Was it the shock and awe of the election result that made last week feel different, or was there actually a glut of freakish happenings? Here are seven instances of grotesque and outlandish events in society, business and politics.
7) The Cannes Red Carpet
In the old days, the red carpet at Cannes featured those associated with films being screened at the festival, and others interested in viewing the films. Increasingly, it’s turned into a branding exercise for celebrities. The demand for opportunities to walk the red carpet rises each year even as the festival itself struggles to retain relevance in the age of streaming.
India kept to its usual quota of entries to the main festival, which is zero, but its red carpet figures continued to burgeon. Did Deepika Padukone, Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra, Mallika Sherawat or Hina Khan watch a single movie? It would have been an uncomfortable few hours in the clothes they wore. Maybe there’s an exit at the back from where celebs can quietly slip away after facing the photogs out front.
On the positive side, a large percentage of Indians who travelled to the French Riviera town were A-list actors, in contrast to the battalion of “no-name social media influencers” from China competing for attention on the red carpet.
6) The $2 million drug
A wonder drug called Zolgensma was approved in the United States for the treatment of spinal muscular atrophy or SMA, a congenital cause of death in infants. The miracle one-shot treatment would have been great news, had it not been priced at $2.125 million per dose. One’s astonishment at the advance of gene therapies was tempered by repulsion at the greed of pharmaceutical firms. I’ve heard all the arguments about the difficulty and cost of bringing new drugs to the market, and they sound reasonable, but any process that ends with medication costing Rs 15 crore is deeply flawed.
5) The traffic jam on Everest
The death zone of Mount Everest was overcrowded, with over 300 people waiting to summit, and many perished because of the slowness of the descent. It is imperative for climbers to get up and down before their supplemental oxygen runs out, but some had to wait hours in the danger zone because of the congestion.
Heavy traffic isn’t unusual during peak tourist season ever since Everest was opened up to recreational climbers. In 1996, two pioneers of commercial expeditions died in similar circumstances, an event retold in the 2015 film Everest, starring Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal. A little over 4,000 people have reached the top of the world’s highest peak, and some 200 have died in the process, meaning there’s a 5% chance that a climber’s ascent to the summit will prove fatal.
Those are terrible odds, which indicate only highly trained professionals should attempt the climb, and yet more people each year apply for a permit, expecting to be among the 19 in 20 who live to tell the tale. The Nepalese government, strapped for funds, hands out expensive permits by the bushelful. Bad weather keeps everyone in their camps, and any clear window incites a rush to the summit.
Of course, people have a right to risk their own lives chasing a dream, but a traffic jam on Everest, like a $2 million drug, is plain insane.
4) The Brexit Party victory
A party which has existed for only a few weeks, has no members, and no transparent system of functioning, won more votes in the election to the European Parliament than the Conservative and Labour Parties combined. The United Kingdom has never seemed less united.
3) The Google-Apple-Facebook feud over privacy
Last week, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, responded to criticism from Facebook and Google executives about his company’s privacy policies. In a New York Times article published in early May, Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai took aim at Apple’s high prices, writing that, “privacy should not be a luxury”. Facebook joined the battle, criticising Apple’s practice of storing information in local servers in China, something Facebook has refused to do.
It’s a case of the pot and kettle calling the porcelain vase black. Apple makes its money selling devices, and collects very little unencrypted data from users. Google and Facebook meanwhile, derive virtually all their revenue from gaining information about individuals that those individuals would prefer to keep private, but agree to divulge in return for useful and free services. Google and Facebook hopping on the privacy bandwagon reminds me of the oil giant Shell rolling out a massive campaign about its commitment to green energy.
2) Narendra Modi’s concern for Muslims
In a speech after accepting his party’s nomination for Prime Minister, Narendra Modi spoke of minorities being made to live in an atmosphere of fear. That fear was, in his view, a false anxiety generated by political parties that used minorities (read Muslims) as “vote-banks”. Modi being concerned for Muslims is like Facebook preaching the virtue of privacy and Shell publicising its commitment to the environment.
Could it be that the fear Indian Muslims feel has something to do with Modi having presided over a massacre of innocents as Gujarat Chief Minister? Perhaps it is related to his refusal to visit camps of the riot affected, his promotion of police officers who let the 2002 violence flare while transferring those who arrested rioters. It is possible that his nomination to a ministerial post of a person credibly accused of perpetrating mass murder in Gujarat, and, more recently, his endorsement of a person accused of targeting Muslims in a series of terrorist attacks, has contributed to the fear psychosis he mentioned. It might even be that the BJP’s 303 Lok Sabha members include not a single Muslim because of the party’s own divisive ideology rather than the failure of Muslims to step up to the plate.
Ultimately, the unease minorities feel is caused not because a party preaches majoritarianism but because a majority endorses that view. It is hardly surprising the same majority also routinely discriminates against Muslims in providing accommodation and employment, which contribute to inwardness and ghettoisation.
1) Rahul Gandhi’s attack on nepotism
At a meeting held to cogitate on the party’s disastrous performance in the recent election, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacked senior members like Ashok Gehlot and Kamal Nath, rebuking them for favouring their sons over the party’s cause. Few things can be more risible than Narendra Modi posing as pro-Muslim, but Rahul Gandhi taking up cudgels against nepotism is surely one of them.
Let us not go over Gandhi’s latest failure and instead consider his first botched effort: his spell in charge of the National Students Union of India and the Youth Congress a decade ago. He launched, with much fanfare, a nation-wide hunt for talent, seeking a fundamental reinvention of inner-party democracy.
In Maharashtra, this resulted in the appointment to powerful positions of the sons or daughters of Congress stalwarts like Vilasrao Deshmukh, Patangrao Kadam, Muralidhar Mane, Vilas Muttamwar, and Ranjit Deshmukh. In Punjab, Gandhi appointed the grandson of Beant Singh as Youth Congress State President. In Uttarakhand, it was the son of Union Minister of State Harish Rawat, in West Bengal, the niece of ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury and in Haryana the son of Ajay Singh Yadav.
Not a single inspirational young Congressman or woman has risen from the ranks in the past two decades. It is futile now trying to look for an Indian National Congress party outside of dynasty. It is sons and daughters all the way down.