Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads Curated, Just for You
Nothing like  a cup of coffee and your Sunday morning reads. (Photo: iStock)
Nothing like a cup of coffee and your Sunday morning reads. (Photo: iStock)

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

Economic Reforms: The Next Frontiers

In his weekly column for the Indian Express, P Chidambaram quietly reminds us of a significant landmark in India’s history that slipped by us last week: the 25th anniversary of economic reforms and liberalisation of the Indian economy. Brought in by the P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government in 1991, Chidambaram isn’t surprised the current BJP government did little to celebrate it. However, the facts remain boastful: a 140 million Indians were taken out of abject poverty between 2000-2014; Chidambaram believes in the next 25 years, India can completely wipe out poverty from the lives of the 100 million still suffering. How? By conquering the hurdles of providing quality ‘school education’ and ‘primary and secondary healthcare’ for all.

If the Indian economy grows at 6 per cent or 7 per cent or 8 per cent, it will continue to attract FDI. Money will flow into India. Infrastructure will be built. Factories will come up. Doing business will become easier in course of time. Regulations will be more helpful to growth. But a poorly educated and unhealthy workforce will be a severe drag on the economy. The next frontiers to be conquered are ‘school education’ and ‘primary and secondary healthcare’. The goal must be to make both universal and completely free. The best ministers and the best civil servants must be tasked with managing education and healthcare. 

Lessons From London: But Will We Learn?

Karan Thapar in his column Sunday Sentiments for The Hindustan Times traces out a pattern in British politics that has come to the fore with the consequences of the Brexit vote unravelling. Within hours of the country voting to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down from his post, to make space for a new leadership to take over the reigns of the country. Similarly, last year, within hours of the Conservatives getting a majority, Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and Nicholas Clegg, the Liberal leader, resigned. Thapar suggests there is a crucial lesson to be learnt here by our beloved Indian politicians: When a leader fails a party and the country deems it so, it is time to step aside and let someone else take over.

In contrast, nothing makes our failed leaders budge. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi reduced the Congress to just 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and, now, six state governments nationwide but they sit so securely on their seats one might think they’re glued to them! The BJP is no different. Surprise defeat in 2004 didn’t affect its leadership one jot. Age or illness might have removed Mr Vajpayee but Lal Krishna Advani obstinately continued. Even a second defeat in 2009 couldn’t remove him. It was the unstoppable rise of Narendra Modi which, finally, displaced him — but only acrimoniously.

HRD Mantri’s Real Job Is Not Fire-Fighting, It’s Education

Swapan Dasgupta in his column Right & Wrong for The Times Of India argues how it’s always been more about the politics of the HRD ministry than the crucial topic of education itself. While in power, Smriti Irani went head-on with the firebrand activists in college campuses, and even now it is more about how she has been relegated to a lesser ministry. Thapar argues that Javadekar will be presumably less explosive than his predecessor while dealing with student politics, but all of this discussion takes away from the real issues in our education system, which according to recent surveys is in “disarray”.

The challenges before Javadekar are daunting. Not only will he have to persuade state governments that there is more to politics than the transfers and postings of government teachers, he will have to scrap moribund institutions such as the University Grants Commission, give a more purposeful role to the private (and corporate) sector and be more receptive to foreign participation in higher education. For Javadekar and, indeed, for Prime Minister Modi these campaigns should be more of a priority than tackling acts of puerile grandstanding on the campuses.

Horror In Ramzan

Writing for the Indian Express, Tavleen Singh questions the claims of all Muslims who have rushed to defend their religion from radical Islamism in the wake of the bloodiest Ramzan in recent memory. While she points no fingers at Islam itself, she does stress on the fact that Islamisn has its very roots in the religion. Otherwise, why would terrorists ask hostages to recite verses from the Quran, and women begin wearing the veil in areas that undergo radicalisation? Singh lays out her two cents’ worth: the only way to deal with the rise of violent Islamism is by moderate Muslims accepting that the roots of Islamism lie in their religion, and that it is up to them, the most, to resist it.

So is there a solution? Possibly. But, it will only come if we first accept the ugly reality that jihadist violence is linked to Islam. This is something that jihadist killers acknowledge every time they use verses from the Quran to justify their deeds. In the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, Muslims were spared except two. Faraaz Hossain died because he refused to abandon his non-Muslim friends and Ishtar Akhond because she refused to save her life by reciting Quranic verses. They showed extraordinary courage, and it is only when many, many more Muslims show this kind of courage that the jihadists will be defeated.

Modi Is Wrong, Terrorism Is Not Our Gravest Threat Today

Writing a strongly worded piece in his column Aakarwani in The Times Of India, Aakar Patel dares to argue the contrarian at a time when the world is reeling from the shock of violent spurts of terrorism. Patel talks numbers: while the average number of children who die of malnutrition in India stands at 10,000 a week, the number of people who have been killed due to terrorism stands at 21 this year until now. Why, then, does PM Modi continue to fan this essentially “upper-class anxiety” about terrorism being our biggest threat be it through speeches at home, in Mozambique or even the US Congress, where he mentioned it ten times through his speech?

