Saturday, 18 November 2017

WHO SAYS BEGGARS CAN'T BE CHOOSERS ?

 
    The community of beggars doesn't usually make news, but it did last week, twice. In Hyderabad the govt. has gone into an overdrive to remove a major "nuisance" from its roads- not encroachments or bag-snatchers (as you might assume) but beggars! All because Ivanka Trump is visiting the city, and the administration doesn't want her to see the real India. So what else do they want to hide-garbage, potholes, smog, cows, the urinating Indian male? Are beggars the worst of the ills of our country and towns that they have been singled out for this special attention form a govt. that donates crores of public money to temples and vastu rituals to make the CM's new house more auspicious? Couldn't some of this largesse have been used to rehabilitate them?
    Actually, maybe our sturdy beggars don't need to be rehabilitated, as this other story from Pune indicates. The Pune police rounded up seven beggars last week and produced them before a magistrate intending to lock them up for a couple of weeks. Bail was set at Rs. 5000.00 and the cops got their black van ready for the drive to the jail, confident that this penurious desiderata of society would never have this kind of moolah. To their utter shock, all seven came up with the bail amount immediately- in cash!-, deposited it with aplomb and reverted to their temporarily disrupted trading activity! Its obvious to me that Mr. Jaitley has been targeting the wrong section of the business community so far in his black money crusade- he should forget the names in the Panama and Paradise papers and concentrate on our entrepreneurial beggars. Recently one of them died in Delhi and it was discovered that she had left behind two flats and a sizeable bank balance! Why not make them go digital too and give them POS swipe machines and PayTM apps, as part of"ease of doing business" ? There would then be no need to hide them from Ivanka Trump, I'm confident she would be impressed with our digital derelicts.
    Now that we are on the subject of mendicants, however, a few anecdotes from my hoary past come to mind. In 1980 I was posted as Deputy Commissioner, Una, and one day received an order from the govt. to intimate by next day the number of beggars in the district! Apparently, the information was required in response to an Assembly question by an MLA who was clearly scraping the bottom of the barrel in his quest for votes. I immediately realised I had a major problem: this earth-shaking information had never been compiled, the Census was silent about it, these artful dodgers never stayed in one place to be counted, and they didn't advertise on prime TV. Since I had only two and a half years's service by then, I consulted with my SDM, one DD Sharma, who'd been making the govt. proud for the last 34 years. " No problem, sir", was his instantaneous ( I swear) response, " we'll send a report that we  have 387 beggars."
" How do you know?" I shouted. " we've never counted the blighters!"
" Exactly", replied DDS. "Nobody's ever counted them, and nobody ever will, or can. An idiotic question can only get a meaningless answer. There's no way they can challenge our number."
So I sent the reply, and  never heard about the matter again. The MLA is presumably still looking for those 387 votes. But I learnt an important lesson: the govt. just loves numbers- it doesn't matter how you derive them or how fudged they are. In later years DD Sharma's nostrum saved me a lot of legwork and midnight oil- say, about 170 litres ?.
    In the late 80's the issue of beggars nearly caused a major rift between the state govt. and the Planning Commission( may its departed soul rest in peace). It was, however, an exchange of words underpinned by subtle innuendo, to grasp which one must understand two things. One, the summer months in Shimla are also the peak tourist season and this attracts hundreds of beggars from all over north India. This is also the time( naturally!) when a Planning Commission delegation usually visits to " review" the pace of Plan expenditure. Second, in the winter months of December-January a state govt. team visits Delhi to extract the maximum moneys it can from the Planning Commission in the next Budget. Do keep this in mind while I recount the episode.
   The Planning Commission high-powered team was in town that summer ( as state guests, naturally) and during the meeting one of them remarked on the large number of beggars on Mall Road and the Ridge. Was it, he asked sarcastically, due to the failure of the state govt's social welfare schemes? No, replied the Finance Secretary, it was because all the beggars from Delhi landed up in Shimla in the summers! The Planning Commission chappie was nonplussed, but only for a moment.
" I see," he remarked, " and I suppose these beggars come down to Delhi in the winters, right?" Touche!
Both sides had established their begging rights ! Bonhomie was re-established that night over drinks in Hotel Holiday Home, billed as tandoori chickens, naturally.
    Beggars may or may not be destitute but they have their pride and maintain some basic minimum standards, as I discovered in Delhi in the mid-nineties. I used to drive in my battered Maruti 800 from Bharti Nagar to my office in Shastri Bhavan everyday. An aged beggar had claimed a spot near the Khan Market traffic light as his own, in the same pugnacious spirit as the Chinese on the Doklam plateau. Like Doklam, it was a strategic location since hundreds of vehicles had to perforce stop there. I, of course, never made a donation to his coffers since I was in the market myself for handouts, what with two sons in Modern School and EMIs for a flat which never came up above ground level. I was also burdened by the principle that " the good Lord giveth and the Income Tax Deptt. taketh", hence there was no surplus available. But one evening it had started drizzling when I was on my way back from Shastri Bhavan. As I stopped at the light I took pity on the beggar out in the rain, stepped out and gave him a two rupee note ( this was before Mr. Modi so the two rupee note had not yet been demonetised). The old rascal took one look at the note, dug into his bulging jacket, extracted a ten rupee note and gave it to me. " Yeh lo, sahib," he said with what was almost a chuckle," lagta hai aapko paise ki zyada zaroorat hai." Having correctly diagnosed, and confirmed, my humble station in life, he shuffled off to the next car.
    I don't see the old man there any more. I have a feeling he has acquired and moved into one of those premium flats on Tughlak Road. I, of course, have moved to Patparganj.

