Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You
We sifted through the papers and found the best opinion reads, so you won’t have to.
The Government May Ride Out the Farmers’ Protests. But Simmering Discontent Will Remain
Pratab Bhanu Mehta writes in The Indian Express there prevails a sense that farmers will be at the receiving end of these changes rather than shaping them propels the need for a show of strength. “If they lose they are marginalised forever,”Mehta argues, adding that the existential stakes in this agitation for both the farmer and the government are high; but the possibility of a good faith material resolution is low. According to Mehta, “this has the makings of a perfect storm.”
There is a basis for the fear of the farmers in Punjab. This is not the place to go into the merits of the three bills. But whenever there is a large-scale transition there is uncertainty about how it will work and who will bear the risk. The farmers fear that support for public mandis and procurement is likely to decline, without a strong state floor to support them, is real. The government could, in the spirit of conciliation, offer some commitment on procurement and support to public mandis.
Right Not Rabid
In his column for The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan writes that some conservative pundits, embarrassed by the feral Right and keen to seem ideologically respectable, have found an all-purpose rhetorical manoeuvre which goes like this. Progressives are to blame for the enthronement of racist, communalist and majoritarian political parties because it is the left’s ‘wokeness’, its infatuation with minority politics that prepared the ground for the rise of the ‘hard’ right.
He argues in the context of American politics but with a nod at India that racism and communalism in politics is a choice, not a permanent condition. When people stop making racist choices, they stop being racist. Kesavan contends that the writer’s task “is to clarify not fudge the nature of the choice voters made when they chose Trump or Modi.”
When commentators who cheered Modi on in 2014 now wring their hands about lynching and love jihad and claim that they gave Modi the benefit of the doubt only because he was an economic reformer, progressives should, without rolling their eyes, nod politely and move on. At best, these pundits were the feral Right’s useful idiots; at worst they knowingly boarded a dangerous bandwagon because they liked the buzz of being in the vanguard of the Hindu Turn.
Modi: The Creation of a 100-Year Movement
In his column in The Hindustan Times, VInay Sitapati writes that Modi is the outcome of a spark lit by representative politics in 1920s. Today, the Modi vote is a bridge that spans the Hindu hierarchy across castes.
Sitapati argues that Donald Trump’s defeat might seem the beginning of the end of Global Trumpism, a trend that is seen to include Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and Narendra Modi. But the whimsical presidents of the United States, Brazil and Philippines all espouse politics that stem from their personalities. “Modi, by contrast, is the disciplined face of a movement that has spent 100 years re-arranging society. He will be that much harder to beat,” writes Sitapati.
The movement that created Modi, Hindu nationalism, was itself created 100 years ago. The spark was the introduction (by the British conceding to nationalist demands) of elections in the 1920s. The cornerstone of any definition of democracy, elections, are premised on individual equality. Every person has an equal vote. But although race and other identities have always played some role in Europe and America, the social and economic lives of Indians were entirely structured around venn diagrams of region, language, caste, and religion. Elections in India were thus a high-stakes gamble.
Why I’m Losing Hope in India
In an essay in BloombergQuint, Andy Mukherjee writes that a disturbing arbitrariness has crept into policymaking, institutions have decayed and the economy’s structural deficiencies have worsened. To make matters worse, India has handled the coronavirus pandemic with the same inept authoritarianism that’s come to define its approach in all spheres, economic, political and social.
Lamenting that not enough is being done to revive demand, Mukherjee wonders “if this callousness” will cause India’s demographic dividend to go unclaimed. He contends that if India stops turning inward and embraces an open, transparent partnership with global investors, hundreds of millions more would get a shot at prosperity. The ’90s optimism will renew itself. “But if India remains stuck in a middle-income trap, people will soon stop asking if it could be the next China. My generation already has.”
The problems began in the complacency of the mid-2000s. That’s when India should have looked beyond software and semiconductor design and doubled down on shoes, shirts and toys — manufacturing that took advantage of the less-skilled workforce. Rather than turning special economic zones into a land grab, India should have created a few large enclaves. Demonetization and the flawed GST made things worse, and Modi’s campaign of self-reliance may do yet more harm.
Why India Has Become a Different Country
In his column in Foreign Policy, Salil Tripathi writes that human rights activists are withstanding an assault on the values of liberal democracy. Tripathi, argues that being a journalist in India and uncovering stories that the BJP and its supporters don’t like is dangerous business.
Tripathi writes that if ticking boxes were sufficient to evaluate democracies, then India still gets the right ticks—it holds elections periodically, it has an independent judiciary, a constitution that safeguards minority rights and recognizes individual rights, where privately owned media operates, where opposition parties exist and are in parliament.
He argues that yet, “the essence of democracy is not the form, but its content; the norms, not the laws; it is not the presence of the structures.” But whether those structures function the way they are meant to perform, and whether checks and balances set the system right when things go wrong, that determines democracy.
