Hafta letters: Lalu vs Nitish, France and Islam again, Pakistan's administrative services

NL subscribers get back with bouquets and brickbats!

ByNL Team
Hafta letters: Lalu vs Nitish, France and Islam again, Pakistan's administrative services
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By the time you read this mail, my subscription might have expired because I did not receive my scholarship grant yet. However, I would like to express my disagreements with a few things that Manisha said regarding the discourse related to France and the freedom of speech debate:

1) Regarding my previous mail: Perhaps this did not come across that well but my intention was not to compare the French civilisation with the Islamic counterpart. My response was to the problem of integration of French Arabs into society. Telling somebody to adopt their religion to "French enlightenment" becomes counterproductive to the aim of integration which Macron himself identified in his speech. What is productive is to understand the religion and a civilisation entirely and not stripped from context.

The illustrations that I gave previously was to prove this point, that when we talk about Islam, often we forget that the religion and its interpretations are subject to time and history. Also, if one has to convince a fundamentalist that violence is a bad idea, then it's best to look within and not without. Like Arfa said, that it is from the Prophet one gets to know that violence is a bad idea. This bears semblance to Gandhi's understanding of secularism as well.

2) Projecting the cartoons on buildings: Manisha implied that this was a fair response from the French government and she drew parallels with the beef festivals that individuals or organisations organise in response to the beef ban that the government imposed. I don't think this was a fair parallel. There is a difference when a party or an organisation does it versus when a government does it. A government represents diverse demography and they should not alienate a significant section of the society. Otherwise, it would amount to what we are seeing in India. Thus when the French government projects the cartoons, it ends up alienating an already alienated mass from the discourse. The point of dialogue is shunned and they are told that it's the French way or the highway.


Shruti Chakraborty


Hello all,

I am writing from Pakistan. I am an officer of Pakistan Administrative Service which is a Pakistani equivalent of the IAS, and currently serving as assistant commissioner/SDM in one of the subdivisions.

I have been listening to NL Hafta ever since it has come out of paywall but along the way, I decided to become an actual subscriber. I genuinely like you guys. Despite these crazy times, it is heartening to see how all of you — all of you — think about things in a rational manner and never give in to prejudices and preconceived notions.

I would like for the panel to some time discuss the efficacy or even raison d'être for the IAS/PAS. As an insider, I have come to believe we are part of the problem rather than a solution. One large part of the issue is an old generalist versus specialist debate. The other issue relates to this idea of a district collector or magistrate at district level, who happens to be fulcrum around which everything in the district revolves, which is against the principle of devolution and diffusion of power. India and Pakistan are pretty similar in this respect because both countries have inherited the same bureaucratic structure from the British Raj and have continued with the same, barring a few tinkerings here and there. Please discuss.

Team NL should come and visit Pakistan and you will find many fans and friends here and many reasonable people who don't see India as an enemy. I wish Indian audiences had better means to learn about Pakistan and not just rely on "legacy media" and its portrayal of Pakistan.




Dear Hafta panel,

Straight to the point here: Arfa's comment about "feeling hurt" by jibes against the Islamic Prophet are representative of the misplaced insecurity rampant in Indian society. By claiming to be hurt, Arfa's unspoken subtext is that you should not hurt me. You can do this by not criticising a certain aspect of my religion and this is what she terms "respect".

This idea of unfettered respect does two things. One, it shuts down the conversation and prevents constructive criticism. Two, "respect" leads to calcification in society. "Respect" and "sanskaar" are significant reasons why Indian society will continue to decay. Arfa, a criticism of your religion and even of your parents is not a criticism of you.

A separate issue is why Europe continues to fail at integrating non-white immigrants. I'll quote a dear friend: "Europe is a deeply insular continent that loves to pretend it is not. North America is not an insular continent but loves to pretend that it is." Anyone can become American but you cannot change your ethnicity to become French. In France, an Arab man will always be an Arab man in France ie not French. Superficially, some French people may profess to not be biased but that's simply top dressing on society that is fundamentally based around exclusion by ethnicity. There is significant overlap between French identity and French ethnicity and those who aren't part of one or the other exist on the fringes of society. There is a very strong undercurrent of xenophobia in European society that often boils over into racism. We are now witnessing the push back from the fringes of society.


