Atanu Dey On India's Development

Special Parliament Session to Debate Poverty

| 34 Comments

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, member Rajya Sabha, the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, proposed a bold initiative on his blog on Oct 8th last week. In the blog post titled “Special Parliament Session to debate the path to a poverty free India,” he calls for “Special sessions of Parliaments of 3-5 days, which will only discuss National Priority issues – with no disruptions’, No partisanship. Such a session will also serve to get the attention of ‘heavily distracted media’ to focus the nation on the REAL challenges facing us.” Kudos to Shri Chandrasekhar for that proposal. I applaud his efforts in provoking asking for a discussion on real issues in the Parliament and in the media. What I attempt to do here is suggest a few specifics about what the discussions could be about.

He prefaces his proposal with references to India’s economic woes: that even 63 years after independence, India is ranked 134 in the UN Development Index (and that it has remained there since 1994); that the number of those living in acute poverty in poorest eight states of India exceed that of the poor in the poorest 26 sub-Saharan Africa; that Gandhi called poverty the worst form of violence, etc.

He writes,

Even today, apart from the occasional blue sky claim from the Planning commission, the country has no clue about a predictable and definite timetable to eradicate poverty! Given that we seem to be a nation where geniuses abound as Economists, Media and Business visionaries – why are we not able to plan a clear Timebound path to a Poverty free India? A decade or 2 decades – whatever the case may be, but we should be able to have a national Plan.

His urgent call for figuring out a definite timetable to eradicate poverty is unexceptionable. Poverty is the most ubiquitously and evidently inescapable feature of India. We have to figure a way out of poverty.

But to get to the answer to “how to get out of poverty” we have to begin with a more fundamental question: “Why is India poor?” Only if we can honestly seek an answer to that, and only if we admit the causes of the persistent poverty, do we have a hope of emerging out of poverty. We have to know the “why” before we can get to the “how.”

Indeed I would frame it even more strongly and say that if we genuinely understood the causes of India’s desperate poverty, we would have little trouble hauling India out of poverty in a couple of decades. If you know the why well enough, the how will be trivially obvious.

Conversely, I maintain that if we refuse to explore, understand and admit the causes of India’s poverty, there is no hope in hell that we will be able to get India out of its present dire circumstances. If you don’t know the why, you can forget about figuring out the how.

I think it stands to reason that diagnoses of causation precede any remedial action — be it poor health in an individual or in an economy. The rub is that diagnosis is often hard to do and at the very least it is more than a little embarrassing to all parties concerned, both the doctor and the patient. Uncomfortable questions have to be asked, indignities suffered, and painful admissions have to be made.

Let’s continue with the medical analogy for a bit to illuminate the case I wish to argue. The patient has been suffering for a while with obvious distress due to some disease. As dispassionate but interested observers we can legitimately ask if he has been under any medical intervention? If so, which medical regimen exactly was he following? Who was the doctor and what were his qualifications? What did he advise the patient? Did the patient follow the regimen proposed? Did the doctor’s recommendation help to any extent? If not, was an attempt made to get a second opinion from another physician? If not, why not?

Did the disease worsen under this doctor? Should the patient continue under the same regimen or even under the same doctor? Should the patient actually move to a different doctor altogether? To what extent is the current problem of the patient due to the incompetency of the doctor who’s been treating the patient? Have the doctor’s recommendations been contrary to accepted medical consensus?

Now if you were to ask the doctor to investigate and answer all those above questions, it would not be very wise. The doctor has an obvious conflict of interest in not furthering that sort of investigation. Indeed, even if the doctor were not malicious, sheer incompetency could explain that the doctor under whose care the patient’s condition worsened would be unable to admit that there were alternative treatments that could help the patient. The admission that he made major mistakes cannot be expected from any doctor who is less than an enlightened selfless being, a buddha; all lesser beings will insist that the fault lies in circumstances outside their control.

So here we are. India is desperately poor and India’s economic health has actually deteriorated over the decades since its independence in many important — but not all — indicators. Some of the symptoms are acute and others chronic. It is time for the parliament to discuss and debate the question of why this is so, before it addresses Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s question of figuring out a timetable for eradicating poverty.

Allow me to lay out my analysis of the situation. Mine is just one of the many opinions and I don’t claim to any privileged position as a dispassionate but interested observer (except that I am a student of development economics trained in the neoclassical tradition and therefore have the natural biases associated with that.)

I think that one of the primary causes of India’s economic troubles is that of needless government control and interference in economic affairs that it has no competency in. By that I mean that the government interferes in businesses that it has no business to be in. It has no business in the production of goods and services that a competitive private sector can efficiently, effectively and adequately provide.

It does not have to run railways, airlines, commercial banking and finance corporations, hotels, schools, educational institutions, steel firms, automobile companies, power generation, telecommunications, bakeries, grain warehousing, TV and radio stations, petroleum corporations . . . the list goes on.

To be sure, it is not a matter of cosmic tragedy that the government of India nationalized an airline and ran it into the ground while raking up losses of billions of dollars. That is not a big thing at all, considering that India is a very large economy. But as the man said, a few billion here and a few billion there, and soon we will be talking real money.[1]

It is the accumulated losses of few billion every year, in each of the hundreds of activities the government needlessly involves itself in, aggregated over decades that eventually add up to vast numbers that show up in the bottom line as hundreds of millions of abjectly poor people.

But note that all these businesses that the government involves itself in and loses money over, they are all undertaken with the expressly stated purpose of protecting the poor. Not a single politician, leave alone a political party, has ever done anything in India without justifying it on the grounds that it will help the poor. All policies ever proposed and implemented have always been pro-poor.

