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Is Mamata losing in Bengal: Otherwise why stuff ballot boxes?

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By Saeed Naqvi

A senior BJP leader, campaigning in Kolkata, may well have put his finger on the people’s pulse.

When he attacked Mamata Banerjee and the Left-Congress Front in equal measure, the crowd response was tepid. But when he attacked the Trinamool Congress (TMC) for 60 per cent of his speech, people applauded. At 75 percent, there was thunderous applause.

This was at the earlier phases of polling, but there is no reason to believe that the trend will change before counting day.

In fact, if the violence witnessed during the earlier phases continues, and the stuffing of ballot boxes by ‘ghost’ voters after polling hours multiplies, it will become clear that the TMC is nervous. It is brazening it out through violence, which has now become associated with Mamata’s party in the popular imagination.

Does this mean there was no violence during 34 years of CPI-M rule?

A left liberal intellectual explains it succinctly: “CPI-M was more disciplined because it was cadre based; cadres knew the area and its leaders, the ones who had to be attacked. TMC goons who have grown during the five years of TMC rule, enter areas they may not know and attack everybody. There is, therefore, much more bloodshed.” There is universal fear.

“Laat khayega ki biryani khayega” (Would you like to be kicked or served biryani?) An “aabdar” or barman at one of Kolkata’s many clubs, mimics the TMC’s neighbourhood tough. Aabdar is derived from Urdu – one who serves drinks.

“This time we are quiet, but we shall show our hands at the polling booth.” He is clearly among the urban Muslims still loyal to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M). Otherwise Muslims across the board have no grievance with the Mamata.

In fact, they quite adore her for the way she created an almighty movement in West Bengal on the land issue in Singur and Nandigram between 2006 and 2007. In both these efforts at industrialization by the CPI-M, poorest Muslims, among others, would have lost their livelihood and property, “had Didi not intervened”.

That is where she hit the political jackpot. She had lost the 2006 assembly poll but she used Singur and Nandigram as fulcrums to turn her fortunes around. She won 70 per cent of the 54,000 Panchayat seats in 2008. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, Left Front came down to 15 seats from 42 in 2004. In 2014, they had only two seats. Mamata won 38.

Now comes the “vote share” punditry on which those who wish to see the back of Mamata in Bengal base their calculations.

Even at her peak Mamata’s vote share was only 40 per cent. The CPI-M was 30 per cent and Congress, 10. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have won just two seats but its vote share was 17 percent.

A very arithmetical argument is: CPI-M’s 30 percent and Congress 10 makes the alliance equal to Mamata’s 40. The question is: Which way will the BJP’s 17 per cent split?

In a complex sociological turf, arithmetic is inadequate to accurately calculate electoral outcomes. To this comes a quick riposte. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav held onto his vote bank. After the Nitish Kumar-BJP combination ran its course, it was the Nitish-Lalu combination that triumphed.

Through grit, courage and a refusal to lose, once Mamata ascended the gaddi, she faced her biggest challenge: How to cope with the CPI-M cadres?

Violent tactics to overcome this handicap has become a strategy. Willy nilly she must keep riding the tiger. A group of thugs, cheering her along. Some of these cheering goons have formed an irregular system of co-operatives, called syndicates.

Imagine the new, garish, multi-storeyed buildings near Kolkata airport. Obviously, land has been acquired. “Land losers” have been given a novel compensation. They will supply all the materials used in the buildings. The infection has spread. No enterprise can take to wing without the syndicate’s “blessings”.

A senior Bengali academic from the US, confident that many in Mamata’s administration had once been his students, returned to Kolkata to have his ancestral house repaired. Work progressed until one day a dozen peak-capped TMC volunteers materialized. How had work begun without their knowledge?

The professor and his wife called up a powerful minister, their student. The minister said he was helpless because the syndicate operated on the directives of a different minister.

This system has replaced the Left cadres. Indeed, out-of-job cadres have switched sides and joined the syndicate system. There is great consternation all around.

Obviously, there is loss of support for her. This explains the conventional wisdom across the board: She will return with a vastly reduced margin.

If it is generally accepted that she is on a down-hill slope, who can say with certainty where she may land?

She will, however, not lose support among Muslims who are over 30 per cent of the state’s population. Talk to Samsuzaman Ansari, local leader in Matia Burj, where Awadh’s last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was exiled by the British in 1856, and he will list all that Didi has done for the community.

Did not the Left Front government also give them protection? Yes, they gave us protection but they also gave us a mantra:

“Gai ka gosht khaao/CPI-M ke geet gaao”

(Eat beef to your heart’s content; but sing the CPI-M’s praises). That was all.

There is populism all around. She has improved on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s rural schemes – not just Rs.2 per kg of rice but even gold bangles for girls.

