Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Will Constitution Day become something to celebrate or to rue?

Today is Constitution Day, so I post here the article which will be published in my Guptara Garmagaram column in the next issue of The International Indian magazine (Dubai):

The Government of India has recently announced that November 26 would from now on be marked as “Constitution Day”. The question is of course: how come this government, which has done less than any other government in our history to uphold the Constitution, has seen fit to make this move?

Is the move entirely cynical – to provide opportunities to raise questions about the Constitution, and thus subvert it?

Or does it show Modiji, perhaps as a result of the defeat in Bihar, finally moving in the direction of the Constitution?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, it is worth considering that the Indian Constitution is a counter-cultural document – it was created by our Western-educated elites who were seeking to meld together into one nation what had been diverse and even opposed groups of people.

Not only were there hundreds of independent kingdoms to persuade, bribe, cajole and even blundgeon into joining the new nation of India, there was the enormous challenge of reforming our culture.

Throughout history, Indians had owed primary loyalty to their own family, kinship-group, or caste. How to move them into identifying primarily with the alien notion of a nation?

In our third generation of being an independent nation, it is clear that the project of creating a nation has made huge progress.

Bollywood has played its role, and educational and administrative institutions have played their role. More important, ordinary citizens have played their role, in treating fairly (e.g. in relation to jobs and even marriages) those belonging to other people groups.

But, as all of us know, not all Bollywood films have supported Constitutional norms. Not all educational and administrative institutions have been scrupulous about maintaining fairness and equality. Not everyone has upheld liberty, equality and fraternity.

Some individuals and groups have surreptitiously or openly subverted our Constitutional values. Indeed, some have fought with violence and openly false propaganda against the consequences of the Constitution’s drive to weaken and abolish the prevalence of caste and gender disadvantage, and the restriction of behaviour, thought and other liberties which were so firmly established in our traditions.

In view of all that, it is also worth remembering that the Indian elite which was most involved in the debates in our Constitutional Assembly had considerable differences of opinion. That is clearly evidenced by the records of these debates from December 1946 to January 1950 – fortunately the records can all be easily consulted at

But, if you don’t want to wrestle with all those debates, just consider that the “father of the Constituion”, Dr B. R. Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951, when parliament stalled his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to enshrine gender equality in our laws of inheritance and marriage.

He was merely taking forward the principles and values of the Constitution, but was opposed by the same sorts of conservative forces as had violently opposed, a century earlier, the introduction of English as a language of instruction.

No wonder the Constitution has been described as 'first and foremost a social document. ... The majority of India's constitutional provisions either directly … further the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement” (Granville Austin, historian and authority on the Indian Constitution).

How was this so? Because Ambedkar’s text provided, in the Constitution, guarantees and protections for citizens’ liberties, including the abolition of untouchability, freedom of religion, and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination. The system of reservations for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and Other Backward Classes was directly embedded in the Constitution by Ambedkar as a way of eradicating or at lessening the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India's oppressed peoples.

The strife, tension and chaos we see in Indian politics today is the result of a clash between three things: first, the civilising momentum of the Constitution; second, the reaction of traditionally privileged groups upset at losing their privileges, and so fighting with tooth and claw to try to maintain their privileges for as long as possible; and, third, the assertiveness of those who had been conquered, subdued and suppressed, and who find in the Constitution a promise that is rarely fully delivered but which they now have the liberty and the means to try to insist is in fact delivered.

The government’s move to create a Constitution Day will play a momentous part in either ensuring that the Constitution does deliver liberty, equality, fraternity and well being to all Indians, or in finally killing off our historically unprecedented experiment of creating a nation.

So far, our Constitution has served us well.

Even though there have no doubt been abuses here and there, we would do well to support it, not merely somehow marginally acknowledging it’s existence, but also supporting it fully by our words and our deeds.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Impementation: work versus magic

An article in a particular publication says that our Prime Minister is talking a lot all over the world but not doing enough about implementation at home.

Here is my response:

Arre Bhai, why are you talking about unimportant things like implementation?

Don’t you realize the power of sound?

We only had to change the name of Bombay to Mumbai, and it instantly became a world-class city.

Didn’t you notice the huge improvement in quality of life when we changed Madras to Chennai? Bangalore to Bengaluru? Calcutta to Kolkata?

No? You did not?

Then it is hardly surprising that you lack belief in Modimagic.

Stand in the dunce’s corner and repeat to yourself 5000 times “I will believe in Magic-ji, I will believe in Mantras-ji, I will believe in Modi-ji.”

