from bat to pangolin to human.

The theory is plausible, even reasonable, until we learn a few things: Researchers have yet to discover a bat- or pangolin-based virus that shares 100 percent genetic material with covid-19 (coronavirus is a bat-based sars virus). And if the intermediate pangolins housed at the wet market are the source of the virus, then why aren’t people being infected in other areas or countries where the supposed pangolins were farmed or taken from?

Additionally, Foreign Policy reported on January 26 that the first three cases had no known contact with the Wuhan wet market. The Daily Mail Online reported on February 18 that the first patient (patient zero) had no connection to the market whatsoever. It further explained that 14 of the first 41 cases had no connection to the market, though the market did serve as a catalyst for later cases until it was closed on January 1.

A respected Chinese scientific report also suggested patient zero may have acquired the virus in mid-to-late November 2019. The Guardian said Chinese authorities knew about the virus as early as November 17. A February 17 Asia Times article even suggested that patient zero was a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology—a claim the institute rejects.

The same Chinese report concluded, “Genomic evidence did not support the Hua Nan market as the birthplace of sars-CoV-2.”

Patient zero with no connection to the Wuhan wet market? Patient zero possibly being a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology? The first three cases with no connection to the wet market? Fourteen of 41 cases with no connection to the wet market? Genomic evidence that doesn’t support the wet market as the birthplace of covid-19? A questionable zoonotic connection?

That is curious. What then is the answer to its origin?

Wuhan Institute of Virology

Perhaps the answer lies in China’s only biosafety level 4 (bsl-4) laboratory that studies, researches and conduct tests on the most virulent pathogenic diseases that can easily kill humans, like the Ebola virus and sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

By the way, this lab is only nine miles from Wuhan’s wet market, about a 30-minute drive. And it is housed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the very institute the Asia Times said covid-19 patient zero came from. Isn’t that a wild coincidence? China wants you to think so.

Facilities like Wuhan’s bsl-4 are global holocausts waiting to happen. These facilities are meant to keep deadly pathogens under strict lock and key. Naturally, intensive quality training of staff is of paramount importance. Only a handful of labs worldwide meet the strict criteria to qualify as a biosafety level 4.

Some experts questioned China’s ability to maintain such a facility, especially after sars twice escaped from a Beijing lab. That failure to contain deadly pathogens was a humiliating setback for China. Yet authorities pressed ahead and awarded China one of these critical laboratories.

Some Western experts are also suggesting that the covid-19 virus escaped from the Wuhan virology laboratory—a fact they say Chinese authorities have fought to conceal by censuring doctors and suppressing research.

On January 2, Yanyi Wang, director of Wuhan Institute of Virology, published a memo forbidding anyone to release information about the Wuhan virus. On January 3, China’s National Health Commission ordered all testing to stop and all samples to be destroyed.

At this time, if not before, China should have called the international community for help. Instead it decided on secrecy, suppression and lies. What is there to hide if this was a naturally occurring zoonotic transmission? Why have the Chinese been so secretive, even trying to mislead the public and the world by blaming the United States for the pandemic?

According to Stephen Mosher of the Population Research Institute, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a meeting on February 14 where he explained that lab safety was a national safety issue and that biosafety measures needed to be put in place to minimize risks to the Chinese population.

The very next day, February 15, “Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology released a new directive entitled ‘Instructions on strengthening biosecurity management in microbiology labs that handle advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus,’” Mosher reported.

Did the covid-19 virus walk out of the lab in the form of an animal that researchers had tested on and later sold for cash on the black market? It’s happened before in China. Could it have walked out another way—perhaps in patient zero?

As a March 20, 2019, Vox article explained, when it comes to these types of labs, “scary accidents—caused by human error, software failures, maintenance problems and combinations of all of the above—are hardly a thing of the past.”

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard, explained to Vox, “If an enhanced novel strain of flu escaped from a laboratory and then went on to cause a pandemic, then causing millions of deaths is a serious risk.”

So one little mistake can cause a global holocaust. That’s good to know—but who is paying attention?

Even if you have the best processes, mistakes are bound to happen. As an example, Vox reported that when moving to a new facility in 2014, Food and Drug Administration staff found a cardboard box of sample viruses dating back to the 1960s!

Multiple reports show breathtaking shortcomings across the global pathogen research and testing industry. Everybody has dirty laundry, except this dirty laundry has the potential to kill millions.

Should we really be surprised if a pandemic like covid-19 was started in a test tube? What is surprising is that it may have taken so long to happen.

Is the timing of Xi’s attention to biosafety concerns and risks and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology’s directive a coincidence? Mosher wrote: “It sure sounds as if China is conceding there may be a problem keeping dangerous pathogens in test tubes, doesn’t it?” Good question.

We know patient zero had no connection to the Wuhan wet market. The first three patients had no connection to the Wuhan wet market. Fourteen of the first 41 patients had no connection to the Wuhan wet market. This strongly suggests a zoonotic transmission did not occur, so another explanation is needed.

Could that explanation be a biosafety lab in Wuhan studying the deadliest pathogens known to man—including, as we shall see, the deadly sars pathogen? A biosafety lab that maybe wasn’t so safe, with two Chinese Wuhan Institute of Virology scientists that had completed previous research and modifications on the sars and coronavirus viruses?

Is it possible that covid-19 escaped from China’s first and only bsl-4 lab in Wuhan? Yes, it is possible.

Did it happen?

“The evidence, to me, points to sars-CoV-2 research being carried out at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Mosher concluded. “The virus may have been carried out of the lab by an infected worker or crossed over into humans who unknowingly consumed a lab animal.” Chinese lab animals have been sold for cash on the street instead of being cremated, meaning unsuspecting Chinese have eaten animals that have been, at best, exposed to a highly infectious environment and, at worse, infected with some disease.

“Whatever the vector,” Mosher wrote, “Beijing authorities are now clearly scrambling to correct serious problems with the way their labs handle deadly pathogens.”

Designer SARS-CoV-2

Could Covid-19 be a novel breed of a deadly Franken-gene? Is it a test-tube pandemic, bio-engineered in the Wuhan  BSL-4 Chinese laboratory? Along with the evidence we’ve already examined, researchers have found some interesting clues in the virus’s behavior and architecture that helps get us even closer to the answer, an answer that eventually takes us back to the University of North Carolina and to work that certain scientists perform in the shadows.

That scientists and researchers fiddle with deadly diseases is without question. As Vox explained, “Sometimes, researchers make pathogens even deadlier in the course of their research.” Are they fiddling with former flu viruses?

A report published in the American Society for Microbiology explains, “The 1977–1978 influenza epidemic was probably not a natural event, as the genetic sequence of the virus was nearly identical to the sequences of decades-old strains.”

That virus is known as H1N1, the technical name for the Spanish flu that caused 50 to 100 million deaths in 1918.

Whatever their purpose, scientists worked on a strain of the original virus and made a few changes here and there, and it was accidentally—one can only hope—reintroduced to the general population. The same report suggested it may have been a bio-weapon. It killed 750,000 people.

This is the world’s best and brightest hard at work.

Another variant of the flu is H5N1. It is an avian flu with a human mortality rate of 60 percent. To understand this flu variant, researchers went to work to decode its secrets. They then produced their own variant by passing the flu from mammal to mammal—ferrets to be exact—by adjusting the virus’s ability to attach to a ferret lung cell receptor. This altered the variant to make it airborne. In fear of it falling into the wrong hands, the U.S. government shut down the study and testing. As journalist Carl Zimmer explained, the Frankenstein test-tube H5N1 “could make the deadly 1918 pandemic look like a pesky cold.”

The zoonotic sequence for the development of a new strain of a virus begins with a non-human host that manages to pass on to another species. Sometimes this doesn’t occur and the virus “dead ends.” When a virus is able to sustain itself in multiple hosts, it becomes viable. Such a transformation, as stated previously, can take months or years to develop. It is a process of trial and error until sustained communal transmission can occur.

The working theory is that the covid-19 mutation between bats and another mammal and humans occurred within mere weeks at the Wuhan wet market and was instantaneously and highly contagious. This theory, if proved correct, will require the rewriting of scientific virology textbooks.

The wet market transmission theory is, well, a theory—and a theory with the motive to shift the public’s attention away from China’s bsl-4 laboratory.

The more plausible theory is that covid-19 is a scientific Franken-gene.

What follows is the closest thing to a smoking gun outside of the Chinese authorities’ admitting to problems stemming from its bsl-4 Wuhan Institute of Virology lab. In 2015, the University of North Carolina reported that it had manipulated the original sars virus protein gene to attach more readily and infect human cells through mice. The Scientist explained in November 2015 that “this virus—or other coronaviruses found in bat species—may be capable of making the leap to people without first evolving in an intermediate host.”

Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said, “If the [new] virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory.” Nature reported this novel change as having a “pandemic potential.”

This new test-tube coronavirus was a more intelligent, mutated, version of sars with a greater potential for infection due to certain design features in the “spokes” of the virus to bind to human cells. As Nature explained in November 2015, this new variant was “made up of a surface protein of SHC014 and the backbone of a sars virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and to mimic human disease. The chimaera infected human airway cells—proving that the surface protein of SHC014 has the necessary structure to bind to a key receptor on the cells and to infect them” (emphasis added).

What a coincidence that Covid-19 is also a SARS_Coronavirus, and the main feature is its victims suffocating to death.

Is SARS-CoV-2, engineered by researchers at the University of North Carolina, known as Covid-19 today? Maybe. Covid-19 patients are suffocating to death with pneumonia. The original sSARS virus also caused fatal pneumonia. The difference is that covid-19 is more contagious than SARS due to its ability to unlock human cells, an adaptation scientists believe strongly suggests that Covid-19 is a test-tube virus.

One of the prime researchers involved in the University of North Carolina “breakthrough” was Zheng-li Shi, who works at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. No doubt at the behest of the Chinese government, she recently published a February 3 scientific paper in Nature blaming Covid-19 on bats. For reasons explained above, this is an unbelievable claim. It demonstrates China’s desire to skew the debate around the virus’s origins and seed doubt in the scientific research community by blending lies with the truth.

Zheng-li’s colleague, Xing-Yi Ge, also works at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In 2013, he isolated the sars virus in bats and adjusted it to make it more receptive to human transmission through a certain human cell receptor. How much like Covid-19 with a programmed ability to decode and enter human cells!

The upshot is that Chinese scientists were able to bioengineer sSARS to be much more contagious and virulent. Taken together, the evidence directly points away from animal-to-human transmission and directly toward Chinese scientists producing a novel Franken-gene that somehow escaped its bio-safety laboratory in Wuhan, China.

Covid-19 has all the hallmarks of being a test-tube pandemic.

Welcome to a post-Covid world

Those working for venture fund would find saw an interesting pattern emerge. Naturally, purely digital businesses, the ones that move ‘bits’ around, were doing well, such as edtech or content plays. But so were businesses that move ‘atoms’, such as grocery e-commerce sites that were having their best weeks ever. But there were some ‘atom’ businesses such as a real estate tech platform, or a wedding tech play that were clearly shook.

Given the above, how should we understand Covid-19’s impact on businesses? It clearly favours most digital businesses, though not all, and it also favours some physical or atom businesses, including e-commerce or even hand sanitisers. Given this, a simplistic digital vs physical or bits vs atoms framework isn’t a good lens to view Covid-19’s impact. Is there an alternative framework? Yes.

All businesses hit by Covid-19 have one factor in common: they bring people together in near proximity — such as travel hubs or airports, gyms, offline educational classes etc. Even if you are a purely digital firm, say online travel ticketing or a rideshare service, your customer will consume the service you are selling in proximity to another customer. And if there is hesitation to consume the product or service, then your sales take a hit too. Uber and Ola have seen rides drop over a third since the crisis.

There isn’t a word in English to describe such businesses — where the consumption of the product eventually happens in the physical presence of other people. I suggest ‘proximate’ as a moniker for such businesses — school education, restaurants, real estate services, travel and hospitality, and so on. Covid-19 has impacted proximate businesses most. Then there are businesses where the final product is consumed singularly — without other people being present physically. Online education, digital payments, video conferencing, e-commerce fit the bill. Let us call them singular businesses. Covid-19 has been extremely beneficial to such businesses, as there is no threat to safety while consuming these products or services.

In addition to singular businesses, Covid-19 has seen two broad categories of businesses boom — first, healthcare products and especially cleansing agents such as sanitisers; second, products that support remote working or living. Video conferencing is one. Zoom, the biggest beneficiary of the Covid crisis, saw its market capitalisation overtake Uber briefly. And it is not just Zoom: almost all players in the video conferencing space have seen massive jumps in usage. We are also beginning to see products which improve communication among remote workers. And of course, if you are stuck at home for long, then video streaming services such as Netflix are a big help.

How will online products evolve in a post-Covid world? First, we will see more social components sprinkled into ‘singular’ products. Take online education. By adding gamification elements such as leaderboards, or enabling interactions between users, you make the product more fun to use as well as drive better engagement. Or take netflixparty — an ‘unofficial’ chrome extension to watch Netflix with your friends. Second, there is the trend of proximate products moving to become singular. A great example of this is how gyms are using Facebook live or Zoom to livestream their classes, thereby helping fitness services, previously consumed physically in a group setting, become a solo activity, pursued through connected devices.

The fitness industry has been an innovator here, launching products such as Peloton (cycle), Tonal (weight training), Hydrow (rowing) etc. All of them are single-person use devices for the home that are internet connected and interactive. As we have seen with physical classes moving online, and gyms moving to connected devices, there is a framework for going virtual. Provide a product (app/device) for powering individual consumption, but make the experience social (leaderboards, messaging) and synchronous. Let us call it ‘singularisation’.

So, where all could such ‘singularisation’ apply? What other proximate activities could go singular and succeed in a post-Covid world? Apart from education and fitness, we could see religious worship and music or artistic performances, both presently consumed in group setting, getting singularised. Imagine a device — a screen or even an app that allowed you to join for worship while being aware of and being able to interact with fellow worshippers, or even to join them for group prayers.

Welcome to the post-Covid world. Where the products are singular (or single-serve), social and streamed.

China’s unchecked accountability From the Great Leap Forward to Wuhan Coronavirus

Popular Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu once said, “Strike where the enemy is not prepared, take him by surprise”. Two of China’s finest military strategists in the recent past, Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui, in their famous book ‘Unrestricted Warfare’ have alluded to warfare as having “no rules and nothing is forbidden”. World leaders are today taken by absolute surprise on the impact their respective countries and citizens have borne as a result of Wuhan Coronavirus.

China continues to aggressively control the narrative of first being affected by the Wuhan Coronavirus just a few months ago but now looking to support other countries, specifically European countries seeking help. It is important to recall and analyze that China has not learnt its lessons of cover up, damage and destruction that it inflicted on its own people during the Great Leap Forward. And possibly this could be a form of “unrestricted warfare” that the world must get used to and necessarily learn to combat in the days, months and years to come.

No, this blog is not intended to be racist or pinpoint blame on a specific country for the global pandemic that has arisen out of the Wuhan Coronavirus. But if historical case studies point to the country behaving in a way that it causes harm and annihilation of humanity at large, then it must be called out. The name Wuhan Coronavirus is not an invention of any Indian or American academic or analyst, but solely attributed to the China state owned media and commentators since the outbreak.

It is often said, if one wants to get a realistic picture of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution then one must read or watch perspectives from those affected, if possible, and if given access to. In today’s time and age, it does become difficult to get hold of such accounts but the book ‘Tombstone’ by noted Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng is an exhaustive account of the erroneous Great Leap Forward, also known as one of China’s disastrous famines, which took place between 1959 and 1961 under Mao Zedong. The reason the book is important is because the account is written by a mainland Chinese who was previously a member of the Communist Party of China as well as a journalist with the Xinhua News Agency. The book is of course banned in mainland China, as it gives a detailed insight into how the move by Mao took the lives of millions.

Yang himself lost members of his family to the famine that he estimates took the lives of nothing less than 36 million people in China. In addition, backed by in-depth research and analysis, he estimates that China’s population loss during the Great Famine during the period was 76 million. He says more people died in the Great Famine than in the First World War.

He minces no words in pinning the blame squarely on Mao and the entire Communist Party structure that caused devastation to Chinese families. Unequivocally, Yang also dismisses reports that the Great Famine in China was caused by the then Soviet Union. The most disturbing part of the book for me to read was how the famine forced people to turn to cannibalism in almost every province of China to meet their starvation.

Province by province, Yang gives out statistical evidence and research as to how many deaths were caused by the famine and how clueless the Communist Party leaders were, including Mao who did not fathom an iota of the damage caused. In the end, when Mao intended to course correct, the damage was already done. Yang details Peng Duhai and Liu Shaoqi as the only leaders in the Communist Party set up then who opposed Mao but needless to state were relegated and purged. In fact, Liu Shaoqi once said to Mao, “History will record the role you and I played in the starvation of so many, and the cannibalism will also be memorialized.”
Yang has titled his book ‘Tombstone’ because he wanted to erect a tombstone for his father who died of starvation in 1959. He also wanted to erect a tombstone for the thirty-six million Chinese who died of starvation. Thirdly, he wanted to erect a tombstone for the Chinese political system that brought about the Great Famine, and fourth, a tombstone for himself due to a temporary health scare, although his health concerns were subsequently put to rest.

During the Great Leap Forward, Chinese citizens everywhere were herded into giant collectives called peoples’ communes. This took the life of more than 30 million people of torture, exhaustion and fatigue. The Cultural Revolution followed the Great Leap Forward and that also took the lives of many millions in China; this too was under Mao Zedong.

Cut to today, the pertinent question is whether China has learnt any lesson at all from the two massacres that it unleashed on its own citizens in and through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The answer will be negative. Through the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus and the Wuhan Coronavirus, China is seeking to up its ante of unleashing what could be called in their own terms, “unrestricted warfare”. Several geo-political commentators have called out China’s authoritarian regime for inflicting the damage they caused on not just their own people but outside their borders this time as well. That the world has not learnt any lessons at all from the outbreak of SARS virus up to Wuhan Coronavirus is discernible in the response.

Democracy, China’s biggest threat, remains India’s biggest strength and soft power asset. This was discernible in the organic manner in which Indians responded to the voluntary Janata curfew leading upto the 21 day national lockdown. This is in stark contrast to authoritarian surveillance by Chinese authorities to curb the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus, or for that matter the handling of Dr. Li Wenliang, the first whistleblower, the detention of Xu Zhiyong and the disappearance of Ren Zhiqiang.

While science battles to come up with a prospective antidote to fight this deadly virus, and while leading powers in the Indian Ocean region, like India, will no doubt rise after this uncertain scenario, it is important to seek accountability vis-a-vis the ‘middle kingdom’ and the ‘core leader’ Xi Jinping, in their pursuit of taking the world by surprise.

The anti-influencers who fail to sell

Social media influencers are the prophets and seers of our times — regular people who hawk product through the irresistible draw of their personalities. The Instagram teen who teaches you how to draw on eyebrows, and then starts a bestselling makeup line. The grandmother on YouTube whose recipes attract a huge audience, and then opens a restaurant. The beautiful people who start wearing tiny pointy sunglasses, and then make them appear in stores around the world.

They are sought after by companies and advertisers and political campaigns. They can divine what sells, and get everybody else to buy in. On social media, they know exactly how to hold our straying, skittering attention.

But this week, the New York Times flagged a new category of people — the anti-influencers. Marketing professors from Northwestern University stumbled upon this discovery when they were studying purchasing patterns, and those who bought products that were later pulled from the shelves. Turns out, these are not one-off whims — there is a whole class of people who are drawn like moths to a flame, to products that will never take off. Those who just loved Diet Crystal Pepsi and Frito Lay Lemonade, for instance, famous fails in the US market.

If social influencers have their finger on the pulse, a sense for what will work, these people have a nose for what is not monetisable and mass-marketable. And they pick it every time, they are systematically off-target.

When I read about the study, I knew I’d found my tribe. The marketing profs have named us “harbingers” (of doom, of failure). It sounds harsh, but I don’t mind. We are the group that any product launch team should consider, while they still have time to rethink their decisions. If we like it, it’s unlikely to make it big.

And there are lots of us anti-influencers or harbingers, apparently: a full quarter of the customers in the study “consistently took home products that bombed”. Even Tim Harford, who writes the column Undercover Economist, fessed up to being one, saying: “come study me, oh trendspotters and psephologists, for a glimpse into what the future does not hold.”

I was an early and enthusiastic adopter of Google Plus, shortly before it became a virtual graveyard. Through two decades, I never gave up on bootcut denim. Things I order get taken off the menu, magazines I subscribe to fold up. My go-to moisturiser has been recalled, though there are a handful of others who mourn the loss online. When everyone’s discussing Netflix shows, I pipe up for the random one no one seems to have seen, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rahul Gandhi is my preferred political leader, and his prospects seem bleak. Now that I think about it, I must’ve hexed Elizabeth Warren too.
Occasionally, time and the judgements of posterity might vindicate us. Take the 1987 Hollywood movie Ishtar, famous for being the worst film ever made — an expensive fiasco, a commercial failure, a critical write-off. But some people — guess who — liked it. A few decades later, it was rehabilitated in the New Yorker as a masterwork, one of the “most original, audacious and inventive movies” of modern times. Same with the movie Andaz Apna Apna, which only became a cult watch many years after.

But this is not to congratulate anti-influencers for our foresight or eccentric flair. No size fits all, we’re all conventional and weird in different ways. No human really conforms to focus-group ideas of average. What makes us this way is probably that we don’t get the information signals, hear the calls of the herd as clearly. For instance, I am a social media wallflower, an isolate in a networked world — so people like me can’t possibly sniff out the trends or even keep up. Someone in high school or college, on the other hand, is intensely aware of their peers.

After all, the quality that makes social influencers so influential is the fact that they are naturally social. Their clout comes from connection. When they post something, the likes and engagements start totting up immediately. Other people are interested in their taste and validation. Social media creates cascades of opinion — so when people you trust say that a pair of sneakers or earphones is amazing, and then you find yourself getting it, and talking it up till others are also convinced of its value.

But anti-influencers are alright too, even if marketing mavens say mean things about us. After all, the other happy fact of our times is that niche preferences can also be catered to — so even if the big stores don’t stock bootcut jeans, somebody on the internet will ship it to you. The rushing mainstream may not care about us, but there’s plenty of life in the shallows and corners.

Rumors Factory Works Overtime hampering fight against coronavirus

As India and other South Asian nations brace for the spread of the coronavirus, they face another battle: misinformation. With the pandemic starting to gain a foothold in the region, social media are rife with bogus remedies, tales of magic cures and potentially hazardous medical advice. Experts are urging caution and say the “coronavirus infodemic” could have disastrous consequences.
With the pandemic starting to gain a foothold in the region, social media are rife with bogus remedies, tales of magic cures and potentially hazardous medical advice. Experts are urging caution and say the “coronavirus infodemic” could have disastrous consequences.
The message started with an outlandish claim: The coronavirus was retreating in India because of “cosmic-level sound waves” created by a collective cheer citizens had been asked to join.
Messages were pinging from phone to phone across this country of 1.3 billion saying the applause Prime Minister Narendra Modi had organized for health workers had been detected by a “bio-satellite” that confirmed the weakening of the virus.
Soon, Siddhart Sehgal’s family group chat on WhatsApp was buzzing with messages hailing Modi as India’s savior.
It of course wasn’t true.
As India and other South Asian nations work to stop the spread of the virus, they face another battle: reams of misinformation.
With the pandemic starting to gain a foothold in the region, social media sites are rife with bogus remedies, tales of magic cures and potentially hazardous medical advice. Experts are urging caution and warning that the “coronavirus infodemic” could have disastrous consequences.
Its a trend also seen elsewhere and governments around the world have been urging citizens not to listen to or spread rumors about the pandemic.
So far it hasn’t worked in South Asia, a region where online misinformation has in the past had deadly consequences such as lynchings, arson and communal riots where neighbors turn on one another.
On Tuesday, Indians were ordered to stay indoors for three weeks in the world’s biggest coronavirus lockdown. In announcing the move, Modi reiterated the danger of misinformation.
“I appeal to you to beware of any kind of rumors or superstitions,” the prime minister said.
Earlier appeals against virus rumors have yet to prove effective.
Poultry sales in India plunged following false claims that chickens were linked to the pandemic. Racial attacks against people from the country’s northeastern states increased after rumors spread that they carried the virus.
On Sunday, people in a remote village in Manipur state locked themselves inside their homes because of rumors that fumigants were being sprayed from the sky to kill the virus.
The government has asked social media companies to launch awareness campaigns about virus misinformation. It also set up a government WhastApp channel where people can ask questions about the virus and vet claims they hear.
Still the falsehoods spread.
On Monday, Amitabh Bachchan, a top Bollywood star who has more than 40 million Twitter followers, said clapping and blowing conch shells would “destroy virus potency.” He later deleted the tweet after facing criticism.
Elected representatives from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have also offered bizarre claims of cures for the virus, ranging from cow urine and cow dung to cloves “energized by mantras.”
Rumors have spawned concerns elsewhere in the region as well.
In Bangladesh, some clerics claimed Muslims would not be affected by the virus and exhorted tens of thousands of people to gather for a mass prayer last week despite concerns about the health risk.
One preacher claimed to have interviewed — in his dream — a man in Italy to obtain a cure for the virus.
When a journalist at a leading private television station reported about the misinformation, he received death threats.
“We are monitoring and doing our part, but it (misinformation) comes from various sources, one after another,” said Zakir Hossain, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. “This is a huge task.”
Pakistan too has had to fight against religious leaders urging the devout to attend prayers and promising their faith will protect them. A cleric in Lahore made a video saying it was impossible to catch the virus while praying and said he should be hanged if he were wrong. Police arrested him instead and he made another video urging people to take the pandemic seriously and wash their hands.
On the outskirts of Islamabad the army was called in to shut down a mosque after its prayer leader despite exhibiting symptoms kept his mosque open.
In Sri Lanka, authorities warned that legal action will be taken against people who spread false information over social media. Several people have been arrested.
Pakistan has been the worst hit South Asian nation with some 1,200 virus cases reported. India has reported more than 725.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in a few weeks. But for some it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
There are concerns that if cases were to surge in South Asia, it would overwhelm already strained health systems.
Sumaiya Shaikh, an editor for fact-checking website ALT News, has been tracking misinformation on messaging apps in India since before the pandemic.
In January, when the virus was still largely limited to China, Shaikh said India experienced a deluge of false WhatsApp messages claiming that Chinese police were shooting people suspected of having the disease.
When India started having cases, rumors about cures began, Shaikh said.
“This misinformation has reached a critical mass and is jeopardizing public health,” she said.
The search for accurate virus information in India is complicated by advice issued by a parallel health ministry, the Ministry of AYUSH, created in 2014 by Modi to promote alternative therapies such as yoga and traditional Ayurveda medicine.
The ministry has recommended herbs and homeopathy as cures for the virus, along with frequent sipping of water boiled with basil leaves, crushed ginger and turmeric.
P.C. Joshi, a medical anthropologist at the University of Delhi, said that advice “falls into the category of misinformation which can be hazardous for public health.”
The ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
The messages spreading online, often shared among friends and relatives, have unnerved many Indians who don’t know whether to take them seriously.
When the messages claiming that the virus was retreating in India spread on WhatsApp, members of the Sehgal family wanted to leave their home and join others outside celebrating. But Siddhart stopped them.
“My family usually believes whatever they get on WhatsApp regarding the virus,” he said. “It’s hard to explain to them that most of it is fake.”

