Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A new resurgent India

‘Fault lies within us, history will be harsh if we don’t deliver’
The Indian Express Wednesday, November 30, 2005
In an eloquent appeal for far-reaching reforms, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged the ‘‘skeptics, worriers and critics...some who have genuine concerns, others continue to be prisoners of the past’’ to recognise the idea of India as a front-ranking economic powerhouse. ‘‘History will judge us harshly for not making bold to make it happen,’’ said Singh to a packed house of industrialists and policy-makers at the closing of the India Economic Summit. ‘‘Why should we be gripped by diffidence? Why should we live in fear of globalisation?’’
Citing Infosys, Wipro, Telco as global brands, Singh said, ‘‘It must give us confidence to pursue change in areas where we have shied away from change. Be it in urban governance, be it in rural marketing, and labour laws.’’ In fact, the PM even promised to address the sensitive area of labour reforms and make them ‘‘more flexible’’ after evolving a ‘‘consensus on the matter’’ and building in ‘‘credible social safety nets’’. Singh felt we would have only ourselves to blame if we do not seize the opportunities available and move towards ‘‘a new resurgent India’’ that should achieve a 10 per cent growth rate in 2-3 years’ time’’.

Can Janata Rise Like Phoenix? My Word November 30, 2005
Before Emergency this scribe contributed an article for Mr Jayaprakash Narain’s weekly, Everyman’s. It indicated how lasting opposition unity could be achieved by creating a federal party. Regional parties could retain identities at the state level. But candidates for Parliament offered by them would jointly campaign under a common symbol as members of one parliamentary party. Unlike a coalition it would be a federation. JP liked the idea. He circulated the article among all invitees to the first all-party meeting of opposition leaders to discuss unity. Subsequently the Janata Party was created in somewhat similar fashion under compulsion of events. Its mistake was to dissolve all the uniting constituents. It thereby became a Congress clone exercising centralized authority vested in squabbling leaders. Its federal spirit was destroyed. The rest is history.
Once again opposition parties have an opportunity. If Mr LK Advani and his general secretaries negotiate an amicable divorce with the RSS, BJP as the only multi-state party could be part of a new national alternative. Otherwise it is expendable. Needed now for a national alternative is a simple agenda and a constitution that insists on democratic procedure. The rest will follow. BJP should note that the first non-NDA leader to defend Mr Advani’s remarks on Jinnah was Mr Laloo Yadav. Subsequently Mr Nitish Kumar did likewise. Mr Advani and his team should see the writing on the wall. The JDU will not pull along with Hindutva. Especially when RJD, miffed with Congress, waits in the wings. Today, the Janata Party nomenclature belongs to Dr Subramaniam Swamy. If he does not surrender it without precondition, no matter. Janata will be Janata by any other name. India needs it. India waits for it.

The Aryan Invasion: Fact or Fallacy?

Rekha I Nambiar August 25, 2002
Like most Indians of my generation, I grew up studying about how the Indian sub-continent was invaded by a race of ‘Aryans’, who gave us the Vedic heritage that we are so proud of. It is only recently, as a result of reading articles and then delving into the roots of the whole theory that I have come to understand my own roots better. To confirm, what has always been a suspicion.
  • That ours is one of, if not the, oldest civilization, of which many written records still exist.
  • That the Vedas are not the delusions of a poet, but the records of a civilization.
  • That the culture that evolved on the banks of the Saraswati and the Sapta Sindhu composed the ancient scriptures, and they were without doubt indigenous people and not nomadic barbaric hordes that brought the glory of the Vedas with the thundering hooves of their horses.

The Aryan Invasion theory (AIT) was propagated by the west to justify their own purposes. If that race brought us this literature common sense demands that they document their own entry into this part of the world. In addition, all the Vedic literature that was supposedly given to us by the invading Aryans has not ONE reference to any region outside the Indian sub-continent. And to think for a moment that a horde of invaders, nomadic in their existence, would produce the sublime wisdom of our scriptures, defies intelligence. Such a vast literature could only have been the product of a civilization that was well rooted and highly developed. Not a constantly moving people on horses !!!!

The Aryan Invasion theory (AIT) propounded by western scholars gives a Eurocentric history of civilization, based on racial parameters. It was used to justify colonialism and derived its fundamentals from Biblical chronology. It states that around 1500 BC ,‘Aryans’ ,a race of fair skinned, blue-eyed, sharp nosed invaders from Central Asia invaded the Indus Valley and drove out the indigenous black skinned Dravidian race that was pushed further down south. This nomadic horde on horses is supposed to have ‘conquered’ a civilization covering an area of almost 800,000 square kilometers.

If it is a racial theory, could the Germans or Europeans be far behind ? Yes, Max Mueller is credited (!!!) with popularizing AIT. "Max Muller, like many of the Christian scholars of his era, believed in Biblical chronology... Given then that the world was created in 4000 BC and the flood occurred in 2500 BC, it was impossible to give the Aryan invasion a date earlier than 1500 BC Also, many of these scholars had dubious credentials and motives. "( D Frawley)

The greater issues involved in this apparently obscure debate are quite significant. If ancient India was a Vedic culture, then we would have to rewrite not only the history of India but also that of Europe and the Middle East. The whole edifice of western civilization’s interpretation of history would go down ignominiously. The change in our view of history would be as radical as Einstein’s ideas that changed our view of physics." (D Frawley)

Alliance For The New Humanity

New organisation for harmony and world peace
Press Trust of India Geneva, November 11, 2005 Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Inspired by the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, US based motivational guru and author Deepak Chopra has launched an organisation which will work for harmony and world peace. Launching Alliance For The New Humanity at the UN yesterday, Chopra, favoured complete change in the thinking, making peace the primary goal of all human activity, eliminating words like war from the vocabulary and working for harmony to remove suffering from the world.
Joining him in the venture are Nobel laureates Oscar Arias and Betty Williams, Puerto Rican Senator Antonio Fas, human rights activists Kerry Kennedy and Judge Baltazar Garzon, singer Ricky Martin and environmentalist Ashok Khosla, among others. "Peace does not mean anti-war," he said, adding that it should be pursued for its own sake. Unless this change comes about, war against terrorism, drugs and other evils would not be won.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

JP and the Emergency

Books In the Name of Democracy: JP Movement and the Emergency by Bipan Chandra
R. L. Singal The Tribune Sunday, September 7, 2003

THE book under review spells out the author’s own assessment of JP’s character and motivation of the movement launched by him, and the causes of the imposition of the Emergency in June 1975 by Indira Gandhi. Both steps, according to the learned author, were taken in the name of democracy. Though the actions of both countered their proclaimed purposes. Placing them on equal footing, the author opines that neither was free of blame. The author does not believe that her action was prompted by any fascist or totalitarian bent of mind. He emphatically says India during the Emergency was not fascist or totalitarian. The Emergency was just a derailment of democracy. On the other hand the author has repeatedly emphasised in his book the traits of fascism in JP’s movement, particularly because of the support extended to it by the RSS and its well-known ideologue Nanaji Deshmukh.
The author is also not convinced of JP’s competence to lead a mass movement for bringing about a social and political revolution in the country, a rather uncharitable assessment of the great revolutionary whose competence as a leader was recognised even by Jawaharlal Nehru who had once called him the future Prime Minister of India. Bipan Chandra firmly states that JP was not the right man to play the role he had assigned for himself. He was not up to the task as a thinker or political leader to play the role of a Gandhi or a Lenin or a Mao. He is of the opinion that what JP wanted to achieve could only be achieved by assumption of political power but he was not willing to take up that political burden and responsibility. This is how the author analyses the key shortcomings in JP’s thought and character and the inadequacies and contradictions in his leadership.
It is difficult to agree with these views of the author. The vital issue, which prompted JP to launch his campaign, was the widespread corruption in her administration and its disgusting justification (she had remarked that corruption was a global phenomenon) as also her authoritarian rule that muted all dissent even within her own party. The JP movement was not motivated by any ignoble ambitions on the part of its leaders, particularly JP. Its target was her corruption and authoritarianism as repeatedly emphasised by JP. The climax came when Indira Gandhi, rather thoughtlessly, remarked that those who received money from capitalists to meet their expenses should not have the cheek to call her government corrupt.
The reader alone will decide who the devil was—JP or Indira Gandhi. The author is grossly unfair in placing them both on equal footing.

