Blog Posts by Amit Varma

  • Yahoo! Opinions Greatest Hits Vol 1

    There's bad news and there's good news. The bad news is that, once again, Yahoo! Opinions will now go off air for a few weeks. The good news is that we're refurbishing the section, and plan to come back bigger and better. The changes will be worth it for you guys, and we'll inform the world of it through our respective Twitter feeds and suchlike when we're back.

    In the meantime, I asked our columnists to pick their favourite pieces from among the ones they've written, so you can also revisit their best work, or be introduced to their writing if you don't already follow them. So, Monday onwards, here we go:


    Mohit Satyanand -- Minority of One

    I am Not Your Crony
    Beware the False Prophets
    The Many Routes to Corruption
    All Piglets are Equal
    Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan

    Girish Shahane -- Anything That Moves

    Memories and Memorials
    A Recipe for Famine
    The Lonely Planet Misguidebook
    Fast Food and Smoking Guns
    Osama, icons and iconoclasm
    Why India is a Democracy


    Ashok Malik -- Corner Plot


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  • The Prime Minister’s Speech

    Under attack from civil society activists, the media and some of his own party members, voicing the need for him to be more communicative over critical issues facing the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is planning to speak out and answer his critics, possibly this week. -- IANS

    Amid the image of a government under siege, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to break his silence. He will meet a group of senior editors of regional and national dailies on Wednesday and put forth his views. -- Indian Express

    Good morning, gentlemen.

    We all know why we are gathered here. My government has been much criticized recently, and there seems no end to corruption scandals. I wish to address these issues firmly, once and for all. In another 60 seconds, my humble servants will walk into this room bearing trunks full of currency notes. You will receive them, and none of your media outlets will write about corruption again. He he he, just kidding. The expression on your faces was priceless. Thank

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  • To Hell With Family Values

    As news items go, this one is both absurd and sad: the authorities in Bhakti Park, a 90-acre-complex in Wadala consisting of 24 buildings, have banned its residents from going to the terrace. The reason for this is two separate incidents, in different parts of the city, of housewifes pushing their kids off the building, and then jumping themselves. By cutting off access to the terrace, these authorities presume, they can prevent such copycat suicides.

    I'd assume that if someone wanted to pop themselves, they could easily find other ways of doing so, like jumping off their own balcony. But leave aside methodology: while these recent incidents are tragic and poignant, and unusual in that they involved the murder of children, they are not an anomaly. Almost every day, you can open the newspapers and read about some housewife somewhere killing herself. (It is so commonplace that I wonder if it should be even considered 'news'.) A week ago, in fact, my fellow Yahoo! columnist Deepak Shenoy

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  • The Game of Skill

    I've been in Goa for the last ten days or so, grinding out poker tournaments and cash games. There are a bunch of other regulars following a similar routine in a busy month for poker, and all of them would be a bit befuddled by the title of economist Steven Levitt's newest paper: 'The Role of Skill Versus Luck in Poker: Evidence From the World Series of Poker'. To us, the answer is self-evident, as obvious as a question about whether skill really helps in playing cricket or whether Roger Federer's achievements are a fluke. Nevertheless, in somewhat harrowed times for poker players, Levitt's excellent paper, written with Thomas Miles, is hugely welcome.

    As of April 15 this year, which the pokerverse refers to as Black Friday, US players were effectively barred from playing online poker at three online sites, including the two biggest in the world, Pokerstars and Full Tilt. This completed a series of actions that began in 2006, when the senate majority leader, Bill Frist, was scrambling

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  • Loaded In Disfavour

    "Bring back the entry load" seems to be the cry among distributors and advisors of mutual funds, as the new chairman of SEBI, U.K.Sinha, appoints committees to look into various aspects of the regulator's functioning. Mr. Sinha was the head of UTI Mutual Fund earlier, where he had complained about the SEBI move to remove entry loads altogether in 2009 — the intermediary community now desires that he reverse the earlier SEBI decision.

    First, what do I mean when I say "distributor" or "advisor" or "intermediary"? For the most part, they mean the person or company that sits between you and the actual mutual fund. They all perform the exact same function — filling out a few forms, collecting and filing certain documents. Some of them actually go the whole yard and provide advice. For this, they would earlier get a commission out of your investment — so if you put in 100,000, a 2.25% entry load would give them Rs. 2,250, and what was invested was the rest — Rs.97,750.