Eldrich Rebello


Dear Team NL Hafta,

I'm a Frenchman of Indian origin with a master's degree in environment policy, agriculture. Been following your podcast for two weeks. Three things:

1) About the beheading in Paris, it has its roots in what we call laïcité in the constitution or rather secularism which emerges from the separation of state and church. While it maybe true that there is discrimination and marginalisation of Muslims in France, I disagree that President Macron was Islamophobic. It was celebrated by right-wing circles in India which is strange because they overlook our secularism principle as a whole. If they really believed in freedom of speech, they would have thicker skins and not get offended so easily at the slightest provocation. I mean, what is the point of freedom of speech if I can't say something that will offend someone? Macron did thread a line when he gave the interview to Al Jazeera, he made the distinction that it is a fight against separatism and not Islam itself. Manisha gets it right when she says there is a fundamental dislike of religion in public life, it is the opposite of most places. Voltaire also famously said, "I disapprove of what you said but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

2) I have a slogan for you, Newslaundry, separating (or)noobs from the news and cleaning journalism since 2012.

PS: It would be great to discuss political philosophy with Abhinandan with some wine and nobody can call me a champagne liberal because here champagne is for the masses, haha. And you can check out my opinion piece on agriculture here.

Love your work, Team NL.

Cheers from a new subscriber,

Hemal Thakkar


Hi NL Team,

This is in response to Ms Arfa Sherwani's comments in Hafta 301 wherein she portrayed Lalu as a symbol of "social justice" and argued that the branding of 15 years of Lalu's rule in Bihar as "jungle raj" was the result of an upper caste bias.

While it is true that people belonging to OBC and SC communities were persecuted and marginalised under governments that existed before Lalu, but Ms Arfa has given a free pass to Lalu by conveniently comparing him to governments that existed before him. This argument is very flawed because those governments were mostly Congress governments, and they are hardly relevant today in Bihar. Instead, Lalu's regime should be compared to Nitish's 15-year rule in Bihar. And it is in this context that the NDA terms Lalu's tenure as "jungle raj".

Nitish Kumar has been no less of a poster boy of social justice than Lalu. In the last 15 years, he has reached out and found a solid support base in the EBCs and women voters. Moreover, in spite of being an ally of the BJP, he has never been anti-Muslim and has enjoyed the support of a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes. Not to forget that Bihar is the only NDA-ruled state which passed a resolution against the CAA-NRC. The JDU had also refused to support the decision of the Modi government to de-operationalise Article 370 in Parliament.

Nitish also improved the law and order situation in Bihar which had deteriorated drastically during Lalu's regime. Lalu had, over time, largely become a Yadav leader. On the other hand, Nitish reached out to various other communities without necessarily being anti-upper caste or resorting to hooliganism.

Thus, I disagree with the comments made by Ms Arfa Sherwani.

Looking forward to hear the views of the Hafta panel on this subject.


Akshat Bhushan


Dear Team Newslaundry,

Greetings and congratulations on making it to 300!! The new website looks great and the mode of payment is insanely easy! I have been your long-time listener since 2015 and now a subscriber. Needless to say, I love and appreciate your news content to the core. Sometimes I feel I have become too Left-leaning so I switched gears to another podcast which bored me to death and I realised can’t ever get hooked to any other desi podcasts.

Abhinandan is the soul of the show which keeps me listening still from Hafta 24 to Hafta 300 and on.

Manisha’s Newsance is just waaaaaaao!! I have no words to appreciate which could fit in to describe the brilliance of the show.

Every one at Newslaundry is entitled to a big round of applause for the in-depth reporting and keeping all of us fed with what’s going on in the Indian news media.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks and regards,

Nidhi Srivastava


Hi everyone,

I am a new subscriber and it's my third week of my Newslaundry subscription. I was a mufatkhor for a very long time before even considering to subscribe to you guys.