  

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

THE LANGUAGE OF GOVERNANCE


[   This article was published in THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS on 13.11.2017 under the title: THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF GOVERNANCE.]


               In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And then God committed one of his periodical goof-ups, the first after the original mistake of creating Eve and involving us for perpetuity in sexual molestation cases: he created the Bureaucracy and the Bureaucrat took over the Word. Originally intended to convey meaning, the Word now became a means to conceal!- a mechanism which even the RTI Act has not been able to dent. But let’s not scoff at this, for concealment is an art- given the sheer scale of goof-ups and gerrymandering constantly going on in the labyrinths of power, concealing them behind just a few words requires far more skill than merely revealing to us that our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. Shelley may well have been right when he said that, but could he have hidden behind words a hefty kickback in danger of disappearing? That's what one Minister was once required to do, without Mr. Vinod Rai finding out about it.
      Having successfully negotiated the required payola from a contractor, a Minister called for the file and wrote on it "Approved." The contractor, secure in the false illusion( like Lalu Yadav a-la Nitish Kumar) that the Minister was now committed and could not go back on either his word or file noting, refused to pay up. Unfazed, the Minister requisitioned the file again and simply added the word  "Not" before "Approved." The now chastened contractor, acknowledging defeat at the hands of a master. prostrated himself ( like Nitish Kumar a-la Amit Shah) before the icon of democracy and begged for his contract back, wondering at the same time how the worthy would find a way around the neological cul-d-sac. The Minister, a wordsmith par excellence, extracted the file from his drawer and just added the letter "e" to the word "Not." The final noting read " Note Approved"- two simple words that concealed twists worthy of a Saki or an O'Henry !
     In the mid eighties in Shimla a powerful Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, whose wife wished to devote all her time to disciplining other IAS wives and thus delegate her culinary responsibilities to a cook, moved the Finance Deptt. for the creation of a Class D post. The file duly reached the JS in Finance. Now a JS, compared to a Secretary to Chief Minister, occupies a slot in the bureaucratic food chain comparable to the position of the plankton in relation to the sperm whale, and in the normal course the file should have been cleared without a whimper, or whatever sounds the plankton emits. In this case, however, this humble organism ( born and bred in the badass corridors of Hindu College) refused to accept his humble station in life and rejected it ! A livid Secretary to CM, accustomed to worms squirming before him and not turning, returned the file with the noting: "Has this file been seen by the Finance Secretary? If not, it may be put up before him." ( Senior Secretaries belong to the same lunch club and are usually more adept than the macaque monkey in scratching each others' backs). The JS returned said file after recording on it the standard default option of all Finance Deptts.: " FD regrets to reiterate its rejection of the proposal." An epileptic Secy to CM decided to teach this callow fledgling a lesson. Confident that he now had this amoeba cornered, he put the ball back in JS's court with a thunderous ace: "At what level has this decision been taken?" The JS, having dealt with seven foot Jats on a daily basis in Jubilee hall, was unfazed and responded with a classic cross-court of his own: " Secretary to CM is respectfully informed that the decision has been taken at the competent level." Game, Set and Match. No actionable information revealed. The sperm whale retired shortly thereafter, sans cook.
    Another story which comes to mind is that of a  young Deputy Secretary in Shimla ( now grown long in the tooth and safely parked in the USA) whose newly acquired wife happened to be in Delhi. He kept applying for leave to spend some time with her, especially during those long winter nights in Shimla when a quilt is not enough to keep one warm. His applications were invariably rejected by the Chief Secretary who had long ago replaced his wife with a bottle of triple XXX rum. The DS then changed tack: he requested for leave on  "compassionate grounds", stating that he had to check up on his aging parents in Delhi. Even this crap did not cut any ice with the CS ( the mixed metaphor may be excused). The increasingly desperate DS then made his final gambit, taking a huge chance: he applied again, this time on "passionate grounds" viz. that he was only recently married and had not seen his wife for many months and would not be able to recognize her if he did not see her soon! It worked! Off he went to Delhi and he has not left her side since then- much to her annoyance, of course. The power of the word- the deletion of three letters- made all the difference between marital bliss and enforced "vanprastha". Why, he may even have joined the RSS if denied leave again, left his wife and become a Chief Minister !
    My own favourite is the one about the officer who wanted a bigger garage built in his official residence to park his two cars. He sent a note to the Secretary PWD requesting that the "garrage be constructed immediately.'' The latter's response revealed his stout English Literature background: " Request approved. However the officer may be informed that while a garage can always contain two cars it can never contain two 'R's'! "
    The good Lord need not worry- His Word is in good hands.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

ANGER MANAGEMENT , LEMMINGS AND HONEY-BADGERS.