China and WHO, a new story

China has carefully calibrated its rise in UN system. World, including India, must deal with consequences. One of the casualties of the US-China wrangling over the coronavirus is the World Health Organisation, which is supposed to be at the very heart of the global effort to cope with the pandemic. The WHO leadership, especially its Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has been accused of serving China’s interests rather than preparing the world against the spread of the virus.

The basis for these charges is the WHO’s endorsement of the Chinese claim in mid-January that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus, consistent support for Beijing’s handling of the crisis and criticism of other nations for imposing travel restrictions to and from China. Critics also believe the WHO lulled the world into complacence by delaying the decision on calling it a global emergency. Whatever the merits of these arguments, they point to the new geopolitics of multilateralism, disprove the assumptions in both the West and India on China’s role in the UN, and underline Beijing’s success in the leveraging of international organisations for its national advantage.

On the face of it, the sentiment that nations must work together against common trans-national threats is an eminently sensible one. But it does not easily translate into concrete actions. Take climate change. Attempts at developing collective solutions to the problem over the last three decades have foundered. Most leaders agree on the problem and the solutions; but are not willing to accept the framework — either the domestic or international — for distributing the costs associated with the solutions.

The problem of the cost-benefit distribution is compounded by great power rivalries. The coronavirus has shown up at a moment of deepening tensions between the US and China. The grave collective challenge that the virus constitutes has only sharpened the conflict. The US blames Beijing for letting this virus become a global monster and Beijing is doing all it can to deny that the virus came out of China.

That brings us to the WHO, which is caught in the crossfire. The charge that the WHO leadership might have become a “tool of Chinese propaganda” shows how dramatically the relationship between Beijing and the world body has transformed in recent years. Nearly two decades ago, during the SARS crisis, WHO was at the front and centre of pressing China to come clean on the unfolding pandemic. In 2003, it had issued the organisation’s first travel advisory ever on travel to and from the epicentre of the pandemic in southern China. As the SARS crisis escalated, Beijing’s traditional arguments about the centrality of state sovereignty yielded place to a new policy of working with the WHO and taking proactive steps to reassure neighbours in South East Asia.

Some attribute the turnaround in the relationship between Beijing and WHO to China’s growing financial contributions. Others suggest that China’s political support was crucial in the election of Tadros in 2017. Observers of the UN point to something more fundamental — a conscious and consequential Chinese effort to expand its clout in the multilateral system. China, which was admitted to the UN system in the 1970s, was focused on finding its way in the 1980s, cautiously raised its profile in the 1990s, took on some political initiatives at the turn of the millennium and seized the leadership in the last few years.

Neither the West nor India have been prepared to deal with the impact of China’s rise on the UN system. The US and its allies bet that China will be a “responsible stakeholder”. Put another way, they hoped that China will play by the rules set by the West. China, of course, wants to set its own rules. Only the political innocents will be shocked by China’s natural ambition. India, which considered US dominance over the international institutions in the 1990s as a major threat, chose to align with China in promoting a “multipolar world”. Delhi convinced itself that despite differences over the boundary, Pakistan and other issues, there is huge room for cooperation with China. To their chagrin, the West and India are being compelled to respond to a very different environment at the UN. China wants to replace America as the dominant force in the UN. The US is now fighting back. Last month, Washington went all out to defeat the Chinese candidate for the leadership of an obscure UN agency called the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Delhi discovered that Chinese global hegemony could be a lot more problematic than American primacy. After all, it is China that complicates India’s plans for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, protects Pakistan against international pressures on cross-border terrorism, and relentlessly pushes the UN Security Council to take up the Kashmir question. India now turns to the US and its allies to pursue some of its interests in the UN.

Political ironies apart, if there is one lesson that India could learn from China’s experience with WHO and the UN, it is that multilateralism is not an end in itself for major powers. It is an important means to secure one’s national interest and shape the international environment. As a nation battered by the Cultural Revolution, China used international cooperation and global institutions to rebuild itself in the last decades of the 20th century. Having developed its economy and advanced its scientific and technological base, China is now ready to reorder global governance and become a rule-maker.

The effects are visible in the arena of global health. China’s expanding global engagement with the WHO, its substantive international health assistance programmes, and an impressive domestic health technology sector are poised to boost China’s ambition to build a “Global Silk Road for Health’.

On its part, Delhi needs to intensify the recalibration of India’s multilateralism, rewrite its diplomatic lexicon at the UN, and build new political coalitions that will simultaneously contribute to India’s internal modernisation and enhance its international influence. The corona crisis is a good moment to start writing a new script for India’s own health diplomacy.

A Covid War on the way we lived

 My parents’ generation was shaped by not only the privations of World War II but also the ethos of the freedom struggle. They were hardwired to be frugal and hard-working; they had an urge to save and a horror of wastage that included ensuring their kids finish every last morsel on their plates. Sharing and hand-me downs were a given, holidays were annual and family celebrations modest.

Before COVID-19 began its rampage, it could be said with certainty that “things are different now”. The gig economy is cool and spending not saving is the ruling sentiment; wastage is not an issueif at all, it’s only a matter of putting it in correct bins. Hand-me-downs in the era of ‘fast fashion’ is laughable, holidays are preferably abroad, several times a year. And celebrations? Bigger the better.

No matter how much a scowling Greta Thunberg has thundered at older people about saving the Earth, the fact is that those closer to her age than most world leaders and older folks have also done precious little to moderate their own lifestyles. No one has willingly slowed down, taken stock of their own lives and habits much less of our planet, and pondered whether their choices were sustainable.

And now COVID-19 has triggered nothing less than World War III. It didn’t need our Prime Minister to tell us this grim fact. And it’s an enemy about whom no one knows much, so all are vulnerable. But one thing is for sure, it has people all over the world running for cover, stocking up for an uncertain future, fearing for their loved ones and themselves. It has forced us to finally get real.

It has produced heroes. And it has also revealed idiots. Those who are willfully, gleefully thwarting COVID-19 combat efforts, shamelessly hoarding, taking no precaution to avoid infection and recklessly venturing into hotspots lured by cheap deals. In short, behaving with all the short-sighted callousness and selfishness that has marked the 21st century so far. What about the rest of this century?

With this sudden emptying of public spaces, shutdown of offices and workplaces, stalling of economic and commercial activity and forced isolation and solitude—due to fear of infection—there has also been astounding evidence of the Earth benefiting from mankind slowing down. There’s far less pollution in the air, aquatic life is reclaiming its space in waterways, there’s less noise, less tumult.

It should be a matter of shame that it has taken a pestilence of Biblical proportions to force us to realise that we need to rethink our priorities. At the very least, World War III should shape us just as the previous one did our forebears. Our enforced isolation gives us time to take stock of who we really are, what we really need and what we can do reconfigure our lives in a more meaningful, mindful way.

When a deadly enemy lurks, the earlier attraction and satisfaction of endlessly buying ‘stuff’ ebbs dramatically. What people are now bulk-buying in anticipation of Armageddon (and I don’t mean toilet paper rolls but rice, atta, dal, potatoes, onions, oil, salt and masalas) tells us what we really need to live; all the rest is actually optional, not necessary. It certainly gives a new perspective on life.

Hopefully this hiatus in our normal routines will make us realise that technology need not only keep us connected or hooked even while flying around the globe for unending meetings and presentations, but allow us to work from home. It can enable us not only to surf the net for tempting vacay deals but reach out in situ to our most distant loved ones, cut off now because of travel restrictions.

It remains to be seen whether World War III sees a resurgence of the spirit of sacrifice, compassion and cooperation—basic humanity—that characterised those who fought and survived World War II. Will we have the guts to work together to beat this new enemy setting aside all other differences as our forebears did? Or are we too soft, self-centred and unwilling to inconvenience ourselves?

The effect post-pandemic, changed human priorities can have on pollution, emissions and carbon footprints, on consumption, wastage and sustainability is manifest. It will also, obviously, cause an economic disruption and reconfiguration that would need careful management and mitigation. But that has to be joint effort between governments and peoples of all nations.

How we react to this crisis will determine whether we are or can be a caring society. After all while ‘social distancing’ has a different context in this pandemic, the fact is we have already been doing so for years even while living among 1.3 billion Indians. We had cut ourselves off from the real world, become inward-looking and concerned only with ourselves. It simply had to end sometime.

The PM spoke on Thursday about coming out on Sunday at 5pm to thank all those unknown people risking their lives to do their work during this escalating World War III. It is meant, obviously, as a step towards doing away with the sort of social distancing and disconnect that has blunted our humanity, even as we practice another kind of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID19.

We can never really go back to the modest, frugal world that our parents lived in, but we can at least use this opportunity to gather up our moral and physical strength to reprioritise. Every restriction and every shutdown actually tells us what we can do without and how we can improve. The trajectory of the rest of the 21st century should be guided by the lessons of 2020’s World War III.

Your Freedom Is More Fragile Than You Think

I’m writing to you today from what is almost a fascist state. The government dominates the economy, having placed huge numbers of workers on the government payroll. Public gatherings are banned. We’ve been told that we’re not allowed out of our houses except on specific conditions. The entire country is under house arrest.

Even in Putin’s Russia and socialist Cuba people can visit the park if they want. But not in the UK.

The only thing missing is ultranationalism and the UK would be a textbook example of fascism.

Even supporters of this state of affairs acknowledge how extreme it is. Member of Parliament Steve Baker said in the House of Commons yesterday, “We are implementing at least a dystopian society.”

The events of the last few days have taught me a huge lesson about how fragile our fundamental rights are and how vulnerable we are to tyranny.

I never thought world would respond this way. Yes, European countries have imposed draconian lockdowns. But this is Britain; we’re different. Europe’s parliaments have a history measured in decades; ours can be measured in centuries. France’s towering historical political figures are Napoleon Bonaparte and Maximilien Robespierre.

The idea that we have sacred ancient liberties is tightly bound to our national identity. We fought wars and executed kings to defend these principles. We sing about how we will “never, never, never” give up these freedoms. We are a nation that values liberty more than life itself. At least, that’s what we told ourselves—until this week.

We are now a nation under house arrest—saved from being a police state only by a shortage of police.

Our common law is meant to make this impossible. We’re the nation of the Magna Carta, habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights.

Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634) is considered one of the foremost warriors to uphold these freedoms—fighting against the Stewart kings as they tried to override these ancient liberties. “The ancient and excellent laws of England are the birthright and the most ancient and best inheritance that the subjects of this realm have,” he said. As part of this birthright, Englishmen inherited common law—which include “common rights,” explained Coke. He believed that no king, Parliament or government could take these rights away.

“The common law will control acts of Parliament, and sometimes adjudge them utterly void; for when an act of Parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it and adjudge such act to be void,” he said, in a legal ruling that has been echoed down through the centuries and even played a role in the American Revolution.

Coke went on to push for the “Petition of Right,” a constitutional document detailing four of an Englishman’s basic rights, which were violated by King Charles i. Winston Churchill spoke highly of this petition. “We reach here,” wrote Churchill, “amid much confusion, the main foundation of English freedom. The right of the executive government to imprison a man, high or low, for reasons of state was denied; and that denial, made good in painful struggles, constitutes the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land.”

Yet now the government seeks to imprison the entire nation in their homes for reasons of state. On Monday, March 23, the government decided that it has unlimited power, that an Englishman’s “common right” is now null and void.

“From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction: You must stay at home,” declared Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 23. Must? There is nothing in common law or precedent that says a British subject needs his government’s permission to leave his own house. There are public footpaths in England older than Parliament. There is no basis in the English constitution for the government claiming this kind of power. I thought I lived in a country where a government’s power was restricted by law.

And it gets worse. The government is pushing an Enabling Act, a new law that gives the government vast new powers.

Spiked Online wrote that this new bill “gives the government and the authorities unprecedented new powers, unheard of in a democracy during peacetime.” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said that it “leaves us with the greatest loss of liberty that we have probably ever had in this country on the back of one piece of legislation in peacetime.”

Authorities have massive powers of arbitrary arrest, an abuse of power we’ve been fighting since before the Magna Carta. Any “potentially” infectious person can be detained. Not a sick person. Not an actually infectious person. I think there is some justification for giving the state the power to enforce a quarantine and to stop sick people going out. But a “potentially infectious person” is such a loose term it could include anyone.

“There is no explanation as to how the authorities will determine whether someone is potentially infected,” wrote Carlo. “For all intents and purposes, it allows for arbitrary and indefinite detention. Any member of the public, including children, could be forcibly detained, isolated, quarantined in an as yet unidentified location.”

Laws on the books already exist that allow the authorities to declare an emergency and use emergency powers. The Civil Contingencies Act, for example, was written for exactly this kind of emergency. It allows the government to ban mass gatherings. It doesn’t need a new law to do that. The Civil Contingencies Act has more restrictions to prevent abuse: Protests and political gatherings, for example, are exempt from its provisions, so that no government can use its powers as an excuse to clamp down on free speech and political protests. The new Enabling Act contains no such protections.

It also weakens safeguards on government surveillance. UK law allows for a shocking amount of surveillance on British citizens. The new law means there’s little, if any, safeguards on how that is used.

“The potential for abuse is extreme,” wrote Carlo. “In countries like China, Iran, Israel and Russia, authorities are already tracking individuals’ phones to make sure that they comply with quarantines. … The extraordinary thing about this is, in the UK, we wouldn’t even know about it if the government was doing this because our surveillance powers are so extreme—they are completely covert and completely secret. If someone working at a telco like O2 or another network were to disclose that they were tracking us, that person could go to prison for a year.”

One of the saddest parts of  current situation is how little people care about it. Seventy-six percent strongly support the new measures, with 17 percent somewhat supporting them. Only 4 percent stand with  liberty and oppose them.

But look at what we get excited about. Thousands will shut down London to protest climate change. But ending our freedom? They won’t protest that—they applaud it.

The authoritarianism is being rationalized the same way authoritarianism is always rationalized: The ends justify the means. Yes, we’re taking away your freedom, but we’re doing it to save lives!

Never mind that coronavirus has killed substantially fewer people than an ordinary flu. The latest forecast from the doom-mongering Imperial College is that coronavirus is “unlikely” to kill more than 20,000 in the UK and “it could be substantially lower than that.” The common flu kills 17,000 a year. We gave up our freedom for something no worse than the flu.

And even if it were to kill much more, what about our ancestors who believed freedom was worth life itself. We clearly don’t believe that today.

Initially, the government “advised” people to stay home. But grabbing the power to enforce that is very different and very dangerous.

“If we are honest with ourselves, these powers are going to be here to stay. … Crisis follows crisis,” wrote Carlo. “The slippery slope might be an overused term, but it is very, very difficult to reverse the handing over of such extraordinary powers.”

My fear isn’t that we’ll be under house arrest for the rest of our lives. I don’t think the freedoms taken during this crisis will ever fully be restored, but some of them will. But it will be far easier for the government to take our freedom in the future.

We’ve already shown that we don’t really care. That we won’t fight to defend our freedom. Instead, many journalists are openly calling for more authoritarianism, begging the government to be more draconian.

A taboo has been broken, and politicians everywhere will learn the lesson that freedom is easy to take.

Look at how so many in authority have relished using these powers. You see the same thing in United States governors, glorying in their new role with absolute power within their state.

So many in the media and in politics want to get rid of all these legal and constitutional restraints on power. So when coronavirus gave them an opportunity to throw off the restraints, they seized it eagerly.

Already some are calling for the government to grab similar powers in other areas (e.g. to fight climate change).

Before Monday, British freedom was sacred. After Monday, it wasn’t. No matter how much of our freedom the government restores, that will not change.

Before Monday, the police protected liberty. After Monday, they threaten it.

Before Monday, freedom was our birthright. After Monday, it is something the government gives him and could take away.

I didn’t think we would ever willingly hand over our liberty like this. I thought the hundreds of years of tradition had force and weight. That any government would respect law and precedent enough that they would never do something like this. I was wrong, and I realize I’m guilty of making a mistake we warn about in our own literature. Look, that is just getting in the way. We don’t need that old law. We know what justice is. You can trust us!  That reasoning paves the way for tyrants!

But government tyranny is routine in human history. Let’s not be naive and think something like that could never happen here. Our forefathers weren’t stupid. They wanted to guarantee our freedom.

I’ve read that. I’ve agreed with it. But now I realize that I still took freedom for granted. The idea that tyranny could actually happen in free world wasn’t real to me.

There’s a lot of evil in this world. It is full of tigers waiting to tear somebody apart. It has always been that way. As Winston Churchill said, the history of man is the history of war. Yet somehow we can’t come to grips with that today. Are you willing to face reality? Most people are not. A haze of deception enshrouds our world. It’s absolutely stunning how easily the people in this land today are duped. I have to admit that I wasn’t facing reality. Again, I agreed with all of this intellectually. But there was still part of me that thought, It couldn’t happen here. Now my most basic freedoms have been stripped away. The same thing is happening in many U.S. states. Tyranny is a very real threat.

Britain’s government threw off all restrictions against tyranny this week. Several states in America are going the same way. In Europe, leaders are setting themselves up as strongmen and putting the armies on the streets. In Hungary, the government is pushing through an emergency law that gives the government dictatorial powers for an unlimited amount of time. Left-wing academic Gaspar Miklos Tamas accused the government of “using the epidemic as a pretext to introduce an open, structural dictatorship.

Freedom is fragile. And it is under attack. Perhaps, like me, the idea of freedom being taken away wasn’t real to you. But this is a real threat, and one you need to understand. There is a war against freedom, and it’s one you must understand. There is not much time left. That freedom can be taken more quickly than you realize.

Understanding this war won’t just help you understand what’s going on in the world, it will also give you a true source of hope.

It’s easy to get distressed, frustrated and angry about this attack on freedom. I’ve certainly experienced my share of all those emotions this week. But understanding the reality behind this attack also contains a sure hope—individually and for our nations.

If life gives you plague, make lemonade

When the bubonic plague hit Britain in 1348, it killed well over a third of the human population, but spared cattle. This meant a surplus of milk, and the only way to prevent it from being wasted was to make cheese.

Ned Palmer notes in ‘A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles’ that the records for the manor of Farnham show they “made the usual amount of cheese – one hundred and forty-two cheeses across the summer and twenty-six in winter. Cheesemakers are tough”. Keeping rats, which carried the fleas that spread plague, away from the cheeses might have helped.

Most of this cheese would have been consumed at home, but now, with fewer people to feed, it went to market. There it had to compete against the products of many other cheesemakers. Palmer details how this post-plague cheese glut led to different types of cheese, to stand out in the market, and the growth of a wider cheese trade.

Without knowledge of germs, people’s response to plague often focussed on what they ate. Because plague came from abroad, often by ship, many people stopped eating fish or imported spices [some initial responses with Covid-19, of avoiding Chinese restaurants, show how these attitudes persist].

Medical science then theorised, as Ayurveda does, that illnesses upset a body’s balance of elements. Plague seemed to increase heat and moistness, so should be treated with cold and dry things. “By far the ultimate cold and dry ingredient was vinegar,” write Jeni Mitchell and Stephane Henaut in ‘A Bite Sized History of France’.

Vinegar is a mild disinfectant, so this might actually have been useful [it is not recommended against Covid-19 though]. People then started infusing herbs they hoped would increase its medicinal properties. A story grew of how four thieves were found plundering homes of plague victims. When threatened with execution, they confessed their secret: To avoid getting plague themselves, they rubbed their bodies with this vinegar.

Even today people make ‘Four Thieves Vinegar’ by infusing “everything from garlic and camphor to rosemary, lavender, and sage”, write Mitchell and Henaut. Many health benefits are claimed for it, but it can also be used in marinades for meats.

Plague would sweep the world again many times, and during one outbreak in France in the 17th century, Paris was largely spared the impact. In his book ‘Food Fights and Culture Wars’, Tom Nealon speculates that this was linked to a Parisian craze for lemonade.

Citrus fruits had been rare in northern climates, but by the mid-17th century, were being grown and imported in bulk to cities that could afford them, like Paris. A 1651 cookbook has a recipe for lemonade and its popularity would have left lemon peels, which contain limonene, a proven flea killer.

Nealon points out that plague kills victims so fast that fleas must keep moving, so when rats encountered peels, “limonene disrupted the spread of fleas from rats to people”. Making lemonade certainly sounds like a good way to survive a pandemic.

Quantum theory of ideas: Where two seemingly separate opinions can behave as an inseparable whole

It is quite normal to believe that ‘cold’ is the opposite state of ‘hot’. But the state of coldness is merely the absence of heat. Similarly, darkness is the absence of light. Death is the absence of life. And foolishness is the absence of wisdom.

Many ideas can only be described by what they are not rather than by what they are. Dig a little deeper into Hindu philosophy and we find that rishis were in the same dilemna as us. They wanted to define what they intuitively knew as Brahman, the unchanging, permanent, highest reality. But how were they to explain something as vast and all-encompassing as that? The Upanishads thus described Brahman as neti, neti, neti. Neither this, not this, nor this.

These seers also spoke of two fundamental characteristics of the world: shunyata (or nothingness) and maya (or illusion). Amazingly, researchers in quantum physics are now finding that our world is characterised by empty space. At the atomic and subatomic levels there is no rigidity. What we call ‘matter’ consists of fuzzy waves that can manifest as particles and switch back just as quickly. Energy and matter are interchangeable. The solidity of our world is illusory. The world is indeed characterised by shunyata and maya.

The classical physics establishment found these blurry notions of quantum theory a little difficult to digest. Newtonian physics thought of the world as composed of distinct objects, much like tennis balls or stone blocks. In this model, the universe is a giant machine of interlocking parts in which every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately the Newtonian world breaks down at the subatomic level.

In the quantum world, everything seems to be an ocean of interconnected possibilities. Every particle is just a wave function and could be anywhere at anytime; it could even be at several places simultaneously. This hazy view of the world fits almost perfectly with what our sages said about Brahman: ‘It moves; it moves not; it is far; it is near; it is within this; it is outside this.’ In fact, many early quantum researchers such as Schrodinger, Heisenberg and Bohr had been exposed to Vedic philosophy.

For a moment though, let us turn from the quantum world to the universe of opinions and ideas. Does every idea need to have definition? Much like the wave-particle quantum world, isn’t it possible that ideas could be fuzzy, unpredictable and dynamic? Does every idea need to be absolutely right or absolutely wrong? Does it need to be tightly classified as right- or left-wing? Secular or communal? Capitalist or socialist? Liberal or conservative?

For example, Galileo was condemned by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1633 for his view that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun. Today we take his theories as fact. The notion of monarchy (the hereditary right to rule sanctioned by divine power) remained the norm until the 20th century. In the 21st century most of the world discarded that idea. But even today, in countries like Saudi Arabia a hereditary monarch is the accepted norm. In this instance the same idea is treated differently across geography. As the two examples show, space and time seem to have a substantial effect on ideas.

It was Einstein who fused the three dimensions of space and one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional construct called spacetime. His relativity theory was the second great disruptor to the world of physics. In essence, an event that occurs at a given time for one observer could occur at a different time for another observer. When we look at the sun, we are actually looking at the sun as it had existed eight minutes ago because that’s the amount of time it takes light to travel from the sun to Earth. But couldn’t the relativity principle apply to ideas too?

Isn’t it possible that the entire framework by which we judge ideas, thoughts and opinions needs a revamp? Just like classical physicists were willing to accept that classical laws could not be applied at subatomic level, maybe today’s thinkers need to stop judging ideas by outdated constructs. If Einstein saw time as relative, couldn’t we look at ideas in a non-absolutist way. Isn’t it possible that two individuals may perceive the same idea differently? Isn’t it possible that the same individual may perceive a given idea differently over time? While we may hold our opinions dear to us, can’t we still view other opinions as equally legitimate?

And if a wave can behave as a particle and manifest spooky action over distance, why can’t one hold views that are seemingly opposed? One may want free markets yet state intervention; individual liberties yet social order; modern technology yet respect for tradition; democracy yet a strong state; or soft power yet strong armed forces. Why can’t one be rational yet revere one’s myths? Why can’t one believe in secularism while continuing to appreciate the Hindu ethos that allowed secularism to flourish? Why can’t one be Catholic yet gay? Why can’t one believe in Allah yet disregard the hijab? Why can’t one be Hindu without a caste? Why can’t one expect economic progress alongside environmental consciousness?

