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Why are children’s lives so cheap?

Some four years back, there was a huge hue and cry when 35 children died within five days at BC Roy Hospital in Kolkata. Four years later, hardly anyone remembers that incident! At that time, the government had also constituted a three-member committee to investigate, but who remembers that the committee acquitted the hospital authorities! Now there is a storm about Gorakhpur tragedy. The matter of Gorakhpur is slightly different from Kolkata. The cause of death was lack of oxygen here while in Kolkata there was a case of negligence in medical treatment.

As far as the case of deaths of children in Gorakhpur is concerned, I consider it not only carelessness but a case of mass murder. It is ironic that the hospital administration knew that the supply of oxygen will be affected. Nevertheless, no immediate concrete steps were taken. The firm which was supplying oxygen, had warned seven times because the hospital was not making payment of the outstanding bill of more than Rs. 68 lakhs. Media reports also said that the principal of the medical college was seeking bribe in lieu of releasing payment to the company supplying oxygen. Payment was delayed due to non-payment of bribe. It makes me wonder how a person can risk the lives of innocent children for a small amount of money? If these reports of the media are true then, in my eyes, that person should be tried for murder.
However, no such initiative has been undertaken by the state government. Shamefully, efforts were made to cover up the case of children’s death due to the shortage of oxygen supply. It was sought to be projected that children did not die due to lack of oxygen but succumbed to various diseases! But investigative journalism bared the government’s farce. When the government realised that the lie would not work, effort was made to suppress the matter by suspending a couple of officers.
However, the death figure of 35 children in 24 hours and 63 children in 5 days in Gorakhpur became public as it was  triggered by lack of oxygen supply to the hospital. However, grim reality is that every month in districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and adjoining Bihar, hundreds of children die due to the disease called encephalitis.
The main reason for encephalitis is the contaminated food and water along with mosquito bites. Along with this, it spreads like an infection. Most children succumb to this disease in these areas. The state and the central government are concerned about it. Encephalitis is not only claiming lives, but thousands of children are also getting crippled. Though the vaccination campaign has been going on since 2007, it is still incomplete. The cases of corruption in the course of vaccination drive crop up more often than not. The result is that the disease cannot be controlled. Fifty per cent of those who suffer from this disease succumb and 20 per cent of those who survive are devastated because of the irreversible damage to their body and nervous systems.
Developed countries of the world have almost overcome this disease but our death rate is increasing by the year. The biggest reason for the death of our children is the poor condition of health services. You would be surprised to know that our country spends only one per cent of its GDP on healthcare. There are many schemes going on in the name of health but the reality is that the death of children in this country has not been checked. This figure can frighten you that in our country, 7.30 lakh children die within one month of their birth and no more than 10.50 lakh children survive for just one year. Out of every 1,000 children, 48 die. The reason for this is the absence of cures for  various diseases.
This figure seems incredible, but it is entirely true that over 8,000 children have died in Patna’s largest government hospital over the last five years! The condition of government medical system in other states of the country is almost the same. The hospitals in the urban areas are just fine but in the villages, the situation is quite serious. The irony is that nobody is concerned about it. Neither the central government nor the state governments are taking any concrete action to ensure effective medical treatment for poor people and to contemplate how lives of the poor children could be saved. The children who are saved from various diseases are not completely healthy because they do not get nutritious food. Have you ever thought what its consequences would be? When the children are malnourished, they will continue to remain victims of malnutrition till they reach the threshold of youth. In such a situation, how can we imagine a better future? It is said that children are a form of God. It is ironic that while we squander crores of litres of milk on God, millions of children go hungry and crave for a few drops of milk.
Before I conclude
Those who have a very short physical stature have done India proud in Toronto. In the dwarf’s Olympics, World Dwarf Games, the Indian team has won 15 gold medals, 10 silver medals and 12 bronze medals. It is no less than winning a medal in any Olympics but the fame they deserve and should have got was missing. We need to change our attitude.