    SEBI's view was that

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  • The Rorschach Effect in Indian Politics

    Consider this man: He runs a village in rural Maharashtra as if it is his personal fiefdom, like an authoritarian feudal lord. He is a fan of Shivaji, and admires him for once chopping off the hands of a man who committed a crime. In that vein, he passes an order that anyone found drinking alcohol will be tied to a pole in front of the village temple and publicly flogged. Several men undergo this, one of whom, a vice sarpanch of the village, says: "I was drinking. I was ... tied to the pole and flogged two-three times. It is normal. [He] will try to make you understand once or twice and thereafter, he will beat you badly." He believes in "rigid implementation" of family planning, including forced vasectomies. Male labourers in his village are paid Rs 50 a day, while female labourers get just Rs 30. He supports Narendra Modi, and is politically active, routinely resorting to a form of blackmail known as threatening to fast unto death until his demands are met. He believes that corrupt Read More »from The Rorschach Effect in Indian Politics

  • Where Anna Hazare Gets It Wrong

    Today's column begins with a fashion update: A ribbed, silk green gown from Vivienne Westwood's spring/summer 2010 collection has been selected as Fashion Museum's Dress of the Year. Androgyny has become the latest trend on the catwalks. In India, The Times of India, who should know, informs us that "yellows are in." And oh, have you heard about Anna Hazare? He's quite the flavour of the month.

    Yes, that's right, I'm an Anna Hazare cynic. I understand that like Yuvraj Singh, he's in the zone right now. I get it that he stands for the battle against corruption, one of India's gravest problems. But I'm amused that most people supporting him haven't read and understood the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which Hazare has been fighting for. I'm appalled that they don't understand that this bill does nothing to fight the root causes of corruption, and may instead add to the problem. And yes, I'd be astounded if they care about this bill or the man two weeks from now, when the fashion would

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  • Aaaaand… We’re Back!

    After taking the longest drinks breaks in history, Yahoo's columnists have returned. Our opinion section went off in December because we were changing platforms -- not on a railway station, even though it is a metaphorical journey we're on, but online, where Yahoo was shifting our content management system to WordPress. Due to all kinds of glitches, some of which still pop up here and there, our return got delayed, but if India took 28 years to win its second world cup, what's a few months between you and us?

    We share Yahoo's blog platform, but please don't mistake our columns for blogs. Our pieces will still appear on a weekly schedule, and will perform to the beat of the same drummer I wrote about in my inaugural post. Blogs are awesome -- I've ridden that beast for a few years, though I really need to get back to being more regular. They give you an immediacy in tone, freshness and spontaneity: columns, on the other hand, should be a product of greater reflection, much more a

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  • The Thunderous Silence

    Indian journalism stinks right now.

    A few weeks ago, a plagiarism controversy broke over at India Today. Content theft is alarmingly common in Indian publications, but this was different because it involved the editor. Aroon Purie's bylined editorial had lifted a few sentences, verbatim, off a piece written on Rajnikanth by Slate journalist Grady Hendrix. In Twitterverse and the Blogosphere, parallel universes that mainstream mediawallahs generally manage to ignore, poop hit the fan. Eventually, Purie came out with an explanation that was at once shameful and shameless: he was jet-lagged, he said, and someone else had written the piece for him. Hendrix duly ridiculed the explanation (scroll down to his comment here).-- it couldn't have been very hard to mine it for humour.

    There were three issues that Puriegate highlighted. One, Indian publications don't give a damn about plagiarism, which is a sackable offence in any respectable publication in the West. Over the years, established

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  • It’s Only Words

    The world is so insane that it is a wonder satirists have a job. I read recently in Hindustan Times -- yes, HT, not an Indian version of The Onion -- that the makers of Golmaal 3 have been sued by The Indian Stammering Association "for mocking people who stammer." Shreyas Talpade stammers in the film, and the other characters reportedly keep making fun of him. (I haven't seen the film.) So this organisation of stammerers is upset about it, and they're going to court. So far, an association of mute people hasn't surfaced to join in the revelry -- Tusshar Kapoor plays a mute character in the film, and ends up landing the heroine, which does not surprise me: which woman can resist a man who just shuts up and listens?

    Seriously, are we a society of eight-year-olds? Even if the explicit intent of the film was to make fun of people who stammer -- and it obviously wasn't -- so what? Such mockery always reflects badly on those doing the mocking, not on those being mocked. Why be so sensitive

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