History of one’s making

Khushwant Singh 'Malice'
The Hindustan Times Saturday, June 28, 2003
Distorting history to suit the mood of the times is not an invention of Murli Manohar Joshi, the minister for education, and his pliable panel of so-called historians. It has been practised ever since people became aware of their past. Indian scholars are not the only falsifiers of events. British historians indulged in it with equal zeal. Take, for instance, the Revolt of 1857. While the British call it the Sepoy Mutiny, Indians describe it as the First War of Independence. In fact, it was more than a mutiny of some sepoys of the forces of the East India Company. And it was by no means a war of independence waged by oppressed Indians.
The credit for making 1857 the year of India’s First War of Independence goes largely to the pseudo-historian, Jawaharlal Nehru. A bigger fabrication is about our freedom struggle. Indian historians make it out as a war between British rulers and the Indian masses led by Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Azad and other Congress leaders. It was nothing of the sort. To start with, it was inspired by Englishmen like A.O. Hume (CIC) and leaders of the Congress loyal to Queen Victoria. Tagore composed and sang Jana gana mana in honour of King George V.
majority of Congress leaders were products of British universities and Inns of Court. No sooner had they returned home, they shed their frock-coats, top hats, ties and striped trousers and took to wearing khadi kurtas and dhotis. They changed their attires, but they did not shed their British way of thinking. Far from opposing British rule tooth and nail, at times they collaborated with them as junior partners, as in Provincial Congress-led governments in 1937 and 1939. Another myth is that Indians kicked out the British. They did nothing of the sort. The Quit India movement launched by Gandhi in August 1942 was crushed within three weeks. The British were not evicted from India; they found it increasingly difficult to rule it and decided to call it a day.
Shanmukham Chetty, independent India’s first finance minister, had the correct perspective when he said, “… we have secured freedom from foreign yoke, mainly through the operation of world events, and partly through a unique act of enlightened self-abnegation on behalf of the erstwhile rulers of the country…” Pandit Nehru’s oft-quoted ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech in Parliament in August 1947 has to be taken with a large dose of salt. He said, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world sleeps, India wakes to life and freedom.” For one thing, when it is midnight in India, in half the world on the other side of the globe, it is day time and people are not sleeping.
What was a day of jubilation in Delhi was a day of mourning in Punjab and Bengal which had been sliced into halves with enormous amount of bloodshed and millions rendered homeless and impoverished. However, many people had reasons to be jubilant. Those in the defence and civil services got double promotions because the British and Muslim officials had left, industrialists who had made huge profit during the war were able to buy British companies and tea estates at throwaway prices. Indians did say good riddance to the British; they continued to send their ICS and senior defence personnel for training to England. The truth is that though there was only one Briton to more than 2,000 Indians, they were able to rule over us for 200 years because we Indians found their presence in India worth our while.
I invite the attention of educated Indians to a short article ‘The Fables of Nationalism’ by Prof Indivar Kamtekar of JNU in the India International Centre Quarterly magazine. It is truly an eye-opener, thoroughly researched, well-worded and totally free of bias. He has done a great job of debunking myths on which we have been brought up. I am not aware if he has written a history of India, but I am sure if he does so it will be well worth reading. People who live on myths of the past of their own making develop a myopic vision of the present and imperil their own future. chowk

Dialogue among Civilisations

Inaugurating the Conference on Dialogue Among Civilisations: Quest for New Perspectives, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that future of mankind is not going to be determined by a conflict among civilisations but humanity’s future will witness a concert or a confluence of civilisation. Excerpts from his speech: ‘Confluence, not conflict will decide future’ The Indian Express Thursday, July 10, 2003
I deem it a great privilege to be invited to inaugurate the two-day New Delhi Conference on Dialogue Among Civilisations. In recent years the concept of Dialogue Among Civilisations has caught the imagination of the political, intellectual and cultural elite around the world. The concept itself is not entirely a novel one. After all, the best minds in world history have always championed the idea of dialogue and cooperation among peoples from different cultural and civilisational backgrounds. The Vedas taught us to accept and assimilate all that is positive and life-promoting from around the world.
Two factors have worked to provide a new context to the concept of Dialogue Among Civilisations. Some years ago, a famous writer put forward a thesis about the coming ‘‘Clash of Civilizations’’. The thesis was, of course, flawed and baseless. Its main fault was that it failed to recognise that civilisations do not — rather, cannot — clash. To be civilised is to abjure clashes and conflicts, and to try to resolve all disputes and contentious issues through dialogue. Civilisations are anchored in a common set of values and ideals, which we all share in our common yearning for human solidarity and in our common aspiration for peace, justice, truth and fellowship. Thus, all civilisations have a civilising influence on human beings.
Here we should not confuse between civilisation and history. Human history is a tale of clashes and conflicts, as well as of peace and progress. This is true about all countries and all continents. In contrast, when we talk of civilisations, we are essentially talking of the self-humanising endeavour of different societies, carried on from generation to generation, through the means of spiritual systems, cultures, art, philosophy, science, agriculture, industry and the daily social activity of ordinary people. Nevertheless, we should thank the worthy writer who predicted the coming ‘‘Clash of Civilizations’’. The provocative title of his book served to catalyse a worldwide debate that vehemently argued to the contrary. The future of mankind is not going to be determined by a Conflict Among Civilisations; rather, as some people have beautifully put it, humanity’s future will witness a Concert or a Confluence of Civilisations. Of course, this will not happen automatically. All of us, and all our coming generations, will have to strive and struggle for it.
As we crossed into a new century and a new millennium three years ago, all of us realised that the world we now live in, and the world that the coming generations will inherit, are fundamentally different from the times past. Trade and technology have broken old barriers between countries and cultures. The world has become a Global Village. Some would like to call it a Global Marketplace. Yet, the present situation presents two paradoxes.
  • One is the continuing wide gap between the unmet basic needs of the world’s poor and the more-than-adequately-met wants of the world’s rich.
  • The other is the equally troubling imbalance between the current excessive focus on Man as the Consumer of material goods and services, and the colossal neglect of the Integral Man who wishes to become a Complete Human Being.
With all the material progress that we have achieved, we acutely realise that there is something precious — the human element — lacking in this progress. We feel that, with all the technological advancement, we are still less than what we can be, less than what human beings have been created for. We are dreaming of the ideal society, a cooperative collective in which all production is geared for meeting all his human needs — of the body, mind and soul. A society in which man can experience peace within himself and witness peace in the world, both of which are today eluding him. Therefore, troubled by the destruction of the environment and the erosion of traditions, and numbed by the daily news of violence around the world, the Modern Man is searching for answers.
After the horrible wars of the last century, the continuing ethnic clashes in some parts of the world, and the emergence in recent times of terrorism that misuses the name of religion, he is not swayed by claims like — ‘‘My country right or wrong,’’ ‘‘My people the greatest in history,’’ and ‘‘My faith the only faith’’. And his search for answers is taking him to study the essence of his own faith, culture and civilisation, and the faiths, cultures and civilisations of his fellow human beings in a world that he sees is becoming increasingly inter-dependent. It is this intensified search for solutions and solace that is behind this new phenomenon called the Dialogue Among Civilisations. This is a very hopeful sign.
The Dialogue Among Civilisations is a broad enough theme to embrace all the major issues and challenges before mankind today. We need answers on how to create a future without wars and violence; how to achieve sustainable development, so that industrialisation does not become a curse to the environment; how to impart a much-needed cultural dimension to development; how to preserve the artistic wealth of nations, especially of small communities, who are genuinely concerned about the onrush of uniformity in the name of globalisation; and how to advance the cause of human rights, economic justice, gender justice, and a compassionate and caring social order.
It has become equally important to know how our system of education and the mass media can promote positive values in society, especially among children. I believe that we can get the answers to these questions by broadening, deepening and sustaining the Dialogue process. Here I must emphasise that we also need ‘‘The Culture of Dialogue’’ at a national level, so that contentious issues can be resolved amicably through talks. Dialogue is an essential part of democracy. The more a nation can harmonise differences at home, the greater will be its ability to contribute to a dialogue at the international level. India’s longstanding experience and ancient tradition of fostering dialogue among communities, cultures and civilisations is well recognised. This is principally because India has protected people’s freedom of thought and faith.
The meeting points of ancient Trade Routes may lie in other parts of the world, but India has always been a meeting point of Faith Routes. It is a fitting tribute to India’s longstanding tradition of tolerance that the Zoroastrians, a prominent minority community, are holding an exhibition to herald the celebrations of the 3000th Year of Zoroastrianism, to coincide with this Conference. They comprise less than 0.01 per cent of our country’s population. As inheritors of a proud and priceless civilisational legacy ourselves, we in India are prepared to lend our full support to this noble undertaking of Dialogue Among Civilisations.

