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Saturday, 28 March 2020

REDEFINING PATRIOTISM IN A POST COVID-19 INDIA


  In a world increasingly being taken over by a totalitarian right wing ideology ( and India is very much there, along with the USA, UK, Turkey, Brazil, Hungary, the Phillipines, Poland ) the idea of patriotism has been distorted to serve the authoritarian tendencies of their rulers. Autocracy does best when it has an enemy, real or imagined, to frighten its citizens with; this enemy can come in various forms: a neighboring nation, terrorism, drugs, traitors from within, economic collapse, a different religion or ethnic community. Its alleged purveyors are equally varied - contrary ideologues, intellectuals, artists, journalists, academicians- and they have to be countered with the force of "sovereign violence" and public denunciation in order to "save" the nation from their conspiracies.
  But before this can be done it is necessary to acquire legitimacy for the state's actions. This is done by aggressively promoting an ersatz and aggressive form of Nationalism in which the autocrat's ideology IS the national interest and any opposition to it is anti- national, if not seditionist. This nationalism is enshrined in a new concept of patriotism, a form of jingoism, where loyalty is sought for the ruling establishment and not for the country. And to extract this loyalty from its citizens, this redefined patriotism has to be necessarily militarized- equated with hysterical support for the state's coercive apparatus- the military, para military, police, even state sponsored vigilante mobs. These forces are brought into play on every occasion- Parliamentary debates, election speeches, television programmes- to divert the attention of the populace from other unresolved problems, and any questioning of their actions is branded as unpatriotic. In the Indian context we see examples of this everyday, whether it is the " unpatriotic" demand for withdrawal of AFSPA, reported excesses in Kashmir, questioning of the Rafale deal, the brutal conduct of the UP police against the anti-CAA protesters, recent actions and inactions of the police in Delhi, mob lynchings. By militarising patriotism every coercive action of the state becomes legitimate, the agents of this coercion become holy cows, and every other agency of the state becomes secondary. This is also a calculated effort by the rulers to coopt the armed forces to their cause. Support for this militarisation becomes the only standard for judging one's patriotism because the "enemies" of the nation ( as defined earlier) can only be countered by these armed forces and de-facto militias.
   This has worked well for Mr. Modi so far, ensuring that the bread and butter issues are put on the back burner, and garnering massive popular support for him and his party. But the events around the Covid 19 pandemic may be about to change all this. An invisible virus has locked down the whole country and generated an unprecedented fear and panic not seen since Partition. It is an existential dread about a deadly present and a  precarious future. And suddenly, the jingoistic bogies created by the government to stir up nationalism appear inconsequential, hollow and petty in the face of threats to our very ways of life. A realisation has also set in that the real threat to the country today is not on its borders or in the jungles of Dantewada, but right here, in the air we breathe and the hand we touch. It is not the govt's militarised apparatus which will save the country but a new set of heroes and warriors.
   The front lines today are not on our external borders but in every village and town, and those engaging in battle there are not  soldiers but people who have been completely neglected so far by this militaristic government- doctors, nurses, para medicals, scientists, researchers, sanitation staff, pharmacists ( they are there in our uniformed forces too, though equally neglected there too). It is these warriors who are the real patriots today, risking their own and their families' lives in order to keep us safe; their sacrifice is the patriotism we need to realise and recognise now, and in the future too.
  There are others too, those who are fighting the parallel war to prevent our economy from collapsing, to ensure that the supply chain of the goods and services on which our daily living depends does not collapse. Humble entities we take for granted: store clerks, truck drivers, the grocer and the vegetable vendor, the milk man, the delivery boy, the bus conductor, the journalist, the private security guard- they too put their lives at risk every time they venture out. And let us not forget those backroom, invisible boys and girls who are keeping our telecom and digital systems going at this difficult time, keeping us connected even as the government is compelled to snap these connections. This eco-system of social media platforms, digital information and services fills the physical void, Sanjay Kapoor, former CEO of Bharti Airtel reminds us in an article, allowing us to remain productive even while avoiding the risk of contagion. It enables families to stay in touch, access vital information, maintain everyday commerce. These techies may not be risking their lives, but they ensure that our digital civilisation does not collapse. It is these people who are the real patriots of today.
   If there's one important lesson that COVID 19 has taught us, apart from exposing our fragility and stupidity as a race, it is that these hitherto unsung, unacknowledged professionals are the soldiers of the future. It has, hopefully, taught us that whereas boots on the ground will always be needed, the next millenium  belongs to biological, economic and cyber warfare; while protecting our borders may still be required, the real challenge will be in protecting our ways of life, our natural environment, the health of communities; while Pakistan may continue to be enemy no. 1, the real enemy will be our inability to accept that the world will have changed irrevocably after this virus, and that we too need to change our politically expedient definition of patriotism. One doesn't have to wear a uniform, or march to the rhythms of jackboots, or chant Jai Shri Ram to be a patriot. Of course, our armed forces will always occupy pride of place, but they now have to share this space with others on the new front lines of the new dangers.
  So it's not enough to clap or bang pots and pans for two minutes to express our theoretical gratefulness to the many who are preventing our health and economy from collapsing. What is needed is to discard this deviant concept of a militarised patriotism, recognise the new warriors and realign national resources so that the real patriots are better equipped to defend our ancient civilisation and modern economy. As Mark Lawrence Schrad, the American author and Professor of Sociology hopes, in an insightful article in the POLITICO magazine: " Perhaps, too, we will finally start to understand that patriotism is cultivating the health and life of your community, rather than blowing up someone else's community."