Cacti of challenges in our garden of freedom

Just a few hours hence we will be celebrating 70th anniversary of India’s independence. Of course, being a citizen of a free country is a great privilege for all of us. Therefore, we should all be grateful to all the known and unknown freedom fighters who have given us this precious gift. Now our responsibility is to make this garden of freedom better; grow new flowers of positive thoughts!
There is no doubt that after independence we have made a lot of progress. We are sending our satellites into outer space and even to Mars. We are not only sending our own satellites into space but those of other countries as well. Indian scientists have proved that India is second to none. Once India fought hunger with the US’ rotten wheat but today the country has become land of agricultural revolution and is helping the world fight hunger. Once potholed roads are now turning into sleek highways. We now have roads where fighter aircraft can land and take off. Once this country depended on other countries for small machines but today it is building gigantic machines.
What we mean to say is that the flowers in our garden are blossoming like never before. But there still are many challenges, many problems that make us worried. Food, water, education, healthcare and employment are prerequisites for a better life. But are we in a position today to say that these basic requirements of every citizen of this country is being satisfied? No, I believe! Farmers are not getting water for irrigation, good seeds for sowing and remunerative prices for their produce. They are therefore, ending their lives. Many people are not getting clean drinking water. The condition of healthcare too is not very encouraging. People are dying like cattle. One-third of the country’s population is battling poverty.
Unemployment is a major problem. An analysis of the data of 2015 shows that the number of unemployed in the country is about 12 crores. Of these, 25 per cent are between 20 and 24 years in age, while the number of youth between 25 and 29 years is 17 per cent. The number of women among them is very big.
Analysis also shows that 16 per cent of the youth who are getting technical education are standing in the queue of unemployed.
Many claims are being made for providing jobs to the youth, many figures keep coming from the government, but the reality is that the number of unemployed is increasing. Obviously, its side effects are also being felt. There is a saying that the empty mind is the devil’s workshop. Obviously, when the youth do not get employment, they are more likely to go astray. Many young people take to  crime. Why the number of stone pelters is growing in Kashmir today? If they get `700 a day to throw stones, they will naturally be inclined to do that. I have made many trips to the Kashmir Valley. From morning till evening, the youth have been found chatting at intersections. I have always been thinking why they can not get employment? My clear opinion is that if the government creates a means of employment in Kashmir, then the day is not far when the separatists will not find any stone pelters.
Earlier the Congress government and now the Narendra Modi government has paid attention to the skill development programme. Modiji has coined a slogan of ‘Make in India’. Of course, the work is going on, but the results are still to come. We are all waiting for the concrete results of ‘Make in India’ because it has rekindled the hopes of the unemployed for new employment opportunities.As far as the terrorism is concerned, one big cactus in our garden of flowers is also that India is at number four in countries affected by terrorism.
In fact, we are fighting with two types of terrorism. First, it is the terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. Second terrorism is in the form of Naxalites within the country. It seems that there should be different strategies to deal with these two. Naxals can be isolated within the legal framework along with the development of tribal areas. But for the Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, the government has to implement ‘zero tolerance’ policy just like Israel.
I will tell you an incident. The great scientist and former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was talking to children at Anand city in Gujarat. A child asked him who is the biggest enemy of the country? Kalam Sahab put the question back to the children and sought their reply. A girl named Parul said the country’s worst enemy is poverty! I also believe that unless poverty is removed from the country, the garden can not bloom.
There are many other cacti too. In India, the number of malnourished and underdeveloped children is around 4 million. India is 120th in the list of 130 countries in the matter of children with stunted height and low weight. There is only one bed available for 1,050 patients in hospitals. Similarly, only 0.7 doctors are available for 1,000 patients. The irony is that while our country spends only 2.1 per cent of the global expenditure on research and development, Europe’s share is 24.5 per cent.
Not all is well socially too. India’s secular fabric has taken a beating. What the former vice president Hamid Ansari said in his farewell address needs a serious thinking. Unity in diversity has been the strength of this country. We must salute Nehruji for giving us a framework which has guided us on the path of progress. It is very easy to find faults. Governments change but the most important thing is which path we are following. Mere rhetoric can not make a country great. Together with freedom, social harmony is one very important aspect which needs to be taken care of.
Before I conclude
The name of Davinder Singh Kang of Punjab may be new, but this 26-year-old player is the first Indian athlete to reach javelin finals at the World Championships. No one had earned this privilege before. In a team of 15 players, only Kang tasted success. I congratulate Kang wholeheartedly. He is certainly the new hero of the youth.





