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Elections Are Less Free And Fair

“An election is no longer a festival of democracy but a staged event”, writes P. Chidambaram in his column for The Indian Express. He draws a comparision between elections in the 90s, and notes that in 2021, old-style campaigning and canvassing for votes are out, and may never return. The column drew a shadow of doubt on the independence of the Election Commission of India, noting how he had serious reservations about the general superintendence and control exercised by the EC.

Humongous sums of money are spent on every rally of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. A giant stage is erected, LED screens are installed, hundreds of vehicles are hired to bring people to the rally, and money and food are given to them. Crores of rupees are spent on advertising, on social media outlets, on short messages, on telephone calls and on paid news (popularly called ‘packages’!). No one denies that crores of rupees are spent by political parties, but it is not reflected on the expenditure side or receipt side of either the parties or the candidates.

Whether It’s The Voter Or Pilgrim, Safety Comes First In A Pandemic

“Both the Kumbh Mela and elections are grand Indian festivals: One is a vibrant expression of faith, another of democracy. One celebrates the pilgrim, the other celebrates the voter”, writes Sagarika Ghose for The Times of India.

Ghose notes how the “Haj was cancelled last year, Christmas celebrations were scaled down in the West, and Ramzan gatherings ought to be restricted”. She reiterates in her column that to “put a celebration on hold to safeguard the lives of the faithful is a far greater service to religion than knowingly putting millions at risk of contracting a deadly virus”.

Millions have participated in two shahi snans so far which begs the question: Where is Covid-appropriate governance? Is it not the duty of the Uttarakhand chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat, last heard expounding on an airline passenger’s ripped jeans, to safeguard the health of the pilgrim whose healthcare costs the state will most likely not bear?

New Formula

West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC Supremo, Mamata Banerjee “has sought to make the defence of ‘Bengali identity’ and ‘Bengali pride’ in the face of an authoritarian Centre the fulcrum of her campaign”, writes Asim Ali for The Telegraph.

Ali notes how “BJP’s assault on federalism is deeply linked to the ‘one-nation’ ideology of Hindu nationalism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has long been an opponent of federalism since the days when M.S. Golwalkar opposed the linguistic reorganization of states, claiming that it would hurt national unity”.

The hegemony of Hindutva in the political and cultural domain is clear from the fact that no recent electoral opponent of the Bharatiya Janata Party — from the Congress to the Aam Aadmi Party to the Trinamul Congress — has dared to launch a frontal attack on the ideas of Hindu nationalism. The political and ideological battle set to define India over the next decade seems to be a different one — one between a federal and a unitarian idea of India. The Bengal election might well be seen in retrospect as its most powerful curtain raiser.

Is There A Vaccination Strategy?

The Modi government “showed such disdain for vaccinations that it did not bother even to order sufficient supplies to get close to having enough for at least half of India’s population to be vaccinated”, writes Tavleen Singh for The Indian Express. Singh describes the immediate vaccine shortage, and alleges complacency on behalf of the government, asking for the ineffective officials of the COVID task force to resign or else be fired.

What is worrying is that despite the queues outside hospitals, vaccination centres, crematoriums and graveyards, the horror of what is happening seems not to have affected the Modi government. Why are millions still being allowed to attend election rallies in the unending Bengal election? Why are pilgrims being allowed to travel in huge numbers to Vaishno Devi? Why was the Kumbh Mela allowed to go ahead? And, why are municipal elections going ahead in Uttar Pradesh when the most populous of our states is showing signs of a scary surge? Pictures of rows of funeral pyres that went viral on social media last week are terrifying.

Makeshift COVID Hospitals Are Useless Without Medical Staff

As major cities across India are reporting record numbers of Covid cases, every government has responded predictably, announcing immediate increase in “Covid beds” including ICU, ventilator or oxygen beds, writes Rema Nagarajan writes for The Times of India. She notes however, that there has been “no big-ticket announcement or mass recruitment drive to find and hire trained personnel, including doctors, nurses, ward attendants, technicians and sanitation staff without whom these beds are of little use”.

As pointed out by innumerable papers on pandemic preparedness of health systems, you might build a hospital in 10 days or convert a school or exhibition hall into a hospital facility and you might even be able to buy the required medical equipment, but such facilities are useless without healthcare staff and training and producing medical staff cannot be done overnight.

Reviving Ambedkar Through His Writings

“Ambedkar’s writings are an ideal interface to grant the desired humanity to the dehumanised and excluded people declared untouchable and unseeable — a group without history”, writes Suraj Yengde for The Indian Express. Yendge writes how “Ambedkar challenged history, probed society, and anthropologically argued with legal conventions”, and dissects the controversy around Ambedkar’s writings being published.

However, one thing that one needs to be careful of is the haphazard handling and malicious distortion of Ambedkar’s words. The ones that are already published need closer scrutiny, while in case of the unpublished ones, only devoted Ambedkarites must handle the manuscripts and papers. Otherwise one can expect further tarnishing and meddling of Ambedkar’s oeuvre.

Protect The Rights Of Women Migrant Workers

“In the process of migration driven by Covid, the impact of migration on women is different from that on men”, writes Lalita Panicker for The Hindustan Times.

She highlights that “with the surge in Covid-19 across the country, there are reports, yet again, of migrant workers being left with little choice but to go back to their villages. But within this, the gender dimension has been largely overlooked”.

Women migrants and their vulnerabilities can be tackled only if the government addresses the structural and other challenges which cause them to be so invisible. It has to focus on women in the informal sector, especially migrant women, in its upgradation and skills programmes. The surge in Covid cases should occasion a rethink on the issue of women migrant workers and their needs, which can then be institutionalised so that they are less vulnerable during the pandemic and after.

Apex Court Must Stop Conversion Of Places Of Worship

“History brims with conquests changing the character of places of worship. But the answer cannot be to re-fight every historical battle — that will stoke eternal religious conflict”, writes SA Aiyar for The Times of India. He notes how the “word and spirit of the Indian Constitution swear by secularism, which will be destroyed by re-fighting every ancient quarrel”.

If the courts entertain suits for the Hindu reclamation of mosques in Varanasi and other places, must they not simultaneously consider the Muslim reclamation of all the mosques converted to temples? After all, the Constitution clearly bans discrimination on the ground of religion. Yet converting temples to mosques will spark communal riots.

From 1977, A Tale Of A Prince And A Wink

“As he released my hands, the Duke winked. It was very quick, no doubt, but clear and obvious nonetheless. And he kept a straight face. There wasn’t even a hint of a smile”, writes Karan Thapar for The Hindustan Times.

In his anecdotal article, Thapar recounts his memory of meeting (late) Prince Philip.

When it was my turn, I got my gown entangled between my knees as I descended to rest on them. Consequently, my hands plunged into the Prince’s. He stared at me forbiddingly as I mouthed a silent apology. My face was the colour of a ripe tomato.

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