Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Our legacy, our liability, our future

Can we solve a problem without acknowledging and analyzing the problem before we attempt solving it? Let me put in other words. How a woodpecker find rotten wood that might have its food- the wood boring insects, grubs and ants? Can a woodpecker survive if we ask it not to drum or peck the dead wood? The topic I'll discuss below have a lot to do to these questions, seemingly unrelated. I'll come back to the woodpeckers later.

Yesterday lower house of Indian parliament, popularly known as Lok Sabha, passed (mostly) the government version of Lokpal bill. It is yet to be passed in the upper house, Rajya Sabha. Many think the bill is too weak to have any impact, while many others think that it will increase corruption, instead of minimizing it. On the other hand many believe it as a total betrayal by our elected representatives and parliament considering its promise (formally referred as "parliamentary resolution" or "sense of the house") made in the floor of the parliament to make and pass a strong lokpal bill that will include (i) Citizen's Charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and (iii) establishment of Lokayukta in the States. Today Anna Hazare ended his fast in Mumbai. Many of his followers are disappointed. They think the fight against corruption is over, at least for now. Many are worried about the long term consequences of our culture and social acceptance of corruption. 

The problem of extremist movement arises from systemic blockage of civic protests, as happened to many previous socio-political movements and as happening to Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. We are yet to show any sign of maturity as a democracy and learn from our past mistakes. Our system in independent India has been doing it since its birth in 1947. Our 'elected' representatives and ruling elites inherited the legacy of the foreign rulers, since 1192- start of Muslim rule. Such elites include mainly the blue eyed boys of Muslim invaders (for ~600 years) and then the British (for ~200 years), who facilitated their rule over this country- in form of maharajah  nawab, jaminder, feudal landlord, businessman and    bureaucrat (including police, judiciary, civil administration bosses). It is also true that many of such maharajahs  nawabs etc were nothing but local dacoits or leaders of organized crimes (that include many businessmen). Such elites were remunerated not only by prestigious awards, powerful positions and blood-money, but also awarded admission to prestigious British universities like Cambridge and Oxford. That was like passport to culture and education accepted to our ruling elites. Responsible positions in civil administration were severely compromised. In subsequent years, oppression was accompanied with the awe and ego of 'culture' and 'education' of the scions of the looters aka rajas, nawabs, jaminders and bureaucrats. That tradition continued. It did not take much time for British trained wolves to get into 'Indian' sheep outfit.

Emerging elites start buying famous books and other items of art to decorate their homes and offices. Such books, movies and other items of art are hardly used, less understood, least followed. Another preferred way to get reputation as 'cultured' is to get the son/daughter (mainly daughters are sacrificed for such noble act!) married to a spouse already having heavyweight degree(s) or sending the would-be groom to buy some degrees, preferably from abroad. Such seemingly 'educated' and 'cultured' sons-in-law are excellent showpieces to advertise the glory of the family. By the way, this type of offers are not valid for brides, generally speaking.

No, such people are not much worried about any certificate of honesty, as they know that ignorance of general people allow them to accept heavyweight degrees and employment hierarchy as the gold standard for all virtues like honesty, hard work and talent. They would afford to ignore few skeptics who still dare to question why so many of our 'highly educated' politicians and other elites are so corrupt, least talented, but no less gifted with awards. Paid headline news in national media are not so uncommon these days. On the other hand, our typical 'good' students from less fortunate background seldom afford the courage and ability to ignore the easy and fast track to succeed, provocation of assured career, and most importantly, wealth and power- simply by being associated with such powerful and wealthy families.

Severe shortage of trained manpower and commercialization of education in western countries made the job easier. Gradually Oxbridge was replaced by american universities as the glory and power of British empire eroded, new world order established. Occasionally such elites promote backbone-less cronies as we see in some high positions, only to show that one can prosper only if s/he obeys them - the ruling elites. In short, the culture of endowment, distribution of national scholarships/fellowships/awards to cronies and relatives continued unhindered in independent India.

That culture of a feudal society and all pervasive corruption has another serious implication. It does not allow natural leadership quality to grow. In such a society people with actual leadership quality have to face severe consequence- ruthlessly crushed if not supported by some god-father/mother or powerful dynasty. The vacuum in leadership are filled by non-natural, promoted 'leaders'. There is no internal democracy in majority, if not all, of the political parties in India. That's why there is hardly any chance for India to get its own Barack Obama in near foreseeable future. That trend is not limited to politics or bureaucracy but present in almost every field including private sector companies.

Of course, not everyone belong to this category but majority does and it follows a pattern. You can describe it as 'profiling'- successfully used by security agencies and policy makers. It's the same reason a person can expect little more scrutiny while applying for US visa from its embassy/consulate in Delhi or Mumbai as compared to Kolkata. 

