Friday, January 31, 2014

Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal.. 3 leaders... what morals?



In the 66 years of independence, India has lived with a certain set of moral codes that called for respect of regulation, sacrifice for a greater good, duty towards society, accountability. An accepted definition of what was expected from members of society and from those in power gave the country its navigational apparatus and heroes. That definition allowed heirs to rise from the miasma to take over the reins when those in positions of authority stepped down. It also marked the scales on which people were measured and judgments passed. It is difficult to deny that moral codes were the cornerstone of trust between all parts of society, and the grease that allowed society to function.

There is a need for a new morality in India today, or at least for a call to recognize the new morals we live with compared with those of six decades ago. One may ask why, and the answer is simple, if we don't recognize new morals and spread them, the result can be unrest. Things are already changing in India - look at who we consider our leaders, look at who we put in jail. We get affronted when our film stars are held up at foreign airports and derive a sense of pride when citizens of other nations though of Indian ancestry achieve recognition in their country.

Our "philosopher kings" are businessmen who equate foreign investment with national prosperity, who see environmental protection and concern for the marginalized as being bad for the country. They decry government expenditure on the economically bereft while seeking tax breaks for themselves. We find solace in the deep voice of a septuagenarian who made his mark in the country's dream factory. We seek the counsel of the glitterati who tweet from their ivory towers and from TV studios far removed from the humdrum of daily existence. For what we value to change, wouldn't our moral scales have to change too?

The fallout
As citizens of a democracy, Indians have become inured with our choice of electoral candidates. They swing between brilliant home-economists whose assets magically increase annually and Houdini like magicians who can't be confined within the thick walls of a prison cell.

Though most citizens' views have gone beyond contempt for the politician, there is a burgeoning group who are now involved and committed. This is a class of people who not only have ideas on who should be in power but also do what they can to get these people in power. There is a meeting of minds here; the dreams of the common person and the politician merge. There is also a belief that these chosen ones can make such common dreams come true.

The triumvirate
Let's narrow down to three people on whom many pin their hopes in this year's general election: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal. The three are very different politicians, heir socio-economic backgrounds, political philosophy, manner of functioning and experience all dissimilar. But they have one thing in common as the first surfers riding a new wave of morality.

Narendra Modi became the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after stomping all over the patriarch of the party, Lal Krishna Advani. The very same person who stood by Modi after the 2002 religious riots, where many allege Modi played a role in the what can only be called a state-sponsored pogrom. His form of governance is held up as the way ahead.

For a party whose philosophical fountainhead is the desire to bring back Ram Rajya (something everyone is unsure what that connotes) and which speaks about Raj Dharma (rule based on spirituality and positivity), the Machiavellian machinations that went to create Modi were the very antithesis of their foundation. That the patriarch was discarded and shouted at goes against the Hindu dharm (respect for elders) that the party wishes to preserve and promote.

Then there is the whole idea of protecting the weak and the helpless, which is part of Raj Dharma. In the case of Modi, this was tossed out in the 2002 riots and continues to be ignored, with economic policies that has led to increased state debt, child malnourishment and low wages in Gujarat, where he is chief minister. Given all this, Modi is still a darling of the many. The very same people who espouse respect for the elderly and speak in glowing terms of India's past - and even the need to protect the weak - say goodbye to all this when it comes to bringing Modi as the nation's leader.

Is the new morality that allows support for Modi based on less concern for our elders and the weak? And if so, wouldn't this go against the many tenets of Hinduism, a religion (or way of life) that the BJP wishes all Indians to convert to?

Then we turn to Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a dynasty. While many of us speak against dynastic politics, we have no qualms in ensuring that wealth and power remain within the confines of our family. Most marriages in business families are fixed on the basis of love - a love of money and finding ways to increase it. Marriage ceremonies are a time to repay or exact debts. The power that congregates in one location during such occasions could create a new industry, light a city, bring down a government or even create a new one.

Given this state of affairs one wonders why many think awry of the "dynastic politics" of the Congress Party. How different is that from Narayan Murthy of Infosys bringing his son into the company as his executive assistant and then promoting him to a vice president? There was hardly a peep from the business community after this action from a man many consider to have sound ethics. Why shouldn't sauce for the goose be sauce for the gander?

So the second moral dilemma is the support by many for Rahul Gandhi as India's future prime minister. Proponents of that cause choose to ignore that Rahul, whose candidacy has yet to be declared but is widely regarded as a shoe-in, has absolutely no experience in politics or in working in government. The political statecraft that goes with such a position, along with the knowledge of the workings of the government and the country, is not easily acquired. It could be argued that his name and the experience of those working with him would pave the way for a successful stint as premier. One wonders, why is such an opportunity not given to others of the same age and similarly haloed backgrounds but of more experience?

The pertinent question here concerns the differing moral scales used by those opposing the Congress, but silent on other similar issues, and by those within the Congress who promote Rahul on the one hand and on the other do not give Rahul's party members similar opportunities.

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi and the force behind the Aam Admi Party (AAP), is a different kettle of fish. The reasons for his rise to power range from public disaffection with entrenched politics to a collective victimhood that is finally raising its head. During his journey to power he tarred all government institutions with the same brush - everything was dirty - and promised to clean up their mess. Having achieved power, he seems to have gone a step further and is now living by the "heads I win, tails you lose" philosophy.

Kejriwal seems unable to work with the power given to him by the people but undermines it by sitting in protest, a protest which has led to no resolution and instead is converting an inability to channel powers to make change into a form of martyrdom which allows him to continue functioning by attracting people's sympathy and even admiration.

The AAP leader, whom the party has yet to declare as its prime ministerial candidate, is a dream come true for Indians who in general have no love for authority or social order. Here is a man after their own heart, a man who though in a position of authority does everything to undermine it. The protest warms the cockles of the common person because they see a man with immense power acting as if helpless. So they believe he is still like them - an outsider fighting a firmly dug-in cabal.

No one questions the fallout of such actions - if people in power begin to protest in this way then what will the common person do? Kejriwal is destroying institutions without providing an alternative while also usurping public space used by the truly powerless to make themselves heard.

His code of conduct has not only diminished the office he holds by portraying it as one without power but has also left the common person bereft of means of communicating with higher-ups. Kejriwal has not shared his idea of what a leader should be and for what he should be held accountable, while he is simultaneously laying to waste institutions that have been the bulwark of society. So he has given himself an open canvas to do what he imagines to be right, which may soon inspire the common person to imitate him.

Though Kejriwal calls himself an anarchist he cannot absolve himself of the trust and the mantle of leadership that people have reposed in him through an institutionalized election process that he was part of, and which people believe in. Can an anarchist be a leader? It goes against the very grain of anarchic philosophy. Or is he using the term because he realizes that today most Indians don't know what it takes to be a leader and are quite happy with someone who can destabilize the establishment?

Society becomes redundant and dysfunctional in two instances - when it has no morals or when society's thoughts and actions far outpace its moral strictures. With Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal we seem to have arrived at the latter. Their presence and their impact indicates that subliminally moral codes in India have changed. Isn't it time therefore that we shout it out from the roof tops and get everybody on the same page?



Look out for my soon to be published travelogue '1400 bananas, 76 towns and 1 million people'

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Is Kejriwal using our sense of victimisation?



It was just a few years back that Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi, Prashant Bhushan were the three musketeers and d'Artagnan fighting the Cardinal Richelieu-like machinations of “corrupt government" in India. Their fight's rallying cry was the Jan Lok Pal Bill, the citizen's ombudsman bill.

