Category Archives: reflections

Was all this worth it?

In August 2014, I stopped writing new articles on this blog. This was primarily because I felt I had done my bit, given all I had to the aspirants.

However, a recent talk given at forumias gave me an opportunity to reflect upon my life before and now… Was all this worth it? Was IAS worth it? The path taken 5 years ago, from the glamour of Wall Street to the shitty lanes of remote villages in Rajasthan – was it worth it? From the efficient and fast private sector to working in government – was it worth it? Why IAS – the question which used to haunt me during the interview prep…

I am uploading the video here – watch till about 35 minutes and then the last 5 minutes. This is my heart which speaks… Its a bit long but apologies, can’t write everything again…

My Kashmir Diary

(Disclaimer: All this is a work of fiction. I have simply made it up. If anybody is hurt, I apologize.)

1. On the very first day, I learnt there was a Kashmir Bandh organized by Geelani against the Kousar Nath Yatra. What sort of secularism and tolerance is this? Apparently they are doing it to protect the fragile ecosystem there :-)

2. During a dinner in Pahalgam, the restaurant was playing Pakistani TV channel showing some political news of theirs! I suppose we as Indians would be more interested in our politics than some other country’s. And mind you, Pahalgam is not some far flung interior area in Kashmir but a major tourist destination.

3. Had a dinner with a friend’s friend who is a rich Kashmiri and has done all his education in ‘India’ (actually rest of India). He owes his entire career to India. We talked about how staying out helps in developing a perspective and getting away from narrow mindedness. So expected him to be more sympathetic and reasonable. When the topic came, he began by saying there should be a political solution which was encouraging for me. When asked further what sort of a political solution does he see, he said ‘referendum’!! (referendum on whether kashmir should be a part of india or not!)

4. While passing through an area where they made cricket bats, saw some posters of Shahid Afridi and other Pakistani players for promotional purposes! I know admiring foreign players and that too Pakistanis and also watching Pakistani TV is no crime, but when it comes to Kashmir, we can’t be ostriches, can we?

I last visited Kashmir in 2002 when terrorism was high. Kashmir was impoverished and one could see security forces everywhere. But this time things were completely different. Nice houses, smooth roads, prosperity clearly visible in the valley. Security personnel also were rare. I thought all these years of peace and prosperity (because of India) would have changed the outlook and made them see the benefits of sticking with India. I used to think economic development weans away a person from separatist tendencies, but looks like I am wrong :-(

Also clearly, we can’t afford to withdraw our forces from there – not yet!

Dear Patriots of India,

Pakistan killed two of our soldiers and beheaded one of them. Expectedly, our zealous patriots immediately began to criticise the government for allowing Pakistanis to play hockey with us, allowing their artists to perform in India and for letting their writers speak in our literary fests. So our government sent all of them back. Then again, expectedly, the patriot lobby began to criticise the government – this time for ‘only’ sending their artists and players back while our soldiers were killed. They called it a betrayal to the nation that our government ‘talked’ with Pakistan while they killed our soldiers. So our government had to suspend the new visa regime and even the PM had to come out and say ‘no more talks. There can’t be business as usual.’ Expectedly again the brave patriots were not satisfied. They again criticised our government, only this time taking your favorite and much in-fashion path of politician bashing. So now while our brave soldiers died on the borders, our weak politicians merely ‘stopped talking’ to Pakistan. Evidently our patriots want nothing short of a war with Pakistan (though some of them even urged our brave soldiers not to march in front of the weak politicians on the Republic Day and thus effectively called for an Army rule in India.)

While I would not dwell into all the patriotic calls of insanity here, one genuine thing which perturbed my tranquil thoughts was that how to ultimately solve the problem of Pakistan? And my conclusion is a war is out of question. No not because I am swayed here by considerations of humanity at large but because a war, in itself, without any consideration for its outcome, would be a huge huge loss for India and a severe blow to her national interests. Simply put, India can never win a war against Pakistan – no sir – not at least in the forseeable future. A war in itself would mean the biggest defeat India has ever suffered so far.