Foundation of unity of Opposition shaken

 Signs had started appearing long back that the distance between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi is reducing and the bonhomie with the NDA is growing. The whole country was realising this situation, but those who have the responsibility of building the edifice of opposition unity, remained indifferent and did not notice it. They did not understand that Nitish is particular about his image and power. He is also called a big weathercock of politics. In such a situation, he was not comfortable with the alliance of power with Lalu Prasad Yadav. There were clear indications that he could leave the boat anytime. The opposition stalwarts  seemed to have felt that the issues like communalism and being the strongest candidate for the prime minister’s post would be able to keep Nitish deterred, but Nitish had realised that the opposition at the moment could only dream of capturing power at the centre.
Well, there is an old history of Nitish that he does not tolerate corruption. In 2005, he had shown his education minister Jitan Ram Manjhi the door a few hours after taking an oath, because Manjhi’s name had come up in the education scam. When he was in power with the BJP, he had sought resignation from his own party leaders Ramanand Singh and Awadhesh Kushwaha.
Nitish knows that caste equation in Bihar politics is not at all in his favour. He comes from Kurmi community, which is only 4 per cent of the population in Bihar. He gets support of other classes because he is known for good governance and clean image. Had he remained with the Lalu family, he would have had to bear losses. Though he had entered into an alliance with Lalu for capturing power in  Bihar and stopping the BJP in 2015 elections, the arithmetic of Bihar election results must certainly have churned his mind. In the Bihar Assembly elections of 2015, the Bharatiya Janata Party got 24.4 per cent votes, while RJD got 18.4 per cent and Janata Dal (United) got 16.8 per cent votes. Clearly, this arithmetic must have compelled him to think that it is wise to go with the BJP. His calculation was simple: There is no hope of Prime Minister’s chair coming his way, but if his image suffers by being in company of Lalu in Bihar, the future will be dark.
Nitish is the veteran politician and with one stone he has killed two birds. The Lalu family is weak and after the latest allegations of corruption, their troubles have only increased. Who can exploit Lalu’s weakness better than Nitish! Nitish, who was with the BJP since 1996, had made ‘Gundaraj’ his weapon in the fight against corruption during Lalu’s tenure, and in 2005 he had joined hands with the BJP to oust Lalu and Rabri from power. Back with the BJP once again, Nitish will not leave any chance to further weaken Lalu now! Nitish’s another goal is to maintain his chair in the next election. Though the Bihar Assembly elections are three years away, even the BJP will not be able to become a party of backward classes during this period. Therefore, Nitish will fill the void because BJP’s image in Bihar is that of a party of upper castes.
