Monday, December 31, 2018

Stand Up For The Rights Of The Carless

When you get on an Indian road it becomes all too apparent as to how deeply the economic disparities are entrenched in the Indian society. The ultra-rich travel in their monster-sized SUVs, the rich in their swanky sedans, the upper-middle class in their hatchbacks, and the lower-middle class people ride their low-end motorbikes. The poor either use the overcrowded public transportation facilities or ride their bicycles. And, the pedestrians, if any, are left with hardly any space on the roads.
Burgeoning car culture
Car culture, which is the heart of western consumerism, is fast catching up in India. Indians, who have a propensity to blindly emulate the western culture, values and lifestyle, are going on a car-owning spree. Almost all the well-known multi-national car manufacturers, coupled with a handful of domestic manufacturers, are vigorously promoting their vehicles in India. The passenger car sales in India are growing at a rate of 10% and it is expected that by 2020 a mammoth five million cars will start hitting Indian roads every year. These days it is far easier to get a car loan than getting a farming loan, that too at a very attractive interest rate.
The ever-increasing disposable incomes of the upper strata of the society, the pathetic condition of the public transportation, the elitism associated with owning a car, and demonstration effect are some of the reasons for the flourishing car culture in India.
The car culture has de-democratized public spaces. Cars, which occupy over 80 percent of the road space, contribute enormously to the traffic congestion. They not only elbow out the two-wheeler riders, but also make the lives of the pedestrians precarious. And, very few cars carry passengers to their full capacity and most of them carry only their owner-cum-drivers. Therefore, cars, which occupy a lion’s share of the road space, can carry only a small number of people making them a highly inefficient mode of transportation in a country like India.
Oil dependency is a vicious circle
These gas-guzzling cars jack up India’s fuel dependency. A steep increase in crude oil imports puts enormous pressure on the economy, especially on the foreign exchange reserves. America, which pioneered the car culture, waged many wars on the pretext of toppling rogue regimes or annihilating terrorist organizations. However, the major underlying reason for the US aggression in many instances was its ambition to exercise control over oil-rich nations with an intention to ensure the unhindered supply of hydrocarbons. The oil wars, waged by the western countries under the leadership of the US, had sown poisonous seeds in the oil-rich Islamic world, and as a result, the entire world is now reaping the bitter harvest in the form of the monstrous terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida and ISIS. India, if it does not contain the spread of car culture, may find itself in a very difficult situation in its quest to ensure uninterrupted supply of oil.
The pro-car government policies
In a landmark judgment delivered in 2008, the Delhi High Court contended that “transportation facilities are for moving people, not cars, and should favor all users, not just the minority fortunate enough to use private cars”. There are many people in India who hold the false notion that a country replete with cars is a developed country, and therefore, advocate having more cars on the roads to get the status of being a developed nation. Every country, irrespective of its economic status, must create convenient, affordable and efficient public transport system to enable all sections of society to travel together comfortably.
The governments, instead of creating dedicated road spaces for buses and enhancing the capacity of other public transportation facilities such as suburban train networks, widen roads and build new flyovers and parking spaces which are quickly gobbled up by cars and other private vehicles. In many Indian cities, it has been a trend that the people, who buy cars without having parking space, tend to park them on the footpaths in front of their houses, putting the safety of the pedestrians at risk. As per the road accident statistics, more than half of the people who die on Indian roads are cyclists and pedestrians. Lately, there have been increasing incidences of drunk and underage driving, which are claiming the lives of pedestrians including children and the elderly. The pothole-ridden, narrow Indian roads, cluttered with numerous private vehicles, are becoming increasingly precarious for the travelers. In 2015, on an average of 400 people died every day in road accidents. In other words, a whopping 1.46 lakh people per annum breathe their last on Indian roads making them into virtual death traps.
Stand up for the rights of the carless                                                                              
Despite the numerous disadvantages and unsuitability of car culture in India, the elite are not ready to change their lifestyle. They are not even ready to tolerate anyone questioning their right to use cars indiscriminately. The people of the country, irrespective of their financial status, must realize the fact that the car owners, to fuel their king-sized lives, are enjoying unlimited privileges. These privileges must be curtained to empower the poor and the ordinary to reclaim their share of the democratic public spaces. Otherwise, the rich and the elite, by mistaking their privileges for rights, will transform the society into their fiefdom by occupying disproportionately large space on the road and parking their cars everywhere indiscriminately, not leaving any place either for pedestrians or public transport. The best example is when the Delhi government introduced the odd-even plan to reduce vehicular emissions to bring down the pollution levels, all the elite turned ferocious and launched a concerted social media campaign to discredit the government.
The car-owning elite, who control most of the institutions, possess an overwhelmingly strong voice, and with it, they can even manufacture consent in favor of their car culture. On the other hand, the car-less poor, who are voiceless, become mute spectators to the progressive shrinkage of their bicycling and walking space.

