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Daily Current Affairs 09.08.2020 (Sun Magnetic Field, p.Vivax Malaria, Tabletop Airports)

Daily Current Affairs 09.08.2020 (Sun Magnetic Field, p.Vivax Malaria, Tabletop Airports)

1. Asymptomatic people too carry high viral loads

The researchers did not study the ability of asymptomatic patients to spread the virus to others

  • One reason why containing novel coronavirus spread is challenging is that people who seem to be healthy despite being infected with the virus can spread it to others. A body of evidence now suggests that people without symptoms can and do readily spread coronavirus, and people are most infectious just a couple of days before symptoms show up. This is typically the presymptomatic phase when infected people don’t exhibit symptoms but do shed substantial amounts of virus.

Same load

  • A retrospective study of 303 symptomatic and asymptomatic patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 during March 6-26 has found definite evidence that people who do not exhibit symptoms carry the same amount of virus as those who are symptomatic. The results of the study carried out in South Korea were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
  • Of the 303 patients studied, 110 (36.3%) were asymptomatic at the time of isolation. The team, led by Dr Eunjung Lee from the Soonchunhyang University Hospital, Bucheon, South Korea, found that only 21 of 110 asymptomatic patients subsequently developed symptoms.
  • This study thus provided the much-needed evidence that many people with coronavirus infection can remain asymptomatic for a “prolonged period”.
  • While this study found that 29% of asymptomatic patients never developed symptoms at all, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had pegged it at 20-45%. A review in the Annals of Internal Medicine states that asymptomatic persons account for nearly 40-45% of SARS-CoV-2 infections. The review also said that such people transmit the virus for an “extended period, perhaps longer than 14 days”.
  • While the incidence of asymptomatic patients carrying high viral load raises the possibility of such people spreading the virus to others, the study did not determine this, as it was not designed for the said purpose. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients were isolated, thus providing no opportunity to study the chain of transmission. Also, live virus was not cultured (grown) in labs to confirm the infectious nature of the virus. Hence, they note that “detection of viral RNA does not equate infectious virus being present and transmissible”.
  • While several studies too have found a large percentage of asymptomatic cases, such studies have a limitation. Unlike the current study, earlier ones had considered presymptomatic patients as asymptomatic without observing the clinical course of asymptomatic cases.
  • The challenge with asymptomatic infection is the heightened risk of such people travelling freely and mingling with others thus spreading the virus to them, whereas those with symptoms are more likely to stay at home.

Underreported cases

  • The combination of prolonged period of being asymptomatic and carrying similar viral load as people with symptoms would necessitate isolation of all infected people regardless of symptoms, they note. “An important implication of our findings is that there may be substantial underreporting of infected patients using the current symptom-based surveillance and screening,” they write.
  • The study once again underscores the importance of wearing masks and maintaining physical distancing to reduce the chances of getting infected. Studies have shown that universal masking reduces the amount virus inhaled thus increasing the chances of coming down with only mild disease even when infected.
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2. Sun’s coronal magnetic field measured

This can help solve several puzzles about the solar atmosphere

  • The Sun is our closest star and we have been studying it for a long time. Yet, it has many associated puzzles that are unexplained. A significant advance has been made by an international team of solar physicists led by those from Peking University, China, and National Center for Atmospheric Research of the U.S. The group has measured the global magnetic field of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, for the very first time. This research has been published in the journal Science.

Hot corona puzzle

  • There are two main puzzles about the Sun which this advancement will help address. First is the coronal heating problem. Though the core of the Sun is at a temperature of about 15 million degrees, its outer layer, the photosphere is a mere 5700 degrees hot.
  • However, its corona or outer atmosphere, which stretches up to several million kilometres beyond its surface, is much, much hotter than the surface. It is at a temperature of one million degrees or more. What causes the atmosphere of the Sun (corona) to heat up again, though the surface (photosphere) is cooler than the interior. That is the question which has baffled solar physicists. Popular attempts to explain this puzzle invoke the magnetic field of the corona. Hence the present work will help understand and verify these theories better.