The bill, the four swore, would cleanse India of corruption, which was eating into the very foundations of the nation and so denying the common person their rights. This had resulted in the country joining this battle against corruption. The emotion of the common citizen that was channeled into promoting the bill was labelled as outrage against the pervasiveness of corruption that had allegedly permeated the government.

Could this sentiment then have been the manifestation of a false sense of victimization? Could this conflagration of rage have been cleverly fanned by an "us and them" strategy - the "us" being the common Indian trying to overwhelm "them" the government? The outrage was used to corner if not coerce "them" into accepting the Jan Lok Pal Bill. Even though this bill was sold as being the cornerstone of democracy, the way the "us" wanted to get the bill passed was anything but democratic, unless of course one defined democracy as mob rule.

Charging at windmills
Unfortunately, this "us and them" structure of the anti-corruption movement is also the primordial soup that gives rise to corruption. Corruption exists because people believe they are above the rules that are meant for all, or feel that laws restrict their freedom which they presume they are more entitled to than the rest of the population. Corruption exists when individuals do not wish to follow rules created by society for the common good.

Thus who is the "us" and "them" in the fight against corruption? Can the "them" be corrupt if the "us" is clean? Can "us" be clean if "them" is corrupt?

Unfortunately, the secularism of corruption was not realized by those demanding the Jan Lok Pal Bill. Therefore, while everyone raved, ranted and hurled abuse against the government, it sounded hollow to many because there was no acknowledgement that two hands are needed to clap. Could Dumas and Cervantes have got together in these modern times to get the musketeers to charge at windmills?

The need to re-invent the wheel
"Us vs Them" was the DNA from which Arvind Kejriwal and others created the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has just formed the new state government in Delhi. This speciously manufactured but much harped on conflict that late last year brought the AAP to power at the local-government level in Delhi and is fueling its national ambitions, was apparent after the swearing in ceremony, when Arvind Kejriwal made his acceptance speech.

He advised the more than 1 million people gathered for the ceremony, and the many other millions watching him on TV, that if they encountered an official demanding a bribe they should not refuse this demand. Instead, they should call up a helpline/complaint number that he promised to set up in two days where a complaint against the official could be made and a trap set. Kejriwal promised that he would personally ensure that their files would be processed.

India already has an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and almost every government department has a Vigilance Cell that is supposed to look into cases of corruption. The contact numbers for officials of these agencies are advertised and prominently displayed. Not a day goes by when the ACB does not catch someone accepting a bribe. The Central Bureau of Investigation is another agency that has been used to catch corrupt officials.

So the question is, why is there a need to re-invent the wheel? Why wasn't the platform of the acceptance speech used to indicate the existence of these departments and promote them?

The answer is very simple. Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP want to be seen as something akin to the Phoenix - that mythical bird reborn from the ashes of its predecessor. There is an attempt to market him and his government as being different from - and with no links to - past governments. The difference is constantly played up by suggesting that the past was one of usurpation and the future is not.

This message could not have not been better put across than with a personal promise of setting up the help line, which suggests there was no similar system already in place and seemingly puts the common person in control and paints the government officials as unscrupulous.

Corruption off the people, by the people
However, nobody seems to ask why the official is in the crosshairs and whether it is only the government servant who is to blame for the much-hyped corruption.

Most of us Indians do not like "no" for an answer. To us, a "no" is a personal affront and an ego-buster. For us, being able to wangle a deal no matter how crooked is something that is laudable. At other times, we are like ostriches with our heads in the sand - we are so engrossed in ourselves that we are incapable of thinking of the fallout of our self-serving actions.

In both instances, a bribe is used to get the work done. It is not the government official who demands the bribe here. It is the "naughty" or "ignorant" common citizen of India who would like the government official to turn a blind eye and proffers money to facilitate this.

Traffic policemen lament that they see no point in stopping vehicles when their drivers break rules because they just throw money at the police and continue on their way. I have been in the office of a Fire Chief when a middleman deposited a wad of notes in his desk drawer to facilitate passage of building plans that were ill-conceived. When rules are not respected by either society or those in a position enforce them, corruption is a natural corollary.

It takes two to tango, but not so according to Arvind Kejriwal. With these horse blinkers on, Arvind Kejriwal has deftly created a constituency of those sold on the idea that they are victims; that the corruption of previous governments has sucked the common person dry; that there is a dawn of a fresh beginning and a new light shines from the sun that is spelt AAP.

But this is a false hope because no one wants to be seen as a perpetrator of a crime or be pointed to as a criminal - sympathy is cornered by the victim no matter how wrong he is.

Corrupt victims or victims of corruption?
The ability to create a sense of victimhood nationally is not unique to this particular instance. There is a large number of people who weep for an unlived and unknown golden past that they claim was destroyed by invaders and colonization. We are known to find succor from this ethereal past while diminishing our present.

What Arvind Kejriwal has done is something extremely clever: he has modernized this genetically programmed victimhood to be relevant to these times. Instead of blaming an ancient history that no one has lived for our current state, he has provided a current history of which we are a part. However, even in being part of this history he has obligingly ensured we are removed from it. As before, when we did not blame the invasions on the factious kings who parceled this land into their kingdoms but instead blamed the invaders for invading, we now do not blame ourselves for the corruption, but instead blame it on the government and its officials.

Till now, the victimization that stems from being conned into believing that we are on the wrong side of history has been milked by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. But now Arvind has re-framed the contours to make it more secular, by ascribing our national problems not to the common person, whom he assures is guiltless, but foists the cause as the corruption of the powers-that-be.

He has beguiled us into believing that we are not the source of our problems. The saccharine sweetness of the mirage of this victim mentality has drawn people to his party like flies are drawn to sugar. His move makes sense when one reads the article "Rethinking 'Don't Blame the Victim': The Psychology of Victimhood" by Dr Ofer Zur in the Journal of Couple Therapy. The author highlights the following point: "The victim stance is a powerful one. The victim is always morally right, neither responsible or accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy."

A clean sweep
Nothing could have been a greater representation of this than the choice of broom as the symbol of his political party - the AAP. The broom has many connotations. The first that springs to mind is the "us and them" setting - there is dirt and then there are those wielding the broom to remove the dirt; its simplicity of use - indicating its secular prowess; its commonness - every household has one because dirt is omnipresent. Most importantly, the ownership of the broom presupposes the intention to keep things clean.

We forget that a lot of dirt is brought into homes by residents of the household themselves. Every Indian household uses the broom only to sweep dirt from the house into the common area, where it becomes the responsibility of an unknown someone else. Dirt just outside the place of residence is okay as long as it does not cross its threshold.

How we clean our homes is symptomatic of us being victims - concern for the self and not for society at large. The victim seeks redress no matter the cost to the rest. The abdication of social responsibility is a result.

It is not enough to have a telephone hotline if we do not hold ourselves responsible to obey rules and appreciate the fact that we cannot always have our way. If truth be told, we are victims of perverting our individual responsibility at the cost of the state. We are victims of our own hypocrisy as we choose to ignore the role we play in debilitating India. It would appear that we are unable to judge ourselves because when circumstances demand we do so our morals suddenly leave the room.

It is easier to ascribe fault to someone else, not only because it absolves us of personal responsibility but also because we are remain who we are and continue doing what we do. This includes having a feudal mindset that makes demands of others without us being held accountable to anyone. Kejriwal has realized that there is a low personal cost in ascribing oneself as a victim. In effect, we do not want to be the change we want to see.