The governments in India, whether it is the union or the state governments, always claim themselves being pro-poor and don’t leave any opportunity to harp on social justice. However, in practice, they pave way for private vehicles, especially cars, in the name of promoting automobile industry, which grabs public spaces undemocratically and causes irreparable damage to the environment and the health of the people. It is time the governments changed their policies to promote safe, sustainable, affordable and reliable transportation facilities to ensure the smooth and hassle-free mobility of all sections of the society. And, the task invariably involves putting public transportation first and cars last.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The End Of Triple Talaq

In the history of humankind, many things that were discriminatory were passed off as legal, such as apartheid, slavery, and colonialism until they were finally abolished. Because the people who made them legal were powerful and did so to serve their narrow self-interest. The oppressed classes, when they have an overwhelming desire to get emancipated, fight back to get the discriminatory laws overturned. That is what exactly happened in case of ‘triple talaq’ also.

The Supreme Court, in 2017, held the Muslim practice of triple talaq unconstitutional and struck it down and directed the Union government to consider appropriate legislation.
The court, by pronouncing the triple talaq unconstitutional, provided succor to the countless Muslim women who are reeling under the scourge of the discriminatory practice. The unfair practice emboldens a Muslim man to violate the sanctity of marriage by deserting his wife in a unilateral and patently unjust manner. The triple talaq dehumanizes women, enslaves them to their husbands and deprives them of their dignity. Though the law is a welcome step, the very fact that it took 70 years for independent India to reform an utterly discriminatory law is deeply saddening. It also shows how arduous and painstakingly slow it is to bring about any reformation in Indian society.

There are many people who are not only questioning the intent of the BJP in enacting the law but also opposing the law itself. By doing so they revealed their true colors. No religion or no society is a perfect being and reformation should be an essential ingredient of human progress. Congress, by continuing to oppose the triple talaq law, appears to be intent on continuing its appeasement of the Muslim clergy. It, through its appeasement policies, in fact, fueled the advent of the Hindu right wing.  

Indian women, irrespective of the religion they are born into, are the oppressed class. The oppression is the direct result of their disempowerment, which is a consequence of their subjugation and financial dependence. The conservative elements in every religious community target their womenfolk in the name of community honor and leave no stone unturned in their effort to exercise unwarranted control over them thereby restricting their freedom.

Many of us wonder as to what made the practice of triple talaq continue in India even after it was banned in more than 20 Muslim majority countries including Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh? The main reason behind the continued injustice meted out to the Muslim women appears to be political. In India, the Muslim clergy, to tighten their grip over their community, make unceasing efforts to drive it towards more conservatism and even try to unduly influence the Muslim community’s voting behavior. The fatwas issued by Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, to vote for certain political parties is too well-known. Therefore, the political parties that treat the Muslim community as a mere vote bank compete to grab the vote bank by appeasing the conservative Muslim clergy.

The Shah Bano case stands as a testimony to the fact that the political parties in India stoop to any low in order to appease the Muslim orthodoxy. In a blatantly unjust move, the then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi made a law in the parliament to deprive a divorced Muslim woman called Shah Bano of her right to maintenance, overturning a verdict given by the Supreme Court that granted her alimony. And, it is this unholy nexus between the political leaders and the clergymen, which made the lives of countless Muslim women miserable by creating hurdles on the path to reformation.

The Muslim women who were victimized by these discriminatory laws, have fought back and knocked at the doors of the highest judicial body. The male-dominated and downright regressive All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) bitterly opposed any alteration in triple talaq on the pretext that it will amount to the intervention in the Muslim personal laws. In its feeble attempt to dissuade the Supreme Court from delivering its verdict, it even proposed that it would take some measures that include subjecting the errant Muslim men to social boycott. The board, however, appear to be ignorant of the fact that subjecting people to social boycott is also illegal and discriminatory. The victims of triple talaq fought a protracted legal battle and faced many odds in their effort to get justice. With the tabling of the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha, and its passage, the focus now shifts to the Rajya Sabha, where the opposition parties are bent on thwarting it. If passed even in the Rajya Sabha, and made into a law, it will not only be a victory for the cause of gender justice but also a decisive defeat of the forces that support male chauvinism in the garb of religion.