And the reason? Not that I doubt for one moment the conventional and strategic superiority of our armed forces, no. Without adding any complications arising out of the playgrounds of international politics and assuming the nuclear weapons on both sides remain silent, I am convinced that should a war happen to be, Indian forces will steam roll through much of Pakistan. But at the end of that war, will the real problems start. What will we do wih a Pakistan just won? Ruling it directly would perhaps be the worst option, for in the modern age of nationalism, no foreign rule can succeed. So we will have to restore the Pakistani establishment. But any government which has lost a war to India would be immediately discredited – perhaps faster than i can spell ‘discredited’. In the good old days of 71 war, Pakistani army took over the reigns. But not now. For there is another more potent force on the horizons and that is of the Islamic extremism. The war would only fuel their cause and enhance their credibility and in all likelihood they would overthrow the government there. Pakistan would officially become a state ruled by terrorists!

And this is assuming that Indian forces quickly win. But in all likelihood such a quick victory will not be decisive for the battlegrounds will then shift from Pakistan into the Afghanistan. Any Afghan government there would be overthrown and the entire Af-Pak region will become a hotbed of religious extremism and fanatic terrorists (some say it is currently like that but trust me its nothing compared to what it would be should a war break out). Les remember, Britain could not win in Afghanistan in the 19th century, Soviet Union couldn’t win there in the 20th century and US couldn’t win there in the 21st… Not even when they were the super powers of their times… Can we really imagine India would be able to win there?

Clearly not. And the tsunami of hate and terror would sweep India and the costs would be exceedingly prohibitive. All our development, all our prowess would come to a still. Plus fresh dangers will arise inside the country as this tide of religious hatred polarises our own society. Thus clearly, a war, irrespective of its outcome, shall be a grave blow to India’s national interest. And the irony is, every rhetoric of these so called patriots in India, only takes us closer to the war, thus playing in the hands of the religious fanatics across the border.

So then, what should we do? Should we take the Pakistani misadventures lying down? Should we continue to play cricket with them while they kill our soldiers? At least breaking these relations is better than doing nothing, isn’t it? And here I see the second irony.

For a moment imagine, I, who have never met you, never even seen you, hereby swear never to do any business with you. So… Whats the big deal? Why should you care? You are not dependent upon me in any way so why should you care if I threaten to break all my relations with you? And now imagine you are my good for nothing, spoilt son or daughter and I am your rich dad. Now if I threaten to throw you out of my house without giving a penny… Won’t you be alarmed? Won’t you be willing to strike a compromise with me and stop doing things which irritate me?

Well its the same thing with Pakistan… We need to cultivate an India dependent lobby there. And this we can do only by promoting trade and investments with Pakistan… By letting them feed on our growth. India has the potential to be a significant factor in Pakistan’s economics. Right now nobody cares there if we threaten to break our ties with them. But once we have a significant lobby there who depend on us for their profits, they would serve to counter balance the jihadi elements there. Afterall the most loved color in the world is green – and green is not the color of Islam but the color of dollars. But here is the irony. By breaking ties again and again, we just don’t let this India dependent lobby grow. We kill it in the foetus itself. And this is precisely what jihadists want! Again the pressure from our ‘patriots’ makes us unwittingly fall into the trap of the terrorists… Say goodbye to any lasting peace. Say goodbye to national interests. Onward we march towards our doom.

Perhaps that is why international diplomacy should only be played by cool heads relentlessly pursuing national interests and national interests alone. Insanity and emotions have no place there. Never ever let the mistress (or lover for the sake of making it gender neutral) dictate your business affairs…

P.S.: I see an increasing culture of insanity and intolerance in our youth. Be it the Anna movement (gallows to corrupt politicians), the delhi rape case (mutilate the rapists’ bodies, kill them like they kill in Saudi Arabia) or this soldier beheading incident, it seems that all sanity is driving away from our heads and being replaced by impulsive insane rhetoric. How can we call ourselves civilised or any different from Taliban if we also don’t respect human rights and dissent? I hope at least some of my readers will see my point although I expect a lot of gaalis after this article :-)

I Protest

Its amazing how in the last two years the phenomenon of spontaneous protests has caught on, specially in our cities. Just last year it began when Anna was sent to the jail and then now over Damini – the girl. Although no Tahrir Square moments for India, these protests are an entirely new phenomenon, baffling the politicians and the pundits alike. Though protests are no new to our democracy, what is new this time is that common people, used to watching such protests from the comfort of their dining rooms on the television, are now the part of what is being shown on the television. And no sir (/ mam) no, not on the call of any political party, but acting on the voice of their own consciences, giving expression to the deep resentment towards a British Raj like administration, these people have come out on the streets. They are not any political workers but are students, you, me, our mums and pups and our family members. And they came out when they sensed that gross injustice had been committed. Earlier the injustice was committed when Anna was jailed and his freedom of speech was brazenly violated while this time its for the brave girl who became a symbol for the thousands others whose right to life is being so violently denied as our insensitive administration sleeps.