Solar eruptions

  • The other set of questions concerns the mechanisms of eruptions of the Sun, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These are driven by magnetic reconnections happening in the sun’s corona.
  • “Magnetic reconnection is a process where oppositely polarity magnetic field lines connect and some of the magnetic energy is converted to heat energy and also kinetic energy which leads to the generation of heating, solar flares, solar jets, etc,” says Tanmoy Samanta, a postdoctoral research fellow working at George Mason University, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory of the U.S. He is one of the authors of the paper.
  • The team used a technique known as coronal seismology or magnetoseismology to measure the coronal magnetic field which has been known for a few decades. This method requires the measurement of the properties of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves and the density of the corona simultaneously.
  • “In the past, these techniques were occasionally used in small regions of the corona, or some coronal loops due to limitations of our instruments/and proper data analysis techniques,” explains Dr. Samanta, in an email to The Hindu.

Sharp instrument

  • The team used the improved measurements of the Coronal Multi-channel Polarimeter (CoMP) and advanced data analysis to measure the coronal magnetic field. CoMP is an instrument operated by High Altitude Observatory, of the U.S. It is located at Mauna Loa Solar Observatory, near the summit of that volcano on the big island of Hawaii.
  • It is very important to measure the corneal magnetic fields regularly since the solar corona is highly dynamic and varies within seconds to a minute time scale. [While photospheric magnetic fields are measured regularly from space] “the measurement of global coronal magnetic fields was missing in the past since the coronal magnetic fields are very weak. We plan to regularly measure coronal magnetic fields using our sophisticated techniques to understand the physical processes of the highly dynamic corona,” says Dr. Samanta.
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3. Studying P. vivax malaria

The method infects liver cells with mosquito-bred parasites

  • The parasite Plasmodium vivax, responsible for 7.5 million malaria cases worldwide, remains understudied. Not much is known about its dormant stage in the liver. An international team has developed a system to breed these parasites in the lab and then infect cultured human liver cells with it. This can help establish a robust liver stage assay in P. vivax-endemic regions such as India.
  • Mosquitoes inject the sporozoite (spore-like) stage of the parasite into the skin when they bite, and the sporozoites travel to the liver. “Imagine some 50 parasites enter our liver, each infect one liver cell or hepatocyte and multiply enormously to 10,000 or more. These can then move out and infect blood cells,” explains Varadharajan Sundaramurthy, from National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), one of the corresponding authors of the work published in Malaria Journal.

Silent parasite

  • As the number is very low in the liver, our immune system barely notices it. “The parasite can remain in the liver in a dormant stage and relapse later. So there is an urgent need to find drugs for P. vivax which will kill both the blood and liver stages,” he adds.

Improved method

  • Susanta Kumar Ghosh, who recently retired from ICMR-National Institute of Malaria Research, Bengaluru Centre, and is one of the corresponding authors, developed an improved method for breeding Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes in the lab. The females were fed with blood collected from Indian patients with the P. vivax infection. Two weeks later, the mature sporozoites were taken from the mosquitoes’ salivary glands, added to cultured liver cells (multiple human hepatocyte platforms) and studied. This approach can be used to further study the liver stage.
  • “Another complication is the emergence of drug-resistant malaria parasites. Certain malaria-endemic countries have even abandoned chloroquine for P. vivax treatment. Fortunately chloroquine is still effective in India. But the currently used anti-relapse drug, Primaquine, has many undesirable side-effects, especially in patients with a genetic defect called G6PD deficiency. Moreover, it takes 14 days to administer this drug for radical cure… there is an urgent need for development of a new class of drugs,” adds Dr. Ghosh. The researchers add this assay could also be used to test if a specific anti-malarial drug would work for an individual.
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4. How can ‘tabletop’ airports be safer?

Could the overrun at Kozhikode airport be averted? What are the measures that need to be in place?

