Saturday, 31 December 2011

Anna Hazare's "anti-women" remark

Regular readers of my work will be aware that I regard the Hazare crusade as being at best well intentioned and at worst fundamentally misconceived (see my remarks on my Blog titled "Eliminating black money").

So there might be some surprise at my coming to Hazare's defense in relation to his supposedly "anti-women" remark.

But what did he actually say? Apparently: “banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what does an infertile woman know about labor pains).”

Clearly, this would have been "insensitive and coarse" (as is being alleged by women's rights activists, if he had said this about a particular woman.

But he was making a general statement, in our national language, and this was probably the easiest way of making his point, which was about the difficulties he is facing in his fight for a strong anti-corruption bill.

What are such womens' rights activists trying to argue? That words like "banjh" should be banned? If so, will that remedy the actual physical condition of such women? Or take away the stigma that quite wrongly attaches to them in our culture?

Or are they arguing that we need to invent a similar word for impotent men and create a social stigma for them as well?

Alternatively, are the activists arguing that Hazare should invent a new word for the condition which will somehow have less of a stigma? Or that the comparison is inappropriate?

The whole attitude and argument of these so-called activists is ludicrous.

More or less as ludicrous as the activities of "defendants" of Hindu traditions who are ready to see insults in paintings and films and the actions of governments. I can do without such defendants thank you, and I suggest that women can do without such poorly educated activists (the word was used by no less a novelist than Premchand, and is in common use in our media).

Let us by all means defend those of our traditions that are worth defending, and I don't think I am second to anyone in defending women's rights, but we need a bit more of objectivity and balance and indeed effectiveness in our way of viewing and doing things in relation to such matters.

The best defence of women's rights is not by launching protests against everyone who uses a word like "banjh" but by working and paying for the education of women and girls, and then struggling for equal pay in return for equal work.

Of course we need to keep in mind that if too many women work outside the home, that leads to weak homes and therefore to weak cultures and weak nations - though what the right proportion is and how one can keep to that proportion while allowing for freedom of choice (as we must) I must admit I haven't worked out yet).

Neither the remark nor the confession in the para above is going to make me popular with womens' rights activists, I'm afraid, but facts are facts, and no one gains anything in the long run by running from facts.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Poem for 2012: “ABOUT TURN! … ATTENTION! … DISMISS!"


A full-throated command to a drilled mass
I remember it dimly from parade grounds seen in childhood
the assembled drumbeat of feet disintegrating into hubbub, obscurity and dust.

But there is also a subtlety, addressed to individuals who turn their backs
to go boldly where the facts lead them astray
from the main stream of conformity, and its gathered strength.

So it was that two men, smiling, frowning, angry, polite
said to me, their minds and lips nimble
far from skirmishing with anything that might sound even vaguely like
that word strong, separating me from a field where I with them had toiled and struggled.

FAIR? No, sir!
HURTS? Yes, sir!

(Really, sir!)

Reluctancy turns me round and about
spins me dizzy
till I do, eventually, stagger to attention,
take the deepest breath
and, softly as asssisted strength, whisper
“Dismiss”, and shake from my feet the dust.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Can India's economy be rescued?

I had warned on the impact of the global economy on the Indian economy as global boom started turning to global bust from 2007. However, India withstood the bust so well (along with China and other perception-based economies)that it was even being looked to as one of the engines for continued global growth - which is of course entirely nonsensical.

Anyway our chickens have eventually come home to roost, and if India is not in full-blown panic already, it will be soon.

Is there any way forward out of the mess for India's economy? There are two ways, and only two ways. One is a strong way (political) and one is a weak way (financial).

The strong political way forward would be for all the political parties to come together (a call I had given nearly 3 years ago now, when I had said, contrary to every other commentator that I know, that India had only 3 years before disaster hit - someone can check through my public commentaries and provide the exact date).

What could the political parties do together? Take forward the programme of economic reforms which has been more or less stalled (for what, a decade?) at the same time as strengthening the basis of the Indian economy (education, infrastructure, power, environment).

