Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You
We sifted through the papers and curated the best weekend opinion reads so you won’t have to.
Government Rides a Winged Horse
Former Union Minister P Chidambaram, in his column for The Indian Express, reflects over how Truth, like COVID-19, seems to have variants – 'There is truth; there are, by one count, fifty shades of truth; there is the whole truth; and there is Alternative Truth' – as he discusses the new IT minister’s defence of the government against charges of snooping.
Further, Chidambaram journeys into Greek Mythology, in which he draws parallels between the ‘mysterious’ winged horse Pegasus 'capable of everything, symbolising divine inspiration or the journey to heaven', and the slogan of 'Modi hai, toh mumkin hai'. Then, he goes on to raise some basic questions that the IT minister could provide answers for, including, “Did the government or one of its agencies acquire Pegasus spyware?”
Pointing out that it is 'unfortunate that the new Minister had to start his innings on a sticky wicket', Chidambaram wonders aloud if privacy has any value.
“Questions on snooping can be countered by diatribes against 'anti-nationals', 'foreign forces', and 'international conspiracy by Left-wing organisations'. Snooping can be elevated to a patriotic duty.”
History Shows, Raiding Newspapers Never Works
Observing that the Income Tax raids on the offices of Dainik Bhaskar sets a 'scary new bar', Tavleen Singh, in her column for The Indian Express, points out that all that the news-organisation tried to do during during the second COVID wave was speak the truth.
“If one of India’s two most powerful Hindi newspapers can have this happen to it, what chance is there for lesser publications and digital platforms to speak the truth?” Tavleen Singh asks. She also states that while using IT raids as a weapon is not unique to 'Modi’s ‘new India’, the 'ruthlessness with which all criticism of the government is being suppressed is new'.
“Small digital platforms have been raided. Journalists who have been critical of the Modi government have lost their jobs. Foreign correspondents have been put on short leashes by being denied long visas. And, in states like Uttar Pradesh, journalists have been jailed for trying to tell the truth.”
Singh notes that international watchdogs have started clubbing India amid 'illiberal democracies', but also argues that the answer to 'whether this concerted campaign to silence all criticism will fool the people' will only emerge from the upcoming polls in Uttar Pradesh.
Beware the New Surveillance Raj That Invades Personal and Political
In his piece for the Times of India, Gautam Bhatia reflects on how the nature and methodology of public scrutiny has changed over the years. “This new form of public scrutiny has nothing of the slow meticulous scribbling into a sweaty ledger, but is instead like a lethal gas making its way into a crowded unsuspecting settlement,” he writes, stating that the recent spyware case, where governments allegedly spied on several figures, 'only demonstrates a deeply insidious and sinister intent'.
Further, Bhatia delves over how data is both a boon, as well as a bane, and discusses the failure of 'big data' to perform for the public good.
“Ultimately the failure of big data to perform for the public good says a great deal about mismanagement and misdirected purpose. It’s only parallel is atomic power, whose original intention was to provide clean energy, not dirty bombs. Data surveillance — as indeed the Census Bureau — similarly began with the sole purpose of improving lives. But somewhere along the line, the political-military establishment got other ideas.”
Olympics and the Art of Competitive Swimming
As India braces herself to cheer on Sajan Prakash, Srihari Nataraj, and Maana Patel at the Olympics, former professional swimmer Marika Gabriel, writes an ode to the art of competitive swimming for Hindustan Times. Further, discussing how the sport has advanced in more ways than one, Gabriel urges India to dive 'head-first' into it, and invest in it.
Gabriel also lauds Prakash, Nataraj and Maana, two of who have directly qualified for the Games, by achieving the 'A' cut, but laments that swimming in India isn’t a mainstream sport.
“An 'A' list qualification seemed impossible, until now. Prakash and Nataraj have proved that, in sport, nothing quite is. Breaching goals and eclipsing the past has been taking place consistently since competitive sport began. And India has the potential, and most certainly, the numbers. Nataraj, Patel and Prakash have proved that the underdogs deserve a shot.”
1991 Reforms Gave us Miracle growth, But Now it’s Fading
SA Aiyer, in his column for The Times of India, discusses the '7 percent miracle growth' that India saw, per annum, since liberalisation and up till COVID took over and how India had seen a 'qualitative transformation of life from the licence-permit raj of the Nehru-Indira era'.