The cycle of deprivation, oppression and exploitation continued almost unhindered since 1947, as the British handed over the right to rule (not govern) to more dishonest and no less oppressive desi “brown sahibs”, who sometimes behave more British than actual British rulers. On top of that, the good-for-nothing fellows who failed as students were groomed by mainstream political parties as student "leaders". Then modern day criminals, big businessmen joined the loot.

Now several business tycoons are members of our parliament, many in Rajya Sabha (the upper house) where members are nominated by political parties without public referendum. There are an estimated 300 MPs with assets worth Rs one crore (10 million) or more in the new Lok Sabha, with 543 members having combined asset of Rs 3,075 crore. Now the  number  of crorepatis is almost double, from 154 in the 14th Lok Sabha. Four MPs in Lok Sabha have assets worth more than Rs 100 crore. If anyone still thinks that these rich and powerful people are there to serve the country and its people then read this article published in Economic Times which describes how "MPs have managed to find a place in many House panels despite having business interests in the sectors concerned". Please keep it in mind that the above information is only the declared asset value where the most powerful Indian politician, Sonia Gandhi, has only Rs 1.38 crore total asset including a house in Italy that is valued around Rs 18 lakhs (1.8 million) (USD ~36,000) and no car, as per her election affidavit.

The trend accelerated fast after Indira Gandhi institutionalized corruption. National institutions were ruined, started resembling party offices and increasingly being dominated by cronies. In the meantime, we committed another grave mistake. We kept most of our old laws, bureaucracy, police, judiciary that the British introduced in their native colony, which was significantly different than what they had in Britain. Our policy makers never seriously tried to reform the core institutions, even though talks of reforms are going around since ages.

Last few weeks I was watching debates on Lokpal Bill in Indian TV channels. Most of the politicians, mainly from the ruling party, talked as if they are the kings. We all seem to have the constitutional obligation to obey them and, most importantly, those who support Anna Hazare and Anna himself is nothing but insignificant bugs which "would have been crushed if our great forefathers, great administrators, were present" (as per one prominent Congress leader in NDTV). 

Many believe that it is now pay-back time. Fast spread of naxals, increasing tendency of general citizens to take laws into their hands, more support towards hartals, bandhs and gheraos by common Indians now (as compared to 1971) are just few symptoms of the all pervasive rot. Check this BBC article that says- "today 223 districts - India has 636 districts - in 20 states are "Maoist affected", up from 55 districts in nine states six years ago. Ninety of the affected districts, according to the government, are experiencing "consistent violence". PM Manmohan Singh calls it the country's "greatest internal security challenge". Such facts show the increasing distrust over our political system and civil governance, more so after 1991 economic liberalization. That is supported by many reports, fact and figures. One such reports tells- Indian government gave three times more subsidy to rich Indians (Rs 4.6 lakh corers) as compared to middle class and poor people (Rs 1.54 lakh corers). It is high time for us to ponder why India is among the worst of the emerging economies in terms of poverty, income inequality and social discrimination since globalization (i.e. since 1991- in case of India). Emerging economies like Indonesia, Argentina effectively reduced social and income inequalities significantly in recent times while India is among the worst affected ones. 

Anna's movement is (probably, was) a rare opportunity to bring a systemic change in our system of governance and force our "elected" representatives and public servants to govern- not rule. Only those get democracy who deserve it and ready to fight for it. By now we know that chanting the mantra of peace does not guarantee peace. The same way, chanting the mantra of "parliamentary democracy" and shouting from the roof that “parliament is supreme” does not transform a corrupt, feudal society into a productive, prosperous democracy. One must be able and ready to pay the price as and when needed. At the end of the day, we get what we actually deserve. It does not matter if we like it or not!

Remember the woodpecker whom we asked not to drum or peck when we started this article? Wood boring insects, grubs, ants are not the only food woodpecker can eat. In fact, adult woodpecker change its diet  according to what food sources are most abundant. In the fall, nuts, seeds and fruit are popular because of plentiful natural harvests. In the spring and summer, these birds feast primarily on insects that provide high levels of protein for breeding birds and growing hatchlings. If we ban our woodpecker to drum or peck dead woods it will not only create rippling affects in the relevant ecosystem but also will have huge negative impact on future generations of woodpeckers, without not-so-immediate and acute impact on the adults.

**added later: The bill was not passed in Rajya Sabha. The house was adjourned without voting amid chaos after a debate stretched to midnight.

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  1. Check this interesting, recent publication (on December 2011) by Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD- "Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising ".