The story so far: On August 7, a Boeing 737 of Air India Express (the low cost subsidiary of national carrier Air India) on a special ‘Vande Bharat’ repatriation flight from Dubai to Kozhikode overshot the runway. There were ‘174 passengers, 10 infants, 2 pilots and 4 cabin crew on board’. In what was its second attempt, flight IX-1344 touched down on runway 10 of Calicut International Airport at 7.40 p.m., went past the runway end and safety area, and fell into a valley. The fuselage split in the impact. Both pilots lost their lives; there were casualties and injuries of varying degrees among passengers. There was no fire on board. The Digital Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have been recovered. The accident has once again turned the spotlight on operations to what are called ‘tabletop airports’ in India.

What is a ‘tabletop airport’ and how many are there in India?

  • As the name suggests, it is an airport located and built on top of a plateau or hilly surface, with one or both ends of the runway overlooking a drop. The airports in the country which would count as “tabletops”, are namely Lengpui (Mizoram), Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Pakyong (Sikkim), Mangaluru (Karnataka), Kozhikode and Kannur (both Kerala).
  • A retired aviation official says there is no such term as a ‘tabletop airport’ in any International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) technical document. But India’s statutory aviation body, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), refers to these airports in this manner by way of highlighting safety measures during operations to these runways. The official adds that there are not many differences between a ‘normal’ airport and a ‘tabletop’ airport.

Why are these airports drawing attention now?

  • While there have been some aviation incidents at these airports, it was the accident in Mangaluru on May 22, 2010, that highlighted operational risks. Here, an Air India Express flight again, from Dubai to Mangaluru, overran the runway while landing on runway 24. Flight IX-812 hit an antenna and then went down a steep embankment after which there was a fire. Of the 160 passengers and 6 crew, 158 lost their lives. The case focused attention on the nature of operations to such airports, especially their shorter runways.
  • Kozhikode has two runways of 2,700 metres in length. It was 2,860 metres but ‘shortened’ to accommodate a safety feature called RESA, or Runway End Safety Area (of 240 metres), which is a means “to limit the consequences when there is an aircraft overrun during landing, a rejected take-off, or even undershoots the landing area”. In “tabletop” airport operations, the ICAO says a RESA of 90 metres is mandatory, while 240 metres is recommendatory. The runways are Instrument Landing System (ILS) CAT 1 enabled and the airport has a range of visual aids which include simple approach lighting. In addition, all obstacles are lit. Both runways have Required Navigation Performance approach.
  • The retired official says there have been Code E aircraft (based on wingspan) operations to Kozhikode airport. Kannur and Mangaluru too have had widebody aircraft operations. The largest aircraft at Kozhikode (and at any tabletop airport so far) has been Air India’s 423-seater Boeing ‘jumbo’ 747, operating on the Kozhikode-Jeddah sector.

What were the recommendations made after the Mangaluru crash?

  • In its report on the crash, the court of Air Marshal B.N. Gokhale, former Vice-Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force (and its team of aviation expert assessors) made a series of recommendations in a 191-page document of October 2010. These were addressed to the airline operator (Air India and Air India Express). To the Airports Authority of India, it pointed out issues like “avoidance of the downward slope in the overshoot area particularly on ‘tabletop’ runways; the need for a ground arresting system for aircraft — such a facility is maintained at almost all airfields of the Indian Air Force’; a visual reference system to alert the pilot (while landing) of the remaining distance to be covered; location of the ATC tower, approach and area radars; the role of the Rescue and Fire Fighting service, aerodrome risk assessment and, finally, recommendations for the DGCA.

Is there any ICAO document on operations?