“In the 1970s, one had to queue up for seven years for a car and nine years for a scooter. Government-owned HMT had a monopoly on watch production, and getting a watch was so difficult that it was often part of a bride’s dowry. I had to pull strings to get Amul milk powder for my first child. Cement was so scarce you had to wait in queues to get batches that in time might suffice to build a house — if the first batch had not gone bad already.”
Yet, SA Iyer argues, "Half-baked liberalisation sufficed to produce 7 percent 'miracle growth' for almost two decades." Since, 2016-17 growth has decelerated from 8.3 percent to 7 percent, 6.1 percent. 4.2 percent and minus 7.3 percent in the COVID year 2020-21, he points out.
He also goes on to list a slew of hurdles such as a 'moribund police-judicial system', floundering education system and lack of liberalisation in exit from business, which, Aiyer argues, must be countered for India to regain miracle growth.
Project Pegasus: India is at the Crossroads
Writing for Hindustan Times, Chanakya unambiguously states that the use of Pegasus is illegal. This is because, he points out, 'even though surveillance is legal in India under defined procedures, hacking is not'. He also points out that even though the political executives had the most to gain from information acquired through such a snoop, it is entirely possible that the government is.
Even so, Chanakya writes the government should launch a fair probe, because if it isn’t the government, it represents 'a cyber attack against India and its citizens by either a foreign government or a private agency'.
Further, he reckons that the Pegasus revelations will shake India’s politics, in six different ways. These, as per Chanakya, are: subtle shift in relationships within the BJP, shift in the relationship between the political executive and bureaucracy, change in the relationship within in the Opposition, impact on the executive-judiciary relationship, creation of a possibility for a legislature-executive reset, and disturbance in the social contract between the State and citizens.
“Indian citizens, through the Constitution, gave the State power and subjected their own rights to restrictions. But they have not handed over the keys of their private and professional lives, even their political lives, to the State. If there is indeed any government involvement in the dark practices that Pegasus represents, it is undoubtedly a breach of contract and a violation of the Constitution.”
How State Can Benefit from Quality Education to SCs, STs
Arguing that 'for a landless, poor, working class Dalit, education is the top asset for upward mobility', Suraj Yengde, in his piece for The Indian Express, discusses how many Dalit and Adivasi students are attempting to raise funds for an oversees higher education.
He also shares his own experience of conducting seminars for students without caste capital, who seek such education, and writes: “The government and thinking Indians should find ways to compensate these incredibly talented people of India — the SC and STs who have toiled round the clock to make India a modern nation.”
Recalling PM Modi, at the launch of his Stand-Up India plan, in 2016 had said that 'Dalits and poor people, if given an opportunity, can bring in various reforms in the country', Yengde points out:
“If India wants to stay relevant in the world, it will need children of poor and Dalits acquiring higher education worldwide, and not limit the opportunity to only elites who have been attending Etons and Oxbridges forever. There is no dearth of budget for deserving students from the SC and ST population.”
He also bemoans the 'unsatisfactory' Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of SC and ST students at the undergraduate level: 23 percent and 17.2 percent respectively, and observes that it is the duty of the State to ensure that every deserving child gets the desired support.
English, Vinglish: What if Nothing Held our Mothers Back?
Shalini Langer, in her retrospective piece for The Indian Express, recalls her mother’s youth – 'a slight girl in a bell-bottom suit', as she has seen in photographs – and her transition over the years 'behind age, weight, and lately, a growing buzz of OCD'. Then she goes on to write about her mother’s one lingering rancour, amid intriguing tales of years that have slipped by: her struggles with the English Language.
Her mother’s linguistic woes, despite command over Punjabi, Hindi, Dogri and even a bit of Tamil, pave way for a reflection over lack of credit given to and opportunities missed by women of Langer’s mother’s generation. But when Langer asks her mother, if given a chance, would she have got married, the latter replies that she never considered that question.
“If she wonders how things might have turned out had she had the same opportunities as my sister and I, nothing to hold her back from her books, she has never said a word. She takes pride in our 'achievements', and tries to hold a conversation gamely with my sister’s American kids. Carrying forward her almost childish enthusiasm for getting clicked, she is lately learning to take photos on her touch phone.”
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