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.
One Pandemic, Many Casualties
While governments abroad have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with courage, efficiency, transparency and humility, the one in India has collapsed, writes P Chidambaram in his column for The Indian Express.
Calling the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government an ‘unmoved force,’ the former finance minister says that truth and compassion have fallen casualty to such an approach.
“Here is a true story from Gujarat: during the period of 71 days from March 1 to May 10, 2020, Gujarat issued 58,068 death certificates. In the same period of 71 days in 2021, the state government issued 1,23,873 death certificates — that is 65,805 more than last year. These numbers have been independently verified. Indisputably, it cannot be a natural increase. The Gujarat government admitted to 4,218 deaths due to Covid-related causes. What about the rest? There is not only no answer, but the state government dismissed the numbers as ‘false propaganda’, forgetting that the source of the ‘false propaganda’ was the number of official death certificates! The casualty is truth.”P Chidambaram in The Indian Express.
Referring to Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s description of the 1919 Spanish flu, former West Bengal Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, in his piece for The Telegraph, writes how the late poet’s description of a Ganga swollen with bodies bears a stark resemblance to the grim reality of the COVID-19 crisis in India.
Gandhi writes how Nirala had encountered many a floating corpse in the Ganga on the way to meeting his wife in UP’s Rae Bareli, who had already passed away. He points out two strategies to counter the looming rural crisis.
“Rural India is as yet unmapped in the virus’s cartography. And only two interventions can help rural India, which is the bulk of India, meet the challenge. First, an intensive vaccination programme that covers at least 30 per cent (said to be the appropriate extent) of the rural population by the end of 2021. Second, an intensive awareness initiative that tells village India that wearing masks is not an option but a desideratum (using a simpler word, of course). The first needs vaccines and vaccinators — both in dire deficit. The second needs community leaders to spread the word, not government or Opposition leaders although they are welcome to join, if they can find the time. But where are the community leaders?”Gopalkrishna Gandhi in The Telegraph.
Not Another Toolkit
Writing for The Indian Express, veteran journalist Tavleen Singh says that by allowing his Cabinet ministers to tweet a Congress ‘toolkit’ – deemed fake by the grand old party – Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the damage to his personal stature ‘much worse’.
Singh writes that such an act means that the prime minister cares more about his image, than of the healthcare crisis brewing at home.
“No Congress ‘toolkit’ is needed for the world to know that you personally encouraged large religious and political gatherings until it was too late. No ‘toolkit’ is needed for the world to know that India is lying about the Covid death toll. The world’s most important newspapers and television networks have sent their best reporters to India to find out the truth. They have wandered into the darkest depths of rural Uttar Pradesh and reported that thousands of bodies lie buried in shallow graves along the Ganga.”Tavleen Singh in The Indian Express.
From asking people to inhale lemon juice for increased oxygen levels, to claiming that cow urine can prevent a COVID-19 infection, to commending mass steaming sessions – faith and bigotry have often been preferred by the Sangh Parivar over reason and science, writes Ramchandra Guha in The Telegraph.
Guha maintains that instead of focusing on vaccination and physical distancing, the government has allowed political and religious gatherings, that has only made the situation worse.
“Truth be told, this fakery and quackery, this superstition and mumbo-jumbo, are not just the preserve of the odd Union minister or the odd state-level politician. It is shared widely by members of the sangh parivar, among them the prime minister himself. Consider what he did last March, when the pandemic first made itself visible; he asked us to bang pots and pans for exactly five minutes, beginning exactly at 5 pm. Or what he did the next month, when the gravity of the situation was becoming clearer; he asked us to light candles or shine torches for exactly nine minutes, beginning exactly at 9 pm.”Ramchandra Guha in The Telegraph.
3 Mistakes of the Pandemic, and Lessons From It
In his piece for The Times of India, author Chetan Bhagat writes that while the United Kingdom reopened live theatre last week, India has been begging for oxygen and has been forced to convert parking lots into make-shift cremation grounds.
Maintaining that the leadership – the most glorified since independence – has failed us, Bhagat says that is important for the masses, who believed that they were living under the best government of all time, to learn a few lessons.
