governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘Caste’

Liberals; smell the coffee please

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(photo credit: http://www.thehindu.com)

Liberals and human rights advocates are a queasy bunch with no stomach to face up to the honest truth that effective governance implies a better informed and more intrusive government.

Light handed regulation” is the mantra of neo-liberal economics. But such regulation fails unless the regulator can monitor compliance with the rule of law by acquiring more and better, real time data on individuals and business entities.

Take the simple case of ensuring that shop workers are not exploited by owners and get at least one weekly holiday and enjoy restricted, daily, working hours. The “heavy handed” manner this is done is by shutting entire markets down on a specific day and prescribing shop opening and closing hours. The “light handed regulation” option could give shop keepers the liberty to set their own working hours. But to protect workers’ rights, effectively, it would need to generate a real time centrally networked, database of cash transactions- to validate shop working hours and a bio-metric clock- doing the same for employees working hours.  How does this square with the Liberal preference for “small government”?

Consider the case of self-assessment by tax payers. Regulation cannot get lighter than that. But to be effective, it has to be coupled with predictable and significant sanctions against deviant behavior. This means generating a database, on each tax payer, comprising an effective audit trail of all financial transactions and a tax agent randomly trawling this data, using “red flags”, so that deviance can be detected and brought to trial.

Tracking phone call, social media, emails and physical movement of individuals all becomes part of “Big data” which needs to be captured to provide the information required for credible sanctions systems. This is especially necessary, in democracies like India, where all sanctions are appealable and hence must be backed by “judicial quality evidence”.

“Big data” does have unintended but positive outcomes. The clamour, amongst the elite,  for the status symbol of publicly provided, security guards can be greatly reduced, if “security” comes with a GPS enabled, real time, tracking of location and real time reporting, via a smart phone app, of whom the VIP is meeting as a routine procedure.

No Liberal would object to the installation of CCTV cameras where they live, to protect their lives and property. But this comes with the potential downside of intrusive government. Taking cameras closer to people generates “Big data”. Its value lies in the ability to constantly trawl it to prevent crime (or even natural disasters), by identifying “hot spots” and patterns of criminal behavior and to bring criminals to book. Constraints on individual privacy are inevitable. Also there is bound to be misuse, despite checks to prevent gaming; for example the illegal use of individual information, acquired for security purposes, to black mail individuals. There will always be “insiders”, who could trade off any inherent inefficiency in keeping “big data” secure.

Is Edward Snowden a traitor or an American hero? His country folk were divided on the fine point of the “tipping point” between an “insiders” duty to guard official secrets versus the citizens moral responsibility to fight “Big Government”. There is a stark choice between ensuring security and preserving individual freedom. Too much individual freedom (say the right to religious beliefs which may even bar or restrict social integration, as is available in India and the US) can be as negative as too little individual freedom (China, Russia) in the name of national security.

But the flash points where security collides with individual freedom are more often due to “entrenched privilege” being threatened, than the high ground of morality being squashed.  Indian Liberals, who willingly submit to racial profiling and body searches at US and UK immigration, are outraged if an Indian security personnel, so much as dares to question them about what they are carrying in their bags, whilst boarding domestic flights, trains or buses.

Of course most Liberals in India belong to the elite. For them the State and its officials are only to be suffered, not recognised. There is an implicit sense of “entitlement” amongst the elite, who expect to be “served”, even if they dodge their taxes. Much of this springs from the unfortunate spectacle, of fawning subordinates around a preening public official, in much the same manner, as courtiers may have supplicated before our erstwhile Maharajas.

Liberals mourn that there is too little reliance on “trust” and too much emphasis on “surveillance”. But isn’t it ironic, that in the US: the birth place of Liberal policy practices and “small government”, it is “legally enforceable contracts”, which are the life blood of social and even personal interaction. A society governed by “contracts” by definition, is a society which does trust anyone, including the State, to do the right thing.

It is the same with the theory of incentives. The fundamental basis of neo-liberal policy practice is to embed the correct “incentives” in regulations, which then elicit the desired behavioural outcomes associated with the desired results. The provision of artificially embedded incentives, as neo-Liberal policy practice seeks to provide, inevitably come with intrusive metrics of measurement because what is not measured can neither be sanctioned nor rewarded. Regulatory intrusion, big data and “big” government are the inevitable consequence.

In direct contrast, are systems which rely on “belief”, “religion” or “spirituality”. These seek to bind people to a higher morality and blind them to the needs of individuality. Communism is one such “belief” which relies on the morality of the State and not contracts. Of course, it also comes with high levels of State control and intrusive oversight by a bureaucracy of the faithful, exactly as any other religion.

The Liberal position becomes even more laughable when we consider the available “best practice” on poverty reduction; a key objective for developing economies. “Tightly targeted, cash transfers” to the poor is the latest mantra. But these have to be preceded by identification of the poor; close monitoring of their locations and current incomes. In fact, what this requires is a national database of the entire population of India so that we can segregate the poor from the non- poor; citizens from non-citizens and similarly along any other targeted classification (gender, caste, religion or spatial location). 25% of the Indian population is migratory. This requires “spatial location” enabled assessment of their current economic status since poverty levels vary across states. You can’t get bigger data than all these demographics on 1.25 billion people.