    Even the most rabid of Mr. Modi's detractors would not grudge him one thing: that he is an orator par excellence with an acute grasp of crowd psychology. He has all the arrows in his quiver: the suggestio falsi, the rhetorical question ( "kaha tha na?"), the breathless tapering off of a sentence, the pregnant pauses and suspenseful silences, the pumped up fist, the innuendo and worse. At his best he can be almost a Shakespearean figure- a King Lear, an Othello, even a Hindutva version of Richard III ( "A cow, a cow- my kingdom for a cow!" ). Why then does he have to descend to the level of a Kilkenny cat in his election rallies, as he recently did in Himachal? His generic hatred for the Gandhis was on full display but that is something we have come to accept, even though we still don't understand what lies behind it: there appears to be something almost personal behind it. But some of his comments went way beyond political antagonism. By calling them termites and rakshash ( devils), by branding the AICC as the All India Corruption Committee and terming the Congress ideology as "sadi hui soch" ( rotten, putrified thinking) he has lowered the dignity of the Prime Minister's office and exposed both his hubris and insecurities. Before Mr. Modi's arrival we had become accustomed to a different style of oratory from our Prime Ministers for the last twenty years or so. Mr. IK Gujral was the quintessential gentleman, seeking to make friends and to persuade by debate and discussion. Mr. Vajpayee was a fiery orator himself but his metier was passion, learning, poetry, reconciliation. Mr. Manmohan Singh was no orator but he was soft-spoken, learned, polite and never confrontationist. Their public speeches were both conciliatory and critical, but never scatological. Their followers also took their cue from their leaders' styles, and public discourse rarely crossed the laxman rekha. But all that has changed with the new government . Are the votes worth it if they are won by broadcasting hatred, anger, contempt, calumny and vitriol ? There is so much anger in Mr. Modi that I cannot but quote the Buddha: You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.

*                                    *                                    *                                   *                                *


    Delhi just has to be the most messed up capital in the world- administratively, politically and environmentally. It is becoming more dysfunctional by the day. Things have become particularly bad over the last three years because Mr. Modi finds it hard to forget that Mr. Kejriwal delivered him the biggest haymaker of his political career by winning 67 out of 70 seats. Ever since then the Union govt. has a simple one point agenda for Delhi- let its administration and civic services deteriorate to a point where the AAP is totally discredited and Delhi-ites are ready to lynch Mr. Kejriwal. It does this through a multi-pronged strategy: don't allow the AAP to legislate any new initiatives ( by sitting on its Bills- at last count about 11 Bills were awaiting approval), intimidate the IAS and Dhanics officers into being loyal to the Centre rather than the state, use the three Municipal Corporations( all BJP controlled) to deliberately deny proper civic services to the citizens by constantly raising financial demands on the Delhi govt and instigating strikes, ensure non-cooperation by central agencies such as DDA, the Delhi Metro, CBI etc. And its lethal trump card is of course the Lieutenant Governor, a latter day Viceroy, a superannuated appointee who can ( and constantly does) veto the wishes of a govt. that has been elected by twenty million voters. He is omni-potent but accountable to no one. None other than the Supreme Court has held, in a recent obiter dicta, that he is the undisputed and constitutional head of Delhi. But have you ever seen him appear on TV to explain why he is presiding over such disarray and shambles, and what does he propose to do about it ? Why grill poor Mr. Kejriwal on prime time every evening when the Big Boss is the LG ? Is it that asking him to give an account of his administration would amount to some kind of lese majeste ?