Kejriwal is milking our lazy conscience, this sense of victimization. Is it then surprising that many are joining his party to partake off this feast, while others see him as someone who will share the munificence? 

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-03-160114.html
------------------------------------------------
Look out for my soon to be published travelogue  1,400 bananas, 76 towns and 1 million people.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Can India learn from the 2000 US Presidential elections?



With Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) assuming office as New Delhi's chief minister, political pundits are recalibrating poll equations as India heads into national elections this year. Arvind Kejriwal and his fledgling party have barged onto the political stage that up to now had only two principal actors - Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Rahul Gandhi, of the Congress-I.

Not a day goes by in the Indian national media where AAP, Congress-I and the BJP are not mentioned in one breath, and
there couldn't be a greater indication of India being in the throes of political and social upheaval than this. However, even in this state of flux, when Narendra Modi becomes prime minister later this year, as at present seems inevitable, the face of the country will change, to the point where the country's Hindu majority may once more find its voice.

Modi, the new face of Hindu revivalism, is seen as an answer to the socio-economic secularism of the Congress-I fronted political coalition because this revivalism also has an economic facet to it which has found resonance in many quarters. There is another aspect to this surge - the alleged mis-governance and corruption of the Congress and its allies in central government that has tainted the party's performance and fortunes in the state elections, as seen most starkly in the recent defeat of the Congress and its stalwart who headed the government in Delhi.

This mis-governance has also given rise to a new political party which in its electoral debut won the second highest number of seats in the Delhi state elections. In fact Kejriwal, the leader of AAP, stood against and defeated the incumbent chief minister, Shiela Dixit in her own constituency, by a huge margin of 25,864 votes.

From this and the coming electoral battle there is a lesson from the United States for those concerned with the future of India under Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Modi is a political leader known for his alleged involvement and handling of the 2002 riots in Gujarat, which many see as an instance of a state-sponsored pogrom, while his claims of success in bringing Gujarat economic progress hides a big socio-economic travesty.

While Rahul Gandhi is an almost unknown political entity, he was born into a political family that not only worked for India's freedom and has lead India almost entirely since independence and is now hobbled with allegations of corruption. Rahul is trying to change the party's functioning to get the party back on its feet.
Learning from America
When George W Bush became the US president, one of the cries that went across the US was "Hail to the Thief", a rephrasing of "Hail to the Chief", with many arguing that Bush stole the presidential elections.

The 2000 election in the US was one of the few instances where a third party was involved at the hustings, with Ralph Nader running as the presidential nominee of the Green Party. It was argued that Ralph Nader split the Democrat vote, causing Al Gore to lose to Bush by 537 votes. There was also the contentious Supreme Court ruling that stopped a recount in Florida, which undoubtedly helped Bush. Though later electoral studies were in two minds on the impact of Nader in Gore's defeat, what is certain is that a new entrant can change the dynamics of elections.

The reasons include "the-new-kid-in-town" effect - that is, the attraction of a fresh, unsullied face entering the political arena. Fresh faces not only attract a whole set of new people who may have been disillusioned with politics but also bring new issues for the electorate to mull over. This naturally leads to a churning within the population, which brings in more people to vote and a shift in political allegiance.

Nader's plank in 2000 touched on problems of a two party system, affordable housing, universal health-care - issues that were close to some voters. Being new, what the AAP did in Delhi was something Ralph Nader-esque - they chose issues that directly affect people, including demands for cheaper electricity and a regular supply of water, all neatly packed in a corruption-free governance package. The party also created election manifestos for each constituency.

In 2000, Ralph Nader spoke of his candidacy as an alternative to both the Democrats and Republicans, stating they were indistinguishable from each other as they now drank from a common economic and philosophic wellspring. AAP came out with a similar statement in 2013; Kejriwal said that the BJP and the Congress were clones of each other with their politics of caste, riots, handouts to the corporate sector and corrupt leaders.

Being a new kid in town naturally drew people's attention. Thus there were more than the usual ears; what the kid was saying was very different from what had been said before. Importantly what was being said was also said by someone who had their own ear to the ground, something that had not happened for a very long time.

Nader's campaign resulted in an increase in the voter turn; at 50.3%, it was higher than the preceding 1996 election, when only 49% voted, though in the following election the turnout was again higher.

A similar scenario played out in the recent elections in Delhi. The voter turnout of 65.8% was well up on the previous election, when 57.58% of the eligible population voted. BJP, the right wing party, won 31 seats, the AAP in its first electoral secured 28 seats and the Congress Party lost all but eight seats. Two seats went to smaller parties.

While Nader came nowhere close to winning the US presidency, voters acknowledged the issues he raised, indicated their disillusionment with the current political system and their desire for change; but in voting for Nader, did those supporters lose the long-term perspective and not realize that they could be unleashing a far more dangerous beast?

Nader realized that he was muddying the waters by running, but did he realize also that by teaching the Democrat leadership a lesson) he would in the end punish the country? One cannot blame Nader for what followed, but one surely can find fault with an electorate who donned a restricting, self-righteous world view that the power of their vote could change the world for good - but instead harvested something much worse, witness the damage that election winner Bush did to the world.

Anti-incumbency?
The anti-incumbency factor in politics is borne by the perception, real or otherwise, that those in power are no longer listening to the people and this unresponsiveness is because politicians build themselves ivory towers. One could argue that the AAP reaped this anti-incumbency factor.

But if this were all, it would be the known entity - the BJP with Modi as its well-marketed figurehead - that would have won a clean mandate, leaving the unknown AAP and the ruling Congress to share the dregs.

This did not happen. Instead, the spoils of vanquishing the incumbent were divided between the neophyte and the veteran.

Learnings
Ralph Nader is not a politician, although he is known for his left-liberal stance and for his fight for the common US citizen. That he did not win the 2000 presidential elections is irrelevant; that he could have been the cause of a larger voter turn-out is something that needs to be taken into consideration.

Political parties need to keep re-inventing themselves because the society they wish to represent politically is always in the throes of change. This change is tangible in its cultural and socio-economic connotations and also through the intangible -the philosophical discourse - which colors the former two.

Nader touched on issues that directly impacted Americans, as the AAP did with Delhi voters in through constituency-based manifestos. The underlying message in such a move was that the AAP would constantly gauge the pulse of the electorate. More importantly, the candidates for this political party were common individuals, with no history of political work and with whom people in society could identify themselves - the party couldn't have found a better way to communicate "of the people, by the people and for the people".

The results of the Delhi elections could be the beginning of a trend of the electorate no longer identifying with a political party but with an individual from within the community. Thus political parties would need to involve the community in formulating manifestos and in choosing candidates for elections. This is real democracy - representation that rises from the people and not parachuted down from a central authority, which is how candidates are chosen in the BJP, Congress and other parties.

Nader's 2000 presidential attempt also begs a bigger question - should leadership be of the "Charge of the Light Brigade" kind, resulting in consequences far greater than what an individual can imagine; or should it be one where a leader is able to acquiesce and form partnerships with others to ensure a far greater danger is met? Even as one wishes AAP to do well in the 2014 national elections, it needs to be aware of this pitfall.

Today, the Congress and BJP seem to be of the same genetic stock. The fact remains that one party can be induced to change and the other cannot because the foundations of the latter, its roots in the Hindu past, are based on a regressive ideology that needs to interpret history in an exclusionist manner to further its political ambitions.