Labor laws? Pro-poor. Agricultural policy? Pro-poor. Industrial policy? Pro-poor. Education policy? Pro-poor. Show me any budget that any Indian government has ever proposed and I will show you a pro-poor budget.

The cynic in me says that indeed India’s governments have all been pro-poor — they have increased the number of the poor, haven’t they? Starting with about 200 million abjectly poor people in 1947, Indian governments have succeeded in increasing the number to around 800 million today.

It is not my case that around 200 million Indians do not enjoy a modest degree of prosperity equivalent to what the around 50 million or so at the top of the heap at the time of independence. I am merely stating the oft stated number that for the vast majority of Indians — whose numbers have quadrupled — life is as hard now as it was before and that too after decades of ostentatiously strenuous government effort to fix the problem.

My conjecture is that most, if not all, of India’s problems are created by the government of India. This claim of mine would of course be not welcome by many who have been brought up on a belief in the benevolence of the government. This is unavoidable since it is the government which controls what is taught in the schools, and what is broadcast over the airwaves. They are the unwilling prisoners of what is called “contextual constraints” — the inability to imagine alternatives to the context that they are embedded in.

Large segments of the society have internalized the myth that the government is capable — and willing — to solve to problem of poverty. This is one of the greatest binding assumptions that imprisons the population. This is an absurd notion, and as long as a large segment of the population believes in this absurdity, poverty will continue to be a reality. To escape this predicament is hard because it is in the interest of those in government to perpetuate this myth.

That a large segment of the population believes in the benevolence and competency of the government to solve economic problem is extremely unfortunate. What is worse is that the government has no incentive to disabuse that segment of this illusion. Those in government derive their livelihood — and what a splendid livelihood it is indeed — by making sure that the people don’t get educated out of this mistaken notion.

Take literacy, as another example of India’s primary failures. India had around 250 million illiterates in 1950. Now it has 650 million illiterates. It does not take much to make someone literate and numerate. Yet, the dismal statistics are an unavoidable reality. Why? My conjecture is that if the population were indeed fully literate, then it would be very hard to keep them from the realization that much of their misery is engineered by those who control the levers of the government.

The demand from a large segment of the population that the government solve their problems is mirrored on the supply side by unscrupulous governments. The people in the government get to tax the productive segment of the population, and then spend the revenues on the give-me-more segment of the population, all the time handling the money with very sticky fingers. They buy the allegiance of the vast number of the poor by robbing the productive and ostensibly the rich. This of course is a way of assuring the support of the poor at the polls, but it also has the unfortunate and predictable side-effect of impoverishing the economy as a whole. India, as it is so loudly and repeatedly proclaimed, the largest democracy in the world. It is also, not coincidentally, the largest poor country in the world.

In the above I say “ostensibly the rich” because even the rich in India are by world standards demonstrably quite poor.

I have written previously here on what the basic problem of poverty is: the engineering of shortages by the government as a method of extracting monopoly rents from the economy. (See for example, “Power, Shortage, and Corruption.” Sept 2007.) So I will not repeat those arguments here. But the summary conclusion is worth repeating. The source of Indian backwardness is the government of India.

Which brings me to Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s proposal. Yes, the Parliament should convene a special session to discuss the matter of figuring out a timetable for eradicating poverty. But will the Parliament ever convene a special session to inquire into the matter of why India is poor?

Will the Parliament seek expert opinion outside of the Parliament to tell it whether the Parliament is at fault? Will the government be willing to discuss government failures? Will the government be willing to try out solutions that do not involve the government? Will the government be open to the proposition that since it has been in the driving seat for so many decades and has driven the country to perdition, that it should give up the steering wheel to those outside the government?

The answer to that question in my mind is no. The government cannot afford to seek an alternative to the present state of affairs. Yes, things are bad for the country now. But if fixing the problems of the country requires those who currently hold power to relinquish their control, they would be damned to do so. They would rather see hundreds of millions in dire poverty just so that they can continue to rake in their billions that they can stash away in off shore bank accounts.

I can see exceptional optimism and profound faith in the goodness of people in Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s proposal. The belief that a set of people who have the power to bring about radical change will do so at their own expense is faith in the essential goodness of powerful people.

I would like to see that essential goodness tested. I would like them to investigate the proposition that they — the government — are the root of all the evils that plague India. I would ask them to debate how is it that after 63 years of governance by a government that is of the people, by the people, for the people, that India has not made much progress.

I would like them to call in experts to discuss the proposition that “The government of India has prevented India from achieving its full potential.” I would like them to hear arguments for and against that proposition. I would like that proposition being debated and broadcast for all to follow, to discuss it among themselves in schools, colleges and neighborhoods.

I would like them to call in experts to discuss the proposition that “The extreme corruption among the politicians in India is due to the excessive control that the government has on the Indian economy.”

I would like them to discuss in the Parliament of India the proposition that “The dismantling of government control over the education sector is the best alternative to make India educated.”

But I am afraid that that is not likely to happen. That would expose us to what Indians need to understand — understand how much is the state implicated in the creation of poverty that it aims to always address.

For now, we will continue to do insist that only the government has the will and the resources to fix our problems. We just don’t understand that the problems India suffers are largely created by the government, and that depending on the government to solve our problems is the equivalent of drinking sea-water to quench our thirst. It only makes the problem a whole lot worse.