Freedom from the corporeal

No Logo by Naomi Klein
Overnight, "Brands, not products!" became the rallying cry for a marketing renaissance led by a new breed of companies that saw themselves as "meaning brokers" instead of product producers. What was changing was the idea of what - in both advertising and branding - was being sold. The old paradigm had it that all marketing was selling a product. In the new model, however, the product always takes a back seat to the real product, the brand, and the selling of the brand acquired an extra component that can only be described as spiritual.
Advertising is about hawking product. Branding, in its truest and most advanced incarnations, is about corporate transcendence. It may sound flaky, but that's precisely the point. On Marlboro Friday, a line was drawn in the sand between the lowly price slashers and the high-concept brand builders. The brand builders conquered and a new consensus was born: the products that will flourish in the future will be the ones presented not as "commodities" but as concepts: the brand as experience, as lifestyle.
Ever since, a select group of corporations has been attempting to free itself from the corporeal world of commodities, manufacturing and products to exist on another plane. Anyone can manufacture a product, they reason (and as the success of private-label brands during the recession proved, anyone did). Such menial tasks, therefore, can and should be farmed out to contractors and subcontractors whose only concern is filling the order on time and under budget (ideally in the Third World, where labor is dirt cheap, laws are lax and tax breaks come by the bushel). Headquarters, meanwhile, is free to focus on the real business at hand - creating a corporate mythology powerful enough to infuse meaning into these raw objects just by signing its name.
As Nike CEO Phil Knight explains, "For years we thought of ourselves as a production-oriented company, meaning we put all our emphasis on designing and manufacturing the product. But now we understand that the most important thing we do is market the product. We've come around to saying that Nike is a marketing-oriented company, and the product is our most important marketing tool." This project has since been taken to an even more advanced level with the emergence of on-line corporate giants such as It is on-line that the purest brands are being built: liberated from the real-world burdens of stores and product manufacturing, these brands are free to soar, less as the disseminators of goods or services than as collective hallucinations.
Tom Peters, who has long coddled the inner flake in many a hard-nosed CEO, latched on to the branding craze as the secret to financial success, separating the transcendental logos and the earthbound products into two distinct categories of companies. In this high-stakes new context, the cutting-edge ad agencies no longer sold companies on individual campaigns but on their ability to act as "brand stewards": identifying, articulating and protecting the corporate soul.
The famous late graphic designer Tibor Kalman summed up the shifting role of the brand this way: "The original notion of the brand was quality, but now brand is a stylistic badge of courage." The idea of selling the courageous message of a brand, as opposed to a product, intoxicated these CEOs, providing as it did an opportunity for seemingly limitless expansion. After all, if a brand was not a product, it could be anything! Never again would the corporate world stoop to praying at the altar of the commodity market. From now on they would worship only graven media images. Or to quote Tom Peters, the brand man himself: "Brand! Brand!! Brand!!! That's the message . . . for the late '90s and beyond."

Kolyma Tales

The Hindu Literary Review Sunday, May 02, 2004
Many factors contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union — an antiquated economy, a senseless political system incapable of modernising, and surely the publication of The Gulag Archipelago. It is impossible to name a book that had a greater effect on political and moral consciousness of the late-20th Century than Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, published in three volumes between 1974 and 1978. Not only did Solzhenitsyn deliver the historical truth about the Gulag, the Soviet concentration camps spread across the vast empire — they were everywhere with 476 complexes and hundreds of smaller units — where over 22 million perished; he conveyed, as no one else did, the demonic atmosphere and the psychology of both prisoners and the guards, as well as the mark it left on the entire society. Quite apart from the death toll, it was the sheer arbitrariness of the system and the appalling conditions that finally brought the Empire crashing down like a house of cards.

The biggest camp was Kolyma in the Russian Far East. Kolyma was not a single camp but, rather, a region six times the size of France with more than a hundred camps; three million died there between 1931, when it was inaugurated as an island in the Gulag archipelago, and Stalin's death in 1953. Varlam Shalamov has written about his experiences in the camp in the classic Kolyma Tales about which Solzhenitsyn has written: "Shalamov's experiences in the camps was longer and more bitter than my own, and I respectfully confess that to him and not me was it given to touch those depths of bestiality and despair toward which life in the camps dragged us all."

  • First, there are differences between Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn, as the British critic, Geoffrey Hosking pointed out. "Where Solzhenitsyn constructs a single vast panorama, loose and sprawling, Shalamov chooses the most concise of literary forms, the short story, and shapes it consciously and carefully, so that the overall structure is like a mosaic made of tiny pieces. Where Solzhenitsyn writes with anger, sarcasm and bitterness, Shalamov adopts a studiously dry and neutral tone. Where Solzhenitsyn plunges into his characters' fates, telling their story from a variety of subjective points, Shalamov takes strict control of his discourses, usually conducting his narrative from an undivided viewpoint and aiming at complete objectivity. Where Solzhenitsyn is fiercely moralistic and preaches redemption through suffering, Shalamov contents himself with cool aphorisms and asserts that real suffering, such as Kolyma imposed on its inmates, can only demoralise and break the spirit."
  • Second, central to any discussion of Shalamov's stories is the subject of genre. Here we have a literary form that attempts to bridge the gap between fact and fiction, or faction, something like historical fiction. Shalamov's stories are an artful mixing of fact and fiction where it is not possible to separate aesthetic evaluation from historical appraisal. While the stories should not be accepted as precise factual accounts, it is important to realise that the overwhelming majority of them are autobiographical in nature. When you read the stories you are better informed and "entertained" at the same time. The stories are anchored in historical facts but the factual references never weigh too heavily on your mind or interrupt the flow of the narrative. So, some of the fiction is more true to life than any biography, encyclopedia or history textbook.

The Soviet camp system was not the relatively high-tech factory of death that the Nazis had put in place in their concentration camps. On the whole the system was not designed to mass-produce corpses — even if it did at times. What the Soviets did was to work on the mind, or the mechanism of minimal hope. "You can go on living if you do this or that for our satisfaction." But the doing almost invariably involved a choice so hideous, so degrading that it further diminished the humanity of those who made it.

Shalamov shows how hope mocked again and again can break human identity more swiftly than hunger. But hunger there was, and continuous physical torment, and the sudden cessation of all human privacy. Thus the riddle was not why the inmates did not collectively offer resistance but how it was possible to retain their sanity. Shalamov does not attempt to answer this question; nor does he speak of his sentences in Kolyma. (He was tossed around from camp to camp.) He could have allowed himself some generosity; his modesty did not. All he says is that there is a potential sub-humanity latent in all of us.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Revive the Swatantra Party

Because India remains one of the last citadels of confused statism
The Indian Express Monday, July 25, 2005
The Berlin wall fell sixteen years ago. Free market communism of the Deng variety has been in place in China with vim and gusto for about two decades. Latvia and Lithuania, parts of the erstwhile Soviet socialist paradise, have the lowest tax rates in the world! India, unfortunately, remains one of the last citadels of confused statism or shall we say statist confusion.
There has been no khullam-khulla acceptance that socialism, or for that matter the socialistic pattern of society, the public sector from its commanding heights or lows, the “navaratnas” and their kin, counter-productive price controls pandering to middle class appetites for diesel and LPG and so on are, in fact, the principal reasons why we remain a poor country. We seem to believe that we will muddle through in a state of schizophrenia where we embrace market-friendly moves on Monday and revert to the socialist womb on Tuesday gifting high interest rates to the labour aristocracy and going round and round in endless hair-splitting about twenty-six or fifty-one per cent of phantoms of the Indic mind.
Clearly we need an unambiguous platform that calls for a minimalist non-predatory state, a platform that recognises that but for Avadi, we would today be as rich as Korea or Malaysia. We would not have barefoot children begging in the horror-stricken moonscapes of contemporary urban India. We would not have two hundred million citizens, or shall we correctly call them “subjects” of our socialist state, going to bed hungry each night.
We have no money for a well-paid police force or a well-staffed court system or for well-paved roads or for working schools or for employment for the rural poor giving them wages, mind you not doles! We have plenty of money for Ministries of Steel, Fertilisers, Coal, Chemicals, Petroleum, Civil Aviation and Banking with dozens of ministers, scores of secretaries, hundreds of joint secretaries and thousands of deputy secretaries. We never have shortage of funds for growing malignant government cells, but are always short of money for pursuing the proper ends of government.
Chinese communists have no problems with flexible labour policies in SEZs. Our stalwarts of Alimuddin Street have to be more catholic than the pope. They oppose in India what they approve of in China. One wonders if they are being paid and guided by Chinese capitalists with the diabolical purpose of keeping India uncompetitive and backward!
Can the BJP be the right of centre progressive political party we desperately need in this country? The prognosis is not too sanguine. When they headed the NDA government, only at the fag end of its term did they start to move on privatisations. They reversed the sensible policy inherited from their Janata predecessor and reverted to government tinkering with prices of petroleum products. They indulged in statist patronage in silly matters like licensing petrol pumps. Their sister organisation, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, aired shrill diatribes against free trade. Once out of power, they have opposed platforms for free trade and VAT reform which they had themselves initiated. Their commitment to free markets seems to lack sincerity.
The Congress under Rajiv Gandhi had a touch of modernism and when faced with a BOP crisis, Narasimha Rao turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I remember Manmohan Singh’s first budget where he quoted an Urdu poem offering to sacrifice his head, but not budge from his market-friendly plans. It was exhilarating. We all know that radical reforms make an impact only after some lags. We are today reaping the benefits of the reforms of fifteen years ago. But the Congress party seems to be shifting back to weak-kneed socialism. It is as if the embrace of reforms was entirely under duress, not a matter of conviction. Keeping Luddite coalition partners happy seems to take precedence over economic sanity. The intellectual descendants of Avadi, they who would have collectivised us then and who would throttle the nation’s productivity now, are both within the Congress edifice and hovering around it. The danger is that with half-baked reform, we may revert to the Hindoo rate of growth. And reform, rather than its inadequate implementation, becomes the scapegoat.
The various versions of the Janata in different states take their lineage from Congress Socialists, the PSP and the SSP — all hysterical non-constructive political forces committed to stealing from the rich before they get rich and not distributing their meager pickings to the poor, but throwing them into vapid fires of pointless noise. They may on occasion have an affair or two with crony capitalism, but a healthy appreciation of free, fair markets, respect for property rights and enforcement of contracts — these are not matters high on their agendas.
I am not even dealing with the politics of these groups — the nativist, revivalist platforms associated with the BJP, the dynastic nature of the Congress and the caste obsessions of the Janatas. One cannot move them towards conservative, quasi-libertarian political goals if they do not start with a healthy love for markets and a minimalist state.
The Swatantra Party got a great deal of its support from the erstwhile princely order. Indira Gandhi knew this, which is why she defanged the maharajas. The danger of relying on business and industry to drive a new party is obvious. It will almost certainly degenerate into a den of crony capitalism. What, then, is the alternative? We are in desperate need of a Thatcher-Reagan revolution. We must be able to republish the 1962 manifesto of Rajaji and Masani and honestly embrace the market, not play footsie with it surreptitiously. Is there hope for this?
I see a glimmer... a mere glimmer of hope, in a coming together of pragmatic regional parties. Now if the NCP, the Telugu Desam, the BJD and a few others came together and transformed themselves into a pro-growth, pro-freedom, anti-state tyranny platform on a national scale, would they pull it off? An intriguing thought — is there a Maggie Thatcher lurking among them? For the sake of our homeland, let us pray that there is one. The writer is chairman & CEO, Mphasis. You can write to him at