The current political and electoral catharsis initiated by the AAP may benefit the country in the long run. However, if in the meanwhile the process allows a divisive figure who represents an exclusionist religio-right-wing ethos to come to power, one wonders whether the means can really justify the end. 

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-070114.html

 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Modi, Li and Manmohan Singh



The history and development of economic thought and practice is littered with those propounding how the individual and the state should spend and earn money; from Plato to Adam Smith, the Mills father and son duo, Marx and Engels, to Keynes and numerous Nobel prize winners, there is no shortage of economic theory on the topic.These people were also teachers and had the ears of those in power. Chanakya and Confucius gave counsel to their respective kings. Confucius, whose philosophy was based on ancestor worship, equilibrium and respect for a central authority, was also a well-respected administrator who travelled to other minor kingdoms to share his expertise.

Understandably, much economic theory has been based on man's position and role in society and also the meaning, role and function of society. Most theorists have remained just that, unable to implement their theories. This was left to either the king or in more recent times the government.

Religion, too, touched on economic thought and practice. Islam had zakat, riba and many other concepts, while Jesus had many a parable to do with money and spoke against the tax collector and what he represented.

Sanatana Dharma, now known as Hinduism, had Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, who is also depicted as Shakti, the divine female creative power. Lakshmi is also the consort of Vishnu, the supreme being.

Maybe ancient thinkers from what we now know as India wished to indicate that wealth either manifests itself as power or sits at the same table as power. This imagery still besots, influences and guides Indians who regard wealth as the great solution and its acquisition as the goal.

With economic liberalization, people have greater opportunity to convert their thoughts into actions. Theorists' economic models and resulting policies are stamped with their names, giving their economic paradigms a human face.

Modinomics
Take for example Narendra Modi, chief minister of India's Gujarat state since 2001 and the poster boy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it prepares itself for elections, due to be held early next year.

The BJP is a right-wing political party known for its use of religious identity, which colors its economic policy and is sold by them as aimed at bringing back "Ram Rajya", the kingdom of Rama.

What Modi is touted to have done for Gujarat in his more than decade-long control of the state has drawn plaudits from the business world and from lay people, both forgetting the concerns voiced by many in India, including respected industrialist and parliamentarian Rahul Bajaj in 2002 in the aftermath of riots in Gujarat between Hindus and Muslims when Narendra Modi was chief minister.

Many Hindus today live with a sense of diminished pride and of being wronged by history - the destruction of the holy temple in Somnath by Mohd of Ghazni centuries ago, being ruled by Mughals and finally the Partition that lead to the formation India and Pakistan are seen as incidents that robbed their land of its true historical and geographical stature. Thus these Hindus constantly attempt to regain their pride, which in many instances implies playing with Muslim sentiments.

This is exacerbated by the belief amongst this set of Hindus that in independent India political parties like the Congress give handouts to the Muslims at the cost of the Hindu majority. The resultant animosity is a socio-religious tinder box that results in regular conflagrations. It was in such a backdrop that a group of Muslims murdered right-wing Hindu activists on February 27, 2002, at the railway station in the town of Godhra in Gujarat.

Those murdered were returning from a visit to the disputed Babri Masjid, where an unused ancient mosque had been destroyed by Hindu revivalists in December 1992 in a warped attempt to undo history and regain lost Hindu glory. Modi, as chief minister, is alleged to have given permission to parade the bodies through the streets against the advice of the state police. He is supposed to have told the police to "let the Hindus vent their anger". This resulted in the riots of 2002 and they remain a shadow over his potential rise to the country's leadership.

Against that, there has been much hype about the economic growth in Gujarat under Modi. The state's economy has certainly grown strongly over his tenure, in the past six years notching up annual increases in its gross domestic product of between more than 9% to just below 14%. However, those rates are surpassed by several other states, such as Bihar and Uttrakhand to name just two, but that fact, for some reason, never makes it to the headlines.

To create an aura around Narendra Modi, there is a lot of hype about his "golden touch" that supposedly turbo-charged Gujarat's economy during his time leading the state. His candidature to be prime minister is based largely on this ability. According to a Planning Commission document released in October this year, under "Real Growth Rates of States - GSDP % [change in gross state domestic product] at Constant Prices", Gujarat's growth in the six financial years ending in March 2012 was 10.13% - trailing the growth in Tamil Nadu (10.30%), Sikkim 18.48% and Uttrakhand (13.15%) - and those other states have done better without Modi and with the added bonus of not beating their chests to boast of their their economic success.

The annual investors' meetings in Gujarat see businessmen promise millions in investment and media trumpet the event. However, other states too receive foreign investments. Between 2006-2010, Gujarat was able to sign foreign direct investment agreements worth 5.35 lakh crore rupees, or US$119.3 billion, which has the potential of creating approximately 600,000 jobs. However, the state of Maharashtra has been able to get more bang for its buck - 4.20 lakh crore rupees, or $93.6 billion in investments in the same period, but with the potential of creating more than 800,000 jobs. [1]

It would seem that Modi may be a creation of a lot of marketing hoopla and fanfare as much as he is an economics wizard. APCO, the PR firm hired by his government, has done an outstanding job.

Modi's economic philosophy can be encapsulated by his mantra "P2G2" formula or "minimum government, maximum governance". This philosophy can be better understood by the fact that Narendra Modi holds 11 portfolios in his government. His government website makes it more clear, stating that Modi looks after "All Policy Matters and Ministries not allotted to other Ministers".

Over the past few months, many newspapers in India have discussed the glaring disparity in urban average daily wages between those working in Gujarat and the rest of India. According to the National Sample Survey Organization, the average daily wage in Gujarat is 44.52 rupees, [2] or US$2.65, against 170.10 rupees, or $3.12, for the rest of India.

Could these low wages be a reason for high malnutrition rates recorded among women and children in Gujarat? A recent Comptroller and Auditor General report states that 66% of children in Gujarat are underweight. Though the government of Gujarat disputes these figures, the state's own Women and Development Minister has in a written reply to the Gujarat State Assembly said that at least 600,000 children in 14 districts are malnourished - data for the remaining 12 districts were not available to her. A 2011 survey of more than 100,000 children across India by the Nandi Foundation found that 42% were underweight.

Christophe Jeffrelot, senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris and Professor of India Politics and Sociology at King's India Institute, London writes in an article titled "No model state", (Indian Express, September 16, 2013) that Gujarat's progress is due to handouts to industry at the cost of the state exchequer; the state gets another hammering because its progress is fueled by large-scale debt, which stood at 45,301 crore rupees in 2002, or US$9.3 billion at the then exchange rate, and is now at 1,38,978 crore rupees, or $25.5 billion at the current exchange rate, for a population of around 60 million. [3]

Uttar Pradesh has a similar debt, of $29 billion, despite a vastly larger population of 199.6 million, and West Bengal, population 91.3 million, one-and-a-half times as big as Gujarat, has debt only slightly larger at $35.3 billion.

Jeffrelot explains his concern saying "In terms of per capita indebtedness, the situation is even more worrying, given the size of the state."

According to a report by rating company ICRA , Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab were relatively more indebted in 2010-11 (21.5%, 23.2% and 31.4%), respectively, as a proportion of gross state domestic product ... as compared to the consolidated average debt/GDP ratio of the Indian States (20.3% of GDP)."