Yes the Parliament may meet to discuss a timetable for India’s path out of poverty. Yes, it may even make major plans. Yes, it may even create another large bureaucracy to eradicate poverty, much like all the others it has created since independence, and fund it with a few tens of billions of tax payer money, and name it after the Gandhi-Nehru family.

It is useful to remember Finagle’s Law, a corollary to Murphy’s Law. It says that when a job is fouled up by someone, anything they do to make it better only makes things worse. The government is the last agency to figure out what went wrong and why. And in the end, when they try to fix the problem, even if well-intentioned, they just make it a great deal worse.

Special Parliament session or just ordinary session, I am afraid of what that old rascal Mark Twain had warned: No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.

NOTES:.

1. “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Misattributed to Everett Dirksen.

Related Post: Of Kakistocracies, Principals, and Agents. Feb 2008.

  • larissa

    Why do so many Indians put up with mediocrity?

    Another question, why are Indians so easily staisfied with anything other than the best in India? I cannot tell you how annoying those “patriotic” types are, that applaud everything mediocre India offers ranging from Bollywood to the shoddy buildings to roads, and get uspet when you don’t appreciate what is “made” in India. By the way, just read that China is going to have the largest movie market soon, beating Bollywood. Have Indians accepted the fact that they can no longer produce the best in their own country but can only do so under employment in another system of another country? What is the reason for being proud of mediocrity and thinking oneself patriotic by being proud of the mediocre? The last three leaders of Congress have been college drop outs, they cannot even pass college, how are they to show discipline to make sensible laws for the nation? This is the first question Indians ought to ask. It seems to be that even if a pet of the Gandhi family were put forth as ruler, sheepish Indians would accept it, with the way things are run! What is there to be patriotic about India mired in mediocrity? And shame on those Indians who get angry at people who point out such things and call them “unpatriotic”, it is to be complexed to accept the mediocre as great, not patriotic. Indians are proud to just boo Kalmadi? What do you think would have happened to him in China or the West?

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/willheaven/100059070/why-do-so-many-indians-put-up-with-mediocrity/

    India gets the most shoddy in everything because the people simply put up with it!
    .

  • larissa

    One has to at least praise the foreign press which asks questions the Indian English media never asks! What is our response to the question above? India is great because we say so, we have different standards to measure excellence?

  • larissa

    Atanu,
    I think the politicians are so think skinned that they will “talk” the problems away. Interestingly the Chinese seem to think Indians talk too much but never “do” anything, and think that this is a defect in Indian character. How true this is. I remember when Singh signed the “Look East” policy, the Singaporeans made fun, true enough Indians did not do anything but “look east”!
    You know the Indian army has obsolete weapons. If the Chinese want, they can easily occupy India. The chattering classes in India live in their bubble of Bollywood, cricket, and many servants to do the work….But they will soon get a very rude awakening if things persist and go in the same direction.
    What is the Parliament about to do? It will just “talk”; that’s what India is famous for! I am skeptical of their ‘talk’ on poverty!

  • http://KetanPanchal.blogspot.com Ketan

    When I read your posts, I feel it’s so easy to see & solve India’s problems. Then, I wonder is it your reasoning or the fluidity in your writing. But at other times I also wonder, is it really that simple?

    But irrespective of all that, this was the most superlative (yes, beat it at grammatical wrongness! :P ) piece of writing I’ve read in long, long time. I can only compare it with what I feel reading Ayn Rand. With such impassioned state of mind, no debates on technicalities. And anyway, you’ve not left a margin for any. :)

  • http://KetanPanchal.blogspot.com Ketan

    Larissa,

    If we’re to hate someone on the basis of how much they had siphoned off from the CWG, Kalmadi should be hated after many, many after people. The fact that the media has projected him as the sole beneficiary of the corruption must sensitize us to the possibility, that in fact, he is not.

  • mg

    Am I the only one who finds this funny? Why do they need a “special” session for something that they should be doing, and thinking about on a daily basis, as part of their job?

    What have they been having sessions on, if not on this?

    My response would be a sarcastic – thanks for finally getting to work?!

    And, by the way, its not rocket science and its known what needs to be done and why there is poverty. The question is will the policy needed be put in place?

  • larissa

    I am just citing Kamalmadi as one glaring example, as he was in charge of something and the most visible: it was hilarious how he kept announcing to the world press the CWG would be better than the Beijing Olympics with the utmost conviction, you cannot expect comedy to get any better, I mean the dark kind:-) Sure we are all responsible in a way as long as we do not do anything as individuals, however small that may be. It’s a question of delegation of responsibility, the blame keeps being passed around like a hot potato till everyone forgets who to exactly to pin it on, and this is exactly what the system wants: no accountability for anything for the behind the scene actors. Ultimately the blame must be placed on those in the highest command, for politicians are there at public expense to be held accountble. Now when the rot is not just at the top, but the sickness permeates the lower levels which are unable to be reigned in by top command, the problem can be of a sickening magnitude which is what you see in India…Again I believe the only solution for India is a leader with a whip, and the one with the whip will be someone who is fit to command and elicit obedience.

  • http://www.rathinamurthy.blogspot.com Rathinamurthy

    Dear Atanu,
    I am one among who have been brought up on a belief in the benevolence of the government. Is there any link or source you can site me to go through and understand, how is it possible to solve the problems of India (any example Education or Health) without govt intervention.
    Thanks in advance

    Rathinamurthy

  • TiredProf

    No one in their right mind would claim the GoI is untainted, but this incessant GoI bashing isn’t going anywhere. No government in the history of the world has successfully dealt with a four fold population increase and over ten fold increase in unplanned migration to cities within 60 years. No government has a record of bringing 300 million people under a schooling system within 60 years. And remember all this has to be done while the population is getting quickly less educated and less skilled at doing anything useful, on a per-capita basis. Perhaps we are charging the GoI with failure at a task that can be formally proven to be impossible, given how people have been treating the GoI and their wombs.