Sunday, 8 November 2015

On Prime Minister Modi's embarrassment in Bihar and the future of tolerance in India

Here is the latest of my Dadu columns, which is to be published in the next issue of FORWARD Press Magazine (New Delhi):

Dear Dadu

After the rising tide of intolerance following the election of Modiji, does the triumph of the Grand Alliance in Bihar represent a victory for tolerance?

Is our tradition in fact tolerant or intolerant?



Dear Shanti

We have indeed seen an incredible rise in intolerance in India following Modiji’s elevation to the Prime Ministership. However, why it was that he and the BJP lost so spectacularly in Bihar is not entirely clear. It may have been partly a vote for tolerance, but it was also certainly at least to a certain extent the lack of a credible local Bihari leader of the BJP, and it was no doubt also partly coalition arithmetic.

The upshot is that the BJP needs reject its dependence on RSS, so that it has some hope of becoming a mature party which represents the entire nation rather than a party focused only on the interests of a particular set of people. Though the RSS and BJP claim to be “majoritarian”, in fact they do not represent the interests even of all Hindus. RSS/BJP represent the interests only of those upper castes who think that India should become Hindutvan.

Hindutva is merely the latest (from the early 20th century AD) expression of an intolerant strand of Indian tradition which goes back at least to the 6th century BC – you may recollect that Mahavira and the Buddha were both anti-casteist, and were both violently opposed for that reason. The Buddha’s death may have been due to poisoning, and certainly the way his cremation site was treated showed extreme intolerance of his views for centuries. In India, intolerance has historically had little to do with religion. It has mostly been about caste. But of course caste and religion are inextricably connected. Over the last century, we have tried to disentangle the two – with only very little success.

By contrast to our intolerant side, we have also had an extremely tolerant side to our traditions, not only because of the continuing influence of Mahavira, the Buddha, and other thinkers and leaders within India but, since the sixteenth century because of the influence of the colonial powers. In the case of most of the colonialists, the tolerance was for the same reason as most Indian tolerance today: we are prepared to tolerate anything, provided we can retain our privileges, and continue to make money!

However, in the case of some of the colonialists (and some of us Indians today), we are committed to tolerance for its own sake. Modern Indians may not know that the tradition of tolerance among the colonialists arose from the Bible, where God reveals Himself as tolerating our rebellion and even sin – but He tolerates these for the purpose of our realising our stupidity and returning to a relationship with Him. That is what gave rise to the tradition of tolerance in the West – though that is now being infected by “tolerance for the sake of keeping my privileges and making as much money as I can”. In the Bible, too, God asks us to be tolerant of many things as well as intolerant of many things.

So there are further questions raised by your question: Why should we be tolerant? Tolerant of what? Are there things of which we should be intolerant? When should we be tolerant and when intolerant?

In this letter, I will take only the first of these questions: Why should we be tolerant?

There are of course many reasons, but here are some key ones.

First, because we do not know everything. Indeed, we know so little that even our wisdom might prove to be mere foolishness or even darkness (as Jesus the Lord pointed out in the biography written by Luke, chapter 11, verse 35).

Second, because others may know more than us, or at least they may know some key things that we don’t know. It takes only a little bit of ignorance about the facts to reach completely the wrong conclusions.

Third, because intolerance shuts people down – they don’t start thinking like you do, they simply continue thinking the way they were thinking, but now they don’t speak up. Resentment and demotivation don’t make for outstanding performance. So intolerance leads directly to an underperforming society and economy.

Let me put my answer to that question in the following way: intolerance is the use of power to impose my own view on someone else. It arises therefore from stupidity as well as from the misuse of power.

The right use of power is to encourage people to flourish. No two flowers are alike. No two humans are alike. Diversity is a divine gift.

Finally, let me conclude this letter with the following questions to you: How much intolerance do you see in our society around you? In our families? In our educational institutions? In fact, how much intolerance do you see in yourself?

In myself, I see a perennial temptation to misusing power and to imposing my own views. God wants me, rather, to be humble, to be a learner, to offer whatever wisdom I might have in the spirit of sharing food, as one beggar might share it with another.



Monday, 9 March 2015

The Death of Modinomics

N.B.: This is my latest "Guptara Garmagaram" column, which is due to be published in next issue of THE INTERNATIONAL INDIAN magazine (Dubai).

With the election of Prime Minister Modi, it was clear that most Indians thought that his “Modinomics” would transform India.

But what is (or was) Modinomics? Basically, having an apparently incorrupt political leader who could make the bureaucracy efficient, encourage development of infrastructure to support industry, and work successfully with investors (foreign and domestic) to implement business projects within deadlines.