Could Modinomics be leading to a decline in the well being of the average citizen of Gujarat and of the states' financial well being?

Linomics
Linomics, propounded by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, goes in a slightly different economic direction. He has put in place policies to reduce environmental pollution and wants to decrease his country's wealth gap. He shared his economic vision with the World Economic Forum: "We need to spread the fruits of reform and development to the whole population ... increasing spending in some key areas, such as western regions, social welfare projects and smaller firms."

Confucian thought, though initially vilified in early Communist China, has found varying interpretations in today's Chinese economic policy and governmental control. The Communist Party uses the idea of respect for central authority to maintain its hegemony - although others view Confucian thought as focusing on soft power and less government. In the policy direction chosen by Li, there seems to be an effort at creating balance. Is Confucian influence on the premier's economic policy creating Linomics?

This policy seems to be a culmination of what began with Mao's Big Leap Forward followed by the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four and finally the economic reforms that began in the late 1970s.


That being said, one wonders whether this is another experiment conducted with the Chinese population as guinea pigs, which was what all the above eras were - everything from creating communes to the horror of tattling on parents by children during the Cultural Revolution to the One Child Policy (and hence a generation of Little Emperors - spoilt Chinese children), to high levels of pollution and suppression of protests. A certain brutalization was accepted, but it was not only people and cultural history that were taken for granted in this march of progress; the environment also was given short shrift.

Though it is still too early to see the impacts of Linomics, some things have not changed - crackdowns on free speech and executions. Premier Li, like his predecessors, is also focusing on people to give the economy a push. His idea is to create a bigger home-grown consumer base, with less focus on exports, credit and investment. Thus once again people are being used to further Chinese economic policies.


Manmohanomics
Back in India, one of the astounding bits of information that comes out of the 2012-13 Annual Economic Survey is that pre-liberalized India was growing at rates similar to Asian economies such as South Korea, China and Indonesia that had already "taken-off", the per-capita income hovered around $90 (at 2000 figures).

After India's take off (1991), the pace of economic growth declined and the country was able to keep up only with Indonesia. According to Indian government figures, the average GDP growth rate between 1980 and 1995 for India, China, Indonesia and Korea was 5.6%, 11.1%, 6.6% and 8.7% respectively.

The annual survey points out that for 2010-11, India's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was 36.8, lower - that is, there was less inequality - than countries like South Africa, Brazil, China and Israel, but India's Human Development Index ranking was lower than these nations - that is, the people's circumstances and possibilities were worse than in those other countries. What that means is that even though there is less income inequality in India today, Indians are either not able to access, on their own or through the government, a range of social and medical facilities that would improve their lives.

This all began with the liberalization of India's economy now stamped with the sobriquet "Manmohanomics". Today, 22 years after then finance minister and now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened up the Indian economy with his neo-liberal policies, many are left wondering why the country's economy is not roaring ahead. GDP grew at 9.3% in 2010-11, however current growth rate is approximately 4.8%.

As finance minister, Manmohan unshackled the industrial licensing regime and created the financial markets this lead to a spate of companies selling their stake to the public. This lead to the rise and fall of people such as stock broker Harshad Mehta who manipulated the stock market in 1992 creating a $770 million fraud.


Since then, the economy has had its share of scams; seen the birth and rise of the services sector along with the decline of agriculture as a share in the country's gross domestic product; and witnessed an increase in migration from the countryside to the cities. Though policies have now been tempered with efforts at social inclusion leading to better access to education, sanitation and financial services, many Indian citizens claim that what the government gives with one hand it takes with the other. Many want the process of liberalization to continue.

Each of these three people are at different junctures of their public life - Modi is the prime ministerial candidate for the right wing BJP, Manmohan is prime minister and may hold on to this position if the ruling United Progressive Alliance retains power in 2014, and Li is a relative newbie wishing to make a mark in China.

In spite of their differences, they have each been able to go beyond economic theory and create an agenda that has changed the economic environment of their constituencies. These people are recognized globally because their policies have gone against the norm.

It would not be wrong to say that the highly marketed Modi, with his economic policies, is where Manmohan was in 1991. But the real question is whether the 2002 riots were the foundation on which Modi's economic policy of Gujarat was laid - the peace and quiet since the riots is sold as an incentive to potential investors. Today Manmohan and Li are trying to juggle social well-being with liberal economic policies and find that it is like trying to fit a circle into a square.

Thus, even though each economic paradigm may seem distinct because of it having the personal stamp of an individual, they have one thing in common - the human angle; either because their policy is bereft of any consideration for the population or because now their policies consider the needs of the broader population in an attempt to rectify mistakes made in the past.

Note:
1. Using an exchange rate of USD = Rs 44.85/-, the average of exchange rates between 2006-10 calendar years.
2. At an exchange rate of US$1 = 54.4 rupees for the fiscal year to March 2013.
3. US$1 = 48.5993 for 2002 calendar year; US1$ = Rs 54.4 for FY 2012-13. 

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-01-231213.html

----------------------
Lookout for my forthcoming travelogue '1400 Bananas, 76 towns and 1 Million People'

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Jodhpur Blues


 The more than 1 billion people who now identify themselves as Indians have the British to thank for this identification. It was only after the British got the sub-continent under their thumb that its people were forced to see themselves as one.

Until then, the people had identified themselves by the various kingdoms they lived in and swore allegiance to the kings who ruled them. A king's fortunes and realm waxed and waned according to their ambition, greed, governing skill, military power and the weakness of their neighbors. Thus some kingdoms extended to what is now Afghanistan while others existed because of treaties with other powerful kingdoms.

There was a very identifiable social structure, which in most cases was designated by the situation to which one was born to. This caste system, which some today argue was a form of division of labor much before Henry Ford thought of it, was insidious because this form of discrimination did not allow anyone to cross over to another caste, and so it perpetuated generational victimization and subjugation.

The king was top dog though he came from the warrior class, which was below the brahmins or priests. This problem was circumvented by identifying the royal lineage with the sun or to other forms of divinity. The priests, though of the highest caste served the king as advisers on religious, philosophical, political and other issues,in society they were the go-between the gods and the common person and so ensured that they themselves were well cared for.

Below them were the warriors, the business class and finally serfs of various kinds. Each knew the other's social status not only by the wealth and power displayed but also by the names one had and the place of residence. This impermeable stratification was a fact of life in the times of monarchy; it ensured the acceptance of a ruling class, the unquestioned servility of others, and a stable workforce plying their family vocation.

In 1947, when India became a democratic country, the 565 princely states and their rulers who still existed because of British expediency acceded to the new Independent nation. One would have imagined that this social stratification, which fed off and was fed by the monarchy, would disappear.

It hasn't, and this social differentiation is still the norm in India though it has morphed to keep up with the times.

The reason for the blues
Jodhpur, a town in the desert state of Rajasthan in India, is known for the blue that coats its houses - that is why it is also known by the nom de plume "Blue City". The town got me and my friend down on arrival. It wasn't that I don't like this color or associate it with being down in the dumps. I, just like the others - be it Pink Floyd who used blue in Wish you were here, or Irvine Berlin in his classic Blue Skies from the play Betsy - associate this color with a warm openness accessible to all.

Our hotel was chosen for its proximity to the ancient Meharangarh fort, most recently in the news for it being a back drop to Dark Knight Rises. On reaching our hotel, we realized that it was meant for foreign backpackers.