  • http://prashant-b.spaces.live.com/ Prashant Bh

    An amazing article . Have you forwarded this to the guy who is proposing to hold this session on poverty ? If he’s got the sense to propose such a session maybe he’ll be sensible enough to understand what you’ve written . And if he has his own blog ( which isn’t being written by his PA ) its safe to assume he’s got an intelligence level higher than that of the average Indian politician .

    I have no formal education in economics but this seems like very clear logic to me – govt getting out of businesses . And it should stop regulating privately run businesses with laws created in the last century . It is like a refree with his own team in the ground .

    My family has a first hand experience with this . My family runs a primary school in the Cantt Area in Meerut . And a pretty well known school for junior school kids . Sometime about 25 years ago , a portion of the building ( decayed cantt. area out-houses ) were renovated to use them as class rooms . The number of court cases slapped on us for that purpose were ridiculous . And the law quoted is something from 18XX . Of courses , the cases are running even today. Schools in the area are routinely harrassed for any kind of construction they do . And to add to this , taxes are arbitrarily imposed on the basis of no fixed rate but in accordance with the whims and fancies of Cantt. There are times when half of the profits are going to the robbers who are present in the Govt of India . The Cantt. board officers again cite laws created in 18xx to tax businesses which are running on Cantt board land . Running this primary school has caused an unimagineable amout of tension and worry . Even the bigger schools in the area are harassed using “Cantt Laws” .

    The consequences of this ?
    a) No way we can think of expanding our primary school .
    b) We can not even think of constructing the class rooms properly because it will cause another set of never ending cases .
    c) No one is setting up Higher Secondary schools in the area because of the head aches associated with it .

    To be sure , this is just one small badly administered area and one small case . The problem is , the rest of India isn’t governed very differently . Looking at this one case in a more generalized way will explain to you why India is poor , uneducated and illiterate .

    a) This is a small sized school . Think of the hassles for an entrepreneur who aspires to create a large manufacturing company with factories and mills scattered throughout the country . Unless he has some political nexus , he probably knows that he is on a path which is a little “too dreamy” . That is exactly why we have very few product/manufacturing companies .

    Lets not take the example of IT companies , since they fortunately have much fewer infrastructure requirements where they’d run into Govt.OfIndia obstacles .
    Also , “IT” fortunately happens to be a magic 2 letter word for our politicians who have equated its presence in any form with “superpowerdom” which will magically cure the country . So I guess the IT industry has it somewhat easy with legal/political people . ( And why not ? – that’s the way it should be for everything else .)

    b) Why exactly do we have a Canotonment area in the 21st Century ? These were made by the Britishers for their strategic military moves to retain their hold on mainland India . Why exactly are military “Cantt areas ” present in the middle of India , in places hundreds of kms away from the border which require security of the “policing” kind and not thousands of army troops . The fact that we have chosen to retain these speaks a lot about our collective national intelligence .

    c) Meerut , in Mayawati’s Uttar Pradesh – where less than half the people are likely to be literate ( my hometown where my family runs the school ) , what exactly do we need first – Schools to bring at least a beacon of hope to some ; or a completely not-required army zone ? Britishers don’t have a choke hold on India – great ; their laws still do . I assume people running other kind of businesses run into a different set of 18xx legal obstructions .

    d) The Right to Education act by Kapil Sibal is no doubt created with very good intentions . But someone first needs to realized that the root cause of illiteracy in India is (1) The Government is too inefficient to build schools of its own (2) It has such a crushing hold on people who want to build their own organizations and institutions in general , that you require to muster up a lot of courage ( and patience ) to privately open up a school .

    The same is true for Higher education . I agree regulation is required to control the quality of private colleges but not to the interfering extent that it becomes a deterrent to those intending to set up colleges . The IITs and IIMs are like Air-India before the open-skies policy came into play . ( Not a case of sour grapes ) .

    e) Highly qualified Civil Services type officials still look up to the British rules / culture etc . They will never question the dumbness of the law .

    f) On one side we have the family-dynasty which has people without an undergraduate degree “ruling us” , from whom it is too difficult to expect any introspection on the economics and law which have made this country what it is . And to add celebration to our mediocrity the bjp with its India Shining campaign fooled a lot of people into believing that is actually the case . And now we are a bright and shiny country with a lot of back office jobs on the fast track to superpowerdom .

    g) I have used a lot of comment space on your blog ( if this gets published ) and I could go on with my rant , but I must stop . Why I feel so bad is that the problems are so obvious and the solutions are so clear – but unfortunately not to all .

  • http://deshdaaz.blogspot.com Deshdaaz

    Atanu,

    Great write-up. Two thumbs up !

    At the same time,firmly believe, you or me, (or ALL NRI Indians for that matter) who chose to escape that system/country to have life of comfort here in states, have no right to speak,. Every individual can make an impact/difference by his/her personal efforts, irrespective of GOI’s eye-wash schemes/plans/projects to eradicate poverty.

    Ranting online abour country’s ill is our favourite pass time having no fruitful outcome.

    Deshdaaz.

  • http://prashant-b.spaces.live.com/ Prashant Bh

    @TiredProf :

    300million or One billion people – the proportion of people in this number , who would be willing to start their own privately run schools will be the same . So the absolute number of such people will be higher .