  • The retired official says there is an ICAO document 9981 for airports, which also serves as a guideline for compatibility study of the operation of larger aircraft in a comparatively smaller aerodrome. The issue of growth versus aviation services is a worldwide issue requiring the development of small aerodromes for the use of bigger aircraft in a safe manner, especially as demand for air services grows from existing airports. In this document, the elements to be assessed include aerodrome infrastructure and its ground handling capabilities, and aeroplane characteristics. Each element is assessed technically to see whether these are compatible for new types of aircraft proposed to be operated in such aerodromes. Thereafter, a proper safety assessment is done to assess the risk associated with the operation of higher category of aircraft. Risk mitigation measures are suggested in order to bring those risks within “tolerable limits”. Such a compatibility study and safety assessment report will be scrutinised by the regulatory aviation authorities and if found satisfactory, the no objection certificate for operation of such higher category aircraft is issued.
  • When a need was felt to upgrade services at Kozhikode, the airport undertook a runway recarpeting and strengthening exercise between 2015 and 2017.

Could safety measures be better in terms of the ground infrastructure?

  • While RESA is in vogue, the term EMAS has been tossed up, which is mandatory at all international airports in the United States. Called Engineered Materials Arrestor/Arresting System, it is made of engineered lightweight and crushable cellular cement/concrete.
  • Used at the runway ends, it acts as a safety barrier and successfully stops an aircraft overrun Its retarding effect increases as one moves away from the runway edge. In demonstrations in the West, it ensured good aircraft safety. It must be noted that these are laid in easily replaceable blocks in the overrun area. The material is engineered specifically for the airport it is to be used, says the retired official. It is said to be ideal for use in ‘tabletop’ airports. About 75m of EMAS can serve the purpose of 240m of RESA without causing any damage to the aircraft.

How are operations from a pilot’s point of view?

  • A senior airline commander, who is also an instructor and check pilot, says that in reality, there is no specific training that can be given for ‘table top’ runways. However, airlines conduct route checks for short runways. He says that one needs to understand that the landing technique and precautions taken are the same for all runways except that there is no scope for error on short and/or ‘tabletop’ runways. As aircraft accident data show, “runaway overshoots” (excursion) occur as often on non-‘tabletop’ runways. But in such cases, the aircraft, for obvious reasons, has a much better probability of surviving. However, an overrun by even a few metres can turn catastrophic for ‘tabletop’ runway landings.
  • During pilot training, the emphasis is on aiming for 1,000 ft from the beginning of the runway and landing within the touchdown zone. Pilots are also trained to execute a go around if they do not make contact within the touchdown zone. Now, the senior commander says, there is a lot of emphasis on this aspect and pilots are asked to have this uppermost in mind while operating on a short or ‘tabletop’ runway . Further, Crew Resource Management is a mandatory training for all pilots following the recommendations made after the Mangaluru crash, which include classroom and simulator training. Here, the senior commander says, emphasis is placed on training the copilot to ask the commander to initiate a go around in case of an unstable approach or if the aircraft has not touched down within touchdown zone. He or she is even trained to take over as a last ditch measure in case the commander does not heed the copilot’s safety advice to initiate a go around. Other than this, classroom training and simulator training are provided to explain various types of optical illusions including those caused by ‘tabletop’ runways. There is a lot of training done on the simulator for landing in low visibility, heavy rain and winds. This happens during initial induction training and every six months thereafter. As the monsoon is a major factor in Indian aviation, monsoon training is given during initial command training before release. The senior commander adds that certain restrictions are placed before releasing the pilot in command for monsoon operations. Such comprehensive training helps in any landing on any runway and can especially be life saver in ‘tabletop’ operations. The DGCA has mandated a Monsoon Minimum Equipment List as far as aircraft operations are concerned. Here it is mandatory that aircraft devices used in braking or slowing such as brakes and reversers are completely operational.

What is the role of the air traffic control?