The rooms did not reflect the ancient splendor of the maharajahs even though the asking price of a 1,000 rupees had suggested so. What spoilt it for us was when the owner, a lovely lady who was the elected representative of the hotel association there said that we were the first Indian nationals to stay in her rooms.

Her going off the beaten track in our instance could be put down to the email communications in English, which painted a rather white and foreign picture of us to her. She did not let out her rooms to people of her color - ie those of her country - nor did she serve them in her restaurant. She explained her actions as stemming from the Indians' disrespectful behavior towards her staff, a common form of class and economic chauvinism. This was further exacerbated by their complaints at the tardy food service and their unquenchable desire to get a good bargain.


We were shocked at this blatant discrimination. We also found it hilarious that she assumed our mentality would be at the genteel levels of those of the backpackers - later we proved that it wasn't by demanding a discount on the rooms.

It takes two hands to clap
What was interesting was that the owner had built her successful business on the frugality of the backpackers. Her austere rooms kept their prices down, but she squeezed the foreigners in terms of food prices. The backpackers on the other hand were taking advantage of her desire to make her hotel tangibly and intangibly attractive to them by staying for long periods in her restaurant with a soft drink marked way higher than its retail price.

So it was a win-win for the Indian owner and backpackers. The regular Indian tourist does not travel like this. She wants a little more than just a spartan room. She does not want to pay exorbitant prices for vague food in a restaurant with a few tables, where service is based on the principle of extreme unobtrusiveness harboring on near delinquency and where the servers are chatty. She is not moved by the incredible view provided by the restaurant which she cannot enjoy because she does not have the luxury of time to "soak" in the city in this manner.

In such circumstances, the landlady's circumspection vis-a-vis Indian tourists would be valid to an extent. But to not have any Indian tourist staying in her hotel in the 10 years of its existence, and shooing away potential Indian diners, was a form of business eugenics, pure practical tradecraft.

The fall-out of such discrimination was that it trickled down to the foreign guests staying there, I came to realize that, for them, the presence of any native could only mean that the native was working at the hotel. An American wanting to order food and finding me sitting in the empty restaurant soaking in the view naturally asked me whether I worked at the restaurant. He later told me that he was a professor at a university in New York.

Jodhpur - a mix of the old and new
The town of Jodhpur basks under the shadow of the solidity and benevolence of the Meharangarh fort and its present owner whose forefathers ruled the region of Marwar. From the hotel, one can sometimes see a fine layer of smog forming a light shroud over the town. The auto-rickshaws, whose shape brings to mind the camel, the narrow dirty and crowded streets of the old part of town form a minuscule part of the kaleidoscope that also includes examples of modernity like the bar/restaurant "On the Rocks" with its confused interiors and male clients at the bar.

At respectable distance from this hustle and bustle stands the Umaid Bhavan palace, a gargantuan structure built in the early 20th century by the then king to provide employment to the people of this region during a famine. It was the residence of the king before India's independence but now the descendants live in a portion of the 347 rooms and have given part of the palace to a many starred luxury hotel chain.

The festival, its audience and discrimination
We had gone to enjoy the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) held in Jodhpur. Its a three-day festival that is not only an international stage for Rajasthani folk artists but also draws international performers - Manu Chau was one of the performers this time.

Events go on through the day and well into early next morning. Things begin to get lively in the evenings.

The audience at the RIFF in the evening consisted of old and young members of Marwar's feudal system, local residents and tourists of all hues. Young princelings being groomed for their future roles in society walked around the festival - with a sense of entitlement passed down the generations - looking dandy in their simple but expensive clothes eyeing women of different shades.

Modern in their communication, these to the manor born would suddenly engage in recidivist behavior on seeing others older to them or of higher station - they would make the motion of touching the seniors' feet. Some of the young blue-bloods had man-fridays, walking respectfully a few paces behind them, holding their drinks and other goodies as they stalked the festival area. 

It was difficult to ignore the liveried turban-wearing helper carrying a tray with water and a tiny spittoon, following a few paces behind the "Maharaja" Gaj Singh II of Marwar-Jodhpur - who would have been king if the circumstances were different - as he went to check on the various facilities.

People would touch his feet or bow with arms folded as he walked. This continued when he sat too - but those who did it then seemed to be of a paler stock of blue-blood because they would then sit in the next row or a few chairs away from him in the front row. One would imagine their choice of seat was a reflection of their distance from the erstwhile royal family in the feudal structure.

The seating arrangements varied depending on the venue and the size of audience. As most of the events were in the fort, seating was on the floor. For the bigger events, held in the open grounds of the fort, chairs were laid out facing the stage. The organizers had arranged special seats for Singh. Keeping in mind his lineage and those of others, the front row of chairs in the bigger event were reserved for him and others who belonged to different levels of royal hierarchy.

Interestingly, though there were no "Reserved" signs to indicate that these seats were meant for the privileged, no one sat on these chairs. However, on one occasion, a group of Indians went up and sat in the reserved row with only an aisle separating them from Singh, who was sitting in the same row but on other side of the aisle.

On noticing the social intruders, he leant across the narrow aisle to tell them something that one could imagine was that they were in the wrong social set. They did not seem to hear or understand; then another person from the second row sitting directly behind them told them to get up and leave - and they did so with alacrity.

Singh beckoned to a turbaned helper and silently castigated him for not keeping that row empty. After some time, a group of young foreigners, clearly not of royal stock, went up and sat in the front row. The person in the second row did nothing, while the king reached across the aisle and told them something - but they remained in their seats.


Is discrimination a necessity?
To any Indian of common stock, royalty would have to do with being blue-blooded and not with the color of one's skin. Indians realize that skin is easily whitened with creams sold by one of India's Bollywood icons, Shah Rukh Khan, and other dream merchants. There is no way to buy oneself into a blue-blooded lineage. So why were these foreigners allowed to keep their seats?

There is no doubt that the royal heritage of Rajasthan is being used as its "unique selling point" to draw tourists with a range of spending capacity. The rich tourists pay through the nose to get a taste of the lavish and resplendent lifestyle (many would ascribe the word decadent to it) of the erstwhile maharajahs. The common Indian tourist gets a peep into the excesses, splendor and tradition of the people who ruled this region, something which they only study in school or hear about.

But does marketing a heritage also need that the archaic feudal system to perpetuate and impact the lives of those around it? One can argue that because of centuries of living under a monarchy this system is deeply embedded in the ethos of the region and its people, so it would take generations for its effects to wear off. A natural question would then be - where does Indian democracy stand in all this?

Though many Indians decry dynastic politics, no one seems to be against the continuing hold that dynasties of erstwhile royalty have on their former fiefdoms, nor is there concern over the continuing rigid social structure that lives off this and has tremendous influence in these regions. Even though royal titles have been abolished, brochures for RIFF had "HHM Gaj Singh II, Maharaja of Marwar" printed on the front page, introducing him as a patron of the festival along with "Sir Mick Jagger".

There is no doubt he is doing a lot to preserve the heritage of Jodhpur and even Rajasthan, and must be a good man and therefore well respected and held in high esteem. It would be fair to assume that he and other people would agree that this respect should be more to do with what he is doing for the benefit of society today and not for being born with a golden spoon in his mouth, which he had no control over. 

This respect can be shown in ways that acknowledge India's constitution and laws and not through an archaic system that marks a man according to his lineage.