That can only happen if the politicians can show the people that they have, at least temporarily, turned their attention away from exclusively focusing on looting the country and turned it instead towards building the country. What would that require? I'm afraid it would require a lot! It would require the smaller parties, on which Congress depends, to realise that their future is bound up, at least for the coming elections with the Congress. That requires the Congress to stop focusing merely on staying in power and moving attention instead to doing the right things for the country. And that requires the BJP to stop focusing on its electoral prospects and work together with Congress for the good of the country. In other words, we need a government of national unity, which can be signalled by consensus and progress on the issue of corruption which was, at least till the current crisis hit, the focus of public concern.

Having addressed that, a government of national unity could turn its attention to an agreed programme for economic progress. All this can only happen if there is widespread agreement with my analysis nearly 3 years ago that we must all swim together or we will all sink together.

I am willing to return full-time to India to serve such a government of national unity in any suitable capacity for a salary of Rupee one a month, providing minimum housing is provided and any necessary official travel is covered.

The public perception of any of the above happening is extremely small (though I hope that it will). So, you may ask, what is the other way forward, even though it may be a weak way forward?

It is for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to print more money, cut interest rates, and lower the amount of money that our banks are required to hold as reserves. That may be thought to be inflationary in the short term, but in the current global and Indian environment, that is highly unlikely. If the RBI does not move in this way immediately, what is much more likely to happen is deflation as the country sinks into a cycle of negative growth (or at least back to our usual "Hindu rate of growth" of 3%).

In addition, we could to pioneer, in a new development globally, non-inflationary complementary currencies for funding specific areas such as education, infrastructure, power and environmental projects. This could make India the country with the fastest-growing economy in the world, till other countries also start adopting such complementary currencies. Of course, complementary currencies will not cure the global and Indian malaise permanently by themselves, but they will provide a much-needed respite till the global financial system is put on a firm basis.

If India does not move politically and/or financially in the ways I have outlined above, at least three things will happen. First, global worries about how the nation can fund its current-account deficit in the absence of foreign investors (who have already withdrawn, and will continue to withdraw) will mean that we will have to devalue the Rupee. That will not help us in the long or medium term, but may simply meet short-term necessity. Least of all will it help the government's poor position fiscally (which is a key reason why moving to complementary currencies would be such a good thing). The government's poor fiscal situation is the second thing that will cause concern, and that cannot be helped in any way other than moving to complementary currencies to sustain growth in all areas which do produce taxes for the government. Eliminating black money without cost to the government (which means abandoning the current quest for a Lok Pal, which would anyway be ineffective, and adopting my proposals for this - see my separate posts on the subject) would be a key step to bolstering the fiscal health of the government.

If the above moves are not made: our banks, which have made huge loans to finance private, industrial and commercial growth on the basis of an optimistic scenario for national growth, are already be facing the fact of how many of these loans can go sour. Is even an implosion of our banking system likely? Probably not, but it is certainly possible.

I pray that the horrendous situation facing our people in the immediate future will cause us to turn away from our culture of competing elite-groups built on mutual back-scratching to a united move to save the country.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Eliminating Black Money in India

As the next issue of The International Indian is coming out soon, I take the liberty of putting here the entire text of my article on "Eliminating Black Money in India" which was published by TII in its last edition:


There are now at least three sets of proposals for dealing with corruption in India.

First, there is the government’s “weak Lok Pal” bill, which is considered by everyone (except the government) to be laughably inadequate.

Second, there is the Anna Hazare Team’s proposal for a “strong Lok Pal” bill, which would give unprecedented power to the new Lok Pal.

Finally, there is the proposal from the NCPRI (National Campaign for People’s Right to Information) – a body which has a much older and more established track record in fighting corruption and arbitrary use of power, for example through its demand for a Right to Information law in 1996. NCPRI has expressed “a great sense of disquiet” with the Hazare Team’s proposal, not only “because it does not address … arbitrary use of power (but) because it is unrealistic (to think that a Lok Pal) can alleviate “all ills”. Indeed a single strong Lok Pal (as proposed by the Hazare team) will “concentrate too much power in the institution, while the volume of work will make it difficult (for the Lok Pal) to carry out its tasks”. The view of the NCPRI is, therefore, that “there should be multiple institutions and … a basket of collective and concurrent (i.e. separate) anti-corruption and grievance redress measures”. (Please note that, in the quotes above, the materials in brackets are mine.)