In recent times, physicists have discovered a phenomenon called quantum entanglement. In an entangled system, two seemingly separate particles can behave as an inseparable whole. Theoretically, if one separates the two entangled particles, one would find that their velocity of spin would be identical but in opposite directions. They are quantum twins. Maybe it’s time we looked at opposing ideas as quantum twins?

Expanding Hegemonic Tendencies

The coronavirus crisis has shown vividly that we live today in one world which is linked so closely that events in one place can have profound impacts elsewhere. Earlier, it was said that when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. Today, bad culinary choices in one Chinese city can create severe indigestion globally.

These linkages are created by the increasing flows of seven elements that cross borders: goods, services, money, people, power, ideas and ecology. Globalisation refers to these increasing flows and the consequent homogeneity they create in economic, political, social, psychological and ecological domains. When flows increase so much across a piece of land, it becomes crucial to have governance structures across it to manage those flows to ensure the public welfare.

This is the process that was witnessed in Europe with the emergence of modern states. Increasing exchanges in a region led to the creation of a single governance structure where earlier there were many competing local powerful lords using raw power to determine outcomes. The emergence of modern states based on the democratic idea of social justice for all replaced the rule of raw power with the rule of law to increase public welfare.

However, despite increasing connectivity, global governance structures to manage it are not strengthening, but weakening. Today, the global picture resembles that of the pre-modern-state world where powerful lords decided common matters according to their whims. In today’s global landscape, we have powerful states behaving similarly. And ironically, it is not just autocratic regimes like Russia and China. It is democratic states like America that behave whimsically in the global arena and undermine world institutions to achieve their own narrow interests.

Globalisation has unfolded at the whims of the US.

Greater interconnectedness, driven by a global governance structure that prioritises public welfare, can be beneficial. But actual globalisation over the last few decades has unfolded at the whims of the US and its allies to largely benefit its rich elites. The global flow of goods and services was for long controlled by Western corporations. Ultimately, the World Trade Organisation was formed to provide a rule-based global trading system. But it soon became controlled by the US to serve its interests and ignore those of developing states. And when developing states like China and India slightly increased their power in it, the WTO was discarded by the US in favour of bilateral and regional treaties that largely benefit it. The global flows of money are also largely controlled by the US. Even aid flows from the World Bank and IMF to developing states are subservient to US interests.

The strong control the US has on mainstream and social media and entertainment industries means that the global flows of ideas also help in perpetuating its cultural hegemony. In contrast to these four types of global flows, the flow of people to the US and other Western states is increasingly restricted. This makes the patterns of globalisation related to these five flows beneficial mainly to rich states. This situation in turn is underpinned by the global flows of American power, based on military and economic might.

But there are always limits to the powers of even the most powerful despot and the same is true for the US. While it is able to control the flows mentioned to serve its own interests, the wild cards are ecological flows, which it cannot control fully. In recent decades, these have included two flows which are creating enormous risks not only for developing states but also the US and other developed states. The first consists of flows of gases that cause ozone layer depletion and climate change. The second consists of biological flows that cause pandemics, such as the coronavirus. The first flows are mainly caused by rich states. China is rivalling them in this, but much of even its polluting manufacturing serves Western consumption and is produced by Western capital.

Such globalisation is creating high inequality, conflicts, diseases, nuclear war concerns and environmental pressures, pushing the world towards major catastrophes. One hopes the huge impact of the virus will push the world towards strengthening global governance. Yet an economically declining and xenophobic US is obstructing global cooperation and encouraging hyper-nationalism. Thus, the coronavirus impact may actually strengthen these urges. China is trying to fill the leadership gap. But a world dominated by autocratic China would be even worse than one dominated by the US, which is at least internally democratic. What is needed now is not another global hegemon but democratic global governance. The king is dead; long live democracy.

Killing softly with Tagore's song

Natural calamities (the best way to address it), have started coming un-announced. Before further comment, 10,000 passed away, and 1,00,000 at risk. The numbers have been dangerously predicted to escalate. Masks are short of supply, hand sanitizers from overnight manufactures alone are available, and as for soaps, the more potent clothes-washing ones may not be medically excluded.

Locked down for 21 days, Quarantine for 14 days, social distancing, outdoor eateries shut, travel bans, trains on the halt, transport running 50% capacity, and many more are in the long list of advisory. It only shows that not much is known of the “hows” and ‘what”, and it is stupid to imagine about the “cure”. Prevention is the word.

Speculations are rife, as is it Nature’s curse, surreptitious biological weapon gone awry. Pleading that these are just speculations, let some stories be glossed through.

The first case was reported from Wuhan in China, that hosts the “Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory”. It is internationally recognized, and certified as “Cellular Levels Bio-safety 4”. That means, although virus research is carried out, strict possible precautions are taken in collecting tissue, isolation, segregation, and culture. The bio-material through with the testing is destroyed to ash, and any retained, compulsorily comes on records. No more to it than a speculation.

Such happened with Ebola and SAARS. The world got together, preventive drugs and vaccines were discovered, and the world is peaceful at that front.

The story started with a man reporting with a “strange” illness, and died five days later. As the fatal symptoms are respiratory, and later multi-organ failure, technically, the medical terminology allotted was, “The acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus 2 “as the viral symptoms were akin to SAARS. The WHO, in its wisdom, named it COVID-19, to avoid panic, and needless revival of memories of those that are prone to panic.

That Italy should cross China in mortality, and Spain be close to it, should give some clues to global epidemiologists. If, for instance sea-food was a possible source, considering Chinese varieties (and an innocent imbibed the infection, unawares), the Mediterranean is a different, semitropical sea. The Italians are flamboyant as such, and rather un-inhibited to different foods. Did they unawares switch to ocean and other sea food? All I know is that the Italian football team has a full meal of “pasta” for dinner, before a match. Starch is a ready source of energy!

The Spanish are not much different in culture, but being the later power that discovered the promised land, compared to Caesar’s Rome, feel more up to times, which actually does not concern economy so much as the supremacy of Real Madrid and Barcelona!

India, took the right steps, particularly a harmless public curfew on a Sunday. It has a well worked scientific tactic. Since the adjusted, extended lifetime of the virus is 14 days (given the 14, day period of quarantine), it may to an extent lead to a break in the transmission, and lessen the incidence.

At the moment, there is another pointer. Though publicity augurs celebrity reporting, still the reporting of virus incidence in the elite, is particularly notable. Do seven-star restaurants, have exceptional sea-food preparations that are whispered to the waiter, but not officially on the menu? Tom Hanks, the first couple of Canada, Indian celebrity singers.

My recollections tell me that this is an age-old tradition “to eat what is rare, even inedible”. An excerpt from an Aldous Huxley story, where as a young struggling author, he takes his lady friend to an elite restaurant to feign his material worth. She, even before picking up the menu, orders for “caviar”. Only Huxley can describe how he excuses himself to go to the rest room to pull out his pockets to measure the total cash! The rest of the dinner, he probably asks for soda, on the pretext of an upset (mind) and stomach!

This is Easter time, fasting for the followers of Christ. I am reminded of Noah, but the question is, will it come to quarantining the survivors? Also, “Passover” close by, and though with apologies for uninitiated understanding, I believe it is close to the times which God perpetrates, which one should just let “Passover”. I again plead apology in trying to interpret a great faith.

Just got an e-mail from a Prof in Puri. The annual Rath Yatra, is all about shifting Lord Jagannath to two places, including his aunt’s as he falls sick due to over-eating. If you remove the two days he is given a bath, which makes him ill, the total quarantine period of his going out of his palace, is 14 days!

Coming to steps taken by the Indian government, I believe they are about to catch protective speed, considering the world’s largest population.

Medical personnel and paramedical staff, are caring as a part of the culture in the subcontinent. Private, well attested companies can be given a tax rebate in preparing masks, and the petroleum sector can make more sanitizers available.

Urgent need of air proof canvas tents, hat can be set-up close to hospitals, even district centres, to set up quarantine wards.

The job lay-off, should get a minimum stipend contributed by the employer and the government!

Like many adversities, this one is going to reset our cultural habits, un-necessary customs. Will robots, AI, and digital communication take a larger share of our lives!

“jab tor daak shune keu na aashe…..
.tabe pathera kaanta teri, raktamaakha,

ekta chalo re’     Guru Tagore

(If they answer not your call………,
Then trample the thorn under thy tread,
And along the blood lined track,
Travel alone”

Conspiracies, Superstitions and pandemics

Pandemics test not only the immunity and mental strength of human beings, but also their power of imagination. Conspiracy theories and prophecies spread just as fast as pandemics and work in multiple ways, from heightening the fear of death to inspiring spiritual healing of human souls.

The quality of imagination or dreaming, however, depends on the self-belief of individuals and the consciousness of societies. Several videos and messages full of prophecies of pirs and clerics are circulating on social media in which they prescribe a wide range of protective measures against Covid-19. In one such video, a person recommends the soup of the inner layers of a pigeon’s stomach for those infected, while in another eating the dust in a shrine is prescribed.

But there is a difference between the motivations of the superstitious and the faithful even though their actions may be interpreted as similar by many. Some leading religious scholars are recommending offering prayers to seek divine help against the pandemic. Indeed, religion plays an important role in the lives of people in our country who use it to extract spiritual support to overcome fears. Some other religious scholars are advising people to take proper precautionary measures while also praying to God, which strengthens their faith and develops spiritual immunity. However, there are others who see such pandemics as divine punishment to curse others (they also believe that they have divine protection against all epidemics). There are dozens of videos making the rounds on social media cursing ‘infidels’, including China and the West, and advising the ‘faithful’ to not adopt any precautions as advised by experts. Interestingly, a former chief minister of Sindh also appeared in a video cursing China and the West.

Social scientists have recorded evidence that natural disasters develop empathy among humans. But pandemics affect the normal bonds of human affection and social distancing becomes a virtue. Pandemics force people to make difficult decisions to save themselves and others, but a sense of shame or guilt grows as the human consciousness tries to address the situation in multiple ways. Religion addresses one aspect of this situation and inspires people to develop a different approach to interaction and affection.

The stories coming from Wuhan — the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak originated but now has successfully been overcome — reveal how the citizens responded to the fear of pandemics. Their collective response greatly contributed towards defending themselves and each other against the deadly virus. The stories and videos of the victims and those quarantined circulating on social media were more about hope where people’s minds appeared set on thinking about life and future. A few websites dealing with psychology and spirituality are collecting such stories. A woman from Wuhan has shared the story of her 50-day-long quarantine on a website in which she explains how her family experienced new dimensions of life, empathy, compassion for neighbours, ­environment and animals.

However, individuals have varying tendencies of superstitious beliefs and sentiments that also nurture conspiracy theories. Every day, dozens of conspiracy theories surface about the virus. Keeping aside President Donald Trump’s insistence on labelling the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and Chinese suspicions that it was US ­soldiers who brought the virus into Wuhan, many conspiracy theories also hint at the involvement of aliens who wanted to create rifts among humans and destroy the Earth. Scientists of course insist that diseases have no agency and bacteria and viruses spread blindly. The Telegraph recently quoted a published study explaining that the ­coronavirus has evolved naturally and is not a ­laboratory construct.

But how many believe in scientific theories, especially in such critical times when minds are disturbed and need healing, is anyone’s guess. Many are also referring to some fictional works as proof of a well-designed and structural plot behind the pandemic. A novel The Eyes of Darkness by an American author Dean Koontz is very popular among such believers, who claims he had predicted the outbreak of coronavirus in 1981 with his reference to a killer virus called Wuhan-400. The wilderness of our imagination may provide some relief to us but sometimes it also diverts our attention from reality.

A similar situation has forced a famous screen writer and novelist Lawrence Wright to come up with a disclaimer before the publication of his new novel The End of October, saying it is a work of fiction. The novel, which has been constructed around a pandemic, may have quite a few similarities with the current global epidemic.

His article reminds me of a Facebook post mentioning a short story by one of the greatest fiction writers of the subcontinent, Rajinder Singh Bedi. The story is about a doctor and a sanitary worker. The doctor treats those quarantined and describes how the fear of quarantine was killing just as many as the disease itself. The sanitary worker named Bhago collects dead bodies and lines the streets with chalk to curb the spread of infection. He ends up saving one patient — who falls unconscious out of fear and is considered dead in the pile of bodies being burnt. Though Bhago badly burns his own arm in trying to save the man, the patient still dies a painful death. A few days later, Bhago’s own wife also dies of the plague because the doctor refuses to treat her in time. The story depicts the inner struggle of both characters. The doctor serves half-heartedly and is fearful of catching the plague. But Bhago, despite his wife’s death, is ­completely devoted to his work. When the ­pandemic ends, the municipality and citizens reward the doctor for his service. When he reaches home, he meets Bhago who has come to congratulate him. The doctor feels deep shame at his earlier behaviour. The pandemic is indeed a test of the self and our collective character.

Will Coronavirus Kill the Global Economy?

The final death toll of coronavirus is unknown. But it’s already clear it will have a massive economic toll. The globe has essentially shut down. Travel has ceased. Restaurants, cinemas, amusement parks—anywhere people gather in public—are closed. Retail sales are plummeting as no one ventures out.

With no money coming in, firms are at risk of going bust. Millions of people could soon be unemployed.

Into the breach steps government. Every major government has unveiled a massive spending plan. Right now, the United States government is working on a $2 trillion spending package. The United Kingdom has unveiled a $413 billion plan. That’s over 40 percent of typical annual government spending—all poured out on just one crisis.

This response could make a real difference in people’s lives and stop a lot of the immediate economic pain this virus could cause. But it could also fatally damage our economies, preparing the way for a future collapse.

Government, Help Us!

In past crises, people looked to their own resources. It wouldn’t have even occurred to Britons or Americans 100 years ago to expect the government to save them.

But now we’re used to the government taking care of us. They pay us when we’re unemployed, provide our health care, and bail out banks to keep the economy afloat.

In return, we pay heavy taxes. In the United Kingdom, over 40 percent of the national income goes to taxation. In the United States, it’s 30 percent. All that taxation makes it hard to save up for a rainy day—and makes us feel entitled to government handouts when our livelihoods are threatened.

In many cases governments are the ones forcing people to stay home. If the governments are destroying our livelihoods, it seems only fair that they help rebuild them.

The trouble is, our governments—even with their colossal levels of income—cannot afford to provide those handouts.

To survive the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S., UK and many other governments borrowed heavily. Prior to that, America’s national debt was 65 percent of its annual economic output. By 2011, it had jumped to 95 percent as it buoyed its economy by borrowing at the fastest rate since World War ii. Since then, instead of paying the debt off, America has continued to borrow. U.S. debt is now about 105 percent of its gross domestic product.

Harvard economics professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have concluded that any debt above 90 percent of annual economic output is dangerous.

The unprecedented response to the 2008 crisis broke more than the budget. It also broke a major taboo. Major government intervention became expected in any economic crisis. Imagine the public outcry if, when the coronavirus crisis hit, the government refused to help: You spent trillions bailing out the banks, what about ordinary Americans? You’ll help rich bankers, but not us?! With its extravagant response in 2008, the government effectively committed itself to similar measures in any subsequent crisis.

And that is exactly what it is doing in response to the coronavirus. America’s $2 trillion bailout package will have to be financed by debt; it alone will add another 5 percent to the national debt. By the time this ends, the U.S. will have taken a giant leap toward equaling its highest-ever level of debt: 121.7 percent, reached during World War ii.

The U.S. is talking about giving $1,000 a month to every adult. Japan is considering a smaller amount of $100 per citizen.

But borrowing will not be enough to meet these crises. If America borrows too much, creditors could become worried about the government’s ability to repay the debt. That fear could destroy the economy. So the government is looking at another source of income: the printing press.

Printing to the Rescue

The 2008 financial crisis began a great experiment with a new tool for central banks: quantitative easing. With this tool, central banks create money from nothing.

There is, rightly, a huge taboo on governments printing money and spending it. This type of money printing can be catastrophic, leading to hyperinflation that renders a currency basically worthless.

So central banks trod carefully on their quantitative easing experiment. They didn’t hand the newly created money directly to the government; instead, it bought government debt and other assets from banks. And central banks pledged to “wind down” this printing in the future: to sell the government bonds they had bought and then destroy the money they had created.

Twelve years later, it looks like the quantitative easing experiment worked. The extra money kept the financial system going. The central banks bought up government debt and kept interest rates on that debt at record lows, enabling governments to spend record amounts. But most central banks have destroyed only a fraction of the new money they had created. Yet the sky hasn’t fallen in. You don’t have to bring your money in a wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread.

So in reaction to the coronavirus, central banks are running the printing presses faster than ever.

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced today unlimited quantitative easing. After the 2008 crisis, the Fed has never done anything like this; instead, it announced quantitative easing within a huge, though specified, limit. The first round, from December 2008 to March 2010, for example, was capped at $1.5 trillion.

Previously the Fed also announced that it would inject $1.5 trillion into the repo market, essentially where banks go to get cash. “It is effectively underwriting U.S. Treasury bonds and ‘printing’ money for direct fiscal measures,” wrote the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. The Bank of England also announced $236 billion in quantitative easing.

The central banks may also drop many more of the restrictions that were placed on quantitative easing in 2008. The thinking is: It worked, they got away with it, and so less caution is required this time.

Even right-wing economists are now talking about “helicopter money”—creating money using quantitative easing and more or less raining it down from the sky on ordinary citizens. We created money and gave it to the banks in 2008, the thinking goes, so why not create the money and give it to ordinary people?

“[W]e are certainly going to see some form of ‘helicopter money,’ the mechanism by which the state, via the central bank, simply prints money and hands it out to people,” wrote finance journalist Matthew Lyn in the Spectator.

“The next logical step in the chain of unconventional monetary policy is helicopter money and that is a direct liquidity injection into the heart of the real economy,” said Neil MacKinnon of VTBCapital.

These are just two of a great number of similar statements. Helicopter money used to be a fringe idea, something only crazies or socialists talked about. Now, your freshly printed money may reach you before our next Trumpet issue does.

Embracing Socialism

The response to coronavirus has led even people on the right to embrace socialism. “Boris Must Embrace Socialism Immediately to Save the Liberal Free Market,” blared a headline in the usually right-wing Telegraph. “Coronavirus Panic Buying Is Turning Tories Into Socialists,” declared the Spectator.

On March 20, the British government unveiled a radical new program that turns most Brits into government employees. If people are unable to work due to coronavirus, the government will pay 80 percent of their wages—up to a cap of £2,500 (us$2,900) a month.

In making this commitment, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak admitted that he had no idea what it would cost. “It is the most extensive intervention in the economy ever made by a supposedly free-market government anywhere in the world,” wrote the Spectator. “In effect, we will all soon be working for the government.”

The massive increase in spending globally is pushing all countries in the direction of socialism. Companies of all sizes are banging on the U.S. government’s door asking for a bailout. Government money could soon be flowing into more sectors of the U.S. economy than ever before.

The trouble is, it’s very hard to reverse on the road to socialism. With each new government intervention, voters expect more from their governments the next time. Once they receive handouts, they expect to keep receiving them. Anyone who tries to roll back the clock is taking something of theirs away. And once a government takes power over something, the bureaucracy and politicians are very reluctant to give it back.

“When the UK economy last went onto a war footing in 1939, we didn’t really shake it off until Mrs. Thatcher’s reforms of the 1980s,” wrote the Spectator. “It might take just as long this time. [I]t is a huge gamble—and it will be easier to start this rescue than to stop it.”

Even if we succeed and take a step back from socialism, what happens when the next crisis hits? The 2008 crisis broke taboos, but 2020 has smashed them beyond all repair. Once again, there will be massive borrowing. Once again, the printing presses will be fired up—with even fewer rules than before. How long before government finances, the currency and our whole economic system collapses entirely?

We’re not just on the road to socialism, but to economic ruin.

Preparing for Armageddon

This unprecedented response may stave off an immediate crisis, as it did in 2008, but what next? We never managed to pay off the debt or destroy the newly created money from that crisis. We may stave off the crisis for now, but we are setting ourselves up for catastrophe.

Britain, America and our whole financial system are in a tough position. Refusing to take these kinds of measures would mean a lot of immediate pain for a lot of people. But adopting them simply pushes the pain into the future, and guarantees that when it hits, it will be worse.

The problem isn’t the bailout. This isn’t about one bad decision destroying everything. It’s the whole system. We have built an entire economic system on a foundation of debt. The government manages the economy by encouraging people to borrow. When a crisis hits, it lowers interest rates, so people borrow more and spend more. With little savings, people cannot look after themselves in times of crisis and have to turn to the government. But the government can’t help without borrowing more. It’s a cycle that builds up more and more debt.

In the long run, it is unsustainable. Step by step, choice by choice, we are creating conditions that are guaranteed to produce an unprecedented, world-altering crash.

Beware of quacks!

I’m taking Covid-19 seriously, and doing all I can in terms of social distancing, personal hygiene and so on. People tend to underestimate the nature of exponential growth, and I worry that many of my fellow countrymen are still too complacent. But there is an ongoing epidemic I worry about just as much as Covid-19 — it is the epidemic of ignorance that causes people to believe in alternative medicine.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen all kinds of dubious assertions about Covid-19. Homoeopaths and Ayurvedic practitioners have suggested medications, bovine urine has been offered as a prophylactic, groups of people have chanted ‘Go Corona Go’ to the supposedly obedient virus, and there is even a suggestion that clapping hands drives bacteria away. These alleged remedies, and the belief systems they are based on, are wrong. They are also dangerous, which is why it is necessary to fight them with the same commitment with which we need to fight literal viruses.

To begin with, I have a visceral objection to the term ‘alternative medicine’. Most of the quackery we put in that category is not medicine at all. There are only two kinds of treatment: those that work, and those that don’t. Real medicine on one hand — and quackery on the other. The term ‘alternative medicine’ dignifies quackery, and implies an equivalence that does not exist.

And here you say, but so much of what I call quackery seems to work. Why so? Let me offer two reasons. The first, as is commonly known, is the placebo effect. Basically, merely believing that a medicine will work can sometimes make the patient better. A classic example of this comes from World War II, when Henry Beecher, an American anaesthetist, ran out of morphine and was forced to use salt water instead for an operation. The patient did not know this, and the salt water worked. Or rather, the placebo effect worked.

For this reason, when scientific trials are carried out to determine whether a medicine works or not, the standard is not whether the patients get better. Instead, the medicine being tested has to perform better than placebo. This is done through what is called a double-blind placebo-controlled test. Patients are divided into two groups, one of which is given a placebo and the other is given the medication being tested. Neither the patients nor the doctors know which is which. If the medication outperforms the placebo, we know it works. No homoeopathic medicine has ever passed such a test.

A second reason why quackery seems to work is regression to the mean. Many illnesses, like the common cold and some migraines, function in a cycle and get better on their own. Patients often ascribe credit for this to the medication they took. This is especially likely if they already believe in it, in which case the confirmation bias kicks in – the tendency to see only evidence that confirms our biases.

But homoeopathy is harmless, right? Only sugar pills? So what is the problem? There are two problems with using alternative medicines. One, what economists would call the opportunity cost: you are not using medicine that actually works, and that could kill the patient. A famous example of this is the Australian couple who insisted on treating their daughter’s eczema with homoeopathy. The girl died, and the parents were correctly convicted of manslaughter.

Two, people who believe in such treatments can become complacent about the danger they are facing. Watch the viral video of those gentlemen chanting ‘Go Corona Go’, and it is clear that they are standing too close to one another. My favourite app TikTok is full of videos from people claiming that religion, the oldest form of fake news, will protect them. These false beliefs are dangerous not just to them but to others around them as well.

Even when the horrors of Covid-19 are behind us, this epidemic of ignorance will continue to take lives. This is especially when the Indian state itself spends taxes coerced from us on this nonsense — the ministry of AYUSH should be abolished. It is not just believers at risk, but those around them.

What can you do about it, you ask? Well, first, be a sceptic. Examine every assertion, read up on any subject on which you have an opinion. Two great books I recommend on this subject are ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre and ‘Trick or Treatment’ by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. Fact-checking websites also do a great job of debunking nonsense. Use them to correct those pesky uncles in your WhatsApp groups and housing societies. It is your civic duty to speak up.

Switzerland as utopia

As people living in Switzerland, we were taken aback by the opinion piece of Economist Ruchir Sharma, who recently described Switzerland as a „paradise“. Sharma, working as an Investment Banker at Morgan Stanley in New York City, advised to the global liberal left to admire Switzerland instead of Scandinavia. He praised the competitiveness and the steady growth of the Swiss economy and concludes that the base of this success was a combination of a business-friendly environment and social equality. First, his analysis is flawed. And second, this is good advice only if one believes in building wealth on the back of the global poor. 

Let us start with getting one major number right. Sharma claims that the “typical swiss family has a net worth around 5.4 lakh USD”. Using the average net worth to describe a “typical” family is highly misleading because Switzerland is not at all as equal as Sharma seems to believe. Nearly 25% of Swiss inhabitants report zero wealth, 55% have a net worth between 0 and 50’000 USD, nearly 75% between 0 and 2 lakh USD. A typical Swiss inhabitant, therefore, has a net worth of around 50’000 USD. While income equality is indeed slightly better than the European average, the wealth inequality is globally among the worst with a Gini index of 0.86 – and it is increasing.

The 300 richest people of Switzerland own 70’200 crore USD. This is nearly three times the GDP of Bangladesh. Last year, these 300 people earned 270 crore – just as much as the bottom 55% own together. They now own 234 crores per capita, more than ever before. Even if there is hardly any severe poverty in Switzerland (nor Scandinavia, for that matter), the poverty rate in Switzerland is increasing steadily. One out of 12 Persons in Switzerland lives below the poverty line and cannot participate in this seemingly equal capitalist paradise of Sharma’s. Mostly this concerns women and foreigners – and here we do not even begin to talk about the 0.9-2.5 lakh undocumented people living in Switzerland. 

