Across the Aisle: The Republic of Impunity
“The perpetrators of the Unnao and Kathua crimes knew that the criminal justice system had broken down and what little remained could also be broken,” P Chidambaram writes in his column for The Indian Express about the dangerous sense of impunity pervading society, in which criminals have grown confident that their kinsmen will keep them safely beyond the reach of the law.
In nearly all such cases, I think the accused knew that he was committing a crime, but believed that he had power over the victim, that rape was a demonstration of that power, that the law-enforcers will not punish him, and that if they tried to punish him, he would be able to marshal the support of his kinsmen or caste-folk or the police or his party or his government. The last belief has a name — impunity. Gang rape is the ultimate act of impunity.
Modi Must Resist Urge to Indulge in Petrol Populism
Swaminathan Aiyar, in his column for the Times of India - Swaminomics, urges PM Narendra Modi to resist the temptation to introduce price control and subsidies for oil to lure voters ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Aiyar writes that by allowing oil prices to be regulated by natural market forces, price fluctuation ceases to be politically motivated, thereby relieving the government of a headache it can do without.
Chidambaram has tweeted that the BJP is anti-middle class. He says crude oil is down from $108/barrel in May 2014 to $75/barrel today, so why have Indian petrol and diesel prices risen in this period? The answer, of course, is the elimination of subsidies and tax cuts. In 2014, prices were highly subsidised and taxes on petroleum products had been slashed. Chidambaram aimed to gradually eliminate these distortions and then decontrol oil. He was unable to complete the job when in power, but his aim has since been fulfilled by Modi. This is politically inconvenient to acknowledge, so Chidambaram now castigates the strategy he himself initiated.
Why 2018 Feels Like 1988
In his column for Hindustan Times, Ramachandra Guha draws four similarities between two prime ministers, Rajiv Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Guha analyses their working styles and leaves to speculation the possibility of a similar drop in Lok Sabha seats for Modi as Gandhi experienced in 1989.
From 400-plus seats in 1984, Rajiv’s Congress fell to a mere 197 five years later. No one can predict how far the fall will be for Modi’s BJP from its 2014 tally of 282. Yet the parallels are striking indeed. Many people who were not traditional Congress voters saw hope for Rajiv in 1984; many past critics of the BJP voters saw hope for Modi in 2014. With so much goodwill behind him, Rajiv threw away the chance to take the country forward; and it increasingly seems that Modi has done the same.
Saving Democracy, Really?
In her column for The Indian Express, Tavleen Singh argues that although the Narendra Modi led-government has failed the people on several fronts, the attempts by the Indian National Congress to paint him as ‘communal’ smacks of hypocrisy. India’s oldest party needs to be held accountable for its decades of silence on similar communal episodes that transpired under its own governance, she writes.
Last week a group of retired bureaucrats wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister that they claim they felt compelled to write because of what happened in Kathua and Unnao. “We have had enough,” they wrote “of these belated remonstrances and promises to bring justice when the communal cauldron is forever kept boiling by forces nested with the Sangh Parivar”. Fine words. Hard to disagree until you read the names of the bureaucrats and notice that all of them held high office in Congress times and failed to speak ever before. Not when the Kashmiri Pandits were driven out of the Valley for entirely ‘communal’ reasons. Not when thousands of Sikhs were massacred in Delhi. Not when Muslims arrested from Hashimpura in Meerut were gunned down by the police. Not when Nirbhaya was brutally raped in Delhi. And not when hundreds of little girls suffer the same way as the little girl did in Kathua.
India Missed Yet Another Leadership Opportunity at Commonwealth Meet
In his weekly column for the Times of India, Swapan Dasgupta writes that despite India now having considerable international clout at its disposal, its diplomacy hasn’t kept up. Unable to envision taking charge, India missed an opportunity to lead at the Commonwealth Meet, he writes.
The importance the political establishment of the Big Powers attaches to India — Modi has the clout to invite himself to dinner at very short notice with Angela Merkel in Berlin on his way home from the Commonwealth meet — is no doubt flattering. But there is an important unresolved problem. Indian diplomacy still appears to lack any strategic understanding of how to use this new clout. There is still a tendency to fall back to the comfort zone of negativity, a throwback to the days when India lacked the ability to set the agenda but was comfortable opposing.
Out of My Mind: An Obsolete Structure
“Britain may be the founding kingdom, but it is no longer a leading one,” Meghnad Desai calls for a revamp of the Commonwealth as he criticises its present structure that fails to be representative of changing realities. In his column for The Indian Express, he says this needs to begin with Prince Charles renouncing his monarchic claim.
But 65 years later, as the Commonwealth meets in London, it is a much-faded grandeur which it displays. Most countries are independent. Only the White Commonwealth is still with Dominion Status. What has delayed any serious thinking about the logic of the Commonwealth continuing as it is at present has been entirely due to the extraordinary longevity of the reign of the Queen. The Commonwealth as it has been can be easily called the Elizabethan Commonwealth.
Pehlu Khan, One Year Later
In a column for The Indian Express, Harsh Mander has written about how Pehlu Khan’s family is caught in a police case filed against members of their family who were attacked along with Pehlu. One year after he was lynched to death in April 2017, Mander writes, the Khan family’s pursuit of justice stands obstructed, as Khan’s attackers were absolved of guilt even as the victims now have chargesheets for cow smuggling against them to contend with.
Their anguish was amplified because the police in January this year filed charge-sheets not against the killers but against the young men, Azmat and Rafeeq, who had been attacked with Pehlu Khan, barely escaping with their lives. Police charged that they are cow smugglers. Directly after Khan’s lynching, the state’s home minister and the district’s police superintendent had also dubbed Khan and his sons and companions as cow smugglers, in effect building a cynical and dangerous alternate moral frame to justify the lynching. The police charge-sheet only gives a veneer of faux legality to the claims of the establishment that blames the victim. Since the charge-sheet was filed against them, they have desperately petitioned courts for anticipatory bail.
Triumph of Ethics
In his column for The Telegraph, Gopalkrishna Gandhi writes about Aruna Roy and her colleagues Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh in light of her book ‘The RTI Story – Power to the People’ being released. He writes about the journey Roy took with countless people in the context of intelligence or, in Sanskrit, buddhi and cleverness, chaturyam.
The RTI story and the career-path of the MKSS are about how buddhi, ethical, brave, strong, has prevailed over chaturyam, sly, smart. Aruna and her pioneering colleagues — Nikhil Dey, Shankar Singh and his wife, Anshi — each endowed with a buddhi that was her or his very own, shared a perspective and determination to challenge the exploitation of workers and peasants as a team.
Endgame for Garment Exports?
Writing for The Hindu, R Srinivas outlines the many issues that plague the garment industry in India and calls for a revamp on multiple fronts to ensure it grows at a rate at which it can survive.
What this needs is a holistic policy response rather than temporary band-aids and piecemeal incentives. The tax policy needs to be aligned with global trends, while the scale problem needs to be met through aggregation of individual units in large clusters, preferably with quick access to export points, thus curbing logistics costs. Technology upgradation needs serious funding, while trade treaties need to be reviewed to ensure that India gets access for its competitive products in major markets. Above all, Indian entrepreneurs need to also focus on creating their own global brands rather than simply producing for other labels.
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