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India can’t shut its eyes on Maldives









If China is able to get the Maldives, which has been our friend, to sit in its lap, the situation can really turn dangerous for us!

Vijay Darda : The Maldives is currently undergoing a crisis. President Abdulla Yameen has imposed emergency and the judges of the Supreme Court have  been arrested. These judges had ruled that the lawsuit against former president Mohamed Nasheed was unconstitutional. In the Maldives politics, Nasheed is the person who paved the path for democracy in the country. These days, he is in exile and after the latest developments, he has requested India to intervene for  restoration of democracy in the Maldives. Notably, the Maldives is a democratic country but its constitution is flawed. The judiciary is weak too. It is here that the genesis of the problem lies.
If you look at the history, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the Maldives for 30 years. He was always close to India and openly shared friendship too. India also responded with friendship. In 1988, Sri Lankan Tamil militant group People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam had almost captured the Maldives with the help of local rebels, and Gayoom had to go into hiding to save himself. He sought help from America, Britain, India, China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India then. He took a prompt decision. Within a few hours, Indian army landed in the Maldives and saved Gayoom as well as his government. The whole world saluted the bravery of the Indian army and the zeal of India.
Gayoom is a very good person. I got an opportunity to meet him and exchange views. As president of the South Asia Editors’ Forum, I went to the Maldives with a delegation. He hosted a banquet in our honour and continued to express his love for India during the conversation. As long as he was in power, India was closest to the Maldives. He did not allow China to come anywhere near him. But now he is not in power!
So the question being raised now is why the government of India is not taking any step after the latest developments? Three days back, the US President Donald Trump spoke to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on this issue. In fact, to understand the situation of the Maldives, we have to go back a little. When Gayoom was president, a journalist Mohamed Nasheed formed the Maldivian Democratic Party in 2003. He launched the movement and a new constitution was introduced in the Maldives in 2008. Subsequently, direct elections were held for the president’s post and Mohamed Nasheed himself won. Gayoom had to step down.
Nasheed was also close to India. But due to his advisors in Britain, he tried to allow the US and Britain in the Indian Ocean. This annoyed an influential class of the Maldives and his government was toppled in 2012. He too had sought India’s help then. But as he was more inclined towards the US and Britain, India did not intervene. The very next year in 2013, Nasheed received more number of votes in the first round of election, but the court declared that election invalid. In the second round, Abdulla Yameen, the step-brother of former president Gayoom, won and is still the president. He trapped Nasheed in a slew of lawsuits but the latter succeeded in leaving the country. To strengthen his grip on power, Yameen dismissed nearly a dozen MPs from their posts by levelling different allegations and slapping cases against them. The matter reached the apex court and the judges ruled in favour of MPs and former president Mohamed Nasheed. Now if these MPs are reinstated, the Yameen government can land into trouble and therefore, he imposed emergency in the country. He also put the judges in jail on the allegations of bribery. Not only that, two Indian journalists Mani Sharma and Aatish Raoji were also arrested.
Remarkably, Gayoom played a key role in bringing Yameen to power. But ignoring Gayoom’s stance, Yameen made friends with China. In spite of India’s opposition, he executed many agreements with China including Maritime Silk Route and is now allowing China to build hotels and resorts on several islands of the Maldives. In fact, tourism is the backbone of the Maldives’ economy. This country is blessed with incredible beauty. That is why China is keen to capture tourism here. It is also being stated that in the coming days, Yameen can also allow China to build a military naval base in the Maldives. China and Yameen are getting ready to do so. The worrisome aspect is the involvement of Pakistan in this crisis. Both India and America too are aware of this fact. That is why America wants India to intervene this time. As for China, it has taken a different stand altogether. It has said that the Maldivian crisis is that country’s internal matter. Neither the UN and nor India should interfere. By maintaining this, it has tried to signal that it will not tolerate any interference.
