Odds and trends: March 21 edition

RAVISH Kumar of NDTV reports that Modi’s “massive outreach” to chowkidars via an audio bridge (the point of which is not clear to me) was a bit of a sham – the people he was addressing were security staff drawn from the firm of RK Sinha, a BJP MLA. Meanwhile in Jharkhand, 10,000 actual chowkidars have not been paid:

For the past four months, these chowkidars across 24 districts — each of who monitors 10 villagers under one thana — have not been paid their salaries. Each chowkidar gets a salary of Rs 20,000.

The Wire, by the way, has been monitoring how our media treats various issues. Here is the roundup of how the “chowkidar” non-issue was covered. And here is Modi playing an oft-used, tired card: Pretending that the opposition wasn’t questioning him, but in actual fact questioning the integrity of actual security guards.

And in a facepalm moment there is this (just one example of the many such comments by journalists and opinion makers I could spam you with). Modi points to a rabbithole marked ‘chowkidar’; the entire media dives down it and can talk of nothing else; and the same media says Modi has succeeded in setting the agenda and the opposition is helpless to change it.  (And while on rabbitholes, TimesNow spent a precious half hour of prime time yesterday with this high-decibel “coverage”, complete with flashing graphics and pointing arrows, of how Priyanka Gandhi supposedly insulted Lal Bahadur Shastri.

ALL accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case have been acquitted. And the noise-making is well underway: the right wing argues that the charges were part of a bogus “Hindu terror” allegation floated by the Congress; the opposition’s line is that the acquittal is part of the BJP’s protective shield thrown over its own. And in the process, the real issue is given a go-by. To my mind, the question we should be asking is this:

A terrorist attack occurred in 2007. Twelve years down the line, we are back where we started; we are saying we have no idea who committed the terrorist act. What does this say to the world about our own will, and ability, to take action on terrorism on our soil? Now that we are back to square one in a case that involved the death of 60-plus Pakistan citizens twelve years ago, how do we insist that Pakistan carry out investigations and follow up action on terrorist acts committed on India by their nationals? (Predictably, Pakistan has already gone to town on the “travesty of justice”, and the volume will only increase. Why should we worry what Pakistan says? Because it weakens our case in international forums.)

From the archives of Caravan, this profile of main accused Aseemanand is mandatory reading – if only to understand what “travesty of justice” means.

EMPLOYMENT has been a recurring theme of these posts – and it will continue to be, through the elections and beyond. For reasons that should be obvious: the much-hyped demographic dividend is India’s opportunity to take its economy to the next level – and that “dividend” means nothing if (a) We are not providing proper education to our young and (b) If there are no jobs for those who are fortunate enough to actually get to study.

On that front, stories worth noting from the last 24 hours:

  • Hindustan Lever has begun to feel the heat of the GDP slowdown (which, potentially, translates into reduced investment, which in turn impacts on job creation).
  • Over 82 lakh people, a large majority of them hugely overqualified, have applied for 62,907 jobs as track maintenance staff and helpers in the Indian Railways.
  • IndiaSpend, one of the very few media outlets that seem to understand that coverage of issues, to be meaningful, cannot be a mile wide and a millimetre deep, is in the middle of a series on employment. Their stories thus far: On post demonetisation slow-down and how it affects Kerala’s labour hub; the growing death of jobs in Jaipur’s informal economy; the steadily worsening job crisis in Indore; the crippling lack of jobs in Ahmedabad. Read, because other than our growing scarcity of water, there is no issue as likely to impact our medium/long term future. Oh, and it matters from the point of view of the imminent elections, too: An opinion piece in The Print points to why employment is the silent killer of electoral prospects.

Reading List:

  • Rukmini S, one of the very few journalists in India capable of doing nuanced data-driven pieces, on why a prolonged, multi-phase election hurts the Congress
  • A recent report spoke of the Modi government’s proposed overhaul of the Indian Forest Act of 1927, and how the proposal will strip the commons of the very few protections that still remain. In that connection, IndiaSpend’s analysis of how tribal voters can affect electoral outcomes in 133 constituencies is worth reading.
  • Predictably, television channels toed the line that Nirav Modi’s arrest in London yesterday is tantamount to India getting him back and hopefully, recovering the money he looted. Not so fast, though – if Modi has applied for asylum, as is the understanding, then the extradition process, already long drawn out, is likely to be further delayed.
  • A story on how UIADI’s plan to link voter IDs and Aadhar likely cost millions their right to vote.
  • The NDA has firmed up its seat sharing agreements in Kerala, where there are 20 seats on offer.

NB: To be updated as and when something comes up. Happy Holi, everybody, play safe.