Switzerland, according to Sharma, is “worldly to the extreme” and he states that the country’s immigration rates are among the highest in the developed world. About half of the Swiss population are foreigners and Sharma asserts that nearly half of them were non-European. Official numbers, however, state that 80% come from European countries – almost half of the latter from France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Because Switzerland has a tough system of naturalization, about one fifth of the population considered foreign is born in Switzerland but did not get citizenship, sometimes even in the third generation. Also considering recent political developments, it is hard to understand Sharma’s assessment of “worldly to the extreme”. As an example, in 2014 Swiss voters have accepted a xenophobic popular initiative called “Against Mass Immigration”. The party behind this initiative was the anti-immigrant and right-wing Swiss People’s Party, that is the biggest one in the country. And, as another example, Switzerland continues to ignore its own National Commission for the Prevention of Torture and keeps incarcerating minor refugees in “administrative detention” in order to expel them.

Sharma claims that Switzerland is among the happiest countries in the world according to the World Happiness Report – it shares the top 7 places with the Scandinavian countries. One of the factors is the comparably high social security system or access to health care. In this line, Sharma rightly praises Switzerland’s public education that does not force students into such high educational debts. This is made possible by public money. At the same time though and in a contradiction typical for neoliberal economists, he praises the low government spending ratio. 

This leads to the second point. Switzerland’s enormous wealth is mainly built on resources of others. Sharma correctly describes improvements in the tax transparency of Swiss banks. India for example now has an automatic exchange of information with Switzerland on Indian citizens’ money stored in Swiss banks, making it easier to stop tax evasion. But many countries still do not have such automatic exchange of information. Therefore, these improvements should not divert from the fact that Switzerland is still by far the biggest offshore financial centre for very rich people from all around the world. From the 720 crore USD lying in Swiss bank accounts, around 350 crores are from abroad. For a big share of these crores, still only the banks themselves know where this money comes from. This is particularly true for poor countries whose public sector would need this money urgently.

Sharma writes that Switzerland has a very successful industry and is home to many companies. The doubt here lies in the reasons for this. While Sharma assumes that this is due to Switzerland’s favourable overall conditions, the favourable tax regime might play a bigger role. Economists around the Californian professor Gabriel Zucman lately calculated that 28% of the Swiss tax revenues from corporations come from profits made elsewhere and being channeled into Switzerland. While Switzerland gains around 600 crore USD in tax out of corporate profits, the rest of the world loses around 7200 crore USD due the various methods of dumping taxes, profit shifting or transfer pricing manipulations and so on. This is more than the GDP of a country like Kenya with over 5 crore inhabitants – a lot compared to Switzerland’s 85 lakh people.

Switzerland has one of the most globalized economies in the world. Trying to measure its success without considering the basis of the wealth outside Switzerland necessarily leads to a flawed analysis. Such an analysis will feed the popular myth of Switzerland as a blessed country, independent and self-ruled by proud citizens, inhabiting an arcadia of mountains, rivers and lakes, pristine of the troubled world around it. It is this myth, misconceiving the realities of global exploitation, that the right-wing parties are cultivating carefully to strengthen their aggressively neoliberal and racist politics. 

Facing the Dilemma of Pandemic Induced loneliness

Social distancing may help us slow the spread of COVID-19, but such isolation can exact a hefty toll on our emotional and physical health. Loneliness can be just as taxing on our health as smoking, and it is a stronger predictor of mortality than obesity. Thankfully, even during these challenging times, there are plenty of things we can do to keep such feelings at bay. My recipe: Get exercise if you can, pick up the phone and call a friend or family member, give meditation a try and do what you can to help others.

Loneliness, we know from the research, can be as bad for your health as smoking. It’s more predictive of mortality than obesity.

And loneliness itself was a pandemic long before covid-19 got its name. (Between 1990 and 2010, there was a threefold increase in the number of Americans who said they had no one in whom they could confide. So canceling church, school, work and sports means we are doing something that can be hazardous to our health — in order to save lives.

It sounds like a trap. But it’s more like a balancing act — a seesaw we all have to ride now. You can alter one side and stay in balance, but only if you change what’s on the other. Today, we have been made to force-quit most of our activities and sent into isolation. No exceptions. Fewer distractions.

In this time, let us look at how to take stock of our Inner Self and work out a way of being that brings us our happiness every day. Not at another date or time or place, but here, in the thick of our lives, replete with chores on our to-do lists!

Let us, therefore, get a crash course in Self-Exploration.

We are not taught how to identify what exactly is our Inner Self? Or what our core is? Or who we are authentically? Or what makes our soul sing? This is because there is confusion on how to navigate these questions, if at all, and even though they impact every sphere of our life, we get to these questions, if we do, late in life, almost when we get to a point where we desire to re-boot.

Simply put, when we feel nourished in our own selves and do not need the validation of society or spouse or peer or anyone outside of us, then we have discovered a version of us that is safe, secure and stable. We have found our Inner Self. This leads further inward to planes of consciousness where we eliminate more and more of the things and emotions and attachments considered necessary. I will dwell on a first and basic level of this self-discovery journey and urge you all to answer one question only:

Are you completely happy right now?

In order to answer that question honestly you have to dive into the core of you and find that rawest form of you that has always been there, somewhere, buried by time, our own fears, conditionings and insecurities. You have to do that by analyzing the ways in which you reprimand yourself or talk down to yourself and also look at the areas in which you have the highest turmoil in your life. That is the area that presents to you clearly how you have overridden your truest identity due to parental, social or any other conditioning. Looking at these areas of conflict you will see the parts of you that you feel are defective or weak and those are the traits about yourself you dislike.

In being so overzealous in correcting those and achieving the best version of us, sometimes, we focus on how much we are disappointed, either in ourselves or others, for not providing us with the things we have always wanted – love, attention, courage, time, conversation, companionship, money. The end result of this is that after perfecting the art of distancing ourselves from our own self – the answer to “How can I be happier?” lies in the way we can identify how in wanting it we inadvertently didn’t know how to provide us with it ourselves, and hence, now we need to re-connect with it.

So, no matter how organic it was, we distanced from us and now to be authentic and find that core of us that always was, our journey of self-exploration involves, connecting with our original self. Understanding our motivations, our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Loving all of our own self and every bit of defect to feel the power of the true, raw, original, unapologetic self. When we can connect to our fears and insecurities and walk in kind acceptance and approval of all those, using them to re-align our script and connection with the Universal Energy, then, we feel at home in our own self.

If we find that doing this is hard, connecting with our defects or weakness is difficult, then we need to work on developing the safety of the belief that we are safe and looked after in our Universal Energy System. That there is a Supreme Energy Force that we are connected to that knows the core of us and supports that core and every tiny defect is made whole and right and it is this faith and beauty and love that we need to reflect and feel too. For we are only as good as our last thought and if that thought is of fear and trepidation and stress and worry then that is our reality.

We need to let the shower of that energy cleanse us and spur us. It is the axis that connects us to our whole and we have to recognize and see that and revel and dance and sing in that. In the middle of our life, here and now.

When we can connect with this energy and feel the beauty of our weakness in the way this energy does, then we have connected to our inner most core that resonates with sheer bliss and happiness and answers resoundingly, “Yes I am happy now!”

It is a connection that is ours for the taking.

It is ours and when we have asked to be connected, so shall we be and all of the energy of all of this universe will light up our way and show us how to walk and where to go and what to do and who we are and all of our questions will be answered and then we would have journeyed our own true self, during this isolation, sitting on our sofa in our living room.

We’ve heard a lot about what not to do. Now it’s time to talk about what we can do. “Look, I wash my hands a lot,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But if that’s all people are told to do, it only takes you so far.” There are at least four specific activities that can help compensate for all the things we are not doing, according to the research and my conversations with disaster experts, psychologists and epidemiologists.

Loneliness creates a kind of toxic chain reaction in our body: It produces stress, and the chronic release of stress hormones suppresses our immune response and triggers inflammation. And the elderly, who are most at-risk of dying from covid-19, are more likely to say they are lonely.

Fear also causes the release of stress hormones. And a pandemic involves massive amounts of uncertainty: by definition, the kind that won’t go away quickly. That kind of ongoing stress is hard for anyone to handle.

So what is the antidote? First, anyone who can exercise should do more of it now, every day. Physical exercise reduces stress and boosts immune functioning. “Outdoor activities are good. Going for a walk, riding a bike, those are all great,” says Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. You can even do this with a friend, assuming you both feel healthy and are not in high-risk groups (and assuming you stay six feet apart in places such as San Francisco, where public health officials have so ordered). “Our overall goal is to reduce the number of contacts we have with other people, but you have to strike a balance.” And there’s never been an easier time to exercise without going outside or to the gym.

Second, social closening. (Yes, that’s a word, it turns out.) Relationships are as good for the immune system as exercise. In a meta-analysis of 148 studies that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of eight years, researchers found that positive social relationships gave people a 50 percent greater chance of surviving over time compared with people with weak social ties. This connectedness had a bigger impact on mortality than quitting smoking.

To keep your relationships active, the phone is your lifeline. I’ve set a personal goal to talk (actually talk, not text) with one or two friends, elderly neighbors or family members by phone every day until this pandemic ends.

The one upside of every disaster I’ve covered over the past two decades is that people feel a strong impulse to come together and help each other. So far, I’ve seen that same tendency play out among friends and neighbors, despite social distancing, and we all have to work to keep that going. The coronavirus gives us an excuse to check in with each other

The third antidote is mindfulness. If you have resisted this trend so far, now may be the time to reconsider. Meditation reduces inflammation and enhances our immune functions, literally undoing the damage of self-isolation. There is evidence that prayer can have a similar effect.

Fourth, do something small for someone else. In surveys, people say volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and reduces anxiety.

Wherever they strike, disasters have a way of revealing our preexisting weaknesses. But they also open up opportunities. I’ve seen this again and again, from communities destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to families devastated by 9/11. There is a golden hour after disaster strikes, a chance to come together and build resilience.

But this doesn’t happen automatically. We have to seize the opportunity, without fear. Viruses may be contagious, but so is courage.

If I could ever ask entity called God about his supposed favs

 “Why is he beating around the bush and trying to put his label on the copied words?”, I mused while I did my utmost to pay heed to the supposed wise words articulated by a preacher that seemed like flowers blooming in spring to the rest of the bhakts, who had joined the life-changing course of a spiritual guru aka Baba. “If he is not God then his teachings are a result of his knowledge honed with a hard diamond called books/Vedas/religious inscriptions or probably, his own experiences. So, if he can comprehend all that then why can’t I or any of these mortals sitting around me?”, I mulled over. ‘Crack’! My mind fired a bullet and I doused in the ocean of premonitions. My sanity came to my rescue and I left the course midway to discover myself, my own way, and the only thing I learned was that I was never lost!

“I never opened the door to that baba when I grew up”, a friend loathed a Swami Ji’s visits to her home during her childhood as she never approved of his mighty cuddles. Though the heinous intents remain intact till the present day, the mien of these demigods has undergone a transformation. Wipe that ancient portrait of long beards and saffron attire as these days you can bump into them at the most unexpected places, garbed in mediocre outfits. “How can he click a selfie?” Of course, taking selfies is not a sin but a self-attested spiritual healer clicking one with eyes closed while traveling around a Sphatik mala in his hand indeed made a friend question the concentration of this mini baba. Was it really on the Jaap? Not only this, arms wrapped around females, private conversations about ‘natural needs of the body’ and taking up the cudgels for everything that is an anathema to normal people were beyond any connect with God and spirituality.

Healers/ chiromancers /fortune-tellers, who in the name of being a help to you, try to breach in your intimate space by convincing you that you are emotionally and physically deprived and you start looking at your hardships as a curse that can only be lifted by the therapies/relaxation methods/meditation techniques/chants and other unimaginable pathways prescribed by these con men. The name of God and prayers are used whenever appropriate, of course. The intensity of your insecurities will define the influence they hold over you. The immediate relief/personalized reassurance and a fake sense of security create a smog of gross credulity blurring your insights.

Nobody knows you better than you know yourself. Why do you need these masqueraders to give you a brief respite with their spiritual argots dunked in venomous honey? Your prayers, however simple, have the same power as begotten by any yagna or mantra recitation. Perhaps, not all are bamboozlers but a handful of them have really tarnished the virtuous portrait of spirituality and soiled the name and existence of pious saints and ‘Gurus’, in real sense. They discern your Achilles heel, give you their magic potion of empathizing words and there you are, a stranger some time ago now share the space with your deities!

If I could ever ask God about these folks who claim to be the apple of his eye!

Living in the Golden Age of Social Distancing

Today is Janta Curfew- Self imposed public curfew- in India and life comes to a standstill. Cities and states in US and Canada are witnessing lockdown. I’ve been described – well, accused of– being a professional homebody, preferring to work from home, rather than working from a place where there are urinals instead of just a commode, and more elbows in the vicinity than I would care for.

It turns out that because of my experience, I have become somewhat of an expert, dare I say a guru, on working from home. My penchant for not stepping out of my comfort rekha even after work is done and dusted has also, perhaps inadvertently, put me in a position to impart good gyan on ‘social distancing’ and its so-called deleterious side-effects.

For starters, it isn’t deleterious if you can make hay regardless of whether the sun is shining or not. And two, ‘deleterious’ means ‘anything that causes harm or damage’ — something that, in these times of coronavirus, you should jolly well have looked up in the dictionary (if you didn’t know its meaning) since you now have oodles of spare time.

Well, of course, you’ll have a distinct advantage if, like Count Dracula, you don’t like stepping outdoors – except, unlike misunderstood lad Vlad, both daylight and nightshine will need to be injurious to your mental health. But far too many people have already started howling at the moon as they settle into self-quarantine more than a month after St Valentine’s. ‘What will I do?’ ‘How will I spend my time at home (that I would otherwise spend in joyful commuting)?’ ‘Will I go bonkers seeing the same people cooped up at home every single day? (As opposed to not getting bonkers seeing the same people at the workplace every single day.)

As someone way ahead of the Covid-19-induced ‘social distancing’ curve – I am waiting for some underemployed economist-turned-historian to write a book about how the caste system was a result of a Vedic-era virus triggering ‘social distancing’ of folks who didn’t wash their hands quite as frequently enough as the OCD-ridden savarnas – let me provide some tips on how to ride out these apocalyptic times.

Five of these tips will be for the supply side — that is, to help you, oh sudden Man or Woman of the Great Indoors, to measure out your lives with more than coffee spoons; and five tips will be for the demand side, where HR, dominatrix and majordomo types won’t feel empty, listless and powerless (not necessarily in that order) for not finding folks clocking in and out of work, or making voluntarily compulsory (read: healthy) social engagements involving ‘other people’ – who are defined by that smart socialite Jean-Paul Sartre, as ‘hell’.


* Remember, you spoilt twits, you live in the golden age for pandemics. You have entertainment being streamed into your homes without having to step out to cinemas, which you hardly stepped out to anyway. Music, reading material, food… ditto, via an app over the Internet. So, you can watch Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 ‘Contagion’ on Amazon Prime, David M Rosenthal’s 2018 ‘How It Ends’ on Netflix, and Rajkumar Kohli’s 1979 ‘Jaani Dushman’ on YouTube, all in between or after work on a Wednesday.

* Reading self-help and motivational books, I know, were very trendy… until this point. Once you drastically cut down on real human contact, you’ll realise that books like Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’ are as useful as a pile of bitcoins for Bilbo Baggins. In fact, ‘usefulness’ — and not just for books or YouTube videos — will give way to ‘pleasurable’. And after two weeks of solid ‘social distancing,’ you’ll stop feeling guilty about valuing pleasurable options over useful ones.

* This is, the last time I looked at this newspaper, still a family daily. So, let me just lead off from the earlier point by saying that working from home provides ample time — otherwise used up in office banter, ‘water cooler’ moments, pointless meetings that you will discover soon enough are emailable or phoneable, and transit to and fro one’s workplace – for *******, and other ********** activities. Inventive, smart readers of this paper can stare into those asterisks and catch words that have been pixelated.

* Even if travel broadens your mind – and you’ll be surprised how little it does – the joys of staring out of one of your home windows, or even at the walls of your home, have been underrated. Let mass media (present company excluded) not fool you. Man is a sucker for routine, and travelling has its own travails that people are too embarrassed to talk about. If coronavirus has brought tourism (fancy word for travelism) to a standstill, then this, honestly, is the perfect time for you to learn to enjoy the pleasures of the sofa, the Preston wing armchair, the cane mora/mudda, and, of course, the horizontal heights of the bed.

* Human contact, which many of you may be so fond of, is far more valuable when you have what GoI sources call a ‘Fortress Mentality’ – letting the right ones in (at the times it suits you). God has invented social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook for a reason. Your over-romanticisation of ‘socialising’ — one of the silliest verbs invented by man — is nothing but a grand design by the military-industrial-mass media (present company excluded) to keep up value-added appearances.


* If you’re company HR, pinch yourself and remind yourself that this is 2020 and there is email, video messaging, conference calling/videoing, mobile apps, online servicing… Essentially, things have moved on since the insect-roar of the fax machine and the short grassy sound to paper of short-hand. Sure, as I explained to my uncle still sitting in the 20th century awaiting a peaceful resolution to the Cuban missile crisis, the window-cleaner does need to be close to windows, the taxi driver will, perforce, have to drive that taxi. Working from home, however, isn’t what it was in 1995. But then, barring space travel, nothing is.

* For all the lip-service paid to things like ‘disruption’ and ‘new economy,’ managementals are still terrified of folks working from home lest they became meth-addicts or Arijit Singh songs-loving alcoholics. The same logic holds for family members finding the ‘social distancer’ opening the door in his or her boxers and with a whiff of gin-smelling aftershave/perfume. Fun fact: most people prefer working regardless of where they work from, rather than being found to be unproductive – a side-effect of meth-addiction as well as Arijit Singh songs-fuelled alcoholism. Clue: the unemployed are usually unhappy.

* Great innovations, inventions, creations happen not in places earmarked for great innovations, inventions and creations, but in familiar, comfortable places that fertile minds are fond of. Ensure that your golden (or otherwise) goose is in a nice, comfy place rather in a box with a suction hose attached, and you’re liable to get more and/or better golden (or otherwise) eggs from it.

* It’s cheaper to have a work-at-homer, even after one compensates her or him monetarily for working from home for air-conditioning, water, a chair etc. Being a slave to biometrics makes you on the demand side just a neurotic nanny.

* Count by output, not by input. In other words, if it takes 19 hours of studying for someone to top an exam, and it takes three hours of studying for someone to come a close second, value the second student. Similarly, if someone produces quality work sitting under a tree – away from potential Covid-19-affected morning walkers – in half the time someone doing the same in a cubicle, do the maths.

Quite honestly, for people wondering how to spend their days and nights – and those ‘dreaded long afternoons’ (siesta time, automorons!) — as they keep to themselves until ‘the aliens leave,’ get a life. With or without the coronavirus scare, the world outside is largely and overwhelmingly a crummy, boring, hostile place filled with people you’d rather show your palm than your face. Especially when you have WiFi whirring at home, something you can put your legs up on while working, and select company you can choose to be close to — till that asteroid crashes through your roof only a few days after you’ve turned into a zombie for washing your hands with mutated coronavirus-infected soap.

Despite Corona, be hopeful and spread peace

Friends earlier when you got up in the morning, your WhatsApp feed used to show umpteen number of good morning messages. No more now. Today right from morning till the end of the day, most of the posts on social media speak of the dangerous coronavirus. Definitely, this pandemic is significant havoc and poses a major challenge for human species across the globe. What concerns me is the constant hammering of these threat inducing messages every next moment on the mindset of a common man.

I am reminded of the 26/11 tragedy in Mumbai. People who were directly / indirectly exposed to the terror attacks and its aftermath had to go through an extended psycho traumatic phase. There was a widespread prevalence of mental health diseases like anxiety disorders, mood disorders, sleep disorders, addictions, and alterations in social, family setups etc. The scenario today is very much similar to those days. There is a massive impact on the mindset of people across the length and breadth of the nation. Many have already started experiencing stress and depression. 

Yesterday some children on the streets were discussing. One of them raised a concern, I am not sure if we will be able to survive for long because of this coronavirus? I overheard the replies made by others. I was astonished to know the variety of opinions these kids had. To be specific, I found that most of them had inappropriate, half-cocked and far-fetched ideas. One of them even said that a student died in the examination hall and that’s the reason why board examinations have been postponed! Immediately. I took my turn to address those guys and told them about the ways they can protect themselves from getting affected by this virus. I appraised them about the need for social distancing, hygiene etc.

Friends, this pandemic has already fired a tornado of scare across the world. No one is sure about the situation, and each one is carrying a bouquet of confusions. The biggest challenge is the lack of answer to the question about the end of Corona! Uncertainty is a great killer. It breeds negative vibrations in the society.

The team of medical practitioners, health workers and administrators are doing their best to curtail the virus. Let us believe in those efforts. However, without the active interference and support of the common man, in terms of taking all the necessary precautions, the solution might not be achieved. As our honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji said, “We all have to fight out as a team”.

It’s time to take some concrete steps to prevent the wave of negativity, scare and ambiguity from damaging the mental peace. Here I propose a few vital measures, which, if strictly followed by each one of us shall definitely ensure a positive mental balance in the society.

  1. Stop the mindless and useless forwards on social media. While we all do forward messages in good intent, but the reality is that most of the time, we are not sure of the authenticity of the content. I suggest that we resist the urge to forward messages. As it is, we are overexposed with confusing interpretations about Corona and the associated risks. It is better to delete and quarantine all Corona related forward messages. This will be a big step in restricting the spread of scare in society.
  2. If at all, you must share messages, ensure that you do share only the optimistic and/or realistic and authenticated content. It would be purposeful to tell how many Corona effected people have survived in place of forwarding the number of deaths. It is essential to find the silver lining in the Corona cloud. Let statistics be studied by experts, not the common man!
  3.  Get out of the advisory role. Suggesting people to wash hands, use sanitizers is okay. Alternatively, why not we all make it a point to offer free sanitizers to a few people from the lower economic strata of our society! Find out such people in your neighbourhood, the beggars, the small vendors and gift them life-saving kits.
  4. This is an excellent opportunity for all of us to realign the imbalanced work-life equation. It’s a golden opportunity to be with family. Take initiatives and discuss pleasing memoirs, watch a movie at home, run through the photo albums and cherish your relationships. A friend informed me that he is experimenting with his cooking skills during the quarantine period! You may also take turns to crack jokes, laugh and spread smiles at home.
  5. The first reaction of pandemic across humankind was the imagery of death and scarcity. It is vital to believe that God has provided enough for all of us. Please refrain from overstocking of essentials. Let us understand that the Corona Virus is a social disease. If our fellow living beings are infected, we are at substantial risk of getting into the trap. As such, storing a pile of sanitizers at home will be of no use for us. Share it. People have been stocking groceries, toothpaste, tissues, chillies and what not! It’s must to get over the temptation of overstocking.

Do not forget: “this shall also pass away”. I am sure these wise words hold good for the current situation of distress as well. I am sure things will definitely change and that too for good. Very soon, medicines would be available, or an idea or antidote for Corona will surface. Be hopeful and spread peace.  

Why was Europe so unprepared for the corona pandemic?

Over 100 million Europeans are now living under lockdown, confined to their homes and gardens, with occasional walks with their dogs or for buying essential groceries or medicine.

Italy and France have imposed strict sanctions for those loitering purposelessly in the streets while countries up in the north like Denmark and Norway have asked people to stay inside voluntarily. Italy is among the hardest hit countries, with a reported death of 475 people yesterday, succumbing to the coronavirus. This is the highest death toll in a single day from the coronavirus infection in a European country. France, which is its immediate neighbour, follows the development closely and has now imposed draconian lockdown measures, which will be implemented with the help of military personnel on the streets. The question now is if Europe can restrict the utter devastation to life, property and economy to Italy, or are we going to see larger death tolls in other densely populated countries whose health facilities are similar to those of Italy?

I may be asking the question impishly, but the pandemic disaster scenario looms large as most countries in Europe are so unprepared that they do not even have enough respirators to treat their patients with severe symptoms. Patients in Denmark are told to stay at home and self-isolate unless they have severe problems in breathing or can see their condition worsen. Even respirators from veterinarians will be brought to use in coming days to save lives. Such is the level of unpreparedness. Denmark is not even testing patients who claim that they have all the symptoms of the coronavirus. Most patients are asked to stay inside for two weeks, without a test.

Elderly people are asked not to use public transport in Denmark, and gatherings, both public and private, of more than 10 people are now illegal in Denmark. The borders between most Schengen countries are closed, resulting in long queues of cars at every border in EU, and we are all living in a state of emergency, waiting literally every single day to see even more unprecedented strict measures being adopted. After the Second World War, this is the first time when sweeping powers are allotted to the states without reservations.

In an extraordinary rare nationwide TV address, Angela Merkel, who is the German Chancellor and one of the strongest leaders of Europe, pleaded its citizens to act responsibly and to overcome the challenge of a pandemic outbreak. She appealed for national unity and stated that Germany is facing the greatest challenge since World War II.

The European governments are demanding that people limit their social life, and hence most of us are living either involuntary or imposed isolation. We are being lectured daily on social distancing and it is expected that in shops and supermarkets we keep a distance of six feet to the next customer.

Do these strict measures suffice? Would the population voluntarily follow the guidelines as the weather starts getting nicer? In the initial stages when the numbers of those infected with the virus were limited, people who were returning from ski resorts in Italy were asked to stay voluntarily in quarantine. But Europeans have got used to their freedom and usually get bored after a few days. Those who were supposed to stay in self-isolation started going to gyms and shopping-centers, thereby spreading the disease to others very speedily.

Quarantine can be effective and essential for tackling the coronavirus pandemic, if people know that they are the carriers. Up to 80 per cent of those infected have only experienced mild symptoms, and since there is no extensive testing for Covid-19, some of those Europeans who had some suspicion are now socializing and spreading the disease even further.

The cause of the blunder in Europe which resulted in the continent being designated as the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic is that the continent was totally unprepared and did not learn lessons from South Korea or China. In the last two months rapid and extensive testing of any suspected case should have been carried out with great speed and those infected should have been kept under some kind of compulsory quarantine, monitoring their movements.

