Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You 

The Quint’s compilation of the best weekend reads.

9 min read
Nothing like your morning cuppa and a newspaper on a Sunday. 

Across the Aisle: The Killed and the Killers

P Chidambaram, in his column in The Indian Express, writes short tributes to five people whose murders have shaken India in the recent past: Narendra Dabholkar (1945-2013), Govind Pansare (1933-2015), M M Kalburgi (1962-2017), Gauri Lankesh (1962-2017) and Shantanu Bhowmick (1989-2017). He does so because, in his opinion, as important as it is to find the killers, it is equally crucial to remember the killed: their names, life and work. After all, it is their ideas that threatened their life.

Chidambaram wonders: “who could resent, to the point of causing death, ideas such as anti-superstition, anti-idolatry and scientific temper?”

It is not difficult to construct a picture of the person or persons who probably committed these despicable murders. Almost certainly, they belong to right-wing groups. They are deeply conservative to the point of being reactionary. They resent ideas that challenge their own ideas. They question free speech and India’s diversity. They are intolerant. They spread hate. They are emboldened when they are among like-minded people and take to violence — even murder — when they are in a group.With that profile of the killer(s), ‘who was killed’ should have led the investigative agencies, by now, to ‘who were the killers’. Names of some key suspects are common in four cases and some have been declared absconders. Meanwhile, hate and fear spread and we hang our heads in grief and shame.

Lathis are not Going to Stop the March of the Bold Bharatiya Nari

‘Let’s talk about the vision of New India’, begins Sagarika Ghose in her column in Times of India. Using the recent lathi-charge on female students at Banaras Hindu University’s Mahila Maha Vidyalaya as a springboard, Ghose leaps into a scathing attack on the so-called ‘nationalists’ who are threatened by the very idea of a ‘jeans-clad female millennial with her backpack and smartphone.’ She blames the ‘illiberal religion-saturated society we live in’ and through a number of recent incidents, illustrates how panicky the government gets every time women aggressively demand their rights. Staying true to her style, Ghose ends with a fearless “Bring on this lathis!”

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that Hindu women should perform their household duties without getting “distracted by anybody”; BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj has said Hindu women must produce four children, and Haryana CM ML Khattar has said that “if girls want freedom why don’t they just roam around naked?” MP minister Kailash Vijayvargiya once declared that women should dress according to Indian culture and not wear clothes that provoke others. How different are these ruling Hindutva voices from Islamic clerics issuing fatwas on Sania Mirza’s tennis skirts or insisting women stay in purdah? For the militantly traditional, a woman is either virgin or whore, devi or dayan, bikini-clad Helen or sari-swaddled Nirupa Roy. This perverse sex-suffused binary vision prevents a woman from ever attaining the status of either an individual or a citizen with equal rights, or even a human being.

Changing India is Important but so is Managing the Change

Swapan Dasgupta makes a nuanced point in Times of India. PM Modi is intent on bringing about change– nay, transformation in the country. That program for change has been largely misunderstood and criticised. That’s because, unlike previous leaders, Modi has no time for plodding towards change; he intends to disrupt the status quo entirely. After illustrating that Modi’s plan is working (Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, rural electrification drive), Dasgupta writes it is equally important for the government to manage the transition phase sensitively and patiently.

Inevitably, transformation also involves adjustments and even disruption. The sheer magnitude of the GST has meant bureaucratic muddles, government inefficiencies and even bewilderment. They need to be addressed swiftly and with sensitivity. Equally, the transition to digitisation and tax compliance demands accommodation and not merely arm-twisting. In every sphere there is need for fine-tuning that improves efficiency and compliance but which doesn’t compromise the larger objectives of the transformative agenda. The determination to catapult India into the 21st century must include hand-holding of those who trip and even find it difficult to manage the transition. An inflexible system, apart from breeding resentment, ends up jeopardising the big objectives and plays into the hands of those who want a rotten status quo to persist. The management of change is as important as change itself.