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The rise of the Media-As-Opposition

The Indian Express: Wednesday, January 01, 2003
In the new year, a rough beast will slouch its way towards Parliament to take a seat in the backbenches. Who is this beast? The media, of course. The hottest new political trend noticed in the US and the UK is the death of the Opposition and the rise of the Media-As-Opposition. Most noticeably in India where national security plus Hindutva plus patriotism plus regional coalitions are ranged against the descendants of Nehru, what can the Opposition do but quietly die?
Sing a sad song for Nehru’s aulad and turn instead to the TV channels and the newspapers because it is the media which now provides at least the semblance of any opposition. In the ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ mentality of this government, the media is seen to be on the side of the ‘English-speaking’‘convent educated’ ‘Macaulayists’ whom the sangh hates almost as much as it hates Muslims.
A democratic Opposition in the true sense of the term, which should interrogate the government, hold it to account, expose its failures and question its motives, is gone. The golden years of the Indian Opposition when Jayaprakash Narayan galvanised citizens against the Emergency, is over. The Opposition space has been filled with 24-hour news channels, mega multi-edition newspapers and high profile magazines. Which institution is just as sexy as Hindutva? The media. The stars of the media are almost as much in the public eye as the stars of Hindutva. An important reason for the rise of the Media-As-Opposition has to do with the decline of Parliament.
  • 35.6 percent of MPs in the first Lok Sabha were lawyers.
  • By the 11th Lok Sabha, 52 per cent of the House were farmers.
  • Widening democracy brought in exciting new sons-of-the-soil who were strongly popular but badly behaved. The Cambridge-educated Indrajit Gupta once lamented long and loud after the Yadav brotherhood had stormed the well for the nth time.
  • Younger MPs today privately admit that Parliament is either dreary or violent.
  • In the recently concluded winter session, for example, there were only 28 MPs present during the debate on disinvestment.
  • During the debate on drought, the government was hard pressed to find the numbers required to meet the quorum. Besides, when was the last time you heard a really interesting speech from an MP?
There is another reason why the media has stepped in as Opposition. This is because government and Opposition are Siamese twins on corruption. When corruption in defence deals came to light, did we once again turn to Opposition MPs? No, we turned to a website. The Opposition is dead. But the media is alive and kicking where it hurts.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible

M. S. S. Varadan
  • Home truths about civil society: Makes understanding of concepts like liberty, rights, choices, trade, free market economics, democracy, development, poverty, governments and tax a child's play. THE ADVENTURES OF JONATHAN GULLIBLE — A Free Market Odyssey Ken Schoolland Academic Foundation The Hindu Tuesday, Jul 26, 2005
This is an unusual book in a story form by the author, which has made it highly popular. First published in 1987, it is now available in more than 30 languages. The special feature of the current edition is the commentaries, which give useful insights from the stories. This edition has been first published in India this year. The stories are woven around the adventures of an imaginary character, Jonathan who is shipwrecked on a strange island. There are 40 small stories each with a few questions under brainstorming and a commentary as well as the background.
The main theme of the book is liberty and free market economics and the futility of government interventions in whatever form and manner they take place. The book is loaded with subtle sarcasm but with telling impact on these efforts. The stories cover a wide range of topics relating to freedom, liberty, rights, self-ownership, choice, consent, trade, economics, property, prosperity, poverty, development, democracy, progress, governments, politicians, corruption, tax and humanitarian society. A Jonathan guiding principle in the chapter "Best laid plans" states, "the harvest of your life is your property. It is the fruit of your labour, the product of your time, energy and talents." A quote from Fedrick Bastiat says, "Under the pretence of organization, regulation, protection or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another. The law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few."
An interesting illustration in this chapter is about the world known city of Geneva. As stated by Christian Michael, "Many visitors wonder why Geneva, one of the world's richest cities, headquarters of a host of banks and international organisations, has no great architecture in which to take pride. But when one needs to get authorisation from pen-pushers and approval by a referendum of philistines to build on one's own land with one's own hands, the result is architecture to please philistine pen-pushers." It ends with the statement, "In some cities they tear down buildings to save taxes. They might try tearing down some taxes to save buildings." Here is another quip on tax, "A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well."
Yet another story on "Helter shelter" is a hilarious one on rent control. The author comments that local governments raise the price of housing by a multitude of zoning laws, building codes, and regulations that primarily serve to eliminate the availability of housing. A quote from a Danish social worker is given: "Cities with rent controls had, on average, two and a half times as many homeless people as cities without them." While the virtues of private enterprise are very much extolled, state interventions as a rule have been underplayed. But, perhaps this has been done to provide the "effect". Jonathan's conclusion is: "Having confidence in a free society is to focus on the process of discovery in the market place of values rather than to focus on some imposed vision or goal."
On the whole, the book is easy to read and one can have a good laugh. Many of the messages have a lot of home truths in them though put across in a lighter vein. It is a must for bureaucrats who revel in making rules, which affect people more than helping them and politicians whose actions do not always follow their promise.

Enlightened globalisation

C. Rangarajan

  • Can poverty become history? Sach's agenda of action — a unique informed vision of the keys to economic success in the world today and the steps necessary to achieve prosperity for all. THE END OF POVERTY — Economic Possibilities for Our Time: Jeffrey D. Sachs; Penguin Books The Hindu Tuesday, Jul 26, 2005

The picture Sachs paints is grim. Bulk of the poor countries which are in Africa are not only poor but are devastated by the burden of diseases which cripple their productivity and livelihoods. Nearly 10,000 Africans die every single day because of AIDS, TB and malaria. The tragedy is even greater as these deaths are preventable. Poor nations are caught in the classic poverty trap. Low income leads to low savings and investment, which in turn lead to low growth of income. They cannot fight their way out of this vicious cycle on their own without help from outside and that too on a massive scale. If aid falls below a threshold level, it does not have much impact. Sachs argues that the aid so far made available to Africa has been so negligible that one should not be surprised that it had made no impact on poverty.

His core recipe for ending poverty is massive capital infusion into the poor countries to enable them to come out of the low equilibrium trap. The first three decades after the Second World War witnessed an enormous growth of the literature on development economics, ushering in concepts such as "disguised unemployment", "balanced growth", "big push", "leading sector" and "take off". The basic question was how to initiate the process of self-sustaining growth in the poor countries. All economists recognise that for poor countries to grow, external assistance is important. Often a parallel is drawn to Marshal Aid. This is interesting but not quite appropriate.

