The Mahatma’s Mantra

The paramount figure of India’s independence movement and great spiritual leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or as we popularly know him Mahatma Gandhi, gave us a mantra to rely upon in most turbulent times. “Whenever you are unsure about your actions, close your eyes and try to imagine the face of the poorest person you have come across. And then decide whether your action will make his life better. If it does, it is the right path.” More than 60 years since his death, the mantra continues to guide us and our nation. Nehru closed his eyes and saw that building large government factories and dams will help his poorest man. Indira Gandhi closed hers and thought that starting mega public spending schemes will help hers. Her son Rajiv followed her mother and increased the already large subsidy bill at the expense of government financial position. When it came to V P Singh, he sought to help his poor by extending the affirmative action system. The legacy continues to the day with the Raj Thackreys and Mayawatis, all closing their eyes and coming up with even fancier ideas to help their poors.

Emboldened, I dared to close my eyes yesterday. For few moments everything was dark before going to bed. I didn’t mind it that way either as I was anyways about to sleep, but then reminded myself of the exercise and tried to come up with some poor face. So wierd, the face of one of my hot classmate came (let me clarify, not at all poor, but very beautiful), but quickly brushing it aside to focus on the task at hand, I tried harder. After years of journey back into the time, the face of an unknown man I once saw on one of the trips to my village flashed across. I remember I was with my mother in a horse wagon (or “tanga” as they call it) when I saw this bearded, dirty, scantly clad man walking behind us and picking up any pieces of food he might find on the road. And I also remember I asked my mother then, “why is he so poor?”, the answer of which is clearly lost in the ‘forgotten’ section of my memory. So here I was with my poor man and then the phase II began – does what I do help him in any way?

I trade currencies, I trade domestic currency debt of Asian governments, I trade convertible bonds. How on earth can it possibly help my man? I am a product of the capitalist society based and thriving on inequality. I am a product of India’s liberalization and globalization story authored by the then finance minister Mr. Manmohan Singh (who is current prime minister also) and the then prime minister Mr. P V Narsimha Rao. The very system I work in will cease to exist the day my man becomes equal to me. If everybody is equal, there will be no motivation left to operate the financial markets. Am I working against the Mahatma’s mantra then? Should I ridicule and immolate myself in the burning fire of guilt? So is there really a merit in the socialist ideas originally proposed by Marx and later ranted by our Lalus of India or Chaves’ of Venezuela and Kim Jongs of Korea?

The communist/socialist regimes around the world do not show a good success record of Marx’s socialist ideas. Most have perished (the Bolsheviks) or are impoverished (North Korea, Bolivia, Venezuela). Lets not call China a communist country as its current economic model is definitely not what Mr. Marx must have had in mind. But it may be too harsh to write off his ideas simply based on the failed implementations we see around. The implementations we saw around the world over the centuries might be mere distortions as what may plague any great movement – be it political or religious – running over centuries. (Perhaps no better example of this greatness being distorted is Hinduism but this is not the appropriate context to discuss it.) Lets give our Mr. Marx the benefit of doubt here and turn the question around to ask – is the capitalist system working against my poor?

Capitalism derives itself from the concept of incentivising a man’s greed. Each man is free to do whatever he wants and the system incentivises him to do that. Greed, even though we learnt in our primary schools that is bad, is properly rewarded. The system encourages each man to further his own well-being and hence create an unequal society. But this is the key – at least he strives to create more. And in the process, a summation of such individual efforts, creates an overall more wealthy society. The distribution of this wealth may be unequal – with more being in your hands than in mine – but overall wealth is generated. If one of my friend decides to start a factory to become rich, he cannot operate it alone. He will hire his ‘poor men’ to work there and part of his wealth will trickle down. They might not become his equals, but at least will be better off than living in a society ranting ‘socialism, equality, socialism again’ and preventing my friend from starting the factory should he become rich and thereby destroy the equality equilibria which the society has grown so accustomed to. We witnessed it for over 4 decades following the independence. If Mr. Manmohan Singh had not departed from the politically lucrative socialist ranting which brought our country to the verge of bankruptcy in early 90’s, I, my friend, would have been writing the government services examination for some 11th time and you, instead of reading this blog on your laptop, would be employed as a compounder in some government hospital driving ‘Humara Bajaj’ (if you would have been lucky enough to get one after 7 years of waiting) while your wife would be at home cooking food on the LPG which you managed to get after months of waiting and bribing the delivery guy. Inflation would have reached 18,000% as happened in some Latin American countries and the India as we know of today as the growth story would have been an abysmal, failed nation living on peices of aid from rich capitalist dogs or their agencies like IMF and World Bank. And probably after failing for 11th time, I might have gone back to my village to work on my ancestral land where my 4-5 brothers would already be working – after having failed themselves. What could I have done then to improve the life of my poor man?

