Our flagship daily news show, where we talk to in-house experts about what is going on and why you need to care about it.
Next, Indian Express’ Tora Agarwala tells us about the kind of devastation that floods and landslides have caused in Assam, and the possible reasons behind it (11:44).
And in the end, Indian Express’ Anonna Dutt explains how concerned we should be about a new omicron sub-variant being detected in India (20:32).
Shashank Bhargava: Hi, I’m Shashank Bhargava, and you’re listening to 3 Things, The Indian Express news show. In this episode we talk about the destruction that rains have caused in Assam. We also talk about a sub variant of Omicron being detected in India and how it could lead to a COVID-19 wave. But first we talk about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS, which is the ideological parent of the BJP. On Sunday, an event took place to celebrate 75 years of organiser and Panchjanya, two magazines, which are essentially mouthpieces of the RSS. The event was attended by various RSS and BJP leaders, including the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Assam that is Yogi Adityanath, Pushkar Singh Dhami, Promod Sawant and Himanta Biswa Sarma. All of whom spoke at length about various national issues that have been creating controversies in the country. In the segment Indian Express’s Deeptiman Tiwari joins us to talk about it. So Deeptiman, what are the kinds of things that these BJP leaders said during this event?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Well, essentially they spoke about the work done by their respective governments for the welfare of the people and development of the state and they rattled out all the schemes that they have launched for the welfare of the people and all the development projects which are on in the state. But apart from this, they also spoke about certain national issues, which included the controversy over temples and mosques and loudspeakers or namaz prayers or communal riots, or this entire thing of Muslim assertion of identity, or the idea of Madarsas. All of these things were spoken about by various chief ministers, particularly by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Goa Chief Minister, Promod Sawant and Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah. And in fact, Yogi Adityanath said that the volume of mosque loudspeakers have gone down now, and both Promod Sawatn and Pushkar Singh Dhami talked about the need to implement the uniform civil code, right?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Correct, in fact, the entire thing started with Pushkae Singh Dhami, who was the first speaker answering a question on uniform Civil Code, he said that, you know, he was committed to it, and that by the time he probably reached his state from this event, people could read in the newspapers that a committee has already been formed to deliberate on uniform civil code. On the same issue from what someone said that his state has had uniform Civil Code since liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule in 1961. And he said that sees no reason why other states should not implement uniform civil code to which the interviewer that is Prafulla Ketkar who is the editor of the organiser, the RSS affiliated magazine, he said that Goa UCC is a great example as to why it should not be opposed, because there is a considerable minority in Goa, which has never had any problems with uniform civil code. So there is no reason why any other minority in the country should fear uniform civil code. So obviously, it appears to be a preparation of ground for creating significant public opinion in favour of UCC.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, and for those who may not be aware, the idea of a uniform Civil Code is one that would provide one law for the entire country, regardless of all religious communities, and would govern personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption.
Deeptiman Tiwary: (Inaudible) civil depending upon what kind of Uniform Civil Code is framed. Now, if a Uniform Civil Code is framed, which takes the good practices from all religions, where the rights of women are protected, where inheritance laws are equal for both men and women, so all of those if they are incorporated, they’ll probably be more agreeable to all religions. The only fear that probably minorities may have that Uniform Civil Code does not become the Hindu Civil Code. That is the only fear for example, many Muslim scholars point out that Islam in some ways has ensures far greater Muslim personal loss ensures far greater rights. to women in marriage then probably the Hindu code for example, they say that there is a prenuptial agreement which is not there among the Hindus and there are certain rights to divorced women which are there in the Muslim personal laws. So, whether they can be included in the UCC then there are inheritance issues, which, you know, while the courts have given equal rights to inheritance to women, it is still not codified as far as Hindus are concerned. So, all of that will have to be discussed, debated and included in UCC for it to be acceptable to all so, it remains to be seen how this pans out in the long term.