Good governance in one way or another is an important issue. Some of the poor countries have indulged in the luxury of armed conflicts. They have thrown up leaderships totally unconcerned with growth. These factors, nevertheless, do not take away the need for extending assistance and that too on a significant scale. Jeffrey Sachs has done a commendable job in arousing our collective conscience to a tragic reality. The poor nations need aid — immediately and in a substantial measure. For this to happen, there has to be an attitudinal change. The rich nations can afford to give it. "Enlightened globalisation", as Sachs calls it, can lead to eradication of poverty.

Freedom from poverty (experts)

The Indian Express Monday, August 15, 2005

I have ceased to be surprised by the incredible ignorance, stupidity and hype that’s generated to tackle extreme poverty. Poverty is big business today. Thousands of jobs in the North depend on churning out sensational figures in glossy magazines highlighting how the poor will remain poor unless more funds are allocated. How do we start explaining to these insensitive “experts” what it feels like to face fear, death, hunger, starvation, exploitation, discrimination, injustice every day of their lives? How do we convey the urgency, impotence and anger these glorified paper pushers can never feel? If we are to believe Jeff Sachs, the problem is money. So what’s new?
A change in mindset does not need money. Taking the poor into confidence and letting them implement their own schemes does not require more money. The people have their own inexpensive solutions that would baffle the urban expert. Give them an opportunity and a chance to apply it for their own development. There is enough money for drinking water and sanitation if the experts listen to the low-cost, community-managed and community-owned solutions of the people. There is not enough money if they listen to the solutions offered by (un)qualified water engineers. The writer is the founder of Barefoot College, Tilonia

A more inclusive society

INDIA EMPOWERED TO ME IS Open democracy and open economy The Indian ExpressMonday, August 15, 2005
A nation is empowered by its people. A people are empowered by their capabilities. People’s capabilities are created by investments in their education, well-being and skills and providing them with opportunities for gainful productive employment. People are also empowered by the freedom they enjoy. A free press is an important element of our empowerment. In the world, in which we live today, no country can feel empowered unless all its citizens feel empowered. When a child, a woman, a person belonging to a weaker section or a minority community or group of any kind feels disempowered we all lose something in us.
The well-being of each of our citizens empowers everyone of us. We will empower our people by pursuing policies that will create employment opportunities and provide viable livelihood strategies. We will need to put in place effective arrangements for social insurance against old age and sickness, for the well-being and security of the aged and the disabled. That well-being, defined in economic, social, cultural, and all the other terms that define our social existence, is best ensured in the framework of an open society and an open economy.
  • Open societies enable the full flowering of our individual personality.
  • Open economies provide the space for the fruition of our creativity and enterprise.
  • Open societies and open economies empower those who live and work in them.
  • Being an open democratic society and an open economy empowers India.
  • Provision of effective social safety nets for the weak and needy will ensure that all sections of our population will participate in processes of social and economic growth, making for a more inclusive society.
Some people think nations are empowered merely by their military prowess. They pursue mindless militarisation. Some think nations are empowered by their command over resources. They pursue greedy aggrandizement. Neither military prowess nor economic resources can by themselves ever empower a nation for any length of time. A nation is truly empowered only by the brain power of its people. The creation, the dissemination and the utilisation of knowledge is what really empowers both people and nations. India will be empowered when we can create a knowledge society and a knowledge economy within the framework of an open society and an open economy.
The battle against poverty, ignorance and disease is, above all, a fight for the empowerment of our people. The quest for a rapidly expanding economy, making full use of modern science and technology is integral part of the process of empowerment. The struggle to save our environment and protect all species empowers not just the present but all future generations. Ensuring ecological security empowers future generations of all species. The creation of an equitable and free society, that is prosperous and productive is our path to the empowerment of our people and, thereby, our nation. Read comment[s] Our special India Empowered stories and columns are also available at

Friday, November 25, 2005

Cultural and moral consensus

Mahesh Daga The Times of India September 7, 2001
Democracy is premised on the idea of a moral, and not just political, equality of individuals. Nehru was naive, perhaps necessarily so, in thinking that he could create a modern democracy by way of a 'revolution from above' in which state institutions, backed by the liberal-democratic blueprint of a constitution, would have pride of place. Instead, what he ended up with was a hollow shell of state rhetoric-- from secularism to constitutional rights to directive principles-- expressed in a language which few internalised, even in his own cabinet. The challenge today, as it was in Nehru's time, is to find a new moral language which embodies the basic concerns of democracy but goes beyond his statist idiom.

INDIA EMPOWERED TO ME IS When armchair elite step out of their ivory tower, listen to real India The Indian Express Saturday, November 26, 2005
It has been around six decades since India emerged as a sovereign nation and a beacon of hope for the cause of the marginalized nations and communities around the globe. The most pertinent observation has been the emergence of internal colonialism, wherein brown sahibs replaced white sahibs, anglicized sections of India took over reins of the State and embarked upon an ambitious but lopsided programme of state building, leaving a vast section of the society marginalized, under-represented and suppressed. The Indian state emerged omnipotent and the bureaucracy carried out diktats of the elite which was still under the spell of the West. The common people voiced their disagreement for the first time in a very vibrant and organized manner after the Congress party’s tyrannical Emergency rule marked by imprisonment of innocent Opposition leaders for a period of over nineteen months.
Today we can claim with a sense of pride that there has been a ‘Silent Revolution’ in India’s political spectrum with political monopolies being broken and commendable changes taking place in the socio-economic sphere. The subordination of the rural agrarian sector to urban industrial society has been done away with the rise of the leadership of backward classes who succeeded in placing the contribution of rural peasantry in the collective consciousness of the nation. This has been marked by corresponding changes in the breakdown of the Congress party’s patron-client system wherein the marginalized got a chance to cast their ballot but hardly got a chance to be elected. Empowerment has been made meaningful with the democratization in the villages with redistribution of land, fair representation of all the sections of the society and strong measures against any form of oppression.
The new outcasts Swapan Dasgupta The Economic Times FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2005
The resounding defeat of Lalu Prasad Yadav in the Bihar election is a landmark. It constitutes the rejection of an ideology that had become perverted and, equally, it marks the popular rebuff of an astonishing undemocratic mentality. Lalu was always a colourful politician. But behind the buffoonery there lurked an unacceptable element of recklessness. He ostensibly stood for “social justice”, a relevant aspiration in the context of a deeply fragmented and hierarchical Bihar. However, his practice of affirmative action was both whimsical and perverse.
He sought to replace an existing, and deeply iniquitous social pyramid, with a new hierarchy that placed Yadavs and Muslims as the new ruling caste. He lacked the inclination and the temperament to accommodate the social and economic yearnings of either his loyalists or the new outcasts. For Lalu, time stood still. In recasting the power hierarchy in the villages, he blanked out the monumental changes in the rest of India. Consequently, he kept an already backward Bihar frozen in the early-’90s and prevented market forces from intruding into the state.

WSF Serving the Global Democracy

By Thomas Wallgren
According to Gandhi, civilisation is not an incurable disease. Another memorable statement comes from the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, who once wrote: “unique combination of greatness and danger ... characterises the modern age.” And already 150 years ago Marx spoke about the enormous civilisational power of capitalism, a power that Marx wanted to unleash in socialism. These pronouncements seem to me to capture the deep ambivalence with which peoples all over the world look at the newest phase of modern development, often called neoliberal or corporate driven globalisation.
Many of us share a sense that in the midst of the mad exploitation and naked imperial aggression promises of democracy, welfare and liberation are also at play. American army bombs and the economic imperialism of the old and new colonial powers destroy lives and livelihoods globally at a frightening scale. But at the same time, the American dream, which is one dream of affluence and freedom, captures peoples’ hearts globally. How else can we explain the tone and emphasis of Brazilian president Lula’s speech as the guest of honour at the Indian Republic Day, a few days after the World Social Forum in Mumbai closed? At the end of the day, comrade Lula, too, brought it forth as a key strength of the South in the new century that it would get the better of the North in the global competition for investment.
Lula’s speech frightened and depressed me. I belong to those who see the power of the American, or the modern Western, dream as a lethal threat to all life on the planet. Now, as always, it seems to me true that the world has enough for all people’s needs but not for our greed. The Western dream fosters greed. It is a consumerist dream that is impossible to realise globally, universally and sustainably. The aspiration for all to become rich is leading the planet to tragedy. I am not criticising those who work for development, growth and affluence in the South. How could I, possibly, with what right and for what p urpose? Already in my home country and region, in Finland and Western Europe, it is difficult enough to carve out a place in our day-to-day economics and politics for concrete measures that would change the direction of our own development.
In fact, we are on the losing side. EU and US are at present not redirecting their main energies towards global justice. On the contrary, they are building a twin fortress that seeks to keep poor people, terrorism and wars out and prosperity and security within them. But this does not happen without right. Most democratically elected politicians in the North and, perhaps even in the South, have a clear democratic mandate for their selfish, aggressive and ultimately suicidal policies. This is because not only they themselves, but most of their voters, most of us are completely at a loss. We know too little about how to combine justice and legitimate concerns about well being. This is where the need for global democratisation, and WSF, come into the grand d rama I am addressing. Thomas Wallgren (PhD, senior fellow, Academy of Finland) is co-chair, Democracy forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Finland.

