The diverse Opposition parties can unite, but none of its leaders has a pan-India appeal (Finding the Challenger, June 18). The regional leaders are strong enough on their own but their alliance could turn out to be just a poll gimmick. Against such an unconvincing unity, it will be their idiocy if they think they can fool the electorate. If their ‘unity’ wins, every leader will want to be PM. They stand a better chance if the Congress replaces Rahul Gandhi at its helm with an able leader to run the election campaign (like BJP did by floating Narendra Modi in 2014). The Karnataka assembly outcome may not have any bearing on 2019.
Sanjiv Gupta, Perth
In the article titled An Anti-Modi Puzzle, the writer deftly analyses many aspects of the ‘Modi versus the rest’ question, but a few observations don’t sit well with how things are. Nitish Kumar has been painted in poor taste for joining the BJP. Why? He wouldn’t remain CM if he hadn’t done that. Secondly, Modi’s second term hasn’t been talked about. Wouldn’t that be an interesting insight for the readers? Modi is the only PM till date to make such a definite impact on the global scene. At the global summits he drops in, you can see the kind of respect world leaders have for him.
The insurmountable hoax of Modi has been created by his supporters through the hyper ideological use of social and electronic media. His theatrical extempore speeches seldom have any substance. He tactfully avoids any conflict with his mentors sitting in Nagpur and with communal forces on the ground—like the love jehad and gau raksha brigades. His brand of populism is nothing but a balloon, waiting to be burst. But who will burst it? The “unconditional” united front gets stuck because everyone is selfish. “What is in it for me if Modi gets dislodged?” they think. But it could play out interestingly this time, let us wait and watch. Ten months are left for the general elections, a long enough time period to crystallise any firm trend in a volatile political atmosphere.
M.N. Bhartiya, Porvorim, Goa
Prime Minister Modi has emerged as a Goliath in the arena of Indian politics. That is why the disparate Opposition parties are joining hands to overcome the giant. All of them have suddenly become integrationists. Many leaders in the inchoate coalition have such extreme ambitions that they won’t be able to contain for a long time. This might end up disrupting the current developments of an attempt to form a ‘super’ coalition. And any time in this process; the unnoticeable process of disintegration will spontaneously start. It is a fact that each one of them knows their inherent characteristics, which would lead to ideological inequalities. Further, the volatility will make the future of the coalition iffy. But they are standing hand-in-hand because they are afraid of the disaster lurking. Certainly, they have apprehension that if in 2019, Modi comes to power again, it would force some players’ exit from politics. Recent bypoll results and the formation of the government in Karnataka have given a shot in the arm to the possibility of a coalition for 2019, but the air is full of skepticism. The prevalent view in the realpolitik still remains Modi’s image of a dynamic leader. People know the axiomatic failure of coalitions. The public observes the optics.
Indu S. Dube, Varanasi
Ask any Opposition leader about the prime ministerial face of the proposed grand alliance, and you would get no answer. They argue there was no face of the anti-Congress Opposition in 1977 and again in 1989, when the PM was decided only after the elections. Both times, the people voted decisively against the party in power—against Indira Gandhi’s Congress for imposing Emergency, and against Rajiv Gandhi’s for the scandals such as Bofors. But can people’s disenchantment with Modi match that? The CSDS survey shows Modi’s popularity has gone down by just two per cent since 2014. In fact, the Opposition has nobody who can stand up to Modi. Rahul Gandhi is being projected as the challenger because he is the leader of the only other pan-Indian party. The findings of the survey indicate that Rahul is more popular than Modi only in the southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, but trails behind him by huge margins in all other states, including Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal, Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha and Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
The nation is really looking forward to a viable Opposition that can end the saffron storm that has taken the country hostage. Considering the political situation in the country, it can be concluded that only a mainstream political party can be an alternative to the BJP at the Centre. The regional parties do not have the bandwidth to capture the national imagination for obvious reasons. But if all Opposition parties come together, they can change the stale, oft-repetitive political script into a more dynamic and flexible narrative. The only issue is the conflict of political interests that has the inevitable capacity to spoil such a coalition dream.
J. Kishore, Hyderabad
“Abki baar: bhay-mukt (fearless) sarkar” should be the slogan for the 2019 general elections.