Shashank Bhargava: And uniform Civil Code is something that both BJP and the RSS have wanted for a really long time, right?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Yeah, it’s one of the core issues of RSS, and it has been there since the very beginning. They have always wanted Uniform Civil Code specially largely got greater push from the RSS following the Shah Bano judgement or the 80s, where Rajiv Gandhi government was seemed to have buckled under pressure of Muslim clerics. And a relief granted by the Supreme Court to the woman in that case was overridden by a law passed by the parliament, which saw a lot of opposition from progressive Muslims also. So yeah, it has been a core issue of the RSS since the very beginning.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so uniform Civil Code was one of the things that was talked about during this event. What were some of the other issues and statements that stood out for you?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Yeah, another was, of course, coming in from entire temple-mosque controversy that we see raging in the country today on that Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, said that ever since his government has come to power for the second time, not only were they you know, no riots, whether during the elections or after the elections, but Ram Navmi passed off peacefully, Hanuman Jayanti passed off peacefully and they both were celebrated with great fervour without any incident. Now, this comes on the back of some incidents that we have seen where two communities have had clashes over celebrations be it in the Jahangirpuri incident or elsewhere, and, you know, Hanuman Jayanti and Hanuman Chalisa have become a political issue currently in the country. The he said that ever since his government has come to power for the second time, people must have seen that Eid Namazis not being read on the roads. And he said that more than one lakh loudspeakers have had either their volumes toned down or been completely removed. So he was counting all of these as achievements of his government, since it has come to par. He also said that during his entire tenure, first tenure, there were no riots in UP then Promod Sawant, the Goa chief minister, he said that the Portuguese in there for 50 years rule on Goa destroyed Hindu culture, and destroyed temples and that he had made a budgetary allocation for rejuvenation, rebuilding of those temples. He also said that across the country, there is no reason why temples destroyed earlier should not be rebuilt, it becomes significant in the wake of the Gyan Vapi mosque controversy, which is going on right now.
Shashank Bhargava: And you mentioned that Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma was also there during this event, what were the kinds of things that we heard from him?
Deeptiman Tiwary: So, more starkly the attack on the minority community actually came from Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, who said that madarsas should be abolished completely, and anyone who talks about madarsas being abolished and talks about uniform Civil Code, Muslims should consider such a person different, he said that from other doctors in engineers cannot come out they can only come out from regular schools. So if Muslims want to teach the Quran to their children, they should do it at their home. So, many will point out of course, whether he could have said the same thing about Ramayan and Mahabharata and Bhagavada Gita similarly to a question which was very interesting, because of one Muslim person from the audience, he posed a question that these are small children who in the madarsas, you know, basically learn the Quran, they are very good at learning. So, this energy of these children can be channelized. And you know, they can be given modern education and they can be given a direction so that they can progress in life to which Hemant Biswa Sarma said that, in fact, if they are doing well, in madarsa, and they are bright, then the credit cannot be given to Muslims. It goes to their Hindu ancestors, because all Muslims were once Hindus.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah. And this line that all Muslims were Hindus is something that we have heard from RSS many times, right?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Yeah. Mohan Bhagwat, has said multiple times that all Muslims are Hindus. It goes. So it’s a core RSS line. That is a line that Hemant Biswa Sarma is actually peddling right now. So he said that if the child is bright, then the credit goes to his Hindu ancestors. Hesaid that there are no Muslims in this country. They’re all Hindus.
Shashank Bhargava: With these chief ministers making these statements at an RSS event. What signal does it give you regarding how the party is going to tackle some of these national issues going forward?
Deeptiman Tiwary: Look RSS events when they see presence of BJP leaders or office bearers or chief ministers or ministers. It has generally been seen that it is an occasion for those leaders to assert or to project their ideological commitment to the core sunk ideology. And it is very important in the BJP to show your ideological commitment because at the end of the day, you will need some RSS blessing to continue in office and continue to do well and move ahead in politics as far as the BJP is concerned. So they keep reiterating that okay, we are committed to your core ideology, because BJP, RSS are strong ideology based organisations. And it is very clear that if you do not have ideological commitments, you will not have a very bright future in the BJP, at least in the current BJP, which is completely seeped in RSS ideology, with the Prime Minister himself coming from the Sangh Parivar, Amit Shah, having been very closely associated with the Sangh Parivar. And they have in the eight year rule implemented a lot of RSS, ideological projects. So at such a time, most politicians who are associated with the BJP seem to think that if we do not project our commitment to the political core ideology of the RSS, probably it will not give a good signal. So they keep saying these things on and on. And let’s remember Hemant Biswa Sarma has come from the Congress. So he has a greater burden of proving his commitment the RSS ideology.
Shashank Bhargava: And next we talk about Assam. The state has been experiencing severe floods and landslides for the past few weeks. And what is significant is that this has happened even before the monsoons have officially started in the region. Because of the destruction they have caused. At least 15 people have died so far, and over seven lakh lives have been affected. Indian Express’s Tora Agarwala who reports on the state for the paper joins us to tell us more.