So what should India do? I feel that India should take some tough steps. It should impose harsh sanctions against the Maldives and ensure early elections to save democracy there. For, India can not shut its eyes on the Maldives because this part of the Indian Ocean is our area of influence. This is our main sea route. The presence of enemies like China and Pakistan will be fatal for us. China is trying to encompass us on every side. In such a situation, we have to show some nerve. It is not proper to allow the Maldives to sit in China’s lap.
Before I conclude
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has suggested that voting should be made compulsory. Basically, this idea is good but the question is how will voting be made compulsory? What will you do if a farmer does not go to cast his vote? Will he be denied official benefits? If a labourer does not vote, will he not be given employment under government schemes? What if an industrialist fails to vote? There is no answer to these questions. In fact, we will have to create such an awareness and understanding that every citizen of the country should feel inspired to vote.








Rural India is our true wealth




Enough of announcements... Now it’s time to do something..! Irrigation, healthcare and education are the basic problems of the villages
Vijay Darda : The BJP government has made several important announcements in its last full Budget, especially for the villages and the farmers. It’s a good development. A majority of India’s population lives in the villages and most of them are dependent on agriculture and hence it is quite natural that sufficient attention should be paid for their betterment. The announcements have been made by the government and we must also trust our government, but the biggest question in my mind at this point of time is: ‘how will these promises be fulfilled?’ The question has cropped up because the announcements were made in the past too, but what was the result?
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has announced in the Budget that the government will spend Rs. 2,600 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana in the next financial year. Is this amount sufficient? You will be surprised to know that a minimum of Rs. 4 lakh crore is needed to complete the incomplete irrigation projects across the country. It goes without saying that the target of irrigation will not be achieved. From the statistical point of view, India’s geographical area is 32.8 crore hectares. Out of this, 16.2 crore hectares of land is under cultivation. Of this, only 4.5 crore hectares of land has adequate irrigation facilities. Even if the cultivable land with minimum irrigation facilities are added to it, the total irrigated land does not exceed 8 crore hectares. Clearly, most of the farmers are dependent on rain for agriculture. The lakes are drying up. The water level in the well is depleting. This has hit farming hard and the farmer is sinking in debt, which is the biggest cause for farmers’ suicides. How will the farmer grow foodgrain if there are no irrigation facilities?
If any government, irrespective of the party, wants to change the rural landscape of India, it will have to take care of the irrigation first. Unfortunately, the irrigation projects became a means of loot. Leaders and bureaucrats became richer. Who will check this loot? Hundreds of irrigation projects are lying incomplete today. Their cost has increased manifold. Who will punish the offenders? The government will have to take drastic steps in this direction and complete the incomplete projects. There is no clear provision for this in the Budget.
So far, there is no account of the amount of food consumption in the country and the amount of foodgrains we need to store for the future? Which foodgrain we have to export and which foodgrain we have to import? If this data is available, the government can tell the farmers to sow a particular crop in their farms. But who cares! There is no one to guide the farmers on anything. In such a situation, how can you expect to improve the farm yield? I saw during my recent visit to Israel how that small country has revolutionised the agriculture. Can we not revolutionise our agriculture? We can, but we need to adopt right attitude and perseverance. Our system clearly lacks this.
The Budget announcement to raise the minimum support price (MSP) to a minimum of 1.5 times of the production cost is a welcome move. The M S Swaminathan-headed National Commission on Farmers had made this recommendation in 2006. After the Budget presentation, Prof Swaminathan has urged the government to make it clear whether the announcement has been made under the same formula. The question has been raised as Arun Jaitley made this announcement only in case of those crops whose MSP was not declared earlier. He has sought to know whether this hiked MSP would be applicable to crops like paddy and bajra? I feel the air should be cleared in the interest of the farmers.
Now just look at the condition of healthcare in the villages! Apparently, the government has opened health centres in some villages but do they have doctors? Compounders and nurses run most of these health centres. Actually the doctors do not want to go to the villages because there are no amenities. Even if they go to the villages, they return to the city in the evening. The doctors have little to do as there are no equipment at these centres nor are there any arrangements. Since there is no arrangement for potable water in the villages, and water in the tube wells and wells have been contaminated, the stomach, liver, kidney and skin diseases have started taking toll on the health of people in rural areas. People rush to the city for treatment. 