Rakesh Agrawal, Dehradun
This refer’s to A Hundred and One Nights on the Edge, the story on Jammu’s border villages (June 18). The Line of Control (LoC) should indeed be christened the “Line of Misery”, as your slug suggests. The LoC is among the borders that have remained unsettled for the longest while. Settlement of borders didn’t take this long even after the World Wars or the Korean War. One can argue that politicians of both India and Pakistan are not willing to settle the issue due to their vested interests. Instead, their efforts have been directed towards strengthening their war machines rather than enhancing their respective people’s living standards. The people of both countries are made to feel enmity towards each other in spite of cultural and linguistic similarities. Friendship between the two countries would make them powerful geopolitical entities working in tandem instead of undercutting each other’s global influence, while the resources they now waste on their war machines could be diverted towards people’s welfare.
Lt Col (retd) Ranjit Sinha, Calcutta
‘Couch culture’ pervades the entire film industry, not Bollywood alone (#MeMum, June 11). As long as actresses refuse to oblige and speak out, it can be tackled. But power is an ugly game, with its own sinister sedatives—the promise of fame, the fear of not getting work.
George Jacob, Kochi
Apropos of Guzzle Grain, Go Hungry (June 11), the government’s new policy of using grains to produce biofuel has invited adverse comment from both Dr Swaminathan and the UN. The concerned authorities must realise that in a country where it is very difficult to arrange adequate food grains for the people, using up these scarce resources in ethanol production cannot be justified.
Lt Col (Retd) Ranjit Sinha, Calcutta
This is apropos the photo essay The Elephant in the Alley (June 11). Human-wildlife conflict is on a rise across the country; Elephants and tigers are becoming scapegoats of the callousness of forest officials. Ironically, your piece focuses largely on the devastation that elephants are causing to man and not the other way round. Authorities fail to realise how they destroy habitats. For instance, the conversion of a 162 km metre gauge, from New Jalpaiguri to the Alipurduar, to a broad gauge in the year 2000 in north Bengal resulted in victimising many elephants. More than 200 elephants lost their lives on this eponymous ‘death railway’.
Unfortunately, like the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) in Odisha, officials in other states are also not taking wildlife conservation seriously. The funds for the environment sector are not being allocated commensurately. Political parties show very little concern in protecting wildlife because animals are not voters.
Nelson Petrie, On E-Mail
With reference to Tales From the 4G Rumour Mill (June 11), a solution must be found to combat fake news and rumours spread through social media before others lose their lives in this bizzarre wave of fear. The government must implement strict regulation and take legal action against the crazed transmitters of such messages, while mainstream media should take action to counter fake news whenever it raises its ugly head.
Mahesh Kumar, On E-Mail
Change, as you rightly remind us in Ping-Pongology: Table For Ten (May 28), is a way of life—and having been a regular reader of Outlook since the late Vinod Mehta’s days, I have been a first-hand witness to this. However, one thing that continues to mystify me is why Outlook, despite having accepted ‘Mumbai’ and ‘Chennai’ for Bombay and Madras respectively, refuses to switch over from ‘Calcutta’ to its changed name.
R.N. Bhat, On E-Mail
The analysis on how the Congress has to rethink its strategy in order to make a serious play for the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 was very good (Palm Fringed? May 28). Indeed, if the Congress ties up with each and every regional and national party in the coming polls in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, besides the general elections in 2019, I think it would pose itself as a great barrier before the BJP’s well-oiled electoral machine. Moreover, in 2019, Rahul Gandhi should not be the party’s prime ministerial candidate; there are other singularly talented young leaders there. If it happens, it will look like there has been a revolution of sorts in the Congress. And believe me, people are really waiting for such symbolic revolutions. If the Congress can get out of this, its voteshare will certainly go up. In addition, the party has to be ready for compromise wherever there are potentially stronger allies—like the TMC in Bengal.
A.K. Chakraborty, Guwahati
This is with reference to your cover story (#MeMum, June 11). Society is a constantly evolving organism that can only progress by overcoming its biases. If prejudices cannot be overcome, we cannot call it the progress of society. So, how do we think of ourselves when we see the ugly saga of Harvey Weinstein unfold in front of us? People thought that as society evolved in the 20th and 21st centuries, women were being treated more fairly. We were surely progressing. But those myths have been busted by the #MeToo movement.
Hollywood’s misogyny has been exposed to the world and, of course, Bollywood isn’t behind, but the spectre of silence still sits heavy on the grimy stories of exploitation in the Indian film industry. The whole #MeToo episode has also confirmed another thing: if one keeps on playing the victim and seeking justice, one may not get the desired results, at least in a foreseeable time-frame. Sometimes, matters have to be taken into one’s own hands and one needs to speak out.