The relentless pace at which the attacks have occurred, the way institutions have been appropriated and weakened, the ease with which the government has been able to pass measures in parliament, and the passive manner in which some judicial pronouncements and orders have permitted the erosion of rights, have all collectively transformed India into what it was not meant to be. Instead of the secular democracy it was envisioned as, it seems more and more like any other developing country with an autocratic leader who commands the passionate support of the vociferous.
Don’t Let Bad Boy Billionaires Become Bankers
In his Sunday column in The Times of India, SA Swaminathan Iyer asks in reference to Netflix’s documentary ‘Bad Boy Billionaires’, what would have happened if disgraced businessmen like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Subroto Roy had been allowed to own banks?
Yet this is exactly what will be made possible by the ridiculous recommendations of a committee of the Reserve Bank of India to allow large industrial houses to own banks, reversing the policy of decades, writes Iyer, adding “there is an inherent conflict of interest between lenders and borrowers.”
He cautions that the answer cannot be to allow large industries to open banks. Large industries are not safe owners and business history is littered with big names that crashed. Iyer argues that the RBI committee thinking that stringent rules and monitoring can ensure that a bank owned by a big sethji will not lend to his connected businesses, is in practice pimpossible.
Critics of the RBI committee include the most respected economists such as Raghuram Rajan, former RBI governor; Arvind Subramanian and Shankar Acharya, former chief economic advisors; Vijay Kelkar, former finance secretary; and Viral Acharya, former RBI deputy governor. Ignoring all of them and giving in to large industrialists would be a scandal of immense proportions. To protect his reputation for honesty, Narendra Modi should steer clear of a policy tailormade for cronyism.
The Dangerous ‘Yes Men’
In his column in The Tribune, Julio Ribeiro argues that growing political interference in appointments doesn’t bode well. He writes that the change in Maharashtra Police leadership very shortly is going to be for the worse. He contents that even if a fairly honest and capable replacement is chosen for the present incumbent, it will be less than easy for him or her to measure up to Subodh Jaiswal’s quality of leadership.
In a stern indictment of the current situation of political influence over civil servants, Ribeiro warns that “if IPS officers themselves are reduced to begging and selling their soul to the political class, there is little hope for a better security system for the people’s safety. The dangerous ‘yes men’ will take over. Only public opinion can succeed to stop a rot which afflicts all institutions of governance at this juncture.”
The political leadership of the three party coalition that constitutes the ‘Aghadi’ that rules the state have found that Subodh ‘interferes in transfers and postings’! The new leadership is convinced that it is the divine right of politicians to politicise the police by putting convenient ‘yes men’ at the cutting edge so that the law is interpreted with their political interests in mind and not according to the facts and the Constitution.
How Maradona gave Boomers Their Collective ‘Mexico Event’
Indrajit Hazra writes in The Times of India that recounting the bull run by Diego Maradona during the 1986 World Cup under the shadow of the Azteca Stadium “was, for most of us, the first global event we witnessed ‘live’, having missed the less majestic but also awe-inspiring moon landing in July 1969.”
He recounts that the Doordarshan telecast was a delayed broadcast, but the vital aspect of ‘live-viewing’ — not knowing what will happen next — was very much there for all of those glued to their/their parents’ TV sets. The greatness of the ‘Mexico Event’ only magnified this connectedness.
Apart from being the world’s greatest footballer, Maradona is the Great Time Machine, bringing a Chosen Few (millions) together at one 10-seconds-plus stretch in space and time — El Diego transformed to El Dios picking himself up and rushing towards the corner to celebrate making up the ‘plus’ time of that Golden Micro-Age. If people who couldn’t be there but have only tasted its greatness ‘second-hand’ — the ‘Maradona for Millennials’ lot — deserve our smiling, patronising sympathy, then think of the truly unfortunate who never made it to June 22-23, 1986.
How Will Literature Grapple With 2020?
In his column in The Hindustan Times, Karan Thapar writes that we will soon have a plethora of books on the virus. It may have wrought destruction in our lives, but it will continue to play on our imagination and is bound to feed our creativity.
“The question I could not answer,” Thapar writes “was when would literature reflect what’s happened to language? I assumed it would take a while.” He states that novelists need to reflect before they can write. Caught in a lockdown, separated from family and friends and anxious about the life that’s seemingly lost, is hardly the optimal moment to translate this reality into stories or novels. But he says he has been proven wrong in this regard.
I know we’ll soon have a plethora of books on the virus. Long after we’ve got it out of our lives, it will continue to play on our imagination. The virus might have wrought destruction in our lives, but it’s bound to feed our creativity. Yet some of the telling images from Mukherjee’s collection will stay with me even when more profound books have pushed this one into the background. That’s the advantage of being first.
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