    As if this were not bad enough, there is also a plethora of statutory authorities issuing all manner of directions, sometimes contradicting each other, to which nobody pays any attention, each questioning the other. The city is a modern tower of Babel, confusion confounded- should trucks be allowed in or not ? Should Badarpur TPS be shut down or not? What the hell do we do with the 15000 tonnes of garbage we produce every day? Should all construction activity be stopped ? Why is garbage still being burned at the landfills? Should odd-even be introduced again ? Does it actually lower pollution levels? Is Amarinder Singh allowing stubble burning in Punjab to get even with the BJP and AAP ? There is no shortage of "Authorities" or Ideas in Delhi- just a famine of people who will implement them.
    And while India's finest grapple with these daunting issues, the Air Quality Index is approaching the 500 mark, and the PM 2.5 ( no, its not the title of Chetan Bhagat's next book, though almost as deadly for the brain) continues to climb. We are constantly looking for exotic solutions to the death shroud of pollution tightening around us- mechanised sweeping of roads, seeding of clouds for rain, spraying water from helicopters, installing huge air purifiers at major intersections. The courts are on a banning spree; ban away a problem and it will disappear. But it doesn't, because problems have to be resolved, not wished away by judicial dictats. Take the ban on stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana. It cannot be implemented by challaning or locking up 15 million farmers. It must be recognised that this is an economic issue, not just an environmental nuisance, as the NGT appears to think. It costs Rs. 2000 an acre to remove the stubble, money the already embattled farmer can ill afford to spare. There are mechanical devices already available to remove the stubble- straw chopper-cum-spreader, rotavator, happy seeder, cutter shredder, baler- which can either shred the stalks and spread them as compost or stack them in bales for use as  fuel,fodder, feed or as raw material for paper units. They cost  between Rs. 45000/ or Rs. 3 lakhs each, way beyond the means of the average farmer, especially when compared to a matchbox costing one rupee ! The govt. should make these implements available on a cooperative/community basis free of cost. In the long term it should wean these farmers away from the cultivation of paddy in these water deficit areas. Punjab and Haryana were never meant to grow a water guzzling crop like paddy, which is sucking dry the ground water table. Punjab is a water stressed state and practically all its blocks are in the "black" category. Stubble is a by-product of paddy and reduction in the area under paddy will solve both problems, of water and pollution.               The same lack of clarity and political/ administrative will applies to Delhi:  we will not do the obvious and simple things: protect Delhi's green cover and stop deforestation ( 400 trees are being chopped down at Pragati Maidan to make space for an international convention center !), protect the Aravallis and the Ridge( 40% of which has already been lost) , our last defence against the deserts from the depredations of the Haryana and Delhi govts , revive the lost 600 water bodies of the city, preserve the Yamuna flood plains from ever increasing construction, declare selected roads as one-way to reduce congestion, add another 5000 buses to the DTC fleet ( their numbers have actually gone DOWN by 2500 over the last three years), shift ALL industrial units out of the city ( Beijing has done it, with remarkable results), introduce Odd-Even scheme mandatorily for two months every winter, stop ALL construction in the winters ( dust is the biggest pollutant as per all surveys).
    Delhi's citizens are equally culpable for the mess they are in and deserve every particle of PM 2.5 which they breathe in every time they open their mouths to complain against the govt. They will just not change their honey badger attitude and habits, and resist every reform or change. They continued to burst fire crackers this Diwali inspite of all appeals and orders. They will not walk or take the metro or a taxi ( it is illustrative to see the hundreds of cars outside, say, Lodi Gardens every morning: they belong to people who will DRIVE half a kilometer to walk two kilometers in the park- why can they not walk the entire 2.5 kms?). They will waste hundreds of litres of water daily to wash their cars. They insist on polluting the Yamuna with hundreds of idols every year, they will burn huge mounds of firewood during Holi and Baisakhi. They will oppose Odd-Even or BRT or cycle lanes. They will defy every measure suggested by the govt. Its an endless and despairing list, actually a DIY step-by-step guide to suicide. We are lemmings , led by honey badgers.
    As I finish this piece in my flat in east Delhi I'm seriously wondering if I'll ever get to see the sun  again. The pigeon on my window sill appears to have read my thoughts, for it looks at me like Edgar Allen Poe's raven and croaks: Nevermore! 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

THE LOWDOWN ON NPAs, HAIRCUTS , BEARS AND BUNNIES.