For the Left Front and the Congress this could well be their last battle for survival in the state. They have joined hands in Bengal even though they are in direct conflict in Kerala. There may be no morality in all of this, but is it practical commonsense?

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Cash is King – Conserve Cash

When this better time would come is yet another dilemma. I believe that in about 4 to 6 weeks’ time the world would have come out of COVID-19 and we would be in a better frame of mind. Till then follow the old adage — CASH IS KING.

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The markets were under pressure in the week gone by and lost on three of the four trading days. BSESENSEX was down 2,224.84 points or 7.46 per cent at 27,590.75 points whilst NIFTY was down 576.45 points or 6.66 per cent at 8,083.80 points.

The top gaining sector was BSEHEALTHCARE which was up 6.59 per cent while the top losing sector was BSEBANKEX down 13.98 per cent. In individual stocks, the top gainer was Lupin, up 19.74 per cent at Rs 655. The top loser was IndusInd Bank, down 23.78 per cent at Rs 313.25.

The Indian Rupee was under terrific pressure and lost Rs 1.33 or 1.78 per cent to close at Rs 76.22 to the US Dollar. Dow Jones continued its wild swings and lost 584.25 points or 2.70 per cent to close at 21,052.53 points.

Singapore has decided to lockdown from 7th April till the end of the month. SGX or Singapore Stock Exchange would continue to function as it is part of essential services.

SEBI has barred promoters from buying their own shares as the new quarter has started. The insider trading rules debar promoters from buying shares until 48 hours after the results have been declared. This time around they have extended the reporting time of the quarter for declaring results of March 2020 quarter. There was some confusion in media about this being a new rule and there were voices of dissent. There is no such thing and the only reason it has been announced is that with an extended period for declaring results, any management/promoter wanting to buy shares of its company needs to declare results first as was the case always.

COVID-19 continues to be the sore trouble spot for India and the world. The death toll and the number of COVID-19 affected persons is rapidly rising. The number of affected persons globally has risen to over 12.03 lakh patients, while the death toll is at 64,754. In India the number has risen sharply for affected persons to 3,588 and the death toll to 99. In India there has been a very sharp spike in the last couple of days after people who had attended a religious congregation in Delhi are being tracked down and found to be COVID-19 affected. This could be a setback to India’s efforts to contain the virus and may result in the planned lockdown being extended or lifted in a more gradual and phased manner.

Money market timings have been reduced with effect from 7th April and it may be a good idea if the same timings are also extended to the capital market. Volumes in the market have reduced significantly and reduced timings would help the market in reducing volatility as well. Whether the regulator would take heed of the suggestion or not is anybody’s guess but I am sure the market community would be most happy and welcome the suggestion.

Coming to the markets, it has become quite a norm for markets to take one step forward and two steps backward. There is no direction or logic in what’s happening. They lose ground and then there is some recovery. Sector after sector is losing ground and the fall in prices is having a cascading effect on margin calls and revocation of pledged shares as well. The fall in prices of Future Retail saw a broker on the exchanges close shop after firing all its employees. Incidentally the brokerage firm India Nivesh had a former CFO/CEO of Future group as its Managing Director for its Wealth Management arm. Quite surprising that a Former insider of the Biyani group could get so badly trapped in Future group share slide. It could also be that this is the tip of the iceberg on this chapter and more events would unfold shortly.

The current levels at which the markets are attractive enough to invest in selectively. However, the global environment is not conducive and the news flow certainly not heartening. Therefore even though one is tempted looking at the prices, it makes sense to just stay away and wait for better times. When this better time would come is yet another dilemma. I believe that in about 4 to 6 weeks’ time the world would have come out of COVID-19 and we would be in a better frame of mind. Till then follow the old adage — CASH IS KING.

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Trial in Britain for cell therapy treatment of Covid-19

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New Delhi, April 7 : Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are leading a UK-wide clinical trial, offering an innovative cell therapy treatment for Covid-19 patients with acute respiratory failure.

This clinical trial — led by Professor Danny McAuley and Professor Cecilia O’Kane, both researchers from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s — is investigating the use of allogenic Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) in patients with a complication known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) caused by coronavirus.

In the most critically unwell patients with Covid-19, many develop a complication known as ARDS.

In ARDS, the lungs become inflamed and leaky so they fill with fluid. This causes respiratory failure and patients may require admission to intensive care and a ventilator to support their breathing.

A recent statement from the four UK Chief Medical Officers outlined the importance of clinical trials amid the Covid-19 crisis.

Professor Cecilia O’Kane said: “It is only through clinical trials will we be able to determine if new treatments are effective and safe in critically ill patients.”

The trial involves the use of MSCs, a type of cell derived from human tissue such as bone marrow or umbilical cord (which is otherwise discarded after the baby is born), to treat the injury to the lung caused by Covid-19.

