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Raghav’s Take: Modi Govt Could Be Doing a Political Swivel On J&K 

COVID to Maharashtra politics, The Quint’s Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl shares his views on pertinent developments.

Updated
India
6 min read
COVID to Maharashtra politics, The Quint’s Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl shares his views on pertinent developments.
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From the government’s dire predictions of the COVID third wave to the Congress’ fortunes in Maharashtra, The Quint's Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl shares his views on some recent, and pertinent, developments.

Amid a Complex Political Algorithm, Modi Govt Could Be Doing a Political Swivel On J&K

The Modi government could be doing a political swivel on J&K. Else why has it made a soft outreach to the leaders it once derided as “the Gupkar gang (working) with foreign powers… to subvert the Valley”?

The first call was made to the most estranged and recalcitrant adversary, Mehbooba Mufti, whose uncle was also simultaneously released from incarceration – almost as if the rulers wanted to underline their new mood of appeasement.

I guess the government finds itself in the vortex of a complex political algorithm.

There is an aggressive China, armed to the teeth and staring us down across a treacherous 4000-km border from north to east. Then America is planning to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban, creating a new dread in our northwest neighbourhood. On top of all this is an assertive Joe Biden administration, gently-but-firmly reading the riot act on human rights.

Finally, two years of a strong-arm administration, directly controlled by the Union government, may have alienated and hardened local attitudes. So, the peace overture to Pakistan could have been the first impact of this algorithm.

The second, and more critical, outcome could be the re-starting of the democratic process in J&K.

Whichever political forces may have combined to power this algo, it’s an entirely welcome initiative from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the follow-through will have to be honest and substantial, much beyond a mere gesture.

The delimitation exercise needs to be broad-based with inputs from everybody, even diehard detractors – it should not be seen as a “rigging” exercise to create a gerrymandered electoral outcome to favour the rulers’ pets. This needs to be followed by a fully empowered statehood, not the abridged version that has been crafted in Delhi.

Finally, the election has to be completely free and fair, leading to the installation of a government that is accepted as “legitimate” in the Valley. If all of these things were to happen, in a politically honest and visible manner, Prime Minister Modi would win back a chunk of his currently diminished international acclaim.

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On COVID Third Wave, Govt’s ‘Heads We Win, Tails You Lose’ Stratagem

Even before the second wave of COVID-19 has ebbed, the government has begun to warn people about an “imminent third wave.” It’s even putting a definite date, about 6-7 weeks out.

No scientific model is being shown to support this rather odd, even speculative assertion. This has created a cacophony of counter-claims asserting “it’s pure conjecture, impossible to predict”. Frankly, the government’s “beware, the third wave shall be upon us” war cry seems like an SOS to people to stay indoors, wear masks, and do-not-create-crowds.

But I also detect a “heads we win, tails you lose” stratagem here, since the government’s triumphalism after the end of the first wave backfired prodigiously. I mean, if there is a cruel third wave, the government will claim “see, we were on the ball”. And if it doesn’t materialise, it shall crow “see how we killed it,” reigniting the aborted triumphalism.

However, once we get rid of such shadow-boxing, it’s clear that the third wave is currently impossible to predict. For it’s a complex algebraic equation based on three variables.

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“X” is the rate at which we are vaccinating people, which is projected to increase to 4.4 million per day in July. “Y” is the “official positivity rate, based on past infections,” currently a tad less than 4 percent. But since the efficacy of our data is suspect, we need to apply an adjustment factor to “Y”, which is “Z”, ie the seroprevalence indicating the “number of hidden infections not captured in the official data.”

Except for X, we simply don’t have much confidence around the various values of Y and Z being thrown up in different studies and surveys. Therefore, any complex equation built on X, Y, and Z has to be, ab-initio, impossible to solve. Add to this the wholly uncertain phenomenon of new variants, and the argument is clinched.

So, I will just end by saying that claims about when the third wave will start are, at best, experiential/intelligent guesswork.

China, America & UK Shine in COVID Vaccination, While India...

Staying with vaccination, China notched up a spectacular stat this week, as it crossed one billion doses.

For a country which was crawling until March at an inexplicably low rate, it shifted gears and is currently hitting an eye-watering half-a-billion doses in June. As with almost every Chinese data point, there are sceptics who do not believe this awesome shift.

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America, of course, has outdone itself, having administered over 300 million doses since President Biden took charge. And even though the absolute numbers in the UK are not very high, the country has gotten at least one jab into the biceps of 80 percent of all adults. That’s spectacular.

Compared to these reasonably large countries, we are struggling, having barely crossed a single jab for 25 percent of our adults, with less than 5 percent fully vaccinated. But our system is revving up, with 125 million doses projected for July, hopefully rising to the targeted 300 million doses per month by September or October.

While such a speed-shift seems impossible, we have no choice but to make it happen.

Congress in Maharashtra: Diminution or Rejuvenation?

What’s the politics behind a Shiv Sena MLA asking Uddhav Thackeray to jettison his current alliance and re-hitch his bandwagon to Prime Minister Modi, with whom Thackeray had a tête-à-tête a few days back? This has created consternation in the Congress camp, which is the weakest link in the three-party coalition.

But that may be a false fear. Because I hold a contrarian assessment – if the current coalition were to succeed, the Congress would find itself squeezed out of the political space in Maharashtra, since it’s in the fourth place.

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One can dive into a lengthy analysis here to justify this prognosis, but just look, empirically, at what’s happened earlier in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, and much later in West Bengal, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana.

In all these states, the Congress hung on to the coattails of regional allies, became smaller than them, and then disappeared. The same could happen in Maharashtra, unless the current government falls apart. That would force a realignment such that BJP would have to shrink, ceding space to Shiv Sena, while Congress would get the chance to regain its footprint in a fifty-fifty deal with NCP.

Of course, whether the Congress succeeds in keeping or enhancing that space would depend on how energetically it chooses to fight the political battle, but at least it would have the chance to rejuvenate. In the other alternative, its diminution is ordained.

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And... on Bitcoins Too, India is Behind the Curve

Every Indian official who advocates a ban on Bitcoins should be sent to Miami. No, not as a reward for such obscure thinking, but to meet Mayor Francis Suarez, a public crypto activist, who is welcoming Chinese Bitcoin miners leaving home because of Beijing’s ban.

China has more than half of the world’s Bitcoin miners, who are now looking to migrate. Mayor Francis wants to use his city’s access to cheap nuclear energy to woo these adventurers.

Since Bitcoin miners use gargantuan amounts of energy while trying to create their hoard, they could be lured by Miami’s very low cost of $0.107 per kilowatt-hour. Suarez is also thinking of other incentives like tax concessions, infrastructure giveaways, and easy regulations to create jobs in the local economy.

Alas, look at what we are doing in India, thinking actively of banning Bitcoins. As usual, we just love being behind the curve.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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