Exactly what sort of threat is terrorism? In India, we have three conflict areas: the Northeast, the Adivasi belt and Jammu & Kashmir. Outside these three zones, in the areas where over a billion Indians live, the total number of those killed in terrorist attacks this year so far has been 21, most of those killed being armed combatants. Last year it was 23, in 2014 it was 4, in 2013 it was 25 and in 2012 it was 1. This includes those we have killed as terrorists. Clearly, terrorism is not a ‘grave threat’ and certainly not the ‘biggest threat’ to India. In fact, and this may be hard to swallow, the urban Indian, you and I, is safer than the average European and American when it comes to terrorism.

Who Needs Foes When There’s Frenemy No 1

Writing for The Times Of India Edit Page, Ashok Malik paints a portrait of the intriguing personality of Subramanian Swamy with words- equally celebratory, equally chastising. He outlines a profile of his academic expertise on the Chinese economy. Looking back, Malik says, there was a time when even the likes of Amartya Sen got the predicted numbers of the Chinese GDP wrong. Even today, Swamy’s decade prediction of China’s demand problem and banking crisis is coming into its own. And yet, what does the man and scholar preoccupy himself with the most? Spewing factional political gyaan through his twitter feeds.

It says something about the man and about our politics and public discourse that when the Chinese economy is discussed on prime-time television, it is not Swamy who is asked for his views. Rather, he is content painting himself as the spokesperson for the loony right, advocating an abundance of crazy causes, announcing the hunt for the alleged KGB origins of Sonia Gandhi, denouncing the sartorial preferences of Indian ministers… It never ends.

Mr Javadekar, Ask These Three Questions Before You Get To Work

Gurcharan Das outlines three major obstacles the Indian education system faces currently for the new HRD minister Prakash Javadekar, in his column Men & Ideas, for The Times Of India. Das states outright that Irani was the wrong choice for this industry, where perhaps the more affable and patient Javadekar would fare much better. However, according to Das, if he wants to make anything of a mark on the education ministry he has three questions he needs to answer: Why did India’s schoolchildren come second last in a respected international test, only ahead of Kyrgyzstan?Why do poor Indian parents remove their children from government schools, which are free, and send them to low-fee private schools? Has the acclaimed Right to Education Act (RTE) improved this tragic situation?

Javadekar does not have some of Smriti Irani’s flaws. He is a good listener. He will work collaboratively with the PMO, Niti Aayog, and the TSR Subramanian Committee, all of whom have good ideas. In the end, a good leader sets a few — very few — ambitious goals, focuses on them daily, monitors progress closely, and experiences the thrill of achieving them. What would be a more worthwhile goal, Mr Javadekar, than to get every Indian child in Class III to be able to read and write by 2019? Sounds like a pipe dream — yet Pratham has shown in two states that it can be done in a year.

Referendum: Policy Stuck In Binaries

Writing for The Asian Age, Ashok Malik comments on the hailing of referendums as the “organic representations of direct democracy.” Keeping Brexit in mind (and making clear he is Brexit agnostic, with no real stake in the issue), Malik argues that it is not the job of the government to outsource the running of the country to the people who voted for them in the first place, to outsource the same job owing to superior expertise, knowledge, resources and information. According to him, a referendum potentially reduces an enormously significant political decision into a binary for voters, which it is almost always not.

A referendum or a plebiscite is different. Rather than bring a multitude of subjects into the voter’s mind, they reduce his thinking to a binary: yes or no; with X or against X. Should the religion of the majority be the state religion or should it not? Should we sell all public sector companies or should we not? Should the Taj Mahal be the national symbol or should the ruins of Hampi? Should we stay in EU or should we leave? Each of those questions can easily be converted from an economic analysis or even an aesthetic reckoning to a defining debate on identity, on a primordial impulse, and on an “us versus them” measure.

Please Come Back Smritiji, We Promise To Learn Sanskrit

To begin your Sunday on a lighter note, Manas Chakravarty writes a series of honest open letters to former HRD minister Smriti Irani from a few of the parties who are clearly affected by her shift to the textile ministry, in the Hindustan Times. From babus and textile magnates welcoming her, to the heartbroken agitating students bidding her farewell, Chakravarty uses wit an humor to chalk out Irani’s stay at the HRD ministry and what lies ahead of her.

Hullo Smritiji, I have been a fan of yours because you did not scrap Sibal Uncle’s no-detention policy which allows us to pass smoothly to class IX, in spite of knowing nothing. We hoped you would extend the scheme to the college level. Please tell Javadekar uncle to complete this unfinished agenda. Otherwise, I and my friends will have no option but to vote against you in about eight years, when we turn eighteen. Do it. - Pappu, (Class V)