“Don’t be in a rush to get medals. Wanting India to succeed is a good thing. However, premature celebrations or glorifying it without true substantial accomplishment is not. The truth is that we are not successful yet. We are third-world in many basic parameters. Sharing a video of a plane, train or even a rocket doesn’t change that. Our healthcare sector just recently got exposed. We now need aid. We are begging for patent waivers on vaccines which we never bothered to help develop. Is this what a superpower is like?”Chetan Bhagat in The Times of India.
Trumping Majoritarianism in the Hindi Heartland
The return of Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the consolidation of Left in Kerala and the coronation of Stalin in Tamil Nadu may signal a regional pushback against right-wing politics, but a repeat of the same factors cannot be expected in Hindi heartland states like Uttar Pradesh, which are dominated by caste and communal politics, writes Zoya Hasan in The Hindu.
“Caste politics has become a building block for the BJP’s expansion. The party has reached out to Dalits, actively mobilising them and other backward castes to assimilate them into the Hindutva meta-narrative. Instead of erasing caste from electoral politics, the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has sought to court fragments of castes as a way of undermining broad-based political movements and opposition to it. It has used the wider appeal of Hindu nationalism to co-opt backward castes and Dalits who are keen to align themselves to the larger narrative of Hindu nationalism.”Zoya Hasan in The Hindu.
Sundarlal Bahuguna: A Himalayan Voice for Ecological Truth and Social Justice
Writing for The Indian Express, environmentalist Ashish Kothari remembers his meeting with Sunderlal Bahuguna in 1980s, when a group of Delhi University students planning to launch a demonstration against destruction of the national capital’s Ridge had called on the late green crusader for advice.
“Parts of his life not so well known include his struggle against untouchability, setting up schools and hostels for the most marginalised children. Extensive traveling through the hills also brought home to him the devastation arising from large-scale commercial tree-felling and road construction. In the Chamoli area, women had begun taking this up as a livelihoods-environment issue, starting the Chipko movement in the early 1970s; Sunderlalji gave it his own flavour by stressing, in one of those characteristic Gandhian one-liners, “ecology is permanent economy”.Ashish Kothari in The Indian Express.
Catty Tales, With a Dash of Rum and Friends Therapy
Referring to Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s tweet praising a blog written by Pankaj Chaturvedi – drafted in response to a Lancet editorial critical of India’s COVID-19 response – Bollywood actor Twinkle Khanna wonders what prompted many in the government to share a blog with a cat’s picture, instead of articles from our own medical journals.
Cat-face value, she felt, was the decisive factor.
“Does some senior official call the social media team and say, ‘Achha now what about this Lancet writing bad things about us? I think we should get some professor type to write something that shows us in a good light.’ ‘Good idea sir ji but who should we ask?’ ‘You people remember that Professor Pankaj let’s ask him.’ ‘But sir ji his DP is a cat!’ ‘So how does it matter?’ ‘We are sending a rebuttal to the Lancet not to PETA Sir ji.’ ‘Shut up bewakoof. See here on Wikipedia, it says, “Images and videos of domestic cats make up some of the most viewed content on the web.” It will go viral.’ And that I suppose is the only way we got into a ludicrous cat fight with an international medical journal.”Twinkle Khanna in The Times of India.
As COVID and Institutional Failures Ravage Us, a Lament for What We’ve Lost
In her pensive piece for The Indian Express, AR Vasavi writes that just like ambulance sirens that wail their way through the traffic, India must collectively wail for and with those who lost a dear one.
From doctors succumbing to COVID-19, to teachers on election duty dying of the dreaded virus, to farmers lying with unsold vegetables, to those desperately negotiating the dingy lanes of back markets that house the most essential of COVID-19 medicines, Vasavi lists the many thorns pricking hapless citizens in this country.
“Wail, there are now thousands of Covid orphans. The most vulnerable in society fall through the cracks of an uncaring regime. The future awaits them in institutionalised forms and processes. Their past personal lives erased to make way for a present that is impersonal and impervious.”AR Vasavi in The Indian Express.
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