Wihout flowing into any more emotions, lets calmly ask ourselves – what purpose? To what end? Do such protests carry any meaning? As one of my friend told me today, “kuch nahi hoga in sab se”? Com’on we all know some lip service, monetary concession to the family of the victim and arrests for the accused… and then calm until the next time. Such experience is nothing new. Afterall we still await the Lokpal. The questions then is that what is the point behind protesting?

Apart from the above apparant pointlessness, many political pundits have questioned the method of protests itself. It is argued that such protests illegitimately put pressure on the government and have contributed to the thought that one can now bulldoze a legitimately elected government and make laws on the street. They think that yielding to such demands will set a wrong precedent. Some others dismiss the gravity of these protests by calling the protestors either ‘painted and dented’ or middle class frustrated youth.

These arguments carry weight. Ours is an indirect democracy and for it to function properly laws must be made by the parliament only and cases should be tried in courts. For if we were to delegate these jobs to the streets, very soon the days of anarchy shall arrive. But there is another angle as well. In a democracy like ours, representatives are elected. These elections are fought on many issues like the candidate, the party, caste, religion, a set of policies and so on and by their very nature cannot be fought on a single issue like say rapes. Once the representatives have been elected, we are supposed to express our opinion to them on individual issues. Remember expressing opinion and putting pressure on the government to accept it is a legitimate part of democracy. Corporates spend huge money on it and call it ‘lobbying’. Most ministers including the home minister delightfully welcome such corporate lobbyists and in case of some like Ambanis, they even go out of the way to accommodate them. They even have a nice term for it called ‘participative policy making’ (12th Five Year Plan Approach Paper – Montek Singh Ahluwalia urges the government to indulge more into it).

But what happens when we, the ordinary citizens, have to express our opinion on some matter say rape? We are simply too heterogenous and scattered to form lobby groups and dedicate substantial sums toward it. So what is left for us to perform this absolutely essential duty of democracy i.e. of expressing our opinion? Simple, we protest. Thus protests are a legitimate part of democracy and the argument that it contributes to illegally exert pressure on the government is hollow.

But unlike the corporate lobbyists, what is the treatment met out to this ‘public lobbying’? Like in the British Raj, our current rulers resort to police violence to break the protests. They shut down metro stations and close down the roads. Not a single elected representative has cared to even send somebody meet the protestors. Gone are the days when politicians were supposed to be sensitive to the public opinion, the now home minister feels that he is the high mighty and how can he go and meet the mango people.

Why, then, this difference in treatment to lobbying and public protests when both are essentially performing the same thing? Similarly whats wrong if those who are protesting this time belong to the middle class? Whats wrong if they are educated and came out hearing their own voices for a change? Whats wrong if the issue here is neither a religious one, nor a caste based one and hence out of bounds for most of our politicians? If anything, isn’t this a welcome sign of maturity arriving in our democracy?

Anyways, coming to “kya hoga in sab se”… Maybe not today… Not tomorrow. Rapes may continue to happen. In this case the poor investigation and legal structure which contributes to abysmally low conviction rates and hence more rapes may remain unchanged. The government may this time again take the easy steps while avoiding the tough one which really matter to wriggle out of the situation. But maybe all this is not in vain. Maybe after the hundredth protest things meaningfully change. Maybe in the times of our kids… But still the importance of the first step taken by us remains. We are taking our democracy in the right direction… Kuch to hoga is se..

Rape of a Woman

The nation is shocked… and outraged. Rightly so. The condition of the victim is deteriorating and my heart goes out to her and so my prayers. Large scale protests have rocked the capital and it seems finally the insensitive administration would be forced into action – action much bigger than a mere knee jerk reaction of catching the culprits in this case and announcing a relief grant for the victim. Things may finally become better… better in general for the women in the country. As we stand here on this perhaps a historic juncture, let us take a moment to sanely reflect upon what can be done to reduce rape.

Suggestions have flown in in plenty. One set recommends a stronger punishment ranging from death penalty to castration to life imprisonment (current punishment is 7 years rigorous imprisonment). Another set suggests improving the ‘moral’ fabric of the society by preaching against ‘lust’ in our school books or marrying men early.

But to proceed with prescribing a solution we will have to examine why rape happens. We will have to look into the mind of the rapist when he is about to commit it. Not all rapes are alike. The most common ones are those committed by a relative, friend, family member or neighbor. Then another type is those committed by strangers where our case in question would fall. Finally another kind is the rape of lower caste (particularly dalit) women committed by higher caste men.