The Muslim clergy appears to have a very negative view of gender justice and many of them publicly expressed their aversion to it. Some time ago a prominent Muslim leader called Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musliyar stated, “Gender equality is something which is never going to be a reality. It is against Islam, humanity and was intellectually wrong,” and went on to say that “women are fit only to deliver children”. The AIMPLB, headed by the self-proclaimed leaders of Muslims, is no different. Therefore, these forces are not fit to represent the interests of Muslim women. It appears that the Muslim women have realized the futility of expecting others to speak for them and have at last taken matters into their own hands. A progressive Muslim women’s organization called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) was instrumental in bringing about awareness among Muslim women and is at the vanguard of the fight against discrimination.

The clergy and other orthodox elements in the Muslim society must realize the fact the gender justice is non-negotiable in this 21st-century society and they can no longer thwart the overwhelming urge among their womenfolk to lead a life of dignity in a just society. The self-proclaimed Muslim leaders, instead of opposing every move towards reformation and getting branded as patently regressive, can transform themselves into the instruments of change. They can try to bring about awareness among the Muslim community about various social evils and sensitize them about the need for reformation. But that appears to be too much to expect from them.

This article first appeared in

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Don’t Undermine RBI to Please Corporate Rent Seekers

Image Credit: Indian Express

RBI deputy governor, Dr. Viral Acharya, while delivering a lecture, made a passionate pitch for central bank’s independence, and warned that any government that tries to undermine the independence of the central bank will end up triggering a financial crisis. This speech brought the bad blood between the central bank and the government to the fore. The question that is haunting the people is what made the RBI go public with its displeasure?

The main reason behind the tussle is the Modi dispensation’s muscular approach in promoting the interests of big business. They are well aware of the fact that in this neo-liberal era it is the big business tycoons who nominate the politicians to the top positions. Because the tycoons own the two most important and powerful instruments of control in the country – money and the media. And the people, through their vote, do the rest by electing one of the nominated politicians to power. In return for this favor, the tycoons want the laissez-faire aka trickle-down economics to be implemented so that they can have the ‘ease of doing business’. In other words, they want their glasses to be filled first.

And what are the nuts and bolts of implementing the trickle-down economics? Lower the interest rates to make capital cheaper, deregulate the banks especially the Public Sector Banks (PSBs) to facilitate the ‘ease of borrowing’ and subsequent defaulting, socialize the private losses as and when required in the garb of fancy sounding, schemy words such as ‘recapitalization’ and ‘liquidity infusion’.

And who is the biggest hurdle in their path? The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), without whose consent the government can’t push through its plan. That is exactly the reason behind the intense efforts that are being made by the union government to undermine the independence of the central bank.

When Dr. Raghuram Rajan was the Governor of the RBI, Jaitley wanted an interest rate cut. Now anyone who has a basic knowledge of economics knows whose interest an interest rate cut serves. It, without an iota of doubt, serves the interest of the tycoons and the government. Because a rate cut not only lowers the debt burden of the industrialists but also makes capital cheaper for them. And it also makes it easier for the government to repay its debt. A rate cut, however, results in an increase in money supply, which triggers an inflation in the country. Now, the inflation is a kind of hidden tax imposed on the poor as it makes their lives more laborious and burdensome since their incomes are not indexed to inflation. It also results in a lower savings rate because a deposit cut makes the middle class feel uninterested in saving and pushes them towards consumerism. Moreover, the Finance Minister asked for a rate cut when the inflation was not under control. Rajan, however, stood steadfast and resisted the government’s demands and thereby protected the interests of the poor and the middle class. For his principled stand he lost an opportunity to get an extension.

If the Modi dispensation wants to serve the interests of the industrialists effectively, it needs to speed up the process of deregulation in banking and financial systems. After the 2008 global financial crisis, which was a direct result of ‘deregulation’, the word acquired a lot of negative connotations and even attracted a backlash in the form of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. Keeping this in mind the politicians and the tycoons, who constitute the pro-deregulation camp, started employing the euphemistic terms such as ‘regulatory forbearance’ to confuse the people. In fact, deregulation is one of the major achievements of this government and it got rewarded with a sudden and extraordinary spurt in World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking during the last two years.