Even in the cities, the condition of government hospitals is pathetic and therefore, private hospitals are exploiting the patients. Almost 83 per cent of the total expenditure on health in India is going to private sector. I have repeatedly demanded that it should be made compulsory for the government officials, politicians and their families to seek medical treatment in government hospitals. If this happens, the condition of government hospitals will improve. The central government has announced the world’s largest health insurance scheme in this Budget. It was announced that this insurance scheme will benefit 10 crore families, or about 50 crore people, but there was no word in the Budget where the money will come from?
If the condition of rural India is to be improved, the government has to pay attention to education. There are many schools where there are no sufficient number of teachers. School buildings are shabby. The atmosphere is not conducive to study and teach. There are 300 students in a class of standard X in some villages in Arunachal. Even if the class is divided into three separate ones, each one is still left with 100 students. And if there is no teacher and a good school building, one can imagine the quality of education being imparted there. There are many teachers in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh who can not teach anything. In fact, unless we improve the state of affairs vis-a-vis education in the villages, neither will we get skilled youth nor will the condition of our villages improve!
Before I conclude
Our young cricketers have once again enhanced the honour of Indian tricolour by winning the ICC U-19 World Cup. India is the only country to have won this World Cup the fourth time. I congratulate the entire U-19 team and hope that the players of this team will continue to win accolades for the country in future.





Bravery of Indian soldiers in Israel

Vijay Darda : In my column last week, I had mentioned that Israelis love India immensely. Wherever I went, I was received with great warmth by all the people but one question they definitely asked me was: Why despite being a close ally, India voted against Israel on the issue of Jerusalem. This question was asked by so many people that it left me worried that this issue may well drive a wedge in the relationship of these two countries. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proved that Israel is indeed the best friend of India and the Jews are very large-hearted people. A journalist had asked him how he viewed India’s opposition to the American proposal to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He took a liberal view saying that a single vote does not make any difference and the friendship of the two countries will continue without a hitch.
Jerusalem which became a hot topic at the United Nations over the last few days, is the holy city and centre of faith not only for Jews but for Christians and Muslims as well. The old area is surrounded by walls within the new city. This is the Heritage City. I visited this city and was impressed by its beauty and nobility. I learned that the Israelis see the Battle of Haifa as the first symbol of the establishment of the nation of Israel. I also learned that the school textbooks feature the tales of valour of Indian soldiers who were martyred in this battle. ...and I reached Haifa! It is about 160 kilometres from Jerusalem and 92 kilometers from Tel Aviv. Turkey had occupied Haifa at the time of World War I and the German army was supporting them. The army which the British sent through Iran to liberate this city from Turkey included the Jodhpur and Mysore Regiments of India, which had only swords and flags in the name of weapons. Imagine the difficulty that they must have faced while reaching there with their horses. There it was discovered that the Turkish-German army had mortars and guns in abundance! The British army ordered Dalpat Singh, who led the regiment to return but Indian troops refused. The soldiers said that beating a retreat is shameful. After that, Jodhpur and Mysore Regiments fought valiantly and liberated Haifa. It was September 23, 1918. As many as 47 Indian soldiers were martyred in that battle. Their names are written on a memorial. Some verses in Sanskrit and immortal messages of Gurbani have been carved there. Om Bhagvate Namah. On reading this verse, my heart danced with joy! I paid homage to the memorial of heroic soldiers. In fact, wherever I go, I always bow to the martyrs. There are many olive trees there which are considered sacred. Under the Olive Tree, Lord Jesus gave the discourse. I also saw a temple of Bahá’í. The Bahá’í community is the largest in India after Israel. In Delhi, Baha’is  have built an elegant Lotus Temple.