It would have been cheaper for European countries to house these initial few patients in four star hotels than now when most countries are experiencing a total lockdown with just essential services like trains and hospitals working, while schools and colleges have been closed for several weeks.

Even those who are optimistic do not expect schools to reopen in two weeks’ time. Historically speaking, the Europeans were the first to champion human rights and freedom. In the present context they will have to reconsider those values and willingly, in the interest of the common good, voluntarily and temporarily suspend the right to assemble in whatever numbers possible. Those political freedoms like the right to assemble in large numbers is being compromised.

It is a lesson for India. No matter however upset one is with the present government, it is time for countries like India to impose restrictions on large gatherings, as well. It could get a whole lot worse in Asia. Iran is already hit hard and according to some estimates millions of people could lose their lives if people do not follow quarantine rules.

Asia can derive a simple lesson from the European experience. Make rapid and extensive tests and impose quarantine and do not expect people to obey voluntarily. Therefore all gatherings of more than 10 people except in public transportation and at work, should not be encouraged at all and, if possible, made illegal. People in quarantine should be monitored 24 hours a day.

As Angela Merkel appropriately said, it is time for national unity. It is definitely not the time to sit and protests in large numbers where no social distancing is practiced. Asia cannot afford to make the same mistakes as Europe.

Predictions of future world events always fail

“So many centuries after the creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.” That is what the head of the Spanish Royal Commission wrote in 1486, advising King Ferdinand to reject an exploration proposal by one Christopher Columbus.

In early 1792, British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger justified drastic cuts to the country’s military, saying: “[U]nquestionably there never was a time in the history of this country when, from the situation of Europe, we might more reasonably expect 15 years of peace, than we may at the present moment.”

In 1956, Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev told representatives of capitalist nations: “[S]ocialism will, in the long run, conquer capitalism. Such is the logic of the historical development of mankind.” In 1964, he said socialism’s future victory over capitalism was “as certain as the rising sun.”

These were all highly educated, well-informed, powerful individuals making earnest predictions about the way global affairs would play out—and getting it precisely wrong: an entire New World of hitherto unknown lands laid over the horizon, decades of war began mere weeks after Pitt’s speech, and Soviet-style socialism, at least, died about 30 years ago.

Individuals get it wrong, but so do entire modern geopolitical theories, formed, studied and believed by large numbers of the brightest minds around the world.

‘The End of History’

After the Berlin Wall fell, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of four decades of Cold War, United States State Department official Francis Fukuyama famously proclaimed that the world had reached “the end of history.” His thesis stated that mankind had attempted all plausible types of government and a clear winner had emerged: Western liberal democracy. It represented, Fukuyama wrote, “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution—the final form of human government.”

The West had won. The continued spread of liberal democracy, individual freedom and popular sovereignty was inevitable. The sun would set on authoritarianism, and the era of great powers warring against each other was over.

President George H. W. Bush’s 1990 address to Congress echoed Fukuyama’s sentiments, hailing a future “free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” Mankind was entering a “new world … quite different from the one we have known, a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle.”

The “end of history” was a thrilling hypothesis, and became a near instant hit among analysts and policymakers across the West.

U.S. military, economic and cultural power was at its zenith, the spread of republican democracy was certain, so the U.S. lost interest in the rest of the world and drifted off to sleep. Throughout the 1990s, largely due to reduced demand, television networks and newspapers slashed foreign news coverage by two thirds. “Young adults cared more about the Zone Diet than the subtleties of Middle East diplomacy,” Joseph Nye writes in The Paradox of American Power. And many American leaders “became arrogant about our power, arguing that we did not need to heed other nations. We seemed both invincible and invulnerable.”

Political observer Kishore Mahbubani said widespread belief in Fukuyama’s forecast “did a lot of brain damage,” and as a result, “the West went on autopilot.”

During these “autopilot” days, the 9/11 terrorist attacks hit America like a bolt from the blue. A few years later, Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded the former Soviet nation of Georgia, bringing a large chunk of its territory back under Moscow’s control. His 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of its Crimean Peninsula was even more dramatic.

Many Western leaders couldn’t believe their eyes. “Russia is on the wrong side of history,” U.S. President Barack Obama said, apparently in denial that Fukuyama’s forecast had failed. “[I]n the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force.”

But Russia had just redrawn them. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed equally perplexed by how “history” could be happening in an age when it was supposed to have ended. “It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution failed to achieve their pro-democracy aims, the Syrian civil war mutated into proxy battles between major powers, India and Pakistan locked in a nuclear standoff, Iran and Saudi Arabia engaged in proxy war in Yemen, Iranian zealots systematized their terrorist chaos, and around the world populism and authoritarianism returned with a vengeance.

It turned out that history—tangled, unjust, retrograde, violent, ugly human history—did not end in 1989.

The ‘China Fantasy’

“The more we bring China into the world,” U.S. President Bill Clinton said in 1993, “the more the world will bring change and freedom to China.” His Republican successor, George W. Bush, echoed the sentiments in 1999, saying, Trade freely with China, and time is on our side. Economic freedom creates habits of liberty. And habits of liberty create expectations of democracy.”

This forecast was popular throughout the 1990s and into the early-2000s. Western business moguls and politicians of all stripes believed China’s integration into the global economy and its increasing prosperity would cause the nation to liberalize its repressive and authoritarian political ideologies. They believed the ruling Chinese Communist Party would be forced to adopt responsible domestic and international behavior and eventually democracy. A truly free and democratic China would benefit the whole world. This prompted Westerners to pursue policies of engagement with China on all levels, including welcoming it into the World Trade Organization.

The West’s near-universal optimism was identified by Los Angeles Times correspondent James Mann as the “China fantasy.”

By 2010, China had grown much stronger and richer, but barely freer. Then, in 2012, Xi Jinping became China’s leader and began reversing what minuscule reforms the nation had made.

Xi used China’s increased strength from engaging with the West to tighten the Communist Party’s stranglehold on the nation—and to boost his own power to staggering levels. He clamped down on the media and silenced activists. He disappeared hundreds of human-rights lawyers and thousands of dissidents, and detained more than a million Chinese citizens in concentration camps. He nixed constitutional term limits on his rule, clearing the way for him to control China for the rest of his life. And he made clear that in international trade, China served only the interests of the regime—viciously so.

The “China fantasy” foresaw the dynamics exactly wrong: Chinese integration into the international system generated greater authoritarianism, a more tightly closed political structure, and a far more vengeful and powerful enemy of the West.

The ‘India Counterweight’

In the late 2000s, as it was becoming clear that the “China fantasy” was collapsing and that Beijing’s rising power and geopolitical ambitions were cause for concern, America began looking for help in constraining the dragon it had awakened. India’s military and economic power, geographic location, status as the world’s largest democracy and historic rivalry with China made it appear to be the perfect nation for the job.

To fashion India into a security counterweight to China, the Bush administration began selling the nation prized nuclear technology. Arms control advocates decried the decision, but the prospect of having a strong India as a democratic bulwark to China was too enticing, so the sales proceeded. The Obama administration continued the courtship, expanding U.S.-India trade ties and further boosting security cooperation.

Western optimism for the theory abounded. It was perhaps best articulated by the Heritage Foundation in 2011: “[T]he complex challenge presented by a rising China will inevitably drive the U.S. and India to elevate ties and increase cooperation across a broad range of sectors in years to come.”

But in 2014, China’s main partner, Russia, unlawfully annexed Crimea, and President Obama said the nations of the world were “largely united” in viewing the move as illegal. And after all the Bush and Obama administrations had done to curry favor with India, the expectation was that it would back the U.S. position.

Instead, India shocked the world by joining China and supporting Russia.

In the years since, India has increasingly defied the West and leaned toward the Russia-China axis: It has joined the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it has purchased huge quantities of Russian weapons in violation of U.S. sanctions, and it has conducted a series of military exercises with Russia and China. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held a series of milestone personal meetings with Putin and Xi, which the Diplomat called a signal of “monumental change with regard to the post-Cold War status quo.”

With each of these purchases, war drills and meetings, it becomes clearer that the India counterweight theory has sunk.

‘Declaring the End From the Beginning’

Myriad other hypotheses, theories and models predicting the future of world events have come into vogue in recent decades: Moral Consensus theory, Oil Imperialism, Voluntary Unificationism, the Import Substitution Industrialization theory, Neo-Ottomanism and Islamic Democracy theory, the Democratic Peace theory, the Russian Reset, Structural Adjustment and the list goes on.

All have been subsequently discredited by the course of actual events, and have been buried in the graveyard of failed geopolitical forecasts. Even mankind’s best and brightest minds consistently fail to foretell the course of global affairs.

Coronavirus, E-commerce & Warehousing

At first glance global events can seem to have a positive impact on global eCommerce. Just like when a hurricane threatens mainland USA the local state affected will enter panic buy mode and stock up on their provisions.

Then if people are quarantined or on ‘lock down’ many will turn to some retail therapy in order to make themselves feel better. It is well known in the eCommerce industry that when people are forced to stay inside, online sales go up.

E-commerce delivery, which has grown rapidly in the past two decades, could take on an even bigger role with a population that appears increasingly uneasy about going out in public.

While many physical retailers were jammed and running out of items including toilet paper, medicines, water and bananas, other shoppers sought to avoid the stores altogether, relying instead on services such as Amazon and Instacart. As the outbreak worsens, more people may turn to e-commerce, analysts and survey data suggest.

“Delivery might be much better than going to a store, both for society and for individuals,” said Karan Girotra, a professor of operations and technology at Cornell University. “But it means that delivery workers will be at the front line of this challenge.”

Any increase in ecommerce naturally enhances the role of warehousing industry, as warehousing is an integral part of ecommerce and modern futuristic warehousing envisaged by progressive and innovative warehouse developer like Warehouster are going to be key factors in eliminating pitfalls of retails marketing and help increase social distance.

The global effects of COVID-19, more commonly referred to as coronavirus, are being felt by all industries. The outbreaks have affected the stock market, the events industry (we just saw SXSW here in Austin canceled for the first time in 34 years), the travel industry, and more. Major tech companies have ordered their employees to work remotely, and schools are sending students home to take virtual classes. While the validity of the concerns is something we will leave to the pundits and Twitter, we want to take a look at the impact of coronavirus on shipping and e-commerce.

Effects on the supply chain

The first coronavirus outbreak happened near Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has affected the ability of many employees to work in the factories located there. This has an economic impact not only locally in Wuhan, but also across the globe.

Even if you produce your own products, there’s a chance you order supplies from overseas, or your supplier orders supplies from China. When your supply chain is slowed or delayed indefinitely, you need to start considering your next steps. 44% of retailers expect product delays due to the coronavirus, and 40% expect inventory shortages, according to a Digital Commerce 360 survey.

One major impact of coronavirus on shipping is that some merchants have begun researching other suppliers to temporarily or permanently replace ones they’ve worked with who are experiencing disruptions. Some have looked to suppliers in India and other countries. Some merchants have begun researching US-based suppliers due to concerns with delayed shipping overseas, even though the cost difference will likely affect their bottom line.

In a recent interview with Klaviyo, Josh Behr, director of marketing and e-commerce at Amerex Group, had three suggestions:

I think they can still be very nimble. I’d recommend they look at three things.

First, I’d say look at your inventory position to see what you have in stock. Do you need more? If so, can you source locally, even if for a limited quantity of units, to keep things running for the next 30-60 days while things hopefully shake out overseas?

Next, I’d suggest looking at your cash flow. Make sure that if you’re spending money on advertising, you’re getting the margin or the cost per acquisition that makes sense for the business. Use channels that don’t have high acquisition costs, like email marketing, and use them to your advantage.

Then, ensure you have a remote work strategy in place. How will your team continue to communicate? Whether it’s through Slack, Asana, or email, make sure your team is continually communicating. Communication is going to be the biggest part of this whole process, and ensuring that everyone on your team is continuing to be in touch with each other during this time will help everybody keep moving forward.

One of the best ways to ensure you’re getting the lowest acquisition costs through email is to segment your audience and cater your messaging to specific groups.

Effects on e-commerce

When examining the impact of coronavirus on shipping and e-commerce, the latter aspect can be double-sided. Some industries could see major upticks, while others could experience sharp declines.

The fact of the matter is many people will be home and not purchasing products in person. People who are self-quarantined, elderly, or immune-suppressed may not be able to shop as they normally would. For those people, e-commerce will be the best viable option.

“Consumers being home more than normal could drive e-commerce sales in more specific categories like consumer product goods, grocery and staple items. Categories more prone to increase during times of physical retraction of a population are health and beauty, grocery, and consumer product goods. Short-term discretionary spending on fashion merchandise may decline while Americans look to make sure needed goods are well-stocked in their homes. ”

— Forbes.com

Now, don’t hear what we’re not saying. That doesn’t mean we’re advocating for a “coronavirus sale” email campaign targeted to people who may be stuck at home. But this would be an ideal time to really try to understand your audience demographics to glean insights into what you can expect and project from the coming months.

Approach the situation with empathy and a sense of community. It may be a great opportunity to reinforce your messaging around shopping local and supporting small businesses, especially if you’re already seeing a down-tick in orders. Even if a community can’t come together physically, they still can digitally.

Business owners in some industries may really have to nuance their marketing communications. If you sell travel accessories, for example, you may need to tailor messaging away from “travel now” and more toward “be prepared when it’s safe to travel again.”

There may be other tangential effects that online and in-store retailers will notice. For example, due to supply-chain issues, smartphone sales are expected to decline by over 20% in China for Q1 2020, compared with a 5% drop globally, according to Counterpoint Research. That also may mean that sales of smartphone accessories could see a decline as people may not be looking for new protective gear for their new, differently-sized phones. Effects like this will be worth monitoring as supply chains and in-store sales reductions affect the sales of complementary items e-commerce merchants may sell.

According to an eMarketer survey, people are already beginning to avoid public shopping centers, and will increasingly do so if they continue to see the coronavirus spread. This doesn’t just apply to the elderly or high-risk, but the general population as well.

Try to avoid downplaying the risks associated with coronavirus, as that could elicit negative responses and make you look callous, but also don’t play into fear-based marketing. Take the situation seriously while simultaneously trying to provide products your customers may still need and want during this time.

47% of retailers expect some downside in revenue due to the coronavirus, according to a survey conducted in March 2020 of 304 retailers by Digital Commerce 360. 33% of retailers say it’s too early to tell. However, a majority of retailers, 58%, say the virus will impact consumer confidence, and 22% say there will be a significant impact. Consumer confidence is often used as a measure of how consumers feel about the economy.

Coronavirus- a bane to society is an aid to modern supply-chain and enable warehousing industry become more organized.Maybe it is an enabler of the this relatively unorganized sector become more goal oriented- the type that progressive leaders of industry like Warehouster envisage.

Corona & Pak Diplomacy

This crisis could have a lasting impact on the global political economy, trigger new equations among nations

It would have been surprising if China had not come up at all in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s discussion with the neighbouring South Asian leaders over the weekend on a possible joint effort to deal with the coronavirus crisis. After all, China has been the epicentre of the crisis that unfolded since last December. It also looms larger than ever before on the international relations of the Subcontinent.

It was no surprise at all that the Pakistani representative, Dr Zafar Mirza, chose to connect the discussion on South Asian regional cooperation on the coronavirus crisis to China. Mirza was sitting in for Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was the only leader from the region who could not join the conversation. While the comments of Mirza, the special adviser on health to the Pakistan PM, on the lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir, drew widespread attention, his brief reference to China did not.

Mirza rightly pointed to the importance of South Asia learning from China’s experience in containing the spread of the virus. He went a step further to remind his colleagues that China is an observer to the SAARC grouping.There are many observers in the SAARC, including the US, European Union, Japan, South Korea and Iran, all of whom are struggling in their own ways to deal with the global diffusion of the coronavirus crisis. But it is China alone that figured in Mirza’s remarks.

There is no question that Pakistan’s deepening strategic partnership has defined Islamabad’s response to the coronavirus crisis. While most countries of the Subcontinent scrambled to evacuate their student population trapped in Wuhan, Pakistan seemed unwilling. Islamabad was more than deferential to Beijing’s sensitivities against countries evacuating their citizens and students from China.

As Beijing criticised other countries for trying to “isolate China”, Islamabad stood like a rock in solidarity with Beijing. One other country that demonstrated a similar level of solidarity was Cambodia, whose president flew into Beijing at the height of the crisis to stand with the Chinese leadership. Most observers of China would designate Pakistan and Cambodia as Beijing’s only “allies” in the developing world.

While Beijing values the public demonstration of solidarity, it has far bigger challenges at hand. After being on the political defensive through much of January and February as the crisis exploded in Wuhan and Hubei province, it has now gone on the offensive. Once it got control over the epidemic at home, Beijing has turned to changing the narrative on the crisis.

Three themes dominate Beijing’s effort. The first relates to domestic politics and is about presenting the “Leader” Xi Jinping as the “hero” in the now “successful people’s war” against the virus. As the death toll from coronavirus rose rapidly during the last two months (it now stands above 3,200) there was widespread international speculation about the political consequences of the crisis for Xi’s leadership of the Communist Party of China. But Xi appears to have weathered the storm (at least for now) by silencing the critics and cracking down harder on the dissidents.

The second theme in China’s effort is to counter the perception that the virus originated in that country. Beijing is objecting strongly to calling it “China Virus” or “Wuhan Virus”. It has dismissed the criticisms of the CCP’s initial failures in responding to the crisis and has now revelled in attacking the Western inability to learn from the Chinese experience. Chinese spokesmen have also fanned conspiracy theories about the US army bringing the virus to Wuhan.

The third element of Chinese strategy has been to claim global leadership in containing the spread of coronavirus. By sending medical aid to Iran and Italy — two countries most affected by the crisis — and others, Beijing is arguing that it is part of the solution to the global crisis rather than its cause. China’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York has written to all member states assuring them of its commitment to counter the global healthcare crisis and address the massive problems of economic dislocation triggered by it.

China’s global diplomatic offensive has inevitably fed into US domestic politics and the contestation between the Republicans and Democrats in an election year. While the Republicans are blaming Beijing for triggering the crisis, the Democrats are attacking President Donald Trump for failing to develop an effective response.

Major disasters cutting across national borders often compel the victims to rethink the contested relationships with their adversaries, next door or in distant lands. Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, for example, have often created diplomatic openings for nations to come together. The coronavirus crisis, however, has done little so far to lower the unfolding tensions between the world’s two leading powers— the US and China.

Experts studying the so-called “disaster diplomacy” suggest that diplomatic openings triggered by calamities tend to be short-lived. Amidst the demonstration of mankind’s smallness in the face of nature’s fury, leaders tend to think big about resolving differences with each other. But the promise, studies say, to privilege the collective good above the narrow framing of national interest, dissipates quickly.

As the impact of the calamity wears off, so does the positive thinking. Old suspicions take hold of security establishments again. Sooner than later, the default negative positions reassert themselves. We have seen this happen repeatedly in political responses to the multiple disasters that have fallen upon the subcontinent in recent decades.

Might India’s current diplomatic efforts at cooperation with Pakistan and rejuvenating regionalism lead to the same old dead-end? Pessimists would argue that the quest for cooperation with Pakistan is a fool’s errand. Optimists would suggest change is inevitable and that Delhi must continue to find a way to rewrite the political script between India and Pakistan.

Realists would want to enter a caveat. Unlike many natural disasters, which are mostly one-shot events, the coronavirus crisis could have deep and lasting impact on the global political economy and inevitably trigger new equations among nations. Is India ready to seize the new possibilities for reconstituting the South Asian region? Delhi has certainly taken an important first step forward in renewing the multilateral conversation with the neighbours. It must now follow through with actions to facilitate productive outcomes for the Subcontinent as a whole.

Coronavirus: A Revolutionary Fatwa by UAE, Will Other Scholars follow the lead?

On one hand, the pandemic of Coronavirus has sent the world in frenzy, on the other hand, it has also become the reason for joining forces beyond geographical boundaries, faith, caste or creed to face and fight this global menace.

With the rising Sitrep of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the alarming increase in the count of patients diagnosed positive for COVID-19, the world as we knew it, has changed drastically. From meetings, to travel or congregations of any sort – everything is being swept away! Countries are going for a complete lockdown, sealing borders and disallowing any migratory activity! 

While most secular gatherings are gradually being disallowed, governments are also making efforts to conjure up support from faith leaders to convey discontinuation of congregational religious activities. I would like to convey the Islamic line of action in this case by quoting a Fatwa (opinion) that was released by the UAE Council for Fatwa (UCF) on March 3, 2020. This Fatwa released by this apex body in the United Arab Emirates pertains to the practice of performing congregational rites in event of a situation which poses a threat to the society. Taking cue from this, The United Arab Emirates General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments has suspended prayers at all UAE mosques including Friday prayers for a period of four weeks. The decision taken will also apply to other religious places of worship as well.

The Fatwa released by the UCF under the aegis of Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, a revered Islamic scholar and Chairman of the Fatwa Council of UAE, is as follows: 

1. It is a religious obligation for all segments of society to strictly adhere to all public health directives and regulations provided by the dedicated state agencies as well as to take all necessary measures to prevent the transmission and spread of the illness. It is impermissible according to sacred law to disregard such directives and measures under any circumstances.

2. It is forbidden by shariah for anyone infected with this illness or even one thought to be at risk for infection to enter public places or go to the mosque for all congregational prayers, including Friday prayers and the Eid prayers. It is an obligation for such a person to take all necessary precautions as outlined by medical authorities, such as observing quarantine and adhering to any prescribed treatment. This is so that one does not transmit the illness to others.

3. There is a religious concession for the elderly, children, anyone suffering from respiratory conditions, and those with compromised immunity to not attend all congregational prayers, including Friday prayers, Eid prayers, and tarawi prayers. Such people may pray in their homes or wherever they are and can pray zuhr (afternoon prayer) in place of the Friday congregational prayer.

This Fatwa is based on a Hadith (Saying of the Prophet of Islam) where the Prophet advised his followers that, “If you hear of an epidemic afflicting a land, do not enter it, and if it afflicts the land you are in, do not leave it.” 

Interpreting this saying of the Prophet, the fatwa clarified that “one of the reasons that an infected person is prohibited from leaving the area of the epidemic is so that such a person does not transmit the illness to others. Instead, he should quarantine himself from even the healthy people of that region.” The wisdom of this Fatwa is not just limited to the dominion of the United Arab Emirates. It is in fact a benchmark example for all countries to emulate. 

We have another example in Kuwait where a mosque changed the words of the call for prayer (Azaan) Instead of the prescribed call of “Hayya- al-as-salah” (meaning “come to prayer”), the call made was “al-salatu fi buyutikum” (pray at your homes). This is also derived from the time of the Prophet of Islam, when during heavy rains and wind the believers were advised to stay indoors. 

It is also time for all devotees of all religions all over the world to come forward and adopt this. The religious leaders should refer to the example established by the United Arab Emirates and refrain from praying in the gurudwaras, mosques or during Friday congregations. This is the moment when all of us should do our bit to support the government in its fight to contain the spread of the disease. The only way out of this is to come together and do what is needed.

The Reality of Coronavirus: It is more of an Infodemic

As the Corona virus scare grips the globe, a little less than the entirety of it has been forced to confront an ‘infodemic’ of misinformation. Given that many people are sequestered in their homes as health officials bombarded them with the advisories to maintain social distancing by avoiding public areas, employers initiate remote-work rules, and schools to cancel classes, much of the pandemic’s discourse is happening online, giving liars and pandemic profiteers the opportunity to seize on the frantic search for some bit of new and uncommon piece of information. But it’s not only grifters hawking sham cures and fake news, it is hoarders of essential protective equipment and this new herd of disaster entrepreneurs thereof emerging as a challenge across the globe and particularly in India, amidst the pandemic din.

Since initial reports of novel Corona virus (known in public health circles by the unsexy moniker COVID-19) started emerging earlier this year, the response on social media has ranged widely from measured caution to unabated panic. There’s been this blood-bath across global stock markets, and although cases in China are falling, other countries are reporting more number of cases. Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped people from circulating rumours and misinformation about the virus, with a healthy dose of rabid conspiracy theorizing and racism-tinged paranoia to boot. The fact that the virus appears to have originated in China seems to have lent a fillip to this opportunity of spreading misinformation, says Jen Grygiel, assistant professor in communications at Syracuse University and goes to say that when psychological states are peaked and people are anxious, anxiety blurs the better sense of judgement and they’re more apt to share inaccurate information. And because there’s heightened scepticism on social media about the official narratives issued by the government, this has contributed to a deep sense of anxiety and fear where misinformation can thrive. This hysteria has moved from the digital spaces in the US to the rest of the world, asking Africans to shave their beard and the Asians to seek divine interventions through chanting to ward off the tiny organism. Rumour mills are at an all time high.

A viral Face book post-dated January 22nd this year for instance contains a screenshot of a patent filed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for what is purported to be a Corona virus vaccine, suggesting that the virus was introduced by the US government for pharmaceutical companies to profiteer off the vaccine. While this makes no sense on even the most superficial level, novel Corona virus is, by definition, brand new, so it would be impossible for there to already be a vaccine for it, the screen grabbed patent actually applies to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), another type of Corona virus that also originated in China and killed hundreds of people in 2002 and 2003. Although there have been reports of companies receiving funding to developing a vaccine for n-CoV, currently there are no vaccines available for any Corona viruses let alone the Wuhan one.

“The virus is no worse than the common cold”. This myth was espoused by none other than the US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh on his radio show on February 24th. “It looks like the Corona virus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I want to tell you the truth about the Corona virus. I’m dead right on this. The Corona virus is the common cold, folks.” He went on to claim that the media was drumming up panic about COVID-19 purely to undermine the Trump administration. “They are trying to use this Corona virus to scare the hell out of everybody in their madcap hopes of finding something that will get rid of Donald Trump. It’s exactly like the panic and fear mongering you heard for two years over Russia meddling in and stealing the election.” When public figures with wide reach dish out half-truths like this the potency to create panic is beyond manageable proportions.