    The Government doesn’t have to set up the schools . It just has to get out of the way of entrepreneurs who want to .

    As for the dramatic increase in population , that would not have taken place if prosperity had spread ( if the Govt had a proper agenda of deregulation in place , years ago ) . The numers you have thrown out don’t absolve GoI of its problems they only strenghten the stand against it in a big way .

    No offence meant, but you possibly had an overdose of academics and too little of real life with little exposure to the law of the land and the (flawed) economic model it results in . Try running a business or even a shop of your own and see the hassles you run into .

    As for there not being enough schools for educating the hundreds of millions of illiterates , please take a look at my last comment . As someone in my mid twenties I can’t pretend to be a source of infinite general wisdom but I can certainly see the correlation between the things mentioned in my last comment with India’s horrible literacy rate .

    The legal hold I am talking about feels like a suffocating physical hold which keeps the country where it is . If it isn’t the GoI who is supposed to change / get rid of the rules and regulations which were designed to maintain control of a colonized country ( – to which another set of socialist choke holds were appended ) ; please let me know who it is .

  • mg

    Rathinamurthy,

    The govt is supposed to be engaged in public service. It is entrusted with providing public services and goods and implementing fair policies. It is not supposed to be benevolent per se if you get mt drift. Education is private in a lot of countries and so is health. Not all of it needs to be public. By the way. GoI has moved towards getting private investment into education and health has also grown much better in the last few years due to the private hospitals.

    TiredProf,

    Lol, you sure are tired?! :) Well, the closest record is China’s in terms of tacking population and migration of the scale you mention and while it lacks in many areas, it is an available test case contrary to your statement. Secondly, I’m not sure why you would limit yourself to what other countries have done so far? Because something has not need done before by another country, so it cannot be done? The upper limit of your imagination is limited to what has been achieved by countries in the past? That is very disappointing! Please note that we also didn’t have the technologies that we have today. Leveraging technology it is quite possible to address the issues – atleast one needs to try.

    Deshdaaz,
    I’m not sure why you are so insecure? You need to stop feeling guilty about having left India. And, if you (or a foreigner for that matter) has something good to say based on sound facts and/or sound thought, then it should be welcomed. Ofcourse, action speaks louder than words, so your points are well taken, but discussion should not be neglected.

  • TiredProf

    Read my posting again. If India is to survive, GoI must be fixed, but my claim is that the situation is now so bad that no democratic government can save the rest of India from itself. I can certainly appreciate venting on GoI, but even installing the government of Sweden or Norway in India would achieve nothing. Whereas, under the right people (and that’s a big if), a China-like regime might work. We have thought is safer to go down with the democracy Titanic, and that’s a perfectly fine stand: “I’d rather die than live in a non-democratic state”—the option of death is always open!

  • larissa

    No government in the history of the world has successfully dealt with a four fold population increase and over ten fold increase in unplanned migration to cities within 60 years.

    Excuse me, this population increase and wanton out of control breeding is DUE to the government, who saw no problems with it. Remember foolish people like Nehru used to take pride in the fact that India had a large population! You are blaming people for problems which are largely a result of an inefficient state, which is out of touch with reality. How about some accountability here? Why is the country illiterate at such high levels even after sixty years and why is having many children seen as good? Because those in control had limited vision and no foresight as to how these things could be a problem! It established only elite schools and did nothing for mass education, and the results of the policies are becoming clear today. When leaders themselves are semi-literate, what policies they can establish? Even today go to any Indian city and you will be horrified at the faceless men and women who go around performing tasks like washing and cleaning–they are an unseen underclass whom the chattering classes living in the bubble of India progressing and bollywood crap do not even consider as human. I remember talking to an Indian girl yesterday, and she was telling me of how India progressed because she had opportunities that she did not have five years ago! She got mad when I told her that 80% of Indians live on less than 2 dollars a day–I guess the rest of majority India does not figure into her calculation of progress! Someone has to bring in these lying statistics to daylight and how they cover up what is really happening in Inida, the growth of a few billionaires and middle class finding jobs more easily in tech and business areas does not equal progress.
    Soon India is headed to be two billion, if things are not checked, but the media does not seem interested in these kinds of things, nor are educated Indians themselves interested.

  • larissa

    We have thought is safer to go down with the democracy Titanic, and that’s a perfectly fine stand: “I’d rather die than live in a non-democratic state”—the option of death is always open!
    .
    I think India is a country that gives democracy a bad name! A democracy without an iota of responsibility–thats what India is! And the TITANIC arrogance Indians display about being better that others–is the worst of all!

  • larissa

    Oh and the biggest lie that has to go is that India is a Democracy? When was it a democracy? Do ordinary people have a voice in India? Look at the vast ocean of underclass in India, vaster than the entire populations of large countries put together–
    India is just a State run riot wihout any responsibility or accountability, that cannot feed and educate its people, the only people who think India has progressed is the “frog in the well” type of Indians. I am always amazed at the arrogance of these types and their denial. But you know what, the swelling underclass will be a very real problem, it already has with Maoist uprisings and what not.
    Most of India is in the Dark Ages: that happens when in a culture;
    “men become the subjects of women and the slaves of pleasure and the oppressors of their friends, teachers and anyone who deserves respect.”(Mahanirvana-tantra, IV, 52). For good governance, real men need to govern again, men who can lead and command! I think looking at the way things are run, the nation has lost its manhood!