After the courage several actresses showed in speaking about their abuse, Weinstein has been brought down. In India too, some names may eventually appear as a handful of women have started raising questions. But even if that happens, the problem is not likely to disappear. I’d like to quote a daily newspaper’s editorial on Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan here: “The sad part of a sexist world is that slander rarely sticks to a man. Women are the targets of social conservatism, while men who reject it can come back and richly profit from it”.
Also, sexism is not just a man’s domain, women too are afflicted. Veteran Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan’s comments on casting couch in the industry were shocking and deplorable.
Rakesh Sharma, On E-Mail
I want to congratulate Outlook for taking up the issue of sexual exploitation of aspiring actresses in the Indian film industry—an issue hurriedly swept under the carpet every time it tries to make headlines. While Hollywood predators like Weinstein have been exposed in digital daylight, our film fraternity is so close knit and so dominated by a select few that it’s difficult for the victims to raise a collective voice against sexual exploitation. Those like Tollywood actress Sri Reddy who protest and take up cudgels against the industry are victimised and silenced. Moreover, the media is also guilty of not giving those at the receiving end a prominent voice. At the same time, the fact that some of these cases come to light after a long-long time also hints at a tacit understanding between both the parties, with skeletons tumbling out of the cupboards only when things do not work out the way they were anticipated.
Vijai Pant, On E-Mail
Casting couch is surreptitious illegal gratification, but its illegality lies in such a grey area that the truth is often obscured and modified to suit the powerful. Sexual gratification is sought as a bribe. Some protest, but many walk into the net under pressure or for perceived gains. Filmdom, an eroticised domain, provides congenial ambience, and the couch praxis is keener than in other industries, governmental or commercial. The primitive savage is also very much an embodiment of the modern.
J.N. Bhartiya, On E-Mail
Your cover story on the continuing prevalence of sexual predators in Bollywood and other Indian film industries in the light of the Hollywood’s Weinstein scandal exposes an open secret. It is as if exploitation of women is an inherent part of celluloid culture, whether in Bollywood or Hollywood, and it doesn’t seem it will change anytime soon here. The pulls of the film industry concern not only money, but also the call for glamour and an almost illogical public adulation culture. In such a scenario, new entrants are expected to put up with an almost regularised abuse. Since films have become a profession for many ambitious young men and women, the cut-throat competition means they often end up compromising on their values and identities—what happens behind the scenes is immaterial. The stakes are high, moreover, because of the public’s heightened involvement in the making and breaking of stars in this age of social media and internet. A good example is Sunny Leone’s recent visit to Kochi as part of an inaugural function. The city was clogged with the actress’s followers, comprising the youth and middle-aged people, who waited and jostled with tens of thousands just to catch a glimpse of her.
Ramachandran Nair, Muscat
This refers to Sathya Saran’s column Let #NotMe Break the Clouds (June 11). The #MeToo movement reveals just the tip of the iceberg on sexual exploitation prevalent in every career. Women in the glamour world are especially more vulnerable. The culture of silence gives predators the opportunity to exploit more people. The victims should dare to shame them and appeal to other cinema aspirants to not choose shortcuts. Saran’s idea of a #NotMe movement by women in the Indian film industry is brilliant. It is better to defy the casting couch and work hard to chase your dreams without being a victim to it, no matter how much effort or time it takes.
Minati Pradhan, Bangalore
This refers to Secret Handshakes with a Serpent (June 11), your story on the Cobrapost media expose. Sting operations are valid only if certain standards are met. Unfortunately, many sting operations are overhyped to present biased impressions of events, appealing to emotions and, at times, intentionally omitting facts. This happens when the profit or publicity motive drives editorial preference for sensational stories. Journalists have a duty to give both sides of a story. We are in dire need of positive journalism, that calls for raising the morale of the public by showing that everyone in the country is not dishonest. Come to think of it, the system works due to the honesty of the many, which countervails the dishonesty of a few.
Ravi S. Dudani, Noida
They are mum in real life, but the on-screen examples of sexual exploitation in films are aplenty.
Anil S., Pune
Welcome aboard, Ruben Banerjee. I read Outlook’s First edition that came out in 1995. The elegant get-up, along with a striking prose, aided by impeccable printing impressed me. I haven’t missed a single edition of Outlook since. Vinod Mehta, the Punjabi Boy from Lucknow, set a scorching pace for Outlook. He was the “card-carrying agnostic”, who is a rare bird amongst holier-than-thou editors. Your satire on politics is mordant. I distinctly remember the cover-photo from September 2, 2013. Titled The Undertakers, it sarcastically showed the nation’s leaders doubling up as undertakers carrying the coffin labelled ‘India Story’.
Col C.V. Venugopalan (Retd.), Palakkad
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