The opposition parties which tried to unite against the BJP and Narendra Modi actually did not understand Nitish. Lalu Yadav’s ego was also a big reason behind this. Lalu himself was not in power but he was not leaving any chance to prove that the biggest party in Bihar was his. He started making internal manoeuvers to ensure that Bihar’s next chief minister would be his son Tejashwi Yadav. So in Bihar, it was a matter of direct internal competition between Lalu and Nitish. The need was that the leaders of all opposition parties should have stayed united and tried to reconcile between Lalu and Nitish so that Nitish could have got along well with the opposition parties. In the initiative of unity, certainly Lalu and the Congress could have played a major role.  Nitish had also met the Congress high command, but the Congress did not understand the need to tell Lalu that Tejashwi should resign. So why should one not believe that the Congress too is responsible for this political storm to a large extent. In fact, the country is hoping that Congress will behave like a responsible national party as before, but such behaviour is not witnessed anywhere. The Congress is seen as a scared, frightened party. The Congress will have to understand that just opposing ‘Indu Sarkar’ will not work. It will have to take to the streets to open a front against the Modi government. Does the Congress have the guts today? The reality is that Congress is fast losing the opportunities.
As far as the other opposition parties are concerned, the way in which top leaders of the opposition parties across the country had gathered during Nitish’s previous swearing-in ceremony, it had raised hopes that Nitish would become the foundation of opposition unity. There were some expectations from Akhilesh Yadav too, but the BJP defeated him in his fortress. The reason for this is that most parties are being run like a private limited company. Their policies are being framed as per personal ambitions. Some parties are like a family clan. In such a situation, how can people trust the opposition?
Here, the duo of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is playing the game of victory. In politics, their every move is unique and unmatched. It seems as if a continuous churning is going on in their mind about every corner of the country. Contrary to this, there is no such churning in any opposition party. Modiji and Amit Shah’s pair decides so fast that their opponents are left gaping. Why does the opposition not show similar alacrity in deciding? Time is important in politics. It seems that the time is running out for the opposition parties, and for this opposition parties themselves are responsible.
Before I conclude
Even if Pakistan is in the grips of anarchy, even if the law and order there has gone haywire, even if there is an army intervention in politics, but the judiciary of Pakistan has proved itself powerful at every stage. By showing courage to indict Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for corruption, the judiciary has maintained the hope of justice in the minds of the citizens of that country. This has also proved that the judiciary of Pakistan is not under any pressure.
One more thing
Last week, I had written about Kovindji that he will not prove to be a rubber stamp under any circumstance. I expect this to happen today, but I am surprised by the fact that he did not mention any of the great patriots, freedom fighters, the country’s first prime minister and architect of modern India Jawaharlal Nehru in his address after the swearing-in ceremony. Your Majesty, you should have mentioned Nehruji!