The government, however, is facing a major hurdle even with its deregulation mission. The RBI, in addition to administering the monetary policy, also carries out its regulatory responsibilities. Our laissez-faire capitalists, who resent and abhor anything government, borrowed trillions of rupees from the government-owned Banks and defaulted. Now the RBI, through its Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework, started tightening things and not allowing any ‘regulatory forbearance’. This is exactly where the crony capitalism infested Modi dispensation started feeling the ‘unease’. In the name of free enterprise and promotion of growth, they want rampant deregulation, as if their tycoon cronies are honest enough to self-regulate themselves. The gargantuan accumulation of the NPAs stand as a testimony to the crookedness of the tycoons and how they looted the nation with ‘ease’. Now, the government, instead of being strict with the defaulters, is recapitalizing the banks with public money and coercing the RBI to deregulate further.

It appears that the government, in its alacrity to enter the good books of Moody’s and get yet another sovereign rating upgrade, started eyeing the reserves in the possession of the RBI to narrow down the fiscal deficit. It also plans to use the reserves to recapitalize the banks with an aim to write off more corporate debt to keep the rent-seeking corporates happy particularly when the elections are around the corner. The reserve bank, however, feels that it needs those reserves to maintain monetary and financial stability. The global economy, owing to its heavily debt-laden nature, is precariously balanced and financial turmoils and contagions are increasingly becoming frequent. And the distressingly week banking system also requires the central bank to possess enough reserves to be able to carry out its responsibilities as the lender of last resort.

The government, to undermine the independence of the central bank, appointed people such as S. Gurumurthy and Satish Marathe on the RBI board, who are well-known members of the Sangh Parivar. It is very surprising that Mr. Gurumurthy, who founded the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and canvassed for India’s economic self-reliance through savings and small enterprises, is promoting the consumerist, neo-liberal agenda by pushing the big business interests.

The RBI, even in the face of a threat to invoke Sec 7 of the RBI act, which facilitates giving directions to the central bank by the union government, stood steadfast and refused to give any leeway. At one stage there were even reports suggesting that the RBI governor Urjit Patel may even step down from his post. Though the big businesses want the independence of the RBI to be curbed to facilitate ‘regulatory forbearance’, any dilution of the central bank’s independence will invariably lead to corrosion in investor confidence and may lead to a capital flight. Therefore, sensing the danger of an escalation the central government appears to have backed off on the issue temporarily.

It appears that this government, in its over-enthusiasm to favor the big businesses and to get rating upgrades, is ignoring the long-term consequences of its actions. Blindly following the tycoon-centric trickle-down economics and getting obsessed with rating upgrades will only result in undermining the central bank and will ultimately lead to the weakening of the economy. Therefore, the current political dispensation, which loses no time in glorifying the nation and making claims to strengthen it, should understand the fact that a nation’s prestige could be augmented not by undermining its democratic institutions but by further strengthening them, and not by promoting big business interests but by investing in social infrastructure to enrich human capital.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Common Man's View On The 2019 Elections

common man

As the elections are around the corner and the nation is gearing itself to cast its votes with an unending optimism on its future and incessant faith in democracy, I’m enthused to put across my views on the things we must keep in mind before we head out to vote in 2019.

Being an ardent follower of socio-political and economic happenings in the country, I’m reminded of American theologian and author, James Freeman Clarke, who famously said, “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman of the next generation.” The problem in India is we have too many politicians, with no statesmen at all. In short, we have many Reagans who enrich their tycoon cronies through their neo-liberal policies, but we don’t have even a single Roosevelt to herald a New Deal.

Policies Have Become Tycoon-Centric:
All the world over a new chilling truth has started dawning on the minds of the poor and the ordinary. The truth is, the advent of disruptive technologies and globalization has empowered the big businesses to accumulate gargantuan wealth, and as a result, the world is fast turning into an oligarchy. Gone are the days when the economic policies used to be people-centric. Now they are overwhelmingly tycoon-centric. This is happening because the governments are using the single and grossly skewed yardstick called ‘growth’, to measure prosperity. As a result, the governments all over the world came to a strong conclusion that it is only the tycoons who can bring about the growth, and as such providing them with “ease of doing business” is paramount.

Due to this shift towards a pro-rich bias, universities all over the world are producing so many Friedmans and Hayeks, who pioneered the neo-liberal economics, and political arena is giving rise to many Reagans who first implemented the trickle-down Reaganomics. And India, which hopped onto this neoliberal bandwagon in 1991, is no exception to this trend. Even we have many “nomics” and currently, the Modinomics is ruling the roost.

Now you may ask why I started my discourse with economic matters. For a common man bread and butter issues are paramount. As one of India’s greatest sages Swami Vivekananda had rightly said, “Man is guided by the stomach. He walks, and the stomach goes first and the head afterwards”. The commoners prioritize fulfilling their basic necessities and leading a life of ‘ease’. Therefore, we should be voting to those who can provide us with that “ease of living”. But who will give it to us?

