Sunday View: The Best Weekend Reads Curated Just For You
We sifted through the papers to find the best opinion reads so you wouldn’t have to.
In his column for The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan writes that to watch test cricketers being conscripted into a Twitter chorus aimed at foreign critics of the Indian government, in the name of the Nation, is embarrassing and strange. However, it isn’t peculiar to Indian cricket but native to modern sport, a part of its historical evolution.
Kesavan argues that he principle of sporting autonomy, the idea of a necessary distance between the State and its sportsmen, “might have been a liberal conceit but it was an enabling fiction. In its absence, we had Dhoni and Kohli wooing the nation in military fatigue caps, performing patriotism.” According to him, once cricketers cross that line, once they go from playing for the country to role-playing for the Nation, there is no going back.
It isn’t a coincidence that the period between 1870 and 1914, when the balance of power between empires and nations began to shift, when Germany, Italy and Japan began to reorganize themselves as nations, was the era when modern sports formalized their rules, set up regulatory associations and established international competitions, which cast athletes and sportsmen primarily as representatives of their nations.Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph
Budget Has Aggravated the Divide Between the Very Rich and all Others
Former Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, writes in his weekly column for The Indian Express that the poor, the migrant labour, the daily wage earner, the small farmer, the owner of the MSME, the unemployed (and their families) and the middle class felt cheated by Budget 2021.
Arguing that the Budget has aggravated the divide between the very rich and all others, Chidambaram reiterates his 10-point wish list and two non-negotiables. While the Budget scores 0/2 on the non-negotiables, it manages a 1/10 on the wish list, the former finance minister writes.
The Budget failed the Armed Forces of the country. The FM did not utter the word ‘Defence’ in her 1-hour-45-minute speech, which was unprecedented. The allocation for Defence in 2021-22 was Rs 347,088 crore as against RE of Rs 343,822 crore in the current year — an increase of just Rs 3,266 crore. Allowing for inflation, the allocation is lower in the next year. On health, the FM was too clever by half. She proudly announced that the allocation was being increased by 137 per cent from Rs 94,452 crore to Rs 223,846 crore in the next year! The bluff was called within hours: the Budget division had disclosed the true numbers in the ‘Budget at a Glance’ (page 10). They are RE 2020-21: Rs 82,445 crore and BE 2021-22: Rs 74,602 crore.P Chidambaram, The Indian Express
Mishandling of Farmers’ Agitation has Damaged Modi’s Carefully Cultivated Image as a World Statesman
The Government of India was so rattled by Rihanna’s tweet in support for the farmers, Tavleen Singh writes in The Indian Express, that within hours the Home Minister had also leapt into the fray along with dazzling celebrities from Bollywood and the sports world.
Singh argues the tweet of a pop star has so rattled the confidence of the mighty Government of India that it is now spreading insane conspiracy theories. “Instead of trying to shut down foreign voices it would be better for the Prime Minister to concentrate his energies on trying to win back the trust of our farmers.”
The point is that most Indians are proud of being Indian. So where have these Indians come from whose pride in being Indian has only developed after Modi became prime minister? They have come from the aggressive Hindutva that is today called ‘nationalism’. Its tenets are clear. Believers must detest Muslims and Pakistan. They must worship the Mother Cow and they must despise anyone who dares to criticise Modi or his policies. This is what passes for nationalism today and this is why those who dare protest against a new law or policy are immediately labelled anti-national.Tavleen Singh in The Indian Express
The Persistence of the Employment Crisis
In his column for The Hindustan Times, Karan Thapar writes that the budget was presented when unemployment is a serious problem along with very low labour participation and worrying female labour participation.
“What I find inexplicable and politically insensitive,” writes Thapar, “is the government’s lack of acknowledgement of the fact 120 million lost jobs last year. Their lives and their children’s futures could have been destroyed.”
Pointing out there were no words of sympathy and comfort, he argues it’s almost as if we don’t remember the tens of millions forced to walk back to their villages, their lives decimated, their futures uncertain.
Dig deeper and the problem of employment has other worrying roots. India’s labour force participation rate hovers around 40%. The global rate is 66%. We’re far behind. It’s even worse when you focus on female labour participation. Official statistics establish its fallen 8% to 23% between 2011-12 and 2017-18. CMIE puts it even lower at 11%. In comparison, female labour participation in Bangladesh is 30%, in Indonesia 39% and Thailand 45%. India is the odd one out.Karan Thapar in The Hindustan Times
Opposition on Terra Firma, but Cohesion Missing
In her column in The Tribune, senior journalist Radhika Ramaseshan writes that the Opposition’s forays might not yield anything tangible. It is unlikely to pressure the Centre to resume a dialogue with the farmers, considering that the government refused to accede to the Opposition’s demand for a separate discussion on the issue in the ongoing Parliament session.
She argues, the initiative opens up the prospect of a partnership between a civil society movement and political parties to address the issues at the heart of the churn in Punjab, Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh.