    I seem to have developed a fascination for Economics this autumn, or at least for what passes for Economics in the land of the Arthashastra. I say "passes" advisedly because everybody today- pracharak, gau rakshak, my kiryana dealer, even Kamal Hasan- has an economic theory of his own. These, to use a term in vogue, are the informal sector economists. The formal sector economists- those from DSE, LSE, prime time TV and JNU ( yes, they still hold classes there, sometimes, when the faculty and students are not in the Vasant Kunj lock-up)- on the other hand, can never agree on anything. The RBI governor never speaks, Mr. Jaitley never stops speaking, Chief Economic Advisors come and go faster than a metro train at peaktime on the Blue line, Mr. Modi still treats economics as an acronym naming game, Mr. Rahul Gandhi has officially given credit for his economic discoveries to his dog. Are you therefore surprised that I am as confused as the Customs Officer who asked an absent minded Professor of English ( an ardent admirer of Oscar Wilde) whether he had anything to declare, and received the reply: " Nothing but my genitals."!?
    Which naturally brings me to a term very much in fashion these days- NPA or Non Performing Assets- not to be confused with NDA or Non performing Democratic Alliance. Now, in my time, Non Performing Assets denoted a condition which required the attention of a Sexologist or one of those Khandani Shafakhanas in the by-lanes of Paharganj, advertised with a mug shot of a stud with handle bar moustaches. Not any more in these post Samuelson days. NPA now means a bank loan gone bad and currently amounts to about Rs. 8 lakh crores. Mr. Jaitley's prescription is to recapitalise the banks with Rs. 2.11 crores of- you guessed it- your and my money. The loans will be written off, the defaulters will be back to their unscrupulous ways, and in a few years it will be time for NPA-II. The FM has the full support of the Banks and big business for his scheme, which is not surprising since, as George Bernard Shaw said: " A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul."
    " Demographic dividend" is the next phrase that puzzled me. Its supposed to be one of our primary strengths, according to Surjit Bhalla and Sunil Alagh, the spy vs spy duo who do their vaudeville act every evening defending the govt. on TV. My first assumption was that it meant a monthly pay out ( dividend) to me from my sons( my demographic investment). Not so, said my sons who are NPAs themselves, as far as I am concerned. I now learn that it refers to the huge population of under 35s that we have, about 500 million, give or take a hundred million. According to the economists they give us a huge advantage in the labour market. Really? It seems to even a Hindu College graduate like me that, for the advantage to accrue, these guys have to be employed, right? Given our huge( and grossly under estimated) unemployment and under employment rates, our demographic dividend is right now sitting on its collective backside in the hundreds of millions, taking selfies or playing the Blue Whale game with gay abandon as if the world were coming to an end ( which it probably is, courtesy Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump). How can they possibly make us the " fastest growing economy in the world"- if, that is, the definition of the word economy has to extend beyond the Ambanis, Adanis, Mittals and other Forbes centre-spreads?
    Here's another conundrum: how is it that, with the economy going rapidly down shit-creek, our stock markets continue to soar into the stratosphere faster than a North Korean ICBM ? The Sensex and the NIFTY are setting new records everyday. My addled brain, weaned on simple sarkari gibberish, couldn't explain this contradiction, so I asked my younger son who is an investment analyst to explain it to me . preferably in two syllable words or in easy- to- understand- pictures. He did- in sign language- and now I can figure out the sleight of hand. You see, the North Korean analogy above is not so facetious, after all. Like Mr. Kim's Politburo, the Sensex and Nifty are a closed club with hand-picked companies, numbering just about 150. Only their performance is tracked, and since they consist of the Pauls mentioned earlier, and of the ones who donate liberally to the political parties, they are obviously doing well. Furthermore, just about 1.5% of the population of the country is invested in the stock market. So the whole operation is like an incestuous organisation or a Playboy club, the bunnies and wolves being replaced by the bulls and bears. What the Stock Market does, therefore is a pure hedonistic exercise, a monetary inbreeding which has no effect on the rest of the country or economy. Thank you, Saurabh. I'll return the favour some day by explaining how governments fudge their budget deficits. 
    Time was, when you wanted a haircut you went to the barber on the roadside, or ( if you belonged to the North Korean club) to a salon where you paid one rupee per hair fallicle ( the dandruff is free). Not any more. Now you go to the NCLT or National Company Law Tribunal where corporates who have siphoned off all the loans tell the bankers: "Bu***r off, I'm off to St. Kitts." So what do the bankers do? They take a "haircut" which is the correct economists' term for getting scalped. A "haircut" means that the banks settle for a much lesser sum than what they are actually owed. The reason is simple- in English it is "something is better than nothing", but it is more vividly expressed in Hindi: "Bhaagte bhoot ki langoti pakarna"- grabbing the briefs of a ghost. So, while Mr. Mallya can grow his locks as long as Rapunzel's, you and I have to go for a butch hairstyle.To make up for this loss, however, you can bet that Mr. Jaitley is going to be  grabbing you by something else in next year's budget.
   Time to hang on to your Non Performing Assets.
    

    

Saturday, 28 October 2017

THE LITTLE KNOWN SUB-CADRES AND ROHINGYAS OF THE IAS.