  

Saturday, 21 March 2020

SOCIAL DISTANCING IS A CAKEWALK FOR US


   Notwithstanding that I am an ardent admirer of Mr. Shashi Tharoor's prose I have to jump the gun on him this week and propose the word/ phrase of the month- "social distancing". The phrase is rattling off everyone's tongue like the virus itself and has overtaken those all time favourites- "sedition" and "chowkidar." The reason, I suspect, is because we Indians are past masters at this, having practiced it assiduously ever since we arrived here from the steppes of central Asia.
  The higher castes have for centuries made it a point to keep the lower castes at a safe distance: their water sources, toilets, houses, even cremation grounds have to be in a distant corner so as not to contaminate the twice born. If it was not for our Constitution the chaps would even have been kept away from Parliament. The well to do ( usually also the ne'er do well) in cities have insulated themselves from the hoi polloi by building gated communities, clubs and watering holes disguised as golf clubs so that the grime of daily labour does not rub off on them. Death may be the great leveller, but the journey to it is also segregated: the rich go to five star hospitals while the less endowed crawl over each other in the charnel houses that government hospitals are. Our rulers reside among the lush greenery of Lutyen's Delhi while those who made them rulers infest the bylanes of jhuggi jhopri colonies, 80000 to a square kilometer. At times even walls are built to block off slums, as in Ahmedabad during Trump's visit, to demonstrate how seriously we take the concept of social distancing. The higher judiciary protects itself by cutting down on its benches and cases, while the 450,000 poor devils it has locked up will continue to sweat it out in far away overcrowded, sweltering  jails, waiting for the next date, i.e. when their lordships consider it safe to expose themselves. Justice can wait, what matters now is that our judges survive to become Rajya Sabha members.
   The bureaucracy, of course, is in a class by itself and through decades of social distancing from the public has made itself totally immune from the coronavirus. Since they live in ivory towers they can't be infected; they wash their hands off everything so no virus can ever pin them down; they don't shake hands, only the feet of their political masters, so there's no need to wash them; sworn by training not to touch any piece of work, they are safe from any contagion; they wear so many masks to hide their true intentions they are not effected by the shortage of N 99 masks.
  It's the same with our politicians. They are so full of hot air that no virus can survive being in them. They are never in one place, always rushing off to resorts in Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa, to avoid both, the confidence vote and the virus: the operative word in their case is "defection" and not "infection." They have such thick skins that no pathogen will ever be able to permeate them. They distance themselves from their voters from the day they are elected so no further social distancing is required: they are safe for at least five years, and thereafter are totally immune for life from any prickings of conscience, mosquitoes and sundry bacillus. Finally, of course, they are a plague by themselves and the corona, in all likelihood,  would mistake a politician  for one of themselves and pass him by with a cheery "Happy hunting!" No surprise then that Parliament has not been suspended- it's at such a safe distance from the real world that no virus would be able to jump that distance.
  So while social distancing takes various forms in different countries- a stampede to buy guns in America, singing from balconies in Milan, being quarantined in a brothel in Germany, mounting divorces in China- in India it's no great shakes, we've been doing it for centuries. And the irony is that those from whom we've been distancing ourselves, the working class families for whom the "one meter distance" and the quarantine is a luxury, are the ones most likely to weather the storm! Figures so far appear to indicate that most of the positive cases come from the better off sections of society. Time perhaps to remember the poet James Shirley:
" Scepter and crown must tumble down,
  And in the dust be equal made
  With the poor crooked scythe and spade."
If the coronavirus can teach us just this much, the loss to the GDP may well be worth it. 

Saturday, 14 March 2020

SERMONS IN STONES, LESSONS FROM PATHOGENS.