In diplomacy nice guys end up last

Their war, not ours Coomi Kapoor THE INDIAN EXPRESS Friday, October 12, 2001
Our simplistic belief grants that there is a right and wrong side in every international dispute and that the world will give us due credit for ethical posturing. Our fuzzy thinking on foreign policy bequeathed to us by our first prime minister Jawharlal Nehru is that as in spaghetti westerns the good guy eventually comes out on top. Ironically, Nehru’s propensity to turn international forums into pulpits for lectures on morality was cited by Henry Kissinger in his classes at Harvard as a shining example of how not to conduct diplomacy.
Our foreign policy initiatives over the years have been largely confined to convincing the rest of the world that we are the good guys in Kashmir. After all we regularly go through the motions of holding elections in Kashmir, even if only five per cent of Kashmiris came out to vote. We may have posted huge numbers of military and para military troops in the state, but we do have a free press and a human rights commission to make a hue and cry whenever there is an excess of brutality. We are after all a democracy which permits unlimited free speech, unlike our neighbour Pakistan which has even dismantled the limited oligarchy it once practised. We believe in peace, but across the border they have been busy fomenting violence in our territory, training terrorists in their camps. We are always willing to engage in talks with Pakistan, even if we are not willing to yield an extra comma in the endless on-again off-again Indo-Pak meets.
Already India is a target of terrorism due to Kashmir. Perhaps we should learn a lesson or two in foreign policy from the Chinese, who realise that in diplomacy nice guys end up last. Any smart Indian shopkeeper will tell you that the first rule when trouble erupts in the marketplace is to try and keep out. As they say,‘‘hame kya lena hain.’’
Unsentimental choices Gurcharan Das The Times of India, August 14, 2005
Seeing India emerge as the globe’s potential back office and a rising economic power, the world has now started to equate us with China rather than Pakistan. Thus, we are feeling better and more self-assured. But we shouldn’t allow this to go to our heads. The fact is we cannot go it alone in the world, and the smug, new autarchic rhetoric in parliament should be nipped. Everyone needs friends and allies. The world distrusts a nation that is everyone’s friend. Such a friend is unreliable.
I owe this lesson to Henry Kissinger, who taught the introductory course in international politics when I was an undergraduate at Harvard. This was during the spring of 1962, before he became famous. He taught the basic lesson of the Arthashastra, which is that there are no good or bad nations; there are only powerful and powerless ones. The leader’s duty is to relentlessly pursue his nation’s self interest. His own hero was Metternich, who sketched the map of 19th Europe at the Congress of Vienna and brought a “century of peace” to Europe. He said that when nations pursued their self-interest, it led to a balance of power, predictability and peace.
Because I couldn’t follow Kissinger’s heavy German accent, I used to sit in the front row of his class. To my dismay, he would look at me and hold up Nehru as an example of how not to conduct foreign policy. This distressed me for I passionately shared Nehru’s idealism. Kissinger felt it was dangerous to have dreamers in power, because they injected morality into foreign relations. Because of his own likes and dislikes, he thought Nehru might have compromised India’s national interest with regard to China. Although I dislike Kissinger, I think he may have been right.
To avoid repeating our failures of history we need to make choices. And we need an unsentimental awareness of our national self-interest in the 21st century. This is a talent scarce among argumentative and sentimental Indians. When the chips are down and there is a war, we may do worse than have America as an ally. If that is true, then we should not allow our personal dislike of Bush’s Iraq policy to compromise India’s growing friendship with the United States.

Gandhi: A Sublime Failure

By S.S. Gill Rupa & Co: Review by Renuka Narayanan
THE INDIAN EXPRESS Flair, September 23, 2001
His previous two books: The Dynasty was a political biography of the Nehru-Gandhi family, while The Pathology of Corruption was an acclaimed analysis of the social crime that has eaten into our entrails. Now, with his latest oeuvre, Gill has attempted to understand the most complex personality of that entire pantheon of modern historical figures, the man whose writ changed the world and reinvented the word: Mahatma Gandhi.
The public has barely digested Stanley Wolpert’s book on Gandhi, so it is inevitable that comparisons occur. But they need to be firmly squashed, for each writer has his own angle on things. But one point may interest readers as highlighting a contrast in societies: Unlike Wolpert’s book, this biography by Gill, a Punjabi raised on Partition, is a matter-of-fact detailing of the violence that Gandhi endured through most of his active life. Whereas Wolpert, with cries of horror, grasps the reader’s chin and forces her to look at just how much physical terror and assault was directed at the ‘‘naked fakir’’: bombs, beatings, bricks, stones, shoes, lathis, whips, abuse. Even one of those experiences might have scared any one of us away for good. But Bapu stuck it out, brought the world’s greatest empire to its knees and became the Father of the Nation.
It is with the basic love and reverence due to such a colossus that Gill examines the Mahatma’s life and work in ten chapters. Between the Backdrop and Overview are chapters focused on all the thorny issues of Gandhian history and discourse: the Freedom Struggle, Ahimsa and Satyagraha, the removal of untouchability, Gandhi’s Brahmacharya and Swaraj, Gandhi and Daridranarayan and Hindu-Muslim unity. Gill examines each of these aspects and critiques Gandhi’s actions and reactions at each step. But his voice breathes of a balanced mind, in which Gandhi’s heroic nature is properly acknowledged even as his views on sex are rued as mistaken, his sudden, emotional swings are critiqued for the harm they effect.
Gill underlines the central Gandhian failures with feeling and skill: Hindu-Muslim unity topped his list, but he was never acknowledged by the Muslims as their spokesman. Untouchability was another core issue, but again, he was a ladder that was kicked after climbing. As for Independence: Partition was the final great failure of everything that Bapu had striven for since that fateful train journey in South Africa. With so much grief, violence, hatred and betrayal to work into this tortured passage in human history, Gill stays remarkably level-headed and objective about acts and opinions of unreason.
Towards the end, the reader feels a certain sense of catharsis. Famous foreigners and famous Gandhian scholars (and relatives) have said their say about the Mahatma. It is more comforting, however, to hear Bapu assessed so rationally by an Indian with no apparent agenda. For he writes simply as one citizen to another, from the perspective of a longer life and greater experience of the events and entities that shaped our nation’s destiny. As one goes from chapter to chapter, one’s throat constricts at the fall of yet another grand project, patiently and painstakingly laboured for, gently but inexorably detailed by Gill, with rueful clucks at some particularly bad blunder or fallout. It is impossible to close this book unmoved.

The sacred and the profane

The Infinite is never far in India. A few years ago I visited the Madras museum in Egmore. While I was admiring a Chola bronze, a middle-aged South-Indian woman came behind me and, without self-consciousness, placed a vermilion mark on the Shiva Nataraja. At first, I was appalled, but then, I realised that we live in two different worlds. Mine was secular; hers was sacred. For me, it was a 900-year-old object of beauty, for her, it was God. Mine was an aesthetic pleasure; hers was a divine darshana.

Suddenly, I felt embarrassed by my petty concerns and my niggling mind. I am struck by the contrast of our lives—the fecund richness of her sacred world, and the poverty of my weary, sceptical, feeble existence. This is where our empty secularism has gone awry. We have lost the holy dimension in our lives. We are quick to brand her superstitious, illiterate, and casteist. She is, in fact, far more tolerant and accepting of diversity because she is capable of seeing God everywhere.