Global escalation is a warning bell

The continuation of atmosphere of tension between different countries is nothing new. Many countries are also fighting against each other. In many countries of the world, civil war-like situation is prevailing, but some of them have brought about reconciliation and the situation has become normal. You will find many examples of sporadic incidents, but never after the World War II was such escalation of tension witnessed globally as is seen now. The equations between powerful countries are changing rapidly.
 In fact, it is all about the fact that three countries - the US, Russia and China - are engaged in proving themselves as a super power. Before 1991, the US and Soviet Union were two super powers in the world. The world was divided into two camps. After this, the Soviet Union got disintegrated and was replaced by Russia, but it did not have the status of a super power. The US remained the only super power and it still holds that status. But in the recent years Russia has made itself strong under the leadership of Putin and even China has emerged as a great power. Now both of them are executing all sorts of moves to prove themselves a super power. Russia and China have joined hands with each other behind the curtain to pull the rug from under the feet of the US.
Please note that a small country like North Korea is firing one ballistic missile after another and simultaneously saying that it can attack any city in the US anytime. Obviously, it has got the support and strength from China. The US is unable to do anything because if war breaks out, South Korea, which is living under its shadow, will be devastated. This is what China is looking for. It wants to stop the US from indulging in any kind of interference in the South China Sea by using North Korea as a tool. But will the US sit quiet? There is no chance because the US has to retain its status of being the world’s only super power. It can go to any extent to retain that title. Clearly, the possibility of a war between North Korea and the US can not be ruled out. The big question is what will China do in such a situation?
China and Russia have made another move. Wherever there are anti-US governments, both of them have made good penetration. For example, these two countries are openly supporting Syria and Iran because the US faces chronic hostility from Iran and the US is intent on the removal of Assad in Syria. Consider another example: Russia and China have used veto power against the US and its allies in the United Nations Security Council. China used veto power 6 times in Russia’s interest. Here, Russia used veto 11 times. In 2012, both of them used the veto against the UN’s four resolutions on Syria.
The US also understands this situation. Therefore, it has extended the hand of friendship towards India and India has reciprocated appropriately. But is it just the right step for India to join hands with the US? I believe that even if Russia is getting closer to China, it will not leave India. Russia and India are old and time-tested friends. Therefore, there is a need to further strengthen this friendship. The strengthening of commitment to the non-aligned movement initiated by Nehruji to take the country forward, is the need of the hour. We have to maintain friendship with Russia and also have friendship with the US. Our situation is such that we can not align with any one side! China has put Pakistan in its lap and is trying to surround us. If we remain close to Russia, it would be a bit difficult for China to harass us. The US is a new friend but it can not be fully trusted. We should not forget that only Russia had cooperated with us in the 1971 war. The US was then with Pakistan!
It was because of the trust on Russia and the relevance of non-aligned movement that after Nehruji, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi or even Atal Behari Vajpayee too did not change the policy and maintained independent identity of the country. The time is important for India as it is progressing economically fast. Many countries want to see India as a super power and are supporting it too mainly because it is a democratic nation. As for Russia and China, they are the countries of rulers. Moreover, India has always advocated for world peace.
After Donald Trump became the President, for some time it seemed that the relationship between the US and Russia could improve, but in a few days it became apparent that this kind of friendship is not going to happen. Russia was accused of trying to influence the US presidential election and the US Congress imposed many restrictions on Russia. Russia has also ordered more than seven hundred US diplomats to leave the country. Now the situation is that the US defence minister Ash Carter has categorically said the Russia is becoming a big challenge for his country. He has also said that in view of the aggression by Russia, the US defence ministry will propose a four-fold increase in the US defence budget for Europe. Now the amount is $78.09 lakh, which will be increased to $3.4 billion. This means that the war cry is becoming audible.
However, there is also a possibility of war. The way China and Pakistan are united, it is the biggest sign of danger for us. China is threatening us and Pakistan has kept waging proxy war against India. China also wants that Pakistan and India should go to war so that  the latter will become weak. In fact, it is a tough time for our foreign policy and defence policy. We should be aware!
Before I conclude
I am surprised by the news that we have released as much carbon dioxide by August 2 this year as the ocean and the jungles of the earth can digest in one year. This means whatever carbon dioxide we will release after that, it will exploit the stores of our resources. It is also said that considering the amount of resources we have been using at present, one earth will not be enough for us. We need 1.7 earths! Now there is no new earth available! Obviously, in our greed we are engaged in destroying the earth with great alacrity.


Kovind will not become a rubber stamp President

It is undisputable that a person associated with Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh has reached the country’s highest office for the first time. In such a situation, it is natural for those who do not agree with the ideology of the Sangh to be apprehensive. But I believe that Ram Nath Kovind should not be judged on this criterion only. Take a look at his perception and action so far which do not reflect hard line of the RSS ideology.