Reflecting back, I am proud to say that I am a product of a deep rooted capitalist wave which saved my country from decades more of utter poverty and will one day put it on the center of global economy. I am proud to be in the category of ‘unequals’ so created so that at least now I have the opportunity to make a difference to my poor man’s life  – and if not him then at least somebody else’s poor man.

26 thoughts on “The Mahatma’s Mantra”

  1. good intellectual stuff…!! I wd give it atleast 3.5 stars of 5…!! U seem to have bettered in no time…!!
    On a more critical note…am a bit confused after reading it…!! In the beginning i thot i was reading a sociologist…but realised towards the end that it was rather a capitalist thot…but then again the end was so vague that i cdnt decide wch school of thot the author belongs to…!! Could u enlighten me, plz…

    1. thanks dear for your feeback here. I would not blame you for feeling a bit vague after reading this. The intent here was not to take a side and point out the inferiority of an ideology over the other. And perhaps I am not even qualified enough to do so – this task is best left to the masters. I am merely expressing my experiences and thoughts about the inertness in our society prior to the liberalizaiton phase often justified in the name of socialism and how it all changed subsequently. And I think that our generation was fortunate that we got all the opportunities as a result of the change. But for the record, I am a capitalist!

  2. The thought in your boog, however misguiding and blanket in its dismissal it might be, is very powerful and instigating I must say. The sorry picture you paint of the India that would have been, and the consolation prize you take in being proud of what you are, are very emotional, but are they true.

    Poocho apne aap se Gau, kya yeh sach hai.

    And where we started from, our poor man, what good is anything to him? Neither my comments nor your blog. Neither Manmohan nor Advani.

    1. finally, here comes surya. The master himself, the man who revolutionised the art of blogging with his path breaking articles on the tyranny of placement committee in our b-school, and then when those tyrants in league with the school president (some kevin if i am correct) tried to force him to keep quiet (in the name of the school’s reputation) he stood for his ideals and didn’t blink. He risked a great deal in his personal life for his freedom. Surya, I salute you. You are a symbol of freedom. In fact, India’s freedom movement was unlucky not to have you. I am sorry I could not stand on that occassion to support you as I was too involved in attending lectures and cramming up for exams and I considered blogging an utter waste of time. Oh, how mistaken I was. If only I could turn the wheel of time and go back to that day, I can assure you that you would have found me your most trusted lieutenant. Sir, its an absolute honor to have you commenting on a small blog by this commoner. Your words have always been a source of motivation for me and you remain a hero for all of us. I am too humble to argue with you on anything and would take any comment from you with grace.

      for those who haven’t read his masterpiece, the article which I am talking about here is “The curious thing called PCom”

  3. pretty interesting stuff!!
    with the last post (and a forced comment on that ), i thought that here is another blogger writing abt his routine life… but with this piece u have definitely made a come back! :)
    it was a good read but somewhere it appeared like a justification for u being where u r … is that the impact u wanted to create?
    leaving that aside i found the idea interesting and the tone descriptive … the examples made things clearer and helped the reader attain conclusion … although a lot of points regarding the socialistic view were not taken into account.
    overall its worth spending time reading this stuff…
    hoping that u might do something more than the capitalist thought for ur or somebody else’s poor! :)
    Keep Going!!