The loss of individual privacy is embedded in the logic of extensive digitization of information. Think of the benefits from being able to identify people uniquely; record their demographics (age, marital status, gender, health and education metrics) securely; store transactions securely and access the stored information instantly. If it is alright for the government to be intrusive versus the poor, why is it so horrible for the “privacy” of the rest to be invaded? The much touted right of the individual “to be forgotten” can exist versus other individuals (though how even that could be enforced is not known) but it must never exist against the State.

“Big data” and a better informed government are here to stay. Liberals should wake up and smell the coffee.

Hate and its adherents

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Hate is a powerful emotion. A sense of rejection, powerlessness, consistent negative discrimination or perceived persecution; any of these can invoke it. In India it is a common, albeit not a publicly expressed sentiment. But it lurks very close to the surface.

Who hates whom, is an easily answered question. But why the poor do not hate the rich remains a puzzle.

Whilst income inequality between the lowest income earner in the middle class (defined as a family of five earning more than Rs. 20,000/- per month) and the very wealthy is high and rising, what binds the rich and the middle class together is common aspirations.

My flat may be just a studio space and not a mansion. I may have only a cooler and not central air conditioning. I may travel by “reserved sleeper” rather than private jet. I may drive a scooter (with a Jaguar or a Mercedes logo on the front wheel cover) and not a Bentley. My family’s weekend outing may be to India Gate and not Chiang Mai but I empathize and fantasize with and emulate the very rich. We go to similar schools, read the same magazines and watch the same shows and movies. We wear the same clothes and have similar tastes and habits even if we do not have similar expense accounts. The “imitation rich” fit seamlessly, if sometime tenuously, into the world of the “real rich”.

In contrast the divide between the poor and the “rich and the middle” is deep and unbridgeable. Functional illiteracy is the killer, as is the absence of family safety nets for ill health, accidental death, fire or joblessness, which are often the involuntary entry points into a downward spiral of hopelessness or hate. The Naxalites earlier and the Maoists now, seek to politicize this incipient hatred of the poor for the oppressive rich.

But neither have succeeded. Blame it on our passive culture; the stickiness of traditional identities or on democracy which lets a murky light of hope shine through. Credit it to our bureaucracy and judiciary which, albeit creaky, still manage to crank out basic justice and fair play.  But the most potent reason why the poor do not hate the rich is because they have been skilfully taught not to.

They have been manipulated by the Indian elite, across caste, religion and region, to sublimate their incipient hate for the empowered rich into hate for the “other poor” who belong to a different caste, religion or region. This zero sum game appeals instantly. More for “them” means less for “me” and vice versa

Much of the notional “plurality” of Indian politics (regional; caste or religion based political parties) derives from this cynical use of “traditional identities” by politicians as electoral instruments to create “vote banks”. The result is an “empowered” group of elites in each caste; religion and region and in the many sub groups that coexist. In this three dimensional matrix Dalit/Christians/from the North are differentiated from Dalit/Muslims from the North. Ahirs, Kurmis and Jats view Dalits and each other, as competitors for state largesse. Sunni Muslims out maneuver Shias.  Bengal cannot see eye to eye with Tamil Nadu and Kashmir remains in splendid isolation.

Meanwhile, the elites of each of these groups share business interests; frequently co-habit; enjoy bonhomie and populate a common power network of amazing reach and strength. It is this trans caste, religion and region elite which has been the real gainers of Indian democracy, whilst studiously keeping at bay the real question- what is in it for the poor, of which around 70% (over 800 million people) earn less than US$ 2 per day.

The AAP has come closest to spontaneously mobilizing the disempowered. But post their “death wish” renunciation of power in Delhi their appeal has shrunk. It is now down to primarily the urban poor, who were justifiably impressed by the instant reduction in petty corruption and harassment, which had become the hallmark of State interaction with the disempowered in Delhi. But AAP is very far from being a party of national revival.

The Congress certainly has the latent potential. But it is constrained by the suffocating management control of the party, by the Nehru scions. Whilst they may deride Modi for sublimating the BJP in his own image, right down to his signature “white lotus”, one detects traces of envy. He has pipped them to the post, in their own game of “family takes all”.

This leaves the BJP as the only national party with some element of inner party democracy. However, their natural bias is towards the North and the West regions and within that to industry and trade. Also the direct linkage with the RSS does not help. A national party cannot be aligned to any one culture or religion and the BJP needs to travel a long road in that direction.

Modi shall be PM on Modi day- May 16, 2014. His incentive would be to remain PM till 2024. For someone, as savvy as him, surely the path to political longevity cannot lie through sectarian strife or caste wars. Yes, growth, jobs and better public services will be on his agenda but so must Kejriwal style, visible outreach and responsive security for the poor.   

