Sunday View: The Best Weekend Opinion Reads, Curated Just For You
We sifted through the papers to find the best opinion reads, so you wouldn’t have to.
A Common Strain
In his column for The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan argues that the tension between politics and religious community defines the contemporary nation state. This is true, he writes, not only of states that are openly majoritarian, like Israel or Pakistan, but even those that aren’t.
Writing in the context of recent events in France, Kesavan states that Macron’s France, despite its racial and religious diversity and its vaunted secularism, seems a more brittle and dangerous place for a religious minority than Trump’s America. He contends that India, too, faces a similar situation under the current political dispensation.
“It has become harder for Indians, though, to make these judgments with a straight face, given the subcontinental glass house we live in. Poor but democratic used to be our sales pitch before we got tired of being poor. We still have elections so perhaps one way of measuring our place in the pecking order of minority suppression is to acknowledge that we are where France might have been had Marine Le Pen won two successive presidential elections. The problem with that comparison is that she dropped the death penalty, homophobia and anti-Semitism from her party’s political rhetoric to become respectable. Marine Le Pen is probably too ‘moderate’ to suggest the enormity of Yogi’s UP and Modi’s India. This is where we are.”Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph
Slow Death of Liberal Democracy
P. Chidambaram, writing in The Indian Express, states in a philosophical vein that even as we witness the slow death of liberal democracy, we must ask ourselves ‘who are we?’
The primary thrust of Chidambaram’s argument is that a democracy is not equal to a liberal country. A democracy can turn illiberal in a short span of time, as it is happening in India. He writes that when laws are passed in Parliament without a vote; when political leaders are detained without a charge for several months; when charges of sedition are slapped against writers, poets, professors, students and social activists, a liberal democracy slides further into the shadows.
“when no one is pronounced guilty in a case where a centuries-old mosque is demolished in broad daylight; when an FIR is not registered and no one is arrested for days despite the dying declaration of a girl who was raped and brutally assaulted; when the word ‘encounter’ enters the police’s vocabulary; when titular governors obstruct elected governments; and when crucial institutions are left headless or with multiple vacancies, the country falls one step ‘deeper into shadow’.”P Chidambaran in The Indian Express
A Reality Check in Kashmir
In her column for The Indian Express, Tavleen Singh writes that India cannot afford to allow an Islamist state within her borders and this is what Kashmir had become.
In a stinging rebuke of Mehbooba Mufti and Farooq Abdullah for their recent statement against the Indian flag and the Indian state, Singh writes that politicians who portray themselves as ‘pro-Indian’ may not have actively encouraged people to think of themselves as “non Indian” but they did too little to stop them. And, they did much too little to stop radical Islamic ideas from spreading across the Valley.
“When the ‘azaadi’ movement began at the end of the eighties and young Kashmiris went across the border to be trained in terrorism why was so little done to stop them from returning? When violent young men wandered about Srinagar forcing the closure of cinemas, liquor shops and bars why were they not arrested? Twice such things happened before my eyes. Once when I saw radical Islamist youths march into a liquor shop and start smashing bottles while the owner of the shop cowered in silence. The second time was in the Broadway Hotel where while lunching in the restaurant I saw two bearded men walk into the bar and order it closed. Why were these things allowed to happen?”Tavleen Singh in The Indian Express
Right to Offend is an Inalienable Part of Right to Religious Freedom, Free Speech
In his commentary in The Times of India, Swaminathan Aiyar states at the very outset that he stands with French President Emmanuel Macron in declaring that free speech includes the right to offend. Those offended are welcome to protest peacefully, but not to gag or kill the offenders.
Making a passionate case for the right to offend through satire and cartoons, Aiyar argues that all freedoms are subject to reasonable curbs. “If you deliberately incite violence that can certainly be stopped. But not cartoons,” he writes.
Expressing his disagreement with a notion held by many Indians that free speech does not extend to offensive speech, Aiyar states that the freedom to practise any religion necessarily implies freedom to offend others, and tolerance by those offended.
“Atheism is a religious belief no less than Islam or Hinduism. As an atheist, I demand respect for my beliefs. Yet this is widely missing. Few condemn the killing of several atheists in Bangladesh by Muslim fanatics. In India, three prominent atheists — Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar — have been killed, allegedly by Hindu fanatics. Like Charlie Hebdo, despite the risk of provoking fundamentalists, I stand by my right to offend. It is an inalienable part of my right to religious freedom and free speech.”Swaminathan Aiyar in The Times of India
Want to Know Which Way Bihar Hawa is Blowing? Beware the Perils of Predictions
In his column in The Times of India Rahul Verma writes that elections are a high-stake game in democracies like India and, thus, it is natural that all of us obsess over who will win how many seats. Writing in the context of the Bihar assembly elections, he cautions that this must be done while being mindful of the strengths and limitations of each method.
Verma argues that we must turn our gaze from mere prophecy to considering elections and campaigns as an opportune moment to observe and interpret society at large. According to him, the most important things which oneshould be doing during elections, as journalists, as scholars, as activists is: “Trying to understand the health of democracy and the churn in society.”