   It took a microscopic, invisible virus to expose the wasteful, predatory and unsustainable life style we have evolved- exposing the arrogance of a species which has been around for just about 80000 years, but has already undone most of what nature and a systematic evolution process had achieved in the millions of years which preceded it. Man is the only living thing which has the power to alter its external environment, and we have been at it, with a vengeance, ever since the Industrial Revolution-ravaging our forests, our oceans and rivers, pushing species into extinction, poisoning the air, even cluttering space with more than 5000 objects. All this in the never-ending pursuit of pleasure, convenience, gluttony and greed. Homo sapiens has been behaving as if there was no tomorrow. But the Corona virus has now shown us that ugly tomorrow- one which will be the last if we do not change our lifestyles and frenzy of consumption. Those who die of the virus may well turn out to be the lucky ones.
  The virus has so far spread to 100 countries, infected 145,000 people and killed about 4500, far less than do malaria, heart attacks, cancer, road accidents. But it has already altered our life styles and caused economic losses like no other affliction has in the past, and generated a fear not experienced before. In the coming months aviation expects to lose a hundred billion dollars, tourism eighty billion ( estimates for India are about two billion dollars if the outbreak continues till the end of the year), the cruise line industry has already lost forty billion. Global GDP growth may be halved in this fiscal. Country after country is walling itself off from the outside world, tens of millions of people have been forcibly quarantined, health infrastructures collapsing, factories at a standstill, markets and roads deserted. Tribalism is taking over. If the panic continues civil strife may not be too far off.
  Under the widening onslaught of the coronavirus the brittle layers of our "civilisation" are peeling off , one by one. This is because this was never the way nature intended us to live, nor can the planet sustain this insane consumption of natural resources- eating and drinking stuff brought from thousands of miles away, burning fuel to travel all over the world just to fill our leisure time, emitting green house gases to watch Netflix interminably instead of going out for a walk, stripping the planet's green cover just so we can build more towns, resorts, airports and golf courses. It takes a while to grasp the horrific extent of our cruelty to the planet and the demands made on it, but some figures of our depredations might help us to understand:
* Rampant non-vegetarianism. Global meat consumption is about 400 million tonnes, the per capita annual meat intake being 43 kgs. Why is this bad? Because live stock rearing accounts for 17% of total green-house gas emissions and millions of hectares of forests are being cleared to provide ranges for this livestock.
* We harvest 100 million tonnes of fish every year and 75% of fishing grounds have been exhausted. By 2025 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.
*  More than 6.80 billion persons travel every year for pleasure on 150,000 commercial flights every day, spewing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
* Every year 793 million TEUs ( Twenty feet x Twenty feet containers equivalent units) are transported across the world, carrying goods from one country to another, because of a production/ consumption mismatch.
*  The insatiable demand for energy results in the burning of 8000 million tonnes of coal every year. This figure was 4500 million in 1990.
  All of this has come at a great cost to the planet's health. 13.7 million hectares of forests are lost every year. Of the 2 million species of animal life, about 2000 are driven to extinction every year, which is about 10000 times the natural extinction rate: it is estimated that by 2070 on third of all life forms will become extinct. Recent studies have revealed 33 new microbes/ pathogens that had been locked up/ frozen in the glaciers and permafrost in the poles but could now be released because of the melting of the ice. We have no resistance to them and scientists have no idea what effect they could have on us if they become active. Water wars are just around the corner.
  Scientists have unequivocally established that the rise in zoontic diseases like Corona, Sars, Ebola, Mers, Zica, Nipah etc. are linked to the loss of biodiversity, natural habitats, and forests and climate change. Animals are coming in contact with human habitations and their bacteria and viruses are now infecting humans.The Corona virus has shown that we need  to reinvent our exploitative and inter dependent models of trade and commerce, to REDUCE and DEGLOBALISE consumption, especially of non-essential goods and products. If India had manufactured its own APIs, automobile components and smart phones, if the western world had produced its own computer chips and lithium batteries, if we ate local beef instead of importing Wagyu beef from Japan, got drunk on our own liquor instead of fixating on Scotch from Scotland or Champagne from France, vivisected our own fish instead of carting in caviar from the Caspian sea- in short, if countries had relied on local products instead of becoming over dependent on goods from China, Japan, South Korea and each other, this kind of global economic panic may not have assumed such alarming proportions. Products should be manufactured where the raw materials, essential inputs and markets are available and not where taxes are lower: the planet is more important than corporate profits. Supply chains should be local. Travel locally for pleasure and tourism, not to far away exotic destinations just because you can afford it; this has already begun to happen- a recent BBC report has revealed that in the last one month domestic tourism in Europe has gone up by 20%, even as international tourism has all but collapsed.
  Some of the beneficial effects of this Corona induced imperatives are already becoming evident: China( the world's biggest polluter) has never seen bluer skies this century, with a 25% drop in CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions, fossil fuel consumption across the world has reduced significantly with  oil demand expected to come DOWN this year, the first time in ten years: industry sources predict that the expected demand for 2020 will be reduced by as much as 365 kilo barrels per day, back to 2011 levels. China has imposed a complete ban on all trade in wild life, and since it is the main driver of this trade, this will have a huge effect on saving many endangered species. Non-essential travel has been heavily truncated: one estimate states that between January and April this year global airline capacity fell by 40.8 million seats. As the virus continues to spread around the globe more quarantines will occur, more work outages, more flight cancellations, more production losses. Millions will face hardships, but these will have been caused as much by our unsustainable life styles and economic models as by the virus. The planet will, however, become a better place to live in, albeit temporarily.
  The corona virus crisis is where the concerns about global warming and sustainable use of natural resources converge. To overcome this virus- and others that will inevitably follow- homo sapiens will have to make fundamental changes to the way we work, eat, recreate, travel, socialise. Advances in technology can help us to make these changes: work from home instead of commuting, use skype and tele conferencing instead of jetting around the world for meetings, avoid exotic foods from far away places, eat and travel locally, do not succumb to the retail therapy of non-essential spending promoted by mindless shopping frenzies such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday or End of Reason sales. Governments should also do their bit by incentivising such behavioural changes and disincentivising practices to the contrary.
  Nature is striking back and may kill many more than the bubonic plague and the Spanish flu, primarily because of our burgeoning population and changed life styles. It is not as yet cruel, however, compared to our standards: we kill 1300 of our fellow citizens every day. So let us not blame the virus but learn to live with Nature, as our ancestors did. If we were to consider the whole thing dispassionately and clinically the corona virus is the best piece of news for planet Earth in a long time. It is not a disaster, it's a wake-up call. We can either wake up now, or hit the snooze button and go back to the neolithic age. 