  • TiredProf

    @larissa: Actually, the complete disappearance of manhood in all its forms from India would work wonders. And your blaming Nehru for not stopping Indian men from doing their stuff is very funny. You know, one of Nehru’s descendants did try to snip their tubes when there was still time. Look what happened to him.

  • larissa

    And your blaming Nehru for not stopping Indian men from doing their stuff is very funny.

    How is it funny?
    You have uncontrolled breeding most from the bottom pit of society which is directionless and aimless. I remember a friend telling me of how a Bihari labourer laughed when he found out my friend had only one son. Ha Ha, he said, I have nine children, thinking something wrong with someone who has only one child! Imagine this was a man that could hardly feed his own belly, and encapsulates in a small way the sad situation in India. I am not blaiming the laborer, but having many children as a economic asset occurs in societies where there is nothing else to hope for, that is, being the most fecund as a means for survival as the societies do not guarantee quality of life. It is the quality of people, not quantity of people that ultimately counts as is clear from India today. Uncontrolled breeding takes place in societies where government does not value the quality of life of a single individual. Nehru did not forsee India’s population problems when it was apparent to intelligent people at the time, just as he did not confront many other problems that were apparent at the time, and yes he did take foolish pride in India’s large population. What good is a large population composed of hungry and illiterate? You have amorphous reign of quantity over quality which is what India is today.

  • TiredProf

    “How is it funny?” — Dark humor.

    In 2002 I heard an otherwise reputable IIX prof say “population is not a problem”.

    So, once again, politicians are easy targets in middle class Indian conversation. They are not around because they are laughing their way to (Swiss) banks, and the conversation remains in the agreeable “I am ok, you are ok, the system sucks” rut.

    Try asking your colleague why they bought their second car or fitted ACs in all rooms, or went for vacation to Bahamas instead of Andaman, or bitch when their ill-paid driver asks for a condom allowance, and watch how quickly you are struck off guest lists at parties.

  • Amit S

    @Larissa

    “Uncontrolled breeding” sounds like you are talking about mosquitoes or stray dogs! I do hope that is sincerely not your attitude towards fellow human beings. Who is anyone to tell anyone else not to breed. Besides, whether lack of education and poverty cause breeding or the other way round is almost a settled matter. As you rightly pointed out, most educated populations around the world have lower birth and death rates. So, population control by itself is not the turnkey solution to India’s problems, but perhaps education (of the right kind, won’t go into details here) is.

    Also, when you question whether India is a democracy, and whether ordinary people have a voice, the answer is yes. The elections are more free and fair than not, and people’s voice is their vote. Whether they use their voice judiciously, and if not, why not, these are entirely different questions.

    Also, please don’t believe everything that you read in those big books. Quoting “men become the subjects of women and the slaves of pleasure and the oppressors of their friends, teachers and anyone who deserves respect.”(Mahanirvana-tantra, IV, 52) does not mean it has any real value or implication. What is the harm in becoming a subject of a deserving woman? Your name/id suggests that you are a woman, and it is a pity that you make such sexist statements. There are numerous examples of deserving women, whose leadership is far preferred to those of most men.

    Also, I do not understand this obsession with “real men”? “Men who can lead and command”. I will give you examples of men who can lead and command but may not be fit to lead the nation. Take our army generals, for example. They are definitely “real men” by most definitions (whatever this means) and can lead and command our army. However, I am not so sure that they are fit to lead the nation. That requires understanding of different disciplines (such as economics, foreign affairs etc.), ability to inspire masses (as opposed to troops or brigadiers) etc. Or take Baba Ram Dev. He can definitely lead his yoga camps. Is he fit to lead the nation? Or Lalu Prasad Yadav. He can lead an command, no doubt. Is he a “real man”? If so, then should he lead the nation? If not, why is he not a “real man”?

  • anon

    “Uncontrolled breeding” sounds like you are talking about mosquitoes or stray dogs! I do hope that is sincerely not your attitude towards fellow human beings.

    You choose to hear what you want to hear and make your own suspicions and blame it on someone else?

    “but perhaps education is”
    Yeah, and the blame for stupid education policies goes to? I don’t think Larissa necessarily suggests that the govt should have told people not to have large families. Again, that is your own misunderstanding.

    “The elections are more free and fair than not”
    I would disagree. Many. many deserving candidates are threatened and have to drop out, or conform to the system in some way, by force. That is neither free nor fair. And, the law enforcement system is also absent and abetting the situation.

  • TiredProf

    Amit S is exactly the type of Indian I quoted earlier. This sort of muddled lack of articulation and strategy is very characteristic of many middle class Indians: “population control by itself is not the turnkey solution to India’s problems, but perhaps education … is”. Whatever other positive actions and reform you implement, population growth will undo it and then take you backward some. India has more malnourished and illiterate people today than the total number of people it had in 1940. No matter how much the merry band here likes to curse GoI, quite some positive action has been taken since 1940, but it has been entirely washed away by the population tsunami. Antibiotics before contraception, ultrasonography before gender equality, bottled water before recycling, amplifiers before civic sense, all these have driven us to doom. I find stray dogs rather honest in comparison. Not to say cuter.

  • Amit S

    @TiredProf

    There is nothing muddled about the “population is not necessarily a bane” argument. There are convincing examples of nations who have done better with less resources per capita (think Singapore). Imagine if India had the same 1 billion or so of population but people could at least read and write. Let us say they were also skilled enough to be more productive. Imagine how many less people would be engaged in sustenance occupations such as agriculture, basic construction and manufacturing. Imagine how many more could take part in wealth creation, science etc. rather than waiting for GoI to provide them “Guaranteed employment”. Yada yada yada!