    The week before last I had written an article for the New Indian Express disagreeing with the govt's move to introduce lateral induction in the IAS ( Privatising The IAS Would Be A Mistake, 14th Oct. 2017) . The feedback from the readers was interesting and has prompted me to analyse at least one part of it in some detail. Those in favour and against were equally divided, about 50:50, but what surprised me was the anger, vitriol and contempt for the IAS among those who favoured privatisation. They gave three primary reasons for this: the IAS was a service which had developed a cosy nexus with politicians, it was self-seeking, and it had made itself completely unaccountable to both the govt. and the public. How much truth is there in these not flattering charges?
    Plenty, I'm afraid. But for the purposes of this piece I'll concentrate only on the first one, the parabiotic relationship that the IAS shares with the politician, to mutual advantage.
    The IAS has occupied all the commanding heights of government over the years, but in order to remain there it has had to strike a Faustian bargain with the political executive. It is now the gate-keeper to the political authority, controls all Cabinet Committees and Ministries, policy making and all postings, promotions and appointments, even those of judges and military commanders. No one- but no one- is allowed to breach their hallowed portals.The armed forces, for example, have been trying for years to gain meaningful entry into the Defense Ministry and to have a COAS but have been thwarted time and again. The IAS has consistently, and fiercely, protected its payscales and promotion avenues in all Pay Commissions and even awarded itself the "Apex Scale", an HR monstrosity, which has subsequently cost the govt. tens of thousands of crores in extending it to other services. It has cornered all post retirement sinecures, except where the judiciary has staked its claim first- but even that is smart give and take! It has had to pay a price for this, however. Unlike the "YES, MINISTER" model, where the astute civil servant controls the politician through deft tactical manoeuvres, team spirit and by thinking one step ahead of the politician ( without compromising either his service or the public interest), the IAS has surrendered to the politician. This capitulation is of two types. The vast majority of officers have no political loyalties, try to be neutral but generally flow with the current, taking the easy way out. They are not "politicised" but merely compliant. A small minority, not more than 10%-15 of the cadre, however, become active camp followers of one political party/ politician or the other and promote only their interests, whether they are in or out of power. They represent a spoils system within the service and are the main reason why the IAS is seen to be politicised. And thereby hangs a tale.
    One of my readers, Mr. Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao from Andhra Pradesh, has sent me an interesting postulate. The IAS, like the other two All India Services, is structured into state cadres: an officer is allotted to a state which then becomes his cadre for life and he is expected to be loyal to that state. Mr. Duggaraju's thesis is that over time an unofficial sub-cadre has emerged in all states- these are political sub-cadres where the officer is allied with some political party or the other and subserves its interests ( rather than the public interest)! I find this postulate fascinating- and true!
   Such sub-cadres are an inevitable progression when officers, for purely personal gains, attach themselves to a political party, preferably the one in power, and swear allegiance to it. Over time they become "branded" and rise and fall with the fluctuating fortunes of that party and constitute a distinct sub-cadre within the state cadre. Thus the UP cadre of the IAS has its Samajwadi, BSP and BJP sub-cadres, Tamil Nadu its DMK and AIDMK sub-cadres, West Begal the TMC and CPI sub-cadres, Himachal has the BJP and Congress sub-cadres, and so on. No state is exempt from this Duggaraju rule, except perhaps Delhi where Mr. Kejriwal is too hot for any IAS officer to touch, especially with Big Brother watching from North Block!
   Readers from Himachal can see this thesis playing out right before their eyes! Both the BJP and the Congress have a bunch of IAS officers in their sub-cadres ( and most readers can probably name most of them too!). When their parent party is in power they occupy all the important posts and hound the officers of the other sub-cadre with transfers, departmental action and even FIRs. When their party is in opposition they lie low, go on long training assignments, study leave or central deputation. If none of these escape routes are available then they maintain a low profile, leak official secrets to their mentors or sabotage the current govt's programmes. When they retire they get plum supernumary assignments, but for this the timing has to be perfect. It is important that they retire when THEIR party is in power, or they won't bag the sack of oats. If the timing does not match then they take premature retirement to avail of the sinecure in advance- a bird in hand is always worth two in the bush, especially if the bush may not be around for much longer!
    To extend Mr. Duggaraju's analogy, there are other types of sub-cadres also. To continue with Himachal, there is the Regional sub-cadre ( do you belong to Old Himachal or New Himachal ?), tribal sub-cadre ( officers from Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Bharmour and Pangi), Outsiders sub-cadre( allottees from other states marooned on this mountain), Reserved category sub-cadre( SC, ST, OBC). When I joined service in what now feels like ancient India there even used to be St. Stephens and Allahabad University sub-cadres !
    To an extent, such groupings are not bad per se in that they promote an espirit d'corps, like in an Army regiment, for example, which only strengthens the organisation. But when they get overtaken by politics, and their only raison d'etre is self seeking aggrandisement ( as the IAS sub-cadres have become) then they vitiate the service and weaken it. Incidentally, it would not be fair to only tar the IAS with this brush- it exists in all govt. services, including the IPS, the Indian Forest Service, the state services, and down to the clerk in the Secretariat or the patwari in the field. That the government still manages to hobble along is due to the other 10% who still abide by the oath they took when they joined service. They are the Rohingyas of the civil services- stateless persons allied to no party, squeezed between opposing forces and unwanted by the powers that be, perpetually under threat of deportation to Delhi or Pangi or the north-east- but THEY are the real civil service, not the time servers and camp followers of the political sub-cadres.
   To conclude, Mr. Duggaraju's law is playing out right now in Himachal, which goes to the polls on the 9th of November. Since the BJP is widely expected to replace the Congress, one can now see the Congress sub-cadre chaps frantically digging their burrows and packing in the provisions to weather the long winter ahead. The BJP sub-cadre, on the other hand,is now coming to life like  grizzly bears after a long hibernation. And like the bears, they are hungry- for power, the loaves of office they have been denied for the last five years. They are already busy short listing their preferred postings and preparing a Schindler's list of the damned. Like homing pigeons, they will soon start returning from central deputation, study leave or wherever they were in hiding, and head straight for the house of the likely CM nominee. Incidentally, I have always believed that pollsters and psephologists predicting election results spend a lot of unnecessary money and time in doing opinion and exit polls. Instead, they should simply watch the bureaucrats- the weather vanes, as it were- who always know who will form the next government. Watch the sub-cadres and you will never go wrong.  