    In the three decades prior to the recent economic downturn, wage gaps widened and household income inequality increased in a large majority of OECD countries. This occurred even when countries were going through a period of sustained economic and employment growth. This report analyses the major underlying forces behind these developments. :
    An Overview of Growing Income Inequalities in OECD Countries (free .pdf)
    - Special Focus: Inequality in Emerging Economies (free .pdf)
    - Part I. How Globalisation, Technological Change and Policies Affect Wage and Earnings Inequalities
    - Part II. How Inequalities in Labour Earnings Lead to Inequalities in Household Disposable Income
    - Part III. How the Roles of Tax and Transfer Systems Have Changed

  2. Punkhuri4:37 PM

    This article is not cool for a number of reasons. I would state them, but you seem like a person who wouldn't be open for simple logic and unbiased reason. I read it because of the link you posted on BBC.

    I want you to know that I'm not against what you wrote, and that I am equally frustrated with the happenings in my country. But articles like yours incite more anger than is necessary. I know my country has many faults but you aren't exactly helping by painting such a dark picture. Besides, your views about "culture" and "education" and all that seem pretty petty.

    I would have loved to read an article with more reason and logic and less rhetoric. Just like I'd like to hear intellectual and logical debate in the Parliament and Anna Hazare as against mere rhetoric both sides use. You see, in a country like ours, appealing to emotions and idealism is very simple to win an argument. In truth however, 'appeal to emotion' is an actual logical fallacy! Yes, that's how hopeless the condition is.

    Thank you for your article anyway. It gave me stuff to think about. I hope you too find something to think about through my comment.

    1. Anonymous12:47 PM

      As a person who seen the life of poverty in the neighborhood I fully agree with the author. If you are poor you are incapable. I felt always the system placed only respond to the rich. See even a small civil case can't be fought in a court unless you have persistent income for years even if truth and honestly is at your side. The courts are ultimate winning weapon of the rich. No need to mention the bureaucracy, police and politicians. Live a life of poor under Rs 32 per day, you too will understand there is no color in the promised dreams

  3. Welcome Punkhuri. I will like to hear your logic and "unbiased reasons". I will certainly like to know your take on "culture" and "education". BTW, you can get some more of my view on education in some of my earlier posts, mainly "what is education".

  4. Anonymous3:54 AM

    Thanks for the nice blog. Considering our tradition and (mis)governance, it makes perfect sense that, "Doctors from Delhi seem to have an undue advantage when it comes to receiving the prestigious Padma awards" !

  5. Just listen this speech by noted Rajya Sabha MP, Ram Jethmalani on Lokpal bill in Rajya Sabha. I am specifically mentioning the part of speech where he openly mentioned about 20th Aug 2010 Indian Govt MOU with Swiss authority on double taxation, and Rajiv Gandhi's Swiss bank acc.

  6. There is lot going on debate over TV, but do you know that in UP there is no Drug Analyser appointed in the last 4 yaers,

    These topics are not covered in media, media is looking for easy news just doing the quote unquote.

    Ayurvedic drug manufacturer are making ayurvedic medicine but they are not checking the final composition of their product, and they contain Heavy metal Like Mercury, if the reaction of mercury is not completed than it is poisonous and companies are not doing any analysis of final product, they are using contract worker for production, they are not monitoring the temperature also,if temp is not maintained reaction will not be complete and all the govt employees knows this thing, I raised an RTI but though they told me that they don't have drug analyser they didn't gave the same in writing, drug analyser is very important, as per law drug inspector shoul atleast do two inspection of a plant in a years.

    I hope you raise these issuses also compellin the parties to makee these things election debate and not just cast medicine is for everyone not a single cast.

  7. Anonymous6:44 PM

    Mr. Jay, You are far away from reality my friend. You are completely wrong about India. You are wasting your time in convincing people. There are subtle revolution happening in India. You will not understand this. ..forget it..

  8. Excellent article. I wouldn't agree with Punkhuri though, she, like 99% other Indians, doesn't want to see the actual picture. Although she says there are problems, and accuses you of doing nothing, let's also consider that even she is doing nothing apart from doing some 'thinking'.

    Anyway, let me say what I wanted to. The biggest problem that faces the country today is its huge population. I understand nobody is even ready to accept that. The population is being seen as a "consumer base", but that idea is so screwed up. Even if educated folks like you and Punkhuri wanted to change the country, there is no way you would even be allowed in-the-club. Because the club bouncer is a goon and neither of you are uncivilized to fight him. I worked for an NGO for two years before called it quits, you know why, because people don't want to change. The whole system is so corrupt that you don't know where to begin. That's the truth.