Israelis believe that victory in Haifa led to the rule of Britain in the area, which opened the way for Israel to become a separate nation in 1948. That is why on  September 23, the Israeli army celebrates Haifa Day. There are three statues installed in the memory of heroic soldiers of Haifa at Tin Murti Chowk in Delhi, and India celebrates this day with great pride. During Netanyahu’s India visit, India has taken a good step by renaming Tin Murti Chowk as Tin Murti Haifa Chowk.
During the visit to Israel, I had such a rich and varied experience that it is not possible for me to write about it all in this column. I went to Tel Aviv. I went to the Gaza Strip, where I only saw soldiers everywhere. I went to see the Dead Sea which is 430.5 metres below sea level. Its salinity is 10 times more than the sea. There is no living creature in it, but it has 34 per cent minerals, so many world famous cosmetic products are produced here. I will discuss about it all sometime in future!
Right now I am sharing those things from which our country can learn a lot. All the land is owned by the government and it is given on 99 years of lease. Kibbutz means collective community which cultivates land. Kibbutz owns everything from school to factory. They have their own transport system. Of late, people in Kibbutz have started keeping their own vehicles. They face shortage of water but through drip irrigation, they have increased agricultural production by 7 times in 25 years. Notably, they are using the same amount of water which they used to earlier. Here I would like to mention the Jain Irrigation of Jalgaon which has set an example in the field of drip irrigation. It has bought Israel NaanDan Irrigation. Now NaanDan Jain Irrigation is working in more than 100 countries across the world. Modiji, Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis have all lauded the work of Jain Irrigation during their Israel visit. I admire the vision of Bhavarlal Jain and hard work of his sons including Anil Jain.
In Israel, I saw a large brinjal of the size of a watermelon! I saw tomatoes of different colours! Very tasty! They are so advanced in agriculture that they decide what would be the colour, size and taste of tomato, brinjal, cabbage, cucumber, potato or other produce. They have set an example in the world. They cut the stubble of the crop and bury it in the ground to make compost so as to make the soil more fertile. When I was watching all this, I remembered how the farmers from Lahore to Punjab and Haryana burn stubble causing fog and pollution in UP, Bihar, Rajasthan and other states including Delhi.
Israel’s state-of-the-art and alert security system impressed me very much. On the return trip, I was tempted to bring some Medjool dates, the size of which was amazing. Security personnel at the airport first put dates in the large scanner and then checked it with a manual scanner. After this, they examined every single date. The whole process consumed one and a quarter hours and I was worried that I might miss the flight. On return, I was thinking why do we not make ourselves like Israel? They lack land, lack water, yet they grow up to 93 per cent of the foodgrains themselves!
Before I conclude
A pleasant experience of travelling to Israel was that many people praised my friend Union minister Nitin Gadkari. People said many leaders from India visit Israel. They invite us to come to India but when we go to India, they do not have the time to meet us, they said. Nitinji is an exception. He meets freely and treats them with great respect.

Vietnamese people are an amazing example of bravery


More than 30 lakh people were killed in the war that lasted for around 20 years; guerrilla fighters killed 58,000 American soldiers
Vijay Darda : We just celebrated our 69th Republic Day. We showcased our military might on the Rajpath. Do we however, remember that our Republic is a precious gift from those brave freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives in the fight for independence? To keep this Republic intact, our brave soldiers lay their lives on the border every day. But are we able to instill the spirit of patriotism and bravery in our youth? I think this feeling of patriotism is seen only in the Army. Recently, I visited Vietnam. There, this patriotic spirit was visible to me in every person. We should also take meaningful steps to instill the spirit of patriotism in our new generation.
I have been hearing the stories of suppression of the Vietnamese people by the American army for years. I always wondered how the global superpower was forced by a small country like Vietnam to retreat. I wanted to experience that example of bravery first hand, so I went to Vietnam. There I reached the Cu Chi Tunnels where the US rained many bombs, but could not vanquish the indefatigable spirit of the guerrilla fighters. During my visit to Vietnam, I saw the War Museum which bears an eloquent testimony to the horror stories of American repression.