  • The ATC only has jurisdiction to provide the pilots with weather conditions including visibility, rain and winds. The minimum visibility is already prescribed, says the senior commander. The ATC will not give clearance to commence approach if visibility is below this minima, but if the visibility meets the requirements then the ATC cannot stop the pilot. The pilot commences approach when visibility is within minima and descends towards the runway to land. At a point called Decision Height, or DH (normally around 200 ft) in case of ILS, and at a point called Minimum Descent Altitude, or MDA, in case of a non precision approach, the pilot must be aware of the runway environment in order to make a safe landing. If he has not, then he has to initiate a go around, circle and return for another attempt at landing. Many a time, the runway cannot be seen even when reported visibility conditions meet the requirements as the conditions measurable on ground by the meteorological department are not the same as the instantaneous condition on the approach path. Only a pilot can observe this.
  • So essentially, after a point, the ATC has a limited role, says the senior commander.
  • If the declared visibility meets the prescribed minima, there is nothing wrong in the pilot attempting an approach. But trying to come in below DH and MDA, if the runway is still not visible is illegal, says the senior commander. No pilot does that, he adds.
  • One needs to understand, he says, that in heavy rain, even if the runway is visible in time, sometimes due to sudden burst of heavy rain during the final touchdown, it is very difficult for the flight crew to fine tune their judgement of flare height. This may even cause a pilot to land beyond the touchdown zone. Finally, he says, all airline companies ask their pilots to divert in case of a thunderstorm and in their opinion if the weather is unsafe even if it meets the minima. But if there is only rain and no thunderstorm seen on aircraft radar then a pilot will attempt an approach and take decision at DH/MDA.

What must Indian aviation do?

  • Aviation safety expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan says India needs to move away from the culture where, after every fatal incident, officials say runways will conform to ICAO standards, the investigation will identify the accident cause, and steps will be taken to rectify the deficiencies. He says if the government is serious it needs to declare Kozhikode as a Code 3C airport, for only narrow body aircraft; ban landings on runway 10 during the monsoons; ensure that all runway condition standards are enforced; ensure approach and landing accident training for pilots is enforced strictly and, finally, be transparent and safety-oriented and not look at commercial interests.
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5. Why are Confucius Institutes under the scanner?

How will it impact Beijing’s global soft power efforts? Will the Indian government’s review hamper ties?

The story so far: On July 29, India’s Ministry of Education (previously the Ministry of Human Resource Development) sent a letter to several institutions seeking information about the activities of their Confucius Institutes (CIs) and Chinese language training centres. This was said to be part of a review of work being done by higher education institutions in partnership with foreign entities. The move has brought the spotlight to China’s CI programme, a key pillar of Beijing’s global soft power effort, and raised questions about the future of India-China cooperation in the education space.

What are Confucius Institutes (CI)?

  • Starting with a CI in Seoul in 2004, China’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL), known as Hanban, has established 550 CIs and 1,172 Confucius Classrooms (CCs) housed in foreign institutions, in 162 countries. The Hanban is under the Ministry of Education. As the Hanban explains on its website, following the experience of the British Council, Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, China began “establishing non-profit public institutions which aim to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries”. These were named CIs.

What is the presence of CIs in India?

  • India is reviewing the presence of CIs in seven universities, in addition to 54 MoUs on inter-school cooperation involving China, which is not connected to the CI programme. The Hanban website lists three CIs in India (University of Mumbai, Vellore Institute of Technology and Lovely Professional University) and three CCs (School of Chinese Language Kolkata, Bharathiar University, and K.R. Mangalam University) but in some of these cases, it is understood that plans did not materialise.

How have CIs been viewed around the world?

  • The CI arrangement has generated debate in the West, where some universities have closed the institutes amid concern over the influence of the Chinese government on host institutions, which receive funding for running the CIs. Closures of some CIs have been reported in the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Sweden. In January, the CI in the University of Maryland, the first in the U.S., closed down, citing new U.S. rules, referring to the 2018 National Defense Authorisation Act, barring universities receiving certain government assistance from also accepting Chinese funding. Faced with this backlash, China is now rebranding the programme. According to a recent directive from the Ministry of Education reported by the South China Morning Post, the Hanban has been renamed as a Center for Language Education and Cooperation, with suggestions that the Confucius Institute brand may even be dropped. While the closures in the West have made news, these cases still represent a minority. Most of the 550 CIs and more than 1,000 CCs around the world are still active, with a presence spanning Africa, Central Asia, Latin America, and across Asia, including in India’s neighbourhood in Pakistan (seven), Nepal (four), Sri Lanka (four) and Bangladesh (three), according to Hanban’s figures.

