Is Flight Cancellation Effective Against Covid-19?

Due to the recent increase in Covid-19 cases, many international and domestic flights have been cancelled by the respective State Governments. However, not all flights are cancelled, and the decisions taken at the highest level are quite blurred, which may do more harm than good. Though restrictions in localities and cities are working quite well the flight cancellations are neither feasible to stop passengers from reaching their destination, nor can prevent the community herd of a potential third wave.

Omicron cases are rising fast in Mumbai and Delhi. Amid rising cases, some states in India have imposed flight restrictions directly from these two cities. Taking another metropolis, Kolkata as an example, the flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Kolkata have been banned on all days but Monday and Friday. This restriction, according to the Government of West Bengal, is effective in stopping any Omicron wave in Kolkata. International flights directly from the UK, a hotspot of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, have also been suspended some days back.

The first loophole in the system is how flights operating on Monday and Friday can prevent any third wave in Kolkata, while those on the other days cannot. The mandatory quarantine, or tracing of passengers through the Air Subidha app, can be imposed on the travellers. Moreover, the cancellation was announced hours before the flight schedule, causing panic among passengers, leaving them without an option to travel to their destination.

The second, and possibly the biggest loophole lies in the fact that all express trains from Mumbai and Delhi to Kolkata are running, and there are options for bus travel as well. Most importantly, the travellers in trains or buses do not require any vaccination certificate or a negative RT-PCR test before travel. The travellers by flight need to undergo an RT-PCR test upon arrival in Kolkata, and after 8 days of arrival will need to do another RT-PCR test. If both tests turn negative, the travellers still need to spend 14 days in home isolation. No such restrictions are in place for other means of transportation.

The most controversial part is the third loophole, where the travellers from UK, Mumbai, and Delhi are allowed to come to Kolkata via another city. For example, a traveller, instead of coming directly from Mumbai can travel to Ahmedabad and then take a flight to Kolkata, or in the case of Delhi, can arrive via Lucknow. The Government openly declares that UK, Mumbai and Delhi passengers can come via other cities, without undergoing any severe restrictions.

Bhubaneswar and Jharsuguda airports have not applied such controversial restrictions, and have simply made the RT-PCR test mandatory for all arrivals at the airports. Though Covid-19 can still leak out, it is quite a safe and hassle-free measure for all passengers. However, the most urgent thing required now is wearing masks in the public and frequent sanitisation, which is somehow missing from everywhere across India. The good news among all these is that vaccination of children in 15-18 years have kick-started and this hopes to bring down the severity of infection in the children.

Written by – Himadri Paul

General Bipin Rawat – An Unforgettable Name in Indian Military

General Bipin Rawat, a name in golden letters in Indian military history, is unforgettable to Indians. Even those who hardly had some knowledge of the Indian military and Indian army had come across this name in the past few years. General Bipin Rawat, who was a four-star general of the Indian army, was widely known for being the first Chief of Defence Staff of the Indian armed forces since January 2020. Prior to that, he was the 57th and last Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee as well as the 26th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army. His other contributions are also of immense importance to the country. Sadly, this wonderful person is no more among us.

General Bipin Rawat was born in Pauri, a scenic hill station in Uttarakhand. His schooling was from Cambrian Hall School in Dehradun and the St. Edward’s School in Shimla. He was a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington and the Higher Command Course at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, along with an MPhil degree in Defence Studies as well as diplomas in Management and Computer Studies from the University of Madras.

General Bipin Rawat’s military journey started when he was commissioned into the 5th battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles on 16 December 1978. He commanded his battalion as a major in the Uri sector near the Line of Control (Pakistan border) and as a colonel in the Kibithu sector near the Line of Actual Control. As a brigadier, he commanded 5 Sector of Rashtriya Rifles in Sopore, while as a lieutenant general, he commanded III Corps, headquartered in Dimapur. General Bipin Rawat is widely known across the world for his military mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he headed the MONUSCO. He is also remembered for cross-border strikes in Myanmar in 2015.

In 1985, General Bipin Rawat married Madhulika Rawat, a descendant of an erstwhile princely family. The couple had two daughters, Kritika and Tarini. Both General Bipin Rawat and his wife were aboard the Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter, which crashed in Coonoor. They, along with 11 others, were on their way from the Sulur Airforce base to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington, when the accident occurred. The accident is currently under investigation. General Bipin Rawat’s liaison officer is currently the sole survivor of the accident. His death has cast a gloom across all over India. Nevertheless, Bipin Rawat will remain at the heart of every Indian in years to come for his memorable contributions in safeguarding the security of the country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Kashmir Issue – Bilateral or not?