    1. thanks mam. A genuine comment and a keen observation on your part. No, any such justification was not consciously intended, but maybe its a part of one’s subconscious self to try and justify one’s doings if they are not concurrent with one’s conscious ideals. Maybe this tussle between my conscious and subconscious self is on display here. I hope I will be able to keep up to your expectations. cheers.

  4. uss din…taange pe…had u seen not just the face…but the suffering…not the appearance but the pain inside…u cud ‘ve attained Niravana…in some jungil…nd lo nd behold…we wud ‘ve witnessed a greater revolution…to rid the world…of socialism…or capitalism…as we are witnessing ryt now…neither of them is perfect…!

    1. oh my friend, such a pleasure to hear from you. very well said mate – “neither of them is perfect” – but is there a fault in the moon or in the eyes through which we see it? Maybe an idea in itself is perfect, but the way in which we interpret and subsequently implement it is faulty. I read once about quantum computing – the biggest challenge is not to get those quantum particles add 2 + 2. the bigger challenge is to observe the result, because to measure the result, we have to project an external particle in the system and the moment we do so, its state will change. Is it the same case here? When we learn about an idea, our mind involuntarily interprets it, simplifies it to fit in the subset of our acceptable ideas. The result – an imperfection.

  5. An interesting and thoughtful post. Who knows if India would have even existed today had our economy not been opened during the 90s!

    However, I do not agree that your actions could possibly benefit that poor man. As a trader, you probably are not exactly creating wealth in the strictest economic terms. You might be sucking money from another trader and getting rich, but it does not create wealth for the society.

    Shifting wealth without adding significant economic value doesn’t help the poor man or does it?

    1. hi jodhbir, mere teesre bhai. thanks for your thoughts. i agree with you that definitely the work i am ding doesn’t seem to be helping anybody’s poor man. and in fact after finishing the blog, i sat there thinking about how am i helping anybody else. let me tell you something else here. i am sure you must have heard about papua new guinea. its an impoverished country rich in natural resources towards the norther coast of australia. the deposit rates there are 1.5%, whereas the government has to raise 3 month debt at 7%. Cost of borrowing for private sector is prohibitingly expensive and hence there are hardly any industries ther. More than 90% of poupulation lives in severe poverty in such a resource rich land. you know why? because there are so many controls in the economy, there are no clear land ownership laws and the government/private sector have no funds for development. To me, there is a killing to be made there, loads of profit. If the government allows people like me to buy and trade in its financial system, the cost of borrowing in the economy will go down, more money will flow in, corporates wil be able to borrow and economy will flourish. Make no mistake, I don’t want to put my money there just to help those people – to me the incentive is primarily profit – but in this way i am actually helping them.

  6. What you have said is true, but are you looking at the complete picture? The mistakes that have been made are regrettable. While socialism as a theory failed due to its impractical nature of discarding human greed from the calculation, but the fact it is aims towards holistic development which capitalism doesn’t. Capitalism is the play of numbers. people go above above poverty line but they are more malnourished.,prtpage-1.cms

    An old friend of mine once questioned, “Isn’t it time that we start looking for something better, beyond capitalism or socialism or a mix of these two? Something new, something better.” ;)

  7. tch tch tch….no replies…n no new blog…in last more than 48 hrs Disillusioned or disheartened…???!!! :p

    P.S.: being “busy” wd be considered as lame, n wont be acceptable as a reason… ;)

    1. haha, i won’t give being busy as a reason. Its just that I found admiring maria sharapova (who is playing here in a tournament) more appealing than posting new content or replying :)

  8. aisa lag raha hai Ayn Rand pad raha hoon..tum Ayn Rand institute of philosophy se diploma kyu nahi kar lete..

    badi simple si baat hai..pehle apna pait bhar lo achi tareh warna bhook main koyi kissi ka bhala nahi kar sakta..jab apna bhar jaye to doosro ko dedo thoda sa nahi to kha kha kar mote ho jaoge..

    to apna pait bharne ke baad doosro ko khana dene se sabka pait bharta hai aur sab fit bhi rehte hai..

