Inside Track: Cabinet Carpentry?
In this week's dose of political gossip, Coomi Kapoor tells us about a possible cabinet reshuffle in August, the fact that the Pakistani and Chinese armed forces might be working in tandem, Army Chief MM Naravane's irritation when CDS Bipin Rawat bypasses him to address Army officers directly, BJP holding on to Manipur by a thread, and how BS Yedyurappa is still the boss in Karnataka. Check out the column in The Indian Express.
"Thanks to some deft moves by Assam Deputy Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, Biren Singh survived, at least temporarily. The Congress was so flat-footed that it sent Ajay Maken and Gaurav Gogoi as election observers for the Rajya Sabha poll without first finding out the quarantine rules in Manipur. When the observers landed in the state, they were sent into quarantine since they had failed to book return tickets for the same day. The Congress also did not reckon that blood is thicker than water. Though Congress MLA Imo Singh is from an old Congress family, he is the chief minister’s son-in-law and took full advantage of the relationship. Imo Singh jumped ship as did several other turncoats. The BJP may have won this round, but the question is how much longer Sarma will remain content to play second fiddle to CM Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam, considering he is the BJP’s master strategist for the entire Northeast." - Coomi Kapoor in The Indian ExpressHigher Fuel Taxes, Fewer Subsidies Are Good Policy
Amidst massive public backlash due to rise in the price of fuel over the last three weeks, Swaminathan Aiyar, in his weekly piece for The Times Of India, opines that this price hike as well as abolition of subsidies may not be as bad for the economy as we are making it out to be.
"Economist Ajit Ranade says 70% of today’s consumer price of petrol and diesel is taxation, representing a prematurely high carbon tax. I disagree. Indian petrol at Rs 80/litre is still far cheaper than in Europe or Japan, though more expensive than in low-taxed USA. India is far more polluted than all of them. For breathable air we should raise fuel taxes to curb consumption and incentivise a switch to electric two-wheelers, and eventually electric cars. That will take time and technological change, but electric rickshaws are already spreading fast." - Swaminathan Aiyar in The Times Of IndiaWhose Asian Century? Clearly, China’s
In his article for The Indian Express, Meghnad Desai says that the historic wheel of fortune has now stopped at Asia. And well, just like it was Western Europe and North America that led development for the West, it will be East Asia and China that will now have its moment in the sun.
"China has been preparing for this moment for decades. Mao wasted 30 years after the Revolution in his fantasy economic experiments costing 30 to 40 million lives. But then came Deng Xiaoping. Indeed he was always there biding his time. Even now the Chinese worship Mao not Deng. Deng did not seek permanent office. After retirement, he continued to work as Secretary of the Bridge Club of senior comrades in the Zhongnanhai. He abandoned his core beliefs in socialist economics and transformed China by a singular application of the Capitalist model adapted to China. China’s transformation within the 30 years following 1978 has been the fastest of any economy anywhere. Deng has to be one of the Greats of the Twentieth Century." - Meghnad Desai in The Indian ExpressThe Intersection Of Politics And Science
In this week's column for The Hindustan Times, Chanakya talks about the need to balance politics and science in these times of COVID-19, in such a way that one pushes the other to the best of its potential. But are "cures" like Ramdev's Coronil, and unscientific diktats like that of the ICMR to launch a corona vaccine for public use "by 15 August 2020", serving that purpose?
"ICMR’s spokesperson subsequently issued a clarification that the letter was meant to get people moving, suggesting that the bit about the 15 August launch shouldn’t be taken seriously (actually, no one did), but there was no explicit statement on this. A statement did come the day after, on Saturday, but it didn’t talk about the launch at all, said the aim was to cut red tape and asked commentators not to “second guess ... the best of Indian medical professionals and scientists” but was again silent on the deadline. Surely, the statement implied, ICMR knows what it is talking about. Well, one can only hope that it does. The symbolism of the 15 August (it is India’s Independence Day) deadline shouldn’t be lost on anyone — but it is a symbolism that should matter to politicians, not scientists. And when it comes to vaccines, a matter of life and death really, symbolism and politics should give way to science. " - Chanakya in The Hindustan TimesNationalism With A New Nuance
Isn't it ironic that at a time when India is facing severe hostilities with China, Indian nationalism is, slowly but surely, beginning to emulate how the Chinese define their nationalism? Read Tavleen Singh write about that and more in this week's column for The Indian Express.
