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Decoding Narendra Modi’s Europe visit

Author: Kumardeep Banerjee
Publication: Dailypioneer.com
Date: May 7, 2022
URL:      https://www.dailypioneer.com/2022/columnists/decoding-narendra-modi---s-europe-visit-decoding-narendra-modi---s-europe-visit.html

Post-Ukraine, Europe looks at the Indo-Pacific as new sphere of influence

Indian Prime Minister’s three-day European tour is a strategic tilt towards building closer ties with the once-ignored and yet extremely important ally. India and Europe have historically not had strategic partnerships in the past due to their respective domestic and geopolitical orientations. India has always viewed post-World War Europe from a UK or the cold-war frame of reference. It has in the last six decades worked with Russia to arrest Europe’s dominance. Meanwhile Europe too has largely ignored the strategic importance of India and placed bets on China as a stabilising factor in pan-Asian geopolitics. This doesn’t mean individual countries in Europe or power blocs haven’t had strong bilateral ties with India in the past few decades. This status quo has now been challenged by Russian aggression in Ukraine. It has forced Europe as a bloc to rethink its external engagements, find new allies and partners and look at the Indo-Pacific as new sphere of influence. Many countries in Europe must rewrite their energy budgets by reducing heavy dependence on Russia. Similarly, there is a sudden need to upgrade their defence machinery and not be dependent on the US-led NATO. It is against this backdrop that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings in Berlin, Copenhagen and Paris assume importance. Germany and India have had long standing bilateral relationship reflected institutionally in the high level Inter Governmental Consultations (IGC) mechanism. This dialogue is extended by Germany to its privileged allies and has involvement of the heads of state along with senior ministers to steer the relationship. India knows Germany’s preeminent role in steering European Union’s political, strategic and security framework. Also, India and Germany seem to be on the same side, as far as receiving criticism from global powers regarding their energy dependency on Russia is concerned. However, India buys only a fraction of its total fuel requirements from Russia, when compared to Germany. Meanwhile, the Ukraine crisis has forced Germany to commit to significantly reducing its energy dependency on Russia by year end. The visit by the prime minister also marked signing of agreements between the two nations on areas related to green energy, migration and environment.

The next stop at Copenhagen was meant for renewing the Nordic partnership. The Nordic nations comprising of Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Denmark comprise a relatively sparsely populated,yet wealthy group of nations in Europe. It is in 2018 that India held its first Nordic summit to align better with these powerful bunch of nations. India and the Nordic countries have huge areas of mutual cooperation untapped, all of which can be significantly important for each other’s prosperity. The Nordic nations are known for their expertise in clean energy, healthcare, and green technology. It is an ideal situation for India to scout for investments from these countries, as it builds on its zero-carbon economy and emerge as global leader in clean energy. It also helps India save billions by way of cutting down on ‘polluting fuel’ import bills. Meanwhile, for Nordic countries India represents a vastly untapped market growing faster than many of their neighbours. It is also a market which boasts of billions of new customers hungry for new innovative products and servicers at “the right price.” The last stop for the prime minster, Paris, was to reiterate the continued bilateral dialogue between India and France. France remains one India’s most vocal supporters in almost all multilateral and plurilateral platforms. It is also India’s close defence partner, having supplied strategic Rafael aircrafts to India. India would be looking at deepening the security partnership with France in the wake of changed geopolitical headwinds.


-The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.