    With the right kind of education, people would also be able to think critically. Just this blog would have had a lot more readers. Perhaps there would be more such blogs as well. The % of voters who think about issues that matter in the long run would increase as well. Ultimately, the % of voters of a particular kind matters. Yada yada yada!

    Coming to the chicken or the egg debate, I do not agree with your point about contraception before antibiotics. In my view, people would be more likely to use contraception if they were assured that their kids would survive (through antibiotics) and be economically productive (through education), or if they really don’t need kids to look after them in old age. There are examples of numerous countries that did not force contraception, but their birth rates went down with education and prosperity.

    The only thing that I agree with you about is that dogs are more honest than fellow humans. (Sigh) What are you gonna do! Humans are our co-species mates, and evolutionarily most of us will care about their survival more than we would care about dogs.

    @anon #20

    Your point about intimidation of deserving candidates and absence of rule of law is well taken. However, this is again a chicken or egg problem. Is it easy to intimidate a well meaning candidate because they cannot find enough support in an uneducated population, or would they be able to find support but they are nipped at the bud by intimidation?

    The blame for retarded education policies goes to two sets of people. First, leaders who either deliberately put these policies in place or did not care. Second, us, who want sensible policies, but are unwilling to do anything- be leaders, spread the thoughts etc., instead either not care or just indulge in debates in the convenience of living rooms and on blogs like these.

  • anon

    Amit,

    To your first ques, I don’t see a chicken and egg problem. The elections are not free or fair period. And, my point in this context was the latter – they are nipped in the bud or have to join the system.

    I don’t agree with your second ridiculous point. In fact your last two sentences contradict each other. On one hand you want individuals to spread the thoughts, on the other hand you don’t want them to indulge in debate? Huh? And, how do you know people engaged here are not leading efforts in their own way? Furthermore, not every sound thinking person should need to become a leader. If I’m not interested in being a leader, but simply an honest professional and citizen, do I not have the right to demand leadership from those whose job description it is to lead and implement policies on my behalf?

  • Amit S

    @anon #20

    Well, if corruption leading to perpetuation of illiteracy leading to more corruption it is not a chicken and an egg problem, then boy we are screwed. The system is rigged and there is no way around it. Let us choose optimism and hope over cynicism. So, we have to attack the vicious cycle of somewhere… perhaps at multiple points. The hardest point to attack it at (and that is where the widest gap is today) is at the point of providing leadership.

    Now to point #2, if you read closely, there is no contradiction. Debate is necessary, but not sufficient (as indicated by the use of the word “just” in my last post). Also, there is no assumption there about you or anyone else being someone who indulges in *just* debate and no action. So, peace.

    Also, in an ideal world, you have every “right” to demand that people representing you in places of power implement what you stand for in your thoughts. But, boo hoo, this is not an ideal world. The entire concepts of “rights”, “justice”, “freedom” are something made up by us and ideals to strive for, but they are not a given. So what you gonna do, my friend? Can’t expect things to happen based on a mere feeling of indignation that your representatives ditched your ideals without follow through action, right? Are we on the same page?

  • anon

    I had nothing to say on illiteracy on the first point.

    “The system is rigged and there is no way around it.”
    The former I agree with. The latter does not follow immediately from the former, that’s your assumption. If being real is being cynical well then by me, you are delusional.

    “The hardest point to attack it at (and that is where the widest gap is today) is at the point of providing leadership.”
    Why is this the hardest way?

    “Debate is necessary, but not sufficient”
    It depends – it well might be. Debate is powerful and often the initiator of action (which might be undertaken by a subset). Not only that, it is the primary way of getting things done in a democracy.

    I didn’t understand your last para, didn’t understand what page you are on.

  • Amit S

    “I agree [that the system is rigged]. [That there is no way around it] does not follow immediately from the former, that’s your assumption.”

    Yes, it does not follow from the former. Yes, it was my assumption that it is your assumption that there is no way around the rigged system. If I am wrong in assuming about your assumption, then what is your assumption? Do you think there is a way around this rigged system? If so, then welcome to my optimistic (did someone say “delusional”?) camp.

    “Why is [providing leadership] the hardest way [and the lack of it the biggest gap in what is needed to improve the current situation of India]?”

    You see, there are certain steps in a transformation process to solve a problem. First, someone has to think about (or debate) the problem and potential solutions, then someone has to express sensible conclusions to a wider audience, then someone has to act upon those thoughts, and then among the actors someone has to provide leadership to organize and galvanize the movement. The threat to the incumbent leadership increases as this process moves along. Private thinkers do not threaten anyone (such as people who comment on blogs but do not take any further action, not saying you are one of them). Those who express thoughts for a wider consumption (such as authors of a blog or a book or those who go out of their way to engage people in debate) threaten incumbents a little more. Those who act (say activists for a small cause) threaten the incumbent leadership even more. Then those who provide leadership to the activists are the most dangerous to the incumbents. Incumbents will make best efforts to keep these leaders from rising. That is why their job is the most difficult.

    “It depends – [debate] well might be [sufficient for changing the current situation in India]. Debate is powerful and often the initiator of action (which might be undertaken by a subset). Not only that, it is the primary way of getting things done in a democracy.”

    Perhaps in an ideal democracy debate is sufficient for transformation, (and I doubt even that is true, because it undermines the whole idea of the agent of transformation who has to act on the debate or provide leadership). However, as per your own admission, India’s democratic process is not free and fair. So, debate alone is not definitely not sufficient in India. Action is needed to either make Indian democratic process free and fair, or to get into a position of power with or without debate.

