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

Emulate, Do Not Envy

In his column for The Indian Express, P Chidambaram lists out the reforms carried out by the UPA government that the finance minister Arun Jaitley had so far failed to acknowledge.

“Secondly, if Mr Jaitley is right, that no reforms were done during the UPA’s 10 years, India must be the only country in the world history that achieved double digit growth (and average annual growth of over 8 per cent during 10 years) without doing any reform,” he writes.

Chidambaram also argues that NDA’s first blunder was 2016’s demonetisation, which was followed by more blunders.

"The National Disaster Management Authority Act, the Companies Act and the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act were seminal legislation. The Women’s Reservation Bill, 2008, would have dramatically transformed the polity, but it is languishing in the Parliament because the UPA lacked numbers and the NDA lacks will. The Civil Nuclear Agreement will remain a milestone in history."Refusing Foreign Aid for Kerala is Churlish and Narcissistic

“There is a very thin line that separates pride from insecurity and self-confidence from arrogance,” writes Barkha Dutt, in her piece for the Hindustan Times.

Dutt argues that the Indian government is displaying “a twisted and meaningless machismo” by rejecting well-intentioned offers of help from other countries in the aftermath of Kerala floods. She points out that the Centre has only been able to provide a fraction of the amount Kerala needs and how it is being hypocritical in denying foreign aid.

There is also the staggering hypocrisy of it all. India’s political parties who disagree on everything else conveniently united on passing a legislation that makes it easier for them to receive foreign funds to bankroll their electoral activities and escape scrutiny while doing so. If it doesn’t hurt India’s self-respect and self-image as a nation to have outside money filter into its core democratic process, with what face can its political parties object to foreign aid during a natural calamity?

Fifth Column: A Goof or a Goof up?

“Perhaps, said I, but did he agree that if the scion of the Dynasty has wind in his sails today it is because the BJP has given him more importance than any other political leader in India,” writes Tavleen Singh for The Indian Express, as she describes a conversation with a senior BJP leader who was convinced that Narendra Modi will be the Prime Minister in 2019 again because “Rahul Gandhi is a real goof.”

In her column, Tavleen Singh discusses how Rahul Gandhi is now being taken seriously as a competition to PM Modi, and how the Modi government largely have themselves to blame for it.

Polls now show that Rahul Gandhi is no longer dismissed as a ‘goof’ playing the role of a politician. He is being taken seriously as a leader who could replace Modi after the next general election. If it can be argued that Modi’s chances remain very strong because Rahul is a goof, we must also acknowledge that Rahul has become a serious challenger today entirely because the BJP has taken this goof very, very seriously.

The Theatre of Death

In his column for The Hindu, Keerthik Sasidharan discusses how “death, or more accurately public demonstration of grief, is subservient to the logic of commerce.” In the wake of the Kerala and Kodagu floods, Sasidharan writes about how we are no longer capable of understanding the magnitude of a tragedy and resort to creating a “hierarchy of heartaches” by pitting the death count in one disaster against another.

For grief to survive publicly, it needs to be deemed marketable, preferably with the banality of a self-help manual. At the minimum, a germ of communicable optimism must be present as a possibility. The market demands that in order for the deaths and grief to survive in our collective memory, they must be represented as events of reaffirmation. We often rely on banal euphemisms like ‘celebrate life’ when the reality is the end of a body, a life, a presence which will never again be touched, sensed, or kissed.

Out of My Mind: Red Fort ready

Meghnad Desai, in his piece for The Indian Express, preps one up for the momentous 2019 elections. He discusses where the BJP and the Congress stand and points out that one can never take an election for granted.

So where are we for 2019? First rule of politics is: Never take an election for granted. Who predicted that the BJP/NDA would lose 25 per cent of the seats in 2004, or win in 2014 gaining 145 per cent more seats? The Congress surprised everyone by going from 114 to 145 in 2004 but even more by going down 80 per cent in 2014.

Cold Numbers Will Need a Dash of Poetry in 2019

In his column for the Times of India, Swapan Dasgupta writes about how politics has moved from being largely influenced by instinct like it was in the Vajpayee era to being mostly data driven. He discusses the pros and cons of both instinct, as well as data. Dasgupta also states that data is devoid of sentiment and “the lesson from Vajpayee is that all politics must be humanised.”

Unlike Vajpayee, today’s politicians are less dependent on their instincts. While anecdotal evidence and peer prejudice play a disproportionate role in media assessments — and this in turn casts its shadow on social media interventions — politicians of today are far more data driven. Whether in government or in opposition, politicians are privy to a mass of data on the popular mood that help in determining political interventions. The 2019 general election will probably be the most data-driven democratic exercise, with communities of voters being wooed on the strength of their preferences, prejudices and vulnerabilities. This is already happening in western democracies and there will be a replay in India.

The World’s Biggest Exam

“For these lakhs of boys and girls desperately writing exam after exam in the hope of even the humblest of jobs, the education system has simply failed them,” writes R Srinivasan in his column for The Hindu. He points out how there are lakhs of aspirants writing exams for the for all kinds of government jobs, mainly because they seem “secure” to them. He also writes about how the education system in India is to blame if people with advanced degrees feel they cannot aim for more advanced jobs.

This might be attributed to a pervasive lack of confidence among our youth, but the reality is that most of them know that their degree isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. Last week, I saw a report that of the 10,000-odd candidates — all with a minimum B.Com or BA degree in economics — who appeared for a test to select accountants for the Goa government, not even one managed to pass what officials said was a very basic, clerical grade entrance test.

Changing Culture

In her piece for The Tribune, Saba Naqvi describes how the “composite culture” of Rajasthan - and all of India by extension - is not a “compost heap” just yet. She writes about folk songs and shared memories and cites the example of Baba Ramdev who is considered an avatar of Vishnu by some Hindus and a reincarnation of a Sufi named Ramsa Pir by Muslims.

It’s a classic example of a syncretic tradition, but there are attempts by some to delink Ramdev from the Sufi connect and present it as part of the Brahmanical pantheon as another Vishnu avatar. Yet, in the popular culture, he is still known as Ramdev pir or Baba Ramdev pir. Some things cannot be killed. Changes in perception are, however, taking place faster than we can understand the anthropology around the popular religion. But we must accept that be it Rajasthan as in other parts, our composite culture has not been any protection from doctrines of hate. Yet, it exists, even in the midst of hate, as a beautiful reminder of what could have been.

Watching Cricket Then and Now

In his column for The Hindu, Ruchir Joshi discusses how much the experience of watching cricket has changed over the years. He reminisces about Wadekar and his sport and says that cricket now feels like an entirely different game. However, he states that “the nail-biting and the nervousness” remains.

Soon after Wadekar’s passing I was watching Kohli & Co. take the field at Trent Bridge, comparing both playing styles and body language between now and whatever YouTube clips one can dredge up from 1971. It was as if I was watching a different sport which had only some superficial overlaps with the scraps of cricket that had kept me hypnotised in my childhood. Most of our batsmen couldn’t bat the long hours the old greats had managed and our pace attack was stupefyingly quicker than England’s to the point where our slowest pacer started where their fastest one finished on the speedometer.

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