The Rs 20 Lakh Crore Whodunit

Former Union Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, writing for The Indian Express, remarks that while the Prime Minister grabbed the headline with the announcement of a Rs 20 lakh crore Economic Stimulus Package on 12 May, “he left the page blank.” As the finance minister started giving out the ‘details’ of the package, the people left fuming were the farmers; migrants; and workers. Chidambaram argues that in a nationwide cirisis additional expenditure is possible only if there are additional revenues/resources. He states “categorically” that there can be no fiscal stimulus without additional borrowing as there would be no additional expenditure.

P. Chidambaram in The Indian ExpressLet me state categorically, if there is no additional borrowing, there can be no additional expenditure and, logically, no fiscal stimulus. All over the world, additional borrowing is the key to fiscal stimulus: borrow more and spend more, and if the borrowing reached an uncomfortable level, monetise part of the additional borrowing/deficit, that is, print money.

Different Graphs

Mukul Kesavan undertakes a comparison of the different leadership approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic in The Telegraph. While on one hand there are “inept” responses by the likes of United Sates and the United Kingdom, on the other there are the east and south-east Asian countries. Kesavan contends that East Asia’s experience with epidemic disease in the 21st century “had prepared the countries in that region to deal with a pandemic.” Given the stark contrast offered by failures of the rhetoric of market fundamentalism and the “studied caution” of smaller Asian countries, Kesavan states “it’s hard to believe that our sense of the world’s pecking order won’t change.”

The reason Western countries with first-rate health infrastructures were caught napping is that in the absence of an actual pandemic there was no economic incentive to prepare for it. The economics of austerity and the populist politics that it spawned encouraged a contempt for expert advice. It’s not a coincidence that the UK, the US and Brazil were led by Covid-19 deniers who played down the danger from the pandemic till it ravaged their countries.

Strong Is As Strong Does

In The Hindu, Ruchir Joshi examines leadership styles in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and contends that it has redefined contours of strong leadership and made visible the different meanings of ‘a strong leader’. Joshi argues that true leadership in these uncertain times is marked by certain characteristics such as truthful messaging, substantial action, absence of politics and a decentralised management. He states that while a genuine leader “is not insecure about ‘looking bad’ or panicky about losing power, a weak leader is one under who’s charge a lot of the decisions “are about the person themselves rather than what the country, State or city needs.”

Ruchir Joshi, The HinduIn their speeches they will put the onus of action on you, the ordinary citizen, while never saying what exactly it is that they themselves will deliver. As they continue to talk and posture, covering up their own inaction and incompetence, the suffering spreads in waves, engulfing more and more people, with the poor and under-privileged catching the brunt of it.

Covid Lockdown is Seen As a Cover for Jammu and Kashmir

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing for The Indians Express, contends that the Indian republic’s promise of bringing the light of the Indian constitutionalism in Kashmir has, instead, brought about “ominous darkness”. “The light of Indian constitutionalism is itself dimming,” Mehta rues, as he examines the recent Supreme Court order in the case pertaining to restoration of 4G internet services in Kashmir. According to him, by referring the matter back to a committee led by the union home ministry, the court has violated all principles of natural justice. It has created a new evil.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Indian ExpressThe silver lining in the pantomime proceedings in the Supreme Court was this. The government’s case rested on admitting something we are rarely allowed to say out aloud: That our Kashmir policy is pretty much a failure. The government was itself, in effect, saying that Kashmir needs to be treated as if it were a war zone. This is the justification it gives for inhumanly depriving Kashmiris of 4G access, even in the time of a pandemic, when such connectivity is necessary for basic things like education.

Humanity Needed, Not Charity

Tavleen Singh, in her latest column for The Indian Express, contends that while the Prime Minister returned to old promises of taking India in a new economic direction, his 12 May address “repackaged” those same old promises as Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan. In a scathing indictment of the manner in which the plight of migrant workers has been dealt with, Singh writes that it has taken this pandemic to “bring home the horrible reality that decades of bad political and economic policies have dehumanised millions of Indians.”

Tavleen Singh in The Indian ExpressWhat is the government’s job is to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are not abandoned when there is a pandemic. What is the government’s job is to help those still walking on the highways to get home. When they get home, instead of throwing bags of food grain at them, please encourage local officials to open free kitchens that can supply them with two meals a day. These are things only governments can do.