Out of my Mind: Corruption or Growth

India’s problem of corruption which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sworn to chase away, is a result of 70 years of a socialist economy designed to encourage tax evasion and corruption. Meghnad Desai explains, in The Indian Express, how completely removing corruption will be expensive, and (hopefully only temporarily) disastrous to the economy– something PM Modi should be ready for. He gives a quick history lesson on how corruption has seeped into the very system root of our economy through decades of Congress socialism starting right from independence.

Desai concludes: removing corruption will necessarily affect growth in our economy, and thus Modi must find new ways to enhance growth.

Narendra Modi is serious about attacking corruption. The Prime Minister is a moralist. For him, tax evasion, sending money abroad, black money in its various forms, are not just illegal activities; they are treasonable. He would like to root out all corruption, and that was his top priority at the BJP national convention rather than the economy.Corruption is morally indefensible, but may be economically efficient. So, in an economy used to such illegality, it is costly to remove corruption. We are told that for SMEs, the GST has been a shock. They made their small profits from tax evasion as they bought and sold. Now, with the GST, they have to declare every transaction and incur the tax along the way. Black money hoards represented the profits of a thriving private economy. Eliminating corruption effectively means reducing the profits of doing business in an economy practised in tax evasion and other forms of illegal behaviour.

Fifth Column: Pessimism as a New Narrative

Tavleen Singh pens down her thoughts, in The Indian Express, on Narendra Modi’s latest speech defending the economic growth of the country. It’s true that the economic slowdown is Modi’s biggest problem, Tavleen acknowledges up front. But it is also true that there is a miasma of pessimism being created to defame the PM by “nepotistic promoters of a polity of socialist feudalism”. She goes on to opine about where Modi went wrong with his policies and how he must fix them. Singh believes he may have made mistakes but his motivation is a genuine desire to serve India. Even “gleeful Dynasty devotees” agree, she says.

To prove his ‘pro-poor’ credentials he began his hunt for ‘black money’ and abolished more than 85 per cent of our currency to further this cause. The move worked politically as the election in Uttar Pradesh affirmed, but economically it affected small businessmen, traders and farmers badly since their businesses ran on cash. What the Prime Minister seems not to have noticed yet is that tax evasion is not ‘black’ money, or that millions of more Indians would pay their taxes if this were easy to do. Big businessmen can employ experts to help file complicated returns; small businessmen cannot. This is something the mighty mandarins on Raisina Hill appear not to be aware of. They inhabit a stratosphere so removed from ordinary Indian realities that they created a GST so complex that it has befuddled officials and accountants. It has also broken the back of small businesses which do not make enough money to file returns every five minutes or hire experts to negotiate the maze of new rates. Waiting for them to falter are swarms of black money hunters who take their own cut before passing up what they find.

A Bevy of Bhishmas - Liberals and the Anti-Modi Right

With his latest critique of the economy, Yashwant Sinha has joined Arun Shourie and Subramaniam Swamy in the list of right-wing political opponents of PM Modi who are cheered on, even lauded by liberals/left-wing critics of the government. However, Mukul Kesavan has a warning for the liberals in The Telegraph: be careful who you befriend. Examine Swamy’s thoughts on Ram Mandir, on Muslims and Shourie’s reaction to the Godhra riots. Question the assumption that the failure to live up to the promise of New India’s economic growth will be enough to sink Modi’s government.