 

 

Reclaiming a strong India

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What is common between the ongoing events in Crimea (2014), the British action against Argentina in the Falklands under Maggie Thatcher (1982), the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka (1982 to 2009), Kashmir (1947 onwards) and Sikkim (1975)?

All five incidents are text book case studies on the dos and don’ts for the exercise of State power. They illustrate that when the chips are down strong nations protect themselves rather than bank upon the charity of others.

Russia has successfully reversed a partisan decision taken in 1954 to cede Crimea to Ukraine. Possibly, at the time, it was unimaginable that Ukraine could be anything but Soviet territory. Despite threatening noises from Europe and the US, Russia has gone ahead and implemented its decision to reunite Crimea with Russia.

Maggie Thatcher sunk an Argentinian ship in 1982, in a show of jingoistic aggression, to end the armed invasion of the Falklands (population 2300 people located 500 km from the East Coast of Argentina and 13,000 km from the UK) by Argentina. The UK has never needed to assert force ever again. Had they, as a civilized nation, instead requested the UN to get the Argentine army evicted, the Union Jack may have never flown thereafter, in Stanley, the capital of the Falklands.

Sri Lanka bludgeoned the Tamil Tigers and indeed every Tamil in Sri Lanka, into submission with sheer brute force in 2009, thereby resolving the problem of Tamil terrorism at least for the near term. They did this after twenty six years of a low key war of attrition in which they got little support from the World but which sapped the economic growth. Since the war ended in 2009, GDP growth spurted to 8% per annum in 2010 and 2011 and 6% in 2012, despite the adverse international economic environment.

Conversely, half way through the process of evicting the Pakistani intruders in 1947, India approached the UN, to resolve the vexed issue of Pakistan’s illegal capture of around 40% of Kashmir. More than six decades later, Kashmir remains on the boil and absorbs significant fiscal resources and executive time at the expense of the Indian taxpayer. In sharp contrast, India absorbed Sikkim (previously a monarchy) in 1975, based on the demands of democratic reformers in Sikkim. The results of the referendum in favour of joining India are disputed, but Sikkim is today an integral part of democratic India.

The common lesson from all five cases is that governments need strong and specific domestic mandates and collegial decision making, to be decisive in national interest. How can these pre-conditions for strong governments be fostered?

First, despite the happy ending in Sikkim, in matters international, we must not blindly trust our leaders to do the right thing. We need large dollops of sunshine on decision making in international affairs to grow unanimity. This needs to go beyond closed door meetings and briefings of inter-party parliamentary committees. Issues and options need to be debated publicly; risks and rewards assessed objectively and publicly, so that we aam admis also get to know and understand why we are spending the money we are, on securing our interests overseas.

Maybe we do not actually spend enough and more needs to be spent. The point is that currently only a rarified few know what our overseas interests actually are and what we pay to protect them. Even on a “need to know” basis, this charmed circle of foreign policy wonks, diplomats and select politicians needs to be significantly expanded.

Second, vibrant democracies do not survive without a strong sense of nationalism. The World is waiting, with bated breath, for China to fall apart as it becomes more “democratic”. Being nationalistic goes beyond the tokenism of paying respect to the national flag or standing to attention when the national anthem is played. At a very basic level, Nationalism is a warm glow than can be felt, but nor easily measured. It means taking pride in what we have collectively achieved and demonstrating faith that, where we have collectively failed, we can and shall prevail.

These feelings are linked to what an individual considers to be her primary identity. This sense of national identity is very difficult to foster in a culturally heterogeneous country, like ours. Even the mighty Soviet Union failed because it remained, at heart, Russian. India is more fragile than the US, which is at least, bound by English, Coke and McDonalds. We are bound together by “Hindi movies, momos, idlis and butter chicken” but are more like the European Union, without a common language, religion or race to link us.

Like the EU then, we must be bound by strong and mutually beneficial economic ties and a common economic future. Every segment of India must perceive a tangible benefit in remaining Indian, if we are to survive together. Particular attention needs to be paid to the well-being of border areas, which are the most susceptible to dissidence.  

Third, we must reject the mindless enforcement of “National norms” in matters social and cultural. We can learn from the manner in which the Indian joint family has evolved rather than splintered in the face of urban modernity. Today, parents, even the doting, die-hard, joint-family addicts, advise their children to set up a separate kitchen, ideally on the floor above or below them as a second best option for bonding, which is better than a complete split in the family.

In the national context, this means that each segment of society (the intersections of caste, religion, race and region) must get the physical and fiscal space to manage their own affairs and evolve their own individual cultural norms, at their own pace, to cope with the stress of modern life. There can be no single pattern for evolving Indian cultural norms because no such pan-Indian norms exist.

Fourth, we must learn to distinguish between a strong State and a “Big State”. Typically despots run big governments, with large numbers employed in the security establishment, because they manage the State irrespective of the will of the people. Democracies are meant to be aligned to the will of the people and hence can have lean governments.