His entire work style seems to me to be very inclusive. Just recall the events of August 2015! When he was made governor of Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar had declared a war against him because Kovindji had a stamp of the RSS. Nitish was afraid that Kovindji would be used as a tool of the central government to destabilise his government or create trouble. But what happened? After completing the tenure of one year and 10 months as the governor, when Kovindji’s candidature was announced for the post of President in 2017, Nitish Kumar supported Kovindji bypassing his coalition. That is because Kovindji did not become the handmaid, but he played a major role in taking Bihar on the path of development!
Actually this is the speciality of Kovindji. He is not exactly the hardliner. He understands that after reaching the constitutional position, a person does not belong to any party or any particular ideology, but belongs to the whole country. His conduct should never be partisan. Atal Behari Vajpayee too hailed from the Sangh, but he was accepted by all because he gave the country prime importance. Although Sudarshanji, the then head of the RSS was upset with him, Atalji never cared about it. Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is remembered with respect as vice president, because he took care of the constitutional post more than the party. It is a different matter that in our country there are leaders like Sumitra Mahajan also; she is holding as crucial a constitutional position as speaker of Lok Sabha but her behaviour is not in line with the dignity and fairness of that post. Her unilateral attitude is clearly visible in the conduct of the Lok Sabha. She seems to have greater love for her party than the country. There is no harm in saying Sumitra Mahajan is a rubber stamp speaker. Her only concern seems to be to keep her party protected in the Lok Sabha. I believe that Kovindji will never become a rubber stamp like Sumitra Mahajan. You must remember that people had the same perception about Giani Zail Singh that he would become rubber stamp but he proved their impression wrong.
I know Kovindji for more than a decade and a half. I have worked with him in the Rajya Sabha for a long time. As the chairman of the Rajya Sabha Housing Committee, he had allocated the house off Lodhi Road to me. The chairman of housing committee has great powers because right from allocation of the bungalow to every member of the Rajya Sabha to the maintenance of the bungalow and all the other needs are fulfilled only through the chairman of the committee. It is natural for people occupying this post to become arrogant, but I have never seen any trace of arrogance in Kovindji’s personality. He also visited my house and there has been friendship between us. When he became the governor of Bihar, he called and invited me to tour Bihar but I could not go. Whenever we got the chance, we have met each other. I have observed his personality and activities very closely.
I would like to specifically say that despite belonging to Dalit community, he has never indulged in any such dalit politics as Mayawati or other leaders have been practising. He never used the Dalit card for the benefit of himself or his party. Rather I always felt that he has been fighting for the common man irrespective of their class or community. His  style of work shows that he is a social and progressive person. This is the reason that he was also a lawyer for the Government of India in the Supreme Court during the Congress tenure. You can also imagine the social ideology of Kovindji that from 1977 to 1978 he was also Personal Assistant to the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai.
For many, Ram Nath Kovind’s name is absolutely new. Many people were surprised when his name was announced for the post of President. But Kovindji’s name was never unknown in political circles. Since he works silently and has never hogged headlines, he may not have become popular like the other politicians. He always focused on his responsibilities and work. His style of going to the root of any subject has always kept him on the path of progress. Today his reward is before the whole country. Because of his commitment, Narendra Modi considered him worthy of the Presidential position.
It seems that the way Pranabda has maintained the dignity of the Presidential post, the dignity of the post has enhanced. Like him, Kovindji will also leave his impression. On many issues, Pranabda has differed with Narendra Modi but he has never been publicly critical of him. Pranabda always appreciated the style of working of Narendra Modi because he thought that this man is doing something. Now Ram Nath Kovind will be in that chair and he will face the challenges of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Within the Rashtrapati Bhavan there is a lot of politics. Officers are transferred arbitrarily. There is much more in politics there. As a skilled administrator, Pranabda had curbed politics within the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Kovindji will now face this challenge. I hope that he will be successful here too. He is now the first citizen of the country. The people of such a big country are looking forward to him with great expectation and hope. Of course, he will succeed in fulfilling his constitutional obligations. As President, he is also the commander-in-chief of the three forces of our country. He is the head of the judiciary. I hope that his soft skills will further strengthen India’s relationship with the world, because anyone who meets Kovindji becomes his fan.
For a person born in a cottage, this journey to the Rashtrapati Bhavan is certainly unforgettable and inspiring for all of us.
Many congratulations, Kovindji!
Before I conclude
Indian woman cricketer Harmanpreet Kaur has done amazing thing!  She scored 171 runs in 115 balls! What a great score! But this achievement is not just another event. This performance has given an important message that our daughters are not inferior in any way. They have proved to be the best in studies, and even in the field of sports, they are successful in breaking the domination of men. The wave of enthusiasm generated by the scintillating performance of Mary Kom in boxing, Gita Phogat, Babita Phogat in wrestling, P V Sindhu in badminton, Sakshi Malik in wrestling and Deepa Karmakar in gymnastics is amazing!