So is Modinomics in fact dead? If you look at this government’s achievements, you might be tempted to think that it is alive. Consider that ordinary Indians’ welfare payments are now going to be paid directly into their own bank accounts in order to reduce corruption, Foreign Direct Investment is currently running at Rs 1000 crores a day (inflows have crossed $11 billion), the Spectrum auctions have bids worth Rs 86,000 crores (around $13 billion), there has been 10% greater devolution of financial resources to India’s States, and so on. On the other hand, the government’s main economic roadmap for the next year, the 2015 Budget, is best described as “half-hearted”: the promised “big bang” has failed to materialise.

This simply continues what has now become the hallmark of this government: its promises continue to be broken, just as its lies continue to be exposed. The government has now confessed it cannot fulfil its promise to cut the nation’s fiscal deficit to 3% of GDP by 2016-17, just as it has admitted as a deliberate lie its promise to bring back all black money it claimed was deposited abroad and so to pay Rs 15 lakhs into the bank account of every single Indian within 100 days of election.

The new way of calculating economic growth which has been inaugurated has left even the nation’s chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian "puzzled ", while RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan did not "want to say anything about the numbers until we understand them better". That was over a month ago and, as the Governor has not said anything till now, it can only be surmised that he does not understand them any better after a whole month of study.

Now, even Modiji’s corporate sponsors have begun to doubt him: on the day I write this, a survey published by ASSOCHAM, the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India, which claims to be India’s oldest, leading, and largest Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said a large majority of CEOs and CFOs find the revised GDP data of over 7 per cent growth "too good to be realistic".

What killed Modinomics?

Was it the Kejriwal backlash? No Modinomics had already become merely empty noise by then – and that was at least one important reason for the backlash. Moreover, Modi’s own personal commitment, as well as his involving all the big BJP guns in the election campaign in Delhi, backfired because people got the impression that BJP was more interesting in gaining power at any price than in delivering actual performance – the big guns should have been blazing away at real national problems, not attacking Kejriwal. By contrast, people remembered that AAP had actually delivered on its promises during the almost unbelievably short 49 days that it was allowed to have power in Delhi.

Was Modinomics killed by the RSS’s idiotic campaigns such as Ghar Wapsi, and attacks on mosques and churches? Did that reveal the hard face of the RSS after hopes that the national mandate would cause them to become more responsible? Were Hindus finally coming out with our vaunted religious neutrality? All these may well have played their part.

Or was the reality that Modinomics is a mere mirage in which people were foolish to have put their trust in the first place?

Under Modi, consider Gujarat’s actual record :

- in the 1990s, its economy grew 4.8%, compared to the national average of 3.7%; in the 2000s it grew 6.9% compared to the national average of 5.6%. That meant that the “Modi effect” increased the difference between Gujarat's growth rate and the national average increased by only 0.2 percentage points (from 1.1 percentage points to 1.3 percentage points). Sure, good, but hardly worth a song and dance. Especially when one compares Gujarat to Maharashtra, which improved its growth rate from 4.5% in the 1990s to 6.7% in the 2000s, so the difference between its growth rate and the national average increased by 0.3 percentage points (from 0.8 percentage points to 1.1 percentage points). Or compare Gujarat with Bihar: the difference between the latter's growth rate and the national average increased by a whopping FOUR complete percentage points (from 2.7 percentage points BELOW the national average in the 1990s, to 1.3 percentage points ABOVE the national average in the 2000s).

- Meanwhile, Gujarat's performance on the Human Development Index actually declined: it had been above the national average in the 1980s & 90s, but decelerated in the 2000s and came down to the national average.

- The level of inequality in Gujarat was less than the national average in the 1980s and 90s, but actually rose above the national average in the 2000s

- The largest poverty reduction of the past decade was achieved by Tamilnadu, not Gujarat.

So, if the last national election had been based on facts rather than hype, the winner should have been the Chief Minister of Bihar or the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.

I conclude that the sad fact is that our people believe what they want to believe.

As sentiment moves against the Modi government, the danger is that its real contributions to India’s development will be ignored, just as the real contributions of the last government were ignored. That is the problem with our being a nation committed to myth and sentiment rather than truth and facts.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Can the Tiger Ride the Elephant? (or, The Future of India under Modi)

It can only be good for our country that there is someone with a clear mandate - rather than a hung Parliament, as was widely feared. Modi is a seasoned administrator and a wily politician, with a clear vision of what he wants to do. Even if he hasn't spelt his policies out, his inclinations are fairly clear from his actions in Gujarat and, though his hands will be tied due to the terrible state of India's national finances, his credit is huge at the moment, and he will no doubt make full use of that.