The Two Parivars Are The Two Sides Of The Same Coin:
We primarily have two alternatives: Gandhi Parivar and Sangh Parivar. We are currently witnessing the rule of the Sangh Parivar, which came to power by making inclusive and egalitarian noises such as “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”. Unfortunately, what we see now is the ‘vikas’ of crony capitalism in the garb of Hindutva. The man who is at the helm, after failing to deliver on his promises, is back to playing divisive politics and appears to be tacitly unleashing the so-called ‘fringe’ to promote his electoral prospects.

But can the alternative, I mean the other Parivar, be any better than the current dispensation? It is highly unlikely because Indian politics are increasingly becoming homogeneous and the so-called alternative is not actually an alternative. Highlighting the homogeneity in Indian polities, journalist Arun Shourie famously opined that the Modi dispensation is nothing more than Congress plus cow. When the people elect those who are promising an alternative, the only thing they will get is Modi minus cow. As the political environment has become highly polarized, people who like Hindutva are supporting the Sangh Parivar, and those who oppose Hindutva are rallying behind the Gandhi Parivar, relegating the bread and butter issues to back-burner. The fact is when we set aside the cow, they both are same. The same corruption, crony capitalism and apathy will keep haunting the people. What the commoners need now is a political dispensation that can bring back people-centric policies.

Unfortunately, the alternative to the two Parivars, over the years, has grown weaker. The democratic left, with its successive defeats in elections, has left a huge vacuum in the Indian politics, and the AAP, which emerged with a big bang on the Indian political scene and raised a lot of expectations among the people, appears to have lost steam thereafter. And the regional political parties, which are no less corrupt and inefficient, will end up supporting either of the two Parivars.

A New Leadership Must Emerge From Mass Movements Based On Livelihood Issues:
In this situation, the people have only one option: bring down the current dispensation and install its rival in the seat. But this is not going to solve the problem. This situation only reminds me what Marx had stated about democracy. “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” But democracy, being the heart and soul of our nation, can’t be discarded. We the commoners must combat tooth and nail the forces that are bent on hijacking democracy to serve their narrow self-interests.

Before 1991, many people would often say if you want to distribute wealth you first have to create it. As the people who said this have managed to amass unimaginable wealth, now is the time for the commoners to assert themselves to better their lives. When the people stay united and assert themselves, the ruling classes will have no option but to obey.

People all over the world are turning against the tycoon-centric neo-liberal policies and building mass movements to assert themselves. The Occupy Wall Street protests in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis was a slap in the face of the pro-rich ruling classes. The recent Yellow Vests protests in France demonstrated to the world how a staunchly united working class can force the leaders to retreat on their anti-people actions.

Even in India, there is hope. The recent protests by farmers, who fell victim to the widespread agrarian distress, grabbed the attention of everyone and exposed the empty rhetoric of the ruling dispensation. The Dalit protests and the anti-Sterlite protests highlighted that fact that the fight against discrimination and profiteering at the expense of people’s health will be a never-ending struggle. And we, the commoners, especially the working class, need to build more united and powerful movements to educate and mobilize the masses. The hope is, from these mass movements new leaders will emerge, who may be able to fulfill the aspirations of the poor and the ordinary, who seek livelihood opportunities, good education and quality healthcare. The new leadership must emerge from the grassroots level, that too from the mass movements built on bread and butter issues, not from the ruling clans or religious and caste movements.

But this is possible only when the people steadfastly stay united and don’t get swayed by the feelings that erect narrow domestic walls that divide them along the lines of caste, religion, region, or language. If they get swayed by them they will get nothing more than cows, shrines, statues and hegemony. And taking advantage of the situation, the politicos and plutocrats will have a cakewalk in the garb of attractive slogans and colorful events.

Be Wary Of Misleading Narratives:
As elections are fast approaching, the common people must be wary of misleading narratives that are getting ready to hoodwink them. As the nation will start heading to the polling booths, there will be concerted attempts by the politicos and plutocrats to mislead the people by forcing the objective reality and rational enquiry to go on a holiday and press their colossal PR machinery into service. They will do this to spruce up their images as the messiahs of the masses to either come to power or retain power. Some tycoons have already started pitching in for incumbent regime showering praise on it and talking about ‘continuity’. What the poor and the ordinary need is not ‘continuity’ but an enduring ‘change’. These false narratives are what exactly the people must guard themselves against and not get swayed by patently trivial matters.