It seems that for India to grow up as a democracy there is need to be mature enough to choose what was good from the past and to then carry it into the future. There is need to question the maintenance of a discriminative system, no matter how informal today, that existed to ensure the subservience of others and the continuation of the hereditary privilege that few enjoyed. More importantly, Indians as a nation have to have the courage to desist from this display of subservience that goes as a socially recognized and accepted form of respect.

While Jodhpur uses its royal past to market itself using modern methods, a part of the population continues to live in that past, standing on the shoulders of their forefathers and creating a bubble of blue-blooded elitism and entitlement.

If there has been any social progress, then it has to do with how this classification is now used by lesser mortals, creating a new form of privilege adjudicated by people such as the proprietor of our hotel that has to do with attitudes and color of one's skin. In fact, this lady's business model is no different from that of a king bestowing privilege on commoners. It would seem that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
 -----------------------
Look out for my soon to be released travelogue 1,400 Bananas, 76 Towns and 1 Million People




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Comparing Mumbai, Banguluru and Delhi


I am a habitual train traveller. One thing I have noticed in these journeys is that as the train enters a city the passing scene prepares you for its individuality that slugs you in the face. For example entering Mumbai in the mornings one sees people unconcernedly defecating on the tracks, the other sight is of the chawls and slums in which a majority of the city’s population resides. These vignettes prepare you for some basic facts about this city. The first is that the people of Mumbai have been forced to develop a cloak of indifference that allows them to function as humans; the second is that the city is filthy and the minority that is rich are the only ones who are seemingly able to escape the filth.
In the case of Delhi, trains originating from the South pass by walls of factories, large houses and even hutments as they enter into the city and chug to the railway station. Passengers get to see advertisements for quacks solving problems that range from sexual dysfunction to piles. Though one could argue that these advertisements indicate the oneness’s of the city, the fact is that it only mirrors the image of Delhi being the rape capital of the country with a cuisine that is rich and spicy that goes by the sobriquets of Punjabi and Mughlai.

The train tracks that guide trains into Banguluru do not prepare their passengers for the mess that is Banguluru today. One gets to see open green fields and a glassy glint in the distance that could just be the end of the rainbow – but nothing else.

From the air the story is very different. An aeroplane gives a macro view of things unlike a train the tunnels you into the very heart of the city. The first thing that comes to view as one enters in Mumbai airspace to land are the variety of colours – the blue/green/brown sea the colour depending on the distance from the shore, the brown air that hovers above the city and the swathe of blue coloured plastic sheets that protect the tiny shanties from the rains, interspersed among the shanties the tall multi stories, these as if signalling the soaring unbridled ambition of the city’s denizens. In Delhi too one flies through a brown haze – called smog-in the winters. At night one can see the capital’s secular arteries and veins lit on which zoom and trundle a variety of vehicles – everything from Lamborghini’s to bicycles. One descends into shades of green fields of Bangaluru.

The thing is, though I now have to live in Delhi, given a choice I would not like to live in any of the three cities. There are some common reasons – for example the traffic in these three cities would drive a Zen monk crazy. It is not only the energy and time wasted in being part of traffic jams that drives one up the wall, it is seeing the selfish desperate audacity of others breaking rules to get ahead of the jam and in the process causing greater confusion that is  frustrating. It is also the callous consumption of the residents in these cities that has resulted in a problem that now seems insurmountable – increasing air pollution, waste and increasing density of vehicles.

Mumbai a place to learn the meaning of turning a blind eye
One thing that gets my goats is the annual ritual that Mumbai has just before the monsoons. The media like the municipality gets into tizzy about the metropolis’s preparation for the rainfest. Everyone from the politician to the bureaucrat promise deliverance from the problems caused by the rains and the media faithfully transmit it to the Mumbaikars.
 
But every year the story is the same – floods, overflowing drains, cancelled trains and photos of long lines of commuters walking on railway tracks through sheets of rain. For a city that is the home of the dream industry – the parrot like annual repetition of this scene is very depressing.

One cannot fathom the resilience and the power of hope that gives the aam Mumbaikars the fortitude to travel for hours in crowded compartments to get to work and return home for a few hours. Nor can one imagine how the population can live with a stench that is a mix of rotting garbage, fish, the sea and human detritus. It would seem that Mumbai gives us the true meaning of the term ‘turning a blind eye’ – the rich live as if there are no poor and suffering, the politicians choose to forget the promises they make, the poor in their efforts to survive are oblivious of the sacrifices they are being made to endure, and the aam admi just trundle along not seeing anything beyond their noses.

Though one could argue that the city has a rich repository of culture and that the city is alive, a question – at what cost? A city where the majority of population live in slums, where one cannot escape the rich-poor divide which does not seem to shrink, where those governing the city have not yet been able to find a solution to the monsoon problems is no place for anyone.
Delhi the capital of testosterone
Delhi has always wanted to become the Mumbai of the North. In the last few years it has finally succeeded. The roads get flooded in the monsoon resulting in jams and delayed metro services. But Delhi has another thing which I have issues with it – the testosterone that everybody seems to be carrying around. It is not only seen in the rapes that happen in the city, it is also the road rage that one is forced to deal with. 
On the subject of roads this is one of the few cities where I have noticed that official cars with government officers in them don’t stop behind the zebra crossing at a signal, where policemen on motorcycles drive on the wrong side of the road with sirens on full blast but in no hurry to catch any wrong doer.

To tell you the truth I have stopped both policemen and other people breaking traffic rules. The policemen have been kind enough to hear me out and then proceed with what they were doing; the chauffeurs of babu’s and the rich have told me to move on, even as their mistresses, or masters for that matter, perused their files or phones; the common person on the other hand has threatened to beat me up.

Bangaluru cosmopolitanism at a price
I would be the first to say that Bangaluru has a very cosmopolitan section of society easily visible by their sense of style. I won’t be wrong in saying that Bangaluru has some of the most stylish and beautiful women in the country. It also has a vibrant night-life that ends at around mid-night; but till that time one can savour a variety of cuisines, try out artesian beer and dance to various genres of music. The best downer that the city provides for its revellers after a night carousing about town is dealing with rickshaws that charge an arm and a leg or just refuse to accept you as a charge. There have also been instances of conscientious citizenry (who are not the police) trying to preserve their idea of India and its culture, thrashing people in these places.

Conscientious citizenry is the other thing that is common to these cities. Where Delhi has full throated young blood trying to soothe or boost their fragile egos by bludgeoning their male counter-parts or by molesting girls, Mumbai and Banguluru have hordes dedicated to protecting a myopic, conservative and mythical concept of Indian society. These types of citizenry in Mumbai and Banguluru are more organised, they have leaders who espouse narrow political and moral beliefs. The followers of these leaders are happy to share these views with others, communicating them through violence or threats thereof.

Cities and their food
Each of these cities have their institutions for food; Mumbai everything from Baghdadi or Bade Miyan and Zunkha Bhakri to the restaurants in the rarefied environs of multi-starred hotels. Delhi with its history laced cuisine and the restaurants that swear they carry on those traditions to those offering international cuisines in rustic surroundings of villages within the city and in air-conditioned edifices of malls and five stars. I am going out on a limb when I say that though Bangaluru has its MTR and Vidyarthi Bhavan it does not have a cuisine identified it, that is why Bangaluru has gone in a different direction with independently run restaurants offering a range of cuisines and a population willing to risk their taste buds and open their wallets for the experience.