Truth is COVID-19 is not the common cold, for numerous reasons. Apart from manifesting with a completely different set of symptoms (fever, cough, etc.) it also has a mortality rate of about little more than 2 percent, which the common cold does not. The reason why Limbaugh may have made that claim, however, is because COVID-19 is a type of Corona virus, an umbrella term used to describe a group of viruses including the common cold. This is a very basic fact about the Corona virus. But we are, after all, talking about irresponsible public discourse here. Confirmation-bias seems to have been reinvigorated with a new lease here. WhatsApp forwards hailing Dettol’s previous knowledge about the outbreak is the latest entrant to a series of tales by conspiracy theorists. And the magical cures range from good old garlic to the exotic colloidal silver.

When it comes to major world events, it’s not uncommon for enterprising sleuths to dig deep into fictional sources to find a premonition, however tenuous it may be. Few weeks ago a screen grab of a passage from author Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel ‘The Eyes of Darkness’ went viral on Twitter, as the passage appears to allude to the creation of a deadly virus known as Wuhan-400, named after the city from which it originated. Except for the pointer to Wuhan, there is nothing common between Wuhan-400 and COVID-19. Also the book had no mention of it in the first edition. Unlike COVID-19, which has about a little more than 2% fatality rate, Wuhan-400 kills 100% of its victims, mostly by creating a toxin that literally eats away brain tissue, rendering its victims pulse less. So while it may be tempting for proponents of the COVID-19 as bio weapon theory to point to Koontz’s book as a harbinger of events to come, it appears the parallels between the two are tenuous at best. Still, there’s no shortage of other works of fiction for armchair COVID-19 detectives to point to. Public health experts have been time and again underscoring the fact that there’s nothing much that the scientists know about the virus and it’s heat resistant character. So, disseminating fake information on the subject would amount to driving people in certain direction of preventive line, which we don’t know may be wrong, unimportant or hazardous in the least.

This one’s a little trickier, and varies from country to country. The CDC has said that Americans who are healthy do not need to wear face masks, public health experts have rather warned that masks could actually increase the risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly. Those who should ideally wear masks are people who already are infected by the new Corona virus and could potentially infect others, those caring for an infected patient in close settings and health care workers. Authorities across Asia, who have been dealing with the virus for months, have urged that people wear surgical masks particularly on public transportation or in other crowded places to prevent transmission of the virus. To determine whether you need to wear a mask or not, it’s best to check the latest guidance issued by the country’s health authorities. In India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been educating the public through their ‘help us to help you’ campaign. It is critical to direct the public attention towards accurate advisories. But the Indian digital platforms are abuzz with fake and unverified posts on how wearing masks is a single-shot remedy to fight COVID-19, pushing traders to hoard, spike prices and spread panic. More often than not, such ‘concerned advice’ is well intentioned, but the harm such misleading posts can cause can be fatal.

Countries like Singapore have initiated stringent measures to fight false assertions on Corona. Few arrests have already been made by Indian Police authorities. Utter Pradesh Police arrested a fake god man called ‘Corona wale baba’ and Telangana Police booked three persons under section 54 of National Disaster Management Act, 2005 for spreading a false warning. Much of our focus on containing misinformation is directed to the online medium. Shockingly, even some broadcast journalists have peddled misinformation that the virus does not affect children. Do It Yourself (DIY) detection kits have become another digital nuisance.

Bad information is bad for democracy. At this juncture, people do not need digitally processed miracle mineral solutions, but carefully crafted accurate scientific information. We must act responsibly in times like these to empower public institutions to share reliable source of information on a real time basis. For all we know, fake news may infect more people than the actual virus if we don’t step in and debunk.

Time to Stop Calling Vladimir Putin ‘President’

Russia’s leader will reset the clock on his term limits, clearing the way for him to rule until 2036. From the year 2000 when he first came to power until 2008, we called Vladimir Putin president. He spent those first two presidential terms aggressively consolidating Russia politically, socially, economically and militarily. His policies lifted some 45 million Russians out of poverty and began to restore his nation’s international relevance.

Putin and most Russians felt he was just getting started. But there was a problem: The Russian Constitution stipulates that a person may not hold the presidential office for more than two consecutive terms. So Putin let go of the presidency—but he did not let go of political power.

From 2008 to 2012, he handed the office over to a protégé who was submissive to him. During those four years, though it was clear that Putin remained the true head of Russia, we called him “prime minister.” During that era, his forces invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia and assumed control of 20 percent of the county’s territory. The Soviet Union had collapsed, but this move made clear that under Putin, Russia was back. It was a force to be feared once again.

In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency with a newly extended six-year term. And we began once again to call him president. He fashioned Russia into an even more militarily powerful and aggressive nation, using its firepower to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, secure the vicious regimes in Syria and North Korea, and help Iran continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In 2018, Putin surprised exactly no one by clinching yet another term in office. And we continued to call him president.

But Putin understood that he would soon come up against that constitutional limit once again: In 2024, he would have completed his second consecutive pair of presidential terms, and would be required to step down.

So he began looking at alternative options.

He considered orchestrating another rendition of the “castling move” he had used from 2008 to 2012. He considered taking over Belarus and becoming head of a new Russia-Belarus supranational state. He considered ruling through parliament or from the post of Russia’s State Council.

But on March 10, after those various options had foundered, Putin told Russian lawmakers that the clock should be reset to zero for his presidential term limits so that he can remain in office after 2024. “We need it for stability,” he said. “Russia lacks conditions necessary for parliament-led democracy.”

Putin said he did not wish to scrap constitutional term limits for everyone: The nation should not return to czarist- or Soviet-era models when no elections were held, because “Russia has had enough revolution in its history,” he said. But he said his own unique situation is different.

Putin was not entirely dogmatic about whether he would continue on as president, but told lawmakers, “I’m sure that together, we will do many more great things, at least until 2024. Then, we will see.”

After Putin spoke, the Duma applauded and voted overwhelmingly to pass the proposal to reset limits on his rule. Putin is scheduled to sign it into law on March 18, the sixth anniversary of his annexation of Crimea.

Then on April 22, an “all-people vote” will give the people of Russia a chance to accept or reject the measure. But the vote is neither an election nor a referendum, but only a scheme to give Putin’s power grab a veneer of legitimacy. Bundled with the same vote are a number of other constitutional proposals—enshrining Russians’ faith in God, defining marriage in traditional terms, increasing support for wages and pensions, and outlawing any handovers of Russian territory.

By bundling these well-liked proposals in with the change that would let Putin seek another term, there is reason to expect an enthusiastic approval. And just in case anybody who objects to his plot may want to publicly protest, Moscow has simultaneously outlawed any assembly of more than 5,000 people. The coronavirus, which has infected fewer than two dozen Russians, was cited as the official reason for the new ban.

Thus Putin will almost certainly be permitted to “run” for presidency again in 2024 and could potentially rule for two more six-year terms. The scare quotes are warranted there because of Russia’s long and storied history of vote rigging, even in the case of leaders like Putin who are already well regarded by the people. It all adds up to potentially extending Putin’s reign to 2036, when he will be almost 84 years old.

So even though Vladimir Putin has secured the title of “president” potentially through to the end 2036, it is clear that the time has come to stop calling him by that title.

More appropriate may be “supreme leader,” as Putin’s counterpart in North Korea is called. Or perhaps “paramount leader,” as his fellow strongman in China is labeled. Maybe “leader of the nation,” as Kazakhstan’s longtime dictator has been christened.

Or there may be a different title for Putin that is more appropriate still.

Covid-19 stole the show at the conference of pathogens

The gaggle of pathogens was agitated. They had worked very hard to become notorious among humankind and now there was an interloper named Covid-19 who had emerged from nowhere (well, from China, actually) and grabbed headlines claiming he was the fastest and most fatal bug in history. “You can trust a virus to make such claims,” wheezed Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, who was infamous as the world’s leading infectious killer, causing more than 1.5 million deaths every year. “But you know he’s dead without a host.”

“True. But the host is dead if he doesn’t take care. We are just trying to warn humankind that they ought to watch out for themselves and for one another,” said Ebola, coming to his cousin Covid-19’s defence and putting a good spin on his rampant behaviour. Covid’s elder siblings Mers and Sars nodded. Despite their salutary message a few years ago, people had remained sanguine and largely ignored them. Now their young whippersnapper brother Covid, faster and more lethal than them, was wreaking havoc around the world.

Some pathogens however were dismayed by the bad publicity. “I simply don’t understand what joy y’all get scaring people to death,” said Lactobacillus Acidophilus, a probiotic who took great pride in being a good bacteria and actually protecting hosts against potential invasions by other pathogens. In fact, he was all over supermarket shelves lately for his ability to convert sugar to lactic acid and was much loved by humankind, making his cousins such as E.Coli and Strep, who had a dodgy reputation, very jealous. “Indeed,” smirked Tuber Melanosporum, a fungus who had ascended the human food chain as a prized black truffle and even looked down on lowly Lactobacilli. Tuber was considered one of the costliest kitchen items in the world, even as his cousin Amanita had mushroomed all over the planet and acquired a bad rap as poison food. Like viruses and bacteria, fungi too had good pathogens and bad pathogens among them but few humans recognised that. They thought all pathogens are bad thanks to rogue microorganisms such as Covid-19.

Just then Covid-19 came by preening and prancing, and the gaggle fell silent. They watched his antics and remembered the time Covid’s forebears who caused smallpox, polio, measles, and mumps had run riot. They had eventually been reined in. So was the HIV virus. Even Mycobacterium, who was resisting all kinds of antibiotics, was being tamed. Indeed, there was no greater predator than the human race. This too would pass.

Echoes of the 1930s

Germany has been shaken by an event with dramatic parallels with the 1930s. In the late 1920s, the Nazi Party was small. In 1928, it won only 2.6 percent of the vote, hardly a force to be reckoned with. But the following year, in local elections in the German state of Thuringia, the Nazis won 11.3 percent. It wasn’t huge, but it was enough to make them kingmakers. Neither the mainstream-right parties nor the mainstream-left parties had enough votes to govern.

The dam had burst. Less than a year later, Germany’s main right-wing party—the German National People’s Party (dnvp) worked with the Nazis to form a government in the state of Baunschweig. And by the end of 1932, the coalition was repeated at the national level, with Adolf Hitler as chancellor.

The rest is history.

After the Nazis took over Germany and started a world war that killed 60 million people, far-right parties were kept firmly out of coalition negotiations for 75 years. That is, until February 5 of this year.

Last October, the same state, Thuringia, held elections. Once again, neither the mainstream right nor the mainstream left received enough votes to govern alone. After months of coalition negotiations, once again, the mainstream right decided to compromise by asking the far right to help them form a government.

No wonder many Germans fear they’re walking down the same path as the 1930s.

“Democracies don’t die overnight,” warned Spiegel Online. “They don’t flourish one day and then get uprooted by a coup d’etat the next. They decay gradually, until the ground is fertile for an authoritarian seizure of power.

“[W]hat happened in Thuringia must be seen as a warning shot, a harbinger” (February 7).

Is German democracy on the way out?

Political Death Spiral

Thuringia is not the only parallel with the 1930s. The whole political dynamic in Germany and across Europe is the same.

Here is the pattern: An economic crisis hits, causing people to lose faith in the established parties. The mainstream consensus proves itself incapable, so a few people start to support more extreme parties.

This shift in support means mainstream parties can’t win a majority of votes. The mainstream right, for example, must either form a coalition with an extreme party or reach out to its opponent on the mainstream left.

Now the death spiral kicks in. A left-right coalition struggles. The two sides fundamentally disagree and cannot take bold action. They compromise with each other and form an unsatisfying centrist government. This causes more voters to reject the mainstream left and mainstream right and to vote for more extremist parties.

When extreme parties are brought into the government, they are normalized, given legitimacy. Voters grow likelier to vote for them. Either way, when the mainstream parties struggle, the fringe parties thrive.

This simply kicks the death spiral up a notch. It is now even harder to form stable coalitions. Governing becomes even less effective. Problems get worse. Support for the extreme parties grows.

This pattern played out in the 1930s, and it is playing out in Germany today.

In the ’30s, the spiral drove more and more voters toward the Nazis. By mid-1932, the dnvp decided that they had to work with Hitler, and offered him the post of vice-chancellor. Hitler refused, convinced he was powerful enough to demand the top job. This refusal led to another election, which the Nazis won. So German President Hindenburg invited Hitler to become chancellor. Frick, who had risen to power in Thuringia, now became the federal interior minister.

Hindenburg and the mainstream right believed they could “tame” Hitler. Instead, they empowered him. Once in position as chancellor, Hitler grabbed absolute power.

It is easy to see these parallels in Thuringia. In its October election, extreme parties gained most of the vote. Die Linke (The Left), successor to East Germany’s brutal Communist Party, won first with 31 percent. The Alternative für Deutschland won second with 23 percent. For any coalition to hold a majority in the state legislature, it must include one of these two parties.

New Right-Wing Party

The Alternative für Deutschland started in protest of the 2008 financial crisis. All the mainstream parties had roughly the same economic policy. The AfD was founded by economists to put forward an alternative path.

Then the migrant crisis hit Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed a million migrants into Germany, with little debate or discussion. Those who had concerns were branded as racist by the mainstream media. So the AfD began offering an alternative view on migration as well.

This began a rightward shift that went far beyond merely concerns with migration. Björn Höcke, the leader of the AfD in the state of Thuringia, for example, wants a complete rewrite of German history. “German history is handled as rotten and made to look ridiculous,” he once told a rally. He wants a “180-degree reversal” on how Germany remembers World War ii.

To Höcke, the Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a “monument of shame” and should be removed. “The AfD is the last revolutionary, the last peaceful chance for our fatherland,” he said. He has even brought up “Lebensraum” (living space) and talked about Germany’s “thousand-year future,” clear allusions to Adolf Hitler’s expansionism and vision of a “thousand-year Reich.”

Concerned about the direction of their party, the original founders of the AfD left or were kicked out.

Not everyone in the party is as radical as Höcke. Some view him as more of a hindrance than a help; his extreme rhetoric makes it harder for the party to pick up more moderate voters, they complain. Nevertheless, he is still tolerated, and even promoted, as one of the senior leaders in the party.

With anti-Semitism surging worldwide, Jewish leaders are especially worried that politicians like Höcke are winning so many votes once again.

Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the AfD’s success “shows that our whole political system is coming apart at the seams.” She said she was worried that so many supported a party that has “downplayed the horrors of the Nazi era, who are openly nationalistic and have spread messages of hate against minorities, including the Jewish community.”

When extreme parties are brought into the government, they are normalized, given legitimacy. Voters grow likelier to vote for them. Either way, when mainstream parties struggle, fringe parties thrive.

Christoph Heubner, vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, sounded a similar warning, saying, “For survivors of German concentration camps, this massive increase in votes for the AfD in Thuringia is another menacing signal that right-wing extremist attitudes and tendencies are consolidating in Germany.”

“The last time we saw something of this kind in Germany was in the Weimar Republic where political life was polarized between the Communists and the National Socialists,” political scientist and commentator Werner Patzelt told the Local. “This is quite uncommon” (Oct. 28, 2019).

Some support the AfD due to legitimate concerns about migration. But it is not just their polling figures that parallel the 1930s. Their rhetoric does too.

Continent in Crisis

Fringe parties are rising all across Europe.

In Ireland’s February 9 general election, Sinn Fein—formerly the political wing of the ira terrorist group—tied for first place. Historically, Ireland’s mainstream parties have refused to work with them. Now they are stuck with a choice: form an unwieldy coalition or work with a group that has killed more civilians than al Qaeda did on 9/11.

Spain has held four inconclusive elections in the last four years. It currently has a coalition minority government, which is perhaps the most unstable arrangement possible. Meanwhile, a far-right party, Vox, has entered Spain’s legislature for the first time in its democratic history. In the November elections, Vox won third with 15 percent of the seats.

In 2010 and 2011, Belgium set a new world record for the longest period any developed country has been without a government: 589 days. Now the Belgians are going for a new record. Their last elections were on May 26, 2019, and they still don’t have a coalition.

Italian politics is dominated by parties that either did not exist before the 2008 financial crisis or were considered too extreme for government. In Sweden’s most recent election, its main left-wing party experienced its worst result since 2011, and the far-right Sweden Democrats are now, by some polls, the nation’s most popular party.

Eastern Europe is full of governments that are right wing, if not far-right, and most of these did well. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz won 52 percent of the vote, one of the only parties in Europe to win a majority. In Poland, the right-wing Law and Justice party garnered 45 percent of the vote.

In country after country, European politics are entering the same death spiral that many of them suffered in the 1930s.

During that fateful decade, the rise of the extreme parties didn’t happen only in Germany. The rise of extreme parties gummed up French politics. France had five governments between May 1932 and January 1934. In Austria, the death spiral empowered the Heimwehr—a far-right group similar to the Nazis but opposed to unification with Germany. In Czechoslovakia, the Nazi Sudeten German Party came from nowhere to win more votes than any other party. In Romania, the Iron Guard rose to become the third-most popular party, winning 15 percent of the vote in the 1937 elections, after having been banned in the 1935 elections. Other extreme parties, like the National-Christian Defense League in France, rose steadily after the 1929 stock market crash. France’s far-right Croix-de-Feu league grew from 500 members in 1928 to 400,000 in 1935. After it was banned in 1936, its leader started the French Social Party, which grew to become one of France’s largest right-wing parties. Votes for extreme parties in many other countries also jumped.

For all these people, a vote for the fringe wasn’t just a vote for a different political party. It was a vote for a different system. They didn’t want their current constitution or system of government. They were convinced their nation needed something different.

Many of the people voting for fringe groups today believe the same thing. Satisfaction with democracy is at an all-time low, according to a Cambridge study published in January. The report states, “Europe’s average level of satisfaction masks a large and growing divide within the Continent, between a ‘zone of despair’ across France and southern Europe, and a ‘zone of complacency’ across Western Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.”

The Cambridge study traces the origin of this dissatisfaction to the economic crisis—just as was the case in the 1930s. It states, “It is likely that, beyond personal feelings of economic dissatisfaction, the crisis has brought forward a broader sense of political discontent that is tied to economic sovereignty, national pride, and anger over the use of public resources.”

In country after country, voters believe the political system no longer works for them. So they want someone different from the norm, someone outside the established parties. The way Europe has worked for decades isn’t working, they feel. They want something new.

Compromising With the Right

In the 1930s, the mainstream-right parties dealt with this rise in extremism by compromising with the right and moving to further to the right themselves.

In 1931, Hugenberg’s manifesto called for the end of the Treaty of Versailles, the establishment of conscription, the reconquest of Germany’s colonies, a reduction in the number of Jews in public life, and stronger links with German communities outside of Germany. Politically, the difference between Hugenberg and Hitler was simply a matter of degree.

In France, far-right leagues succeeded in organizing violent protests. The more prominent right-wing parties responded by shifting their direction. These were among those that would make up the Vichy regime that cooperated with Hitler after he conquered their nation. In Romania, the king attempted to create a royal dictatorship to prevent Nazi-like parties from taking power in his country. In Hungary, the regent was forced to accept a far-right, anti-Semitic government.

The 1930s history remains a powerful warning for the future. Bible prophecy gives us an even clearer warning. And that prophecy tells us there will be some major similarities—as well as some key differences.

Some in Germany are trying to respond to Thuringia the same way. Germany’s mainstream-right party is divided on the subject, but a substantial faction wants to shift the party to the right.

One leader of this faction, and a top contender to be Germany’s next chancellor, is Friedrich Merz. Foreign Policy explained, “Friedrich Merz would tack hard to the right, pushing the cdu toward the AfD in an attempt to recapture voters that have fled to the populist right in past elections” (February 11). It even speculated that Merz could bring the AfD into a coalition, taking the same course the mainstream right took in the 1930s.

Former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg strongly endorsed Merz, telling the German Press Agency on January 17: “For me, there is only one politician in the [Christian Democratic] Union left, who I consider perfectly suitable for this task and who I would vote for: Friedrich Merz.”

Break With the Past

Recent events in Thuringia did not follow completely in the footsteps of the 1930s, however. The state leader elected with the help of the AfD lasted in office only one day. The outcry across the country forced him to step down.

Nor was he the only casualty. The fallout was so great it brought down Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Chancellor Merkel’s hand-picked successor.

Kramp-Karrenbauer came under attack for not stopping the deal with the far right. She was party leader—had she lost control of her own party? She was also accused of not speaking out forcefully enough against the AfD. Party members were already disappointed with her tenure as party leader. So she announced she would not stand as a candidate for Germany’s chancellor, and that she would resign as party leader, to be replaced in the summer.

This backlash was much stronger than the response to the Thuringia coalition in the 1930s. That history screams a warning so strong that Germany could not ignore it. The nation had to do something. So history from the ’30s is repeating itself, but not in exactly the same way.

The 1930s history remains a powerful warning for the future. We are seeing that beast power rise in Europe one more time.Because this is the same beast that rose in the 1930s, there are some critical parallels.

A Coming Strongman

Look at Germany right now. In your lifetime, have Germans ever been more worried about their political situation? They see that they are sliding down the same path as the 1930s. They see that they are beset by potential crises, with another episode of the migrant crisis or the euro crisis likely to break out at any time. Yet at the helm are two lame ducks.

With Germans desperate for a strong leader, and none on the horizon, circumstances are almost perfect for someone to come into power in an unorthodox way. What happens if there is some kind of crisis between now and summer, and Ms. Merkel is forced to step down? If politics as usual cannot give the already-restless Germans the leader they need, what can they do?

The strongman operates on a high social level; he is capable of understanding and solving complex issues and questions. He is brilliant and sophisticated, and he has intellectual depth and power. The context shows he enjoys notoriety and fame for it.”

This leader may well exploit this frustration and confusion by rallying a coalition behind him and vaunting himself to power, This would take a lot of intelligence and calculation; it would require unusual skill to deceive people in high places with flattery. Adolf Hitler was a man of mental strength, but he was not as adept at deceiving people as this coming strongman will be! This leader will come as an angel of light.

The stage is perfectly set for the rise of this man. Europe is treading the same path that led to a dictator before, and it will get a dictator once again.

This whole system, that has caused wars for hundreds of years, will be destroyed forever. And it will never be resurrected again.

Monetary Policy Dominated The Last Decade, What’s Ahead

Don’t fight the Fed, as the saying goes. But at this point, it’s reasonable to ask how much fight the Federal Reserve (Fed) has left. The Fed played an oversized role in stimulating markets over the past decade and became an indefinite backstop.

But what’s the line in the sand that the Fed will not cross in terms of support for the market? And how could monetary policy influence fiscal policy, and vice versa, at his point in the cycle?

Don’t fight the Fed, as the saying goes. But at this point, it’s reasonable to ask how much fight the Federal Reserve (Fed) has left. The Fed played an oversized role in stimulating markets over the past decade and became an indefinite backstop. But what’s the line in the sand that the Fed will not cross in terms of support for the market? And how could monetary policy influence fiscal policy, and vice versa, at his point in the cycle? For asset managers in 2020, these are essential questions following a year in which central bank support was a major factor in driving record market performance.

Below, we look at monetary and fiscal policy and the factors that could determine their trajectories. In 2020, we expect a lower level of overall support for the market than in 2019. However, we don’t expect the market’s party to end until interest rates rise meaningfully. In line with this, we expect risk assets to continue to show resilience.

The Tools to Influence Economic Activity

Monetary and fiscal policy are two sets of tools used to influence a nation’s economic activity. While they operate independently, there is the potential for monetary and fiscal policy to work together to either stimulate or cool the economy. These tools are most effective when working together.

Monetary Policy Support Still the New Normal

The 2010s featured extraordinary central bank intervention or monetary policy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The prevalence of cheap debt and ample central bank liquidity sent markets soaring as the crisis turned to recovery. A decade-plus removed from the throes of the crisis, we can now see that markets rely on – and expect – support.

2019 showed that the market’s addiction to whatever-it-takes monetary policy is not an easy thing to kick. In October 2019, the Fed started purchasing Treasury bills at a clip of $60 billion per month due to liquidity concerns in the Repo market in mid-2019. These purchases are likely to continue into the second quarter of 2020.1 Interestingly, the Fed does not refer to this as quantitative easing (QE), given the purchase of Treasury bills rather than bonds. We find that to be semantics – the Fed is providing liquidity and the markets have reacted positively.

The scale of central bank support was one of 2019’s biggest surprises. Last year, central banks around the world collectively increased their balance sheets by about $100 billion per month. The extra liquidity boost likely affected risk-taking as it worked to reduce market volatility.2

Fed Still Has Some Tools, But Economic Growth a Concern

In the U.S., the underlying strength of the economy is a concern even as the longest equity bull market in recorded history chugs on. With policy rates at 1.50-1.75%, the Fed is in a much stronger position to combat a decline in economic growth than most developed countries, where negative yields abound. QE, expectations and forward guidance are the main levers that central bankers can still deploy.

But leaning on expectations could be risky. Currently, forward expectations is one of the Fed’s largest tools. If central bankers remove expectations of support, we expect that it will be far more costly to reinstall later.

Cheap Money May Not Be So Cheap

There’s low interest rate debt, and then there’s negative interest rate debt. The 2010s were the first decade with negative interest rate debt, which takes some getting used to. The notion of negative interest rate debt goes against the accepted idea of being compensated for taking the risk of lending.

Currently, the global market value of negative interest rate debt is almost $14 trillion. While this is a substantial improvement from its high of $16.8 trillion in August 2019, there is a long way to go to eliminate this market anomaly.

Cheap money affects the opportunity cost of capital. A risk is that companies increase leverage or invest in projects that only make sense at low costs of capital. Despite the length of the current cycle, a capex boom has yet to occur. Instead, companies have used share buybacks to a scale not previously seen. While buybacks are a fair use of capital, their prevalence reflects concern about underlying economic growth.