People, instead of voting the Parivars, had better support grassroots leaders who have the ability to build mass movements on people-centric issues. Finally, if the people, especially the poor and the ordinary, want a better quality of life they will get it. If they pay even the slightest attention to cow, they will get only cow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

How Crony Capitalism Is Destroying RBI

Ask the Hindu right-wing ‘Parivar’: who is responsible for all the maladies that afflict the nation? They would undoubtedly name Nehru. They say that he is the origin of all the ‘problems’ the country faces – whether it is the inclusive secular society or socialism or even democracy with strong institutions. Because these are the very things they dislike the most. They prefer Hindutva to secularism, namesake democracy to genuine democracy and neoliberalism to socialism. And they loathe Nehru precisely because their ideas are anaethemic to the high ideals Nehru stood for throughout his life.

So, every word they speak and every deed they carry out contains anti-Nehruvianism as an essential ingredient. Whether it is the dismantling of the planning commission and replacing it with Niti Aayog or even the construction of the world’s tallest statue, the underlying reason is clearly the anti-Nehruvianism. Their main aim is to erase Nehru’s legacy from the face of India and bring those leaders to the fore, who had seeming ideological proximity to the Sangh Parivar.

However, the Parivar men take cover behind the very Nehru when they want to prove their point. Take the example of the just concluded tussle between the Modi dispensation and the central bank, which ended with the resignation of Urjit Patel and the installation of a yes-man called Shaktikanta Das. As per the media reports, the Modi dispensation cited a letter written by Nehru stating that irrespective of the fact that RBI is an autonomous body its monetary policies should be in sync with the policies of the central government. But did Nehru say it to undermine the RBI with an intention to facilitate the ‘ease of doing business’ to his tycoon cronies?

Nehru, who was a socialist to the core, always thought about the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. He had a genuine public interest in his mind. The term ‘public interest’ has developed an altogether different connotation under the current dispensation. The moment people hear the word public interest, they easily conclude that it is none other than ‘the interest of the tycoons’. So, the Hindu right-wing should understand the fact that Nehru’s ideas and ideals are too tall for them to reach and they should not try to hide behind him.

The government is so eager to serve their tycoon cronies that they pressurized the RBI to deregulate by easing the Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework so that the tycoons can resume their ‘borrow and default’ program with ease. And they even started coercing the central bank to transfer more reserves with an intention to write off the corporate debt in the name of ‘bank recapitalization’. Unable to compromise with the autonomy of the RBI and his self-respect Dr. Urjit Patel resigned.

These days the politicians and the corporate-owned media don’t even use the terms such as ‘deregulation’ and ‘bailout’. Because they know that these are the most hated words among the commoners, which resulted in a backlash in the form of “Occupy Wall Street” movement in the post-2008 financial crisis. So, they replaced them with euphemistic expressions such as ‘regulatory forbearance’, ‘bank recapitalization’ and ‘capital infusion’. The aim of all these actions is favoring their tycoon cronies as part of their “ease of doing business” program. Now the tycoons will repay these favors by unleashing a propaganda tsunami to create a delusion that the famed ‘Achche Din’ are indeed here.

The elections, once again, are around the corner. In a few months from now, the nation will head to the polling booths to perform its supposedly sacred duty with an unending hope. It, however, will stay oblivious to the fact that the rich and the elite who constitute the top 1% of the population, have already preordained some individuals by nominating them to the high seats of power, and whatever that is going to happen in the name of election is only a trivial thing with mere ritualistic significance.

Even as the nation is gearing itself up for the impending election year the objective realities and rational enquiry will go into a deep hiatus and the public relations industry, with its corporate sophistication, will take over. Because for the tycoons it is the big time to repay. And the people, as usual, will remain under the impression that the ease of doing business will lead to their ease of living and the growth-led big business development will facilitate human development. 

After all, what the World Bank’s ease of doing business index and Moody’s sovereign credit rating do? They both upgraded India’s ranking. People, anyhow, feel that in a nation where steep climbs are rare, at least in two things they progressed with a lightning pace. And the ‘industry’, through its media and public relations, will make people believe that these are the “Achche Din’ which they have long been waiting for. People, satisfied, will perform the ritual of putting their stamp on the names of those who have already been nominated by the tycoon brigade to the high offices. This is what in all likelihood will happen. Indian democracy will emerge triumphant only if it happens the other way about. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

What the Sentinelese can teach us?