Large governments can be slimmed down if they choose to decentralize decision making and the use of fiscal resources to user groups. Technology now enables cost effective, real time oversight over decentralized decision making. Red flags and check points can be built into electronic public financial management systems, to avoid misallocation of budgets; budget over-runs or gross mis-procurement.

Growth is slowing down across the World. Countries need to jostle within a limited pie to enlarge their share of economic growth. Only the best shall survive.

India is too large, too heterogeneous and too democratic to escape subtle economic sabotage by competitors. Existing social fissures can be deepened into grand canyons of hate. Such subversion can only be neutralized by the collective will of our citizens. But are we sensitizing our citizens to this risk and to their role in managing it?   

Myopic Urbanization

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Divisive economics is worse than divisive politics. Proponents of Urbanization are the loudest proponents of economic divisiveness. The vision they subscribe to is of shinning cities connected by corridors of gold, glittering like diamonds in a waste land of the rest of Bharat. Their justification is that the rest of the World has adopted this approach. But India constitutes 17% of the World’s population and around 33% of the World’s poor people. It is for us to define “good practice” in development, not to blindly follow international examples, which do not relate to the context of India.

A second “best” defense of “urbanization wallahs” is that it is “inevitable” so best to plan for it. The “inevitability” is related, yet again, to the manner in which growth has happened in the past and not to the specific prospects for India in the future. The fact that even by 2039 only 50% of the population is expected to be in “urban areas” is glossed over, whilst making the inevitability argument. In any case we must not succumb, further than we already have, to the “everything is written” syndrome. It is for Indians to write their own destiny.

Here are three reasons why a divisive focus on urbanization is retrogressive.

First, people tend to fall into the category the State creates for them. Caste, gender, religion are traditional fault lines created by “Authority” such as it was defined since ancient times. None of these provide any progressive social value today. The modern World identity of Urban versus Rural is as corrosive.

The needs of a shopkeeper in a village or a city are much the same; a serviceable road linked to the habitations of their bulk suppliers and customers; electricity for extended business hours, storage of perishable goods and medicines; security of life and property; a collection service to collect the trash generated by customers and sanitation facilities; customers with money in their pockets and a bank in which to safely put her money and access credit; telecommunication links to remain in contact with current events and clean water. Why would we want to discriminate in the standards of supply of these public goods between urban and rural areas? By creating “urban” and “rural” labels we are perversely creating a modern fault lines around which antagonistic interest groups start to coalesce. Please stop this. We have enough fault lines as it is. It doesn’t help when power elites benefit from the touting of urbanization.

Second, sustainable development is indivisible. You cannot steal from the future to make the present pleasant. You cannot fatten the urbanite at the expense of the rural poor. In our democratic society, you cannot cordon-off urban development from rural prosperity as China can and does. Urban centric development is self-corroding due to unlimited in-migration from rural areas in much the same way as international immigrants storm the national borders of developed countries, spawning land and migration mafias and vote banks. Cities and rural areas are organically linked as a sugar factory is linked to the cane fields; a steel factory to the iron ore mines and an electric power generating station to the coal mines, the water or solar, wind or marine energy harvesting area.

 Area based “indivisible” development optimizing on the comparative advantage of each development area has been a standard development tool. Why have we abandoned it? Let us instead abandon the decrepit slogans of the past and opt for integrated development which maximizes value generation using resources which are available locally whilst benefiting from India’s vast, common, domestic market and the liberalization of international trade. Innovation in India need not be limited to cities it has to be a fundamental credo of growth.

Third, the literature tells us cities benefit from the economics of agglomeration. That is why incomes are higher in cities and businesses happy to locate there. Population density is higher so it is cheaper to provide public services. Product markets are larger so scale economies kick in for suppliers and effective competition can pass on the benefits to consumers. Finally, the human element; traditional identities (religion, caste and gender) are replaced by modern identities in the anonymity of cities; professional human networks leverage human capacity and aspirations change. In a recent survey, two thirds of Lady Shri Ram College alumni (admittedly an elite Delhi college for women pulling in the best) viewed their professional identity as the primary one, even over gender.

All these are indeed the virtues of cities, but should they also not make the cities self-financed? Do they justify the subsidies provided by the State to keep cities alive and humming at quality-of-life standards far above rural areas? Collection of user charges even in metros is rarely more than 40% of the cost of providing services. Revenue collected by cities from their own sources (by taxing residents and from their real estate and other assets) only meets slightly more than 50% of their expenditure. The rest is grants from the Government of the related State or the Government of India. Development schemes which are off-budget for Cities but are directly funded by the Central Government, like the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission further add to their kitty of goodies. A full accounting of the actual distribution of the government’s resources between urban and rural areas, including expenditure on education, health, science and technology, industry would further skew the allocation in favour of cities, where the elite reside. This resource allocation bias for cities is indefensible.

Relying on urbanization for economic growth is an end-of-the-pipe option, like a housewife resorting to RO filtration to drink clean water as against the State cleaning the rivers and other ground water sources. It is expensive and exclusionary.