Notably, the longest market expansion in history is also the slowest of any post-war expansion. U.S. real GDP has increased at an annualized rate of just 2.3% since June 2009.3 The same cannot be said for valuations. Valuations on risk assets are markedly higher due to the low interest rates, subdued market volatility and, maybe, just because there are limited other places to deploy cash.

Full Employment Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

At 3.6%, U.S. unemployment is near its lowest level in 50 years. However, wage growth remains subdued, meaning not everyone has benefited from this record expansion. Stark divergences between rural and urban areas, and between skill levels, are evident in the post-Financial Crisis era. Employment rates for low skilled workers in urban areas have recovered steadily, but, unlike prior cycles, the recovery has barely reached rural areas.

Similarly, the lower-skilled segment of the labor market, which is the most sensitive to the business cycle, only recently started to benefit from rising wages. As a result, the divergence in labor market recovery has likely played a meaningful role in the aggregate wage dynamics within the current expansion.4

The rise of the gig economy, outsourcing and just-in-time scheduling over the last decade is also significant. The gig economy is characterized by labor flexibility including short-term contracts or freelance work rather than permanent positions. While excellent for corporate efficiency, the downside of these labor innovations is the shifting of certain risks from company to employee. Many workers are potentially underemployed and in positions with lower job security. These factors adversely affect the underlying strength of the economy and dampen the effects of inflation that typically accompanies full employment.

Potential Battle: Fiscal Policy Stimulus vs. Budget Constraints

The growing force of populism globally could usher in a new era for fiscal policy dominance and more deregulation.5 In the U.S., corporate tax cuts helped propel the market. The potential for an infrastructure bill could provide another boost.

However, any talk of further tax cuts is likely just election promises, given budget constraints. In 2019, the U.S. had a $1.109 trillion budget deficit.6 The deficit is much higher now due to the 2018 tax cuts reducing revenue while spending on military and unfunded mandatory spending has continued to rise. The budget deficit relative to GDP has deteriorated for three consecutive years. In 2018, this deficit was 3.8%. The deficit is smaller now than during the Financial Crisis, but it has yet to return to its pre-crisis level. Currently, the U.S. federal debt to GDP ratio exceeds 100%.

The deficit issue is not unique to the U.S. In 2018, global debt increased to a record 230% of GDP. Over the last five decades, we can identify four waves of debt accumulation. The latest wave, which started in 2010, is the largest, fastest and most broad-based expansion in debt.7 Low interest rates mitigate some of the risks associated with rising debt levels; however, concerns are starting to build.

The debt burden limits the ability of countries to use fiscal stimulus. Fiscal stimulus is a topic of conversation in Europe and Japan, but budget constraints mean it’s unlikely to amount to much more than talk. For the Eurozone, a shift away from budget austerity would require changes in EU budget rules. Following a decade of austerity, the region’s budget deficit relative to GDP has improved. In 2018, the deficit was 0.5% compared to 6.2% in 2010, well within the 3% stipulated by the EU. However, debt relative to GDP is a potential constraint. In 2018, debt to GDP for the Euro Area was 87.9%, well above the required 60%, but still a large improvement from its peak of 93% in 2015.8

Is There a Need to Balance Monetary and Fiscal Policy?

Current conditions suggest that the Fed can afford to maintain its accommodative monetary policy. Doing so would help sustain the recovery and allow a broader segment of the population to benefit from the strong labor market. In line with this, the Fed is expected to remain on hold in 2020.9

The synchronized monetary easing from 2019 should continue to support the global economy due to the lagged effect of monetary policy. Most developed markets are running out of room to maneuver using interest rate reductions. Emerging market (EM) central banks still have some room to cut rates; however, with the Fed on hold, these central banks are more likely to hold off.10

In line with this, fiscal policy is becoming a more important tool for helping the economy remain at full employment. When interest rates are low but consumers and businesses hold back from investing, there are potential benefits to fiscal policy helping to integrate the extra liquidity into the actual economy.

Additionally, should economic growth decelerate, the global economy may require more direct fiscal stimulus. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is minimal room for monetary policy to combat further growth declines. In the IMF’s view, countries with fiscal space should raise spending on initiatives that increase productivity growth to support demand if necessary.11 But without greater consideration for increased debt burdens, fiscal stimulus is unlikely to play a decisive role in market performance over the next few years.


At current valuations, we believe that the market requires some support. Monetary policy, increased fiscal policy or improved corporate capital expenditure could all help the real economy. While the Fed is likely to remain on hold this year, the lagged impact of monetary policy means that the benefits of 2019’s monetary easing should continue in 2020. Additionally, we believe that rhetoric from the Fed should, out of necessity, remain reassuring. In line with this, we expect that monetary policy will take more of a back seat while continuing to be supportive.

Stemming from budgetary constraints and divided government, we expect fiscal policy to predominantly remain on the sidelines. In line with this, we are expecting the overall level of support from monetary and fiscal policy to be lower in 2020 than in 2019. Despite this, we expect the market to remain resilient due to the continued monetary policy backstop.

US Withdrawal From Afghanistan’s Likely Impact J&K

I have often been asked about the potential impact any deterioration of the Afghan situation posed to security in J&K. My usual response was that ripples formed by turbulence in Afghanistan will inevitably flow to J&K.

I am subjected to the same query now, in the wake of the recently signed US-Taliban Accord: whether a repeat of the J&K situation of 1989-90 is inevitable once the US and allied forces withdraw from Afghanistan, just as it happened when the Soviets withdrew in 1989. However, 2020 is a far cry from 1989-90 and India is far better prepared to handle such adventurism this time.

The common perception is that if the withdrawal of foreign forces takes place as per agreement and Taliban returns to power, a large number of Taliban fighters will be available to Pakistan’s ISI to recruit and induct into J&K. In a repeat of 1989-90, this will lead to a surge in the strength of terrorists in J&K – currently reduced to as little as 250 or less from the high of 7,000 and more – in a repeat of 1989-90. This perception holds that a revival of terror on the lines of the 90s would then be almost inevitable.

There can be no doubt that Pakistan’s intent remains intact; the creation of turbulence and mayhem in J&K to bring another long cycle of violence to test India and keep the J&K proxy conflict alive. Pakistan probably believes that it yet has the advantage of the alienation of the people of Kashmir and a segment of the trans-Pir Panjal region against India, which it can exploit to advantage. A mix of Afghan, Pakistani and local Kashmiri terrorists inflicting higher Indian casualties through another long drawn campaign, will impact the Indian hinterland giving rise to greater antipathy towards the Kashmiris and Indian Muslims and thus weaken India’s social fabric.

Afghanistan is in the throes of instability at present. If for a moment we presume the unlikely possibility that peace prevails and the Afghan National Army and Taliban fighters merge to form a new force, ISI finding volunteers as mercenaries to re-initiate the J&K proxy campaign is possible.

However, one thing that even Pakistan’s deep state will acknowledge is that the situation in J&K is not even remotely akin to 1989-90. At that juncture the Indian army was stretched from Sri Lanka to Punjab and the Northeast could hardly be risked. Kashmir Valley had a single Indian division strength force, with a couple of independent brigades. India’s 15 Corps was stretched in its responsibility from Demchok in Eastern Ladakh to the Pir Panjal, all along the LAC and LoC; a deployment which only changed after Kargil 1999.

There were no counterinsurgency forces except the then not so reliable or confident J&K Police (JKP). 15 Corps and JKP now have 30 years of experience handling intense hybrid war. Two rather large infantry divisions with a couple of independent brigades still form the bedrock of the LoC defences.

In the rear in second and third tiers is deployed the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), India’s finest military experiment. Over two-thirds of the total force is in the Valley, operating by the principles for which these RR units and formations were raised; continuity of deployment, affinity with local people and total focus on the return of stability. In addition there is the CRPF which is far more confident and well integrated with the RR.

Pakistan could aim to employ four facets to make the situation simmer; mass infiltration, terror acts, people’s agitation and influence operations through various means including social media and mosque power.

Indian capability to limit infiltration received a boost since 2004 with the LoC fence and induction of modern surveillance technology. It has proved successful, yet mass infiltration attempts through the rough terrain remains feasible. The effectiveness of successfully infiltrated terror groups is contingent upon the support of overground workers and availability of finance networks. Indian security elements have a far tighter control on these today and their work in progress is being followed through with freshly conceived counter hybrid conflict strategy.

Surge in local recruitment is contingent upon success of the foreign terror (FT) groups and the penetration of influence operations by Pakistan’s ISPR. If Pakistan is dependent upon Afghan FTs to rekindle violent confrontation, our experience of the 90s shows this has severe limitations, particularly with better intelligence and limited propensity of the FTs to operate to plan.

The situation is likely to bring about limited violence but will tend to impact governance and outreach programmes as our previous experience reveals. The degree of success thus depends upon our capability to initiate a slew of development and outreach measures, which in such situations is the real challenge. Security will always be under control but it’s the non-military measures which have to receive impetus even in the face of fresh challenge.

An approach awaiting further stabilisation is unlikely to fetch dividend. Arguably engagement of the populace, preventing flow of finances, countering ISPR influence operations and developing own packages of such operations is the key to success in J&K. In the face of any increase in violence, the return of grassroots politics will see severe restrictions too.

The above assessment remains hypothetical. We are yet far from any successful implementation of a problematic and sketchy peace accord. But being prepared for a deterioration of the situation in J&K is only prudent.

Indian Nationalism and Hindu Rashtra

Nationalism, in today’s world, is a much-maligned concept. Albert Einstein called it “an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” If that description alone isn’t enough to inspire countless angry op-eds and PhD dissertations, put Hindu next to it and one can send the entire Left-Liberal world into a tizzy. Similarly, the notion of Rashtra gets maligned in much of the Leftist-Marxist ideology dominated media and academia. Lack of intellectual honesty and a lack of deeper understanding accounts for much of the negativity that has come to define these concepts. 

Einstein, arguably one of the most famous and influential scientists of the modern time, was a product of an extremely tumultuous time in the history of mankind. As such, his idea of Nationalism was shaped by the events of that era. Much of the bad rap to Nationalism, however, is a result of selective cherry-picking. In addition, when it is applied in Indian contexts, it spells disaster, much like the notion of ‘secularism’ does. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nationalism as a consciousness “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interest as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” In the West, writes well-known journalist and author Hindol Sengupta, “love for the country has almost gone hand-in-hand with attempting to, by force, expand its borders. Europe’s borders were written and rewritten with blood and the spirit of Nationalism. ” Nationalism is also blamed for large-scale disruptions in the economy.

Nationalism is invariably blamed for unending wars and myriad social strife across the globe. Nationalism is also associated with the names of the despotic rulers, ruthless dictators, tyrants, and expansionist empires. Many political scientists consider nationalists as those who see outsiders as potentially inferior or evil. They are also considered ‘antagonistic’ to others. We are aware, however, that mankind has fought numerous wars and there exists many conflicts without the idea of Nationalism. Tyranny and dictatorship too are not a monopoly of Nationalist societies. Love for one’s own nation does not presuppose hatred toward some other nation. 

The notion of the modern state, or nation, is a relatively nascent one. It is, in fact, only a few centuries old. Eurocentric to be precise, the idea of a modern nation-state is based on the assumption that the aspirations of people that constitute the nation are best served by a common political entity. 

The notion of Rashtra in the Indic Civilization, however, is much older as well as quite different from the eurocentric notion of nation at the same time. Word Rashtra is used in the Vedic literature to describe the national identity of the people of Bharatvarsha, a contiguous landmass between the snow-packed mountain peaks of the Himalayas in the north and the deep sea in the south. It is also a land of the Seven Rivers, the Sapt Sindhu. Rashtra is replete with a sense of spirituality, divinity, sacredness, and motherhood. It’s a land, according to Diana Eck, of sacred geography that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes. Every place has its own story, and conversely, every story in the vast storehouse of myths and legends has its place.”

The notion of Rashtra is indigenous to the Indic Civilization, not a Western import. The Rashtra is benevolent, it strives for everybody’s ‘abhyudayam’ (development). Rashtra is not a mere political entity. It transcends its physical attributes. It is rather a creed. Nationalism in India, according to Sri Aurobindo, “is a religion that has come from God… If you are going to be a Nationalist, if you are going to assent to this religion of Nationalism, you must do it in the religious spirit.”

A Rashtra is not closed, selfish, and individualistic. With the mantra of ‘vasudhaiva kutumbakam’, it respects pluralism and considers the entire world as a family. Rashtra considers each animate and inanimate object of this world and each and every element of the entire cosmos to be connected to and part of the divine Consciousness in a quantum way. 

Rashtra of the Indic civilization is the personification of a mother and god. The Atharva Veda declares: ‘mata bhumiputroahamprithvyah’, meaning this earth is my mother and I am his son. “I am the beholder of the Rashtra,” proclaims the Rig Veda, “benefactors of the gods, and first among the worshipped.” 

Rashtra is consciousness and as such is beyond the realm of mundane intellectual inquiry. To quote Sri Aurobindo, “There is a certain section of thought in India which regards Nationalism as ‘madness’. The men who think like that are men of great intellectual ability… and they say Nationalism will ruin the country… They are men who have lived in the pure intellect only and they look at things purely from the intellectual point of view.”

Indic Nationalism is neither theocentric (theocratic) nor anthropocentric (borderless laissez faire). Those who consider Rashtra and Nationalism a mere intellectual conviction and materialistic construct are looking at it from a purely Western point of view. Indic Nationalism is Dharma with freedom of mind, body, and spirit as well as Self realization as its core principle. It is a divine power that does not strive to hurt or subjugate others. Faith and unselfishness, according to Sri Aurobindo, are the two primary defining principles of Indian Rashtra.

This notion of Rashtra and the Rashtra itself is worth preserving at all costs. In the Prithvi Sukta of the Atharva Veda, there is a prayer mantra that says  — “O Mother Earth, destroy those who want to subdue my Rashtra by Shastra (weapon) and/or by Shastra (knowledge).” While sages and rishis like Adi Shankara, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Maharishi Ramana countered the challenge to the Rashtra with Shastra, the Naths, the Nagas, the Sikhs, the Rajputs, the Bhils, the Jats, the Marathas, the Pasis, the Ahir, the Ahomias, etc. did the same with Shastra. It is incumbent upon the modern days’ and future sons and daughters of Bharatvarsh to protect their Rashtra from all evil and at all costs.

Could Corona Cause a Mega Recession

We face the greatest medical-cum-economic crisis in history. Admit it or not, the coronavirus has already created a deep global recession. Even earlier, Europe and Japan verged on recession while Indian GDP growth had halved from its peak. This leaves little resilience to meet the coming hurricane.

Let’s hope the coronavirus will not be as bad as the Spanish flu that infected 200 million and killed 50 million in 1918-19 — more than all combat deaths in World War I. No vaccine or cure existed for Spanish flu, just as there is none for the coronavirus. It will keep spreading till it naturally dies out like other epidemics.Global financial markets have been roiled the past week by extreme panic-induced volatility. Lower locks/circuit breakers have been activated in stock exchanges around the world, oil prices have dropped the most in a single day since 1991, while the yield on the US 30-Year Treasury bond has sunk to below one per cent for the first time in history.

An estimated $9 trillion has been wiped off the market capitalisation of global stocks in the past two weeks, with the S&P 500 index plunging 20pc since its peak on Feb19. The Pakistan Stock Exchange’s KSE-100 index has fallen 10pc since. Not surprisingly, traders have dubbed the price action on March 9 as Black Monday and the recent carnage more generally as a ‘bloodbath’.

The two immediate catalysts for the collapse witnessed on global financial markets are the rapid, contagious spread across the world of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and the start of an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia after the dramatic collapse of the OPEC+ agreement on production cuts.

The two seemingly unrelated developments — the COVID-19 pandemic and the oil price war — are not as unrelated as they may seem at first. The first development has amplified pre-existing worries about the health of the global economy. These concerns have played into oil market fears about weak demand. The second development (collapse of OPEC+ agreement) has added a supply shock to the disquiet of oil exporting nations. Since the demand for oil — and in a second-hand way, its international price — is an important indicator of the health of the global economy, the sharp fall in oil benchmarks has reinforced the prevailing sentiment of gloom and doom.

The global economy has hit severe turbulence.

The categorisation by WHO of COVID-19 as a pandemic will fuel the panic. Given that over 103 countries were reported affected as of March 9, including hard-hit advanced economies such as Italy, compared to around 26 each at the time of SARS or MERS, and the extreme containment measures that countries around the world are having to take, the scale of potential economic disruption is unprecedented. Huge losses are being incurred by airlines, hotels, and the wider tourism/hospitality and recreation industries, among others.

The fact that China was at the epicentre of this virus is leading to fears about the economic contagion spreading far and wide. While China absorbs around 11pc of the world’s exports, almost 40pc of its own exports, or nearly $1tr, are supplied to global companies as part of the latter’s supply chains. (This number is down from around 80pc at its peak in the early 2000s.) The closure of factories and all means of transportation between December and end-February would have imposed colossal losses that are unlikely to be recouped with a global economy tipping into a ‘recession’.

According to an estimate by Bloomberg Economics, the COVID-19 pandemic can cost as much as $2.7tr to the global economy in the worst case, with the loss to China’s economy estimated at 2.4pc of GDP.

The more relevant question for us of course is what will be the economic impact on Pakistan? The most visible number that commentators are focused on is the international price of oil. With every decline of $10 per barrel, Pakistan’s oil import bill drops by approximately $1.3 billion. With benchmark Brent crude trading at $59 on Feb 20, and having lost almost $25 per barrel as of March 11, the import bill can fall by over $3.2bn over the next 12 months if current levels are sustained. Since a fall in the international price of oil is linked to other important energy products that Pakistan imports, such as LNG, the potential savings are likely to be larger.

Lower imported energy prices should translate into a sharp fall in inflation, with the magnitude depending on how much of the fall in international prices is passed on to domestic consumers by the government. The prospect of sharply lower inflation should spur an interest rate-cutting cycle by the central bank, which will ease budgetary pressure on the one hand, and lower the burden of financial charges for businesses. Cheaper imported energy prices will also potentially translate into lower energy costs for businesses and households via a reduction in electricity and gas tariffs. This should also ease the pace of accumulation of circular debt.

These are substantial positives. However, the impact is not unambiguously positive. The upside from lower oil prices will be limited to an extent by the growth-diminishing effects of fiscal consolidation. Global recessionary conditions will also provide headwinds for Pakistan’s exports. The lower demand and price of oil could at some stage impact Saudi Arabia’s willingness to continue with the generous oil facility it has granted to Pakistan. The enormous impact on the global economy, with the oil export-dependent Gulf economies hardest hit, could spill over into the country’s flow of worker remittances.

In addition, lower oil prices will negatively affect the government’s main revenue spinner. However, lower revenue from the import and sale of petroleum will be offset to some extent by raising the petroleum levy, as well as via lower debt servicing costs. Finally, conditions in the global financial markets have prompted significant outflows from the stock of foreign portfolio investment in government securities. Between March 9 and 11, around $400 million has flown out from the ‘hot money’ book, or roughly 12pc of the total invested stock in a space of three days. This is possibly the start of the worst case scenario readers will recall I have been warning against since July last year.

In the best-case scenario, the virus may last one quarter. Lakhs of individuals and businesses will die, but many economies could revive by end 2020. In this best-case scenario, the world and India will suffer a short, serious but not catastrophic recession.

In the worst-case scenario, the virus will spread havoc for a year. In that extreme case, billions may get infected and tens of millions may die. However, most experts predict just 0.5 million deaths. Still, the economic disruption will be enormous, possibly as bad as in 2008.

Most analysts have focused, rightly, on the human tragedy. But the economic consequences may be as bad. The first-round effects are already clear. When China locked down Hubei province, the source of the virus, this disrupted global value chains in industrial production, especially electronics and pharma. The world prepared for a trade shock. India restricted the export of some medicines to avert shortages. The OPEC agreement fell apart and the price of oil crashed, threatening the oil and associated industries including automobile, especially small players.

Then came massive strangulation of activity by governments to quell the virus. Movement was slashed or banned in entire countries starting with Italy. The US banned visitors from 26 European countries, and will surely expand the list. India stopped visas to tourists and automatic clearance for NRIs. Country after country is enforcing isolation.

Mass meetings of all sorts — the Tokyo Olympic Games, IPL in India, football World Cup, National Basketball in the USA and other sports spectaculars have been or will soon be cancelled. Entertainment and restaurants have been vivisected: New York has closed down Broadway shows. In many countries, the assembly of over 100 people is being limited or forbidden. This may look like panicky overkill, but no government wants to be accused of letting people die.

India teems with festivals and pilgrimage sites where lakhs participate. Vaishno Devi, Triveni, Tirupati and other sites get millions of pilgrims a year. Will the government close them all, or let them become hubs of killer infection? What about Durga Puja, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi and other mass festivals? Official bans will be politically difficult, and impossible to implement. Lesson: India is a major global risk centre. Hopes that high Indian temperatures will kill the virus look exaggerated — tropical Singapore and the Philippines are already victims.

Shutdowns and lockdowns will wreck industries galore — airlines, road and rail transport, films, music, sports, advertising, media (which depend on advertising), shopkeepers and hawkers, tourism, and many more. If consumers cut consumption by no more than 5% to avoid infection, that will suffice for a world recession.

Consumer durables are highly vulnerable since people can easily put off their purchases. For safety, people will go out less, shop less, and stay home watching TV and video. This crash in activity will affect every nook and corner of the economy. The recession that follows can cause thousands of bankruptcies (oil-related sectors look riskiest) that may make recent years look like a picnic. Corporate debts have stayed high after 2008, so the global and Indian financial systems are again in danger, even as they struggle to throw off the bad loans and mega-losses of the past.

Millions will avoid going to work because of fear, bad health or lack of transport. This worker shortage will hit the supply of services and goods.

Conventional recessions can be tackled by loose fiscal and monetary policy. These will not work when fear drives the slowdown. In many countries interest rates are already close to zero, so central banks have lost their power to stimulate through big rate cuts. The RBI could cut interest rates by as much as 2%, but will that revive lending when recession and fear are killing businesses? The moribund financial system will blunt all fiscal and monetary initiatives.

Governments the world over will let fiscal deficits explode to stimulate spending. In a best-case scenario, we will fall hard but rise again by end 2020. A worst-case scenario is too scary to even contemplate.

Thoughtful & Sustainable Value Enhancement to Manage the Slowdown

With economy facing a consumption slow down and high indebtedness of corporates (and hence increasing debt servicing pressure), organizations are seeking to reduce their costs. Given the urgency to act, organizations end up cutting heads like travel, overheads, training and in some instances even advertisement & sales promotions or R&D spends to manage EBIDTA. While these actions provide instant impact, they are typically unsustainable, can lead to lasting damage to brands, innovation pipelines and in many cases to employee morale. One of the reasons attributed to Kraft Heinz’s recent (under)performance has been its focus on relentless cost-cutting. Organizations can avoid these pitfalls and launch sustainable value enhancement programs by adopting five principles:

 1. Frame the program right

We know ‘well planned is half done’. Similarly, in transformation programs, well framed is half done. There are three dimensions to keep in mind while framing such programs. They are setting the right objective, starting with a top down target and establishing clear boundary conditions. Set the right objective: The objective should be value enhancement rather than cost reduction. There are a couple of advantages of doing this: one this opens more degrees of freedom for the teams to innovate. For example, there can be initiatives where organization might incur an incremental cost but is able to generate disproportionate value through better pricing of their products/ service, resulting in positive EBIDTA impact. Two, this avoids the program being perceived as ‘yet another cost reduction exercise’. Start with a top down target: The quantum of value enhancement (target) should be set up front, by the leadership team. This helps focusing the organization on ‘How to get to the target’ and avoid time wasted on ‘how much or what is a possible target’ debates. One of the CEOs we worked with picked the EBIDTA difference with a low-cost competitor as the program target. Another CEO said the program objective was to neutralize inflation impact and a third set a target to get half the growth investment generated through internal efficiency. Upfront clarity on boundary conditions i.e. what cannot be diluted in the pursuit of the target is critical. Typically, these include customer service level, product/ service quality, ethical business practices, sustainability goals etc.

2. Focus on the entire value chain

Most organizations typically look at back end areas (procurement, manufacturing & distribution) when they launch such initiatives (for some reason efficiency is by default linked to these areas in the organizational mindset). However a large share of the costs is usually determined at the time of design (of the product or the value chain) or by calls taken by marketing or sales teams, leaving little to be influenced by the back-end teams through commercial negotiations. Also, substantial spends exist beyond the organization boundaries (classic examples are margins beyond the Net Sale Value or inbound transportations cost) which get missed by narrowly focusing these initiatives within organizational/ functional boundaries. A simple way to get the true addressable cost base is to create a cost build-up chart from the supplier’s gate to the customer’s gate (and if it is possible to extend this beyond the immediate supplier and customer, even better). In addition to covering all value enhancement opportunities, focusing on the entire value chain make these initiatives organization/ value chain-wide leading to a culture of ‘everyone contributes to value enhancement’.

 3. Look beyond commercial levers

Most efficiency programs end up focusing on the commercial dimension i.e. price paid for external purchases. While these can lead to some opportunity, this is a reducing return to effort area (more and more you pursue, less and less you get). Also, this is a zero-sum game with vendors/ suppliers and sets up a confrontational relationship with external partners, negating innovations through collaboration. For sustainable value enhancement it is important to look at design/ structural levers (for example evaluating an alternate specification that delivers the same consumer outcomes) and productivity levers (for example are the assets in the value chain operating at their best productivity). A simple example of structural lever is shifting from cardboard cartons to shrink wrapping for secondary packaging (where applicable). Rather than asking how much cost reduction is possible in buying a cardboard carton the right question is are there alternate packaging options that delivery better efficiency, without impacting the functional needs. Similarly, many consumer product organizations have worked with their distributors to reduce their inventory level to release working capital and optimize distributor commissions in the process. Evaluating design/ structural, productivity and commercial opportunities across all areas of the value chain typically lead to interesting new ideas of value enhancement to pursue.