However, an overwhelming mandate, such as Modi has, brings with it not only striking advantages but also rather strong disadvantages.

The advantage is that he can do basically whatever he wants. Of the 245 seats in the Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament), the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has only 62 seats. However, of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament), as a result of the recent elections, BJP alone has a staggering 336 seats. That gives BJP a total strength of 398 out of 788 – giving it a clear majority in any joint session of the LS and RS. Such a joint session can override states’ rights, so it will be interesting to see in what areas and to what purposes Modi uses this power.

The disadvantage is that, if he does not succeed in any objective that is set for him or that he sets for himself, he will find it difficult to point to a scapegoat and will have to shoulder the entire blame himself.

My guess is that after the honeymoon period is over (six weeks after he is sworn in or earlier, because that is the deadline for him to present his first budget), India will clearly make some or considerable progress economically and militarily. By “some” I mean that we can hardly do worse under BJP than under the UPA in the last phase of its rule, and people won’t remember the earlier good that UPA did. By “considerable”, I mean something matching the massive expectations that our people now have. I hear giddy forecasts of 12% and even 15% growth. The reality is that Modi inherits responsibility for an economy that is facing stagflation, a rather poor fiscal situation with a massive deficit, and a current account deficit that has been artificially subdued but will promptly raise its head at the least provocation – so the most realistic expectation could be something around 7% instead of the current 4% (which would be a huge improvement, of course).

The sort of numerical strength in Parliament, to which I drew attention above, also brings Constitutional changes much more easily within Modi’s reach.

So, with all this power at his disposal, what will Modi actually do?

1. Will he continue the regime of subsidies, quotas and guarantees or will he move to radical economic reform? Attracting the kind of foreign money he has drawn to Gujarat may not be particularly difficult, as he should be able to reduce or eliminate policy uncertainty, streamline administration, tackle our infrastructure challenges, boost power supply, rationalise power tariffs, and encourage and create a flexible single market throughout the country. But how will he deal with rising inflation, shrinking manufacturing and India's banking sector stress? Given that we have created less than 8 million jobs per year over the last seven years, what programs will he initiate to generate the 15 million new jobs every year that we need in order for our demographics to become a blessing rather than a curse?

2. How will he address India’s glaring income inequality, and ensure progress specifically for dalits/ OBCs/ poor people?

3. Will he attack corruption in order to systematically eliminate it - or will he merely centralise it as he did in Gujarat?

4. Will he now encourage, or will he strangle as he has done in Gujarat, genuine freedom and debate in the Indian press, and among Indians as a whole?

5. Will he actually set to work on the RSS agenda of integrating Kashmir, eliminating personal rights of Muslims, promoting Hindutvisation and attacking dissenting Hindus – and, if so, what will be the reaction, and how will that be handled by him? Or will he abandon the divisive agenda on which he has ridden to power for an inclusive model as the Constitution requires?

6. What will be the international response to a much more assertive India? Our historic challenges and interests relate to China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Will these countries now draw even closer to China, or will a strong India encourage them to reach for some equidistance between China and India? What about South East Asian nations who do want a counter to China? What about Middle Eastern and African nations? Europe and the USA?

Lots of questions. And it is not just India that watches with bated breath for answers, but the whole world.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

So who will run India after the National Election results are announced next month?

People keep asking me ...!

As if I know...!

The fact is that, at present, it is impossible to anticipate the upshot: all the prognostications in Indian and foreign media are either wishes or imaginations – we must remember that Indian elections have usually upset all commentators, observers, forecasters, and psephologists.

However, as I am as foolish as any other person, I will venture my opinion too!

Here are the 5 possible outcomes, with my probabilities quantified:

(a) Modi becomes PM with an outright majority: 1%

(b) Modi becomes PM though as a result of an alliance with other parties: 5%

(c) A BJP-led alliance with someone other than Modi as PM 45%

(d) A non-BJP coalition comes to power 48%

(e) A party other than BJP wins an outright majority 1%

Any assignment of probabilities is completely artificial of course.

But this gives you a feeling for my reading of the national mood.

And you see that the biggest probability is that India will be run by a non-BJP coalition of parties.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Indian National Elections and the Lens of Relationships

Our world has too much of damaged trust, and broken relationships.

What has that to do with elections, such as those starting on Monday, 7 April, in India as a whole?

Well, let's work that out, starting with a consideration of relationships and how broken they are in our world.

I am thinking not only of divorces, and children’s suicides because of lack of understanding with parents, but also of recent Indian newspaper headlines such as:

- "Coal India Limited executives go on a 3-day strike" (

That, surely, is about damaged relationships between a company and its executives.