According to the Shimla Agreement signed in 1972 between India and Pakistan, the Kashmir issue was to be solved bilaterally, without involving a third party. However, Pakistan seems to always forget that, and has time and again raised issues over Kashmir in the United Nations General Assembly and other international organizations. India every time has to remind Pakistan and the international organizations that Kashmir is a bilateral issue following the terms of the Shimla Agreement.

Every year at almost every international platform, Pakistan raked up the Kashmir issue since the signing of the 1972 Shimla Agreement. India has abided by the Accord and has never raised the issue on international platforms. On the contrary, India has always tried to reach an agreement with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue and has initiated dialogues and round table conferences to solve the issue. However, Pakistan’s state-sponsored terrorism led to a temporary halt in dialogues in 2019. Like Pakistan, India could have raised the known fact that a big chunk of Kashmir is illegally and forcibly occupied by Pakistan. According to the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh union territory and Pakistan occupied part is a part of India. Pakistan, right from independence has been the occupier and India has always maintained that Pakistani troops should vacate the occupied part of Jammu and Kashmir.

Many sovereign countries and international organizations have maintained that a referendum should decide the fate of Jammu and Kashmir, whether it would join India or Pakistan or remain independent. The third option is considered practically impossible as Kashmir is a mountainous country, with limited resources and is surrounded by three nuclear giants looking to occupy it. The referendum was a good option in the early stages of the conflict. However, to conduct a referendum, the prior event was that Pakistan had to withdraw its troops from Kashmir, which it never did. After 75 years, the referendum is hardly meaningful when Pakistan abolished the state subject rule in 1971 and made widespread demographic changes in the territory it occupies. Bilateral talk remains the one and only way to solve the dispute peacefully, which the rulers of Pakistan are never understanding.

Of late, India’s secretary at the United Nations General Assembly, Sneha Dubey, lashed out at Pakistan for harboring terrorists and inciting violence in the Kashmir region of India. She reminded the world that while championing its cause for Kashmir, Pakistan commits gross human rights violations and genocide against religious minorities and people of the part of Kashmir it occupies. She also urged Pakistan to respect the territorial integrity of India and vacate from the region it occupies.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Fall of Kabul, 2021

While the US prepared their exit by 9th September 2021, the Taliban rose to become the dominant political and military power in Afghanistan. After capturing Herat in the extreme west, the Taliban proceeded rapidly towards the east, where the bigger cities like Kabul and Kandahar are located.

This is not the first time the Taliban has risen to power following an unstable Government in power in Kabul. In 1995, a civil war started in Afghanistan, following which the Taliban rose to power. After a failed attempt, the Taliban established their base at Herat on the western part of the country, and again launched an offensive to Kabul. Kabul fell in 1996 and Afghanistan passed into the hands of the Taliban. The siege was only for 5 years, but it resulted in Afghanistan’s economy rolling back at least 25 years.

Mass destruction, killing and raping of women, and blowing up of archaeological monuments are features of the Taliban regime. US troops gradually repealed the Taliban from 2001 onwards and took up Kabul. However, they could not completely wipe out Taliban leadership and ideology and it soon gained momentum in remote parts of the country. Though the Taliban were a nightmare for the women, Taliban support still built up on a large scale across the remote regions. The US alleged that Pakistan sponsored the Taliban providing them shelter in Quetta.

Several countries like India, Afghanistan Government, the US, Russia alleged that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorist organizations. The allegations were proved right when Osama-bin-Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 US bombardment attacks was found and killed in Pakistan. For a brief period, the progress of Al-Qaeda and Taliban were overshadowed by the rapid progress of ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and their suicidal attacks in other parts of the world. Heavy bombardment by the US, Russia and other world superpowers ensured that ISIS didn’t last long. While the world helped Syria and Iraq wipe out ISIS, the US was making peace talks with the Taliban to ensure peace in Afghanistan. After the fall of ISIS, the Taliban still held their ground with military and finance aid from neighbouring countries that allegedly include Pakistan.

Things took a decisive turn as US President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 11th September, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The US made a peace deal with the Taliban, where mutual peace and unity between Afghanistan Government controlled areas and Taliban controlled areas were signed. However, as soon as the withdrawal of US troops started, the Taliban started capturing one city after another in bitter street fighting. Within 3-4 weeks, the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, the southern city of Kandahar, the western city of Herat was captured by Taliban forces.