Although the motives and circumstances behind each are different but perhaps there are two points common to all. The first is the lack of fear in the mind of the rapist that he may get caught later and be made to serve the entire sentence. This is hardly surprising given the largely poor state of law and order in the country. Even in Delhi itself, there were 654 rape cases reported last year and there was only 1 conviction! (Source: Reply by the minister in the parliament recently). If the accused happens to belong to the influential strata of the society, forget about him being caught at all. The entire machinery will work to shield him and instead further victimize the victim. After all, we all remember only too well… no one killed Jessica. And in Pipli in Odisha, ultimately the victim and her father had to commit suicide as the police took no action against the accused who happened to be the son of an MLA. In Punjab the additional sub inspector was shot openly by a politician affiliated to the ruling party in the state as he tried to defend his daughter from some molesters.

Anyways, the point to note here is that the would be rapists are often just not scared of being made to serve out the entire 7 year sentence. They think they won’t be caught or even if they are caught, they would be acquitted. If somehow we can create this fear in their mind that they would definitely be caught and convicted soon for the 7 year imprisonment, it would act as a credible deterrent. After all 7 years is no mean punishment. Changing it to death penalty, life imprisonment or chemical castration (where only the male hormone is suppressed using drugs and no part of the body is actually cut off or made dysfunctional) would be meaningless if we are unable to create this fear of conviction in their mind. Thus the crux of the problem is the conviction rate and not the harshness (or leniency) of the punishment. Just think about it… if only 1 out of 654 rape cases actually see the conviction, how much of a deterrence a punishment – which can be administered only after conviction – can have. Think about it – most rapes are committed during wars or in situations where law and order ceases to exist and one know one would never be held accountable for his actions. Now why are convictions so low (and lengthy)? Lack of forensics is a major reason. Police apathy is another (specially if the accused belongs to the influential strata of the society). Slow courts are another reason. So perhaps today what we need are more forensic labs and special courts in each district dedicated to hear rape cases. The problem of accused wielding influence still remains but then it is a difficult one to crack.

The second common reason behind rapes is that women are seen in our society as feeble, meek, unable to cause any harm. Such tendencies are often stronger in a rapist’s mind and he thinks he can thus easily exploit her. Just think for a moment… who can dare to rape Priyanka Gandhi even if she has no security cover around her. There is a dog generally sitting outside my house. Sometimes when I go out and he is sitting in front of the gate, I merely shoo him away. Why? Because I know he cannot harm me. But had a tiger been sitting outside my house I would never dare to even think of stepping out :-P Why in India we only hear of men raping women and not the other way round? Well the point is, the male dominant character of our society has got a lot to do with the rapes. This needs to change and surprisingly I haven’t seen anybody even talking about it.

Finally a note on ‘lust’ factor. There is a problem however. Lust is functional. It is natural. Just imagine if men cease to have lust for women and women cease to have lust for men what will happen to the society. Lust accounts for the sexual attraction (towards the opposite sex generally) and this is how a generation reproduces. Moreover there is no evidence to suggest that lust is a dominating cause behind rapes. Everybody lusts. I do… Most women also lust for men. But neither I nor most women rape. A rape is mostly not an act of sexual expression. It is one where the dominant feelings are that of humiliation, power, domination. Sex is but a mere medium. If suppose God had somehow created human beings such that sex was not possible, then too a rapist would have found alternate means of humiliating, dominating, expressing our power over the other. So reprinting our school books may not be such a good idea after all.

This may be a turning point for the safety of women in our society. I merely hope that we focus on things which matter. Lets have some sanity please before we act.

Our Chakravyuh

Click to download pdf

Disclaimer

  1. The views mentioned here do not necessarily represent those of the author. This exercise is just to present a case.
  2. The author has little expertise on the issue discussed here. He has never visited a naxalite area nor does he ever intend to.

You are right – this is inspired from the movie “Chakravyuh”. Naxalism or Left Wing Extremism remains an issue most of us remain familiarly unfamiliar with. The movie raises the issue nicely and brings out its many faces – perhaps better than any other movie in my generation.

But you are wrong – this is not any review of the movie. The idea here is to derive from the movie the various insights it offers and to dwell upon the real life questions which naxalism poses.