In my world of museums, concert halls, and bookstores, there is plenty of search for beauty, but there is no place for the holy. The answer for an authentic life, I think, lies with the woman in Madras, in whose attitude lies the possibility of a fullness and wholeness of being. Gurcharan Das TOI Sunday, February 21, 1999

A "multinational" nation

For the past fifty years, we have grown up with the belief that Pakistan is a monolithic, theocratic state with one religion, one language, and one mind. India is the opposite--with many religions, many languages, many communities and many minds. In the 1990s, with the ascent of the BJP, a second conception of India became popular with, perhaps, a quarter of our voters. Instead of the plural India of the first conception, it views the nation as singular and essentialist, which will be energised by Hindu nationalism. In its view, India has been victim of a thousand years of foreign invasions, and is now threatened by multinationals and particularly American culture. It wishes to restore it subliminally to a pure, pre-invasions, and eternal Hindu past and advance rapidly toward superpower status in the future.
The first concept of India, by contrast, is more relaxed, liberal and self-confident. It celebrates the opening up of India in the 1990s to foreign trade, investment, and most importantly to ideas. It thinks of India as a mixture of different peoples and cultures that settled here. In this view, India never had an authentic past; it was always a moving feast and the moments of mixture were in fact the most creative. Historic migrations and wanderings of many peoples and tribes over thousands of years created this India. The subcontinent, in this view, is a deep net into which various races and peoples of Asia drifted over time and were caught. The tall Himalayas in the north and the sea in the west, east, and south isolated the net from the rest of the world and brought into being a unique society.
Our caste system may have had its origins in this net, for it made it possible for such a vast variety of people to live together in a single social system over thousands of years. Hence, diversity is India's most vital metaphor--it is a "multinational" nation. It is what plural Europe would like to be--a united economic and political entity in which different nationalities and minorities continue to flourish. In recent years a new generation of historians has enriched this plural conception of India. Their innovative studies have illuminated our regional identities, showing how our national identity is superimposed from above and created usually by the grab for power, with little to do with how ordinary people saw themselves. Moreover, our recent politics are further reinforcing our regional identities. This liberal view, however, does not deny a shared sense of India. It merely warns us to be careful in positing a unifying conception of India based on nationalism. That our minds have finally got de-colonised gives this liberal view of India a quiet reassurance and self-confidence.
The year 1981 was the symbolic watershed in this respect, when "Midnight's Children" appeared. The moment Salman Rushdie began to "chutnify" the language of Shakespeare, he opened the minds of the Indian sub-continent. Ever since, contemporary Indian history, "has acquired the air of a fancy dress party…full of chatter, music, sex, tomfoolery, free drinks, and rock and roll, an occasion to which everyone is invited provided they can join in the fun", says Amit Chaudhuri.
India and Pakistan's future will be determined far more by the relentless push of the global economy and communications, supported avidly by our rapidly growing middle classes. The future preoccupations of both peoples will be with rising living standards, social mobility, and the peaceful pursuit of consumer goods. As a result, obsessions with religious identity and fundamentalist attitudes will slowly fade. Gurcharan Das TWO CONCEPTS OF INDIA TOI 29/07/2001

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Secular asceticism

For more than a decade now we in India have been moving in the direction of some form of capitalism. It is a much misunderstood and much reviled system, which seems to put everyone on the defensive, and one of our defence mechanisms is to use euphemisms like "the market" to describe it. Although I am an apologist of this system, I too have been deeply concerned about some nasty myths that have taken hold inside the corporation in the past 15 years, which Henry Mintzberg and others have recently written about, and which might explain its recent failings.
The first myth is that since we are all self-interested human beings, intent on maximizing personal gain, our only duty is to the bottom line, implying that everything goes and everyone has a price as long one stays within the narrow limits of the law. This myth ignores that a company exists in a social space and that man is a social animal, as Aristotle reminded us more than two thousand years ago, and integrity, self-respect and cooperation have always been equally important values to the system’s success. Leaders of the enduring companies have always known this and tempered dogmatic individualism with social engagement as a form of enlightened self-interest.
I have found that the lives of most entrepreneurs and senior managers is characterised by an ethic of ceaseless work combined with a ceaseless renunciation of the fruits of their toil. They work so hard that they have no time to enjoy their money. Aditya Birla, JRD and Rattan Tata, Azim Premji, Narayana Murthy the more successful they became, the more they tended to live frugally. Max Weber had called this "secular asceticism", and had used it to characterise Protestant entrepreneurs, but it can easily define most outstanding businesspersons (and outstanding lawyers, doctors, artists, scientists.) Hence, the spirit that took hold in the nineties on Wall Street and in the dotcom world was pathological, and for the critics to characterise the system as synonymous with greed and selfishness is wrong.
Another myth is the notion that the corporation exists only to maximize shareholder value and the claims of other stakeholders in society customers, employees, suppliers, and the community at large are subordinate. Again, enduring companies have always believed that shareholders must receive a good return, but they are able to balance shareholder’s expectations with those of other constituencies. Successful companies know that they exist because of their customers; they don’t serve customers by serving themselves, but serve themselves by serving their customers, and the more selflessly they do it the more successful the enterprise becomes.
I expect the balance in the system will right itself over time, as it usually does, and the old truth will re-emerge that capitalism, like democracy, is by no means perfect, but it is better than any of the alternatives. Gurcharan Das NASTY CAPITALIST MYTHS TOI March 23, 03

Ideologies are being masked

Prakash Karat
The Economic Times Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Ideologies are not irrelevant in today’s politics, but there is a definite attempt to mask ideologies. What must be recognised is that the campaign to deny the relevance of ideologies is in itself an ideological position. This is a position that suggests that parties must de-ideologise themselves and accept the dominant policies of the times as the only valid ones. It is therefore an ideological position that defends the status quo, one that postulates that prevailing policies cannot change. It is in this sense that it is a move to cloak the hegemony of the prevailing ideology as the absence of ideologies.
In our country, for instance, there is the view that whichever party might come to power, economic reforms must go on. Thus, whether it is the Congress, the BJP or any other party that runs the government, economic policies must remain the same. This assertion that politics must be separated from economics is quite clearly an ideological position. Today, the differences between political parties are sought to be trivialised — who has more popular film stars, who has the support of the more numerous castes, who has a more charismatic leader and so on. All those who subscribe to politics of this variety are in fact in the same ideological camp — the one that tries to subsume all other ideologies within the prevailing one.
This also explains why there is such a concerted attack on the Left, accusing it of being fossilised and living in a time warp. This is because the Left continues to contest the dominant ideology. Let us also be clear that the sangh parivar has a clear ideology, which it too tries to mask by using euphemisms like cultural nationalism. The NDA agenda may be a bland agenda with no contentious issues, but those issues don’t go away simply because you keep the common agenda bland. One of the weaknesses of the rest — and that includes the Congress — is that they are not prepared to defend their ideology. After all, secularism as a principle is also based on an ideological position, but most who subscribe to it are unwilling to assert it as such. (As told to Shankar Raghuraman)

The struggle for BJP's soul

Prem Shankar Jha
The Hindustan Times: March 12, 2004
On March 8 Mr. L.K.Advani admitted that the riots in Gujarat were a blot on the six year record of the NDA government in maintaining communal peace, and the media jumped to attention! Had Advani, the Hindutwa hawk, turned dove? Was he going against his party line, and if so why? Was he making these moderate noises because he considers himself the heir apparent to Atal Behari Vajpayee? Could this be simply be another ploy to woo the minorities and the uncommitted middle vote away from the Congress? Or was this the real Advani, whom the media had so far failed to see? Such speculation personalises politics and obscures the working of historical forces and the evolution of political systems. It is not Mr. Advani who has changed, but India. Mr. Advani has understood the change and has adapted his political style to it.
To see how well he has done this one needs to compare the man of today with the one who led the Ratha yatra to Ayodhya in 1990. Mr. Advani has never made any secret of the fact that he is a Hindu nationalist. But the nationalism he has espoused is cultural. He has always maintained that India is culturally a Hindu country. He has asked Muslims to accept this as a straightforward historical fact, and maintained that many of the communal tensions that bedevil the nation would disappear if they did so. In line with this belief, he supported the agitation to build a Rama temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. But he wanted Muslim organisations to make a gift of the site to the Hindus and agree to shift the Masjid, brick by brick, to another , mutually determined site. He felt that this was a reasonable request because while the site had no special importance for Islam, it was of profound importance to Hindus. Had the leaders of various Muslim organisations accepted this plan the history of the country would have been very different.
Mr. Advani owes his reputation as a Hindutwa hawk to that Yatra. But in fact all he did was to take advantage of a political opening that no one could have foregone. Gujarat has highlighted the Achilles heel of the party. It is to their credit that despite Modi's victory neither of them gave up the struggle to secularise the BJP. In the last year they have reaffirmed Hinduism's innately secular nature, and India's pluralism from countless platforms; they have put Modi firmly back in the Gujarat box, and marginalised the VHP. They have done this in the teeth of a second rung leadership that is openly anti-Muslim and openly authoritarian. They have done this not only because it is the right political strategy for winning the elections, but also because they sense that India has changed in fundamental ways.
Today the middle class has tasted the first blessings of a consumer society and wants more of it. More and more of its members have begun to regard struggles over Ayodhya , or a uniform civil code, or article 370, as atavistic and hurdles to progress. Vajpayee and Advani are responding to this feeling. The true purpose of the "India is shining" campaign and Mr. Vajpayee's determined overtures to Pakistan is to make people look squarely towards the future. The success of this strategy could harden the secular mould. Defeat could have the opposite result by discrediting both Vajpayee and Advani. The fate of Indian democracy therefore still hangs in the balance.