    This is the page that I am on. Debate itself is necessary but far from sufficient. Right action is absolutely necessary. Peace.

  • anon

    Amit,

    “then what is your assumption?”
    I had no assumption. I made a statement on facts. And, I’m not looking to camp with anyone or anywhere (although another post and Atanu might have to decamp me from here). I was looking to limit myself to short comments since this is not a good format for long discussions.

    I suppose I am on a somewhat different page. We did have a PVN Rao and we do have a Narendra Modi around. I would like to also focus on forces like globalization and technology. This is not necessarily at odds with what you say, but I don’t find myself agreeing with you either. There are cases in history like Deng Xiaoping changing course from communism to capitalism at the age of 70, PVN Rao, Narendra Modi, Naidu in Hyderabad – cases within the system. Now, these people are not without their warts, but, they are examples of transformation and it would instructive to note the forces at work.

    Since you would likely jump to conclusions, let me assure you preemptively that this does not necessarily mean that I am optimistic and I don’t suggest doing nothing and waiting around for another good leader to show up.

    As far as debate goes – the way I view it, I believe a critical mass of decent debate (this doesn’t qualify) almost ensures subsequent action. Anyway, no big difference of opinion here. The problem is that I don’t see the debate occurring in a decent enough amount (the party pooper syndrome that TiredProf pointed out). Its the first step in your transformational process as well. Lets get that in place, atleast!

  • TiredProf

    @Amit: “There are convincing examples of nations who have done better with less resources per capita (think Singapore).” There you go, more innumeracy. Per capita is not the whole story. Singapore can trade its way out of poverty because of its tiny scale. India cannot. With oil and energy approaching endgame and India having no game in town remotely comparable to China, subsistence farming will not disappear either. “Imagine if India had the same 1 billion or so of population but people could at least read and write.” — yeah, like the spherical cow. Nilekani’s next book: “Keep Imagining, India”.

    I am done here. I am in the business of training the sub-22 segment to think critically, on a good day. Not remedial critical thinking 101 for adults.

  • Amit S

    @Tired Prof

    With enough decentralization of control and power in India, couldn’t Mumbai aspire to do some of the things that Singapore does? If not, then why not? Since you teach 22 year olds, what do you have against 32 year olds? Please teach why this cannot be done in multiple cities in India.

  • veer

    larissa-> my dear friend, you must realize that your comments on every post in this august forum add up to much more than the post itself. you may be the first deysian scholar (similar to the scholars who produce large bodies of work analysing and critiquing great philosophers like golwalkarji, savarkarji and shyama prasad mookerjeeji to name a few). for that you deserve our applause.

    my dear friends. its not the time to bicker, but to spread the message of TRUTH among PATRIOTS. for that purpose we must pave the way for MODIJI!!!the focus must be absolute. any DIVERSION from this core agenda will enable our ENEMIES
    to THWART our MANTHRA of unabashed and UNBRIDLED DEVELOPMENT.

    JAI HIND!!!

  • Pingback: Weekend Reading

  • larissa

    “Also, when you question whether India is a democracy, and whether ordinary people have a voice, the answer is yes.”

    Wow, did not realize it, after all India just has elections does it not? So of course it has to be a democracy! I can be so simple minded sometimes!

    “What is the harm in becoming a subject of a deserving woman? Your name/id suggests that you are a woman, and it is a pity that you make such sexist statements.”

    Oh so sorry also for the seemingly sexist comments. I have not been fair to Indian ladies in the highest ranks of political power. I mean Indira could rule India with a high school education, so why not her daughter in law as we now see who is not lacking in any way compared to Indira as far as impressive qualifications are concerned? Of course a slow person like me forgets that there is 40% illiteracy in India, so this is women’s progress after all, and this is India, how dare we forget the tremendous strides made by women? How about some statues as well for their insights and leadership they give to the nation to inspire other ladies who also might aspire to imitate their great credentials and vision and aspire to such positions one day? And pardon me for forgetting Menaka Gandhi. It would be unfair to the impressive family which never fails in giving us extraordinary leaders. Thanks to her activism, there are swarms of wonderful dogs in the neighborhood, forget the fact that you might be bitten walking home in a dark alley in the dark and contract rabies, but how could anyone be so inhumane to even think of decreasing such animals, they have rights too, don’t they? And I missing anyone? Oh yes, there is Jayalalitha, why she was an actress once, she definitely could act as PM perhaps one day if people push for it. Miracles happen in India not seen elsewhere. Cheers to the great female politicians of India! Where would India be without them!

    Also, please don’t believe everything that you read in those big books.
    Don’t you worry, I’ll make sure to read “little” books as well.

    “I will give you examples of men who can lead and command but may not be fit to lead the nation. Take our army generals, for example. They are definitely “real men” by most definitions (whatever this means) and can lead and command our army. However, I am not so sure that they are fit to lead the nation. That requires understanding of different disciplines (such as economics, foreign affairs etc.), ability to inspire masses (as opposed to troops or brigadiers) etc. Or take Baba Ram Dev. He can definitely lead his yoga camps. Is he fit to lead the nation? Or Lalu Prasad Yadav. He can lead an command, no doubt. Is he a “real man”? If so, then should he lead the nation? If not, why is he not a “real man”?”

    Whoa slow down…It not so hard Amit, and I did not mean for you to confuse categories, will try to express myself a bit more clearly as I forget that some people out there are not sure of what a “man” is.

    Thanks for your comments Amit.