"The one thing we have that makes us a much, much better country than China is our democracy, so those people who have taken it upon themselves to create this new definition of nationalism are truly India’s biggest enemies. And, it is they who we see on primetime debates banging their strident, jingoistic drums and hurling abuse at anyone who dares question the Prime Minister on any of his policies. Sadly, some of the loudest, noisiest drums are being beaten these days by famous TV anchors. They seem to have forgotten that most fundamental of journalistic principles, which is to speak truth to power." - Tavleen Singh in The Indian ExpressWhy Prasar Bharati Is Wrong To Rebuke PTI
Speaking of democratic practices, Karan Thapar in his column for The Hindustan Times, talks about reports of Prasar Bharati threatening to "review its subscription of the Press Trust of India (PTI)" for its alleged "anti-national" reporting, and why that is disastrous for all the democratic ideals that India stands for.
"There’s a lot about Indian democracy we can be justifiably proud of. We hold regular elections, encourage the largest possible number to vote and governments are frequently overturned. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot we should be embarrassed by. Today, I want to pick on one instance that suggests we’re a damaged or, at least, a diminished democracy. I’m talking of the assault on the media’s commitment to defend and promote freedom of speech. A wide spectrum of people is guilty of this. It stretches from proprietors and editors, at the paradoxical end, to governments and social media trolls, at the expected. The example I’ve chosen illustrates all of this. It’s particularly distressing because it reveals both the role of the government and the complicity of the media." - Karan Thapar in The Hindustan TimesFor A Leader, There’s Value In Knowing The Bad News
Speaking along the same lines, Mark Tully, in his column for The Hindustan Times, says that while censuring the press might be a powerful thing to do, it also insulates a leader from pressing issues which they get no news of, and therefore cannot act upon. So, is press censorship the way to becoming a tall leader? Well, history has always proved otherwise.
"Recently, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi discussed the pandemic with Bill Gates by video-conferencing. Gates once said, “Sometimes I think my most important role as a CEO is to listen for bad news. If you don’t act on it your people will stop bringing bad news to your attention and that is the beginning of the end.” It is the media’s job to bring bad news. The PM should take note of that news and act on it rather than try to suppress it. He should not shoot the messenger, he should listen to the message. If he doesn’t, he will be misled, as Indira Gandhi was, by a chorus of sycophancy." - Mark Tully in The Hindustan TimesHate Speaks In Many Languages, But Algorithms Can’t Keep Up
How much can social media platforms do to contain hate speech? A better question still, how much are social media platforms technically equipped to deal with hate speech that is emanating from across language and cultures? In his column for The Times Of India, Sandip Roy takes a look at just how much more Facebook and its likes have to do to stop the hate-speech pandemic.
"The platforms’ task is tricky. When does phobia cross over into hate speech? Does a social media site need a bloodthirsty exhortation to deliver a six-inch deep cut before it can act? Facebook’s own standards say dehumanising speech qualifies as Tier 1 hate speech. Asgar says in 2016 there was a Facebook event spewing hate against an LGBT equal rights movement. “Community rights members tried their best to report the event but NO action was taken by Facebook,” laments Asgar. Weeks later, Xulhaz and Tanoy were hacked to death. Social media’s algorithms struggle to keep up with a Tower of Babel when it comes to multiple languages and cultural nuances. Facebook told Time magazine in 2019 its hate speech detection algorithms work in some 40 languages. For the rest, it relies on users and human moderators. But it’s increasingly harder to mind the gap." - Sandip Roy in The Times Of IndiaWhy Women Can Freak You Out (In The Best Way)
From walking alone down a dark lane, or the nervousness before checking the "Others" inbox on any social media platform- one can argue that not many understand and feel fear as much as women do. It's high time, therefore, that horror stories start being written by women. End your weekend with this column by Shobhita Dhar for The Times Of India, where she explores how female horror writers are now coming out of the shadows of their male counterparts, to tell some spine-tingling stories.
"Dutt believes that women were the original storytellers of ghost stories. “Traditional Indian folktales and fables about female supernatural forms like chudail, dakini, pretni, all started as oral traditions. They were narrated as cautionary tales to children by women. The message was clear. For girls it was: ‘wake up and smell the roses, don’t let this happen to you’. And for boys it was: ‘don’t do anything wrong to a woman, there will be repercussions… she’ll come back to haunt you’.” So why does the genre attract women? Living in a patriarchal and often violent world, women know what it is to fear, says Prerna Gill, who has written a book on the female supernatural being in literature and film." - Shobhita Dhar in The Times Of India
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