Hope and Tragedy: Two Faces of Indian Liberalism

Ramachandra Guha
The Times of India
Among the most highly-educated, and certainly the best-read, members of the current Parliament are Mani Shankar Aiyar and Arun Shourie. They were classmates in St Stephen’s College, Delhi, but later went separate ways. Aiyar studied at Cambridge University before joining the Indian Foreign Service. Shourie took a doctorate in economics from an American university before joining the World Bank. Both choices were characteristically Stephanian, but not what they did subsequently. Aiyar threw up the chance of becoming foreign secretary to join the Congress. He has fought three elections in Tamil Nadu and won two. Shourie gave up on a dollar salary to become a journalist in India. Then he entered politics and the Cabinet through the Rajya Sabha.
I have met Aiyar once, and Shourie never. But I have followed the course of their careers with interest and fascination. Some of this is doubtless due to a shared social background. For I too studied economics at St Stephen’s. And I too express myself rather freely in public print. The difference is that whereas I merely pontificate, they have taken the heroic plunge into the dirty world of Indian politics. Mani Shankar Aiyar and Arun Shourie have entered politics not to taste power but to implement their ideas. As intellectuals-turned-politicians, they are representatives of a breed quite common in the UK and France, but rare elsewhere. Especially in India, where most MPs would never have opened a book after they finished with school. By contrast, Aiyar and Shourie are widely read in economics, and in politics and history as well. A lifetime of reading has, in each case, resulted in a set of ideas firmly held and passionately articulated. Here are politicians who are idealists rather than careerists.
While studying the work of Aiyar and Shourie, I have come to the conclusion that what India needs today is a new political philosophy named ‘Aiyrieism’. This would take from Mani Shankar a sturdy commitment to cultural pluralism. For years now, Aiyar has vigorously promoted the cause of inter-religious harmony. His idealism has rubbed off on many, not least on his family. After the murderous riots of 1992-93, one of Aiyar’s daughters made a speech in defence of minority rights at her school in Delhi. It was a very brave thing to do, for she was only 13 at the time; besides, her classmates were all under the sway of the Hindutva wave then sweeping northern India.
This new philosophy I propose would take from Arun Shourie a commitment to economic liberalism. Where other ideologues within his ‘parivar’ are paranoid about globalisation, Shourie has a robust faith in the technical capabilities of the Indian entrepreneur. If some of our firms can take on the West and beat them, he says, conditions can be created so that the others can win as well. At the same time, Shourie has tried hard to hasten the process of the privatisation of our over-staffed and under-worked public sector. Some say he is going too fast, but at least we can be sure that none of the money that changes hands will end up in his hands.
The problem with Mani Shankar Aiyar is that he takes his Nehruvianism too literally. This means that he follows the master both in his political secularism and in his economic socialism. The first remains vitally relevant, but the second is an anachronism. Aiyar’s defence of the public sector is perhaps a legacy of his Cambridge days. Among his teachers there were men who, without ever being to the Soviet Union, described it as an economic miracle. Perhaps it is time Aiyar talked to some ordinary Russians.
Likewise, Arun Shourie’s political beliefs are 50 per cent wholesome, 50 per cent indigestible. Ever since he joined the government he has restricted himself to speaking (and writing) on economic matters. This, given the amnesia of most Indians, is very wise. For the years before he joined politics were spent by Shourie in articulating cultural views of a decidedly dangerous kind. This gentle-mannered man wrote a series of bitter books excoriating Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Dalits — in other words, everybody apart from the upper caste Hindu. His economic views are open, outward-looking and progressive; but his cultural and religious views remain insular and reactionary.
Mani Shankar Aiyar represents the hope, as well as the tragedy, of the Indian Left. Consider the communists of West Bengal, under whose aegis the minorities are safer than anywhere else, but whose blinkered economics has destroyed the industry of the state. Arun Shourie, meanwhile, represents the hope, as well as the tragedy, of the Indian Right. Shourie and his colleagues recognise that the market and technological innovation can eliminate poverty much faster than the state. But they also shake hands, and break bread, with the likes of Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray. And so I offer a simple surgical solution: Unite the left half of Aiyar’s brain with the right half of Shourie’s. Call this new synthesis ‘Aiyrieism’ or ‘Shouyarism’; or, if you want to be both accurate and neutral, call it ‘liberalism’. A liberal economics and a liberal social policy; it is the union of the two that India needs, and which the present political parties cannot easily provide.

A Modi come Jaitley

Why the city slicker swears by medieval machismo THE INDIAN EXPRESS Monday, December 02, 2002
THE telegenic Arun Jaitley is the BJP’s modern symbol. On the face of it, he seems extremely modern. He is often in a suit and tie. He always looks freshly bathed. He speaks English. He’s a Supreme Court lawyer. And his clear voice is reasonable, market-friendly, TV-friendly, future-friendly, and comfortingly globalised. Yet the best buddy of wonderful Arun Jaitley is none other than the horrible Narendra Modi. How confusing! Now what on earth can Amiable Arun have in common with Nasty Narendra?
Modi spews vicious rhetoric. He is determined to yank India back to a war zone where we must all rush towards the ghost of Mahmud of Ghazni with trishuls held aloft. Modi’s peddling medieval machismo. He has no truck with the future. What would Modi do in Davos? What would Modi do in a university campus? Modi is bad history and Jaitley is (supposedly) the bright future. Yet Jaitley flies to Ahmedabad almost every alternate day. Nice Arun Jaitley, Reasonable Jaitley, is Sancho Panza to Modi’s Don Quixote.
Why is Jaitley enslaved to Modi? The answer goes to the heart of the BJP’s dilemma. The BJP faces a crisis of modernity. It has no idea how to pull off the balance between being ‘Hindu’ and being ‘modern’. It doesn’t know how to make possible the emergence of the ‘modern Hindu’ or indeed the ‘modern’ Indian. The BJP — obsessed with blind nationalism and anti-national elements — is opposed to the very thing that millions of youth, women and Dalits are craving: modernity. Modern human rights, modern debate and a modern education. Instead of creating modernity, even supposedly forward looking politicians like Jaitley are waltzing with anti-modernists like Modi.
Take the example of Arun Shourie. Outward looking, disinvesting, foreign educated Arun Shourie. Yet why is it that Shourie, who is ‘modern’ in his economic plans, becomes primitive in his political beliefs? Why does he advocate some cuckoo cultural philosophy when he is trying so valiantly to make the economy more modern and rational? Shourie’s economic plans stand in sharp contrast to his rather patriarchal and conservative social agenda.
Take the computer savvy Hyatt hotel patronising Pramod Mahajan. He too has not understood the true meaning of modernity. Modernity, after all, lies not just in technology and sharp suits. Surely modernity also lies in creating a progressive society. Surely modernity lies in creating a diverse society where women, Muslims, Dalits and youth are given equal opportunities and all our talents are not buried in a plethora of empty high Hindu rituals and foolish prejudices. But because even the best politicians like Jaitley are so paranoid, prejudices have become newly fashionable.
Jaitley was always a brilliant lawyer. He is exceptionally well informed. Jaitley will not denounce Modi for his retrogressive rhetoric. Jaitley will not use his education to argue for a progressive society. Instead, Jaitley will add his own voice to Modi’s rhetoric because he is so convinced of his own irrelevance and the irrelevance of modernity. Alas! Modernity is becoming irrelevant at the time when we most need it. All over the world, after the French revolution, those who called themselves bourgeoisie spoke up for universal rights. In our own history, upper caste reformers of the 19th century campaigned for widow remarriage, to ban sati and rescue Hinduism from obscurantism.
  • Where is the spirit of social reform in today’s educated leaders, particularly those like Jaitley who are uniquely placed to lead the younger generation?
  • Why are they instead proliferating a social conservatism by which Hindu ‘virtue’ is to be measured by yardsticks like glittering rituals, the thickness of sindoor and a bewildering denunciation of Muslims?
  • Why will politicians like Jaitley not rise in Parliament and instead of banging on about the foreign threat to the Hindu rashtra make a speech on how young politicians like him are committed to an egalitarian society?

Jaitley will not make such a speech because his alter ego is Modi. Jaitley is economically progressive but socially conservative. Jaitley’s alliance with Narendra Modi is indicative of a cultural revolution let loose by the present ruling dispensation. This is a revolution by which the affluent and the educated have become anti-modern. A revolution by which it is fashionable to have a mind as narrow as your trousers.

  • Ekta Kapoor wears tiger skin miniskirts but produces soap operas venerating women as Hindu doormats.
  • Matrimonial advertisements for scholarly IIT graduates demand brides from specific castes.
  • Mumbai, citadel of new India, has been a prisoner of the Shiv Sena for well over three decades.
  • College graduates model high fashion clothes but prefer to have their marriages arranged by their parents.
  • An Infosys employee in the US, supposedly on the cutting edge of economic modernity had to go under a cloud of sexual harassment.

In sharp contrast to Raja Rammohan Roy who used his education and his social privileges to reform society, Arun Jaitley is using his education to make Modi fashionable.