Saturday, 7 March 2020

WORRY ABOUT THE TRUST DEFICIT, NOT THE FISCAL DEFICIT.


   The country is now firmly caught in a vicious,  stagflationary downward spiral. And the reason is not the fiscal deficit, that bugbear of economists, or a delusional stock exchange, but the complete decimation of trust and belief in the government and its various agencies. The tangible framework of a nation- Parliament, laws, courts, institutions, agencies, media- these are but the hardware of governance and democracy. What drives them is the trust and faith that the citizens have in them- the software without which they cannot function in the manner they were intended to. And today this software has been taken over by a malevolent virus and the entire machinery of state has turned rogue, it is destroying that which it was supposed to protect, promote and guard. Vast sections of citizenry no longer trust the government, and those that do, do so for the wrong reasons.
  The grandiloquent promises which brought the BJP to power in 2014- Rs. 15 lakhs in bank accounts, 20 million jobs a year, strengthening of federalism, safety of women, social harmony, respect for the constitution, eradication of corruption, transparency- were embraced by the people but started unraveling very soon, more so after May 2019. The union govt. is in constant conflict with non-BJP state governments and is continuously encroaching on their jurisdiction through the NIA, CBI, changes to the Finance Commission TORs, partisan use of Governors. Even the pretense of federalism has been given up and the deep mistrust is reflected in the refusal of at least ten states to conduct the NPR, and the resolutions against NRC.
   Betraying the people's trust and its own promises, deals like the Rafale purchase, allotment of airport, mining, port, power projects to a restricted list of companies are not only opaque but raise other fiduciary questions too. Crimes against women have gone up exponentially, with some of the BJP's own leaders being involved and, worse, being protected. Social harmony is in tatters, the riots in Delhi being only the most recent examples. Jobs are being LOST by the millions every year, not created. If an honest assessment were to be done it would probably reveal that the number of families below the poverty line has increased during the last three years, owing to maverick economic policies. The envelope of the Constitution is being pushed to its limit by dubious legislations. 
  There are no takers now for the spurious statistics churned out by a govt. which does not accept the figures of its own agencies, and either trashes them or suppresses them, as it did with the National Statistical Commission's employment and consumption/ expenditure surveys. It does not add to the citizens' confidence when ex- Chief Economic Advisors maintain that GDP figures are fraudulently bumped up by 2.00 to 2.50 points, or when heads of statistical organisations resign because of interference. Even the international organisations no longer go by the govt's official figures but generate their own by looking at broad industry markers instead- one reason why they are continually downgrading our economic forecasts.
  Much of the social disruption, bordering on anarchy, on display these days is because of the CAA/NRC/NPR trinity. Hundreds of millions have no faith in the government's "assurances" on the subject; how can they when the Prime Minister says one thing and the Home Minister another, when there is complete dissonance between what is said in Parliament and in TV studios and interviews? It's not just the confusion over their stands that creates doubts, it's also the blatant, easily verifiable untruths- about existence of detention centers, about NPR being the "first stage of NRC", about the revised NPR questionnaire, about the compulsion to produce documentary proof. How does one repose trust in the government when, after after imposing the world's longest ever internet lockdown on Kashmir, the Law Minister pontificates on the 2nd of March at a seminar that for his government "accessibility to the internet is non-negotiable"? Or when the PM says that we should honour wealth creators but his government lets loose the CBI, ED and the Income Tax department on businesses and banks in a manner never seen before? It is this overwhelming dissonance between its statements, and the dichotomy between its claims and its actions that are leading to a collapse in the people's trust. A govt. which lies through its teeth engenders not only distrust but also fear.                                            The result is that even innocuous surveys such as the household census on consumption or of domestic tourism expenditure are now being obstructed by people; in some cases field investigators have been held hostage. People are just not willing to provide any information to govt. agencies, fearing it shall be misused for the NPR/NRC. If this continues the entire statistical base of development data shall be  contaminated, effecting not only the nation's planning but also its image as  a destination for foreign investment.
  This suspicion of the BJP government's true intentions and motives is an important reason for the paralysis in the economy. Consumption has bottomed out, demand is at an all time low, industrialists are not borrowing and banks not lending even though they are flush with funds post demonetisation. According to a report by Shekhar Gupta in The Print banks have total deposits of Rs. 141 lakh crores but have been able to lend only Rs. 95 lakh crore- Rs. 46 lakh crore is lying idle which could have been utilised to create jobs, ramp up production and demand. Instead we are now headed for a period of stagflation.
  This cloud of suspicion has spread over just about every public institution, which are now seen to be suborned instruments of an over arching state, timidly doing its bidding- the RBI, Election Commission of India, CAG, NHRC, the regulatory agencies. Most dangerous of all, people's faith in even the Supreme Court and the higher judiciary appears to be getting eroded at an alarming rate; they cannot be blamed given the tenor and ambivalence of some recent judgments- and adjournments!- on Kashmir, habeas corpus, CAA, Ram mandir, hate speech and the Delhi riots. It doesn't help matters when a senior Supreme Court judge chooses to heap obsequious praise on the Prime Minister at an international conference of jurists. 
  And these misgivings are now no longer limited to our national borders but are spreading like questioning ripples into the international community, notwithstanding choreographed visits of foreign ambassadors and the hugging trysts with Donald Trump. The diplomatic firefighting and the refrain of " this is our internal matter" are losing traction. The ultimate humiliation for us has been the intervention application by the UN High Commissioner of Refugees in the Supreme Court in the challenge to the CAA- the first time in our history, reducing us to the level of some African and South American nations, struggling to become democracies. Can there be a bigger come down for a nation which prides- prided?- itself as a beacon for other countries?
  Nations can withstand political divisions- in fact, in mature democracies this only makes the democracy stronger, resilient and broad based. But if they are divided on the basis of religion and a jaundiced perception of historical wrongs, they can only weaken and descend into social and economic collapse. In our federal system, if the center and the states do not work together then even the best policies will flounder and fail to deliver. Outsiders will not invest and domestic wealth creators will take their money abroad to more stable countries, as 5000 dollar millionaires did last year. Economies are not built in vacuums but on platforms where govts are trusted, policies are progressive, laws are free of biases, courts are objective, institutions are allowed to function according to their mandates, societies are stable and the citizenry are not killing each other over their gods. Our problem today is not the fiscal deficit, it is the trust deficit. In sheer economic terms we were in a much weaker position in the early 1990's, when we even had to pledge our gold reserves. But our social fabric was not torn and our institutions were not compromised, we were able to weather the storm and emerge as a 7%+ GDP growth economy. We were able to do so because the country was united and the government of the day was trusted to do its best. That unity and trust are missing today.