Ignoring the human cost of migration from the villages to cities, in search for work, including the life cycle social costs of predominantly male migration, in large numbers, is scary.

Lastly, in the context of the recent democratic trend of targeted social disruption as an instrument of political power, cities are powder kegs waiting to be blown up. A “soft” State, like India, cannot cope with the unleashing of such violent and disruptive, social pressures.   

 

Hypocritical India

 

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Indians are affably argumentative (Amartya Sen, 2005). Less likably, the Indian State is intensely hypocritical. It remains very medieval despite its veneer of modernism.

Examples of medievalism abound. We value Indian lives very low. No minister has ever resigned because citizens, in their charge, starved to death or died due to lack of emergency medical aid or if large numbers of students fail to pass in public schools. Corruption is a leitmotif of even the simplest public transaction like lodging a First Information Report at a police station (this is something which should even be possible by email or sms or whatsapp); avoiding getting arrested for drunk driving; getting a copy of case records from the lower courts or seeking protection from physical harassment and assault.

The best illustration of lingering medievalism and nascent modernism is the conscious use of hypocrisy by the State, to keep alive the hope of change without disturbing the status quo. There are many such State hypocrisies but five major ones stand out.

The biggest hypocrisy is the Constitutional provision that religion does not matter for State policy formulation and execution. Everything points to a different truth. The Shah Bano episode (1986) is the best example of how religion and politics have been inseparable. In this case the Supreme Court granted maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman (as is the right of any Indian woman) but the government rescinded this progressive judgment through a perverse, new law to appease orthodox Muslim sentiment. Meanwhile, to placate orthodox Hindu sentiment, which was being fanned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a Hindu rights outfit), it also opened the gates of the disputed site of the Babri Masjid which had been locked by the government since 1885 to preserve the status quo on counter claims to possession rights by Muslims and Hindus. Incidentally 1885 is also the year the Indian National Congress was founded. By 1986 (a century later) the Congress was not averse to play the communal card with an eye to the 1989 elections.

Other more visible “red flags” of regressive religious politics are the low pan-Indian representation of Muslims in government; the increasing ghettoization of Muslims even in new urban areas; blatantly pro-Muslim or Hindu political parties and decreasing levels of productive social interaction between the two major communities since 1947. Let’s face it. The religious cleavage exists in an antagonistic form and is increasing. It is only once we accept this that we can get to talk about how to bridge it.

The second big hypocrisy is that all Indians are created equal. Democracy and the positive affirmation (reservations) policy have solidified caste much more than the dilution effect from urbanization. If Pandit Nehru saw Sardar Patel as a biased Hindu he would be shocked at the manner in which political leaders today pander to narrow interests of backward caste and Dalit vote banks. After religion, caste is the next most significant political identity of Indians. The majority of Indians wed within their caste and vote for caste candidates. Indians are not born equal. They struggle to overcome the inherited, rigid social and economic barriers of caste and very few succeed, despite the Constitution and a range of laws prohibiting caste based biases.

The third big hypocrisy (which we share with much of the World) is that women are treated equal to men. They are not and never have been. The good news here is that since this is an international problem, the state of play is fairly advanced. Policy, law and programs are working to empower women economically in the hope that social change will follow; to measure their levels of satisfaction; to assess results and to provide special protection to them in the transition period.

The fourth big hypocrisy is that poverty is reducing at a satisfactory rate. This is far from true. Even worse, asserting this statistically, as the government does, lulls us into believing that following the current path and simply doing more of what we do already, will get us to a poverty free India. It cannot.

Average per capita income needs to triple in real terms and inequality to reduce significantly before we can even claim to have found the correct direction. Some measurable indicators are a consistent growth above 8% per year; a more equal sharing between the rich and 70% of the rest, of the benefits of incremental growth (we don’t monitor this periodically) and the rate of job creation in the formal economy.

The fifth hypocrisy is that the existing governance architecture of Parliamentary Democracy is suitable for India. It is not. Both Parliament and Cabinet have ceased to play their intended role as checks on personal aggrandizement and protecting minority interests. This has been true for State Governments over the last three decades but over the past decade even the GOI Cabinet has become the poodle of Party bosses. The sanctity and effectiveness of Parliament is eroded by the behavior of lumpen elements, more familiar with brute force than reasoned argument or moral persuasion. Corruption vitiates executive decision making to the extent that the judiciary becomes the aam admi’s “de-facto government” for seeking redress.

How can this familiar tale of woe be altered?

First what is not measured and recorded cannot be dealt with. Enumerate caste/tribe and religion in the census so we know the numbers; the spatial distribution and their wellbeing. Map caste and religion data on a publicly available GIS down to the village and urban ward level so that government interventions can be calibrated to local social norms and results assessed by third parties. Assess poverty levels bi-annually using mobile based rapid data collection instruments to better relate schemes (like the Right to Food or the Right to Work) to poverty reduction outcomes.

Second review the existing incentive structures for diluting religion, caste, gender inequality, poverty and improving the functioning of the executive, parliament and judiciary.