Whatever traction the protests gained after the disaster on Republic Day that nearly derailed the movement is owed largely to the global attention they drew from a range of celebrities and the firestorm the superstars stirred on social media, making it untenable for the Centre to ignore the unexpected backlash. The Opposition’s interventions were largely confined to Parliament.The absence of synergy between the civil society movement and the political parties does not augur well for both. If indeed the parties wish to draw political mileage from the farmers’ fight—as they certainly would in the Punjab and UP elections—can they even claim to be indirect stakeholders after remaining distant and proffering token protests?Radhika Ramaseshan
A Change of Climate
In his column for The Times of India, US-based journalist Nayan Chanda writes with a liberal administration in Washington, Delhi will have to contend with greater scrutiny.
The fact that former US President Donald Trump was unconcerned with traditional American values like human rights, freedom of press, or (non-Christian specific) religious freedom allowed India to escape scrutiny and censure to which it might otherwise have been subjected.
Chanda also highlights that aside from the gnawing anxiety about restoring the trusting relationship Prime Minister Modi had cultivated with President Obama, South Block may also be wondering about Biden’s policy towards China. “Although candidate Biden called the Xi Jinping regime a “thug”, Delhi remains concerned: Would Biden revert to his centrist roots or double down on Trump’s tough anti-China policies?”
Advocacy for journalism and free press, though, might cloud the growing Indo-American cooperation on countering China. While the US government has been careful in its comment on Indian farmers’ agitation noting that “peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy” a US embassy statement issued in Delhi pointedly mentioned another feature – “unhindered access to information, including the internet, is fundamental to the freedom of expression and a hallmark of a thriving democracy.” Denial of internet access in the areas near the farmers’ protest has been widely mentioned in international media, including the now famous celebrity tweets that have so outraged the ministry of external affairs.Nayan Chanda in The Times of India
The Dilemmas in Regulating Online Speech
In his column in The Hindustan Times, Binayak Dasgupta writes that the evolution of technology in the social media domain during this decade has created vulnerabilities, which are being exploited by bad actors to strike at the heart of democracy and democratic institutions.
Dasgupta argues the entity that holds the best mandate to regulate speech online is a democratic, rules-based institution. This does not often translate into the State, and it almost certainly cannot be embodied by a private corporation. “The world needs to evolve an independent, impartial domain — almost similar to an independent judiciary — to help navigate the dilemmas at the heart of regulating online speech,” he writes.
The temporality of these examples is relevant too. They suggest that increasingly, social media companies have not been — by virtue of being unwilling or simply ill-prepared — able to prevent the abuse of their platform. When their passivity to content moderation has often led to the rise of misinformation and disinformation, their algorithms have actively propagated harm and marginalisation.The origins of social media trace back to cyberutopianism, where early activists wanted the medium to help emancipate the oppressed from the oppressor. In the last 20 years, the internet has undoubtedly risen to that role — the MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter are only the most recent in a long list of success stories.Binayak Dasgupta in The Hindustan Times
Revisiting India’s Buddhist Past
Writing in the Indian Express, Suraj Yengde contends that to investigate the Buddhist past is to supplant both Hindu (Brahminic) and Islamic history, for they contributed to the erasure of Buddhist richness from the land.
Yengde argues, one of the best ways to identify how history is twisted and reproduced to serve the purpose of dominant savarna castes is to go to the base of the architectural structures of sacred sites. The most famous temples in India, Pakistan, and Nepal originally used to be Buddhist places of learning and worship. “This colonisation of Buddhist heritage is evident in the inaccessibility to the sanctum sanctorum of temples,” he writes.
The 2020 Ayodhya verdict brought binary reactions. Incidentally, the supporters of both the Hindu and Muslim narrative looked straight past another version of history — the tolerant Buddhist past. To investigate the Buddhist past is to supplant both Hindu (Brahminic) and Islamic history, for they contributed to the erasure of Buddhist richness from the land. Buddha’s messenger Ashoka had done a great service to his Dhamma. It was perhaps the only faith in the subcontinent to grant respect to variant beliefs, unlike the invaders who had razed precious intellectual sites to destroy idolatry. The invaders made no difference between Brahminic or Buddhist sites. For them, monotheism was the only message.Suraj Yengde in The Indian Express
The Legacy of ‘Indiawalas’
Writing in The Tribune, Gopalkrishna Gandhi states that leaving politicians and cricketers aside, Adar Poonawalla is easily among the most prominent — and popular — names in India today and even perhaps in the world.
With Serum Institute of India’s chief as the latest example, Gandhi highlights how the minuscule Gujarati-speaking population of Persian descent which claims no more than about 61,000 souls in India (out of a world total of just 1.2 lakh) has led India in fields of national magnitude and moment — atomic science, industry, law, education, banking, medicine, music, literature, sport, architecture and over-arching these, philanthropy.
“Parsis have not just been prominent in these fields; they have been pre-eminent in them,” he writes.
It is only to be expected that the Poonawallas’ Serum Institute should have offered to reserve 60,000 doses of the vaccine for their own, numerically challenged Parsi community. But hats off to the Bombay Parsi Panchayat for going beyond the ‘expected’, and as the report has it, declining the offer on behalf of the community. This followed Ratan Tata’s advice that ‘we are Indians first, Parsis later and so we will wait for our turn’. This entitles all Parsis now to be called by a grateful nation after their greatest domiciliary address — quite simply, Indiawala.Gopalkrishna Gandhi in The Tribune
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