What does the CI review mean for India-China relations?

  • On August 6, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) suggested the government was merely following guidelines established in 2009 requiring Indian institutions entering into such agreements “supported/sponsored by an autonomous foreign organisation, including any Confucius Centre” to seek the MEA’s approval. In a statement on August 4, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi pointed out that CIs and CCs had already been in India for more than 10 years and called on India “to avoid politicising normal cooperation”. Even prior to the June 15 India-China border clash, Indian authorities had viewed the CI arrangement somewhat warily and as treading a fine line with regard to its rules for how foreign educational institutions can operate in India, but the government has at the same time worked with Hanban in other areas, for instance, signing an agreement in 2012 to train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin with a view towards encouraging the study of Mandarin in Central Board of Secondary Education schools. Along with the new move to review CIs, Mandarin has been dropped from the list of foreign languages that can be taught in schools in the new National Education Policy. If the messaging from Delhi is that it cannot be business as usual with China after the border clash, less clear are the long-term objectives. De-emphasising learning Mandarin, experts say, is neither likely to impact China’s stance on the border, nor help India in developing the expertise and resources it needs in dealing with China.

6. The monks who led the mandir movement

The organisation has been at the forefront of the legal and political battles for building a Ram temple at the disputed land in Ayodhya

  • The VHP was formed in 1964, as an affiliate of the RSS, to leverage the influence of Hindu holy men in civil society for the Hindutva movement
  • The VHP’s first order of business was to mobilise Hindus around “sacred” geography and Hindu cosmology
  • The group’s association with the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation gained prominence in the 1980s, especially after the Shah Bano law and the opening of the gates of the Babri Masjid
  • Nistula Hebbar
  • The bhoomi poojan, or ground-breaking ceremony, of the Ram temple in Ayodhya has turned the spotlight on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), one of the first advocates of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and a group that has been at the forefront of mobilising popular opinion and leading the legal fight for the issue.
  • The formation of the VHP, an amalgamation of sants and akharas and maths of Hindu holy men, may appear to be a natural corollary of the growth of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its pursuit of mobilising support for Hindutva, but it was, like the formation of the Jana Sangh in 1951, a well thought-out move. The VHP was formed in 1964, as an affiliate of the RSS, to leverage the influence of Hindu holy men in civil society.

Trigger points

  • “Three trigger points led to the formation of the VHP, a need to network the diaspora Hindus who needed an organisation to maintain cultural ties, the Niyogi Commission report (a report on religious conversion brought out by the Madhya Pradesh government in the 1960s) and the need to bring Hindu religious leaders together to initiate social reforms, especially against caste discrimination,” said Arun Anand, research director of the RSS-affiliated think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra.
  • “The RSS had realised that casteism would hamper Hindu unity and that religious leaders held great sway in civil society in this regard. This was part of the dozens of frontal organisations formed in the 1950s and 1960s by the RSS, to work in specific areas of society for reform and break fragmentation of Hindu society,” added Mr. Anand, who has written three books on the RSS, including the latest, Ramjanmabhoomi: Truth, Evidence, Faith.
  • The Ramjanmabhoomi movement was something the Sangh Parivar had been associated with since 1948 when idols of Lord Ram “appeared” inside the Babri Masjid, but the VHP’s first order of business was more about mobilising Hindus around “sacred” geography and Hindu cosmology. These were symbols and issues that Hindus revered or felt strongly about, said Sheshadri Chari, former editor of Organiser, the RSS mouthpiece. “There can be Hindu unity around Shraddha Kendras (devotion points).” This was also the time that M.S. Golwalkar’s cautious approach to political mobilisation was supplanted by Balasaheb Deoras’s more political approach in the RSS.
  • The first such programme was the ‘Bharat Mata Ganga Mata Yatra’, carrying water from the four corners of the country to Nagpur, where a small reservoir of Gangajal would be mixed in with water from other parts of the country and later released back into the rivers across the country. The Ganga, a point of reverence in Hinduism, was central to this campaign that became the first mass mobilisation undertaken by the VHP.
  • The VHP’s association with the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation gained prominence under the light of certain events in the 1980s. One of the big triggers was the Meenakshipuram conversions of 1981, where 180 families belonging to lower castes in a village in Tiruneveli in Tamil Nadu converted to Islam. The event triggered unease even in the then Congress-led government at the Centre. A discussion on conversions in Parliament took place with Home Minister and later President of India, Zail Singh, terming it a “a conspiracy of political motivation”.

