The Week That Was:

From: Vartaa Editorial Team on Aug 14, 2016

All Party Meeting on Kashmir

After weeks of violence in the valley, Delhi's political parties finally came together to thrash out an approach to take towards Jammu and Kashmir. The government received support from all political parties and the PM reiterated India's stated policy that dialogue must be held within the frame of the Constitution and that legally the area occupied by Pakistan belongs to India. The valley meanwhile remains under curfew and the death toll in the protests has now gone up to 56. Voices from the valley criticized the government for not doing enough to assuage the Kashmiri sentiments. While the all party meet gave the government crucial political space, it remains to be seen how it utilizes it to open a window of peace towards the state.

Iron Lady ends her fast

Irom Sharmila, the Iron lady of Manipur, who has been fasting for 16 years against the AFSPA Act, finally ended her fast this past week. Sharmila has now decided to enter the political fray and contest elections against the sitting CM of Manipur. However Irom Sharmila struggled to find takers in Manipur after ending her fast as her own family refused to take her in and benefactors also faced hostile reactions to Sharmila staying within their house. Ironically Sharmila now is back in the same hospital where she was being kept during her many years of fasting.

Embarrassment in Rio

While India's athletes struggled to come close to podium finishes at the Rio Olympics, India's politicians were right in the front of the line when it came to causing embarrassment to the country. The International Olympic Committee issued a stern warning to the Indian delegation over Sports Minister Vijay Goel and his entourage entering the field of play and areas without proper accreditation. Vijay Goel has also been panned on social media for getting pictures clicked with athletes right after their competitions. The row led to the delegation accompanying the Minister being recalled and a new one being sent to Rio. Goel has now returned back to India and has promised issue a clarification to state his side of the case.

Opinions you must read:

  • The Hindu finds fault with former SC judge Markandey Katju advising the BCCI to disregard the court's judgement on implementing the Lodha Committee reforms.
  • The Mint asks whether the absence of proper laws leads to caste conflict in India.
  • The Indian Express applauds the Rajya Sabha for passing the Maternity Benefit Act but warns that change in social attitudes towards new mothers might take long time coming

Chart of the Week

Day 11 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games coincide with India's Independence Day. Indians were hoping to celebrate it with some Olympic medals but it looks like they will have to wait. India is still medal-less at the games. Indians nevertheless have been proud of their athletes. Especially of Deepa Karmakar who won the heart of millions after making it to the finals and finishing Fourth in the Women's vault category. There have been several other inspirational stories. Rower Dattu Bhokanal, who hails from a tiny village in Maharashtra, became the first Indian to qualify for the finals in this sport. Lalita Babar became the first Indian to qualify for an athletics final after PT Usha. That was 32 years ago. She will be competing in the 3000m steeplechase event.

The disappointment Indians feel about going medal-less in shooting, hockey, and tennis is justified given the presence of top notch athletes such as Bindra, Mirza et al. But if you keep the harsh metric of 'medals won' aside for a moment, things are looking up for India at the Olympics. And this is not some blogger at the Ministry of Sports putting a positive spin on things. Just look at the contingent size India sent to the event this time around- 124! The Indian contingent had 83 athletes at the London games in 2012, 57 at the Beijing games in 2008, and 73 at the Athens games in 2004. It is no mean feat to send 100+ athletes to the games. Qualification criteria for the Olympics are getting tougher with each passing event. Indian athletes have been doing incredibly well with the limited resources at their disposal and despite the best efforts of the Indian babus to undermine them.

As you can see from the chart, the US has the biggest contingent of over 550 athletes. There are 23 nations that have bigger Olympic teams than India and 34 nations that boast a team size of over 100. The Russian team is a mere 282 strong since more than a third of their original contingent was barred from competing due to the state-sponsored doping scandal. Even tiny Netherlands and Poland have teams twice the size of India's. Clearly there is a lot of room for India to grow the team size.

After the games are over, there will be a lot of debate in the media about why India cannot win more medals and the meaningless factoid that the country has a population of over 1.2 billion. Regardless of the medal count the Indian contingent manages, we genuinely believe the Rio games are a turning point. The large group of Olympians will come back with a wealth of experience to share with the up and comers and a desire in their hearts to better their last performance. The athletes have done their part by giving their best at the world stage. It is maybe time for the non-athlete Indians to come up with innovative ways to empower promising athletes. Could crowd-funding be the answer?