Caste based affirmative action (reservations) clearly perpetuates an “us versus them” psychology. Diluting it by adding poverty criterion, requires more data and monitoring, but can lead to the dominance of more modern pressure groups like professional affiliations (farmers, business owners, employees), locational interests (Biharis or Mumbaikars) or ideological solidarity (environmentalists, big or small government advocates, gay rights advocates).

All government programs and projects should be evaluated for their poverty reduction potential before approval by the government and income enhancement targets fixed. Achievement against targets must be monitored by third parties with the results made public. This will reduce pork (roads to nowhere) and gold plating (capital heavy projects which do nothing for jobs-why not let private business do these?).

The Constitution should be revised to completely separate the Executive from Parliament. The PM and her deputy to be directly elected with minimum vote shares prescribed in each constituency to ensure inclusion. The ministerial executive team to be nominated by the PM and endorsed by the Parliament. The internal emergency provisions should similarly require the endorsement of parliament to protect state government autonomy from an aggressive PM. The 2014 elections are being fought in any case on the basis of “US President like” identities.

This simple change can ensure that the PM is popularly elected and is not just a “shoo-in”. It can also  improve the quality of MPs by getting rid of those who contest for Parliament seats (often by paying for them) only as an avenue for eventually getting into lucrative executive positions. Legislative ability requires skills in law and social sciences apart from a feel for the local interests an MP represents. Executive ability requires specialization and narrow experience. The system must present separate choices to the electorate and to those desiring to enter politics.

The bottom line is to transit from being an affable but hypocritical India to a more results oriented and honest India. In the modern world time is money and the long route to poverty reduction whilst changing incrementally is costly. Social stability is a merit good in the Indian plural context. But the price for social stability must be paid by the rich and not the poor or the marginalized.   

Rahul and Kejriwal; common aspirations

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In India, fractured as it is by multiple social divisions, on top of the usual economic distinctions of class, the notion that any one party can appeal to the majority seems far-fetched, especially in the context of an increasingly aware and literate electorate. Intelligent voters seek to maximize their self-interest, which is increasingly defined in a narrow manner.

Despite its divisiveness, India’s electorate can be grouped into three broad segments.

First, the Muslims, the Dalits and the Tribals remain marginalized local groups, comprising around 33% of the vote. This vote remains pretty much transferable in bulk to whichever party they trust. The rise of regional parties is based on this vote. For the marginalized, the primary concern is the security of life, property and social dignity. These immediate concerns are best met practically, by the party which rules the State government, where they live. They also believe that caste/religion cohorts will be less rapacious than others.

The Congress used to be the party of choice for them, but the loss of power at the State level, particularly in North and East India, has severely undercut its usefulness to these marginalized segments.

For none of these, though the BJP has broken through to the Tribal vote, is the BJP a welcome prospect. Its strident Hinduism disadvantages lower castes, whilst its vision of business led growth, paints it as vile, exploitative and people unfriendly. This effectively knocks around one third of the electorate into the arms of regional parties, the Left and the Congress (where it rules a State government).

Second, the urban non-poor, comprising around 20% of voters, remain catchment areas for the BJP and its clones. The urban poor, comprising around 10% of the vote, were solidly with the Congress till 2013 but now may gravitate to AAP clones, if these are scaled up, although this seems unlikely given the past history of such “honesty based” social movements.

The third group is the rural, rich and business community, who are increasingly becoming indistinguishable from the urban rich, since untaxed agricultural income remains an attractive instrument for accounting for unaccounted income. Also agricultural land is a prime speculative asset in a fast urbanizing economy. This group, which hangs its hat on the movements of the Sensex, is firmly with the BJP. But their numbers are woefully insignificant (less than 1% of the vote).

The rural poor (other than scheduled caste and tribes), comprising the residual 36%, are the votes which remain up for grabs by the National and Regional parties. Caste, Clan and Community all play major and enduring roles.

If the Left had a more credible jobs and public services program, this segment would be fertile ground for it. The Congress and the Left have now become virtually indistinguishable. They have similar approaches to gay rights versus traditional values; social protection versus growth; subsidies versus jobs or domestic agendas versus open economy linkages. The only difference is that the Congress is not averse to playing the caste and religion card, as convenient, whilst the Left is still squeamish about departing from its class struggle agenda.

These two parties are likely to cannibalize each other. They could usefully coalesce into a single “Progressive Union” of the rural poor, Muslims, Dalits and Tribals. In doing so they could aggressively combat the Regional parties which are essentially caste and social identify based. They could give a modern, welfare State option to this segment. The AAP is also closely aligned to the philosophy of the Left and the Congress. Strident secularism; worker welfare; self-sufficiency; decentralized rule by mohallah committees/Bhagidari/communes are examples of common thinking.

The BJP is consequently forced to distinguish itself as the Party offering pan-India economic growth, industrialization, rapid urbanization and jobs, whilst minimizing its Welfare State character. It has quite some way to go towards this objective. Its 2013 victories in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were based on a social welfare program, closely resembling that of the Congress and were aided by poor leadership and in-fighting in the Congress. This cannot be a consistent ground for victory. A combative Congress could swiftly reduce the BJPs advantage at the “efficient government” game.

