By mid-January 2021 it has been clear that India has been confronted with three major unresolved 2020 spill-over problems.
They are the brewing farmers’ agitation, the stiff army standoff between the forces of India and China near Ladakh on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the gigantic task of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and see to it that the vaccine reaches 1.4 billion Indians. Amid all these problems, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been maintaining his cool and striving to resolve them.
This year’s official parade on the Raj Path in New Delhi on January 26 to celebrate India’s 71st anniversary that marks the declaration of the nation as a Republic will be on a low-key because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently the preparations for the Republic Day parade have been subdued without the usual pomp but with an intent to showcase to the world India’s military might.
New Farm Laws and Farmers Protest
But the agitating farmers of Punjab and Haryana have been trying to steal the thunder by organizing a parallel parade with a difference. They have plans to commission thousands of tractors, an expression of their anger and richness. As of over 50 days of agitation, eight meetings between the farmers’ leaders and the government, and a couple of hearings of the Supreme Court, and it finally appointing a four-member expert committee to resolve the issue, there has been no sign of giving up of the stir by the farmers, who have been persisting on their one-point demand of repeal of the three new farm laws passed by the government. The government has in all its meetings has agreed to consider favorably the farmers’ genuine demands, and to clear their doubts. It has also promised to give in writing about the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farm produces and other issues. But the agitating farmers have been insisting on the government to withdrawn the three new farm laws. Hence the issue has gone to the Supreme Court.
The four members appointed by the Supreme Court on January 12 are: Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU); Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sangthana, Maharashtra; Pramod Kumar Joshi, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; and Ashok Gulati, a prominent agriculture economist.
Even before the findings have been filed by the panel, which has been given two-month time by the Supreme Court by asking the government to keep the laws in abeyance, the leaders of the farmers feel the panel members are all pro-government appointees, and their recommendations would not be acceptable to them (agitators).
Right from the beginning, the agitation has been identified as the one spearheaded by the farmers (predominantly from Punjab, Haryana and areas around Delhi), businessmen, middle-men, some disgruntled politicians and also some pro-Khalistani elements operating from Canada, the US and the UK. One prominent Indian television network, which boasts of worldwide viewing of its coverage, has claimed that it has the evidence of pro-Khalistani hand in the current farmers’ agitation.
In a quick development, Bhupinder Singh Mann has “recused” himself from the Supreme Court-appointed panel. In an unsigned tweet text, he said: “I am thankful to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for nominating me in the four-member committee to start dialogue with kisan unions on the three laws brought in by the central government. As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country.” In his statement, Mann added, “I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab.”
Now, as the agitating farmers’ preparations for taking out its “tractors parade” is going on, it is not yet clear, if the Supreme Court would find a suitable replacement for Mann in the void created. But it is clear that some external forces have been behind the agitation.
Standoff with China at the LAC
As if it is not an enough problem for India, neighboring China continues to play its favorite game of hide-and-seek, despite eight corps command level, other diplomatic-level and ministerial-level meetings. Having bitter experience, India has consolidated itself along the Line of Control by occupying all heights and gained supremacy over China. Indian troops have also been provided with all the equipment that is needed to face the biting winter. But it has been only a couple of days ago, finding that China has been withdrawing unannounced its troops from certain “depth areas” along the Line of Actual Control, India also has done the same cautiously. But it looked as if it has been only a ploy and China has been regrouping of its troops.
It is said that operational situation remains as grim as ever on the front in Pangong Tso, Chushul, Gogra-Hot springs and Depsang Plains, in spite of the freezing weather conditions with temperatures falling to minus 30 degrees Celsius at some heights. However, there is no reduction of troops on the frontlines and immediate depth areas and both sides are rotating troops at heights to maintain their operational efficiency in the harsh weather. On January 11, General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defense Staff, and Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, IAF Chief, visited eastern Ladakh to review “operational readiness,” even as India handed over to China PLA soldier, who had strayed across the LAC.
With a view to further strengthening the Indian Air Force, a Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting presided by Narendra Modi, the Cabinet approved the procurement of the “largest indigenous defense procurement deal worth about Rs. 48000 crore,” on January 12. This procurement plan includes 73 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk-1A fighters and 10 LCA Tejas Mk-1 trainer aircraft at the cost of Rs. 45,696 crore along with Design and Development of Infrastructure worth Rs.1,202 crore. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh announced the decision, saying: “The CCS chaired by the Prime Minister approved the largest indigenous defense procurement deal worth about Rs. 48000 Crores to strengthen IAF’s fleet of homegrown fighter jet ‘LCA-Tejas’. This deal will be a game-changer for self-reliance in the Indian defense manufacturing.” Rajnath Singh added that these aircraft would be the “backbone” of the IAF fighter fleet.
COVID-19 Vaccines Bring a Ray of Hope
Amid all the problems, including the continuous cross-border ceasefire violations by Pakistan and the Pak-supported terrorist infiltration across Indo-Pak border, the Indian Government has been recognized by the world organizations and international institutions for its ably handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government has taken all the steps to launch country-wide vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic in 3,000 sites by January 16. The number of sites will be increased to 5,000 by the end of January, and 12,000 or more by March.
Initially, two brands of vaccines will be made available in India – Covishield and Covaxin. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield in India, is being produced locally by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer. It has stockpiled 40-50 million doses and plans to produce 300 million doses by July. Covaxin, India’s indigenous COVID-19 vaccine by Bharat Biotech, is developed in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) – National Institute of Virology (NIV). The indigenous vaccine is developed and manufactured in Bharat Biotech’s Bio-Safety Level 3 high containment facility. The vaccine has received DCGI approval. Only one brand of vaccine would be available at a site to avoid any confusion in administering it.
Thus, India has heralded the year 2021 with these three challenges and hopefully it will emerge successfully by the end of the year.
– Contributed by Mr. J.V. Laskshmana Rao, a former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.
Picture Credits: sentinelassam.com