If I was forced to choose between the three proposals above, my sympathies would be with the NCPRI’s proposals.

However, it is striking that there is one thing common between all three proposals mentioned above: the creation of a new institution in the body politic for addressing corruption in that body politic.

The problem is the following: as we Indians are not only corrupt, but have also mastered the various arts involved in corrupting others (especially those in any position of authority), how do we know that the Lok Pal will not be corrupted as well?

In fact, it is because the NCPRI proposals create a set of checks and balances that I favour them rather than the Hazare Team proposals.

However, the crucial fact that we must keep in mind to evaluate this matter properly is that the checks and balances set out in an extremely thoughtful way in our Constitution have not prevented the corruption of all areas of government - so far, less so in the case of the Supreme Court and the Office of the President of the country - but even these have not escaped entirely unscathed.

Therefore I want to put forward the question: is it not time to take an entirely different approach?

As background, let us keep in mind that corruption is about self-interest. By contrast, public office is about public service (usually for a relatively small monetary compensation). So public servants need to have an extremely high sense of morality, duty and public service if they are to offer genuine public service. No doubt, we have people with this sort of character but they seem to get systematically corrupted (or, if they refuse to conform, they become sidelined). That is why public service may be considered to have proven itself too weak to counter the self-interest of corruption. Which is why it may be time to consider whether the market (which is about self-interest) is not a better means, in our culture, for countering the self-interest of corruption.

Clearly, if black money, inside the country and outside, is anywhere near as massive as is being suggested, our current systems of public service are entirely unable to deal with the issue. What is needed is fresh thinking, from outside our current ways of organizing ourselves politically and legally.

Historically, in India, the overwhelming proportion of black money was generated and owned by business families. Now, a huge amount of black money appears to be also with politicians, bureaucrats, defense officials and perhaps even judges.

Justice has not merely to be done, but also to be seen to be done: as all our political, judicial, bureaucratic and business classes are under suspicion, rather than creating a Lok Pal, it may be better to create a National Clean Money Authority (NCMA) which is at arm’s length from all current police, army, navy, air force, and central as well as state investigation and prosecution agencies. The NCMA must be independent of political control so that the functioning of this agency cannot be stopped or interfered with by anyone in the country for any consideration.

Further, the Authority must be asked to do a very tiny number of things transparently under gaze of the public, TV, etc. That will be easy, as say three Members of the NCMA will be appointed by our country’s President from a global pool of people of high repute, and the Authority’s work will consist primarily of making the rules, advertising the tender, and then opening the bids for the work of the proposed 15 new Investigating Agencies. In time, the NCMA’s work and performance would have to be evaluated, and it would be best for the evaluation to be done by a Committee of Parliament, where the Terms of Reference would be simply that of evaluating how the NCMA had done its job.

Why should the NCMA not create just one Investigating Agency? Because, if only one Investigating Agency exists, it may be bribed or pressured relatively easily.

So why at least 15 Investigating Agencies? In order to ensure sufficient competition and prevent cartelisation: if more than a few Investigating Agencies need to be bribed for investigations to be stalled, the guilty will find it less than worthwhile to offer bribes.
The Investigating Agencies will not be paid a single paisa by the Government, rather they will bid for the contracts on a 3-yearly basis, with the highest bidders winning. However, any of the Agencies which successfully collects enough evidence to convict someone of having black money, will be given a specified proportion (I suggest 25%) of the black money in question, once a trial is successfully concluded.