First of all, let us try to know in brief why this war took place? France had occupied the territory of Vietnam. Later, under the Geneva accord, Vietnam was divided into two parts. The northern part was called the Vietnamese People’s Republic, of which that great revolutionary Ho Chi Minh became the president. However, as the United States was concerned over the growing influence of communism, it triggered a coup in Southern Vietnam and made its favourite man prime minister. But the patriotic organisation named Viet Khang became the biggest challenge for America. Having been divided into Northern and Southern parts, China was supporting North Vietnam’s army and the United States rushed in support of South Vietnam in 1955. The two neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia also came in support of North Vietnam, despite knowing that America is a superpower and could crush any country by dint of its military strength.
Meanwhile, the government of Southern Vietnam tried to destroy the revolutionary organisation Viet Khang but did not succeed. Then America took up this responsibility. The American army realised the firepower of these revolutionaries when they killed many American soldiers in the forests. In fact, Viet Khang made a network of tunnels called Cu Chi for its protection. They used to kill American soldiers and enter into it immediately after and put up barricades of barbed wires on the entrance, unravelling which many soldiers died.
During my visit, I saw Cu Chi Tunnels. Now it is allowed to visit some of them with the help of guide. They are such a network of tunnels that any army will get stupefied. That’s what happened. It was this network of tunnels that helped the Vietnamese fighters score victories over the American army. American soldiers tried several times to get into the tunnels following the fleeing Vietnamese soldiers. Many a time, American soldiers entered the tunnels but never returned. All were killed! Finally, America started bombing them, but the tunnels were such that American bombs hardly made any impact on them! America got perturbed.
This was the story of tunnels. Now when I visited the War Museum, I was horrified by the instances of cruelty and repression perpetrated by America. Many journalists and photographers were martyred in this war. The circumstances were such that journalists and photographers used to go there only in military uniforms.  The war lasted from December 1, 1956 to April 1975, and during that period the United States destroyed not only Vietnam but also Laos and Cambodia. History is witness to the fact that during the 20 years of the war, the US Air Force dropped a bomb every 8 minutes for almost 9 years. Analysts assume that in this fight, about 26 crore cluster bombs were lobbed on Vietnam and Laos. So far, half of the people who have been killed by cluster bombs worldwide are from this area. Not only this, Americans also used toxic gas in Vietnam. Its effect is still visible. More than 30 lakh people were killed in this war. Many were crippled. However, the US had to pay a huge price. Guerrilla fighters killed 58,000 American soldiers in this war. The US government also faced protests back home. People were asking why the US had jumped into Vietnam. People took to the streets asking this question. The result was that in the year 1973, the US started its withdrawal from Vietnam. Richard Nixon was the President of America at that time. He thought that running away from Vietnam is the only way out. The Vietnamese guerrillas had created such a reign of terror that the American army left their weapons and fled from Vietnam.
After the US withdrawal, in 1975, the communist army of North Vietnam took over Saigon, the largest city in southern Vietnam, with the help of South Vietnam’s revolutionaries, and the two countries merged to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Now this city of Saigon is known as Ho Chi Minh City after the revolutionary leader. He died in 1969 during the war but his followers fulfilled his dream of sending the United States back from Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh loved India very much. India always supported him during the war and he had visited India too.
Now Vietnam is growing rapidly. It is expected that by 2020 it will be in the category of developed nations. It has become the second largest exporter of rice in the world. The high and magnificent buildings I saw in Ho Chi Minh City are not visible in India. Tourism has become a great attraction of Vietnam. Indeed, for a country that fought for 20 years, it is a matter of great pride to rise like the phoenix.
Before I conclude
I was passing through Ho Chi Minh City. This city is second in the world as far as the number of two-wheelers is concerned. Suddenly I saw a bicycle being hit by a bike. In this situation we usually find bike rider fleeing, but he stopped there. Youngsters going to schools and colleges rushed to bicycle rider’s rescue. All of them lifted the bicycle rider and sent him to the hospital. I had also stopped. I started talking to the youngsters. They said it is their social responsibility to help the injured. While on way back, I was wondering when such healthy thinking would develop in our country.