4. Dedicate bandwidth, align KRAs and monitor I

t is important to dedicate adequate full-time resources for these initiatives to deliver impactful results. Part-time resourcing leads to partial results that are unsustainable. An organization that does this well has a ‘no escape buttons’ approach to resourcing – dedicated resourcing for the program and removing all other responsibilities for the team members to completely focus on the program.

Equally, ensuring the value enhancement targets are embedded upfront in the performance goals of all stakeholders is critical to ensure adequate attention and priority is given to the program. What get monitored gets done. So, having a regular review to check progress, manage any risks/delays as well maintain the momentum of these programs is a necessary investment. Having a dedicated Program Management Office to coordinate these helps immensely.

5. Provide visible leadership

Leader of the organization needs to make this initiative a key part of her or his agenda. Leaders spending adequate time on the program and making it a part of their organizational dialogue, communicate the seriousness of the initiative to the organization. This also makes value enhancement a core part of what everyone needs to do, rather than an optional activity, thus enhancing its success. Value enhancement is a habit that all organizations need to cultivate – it is a journey and not a one-time event. Adopting the five principles above will set organizations up on the right path of
delivering value sustainably.

Making sense of President Putin’s claim

A series of televised interviews spread over 20 episodes, marking as many years of President Putin in power are currently being aired in Russia by the State-run Tass news agency. In one such episode, the President has claimed that Russia has developed such offensive strike systems which the world has never seen. One such weapon quoted by the President is the ‘hypersonic offensive system’ that can fly 27 times the speed of sound. 1 The same is claimed to be undetectable and un-attackable by any conventional missile defence system.

On the rationale for having such systems, the President has stated that these weapons are required for maintaining ‘strategic stability’ (implying deterrence effect) and ‘strategic balance’ (implying capability matching with global peers).

This article attempts to make a sense of the President’s claim with a special reference to Russia’s capability in the hypersonic domain; the so called ‘27 times the speed of sound.’

Some Basics in Hypersonic Domain

‘Hypersonics’ has now become a familiar word in the professional circles as to meaning those class of weapons that can fly at speeds equal or in excess of five times the speed of sound (i.e Mach 5 meaning approx. 5000 Km/h). This actually means a speed of about 1.6 Km/sec.

Fundamentally, such weapons draw their strength of devastating lethality and near total invincibility from the fact that flying at such speeds makes them strike their targets in a time frame which is much too miniscule for any conventional missile defence system to respond even from a fully deployed and operational state, leave alone from a cold start. The most basic and essential activities of acquiring the target, establishing its identity and launching missiles on it far, far outstretches the time in which the hypersonic weapons could home on and attack.

Even 5 Mach + will be too much for a conventional missile system leave alone 27 Mach as the President has claimed. In fact, in the hypersonic world, the going cliché is ‘speed is the new stealth’ since invincibility here is not the function of un-detectability due to stealth muscle but due to tremendous speed far out-beating the minimum reaction cycle required by defenders.

Another demon in the hypersonic threat is ‘unpredictability’ where the end target of hypersonic weapons can change very dynamically as a function of their blistering speeds. This capability allows them to hold disproportionately large areas under their threat foot-print as a whole swath of area becomes attackable once such a weapon is in flight. This forces the defenders to commit weapons to cover large areas on theatre grids.

As to the types, the cutting edge of the hypersonic arsenal is driven by the binary pair of Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HCMs) and the Hypersonic Glide Vehicles ( HGVs).

HCM is a typical cruise missile except that it is capable of operating in the hypersonic speed (> 5 Mach). This level of speed is achieved by keeping the missile powered ‘all through’ unlike the conventional missiles which feature a booster and a sustainer motor at best.

The HGVs or Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs) are the other class in the hypersonic weapon range. Such a vehicle is also called a “wave-rider” because it uses the shock waves generated by its own flight as a lifting surface to enhance the lift-to-drag ratio to reach the hypersonic regime of Mach 5 or even more. 2 A typical HGV is launched by any solid propellant rocket/missile which can give it the initial boost and momentum up to a point after which the wave rider phenomenon can be sustained by the hypersonic vehicle on its own.

Assessing the Russian Capability

Russia along with China are the two countries that are pushing the cutting edge of hypersonic weapons both in the HCM as well as HGV domain. If the open source capabilities are to be compared, both these countries come out a shade ahead of USA in the field of hypersonic arsenal.

Last year, around the same time (14 Mar 2019), Russia announced that it is getting ready to launch the Zircon anti-ship HCM (NATO reporting name SS-N-33) from a naval vessel. The missile was claimed to have a speed of Mach 8-9 which amounts to about 9878.4 -11025 km per hour.

As stated, such tremendous speeds are achieved by keeping the missile powered all the way. Initially a booster accelerates the missile to supersonic speed, after which a scramjet rocket motor accelerates and sustains it in the hypersonic domain of 8-9 Mach. At such speed, missile is claimed to be “unstoppable” by any known missile defence system in the world. Zircon is anti-ship HCM.

Open source reported that prior to the anti-ship version, the tests for the land-attack version of Zircon have been done five times starting Jun 2017, The weapon is likely to go into production in 2021 and would probably enter Service by 2022 3 .

In fact, the development of the hypersonic capability in Russia can be traced back to 1995, when a Hypersonic Experimental Flying Vehicle was displayed for the first time in the Aviation and Space Show (MAKS) in Russia. From that time and counting, several strategic arsenal in the hypersonic domain have become a reality.

One such weapon is the Kh47 M2 Kinzhal an Air Launhed Ballistic Missile (ALBM) capable of carrying nuclear warheads of 100-500 Kiloton (KT) to a range of 2000 Km+. The hypersonic connection of Kinzhal is in its speed which is stated to be in the region of Mach 10 (12,348 km per hour). Tupolov 22 and Mig 31K are the aerial platforms capable of launching the Kinzhal. The missile system is reported to have entered service in Dec 2017. President Putin who unveiled this weapon system on 01 March 2018, included it in the list of six new strategic weapons. The first launch of Kinzhal took place in the Arctic region in Mid Nov 2019.

In the field of HGVs, Russia has claimed to have successfully developed the Avanguard HGV. This missile can be carried on board the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) RS 28 Sarmat as an MIRV payload. RS 28 can launch both the conventional, as well as, the nuclear payload.

The open source has reported that this HGV has a speed of Mach 20-27 (24696-33,340kmph). Such speeds, as stated earlier, are only achievable by employing the ‘wave rider principal’ wherein the missile initially boosted to tremendous supersonic speeds by the carrier (in this case the RS 28 ICBM) makes use of the shock waves generated during the flight to act as lifting surfaces. The future carrier vehicle for Avanguard HGV is reported to be RS 26 Rubezh ICBM.

Avanguard was also included in the list of six strategic weapons by President Putin in his state-of-the-nation address on Mar 1 , 2018. In fact, the list of six included 1. Avanguard HGV, 2. Kinzhal HCM, 3. RS 28 Sarmat ICBM. 4. Poseidon underwater drone 5. Peresvet laser combat system and 6. 9M 730 Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile.

While the hypersonic arsenal to include the Sarmat, Kinzhal and Avanguard have been briefly enumerated a word on the other three in the list of six is briefly attempted

Burevestnik ( NATO reporting name SSC-X9 Skyfall) is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile which is claimed to be a revolutionary weapon. Not much details are available of the same. The word Burevestnik in Russian means ‘stormcrier’ or ‘stormbringer’. Being nuclear-powered , it is claimed that the missile has an unlimited range. Burevestnik is slated to be used in the anti-missile role as a strategic missile defence system. Burevestnik is actually a nuclear thermal rocket where unlimited propellant energy is achieved through a nuclear-fission reaction.

Poseidon (NATO reporting name Kanyon) underwater drone is a nuclear-capable unmanned underwater vehicle with intercontinental range which is designed to be launched by a nuclear-powered submarine. In Feb 2019, Russia announced the completion of the key stage trials of Poseidon autonomous underwater nuclear drone. Experts have assessed that the system is likely to enter operational service by 2027 as an inter-continental nuclear-armed torpedo driven by nuclear energy 7 , 8 .

And finally the Peresvet laser combat system. Open sources have reported that the same entered service in Dec 2018. Named after the medieval warrior monk Alexander Peresvet, the weapon is designed as an air defence and a missile defense system which will take on the 21 Century air and missile threat in the soft-kill mode by directing high-energy, high-power coherent laser kill beams to debilitate electronics and electromagnetics on board the threat vehicles besides defeating their structural integrity through catastrophic heat concentration at critical points 9 .

Making a sense of President’s Claim

Following points are made:-

1. The President initially made a mention of the six systems described above in his 01 Mar 2018 address to the nation. He again reiterated these in his televised interview aired in Mar 2020. This is indicative of a continuous and a focused development cycle.

2. The examination of the open source material does indicate that at least four of the six systems, i.e. 1. Avanguard HGV, 2. Kinzhal HCM, 3. RS 28 Sarmat ICBM and 4. Peresvet laser combat system are a reality today while the 9M 730 Burevestnik nuclear powered cruise missile and Poseidon underwater drone are in the pipeline.

3. Russia has certainly made fast progress in the hypersonic offensive weapons standing shoulder-to-shoulder with China and probably a step ahead of USA.

4. That said, the claim of 27 Mach for Avanguard might be a little over since as late as Dec 2019, the claimed speed of Avanguard post its test-launch at Kura range was Mach 20 (24,501 km/hr) 10 , 11 .

5. Also, 20 Mach itself is way over the current peak speeds of hypersonic offensive weapons which is hovering in the range of 6-10 Mach. (China – Starry Sky 2 HCM – 5.5 to 6 Mach 12 ).

6. The President rightly mentioned the two words, ‘strategic stability’ and ‘strategic balance’ since the six strategic weapons mentioned by him (except may be for Peresvet, which is a battlefield system) are actually ‘weapons of peace’ bringing a degree of strategic stability though their cumulative deterrent value.

7. Notwithstanding the entire continuum of six strategic weapons as mentioned by the President, the currently ‘hot arms race’ is in the hypersonic offensive weapons domain where the leading players (China, Russia, USA) are trying to do one better than the other.

Since the Russian crosswire is likely to be on USA, a very brief peep into the
US capability is attempted.

Interestingly, while Russia has reported test launches of Avanguard making big claims on speeds of Mach 27 etc. and the Chinese have claimed their hypersonic capability of HGV on board DF 17 missile and the Starry Sky 2 HCM, the open source does not mention of any ready-deployable and proven hypersonic weapon with US at this point in time. Recent thinking from the senior Air Force weapon developers has held that US hypersonic weapons might first be deployable by the early 2020s. 13

The above position has been corroborated by the Mar 4, 2020 Congressional Research Service Report wherein Gen John Hyten, Vice Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of the US Strategic Command has reported to the Congress that the US is actively pursuing the development of hypersonic weapons as a part of its conventional global strike programme since early 2020 14 .

In fact, open sources in the past have reported some salient developments in the US hypersonic arsenal. For instance in Aug 2018, the US Air Force have reportedly awarded M/s Lockheed Martin a $480 million contract to develop a second hypersonic weapon prototype – The Air launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) following a previous separate contract in Apr 2018 wherein the company was selected to design a prototype for the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon or “Hacksaw”.

From all the above, the opinion one probably gathers is that USA is indeed a step behind in the hypersonic offensive weapons, the counter view is that it is not so and in fact US is ahead in the hypersonic race.

Experts who subscribe to the above view believe that US is following a different end point, wherein, in contrast to the rivals, who are focussing on the hypersonic weapons for the delivery of nuclear weapons, US is developing hypersonic weapons for the delivery of non-nuclear conventional warheads. Such weapons need to be much more precise and pose a higher technological challenge 15 .

As regards the boost glide weapon technology , the US has claimed that its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon Research has tested HGVs over 4000 Km range dwarfing the HGV vehicle range of less than 2000 km by China 16 . While the claims and counter-claims will continue as essential and intrinsic signatures of a hot boiling arms race now operating in the relatively new domain of hypersonics, it is the view of the author that weapon-to-weapon, Russia and China are indeed a shade ahead of US today when it comes to hypersonic offensive weapons.

And finally coming back to the President’s assertion, it is felt that the CLAIM IS CERAINLY NOT HOLLOW. There is surely some BANG BEHING THE WORDS.

Wisdom in the days of coronavirus

Wisdom is the ability to see situations in relation to ultimate ends, whether these ends are assumed as oneness with God, or attaining moksha, or moral perfection. The modern world – the world of autonomous, self-contained individuals – is one of discontinuities. It affords many advantages; but it is, as TS Eliot says, ‘a heap of broken images’. Ancients’ vision was different from this. The ancient custom of memento mori was that of exhibiting a skeleton at a feast in order to remind the banqueters of the fate that awaited them. The awareness of the hidden link between banquet and death distinguished a banqueter from a glutton. It is no civilisational gain that they become one.

Today we don’t need to have recourse to skeletons. Death surrounds us with its ubiquitous presence. Consider this irony. We are currently gearing up, nationwide, to ward off the coronavirus; for the virus is an emissary of death. Yet, it was only a few days ago that human-inflicted death had a free run in the national capital. What if there was a margin for coronavirus in the format of that riot, or of strategies of aggression in the pursuit of power and pelf? Imagine a lowly virus humbling the might of China!

It was native to the Indian spiritual vision that one should stand apart from one’s actions and become, as it were, a spectator to them. This was implied in the dispassionate pursuit of one’s duty. This distancing of self from what would outwardly seem to be its own actions is practical only through connecting one’s actions to something beyond the self of the doer. Actions are like hats. They need pegs to hang on. Such pegs are either the egos of individual doers, or the will of the eternal Brahmn. Being in tune with Brahmn – the supreme spiritual goal – is the medium through which the distancing of self from its doings is possible at all.

What helps in this process is a double vision comprising an awareness of the mortality of self and an intuition of the immortality of Atman, which needs to be at one with the Divine. The death of the physical, the shaking away of the mortal coil, is the necessary approach road to final oneness with the Divine. The spiritual truth is: ‘We are in death even while we are in the midst of life.’

Illness and death are intimations of human mortality. They are also necessary for our species to maintain objectivity in relation to mundane actions and advocacies. Awareness of death as inalienable to the human condition is as relevant to victims as it is to their victimisers. Everyone exists within the web of mortality. Seen objectively, there is something funny about mortals killing mortals; for we could not have killed anyone, if human beings weren’t mortal. And if we, as killers, are indeed human, how can we kill anyone, without killing our own humanity? Greater sanity will prevail in public life if we have the sensitivity to bracket viruses and man-made violence together as symptoms of the imperfection of the scheme of things in which we have to undertake the adventure of earthly life. In its web, the agent of power, with assured impunity to consequences and his defenceless victim, share a common destiny.

Opening a ‘Rare Window’ Into the Cosmos

The cosmos displays a breathtaking message—now with unprecedented clarity. Do you see what it is showing us? To my very great amazement, Saturn was seen to me to be not a single star, but three together, which almost touch each other.” These words were written by Galileo in 1610, just months after the telescope had been invented. By pointing the new technology toward the night sky, astronomers such as he could suddenly see far more of the universe’s detail than mankind had been able to for millennia.

But as evidenced by Galileo’s error—mistaking Saturn’s rings for a pair of moons clinging to the planet’s sides—their window into the cosmos was still foggy. The problem was caused by something that is vital for life, but a hindrance for stargazers—and for anyone striving for a detailed look at mankind’s future of “real joy.”

Peering Through a Haze

Earth’s atmosphere provides needs for fauna and flora: oxygen-rich air to breathe, protection from ultraviolet solar radiation and from incoming objects, and retention of heat. It makes physical life possible.

But light passing through the atmosphere bends, shifts and wiggles, clouding the view and twinkling the stars.

“Trapped on the Earth within its unsteady and hazy atmosphere, astronomers were condemned to look at the heavens as though they had bad vision and were forbidden from using glasses,” writes Robert Zimmerman in The Universe in a Mirror. Even as telescope technology improved from the 1600s to the 1900s, what could be seen and photographed remained “fuzzy and revealed little detail.”

Lofty Vision

As early as the 1920s, astronomers saw how beneficial it would be to place a telescope in orbit where it would float above the atmosphere, capturing clear images. But for decades, this was only a dream for the starry-eyed.

Then in 1946, as rocket technology was taking off, American astronomer Lyman Spitzer penned an article detailing how it could be achieved. Such a telescope would “uncover new phenomena not yet imagined,” he wrote, “and perhaps … modify profoundly our basic concepts of space and time.”

Spitzer later said that though his article had negligible influence on other scientists at the time, it left a crater-deep impact on his own mind: “My studies convinced me that a large space telescope would revolutionize astronomy and might well be launched in my lifetime.”

From 1946 on, Spitzer devoted his breath and his intellect to turning an idea on paper into a giant Earth-orbiting telescope. He blasted through expanses of data, puzzled out technical problems and tried to convince others of the idea’s merit. “Most astronomers didn’t take it seriously,” Spitzer told Zimmerman in 1977. “They thought I was sort of wild-eyed or wide-eyed, one or the other.”

But Spitzer kept those eyes focused on the goal, and others began to see his vision. And in 1966, at the height of the Space Race, the National Academy of Sciences appointed him to lead a team to make it a reality.

Striving to See It Through

The appointment was a victory, but the project’s greatest hurdles still lay ahead. The engineering challenge was enormous, astronomy skeptics and political skeptics abounded, and funding was repeatedly delayed. Not until Spitzer launched a lobbying mission did members of Congress approve funding in 1977: $36 million for a scaled-down version of the Large Space Telescope.

Target launches in 1979, then 1983, slipped by. That year the project was renamed after the man who had set the science world ablaze in the 1920s by proving that the universe is expanding in all directions: Edwin Hubble.

From there, work on the Hubble Space Telescope shifted into high gear. Teams of technicians from Lockheed, Perkin-Elmer, the Wide Field/Planetary Camera team, nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Space Telescope Science Institute worked under the supervision of Marshall Space Flight Center. In 1986, technicians were piecing myriad components together, and a launch by the end of the year seemed on target. Astronomers were over the moon. But on January 28, nasa suffered one of the darkest tragedies in its history: The Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated during launch, killing its crew of seven. All shuttles were grounded and Hubble was put in storage in California.

It wasn’t until three years later that Hubble was unpacked and shipped to the Kennedy Space Station in Florida. Finally, on April 24, 1990, nearly 45 years after Spitzer’s article had made a case for a space telescope and started laboring on it, Discovery launched Hubble into space. The 43-foot-long telescope was released into low-Earth orbit, about 353 miles above the surface and well above the atmosphere. It was 30 years ago this month.

At last, after millennia of viewing the heavens through a haze, mankind was on the cusp of seeing it through a perfect prescription lens. That, at least, is what everybody expected.

Houston, We Have an Optics Problem

nasa spent weeks tweaking Hubble’s systems. But the first pictures looked as if they had been snapped through London fog. Officials adjusted every variable they could from Earth, but to no avail. “[N]othing we did made the image much better,” said David Leckrone, a scientist who joined the Hubble program in 1976, in an interview with Astronomy. “[T]he mood became very morose.”

They soon diagnosed the ailment as a spherical aberration in the main mirror. The mirror’s curve had been ground to within 10 nanometers of accuracy at all points, making it by far the most precise of any in optics history. But the device on Earth that had tested the mirror had been assembled incorrectly, causing distortion.

In 1993, a team of astronauts flew up to Hubble and spent 10 days replacing its Wide Field and Planetary Camera with a new one fitted with modified small mirrors that offset the distortion of the main mirror.

At last, a window into the heavens was clear.

‘Sights Never Before Seen’

Just as Spitzer had theorized in 1946, Hubble was a game-changer. “From that point on,” Leckrone said, “every place we pointed Hubble in the sky, there was something new and remarkable.”

Hubble captured remote supernovas, which showed that the universe’s expansion is not slowing, but accelerating. It shined light on the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter. It revealed the ubiquity of black holes, showing that most large galaxies center around one. Its intense and prolonged gaze at “deep fields” showed us that even parts of the firmament that we thought were dark and empty are actually radiant with galaxies. It let us peer at the early eons of the cosmos, allowing astronomers to pin down the universe’s age. And it offered unprecedented insight into exoplanets.

In the 30 years since its launch, Hubble has taken hundreds of thousands of the most breathtaking photos ever captured: stars being born; galaxies entering their adolescent years; supernovas dying; nebulae of size incomprehensible; galaxies of hues uncategorizable; celestial bodies so far away our brains can’t begin to fathom the distance.

Zimmerman writes: “Hubble, and the men and women behind it, opened a rare window into the universe, dazzling humanity with sights never before seen.”

Beholding Your Incredible Potential

When King David looked to the heavens, he saw them only with the naked eye. Yet he gaped breathlessly at God’s creation and was particularly fascinated by mankind’s place within it. In Psalm 8:3-4, he wrote: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained: What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …”

Everything Hubble has shown us—from the four moons it discovered around Pluto in our own solar system to the most unfathomably remote galaxy—will be under mankind’s control. That’s a foundational message declared in numerous Scriptures. And Hubble’s images could be seen as the companion photos that could be printed alongside those verses.

Hubble Telescope’s images should set our imaginations on fire because they are a major way that we get to know know about our own future. The window Hubble opened should fill a human being with real joy. It is astounding to meditate on the fact that Spitzer and the thousands who labored for decades to put Hubble into orbit weren’t working alone, but were guided by a divine hand eager to fill people with “real joy.” This understanding can help us better appreciate the efforts of those that made this vision a reality, and the “rare window” we now have into mankind’s out-of-this-world future.

Women’s Day: Give in to the charms……Yes!

Women’s Day was a few days back. In a way, an understatement Everyday is one. Did Adam have a choice ? The God’s orders were instant. Men with half the emotional quotient shall be planning fashion shows, parties, get together, night camps— exquisite cuisine, which women can cook-up in a jiffy. Fashion designers lord over their garments as a lady sashays, with little acceptanceof the fact that their lady assistant designer, was the one who gave hints as to what a particular celebrity would want, and what would go for the surrounding lesser crowd ( actually a misnomer, they’re all equal). In special get-togethers, know the pecking order. She may older, less glamorous, but part your first “namastey” to her. You ogle over a younger, prettier one, the closest door, even the pantry door becomes the exit instantly,

For a dance of life, or an instant one on the floor remember the word is to be “in step”, A misstep lowers your rating, and to mistakenly step on the toe, unknowingly, with your first time extra- long Italian shoes, with little idea of the other mounted on undeclared sized stilettoes, can turn into a case of indecency!

Ball dances are out this season, but there has been instant research on various methods on the most aesthetic method to give a flying Corona-kiss. Just watch others’ actions, and try something close to that.

For that, as a surprise to our community, “Bhangra” is the perfect dance in Corona times. Arms up inthe air, your own lungi and kurta leaping up and down. It’s a matter of risk to life, so let go the “in-step, out of step theory”. The Gujarati, “Raas- Dandiya”, with extra length of dandiyas as specified by Ministry of Health in India, and USFDA in election bound US. Big man Trump shall ensure a victory, even if he takes half a round with Melania. It is, but may officially become the world’s most aesthetic, hygienic, and popular dance—– WHO approved!. Surely, at the end of the show, the sticks shall be collected by masked, gloved men, and set aside for the Holi bonfire. That takes care of the green brigades as well

The glamour list is long, being a part of every mythology. Helen of Troy, Ahalya, Menaka. From the Indian glamour squad, come three Miss world/universe. I am not mentioning Indian actresses, all were unbeatable in their days, though in the backdrop of K Asif’s Mugha-e-Azam, Madhubala makes a mark. The tragic end adds further. And though there is no formal burial structure, “Anarkali Bazaar” is the most happening place in Lahore!Bollywood finds Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, Liz Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, and present- day Meryl Streep, Zeta Jones un forgettable. And don’t as yet forget the incomparable Da Vinci’s Madonna smile!

There is another virtuosity of women. Those who were brave and the un-negotiable to the powers that be. Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, may not have a parallel in contemporary history. Panna Dai, who nurtured the infant Maharana of Udaipur, sacrificing the life of her own offspring. Razia Sultana, the last of the Tughlaqs, fought to retain her throne, which men would not accept. Mary Queen of Scots led her armies as a General! Rosa Park, who challenged the shackles of Black segregation, by riding in a bus legally prohibited for Blacks.

Elizabeth I, a 3 year old when her queen mother was executed by Henry the VIII, finally had the largest Imperial Empire ever.

A section we shall always be inspired by, are Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank, Eleanor Roosevelt, the author of the Charter of International Human Rights. The fact is that these are the questions that you finally face, in the finals of any beauty contest. Today, women’s presence is more in professional and at high postings. The strong arm of the Law, still has to catch up in India, in matters of safety.

But, gen X and Y are seen more aware and proactive at work place, resorts, or places of outings.

The union cabinet has recently announced easing curbs on demonstrations, and those they find needless on the media. March, though, brought a delayed spring. No floods as such, but some banks were eroded—YES!

There was an emphatic speech by the PM, on support of honest organizations and professionals. It’s a tough job, considering that we are global players, and some rules may actually be dictated by members of international trade bodies.

I see an effort of posting people who know their jobs, and are best in their fields.

The crux is good living conditions, education, employment, more money in circulation, and looking at the frequency of disruptions, quite a few due to mis-understandings, there should be Central as well as State bodies to monitor the communal temperatures. These should be manned by mature and un-biased, citizens.

We may spend some time on beliefs, life, after-life. They can’t dwarf the fact this life should not be lived well!

It is some sort of relief that a significant segment of this government comes from a lineage of families, in business for centuries.

Honesty is the best policy, provided you know when to cash it!–and like charity, it begins at home!

As for a women’s mind and the creator’s special instincts embedded, take it as it comes. Learn to lean your head, and dance to their tunes!

Khatir yeh hai baaziye dil, /Is mein jeet sey maat bhali”