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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 5, New Delhi, January 16, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Jan 16, 2021

Friday 15 January 2021

On January 15, the 9th round of talks took place between the representatives of protesting peasants and the Government of India over the three contentious Farm Laws. There is a continuing stalemate with no end in sight.

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India is all set for a national launch on January 16 of vaccination campaign against Covid-19 by using Covishield and Covaxin vaccines which still need further trials and have been approved for emergency use only. In the past ten days, a number of bodies of health professionals have raised serious questions about the regulatory approvals process for these drugs. Sections of the media close to the government and to the ruling BJP have cast aspersions on all those raising concerns regarding the process of regulatory approval to the vaccine candidates. In any democracy, people have the right to ask questions and to demand that due process be followed.

We have just learnt via media reports that the Election Commission of India data will be used for purposes of drawing up lists of people for vaccination and is to deleted by health authorities once the vaccination exercise concludes. This does raise the issue of safe use of this data, we still do not have a law governing data security.

The pandemic is still in full swing and talk arrival of Covid 19 vaccine is being presented as a magic potion that will fix all and that we can set aside the prevention measures that have been observed over the past year. Cinemas are reopening across India after the government gave the go-ahead, Delhi and Rajasthan are gradually reopening their educational institutions. Schools in the two states will begin operations for classes 10 and 12 from January 18. And now we are told that one of the largest religious congregations in India – the Kumbh Mela 2021 – has begun in Haridwar on January 14 and will go on till April 2021. The Kumbh Mela brings together millions of people and one fails to understand how the health authorities will ensure public safety measures and prevent possible huge scale spread of Covid-19.

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In the US the outgoing President Donald Trump has been impeached in the US House of Representatives and now the trial will take place in the Senate after he leaves office. The swearing-in of the incoming President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris is to take place on Jan 20, 2021. The risk of right-wing terror attacks is being considered as very real as a result, there is an unprecedented deployment of US security personnel on the Capitol Hill and in all of Washington DC – in real terms there are more troops deployed there now than the number of US troops present in Afghanistan.

On January 6, after the US Capitol was stormed by a mob of Trump supporters, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube suspended the President’s account to prevent him, from possibly inciting violence. Also, thousands of accounts of suspected members of the far-right groups have been suspended. This move has come too late, social media platforms have allowed hate-spewing propagandists to operate with impunity for too long. The online presence of Hindutva right-wing in India has flourished all these years on social media with practically no restrictions and we to pay a very heavy price for it. Social Media continues to be used to pedal falsehoods, whip up prejudice against minorities and by the far-right groups to organise in South Asia. Will these social media platforms that have acted firmly in the US do the same in South Asia?

Tributes:

Ved Mehta, the celebrated writer for The New Yorker where he recounted life and times of modern India through his own autobiographical pieces, died on January 9 at his home in Manhattan, New York. He was 86

Former union minister and Rajya Sabha MP Kamal Morarka passed away on January 16. He was 74.

We pay our tributes to the above people.

January 16, 2021 – The Editors

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