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, so monsoons haven’t officially begun in Assam, but from 10th or 11th may we’ve seen a lot of devastation in Assam, it’s not just floods, it’s also a lot of landslides and mudslides and these have claimed as of now more than 15 people in different parts of Assam. So, there is South Assam Barak valley which is affected by a lot of floods and also landslides. Then there is also areas in middle Assam in places like Nagaon, these are the low lying areas, also lot of floods there as well. People drowning in floodwaters very frequently. And the worst affected is this hill district called Dima Hasao, which is towards the south of Assam and this particular district has seen unprecedented devastation in the last few weeks. It’s been so bad that the district has been virtually cut off from the rest of the state. The road to the district has witnessed a lot of key winds. So it’s not like cars can go through that road. The railway line to the district has also been breached at several points and this particular railway line goes to other districts in Assam, which is the South Assam’s Barak Valley districts and they connect to Tripura to Mizoram, so because this railway line has been affected routes to that particular part of Assam and the rest of the Northeast has also cut off because of this and a few days back a lot of photos going viral of the new Haflong Railway Station which is in Dima Hasao.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, in fact in those photos, you can see train bogeys that are overturned and railway tracks that are submerged in water.
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, so the land below the railway tracks has disappeared and there are pictures of railway tracks literally hanging from one cliff to another with nothing below. So those are the kinds of photographs we are seeing. Now if you look at photos from there, you know after the waters have receded that also looks equally scary because there are bogeys where it just filled with a lot of mud and a lot of debris. So even now the pictures are pretty scary. So a lot of devastation in the last few weeks. I mean usually we don’t experience it so early and with this much intensity.
Shashank Bhargava: And Tora, what do we know about why this is happening? What are the possible reasons behind this destruction?
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, so one thing is that the amount of rainfall has increased. So this is pre monsoonal rainfall. And usually I mean, I had looked at the Met reports from previous years, so usually between March to May, the normal amount of rainfall is usually 434.5 millimetres, but this year between March and May it’s almost 719 millimetres. So this is 65% excess and MET department has categorised this as a large excess. This is not just in Assam, many other states in the Northeast are also experiencing an increase in rainfall. Meghalaya has an excess of 137% This time, so a lot of rain very early and experts I spoke to said that it just the pattern of rainfall has changed because of climate change basically. So the rainfall intensity, its arrival and departure times have all changed because of the way the pattern of climate is changing all across the world.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so heavy rainfall is one aspect of it. But the other aspect is also the kind of constructions that have taken place in the area, and which have led to several landslides. And you spoke to some experts about this. What did they have to tell you?
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, floods in other parts of Assam. What we’re seeing now in districts like Kamrup and Barpeta, and Nagaon. Obviously, these are very devastating, but this kind of flooding happens almost like a clockwork every year. What people didn’t expect was what happened in a place like Dima Hasao. Also in places like Cachar, which is also hilly is the amount of landslides. Okay. And just to focus on Dima Hasao. Well, I mean, one good example of looking at this is the railway line I was talking about earlier. So this is called the Lumding Badarpur railway line, and it connects the rest of the country to the Dima Hasao, and beyond, you know, then to the Barak Valley Hill districts, then to Mizoram and Tripura and states like that. So in the late 90s, they decided to convert it from metre gauge to broad gauge and from 97. And through 2000s. They kept trying to do it, but it didn’t really work out just because, you know, it’s such a challenge to do it over there, just because of the topography of the land. But finally, in 2015, they did manage to inaugurate the broad gauge metre line. And obviously, it was celebrated and all of that, but in the lead up to 2015. There were a lot of, you know, red flags about this particular construction.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, you write that they were audit reports that said it was unsafe. And even after it was inaugurated, they had to close the track a number of times because the report said that it was unsafe for passengers to travel through it due to the landslides that could happen there. Right.
Tora Agarwala: Yeah but despite that project just went through. And there are allegations that corners were cut during construction. So allegations are rife about this construction, a lot of warnings yet the government went ahead with it. And years later, possibly this is what it has resulted in that large parts of the track have just disappeared. And railway officials I spoke to even they said that, you know, the losses we’ve incurred after this spell of rain, it’s going to take us like ages to fix this. So it’s a combination of all this, you know, I just gave you the example of one railway track, but Dima Hasao, has also seen a lot of unplanned construction. There is also allegation of riverbed mining basic meaning taking stones out of the riverbed to sell it outside. So the allegation is that this is done in collusion with politicians over there. So generally, just a lot of like, let’s say development has happened, and that has caused the environment over there.