Thursday, 26 October 2017

THE TALWARS ARE INNOCENT, BUT ARE WE ?

         [ This article was published in the NEW Indian Express on 26.10.2017]

We may attribute the grotesque miscarriage of justice implicit in the conviction ( now set aside) of the Rajesh and Nupur Talwar to one judge and one investigating officer, but we would be deluding ourselves. This case represents a colossal failure of our entire system where every institution intended to safeguard a citizen’s rights- the executive, judiciary, Parliament and the media- has turned rogue like an auto-immune disease and turned upon itself. The checks and balances have not worked and the lives of two respectable members of society have been destroyed while their murdered daughter is just another statistic in our cavernous hall of shame.
The UP police and the CBI should of course hang their heads in shame. The former destroyed most of the evidence and could not proceed beyond besmirching the character of a dead girl. The CBI had no real evidence against the Talwars: the Allahabad High Court has painstakingly demolished their fabricated house of cards, Joker by Joker. The most important elements in proving guilt in a murder case are motive, murder weapon, and the chain of circumstances: the High Court could find none of them. Neither the SP Mr. Kaul nor the then Director of CBI Mr. Ashwani Kumar could be bothered with this nicety, however: they went ahead and prosecuted the Talwars without any evidence against them, or evidence that was concocted by pressurising a maid and intimidating forensic experts. They let suspicion and personal bias take the place of scientific evidence: this was the first failure. The second was the failure of the CBI’s legal wing/ Prosecution branch to point this out while vetting the case. Or did they do so and were overruled by the gentleman who went on to the luxury of a Raj Bhavan while his victims were rotting in Dasna jail?
The CBI trial judge who convicted the Talwars is the third failure. It frightens me to think that there are, in all probability, many more such judges in our judicial system who hold the lives and freedom of millions of citizens in their hands. I have rarely read a worse judgement in my life, even if we discount reports at that time that the first part of the order was written by his son and that the worthy judge had started writing the judgement even before final arguments were made in the case! Equally, I have rarely come across such scathing remarks by a High Court against a judge, describing him as a “film director” who was “prejudiced” and whose reasoning was “vitriolic”. It says that Mr. Shyam Lal’s approach was “ parochial and partial”, he tried to “give shape to his own imagination stripped of a just evaluation of the evidence and facts of this case,” and that he was “unmindful of the basic tenets of the law.” The fourth systemic failure ,therefore, is simply this: how could such a judge ever come to occupy a position where he could, literally, send a man to his death?
The Allahabad High Court has rectified somewhat what the CBI and Mr. Shyam Lal had perpetrated on the Talwars, but it took them four years to do so, and this too has to be a failure of the system. Why could they not have been released on bail pending their appeal? After all, sometime back the Patna High Court had granted bail to the notorious Mohammad Shahbuddin who has three life convictions and two dozen other criminal cases pending against him. Did the two dentists pose a greater threat to society, with their scalpels and drills, than the don with his assault rifles and guns and goons? The double standards of our courts is part of the reason our system is breaking down.
The media- particularly the electronic media- provides the next malfunction of the system. A TV studio these days is the Colosseum of Roman times where panellists, led by rabid anchors, bay for blood- it does not matter whose, just so long as it keeps flowing on prime time. Without any investigation or facts they brand people guilty, hound the police till they do likewise and create a malevolent public pressure which the Kauls and Shyam Lals of the world are only too happy to appease. These anchors have played no small role in railroading the Talwars.
Parliament too has failed us, and the Talwars. It has done nothing to legislate some of the corrections into the system: creation of separate Directorates of Prosecution to stop the predatory tactics of the police, introducing an All_india Judicial Service to improve the quality of our trial judges, allow more liberal bail laws considering that of every one hundred persons arrested, fifty-five will be ultimately declared innocent in our country, mandate fast tracking of appeals where the accused are already behind bars, bring in stricter gag laws for the media to prevent them influencing investigations and trials.
Most important of all, given the rapacious aptitude of our police, the whimsical nature of court judgements and the sheer enormity of miscarriage of justice in our country, it is high time Parliament and the Supreme Court considered introducing a system for compensating citizens wrongly imprisoned by the govt. Most progressive and rule based countries have them : 29 states in the USA have Wrongful Conviction statutes under which unfortunate detainees are given compensation ranging from US$ 50000 to 100,000 per year of wrongful detention. The UK too has the Criminal Justice Act. The logic for this is clear: the citizen has voluntarily given the state enormous powers over his life and liberty in the interest of a cohesive social order; when the state betrays this trust it must offer reparations to the people it has wronged. This trust is the bedrock of a democratic order.

We betrayed this trust and covenant with the Talwars. Do we have it in us to rectify these shortcomings before the canker pervades all ? 