The BJP has to look to the rural rich and upwardly mobile middle class and the urban voter for long term support. This segment will grow from being 30% today to over 60% of the vote by 2030. This is its natural constituency. In doing so it must distance itself from Hindu fundamentalism; obscurantism and adopt a modern growth and development based agenda. The Nagpur connection has to be severely diluted. Otherwise it will lose ground, which it can ill afford.

There is little scope for Fascism in India, principally due to deep social and regional heterogeneity. The Parties of the next decade will be smaller in size and scope. They will live or die depending on how nimble they can be in reaching out to their voters. Close and consistent interaction with voters, rather than mammoth public rallies, will determine success. Merit based on performance, rather than birth, shall increasingly be the measure of politicians. Governments will be formed by coalitions rather than through block buster electoral support.

Kejriwal has belled the cat. The Congress, which is in search of a leader, could usefully anoint him as its 2014 candidate for Prime Minister.  Rahul and Kejriwal share a lot of common ground; age, social conscience, a thirst for asceticism and a focus on doing the right thing. They should join hands. What could be better than contracting-in the model, Rahul hopes to emulate?  Another, more revolutionary option, would be for Rahul and the progressive section of the Congress to merge with the AAP. Either model can work, in stemming BJPs juggernaut.

Netaji-Mulayam’s 30/30 India (U) Vision

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Blame it on Nehru. If it had not been for him, India (U-ndivided) would comprise Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and Bangladesh, though regrettably still not Sri Lanka (Galle and Kandulama are so beautiful!).

Now why couldn’t the man have just made Jinnah the PM, who would have been gone soon enough, anyway. Nehru would have been back in the saddle and the rest of history would have unwound as it did, except:

(1) We would have won more hockey matches.

(2) Our cricket and football teams would be stronger.

(3) Our movie stars would be taller and better looking and Imran Khan would be ours.

(4) Indians (U) would no longer feel compelled to cheer cricket teams on the basis of religion.

(5) The delights of Lahore would still be available to the average Punjabi

(6) We would not have the absurd feet stomping, yelling, in-your-face antics between border guards, every day at Attari.

(7) The refined Dilli culture would not have been overwhelmed by exuberant Punjabi refugees.

(8) Bengali would have been a dominant Indian language spoken by 15% and Urdu would never have declined and be spoken by more than 25% of U-Indians.

(9) India (U)’s river water potential would have been better harnessed

(10) Hydro power would still be a major energy source

(11) Cheap gas, piped from Turkmenistan would fuel household energy needs, industry and electricity in the North

(12) Our forest cover ratio would be much worse but our freshwater availability would increase significantly.

(13) The Soviets would still be there in Afghanistan because we would never have given the US a toehold in Karachi, the Panjab or the NW Frontier areas

(14) The Taliban would never have been born, nor would have Bhindranwale.

(15) India (U) would not be a favourite tourist destination for Israeli backpackers.

(16) We would still get cheap Sardas (a juicy, sugary sweet Afghanistan/NW Frontier melon) and exquisite dry fruit.

(17) We would still have to deal with “Afghani” money lenders and their wayward ways of dealing with defaulters rather than having them live here as pliant refugees.

(18) We would be able to visit Kashmir without bullet proof vests and enjoy its cuisine and natural beauty.

(19) Kashmiris would still opt for business, horticulture, hospitality, handicrafts, poetry and cricket rather than AK 47s and football.

(20) North and East India (U) would have remained competitive versus the West and the South with easy access to the sea via Karachi; undiluted Punjabi prowess in agriculture; Sindhi excellence in trade; Bengali competitiveness in “Kolture”, arts, law and the social sciences.

(21) We would have fathered micro credit and Muhammad Yunus would be ours.

(22) With one third of the electorate and dominance in the North, Muslims would no longer feel like a minority

(23) Under competition from a significant Islamic presence, Hinduism would have tended to consolidate, rather than splinter along caste cleavages, as it has today.

(24) The BJP would have been a dominant party of the right from the 1950s and Zardari and Sheikh Hasina would have been its Muslim leaders today instead of Shahnawaz Hussain.

(25) Nawaz Sharif and Khaleeda Zia would be the Muslim leaders of the Congress party, rather than Khurshid, Kidwai and Rasheed Alvi.(26) We would not spend 20% of our fiscal resources on the army.

(27) It is unlikely, Sikkim would ever have resolved to join the Republic, just as Nepal’s main regret is that it borders tumultuous India, rather than placid Sweden.

(28) China would be even more worried and hence more of an existential threat.

(29) The US would have been become friendlier much earlier.

(30) Najeeb Jung would still be Lt. Governor of Delhi

Wanted Social Reformers

Is Rahul really so wrong in talking of two Indias. There are two Indias. But not the kind that Rahul envisages. He sees the divide in economic terms; the poor and the rich. The real divide is between those who are ready to abandon tradition and social bonds, especially when they impose medieval constraints on human rights and those who are either happy or are benefited by remaining wedded to the past.