We must learn nationalism from Israel

Vijay Darda : Last week I was in Israel. What an amazing country it is! I have seen many countries of the world and tried to understand them, but no other country has impressed me as much as Israel! From agriculture to country’s security and discipline to nationalism, there are many things that we can learn from Israel. It is a matter of great satisfaction that Israelis love us from the bottom of their heart. Israel has stayed with us in every difficult situation.
This time I am going to take you on journey of Israel through this column. There is no direct flight from India to Tel Aviv because the vast majority of the sky belongs to Israel’s enemy countries. They do not allow the plane going to Israel to fly over their territory. That’s why we boarded the plane of Air Turkey from India, which reaches Tel Aviv via Istanbul. As soon as I got off the flight, I got introduced to my fellow traveller Simon. He is a diamond merchant. Mumbai is the capital of diamond business, so he came here. I asked him why was he going to Israel? I was shocked to hear the answer! Simon’s answer was: “I’m going to kiss my soil. My entire family lives in America. When I will land in Israel, I will kiss my soil, I will meet my relatives and return.”
I started thinking whether Simon is really going to kiss Israel’s land? When I reached Tel Aviv, I was stunned. People were kissing their land after getting down from the plane. It turns out that whenever people go out of the country or come back, they kiss the land first.
Indeed, Israel has no competitor in terms of patriotism. Jewish people love their country intensely and this makes them one of the world’s formidable military powers. Measuring 400 kilometres in length and 100 kilometres wide, Israel is surrounded by enemies from all sides, but no one dares attack this country. Seven countries had tried together in 1967, but Israel not only taught them a lesson but also took control of Jerusalem. This whole country is equipped with anti-ballistic missile defense system. Even anti-missile guns are installed in passenger aircraft of their El Al Airlines. It has its own satellite system which it does not share with anyone. Thanks to this system, it has kept the whole country internally safe.
During my visit to different cities of Israel, I observed exceptional discipline among the people. One of the major reasons for this is the necessity of military service. After high school education, boys and girls have to serve in the army for two years. There is no other country in the world where military service is mandatory for girls. Exemption from military service is granted in just two cases: If the girl gets married or the boy or girl goes abroad for higher education. The amazing thing is that nobody even thinks about taking advantage of these two exemptions. I know a billionaire family there whose child had the option of going abroad for higher education, but he told the family clearly: I will complete the military course first, then will go anywhere! Such is the feeling among the people of Israel!
This country was born with Jewish values and it also follows them. Jews may live anywhere, be born anywhere but they get citizenship of Israel with their birth. They can come to Israel whenever they want. Interestingly, Christian and Muslim settlers still have the same rights as Jews. During my visit, I realised that there is no yawning gap between rich and poor. Charity is the amazing tradition there. According to Jewish religion, from Friday evening until Saturday night, Shabbat, the spiritual time, is observed. I also kindled a candle during Shabbat. The particular thing that I learnt was that all machines are usually closed during Shabbat. We did not even get hot coffee. During Shabbat, if a person has earned profit from business, he will donate the amount to charity.
Along with faith and honesty, their commitment to technical excellence has ensured that Israel is ahead in every field. Jewish people are making waves all over the world. They control businesses like arms, banking, agriculture, diamond, newspaper, TV, etc. The specialty of the Jews is that wherever they went they never hurt anyone. They live with love. They respond only when somebody hurts their self-esteem. When their players were killed in Munich, they killed each one of the killers by carrying out a campaign for 20-22 years. We should learn this bravery from them.
Before I conclude
Since I reached Israel on New Year’s eve, I was hoping that the New Year would be celebrated with great fanfare, like in other countries of the world. But I did not notice such celebrations. When I asked, Israeli people smiled saying that this is not our festival. Our new year is Rosh Hashanah, which was celebrated on September 21 in 2017 according to the Hebrew calendar, and in 2018 we will celebrate the New Year on September 10.