Naturally, there is the key problem of how to eliminate delays in court. This is best done by establishing a new set of courts for the purpose, bound by the rule that there will be only one public hearing of each case, which will continue in unbroken session (allowing for working hours and holidays) till the trial has been concluded. Evidence selected by the Agency must be presented in one go, with a maximum of three working days for the submission of all the evidence and the arguing of the case. This will concentrate the minds of the prosecuting team, so that only the key matters are presented. Similarly, the defense will have two months to prepare its response, but it will also have a maximum of three days in which to present its defense. The Judge will then have two weeks in which to prepare the judgment. For those convicted, of however small an offence, there will be a compulsory period of five years in jail, which will be non-bailable, in addition to the financial penalty of losing 100% of the black money in question, along with a fine of 150%. This will probably mean lots of separate cases being filed by the Investigating Agencies in order to get quick convictions, but that is better than waiting years for Agencies to complete rather more thorough investigations - which may or may not ever be completed.

To be eligible to be one of 15 Agencies, candidate organisations MUST be publicly quoted companies, have global operations, and have headquarters outside India (but not in any of our neighbouring countries, where black money information could be used more easily for blackmail or terrorist purposes). For example, detective agencies, security companies, and accountancy firms (or some combination of these) could be candidates for appointment as Investigative Agencies, provided they have headquarters in a location that suggests sufficient distance and objectivity as well as the likelihood of probity.

As it may be too difficult for too many people in power if the Investigative Agencies were to trace and prosecute on the basis of black money in the past, there should be a “National Clean Money Day” (NCMD), announced say a year from the creation of the National Clean Money legislation. Up to that NCMD, everyone is free to declare their assets abroad or in the country. No tax needs to be paid on these assets and no prosecution will result. However, the Clean Money Laws (as proposed above) will apply from the NCMD.

No one, including the President of India, should be outside the reach of the Investigative Agencies. If any official or dignitary of the nation is convicted under the Clean Money Laws, that person will be considered to have been impeached from office, and a replacement would be sought according to existing or new arrangements in our Constitution, laws and regulations.

Versions of the above piece were declined by Civil Society, Economic Times, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, Mint, Tehelka, and The Hindu.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

In Indian tradition and thought, is war justified?

Very interesting and helpful post on "Is War Just"

But how is the term "dharma" (usually translated misleadingly as "righteousness"), in the Mahabharata, to be defined?

Moreover, if there is no such act as killing, why are murderers considered bad?

And if there is no such act as killing, is there such an act as stealing? If not, why should thieves be considered bad?

Ditto lying...

And is there such a thing as adultery? Or, more deeply, lust or jealousy or anger or spiritual laziness or....?

In other words, what is a "just cause" and what an "unjust cause"? Sadly, the article referred to above, leaves us in the dark on this matter.

And why is the action of defending "dharma" (however defined) any better than refusing to defend dharma?

Finally: Gandhiji was certainly a "great soul", and Rajmohan Gandhi is a man that I have admired ever since I met him in the Sxities, but it is not clear why Gandhiji should be considered an authority on Hindu thought, or on the Gita. Certainly, Gandhiji had his view and his interpretation, and I treat them with respect, but why should Gandhiji's interpretation be considered "correct"? In fact, do we have such a thing as a "correct" interpretation in our traditions? If, as far as I am know, we do not have such a thing as a "correct" interpretation in our traditions, why should Gandhiji's interpretation be considered worthy of more respect than the interpretation of those who have argued that, in the Mahabharata, war and violence are justified when struggling for whoever one considers the rightful or legitimate ruler?

I guess another question remains: tradition is the basis on which the order of birth is the key factor determining whether the Pandavas or the Kauravas should rule; is primogeniture such an important principle to uphold that it justifies destroying the millions or at least tens of thousands that the Great War is supposed to have killed? And is primogeniture relevant to producing governmental competence in the modern world?

The Mahabharata is of course a beloved epic. But why should we pretend that it offers any morality whether in its own time or in ours? Epics have never been morality tales in any culture. The Indian preoccupation with finding morality in our epics may be simply, via Western-style education and the influence of globalisation, a result of the influence of Christianity on our culture.

Let morality be morality, and stories be stories, I say. Perhaps we should look elsewhere for guidance regarding whether or not war in any circumstances may be justified?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

India does not allow visitors "quick re-entry" (under two months' gap). Why?

I will be grateful if someone can explain to me the logic or benefits of denying visitors "quick re-entry" into our country?

That is, if you are in India right now and propose to stay let us say up to December 31, you will not be allowed to enter the country again before March 2012.