First and foremost, what is naxalism? Is it a mere ‘law and order’ problem? Or is it the much more dangerous but equally senseless terrorism? Or perhaps a sinister attempt by some foreign nations to destabilize our country? Is it just a business setup by the naxalites to extract money? And are the naxalites simply some miscreants who are misguiding and exploiting the ‘ignorant and illiterate’ tribals to their own end? Your answer to this question will invariably depend upon who do you think is ‘right’ here and to what extent.

But keeping biases apart lets consider some basic facts. This movement has been raging on in its present form since at least 45 years. This movement has had to face the armed might of the state continuously since almost its beginning. This movement has only spread since then. And this movement is the strongest in some of the most backward tribal areas of the republic. What these facts tell me simply is that this movement has got something right about it. To face the armed might of the state and yet to grow like this means the movement is popular. And 45 years is a long time over which nobody, however ignorant and illiterate, can be fooled. It means this cannot simply be dismissed as a ‘law and order’ problem or ‘a foreign hand’. Of course in a movement as large and as long as this, such elements are bound to creep in. But in its core, deep down, these facts tell me that there are genuine problems of the tribals and this movement genuinely represents them.

So this brings us to our next question – what are these grievances? Simple enough, isn’t it? Ask any MBA student – widespread poverty, illiteracy, hunger, ignorance, disease. And to address them we need to usher in ‘development’ in the area. This development means building roads, schools, hospitals and providing employment opportunities. So why haven’t we been able to address such issues so far? Because – (a) These naxalites don’t let us build there for they are afraid of losing their hold over the tribals, and (b) India is a poor country and lacks resources.

None of the above is false. There is indeed widespread poverty, illiteracy, hunger, ignorance and disease in the tribal areas and these form for genuine grievances. But history tells us that people put their lives at stake and revolt not when they have something to gain by revolting but when they have something to lose by the maintenance of the status quo. And the only thing which these tribals possess is their way of life. And in this way of life, their land on which they live and depend upon for livelihoods is an integral part. Its only when this land is threatened that the tribals will rise in revolt.

While schools, hospitals and employment opportunities sound nice and are welcome, the reality is that in the model of development we follow, these often come with a displacement of the tribals from their native lands. And this is where the problem starts. First of all our rehabilitation and resettlement policy is sh*t. In the name of compensation for the lost land we pay literally peanuts. It is ironical that while this law (of paying peanuts in compensation) was brought about in the name of social justice (land reforms), today this has become the single biggest weapon in exploiting the oppressed tribals. Secondly, in many cases even these weak provisions are not applied. Tribals are simply evicted by a nexus of the government and industrialists and purely by brute force. This government – industrialist nexus is so strong even at the topmost level that when there were attempts to empower the land owners in the new Land Acquisition Bill by paying them a compensation of 4 times the official land rate (which itself is 1/10th or 1/20th of the market rate in most cases) the industry raised a big cry and the government had to dilute the provisions of the Bill.

In the mines so built, of course some tribals will get jobs and if the mine owner keeps his promise, a school and a hospital would be built. But such gains are a mere fraction of the loss of land which they have to endure. And of course a smaller percentage still of the profits of the mine owner. Mines and dams are capital intensive activities – just how many workers are employed in them? And how much are the unskilled workers paid out of the mine owner’s profits? And it is no secret that over 99% of the coal mined or 99% of the electricity generated is never utilized in the same area. It is just used for the consumption of rest of us – the ‘citizens’ of the republic.

Finally who exactly are we to decide the course of development of these tribals? We are the majority… so what? The minority rights have to be protected from the tyranny of the majority for building a just society. After all don’t we think that the minority Jews also had some rights under the majority Nazi Germany? Or that the minority Tamilians have a right to life in a majority Sinhalese nation? Shouldn’t the tribals decide for themselves what course of development do they want? For a change, can we just let them live?

But how can they decide – they are too ignorant. Left to themselves they will never choose a developmental path and may remain forever in ignorance. “Like school kids… they need a master…” Aah… doesn’t that begin to sound now like the British paternalism which made for the moral foundation of the Raj?

And if we argue that we need those resources not for them but for us, then haven’t we removed even the mask of ‘development for them’ here? Isn’t this naked colonialism?

So does this mean that we should not utilize the tribal resources at all? If that be the case, what will happen to the number called ‘growth’? What will happen to the rest of us – the citizens? Well imagine if some alien species wants to destroy Earth tomorrow to make way for an interstellar expressway1? Isn’t it development? Would we support it? Of course not… just because we happen to be on the other side of the table this time. We would argue that anything which happens to the Earth should be done with the consent of the Earthlings. Shouldn’t we apply the same concept when it comes to the ‘development’ of the tribal areas? Shouldn’t we create an enabling environment for the development of strong self governing institutions in tribal areas and then require their free and fair consent before doing anything which affects them in a significant way? That I believe would be the way out of this Chakravyuh.