MSCs are a novel treatment that has been shown in experimental models to reduce inflammation, fight infection and improve the repair of injured tissue.

Patients in this trial, which is known as Realist Covid-19, will be treated with a purified population of MSCs derived from umbilical cord tissue called ORBCEL-C.

The ORBCEL-C therapy has been developed by scientists at Orbsen Therapeutics in Galway, Ireland.

The ORBCEL-C therapeutic is manufactured under licence by the UK NHS Blood and Transplant Service for the Realist Covid-19 trial.

The trial is being introduced as part of an existing programme of research investigating the use of MSCs in patients with ARDS.

The first patient has now been recruited with plans to recruit at least 60 patients throughout the Covid-19 pandemic at multiple sites across the UK, including Belfast, Birmingham and London.

Professor Ian Young, Clinical Professor at the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Director of HSC R&D and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of Health, said: “The Health and Social Care Research & Development Division has been working with researchers across HSC to address the global problem of coronavirus.

“The vital research which will provide important evidence regarding a potential new treatment for respiratory failure, a leading cause of mortality in Covid-19.A

“We will continue to support health research and encourage people to participate in research trials and other studies so patients can get the best possible treatment to help tackle the spread of Covid-19.”

The trial has been identified by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as a national urgent public health study.

It is one of the many Covid-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Chief Medical Officer and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England.

The study is funded by the Health and Social Care Research & Development Division and the Wellcome Trust, sponsored by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and supported by the NI Clinical Trials Unit, the NIHR Clinical Research Network and the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network.

Orbsen CSO Steve Elliman noted: “While there are over 100 vaccines and therapies in development targeting the SARS-CoV-2 infection – at present there are no disease modifying therapies approved for ARDS.

“We’re delighted the Realist trial was approved and listed by NIHR as an Urgent Public Health Research Study so we can continue assess the safety of the ORBCEL-C therapy in patients with ARDS.”

Sir Professor Alimuddin Zumla of University College London, a global coronavirus and infectious diseases expert said: “This is an exciting and important trial which targets rectifying the underlying causes of lung damage and has great potential of saving many lives from Covid-19.”

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‘Tablighi Jamaat chief has not shown vision, scientific approach’

Maulana Saad released an audio message last week in which he had said that he is in “self-quarantine in Delhi as advised by the doctors” and appealed to all Jamaatis wherever they are in the country to follow the directives of the law.

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New Delhi, April 6 : Tablighi Jamaat chief, Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, who is at the centre of the controversy for holding a large global congregation at a time of spreading coronavirus — despite advice of veterans — which led to a wider spread of the disease across the country, has been faulted by community leaders and intellectuals for his misjudgements.

Given that Islam is not against science, they said the community expects that followers of Jamaat to adhere to the “scientific approach”.

“The community is suffering because of the lack of vision shown by Maulana Saad in dealing with the issues which could have been dealt in a better manner,” Navaid Hamid, President of the Majlis Mushawarat, said, adding that had Maulana Saad showed vision, “the community would not have been maligned the way it is being done by the adversaries”.

“Since the beginning, authorities of the Markaz Jamaat, including its Amir Maulana Saad, have not shown the visionary attitude which they were supposed to demonstrate during the whole crisis in its basic aspects….the foremost is the continuous congregation of the faithful and the inept response of the Markaz,” he said.

Hamid suggested that Maulana Saad should have made a public statement when attendees got stuck in the lockdown, but at least now, he should come out to make a public statement.

Maulana Ashraf Imam of Mumbai said that mosques were closed when the government advisory came and it is in the teachings of Islam to save your life and the life of other person.

“The Prophet himself has said to do research on certain things to serve the human kind. The Prophet also said that not to go to the place where there is pandemic and also not to migrate from the place of pandemic,” he said.

Shakil Ahmed, an engineer who has lived in the Gulf for years, said: “Islam is not against scientific approach and it seeks a person to be practical…. the problem is that the Markaz issue has damaged the image of Muslims whereas there are very less number of people who follow the Tablighi Jamaat.”

However, the Jamaat disagrees on the charge that they do not follow modern ways and says its chief is in quarantine as per the advice of doctors.

Maulana Saad released an audio message last week in which he had said that he is in “self-quarantine in Delhi as advised by the doctors” and appealed to all Jamaatis wherever they are in the country to follow the directives of the law.

He said that it is also advised to remain indoors and adhere to the directives of the government and not assemble anywhere.

Maulana Saad, through his advocate, also appealed that followers of Jamaat should present themselves to the authorities for checkup and follow-up if any of the persons has returned from Jamaat and they should also adhere to the directive of the authorities and there was “no need to argue and misbehave with anybody”.

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