    I had two options, either wait for 1.3 billion people to change, or move. I chose the latter.

    Visit me:

  9. Thank you Jay for your research and thought provoking article. While reading the not so unknown facts, the overwhelming feeling I had was frustration, anger and hopelessness. And mostly, the acute realization that I have abandoned the cause. The cause, the purpose, to which we are called since our childhood.. Did I follow it or just looked the other way ( or was too busy) and gave all that I was given to make my life comfortable?? Well, we might have all tried at some point but gave up just like Mr. Srikantham. Or maybe we think our role is over after Just expressing or exposing the problem..Why Move? Why give up? All of us have something to offer, no matter how small or insignificant it is. I do strongly believe that if we all (the us, who call ourselves emancipated crowd), individually can give a little of our talents to help achieve the goal that all of us are yearning for. It is bleak and hopeless now but impossible? It will take time, may be a generation or two but it will bring a ripple effect and we can be a proud generation leavening behind a can do attitude for our next generation rather than a hopeless runaway mentality for our kids.. No shame in trying and failing.. Jay is trying to provoke us to be angry. Angry enough to take some action and that is his talent contribution. So thank you Jay. Me? I? I have been given compassion and hope in abundance by our loving creator.. So I will spread hope and compassion in a tangible way..Adopt one or two children from the huge population and try and teach them to be a responsible citizen (yes, you can do that remotely these days.. thanks to technology).Will my efforts be significant enough? Perhaps not. Will the children, I have adopted or continue to adopt and try to help will turn out like Anna Hazare? Most likely not..In all probability, they might become one of the people (including my own) a selfish self enhancing insignificant number in population. But when it will be time for me to go from this ugly or beautiful world, I can go with a little smile in my heart. I have tried, I have used my talents that was given to me when I was sent here on this earth for a purpose.. I like to believe in hope rather than hopelessness.. Just like the story of woodpecker, painted by Jay so beautifully in his blog, made me realize that pecking and drumming wood for lifelong, is a mindless and hard job. But Woodpecker still does it. Why? Why doesn’t it find another smart way (Don’t work HARD, work SMART) of finding food? Well, why haven’t the animal world evolved as we brainy ones (Thank God for the brains) have evolved technologically to ease our way? But then I thought, well they are smart, those small brain beings... they keep it simple.. They were created with beaks to peck the wood.. That’s what their talent is and they use it to theirs and their world's advantage.
    Sometimes simplicity can be an answer.. We make it too hard to look for it. Thank you Jay.. And, the rest? What is your talent? A sword, a pen (oops key pad!) or an outstretched arm?

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  12. Anonymous9:03 AM

    I agree to a lot of the things you say here. But if the new class created after independence was so greedy, how did we write a great constitution, how did we adopt ideals of Socialism and non aligned movement (though they failed), how did we create the idea of affirmative action (though it is distorted now)- and so on. I would tend to think large number of new rulers were educated and sincere (ironically because of being educated abroad) but rest were simply put in position because of popularity and mass-appeal (rajas and nawabs). The intention was not any malicious and the process was not planned as a whole as you point out - just that they didnt expect the generations of politicians to come to be so ruthless, unpatriotic and illiterate. So I dont buy your argument on 'buying' the degrees. Having said all this, india would not like any other developing country who is corrupt now and can escape it - because of sheer size of population. The country simply doesnt have enough size or resources for that.

  13. Blackmoney: Indians have stashed over $500 bn in banks abroad, says CBI - Indian Express 29th Jan 2013. .
    Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated 500 billion US dollars (nearly Rs 24.5 lakh crore) of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens, the CBI Director said today.

  14. Which political party was the most hereditary? (Or, what percentage of a party’s MPs had reached the Lok Sabha through a family link—excluding parties with fewer than five MPs?)

    RLD 100 per cent (5 out of 5)
    NCP 77.8 per cent (7 out of 9)
    BJD 42.9 per cent (6 out of 14)
    INC 37.5 per cent (78 out of 208)
    BSP 33.3 per cent (7 out of 21)
    DMK 33.3 per cent (6 out of 18)
    SP 27.3 per cent (6 out of 22)
    CPI(M) 25 per cent (4 out of 16)
    JD(U) 20 per cent (4 out of 20)
    BJP 19 per cent (22 out of 116)
    AITC 15.8 per cent (3 out of 19)
    Shiv Sena 9.1 per cent (1 out of 11)
    AIADMK 0 per cent (0 out of 9)
    TDP 0 per cent (0 out of 6)

    Source: The Princely State Of India by PATRICK FRENCH. -

  15. Anonymous12:17 PM

    Pour some chemical to the septic tank .....and kill all the worms called citizens.


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