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Will PM Narendra Modi’s Demonetisation Move save him when the Votes are counted?

Although demonetisation has caused concern about a fall in the growth rate -- the latest figure is 7.1, down from 7.6 -- few expect Modi to slow down

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wikimedia

New Delhi, Dec 11, 2016: A more effective opposition would have had a field day in pillorying Narendra Modi. But, first, it is divided with two important Chief Ministers, Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik, backing the Prime Minister.

Secondly, the opposition appears more interested in stalling parliament than in a reasoned debate probably because there is no unanimity in its ranks about the course of action.

While Mamata Banerjee wants a complete roll-back, others favour a Joint Parliamentary Committee to examine the matter.

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Even if there is no certainty about how long the hardship of the ordinary people will continue, or whether their patience is inexhaustible, the nomination of Modi as Time magazine’s Person of the Year in an online poll will be a morale-booster for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It shows, if anything, that there are a large number of people who have retained their faith in him and expect him to ride out the present storm.

True, the online poll does not carry the prestige of the choice made by the magazine’s editors. Evidently, the views of the denizens of ivory towers have greater value than of the unwashed hoi polloi.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting that this is the second time that Modi has come out on top in the online exercise for whatever it is worth. He won it for the first time in 2014 when he received 16 percent of the five million votes which were cast.

This time he received 18 percent, well ahead of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Julian Assange, all of whom got seven per cent although Trump finally ended up the winner.

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On the online poll, the magazine said that the Indian Prime Minister’s handling of his country’s economy was the “most positive story” of the “emerging markets”.

Evidently, the present contretemps over demonetisation had no effect on the popular assessment.

What Modi’s selection shows, however, is how far India — and Modi personally — have come from the days when the country was seen as a basket case and Modi was persona non grata in the US in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots.

In 1930, Time chose “saint” Gandhi as the Person of the Year as the “British Empire was still wondering fearfully” about 30,000 of his followers who had been jailed along with the “little half-naked brown man whose 1930 mark on world history will undoubtedly loom largest of all”.

Nearly nine decades later, it is a completely different world which has seen India’s, and Modi’s, rise. The central point of this transformation is the economic development which is Modi’s trump card.

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Although there is not much to write home at present about the growth trajectory — Manmohan Singh’s government did better in the early years of his tenure — what makes Modi stand out is his commitment to the cause.

While his predecessor faltered in the last few years of his stint because of the shift in the government’s priority from growth to populism at Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s behest, what is noteworthy about Modi is his focus on the market-oriented capitalist path.

Although demonetisation has caused concern about a fall in the growth rate — the latest figure is 7.1, down from 7.6 — few expect Modi to slow down.

The reason is that he seems to know what he is doing, unlike earlier governments which were unwilling either to follow the capitalist path lest they be labelled anti-poor, or to crack down on black money because of the banking secrecy regulations and the fear of causing a flutter in the dovecotes of tainted politicians and bureaucrats.

Modi, in contrast, has confronted the scourge of a parallel economy head-on notwithstanding the “monumental mismanagement” of the economy of which he has been accused by Manmohan Singh.

Or of being despotic, as Amartya Sen has said.

However, both the distinguished economists have failed to note that, by and large, the ordinary people have been willing to undergo the severe inconvenience of standing in long queues because they believe that instead of mere promises as in the past, a firm step against black money is at last being taken.

Nor is there an acceptance of the charge about the futility of the step considering that only six per cent of the black money is kept in cash. The reason is the belief that the latest measure will tell the hoarders of hidden wealth that Modi is serious about bringing them to book.

It is this largely uncomplaining acceptance of the travails of demonetisation which made the Left Front chairman of West Bengal, Biman Bose, concede that the bandh called by the communists failed in the state because the people believe in the efficacy of Modi’s initiative.

Modi, therefore, can said to be in the process of passing the most arduous test of all by expecting the people to ignore their present difficulties because of their faith in him.

There is little doubt that demonetisation has been a risky gamble for Modi where he has taken on a section of the opposition in the hope that his popularity will save him when the votes are counted.

The unexpected support which he has received from the Time’s readers is a sign that his intention to industrialise India and turn it into a regional super power is widely appreciated.

If he can pull it off, he may well be the choice of the magazine’s editors for the Person of the Year in 2017. (IANS)

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Indian Parliament Imposes Ban on E-Cigarettes

Moving the Bill, Harsh Vardhan clarified that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products

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E-Cigarettes
E-cigarettes are electronic devices which can enable the delivery of all intoxicating substances. Predominantly, they are used for nicotine delivery, which is one of the most addictive elements known. Pixabay

Paving the way for a complete ban on E-Cigarettes, the Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the Prohibition of E-Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, by voice vote.

The Bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha for replacing the ordinance promulgated last September.

Replying to members on the Bill, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan urged them to pass the legislation unanimously in the larger interest of the children.

“There is evidence now that e-cigarettes are very harmful. They can become a bigger menace than tobacco one day. So, the intention of the government has been to nip the problem in the bud itself,” the minister said.

While most members in the House supported the ban on e-cigarettes, some of the MPs wanted to know why conventional cigarettes aren’t banned as they are equally or even more harmful.

Many opposition members also expressed reservation over bringing the ordinance and introducing the Bill without sending the same to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

On why all tobacco products are not being banned, Harsh Vardhan said that he would be the happiest person if that happens.

“You see, in a country as vast as India, once a particular product has a very big consumer base and social acceptance, it is in fact very, very difficult to ban it,” the minister said.

On the reasons for bringing the ordinance, the minister said that apart from other things, some of the big tobacco companies changed their names and started making plans to enter India.

E-Cigarettes
Paving the way for a complete ban on E-Cigarettes, the Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Transport, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019, by voice vote. Wikimedia Commons

“They had made full preparations. There was an announced entry of a company called Juul, one of the leading global manufacturers of e-cigarettes, in December 2019. It was probably one of the most imminent concerns that worried all of us,” he said.

Participating in the discussions, Trinamool Congress leader Santanu Sen argued for banning all tobacco products as all of them were harmful to human health.

“Of course, by this Bill we are preventing a person from committing suicide by jumping from the fifth floor, but we are also keeping the more affordable and accessible 10th floor wide open to jump from,” Sen said to highlight the serious health concerns posed by conventional cigarettes.

The Rajya Sabha MP, also national president of Indian Medical Association, noted that a normal cigarette constitutes 700 chemicals out of which 250 are very much harmful. Further, out of this 250 chemicals, 60 cause cancer while all of them are carcinogenic.

“Smoking increases coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times. It increases stroke by 2 to 4 times. It increases lung cancer by 25 times and it increases the probability of COPDA (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) by 13 times,” the Trinamool leader said.

Congress MP B.K. Hariprasad said that he did not support e-cigarettes but opposed the way the Bill had been brought. He also suspected the intention of the government behind bringing the ordinance and subsequently the Bill hurriedly.

“People are smelling a rat in the way this Bill has been brought hastily,” Hariprasad said while making a case for banning all tobacco products as all of them were equally harmful.

He said the government should not succumb to tobacco lobbyists.

Senior CPI leader Binoy Viswam also raised questions around the manner in which the bill had been introduced as no survey or study was carried out before bringing the legislation.

Replying to members on the Bill, Harsh Vardhan said that all his life he had fought against tobacco lobbyists and therefore members should not have any suspicion on his intention.

Congress MP Rajeev Gowda said that the ban has to be a last resort rather than the first resort which is what has been the practice in this particular context.

“A ban or prohibition, as we have seen everywhere, results in underground activities. It results in criminalisation of the society. It results in the creation of a mafia that deals with the underground activity,” Gowda said while participating in the discussions on the bill.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices which can enable the delivery of all intoxicating substances. Predominantly, they are used for nicotine delivery, which is one of the most addictive elements known. This also includes all forms of electronic nicotine as well as non-nicotine delivery devices such as e-hookahs and heat-not-burn products.

Moving the Bill, Harsh Vardhan clarified that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products.

“Any comparison about their adverse health impacts with tobacco is misplaced. There is also no conclusive evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes. On the other hand, there is definitely an emerging evidence all over the world that e-cigarettes have significantly harmful effects on health,” the minister said.

E-Cigarettes
The Rajya Sabha MP, also national president of Indian Medical Association, noted that Apart From E-Cigarettes, a normal cigarette constitutes 700 chemicals out of which 250 are very much harmful. Further, out of this 250 chemicals, 60 cause cancer while all of them are carcinogenic. Pixabay

Highlighting the harmful effects of nicotine delivered by e-cigarettes, the minister said that nicotine sulfate was once approved to be used as a pesticide by the agriculture department.

“Recently, even that approval has been withdrawn considering its toxicity. Therefore, it is a chemical that is not even fit to be used as a pesticide. That is the latest about nicotine.

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“It is the most addictive substance currently known in the world and is even more addictive than heroin. There is currently no known treatment for nicotine-addiction anywhere in the world,” Harsh Vardhan said. (IANS)