The Afghan military provided almost zero resistance to the Taliban attacks, most of them switched sides taking the opportunity of lack of nationalism and leadership from the Government. Despite Joe Biden assuring that Afghanistan is self-sufficient in military power to combat any Taliban uprising, the reality shows a completely different picture. Covering almost the entire Afghanistan, the Taliban now attacked Kabul from all sides. The Afghanistan President, Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul on the night of siege and took refuge in either Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. Street fighting started in Kabul but there was hardly anyone loyal to the Afghanistan Government and most has switched sides. Kabul passed into the hands of the Taliban, who now proclaimed their country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The fall of Kabul in August 2021, marked the beginning of a new era of Taliban rule over Afghanistan. Parts of the city, around the airport, where most of the foreign residents living in the country are escaping were spared from damage. As soon as all foreign countries finish their evacuation of citizens, entire Afghanistan will pass into the hands of the Taliban. Many Afghans want to leave the country to find shelter in other developed countries but are unprepared given how quickly the Taliban captured one city after another. While Taliban rule is a nightmare for women and minorities, they have no option other than hope that the new rule of Taliban will not be doing mass raping or ethnic cleansing and treat everyone with respect and give importance to education and growth of the economy of the war-torn country.

Written by – Himadri Paul

75 Years of Freedom

The 75th Independence Day of India is going to be celebrated today, 15th August 2021. 75 years ago, India was one of the first countries in Asia to become independent. A lot has been talked about India’s freedom struggle against British rule. Now, let us focus on the history of independent India, which stood up from the burnt ashes of conflict and fostered a sense of peace and unity.

After World War II, two world’s superpowers, the USA and USSR, started dominating the politics of smaller countries under their influence. The former centred around the idea of democracy and capitalism, while the latter was keener to protect Communism and Communist influence across the globe. Indirect civil wars started in China, Korea, Vietnam, Germany, Afghanistan, and many more nations around the globe. However, India chose to side with neither of the two superpowers and promote ideas of peace and co-operation through Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement.

India emerged as the leader of the third world, a cluster of small, backward countries mostly across Asia and Africa. Non-Aligned Movement policy gained ground in Indonesia, Ghana, Yugoslavia, and Egypt. The NAM policy guaranteed the countries full independence and helped them develop and co-exist peacefully with other sovereign states. The NAM policy today has been ratified by 120 countries around the world after having its first summit at Belgrade, Yugoslavia on 1st September 1961.

However, the dreams of India coexisting peacefully was mired with disturbances from its neighbours. India and Pakistan bitterly fought 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971, while China attacked India in 1962. Despite emerging victorious both as a military power and through diplomacy, these wars, together with problems of partition, slowed down the development of India as a superpower. The Indo-Pak wars centred more on the western border of India, with the main hostility around the fate of Jammu and Kashmir, an independent princely state joining India. The conflicts with China are mainly in the eastern and northern sectors, where unclear border demarcations between British India and China resulted in a strained relationship between India and China.

India was instrumental in helping Bangladesh gain independence in 1971 from Pakistan. India also fought the Siachen and Kargil war with Pakistan. India gave refuge to thousands of Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama when Tibet was annexed by the expanding China. Bloody insurgencies in Punjab up to the 1980s, and in Kashmir since then did not help in India’s economic growth. The biggest fight of India throughout its history, and even after independence was poverty. A mass influx of refugees from Pakistan and emigration to Pakistan continued along the Indian border. Also, the pre-partition train and bus communications were severed between the two countries owing to decorating diplomatic ties.

However, India has stood strong with time. It has an active foreign policy, good diplomatic ties with most other countries, and it has also conceived to address its internal problems. Perhaps the biggest achievement of India was the introduction of democracy by Jawaharlal Nehru, which ensured multi-parties, other than the Indian National Congress, can participate to take India forward. India has undergone many ups and downs since its independence. But as long as India remains a democratic country, a secular country for all religions, and maintains close ties with countries around the world, India will rise as the world’s next leading superpower.

Exactly 75 years ago, the father of the nation, Jawaharlal Nehru said on the midnight of 14th August 1947

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

At 75, India is ready to take on challenges and be the developed country our nation’s founders dreamt to see. Come, let us take it forward to our future generations.

Written by – Himadri Paul