But these cities have their traditional foods that would satisfy any gourmand – the vada pavs and vegetable sandwiches of Mumbai, the chole khulche of Delhi and the food in the many small stand-up eateries called Darshini’s of Bangaluru, these that cater to the common man are what keep the cities going. And this is what makes these cities special to me. Based in Delhi I realise the value of the chole khulche stall not only for me but also for the everyday people. My trips to Mumbai are made easier with the ubiquitous vada pavs and sandwiches, or crunching through the multi-stories of a vegetable sandwich makes Mumbai more habitable. There is always a plan for at least one breakfast and lunch at a Darshini closest to where I put up in Banguluru; the world seems manageable as one tears off a piece of oily crispy dosa standing inside these small eateries that open onto the chaos of an overflowing road.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Reasons why some Indians love Narendra Modi


 The first time the world heard of Narendra Modi was following a 2002 religious pogrom in Gujarat - he was then, as now, the chief minister of the state. It is alleged that he fanned the flames of hatred by permitting the bodies of brutally slain members of a fundamentalist Hindu group to be paraded, and that he told the police to "let the Hindus vent their anger" on Muslims.

Modi had of course taken an oath to uphold the Indian constitution, which includes the principles of protecting life and property.

The next time Indians heard of Modi was in 2010 when he was called in front of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) looking into the riots. He hummed and hawed for some time before presenting himself to the SIT. His mien was that of someone going on a Sunday picnic, the only people who looked a bit uncomfortable were his highly trained security.

Then there were the annual investors summits which drew in investors promising millions of dollars in investments to the state of Gujarat. The scene at such summits was reminiscent of those in Mumbai dance bars where men throw money on their favorite dance girl. Newspapers would announce the many deals swung in by the Gujarat government while Modi would look on benevolently like an omnipresent god.

In the last few years, Modi gained prominence for the much touted economic performance of Gujarat, and for unhinged attacks on Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the ruling Congress party.

As the man has grown from strength to strength his fan following has followed the same trajectory. Everyone from the top echelons of business to youth are in a state of awe, all hypnotized by his oratory skills which promise a better tomorrow - but make no mention of how. There is no doubt that as an orator he is in a class of his own.
   Tall tales and untruths
But that aside, there is a new aspect to Modi - his ability to tell tall tales. The Pinocchio side to Modi is slowly revealing itself both in the case of his economic policies and also the yarns that he has been spinning. The web of deceit spans the current to the past ie from Gujarat's socio-economic health to India's history.

For a state given as a glowing example of good governance, economic growth and openness to industry a recent Comptroller and Auditor General report stating that one out of every three children in Gujarat is underweight leaves one wondering what lies beneath good governance and economic growth. Even Gujarat's Women and Development Minister has stated that at least 600,000 children in 14 districts are malnourished, while data for the remaining districts were "not available".

Christophe Jaffrelot, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King's India Institute, London, recently wrote in an article titled "No Model State" that Gujarat's progress is because of the freebies handed to industry at the cost of the state exchequer. It adds the state's progress is fueled by huge debt which has grown from 45 billion rupees (US$8.39 billion) in 2002 to 1.3 trillion rupees today.

Then there is the case of the recent Modi fib that India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not attend the funeral of India's first home minister, Sardar Patel funeral. This was made at a public speech - and there was nary an apology when he was caught out nor was there any public outrage that a prime ministerial candidate could lie so barefacedly.

The man of the hour moved on nonchalantly to his next move. Modi's penchant to emulate Pinocchio does not seem to have affected his credibility because there have been no consequences - the affliction of a longer nose for every lie.

Maybe people know Modi lives in La La land but they don't seem to mind. The fact that he comes up with tales involving living people too which are actually figments of his imagination seems to indicate this - he recently said that he, the chief minister of Bihar - Nitish Kumar and the prime minister were at a meal together where Nitish refused to eat. Nitish clarified that such an event never occurred.

The business of Modi love
This does not seem to bother even the CEOs. One does not quite understand the love the business world has for Modi given the fact that if there was a scandal of the malevolent and Machiavellian proportions of the 2002 riots it is the CEO who would have to step down - because the buck stops at his desk.

There may be an iota of truth when one says that these scions of business wish that this "Modification" in politics trickles into the business world so that they are absolved of the irregularities and scams which form part of their business repertoire. However, it would be highly presumptuous to think that this is potent enough to sully their clear thinking. There must be something deeper that makes them align themselves to Modi.

Maybe they believe that with him in power there will be ease of doing business. However, this ease of business makes other people in his state uneasy. Though compensation for acquisition of agricultural land for industry is high in the state, farmers not willing to sell of their land are forced to sell at a lower price for not accepting the 'Consent Award' which is first offered. This form of land acquisition by the Gujarat government has got certain sections of farmers up in arms - most recently in the case of Maruti.

The CEOs could be besotted with another fact in Gujarat: the average pay is lower than the rest of India. According to the National Sample Survey Organization average daily wages for men and women in Gujarat are 276.48 rupees and 213.10 rupees respectively. The national average is 332.37 rupees for men and 253.02 rupees for women.

This is why business loves Modi - no demands for better compensation and higher wages. There is not a peep for higher wages - one wonders why? Is this what one means by creating a sound business environment which our business leaders hanker for?

One is not even going into the current spate of bloopers that are emanating from Modi - he recently got the name of Mahatma Gandhi wrong; earlier he got the names of past right-wing ideologues mixed up with those of respected and well known thinkers of a more liberal bent. This goes to show that Modi does not do his home work which seems to be a habit and could have major ramifications if he comes to power.

The common Indian's love for the man
Therein lies the issue - we humans are willing to sidestep issues of social morality to safeguard our future and herald a new personal dawn. Business is one side, there is then the individuals who seem to have made up their minds.

Modi symbolizes the freedom from and irrelevance of morality and personal accountability. This is the philosophy that draws the crowds - you may be a bigot and culpable of various crimes but if you are able to keep a section of people happy then nothing else matters.

This is an attractive proposition because it allows people to be two-faced or be a modern version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They may be vicious rapists or murders or unscrupulous financiers, but if they seemingly maintain a socially accepted facade or observe the law on other small matters, then everything else becomes a non-issue.

Such a social concept is very Bollywoodian in nature - the hero may harass the heroine and even browbeat her but he still remains the hero and she still falls in love with him.

So taken in are the common people by Modi's oratorical skills and bikinied statistics that they transform into frogs of a tiny pond who know nothing of the wider world. Their belief in him does not stem from "there is still good in the man". This fact is easily recognizable because these people don't hold him guilty or even culpable for the Gujarat riots.

They are not concerned about basic socio-economic fundamentals of Gujarat that point to Modi's lies. To them these and the Gujarat pogrom are a non-issue, what is important is what he represents - standing up to authority and thumbing a nose at it; not being accountable even when facts demand otherwise and being able to strip those in positions of authority of all dignity with aplomb.

Worse still, the supporters of this man come up with the specious and wholly indefensible argument that members of other political parties have taken part in riots too; inadvertently giving the game away and pointing to his culpability.

Modi is a personification of what most Indians aspire to - being able to climb out of fetid waters smelling of roses; and having the gumption to mock those in power knowing that they can't reply in kind because of the position they hold.

This is the kind of freedom Indians seem to yearn for after being in servitude of monarchies and colonial powers. Modi represents a kind of freedom that is not guaranteed in the Indian constitution but what some Indians fantasize about - power without responsibility and accountability.

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/SOU-02-271113.html