Shashank Bhargava: Yeah, and the other thing you write is that for a long time projects in the region, would take place in the shadow of insurgency. How would that affect these projects?
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, so Dima Hasao, like the rest of Assam has been shaped by a lot of conflicts and insurgency. Insurgency in Dima Hasao while it has reduced in the last, say, five to eight years, the 90s and early 2000s saw a lot of insurgent groups active any kind of development project you wanted to do there, the government had to sort of pay off these insurgent groups, right? So I was speaking to a researcher and he told me that it’s possible that after you know paying so much, you really just to get the project ahead. It is likely that the government would also rush through it at that point. I mean, it’s the project has taken so long, you’ve already paid so much money. So then naming is just like a vicious cycle, you also want to finish your work then there is history of conflict, which holds you back. So things like this, basically.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, and right now you have been talking about Dima hasao, and places in Assam. But have such projects happened in other parts of the Northeast as well.
Tora Agarwala: Yeah, so even you go to Arunachal Pradesh, even Arunachal Pradesh has reported a number of landslides. And not just this time, but over the past few years. And that’s also because there’s been a lot of highway construction in the state. And again, it’s hilly, right so as a result, a lot of landslides are happening, they are claiming lives like every monsoon, this happens. And for Arunachal there’s another reason because you know, it borders China. So the government usually cites say, national security to sort of just quicken the pace of projects, then you can sort of basically speed through process and show in your development report card for every election that look, this is what we have done. But this is happening at the cost of the environment. And that is why it’s leading to landslides and mudslides and just devastation every year.
Shashank Bhargava: And in the end, we talk about COVID-19. INSACOG, which has been keeping track of the mutations in the COVID-19 virus and emerging variants yesterday confirmed the first case of the BA.5 sub variant of Omicron in the country. The variant was detected in an 80 year old man from Telangana, who had no history of international travel, to talk about this Anonna Dutt, who reports on health for the paper joins us. So Anonna, what do we know about this variant so far.
Anonna Dutt: So basically, there are two sub variants of the Omicron variant that led to the January surge in cases in India, BA.4 and BA.5 five, these were first detected in South Africa in January, and they lead to a fifth wave over there. Another good thing about this is that the wave that we saw in South Africa did not lead to an increase in hospitalizations, increase in deaths, which was something that we saw with our own Omicron wave as well. Now INSACOG has recently over the last two weeks confirmed two cases of BA.4 and one case of BA.5 in India. And out of that one person with BA.4 had a history of travel to South Africa. But the other two do not have any international travel history. So it’s safe to assume that the variants are now in India. Now the thing is, why initially, these two variants caused a little bit of concern with the scientists is that these two variants have two mutations. The most important one is L452R, which was also seen in the Delta variant. So in lab studies, it shows that with this mutation, it was better able to evade antibodies from a previous infection or vaccination. And also in mice, it led to more effect on the lungs than Omicron usually causes. But of course, we haven’t seen this translate into a real world scenario. There wasn’t any increase in you know, oxygen requirement, etc, seen in South Africa. So hopefully, that is what we are likely to see in India as well.
Shashank Bhargava: Okay, so no requirement for oxygen supply and no significant increase in hospitalizations. But could this variant lead to a wave in India, just like it did in South Africa?
Anonna Dutt: So yes, that is a possibility. Because at least the lab studies seem to suggest that these two variants are not very similar to BA.1 and BA.2, which is what led to the the third wave in India. So since it’s a little different, it’s better able to evade the immune response that we’ve already had so far. So that could be an increase in infections, the number of infections, but at the same time, because we’ve had previous exposure to so many variants, and at a very high rate, almost like it seems to me that entire population might have had the infection once plus we have had a very good vaccination record. So the two together provide a hybrid immunity, which should prevent any severe disease. It’s a similar scenario that we’ve seen in South Africa. So experts believe that yes, it might lead to an increase in the number of cases but that alone doesn’t matter. Because it would be something like a flu, you get a fever, you get a cold and you recover, we likely will not see an increase in you know what we saw in the Delta. We have people getting sick, lungs, getting affected people needing hospitalisation, oxygen, etc. We shouldn’t see that with these two variants.
Shashank Bhargava: You’re listening to 3 Things by the Indian Express. Today’s show was written and produced by me, Shashank Bhargava and was edited and mixed by Suresh Pawar. If you liked the show, then do subscribe to us wherever you get your podcast. You can also recommend the show to someone you think will like it. Share it with a friend or someone in your family. It’s the best way for people to get to know about us. You can tweet us @expresspodcasts and write to us at email@example.com