 

1Borrowed from “A Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Oh Poor English!

There is nothing more potently destructive than a stupidity whose time has come. The Americans saw it in Vietnam when their stupidity backfired and the Soviets saw it in Afghanistan when it almost destroyed them. Biggest of empires have been brought to dust at the hands of foolest of notions. Even in India we are no strangers to stupidities at the highest level – be it 1948 Nehru’s handling of the Kashmir issue or 1950s handling of Chinese.

But perhaps in what he (if he is still interested and can read this small font article from above) can still console in is the fact that he was not alone in being a victim of stupidity in contemporary India. Even the mighty British Raj owed its downfall to one of the same kinds – The Drain of Wealth. This doctrine propounded by the early nationalists after ‘careful research’ pointed fingers at the Englishmen (something our culture is so adapt in doing even today) that they were draining India’s wealth out to England. Strictly speaking the drain of wealth refers to the excess of a country’s exports over its imports for which it gets no corresponding returns. In other words, India exported more to British and imported less and didn’t get anything for the difference. This drain was pegged by some to be as high as 6% of Indian GDP at that time. But the real beauty of the theory lay in its appeal. It didn’t exactly require a rocket scientist in a peasant to get a feeling of it for he saw after every harvest the white man coming with his goons in uniform and taking away all his produce. The artisans could see their jobs being taken away by the Manchester machines. Here was a potent tool in the hands of the frustrated Indian middle class of educated and the industrialists with which they could mobilize the peasants and the laborers to fight for their cause. The tigers of emotions had been unleashed.

Well the idea here is not to deny that Britishers exploited India. They may have or may not have, this article doesn’t really want to concern the reader with that. It merely wants to expose a long held myth that drain of wealth is negative for a nation. I can swear that if those Englishmen of the Raj were to descend down from heavens (or hell, whatever) and see the curremcy regimes followed by the free governments of their erstwhile diminions like China, India etc.they would surely beat themselves to death again.

In the name of making exports more competitive countries like India and China have followed a deliberate policy of keeping their foreign exchange rates artificially low. The rationale is simple. Lets say something costs Rs. 50 in India. If the Indian Rupee is at 50 to a dollar, that article would be cheaper ($1) in US compared to say if the Rupee were to be at 25 to a dollar ($2 cost in that case). Cheaper exports mean more exports mean more industrial production means more jobs mean more prosperity means everyone is happy. But wait, isn’t this a form of Drain of Wealth – only more disguised this time? Thats because for its exports India is now getting lower ‘value’ than the fair value and for its imports, it has to pay a higher ‘value’. And think about it, where is the compensation for this ‘excess of exports over imports’? If this is not drain of wealth then what on earth could be drain of wealth?

But wait, isn’t this a contradiction? I mean drain of wealth was bad! (The gentlemen from the Raj will tell that now.) But here lies the distinction – drain of wealth is not bad in itself.

Drain of wealth can be seen as a sacrifice which the present generation makes in order to bring greater benefit to the future generations. Its like your parents cutting down their current expenditures to ensure better education and health for you. And it is exactly the oppposite of running a fiscal deficit economy where we finance our current expenditures from the earnings of our future generations as eventually a fiscal deficit has to be met by additional taxes on the future generation.

But does this mean that Englishmen of the Raj were really innocent victims of a stupid and populist theory? Not quite. It is true that drain of wealth is not bad in itself. The early nationalists also rightly criticized the English practices of implementing the drain of wealth policy. The drain becomes bad when the present value of the perceived future benefits becomes less than the value of the present sacrifices the society is making. This can happen in two ways. First, if the cost of present sacrifices is made so high that the society simply isn’t able to survive to see that “prosperous” future or second, if the value of the future benefits is diminished seriously. Though the English failed in both aspects the more visible and serious failure was in making the current sacrifices unbearable. (And I hope I don’t have to give a proof of that here.) Had it not been for the high sacrifice levels imposed on the contemporary Indians, the rhetoric of the nationalists would have fallen on deaf ears.

Oh Poor English… Not exactly… Rather it should be Oh Poor Drain of Wealth… Another innocent victim of social stupidity…

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.