Saturday, 29 February 2020

GODS, HAMMURABI AND KEJRIWAL- REFLECTIONS ON THE "NEW" INDIA.


  I'm not a very religious person but have impeccable scriptural credentials which would impress any east Delhi arsonist- as a Saryupari Brahmin I sit at the top of the theological heap and my ancestors are even mentioned in the registers of Bhrigu Rishi at Varanasi and Rishikesh. I'm hoping that Mr. Amit Shah will permit this register as  permissible evidence to prove that I am an Indian when the N archy- sorry, NRC- also becomes law with the blessings of the Supreme Court. Like Rahul Gandhi in happier times, once upon a time I too wore a "janau" or sacred thread around my scrawny neck; I even used to wind it around my left ear in the time honored fashion to announce that I was now proceeding for my daily ablutions to the toilet. ( I never understood the logic of this ritual but suspect it was to keep it out of the way at the moment of reckoning). But I had to jettison the janau when I went to hostel as it became a grave risk to life and limb: the sub-adolescent unbelievers would give it a mighty tug just as gravity was about to take over on the toilet seat, unsettling a potential future Chief Secretary. In hindsight ( the correct word under the circumstances, you would agree) I need not have bothered because I never came within genuflecting distance of becoming a Chief Secretary.
  It's a good thing that we reportedly have 32 crore gods in our pantheon, because there is a very real danger in these revivalist days that we may run short of gods. Every political party or leader is laying claim to his own god, and since we have about 2200 hundred registered parties ( and they are multiplying like the corona virus and causing as many deaths), gods will soon be in short supply. BJP has patented Ram, Rahul Gandhi has declared that Shiva is his, Kejriwal has appropriated Hanumanji, Chandrashekar Azad swears by Bhim, Samajwadi Party has just built a temple in Etawah to expropriate Vishnu, the Shiv Sena has monopolised Ganesha, Tej Pratap Yadav of the RJD has merged with Lord Krishna, Kamalnath has claimed Sita, AIADMK which till recently was without a god has nominated Jayalalitha for that hallowed position. There is a scramble these days to find a god, for that way lies, not salavation, but votes, the currency of power. In the good old days Mammon was good enough but in the age of Amit Malviya and Prashant Kishore brand distinction and recall is necessary. But here is something to mull over- why is it that the more gods we have in the fray the more ungodly our politics becomes?