I am writing this email to discuss the American election results. Now that the results have been called and Joe Biden is president-elect, it still made me think what went wrong with these guys, that even after taking all the wrong steps during the pandemic, the Republicans still ended up with 232 electoral votes and the Democrats lost seats in the house and were not able to flip the Senate, and now their fate to flip the Senate hangs by the runoff elections to be held in Georgia on January 6.

I would appreciate everyone's views on it and, in my opinion, I think that the "woke" Twitter SJWs and those people who constantly shamed people on the basis of being politically incorrect even in their older tweets made it difficult for them and to me. It seems that people, instead of electing a government that will literally make them walk on eggshells in terms of political correctness, they decided to vote for the Republicans instead. I have added a few links at the end of my mail which I believe can well explain my point.


Himanshu Sachdeva

Links to all the stories and videos:

BBC story of a professor who was in the middle of a storm due to it

Bill Maher on it

Another Bill Maher's video

NPR's article

Another link which can explain my point


Dear NL Team,

I am a 25-year-old research consultant working in the water sector. Earlier, I used to sporadically listen to Hafta using my friend’s account 😛. However, Abhinandan’s “pay to keep news free” slogan created an impact on me. I decided to become a subscriber as soon as I start earning, which I did last month. So not a mufatkhor anymore 😄.

I am a regular listener of NL Hafta and NL interviews. I listen either during my evening walk or at night while playing mindless games on my phone. I really enjoy listening to all the panelists on Hafta and the banter between Abhinandan and Manisha is always fun.

I would like to give a suggestion. I know you guys only call reporters on Hafta, but can there be a separate session where public policies — such as Jal Jeevan Mission, Atal Bhujal Yojana, New Education Policy etc — are discussed with a panel comprising public policy experts, think tanks, field NGOs associated with implementation, panchayat members (if it is a rural scheme) and government people?

The policies are never discussed critically on TV news channels. I have listened to a few snippets on some policies by the Print but did not find them very useful. I have attended a few webinars of the government on Jal Jeevan Mission but they only laud the villages working well and rarely talk about anything of substance. Even webinars by think tanks are similar.

We all know that policies such as these have an impact at a macro level and use hundreds of crores of government funds. Frank and nuanced discussions on these policies by people in the sector, along with its implementation on ground, will be very useful for common people to know how public funds are used for the schemes.

I hope you guys at least think about it.

Also, an observation: NL does not show any advertisements as it is completely subscriber-based. However, Abhinandan’s frequent intermissions to talk about the subscriber model, NL website, and hampers during Hafta do sound like advertisements. :P

Keep up the amazing work.

Warmest regards,

Sowmya Jain


Hello Hafta team,

I will keep my email as short as I possibly can. I have been reading with alarm about reports of pollution levels in North India skyrocketing during Diwali (as expected) and I was wondering if the Hafta team would consider discussing briefly about what measures are being taken/not taken by the government other than banning firecrackers? Also, who is to be held accountable? The central government or the state governments? Is it really the case that citizens do not consider rising air pollution to be a major concern to them, or is it lack of seriousness on the part of government officials to take the difficult steps to combat air pollution? I came across this really interesting article on Scroll which details the efforts of this individual who took steps to reduce the levels of indoor air pollution and it was quite an interesting read.

Once again, thanks for all the work you do. In one of my previous emails, I had suggested that Manisha's brain be scanned while watching Republic TV to assess the impact of the consuming that s**t on her brain. But once Abhinandan read that email out loud, I realised that was quite rude of me to think of Manisha as an experimental subject and I apologise! I can sometimes forget that not everything and everyone around me should be treated like a science experiment (I am a neuroscience researcher). If it makes her feel any better, I do the same to my three-year-old son (not actually perform experiments on him but think of fun experiments to perform on him). OK, that was definitely not better!

Take care,

Tanushree Pandit

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