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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dilemma: BJP needs a ‘ Swacch Party’ campaign first to reshape India

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By Harshmeet Singh

The beedi baron, BJP MP Shyam Charan Gupta’s recent remarks where he dismissed any connection between smoking and health problems has left the saffron party red faced.  Gupta was quoted saying “I can produce a lot of people in front of you who are chain smokers of beedi and till date they have had no disease, no cancer… You get diabetes due to eating sugar, rice, potatoes. Why don’t you write warnings for all these things as well,” Notably, Shyam Charan Gupta is the founder and chairman of Shyam Group of Companies, whose flagship unit is Shyam Beedi.

Seizing the opportunity to corner the government on this matter, the opposition parties highlighted a ‘conflict of interest’ arising from Gupta’s membership in the committee framing laws on tobacco marketing and his tobacco trade. What the opposition parties pointed out was no rocket science. Gupta’s presence in the committee is akin to a criminal being a part of his own jury. The BJP MP from Allahabad, Gupta went on to press his views and asserted that beedis have ‘nil’ adverse effects on the health and there must be separate laws from chewed and smoked tobacco since smoking doesn’t cause any harm. Acting in a damage control mode, Modi suggested the health ministry to enhance the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from existing 40% to 65% of the size of the packing.

Unfortunately for the BJP, Shyam Charan Gupta isn’t the only ‘odd man out’ in a group of 281 Lok Sabha MPs and 47 Rajya Sabha MPs. Ever since the BJP stormed to power last year, its MPs have been making news constantly, albeit for the wrong reasons. The ambitious initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ and Clean India campaign lose their sheen when compared with some of the indigenous campaigns run by some BJP MPs including Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, Racist attacks on Sonia Gandhi and many others. For the BJP, the party which successfully captured the country’s imagination by fighting the General elections on the plank of clean politics and good governance, these maverick MPs working on self hatched lines pose a bigger threat than the opposition parties.

While campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, the then PM candidate Narendra Modi openly appealed to the people to vote directly for him and not their local candidates. He promised to consider the entire country his own constituency if he became the PM. Now, more than 10 months after taking oath, the BJP is realizing that it would need much more than Narendra Modi alone to run the country efficiently. The BJP is slowing turning into a video game where the player has to step on the lights on the ground as and when they turn red. With so many lights turning red every second, the PM would find himself much stretched to control the game and cover the lights.

The Vyapam scam

An acronym for ‘Vyavsayik Pareeksha Mandal’ or the ‘Professional Examination Board’, the Vyapam scam diluted the image of BJP’s blue eyed boy, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Though his name wasn’t directly mentioned in relation to the scam by the SIT, a number of other BJP leaders have been under the limelight for their alleged misuse of power in the scam. Some of the most well known faces associated with this scam include Madhya Pradesh’s ex education minister, Laxmikant Sharma, Governor Ram Naresh Yadav, Ganga rejuvenation minister Uma Bharti. With the Supreme Court directing the SIT to complete its investigations by 15th July, the BJP would be anxiously waiting to face the fate of its leaders.

Sakshi Maharaj

Meet Sakshi Maharaj, the man who wants Hindu women to have at least four kids. He kicked off another storm by saying that ‘madarsas in the country are teaching terrorism’. Whenever asked about his statements, BJP’s response remains ‘It’s his personal views, not the party’s’. But what the party is forgetting is that it was their leaders that asked the people to vote for Modi and not their local candidate. And since the public obliged them, isn’t it the party’s responsibility to be answerable for their MPs’ actions? The BJP’s reaction to all his actions was a solitary ‘show cause notice’ which ended the matter then and there!

Giriraj Singh 

Giriraj Singh knows how to be in the news. He wants to send Modi’s critics to Pakistan. He calls Nitish Kumar a ‘dehati aurat’. And when people thought he had exhausted his repertoire of insane comments, he tweeted this about the deadly school attack in Peshawar – “Whatever is happening in Pakistan is called friendly fight.”  The most recent of Singh’s obnoxious comments was about Sonia Gandhi and Congress Party’s love for her fair skin. While he painted the country with a brush of racism, his party said that the matter ended as soon as he offered to apologize to Sonia Gandhi!

Sadly for India and the BJP, this list is not exhaustive. For the BJP, which is hoping to ride on ‘Brand Modi’ for the next 4 years or so, the realization of truth must happen soon or the country would be headed far away from Mr. Modi’s dreams. A ‘swachh BJP’ initiative is perhaps the need of the hour for the BJP!

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Banning e-cigarettes But Not Tobacco is Contradictory: Industry

Studies conducted by Public Health England, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians have observed “that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking and is of negligible risk to bystanders,” she said

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FILE - A customer exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at a store in New York, Feb. 20, 2014. VOA

Even as Gujarat on Wednesday joined an increasing number of states banning e-cigarettes, a country-wide association of importers, distributors, and marketers of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) device have called upon the Union Health Ministry not to rush into a national ban unilaterally without examining the facts and consulting stakeholders.

The association, Trade Representatives of ENDS in India (TRENDS), found it ironical that several states and even the Centre were considering a ban on e-cigarettes while actual tobacco, cigarette and beedi sales was officially open, though these products were proven to be severely injurious to health.

Praveen Rikhy, convener of TRENDS asserted in a memorandum submitted to the Union Health Ministry that, “Asking for a ban on e-cigarettes and not cigarettes or beedis would mean asking for a ban on a less harmful nicotine delivery system while allowing a more harmful one free market availability”.

“This is fundamentally unsustainable as a policy or a public health imperative or even in law and consumer rights. This is also in stark contrast and regressive when compared with the fact that developed economies are regulating ENDS and many see the category as complementary to their tobacco control goals,” she added.

Rikhy went on, “Today, all G7 countries and 34 out of 36 OECD countries have regulated and formalised sale, distribution, marketing and manufacture of ENDS”.

“A ban will end up opening up the black market and create room for substandard unregulated products. It would be of utmost importance to the Health Ministry to not be seen as creating such a market scenario”, she added.

The association on Tuesday evening made a submission to this effect to Secretary of Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with a copy to Union Health Minister Harshvardhan. It said the concerns were based on recent media reports suggesting that the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) was likely to move a proposal to prohibit the manufacture, import, sale and distribution of ENDS, including e-cigarettes, as well as their import under Sections 26A and 10A of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.

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FILE – An anti-tobacco warning is seen on a road divider on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Nov. 4, 2016. VOA

The TRENDS stated that these devices were not “drugs” as they are not promoted or intended to be of any therapeutic value. “They do not mitigate or prevent smoking but are an option for a habitual smoker who would like to switch to a non-combustible version.”

ENDS are micro-battery-powered devices, commonly known as e-cigarettes that simulate the sensation of smoking.

According to the association, during “the last few years, these products have emerged as a viable substitute to combustible cigarettes as they do not contain tobacco and do not involve combustion, and consequently, have significantly lower or negligible tobacco residue (commonly ‘tar’), carbon monoxide or other known carcinogens that are present in cigarette smoke.”

Rikhy said: “We believe that strong reasons exist for the government to re-examine its stand vis-à-vis ENDS. We would request the government to objectively consider the benefits and harms related to the product and initiate open consultation, which will help to better inform its decision for the ENDS category”.

Also Read: Beauty Filters on Alipay to Face Scan Payments: Report

“We are also ethically committed not to market our products to minors and pregnant women and are ready to work with the Indian Government to ensure enforcement of legal purchase age and valid label warnings, training and awareness against harmful use.”

Studies conducted by Public Health England, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians have observed “that vaping is at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking and is of negligible risk to bystanders,” she said. (IANS)