Or consider this story:

- "Indian businessman in jail (

Does that not reflect broken trust between the businessman and India’s Supreme Court, as well as the businessman and society at large?

Further, I am thinking, within our country, of damaged trust between our politicians and our people.

The current elections are like a beauty parade in which there is no one who is actually beautiful, so you are forced to look for who you consider the least ugly.

What has caused me to have such mournful meditations? Well, I have recently been asked to chair the Relational Thinking Network or RTN (

Relational Thinking is a lens for analysis, a framework for understanding, and an agenda for action (

As a lens, Relational Thinking (RT) enables us to bypass materialism and individualism. Instead of prioritising income or profit as the goal for personal, corporate or government decisions, RT prioritises relational wellbeing– since ultimately it is our relationships that matter most in life.

Learning to think relationally calls for a Copernican revolution: instead of placing material wealth, or individual rights and freedom, at the centre of our values, with all other things including relationships revolving around them, we place relationships at the centre, to reflect better what we ultimately value.

Consider a simple decision such as buying a microwave oven: you can look at the decision financially (can I afford it?), or spatially (is there room in the kitchen?), or environmentally (how does this affect my carbon footprint?).

Instead, we should look at the decision relationally: would having a microwave enhance or lower relational well-being in our household? What is it that we need to do in order to ensure that the reduced time spent on preparing food permits more time for talking together over the meal, rather than leading to family members eating at different times and not talking together at all?

As a framework for understanding, Relational Thinking challenges the ruling consensus which pursues economic growth whatever the social cost, and leaves the resulting poverty and broken families for ineffective tax and redistribution policies. Instead, putting relationships first asks for the protection of families and communities while pursuing growth, and thus avoiding the need for subsequent redistribution and social intervention.

For example, a relational system of criminal justice would replace the current emphasis on retribution or mere rehabilitation of offenders with the primacy of reconciling relationships between offenders and the victims of their crimes, because that is what will permit offenders to be restored as responsible members of their community.

And Relational Schools would not focus on enhancing the ability of each child to maximize individual achievement. Rather, relational schools would focus on nurturing the ability to relate well to others, to take responsibility, to contribute to the well-being of family and community (both local and global), and to what it takes to build a lifelong relationship as the foundation for a new family.

Relational Businesses would reject the idea of maximizing “shareholder value” whatever the cost to the other stakeholders. Rather, a relational company would seek to maximize relational well-being among all stakeholders. Short-term profits often come at the cost of long-term sustainability.

Relational Thinking also provides a framework for analysis of personal as well as organisational relationships. The principles for analyzing relationships were originally outlined in Michael Schluter And David Lee’s book, The R Factor and subsequently developed into the Relational Proximity Model™ by the Relationships Foundation:

• DIRECTNESS considers whether and how the degree of presence in a relationship is mediated by technology (email, phone, texting etc.), time, and other people.

• CONTINUITY: the currency of relationships is time! What matters is how much time is spent on a relationship, as well as its overall length and stability.

• MULTIPLEXITY examines the breadth of knowledge in relationships: work, family, hobbies, community involvement, past experiences.

• PARITY deals with power in relationships; is the relationship is not that of equals, does the use of power foster participation and respect?

• COMMONALITY considers the extent to which goals and/or identity are shared; where they diverge, especially through hidden agendas, tension is created in relationships.

This is all very good. But, in most of the developing world, including India, do we not usually have excellent relationships with our family and friends?

Our challenge in India is rather that we have damaged or broken relationships with society as a whole (e.g. people of other castes, religions, languages....). We also have broken relationships with the natural environment. It could be argued that these are a direct consequence of our broken relationship with God (or Truth or our conscience – call this what you will)... but that takes us into a very wide field.

So let us restrict ourselves to this: at a time when our national elections loom, do we also have a broken relationship with our country?

Most of us seem to be obsessed with: “How can I do well?".

Some of us evidently even think: "How can I exploit my country for my own benefit?"

How many of us really care if such attitudes lead to the weakening and perhaps even the destruction of our country?

By contrast, Relational Thinking encourages us to ask “What can I do for my country?”

That is because, at the heart of Relational Thinking is the feeling of generosity, the knowledge that there is enough for everyone’s need but not enough for even one person’s greed.

Elections are merely a mechanism for choosing some individuals as our representatives. But these representatives cannot serve the people if they have no sympathy or generosity.

So, in the elections, should we really vote on the basis of ideology or caste or family or muscle power or wealth or intelligence or corporate experience or so-called "track record"?

Should we not vote rather on the basis of heart qualities?