August 01, 2020
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Delhi Diary

I don’t know about you, but travelling on a bullet train at 320 km per hour is not my top priority...

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Delhi Diary

Honeymoon Still on Rails

I don’t know about you, but travelling on a bullet train at 320 km per hour is not my top priority. When I go from Delhi to Dehradun, I take the train from Old Delhi station, which chugs along, if you are lucky at about 50 km per hour. I am not a Luddite, but unlike the prime minister, I am not obsessed with superfast trains. However, I have no problem if we can manage to get them into service.

A few questions, nevertheless, must be asked. Do we have the rolling stock and infrastructure to accommodate these ‘bullets’? Should we not be spending money on other amenities, like clean toilets, clean platforms, clean coaches, clean bed sheets, etc? The train I take to Dehradun is invariably behind time. The last time I asked the TT, he joked: “It is on time, just three hours late!”

Yet the media is hailing the bullet trains as the brave, new world of travel for India and a clear indication that Modi means “business”. Even the passenger fare hikes, which to some extent can be justified, are being welcomed as brave correctives and have become a cause for celebration.

Prime Minister Modi recently complained that his government had not even enjoyed the customary 100-day honeymoon period. I beg to differ. Mr Modi in fact is enjoying an extended honeymoon. With the Opposition at sixes and sevens and the media mesmerised by the PM (he doesn’t even feel the need to take a media party on his foreign trips), I can’t see what he could be complaining about. Moreover, he now has his own man as party president, so both the government and the party are firmly under his control.

Not a PM had such an easy ride since Rajiv Gandhi’s early years in office. If I were Mr Modi, I would count my blessings.

A Capital Misbelief

Jean Drèze has just written a timely and terrific article in The Hindu. Titled ‘On the Mythology of Social Policy’, he arg­ues against the anti-poor mood that is rampant in the country. It should be made compulsory reading for the Bhagwatis and Panagariyas, jostling to enter the Prime Minister’s Office with their trickledown theories. I hardly hear a voice these days opposing these gentlemen and their pro-business ideas, so Drèze’s article is doubly welcomed.

Jean Drèze lists four myths, which have captured the imagination of the ruling elite and keep getting parroted: “India is in danger of becoming a nanny state with large and unsustainable levels of social spending. Second, social spending is largely a waste—unproductive ‘handouts’. Third, this wasteful extravaganza is the work of a bunch of old-fashioned Nehruvian socialists and assorted jholawallahs. Fourth, the electorate has rejected the entire approach—people want growth, not entitlements.” These myths, Drèze says, “acquire an aura of plausibility by sheer repetition.”

I am currently reading Thomas Piketty’s magnificent polemic, Capital, in which he establishes that “market forces” in the capitalism structure we live in fundamentally increase “inequality”. So, we are back to the old story: the rich become richer, the poor become poorer. Is anyone listening?

All Eyes on the Ball

I am a Test matchwallah myself, but this football fever has not failed to catch up with me. Soccer is a much simpler sport, with none of the complexities associated with the ‘laws’ of cricket, with no pretensions to character-building and without a memorable football commentator of the stature of John Arlott or Brian Johnston. Yet I find the action on the field riveting. Albert Camus said: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.” I am not ready to confirm Camus’s statement at the moment, but I am loving the game.

The one problem with the World Cup being held in the Americas is the unearthly hours of the telecast. I manage to stay awake for the 9:30 pm match, but the 1:30 am one is beyond me. Two cultural points should be noted. All the teams have a fair share of black players. In the French side, more than half the team is black. Second, the hairstyles are crazy and bound to become the in-thing.

Christopher Hitchens once observed that the British Empire would be remembered for two things. One, the phrase “fu.. off “ and two, for inventing football. On both counts he was spot-on.

On the Recovery Side

Editor would like to say thank you for all the emails and phone calls he got asking after him. The surgery at Friendicoes went well and even though he is heavily bandaged and medicated at present, he is on his way to full recovery. I can tell. A couple of days ago, I offered him some Amul cheese. He sniffed and rejected it. Which means he wants his favourite Parmesan. A good sign.

Last week...

I ate too much ice cream.

Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com

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