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  The law, we are told, is not just an ass but an ass which is constantly evolving- from the principles laid down by the Athenian Draco to the code of Hammurabi to the Napoleonic code to the rationale of our own Supreme Court recently in a habeas corpus petition: If you've waited for so long for freedom, what difference does another two weeks make? If, dear reader, it is your impression that jurisprudence in India is evolving in the reverse direction, you have reason to so believe. Grave constitutional issues such as amendments to the constitution, dismembering of a state, detention of hundreds without charges or trials, legislation based on religious preferences- these are now matters of no legal consequence and can be deferred for weeks and months, while the building of a temple will brook no delay and an inconvenient High Court judge must demit charge immediately. The "adjournment" and the "urgent mention" are the new instruments of justice in the evolution of law.
   And what about the FIR ( first information report)? It is 9/10ths of the law these days, used as a tool to punish and to protect, all of course without any trial taking place: the new norm is to file ( or refuse to file) FIRs, arrest( or refuse to arrest) those named, and then just forget about the whole bloody thing. Take, for example, the 27th of February, 2020. It should have been declared by the UN as the International Day of the FIR, going by the sheer number filed in Delhi: 148 FIRs relating to the Delhi riots, notices for filing FIRs against Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, Manish Sisodia, Salman Khurshid, Asauddin Owaisi, actor Swara Bhaskar, eminent lawyer Mahmood Pracha, radio jockey Sayema. The filing of FIRs against Union Minister Anurag Thakur, Parvesh Singh Verma and Kapil Mishra has been deferred for four weeks, because of the dictates of our evolving law: when ruling party figures are involved then FIRs should not be filed immediately after the alleged offence but at an "appropriate time". Of course, the FIRs are just a smoke screen behind which the real perpetrators of the violence will disappear. As Marie Antoinette might have said- If you can't give them justice, give them FIRs.
   Am I alone in thinking that the quality of justice in this country is in inverse proportion to the number of FIRs filed?

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   Just what is Mr. Kejriwal up to these days? It does not behove a three time Chief Minister who has just won 62 out of 70 seats to act like a wimp and to continue to straddle a rotting fence. His behaviour during and after the Delhi riots can be described as ambivalent at best and opportunistic at worst. He and his party should have been on the ground from day one, demanding that the police act immediately, that the Home Ministry send in the para military. Where is the condemnation of the Home Minister and the demand for his resignation? He has been quick to make a U turn and sanction the prosecution of Kanhaiya Kumar for sedition but is yet to become a party to the case in the High Court to demand the registration of FIRs against BJP leaders for hate speech and for inciting the riots. He cannot be unaware that the two SITs set up to investigate the riots are nothing but a cover up, given that the two police officers heading them have doubtful credentials from the JNU/ Shaheen Bagh incidents, and one of them was even divested of his charge by the Election Commission recently because of his political bias. Why then has he not demanded a judicial inquiry or even petitioned the High Court for one?
   Kejriwal should realise that he is no Mahatma Gandhi and that his place during the riots was not at Rajghat but at Bhajanpura or Karawalnagar. When people are being killed in their dozens what we need is a resolute leader, not a Good Samaritan merely announcing compensation. His careful balancing act may have been necessary during the elections, but now he must cease juggling the balls and grasp the nettle. He should come out in unambiguous opposition to the ruling party's hate agenda, and to the implementation of NRC/NPR. Other Chief Ministers with a far weaker mandate have done so already. He must not fritter away the faith the people of Delhi have reposed in him. In at least one respect he must emulate the BJP- just as the latter does not give a damn about the 20% minority vote, Kejriwal too should dump the 38% of the BJP's core vote: he will never ever get them anyway, not even if he aspires to be a "chhota Modi". He has his 56% and it is for those voters that he must work.
I don't expect that Mr. Kejriwal has read the sayings of Confucius but he would do well to heed one of them at least: Man who walk in middle of road get run over very soon.


  

Saturday, 22 February 2020

GETTING A (NON)SENSE OF THE BUDGET.