Saturday, 21 October 2017

THE ECONOMIC PRINCIPLES OF NUDGING, FUDGING AND SHOVING.


    I have never been of a mathematical bent of mind, in fact I failed in Maths in my Senior Cambridge exams, thus validating the prediction made by my Maths teacher when I told him that sound travels faster than light. I based my view on the fact that, whenever we surreptitiously played cards in the dorm at night we could hear the Warden coming long before we saw him ( and thus could get rid of the evidence- consisting of cards with photos of girls in bikinis- the Jokers didn't even have that- and cigarette sticks as the money). I have since been consistent in my ignorance of maths, and even today can't figure out why my pension is one hundred times the salary when I joined service- I am positive the gnomes in the Finance Deptt. have made a mistake. However, I may be mathematically challenged but I'm not stupid, so I'm not about to complain.
    Now, Economics has a large dose of maths built into it and so I've never understood Economics either, especially as present day economic theory- the neo-classical model promoted by earlier Nobel prize winners such as Oliver Hart and Alvin Roth- is almost wholly based on mathematical modelling. The only bit of economics I knew was something imparted to me by a batch mate in the Academy, an economics whizz kid, who told me: " Remember, you can pull on a string but you can't push on it!" This discovery didn't get him the Nobel prize but I guess he must have done some strenuous pulling on that string because he got reemployed as a Regulator after retirement. And since I kept pushing on that bloody string instead of pulling on it I retired to my village, unsung and unemployed. So the theory works.
    The universe of Economics, however, has been turned on its head now after Mr. Richard Thaler was awarded the Nobel prize for Economics earlier this month . Thaler eschews the mathematical models and bases his models  instead on behavioural traits. He believes that people behave irrationally, but are consistent in their irrational behaviour, which can then be predicted while framing economic policies. Now this is something which I can grasp as an average irrational Indian and therefore I am now beginning to understand economics. This in turn helps me to understand what is happening in India today, something I'm willing to share with the reader.
    The most famous economic principle espoused by Thaler is the NUDGE theory. What it says is that, instead of forcing a citizen to do something ( which he will resist) govt. should gently "nudge" him into doing it, making him believe he has the freedom of choice. Take for example a compulsory savings plan like the PF ( Provident Fund). Thaler says don't force an employee into it- give him a number of choices but make PF the default option. Most employees are too lazy to exercise any choice and so the default option will kick in for most of them. The govt. would have got what it wanted but the employee will feel HE has made the choice, not the govt. I think its brilliant, this NUDGE principle.
    Mr. Modi, who is as subtle as a kick in the backside, doesn't think so- he has his own economic model- the SHOVE principle. This postulates that people are fools who don't know what is good for them, they have to be herded like cattle, they are all crooks and cannot be trusted, they should be given no choices, Big Brother knows best. In pursuance of this breakthrough revelation which had eluded the likes of even Adam Smith, Keynes, Bentham, Pareto and Schumpter, he has unleashed a barrage of economic reforms: demonetisation, GST, Aadhar linking, minimum balances, digitisation, cashless economy, etc. He is convinced that this muscular model of economics will win him both the Nobel prize and the 2019 elections. The former is unlikely, the latter possible. But in that case Mr. Thaler should be asked to return HIS Nobel- the Shove would have won over the Nudge.
    The Shove model, however, cannot work on its own, it has to go in tandem with another economic theory, best exemplified in the FUDGE principle. The globally acknowledged maestro of this model is Mr. Arun Jaitley. In this model the actual macro figures are fudged to make Shove appear to be working, at least till the next elections. And so we are told that demo has worked, even though all the black money has come into the banks and become white; that hoards of unaccounted funds have been unearthed, though only Rs. 4500 crore has been seized so far; that millions of bogus beneficiaries of govt. subsidy schemes have been identified, though most of these are those unfortunates who were unable to link their Aadhars with their ration cards, bank accounts, mid-day meal scheme or gas connections; that GST is a resounding success because Rs. 92000 crores has been realised in the first month, whereas Rs. 64000 crore of this has to be refunded to the assessees; that 20 crore new jobs have been created, whereas Labour Bureau and CMIE figures indicate that millions of existing jobs have been lost; that India will continue to grow at 7.3% whereas we are actually growing at less than 5%. And so on. Mr. Thaler's Nudge has some serious competition from the new Shove and Fudge models. I sometimes wonder: is global economic theory being re-written in 7, Race Course Road ?
    And what about me ? Just when I had convinced myself that I was finally beginning to get a handle on Economics, with behaviour replacing mathematics as its driving force, all this nudging, fudging and shoving has left me confused again. So I've evolved my own model to cope with this confusion. Its called the HUH? principle: its driving force is a state of total incomprehension, and it exhibits itself via a glassy look in the eyes and a gaping mouth. It has not yet made it to the syllabus of the Delhi School of Economics but may do so in the ballot papers of the 2019 elections. Till then I think I'll stick to English Literature