The Sentinelese tribesmen  Photo: Indian Coast Guard
The Sentinelese, who rarely make news owing to their ultra-primitive and fiercely reclusive nature, made headlines after they killed a missionary. The missionary, as per the reports, was planning to establish contact with the tribe and learn their language with an intention to proselytize them.

After reading the news, many of us might have felt, “how insane... by refusing to mingle with the outside world they lost an opportunity to work in plush offices, enjoy pizzas and burgers, wear branded garments, live in bungalows, drive around in cars and indulge in selfies and social media clicks”. True, they missed out on all these things. But to this primitive tribe, these things have barely any value. In fact, some expeditions were even made to establish contact with them by luring them with material things, but they did not accept any of them.

For them a life lived in harmony with nature is paramount. The aerial view of their island, which looks pristine with lush greenery, is a testimony to the fact that they are the true children of mother nature. They are at least able to breath fresh air, eat natural food and lead a stress-free life that spares them from frequenting hospitals they don’t have. The way they are confronting the outsiders makes it abundantly clear that they are healthy and agile.

And the missionary who lost his life was trying to take religion to a place, where there is absolutely no need of it. The entire episode makes me recollect the book I read “Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes”, written by Daniel Everette, a missionary linguist who undertook an expedition to the Amazonian rainforest to convert a primitive tribe called, Piraha. He went there to learn their language and translate scriptural literature into it to convert the tribe. One day, Daniel, to persuade the tribesmen to convert, shared an emotion-laden personal story with them. He told them that his step mother’s suicide made him move towards God. Then, the tribesmen, instead of expressing sympathy with him, said, “She killed herself?  Ha ha ha. How stupid. Pirahas don’t kill themselves.” That made Daniel realize the futility of his mission and slowly turn into an atheist.

These tribes, who are primitive, don’t worry about death and afterlife. As they don’t even worry about their souls, they don’t seek them to be saved. Normally primitive tribes are more rational than the so-called civilized people. They usually believe in those things which they can perceive with their sense organs and don’t waste their time in speculative theology. As the tribal societies are mostly egalitarian, they neither produce powerful ruling classes nor do they follow organized religions with powerful clergy, who aspire to control the society through deception to serve their narrow self-interests.

We, the so-called civilized people, until some decades ago, identified each other as belonging to a certain religion, caste, race or nationality. Now, in this 21st century, with the advent of disruptive technologies and globalization, our identities have been further reduced to that of a consumer, a laborer, a devotee, a patient or a voter. As a consumer, you need to go on a spending spree on various occasions such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Big Billion Days sale etc. to keep the consumer demand up to promote growth even at the expense of getting trapped in debt. As laborers, we need to labor under the constant and continuous threat of cost-cutting, automation and offshoring. As devotees, we are supposed to stay pious and remain loyal followers of religions selling our souls to the clergy. As patients, we need to wait outside a physician’s chamber to find an elusive cure for the lifestyle diseases we get after using gadgets that promote sedentary life and consuming gourmet junk food that makes us obese. And, as voters, we need to stand in serpentine queues with infinite patience and unceasing optimism that one day our politicos will dissociate themselves from their ultra-rich cronies and think about the poor and the ordinary.

The primitive tribal people need not worry about all these things as their identity always stays constant and they always remain humans. They don’t need to enter into a class struggle to oppose exploiters, they need not endure consumerism-induced relative deprivation, they don’t have to torment themselves with the feeling that their religion is in danger, and they need not have to live under the shadow of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Their lives, though under constant threat from various natural forces, are mostly blissful. 

Therefore, the rest of humanity must let them live the way they are living. As they continue to exist, they will keep reminding us of the things we lost by enslaving ourselves to the very things we created such as money, religion and technology.

This does not mean the humanity should set aside all its achievements and get back to its primitiveness. Things, however, can’t continue moving at the same hectic pace as they are now, due to its non-sustainability. No amount of denial can conceal the truth that the threat of climate change is looming large and the prevalence of lifestyle diseases has reached epidemic proportions. So, humanity, one day, must give up its greed and adapt itself to sustainable living practices. These reclusive tribal people, with their frugal and eco-friendly lives, will keep inspiring us to realize these hard truths.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Look at the Yellow Vests and do something

The French working class has always been a beacon light of hope for the entire humanity with their revolutionary fervor against exploitation. They showed to the world during the French Revolution what the poor and the ordinary are capable of doing after the queen passed the callous comment stating, “if they don’t have bread, let them eat cake.” 