   My mathematical skills have always been in doubt; I do not have a head for figures , except the hour glass ones, and the sands of time are running out even for those. I recently turned 69 and the number vaguely stirred memories of  this number I had read about many years ago in a book called "The Sensuous Man". Unfortunately, whether it's 69 or 99, I am unable to wrap my head around it now. Notwithstanding this deficiency, however, I served in the finance department of Himachal for close to six years, and worked on as many budgets, which has contributed in no small measure to the state becoming a basket case. Consequently, when Finance Secretaries in Shimla retire nowadays they are allowed to take their begging bowls with them as  parting gifts in case the pension suddenly dries up like the mythical Saraswati river. This brief intro should convince  the reader that I am fully qualified to analyse the budget recently presented by Mrs. Sitharaman, before she collapsed along with the Sensex at the end of her marathon talkathon.
  I am not surprised at all: if it took her two and a half hours to read her speech can you imagine how long it took her to write it? It was a masterly piece, a combination of Amish Tripathi and Agatha Christie. The former's influence was evident in the hoary quotes from ancient India- Tirukkural, Thiruvalluvar, Kalidas, Aauvaiyar and the references to the Indus Valley Civilisation.. The Agatha Christie genre was visible in the whodunit nature of the budget, the unsolved mysteries in it- where will the revenues of Rs. 24 lakh crore come from given the taxation mess we are in? How will the govt. rake in Rs. 2.10 lakh crore from disinvestment when it couldn't get even 10% of that in the current year? Why do we need a government at all if all essential services are going to be privatised? Why does the Sensex behave like an under sexed man, always needing a "stimulus" in order to rise? What happens to Vikas if the budget is slashed where it is most needed- MNREGA, education, vocational skilling, PM Kisan ? Why did the FM mention " nominal GDP" of 10% when what the public needs to know is the " real GDP"? Nominal GDP is to economics what the padded bra is to haute coutre: it just bumps up the figure but hides the sagging truth. Even I am dumb enough to know that nominal includes inflation, and that since the latest inflation rate is 7.33%, our REAL GDP will therefore be only 2.67%. But that should make the govt. happy, shouldn't it, because it is after all the Hindu rate of growth- a return to past glories not seen for these last 40 years? There are many more mysteries and unanswered questions in this budget which will require more than a Hercule Poirot to unravel- a Shashikanta Das, perhaps, or a Subramaniam Swamy ?
  A budget is basically a road map for going broke in a methodical manner, without letting the cat out of the bag ( or "bahi" nowadays), and the choice before Mrs. Sitharaman was whether to fudge the BE ( Bullshit Estimates) or the RE ( Rigged Estimates). To put it in Hamlet's words: to BE or not to RE? Which is why data had to be obtained from the Wikipedia; actually, since no one believes our statistics any more the Chief Economic Advisor really had no choice. And so, based on this ethereal data, we shall now have 100 new airports to enable the likes of Nirav Modi and Choksi to fly out more easily, but the Swachh Bharat budget has been reduced by Rs. 300 crore: I can now again look forward to the phalanx of puissant posteriors on the rail tracks when I go to Shimla by the morning Shatabdi. The Income Tax code now contains more slabs than there are in Mr. Mukesh Ambani's 27 storey house, or in our own Sanjauli, that haven of apple orchardists. Smoking is now more injurious to your wallet than to your health- I've struck a deal with my bank to  buy cigarettes on EMIs. The only thing not taxed is sex, but only till 5G and IOT arrive, and till CBDT can decide whether the sex slabs should be based on duration or frequency or calories expended. But there are questions here too: will the tax apply to one or both partners? Will there be any sexemptions? Will NRIs have to pay the tax if they have sex in India? I'm hoping there will be a discount or rebate for senior citizens. It may be a notional benefit for most of us but it might just stir up the animal spirits, you know: we Indians never turn up our noses at anything which is free.
  In order to compensate for its junking of every statistic on the economy generated by its own agencies- consumption, employment, prices, manufacturing, NPAs- the government has now disowned every accepted school of economic thought and come out with its own unique swadeshi one- THALINOMICS. Henceforth, our progress will not be judged by the pesky GDP but by the cost of the foodstuffs on our "thalis" or plates. And according to our freshly minted Chief Economic Advisor the cost of a thali today is 29% less than what it was in 2015( veg) and 18% less for non-veg. Ergo, people are far better off today than they were 4 years ago! I don't know what he eats (humble pie?) or drinks ( gau mutra?) or who he hangs out with ( Baba Ramdev?) but he's certainly got his economic knickers in an almighty twist. If the thalis are getting cheaper, then how come we keep falling on the Hunger Index ? No wonder the poor FM almost fainted while reading this out. There's only so much of cooking up of figures one can do, whether they are served on a thali or in a budget document.
  But the direction of the budget is clear and I don't need Google maps to figure out where we are headed- selling off the family jewels ( i.e. whatever is left of them: see the list of absconding jewellers in Ms Mahua Moitra's tweet of 5th February, it reads like a who's who of Gujarat): Air India, Railways, L.I.C, BPCL, CONCOR- all will now be put in hock in a Flipkart inspired End Of Reason sale, but here is the delicious master stroke: who on earth will buy them, since everyone is broke? Who else but the two Big A's, who have added billions to their wealth in the last five years while the rest of the country has gone to the dogs, or cows, as the case may be. In fact, inspired by this budget, I have a suggestion for the PM and the FM- instead of privatising the govt. in bits and pieces do it wholesale, the entire govt. at one go. Gentlemen, stand not upon the order of your going but GO!- the President, the Council of Ministers, Parliament- let them go the way of Article 370, and hand over the govt. to our elite club of those 63 billionaires whose combined wealth exceeds the sum of the Union budget ( The Oxfam Report released at Davos at the WEF on 19.1.2020). Most of the national wealth has been cornered by them anyway ( our richest 1% hold more than four times the wealth held by the 953 million wretches who make up 70% of our population- Oxfam again!). This would make de jure what currently is defacto, and I'm sure the Supreme Court would have no qualms about approving it, given which side it is on these days. These guys would ensure we become a five trillion dollar- or five trillion tonne, as our weighty Home Minister clarified at a recent TV conclave- economy by 2024, for the simple reason that all of it would belong to them anyway. 
   To sum up then, it was a literary budget which can be classified in the Fiction category, along with the works of Chetan Bhagat. It can be best described by an 80's cartoon of the inimitable RK Laxman, where the housewife is shown reprimanding the Common Man: " Don't be so critical.... actually, it's a good budget if you don't view it from the economic angle!" 

Saturday, 15 February 2020

DELHI ELECTIONS--THE POISON HAS RUN ITS COURSE.

                               DELHI  ELECTIONS-- THE POISON HAS RUN ITS COURSE.