Yashwant Sinha isn’t looking to be a liberal mascot. He knows whose side he is on. About six months ago in April, he tried to lead a Ram Navami procession through a village near Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, along with the local BJP MLA. Religious processions had been banned in this village since a communal riot in 1984. In 2016, there had been communal clashes in Hazaribagh town and its surrounding areas when the Ram Navami procession insisted on marching past Muslim neighbourhoods. Despite this, Sinha was willing to ignore prohibitory orders to engage in a fracas with the police to burnish, at the age of 80, his Hindu credentials.Liberals should worry when it becomes reasonable for them to cheer Hindutvavadis on in their internecine squabbles. They should worry when it seems prudent to focus on Modi’s economic missteps because liberal arguments against majoritarian bigotry seem electorally unwise. Once the main argument against the Modi government is reduced to potshots about the economy fired off the shoulders of veteran majoritarians, liberals are trapped in a conversation curated by the Hindu right. A conversation where it’s safe to savage demonetization but electorally unproductive to call out the brutal communalism of the sangh parivar, where it’s profitable to speak up for Hindus but quixotic to speak for Hind.

Inside Track: In a Trance?

Here with the latest on the going-ons and gup-shup within the hallowed halls of the Indian Parliament is Coomi Kapoor in The Indian Express. Look out for details on why Governors miss and prefer Pranab Mukherjee over President Govind as far as dinner parties go and the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s explosive speech which interrupted Amit Shah’s Kerala rally!

The BJP is concerned about municipal elections in Uttar Pradesh, due in November. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has not exactly endeared himself to his own party members, let alone the rest of the electorate. In his drive against corruption, Yogi has ordered that no party worker or leader should apply for government quotas or contracts. He has even decreed that party members should not visit police stations and try to browbeat the police. BJP workers grumble that they did not join the party simply to lay durries and gather crowds, while others reap the benefits. Another fallout of this is that construction activity has slowed down drastically. The CM has banned excavation of riverbeds and consequently the price of sand used in building sites has skyrocketed. Yogi’s ministers also grumble that the CM is frequently inaccessible. Some joke privately that perhaps he spends a lot of his time in the yogic position called tandra, which means he is neither sleeping nor awake. He is in a trance.

Our Changing Climate Mind-Set

The world, especially USA, is going through a crucial shift in mindset, writes Robert Jay Clifton, in the The New York Times. With four consecutive hurricanes, floods, wildfire and drought destroying millions of lives in catastrophes of biblical proportions, millions of people have seen the effects of global warming first-hand. So, while Donald Trump may continue rejecting (not denying) climate change, Clifton opines that the swerve in people’s mindset is bigger than any one person, even Trump. He lays out the steps we must take, as a collective, to ensure the survival and adaptation of the human species, going forward.

So yes again, hurricanes have now become a central component of what I call the climate swerve: the powerful shift in our awareness of climate truths. The swerve is a change in collective consciousness that includes a coherent narrative of global warming, of cause and effect and of steps necessary for mitigation. The swerve forces us to look upon ourselves as members of a single species in deep trouble. This mind-set is evident in public opinion surveys, in the reporting of catastrophes that regularly invoke the influence of global warming, in growing doubts about a carbon economy and in challenges to the morality of extracting and burning underground fossil fuel resources.

How we go from Outrage to Apathy, Again and Again

What better to end your Sunday morning reading session with than Ruskin Bond’s meandering weekend thoughts put together in an almost personal diary entry in Times of India. He strings together descriptions of Bhutan’s lush valleys, the view from his window from his quaint house in the mountains and his reaction to the recent spate of disasters like the Gorakhpur hospital tragedy, to paint an absorbing picture on the nature of apathy.

The Bhutanese take pride in the cleanliness of their roads and public places, and the neatness of their shop fronts and houses. You don’t see any litter lying around. And no sooner was I back on the outskirts of Dehradun that I was greeted by mountains of garbage – probably the same garbage that had been lying there the previous week. Of course we have the excuse of a massive population, but sheer apathy has a lot to do with it.Apathy is the root cause of most of the disasters that we have witnessed during last August: Several child deaths in a Gorakhpur hospital; horrendous railway accidents due to the usual negligence; collapsing buildings and flooded drains in Mumbai….A few words of outrage, and we move on to the next calamity. Swachh Bharat, a cleaner, healthier India, is the dream of our Prime Minister. And to turn that dream into reality we must shake off our apathy.
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