They not only buried the absolute monarchy and brought about the republic but also inspired the people all around the world to do so. In May 1968, the ordinary French once again took to streets to protest against capitalism, consumerism and American imperialism. And now, protests popularly known as ‘Yellow Vest’ protests, broke out throughout France. These protests are led by the working class, who are angry about a planned increase in fuel taxes. The Yellow vests, through their concerted action, forced President Emmanuel Macron to withdraw the proposal of the fuel tax hike.

You may wonder why I’m talking about all these now. This kind of revolutions and protests are long overdue in India. Our country, of late, has been transformed into a nation “of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, in other words, more precisely, into a nation “of the politicians and their tycoon cronies, by the politicians and their tycoon cronies and for the politicians and their tycoon cronies”. 

Widespread unemployment, agrarian distress, lack of quality healthcare and education for the poor and the ordinary are becoming increasingly rampant. The governments, whether they are led by Gandhi Parivar or Sangh Parivar, are only obsessed with ‘ease of doing business’. They are providing the tycoons with ease of business to the extent that they can even default on their debts and get safe passages post-default. Politicos and their tycoon cronies have started enjoying an ‘unlimited and unceasing ease’, which in turn inflicting an excruciating unease on the lives of the poor and the ordinary. When people start questioning, they bring religion, caste, language and a host of other non-issues to fore to divert the attention of the people away from these important issues and hoodwink them.

In a way, the situation is very much ripe in India for a working-class uprising, where the poor and the ordinary should be asserting their right. When President Macron came to know that Paris started burning, he abruptly ended his foreign visit and went back to his country to douse the flames. But our ‘netas’ are so secure in their seats that they slowly complete their foreign visits and come back to India, again to embark on one more foreign visit within a matter of days.

The marches undertaken by the farmers in the recent months is in the right direction and these struggles should be intensified further in future. This is the time for the farmers to demand remunerative prices for their produce, unemployed youth for jobs, poor and the ordinary for good healthcare and education. As long as they stay entrapped in religion and caste and stay divided, the politicos and their tycoon cronies will have a cake walk looting the nation’s resources and keep accumulating wealth in gargantuan proportions. Finally, they should never forget the fact that if they want 'ease of living' they will get it, and if they pay even the slightest attention to things such as cow and Ram, then they will end up getting only those.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

My Dad's Old Bicycle

It was around thirty years ago, when I was a class V student, my dad, who would usually walk home from his office at the end of the day, rode a second-hand bicycle to home. I felt excited when I saw him dismounting his new vehicle and curiously enquired about its ownership. He told me that he bought it from one of his superiors. I remember the day very well because I immediately borrowed my father’s new possession and started riding it. And, while riding, as I was still in a nascent stage of acquiring the bicycle riding skill, upset it and crashed it to the floor, which caused its pedal to bend. I got a thorough dressing-down from my father and hence remember the day in a vivid detail.

My dad, being a third-class employee with a state government, would draw very less amount of salary in those days, and with that salary, he could only afford a second-hand bicycle. After thirty years, many things changed in his life, but one thing remained constant. The bicycle! It is not the same old bicycle. Only frame and carriage descended from the original one and all the other components changed. Now, with its paint completely peeled off and its looks completely deteriorated, anybody else would have scrapped it without any second thoughts and would have replaced it with a brand new motorized vehicle. But my father doesn’t do that.

My sister and I, many a time, requested him to scrap the dilapidated bicycle and we even proposed to get a new moped for him. He bluntly refused to accept any motorized vehicle and insisted on retaining his favorite bicycle, and even chastened both of us for advising him to scrap it. He loves it very much and strongly feels that it served him a lot. Therefore, he feels that scrapping the old bicycle would amount to sheer ingratitude. The bicycle is not even properly lubricated and any new person would find himself huffing and panting after he rides it for ten or fifteen minutes. Some people even derisively call him as a rider of a dilapidated, ugly looking bicycle. But he never cares. Bicycling every day is what enables him to keep ticking. Now he is around 75 years old and he rarely visits a physician.

Many people, including me, thought that my dad is very regressive and doesn’t fit into this 21st-century lifestyle and culture. However, after closely observing the blind pursuit of material things many people are engaged in, I started feeling that there is some message in his lifestyle. You may feel tempted to conclude that he can’t afford to buy a motorized vehicle, and that is the reason he still rides a bicycle. But that is not true. He may not be able to afford a car but a good moped or a scooter is certainly not beyond his affordability. However, he doesn’t want to acquire one and he is fully satisfied with his old, loyal carrier.

At a time when the exhaust fumes from the motor vehicles are causing damage to the lungs of the people and governments are imposing car-free days, his lifestyle appears healthy, cost-effective and sustainable.