   A poison can only be combated one way- by the infected body producing its own antibodies to counter the venom. The struggle is painful and not easy and at times appears futile, but there comes a tipping point: the venom peaks, the fever breaks, and the body expels the poison. I would like to believe that this is what has happened to India, the tipping point being the Delhi elections which the AAP has won handsomely.
  This is no run- of- the- mill victory; not since the BJP has come to power at the center in 2014 has an opposition party returned to power, bucking anti- incumbency and with a two thirds majority, in back to back elections. Kejriwal had to contend with an absolutely unprecedented level of hatred, official violence, personal abuse, misuse of police machinery, communalism and naked lies that were unleashed by the BJP. Never was so much fire power brought to bear on 1400 sq. kms of territory: the entire union cabinet, 200 MPs, 7 Chief Ministers, 46 rallies by the Home Minister himself, even the Prime Minister. The largest political party in the world, backed by an unlimited war chest of electoral bonds, against a relative minnow only seven years old has been humbled. This is a bigger victory than in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand for many reasons.
  AAP fought this election alone, whereas even the BJP had to fight with three partners, as had the Congress too in the other states it won. The margin of victory is staggering, for the second time running. This was the first election post the Article 370 and CAA/ NRC "master strokes" of the BJP and was supposed to have been an endorsement of these draconian measures. The hubris of the BJP was matched by the somnolence of the Congress which, by not having an understanding with the AAP, practically gifted almost half its vote share to the BJP, nothwithstanding which the AAP retained its own vote share to win. The AAP had to fight a lonely battle, vindicating Tagore's exhortation of   "ekla cholo re". It would be educative to focus on a few points of interest that indicate that the anaconda's coils may be loosening.
   The results unequivocally confirm that the BJP's hate speeches, abuse, shameless polarisation and incitement to violence did not work. AAP's vote share of 54% establishes that Hindus in large numbers voted for the party. The clearest( and most shocking for the BJP) indicator was the voting pattern in Okhla, where Shaheen Bagh- that alleged hub of terrorism and "mini-Pakistan"- is located. Okhla has a population of 300,000 of which 40% are minorities. A total of 136000 votes were cast of which Amanatullah Khan of AAP got 109017 votes and his BJP rival Braham Singh received 20520. Even if we assume that 80% of the Muslims voted ( a staggeringly high and unlikely figure), and that all of them voted for Amanatullah Khan, their votes do not add up to more than about 90000 votes. Which means that about 20000 Hindus also voted for him- the same number as for Braham Singh. This is the most favorable calculation for the BJP- in all probability the number of Hindus who voted for Khan is probably double this number. The same pattern is visible across all the seven or eight Muslim dominated seats. Quite clearly, the attempted polarisation did not work, and the Home Minister admitted as much on 13th Feb when he rued the use of extreme and hate filled language by the BJP campaigners. He should, of course, include himself in that black list.
   Of equal concern for the BJP, and hope for India, is that the BJP's vote share was significantly lower than AAP's across all 7 Parliamentary constituencies- it did not prevail among any cross section of society, whether by cast, profession, region, religion, income or sex, showing that the disenchantment with its arrogance and vitriol is widespread. It should worry in particular that even in New Delhi and Central Delhi it failed to win even one seat; New Delhi, especially, because 80% of its voters are govt. servants and their families- if they too are estranged it does not say much for Mr. Modi and his cabinet. Not only are they losing the states, they are also losing the civil servants.
   The (still supine) media is obligingly peddling the BJP line that the party lost because of Kejriwal's "freebies", a lackluster local party cadre, failure to project a CM face; and that the trouncing is not a reflection on either the BJP's insensitive policies or on the Modi-Shah duo. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the first three reasons are valid, there can be no doubt that this is a loss personally for, and on account of, Messers Modi and Shah. Their intransigence, arrogance, lack of any compassion, contempt for the rule of law, refusal to engage in any discussion, abuse of the state's powers- as reflected in the CAA, NRC, NPR, Kashmir- have substantially eroded the people's trust in them. This was evident in the Jharkhand results and has now been ratified in Delhi. The people are increasingly uneasy and worried about the ever increasing doses of poison being injected into our system. This politics of majoritarianism and confrontation has gone too far and for too long, and the average Indian- of all religions and denominations- is beginning to push back against it. They want a synthesizer, not a divider, and Kejriwal's genius lies in having realised this. He has sought to bridge the binaries which have dominated all politics till now, more so since 2014. He will, therefore, encourage business while budgeting big for welfare of the poor, call himself a " son of Delhi" while making life easier for the migrants in the slums, oppose CAA and NRC while supporting the withdrawal of Article 370, refuse to go to Shaheen Bagh even as his Deputy Chief Minister says his party stands with the protesters, recite the Hanuman Chalisa but not the remix of Jai Shri Ram, proudly proclaim his personal religion while refusing to impose it on others and make it state policy.
   The BJP/ RSS fighting machine needs an enemy and a target to exist- Kejriwal refuses to be either. He is a will o' the wisp who cannot be pinned down, he will not allow himself to be stereotyped or poured into a mould of the BJP's making- anti national, anti Hindu, liberal, urban Naxal, pro-Pakistani and so on. Without these labels, the BJP finds it hard to target him, let alone vanquish him. Kejriwal may just have found the perfect antidote to the BJP in this traditionally syncretic nation- be a leader for all seasons and reasons, not just for the winter of discontent. There is much in this formula for other parties to emulate, if only they could jettison their personal egos and ambitions.