The Speech Modi Has Not Made But Should

Economist Swaminathan Aiyar, in his latest Sunday column for The Times of India, presents an alternative address to the one the Prime Minister made on 12 May. Aiyar’s speech offers a blend of a soothing balm to distressed workers and fiscal prudence. According to him, the fundamental problem is that we are being ravaged not so much by Covid as our own lockdowns. The cure is proving worse than the disease. “Lockdowns are killing enterprises, livelihoods and people on a massive scale,” he states.

Swaminathan Iyer in The Times of IndiaBottom line: fatality numbers today make Covid look only a modest health risk. Yet to combat it, we have imposed terrible misery through draconian shutdowns. Ten million Indians die every year of various causes. TB alone claims 450,000. We do not respond by locking down the economy: we learn to live with the diseases.

In An Increasingly Selfish World, Self-Reliance is the Only Route For India

Offering a spirited defense of Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation, Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta writes in The Times of India that at a moment when people are grappling for direction and both, hope reassurance and hope, PM Modi has at least come out with a mission statement of the road ahead. “In wartime, people expect decisive leadership and Modi has risen to the occasion,” argues Dasgupta.

Swapan Dasgupta in The Times of IndiaAt the heart of his approach is a belief that India has the resolve and resilience to cope with the disruption the pandemic is certain to create. The prolonged lockdown has led to enormous hardships and even trauma, particularly for those who were left stranded and jobless. However, considering the sheer scale of the exercise and that it had to be undertaken in extreme haste, the compliance has been awesome.

We Don’t Have to Defeat Covid, We Need to Make Peace With It

Offering more perspective on Prime Minister Modi’s 12 May speech Sandip Roy, writing for The Times of India, argues that the PM finally told the nation something that would have been good to hear a month or more back. Roy states that rarely has a government had our collective attention as completely as it did during the long weeks of this lockdown. According to him, while this could have been the time to lessen the stigma around those testing positive or at least kicked off these conversations, short sighted measures have meant that “Covid looms beyond the lockdown like the undead.”

Sandip Roy in The Times of IndiaThe tragedy is that in an era of strongmen leaders around the world, we only seem to understand a war metaphor when it comes to confronting great challenges. But Covid-19 is not Pakistan, an old enemy to be vanquished. We might want to think of a pandemic as a World War but there will be no Treaty of Versailles that will mark the end of the lockdown.

Now, Let’s Not Mess Up Drawing Migrant Labourers Back to Work

Julio Ribeiro, writing for The Tribune, states that a major item on any agenda that occupies the government’s attention will surely be the return of the migrants to their work bases. While the construction industry cannot exist without them, at present, migrants will not be interested in discussing such issues. It is only after two or three months, when economic factors click in, that the necessity of returning to work will arise. “They will need some incentives,” Ribeiro writes.

Julio Ribeiro in The TribuneMigrant labour, at least in my state of Maharashtra, is also employed in small and medium industries. Big towns like Kolhapur, Sangli, Sholapur depend on them. Migrants also work as domestic help. The last named are better paid and also housed and fed. They will return, but the others will need some incentives which the government will have to discuss with employers.

Once Schools Reopen, Help Children Reconnect

Writing for The Hindustan Times, Rukmini Banerji of The Pratham Foundation contends that 2020 is not a year for ambitious learning targets; nor is it a year for moving rapidly through what is already recognized as an overambitious curriculum. What is needed is a time for welcome and a period for settling down. This is not just any “back-to-school” moment. This school opening should be treated as the start of a brand new chapter.

Rukmini Banerjee in The Hindustan TimesChildren need to reconnect with friends. Schools and students need to get reacquainted. Teachers need time to understand the impact of the long unplanned school closure on where children currently are — socially, emotionally, and academically. Helping them to settle in and “catch up” will go a long way towards rebuilding foundations and strengthening basic skills.

Vanishing Wizards of the Night

In her latest column for The Hindu, Janaki Lenin lends a critical eye to the fiesty flying squirrel, also called the magic cat, that has emerged as the hero of every villager’s spooky story. She offers a narration of one such incident where a researcher and her hapless intern encounter a cute but ferocious flying squirrel to collar with radio transmitters. Lenin warns it might look cute nibbling on fruits and flowers, but it turned feisty at the sight of the stalking researcher, thereby concluding that “the ‘magic cats’ can be terrifying indeed.”

Janaki Lenin, The HinduShe took off her jacket to throw over the dazed squirrel. But the researcher was uncertain of herself and asked her assistant to do the deed. He was just as reluctant. As they stood debating, the animal sat up on its haunches. Afraid of missing the chance, Rajamani approached, holding the jacket open, a matador of flying squirrels. But the knee-high creature hissed and spat, holding its sharp long claws at the ready.

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