    1. hehe, amit ji, thanks for the comparision. yeh blog main apne HR ke prof debashish chatterjee ji ko dedicate karna chahunga. his classes were always so intriguing and when he used to speak you won’t know that an hour has gone by. but after the class, you would feel so vague and wasted. i have drawn my inspiration from him.

      aapne mere dhai panne ki blog ka saar dhai lines mein keh diya hai. jo aadmi apna pet nahi bhar sakta vo kisi aur ka kya pet bharega. and apna pet bharne ke baare mein sochne mein koi galat baat nahi hai. come on tell me one thing. kisi bhooke aadmi se poocho ki what would he prefer – to have good food everyday or that everybody should be equal in society, everybody should have good education in society and so on. the basic nature of human being is to ensure his own welfare first. In other words nature made man a capitalist. some masturbated their minds and became socialists.

  9. aur paisa kama kama kar..ghar baith kar uska khoob saara kha kar intellectuual baatein karke na hi tum apna bhala kar rahe ho hi desh ka..

  10. read all the replies….n the only conclusion i can derive from these is that u r simply trying to stick by ur vague views, even at the cost of sounding irrational… U want to enjoy the best of both the worlds…n still keep a straight face n say that u r doing it for the sake of society n for the common good of ppl in general.. U r neither sounding like a true capitalist, nor like a die-hard sociologist or communist fr that matter…
    All in all, the vague idea i hv gathered of this vague blog is that u r doin’ it either fr the sheer need fr killing sm time….or for some desperate need fr arousing some attention… In ne case, u hv bn pretty successful in both these attempts… All the best fr more of such in future….

  11. A few thoughts that I have had –

    1. All your actions are not supposed to help the poor man. You can do a few acts that have a direct impact easily.

    The key drivers to help the poor man are so simple. No need to look for actions that help him in indirect ways.

    2. Capitalism vs. Socialism debate will hold little significance in next generations. I expect small developed countries to move to a model that values freedom of pursuit and reward it. There would be geeks and artists who would identify their talents in their teens and model their life around it.

    I have come across a lil bit research on such a model

    3. Mahatma’s law can be tried for morally situations- say BP gas spill recently etc.
    One needs to understand the situations or problems where to apply morals- world in its current structure will fail one if he applies morals everywhere

    Practising trading as a livelihood is pretty noble. Can be scorned if we start looking at acts of top bosses

    4. When comparing, we do not stretch capitalism to its complete extent and stretch socialism to its complete extent and Socialism then loses. We would enter philosophy as soon i give the definitions. Arguments can be given on both sides to identify the benefits of the two systems.

    I like the writing style and the comments above.

  12. bhaiyon, aur meri pyari behnon. i sincerely thank you for your time and comments. but after reading all these, i feel, that perhaps i may have left some false impressions. main koi saadhu mahatma hone ka claim nahi karta hun. main nahi kehna chahta ki main samaaj mein pichde logon ke liye apna sab kuch de dena chahta hun. no no… main ek aam aadmi hun jo sirf apna, apne maa baap ka aur yadi shaadi kii to apne hone wale biwi bacchon ka pet bharna chahta hai. magar main yeh kehna chahta hun ki unintentionally hi sahi, mere kuch karmon se un gareeb logon ka bhi kuch fayda ho raha hai… maybe just a drop in the ocean what otherwise i am capable of doing… but this is the only sustainable, workable model where a collective effort on all our parts to make our livings freely will be able to fill the ocean and lift a large number of people out of poverty. let us all do our bits and together we will make our society a better society. some people will contribute more and some like me less. but this is the only sustainable way.

  13. No, am not stalking! :) But I would like to ask. The stand you had taken while writing this blog, is it still the same? I sense a change in your stance in your recent blogs…Is it true? or is it just me?

    1. Apologies frn for the delayed response for i had stopped following this for some time.

      Of course things change though the extent of change remains vague.

  14. Hello Gaurav sir, I know its a too late reply
    But nevertheless …with a very vague thought I will say that perhaps a society which is roof top capitalist and bottom down socialist will be better for a populous country like India….because no matter here sustainability is always going to be a issue

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