Political space

  • This was followed by the Shah Bano law of 1985, which overturned the Supreme Court’s award of maintenance to Shah Bano. Against this background, Sangh organisations argued that Hindus needed to reclaim political and cultural space as Hindus, and challenged the Congress’s definition of concepts such as secularism. They found the situation ripe for pushing the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. Following the Shah Bano decision, the Rajiv Gandhi government ordered the locks on Babri Masjid be removed, allowing Hindu worshippers access to the structure.
  • The Ram mandir movement was then given a fillip through a campaign of collecting bricks for the construction of a temple. “Kashi and Mathura were places where a mosque and temple were both present, but at the Ramjanmabhoomi, there was only a mosque and hence the brick collecting campaign was launched,” said Mr. Chari. Two committees were formed — the Janmasthan Mukti Sangharsh Samiti and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas (which also took care of all the bricks and other paraphernalia being sent to Ayodhya). These committees later evolved into bigger organisations as the movement grew.
  • The Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP, was formed during the course of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. From 1984, the VHP initiated the series of processions called the “Ram-Janaki Rathyatra” in Ayodhya, which ratcheted up communal tensions across the north and central India. The youth wing was then set up to “protect” the yatras but it ended up giving a more muscular, and militant tone to the movement. In the wake of the destruction of Babri Masjid by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, the Narasimha Rao government banned the Bajrang Dal. The ban was revoked a year later, but there had been repeated calls for a ban on the outfit during the UPA government after cases of attacks on members of the minority communities emerged. A special Cabinet meeting was called in October 2008 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to consider a ban on the Bajrang Dal, after attacks on churches in Karnataka and Odisha, but nothing came of it.
  • The Ramjanmabhoomi movement got its biggest push when the BJP decided to back it in its Palampur meet in Himachal Pradesh in 1989.

Not on the same page

  • The BJP, the political wing of the RSS, and the VHP, the organisation the RSS depended on to penetrate and influence civil society, have often been on separate pages through the years, especially under the VHP’s former working president Praveen Togadia, who has very public differences with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The RSS, however, has maintained its steadfastness in implementing its agenda, and weighed in in favour of Mr. Modi in that face-off. Their faith paid off in the August 5 ground-breaking ceremony. The two single majority governments of Mr. Modi allowed the Sangh Parivar a historic opportunity to push forward with its agenda, be it the temple, the dilution of Article 370 or capture of state institutions.
  • Now that the temple is going to rise in Ayodhya, what’s next for the VHP? Will it lose its raison d’etre? Or will it create the same social energy in its call for “liberating” Kashi and Mathura?
  • The answer, say office-bearers who spoke to The Hindu, lies in the first resolution passed by the VHP after its formation in 1964. There’s a Sanskrit term in the resolution, ‘Na Hindu Patito Bhavet’ (No Hindu is beyond the Pale), that aimed at subverting caste discrimination in favour of a unified Hindu society and resisted conversions to other faiths and dilution of Hindu beliefs. That still remains a goal.
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