In the former category are those who marry outside their caste, religion or class and do not impose caste, religion or class as an initial yes/no basis for choice of life partner by their children; those who shall not support a political party which uses traditional social groups as vote banks; those who speak out for human rights, child protection, protection from marginalization and against gender discrimination and abuse.

In the latter category are all those who support the infamous Khap Panchayats of Haryana; Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism; caste based social interaction and the use of tradition as a lever of social control. The most recent incident from Haryana of “honor killing” illustrates this mindset.

Consider how quickly social cleavages could disappear if by law Indians were required to marry outside their caste or religion and if they had free choice. Of course we have a problem in that for every Muslim there are six Hindus so whilst Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians would have a significant pool of partners in Hindus the reverse is not true. Here the law could strike a blow for social reform by decreeing that marriage between a scheduled caste or tribal Hindu and a general category Hindu would also qualify. There is a parallel from Africa. Tribalism is the bane of Africa but is unknown or marginal in Tanzania. Christians and Muslims inter marry. The change is attributed to the social activism of Julius Nyerere, their first President who ensured intermixing by forcibly requiring children to study away from their home cities, developed mixed communities and encouraged people to marry across tribes and religions. This does not mean that tribalism and religion do not exist. They do but it is not a basis for social segregation as in India.

India is rife with laws. Why not this law which eradicates the scourge of social parochialism and prejudice? Unfortunately anyone suggesting this remedy would be immediately categorized as entirely mad or at best a dreamer. It is unimaginable that people would accept this level of intrusion into their personal life. What about our religious leaders and their followers? Their social and economic power could vanish overnight. What about political parties? How would they now target their voters? “Secularism” would acquire a hollow sound. “Fundamentalism” would similarly lose its force. Politicians would need to start talking about real issues; things which matter like social and individual well-being. All this goes against the grain of India’s incremental approach to change.

The longer route to social integration is via development and urbanization. Enhanced income makes people less willing to risk social unrest and violence. However, rich people can end up being socially more traditional and backward looking than the poor. Superstition is a common failing of the rich. False religiosity and a fetish for rituals is a peculiar character of the wannabe rich, who like all wannabes are more devout than the traditional elite. Rising incomes then is not the route to social integration. Rather the savior is rapid urbanization. Cities break down social barriers and shake up people’s prejudices. They give an equal chance for women to work. This destabilizes the traditional social order within the family. Cities force people of different backgrounds to cluster together on the basis of income or occupation.

Between the two; legislating social integration or urbanization the latter is the non-controversial option. Urbanization is a global trend. It makes economic sense. It is irreversible. By 2050 one half of India will be urban. This is still thirty seven years away; one full generation. It will take India till 2100 to reach a level of 75% urbanization. Well more than double the time since our independence. This is way too long to cut away the false social constraints we live within.

The only near term option is to rely on social reformers. We need a modern day Kabir; Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the Mahatama;  Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, Babasaheb Amedkar or Maulana Azad. I am not sure how one can find such persons in modern India. We lost one such self-effacing but determined person in the assassination of Narendra Dhabolkar. This illustrates the viciousness of entrenched, fundamentalist elites. Where there was one Dhabolkar there are bound to be countess others who are driven by their passion for rationality, social harmony and the assurance of basic human rights.

A sure way to discover such social forces is by following the well-defined mechanism of truth and reconciliation. This is a standard conflict resolution technique. It encourages the two conflicted parties to engage with each other in a mediated forum at the local level, where the flesh meets the sword and work through their differences…much the same as a warring couple. Through accusation and counter accusation, the often unpleasant truth emerges and is recognized by all. Blame is apportioned, consensually, by the two parties, it is accepted and differences are resolved. Over time people get into the habit of adopting this mechanism for defusing tension. The differences recede. The common bonds become stronger. Life goes on. Since this is an apolitical process and is led by social reformers “political noise” is avoided. The process itself provides incentives for mediators and “social binders” to emerge. In the emergence of such persons lies the salvation of India.

In India, after the partition; after the Hindu-Muslim riots of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the Sikh massacre of 1984; after Babri Masjid and the Bombay riots in 1992, Godhra 2002 and Muzaffarnagar 2013 we have never meticulously tried Truth and Reconciliation, to heal the wound. The approach has always been to “seal” the wound as fast as possible, as if it were a pressurized well, needing to be plugged. Unfortunately, even plugged oil wells explode when pressure builds up.

It is time to change. It is time for social reformers to step in and follow through with healing and reform.  We are obsessed with economic reform, quite ignoring that conflict (the outcome of unresolved social tensions) negatively impacts the GDP by at least 2 to 3%, every time it flares up. Computing the full cost of conflict is a complex exercise.  Africa, it is estimated, loses 15% of its GDP due to conflict. The power of good Economics can be significantly supplemented by social reform. Let us start now. Action is long overdue. ImageImageImageImageImageImage

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