“There isn’t a set criteria of ‘positive’ vs ‘negative’ body language. And the less said about rally crowds the better. Barely a fraction of the voting population attends the rallies, even when CM hopefuls or national leaders come to speak. The attendees are mostly loyal party supporters or those who have wanted to get a glimpse of the leaders or oblige the local politician. The crowd in PM Modi’s rallies in Bihar 2015 didn’t translate into votes for the BJP, and neither could it catapult the Congress in UP despite a sizable turnout in Priyanka Gandhi’s roadshows. As Prannoy Roy has argued, extrapolating information collected from a few villages, dozens of politicians, and hundreds of voters to predict the outcome of a diverse and closely contested state as Bihar is a futile exercise.”Rahul Verma in The Times of India
Do Jobs Matter in Indian Elections?
Staying with Bihar elections, Chanakya’s column in The Hindustan Times observes that, in general, political parties and voters had an uneasy arrangement where job creation was not the key basis of political choices. In the context of Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of a million jobs, he goes on to ask “is Bihar changing that?”
Chanakya points out that there is a puzzle that has stayed unresolved in Indian political analysis, especially electoral studies: what is the correlation between a political party’s track record and promise on economic management, particularly employment generation, and its electoral performance? He argues that this question has got even more urgent in recent years, for the disjunct between the two indicators is quite apparent.
“Politically, therefore, parties adopt a range of techniques to neutralise the criticism over the inability to generate jobs. The United Progressive Alliance government banked on welfare schemes — particularly the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme — to provide a safety valve. The Modi government banked on its own boutique of welfare schemes — rural housing, toilet construction, distribution of gas cylinders, opening of bank accounts, direct income transfer to farmers — to offset the criticism on its economic record. In states such as Bihar, Nitish Kumar banked on the improvement in law and order and infrastructure — and rightly claimed these were prerequisites to industrialise — to win polls in the past, except that the promised industrialisation never happened.”Chanakya in The Hindustan Times
US, Indian Poll Systems are Poles Apart
In his column in The Tribune, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi points out there is no centralised election management body in the US, unlike India. All 50 states in the US, and within them, 3,141 counties and twice as many cities and townships, organise the elections according to their respective systems, while the ECI is the single powerful body that conducts the elections in India with uniform rules.
Drawing key distinctions between India and the US, Quraishi explains it’s not just one election in the US but a bunch of simultaneous elections, something which India is dreaming of. In many states, a voter will be choosing not just the US President, but also 20 or more different contestants, including the Member of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, the State Senate, the Governor, the State Attorney General and even Supreme Court judges, among others — all on a single ballot.
“While the youth, now constituting 37 per cent of the voters, are becoming increasingly decisive, women’s participation has been strangely low. The US ranked 87 out of 190 countries in the inter-parliamentary union ranking in the number of women legislators. The country may, however, be well on its way to making history with Kamala Harris, the first Black American and Asian-American to be the vice-presidential candidate — and only the third woman ever in the nearly 250 years’ history.On this score, the US is way behind India, where we have had a woman President, Prime Minister, Speaker, and heads of major political parties.”SY Quraishi in The Tribune
As Centre, States clash, BJP Must Strike a Balance
Senior political journalist and commentator Radhika Ramaseshan writes in her column for The Tribune that he BJP is in power in 17 states, giving it an overweening importance in the Centre-federal equation. However, there are signs that the Opposition-ruled states are unprepared to take the Centre’s diktats lying down.
Ramaseshan argues that while their dissent may not amount to much substantively, but even the sporadic outbursts against the enforcement of a regimented template reflect that the states are alive to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
“The BJP’s slogans should not be taken lightly. The ‘oneness’ is the pivot motoring the rallying cries of several ones: ‘one nation, one tax’, ‘one nation, one ration card’, ‘one nation, one grid, one frequency’, ‘one nation, one agricultural market’, ‘one nation, one election’ and ‘one nation, one flag’, that formed the ideological underpinning of the reading down of Article 370 and the notifications that flowed thereafter. Many of the ‘ones’ are coded into policies that have pitted the Centre against the states and dragged the battle to the courts.”Radhika Ramaseshan in The Tribune
The Festive Season Feels Different This Year
Filmmaker-journalist Leher Kala, writing in The Indian Express, says that for a generation used to downloading a book in seconds on Kindle or asking Alexa how World War I started, the painstaking rigmarole of vaccine trials feels even more outrageously long. This lost art of patience is causing more epidemic fatigue.
Drawing observations from films such as Her and The Terminator, which depict two extremes of human-technology relationships, Kala observes in a philosophical strain that human beings are wired to expect a light at the end of the tunnel, hence the metaphor. “We curate our lives based on perceptions of deadlines. But this galling virus has upended all concept of time and our culture of instant gratification,”she writes.
“Perhaps, it is fitting that in this topsy turvy time we find prescient connections between reality, history and science fiction. The ubiquitous mask has transitioned from being a glamorous accessory at masquerade balls since Renaissance Italy to becoming an emblem of solidarity, four centuries later. Yeats’ famous quote, Give me a mask and I’ll tell you the truth, implying staying hidden allows one to be honest must be reinterpreted for 2020. Now masks are the only truth, signifying a collective conscientiousness. It is a sign of indefatigable human optimism that every day I receive images of sequined masks, for sale.”Leher Kala in The Indian Express
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